Copland Track, West Coast New Zealand

Hiking the Copland Track, New Zealand

Last updated: 21th July, 2023

One of our absolute favourite overnight hikes to do on the West Coast is to hike the Copland Track to Welcome Flat Hut. The Copland Track is nestled in the Southern Alps of New Zealand’s stunning South Island, and offers a chance to be immersed in this wild, untouched region. This is an incredible experience, and will leave you with incredible memories (and aching thighs!). In this post I will give an overview on the Copland Track, what it was like to hike, and how to prepare for this fantastic adventure!

What is the Copland Track hike?

The Copland Track is an 18km long hike that winds its way through the spectacular Westland Tai Poutini National Park. The trail itself is stunning, passing through a number of diverse landscapes, ranging from lush native rainforest to glacial valleys – all the while surrounded by incredible snowy mountains! It really shows you the best the West Coast has to offer. The track offers a moderate level of difficulty, with some strenuous (but short) uphill sections and a fair amount of boulder hopping along the banks of the Copland River. This makes the Copland Track suitable for both experienced hikers and beginners seeking a rewarding challenge!

Map of Copland Track to Welcome Flat

How long will the Copland Track take to walk?

Hiking the Copland Track will typically take around 6-8 hours to reach the hut, especially if you’re like me and need multiple photo-and-snack breaks along the way! Therefore, the best way to complete this hike is to do it as an overnighter, and spend the night sleeping under the stars at the Welcome Flat Hut! 

The trail’s moderate difficulty level requires a reasonable level of fitness, as the terrain changes often from well-maintained path to clambering over boulders, and there are some steeper sections near the end of the hike. It’s important to plan your itinerary accordingly and allow for ample rest and exploration time along the way!

Copland Track, West Coast New Zealand

How to get to the Copland Track

The Copland Track begins at the Copland Track carpark, which is located just off the main highway on SH6. It is located approximately 26km south of Fox Glacier. The turn-off to the car park is well signposted on the northern side of the Karangarua River bridge. After turning off, drive around 150 m down the gravel road to the car park, making sure to close the gate on the way through! The carpark has a toilet, and is fine for overnight parking, but no camping!

Where to stay before and after the Copland Track

As you’ll want to start your hike up the Copland Track fairly early, it is good to stay somewhere close by to the beginning of the hike! Unfortunately, it’s a little in the middle of nowhere, and so will take a bit of planning. The closest towns to the beginning of the hike are Fox Glacier to the north, and Karangarua to the south. Here I will list a few options nearby, including a camping ground for those travelling in a van!

Fox Glacier – Lake Matheson Motel

A conveniently located motel that is clean and comfortable, with incredible views of the glacier! The motel is close to the centre of town, where you can get all your outdoor supplies for the hike. 

Distance to Copland Track carpark: 21 minutes drive (26km)

Karangurua  – Hunts Beach Accommodation

This is a beautiful little cottage located on the coast, near the small settlement of Karangarua. It is relatively secluded, however offers a free breakfast, which would be a treat in the morning before a long hike into the wilderness!

Distance to Copland Track carpark: 11 minutes drive (12km)

Lake Paringa Campsite

This is a small campground on Lake Paringa, which is managed by DOC. It is suitable for backpackers travelling in a van, and has rustic facilities for overnight stay. 

Distance to Copland Track carpark: 32 minutes (45 km)

Copland Track, West Coast New Zealand

Our experience hiking the Copland Track

We hiked the Copland Track in February 2021, which was the perfect time to do it! The weather was beautiful and warm, it is the driest season on the notoriously rainy West Coast, and there were less travellers as it is just outside of the peak summer season!

We parked our van at the Copland Track carpark, readied our backpacks, and were off… straight into a river crossing across Rough Creek. The river was low, and it only came up as far as my ankles, however I definitely had squelchy shoes for the next few hours. The water is glacial and freezing-cold, and it feels lovely on a hot summer’s day!

The first part of the track winds its way through beautiful native New Zealand rainforest, filled with ferns and the sound of fantails and bellbirds. The track here is well formed, with orange markers showing the way through the trees. The track slowly steadies itself along the right-side of the river, giving you incredible views up the valley, to the confluence of the Copland River and Karangarua River.

Copland Track, West Coast New Zealand

The forest soon gives way to flat grassy land, and you find yourself walking along the side of the Copland River. From here, the track alternates from rock-hopping along the riverbed, to walking through small sections of forest and grassland. We found it lovely to stop on the rocks and dip our toes into the freezing water, the best way to cool down on a long hike!

We soon came across Architect Hut, which is roughly the half-way point to Welcome Flat Hut. Here, we stopped to have a couple of trail snacks (the best kind), before continuing on our way up to the hut. This section of the hike was the more strenuous of the two, with a marked incline, and two active landslides to cross! These are well marked and are generally safe, however just be aware of the weather and any hazards that may have fallen onto the trail. The trail begins to climb and zig-zag, giving us incredible views of the mountains that surround the valley. 

Soon, we emerged from the forest, and began to walk through bush and scrub, before finally coming to Welcome Flat Hut. Finally! Within a few minutes, we had ripped our smelly socks off, donned on our togs, and lay down in the hot springs for a properly relaxing evening. The best experience!

