A Travellerspoint blog

Amazing Doubtful Sound

...mirror like.

semi-overcast 19 °C

The morning arrives and our tent is dry (which feels like the first time in weeks). We hang around the campground until 11:30am taking pics and wandering about the strange collection of kiwi antiques until it is time to catch the Real Journey boat on Lake Manapouri. We are heading to Doubtful Sound, the second largest of the Fiordland National Parks 14 fiords. It is a very remote place, as you have to take a boat to get to the road leading into the fiord. We catch the boat leaving Pearl Harbour heading to the West Arm section of the Lake. Here the West Arm Power Station (an underground power house) was completed in 1976. Electricity is generated via water from Lake Manapouri which drops 230 m over 10 km on its way to Deep Cove, Doubtful Sound through an underground system excavated from the granite.

From West Arm a coach bus shuttles us over Wilmot Pass on the most expensive road in NZ. This road was required in order to build the power station and cost two dollars a centimetre. This road is also incredibly steep dropping 680 m over 8 km. Finally through the clouds appears Deep Cove in Doubtful Sound. From the coach bus we board the beautiful 50 m long cruise ship, the 'Navigator' for New Years (holding 80 people). Everyone is given a quick briefing on today's schedule before we are ushered to our bunks. We are located on the bottom level of this 3 level ship. There are even showers on this boat – which was unexpected as it is just an overnight, small cruise ship. Our ship pulls anchor and we smoothly head towards the Tasman Sea through Doubtful Sound (which is technically a fiord).

Navigator

Navigator


Our Bunks

Our Bunks


Julie Enjoying the Beauty

Julie Enjoying the Beauty

Shortly after leaving Deep Cove, the Captain announces that we are heading into Crooked Arm and we have the option of either kayaking or taking an interpretive nature cruise on a small boat. Julie and I want to take photos, so we opt out of kayaking and hop into the small motor boat to get a closer look around the fiord. In our eyes the weather is perfect despite the clouds and cool temperatures because it isn't raining and this is one of the world's wettest regions receiving 5.3 m of precipitation annually. Our nature guide takes us up close to cascading waterfalls, fur seals (one of which is a male which has recently lost a battle for territory with another male), native birds along the shores, and many other points of interest. As we are admiring the pristine and wild landscape a call comes over the radio that dolphins have appeared, so we scoot towards them for a closer look. We keep a good distance to prevent disturbing these graceful creatures and watch as approximately twenty bottlenose dolphins (including calves) playfully make their way in the same direction that we are headed. These dolphins are larger than those found in temperate or tropical habitats as they require more blubber to stay warm in these southern regions. The bottlenose dolphins in Doubtful Sound are living close to their ecological limit. The amazing display of dolphins holds everyone's attention until the time comes to board back onto the cruise ship.

Bottlenose Dolphins

Bottlenose Dolphins

Now it's time to go swimming! I feel the urge for a dip into the cool waters, so diving off the rail of the ship seems to be the best course of action. The water is stained the colour of tea from tanins and other organic matter from the rainforest floor through which the rainwater runs. This freshwater is less dense than the sea water and forms a layer about 8 m deep (depending on rainfall) on the surface that floats and mixes only partially with the salt. The waters here average a bracing 11 degrees Celsius. I dive into the black abyss and it is exhilarating, so much so that I do it twice!

Cloudy skies begin to part and the suns gleams through as we cruise past colonies of fur seals basking on various rocky islands and our vessel pokes it's nose into the fairly calm Tasman Sea (the sea located between NZ and Australia). The ship returns to calmer waters in Precipice Cove located at the end of Bradshaw Sound and dinner is soon to arrive so we head to the dining room. The dining room is enclosed by windows and it is difficult to draw the eye away from the surrounding wildlife and rainforest especially since a fur seal is putting on a show. It is tossing a fresh fish around in the water as sea gulls try to snatch small bites. Back inside the dining room the feast is fit for a king, or two skinny Canadians. We definitely eat our monies worth, tasting everything from roast turkey to raspberry cheesecake. A friendly pair of Dutch travellers make good dinner company and even better monopoly players later in the evening.

Near Tasman Sea in Doubtful Sound

Near Tasman Sea in Doubtful Sound

Midnight arrives quickly and everyone heads out onto the deck to watch fireworks being set off from another boat. It is an amazing display in this remote location. We ring in the New Year with flutes of champagne and more munchies before heading to bed.

