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Mark's World Tour 2007-08

Day 255: A fantastic wintertime birthday

NEW ZEALAND | Thursday, 17 July 2008 | Views [1228]

Getting away from it all near Wanaka

Getting away from it all near Wanaka

Thursday 17th July

Given that I was planning on spending only a full day in Wanaka, I was keen to make use of that day – my birthday – to go on a hike of a local mountain, Mount Roy, which I had heard was a round journey of between seven and eight hours. I was going on my own and was glad to have this time to myself. I got up at 06.30 and started my walk at 08.00, just as it was starting to get light. As the day began in earnest, I could see that it was overcast and therefore not the best conditions for a walk, but it wasn't going to change my mind about going.

I took the Waterfall Creek Walk alongsid Lake Wanaka and it took about an hour before I came to a sign pointing hikers in the direction of the Mount Roy walk. After another ten or fifteen minutes, I came to the bottom of the mountain and set off on my ascent of 1600m.

The first part of the walk is through private land and the incline is steep from the very start. I'm not sure what the gradient was, but I was panting and wheezing shortly after I left the car park, but tried to continue without stopping for as long as possible. There were a lot of sheep on the land, and a few cows, and there wasn't much else to see as the cloud began to get thicker the higher I went. I could see Lake Wanaka and the town in the distance, but after about an hour I couldn't see it anymore. I just kept at it and it was certainly more taxing than any other track that I had been on in New Zealand.

Shortly after, I started to get a glimpse of the mountains above me, and patches of clear blue sky were beginning to take shape here and there. The cloud began to thin out and become wispy and I was able to make out an area that I thought was the summit of Mount Roy, with a higher summit behind it. Little did I know that I would be going all the way to the top.

After an hour and half, the privately owned land gave way to public land, and I was about to climb over the wire fence when I decided to take a look behind me and see what kind of view there was. When I looked around, I was taken totally by surprise to see that I was now completely above the cloud level, which had formed a blanket across the horizon like massive clumps of cotton wool, and with the peaks of several mountain ranges bursting through them, sitting beneath a blue and silver sky. It was absolutely amazing and I was genuinely awestruck. I couldn't believe that I had left a dismal grey day behind and had come across what seemed to me like a totally different place.

I continued on and, although the track was as steep as ever and now had a layer of snow and ice over the top of it, the going got easier as what sat before my eyes was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen. The track winded its way up the side of the mountain, and I realised that I was all alone. I made it to the summit in about two and a half hours, a time that included several photo stops, so it was a decent enough attempt.

As I made my way across the final bit of the track, a whole new range of mountains to the south west opened out in front of me, and they looked incredible, making me feel very small. The only thing at the top of Mount Roy was me and a remote weather station and the panoramic view of the mountains and the cloud which separated me from the rest of the world below is something that I won't forget for a long time. I sat and ate my lunch, had a breather and took it all in, trying to savour the moment as much as possible. The feeling was fantastic: I was completely alone on top of a mountain, and, when I stopped and listened, I couldn't hear a thing. I have to admit that I felt quite emotional over the course of that climb but it would take a cold-blooded person not to be moved by what I saw. I was very happy that I had made the decision to climb Mount Roy that day, and extra grateful as it made my birthday so memorable, and I don't usually care about birthdays!

The decent of the mountain was naturally a lot quicker than the ascent, and I met a few people on their way up. I met an Aussie guy who was struggling with the steepness of the slopes, but I encouraged him to make an extra effort as it would be worth it. I made it down to the car park in about an hour and a half, back to the bottom of the hill and to the grey day that I had left behind a few hours earlier.

It took me another hour before I was back at the hostel and I was greeted by Danika and Amanda with birthday wishes. I was feeling physically tired but in very good spirits, and looking forward to spending the evening with my new friends. After doing some laundry, I got freshened up and joined the guys for a dinner of homemade burgers and chips.

We went to the local cinema – Paradiso – which is a famous place in Wanaka, and rightly so. It is fitted out with rows of reclaimed but very comfortable sofas, and even an old Morris Minor that has been converted into a seating area for three people. We watched Mike Leigh's new movie – 'Happy-Go-Lucky' – about an abnormally happy girl living in London (an oxymoron in itself!), and it was quite enjoyable. It reminded me of my time spent living in London, and I even recognised a pub in Camden that I used to drink that was used in one of the scenes. The best thing about it though, was the fact that there was an old-style intermission during which you could buy homemade ice-cream and freshly made cookies. Seeing as it was my birthday, I had them both and they were top-notch.

If all that food wasn't enough, the guys brought out a birthday cake for me back at the hostel, and I was the focus of attention for a minute while everyone sang 'Happy Birthday' to me. I was really chuffed, and appreciative of the effort that the guys – some of whom I had known for only a brief time – had gone to to make my birthday, and one so far away from home, so special.

I didn't do ahuge amount else that evening, just relaxed in front of the TV but I was more interested in getting some sleep after my outing up Mount Roy earlier in the day. It had been a great birthday for me, one I will remember for a long time.


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