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September 2014 Issue
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Rocky Mountain high

Rocky Mountain's summit cairn. Photo: Heather Whelan
Diamond Lake Conservation Area
16km from Wanaka on the Mt Aspiring Road
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Rocky Mountain Track, Diamond Lake Conservation Area

There is a 400m climb to the summit of Rocky Mountain and I spent the ascent veering between ‘wow, these views are amazing!’ and ‘why did I think this was a good idea’.

Reaching the summit underlined the wow factor, though – and despite the struggle on a hot day it was definitely a good idea.

The Rocky Mountain walk starts 16km from Wanaka on the Mt Aspiring Road at the Diamond Lake Conservation Area. There are several walks here, the first a 45min circuit of the lake; the second a one-hour return to the Diamond Lake lookout. Further on is the Lake Wanaka Lookout, two-hour return; and finally the Rocky Mountain summit which is a three-hour loop.

Since it was a clear, sunny day we opted for the Rocky Mountain Track which leads from the car park past the willow- and raupo-fringed Diamond Lake. Winters were so severe in the 1950s that the lake was often used for ice skating.

The track to the lake lookout leads steeply uphill on wooden steps and under rocky schist cliffs but there’s opportunity to rest at the lookout, and ponder why Diamond Lake is so called. It is more of a teardrop shape but glitters in the sunlight, so maybe that determined the name.

Onward and upward again the track soon splits, we took the eastern track then wandered along a side track to the Lake Wanaka lookout. There are fantastic views here across the lake and its islands Mou Waho and Mou Tapu to The Peninsula and the peaks beyond. After another viewing break, there is a seat here for the purpose, we rejoined the main track and continued up the mountain. The track zigzagged steeply in places, then rounded more and more bluffs until finally the summit, with its cairn, was in view. The 775m summit affords 360-degree views.

While we had been blown away by the views of Lake Wanaka on the climb up, the view west from the summit, towards the snowy-capped mountains of Mt Aspiring National Park, was equally stunning.

Eventually we continued along the track, down the western loop. There are steep cliffs beside the track, which hairpins down then ducks through some bush-filled gullies. At times the track was a scramble around rocky cliffs and is very dangerous in winter in these sections. Rock climbers love the cliffs though and have established many routes.

The final part of the walk retraces the outgoing part, past the Lake Diamond viewpoint and down to the lake then back to the car park.

– Heather Whelan