Back in November 2019, Jake and I traveled to the South Island of New Zealand for a 10-day road trip across the island. One of our stops along the way was Mt. Aspiring National Park where we backpacked to French Ridge Hut.
I could list a whole bunch of excuses as to why I have not put together any blogs from our trip to New Zealand, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll save you a scroll so you can jump right to the good stuff!
**My husband also put together an awesome video of our trek to French Ridge Hut as well. If you don’t have time to read the trip report, please watch the video below!
French Ridge Hut Trip Report
Trail head: Raspberry Creek
Mileage: 10.5 miles one-way ( +1 mile to Liverpool Stream swing bridge if unable to ford Matukituki River)
Elevation Gain: ~4,900ft
After a night camping in the town of Wanaka, we drove 1-hour early the next morning to Raspberry Creek trail head. It was a beautiful drive on a long dirt road. The road followed the Matukituki river up a mountain valley rich in farmland and rock cliffs sky high on both sides dancing with cascading waterfalls. And sheep… so many sheep!
Due to recent rainfall (with impending rain still the forecast), the river was overflowing and in some spots, water pooled across the road. We had to ford our little rental car across those pools. Some were shallow, others were deeper. We forded about 6-7 pools until we finally reached a deep pool we just couldn’t drive through. To be on the safe side, we turned our little car around and parked along the side of the road about 2 miles away from the Raspberry Creek trail head.
From the actual trail head parking lot, it’s about a 10.5 mile hike to reach French Ridge Hut. Our parallel park added an additional 4 miles total to our trip.
After walking the extra 2 miles to the trail head, the rain began. And for the rest of the day, the rain did not let up. Along with the downpour, the wind gusted forcefully turning the rain drops sideways. Right away we knew we were in for quite the adventure!
The beginning of the hike was a relatively easy walk through green pastures filled with wandering sheep on a relatively flat trail. The trail took us towards the end of the valley about 5.5 miles following the river to Mt. Aspiring Hut.
Mt. Aspiring Hut is a large hut with bathrooms, a full kitchen and 29 bunks. This was a perfect place for us to warm up, shake out our wet gear and eat lunch. Unfortunately there were no views from the giant glass window looking out toward the mountain peaks. In fact, there were no views the entire day for us. The weather was intense and was our focus to power through in order to reach French Ridge Hut.
Putting on wet clothes and shoes is never fun, but we knew we would warm up again soon with a big climb ahead. We hiked another 2-3 miles through dense jungle until we reached the end of the valley where the river took a steep roller coaster ride up the mountain side. Normally at this point, you can ford the river just fine meeting the trail on the other side. But on this day, the river was raging so we had to walk an additional mile to a suspension bridge to safely get across. Now begins the big climb to French Ridge Hut.
At about mile 8 from the trail head is where the climb really begins. Almost all 4,900ft of elevation gain happened after mile 8. Suddenly the trail turned into a scramble. The climb was very difficult. We climbed up waterfalls, large rocks and trees using our hands to pull ourselves up to the next perch. We used tree roots and branches to pull ourselves up through the dense jungle. There was hardly a trail at all! We used every part of our bodies to climb this section. We were exhausted!
After the steep section of climbing, we slowly made our way out of the jungle and on to an exposed ridge line. This was a hard section because we were totally exposed to the wind and pelting rain. There were strong gusts at times which was a little scary being on a ridge. We both got really cold here; our bodies were soaked to the bone.
The wind continued to gust pelting water forcefully into our eyes squinting to see. After about 1.5 hours climbing up the ridge, I looked up to see a beautiful red hut. This was the best feeling, especially after the long, adventurous hike we just had.
Originally, our plan was to pitch our tent outside French Ridge Hut because it cost money to stay at the hut. Clearly, given the strong winds, there was no way we felt comfortable setting up our tent on a ridge line in the middle of a storm.
Head to toe were were soaked. Water had even creeped its way inside my dry bag of warm clothes (which I later discovered had a hole in it). Everything was wet – everything! After stopping in front of the hut for only 2 minutes, our bodies began to chill.
Walking into the hut there was clothing, gear and backpacks hanging off coat racks, banisters, and door knobs everywhere. The entryway was essentially a large mud room. There were 6 men staying in the hut for the night. After taking off our wet clothes and wrapping myself in our sleeping bag, it was a done deal – we were staying the night in this hut.
We were completely exhausted from the trek and the weather. At the end of the day, we felt so accomplished and thankful to have a warm night sleep in a cozy little hut. We also enjoyed our bunk mates who were preparing to climb Mt. Aspiring the following morning.
The next day, was incredible. To our surprise, the sun came out and just like that, we were in a whole different world! There were no views the day before. But now, we got to see just how far we climbed from the valley below. Breathtaking views of glaciers and mountain peaks surrounded us. Kea (beautiful, bright green mountain parrots) flew around the hut curiously (there loud squawking woke us up right away).
The hike back to our car took all day. Not because of difficulty, but because we were in complete awe. We spent the entire hike taking pictures and video as the sun lit everything into view.
At the bottom of the jungle climb, we were able to ford the river and save a mile walk back to the suspension bridge. It was a night and day difference from what the river looked like the day before!
The hike to French Ridge Hut was a challenge, but truly one of the most rewarding hikes I’ve ever been on. One of my favorite feelings in the world is pushing through a difficult climb, enduring pain, bad weather or utter exhaustion only to be refilled and blessed by the view from the top.
Thank you for your patience as I continue to reflect back and write about our road trip around the South Island of New Zealand. New Zealand is an incredible place with so much to see and explore! More blogs and videos from our New Zealand adventure to come – stay tuned!