On the Eastern shore of Lake Hawea, just north of the tiny cluster of homes called Gladstone, is the start of a section of the Te Araroa Trail.
It begins with a direct climb from 400m to 1300m up a skinny ridge which involves a bit of rock climbing. The effort was huge but the view on a fine day was magnificent.
At the top is Pakituhi Hut, specially built for Te Araroa trampers and boasting double glazing and other clever modern tricks to keep it warm and cosy without a fire.
We were soon joined by three trampers who had come 2,500 km from Cape Reinga and were much fitter than us and great company.
In the morning they left at speed for the hamburgers of Wanaka and we headed north above the bushline, sidling around Breast Hill and along an easy tops track before dropping down to Stodys Hut.
This is a rather gloomy little place, but cosy, with a good supply of firewood.
Next day we descended steeply along a spur into the beech forest and the gorgy Timaru River. We were a little alarmed to see that the track upstream was quite rough, with steep slips to be picked across and a lot of up and down.
It seemed a very long day, the river invisible far below, as we sidled for hour after hour.
At 5.30pm the light was almost gone and in drizzle we looked for a campsite by the stream bed, about 1km short of the Mt Prospect junction. It all appeared dismally wet and sloping. We talked it over and decided head torches and a final push would be preferable, so we put on storm clothing and headed upwards.
Sidling our way along an even steeper slope in the dark, we were glad to emerge after about ¾ hour onto the Mt Prospect track at the bushline. The track was wide, flatter and easy to follow but we were immediately buffetted by strong wind and the sleety rain was white in our torchlight.
Another ½ hour tramping brought us to Top Timaru Hut; small, modern, comfortable and with an enclosed porch for dripping parkas...a joy to behold.
In the sunshine next morning we saw this hut is snuggled into a high basin surrounded by opportunities for other interesting trips but we had to head back down river.
Feeling the effects of a couple of hard days, we were slow moving and camped close to the river that evening. Again it was raining.
Our fifth day was brilliantly fine. Soon passing the turnoff to Stodys Hut (the The Araroa route), we continued down river.
There were a couple of huge slips to sidle but the going soon got better and after two days of deep, gloomy forest we were delighted to get out onto sunny, grassy slopes. We did have to cross the Timaru River numerous times, but travel was generally much easier. By 2pm we reached Junction Hut and enjoyed a lazy afternoon in the sunshine, planning another trip into the area.
Our final, sixth day dawned icy cold and frosty. The grass crunched as we tramped through narrow, shady gorges and crossed and re-crossed the Lower Timaru River. The area is very beautiful and at low water flows, is very pleasant tramping.
We emerged late morning onto the Timaru Creek Road alongside Lake Hawea and road-bashed the 5 ½ km back to our vehicle.
The weather was perfect but ice still clung to the grass in shady places at midday.
Strange clouds were gathering over the Main Divide and we decided it was time to head back to Auckland after a tough but satisfying trip.