The West and East Matukituki valleys are an hours drive from Wanaka. They are the starting point for many walks and climbs in the Mount Aspiring National Park. The French Ridge Track (and hut) is in the West Matukituki Valley, which follows the riverbed through farmland and beech forest flats before crossing the river and steeply ascending through dense forest, eventually becoming more alpine once leaving the tree line.
In summer it allows for an accessible walk into alpine conditions. The track is steep and technical in parts, which isn’t for the faint hearted.
Start: Raspberry Creek Car Park, End of Wanaka- Mount Aspiring Road (~25km are unsealed road of which the last 10km require crossing fords/creeks, these can be subject to washout or flood in wet weather making them impassable, check Department of Conservation (Doc) before you go. Most of the time they are fine to cross, even in an old rental car).
Distance: 17.8km recorded on Garmin GPS (DoC states 16.2km)
Terrain: Open farmland with river and small bluff crossings. Steep forest with small rock faces and a tangle of tree routes. Open Tussock ridge which becomes more alpine once leaving the tree line.
Ascent: 1278m (recorded on Garmin GPS)
Runability: The first 14km is flat and fast until you reach Pearl Flat, a very easy trail through open farmland allowing for a good pace, nothing technical. It is 9km to Mount Aspiring Hut, then a further 5km to Pearl Flat, which is the main junction to the French Ridge Hut, Scott’s Rock Bivouac and Liverpool Hut. Once you cross the river the track ascends steeply up through dense bush, which significantly slows the pace, increases the technicality and changes the muscle groups. Scrambling and hauling yourself up over tree routes and exposed small rock faces, ascending ~900m vertical in 3km. Once out of the tree line it opens up to alpine tussock, with the technical terrain and gradient improving, allowing a stretch of the legs for a further few hundred metres, which feels like it just keeps on going and going. The last 3km with a heavy pack is definitely a lung and quad burner- super fun, but definitely a way to slow the pace down.
- A good way to clock up the kms and ascent in one hit. Good for initial speed and then working on leg strength for the final climb
- Technical ascending skills
- All round leg strength
- Staying at the French Ridge Hut is definitely worth a stop over. A well looked after and perfectly located hut which provides incredible views down the valley and onto the mountain range.
- The first 9km from the car park is an easy mountain bike trail to the Mount Aspiring Hut, of which people can lock up their bikes there and then access on foot the final flat few kms before ascending one of the trails at Pearl Flat. Using a MTB would save on time, if looking for more accessible elevation. A great location for a bike:run session.
- Although the trail is not marked above the French Ridge Hut, in summer months you can easily navigate your way up to The Quarter Deck above the hut, allowing for more elevation and loose rock running skills (remember this is an alpine environment, so care needs to be taken).
- Ascending all three trails, out and back, from the Pearl Flat would be a great way to clock up the ascent/descent and mental strength!
- To access the French Ridge Track, you can take a shortcut across the river at Pearl Flat, which saves you a km or so, but beware this should only be done in low rainfall and if you’re not afraid of the cold water.
- Hill reps of the last 3km climb, could be fun…and a good way to improve leg strength and foot control, both ascending and descending.
- Basing yourself at The Mount Aspiring Hut allows good access to all the trails in the West Valley, of which they all would make for good technical trail running.
- Check the weather forecast before heading into the valley, the weather can change quickly and strong winds can whip down the valley and onto the exposed ridgeline leading up to the hut.
Would We Go Back?
Yes, most definitely. We only touched the surface of the area using the French Ridge Track. There are so many trails and unmarked routes to explore (with the right knowledge and equipment). The French Ridge Hut was quite busy when we were there in Summer but given its location, views and setting- this was expected, it's still one of our favourite DoC huts so far.
- There are too many ideas to list. Going off the beaten trail opens up many opportunities, but the correct mountain equipment and skillset is needed.
- If you want to see less people in the hut, take a tent and set up camp along the valley floor, or bivvy down above the hut.
GPS/Ride Details Here:
- We walked this route with heavy backpacks on, and were more interested by the scenery than training (I’ve just opened up my excuse bag here).
- NZtopo50 map CA11- Aspiring Flats
- The NZ topo app is also worth downloading if you're not into your paper maps and compass.
- Or check out online before you go at NZ topo
- We have described this route as a trail running and tramping option, it is easily accesible in the Spring and Summer months, which mean you can pack light and don't require any mountain equipment. Still, be mindful of the alpine environment; we always carry a compass, map, bivvy bag, thermals, down jacket, rain jacket/trousers, hat, gloves and Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) just in case.