“I'm not really a hiker, Liz.”
I didn't keep track of how many times I uttered this to my friend Liz as we were driving around Wanaka, New Zealand, and she was pointing out all sorts of mountains she wanted to make me climb.
There was talk of a hike to Rob Roy Glacier in Mount Aspiring National Park. A hike to Rocky Mountain Summit just outside Wanaka. And what would have probably been a full day climb of Roys Peak.
“Again, I'm not really a hiker, Liz.”
I said this many times, but what I really meant was “I'm so incredibly unfit and I actually HATE hiking and I may cry and just sit down in the middle of the track and tell you to leave me behind.”
But of course I never said these things. I stayed quiet, secretly hoping the weather would be terrible or that Liz would forget about all the hiking. (But who was I kidding? This is the girl who spent weeks riding horses around Mongolia and who lives in NEW ZEALAND now, for God's sake.)
Thankfully for us both, the weather and our lack of ability to plan anything conspired for us to tackle the Rocky Mountain Track first.
The track, located about 20 minutes from Wanaka, is a slightly more obscure one in the region. Even though it's close to a lot of the other popular walks in the area, not many non-locals seem to know about it.
The track is maintained by New Zealand's Department of Conservation, and has a few different hiking options. We of course were going for the whole enchilada – the 7-kilometer track that would take us to the Rocky Mountain Summit and back.
The DOC estimates the whole hike should take about 3 hours. It's probably listed as an “easy” hike, but a hike that would have you scale a waterfall and leap over a river full of sharks would probably be classified as “easy” in “We-Downplay-Everything” New Zealand.
We arrived around 3 p.m., armed with water bottles, a few layers of clothing, and a bag of potato chips to reward ourselves with at the top.
Liz had done this hike before, and assured me it would take us far less time than the DOC estimate. “We'll probably be at the top in 45 minutes,” she said.
Famous last words.
45 minutes into the hike, and we were nowhere near the top. We had conquered the easy first part of the track (mostly gravel) and climbed about a billion steps to a lookout point over Diamond Lake.
By 45 minutes in, we had a nice view over Lake Wanaka, but I was out of breath and starting to get tired. Luckily, I had plenty of excuses to stop and take photos.
To be fair, I wasn't the only one breathing heavy. But Liz was making fun of me anyway. I pointed out, though, that I TOLD her I was not a hiker nor in shape (unless “shape” means kind of round and squishy).
I wasn't about to give up, though.
We continued on, Liz assuring me that the top was “not far now” every time I would be tempted to rest my screaming calves on an inviting-looking rock – even though I could clearly see that the top was not, in fact, anywhere nearby.
We climbed up small cliffs. Trudged along muddy, narrow switchbacks. And Liz kept saying “almost there, almost there,” followed usually by, “Oh, actually I don't remember this part from last time.”
Eventually, I came to the conclusion that she was just trying to kill me.
She lured me to her home in Wanaka, only to try to do away with me on an empty hiking track.
No, no. I really love Liz. And I'm actually glad she forced me to the top of that “mountain.” It was something I would have never done on my own, and it allowed her to show me a slice of her new, outdoors-loving life.
It didn't hurt that the view at the top was great, or that we had the summit completely to ourselves, either. We spent almost 45 minutes up there taking photos and appreciating how damn pretty New Zealand is.
What's that quote about climbing mountains?
“It is not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves.”
I may not have been transformed into a hiker, but I definitely conquered something that day. (Though it might have just been Liz's plot to kill me…)
All my complaining and hyperbole aside, it's a pretty epic hike – totally doable in a morning or afternoon.
I'm not sure that I would do it AGAIN… but in the end I was glad I was forced slightly out of my comfort (and fitness) zone in order to get to the top.
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