Tramping (aka hiking) and New Zealand are synonymous when we think of traveling to the small island nation. However, there is much more to the hiking scene there than just the Great Walks (DOC). I have met locals that have exclaimed that the Great Walks, while very worth it, aren’t the best scenery that New Zealand has to offer. With our hike of the Rees-Dart track, I completely understand that sentiment.
This is the six entry of our Australia and New Zealand trip series covering our tramp of the Rees-Dart Track in Mt. Aspiring National Park. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.
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The Rees-Dart Track is a point to point hike that can take between 3 to 5 days. The hike mainly follows the Rees River drainage and the Dart River drainage circling Mount Earnslaw and the Forbes Mountains. An optional side trip during the hike is to visit the Dart Glacier or further to Cascade Saddle. Being the major highlight of our hike, I consider this side trip as part of the hike.
- name: Rees-Dart Track with Cascade Saddle side trip
- type: point to point
- distance: 53.7 miles (86.5 km)
- elevation change: 10,850 ft (3,307 m) ascent & 11,240 ft (3,426 m) descent
- time: 5 days (24:59 hours moving)
- location: Mt. Aspiring National Park, near Glenorchy, New Zealand
- Muddy Creek car park (google map directions)
- Chinaman’s Bluff car park (google map directions)
Since this is a point to point hike figuring out how to shuttle is necessary. The easy and recommended way is to pay for a shuttling service. This is because the roads to reach each end of the trailhead are dirt roads and very poor at specific spots. This includes crossing streams and areas of recent slips where the “road” is all but wiped out. While the Muddy Creek carpark (Rees) is less trafficked and more remote, I thought the road was worse to Chinaman’s Bluff carpark (Dart) where the worst part was from washout roads while we were there. The DOC specifies that hikers may have to road walk from Chinaman’s Bluff carpark to Paradise (6 km, 2 hr) to catch the shuttle should heavy rains and road flooding prevent transport access. Both sides are prone to washouts and flooded creeks.
The negative is that the shuttle is expensive and runs to each trailhead separately out of Glenorchy and thus two payments. While there seem to be different companies online, they are actually one company that runs the shuttles at the time of writing this (Glenorchy Journeys). The cost from and to Glenorchy at the time of writing is NZD$35 each direction and there is plenty of parking in Glenorchy. They also shuttle from all around the regions like from Queenstown. Their shuttle runs once in the morning to Muddy Creek carpark (Rees) and once in the afternoon to Chinaman’s Bluff carpark (Dart), which is suggestive of the typical direction the track is done. Reservation ahead of time is recommended as they do fill up.
Should you want to save money, or in our case when the shuttle is full, you can also try hitching. We were only able to find space on the shuttle into the Muddy Creek carpark (Rees), but it was full on the day we planned to return. Should you want to check while on the trail, the ranger at Dart hut has a radio they can check in with the shuttle company. For us, we were fortunate to find a hitch out from Chinaman’s Carpark and it was something we were counting on since it is more trafficked with day hikers and jet boat services. We did have an extra meal each in case we had to sleep an extra night at the day shelter at Chinaman’s Bluff carpark and hike out ourselves.
There are 3 different DOC operated huts located along the Rees-Dart Track, Shelter Rock Hut (on the Rees), Dart Hut, and Daleys Flat Hut (on the Dart). We bought are DOC “tokens” in advance at the DOC information center in Queenstown, which was NZD$15 per night per person (DOC). The huts had running water, bathrooms, mattress, and a stove for heating. However we carried our own stove, gas, and sleeping bags. The DOC asks hikers to keep the huts tidy should the warden not be around and to carry out all our own trash.
To use the hut campgrounds with access to the facilities, there is a NZD$5 fee.
Wilderness camping is permitted (aka free) along the track except for the fragile alpine and subalpine area between Shelter Rock Hut and Dart Hut. They want everyone to just use the toilets regardless to limit impact.
Camping on the Cascade Saddle Route is only permitted near Cascade Creek where there is a toilet.
