Thursday, December 11, 2008

Kepler Track

This is going to also be another quick one to push out the door before I leave New Zealand. After the glowworm cave, I went to a hostel in Te Anau (YHA Te Anau) that was fantastic! Stay there. At the hostel, I ran into the Polish guy AGAIN! It was also the first night that I finally started initiating social contacts. It was great. I can't wait to do it again.

Ferngully in the rain!

My night in Te Anau was a much needed break in my over planned week. Thursday-ultimate. Friday-6 hour bus to Queenstown. Saturday-monster hike and camp. Sunday-shorter hike, Milford Sound, and Glowworm Cave. Mon, Tues and Weds - hike the Kepler Track. Thursday-8 hour bus back to Christchurch for ultimate practice. Friday - rest. Sat-Sun - Nationals. After a wonderful night in the hostel, I awoke to rain. Everyone else we chatted with said they were going to wait to do the Kepler Track, but Brian and I didn't have that luxury because I had to be back for ultimate practice. Off we went in the rain. The Fjordlands are known for the rain so we really shouldn't have been surprised. Every guidebook says to prepare for at least one day of it. The area we were heading to gets 3m a year.

The Big Slip in 1984 deforested this area and left the mounds behind.

The rain was supposed to lighten as the day went on. It didn't all morning. It got worse. I'm not sure if it was the rain or the huge, greasy, wonderful breakfast burritos that we had for breakfast, but Brian and I were really low energy. I don't think either one of us were thrilled to be getting started after two great days hiking in the sun. We stopped at the first hut we came to even though we five hours to go. After a long break and a lot of hoping the rain would lessen, we finally left and had a little more pep in our step. It wasn't nearly as bad as it seemed in the hut where the noise of the rain hitting the roof and the visual of the runoff made it seem a lot worse. It might have also helped that the beech trees were dispersing a lot of it. About halfway to the next hut, the rain slowed to a slow drizzle. There was much rejoicing.

After too much time on the Ice in front of the computer, Brian needs a chiropractor.

The Big Slip came from the right and stopped on the valley floor.

Just before our arrival at our campsite, we came out of the trees on a broad open valley floor. At first, we thought it might have been how the area developed, but we later learned that a giant slip (mudslide or landslide) in 1984 wiped the entire area out. I can't imagine the force necessary to level such a large area.

That night at the campsite, I found someone who had the same tent as me. He was part of a group of students doing a ecology study abroad program and they were just wrapping up their semester with a little recreation. We quickly ate dinner, were attacked by sand flies, and dove into our tent to sleep.

The Lookout didn't offer too many views.

A restroom with a view.

The next morning the weather was listed as fine. A weather report from the day before had said clearing. I was hoping for the best and was left wanting all morning. We were completely socked in our entire way up the mountain and across the traverse. We drug our feet as much as we could and almost double our hike time, but the weather just wasn't cooperating. We saw the sun once through the clouds, but it just as quickly disappeared.

Our first blue skies!

The weather was better than rain. Hiking was better than being in the city, but I was hoping to see the amazing views that I'd be told about by Talie and others. When we finally reached the Mt. Luxmore turn off, we saw the smallest spot of blue in the sky. It made us hopeful, but after a quick trip to the summit, we still hadn't seen anything. We had plenty of time to get to the hut, so we resolved to hang around an hour or so and see if it cleared.

It cleared!

Mt. Luxmore holding back the clouds.

Amazingly, when our resolve finally gave out and we came off the summit, some of the valleys around us had cleared! We could see right down to Lake Te Anau which was fantastic. On our other hikes, we were usually at the bottom of the fjords if we were seeing water. This one was the first where we were on top and could see water. Great stuff. Happy day. We thought we would head back up to the summit of Mt. Luxmore, but the view didn't change up there. The mountain was holding back the clouds.

Lake Te Anau.

More clearing!

Time to go see what else there is to see!

Brian and I probably hung around another two hours as the area cleared off more and more. It never completely cleared off, just a small section. When we decided to move on, we saw that the entire area facing town had also cleared off which gave us great views from out hut when we finally pulled in. Wonderful!

Lake Te Anau.

Luxmore Hut.

