The temperatures soared as I climbed mountains and hiked along beautiful lakes into Wanaka.
The TA continues to stun with magnificent views and challenges me with extreme heat.
DAY 77 – Lake Ohau to Avon Burn
I didn’t want to get out of bed. I lazed around for quite a while before finally getting ready. My host had gone to work but that didn’t stop me from having breakfast. I ate an entire pizza that was leftover from the night before.
Reluctantly I left the trail angel’s house and hit the trail. There was some road walking before heading into the bush. It was ridiculously hot at only 10am.
The trail took me up along a bike path in full sun before entering the woods. The shade was warmly (or cooly) welcomed.
It was a slow and sweaty climb up into the mountains. Eventually I was above tree line and in the sun again. The views back to Lake Ohau were pretty but did nothing to refresh me.
Slowly but surely I reached a saddle and began descending very gradually. I was following the stream through a long and wide valley.
The sun was exhausting me and I was pretty bored. I listened to The Count of Monte Cristo on audiobook to pass the time.
The valley lasted forever. The trail was easy but unexciting. The heat and the sun were wearing on me.
At last I reached the bluffs overlooking the Ahuriri River. This is the largest river crossing of the TA to be made on foot.
As I was descending the bluff to the riverbed, a British hiker named Tracey approached me. I had met her before a ways back and she’d gotten ahead of me by hitching the last section. Tracey said she tried to cross the river but it seemed too strong for her so she thought she might walk the extra 10km to a road bridge. Nonsense, I told her; we would be fine!
I surveyed the river and chose the spot that looked shallowest where the river split into two parts, just above some rapids. I ventured out up to my waist. It was extremely strong and swift. The rocks underneath my feet were muddy and slippery. I used my trekking poles to brace myself against the force of the river water relentlessly pushing against me. I had to be careful to gain sound footing with each step, lest I slip and float away with the current.
Tracey followed me with newfound courage that so often comes about when you’re no longer alone. Seeing me ahead of her made the task seem a bit less dangerous. At least if one of us drowned, there would be a witness.
The first part of the crossing was the deepest. After making it through the waste-deep gauntlet, we were soon only knee-deep. Halfway across the river we stopped at the island that split the river before crossing the second leg. This wasn’t too deep and a simple crossing. And then it was over; we did it! Tracey was so happy I had come along to help guide her across and give her confidence. We waited a bit as other hikers were coming along and yelled across the river our advice.
Soon we had a group of six hikers safely across the river. We set off together to climb the steep bluff to get out of the river valley.
It was a near vertical wall but we managed like mountain goats. From there it was an easy four-wheel drive track through the grasslands toward the next mountains.
It was near 6pm and the other hikers decided to stop at a grassy area to camp. I bid them farewell and kept hiking. I have a goal now of around 40km per day if I want to finish in 90 days. I thought 90 would be a nice number and then Tom and I would have ten days to explore afterward before he leaves New Zealand. Maybe it’s stubbornness but I keep pushing myself with the thought that I’ll relax after the trail is finished. Besides, these sections have been getting a bit boring as I’ve become jaded after seeing so many beautiful views already. It’s hard to appreciate each moment sometimes and I have to remind myself to stop and breathe for a second.
It was an easy 10km more before I reached a hut. It was a small hut and I could hear hikers inside. The night was warm and huts usually don’t afford the protection from sand flies so I opted to hike a bit further and camp. I found a most pleasant spot and watched some Netflix on my phone while my legs ached. The sun has really been wearing me out!
Day’s Distance: 39km (24.2mi)
Total Distance: 2,512km (1,561.2mi)
Distance Remaining: 488km (303.3mi)
DAY 78 – Avon Burn to Pakituhi Hut
The day started with a climb into the mountains. It was a four-wheel drive track but it was all uphill, gradual, but uphill nonetheless.
Slowly but surely I ascended to the top of Mount Martha Saddle at 1,680m (5,512ft). It was a nice view with mountains all around.
