Sunday, 16 March 2014

Road Trip to Walter Peak Station

Late one morning we decided we'd drive the 4WD track which follows the lake to the head and then up a pass to Boundary Hut on the Mavora-Greenstone tramping track (4WDs are allowed up to the hut) but we soon found out that it had been cut up too much over the wet weekend by visiting quad bikes; plus the many dips in the track had filled with water. We sure didn't want to get stuck out in the middle of nowhere so we turned around when the opportunity arose and headed back down the road and out of the camp.

We decided that we'd do the road trip to Walter Peak Station instead. The Mavora Lakes Road continues on past the lakes for 57kms, ending up on the shores of Lake Wakatipu at Mt Nicholas Station. Drive a further 12kms along the lake edge to the roads end & you arrive at the historic and very well known Walter Peak Station. 

We were heading into the high country where there is fabulous scenery and big landscapes in every direction. And the snow that had fallen a few days before was still sitting on the mountaintops adding to the beauty. The very first river we came to happened to be our favourite Oreti River, the very one that we spent time at in Lumsden and of course back in Invercargill at it's mouth with the family. The headwaters of Oreti are just up from this bridge crossing & located in the mountain range that backs onto the lakes.

The headwaters of the Oreti are prized for trout fishing and just across the bridge on the right is a gravel track that leads down to a parking area beside the stream below where you can leave your vehicle while you walk down stream and around the point on the right; we met an American fisherman on our return later in the day, who said he had walked at least 10kms downstream before returning. There were just two cars parked up when we passed through & they were still there when we returned late in the day.

There are many signs that it is a popular spot though; you must leave a note on your car with your intentions on what part of the river you are going to fish & for how long so others don't come stomping through your patch. This is a Eyre Mountains Conservation Area & it's obvious that some people have taken exception to the fact that they can't drive down the river to fish or over to the hut on the slopes below the snow covered mountains to hunt. There are solid metal bollards lined up in front of the beaten up gate!

After the Oreti Bridge most of the water crossings were by ford.... or should that be a Ford :)
After travelling for some distance along the flat, poop splattered gravel road it was with some surprise to suddenly spot what looked like cyclists on the horizon. Surely not? But as we got closer we could see that it certainly was, a dozen of so more mature cyclists strung out along the road wearing high-viz vests and day packs. The front guy had a helmet cam on- you can see he is adjusting it as we approach.

We wondered why on earth and more importantly, where on earth they had come from. We had seen nobody and no vehicles for miles, the area was totally deserted, it was a hot still day and out of the blue these guys appeared. They all waved to us as we passed and not long afterwards a mini bus came crawling along with a bike trailer on the back- Around the Mountains Cycle Trail written along it's side. Well that answered why, but we still didn't know where they had come from as there's no city or town at the end of the road.

After awhile the road passed out of the Eyre Conservation area and continued on through the two huge high country stations that cover this vast area.

As we were travelling along I caught the sight of this tiny hut off the road quite away and tucked in beside some large trees. A muddy dirt track led up to it so we went in for a look. In fact the track got too boggy in the end so I walked the rest of the way not too sure what I'd find when I got up there.

It was a lovely surprise to find this cute little "Bullock Creek Hut". It has recently been restored & belongs to Mt Nicholas Station. It was built around 1900 and was used by shepherds during the winter months; they camped here while they kept their sheep below the snow line. Rather them than me! Brrrr..... 

The road continued along the flat plain between the mountains for at least 20kms only dropping down into a dip when we had a river or stream to cross. We had forgotten to bring the iPad so we couldn't follow our route on TomTom & with only the road map we couldn't decide where we were as everything looked the same. We had no idea how much further we had to travel as at that stage we also couldn't remember how far the road went for. David seemed to recall 54kms which did seem to be quite a bit. It was getting later in the afternoon and we hadn't stopped for lunch so we kept going thinking we'll find a place beside a stream or river soon enough.

The scenery was awesome, huge mountains, big gravel slides & fans, deep narrow canyons and great swathes of tussock in every direction. At one stage we passed a huge red angus bull looking very lonely all by himself  in the great expanse. A few miles on we passed his mates, the herd of cattle that had obviously made the mess that the cyclists were biking through earlier. The cows & calves were corralled in a paddock waiting to be shifted elsewhere & up on a small plateau sat a house with a front yard containing two horses and about eight dogs. The only house we saw on all the road, the modem day equivalent of the Bullock Creek Hut, what a isolated place to live. 

After an eternity the road finally dropped steeply down the side into a deep valley with the River Von weaving through it. On our way down we came across another two cyclists pushing their bikes up, they were well equipped with large packs on and gear strapped all over the bike. They were obviously touring but where did they come from, the road is a dead end. It took us a few moments to decide that they must travel across Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown on the steamboat TSS Earnslaw & cycle from Walter Peak Station. And in fact when we got back to camp later in the evening they had set their tents up for the night at Mavora.

We pulled up for lunch at the first available area beside the river and it was while we were sitting there like Lord & Lady Muck in the middle of nowhere with our table & chairs set up, that the minibus with all the cyclists on board and the bikes on the back came weaving down the road above us. We all waved out & then we realised that they must have come from the Earnslaw as well. Visitors to Walter Peak that had taken the cycle tour option for the day. Rather them than me!

