This Friday, we’re flashing back to this time last year, when the AIR Adventures team took to the trails and mountains of New Zealand, arguably one of the best spots on the planet for trail and mountain running – and Instagram opps, of course.
We were fortunate to have the opportunity to explore many parks and trails during our time on both the North and South islands – which altogether will take several blog entries to cover! This particular entry will focus on our time spent in Mount Aspiring National Park, in the Otago region of the South Island.
At roughly 355,543 hectares in area, Mount Aspiring is the third largest national park in New Zealand, and forms part of Te Wahipounamu – a designated World Heritage site. Part of the reason behind the park’s designation as a World Heritage site is the mind-boggling array of habitat it offers: UNESCO notes that millennia of glacial flows have shaped this region of New Zealand into fjords, rocky coasts, towering cliffs, aquamarine lakes, and waterfalls. This rugged, beautiful landscape is home to several rare, native bird species – including the kea, the world’s only alpine parrot (not to mention a super smart bird), as well as the critically endangered takahe, a large flightless bird.
Our adventure in Mount Aspiring kicked off with an admittedly nail-biting flight into the park on a prop plane roughly the size of a soda can. We may have held our breath the entire ~20 minute flight, but it was ok because the views were breathtaking. Our pilot expertly guided us between snow-capped peaks, pointing out notable landmarks like the Wanaka River, Lake Crucible, and Mount Dreadful during our aerial tour.
After what ended up being an incredibly smooth landing, we packed up and headed off towards our hut in the valley. Like most other national parks in New Zealand, Mt. Aspiring offers huts as refuge for the park’s many ‘trampers’ – NZ terminology for hikers.
Word to the wise: During New Zealand’s summer (Nov – March or April), Mt. Aspiring becomes very popular. Reservations for huts should be made months in advance, to ensure you have space during your trip. Contact the NZ Department of Conservation for information about reservations.
After getting settled in to our hut for the night, we headed out for a trail run through the valley. Our destination was the famous Lake Crucible, so-named due to its bowl-like formation in the midst of two mountain slopes. We started out from the hut, crossing through an alpine valley for the first couple of miles, enjoying epic views of (the ironically named) Mount Dreadful along the way.
From our jaunt in the valley, we took a sharp left to head up Crucible Track. This trail followed a cascading waterfall up the side of a mountain – and required a fair bit of hiking and scrambling to get up.
After making our way up the steep and wooded trail, we were happy to emerge into Crucible Valley, where at last we were able to glimpse the famous lake. Getting *up* to the lake itself required another steep climb up the side of the mountain – so make sure you’re wearing a solid pair of your favorite trail running/hiking shoes with excellent tread, before attempting this trek!
At the top of this last climb, we were greeted with the sight of a pristine, aquamarine lake, punctuated by small islands of melting glacier. Yellow and white flowers – harbingers of the brief summer that visits the valley – dotted the water’s edge. The water itself was clean and clear – fresh off the melt of the glacial streams that feed the lake. We were able to refill our water bottles straight from one of these streams – so we were all set for our return trip back to the hut!
All told, our run to and from the lake was ~10 miles round-trip from the hut, with close to 2,000 feet of elevation gain. Check out our mapped route here.
Interested in visiting? There are several ways to get there. You can either take a plane from the nearby town of Wanaka (as we did), or travel up the Wanaka River by boat. There are also shuttle services to various hiking tracks (trails) in the park.
Fee? Permits and reservations are required to visit the park. Check the NZ Department of Conservation website for details. Dogs? No – due to the many threatened bird species in the area. Instagram photos? Yes please.
While Mount Aspiring offers much, both in terms of habitat for rare species, as well as a playground for outdoor lovers, its future is uncertain: the park has been subject to several development proposals over the years, the most recent of which is an alleged proposal to open the park to mining (the NZ government has denied this ). Conservationists argue that any development within the park – whether to build a tunnel to allow easier access to Milford Sound, or mining – would adversely affect the park habitat and wildlife, and also negatively impact ecotourism.
Interested in supporting global conservation efforts? Then visit the Alliance for International Reforestation, or donate now to help today.
Thanks for reading, and happy trails!