Last year, Macpac Staff member James Ryan traversed the West Matukituki Valley, from Wanaka through to Muddy Creek in Rees Valley, finally ending his journey in Glenorchy. Hailing from our Macpac Newcastle store in New South Wales, and an avid hiker and outdoorsman, he was keen to take on some of New Zealand’s stunning walks around the Remarkables region of the South Island, and recount his experiences for the Macpac Blog and anyone else who may be interested in enjoying the same route!
Thursday 10th November
Gidday team, James here! My journey begins in Queenstown – after visiting the crew at Macpac Queenstown to say hello and ask them to please look after my town clothes while I’m off in the wilderness, it was time to get going. I exited to Wanaka, and enjoyed a ride out to Raspberry Creek on the West Matukituki Valley – leaving from Raspberry Creek it was a two hour stroll up the spectacular cow run, to arrive at Aspiring Hut around 9pm. The sky was clear, and Mt Aspiring was just visible, glittering in the sinking sun. It’s been 13 years since I last climbed the South-West ridge of this beauty, and gee it feels great to be back!
Friday 11th November
I planned to camp near Cascade Saddle, and being on holiday, I didn’t break camp until around 10am – with around 6 hours of uphill walking today, I took my time in the morning, but what a great day it turned out to be! Rising from the valley floor at Aspiring Hut (400m above sea level) up to the Pylon (at around 1800m above sea level) over about two and a half kilometres, spectacular views began to emerge of the upper and lower West Matukituki. The skies were clear, but no harsh sunlight was very thankfully received for this uphill day.
Up and up I went, until I finally cleared the treeline, and wow. The South-West ridge of Mt Aspiring was pointed straight in my direction – the Shark’s Tooth, which was so high above me at Raspberry Creek, was now starting to sink into the valley below me. Having a break and taking some snaps, I spotted two Kea’s checking me out, about 100m above me. I met them at the snow line, and they were great companions for the next steep 500m to the very top – they returned to visit me once I’d set up camp, with one venturing under my tent fly to investigate my belongings! Lucky for me, I was up to their mischief and everything was well sealed away in my pack, but it was very cool to have a wee mate visit my tent on the Saddle.
Saturday 12th November
After a -5 Celsius night, I awoke to about 30m visibility and falling snow – I contemplated staying put with my sleeping bag, but I was keen to continue moving forward. I had given myself a couple of spare days to cope with any weather variability, flooded creeks, and anything else that might arise – always better to be safe than sorry. I broke camp again at 10am, and slogged for two hours to make just two kilometres, to reach the Cascade Saddle proper. There was little wind, but trudging through four or five feet of snow with only 30m of visibility made trying to spot the next snow poles marking the track quite difficult. With so much snow, most poles only stuck through the snow by inches – they were near impossible to see. I referred to the topographic map a few times, and made a compass bearing once, with it was the hardest yards I’d done for a long while.
Having descended just below the cloud line onto the Saddle itself, I was rewarded with a spectacular view of the beautiful sunny Dart Valley and Glacier. The bottom of the West Matukituki Valley was clear, but the clouds which had obscured my path to the Saddle also covered Mt Aspiring and Rob Roy. It was so sunny in the Dart Valley that I had to put on sunscreen and don a broad brimmed hat, as I had lunch and dried my tent out lying on an ancient Lateral Moraine, perched about 400m above the Glacier’s tongue. I couldn’t help but think about how massive this Glacier must have been thousands of years ago, during the Ice Age. After lunch I began the stunning 8km walk along the Dart Valley, with 1km high walls on either side leading me to the Dart hut. With such a huge day behind me, I was glad to have a comfy bunk to sleep in, and have the hut all to myself for the night.
Sunday 13th November
This morning was another beauty, so I decided to get going early in order to make it over the Snowy Creek crossing – last night on my way to enter the hut I had crossed a cable bridge above the Creek, and what I had seen from the bridge made me a little apprehensive – it was a raging torrent with massive boulders, and a cascading river about 10m across. The bridge on the other side is taken out in the winter due to risk of avalanches damaging the bridge, and it’s only reinstalled at the end of November for the summer hikers – so it’s back to good old fashioned river crossings. I was eager to make the most of the good weather, and make it over the crossing before rains or snow melt made it too difficult; as it turned out, the site was a very easy crossing, especially for a rock hopping mountain goat as myself!
