Day 124 to 129 – Queenstown here we come

Sunday 17 February – Friday 22 February
Wanaka to Queenstown
Day: 124 – 129
Km’s: 92
Cumulative km’s: 2,666km / 3,000km

After a few days sight seeing around beautiful Wanaka we tramp our way to Queenstown on the Motatapu Track. This section was our last mountain range on the TA. We hope you enjoy the photos.

Day 124 – Sunday 17th Februay, 25km
Wanaka to Fern Burn Hut

It was tough to leave beautiful Wanaka, the comfy backpackers and the seemingly endless supply of delicious food.

We started the morning with one last egg breakfast before heading out into a cold morning. Our hostel was situated on the trail, we stepped out of our door and onto the trail. We walked through the main street of town, one last opportunity for coffee before Queenstown. It wasn’t really a question of whether or not to stop.

After the caffeine hit we walked along the edge of Lake Wanaka, passing the famous #thatwanakatree. I am still a little baffled as to why the tree has such a cult following, it sure was beautiful but the impact that social media can have on a single tree is astonishing. After snapping a couple of obligatory tree photos we continued on.

It was the perfect day for easing ourselves back onto the trail, cruisy lakeside walking followed by a short stretch of road before we would climb our way to Fern Burn Hut.

The further we moved from the centre of town the more beautiful Lake Wanaka became. I was glad we had a short day ahead of us so we could move slowly and enjoy the views.

There were plenty of people out for their Sunday morning jog or bike ride and what appeared to be plenty of people out for a warm down session after yesterday’s ‘Challenge Wanaka’ triathlon.

We had a morning tea break overlooking the lake, watching the morning light sparkle on the water. It was incredibly beautiful, it looked like thousands of twinkling fairy lights. In the distance, across the lake were snow topped mountains. It doesn’t get much better than that.

It was lunch time when we reached Glendhu Bay, we stopped in the shade of the trees looking out over the lake. We ate lunch watching a young girl learn to water ski. It was perfect lunch time entertainment.

First day hiking lunches are always the best, my wraps were filled with avocado, cheese and salad. When you know you have a long stretch ahead of you, eating nothing but peanut butter and dehydrated food for days you relish the opportunity for salad.

After lunch we had a few kms of gravel road walking ahead of us to reach the Motatapu Track.

Off the road and onto the Motatapu track it was a short but beautiful of section of trail to Fern Burn Hut. Leaving the trail head car park we walked through private farm land, crossing through what looked like a deer paddock with 6 foot high fences and some serious gates at either end.

Into the conservation area the track climbed through the valley following a crystal clear stream which seemed to grow as we climbed. The forest was mostly made up of beech trees, offering beautiful shade to walk under.

We had passed a number of trail runners on the track and a solo cyclist. The cyclist had riden past us before deciding the track probably wasn’t the best for cycling, he chained up his bike and decided to walk the rest of the way up. He walked with us a good portion of the way, chatting to Adam as we climbed. Eventually I stopped for a rest and he continued on.

The track climbed and dipped through the valley a number of times before the hut came into view. There would be one more dip and rise, just for good measure, before we made it to the hut.

When we arrived our new acquaintance was at the hut and we chatted to him for a while before two more fellow TA hikers, our friends TAFM came in. We farewelled our biking friend and spent the evening chatting to TAFM.

At about 8pm when we were all gearing down for bed, a couple of pack rafters came into sight moving up the trail, we had a chat to them about their TA journey which sounded like an incredible adventure. Chatting to the pack rafters we felt inspired, there are so many adventures to be had in this world and so little time!

Day 125-Monday 18th February, 16km
Fern Burn Hut to Roses Hut

We had an accidental sleep in this morning. The two lovely pack rafters who came in late last night held what sounded like a symphony of snoring on the bunks underneath us last night. They were so incredibly lovely, great guys, but were so incredibly loud.

I had wanted to get away early because the walking times on the TA notes for todays section were considerably shorter than the times listed on the DOC signs in the hut. Just incase the TA times were wrong I wanted to leave a buffer. It wasn’t to be, we didn’t get away until 8.30am which is a late start in hiker hours.

Out on trail the track climbed steeply from the hut, dipping and climbing the whole way to Highland Creek Hut. As we looked back down over when we had come from it was hard to believe we had climbed so far in such a short amount of time. The trails always look more difficult than they really are when you are standing at the bottom looking up.

The trail was narrow and a little overgrown in parts but when we could take our eyes off our feet, pausing for a breather, the views were more than worth the hard work of the climb. Behind us we had views back over lake Wanaka. Priceless vistas.

