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Published: February 1st 2011
The sign is facing inwards just in case you forgot where you are.
Just a forewarning, this one here is a bit longer than usual. Embark at your own risk!
Back in civilization where the internet and cellular phones work! Stewart island was awesome but I am happy to be able to be somewhere (even if that somewhere is Invercargill) I can upload photos and videos of the past few weeks.
The boat trip over the Foveaux Straight was pretty rough but the weather was good. The ferry is a catamaran hulled ship which has seats enough for about 50 people, no vehicles, and only a little space on the back deck for the bins our gear was stored in. The swells were around a metre or more and the boat moved quickly, so the ride was pretty rough. The trip was just over an hour long and though I wasn’t seasick or worried about the possibility of the ferry sinking, it did get me thinking that all my photos and videos are in one place (on the camera’s SD card, my computer, removable hard drive, and USB drives) and I only have a few uploaded. I’ll load them all onto a USB stick and mail it home when I make it
I must admit, I have never seen a weirder sign.
around to Blenheim again.
The island itself is eerily familiar, small port town (Oban though everyone just says Stewart Island), limited access, one school, one corner/general store, main industry is fishing, and it’s usually drizzling if not raining, and if you haven’t guessed it yet then I’ll just come out and tell you that the other town this one reminds me of is Bamfield. Also like Bamfield though on a much grander scale, there are a large number of hikers here out to walk the many trails around the area, the main one being 9-10 day hike which is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.
I wish I could say that I planned ahead enough and did all my research before buying my ferry tickets, alas I had not and had only given myself 4 days on the island. I did go on several day walks which were quite nice, but the pleasant sunny weather I was fortunate enough to experience on my way to the island did not carry over to any of the days following. I walked in spite of it, but it did dampen my enthusiasm a little so that I didn’t tackle any of
the longer day walks. One of the more memorable walks was out to Acker’s point, where I had hoped to see some blue penguins returning from their day of fishing, but it would seem that I got out there too early and I had neglected to bring a flashlight (Chris Carr would not think that too well prepared) so I decided to head back before it became completely dark and I would be unable to see the path.
I signed up to go out on a fishing boat for one of the days, it was a half day charter and we were fishing for Blue Cod. I think I got a great deal out of it because it cost $75 for the fishing, but on the way out of harbour we got to see dolphins that actually swam and jumped out of the water right alongside the boat, got to see a type of albatross up close as they followed the boat because of the fish bones and guts that were thrown over after filleting, had a lunch of some VERY fresh fish they cooked on the spot, and got to hear a lot about the history of the
town and area. We just fished by throwing a line with a weight and several baited hooks over the side and threw them over the side, letting out the line until it hit bottom, I jigged the line a little bit but it hardly seemed to make a difference since the fish would bite anything that dropped in on them.
A couple people caught dog sharks which were about a foot and a half to 2 feet long and twice we had an encounter with what is called a Grey Shark. The first time someone hooked it and it got free about 10 feet below the boat, but the water was clear enough to see the size of the thing, the second time someone hooked it and had to bring it right up to the side of the boat. The only thing is, this Grey Shark was about 6 feet long! The captain had a gaff hook/club he was going to knock the shark off with, but just before he got there the hook came off the line (they were only hooked through 1 inch sections of garden hose which was tied to the main line to make replacing
The fishing boat
them easier). So now there’s a shark somewhere around Stewart Island with some facial jewellery and my desire to swim in the Tasman Sea has dropped to zero (I am well aware that a Grey Shark is the least I have to worry about as they reportedly don’t attack humans, though I am also well aware that there are a lot of bigger fish in that sea that do!).
In the end, there were a lot of fish caught and I was given 9 fillets to take home! I decided to flour them and cook them in butter, though having no flower nor butter I traded some of the would-be cooked fish for the use of his. After all that there were still 5 pieces left which I did cook and set aside for breakfast, my other roommate thought they looked and smelled so good that he offered to trade a beer for a piece (which I gladly accepted since I didn’t bring any with me and the prices at the store were ridiculous).