After we got to the hut and settled in for dinner, Brian and I went over to explore a 2km cave. (MaryK, you'd be proud. I even corrected someone for calling it spelunking.) We only went down 350 steps or so, whatever that comes out to be, but it was so dark - just like the glowworm caves, except I had wet feet. Very cool formations all over the cave. Brian has pictures, I'll have to harass him for them. The next day, we just meandered down the mountain and back to town. I showered up in Brian's hostel, watched Knocked Up, and caught a bus to Queenstown so I could catch another bus the following morning back to practice. Great week. Tiring week.

Picture for dad from the Luxmore Hut!

Kepler Track (53.4/60km) by the numbers:
  • Day 1: Rainbow Reach Swingbridge to Iris Burn Hut and campsite — 22.2 km
  • Day 2: Iris Burn Hut and campsite to Luxmore Hut — 14.6 km
  • Day 3: Luxmore Hut to Te Anau — 16.6 km

Milford Sound and Gloworms

A kea goes after the windshield wiper while we wait at a fifteen minute tunnel stoplight.

I'm not really in a writing mood, but I'm about to leave New Zealand so I'm just going to get these out the door quickly. Lots of pictures. Not much yapping. They will probably be better that way.

Bowen Falls and the Milford Wharf.

Having an immediate ride to the Milford almost paid off. I just missed an earlier cruise by five minutes. Such is life. At least, I didn't need to pay any bus fare. Since I also had a free coupon from the owner of the company (who I meant on the Banks Peninsula Track) to take a cruise, it was a very cheap afternoon.

Milford Sound.

Milford Sound is misnamed. It is actually a series of fjords because the valleys were created by glacial erosion and then flooded. It is 16km long and made up of 14 different fjords. It gets 6.5 meters of rain annually which means there are a ton of clouds in the area. That is why it is so hard to see the area on a sunny day. It started to drizzle when my tour started, but stopped as we got farther down the sound. It started again when we got back to the wharf. It never stopped being cloudy.

The fjords of Milford Sound.

Stirling Falls.

More fjords along Milford Sound.

Our tour consisted of going up one side of the sound and coming back down the other over a two hour period. Near the end of the fjord was the aptly named Seal Rock. There are usually seals there because they simply can't haul themselves out of the water anywhere else due to the steep walls.

New Zealand Fur Seals on Seal Rock.

As we came back down the other side, we were much closer to the Sterling Falls. Then our skipper, slowed the boat down and pulled in really close to the falls. We were getting drenched. After about five seconds, I ran inside to hide. I was nice and dry and wanted to stay that way.

Stirling Falls.

Our ship getting drenched by the Stirling Falls.

After the tour, I grabbed a ride back to Te Anau on a bus to meet Brian. If I would have been a little slower to buy that bus ticket, I could have gotten a ride from the Polish guy that I met on top of the Bridal Path in the Port Hills (near Christchurch) and then again when I got off the bus in Queenstown. I knew he was going to Queenstown, but had no idea that I'd see him again there, let alone three days later in Milford. Small world. The drive back wasn't as sunny as last time I made the trip, but the lupine were blooming along the roadside which was wonderful.

Lupine growing in the valleys on the drive home.

A highly trusted source said that I needed to 'go find glowworms. a little touristy, but so darn cool.' On the basis of this recommendation, I decided to tack on a second tour to day. I basically got off the bus in Te Anau and fifteen minutes later, I was on a boat crossing over to the glowworm caves. It is a good thing, I didn't need to do much because my body was getting ready to quit.

The only picture I took on the glowworm tour.

After the boat ride, you get a short intro about how the glowworms work. They are larvae that feed for nine months before mating for twelve days and dying. They attract prey by glowing. They snare prey by putting out vertical 'spiderwebs.' They'll even eat another glowworm if it tries to come into their territory.

A Glowworm and its 'spiderwebs.'

They don't allow any pictures to be taken of the glowworms. Since you are in a boat and the glowworms don't give off much light, I suspect it would be pretty difficult anyway. We also weren't supposed to make any sound because sound and light supposedly effect how the glowworms glow. We weren't sure if we bought that. Anyway, after the intro, we walked through a cave to where a second boat would take us into the grotto where a lot of the glowworms lived. The second boat ride reminded me of the ET ride in Florida for some reason. You start in the dark and then suddenly you get a little light. You get just a little magic. Then, it goes so dark it doesn't matter if your eyes are open or closed and finally, you enter the cave that looks like the picture below. I'm not sure if the glowworms caves are 'so darn cool,' but they are definitely neat, and I'm glad I did it.

What the cave pretty much looked like.

