My Life in Motion

Archive for the month “February, 2016”

Mount Guy

Within the Hakatere Conservation Park, on the same road as Mount Sunday, but not quite so far along, lies the dominating and striking peak of Mount Guy. It takes about 2hrs to drive there from Christchurch, heading first to the little village of Mount Somers that is nestled near the base of the peak of the same name. Following the signs, the road snakes through and into the mountains until Hakatere where it becomes a long but wide unsealed road. Most of the hikes I’ve done in New Zealand are reached on gravel roads to varying lengths, so I’m used to them to some degree, and as with many New Zealanders, my car is old and pre-battered, so I probably drive these roads with slightly less caution than people who are inexperienced or have rental cars. Still, there are spots on this long road where the grip is better than others, and caution is required when driving along the banks of the lakes or going round bends. On this particular day, I came across a car that had recently gone off the road and down an embankment towards the nearby stream. The driver door was wide open but there was no-one to be seen.

Lake Camp and Lake Clearwater sit one either side of the road. The former is smaller and popular with motorboats, whereas the latter is larger and the realm of self-propelled water sports. I turned into the village and reached the lake shore where a few people were stand-up paddle boarding. By now mid-morning, I parked at a picnic spot right by the lake, and the reflections on the surface of the water were stunning. With a predicted high of nearly 30oC, the sky was cloudless and it was already getting quite warm. Looking across the lake towards Mount Guy, I realised straight away this was going to be tough – unlike most of the other mountains I’ve hiked up, there was only shrubbery and no trees or shade in sight.

Lake Clearwater reflections


The walk starts off following a 4×4 track around the eastern end of the lake. I meandered along, admiring the changing reflections of the surrounding mountains on the lake surface. Where the track fords the river at the end of the lake, a pedestrian bridge ensures dry feet. A little further round the lake, a Department of Conservation (DOC) sign near a stile marks the track to follow to summit Mt Guy. The sign where I parked my car stated 2.5hrs to reach the summit, but yet at the base of the mountain it said just 1hr 15mins. I hadn’t been walking that long, so I knew one of them was wrong. It didn’t take long to work out it was this more recent one. Crossing a flat stretch of land, the path starts climbing and it doesn’t give up the whole way. By now, the temperature was well into the 20s and the sun was continuing to rise above me.

Mt Guy across Lake Clearwater

Reflections on Lake Clearwater

Mt Guy


The lower shrubbery involves a lot of thorns, and the path is marked by orange poles the whole way up. In the lower reaches, it is quite obvious and well trodden, but as the altitude rises, there are more and more sections where it becomes quite vague. About half way up, as it continues to increase in steepness, there are a few small boulder fields to negotiate and some small scree patches. I was already exhausted by this point and having to stop regularly to catch my breath. These sections were not a good place to stop, so I caught my breath where I could and ploughed on. The whole way up the view is behind you, but these breathers allowed me to appreciate the view unfolding below. The lakes grew smaller and the valley opened up in both directions, and the distant mountains had snow on their summits.

Shrubbery on the slope

Looking up the valley


I realised that there was another solo hiker about 20mins behind me. We were maintaining a similar pace so I continued to pick my way up the mountainside. After the short bouldered sections, a peak of rocks signalled a crossing over point of the track and it shifted from the side of the mountain to slightly more front-on. It was still vague and stony, but not quite so steep, and the last third of the hike was a little more pleasant. Like so many mountains there was a false summit, but it wasn’t much further to go on a much easier gradient until the summit cairn (1319m/4327ft) was reached. From here there was a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains, and in the distance, through the haze, the Canterbury Plains disappeared into the distance to the east. On a clear day, the Pacific Ocean is supposed to be visible, but there was too much haze on the horizon for me to be able to see that far on that day.

Looking towards the summit

Summit View

Nearby Lake Emma from the summit

Summit View

View from the Summit

Summit View


After a brief walk around the summit, I settled in for a much needed lunch, and shortly after the other hiker reached me and we had a brief chat before separating ourselves to soak up the view amongst our own reveries. My phone made a noise and I saw a text from my partner to say that Christchurch had just had a very strong earthquake. Upon trying to phone him, the phone lines were down and it wouldn’t connect. Having lived in an earthquake zone for the past 4 years, I’m quite used to quakes rocking and rolling through the city unannounced. Granted, I wasn’t living there when the destructive ones hit, but they’ve never particularly worried me because they’ve never come to anything. But I’ve never experienced one where the phone lines go dead, so immediately I was on edge and concerned. I tried again, and still the line was down. Having felt nothing, and having just summited, I wasn’t sure what to do. I decided to wait it out a bit then try again a little while later.

