Te Araroa :: Wanaka to Queenstown
March 12, 2018
START: Glendhu Track @ 0600
FINISH: Roses Hut @ 1710
DISTANCE: 37 km
CUMULATIVE: 1,234.5 km
Up and at’em. A windy 0530 wake up call put me on trail at 0600. I packed up to discover that the rain drops I felt throughout the night were actually small bits of sap. My sleeping bag is glistening and a wee bit sticky, though not as much as you’d think. At first I was miffed, but a little sap beats a freedom camping ticket. I don’t think I camped illegally last night, but I don’t actually know for sure. Regardless, it all worked out well enough.
The sunrise this morning was outta control. I kept stopping and setting up my tripod to capture shots. Ugh, epic. I knew I had a big day, and that start-and-stop was cutting into my pace, but I just didn’t care. My goal was to make Roses Hut early enough to get a bunk, but I knew I wasn’t likely to pass anyone regardless, so I was really just at the mercy of the numbers. Turned out I got a bunk tonight, so wins all the way around.
The walk today was pretty challenging. It started off mellow as I finished up the Glendhu Bay Track and followed the Matatopu Road to the trailhead. From there, it got pretty challenging pretty quickly and stayed that way all the way to the Roses Hut, the third and final hut before Queenstown. Of course I loved the challenge, and the beauty that accompanies these steep alpine tracks. This was certainly one of the many highlights of the South Island, and I was grateful to have pretty good weather for it. I loved the big views and golden slopes. And the three huts on this track are quite modern and well-kept, always a nice bonus.
Arrived at the Roses Hut to find a largely American crowd, which is pretty rare. I was stoked to get a bunk and to finally catch FAFBAB, The Man, and Hundred-k Kirsten. They’re a pretty rad group, and I really enjoy spending time with them. We spent the evening catching up and tentatively planning to walk the Routeburn together as an alternate to TA.
March 13, 2018
START: Roses Hut @ 0755
FINISH: Queenstown @ 2355
DISTANCE: 51 km
CUMULATIVE: 1,285.5 km
Lazy start today put me out of the hut about an hour later than planned. Still figured I could make the 51 k into Queenstown with an hour lunch stopover in Arrowtown, but I was expecting a long day. The three hour stopover in Frankton and subsequent night hike, those were unplanned. Hey, I’m just making this stuff up as I go.
The walk over the last two days has been stunning. I agree that there are more beautiful sections of trail, though this one ranks among my favorites, but nowhere else to this point have the views, the weather, and the lighting conditions worked so beautifully in cooperation with one another. I was finally getting the kinds of captures I’d imagined and for which I’d been longing. It was the kind of epic befitting New Zealand’s long pathway.
Arrowtown was an excellent lunch break. It’s an oft-overlooked quiet little spot not far from Queenstown proper. As soon as you get beyond this sanctiary, there are golf course communities and lakefront properties, then a bit further and you’re in the Queenstown burbs. I’m not knockin’ it. Just telling it like it is. To be fair, there’s a reason this place is so popular. It’s gorgeous, a bustling city - by NZ standards - on the shores of a large clear water lake nestled in a valley with mountains towering dramatically in all directions. Totally wicked spot if you can handle the crowds, the prices, and the fanfare. If not, there a thousand other options off the beaten path that are equally as majestic without the penalties.
It’s very nearly midnight, and I’ve arrived. Actually I’ve spent the last 20 minutes taking long exposures of the waterfront as I compose this post. I don’t generally hike long days because I wanna cover more distance. Sometimes, yeah. And sometimes it just makes sense to night hike or do a long day, or both. But I tend to get up before the sun and walk late into the evenings, because the photos are better in the morning and evening light. And many of my favorites over the years have been pre-dawn and post-dusk. Plus, solitude. I like having these wild places, and especially the popular spots, all to myself. Not too many folks do it my way, and I like that.
It’s been a long but not very demanding day. Feeling solid and continuing on to the Lake Wakatipu Hazard Zone, which is really just a long, narrow, winding road walk. Planning to hitch back and zero in Queenstown afterward, then gonna walk the Routeburn Track with the girls as a TA alternate. So looking forward to it. But right now, bring on the night hike.
March 14, 2018
START: Queenstown @ 0045
FINISH: Glenorchy @ 1200
DISTANCE: 46 km
CUMULATIVE: 1,331.5 km
I reached Queenstown wicked late and figured the safest way to tackle the Hazard Zone, besides the obvious answer of skipping it, was to walk it overnight. Counterintuitive, I know, but hear me out. Walking the narrow, winding road overnight would allow me to better manage my own safety. There would be fewer cars on the road, which would minimize the likelihood that there would be two cars passing me in opposite directions at the same time. In that event, there wouldn’t really be enough roadway for them to give me space and avoid a head-on collision at the same time. I know what you’re thinking, and you’re spot on. Shoulda just hitched it like a normal person. The thing is that I really love that “I walked here from (wherever),” and having that statement be the whole unfiltered truth. Hey, hike your own hike. M’i right?
Turns out that the 46 k’s out to Glenorchy weren’t the flat cruisers that I’d expected being a lake walk. Instead the road weaves in, out, up, and down. At least it was paved. It was a pleasantly mindless walk with a few stars shining and the occasional rhythmic lake waves breaking nearby. And hardly a car on the road for the overnight portion. Never once did I feel unsafe. No complaints here.
The night hike proved more interesting than I’d anticipated. Possums are nocturnal creatures, and they’ve managed to keep me up nearly every night that I’ve camped (and some nights that I’ve stayed in huts). But I didn’t really get a sense for the magnitude of New Zealand’s possum problem (they’re an introduced predator that’s descimating the many species of flightless birds native to NZ) until last night. They were everywhere. I couldn’t take more than a dozen steps without spooking one and hearing it crash through the forest and up a nearby tree. And there were hoardes of them lying dead in the roadway and shoulder. Saw a county vehicle driving the road early this morning and shoveling carcasses off the pavement. I think that’s a testament to how many get killed by vehicles in this area. Guess everyone is doing their part to eradicate the species.
I walked until about 0430 when I decided I’d had enough. Even if I kept going, I wouldn’t make Glenorchy before traffic on the road jump started. I figured I was better off having a little rest, so I could be more alert. My three hour break included about two hours of sound sleep. I woke up with twilight, obviously feeling groggy but ready to tackle the last 25 k or so. The sunrise views over the lake and towering mountains beyond were outstanding. Road walks have their advantages, which rarely include baller views and a sense of natural wonder. Today was an exception. And most of the remaining road walk had a wide enough shoulder to alllow me to give plenty of space for passing vehicles.
I was stoked to arrive by noon, and I grabbed a quick chocolate milk at the general store before turning around to hitch back to Queenstown for a much-deserved zero day. I chose a spot and threw my thumb out at 1220. Had a ride from a wonderful local couple just two minutes later. I stepped out of the car in Queenstown a few minutes after 1300, giving me a full day and a half to eat and rest. (Mostly eat.) Splurged on a hostel for the next two nights, so I’ll be living a life of luxury until the next leg.