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Published: December 30th 2009
(Day 632 on the road)
Picture a "State Highway". Sounds pretty grand, doesn't it? A well maintained road. Four wide lanes, two in each direction. A divider in the middle to separate the traffic. Well, not so in New Zealand. A State Highway here can be nothing more than a gravel road in a bad condition, as was the case with State Highway 38 that I took from Rotorua to Lake Waikaremoana. Initially I thought I had typed in the wrong destination when my GPS (great investment by the way!) told me that my chosen route included unsurfaced roads. So instead of a smooth two hour drive I found myself practising my drift-driving skills for the next four hours. But the ride was very very scenic for most of the way. Plus it wasn't like I was late for work or an important meeting. All I wanted to do was lace up my hiking boots and enjoy the outdoors for a few days.
My plan for the next four days was to hike almost all the way around Lake Waikaremoana, sleeping in a hut for the first night, and camping the other two. The Lake Waikaremoana trek is a so called
Great Walk, of which there are eight altogether in New Zealand. Great Walks are chosen amongst the many beautiful treks New Zealand has to offer primarily based on their sheer beauty. Unfortunately, huts and camp grounds on Great Walks are considerably more expensive than on other treks, but in turn the facilities and the state of the paths are in a better condition than on less popular treks.
I had deliberately chosen to do this walk over Christmas, both as I saw it fitting to enjoy some solitude during this time of the year (though I am a convinced atheist I might add), and because the Great Walks are typically very crowded. So off I went. The path left me no opportunity to catch my breath and have a gradual start. Instead, for the next two and a half hours or so I was labouring up a steep and unforgiving cliff parallel to the lake shore. Climbing some 600 metres, sweating like a pig and having my Ipod on shuffle-mode throwing songs like "Miles Away" (Winger) or 'Walk on" (U2) at me, I was happy.
By the time I reached the top, I was drenched in sweat and
could literally wring my shirt (which I did) - I have always been one to sweat a lot, but spending an extensive period of time in hot and humid Asia makes me somehow sweat even more easily these days. I was rewarded however with a simply spectacular panorama of the lake far below and took a long and well-earned rest. After another hour of walking along the ridge I already reached Panekiri hut, my aim for the day. As expected, there were only a handful of fellow hikers there, two families and a single woman - just what I had been looking for in order to enjoy a quiet Christmas. As all of us were travelling in the same direction on the same trek, we would bump into each other at various places over the next few days. During the evening it turned out that the woman (who had no hiking experience and was lugging a 19kg backpack up the mountains - she will learn) happened to also carry a Christmas candle, so we even had some Christmas atmosphere up in the hut. Perfect!
Over the next three days I thoroughly enjoyed the pleasures of a multi-day hike far
away from civilisation. Hiking, enjoying the view, singing aloud, camping, swimming in the lake at the end of the day - what more can I ask for?
A note on the walking times however (not to boast, but to allow you to plan your hikes in NZ better): The walking times given by the Department of Conservation are, well, conservative to say the least. I often found myself finishing sections in half or even a third of the time they said it would take. And I am not a particularly fast hiker; I enjoy taking pictures, having a nice rest every now and then, marvelling at the view, and so forth. Other people were telling me the same. In fact, one day I was arriving at my destination well before noon, being pretty bored for the rest of the day on a remote campground with nothing much else to do. And since on Great Walks you have to pre-book your huts and campground, there is no flexibility to skip a campground and continue on to the next one if you discover that you are making good progress.
One thing that did keep me occupied however were the omnipresent
and aggressive sand flies. They are so small and their sting is so painless that I didn't realise I was being bitten until it was way to late. The bites are extreeemely itchy for a few days afterwards, and I had to force myself to stop scratching as I was drawing blood in many spots on my poor feet. My insect repellent seemed to make no difference at all. Mental note, Ben: Buy stronger insect repellent!
And a final thought, completely off-topic: Looking back at my recent blog entries in Australia and New Zealand and comparing them to the ones I wrote across Asia, I feel that the interestingness of my blog (and the number of people reading my stories) is deteriorating. The reason is easy to spot I reckon: Asia is so very different from western countries, giving me as the blogger ample opportunity to reflect on the subtle (or not so subtle) differences and cultural peculiarities. In Australia and New Zealand, there are less cultural difference, and as a result my blog has become much more descriptive in nature. I apologise - and once I get to more exotic destinations again, this will change. Promise!
Next stop: Tongariro Northern Circuit Great Walk (North Island, New Zealand).
To view my photos, have a look at pictures.beiske.com
. And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon
(and most other online book shops).
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