Published: July 29th 2010January 9th 2010
January 2, 2010
Screwed again by the motorists along this stretch of highway, we sat in our same spot along the road for two and a half more hours this morning. We decided that hitchhiking during Christmas and New Years is just tough because people are out with cars full of family or maybe most people driving are just sick of holiday tourists and we appear to just be part of that problem. Whatever the case, a ride to the west coast was not happening. So we decided to cross the road and hitch in the other direction towards Wanaka and a grocery store, and figure out our next move from there.
Five minutes after switching sides of the road, a car with a British/Irish couple picked us up. To make a long story short, we ended up back in Te Anau (about five hours south) with them by the evening. There is some hiking in this area that we haven’t done yet, so we will try to do that instead of the plans we had for the west coast. Our plans have constantly changed during this trip, so why would today be any different? The changes have always led
to good things, so I won‘t fight it. Maybe the west coast hikes just weren’t meant to be right now… January 3 & 4, 2010
After considering all of our options, we decided that the best hike to finish our time out here with would be the Five Passes Route just north of Queenstown. There are no huts on this route, so we will be tenting the whole way, but it is reputedly one of the “classic” tramps of New Zealand and has a level of difficulty that we are looking for. Plus, it would put us near Queenstown, where we fly home from, so it had a lot of positives to overcome any hassle associated with tenting for six or seven nights. So we set off hitchhiking the two hours back to Queenstown. We had to split up to get rides and Eric ended up with a much more interesting one than mine, but we both eventually arrived in Queenstown and did our grocery shopping.
With food for eight days in our very full backpacks, we set off again to hitchhike to Glenorchy, near the start of the track. The first car that passed us stopped, and
the driver looked familiar. He was headed to Glenorchy because he worked as the chef at the only pub/hotel in town. We realized that we had met him three weeks earlier when we had been in Glenorchy and had bought a couple of vegetables from his restaurant. Another example of the incredibly small world we’re traveling in.
So we got to Glenorchy around dinnertime and decided to park there for the night and begin the track tomorrow morning. We stayed in the hotel that Thomas (the chef) works at, since fate seemed to have brought us there. January 5, 2010
Our track started about 25km into the mountains up a little-traveled road leading out of Glenorchy. Our prospect of hitching this looked grim, so we checked into getting shuttle transport. That was all full for today so the decision was made for us. We would hitchhike.
Of the handful of cars that passed in the span of 45 minutes, none stopped. So I tried something new. I held my thumb out like normal until the car was close and it was obvious they weren’t stopping, and then I pulled out a $20 bill from my pocket and held
that up. The first guy that passed while I used this tactic was driving a van already full of people. Judging by his extremely happy response to seeing the $20, though, he would have certainly stopped if he had room. But the next car did stop, and the two women took us right to the start of the track. They turned down the money, though, which was nice of them. So then we were off, ready for seven to eight days on the trail.
The first bit was easy, but after two hours, the trail deteriorated and we had to follow the Dart River (a river we’ve been around before) up to the confluence with the Beans Burn. (Burn is a term for river) Not far along the side of the Dart, it cut steeply into the bank, which we were following. Faced with either climbing high into the forest to go around or wading through the murky edge of the river, I chose to wade, thinking that it couldn’t be too deep even though I couldn’t see the bottom. Within a short time, I was up to my chest in the river and had an uneasy feeling. The water
near the shore wasn’t moving fast, but it was an opaque gray color from the sediment and I could see nothing below the surface. I had gone about 50 meters by moving slowly and feeling my way over the unseen boulders and logs, but it was soon apparent that this would not work for long. So I abandoned this approach and joined Eric in the bush bashing through the forest.
It was tough going, weaving through dense underbrush, and we got stuck and slipped a few times, but we made it to the confluence of the Dart and the Beans after two more hours of this type of travel. We crossed the Beans Burn, which was also at chest level, and from there began the path up the valley. It was interesting to note the place where the gray murky water of the Dart meets the clear blue water of the Beans. The water hardly mixes for the first 500 feet downstream of the confluence. Half of the water is one color and the other half is another. It’s very strange looking.
