This post is part 2 of our New Zealand adventures over the holiday break during December 2016 to January 2017. You can also navigate to the other sections among the different parts below.
- part 1 – research & planning
- part 2 – trip report: getting in via Osaka, Wanaka, & Mt. Aspiring National Park
- trip report: getting there
- trip report: Mount Aspiring National Park – West Matukituki Valley
- part 3 – trip report: Whakaari, Routeburn, Milford Sound, & Te Anau
- part 4 – trip report: North Island, Turangi, & Tongariro Crossing
- part 5 – trip report: Maui with the parents & brother
- part 6 – final impressions & wrap up
trip report: getting in
This section is about our long journey to get to New Zealand. The TDRL version is Japan and California has good food, California has good friends, business class is pretty awesome, business class is even more awesome when you are delayed on the tarmac at Beijing, United can be pretty terrible, and we took the way too long way around to get there. Should you want to read about it, you can do so by expanding the section below.
getting to New Zealand the long way around
the departure – Raleigh
Our trip started like most trips with a fight out of Raleigh (RDU). Since our total time away was around 3 weeks, parking would be expensive at the airport. My solution was to park, stay, and fly. Rather than paying for the specialized rates specifically for park, stay, and fly or going through the specialized OTA, I would book a room with a hotel with shuttle service but do not list a park and fly rate. This gets me the points for staying with the hotel also. This time, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express at Research Park. Even though they had a 2-week limit, the night staff told me I can keep my car there longer. Surprisingly though, he didn’t write down my contact information, which you should always leave as I found out later (that story will conclude in a later part of the report). Since then, I’ve found that the Holiday Inn RDU allows an even longer limit of 31 days.
There were two other benefits for us to go this route. The first is it makes the start of our travel much less hectic. Since we have to drive 3 hours to reach RDU, driving down the night earlier for an early morning flight is much less stressful and prevents us avoid any traffic along the way or bad weather along the way. Secondly, it allowed us to fulfill our IHG Accelerate promotion by making a point and cash stay. The first part of the promotion was a D.C. mattress run. Overall, the 2 nights for US$142.04 and 5000 IHG points and earned us 38k promotional points on top of regular earnings.
Our first flight of our trip was on Southwest that took us from RDU to Chicago (MDW) to San Jose (SJC), where we’d be doing the return leg of a JAL mistake fare. The Southwest flight was the last of the points I had accumulated 2 years ago getting the companion pass, which we were using for the last time this year. Again, the companion pass is the most valuable travel hack I’ve seen out there, perhaps I’ll write a short blog in the future about our travels with in a 2 year period.
Once we arrived in California, we were surprised to be greeted by a rainy day. I planned a couple extra days in California to catch up with some of my best friends in Jared, Miguel, and the Shimeks. Eating up some good food was also a nice bonus as we got some sushi buffet and a favorite of mine in Davis Noodle City. Lastly, it wouldn’t have been a trip back to the old stomping grounds if I didn’t visit Sudwerks and the dock store. It’s the place where I developed my alcoholism. I thought about taking Meg up to Lake Berryassa for a day hike, but the down pour on day 1 and spending more time with gang took more precedence.
To get up to Davis, we rented a car from Hertz via Autoslash for 2 days setting us US$38.40. We stayed with at the DoubleTree in Napa because it was the cheapest place and gave us the flexibility to go up to Berryassa or Napa in cause plans with the gang fell through. It was also one of the cheapest rate in the area. My Diamond match status through 2018 gave us some nice cookies when we checked in and free breakfasts with made to order omelets.
Since we our flight from SJC was very early in the morning after the second night, we didn’t book a hotel room. Instead we stayed up late at the Shimeks’ place before driving through the night before the flight. It was also my idea to tire us out and help fight the jetleg.
Before heading to the gate, we enjoyed The Club Lounge and a light snack at SJC using my Priority Pass that comes with my Citi Prestige. The lounge was pretty basic early in the morning with continental breakfast foods such as mini-bagels, oatmeal, cereal, and sweet pastries. It was good for US standards, but doesn’t compare to the lounges overseas. We headed for the gates shortly after and encountered probably the most stressful point of our trip.
