Day 21: Fern Burn Hut to Wanaka, 22km
The trail started off much like the rest of this section with steep sidelining, and steep ups and downs into ravines, but the trail was much more pronounced and there were almost no sections where it was washed out, or nonexistent, so I found it quite a bit easier than the previous days. I was relieved to be able to hike without adrenaline rushes, nor the need to take any breaks. Soon the trail descended into forest where it was very pleasant, and sheep started to appear in random areas, scrambling up steep banks. I made the mental note to channel my inner sheep next time I was having a hard time with the terrain. The trail spilled out into a car park with a toilet where we took a brief break, and then walked the road towards the lake. We then had many kilometers to walk along this pretty lake into Wanaka. The path was a bike/pedestrian trail, and many people were out walking their dogs, or riding their bikes.
A few hours later, we were in the touristy town of Wanaka. I had booked ahead because I knew it would be busy, but as usual, all I could get was two beds in a 6 bed dorm room at a hostel. We checked in and found that in the room there were only two top bunks left available in opposite ends of the room. I can’t tell you how painful it is to get into an upper bunk with a bad shoulder, one screwed up hip and sore feet. I am getting very tired of sharing rooms, never having any privacy nor being able to sleep when I want to. It would also be nice once in a blue moon to share a bed with John, since we’re usually too smelly to even want to give each other a hug most days.
We had a lot of chores to do, and not many hours to do them, so we got to work – laundry, resupply, showers, food, etc. Soon I was so exhausted I couldn’t think anymore. I was practically falling asleep standing up. We decided not to set our alarms for the next day, so that we could try to sleep in.
Day 22: Wanaka to Lake Hawea, 25km
I woke up before I wanted to just around 6am, and tried to fall back asleep with no luck. I was still exhausted, and I thought we had a 20 mile road walk along a bike path to Lake Hawea. I decided to call head and see if we could find a place to stay there that was a private room with a double bed. I found somewhere willing to give us a camper van (no private toilet or shower) for $75. Seemed steep, but perhaps worth it.
As we started our walk, we discussed what we wanted out of this hike, and what was worth it or not worth it. Neither one of us are entirely happy at this point (mostly me), and we discussed why. I decided I needed more rest and sleep, and that flat road sections were quite hard on my hip, and also cause my shoulder to tighten up. In terms of hard terrain, I’m willing to do it unless it is actually dangerous.
We sat down on a bench to have lunch, and a lovely retired kiwi couple stopped to talk with us, noticing our big backpacks. “Life is too short to walk on a road or through miles and miles of farm land” one of them said. They were interested in hiking sections of the trail in future years, but only the best bits. It made me feel quite silly for spending any time on stupid road walks. It’s not a goal that seems worth it since I obviously know I can walk a long way, why waste time and energy covering miles in areas that aren’t worth it?
The walk along the lake was nice with beautiful mountains towering around the lakes, and in the end it turned out to be 25km not 20miles, so we got to Lake Hawea fairly early.
At Lake Hawea, we checked into the motel with the overpriced camper van and very quickly fell asleep to the sound of howling wind rattling the vehicle.
A few hours later we woke up from our nap and got several meals at the local restaurant. Over dinner we finally decided what we would try to do is not hike the entire Te Araroa mile per mile, but rather try to hike the mileage of the Te Araroa, mostly using the designated trail but sometimes adding other trails that seem more appealing rather than doing boring road walks. I think this will allow us to enjoy our hike more, and enjoy some of the other trails that New Zealand has to offer. We’ve already done the Greenstone and the Routeburn which were worth it and not on the TA and I’m sure we will find others we also want to do. For now we’re still hiking the TA, but at least we’ve had the discussion.
Day 22: Lake Hawea to Stody’s Hut 21km
We slept in and ate a large all you can eat continental breakfast at the restaurant savoring cups of tea and coffee as we gorged ourselves on pastries, bread with meats and cheese, as well as fruit and yogurt. Eventually we said good bye to the beautiful Lake Hawea and walked along the bike path to where the trail departed the lake to head straight up a “hill” called “Breast Hill”. The climb was only 4 or 5km but we climbed about 4000ft total to get to the top. The trail was very steep and I put away my pole in favor of using my hands to crawl up certain sections. It wasn’t scary going up, but I would imagine it would have been quite scary going down.