My backpacking equipment was my standard, with a couple pieces of gear for rougher terrain. Since we were staying in huts, I left my tent out. However, we did carry our sleeping pad in case there were more hikers than mattress at the huts. While the huts have solid fuel for heating, hikers had to bring their own water treatment and cooking stoves. Below is a list of my gear:
There are 2 pieces of gear I was very thankful for on our hike. First was my Chacos, which I used to hike majority of our first day heading up the Rees River. As I’ll describe below, much of the trail on private property had us traversing through marshy fields with the chance of water or mud coming up to our knees. With Chacos, I was able to plow through much of these.
Second, I was very happy for our knee high gaiters. They justified our decisions to use them as we went through enough scree fields and damp grassy meadows.
More importantly, they protected our legs against the many prickly giant speargrass (wikipedia) along the trail. Sometimes, these suckers were unavoidable as they would line both sides of the trail just as you step down from a boulder.
With the extra space I had without the need to bring a tent, we ended up filling the volume with food. Between the two of us, we planned for 18 major meals that involves heating water. The breakdown was 2 each per day except for the 1st day when we had a huge breakfast at the hotel and our last day where we would have dinner in town. We included 2 extra for emergencies. My eating habits while hiking is typically a big meal in the morning and a big meal when we hit camp. We had bread, meats, and snacks to fill in throughout the day outside of our main meals.
We were able to find plenty of dehydrated meals in New Zealand and I especially like the meat mince. We repackaged a few dehydrated meals to save volume keeping a few pouches we planned to reuse as eating vessels.
Ofcourse, we brought some booze. We repackaged the bottle of Australian whiskey we picked up with our left over cash at the Sydney airport. The whiskey was only mediocre, but was adequate for our purposes.
alternatives, side trips, & mountaineering routes
An alternative to the Rees-Dart track is to connect Dart Hut and Aspiring Hut in the West Matukituki Valley via the Cascade Saddle Route (DOC, NZ Mountain Safety Council Youtube). The recommended direction is to start from Aspiring Hut as you would be taking on the steeper section on the uphill. This would mean a point to point hike from Raspberry Creek car park (google map directions) to either the Chinaman’s Bluff car park via the Dart or Muddy Creek car park via the Rees. We attempted the most difficult portion of the hike (in my opinion) to reach the pylon (high point of this section) from Aspiring Hut on our previous trip, but I decided to turn around as I was required to make a climbing move I wasn’t comfortable with at the time.
There are two additional side trips listed on the DOC website along the Rees-Dart track. The first is to Earnslaw Hut via the Kea Basin Track on the Rees River side of the hike (DOC). Entranced by Wilderness has a report connecting the Kea Basin Track with the Earnslaw Burn Track (DOC) with some off trail navigation.
The second is to head up the Whitbourn Valley on the Dart side.
However, this route is not maintained anymore as the bridge that crosses the Dart was damaged and removed. A couple of guys we hike with forded the Dart and explored the trail, but turned around after losing the trail early into their exploration. We didn’t even get that far as a slip made navigating down to the Dart at the crossing point difficult. The rangers we met at Dart Hut during our hike discouraged anyone from attempting this and actively takes down any trail marking cairns at the junction of this route. Southern Alps Photography posted a 2010 mountaineering loop including the Whitbourn Valley.
Lastly along the Dart River, we saw two bridges going over the Dart. While not in the DOC, we read in the log book at Daleys Flat hut that they are used for mountaineering routes.
Specifically, they are used to reach Seal Col or O’Leary Pass to climb the peaks in the Barrier Range (Nina Dickerhof Photography). Additionally, they are used to access Olivine Ice Plateau (Jaz Morris Photography, Southern Alps Photography). Maybe someday I’ll have the skills for these.
We purchased paper maps from the DOC and had a gps track loaded on my phone, however the trail is very well signed and marked. There are also a few reroutes that made the OSM track of the trail invalid in those sections. Please follow the signed trail markers.
There is no cellphone service on the entire hike. The rangers have a radio at Dart Hut to contact the outside world for weather updates or in case of emergencies. You can also carry a satellite messenger.
The DOC specifies limited trout fishing opportunities in the mid-Rees and tributaries and parts of the Dart. A license is required from Fish & Game New Zealand.
Deer hunting is allowed in both valleys with a permit, see DOC Queenstown Office.
