...night clubbing and adrenaline
05.12.2010 - 15.12.2010 25 °C
Arriving at Sue's sprawling property, we have a feeling that we are in for some high end wwoofing duties. She owns and runs guest accommodations called Punatapu just outside of Queenstown. The rooms are furnished with rustic antique pieces and are fit for a king or Land Rover Executives. In a few days there are people from Land Rover coming to find accommodations during the Rugby World Cup in September 2011. Sue is very calm and mild in preparing for the possible deal. She knows her amazing property with spectacular views and well maintained suites will do the talking for her.
Sue shows us our accommodation located at the back of the goat/deer paddock. At the foot of a small mountain sits our very own restored cabin with heaps of character and rustic appeal and with 300 degrees of mountain views (I'll let the picture do the talking). We absolutely love it!
The work at Sue's consists mainly of keeping her native trees alive, weeding the lavender garden, removing invasives from the native pond area, repairing various items, and once again feeding a baby goat its daily milk. Sue has a bunch of Angora goats which she has left to shed this year instead of having them sheared. The paddocks are strewn with goat hair and that also requirs our attention to gather. The baby goat is a handful to say the least. Sue doesn't seem to mind the fact that he can escape under the fence and roam about freely to munch on various rose bushes. I fix that problem quick, since most of our first couple days are spent finding him causing trouble and luring him back into the fenced in area with another bottle of milk.
On one lovely hot afternoon we venture into Queenstown to have a wee nosey about the shops and wander through the Gardens on the peninsula. The TSS Earnslaw gives tours of Lake Wakatipu from the harbour, but we didn't feel like supporting the coal industry. The century old vessel is the last remaining coal-fired boat still operating in the southern hemisphere today. Queenstown is very touristy with endless shops, cafes and late night clubs to blow our savings very efficiently. We resist all temptations this round and return to Sue's for a hike up the small mountain at the back of her lot with big views of Lake Wakatipu.
The bustling town beckons Julie on Saturday morning for the weekly art and craft market. It turns out to be outstanding and very reasonable to purchase some one-of-a-kind souvenirs. After the market we make a crazy stop at the Salvation Army where rich weekend visitors to Queenstown donate their unneeded clothes. Julie buys a new wardrobe of mint condition merino wool sweaters and t-shirts. Lets just say she was quite pleased with herself as she is slowly trying to build her wardrobe with natural materials rather than synthetics.
With our extra wwoof hours we've been adding up each day, we take a couple of days off to explore the Glenorchy area. We decide to head to the Rees-Dart Track to the Kea Basin. The weather over the past week has been dry and hot resulting in low river water levels which is convenient for us as the upcoming river crossings on the track shouldn't be a problem. Sue gives us the forecast before we take off in the morning, and unfortunately they are calling for heavy showers in the area but that doesn't deter us. It is a beautiful drive north along the shores of Lake Wakatipu towards Mount Aspiring National Park and some of the greatest treks in NZ.
As we pull into the cleared parking area deep in the forest at the trail head of the Rees-Dart Track tiny drops begin to hit our windshield. The drops get bigger and bigger and fall faster and faster. Julie forecasts a raging Rees River in the near future. Our plan was to ford the Rees and hike up to the Kea Basin on an unmarked side trail to a magnificent glacier and curl up under a rock bivy for the night. But with the heavy rain forecasted we may not be able to get back across the river tomorrow. So we err on the side of caution and change our focus to reaching the summit of Mount Alfred.
