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Copland Track, West Coast of the South Island

The Copland Track is located south of Fox Glacier on the West Coast in the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Area. It’s a 7 to 8 hour walk (17 km / 10.5 miles) into Welcome Flat Hut and an absolute highlight of our Winter Rimu trip that runs from May until September.

Copland Track, West Coast

Very popular amongst local Kiwis, the Copland Track has experienced a boost in popularity in recent years and is now also becoming well known on the international hiking circuit. This is partly thanks to the Department of Conservation (DoC), who has poured considerable resources into improving the track to make it wider and safer, including the installation of modern swing bridges (don’t worry – they’re perfectly safe and not as scary as they may look!). This newfound popularity is also thanks in part to the increased spotlight on natural hot springs dotted around the country, lots of which are only accessible on foot! Another sign of its growing popularity is the fact that DoC now supports a permanent hut volunteer over the summer months to make sure people are paying their hut fees and generally looking after the hut.

Description of the Copland Track

There’s no easing into the Copland Track. It’s an onslaught of the senses from the moment you step off the bus at the start of the track. From the get-go, you’ll be greeted by the local sandflies that celebrate when you stand still to get your pack ready. Leaving those little, um… nuisances behind and heading into the bush, it’s easy going for the first hour or so, over a nice, forgiving forest floor and across long open patches of grass. The fun really begins when the track joins back up with the Copland River, providing a fun challenge to the hiker navigating the mossy boulder field. You'll also see “Dog Rock” (it looks just like the head of an Irish Setter) which is about 1 hour short of the half-way point on the track.

A little later, respite comes in the form of the ironically named “Architect Hut” – four simple walls, a roof, 2 bunks, 2 mattresses and a wee potbelly stove sum up this hut. But it’s the smaller touches that capture the imagination here. The hut visitor book is always a good read and the empty bottles of wine conjure up telltale images of warmth and rosy cheeks. Hopefully, you haven’t delved too far into your packed lunch already, but if you have, your guide is always a miraculous source of further snacks. After lunch, the track continues winding its way up the valley with some memorable swing bridges to cross and views of the Southern Alps. It’s a long tramp that is challenging for most, but as our 'Winter Rimu' travelers always comment – it’s well worth it!

Copland Track swing bridge

Should I walk the Copland Track?

Walking this fairly demanding track all day – albeit pleasantly distracted by the stunning views – is a challenge for most, but the rewards are well worth it. Here’s a typical scenario that may help you paint a picture of what it might be like to hike the Copland Track on the 'Winter Rimu':

1) You’re 6 ½ hours in and you wonder if you’ve taken a wrong turn. You chastise yourself for not listening more carefully to your trip leader giving important directions earlier. Whilst eating the yummy lunch your guide packed for you earlier, you adjust your balance to take the pressure off your sore knee.
2) Someone behind you, probably with the same self-reprimanding thoughts, suddenly yells out, ‘The hut! We've made it!’ You'd think by the edge in their voice that it was a matter of life and death. Maybe it is for them…
3) You reach the hut, drop your backpack and wonder how you're already sitting in front of the fire with your boots off – they must have a life of their own those boots…
4) Your hot-springs-radar is on, you’ve stripped off to the bare essentials and you're grabbing a mug of mulled wine to keep you warm on the way for the complete experience. It’s only now, whilst half-naked, that you realize your group is sharing the hut with other hikers! But not to worry, they give you knowing looks and remind you to take a water bottle too.
5) As you slip into the soothing pools with squelching mud underfoot, all the aches melt away and you realize with a grin: this is why we came to NZ!

The Copland Track and its mountaineering legacy

The Copland Track was once the tail end of a favorite alpine route across the main divide of the Southern Alps known as the Copland Pass. It linked the grandeur of Mt Cook on the Eastern side with the contrasting beauty of the West Coast Bush. Experienced climbers with ice axes, crampons and other mountaineering gear would start in the Aoraki/Mt Cook village, making their way along the Hooker Valley track and then up the moraine covered glacier for 5-6 hours of steep climbing, careful to avoid crevasses. They could then take a rest or overnight stop in the Copland shelter before crossing the mountain pass and making their way down the western side.

Unfortunately, this route is no longer accessible due to a rock slip on the eastern slopes, but there is an alternative route nearby for mountaineers called Fitzgerald Pass.

Trip Reviews

  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 4983 reviews)

    Trip of a Lifetime!

