Tramping the Rees-Dart

The Dart Glacier.
The Dart Glacier.

After a few days in Dunedin, we headed to Queenstown in search of adventure. We arranged a five day tramp at the North end of Lake Wakatipu, up the Rees Valley and back down the Dart.

Day 1 saw us driven from Queenstown to Muddy Creek, the start of the track. As usual, we were travelling fairly light – Rachel was using one of our mountain marathon packs while I was testing out our new OMM Villain, a 45l pack. This, along with our trail shoes rather than tramping boots, elicited a certain amount of disapproval from one of the bus drivers!

From Muddy Creek, we headed up the flats that make up the lower part of the Rees Valley. It started out fine, with occasional showers, but the weather steadily got worse as the day went on. After a couple of hours of walking mostly across boggy river flats, we reached the edge of the bush, and shortly after, the suspension bridge that marks the edge of Mt Aspiring National Park. Since by this time it was raining pretty hard, we stopped for lunch under a rock overhang. From this point we were mostly in thick Southern Beech forest with occasional views of the river, and waterfalls cascading between the trees. Eventually we climbed above the bush line, still in driving rain, and shortly afterwards we were glad to see the smoke rising from Shelter Rock Hut.

A rainbow over the Rees Valley flats.
A rainbow over the Rees Valley flats.

The hut was pretty luxurious, with 22 bunks, but only nine of us staying, and we had a sleeping room to ourselves for the night. The other trampers included a group of four from the Manawatu Tramping Club who entertained us with stories of various epic trips.

The second morning dawned with a little drizzle, but the promise of a brighter day later. We carried on up the Rees, climbing up into the upper basin, then up a very steep climb to Rees Saddle. Unfortunately it was rather cold, and still drizzling lightly, so we didn’t hang around at the saddle long before descending down the spectacular “Gloomy Gorge” of Snowy Creek towards its confluence with the Dart River. On the way down, the sun finally came out, and we got lovely views down the valley to Hesse Glacier and the waterfall that issues from its terminus. We got to Dart Hut in time for lunch in the sun outside the hut.

The rather cold summit of the Rees Saddle.
The rather cold summit of the Rees Saddle.
Swing bridge over Snowy Creek, with Dart Hut behind. This was taken from our Day three campsite.
Swing bridge over Snowy Creek, with Dart Hut behind. This was taken from our Day three campsite.

After lunch we dumped our packs and headed up the valley to see the Dart Glacier and Cascade Saddle. The views were spectacular, with small glaciers hanging from the valley sides, and the larger Dart Glacier pouring down the valley. We climbed up the side of the valley above the main glacier until we could see the ice fall at the top of the valley and the nevee. Then we scrambled up a final climb to reach Cascade Saddle, with views down to the Matukituki Valley on the other side, and Mt Aspiring, New Zealand’s second highest mountain at the end of the valley.

The upper part of the Dart Valley on the way to Cascade Saddle.
The upper part of the Dart Valley on the way to Cascade Saddle.
The Dart Glacier.
The Dart Glacier.

By this stage it was 4pm, so we ran back to the hut to ensure we were there before dark. Dart Hut is in a lovely position on a sunny ledge above the confluence of Snowy Creek and the Dart River, and on the edge of a little patch of bush. We saw lots of birds around the hut – riflemen, keas, and even a New Zealand falcon.

A yellow-breasted Tomtit.
A yellow-breasted Tomtit.

Having visited the saddle on the previous day, we had a free day at Dart Hut, and took up the invitation of the hut warden, Manu, to try to climb one of the nearby mountains, Headlong Peak. The day was gorgeous, with not a cloud in the sky. We headed up a ridge covered in dense alpine vegetation, including spiny Horrid Spaniards and scratchy Dracophylum. After a couple of hours of struggling through this stuff, we reached a boulder field, and shortly afterwards the vegetation got smaller and the going got easier. Soon after we were on bare rock, that was very steeply dipping and shattered. We reached the main ridge with some difficulty, and headed on up this until our way was blocked by a series of small cliffs. After traversing under these on steeply sloping scree, we stopped for lunch on a small outcrop, then continued on gradually worsening terrain until we were forced to descend to safer ground. After investigating another ridge that didn’t seem much better, we were forced to admit defeat and descend.

Looking up at Headlong Peak.
Looking up at Headlong Peak.
Our lunch spot high on Headlong Peak.
Our lunch spot high on Headlong Peak.

Despite our failure to reach the summit, the views were fantastic, across to the glaciers of the upper Dart, down the Dart Valley to the Barrier Range, and out to Mt Earnslaw, and we enjoyed hiking without a path to follow for a day, as well as the company of Manu.

