Scott Creek, Lake Sylvan, and the Annual Glenorchy Races

January 19, 2024
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THIS week, I’ve decided to make a post about New Year hikes for one and a half hours up Scott Creek and to Lake Sylvan, both to the north of the township of Glenorchy at the head of Lake Wakatipu, after which we attended the annual Glenorchy Races.

Here’s a map of the area, with Scott Creek at the top, just to the right of the word MOUNTAINS, and Glenorchy at the bottom.

Map data by Land Information New Zealand, CC BY 4.0 via NZ Topo Map (2024). All the maps in this post have north at the top.

There is a high alpine wilderness area between Scott Creek that people sometimes traverse to get to the Kay Creek Hut, before descending into the Caples Valley, part of the popular Caples-Greenstone loop.

You hike from Scott Basin around to Death Valley (yep, we’ve got one too), arriving at the Kay Creek Hut. This is an advanced route and probably the sort of thing you would only want to do in summer.

It is also possible to descend into the headwaters of Kay Creek, above the hut, but that route is even more dependent on fine weather and local knowledge of the kind best supplied by a guide who has done it before (see also Moir’s Guide and some other tramper websites). As you can tell by the contours, wandering randomly into the upper part of Kay Creek, perhaps because you have got lost in the mist, would be a big hazard.

Map data by Land Information New Zealand, CC BY 4.0 via NZ Topo Map (2024). None of the map content cut and pasted here, including the scale, should be used for off-track navigation. Refer to the original mapping instead.

There is a good blog post by Danilo Hegg, of Southern Alps Photography, about the hike up Scott Creek and across Death Valley to Kay Creek Hut  and down into the Caples Valley. It is worth checking out for excellent photos of the traverse, which includes camping overnight on the tops, and, on the second page, the more temperate Caples Valley.

My friend Grant and I only went up Scott Creek for one and a half hours, on New Year’s Day, and then came back. Even so, you can still get magnificent views of the Dart Valley / Te Awa Whakatipu, and I think far more people hike up Scott Creek for that purpose than to do the Death Valley epic.

Here’s a video I filmed at that location:

A few days later, on the 5th, we returned to this area and drove further up the road to the start of the Routeburn Track and the Sylvan Campsite, which I’ve described in an earlier post.

Map data by Land Information New Zealand, CC BY 4.0 via NZ Topo Map (2024).

Here’s a view of the mountains near the Routeburn Shelter, near the end of Routeburn Road.

And the gorgeous Route Burn after which this locality, and the nearby, world-famous Routeburn Track, are named.

We found that the bridge to Lake Sylvan had been destroyed in a flood, and so we had to ford the Route Burn. I don’t know if that will be possible in winter, or whether the bridge will be fixed by then.

Lake Sylvan

Here’s a video of the area by the Routeburn Shelter, and then of Lake Sylvan.

On the 6th, we headed to the Glenorchy Races, an annual get-together held on the first Saturday after New Year. I’ve mentioned Glenorchy in other posts as well, but this is a little distinctive, as I’ve never been to their annual horse race meeting before!

It is all pretty informal. The whole community turns out, including people from the nearby Walter Peak and Mount Nicholas stations.

Race Organisers

Racing and they’re off


For stages and amenities, they had these classic corrugated-iron trailers. They must have some other use during the rest of the year, though I can’t think what it might be.

Amenity trailer

Real Fruit Ice Cream

The races have been going since 1963, I believe (this was the 62nd running). There were only about three standard horse races out of ten or so. Others included a relay, with lots of people falling off including a local policewoman. They had a race where you started from the start line and then run back and take your saddle off and remount with no saddle, and it all seemed to be fun.

The races were held at the golf course. The money earned at the races goes to the community, and the Glenorchy Hotel was prominently represented among the sponsors.

There was free camping at the golf course the night before and that night, with bands until midnight, so it would be worth making the trip out in 2025!

There’s more about this lovely area in one of my books, The Sensational South Island.


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