Jackies Journey: The Lake Hayes Circuit

By: Jackie Norman, Photography by: Gareth Scurr and Getty Images


The Lake Hayes Circuit may have been different to what Jackie expected, but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable, with surprises at every turn

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Lake Hayes has been on our wish list for a while!

Last month was a sad one for us, with the loss of our beautiful travelling companion Minnie, after a long battle with hypothyroidism. Even though our dog had suffered from ill health for most of her life, bringing her on the road with us was the best decision we ever made.

For her, the past two years had been one big adventure, and she had seen and done more in that time than most dogs ever do.

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The pier was a perfect place to stop for a breather

She enriched our lives and our travels, and made us laugh constantly with her antics. When we first set out, we wondered what on earth we were doing, dragging an old, sick dog around, but we hugely underestimated her.

Travelling gave her a whole new lease of life, and we were so glad to have been able to make her last years the best.

Life after loss

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We’ll never forget our special girl

Now it was just the two of us, there were many things we had to get accustomed to; not least being able to open the fridge without a sleeping pooch in front of it.

We never realised before how much of a routine we’d had with Minnie, and now she was gone, we were at a bit of a loss as to how to fill our days. Although Minnie loved going for walks, she wasn’t able to go very far, and it was more of a sedate waddle than a brisk walk.

Those first few days especially, the caravan felt horribly empty, and so we took to getting up early and going for long walks along the Mataura River. I was keen to follow it right to the end, until I discovered that would entail walking 190km from Gore all the way to Queenstown!

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At the mighty Mataura River

The wish list

Not to be deterred, I set about researching some different, not quite so lengthy hikes and soon had a wishlist as long as my arm. Top of that list was the Lake Hayes Circuit, near Arrowtown. A modest 8km, I first heard about this walk last winter, when I was still bedridden.

Back then, being able to walk such a distance seemed like an impossible dream but now I was recovered from surgery, I did what any good wife would do and nagged Gareth mercilessly until he agreed to take me. In typical style we also managed to choose the hottest day of the year to do it.

What the guide books don’t tell you...

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All is quiet on the peaceful side of the lake

Lake Hayes has several entry points and we parked at the Rutherford Road entrance before setting off along the loop in a clockwise direction. The lake is one of the most photographed in New Zealand and it was easy to see why.

However, what none of the pictures I’d seen had shown was how built-up the area actually is. As car after car made its way past us along the dusty gravel road, with the constant drone of SH6 running directly alongside us, it became clear that the track I had dreamed of was far from the peaceful, secluded paradise we had envisaged. Eventually we proceeded far enough along the track to leave the cars behind and we found ourselves alone, strolling through shady trees.

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All areas of the track are excellently maintained

Well, sort of alone. What the guide books also don’t tell you is that a large part of the circuit runs along the foot of some very impressive and expensive homes.

It was disappointing to see how closely man’s modern developments encroached onto an area of such tranquil beauty, and as we made our way along, we felt as though we were taking a stroll through someone’s garden and invading their private space.

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The track takes you past many private residences

Every time we came across a seat or a picnic table, we were never sure if it was for public enjoyment or the exclusive use of the homeowner.

Consequently we didn’t dare sit at any of them, but couldn’t resist taking a stroll along a small pier which jutted out into the water, or having a go on a rope swing dangling from a tree in a clearing, just asking to be used.

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I couldn’t resist getting on the swing!

As we swung merrily back and forth, round and round, there was no denying this was a truly magnificent spot.

Full of surprises

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The Remarkables make a stunning backdrop

Construction and traffic noise aside, it was both surprising and delightful to see how much wildlife thrived happily here.

Rabbit burrows dotted the banks alongside the track and their fat little inhabitants made only a half-hearted attempt to hide themselves in the thick undergrowth below us.

Trees laden with peaches, cherries and elderberries provided a constant source of food for the many birds, and it was almost impossible to take a photograph without a curious duck coming to investigate. Parts of the walk smelled just as good as they looked, with fragrant lilac and honeysuckle.

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The whole area is full of wildlife

The track abruptly became boardwalk as we wound our way through marshland, heavily populated with all manner of water-loving birdlife. We were now on the other side of the lake and at last felt as though we were truly immersed in nature.

As we passed the halfway point and the temperature soared, we also realised we had left all the shade behind too, as well as the picnic sites! Still, what did it matter; we were too busy enjoying the 360 degree views to worry.

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The Lake Hayes ducks are far from camera shy!

Up we climbed, through bleached tussock and regenerating kowhai forest with a steep drop on one side, until at last we could see the end in sight and dropped our still-full packs gratefully back where we had started, to enjoy our picnic at last.

The Lake Hayes Circuit may have been different to what we expected, but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable, with surprises at every turn.

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It’s easy to see why Lake Hayes is also known as the ‘mirror lake’

Modern progress may have shattered any notions of a peaceful getaway, but it has also provided and kept a much-loved and immaculately maintained walking track which will continue to be enjoyed for many generations to come. And, I finally got to make my wish come true! Who could ask for more than that?

Lake Hayes Circuit - know before you go

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  • The track is in excellent condition and is well maintained enough to take an all-terrain stroller. Mostly flat, it is suitable for almost all ages and levels of fitness and can be walked or cycled. Dogs are welcome.
  • The marshland area of the track can rise over shoe level during times of heavy rain. If in doubt, bring a spare pair.
  • Don’t overpack. We packed everything but the kitchen sink and ended up lugging it the whole way needlessly. We were surprised not to even need insect repellent. Our only essentials were water bottles, sunscreen and hats, as a large part of the track is unshaded.
  • The lake is a popular playground for watersports enthusiasts and swimmers, but has been in the news lately for containing high levels of E.coli. At the time of writing it has been pronounced safe but if in doubt, check with Queenstown Lakes District Council prior.
  • Walk the track anti-clockwise. According to locals it’s much easier – we didn’t and can well believe it!

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