A Travellerspoint blog

New Zealand

Glowing Skies over Stewart Island

semi-overcast 20 °C

Leaving the lush rainforest of the Fiordlands, we quickly enter into rolling pasture land along the southern NZ coast. Our mission, as we head towards Invercargill, is to find a third person to fly to Mason Bay, located on the western side of Stewart Island. Mason Bay is a huge stretch of remote beach that is only accessible by 3 days of hiking or the easy way, via an hour long plane ride. The entire island is kiwi central and Mason Bay is one the easier places to spot the rare nocturnal bird. Part of this is because it is one of the few places in NZ where the birds are also active during the day. We can't find anyone for the Mason Bay mission after a few quick stops at a couple of Invercargill hostels. So our plan for Stewart Island is quickly changed to plan B, the Rakiura Track.

There isn't much choice for campsites in Invercargill so we decide to head further south to the Catlins region. But before leaving Invercargill we watch the nearly extinct native Tuatara bask in the sun at the Info-Site. It's looks like a lizard but is the closest living relative to the dinosaurs. It is one of the few living relics to have survived since the Jurassic era.

As we get closer to the south coast we cross over the Titiroa River lined with small whitebaiting huts along the shores. Whitebaiters are extremely territorial and most have been fishing the same area for decades. Our map shows a sea lion colony at Waipapa Point so we head in this direction. Upon arrival the incredibly windy beach is void of these large creatures. Moving on with aching ears from the howling winds, we arrive at Slope Point Backpackers to camp for the night. Slope Point is the most southerly point on the South Island. Chatting over dinner with a friendly gentleman that just explored the Catlins area, we get the low down on must-sees and locations of dolphins, seals, penguins, and the fossilized forest. We are eager to walk around the fossilized remnants of a 170 million year old forest at low tide tomorrow in Curio Bay.

Low tide is early, so up and out we go. The fallen trees of the petrified forest are frozen in rock with the wood grain visible in logs and the rings visible in stumps. The trees were turned to stone by silica in the ash-filled floodwaters, a result of steady, heavy rains on ash-covered volcanoes. The entire logs and stumps were preserved because the silification took place within the space of months after the flood, before decay had set in. It is incredible to be able to view such a significant forest completely frozen in time.

Fallen Petrified Logs

Fallen Petrified Logs

When You Gotta Go...

When You Gotta Go...

Julie and I meander up and down the coast taking pictures of the pre-historic when suddenly a yellow-eyed penguin, a Hoiho is its Maori name, pops up before Julie. This species is one of the rarest penguins in the world, so Julie snaps on the zoom-lens. The penguin must have a nest in the coastal plants along the cliffs past the rocky shore. The parents take turns feeding at sea, while the other stays near the nest to protect and nurture the chicks.

Yellow-Eyed Penguin at Petrified Forest

Yellow-Eyed Penguin at Petrified Forest

We move on to Porpoise Bay searching now for Hector's dolphins, sea lions, and elephant seals. The magnificent sandy beach is lined in part with steep cliffs over-looking the sea and is perfect to spot marine life. I suddenly spot something moving across the bay, so we grab the binocs and race to the edge of the water hoping for a sighting of the rare Hector's dolphin. Nope, just snorkelers. We leave the area without any signs of marine mammals. Our next stop is at Niagara Falls, named by a comical explorer familiar with the Niagara Falls in Ontario.

Blow Hole at Curio Bay

Blow Hole at Curio Bay

The day is flying past and we need to get back to Invercargill to stock up on supplies before heading to Stewart Island. We have decided to take the ferry in the morning to the small island. We pick up groceries and head south from Invercargill towards Bluff, stopping along the way to scope out a good freedom camping area to transform our car into a luxurious hotel on wheels. We decide on a perfect beachy spot before continuing on to a look out point of Stewart Island in Bluff.

End of the Road in Bluff

End of the Road in Bluff

For some strange reason, we get thinking about just hoping on a ferry today and staying in a hostel on Stewart Island tonight. The last ferry leaves in an hour, so we scramble about stuffing our bags with four days worth of gear, food, and supplies. The ferry is only for people and not cars, so we had to make sure to bring everything necessary. It was stressful but Julie did a wonderfully calm job of sorting out meals and making sure everything we needed was checked off. We only had to make one last minute dash to the car before jumping on the ferry for the hour long voyage.

