Balloon Hut (Lake Peel Track)
Kahurangi National Park
Balloon Hut is located at the end of Lake Peel Track, between Cobb Valley and Mt Arthur, Kahurangi National Park. It is a great destination for an overnight trip from Cobb Valley, and is also commonly used as a second night stay on three day trips from Flora car park to Cobb Valley.
The climb to Balloon Hut from Cobb Valley along Lake Peel Track will take you up and around the spectacular Lake Peel and Peel Range, before descending to the remarkable tussock expanse of the Tableland. If approaching from Salisbury Lodge, the track between the latter and Balloon Hut alternates pleasantly between open tussock and beech forest, and time permitting you can explore the natural features of the area, and even the locations of historic gold workings around Cundy Creek and Balloon Creek.
Trips to Balloon Hut can begin at either Cobb Valley or Flora car park.
To get to Cobb Valley from Nelson, head west along State Highway 60. After you’ve climbed over Takaka Hill, turn left at Upper Takaka onto Cobb Dam Road, and follow it as it winds up Cobb Valley and climbs over a ridge to reach Cobb Reservoir. Follow the road the whole way along the reservoir and park in the small grassed car park on the left (signpost reads Lake Peel Track). Note that the majority of Cobb Dam Road is unsealed. The road is quite narrow so be wary of oncoming vehicles. Do not leave valuables in your car as the car park has been a target for thieves.
To get to Flora car park, you will need to head up Grahams Valley Road, which begins off Motueka River West Bank Road near Ngatimoti, and is approximately 65 km from Nelson and 21 km from Motueka. Flora Car Park is located 10 km up Graham Valley Road, at the road end. Be aware that Grahams Valley Road is steep and unsealed, and can be icy and snowy in winter. A 4WD vehicle is recommended. Do not leave valuables in your car as the car park has been a target for thieves.
Several companies offer drop-off, pick-up and car relocation services to and from both Cobb Valley and Flora car park.
From Cobb Valley (Lake Peel Track)
Begin at the small grassed car park on the left side of Cobb Valley Road. Lake Peel Track heads through grass and scrub to reach Myttons Hut after 10 min. Myttons Hut is a basic hut (4 bunks) and is in a slightly awkward location being so close to the road, though it is certainly a more homely alternative to nearby Trilobite Hut. From Myttons Hut the track climbs up the side of the valley through a series of wide zig-zags. The valley side is forested in silver beech, and you will likely see and hear tomtits and robin. The treeline is reached after 2.3 km, where you emerge into tussock and alpine shrubs. The track from here is a poled route all the way to Balloon Hut, so pay attention to the poles when snow hides the track. It’s a steep scramble from the treeline to the top of the ridge.
At the crest of the ridge you will reach a tee junction with Cobb Ridge Track, which heads left (north). Continue straight, as the track dips into Deep Creek valley and sidles the steep valley side, passing beneath massive bluffs and across a few rock slide deposits. The cirque that holds Lake Peel can be seen ahead, though the true summit of Mt Peel is obscured by the ridge that leads to it. The track crosses the outlet of Lake Peel (Deep Creek) and then reaches the lake itself. If you’re brave the lake is a good place for a quick dip in summer.
A side trip can be made to climb to the summit of Mt Peel (1654 m). There is no official track but travel along the open tops is straight-forward enough and there are several possible routes. Allow an extra 2 hrs for this.
The track climbs out of the southern side of the valley and then descends along the broad Peel Range through snow tussock all the way to Balloon Hut (3.3 km from Lake Peel). Along this section you will enjoy spectacular views straight ahead to Mt Arthur and the Twins on fine days.
From Salisbury Lodge (Salisbury Track)
From Salisbury Lodge, Salisbury Track climbs gently westward through amazing stunted mountain beech. After 700 m the track reconnects with Starvation ridge track, and a few hundred metres later the beech trees give way to a large expanse of tussock. Halfway across this open is the junction with Leslie-Karamea Track. The track drops down into the upper reaches of Cundy Creek, where you will reach a natural karst amphitheater known as ‘The Clearing’. The track climbs out of the gully and follows a corridor of tussock through beech forest just east of Balloon Hill, reaching Balloon Hut soon after.
Balloon Hut is nestled against the treeline at 1260 m elevation. The hut has capacity for 14 on a shared bunk platform, and like Salisbury Lodge, it boasts gas cookers, which are somewhat of a luxury in the backcountry. Bookings are not required, though you will require one serviced hut ticket to stay here (to be deposited in the honesty box in the hut). There are no grand views from the hut itself, though the beech and tussock outlook is very nice. There are plenty of Weka around and you will hear morepork at night. The current edition of the hut has been in place since a refurbishment in 1995. A framed picture on the wall shows the history of the hut, right back to when it was first constructed in 1909.
Be sure to record your intentions at Trilobite Hut or Flora car park shelter, as well as huts along the way. Lake Peel Track and Salisbury Track are alpine tracks, and Peel Range and the Tableland are particularly exposed. Make sure you prepare accordingly, even in summer, as freezing alpine conditions can occur at any time of year. Deep snow may lay for weeks through the cold months and spring snow is not uncommon. Sturdy outdoor footwear is recommended. Do not rely on weather forecasts for Motueka or Takaka as the alpine weather is likely to be drastically different. Be mindful of the karst landscape south of Balloon Hut; there are many known and unknown caves and sinkholes.