Before the trip, I had made sure our bags were small enough to take as a carry on. The reason was that to make our itinerary work, we would need to skip the last leg of our flight from the US back to Asia (Osaka-Kinsai to Taipei). My fare code specified I can make any changes to my original flight path since it was coded as premium economy. However, the aspect of being on JAL metal and AA stock made it very difficult to deal with over the phone. This left me with the simplest solution of just skipping the last leg, which required us to not have any checked bags as they would go all the way to Taipei (TPE).
Only in California have the gate agents ever given me so much shit about our backpacks (the last time was in LAX on United). Without even giving us a chance to show our bags fit the case, one of the agents started go through with the gate bag check to TPE. It was not even the typical gate check where you can pick it up at the gate after the leg. That would have let to utter disaster if our bags ended up in TPE and our flight to New Zealand was out of Osaka-Kinsai (KIX). After literally showing both of our packs fit the box and pleading with the uncompromising agent for 5 minutes while everyone else boarded, did they allow us to take them on as carry-on. Perhaps it was the early morning or the small Embraer regional planes that made one of them so hard-lined, but it caused much discontent with several of the passengers that included us.
The flight from SJC to Los Angelas (LAX) was otherwise uneventful. We had to make our way from AA’s regional terminal via shuttle bus to terminal 4 before heading over to the international terminal. There was a walkway that stayed airside the entire way. The issue was that ticketing could only print out or first leg of the trip in SJC even though we check in with JAL. This was important because the premium economy tickets gave us access to the Los Angeles International Lounge, which we wouldn’t otherwise be able to visit. We did have the self-printed pdf from JAL, so we thought we can just ask the front desk of the lounge. The lounge staff there was very accommodating allowing us to enter and calling the JAL staff to help with our ticket. The lounge itself was on par with the international lounges with sandwiches and anything you wanted to drink. I especially enjoyed the smoked salmon sandwiches.
When the JAL agent came to see us, it was clear what the issue was. Since we are US citizens, they needed to verify that we had an exit flight booked. Knowing my ticket coding, explain we were looking to stay in Osaka longer and change our last leg. With full disclosure, we showed her our tickets from KIX to Beijing (PEK) to Auckland (AKL). She said she’ll look into it for us, but she said it wasn’t able to change it when she returned. However, I think she didn’t really want to deal with it and prompting us with the question that if it was correct we were going from TPE to PEK to AKL. I got the sense of the wink wink signal from her and said yes. She gave us our boarding passes and wished us a good trip. We were accepted with a smile and thanked her for the trouble.
The long trip across the pacific was uneventful. We weren’t so lucky to be upgraded to business like last time, but JAL’s 788 economy configuration had a lot of leg room and was in a 2-4-2 configuration allowing me to have a bulkhead to lean against and Meg to make her many trips to the bathroom without having to jump over anyone.
We landed in the evening at KIX and took the JR line to downtown Osaka.
2 roundtrip tickets cost 4,760 JPY total and took an hour.
We had a free night at the Intercontinental Osaka from fulfilling last year’s accelerate promotion, but we promptly fell asleep since my attempts to fight Jetleg didn’t work very well.
Speaking to that, we both woke up around 5am local time. We could have stayed longer in Osaka and actually explored the city, but I wanted to optimize our time in New Zealand instead. So our time in Osaka was about eating some delicious food so went out looking for breakfast.
It was a work day morning the next day, but those out were a mix of partiers still out looking for an after drinking snack and workers waking up are getting ready for work. We found Yakitori
that offered a mix of Ramen and dumplings for breakfast, it was indeed delicious.
We returned to the hotel as the sun rose
and took advantage of the amenities at the intercontinental. I went for a swim at their full length pool, which was a nice wake up after the cross pacific flight. After a couple free drinks via my platinum status with the Chase IHG card,
we checked out and looked for some Sushi
before heading back to the airport. Since the train arrived a couple hours before our flight, we were able to check out the Korean Airlines Lounge at KIX located before security for a few drinks with my Priority Pass.
finally to New Zealand
The first leg of our business class flights to get us to New Zealand booked through United was from KIX to Beijing (PEK). It was uneventful, but they did provide us with a nice dinner.
We landed in PEK with a couple few hour layover among a lot of smog.
I was surprised that the smog was even in the terminal itself. If we had longer time, we could have taken advantage of the 72 hours transit visa China has been offering. Instead, we went to the international transfer area and avoided any immigration. As part of the business class tickets, we were able to head to the Air China business class lounge where there were only some light refreshments since it was late. There would have been much food options during normal times.