My original plans brought me back to Queenstown for a 1 night stopover before continuing to Fox Glacier the day after I got back
There were around 5 or 6 swimming with the boat for a few minutes
to Invercargill, but I had been out of contact with people here in New Zealand for a while and I had been speaking to Kerstin about meeting since she was making her way counter clockwise around the south island while I was going clockwise. I had to cancel my bus tickets that I had purchased a week ahead of time but had absolutely no problem because they were fully refundable, right? Wrong! I went to the hotel where the only WIFI in town is available and paid my $5 for 100 megabytes of bandwidth (had to do this anyway to check e-mail and the like) went to the Intercity Coach website to find out how to get a refund and found a list of intercity agents with phone numbers, all I-Sites (not sure if I explained these before, just about every town in New Zealand has one and they have info about all things tourism related for their area). I went to the information office in town and asked to get in contact with the Invercargill to get my bus tickets refunded, I was told that that is something that they aren’t supposed to do but through charm and dashing
One of the many following the boat
good looks I convinced her to help me out. After getting a hold of someone in Invercargill, I was informed that they were only able to refund tickets if you purchased them through that I-Site (something they neglected to mention on the website) though she gave me a free 0800 number to attempt to rectify the situation.
Since everything had been going so well so far, they could only get better right? In the completely sarcastic sense you’re right on the money! The 0800 number I was given rings 3 times then plays some pre-recorded message for .02 seconds before hanging up. Wash rinse repeat and the same thing happens several times over. The helpful girl behind the information counter gave me another 0800 number from Intercity to try and I was answered by the University of Invercargill: Student Tuition Enquiries. Not to be outdone by some pathetic excuse for a machine with the explicit instructions to “hang the fuck up” on anyone attempting to get a refund, or some foolish website design engineered to make you think it isn’t worth the effort, I got the Invercargill Intercity office phone number. Apparently my frustration must have been rising to
South Island Chain
The Chain connecting the South Island to Stewart Island. In myth the South Island is a canoe and Stewart Island is the anchor.
the surface a bit because my friend behind the counter would not allow me to use the phone for a long distance call (somewhat understandable as a policy) and my charms and good looks could get me no further.
I returned to the hostel where there was a pay phone since my cell had no service there and made the call (Stewart Island is a place where payphones only take credit cards and making a call anywhere in New Zealand is 25 cents) 36 minuets on the phone and $18 later I get a ring tone and then a click. I was hung up on! Against my better judgment I called again and got put through the same loop tape of crappy alternarock where after the first 3 minutes they stop telling you “please stay on the line, your call is important to us.” I guess they figured my call wasn’t that important. In any case, this time I got through to someone and managed to get the tickets refunded, though I had to go through about $45 of that $160 refund just to get it! Will I be traveling with Intercity again? Like hell!
The return trip
from the island was over gentler waters and I got from Bluff to Invercargill without issue. I found an internet café across the street from my hostel and got online to upload my Queenstown experience with pictures and video! The video failed to upload over a 2 hour time period because it was 90something megabytes and for the speed of the internet here that might as well have been a gigabyte (a little bit more than 1000 megabytes) for the amount of time it would have taken, that’s why you didn’t get to see the video of me jumping, but I’ll put all that together with the backups I’ll send home in about a week.
The following day I arrived in Te Anau (Tee An-ow), famous for the second largest lake in New Zealand (Taupo being the first) and it’s very own glow worm caves. It was here I met Kerstin again with only marginal confusion (I was at a hostel called Lakefront and she was at a hostel/holiday park called Lakeview, and that’s not even counting the hotel called Lakeside!) and sat down to a coffee. After sharing our experiences of the past few
months apart we discussed future travel plans and decided to head to Milford Sound for a couple days. I made my awesome rice mash with tomato soup and carrots but decided to get a little fancy and upgraded the cut up bits of Heller’s precooked sausages (hot dogs) to ground beef, and was told quite politely (almost too politely) that it was “very good.” I assume it was so “very good” that she just couldn’t formulate the words to express how “very good” it was.
We left early the next morning and I had wisely packed up everything I needed the night before, but as every backpacker knows, plastic bags make 10 times as much noise as they usually do after the lights go out and before 7am (between 5 and 6 being the loudest). I was able to minimise the noise and got my stuff to the lounge in the other building where the kitchen was located for a quick breakfast before my ride pulled up out front. The drive from Te Anau to Milford sound is nice and about an hour and a half long, and in all her infinite wisdom, Kerstin had us set out early
to beat all the tour busses that all start leaving around 9am.
We stopped by a little boardwalk path called Mirror Lakes which were anything but mirror like due to the wind. Passed that we got into the glacial valley basin which is quite a sight to behold and I regret to inform that I took very few pictures of (most of the pictures I took of the mountains and other features simply do not do the landscape justice nor do they give you any idea of the scale it is on) but the best description I can give is that the valley is about a kilometre to a kilometre and a half wide with mountains on both sides that rise very sharply to several hundred metres up, the valley floor seems unnaturally flat in comparison to the jagged peaks surrounding it and it stretches on for about 15-18 kilometres. There are some trees growing in the valley as well as on some of the mountain sides but it does little to obstruct your view. Thankfully, the area is all part of the Fiordland National Park and the valley is completely cattle and sheep free.
