Published: December 26th 2010December 24th 2010
Off we go! A good night’s sleep and we feel much better, less frantic & worried. F’ing migraine hit, though. Oh well. We headed out to the Routeburn Track good & early. Started hiking @ about 10am and arrived at our overnight hut @ Routeburn Falls by 1pm. Not too bad. The forests here are very beautiful – not exactly dark, foreboding Lord of the Rings – but lush, green, moss-covered fairy-tale-like forests. [Nick Note: It is from the movie Ferngully, not that I watch that crap but I have heard.] VERY different than the Na Pali Coast; still wet & rocky but this time cold & alpine. We hiked over the craggy rocks, alongside a river & passed by a few waterfalls.
The overnight cabin was really nice! The bunk beds remind me of Scout camp, though. We were told to be aware of keas and possums who like to come at night and tear apart our gear. Possums are an invasive species, introduced from Australia and currently culled for their fur and for the protection of native species. The kea is a native parrot that loves to chew things up, not limited to back packs, boots
and rain gear. We were a bit worried that we packed too little food; we were still kind of hungry after our small meals. But you should see how much food these other hikers bring with them! Mostly Europeans who seem to go tramping quite a bit and know their way around camp stoves, but man do they bring a lot of food & pots, pans, kettles, etc! Bags of food: pounds of potatoes, loaves of bread, bags of rice, boxes of mac & cheese, many many bars of chocolate and even a box of wine! How the hell do they carry all that sh*t up & over the mountains! It would kill me to be carrying that much weight, but they certainly do eat well when “roughing” it! And they seem to be immune to the cold. Many of them went for a swim in the falls & are walking around the cabin in just shorts & flip flops. I’m frickin’ freezing with multiple layers on & I didn’t even get in the water! [Nick Note: Maybe the Europeans carried the same amount of weight as we did, they carry extra food and we carried extra layers ]
Tonight there was a competition in the cabin to guess at least 20 of the over 30 languages posted on the wall, all saying “Merry Christmas.” The winner was to receive a giant chocolate almond bar. Nick immediately jumped to the task! He was doing really well but stalled out at around 12 and had some stiff competition from a young British teenager. But no worries – turns out there is such a thing a diplomacy. The two rivals combined forces and together, with the help of some other campers, were able to win & share the achieved chocolate all around. [Nick Note: Actually we lost, the ranger let the kid submit answers 3 times and each time told him which ones he had correct and which ones wrong and gave the kid clues to work with. So really, we got it right by process of elimination.]
It’s good to see Nick enjoying himself – he seems to be having a REALLY good time now. Unlike Hawaii, this trek isn’t all young vagabond kids; it’s a good mix of all ages, singles, families, etc. from all over the world. So the social Chatty Cathy in Nick is out in
full force and he seems to be having a great time.
From Routeburn Falls, we headed out to Lake Mackenzie thru the high alpine trails, above the tree line. Turns out this part of the hike isn’t so scenic and the rocks are a bit tricky to maneuver. We took a side trip up Conical Hill – not necessarily a good choice. This was a brutal uphill – incredibly steep and craggy. Knees to chest kind of climbing, grabbing for rock holds with your hands, your body leaning in at a 45 degree angle. Nick says “oh it wasn’t that bad”…but he forgets I could hear him cussing behind me as we climbed. [Nick Note: The hill was steep and very rough terrain but I cussed because there were 3 false peaks and each time I thought we reached the top, there was another one to climb. If there hadn’t been a small plaque at the top then I wouldn’t be sure we reached it. But, though tiring, it only took us 35 minutes to get up and it was perfectly clear up top and you could see to the nearby fiords.] The summit of the hill
was nice. You could see the mountains all around and peak a little bit further out to the west coast into the fiords. But it was cold up there and we descended pretty quickly.
The keep my mind off the migraine, I decided to have a conversation with myself – and sometimes Nick – about all the food I wish I were eating. Sounds strange but it was a good distraction (Yammy will understand). We ended the hike thru forested switch backs that led down into a mossy valley at Lake Mackenzie. I passed out for a nice long nap while Nick and 3 naked Swedes decided to go for a dip in the lake…need I remind you that this is snow melt? Nick was very proud to have braved the frigid waters, which he never does at home :o) [Nick Note: So Cat is trying to sleep off the migraine so I decide to go find a spot next to the lake and read my book. As I approach I walk into a naked girl and so I think to myself, “We’ll I guess Europeans do this stuff. If she is not embarrassed then I guess I won’t
be.” So I read for a bit but the sandflies like to stand on my face and book so I just cannot take it and go back inside. As I smell how ripe I am I think, “Hmm, maybe I should go an wash up a little in the lake.” Of course this time I approach and there is a naked male guy this time. I go into the lake and wash my shirt and use it to wash my upper body and they guy and girl and their friend start peer pressuring me into going in all the way. I strip to my underwear and get in the lake. It was cold so I didn’t stay long but then I warmed up quickly in the warm sun. I learned that the 3 Swedes are mechanical engineers who decided to quite their jobs and have been travelling for over a year. They were on a 10 day backpacking trip.]
We had dinner with an Australian family that was hiking thru. Both parents are teachers and we naturally started talking about all the problems with the U.S. education system. They were appalled at our lack of progress and enormous class
sizes. Australia is just now starting to implement “teaching to the exam” type curriculum and the teachers there are not looking forward to it.
