NZ Road Trip Part 3: The Southern Alps

I had heard of the Rob Roy Glacier track from Terry, who I lived with in Arrowtown. She had gone out to the hike for a nice saturday day trip and described it to me as “a lovely walk.” The lovely walk requires a brave trek on a long gravel road and several stream fords in order to just make it to the car park, as we dully learned. At this point I have already experienced the excitement of fording a stream on a New Zealand dirt road, but my parent’s had not.

We got out of the car, looked at the ford. Watched other people look at the ford. Gave up. Felt badly. Watched some more. Then eventually just went for it. The drive just happens to be through perhaps one of the most beautiful and raw mountain valleys I have ever seen in my life but also delivers you ridiculously close to one of the most famous glaciers in NZ.

Approaching Mt. Aspiring National Park from Wanaka

Of course the car park was practically overflowing when we got there. The feelings of being intrepid travelers never last long in NZ when you realized that a majority of the people traveling there are just as gutsy with their rental cars as you are.

In any case, we walked the 5 or more steep kilometers through the woods and then the alpine to the base of a glacier mesa. I’m absolutely sure that is not the technical name for it, but it’s how I can describe it. The trail followed a stream through the woods until it popped us out into an alpine clearing opposite a cliff. A thin waterfall descended gracefully from the cliff. Around the corner, shelved high above us was the ferocious looking glacier. It was the first time in a while that I was impressed to the point of reverence. Fantastic walk.

Rob Roy Glacier

WE skidalddled back down the dirt road toward Wanaka where we fed our hungry bodies on delicious food and beer before moving quickly on towards our next destination of Mt. Cook. We made it as far as Omarama where there was a free DOC camping site. We quickly set up camp in the darkening dusk and hopped tiredly into bed, despite the trucks moving swiftly by on the road.

The next morning was literally freezing and we jumped out of bed and got a move on as quickly as we could. Mt. Cook, the tallest mountain in NZ came quickly into view, the morning sun shining majestically on its enormous glaciers. The stark, dry grasslands that lead up the the lake below Mt. Cook made the scene one of the most dramatic in our trip so far. We stopped and met a woman who worked as a naturalist watercolor artists for the DOC for years, climbing and hiking in the NZ mountains, painting the animals and plants she saw for educational pamphlets. She was selling her paintings out of her car and she was fantastic.

Looking up at Mt. Cook

We did a 10 km easy hike up the Hooker Valley with the rest of the tourists, which was a happy reprieve from our fast paced hikes of the previous days. We rounded off the day with our arrival to the Holiday Park in Lake Tekapo. Holiday parks are strange and I prefer free camping on the side of the highway, that’s all I’m going to say. But Tekapo has some hot water pools not far from the Holiday Park and we definitely took advantage of that particular service.

The next day we decided we would cross the mountains over to the west coast on our way to Takaka via Arthur’s Pass. I had heard about Arthur’s pass from other friends who have worked in NZ and lived there. I figured it was a good a way as any to get up to the north coast and I had been thinking of it for a while. Cross the Cantebury plains, entering the alpine zone, seeing the raw brilliance of the land as approached the pass are visions that are burned into my memory.

We slept more warmly that night, despite being at elevation, and enjoyed our last night in the mountains and all their crazy wonders.


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