Routeburn Tractk

Near the start of the Routeburn Track

I've been busy my last couple weeks in New Zealand. Two Thursdays ago, I had ultimate practice. Friday morning, I was on a bus for Queenstown and Saturday morning I was hitting the trail again. This time, I was bound for the Routeburn Track and hopefully following it up with a clear day on a Milford Sound boat tour.

Glacial runoff coming down Sugarloaf Stream

The Routeburn Track begins in Mount Aspiring National Park and traverses over to Fjordland National Park. It is part of Te Wahipounamu, the South West New Zealand World Heritage Area. The Routeburn Track is named for the Route Burn that it follows. A burn is an old Scottish term for a waterway.

Dead tree.

On my first day, I started out alone and was hurrying along to try and catch B-Nelson who was waiting for me further along the trail. I wasn't quite sure if I was meeting him at the Routeburn Flats or Routeburn Falls Hut, but both were pretty close to the trail so I didn't expect too much difficulty finding him.

The Routeburn Flats campsite.

For the first couple hours, the path meandered through the woods with an occasional view of the mountains. Some of the mountains still had a little snow on them. However, the best views were from where the valley floors opened up into broad flats.

Overlooking the Routeburn Gorge and Flats, that we had hiked up,from the Routeburn Falls Hut balcony.

After the flats, we started our slow climb up towards the Harris Saddle. On this climb, I once again had the misfortune to lose my camera lens cap. I put my pack down and went down the hill to find my lens about fifteen minutes back. Yeah for extra hiking on a long day! Shortly after recovering my lens cap, I finally caught up to Brian at the Routeburn Falls Hut. I think he was about to drift into a nap. He had been waiting a while for me.

Hiking up the moraine to the Harris Saddle.

After a quick lunch, we continued following the burn up to its source, Lake Harris. On our way up, I felt like I was at McMurdo again. One helicopter must have made a hundred deliveries of river rock for trail maintenance.

Looking back down the Routeburn Gorge.

Lake Harris, the source of the Route Burn.

A couple hours later, we were rounding Lake Harris and approaching the Harris Saddle. As we crested the saddle, I think the mountains were finally muting the sounds of the helicopter so we could at least pretend we were off in the wilderness. With so many other walkers traveling with us or going the opposite direction, this hike often felt like a day hike just outside a city.

Harris Saddle at 1255m.

At the Harris Saddle, we took a quick side trip up Conical Hill. From Conical Hill, we could see the outlines of the Hollyford Track extending from the road, to river, to mountains, to the beach at the end. It looked like one straight shot. I believe it is an eight day hike and I was surprised we could see from one end of it to the other. However, since we could also see the Tasman Sea (between Australia and New Zealand), I probably shouldn't be surprised.

Looking back over what we hiked (the track is on the right and then center)).

Danger, danger!

The one big difference between the Routeburn and Milford Tracks was that you had the opportunity to walk above treeline for an extended amount of time after getting to the top of the pass. On the Milford, we were in the valley, up the pass, down the pass, and back into the trees. The Routeburn has a huge section between Harris Saddle and Lake Mackenzie that traverses the steep Hollyford Valley walls instead of dropping down to the trees. It is fantastic and, according to Brian, made this hike as good as the Milford (and since it is easier to book and possible to camp for cheap, maybe even better).

Our home for the night, Lake Mackenzie.

After our really long hike, we finally arrived at the hut. Unfortunately, we had ten more minutes of walking to do before we finally reached our campsite. When we got there, we had to choose one of the designated spots. Each spot was designated by an 8x10 piece of astroturf. I guess that was better than camping on rocks. I'm still not sure. It was weird. Apparently, other people found it weird in the past too and went off to find their own campsites as well. They know have great signs (like the one below) so those people don't get confused about their options.

In case you needed a sign . . .

Walking above treeline

Our second day was a nice leisurely walk in the sun. We had a couple short climbs, but it was mostly a slow descent down to The Divide at 532m which is the lowest crossing point of the Southern Alps. Once we got to The Divide, I had planned to hitch a ride over to Milford Sound to take a boat tour. Fortunately, one of the guys I had met the day before (from Ninth and Lincoln in Denver) had his brother picking him up for the same thing so I just grabbed a ride from them. Great stuff. B-Nelson got a ride over to Te Anau where I'd meet him later that night for the Glowworm Cave Tour.


