Friday, February 22, 2013

New Zealand - Wanaka (Day 13)

This was one of my favorite days, even though more than half of it was spent hiking through sheep poop. Yes, that's right. The beautiful and ridiculously challenging hike documented in the photos below also happened to be through farmland where many sheep reside. We literally walked through sheep poop the whole hike. There was no getting around it. BUT it was an incredible day full of views, sunshine, hiking....and sheep poop. 

The day started out with a beautiful sunrise over Lake Wanaka at our campground. Looked like it was going to be a clear, sunny day! If you know me at all you know that I love sunshine. Well, beware...the sunshine is strong in New Zealand! I don't burn very easily and this day I burned. But part of that is because the hike was twice as long as we thought it would be (with zero shade).

Sunrise over the lake

The hike was Isthmus Peak, right smack in the middle of Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea. And the sign read 8km, so we had assumed that was round trip (which was dumb of us because the Department of Conservation is pretty good about saying "return" if they mean "round trip"). To clear things up, this hike is 16km and will take you 5-6 hours to complete. The reward for hiking straight up for 8km (almost 5 miles up) was 360 degree views of the lakes and mountains beyond. Really truly incredible!

Finding the trailhead is a little tough. There is a trailhead sign visible on the left side of the road if you are driving north on Highway 6. There is no official parking, so you need to park in one of the pullouts on the side of the road. If you pass the little knob of land jutting out into Lake Hawea and start turning west, then you've gone too far.

There is a little marker where I think we parked, but it's hard to see. 

Once you are on the trail, it's up, up, up for two and a half hours or so. Close to the beginning, it's so steep that I had to hold on with both hands to a fence on my left side to make it up the hill without falling backwards. Then it gets more manageable, though still challenging. And although it's steep, the trail is wide and you aren't hiking along cliffs or anything. The best part is you have views the whole way, first of Lake Hawea, then of Lake Wanaka, and then of both and the Southern Alps are there all along as well. 

Lake Hawea

Happy sheep

Serious climbing

We would turn corner after corner thinking this must be the peak. Remember, we thought this was an 8km return hike. We were thinking an hour and a half or so to the top, but it ended up being almost double that. 

The views from the top were totally worth the climb. 

We nearly had to jog down the mountain, because it was so steep. It's just easier on my knees that way. Plus, we were running out of water and I could feel my skin burning. Man, what a hike! We were so tired by the end of it, in that way only a long hike (and for me a long run) can make you feel. Tired but oh so happy and relaxed. We took a long dip in the freezing cold Lake Hawea before heading to Wanaka for dinner. We chose The Landing because they had fish and chips and outdoor seating. They had quiet seating on their balcony with umbrellas so we didn't get anymore sun and views of the lake and town. Had my favorite Monteith's beer (that I hadn't had a chance to try at their brewery), the Summer Ale. Refreshing after the day we'd had.

Downtown Wanaka. I want to move here. 

And if that day wasn't enough, we happened to drive an hour along the most beautiful road I've ever been on as the sun was going down: Cardona Valley Road/Crown Range Scenic Drive.  Holy crap! There were so many lupines along this road of all colors. I've never seen such a thing. And then to turn the corner to see the sun setting on the valley that holds Lake Wakitipu in the distance. was magic.

If camping is allowed up here (a pull out at the top of the ridge), I'd camp here. I don't recommend the holiday park in Arrowtown, mostly because it was a parking lot. Facitilites were nice, but who needs facilities when you have this view!

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