Our Air China flight from PEK to Auckland (AKL) was a red-eye scheduled to leave around midnight. Riding business made that so much more enjoyable. This was especially so since the flight ended up delayed 5 hours due to that heavy smog I mentioned earlier. During the delay, I was very thankful we were in business class and able to lay flat in the seats to get some sleep.
I can imagine how terrible it would have been to be stuck in coach during that delay since the plane sat on the run way the entire time. Once we took off, I alternated between sleeping, watching movies, and getting feed during the long flight.
When we landed,
we knew we’d miss our connecting flight to Christchurch (CHC) and would subsequently miss our already paid for Airbnb and bus from CHC to Wanaka, the starting point of our planned trek. As we deboarded, we were given a hotel in Auckland to stay at and our flight information for the following morning. Immigration and customs were very fast for US passport holders, so fast that we didn’t even get a New Zealand stamp in our passports. At customs, we declared our tent and hiking shoes. They took our tent for inspection and we got it back at the little window right by the exit into the arrivals area landside. They had found a bug in our tent, so they sprayed it down and returned it to us in a large plastic bag. They airline put us up at the Heartlands Hotel and it took us a bit to find that the hotel shuttle picked up near the McDonalds. In the process, we left our tent on a bus we were told to take by the information people and had to wait for it to come around before getting our correct shuttle. The ability to call internationally via wifi and cellular with Google Fi became clutch for the first time as we had to call the hotel for the shuttle.
After checking in, I went to work trying to fix our itinerary. I called United hoping they would be able to fly us directly to Queenstown (ZQN) instead of CHC. After 30 minutes on hold, the United customer service was able to change our reservation to go out early in the morning to ZQN. I was grateful as we would be able to get back on track to my planned itinerary. At the time, I didn’t know it was United delay policy of allowing a reroute within 500 miles if your flight was delayed. However, the next morning when we went to check in for that flight, we found our reservation was never ticketed. The Air New Zealand check in agents were wonderfully patient in working with us trying to contact United to fix the problem. I had to call United several times, again very thankful I got Google Fi even at 20 cents US a minute, and eventually just handing my phone over to the check in agent. After about 2 hours, we were finally ticketed for a later flight to ZQN. It turned out United did book us on a flight, but never sent over the payment.
Since we had a couple hours to kill and we never got our included breakfast at our hotel because we left so early, we were able to get a shuttle back and have an actually really good hot breakfast. Meanwhile, all I had to do was book a shuttle transport from ZQN to Wanaka with Alpine Connexions Shuttles for NZD$70 total to get us to our prebooked hotel for the night at the YHA Backpacker Hostel in Wanaka.
If this seemed like a lot to get to New Zealand, it was. I wouldn’t recommend the route that we took. Again as I linked in part 1, award space to New Zealand is out there as long as you look early. Anyway, we were finally really to begin our New Zealand adventures.
trip report: Mount Aspiring National Park – West Matukituki Valley
This section is about our setup for the time in Mt. Aspiring National Park once we were on the ground there. For our detailed plans before we arrived in the South Island of see my activities and planning section in part 1.
The plane into Queenstown (ZQN) was very bumpy and it was raining as we landed.
Our shuttle to Wanaka was delayed due to construction near the airport. The pickup was at the bus stand in front of the airport the drive was roughly 1.5 hours through some curvy roads.
We arrived at the YHA backpacker hostel just before the DOC information center in Wanaka was closing. Since tokens needed to stay at certain huts on my planned trail can only be purchases at the information center, I booked it over there in the heavy rain. In the 5 minutes I was at the DOC, I was informed that my original plans would not work because the Cascade Pass was still snowed in and it was recommended that we have snow gear to attempt it. Furthermore, the cascade pass is one of the more dangerous routes with very technical scrambling and plenty of exposure. They didn’t have time in the few minutes before closing to discuss it with me. Given the weather not forecasted to be good in the next day, I should take an extra day to plan and come back to discuss it. The trip was at a pretty rocky start. Alpine Connexions were flexible enough to push our shuttle from Wanaka to Raspberry car park in Mt. Aspiring National Park back a day. The hostel was also able to find another room for us the next day.
