Tramping (Trekking) the Length of New Zealand (MAIN PAGE)

Section L: Mt. Cook to Wanaka

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Section Summary: Section L heads south from Mt. Cook and the Southern Alps into the southern end of the vast and open Canterbury Plains, following flat tussockland/farmland southward to Omarama. The route then goes west over Lindis Pass and into the Central Otago "high country", also wide open tussocklands, crossing a high range over and down to Lake Hawea and then Wanaka. The route is almost entirely on the side margins of paved highways, except for the 20-km "Grandview Track" which starts on the west side of Lindis Pass and follows a series of dirt roads through two private sheep stations (permissions required) that lead over a 1400-meter (4600-feet) elevation crest before descending to Lake Hawea.

Route Note: This section rejoins the emerging Te Araroa route at Twizel, and generally covers the same country through to Wanaka. However, Te Araroa from Twizel follows a few (still) "unmarked routes" which I didn't want to do (see route note for Section K), plus faces uncertainties about viable routes through private farm lands. I could have pieced together a route in this section that involved less road walking, by seeking more permissions from private farms, but decided I just wanted to get through and the trouble and extra tramping time wasn't worth it. (As time goes by, I become more aware of the timing needed to finish the trek by mid-April, and more in need of doing so.) Also, for logistical simplicity (i.e., keeping my light "road pack" which doesn't allow multi-day back-country tramping), I decided to just stay on the highways and stay and eat in towns during this section. The roads generally have quite a bit of unfenced land off to the sides, and I was able to walk much of the way some distance off the roads on the flat tussock/dirt/grasslands parallel to the roads.

Acknowledgment/Disclaimer: Thanks to Breast Hill and Mt. Grand Stations for permissions to walk the Grandview Track. My inclusion of this track in my personal route does not imply that others will be able to obtain similar permission.

Section Journal: Wanaka, New Zealand, March 9, 2004

What a vast, open landscape! The Canterbury plains and Central Otago "high country" are just lovely and engender expansive thinking. I was able to "think big" while walking through, and to resolve some personal and professional questions that have been on my mind. The country might remind me of some of the more arid areas of the Western U.S., including some of the brown rolling hills of Northern California, if not for the unique tussock grasses and rocky composition of the ground.

This section went quite easily and quickly, based on my decision to stay on roads with a light pack (just clothes, raingear, lunch, water, and small sleeping bag) and sleep and eat in towns. The available lodging and meals were spaced nicely, about every 25-40 km (Glenntanner Park, Twizel, Omarama). The Omarama Hotel was a great deal--clean room, shared bath, and cooked breakfast included, all for NZ$35 (US$23). At Omarama I decided to take a break from walking and so bicycled 30-km to Lindis Pass (all uphill and into the wind), coasting practically the entire way back to Omarama, downhill and with a tailwind. The next day I got a car ride to Lindis Pass (965 meters elevation) and continued walking--first down to Forest Range (400 meters elevation) and then over the Grandview Track (passing over 1400 meters elevation), and then back down to Hawea Flat (400 meters elevation) south of Lake Hawea. That was a long 12-hour, 40-km up-and-down day, so I was glad of the break from walking the day before.

I had hoped I could find lodging in Hawea Flat, but upon arrival after sunset, there wasn't much around. I could have tried to ask a farmer for a place to sleep, but decided to sleep in the school yard (which was my backup plan all along). So I just sat on a bench in the school yard, ate a cold dinner as the full moon rose in the east, and slept right on the bench in my sleeping bag and bivy sack. Funny, but I awoke and it seemed like dawn so I starting putting my shoes on until I looked at my watch and noticed it was only 1:50am! Mountains and trees were visible in the distance--that was a bright full moon. Up at the real dawn, from Hawea Flat it was a further 15-km to Wanaka, with a stop for breakfast at the small store in Albertown.

In this section, in contrast to most other road walking earlier in the trek, there was quite a bit of land adjacent to roads that was not fenced. This land was generally flat dirt/grass/tussock land and easy walking. So I didn't actually have to walk on the road or road shoulders (verges) for the whole section. Particularly in Mt. Cook National Park, a wide swath of open land in the Tasman Valley north of Lake Pukaki allowed me to get a few hundred meters away from the road, and again south of Twizel there were dirt roads and open country some distance from the road. In other places fenced land had no stock and gates were open, so I walked fencelines near the road.

Renting the bike was an interesting case study in New Zealand business. It is amazing that in many establishments along my trek, prices of things have been rounded *down* or negotiated. For example, a bill will come to $13.20 and the proprietor will say "just give me $10." Cabs round down too, "keeps our customers happy" said one cab driver. Businesses are also very trusting. Many of my lodging bills have been settled upon check-out, with no advance collateral, ID, or credit card to ensure payment, just the trust that I'll stop in at the end and pay. I was even able to rent a car at one point on the North Island without showing any form of ID to prove I was the person who made the reservation! I find this level of business informality and trust very refreshing (even if not as "efficient" or "competitive"). Anyway, a motel in Omarama had a sign "bikes for hire $10." Usually bikes are rented on a hourly basis, but here it was simply $10, which is cheap in any case. "Does $10 pay for a whole afternoon?" I asked. "Well, if you'll have the bike for the whole afternoon, maybe $20, how does that sound?" asked the receptionist. "Fine" I said and paid the money. "Do you need ID or collateral or anything?" I asked. "No, that's fine." She then went to find a key to the rack but discovered the owner of the bikes, who was actually separate from the hotel but used the hotel as a rental location, had gone out of town without unlocking the rack or leaving a key. The receptionist called the owner's cell phone and obtained agreement to cut the lock, then called a local fix-it man. Five minutes later, the local man drove up, got out with a bolt cutter, cut the lock, and drove away, all in the space of 30 seconds. Then off I rode. So I still maintain my initial impression from last October, voiced to Peter Griffiths in the Far North, that "this seems like a pretty organized country"; it's just a different type of organization!

Not much to say about Section L, really. The feet are tired and Wanaka is a nice place to relax!

Page updated March 9, 2004