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High Country Trekking Safety

Many of the routes are well marked, making them safe for riders trying out mountain country riding for the first time. However, high country trekking is not the same as country riding. These are important points to remember –

  • The weather can change quickly from hot to very cold at any time of the year, so always carry warm and waterproof clothing.
  • Always check the weather forecast (Met Service 5 day rain forecast is usually pretty accurate). Nor’west weather which is hot and dry on the Canterbury Plains usually means damp cool weather in the mountains. Severe Nor’westers can even bring snow. Note that the High Country behind Hanmer Springs is all above 800 m and some routes are at an altitude of more than 1000 m. If it is raining, be aware that river levels may be up, meaning that you can’t cross the Waiau river or go through the Boyle Gorge. Sometimes even the Edwards and the Stanley rivers become impassable. It can freeze 300 days a year.

Fowlers Pass – in bad weather. And it can be much worse.

  • There is no mobile phone coverage beyond Jacks Pass. We recommend that at least one person in your party carries an EPIRB or Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). Carry it on your body, not on your horse – in case the two of you part company. More information, including hire outlets for distress beacons, is available here.
  • Tell someone about your plans. It may save your life. Although most trips go without a problem, you need to be fully prepared so that if the unexpected happens there are appropriate measures in place to recognise there is a problem, alert the appropriate authorities and, if necessary, enable rescuers to find you quickly. The New Zealand Outdoors Intentions process (endorsed by New Zealand’s search and rescue agencies) provides 3 simple options which enable you to ‘tell someone’ all the details about your trip into the outdoors.
  • Avalanche risk. Maling Pass can be affected by avalanches in spring/early summer when warmer temperatures or rain make the snow unstable. Even if you cannot see snow from the track there may be enough snow out of sight on upper slopes to form an avalanche that could reach the track. DOC advises all visitors to consider carefully the class of avalanche terrain they might be going into. Formal avalanche alerts are available but the closest forecast area is Nelson Lakes. While this is further north than we typically ride, it may be worth checking before you go.
  • Your horse (and you!) will need to be quiet and sensible enough to cope with some narrow and steep tracks, walking through wet muddy areas and rivers.
  • Check out our trekking gear list for some guidance as to what to take with you, remembering that you will need to carry gear on your saddle (unless you have a pack horse).
  • There may not be bunks left at the hut you are aiming for, especially on long weekends and holidays. So be prepared to sleep in your own tent or a bivvy bag. Read more about Huts and paddocks.
  • Always leave huts clean and tidy with dry firewood stacked for the next person. Kick your horse manure when you leave paddocks so it breaks down quickly.
  • Bot flies are present in St James in summer so worm your horse when you get home.
  • Most routes require rough river travel, so most horses will require shoes or boots.

River route in the Boyle gorge