We arrived at Lake Wanaka in the afternoon, and drove to the water front to do a little exploring. The lakefront of Wanaka is a stretch of trendy restaurants and shops, permeated with party-prepared young people, sipping their first vessels of booze for the day. This seemed like a town in which you could satiate your festive tendencies, if you were so inclined. Stretching out into the distance is the navy-blue lake itself, again accosted by picturesque snow-capped mountains. At this point, we expected nothing less than sublimity with every new place we arrived at.
When arriving at our hotel, a young Irish girl who had a sing-song voice like Luna Lovegood checked us in, and assured us that next week’s trip to Milford Sound would be just as dazzling as everything else we’d seen in this fairytale country. Luna seemed a credible source of information.
After a tasty dinner at a lakefront bar, we retired to bed in preparation for the next day’s hike up Isthmus Peak, a merciless 1385-metre mountain about half an hour away.
The drive towards the hike’s starting point took us alongside Lake Hawea, which appeared as a patch of brilliant blue on the horizon, backed by mountain valleys, and flaring with a million glittering sparkles in the morning sun.
Luck was clearly on our side with the weather, and we started the hike in excellent spirits. It started with gentle slopes through lushious green hillsides, with sheep, cow and deer fields surrounding us on each side. A small family of cows eyed us wearily as we scampered through the little verdant patch they called home.
After about half an hour, the gradient gradually increased, with the track looping left and right up the daunting mountain. At certain points, it became so physically exhausting that we had to stop every couple of minutes in order to get some air into our wheezing, asthmatic-like lungs – this hike was breathtaking in more ways than one. I frequently challenged our apparent lack of fitness by declaring that we were making good time compared to the reviewers on Trip Advisor, but as a couple of Germans bounded their way past us halfway up, we cursed their efficient Aryan legs.
As we gained altitude, the flora took on a more stark, yellow look, with spikey porcupine-like bushes scattered all over, and a great deal more bare, dark-grey rock.
The walk was incredibly deceptive – we reached what looked like the peak of the mountain, only to be presented with another horrifying upwards stretch on the other side. This happened three times. At one point we passed a girl who was sat on the side of the path, looking like she was done with this torturous shit, and possibly also done with her boyfriend who was desperately trying to coax her onwards. After three hours of what was undoubtedly the toughest exercise we’d ever endured, we reached the peak’s summit, which offered 360 degree views of both Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, surrounded by snowcapped mountains – a spectacular and rewarding sight.
All was exposed to icy winds on the peak, and we hunkered down away from its nippy bite, indulging the views while refuelling with fruit and energy bars. We started to make our way back down, and the descent somehow seemed even steeper; we were amazed that we’d even managed to make it to the top of such a demanding mountain. Tramping downhill puts a lot more pressure on your knees, and by the time we reached the car two hours later it felt like they’d been worked on by a gang of vicious slick-haired Sicilians.
That night we ate at a delicious tapas-style restaurant in Wanaka called Kika, consuming the necessary excessive amount of lamb and duck-fat potatoes. Happy and full, we hobbled back to our toasty hotel room, ready for Queenstown.
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