When we returned to the DOC the next day, they were very insistent that we shouldn’t attempt the route, especially the Cascade Pass. The Cascade Pass usually doesn’t open up until much late January and this year turned out to be a long spring. That left us with 5 days and 4 nights to plan. The new plan was for us to pack into the West Matukituki Valley Mt. Aspiring National park to Aspiring Hut. We can either stay in the hut or camp there for a few days while doing day hikes such as going up to Liverpool Hut or the Rob Roy Glacier for a couple of days. Then we can head to the East Matukituki Valley and wild camp out there for a couple more days. In all we would spend 2 nights at Aspiring Hut, spend a day to get to East Matukituki, and camp 2 nights there before catching our ride out.
With that plan, we booked a return shuttle from Raspberry Parking lot to Wanaka and then from Wanaka to Queenstown. From there we changed our Glenorchy Journeys reservation for a pickup at the Rees trailhead to a pickup from Queenstown with the drop off at our Airbnb just outside of Glenorchy.
After all the stress of getting in and planning, we got to explore the Wanaka a little bit before we hit the trails and a day after. We ate at decent burger joint called Red Star Burger Bar
and Speights Ale House, where their Pork Belly sandwich was surprisingly good. Neither would qualify as cheap though. Our new friend Eric recommended Big Fig, but it was closed on boxing day when we tried to go there. There was also a farmer’s market that takes place on Thursdays, which has a nice bakery stand with donuts and really good pasties. Along that line of food, local bakeries such as The Doughbin has different meat pies and pasties that qualify as low cost eats.
The cheapest way to eat however is to utilize the supermarkets in town and cook things yourself. There is a small market on the west side of town along with a Mediterranean market. The big supermarket is the New World, where you can buy everything including dehydrated meals. Make sure you ask for the tourist New World card to get the discounts. As for places to cook, the YHA Backpacker Wanaka has a huge communal kitchen and even Aspiring Motel had a hot plate and cookware we could use.
For hiking supplies, there are outfitters in town, but they are expensive. That’s why our New Zealand friend buys gear every time he comes to the states. There are also several second hand stores you may alternatively be able to find some useful gears at. We ended up buying a cheap knife and gas canister at the outfitter near New World.
Queenstown is known as the party city in the area, but there are several bars on the main street including The Gin and Raspberry bar with it’s awesome view.
We also got to take in Episode One at the quarky Cinema Paradiso with their warm intermission cookies. However, the best thing in Wanaka, other than hiking, seems to be just hanging out on lake front.
Mt Aspiring day 1: Rob Roy Glacier and Aspiring Hut
The day came when we finally got to hit the trails. We shuffled into the shuttle headed into Mt. Aspiring National Park and the Raspberry Trailhead. There were several stream crossing on the way into the park that were pretty hairy with the large amount of rain the previous few days. Few of new friends we meet in the park expressed concern regarding their car’s well-being when they drove across the streams.
On that shuttle, it was mostly day hikers aiming to do the Rob Roy Glacier day hike, but we also met our new friend Eric. He had also wanted to do the same route and even hear us talking to the rangers at the DOC. Instead he planned to hike up to Liverpool hut on the first day and then back to Aspiring for the second day with a possible day hike up to the pylon on the cascade route. That last part drew my interest as the pylon was the highest point on the cascade route with good views of the valley and possibly the Dart Glacier. Eric heard the pylon might be doable since the snow was pass that point in the actual pass. This give us a possible option during our time in Mt Aspiring. Regardless, our first day plan was to pack into Aspiring Hut with a side-trip up to Rob Roy Glacier.
- name: Rob Roy Glacier and Aspiring Hut through with an in and out section
- distance: 11.4 miles (6-7 miles with just in and out to Rob Roy)
- elevation change: 2448 ft ascend and 2116 descend
- time: 6 hours
- location: Mt. Aspiring National Park – West Matukituki Valley
- The Rob Roy Track is typically a day hike from Raspberry parking lot, which is about 1.5 hours out of Wanaka. For the section from Raspberry parking lot to Aspiring Hut, mountain biking is allowed as it is going through private land.
At Raspberry parking lot, there are several bathrooms and place to fill up on water. You’ll want to do that because the area through the valley is private land with many sheep grazing. So the water in the valley will need filtration. On the Rob Roy Track section, there are no animals, so the water there is safer.
The trek starts along the Matukituki River and we will follows it all the way to Aspiring Hut eventually.
