Dart Glacier and Cascade Saddle

This quite stunning day walk is a must for anyone venturing though Dart Hut on the Rees-Dart Track, if time and weather allows. For many people it is one of the main reasons for walking the 4-5 day track, and was certainly a highlight for me.

From Dart Hut cross over the bridge, follows the signs, walk up through a patch of bush for a couple of minutes and you’ll find this view.

Much of the track is flat, with a few ups and downs, but always surrounded by natural beauty.

As well as the large scale beauty of the mountains and river there are lovely alpine plants, lots of lichens along the way.

The epic power of a glacier was apparent in the huge scarring along this rock face, hundreds of metres high.

The track is marked by poles and cairns, not always that obviously, but the walk down to Dart Glacier is easy enough, just continue along the valley as far as you can.


There were an awful lot of streams to cross, relatively dry boots were just about doable two days after the last rain, but these streams come up quickly after rain or snow melt from the mountains above. Don’t head out if rain is coming as you may get stranded.

A completely unexpected surprise was turning a corner to find this wonderful reflecting pool.

After a couple of hours of most enjoyable walking I reached the Dart Glacier terminal face, which had once been 135km away in Kingston, across Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown. Over the centuries it has retreated to it’s current still impressive if far less sizeable form.

Glaciers are dangerous things so I kept some distance, but still got some nice views of the terminal face, a moody blue in the shadow of the sun.


I got even better views heading up toward Cascade Saddle.

I only made it a third of the way up though before turning back. It was a fairly sketchy route and the daylight was starting to go already by half three. To make the saddle would involve getting back to Dart Hut in darkness, not ideal. My mind was made up when I reached this very dodgy stream that needed crossing. It was steep, one slip and I would have tumbled down the hillside, and required somehow scaling the 10ft sheer high bank.

Looking at photos from others in the hut later on I don’t think I missed much. There’s a better angle of the glacier from the saddle but for me no photograph is worth the risk. There were also views of the Matukituki Valley but I’d seen those this time last year when I tackled Cascade Saddle from the other side. That time I also bailed before reaching the top when my sense of self preservation overweighed the need for a better photo. The views were already pretty good…

It was still a quite wonderful half day walk, though adding it’s 18km to a tough 10km walk up from Shelter Rock Hut over Rees Pass in the morning made for a long day. It’s usually a full day walk but the weather was forecast to turn the next day (though it didn’t) so I took advantage of the good weather while I could.

Author: jontycrane

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