Ancient Maori trails followed safe passages through this beautifully rugged and unforgiving terrain. The Maori journeyed in search of pounamu (greenstone or jade), prized for making tools, weapons and ornaments. Later, Europeans farmed the fertile river valleys and mined some areas for minerals. Today this large area is preserved as national park and forms part of Te Wahipounamu - Southwest New Zealand World Heritage Area.
A hiker's paradise, Mount Aspiring National Park offers a large number of short walks that are mostly concentrated at the end of the park's access roads. Longer hikes through beautiful valleys, with options to traverse mountain saddles, include the Routeburn, the Dart/Rees River circuit, Greenstone/Caples and the Wilkin Valley tracks.
The park is peppered with mountains. Mount Aspiring is the highest, and the only peak over 3000 metres outside Mount Cook National Park. One of the most unusual areas in the park is the Red Hills mineral belt in the southwest. Here the concentration of magnesium in the soil is so high that only a few hardy plants survive.
Throughout the park, beech forests dominate below the tree line. Red beech favour sunny, frost-free situations, while at higher altitudes you will find silver or mountain beech happily surviving winter snowfalls. Open areas caused by slips and avalanches are first repopulated by ribbonwoods, one of New Zealand's few deciduous trees. Above the tree line are snow tussock grasslands and herb fields with mountain buttercups and daisies.
Many species of native bird happily share the lush river valleys, and walkers are continuously serenaded by delightful birdsong. The park's alpine areas are home to the threatened rock wren and the highly entertaining kea, a mischievous mountain parrot that is not to be trusted. Kea occasionally help themselves to visitors' lunches and show a surprising interest in man-made objects, such as shoes, packs and tents.
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