Tramping With Dogs on the West Coast.

Husky Dog walking past a tarn in the Mataketake Tops in Haast

Alicia and Blade head to Haast to explore dog-friendly Mataketake Tops for the first time.  

It was Easter time again, and isn't that just the best public holiday? You get a whole four days!! This means you can go on a big mission and drive to a far-out place. Having explored almost all of the dog-friendly places in the South Island, I braved the long drive down to Haast. I have a love-hate relationship with solo trips as it's much nicer to go tramping with someone, but equally, I am very determined, so if people bail on a trip, I will still go. I strongly believe that you should do what you love regardless of whether you have someone to go with (within reason, of course, please don't climb Mt Cook solo on my advice!). But I was not totally alone; I had Blade, my 10-year-old husky, with me. And he adores tramping, second to mountain biking, of course. I was pretty worried about this trip, though, as every other "dog-friendly" trip we have done on the West Coast has ended in disaster – there were giant boulders the dog couldn't get up, or there were 3wire bridges he couldn't cross and my all-time favourite - a 5m ladder on both sides of a swing bridge. You can call me a wimp, but I can't lift a 27kg dog up a 5m ladder.

Husky Walking Through New Zealand Native Bush

Our destination was the Mataketake Tops, where a new hut was built in 2021. I had wanted to go there after reading an article in the wilderness magazine last year, and when I looked it up on the DOC website, I was surprised to see that the area was dog friendly (with a permit). Not only have they built a new hut, but they have reopened an old track so you can make a loop across 2 or 3 days.

Blade and I travelled down on Thursday, as Blade has a shoulder injury; he is not able to walk more than five hours a day and cannot walk long days in a row. So, this would give us five days if he needed it.

So, on the Thursday morning after a dog walk, I crammed the last of my stuff in my 50L backpack – it was chocka full of five days' worth of food, five days of dog food, a tent, roll mat and a dog mat. Blade also has a pack from Further Faster, but he only carries his lunches, shoes and water bowl. Dogs are like humans; the more you load them up, the harder it is on their joints. So we drove down to Haast and walked to the first hut on the Haast Paringa Cattle Track (Blowfly Hut). It was meant to be two hours away from the road, a perfect afternoon walk, I thought, but it turned out to be only 50 minutes! The walk was on a very wide pathway through the forest. The bush was stunning, and we saw a deer on the trail 15min from the car.

Waterfall in the New Zealand Native Bush

We arrived at the hut, and there was no one there except 10 Kea. So I set up the tent in the clearing near the hut (the toilet is 1 minute from the hut in a large flat clearing) after the kea departed. 

The next day we departed and continued along the Haast Paringa Cattle Track to Maori Saddle Hut, where we met some hunters waiting for a helicopter. They had shot only one deer, and I merrily told them that I had seen a deer 15min from the car the evening before and heard one roaring all morning. They were intrigued by the tramping husky, who promptly went to greet them, got some pats and then went to sleep. The helicopter arrived and left (twice), Blade continued napping, and I read a book on my kindle. It had only taken three and a half hours to get to the hut and was meant to take us 5. These DOC times seemed totally wrong, I thought. But at least the track has been what I had expected - a wide rocky flat trail through native bush. And there was only one dog obstacle, a fallen tree; Blade couldn't get over or under, so we did some bush bashing and went around it.

View from a tent at the Mataketake Tops and a tarn

After Blade had finished napping, we went up to Lake Law. It turned out to be up the hill behind the hut. It was two hours' return; Lake Law was pretty but surrounded by bush, so you couldn't see much of it. At 7 pm that night, it started raining. It didn't just rain; it poured. It was the typical west coast rain that got harder and harder and harder. It was still raining the next morning. And by 1 pm the next day, Blade was sick of resting and starting to get grumpy, so I packed up, and we headed off. We left the Haast Paringa Cattle Track and headed up the Maori Saddle route. The hunters had told me it wasn't far, but it was steep. They were right; it was very steep. Blade raced ahead but kept sitting down to rest at every opportunity. Luckily the weather started to improve, and by the time we got to the top of the hill, it was misty but coming and going. The tops were beautiful, much more so than I had anticipated. We wandered along the tops to the hut enjoying the view; it had taken just under two hours to get there.

Husky Dog standing by a Tarn in the Mataketake Tops

Mataketake Hut is situated next to Lake Dime, and from the hut, you can see the sea on one side and Mt Cook National Park on the other, including Mt Cook itself. Blade explored outside the hut, and I searched for a flat spot for my tent. It is fair to say there were no flat spots. But I finally decided on a relatively mossy, non-wet, flattish spot. A while later, two families arrived. They had booked out the entire hut for two nights and expected to be the only ones there. They had two small dogs with them who continually barked at Blade, but he was fast asleep, so he didn't particularly care. The sunset was incredible, and we watched the full moon rise above the Southern Alps from the hut's deck. Then we went to bed relatively quickly as it got cold very fast. At 2 am, I woke up as Blade was sitting bolt upright in the tent; another kea had decided to visit us and was drinking from Blade's water bowl. The only thing I had left outside of the tent! Eventually, he departed, and I could hear him jumping up and down on the hut's roof. Unfortunately, he returned and decided to peck holes in my tent fly. Thats New Zealand tramping!

Silhouette of a Husky Dog on the Mataketake Tops

The next morning it was chilly; we hibernated until the sun came up and packed up very quickly. The wind was freezing! The DOC sign said it would take 8 hours to get to the car. I had originally planned to stop at the Blowfly Hut on the way out, but considering all the signs had been way off timewise, I thought we would probably be at the car in 5 hours. The track follows the tops for a couple of hours and then drops steeply down the recut Mica Mines Route before reaching the Haast Paringa Cattle Track. The tops were stunning; there were numerous tarns and beautiful views the whole way. Blade did well; he investigated and drank out of the tarns, although he didn't enjoy the spikey grass, so he was happy when the trail started dropping down through the forest. The track zig-zagged, but it wasn't steep. We stopped for lunch, where it reconnected to the Haast Paringa Cattle Track. Then we continued back to the car, as expected, it only took us five hours. Blade ran out of energy in the last hour and slowed down to half his normal pace, but once we reached the car, he flopped down for a nap and proceeded to nap the entire way home.

Written By Alicia Paulsen, and her trusty side kick and adventure buddy Blade, you can follow their adventures here: a_gertie_01.

And if you liked this and want to know more about adventuring with your furry friend, check out Robin's experiences here: Camping and Hiking With Your Dog in NZ

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