We pick up our trip report after a day off in Queenstown where we we enjoyed a couple meals, finished our shopping list for our hike, and visited the DOC to pick up hut tokens and a couple maps. We decided on the breakfast buffet at the Holiday Inn, at half cost we figure we could load up on food for the day. We had an early drive out from Queenstown to Glenorchy. The drive followed the coast of Lake Wakatipu, which is a very scenic drive. If you have the time, I’d recommend to hike some of the lesser used trails here such as the Whakaari Conservation Area.
Once we were in the town of Glenorchy, we parked our car in the free public parking and met up with our shuttle from Glenorchy Journeys at 9am and were promptly on our way. Our full shuttle took the bumpy Rees Valley road, including driving across a stream and around a small slip.
By 9:40, we were at the Muddy Creek carpark and ready to begin our walk…well, almost.
day 1: Muddy Creek carpark to Shelter Rock Hut
- distance: 11.8 miles (19.0 km)
- elevation change: 1,926 ft (587 m) ascent & 736 ft (224 m) descent
- time: 5:37 hours (4:51 hours moving)
The goal for the first day is to follow the Rees River until our first stop of our trip, the Shelter Rock Hut.
For the first 7.3 miles of the our hike, the trail was relatively flat following the Rees River crossing private property. Right away, we had to cross the Muddy Creek, the namesake for the carpark. Looking upstream, we were able to find a crossing to keep our shoes dry, for now.
From there we come to a slight downhills as the 4WD road heads down to the banks of the Rees River.
Once we reach the Rees, we start to follow it upstream.
We cross a couple of streams (Bridges Creek, Arthurs Creek) that were not too memorable. What was memorable were the grassy fields we cut across, though they were really marshes majority of the time. I had started with my Chacos and were glad I had them on through this entire time as the water in the marsh would come all the way up to our knees.
There were also sections where the trail would route up onto the hillside, however, it was easier to just walk across the dry river bed for us on this day.
Just before the 2 hour and 4.6 mile mark, we reached Twenty Five Mile Creek and the bridge across it. I was glad we didn’t have to ford the wide creek. There use to be a hut here previously, but since been removed since this is still private property.
We continued through the meadows rounding a pretty cool rock
before the trail headed up hills again to avoid the Rees. We had to go up this time and it was through some thick brush. At least we got a different view down the valley ahead. From here we can see Grant Glacier in the distance, I believe.
More walking the the meadow continued and all of this would have been more enjoyable if it wasn’t for the marsh and wetness that they hid underneath. We were glad to reach the boundary of Mt. Aspiring National Park with actual upkept trails just short of 3 hours and 7.4 miles.
Less than half mail after that, we crossed over the Rees and started on our uphills.
The uphills would cover about 4 miles until our final destination for the day, Shelter Rock Hut. Overall, the average was only 5.0% grade incline, but it was uneven with plenty of undulation. There were two main short uphills spurts, the first after we crossed the Rees at roughly 20.5% grade and later a short spurt at 38.9% grade. Majority of this section were in the woods with plenty of water sources along the way, Here was where we kept hopscotching with our new friends for the rest of our hike, Izzy and Will.
While these weren’t the most interesting of parts, we saw plenty of cool ferns and
Near the end of our day, around the 11 mile mark, we had a couple of interesting stream crossings and our last steeper incline around 14.3% grade.
This last incline may seem tougher at the end of the day, but I enjoyed the view of many cascading streams off the mountain now that we were back in the open.
Pretty soon, we could see the shelter in the distance and we crossed back over the Rees to reach our destination.
I wouldn’t say it was the easiest day of hiking with the many marshy patches during the private property section and then the rest of the way up in the forest. However, our moral was good and we were ready for dinner. We arrived mid afternoon around 3:30pm taking us about 5 hours and 37 minutes to cover the 11.8 miles.
The Shelter Rock Hut consisted of 2 buildings and a out house with several toilets. One building was for cooking, hanging out, and a few mattresses along the edge while the other was the dormitory.
We put our stuff in one of the dorms and proceeded to have our early dinner. Afterwards, we played cards with Will and Izzy from Australia, who we met earlier on the trail. A couple of college kids, Josh and Daniel, returned from their “extra” run and a also joined us. This was the new group of friends that traveled with us through the rest of the hike and cards would be our a routine every night. By the time it was dark outside we headed for bed. It was hiker midnight and I slept well.
day 2: Shelter Rock Hut to Dart Hut
Unfortunately for several of my bunkmates, they didn’t have as good of a night. It might have something to do with my snoring, always a concern with huts. This is why I have headphones and my good ones tend to block out any sound, standard hostel sleeping protocols. So we had fewer people in our room in the morning as they took their mattress to another room. They were very aware of where I was sleeping the next few nights. Luckily, Mark never had much problems with my snoring during our trip.