First thing I noticed as we took our seats was that everyone had plenty of barf bags. The Captain quickly warns of high swells as we leave the calm harbour. Julie's stomach isn't tossed about so easy and she falls fast asleep. I, on the other hand, focus on the horizon when I could see it to keep from queezing. I check my watch repeatedly before Half Moon Bay (Oban) on Stewart Island was in focus. We gather our bags and walk across the small town headed for Stewart Island Backpackers Hostel to set up our tent.

Stewart Island or the Maori name Rakiura, means land of the glowing sky, and the sun is setting on the small sub-antarctic island. We decide to check out the sunset from Observation Rock overlooking a tranquil Horseshoe Bay. The skies are lit up as the warm sun drops behind the rugged hills in the distance leaving us shivering in strong cool winds. We make our way back to the hostel along the cute side streets of Oban and through a damp dark forested area. We notice signs posted along the roads warning drivers to watch for kiwis as this island is supposedly full of these birds. We head to our tent to rest up for our three day, two night trek around the Rakiura Track starting in the morning.

Fishing boats in Halfmoon Bay

Fishing boats in Halfmoon Bay

Stewart Island Wharf - Halfmoon Bay

Stewart Island Wharf - Halfmoon Bay

Sunset over Golden Bay and Watercress Bay from Observation Rock

Sunset over Golden Bay and Watercress Bay from Observation Rock

We rise to light rain sprinkles before the cloud passes and the weather becomes mainly fine. Before removing ourselves from society for three days, we have to stop at the DOC office to fill out an intentions form so they know where we are tramping and when we are emerging from the bush. With our packs loaded we follow the road to Lee Bay and the start of the Rakiura track. The Rakiura National Park comprises 85% of Steward Island, enclosing lush native rainforest and beautiful beaches. I talk to a pair of trampers that experienced a kiwi popping out of the bush and across the trail right at their feet just hours ago. After an easy three hour hike through lovely native rainforest along the coast the trail spits us out onto Maori Beach. I really wanted to fish the mouth of the river flowing into the north end of the beach, so Julie relaxes on the gorgeous waterfront while I go and attempt to catch dinner. Fishing was fun and that's about it.

Filmy Fern

Filmy Fern


Maori Beach

Maori Beach

Julie on Maori Beach

Julie on Maori Beach


Maori Beach on Rakiura Track

Maori Beach on Rakiura Track

Later in the evening we walk the beach and hang out in the woods listening for the high pitched kiwi call. The forest is thriving with life and we listen to many unique birds, including the parakeet. New Zealand has no native land mammals apart from a few species of bat. Birds have ruled this landscape, many evolving to be flightless. The large Moa and other species were driven to extinction as a result of humans arriving on the islands. In addition, introduced mammals such as stoats, rats, and possums have drastically plummeted many other bird species populations causing them to be extinct, endangered or at risk. The native birds are very plain and colourless but their extraordinary song greatly exceeds anything we have ever heard. One bird's song sounds like part of the song Twinkle Twinkle Little Star! As we come out of the bush the only bird we haven't heard seems to be the kiwi. It's about 10:30pm as we curl up in the tent but it is still very light out. As we fall asleep the sound we have been waiting for vibrates through the night air and we listen to the high pitch whistle of the male kiwi and coarse rasping notes of the female far off in the dark of night.

Fern along Rakiura Track

Fern along Rakiura Track

Day two takes us through virgin podocarp forest, with some sections which were logged in the early 1900's. A few relics from mills and log haulers still remain and are slowly rusting away as the track follows old tramlines once used to carry logs to their various destinations. It is a long hike to Sawdust Bay (about 17 km) and much of the track is under construction. The rainforest along the sides of the track have been cut and disturbed and in only a few places is the forest lush and beautiful right to the track's edge. We also notice that the current trail improvements include covering up the natural track of soil, mosses, and tree roots with gravel. Thus, in our opinion, changing the track from a wilderness tramp that is quiet and soft under the feet, bringing you closer to nature into an easier walk that is noisy and arduous on the feet. It seems that most of the Great Walks in NZ have been 'improved' in this way. As we tramp nearer to our destination the old boardwalks which lead us above thick muddy track sections have been removed. We are very lucky the last few days have been void of rain because while at the hostel we had heard of knee-high mud in places. We walk through with no crazy mud-engulfing stories to share with you.

