Mount Richmond Forest Park
Ben Nevis (1619 m) is a peak in Mount Richmond Forest Park, southwest of Nelson. Ben Nevis Track begins near the head of Wairoa Gorge and climbs along Gibbs Spur to the trig at the summit. Ben Nevis is a half-day return walk (involving 800 m of vertical gain) and can be combined with Te Araroa Trail for multi-day tramps.
The term ‘Ben’ means mountain in Scottish Gaelic. ‘Ben Nevis’ is an Anglicisation of ‘Beinn Nibheis’, which is commonly translated to ‘mountain of the heaven’. This particular Ben Nevis is second highest of the three peaks in New Zealand that share the same name.
From Nelson, head south along State Highway 6 to Wakefield and turn left into Church Valley Road, which becomes Pig Valley Road and is unsealed from here on. Continue straight at the intersection with Wairoa Gorge Road, and follow the latter for 5 km until Old Mill Road forks on the left. Note that Wairoa Gorge Road is narrow and windy, so drive with caution. Head up Old Mill Road for 2.7 km and then turn right onto Boundary Road as it begins up the hillside into pine forest (look for the small DOC sign on the left).
Boundary road is steep, rough and windy, so it is suitable for 4WD vehicles only and is currently open only on weekends. There are a few forestry roads that split off from Boundary Road, so pay attention to the orange markers that indicate the correct route. The last few hundred metres of the road before Ben Nevis track start is particularly steep and deeply rutted; you may find that the best option is park your car in the small siding on the right, opposite the green ‘Track’ sign.
The first few hundred metres of the track crosses private land. The rest of the track is within Mt Richmond Forest Park.
With vehicle access to the track start at 820 m elevation, a big chunk of the climb is taken care of. The track climbs Gibbs Spur heading in a southwest direction the whole way.
The track emerges from the forestry block and begins steeply through open scrub and douglas fir trees before entering beech forest. After 1.6 km a meadow is reached, here the track climbs up along several rocky crags where the ridge drops away very steeply to the east into Wairoa River valley. The track re-enters beech forest and is undulating for another kilometre until around 1350 m elevation, when the treeline is reached. The track continues steeply winding up through tussock and rocky outcrops to the top of the ridge, where the trig is reached after nearly 5 km, at 1619 m elevation. Here you will enjoy expansive views north and west over the Tasman Bay hinterland, and south toward the distinctive hue of Red Hill.
From the trig at the summit an unmarked route continues southwest along the open ridge to connect with Te Araroa Trail near Mt Ellis (approx. 6 km away). Here you can head west over Mt Ellis and drop down to Hunters Hut, or south down into the Wairoa Valley, to Top Wairoa Hut. Travel along the ridge is straight-forward for experienced trampers in clear conditions.
The track to the summit of Ben Nevis is an alpine route, so proper preparation and care should be made to ensure a safe trip. This track reaches a high elevation and is exposed above the treeline, so proper outdoor clothing is essential. Be sure to check the weather forecast before you go. The Richmond Ranges do not typically receive as much snowfall as the Western Ranges, though in winter you must always be prepared for freezing conditions and take extreme care if snow and ice and are present.