Remote wilderness, long river valleys, high mountains, majestic glaciers, clear alpine lakes in a New Zealand’s third largest national park. It’s hikers paradise with large number of short and long hikes offering breath-taking range of landscapes. Having the possibility to choose from many options we planned our route to connect Wanaka and Glenorchy linking few shorter tracks.
To the starting point of the track there was over 50 kilometres, some of it being dirt road, and we weren’t sure if many cars go that way. To avoid any problems we just booked bus transport. We left Wanaka about midday and after about 50 min drive through spectacular valley we arrived at the Raspberry Car Park. We had our dinner and started walking when most of the people were coming back from day walks. There were only 9 km to the first hut where we planned to stop. It was an easy stroll through West Matukituki valley, over grassy farmlands, along the river, with magnificent mountains, high peaks and glaciers.
We set up the tent between trees and discussed whether to do a side trip and walk to one of the huts further up the valley. We considered different options and decided to make best of good weather and go straight up and over the Cascade Saddle. As the hike over the saddle was long and very demanding, we aimed for an early start. We had something to eat and went to sleep while the camping area was filling up with tents.
We got up very early, ate breakfast in the dark and packed up quickly, trying not to make much noise. Dawn was breaking when we started off. First we had to walk with the head torch on, as in the forest it was still quite dark. Slowly we were making our way up. We had about 1400 meters of ascent. We were climbing up and up observing how first rays of the rising sun were lighting the mountain peaks. After long and strenuous walk we got out of beech forest and above the tree line. We had magnificent views over the valley and surrounding snow-caped peaks. The valley was covered in misty fog and as the sun did not reach it yet.
Short break with some energy boosting snack, and we continued up. Now through the subalpine shrubs and the alpine tussock the path took us higher and higher. It became more difficult with every meter as we had to negotiate steep snowgrass ridge with rocky outcrops ledges. At some point we took down our walking sticks because we had to scramble our way up using both hands. It was even more difficult as we had heavy backpacks on, which we had to be aware of when balancing. We met few climbers with ice axes that were going down after an attempt to climb from one of the snowy peaks. They assured us that the views over the other side of the saddle are insane and well worth the climb. We continued slowly up, feeling all that hard work in our legs. We were looking up, and it looked like the top was so close, just several meters up, but every turn revealed another wall that needed to be climbed. However, we were making progress and that was important.
Finally, we made it! We got to the highest point. That was probably most challenging hike up we’ve done, taking into account that we had heavy backpacks, the climb was very steep and difficult, and we had so many meters of elevation to negotiate. The more rewarding the achievement was, and the view was insane, just as the guys promised. We walked down a bit until we reached stream, and we stopped for well-earned coffee break with breathtaking view of the Dart Glacier.
Walking down to the Cascade Creek we met walker with whom we had very nice chat. The weather was beautiful and the walk was enjoyable. Across easy slopes and grassy flats we got to the Cascade Saddle which offers tremendous view of the West Matukituki valley. Later we continued down over steep and unstable slopes to the valley floor. At the terminus moraine of the Dart Glacier we stopped for dinner and short break. An extraordinary place to be. Following the Dart River and fording several side streams we walked over river flats until we reached the tree line and through shrubs we got to the camping spot near the Dart Hut. Another great spot, tranquil with fantastic views. We had nice evening relaxing in the setting sun and chatting to fellow hiker girl from Romania, who set up her tent next to ours.
We woke up to another fine day, so we slowly packed up and started following the Rees Track. Sharp ascent took us up and across the slopes to the bridge on the Snowy Creek. Traversing steep slopes over tussock we made our way up to the Rees Saddle. From that point it was mainly downhill. First though, we had to negotiate steep part close to the bluff. At the bottom, shielded from the wind we found a spot by the river and made a coffee stop. The clouds were in the sky, but it did not rain. We met quite few people walking up to the Dart Hut.
Following the Rees River on a fairly easy track we arrived at Shelter Rock Hut. We stopped there for longer, had dinner and long chat with fellow hiker from Germany whom we met the day before near the Cascade Saddle. We did not intend to stay in the hut for the night, so we moved on, walked few more kilometres looking for nice camping spot. Descending a bit to the bush edge and crossing several gullies that are avalanche path we got to the grassy flats near the river. Crossing the dry riverbed we got to a grassy island with few trees and decided to set up a camp there. It was a lovely spot with great view, only the sandflies were causing troubles, and we had to cover ourselves from head to toes.
In the morning being chased away by the swarms of sandflies we quickly left camping spot and continued through the beech forest to the swing bridge over the Rees River. We stopped there for a break in the shade before leaving the boundaries of the National Park. After break, we walked down the grassy flats on the side of the Rees Rivers, crossing little streams and creeks, few boggy sections and some shrubs. It was a long way along the valley. The sun was shining and making the walk more tiring. There weren’t many places to hide in the shade. In the afternoon we arrived at dirt road which took as to the Muddy Creek Car Park. It was quite late, so we didn’t expect any traffic that could take us to Glenorchy. We carried on walking on the dirt road along the river looking for possible spots for staying overnight. Close to the Invincible Creek we came to a small car park. We looked around, and found a good camping spot by the river, away from the road, so we decided to stay. After a quick bath and small snack we hid inside the tent, as the sandflies were very determined to get us much of our blood as possible.
Early in the morning it started to rain, so we did not hurry to get up. Waiting for the rain to stop, we ate breakfast, and had a nap. We even considered staying another day, in case weather would be bad, as we were not in a hurry. About midday all the clouds disappeared, the sun came out, so we decided to move on. We hoped that we might get a lift to the village. However, there was no traffic, probably because it was the middle of the day and most people drive this road either in the morning or in the evening. So we walked on the dirt road. The sky was clear and the sun was making the walk more tiring. From the gravel track we got to the main road and tried to hitchhike. We were lucky and fifteen minutes later we were in Glenorchy, where we stayed for two nights.