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Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park



Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park covers approximately 21,000 hectares centred on the Torlesse and Big Ben Ranges, in Canterbury’s high country. The Torlesse and Big Ben Ranges and the Torlesse Gap are features on the landscape from as far away as Christchurch and the Port Hills.

Travellers on state highway 73 between Christchurch and the West Coast gain an increasingly panoramic view of the park as they approach Porters Pass. Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park is a key site for the promotion and protection of eastern South Island high country landscapes and ecosystems.

[The following information is reproduced from the Department of Conservation pamphlet 'Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands Park (2002)' available from here.]

Historic and Cultural Values

From very early times, the area has held special significance for the first occupants the Waitaha, and through many generations to present day Ngai Tahu. The dual name indicates the importance of the area to our local and national culture. Korowai (cloak) is symbolic of concepts such as embracement, collectiveness, togetherness and prestige. It recognises the historic connections the Ngai Tahu tupuna (ancestor) Tanetiki had with the area.

The basins and ranges were an integral part of a network of trails, which were used to ensure the safest seasonal journeys and best access to mahinga kai (food-gathering places).

Charles Torlesse, a surveyor for the Canterbury provincial government, led by local Maori guides in January 1849, was the first European to climb the slopes of the range. A few men with picks, shovels and a government grant of 500 pounds, made the first track over Porters Pass in 18589. The original (Cobb and Co Coaches) road is still visible within the conservation park boundaries.

Other historic European sites within the park include the old pack track used by the Porter brothers, Avoca Homestead (1907) and the Mt Torlesse Colleries Coal Mines, which operated from 1918 to 1927.

Recreation Values

The Torlesse Range is one of the most accessible in the country, located alongside SH73, only 1 hours drive from Christchurch. The main access points into the park are the Kowai River (private), Porters Pass, Lake Lyndon Road, Craigieburn Road, and the Porter Heights Skifield Road. Access to some areas requires permission from neighbouring landholders.

The area is popular for a wide range of activities such as;

  • Tramping and hunting
  • Winter climbing and cross-country skiing
  • Picnicking and boating on Lake Lyndon
  • Botanising, scientific research and natural history studies

Natural Values



The Torlesse and Big Ben are high, dry mountain ranges with remarkable flora and fauna. Slim-leaved snow tussock/w kura is common and the high altitude tussock grasslands represent the eastern limit of mid-ribbed snow tussock.

Other natural features within the park include:

  • Mountain beech/tawhairauriki forest
  • Species-rich shrublands
  • Unusual scree plants such as vegetable sheep (Raoulia eximia) and penwiper/porotaka (Notothlaspi rosulatum), Haasts scree buttercup (Ranunculus haastii), scree lobelia (Lobelia roughii) and scree pea (Montigena novae zelandiae)
  • Native grasshoppers, weta, cockroaches, lizards and butterflies
  • Kea, falcon/karearea and pipit/phoihoi inhabit the grasslands
  • Tomtit/miromiro, riflemen/titipounamu, brown creeper/ppipi are present in the beech forests



All these trips are routes only unmarked and suitable for fit, experienced and well-equipped people. Maps that cover the area are Topographic Map 260 K34, K35, L34, L35. Times are approximate and one way.

Castle Hill Peak

From the carpark at the top of Porters Pass, follow a well-worn trail up through low scrub and tussock and across gravel areas, towards Foggy Peak. Large cairns mark the way in places. (12 hours)

Beyond Foggy Peak, follow the broad ridge. The ridge narrows for the final climb to the trig on the summit of Castle Hill Peak. (24 hours)

The Gap

From Castle Hill Peak experienced parties can traverse across to The Gap. Beyond peak 1941, sidle just off the north side of the ridge until you reach the bluffs above The Gap. Descend down scree to the north for about 50m, to a shoulder that leads directly back into The Gap.

From The Gap, a scree slope and rocky ridge provide a good route down to the Kowai River. Some rock scrambling is required.

Mt Torlesse

Access is across Brooksdale Station, please ring for permission. Follow an old vehicle track up the true right of Kowai River to opposite Kowai Hut (private). (12 hours)

The spur on the true right of the side stream, by the hut, is the most direct route to Mt Torlesse. The spur starts off with a gradual climb, becomes a steep ridge, and leads directly to Mt Torlesse. (34 hours)

If returning down the ridge, small cairns mark the top of a narrow scree that drops steeply into the side-stream.

Thirteen Mile Bush

Access is across Benmore Station, please ring for permission. Follow up the gravel bed of Thirteen Mile Stream until in the beech forest. Markers on the true right show an entrance which sidles through the forest to Benmore Hut. (3 hours)

Climb the spur behind the hut through regenerating beech, to reach an easy tussock ridge that leads onto the north east end of the Big Ben Range.

Rabbit Hill

An old farm track starts alongside SH73, halfway between Porters Pass summit and Lake Lyndon. Climb up the track amongst diverse shrublands, traversing open ridges to trig point M. above Lake Lyndon (23 hours). From here, walk up and along tussock slopes to Rabbit Hill.


Hut Information

Broken River Hut

A 4-bunk Forest Service hut in good condition, category 3 (1 ticket).

Access is via Broken River, 1 1/2 to 2 hours upstream from Slovens Stream, or by crossing Flock Hill Station with their permission.

Benmore Hut

An A-frame 3-bunk hut in fair condition, category 4 (free).

Access is up an old track (overgrown) beside 13-Mile Stream, permission from Benmore Station is required to cross their land.


Avoca Huts

The Old Homestead has 2 bunks with plenty of floor space, in a tidy condition. The second Avoca hut, next to the Old Homestead is also in fair condition with 2 bunks and plenty of floor space. Both huts are category 4 (free). Access is via Craigieburn Road, which becomes McFarland Road at the last railway crossing by the Avoca Railway Station. Avoca Hut is finally reached by crossing Broken River.

Avoca Station was one of the most inaccessible stations in the Waimakariri Basin. The original Avoca lay north of Broken River and was enlarged in 1904 by adding a block on the south bank taken from the Mt Torlesse run. In 1917, Avoca was incorporated into Flock Hill. The old Avoca was taken up by Charles Harper, son of the Bishop of Christchurch. He shore sheep on the property and brother George packed the wool out on bullocks, three sacks each, then sledged it over Porters Pass.


Hut Fees

  • Category 2 2 tickets/night
  • Category 3 1 ticket/night
  • Category 4 free

Up-to-date information from DOC on backcountry hut fees can be found here.


Further Information

For walking advice, maps, weather information and informative displays:

Arthur's Pass Visitor Information Centre
Department of Conservation, Waimakariri Field Centre
PO Box 8
Arthur's Pass
Phone (03) 318-9211, fax (03) 318-9271

Department of Conservation Website: www.doc.govt.nz

Hunting information and permits, and cultural-take permits may be obtained from:

North Canterbury Area Office
133 Victoria Street
Private Bag 4715
Phone (03) 379 9758