Dawn is my favourite time to head out for a walk. It’s comfortably cool, the light is beautiful for photography, and we always have the tracks to ourselves.
Up the Matukituki valley to Rob Roy Glacier
The adventure started before the walk, as we had three fords to cross. While it’s no problem if you have a 4WD, these fords will add two kilometres to the walk for those without one. But the stunning valley with the Matukituki River running noisily over stones, sun touching mountains on both sides, and sheep on the river flats makes the extra walk worthwhile.
A sturdy but still swingy swing bridge took us across the river and into beech forest; the path here onwards is steadily uphill. Periodically, there are wide views of the valley, but mostly, the walk is through dark, lush bush. The valley gets steeper and the river smaller, becoming a feisty thing, leaping over rocks noisily and too busy to have green pools.
As the sun hit the canopy, the bush came alive with the chirping of birds. As we ascended, the bush shrunk until eventually, near our destination, the base of the Rob Roy Glacier, there was stubby shrubs, tussock, and lots of moss and lichen.
Occasionally, great chunks of the glacier fall off, plummeting down and making the sound of thunder echo around the valley.
We stayed here for an hour, watching the glacier, hoping for a second tumble and marvelling at the waterfalls bouncing down the cliff face and the rainbows at their base. We walked down the mountain before the sleep-in walkers arrived to steal the serenity.
Diamond lake and rocky mountain
The lake is only a 15-minute walk uphill from the carpark. The lake was still with pretty reflections but the real prize was above it, high on Rocky Mountain, where the views over
Lake Wanaka, its islands, coves, and convoluted tendrils were superb.
Again, the early bird catches the best views and the ever-upwards steepness to the top of Rocky Mountain would be a sweaty, puffing pain later in the day. It’s a two-hour return hike but for a dawdler and photographer like me, it took three hours. No sandwiches were required.
This track gently rises and falls for 14km on the west side of Lake Wanaka. Because we only had one car, we didn’t walk it all (the return trip is 28km) but started at the Glendu Bay end and walked halfway before returning.
By a miracle of nature, it snowed heavily on the mountains the night before, so in the early morning, the light was sublime and the mountains pure and white. It was cold, which meant it was easy to pick up pace as the path gently ambled along the lake, rising and falling to cross headlands and valleys. There are pretty little bays, which would be great for swimming on summer days.
A couple of keen cyclists passed us in the opposite direction. This path, free of steps, is also great for cycling and the return trip would be more manageable with two wheels.
Lakefront to waterfall creek
It was that willow tree, the most photographed willow tree in the world according to my Wanaka cousin, which inspired me to do this walk at dawn. The walk starts at the west end of Roy’s Bay, in Wanaka town centre, and meanders along the lake edge past Edgewater Resort and plenty of posh homes with beautifully groomed gardens.
Along the way, you pass a strange little willow tree with a curved trunk and wiggly branches, valiantly gowning in the lake, some distance from the shore. It is so odd and has such a beautiful mountain background that one must stop and photograph it.
The Rippon Vineyard inspired me to do the same walk in the middle of the afternoon. Beyond the edge of town, the vineyard’s grapes almost reach the lake edge. It’s a hike uphill through the vines to the tasting room and restaurant but well worth it.
The wine was divine and the views over the vineyard to Ruby Island and across the lake to the mountains made sitting in the sun on a grassy knoll, slowly drinking a bottle of Riesling a superlative experience.
- From May to early September, the Matukituki/Rob Roy Glacier and Diamond Lake/Rocky Mountain walks can be icy, so trampers are urged to take extra caution.
- Wanaka Kiwi Holiday Park—quiet, good amenities, dump station. Call 0800 229 8439 or visit wanakakiwiholidaypark.nz.
- Albert Town Camping Ground—on a bend in the Clutha River just as it leaves Wanaka. Delightful situation, spacious, cheap, and offers basic amenities. No bookings required.