Three Passes: The Classic New Zealand Tramp

The Three Passes is one of New Zealand’s iconic multi day tramps. It goes across the Main Divide from Klondyke corner to the Styx River car park, or, more broadly, from Arthur’s Pass to Hokitika. You can walk it in either direction, however, East to West is nicer as going down Browning Pass is a little bit airy.

We had 2 groups, each starting from opposite directions as there is no transport to / from Styx River car park (but perhaps it could be arranged with some local private shuttle companies). I was in the group going from East to West which meant staying one more night in the bush (the other group stayed in bungalows on the West Coast on Friday night). With the evening Friday sun on our faces, we made our way to Carrington Hut where we camped for night. The hut was quite full which was to be expected as it was a long weekend.

The following morning we got up at 6.30 and soon we were boulder hopping along White River. And there we saw it: cableway! The water level was very low (I almost felt disappointed) but who can pass a cableway and not use it? We all got a ride across the river and started to battle the first pass. It was quite a rocky and wet battle but we managed to get to the top of Harman Pass in a reasonably good time. We had morning tea on the top of the pass and continued towards Whitehorn Pass. There wasn’t much snow at Whitehorn but ice axes still came in handy. The last 50 vertical meters was the hardest (read: the most fun of course!) and it was rather disappointing to find out at the top that we actually could go around the last bit of steep snowfield if we stayed to the right hand side. Oh well…

After lunch we descended towards Park Morpeth Hut. In Cronin Stream I had my first dip which just felt amazing on such a hot day! At Park Morpeth Hut, there were about 17 people that night, most of them camping. We arrived quite late and although I was excited to go for another dip, after the sun was gone behind the mountains, the air cooled down rather quickly so I chickened out. I also managed to leave my tent door open for 10 minutes so I spent around 30 minutes of the evening massacring a couple of sand fly battalions.

The day after we started with some pleasant boulder hopping along Wilberforce River. We passed Clough Memorial and started an endless slog up to Browning Pass. Susan mentioned that 15 years ago the track was pretty good – not very good in 2021. We lost the track a few times. In those cases we figured that the best approach is to bomb straight up. Browning Pass turned out to be quite steep at the end so I was quite happy that we were going up as going down would be a bit less pleasant. At the top of Browning Pass we finally met up with the group going in the opposite direction.

I could not resist the calling of Whakarewa / Lake Browning and jumped in, though I only managed to stay in the cold water for about a minute or two. Everybody’s doing peak bagging and hut bagging but I think that a much better idea would be lake bagging! The track down to Harman Hut was pleasant but way too hot. I kept saying to myself how great it is to have such good weather but it didn’t make my body any cooler. We had lunch at Harman Hut and off we went to Styx Saddle. This part of the track is muddy and really green, a nice change from the previous rocky alpine sections! We pitched our tents at Grassy Flat Hut which was, again, pretty full that night

The last bit along Styx River was great fun, although we were moving at a really slow pace. The DOC website recommended going via Mid Styx Hut but we kept following the river and crossed about 1 km east of Tyndall Creek. On the TL side of the river there is a stoat track to follow. After Tyndall Creek, the track keeps going on the TL and about 1.5 km before the car park we crossed again. From there, reaching the car was a piece of cake! The best part was at the end when a guy who we camped with for the last couple of nights gave us a can of beer. Cheers!

Rough stats: 52 km, 2300m up, walking time 3h + 10h + 10h + 8h

Tramped:: 5-8th February 2021


Group West to East: Alan Ross, Markus Milne, Simon Barr, Jimmy Philpott

Group East to West: Michal Klajban (scribe, photos, GPX), Klemens Stampfli, Penny Coffey, Susan Pearson, Chris McGimpsey

Total distance: 52135 m
Max elevation: 1749 m
Min elevation: 91 m
Download file: GPX-hikingisgood-com-nz-2021-three-passes.gpx

About the Author

I lived a pretty ordinary life for a while. I did my studies, my second studies, my third studies, my first job, my second job, and my third job. I wasn’t really sure what’s going on so, in 2014, I left my home country (Czechia) to learn about the world. I’m still not sure what’s going on but I enjoy it much more. I lived in a few countries before settling in New Zealand.

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