Aspiring Hut | New Zealand’s Best Overnight Walk For Beginners

Prepare to be blown away the moment you step foot in the Matukituki Valley and begin your journey to Aspiring Hut, where monstrous mountains soar from a verdant valley divided by the vivid glacier-blue Matukituki River.

New Zealand’s South Island is full of breathtaking mountain ranges and national parks, with iconic backcountry huts scattered throughout. But one of the easiest and most rewarding overnight hut walks is Aspiring Hut in Mt Aspiring National Park.

After beginning our South Island road trip in Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park, we weren’t sure anywhere could compete with the impossible beauty of the rugged mountain range. But the Matukituki Valley, where Aspiring Hut resides, left us breathless and quickly became equal with Mt Cook for our favourite destination in New Zealand.

Hiking in the Matukituki Valley towards Aspiring Hut in Mt Aspiring National Park

And the best part is, no matter your skill level, you’re able to experience the magic of the Matukituki Valley on an overnight hike to Aspiring Hut. This easy walk is perfect for families, beginners and experienced trampers alike – allowing for additional exploration opportunities for the latter.

In this ultimate guide for hiking the West Matukituki Track to Aspiring Hut, we’ll share everything you need to know to plan an overnight hike in the Matukituki Valley. Included, you’ll find details on how to book, optional side trips, the best time to visit and plenty of other vital information.

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Essential Information You Need To Hike To Aspiring Hut In Mt Aspiring National Park

Quick Statistics For The Hike To Aspiring Hut

Distance
18 km return

Time
1 – 2 days | 5 – 7 hrs total average walking time

Grade
Grade 2/3

Elevation Gain
203 m

Highest Elevation
486 m 

Entrance Fees
Aspiring Hut Booking Fee

Facilities
Trailhead: Toilets, shelter with untreated water, large car park, walker’s information sign
Aspiring Hut: Drop toilet, untreated water, gas stoves, mattresses, heating

Where does the Hike To Aspiring Hut Start?

Tucked into the foothills beneath Cascade Saddle, you’ll find Aspiring Hut along the West Matukituki Track, sprawled out in a meadow shadowed by ice-capped peaks and bordered by the Matukituki River.

Raspberry Creek Carpark at the trailhead of the Mt Aspiring hut walk

The West Matukituki Track begins at Raspberry Creek Car Park, at the end of Wanaka – Mount Aspiring Rd – an incredibly scenic road that weaves deep into the mountainous valley, passing farmland full of sheep and cattle.

Raspberry Creek Car Park offers a toilet block, a shelter with picnic tables, untreated water and information boards. This is also a freedom camping spot for self-contained campervans, which is handy if you want to get an early start as the car park is roughly 2 hours northwest of Wanaka.

Note: There is no mobile reception at Raspberry Creek Car Park, ensure you’re prepared and have downloaded any map necessary before leaving Wanaka. We use Alltrails for offline navigation, which we explain in detail in our hiking tips for beginners article.

How To Get To The Aspiring Hut Trailhead

Raspberry Creek Car Park is 2 hours northwest of Wanaka and 3 hours north of Queenstown. The car park marks the start of the West Matukituki Track which leads to various trails, including Rob Roy Glacier, Liverpool Hut, French Ridge Hut and of course, Aspiring Hut.

The best way to get to the Aspiring Hut trailhead is by self-driving. There are no tour options for this hike and while there are public transport options, they’re not cheap!

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By Public Transport

InterCity provides a bus service that connects Wanaka to Queenstown and Christchurch which runs continuously year-round. This is the cheapest option we could find to reach Wanaka but from there, it becomes a little trickier.

It is possible to get a shuttle from Wanaka to Raspberry Creek Car Park where you’ll begin the Aspiring Hut Walk. However, you’re likely to pay upward of $100 NZD for a one-way trip. To learn more about the various shuttle and taxi options, pop into the Wanaka i-Site located on the lakefront or visit their website.