In line with my eating habits, we had a large breakfast in the morning. And also typical to my style 8 am always seems to be the time I finally hit the trails in the mornings.
- distance: 6.2 miles (10.0 km)
- elevation change: 1,982 ft (604 m) ascent & 1,841 ft (561 m) descent
- time: 4:33 hours (3:43 hours moving)
Our second day is a rather short one as we continue to follow the Rees to its headwaters before going over the Rees Saddle. From there we would follow the Snowy Creek drainage to the Dart Hut just before it confluences with the Dart River.
It was overcast as we begin heading up through the meadows.
After the initial few steps next to the Rees, the trail works up onto a brushy area above the Rees river left (left side of the river facing down stream). The incline is a pretty even 10.1% grade for 2.8 miles. There are a few stream crossings along the way and the trail is marked by metal pylons. Pretty soon, the now stream like Rees catches up with us and we can see the end of the valley.
At the 3.2 mile mark and just under 2 hours into our day, we come to the steepest uphill to gain the saddle as we leave what’s left of the Rees River.
While only 0.14 miles, the incline here is roughly 78% grade. You never had to use your hands though as there were plenty places to step up on, so it was actually kinda mild for what it was. I took the slow and steady approach while mark took the sprint and stop and gasp for air approach.
Once we reached the top of Rees Saddle, we continued a few more steps to the bump just east of the saddle for a view up the Snowy Creek drainage. There was no view of the Tyndall Glacier as it is further up the drainage, which curved to the left.
I thought the view down the Snowy Creek drainage and the direction we would go next was more interesting. Mount Cunningham is the immediate snow covered peak. There looks to be a worn trail heading up the bump opposite of us from the Rees Saddle, but we didn’t investigate. It might provide a better view down the Rees drainage we just came up from.
From the Rees Saddle, we descended at a -23.4% grade for the first quarter of a mile. It was made more difficult as it was a bit muddy here.
The we were on a flat ledge of sorts for the next 0.8 miles with views overlooking Snowy Creek and the many cascading streams into it draining from the glaciers around Headlong Peak.
Then our next drop came as we headed down to cross Snowy Creek over the next 0.2 miles a few steps at -50% grade. The difficulty here were the many prickly speargrass that lined the trail here, so we had to be extra careful where we put our hands.
The sun came out as we reached the bridge over Snowy Creek bringing out the teel color of the glacial water. This bridge is removed during the winter so early season hikers may have to ford these waters, which can be very hazardous.
The next half mile had a relative mild descent at only -5.1% grade as we got a view of the Dart River upstreams, the route for the Cascade Saddle we would head up the next day. Then we had to look down a lot more as our steepest descent was ahead of us over the next quarter of a miles with an average grade of -35.8% and -75% at its steepest. All the while, there were plenty of speargrass for us to avoid. It was a good of a quad workout as ever.
Don’t forget to look back at the Snowy Creek below as it is also tumbling down hill with a nice cascade waterfall.
The last 0.6 miles are at a much smoother -14.3% grade downhill following Snowy Creek.
Before we reach the hut, we pass the campgrounds for the hut and the junction for the Cascade Saddle, again our destination for the next day.
Finally, we cross over a long bridge back over the Snowy Creek to reach Dart Hut, our home for the next two nights. Our day was a short one as we reached the hut just after 12:30 pm, meaning we hiked 4 hours and 33 minutes covering 6.2 miles. Being above the treeline for majority of the hike, we were provided with more views of the snowy peaks and the glacial drainages. The highlight of the day for me was the teal colored Snowy Creek.
Dart hut was the largest hut on the hike with twice the among of beds as the other huts. There is also a separate shelter for the warden and outhouse.
