We headed out of Wanaka through the long river valley. It was 51 km to the end of the road, our destination Mt Aspiring National Park. We bounced along the narrow unsealed road, fording streams, dodging sheep and weaving our way along the braided plain of the mighty Matukituk. Stunning mountains rose out of the broad river valley as we rounded the last bend Mt Aspiring, the second highest mountain in all of New Zealand, rose up to greet us.
Once at the car park we hopped the stile and walked toward an awesome suspension bridge. We were on pretty good track, kiwi speak for trails, and made good time into the mountains aiming for the terminus of the Rob Roy Glacier. Building good trails is tough work. I used to build trails in the little patch of woods behind my house when I was growing up. Jill and I built trails to climbing areas back home in the Red River Gorge. Shovel, mc cloud, pry bar and old fashioned sweat labor where the tools of the trade. But things are different in New Zealand.
A collapsible cone in a national park seemed a bit out of place, we were a few kilometers from the trailhead. Several switchbacks later we came to the construction zone. The mountain stream roaring with glacier melt and our labored breathing from the uphill walk masked the noise of the small diesel powered digger. Mechanized vehicles in the backcountry of a national park? Strange. The two man crew were working with a small selection of hand tools, chainsaw and a tracked digger. They paused as we passed and asked us to watch ourselves on the way back down. I jokingly asked if they drove that thing in, “Helicopter.” was the response. Only in New Zealand.
Once out of the construction, we made quick time to Rob Roy. The chilly late afternoon air was a not so subtle reminder of the alpine environment we were entering. We broke through the bush line to see the glacier hanging high above. Meltwater cascaded hundreds of meters down shear rock faces. Kea noisily circled overhead. Chunks of ice crashed down into the valley echoing off the surrounding peaks. It was a clamorous environment, one with a natural earthmover at work.