Honestly, the easiest and cheapest way is to hire a car or campervan for your trip to the Matukituki Valley. Our top recommendation for campervans is Jucy Rentals and for finding the best deals on car hire, we use Rental Cars.

By Car

Driving through the creeks on Mt Aspiring Road before Cascade Creek Car Park

The drive to Raspberry Creek Car Park is navigationally easy, requiring you to simply head west out of Wanaka and follow the Wanaka – Mount Aspiring Road for 52 km. You won’t miss the car park, which is located at the end of the road and is well signposted.

However, the last 30 km is unsealed with loads of cattle grids and single-lane bridges. The cows and sheep are free to roam throughout the farmlands flanking the road so be careful and drive slowly as you pass by. 

The first 20 km of unsealed road is in relatively good condition and doable for 2WD vehicles. But once you reach the final 10 km, you’ll encounter more potholes and at least 8 streams you must cross. During the drier months, the streams are low enough to enable access for a 2WD, but a 4WD is strongly recommended during winter or if there has been a lot of rain. 

As I mentioned above, there is no mobile reception for the last 30 km of the drive. The streams can fill up quickly so it’s best to check the weather forecast before leaving Wanaka to ensure you won’t get stuck at the trailhead.

Note: The Wanaka – Mount Aspiring Rd does close when the conditions are unsafe – most commonly during winter. To check the status of the road, visit The Wanaka App Reports page.

Who Is This Hike For?

Hiking to Aspiring Hut on a beautiful day

The West Matukituki Track that leads to Aspiring Hut follows the strikingly blue Matukituki River through a glacially-gouged valley filled with farmland and flanked by imposing mountains rising over 2,000 m above.

With barely any elevation and following a private 4WD track for the majority of the 9 km one-way trail, the hike to Aspiring Hut is easily doable for families and beginners. It’s the perfect introductory overnight hike, where you’ll camp in luxury at the newly renovated Aspiring Hut.

That said, there’s no denying that the trail itself is nothing to write home about. But if you’re searching for an easy walk through a landscape that will leave you speechless, then the hike to Aspiring Hut is a winner.

Understanding The Aspiring Hut Booking System

Looking out from the deck at Aspiring Hut

For first-timers, the Department of Conservation (DOC) backcountry hut booking system can be a little confusing as the same rules don’t apply to every hut. For Aspiring Hut, there is a flat rate of $40 NZD per adult, per night all year round.

A backcountry hut pass or backcountry hut tickets cannot be used for Aspiring Hut. However, if you’re a member of the New Zealand Alpine Club (NZAC), you’ll receive a $20 NZD discount.

Your booking provides access to the hut facilities listed in full below and a bunk (which is not allocated but chosen on arrival) that includes a mattress.

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Booking Aspiring Hut During The Summer Season

Between mid-October and May, you’re required to pre-book Aspiring Hut in advance and pay at the time of booking. The best way to do this is via their online booking system as you will incur a $10 NZD service fee if you book in person at a visitor centre, through email or over the phone.

Aspiring Hut is very popular through the summer hiking season so it’s recommended to book as far in advance as possible. Bookings for the upcoming summer season usually open the winter before, you can keep an eye on the opening date via the DOC website.

Booking Aspiring Hut In Winter

Aspiring Hut operates on a first-come-first-serve basis between May and mid-October and pre-booking online is unavailable. During this time, it’s recommended to bring a sleeping mat in case there are no bunks left as they don’t monitor the bookings as closely.

Camping at Aspiring Hut

Campgrounds at Aspiring Hut
Aspiring Hut camping grounds

There is a large grassy campsite located next to Aspiring Hut, which runs on a first-come-first-serve basis throughout the year and costs $5 NZD per adult, per night. The campsite is equipped with a toilet block and an open-sided shelter.

Unfortunately, you are unable to use the hut facilities if you choose to camp. This is strictly enforced through summer when there is a hut warden present.

You will need to purchase a camping ticket from the visitor centre in Wanaka before departing. The $10 NZD service fee does not apply for campsite bookings as in-person is the only way to do so.

