This popular tramp gives a glimpse of Westland’s spectacular forest, river and mountain scenery, with natural hot pools at Welcome Flat an added attraction.
During severe weather, such as sustained or heavy rainfall, the Copland Track may be closed (often at short notice) due to flooding or other damage. If closed, notices will be placed at the start of the track. Check the weather and conditions at the nearest Department of Conservation office before you depart.
Note: True left and true right refer to the side of the valley or river when facing and looking downstream.
Warning: When Rough Creek is running high, all unbridged side creeks on the walk will also be running high and you will not be able to cross them safely. Do not start the walk in these conditions. There is a flood bridge across Rough Creek for emergency use to exit the valley (located 45 minutes upstream from the car park).
Cross Rough Creek to the orange marker on the other side then follow the well-formed path through the forest. The track is marked across open areas and river crossings by orange triangle markers. From the confluence of the Karangarua River to Architect Creek, the track alternates mostly between boulder hopping on rocky riverbed and forest tracks, with occasional grassy clearings. Architect Creek is considered to be roughly halfway to Welcome Flat.
Warning: There are two active landslide areas to be crossed on the track to Welcome Flat Hut. The landslide areas are approximately 30 minutes upstream of Architect Creek, and on the true left of Shiels Creek. Both are signposted. Due to unstable slopes, you will need to take particular care during and just after heavy rain.
Architect Creek Hut
Facilities: 2 bunk beds, heating, mattresses
Bookings not required – first come, first served
Beyond Architect Creek the track climbs very gradually towards Palaver Creek as the valley narrows. The climb becomes more noticeable once you have crossed Open Creek. After crossing the Shiels Creek bridge there is a short zigzag to the highest point of the track, after which you descend through forest before emerging at Welcome Flat Hut.
Welcome Flat hot pools
The hot pools are just a short stroll from the hut with fine views of the Sierra Range on a clear day. These pools are a fragile environment so please do not use soaps or shampoo or dig more pools.
Welcome Flat Hut
Facilities: 31 bunk beds, heating, mattresses
Access is off SH 6, 26 km south of Fox Glacier. The turn-off to the car park is well signposted on the northern side of the Karangarua River bridge. Drive approximately 150m down the gravel road to the car park.
Buses pass the road end each morning and afternoon and will drop off and pick up pre-booked passengers.
Nature and conservation
The forests of the Copland valley are visually dominated by a healthy canopy of southern rātā, a spectacular sight during the summer flowering season. The forest gives way at higher altitudes to the upper montane vegetation of tree daisies and dracophyllums, which in turn give way to the truly alpine habitats of tussock grasslands and native herbs.
Regular possum control has been undertaken since the mid-1980s, and as a result the forest damage is significantly less than in the neighbouring Karangarua valley, which has extensive canopy dieback.
History and culture
The Copland Track was built by the Tourist and Health Resorts Department to provide a tourist route across the Southern Alps linking the West Coast with the Hermitage, a popular lodge at Mt Cook.
In 1901 New Zealand became the first country in the world to form a government department to develop and promote tourism. Along with places such as Rotorua, the Chateau (Tongariro) and Milford, The Hermitage and the Southern Alps were becoming popular destinations with the growing number of international tourists.
The track was constructed over several years from c1901-1913. Construction was slow and hampered by labour shortages. The harsh alpine weather made it impossible to work on the track during winter, so work was restricted to the summer months. Work was also delayed by the unstable nature of the landscape and high rainfall in the area. This meant sections of track often had to be rebuilt due to damage from flooding, erosion and landslides.
At first the track was little more than a blazed line through the bush that had the tendency to become quickly overgrown. Eventually the track was widened and developed into a pack track.
There were no other tracks of this scale constructed solely for tourist use on the West Coast. The doggedness with which the completion of the track was pursued by the Government highlights the importance the Copland Track had in their plans for tourism in the South Island.
Welcome Flat hot pools
During the construction of the track, workers came across the natural hot pools at Welcome Flat. This was a great find – thermal attractions were proving popular with visitors and seen by the government as key to stimulating tourism. The route quickly became a popular tourist trip and was one of the key tourist attractions that sustained the fledgling tourist industry in the area.
Know before you go
Experience: Because of the terrain and conditions, the track is suitable for well-equipped and experienced backcountry trampers only.
Best time to go: Summer and autumn.
Maps: NZTopo50 BX14 Gillespies Beach
Hazards: Flooded rivers, rock fall, landslide and avalanche.
Flooding: This valley is subject to flooding at any time of year. Do not attempt this trip in bad weather or when rain is forecast. If rivers and side streams are in flood, do not attempt to cross. The Copland River can flood sections of track making it impassable.
Before you go into the outdoors, tell someone your plans and leave a date to raise the alarm if you haven’t returned. To do this, use the New Zealand Outdoors Intentions process (external site) on the AdventureSmart website. It is endorsed by New Zealand’s search and rescue agencies and provides three simple options to tell someone you trust the details about your trip.