Hike along two magnificent river valleys enclosed by towering mountains. A glacier side trip adds to the adventure.
This magnificent, but challenging, alpine circuit lets you explore two river valleys at the head of Lake Wakatipu. Add a detour to the Dart Glacier to make the circuit 5 days. At all times, you're surrounded by spectacular mountain, forest and river scenery. One hiker described it as "the best scenery I've ever seen in New Zealand".
Warning: The safest time of year to hike the Rees and Dart track is from December to April. Outside of these months, heavy snowfall and hazardous creeks can make the track dangerous. Recommended for fit & experienced hikers only, most days include six to eight hours of walking.
Day 1, Muddy Creek > Shelter Rock Hut, 19km
From Muddy Creek, take the vehicle track and follow the marker poles across the boggy section beyond Arthur's Creek. You'll cross private land before crossing a swing bridge to the other side of Rees River. Walkers then hike through beech forest and cross several gullies that are avalanche paths. Take care in spring and early summer where late snow may still pose a risk. Cross another bridge to reach Shelter Rock Hut.
Day 2, Shelter Rock Hut > Dart Hut, 10km
Today's section of the track is narrow with a number of steep dropoffs. The track follows the river before climbing up to the 1471-metre Rees Saddle - rest at the top and enjoy the panoramic alpine views. From here, the track drops down, traversing steep slopes that can be dangerous in the wet. Cross two bridges before coming to Dart Hut.
Day 3, Dart Hut > Dart Glacier > Dart Hut, 20km (OPTIONAL - day trip)
The Dart Glacier makes for a spectacular but challenging day trip from Dart Hut. Re-cross the Snowy Creek bridge and follow the metal poles northward towards the edge of the glacier. The Dart Glacier is relatively small, but beautifully formed. At the peak of the last ice age, about 18,000 years ago, it was part of an enormous glacier system. Keep in mind that side creeks can rise quickly through both rain or snow melt on a hot day.
Day 4, Dart Hut > Daleys Flat Hut, 18km
Begin with a 2 - 3 hour sidle and descent through beech forest to Cattle Flat. In the forest, look & listen out for rare birds - you may come across yellowheads, kaka, robins and fantails. Paradise ducks live on the grassy river flats. The track then follows a number of terraces and gullies before reaching the Daleys Flat Hut.
Day 5, Daleys Flat Hut > Chinamans Carpark, 16km
This morning, follow the track to Dredge Flat, then through forest and across gravel flats to Sandy Bluff. As the track climbs over the bluff, beware of the 60-metre drops to the Dart River below. After more gravel flats, a well-marked track follows the river through forest. Chinamans Bluff is located 2-3 hours from here, where the track sidles around the bluff to the grassy flats that lead to the carpark.
During the walk
This walk is dotted with three Department of Conservation (DOC)-run huts with nearby campsites. These huts have solid fuel fires for heating, mattresses and running water. Bring your own cooking facilities. Trampers who wish to stay in huts need to buy hut tickets before they start, from any DoC Visitor Centre.
Before and after
The track begins near the town of Wanaka, nestled between Mount Aspiring National Park and a large lake. Accommodation here is plentiful, but make sure to book ahead in the summer months. An hour's drive away lies Queenstown, a bustling alpine resort town full of exciting activities and a myriad of accommodation.
A number of specialist tour operators can aid in bringing your walking experience to life. Browse these businesses to find if a walking tour is right for you.
This track can be independently walked by experienced hikers. It is recommended to visit a DOC Visitor Centre before starting to pick up a map and hut tickets, check the weather and find out about any recent track changes.