Hiking in Mount Aspiring National Park
Hiking in Mount Aspiring National Park
Mount Aspiring National Park is one of the shiniest jewels of New Zealandís South Island. It has precious meadows, luscious forests, majestic mountains, wild rivers, ice and snow, cozy huts and all that your wild hiking heart might desire. There are lots of options for hikers of all experience and fitness levels. Pack up your bag and get ready to experience some extraordinary New Zealand nature; and while weíre at it, in New Zealand, you donít ďhikeĒ, you ďtrampĒ.
West Matukituki valley
West and East Matukituki valleys are home to the beautiful Matukituki River. East Matukituki valley is as beautiful and even more wild as the West Matukituki, but less developed for hiking than West Matukituki valley is. If youíre seeking a more raw experience, pack up your tent and head East, but donít forget to visit West either.
Mount Aspiring hut
Mount Aspiring hut is 2-3 hours hike away from the Raspberry Creek car-park over mostly flat track, winding up the West Matukituki valley. As you continue up the valley, majestic peaks unfold, including the icy summit of Mount Aspiring. Mount Aspiring hut is a large and well serviced hut; very convenient place to stay before further adventures. Many people also do it as a round day trip.
French Ridge hut
From Mount Aspiring hut, the path winds further up the valley, crosses the river and starts climbing steeply up the French Ridge. After almost 1 km of elevation gain, you will reach a beautiful red hut, overlooking the entire valley. Itís an alpine hut, with basic facilities and mainly used as a base camp for climbing the Mount Aspiring. The views are absolutely incredible, especially in the evening.
Routeburn Track (2-3 days)
Routeburn is one of New Zealandís Great Walks known for its majestic meadows and icy peaks and light-filled alpine forests. Itís a 3 day hike (32 km), and itís incredibly popular among people coming to the area; hence book early to have your spot on your hike. The highlight of the track is the Harris Saddle (1,255m), with the entire of the valley unfolding framed by steep mountains ranges. An exciting feature about this track is that it links the Mount Aspiring National Park and the wild Fiordland National Park, which will allow you to experience some unique contrasts in mountain outlines and vegetation. Towards the second half of the hike you will be able to overlook the majestic Darran Mountains.
Rees-Dart Track (4-5 days)
Rees-Dart valley track is a 62 km (4-5 days) loop hike through 2 river valleys Rees and Dart. The track is relatively flat with the highest point being the Rees Saddle (1,447m), which means it is suitable even for the less experienced hikers. Rees-Dart is a beautiful balance between the classic Southern Alpsí mountain scenery and pristine alpine vegetation and rivers. You can also take a side trip up the Cascade Saddle, which links up the Rees Dart track with the Matukituki valley. Itís a very scenic climb, but do not attempt to descend into the Matukituki valley, unless you are very experienced.
Most people do the Cascade traverse from the Matukituki side, as it is easier to ascend than descend steep grounds.
Gillespie Pass Circuit (3-4 days)
Gillespie Pass Circuit was the first hike Iíve ever done in New Zealand, and it holds a very dear place in my heart. Itís a 58 km hike that takes 3-4 days of hiking. It feels somewhat magic; the unique aura of the forests, windy paths and giant mountains. You start the hike from the town of Makarora, where you will find a cafť, small store and a few houses.
Cross the Makarora River onto the Young valley. If the Makarora River is too high, either wait until the water level drops or use a commercial jet-boat. The first part of the track is mainly through flats Ė mountain valleys and forests until the Young hut. Itís around 6-7 hours (20km) from Makarora to Young hut and most people stay the night in the hut, before the strenuous climb up the Gillespie pass the next day. The climb is incredibly scenic, but relatively exposed, hence might be dangerous in very stormy conditions. Take care and always know that you can turn back. After the pass, the trail gradually winds down the side the mountain into a beautiful forest that is followed by a few kilometers through a valley to the Siberia Hut. Siberia hut is very cozy and feels hidden away. Donít forget to visit Lake Crucible as a side trip.
From Siberia hut, you can either hike back towards Makarora or head towards Top Forks hut and cross the Rabbit pass towards the East Matukituki valley. Be aware though that Rabbit pass is a very steep climb that can get very dangerous when wet or covered in snow. Do remember that it is always more difficult to descend than ascend, so if you will feel that the climb is above your experience level, better stay safe and head back.
There are no huts in the East Matukituki valley apart from a large bivy bag, so either take a tent or allow a lot of time to hike out from the East Matukituki valley.
A word about gear
New Zealand is notorious for its changeful weather, winds and rains. Even the sunniest day can turn into a storm in New Zealand Mountains, and hence, some waterproof layers are essential when heading out to the backcountry. Even if youíre just going on a day trip, always take a waterproof layer. If you are doing a multi-day hike, always take several days-worth of food more than you think you will need; heavy rains often lead to floods and impassable rivers. Finally, never leave your first-aid kit behind; New Zealand backcountry is wild and some places are hard to access. Be self-sufficient and ready for the worst. Every first aid kit should include a space blanket. Also, the terrain in New Zealand can sometimes be extremely taxing on your hikers so make sure you buy a proper hiking boot before embarking on any long journeys.
In conclusion, Mount Aspiring National Park is a very unique place with a number of options for single and multiple day trips. It combines highly diverse sceneries, and most tracks will allow you to experience it all Ė mountains, rivers, meadows, valleys, forests and glaciers. If you want to find more information, visit a local Department of Conservation site, and talk to the rangers there or visit their website. Department of Conservation do most of track and hut maintenance in the country, as well as have an essential role in nature conservation.
About The Author
Iím Dan, and Iím the Editor in Chief of True North Athletics. Iím also an avid adventurer, digital nomad and traveler. I enjoy all types of outdoor sports, a good golf tan, and spontaneous weekend trips. I currently live in Brazil where I can be found frequently hiking the rain forest around my city!