And then there were mountains... - Queenstown to Wanaka
The four days leading to Wanaka were my first taste of properly challenging, but more importantly, stunning. Without a doubt, the section between Arrowtown and Wanaka on the Big Hill and Motatapu Tracks has been my favourite part of this walk so far.
After 7 nights in Queenstown I felt very refreshed, organised and super keen to get back on the trail. On January 29th I had a decent 30km walk out to Arrowtown. It was meant to rain for a while that day but the skies were kind and held it in. The trail was very smooth walking track all the way which was great for keeping up my pace and wearing in the new boots, which have been brilliant so far! I arrived in Arrowtown at about 4:00pm where conviniently there was a Patagonia chocolate and icecream store.
The following morning I was out on the trail by 8:30am unsure about exactly what kind of terrain lay ahead of me. The Big Hill Track was appropriately named as I had my first ascent to 1060m above sea level from 600m before descending straight back down to the Arrow River valley at 700m above sea level. The trail followed the valley all the way to Macetown, a beautiful old mining area that had a population of about 200 people between 1860 and 1920. Now it's just an old 4WD track that passes the old abandoned cottages and huts. After lunch I started the Motatapu Track which led up to Roses Saddle at 1270m. The climb was tough after 20km of walking already, and I was relieved to see Roses Hut down in the river valley on the other side.
Day 2 of the Motatapu Track was certainly the toughest. The plan was to make the 10km to Highland Creek Hut and see how I felt after a few 'memorable' climbs, as the trail notes deemed them. The going was pretty slow, but I made it to the hut in about 4.5 hours. I had a nice break while trying to cool off and stretch my legs. It seemed too early in the day to stop, so I trekked on to knock off another tough 6km to Fern Burn Hut. The final ascent up to Jack's Saddle at 1275m was the toughest of the day. My right leg started to cramp at the beginning of the climb...despite having stretched. My mood lessened until I reached the saddle where I had to laugh at myself for doing the extra walking.
When I arrived at Fern Burn Hut around 4:00pm I was greeted by Christina and Andrea who had just come back from taking a swim down in the stream. It was still very warm under the intense New Zealand sun and seemed like a great reward after a tough day. It felt great to be clean on the trail!
The final day into Wanaka was once again amazing weather. I walked with the girls for about 8.5km down through some incredible beech forest and then some almost completely flat farm land before reaching the main road into Wanaka. Andrea and Christina were going to hitch hike into Wanaka, so I briefly said goodbye and continued along the Glendhu Bay Track which followed the Lake Wanaka edge all the way into town for 15km. It was an awesome walk, but I was definitely looking forward to a swim in the lake to cool down. I kept my pace up and arrived in just under 3 hours. I felt great to have completed the first alpine section and be rewarded with the stunning Lake Wanaka at the end.
Disappointingly, I wasn't able to stay at the YHA because a festival in town had them and every other hostel booked out that night, which meant I was staying at the camp ground. The next day I was able to move to the YHA which is when I originally expected to arrive.
The past few days in Wanaka have been very relaxing. I've sorted out all my food resupply parcels for the South Island and mailed them out. Took a day trip to Jackson Bay on the west coast with Dave, one of the Germans from Queenstown and a couple others. We stopped along the way at a place called Blue Pools to jump off the swing bridge into the perfectly blue water and cool off on another hot day. Jackson Bay apparently boasts the best fush 'n' chups in New Zealand, and while we ate some seriously good food, the sandflies ate my feet...literally. Besides drinking too much beer (thank you Philipp), I haven't bothered with much else while here.
I'm looking forward to getting back onto the trail tomorrow, and really getting into the South Island. I know it's going to get pretty challenging, but after the small taster of what's to come, I cannot wait to get back up there!