Saturday, February 26, 2011

A stunning few days in the wilderness

There are some good pictures on here, but they really do not do justice to the places we have been - I have just added nearly 300 more photos to picasa - just check the link on the left hand side!!! Enjoy!

Milford sound - one of over 80 stunning waterfalls

We all piled down to the local pub last night where we used the BBQ area to cook a really good load of burgers, while the dude who owns the bar and his missus made us a pile of chips to go with the burgers. After eating we all made our way inside where we out shit music into the jukebox and played a bit of pool. It was a really good night and a great change from sitting around on a camp-site all night. Its the first time in over a week that we have had a proper night out in a warm building.

Back at the camp-site a few people weren’t happy as there had been queue jumping in the laundry and also some clothes go missing. I headed to bed after a quick check of my emails and making sure I had told everyone that we weren’t anywhere near to the devastation at the earthquake in Christchurch.

This morning I woke up bright and early and after a good breakfast we headed off, once again, this time towards the town of Gore, where we had a short break and took pictures of a big trout (Gore is the world centre of brown trout fishing.) It seems that every town in New Zealand has to be famous for something – even if it is something really naff – Trout fishing is OK, but some other towns are really arse.

We are now heading toward a lunch stop by a lake, but a paper is making its way around the bus with pictures and stories about Christchurch – the mood on the bus is a little sober at the moment.
It got a bit cheerier later on though as we stopped in a little town for a toilet break and there was a great little adventure playground to mess about on. Everyone had a go on the slides and zip glide things – I got a good video of Sabine, Becky, Cyril and Sarah messing about in the park, before we got back on the bus once again!

The lunchtime lake stop was really nice with a few people jumping in for a swim while others just sat and enjoyed the views and the sunshine. Most of the group then grabbed their bikes and cycled the 15km or so down to the local town of Te Anau. This is a lovely little town, by the side of the same lake where we had lunch. We were only there for an hour though, but that was enough time to hire a lightweight tent for the Routeburn track, which we will be walking over a couple of days starting tomorrow afternoon. We also had a bit of time to sit and enjoy the sun while Buffy, one of the new girls on the bus got out her bizarre guitar and sang a few songs for the group – Now, I’m going to sound like a grumpy old bastard, but it reminded me of the glee club from Oz-bus – A song every now and then is fine, but I hope she doesn’t make a habit of it as it can become boring and tedious pretty quickly, when you want a decent conversation and to enjoy a bit if peace and quiet! Anyway, enough of that!

Our next stop was where the famous massive battle scenes were filmed for The Lord of The Rings movies. It was a beautifully flat valley with the mountains on either side coming together a few miles distant to create a formidable barrier. The sun was still out and it made for some fantastic photos. Rich and Myself couldn’t resist a jump shot opportunity and used the bus trailer to get some added height. The rest of the bus were taking average jump shots from the ground, so need a bit more instruction in the art yet I think!

Our last but one stop of the day was at Mirror lakes, which on a good day reflect the mountains from behind, but unfortunately for us, today the wind was a little strong and there wasn’t really a chance to get a good reflection – still, it was a nice little walk.

The real last stop of the day and when the cyclists got out again, was a great view of the mountains, where we all stood and took photos of the spectacular sights!! Again – it gets a a bit tedious doing all this sightseeing, so I will be glad to get my tent up tonight and open a bottle of wine!

The night at the camp went well – we had a good dinner in the 'Daveys' cookhouse, named after the bloke that runs the camp. It was then a sit around the camp fire and a few bits of story telling while finishing off the drinks and taking stupid photos on Michelle’s camera. It started to rain lightly later on and so I went to my tent and got my head down for sleep before midnight.

It was still raining when we got up this morning and so after a quick, hot shower I got my tent down quickly and then helped a few others with their tents, so we could get in the bus and out of the rain. Ben was a bit pissed off, as he had left his tent outside to dry and now of course, it was soaked! The bus was full of wet kit too and with us all on in was a bit steamed up and hard to see out of the windows, but when we could see out, the views were awesome. We were heading towards Milford sound and drove through the famous Homer Tunnel on the way, which has just enough room for the bus and drops quite a far way in height too.

When we reached the Milford Sound we waited for a while before boarding our little boat for a 2 ½ hour cruise around the sound. It is described as one of the most beautiful and spectacular places on earth and it didn’t disappoint Rich described it like being on the set of King Kong and I agreed with him. It was another of those times when it is hard to describe in words – with the rain that was falling there were literally hundreds of waterfalls cascading down the cliffs that were hundreds of metres high and towering over the water. Along with this was the mist that hung over and around us and gave the whole scene an eerie spooky feel. I will have to make a list sometime of all the places that you really have to visit – along with Mount Bromo, Everest and The Golden Temple, Milford sound would definitely be on that list!

After spotting a few seals and passing within a few feet of a 161metre waterfall, we arrived back at the docks where we started and disembarked. It was then back onto the bus and a short drive back through the tunnel to a place called 'The Chasm'. It sounds like a ride at Alton Towers, but is in fact a river that has carved a spectacular waterfall through the soft rocks, which drops about 20metres and then enters a cave before appearing above ground again a few metres later. The rocks have been carved into intricate shapes that defy imagination, but are really beautiful. It was a great surprise to see something natural and spectacular like this and I really liked the place.

After taking a few pictures of the chasm and the parrots that seem to live in the car park (And ripped the windscreen wipers off a camper van as we watched) we climbed aboard again and set off towards the routeburn track.

