Muddy Creek to Shelter Rock Hut, Rees-Dart Track

Image: Ell Duke | Creative Commons

Introduction

See spectacular mountain scenery, forest and alpine vegetation, glacier-fed rivers and the Dart Glacier on the Rees-Dart Track.

Track overview

Walking and tramping

4-5 days Advanced: Tramping track

Dog access

No dogs

About this track

Description

Places to stay

Huts

There are three DOC huts in this area.

Camping

Camping is permitted, except in the fragile alpine and subalpine areas between Shelter Rock Hut and Dart Hut. Camping on the Cascade Saddle Route is only permitted near Cascade Creek where there is a toilet – this is to limit the impact on this fragile alpine area.

There is a fee of $5 per night per adult and $2.50 per night per child to camp by any of the huts.

Note: The derelict 25 Mile Hut in the Rees Valley has been removed and camping on the old hut site is not permitted – the site is on private land. 

Muddy Creek to park boundary

Time: 4 - 5 hr
Distance: 12 km

Take the vehicle track from Muddy Creek and follow the marker poles across the boggy section beyond Arthurs Creek.

A side trip to the Kea Basin begins on the other side of the Rees River north of the picturesque Lennox Falls. Continue up the grassy flats to the swing bridge on the national park boundary.

This track crosses private land. Please respect the landowner’s property and leave all gates as you find them.

Park boundary to Shelter Rock Hut

Time: 2 - 3 hr
Distance: 7 km

Warning: Avalanche paths between the upper bushline and Shelter Rock Hut can make travel hazardous from late autumn to early summer.

There is a marked track through the bush and a swing bridge crossing to the west bank of Rees River. The track continues through beech forest past Clarke Slip to the bush edge.

Above the bush, the track crosses several gullies that are avalanche paths. Take care crossing these gullies in spring and early summer when late snow may still pose a risk. Half an hour up from the bush edge, cross a bridge to the river’s east bank to reach the 22-bunk Shelter Rock Hut.

Shelter Rock Hut to Dart Hut

Time: 4 - 6 hr
Distance: 10 km

Warning: The upper Snowy Creek bridge is removed each winter and is returned when the snow clears, which can be as late as December. This creek can be hazardous so extreme care must be taken if crossing it. Avalanche paths between the bushline and Dart Hut can make travel hazardous from late autumn to early summer.

The track between Shelter Rock Hut and Dart Hut is narrow with a number of steep drop-offs, particularly in the upper Snowy Creek. Follow the true left of Rees River as the track goes through scrub then rises about 100 m above the river.

The track sidles into the tussock-filled upper basin and follows the river’s bed. On the final steep climb to the 1471 m Rees Saddle, there is a lightly marked track close to the bluff on the left.

From the saddle, follow the orange markers as the track drops and passes tarns to a tussock bench well above Snowy Creek. From here, the track traverses steep slopes that can be dangerous when wet or snow covered.

A bridge crosses upper Snowy Creek, (see above) and the track sidles across broken slopes before descending sharply. The 32-bunk Dart Hut is on Snowy Creek’s true left and can be reached via a swing bridge.

Side trip: Dart Hut to Dart Glacier/Cascade Saddle

Warning: Multiple fatalities have occurred on this route – make sure that you have the right skills and equipment and be prepared to turn back if conditions are unfavourable. Failure to make good decisions while attempting this traverse may result in serious injury or death.

Time: 4 - 5 hr one way
Distance: 10 km one way

The Dart Glacier and Cascade Saddle make for a challenging but rewarding day trip from Dart Hut. Cross the swing bridge near Dart Hut and follow the metal poles and rock cairns northward along the Dart River and the edge of Dart Glacier.

If you want to reach the Matukituki valley by this route, carry a copy of the brochure Cascade Saddle Route but be aware that the route is recommended in the reverse direction, starting from the Matukituki. This alpine crossing only suits experienced trampers with alpine skills and should not be attempted in adverse weather. Steep snow-grass slopes on the Matukituki side become treacherous when wet or snow covered. Even in summer, snow may affect this area.

Allow 8-10 hours for the crossing from Dart Hut to Aspiring Hut.

Note: Side creeks can rise quickly through both rain, and snow melt on hot days.

Sidetrip: Dart Hut to the Whitbourn Valley

Time: 2 - 4 hr
Distance: 7 km

Warning: The swing bridge across the Dart River had to be removed due to flood damage. Trampers wishing to access the Whitbourn Valley must now ford the river. This could be extremely hazardous in heavy rain or snowmelt – we recommend you talk to a DOC ranger before attempting this crossing.