Precipice Cove - Doubtful Sound

Precipice Cove - Doubtful Sound


New Year Toast in Doubtful Sound

New Year Toast in Doubtful Sound

I don't sleep a wink and get up at the crack of dawn, only laying in bed for a couple of hours. The waters are calm as the sun slowly rises from behind the towering walls of the Fiordland mountains into a cloudless sky. The cruise ship's engines start up at 6:30am and breakfast is served early. We eat like we've never eaten before as the ship makes a southern turn into Hall Arm. The landscape is so pristine, a wilderness like no other in NZ, untouched and unaltered by human influence. The rainforest is dense, growing in the absence of soil. Beneath the trees, vines, and ferns are mosses and lichens clinging onto the smooth solid rock. The interlocking roots of the trees depend on the build-up of leaf mould for nutrients. It takes hundreds of years for the forests to grow this dense on such a steep and smooth rock face.

Navigator with Sails Up

Navigator with Sails Up


Hall Arm - Doubtful Sound

Hall Arm - Doubtful Sound


Hall Arm - Doubtful Sound

Hall Arm - Doubtful Sound

Waterfall in Hall Arm - Doubtful Sound

Waterfall in Hall Arm - Doubtful Sound


Hall Arm - Doubtful Sound

Hall Arm - Doubtful Sound

The Captain slows the ship to a crawl and finally stops dead in the calm waters reflecting the surrounding rainforest. Everyone is called to the deck and told to find a comfy place to be stationed for the next 10 minutes. The ship's engines are shut down to reveal true quietness never experienced before. Within our typical lives our ears receive a steady stream of noise from the time our alarm wakes us in the morning until we fall deep asleep at night. The quietness we experience in this incredibly remote part of the world is truly powerful. We reflect in silence on things we are grateful and fortunate for in our lives. This quiet moment in time passes too quickly and suddenly the ship's engines start up again and we make our way back to Deep Cove. The dolphins bid us a fond farewell before we dock and we thank the crew for an unforgettable voyage.

The clear blue skies make for excellent views of Doubtful Sound from Wilmot Pass as the bus climbs it's way up the steep road. Arriving back in Pearl Harbour after the cruise back across Lake Manapouri, we decide to head south to camp at Lake Hauroko. It is New Years day and being wise to every store being closed, we have already stocked our groceries for the coming days. Lake Hauroko's shores are teeming with sandflies but being off the beaten track, it should make for another quiet night. This is NZ's deepest lake and a sacred spot for the Maori. We relax by the water's edge after a short swim in the deep cooling waters.

Doubtful Sound from Wilmot Pass

Doubtful Sound from Wilmot Pass

The winds start to howl through the forest that surrounds us as dusk approaches. It is a very eery night listening to the heavy winds coming in gusts They seem to slowly seek out our tent through miles of forest. They get louder and louder the closer they get until their fingers grasp onto our tent shaking it wildly. I could not settle my imagination, thinking of supernatural Maori beings gusting their way around the lake. It is another sleepless night before heading off further south to the Catlins for a couple days.

Chilling on Lake Hauroko

Chilling on Lake Hauroko

Posted by ontarions 23:18 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

Sunny Days in Milford!

...these sunny pics are for real...no photoshop

sunny 23 °C

The weather forecast is calling for sunny weather in Milford Sound over the next couple days. Since we've seen nothing but heavy cloud cover and rain that area we decide to head back to Milford Sound to see the sights with bright sun illuminating the mountains. As we close in on Milford for the third time, the sky darkens and the heavy rain is quick to follow. Our only option is to stay in a little hut at Hollyford Camp as it is now pouring rain and setting up our tent isn't doable. The friendly man that runs the camp has a good laugh that we returned in hopes of sunny weather and informs us that there is a major storm coming. We unpack our belongings in “Pop's Hut”, our cozy rustic hut for the evening. I start a roaring fire in the pot belly stove as Julie hangs our laundry to dry all over the inside of the hut. After a lovely lamb and parsnip dinner, we relax in the common room reading and watching the river rise.

Pop's Hut at Hollyford Camp

Pop's Hut at Hollyford Camp

Julie Drying Out in Pop's Hut - Hollyford Camp

Julie Drying Out in Pop's Hut - Hollyford Camp

Rain continues to fall through the night as Julie and I sweat like pigs in our hut, as I stuffed the pot belly stove with as much wood as possible before falling asleep. As we eat breakfast in the morning we notice that the river that runs alongside the camp has poured over its banks. We begin to wonder if we will ever see sunshine in this area. I return to the hut to play with fire while Julie reads in the common room. Again I stuff the stove and end up falling asleep for an hour from the heat until suddenly Julie comes barging in with excitement. The sun has broken up the clouds revealing the new found world of towering mountains and never ending valleys. It is 3 PM in the afternoon and we have plenty of time for one of the many hikes in the area.

