Magnificent Milford Sound

Magnificent Milford Sound

Arriving in Te Anau two days earlier than planned, we jumped on the opportunity to see something completely different – the famous Milford Sound.

This narrow finger of sea remained undiscovered until a Welsh fisherman took shelter here from an angry storm. Viewed from the sea, its inlet is all but hidden and if it hadn’t been his only option, who knows how many years more this special place would have remained hidden.

Milford exists as a world of abrupt contrasts. Vertical cliffs carved sharply by ancient glaciers crash into the calm blue surface of the sea.

Moss and tenuous trees cling precariously to the edges of these cliffs, rooting themselves in the tiniest of cracks. Roaring streams rush ever faster toward the edge then suddenly burst out into the abyss, cascading into veils of mist.

Meanwhile sea lions bask in the sun atop boulders, unaware or unconcerned that these giant rocks once resided high, high above.

What a special place. I’m really glad we got the chance to visit. This just reminds me how amazingly diverse New Zealand is.

Back in Te Anau, we met this very friendly cat. He likes playing with dried up leaves, chasing and killing them, but then flopping over for some cuddles and belly rubs.

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Queenstown to Greenstone

Queenstown to Greenstone

Queenstown was an exciting place for a break from hiking but I was happy to get back on the trail. Less shopping, more walking.

We finally got some rain. It’s hard to believe we’ve been hiking the Te Araroa down New Zealand’s South Island for two months and we’ve only gotten two days with a sprinkling of rain. This section proved to be a bit wetter with a full-on rainstorm blowing in.

We passed over a beautiful gorge that looked so inviting for a swim, despite flowing quickly due to the rain. I managed to find a way down for a quick bath. Nearly every day in New Zealand, I’ve managed to find a stream, river, or lake to wash up in. The water here is gloriously clear.

After enjoying a nice swim, I made it to the Greenstone Hut and the rain started to come down hard and heavy in big sweeping sheets. It’s so nice to be inside, warm and dry. A fellow tramper even started a fire and the hut got tropical hot in no time.

We walked over more tussock country with gentle peaks in the distance.

We’re still surrounded by mountainous land but the walking has really gotten much flatter. It’s quite nice and relaxing.

Some cows began to appear as we entered a wide valley. A few stared at me with suspicion. With the hard rain, the trail was quite soaked. I even lost the trail in the tussock grass and found myself knee deep in a marsh. Surprise! Luckily, it’s still warm out, so a little cold water is refreshing.

When we made it to North Mavora Lake, we realized that much of the remaining walking on this section is along gravel roads.

We decided to hitch hike to Te Anau and enjoy some more time in town and being tourists. I don’t mind walking through mushy ground and scrambling up roots & rocks but my feet really suffer on hard packed roads.

Let’s see what kind of fun we can get up to in Te Anau, the gateway to Fiordland National Park!

Hitting the pause button in Queenstown

Hitting the pause button in Queenstown

From the gold mining ruins of Macetown, we walked down to Arrowtown. Unlike Macetown, Arrowtown is a happening place, bustling with tourists. It has that somewhat tacky but fun feel of an old west gold town re-creation, not unlike Ballarat (Australia), Tombstone (Arizona), or Dawson City (Yukon).

The idea behind the Te Araroa is that it takes you on a journey through many of New Zealand’s most beautiful places. In reality, it links together many stunningly beautiful walking tracks with some pleasant cycling paths and, well, boring road walks. As picturesque as the cycling paths can be, they’re hard on the feet after having already walked many days through the mountains.

There’s a very nice cycling path between Arrowtown and Queenstown, so we decided to hire bikes for a second time on this trip.

If I were to walk the Te Araroa again, I’d try to have a friend meet me at the end of every trail with a mountain bike so I could cycle all the roads and cycle paths rather than walking them or getting a ride.

Getting to Queenstown feels like a big milestone. The hard walking is behind us and we’re suddenly back in civilization.

It’s a beautiful town but arriving here after two months of walking through fairly remote areas is a bit of a shock to the system. It feels like a once quiet little town with the retail core of a big city plopped right on top of it. Suddenly, there are shopping malls, expensive restaurants, fashion boutiques, and Asian tour buses everywhere.

But it is a beautiful place.

We’re spending three nights here so Sil can visit a friend who now lives in Auckland and flew down especially to meet us.

Next up we head back to the trail and continue our way south toward Te Anau and the famous Milford Sound.

We struck gold!

We struck gold!

After enjoying Wanaka with Alison and Brian, we set out on the final section of mountainous walking on the Te Araroa.

The Motatapu Track begins by climbing up through a lush beech forest. I’ve come to love the dark rich colours of New Zealand’s beech forests so much. I know I’ll miss them.

These forests sure do make you work hard, though.

Eventually, we climbed out of the trees and into open tussock country.

I’ve come to love that moment in New Zealand walking when you spot your intended hut far in the distance.

You’ve been hiking all day anticipating this moment and now – there it is!

Shelter for the night and a comfortable place to relax with fellow trampers.

When you leave the hut in the morning, you’re in for a treat as you climb up and over a saddle, promising great views.

Not only great views but also some unexpected tasty treats too – it’s snowberry season and these yummy little berries are plump and juicy. How do they taste? Imagine if you could eat the aroma of flowers. Delicate and delicious.

Descending from the mountains, the track then follows the river for 7km. I counted over 50 crossings and sometimes the best (and only) way to go is directly down the middle of the river.