The track to the Whitbourn Glacier is not signposted and not maintained. The Whitbourn River joins the Dart River half an hour downstream from Dart Hut. Highly experienced parties can cross the Dart River (see above) and navigate along what’s left of the old track to the glacier’s snout.

Dart Hut to Daleys Flat

Time: 5 - 7 hr
Distance: 18 km

From Dart Hut, it is an easy 2- to 3-hour sidle and descent through beech forest to Cattle Flat. A faint track marked by metal poles leads across the 4 kilometres of Cattle Flat, crossing terraces and gullies and is followed by a well marked track through beech forest to 20-bunk Daleys Flat Hut.

Note: Unbridged side streams can rise quickly with heavy rain making crossings dangerous.

Daleys Flat to Chinamans carpark

Time: 5 hr 30 min - 7 hr 30 min
Distance: 16 km 

From Daley's Flat Hut, walk through beech forest for the first hour. After passing the recently formed lake over Dredge Flat, follow the new track leading up through native forest high above the Dart River. This part of the track has been realigned after landslides had forced a long term closure. These new sections are narrow and sometimes steep and require a higher level of backcountry skills than before. After descending to Suveryors Flat the track stays close to the river, then climbs over Chinamans Bluff and eases out to Chinamans Flat and the carpark. 

Chinamans road end to Paradise

Time: 2 hr
Distance: 6 km 

A 6-kilometre fine-weather road leads to Paradise, crossing Chinamans Flat, forests and Dans Paddock before entering forests again and descending to farmland at Mill Flat.

During heavy rain, the road floods, preventing vehicle access beyond Paradise. Trampers may need to walk to Paradise to meet transport.


Related link

Lord of the Rings filming locations - Dan's Paddock was a location for Isengard

Getting there

The Rees track begins 68 km from Queenstown, via Glenorchy, and there is a car park at Muddy Creek. It is possible to take 4WD vehicles beyond Muddy Creek, but as Muddy Creek is prone to sudden washouts which make it impassable, it is not advisable to leave vehicles for any length of time on the other side.

The Dart track begins 76 km from Queenstown via Glenorchy. A 2WD road extends to Chinamans Bluff, however this is a fine weather road only and subject to washouts and flooded creeks.

Jet boats service the Dart section of the track, and buses service both tracks – contact transport operators for their schedules.

Maps

NZTopo50 - Sheets CA10 and CB10

Transport operators

Buckley Track Transport
Muddy Creek (Rees Valley) and Chinaman's Bluff (Dart Valley) to/from: Queenstown
Phone: +64 3 442 8215
Email: info@buckleytracktransport.nz
Website: Buckley Track Transport

Info & Track / Backpacker Express
Muddy Creek (Rees Valley) and Chinaman's Bluff (Dart Valley) to/from: Queenstown, Glenorchy
Phone: +64 3 442 9708
Email: adventure@infotrack.co.nz
Website: Info & Track  

Glenorchy Journeys  
Muddy Creek (Rees Valley) and Chinaman's Bluff (Dart Valley) to/from: Queenstown, Glenorchy
Phone: +64 3 409 0800  
Free Phone: 0800 49 56 87 (within NZ)
Email: office@glenorchyjourneys.co.nz 
Website: Glenorchy Journeys

Know before you go

What to expect

The track between Shelter Rock and Dart Hut is a marked route only, is narrow with a number of steep drop offs - particularly in the Upper Snowy Creek.

What to take

All trampers need to carry a sleeping bag, cooking stove and utensils, sufficient food, a waterproof raincoat and over trousers, gloves, a hat and several layers of warm clothes.

Physical fitness and good equipment will make all the difference to your enjoyment of the trip.

Rivers

Throughout this circuit, there are river and stream crossings that become hazardous in heavy rain or snow melt. Make sensible decisions about river crossings, and have alternative plans. 

Winter conditions

In winter the Rees-Dart tracks are impassable to all but experienced mountaineers, due to heavy snow, especially in the Upper Rees and Snowy Creek area.

There are multiple avalanche paths that are typically active from May to November. The greatest risk is in areas with avalanche terrain rated as 'challenging' or 'complex' on the Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale. These areas are:

  • The Dart Track from the Whitbourn River confluence to the Dart Hut
  • The final 1.5 km before Shelter Rock Hut on the Rees Track 
  • Between Shelter Rock Hut and Dart Hut

Avalanches can occur outside of these areas but are less frequent.

Read more about avalanche terrain and paths on the Rees-Dart Track and be avalanche alert in Wakatipu.

Dogs

Dogs are allowed in the Lower Dart Conservation Area – Dan’s Paddock, but must be on a lead.