Even for me it was too early for dinner, so I tagged along with Will and Izzy to explore the route to the Whitbourn Valley. Mark opted for a nap. We were able to find the not so clear split off the main trail but the Whitbourn trail is all but off trail at this point. As we scrambled down to toward the Dart River, we came to a major slip making the way down more of a climbing exercise than we wanted to do. Daniel and Josh did make their way down and made the precarious crossing of the Dart on their exploration. However, they also turned around shortly after starting to follow the Whitbourn River.
After returning to Dart Hut, it was time for dinner and more cards until hiker midnight.
day 3: Cascade Saddle
The third day of our hike would be the main dish of the Rees and Dart trail. Even though the Cascade Saddle is written as a side trip in the DOC manual, it is the reason most of us are here on the hike. It is also the most challenging in term of distance and technicality. A possible reason for the side trip categorization is because of the possible dangers as fatalities have occured on the route, so experience beyond typical hiking is recommended.
A benefit of this being a “side trip” is that we were basecamped at Dart Hut and only needed a day pack for the day.
- distance: 13.7 miles (22.0 km)
- elevation change: 3,110 ft (948 m) ascent & descent
- time: 9:11 hours (7:16 hours moving)
It was overcast in the morning once again as we started just after 8am. Even the lowest and closest peaks around us were in the clouds. However, the clouds have burned off and lifted in both the past two days so we figure that might be the pattern for the day. We would get going and play it by ear.
We retraced our steps from the previous day and took the trail heading toward the Cascade Saddle. When we reached the top of the first hill a few steps after the junction, we were greeted by a Kea.
From there we dropped down toward the Dart River to follow it upstream.
For the first 4.7 miles of the hike, it was pretty easy walking as the trail was mostly flat as we continued along the Dart River. The main obstacle for these first few miles are three stream crossings. They can become swollen and unpassable, so they are a good measure of whether you should continue. We were able to look around for crossings to keep our feet dry at times, but those efforts were thwarted overall as both Mark and I had a wet shoe at some point.
As we continue to follow the Dart, at time we hopped on some boulders skewing around the river edge
while other times we were up on a bluff. At times, the trail looks like it was rerouted to the later kind to deal with possible slips or washouts that have formed. On one of the the last bluffs, we there are some scree slopes we slide down.
The trail was mostly pretty well marked with pylons and cairns in areas more prone to washout. You do need to pay more attention navigation wise than just following a well worn trail. For example when we reached a flood plain area, the marked trails stays to the right and off this even through it might seem like the open and flat river/glacier bed may be easier. What is unknown could be the hidden ice under the mud.
So we were on the glacial bed briefly before heading up to the right, crossing another stream,
and back onto a ledge where the terrain is more consistent season after season.
We then rounded a mound and a small glacial pond
before the terrain become more moraine like.
After 4.7 miles and 2.5 hours, we reached the toe of the Dart Glacier. The weather seemed to go our way with the skys clearing up.
That was good as we were about gain some elevation fast. The brunt of it was during the next three quarters of a mile with an 25.8% average grade with the steepest portions around 70% grade. Gaining the elevation quickly meant we had a view of the Dart Glacier the entire way up, which was nice for the many breaks we needed.
What made this the hardest portion was the route finding we had to do in sections of loose scree. We just had to go the way we thought best.
The trail flattened out for about a third of a mile after we scrambled through the hardest parts and we were able to enjoy a nice view further up the Dart Glacier, The clouds had lifted enough we could catch views of Mount Edwards flanking the Dart Glacier to the left
and Reid GLacier and Plunket Dome to the right.
Our final push to the Cascade Saddle had us turning right, crossing a stream, and a quarter mile uphill at 24.5% grade incline with the steepest section at 37.5%.
Before the saddle, was the junction for the trail toward Aspiring Hut, the Pylon, and the high campground here.
We proceeded to the saddle where we had a view of Aspiring Hut in the West Matukituki Valley and Rob Roy Peak on the other side.
The view of the Cascade Saddle was indeed a highlight of the hike as we joined up with Daniel and Josh for lunch. We reached the saddle around 12:30 pm after greater than 4 hours of hiking and 6.5 miles.
Izzy and Will joined us shortly after.
After lunch, the boys went on ahead to try to head to the Pylon to try to catch a view of Mt. Aspiring while Will and Izzy headed back. We did the in between and went up the immediate hill where we saw the ridge that the Pylon was on
and a more open view of the West Matukituki Valley, but nowhere far enough to see the end of the valley. At least I’ve seen that before.
