We’ve got a lot of ground to cover in this post, so I’ll just jump right in:
After sitting in a car for the past few days visiting the Milford Sound (DAYS 41-43), Carrie and I were both eager to be active again. This is one of the real pleasures of cycle touring; you get to see the sights and you feel great/exhausted/hungry at the end of the day. We returned to Queenstown again for what seemed to be the millionth time and hatched our plans how to get to the lakeside village of Te Anau to start the Kepler Track.
The best plan we could come up with was to take a ferry across lake Te Anau and cycle about 65km on gravel road as a “shortcut” to Te Anau the town. Well, the shortcut was brutal. Because we have vertically-challenged wheels, gravel roads nearly rattle our poor skeletons apart.
The ferry ride across the lake was nice though. The only vessel that ferries people from Queenstown to Walter Peak Station (the other side of the lake) is a great old steamship that’s been floating since 1911.
From Walter Peak we cycled for about 35km on jarring roads to a beautiful campsite beside Mavora Lakes. On DAY 45, after a few near spills, two forded creeks and a whole lotta shakin goin on, we slumped for joy as we touched sealed pavement again just 20km shy of Te Anau. The remaining ride featured a healthy headwind but no big hills. We were glad to be done with that leg of the journey. Carrie and I vowed to avoid cycling on gravel roads for the rest of our lives (well maybe until next summer when we cycle around Iceland!!!).
On DAY 46 we started walking the Kepler Track, one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks”, a pretty boring label if you ask me. If New Zealand really wanted to sex up its image, I think they should call the great walks “Super Tramps”. Visit New Zealand, it’s super freaky.
On day one of the Kepler Track, we hiked up countless switchbacks through beech tree forest to reach treeline, where for the next 45 minutes to the first hut we were walking above the clouds. Mountaintops appeared out of the mist as if the world below us was flooding. When we reached the hut, about 45 other sweaty, smelly hikers greeted us. The hut was at near capacity, which is no surprise because of the track’s “great walk” status, but it was a bit of a letdown. When you go out hiking, it’s nice to get away from people. The hut did however have great views of the fjordland area (I know I said I’d bring my camera, but I didn’t. The thing is a brick).
On the second day of the walk we hiked along ridgelines above treeline that offered more splendid views. We also encountered a few keas, the mischievous mountain parrots that call the New Zealand alpines their home. The birds are a protected species and they know it. Keas like nothing more than to rip open a tent or backpack with their sharp beaks and claws to get at a hiker’s precious food supply. After walking on the ridgelines, we then plummeted down a series of knee-achy switchbacks back into beech forest to the second hut.
From the second hut, we had a long but easy 24km walk to a parking lot where a shuttle picked our weary butts up and headed back to Te Anau. We completed our second walk without a single day of real rain. In New Zealand, and especially in the fjordland area, this is a real feat. I know this is just asking for trouble, but we’ve only cycled two days in the rain so far (knocking on wood). It’s rained a bunch during the nights, but our days have been dry.
On DAY 49 we did a short 20km roll from Te Anau to Manapouri as a day off after the Kepler and as an escape to a nice, quiet village. Before we left though we had a major brainstorm session in order to figure out what our plans were for the remaining five weeks of our trip. Carrie and I couldn’t decide whether to head south to walk the Hump Ridge Track and then take a bus back to Queenstown to head to the west coast or to just go straight to the west coast, which is supposed to offer some of New Zealand’s finest and wettest scenery. After the dust settled, we decided to try one more walk before leaving. The Hump Ridge Track is a rare beast in that it is privately run. It opened just a few years ago, so we haven’t met anyone who’s hiked it. That made us a little reluctant at first, but also kept us interested; it would be great to do another walk where we weren’t competing with a mob of other people for the best bunks and eating space in the kitchen.
