Breast Hill and Timaru River Tracks

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.dsc00569

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.dsc00538-breast-hill-trackdsc00563dsc00573-lake-hawea-wanaka dsc00578

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.dsc00585 dsc00592-stu

It was also where I discovered the painful way that New Zealand does indeed have stinging nettles, though thankfully far less common than in the UK.dsc00583

The view just kept getting better heading up to the top of the ridge, with the Southern Alps appearing behind the mountains on the other side of Lake Hawea.dsc00600

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.dsc00618dsc00638 dsc00621 dsc00616 dsc00634

The top of the ridge was the perfect spot to eat my dinner and watch the sunset over Lake Hawea and Wanaka, with the Southern Alps in the distance.dsc00643 dsc00647

Day two we ascended another 400m to the summit of Breast Hill, walking along the edge of the ridge the whole way, enjoying the views over the lake, and back inland across the tussock landscape.dsc00677 dsc00678 dsc00685 dsc00698dsc00707

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!dsc00717 dsc00728 dsc00736 dsc00737

At the top of the bush line is the old school Stody’s Hut, a classic vintage corrugated iron hut, with an impressive fireplace, dirt floor and mattresses!dsc00755 dsc00756dsc00763

dsc00762After a quick lunch we headed down to the Timaru River, according to DOC a 1-1.5 hour 1.5km walk which was a fair assessment of the difficulty!dsc00777

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.dsc00781 dsc00787-stu dsc00788

The track offered some great views of the valley though while alternating between pleasant meadows and thickly overgrown stream crossings.dsc00794dsc00803dsc00813 dsc00795-stu

Saw one of the largest dragonflies I’ve seen in New Zealand.dsc00801

We finally descended to the valley floor for a long slog along, and often through, the Timaru River. Must have crossed it at least 40 times, with the cool waters up to my knees. dsc00824

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.dsc00829

I got a little concerned when we reached the start of some rapids and at first couldn’t see an obvious track. Thankfully there was a narrow one along the bankside.dsc00831dsc00833

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.dsc00842 dsc00850

A swim in Lake Hawea afterwards was one of the most refreshing things I’ve ever done, followed by food and enjoying the lupines by the lake shore.dsc00861 dsc00870

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.dsc00906 dsc00923 dsc00961 dsc00979

Author: jontycrane

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