One of my many favourite parts of New Zealand is the Matukituki Valley, located near Wanaka in the south island. Apart from a gravel road and some sheep farms lower down, there is no development up this spectacular valley which curves towards the Matterhorn-like Mt Aspiring. Just rugged snow capped mountains, a sparkling crystal clear river, and enough serenity to help with appreciating it.
Most visitors to New Zealand get to glimpse the bottom end of the Matukituki Valley, which is visible across the lake from Wanaka. Skiers who leave the main trails at the Treble Cone ski area can get a good view up this valley, which is how I first became aware of it - and tempted by its allure.
When I next returned to the area with a hire car, I set out to discover what I’d admired from afar. After the ski area turn-off the road turns to gravel, but is of a good standard. The only hiccup could be where the road fords a few small creeks - fine most of the year, but high water levels during the spring melt could occasionally be an obstacle. Even if this is the case, travelling as far as the first ford is still a worthwhile excursion.
As I cruised up the valley, sheep paddocks gave way to increasing amounts of beech forest. Changing vistas of untamed river, forest, snow-capped mountains and glaciers made the drive delightfully scenic and memorable.
Some great hikes can be accessed from the road's end, which mean the road is well travelled by hikers in the warmer months. But if you visit in winter, as I did, you might share the valley with very few others. Hikers are scarce in winter due to the weather and avalanche risk, and it's the non-fishing season, so solitude and a tangible sense of being in a wilderness can be enjoyed.
That's what I did ... I just chilled out by the river, soaking up the unblemished scenery and sense of wilderness, and pondering which walks I might do on my next visit to the Matukituki Valley.
NZ Department of Conservation - Matukituki Valley info