Looking down the Dart Valley from Headlong Peak.
Looking down the Dart Valley from Headlong Peak.
Rachel and Manu with Mt Edwards and the Hesse glacier behind.
Rachel and Manu with Mt Edwards and the Hesse glacier behind.

Day four of the trip saw us tramping down the Dart River to Daleys Flat Hut. It was another glorious day, and although we were mostly in forest, we got glimpses of mountains, glaciers, and the blue of the Dart River below us on the descent. Eventually we reached Cattle Flat, with lovely views in all directions, but no protection from the hot sun. After playing on a bridge across the river that has no track on the other side, we continued down the valley, and eventually reached the hut after around five hours. Daleys Flat Hut is on the edge of the bush at the far end of a grassy flat so has nice views up the valley, but is unfortunately afflicted with huge numbers of biting sandflies. We arrived at the same time as the Manawatu Tramping Club group and escaped the insect attack and the hot sun by hiding in the hut. I spent some time trying to photograph birds in the bush around the hut, and got some nice pictures of Robins and Tomtits, but was eaten alive in the process.

Rachel and the group from the Manawatu Tramping Club crossing the river flats.
Rachel and the group from the Manawatu Tramping Club crossing the river flats.
Looking back up the Dart Valley on the way to Daleys Flat Hut.
Looking back up the Dart Valley on the way to Daleys Flat Hut.
Daleys Flat from Daleys Flat tramping hut

The final day was rather duller, with showers in the morning. We headed down the river through a mixture of bush and river flats. We were getting picked up at 2pm, so tried to balance going fast enough to outrun the sandflies with going slow enough that we wouldn’t have long to wait for the transport. The forest was particularly nice on this part of the trip, with tall beech trees and huge moss and fern-covered rocks. The lower Dart Valley is one of the few places left where Yellowheads are present, and we were fortunate to meet a couple of flocks of them flying through the treetops. We also got to watch the jet-boats of Dart River Safaris shooting up and down the river between big tree-covered rocks and gravel banks.

A Mohua or Yellowhead.
A Mohua or Yellowhead.
The Dart River jetboat going through the gorge below Sandy Bluff.
The Dart River jetboat going through the gorge below Sandy Bluff.

I was rather sad to reach Chinamans Bluff, the end of the walk. It has been a glorious five days, with spectacular views, good company, and magnificent forest with lots of bird life.

A South Island Robin takes a keen interest in the tag on my backpack.
A South Island Robin takes a keen interest in the tag on my backpack.
The End!
The End!

Series - New Zealand '12

  1. We’re in New Zealand…
  2. Dunedin – Sealife Central
  3. Tramping the Rees-Dart
  4. Ascent of Mount Fox
  5. 45 river crossings before 11.30 am
  6. Sea kayaking at Abel Tasman National Park
  7. Abel Tasman coastal track
  8. Karori 3 hour rogaine
  9. One day in Bangkok

7 thoughts on “Tramping the Rees-Dart”

  1. Trekking, hiking, walking, rambling, etc. And now tramping! Does every English speaking country have it’s own word for yomping about in the outdoors? ❓

    Looks like a lovely area! Although it sounds like the weather was wetter than it’s been in the UK. 😯

    1. Yes, I’m pretty sure it does. You left out the Aussie one!

      It was a lovely area. And in reality we got two and a half absolutely gorgeous days, one cloudy one, and only one very wet one, so not bad weather at all.

      Having said that, today we’re in Fox Glacier, where the forecast was for 200mm of rain today, and that’s pretty much what we’re getting. 😯

      1. Ha, well I guess I’ve been conditioned after so many years to reserve the term bushwhacking for times when we’ve really gotten off the trail thrashing and searching (often in vain) for a cliff in thick bush that seems to always results in multiple lacerations to our legs. A pleasure that only South African climbers find fun!

  2. So no wonder I’m confused about all these words for the same ❓ thing and never know which one to use!!! Is there a difference ❓ And then what’s the difference between rucksack and backpack πŸ˜• Though I know the difference between climb and crawl, both are the same but one is vertical and the other horizontal. :geek: πŸ˜‰
    New Zealand is a breathtakingly beautiful country, hope that I can visit one day …

  3. Hi Richard and Rachel,
    Great trip and great to have your company for the five days. The scenery was wonderful and we were lucky with the weather. Some lovely images of the walk. We hope the weather cooperates for the rest od your holiday.
    Cheers
    Martin and Janet (tellers of epic tales)

    1. Hi Martin,
      glad you found the site. Once we escape from the land of $5/hr internet, we’ll put the best of our photos on picasa, in case you want any. I’ll post again here when we do. Hope your flight back went well and you’re fully recovered from the sandflies of Daleys Flat! 😯

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *