Monday, February 15, 2016

The Routeburn Track

We got up early, packed our rucksacks, and walked down the hill to our rendezvous with breakfast at The Bakery, where we got coffee and baked goods to sustain us until mid-morning, when we would get our second breakfast. Then on to the Ultimate Hikes bus, and we set off for three days tramping along the Routeburn Track.

The Routeburn Track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, of which there are nine. I’ve been on one of these, the Abel Tasman Coast Track, on a day trip when we visited Nelson in – crikey! – 2012! But this is the first time I’ve done one end to end, with stays at huts in between. We’re doing the luxury version of this, natch – we have guides and are fully catered. Other options for doing the track range from camping (gotta carry all your camping gear, food and drink for 3 days), staying in huts (no catering – again, you have to bring your own eats), and for some severely mentally disturbed people, running the track in one day (don’t need to carry anything except the weight of disbelief from the people you pass).   

The start
Around mid-morning, we stopped for a bite to eat at Te Anau, before continuing on to The Divide, which is the starting point for the Routeburn Track. The start was a quite steep uphill, so most of our kit remained in our rucksacks as we climbed in shorts and t-shirts. After about an hour’s climbing, there was an optional diversion up Key Summit. Unfortunately, we were into cloud by this time, and so I decided to turn around and rest a bit rather than get to the top. Those that did make it all the way up reported that there was very little to see as it was mostly obscured by cloud, so I didn’t miss much. Nicola got almost to the top before being turned around by the guide.

We carried on to Lake Howden where we ate our lunches, provided by FergBaker. After two breakfasts you’d think we wouldn’t be hungry…you’d be wrong.
Earland Falls
The second part of the day’s walk was a more gentle uphill, with quite a lot of level walking in between. The final part of the day was a descent to Lake Mackenzie hut, where I was relieved to get out of my boots! We went for a quick paddle in the lake (Alison bravely went for an actual swim) before getting a hot shower, laundering our clothes and hanging them out in the drying room, then heading for the bar.

Lake Mackenzie (may contain scenery)
The first beer made a sort of hissing sound as it went down. The next lasted a bit longer. We’d pre-ordered our dinner for the evening so the staff knew how many of each dish to prepare – there were three options for main course: steak, chicken, or vegetarian. I had the steak, naturally. It was cooked medium rare, the way it’s supposed to be. We shared our table with some of the Brisbane Tramps, a group of a dozen ladies who get together once a year for the purpose of walking. Calling yourselves the Brisbane Tramps is funny in every English-speaking country in the world except New Zealand, where they just say “Yeah, makes sense. You’re from Brisbane, and you like tramping.”

We didn’t stay up much after dinner. We had a briefing on what to expect the next day, then went to bed.

First thing in the morning, you make your lunch for the day, with your bread of choice and fillings provided, add fruit, chocolate and other assorted snacks. Then breakfast is served. It’s done this way round, I guess, as some people (weird people) don’t want to think about their lunch when they’ve just finished breakfast. Anyway, breakfast was eggs benedict (there was also hippie food for those that like that sort of thing), and I had a double helping to sustain me over the day ahead.

By now the water was hot, so a quick shower, repack of the rucksack, and we were off. We would be doing some genuine alpine climbing above the tree line today, so were advised to keep warm clothing and rainwear handy at the top of our packs. Sure enough, by the time we reached Ocean Peak, the weather had turned to rain…but just a gentle occasional smattering, and actually it was quite refreshing. Nevertheless, we added another layer and put raincoats on over the top. I also blagged a baseball cap from one of the Brisbane Tramps, who was carrying a spare…just to keep the rain off my glasses.

there's a mountain growing out of your head!
The walk up to our lunch spot, Harris Saddle shelter, took us to the high point of the track. At the saddle there’s a hut, where we could take off our boots and relax a bit. Some people took the second optional side tour up Conical Hill, but we decided to carry on and finish the day’s walk. This involved some fairly steep downhill stretches, and we passed some people going the other way, whom we didn’t envy in the slightest. How people can run this track baffles me. 

Health and safety gone mad
We were on the lookout for rock wrens and kea (the world's only alpine parrot) but failed to see any, although we heard plenty of kea with their distinctive call (it goes “kea!”). We did see a South Island kaka, which has a whiter head than its North island counterpart, which we are used to seeing at Zealandia.

The final section down to the hut also involved some fairly steep clambering, assisted in part by a railing to hold on to, as we were by the Routeburn Falls, which provide a spectacular backdrop to the Routeburn Falls Lodge.

The drill in the evening was pretty much the same as the day before, with a variance to the menu (lamb and salmon). Again, the beers were very welcome.

The final day involved a downhill walk to the Routeburn Shelter. We stopped for lunch by a bend in the river, where some brave souls went for a swim, jumping off the rocks into a deep pool. 

A nice spot for lunch
We crossed and recrossed the river on various swing bridges, some of which were seriously swingy. 

It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing
As we approached the car park at the Routeburn Shelter, we took in the final section: a nature walk. Logan, one of our guides, gave us a detailed explanation of what we were looking at and the nature of the forest. Logan can talk for ever on the subject of botany, and gave us an explanation of beech masting, and why the scientists were shooting branches off the trees (we could hear the gunfire in the distance).

Finally back on to the bus, we drove down the road past Paradise and into Glenorchy, where presentations were made in the Glenorchy Hotel, with a beer or two.

View out the bus window
That was it! I’d survived my first Great Walk! OK, we’d definitely done it the easy way, but hey, that’s just the way we roll. As the bus dropped us in Queenstown, we promised everlasting friendship with our fellow trampers, and I caught the bus out to the airport to make my way home, whilst Nicola and Alison stayed in Queenstown to continue their adventures in Doubtful Sound, Arrowtown and Wanaka

No comments:

Post a Comment