First we stop at Lake Marian, an alpine lake on a hanging valley, but the trail is closed as a result of a slip from the heavy rains. So we head over to the Key Summit (918 m) for a quick trek into the alpine wilderness, for the second time. The panoramic views are phenomenal and worth the repeated climb to the summit. Lake Marian, the Hollyford Valley, and surrounding snow peaks are all on display. Without packs we make short work of the trek and return to camp for dinner.

Alpine Bog on Key Summit

Alpine Bog on Key Summit

Lake Marian from Key Summit

Lake Marian from Key Summit

Key Summit

Key Summit

Mossy Beech on Key Summit

Mossy Beech on Key Summit

We decide to stay another night at Hollyford Camp since it is a really nice place with all the amenities and there is much more to discover in the Milford region. Unfortunately, we find out the 1000 year old hollow beech tree we climbed during our last visit here was blown down in a storm only 2 days later. As we processed this news it brought a sadness that couldn't be explained. We felt very fortunate to have met the tree before its death.

Bright blue skies greet us in the early morning, so we bolt up to Milford Sound to gaze upon Mitre Peak before hundreds of tourist arrive off buses. The steep mountain rises from the fiord forming a sharp point at 1893 m. It is a breathtaking site and is almost surreal looking at the photos Julie took. We feel fortunate to see the mountain with such great weather, since it has rained for the past 10 days here.

Homer Tunnel

Homer Tunnel


Mitre Peak in Milford Sound

Mitre Peak in Milford Sound


Kidney Ferns in Milford Sound

Kidney Ferns in Milford Sound

After satisfying our senses on views in Milford Sound, we head back south to hike up the Gertrude Valley to Gertrude Saddle. A “saddle” is a low ridge connecting two peaks. The valley collects and funnels water to form the beginning of the Hollyford River, which on this day is still quite high. From the car park we dodge flooded sections of the trail and reach a so-called bridge across the river. Unfortunately, the river is flowing approximately a foot over the bridge, so off go the boots and we cross on the submerged structure. Our boots don't stay dry for long as the water levels have risen high enough that the trail has been incorporated into the river. We make a gallant effort to avoid the icy blue waters by heading off trail and through the forest but it doesn't get us far and we end up trudging through the water in the end. On higher grounds rock cairns lead the way through sub-alpine grasslands dotted with stunted shrubs and beautiful flowers. Beyond the grasslands we stumble over rocky intermittent river beds studded with boulders. The views ahead and behind are one-of-a-kind, impossible to capture fully by camera. The cairns we follow take us skyward along a ridge then across the river in front of a cascading waterfall. We stop for lunch to look back on our progress through the rocky valley and marvel in its beauty. Noticing the changing temperatures at these higher altitudes, we throw on warmer clothes and switch from sunhats to toques. Continuing along the steep path we quickly scramble across a few huge patches of unmelted snow which could break off and slide down the mountain at any time. Using steel cables bolted to the rock we ascend huge rock slabs and across a small ridge to find Black Lake. This small alpine lake is in a hanging valley enclosed by bedrock. It's sole water source is from the melting snow above. Some interesting alpine ferns gain our attention as do some unique flowers growing in this predominately rock and harsh alpine environment. We also discover an alpine weevil, large and dark in colour. These adaptations help it to absorb as much heat as possible in this cold and windy environment.

Crossing Hollyford River

Crossing Hollyford River


Lunch in Gertrude Valley

Lunch in Gertrude Valley


Melting Snow on Gertrude Saddle

Melting Snow on Gertrude Saddle


Acending to Gertrude Saddle

Acending to Gertrude Saddle


Black Lake at top of Gertrude Valley

Black Lake at top of Gertrude Valley

Alpine Weevil on Gertrude Saddle

Alpine Weevil on Gertrude Saddle

Finally we reach Gertrude Saddle (1430 m) and immense views on the other side taking our eyes all the way to Milford Sound. The tree line is far below us and beyond that are the gravel beds of river systems in the base of the valley. Along the mountain sides slips can be seen, both old and new. Moss spreads across the rocks on the older slips indicating the beginning stage of regenerating forest. I continue up Barrier Knob to the north a little further before returning to where Julie is exploring. We watch clouds rolling our way and decide its time to return to the car. The total hike takes six hours and held our attention for every second. It is one of the greatest day hikes we have completed to date and can't stop talking about what an amazing place it is. We ring out our socks at the car before heading further south to Knobs Flat, a DOC campground. The flats have interesting glacial moraine deposits (looking like lady lumps and humps) scattered throughout the wide valley which is otherwise very flat.

