Monday, 21 November 2016

Wanaka and Queenstown

After Mount Cook, I decided to get a lift with Alex to his home in Wanaka, where I stayed for a few days.  I was much in need of a rest and the homely atmosphere at Alex's place, along with the company of his housemates, was a nice change of pace and a bit more of a sociable atmosphere than I'd been used to over the past couple of weeks. I was glad of it, and Alex was a most hospitable host.

Wanaka was definitely my favourite town in New Zealand.  There was a nice mix of excitement and relaxation.  There was enough of a nightlife to keep night owls happy, enough adrenalin activities for the wild ones, enough hikes for the hardy trampers, and a peaceful lake and a relaxed town atmosphere for those who just wanted to put their feet up and relax.  It felt a bit like going back in time, from an Englishman's perspective; a place where you needn't lock your doors and the heating of houses was still done by wooden stoves.  It was a stunningly beautiful place to live, I was extremely envious.

The famous Wanaka tree

After doing a trail run in slightly cloudy weather up Mount Iron the day previously, the next day brought one of the hikes on my bucket list in New Zealand, Roy's Peak.  The problem was that I had arrived in early October and the Roy's Peak track was technically closed for lambing from October 1st to November 10th.  However, the skyline track, which was a longer trail of approximately 28Km, was not closed and this had the Roy's Peak track incorporated into its later stages.  Such a loophole in the rules was good enough for me.

The track started off through farmland some 8Km outside of Wanaka, so Alex kindly drove me out to the start point before he started work  The trail was boggy and poorly marked in the beginning, but I managed to find my way.  There were a couple of shallow river crossings before the real climb began.

I would climb up to about 1600m and then up and down along a ridgeline that overlooked Wanaka and gave splendid views of the lakes and the Southern Alps.  The view at Roy's Peak in particular is one of the most spectacular in the whole of New Zealand.

I made it to the top in good time and inscribed my name on the telegraph pole at the summit , then sat and had some lunch with my feet up, enjoying the splendor of what was laid out before my eyes.  I stayed up there for about an hour, not wanting to leave.

At the top of Roy's Peak.

One of he benefits of doing the hike when I possibly shouldn't have was that I had the mountain completely to myself, I saw no one but sheep the whole day.  After descending, I still had about 7 Km to go to get to Wanaka and decided to take the scenic route along the pristine shores of Lake Wanaka to finish the day.  In total, I'd hiked about 35Km.  Anyone who's done some hiking themselves in the mountains can tell you that anything over 20Km and you tend to feel it, so I was pretty exhausted.

Although I'd heard I was a wonderful house guest (and I helped them win the local pub quiz for the first time), especially compared to their previous visitors (a story that cannot be told without an 18 certificate), I didn't want to overstay my welcome and I decided to head on to Queenstown.

Before leaving, I tried to get myself in the right frame of mind for the day.  I only had to cover about 75Km, but it was over the highest sealed road in New Zealand, the Crown Range road.  Wanaka was by no means down at sea level, so I wasn't starting from zero elevation, but it was still my biggest climb of the trip so far.

The view from the top of the Crown Range road, the highest sealed road in New Zealand.

Starting steadily, the road began to ascend at an increasingly difficult gradient until it took all of my strength to just keep the pedals moving in my lowest gears, and all my concentration not to fall off the bike under the strain, as well as the fact I was going so slowly, making it harder to cycle in a clean straight line.  With cars and trucks passing and shear cliff faces rising one side and descending the other, you might see how this can start getting pretty hairy.  Still, with a lot of effort, leading to the heaviest I think I have ever breathed during and after exercise, I made it to the top and was rewarded with jaw-dropping views and a fun descent.

This was to be the start of an insane few days of hiking and biking.  After settling down into a hostel in Queenstown, the next day I decided to hike up Ben Lomond, a reasonably high mountain (1700m) that is easily accessible from the town.  It was a decent hike of about 7-8 hours total up and down and afforded tremendous views of Queenstown, the surrounding mountains, including, "The Remarkables", and lake Wakatipu.

The first part of the hike wound it's way through the forest and a maze of hiking trails intermingled with mountain biking tracks.  Things got a little confusing and I was glad to get beyond the tree line and beyond the tracks, even though the mountain biking did look quite fun.  I thought about how difficult it would be to ride a mountain bike without any weight on it after cycling with roughly 25kg on my bike for the last 4 weeks.

The summit of Ben Lomond

At the top of Ben Lomond I was joined once more by a couple of Kea.  One happily strutting around trying to distract the few of us who made the climb to the top from our bags, while the other snuck around the back of us to attempt to steal our food. Cheeky little devils.

After I made my way back down, I met up with another old friend from the UK, but this time just for a quick drink and a catch-up in a local pub.  I believe he had been living in Queenstown for the last 10 years or so.

It seemed like everyone I met in Queenstown was from the UK, certainly finding a kiwi was a tough task.  I was slightly vexed by the annoying lack of supermarkets in town and the exorbitant prices of the smaller stores.  I'd learned from Alex that many establishments had local prices and tourist prices.  I was pretty astonished, I'd never encountered this before in other places.

Aestheically, Queenstown is an absolute wonder and a mecca for extreme sports enthusiasts, but the town didn't do it for me as a place to live.  However, it is also very well placed to explore some of the most spectacular places in all of New Zealand, with a huge amount of tours to the Sounds and Glenorchy going from there.  I wasn't partaking, I was going my own way and I was starting with Glenorchy, which is the subject of my next post.

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