rob roy glacier

Rob Roy Glacier Hike, Wanaka

Duration: Full day with transfers from Queenstown or Wanaka
Distance: 10km return, moderate 3.5- to 4-hour return hike
Rating: Easy to moderate (some uphill walking)

No matter how many times I come out to stand at the foot of the Rob Roy Glacier, this stunning walk reminds me of just how small and insignificant we are compared to the scale of nature.

Rob Roy Glacier Hike, WanakaMany people don’t realize that Mt Aspiring National Park — packed with dramatic alpine scenery, sheer rock cliffs, plunging waterfalls and even glaciers nestled in native bush — is less than a two-hour drive from Queenstown. If you’re staying in Queenstown, I’ll meet you at your accommodation at 8:30am and we’ll wind our way up and over the Crown Range past Lake Wanaka and through the Matukituki Valley, which is part of Te Wähipounamu or South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. You’ll probably need some extra memory for your camera but don’t bother with a camera case — the ever-changing landscape outside the window doesn’t let up long enough to warrant ever putting it away, and that’s before we’ve even reached the trailhead.

The scenic drive culminates with a view of Wishbone Falls cascading down a sheer rock cliff at the entrance of the national park. Then from Raspberry Flats, we’ll continue on foot for a short valley walk and cross the West Matukituki River before starting a steady climb up through a small gorge alongside Rob Roy Stream.

Rob Roy Glacier itself remains hidden for most of the trail, but now and then the veil of native Beech forest slips to reveal teasing glimpses of white contrasted against the blue sky. After about an hour and a half, there’s a gradual transition to more sparse alpine vegetation, signalling we’re close to the head of the valley. Then up on a rocky clearing, the vista suddenly opens up dramatically and we’re rewarded with unobstructed views of the glacier hanging thousands of feet above us.

We are here.

Time is now suspended, seemingly motionless like the glacier itself, and it’s easy to see not much has changed here since this spot was first discovered long ago. No doubt they too struggled to capture this place in words or images as they gazed up in awe at one of nature’s masterpieces. I snap a few perfunctory shots because it seems wrong not to, but before the shutter blinks we both know the excuses that will be shared with friends and family back home.

“These photos don’t quite do it justice. You had to be there.”

There are simply no words or lenses capable of capturing its grandeur and tranquility. There’s no choice but to surrender and just try to soak it all in, to savour this sliver of paradise and tuck it away in my mind’s eye for some future rainy day. Senses overloaded, we return along the same track. The journey downhill goes quicker and there’s hardly time to fully ponder what stops such a massive piece of ice from simply plummeting to the valley floor below.

After the hike, we break up the return journey with a stop in the quaint township of Wanaka to kick off our boots and toast the day with a cold drink on the lakefront before returning to Queenstown around 5pm.

Rob Roy Glacier Hike, Wanaka