Wanaka, New Zealand

Wanaka was a welcome sight after miles and miles of rain. I followed Casey’s advice and checked into another YHA lodge for $20 a night, and dropped my bag next to a bottom bunk in a shared dormitory room. The room was cozy, and the shared shower was stacked with shampoos, conditioners and lotions of every kind. The hooks were all taken, piled with scarves and towels and winter jackets. I didn’t really care, happy to be back in the company of a few fellow backpackers. I went to the kitchen and filled a coffee cup with hot water, then stirred in the dark granules of an instant coffee packet. I settled beside the fireplace in the main cabin lodge, facing a huge bay window framing the white peaks of New Zealand’s Southern Alps. I had instant coffee by my side. And everything was alright. The grey from the day before proved to be the necessary gloom that prompted my planning side to emerge. I plucked away at my laptop, booking flights beyond Sydney to Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Middle East. I was missing Justin, and decided I would backpack my way to Bahrain. Having left Bahrain in March, I would be making a round-the-world trek in the span of five months.

Wanaka was beautiful. All of New Zealand was beautiful, but I fell particularly hard for Wanaka because it had somehow secured a perfect pocket of sunshine, even if only for a moment. The morning was clear, crisp and blue. Even the supermarket prices were more reasonable, ‘and it would only get better from here,’ said the girl at New World.

Most of the day was spent exploring random roads, ascending the steep road to Trebble Cone and photographing Mt. Aspiring National Park. I stumbled upon Roy’s peak track, an uphill trek that went on and on, winding through alpine meadows, wild roses and random herds of sheep. Roy is my late grandfather’s name, and the reason for my unparalleled love for the great outdoors. The view along the trail was stupid beautiful; flanked by Mount Aspiring, tussock-covered mountains and the still glacier waters of Wanaka.

I met a local along the way. She took one look at my bare hands and pointed at the grey sky in the distance. “Haven’t you got any mittens?” She asked. I shook my head. She seemed concerned and told me to be careful, that a storm front would be moving in and it would get cold. I thanked her and continued uphill, determined to reach the top of any mountain with the same name as my grandfather. Within 30 minutes, the storm had reached the trail. The rain fell sideways. The wind swept across the mountainside with such force that I had to tie the strings of my cotton hoodie to stop them from whipping at my cheeks. I stuck my freezing hands in my pouch and turned back downhill. Ice-cold rain seeped through my cotton hoodie as the sky turned a deep, dark grey. As I retreated to my car, I vowed to return and summit Roy's Peak, mittens or not.