New Zealand - Dragons Teeth

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These notes are not as comprehensive as our guidebooks, they are free and designed for walkers from Australia to assist with planning a trip along the route. If you wish to make a donation for the information then use the Paypal button at the bottom of this page.

What is the Dragons Teeth

This is a traverse of the Douglas Range in the Kahurangi Nation Park in the northern part of the south island of New Zealand. The High Route has some similarities to the Western Arthur Range in South West Tasmania. It is a very rough route that requires great care as it crosses some very steep slabs and buttresses as it sidles around the Dragons Teeth. These are a series of fang like buttresses that crown the range. Unlike the Western Arthur Range, the High Route can be avoided by following the Low Route (from Adelaide Tarn, descend into the Anotoki Valley, follow the scrubby valley for half a day then climb to the Drunken Sailor)..

Access

The Douglas Ranbge is located about 80km west of the city of Nelson. Nelson can be accessed by local aeroplane from New Zealands major airports. The traverse of this range requires pre-arranged transport as it is a through walk. The specialist provider for trampers is Nelson Lakes Shuttles. It is run by a tramper and he will suggest pickup times. On the first day we were picked up before dawn so that we could could start walking by 8AM as its a long day to Boulder Lake.

Water

There is water at each campsite but little water between them so carry all your needs for each day. In general water does not need any treatment.

Maps

All New Zealand maps can be downloaded for free from Land Information New Zealand. Select the 1:50,00 for walking. The 1:250,00 are useful for an overview. They are large files, you will need 1:50,000 maps BN23, BR24, BP23, BP24

The maps come as PDFs. With Acrobat we then export the map as a TIFF Image (you could also use JPEG but the output is not as good particularly if you are cutting them up later). Then using any image editing program, we then cropped each map into 7 x 5km rectangles (saved each one as a new file) and then printed each piece on an A4 colour printer. That gave us good detailed maps at around 1:25,000. We printed the maps as double sided, to cut paper down.

Emergency Contact
Options are to carry a SatPhone, an EPIRB or use the Mountain Radio system which is used in New Zealand. We have hired and used a mountain radio on a number of New Zealand trips. They have a nightly schedule where they provide the weather report foe each of the mountain areas plus you can call out . Nelson Lakes Shuttles can help with booking a Mountain Radio, last time we booked one, cost was around $60 per week, calls are free.
Hut tickets, these are required to camp near or use the huts. For Dragons Teeth, 5 tickets are required. An alternative is to buy a hut pass which covers all huts and campsites in New Zealand parks except Great Walks or special booked huts like Lake Angelus.
Other Information.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) provides free notes for for the 'Douglas Range'. The DOC notes describe only the Low Route. They do not provide any detail for the High Route.

High Route - track notes

These notes are provided to help trampers follow the high route. They have been written from my notes but have not been field checked or proof read for ambiguities or errors (they are free). I know some will want GPS coordinates, in reality the terrain is so steep that such readings are not very helpful as being 10m away can mean 100m in elevation with no possibility of getting to the correct location. Eyes are much better than technology on routes like this..

Access

The northern end starts near the Heaphy Track. Follow roads from Nelson to Collingwood. Continue for 18km then turn left at Bainham Store and cross the bridge over the Aorere River. Follow the road to its end iin farmland. The southern end is at the western end of Cobb Reservoir. From Nelson follow roads north to Upper Takaka, turn left and follow a winding road to the reservoir. Near the reservoir, turn left to Trilobite Hut.

Day 1 - Road End to Boulder Lake Hut, around 8 hours

This is a long day of climbing following a fairly well defined track to an 8 bunk hut. The last section over the shoulder of Brown Cow is exposed. There was only one campsite along the way, we had lunch there - it had a small pool which is sometiems dry and should not be relied upon.
Starting in farmland, follow the vehicle track south. This climbs steadily leading into forest. When the road ends, follow a walking track through limestone karst known as The Castles (beware - there are some deep sink holes in the track!). Continue climbing steadily through beech and manuka forest to a small clearing which makes a good lunch site. Water is often available in small pools. Continue climbing up Brown Cow Ridge passing east of The Pulpit to Cow Sadddle then climb exposed slopes to Brown Cow (a mountain!). Sidle around the western side above rock outcrops then a steep descent follows a grassy lead to a campsite beside Boulder Lake. Follow the shore southward to the end of the lake then cross open tussocks to the cosy 8 bunk Boulder Lake Hut. Near the hut close to the waterfall are the remains of the original 4 bunk hut.

