24 February 2018
I spent Thursday 22 February wandering around Auckland, then flew to Queenstown on the South Island Friday morning. Queenstown is a tourist town, similar to North Lake Tahoe, with skiing in the winter, adventure sports in the summer, and severe traffic problems all year. I was glad to get out of there this morning and begin hiking the Routeburn Track.
It begins in the flats and winds through beautiful Beech forest along a stream. Moss and ferns cover the ground, and bright green lichen grows on many of the ancient trees. As the route begins to climb there are numerous waterfalls.
Today was a beautiful day, but a severe gale (120kph winds) and heavy rain are forecast for tomorrow and they may close the track.
As usual the weather forecast was worse than the actual weather – the winds were just 110kph and there was 10 inches of rain, not 12. I left the Routeburn Falls Hut with Peter from Wellington and Amy from Sydney just before 8am. We wanted to be gone before they decided whether to close the track or not (it did remain open).
It was a wet and windy climb up to the Harris Saddle (about 2000 ft elevation gain) where we stopped briefly at the shelter to warm up.Once we left the shelter and walked along the ridge the winds were ferocious. The track is above the treeline until just before the the next hut so there is nothing to break the wind, and when traversing around exposed outcroppings one had to brace or grab on to something to keep from being blown off the edge of the track by strong wind gusts. But it wasn’t horrible, and we all agreed it was an invigorating hike.
We were the first to arrive at the MacKenzie Hut at 11:30. Peter decided to continue on to the next hut. We started a fire in the wood stove and soon more hikers started straggling in, progressively wetter and more bedraggled as the afternoon wore on. By late afternoon there were wet boots and clothes strewn everywhere. It was commonly agreed that there is no such thing as a waterproof boot.
I’ve been reading a book about swimming, The Haunts of the Black Masseur, which led to a conversation about Goethe (an avid swimmer), and then the parable of the tortoise and the hare. Yesterday several people were running or walking across the track in one day – it’s only 20 miles. We backpackers with our heavy loads take three days. The person I was talking with had the unique perspective that we were like the tortoise in that we were trying to carry our home on our back, while the trail runners carried nothing, like the hare. I don’t think I’m really meant to be a tortoise.
An American who had walked in from the other direction told us he had waded through a raging stream up to his waist and practically swept to his death. An Australian sitting nearby said she’d walked through the same stream at about the same time and barely got her feet wet. We Americans are really getting a bad reputation as drama queens.
We left around 8am. It was a glorious day and the payoff for the weather the previous day was incredible waterfalls all along the track.
We reached the end of the track by 11. My shuttle wasn’t scheduled until 3pm. I got to talking with this guy who shuttles cars between the two ends of the track for hikers. If he only has one car to shuttle he runs back across the track to pick up his car, which takes him about 5 hours. He offered to give me a ride to Te Anau. As we pulled out of the parking lot there were two hitchhikers who turned out to be these German doctors I’d met the night before, so he gave them a ride as well. Later in the evening I ran into the German doctors again in Te Anau and they told me they were camping in the backyard of the hostel. I can’t visualize my doctor doing this. I need a new doctor.