In many places
The best defense is to show no fear, or skin for that matter.
on the mountains you can see where an avalanche has torn away all of the vegetation and a good deal of the stone beneath, though it does not take long for new plants and trees to take root, even in the nutrient deficient rock because of the prodigious rainfall the Fiordlands get, an average of 8 metres a year (that’s 26 feet 3 inches for you imperial buffs)! Because of this sheer amount of rainfall there are an unbelievable amount of waterfalls, you can look in any direction and there’s a stream of white water coming down. It is also said that the top 3-4 metres of the water in the sound is almost completely fresh water.
From there we continued on into the mountains again stopped at Pop’s Lookout and soaked in the fantastic view before taking the Homer Tunnel (the only tunnel leading into Milford Sound that was dug out completely by man power in the 1920’s) into Milford Sound. The short Chasm walk is a nice 15 minute stroll through a small bit of rainforest and loops around with 2 bridges going over Cleddau River giving a good view into the basins and holes the
water has carved into the rock over thousands of years. I photographed one such formation that looks eerily similar to a distorted human skull (if on a grander scale) and I have dubbed it the Ghoul of the Chasm (Ooooooooh, spooky!).
As we arrived at the actual sound our view was dominated by Mitre Peak which lies directly across from the visitors centre and cruise ship wharf. There are many hour-multi day cruises that operate in the sound and they are very popular, as a result there are something like 4-5 individual companies some with multiple boats. There was a short walk around the edge of the sound and we saw what there was to see, went back for an overpriced coffee, before heading back through the tunnel to our planned hike of the day.
I had my first encounter with sandflies here and they are not to be underestimated, I put my neck cover on and wore it covering my face and put the toque on to cover my head and ears, Kerstin said I looked like I was ready to rob a place and many people did a double take when I walked by, but at
Mitre Peak 1
One of the mountains jutting up out of the sound.
least the sandflies weren’t biting… much. They really aren’t all that bad so long as you’re moving, you stop, even for a short time and they gather in force. I think you can even see them around my head as the picture was taken.
After going back through the tunnel we got to the day’s main even, Gertrude Saddle, a 3.5 kilometre track that is rated for “Fit and Experienced Trampers Only” it is also said to have an “Unmarked route” where “Alpine Navigation Skills are Essential” and can take between 4-6 hours. The route is marked up to the edge of the bush line and beyond the path is marked off by rock cairns, though the Fiordland day hikes guide suggests that they are misplaced. I had my GPS and compass as a back up (though I did not have a map, it would have been easy enough to follow the valley back to the car park) and we were off! I’m glad the guide makes the walk seem like something rather intimidating, we met fewer people as a result.
The first section was a narrow well worn track that required a couple water crossings, the first
of which tested my much underused long jump skills. After an hour of the small brush with a very gradual climb we came up to the base of the mountain, consisting of a lot of loose rock, semi loose boulders, and some gargantuan slabs of rock that looked very precarious on their mountainside perches. There was still some small grasses and bushes around here, but it was obviously thinning. Part way up we came upon some snow in the river course, covered in gravel and larger rocks, which indicated to me that it had been there for quite some time, or at least survived an avalanche at some time (unless that just happens every year after the big melt in the spring). We moved on a little further and found a snow cave where we bumped into our first fellow hiker, a guy from Israel who was kind enough to take our picture. Further on up we found Black Lake which has some of the clear and coldest blue waters I have ever seen. The water is completely glacier fed and as a result IS cold enough to turn a guy falsetto by even thinking of taking a swim. We
The start oft he Gertrude Saddle hike.
refilled the water bottles from the amazingly fresh water and made for the saddle.
There were steel cables bolted into the rock face to assist with the steep parts and we made use of them in the more difficult sections, but since the weather was clear and the ground was dry the going was easy. Even at this high altitude there is still life to be found in abundance, there are carpeting mosses and flowers all around in between the shelter of the crags and we were even fortunate enough to come across a few Rock Wrens which are apparently a rare sight. The top of the saddle was in between the two mountains and gave a fantastic view of the valley on the other side, and even a little bit of the Milford Sound.
Some of the rock cairns on the way up were sad to say the least, I used some of my innate Canadian Inuksuk building skills to shore up one of them to par. Something like playing Janga on the side of a mountain. I have absolutely no complaints about the placement of the cairns, but like I said, some of them were a
A Short Way In
Over the river and through the woods to Gertrud's Saddle we go!
sad sight and could be difficult to see in the distance.
