...meters and meters
16.12.2010 - 23.12.2010 20 °C
Te Anau is a great little town on the south end of Lake Te Anau, the largest lake in the South Island. I took some time to go fishing one evening unaware of a battle going on within the lake. The invasive aquatic plant, Didymo, has been sweeping its way through Fiordland rivers and lakes coating them in white sludge resembling millions of Kleenex. Unfortunately Lake Te Anau has been infected but Department of Conservation (DOC) is actively trying to halt the spread by enforcing the cleaning of everything that may come in contact with the waterways. Cleaning stations and signage are found throughout the areas and especially at many angling sites. Luckily, I was informed of cleaning my equipment before dipping my lure in another watershed and spreading the hideous disease.
With the sun blazing, we pack up the car late in the afternoon, say our goodbyes to Nathan and Linda Jane. They were great hosts and Linda Jane and Julie have lots in common, basically everything to do with reducing the human impact on the planet. We head north along the scenic Milford Highway, feasting our eyes on beautiful scenery as the road sneaks into the Eglington Valley along the crisp river with rising mountains on each side. We reach the shore of Lake Gunn, which makes a perfect stop for us to camp for the night. We fill our guts on lamb and asparagus and watch the sun slip away behind the Earl Mountains. It's time to hide from the swarming sandflies and rest up for another day.
The sound of sprinkling rain on the lake and tent forces us to pack up early before the forecasted heavier rains blow in. We want to camp further off the main highway tonight so we set off to McKellar Hut, a 4 hour hike on the Greenstone Track via the Routeburn Track. As we drive to the start of the track, the rain sets in. We start the trek and despite the gloomy conditions and poor visibility, we take the side trail climbing through sub-alpine shrublands to Key Summit (918 m). The alpine bog at the summit is an amazing and fragile environment with thick green and brown mosses thriving around swampy pools. The moss has the capacity to hold 25x its weight in water, and historically it was used by the Moari for many purposes...think diapers and feminine uses. From the summit there are suppose to be amazing views of snow capped mountain ranges surrounding Lake Marian situated at the edge of a hanging valley but not today. Instead hazy clouds provide an excellent backdrop for mountain beech trees overgrown with thick moss.
Back on the trail headed for McKellar Hut we reach Lake Howden and leave the Routeburn Track turning south onto the Greenstone Track. We make good time cruising through old growth forest and over the Greenstone Saddle. The rain continues dripping from the trees and soaking through our boots and jackets. After arriving to McKellar Hut, quickly we stoke the fire and hang our damp gear to dry. Julie and I are the first two to arrive at the hut but its not too long before more trekkers start arriving, including a pair of friendly fellow Canadians from BC, named Jamie and Brent. And strange enough it turns out that we will all be tramping the Milford Track over Christmas, as they had booked the exact same three days. The rainy afternoon passes by as we play cards, chat, and relax. The clouds eventually break, revealing towering rock faces rising from behind the dense bush that surrounds the hut. As the evening approaches the hut fills up with 16 trampers from across the globe. More cards, along with good conversation, great advice, stories, and knowledge consumes the evening.
The next morning Brent mentions an alternative route back to the car park instead of retracing our steps. I was thrilled with idea and quickly Julie was on board as well. We say our goodbyes until we meet again on the Milford Track and we start climbing straight up the mountain through the woods behind the hut along a well worn and eroded trail. The track isn't officially marked but Brent's book ensures that previous trampers hard marked the way with cairns once past the tree line. As we gain elevation and leave the shelter and protection of the forest we enter the sub-alpine zone. Here, gusts of wind blast across the tussocks carrying rain horizontally with it. Visibility became extremely limited and Julie didn't feel it was safe to carry on skyward. We had little water, little food, and we forgot to leave our tramping route in the logbook at the hut. If we got off track due to poor visibility we would not be in a good situation. So, after an hour on this unmarked trail we made a u-turn and disappointingly crept our way back down through the much calmer forest. After a speedy trek back to our car with a quick stop for lunch, we give our boots a soapy wash to remove any Didymo and we head to Hollyford Camp. For dinner we whip up a hardy stew in the fabulous communal kitchen which has everything you need for cooking and washing up. This camp is one of the best we've been to, quirky, clean, great showers, top notch kitchen, historical museum, and friendly staff.
