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The Treble Cone Ski Field: Overlooking New Zealand's Matukituki Valley

Published
July 21, 2023
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The Wānaka/Queenstown area, showing the Matukituki Valley including its upper branches. Background imagery ©2019 DigitalGlobe, Maxar Technologies, Landsat/Copernicus; Map data ©2019 Google. Additional information added.

MY first tramp into Tititea/Mount Aspiring National Park was with the Upper Clutha Tramping Club, a group of older farmers based out of Wānaka. All of them were between 70 and 85 years old, so I was easily the youngest of the group!

We began our tramp into the Matukituki Valley, which is common up to a point where it branches into the East and West Matukituki Valleys, from the Raspberry Creek Car Park, an hour’s drive up from Wānaka and a short distance into the West Matukituki Valley.

It was an incredible drive, too, up a partly unsealed road with Rob Roy Peak on the right, and another set of mountain ranges to the left. The ranges to the left include the Treble Cone skifield, near the entrance to the valley. The road is sealed as far as Treble Cone and unsealed thereafter.

At the head of the valley is a tall peak, 3033 m or 9,951 feet, marked on the maps for several generations as Mount Aspiring. It has lately had its original Māori name of Tititea, meaning ‘steep peak of glistening white’, officially restored.

It’s an epic mountain, called the Matterhorn of the South. It was first climbed in 1909. In 1949 there was an expedition to climb the mountain and make a film called Aspiring about it, for the fortieth anniversary of its first ascent.

The climbers in 1949 included George Lowe, who would later accompany Edmund Hillary on the 1953 British Mount Everest Expedition. Also on the expedition, mainly to record it and help make the film, were the composer Douglas Lilburn, the poet James K. Baxter, the artist John Drawbridge, and the photographer and filmmaker Brian Brake.

The film was never made: but it has since become a legend of what might have been, partly because the area is so scenic and partly also because of the absolute who’s who of 1940s New Zealand talent involved.

In 2006, a film called Aspiring was made about the film that never was. It’s also a very good guide to what the Matukituki Valley is like.

The following thumbnail, a still from 2006’s Aspiring, shows the peak of Tititea in all its savage glory. If you click on this link, it will take you to the film.

Watermarked thumbnail image of Tititea/Mount Aspiring from ‘Aspiring’ (2006) by the Gibson Group for Television New Zealand, hosted on NZOnScreen. I was going to make this clickable, but I am not sure how to do it in Webflow as yet!

Here’s another view of Tititea/Mount Aspiring, overlooking the Matukituki Valley. You can see that there is a touch of the Himalayas in this area, even if it is not as high.

Tititea/Mount Aspiring, 22 July 2005. Photo by Phillip Capper, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Treble Cone, Diamond Lake, and the Coming Ski Trail to Cardrona

Near the start of the road into the Matukituki Valley, just west of Wānaka and Glendhu Bay, there’s the tiny Diamond Lake, which confusingly has the same name as another Diamond Lake near Glenorchy.‍

Lake Wānaka (far right), Diamond Lake (right of centre) and Treble Cone (left). Map by LINZ via NZ Topo Map, 2020. CC BY-SA 4.0.

Diamond Lake, near Lake Wānaka, is a lovely little round lake, somewhat shaded, with a big bluff and some tracks around it, which used to support ice skating championships but no longer does so, thanks to global warming.

Diamond Lake (near Lake Wānaka), with bluff and the edge of the ice sheet visible in the distance (above) and ice under the bluff (below)

Just a little further up the road, on the left, is the access road up to the Treble Cone skifield. This has amazing views down into the valley and is worth visiting even if you don’t want to ski!

The author at Treble Cone skifield. The view looks down into the Matukituki Valley and beyond to Lake Wānaka.

There are plans to build a 60 km cross-country ski trail, with six huts, through the Mahu Whenua Conservation area between Coronet Peak skifield, visible from Queenstown International Airport, and Treble Cone. This will be amazing when it is completed. Presumably, you’ll be able to hike it in summer as well.

Travelling further up

Once we parked our cars and entered the valley, we made our way towards Aspiring Hut, which used to be managed by the New Zealand Alpine Club along with the French Ridge Hut. The other hut in the valley is Liverpool Hut, tucked in below Mt Liverpool. They are now all under New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) management.

The Matukituki Valley is an ancient place, first used by early Māori as a hunting ground for native birds such as tūī and kākāpō. These Māori were the first to name the peak they called Tititea.

The valley was later settled by Europeans for farming, and its natural features were recognised nationally in 1964 when the Mt Aspiring National Park was created. Colloquially, Mt Aspiring/Tititea is also known as ‘The Matterhorn of the South’ because of its prominence and dogs-tooth-like shape when seen from certain angles.

From the Raspberry Creek Car Park, we tramped up the valley through grassland flats and across small bluffs to Aspiring Hut, a short nine-kilometre hike of about two hours. To get to the other huts in the valley, you need to hike to Pearl Flat, which is another short leg of five kilometres, after which the track forks off towards Liverpool Hut, French Ridge and the head of the West Matukituki Valley.

The West Matukituki Valley with Mt Aspiring / Tititea, Rob Roy Peak, the Cascade Saddle and other features, including French Ridge (not named) below Mt French. Map by LINZ via NZ TopoMap, 2020, CC-BY-SA 4.0.

Another striking feature of this area is Sharks Tooth Peak, which rises to 2,096 m and is particularly impressive from the Raspberry Creek Car Park. It’s located to the east of the Main Divide.

However, for my first tramp into the valley with the Upper Clutha Tramping Club, we went up towards the Cascade Saddle from Aspiring Hut.

The track forks off in two directions, with one leading deeper up the valley towards Pearl Flat and the other huts, and the other towards the Cascade Saddle, which links the Matukituki with the Rees-Dart Tracks. This route climbs above Mount Aspiring Hut and over a high alpine pass into the Dart Valley, stopping at the Dart Hut on the Rees-Dart. It’s a long hike, too, people should expect it to take about ten to twelve hours to complete.

Despite this, many people trek without a pack and only sometimes remember to bring water. I’ve met many backpackers walking in sandshoes and without the appropriate gear coming over the Cascade Saddle — it amazes me how unprepared some people are!

‍This time, instead of taking the Saddle, I carried on from Aspiring Hut to the new Liverpool Hut, which was an incredible walk despite being quite steep and slippery in parts. It is a beautiful place with incredible views, and I got a good shot of Mt Aspiring and Mt Liverpool.

After I finished there, I wasn’t quite ready to end my tramp. Instead, I decided to climb Mt French, and then headed down the valley to find the French Ridge Track.

Very popular with day-trippers, and only part-way along the valley, is the Rob Roy Track, which goes part of the way up the glaciated Rob Roy Peak.

So, all in all, you can get close to the mountains and enjoy great views in the Matukituki Valley, at every level of adventurousness from driving up to the Treble Cone Skifield or wandering around Diamond Lake, to hiking the Rob Roy Track or even climbing Tititea!

I’ve got another blog post about the Matukituki Valley, including a link to another historic film about the 1949 Mount Aspiring Expedition, here:

a-maverick.com/blog/prelude-to-aspiring-or-what-to-do-when-theres-no-snow-in-paradise

If you liked this post, check out my new book about the South Island! It’s available for purchase from this website, a-maverick.com.


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