I hate walking. I’m outdoorsy, so I’ve managed to hide it well, but putting one foot in front of the other in twice the time it’d take me if I ran or biked? I almost understand those Segway tours (only kidding, I still think they’re ridiculous.)
But New Zealand is working damn hard to try and change my mind.
I was fed up with people gasping when I told them I hadn’t climbed Queenstown Hill yet. “I did it this morning…” a Swedish man from my hostel had smirked, one of those peacock-travellers who list all the countries they’ve ‘done’ within two minutes of meeting. “Only took me 45 minutes to get up.”
45? I’ll do it in 30.
30 minutes later, I finally find the start of the track, up a road with an angle that would make for a great maths exam question:
If this street is at 89 degrees, at what point will Rosie’s legs give way? (Answer: at the sight of it)
I begin the ascent into a forest.
Pfft. I suppose it’s a pretty forest, I think, admitting to the silence of the pine trees as they zebra-cross the sky with long, bare trunks.
After half an hour, I spot a pyramid of flat stones piled a foot high beside a tree. I get all artsy, lying on the orange pine needles to take a photo.
I then round a bend and burst out laughing. There are hundreds of them, carefully placed by passers-by, like an ants’ city of skyscrapers. I quickly rein my laugh in. I’m still not having a good time.
I pant and wheeze my way up for another half an hour, finally reaching the Basket of Dreams, one of Queenstown’s sculptures to mark the millennium. It looks like a giant fruit bowl. In between gasps, I wave down a couple nearby.
“Could… you… I mean… yes?” I pant, brandishing my camera at them. The woman fortunately speaks ‘non-walker attempting to walk and dying in the process’, and takes a photo of me in front of the panoramic views.
“Thank… you…” I nod, and repay the favour with a photo of them on the hillock by the basket, with a background of sweeping mountain ranges and moody lakes.
“We’re just going up the last peak, do you want to join us?” The last peak… I swivel, and feel my stomach drop. There’s more to walk? The Basket of Dreams is not the end??
It is not a Basket of Dreams, it is a Basket of Lies, and it has lured us non-walkers into believing we’ve reached the top of Queenstown’s horrible hill.
I grit my teeth and follow the bouncing couple, all tucked-trousers-in-socks and sensible footwear, for another 10 minutes. Finally, it’s just me, the summit and the sky above.
There’s so much to take in.
A plane takes off a runway behind Frankton, its wings winking at me in the sun. Fat clouds push their shadows across Wakatipu Lake, I can see the red tops of the paragliders’ sails as they circle Skyline’s gondola. To the north, Cardrona’s mountain range stretches to a jagged horizon, to the west, the Remarkables’ sugar-dusted peaks rip into a gun-metal sky.
The couple are having a moment, they’ve stopped taking photos, and have taken each others’ hands instead, gazing in silence at the view.
That’s until I fall over and drop my camera lens-down in the mud.
“Bollocks!” I shout. They turn. I think it’s safe to say I ruined their moment. Time to head home perhaps?
One slippery descent later, and I’m sitting in Halo Cafe, cradling a well-deserved hot chocolate like a newborn. I’m no walker-convert, and you certainly won’t see me whittling a staff and going all Gandalf on the hills, but I feel like I accomplished something today, and that, in itself, is worth it.
(Please note: Queenstown Hill isn’t really horrible. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, I’m just a horrible walker.)