Day 99 (Fri 26 Feb): Roses hut to Fern Burn hut
Started 7.50am, finished 4.20pm, 16k.
Pain in the head status: No pain during the day but woke up around 10pm with a thumper. I’ve found these types of headache usually respond best to a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory, but it was a long time since dinner and nurofen on an empty stomach for me is a recipe for a day or more of gastric pain. So I rummaged around the food bags for a muesli bar, glad that we were walking out to Wanaka tomorrow and that muesli bar wasn’t essential for getting me through to another hut. Eventually the headache settled down, leaving only the snorer in the top bunk to impede my sleeping.
Word of the day: Virago, woman of extraordinary stature; woman considered loud and overbearing.
After today’s walk along the rest of the Motatapu track, I retracted my anti-tramping declaration. The negative demon that inspired that meltdown was probably migrainous in origin and evaporated in the light of the new dawn.
This was possibly the most physically challenging walk of the trail so far, with three major climbs, and corresponding descents, interspersed with plenty of undulations, but the scenery was so stunning that it was a treat to discover what was opening out around us, when we could take a moment to look up from the thin goat track that would slip you down a steep slope if you mis-stepped. The weather was also close to perfect, with only a bit of low cloud early morning that soon burnt off to blue skies and a whisper of breeze. The terrain was barren and dry, in such contrast to Southland it was almost like being in another country. Mud on this track was rare but almost welcome because at least your boots stuck to it, unlike the dusty stones and sandy, crumbly dirt.
We checked out Highland Creek hut, which was beautifully set in a basin surrounded by craggy peaks, then pressed on to Fern Burn hut. Here we found a strange rookie tramper from Auckland who had just started this section of the TA. Everyone we had passed on the track had told (warned?) us about this fellow, Duncan, who had become notorious for his enormous pack, general ignorance about the trail (‘It’s flat after Wanaka’) and excessive amount of underwear. He unintentionally had me in near hysterics when he mentioned how he’d done a lot of tramping in Auckland; I pointed out there weren’t many mountains like the Motatapu track in Auckland, and he retorted, ‘There’s One Tree Hill.’ The hut then filled up with four viragos from Wanaka, which drove him outside, perhaps overwhelmed by their extreme confidence and noise.
North Island TA walker update: We came across the first TA walker from those we’d met in the North Island – the young runner Shay. He was on his fifth pair of running shoes but had had to take two weeks off with a knee injury. He was planning to finish the trail in about a week and complete 100k from Longwood Forest to Bluff in a day. I can’t imagine being fit enough to even contemplate such a feat. It’s taken months for me to be fit enough to do today’s 16k without complaining (not counting expressions of awe bordering on expletive at the sight of an upcoming ascent). But then, Duncan was as much in awe of our walk from Roses hut that day as I was of Shay’s running. I guess we can always find another person who is fitter and stronger and faster than us but it’s how you challenge yourself that matters, not how you compare to anyone else.
Day 100 (Sat 27 Feb): Fern Burn hut to Wanaka
Started 8am, finished 3pm, 24k.
Pain in the head status: Developed a heavy throbbing headache in the night, not really a migraine, probably a hangover from the heat and sweat loss of the day. Drank some more fluids and took some regular painkillers and tried to sleep it away.
Word of the day: Zephyr, a soft, gentle breeze.
Today was supposed to be an easy day, a simple meander into Wanaka that would be a restful interlude compared to the big climbs of the previous two days. Ha.
The first challenge to this deceptive assumption of ease came immediately after we left the hut, where we launched straight back into the ruthless undulations that had characterized the day before as we followed a stream down a gorge through mixed beech forest. It was very pretty but not really easy.
But then we got onto a flat bit of farmland and road, and jumped across to Glendhu Bay at Lake Wanaka, where a biking/walking track scooted around the lakefront for 16k or so into Wanaka township. This was pretty easy, except that the sun was beating down, the temperature was set to sizzling and I was soon so wet with sweat it was like I’d just stepped out of the shower. An occasional tantalising zephyr was the only cooling feature.
The last few kilometers were torture, as we could see the town just ahead, but it was still so far. All I could do was imagine the flavours of gelato and sorbet at the Black Peak ice cream shop. I ended up with apple pie and boysenberry, plus a litre of gatorade. I don’t think I’ve ever drunk gatorade before and I now know why not. It’s truly disgusting. But just what my sweat-depleted vascular system wanted.
My sweat-encrusted skin was screaming out for a shower so I made up for three showerless days by having the longest possible scrub down at the YHA where we had booked in for two nights. This seemed to be a major TA hangout (met a few other walkers here) but was otherwise noticeably quieter than when we’ve been here before. Still, there were plenty of people lining up to photograph the most Instagrammable tree in the world. I couldn’t be bothered getting the perfect shot – i just wanted my ice cream.
Accomplishments: 100 days on the trail; two thirds of the way through the TA; a pair of boot insoles munted; 40 full press ups in a row.