Justine Tyerman has trouble with her wayward tramping mates . . .
I couldn’t find my TBs (tramping boots) when I got up early on the morning of our much-anticipated tramp to Mt Aspiring Hut. The night before they were right there beside my pack, hiking stick, wet weather gear and other tramping-phernalia. The front door was open, letting a blast of chilly autumn air into our cosy Wanaka house. I sprinted up to the gate and looked left and right – there they were, bolting down the footpath, making a strange yodelling sound, laces streaming out behind them. Knowing I would never catch them on foot, I grabbed a bike from the garage and hurtled off down the road after them with visions of having to hike up to the hut in my jandals.
Given the high degree of excitement the TBs had been exhibiting over the past few weeks on our training tramps, the escapade was not entirely unexpected. I had taken the precaution of tying their laces to my pack but they were obviously in cahoots with their old mate who no doubt assisted in their escape bid.
Cutting the runaways off before they reached the lake, I planted my feet firmly inside them, tied a double knot in their leather laces and had a few words with my headstrong friends.
It’s been a long time between tramps and you know that patience has never been one of our virtues,” they said in their defence.
We had to sit outside the door for a whole week while you swanned around in your high heels at that last poncey place we stayed at in Queenstown – it’s our turn now.
We just can’t wait to feel that South Island schist and shingle beneath our soles.
Once I had retrieved the TBs, we set out on the stunning 60-minute, 54km drive from Wanaka to the road end at Raspberry Creek. The road skirts Lake Wanaka, passing by famous Glendu Bay with postcard views of magnificent snow-capped Mt Aspiring and the wispy waterfalls of Treble Cone. Golden autumn poplar trees shimmered in the rumpled satin surface of the lake.
Fifty of us had travelled to Wanaka for a special celebration, the 60th birthday of twins we had known for 40 years or so. The venue for the party was a remote back country hut in the shadow of Aspiring, deep in the heart of Te Wahipounamu UNESCO World Heritage site, known to the original Maori inhabitants as “the greenstone waters”.
After champagne and lunch by the foaming green, glacier-fed Matukituki River, we hoisted packs onto backs and headed up the sun-filled valley for two and a half hours to the picturesque stone Aspiring Hut.
The TBs were in heaven, wading through crystal clear streams, negotiating a couple of steep bluffs, and accumulating a coating of mud and cow dung and a dusting of silver silt. They happily teamed up with Hampi, the Swiss husband of one of the twins who yodelled his way up the valley, talking about how much he felt at home in New Zealand, ‘the Switzerland of the South Pacific’. While we Kiwis walked with the aid of our Leki walking sticks, Hampi strode along with a traditional long wooden hiking pole all the way from his home village, Klosters.
You learn a lot on a tramp. I also walked with Hugh who taught me how to spot trout in the river, Alice who gave me a yummy chicken recipe, Edward who told me all about mussel farming on Banks Peninsula, Angus who extended my wine education, and James who attracted the attention of the local doe population by doing stag impersonations.
We celebrated the 60th by candlelight, feasting on Mt Cook salmon, beef cooked on a barbecue, and a delicious array of salads, desserts and birthday cake prepared by the birthday girls, their daughters and friends, and carted in by 4WDs.
After speeches, we danced until our feet ached and slept overnight in sleeping bags in communal bunkrooms. For those who had never stayed at a solar-powered, back country hut without showers or hot water and just a wood burner for heating, it was a real education. They were awed by the experience. Some even decided to take up tramping.
The TBs didn’t mind being outside that night with 50 other pairs of rugged footwear.
The canopy of stars on the clear moonless night, far away from city lights, was utterly breath-taking.
The next day after a hearty cooked breakfast and an efficient clean-up operation, we set off back down the valley as the weather closed in behind us, dusting the mountains with the first snow of the autumn.
The rest of the week, we stayed in luxury at a home swap house in Wanaka with magnificent views of the lake and surrounding mountains. Check it out here!