I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to describe exactly how incredible this walk has been so far, but I have at least tried to share my own, breathtaking experience over the past few days…
Thursday the 6th of January I took a nice, sunny walk over to Lake Hawea. The trail followed the Lake Wanaka lakefront past some awesomely scenic and secluded little beachy areas, away from all the tourists that spread out across the main lake front in Wanaka. I then walked up the Clutha River before passing Albert Town and then onto the cycle trail that lead into Lake Hawea following the Hawea River - luxury walking all day! I camped at the campground in a spot that looked directly across the lake at Breast Hill and at the mountains I would have to climb the next day.
The next morning I was woken up when the sun came out from behind a cloud, turning my tent into a sauna. It was a short but steep walk this day. The trail once again followed the Lake Hawea lake edge until it met up with the start of the Breast Hill track. It was only 4km to Pakituhi hut, but it still took me almost 4 hours to get up there. The track started off with 25 switchbacks before arriving at a small saddle and continuing along the ridgeline full of rock scrambles and a few scree slopes up to the hut. I was at the hut by 4:15pm and decided not to go for the next hut as the trail notes didn't make it sound particularly appealing. That evening, I ate dinner overlooking Lake Hawea with views of Mt. Aspiring as the sun was setting. I couldn't have asked for a better way to end this day.
I was up early the next morning, ready for what seemed like a pretty long day ahead. As the sun rose over the mountains I climbed to the nipple of Breast Hill (1578m) and spent almost half an hour taking pictures from various points along the way. I am yet to see something more incredible than the views from up there. The trail followed a 4WD track from the peak down to Stody's hut. This is where I came across 4 SOBO Te Araroa walkers in one morning. I'm sure there are less cars on some state highways in the South Island. I was at Stody's hut by 10:30am and decided to have breakfast before the walking got steep. From there, the trail was more or less a scree slope for 2km down into the Timaru River valley. I realised it would take a while to get through this section, but no where near as long as it actually did. If it wasn't straight up, it was straight down. In and out of the river and over plenty of tree fall. Two sore feet and 6 hours later, I found myself at Top Timaru hut after 11 total walking hours.
Feeling good the next morning, I was trail bound by 7:30am. The morning was brisk to say the least, but thankfully I had a 780m ascent up to Martha's Saddle (1680m) to warm me up. The clouds really came down into the valley as I was climbing. While the clouds seriously reduced visibility on my way up to the Saddle, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself well above the clouds on the other side of Mt. Martha, with an exhilarating above-cloud view. Sun beams met with distant mountain tops, poking through the mist. From the saddle it was straight back down the other side until I got to Tin hut, an old private hut left open for the public. It was cosy inside and featured a pantry of various tinned things. I had a short break and continued walking around 11am. It was nice and straightforward from there as the trail followed farm track and then a fence line out to the Ahuriri River. Fording the river was easy as it hadn't been raining recently and the deepest section came up to my thigh. I spent some time collecting water and drying out before heading up the other side of the valley and on towards the East Branch Ahuriri River. 28km done and I found a sweet little spot to camp near a stream on some nice long grass. I set up for the evening.
This day... Monday the 10th. Overall, it seemed to be more of a pain than necessary. It was colder than the previous morning and within a kilometre of leaving camp, I misjudged a patch of grass for something stable to land on over the other side of a stream that I had to leap over, thus resulting in my being completely soaked with no sun to dry off in (fog prevailed). Despite the drenching, I was mostly worried about the feet-in-waterlogged-boots situation. With fast-pruning feet, my solution was to completely wrap them in strapping tape. As for the trail, well, there was none. It was just a matter of making my way up the river valley until I reached the saddle in any manner other than walking. I tripped, stumbled, hopped, fell... think of a creative adjective for moving forward and that's probably how I travelled. I met Ryan from Auckland through here who improved my mood when he told me it would only take around an hour to reach the saddle. He was just about spot on, and not long after that, I made it into some of the prettiest beech forest I've seen, and - rejoice for my ankles - there was ground trail! I ended up going a few kilometres further that day after Ryan also informed me of a good campsite just a few kilometres further than where I originally planned to camp. By 6pm, I was off my poor ankles, enjoying some cheese with a very curious duck.
The final day into Twizel consisted of comfortable, straightforward walking. I was able to keep my pace up on cycle trails, mainly, and road, arriving in town at 3:30pm. I'm fairly sure I ate for three that evening and proceeded to enjoy an amazing sleep in a bed that sunk like a hammock.
While the trail gets tougher, I am persistently stunned by how amazing this backcountry is. Even on those long and tough days, I will still go to sleep completely happy and excited for whatever the next day might bring. So, onto the next leg...