What Goes Up: Climbing Roy’s Peak (1,578m), Lake Wanaka, NZ (16km)

Whenever we have sat down on the trip to investigate where to head next, the iPad has been plagued with nature-porn shots from the top of Roy’s Peak.

It’s just one of the 750km of hiking tracks found in the surrounding area of Lake Wanaka’s stunning alpine terrain. But we won’t be seeing any of it today.

“It’s been the wettest summer on record,” explains the smiling thirty-something lady at our campiste reception. “Or at least that I can remember!”

We are still wary from our ill-equipped washout in the Kahurangi National Park to try any further hill climbing in the rain for now. Despite making it a priority after that hike, we have also failed to purchase any better waterproofs. So we decide to drive to Queenstown instead, which we suspect has more to offer us by way of rainy day activities. One cosy viewing of Star Wars: Rogue One, two decadent burgers and a smattering of vineyard visits later; we return to our campsite at Lake Wanaka with our suspicions confirmed.

We roll out of our van the next morning to bright sunshine and clear skies. We are relieved, but also a little disappointed not to have an excuse to drive back to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. We steady ourselves with some beans on toast, prep some pittas and remind each other that the climb up Roy’s Peak will be worth it.

We drive to the trailhead and begin our ascent. We soon realise however that even with the increasingly epic views of Lake Wanaka, the walk itself is pretty mundane. A steep and switchbacking eight kilometers up, followed by the same knee-jarring eight kilometers back down again. By New Zealand’s standards it’s also a ‘busy’ walk, with a steady stream of folk sweating back and forth along the path.

Linear return walks are some of my least favourite. I feel cheated by the repitition of the same scenery. As fun as it is to get to the top a peak, it is a shame not to be able to return via the other ridges, gaps or saddles nearby. Roy’s Peak is made worse by the complete lack of variety; the up and the down on the stony path.

It is some testament to the view at the top then to say this is still a very worthwhile hike.

Edging out onto the thin trail of the Peak itself is an unforgettable, unnerving experience. We shuffle out, crunching our feet on tiny rocks that crumble and tumble over the edge. Reaching the cliff edge itself creates a floating sensation. I feel like I’m anchored to the rest of the mountain by the narrow strip, like an astronaut roped to a ship but hovering in space.

A momentary glance down tells you all you need to know about the vertical drop off. Looking back up, snow flecked mountain tops dig into the cloudless sky and fall away to green hills lower down. These surround the deep blue of Lake Wanaka that spills out below, as if someone has poured liquid glass into a huge basin.

It is fantastic. Maybe even more so than the beasts found in the Harry Potter film universe.

 

Practicalities

– This is a steep walk without any shade or cover. Take appropriate gear for the weahter i.e. waterproofs, sunscreen and a hat. I would say 6 or 7 out of 10 difficulty due to the incline and total height gain of around 1,300m.

– You’ll need transport to reach the start point which is about 5km west of Wanaka Town. A fair number of people were hitching there and back which is an option.

– If visibility is poor, there is little point in doing this walk.

 

 

 

Eating Mountains: Climbing Te Mata Peak, North Havelock, New Zealand (5.5km)

The Te Mata car park is bustling with activity, despite the early hour.

Around us, dog walkers wrestle their excitable new Christmas puppies onto leads. One particularly fluffy and tiny Maltese tries to scramble up my leg as I consult the trail map, squinting in the thinly clouded summer sun. The surprised noise I make is embarrassing for a grown man and not proportional to the animal’s size.

The dog walkers mix with lean regulars and chubby New Year resolution joggers. The latter are clad in bright, packet-fresh gear. I pinch my own stomach, kneading the effects of the cheap beer, salty snacks and general beach life of south east Asia. Losing my belt somewhere between Cambodia and the Philippines has had an alarming lack of impact. It is timely to be back in a country where you are never far away from a hike, bike or waterway.

We choose to follow the Rongokako trail which will take us in a circuit around the foothills, via a climb over Te Mata Peak and ridge, and so stomp off into the undergrowth in the direction of the first sky blue arrow that marks the route. The scenery is almost Wild West; sun-baked and crumbling paths wind through kindling dry grass and then narrow alongside craggy hilltops. All around are stunning views of rolling, parched-yellow hills. Nestled in the flat basin beneath Te Mata, sits the verdant-green wine producing valley of Hawkes Bay and our campsite.

Te Mata o Rongokako is the Maori name of the giant who, lying down dead, forms the ridge of this mountain. If you stand on the plain below, it bears the resemblance of an enormous sleeping man. The legend goes that Rongokaka and a beautiful princess from a tribe on the plains fell in love. But the princess, following advice from her kin who wanted to take revenge on Rongokaka’s tribe, was convinced that she should make Rongokaka perform near impossible tasks to prove his devotion. He met his match when he was asked to eat this mountain, finally choking on Te Mata Peak and expiring here.

New Zealand’s Maori place names are awash with wonderful etymology like this. As we reach the Peak and admire the view across the plains (or catch our breath), we overhear a grey-bearded chap explain that the Tuki Tuki River below is so called because of the sound the water makes hitting the rocks.

At the Peak, there sits a large, shining tiled mosaic that lays out the topography that can be seen all around. To the east, the Pacific Ocean. To the west, at the far reach of the map, sits the snow capped Mount Tongariro (aka Mount Doom) which we plan to tackle at the end of our trip and is supposedly one of the best day treks in the world.

On the descent, the sun breaks through and transforms the hills from yellow to singing gold. We navigate around overhanging flax seed bushes and arrive at the edge of the redwood forest. In comparison to the bare hills, the shaded wood pulsates with the buzzing of invisible insects and birds. Entering in to escape the midday sun, we hop over a stile into an aroma of damp-pine and almost fall over an impressive treehouse. A true feat of woodland engineering. I try to steal a photo, but a small blonde child emerges from the entrance. With arms crossed, she stares me down and so I skulk off without taking a snap, bested by the miniature war-chief.

Almost back at the car park, we pass one of the aforementioned runners who is bent over, heaving with perspiration. She waves away offers of assistance, her face masked by a brand new, fluorescent pink Nike cap. Another reminder to get in shape.

Spurred on, after our return to camp we spend the afternoon exploring Hawkes Bay on bikes. I should mention the cycle is more of a stuttering crawl around neighbouring vineyards.

I convince myself the first swill of chilled rosé on my tongue is semi-earned.

Baby steps.