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Whitcombe River


For a West Coast valley the Whitcombe River is reasonably well tracked and hutted. It leads to the Main Divide at Whitcombe Pass and is more often used to finish than start an alpine trip, but can be used to access Mt Evans from the Wilkinson Valley or the Bracken Snowfield from the Barron or Sale Glaciers. On the true right of the river, marked routes from Frew and Price Flat Huts give access to Main Divide peaks around Mathias Pass or along to Bonds Peak.

POINT (171.038504 -43.053524)
BV18 403 314

Road to Whitcombe Pass
The road to Hokitika Gorge via Kokatahi Flats is signposted. Just before the gorge carpark, a side road continues further up valley to a locked gate at about J33 482026 / BV18 382 410, and continues as a 4wd track to the riverbank 3 km further on. From here, a maintained DOC track mixed with sections of riverbed travel leads up valley to a cage crossing to the true left and Rapid Creek Hut, (DOC, four bunks, stove). Rapid Creek can quickly cut access up and down the valley after rain and needs to be considered as a gatekeeper both into and out of the Whitcombe Valley.
Time : Hokitika Gorge Road to Rapid Creek Hut, 3 hrs
Rapid Creek to Frew Hut
From Rapid Creek the track to Frew Hut continues on the true left, crossing on a bridge to the true right above the Collier Gorge. The track stays on the true right from here all the way to the head of the valley. The new Frew Hut (DOC, 10 bunks, stove) is at J34 506935 / BV18 406 319. Frew Creek is a big tributary but has a good wide gravel crossing.
Time : Rapid Creek Hut to Frew Hut, 4 hrs
Frew Hut to Price Flat Hut
From Frew Hut to Price Flat Hut the track begins easily on forested terraces, but it is slower going on steeper slippy country further up. The old Price Flat Hut, on an open flat, was built by CMC and West Coast deerstalkers and is now historic. Price Flat Hut (DOC, six bunks, stove) is up on a bush terrace. Vincent Creek is bridged. The bridge over Cataract Creek swept away in 2009 has been replaced by DOC with a new truss bridge.
Time : Frew Hut to Price Flat Hut, 6 hrs
Price Flat Hut to Neave Hut
From Price Flat Hut to Neave Hut the track sidles and climbs through forest and slips, sometimes returning to the riverbed. Cave Camp sits by small river flats opposite the Wilkinson Valley. The view of Mt Evans from Cave Camp rock bivouac is an imposing sight : it has been celebrated since the 1890s, when Charlie Douglas sketched it and J Parks photographed it, and now graces the cover of this guide. Sadly, the plaque on the bivvy rock is to Norman Dowling, killed returning from the second ascent of the mountain in December 1937. Above Cave Camp, the track is in good condition to Neave Hut, (DOC, six bunks, stove).
Time : Price Flat Hut to Neave Hut, 5–6 hrs
Neave Hut to Whitcombe Pass
The route from Neave Hut to Whitcombe Pass is a mixed bag. Initially the track is good, but shortly above the Gateway it fades at the riverbank by Snag Creek. Stay on the riverbank as much as possible; the scrub can be thick. In low river conditions, crossing will help. The true right bank is slow but negotiable if necessary all the way. The pass comprises tussock, boulders and gravel, with campsites at the 1220m contour either side and a tarn and poor rock biv just to the south of the pass itself. Lauper Stream offers reasonable travel down to Lauper Bivouac (DOC, two bunks) in the Rakaia.
Time : Neave Hut to Whitcombe Pass, 4 hrs

Add Place Add Route


Reference Title Grade Length Pro Quality Operations
 Frew Bivouac to Whitcombe Pass

  • P1

Taking a good three days, this transalpine route traverses the Main Divide mostly along western slopes, offering great views into the Mathias Valley and ranges west of the Whitcombe, including Mt Evans. From Frew Bivouac head upstream to the south-west, sidling further west at 1460 metres onto the ridge at J34 540901 / BV19 440 285. These basins across to Pt 1644 metres are gorgeous. The descent into Harcourt Creek begins at J34 536897 / BV18 436 280 and appears steep, but isn’t too bad. Reach Harcourt Creek at J34 533891 / BV18 433 275 and climb out south onto a flatter shoulder of the ridge off Button Peak. Sidle south into the stream off Kea Pass. Cross Kea Pass to the bench and valley east and south of Mt Split Open, and follow the Main Divide up to Mt Young. A sidle on the eastern side is necessary at pinnacles, but a col beyond gives easy access to the Divide again. Gravel slopes lead to the summit. Descend, sidling Whitcombe slopes to a narrow gully that breaks a wall coming off Mt McWhirter at J34 505838 / BW18 405 222. Sidle to another bluff line that can be descended at J34 501829 / BW18 401 213, and continue south. There are some interesting rock crevasses at about J34 499826 / BW18 399 210. Another bluff line can be passed at J34 498818 / BW18 397 202 leading into Bond Creek. Late in summer there is a sheltered gravel flat with water in a basin at the glacier snout (J34 502812 / BW18 402 196) that would be a great campsite in reasonable weather. From this campsite, sidle at 1900 metres past Laws Peak, descending under the big rock ridge off Mt Neave at 1640 metres, then head back up to cross Neave Creek at 1800 metres. In late summer, much of the section from Laws Peak south has few redeeming features other than the views : there is lots of gravel, inconvenient little climbs and descents, and little or no water.

Yvonne Cook and Geoff Spearpoint,
in association with the Canterbury Mountaineering Club