After reaching Jack Halls Saddle it was downhill all the way to highland creek hut.

When Highland Creek Hut came into view it felt like deja vu. The hut was nearly identical to Fern Burn Hut and was positioned in the same spot in a VERY similar looking valley. It took me a few moments to process the fact that we had not walked in a big loop back to the same hut but were standing in front of a new hut.

We ended up reaching Highland Creek hut in 3 hours, much shorter timing than what the TA notes and DOC had suggested. It was only 11.30am but there was rain threatening so we decided to have an early lunch in the hut. Just as we were finishing our lunch and packing up to leave our friends who we hutted with the previous evening, TAFM came in. We got chatting with them and after I had asked them some questions about their snazzy looking coffee filter, they offered to make us a coffee. In addition to the lack of sleep I was pretty sure I was having caffeine withdrawals so I couldn’t say no. It was delicious and made my afternoon.

Just as we were finishing our coffees, the packrafters came walking in offering around chocolate! Could it get any better?!? It was SO tempting to stay but we are on a schedule with accomodation booked in Queenstown and Te Anau so we continued on.

It was 1.30 before we left the hut, a long lunch break but we felt comfortable with the timings after the first section that morning.

Looking out from Highland Creek Hut we could see the trail heading steeply up the spur of the mountain in front of us. Out onto the trail we headed down into the valley before quickly heading up the steep trail. We had two big climbs and two big descents to get to Roses Hut.

We crossed a fence, from the conservation area back into private farmland and had beautiful views over the valley below us.

The trail descended steeply and we found ourselves in a pretty beech forest. We topped up our water and had a quick break before continuing to the final steep climb.

It was a bit frustrating climbing so far up again after just having descended the same distance but our legs are used to the climbing by now so it went quickly.

Reaching the high point of the trail we traversed along the ridgeline, taking in terrific views of the mountains all around us, covered in beautiful golden tussock. As we walked the clouds and rain started to close in and the wind picked up. We had been lucky to avoid the rain all day so we were waiting for it to catch up with us.

As the ridgeline started to drop down a little the hut came into view. We could see sheep, little white dots in the distance, grazing in the farmland surrounding the hut. It felt like it was taking an eternity to walk to the hut after having seen it from so far off. I was certain the rains would beat us there. As made our way down to the valley floor rain started to spit down on us but we ended up making it to the hut just before the heavier rain struck.

There was a solo north bound man in the hut, we exhanged trail info over dinner before retiring to an early nights sleep.

Day 126-Tuesday 19th February, 23km
Roses Hut to Arrowtown

It was still dark in the hut when my alarm went off at 7am. The first of the morning light was being blocked by the mountains. It was also raining which made it difficult to find the energy to get out of bed. By the time we left the hut at 8.45 the rain had slowed.

Despite the break in the weather we still wore our rain pants, keeping our legs dry from the tussock which was soaked by the rain over night.

As soon as we left the hut the trail had us climbing up to Roses saddle, 1270m above sea level. It was a long slow climb to the top. Thick cloud had settled over the valley so it wasn’t far into the ascent when we had climbed into the cloud. It obscured our views but I think it made the climb quicker and possibly a little easier. We couldn’t see how far we had come and how far we had to go or how high we were, all we could do was climb.

We popped up over the final hill and there was the sign marking Roses Saddle. The climb felt quicker than I expected. It was a complete white out at the top of the saddle. We couldn’t see anything and the wind was starting to pick up so we didn’t hang around for long before starting our descent.

As we crossed the saddle the wind picked up. It was cold and damp in the cloud and the wind was strong and icey. As we moved along the ridge the cloud started to break a little and we could see more of our surrounds. It was mystical walking through the clouds, seeing them swirl around us.

On our way down to the river we ran into Pheobe and Nettie, two other TA hikers. They had flipped this section (walking north instead of south) to walk with some old friends of theirs. We had a good chat with them. They gave us a heads up on the Patagonia ice cream shop in town so we decided we should head into town tonight rather than camp on the outskirts so we could have an afternoon ice cream.

We farewelled the group and continued down to the river. From the valley floor we took the river route into Macetown. The TA track is officially on a high flood route but the river route (in good conditions) is much more pleasant so we opted to follow the river.

We wound our way in and out of the crystal clear river down to historic Macetown.

Macetown is a historical old gold mining ‘town’, little more than ruins and a few restored dwellings it is being restored by DOC. I find these old towns fascinating so we wandered through taking a bit of a history lesson as we walked.