There are about 15 of us walking the Routeburn Track over the next 3 days. Some are leaving today and others tomorrow and due to booking we are staying at different huts and camp-sites In my group are me, Rich, Lauren, Todd and Stefan. We started up the track with Buffy and Lindsey. The first 2-3 miles were all uphill and pretty hard work with a steep climb uphill .We took our time though and reached our home for the night at The Howden hut. It was much better than I imagined – The size of a large house with a heated downstairs kitchen with a wood burning fire and a 28 bed dorm upstairs. We settled in and had a wandered along the lake before starting our dinner – Lamb stew, supplied by Flying Kiwi along with so much food we couldn’t carry it all!

Dinner was really good and very filling, alongside the beer we brought with is, it went down really well. After dinner me and Rich sat watching 'Celebrity Juice' on my net-book, before a rude and very annoying American announced to the rest of the people staying there, that 'He didn’t come here to listen to someone else’s TV!!' - What a cock – I don’t mind being asked to turn it down a little, but there was no need to stand on the stairs and announce it like he did. He obviously loves being centre if attention and made himself look like a complete tosser – which was good because he is! Especially when we went outside and 'Pat', the hut staff officer sat with us and chatted without once asking us to turn it off or down!
Later on when I went inside to write my blog, there was a lot of noise and laughing and guess who was the loudest – Yep, the obnoxious tit who complained earlier – Me and Rich decided not to say anything as we don’t want to drop to his level – Its best to say that we are going to get an early night and get out of here when the sun rises tomorrow – Hoping that the idiot isn’t going to the same place as us tomorrow. He is a typical loud mouthed American who makes the ruins the reputation that most of the good friends we have made from America have built up.

After an early night we both had a really good nights sleep and woke up early in the morning – not because of the daylight as it was still dark, but because the pillocks who were in the hut obviously don’t realise just how much noise you can make by trying too hard to be quiet!! Me and Rich got our stuff packed away pretty quickly and 15 minutes after getting up we said goodbye to Tod and Stefan who were getting ready downstairs and headed out into the darkness. It didn’t take long for dawn to start and we walked happily into the morning light. It was a glorious morning and soon after we started walking we rounded a bend in the track and came across the 174m high Earland waterfalls. The power of the water was amazing and the spray off the falls wet us through.

We continued on up and through the forest until we reached open ground. The scenery was getting better and better as we got higher and kept taking our breath away. Eventually we reached our first stop of the day at the next hut along the track. We had done an estimated 4 hour walk in just under 3 hours, so were doing well. This hut had the clearest and stillest lake next to it that I have ever seen. The water was so clear that you could see right down to the bottom from quite a way away from the lakes edge and the reflections of the mountains and sky were simply stunning. We had a rest, took a few photos and continued on. For the rest of the morning it was a steady climb with some hazardous big drops to one side or the other, but on the whole the climb was relatively simple and good fun – especially as we seemed to be overtaking other walkers all the time.

We caught up with Waheed just before the Harris Saddle hut, which marks the highest point of the actual trail itself and when we reached the hut itself, we met up with Buffy and Lindsey. Rich decided to have a rest, but I joined Buffy and Lindsey to take on the Conical peak walk – which took us up the next peak and added about 1-2hours onto the day. Even though Lindsey is scared of heights she did really well to scale the peak and we spent a good half an hour at the top taking jump shots and admiring the fantastic view. It was then time to descend and continue towards the last two huts of the day. The three of us enjoyed a good 3 hours together and a great walk, mainly downwards until we finally reached the hut at Routeburn flats. Unfortunately, me and Rich are camping, while Lindsey, Buffy and Waheed are in the huts itself – we really should have booked earlier! But the camp site is fine, apart from the jobs-worth hut staff, not even letting us sit inside the hut to keep warm. I am at the moment sitting by my tent getting bit by sand-flies and enjoying the spectacular valley views while typing this -but the wind is bloody cold!!

All in all it has been a long but fantastic day, with beautiful views of the lakes, mountains and valleys along the route. I would recommend this walk to anyone as once again it is hard to do it justice by just writing about it and taking photographs. New Zealand really is an amazing country and a beautiful place and is definitely on my list of places to return to!

After a bit of dinner in the outside kitchen we all sat around chatting and watched another bit of Celebrity Juice on the net-book. This time we weren’t disturbed though and we were even joined by a German girl who was also camping there. It had been a long day and so we had an early night and were in bed by 10pm.

It was an early rise and we had the tent away by 7.30am. It was then a short 2hour walk v=back down the valley (although I did run a lit of it) before we reached the end car park. After taking an after picture of the group, we were picked up by a bus and taken on the 1 ½ hour drive down the valley to Queenstown. Most people had a good sleep on the way but I spent the time looking out of the window taking in the beautiful morning and the views over the lakes.

We reached Queenstown and were dropped off right in the centre of town, where a short time later we were joined by the rest of the flying Kiwis – We swapped our stories of climbing and beautiful views with their stories of lazing around the lake and fish and chip dinners. It was really nice to get back together with Becky, Sabine, Dan and Ben plus the others. It was then a 5 minute drive up the hill to tonight’s camp site.

Myself, Lindsey and Waheed agreed to get an upgrade and share a family room, with Lindsey getting the bedroom, while Waheed had the double bed and I had a mattress. It was well worth the extra money though to have a private bathroom and enough room to throw our stuff all over the place and sort it out after doing laundry. Some of the bussers went off to do an afternoon bungy jump while others wandered into town or just mellowed out. I mellowed out myself and got an hours sleep before we go out on the town tonight.

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