View of Milford Sound from Gertrude Saddle

View of Milford Sound from Gertrude Saddle


View of Milford Sound from Gertrude Saddle

View of Milford Sound from Gertrude Saddle

Black Lake at top of Gertrude Valley

Black Lake at top of Gertrude Valley

Alpine Fern - Gertrude Valley

Alpine Fern - Gertrude Valley


Gertrude Valley - Facing South

Gertrude Valley - Facing South


Dinner at Knob's Flat

Dinner at Knob's Flat

In the morning we stop in Te Anau for supplies before heading to Lake Manapouri to tent at Lake View Chalets. It is a strange place littered with house trucks, antique cars, and rustic cabins. We hit the arcade to play some vintage pinball before calling it a night. In the morning we have to catch our boat to Doubtful Sound via Lake Manapouri for our overnight New Years cruise in one the most picturesque fiords in New Zealand.

Vintage Arcade at Manapouri Lakeview Chalets

Vintage Arcade at Manapouri Lakeview Chalets

Vintage Arcade at Manapouri Lakeview Chalets

Vintage Arcade at Manapouri Lakeview Chalets

Posted by ontarions 16:17 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

Mighty Milford Track

...four days of magic.

rain 17 °C

After a night at the overly priced Fiordland National Park Lodge, we pack our gear and food for the next 4 days on the world famous Milford Track. We walk down the road to catch the Real Journey ferry which boats us to the northern point of Lake Te Anau and drops us off here, at the start of the Milford Track. As we get off the ferry, one at time each person steps into a disinfecting boot bath in case we have any horrendous Didymo cells lurking. We trek most of the way to the Clinton Hut with fellow Canadians Jamie and Brent. Today's trek is a short and simple 5 km, wandering through dense and rich rainforest along the Clinton River The river is running high (to the top of its banks) and is still murky brown from previous days massive amounts of rain and run off. Parts of the track are completely eroded away and new trails have been cut deeper in the woods. The Clinton Hut area receives four to five metres of rain per year and the annual amounts get heavier the further we tramp over the next three days, the highest being 9 meters of rain annually at the Dumping Hut! We are in rainforest and we expect and are prepared to get rain over the next 4 days. Because the area is so wet it contains many wetlands, one of which is accessible by boardwalks and contains interpretive signage. So we take the side trip and check out the carnivorous sundew plants among other interesting species living here. The remainder of the tramp to the hut is quick and when we arrive we grab two bunks and cook up a gourmet meal which makes other trampers drool.

Boarding Boat to Start of Milford Track

Boarding Boat to Start of Milford Track

Carnivorous Plant - Sundew

Carnivorous Plant - Sundew


Clinton Hut

Clinton Hut


Peter (Clinton Hut Ranger) Giving a Nature Tour

Peter (Clinton Hut Ranger) Giving a Nature Tour


Brent Fishing in Clinton River

Brent Fishing in Clinton River

The next morning, Christmas Eve, a few of us pull out our Christmas wear to get in the mood. Christmas carols whose lyrics are somehow forgotten are sung with improvised words as we begin the gradual climb to Mintaro Hut and Clinton River's source, Lake Mintaro. There is more damage and debris from previous days' rain at many points along the trail. One incredible demonstration of nature's power is at Marlenes Creek where boulders smashed the bridge over. The vegetation begins to change as we tramp today's 16.5 km, reflecting our slow increase in elevation to 600 m. As we near the end of the hike we are getting tired and are soaking wet from the all day drizzle which has now turned into a constant rain. Julie suddenly smells septics and never before have we ever been excited at the smell but it means the hut is right around the bend. In the hut everyone was buzzing with excitement after today’s hike through an incredible valley with countless waterfalls trickling down the rock faces of towering mountains on either side of the track. The forecast board in the hut indicates snow down to 1000 m for tomorrow, so our dreams of a white Christmas might come true. Everyone is in bed early again tonight, resting for the big climb up and over Mackinnon Pass tomorrow, Christmas day.