Before you go into the outdoors, tell someone your plans and leave a date to raise the alarm if you haven't returned. To do this, use the New Zealand Outdoors Intentions process on the AdventureSmart website. It is endorsed by New Zealand's search and rescue agencies and provides three simple options to tell someone you trust the details about your trip.

History and natural history

History

The Rees (Puahere) and Dart Valleys were well known to the Kāi Tahu people of Southland and the Otago Coast. They journeyed here to collect the highly valued, pearly grey-green inanga variety of pounamu (greenstone) from the Dart and Routeburn Valleys. In their search for pounamu Kāi Tahu often undertook major journeys, across mountain passes such as Harris Saddle on the Routeburn Track and the Greenstone Saddle on the Greenstone Track.

Early explorers recorded that even West Coast Kāi Tahu crossed the Southern Alps to obtain pounamu from the Dart Valley. All pounamu in situ is legally owned by Te Runanga. Other aspects of the iwi (tribal) relationship with this area have been recognised in the settlement of its long standing land claims.

The Glenorchy and Kinloch area was a meeting and resting place for Māori parties travelling to and from the West Coast.  More than 30 Māori sites occur within 20 kilometres of Glenorchy, which was known as Kotapahau, the place of revenge killing.

At the best known camp site, beside the Dart Bridge, excavations have shown that Kāi Tahu used the area continuously from about 500 years ago. A few moa were hunted, cabbage tree stems were cooked in deep ovens, and pounamu tools were made using flaking techniques, rather than by sawing and grinding.

Among the first Europeans to explore the Rees-Dart area were Government surveyors, gold prospectors and run holders in search of new grazing lands.

James McKerrow finished the first reconnaissance survey in 1863. By this time, a large number of gold prospectors and miners were at the head of the lake, and a party of five miners led by Patrick Caples made the first record of the Dart Glacier.

The Rees Valley, Dart and Earnslaw sheep runs were all established during the 1870s. 

A gold dredge operated on the Dart River, in the area now known as Dredge Flat, from 1899 until 1902. The dredge was then sent to the Victorian goldfields in Australia, after being pulled out of the valley by 19 horses. 

Tōpuni sites

As part of the Deed of Settlement agreed to by the Crown and Ngāi Tahu, two areas, Pikirakatahi (Mt Earnslaw) and Te Koroka (Slip Stream), have been given the status of Tōpuni. These are areas of special significance to Ngāi Tahu. A Tōpuni does not override or alter the existing status of the land but ensures that the Ngāi Tahu values are recognised, acknowledged, and provided for.

Natural history

The rocks of the Rees and Dart Valleys are green and grey schists, which are metamorphic rocks formed about 220-270 million years ago from ancient sea floor sediments which have been altered by heat and pressure.

The present landscape of the area has been shaped by glaciation. The Dart Glacier is now a small valley glacier but at the peak of the last ice age, about 18,000 years ago, it was part of an enormous glacier system that terminated at Kingston, at the southern end of Lake Wakatipu, about 135 km from its present location. Huge moraine walls in the upper Dart Valley beyond Dart Hut show the previous extent of the glacier and how much it has receded even in the last few hundred years.

Southern beech, or Nothofagus, dominates the forest. Red beech is found on the warm valley floor of the Dart Valley, while mountain and silver beech dominate the rest of the Dart Valley and the Rees Valley.

Cold air draining from the Dart Glacier has depressed the treeline in the Dart Valley to about 900 m, 200 m lower than elsewhere in the region.

Above the treeline, tussock grasslands dominate, interspersed by the dramatic flowering spikes of the aptly named speargrass, and spring and summer flowering herbs such as mountain buttercups and daisies.

The Dart Valley is notable for its sizeable populations of the endangered mōhua, or yellowhead, and kākā, and the presence of long-tailed bats. Other forest birds such as kākāriki or parakeet, robin, tomtit, fantail and brown creeper thrive in both valleys.

Two particularly striking inhabitants of the valleys are the cheeky kea in alpine areas, and the paradise ducks on the grassy river flats.

Rock wrens can be heard, if not seen, on Rees Saddle, and whio, or blue duck, are occasionally seen in the turbulent upper reaches of the rivers.

Invertebrates are abundant, especially the ubiquitous sandfly in the beech forest and grassy flats, and energetic grasshoppers in the alpine areas.

Alpine wetas are also present in the Rees Saddle and upper Dart areas.

Contacts

Whakatipu-wai-Māori / Queenstown Visitor Centre
Phone:   +64 3 442 7935
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Email:   queenstownvc@doc.govt.nz
Address:   50 Stanley Street
Queenstown
9300
Postal Address:   PO Box 811
Queenstown 9348
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