Sunday, January 20, 2013

NZ: Caples, Greenstone, Routeburn, and (a bit of the) Rockburn Tracks

I started going through my photos, and created a massive set (113) at my Flickr site.  I'm not up for writing diary-type entries on this trip given (1) it takes too much time, (2) there were a lot of people out there with more intense and interesting itineraries, and (3) it was a bit too much to see too quickly.  Well, at least the photos look pretty good - it's almost hard to take a bad photo in southwest New Zealand.  For example, this is from the campground in Te Anau I stayed at before going backpacking - just a quick shot before I was really awake:


Really?

The highlight was getting up above the Hollyford Valley on the Routeburn Track.  The reason so many people hike the Routeburn is to hike that long ridge on a good trail - it's totally unique for New Zealand.  It was clouded in, with clouds rushing around in every direction, and I put my pack down to get something out.  I turned around, and there was this:





It was awesome, and within fifteen minutes a front came screaming in, the views were gone, and it was raining.  I've never seen a storm move so fast - ever, anywhere.

I also really enjoyed the Greenstone Track - it was definitely in my comfort zone of fast, easy hiking in a valley that looked like home:


Complete with hundreds of cows:


But we don't have extreme swing bridges at home:



Or forests like this:


The Caples Track was odd - it's known as a pretty rough climb/descent, but the DOC was blasting in a very wide new trail.  They airlifted in two backhoes, and they were working away - taking time to blow up rocks from time to time:



I was unclear on the purpose - someone told me it was to make the Caples Track the standard "return" back from the Routeburn, but it seemed like an extreme decision.

It was a social trip - I spent time talking to other trampers every night.  The best conversation was with a Polish-Australian man that delved right into travel philosophy (never book ahead, I'm wasting my time with too much mileage on standard "tourist" routes, etc.), economics/fiscal policy, the Australian mining bubble, and more.

After three days of hard hiking, my lingering foot injury was bothering me, and I was able to take an easier day on the Rockburn Track.  This felt a bit more like real New Zealand tramping - an example of the trail:


The blue marker in there is for a line of rodent traps - helps to keep the outbreaks down.  I got to the Rock Burn Hut, but it had been partially crushed by trees five days earlier:


There had been a guy sleeping in there, but he was unhurt - I can only imagine the surprise.  I set my little tent up on the Dart River for a slow day of enjoying the sights:



But not the sandflies - here congregating on my backpack:


I couldn't get a good photo of the Rock Burn Chasm, an incredible little gap through which the river flows maybe 150 feet below:

  
Some guided people in duckies (they call them "funyaks" here) arrived to enjoy said Chasm:


And I in turn enjoyed watching the jet boats zip up and down the river.

The next day I had my best view of the entire trip on the van ride to Queenstown:


If you ever have time to make it to Glenorchy, New Zealand (on a clear day), you won't regret the trip.

I spent my last night of the trip wandering Queenstown.  It's wildly effusive in a really unique way - a whole town acting sloppily drunk, but polite at the same time; fashionable yet thrown together.  It felt right - I didn't think I'd like Queenstown, but I really did.  Then it was back to Dunedin on an early bus, my camera battery ran out, and it's time to think about how to get back up into those mountains again.

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