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The Wilderness 100: The 10 best trips Mt Aspiring National Park

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May 2020 Issue

Looking for a new challenge this year (or for the remainder of your life)? How about ticking off the Wilderness 100?


Welcome to the inaugural Wilderness 100 – an annual list of the best trips in the country. For the website version of this feature story, we’ve broken the trips down into regions and linked to those trips we’ve got route notes and maps for. 

So, without further ado, here are the best trips in Mt Aspiring National Park.

1. French Ridge Hut, Aspiring National Park

For one of the best loos with a view in New Zealand, you can’t go past the French Ridge Hut longdrop, but it’s no easy climb to get there. You’ll need all four limbs to get through the steep bush track, and all of your wits to negotiate the exposed tops, but the views from the hut and its iconic commode are – as the French would say – magnifique. DOWNLOAD

2. Cascade Saddle, Mt Aspiring National Park

On a tarn-studded tussock ledge above severe bluffs, Cascade Saddle offers breathtaking views of the Matukituki Valley and Mt Aspiring. During summer, the saddle is a mecca for alpine flowers, as well as cheeky kea. While it’s certainly no track to take lightly, suitably equipped and experienced trampers can make a crossing to the Dart Valley and continue over Snowy Saddle to the Rees Valley. (READ MORE: How to safely walk the Cascade Saddle Route)

Brewster Hut. Photo: Matthew Cattin

3. Brewster Hut, Aspiring National Park

Painted an eye-catching firetruck red, Brewster Hut sits in prime position on rounded tussock tops on the slopes of Mt Armstrong. The climb from Fantail Creek is short and sharp, demanding an ascent of nearly 1000m in less than 3km, but the location is well worth the pain. Well, in hindsight…. DOWNLOAD

Spectacular Earnslaw Burn. Photo: Matthew Cattin

4. Earnslaw Burn Track, Otago
A suspended glacier looms above the magnificent valley, spreading veins of waterfalls across a sheer rock face. The track is no picnic, but the incredible destination more than makes up for the largely viewless slog. DOWNLOAD

5. Rees-Dart, Mt Aspiring National Park
This classic trail encompassing the Rees and Dart valleys is one of the most gorgeous walks in New Zealand and a ‘next-step’ for those who have completed any of the nearby Great Walks. The 4-5 day walk includes well-appointed huts and campsites as well as the opportunity to visit the Dart Glacier. DOWNLOAD

Crossing the Rock Burn on the Five Passes trip. Photo: Tomas Sobek

6. Five Passes, Mt Aspiring National Park
This challenging backcountry loop earns its name with a crossing of Sugarloaf Pass, Park Pass, Cow Saddle, Fiery Col and Fohn Saddle. The 55km is mostly off-track, and trampers ascend more than 4000m, making it one of the toughest of New Zealand’s classic routes. DOWNLOAD

7. Gillespie Pass Circuit, Mt Aspiring National Park

A classic tramp that connects the Young and Wilkin Valleys with a mixture of travel through beech forests, open tops, and glacier-gouged valleys. The 58km tramp takes 3-4 days, with nights at Young, Siberia and Kerin Forks huts. A side-trip from Siberia Hut to Crucible Lake is highly recommended. DOWNLOAD

Liverpool Hut and the West Matukituki Valley. Photo: Matthew Cattin

8. Liverpool Hut, Mt Aspiring National Park

After four hours strolling through the undeniably gorgeous West Matukituki Valley, trampers will be ready for some altitude, and that’s just what they’ll get. A gut-busting climb from Pearl Flat leads to dramatic tops and the iconic red of Liverpool Hut. Views are second to none – especially with a dusting of snow – and the mountains beyond are a stone’s throw away.

Camping beside Park Pass Glacier's terminal lake. Photo: Jo Stilwell

9. Park Pass Glacier lake, Mt Aspiring National Park

For an off the beaten track trip in Mt Aspiring National Park, divert off the Routeburn Track to the Rock Burn Valley. A day and a bit of travel will have you at Park Pass Saddle and the glacier above. Here, camp beside the turquoise waters of the meltwater lake where you can admire alpine flowers and bask in rare isolation in one of NZ’s most beautiful parks.

The Routeburn Track is a Great Walk for a reason. Photo: Matthew Cattin

10. Routeburn Track, Mt Aspiring and Fiordland national parks

Built to relieve pressure on the Milford Track, the Routeburn Track has long since fostered its own identity as one of New Zealand’s greatest tramps. In its short but sweet 32km, the track boasts a generous diversity of landscapes, from mossy beech to tussocky tops. The jewel of its crown has to be its water features, however; lakes Mackenzie, Harris and Howden.