Aspiring to get out on the land

Lake Wanaka was picture-perfect on the day we rode to  Aspiring Hut. PHOTOS: JUSTINE TYERMAN
Lake Wanaka was picture-perfect on the day we rode to Aspiring Hut. PHOTOS: JUSTINE TYERMAN
Justine Tyerman goes cruising ... on terra firma.

A Pacific Island cruise was off the radar this year, for obvious reasons ... but we still went cruising anyway. What’s more, on this voyage we could determine our own ports of call and my husband helmed the "ship" himself.

As we stowed our belongings into the ample storage compartments in our deluxe four-berth Cascade "suite" with panoramic windows, it occurred to me that travelling by motorhome really was like cruising, only on terra firma — you save at least an hour a day because you are not packing up and unpacking every time you move on.

‘‘Captain’’ Chris cooks dinner in our cosy Maui Cascade motorhome.
‘‘Captain’’ Chris cooks dinner in our cosy Maui Cascade motorhome.
But it’s even better than cruising at sea. The convenience and novelty of having a kitchen, dining table, lounge, bathroom, bedroom and "bridge" at our disposal 24 hours a day and the ability to stop wherever and whenever we felt like it gave us a heady sense of freedom.

It took a few days to detach ourselves from the travelling habits of a lifetime such as searching for cafes at lunchtime, restaurants at dinner time, accommodation at night time ... not to mention loo stops along the way. With the fridge and pantry stocked to the gunwales, meals were only ever minutes away, and the bedroom and bathroom a few steps further.

The other wonderful time-saver is the fact it’s hard to lose things in such a confined space. There were far fewer of those annoying "Where’s my ...?, Have you seen my ...?" conversations. Factor in zero lawns or gardens to maintain, minimal laundry and housework and life becomes a breeze.

But the highlight of our week-long "slowcation" in Central Otago was the excitement of waking with the dawn and looking out the window at a different Aotearoa gem every day.

First stop was Glendhu Bay near Wanaka where we were surrounded by a necklace of snowy mountains with breath-taking Mt Aspiring/Tititea as the centrepiece at the head of the lake.

Mt Aspiring-Tititea stands  at the head of Lake Wanaka.
Mt Aspiring-Tititea stands at the head of Lake Wanaka.

With two brand new Wisper Wayfarer e-bikes onboard, we were raring to go. To make the most of the daylight hours, we set off early on the 60-minute, 54km drive to Raspberry Creek car park where the Aspiring Hut track begins. It’s one of our all-time favourite drives — the road hugs the edge of Lake Wanaka, passes close by the wispy waterfalls of Treble Cone and then heads up the glorious Matukituki Valley with mountains towering high on all sides. The last 30km is unsealed with several fords so it’s wise to check the weather and road conditions before leaving Wanaka.

Our trusty Wisper Wayfarer e-bikes en route to Aspiring Hut.
Our trusty Wisper Wayfarer e-bikes en route to Aspiring Hut.
The track to Aspiring Hut follows the foaming green, glacier-fed Matukituki River up a wide, sunny alpine valley.

Waterfalls tumble off cliffs feeding crystal clear steams that gurgle their way to the river.

It’s an easy walk that we’ve done many times, starting with a gradual incline mainly over grassy flats, followed by a couple of steep climbs that give stunning views up and down the valley. But biking it was a vastly different proposition: the rocky, deeply rutted surface was a huge challenge for me as a novice e-biker, not to mention the numerous streams we had to ford — but I made it there and back thanks to the sophisticated gears and powerful pedal-assistance of my Wisper Wayfarer ... and a bit of help from my hubby, who rode his e-bike across the deeper streams and then came back for mine.

On the far side of the river, a sheer-sided cleft in the mountains marks the start of the Rob Roy Track, which takes trampers across a swing bridge and alongside a thunderous alpine torrent to the foot of the Rob Roy Glacier.

Chris comes back to ride my bike across the stream.
Chris comes back to ride my bike across the stream.
We’ve climbed to the foot of the glacier a dozen times in all seasons but it never ceases to astound and delight me. The cold blue-green gleam of the glacier face is blindingly bright and mesmerisingly beautiful. Occasionally, huge slabs of ice on the terminal face lose their fight against gravity and thunder down the valley in a white cloud — an awesome sight from a safe vantage point.

We bypassed it that day though, our sights set on reaching Aspiring Hut, a back country tramping hut deep in the heart of Te Wahipounamu Unesco World Heritage site, known to the original Maori inhabitants as "the greenstone waters".

I soon discovered rocks were like magnets to my front wheel. The more I tried to avoid such obstacles, the more likely I was to hit them. The same applied to negotiating narrow sections of the track. I suddenly became so wobbly I had to get off and push.

That’s all very well if you are riding an ordinary bike, but pushing an electric bike — especially uphill — is a different story altogether.

They are much heavier than their unpowered cousins, thanks to the grunty battery attached to the frame. But the Wisper had a clever throttle device that helped me push uphill with ease.

Nearly there!
Nearly there!
Having conquered the hills, the last part of the track looked flat and easy, but it turned out to be so boggy we left the e-bikes under a tree and walked (or rather squelched) our way to the hut.

The hut was built from river schist in 1949. Owned by the New Zealand Alpine Club and managed by the Department of Conservation, there are 38 bunks in two bunkrooms, an outside toilet block with flush toilets, but no showers or hot water. The large common room has gas cookers, sinks, cold running water, stainless steel benches, tables, a wood-burner, solar power and huge picture windows with a tantalising partial view of Mt Aspiring.

Aspiring Hut was built from river schist in 1949.
Aspiring Hut was built from river schist in 1949.
We stayed there for a weekend a few years ago to celebrate a 60th birthday, which was a highly memorable occasion.

We munched our sandwiches outside in the sun, ever mindful of the cheeky kea eyeing our lunch. Turn your back and they swoop, dazzling you with their scarlet under-wing feathers.

After lunch and a rest, we headed back down the valley to Raspberry Creek car park and then hightailed it to Glendhu Bay camping ground to be back by sunset.

Sitting outside our motorhome on camp chairs, we toasted the sunset, a fiery blaze of gold and burnt orange fading to mauve.

Thanks to Maui’s super-efficient gas power, we had hot showers and prepared dinner in a cosy, warm environment without setting foot outside until the morning.

Showering in a confined space is quite an art and requires a high degree of organisation, ensuring you have everything needed before enclosing yourself in a cubicle about a quarter the size of a regular shower.

Parked up at Glendhu Bay on the shores of Lake Wanaka.
Parked up at Glendhu Bay on the shores of Lake Wanaka.

The gas-heated hot water cylinder allows for two three-minute showers, or longer when you are plugged into mains power at a camping ground as we were that night.

The convenience of an onboard shower and toilet is immeasurable. It sure beats traipsing to a facilities’ block in the middle of the night.

Our simple dinner — chorizo, pasta and salad — tasted delicious at the end of our day in the "Great Outdoors".

There’s something so exhilarating about the physical exhaustion you feel after hearty activity rather than the dull fatigue after hours of staring at a computer screen. I was tingling with a sense of well-being.

As the "captain" and I began plotting our next port of call, I suddenly understood with absolute clarity why people of a certain age sell their homes of a lifetime, buy or even build a motorhome and begin new and simpler travelling lives ... cruising terra firma.

 - Justine Tyerman travelled in a Maui four-berth Cascade motorhome courtesy of thl and rode a Wisper Wayfarer e-bike courtesy of Electric Bikes NZ.


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