Descending the saddle was a gradual decline as I followed a stream. I stopped at a hut for lunch and to get away from the sun for a moment. I’ve been in full sun most of the last few days.
After the hut, the track followed the stream but began sidling up and down the steep banks. This was tedious and exhausting in the heat. At least there was shade.
I was getting very frustrated with the trail. There was a huge climb coming later. Why was I following the river to even lower elevation when I had to climb again. Couldn’t I have followed a ridge instead of this sidling shit?!
It’s hard to put into words or even pictures and video how annoying the trail was. Did I mention constant stream crossings as well, just to keep my feet wet. I was pushing to make it to Bluff in less than two weeks so I had to do around 40km per day. This section of trail was taking too much time and it wasn’t even fun.
Eventually I left the river for a ridiculously steep climb. It was only 2km (1.24mi) but it took me over an hour. I was dehydrated and out of water by the top. I was utterly exhausted and soaked with sweat.
I passed a spring at last and rehydrated. Further on was a hut where I took a break. It was after 6pm. Other hikers had set up for the night. I chatted with them as I gave my body a rest.
There was still daylight and I was far from my goal. And so I set off to climb higher. But this time it was on a farm track and was much more gradual.
The views were wonderful and I had to stop myself and enjoy the moment. Though I had a pounding headache from dehydration and was utterly exhausted, I kept pausing to look out at the horizon.
I could see the Southern Alps and Mt. Aspiring. I’d soon be near Mt. Aspiring National Park and Lake Wanaka. But in the foreground was Lake Hawea.
As the sun began to set I summited Breast Hill at 1,578m (5,177ft). See what I mean…I was at 1,680m in the morning and had to descend to the river at around 500m just to go back up!
The sunset was beautiful and the gradual hill dropped off with a jagged precipice. It was a gorgeous evening.
The wind was strong and threatened to blow me off. It also made me quite cold with the sun now gone. I balanced between enjoying the beautiful terrain and hurrying to get to camp before dark.
I failed at the latter task as it took quite a while to hike the remaining kilometer to the hut. It was around 10pm and I didn’t want to wake the hut’s inhabitants. So I looked around for a tent site. Unfortunately the ground was tussock with tall grasses and spiky desert plants. I found the smallest patch of somewhat flat and clear ground to pitch my tent. It was hardly big enough as my vestibule had to be staked halfway in a bush.
I was starving and got out my Jetboil stove to boil some water for my dehydrated dinner. As the Jetboil fired up, I moved it around a bit to try and find a flat piece of ground to set it. All of a sudden the stove was engulfed in flames, completely on fire. I couldn’t even reach the nob to turn the gas off as the flames surrounded the stove. Not wanting the gas canister to blow up in my face, I flung the stove away from my tent. Meanwhile, the bush next to my tent was on fire and I quickly stomped out those flames. I watched as my Jetboil continued to burn 20 feet away from my tent. And then the flames disappeared. The stove was on its side, burning like normal. I approached and turned the gas off. The Jetboil was completely unscathed with no burn marks. My arm hair, however, was half burnt off. It would seem that I had placed the stove too close to the tall, dry grass, and that was what lit afire and not the stove itself. All of the bright flames were simply burning grass. It’s a miracle the entire field didn’t catch! Speaking of miracles and burning bushes, maybe a higher power was trying to speak to me.
Nevertheless, I returned to my tent and boiled some more water, safely this time, and ate my noodle mash and watched Netflix. My legs and feet ached and I struggled to sleep, despite taking a painkiller. I was turning into Tom, pushing myself to the point where my body can’t endure any longer.
Day’s Distance: 38km (23.6mi)
Total Distance: 2,550km (1,584.8mi)
Distance Remaining: 450km (279.7mi)
DAY 79 – Pakituhi Hut to Glendhu Bay Campground
I woke up tired and wanting more sleep. The previous night had not been kind to me. And yet my brain was awake and wouldn’t let me rest past 7am. And so I packed up and set off.
The trail followed the jagged bluff like the night before. It was a fantastic view and a difficult but rewarding ridge to descend.
