For a route map and more images, visit

In December 2022, my partner Cathy and I shifted from our home in Wellington south to a new one we had built on the foothills above Richmond. From 110 metres above sea level we gaze directly across to Mt Arthur / Tuao Wharepapa, one of the highest points in the Arthur Range / Wharepapa. Just from our deck, the dawn and dusk photographic opportunities keep me occupied as the seasons unfold. But being so close to the peak compelled me to go and spend a night on it to catch the magic hour.

A day trip to Mt Arthur is popular with outdoor lovers of all abilities. Access is via the Flora carpark situated at 950 metres, only a tad more than an hour’s drive from Richmond. The gravel road to the carpark is mostly in very good order, aside from a steep section where parallel concrete tracks have been laid to counteract the challenges of wet conditions. Winter conditions should also not be taken lightly. The road cuts through steep mountainous terrain subject to slips, snow and ice.

Mt Arthur Hut (1,300m)

It’s not much more than an hour’s stroll from the carpark up through beech forest on a very nicely maintained footpath to reach eight-bunk Mt Arthur Hut at 1,300 metres, nestled right at the edge of the treeline. There aren’t too many easier ways to reach the alpine tops than that, which is one of the reasons for the route’s popularity.

A view at 1,350m, along the Mt Arthur Route (left) to Mt Arthur and Winter Peak, and Gordon’s Pyramid right of centre

Another reason for its popularity is the distinctive and spectacular scenery, defined by karst rock formations. A karst landscape evolves where bedrock is dissolved over eons, forming sinkholes, sinking streams, caves and springs. Mt Arthur is hard, crystalline marble, transformed from softer limestone laid down under the sea about 450 million years ago.

Heading up the Mt Arthur Route, Mt Arthur ahead
A view northeast, back along the Mt Arthur Route, from about 1,600m
A view from Winter Peak (1,750m), northwest to Mt Arthur (1,795m, right) and southwest along the Arthur Range to the Twins (left)

During the ice ages glaciers carved smooth basins on the flanks of Mt Arthur, scouring and polishing the marble. The basin floors are pock-marked with sinkholes where surface water drills its way underground into extensive cave systems. These sink holes are often so deep that when you peer down into them, there is just blackness. Some smaller holes can be hidden by tussock, so when travelling across this terrain you should not assume the next step is solid ground.

From hut to summit takes around three hours. Above Mt Arthur Hut, the trail remains very well-trodden and clearly defined. Very soon after leaving the bush spectacular karst formations greet you, with Tuao Wharepapa dominating the distant skyline. It’s a bit more of a scramble for 200 or so metres beneath the summit, but nothing to be concerned about in good conditions.

Being 1,795 metres high, the broad peak can often collect cloud coming from the west by late morning or early afternoon. Therefore, I figured the best chance to enjoy magic hour was to bivvy up on top. I figured that if dusk was clagged in, I’d still be in place for dawn.

A Mt Arthur summit view south into the Ellis Basin. Ellis Hut is in the bush where the valley tussock reaches a point left of centre. Winter Peak is far left and the Twins at the right.
My bivvy spot on Mt Arthur, looking southwest to the Twins
Ridges layered to the west
A Mt Arthur summit view southwest to the Twins (right of centre)
A dusk visitor
A Mt Arthur summit view at sunset northeast over the Mt Arthur Route to Tasman Bay (right). Lodestone (1,462m) and Crusader (1,428m) glow orange at left.
A Mt Arthur summit view at sunset southwest to the Twins in cloud
A Mt Arthur summit view at sunset northeast over the Mt Arthur Route (sunlit) to Tasman Bay (right)
A Mt Arthur summit view at sunset west, with the Twins at left
A Mt Arthur summit view at sunset northeast over the Mt Arthur Route to Tasman Bay (right). Lodestone (1,462m) and Crusader (1,428m) glow orange centre.

Factors to consider before spending a night out are that there are no toilet facilities or a water source available on the summit. If the weather does close in, as it did for me around dusk, wind can really increase and the temperature will drop significantly. I didn’t get ideal conditions, but the swirling clouds around the Twins, just to the south made for some great landscapes.

Sadly for me, dawn saw me scurrying off the cloud-engulfed top  – tail between my legs, as the wind threatened to blow me off my feet. But that location, offering a magnificent 360 degree panorama (and so close to my new home) will ensure that I’ll be back.

On my descent next morning

Peter Laurenson is a member of the New Zealand Alpine Club and editor of FMC’s BackcountryFor more images and info about Peter, visit