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Te Araroa – Wanaka to Queenstown

or the last milestone …

Summer’s on its way out. Even if the trees seem to still hesitate about putting their yellow coat on, there is a chill in the air that leaves not doubt about the change of season.

The sun is still low when I leave Wanaka at 8.30am on the morning of Friday 20th, and the Lake is perfectly still, reflecting the silhouettes of the trees and the mountains,as in a zen painting.

I feel pretty zen myself.

This section starts with an easy and very scenic walk along the Lake shore, all the way to Glendhu Bay which offers a beautiful view of Mt Aspiring. From there, the Trail turns left onto Motatapu Road to reach the trailhead of the Motatapu Alpine Track. I walk by myself that day but will be in the company of my trail buddies Eef, P-J and Patrick for the rest of that section.

The Motatapu Alpine Track is described in the Trailnotes as physically challenging, with some exposed parts and several steep sidles that require care and concentration. Just at the sight of the word “sidle” I pretty much break into a cold sweat, remembering my last experience on the Timaru River Track. They had not specified anything in the notes about the sidles on that track, and yet I thought I was going to die, so what is it going to be there!

Well, it turns out the supposedly “death defying sidles”, as Rob would call them, are no way near as scary as I imagined. Now, don’t get me wrong, the track does follow a demanding line and can be tricky in some parts, and I’m glad I have 4.5 months of hiking behind me before I had to tackle that one.

The Motatapu Alpine Track and the 3 huts en route have been paid for by foreigners who own of the land; this being Shania Twain and her now ex-husband. So you can imagine all the hikers walking this section singing at some point “Man, I feel like a woman”, or, most likely at the top of a steep climb or at a hut, “looks like we made it, look how far we’ve come my baby” and “that don’t impress me much”

Well, I must say I am personally quite impressed by the place. Thanks Shania!

The climb up to the first hut from the trailhead is first through deer paddock, along Fern Burn and traverses through a lovely beech forest. Then it is all through tussock country. We share Fern Burn Hut with Florian, another TA hiker, going normally Sobo but doing this section the other way around.

The next day is a short but epic hike that takes us to Highland Creek Hut. The day starts with a steady climb that takes us to Jack Halls Saddle (1275m). The way down is along a sharp ridge, steep on one side, steeper on the other, but the track is wide enough and on stable surface so I’m not afraid of the heights. In the contrary, I find it absolutely stunning. Then it is more ridge walking towards the hut. The wind seriously picks up and the clouds get darker. I feel good and strong and slightly high with the beauty of the landscape surrounding me. The mountains are rugged and a succession of sharp ridges and deep gullies, and above us, rocky fingers stick up against the dark sky, appearing like silhouettes of people. The guardian spirits of the Motatapu. We arrive early at highlands Creek hut, but the wind and dark clouds incite us to stay here for the the rest of the day. So this is how we end up spending the whole afternoon and evening making, (and finishing!) and jigsaw puzzle that was left in the hut. (Ah these thru-hikers, when they start something, they have to finish it!)

We wake up to the sound of rain on the third day, but it doesn’t last for long. It is in and out of the clouds all day as we go up and down, and up and down in a mystical atmosphere; though for the legs, but so good for the spirit! We enjoy having the last of the hut in this section, Roses Hut, just for ourselves, as we had the ones before. In fact, we didn’t see anyone else at all, we had the whole Motatapu Track for ourselves!

The 4th day takes us to Macetown with more ridge walking (something I absolutely LOVE and will never ever get tired of) and an amazing river walk down the Upper Arrow River. Now, I was looking forward to Macetown, a “ghost town” from the time of gold mining. My imagination is sometimes too big I guess, and I’m a bit disappointed when I see that all is left is a few pile of stones and a couple of too well restored buildings. From there, we clamber up and down the well-named leg killer track called “Big Hill” and slowly walk through Arrowtown to get to our campsite, half stunned by being back in “civilisation”, or is it maybe by the disgusting fake look of the town ?

The last day takes us to Queenstown, and feels like a never-ending walk, along rivers (that was alright), then along roads, around a noisy construction site of a giant Mitre 10, by the even noisier airport, and through some spotless/ugly/how-the-heck-can-people-possibly-be-happy-living-here neighborhoods.

The sight of the impressive mass of the Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu give me the power I need to finish the day.

It is almost hard to believe I am in Queenstown, the last significant town before the end, the last milestone on the Te Araroa.

… 330 Km to go …..

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