Tag Archives: New Zealand

Routeburn Track

This Great Walk is 32 km, not counting optional detours. I, and most of the independent trampers I encountered, took the route from East to West, starting at the southern end of Mount Aspiring National Park and ending up in Fiordland National Park. Guided walks seem to go in the opposite direction, perhaps to minimize congestion on the trail when hikers are leaving huts in the morning. I really liked this “walk”. There was a beautiful variety of scenery and NZ’s Department of Conservation (DoC) does a great job maintaining the clearly signed trail.

The hike times posted on the trail are at the lower end of the range listed in the brochure. Overall these times work for me if I walk fairly briskly and don’t stop. However, with photo and lunch breaks, I typically take 50% longer.

11 March, 2015 – Routeburn Shelter to Routeburn Falls Hut

It was barely light when I left Te Anau. I drove back through Queenstown, stopping for a few couple vistas along the way, and then to Glenorchy where I picked up a lock box on my way to the carpark at the Routeburn Shelter (pronunciation hint: as in England, “route” is always pronounced “root”). I left my key in the lock box and hoped my car would be waiting for me at the end of my tramp.

I started hiking around 11:30 and reached the hut around 3:30, not bad for a trail described as 2.5 – 4 hours. Though I wasn’t carrying a tent or cooking gear, I still felt a bit like Cheryl in Wild with a monster on my back. The majority of the hike was through Red Beech forest, along a river much of the way. There was a bit of uphill in the beginning, then a more gently climbing section in the middle, followed by quite a climb at the end.

I was happy to see the hut and surprised to see how nice it was. There are two bunk rooms with 24 beds in each. They are organized into quads so there is some privacy and plenty of room. As one of the later arrivals, I had a top bunk. The deck provides a great view overlooking a valley and there is a nice spacious kitchen with plenty of stoves and sinks. After checking in, I walked up and checked out the beautiful series of waterfalls. Some more adventurous trampers scrambled down to the river and went swimming in the cold water. I settled for bathing my feet in the sink.

I didn’t realize that I needed matches for the stoves, but fortunately plenty of people had lighters, which they shared with me. After a freeze-dried dinner, I attended the ranger briefing. In addition to reviewing the rules, he regaled us with humorous warning stories, of Kea (native parrots) shedding clothing and packs left out at night and possums startling people in the bathroom when the doors are left open.

12 March – Routeburn Falls Hut to Lake Mackensie

We were above the tree line most of the day. I headed out shortly before 9:00. The first portion of today’s hike was uphill; I like getting the toughest part over first. To lesson the weight of my pack, I skipped filling my water bladder and instead filled my water bottle at streams throughout the day. (When I first started backpacking, we could still do this in the Sierras, but sadly no longer).

I spent much of the day hiking with a nice couple, Monika and Rolf, from Melbourne. When we reached the Harris Saddle, we dropped our packs in the shelter and started up Conical Hill. On a clear day it apparently offers a 360o view. The first third of the trail is fairly easy, though all uphill. It then becomes rocky and a bit of scrambling is required. After another third, I decided to turn back. Given the overcast weather it didn’t seem worth risking a twisted ankle.

The section of the trail right before and after the saddle was stunningly beautiful. There were several small lakes and in between drifting clouds and fog, an occasional glimpse of mountain peaks and a glacier.

The last section switch-backed down through a magical forest. I had to watch every step to avoid tripping on roots and rocks, but stopped frequently to admire the moss-covered trees. As another tramper commented later, it was a workout for mind as well as body. FYI, for photographers, I boosted my ISO to 1600 and still needed a slow shutter speed in the forest.

I reached Mackensie Hut around 4:30. I was too tired to take the side trip to split rock when I got to camp (and it was too wet in the morning to consider).

The sleeping setup at this hut is not as nice as the last. Instead for a private bunk, with room for a pack, the beds are in slabs that hold four people each. I was one in from the end on a bottom level. The ranger at this hut gave us an overview of his pet project, trapping non-native stouts, which are killing the native birds. Before humans arrived on these islands 1000 year ago, the only mammals were bats; this was a bird paradise. Rats arrived with the Maori and Europeans deliberately introduced most of the other species. The bird population has dropped drastically with several species now extinct.

