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Jan 30
2015

Rees Madness

It's been a while since we finished the Rees and Dart track so I probably remember it differently. I usually remember things more positively after a while but I definitely can say this track is hard, but let's go back to the beginning. First thing you should know, the Dart section is closed due to a severe avalanche which destroyed part of the track and made it impassable. The DOC say it will probably be closed until next season (October 2015). Don't worry too much, the best part of the track, the Cascade Saddle, where you can see the Dart glacier is open.

There are 2 options for you to do this track. Go all the way from the Rees Valley and return (4-5 days) or start from the Rees Valley and finish in the Aspiring Hut. We chose the return option because we actually didn't know of the second route, but note that you have to hitchhike or arrange trasport from the end of the track if you don't return the same way.

The sane way of doing the return track should take 5 days. The first day from Muddy Creek Carpark to the Shelter Rock Hut (19 km). The second day will take you to the Dart Hut (10 km), where you should stay 2 nights to allow the Cascade Saddle "side track" which is the highlight of the track. This side track takes one day to complete (20 km return). Than return the same way will take another 2 days.

The weather forecast was not as good as we hoped. The first 2 days should have been sunny but than the next 2-3 days will have some clouds, winds and rain. In a madness of a second I thought, why not combine the first 2 days into one (29 km), and then we'll have good weather in the day we climb the Cascade Saddle, the rest will be sections that we already saw and the weather won't be a big issue. And so we did.

We started the 29 km journey at the Muddy Creek Carpark at 07:45. The way to the carpark is not a paved road and there is no sign that indicates you are on your way to the Rees Dart track but the "Rees Road" sign was good enough. Passing this back country road required crossing 4 fords, similar to the fords on the way to the Rob Roy track. Although we were told it's not possible to cross the first section of the track without getting wet we tried to find our way through the swampy area for about 2 hours. Not only it slowed us down, but eventually we stumbled in a deep muddy stream and we had to change our shoes to the sandals we brought. Starting the track with the sandals could have saved us time on this long day. The mud was not the only problem in this section, the poorly marked trail takes you through thick bush and slippery detours when trying to avoid the deeper part of the river. After 4 hours we finally got to the park boundary. From there the trail is better and there is no need for sandals or crossing deep streams. It took us another 2:20 hours to get to the first hut, Shelter Rock Hut.

Rees Valley, Morning Reflection, Rees And Dart Track Rees Valley, Morning Reflection, Rees And Dart Track

Rees Valley, Rees And Dart Track Rees Valley, Rees And Dart Track

Rees Valley, First dip in the swamp, Rees And Dart Track Rees Valley, First dip in the swamp, Rees And Dart Track

At 15:20, after lunch and a good long rest, the 10 km to the Dart Hut seemed possible, but that 10 km section is tricky. I can say it was the "longest" 10 km we had to walk in New Zealand. The way goes up and down all the time. Climbing from Shelter Rock Hut, 900 meters above sea level to the Rees Saddle, 1471 meters above sea level ends in a steep climb. From the saddle you have to descend to 900 meters again. The way down is hard and you'll have to cross 2 very steep and bouldery sections. At the second descend we really wanted to end this day and couldn't even see the hut. This 10 km section took us 4:30 hours to complete. We arrived exhausted after an 11 hours walk and a total of 12 hours day and 29 km. This part of the track is not rewarding enough and we didn't enjoy it. Don't get me wrong, the view of the Rees Valley and the Rees Saddle are beautiful, but when you focus on getting to the hut before it gets dark and after too many hours of walking with a heavy backpack (more than 20 kg) you can hardly enjoy the view.

Waterfall, Rees And Dart Track Waterfall, Rees And Dart Track

The second day started with great weather as the forecast predicted. The first section of this day is pretty flat but you have to cross at least 2 streams so take your sandals with you for this day. Although we left most of our things in the hut the climb to Cascade Saddle was hard. I was too tired from the day before and didn't have the time to fully recover. After the saddle there is another 45 minutes climb to the Pylon, which is a great lookout point on the Matukituki Valley. I decided that it's too much for me and we only climbed another 10 minutes to get a better view of the valley. Up to this point it took us about 4:15 hours. The view of the Dart Glacier is very impressive. One of the best lookouts we climbed to, but not the best. In my opinion the Conical Hill in the Routeburn is more impressive and as the days will pass the Mackinnon Pass in the Milford track will turn up to be far more impressive. The way back to the Dart Hut was much easier and took us 3:20 hours.

Flat Valley, Rees And Dart Track Flat Valley, Rees And Dart Track

Colorful Lagoons, Rees And Dart Track Colorful Lagoons, Rees And Dart Track

Cyan Lagoon, Rees And Dart Track Cyan Lagoon, Rees And Dart Track

Cyan Lagoon, Rees And Dart Track Cyan Lagoon, Rees And Dart Track

Dart Glacier, Cascade Saddle, Rees And Dart Track Dart Glacier, Cascade Saddle, Rees And Dart Track

Dart Glacier, Cascade Saddle, Rees And Dart Track Dart Glacier, Cascade Saddle, Rees And Dart Track

Dart Glacier, Cascade Saddle, Rees And Dart Track Dart Glacier, Cascade Saddle, Rees And Dart Track

Cascade Saddle, Rees And Dart Track Cascade Saddle, Rees And Dart Track

Dart Glacier And Matukituki Valley, Cascade Saddle, Rees And Dart Track Dart Glacier And Matukituki Valley, Cascade Saddle, Rees And Dart Track

Dart Glacier, Cascade Saddle, Rees And Dart Track Dart Glacier, Cascade Saddle, Rees And Dart Track

The third day was relatively short, again, 10 hard km to the Shelter Rock Hut took us 3:50 hours and we got at 12:00 which left us plenty of time to rest in the hut.

Sunrise, Dart Hut, Rees And Dart Track Sunrise, Dart Hut, Rees And Dart Track

When we started the last day, all we wanted was to get to the car as fast as we can and finish this track. Surprisingly we walked much faster than we walked this section on the first day, instead of 6:20 hours it took us only 4:20 hours (1:35 to the park boundary, 7 km, and another 2:45 to the Muddy Creek Carpark, 12 km). On the way back we saw a family that walked through a different path, it was not the marked trail, but it was the 4x4 road that crosses the river a few times. I can say it's a much better way because we walked faster and yet, they passed us. Struggling the swampy section is no better than crossing the rivers, you'll get wet anyway, so consider the 4x4 route.

I read in some places that the Rees Dart track is considered to be the most beautiful track in New Zealand, but in my opinion, not only that it's not the case, the track is too hard and not rewarding enough. I would prefer the Routeburn, the Kepler and the Milford. There is a good reason why these tracks are Great Walks. If you love more challenging walks than the great walks that can be a great track for you.

We came back to Queenstown and had no accommodation for that night because we weren't sure we'll finish the track in 4 days. Luckily, the iSite was very helpful, they found us a good place to sleep for that night in 3 minutes. Dinner at Fergburger and desert at Patagonia was exactly what we fantasized on most of the track. Resting was our mission for the next days. Unbroken and American Sniper were excellent movies, I really recommend both of them. Next are the Kepler and the Milford tracks.

Queenstown Queenstown

Queenstown Queenstown

Queenstown Queenstown

Queenstown Queenstown