TA Day 110, Wanaka to Fern Burn Hut, 27 km

The morning is lazy because I have to wait for the bank to open. I load up on more calories, the good conversation continues and I thumb through a photo book with commentary on Harry and Andrew’s hike in Nepal, licking my chops dreaming of more places I want to go.

Olive Oyl is weighted down with maybe too much food and a full water bottle as I work my way down through the event tents in the park above the lake, gentle clouds draped like boas around the shoulders of the peaks.

At the bank, the teller first tells me the cards retained by the ATM are destroyed. I ask if maybe she might just check and it turns out she’s wrong, asking me the color of my card before returning it not destroyed for a second try, where it is immediately eaten again. She retrieves it again and tells me to find another bank.

It’s a longer walk away from the trail to a bank with a ‘smart’ ATM which manages to withdraw my money and I can finally head to the waterfront. Andrew, Kerrie and George are waiting by the Wanaka tree, iconic in its gentle bonsai-like pose and growing in the water, likely attached to a submerged fencepost. We take some photos, share hugs and I head off to circle nearly the entire lake.

The sun is bright, but a fresh breeze is coming off the water and I’m not hot. We drove this section to get to the glacier trailhead, but I still walk it and find the trail wonderfully quiet, separated from the traffic. It’s hard to leave; I really don’t want to go. But I can’t stay perpetually in a vacation mode, eventually I’d need to do projects and have some routine and cook better food too. But it was so nice to have a mini break, though I did spend most of the afternoon working and was not only creative, but efficient with my time. I think when I get home, I need to make an effort to carve out more time to just let a day roll out and not fill every inch of it. It allows for things to bubble up in their own time and surprise me, like a short walk before bed last night revealing a bright half moon silvering the clouds and making a glowing path of light on the lake.

The trail is shared with bicyclists, most asking how I am as I move through. Signs point toward wine tasting, grape vines covered with translucent tarps to control the sun’s rays. Small bays are revealed, the water clear to the bottom and bright aqua on the edges, a yellow boat parked on worn white stones.

I think about this morning when the conversation touched on the topic of disappointment, of not quite getting all we want in life. It’s something that leaves me a bit speechless, unable to respond. As I get older, and my choices are more limited and the world less ‘my oyster’ than in my youth, I try not to dwell on the parts of my life that ‘fall short.’ But I wonder if I’m deluding myself, simply putting a smile on and ignoring what doesn’t work for me. How does one handle not getting everything they want or feel they deserve – is this career/city/partner the best we can do? Writing this makes me feel a bit ashamed because I can just imagine Richard finding me not quite living up to his ideal. I know I’m not the easiest person to live with and I question the choices I’ve made far too much.

This subject is such a sticky wicket because so many people I know of a certain age enjoy all they have but have no qualms taking a bit ‘on the side’ to fill the gaps. I try not to judge, but wonder if all parties have signed on to the arrangement – and if my friends are less disappointed filling the gaps, or find everything and every person has their limits and flaws. Perhaps celebrating ‘what is’ and downplaying ‘what isn’t’ is more useful for a happy life. I set out on this journey to push the boundaries of my hiking life, to see if I have it in me to walk a long thru-hike and to shake up my life a bit and gain perspective. One friend said I’m less about a mid-life crisis and more a new-life process, though feeling refreshingly less like I need to change my life and more an incredibly deep appreciation for all I have.

I let the subject lie as I arrive at the campground and buy two sodas to enjoy in the shade, watching a beautifully restored Chevy drive in towing a vintage wood-paneled camper. The owner is dressed in a bright red shirt, shorts and sandals and nuzzles a big slobbery boxer sitting in the backseat. Several of us snap pictures, his wife glowing like a model from the ‘50s.

I walk for a few kilometers up a dusty farm road to the trailhead. The Motatapu track was built by Shania Twain’s husband when some of the land was set aside for conservation. The valley was heavily mined for gold using a sluicing technique that blasts water at the cliffs and scours them for riches. Almost half the workers were Chinese. I follow a stream into a gorgeous beech forest with lots of sidling, but not nearly the steepness – or length – of the last river.

A few steep parts bring me to the hut where just one hiker, twenty-year-old Kiwi George, is set up. We talk about how much he loves the tussock and it’s bleak purity. I laugh thinking of others who hate the tussock.

He speaks to the obsession of ‘getting there’ and reminds me to remind myself to slow down, which is what I did today by staying at the first hut and not pushing on. I’m tired even after a rest day, and have little reason to push hard at this point.

Some loud people arrive, walking on their heels and letting the door slam. They talk about how weird people are who don’t hitch, so I keep my walking-it-all mouth shut. Look, fact is I am thru-hiking and you are section hiking, them’s just the facts. Though it does amuse me such young, healthy people can’t walk a few roads.

Soon, we talk about music and orchestras, a German man telling me he plays cello and is a Max Richter fanatic. I tell him about Francisco Fullana’s new recording as two Czechs arrive – and soon leave to drink – and a young American, chatty and curious. She turns out to be a survivor of a parasite that took over her body. What a spirit and smile. We put our mats next to each other and I give her iodine pills for the water and we talk until it’s dark. A Slovenian arrives and now we’re all set up in a row like a pajama party.

They’re all really lovely and barring the boys getting too drunk, there’s a good energy. One shares his hand-made chocolate with everyone, and I cuddle in my window bunk by 8.

Yes, there are window screens. Thank the goddess!

Published by alison young

Alison Young is the Blissful Hiker, a voice artist and sometime saunterer. 📣🐥👣🎒

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