We have arrived in Wanaka.

Actually we already arrived over a month ago. I'm just now taking the time to sit down and write about settling in our temporary hometown. Despite my strong desire to write I'm usually very good at filling my time with physical, preferably outdoor activities. Very often lots of my writing will be notes over notes, on my phone, on sheets of paper and in multiple notebooks (one can never have enough notebooks!). Sitting down to create readable content from these notes is generally more of a sort of calm and non-physical activity. Once I get to the point that I start writing (like I am now) I can get lost for hours. It's the same with reading. Once I've managed to make the restless part of me - the one that's always shouting "C'mon let's get outside and do something!!" - take a break, the part of me that could spend days in a hut tucked away somewhere just to read and write shyly surfaces.


View of the snow-capped mountains from the lakefront


The beginning of our long-term holiday was a bit, hmm let's say, "rougher" than anticipated. I was struck with a bit of period pain which led to an involuntary rest day of some easy walking, yoga, more yoga and lots of chocolate milk. Plant-based, obvio :)

Darryn on the other hand was struck by an on and off pain in his teeth. This had already started just before we left Ōtautahi / Christchurch but was irregular enough to be easily ignored. And this is how he eventually had his very last wisdom tooth taken out. By a dentist in Wanaka, with views of the mountains, as he would tell me later.

This and a weather front with a bit of nasty rain for a few days had us extend our stay in one of the local campgrounds by a few days before immersing ourselves in the first adventure.


"Four seasons in one day...." Not the same weather front mentioned in this post but one a couple of weeks later....

Both this and the previous image were taken half an hour apart in the order you see them here....


And this was our first week in Wanaka. If it wasn't for a bit of travel experience, especially with trips that feel like they could not have had a shittier beginning but turned out to be fabulous in the end (most of the times), I may have been a little bit annoyed with a start like this. I've been thirsty for some tramping mountain time for a wee while. But there's something about situations like these that nowadays simply make me think "Ah well, now that we have that ticked off (and that and that...), let the fun begin."

With an entire month already spent in the Wanaka region, we've established our own wee routine that seems to work quite well:

→ Find a nice area to explore. (There are so, so many!)

→ Go tramping for a few days.

→ Come back to Wanaka to have the luxury of hot showers, an indoor kitchen and drinking water from tap, to name a few. To have a bit of rest, do some climbing, running and prepare the next tramping section. And to do some writing, of course!

Except for nights we spend in huts we live in our portable little home (tent) and are renting a storage unit to park our gear while being out and about.

To say I'm fully embracing this simple life as close to (and within) Nature as can be is a huge understatement. The first time I was able to get a taste of how beneficial living like this can be to me was in 2019 when I started long term travel. After I've left a corporate job and an environment that for years and years had been comfortable but, frankly, was very slowly eating me alive without even noticing. Forgive my dramatic words but in retrospect, with time and a little bit more life experience, some things I considered normal back then seem so out of line now. Almost like the life of another person but that would just be pushing away my own responsibilities. (To friends who already were a part of my life back then, don't take the statement as an offense. Even with close friends or partners alongside, things can be far from OK in one's life. If you're dear to me you'll know.)

Part of these life experiences include being in solitude for the first time, at least as far as I'm aware. And plenty of times since then.


Something I long considered equivalent to being lonely and therefore something I'd run away from all my life. Until not too long ago I'd hated to be by myself or still of any sort. I'd surround myself with others or would try to keep myself busy, mostly with active sports, or (admittedly) have a drink (or two). All this solely to avoid having to think too much about the things that deep inside troubled me. It never hit me that I was actually, quite literally at times, running away from myself. I simply can't be still because I have so much energy. Hmm, right.

This excuse worked until I found myself in a situation when I had no other option than to be solitary and when there simply wasn't much room to be active (and, again admittedly, not enough alcohol around). A situation I entirely chose to put myself into: To travel from Europe to South America on a cargo ship. Starting long term travel with 3 - 4 weeks on a freighter in the middle of the ocean. Can it get any cooler than that? Haha, little did I know.

Even with crew, a dear friend and less than a handful of other passengers, it's hard to describe how solitary it can get on a ship in the wide open water. It's truly beautiful, I sometimes long for those moments now. Nothing cancels all the many noises and stressors of modern life more than being on a ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean in the middle of the night. With nothing more than the calming sounds of the waves around you and an uncountable number of stars above your head.

How to know what we care about, what to give back, if we don't dare to stop and listen to ourselves? But if, like me back then, one has never experienced something like that before, it can get really uncomfortable at first. Something many people much more talented with words than me have described as getting in touch with your inner darkness. Ooh, and dark it gets, baby, dark it gets. Especially, when your ego gets crushed by the vastness of the Ocean. And instead of being able to run away, you simply have to stay where you are (and listen to all kind of weird emotions that've piled up over the past years. Far from cool). Or be an extraordinary swimmer.

In hindsight, that experience was just the beginning and, luckily, one of many to follow (lots and lots of time in the mountains in more or less remote places) and one that I desperately needed. Again without being aware of it at all. 

