As I’m publishing this article, it’s been almost eight weeks since the beginning of the lockdown in France, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Tomorrow, the rules of this lockdown will slowly begin to become more flexible, but the situation will probably remain very unstable for a long time, and our movements will still be limited at least for the next few weeks. So in order to take my mind (and hopefully yours) off this alarming situation, I decided to think about all the moments when I had this amazing feeling of freedom during my different trips, and to tell you the story behind five of them. Here’s the third one, with five gorgeous hikes in three days around Queenstown and Wanaka in New Zealand in February 2018
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As I wrote in a previous article, weather is very unpredictable in New Zealand, and it can change super fast. When I started travelling on the South Island in February 2018, it was the end of summer, and during the first couple of days it was absolutely perfect: a bright blue sky with temperatures reaching almost 30°C. But when I arrived in Queenstown ten days later, it was very different. Cyclone Gita hit the north of the South Island on the 20th, with winds up to 140 km/h; it caused floods and road closures in many places. Luckily it wasn’t that bad in Queenstown further south, but it rained heavily during two consecutive days, with snow as low as 1,400m in the surrounding mountains and temperatures dropping below 5°C at night.
I was travelling with an estate car. The two front seats were free, while there was a mattress in the back with all my belongings. Each night, I had to move everything to the front in order to have enough space to sleep; and every morning, I put everything back in the boot. It required some organisational skills, but apart from that it was a good and cheap way to travel… unless it rained. Can you imagine facing 48 hours of pouring rain in these conditions?
During these two days, I spent most of my time at the library or at McDonalds to use the free wi-fi. There was literally nothing else to do, and it felt like it would never end. I had been aware of this cyclone for a few days and I tried to find a hostel where I could stay for a couple of nights but everything was already fully booked in the area and prices were ridiculously high (which is often the case in Queenstown). So I slept in the car, wrapped up in my blanket, parked on a basic campground next to Lake Wakatipu, with only one sink of non-drinking water and two composting toilets at the disposal of everyone (and it was a vast campground).
The rain stopped during the third night, and when I woke up everything had changed. The landscape was completely transformed: I could even see for the first time the summit of the mountains above me that were hidden behind low clouds before! I walked to the lake, took a deep breath of fresh air and stared at the gorgeous sight. It was a great relief: these two days were the saddest and most boring since I started travelling around New Zealand, but it was finally over and as I walked along the shore, I felt this amazing (and quite familiar) sensation of freedom and happiness spreading on me once again.
The forecast predicted three days of beautiful weather before more rain, so I decided to enjoy them as much as possible. There are dozens of fabulous hiking tracks all around Queenstown and Wanaka nearby, and I walked on not less than five of them for a total of around 50km during these three days.
My first hike was to the top of Queenstown Hill, which as its name suggests is a hill overlooking Queenstown (I’m sure you wouldn’t have guessed it!). As you can see on the pictures below, all the summits around were covered with snow because of the huge amount of precipitation during the previous days. A beautiful sight and a positive consequence of this terrible weather…
A couple of hours later, I drove around an arm of Lake Wakatipu until the Kelvin Heights Peninsula. If there were a lot of people climbing up the Queenstown Hill in the morning, here I was almost on my own to enjoy a beautiful walk on the shore of the lake. It was such a peaceful afternoon, and there really was something special in the atmosphere. Or maybe was it just because I was so pleased to be there?
I spent the night on a freecamp between Queenstown and Wanaka, and in the next morning, I begun the hike to Roy’s Peak. It’s a very famous track, but also quite challenging: 16km return with an elevation gain of 1,258m! The view from the summit is simply magnificent: one of the most amazing panoramas of New Zealand.
There was also a little bit of snow at the top, so I could build my first snowman in many years (“snow-dwarf” would probably me more accurate though!). I stayed there for quite a while, because I needed to rest first but mostly because it was such a perfect moment that I wanted to make it last as long as possible. Once again, there were a lot of people at the summit but I managed to find a nice spot between a couple of rocks a little bit further. It really felt like I was on my own, facing the most beautiful sight, in harmony with nature. There are many ways to define the word “happiness”, but for me this is definitely one of them.
I spent the night on a fantastic freecamp directly on the beach of Lake Hawea nearby. The end of the afternoon was another unforgettable moment: I was sitting on my camping chair, reading a book and looking at the mountains in front of me, when I suddenly decided to go for a swim in the lake. It was so refreshing, a perfect treat for my sore legs!
I did two more hikes during the third day. The first one lead me to Rocky Mountain, for a different perspective over Lake Wanaka (the highest summit on the picture to the right below is Roy’s Peak, where I was the day before).
After so many efforts, I started to feel really tired in the afternoon during the second one to Isthmus Peak (16km return, difference in height of 1,100m). But once again, the sight from the top was fabulous, with Lake Hawea on one side and Lake Wanaka on the other.
Clouds started to fill up the sky as I drove back to the same freecamp for the night, first signs of the heavy rain that was announced for the next morning. I didn’t mind: I enjoyed every second of these three days. It was a real orgy of extraordinary landscapes, of pure happiness and of unforgettable memories. Every time I looked back at my trip around New Zealand afterwards, I always remembered this period as one of the best parts of it!
Don’t miss my other articles about these “moments of freedom”, including this one dedicated to my visit to Wilson’s Promontory National Park in Australia.
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