Routeburn Track (32.1 km) by the numbers:
  • Day 1: Routeburn Shelter to Lack Mackenzie Hut and campsite — 20.1 km
  • Day 2: Lack Mackenzie Hut to The Divide (on the Milford Road) — 12.0 km
  • Odds, Ends, and Queenstown

    On a dreary day in Christchurch, I finally made it over to the Canterbury Museum just across the street from the YMCA. I had heard they had a great Antarctic exhibit and was curious about what else they might have to offer. The Antarctic exhibit was a great historical look at the place I've spent the past year in. They even had a set of the bear claw mitts that I wore over the winter.

    Fred & Myrtle’s Paua Shell House living room wall.

    Beyond the Antarctic exhibit, I struggled a bit. Artifacts from ancient cultures just don't engage me. I need the stories behind them which is why the Christchurch Press exhibit and Fred & Myrtle’s Paua Shell House are the ones I remember the most. The press exhibit had photographs from the Christchurch media from 1940-1970. The Shell House was truly impressive. In viewing, I felt like it was a testament to everything tacky and kitchy in American collectibles. With the background story told in a short movie, it explained the couples' brilliant love and personalities, the story behind the collection, and how it gained its place in the kiwiana phenomenon. However, almost all of this was forgotten when I was exiting the museum via a fictitious street made to represent old Christchurch. It was there that I learned about John Bain's double life.

    John Bain's secret double life revealed.

    John Bain in disguise.

    I've talked about the Botanical Gardens in Christchurch before and I'll probably continue to talk about them until I return home. I love them. When I first got here, the rhododendrons were blooming in more colors than I could have ever imagined. A couple weeks ago, these roses came into full bloom. While the roses are still going strong, my favorite lilies are starting to bloom. I imagine they'll be in full bloom when I return to Christchurch again in a few weeks. Just amazing.

    A rose in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens.

    The Rose Garden in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens.

    Odds and ends:
    • Portable coolers are called Chilly Bins.
    • Opposing traffic turning right has the right of way if you are also turning left down the same street.
    • They sell pierogies here!
    • American outdoor sporting equipment is manufactured to be ready for the northern spring (Feb-Mar) which makes it really hard to find the bike you want in NZ in December. All their supplies apparently will come in around January.
    • Trails are called Tracks.
    • Multiday hikes are called Tramps
    • The Christchurch Ultimate community is one of the best I've ever been in. They are small, but made up of fantastic people.
    • They have a cheese here called Tasty cheddar. I feel like the same people who named the Remarkables also named this cheddar. It reminds me of the old Indian names in North American that described that place instead of paying homage to someone or somewhere thousands of miles away.
    • I've been accidentally telling people that I moved to Denver two years ago. It is really three and for some reason I am just deleting my year on the Ice from all my personal chronologies. This has happened numerous times.
    • For some reason, I tend to think of England as more prim and proper than the 'crass' US so I assume that old English colonies, like NZ, have that attitude to (even though it really doesn't hold true). Because of that, I would never have expected the product below to be sold in a bookstore. I guess the rest of the world isn't as uptight about sex as the USA.

      A cheeky chocolate.

    Queenstown lakefront.

    Queenstown is beautiful. It is nestled beside a lake among the mountains. The attitude there reminds me a lot of the Gore-Tex Vortex (Boulder, CO), but might be even more Boulder, than Boulder. Queenstown is the adrenaline capital of the world. They have skydiving. They invented bungee jumping. A polish guy told me the best bang for your buck is river boarding and he did everything. It is good to visit, but not quite my cup of tea. That just might be because of all the kids out partying and then coming back to my dorm really late to wake me up when I'm leaving for a hike early the next day. It is also a great launching point for some of the best scenery in NZ.

    The Remarkables mountain range from Queenstown's lakefront.

    According to Wikipedia, "[These] mountains were allegedly named The Remarkables because they are one of only two mountain ranges in the world which run directly north to south. An alternate explanation for the name given by locals is that early Queenstown settlers, upon seeing the mountain range during sunset one evening, named them the Remarkables to describe the sight."

    Queenstown Bowling Club.

    I'm not sure why, but lawn bowling just never caught on in the US like it has in other (English?) parts of the world. I feel like I've seen it played everywhere, but in the US. I think they have a club in every town that I've visited here in NZ.

    Also, new and exciting was LED indicators to let you know if someone was already in the toilet. This is for those of us who can't quite figure it out by knocking, I guess.

    Fancy restrooms indicators.