Much more than a pile of rocks

A scree of fallen columns with a wonderful view at the top.

It’s not difficult to imagine how Dunedin’s Organ Pipes got their name. The arrangement of hexagonal columns of basalt still standing at the pinnacle of what is now a jumbled rockfall, look like organ pipes from a cathedral with an air of grandeur to match.

Just as one looks up upon entering a holy place, the first thing the eyes do upon reaching the Organ Pipes is to follow the rocks skyward.

Then comes the conundrum/challenge. Do you climb the tricky rockfall to get to the top, where you will be rewarded by a commanding and expansive view over the Otago Peninsula and harbour?

Despite it being a beautiful day, a thunderstorm was forecast, plus I was hiking on my own, so I felt wary as I’d read great care is required when climbing to the top and it is strongly advised not to climb this feature in inadequate footwear or when it is wet. This is because, aside from the uneven and often loose terrain, the rocks are slippery when wet. I decided upon a compromise. I would climb part way up the rockslide so that I could at least see part of the view over the podocarp forest that I’d walked through to get here.

It turned out to be the right decision because midway through my descent a thunderclap boomed overhead and raindrops began to fall.

Weather conditions on the Organ Pipes Track can change rapidly so take a warm, windproof, waterproof layer with you.

Being up high on Mt Cargill, the descent was relatively easy compared to the uphill slog to reach the Organ Pipes. The unrelenting climb through the forest will have you puffing and stopping regularly on the ascent even if you are relatively fit.

Being there during a summer storm was thrilling, particularly listening to the thunder roll across the sky like giant bowling balls, and patter of raindrops on the leaves, while revelling in the freshness of the air and smells of the forest.

The Organ Pipes track is accessed via Mt Cargill Rd where a small carpark can be found at the base of the track. The Organ Pipes can also be reached from the Mt Cargill Walking Track (which begins from the Mt Cargill carpark from the top of Cowan Road) for those wanting a longer and more challenging walk.

On a clear day the views from both the top of the Organ Pipes, and nearby Buttars Peak (if you continue up the track at the fork from the Organ Pipes towards Mt Cargill), are panoramic, so if time is on your side, pack a picnic and enjoy the vista.

Organ Pipes, Dunedin

Distance: 2km

Walk time: 20-30 minutes (each way) from Mt Cargill Rd carpark

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