Dobson River (I/II) via Jamieson Saddle to Lake Ohau

A challenging alpine tramp to a long braided valley float, through some really big mountains.

Thanks to Nick Neynens who gave permission to use the trip report on his blog as source of info to make up a page here.  Its also worth noting that Nick is a very fit, bold and fast adventure racer: His times for the route are likely to be very quick!


The traverse could be done in 3-4 long days, though it’d be worth giving yourself more time to enjoy the area.

Day 1: Birch Hill to Reardon’s Hut (DOC) 6-8hrs
Day 2: Reardon’s Hut to Le-Crens Hut (Glen Lyon Station) 8-10hrs
Day 3: Le-Crens Hut to Lake Ohau mouth. Long day

View Larger Topographic Map

Land status and access

The route weaves its way through various types of land: from Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park, to Ruatanwha Conservation Park to Glen Lyon Station. It is vital that you study the Walking Access Mapping System website so you know the location of public and private land when planning this trip.

Although the river itself is always publicly accessible, there is a small section of the trip where you have to cross Glen Lyon Station around Reardon’s hut (upper Dobson). It’s important to call Glen Lyon station (03 438 9644 or 03 438 9642) to ask for permission to cross their land. They also own a few of the non-DOC huts in the valley ( Station and Le Crens) which they are often willing to let you use if you ask permission. And if you ask nicely, they will probably be able to tell you about the flows in the rivers at present. 

In the Dobson Valley, there are several DOC huts (Reardon, Waterfall-[derelict], Kennedy Memorial and Crough) which are in the Ruataniwha Conservation Park  

The route

Birch Hill to Reardon’s Hut via Jamieson Saddle
Nick took 6 hours to get from Birch Hill up and over Jamieson Saddle to Reardon’s Hut. To say he’s fast is an understatement. It’d be wise to allow yourself a full summers day. The saddle is at high elevation (2138m) and usually holds snow year-round. Crossing this pass requires alpine experience, judgement and good weather/snow conditions. Crampons and Ice axe may be required and avalanche danger may be present.

Reardon’s Hut to Lake Ohau via Le Crens Hut
Nick reports that the upper Dobson was often pretty shallow and bony, requiring some pushing or portaging, especially where it braids out below Waterfall Hut.

Below Le Crens Hut, there was enough water to paddle without any scraping or portaging all the way to the Hopkins confluence. Downstream, the river is now the Huxley and usually contains a very large amount of water: there will be strong eddies and wavetrains to negotiate, but nothing more than grade II.

The takeout

The planning crux is deciding when and where to take off the water. Tricky bit is, you probably need to do that in advance, because it isn’t a round trip….

Ōhau means ‘place of wind’ and its no joke.  Wind crashes over the main divide if any is forecast from the NW through SW. On days with light winds forecast, the valley breezes blow strongly from the south by the afternoon, sometimes creating huge dust storms from the flats.  Wind and big lakes don’t mix well for packrafters, and the water is cold.  Its certainly a different risk profile from splashing down a braided river to being blown into the middle of a huge cold lake.. 

The Dobson is glacially fed, so keep that in mind when planning your cold water clothing. Lake Ohau would be a very bad place to capsize without a drysuit.

Some take out options include: 

  • Take out on the Glen Lyon Road, either at the river mouth or where the road is close to the river (permission needed if upvalley of the Hopkins river mouth). 
  • Paddle west from the Hopkins River mouth to the Lake Ohau Road.

If you plan to paddle the lake, then consider aiming for Lake Ohau lodge then biking back to the highway on the A2O trail.


There’s no easy way to check levels in the Dobson before committing to the trip. Like most braided rivers, they get very low in late summer, so best bet is time your trip for late spring through to mid summer, or go straight after a decent rainfall. Glen Lyon Station might be able to let you know about river levels if you ask nicely.

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