There is a “flood track” that cuts through the steep hillsides high above the river, dropping into ravines and climbing out the other side, and disappearing in washouts but this is invariably much more difficult than simply following the river. Unless it’s actually in flood, of course.

Popping out of the river, we made it to Macetown, population zero. Macetown was a booming gold mining town from 1863 until the early 1900s. Those days are long gone but even now there are some signs of gold bugs still poking around the hills and streams.

Some restored buildings give you an idea of what Macetown was like back in the boom days.

If you look closely, you’ll even see some ghosts of where people once lived and worked.

And maybe a few crazies still sluicing the river trying to hit it rich.

I was taking this photo when a truck pulled up and the driver asked if it was *my* illegal sluicing operation!

Wanaka, New Zealand’s most picturesque town?

Wanaka, New Zealand’s most picturesque town?

The walk from Lake Hawea to Wanaka is along a pleasant cycle track. We saw many people out for fun rides and jogging and lots of happy dogs.

When we arrived in New Zealand, everyone said we would love Wanaka. They were right. This lovely little town is set on the shores of a beautiful lake and surrounded by impressive mountains.

Its streets are filled with cafes and great restaurants and it’s a destination in winter as well with one of New Zealand’s better ski resorts.

A big crispy salad – that’s what I crave when I get off the trail

We’re really lucky that Alison and Brian, who we met on the trail a month ago, invited us to stay at their son’s house. It feels like a ski chalet, just perfect for Wanaka.

They took us for a drive up to a pass overlooking Queenstown. It will take us five days to walk there so it feels surreal to get a sneak peek. And what a luxury to get such a beautiful view without all the work of hiking there.

Brian and Alison took us to the historic Cardrona Hotel for dinner. This was once the haunt of gold miners hoping to strike it rich. We’re getting into some interesting historical areas now and we’ll even pass through an old gold mining ghost town on our way to Queenstown.

Lake Ohau to Hawea

Lake Ohau to Hawea

We had a wonderful break at the Lake Ohau Lodge. All rested up, we were ready to hit the trail again. We began by following the A2O (Alps to Ocean) cycling track for a few miles. This is a continuation of the same cycling route we rode from Lake Tekapo to Ohau a few days earlier.

Soon we began climbing back up into the hills.

The views of Lake Ohau behind us were wonderful. The intense colour of New Zealand’s lakes never ceases to amaze me.

We were eager to cross the Ahuriri River, the largest unbridged river on the Te Araroa. Many people lose their balance in the fast deep water and get swept downstream. Rarely is this serious, but I’d rather not go for a surprise swim in the frigid water. I picked my way across carefully and managed to avoid going much more than knee deep. Big sigh of relief!

We stopped in the early afternoon at an old musterer’s hut. Sometimes it’s wonderful to have a short day, swimming in the refreshing stream, and soaking up the warm sun.

The next day began warm and calm but the sky soon turned dark and threatening. The golden tussock covered hills began to turn black in the distance.

Luckily, we got bunks in the very comfortable Top Timaru Hut for the night. I slept so well despite the pounding rain outside.

As we began walking the next day, the rain subsided to a gentle sprinkle. There are many stream crossings and the cloudy water was a bit unnerving as you have no idea how deep the next step will be but all turned out to be fairly shallow. The water was pretty chilly, though, and this was the first day in New Zealand that I’ve felt a bit cold.

Even with the rain and cloud, the views were still great.

We stopped for the night at Stodys Hut, another old musterer’s hut.

Much more basic than any other hut we’ve stayed in, this one has dirt floors and tin walls but a crackling fire warmed us right up.

The next morning was again clear and beautiful. We climbed up Breast Hill for spectacular views of Mount Aspiring, with a fresh dusting of snow from the night before.

The descent from Breast Hill was long and tricky with lots of scrambly sections, even some where you would want hand holds and you definitely don’t want to fall.

We’ve made it to the little town of Lake Hawea in time to snag the last available bed. It’s in an old caravan! Fun.

Cycling from Lake Tekapo to Lake Ohau

Cycling from Lake Tekapo to Lake Ohau

It was a beautiful morning walking down through wavy golden grass to the sparkling turquoise Lake Tekapo.

Once we reached the road, it was time for something different. The next section has nearly 100km of road walking, so we decided to rent bikes. Annie from BeSpoke Bike Tours met us right at the road with our bikes and helmets ready to go.

After a month and a half of hiking in New Zealand with barely a drop of rain, our luck finally ran out. As soon as we jumped on the bikes, it started pouring rain and I was soaked by the time we got to the town of Tekapo.

Once the rain subsided, the moody skies made for beautiful views over the lake.

The next day, the sun returned, letting us enjoy some interesting sights along the way. Here’s a dam which is both used to generate power and to divert water to salmon farms, a big business in New Zealand.

I’m very glad we cycled this section. You’d have to be crazy to walk 100km on paved and gravel roads.

On a bike, though, the scenery went by quickly and enjoyably.

I particularly like all the strange things you discover when you cycle through a new place.

Not the largest truck on earth, but still pretty big.

The wind really picked up as we got to the shores of Lake Ohau. The headwind bit sharply and made us work hard.

In the end, it was well worth the effort. We arrived at Lake Ohau Lodge in time for their famous dinner and we’re now enjoying a wonderfully relaxing day off.