Soaking up the Copland
The Copland Valley was named by G. J. Roberts in honour of a pioneer doctor from Otago, Dr James Copland (1837-1902). The government commissioned an assessment of the Copland in 1892 to “determine the practicability of a route for a mule or horse track from ‘The Hermitage’ across the alps to the West Coast.”
The original track was little more than thirty-five kilometres of blazes on trees made by the famous explorer, surveyor Charlie Douglas. Charlie’s report was not favourable as the dynamic landscape would need any route over the Alpine Pass to be constantly rebuilt. The government ignored his recommendations and sent Arthur P. Harper (AP) out to explore the area again in the summer of 1894/95. AP’s equally detailed report remained equally unfavourable. However, track building soon began to the exact specifications of “the hind quarters of a donkey with two large saddle bags.”
The trailhead and car park is just north of the Kärangarua River and it takes around seven hours to walk the 18 kilometres to the Welcome Flat Hut. Most of the large creeks have flood bridges, however, there are a number of small side creeks that become raging torrents in moderate rain. The Welcome Flat Hut sleeps up to 32 people and there is a coal fire, running water and the backcountry luxury of two flush toilets.
You can continue to the Douglas Rock Hut, however, the going beyond Douglas Rock quickly becomes treacherous. Only well equipped and experienced alpine climbers should attempt the Copland Pass as this area has claimed a life as recently as April 2010.
Charlie Douglas and his colleagues were the first European explorers to discover the Copland hot pools in 1901. The trio were forced to drink the entire contents of a whisky bottle so they could take a sample of the spring water back to civilisation. Charlie described the pools as “beguilingly comfortable.” Whether this was because of the hot water, the whisky or both we will never know.
For those who stay at Welcome Flat there is no doubt that large hut and the “crockpot” factor involving the slow cooking of weary bones in the nearby hot pools at the end of a day’s hiking is as welcome today as it is was historically. Bookings are essential at the Copland Hut and campsite. For more information see www.doc.govt.nz.