We had done it. A few metres in front of us stood the summit. My hands throbbed as my fingers grew larger due to the altitude. My legs felt numb. These final steps beckoned a sigh of release from my entire body. We stepped off the gravel path and sat on smooth rocks with Lake Hawea below us.
Around three and a half hours earlier we had been sitting by our van, anticipating this moment. A soft breeze drifted over us as we sat eating our breakfast on a wooden camping bench. It was Spring; an early morning chill still lingered in the air. Birds sung sweet tunes in the trees overlooking Lake Wanaka.
Having travelled for weeks throughout New Zealand’s South Island we had many spots to stack Wanaka up against, but it still came out on top.
According to the internet the hike would take six hours; three up, three down. We had spent the previous evening pouring over this information; laughing, anticipating, relishing in the sheer idea of us three climbing for six hours in the heat. We figured challenges are what make travel that bit more interesting; we were here on the other side of the world, so why not?
There is little that can prepare you for the first half an hour of a three hour up-hill climb. The numbness hits after about an hour; the autopilot kicks in and, while it’s still painful, everything just keeps on going. There was no mercy on Roy’s Peak; 1,578 metres of gradual ascent, sometimes unexpectedly steep. Sheep droppings littered the sides of the path. Lambs and their mothers stared at us inquisitively as we dragged our heavy feet up the unforgiving peak.
The midday sun hit our backs hard. SPF30 clearly wouldn’t cut it for two blondes and a ginger. Fooled by the Spring season we got caught up thinking the early morning chill would remain; our post-hike burns were enough evidence to the contrary. As the altitude climbed higher the terrain shifted from the lush green pastures overlooking Lake Wanaka, to dark hues of yellow and brown. The bush grew thicker and deep purple rain clouds threatened in waves that quickly passed.
The path seemed continuous. With the change in terrain it felt like we had been transported to another planet, on a road that seemed to lead nowhere. Every so often we would pause, turn around and remember the reality of our situation; this whole painful experience was a pretty big blessing. The views stretched from Lake Wanaka on the right over to mountains and fjords on the left, with snow-capped peaks in the distance. The lakes below resembled glassy mirrors, reflecting the white fluffy clouds and baby blue skies overhead.
(Images: Beth France)
Veering around the final corners, we passed fellow hikers. Some had no shoes on; some ran in elation back down into the green space below us and some attempted to spur us on, telling us of our close proximity to the top. None of it really helped. Seeing those that have conquered a task you’re still struggling through is a daunting sight. As the level ground of our destination came into view my legs longed like never before for relief.
You may have seen images of Roy’s Peak on your Instagram feed. The thin, treacherous trail looking out over the lake below and snow capped mountains in the distance is a rather photogenic sight. We walked the famous thin trail to the edge of the peak; I instantly grew numb to any discomfort felt moments previously through a cocktail of my acrophobia and the sheer awe of standing at 1,578 metres, overlooking a landscape that I had only ever dreamt of.
While the reality of climbing to such heights can be daunting, painful even, the reward at the top is enough to replace any negative feelings with those of sheer awe. Only by completing such a task, and experiencing such a mixed bag of emotions, do we receive the great rewards that come with the completion of the journey. These are rewards that will stay with me for a long time to come.