I got through after five minutes and my partner reported a 5.9 mag quake. This was later downgraded to a 5.7 mag, but whilst it didn’t do too much damage overall, it was enough to loosen some sections of cliff face on the coastline near the eastern suburb of Sumner, and fresh liquefaction bubbled into the streets elsewhere. Satisfied that my partner and house were ok, I settled back into a peaceful lunch at the summit. The whole way up and at the summit too, the crickets were out in full force, and the noise was incredible but enjoyable. During the hike itself though, they repeatedly leaped about in front of me as I disturbed them, some of them leaping high enough to smack me in the face. Like little missiles, I was regularly hit across my torso and head, including one that landed right on my mouth, causing an involuntary freak out. Missile hits aside, it was an awesome soundtrack to the hike.

After about 45mins of relaxing and lazily taking photos, I left the other hiker to herself and started the walk back down. This time, facing outwards, I had the cracking view of the lakes below the whole way down. Aside from the scree and boulder sections where I had to watch my footing, it was generally a pleasant descent, and with slight jelly legs, I made it back to the lakeside circuit track. From here, I could have returned the way I came for a quicker walk back to my car, but I decided to continue onwards round Lake Clearwater, a decision I later regretted because it went on for a long distance and my legs were really tired. Whilst a few clouds had rolled in, it was still baking hot, and mostly sunny, and whilst I had plenty of fluids to keep me going, my feet were throbbing and I was keen to sit down.

Lakes Emma, Camp & Clearwater

Lakes Camp & Clearwater


Despite my increasing begrudgement, it was a lovely walk. The wind meant the lake was no longer very reflective, but now people were out kitesurfing and kite boarding across the lake. It gave my something to watch as I trudged along. Towards the western end, the 4×4 track stops at a fence, and over a stile, it is not signposted where to go. A few trodden routes head off, but the desired path is the one that hugs the fence to the right, and eventually swings across to the wetlands that hug the end of the lake. The blooming flowers were pretty and from the bridge and boardwalk that spans the wetlands, the view along the valley floor to the snow-capped peaks is stunning.

Lake Clearwater Circuit

Island on Lake Clearwater

Lake Clearwater


Wetlands at Lake Clearwater


By the time I was on the southern shore of the lake, I was just focusing on getting back to my car. Had I not been so tired, the lake circuit track would have been enjoyable the whole way, but approaching the 6 hr mark, I was just a little bit over walking on such a hot day. I was so relieved when I eventually reached the campsite that marks the edge of Lake Clearwater village. I reached my car just over 6hrs after leaving it behind that morning, and it was nice to get my boots off and sit down. Following the gravel road back to Mt Somers, the crashed car was gone, and I headed back home to Christchurch and a much needed shower.

Southern Shore of Lake Clearwater


DOC signs are notoriously generous with hike times. At the start of the hike, the circuit track is listed as 3hrs, and the summit track listed at 2.5hrs. The 1hr 15min sign at the base of Mt Guy does not correlate with this first sign, and is the only DOC sign I’ve seen that has under-estimated the hike time. Slow as I was, it took me 2hrs to summit, but in the heat of the summer with not an essence of shade on the whole hike, it was a tough one.


Weekend Adventures

It took four years, but finally I made it back to one of my favourite parts of the country. It was one of the first places I explored in the South Island when I first arrived in New Zealand in 2012, but it took barely a minute to fall in love with the place when the bus pulled in to the lakeside on a gorgeous sunny day. After a 5hr drive south-west from Christchurch, my partner and I arrived in Wanaka on the shore of the lake of the same name, on an equally sunny day and instantly I was happy and excited for the weekend ahead.

The drive itself is beautiful. Apart from several roadworks, and the common incidence of tourist drivers that raise your blood pressure with their extremely bad road sense, it is an enjoyable drive with plenty to look at. We took the back road to Geraldine and on to Fairlie where we stopped at the bakery which has a local reputation for exceedingly good pies. After an early lunch, we continued on to Lake Tekapo, a quaint little town which is always good for a stay or a break to stretch the legs. On this occasion, we pressed on, and soon we were swinging past the expanse of Lake Pukaki which has the most brilliant blue water you have ever seen. In the distance, at its northern end, the domineering peak of New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki/Mount Cook stands proud on the skyline. Across the barren landscape to Omarama and then the winding route through Lindis Pass, the landscape seemed dry and brown. Even on the other side, as we covered the final kilometers to Wanaka, everything appeared as if in drought, until finally the water of Lake Wanaka appeared glistening behind the town.

After checking in to our motel, we headed down to the waterfront and had a leisurely stroll along the lake shore. Being the weekend of Waitangi Day, a national public holiday, the town was packed, and the beach was crammed with people enjoying the sunshine and the water. Across the lake, the mountains tower over it, from Roy’s Peak on the near shore, to the expanse of Mt Aspiring National Park in the far distance. Though my partner doesn’t agree with me, Lake Wanaka and its surrounds always make me think of Cairngorm National Park in my home country of Scotland, and that is partly why I feel so at home here. It is a fantastic spot for relaxation as well as outdoor pursuits and there is so much to see and do in the region.


