FiNZ 30 – “Lockers in the wild are pretty hard to find!”

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…

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Propaganda! ūüėČ

This is what we got…

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Blizzard

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.

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Keith is the great walk planner. He put together a pretty extensive menu for the entire weekend, including chicken sandwiches for lunch pre-walk.

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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.

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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!

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This waterfall literally made everyone say “WOW”

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By the time the weather got worse, we made it to McKenzie hut.

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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.

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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…

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…and it continued to snow. More and more and more.

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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…

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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….

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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…

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Flanders Hiking Photo of the Week –

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We made it! Unscathed and with some great photos.

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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.

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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.

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Flanders in NZ 12 – The 1st Great Walk

Yikes! Late post, but this week has been a bit busy¬†at work…on to some¬†story-time and beach photos!

Last time I was here I had the extreme pleasure of walking the Milford Track Great Walk. In total, New Zealand has 9 “Great Walks” and the Flanders did their first one together this past weekend–Abel Tasman Coast Track! Not wanting to take any vacation days we planned to do only 2 days, 1 night¬†on the track, and 33.9 km of walking (21 miles). Only one other colleague was brave enough to join us ūüėČ (and the fact that most had already walked it a few months ago).

First off…Abel Tasman?! Nearly EVERYTHING is named after him around here…he has a peninsula, bridge, highway, an entire sea, glacier, lake, river, mountain, bay, district, and the national park which bears his track. I eventually HAD to look this guy up, he is obviously a big deal — dutch explorer to be the first (european) explorer to many areas throughout Australasia. Golden Bay (the bay off of Abel Tasman national park) was originally called Murderer’s Bay because the Maori people killed so many of his men… drama!

Anyways, the track. Most of this I can do photos, but I’ll give you a bit of the outline.

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Our Weekend Hiking Plan – boat to Awaroa and walk back to the car

Friday we left somewhat early (3:30) to drive 5.5 hours and arrive at a hostel in Matoeka for the night.

Early Saturday,¬†we got up and drove to the start of the track. As we were driving towards the park the rain got heavier and heavier…and the wind picked up. By the time we got the shore Keith was asking if we thought the boat was even going to take us to our destination. In typical Kiwi fashion, the welcome center cashier told us “Of course!” and pointed us to our waiting area.

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Waiting hut/Enjoying the rain/Packs all lined up with Keith’s umbrella making an appearance

The boat ride was…”exciting” to describe it. I’ve managed to be on quite a few boats in my 27 years, and this was the bumpiest. We were basically out in the ocean, with 10 foot waves, in a 20 foot water taxi. The captain seemed to know what he was doing, and made a few jokes about taking care of his own life…which attempted to put me at ease (while steadfastly¬†tightening my life vest). To say the least, I’d never been so happy to climb ashore, even if it was rainy and windy throughout the hike.

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Yes we got on the boat while it was hitched to the tractor/yes we had to jump out of the boat while it was slightly beached on shore…

The rain died down and our “4 hour” kiwi timed hike of 11.4km turned into 2.5 hours to get to Bark Bay Hut. Eventually another hiker arrived who was also, coincidentally, our one hostel bunk mate the night before! She was also an American (from Kansas) who was traveling post graduation and pre-going to work as an engineer in California (small world right!?)

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Start of a drizzly, albeit beautiful day!

 

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On the boardwalk

 

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Onetahuti Selfie

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Bark Bay Hut

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Keith went for a run on the beach…

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Admiring the view in front of our hut for the night…

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Rock scramble

Sunday was the day we were gearing ourselves up for. Luckily the rain went away and the clouds started to part. We ended up walking a total of 15 miles to get back to the car. Normally, the official walking guide has another hut in the middle but we wanted to try to get in as much track as possible in a weekend. We miraculously got back to the car by 2:30pm and were back in Christchurch by dinner time!

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Team Tasman @ Sunrise (again, chilling out in our hut’s beautiful front yard)

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We couldn’t quite get the jumping thing down…

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Start of a much more beautiful day…

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Too many ocean/land photo ops

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Made it to Torrent Bay Village (where several private houses reside — quite the nice vacation getaway!)

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On a limb

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Flanders Hiking Photo of the Week

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Usually the sign photo is captured at the beginning of the hike, but considering we started in the middle and hiked back to the “beginning”¬†we had to make an exception.

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Drive home through Lewis Pass

Overall a lovely weekend, followed by a busy week. This makes me realize next week may be a struggle to get an entertaining/trip-infused post out. I’ll have to start brainstorming now!

Cheers!

