Australia Day 27 and New Zealand day 1

Sunday December 29, Perth

Another lazy day.

Breakfast in Perth, then the train to Fremantle (Freo as the Aussies call it ). We walked the downtown, full of tourists, busy coffee shops and all the usual stores.

Then a free CAT (Central Area Transit) bus to South Beach for a swim. Lovely, and after dipping our feet in several times two weeks ago, finally a swim in the Indian Ocean. So far we’ve managed to swim in two oceans (Indian and South) and one sea (Tasman) on this trip. We might get into the Pacific Ocean in New Zealand.

Back to Perth mid afternoon. A drink and an early pizza dinner at one of the Italian restaurants on James Street, followed by more lazy time in Russell Square, a nearby park. Inge snoozed, we watched a small dog run and play exuberantly. Taxi to the airport where we found no lineups, giving until 22:45 to wait for the plane to Melbourne.

Monday December 30, Melbourne and Auckland

An uneventful night flight to Melbourne, a three-hour layover and another uneventful flight to Auckland. Inge managed some sleep but I didn't. With losing a night and a five hour time change, it's great that I've been sleeping well for the last few weeks.

Slow process going through the formalities to enter New Zealand, but easy. As NZ is strict about bringing plant matter into the country, we thought it would be harder. We had to declare that we had hiking boots with us, that we had been in a forest within the last 30 days and that we were bringing in wood products (a carving we purchased in Australia). But the inspection of our belongings was quick. Luckily, we know the rules and washed our hiking boots squeaky clean before leaving Australia.

Mike was waiting for us at the airport. Liz cooked a good meal and we managed to stay up until 9 pm!

Breakfast Dec 31 with Liz and Mike, supervised by Phoebe
Breakfast Dec 31 with Liz and Mike, supervised by Phoebe

New Zealand days 2 to 6

Tuesday December 31 to Saturday January 4

It has been a quiet fun week with Mike and Liz.

We ended 2013 with a good New Year's Eve dinner in an excellent Auckland restaurant with Mike and Liz, spent a quiet New Year's Day in Auckland, and the remainder of the week north of Auckland with Reg and Sally, Liz's brother-in-law and sister, at their holiday house on the west coast. Low key and relaxing. Good food and wine, some walks, lots of conversation. Here are some photos:

New Zealand Days 7 to 9 Getting Ready to Hike

Sunday January 4 to Tuesday January 7

Sunday in Auckland was a rainy day. We spent it shopping and packing for our trip to the South Island, where we will do two multi-day hikes, the Kepler and Routburn tracks, near Queenstown. The shopping involved checking out three local outdoors stores. I can proudly tell you that I’m continuing my support of the New Zealand economy and Kiwi company, Icebreaker, by buying more merino wool clothing; it is 20% cheaper here than at home, so it seemed like a sensible to do.

Back at Mike & Liz’s we sorted through what we needed to bring on the hike and what we can leave at their house. So far we are travelling pretty light, but we still have to add three days of food to our packs!

The flight to Queenstown on Monday morning was smooth, with a beautiful descent into the airport–mountains on either side. Unfortunately we didn’t have a window seat, so no pictures. In Queenstown we stocked up on food supplies and checked out the town. It’s a fun, busy place; reminds me of Whistler on a busy day.

Tuesday morning we had an early start. We had spotted a bakery cafe that opened at 6:30 a.m. and dropped in for a ‘flat white’ and goodies before catching the bus to Te Anau at 7:00 a.m.

In Te Anau it was raining hard. After pulling out our rain gear, we dropped our bags at the hostel and explored the town. Te Anau much smaller and quieter than Queenstown, but is pretty and has a nice feel to it, and most of tourist are carrying backpacks. In the afternoon we had some reprieve from the rain and went for a nice walk along the lake shore.

Tomorrow morning we will catch the watertaxi, which will take us across the lake, and head up the Kepler Track. We’ll be out for four days/three nights. The forecast calls for rain tomorrow, but the weather is supposed to improve over the next few days. We will keep our fingers crossed. Being on the track means we’ll be offline for a few days, but we’ll fill you in on our adventures upon our return!

New Zealand days 10 to 14, Kepler Track

Wednesday January 8 to Sunday January 12

We are in Queenstown after a wonderful hike on the Kepler Track. This is a summary of the last few days plus a few photos. When we get home to Vancouver we’ll put more photos from the track on the website.

Background: the Kepler Track is one of nine New Zealand “Great Walks.” The Great Walks are in parks administered by the Department of Conservation (the doc as most people call it) and are considered to be some of the best hiking trails in NZ. The trails have huts with bunks, cooking facilities, water (cold only) and toilets, and each hut is supervised by a park ranger. There is information about the Great Walks on the DOC website and there is a route map and elevation profile for the Kepler Track.

Wednesday Jan 8, to Luxmore Hut

It poured rain on Tuesday night in Te Anau, but Wednesday morning the rain eased and the wind dropped a little. We had breakfast in town and caught the 8:30 water taxi across Lake Te Anau.

When you climb off the boat you enter a rain forest, a world of green carpeted by ferns and moss. The trail is a treat, built and maintained to a standard better than any trail I have walked. It is a steady climb to the hut, about 850m elevation gain, but the grade is not hard. No rain but misty and the wind became stronger as we climbed and the vegetation changed from lush rainforest to smaller trees and scrubby undergrowth. About half way up the trail parallels a large rock face, then becomes less sheltered and the wind became strong. Two or three kms from the hut the trail leaves the forest and enters alpine tussock (grass) where the cold wind roared and mist swirled about us. It took only three hours to reach the hut, leaving us the afternoon to chat with other hikers and walk to a nearby cave.

It was cold at the hut, just above freezing. The common area with kitchen and tables has a wood stove but the bunk rooms are unheated, cold and drafty. We were snug in our sleeping bags and slept well despite the wind and overnight rain.

Thursday Jan 9, to Iris Burn Hut

This day of the walk is the spectacular one. The trail climbs to about 1400m elevation then follows a long ridge for several hours before descending steeply to the Iris Burn Hut at about 500m elevation. It was misty and very cold when we set off in the morning but fortunately the wind had died. The ridge is safe to walk but can be dangerous in high wind. There was fresh snow in spots and ice on the vegetation from the night before. As the day went by the mist and cloud burned off and by afternoon it was sunny and warm. The views and the ridge were stunning, the best alpine walk we have done. The ridge is what remains of the mountain after glaceirs scoured out bowls and valleys on either side. It ends abruptly and the trail descends in forest to the hut on the valley floor. A longer day; we reached the hut about 4:00.

Friday January 10, to Moturau Hut

This day is a forest walk gradually descending the valley to Lake Manapouri. I thought it might be boring, but it was pleasant. Early in the day the valley becomes wide and open in an area where a landslide flattened everything in 1984. (The area is named the Big Slip which the ranger at Iris Burn noted is in the NZ tradition of colourful names such as North Island and South Island.) It was sunny and we could see the mountains all around us. Next, into the forest and a climb around a deep gorge the river passes through. Then beside the river again to Lake Manapouri and finally along the shore. A day filled with the sound of water, mostly the roar of the fast river, and for the last hour the waves breaking on the lake shore. A few hardy hikers took a dip in the lake, but the water was very cold and we did not. Warm weather and a great sunset.

Saturday January 11, end of the walk and a bus to Te Anau

A short day of walking, only 1:30 to the parking lot to meet the bus for a quick ride into town. We enjoyed a hot shower, real coffee, a lazy afternoon in warm sunshine and a good dinner.

Sunday January 12, bus to Queenstown

Heavy rain and wind overnight and in the morning. Our luck with the weather on the hike was amazing. We will stay in Queenstown until Wednesday when we leave early morning to start the Routeburn Track. The weather forecast for Wednesday and Thursday is awful: heavy rain and gale-force winds in the alpine. We hope it improves!

