Avalanche Peak in Arthur’s Pass, New Zealand
Have you ever been to a place and it completely changes your outlook on something?
For me, Avalanche Peak on the south island of New Zealand did that. I visited the Kiwi nation with my boyfriend and we knew we’d want to take a few “tramps”. I had always loved hiking. But Avalanche Peak was the first hike I’d considered a mountain. It has completely expanded my love for hiking!
Anyway, onto the good details. Avalanche Peak is a mountain located in Arthur’s Pass, New Zealand, a beautiful place full of hikes ranging from short and sweet (like Devil’s Punchbowl) to more arduous and seasonal climbs.
(Seasonality Note: This hike can only be done in the summertime, unless you are equipped with an ice axe/crampons. I hiked this in early December, and there were still a few spots of snow I had to pass through near the top.)
The trail to Avalanche Peak starts to the left of the Arthur’s Pass National Visitor Center, which is easily found on Google Maps. The building is also on the main road through the area. I’d recommend taking a peek inside. It’s full of cool diagrams and the naturalists there have great hiking tips!
Starting The Climb
The trail itself that we took is called Avalanche Peak Trail, though it can also be accessed via Scott’s Track down the road a bit. Right away, you will realize this climb is for an experienced hiker. As it starts up through the beautiful native fauna, the trail gets steeper. There are places where you will have to scramble or climb over a small ledge to continue up the trail. However, it is all worth it! Very quickly you are rewarded with waterfalls. Waterfalls that pass over the trail, waterfalls that cascade down the mountain just off the path… they come up out of nowhere. Combined with the flora of the area, the bottom half of the mountain feels almost subtropical. Be sure to wear sunscreen!
One of the things that usually bugs me hiking is well, bugs. Though there were a few little flies buzzing around, while I was there I didn’t experience any sandflies or mosquitoes. This may change, though, if you go later in the season.
Beyond The Treeline
About halfway up, you come out of the treeline. Beyond here, trees cannot survive. There are still some shrubs and plants, but it’s here that the views get really impressive.
The mountains of the surrounding areas become visible, along with all of the splendid waterfalls that adorn them. I had to stop at the treeline just to take it all in (and okay, I also needed a break). The different browns, whites, and greens of the mountainsides all mixed together to create a complex landscape that it was difficult to look away from. However, I soon needed to look down at the trail. Above the treeline, the trail began to run alongside some steep ridges. The trail never narrowed, and I felt perfectly safe. However, definitely exercise caution when on your left is a 100 ft+ drop.
As you near the peak, which sits at 6,014 feet elevation, you may begin to experience shortness of breath. I had never been at such an elevation before, so for me it was a little bit of an adjustment. The air felt so clear and cold though!
A Different World
Getting near the top, it began to get much colder. We started passing little piles of snow. The trail turned from dirt to rock. The final ascent was a steep one, with some snow to contest with. I used my hands and feet here for extra support. I stayed on rocks where I could, doing my best to avoid the snow. Suddenly we were at the top of the ridge line!
The view from the top was truly spectacular. The waterfalls I had seen before had become small silver veins threading through the landscape. I felt such a sense of accomplishment for climbing my first mountain. The breeze was definitely stronger at the top, and even with multiple light layers on I was pretty cold. While we were up there, we heard what I assumed was thunder. However, with no storm in sight, there was a very real possibility we heard a small avalanche on another nearby mountain (pretty cool, considering it’s Avalanche Peak!).
A Surprise Visitor
While at the top, we were lucky enough to be visited by a Kea!
Keas are the world’s only alpine parrot species. They live on the mountainsides, eating whatever food they can find. Though they are low in number, they’re ready to eat just about anything, including any food you brought with you. Please don’t feed the keas. If they become reliant on human handouts, they will eventually starve.
Their feathers were green on top but a multitude of bright colors underneath. It was surreal to watch a parrot gliding around snowcapped rocks.
Going down is just as dangerous as going up, if not more so. This is as true for this trail as any other. We chose to head down Scott’s Track because it was a little less steep. There is loose rock and soil in some spots heading down. Be sure to go slowly.
On the way down, the views were equally great. There was a particularly nice view of Devil’s Punchbowl along the valley across the way.
Should You Hike It?
The hike up Avalanche Peak was an amazing experience that I will never forget. That being said, it is definitely not a beginner’s hike. There are risks such as ledges, loose rock, and exposure beyond the treeline. Please see here for more details of the route and potential risks.
Overall, the hike took us about 6 hours round trip. We were moving at a pretty decent clip. If you want to take your time, plan for 8 to 10 hours total.
This is an excellent trek that gives a panoramic view of the surrounding region of Arthur’s Pass. We only had one day in the area. Given a second chance, I would have chosen to do the hike again! As my first true mountain, I couldn’t have asked for a cooler experience.