From Manapouri we cycled 80km to Tuatapere (DAY 50), which turned out to be a notable ride. For one, the weather was pleasant: overcast and calm with only the slightest of tailwinds. Most of the road was slightly downhill (except for one major hill), which made the kilometers go by quickly. During the ride Carrie and I were passing some cow farms when we came upon a few cows who’d found a hole in the fence and were feeding on grass on the side of the road. When the cows got a look at us they started running. The wisest cows just hopped over the broken fence, but two cows didn’t like that idea. Instead they sprinted down the road ahead of us causing a few drivers that passed us to slam on their brakes to avoid making ground chuck on the road. The closer we got to the cows the further down the road they ran. We herded those cows for about a kilometer before one cow decided to bulldoze through another fence and the second one just got tired and accepted fate. We passed it and it sighed a big sigh and then went back to eating the grass on the side of the road.
About ten minutes later I almost ran over a stoat as it shot across the road back into hiding. The stoat is an introduced species and is hated by pretty much all of New Zealand. The only mammal native to New Zealand is the bat. Stoats are bad because they like nothing more than to eat bird eggs and chicks. The stoats are so good at eating bird eggs in fact that they’ve helped to nearly wipe about several species including the kiwi, kaka and takahe, birds that are only found in New Zealand. The Department of Conservation has a most wanted list of vermin it is trying to eradicate from the country, including the possum, mouse, rat, ferret and even deer.
We spent DAY 51, March 31, resting in Tuatapere and preparing to walk the Hump Ridge Track. The track is 55km long spread out over three days of hiking. We rose early the next day (DAY 52) to catch the shuttle that would drop us off at the trailhead. From the trailhead, we spent about 2.5 hours walking along a beautiful beach on the south coast before ascending for the next four hours to the first hut on the Hump Ridge, which offered no commanding views because we were literally walking in a rain cloud. We arrived at the hut sopping wet but we were feeling good. A bit of quick soup warmed us up as Tim the hut warden and only five other hikers and us chatted in common room.
One of the main draws to the Hump Track is the one-hour loop trip above treeline that features huge rock formations called tors. The tors and the ridge itself were created by two plates in the earth pushing against one another. Tim thought a break in the weather would be a good time to give us a guided tour of the tors, so we put on our wet shoes and socks and went for another walk. By the time we got to the tors, the wind was howling and the rain was attacking us from the side. Carrie couldn’t see a thing because she didn’t have wipers for her glasses so we decided to try again in the morning if the weather cleared.
Come morning the sun was rising on a beautiful clear day. After a bowl of yummy complimentary porridge, Carrie and I quickly dressed to go visit the tors. It was a race because we could see clouds approaching. As the sun rose higher and the air warmed, the clouds grew thicker and we could see the tors starting to fade in the haze. We had to act fast. Carrie and I ran up the hill as fast as our tired legs and helpless lungs could take us, but the forces of nature were faster. We arrived at the tors among the clouds again. It was calmer and clearer than the day before though, so we still got a good chance to admire the strange landscape.
We went back to the hut to grab our backpacks to spend a full day going along the Hump Ridge and then back down to the beach, where we’d spend the night in an old schoolhouse in a ghost town called Port Craig that was abandoned in the ’30s after a local logging plan failed. Relics of the company town were scattered around the area, including rusty bits from old milling machines and crumbling brick walls from houses. The walk also featured three wooden viaducts that used to allow trains to access the logging areas. The Percy Burn viaduct is supposedly the longest in the world. What was more impressive was how tall it was. As Carrie and I crossed the viaduct we bravely looked over the edge to see a tiny creek flowing to the ocean about 100 feet below.
The brings us to the last day of this post! Thanks for hanging in there. I know there’s way too much to read and not enough pictures. Next time I’m bringing a nice, small point-n-shoot.
On DAY 54 we finished our hike and all we could think about was ice cream. We got some ice cream when we got back to town. For dinner Carrie had two quesadillas, lots of beans in tomato sauce, four cookies and nearly a liter of milk! How’s that for a meal?