Last Updated: 3rd Apr 2024

Intermediate - Experienced

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I've done it Done

Mt Fyffe-Kowhai Saddle circuit

Kaikoura, Canterbury

Submitted by Mike Steel

Last Updated: 3rd Apr 2024

Intermediate - Experienced

Save Trail Save

I've done it Done


Grunt Factor: 47 ?

Gnarl Factor: 43 ?








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Trail Map

Type of Run

Front country - easily accessible



Native bush

Plantation/exotic forest


Open tussock/grasslands

Open ridges/tops

Run Makeup


Farm Road / 4WD Track

Easy Single Track

Moderate Single Track

Technical Single Track

Untracked / Route only

Average Uphill Gradient: +13.7%

Average Downhill Gradient: -13.3%


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Estimated Times to Run







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.

This trail includes the peaks Mount Fyffe and Gables End.

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

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

14 km

21 minutes




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!

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.

Trail Legend


Chrissi Faber

has completed Mt Fyffe-Kowhai Saddle circuit once in the last year.

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Trail Reviews

Definitely a back country adventure and not a fast circuit. The downhill and the scramble along the riverbed are very technical and most of it is not a formed track as such. Definitely keep a close eye on the orange markers and I found it helpful to check on my watch that I was on the correct side of the river

Chrissi Faber

October 26, 2023

Did it in fastpacking rather than running mode. It took me 9.5hrs but i guess the river was way higher than expected. I crossed it roughly 50 times, a dozen of them at waist deep. Given how many times I had been literally forced to shift from true left to true right of the river, something must have changed in terms of morphology meanwhile. Definitely not an easy undertaking.

Massimo Nember

March 12, 2023

Awesome trail, very challenging from the saddle to the river bed. The views from the top are certainly worth the grind!

Aaron Campbell

November 13, 2021

This was such a great day out. Plenty of snow in the tops and at Christmas time! great views and plenty of variety. I grabbed some sticks that I used as polls to help me up the mountain, through the snow, and down the river boulders. Definitely recommend this. If I had brought my own polls I surely would have broken them heading down the river in more than a few spots. Surprisingly well marked route down the river too which was a pleasant surprise. Highly recommend this run !

Simeon Whyle

December 30, 2020

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