The Rob Roy Glacier Track takes you past some of the South Island’s most spectacular mountain scenery. Massive waterfalls cascade down sheer cliffs, there are snow-capped mountains all around and the hike is actually pretty easy. Rob Roy Glacier is one of the best looking glaciers (from ground level) in New Zealand and it’s the climax to one of the best short hikes in the country.
Update 2021: The Rob Roy Glacier Track was closed for a year or so but has apparently just reopened. If you’ve been there from February 2021, let me know what it’s like now!
Rob Roy Glacier Track
The first part of the Rob Roy Glacier Track takes you through farmland ruled by cows. It’s an easy start, but soon enough the inevitable hill climb presents itself. It’s not too bad though, and it shouldn’t trouble anyone with a half-decent level of fitness. The track cuts through the forest and is mostly shaded, meaning there aren’t many good viewpoints to speak of.
The first viewpoint
There are two main viewpoints on the Rob Roy Glacier track. We talked to a guy on his way back down the hill who said the first viewpoint was a “4” while the second was a “9”. He summed it up quite well – the first viewpoint was good but it was obstructed by the trees. It’d be a mistake to turn back after the first viewpoint, so keep going to the end of the track if you can.
The second viewpoint
The track continues (mostly) uphill for another 20 – 30 minutes. You’ll be walking next to the river for some sections – we did it in May and the rocks had frost / ice on them. This valley doesn’t look like it gets much sun in the cooler months, which makes it hard to get really good photos. Eventually you’ll reach a clearing, where you might be greeted by some curious kea. These native New Zealand parrots aren’t shy – they would have come right up to us if we had let them. Once you get out of the trees, the views are incredible. Several towering waterfalls crash down from the mountains to the valley below, and the emerald green hills contrast nicely with the glacier. It’s definitely not New Zealand’s largest glacier, but I think it’s probably the nicest to look.
The track continues after the last viewpoint — we followed it for another 10- 15 minutes and the quality of the track steadily declined. We eventually came to a river crossing, which looked dangerous to get down to, so we headed back. The views were slightly better from sections of the track past the final viewpoint, but I’m not sure it’s really worth the hassle.
READ MORE: 18 Fun Things to Do in Wanaka
Rob Roy Glacier Tips and Info
- It generally takes people 3 – 4 hours to hike to the glacier and back. We did it in just under 4, which included the extra bit at the end and lots of stops for photos (and we even stopped for lunch), so I reckon you could easily do the whole thing in 3 hours if you were in a rush.
- I have no idea the best time of a day to visit for photography, as the valley was shielded from the sun for the entire time we were there. It doesn’t look like it gets a lot of sun at all during the winter months, so if you want to get really good photos summer might be the best bet.
Getting to Rob Roy Glacier
The start of the Rob Roy Glacier hike is around an hour’s drive from Wanaka. The last section is gravel but it’s in pretty good condition. There are several fords to cross – don’t drive through them too quickly or you might damage your car! The drive to the start of the track is really beautiful. It starts off skirting Lake Wanaka (Glendu Bay is a highlight) and then follows a valley surrounded by mountains. The drive alone is worth it – it’s definitely one of New Zealand’s most scenic roads.
Are you planning a road trip around New Zealand? Check out my South Island travel guide!
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