The return down the scree slope was just as tough as the way up, expect our quads were burning on the way down. I felt it for the rest of our hike after that downhill. We left the Saddle around 2pm and returned to Dart hut around 5:30pm.
Our day up to the Cascade Saddle was a success and the views of Dart Glacier, West Matukituki Valley, and the peaks around among the highlights of the trip. We scarfed down our well earned dinner and had an expended card game with new arrivals at Dart Hut.
day 4: Dart Hut to Daleys Flat Hut
After the high point and toughest day 3, we were now winding down our trip as we started to head back out toward civilization. We didn’t get on the trail until later in the morning just before 10am.
- distance: 11.2 miles (18.1 km)
- elevation change: 1,329 ft (405 m) ascent & 2,844 ft (867 m) descent
- time: 5:57 hours (4:51 hours moving)
I had no expectations of the trail during this section and we pretty much ready to just hike through the forest to the next hut. It indeed begin that way as the first 3.8 miles undulated downwards through the forest at an average of -5.1% grade, though there were some steeper sections both down and up. It was a clear day early on as we left Dart Hut.
The trail was mostly well kept with even some boardwalks,
expect the areas where blowdowns and slips rerouted the trail. There were parts that involved used our hands.
There were also plenty of small stream crossings.
Expectations were met at this point in that it had been a pretty boring morning until we came out the forest. For the next 3.7 miles we undulated in the open under the bluebird skies.
After crossing a stream, we were followed along the Dart to a nice beach.
The the trail climbed up onto Cattle Flats, an open meadows between the Forbes Range and Barrier Range with views of the Dart River. This was the Sound of Music moment (giphy) for our trip and the sign that it was all worth the effort. From the trail, we could see one of the two swing bridges across the Dart for mountaineer to climb the nearby peaks.
There were plenty of wildflowers along the way including some Foxglove (Digitalis – wikipedia).
At the end of Cattle Flats, we found Will and Izzy with the perfect lunch spot. We were glad to stopped and hang out with them for a while since the heat from the sun wore us down.
Heading back into the forest was a bit deflating. It didn’t help that the trail through the next 1.3 miles forest was pretty much a stream. This was made more difficult since it was as a slight downhills at -5.1% grade meaning we had to be extra careful with our steps.
However once we were done with the downhills it wasn’t as bad. The final 2.3 miles as a relatively flat and easy stroll through the forest with plenty of moss covered rocks and tree’s roots growing around them.
Once in a while. we would have an outcrop overlooking the Dart
or a grassy meadows that made me want to run my fingers along the tall grass like Maximus (youtube).
Finally, we found the second swing bridge over the Dart mountaineers use to climb the nearby peaks. From it, we could see our home for the night, Daleys Flat hut.
Daleys Flat Hut was like a 2 bedroom ranch with a nice view of the meadow and Dart River. It took us just shy of 6 hours to cover the 11.8 miles from Dart Hut to Daleys Flat Hut. While the forested sections were a bit boring and annoying, the meadow flats made this my second favorite section of the hike. It didn’t hurt we had a bluebird day with plenty of sunshine.
Because of that sunshine and the hot day, I was looking forward to a dip into the glacial waters of the Dart. I was even able to convince everyone else to do this very silly thing.
After dinner and more cards, we were treated to purple skies and a full moon before headed off to bed.
day 5: Daleys Flat Hut to Chinaman’s Bluff carpark
Our final day on the trail would be open ended since we don’t have a scheduled ride out. There was word from a couple hikers at Dart hut that we might be able to take their seats on the shuttle since they were leaving a day earlier than their scheduled ride. However we weren’t certain of that and would try to get to the trailhead early to also try our luck hitchhiking just in case. So we hit the trails very early just after 6:30am.
- distance: 10.7 miles (17.2 km)
- elevation change: 2,438 ft (743 m) ascent & 2,694 ft (516 m) descent
- time: 4:51 hours (4:17 hours moving)
Our initial first few minutes were in the dark through the forest. By the time we were through the first half mile and coming out to another open meadow, it was light out. This meadow was a little marshy, but we managed to keep our feet dry for the most of it.
