The 30km latest addition to Te Araroa - the nation's 3000km north-south hiking trail - over country music star Shania Twain's Central Otago high country property - is no walk in the park.

The "Twain Twack" - properly named the Motatapu Track after the river valley heartland of Motatapu Station - connects Arrowtown with Wanaka. You walk from the gold mining ghost town of Macetown, over Roses and Jack Hall Saddles and down to the gurgling Fern Burn before exiting to distant views of snow-capped Mt Aspiring.

It's one of the few South Island tramps offering walkers access to a high country station, presenting stunning panoramas of tussock basins, sheer schist faces and eerily timeless wind-shaped rock.

Crossing both the Motatapu (1700ha) and Soho (7902ha) Stations, it follows sections of one of the oldest known travelling routes in the area.


Two comfortable new 12-bunk huts, funded by Twain (real name Eilleen Lange) and her husband Mutt, make the overnight stay safe and secure no matter the weather, though neither is heated.

However, a route which takes trampers close to 1200m four times in three days makes it a fair fitness challenge for the average walker.

An advance party from Te Araroa Trust, the group behind the New Zealand-long trail who walked the route a few days before the official opening by the Prime Minister earlier this month, agreed that even calling the Department of Conservation-constructed walk a "track" is something of a misnomer.

"Poled route" would be more accurate, for though well marked, for two-thirds of its length that is indeed what it is. The exception is the last third - the section at the Fern Burn end, which offers a very pleasant, new benched track through beech forest and alongside the bubbling Fern Burn.

Next summer, DOC intends erecting a third hut on Fern Burn flat, about three hours easy walk from the road end, making the Motatapu Track a four-day event.

Our group of nine - aged from 20s to 60s - were a mix of average and better than average fitness. We began from the Arrowtown end, taking a Nomad Tours four-wheel-drive vehicle into Macetown and walking in from there. (If you don't catch a ride to Macetown, allow another three hours to walk in from Arrowtown.)

We didn't get on the track until 3.30pm and by the time we'd got over 1270m Roses Saddle, part of the old pack horse trail, it was dark.

The next day - through to Highland Creek Hut - was optimistically described in the DoC brochure as a 5-6hr hike. It took most of our group seven to nine hours to complete a walk which challenged with climbs from 700m to close to 1200m twice in the day. We did stop to boil a billy for lunch.

Walking from south to north the final day - Highland Creek Hut to Fern Burn carpark - is the biggest challenge, with 12km and another steep climb over Jack Hall's Saddle (1275m) to traverse. This is the territory of native falcon overhead, scuttling skinks underfoot and the silence of alpine wilderness all around.

Tough in parts, but if you come prepared to just keep putting one foot in front of another, the Central Otago sights and sounds stay long with you after you've left the hills behind.

The Motatapu Track is already shaping up as a great - if not yet quite one of "The Great" - walks.

Jenny Wheeler is a Te Araroa trustee.