A big day in the Matukituki Valley

Don Herron —  14/04/2015

Ranger, Don Herron, heads south to tackle Otago’s Cascade Saddle Route, in the Te Wahipounamu—South West New Zealand World Heritage Area.

After an early start, and some impressive morning views of the moon setting behind Mt Aspiring/Tititea, we arrived at the Raspberry Creek Flat car park, an hour’s drive west from Wanaka.

The plan was to tackle the Cascade Saddle Route (17 km one way) in a day—climbing up to Cascade Saddle and then back down again.

We started with the reasonably easy 2 – 2.5 hr walk up the Matukituki Valley to Aspiring Hut, where we met the friendly Ranger Don, who was clearly invisible as the sand flies were not biting him!

Aspiring Hut. Photo: Don Herron.

Aspiring Hut

The track to Aspiring Hut is classified as Intermediate: Easier tramping track, so you’ll be able to get here with reasonably limited backcountry experience. However, you’ll need expert backcountry (remote areas) skills and experience, navigation and survival skills (and good weather) to proceed further.

From Aspiring Hut the track climbs very steeply for about 600 metres within the bush, then about 700 metres more above the bush edge. So, overall, about a 1.3 kilometre climb straight up! It was steep, however, steep is the best way to get great views!

As you head up, remember to stop and turn around—the view is spectacular: Mount Rob Roy, Mount Avalanche, Mount Aspiring, plus many other peaks and glaciers can be seen, it’s an amazing place to be.

Cascade Saddle. Photo: Don Herron.

Cascade Saddle

The higher you get the better the views and, once you reach what the locals call the “pylon”, stop and have a break—it’s simply amazing—mountains and glaciers all around.

Mt Aspiring/Tititea is the highest (3033 metres) and dominates the skyline to the North. Cascade Saddle is another hour on from here, the track continues down to the Dart Glacier and on towards Dart Hut.



We retraced our steps back down and back out to the Raspberry Creek road end. It was difficult at times, as it’s really steep, and it’s hard work to look at your feet with such awesomeness around you.

We took lots of breaks to enjoy the views around us.

A very big day in the mountains, but well worth the early start.

It was a 12 hour day, so a good level of fitness is needed, and don’t underestimate how steep this track is—I wouldn’t attempt it unless the weather is perfect!

Got any questions about the route? Leave a comment and I’ll try and help.

Don Herron


Don works in the Poneke/Wellington Department of Conservation Visitor Centre in Wellington city. Don loves tramping, riding his mountain bike, travelling and planting natives in his garden at home.

4 responses to A big day in the Matukituki Valley


    Hi there

    Your trip sounds amazing. We just got back from doing the Rees dart and only made it as far as Dart glacier from dart hut due to the terrible weather. I have quite a fear of heights and was wondering what your thoughts are on doing the cascade saddle with this fear? The highest Peak I have walked up is Mt Taranaki and found that quite steep at the top half. I really want to do the cascade saddle from aspiring hut but again am worried of te height. Thanks for your help



      Hi Hannah, i know your question wasn’t aimed at me, however i’ve walked from Dart Hut to Aspiring Hut, taking me down Cascade Saddle. I also dislike areas of steep terrain where a slip of the foot could result in severe consequences. Cascade Saddle wasn’t anything like that to me. If you leave the track, it’s dangerous, but if you stay on the track, it’s fine. The picture above is a rocky outcrop which is just a viewing point, not the actual track you need to walk. Hope that helps.


      Hanna, from Aspiring Hut the climb to Cascade Saddle would be a very steep and potentially dangerous one, recommended for fit and experienced trampers. The best idea is to consult the DOC ranger for advice. I took the easier approach from the Dart Valley.


    Magnificent country, Don, and fabulous photos. Makes me sad that I can no longer do these tramps – MS. Have done the Rees-Dart years ago and been up Cascade Saddle the easy way! Wonderful memories!! Many thanks for this article.