Tuatapere to Wanaka

New Zealand

At some point I wanted to compare the three walking tracks we’ve done so far, but then I thought that might be dull. Instead I just want to mention how underrated the Hump Ridge Track seems to be. The huts are a bit pricey at NZ$45 a night but the accommodation includes free porridge in the morning, communal cooking utensils and dinnerware and a nice soft pillow to sleep on. Compare that with the “Great Walk” huts that go for NZ$40, which lack all of the above but include crowded bunkrooms.

The Hump Ridge Track also offers the wealthy a chance to experience the outdoors without the discomfort. For gobs of money you can have your backpack helicoptered to the huts each day, or you can skip the walking all together and just hail a helicab to each hut. Imagine going for a tramp minus the tramping.

The helicopter is used for many tourist pursuits here. Aside from heli-hiking the Hump Ridge Track, you can go heli-rafting, heli-skiing, heli-fishing and even heli-picnicing. Carrie and I thought it’d be great to try heli-cycletouring. Just think, we could fly to the next town, land close enough to the local dairy for some ice cream and then roll into the motorcamp with nary a drop of sweat wasted…

OK, enough. On DAY 55, April 4, Carrie and I set sail for the southernmost city in New Zealand called Invercargill. It actually felt a bit like sailing that day thanks to a wonderfully lively tailwind.

Invercargill was the largest city we’d been through since Christchurch. While trying to find a place to stay I was nearly run over by a teenage driver, who only stopped after I screamed for her attention. After the scare we consulted the tourist info office and found a quaint motorcamp near the city centre. That night we had to decide if we wanted to take a bus to Dunedin, a city everybody we’ve met has recommended, or take the bus back to Queenstown to continue on our way to the west coast. We opted for the latter, figuring our time was running short.

In the morning we caught the bus back to Queenstown where we quickly escaped its commercial claws by riding to a former gold mining town called Arrowtown. In Arrowtown Carrie noticed an advertisement for a photo gallery featuring landscapes by Kiwi Craig Potten. Most often landscape photography is usually interesting enough for postcards and blogs, pretty pictures of cloudy skies and waterfalls and other feel-good nature scenes, but not worth more than a quick viewing. Many of Potten’s photos however were just plain jaw-dropping.

Carrie and I made sure to have a hearty dinner that night because our next day’s ride to Wanaka was going to take us up and over the highest pass in New Zealand. We were a little nervous because we hadn’t really climbed a decent hill since crossing Lindis Pass weeks ago.

As it turned out, the 11km of climbing up to the Crown Range Pass (alt. 1056m) wasn’t all that bad. Yeah, we huffed and puffed, and I’m sure a fit octogenarian could have walked up faster, but our slow pace and persistent pedaling paid off. At the top we met two teenage roadies on carbon everything bikes who looked at us a little queer for hauling so much crap up the hill. It’s actually rare to see people on road bikes here. Most Kiwis, like most Americans, prefer the beefy tires and cushy suspension of mountain bikes. It’s no strange wonder considering it’s probably a lot safer in New Zealand to steer clear of the narrow roads and impatient drivers.

When we arrived in Wanaka, we passed a huge collection of photographs on display along the lakefront called Earth From Above. This roving photo gallery includes amazing aerial photographs from around the world. The photographer’s goal is to show us why it’s important that we conserve the only earth we have.

For Easter weekend, we planned to use Wanaka as our base to venture back into the wilderness for an overnight hike in Mt. Aspiring National Park, where we hoped to get a nice view of the park’s namesake. Because the shuttle to the trailhead is incredibly expensive, we aimed to try our hand, or thumb, at hitchhiking, a popular way to move about this country.

On the morning of DAY 57 we walked out to the road leading to the national park with one other couple in front of us hoping to thumb a ride as well. We walked up a ways passed them, set our packs down and put on our best lost puppy dog faces with thumbs in the air. Five minutes went by, no luck. Five minutes later the other hitchhiking couple waved as they passed us in a car. They got a ride. It was our turn now. Ten minutes later, no luck. It was already 10:30am and we had a 6-hour hike planned, but it was still an hour’s ride to the trailhead, so we gave ourselves until 11:00am to catch a ride. Ten minutes went by along with several vehicles, still no luck. At 11:00am we walked the walk of shame back to the motorcamp where we camped the night before to stay for another night. We failed at hitchhiking. Carrie and I surmised that if we’d been out a couple of hours earlier we would have had better luck. Oh well.