All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Sunday, September 6, 2015

We left Te Anau in the morning, but not before Jessica and William said goodbye to two cute baby sheep that were being kept at the Te Anau Lakeview Holiday Park, Sooty and Pinky. We were headed toward Wanaka via Queenstown. Wanaka had gotten on our radar via Instagrammer lebackpacker (real name: Johan Lolos), a Belgian photographer who had lived in Wanaka for some time. His photographs more than anyone else’s made us say we had go there.

The drive back was not the same as the drive to Te Anau because this time we were caught in a small snowstorm. The windows fogged up because the air temperature was so cold. The road conditions were fine. William sat in the back for a change (usually this is where Jessica had been sitting), but he switched with Jessica again when we made it to Kingston, at the southern tip of Lake Wakatipu, where we had pit-stopped before.

The weather improved almost immediately as we passed through Queenstown, and continued improving as we got closer to Wanaka. You could even say the weather was spectacular. It was still quite cold, and the wind was biting, but the sun was out in full force, showing signs that spring was coming, since it was nearing the end of New Zealand’s winter.

We arrived in Wanaka around noon. We were instantly amazed by the views. Wanaka is yet another place in New Zealand that has beautiful 360-degree views of mountains. What place in NZ doesn’t have those views?!

After checking into the campground, we decided to call our parents while we ate lunch, since there was free unlimited Wi-Fi. It was lunch time for us, but 8:30 PM yesterday for the parents. It was good to hear their voices and catch up on our trip so far.

Mt. Aspiring National Park

In the afternoon, we decided to head in the direction of the Rob Roy Glacier area, down the Mt. Aspiring National Park Road and Matukituki Valley. What we didn’t realize before it was too late is that the road to Rob Roy is 22 kilometers of gravel road full of potholes. Many, many potholes. So it made for a very bumpy ride. Let’s just say our campervan did admirably, but it was scary to drive on that road. Though the views and surrounding mountains of the Matukituki Valley were stunning, we probably shouldn’t have started down that way or found a way to turn back sooner. But the final straw was a river (more like a mountain run-off that crossed the road and fed into the Matukituki River) we had to ford to continue. Though we had crossed a similar rocky river in Paradise, this one was wider and rockier. We also saw signs that there were at least 9 more similar rivers to ford ahead, and there was no way of telling if they were worse. We saw several smaller cars getting across, none really suitable to cross, but we didn’t want to risk popping a tire or rolling over the campervan—we were renting it and did have to return it in one piece, after all! So we parked the campervan and stayed in that spot for an hour snapping photos of the scenery and admiring the clear views of Mt. Aspiring we were getting.

It was a nail-biting ride back out to the main road, once again violently bumping, but only to be on a smooth road again. So, that road, we will not miss, but the views we will always miss. We sort of vowed to stop going down roads that looked too dangerous to go down. (The only road we were told the never go on when we had picked up the campervan was the Crown Range Road near Queenstown, since that one had super tight hairpin turns, but the manual did say only to go on sealed roads, too—so we were breaking the rules a bit, perhaps. Don’t tell Britz.)

We made a pit stop at the Mt. Aspiring Lookout at Glendhu Bay. It had been fairly breezy all day, but the wind was stronger by the water of Lake Wanaka, adding to the wind chill factor. The waves were fairly choppy, too, but it didn’t detract from the beauty. We could keep repeating the words lovely, spectacular, beautiful, wonderful—and all their synonyms—to describe  this place. Though it is hard to pick a favorite, if we had to pick a place, Wanaka was quickly floating to the top. And this was only day one of two we had planned to stay here!

The wind chill down by the lake at Glendhu Bay was actually very near the spot where we would need to head up the Roys Peak the next day, so it did make us concerned that it would be even colder tomorrow on our big hike. We think we spotted the peak that was supposed to be the top of Mt. Roy, and could only imagine how cold it was up there. But the weather could be drastically different the next day, and it was nearing the end of the day anyway, so it was naturally getting cooler.

Our last stop for the day was Roys Bay to see the famous “That Wanaka Tree,” a lone willow tree that is growing just off the shore of Lake Wanaka in the bay with the mountains perfectly positioned as a backdrop that is a popular photography hotspot on Instagram and other social media. We took photos and spent some time watching the birds and enjoying the mystic mountain scenery.

Lake Wanaka isn’t the only one in the area. There’s also Lake Hawea. They’re all part of a larger glacial mountain lake chain that runs along the spine that is the Southern Alps of the South Island. Like Lake Wakatipu, Lake Manapouri, and Lake Te Anau, these lakes are vast, and mountains and bays are folded in and around all of it. It’s an immense area. And Wanaka itself is a neat little (ski) resort town that from the signs of new home construction is growing, too.

After our little jaunt down by That Wanaka Tree, we got groceries in town and had spaghetti and green beans for dinner in the warm common room of the Mt. Aspiring Holiday Park, and journaled by the fireplace, carbo-loading and resting up for our big hiking day.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Roys Peak Track

Our one big planned hike was today. We watched a beautiful sunrise over the mountains as we ate our breakfast in the common room of the Aspiring Holiday Park. Roys Peak Track was only a kilometer down the road, so it took no time to get there. There was a small gravel parking lot to park the campervan for the day. We put the shades down and made sure all our belongings were locked away—this is the longest we’d be away from the campervan for the whole trip, likely.

