The Southern Alps and Fiordland Feature
- Places to Explore
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- Fodor's Choice
Mt. Aspiring National Park
Roads only skirt the edge of this huge park, which compels you to hike, boat, and fly to see it. Only a winged, hoofed super-creature could possibly see the majority of Aspiring's wilderness. Daunting yet tantalizing: that's the magic draw of this unspoiled landscape.
At 355,000 hectares (877,224 acres), Mt. Aspiring is the country's third-largest national park. The park's namesake mountain is only one of numerous geological wonders. The area has yielded much pounamu or greenstone, and the famous Otago schist featured in the architecture of the gateway communities. One unusual stretch of peaks is known as the Red Hills, where the toxic minerals in the soil rendered the landscape barren (and a deep rusty red). Most of the park is marked by cool green beech forests and wildflowered valleys. The park is home to the famous Routeburn Track, a three-day Great Walk, and dozens of shorter hikes. Gateway communities include lively Wanaka, which offers a multitude of choices for lodging, dining, shopping, and those rewarding post-hike pints.
BEST TIME TO GO
Late spring and summer (November through April) mean great walking weather and plenty of birds and flowers to see. Autumn in this part of the country is glorious for fall foliage. Weather is changeable in the park so check with the DOC before hitting the trail, or planning a long hike.
In 1994, a once-in-250-year storm bombarded the park with insane amounts of rain. The resulting floods and landslide wiped out a dozen bridges on the Routeburn Track and it was closed for two months for repairs.
Best Ways to Explore
There are several flightseeing options for the park. One superb adventure combines a flight with hiking and jet-boating: fly from Makarora to the Siberia Valley, hike to a hut for an overnight stay, and then jet-boat the Wilkins River back to Makarora.
If you visit the park in the winter, consider heli-skiing or heli-boarding, where you can avoid the crowds of the ski resorts and explore fresh powder in premiere locations with views of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea.
Fly fishermen, picnickers, and kayakers might be enjoying the blissful serenity of the park's crystal rivers, until a roar fills the air and a jet-boat full of squealing humans hurtles past, sending waves of water and noise in every direction. Hey, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em, and you will surely have fun. Jet-boating is a hallucinogen-free way of watching a scenic postcard expand and morph into vibrant 3-D as you travel at top speed. Yeah. It's fun.
This park is a paradise for walkers. Many avid hikers and naturalists in New Zealand have settled in Aspiring's gateway communities to have access to its backcountry routes. While the Routeburn is the park's most well-known track, there are countless missions waiting for anyone with good soles and a pack. Please be careful crossing rivers. If you have any doubts stay on shore; visitors have perished crossing swollen rivers here.
Eco-friendly and luxury don't always go hand in hand, but beautiful Wanaka Homestead has made an excellent effort. The lodge's hot water, which supplies the taps, hot tub, and cozy underfloor heating, is solar heated. This lodge has been highly commended with a New Zealand EnergyWise award, recognizing efforts that have reduced "brought-in" power needs by half. The lodge uses low-energy appliances and controllers, and it was designed and built with energy efficiency and environmental sensitivity in mind. Wanaka's Minaret Lodge is another luxurious facility which practices eco-sensitivity in its daily routines, using biodegradable cleansers, organic produce and fair trade coffee, energy-efficient light bulbs, and the great Kiwi answer to energy-efficient insulation: sheep's wool in the walls.
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