Flooded Trail

Flooded Trail


Evidence of Raging Rivers along Milford Track

Evidence of Raging Rivers along Milford Track


Bridge Smashed During Heavy Rains

Bridge Smashed During Heavy Rains


Clinton Valley

Clinton Valley

Heading to Mackinnon Pass in Clinton Valley

Heading to Mackinnon Pass in Clinton Valley


Clinton Valley Waterfalls into Hidden Lake

Clinton Valley Waterfalls into Hidden Lake


View in Clinton Valley

View in Clinton Valley

Blue Sky! - Clinton Valley

Blue Sky! - Clinton Valley

View from Mintaro Hut

View from Mintaro Hut


Message Board at Mintaro Hut

Message Board at Mintaro Hut


Chatting at Mintaro Hut

Chatting at Mintaro Hut

The next morning Julie and I make our way slowly up the zig-zag path and past the tree line with no problems. Cool wind nips at our finger tips as we wander past an array of alpine flowers. On top of the Mackinnon Saddle we pass a monument to Quinton Mackinnon, an explorer. The top of the monument's cross was blown down by treacherous winds two days earlier, so now instead of a cross there is a “T”. There is a slight amount of cloud so views back down the valley we hiked yesterday aren't possible. Further up the trail we find snow, a white Christmas, yippee! I quickly form a ball and land a direct hit on Julie's back. It was worth having freezing hands over. On top of the pass it is incredibly cold so we don't spend much time at this high elevation of 1073 m. The steep decent from the saddle is slow as we pass a few rock slides which occurred only days before. The waterfalls we hike past are roaring and powerful, and the rock underneath has been eroded smooth. After a few hours we reach somewhat flat ground passing well eroded river banks and uprooted trees. We make a stop for lunch at the start of the side trail to Sutherland Falls. They are the second largest in the southern hemisphere, and fifth largest in world, dropping 580 m. As we near the falls the crashing water sounds like a jet engine and the mist completely drenches us. Julie tweaks her knee returning from the falls over the rocky terrain, so we take it slow the rest of the way to Dumpling Hut. Our tramper's Christmas dinner consists of quinoa with fresh veggies. It's not quite turkey and cranberry sauce but it's better than dehydrated food packs! The evening is filled with cards, wine (yes we hiked in nearly 2 L of wine at a heavy cost on my back!), and laughter until midnight when we disperse to our bunks for the night. Total hike today was 14 km.

Mackinnon Pass

Mackinnon Pass


Quinton Mackinnon Memorial

Quinton Mackinnon Memorial


Cloudy View from Mackinnon Pass

Cloudy View from Mackinnon Pass


Mountain Daisies on Mackinnon Pass

Mountain Daisies on Mackinnon Pass


Alpine Flower on Mackinnon Pass

Alpine Flower on Mackinnon Pass


Looking Back at Mackinnon Pass

Looking Back at Mackinnon Pass


Sutherland Falls

Sutherland Falls


Getting Soaked under Sutherland Falls

Getting Soaked under Sutherland Falls


Sutherland Falls

Sutherland Falls


Bunks at Dumpling Hut

Bunks at Dumpling Hut

We listen to the pitter patter of rain on the hut roof for most of the night. Julie wakes in the morning after dreaming of flooded trails and helicopter rides to the next hut but her visions don't materialize. In the morning we shift heavy items from Julie's pack into mine to make her pack light as a Prince of Whales Feather. Her knee is pretty sore and the extra weight won't do it any good. Through the dense woods we tromp, the sound of birds chirping and rivers rushing fill our ears every step of the way. The rain continues to drop down, bouncing off fern fronds and soaking into the moss laden ground. Luckily the track is primarily flat and easy going today, but it seems like it will never end. After about 6 hours and 18 km we emerge at Sandfly Point with wet sore feet and ready to face civilization again. We board the small ferry and are packed in like sardines for the 20 minute tour across the fiord to Milford Sound. Upon arrival everyone we've met over the last four days slowly disperses by bus or shuttle. It was kinda sad to say good-bye. We really miss hanging with others our age for more than one day. But we are all travellers on our own paths with our own agendas. The shuttle to Milford Lodge picks Julie and I up and upon arrival we eagerly have hot showers to warm up our chilled bones. It's December 26th but it's Christmas day at home, and feeling home sick we phone our families who are gathered together for the holiday.

