Day 74: Lake Tekapo to Twizel (55km) The last nights storm had passed and I was looking into clear blue skies again. I had to walk 1km back into town, to return the keys of the studio I had slept in and decided to have my usual bacon and egg breakfast in town. At 9am I left Lake Tekapo Village and headed towards Pukaki and Twizel. It was a pretty hot day and the first 26km along the Tekapo canal didn't provide any shade.
The terrain was flat and I made easy progress, while enjoying some great views on Mt. Cook and the Tekapo river, passing several salmon farms and local fishermen.
I followed a road to the Pine Campground and considered staying there, but the local signs confused me, saying that the campsite was only for self-contained campervans. I therefore hiked on to the Pukaki Visitor Center, grabbed a coke and decided to hike another 2 hours to Twizel, even though i had already hiked 45km. The trail changed into an easy tramping track through the Pukaki flats which offered great camping options and a perfect opportunity to launch my drone once again.
Just before 8pm I arrived in Twizel and found the local Holiday Park completely booked and no other option to pitch my tent. I paid for a cheap room, went to the local pub for some food and rested.
Day 75: Twizel to Lake Middleton Campsite (30km)
Day 75 started with an easy hike on a gravel road around Lake Ruataniwha and along the Ohau river towards Ohau Lake.
I had left Twizel rather late and only hiked 30km that day. The day was rather boring besides some great views on the scenic Ben Ohau mountain.
Day 76: Lake Middleton Campsite to 2505.4 (34km + 6km)
After two very flat days, I finally had to climb a mountain again. Just after leaving Lake Middleton Campsite I climbed 900m into the Ohau Mountain Range. The upper part of the trail was poorly marked and I ended up doing some unnecessary detours through some thick tussock and "toetoe" or "cutty grass".
The serrated leaf edges quickly cut into my legs and made my bleed once again. In the early afternoon I met Zac (Captain Hook, Aus) again. He had skipped quite a bit of the trail and taken a bike from Lake Tekapo Village to Lake Middleton and than decided to wait for other hikers, before attempting the potentially dangerous Ahuriri crossing.
We crossed some beautiful flats together until a major gorge slowly opened up in front of us. At first, we could only see the massive cliffs on the opposing side, before the trail finally revealed the gorge and the Ahuriri river.
From the very top of the gorge we could see two northbound hikers struggling through the river. It took them several attempts and some massive effort to reach our side. Both of these guys were tall and strong and warned us about the current. Once at the river, me and Zac as well as a Kiwi guy also scouted for safe crossing options. I tried at least three different spots, but the current was strong and the river up to my hips, when my trekking poles started to vibrate from the water pressure. I had only made a few steps into the river and decided that it wasn't safe enough to cross and so all three of us decided to walk 5km along the river to the Ireland bridge. Better safe than sorry... Those 5-6km took almost 2hrs as we had no trail to follow and I walked rather slow, as some shin splints in my right foot started to cause some severe pain. We crossed the Ireland bridge just before 6pm and started hiking back to the trail along a road. Luckily a few minutes later a car showed up and gave us a 5km ride back to where we were supposed to cross the river. From there, we hiked another hour and pitched our tents close to a stream.
Day 77: 2505.4 to Stody Hut (32km)
Pain? Suck it up... My shin splints had become quite bad and my right foot was stiff and in pain. Fortunately the pain wasn't as bad on the 800m ascent to Martha's Saddle, but the pain and the cold weather didn't really improve my mood. At the top of Martha's Saddle (1687m) we experienced rain, mixed with sleet and just 4°C.
I therefore quickly left the ridge and started the descent to the Top Timaru Hut. Those 7km were the hardest for me, as the pain in my right foot got so intense, that I had to limp down the mountain. At Top Timaru Hut I took a break and a painkiller before hiking on.
The trail changed massively. After following a very well maintained trail and a 4WD road for the last few hours, the trail now got much steeper and involved several smaller stream crossings.
These crossing were a blessing for me, as the ice cold water helped to reduce the swelling of my right shin. The next 12-13km took 4hrs but were rather enjoyable, despite many negative comments on the guthooks app on the overall trail condition. At 5pm Zac and I were at the junction to Stody Hut and had to face one of the steepest climbs on trail. 430m of elevation of just 1.4km. The climb was intense, but not long enough to cause a problem and after some 45mins we had reached the top and hiked another 500m to the hut.
The hut was already occupied by 4 rats, 1 mouse and 3 hikers. I therefore decided to pitch my tent next to the hut and stay out there.
Day 78: Stody Hut to Wanaka (46km)
It was a cold and windy night, but upon waking up my foot felt better than the day before. The pain wouldn't stop me from hiking 45km into Wanaka. To compensate for the reduced speed I got up a little bit earlier and left camp at 6:30. For the first time on trail I saw morning frost on the ascent to Breast Hill. I welcomed the warming sun after an hour of hiking as my fingers were freezing. Once again I followed a 4WD track through tussock and got some awesome views on the surrounding mountains.
At 8:45am I had already hiked 8km to the top of Breast Hill and was blown away by the stunning views on Lake Hawea, Albert Town and Wanaka in the far distance. These were some of the best views on trail so far.
From here it was 1200m downhill over just 6km, along a ridge line. The trail was rather popular with day hikers coming from Lake Hawea and pretty steep. At times I got concerned about the stability in my right foot, but managed to hike all the way down to the Lake, even though I had to scramble some sections down on my butt.
At noon I arrived in Lake Hawea Village, had lunch and hiked another 10km along the Hawea river to Albert Town. The trail was easy and flat again.
In Albert Town I briefly stopped at the supermarket for a coke and continued towards Wanaka along the Clutha river. The river was in full flood and had flooded the trail close to the bridge into Albert Town.
It took another 2.5hrs to hike those last 12km to the Holiday Park in Wanaka, where I would stay for a few days.