So up the Beans Burn we headed. It sits in a beautifully lush valley with steep sides and
large chunks of rock strewn about the bottom in the river. After another hour, we arrived at the first flats in the valley where we set up camp. Tenting, while not as comfortable as staying in huts, is actually quite enjoyable in different ways. I’m happy to be in this place. January 6, 2010
It was raining lightly when we packed up the tent this morning. We knew a front was on its way in and we were happy to be getting it early, as we would prefer getting it while we’re in the valley rather than in two days when we’ll be traveling on the ridge.
We traveled for three hours up the valley, crossing many side streams as the rain intensified. There was a section where the valley gorged steeply and we had to travel through the river itself for about 50 feet. This was no problem, but once out of the water I realized that my feet were very cold. This usually happens while crossing water and it usually goes away as you walk and your body temperature warms up the water inside your boots, so we continued.
Soon we came to a side stream
that I would describe as a torrent in its current state. 25 feet wide, the water was all whitewater and passing it looked impossible. So I went in slowly, feeling for the bottom as I inched through it. Halfway through, the freezing water was on the verge of sweeping me away, so I turned around and made my way back to Eric on the side I’d come from. It was simply too dangerous, so this was as far as we could go today. Hopefully the rain will stop tomorrow and this creek will become passable.
This last bit of time I spent in the water was enough to give me a good scare, though, and not because of the speed of the water. My toes and feet, which already felt like numb clubs before I got in the water, were frighteningly cold after getting out. My toes were unresponsive when I tried to curl them or move them in any way, and I suddenly felt very panicked that there was absolutely no way to warm them in the current situation out here soaked in the woods. So I did the only thing there was to do- walk as fast as
I could to increase my core temperature and hopefully get more blood to my extremities. It worked, but only after 15 very scary minutes.
We headed back down the trail half an hour to the last flat area we remembered from the way up, to set up camp. The forest is thick and has very uneven ground so camping spots are scarce. We pitched the tent on what seemed to be a spot most likely not to flood. It did stay relatively dry until around 7pm when we noticed two small streams had formed on either side of the tent and the water was coming closer to us. The ground was also saturated, and water seemed to be coming in through the floor of the tent. So in the pouring rain, we made a quick shift of everything to a spot a few meters away that, although it is not completely flat, it should not flood even with heavier rain. We will see… January 7, 2010
It rained all night, which made the idea of getting up this morning very unappealing. Around 11am we were still milling around the campsite when three people emerged from the forest. They
were doing the route in the opposite direction of us and were therefore nearing the end. The forecast they’d picked up on their mountain radio called for heavy rain and very low temperatures. That could spell trouble for us if we got caught in it on the alpine sections ahead.
Because of the grim weather forecast, and my legs which had been giving me immense pain yesterday and today, we decided to call off this trek and retrace our path back out rather then risk getting stuck further up.
We packed up and headed back down the Beans Burn until we caught up with the party we’d met earlier that day. They were camped at the confluence of the Beans Burn and the now flooded and massive Dart River. You have to ford the Beans here to continue down the Dart Valley to get out, but because of the rain and elevated river levels, no one was fording this river today. So we set up camp as well and settled in for what would be a very cold and wet night in the tent. January 8, 2010
With the river level down by morning, we easily forded it
and began making our way back to the road. We retraced the path we had taken in through the dense brush alongside the Dart River. It was slightly faster going back out because we knew what to expect and didn’t waste time trying to wade along the riverbank.
After four hours, we were back at the car park where we had set out three days earlier. It was unfortunate that things had prevented us from completing this particular tramp this time, but I felt good knowing that we made good decisions for our safety.
We hitched a ride back into Glenorchy and checked into a dorm room at the motor park. Wanting meat in our dinner tonight, we paid our chef friend, Thomas, a visit at the bar, and he sold us a very good amount of steak for a great price. It made the teriyaki stir fry meal wonderful. It’s good to have connections. January 9, 2010
With terrible Antarctic weather approaching the area very quickly and my leg not feeling any better, we decided that our tramping for this trip has come to an end. We had considered hiking in to a hut near Glenorchy and
hanging around for a few days, but with our flights home only four days away we didn’t want to risk getting stuck out in the bush because of a flooded river or anything. So we hitched back out to Queenstown where we’ll spend the last few days before flying home. Expedition Summary
It was obvious to me after the first time I came to New Zealand to hike in the backcountry that I would one day return again for more. I didn’t know when that return would happen, but I was happy when the opportunity came along this past year. New Zealand is truly an amazing country that is suited to adventuring in the way that Eric and I have done. I am very glad that I’ve been privileged enough to have spent a combined six months of my life out here doing this sort of traveling.