All brushed up on NZ gold mining history we decided to take the all weather route into Arrowtown. Whilst it is a few km longer in length than the high route we had been told it was a quicker and more pleasant option. We had been advised by numerous hikers that the high route views weren’t worth the effort. With the ice cream shop calling (with a 6pm closing time) we skipped big hill track and took the all weather 4WD track into Arrowtown.

The trail passed back and forth over the river a few times which was a reprieve from the now scortching afternoon sun. We saw a few more interesting historical points along our walk but other than that it was a pretty long hot boring walk into Arrowtown.

I was super excited when we popped straight out of the river and into the main street of town. The best part was, the trail basically entered town right on the doorstep of the ice cream shop. With 30 minutes to spare we had sweet cold indulgence in our hands. Phoebe and Netty hadn’t lied. It was the most delicious ice cream I have eaten since arriving in NZ. I will go far as to say it comes a pretty close second to my all time favorite ice cream, Serendipity (although i’ll probably have to try a couple more scoops to be able to verify that). Not only was the flavor incredible but the scoops were super generous too. I was in heaven. The best part, they also have a store in Queenstown!

We made the most of being in town and spent the night at the holiday park. Showers and laundry were much appreciated. Even though it was only a short section the stench levels were getting high. After 4 months on this journey I am growing less able to handle the smell of myself.

Day 127 – Wednesday 20th February,28km
Arrowtown to Queenstown

It rained throughout the night so we woke to a wet tent this morning. The upside was, we were in town and had a cafe breakfast to look forward to! We had been told that Arrowtown Provisions did excellent baked goods and coffee so we arrived right on opening for a delicious breaky before tackling our long walk into Queenstown. I was hoping for a croissant but they didn’t sell them so I had a savory scone instead. The scone hit the spot and the coffee pepped me up, I was full of energy for the day ahead. Adam was a little less excited for the almost 30km of road walking, clearly his chai latte didn’t have quite the same mood altering properties.

After breaky we wandered our way out of Arrowtown. It is a cute old town with an abundance of history, cafes and gift shops. The type of cute little tourist town you could spend a day wandering around, eating lots.

On the outskirts of Arrowtown there was a considerable amount of property development underway, housing estates springing up before our eyes. Unbeknown to us it was a taster of what was to come that afternoon on our way into Queenstown.

From Arrowtown the trail took us through a fancy looking estate, a golf course surrounded by large cookie cutter houses on teeny tiny blocks of land. It was visually beautiful with manicured lawns, ponds with families of ducks and symmetrical gardens.

From Arrowtown we hit Lake Hayes, a picturesque lake where locals were out enjoying the sunshine, walking and paddling. The mountains of Queenstown the perfect backdrop to the beautiful blue water.

The trail then took us along the Twin Rivers Trail where we spent the afternoon walking to Frankton along the Kawarau and shot over rivers.

We crossed the historic old shotover bridge, it was like a walk through history imagining the big horse drays crossing it from one side if the river to the other.

We entered Frankton through what seemed like the worst possible end of town, walking past the sewage treatment plant we marveled at the incredible vast open vats of human waste. It was mostly an industrial area and to be honest not very pleasant to walk through.

In Frankton we stopped at the pack’n’save to resupply. We had been warned by a north bound hiker that the supermarkets in Queenstown weren’t very good so we filled our packs with the 6 days of food supplies we will need to get us from Queenstown to Te Anau.

With heavy packs it was hard to find the motivation to keep walking again but it was under 10km along the lake to Queenstown.

We were a little shocked by how busy and loud it was walking into the big city. Aircraft buzzing over head, busy roads and plenty of people out enjoying the lake.

We walked by the terraced houses built into the cliffs around the lake, it was a stark contrast to the areas we had recently been hiking through.

When we reached the city centre we headed straight to none other than the Patagonia Ice Cream store for a refreshing afternoon treat. The lakefront was packed with people, mostly tourists enjoying the afternoon sun. It reminded us a little of circular quay back home.

After our ice cream we walked up the hill to our backpackers where we settled in for the night, looking forward to the next couple of days rest and exploration in Queenstown.

Day 128 – Thursday 21st February
Queenstown

We had a lazy morning at the backpackers, catching up on blog posts, emails and generally eating lots. It wasn’t until 3pm when we left the hostel. When you get used to walking every day it is difficult so sit still, I needed to get outside even if it was only for a short time. Adam didn’t feel the need so much but said he would come with me anyway so together we set out to walk the Queenstown Hill. Even the wak to the trail head was steep. It felt like a near vertical climb heading up the street to the start of the track. I was surprised the hand brakes of the cars parked on the side of the road were managing to hold them.

