New Zealand: Rob Roy Glacier

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What I absolutely love about hiking in New Zealand is that it seems like no two trails are alike.  Each one is challenging and great in its own unique way.  So even though we ended up hiking almost every day, the experience felt different each time.  There are tons of great day trails around the Wanaka area, and one of which is the Rob Roy Glacier track – the jewel of Mt Aspiring National Park.  It’s hard to believe, but after after almost 2 weeks in New Zealand, I still couldn’t get enough of the picturesque mountains, sheer rock cliffs, hanging glaciers, and alpine valleys.

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This beautiful 10km trek starts at the entrance to the Mt Aspiring National Park, taking you across the Matukituki Valley, through a small mountain gorge, into a beech forest, and finally up to the view-point where you come face to face with an active glacier. The Rob Roy Glacier Track itself is a return route, with a recommended completion time of about 4 hours, but give yourself a little extra time to enjoy your lunch while admiring the stunning views. The trail is well marked and not too challenging.  You don’t even need hiking boots, I actually saw a girl walking bare foot, which I don’t recommend!

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The Rob Roy Glacier Track starts at the Raspberry Creek car park,  54 km west of Wanaka township on the Wanaka-Mount Aspiring Road. To get to the car park, you’ll have to brave 30km of unsealed road.  In our Britz Action Pod, it took us about an hour at a speed of 40 to 50 km/h. The last 10 km is even more treacherous, requiring you to ford creeks that are subject to washouts and floods making it impassable.  It’s best to check the road conditions before you leave, to prevent having to turn back i disappointment. The DOC will have the most up to date information on road and track conditions, especially after a heavy rainfall or snow melt.

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Our day begins with a scenic drive around Lake Wanaka, into the Matukituki Valley, passing through a series of farms. The sealed road quickly ended and we drove on loose gravel for the majority of the trip.  Everything was rattling so much I thought  our car was going to fall apart.  Just when we thought it couldn’t get any more fun, we came across a series of cattle-grids which gave us a good shake.  Make sure you keep an eye out for sheep and cows that leisurely wander out onto the road.

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After the cattle grids came the fords.  A ford is a shallow spot where a river or creek crosses the road. They are usually lined with large rocks on the bottom, so as long as you don’t bottom out, it should be OK.  But since we were driving a campervan, not a 4×4 Jeep, we had serious reservations.  After making it through the first one safely, we were high-fiving and quite pleased with ourselves, only to realize that there were 8 more ahead.  One of the fords was much deeper and almost stalled the car in front of us.  We had to steer away from the middle to stay out of the deepest part.

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Between the fords, and flying rocks it’s a miracle that our car survived the journey with only a few minor scrapes.  This was also when we realized in hindsight, that getting the car insurance was a great idea. To make up for the treacherous road, we were rewarded with beautiful snow capped mountain views as we drove closer to Mount Aspiring National Park.

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From the car park, we walked across the valley floor alongside a river with the water so blue and clear, you can see all the way to the bottom. The worn footpath is clearly marked with orange arrows, making it easy to navigate. Both sides of the trail are dotted with cute little sheep, staring curiously at the trespassers.  After about 15-20 minutes of walking, we crossed a swing bridge taking us over the roaring West Matukituki River.   Once across, the track disappears into the bush, taking us further into the beech forest.  It’s not too long before we reach a memorial bench, overlooking a large clearing with magnificent views of the Matukituki valley and snow capped mountains.

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From this point, we started our steady ascent into the forest.  The steep rocky paths meander through the moss covered woodland.  Melt-water trickles down into small streams that run across the forest floor creating sloshy muddy pits, making it slightly more challenging to walk.  The setting is peaceful and the only sounds are those of the river heard over our soft footsteps.  Another nice thing about this hike is that most of the walk is in the shade, away from the powerful New Zealand sun.

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The route got rocky and more unstable as we got higher up. There are plenty of signs warning about the dangers ahead and falling rocks. One in particular, explicitly states that you are to proceed at your own risk and not to stop in the next 50 meters in case of rock slides.  There was a massive boulder precariously hanging over our path. This definitely made us nervous as we paused and considered whether it was safe to pass under its shadow.

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We continued to hug the base of the ridge, following the Rob Roy stream up through a narrow gorge towards its source. After about an hour and a half, we finally reached the lower lookout point. From this rest stop, you can see the glacier through the trees. It might be tempting to stop here but don’t stay too long, there is still so much more to see at the top.

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Another 30 minutes walk will take you to the upper viewing area. You know you’ve almost reached your destination once you clear the trees and see a massive waterfall. From the alpine valley, you can get an uninterrupted view of the majestic glacier hanging off the side of the mountain. Keep going a little further across a dried up riverbed and over the rock outcrop where you can finally relax and eat your well-deserved lunch while enjoying the epic views. The sun shining down on the glacier, waterfalls trickling down to the base, wildflowers filling the meadows, and birds chirping in the distance. Scenes like these make you truly appreciate the beauty of Mother Nature.

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It’s such an incredible thing to witness a glacier of this size and magnitude up close.  The glacier is active, so make sure you keep an eye out for any sign of movement. While we were eating lunch we heard a loud rumbling sound, and looking up we saw a chunk of ice calving and falling down the cliff face creating a mini avalanche. The first time we heard it, it was quite scary.  I thought barrage of ice and snow were coming straight down at us.   But after a few times, I got used to the thunderous noise and was able to sit back and enjoy the show.  The snow and ice falling down looks like a little waterfall from below. It was such a cool thing to witness in person and I could have easily spent hours gazing at glacier.

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The walk back to the car park is mostly downhill and much easier, it only took us about 1 hour 10 minutes. In total, the round trip, plus break took us about 4 hours.  We were glad that we persevered through the rocky road and didn’t turn back after the first ford, because we got to discover Rob Roy Glacier, one of New Zealand’s best kept secrets.

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2 thoughts on “New Zealand: Rob Roy Glacier

  1. Every picture just get betters… what an incredible place! Though I have to say, I might not be ready to visit just yet as I am out of shape and dont know if I can handle it right now haha The girl who was barefoot was pretty hardcore though!

    • I was shocked because the path was full of uneven steps, overgrown roots and random rocks. Not sure I can be that hardcore or crazy. I am not very fit either Claudia, the key is to stop every 5-10 minutes to “take pictures” 😉

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