Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP, NZ

Really spectacular views of mountains and valleys on this lesser known walk in Mt Aspiring National Park, including a nice side angle of Mt Earnslaw at 2830m of elevation.

Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP

We did this walk for the first time on about our seventh trip to New Zealand, and I can’t understand how it had remained under our radar for so long. After a moderate amount of time in very atmospheric beech forest, the walk emerges above the tree line to a saddle for the first views of mountains and valleys in Mt Aspiring National Park. But the views get really spectacular when you take a right turn off-track up to point 1290m. There are views of rugged mountains in various directions, including a great angle on Mt Earnslaw, which peaks at 2890m of elevation. (Mind you, the impressive Earnslaw Glacier is on the other side of the mountain; you can visit this in a really gruelling day walk that we did a year or so earlier). There’s about 800m change in elevation on this walk. 

I took a nice photo at breakfast on the morning of the walk…

Cecil Peak from Kelvin Heights
The view at breakfast before we left the house: Cecil Peak (1978m) viewed from Kelvin Heights. They don’t call NZ the land of the long white cloud for nothing.

Track Notes

The walk starts at the beginning of the famous Routeburn Track, which we’ve done sections of a few times, but after a short while you take a right turn at a signposted junction, and ascend steeply up through beech forest. Continue past the treeline to a saddle, then ascend steeply off-track to the right until it levels out, then a little further along you reach a minor peak at 1290m of elevation. Behold the views.

We returned the way we came, but the track continues on at the saddle and can be done as a long day circuit back to the road leading to the Routeburn car park. However to do this circuit you’ll want to park your car somewhere near the Lake Sylvan turnoff, and maybe hitch a lift down to the Routeburn car park, or else park two cars at both points to avoid a longish walk along the road.

Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP
The views start as soon as you hit the car park. This is the start (or end) of the famous Routeburn Track, as well as this walk.

The Scenery

Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP
Still on the Routeburn Track here.
Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP
Climbing steeply through beech forest after turning off the Routburn Track.
Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP
Tame birds posing for photos.
Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP
A bog.
Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP
Climbing higher.
Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP
Fungus.
Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP
Mossy.
Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP
Above the treeline looking back towards Lake Wakatipu.
Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP
Into tussock grass.
Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP
First look at Mt Earnslaw from a point a bit past the saddle. I backtracked in order to then walk up the hill to point 1290m.
Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP
The views started to ramp up. A very small Sophia is bottom centre left.
Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP
A panorama looking back towards Lake Wakatipu.
Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP
The Rockburn Valley. The sun was a little awkward for photos in this direction so some glare on a few shots.
Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP
Mt Earnslaw (2830m), with a little bit of the Dart River in the centre.
Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP
Probably Mt Somnus to the right (2293m of elevation).
Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP
Mt Earnslaw (2830m). The Earnslaw Glacier is on the other side. We visited that a year and a half before – very impressive. I wanted to get the tarn in shot because they remind me of the Lake District in England where I lived from about 3 months to 4.5 years old, and where I did my first regular walking (also in North Wales).
Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP
Sophia bottom centre.
Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP
Mt Earnslaw, and the Barrier Range to the left.
Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP
A very satisfying and wide panorama looking west-ish.
Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP
These mountains were quite imposing. A bit of glare on this photo unfortunately.

Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP

Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP
Sophia looking towards the mountains that skirt the first section of the Routeburn Track, which is in the valley below.
Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP
A hairy forest.
Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP
Life’s a beech…

Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP

Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP
I may have allowed a bit too much colour saturation in this photo, but the rocks were pretty purple.
Sugarloaf Pass to Point 1290m, Mt Aspiring NP
Very mossy.
Gratuitous beer shot.
And a beer afterwards: One of the best stouts I’ve ever drunk, brewed locally in Queenstown. Moonlight Track Peat Stout by Altitude Brewing.

Author: Edward Hathway

I'm a clinical psychologist and keen hiker.

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