We started on the track around 8:30 AM. After the first few hundred feet, we realized we were overdressed. The previous day, as mentioned, had been quite chilly with the wind, so we thought today might be equally cold, especially high up on a mountain. Nervous about this, we mistakenly wore jeans under our hiking pants and put on one too many sweaters. But the weather was already markedly sunnier and warmer in the morning, and we were getting warm from the sheer physical exertion of hiking. We had even gone through all the trouble of buying nice Columbia hiking pants for the trip, which we should have trusted to do the job. So, we took turns over the course of three breaks up the mountainside to take off our jeans and stuff them into our backpacks. It probably would’ve been a funny sight if anyone saw us doing this—if anyone did at all—but we did try to create some privacy for each other by shielding the person changing from view or concealing ourselves behind some shrubbery before other hikers passed by (we did still have our underwear on, of course). We had to carefully take off our extra layers while not stepping in mud or sheep poop.

The path is quite steep with many switchbacks. The first few hundred meters were green and pasture-like with brambles, shrubs, a few trees, and lots of sheep, sheep poo, cows and cow pies! We had to zigzag through piles of dungs—some quite massive—lugging our packs (which were heavier than they should’ve been, since we had stuffed our unwanted clothing in them).

The second stage of the hike was through a vast area of yellow tussock. This part was muddier yet, being closer to the run-off of the snowmelt. Slowly but surely we made our way up, taking lots of breaks. We were passed a few times by some fit people, or people who were used to hiking mountains. We were definitely non-hikers, but we still enjoyed every minute of it. And, as always when going up, the views just kept getting better and better. We noted how small the campervan was getting in the parking lot.

It took us about 4 arduous hours to get to the top. We met a couple named Mattie (at least we think that’s what he said) and Christine, there, and we chatted with them the most, though others who had made it to the top were friendly with us as well. Mattie was originally from South Africa and had lived in New Zealand, and Christine was from Canada. They were going to move to Canada soon, and they were making one last “hurrah” trip around the country.

The view from the top

We stayed at the top for about 2 hours taking a bazillion pictures. But we spent a lot of time just staring with our eyes. The town of Wanaka looked tiny. We could see currents in Lake Wanaka. We could see far over the Southern Alps and Mt. Aspring was once again clear and visible with almost zero clouds in the sky.

We each took turns hiking out to a second peak to take pictures of each other doing epic poses. When it was William’s turn, he forgot to give his iPhone to Philip or Jessica, and in his rush to hand it back to one of them, he fell in the mud a bit and his phone got a little muddy. Luckily we had some paper towel along for our lunches, so was able to clean it off, at least till it could be better cleaned later.

“Ik bin glad weg uit Zeêland”

Another thing to note that made our hike extra special was the fact we all wore our “Ik bin glad weg uit Zeêland” T-shirts and our thermal socks from Opa Overbeeke, who had recently passed away in June (2015), and to commemorate the three Zeelands in our life: Zeeland, the province where our dad comes from; Zeeland, MI, a nearby village back at home (where Philip works at Gentex); and New Zealand, which is, of course, an anglicized spelling and namesake of the Dutch province, since the Dutch were some of the first Europeans to come to New Zealand. The South African-Kiwi man, Mattie, was kind enough to take our photo at the top of us in all our Zeeland shirts. And the spirit of Opa was guiding our feet this entire hike, in the form of those comfy thermal socks!

It was hard to leave that place, but we knew we only had so much time to get back down before sundown. It took only half the time to get back down the mountain—2 hours—but it was not necessarily any less physically demanding. In some regard, it was harder because you had to keep putting on the brakes on the steep switchbacks. Jessica’s knees were pretty shot, and we knew we would all be paying for this hike in some way for the rest of the trip, especially the next day, but none of us regretted making this hike. The conditions could not have turned out more perfect, considering it was still the end of winter.

Sidenote: Mattie and Christine, our hiking “friends” had gone down the mountain a bit earlier than us, but we saw they were still in the parking lot. Mattie had unfortunately fell on the way down and banged up his leg and knee pretty bad. We felt bad, but wished them luck on their future and their move to North America.

We finally got back to our wonderful campground—which, it must be added, has been one of the greatest, if not the greatest of all of our stays of the trip—and took showers and relaxed in the jacuzzi. It definitely felt good to ease our aching muscles.

Dinner was beans, scrambled eggs on ham and cheese toast—lots of protein to recover from our hike. While we had been making the dinner in the common room, an Australian woman saw the pictures we took on William’s iPhone on top of Mt. Roy and was so amazed that she had to show her husband (or partner). (They mistakenly called it Rob Roy, but that’s the name of the glacier, not the mountain; but we don’t really blame them because it seems like a lot of things are named “Roy” in Wanaka.)

Then we refueled the campervan at a gas station and got more groceries at the same 4 Square Supermarket as the night before.

As if we couldn’t make this day any longer (but in a good way), we went down to the Lake Wanaka waterfront to take night and star photos of That Wanaka Tree. It was super pitch black dark. We had to be careful not to walk straight into the lake! Jessica would paint the tree with light with the flashlight while Philip and William took long exposures of the scene. We got some of the best star and galaxy photos yet and of the city lights shining on the lake.

It goes without saying that after this very long day we were so tired, we hardly could stay awake to journal about the day back in the campervan, as as becoming our nightly ritual. But what a good, good day.

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