Cascade Saddle Route
Otago/West Coast, New Zealand
Start: Raspberry Creek Parking Lot
End: Dart Hut
Distance: 15.5 miles(25 km)
Time: 12 hours
Surface: Rock, Dirt Trails
A popular alpine pass in the South Island’s Otago region, the Cascade Saddle Route in Mount Aspiring National Park doesn’t actually take you over the Cascade Saddle itself because it is impassable. Instead it takes you along a spur behind Aspiring Hut and crosses back above the saddle before beginning its descent into the breathtaking Dart Valley, where a landslide in January 2014 blocked the Dart River and created a lake 1.9 miles (3 km) long.
Accessing the Cascade Saddle Route trailhead requires effort. From Wanaka, it is a 33-mile (54-km) drive, most of which is on unsealed roads, to the Raspberry Creek parking for. From there, it’s a short walk to the preferred starting point in the West Matukituki Valley. (The trail can also be done in reverse, from Queenstown starting at the Dart or Rees tracks, but this is substantially more challenging.) From AspiringHut, you make a steady ascent through mixed beech forests, and once above the tree line look for the easy-to_spot orange pole markers that will take you through a landscape of snow grass and tussock along a ridge and around the occasional easily navigable ledge. At the top of the ridge, after passing through a steep gully, you’ll reach a pylon, and from there, its downhill to Cascade Creek and an easy, flat approach to the saddle. Then it’s down again, along unstable, exposed slopes to the base of the Dart Glacier. Keep to the river’s left bank, cross the bridge over Snowy Creek, and go to Dart Hut, with its thirty-two bunk beds, comfy mattresses, flush toilets, and coal burner-the end of a long day’s walk.