    I am still basking in the glow from this remarkable trip! I admit that I was a bit nervous at first as I was the oldest person in our group and not as fit (for hiking) as some in the group, so I worried about 'keeping up' on the hikes - especially the steeper climbs. Ben and Lauren were very reassuring and encouraging and I felt that I was able to 'hold my own'. In fact, while the hiking was probably the most challenging I've done in at least 7 years, it was the most rewarding/exhilarating part for me. I loved our group - a very positive, health-conscious and fun group of people from all walks of life. It was also wonderful that we were only 12 people - it helped to create a much more intimate and personal atmosphere. I felt we bonded together well - again, thanks to Ben and Lauren's great skills with ice-breaking, fun games, and ability to set and maintain a positive atmosphere from the beginning.
    From the moment we set off from the airport to the emotional farewells back at the airport at the end of the trip, this was a top notch adventure. Our transportation was comfortable, our accommodations were always different and unique and very comfortable - I loved that they weren't all in your standard hotel and that some of them were really off the beaten track. The food was amazing - from the snack basket in the van, loaded fresh every day with fruit and other snacks, to the amazing meals that Lauren and Ben created and the breakfasts and dinners that we had at various restaurants - there was a lot of variety, special dietary considerations were accounted for and there was lots of it!
    I did the kayak option and it was outstanding. The B&B and our hosts were wonderful (the hot tub at the end of the day was most appealing!) and our kayak guide, Nick was terrific - very accommodating, skilled and he made it all very interesting and fun!
    I cannot say enough about our incredible guides - Ben and Lauren - they truly moved the bar for me from a great trip to one that will go down in history for me as the trip of a lifetime. They were so knowledgeable about the island - I loved listening to the legends/folklore and learning more about the vegetation, birds, etc. Ben was a terrific driver - I always felt safe. Lauren was terrific with her cooking and meal presentations - meals looked fantastic and tasted even better! Both Ben and Lauren added those special touches from decorating the bus for the Christmas season, organizing our Secret Santa, making a fantastic Christmas morning breakfast, complete with Christmas crackers and special hats, managing extra logistics like re-booking the paragliding for us, setting up the helicopter tour, taking the time and effort to help reconnect people with items they had left behind either in our accommodations or on a hike/kayak. They even had the perfect music for when we went through the Homer Tunnel and down into Milford Sound - the combination of the music and the scenery was so moving it had several of us in tears! They really ensured that they got to know each person and took a genuine interest in each person. Their positive energy and enthusiasm was infectious. They took kindness and customer service to a new level! The scenery was breathtaking everywhere we went. It would be hard for me to say what the favourite part was or favourite view as the South Island is simply spectacular. I felt that the trip was organized in such a way that I really got a good feel and appreciation for the South Island. Truly New Zealand is one of the most beautiful places (both 'inside and out') that I have ever visited (and I've visited over 20 other countries around the world). I really loved the more laid-back way of life and the local people we met were so welcoming and kind. I would love to come back again and see the North Island but also re-visit the South Island!
    I highly recommend this trip and have already suggested it to a number of my friends. It really was transformational for me on so many levels! My heartfelt thanks to Ben and Lauren and everyone at Active Adventures!
    Sue Hazell Review Image
    – Ontario, Canada
    Rimu, January 2018
  •   4.38 out of 5 (from 1211 reviews)

    Perfect

    The trip was impressive and our guides, Jo and Andy, are awesome!
    Frank Chung Review Image
    – , Singapore
    Kauri, December 2017
  •   4.60 out of 5 (from 1887 reviews)

    Unbelievable weather!

    Our guides really made the trip! Katie and Eve were fantastic, and the South Island was so beautiful. I can't recommend the Tui trip enough.
    Katrina Linder Review Image
    – Pennsylvania, United States
    Tui, November 2017
  •   4.38 out of 5 (from 1211 reviews)

    Very Glad We Added Kauri to Our Trip

    We added Kauri to our Rimu trip because we wanted to spend more time with the Maori culture and see the north island. Our wishes were more than fulfilled by this excellent trip.
    Rick Lent Review Image
    – Massachusetts, United States
    Kauri, December 2017
  •   4.44 out of 5 (from 908 reviews)

    Whatever the dream, if its New Zealand, find a way!!

    Where do I even start?!?!? NZ has been #1 on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. It wasn't until I realized I couldn't wait forever for that perfect time, to have X amount of money saved, to have a companion to go with me...that I decided to JUST GO ALREADY! And I suggest you do the same! Don't wait another moment. I went alone but found the most wonderful companions I could have ever hoped for! Even got a great roommate. The guides, Claire and Jess were PHENOMENAL! I started crying off and on a few days before the end of the trip because I became that attached to them and knew I would never see them again. Leaving at the airport, I couldn't even speak I was so upset and saying goodbye. So wonderful and beyond knowledgeable! I miss Jess' cooking and Claire's coffee already and I just got back yesterday!!! But seriously folks, the Manuka was beyond what expectations I could have ever dreamed. Yes it was indeed physical, so be ready for that; but there were some flatter, easier options for those that chose to not exert so much energy. There were a couple of times I wanted to just quit, but Claire and/or Jess kept me going saying it would be worth it (for the view AND the accomplishment) and MAN WERE THEY RIGHT!!!

    The food, the company, the knowledge, the laughs, the comradery, the views, the EXPERIENCES....all of it was TOP NOTCH! I have my memories that will last a lifetime; best money I have EVER spent.

    Don't wait! GO! I plan to go back in a couple of years to do the entire Milford Track. That's my only regret is that I didn't spend the extra to do that. But that's on me, not AA!
    June Vidrine Review Image
    – Texas, United States
    Manuka, March 2017

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Above all, we aim to be amazing hosts. We're proud of our kiwi roots, and our professional, warm and relaxed style of running trips around the world is unforgettable.

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