About a 15 minutes along the trail,
you’ll come across a swing bridge that leads up to the Rob Roy Track.
We hid our backpacks here and headed up for our day hike. The trail gradually heads up through the forest
and following the Rob Roy Stream. Once in a while, it will open up with a view of the glacier.
There is a lower view point and an upper view point of the Rob Roy Glacier.However, one of my favorite views is just before the upper view point where there is a cleaning from a side stream.
As you reach the end of the trail,
there are several rocks to sit on and have a nice lunch.
The current trail ends here, but there seem to be an old trail going further into the valley. We tried to follow it for a little, but found it wiped out.
We returned to the swing bridge
and started to head to the Aspiring Hut.
Again with the high rains, we had a couple more difficult stream crossings. The toughest one was right after the Rob Roy bridge. As for the rest of them, it wouldn’t have been difficult if we were willing to wade through them. Otherwise it was a hot walk through some farm land. When we reached the national park land, we were a short distance away from the hut.
However, it was an annoying marshy section.
- view: 3. Rob Roy Glacier isn’t a massive glacier, but it’s a fun day hike.
- difficulty: 2. The Rob Roy trail is a pretty gradual increase in steepness with one detour section that is slightly steeper, so some fitness is required to hike it. There is also the added pressure of shuttle pickup to do it before the 3pm pickup time. The hike to aspiring hut is a 1 since it is mostly flat.
- technical: 1. Very well maintained trail and everything is well signed.
When we reached Aspiring Hut, we were greeted by the hut warden Donald. The DOC rangers gave up the impression he would be cranky, but he was the nicest old mountaineer. He knows all the trails very well and can answer any questions you have about the valley. Around 7pm, he’d give a weather report and then hang around to give advice or to just shoot the shit with the hikers. The cost of the hut was NZ$30 each, NZ$5 each, or free if we just go a few steps further toward the river on DOC land as he told us. So another option if you are really strapped for cash.
At the time, there wasn’t anyone camping and our new friend Eric was going to stay at the hut the next couple of days. There was also the problem of sandflies around the area, who bite hard. So we decided to splurge for Christmas and stay in the hut.
The hut was pretty basic with a wood burning stove to heat the place up.
There was also potable water and gas stoves available to for use.
The bathrooms were outdoors and Donald kept it very clean for outdoor standards. There is no shower, but nothing will stop you from taking a dip in the Matukituki River. Camping sites had an open shelter with a wooden table. Campers were not able to use the hut facilities. Sleeping in the main room of the hut gave you a terrific view up at Mt. Aspiring and even Liverpool Hut.
Mt Aspiring day 2: Cascade Pylon attempt from Aspiring Hut
While we were hanging out at hut on our first day, we met a few people that were able to reach the pylon on the Cascade route. The report was that it was doable with a nice day, but it was an intense climb with a lot of exposure. We were originally thinking of waiting a day and possibly make the attempt with Eric on day 3, but the beautiful day on day 2 changed our minds.
- name: Cascade Saddle Route to the Pylon
- in and out, through possibility
- distance: We only did 4.4 mi, the pylon is just a bit past that
- elevation change: 3235 ft ascend and descend
- time: 5.5hr
- location: Mt. Aspiring National Park – West Matukituki Valley
- This is a very steep track with multiple death on it. You should know your hiking abilities before attempting it. For all purposes the DOC doesn’t label this as a hiking trail, but just as a route.
We left Aspiring hut in the morning starting with the climb through a dense forests. The beginning section is a bit gentler, but you will use your hands to pull yourself up at points. The first difficult navigation section is the is a decently large stream.
The bank on the opposite side is a steep climb. The best spot we found to cross is directly downstream of the large rock right when you reach the stream. You can see it more clearly in this picture from the other side.
With a lot of rain, this crossing may become more difficult.
The climb get steeper as you work up to the tree line with openings here
At the tree line, you start to see orange markers all the way up to the top of the pylon.
The way up from here has a lot of exposure and areas where you are climbing up rockfaces with 80 degree incline.
Most of them are very doable, but keeping your head is the best tool here.
All along the way you are treated with views across the West Matukituki Valley.
After a half hour climbing, I reached a point where there was a hole in the rock on an exposed face I had to bring my foot up to move up. I would have to do a climbing move, but I wasn’t 100% on it. I called it quits there. From the look at the rockface, there was a metal bolt in it. Metal Clips in sections like this would have been appreciated.
