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Mt Harper – Mid Canterbury

Area: Hakatere Conservation Park, Mid Canterbury

Distance: 21km (approximately)

Time: 7.5 to 8.5 hours

NZ Topo Map: BX19

A few weeks ago, New Zealand was sitting in the early days of Covid Alert Level 3, and winter was not too far away. A small group of us hatched a plan to get back into the hills, staying local, and make the most of the fine weather.

We headed inland from Ashburton, driving through the small village of Mt Somers in the direction of the Ashburton Lakes. We parked at the back of Lake Camp and geared up.

It was about 2 degrees when we started, but the sky was blue and the sun was coming up.

The initial part of this track follows a marked walking/mountain biking track that takes you to Lake Emma, but to get to Mt Harper you divert off this track and aim for the clearest spur going up. There is no marked path and the initial climb is significantly steep, but the views are worth the effort.

The initial steepness give way to a more steady climb, and eventually you reach the weather station on top of Mt Harper. From here there are views all the way over the Ashburton Lakes towards the Two Thumb Range, Mt D’Archiac, and all the way down to the Rangitata River. This also makes a great spot to have lunch.

From here there are options to either return the way you came, bearing in mind the steepness of where you have just climbed. Or, as we did, continue along the ridgeline towards Balmacaan Saddle.

The ridgeline is open and expansive, offering commanding views over the Rangitata River. The decent down to Balmacaan Saddle is steep in places, and the snow tussock can become a little slippery under foot. It is possible to drop off early and head down one of the side streams, but be warned there is a considerable amount of Spaniard plants to negotiate.

From Balmacaan Saddle it is a straightforward decent following an old fence line to the Balmacaan Stream at the bottom. And from here there is a well marked and used track that follows this stream back to the main Lake Emma track.

Department of Conservation brochure: