Route Guide: Welcome Flat
The Copland Track is an historic crossing of the Main Divide between Mount Cook village and the West Coast.
It has been popular with capable travellers since the 1890s when the track was formed under supervision of the great explorer, Charlie Douglas. Before World War II, horses were taken from Welcome Flat to the nearest road at the coast glaciers.
The Welcome Flat Hut is a modern, two storey lodge. The hot pools nearby are are large and reliably hot, and certainly the best free pools you'll find in the South Island. While the walk in to the pools is very popular throughout the year, many visitors are misled about the track. The walk in is long and an early start is essential. There are a number of small flats along the first half of the track, so you could break up the long walk in by camping on one of these.
An unexpected reward of the visit is the view of the magnificent Sierra Range. Rising from the opposite bank of the Copland River, the saw-toothed ridge surpasses vertical at several points. It is a short walk from the hut to Welcome Flat itself, and if you have some spare time, you can visit Douglas Rock Hut farther up the valley as a day trip (it is a good excuse for spending an extra night).
It is 26km from Fox Glacier township south to the one-lane bridge over the Karangarua River. Immediately north of the bridge a sign indicates access to the Copland Valley. A shelter is located at the roadside, where trampers can wait for buses. The area is busy with sandflies.
A short road leads to a car park, information board and intentions book, along with a memorial to Charlie Douglas. There is grassy camping here. Large chunks of milky quartz can be found in the river-beds in the vicinity.
Car park, Karangarua River-Welcome Flat Hut: 7-8 hrs (5-6 hrs reverse), easy-moderate + river crossing
All major side creeks have flood bridges, with the exception of Shiels Creek which has lost its bridge and becomes impassable in rain.
From the car park, cross Rough Creek to the marker and follow the bush track. Initially the track is rough-going as it scrambles along by the river bank. It soon evens out, crossing some open space and meeting the old, straight bridle trail. A side track leads to a view over the junction of the Copland and Karangarua Rivers. Beyond here, the track enters the Copland Valley, soon dropping to the lichen-crusted boulders beside the river and sidling beneath a vertical cliff for some time. Climbing out of the river-bed, the track crosses an ironically sign-posted "unnamed creek," followed by McPhee and Architect Creeks. Architect Creek is wide and the bridge is a long span. The ascent becomes evident from here. A series of wet, steep slips follow on from Architect Creek. The track struggles to traverse across the loose scree and there are a few awkward moments. After Open Creek and Shiels Creek, which is an avalanche chute, the track climbs to its highest point in a forest of mountain holly. The descent to the hut is easy. Clouds of steam hanging in the air to the left of the track announce the presence of the pools.
Welcome Flat Hut
From the hut, a short track leads to a rock bivouac suitable for camping, and to a changing shelter next to the pools. The water boils out of a large, fiery-red hole, spilling along channels into the five pools. The pools are large and deep, offering a range of temperatures. Keep your head above water to avoid catching amoebic meningitis. With the aid of a plastic jar and a sachet of culture, it is possible to make you own yoghurt in the hot pools here!
The track from the hut down toward the river passes a small tent site amongst the scrub before coming to the Copland Bridge. You can cross this sturdy swingbridge to visit Welcome Flat. From the flat (438m) there are good views of the Sierra Range and the peaks at the heads of valleys on the other side of the river. Charlie Douglas described the Sierra Range in 1892,
The Jagged peaks and broken face of the Wakatipu "Remarkables", all that I have read or seen of rugged ridges or mountain, sink into insignificance before this wonderfull sight. A range of broken shattered cliffs, topped by a serrated ridge looking as if some Giant with little skill and a very bad file had attempted to make a saw out of the Mountains.
The track onward to Douglas Rock Hut is easy but less used, crossing several unbridged side-creeks and frequently blocked by windfall.
