Acheron Road - Molesworth Station, Marlborough Region

Easy - Intermediate - Advanced

Open, November - April

Molesworth Station Brochure (pdf)

Molesworth Station Map (pdf)

Description

The journey from Blenheim to Hanmer Springs follows the Awatere River, then crosses Wards Pass to follow the Acheron to its confluence with the Clarence River.

After 100 km of travel up the Awatere Valley, you reach the Molesworth Cob Cottage. The main section through Molesworth between Cob Cottage and Acheron Accommodation House is 59 km, taking a minimum of two hours of driving. There are several shelters and information panels along the way.

Note: Distances in brackets are provided firstly from Blenheim end of The Acheron Road, and secondly from Hanmer.

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Awatere turn-off (22 km/185 km)

From Blenheim, follow SH1 south, then turn right at the Awatere Valley intersection just north of Seddon and the Awatere Valley Bridge. A sign here will indicate whether the Molesworth Road is open.

Along the public Awatere Valley Road, picnic and toilet facilities are offered at the Marlborough District Council’s Blairich Recreation Reserve (37 km/161 km) and the Hodder Bridge Picnic Area (76 km/132 km). The latter is where trampers set out to climb Mount Tapuae‑o‑Uenuku (2885 m), New Zealand’s tallest mountain outside the southern divide.

The Awatere Valley is known for fine‑woolled merino sheep and distinctive wines.

Molesworth Cob Cottage (122 km/85 km)

For visitors who have travelled up the Awatere Valley, the original cob homestead built by John Murphy in 1866 is the gateway to Molesworth where the Acheron Road begins. If the road is closed, please go no further.

Molesworth Cob Cottage Campsite

20 Non powered sites. Bookings not required, first come first serve.

Getting there

3 km north of Seddon, turn off SH1 into Awatere Valley Rd. Drive 100 km (approx. 2 hours 30 minutes) to the campsite.

Gravel road. Not suitable for vehicles with trailors, caravans, buses or other vehicles over 7 m long.

Location

NZTM2000 coordinates: E1622456, N5340796
Latitude: -42.08511648, Longitude: 173.27020624

Fees

  • Adult (18+ years): $8 per night

  • Child (5 - 17 years): $4 per night

  • Infant (0 - 4 years): free

Pay cash on arrival at the self-registration stand at the campsite.

Passes

The campsite pass for rental campervans cannot be used at this campsite.

NZMCA / DOC campsite pass cannot be used at this campsite.

Backcountry Hut Passes cannot be used at this campsite.

Activities

Drive or cycle along the road and fish in the river.

Know before you go

Fires not permitted at any time.

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Wards Pass (131 km/76 km)

Crossing the flats from the cottage, look south towards the triangular‑shaped Dillon Cone (2174 m) and straight ahead to Barefell Pass, recorded by Frederick Weld in 1850 and still used for moving stock from the Awatere to the Acheron catchment. The road then climbs to Wards Pass (1145 m), closed by snowfalls for long periods.

As you drop from Wards Pass, you cross a section of Muller Station, courtesy of the runholders.

Isolated Flat (132 km/75 km)

The 250‑hectare expanse of Isolated Flat is an outwash plain,bounded by the Awatere Fault.

From January until April, masses of tall, white gentian flowers can be seen growing amongst clumps of short tussock and pasture grass. Introduced blue borage (Echium vulgare) also grows profusely, the blue flowers attracting bees, which produce delicately flavoured honey for sale throughout New Zealand and are important pollinators for pasture plants, including clover.

The flood‑prone, braided bed of the Acheron River is a habitat for numerous bird species, including the nationally threatened banded dotterel and black‑fronted tern that breed in the area, as well as native fish species and trout.

Leaving the flat, the road climbs up and over Isolated Saddledown to the junction with the Tarndale track.

Red Gate (145 km/62 km)

Here, the Severn River, which has a significant catchment starting on the Molesworth boundary, meets the Acheron River.

