“A tough climb to amazing rocks, alpine scenery and a truly great hut. Only an hour from Dunedin.
— Almonzo Wilder
The Rock & Pillar Range towers above the town of Middlemarch and the Strath Taieri valley, just an hour's drive from Dunedin. The Six Mile Creek trail offers one of the most direct routes to the top of this range, with outstanding views along the way. The summit ridge of the Rock & Pillars is an other-worldly place with bizarre rock tors, amazing cloud formations, never-ending views and diabolical weather. This outing is a good day walk, and an even better overnight trip using one of New Zealand's best tramping huts. The route is unrelentingly steep and has no shade. Beware that weather at the trailhead may have little resemblance to conditions at the top of the range.
Need to Know
The Rock and Pillar Range regularly experiences atrocious weather conditions. Be prepared for cold, extreme wind, and whiteout conditions. Expect snow and ice to linger well into the summer months at high elevations.
The Six Mile Creek trailhead is marked a few kilometers north of the town of Middlemarch on Highway 87, look for a sign indicating access to the Rock & Pillar Conservation Area. At the turnoff you'll pass through a pasture gate (close it behind you!) and then drive on a good dirt road (suitable for all cars) to the signed parking area. The track begins on private land, where you'll follow a wide marked trail to a pasture fence with a staircase marked boldly with orange flagging. After crossing the fence take a sharp right and follow the fence line to the public land boundary. Here the steep climbing begins.
The route up the Rock & Pillar Range is marked continuously with orange-topped poles. The trail climbs very steeply through scrubby vegetation near the valley floor, then beautiful tussock-grass fields at middle elevations, and true alpine tundra near the summit. At the upper end of the climb the poles that mark the route are spaced very closely, and several are equipped with solar lighting. On a clear day this may seem like overkill, but it is a testament to how bad conditions can get. The marked route ends at Big Hut, a 16-bunk hut that offers fine shelter (no reservations, $10 per night, gold coin donation for day use) and a chance to practice your ping-pong skills...that's right, this hut, in addition to being modern, clean & comfortable, has an awesome ping pong table!
Big Hut makes a great base for further exploration of the broad summit plateau of the Rock & Pillars, and offers a chance to witness outstanding sunrises and sunsets. Summit Rock is a worthy destination, lying to the north of Big Hut via a cross-country ramble. The most fun route is to aim for the rock tors just north of the hut, which offer great scrambling and exploring. Summit Rock requires an easy hop over an old fence line to reach and is hardly higher than its surroundings. It is recognizable by the survey marker at its top. Views extend from the ocean beyond the Otago coastline all the way to the Alps near Queenstown and Wanaka.
When you've had your fill of exploring, head back down the way you came.
History & Background
Beginning in the 1920's the Rock & Pillar Range was a destination for skiers, and Big Hut was originally built as a ski accommodation. It even had a rope tow located nearby. There is a great display in Big Hut describing the ski history of the mountain range.
More recently, the Rock & Pillars feature in "The Hobbit" movie as the location of the Dale Hills. Ten helicopters were used to ferry cast, crew and equipment to this remote location for filming.