If there is one thing that characterizes the last few days it is definitely a mixture of emotions. I’ve rewritten this post 3 times and rewrite it now once more according to the mood and emotion of the moments passed, being enthusiasm, tiredness, cold and back to enthusiasm. We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and talking about our journey, amongst ourselves and together with fellow hikers. There’s a very deep, reflective aspect coming into play now, where we’ve all been reflecting on our lives, on our ourselves, on our hike. But let me start at the beginning. We calculated 6 days to cover the 141km to Wanaka, lying at kilometer marker 2600.
“Feels like autumn’s coming!” we said to one another as we walked by the shoreline of Lake Ohau. With the end of the hike coming in sight, we talked about how gifted we were to be able to walk this trail, to experience this amazing journey. We talked about the north and the south island and their differences. We miss the people in the north, as we’ve written before, with their limitless enthusiasm and energy for the hikers and the trail. We love the south for its dramatic landscapes, which only seem to improve as we keep heading towars Bluff. We love the variety, the differences. We’re still surprised about how hard it is. We found a nice campspot by the lake and concluded that life is still pretty good.
We thought it would be a fairly easy, straightforward walk into the city. Yet again, this proved to be an optimistic strand of thought. The first few days were long but nice. Lakeside walks, cross-country tussock bashing and wonderfully benched trails. All of them had a very remote, lost-world feel and I enjoyed the variety. A day of wondering far out in the wild hillsides would be followed by an easy farm track. There was even a bit of forest again and the Ahuriri river crossing did not pose any problems. We ran into Hugh, a British tramper who is one of the few we’ve met lately who we found likeminded: loving the trail in its entirety and enjoying it to the end. It was really refreshing to meet someone with such a positive attitude again. To say it in Hugh’s words: “I’m so tired of complaining hikers.”
So with a hinch of nostalgia we strided forwards. The days were nice and warm, but the mornings and evenings were cold. We stargazed a few nights in a row, nicely snuggled up in primaloft jackets, gloves and beanies. It was a hard motivational struggle to crawl out of our tent in the morning. Our departures became later and later, as the biting cold didn’t encourage these tired bodies to get out of the warm sleeping bags until the sun was up. We had a beautiful day up to Martha Saddle, from where we could see the peak of Aspiring shining in the distance.
These nice days were followed by an absolute low point between Top Timaru Creek and Stody’s Hut. It was a hard, unpleasant trail section, with loads of steep climbs from and towards the Timaru river and steep sidles dangerously high above its bed. We can take a rough track, but this one was honestly absurd, the worst section we’ve had on the south island so far. After climbing 500m steep up out of the river gorge, it was such a relief to reach the hut. Temperatures kept dropping during the day, and it was really cold by the time we reached the hut. The sky was dark, decreasing our chances to go over Breast Hill peak the next day. Yet we were so over it at that point, that the prospect of not having to climb another hill seemed pretty sweet.
At Stody’s we found Patrick, waiting out the weather in the hope to get a sunny day on Breast Hill to see that reputedly excellent view. It was such a surprise and he welcomed us with a warm cup of tea that we happily sipped on while our frustrations drifted away. We made a nice hot dinner. We mourned that we bought a crappy hazelnut spread instead of Nutella. We talked and laughed and had a good time, while the cold kept closing in on us. “I’m gonna put my rainpants on!” PJ cried. “I’m gonna put every g*ddamn piece of clothing in my backpack on!” Patrick replied. And so we fully geared up, ready for a day of serious riverbed scrambling and bush bashing – just to get inside our sleeping bags. We laughed as we wormed inside our sleeping bags. We laughed as we hoped that the old, charming hut would be waterproof.
It was the coldest night on the trail so far, with temperatures just below freezing point. Freezing nights, autumn mushrooms in the forest… Summer seems a distant memory. It remained cold until the morning, even after the sun was up. To get warm we headed up the hill at a good pace. But as it was sunny, we figured we could just get up the peak. I didn’t expect too much of it – yet another hill with another viewpoint – but hey we were there anyway. My jaws fell wide open as I reached the summit. The trail tiredness of the previous day instantly disappeared. I thought we’d had the big highlights after the Tekapo ridge – but oh my, what a vista! It almost couldn’t be real. There was Lake Hawea, surrounded by hillsides reduced to sharp ridgelines by erosion, the Aspiring peaks in the distance. It was still so cold – the summit pole had some ice on top – but we stood there for a while to stare and make pictures. I found it great that we all still have the ability to be that amazed by what we find on the trail.
As we steeply descended to the shoreline we kept walking by that gorgeous lake view, with changing angles over the countless ridgelines running down to it. We regularly stopped to look and take pictures. After arriving in the village a number of people started chatting, curious about what we were doing and where we came from. It was great meeting every single one of them, it was great to see how enthusiastic they were about what we were doing. One guy stopped his running round and shook our hands. We got a pizza in the evening and I wished that it would all never end. My shoes had come beyond the end of their lifespan and evolved into feet torture machines happily flaying and bruising my feet. The last day into Wanaka was a painful one, but even the lack of skin couldn’t spoil any inner happyness. Again, the walk was stunning beyond description.
So here we are, in Wanaka. It’s almost surreal that we have walked all the way here. Wanaka, and Queenstown alike, were places so far down the trail that we never really thought about actually getting there. Yet here we stand – inevitably getting closer and closer to the end. In one way it’s great: our bodies are tired and the prospect of rest is a good one. In another way it’s not, for the journey will be over and from the quiet of the mountains we’ll be thrown back into the buzz of society and the campervan rush hour we’ve so happily avoided. What it will feel like to arrive in Bluff I do not know. But the people who arrive there will not be the same as the people who left at the Cape five months ago.
Less than three weeks we have left, and a little addition to Steward Island. On our day off I kept true to an old resolution I made when I first decided that I wanted to come to New Zealand about 4 years ago. I would and should skydive. My infamous words that made Patrick go face first into a swamp way back on the north island now motivated us to throw ourselves out of an airplane at 15.000ft. Just go for it. Onwards and southwards!
In the evening we went to the movie theatre in Wanaka – one of the greatest of its kind on the planet thanks to the couches and cars instead of chairs and the meals and homemade cookies you can order for pickup during the intermission. We watched Wild. I enjoyed it: how it portrays her inner thoughts while on the trail, how its more about the journey than the destination, yet showing the determination to reach it. We went home and packed our own packs. Our journey leads us back into the mountains tomorrow.