Prepping for the Kepler Track

Trip Start Jan 14, 2008
Trip End Feb 21, 2008

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Flag of New Zealand  ,
Tuesday, February 5, 2008

"Age is of no importance unless you are a cheese."
                                              --Gibbston Valley Cheesery

I thought of Karen Mickler of Yellow Branch Cheese in Robbinsville when we encountered these words. At Gibbston Valley Cheesery we picked up some sheep cheese (very nutty, with a texture like parmesan) for our next tramp. In the same valley we stopped a Peregrine Winery--a sheep farm turned vinyard that, in addition to its own vines, sells housing lots to wealthy Americans and Europeans. Buyers also get 5 acres of vines, and a contract with the vineyard in the deal. The beautiful old stone woolshed still stands, next to an ultra-modern structure with a roof reminiscent of a cross between an airplane wing and a sail--to house the winery itself, which is partially below ground. We tasted some wine, despite the fact that it was 10:30 am.

This seems to be the way things are in NZ--cutting edge contemporary standing cheek by jowl with the traditional. Just down the road we stopped at Kawarau Gorge and Bridge, where bungee jumping was born in the early 1980s. It's now a multi-level glass and concrete affair, complete with visitor center, cafe, viewing platform, gift shop, and continuous live video. Sidney was fascinated, and we watched 2 women jump at $168 NZ a pop (DVD extra). A few miles on, two farmers hayed a side hill with wooden rakes. Another interesting stop was at a fruit stand, where we saw apricots being harvested and graded. Sidney was fascinated here, as well--with the conveyor system and machinery.

Queenstown may be the Gatlinburg of high adventure/adrenaline sports, but it's a lot more aesthetically pleasing than Gatlinburg itself. We stopped there for lunch and to try to get the airline to add another day to our ticket to compensate for the one we lost on the front end (but it's not looking good). The setting is truly picture perfect--a glittering lake ringed by imposing mountains--I can see the attraction. Still, we were glad to leave the slightly frenzied atmosphere.

We kept on and stayed last night at a tiny motorcamp in Kingston, 1-1/2 hours south at the lower tip of the same lake, an old gold town that has reinvented itself as the home of the Kingston Flyer, a gleaming tourist steam train worthy of a Harry Potter movie. We love the tiny motor parks--what they sometimes lack in amenities, they make up for in charm (they seem to be able to imbue a cinderblock building housing a toilet, shower, and laundry with the ambience of a rose-covered cottage), and the communal kitchens always seem to offer free use of the cooking utensils we lack. Our inventory comprises 3 camping sporks, a Swiss army knife, 3 very small cooking pots, 3 plastic cereal bowls, 2 plastic tumblers, and a lexan mug.

The nights here are very cool--about 3 C last night. We've turned in our rental car and tonight in Te Anau we are in a much fancier place, large and very new, and full of young travelers like the female Israeli hitchhiker we picked up today in Kingston (but here you have to rent pots if you want to use them). We will begin the Kepler Track from here in two days. Tomorrow we'll restock our tramping food and otherwise prepare--we're looking forward to the Kepler because we will be staying in huts and therefore don't have to carry a tent or pads for 3 days.

We've seen no other families tramping; New Zealand school children begin their school year tomorrow--for them, summer is over.

Mary Ellen

P.S. We have learned the NZ falcon has recently been taken off the endangered list, and there is another raptor in NZ--a hawk. Wineries love the falcon because it picks off the blackbirds getting the grapes. Only the hawk stoops to pick up road kill. We hope to see falcon on the Routeburn Track, the second tramp we'll do out of Te Anau--we are told they love the area.

Sidney-- As mom said, we've really been having fun the last few days... relaxing, exploring, and watching the election. In fact, that's what we're doing right now! It looks like Obama is catching up to Clinton, and Huckabee is doing really well- maybe he'll be vice president! That's about all from now, see ya soon!
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dannyhiker on

Kepler - what a great track!
The Kepler is a fantastic track. You did the right thing by staying at the huts. It's part of the experience of tramping in NZ. Lenny voted the Kepler as the best track of all the 'Great walks'. I hope you get good weather. The scenery is unreal; it looks like a fake backdrop.
I'm still trying to figure out how to upload a picture to go with my comments.
Have fun!

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