Thursday, July 23, 2015

Go Big or Go Home: We did both!

Note: I wrote most of this when we got back to Canada in May 2014 but obviously didn't get around to posting it until now!

Our last three weeks in New Zealand were a whirlwind of driving, hiking and exploring the South Island of New Zealand.  While we stopped in many places, these are the three major things we did.

The Routeburn Track is on of the nine Great Walks in New Zealand. We hiked the 32 km over three days. Because it's a Great Walk, it is well serviced with huts along the way. The huts included bunk beds, a nice cooking shelter (and by shelter I mean building), flushing toilets and running water. We also learned that if you were on a guided hike, you and your group stayed in your own specially built huts.  They had beds, duvets, sheets, hot showers and freshly cooked meals onsite. The food for the group was also helicoptered in regularly so that it was fresh.  So basically, you got to do the whole thing with a change of clothes and water on your back (your guide carried your snacks).  Pretty luxurious!   We chose neither of those two options and camped.  We also learned a very valuable lesson on this trip. Make sure you pack enough food. We had enough meals, but somehow managed to bring two granola bars between the two of us for snacks. Needless to say, we were both pretty hangry throughout the trip, but still really enjoyed ourselves.

Routeburn Track

Reaching the high point of the Routeburn Track. 

Descending onto the other side, the landscape changed dramatically. Definitely got the feeling we were on our way through Rohan. 

Our second night camping, we were treated to a visit from the world's only alpine parrot. He woke us up by attacking our tent, and trying to steal bits and pieces of it and our shoes! We had to store everything inside the tent and managed to chase him off, but just barely.  He also decided to grace us with his presence at the crack of dawn the next morning by doing the same thing. 

Milford Sound. Very famous natural landscape of New Zealand. For something so famous, it was surprisingly undeveloped in terms of accommodation and food. If you decide to stay here, I recommend booking WAY in advance and bringing as much food as you can. Internet here was the most expensive we'd seen in New Zealand. $50 for 500 megabytes of data. 

After getting on a giant ship and cruising through the sound, we decided to do a kayaking tour. We are all geared up and ready to go!

This is by far the best way to appreciate the tall cliffs and open waters of Milford Sound.  It really gave you a sense of scale and you didn't have to fight anyone for a nice view.  We were even graced with a pod of dolphins along the way! 

We kayaked about 7 km out into the Sound and were thankfully picked up for the return trip. 


We wrapped up our trip with a backcountry trip down the Abel Tasman Track - basically an easier West Coast Trail (significantly easier), with MANY exit points via water taxis, and no illegal restaurants.  I somehow didn't manage to take any pictures of our sunny first day on the track, but have plenty of pictures of us in the rain!

The first day we hiked 12km in beautiful sunny weather. We stayed in a hut and were treated to flushing toilets an the glory of not having to carry a tent or sleeping pad.  The second day we hiked 24 km in the pouring rain. It literally poured the entire day. My waterproof Goretex boots held on until kilometer 18, and thankfully my jacket held up! 

Still happy even though it's raining cats and dogs. 

To save time, we decided to skip a hut, which was why day two was 24 km. We ended up having lunch in the hut we skipped. Fortunately there was a fire going in it when we arrived. We learned from a few other hikers that the storm had washed away two water taxis over night and that all taxis off the track had been canceled due to unsafe conditions. 

Hiking on a beach is only romantic if your legs aren't being sand blasted by the 70 km/hour winds.

Time for this to stop. Only a few kilometers away from the hut we were going to stay the night in.  At the hut, we learned that the estuary we were supposed to cross the next day was extremely high due to the rain, and would be nearly impassable. After watching two very tall and very brave hikers wade across it with the water coming to their armpits we decided we needed to change our plans. 

Fortunately, Kiwis are big fans of backcountry luxury hotels.  We hiked the two kilometers to the nearest one only to learn that conditions had only worsened over night.  We couldn't go forward due to the estuary and the lack of water taxis (our exit point), and we couldn't go back because the trail had been washed out in two places.  Many of our fellow hut mates decided to wait it out and booked a room in the hotel. We were about to do the same when we heard the word "helicopter".  

Luckily for us there was a small break in the weather that would allow a helicopter to ferry us out and back to town. We were lucky enough to get to spots on the last flight out and it took about 15 minutes to fly back to our starting point. 

This helicopter was the only one approved to transport the Royal Family. 

Our South Island trip included so many other stops, it's hard to summarize it all. Our stop in Dunedin and our drive up the West Coast really sticks out in my mind, but will have to wait until another day!