Fast forward a few years (and a few more moments of scary darkness) and I now long for a regular dose of solitude. Best served outside of the personal comfort zone, mixed with lots of Nature. Shaken, not stirred. Which is why I'm now here writing these words hoping to give you a glimpse of why I'm doing what I'm doing. (Ideally you care a little bit, so I haven't wasted too much of your time by now ;) )

Now, let's have a wee look at what we've been up to over the past few weeks:

Lake Hāwea and Kidds Bush Reserve

Less than an hour's drive from Wanaka sits Kidds Bush Reserve Campsite, a campsite managed by DoC (Department of Conservation in Aotearoa New Zealand). Having a campsite pass we settled ourselves at this campsite for a few nights to explore the area.

While Darryn was still recovering from his wisdom tooth procedure I took the time to make a trip up to the Sawyer Burn Hut and back. It's a nice walk through some beech forest up to the bushline and from there along the side of the hill towards the hut. Most of the vertical gain of 580 m is taken care of within the first 2 km which makes it the sort of hike that I like: Start strong and finish off smoothly :)

The DoC link and the topo map I'm using are suggesting the track to be 8 km there and back again. My tracking app was showing a little bit more with 10 km when I stopped it later back at the campground. With a clear blue sky above me, I was rewarded with some very pleasant views upon reaching the bushline: Lake Hāwea surrounded by mountains in one direction and some more mountains in the other direction. Have I mentioned that I'm really, really falling for this beautiful little spot on Earth? 

The next day Darryn was back on board and we made our way up Isthmus Peak (1385 m). Heaving heard that this track is comparable to the track up to Roy's Peak I was a bit, hmm, let's say suspicious. While the views are extraordinary the track itself is a little bit different to what I generally prefer: a little bit more forest, a little less 4WD track and a little bit more remote. The distance and elevation gain aren't to be underestimated though: 8 km with just over 1,000 m vertical gain in one direction. In summary that makes 16 km of walking distance with 1,000 m up and 1,000 m down. So, don't be fooled by my downplaying, it's still an alpine environment and thus to be approached as such.

The photo above was taken from the Isthmus Peak Track. Left of the small green patch is the area where we camped and where the track to Sawyer Burn Hut starts from.

Cameron Flat Campsite

For our next tramping section we selected three tracks in total and settled ourselves at the Cameron Flat Campsite for a few nights. This campsite sits right next to the Blue Pools which is a tourist destination and can therefore be very busy. But with early spring, when frosty nights are still common, we were lucky and the campground remained undisturbed by big crowds throughout our stay there.

The early morning views with low clouds covering the valley visible from our campsite were priceless. Very, very cold, but priceless :) Not to mention the millions and millions of stars enveloping the night's sky.

The day after pitching our tent we went to walk Mt Shrimpton Track. Our idea was to walk at least to the bushline and see how far towards the actual summit we'd get. With Darryn's recovery from his foot injury currently being a significant indicator for our hikes together, we're still experimenting with how far we can go and how strenuous the terrain can get. So, we went just a little above the bushline. This translates to 4.5 km of distance and 940 m of elevation gain in one direction.

On the way up we were more than lucky to see what we're pretty sure were two kākās - after watching them for a little bit and checking our bird book later. And just before we reached the bushline a kea made themselves visible by voicing their significant screech. Just when I got my phone to start recording the kea opened the wings and flew off. Kākās and keas are both NZ native parrots with keas being the only alpine parrot of the world, as far as I know. This was the first time I've seen a wild kea this close and saw the colourful underside of the wings above me. Wow... Just like the views at the top.

The next day I checked out the Cameron Valley Track by myself while Darryn took a rest day for his foot. I'll keep details about this and the Makarora Valley Track Darryn and I did together the day after that for separate articles. Both tracks are super beautiful and lead to huts that we didn't quite reach this time but want to check out for an overnighter another time. Which is when I'll be able to give you an in depth description. So, stay tuned :)

Fern Bern Hut (part of Motatapu Track)

We decided to sit out a bit of nasty weather forecasted for a few days at a somewhat easily and quickly accessible hut (by hiking standards, I guess). For this we picked Fern Burn Hut which is part of the Motatapu Track, a historic route that connected Wanaka to Arrowtown. We also used this to check out the track in general as we are planning to walk the entire Motatapu Track starting from our favourite campground in Wanaka all the way to Arrowtown and back again. But more on that when it happens :) So much hiking (and writing about it...) to do and so little time, eh?

We covered a distance of 7.2 km from the car park to the hut with an elevation gain of 500 m. Part of the track crosses the Stack Conservation Area. You'll become aware of this by very visibly stepping from shrubland into a beautiful forest (and literally as you have to step through an actual gate). About halfway to the hut the track crosses the Motatapu river. The bridge that usually makes this stream crossing a no-brainer had been removed for repairs. It still turned out to be an easy crossing. This did not make the water any warmer, brrr...

We spent two nights at the hut and used the day in between walking in and out for a little bit of exploration of the area around the hut.

In (yet another) addition to my things-I-want-to-write-about wish list I'll make a promise here to give further information on the track details once we've tackled the Wanaka Arrowtown objective :)


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