Location - Wanaka, South Island, New Zealand
Distance - 10 km return via the same track
Elevation - 110 m elevation gain
Duration - 10 hours return depending on fitness
Difficulty - 3, easy/beginner
I'm going to say it, Rob Roy Glacier is the best glacier hike in New Zealand with groaning ice, dashing streams, and pretty blue water. The track winds through Mount Aspiring National Park not far from Wanaka and if you wait patiently, you will see chunks of ice falling and crashing into the below rocks.
When it comes to effort vs reward, the Rob Roy Glacier Track is king; it's just 5 km each way with around 110 metres 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.
- Feeling dwarfed by 300 metre 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 four-wheel drive 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.
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 3.5 km 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 1.5 km before emerging above the treeline in a clearing flanked by 300 metre 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!
- Lunch and snacks
- Water (3 litres)
- Hiking shoes
- Rain jacket/ and warm clothes