On my way through the stunning valley next to Snowy Creek (or gutter, rather) I kept stopping to get my breath and marvel in the beauty. Incredible views back down over the Dart Valley, where I walked yesterday, up to the Rees’ Saddle – my destination for today. I couldn’t get enough of the sights I was witnessing – boy New Zealand is awesome. After a long lunch on Rees’ Saddle, I wandered down into the Rees Valley and meandered down the valley for 6km, taking in Mt Clarke and the Forbes range, before coming into Shelter Rock Hut. Man I was being spoilt by the weather and the scenery! I was in heaven.
Lazing at the hut having an afternoon snack, feeling like I’m in Middle Earth, and three fellow Aussies showed up. Likeable lads who had come in from Muddy Creek, the way I was heading out – I recommended they do a day trip tomorrow up to the Rees Saddle for views of the Snowy Creek gutter, before they headed out on Wednesday.
I woke to rain in the wee hours of the morning, and what I thought was thunder – but thunder doesn’t boom in multiple areas for 5 or 6 seconds… Must be avalanches! It wasn’t until I got back to Queenstown and connected the dots to realise the cause of those avalanches – a devastating earthquake in Kaikoura.
Monday 14th & Tuesday 15th November
I decided to have a rest day, and was glad for it, as the weather gods must have known my intentions! It bucketed rain from 11am onwards, and I rejoiced in that feeling of snugness that heavy rain on a tin roof brings, with cups of tea and a great book to read, I couldn’t ask for a better holiday. The Aussie boys had left in the morning for a day trip up the valley to Rees’ Saddle, and as temperatures dropped, I got the fire going so the lads would have a nice warm hut to return to. They were drenched when they returned in the afternoon, and were stoked to have warm drinks and a cosy hut after their day’s efforts. I had intended to scale a large ridge line tomorrow, right across the valley from the hut, the only safe line not prone to avalanches.
Unfortunately, it rained all night and come morning it was still pouring with low cloud covering the entire valley; nothing at all to be seen from the ridge line, so a lazy morning ensued. Sleeping in, a porridge breakfast, loads of teas and soups, and of course continuing my book were key during another rest day – although we had a couple of small ventures out to check out the views in the miserable but still magnificent landscape.
Wednesday 16th November
Still concerned by the falling rain and all the potential creek crossings ahead, this was D-day for getting out. Luckily, the weather gods smiled upon us, and after leaving at 9am, the weather cleared as I descended into the Rees Valley, to be met with clear skies and a clearing view of Mt Earnslaw. 13 years ago I had soloed the west peak after our return from Mt Aspiring, making this an awesome homecoming of sorts, seeing new angles and perspectives of the mountain. I continued wandering down through mossy birch forests, with steam rising from the drying branches, to arrive in my own little Hobbiton on Slip Flat. A beautiful grassy boulder-strewn field beside the river in amongst the forest – magnificent Middle Earth again!
I took a break for elevensies beside a creek in the lower forest, before entering the lower Rees Valley proper, and exiting the Mt Aspiring National Park. I was now in farmland, and boy what a piece of farm! I followed the meandering Rees river instead of following the trail, and ended up having to cross chest deep in parts (yes, it was chilly). I was truly in gaiter country now, and I was happy to be wearing them, with thick mud and soggy grass all around the place. I stopped for lunch at 25 mile creek – my entry point into Earnslaw 13 years ago, I now felt like I was on semi-familiar ground. Another 6 or 7 km took me to Muddy Creek, and my final exit point for the Thursday 4pm pick up – a whole day early!
As I began to look for somewhere to camp for the night, lo and behold, along comes a Ute carrying Trev – a friendly Kiwi from Gore who kindly obliged to give me a lift into Glenorchy. By 4pm I’m having a beer at the Glenorchy guest house, before hitching back into Queenstown to pick up my town clothes at the Macpac store before it even shuts for the day. A well-earned shower, dinner, and beer or two await me for the rest of the night!
What a sweet trip – I’d thoroughly recommend it for those that enjoy their walking. Hard but exhilarating!
PostScript: Met up with the Aussie boys in Queenstown on Thursday for a pizza at Fat Badgers – biggest pizza I have ever seen! Took all four of us to eat it, and that’s after a lot of walking folks.