Most of the climbing of the walk was under a pine forest, we zig zagged our way up along numerous switch backs. It reminded me of the conical hill walk in Hanmer Springs. Once we popped out above the trees at the first lookout we had views from Frankston right over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu.

We checked out the basket of dreams, a beautiful sculpture work sitting on the hillside looking out over the water.

On we continued the final couple of hundred meters to the top lookout. It was a great time of the afternoon to be on the hill, watching the light change the colour of the city around us.

It had been a few hours since our last meal so we headed down hill towards town, hopeful to try the famous Fergburger. Often there is a cue up to an hour for these burgers but we had been told by locals to simply place a phone order for pick up rather than wait in line. Once we were at road level we decided on this approach and tried calling for a good 10 minutes before we gave up. We decided to try our luck, walk into town and check out the line. The line was huge so we wandered around town, opting for Buddha bowls at Rehab instead. It was a flip from one end of the food triangle to the other but we evened out any positive health benefits by following our healthy meals with ice cream sundaes from Patagonia. Adam, a patagonia special containing strawberries and meringue and I a coffee sundae with coffee and dulche de leche. It was the most gaint, decadent afogato I had ever had the pleasure of indulging in.

Day 129 – Friday 22nd February
Queenstown

Today we would be tackling Ben Lomond, Queenstown and arguably according to some lists, one of New Zealand’s best day walks. The start of the hike was not far from our hostel. It felt quite strange to have such a spectacular mountain so close to the heart of the city.

When the alarm went off to get up we considered a sleep in, it would have meant we could get the 9am gondola part way up the mountain, saving us 1hr of walking but we forced ourselves up and in the end it was lucky we did. Ben Lomond would turn out to be a very popular day walk, and most of the people walking it had the same fantastic idea of getting the 9am gondola part way up the mountain. Getting up and walking just that little but earlier meant that we avoided the masses on the way up and were able to enjoy the views with a few minutes of solitude.

Our walk up to skyview level (the top of the gondola) was underneath a canopy of trees, first pine and then beech. Occasionally we had views out over the water. It was a steady climb, every so often we would come across the handywork of a talented arborist. There were mushrooms, chairs and all sorts of artworks carved into tree stumps along the way up.

The views opened up when we reached the gondola. We had a short break and continued our climb up. The trail took us over a little bridge at the luge course which I ear marked in my brain for a little fun later in the day. From here we skirted around the side of the mountain and climbed steadily to the saddle. It was slow going but the gradient was gentle which made it easy to plod along onwards and upwards.

From the saddle we had another short break to regain our breath before the steep climbing began, the push to the top. The track curved around the back of the mountain which meant we took in spectacular views over the ranges behind us as we climbed. It was magnificent.

We could see down to two farm houses which appeard to be in the middle of nowhere. It amazed me that on one side of the peak was an expansive mountain range and grazing land which looked so far removed from the bustling tourist hub on the other with newly constructed properties crammed into the terraced hillside.

There was a little bit of scrambling to reach the peak but once we made it up there we were wowed by the views. We were both most impressed by the mountain views but the lake and city side was also incredible. It was well worth the climb.

We hadn’t been long at the top when groups of people began to make their way up behind us. It was a good time for us to start heading down. As we made our way down we passed hundreds of people shuffling their way up the mountain, most of them looking very unhappy, some looked to be in pain and I guessed, regretting their decision to hike the mountain. We even passed a fully guided group.

Back down at gondola level we walked back over the luge track and decided it looked like good fun. We bought tickets for 2 runs each. The luge was was a blast. For our first run of the day we had to be on the slow run so we decided to opt for 2 runs so we could also have a crack at the fast run. On the fast run I burned past Adam and almost took out a family with young children but everyone made it in alive. I loved it, I could have spent all afternoon going down the luge over and over again.

We contemplated getting a ride in the gondola on the way down but decided it probably wasn’t worth the price tag given the views we just had. It was under an hour to walk down so we decided to use our feet.

It was mid afternoon by the time we got to the bottom. We decided it was probably a good neutral time to try to get some burgers from Fergburger and headed over. There was still a huge line out the door. We decided to simply commit and lined up. We had a 15min wait in line and another 5min wait for our food so it wasn’t too bad in the end. We took our feast to the park to enjoy it lake side. After all of the fuss and hype we were both a little let down with the burgers. They were big but the fillings weren’t anything special. Both vego options were deep fried, my deep fried tofu burger left me feeling pretty greasy and not all that great in the tummy, as did the onion rings which weren’t cooked properly and were super greasy. We both declared we wouldn’t line up for it again.

Up next

We deviate from the TA to spend a couple of days on the famous Routeburn Track before making our way through to Te Anau.

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