Oldest Part of Milford Track - Rock Chisled Path Completed in 1898

Oldest Part of Milford Track - Rock Chisled Path Completed in 1898


Palm Leaf Ferm Dripping with Water

Palm Leaf Ferm Dripping with Water

The world famous Milford Track cost us around $220 each - crazy! It was an incredible hike through pristine wilderness but we've realized and heard about heaps of treks that are comparable for dirt cheap.

The comfy beds and closed curtains at the lodge keep us in dreamland until 8:30 AM, a mere 12 hours of sleep does us wonders. Packing up after breakfast, we put our hitchhiking plan of attack together and hit the road, thumbs out. Within ten minutes a shuttle bus that just dropped tourists off in Milford Sound pulls over and we jump in. He isn't suppose to pick-up hitchhikers but likes the company for the 2 hour drive back to Te Anau. Our chaufer is highly knowledgeable of the area and points out every point of interest along the highway. We jump out of the bus at Fiordland National Park Lodge, where we had left our car and thank the driver for his kindness. Julie decides we should head into town (Te Anau) to check up on emails and get our stank laundry taken care of.

Hitching Back to Te Anau

Hitching Back to Te Anau

Posted by ontarions 00:03 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Rain in the Fiordlands

...meters and meters

rain 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.

Camping at Lake Gunn

Camping at Lake Gunn


Dinner at Lake Gunn

Dinner at Lake Gunn

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.

Morning Rain at Lake Gunn

Morning Rain at Lake Gunn


Julie Ready For Rain

Julie Ready For Rain


Alpine Bog on Key Summit

Alpine Bog on Key Summit

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.

Greenstone Track to McKeller Hut

Greenstone Track to McKeller Hut


Thick Moss near McKellar Hut

Thick Moss near McKellar Hut


McKellar Hut

McKellar Hut

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.

Oldest Working Gas Pump In NZ at Hollyford Camp

Oldest Working Gas Pump In NZ at Hollyford Camp


Moa Bones in Museum at Hollyford Camp

Moa Bones in Museum at Hollyford Camp

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.

Inside 1000 Year Old Beech

Inside 1000 Year Old Beech


Inside 1000 Year Old Beech

Inside 1000 Year Old Beech


Huge Hollow Beech Tree near Hollyford Camp

Huge Hollow Beech Tree near Hollyford Camp


Moraine Creek Crossing

Moraine Creek Crossing

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.

Homer Tunnel to Milford Sound

Homer Tunnel to Milford Sound


Waterfalls Along Milford Hwy

Waterfalls Along Milford Hwy

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.

NZ Cicada

NZ Cicada

Posted by ontarions 18:33 Archived in New Zealand Comments (3)

Queenstown...

...night clubbing and adrenaline

all seasons in one day 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's Property

Sue's Property

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!

Our Little Cottage

Our Little Cottage

Front Entrance

Front Entrance

Our Bathroom

Our Bathroom

Front Porch View

Front Porch View

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.

Julie Weeding Pond

Julie Weeding Pond


Julie Weeding Lavender Patch

Julie Weeding Lavender Patch


Julie on Feeding Duty

Julie on Feeding Duty


Angora Goats

Angora Goats


Kitchen at Sue's

Kitchen at Sue's


Mountain at Sue's - Lake Wakatipu

Mountain at Sue's - Lake Wakatipu

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.

Queenstown Harbour

Queenstown Harbour

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.

Lake Wakatipu from Mt. Alfred

Lake Wakatipu from Mt. Alfred

Facing North from Mt. Alfred

Facing North from Mt. Alfred

Facing South at Lake Wakatipu from Mt. Alfred

Facing South at Lake Wakatipu from Mt. Alfred


Top of Mt. Alfred looking at Dart River and Humbolt Range

Top of Mt. Alfred looking at Dart River and Humbolt Range

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.

River Fording

River Fording

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.

Routeburn River

Routeburn River

Routeburn River

Routeburn River

Hawea Flats on Routeburn Track

Hawea Flats on Routeburn Track

Waterfalls on Routeburn Track

Waterfalls on Routeburn Track

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.

Start of Rees-Dart Track

Start of Rees-Dart Track

Rees River and Lennox Falls

Rees River and Lennox Falls

Lacing Up Wet Boots Beside Rees River

Lacing Up Wet Boots Beside Rees River

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.

Tui on Flax

Tui on Flax

Posted by ontarions 13:41 Archived in New Zealand Comments (3)

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