The rain is off and on during the steep zigzag through dense beech tree and fern growth. As the trail emerges from the grasps of shady overgrowth to open alpine grasslands the rain becomes heavier. Like usual, we are prepared for any type of crazy NZ weather so we put on our rain gear and press onward looking for the cairns leading us up the loose rocky path to the rounded summit of Mt. Alfred. A rocky outcrop provides us with shelter from the wind and rain allowing us a quick nibble while we gaze below at the braided Dart River emptying its frigid glacial contents into Lake Wakatipu. As we are resting our legs, the clouds start breaking up and the hot sun suddenly emerges. With new energy we press on to the summit, passing deadly sharp spaniard plants and waving tussocks. After a short scramble up loose rocky scree, we reach the exposed, flat top of Mount Alfred (1386m) and a 360 degree view. The Dart River valley is to the west with the snow capped Humboldt Mountains beyond and the Rees River valley is to the east at the base of the Richardson Mountains. Both of these magnificent braided rivers flow into Lake Wakatipu to the south. The winds howl across the top of the mountain forcing plant life to grow horizontal to the ground. We spend an hour exploring and photographing all corners of the peak and its views until it is time to descend back down the mountain.
After a speedy hike back to the car, we drive over to Kinloch to fix dinner along the shore of Lake Wakatipu at the DOC campsite. After eating, the skies turn evil on us once again and the thought of setting up and taking down a wet tent lead us to try to drive out of the rain. We drive back up to the trail head of the Rees-Dart Track to sleep in our car, hoping the rain will cease and we will make it to the Kea Basin in the AM. Well, the rain pounds down most of the night and there is no way that the river will be passable. The small creeks that we forded with our car to reach the trail-head last night are now raging rivers as we drive out of the forest putting the Kea Basin off for another day.
We head to Glenorchy to get a weather update, eat breakfast, and check out the town's waterfront. Luckily, there is an endless list of multi and single day hikes in the Glenorchy area, one of which is the popular Routeburn Track, a NZ Great Walk. With our time we decide to hike up to Hawea Flats which is home to the first or last hut depending on which end of the track you start. It's a gorgeous walk through rich rainforest, past waterfalls and mountain vistas, but with the cloudy sky most of the peaks are hidden for now. We just can't capture how rich with life the forest is, the lichens, mosses, fungi coat every inch of the beech trees. Hawea Flats is an amazing wide valley engorged with grasses and a stream pinched between towering mountains. After taking in the amazing scenery, we return to our car. The decision is made to lay the backseats down again and bunker down for the night in the Routeburn parking lot. It's a good place for the night as there are decent bathrooms (so Julie says) and running water.
In the AM, being very determined people, we head back to the start of the Rees-Dart Track for the third time. The weather is perfect, so it's on! Our packs are light as this is just a 6 hour day hike. We make our way along the marked Rees-Dart Track reaching areas where the track runs alongside the Rees River demonstrating evidence of massive flooding and erosion along the banks. Parts of the trail alongside the river are completely gone. We've been hiking about an hour and I realize that I forgot the topographic map showing the unmarked Kea Basin trail and its trail head. We have a good idea where the trail starts so we continue onward. Knowing we have to cross the Rees River to get to the Kea Basin trail we begin our attempt to pass through this large roaring beast. As we reach the middle of the powerful river the numbing glacial water creeps above our knees and we decide to turn back. The water levels were still very high from the recent rains and combined with the river's power it isn't safe to cross. We continue down the track and end up totally over shooting the turn-off to Kea Basin. We figure it just isn't meant to be. We decide to start the hike back to the car. Julie is hiking in front of me through a marshy area and she takes one step with muddy water reaching her ankle, but with her next step she sinks up to her knees. The recent heavy rains have made this one of the wettest hikes we've done and inside our boots our feet feel like they are getting a water massage. Despite our prune-like feet the hike up the Rees is very rewarding. This is our first tramp up a massive river valley flanked with soaring peaks and views of glaciers.
So, after three failed attempts reaching the basin we return to the comfy confines of Sue's place. She is happy to see us return safely, as she was watching the weather closely while we were gone. The next morning Sue has a few odd jobs for us to complete before saying goodbye and parting ways. We make the quiet drive to Te Anau where we meet Linda and Nathan, our couch-surfing hosts for the night.