Beware Of The Kea

A Kea, New Zealand's Alpine Parrot stretching its wings on a rock

The New Zealand alpine is home to the Kea – a very cheeky alpine parrot that loves to cause mayhem with your belongings. When we visited Aspiring Hut in May 2023, we were warned about the Kea who were ever-present at the hut.

It’s advised to avoid setting up your tent until after dark to reduce the risk of the Kea destroying it. In addition, don’t leave any of your gear unattended and please don’t feed the kea.

Hiking To Aspiring Hut In A Day

Hiking through the Matukituki Valley on track to Aspiring Hut

With an average walking time of 5 hours for the return hike to Aspiring Hut, it is easily doable in a day. This is a great alternative if you want to explore the Matukituki Valley but can’t get a spot at the hut or only have a day to spare.

If you’re feeling ambitious, you can also include a side trip to Rob Roy Glacier on your return. This will add roughly 3 hours to your hike. 

Biking To Aspiring Hut

The West Matukituki Track from Raspberry Creek to Aspiring Hut can be completed on a mountain bike. This is a fantastic option for people short on time or those who don’t fancy walking on a 4WD track for 18 km!

While there are several stream crossings and bumpy sections, it’s quite an easy ride and will allow you to spend more time gawking at the scenery and exploring the riverbanks. However, the Keas (cheeky alpine parrot) love bike seats even more than tents so make sure you keep your bike with you or thoroughly hidden if you want to partake in a side trip.

What To Bring To Aspiring Hut

Stepping precariously on rocks while crossing one of the many creeks while hiking to Aspiring Hut

The walk to Aspiring Hut meanders through the deep valley without gaining too much elevation or veering off the 4WD track. However, there are a number of stream crossings and some sections can get muddy after heavy rain or snow. 

In summer, you can easily get away with wearing hiking shoes or trail runners as they will dry easily in the warm weather. But in winter, we recommend wearing waterproof hiking boots to keep you warm and protected from the mud and potential snow.

If you’re visiting Aspiring Hut on a day trip, all you need is a comfortable hiking daypack with at least 2 litres of water, snacks, a rain jacket and a warm layer.

Below you’ll find a list of the basic essentials you’ll need for an overnight trip to Aspiring Hut.

Pro Tip: The one thing that you do not want to forget is insect spray. The sandflies at Aspiring Hut are vicious no matter the time of year and will devour any exposed body parts. Unfortunately, the locals told us that the only thing that truly works is bug spray with at least 40% DEET.

Aspiring Hut Amenities

Inside Aspiring Hut's beautiful common area with large windows overlooking the Matukituki Valley

Aspiring Hut has been newly renovated and offers a luxurious backcountry camping experience. The hut has a total of 32 bunks split between 4 bunkrooms and a large deck that looks out across the majestic Matukituki Valley.

Here is a list of amenities you’ll find at Aspiring Hut:

  • Toilets (bring your own toilet paper)
  • Non-treated tank water
  • Lighting
  • Mattresses
  • Woodfire
  • Gas and gas stoves (summer season only)

During the summer season, there will be a resident hut warden who will check you in on arrival and help you with any questions. In winter, you’re required to check yourself in via the registration book.

Best Time To Hike To Aspiring Hut

Golden Rays beaming down the Matukituki Valley in Mt Aspiring National Park

Due to its low elevation, Aspiring Hut is accessible year-round. The only real obstacle is the road leading to the trailhead which can sometimes be closed during winter. The best time of year to visit is quite subjective and depends on your preferences and skill level, so we’ve provided a quick summary of the pros and cons of each season below to help you choose.

