Walk 18 - West Matukituki Valley


In 1949, the New Zealand Alpine Club built a superb stone hut deep in the West Matukituki Valley in the heart of Mt Aspiring National Park. Originally we had planned to walk into Aspiring Hut and spend a night in this valley amidst the grandeur of this alpine landscape of broad flats, steep-walled mountains and glacier-fed streams. However, the weather had reverted to type and with a forecast of evening rain and strong winds, we decided to stay in Wanaka and just do a day walk into the hut for lunch.

Dark clouds were already spilling over the alpine divide from the West Coast and hung ominously about the steep mountains on either side of the broad valley as we set out from the starting point at Raspberry Creek, following the swift flowing Matukituki River through grassy pastures back towards its source; its blue-grey waters tumbling over the rocky streambed. Soon the valley narrowed as a long sheer-sided spur from Homestead Peak cut into the valley floor.

Matukituki River

Dark clouds at Raspberry Creek

Looking back across the flats to Homestead Spur

Beyond this spur was a deep cleft in the mountains where Rob Roy Stream cascaded down from the glacier on the upper slopes of Rob Roy Peak. Thick cloud hid the peak from us, but the deep cracks and contorted ice of the lower glacier were clearly visible from the track.

Rob Roy Glacier

View back toward the aptly named Fog Peak and
Shark's Tooth Peak (2000m)

Matukituki = river + grassy flats + steep-sided mountains

Looking up the Matukituki Valley

Beyond Rob Roy, the valley widened out and we strolled across a gently undulating pasture landscape as the grazing cattle nonchalantly watched our passing. At times patches of sunshine broke out, but higher up the valley the grey mist of drizzle dominated. Occasionally the drizzle pushed down the valley, but it was never heavy enough to force us into raingear and, with a warm north-westerly wind blowing down the valley, we had a pleasant 9km tramp to Aspiring Hut, in its grassy clearing below the Cascade Saddle and snow-capped 2191m Plunkett Dome.

Valley of the Upper Matukituki

Contented local and the old Cascade Hut
From the hut you can see the form of 3033m Mt Aspiring towering over the head of the valley; at least you could if the cloud were not there. We will have to wait till we come back and climb the Cascade Saddle from the other side in a few weeks time for a chance to see this iconic peak, the third highest mountain in New Zealand.

Aspiring Hut

Heading toward Aspiring Hut beneath the Cascade Saddle

Rob Roy Peak (2644m) appearing
in a gap in the cloud

As we ate lunch, the cloud lifted a bit, revealing the Reid and Johnson glaciers high on the sides of Plunket Dome.

Beyond lay the orange speck of Liverpool Hut perched on its steep ridge below Mt Barff (2252m), opposite the steep lower slopes of Mt French (2356m) and behind it, invisible behind its veil of clouds , Mt Aspiring (3033m). Across the valley, the west faces of Glengyle Peak and Rob Roy Peak (2644m) appeared briefly through as gap in the cloud.

The valley floor at the hut was only at 460m and, even with the cloud, you could still feel the immensity of this landscape.

The cloud lifting to reveal the glaciers
at the head of the valley

Matukituki landscape

View of where Mt Aspiring (3033m) would be
if there were no clouds

Uplifting of the Homestead Spur rock face

Rob Roy Glacier

The lifting cloud was accompanied by a strengthening wind at our backs as we retraced our path of the morning; it chased away the drizzle, provided more sunshine and gave us a slightly different perspective to the valley and its mountainous surrounds. One last look at Rob Roy glacier, perched high above us convinced us that, for our next walk, we should definitely get up close and personal to one of these incredible natural phenomena; one day, they just may not be there anymore.

Wanaka skyline