13 March – Mackenzie Hut to the Divide

It wouldn’t be a classic Routeburn tramp without rain, so I wasn’t disappointed. I’m glad I carried all my rain gear. I used it all and stayed dry J. I woke at first light and was the first one on the trail, heading out in a light drizzle. The trail starts uphill through a Silver Beech forest, with periodic openings that on a clear day would provide vistas overlooking Hollyford Valley, but today were simply white with vague mountain shapes. I soon abandoned my glasses as they kept fogging up.

Shortly after the beautiful Earland Waterfall, it began to rain harder and I retired my camera. I stored it in a waterproof bag inside a plastic-lined pack with a waterproof cover (too bad I didn’t have this setup in Peru). When the trail returned to the trees, it was almost dark enough for a headlamp.

Today, I reached the trailhead, at the Divide, in just 15 minutes over that posted four hours. That included a short snack and restroom break at Howden Hut. (It’s nice to have a place to get out of the rain). No one was taking the detour up Key Summit, which on a clear day provides a view of Milford Sound.

I was pleased to see my car in the lot. Shortly after heading south towards Te Anau, the rain stopped and the sun came out; it was hard to believe it was the same day. I spent the afternoon running errands: drop off lock box, return rented pack, pick up suitcase, fill car with petrol, do laundry at the hostel, take a very welcome shower, sort and repack all my stuff, walk to the market for groceries. No time to sort photos, so this blog post is getting out several days later.

Queenstown to Te Anau

8 March, 2015 – Getting to Queenstown

According to Google, the drive from Fox Glacier is about four hours. I spent several more than that with short stops along the way to stretch my legs and take in the view. I also detoured to Arrowtown, a gold rush era town now filled with cute shops and restaurants.

Queenstown is just as touristy as I feared, primarily geared towards a young, partying crowd. It redeems itself with beautiful Lake Wakatipu. I strolled along the shore for a bit, then went shopping. I needed to replace a pair of hiking pants that I inadvertently left behind in the closet in Hokitika.

9 March, 2015 – Queenstown

I spent the morning on the Queenstown Hillside Walk, which leads above town for great views of the lake and surrounding mountains. The route is listed as one and half to two hours; it took me over three including an early lunch break. I stopped for many mushroom pictures on the way up through the trees, plus view shots at the top, of course. It was a very enjoyable hike until a helicopter began flying about the summit obviously taking photos of a group of hikers. They walked back and forth as the helicopter circled round and round, like a large, angry wasp. If you don’t mind hiking uphill, this gets you to a higher point than the pricy gondola (this town is designed to suck your wallet dry).

In the afternoon, I visited all the galleries in town and got prepared for my upcoming tramp (I’ll spare the details; suffice it to say that it would have been easier to coordinate transportation to the track from here rather than Te Anau). Though not quite as warm as Abel Tasman, the weather has been perfect.

10 March, 2015 – Te Anau

I picked up a hitchhiker, a rare event, for my two-hour drive to Te Anau. It turns out he’s a tour guide and gave me looks of good tips. We had a great time talking about his country and world travels. I learned that many of the trees have familiar names, but don’t look quite right, because European botanists often named them after similar-looking northern hemisphere plants.

I enjoyed a lunch overlooking the lake, toured town for a bit, rented a backpack, and then hiked a two and a half hour segment of the Kepler Track, from Rainbow Reach to Shallow Bay. It was mainly through a forest of false beech trees. I spent the evening packing for my upcoming trek and getting out this blog posting.

The Wet West Coast

6 March, 2015 – Motueka to Hokitika

Wind gusting, wipers wiping, downed branches on the road. One lane bridges crossing torments of brown water. Quite a change in weather from yesterday.

I skipped an anticipated waterfall detour and didn’t get to the pancake rocks in Punakaiki because one of the roads to the coast was closed due to slides (another commonality with California: mud slides after heavy rain). It took almost five hours to get to Hokitika and it rained continuously, sometimes light, sometimes deluge. The rain stopped as I was eating my lunch, in the car, overlooking the beach. The local artists have had a great time with driftwood.

