“We’re going to New Zealand!” Our Malaysian friends were loud in their enthusiasm, and we were happy that our subtle hints had been heard the last time we visited Kuala Lumpur. Since they were heading to the South Island and we live in the North (when we’re in the country), it didn’t look like we’d be able to meet up — until we compared schedules and found that we’d be in Wanaka at the same time.
A month later, they burst into our rented holiday home, full of stories of rain further north, wekas crossing the road in front of their campervan, and all the interesting new food they’d found in the supermarkets. (“What?” we asked. “Well, you know, sausages,” was the reply.) Since the weather the next day was going to be bright and sunny, we agreed to meet up for a full day hike that Natalie had chosen: the Roy’s Peak track.
She’d picked this particular walk for the stunning views over Lake Wanaka that trampers are rewarded with after they reach the summit of the hill. Unfortunately, she hadn’t considered the fact that the path itself consists mostly of switchbacks up the steep slope, with no shade and little variation in scenery. “It’s going to be a scorcher up there today,” the Department of Conservation officer told us when we dropped into the information center before starting the walk. “Water and sunblock, that’s what you need.”
Suitably equipped, we drove the 6km from Wanaka and left our van with another dozen or so vehicles for company. All three of the Malaysians were wearing jeans and long sleeves. “Do you have a t-shirt or something under that?” I asked Ice. “No, I’ll just pull up the sleeves,” she said. “I’m scared of cold wind.”
A kilometre up the path, though, she veered into the bushes and pulled off her jeans, revealing leggings underneath. I couldn’t believe it. “I really don’t like being cold,” she said.
The going was slow, as Natalie had hurt her knee a little on a glacier hike and Dexter lagged behind to keep her company. The sun beat down mercilessly and we were all dripping with sweat despite the slow pace. After an hour or so, we took a break under the only real tree in sight, planted alongside a memorial to the farmer who’d first worked the station we were walking through — I’m sure he’d have appreciated the shade too. Our next discovery was a small, clear stream which crossed the path in front of us. Craig soaked his hat and suggested I do the same with my scarf — and oh, the relief. Everything seemed easier after that, at least for me, and we continued on for another hour or so at a steady speed.
We’d been walking for about four and a half kilometers when we crossed paths with another couple, who were returning from the summit. When they told us that it was at least another 3km to the top, we knew we’d have to rethink our plans — at the speed we were going, it would take us about two hours to get there. We stopped for lunch and the Malaysians considered.
“We’ve made a decision,” Natalie said. “You guys go on, and we’ll wait for you here.”
So Craig and I trudged upwards, almost turning back at one point due to blisters, but we eventually made it to a saddle where a string of small hills stretched off to our right. To our left, the path continued up towards the summit, but we left that for another day. Instead, we took photos and started back towards the stile where we’d left the others. On seeing the photos, they immediately asked how long it had taken us to get there, how long we thought it would take them… In short, within five minutes Craig and I found ourselves walking back up the path we’d just descended. “It’s like the complete opposite of a loop track,” he said. But it was good exercise for us, and as Natalie said: “We’ve flown all the way here for this, we might as well do it.”
We made much better speed on this last upwards leg, partly due to a photo-taking ban we’d decided on together, and within half an hour we were cresting the last rise before the saddle. Ice’s groan of joy was echoed by Natalie as she arrived a few seconds later.
“Worth it?” I asked.
“Worth it,” she replied.