Red Hills Ridge Alternate
The Red Hills Ridge is an alternate route on the Te Araroa Trail from Red Hills Hut to Top Wairoa Hut. Red Hills hut is one of the first huts you encounter after leaving St. Arnaud Village Northbound, and the start of the Richmond Range section of the Te Araroa. This alternate is a route so there is no trail to follow and very few, if any, trail markers. This alternate should only be attempted by folks who have solid navigation skills, as well as good judgement for travelling on loose and sharp talus. The views from the Red Hills Ridge are stunning. It is definitely a cool way to start your journey Northbound through the Richmond Range or finish your journey Southbound into St. Arnaud Village.
About the Route.
As stated above, the Red Hills Ridge Alternate is completely off trail. We will outline a few details of where the route goes in order to provide a little bit more guidance. We are writing this description heading Northbound.
Start from the Red Hills Hut by heading southeast on a small pathway for a short distance. As this path turns north it will slowly dissipate and you will be following a faint use trail with a few cairns along the way. You may even find the big cairn in the picture above. Make your way to the trig point south of the plateau and continue on the ridgeline south of the plateau. We stayed in the middle of the plateau which was not ideal... The ridge then turns into easy walking on solid red rock with views of all of the surrounding mountains and down into the beautiful river valleys. Stay on the ridge proper. Eventually you will come to Point 1770 where you can look and see the Red Hill/Maungakura Peak. You have two choices here. Stay on the ridge directly south of the peak and traverse all the way over to Maungakura Peak. This route requires some third to fourth class scrambling with loose rock, lots of focus, and some previous experience moving on this type of terrain. The second option is to drop down into the basin soutwest of Red Hill/Maungakura Peak and then climb north out of this basin back onto the ridge. From there, continue to follow the ridgeline all the way around to meet the Te Araroa and drop down just above Top Wairoa Hut.
This is a brief description of how we did the Red Hills Ridge. For more information Michael Deckebach has a link to a more in depth route description. Also, we have included a few photos of the ridgeline with some information for context and assistance in route finding.
Things to Consider.
As stated earlier, the Red Hills Ridge does require some skill in navigation and route finding in order to stay safe. It is important to note that the red rocks on this ridge are extremely sharp (we were actually really surprised by how sharp the rock was). We ripped a few holes in our pants and jackets moving across this terrain. The sharpness also adds some stickiness for your shoes. The person who wrote the route description linked above said: “Take a look at your boots before you go – as they’ll never look the same again, the rocks will shred them.” This seemed very true for us too!
Because the route is on sharp rock and requires meticulous travel and focus, consider the amount of time that it may take you to accomplish this alternate. We think we heard that 13 DOC hours were recommended to complete the route. Make sure to account for this in your planning of the Richmond Ranges if you are going to attempt the Red Hills Ridge Alternate. Also, as always, consider the weather. It was clear with a few clouds when we did it. I am sure that if it was very cloudy, windy, and/or cold it would make navigation and movement harder in an already tricky section.
How We Did it.
We did the Red Hills Ridge Alternate instead of walking on the trail around to Top Wairoa Hut. The day we did it we left from the Alpine Lodge in St. Arnaud Village and walked to Red Hills Hut for lunch. Then, we topped off our water, and started walking up the Red Hills ridge with the intention of sleeping on the ridge that night. We found a small patch of flat ground to sleep on right before point 1770. The next day we woke up and walked the rest of the ridge around to meet the trail again. We travelled on the ridge proper to the south of Red Hill/Maungakura Peak (which is Option 2 in the above picture). We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and the chance to be on third/fourth class terrain. The traverse took us a bit longer than expected, so we ran low on water, but we were still able to make it to Lower Wairoa Hut to sleep the following night. If you choose this option make sure you HAVE ENOUGH WATER to complete the alternate.