New Zealand days 15 to 21, Routeburn Track

Monday January 13 and Tuesday January 14, Queenstown

A quiet two days. Haircut, purchased food for the upcoming hike, cleaned and waxed the boots, got one of Inge’s boots repaired (part of the sole had come loose and needed to be reglued), and we bought some additional warm clothes. The weather turned sunny and warm, making it a pleasure to wander around town.

Wednesday January 15, first day of the Routeburn track, to Routeburn Flats Hut

A warm sunny morning. We caught the bus from Queesntown to the trailhead at 8:00, an old tired bus with a friendly driver and about 20 other hikers. The two hour ride up the valley north of Queenstown is beautiful on a twisty narrow road beside the lake and then through the “flats” where the Routeburn river flows into the lake.

A description of the track and a map and elevation profile are on the DOC website.

It was a short day of hiking. The hut we wanted to stay our first night was fully booked months ago; instead, we had to stop at the Routeburn Flats Hut making the next day, the most difficult day of the hike, quite long. We took our time hiking and enjoyed the sun in the afternoon. The hut sits in a wide flat valley beside the river with snow-capped mountains in the distance.

The weather forecast for Thursday was rain, cold and very windy, and the cloud began to move in by late afternoon Wednesday.

Thursday January 16, Routeburn day two, to Lake MacKenzie Hut

We woke to rain, heavy at times, but not much wind and not too cold.

we set off promptly after a big breakfast; no point waiting as the weather showed no sign of improving. The first part is steeply up through forest to Routeburn Falls Hut, about an hour. We stopped for a short break. The hut sits just at the tree line. It is large and new with a good view of the valley below. The mist lifted enough to give glimpses of the view.

After the hut the trail is steep and rocky as it climbs to the Harris Saddle, the pass to the Hollyford Valley. The landscape is rugged and beautiful with waterfalls, tarns (small mountain lakes) and tussock. The wind picked up as we reached the saddle, but not as strong as the 65km/hr gusts predicted in the met forecast. It was cool but not as cold as forecast. The day shelter at the saddle was busy with hikers seeking a dry spot for a snack. A short side walk up Conical Hill near the saddle gives good views in fine weather, but we gave it a miss in the wind and cloud. After the saddle, the rain eased to an occasional sprinkle. It felt good to walk without the jacket hood on. The trail stays high in the tussock following the upper east side of the valley. On a clear day there are dramatic views of the surrounding snowcapped mountains and the deep valley below, but heavy mist gave us only brief glimpses.

Wet weather in the mountains makes streams rush and the waterfalls roar. There are countless streams and waterfalls along the route. As the afternoon passed the mist and cloud dissipated. We had good views by the time we reached the Mackenzie Lake Hut and the mountains were beautiful at sunset.

Friday January 17, Routeburn day three, to the Divide parking lot, end of the hike

The day began clear and very cold after a cloudless night. There was frost in the meadow and brilliant sun on the mountains. I needed my toque and gloves to stay warm.

A short but steep climb took us above the tree line and again along the east side of the Hollyford Valley. It was a cold walk in the morning shade and the sun didn’t reach us until almost noon. This day we could see mountains all around us. The trail crosses the base of Earland Falls, 174m high, which was running strongly after the rain on Thursday. It was a great sight but the cold spray made us move on. After the falls the trail descends through forest to Lake Howden Hut and ends an hour later at the Divide car park. Near Lake Howden we climbed a short side track to Key Summit, an alpine wetland area with good views back the valley and into the nearby mountains. We met the bus at the parking lot and by 3:00 pm we were in the hostel Te Anau for a hot shower then good coffee at our favourite cafe.

Saturday and Sunday January 18-19, Queenstown and back to Auckland

Two uneventful days of travel: Saturday a bus through rainy but pretty countryside to Queenstown (where it wasn’t raining) and Sunday a flight from Queenstown (where it had started to rain overnight) to sunny Auckland.

Routeburn day 1

Routeburn day 2

Routeburn day 3

Travel to Queenstown and Auckland