Queenstown to Queenstown

New Zealand

We’re back!

Since the last post, Carrie and I have been on a number of fantastic adventures. The first was a four-day hike into the New Zealand backcountry on the Rees-Dart Track. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of our hike because I didn’t want to lug the camera. The idea was to bring only what was essential because my knees have a history of giving me trouble on long walks.

On DAY 35 we cycled from Queenstown to the village of Glenorchy, our launch pad for the Rees-Dart. The ride featured endless hills that were tough but the amazing scenery kept us inspired. When we arrived we went straight to the Department of Conservation office to buy our hut tickets for the track. The DoC lady warned us that nasty weather was on the horizon and that during rainstorms some of the streams on the track could become impassible and the alpine pass could be covered in snow. We bought the hut tickets anyway. How bad could it really be?

On DAY 36 we boarded a shuttle bus with only four other brave/naive souls to the head of the track: Nao from Japan and Anna, Aaron and Pam from the US. We had a laugh because all of us hadn’t met that many other Americans during our holidays. We agreed that the Germans outnumbered everyone, probably even Kiwis.

Despite the DoC lady’s warnings, the weather that day, and as luck would have it every day during our hike, was nearly rain-free. Yes, the weather gods were kind to us the next four days as we hiked about 55km through dense and damp beech forest, up and over an alpine pass and through river beds and marshes. The great feature of the Rees-Dart is that the trail is not well maintained or graded. You almost actually feel like you’re exploring virgin countryside, that is until you reach the hut at the end of each day.

The backcountry hut system in New Zealand is impressive. They give camping just a taste of comfort after a long day of walking. The huts in New Zealand range in quality from actual simple one-room shacks to large cabins complete with gas ranges, bunk beds with mattresses and flush toilets. It’s great because you don’t have to lug around a tent and you always have a dry place to sleep, which is really important in New Zealand’s southwest corner, which can receive about 24 feet of rain a year.

Although Carrie and I were on a Ibuprofen schedule after the second day due to my achy knee and Carrie’s achy muscles and blistering feet, we still had a wonderful time. It was also nice because the few people we shared the huts with were good company. We actually met up with Anna and Aaron back in Queenstown after the hike to celebrate with some really tasty pizza and beer.

Now where are we? On March 20 (DAY 40) we took the day off in Queenstown to plan our next foray. Carrie and I wanted to visit the famed Milford Sound but knew we didn’t have enough time to cycle there so we decided to rent a car for a few days to see the sights along the way. So on DAY 41 we rented a tiny hatchback we dubbed Dinky. Dinky was great. Her steering wheel was on the wrong side and I had to shift her gears with my left hand, but hey, we survived. And we saw the Milford Sound, a large fjord in the middle of Fjordland National Park and one of the largest tourist attractions in the country, and it was nice but really didn’t deserve all of the hype. What was most impressive though was the Homer Tunnel.

In 1935, as a way to fight the Depression, the New Zealand government organized a work camp to dig 1.5 kilometers through a massive rock face to create a tunnel so tourists could access the Milford Sound in busloads in the future. It took scores of diggers and machines working around the clock five years to reach the other side. Now, as those clever politician predicted, busloads of tourists visit the fjord every day.

Before I stop writing, I just have to mention one reason why New Zealand is wonderful. After our hike on the Rees-Dart, I worried that my achy knee might prevent me from riding my bike. Out of curiosity, I wanted to check how much a visit to a physiotherapist would cost. So in Queenstown I popped into a physio office, made an appointment for an hour later and asked about the cost. For NZ$60 (about US$42) a physiotherapist would see me. $42! After a 30-minute session, I learned that I just needed to do a certain stretch and my knee would be fine. I could ride again! I can’t even imagine how much that knowledge would cost in the US, especially for a foreigner without health insurance.

This will be the last post for about a week again. After two days on the bike, Carrie and I are going hiking in the backcountry again. Check out the Kepler Track. This time I plan on bringing the camera.