Sycophantic mountains draw you on

Four mountains reveal themselves as you advance up the Matukituki Valley. Photo: Clare Fraser
Four mountains reveal themselves as you advance up the Matukituki Valley. Photo: Clare Fraser
Wānaka’s Matukituki Valley is almost stupidly beautiful. The scenery is a 9.5 on the Richter scale of gorgeousness but maybe that’s too modest and it’s a perfect 10.

Aspiring Hut is a few hours’ walk beside the river. It’s hard to say exactly how long as the scenery keeps stopping you.

The valley floor is farmland that, thanks to four generations of the Aspinall family, untold visitors have enjoyed. As a result, the sheep are so nonplussed by people you can imagine them setting up camp in the Octagon.

It’s mostly a four-wheel-drive road, along with tracks marked by orange poles. Fords of water occasionally need waded through.

A photogenic waterfall cascades from a hillside. Sheep are up there too, breezily acting more like goats.

After a while, lo, there’s a beach. It’s grey, sandy silt and there’s a cool, deep bit of river. Good timing because next the road goes up and around a bluff, short but steep.

Photo: Clare Fraser
Photo: Clare Fraser
Another ford. More beauty. Those sheep again. No hollow thudding of receding hooves, just a lackadaisical "yeah right" gaze. If they can be bothered. Did that one just draw the start of a conversational in-breath?

Four mountains reveal themselves as you advance up the valley. Is that one Aspiring? As you walk they get bigger, you round a corner and another shows itself. It’s that it? Spoiler alert — none is Aspiring although the final one with it’s sycophantic A-shaped peak does a particularly good Clayton’s.

The hut’s a bit the same — the track tantalises towards a dear wee cottage then mockingly veers past. Never fear, Aspiring Hut is beautiful with a mountain view like a poor person’s Hermitage Hotel, but only $40 a night.

It’s recently had a makeover, with flush toilets and three separate bunk rooms, gas cooking, even double-glazing and lighting. The whole thing’s a good first overnight tramp for a novice. Equally, it’s a light-pack trip for those on the descent side of their tramping career.

Photo: Clare Fraser
Photo: Clare Fraser
There’s a vestibule at the door where you can leave a fully packed pack waiting quietly for the morning. After a night filled with a stranger’s snoring, each intake mimicking a reverse chunder, I snuck out at dawn and did a misanthropic runner.

The valley had a brisk coolness with wisps of mist and quietness. It’s not a peaceful quiet as although there are many good things about ageing, noting the decline of native bird life is not one.

It says it all that the only kea one might see there these days is a metal sculpture near the carpark.

Please note, this is not intended as a guide to the outdoors. Take care out there.