Copland Track Highlights

Spectacular Scenery

The scenery all the way along the Copland Track hike was some of the most amazing I’ve seen in New Zealand (and that’s really saying something!) From the incredible blue of the Copland River, to the lush green of the native forest that surrounds the track, there are picture perfect views…everywhere! I think I ended up taking about an hour longer than needed to reach the hut, due to whipping out my phone every 5 minutes!

Hot Springs

One of the best features of this trail, and indeed, one of the things that convinced me to slog up a hill for 2 days of my holiday, are the natural hot pools that are found just next to Welcome Flat Hut. You read that right, natural hot pools! Surrounded by mountains! Surely nothing is quite as magical as watching the sunset on the gorgeous snow-capped Sierra Range, while you are lying in delightfully hot water after a long day of hiking. 

The hot springs are naturally occurring, and so are mineral-rich and awesome for helping relax aching legs! We found the best time to visit these were dusk and dawn, where you could watch the beautiful sunset, with the added bonus of escaping the relentless sandflies that enjoy making a meal of your legs!

Copland track, West Coast, New Zealand

Unique Wildlife

As you traverse the Copland Track, keep an eye out for the region’s diverse wildlife. Kea, the world’s only alpine parrot, often makes appearances, showcasing its intelligence and curiosity. Watch out, as they can be very cheeky and will love to pull apart your bag while your back is turned! Native birds such as the fantail and bellbird are also common along the trail, and the fantails will often follow you as you disturb insects as you walk.

Planning your Copland Track hike!

To ensure a seamless and enjoyable hiking experience, proper planning is crucial. Consider the following factors when preparing for your Copland Track adventure:

Best time of year to go:

The trail conditions and weather can vary significantly depending on the season. The recommended hiking period is during the warmer months of November to April, when the days are longer and the weather is generally more favourable. However, always check the latest weather updates and trail conditions before embarking on your journey. To see the latest weather forecast, as well as track closures, check out the DOC site here.

Booking Accommodation

The accommodation at Welcome Flat Hut is awesome, and well prepared to handle the numbers of people who make this hike throughout the gorgeous summer season. However, it’s important to remember to book your bed in advance, as it can get quite busy! There is also a Hut Warden in residence, who will welcome you to the area, give you a brief history of the track and look after you if you need any assistance.

If you are looking for a more rugged experience, there is also a campground in the flat land around the hut, which is cheaper and less likely to book out in the peak season. However, I would recommend staying in the hut if possible, if just to escape from the sandflies! 

If you are interested in booking your night at Welcome Flat Hut, check out the booking form here!

What to pack for the Copland Track

Packing the right gear and supplies is essential for a successful hike! Here is a checklist i’ve made for things to pack for your adventure up the Copland Track:

  • Sturdy Hiking Boots
  • Waterproof Clothing
  • Lots of layers to keep you warm – it can get cold overnight in the mountains
  • T-shirt and pants to hike in – I would recommend long sleeves to protect you from the sun and the sandfly bites
  • A reliable Backpack!
  • A map or GPS device – your phone should do the job
  • Insect Repellent – the stronger the better
  • Sunscreen
  • Plenty of drinking water – you can refill this at the natural spring at Welcome Flat Hut
  • Lightweight food and snacks, also very important!
  • A hiking cooker and pot
  • Torch/ Headtorch
  • Swimsuit and Towel for the hot springs!

Mountain Safety Tips for hiking the Copland Track

While the Copland Track is a stunning trail, it’s essential to prioritise safety during your adventure. Ensure you are adequately prepared, have the necessary equipment, and follow the guidelines provided by the Department of Conservation. Be mindful of weather changes, river crossings, and steep sections, and always inform someone about your hiking plans before setting off.

There is a river crossing over Rough Creek at the beginning of the hike, which can become flooded after heavy rain. If this occurs, 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 and parties with bookings notified. If you are at Welcome Flat Hut, you will need to wait until the track has reopened. Check the weather and conditions here before you depart.

Copland Track Conservation

Preserving the natural beauty of the Copland Track is a shared responsibility. When hiking, practice Leave No Trace principles by minimising your impact on the environment. Stick to designated trails, carry your rubbish out with you, and respect the flora and fauna you encounter along the way. By adopting sustainable practices, we can safeguard this pristine wilderness for future generations to enjoy.

Copland Track, West Coast, New Zealand

History of the Copland Track

The Copland Track hike has a rich and fascinating history, and I enjoyed learning about it once I had reached the hut! The track traces its origins back to the early Māori inhabitants of the region, who used these mountainous paths for hunting, gathering, and trade. It was not until the late 19th century that European explorers and settlers began to venture into the area. In 1894, Charles Douglas, a renowned explorer, blazed a trail through the rugged terrain, establishing what would later become known as the Copland Track. Originally used for access to mining areas, the track gradually gained popularity among nature enthusiasts and adventurers. In the mid-20th century, the Department of Conservation recognized its value and undertook efforts to improve the track’s infrastructure, making it more accessible to visitors.

Copland Track, West Coast New Zealand

FAQs – Frequently asked Questions about the Copland Track

Are guided tours available for hiking the Copland Track?

Can I hike the Copland Track in winter?

Is camping allowed along the Copland Track?

Are there any facilities available along the trail?

How physically demanding is the Copland Track?

Thank you for reading my post on hiking the Copland Track to Welcome Flat Hut! I hope you enjoyed it, and that it helps you to prepare yourself for an incredible hike!

If you are looking for more information on things to on the West Coast, check out my post here! 🙂

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