Destination Trail Run: The Rees-Dart Track, New Zealand

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A gushing stream in the forest Destination Trail Run: The Rees-Dart Track, New Zealand www.runnerclick.com

The Rees-Dart Track winds its way through magnificent alpine valleys at the head of Lake Wakatipu on New Zealand’s south island, just 42 miles (68km) from Queenstown. Located in the stunning Otago area, the track is a combination of the Rees and Dart trails. New Zealand is world renowned not only as a trail running destination but also as a base for extreme adventure sports. If you’re feeling extra adventurous after your run, you can try your hand at bungee jumping, white-water rafting, zip-lining, canyon swings, or even river surfing!

Here are things you need to know before you run the Rees-Dart.

Sweeping view of an alpine valley. Rees Dart Track, New Zealand
Alpine valley views. Photo by Jasmine Ayla

Transport

The Rees-Dart is a one-way track, which means you will have several options to decide on for your transportation to and from the track. First, you’ll need to decide if you want to start your run at the Rees Valley (Muddy Creek parking lot) and end at the Dart Valley (Chinaman’s parking lot), or vice versa. This article is from the perspective of starting in the Rees Valley.

Second, you have a few choices available for the two rides that you will need (to the entrance, and from the trail end). Buses and shuttles service both ends of this route. A fun alternative is to book a shuttle or ride the bus to the Muddy Creek parking lot and book a jet boat ride to return from the Dart Valley trail end. The jet boat is surprisingly agile on the shallow river and an enjoyable way to end your trip.

What to Bring

It’s always a good idea to bring a light, waterproof jacket and double-check the forecast before you head out. Be sure to bring:

  • Running pants or leggings
  • a long-sleeve wool shirt
  • Light gloves (the mornings can be chilly)
  • Special running socks that can help prevent blisters
  • Trail running shoes
A hiker crossing a riverbed alluvial fan. Rees Dart Track, New Zealand
Crossing a riverbed alluvial fan. Photo by Jasmine Ayla

You’ll also want to pack a light running backpack with the following:

  • Waterproof casing for your valuables
  • First-aid & blister kit
  • Sunscreen
  • Do NOT forget your insect repellent! The insects can be ravenous depending on the season and rainfall (mosquitoes, sandflies or gnats), especially near the Dart Hut

Trail Description
(from the Dart Valley to the Rees Valley)

The trail can be roughly divided into four segments.

  • Segment 1: Muddy Creek parking lot (drop-off point) to Shelter Rock Hut – Distance: 11.8 miles  (19km). 
  • Segment 2: Shelter Rock Hut to Dart Hut – Distance: 6.2 miles (10km)
  • Segment 3: Dart Hut to Daleys Flat Hut – Distance: 11.2 miles (18km)
  • Segment 4: Daleys Flat Hut to Chinaman’s parking lot  – Distance: 9.9 miles (16km)

Optional Side Trip: Dart Glacier & Cascade Saddle
Distance: 12.4 miles (20km) return.

From Dart Hut, you can run an extra trail to the small but lovely Dart Glacier and the beautiful alpine pass known as Cascade Saddle. This will add an extra 12 miles to your trail running adventure, so planning to spend a night at Dart Hut is recommended. With the stunning countryside in every direction, you’ll be happy to have an extra day here. It also means you get to see the area in a different light during sunset and sunrise and view the starry skies of this remote location with no light pollution (be prepared to be amazed). A word of caution– even in the summer season, the Dart Glacier & Cascade Saddle area may be affected by snow.

Hiker walking through a misty meadow at dawn. Rees Dart Track, New Zealand
Misty dawn in the valley. Photo by Jasmine Ayla

Stats & Safety

As always, let someone know where you will be running and your estimated time of return. In this case, New Zealand’s Department of Conservation asks that you fill out an Intentions form on their website before you start the trail.

This track is considered advanced. There are several avalanche lines throughout the track, which means that extra caution should be taken in the late summer,  spring, or late autumn seasons. Be prepared for the very likely possibility of getting your feet wet. There are multiple bogs, stream and river crossings on this track.

*Note: As of January 31st, 2018, the bridge crossing Spaniard Creek was damaged and is now closed. You will need to ford this creek with extreme caution.

  • Location: Mt. Aspiring National Park, Otago Region, South Island, New Zealand
  • Elevation: 4,796ft (1,461m)
  • Difficulty level: Advanced
  • Trail length: 39.2 miles (63km)
  • Elevation gain: 3,785ft (1,153m)

When To Go

The best time to run this trail is from December to April. This is the southern hemisphere’s warm, dry summer and glorious autumn season. It is not highly recommended to run this trail outside of this time period, although it is possible. Heavy rainfall can make many of the lovely streams and rivers hazardous to cross during the winter and spring seasons. During the winter there is always a chance of blizzards and heavy snowfall that can cover the track or cause avalanches.

Even if you are running this trail in the recommended time frame, be sure to check the forecast before you head out. Weather conditions can change quickly here, and you may prevent a lot of misery or even an injury by making sure you’re prepared with light running rain gear.

A trail running through the bottom of a valley. Rees Dart Track, New Zealand
Trail running through the valley. Photo by Jasmine Ayla

History

The Kāi Tahu people of the Otago coast and southern lands knew this area well, as they often traversed through the Rees and Dart valleys in their eternal search for ‘poumanu’, a highly treasured pearly green stone. Known today in New Zealand simply as ‘greenstone’ and still prized by the Maori people, pounamu can refer to jade, serpentinite, or bowenite stones.

A river running through a grassy valley.
A river runs through the valley. Photo by Jasmine Ayla

New Zealand’s Rees-Dart Track offers a little bit of everything. For the experienced trail runner looking for an adventure in the Land of the Long White Cloud, it’s heaven.

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