No sleep tonight – an older couple sleeping in the bunks above us were world class snorers and the loud movement of plastic mattresses didn’t help either.
On our way out today. Hiked about 4 hours down thru the valley. The forests here are really beautiful – think Fern Gully. No extreme up or downhill today, which was good; give the knee a rest. Migraine finally started to ease up after 3 days, gracias a dios! We hiked past Earland Falls which was a huge waterfall – really strong spray got us wet. We took a side trip to Key Summit and got a 360 degree view of the mountain range.
We made it down to the road about an hour before our bus, so we chatted with a few Australians that had been hiking with us. Really nice guys, but seemed to fit the Australian stereotype (they were pretty funny) – talked about hiking the trail with hangovers, checking out the “birds” (girls) on the trail, and the infestation of
cane toads. They are leaving NZ tomorrow thru Christchurch and mentioned they might go to a penguin show. When I started talking to them about the little blue penguins that they would see, the first question they had was “can you eat them?”
Today was my final lunch of pb&j. Ugh. It will be a VERY long time before I can stomach to look at such sandwiches again. Also trail mix; I don’t think I can do that again for a while. We definitely need to change our food supply on the next hike – no more peanut-based foods for a while. Speaking of food, I think I’ve found a new & improved weight loss plan. Screw Wight Watchers – just go hiking for 3 weeks! I have no idea if I’ve actually lost weight, but eating light weight meals and climbing hills for an average of 5 hours a day really makes your pants loose, and that’s kind of good, right? If this keeps up, I’ll have no trouble eating my way thru the rest of the world!
After the Routeburn, we headed to Milford Sound – one of the “must see” sights in NZ. Quite frankly,
I don’t see what the big deal is. Yes, a cove surrounded by pretty green mountains with some waterfalls is nice, but I don’t see the point in going out of your way and staying in a very expensive tourist trap just to see it. But that’s my opinion. [Nick Note: I thought it was nice, yes overpriced just like everything in New Zealand, but worth it. We saw it the previous days when there was not a single cloud around and then the next day where there were scattered clouds and it is much prettier with clouds. It adds a sense of mystery. But yeah for a UN World Heritage Site it is not one of the most impressive ones I have seen.] The most interesting thing I found at Milford Sound was our bunk mates: two undergrads from Boston University, studying abroad in Australia in NZ for a quick vacation. Turns out we’ll all be in Sydney for x-mas, each of us looking for a Chinese restaurant to eat in. Small world! It was kind of weird reflecting on college with them; they made me feel old! I started to talk about some of the things we did
in Boston when we were there and one of the girls pipes in that the event I was describing happened when she was only 10 years old. 10 YEARS OLD! Ugh, shoot me now. [Nick Note: I also found out that BU is getting rid of their Aerospace Engineering B.S. program. What’s up with that!]
We had dinner in the only restaurant at Milford Sound and we were joined by a lovely, older Australian couple who were just about to start the Routeburn trek that we have just finishedWhile gorging myself on a huge greasy cheeseburger and French fries (so long pb&j!), we learned that the husband was a political journalist in Canberra. . [Nick Note: It was interesting learning about what Aussies think are their main political issues (global warming), how they view US politics, and that they also have the 24/7 news cycle frenzy we do.] The political junky in us was loving it! We chatted politics for a while and then, of course, the conversation naturally steered towards Oprah and her impact on the land down under. Apparently she just visited there and was a bigger hit than Obama – go figure.
After night fall,
we joined the BU girls and a couple of their traveling friends on a night hike to see some glow worms. These are fungus gnat larvae that secrete a sticky string tat hangs from their mouths to catch insects that are attracted to their bioluminescence. They live in the cracks & crevices of rock walls & caves, so it was kind of cool to see. [ Nick Note: However they make a very uninteresting photo.]
Headed out to take a boat tour of Milford Sound (ugh, what a rip off!). We bought our tickets ahead of time but could have gotten then for a lot cheaper had we bought them onsite. And to top it off, the boat tour wasn’t even narrated! (As you can see, Milford Sound is not my favorite thing about our trip thus far.) But I’m sorry, as someone who has led nature tours via boat before, you don’t motor thru the water for over an hour and NOT talk to people! Point things out; talk about the history of the place; if there are no animals to see, talk about the geography of the location, the ancient Maori uses of the fiordlands,
ANYTHING! Ugh, TripAdvisor is going to hear about this! We did see a haul out of NZ fur seals, which was cool and Nick got to sit under a waterfall and get wet. Too cold for me. The scenery was at least very nice (looks like the foggy mountains of King Kong’s island) and we met up with the Australian couple again; turns out the wife loves to read Bill Bryson as well!
We took a bus to Te Anau later that day, riding through very scenic, bucolic sheep pastureland. We were able to blow off some steam and get some exercise that night after Nick found an open aerobics at the local community center. The instructor was very surprised to have American participants and Nick got his first taste of high impact aerobics – he said he was glad just to be able to keep up ;o) [Nick Note: Men’s exercise is all about energy conservation. We play basketball, volleyball, etc. and the point is to do as best you can with as little energy so that late in the game you have more in the tank than you competitor. In aerobics you lay it all out at
the start. I was very happy that there were small breaks to catch your breath and get a drink of water or I would have passed out.]
There are more photos below