“Forget about Roy’s Peak. It’s great, but totally overcrowded. Try hiking Isthmus Peak instead,” the receptionist advised us as we made hiking plans over coffee and muesli. The lounge of Wanaka Bakpaka was full of bleary-eyed backpackers doing the same — Wanaka is a popular place for hikers. Marketa and I had met up for a couple days, and a proper trek was in order.
“Let’s do it!”
The hike starts on the shores of Lake Hawea. It was a frosty morning, and a thick layer of fog hung over the surface of the lake and clung to the flanks of the hillsides. We clambered up the steep incline, squinting hopefully upwards for any sign of dissipation, but the mist was persistent. Sunbeams broke over the jagged spine of a ridge and cast rays of shadow through the fog.
When the mist broke, it did so magnificently. We emerged from a muted white world into a blue-domed paradise, blinking owlishly in the daylight. A strange pattern of fog arced away from us, a form we decided we would call a ‘mistbow’. Can you see it?
The views grew progressively better, and I experienced the strange feeling of being content with a hike before I’d even finished. I could’ve turned around right then and been happy with the day, but why stop when you’re on a roll? The once obscured sky was cloudless now, and the blue of it made Lake Hawea glimmer like a sapphire.
Remnants of the fog still persisted along the slopes, sheltered by crevices and folds in the terrain. We were above the clouds then, and could see mountain peaks peeking through them like shark fins in a murky sea.
The Wanaka area is one of those rare places where visitors are absolutely immersed in beauty — surrounded by mountains, cradling glacial lakes, and riddled with trails and treks aplenty. For an avid hiker, it is akin to paradise.
Then, a false summit later, we were there. The 360 degree view was breathtaking, with Lakes Wanaka and Hawea visible, as well as the mountain ranges on either side. It felt like we could see forever, and we found a few rocks to sit on as we ate a quick lunch and soaked in the splendor.
I couldn’t help but think of my recent solo hiking attempt near Mount Cook, and the disappointment with which that day had ended. I’d been in a bad place mentally, and had scrapped that hike rather than push on and be miserable for the whole time. This was like a rebirth.
I felt clean, energized, renewed. This was why I love hiking so much. This was why I travel. I breathed deep and felt a frigid bite in my lungs.
It felt good to be back.