Cascade Saddle walk. Mt Aspiring National Park, South Island, N.Z. 1997

Tomorrow morning, Engogirl and I fly to Singapore and then onto Paris for three months of travel in Europe. We will be leasing a car for the whole time we are over there and we are also taking our folding bicycles with us to. I’m looking forward to posting about our trip as it will the first time I ever done any travelling with enough money to do it comfortably and in style. No hitch hiking and sleeping in parks this time!

I’m pretty sure my posts over the next couple of months will be full of lovely images of beautiful old towns etc, so I thought I post this about my wife and I’s first trip overseas together, about six months after we met. This was back in the days when I used to rock climb and did a lot more hard-core outdoor activities.

Back in 1997, I was a much fitter person than what I am now and my wife (to be, but we didn’t know it at the time) and I went walking (the Kiwis call it “tramping”) in the South Island of New Zealand. We spent a week walking up the Rees River to Snowy Creek

Razzbuffnik and Engogirl back in the days before my hair started to abandon me and it still had its colour

 and then up the Dart glacier to Cascade Saddle and then down to the Matukituki Valley.

The better-known hiking tracks of New Zealand get very heavy traffic and can be crowded so we decided to take a little lesser known path. A short drive from Queenstown, the Rees, Dart walk is close to the famous Routeburn track but it isn’t as frequented by so many people. Most people walk up the Rees River to Snowy Creek and then downstream on the Dart River.

up the Dart

There are well-maintained huts along the main track so you don’t have to bring a tent. When we got to Snowy Creek we turned upstream on the Dart River and went up to the Dart Glacier. When you’re walking in the valleys it feels hemmed in and it is quite the contrast as you gain some altitude as the scenery is spectacular up there. One can see for miles and miles over the mountains in every direction.

We did our walk in January and the weather was surprisingly hot. The Dart Glacier is another glacier that is receding and for about two or three kilometers as you approach it, the glacier has melted and left moraine. It looks like a giant gravel pit. The track up the side of the glacier is very narrow with very steep drop offs and it is slippery due to all the loose flat stone. One wrong step and you’re gone. Definitely not to be attempted in bad weather.

The Dart glacier

The track goes up above the glacier to Cascade Saddle, which is in my top five best scenic spots I’ve ever been to.

Before I went to New Zealand, many people had warned me about the sand flies but I forgot to take insect repellant. For the whole of our trip there were no sand flies but when we got to Cascade Saddle in the late afternoon, the air was thick with them and it was unbearable. I quickly set up our tent and got inside. There were so many sand flies between the tent fly and the tent inner that it sounded like rain as the bugs crashed into the nylon. Despite the bugs I still went out to enjoy the views as best I could but I didn’t take many pictures. From Cascade Saddle you can see back down the Dart Glacier on one side and on the other side you can look across the Matukituki Valley to Mount Aspiring. Near the saddle itself is the very spectacular Cascade Creek Falls, which drop about 200m (about 600ft).

Cascade Creek Falls

It’s almost too beautiful.

The walk down to Aspiring hut in the valley is a steep bone crunching slog through rough rockslide prone forest.

When we got to the hut there were two mountaineers who were waiting for transportation to a hospital.  They had been climbing Mt. Aspiring and apparently one of them was deaf and he didn’t hear the warning when some rock fell, and his leg had been broken. It would have been an extremely steep and painful walk to the hut from the mountain. He certainly didn’t look happy.