Crown Fern

Crown Fern

Huge Tree along Rakiura Track

Huge Tree along Rakiura Track

Sawdust Bay is very shallow and has a very gradual slope which creates a huge tidal swing and a great opportunity to search for cockles. Julie opts out of my cockle feast so I share them with Dave, a new friend we just met at Sawdust Bay camp. His family of 6 has been tramping the North-West Circuit for seven days and this is their last night. They are a friendly bunch from Auckland and invite us for dinner when we are in their neck of the woods. Dave also mentions that they've seen eleven kiwis and they give us a couple pointers on how to spot one. The sunset over Sawdust Bay is phenomenal with glowing skies reflecting off small tidal puddles left from the receding tide. Throughout the night the call of the morepork echoes over the bay in an orchestra of sound.

Sawdust Bay on Stewart Island

Sawdust Bay on Stewart Island


Sawdust Bay on Stewart Island

Sawdust Bay on Stewart Island

Rakiura (Glowing Skies) at Sawdust Bay

Rakiura (Glowing Skies) at Sawdust Bay

Our last day on the Rakiura Track is through more muddy sections of trail with the old boardwalks removed. Progress is slow as it is now raining and we are trying to avoid deep mud. After three hours (about 8 km) we hit a gravel road that leads us back to Oban and the hostel for hot showers. The rain gets heavier in the afternoon, as we dine on take-out fish and chips and relax on the couches. As the rain slows and the sun is dropping behind the mountains the cloud clears to reveal a magnificent double rainbow. We gaze at the complete rainbows from end to end, a perfect vision of colour.

Muddy Section on Rakiura Track

Muddy Section on Rakiura Track

The rain returns throughout the night and into the morning and threatens to cancel our fishing trip on an old vessel around Patterson Inlet. We use cash from various family Christmas presents to fund the outing and would like to thank our families again for this great gift. The sun finally breaks through the clouds by 8am and we are on the boat heading out of the inlet just past 9am. The skipper John and his son Daniel, prep the boat for 4 passengers including Julie and I, and we are soon off in search of blue cod. After a short demo we drop our fishing lines made of rope, garden hose, and massive hooks baited with octopus, caught the day before, to the bottom of the ocean. Soon enough we are hauling in cod. Heavy rain and wind come and go but the fish keep biting and we have a great time. Julie pulls up the only full house, catching three cod on her line at one time. These are added to the bucket of cod we catch, some of which are cooked up for our savoury lunch. We also enjoy devouring some raw blue cod seasoned with vinegar and lemon pepper. This is the freshest sushi we've ever tasted. As we fish, some of us pull up seaweed such as bull kelp and attached to this are sea tulips, an invertebrate. We decide to give these a taste test and Daniel scoops out the insides so we can indulge. The texture is mushy and it tastes like the sea. We didn't ask for seconds. Huge Mollymawks and gulls jockey for position along the boat waiting for fish carcasses to be tossed over board. Just before we're ready to head back to shore I catch something huge....turns out to be Spiny Dog Fish, a small shark! We have a great time on the boat with many laughs and we leave with a bag of fresh fish.

Morning Rainbow

Morning Rainbow


Julie catching a Full House!

Julie catching a Full House!


Mollymawks

Mollymawks

Flying Mollymawk

Flying Mollymawk


Mollymawks Fighting for Scraps

Mollymawks Fighting for Scraps


Cooking up Lunch

Cooking up Lunch


Spiny Dogfish

Spiny Dogfish


Feeding Gulls

Feeding Gulls

We head back to the hostel to pack up the tent before we meander through the artsy town and catch the 3:30pm ferry back to the mainland. The ride is choppy but Julie sleeps and once again I focused hard on the horizon to keep the cod down. After a quick stop in Invercargill for a few veggies to go with our days catch we look for somewhere to camp and relax for the night. An incredibly forceful south wind is blowing so we stop at a Holiday Park to use their kitchen to get away from the elements. We can't find anyone in the office to pay for the use of the kitchen, assuming this is an option, so we head in and start cooking and will pay on the way out. That was a mistake. The owner did not take kindly to us helping ourselves, she demands us to leave immediately and pay for a nights accommodations. After some crappy negotiating on our part we pay 15 bucks and get the heck out of there. We have a good laugh afterwards while eating another meal of cod and learn a valuable lesson. Our night ends sleeping in our car along the beach in Riverton, a friendly town west of Invercargill. Here we will be wwoofing for the next week.

Posted by ontarions 23:13 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

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)

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