I stopped to take a photo of myself on an outcropping. I needed Tom to act as my photographer. My phone timer would have to suffice.
The descent was technically challenging and my knees were sore. It was so easy to slip and fall off the edge.
At the bottom a sign stated the descent was 950m (3,117ft)! That is insane! I’m just glad I wasn’t climbing up!
From there it was a very easy walk around Lake Hawea’s shoreline. The lake was picturesque and I wished I could jump in. Well, I could, but I had a schedule to stick to and today was a big day.
There was a small town and I stopped in the only cafe for brunch of a frittata, chicken sandwich, and berry smoothie. I sat there for an hour relaxing, applying sunscreen, and hydrating. My body was sore.
Finally it was back out into the sunshine for another hot day. Too hot for this Midwestern guy.
The trail skirted around Lake Hawea before following the river on a bike/walking path. The terrain was flat and I made good time.
The path took me through Albert Town and then along the river leading out of Lake Wanaka. The river looked divine and tourists and locals were jumping in it, rafting down it, and sunbathing next to it. New Zealand’s summer was in full swing.
As I hiked toward the lake, tourists began increasing. I soon followed the shore of Lake Wanaka. I’d been to Wanaka before, just not in summer.
It was beautiful with the mountains of Mount Aspiring National Park across the lake. Too bad it was so damn hot!
I slowly made my way toward Wanaka and walked right through the city center along the beach. I stopped at the grocery store for a few things and quickly left. I was trying to get to a campground before the office closed.
I was armed with a tub of ice cream. With my secret weapon to energize me, I set off into the sun again. I walked along with my ice cream and ate it all! It was quite refreshing.
The shoreline was crowded with tourists. Everyone was enjoying the sun and the water. It was too many people for me. Camper vans were everywhere and the boats on the lake revved their motors.
I hiked past the famous Wanaka Tree, a tree that is growing in the lake. I’d seen it before in winter without leaves. Now in summer it was green with foliage and heaps of tourists kept wading out to take their picture with it. I preferred seeing it without the paparazzi.
I was pretty exhausted as I continued around the lake. I had hiked over 40km (25mi) and still had a bit to go. I was racing the clock to get to the campground before they closed. I had to stay on schedule today. Tom and I had made arrangements on meeting in Queenstown in a few days and today was my day to push. The following day the terrain would be difficult and might set me back.
I don’t know how my legs and feet were still managing. I was so sore and was trying to appreciate the beauty around me. However, I’d been here before and with less tourists so it’s not like I was missing out.
At last I made it to Glendhu Bay and the campground of the same name. I’ve never seen a larger campground. There were over 400 sites and it seemed full. Packed to the gills, bumper to bumper, with cars and tents and boats! At the office I secured a cheaper spot in the common area where hikers could pitch their tents.
I talked to a few hikers and then was off to shower. My body was disgustingly salty from sweat and the man at reception was kind enough to give me a shower token for free. Afterward I had a big dinner and lay down to rest. I knew it was going to be a rough night. Non-hikers at these campgrounds stay up late, are oblivious to the noise they make, shine their headlamps everywhere, and are just a pain. Sure enough there were people riding bikes with headlamps around camp at 11pm and cars coming and going. Sheesh.
Overall it was a beautiful but ridiculously hot day. The other hikers thought I was crazy for going so far today and not slowing down. But to be frank, I’m ready to be done. I’ve succeeded at conquering the most difficult terrain and the grueling road walks. I just want to get it done and finish now. Then I thought, I could always quit if I feel like I’m not enjoying it anymore, but my pride won’t allow that. Then again, I could take a break and slow down. But I know if I take a break I won’t want to get back on trail again. And so I push on, hoping my body can hold itself together a little longer…400km to go!
Day’s Distance: 50km (31.1mi)
Total Distance: 2,600km (1,615.9mi)
Distance Remaining: 400km (248.6mi)
I’ve been listening to this track off and on throughout my hike by the lesser-known band, Hey Violet.
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