After finishing the Gillespie Pass Circuit sooner than planned we had a couple of days spare to explore other tracks near to Wanaka. After reading that the Breast Hill Track is a highlight of Te Araroa, the 3,000km trail running the length of New Zealand, it seemed the obvious choice.
Starting by Lake Hawea the track heads steeply up the hillside, 1,000m up in 5km. Not particularly easy carrying an overnight pack (it’s a popular day walk spot) in the heat of the mid-afternoon sun, with a very tempting cool blue lake behind you.
The first half of the climb was physically tough but the switchback track was very doable. It started to get a lot sketchier heading along the ridgeline though, with big drop offs, not somewhere you’d want to be on a windy day.
After two and half hours we reached the top of the ridge. The landscape changed completely to epic tussock, with the Pakituhi Hut coming into view, about 100m down from the ridge. This is a lovely eight bunk hut, with a patch of alpine flowers by it, which made for a great place to spend the night.
From the summit we headed inland along a 4WD track enjoying the Otago landscape. We came across a Te Araora walker who started at the top of the North Island mid-September, and three and half months in was on the home stretch down to Bluff. I asked him what the most difficult parts of the walk had been, to which he replied the section he’d just done which didn’t bode well for us!
We’d hoped for some shelter from the sun but the track seemed to strategically run in the open, away from many trees, and was slow going descending slippery paths safely, though there was only really one properly hairy bit where the bank had slipped away.
Half way along was Junction Hut, an overnight option we’d considered but avoided after meeting a well travelled local in Pakituhi Hut who said it was probably the worst hut he’d ever come across, in a terrible state (it’s not owned by DOC) and sandfly infested. So we didn’t bother about a closer look, just kept pushing on as we were 20km in by now, pretty tired and roasted by the sun due to the complete lack of any shade along the river.
After seven and a half hours and 25km walked we reached the end of the track. Only to then spend another half an hour and 3km walking along the road back to Gladstone before a kindly couple of trampers gave us a lift.
Finally we were treated to a stunning sunset, and equally beautiful sunrise, the perfect end to an amazing four days tramping the Gillespie Pass Circuit, Lake Crucible, Breast Hill and Timaru River Tracks. After 82km and over 6,000m of altitude change though a couple of days off was very welcome.