Tarn Hut - The Perfect Overnighter

Youngman Stream to Tarn Hut is the perfect overnight hike for Cantabrians in the Puketeraki Forest Conservation Area. Not far from Christchurch city, these tracks are easily accessible from Lees Valley Road. This trip can be a gentle hike (with some steep grunting sections) up the Ashley River to Youngman Stream Hut or continue up the steeper more challenging Lilburne Hill to Tarn Hut.

map of trail

DOC map of the Youngman Stream to Tarn Hut loop. Park the car (4WD recommended, it’s a bit rough) up the 4WD track shown on map.

becky on leeds valley road

The 4WD track is easy to find on the left side of the road 29km along Lees Valley Road.

We left the city on a Saturday morning and set off along the farm track about 1030 am. The sun was shining, and the breeze was fresh. It was late May and the forecast was fine with Norwest winds. The farm track was an easy walk and we crossed the Lilburne River an hour in. Just after the river crossing is the Youngman Stream Track and Tarn Hut Track junction. We went up the Youngman Stream Track along the Ashley River, but you can go straight up to Tarn Hut which some other hikers we met did on the Friday night after work.


tarn hut doc sign

The Track Junction. We went right along Youngman Stream Track and came down Tarn Hut Track the following day. 

The Youngman Stream Track was beautiful following the Ashley River. Quite a gentle walk for the most of it then a few steep grunty sections with tree root ladders and navigating around a couple of wash outs. There wasn’t a lot of wildlife around, but the bell birds treated us to a beautiful chorus. We stumbled across a stinky stag wallow from the recent roar and lots of pig routing.


Hiking up the valley to tarn hut

Heading up the Valley in and out of beech forests and open areas to admire the view. A few steep sections that got the legs burning! My Prism Jacket was the perfect warm, wind breaker to walk in.

After 3.5 hours we crossed the Ashley River and arrived at Youngman Stream Hut. DOC suggest this route takes 4-5 hours and is advanced in difficulty, but we walked at pace (I did to keep up with Steve’s long strides) and for my first decent hike in boots with a pack on I didn’t find it too technically challenging.

Youngman Stream Hut was tidy and cosy with 3 sets of bunks, a fire and a long drop. We met some fellow hikers who shared their lolly cake and chocolate with me! What a treat! They had spent Friday night at Tarn Hut and walked down Lilburne Hill to stay the night at Youngman then walk out on Sunday morning. A great two-night adventure! They reported strong NW winds up Lilburne Hill but the views from Tarn Hut were well worth the trip, so we fuelled up and began the climb to the top.


young man hut

Steve and Youngman Hut nestled in the valley next to the Ashley River.

DOC suggested 2.5 hours to reach Tarn Hut but I was getting chilly, so we boosted up making good time in 1.5 hours. The walk was relentlessly steep but so beautiful in the mossy beech forests. When we reached the bush line and ventured out into the open mountain side the wind was unforgiving and icy cold. I could only just stay on my feet and found it tricky to see the track. My Montane Tornado Gaiters were lifesavers as the sharp bushes and matagouri violently whipped at my legs in that wind. My favourite piece of gear for this trip! The track markers were very clear the whole time and I just made a beeline to the next one I could see. When we reached the trig, I held on to the waratah to admire the view and it was spectacular!


limburn hill

The top of Lilburne Hill. Well worth the battle against the cold wind and tired legs.

We descended down the other side and I was relieved to see the cutest little hut tucked away in the saddle next to a beautiful tarn. Tarn Hut is small with only two bunk beds and no toilet or running water nearby, so make sure you go prepared to pack out what you take in, and use the shovel in the hut. NO ONE wants to clean up others waste any where, but especialy in such a magic place.

Lucky for us we were the only visitors there for the evening. I was colder than I thought and struggled to warm up as the hut is a little drafty and the wind was howling outside. Steve managed to find enough firewood to start the fire and I snugged up in my Montane Primino base-layers and Prism sleeping bag to eat my pasta. Bliss!


tarn hut canterbury

 Gorgeous Tarn Hut and the full moon. When it was dark you could see the lights of the city which was pretty neat!

We boiled water from the tarn for cooking and it was fine. The views from here were absolutely stunning but wrap up warm if you are exploring around here in the winter. My prism Jacket and Atomic waterproof pants were the perfect wind stoppers but base layers and a down jacket underneath were necessary. My merino trail running socks were comfortable inside my hiking boots but I will be getting their heavier boot sock for my next trip my silly feet get very cold. 

The wind didn’t give up over night and it was super noisy, so ear plugs are recommended. In the morning we popped down off the ridge with our porridge to watch the sunrise over Lees Valley which was so special.

sunrise on lees valley

Beautiful... great place for a cuppa tea!



sunrise over tarn hut

 Sunrise over Tarn Hut.

The walk back to the truck from Tarn Hut was a pleasant descend along a 4WD track which took us about 2.5 hours at a leisurely pace, stopping for a couple of smoko breaks and enjoying the sunshine. If you are popping up to Tarn Hut for the night or doing this loop in reverse it’s a grunty climb that DOC suggests takes 4.5 hours. Crossing the Lilburne River again we wandered back along the farm track to the truck and journeyed into Oxford for a pie and coffee because every hike should end in a treat!

Written by Becky 'PowerGirl' Clarke.



  • T O

    Definitely a long drop there – just a bit hidden & further from the hut then you would think

  • K W

    I was up there in 97 . Pretty sure there was a long drop toilet back then.

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