Just after the 1 mile mark, we were back in the forest came to the first of the instances when the current trail seems like a reroute to higher grounds. From reports, it may seem to be caused by the likelihood of the floodplains here turning into a big lake.
We would continue through the woods for the next two miles without much to see. At the end of the woods, we reached the Sandy Bluff ledge section with our steepest incline at 54% grade over 0.1 miles. It was marked an warning sign cliffs and had railings built in along the cliff.
From up top, we had a nice view of the floodplains the trail detoured us around for most of the morning.
The most precarious part might been an overhanging rock over the trail, though it actually wasn’t bad at all as no crouching is needed.
After the ledge section, there seemed to be a second detour from the original trail or the one marked on the OSM at the time of writing. The original trail seems to head down hills back toward the Dart and the floodplains but the new trail stays up.
We could tell the new section as it was marked by many orange arrows pointing us through the woods
and later by the most difficult section we faced all day as we headed up and down over boulders, downfalls, and roots, including a few scrambling spots, and through mud and brush. This section was around 2.2 miles without much net elevation change, but it does not feel like that. At it was well signed or it might have been very easy to be off trail. There weren’t much to see along the way since we were deep in the forest, but I though the mossy walls that the trail hugged were interesting at times.
We knew were were back on the easier trail when we came to a boardwalk and bridge over a cascading stream. It provided for a nice water and break spot.
For the rest of the 4.7 miles of our hike out, we had several small hills to go up and down but an overall net zero elevation change. At least the trail was very well kept and mainantanced for here on out with the only exception of a small reroute due to a recent slip.
After the short reroute, we were back in the forest again until we crossed Bedford Bridge and reached Surveyors Flat. There is a sign here for Jet Boat pickup, however this may be defunct since a quick search online found no mentions of Surveyors Flat pickup.
After the flat, we had a small section of the trail where we could walk along the Dart on a beach of sorts before another bridge and back in the woods.
We started to see the first of climbers and hikers at this point mean we were getting close to our destination. As we enter another large meadows, we also saw kayakers and speed boats along the wid Dart River.
The final portion of our hike took us around the rocky walls of Chinaman’s Bluff just above the Dart River.
Speed boats were whizzing by at a pretty regular interval at this point of our hike.
Pretty soon, we finally arrived at Chinaman’s Bluff car park. We arrived at 11:30 am covering the final 10.7 miles in 4 hours and 51 minutes.
The highlight of our last day on Sandy Bluff overlooking the Dart floodplains and the many open meadows. However, we spent way too much among the woods. I guess day 5 was what I pretty expected of day 4, which was just getting out.
The shuttle would arrived around 2 pm, so we still had more than 2 hours to wait to see if we would have a seat. In the meantime, we were on the lookout for cars leaving the lot.
Mostly we sat around and played more cards. While we didn’t have too much problems with Sandflies on our hike, they were out in force here at the car park.
When the shuttle arrived, we found out they were indeed full. For our contingency plans, there was also a ranger from the DOC doing some maintenance in the area and from talking to him, it seemed like he would have been receptive to taking us out when he was done. Our last option was Will driving my rental SUV back in to pick us up since he had a spot on the shuttle.
Luckily, a couple day hikers we had met earlier on the trail were returning to their car at the same time as the shuttle and we willing to give us a ride back to Glenorchy. Thanks Sonny for giving us a lift!
After we returned to our car, there was one last thing I had to do to conclude our hike. The Dart River, which we had followed down from its headwaters in the Dart Glacier, was the setting a Lord of the Rings filming location (tolkien gateway). So I couldn’t pass up the chance to take the hobbits… I mean Mark to Isengard.
The rating below are based on an unevenly distributed scale of 1-5. For full description of the ratings and the categories, see the explanation here.
views/experience: 4. When we started off on the hike, the main goal was to see Dart Glacier and Cascade Saddle. It did not disappoint even though the Dart isn’t the most impressive glacier I’ve ever seen.
Glaciers are only part of the scenery here as the many views down the valleys made by those glaciers
and the teal rivers that flow from the glaciers are every part of what makes the hike impressive.
Within these long valleys that we spend most of our trip were also the most pleasant surprises, that is the many meadows we hiked through making doing a twirl irresistible.
