Sunday, March 23, 2014

Beautiful Wanaka

     We're in the awesome town of Wanaka, at the head of Lake Wanaka near the Southern Alps.  Sorry for the long gaps between posts, this is the biggest town we've been to in quite a while and internet can be difficult to come by, especially without a smart phone or ipad.
       After I last updated, we left Methven and headed back to the trail on the southern side of the Rakaia river.  The trail for the next few days alternated between tussock covered high country and walking straight up streams.  Recently, in the South Island, we've discovered that there isn't always a 'trail' but rather a deep valley at the base of a mountain, along a fast flowing river, through which we must find our own way.  There are a few scattered markers, but when you're walking along side a river with a steep cliff on the other side, it makes the options for where to walk quite simple.  To quote the Te Araroa website, they describe the trail along the North Branch Ashburnton River as such: "This part of the track is rough and unformed. Trampers are required to pick their own route between markers which, in poor weather, may not be visible from one to the next. The physical and navigational challenges rise accordingly".  We had a perfectly clear day for this area, and I think the route had been a bit updated with some additional markers, but that being said, for several freezing cold kilometres we walked in the river, upstream, in icy water, waiting for the sun to get high enough to reach us and warm us up.
Brazil Nut on the Clint Hills track, Rakaia river in the background
Another stream walk up Bush Stream, after crossing the Rangitata river

   So while we've had lots of lower valley river walks, we've also had a lot of high country tussock walks.  Tussock is the high country grass which covers so much of New Zealand, and makes for particularly difficult tramping.  There's never a true trail and the grass is tall, slippery, and very easy to roll an ankle on.  It is also frequently mixed with the most awful plant ever created: Spaniard aka Speargrass.  It cuts and draws blood right away, and goes through clothing.  It makes for very painful tramping.  I spoke with my mom today and she asked if this trail was more difficult than other hiking I've done, and truly, one of the most difficult parts is the footing.  With the tussock, spear grass and abundance of river walking and rock hoping, it makes for beautiful, but difficult and tiring tramping.

High country tussock tramping

Tussock tramping above Lake Ohau
    Last week we also came to the second of the large braided river crossings on the trail, the Rangitata river. We'd heard from many people that they'd been able to cross it without any problems, as it was quite low and we hadn't had much rain.  Brazil Nut and I were quite nervous as we headed toward the river that morning.   Our first crossing was a bit scary as we headed a little too far to the left and Brazil Nut was in the water up  to her waist.  The current was strong, but we were able to head to higher ground, and for the rest of the crossing, the water was never much higher than our knees.  The whole river bed was over 6km wide, so it took a while to get across, with several small crossings in between.  We made it across with no mishaps and were very happy to be on the other side.
Beautiful scenery near the Rangitata river

   We've been hiking near many of Canterbury's large lakes.  The first one we came to was Lake Tekapo, which we had our first views of from Stag Saddle, Te Araroa's highest point at 1,925 meters.  We walked along the lake for over 20 km before coming to the tourist village at the head of the lake.  Our next section was a long road walk for over 100km, but was mostly on gravel road, with very little traffic.  We followed Lake Pukaki for over 30km which is at the base of Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest peak at 3,724 meters.  The lake has a magical look to it as the water is an incredible color of blue which comes from the finely round rock particles flowing into the lake from the near by glaciers.

Lake Pukaki, the morning after a storm

Lake Pukaki, near our campsite
Beautiful Lake Ohau
Hiking near Stag Saddle

Staying on the high ridge near Stag Saddle

Lake Tekapo in the distance, descending Stag Saddle

  We had wonderful trail magic the following day as we were hiking near Lake Ohau.  A woman named Kay was outside walking her dog Brutus and asked us if we'd like to come in and stay the night. Of course we couldn't say no and followed her back to her house.  Kay lived most of her life in Alaska and has been in New Zealand for the last several years.  We enjoyed talking with her that evening and the following morning, and had a wonderful stay with her and Brutus. Thank you Kay for the great trail magic!

At Kay's house with Brutus
The trail before Wanaka was through the beautiful and difficult Breast Hill track with views to the Southern Alps and over Lake Hawea.  Before Breast Hill we had another difficult river walk, with bits of very steep and narrow trail above the river.  I took a good fall walking near the river and managed to get a pretty good cut on my lower leg.  It's healing but still looks pretty nasty.  We reached Breast Hill in the evening as the sun was setting and had spectacular 360 degree views.

Mount Martha saddle

Results of river walking 

Brazil Nut walking up to Breast Hill

View from Breast Hill over Lake Hawea and the Southern Alps

Jetpack and Lake Hawea in background 

Lake Hawea

From Wanaka we head over the steep Motatapu Alpine track.  Our next town is Queenstown which, as exciting as it sounds, sounds like tourist hell to us.  We will try and pass through relatively quickly as the town itself is supposed to be just overwhelmingly filled with tourists.  Fall is just beginning here and it's been very hot lately, but hopefully the weather will hold for us.  We have less than 500 km remaining, wow time flies!
  Happy trail, thanks for reading!
-Jetpack and Brazil Nut

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