If anyone’s flown on Air New Zealand, you know they have some pretty extensive safety videos. The one that’s been playing sporadically over the past year is “The Bear Essentials of Safety” – a man-versus-wild parody starring Bear Grylls. The whole video takes place on the majestic Routeburn Track–some pretty great marketing for New Zealand all while making sure everyone knows how to use an oxygen mask.
This past weekend Keith & I, along with 3 other colleagues, journeyed to Fiordland to tramp the Routeburn Track. This is my third of nine New Zealand great walks! I can’t wait to get more under my boots. [Milford Track here ; Abel Tasman Track here]
At this point I’ve had the pleasure? of doing a few multi-day hikes between New Zealand and the Appalachian Trail in New England. I have NEVER had consistently great weather. Routeburn was no exception. We monitored the weather throughout the week, and the day we left the weather service noted gale force winds on Friday night and Saturday. What we ended up getting was a bit of a blizzard. To give you a sneak preview to our situation, this is what the Department of Conservation depicts the Routeburn Track as…
This is what we got…
Thursday afternoon the 5 of us – Keith, me, Mike, Nick, Erin – squished our packs and ourselves into a Toyota Corolla and drove the 6 hours to Queenstown. Nick’s GoPro proved very useful for taking multiple selfies throughout our journey.
Keith is the great walk planner. He put together a pretty extensive menu for the entire weekend, including chicken sandwiches for lunch pre-walk.
The walk is one-way. We decided to start on the west side (“The Divide”) and go towards the east to Glenorchy. This way we would have a shorter drive home on Sunday. Because it’s a one-way track you typically either take a bus or do a car transfer. We picked up a lock box and hired a couple to drive our car to the other end. Another one of those only in New Zealand moments.
Luckily Day 1 was pretty nice despite the weather report. A little overcast, but still got some great views up Key summit. If you only have a day, I’d highly recommend just doing the day walk up to this summit and back down. It makes for some great photo opps!
This waterfall literally made everyone say “WOW”
By the time the weather got worse, we made it to McKenzie hut.
There was a nice little lake and a couple of side trails. We all decided to start the “Emily’s Pass” trail. This ultimately would have brought you over Emily’s Pass, but that was covered with snow and apparently required an ace ax…sounded intense. Instead we got a group shot in front of Emily’s Pass. Later on we had a hilarious hut talk by Clive, the hut ranger of 20+ years, and a nice toasty night with 30 of our closest strangers in the bunk house.
After a night filled with gale force winds, thunder and lightning, we nervously gathered up our gear and prepared for the hardest day–the climb over Harris Saddle. You can’t quite see it yet, but it is snowing in this photo…
…and it continued to snow. More and more and more.
It took us a couple of hours to get to the saddle. I was a little overjoyed to see the emergency shelter where we ate lunch…
The rest of the walk down was a bit frustrating since then it really started snowing and the rocks were a bit slippery. Nevertheless, we made it intact, and after the fact were pretty pumped of how epic our day was.
When we arrived at Routeburn Falls hut the wood was damp and a fire just wasn’t happening. I engineered a few of us hot water pads by boiling out water and dispersing it between Nalgenes. Keith & I awkwardly walked around all evening clutching our bottles underneath our clothing. Although awkward, it definitely saved me from being cold & miserable all night!
We woke up the next morning, left the bunk room, and BAM….
This is what we were hoping for seeing on the Routeburn – beautiful views. We all knew we had to climb back up the trail and see what we missed. We didn’t go all the way back to Harris Saddle, but climbed up a bit to get that clutch view of the valley. Since the snow was still plentiful a snowball fight may have ensued…
Flanders Hiking Photo of the Week –
We made it! Unscathed and with some great photos.
One of the best parts about ending on the Glenorchy side is enjoying the drive post-track. Glenorchy is one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand. Peter Jackson seemed to think so too since a good portion of Lord of the Rings was shot around here.
Overall a pretty epic weekend with a good group of frolleagues to say the least. We drove back through Queenstown to all get our coveted Fergburgers (a tradition for Fiordland great walkers). Then we had a gorgeous drive back to Christchurch. This all just made me even more excited for our 2 week December break where we get to do more traveling through Fiordland! I doubt I will compose a better post than this for the next couple weeks but I’ll continue to keep you all updated. Plus, it is FINALLY getting warm out (currently 25C outside!!).
I leave you today with this YouTube “trailer” Nick whipped up on his iPad during our car ride home. Turn the music up.