It’s widely believed that exercising outdoors reduces stress, and while I definitely believe that, I was feeling stressed as I drove to the Sawpit Gully track as I tried to decide which way to hike it.
Sawpit is a true loop track in that it doesn’t double up on itself or repeat itself in any way, there are 2 definite entries and exits. However, having not done the full track in a long time I could not remember which one was the correct way to do it. And yes, I am aware that does not make sense there is, of course, no correct way to hike a trail. However there is always a preferential one and luckily for you I ended up doing it both ways and figured it out!
The sawpit track starts in Arrowtown by the historic Chinese village. There is a little walking bridge behind the toilet block at the start of village that will take you safely over a little gurgling stream. From here you can turn left or right for sawpit. Having done them both, I highly recommend turning right.
Follow the track until you see the next trail marker then veer up left to get on the Macetown trail. You will know you are on the right one if you have to walk over a giant metal pipe. The pipe will now take you most of the way, follow it as it weaves alongside you on the trail, occasionally it pops down to greet the river but it always returns.
Keep walking along this relatively flat, tree covered path until you get to a little waterfall. If you have dogs with you,this is the last place for them to get a drink before the climb starts.
Keep going on the track as the views get better and better. The trail will narrow and start to go up and you will see a metal safety guard rail. At the second metal railing keep an eye out for the trail sign. So many people misread or don’t notice this sign and go right past the entrance to the track! Turn LEFT and UP when you see this sign post. (If you get to a large red bridge crossing the river then you have gone way too far!)
The track immediately gets narrow and steep and you will be huffing and puffing like a big bad chain-smoking wolf in a matter of minutes. Here and there on the sawpit track the trail will split into 2 with no explanation, the trails all seem to join up eventually so don’t worry if you are not too sure which one to take. (I have a video of the track on my Instagram highlights if you need it.)
The narrow track gets steep really quickly and that means that the views are phenomenal within minutes. Bushes of yellow flowers dominate the track, make sure to peek your head up from them and look down at the valley below with the turquoise waters of the Arrow river rushing through it.
The track weaves to the left and the views of Arrowtown are now visible. Listen out for the bleating of goats and watch the hills opposite as they pop out from bushes and jump up on rocks.
This is the ultimate track for nature sounds and the birdsong on this stretch of track is enough to make you forget the steady uphill climb that you are on. The stream flows along below you as it waits for you to meet it.
The track finally gets to the stream and it embraces it as it criss crosses back and forth over it quite a few times. Keep an eye on the track here as it can be easy to confuse it with the river bed. This part of the track is the reason I always say to check the weather before doing this trail, if there has been heavy rain the day before then this river floods and the track gets very very muddy and slippery.
At your last river crossing the track will randomly split into 2 again. One leads over the river and the other leads away from it. Both will eventually meet back up, I recommend following the yellow metal marker and going over the little river but the other is a good alternative if the water is high.
At this point you are up out of the trees and nearly at the top. There is usually silence up here at this part of the track, you are still protected from the wind and the landscape stretches out before you in all directions, sheltered by mountains on every side. It’s a really peaceful spot to be in, make sure to pause here and breathe in the quiet.
When you do get to the top you will see a steep trail going off to your left by another huge hill. This is an additional extra and goes for quite a while until it eventually reaches a steep dead end. (I found this out the hard way.) If you are after an extra bit of exercise or want to see exceptional views then take this trail, the views of Arrowtown and Lake Hayes below are definitely worth it.
You will get to another trail sign before you start to head down. There is a dog water bowl here for you to use. Here you can choose to go off on lots of other tracks or take a photo of the sign and make a plan for another day. By now you have been hiking for 3.9km.
Walking another few steps will take you out of the huge clearing and plunge you onto a pathway under the trees, the ground is covered in tree roots that you need to carefully navigate your feet over. You are officially on the down hill. I love going down this way because, although the track is steep, it’s also wide and the views of Lake Hayes are right in front of you. They are breath taking.
Eventually the track takes you back under the trees, check out the huge ferns and the koru on both sides of the path. Here the sunlight filters through the leaves overhead and the river jogs along beside you. You cross a small bridge and you are nearly done. Climb over the large pipe and you will find yourself on a dirt back road. Stay left and walk until you are back at the car park.
You will have just hiked for 6.78km and completed the Sawpit Gully loop track.
This track is definitely challenging and requires at least a basic to average level of fitness. In other words you will be feeling it in your legs the next day.
The trail is narrow and steep at points so please wear decent shoes for hiking or trail running to ensure you have enough grip.
I always keep an eye on the weather for the few days before I go to do this track, it gets very muddy and slippery and can be icy in the winter if there has been rain or snow.
My water bottle is filled with ice cubes and electrolytes every time I do this track and its always warm and empty by the end of the trail! If you just have one bottle with you, ration it out, believe me you will want to have water for the entirety of this track.
Hiking with dogs: the sign at the bottom states no dogs are allowed, this rule has since been changed as there used to be stock at the top but the sign has just not been updated. There is a dog bowl at the top that you can fill for your pups and the river crossings are great for dogs to get a drink at too.
If you choose to veer off the track to do the additional walks to see the views etc, the mountain will no longer be sheltering you from the wind, it is FREEZING up there! I always have a zip up in my backpack/around my waist to throw on.
As always, tell someone where you are going. Be safe at all times when hiking in New Zealand.
There are no toilets on the track so use the toilet block at the start of the track.
The trail itself is 6.78km long as measured from the Chinese village.
The elevation gain is 292m, starting at 409m and reaching 705m at the top without doing any of the additional climbs.
It took me just under an hour and a half to do this track, that time includes stopping occasionally to take pictures and yelling at my dogs to stop chasing rabbits.
And there you have it: Sawpit Gully track.
Hopefully this blog helped, let me now if you did it and what you thought of it!
Now where shall we go next?
Come say hi:
Instagram (I have the full track saved in my instagram highlights.)