Mount Cargill and Organ Pipes (Dunedin)

An interesting hike from Mount Cargill, which towers over Dunedin, to the Organ Pipes – exposed columns of basalt formed by volcanic activity. A quite varied walk with great views along most of the track.

After my not-so-uplifting hike to Tunnel Beach, which featured some spectacular rock formations but had way too many people for my liking, I decide squeeze in one more walk. I drive to the north of Dunedin, for a walk starting at Mount Cargill (known in Māori as Kapukataumahaka), a volcanic outcrop which rises to a height of 676m.  On top is a telecommunications station and mast (Dunedin’s tallest man-made structure) – and some great views over Dunedin and Otago Harbour.

I lose a bit of time finding the start of the walk to the Organ Pipes. After going to the very top and taking a photo of the view, but not finding the track or even much space for parking, I work out it’s best leave the car at a parking area just below the summit. The walking track starts on the other side of the unsealed road and heads towards the Mount Cargill telecoms tower.

After a few hundred metres there’s a fork, with one track heading up towards the summit, and the other continuing directly ahead, and downhill. I take the path towards the top for a short distance, as there are some nice views over the farmland to the north.

Once I’m back on the main track, it descends fairly consistently, with the Mount Cargill tower behind me and occasional glimpses of open farmland ahead through low scrubs. The gravel track is well-built and it’s easy walking.

As the track descends, the vegetation gets taller, with the vegetation featuring manuka (New Zealand teatree) and Blechnum ferns. The track is very dry, but there are quite a few sections of timber boardwalks.

It takes just over half an hour to cover the two kilometres to the base of the Organ Pipes, which you can’t really miss… a pile of what looks lake match-sticks thown in a heap.


There is a rough track to the top, which looks like an organ pipe. The “pipes” or columns are basalt rock, formed by volcanic activity when lava cooled at a specific rate.


The geometric shapes are more obvious from the top, where there is a dense cluster of these columns…


…as well as a few individual columns that jut incongriously from the greenery.


As well as the Organ Pipes themselves, which are the main feature, there are sweeping views of the Mount Cargill tower to the west and open farmland to the north.


The route down is the same way, back over the jumble of basalt rocks formed from hater


On the way back, I take the short detour to Buttars Peak (617m asl). According to Maori legend, Mount Cargill (Kapukataumahaka) is said to represent the body of a warrior, with Buttars Peak the head.


There are 360-degree views from the top of the rocky summit: looking back along the top of Buttars Peak towards the north and west is Mount Cargill.


To the east is the entire length of the Otago Harbour, and behind it the Otago Peninsula.


It’s about 20 minutes back to the car from here – and the side-trip is well worth it for the views. You can also start the walk from Mt Cargill Road, which is closer to the Organ Pipes – this means you’re doing the first part of the walk uphill, and have the easier downhill section on the way back. Or if you have limited time, from Mt Cargill Road it’s a short walk (1.8km return) to the Organ Pipes. But I’d recommend combining the Organ Pipes with Mount Cargill and Buttars Peak!

0.0km Carpark on Cowan Road
0.2km Junction with track up to Mt Cargill
1.0km Junction with track to Buttars Peak
2.1km Organ Pipes
3.5km Buttars Peak summit
4.4km Carpark
Location Parking near the end of Cowan Road (about 15min from Dunedin). Turn right onto Pigeon Flat Rd from the SH1 motorway.
Distance 4.4km return.
Grade Easy. 170m ascent.
Season/s All year. Best on a clear day.
Map/s Interactive topographical map [AllTrails]
Download topographical map (A4, 1:9K) Map [PDF]
NZTopo online map
Topo50 series CE17 – Dunedin (1:50K) – buy online
GPS Route PlotaRoute map with option to download GPX / KML file


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