Twenty minutes. That’s all it takes to reach Wye Creek, from the seething mass of tourists that makes Queenstown equally vibrant as it is overwhelming. I had many times passed the benign little sign on the road verge 20 minutes out of town – between Kingston and Queenstown – and wondered what lay beyond. So one lazy school holiday summers day, I threw my son in the car and our small adventure up the creek began.
Navigationally challenged, we zipped past the small flaky green posting twice, before finding our way through the arm of a farm gate and into the parking area. Soon after slapping on the obligatory sunscreen, our upward slog began. The first 25 minutes was spent zigzag our way to the top of a steep gravel access road – accessible only to the most robust 4wd vehicles – which then gave way to a small cattle-stop gate and a bush clad single track walkway.
Another half hour quickly rolled by as we darted in and out of bush and around rocky bluffs, as we followed a large hydro pipe upwards. A more studied look at one rock face as we passed revealed vertical lines of steel bolts – the residual mark of rock climbers. Later in the day we would discover that South Wye Creek is home to a very popular rock climber’s crag.
In just under an hour we reached a hydro dam, where green blue waters cascaded around and over its rocky obstacles, and where the large pipe we had been following begun its journey.
At the dam the track forks. An orange marker tagged “track” directed us further upwards, and to the south on the other side of the dam was another unmarked track. We followed the marked DOC track up another ten minutes where we found a little side track that popped out onto a large rocky knoll with sweeping views over Lake Wakatipu, Bayonet and Cecile Peaks, Queenstown township with Ben Lomond behind.
After our picturesque lunch stop, my son found the perfect walking stick and transformed into Gandalf the Grey as we continued up the wandering track. The track follows Wye Creek – heard not seen – through lush knotty beech forest for about an hour before popping above the tree line. From there the track officially becomes a ‘route’ that continues all the way on to Lake Alta above the Remarkable Ski Field. To continue on would not only require a vehicle pick up at the other end, but alpine garb and planning more substantial than board-shorts and a Gandalf stick. But with many more daylight hours at our disposal we decided to back-track down to the dam and explore the mysterious unmarked track on the other side of the creek.
From the dam, the unmarked track balances atop another hydro pipe, flowing this time from Wye Creek South Branch. This made for a rather unusual and leisurely twenty-minute stroll to the main part of the rock climbers crag, where we found a score or so of climbers sitting in the sun, belaying each other or hang about the cliffs.
With the gorgeous South Wye Creek cascading down the mountain side below the climbers, the spectacle of amazing athletic feats on the cliff faces, and the iridescent Lake Wakatipu glistening in the afternoon sun, we stopped and admired our surroundings for good long while before reluctantly beating our way back down the hill and home. (579 words)
- Access: 20 minutes south of Queenstown on the Queenstown-Kingston Road
- Grade: Intermediate
- Time: 4 hours return to bush line on Lower Wye Creek track. Will need to allow an extra hour to explore Wye Creek South Branch as well
- Accommodation: N/A
- Map Topo50: Queenstown CC11