Hiking the Whataroa Valley
Hiking up the Whataroa Valley, especially to Ice Lake is an adventure into “splendid isolation”. It is one of the larger valleys on the West Coast and has a rich agricultural and mining history. The signpost for the car park is on the southern side of the Whataroa River, and a four wheel drive track will take you through the Friend’s farm to the Waitangi Forest Conservation Area.
There were once well defined cattle tracks, used by prospectors and stockmen to get their pack horses to Barrowmen’s Flat and Scone Creek. Today, the track network extends to the upper regions of the Perth and Butler Valleys, and the Whypmer Glacier. The tracks are well marked, however, in some places little more than one boot width wide. Hunters, hikers, climbers, and whitewater enthusiasts enjoy this wild area; however, it is not a realm for the inexperienced.
The Whataroa catchment area is prone to flooding, and in any season, you may have to kick steps across avalanche debris to reach your destination. Big Creek is your first opportunity to get your feet wet and it acts as a natural barometer for the valley. If you find it in flood the best decision is to turn back.
Gold miners scoured the creeks and beaches of the lower valley in the 1860s and during the 1930’s and the depression years. From the swing bridge at the Perth confluence, you can look up river into New Zealand’s ‘Grand Canyon’, which like the Perth River; it is a mecca for white water rafters and kayakers.
Scone, Top Butler, Butler Junction and Whymper Hut were all built in the 1970’s by the forestry service; the Nolan family of Whataroa erected Nolan’s Hut, and the Stan Peterson Hut on Gunn Ridge is managed by the New Zealand Safari Club.
If you plan to explore the Valley talking to the staff at the Department of Conservation Visitor Information Centre in Franz Josef Glacier village is strongly recommended. They will be able to give you information on the current weather conditions, maps of the area and informative track guides.