Day 2 - Boulder Lake to Adelaide Tarn, 6 hours

This is  a medium day of off-track walking. Pads exist on part of the route, Adelaide Tarn has a tiny 2 bunk tin hut with some rough camping in the area.
From Boulder Lake Hut follow the untracked valley south-west across thick tussocks to the spur between Crater and Arena Creeks. Cairns start here marking the route up the spur to Green Saddle.. From the saddle follow the ridge south for 300m then veer left following the marked pad that sidles the eastern slopes of knoll 1450 to regain the ridge crest. Follow the ridge for a while then again sidle the eastern slopes of knolls 1411 and 1488 to an unmarked pad junction in a narrow gully. Left leads to Yuletide Peak then a descent leads east into the Anatoki River. Turn right and climb the narrow gully into the pass called the Needles Eye. Descend west veering right onto a grassy spur from where there is a fine view of Adelaide Tarn. A marked track then heads south-west following a terrace descending to Adelaide Tarn. Follow the eastern shore to the tiny hut on a terrace above the tarn. Some rough campsites are found near the hut.

Day 3 - Adelaide tarn to Anatoki Peak – high route

Time : 6.5 hours with a large group (included scouting for cairns), smaller groups should take around 4 to 5.5 hours, expect to add between 30 minutes and 1 hour scouting for cairns as in the open areas the continuation is not always obvious or easily found.

The route does not actually follow the top of the ridge line which would be impossible for trampers, it sidles the eastern face and attempts to stay as high as possible and alternates between bush and grass slopes. The track is marked throughout by cairns (there are some misleading ones as well) and also by old tin can lids plus orange patches nailed to trees. If cairns seem odd then find an orange marker or tin can lid before continuing too far with packs. Generally when the route seems to vanish in tussock, it will climb or sidle south a bit to pass slabs then before the next rock face descend steeply, often you expect that it should go up but instead it heads a long way down to get across the toe of those very long buttresses that run off the Dragons Teeth.

From Adelaide Tarn head south up into saddle on ridge above – cairn in saddle. Ignore a line of cairns to the west along the ridge – while that line will get you onto the high route via a steep descent there is a much easier way. Continue south for 80m towards the Anatoki River. Just past a narrow gully the cairns divide – turn right and climb north-west passing through a narrow bush band (the steeper route from the saddle merges here) then follow the bushline to the crest of the ridge connecting Mt Douglas to Dragons Teeth. The track is then obvious for a while following the ridge south – it is a delightful series of openings and open forest floor. It soon becomes rougher, start sidling to an open snow grass section, climb up, sidle then descend into bush. Soon cross a dry stream into forest (ignore old false cairns to the right – they lead to a summit but not the through route) and continue descending following the base of a rock face to pass a coil of wire beside an orange marker (this is easily missed as its on your left side). This is some of the old wire that was removed from the route in the 1994 hence the alternative name of the 'Wireless Route'. Sidle a narrow ledge above high cliffs, some awkward step ups follow then climb steeply through bush and openings and across slabs then up a steep open gully to a wide grass covered slope below Anatoki Peak.

The wall ahead onto Anatoki Peak looks daunting - particularly at the top. The obvious gully straight ahead looks inviting but the headwall is topped by cliffs. The high route ascends the far left hand of the wall and its obvious it will take a bit of descending to get to it. To get there, sidle across the grass for around 200m onto the last spur before the wall just before the deep gully that runs along the base of the wall. Turn sharp left and follow a line of cairns that descends east down the crest of the spur (scout around without packs to find them – there are false cairns around). The cairns soon lead to orange markers – follow them to a creek (reliable water) where there are several orange markers. The track enters the bush at the lowest marker. It then continues sidling and descending along the base of a line of bluffs. If you meet an open shale area under the cliffs (good site for a rest) then you are 5m past the track – the track turns sharp left at the start of the shale and descends to the next gully. As you are expecting the track to head up here, many groups have lost the track here and continued 20m to the waterfall ahead and created rough tracks and very steep pads in this area. Without packs we explored the route up the waterfall and while possible it is much steeper and more dangerous than the marked route.

From the shale, the track descends then sidles through bush to the next gully which it climbs. The last bit of the track was less used and faint (obvious a number of groups have lost it at the shale opening) but fairly well marked and OK to follow. When it follows rocky gullies, watch for orange markers exiting on the left. It climbs steeply as it sidles leftwards and a final very steep climb leads to easier slopes above. The last 100m is much easier and leads onto the top of the main spur on Anatoki Peak. [For those trying it in reverse - there are no obvious cairns or markers showing the start of the route here, it starts 20m before the spur drops very steeply into the Anatoki Valley.] Turn right and follow the spur south-west. There is one slot in the ridge crest which is easily passed on the left side. Rise to the tarns at the campsite on Anatoki Peak (on the map the tarns are at the top of the K on the word ‘Peak’) A great campsite – fairly exposed but partially protected by rocks from the south-west where the worst storms generally come from.

Day 4 - Anatoki Peak to Lonely Lake

5 hours with large group, probably 4 hours with a smaller group. Allow an extra hour for route finding

This section also spends all its time sidling the eastern slopes while staying as high as possible. With some exceptions, the cairns are generally easier to find and follow. Unlike the previous section, it remains above the bushline the entire way.

From the campsite, cairns head south-west rising across the shoulder of Anatoki Peak. There is a lot of sidling and descending up and down as it weaves its way through smaller sloping buttresses. Upon reaching a much larger rocky rib, the track heads across to the rib then turns left and descends along it towards its base. You then have two choices, follow the rocky top of the rib or continue 100m further then sidle south along a narrow ledge onto the crest of the rib where the two choices meet – this is the most difficult bit for the day - take care on both routes. An easy descent leads onto grass, then climb quickly towards a saddle on the main ridge. Less than 100m below the saddle cairns lead left climbing terraces and slopes (sometimes across steep ground but quite easy compared to what has already been done) and this leads onto a high point just under knoll 1564. An easy 5 minute sidetrip leads to the twin summit of the knoll – good views.

From there the route becomes easier – it continues sidling the eastern side of the crest, with shorter climbs and descents and eventually meets a well defined track which descends a rocky rib into the saddle west of the Drunken Sailors – the track for the Low Route around the Dragons Teeth is met there. Turn right and follow the cairned track southwards along the valley to Lonely Lake Hut. There is sheltered camping near the 2 bunk hut or more exposed camping on terraces 80m north-west of the hut.

Direction – for the High Route north to south is the way to go. Almost all of the steeper sections or awkward steps are climbs and much easier to do that way. In reverse, it is quite difficult finding footholds on the vertical sections and as a result is more dangerous. We never used a rope (we carried one) and all members were able to get through without assistance. While it did not rain heavily, it was misty and damp and the dirt was very wet. In steep spots, each person did guide the one behind to locate holds but that was the only help given.

Day 4A - day trips from Lonely Lake

The Drunken Sailors is an easy climb from the lake. While it looks daunting, it can be readily climbed on both the north and south sides.

Day 5 - Lonely Lake to Fenella Hut, 7 hours

This is a delightful ridge walk and while long is much easier than the previous 2 days on the high route. It follows a well defined track the entire way.
From Lonely Lake Hut, follow the track south climbing through forest to the main ridge. Follow the open ridge southward. While exposed, in fine weather, the ridge provides delightful scenic walking. Bypss the 1610 knoll on either side and the 1512 knoll on its western side. A steep climb then leads onto an open knoll 500m north-west of Kakapo Peak. Follow the ridge south-east for 250m then turn south and follow the obvious narrow track across a steep wide scree slope to regain the main ridge south of Kakapo Peak. From here a sidetrip to the summit of Kakapo Peak follows easy scree slopes. Continue by following the ridge crest southward towards knoll 1550. When the bush starts, descend east following a rough track then a well-defined track sidle the eastern slopes of knoll 1550 and Wangaro Peak to the saddle 500m south-south-west of Wangaro Peak. Descend west into light forest then the track follows the valley south-west to Fenella Hut. This is a comfortable 12 bunk hut.

Day 5A - day trips from Fenella Hut

From Fenella Hut, a track leads south-west to some pretty tarns. Some untracked walking then heads west up the mostly open slopes of Xenicus Peak. Bypass the summit on its north side by following a wide gully to the saddle west of the peak. The summit of Xenicus is a fairly easy scramble from here. Easy walking west then leads onto the summit of Mt Gibbs. Continue by following the ridge west then south-west until easy slopes lead south-east to the outlet of Round Tran. A faint track starts here, follow it south-east into the bush where it becomes more obvious, this leads east down the valley to Lake Cobb and a track junction just before Cobb Hut. Turn left to return to Fenella Hut.
From Fenalla Hut, Mt Cobb is readily climbed from Round Lake. Another possible day trip is to tarns on the Lockett Range, return up the track to the saddle near Wangaro Peak then follow the open top of the range south-east. The Lockett Range can also be used for an alternative finish by following the range south-east past Diamond Lakes to Lake Sylvester (12 bunk hut) from where a walking track leads to the dam wall on Cobb Reservoir.

Day 6 - Fenella Hut to Trilobite Hut (and the road), 5 hours

An easy walk following a well used track along a river valley to the road.
From Fenella Hut follow the walking track south through forest patches to a track junction just before the small Cobb Hut (4 bunks). Turn left and follow the well-defined walking track south-east following the valley of Cobb River. This passes the old abandoned Chaffeys Hut and the historic site of  Tent Camp. The open valley provides easy flat walking to Trilobite Hut (12 bunks) which is located at the end of the road.

Suggested Time to allow for this trip.

Like South West Tasmania, the weather is very variable and when its wet its really wet. We allowed 9 days, the first day was moderately wet and we walked, on day 3 we crossed the first day of the high route in mist and some drizzle. We had our first rest/exploration day at Lonely Lake, then had 2 whole days at Fenella Hut. The first day at Fenella was a beautiful day walk around Mt Gibbs and Round Lake, the second day it poured all day and we had a rest day. I strongly recommend walking north to south. First, most of the difficult sections are then climbs rather than descents. Also if you have fine weather there are lots of extra walks to do on the southern end of the range, - see Day 5A. The northern end of the range does not have much in the way of extra features to visit. Overall I suggest to allow 8 or 9 days for the Dragons Teeth. While many allow just 6 days, more than half abandon their plans due to weather and skip the High Route.

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Last updated : December 16th 2016