After lunch, I strolled through town, and then drove up to Hokitika Gorge. Instead of the beautiful blue water seen in photographs, the river was grey, filled with sentiment after the recent rain.

I drove back to town, made my daily trip to the supermarket, posted a blog entry, and read a bit. The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton, is a historical novel / murder mystery set here in Hokitika during the gold rush. It’s a good thing I’m reading it on my Kindle; had I realized how long it is, I probably wouldn’t have started.

7 March – Fox Glacier

Given the forecast, downpour followed by showers, I took my time getting ready this morning. I did a bit of online research and finalized a few trip details. It was raining when I headed south, following a grey path through green walls. It was quite meditative with little traffic. As the sky cleared, details emerged and the walls became ferns backed by a variety of leafy trees. By the time I reached Fox Glacier a couple hours later, it was barely drizzling and the sun was emerging.

I had lunch at a café near Lake Matheson and then took the hour and a half track around the lake. Ooh la la, this was nice, lush foliage with flowing water and occasional vistas overlooking the lake with the mountains reflected. Clouds obscured the peaks (Mt. Tasman and Mt. Cook) much of the time, but it was still beautiful.

I then drove just south of town to Glacier Vista Road. High water has blocked access to the trail leading to the foot of Fox Glacier, so I settled for a glimpse in the distance beneath the clouds.

8 March

When I woke, the sky was clear, not a cloud in sight. And as I was heading out of town, sun was just starting to hit the peaks. Now, I’m off to Queenstown.

North End of South Island

3 March, 2015 – Ferry and Drive to Motueka

Trish gave me a ride to the ferry terminal where I caught the Interislander to Picton. I spent much of the three-hour trip sorting my Wellington photos. From Picton, I rented an old Nisson and took the scenic route to Motueka. When they handed me the keys, I instinctively headed to the left side of the car; the lack of a steering wheel reminded me to enter on the right. Fortunately, I left town quickly, so it wasn’t too challenging to stay on the left side of the road. However, I kept turning on the windshield wipers whenever I wanted to signal. It’s a good thing the brake and accelerator aren’t reversed or I’d be in big trouble.

I stopped just past Nelson to visit WOW, the World of Wearable art and collectible cars, an interesting combo. It was late afternoon when I arrived at the Laughing Kiwi, the hostel where I’m staying. I have a private room with a bath and access to a large kitchen. I took a stroll through town, grabbed a falafel salad for dinner, and headed back to the hostel to finish my Wellington blog post.

4 March, 2015 – Abel Tasman National Park

A bus picked me up and took me to Kaiteriteri to catch a water taxi. It was about 45 minutes late, but fortunately they held the boat for us. (Though this wasn’t a Naked Bus, several people getting around with that company’s buses tell me that they are late more often than not). The water taxi shuttled me up the coast so I could hike a four-hour slice of the Abel Tasman Coast Track, from Bark Beach to Anchor Cove.

Much of the track is cut into the hillside right through the forest above the coast. The 11 km (almost 7 miles) section that I did was relatively easy with rolling ups and downs. There were often ocean vistas through the trees. I heard more beautiful calls of unseen birds and the ever-present cicadas. The forecast rain never materialized and I spent the day in shorts and short-sleeves. I had lunch with a nice couple from New Hampshire, escaping their horrendous winter. I reached Anchor Beach in time to stroll barefoot on the gritty golden sand and cool my feet in the water before the boat returned to pick us up.

When I got back to the hostel, I soaked in the hot tub and ate deli food for dinner. It was pleasant enough to sit outdoors and putter on my laptop until 9:00.

5 March, 2015 – Near the Spit

The drive from Motueka north to the end of the road takes about two hours. Incredulously this windy road is signed for 100 kph (62 mph). It slowly dawned on me that this is the maximum, attainable in only a few straight stretches, and drivers are expected to use good judgment. When I reached the car park for Wharariki Beach, there were only a few cars in the lot; it was full when I left a couple hours later. Wow, what a beautiful beach! I thoroughly enjoyed the walk to and along the beach, photographing rock stacks, birds, and sand dunes.