The negatives about the hike were the number of miles we spent in the forest, but you personally may find those stretches more interesting.
difficulty: 3. There are several aspects that made the hike difficult, but total distance and total elevation gain weren’t really among them. If you stay to the 5 day recommended itinerary, the total elevation gain and distance were all manageable. What is difficult is dealing with the swampy trail along the Rees, the many speargrass that’s looking to take a bite out of you, or the just how relentless the elevation changes may be on these advanced trails. i.e. what are switchbacks? Luckily for us, we weren’t bothered by sandflies during our hike, but they can be a major difficulty along the trail.
technical: 3. The Rees Dart track is rated as advanced by the DOC and they are pretty accurate about those ratings. The most technical section is the Cascade Saddle Route with several stream crossings that can become swollen and very dangerous and care is needed for the scramble up the steep scree slope to gain the saddle with plenty of exposure. It is definitely a section that you need to be aware of the conditions and be ok with turning around in case the weather doesn’t work out for you.
Outside of the Cascade Saddle Route isn’t too bad with minor stream crossings and some minor scrambling. There are several areas throughout that are in avalanche zones, so early season awareness of these are necessary.
Navigation wise, the DOC is very good about trail markers and trail maintenance here so it’s pretty clear where you should go.
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18 thoughts on “trip report: New Zealand – Rees-Dart Track, January 2020”
I heard about this hike after doing the routeburn. I would love to go back to this area and do this hike, it looks awesome!
Yep, the routeburn is just a valley over. I would say this has a different feel than the routeburn and it’s definitely worth it for you to do. A lot easier to organize without needing to flight for permits too.
I’m hoping Australia and New Zealand will open up to each other soon so that I can go for a hike over there. I’d love to fly back into Queenstown!
You guys will have better luck being able to go there this season than we do from the states, lol. And things might be easier to book for y’all. So might be the best time to go when things do open up.
They just announced today it will start in March…. so missing this summer season. Ugh!
Ah that’s too bad, though I’m guessing the weather is still passable in March. Might be worth it still after this year.
Wow, looks like you had a great time exploring New Zealand, it’s such a beautiful place to explore and photograph, especially the mountains! Thanks for sharing and have a good day. Hard to believe it’s the last day of the year! Wishing you and yours health and prosperity in the new year. Aiva 🙂
Yea, the mountains of New Zealand are some of the best we’ve experienced and if we had known what 2020 would become, we’d have stayed. lol. Happy New years to you as well and hopefully we’ll be able to return to exploring the world soon!
Wow..wow.. its so beautiful! Stunning landscapes!
For sure, I was really surprised by the wide flats between the mountains. Plus no need for early booking like the Great Walks.
Wow! That’s some serious and very beautiful hiking. Inspiring.
Yea for sure. It is among my favorite experiences in New Zealand. Have you been?
Now that’s a comprehensive trip report! Wow, you certainly are very thorough! Thanks for the follow over at Old Chook Enterprises! I’ll be walking the Overland Track in Tasmania next month and will be writing some posts on that. I really like that you included your packing list. Hard to believe you fit all that in your pack! 🙂
Thanks! Hopefully this helps others looking to get out there. And yea, it’s always a miracle I don’t lose anything on a trip. Though, I did leave my stove at the one of the huts this time around. lol.
I’ll look forward to your Overland Track posts, that’s on my rader of places to visit.
I appreciate that you offer many details, so this information can be used as a good guide. Thank you And yes, wonderful places!
Thanks for reading and your complements! I’m glad the information from my experiences is helpful. I’ve always hesitated to call these guides since the trail experience can change depending on the conditions and the experience of the individual hiker. I don’t want novice hikers to think this is the end all information that is sufficient for a hike. More so I’ve always found different perspectives from different trip reports helpful when I plan a hike and I don’t have any experience of a place. Hopefully it helps to inspire others and make it more accessible.
Thanks for that excellent and detailed report. I hope to get back to exploring New Zealand someday soon. We were last there in 2005 and I hiked the Routeburn track. Rees-Dart looks like a trek I would like to do.
You would love the Rees-Dart if you like the Routeburn. The main differences are that you don’t see the high alpine lakes like on the Routeburn and that you are in the valley rather than above it. However, those views from the valley meadows were among my favorites of the hike. Plus less people and now much less costly since it isn’t a great walk.