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 to the Organ Pipes. The walk starts 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. 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.
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
We stayed at Allans Beach Farmstay on the Otago Peninsula, in one of two rustic cottages. They are basic but comfortable, and just a stone’s throw from Allans Beach in a secluded location. Perfect if you want to escape and get back to nature – but not so convenient if you prefer to eat out, as it’s a 30min drive into Dunedin. There’s a wide range of accommodation in Dunedin and on the Otago Peninsula, which is known for its wildlife.
More information on Organ Pipes and Mount Cargill
- Dunedin Council – Organ Pipes Track
- DOC Dunedin walks brochure [PDF]
- Peter Janssen, Excellent Short Walks in the South Island, p.146
- Shaun Barnett, Day Walks in New Zealand, p.176
- NZ Topo – Mount Cargill route
Best hikes of Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula
There are 46 hikes on the very useful DOC Dunedin walks brochure alone – the top Dunedin and Otago Peninsula hikes which I’d recommend if you can’t do them all are: