The Routeburn Track

Trip Start Jun 04, 2009
Trip End Sep 06, 2010

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hey hey,

It feels like a year has passed since I last wrote to you all as in there is no way that my brain can comprehend how much has happened here in just a couple of weeks. As you know Steve's Dad Richard has been with us for this leg and I will be giving a full account of all the adventures we have had but before I get going I have to drop in a quick side note…I have a new job!

I’m going to be working as an Activities Booking Agent for a company in Queenstown that owns the Information Centre and two other sites in town for activities bookings.  This means not only do I get to talk to people about all the fun things to do in town I also get to do them all myself, for free!  I got a call being offered the position while Steve was at the airport picking Richard up and I was mid-way through baking a rather large chocolate cake, which got all slopped around the kitchen in the excitement.  Pretty much as soon as Richard arrived we whisked him off to a beautiful lakeside setting (as in down the road from our house) and popped open a bottle of bubbly to celebrate his successful arrival and my new employment.  Anyway you will hear more about my new job at a later date but this was Richards week to guest star so lets get stuck into his trip.

After the celebratory bubbly we headed into town to show Richard the sights and grab a free beer from Monty’s (we’re still unsure as to when they will stop handing these out so best to make the most of it).  A good few satisfied sighs and oohing and ahhing at the views in town ensued before we fired up the barbeque on the balcony and had a welcome to Queenstown feast of kings…until the barbeque itself caught fire on the wooden decking and Steve stepped up to fight the blaze with a couple of squeezy waterbottles and managed to stop the house from burning down.  All a bit too exciting for a jet-lagged Richard who had put in a valiant effort to get to 10pm and then was out like a light (unlike the barbeque).

The next morning I had to work, somewhat more upbeat than usual as my shifts were numbered, and Steve and Richard planned a tour around Queenstown but were stopped short by a downpour of rain – most unfair.  Of course the underwater observatory is an excellent all weather activity and Richard made a grand entrance by swearing loudly in surprise at the size of the eels causing the parents with young children to beat a hasty retreat!  The next best way to sit out the rainy spells is to cozy up in Patagonia chocolate shop eating ice-cream and croissants which proved to be a good plan until a plucky sparrow took advantage of Richard pausing to take it’s photo and took off with his biscuit in tow, nearly as big as the bird itself, this of course pushed the crime rate in Queenstown up considerably.  We all met up on my lunch break for a yummy lakeside pub lunch as the sun was making its appearance finally and then the boys went to play Frisbee golf while I finished off my shift.  We then had to dedicate a bit of time to packing for the Routeburn Track which we were embarking on the next day and to reward ourselves for all that hard work we booked a ride up on the Gondola and an extra special buffet for later.

At the top of the gondola we went on the luge which is a bit like go-carting downhill.  Needless to say I was rubbish at it and went at about 2 mph where as the boys were zooming past me and bashing into each other with great gusto.  A great way to build up our appetites for the huge buffet we were having in the restaurant looking out on Queenstown.  The views over the town were stunning and the food had all of our eyes popping out, everything you could imagine was there beautifully presented and very tempting.  I think I was about four platefuls in thinking nothing could stop me eating everything in sight when we were pleasantly interrupted by the sky turning pink and orange all around us.  As we were in a restaurant with three walls made of just windows it was like we were completely surrounded by sunset (and food!).  We don’t often get sunsets in Queenstown as the sun goes behind the mountains but as it had been a cloudy day the left over clouds were well placed to be lit up in spectacular fashion.  Given my love of sunsets it’s a testament to how good the food was that I was happy to let the others take the photos outside while I tucked into the huge cheese platter and watched out the window.  Needless to say we were the last ones to leave the buffet, mainly because we were too full to move, and I couldn’t bear to abandon the last of my sticky toffee pudding.

A good feed was not just a treat it was a necessity as the next morning we started on the Routeburn Track and would be walking for three days with minimal food supply.  Our luck was in as the day was stunningly sunny and the hour long drive to the start of the track that took us through Glenorchy and allowed us to see a beautiful part of the country at it’s best so we had some good photo opportunities before we even arrived at the start.  The trail took us up through moss covered forests, across swing bridges and waterfalls with snow capped mountains and deep valleys all around.  The Routeburn is one of the nine Great Hikes of New Zealand and has been called one of the greatest hikes in the world by National Geographic so we knew we were in for a treat and the photos are the best way to explain some of the stunning sights we saw along the way.  It’s also very rare for it to not be raining so we made the most of the sun on the first day stopping in some lovely places for an energy boosting flapjack (or two).  That night we stayed at the Routeburn Falls hut which was well situated by a huge waterfall and gave us good accommodation in a bunk room for the night.  We had been warned in advance the high mountain pass on our second day was currently impassable due to an avalanche so we were expecting to be put on helicopter to get across.  However instead we were informed that they had managed to carve steps into the snow that had avalanched and we were able to walk across but only as a group with everyone else staying in the hut as they could only open the path once that day.  This was quite frustrating as none of us wanted to walk in a group but it did mean that we were able to walk the whole track and trek through some snow.  Unfortunately the rain finally arrived on the second day so we donned our head to toe wet weather gear and got plodding on to the crossing which looked stunning with an aqua lake below but the rain meant we couldn’t have the camera’s out for long as they were getting so wet.  After trudging up the ice steps we held back and had lunch to let the rest of the group get away from us and we were back on our own again.  Another six hours away was our next hut for the night and we made good progress admiring the huge waterfalls that sprung up everywhere thanks to the rain.  Our first view of the hut was from the side of the mountain looking down on it situated at the shores of an incredible aqua colored lake which was being fed from all the surrounding mountains with waterfalls.  We snaked our way down the mountain in the rain to finally squelch our way into the lovely warm hut.  That night we played a good few rounds of Yhatzee and tucked into some quick-cook risotto before passing out for the night as we had an early start to finish the track the next day.

While we tucked into our porridge at 5.45am we noticed a definite patch of blue sky above the hut and decided to think positive thoughts that perhaps it would follow us for the rest of the day.  We got a good head start on the track before anyone else and were up in the mountains again soon.  It was clear that the weather was trying it’s best to cheer up and we kept getting moments of clear skies followed by showers on a cycle for most of the morning.  This culminated in us reaching the biggest waterfall on the track which comes down to meet the path.  After we crossed past here we were utterly drenched, it was so powerful we had to keep our backs to it to try to keep our footing and the wind was so strong that even the water already in front of us was being blown back into our faces.  Needless to say I got very cold and I’m told I may have complained a little bit (but that sounds very unlike me).  Richard kindly lent me one dry glove, as the other was AWOL, I then wedged both my hands into the one glove and walked along praying for the next couple of hours (much to Steve's disapproval, as my now single hand would not have been much good if I fell over). I managed to get enough warmth to feel my hands again and start to believe that I would get to the end of the trail.  We then reached the base of Key Summit which is a side track that we wanted to climb for 360 views of the valley.  It had to be a quick detour as we had to be at the end of the track to catch our bus in time so we started zooming up hill after a wet and cold morning but it was all worth it as the clouds parted for us allowing us the views we had been hoping for and we took full advantage of the sights we had all to ourselves that are said to be some of the best in the South Island.

Very upbeat we practically skipped for the last hour of the track and arrived at the end when the sun was fully out and we could dry off before getting on our coach that was taking us along the Milford Road to Milford Sound and then home.  The Milford Road was very different to the last time we were there in the snow with my Dad.  It was easier to see the mountain peaks all around and the vast amount of waterfalls coming down every cliff face.  When we arrived in Milford Sound it was looking a bit grey and starting to spit so we expected a similar cruise to last time however as soon as we left the port the clouds parted and we were treated to yet another 'Mood of Milford’ in the bright sunshine.  I, of course, got stuck into the complimentary tea and coffee and, as we arrived on a coach, we were entitled to a free muffin!  It was a beautiful cruise and I’m so pleased we’ve now seen it in two completely different ways and highly recommend both to get the proper contrast of what Milford is all about.

The less said about the 7 hour coach ride back to Queenstown the better as it was no-ones highlight of the trip! I mistakenly sat next to possibly the most annoying person to ever step foot on a coach. After about 10 minutes the American girl next to me got chatting to the person sitting behind us and proceeded to churn out rubbish about every topic under the sun very loudly non-stop for the full 7 hour trip which I planned to nap during.  I think I had the last laugh though as obviously I did smell quite bad after three days trekking with no shower, so I'm sure she is complaining about me in her blog somewhere too.  However to recover from the journey we had a Fergburger back in Queenstown, so it was all worth while in the end.

That’s the first installment for now with many photos to back up all my claims of beauty and stunning views.  Please bear with me, with my new job starting I’m so busy so will get some more blogs done as soon as have a spare moment – there’s a lot more from Richards visit to tell so tune in next time…

Lot’s of Love,

Amy, Soaking Steve and Routeburn Richard
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