Location - Wanaka, South Island, New Zealand
Distance - 10km return via the same track
Elevation - 113m elevation gain
Duration - 10 hours return depending on fitness
Difficulty - Easy/Beginner

Probably the best glacier hike in New Zealand. Groaning ice, dashing streams and pretty blue water. There's never a dull moment on the Rob Roy Glacier Track, which winds through Mount Aspiring National Park not far from Wanaka. If you're lucky, you will also see a chunk of ice falling and crashing into the below rocks.

When it comes to reward for effort, the Rob Roy Glacier Track is king; it's just 5km each way with around 100m of elevation gain. While it may sound easy, don't assume it's a yawn; this tramp packs more New Zealand eye-candy than a Wanaka postcard store.

Highlights

  • Feeling dwarfed by 300m high cliffs crowned with calving glaciers
  • Easy, picturesque alpine hiking that doesn't cause you to trash your legs or rasp for breath
  • Driving to the trailhead among mountains, sheep and cows

How to get there

It all begins with an hour-long drive from Wanaka, winding through the majestic Matukituki Valley (where there are many other tracks to explore) along an unsealed road. Get your adventure crew to take a 4WD so you can confidently splash through ford crossings and weave easily around New Zealand's many meandering sheep and cows. Take the Wanaka-Mount Aspiring Road all the way to the end.

The journey

From the parking lot at the end of the road, the track cuts through golden grassland, following the mineral-blue water of the Rob Roy Stream before reaching a bridge and entering Mount Aspiring National Park on the other side. Here the scenery changes dramatically as you become engulfed in a beech forest carpeted with mosses and ferns.

At the 3.5km mark you'll catch your first glimpse of Mt Rob Roy's hanging glaciers, slightly obscured in a bank of cloud. Some hikers choose to end their walk at this viewpoint, but I would urge you to continue to the upper lookout and turn back only if there is real avalanche risk. This would usually occur in winter and early spring after heavy snowfall.

The track climbs steadily for a further 1.5km before emerging above the treeline in a clearing flanked by 300m high cliffs, with ribbons of water spilling over the sides and ancient ice clinging precariously to the edge.

There's nothing for it but to find a rock and make yourself comfortable. Places as magical as this demand staying a while. Patience may even reward you with pieces of ice breaking free and crashing spectacularly to the ground.

Amazingly, New Zealand has roughly three thousand glaciers on the South Island alone. When competing with tourist magnets like Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier, places like Rob Roy Glacier are easy to overlook though. If you go midweek in spring or autumn you may have this frozen wonderland all to yourself!

Essential Gear

  • Lunch and snacks
  • Water (3L)
  • Hiking shoes
  • Rain jacket/ & warm clothes
  • Camera

Activities

  • Hiking
  • Swimming
  • Photography
  • Meditation