Somewhat before the top of Breast Hill, we turned off the trail to take a rest at a hut and refill our water bottles and eat some lunch. This was the most modern hut we’ve seen – built in 2011. After a nice break we left the hut for the summit of Breast Hill which offered fantastic views in all directions, including views of Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka. You could just about see where we came from for the last two days. The mountains across the lake were unbelievable. Obviously formed by glaciers and towering above all the other mountains was one that was quite pointy and covered in snow, which we could only assume was Mount Aspiring, the second tallest mountain in New Zealand.
Close to the top, we ran into a Lady with a knee injury who had been staying at the previous Hut for 3 days now trying to recover. I offered her some of my diclofenac cream for inflammation and she applied some to her knee. She’s planning on making the decent into Lake Hawea tomorrow.
From the top of Breast Hill, we had an easy walk on a 4-wheel drive road down to Stody’s hut, which is a very old Shepard’s hut. It had a fireplace, and a bunk bed with room for 6 people, but after reading some of the notes in the register about a resident rat, we decided we’d set up our tent outside.
The wind was blowing very cold air down the valley, but we have our warm sleeping bags, so I’m sure we’ll be just fine.
Day 23: Stody’s Hut to Campsite, 16km
We slept in slightly and struggled a bit to pull ourselves out of our sleeping bags since it was fairly cold.
The trail went steeply downhill to a large stream which we then had to follow on a pretty slow going trail that crossed the stream about a dozen times. When the trail didn’t have us crossing the stream, it went straight up and down hills on either side. It was fairly nice, though, because we were mostly in the forest.
At some point we got sick of all the ups and downs, and decided to simply walk up the stream to the next trail crossing. We continued to walk up the stream, sometimes walking in it, sometimes walking on it’s banks, until it got very narrow, and the water was getting quite deep. We were nervous that if we kept going up the stream, we may find that we have to climb a waterfall, or something equally impossible to cross, so we eventually decided to go back to the last trail crossing and take the trail up. Finally we saw the hut in the distance, and I figured we would stop there for the night.
The hut was very small, with only room for 6 to sleep, and there was already one couple there. As I took off my shoes another person showed up and then another couple. We decided to move on and find a place to camp with the hope that we would get more rest that way. As we were leaving, we passed Charlie, a northbounder we met going southbound for a small section before Wanaka. He looked pooped. We told him we were headed for a place to camp a couple of km up stream.
As we walked up a bit further, one more southbounder passed us on their way to the hut. A few people must have had to camp near the hut tonight.
I was glad when we finally found a flat spot nearly in the shadow of a mountain (because now we’re above tree line so getting shade is impossible during daylight hours). We ate our dinner as the sun set behind the mountain, and I was happy to hit the sac early without people keeping me up later than I want.
Day 24: Campsite near Top Timaru Hut to Campsite along East Branch of the Ahuriri River, 30.5km
In the morning we had a gentle but steady climb up to a saddle at about 1650m, which we did well before the sun hit the side of the mountain we were climbing, so we had a cool breeze and no sun, which was perfect. Once on the other side, we followed this gentle 4wd road down into farm land. We passed many people going southbound, and many of them told us about the Ahuriri River, and how to cross it safely.
As we descended into the valley, the sun beat down on us and there was no shade.
Finally we came to the Ahuriri River, which is probably the biggest river we’ve had to cross so far. First the trail had us go down a cliff in order to even get to the river, and we took a probably 0.5km detour to find a safer way down. Then we took a look at the rover to strategize a safe crossing spot. We picked a route, which involved getting to an island in the middle, then John and I linked arms to cross. At the deepest, it was up to my mid thigh and quite swift, but I think we may not have crossed at the lowest point possible. It wasn’t scary but it was quite a wide river.
Once across, we were back to the very dry, grassy landscape with very little in the way of vegetation. At one point there were an abundance of moths that flew up at our faces for maybe a quarter of a mile, which caused us to flail about a bit, trying not to let them get into our clothing and in our faces.
The landscape felt almost more like a desert than the desert in Southern California. The only difference was that there were small streams and rivers all over the place, but besides this strange abundance of water, it was so dry. Maybe it just rains up in the mountains but not down in the valley. We passed many carcasses of animals who had died out here – lots and lots of bones. This is something that I’ve failed to mention in previous sections, but while passing through much of the farm land so far, we have seen many bones of sheep, cows, bunnies and birds. A few times we’ve seen a somewhat recently dead animal. I guess it’s just the way it is here.
There were no good camping spots for ages, so we probably walked a bit further than we would have otherwise until we found a spot that we could make do with. We’re getting used to camping on grass and without the comfort of trees or other sheltering things like rocks or bushes. We feel quite exposed here camped along a stream in this grassy valley. Tomorrow hopefully we’ll make it to Twizel.