To the right of Alma Valley is Mount Augarde. From here, looking down the Alma Valley you can see the routes to the upper Wairau and Tarndale, where cattle spend summer after calving. The Tarndale turn‑off (no public access up this track) leads to the historic Tarndale Homestead, built from cob in 1874 and still used by stock workers.

Severn Rock Shelter (149 km/58 km)

A toilet and a shelter are located here. Information panels about historical access routes and accommodation, and the life of packmen, stockmen and musterers are inside the shelter.

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Guide River (161 km/46 km)

On the opposite side of the Acheron is the confluence with the Guide River, important for stock movement between the Awatere and Acheron Valleys leading up to Barefell Pass.

Pig Trough Suspension Bridge (167 km/40 km)

Pig Trough Suspension Bridge is one of three built by the New Zealand Electricity Department in the early 1980s to provide access to towers where the high‑voltage direct current line crossed the river away from the road.

The other two bridges have been washed away in floods. The unusual name comes from the wild pigs often seen around a wet soak near the head of the gully named Pig Trough Gully. A toilet, shelter and information panels are located here.

Lower Acheron Suspension Bridge (180 km/27 km)

Lower Acheron Suspension Bridge is a historic stock bridge built in 1945 by students from Canterbury University’s Engineering School. It was built to replace an older, dilapidated bridge. It is a remnant of the old sheep farming days when St Helens Station had to periodically move up to 15,000 sheep safely across the Acheron River. It is now maintained by the Department of Conservation as a historic bridge.

Acheron Accommodation House (181 km/26 km)

At the confluence of the Acheron and Clarence Rivers, the Acheron Accommodation House is the oldest building on Molesworth. 

Information panels about Māori trails, explorers, past runholders, the building and history of the accommodation house, and St Helens Station are located here.

Acheron Confluence Shelter (182 km/25 km)

This is also at the confluence of the Acheron and Clarence Rivers. A toilet, a shelter and information panels on modern cattle musterers, the Clarence River and historic runs (stations) of the area are located here.

Jollies Pass junction (193 km/14 km)

This original road to Hanmer is now suitable only for 4WD vehicles. Cattle leaving Molesworth from the southern end are driven over Jollies Pass from the Clarence Valley and trucked from Landcorp’s bull farm at Hanmer.

Jollies Pass was once the social centre of the district, boasting a store, unofficial Post Office and hotel.

Vegetation, including mountain beech forest remnants on the west side of the Acheron River between the Accommodation House and Jollies Pass reflects a slightly higher rainfall than on the rest of the route. Unfortunately, pines and exotic broom are abundant.

Jacks Pass/Rainbow junction (199 km/8 km)

Here, the main route to Hanmer turns left, heading over Jacks Pass and into town. The Hanmer to St Arnaud Road turns off to the right.


Know before you go

Not an easy drive

The Acheron Road is a challenging and unsealed high country route. Drivers intending to travel this route need to check this website for information. The road is not a short cut or easy drive, and drivers need to plan carefully if they choose to use this route. 

Road conditions

  • The road is unsealed, with areas of potholes and corrugations. 

  • The highest point on the road is Wards Pass (1145 m) which is a 245 m elevation gain from Cobb Cottage.

  • The road is exposed to the weather during its entire length, with interpretation shelters offering some shelter, although they are not enclosed. 

  • Carry your own water for the trip, or boil/treat water taken from streams.

Be prepared

  • Careful and slow driving is needed on the narrow, unsealed road. 50 km speed limit applies through the Station.

  • No mobile coverage.

  • No fuel or food available.

  • Check your spare tyre before you go – space saver tyres are not suitable.

  • Follow the Molesworth care code.

  • Keep to roads and marked walking routes only, as cross-country cycling is not permitted.

  • These are high altitude routes where weather conditions can change rapidly. Always carry wind and water-proof clothing.

Accessing Acheron Road outside the open period

Outside the open period you need to apply for a permit. Permits will not be issued during winter months (June-August inclusive) except in exceptional circumstances. They are also unlikely to be issued in April or late September/October due to farming operations.

For more information on this route and an in depth description. Follow the Department of Conservations Acheron Road Guide.