  • Summer – You’re gifted the clearest weather and easiest walking conditions in summer, though this is also the busiest time and you’ll almost certainly be sharing the hut with many others.
  • Autumn – Autumn offers the best of both worlds, with mild weather and fewer hikers joining you. However, the weather is more volatile during this time so you will need to be prepared for anything.
  • Winter – The mountains are coated in snow during winter, providing a breathtaking scene. You’ll definitely have the least company during this time but you must be prepared for freezing temperatures and potentially hiking in the snow.
  • Spring – Early spring is still quite cold with a high chance of snow, but late spring is a beautiful time to visit Aspiring Hut – though you’ll begin to see the crowds return at this time.

Aspiring Hut Track Notes

Raspberry Creek Car Park to Rob Roy Glacier Track Junction

You’ll begin your journey to Aspiring Hut by leaving the Raspberry Creek Car Park and continuing west on the road you drove in on, following the signposts for the West Matukituki Track.

Walking over the bridge at the Aspiring Hut Valley Trailhead

After 200 m, you’ll arrive at a bridge crossing Big Creek and continue following the dirt track that trails beside the ice-blue Matukituki River. Even though you’re simply following a farmer’s 4WD track through lush green pastures, the soaring mountains flanking both sides of the glacially carved valley will hold you captivated.

During the next 1.4 km, you’ll see three dirt tracks branching south off the West Matukituki Walk but you can disregard these and keep following the track closest to the river. You will also notice there are plenty of wooden poles with markers placed along the trail to assist with navigation.

Rob Roy Glacier Track Junction To The Old Cascade Hut

After 1.6 km and roughly 20 – 30 minutes, you’ll find yourself at a track junction. The picturesque swing bridge marks the beginning of the Rob Roy Glacier Track that weaves between the massive mountains to a viewpoint of the imposing glacier.

Creek crossing near the Rob Roy Glacier Swing Bridge

Continue west to stay on the track to Aspiring Hut, which will dip to the rough banks of Downs Creek. This is your first creek crossing and perhaps the trickiest. Search for the largest boulders and the shallowest section to cross – if you have hiking poles, these are very handy to keep you steady.

As you move deeper into the Matukituki Valley, loosely following the natural bends in the river, the scene surrounding you constantly shifts and changes to reveal an endless line of ice-capped mountains. Waterfalls flow from the steep rugged slopes, tumbling into the myriad of streams crisscrossing the grassy flats on their journey to the river.

Following the Matukituki River as you hike towards Aspiring Hut
Snow capped mountains lining the Matukituki Valley as the River flows fast in Mt Aspiring National Park

Curious cows keep you company on the long and winding track, keeping their distance and posing no threat to you if you do the same. Along the way, you’ll come across several other stream and creek crossings – some of which are almost ankle-deep! We highly recommend wearing waterproof hiking boots unless you’re hiking in summer and don’t mind having wet feet.

Stepping precariously on rocks while crossing one of the many creeks while hiking to Aspiring Hut

Eventually, after another 5.6 km and approximately 1 – 1.5 hrs, you’ll come to a small swing bridge that crosses Red Rock Stream. And tucked into the treeline to your left you’ll find Cascade Hut.

Cascade Hut To Aspiring Hut

The track doesn’t take you all the way to the front steps of Cascade Hut, instead, you’ll continue through the meadow to a sprawling stream just beyond the hut. After navigating your way across the rocky stream, red poles will guide you through the soggy grass flats on the other side.

Cascade Hut
Hiking through the Valley towards Aspiring Hut from Cascade Hut

Roughly 1 km after you pass by Cascade Hut, you’ll come to another wide stream crossing. From this point, the red poles continue to cut through the damp grassy flats, keeping close to the foothills. But if you’d rather keep your feet as dry as possible, you can veer right and stay on the 4WD track which trails alongside the river for a little longer before cutting into the meadow and ending at Aspiring Hut.

Aspiring Hut

Sitting on the large deck at Aspiring Hut during a beautiful sunny day

You’ll arrive at Aspiring Hut 9 km and approximately 2 – 2.5 hrs later. The recently renovated hut is beautiful, with large bay windows, a giant sunny deck and pockets of the original stone from the old hut.

