Inspiring Places

The first time Sanjay Ponnapa saw New Zealand’s Dusky Track

The New Zealand-bred founder of a luxury espresso bar recalls his impressions of walking the South Island's tough trail

When I was 25, I moved from Wellington, New Zealand, to New York. Before I left, I decided to go tramping along the Dusky Track with a friend.

The Dusky is maybe the toughest, longest and most isolated of New Zealand’s many walks. Its 84 kilometres traverse three valleys and two mountain ranges in the heart of the Fiordland National Park on the South Island. To begin, we had to get to Queenstown, bus to Lake Manapouri and get a boat.

We travelled with the absolute bare necessities: a couple of pairs of shorts and t-shirts, good tramping boots, lightweight sleeping bags and heavy duty rain tarps. All our food was dried.

Sanjay Ponnapa
Justin Lim

Everything you see is green: moss carpeting the ground and trees, giant ferns and branches above. We slept in tiny huts, lighting a fire to get dry and to boil some water to cook our dehydrated food.

Each day we were getting fitter, wading thigh-deep in mud as we crossed rivers, cut though forests and tramped up and down and across mountains.

A few years before, I’d read James Ramsey Ullman’s And Not To Yield, a fictional account of climbing a Himalayan mountain. It’s one thing to read about it; quite another to put the boots on and do it yourself. About halfway along, we were on a punishing trail leading up to three paradise lakes. I planted one foot after another thinking, ‘just keep going’.

Finally, at the top, we bathed in sunlight and glory. We were above cloud level, staring out at these perfect lakes, peaks around us and ducks flying overhead. I felt euphoric. I thought: ‘how did a city slicker like me get to this place?’

Sanjay Ponnapa is the founder of Fuel Espresso, with branches in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Wellington

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