 

New Zealand 27 – An Unexpected Journey

Get ready for a photo-heavy post. I’ve been putting this post off a few days because I wasn’t quite sure how I would write it. The Milford Track is 4 days, 33.5 miles of beauty, crazy weather, and entertaining times with new and old friends. I was at once considering the educational route, to inform the public exactly what the track was like, but after the fact that just doesn’t share the story. You have to do it to justify it. The pictures we have are just not good enough to fully explain, but they will have to do…

When my coworker said he was going to put together a trip to the Milford Track in Fiordland, I was the first one to jump on board. The New Zealand Great Walk is arguably the most beautiful hike in the world — one of those “must do before you die” type events. If you’re a Lord of the Rings fans, all of those sweeping mountainous landscape shots occur in Fiordland. The hiking (or tramping as Kiwi’s would say) season didn’t officially start until this past Tuesday, so we chose to complete this in the off-season. Lucky for us that meant cheaper hut fees, far fewer people to deal with, yet a lot more caution involved. We got together after-hours to discuss food preparation, safety gear, and avalanche safety. Those years in Girl Scouts just didn’t cut me out for this kind of stuff!

Luckily, once the departure day arrived, avalanche warnings were low to moderate which ended up meaning we didn’t need to worry too much when on the track. A key point to the Milford Track is that there is no easy way to get there–it is a one way route that involves dropping your vehicle in Te Anau, a bus ride to Te Anau downs boat dock, a 2-hour boat ride to the start, 4-day walk, boat ride through Milford sound to the nearest town, then an 1.5 hour bus drive back to the town of Te Anau. Although a lot of travel, it is a bit surreal realizing you really are far, far away from any civilization. Let the photo documentation begin (most photos courtesy of coworkers, especially in the snowy pass where I was far too concerned about staying warm and hydrated then taking out my camera to capture the moment)…

Coffee with a view – boat ride from Te Anau downs to the trail head

Like any good Department of Conservation, they like to make sure they overly caution the tourists–

Reasons not to do the track off-season…just made us all feel more intense

The first day involved a very short (5km) hike to the first hut. This all just ended up with us instantly bonding with the 8 other hikers on the trail with us and playing an entertaining game of Spoons where multiple losers agreed to complete some entertaining tasks–

Hut Games #1 – 4 person push up

Hut Games #2 – 6 people fitting into the toilet

Hut Games #3 – wheelbarrow races

Day #2 was a bit more like typical Fiordland–cold and rainy. We continued to follow the river through the amazing valley and several avalanche prone areas. This all meant that not all the bridges were in place and we got to put those gators to good use.

River Crossings

Bridge Crossings

After a very cold night in hut #2 (where I actually bartered with a coworker to give me their below freezing sleeping bag which I in turn agreed to carry over the pass the next day) we woke up not-so-ready to tackle the challenging day ahead. The night was full of torrential rain, sleet, and snow which meant we heard avalanches come down around us frequently and knew we’d be dealing with quite a bit of snow on day #3.

Starting to tramp up the switchbacks to the pass

Seeing the cross on top of the cairn memorial may have been my favorite site all day – to know we had finally made it to the pass and any danger of being pummeled with snow was gone. The memorial cairn is for McKinnon. He was a major part of helping create the track and unfortunately went missing one day on his Lake Te Anau boat ride to the trail head.

After trudging through the rain & snow, posing for the money shot in front of the Quintin MacKinnon Memorial Cairn

View from McKinnon Pass

All of us were pretty happy to see McKinnon shelter

Once we finally did encounter a dangerous area of the track, the DOC made sure to warn us. No chance of us taking this track, we headed down the “less scenic” emergency route which made me wonder how incredible the cut-off track must have been.

The disadvantages of doing the track during snow season

Day #4, it was all downhill from here, literally. Which meant a whole lot of waterfalls. As much as I hate to say it, I was actually sick of waterfalls by the end of this trip. They were everywhere!

Sutherland Falls – 5th tallest waterfall in the world

I couldn’t contain the excitement knowing this was my last can of preserved meat for a long time…

Canned food = a balanced tramper’s lunch

After a long 33.5 miles (New Zealanders used to work in feet & inches long, long ago), we finally made it to Sandfly Point–the end of the trail. Beforehand I made sure all major skin areas were covered and those exposed were globbed with DEET. Sandfly bites are no joke, I am still itching the 6 that got to me.

Survived the 33.5 miles never having to learn how to use the bright orange emergency locator beacon

Waiting for our ride to town at Sandfly Point

Final boat ride through Milford Sound

At the Sandfly Point shelter there were a few historical boards with old quotes. I’ll leave you with my favorite to conclude this weeks post–

“Fifteen years after leaving the Milford Track I repeatedly dream I’m still there…with these great mountains, waterfalls and forests and the river…The actual reality is something that is almost indescribable and I often say to people, ‘Have you walked the Milford Track?’ and when they say NO, I say well you must do it before you die…” – Dan Greany