After lunch (which happened to be about 3:30pm) we decided that we'd come so far we might as well go all the way to the end and so we travelled on through the narrow pass where the mountains seemed to be getting higher & higher on each side. The scenery alone is well worth the trip, it is just stunning. It's very hard to get a sense of scale from the photos but believe me everything is huge. Along the way we came across this fairly modern stone cottage, no one lived there but it was obvious that people do stay in it from time to time. We later learnt that it belongs to Mt Nicholas Station and is used for their luxury accommodation (at $600+ a night) when clients want to get away from it all. They'd certainly do that, it was about another 20kms before we saw any signs of life.

Finally just as we were starting to wonder whether we'd ever get to the end we popped up over a crest in the road to be greeted by the azure blue waters of Lake Wakatipu with the Remarkables, Cecil & Walter Peaks in the background and a paddock of merino sheep in the foreground- quintessential New Zealand!

The view of the mountains at the Glenorchy end of Lake Wakatipu, Mt Nicholas Station homestead and woolshed are amongst the trees on the peninsula in the foreground. The road to Glenorchy from Queenstown can be seen on the far right running along the lake edge.

Once we were at the lake edge we still had 12kms to travel around the lake to Walter Peak Station. The dark rocky Walter Peak can be seen to the right in the photo below, the homestead is located on the otherside of the far dark green low piece of land.

We passed through the boundary fence between the two stations and travelled along the straight gravel road wondering all the time if we weren't intruding on private property. But it had said "public road" & there were still road markers on the edge occasionally & a couple of familiar yellow sign posts. But we decided that we hadn't travelled all this way without at least seeing the famous homestead.

And finally the road ended at a welcome sign as we drove down into the courtyard of Walter Peak Station. Across the water we could see the tourist mecca of Queenstown.  And with luck the Earnslaw was just about to depart taking visitors back to the town. People were coming from all directions to board but especially from the large gift shop located in the woolshed. We walked along the edge waiting to see it pull away and it was with some consternation a guy called out to David to hurry up and board as the boat was leaving and running behind time! I don't think he quite believed that we weren't going to board as we'd arrived by road. I would think that 99.9% of visitors to the station arrive by boat.

It was now after 5 o'clock so we had a quick wander around the yard and buildings. Up at the famous Colonels Homestead the chefs were preparing for the BBQ dinner, another boat load of visitors were due to return for the evening with the last return sailing at 10pm.  The house & the grounds were immaculate, there are plenty of activities for visitors to watch or partake in, a shearing demonstration, farm animals for petting, horse treks & of course the bike tour that we had already seen- I learnt later that some of the cycle tours actually have lunch at Mavora Lakes!. The minbus that we were now very familiar with was parked in the carpark. Of course the tourist side of Walter Peak Station is run by the huge tourist enterprise Real Journeys, here's their blurb for the Station.

Finally with all the passengers on board the TSS Earnslaw, a 1912 Edwardian vintage twin screw steamer, left the dock bound for Queenstown. Silence descended on the station and we had the place to ourselves as staff raced off to get ready for the next influx of visitors.

We hit the road again, this time travelling a little faster as we had a way to go and we'd stopped at most of the interesting spots on the way in. The following photos were all taken out the ute window. And finally you'll be able to get a sense of scale of how large some of these behemoths are. In the photo below, which is not too far from Walter Peak and very near their new woolshed, I have circled, in the bottom left corner, a house that is tucked into the base of the "hill". Yes, that is a house. And this isn't one of the mountains, just a small hill in a paddock!

The road running along the edge of the River Von, I would think that in spring with the snow melt this wide expanse would be full of water.

We had an amazing afternoon and were so pleased to have driven all the way to the end of the road, not too many people would have travelled to Lake Wakatipu via this route. If anyone is staying at Mavora it's well worth adding this road trip to your itinerary, if you leave in the morning you can join the visitors at the Colonel's Homestead for the gourmet BBQ lunch or afternoon tea.

The Earnslaw returning to Queenstown


  1. Wonderful photos as usual, Walter Peak is on our must-do list. But you cannot take a caravan through, we understand, so will have to do the trip in the car. Hopefully next time we travel down south we can do this trip.

    1. Thanks, Robin &/or Jenny, I guess the only reason you couldn't take a caravan is because you're not allowed to freedom camp (although who is going to check on you, I don't know) The road itself isn't that bad and if you've come all the way to Mavora the rest is only slightly worse. Except for the fords though, maybe they would cause an issue. But having said all that, best to park the caravan at Mavora and do a day trip. More room to explore.

  2. Jenny is some what geographically challenged at times, in that she was thinking of the Molesworth Station trip, not Walter Peak.
    We would probably do the same as you, a day trip from Mavora Lakes. Great Blog keep it coming. Makes me want to come south again.

    1. Haha! That explains it then. Molesworth is on our to do list when we get up that way. Glad you're enjoying the blog but as you'd know they do take a bit of time to do & especially when I have so many photos to sort!
      Thanks for the comments.

  3. Hi! How long did it take you to drive from Mavora to Walter Peak? I live near Mossburn and am wondering if a return trip could be done in a day? Great blog!

    1. Hi there, it depends on how often you stop! It would be fine as a day trip from Mossburn, probably take all day but there's lot to see along the way. I think it took us about 3 hours (one way) to drive from Mavora to Walter Peak but then we stop often! The trip home was about an hour.

  4. Hello, How did you get back to Queenstown from Walter Peak Station since I dont see a road along the lake. Did you return back the same way back to Mossburn? Thank you

    1. We were camping at Mavora Lakes so we drove to Walter Peak Station and back again. But you are right, there is no road to Queenstown from Walter Peak Station so you do have to return the same way.


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