Since I was last in the place, a flurry on Instagram has resulted in a particular tree on the lake becoming famous. Google image ‘that Wanaka tree’ and thousands of photos of it appear. What amused me more was when we walked to go and see what all the fuss was about, there was even a sign marking it as a photographic hotspot. When I was there four years prior, I would have walked past that tree without showing it any added attention. It’s funny what catches the international eye sometimes, and there was a regular stream of tourists trying to photograph it. All that aside, it is very photogenic: a lone tree within the water near the lake edge, which is framed either by mountains of Mt Aspiring National Park, or the town of Wanaka, depending on how you frame it.


After a pleasant meander back into town, we were excited to discover that Patagonia, our beloved chocolate and ice cream store from Queenstown had opened a branch in Wanaka. This place makes the most amazing ice cream, and we have both previously sickened ourselves gorging on it before. There was no way we were not going to indulge in some again this time round. Nearby, we enjoyed outdoor dining in the sunshine at one of the local bars, soaking up the happy vibes that swirl round the town. The next day, after breakfast in one of many cafes in town, we readied ourselves for the event that we were in town for: a friend’s wedding. It was a stunning affair, in the gardens of a hotel complex on the lake side, under a blistering sun, and it was immense fun.

I’m not a regular drinker, so I woke up the day after the wedding a little bit under the weather, but that wasn’t going to stop us from enjoying the region. After a much needed breakfast in town, we took the scenic drive past nearby Lake Hawea and on towards Haast Pass. This road eventually leads to the west coast and then upwards to Fox glacier, and I am yet to reach the pass and see some of the many sights along the way. But I had heard about one of the sights worth seeing on the Wanaka side of the pass, and that was where we headed. First up the side of Lake Hawea then crossing over to flank neighbouring Lake Wanaka, it was a gorgeous drive.


Nearly an hour away, we reached a packed car park that marked the start of the walk to the Blue Pools. Descending through thick forest for about 10 mins, the path breaks out the trees at a suspension bridge that crosses the crystal clear waters of the river below. From here, we could see a lot of people further along the path, and not far ahead, a second suspension bridge crossed another river, and from here, we could see why the pools were so named. Glacial fed, the water was crystal clear and had a blue hue to them. The amount of people lounging around on the shore and wading through the water was deceptive – it was freezing cold! It was so cold that when I stood in it to have my photo taken, it was actually really painful on my feet. Still, it was a lovely spot, and although there were a lot of people around, everyone was spread out enough over the stony river bed that it didn’t feel in the least bit crowded. As we were leaving though, a bus load full of tourists were heading down the path, so we were glad to be leaving when we did.


After stopping for a snack on route, we headed back down the side of Lake Wanaka and across the divide back to Lake Hawea where we had a couple of stops to soak up the view and take some photos. The road and the pull-ins were quite packed with tourists and parking was becoming difficult. In the town of Hawea itself though, it felt like there wasn’t a soul about, and it was peaceful and tranquil. Wading in the water was lovely, and we both wished we had brought our swimwear with us, as this would have been the perfect spot to have a relaxing swim in the lake. Instead, hungry and keen for a dip, we headed back to Wanaka.


Unfortunately, Wanaka was still packed and the beach beside the lake had no spare shade and barely a spare spot in the sun either. There was noise and people everywhere, and the water was full of boats, jetskis and paddleboarders. We tried to lie for a while, but I for one was finding it all too much, kicking myself for not having had the foresight to allow us to go swimming in Hawea. In the end, I had to follow the lake for some distance, ending up back at ‘that Wanaka tree’, just to find a free spot in the shade to zone out. Lake Wanaka is actually very shallow for some distance out, so even after wading out quite a distance, the water wasn’t even at chest level. It was deep enough to swim though, and the water temperature was perfect. It was a lovely way to relax and unwind.


After meandering back in to town and climbing up the hill to the lookout, we stumbled upon a hidden cluster of restaurants down a back street for dinner, and ate out at Cows, another Queenstown favourite that has opened up a Wanaka branch. There was live music in the courtyard and it was perfect conditions for enjoying an al fresco meal.


I had read in our motel guidebook about a local short walk that I hadn’t heard about before, and with other people from the wedding have done the walk whilst we were at the Blue Pools, we headed off on the 20min drive the next morning. On the road to Treble Cone ski field towards Mt Aspiring, it is a nice drive to the poorly marked car park to reach the walk to Diamond Lake. It is possible to walk just to the lake itself, but there are a few longer walks from here up the flanking hills to get a view point of either Diamond Lake or Lake Wanaka. It is a nice wee lake, although the lake itself is quite well hidden by vegetation for large sections of it on the circuit, but hiking up to the lower of the two viewpoints, it was possible to see the lake in its entirety (which is not actually diamond shaped). The circuit and viewpoint took about an hour, although this was at a very rushed pace due to having to make the drive back to Christchurch that day.


Heading home following breakfast in Wanaka, we retraced our steps back towards Christchurch, marvelling as always about the astonishing blue of Lakes Pukaki and Tekapo along the way. I adore Lake Wanaka, and now also Lake Hawea, and hope that it won’t be quite so long next time before making it back.

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