Flat amongst the Alps
On a riverside sandwiched between spectacular peaks near the head of the West Matukituki Valley, Shovel Flat offers an accessible campsite to experience the grandeur of Mt Aspiring National Park.
The campsite is about a four-hour walk from the Raspberry Flat car park in the West Matukituki Valley, just before the trail begins the steep climb towards French Ridge and Liverpool huts.
From the car park, the trail follows a 4WD track through Mt Aspiring Station, which has been farmed by the Aspinall family for 100 years. After about 10 minutes the track passes the swingbridge to the Rob Roy Glacier Track (check access as the track has been closed for repairs) and continues up the valley, revealing impressive views of the glacier, Rob Roy Peak (2644m) and Low Peak (2609m).
The track continues along the valley floor, with peaks either side rising to more than 2000m, and crossing a few small streams. It slowly follows a bend in the valley, revealing even more impressive views of Mt Barff (2252m) and Mt Bevan (2030m) at the valley head.
After about two hours, the historic Cascade Hut is reached – a rustic corrugated iron four bunker, built on the edge of the beech forest in 1932. The hut is owned by the New Zealand Alpine Club and is generally locked, but can be booked and accessed with a door code.
Aspiring Hut is about 30 minutes further. The iconic stone 29 bunker is also owned by the Alpine Club. Replete with a large dining area with a fire, gas stoves, a block of flush toilets, north-facing windows and two bunk rooms, it’s a homely spot and popular with families. The challenging Cascade Saddle route also begins here.
From the hut, the trail leaves the 4WD track behind and enters beech forest before crossing a swingbridge high above Cascade Creek.
The track gradually climbs, crossing another swingbridge over Rough Creek, before mounting what appears to be an old scree fan now covered in forest.
Soon the forest thins again, revealing the large riverside clearing of Shovel Flat.
There is a number of good campsites on the riverside. It’s best to avoid camping near the valley wall, which can be prone to avalanches.
We camped near the end of the clearing and cooked dinner as the sun lit the glaciated peaks above.
We could just make out French Ridge Hut and the peak of Mt Aspiring poking above Mt French.
To the east, the Christopher Johnson Glacier loomed above, waterfalls cascading down from the ice and flowing to a stream beside our campsite.
We retreated into our tents early, avoiding the clouds of sandflies that had descended but poked our heads out one last time to watch the surrounding peaks turn orange in the sunset.