Added by Maggie Evans
Some of the best backcountry terrain that Mount Aspiring National Park has to offer can be found in the Matukituki Valley, both on the valley floor itself as well as in the high alpine you can access from it.
The West Matukituki Valley is a playground for those who love the outdoors. There are 2 sub-alpine huts, one on either side of the river, that make great backpacking destinations. French Ridge Hut (1470m) and Liverpool hut (~1140m) are both about 40km return trips from the carpark, and each can be enjoyed as a challenging overnight trip or as a more leisurely trip over 2 nights, as described below.
Day 1: Hike from Raspberry Creek carpark to Aspiring Hut
A relatively easy hike through the west Matukituki valley brings you to Aspiring Hut, which is 9km (~2.5-4hrs) from the trailhead along a well-formed undulating track. The track meanders through grassy flats and over a few easy bluffs, almost entirely alongside the Matukituki river. The hut and its affiliated camping area are perched just above the river and offer expansive views of the Southern alps.
- If you're interested in a scenic detour on the way to the hut, I suggest the out-and-back trip to the Rob Roy glacier. About 15 minutes from the carpark you'll reach a swing-bridge that marks the start of the track to the glacier. The return trip is under 10km along a gently sloped track, and the views of the glacier and waterfalls are incredible! More info here: http://www.doc.govt.nz/rob-roy-valley
Day 2: Aspiring Hut to French Ridge Hut or Liverpool Hut
Just past Aspiring Hut the track enters the bush and you cross Cascade Creek via a bridge. You carry on through the bush for a section before emerging onto Shovel Flat, where you're reunited with views of the valley and river. About 5km from the hut (~1.5hr) you get to Pearl Flat, where you're forced to decide between 3 options: 1) hike to Scotts Rock Biv at the head of the valley, 2) hike to Liverpool Hut, and 3) hike to French Ridge hut. The hike to the valley head (~3.5 km) is beautiful, and makes a great side-trip, but I highly suggest choosing one of the sub-alpine huts as your overnight option. Liverpool Hut is about a 500m climb from Pearl Flat, and although it's a well-marked route, it's more of a climb than a walk. It's not technical, but you'll often use branches and roots to propel yourself up the track, especially when carrying a heavy pack. The hut is relatively new and is nestled high in the sub-alpine region on the true right of the West Matukituki river. On the opposite side of the valley, sitting even higher up but still in the sub-alpine region, is French Ridge Hut (1470m). From Pearl Flat, it's a 930m climb (~2.5-3hrs) along am unforgivingly steep poled track. The views from both huts are some of the best you can get in Mount Aspiring before entering more technical terrain.
Day 3: Hike back to the carpark
Heading down from the sub-alpine huts to Pearl Flat is a little faster than the way up, but not much. However, with an early start you can easily hike out to the carpark in a day, despite having taken 2 days to hike in. I suggest aiming for a mid-day lunch break at Aspiring Hut, followed by an afternoon stroll back to Raspberry Creek carpark (and a celebratory ice cream in Wanaka!).
...or stay an extra night at Aspiring Hut and enjoy a side-trip to the Cascade Saddle! If the weather is nice and your appetite for beautiful views and steep climbs isn't sated yet, then head out from Aspiring hut along the marked track to the Cascade Saddle (6km; ~4hrs). In addition to incredible views of the Matukituki Valley, you'll be rewarded with views of the Dart glacier and beyond. The route is not technically demanding, but since it's exposed and steep it really should not bet attempted in bad weather. It's an out-and-back hike if you're planning on returning to Aspiring hut, but the track actually continues into the Dart Valley so if you plan it in advance you can enjoy a point-to-point backpacking trip from the Raspberry Creek carpark to the Dart or Rees Valley carpark. More info here: Doc.govt.nz/cascade-saddle-route
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