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Mt Fyffe-Kowhai Saddle circuit, Canterbury

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Mt Fyffe-Kowhai Saddle circuitIntermediate - Experienced

Submitted by Mike Steel

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Trail Information







Front country - easily accessible



Native bush
Plantation/exotic forest
Open tussock/grasslands
Open ridges/tops

Intermediate - Experienced

8:00 (Slow)
5:00 (Moderate)
4:00 (Fast)



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A sporty and spectacular outing with a good mix of terrain. From the car park grind your way up the 4wd road to the hut (usually water) and then to the summit of Mt Fyffe (total~1.5 hours) at 1602 m.

From here it's a superb run north (see pic), following occasional markers along the undulating tops towards Gable where a short steep scree/broken rock descent leads to a prominent level narrow col with scree runs on both sides (follow markers). Traverse this to where the descent to Kowhai Saddle starts. This is a fast descent – mostly on scree, following occasional markers – drops you to the Kowhai Saddle (alt. 1153m) where you pick up the tramping trail that leads from the Hapuku valley into the Kowhai.

This next downhill section (670m descent) is slow in places, and requires a bit of route finding down the bouldery river bed, with steep scrub/bush, compounded by the 2016 Kaikoura earthquakes (DOC have since remarked some parts of this track since then). Relief comes in the form of two lengthy sections of track through bush on the true left of the stream, which have been re-marked. As the valley starts to flatten out, navigation is less clear but eventually you will pick up a trail that leads from a dry/slightly overgrown stream across the main stream onto a trail on the right, and after a few minutes you'll arrive at the main Kowhai river which flows out of a huge gorge.

Cross the river and climb onto a opposite terrace where the track soon arrives at the Kowhai Hut (alt. 480m) From here it's a very cruisy 1+ hour run down valley – follow the trail from the hut and cross the river, then follow an obvious track through bush on the true left. Further leads on the true left eventually pass the sign to ‘Spaniard Spur’ track up to the hut; instead continue down towards where the valley closes into a gorge. From here you are in and out of the river criss-crossing the gorge (trails allow you to take a fairly straight line). The riverbed after here is easy running (with some 4WD trails or shortcuts through the bush). At the corner where the valley finally opens out, and past the bluff on the left, make sure you’re on the true left and run towards the open scrub beside the hill - here you will pick up a track (marked) that leads onto a 4WD drive tack and brings you back to the car park.

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Features of interest

Great views of the high peaks of the Seaward Kaikouras, and on a clear day views far north, south and out to sea.

Make Up of Run

Untracked / Route only: 5%

Technical Single Track: 20%

Moderate Single Track: 25%

Easy Single Track: 20%

Farm Road / 4WD Track: 30%

Route Data


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I did it!
  • Access

    From Kaikoura drive north on SH1 to the end of the first long straight that climbs out of Kaikoura. On the corner on the left is Postman's road - follow this road (which eventually turns to gravel) right to the end where there is a large car park.

    Plenty of parking (safe) at the carpark. Also a DOC toilet.

    14 km

    21 minutes



  • Staying Safe


    The route from Mt Fyffe all the way to Kowhai saddle follows markers. The descent section from Kowhai Saddle to the hut requires some care (but DOC have remarked some parts of it since the 2016 earthquakes).


    Long-sleeved thermal top, Seam-sealed waterproof jacket, Gloves, Beanie/thermal headwear, Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), Whistle, First aid kit, Extra food for emergencies, Survival blanket, Cellphone, Map.

    Water usually at the Mt Fyffe hut, then none till Kowhai Saddle (after which there is plenty, including at the Kowhai hut).

    This is mostly a fine-day run, and from late-spring to late autumn run, when the ridges are mostly clear of snow. Microspikes may be useful to carry if there is likely to be some compacted snow/ice up high. Also be aware you're on the tops for a while, and it can be cold up there. Also avoid after heavy rain (see "Hazards")

    Before you do this run, check out the Kowhai river (5km south of the town on SH1) to make sure it's not in flood and you can ford it (you will need to do this several times upstream). Also, take care on the section from Kowhai Saddle down to Kowhai hut - can be slippery if wet and keep a keen eye out for markers. Regarding variations - it's possible to drop into the Kowhai valley just before the end of Gables End on a long scree-slide that you can see drops all the way to the valley (quite fast and exhilarating). However, don't be tempted to head down the pleasant looking scree that drops off from the long narrow col between Gable and Gables End - this was not fun!

  • Post run indulgence

    continental seafoods
    47 beach road
    great fish and chips

    Kaikoura seafood bbq
    Jimmy Armers Beach - on the way to the peninsula seal carpark
    awesome seafood - more health than the 'fish and chips' above.

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