Even though we didn’t get to the pylon, like our friend Eric did the next day seen here, there were plenty of outcrops where we had amazing views of the valley.
One thing I was very glad about was that we didn’t try to do this with a full pack.
*EDIT 2020-12: Since this trip, we returned and hiked the Rees Dart Track including visiting the Cascade Saddle from the other side. You can find our trip report here.
- view: 4. The 180 views down both valleys provided great aesthetics for this hike, however the score is bostered by the climbing on the route itself. Furthermore, the complete saddle route also gets you close to the Dart Glacier. We are hoping to complete this the next time we visit.
- difficulty: 4. The quick elevation gain and the need for good weather is imperative to attempt this route. If the weather is not optimal, I would consider the route not possible because of everything would be harder and more dangerous with wet rocks and shrubbery. Our attempt this time was in the form of a day hike and that’s how I’m rating this route. It’s a much more grueling to think about adding a full pack to the climb for this section.
- technical: 4.5. The technical skills needed for the Cascade Route up to the pylon is for the climbing under high exposure. Again, Meg had a lot of fun with the climbing and it will get your adrenaline up. The extra .5 comes from me not having the complete confidence to make a move necessary to get to the pylon. It’s hard to say if I would lower this score even as I improve on my climbing because of the exposure. We weren’t the only ones to turn back that day without reaching the top as the exposure just changes the magnitude of all risks. Perhaps I would lower the technical score of the route if a few ropes, guidelines, or hooks are added. Since there is only 1 track, navigation really isn’t an issue except navigating across the stream.
After we returned to the Aspiring Hut, we found our new friend Eric hanging around the Hut having returned from Liverpool Hut. We were also joined by an Israeli couple, Maya and Ben. Apparently, Wanaka, Mt. Aspiring, and the trek up to Liverpool Hut is a pretty famous and well known trek in Israel. We did see several Israels during our time at Mt. Aspiring doing that route. The group of us were able to settle into one of the side rooms at the Hut as a large Chinese tourist group took over the rest of the hut. They did keep the hut very warm.
Mt Aspiring day 3: Liverpool Hut from Aspiring Hut
Since we attempted the Cascade Route on day 2, we changed our plans to spent another day going up to Liverpool hut for a day hike. From there, we can get a good view of the French Hut on the other side of the valley and the glacier coming off Mt. Aspiring. There are 2 other hikes in this area splitting at Pearl Flats. You can also continue onto the French Hut on the French Ridge Track, which is the other side of the valley and a launching point for mountaineer to climb up the glacier there. According to Donald, the hut warden at Aspiring, it’s a great place to practice or to get introduced to mountaineering. The other route is to continue up to the valley to Scotts Bivouac in the Upper West Matukituki Track.
- name: Liverpool Track from Aspiring Hut
- in and out
- distance: 11 miles
- elevation change: 3291 ft ascend and descend
- time: 8 hours
- location: Mt. Aspiring National Park – West Matukituki Valley
- Most people hike from Raspberry to Liverpool Hut in 1 day and out the next. Apparently, this route it is a favorite of Israeli Trampers. You’ll need a token purchased previously at the DOC to stay in the hut.
We begin the day with overcast sky so we were glad to tried for the Cascade Pylon the day before. The hike up to Pearl’s Flat is a pleasant one up the valley and crosses a couple swing bridges
before going through a couple of flats.
Once we reached Pearl’s Flat and another swing bridge, there was a sign for the Liverpool Track.
The track was part route,
and part climb through the trees.
Once you reached the tree line, you can see the hut itself,
but the trail heads up above the hut
to a view point
before circling around
back to the hut.
There is some exposure once you hit the tree line, but the trail isn’t at steep during this section so it doesn’t have the same dangers as the Cascade Pylon Route. The hut has a water source and an outhouse on the cliffs.
From Liverpool Hut, you can see French Hut across the valley
and Aspiring Hut back down the valley.
The way down was similar to the Cascade Route, where you spend a good amount climbing down on your butt. Explains the hole I had in my pants after these 2 days.
While coming down the last section from on the Liverpool Track, you get a glimpse of a canyon near Pearl Flats. So we explored the stream there and found a pretty cool spot, probably my favorite of the park.