The differences between this second trip and the first were apparent very early on. I knew the places we were going, knew what to expect in a lot of situations, and knew people scattered across the country. In short, a lot of the unknown that we encountered during the first trip
as not present, which changed the way I saw things this time. But while we’d been down most of the roads and been to many of the national parks before, this time we went to many new places within them, and sought new routes that would challenge us more. We did roughly 13 tracks this trip and only overlapped places we’d been before three times. That’s not bad for a country as small as New Zealand.
In reference to the difficulty of the tracks we chose, I found the more challenging ones to be the most fun, and to generally be the ones to give you the best access to the most beautiful places. I’m sure this is due to the remoteness factor. There is no feeling that can compare to standing in a place that very few people visit, or where you are the only people for miles in any direction. The feeling of solitude is way underrated and is lost when we spend so much of our lives in cities.
I also got a kick out of the fact that so many of our tracks this trip involved river crossings. Coming from the mentality that you should try
to keep your boots dry, it was difficult at first to getting used to having soggy feet for days at a time. But by now, I actually enjoy the feeling of tramping in soaked boots and love the natural exhilaration you get from successfully crossing a river by foot.
Along with the river crossings, cold and rainy extremes we faced, and the time we used ice axes and crampons to do some mountaineering, I have a much greater respect for the forces you encounter in the outdoors. Having proper gear, going through the right preparations, using safe techniques, and making good decisions are all things that I’ve aquired through the time I’ve spent out here. These things will serve me well in a lifetime of outdoor activity yet to come. Experience is the best teacher and I feel fortunate to have experienced so much out here over the months.
And just like last trip, it will be the people I met and spent time with that will make the memories so special. I’m lucky to have a friend like Eric who is easy to travel with and also wants to do things like hike for months on end. And we
were lucky to meet so many people along the journey that will always be considered good friends. Geoff & Lynne, Sam & Andrew, Kristina & Rotem, and all the others we met this trip. And our friends from the last trip that we were able to see again this time like Nigel & Tamara, Mark & Karen, Jim & Helen & Rowan, and Jacob & Lidy.
I also have to give a group thank-you to all the people who picked us up while we were hitchhiking. It’s not always easy to trust a stranger by letting them into your car (especially shaggy looking guys with beards like us), but I love to travel around New Zealand in this way precisely because you get to meet so many good, interesting, and trusting people this way. Hitchhiking is great, and I really enjoy how it can bring great people into you day all while saving fuel.
And now the statistics of the journey. We logged about 223 hours of hiking on tracks (plus dozens more within towns and cities), which at our typical pace translates to between 400 and 500 miles of tramping. We hitchhiked nearly 50 rides and traveled this way
over most of the main roads in New Zealand and many not so main ones as well. Though we covered many thousand road kilometers this way at no charge to us, we did have to wait several hours for rides sometimes. The worst waits were Christmas Day (three hours) and New Years day (four hours and still no ride), but usually the waits were more like 10-20 minutes. We walked roughly 13 tracks and routes, stayed at 34 huts overnight, and crossed rivers more times than I can remember. Most of our gear survived the trip well, but much of it will be retired upon the arrival home. Between Eric and I, we lost/destroyed three hiking poles, one pair of boots, several articles of clothing, and one knife. We only had to purchase two or three canisters of cooking fuel the entire time because we kept getting given cans from other trampers. We also got rained on… a lot. Many more times than last trip, but I can’t remember exactly how many days. And if you want to know any more stats or facts about the journey, just ask. I kept track of a lot of things, but if I
don’t know or don’t remember I’m sure I can make up a good answer.
So there it is, the end of another wonderful three months in New Zealand. It was an amazing time and I highly recommend for people to travel countries in ways like we’ve done: slowly, for extended periods of time, getting to know people and build friendships along the way, and on foot when possible. It will change your perspective on travel and the world. It will change your perspective on life.
And thank you to everyone who read the blog, enjoyed the pictures, and sent e-mails and comments. Sharing this experience has made it even better for me.
There are more photos below