Dec 11 1980

Silverpeaks Route

For many years the Silverpeaks has been a major recreation area for Dunedin people. Since the 1920s excursions have been regularly organised into the hills and some very old huts used by musterers and trampers of earlier days can still be visited.

The walkway follows 15 km of one of the mot popular tramping routes through the Silverpeaks. It crosses tussock-covered schist hills with occasional clumps of scrubby bush.. The highlight, from Silverpeak (777 m) itself, just a few minutes’ climb from the route western-most point, is an almost uninterrupted panorama of the Taieri, Middlemarch and Palmerston areas, and the volcanic hills of Dunedin.

The southern end of the route starts at Semple Road via Double Hill Road on the slopes of Hightop, while either of two spurs – Gap Ridge and Yellow Ridge provide access at the northern end. For the less energetic,  return trip via these two norther ridges is worthwhile.

More popular than the Gap/Yellow Ridge trip is the return trip to Green Peak from Semple Road. Church groups, scouts, guides and family groups to name just a few, walk along Green Ridge to Green Peak.

Green Ridge is partly covered in manuka and other bush species but opens out into tussock once again as Hightop is approached. On a saddle between the ridge and Hightop, the Swampy Track branches off and leads through a terrace (Sleepy Hollow) and on to Swampy.

Hightop, like Silverpeak, also has panoramic views. The catchment of Carey’s Creek runs north before turning sharply to the east as the creek empties into Blueskin Bay. A small patch of bush – ‘The Clump’ – exists 1 km east of Hightop. This gave shelter to travellers from the 1850s, when the 50 km Snowy Mountain Horse Track connected Waikouaiti with Dunedin. It was also the site of a stockyard where wild pigs and cattle were killed to supply whaling ships.

The Silverpeaks were known to Maori who used the ridges to travel between Waitati and the interior. There is a story of a confrontation between two rival chiefs, one from a coastal tribe, the other from a southern tribe, taking place on the slopes of Green Peak, then called Paekohu or ‘fog ridge’. It was a fight over the kidnapping of the Waitati chief’s wives, and resulted in the death of the Southlander.

Maori were probably responsible for burning the area and reducing the forest cover. European farmers have run sheep and cattle on the tussock tops from the early days of Otago’s settlement, and so further reduced the bush areas.

The summit of Silverpeak joins up with Rocky Ridge, the main backbone ridge of the Silverpeaks. This ridge runs approximately north and the walkway follows it up to the Gap, along the rise and fall of the ridge crest, occasionally skirting around the higher more rugged points.

Once n this main backbone ridge of the Silverpeaks, look out for weather changes. High winds and driving rain can make exposure a reality in the tussock. Those not familiar with the track should also be wary of mist. Many have lost their bearings in the rolling ‘pea soup’ on the ridge. The jagged schist sentinels for which Rocky Ridge is well known appear startlingly human from a distance when shrouded in this cloud.

The rugged rocky section of the track just north of Silverpeak is another highlight of the walkway. Apart from giving shelter from the frequent chilling winds, the rock outcrops on the western side of the ridge are also riddled with many caves. One of these, in the late 1950s was home to a hermit, an experienced tramper seeking peace and solitude for a year or two.

On the valley floor below the western slopes lies Jubilee Hut. Like Yellow Hut, Jubilee Hut gives shelter and a degree of comfort to walkers who want to spend more than one day on the trip. It is reached by descending the Devils Staircase from the summit of Silverpeaks and although a couple of hours’ walk from the route, it is well worth the effort for those keen enough to walk the track.

The ‘Painted Forest’, a dark damp patch of silver beech forest just below and south of Silverpeaks is also well worth visiting.

The through route from the Semple Road car-park by Hightop, Yellow and Gap Ridges or vice versa follows the skyline ridge for most of its length. At the northern end it leads on to Gap and Yellow Ridges.

The route initially passes through open tussock country. Here, Yellow Hut was built in the 1960s. The OTMC now looks after its maintenance. There is water at the hut. Just above this hut, the remarkable ‘Gap’ can be seen on the opposite ridge immediately to the north-east. Resembling a giant bite of the ridge crest, the Gap is a prominent landmark seen from many parts of the Silverpeaks.

From Yellow Hut a track leads off down a spur (Yellow Spur) through bush containing broadleaf, manuka and Pseudo panax species. The track leads to the south branch of the Waikouaiti River, passing by still visible signs of the old gold-mining days. Across the river the Tunnels Track is picked up, which, after a steep climb, reaches the Mountain Road. A short bypass off the Tunnels Track takes you to the Tunnels, carved out by the gold-miners.

To descend the Gap Ridge, the route follows Rocky Ridge north. Rocky Ridge is still a tussock-covered ridge above bush-clad gullies on the eastern slopes, and scrubby or open country on the west which forms part of the watershed of the Taieri River. Gap Ridge continues north-east back down to the Waikouaiti River. Close to the highest point of Gap Ridge, the route passes through the Gap itself, a down-thrown block between two large bastions of schist. On the descent, watch out for several smaller side ridges which can be mistaken for the route, especially in misty weather. On reaching the South Waikouaiti River, the track heads up-river, avoiding the farm track and stock access route, and takes a short steep track up to the site of the old Forest HQ.

– From DoC hard-copy information sheet.

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