Saturday, March 17, 2012

Routeburn Track and Milford Sound

In New Zealand you "tramp on a track" instead of "hike on a trail" so, DOC permit in hand, we three boarded the bus to Glenorchy and began tramping the Routeburn Track! This was Scott's third time in the area, from his hikes while we were in Tekapo, but he was as eager as us for another hike!

Scott and Darrell on the Routeburn
We only had to hike two hours to get to our first camp, so we set up the tents and took off for a walk up the valley you see in the background behind the tents.

Camping at Routeburn Flats
The forecast was for rain, but we got in our last bit of sun lounging in the grass by the river.

Darrell relaxing by the river while Scott and I froze taking a dip!
Scott cooked us dinner from his vast store of dehydrated food. The insulated pot covering reduces fuel use since you can keep food warm and soak dried food in it.

Tough life with Scott cooking for us all the time!
Darrell found another use for the pot cozy!
The rain came that night and the river rose, but our tents were high enough they didn't float away. The next morning we headed up to Routeburn Falls, where there is both a DOC hut and a private hut. The majority of trampers stay in huts instead of tents.

This shows only a part of the spectacular Routeburn Falls
Soon we were in a beautiful alpine zone with water everywhere including on our heads!

Tramping in the rain as we headed up to the pass
At the pass, there was an A-frame hut with a dozen hikers all trying to dry out and warm up, as well as eat lunch. There were almost as many languages, and backpack brands, as hikers forming this congenial group hunkering together out of the rain.

The views of the pass were partly obscured though we could see glaciers through the mist, and it was still lovely. We headed down the other side of the pass toward the MacKenzie campground and huts.

Scott and the amazing backpacking umbrella
As we went lower, the forest floor and up into the trees was covered with moss. I've never seen as much moss and fern as I have in New Zealand.

Darrell on the mossy track.
We camped at MacKenzie in the rain. A nice feature of the campgrounds on many of the tracks is that they have a covered area with cooking counters and even a sink. There is usually a picnic table or two under the roof as well. You can tell by the temperate rainforest that many hikers end up in the rain so the covered areas are really appreciated.

The next day we hiked out, still in the rain, and got to the shelter by the road. Here, the sun began to peak out, and by the time we caught the bus to Milford Sound, we were beginning to dry out.

Milford Sound, a glacially-carved fjord, is one of the main tourist areas in New Zealand. We were soooo lucky that the sun was shining right after so much rain as the waterfalls spilling off both sides of the steep valley were at their finest.

Spectacular views on Milford Sound in the SUN!
The last picture looks back at Milford Sound as the bus pulled out and we left this special area. What a wonderful hike and NZ experience! Good, no, GREAT times were had by all!

Looking back at Milford Sound

Wanaka, Pukaki and Tekapo

February 11th to 21st
We should have taken Maori pronunciation lessons before leaving home as we cause people to laugh so hard they cry when they hear us pronounce Maori place names. It is embarrassing but we can't seem to get the accent on the right syllable. Even the Scottish town Twizel with a long "i" sound had us saying "Twizzle", rhymes with drizzle...

Wanaka bills itself as a more laid-back interior town than Queenstown, and it also sits on the edge of a large lake. Scott caught the bus from here to Q-town and went on a few great hikes; over Kepler Pass, and then on the Caples Track. Meanwhile Darrell and I camped one night near Wanaka so I could hike the track to view the Rob Roy glacier with Maria and her dad. Maria (who we met at the Fox River in January) was camping with her parents who had come for a visit. They got on the track before me but I saw them as they were returning and we all visited a bit before separating again.

Rob Roy glacier and waterfall
Darrell and I drove through a landscape that reminded us of Wyoming's dry hilly grasslands to Lake Tekapo where Darrell attended a 5-day conference of the Australasian Quaternary Association.  There are three large lakes in the Mount Cook (Aoraki) region; Ohau, Pukaki, and Tekapo. They are all gorgeous blue from the input of glacial silt.

View of our motel on Lake Tekapo
Anyone that has been reading this blog knows that I am a bit weather-obsessed. Or should I just come out and say that I feel like Darrell and I are NZ rain gods – like the truck driver in the “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”. So, it wasn’t surprising to us when we got deluged at Lake Tepako – though it seemed to surprise the folks here who “never” get rain this time of year! Maybe Rick Perry should invite us to Texas instead of holding prayer meetings for rain…

For those of you that haven’t read Douglas Adams, I found this quote, and now you will want to read the rest of what he has written!

“And as he drove on, the rain clouds dragged down the sky after him for, though he did not know it, Rob McKenna was a Rain God. All he knew was that his working days were miserable and he had a succession of lousy holidays. All the clouds knew was that they loved him and wanted to be near him, to cherish him and to water him.” Douglas Adams from So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.

After getting completely soaked hiking in the rain, I went to the Alpine Hot Springs to warm up. The three springs are in shapes of the three glacial lakes. They also have an outdoor ice-skating rink here but it was being repaired so I couldn't skate in the rain - which would have been a new experience!

Pools in the shapes of glacial lakes - but much warmer!
The small town of Tekapo gets busloads of tourists seeing two sites - a historic church and the statue of the all-important sheep herding dog!

MacKenzie country hero
After the successful AQUA meeting, we drove along the shore of Lake Pukaki to Mt. Cook (Aoraki) and camped in a DOC site that reminded me of my friend Martha Moore saying "You could run a marathon on the tops of all the motorhomes". We found a decent site though so Darrell had a glacier view for working at his desk (the camper table) and I hiked to a glacial terminus and lake on the southern flanks of the mountain.

There are even little icebergs floating in this lake!
Walking back, the evening lighting was so pretty, I had to get another photo.

Aoraki means "cloud piercer"
The next morning we picked up two hitchhikers.  Darrell thought the girl looked familiar and it turned out she was the triplet sister of one of the first women to graduate from the new Climate Science and Solutions master's program at NAU! She had gone to a seminar with her sister and met Darrell then. Small world!

We spent some time in Twizel, recharging our computers at an outdoor bandstand, and loading up on groceries. We also checked out Lake Ohau, the smallest of the three glacial lakes (though still large), where Heidi Roop will be working in late March. Heidi was one of Darrell's masters students and is now pursuing her PhD at the University of Victoria in Wellington.

Our journey back south took us through Cromwell, the gateway to Central Otago - another wine-growing region, and then to Queenstown where we met Scott off the bus after his two great tramps. It was so great to have Scott back - and not just because he cooked curried chicken fajitas for dinner either!

Scott and Darrell both working at Lake Moke
Lake Moke is a great DOC campsite just a bit outside of Q-town. We camped right by the lake and we even swam, though I couldn't stay in the cold water too long.

The next morning, Darrell dropped Scott and I off at the gondola as we couldn't find the trail head to Ben Lomond peak. This was especially embarrassing when we got to the top and met a 70-year-old Scot that had hiked up from the base and was planning to hike all the way down again. Tough Scots!

Me, afraid of heights? Ha!
View of Moke Lake and surrounding mountains from Ben Lomond peak
We wandered through a sheep paddock, saw two wild goats, and followed a horse trail along Moke Creek back towards our campsite. We picked some blackberries on the way for the next morning's wild rice and blackberry pancakes! Yum!

A six-part television series called "Top of the Lake", directed by Jane Campion, was being filmed at the lake while we were there. We never did see Holly Hunter but we took some pictures of the set.  The short plot summary from the IMDB is: A detective investigates the disappearance of a 12-year-old pregnant daughter of a local drug lord.

The set is the colored containers to left, and our van is a white spot by lake on right!
Next stop: Routeburn Track!