Date: 19-20 November 2016
After the lovely night (albeit bitterly cold) at Meg Hut, we decided to head out for another two days on the trails. But first a good scrub-down was in order, so we spent the night at Glendhu Holiday Park to get ourselves sorted for the next trip. A quick top-up of supplies and a fresh set of clothes and we were all set to leave early in the morning.
The Motatapu Track (not to be confused with the Motatapu Trail run, which is run on a different course – thank goodness for that!) is situated on the privately owned land of Mutt and Eilleen Lange (aka Shania Twain). When the property was bought, they agreed to create a tramping track that links Wanaka and the Arrow Valley. Dubbed the “Twain Twack”, I’m relieved that our outing didn’t turn into a “Twain Wreck”, as the route is definitely not for the faint-hearted.
From the car park, it is only 6km to the first hut, the Fern Burn Hut, and should take around 3-4 hours to get there. We started off next to the Fern Burn stream on an easy-going section over grassy flats. On this lovely warm and sunny day, the tranquil scene of a fly-fisherman completed the view with crystal clear water, surrounded by snow-capped mountains. But what looked like a walk in the park, soon turned into a challenging, scary outing for someone with a decent respect for heights.
After a few kilometres, we entered The Stack Conservation Area. This is where the climbing begins through beech forest. The Fern Burn narrows to form cascades and waterfalls as we scrambled up the valley. It is not only difficult terrain, but also quite dangerous. I had to stop and recompose myself every so often, just to muster up the nerve to walk on the edge of very steep terrain. One slip and you will fall right off the mountain.
Somewhere along the way, we exited The Stack, but the terrain got even worse. Once above the tree-line, the sun was quite hot as we sidled over more steep tussock-covered ridges. Sheer drop-offs often had me hanging onto grass, hoping not to slip. Two very young girls came trotting past in their trail running gear, without so much as working up a sweat.
What is it about getting older? Not only have I lost a fair amount of muscle since turning 45, but I’ve also lost a fair amount of nerve! Annoying, really.
We reached the hut in three hours, 15 minutes, just in time for lunch. We contemplated pushing on to the next hut as we feared the Fern Burn Hut might be jam-packed on a Saturday night. But walking on pure adrenaline was tiresome and with bellies full of food, sprawled out in the sun, we opted to stay put. We were all alone in the quiet midday sun for about a blissful hour before the first people started to arrive – two friendly Singaporeans. Not long after a Belgium couple with a four month old baby came into the hut to shelter from the wind that was by now blowing a gale.
Then arrived a British chappy announcing that a group of seven ladies were on their way, as was a family of four. The 12-bunk hut would be bursting out of its seams, it seems. The nice, warm day, turned into a cold night and the wind didn’t make for a nice evening out on the porch so we were all huddled up inside. Everybody had to prepare meals and eat, and during the hustle and bustle inside the hut the sun faded and darkness fell apon us. Luckily the couple with the baby stayed in a tent, the young Brit decided to also pitch his tent, as did one of the Singaporeans. We still ended up being eight people on the 6-bed bottom bunk (with two girls sharing mattresses with mom and dad) and six on the top bunk. In a choir of snores, and giggles from the girls, we finally all drifted off to sleep.
A group of possums created havoc around the hut during the night, and the door once blew wide open to bring in some of the crisp, seven degree air. But other than that the night passed peacefully.
Next morning the hut was buzzing with activity as everybody were having breakfast, boiling water and having tea and coffee before heading off. Most trampers were heading back towards Wanaka, while a few others were continuing on the track towards Queenstown. We stuffed everything back into our small day-packs, before tackling the arduous track back to the car park. It was another beautiful sunny day out on the ridges, with brisk air the moment we head into the forest again.
Although this leg of the full track (car park to Fern Burn Hut) is described as an easy walk, I found it quite nerve wracking. Maybe it’s just because I’m not comfortable with heights, but walking on the “edge of a ledge” half the time, made one question the rest of the track, which is ominously described with terms such as “arduous” and “only for experienced trampers”. And I was not the only one who found it fairly challenging. Some mumbles in the same veign came from most of the other trampers as well.
Happy to have made it back to the car without slipping off anywhere, we drove the short stretch back to the Glendhu Holiday Park where the kind owners allowed us a shower before heading north.
Oh yes, the seven witches. Lets just say that a bunch of rich, wine befuddled, loud, middle-aged women on a ‘break-away weekend’ partying it up with an 80s soundtrack from an iphone with boombox is not something you hope to encounter in a remote hut on a mountain where you went to have some peace and quiet. Ugh.