Depending on how much time you have and what your skill level is, there are plenty of options for day walks or multi-day hikes with overnighters in huts and campsites along the way. Dee Gerlach from Noodles For Brekky offers insight into picking the right Te Araroa Track in the Wānaka region depending on your experience and ability.
Research is key when planning the best hike, especially if you’re new to this and have a crew along for the ride. Of course, winging-it is wild and free but if you’re not used to Aotearoa’s wild trails and changeable weather, a plan will save you the trouble it can bring. Even the most experienced trampers sometimes find themselves in a pickle out there, and the stories sadly do not all have happy endings. So, if you’re new to all this, start with some of the easier trails and work your way up.
The easier tracks tend to be well maintained, out of alpine areas and not too strenuous – you’ll find less up and down and more enjoying the view. Whereas the more advanced ones tend to be challenging because the track is not well-formed, heads into Alpine areas (more extreme and changeable weather, edges to fall over) have a river crossing or twenty, you might need to use your hands to climb at times. Sometimes the track has even slipped away or disappeared in parts leaving you to choose your own path – now that’s an experience! Choose your own adventure on Te Araroa this season.
If you like scenic tracks that are well-trodden and not in alpine areas then all the trails between Gladstone Reserve, Lake Hāwea and Glendhu Bay are looking good for you. You can even ride bikes along most of these tracks, swim in the lake and stop into coffee shops along the way.
Breast Hill Track as a day walk or choose to stay overnight at Pakituhi Hut. Taking kids on Breast Hill can be pretty scary given how steep it is. Sometimes you feel like if anyone slips it’ll be all over. That being said, plenty of kids are more than capable of doing it safely and if you can handle it as a parent, it’s damned rewarding with vistas that knock your socks off and a sense of achievement and knowing that’ll keep you glowing for weeks.
To keep risk to a minimum, be well prepared with plenty of water, snacks and layers. Make sure conditions look good for your skill level. Things to consider are how wet or icy the track might be and how strong the winds are that day. Plan my walk is a great resource for a safe and successful adventure.
If you’re keen for some steep terrain but are less experienced and prefer reasonably well-maintained tracks, Motatapu might be the one for you. You can do a day walk on the Motatapu Track, there and back to the first hut Fern Burn in just 8 hours return, or if you have a bit more time up your sleeve stay in all three huts: Fern Bern Hut, Highland Creek Hut, Roses Hut with an option to camp an extra night camping in Macetown before walking into Arrowtown.
When hiking with the kids in tow, a first aid kit is very helpful and if you’re heading into an area without mobile coverage, you can take a PLB (personal locator beacon). If you don’t own one, there are places in Wānaka that hire them out and will show you how they work, including the DOC visitor Centre and Macpac Store.
If you want a challenge and feel experienced and ready with good gear, Breast Hill and Timaru River will give you a good sense of life on Te Araroa Trail. It takes between 2.5 – 3.5 days to get from Birchwood Carpark (near the Ahuriri River) through to Lake Hāwea and of course you can do it from either direction. The most common direction is SOBO (Southbound) from North to South, starting at Birchwood Carpark.
The first day takes you up over Martha Saddle to Top Timaru Hut on the Timaru River. Day two is actually one of the more challenging days of the entire Te Araroa Trail – from Top Timaru Hut to Stody’s Hut. Many adults find this day tough and having kids along offers a whole ‘nother perspective on multiple river crossings and what it means to ‘sidle’ along a river all day. Watch out for ‘river sidling’ in the trail notes and be prepared for a doozy! Comparatively, Stody’s Hut to Pakituhi Hut via Breast Hill is a ramble along 4WD track and ridgelines with vistas as far as the eye can see. The finale is the steep descent down Breast Hill to Lake Hāwea where you can get picked up from Gladstone Reserve or stroll lakeside into Hāwea for a hot meal at the Hāwea Store. You beauty!
So, there you have it, nothing stopping you from hitting Te Araoa Trail this season. Take a few weeks to do the whole Wānaka section or break it up into day walks, working your way up to an overnighter or four. You’ll bump into plenty of tremendous characters out there with unique stories to tell leaving you inspired and dreaming of more. Hope to see you out there.
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