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Published: December 19th 2015
One of the absolute highlights of our time on New Zealand's South Island was our visit to Mount Aspiring National Park.
We reached the boundary of the park where there were signs saying the road ahead was difficult and could damage your car. We had heard from a DOC ranger that a car had gotten stuck on the road a couple of days earlier so we heeded these warnings. We were in the midst of expansive farmlands with mountains forming an imposing backdrop. At random intervals there were sheep and cows strewn across the road. We travelled alongside a river which was a lovely shade of aquamarine. At one point I stopped to get a photograph and was gutted to be passed by a tour bus. The gravel road had been good so far but it deteriorated. Firstly we crossed eight cattle-grids which gave us a good jolt but seemed to pose no problems for our bovine onlookers, one of whom leapt across, completely clearing the grid. Following the cattle-grids there was then a series of eight fords - some deeper than others. Before taking this road, I'd forded, perhaps, three rivers... so this was quite a novel experience for
me. One of the fords looked no different to the others but was so deep that the car almost stalled in the middle. I just kept my foot down and we inched forwards until we were clear. We reached the car park which really is a place of outstanding beauty. It was worth the bone-jarring drive to get to this spot.
We weren't there just for the drive though, as fun as it was... we wanted to tramp. I've never considered myself particularly trampy, and I certainly don't think of Lindsey as a tramp. This is the term that Kiwis use to describe hikers so we have adopted it. Our aim for the day was to get to the upper viewing point of the Rob Roy Glacier.
After a quick lunch we set off. The first section took us along grass flats beside the river and was very pleasant. As we followed the course of the river, different mountains came into view, each with its own character. Here we got our first view of the stately Mount Aspiring with its ice-capped summit. We turned to cross the river over a large wobbly swing bridge. The view from both
sides of the bridge was lovely as the green water raced furiously down the hill.
Beyond the bridge the path went into the shade of forest. It climbed steadily and was rough in parts. At one point we came to a warning of falling rocks and as we turned the bend, before us was a giant overhanging boulder casting its shadow across our path. We scurried under it as it looked ready to roll at any moment. Around the next bend the path became even steeper and we scrambled up a rocky slope. The route got harder and harder but we pushed through, breathless but glad to be walking in this awesome place.
Abruptly, when we felt like we couldn't take enough air into our bodies, we came to the lower viewing point. Here we paused, looking out over the distant Rob Roy Glacier. Before us was an ice-covered peak, surrounded by low but steep tree-covered mountains. From one of these a waterfall was trying to fall but the stream was blown away as it went over the edge, long before it could reach the ground.
When we'd caught our breath we carried on upwards. The next
section was another steep scramble but it didn't feel as difficult as it had. We then came to a rocky slope which we had to mount. Beyond that the river reappeared. Eventually we came to an opening of the trees. Here a river had once run across the path to join the one we were walking along, but was now dry. The river bed was rocky and difficult to clamber across. The other bank was once again under the shade of trees.
The forest soon thinned leaving only a bare rocky hillside with wonderful views of the majestic glacier a few hundred metres away. On all of the surrounding hills we could see waterfalls. We were close enough to the glacier to see sheer ice cliffs rising precipitously on top of rock cliffs. The sun was shining above the glacier and we just stopped to absorb the spectacular views. The walk up had been tough but it was well worth the effort. Walking down was easier and took much less time but by the time we got to the car park again it had been a long hard afternoon.
Leaving the National Park we drove back towards Wanaka
and stopped at the Glendhu recreational area on the banks of Lake Wanaka. From here we had splendid views of Mount Aspiring reflected in the water. We cooked a meal much to the amusement of the group of photographers who had arrived to capture their shot of the mountain. Sadly for them the best shots could not be taken from a distance. For the first time though I felt like I had really seen New Zealand. I wouldn't have traded my aching legs for anything at that moment.
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