Peaks of interest to mountaineers are found west of the Lake Stream tributary and include many of the Arrowsmith peaks, some rarely visited peaks on the Main Divide, and the bulky massifs of Mt Whitcombe and Mt Evans. The Bracken Snowfield is a ski touring destination, and the valley also provides access to the historic Whitcombe Pass. The Rakaia is a big-volume river and crossings need to be chosen with care. Upstream of Meins Knob, the western branch of the Rakaia River is informally known as the Lyell River and the lake as Lyell Lake, while the north branch is known as the Ramsay River and the lake at its head Lake Ramsay. These terms are often found in literature and used in conversation.
Rakaia River access by vehicle
Access by 4WD is possible as far as Reischek Hut. Follow Blackford Road, which becomes Double Hill Run Road, and take the turn-off to Manuka Point station (2 km east of Glenfalloch Stream). Cross the Rakaia River here. Contact Manuka Point station (Don Patterson, phone 03 318 5878) to check river conditions and to request permission to cross station land. The 4WD track follows the true left of the river until Totara Point, where it crosses to the true right and continues across matagouri-covered river flats to Reischek Hut, generally following the southern edge of the flats. To reach Lauper Bivvy, look for a crossing of the Rakaia River upstream of Reischek Hut.
Rakaia River access on foot
If walking up the river, approach through Glenfalloch Station at the end of Double Hill Run Road, contacting Charles Todhunter (phone 03 318 5843) for permission. Drive over a small rise to park at a hay barn or continue on the farm track to Whaleback and the shingle fan above Lake Stream, stopping before the 4WD track makes a sharp left turn. Walk west down the shingle fan to Lake Stream. Land west of Lake Stream is part of Lake Heron Station ; ask Phillip Todhunter (phone 03 303 9014) for permission to cross the land.
To Banfield Hut
The Rakaia River cuts into its steep southern bank, usually necessitating a traverse of Prospect Hill. (If river levels are low, the river can be crossed to the true left and back again further upstream to avoid climbing over Prospect Hill.) Cross Lake Stream and aim south-west, to where grassy river flats meet the Prospect Hill spur. Go through a gate and follow the fence line up a short steep rise, joining a cattle track which climbs round the end of the spur and drops down to a muddy, matagouri-filled gully. From here, head up out of the gully to meet a fence line (marked on map sheets 260-J35 / BW19). Cross to the far side of the fence and follow it west until two gates are reached which are next to an old 4WD track immediately north of a south-east flowing creek. Do not follow the 4WD track – a major slip has made this route difficult – instead take a basic tramping track which initially follows the creek in a north-west direction and eventually leads to an undulating plateau and terraces above Washbourne Creek. At the end of the plateau, cross a fence at a wire gate and from here drop down to Washbourne Creek. (When travelling west to east, reach the terrace and fence via sheep tracks up the spur that rises from the confluence of Washbourne Creek and the Rakaia River.) Cross Washbourne Creek and follow a 4WD track, which soon gives way to animal tracks criss-crossing the grassy flats to Jagged Stream. To reach Banfield Hut, follow the southern edge of the river flats all the way to Jagged Stream and pick up a marked track, which leads on to a narrow terrace just above the river and goes directly to the hut. Do not follow the maze of animal tracks leading uphill. Allow at least 2 hours to reach Banfield Hut from the road end.
To Reischek Hut, Evans Hut and Lauper Bivouac
To continue upriver, travel down Jagged Stream to meet the Rakaia riverbed and follow this until opposite Totara Stream. Pick up the 4WD track, which enters the matagouri here and leads to Reischek Hut, generally following the southern edge of the river flats. Allow 5–6 hours to reach Reischek Hut from the road end.
To reach Evans Hut at the foot of Cattle Stream, find a crossing to the true left somewhere upstream of the Cattle Stream confluence.
To reach Lauper Bivvy a crossing may be found upstream of Reischek Hut.
To Lyell Hut
If continuing to the upper Rakaia River, about 1600 metres upstream of Reischek Hut a cairned track sidles above the Rakaia River where the main branch abuts a short section of awkward bluffs. To continue to the head of the valley, follow a marked track that enters bush where Meins Knob abuts the Rakaia. Follow this track up and over the saddle south of Meins Knob (Pt 1276 metres), dropping down to river level east of Lyell Hut. If river levels are low, it may be possible to avoid this climb by continuing around the foot of Meins Knob until a swing bridge crosses to the true left. Cross on the bridge and continue up stream, re-crossing to the true right in the vicinity of Lyell Lake. Lyell Hut is situated on the true left of a small creek, just in the bush. Allow a full day to reach Lyell Hut from the road end, especially if carrying a heavy pack.
- Thompsons Hut (Lake Heron Station) : An old six-bunk station hut situated back from the 4WD track. Ask the station for permission.
- Banfield Hut (CMC) : Sited at the bush edge on the true right of Jagged Stream, this hut has six bunks and solar lighting. There is an aerial attached to the hut to connect to your own mountain radio. Water is obtained from Jagged Stream.
- Washbourne Hut (Lake Heron Station) : An old four-bunk station hut situated alongside the 4WD track. No water at the site. Ask the owners for permission.
- Lauper Bivouac (DOC) : A basic but tidy two-person bivvy.
- Reischek Hut (NZDA) : Sited about 30 minutes below the Reischek confluence, this six-bunk hut is the only hut in the Rakaia Valley with a radio.
- Lyell Hut (CMC) : A six-bunk hut at the head of the Rakaia River.
- Evans Hut (NZDA) : A six-bunk hut at the foot of Cattle Stream.
- Jellicoe Hut, Manuka Point Station (private)
in association with the Canterbury Mountaineering Club