We made our way back down with a little more difficulty than the way up, it is a lot easier to slip on the loose rock when you are mainly balancing on your heels, and it is a hard workout for the front of your thighs. We made it back down in one piece and got to the car park (I notice I’m more prone to say that as opposed to parking lot now, maybe I’ve been down here too long) and drove off to Gunn Lake, where we would stay the night.
DOC (Department of Conservation) campsites are a great way to save cash on accommodation if you happen to be lucky enough to own a car that hasn’t gone transmission up, and you can stand to “rough it” for a little while. Being the outdoorsy kind of guy that I am (as well as a tent owner who carried the damn thing around for several months and only used it like 3 times) I jumped at the opportunity to sleep in the great outdoors! The lakes is quite scenic and the site was nice. Kerstin
The start of the real climbing and the mountain walls around us.
had a butane camp stove that we used to make our pasta and we used the lake to chill the beer. Once the sun started to fall the sandfly feeding frenzy began! Again I suited up, this time even using my gloves that I had packed around for just such a time, though I found myself wishing to own a biohazard suit. Are Black Flies like this in Ontario? If so, I think I can skip out of that place in the summer.
After a fantastically restful sleep where I woke up several times due to the cold (I borrowed a foam ground mat, had my sleeping bag liner, even wore a toque and light long underwear, and socks and I still woke up. I was forced to put on my jacket just to keep enough heat in to sleep!) I got up and had some golden syrup oatmeal, wishing not for the first and most probably not the last that it was maple and brown sugar. We packed up early and set off for the Routeburn Track (Hooray! I got onto one of the Great Walks!) for a short day hike. The plan was to go to Key
Actually more of an ice tunnel.
Summit which is about a 3 hour return trip, but the weather had packed it in overnight and the cloud was so low we would have been near blind at the summit, eliminating most of the point of going up there in the first place.
Bad weather besides, we went along to the first hut (Howden Hut) and pressed on to Eaarland Falls. The weather got wetter and wetter as we progressed but we would not be swayed from our destination! We made it there in roughly an hour after we left the hut and were met with quite a site, the falls are 174 metres high and due to all the rain were raging. I risked snapping a few shots with my camera before putting it back into my backpack to prevent it from getting soaked.
We got back to the car, wet and a little cold, in about 4 and a half hours though DOC time suggests that 6 hours is about average for people of average to high fitness. If you haven’t guessed, sometimes they overestimate the trail times, though many people seem to think they are a pretty good gauge. Kerstin is fit so
she sets a good pace, I’m just lucky I have long legs so I don’t have too much difficulty keeping up!
We returned to Te Anau and took a much deserved R&R. After an extravagant meal at a restaurant (anything costing more than $15 minus the drink being extravagant) we chilled out at the hostel and took in the movie in the lounge while dealing with the rest of the beer. The following day we said our goodbyes as she was going on an overnight cruise in the doubtful sound while I was going to stay another day before heading north to Wanaka (Won-acka).
Before I left Te Anau however, I forked over the money to go on the glow worm cave tour. A 30 minute ferry ride across the lake and some colourful commentary from the captain and we were there. The cave in which the “Glow Worm Grotto” is located is actually part of a much larger system, but the tour and grated walkway only go in a couple hundred metres. The tour itself was very informative and seeing the geological formations in the limestone caused by the physical and chemical erosion of the water was
Cold Blue Water
Fresh and delicious!
amazing considering the relatively young age of the caves (about 12,000 years, but geologically speaking that is hardly anything). It was very difficult to hear anything due to the volume of water running through the caves, which had increased because of the rain of the past few days, but when the walkway lights went off you could see the bluish green light of the glow worms on the ceiling of the cave. At the deepest part of the cave was a small boat that the guide pulled along in complete darkness save for the thousands of lights all over the walls and ceiling of the zigzagging chamber. I won’t go regurgitating all the info I learned about the glow worms here as this post has already dragged on long enough, but suffice to say they are interesting little creatures.
I’m in Wanaka now and I had planned on doing some sort of hike, but I think I’m going to take it easy before heading off to Fox Glacier tomorrow where I plan to walk as far up the mountain to the glacier as any non-paying backpacker is allowed to.
Hope you found this little account of the past
Lake from Above
Passed the lake towards the saddle
few weeks interesting, with any luck the photos uploaded too. Talk at you all again later.
PS. Thanks to everyone who’s been posting comments and updating me on what’s going on back home, I don’t get to talk to family as much as I’d like so hearing what’s going on as well as your thoughts on my crazy south of the equator antics are much appreciated!
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