It took a little bit of walking through the cold water to get to the rock in the middle, but it was worth it.
By this time, the sun had come out and we were able to warm up quickly.
We returned to Aspiring Hut after spending some time at the canyon entrance
under a full sunlight
showing off the beauty of the entire valley.
- view: 4. The view from Liverpool Hut provided an up close look at Mt. Aspiring and back down the valley. My favorite part of the hike though was the canyon opening near Pearl Flats.
- difficulty: 3.5. The Liverpool Route has very similar elevation gains as the Cascade Pylon route, but it doesn’t have nearly as bad of exposure. However with bad weather, this route would also become very difficult with the dangers of slipping in the mud, tree branches, or rocks. It is a climb though.
- technical: 3. Again, you will need to climb up on this route and slide on your butts a few places coming down. The exposure is much less on this trail as you are in the trees for all but the last section of the route. At that point, the climb isn’t the steepest portions. The route itself is very clear so all technical skills needed are for climbing purposes. Meg also had a lot of fun doing this route.
After returning to Aspiring Hut, we hung out with him once again to hear about his adventures up on a successful climb on the Cascade Pylon Route and met our new friend Daniel would planned to go up to the French Ridge Trails the following day.
Eric had planned his shuttle for pickup the morning of the next day, day 4. Our shuttle was suppose to be on day 5 in the evening. However, the weather report on that day 5 was not good so we decided to hike out the valley on day 4 and catch the same shuttle as Eric, since we knew it would be there. Camping in a storm just isn’t very much fun.
Mt Aspiring day 4-5: early exit
We woke up early the next day to catch the 10:30 shuttle from Raspberry trailhead. The valley was still in the shade for the majority of the trek out, which made it much easier than being baked in the sun. We caught a nice look on the Rob Roy Glacier
as we concluded our 2 hours trek out covering 5.6 miles.
The shuttle actually came in early dropping of a group of day hikers. There were a lot of people gathering at Raspberry trailhead already as it was boxing day, or the day after Christmas.
After the 1.5 hours back to town, we were able to find an opening at the Aspiring Motel for the night. We had lunch with Eric before his shuttle out to Glenorchy, as he also wanted to do the through hike ending at the other end of the Rees Track. After catching Star Wars at the Cinema Paradiso, we crashed early as the storm started to roll in. The next morning, our new friends Maya and Ben came over and made us an awesome Israeli breakfast to thank us for sharing our food at Aspiring hut.
Originally, we had planned the breakfast on the beach but the weather kept us in our hotel room. After getting some groceries for the next couple of days and a drink with Daniel, we caught our shuttles
out to our Airbnb near Glenorchy.
Mt. Aspiring National Park and the West Matukituki Valley impressions
Mt. Aspiring National Park is a large area that has several tramps that you can do. We spent our time in the West Matukituki Valley of the park, which provided us with views of glaciers, streams, canyons, and the valley itself. It was also nice to just base out of Aspiring Hut to take day hikes to the many different viewpoints in the valley. Meg certainly enjoyed the challenge of the couple routes with more climbing. Our total distance Elevation change was 9492 feet covering 32.5 miles.
During Christmas, it is very expensive and difficult to find housing in the area, so NZ$60 for 2 isn’t a bad deal at all. It would have been cheaper if we were ok dealing with sandflies but we opted for luxury this time around.
There are many other sections of Mt. Aspiring National Park such as the Rees and Dart (currently not passable at the time we visited) tracks just west of the West Matukituki Valley near Glenorchy. For your Lord of the Ring fans, the Dart river was the location for Isengard, ok the real link about it here. Part of the Routeburn is also in Mt. Aspiring National Park. Furthermore, there is the East Matukituki with the dangerous Rabbit Pass and the Gillespie Pass Circuit. The DOC in Wanaka can help you plan any of your adventures there.
The greatest thing about the trails here is that there are no Great Walks other than the part on the Routeburn. So you can get the great views without the large crowds of people. Eric was very surprised we even heard of the Cascade Route at all. With less people, these area is much more open for flexibility than booking the Great Walks.
In the future, I do want to return to this area for a couple of reason. Perhaps to try the Cascade Route again with more proficiency in climbing or to do a Rees-Dart loop that can get to the Cascade Pylon from the other side.
If you’ve enjoyed this trip report and found it helpful, we would always welcome any support. Thanks!