Mount Olympus: a road impassable without a 4wd, snow chains and nerves of steel

Mount Olympus is a high mountain peak at an elevation of 1.643m (5,360ft) above the sea level located on New Zealand's South Island. The road to the summit is best negotiated by high-clearance 4WD that is able to be equipped with chains if required. It’s one of the highest roads in the country.

Mount Olympus

Located in the Craigieburn Range, the summit hosts Mt Olympus ski area, nicknamed the “Playground of the Gods”. It's a local resort for local people, built in the late 1940s by a group of farmers. The road is unpaved. It’s called Mount Olympus Access Road. Getting there will take the unprepared by surprise. It’s said to be one of the gnarliest access roads in the area. The mountain road is shingle, chains should always be carried, and sometimes mountain access from the bottom hut becomes for heavy duty 4WD vehicles only. The last part of the access road is single lane and a bit scary. A sign on the way up says it all – “Chains and courage are required” to get up to the hill.

The road is really steep. Starting from Harper Road, the ascent is 13.6 km (8.45 miles) long. The elevation gain is 1.052 meters. The average gradient is 7.73%. The road to the bottom hut is manageable in a 2WD vehicle but often requires chains. The road from the bottom hut to the ski area car park is a little sporting and a high-ground clearance 4WD with chains on board is required. The access road progressively becomes narrower and mostly one-way. Chains are a must if it’s been snowing (and should be carried at all times). If your car, or nerves aren’t up for this final leg, simply wait at the bottom hut and catch a ride with one of the regulars. Please check the conditions on the morning snow report, and read and obey all signs.
Pic&video: Adam Creed