Afterwards, I stopped at Cape Farewell, the northernmost point on the island and enjoyed a picnic lunch overlooking an interesting rock formation. On my way back I stopped in Takata for a decaf latte and a short detour to the Grove Scenic Reserve, a small park with sculpted limestone formations covered with the vine-like roots of Northern Rata trees. It felt like a cross between a jungle and a palm tree oasis.

New Zealand has much in common with Northern California. In addition to golden hills, drought, and a beautiful coast, it had a gold rush (right after ours), it has earthquakes, invasive plants (they have our Monterey Pine), and in both cases, Europeans displaced native peoples. Except in NZ’s case, Māori is one of three official languages, the third being New Zealand Sign Language.


28, Feb 2015 – Mount Kaukau and Artists in Action

After a leisurely breakfast, with delicious bread that did not bother me, Trish dropped me off near her house with a hand drawn map, so I could stretch my legs by hiking up Mount Kaukau. The way up, along a steep trail, reminded me of California with rolling golden hills, windmills in the distance, and cypress-like Macrocarpo trees. Along the way I got a good overview of Wellington Harbor. The way down the other side was totally different. I felt like I was back in the jungle with lush greenery, noisy cicadas, and the calls of unseen birds. I thoroughly enjoyed it. At the end I met Trish for a delicious lunch at a café in the park.

In the afternoon, we visited a dozen or so artists’ studios as part of an annual Artists in Action event (perfectly timed for my visit). There was quite a variety, from mosaic mirrors to whimsical sculptures. Trish then drove me to a couple nice viewpoints, Mount Victoria and a Wind Turbine in Brooklyn, one of the highest points around. Overall it was a glorious day.

Shortly after we finished out dinner, the doorbell rang. A friend of Trish’s granddaughter (Trish has more than a dozen grandkids) had crashed on his skateboard only a block away. We spent the evening patching him up and then going to the pharmacy to restock my first aid kit. He will definitely be sore in the morning.

1, March 2015 – Downtown

From the kiwi perspective, today is the first day of autumn. (I think they’re a few weeks early, but I’m not going to quibble with the natives). I went to church with Trish in the morning, at an inclusive Presbyterian congregation, then left her to go do touristy things. I rode a cable car up from downtown, walked down through the botanical garden, then along the wharf. It was a beautiful sunny day, much warmer than I expected New Zealand to be. I ended up at the Te Papa museum, the national museum of NZ. There is quite a variety of things to see, from dioramas of native wildlife to a beautifully carved marae, a Maori meeting house. They also have a preserved giant squid almost twice as long as I am tall. Trish rejoined me as I was enjoying a tea in the patio. Afterwards she took me on a very pleasant walk in the Otari-Wilton’s Bush, a reserve containing the largest remaining remnant of original forest in Wellington.

I met Trish almost a decade ago on a goddess pilgrimage to Crete. She visited San Francisco several years ago and I’ve finally made it down to her part of the world. She has a very cute double-A frame house decorated in charming colors. We had a lovely chat over dinner discussing our spiritual paths, social justice, and the critical need for women’s voices.

2, March 2015 – Beaches

Today we went sightseeing to the north along the coast of the Tasman Sea, which separates New Zealand from Australia. We took walks along two beaches (Paraparaumu and Waikanae). Maori words and woodcarvings both remind me of Hawaii, perhaps reflecting a common ancestry. We saw a variety of shorebirds and Kapiti island; a permit is required to visit this bird sanctuary. In the distance we could occasionally see the hazy outline of the South Island, where I’m headed tomorrow. In between beaches, we had a pleasant outdoor lunch of “stuff on toast”, my favorite being salmon with dill and aioli. After our beach strolls, Trish took me for a drive to another amazing view of the area. We stopped at a bird blind, but the local drought had dried up the pond we were overlooking.

Our next stop was to a reflexologist who massaged the foot that’s periodically been bothering me. I hope it’s enough to allow me to continue with all the hiking I have planned. We had dinner at a restaurant called The Roundabout, located not surprisingly on one of the numerous traffic circles around here. (It’s been good to spend a few days as a passenger getting used to traveling on the “wrong” side of the road). After my Tarakihi fish dinner, we split a yummy meringue-based dessert, Pavlova, named after the Russian ballerina. The New Zealanders claim to have invented it; I’ve been warned not to believe the Aussies when they claim otherwise.