Cascade saddle is an interesting alpine route for experienced hikers. It connects the West Matukituki Valley with the Dart valley across a high pass in the Mount Aspiring National Park. Before reading on, it is important to determine whether or not you have the experience for this route. It requires a high level of skill, fitness and backcountry experience. If you do not have these things, you may wish to consider undertaking a less challenging hike – there are plenty to choose from around New Zealand. www.travelrows.com
Mount Aspiring National Park on the map and its reviews:
If you have decided to go ahead with this route, it is best hiked over 4-5 days, from the Matukituki end. To reach the start point for this hike, take the road 54miles from Wanaka to the Raspberry Creek car park (the last 30km of the route is unsealed). The route is then accessed from the recommended start point, the West Matukituki Valley.
Raspberry Creek car park to Aspiring Hut
This first portion of the hike will take around 2-2.5 hours, covering a distance of 9km on the West Matukituki Track. The serviced alpine cabin at the end of this route has 33 bunk beds with mattresses, heating, lighting and cooking facilities. Bookings are not required and the accommodation is first-come, first-served.
Aspiring Hut to Cascade Saddle
This next section of the route covers 6km and takes around 4-5 hours. You will ascend steadily up through beech forest and follow an orange-pole marked route above the bushline. You will ascend via a steep, narrow gully that holds snow much of the year. You will then descend to Saddle Creek, where there is a campsite with toilet.
Cascade Saddle to Dart Hut
Next you will take 4-5 hours to cover a distance of 10km, fording a number of streams as you make your way along the side of the Dart river to reach the Dart Hut. The dart hut has 32 bunk beds with mattresses and heating. Again, this accommodation is first-come, first-served.
Dart Hut – Walk Out Via Rees or Dart Valleys
The walk out from the Dart Hut involves a couple of days trek on the Rees Dart Track through the Rees or Dart Valley. There are several different options, with potential to check out the Dart Glacier before you make your way back to roads via Shelter Rock Hut or Daleys Flat Hut, depending on your preferences. (If you walk out via Daley’s Hut, you will reach Chinamans Flat and Dan’s Paddock, which was used as a filming location for Isengard in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ films.)
Mountain knowledge and mountain safety are paramount on this high altitude route, which should only be undertaken during the summer months as there is risk of avalanche between June and November. It is important to note that even in summer there is likely to be snow and there are often adverse conditions. Be sure to stay safe and always inform someone of your route before you set off on your hike.