Aspiring Hut and the campsite nearby are sprawled out in a lush meadow bordering Cascade Creek and a dense forest of native red beech trees. The views extend right down the valley to the endless array of snowy peaks and precipitous slopes covered in thick beech forests.

The hut extends from the large deck into a spacious open dining and kitchen area with a cosy fireplace and plenty of picnic tables to accommodate the 32 person capacity. Four rooms branch off the main area with bunk beds and mattresses included. The toilet block is located outside, just behind Aspiring Hut.

Inside Aspiring Hut's beautiful common area with large windows overlooking the Matukituki Valley

The campsite spreads out in front of Aspiring Hut, with plenty of flat grassy sites, an open-sided shelter and an additional drop toilet. You’ll also find the warden’s residence behind Aspiring Hut, nestled in the treeline. The rangers are permanently stationed at Aspiring Hut through the summer season and can help you with any questions or enquiries.

Returning To Raspberry Creek Car Park

Often hikers use Aspiring Hut as a base to explore more challenging tracks such as French Ridge Hut, Cascade Saddle and Liverpool Hut. These tracks all continue on from Aspiring Hut and are well worth exploring if you are an intermediate to experienced hiker.

But if your journey ends at Aspiring Hut, you’ll return the way you came, admiring the stunning landscape from a new perspective as you wander back to Raspberry Creek Car Park. Due to the undulating nature of the West Matukituki Track, you can expect to take roughly the same time on your return walk.

Walking across the swing bridge before Aspiring Hut

Side Trip To Rob Roy Glacier

If you have time on your return hike from Aspiring Hut, we strongly recommend completing the side trip to Rob Roy Glacier. The trail crosses the Matukituki River 1.6 km before the end of your walk and climbs between two enormous peaks for another 3.6 km to a viewpoint at the head of the valley.

The lookout provides sensational views of the magnificent hanging glaciers beneath Mt Rob Roy and will add approximately 3 hrs to your walk.

Other Important Information For Hiking To Aspiring Hut

Leave No Trace

The majority of the walk to Aspiring Hut resides on private land and the owners of these farmlands are kind enough to allow the public access to the mighty Matukituki Valley. It is imperative that we respect the owners of the land and follow the 7 Leave No Trace Principles.

Most importantly, please don’t touch any of the livestock or scare them in any way. This is their home and we are simply visitors. In addition, stay on the tracks provided and pack out what you pack in – including food scraps and tissues.

Hiking in the Matukituki Valley towards Aspiring Hut in Mt Aspiring National Park

Where To Stay Near The Matukituki Valley in Mt Aspiring National Park

The trailhead for the hike to Aspiring Hut is located 2 hours west of Wanaka, which provides the perfect base for your explorations of Mt Aspiring National Park and closer walks such as Roy’s Peak and the Isthmus Track.

Wanaka is a beautiful lakeside town with everything you need and plenty of accommodation options to suit all travellers. When we visited Wanaka and the Matukituki Valley, we stayed at the Hidden Springs and can highly recommend this cute studio accommodation.

Beautiful sunset beaming through the Hidden Springs Accommodation in Wanaka patio and living area
Hidden Springs, Wanaka

Camping Near Mt Aspiring National Park

Camping for self-contained vehicles is permitted at Raspberry Flat Car Park, which is the most ideal option for your hike to Aspiring Hut. The closest alternative that doesn’t require you to have a self-contained sticker is Glendhu Bay Motor Camp, located 15 minutes west of Wanaka.

Final Thoughts

Matukituki River in Mt Aspiring National Park

Aspiring Hut is hands down the best overnight hike for beginners in New Zealand’s South Island. The walk is very easy and offers breathtaking views the entire time. But If you’re an experienced hiker, we suggest passing by Aspiring Hut and continuing onto Liverpool Hut, French Ridge Hut or both.

We hope this guide has helped you plan your trip to Aspiring Hut, remember to pack that bug spray and keep your belongings safe from the cheeky kea. If you still have questions about this hike, please feel free to drop a comment below and we’ll do our best to help!

Happy Hiking 🙂