Wanaka to Lake Hawea

Day 101 (Sun 28 Feb): Wanaka

Today I said goodbye to my dearly beloved Mountain Design gaiters, that have been my faithful tramping companions for many many years, protecting my legs from malicious undergrowth, my feet from sticks and stones and my boots from rain and sodden grass. I’ve been searching for another pair for a long time as they are coming apart at the front seam, the buttons are broken and the waterproofing has long since delaminated away. The independent tramping shop in Queenstown had a pair that looked similar enough to pass as a replacement, but I had to test them out in the field before I could part with my old faithfuls. The new ones turned out to be altogether adequate, performing well during river walking and against the scratchy high country plants (although nothing protects against the piercing tips of Spaniard grass, except maybe metal greaves). But I still think my old gaiters, my first ever gaiters, despite being ripped and battered, are the most perfect of all gaiters, the epitome of everything a gaiter should be. No other pair will ever compare. I’m not usually sentimental about material things, but I couldn’t bear to just throw them away; it would have been like tossing away my old friends. So I posted them back home to myself, to put off the difficult decision on how to end our relationship. Maybe my appreciation for my new gaiters will grow over the next few months, and I will be able to move on from the old. I’m open to this new relationship, but love can take time.

Day 102 (Mon 1 March): Wanaka to Lake Hawea

Started 7.45am, finished 2.20pm, 26k.

Pain in the head status: No headache today; sore feet instead.

Word of the day: Intemperance, lack of moderation, excess, gluttony.

We left Wanaka YHA in a light drizzle but this soon retreated, leaving overcast skies and intermittent sunshine by the afternoon. Overall, a lovely walk mostly on bike trails and gravel roads but my feet got a hammering. Our packs are full of food for the next section and my soles don’t like the extra weight.

The alternative Wanaka Instagram tree

The trail firstly took us along the Lake Wanaka shoreline, with its excess of rabbit holes, rabbit poop and mountainous views.

Then we reached the outlet of the Clutha River, that flows from Mt Aspiring glaciers through Lake Wanaka. The glacial sediments give it gorgeous shades of jade and its translucency meant we could easily spot trout cruising lazily above the river weed. Sleek black scaup and shags dove into its depths. The river is the second longest in Aotearoa but the largest by volume and it flows at a fair clip – 15k/hr, faster than my legs ever take me. I wondered what it would have looked like before Europeans arrived to plant poplars and willows along its banks.

We stopped at Albertown for morning tea, at the Pemberton Patisserie, renowned amongst TA walkers for sweet treats. In my intemperance, I ordered a cream donut and a cinnamon scroll, and did not regret it. The cinnamon scroll was divine, being a perfect combination of crunch and softness, with a dollop of vanilla custard on top, lathered with cinnamon sugar. I’m hoping all these carbs in my system will power me up tomorrow’s hill.

The highlight of the walk along Hawea river into Lake Hawea was watching some surfers on the river, trying their luck on an artificial standing wave. It looked cold and like you’d have to be a strong swimmer to pull yourself back to shore against the fierce current, but kind of fun.

We stayed at the hostel section of Lake Hawea hotel, which had grand views of the mountains surrounding the lake and supercharged showers which also served as head and neck massages. I liked the serenity of Lake Hawea but it is probably way too quiet for the hospitality sector. The recent lockdowns in Auckland have knocked the local tourism back apparently. We’re still doing our bit.

Advice to jokers: If you see a tramper wearing boots and a large backpack walking through an urban area with their hiking poles, don’t yell out at them, ‘Where’s the snow?’ They will look at you blankly and think you are an idiot.

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