Albert Town Campground to start of the Motatapu Track
It was a surprisingly warm night, and I wake up at early light, hungry. We pack up quickly to make sure we don’t offend anyone with our choice of tentsite, and head across the river into Albert Town. The campground that we walk through seems absolutely filthy; it appears that people are living here, and trash swirls about on the ground. It was the better choice to camp just before. We wind through the sprawl to reach the highway, and there is another campground on the other side, in slightly better condition. I use the long drop and we follow the Clutha River to Lake Wanaka.
There are several adorable little clubhouse type buildings we pass that are of perfect size and quaintness.
The trail is easy and wide and obstacle-less, and I am able to type while I walk, filling out a few things for work and working on a few stories. This does distract from the beauty I am allowing to pass by, but I feel quite satisfied with the progress of my time when we reach town, and I often pause to take in small moments.
I am so hungry when we reach the New World and am really excited to see it’s a giant one! This bodes well for the selection. We go in to gather lunch and emerge with a green smoothie, dark pumpernickel bread, roasted beet hummus, and baba ganoush. Prana checks the handful of outdoor stores across the street, hoping they carry Thermarests, but again no luck. We go back into the grocery for ice cream, but there is nothing under the half gallon size available, so we turn to the resupply. We shop for 4 days of food, repackage it using the insides of the shopping carts as a table, then set off to find coffee, electricity, and WiFi. Mouse had seen a pie place she wanted to try, but there were no outlets and it was packed busy. We go to the isite, hoping for two out of three, but it is a tiny area with no internet. They charge $2 each to plug our phones in behind the counter, which we accept since we have no other options at the moment, and go back for the pies. I get a fresh fruit tart with heavenly custard, and we sit out at a table on the Main Street fronting the lake. The afternoon is hot enough that even with a coffee, sleepiness creeps over me.
After an hour I am getting restless to be going, as non-walking time is precious time, but everything I want to do (calling family, editing photos, posting blog entries, or looking through the upcoming maps) involves using my phone (what does this reveal?!) The phones are slow to charge, though, and finally we just decide to get going anyway, retrieve them, and move along.
Lake Wanaka is gorgeous, the encircling mountainsides dropping straight down to the water, and the path along the edge is paying tribute to the best angles. A lone willow tree captures my attention, and then my imagination. It sprouts uniquely out of the lake, dozens of feet from the shore, as if it were a sprite or nymph petrified in mid-dance, or mid-supplication, in sacrifice for something deemed a worthy trade, or frozen by a broken heart.
I call my friend Kim and chat, never for long enough, and revel in the continued easy walking along the bike path around the lake. I listen to music, and feel the k’s slip away. When I catch up with Prana at a far corner of the lake we are both low on energy. We find a little spot out of the wind tucked into some low shrubbery that allows us to be shaded and face the lake, and he cooks dinner, which tonight is gnocchi and Thai pumpkin soup. Two mountain bikers whiz by and scream, “you guys aren’t free camping are you?! Are you shitting in the trees?!” Prana gets feisty in response, and I don’t blame him.
We resume tracing the circumference of the lake, and wander through a strange rock and cobble area. The autumn colors become apparent on the trees for the first time, bright yellows standing out boldly against the blues of sky and water.
We reach the holiday park at the southern end of the lake, and it’s a long one. We fill our water and then walk on and on, glad to not be on the highway. At the far end we have to unexpectedly climb a locked gate to exit and access the needed turn onto a gravel road, which prompts the question if we were allowed to be walking there at all.
It’s getting dark and we have about 3 k left when the DoC ranger pulls over in her white truck to inform me that I should have stayed at the campground I just passed. “You aren’t supposed to camp at the carpark,” she says. “What information do you have that says there is camping there? Is it a guidebook? It’s wrong.” I explain its not the carpark, but the next track that I am planning to camp on. “I look at my map, find where the trail crosses a boundary that doesn’t have a camping restriction listed, then look for a flat spot in the topo lines and hope it’s not overgrown.” This seems to deflate her ire for some reason, and she actually ends up being pretty friendly, a fellow Moab-lover. “Just, take care of your waste properly, ok?,” she reminds me before she goes on about her rounds.
I reach the carpark where Prana is waiting, and we turn up the trail. It is almost full on dark, and we pull out our headlamps so we can get at least a kilometer in and look for the first possible acceptable tent site. There is cow shit everywhere- cow shit layered on cow shit. Most of it is dry, but I can’t help but wondering at the irony of the DoC ranger’s parting words. We kick the majority of patties out of the way from a flattish tent sized area as Mouse arrives, and we all manage to get into our shelters just as it starts to rain. I lay on my back, letting my mind and body relax, listening to the rain patter down, listening to all the dried cow patties for the next several kilometers rehydrating for our morning walk.