Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Great Walk Indeed

The next morning we left Te Anau around noon and hiked for six hours in the rain-- along the edge of Lake Te Anau, in the rain, down the Waiau River, in the rain, and then to Moturau Hut, where the rain finally lifted. And hooray for that.

While it would have been mind-numbingly cold to swim in the lake, we certainly did enjoy the view. About 100 feet behind me in the photo above is Moturau Hut, our first Great Walk hut.

New Zealand has designated nine of the nation's most beautiful and unique treks as Great Walks. These are by far the most popular hikes in the country, attracting the lion's share of backpacking visitors (and generating the lion's share of Department of Conservation revenue I suspect...). Consequently, these huts tend to be: 

1) Large. Moturau sleeps 40 and 
2) Swank. Moturau has solar powered lights, gas burners, and flush toilets

They're also great places to meet people-- an unstable bench and a pot of boiling water (that I almost spilled) introduced Jared and I to a group of Boston University students studying abroad in Auckland. Maybe it's a just twin thing, but I'll always have at least a little bit of Terrier in me.

Day 2 was a short day for us, up Iris Burn to the Iris Burn Campsite, where we tent-camped the night to save a little money. Unfortunately, the sand flies were horrendous...not sure if it was worth the savings. While swatting sand flies, we ran into our Latvian friends from the Caples River-- what a small country!

Day 3 was the centerpiece of the Kepler Trek: up 1,000 meters and then fifteen kilometers along a knife-edge ridge to the Luxmore Hut, perched 800 meters above Lake Te Anau. And we lucked out-- two days before, the crossing was closed because of snow, but we had a beautiful day. After a few hours of climbing we got our first reward:

From there we followed the trail up a few hundred stairs to the Hanging Valley Shelter, where we stopped for lunch.

We had lunch with the BU students and got one of the very few shots of both Jared and I (thanks photographer!!!).

From there, trail wound along the ridge (you can see it in the middle below), presenting us with jaw-dropping panoramas all afternoon.

Incredible views to the west...

..and incredible views to the east, from the summit of Mt. Luxmore...

...culminating with our arrival at the Luxmore Hut, seen here on its perch.

As a special treat, I even got to take Jared in his first cave! About a ten minute walk from the hut was the (unsurprisingly named) Luxmore caves, a roughly one kilometer-long limestone cave descending into the mountain. Hopefully, I've created a new spelunker!

Sunset was a treat as well. 

The next day it was down 800 meters, along the edge of the lake, and back into Te Anau, where we caught an evening bus to Queenstown. The next day, we ran into none other than my parents (it was planned), on a "business" trip, motorcycle-touring the South Island with a group of about forty people. Their host generously invited Jared and I to dinner at the ski resort high above Queenstown, jet-boating, wine-tasting, bungee jumping (no way in hell), and to a delicious meal the next night. While we couldn't join the group jet-boating, wine-tasting, or bungee jumping (whew) because I had a job interview (foreshadowing!), we did enjoy our two tastiest meals of the trip with my parents. Thank you Anton!

After two delicious days in Queenstown, Jared and I took the bus two hours north to "Queenstown-like-it-used-to-be", Wanaka, where we rented mountain bikes and cruised the lake shore. Definitely a town we could have spent more time in.

The next morning we bussed four hours over Haast Pass and up the West Coast to Fox Glacier, where we had an afternoon walk on the glacier. My parents warned us about the local saying on the West Coast: "It rains every day that starts with a 't'. Today and tomorrow." But I wasn't really mentally prepared... here's what we saw from the base of the glacier:

The West Coast is temperate rain forest-- Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier (about 20 miles north) get somewhere around 40 feet of rain a year! When Captain Cook first spotted the glaciers they extended into the Pacific Ocean. Since then, they retracted through the 1980's, started growing again until the early 2000's, shrunk for a year or two, grew again until 2011, and have been very, very rapidly retreating since then (on the order of a meter a week). Consequently, the glacier we saw was dirty-looking as the rock and dirt incorporated when the glacier formed was being exposed as it melted.

Perhaps the coolest part of the tour was the rockslides we could see and hear on the canyon walls caused by the rain. After two hours, it was time to head back toward town-- did I mention that it rained? And rained. And rained.

And here's the soggy boys at the end of the tour:

The next morning dawned beautifully (of course), but we were again headed north, this time to Greymouth. You can see (now that it's not raining) that the Fox Glacier backs up to the Southern Alps and Aoraki (Mt Cook), the tallest point in New Zealand.

Our main activity in Greymouth was stocking up for our next trip, five days up and over Harper Pass. But, we did manage to find the time to taste a little beer at Monteith's newly refurbished brewery.

After five days without hiking, we were ready to hit the trail the next morning!

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