Saturday, January 12, 2013

Exploring Wanaka - Millenium Track, Minaret Burn and Some Non-Cycling Stuff!

I was gutted when I had to go home early during the Yeti Tribe Gathering in October then saw the photos of their final day on the Millenium Track. So I had made sure it was on my bucket list for this trip. I had a spare two hours one evening before a family gathering and headed out with the intention of hitting up the delights of Sticky Forest again (a well worthwhile area for a bit of two-wheeled fun if you are after a quick blat in the forest in Wanaka), but as I headed out the driveway, had a change of heart and whizzed off in the opposite direction. I felt like riding something different and I reasoned with myself that the Millenium Track was an out-and-back, so I could turn around and make my way back in time for dinner.
It was a windy day, but the sun was shining. I set out along the edge of Lake Wanaka, hugging the shore until I found myself on a pleasantly-groomed piece of track. The Millenium Track sidles directly along the lake for about 17km between Wanaka and Glendu Bay, offering constantly breathtaking views of the lake, mountain and towns. It is not by any means technical, but with a few stiff climbs, a couple of fast, steep descents and the stunning views, you don't need an excuse to enjoy it. As I made my way along the track, I could see the track ahead of me, winding along the lake, benched into the edge of the hillside. As I made my way out to Glendu Bay, caution was thrown as I neared each corner (collisions with pedestrians are a BAD thing). It had been only a day or two since we had experienced some quite heavy rain and as I drew closer to the end of the track, it disappeared under the lake's surface, leaving me to either wade my way through the edge of the lake, or navigate an alternative route. In any case, I managed to make it all the way to Glendu Bay and back in time for dinner... Perfect!

My original intention, when enjoying my nightly map-examining session, was to ride the Millenium Track to Glendu Bay, pop out onto the Highway, then around into West Wanaka Road and onto the Minaret Burn Track (another dual-use DOC track). Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to link them up, but I did have the opportunity for a separate mission along the Minaret Burn track a week or so later.
I rather enjoy the fact that my partners parents are adventure bunnies, and I brought along my old rock climbing gear on the off-chance that we may have the opportunity to rock up some slabs (definitely slabs... My scrawny cyclist arms would be in no condition to climb anything steeper). Being on holiday, we had a lazy sleep-in then set off late morning. It's been a long time since I went rock climbing, and I still harbor memories of early morning starts, then driving out to the Blue Mountains to climb either in the searing heat or the freezing cold, stopping off at the Blackheath Bakery on the way to sample their fine food (I still don't know if I have ever found a bakery to top it), and then climbing until we had gaping bits of skin hanging off our fingers. In those days I could climb a grade 24 and my best onsite was a 23. These days, things were a little different. We arrived at Riverside crag (so named because of it's location next to the Motutapu River) around lunchtime, and were stoked to see that there were no other cars in sight... Looks like we had the place to ourselves! There was a reason for that, though, which became apparent as we stood in the blistering heat harnessing up and getting ready for our first route.

I was the one with the most lead-climbing experience (albeit from about eight or nine years ago), so I was up for first climb of the day. I clumsily fumbled my way up a grade 12, relieved to clip the top chains. It all came flooding back to me... The knots, the moves, the rules about which way to clip quickdraws, about tying bites in the rope before tying off at the top... I climbed with nowhere near the strength, confidence and prowess that I had all those years ago, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Sarah and her Mum completed the climb on my top-rope, and then we moved on to the next. I chose a grade 14 in the book that had a little star next to it (apparently meaning it was a nice climb... And it was)... I moved up this one much more gracefully, then tied off and came down for Sarah's Mum to give it a go (I'm not sure if it was a good move or a bad to make her stay up there until she had completed the climb!)... I was keen to do more, but the heat of the day had made some of the holds higher up on the wall quite hot to touch, and the general consensus amongst my compadres was that they wanted a swim in the river... But we made the call to come back before I went home... The experience made me realise I miss climbing... Hopefully it might reignite my passion for rock... I'd love to start climbing again, and I reckon it would be easily fitted into my riding schedule... Variety is the spice of life after all, right??? (or is that "cycling is the spice of life"? It could be either).

We slid down the riverbank for a quick dip in the Motutapu, then it was time for some bike riding... I had put my bike in the car before we left, thinking it may be a good opportunity to hit up Minaret Burn and then ride home via the Millenium Track. I was dropped off at the start of Minaret Burn, and was on my way... It climbed steeply up the bluff and then undulated up and down along the edge of the bluff, occasionally dipping inland slightly to ease the gradient of the climb. The views were absolutely stunning... Even moreso than on the Millennium Track. It was more remote and there were less people around. The track then swung back inland and meandered down to Colquhouns Beach, which had been left awash with driftwood from the recent rain increasing the water level of the lake. I was unsure of how far along the track went (I didn't have my beloved maps or Magellan GPS with me), but I figured that when I reached the end of the trail, it would be rather obvious anyway.

The track deteriorated and descended to follow the edge of the lake, crossing a few rivers along the way. Each river crossing I negotiated got slightly deeper, and flowed just a bit faster. I suppose the snow melt and rain was somewhat responsible for this. I eventually came upon a river that I had reservations about crossing. It flowed quickly over the rocks, and from what I could deduce, was maybe about waist-deep for me. I vaguely recall, some time ago, a wise person telling me that the more "points of mobility" that were below water, the greater the risk you would be swept off your feet... And it seemed to make sense... Whilst I am known for me adventurous spirit, it doesn't mean I am reckless, and had I been with another person, I may have been more inclined to attempt the crossing, however, being by myself, I decided that today, this was my turnaround point... And it haunted me for days that I hadn't made my way right to the end of the track... I felt like I had missed out on something. In any case, the legs were still feeling flat after my super long adventure a few days beforehand and they were screaming at me on the climbs... I got back to the start of the track and called the WAAmbulance to collect me instead of riding all the way back into town... It ended up being a rather pleasant day out exploring and engaging in a fun array of activities... Climb, swim, bike... Maybe I should have squeezed a run or hike in there somewhere???

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