Why the Rob Roy Glacier is Worth the Drive
New Zealand’s South Island is famous for its stunning landscape: massive mountains, dry yellow valleys and clear lakes. Driving along, visitors are overwhelmed by the many brown signs flashing past the window that signify outdoor activities and attractions. Most travelers will just visit the major destinations highlighted in their guidebooks, including the Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier. Thees places are worth a quick detour if you’re willing to fight past selfie-stick wielding tourists to get a distant view of the ice, or pay hundreds of dollars to view the glacier from above, from a helicopter. If this doesn’t sound appealing, I recommend visiting the Rob Roy Glacier in Mt Aspiring National Park instead.
On a sunny but windy day, I tackled the drive to the Mt Aspiring Park road in my ‘91 Toyota Town-Ace van. The drive takes you through Wanaka, a hip lakeside town. Follow the lake and stay on this road. There is only one road that leads to the park, and the drive itself is incredible. On the right you can catch glimpses of Lake Wanaka, and on the left are massive boulders for sport climbing. Along the way is Diamond Lake, a track that can be done as a 40-minute walk or a three-hour loop.
The trail to Rob Roy Glacier starts as a meander through a cow paddock. Watch out for cow pies as your gaze wanders to the tops of the peaks or down at the restless river.
The road becomes unsealed just before passing the Treble Cone ski resort. It takes nearly an hour to bump along the dirt road, and it’s almost impossible to hold a conversation if your vehicle lacks shock absorption. I know this is true because the hitchhiker I picked up had to yell to tell me about his quest to find a tiny unnamed lake high in the mountains.
There are several fords and cattle guards along the road. Take both with caution, but don’t stop in the water-filled fords, as this will increase the chance of getting stuck. At road end is the Raspberry Creek car park. From here, the trail to Rob Roy Glacier starts as a meander through a cow paddock. Watch out for cow pies as your gaze wanders to the tops of the peaks or down at the restless river. Once you cross the swinging bridge, you’ve entered the bush.
Trotting along, I was transported back to the Pacific North West. The sub-alpine landscape is similar to Mt Rainier in the spring, without the smell of pine trees. It’s about five kilometers to the upper viewing area, which took me about an hour and half. Along the trail were people of various ages, all experiencing the track differently. A boy of about nine appeared to be alone, apart from the walking stick that he carried, which was taller than him. A young couple discussed life matters. An old man and young woman made their way up calmly.
There are more waterfalls descending from the glacier than I had patience to count. It was like witnessing a slow death.
The lower viewing area, marked by a semi-circle of benches facing the glacier, is a welcoming sign that you are getting closer. But continue on to the upper viewing area. You will lose the trail as you hop across large rocks, but cairns and orange triangles mark the way.
As the trail merges with an open field, hikers are greeted with a view of a waterfall that never ends. There are more waterfalls descending from the glacier than I had patience to count. It was like witnessing a slow death. The upper viewing area is unsheltered and the weather does change dramatically and quickly, so I recommend bringing a jacket and hat.
After a peaceful day at Rob Roy Glacier, stop at Wanaka and grab a beer at Kai Whakapai Café, just known as Kai to the locals, which offers prime outdoor seating. Or grab a massive, delicious pie at Doughbin Bakery. Both businesses are located on Ardmore Street.