Mount Aspiring National Park: The Complete Guide

lake with reflection of blue sky, snowy mountains and grassy hill

xmaty cz / 500px / Getty Images

Map card placeholder graphic

Mount Aspiring National Park

Address
South Island 9382, New Zealand
Phone +64 3-443 7660

New Zealand's Mount Aspiring National Park is in the Southern Alps mountain range that straddles far western Otago and Westland provinces, bounded by the Haast River in the north and the Fiordland National Park in the south. Established as a national park in the 1960s, it's one of the least developed national parks in New Zealand, so it is an attractive place to go for rugged hiking and outdoor activities. One reason for this lack of development is that it's in a sparsely populated part of the country, with more mountains than towns. At its heart is Mount Aspiring itself, one of New Zealand's highest mountains at 9,950 feet. The local Maori people called it Tititea. Traditionally, they traveled to the area from the coastal South Island to hunt. Mount Aspiring National Park is part of UNESCO's Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Area, a vast area of the South Island that encompasses several national parks and wilderness areas. Here's what to see and do in the park.

Things to Do

A relatively undeveloped area of mountains, lakes, waterfalls, and forests, the Mount Aspiring National Park offers fantastic hiking opportunities. See more below.

If you're experienced at mountaineering or skiing, there are also opportunities to get well away from most other travelers through specialist mountain climbing expeditions and heli-skiing. Although the nearby town of Wanaka is a base for some of the best ski fields in the South Island, there aren't commercial ski fields in the national park itself.

Fishing for trout (brown and rainbow) in some rivers can also be enjoyed between November and May; there are catch limits, and you require a permit from Fish & Game New Zealand.

Bird watchers are also lucky: rifleman, bellbird, South Island robin, yellow-crowned parakeet, mohua (yellowhead), tomtit, South Island fantail, New Zealand pigeon, moreporks, blue ducks, paradise shellducks, and even native bats can be seen here.

Best Hikes and Trails

There are many hikes to enjoy in this national park, from very short and easy to multi-day and advanced. Longer doesn't always mean harder, though: some day hikes are classified as "expert" level, while some multi-day hikes are suitable for intermediate-level hikers. Read about all trail options on the Department of Conservation (DOC) website for the park.

Blue Pools Track: If you're short on time or aren't up for a longer hike, the Blue Pools Track is the best short walk you can do in this park. It's just an hour's return and leads to the sparkling blue pools of the Makarora River, with a swing bridge. The trailhead is a short drive from Makarora, about an hour's drive north of Wanaka, on the northern end of Lake Wanaka. The Young River Link Track is an extension of the Blue Pools Track that takes up to four hours and is suitable for intermediate-level hikers.

Rob Roy Track: The Rob Roy Track provides alpine landscapes, snowfields, glaciers, and waterfalls, all on a relatively easy six-mile hike that can be done in three-four hours. It's suitable for older kids, so it is a great option for family travelers who want to experience some of New Zealand's finest landscapes without the hassle of a multi-day hike. The trailhead is about an hour's drive from Wanaka, and transport can be arranged if you don't want to drive yourself down 18 miles of unsealed roads.

Routeburn Track: The two-four day, intermediate-level Routeburn Track is one of DOC's Great Walks, meaning the infrastructure is good, the views and landscape are unparalleled, and it's popular. The trail crosses over into the Fiordland National Park, south of Mount Aspiring National Park. In summer, hikers can enjoy walking through meadows of wildflowers and views of huge mountains, waterfalls, and tarns. Bookings for summer-season accommodation (campsites and huts) on the track open the previous June and fill up very fast, so plan ahead if you want to do this walk.

Cascade Saddle Route: If you're a very experienced hiker and are looking for a challenge, the four-five day, expert-level Cascade Saddle Route delivers. It connects the West Matukituki Valley with the Dart Valley. It should only be attempted in summer as there's a serious avalanche risk at other times of the year, and even in summer, the weather can be changeable and dangerous.

mountain landscape with green grass-covered slope in foreground and pointed peaks at back


Mark Meredith / Getty Images

Where to Camp

Accommodation within the national park is in DOC-run campsites or huts (what Kiwis call tramping huts). There are more huts than campsites within the park, perhaps because of the climate and mountainous terrain. These huts range from very basic (don't expect much more than four walls and bunk beds) to comfortable and serviced. The serviced huts must be booked in advance, particularly on the Great Walk within this park (the Routeburn Track). You can't book the lower-grade huts, but these don't tend to be as popular anyway or are in more remote areas.

While the tramping huts within the park can only be reached on foot, most campsites around the edge of the park can be reached by road, so they are suitable for RVs and caravans.

Where to Stay Nearby

The Mount Aspiring National Park is one of the largest in New Zealand, but it's in a remote area, so there aren't very many towns around the park.

On the southern shores of Lake Wanaka, the town of Wanaka is the most logical jumping-off point for walking and hiking in the park. With a population of around 9,000, Wanaka has plenty of facilities and accommodation options, from basic campsites and backpackers to more upmarket lodges and hotels. If you're just planning on doing day hikes in the park, Wanaka is the best option because you can head back to town at the end of the day.

Alternatively, the Mount Aspiring National Park can be accessed from the small village of Glenorchy on Lake Wakatipu, a 45-minute drive from Queenstown, or Te Anau, on Lake Te Anau. Transportation to trailheads can be arranged from Te Anau, as well as Wanaka.

How to Get There

To get to Wanaka, either fly to Queenstown International Airport and drive the 42 miles (one hour) from there or come overland from the northwest (via the Haast Pass and West Coast) or the east (via Christchurch or Dunedin). From Wanaka, most trailheads for short walks and longer hikes are up to an hour's drive away. The settlement of Makarora is often listed as the starting point: this is on the northern shore of Lake Wanaka (Wanaka is on the southern) and is a bit less than an hour's drive from Wanaka. Driving along gravel roads may be necessary to reach some walks. Check local conditions before heading out, especially if there's been a lot of rain, as flooding or mud can affect rural roads.

If you're embarking on a multi-day hike or one that starts and ends in different places, you can arrange transfers from Wanaka or Te Anau. This is also a good idea in terms of safety: although New Zealand is generally quite a safe place, car break-ins and thefts from remote trailheads are a recognized problem.

Accessibility

Because there are so many short walk options in this park—some just a five-minute amble from a parking lot to a lookout—this is relatively accessible for people with mobility limitations. If you can't do a longer hike but can walk short distances, you will still be able to see some beautiful sights in Mount Aspiring National Park.

Tips for Your Visit

  • There is no fee to enter national parks in New Zealand.
  • If you have to leave your vehicle at a trailhead before heading out on a walk of a few hours or a few days, don't leave any valuables in it. Theft from cars is a big problem in remote areas. Better still, get a transfer from Wanaka and leave your vehicle somewhere secure in town.
  • Don't underestimate the weather and alpine conditions in this national park. The weather can change quickly at any time of year, so bring adequate clothing and food supplies in case you end up being out longer than you intended. Winter hiking should only be attempted if you're very experienced and well prepared.
  • Hikers periodically get lost in New Zealand's national parks. As well as having the appropriate level of experience and gear for the trails you're attempting and checking weather forecasts at a DOC office, the most important thing you can do is tell someone where you're going and when you expect to return before you go.
  • Drone photos look great, but you must have a permit to fly a drone over New Zealand national park land.
Was this page helpful?
Back to Article

Mount Aspiring National Park: The Complete Guide