The Matukituki Valley is Wanaka’s outdoor playground, a 60km tentacle reaching from the parched Otago landscapes around Lake Wanaka to the steep alpine skirts of Mount Aspiring, which at 3033m is New Zealand’s highest mountain outside the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. Extensive high-country stations run sheep on the riverside meadows, briefly glimpsed by skiers bound for Treble Cone, rock climbers making for the roadside crags, Matukituki-bound kayakers, and trampers and mountaineers hot-footing it to the Mount Aspiring National Park.
The park, mooted in 1935 but not created until 1964, is one of the country’s largest, extending from the Haast Pass, where there are tramps around Makarora, in the north to the head of Lake Wakatipu (where the Rees–Dart Track and parts of the Routeburn Track fall within its bounds) in the south. The pyramidal Mount Aspiring forms the centrepiece of the park, rising with classical beauty over the ice-smoothed broad valleys and creaking glaciers. It was first climbed in 1909 using heavy hemp rope and without the climbing hardware used by today’s mountaineers, who still treat the mountain as one of the grails of Kiwi mountaineering ambition.
Travelling along the unsealed section of the Mount Aspiring Road beside the Matukituki River, you don’t get to see much of Aspiring, as Mount Avalanche and Avalanche Glacier get in the way. Still, craggy mountains remain tantalizingly present all the way to the Raspberry Creek, where a car park and public toilets mark the start of a number of magnificent tramps into the heart of the park.