At Hollyford Camp the sun is shining which dries our soggy gear and lifts our dampened spirits. Hollyford camp contains a unique arrangement of old huts originally built in the 1930's for the workers forging new roads through the harsh Fiordlands. The camp is littered with historic items and even has a museum to get a sense of how people lived and worked in days gone by. After setting up our tent we walk the short trails around the camp through ancient forest filled with massive silver beech trees. One such 1000 year old beech had rotted out completely and we climb up through the middle of it and out onto a limb high above the ground. It's hard to imagine what this tree has lived through and it's amazing that it still stands despite its decomposed inside. Local knowledge informs us of Moraine Creek and its three cable swinging bridge located after a short trek through a soggy beech forest in the pouring rain. The rain doesn't stop Julie from posing for a photo op over the raging river.
Early in the morning we rise from our deep slumbers to the sound of millions of sandflies trying desperately to drain our blood. The sound resembles rain pelting the tent as they bounce off the tent walls repeatedly, trying to get inside. These unbearable conditions force Julie to resort to using bug repellent with chemicals as opposed to the natural stuff which only works for minutes. We pack up and hoping that the clouds will lift we continue towards Milford Sound.
The road towards Milford Sound is pinched between vertical rock faces and the current rain showers creates thousands of amazing spiderweb waterfalls pouring down their faces. As the road twists and turns through the mountain passes we can only dream of the intense beauty beyond the clouds. Reaching the Homer Tunnel we pull off to take in some views and a Kea immediately lands on our roof in search of something to chew on. It walks onto the windshield, so we flip on the wipers to shoo it off as tourists surround our car taking photos of this intelligent bird. Back on the road, the light turns green to proceed through the Homer Tunnel and we plunge into darkness. The kilometre long tunnel is chiseled straight through the mountain emerging into the valley leading us to Milford Sound.
We are going to Milford Sound to gaze upon Mitre Peak which sits picturesquely in the fiord. However the cloud and rain thickens as we get closer to our destination, stomping out any opportunity for views. All of the fiords in the area were originally thought to be sounds and were named accordingly, so technically they were named incorrectly. A sound is a flooded valley carved by a river and a fiord is a flooded valley that was carved by retreating glaciers. So instead of renaming all the sounds to fiords, they instead just named the entire area Fiordland.
Milford Sound is located at the end of the road and after trudging around in the rain taking gloomy photos we head south to stop at a few road side attractions. First, we check out the Chasm, a deep gully lined with smooth unique rock formations resulting from years of crashing water. This is a swell stop for sure and the pouring rain makes the wet rock surfaces look incredibly smooth and shiny. From the Chasm we make our way out of the mountains and into the sunny Eglington Valley. We stop to change, as Skin and Bones are soaked. The rain is following us and does so all the way back to Te-Anau where we run to Linda Jane and Nathan's for cover. They are open to the idea of us couch surfing with them for a few days as our things dry out in their garage.
Originally, we had plans for other treks in the Milford area but the rainy forecasts forced us to put them on hold for now. Over the next couple of wet days we take cover at the Te Anau library blogging madly and contacting future wwoofers. As a result of all the rain, we realize we are in desperate need of doing some waterproofing to our coats, boots, and rain pants in preparation for our next tramp, the Milford Track.
The rain continues and 300 mm falls in one day in an area on the Milford Track and 70 mm of rain in one hour! This causes the river to spill over the banks flooding the track and forcing trekkers up to their waist in water. A group of trekkers even had to be helicoptered to higher ground! We learn from Linda Jane that the constant and heavy rain in the Milford area also caused a slip closing the Milford highway until the debris is removed. A “slip” is literally a tree avalanche. There is hardly any soil on the Fiordland's steep rocky mountain sides for the tree roots to grasp on to, so if one tree looses its footing disaster strikes. We spend four nights couch surfing at Linda Jane and Nathan's waiting for the rain to stop, our gear to dry, and for our booked tramp on the Milford Track to arrive.