Blue Penguin To join the "Club" you soak in the pools till you are well warmed, and then you climb carefully down to the river, just below the bridge. Next, you submerse yourself in the Copland River. You have to put all of your head under. You are now a member of the "Club". Repeat these steps, until you are well refreshed!
22 July 2007
Apollo A really good tramp - and the second half is much harder than the first. The hut is awesome and the pools divine. The views along the way are all postcard perfect too. You may like to note, however, that the backcountry hut pass no longer covers this hut. Tickets need to be purchased prior to your stay.
Easter is also a very busy time . . . . .
4 April 2005
Apollo <Long Text>
28 March 2005
Randy Camp One of the best tramps one could imagine. A tough but not overly demanding walk in, best to allow a bit of extra time if you are unfit but well worth it. The hot pools are devine, just watch the sand flies, pays to pack some insect repelant (like about 100 litres worth). The hut is excellent, plenty of room at the right time of year.
12 December 2002
craig Great tramp but unfortunatley our cars got broken into at the car park and clothes pinched. Apparantly this has been happeining quite a lot, DOC and local Police know about it, so don't leave anything valuable in cars, which I hadn't but they still broke all the locks in my car forcing there way in!!
9 October 2002
LinZZay As my first "serious tramp" (ie, not Bushball) in New Zealand, this was absolutely AWESOME. Incredible rainforest, lots of birds (NZ pigeon, Paradise shelducks, Wekas near the hut, tomtits, bellbirds), exceptional views. The hut is luxurious by my standards- we don't have huts where I've been in America! I wish I had a house that nice! The landslide areas made me nervous, mostly due to a dream that I had before starting out, but everyone made it there and back safely. Every hut should have hot pools!! It rained quite a bit saturday night making the trail back out soaked with water and a bit treacherous on the stream crossings. Don't expect to keep your feet dry! And the avalanche I saw across the valley on sunday morning was definately awe-inspiring- first one I've actually seen! And the 20-person backrub circle by candlelight in the hot pools Saturday night was definately another highlight of the trip. Excellent track.
12 August 2002
PeterH This is a great winter walk. Hoar frost was wonderful near Architect Creek. 6 hours to the hut for us old guys. A 3am start from ChCh saw us there by dark - DoC cancelled our arrangement for their Mahinapua cabin to break the trip. Witnessed continuous avalanching in the Sierras during our rainy hot-pool dip (second time). The first time it was fine with lots of snow and had the added advantage of being school hols so lots of naked teachers!
10 July 2002
nzfella Hi everyone
This is an update on the track conditions. When I was in ther at the end of September 2001 the track was in pretty good shape, but I have just come back from taking a couple of nephews in there and I was shocked at the avalanche damage east of the old avalanche sit that hasn't changed much in over a decade. There is massive slips that involve going up and down to get across the silps, and you will have to climb under over and through fallen tress, But don't be put off it is still quite safe just a bit more difficult, and probably makes it a grade harder. Just go over there and enjoy.
21 January 2002
nzfella I totally agree with the article on hot water - these are the very best hot pools in good old NZ. Absolutely perfect setting - Alpine scenery, west coast bush, and crystal clear skies with a full moon make this a magical experience. I have walked this track 7 times so far, and I can't agree that it is a hard slog in, but I do recommend spending a minimum of two nights. It is well worth the walk up to and past Douglas Rock hut. If you are an inexperienced tramper you need to be aware of the side streams on this track e.g. Shiels Creek can be very dangerous as it comes up very quickly in rain (as do all these side streams), and anyone that knows little about river crossing could get into serious trouble, but don't be put off just make sure you follow the rules for outdoor pursuits.
25 December 2001
Tim It's a hard walk in but a much easier walk out. It's definetly worth the effort to sit in the hot pools after a tough walk though.
26 September 2001
MattBixley The track isn't an easy walk. It would be a long, tiring day for an inexperienced tramper. But the effort is worth it. 2 nights at Welcome Flat, with a day trip further up the valley are a rewarding experience.
29 June 2001