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Queenstown, Routeburn Track and Milford Sound

all seasons in one day 15 °C
View Asian and Australasian Adventure on RichardJoy's travel map.

The next morning we drove into Queenstown! Just on the outskirts however, we stopped to use the ‘facilities’ at the Kawarau Bridge and what we didn’t know when we pulled up was that it was the home of the AJ Hackett Bunjee Centre! We wandered in and watched a few brave souls doing their jumps for a while but decided it was too expensive for roughly 10 seconds of fun!

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As we drove closer to Qtown we were amazed to see the Remarkables which loom over the town. They really are remarkable (cue many jokes of a similar standard to our ‘it’s GORGEous’ joke.) We decided to treat ourselves to two nights in a posh campsite in town as we wanted to be where the fun was and we had reached a point where it felt necessary to inform people of our whereabouts via email. When we were settled into the campsite we went for a wander round the town and treated ourselves to some new playing cards (plastic ones!) and a chess set which was to cause myriad arguments in the future. That night we decided to hit the town for a couple and managed to enjoy two nice bars – one on the lakefront which had a live covers band on and then Dux de Lux round the corner which had another live band on. On the beer menu we saw a homebrew called 'Ginger Tom' so in homage to our friend (who didn't come to meet us in Australia) ginger Tom we had to have one, sadly it was disgusting and we spent the rest of the night cursing Tom! We had lots of fun but sadly after a couple of pints managed to persuade ourselves it was a good idea to go to a backpackery bar not far from the campsite. We had a dance and a couple more drinks but it was a bit of a meat market – though entertainingly some geeky American guys were having a good dance on the bar. This kept us entertained for twenty minutes or so before we wandered back to the campsite to hit the hay.

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The next day we weren’t up to much but we did see a biplane doing some cool tricks in the air above the campsite! We also popped back into town to get Richard a billy-can for his 3 day walk.

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On leaving Queenstown for Glenorchy (where Richard would begin his walk) we stopped off at Arrowtown which is recommended in our Rough Guide. It was terribly dull – the only shops there were for souvenirs. Despite its attempts to seem quirky with all colonial style facades on the shops we don’t recommend going there! We couldn’t even summon the interest to take any photographs! Apparently there was a significant Chinese settlement there at some point so if this floats your boat then maybe it is worth a look. We decided to cruise to Glenorchy fairly swiftly, opting to stay overnight covertly at the beginning of the Routeburn track. We said our goodbyes and Off Ricky went!

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Joy’s events:

When left on my tod by Ray.. I mean Richard I decided to clean out the camper as it was starting to grow mould and where there wasn’t mould there was sand and general detritus! I stuffed all Richard’s belongings into his allocated cupboard and cruised back to Queenstown to enjoy a few days of leisure and peace! On the first evening I parked up at the more pricy caravan park in Qtown which offers spas and saunas for a half decent price. However, as the campsite cost the same for one person as the other had cost for the both of us I decided to give this a miss! I wandered into town to have a look around but much to my dismay (as there was no-one there to tell me off) I couldn’t find anything I wanted to buy!

The next day I decided to wander to the Queenstown Gardens to watch people playing Frisbee golf. I didn’t fancy a game as a billy-no mates but got some good photos on my little digital camera. I then decided to start the drive towards Milford where I would be picking Richard up, stopping at a little DOC campsite about 30km away from the end of the Routeburn track. I cruised to the end of the track early in the morning in case Richard turned up early and watched Rebel Without a Cause on the laptop ‘til I was rudely disturbed by a grubby and rather malnourished looking Richard.

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Richard’s events:

The start of the Routeburn was characterised bylight rain and fog through Beech forest and the weather was to stay the same for most of the trip in varying degrees. For the first hour the track climbed steadily through the forest always in earshot of the river, the Routeburn, but never quite in sight. The main interest was some tiny birds I kept seeing, not much bigger than a squash ball, darting about the rocks and ferns. I later found out they were a Rock Wren and were very hard to catch in a photograph due to them flitting about.

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After a very steep climb the sound of the water was overpowering and eventually a water/gorge came into view which was roaring due to the amount of rain over the last few days. The track levelled out for a while as it followed the river and I plodded along taking photographs of a mass of trees carried downstream during a flood all stacked up and a waterfall which fell almost directly onto the track. I crossed two swing bridges over the river and eventually the Hollyford Valley came into view which is the site of the first hut, Routeburn Flats Hut. My back was killing by this time even though I had only been walking for 2 hours. This was due to using a Joy’s bag which isn’t meant for walking with! Unfortunately I wasn’t staying at this hut but I stopped for lunch as the rain had got heavier and when the clouds cleared there were nice views over the valley and river.

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Over lunch I met a Dutchman named Kees who would turn out to be my bunk mate that night. We had a chat about the day but I decided to get going after half an hour to get the walk out the way. During the second section of the walk I met more people on the track and was getting some funny looks due to wearing shorts and a t-shirt while everyone else seemed to have waterproof trousers, waterproof coats, hats and gloves on. It really wasn’t that cold and in the cover of the forest you didn’t really get that wet so I was probably giving equally strange looks to them!

This section of the track was a lot steeper, the only thing worth noting was a Lorikeet I saw which was green with a red head and yellow ‘eyebrows’, it was really small and it’s apparently quite rare to see them but by the time I had got my camera ready and looked back up it was gone, merged into the forest. The next landmark after about half an hour’s climb was Emily’s Creek, noted as the halfway point to the Routeburn Falls Hut, the site of my bed. Shortly after the creek was the site of a landslide in 1994 which had destroyed a 200 metre section of the track and a lot of forest. It did however offer good views down into the valley with all the trees gone. Due to being quite exposed the rain was worse here but I did manage to get some photos including one of myself looking stupid!

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After this it was a relatively short walk to the hut which just loomed out of the forest much to my joy. I was the second person to arrive and had free choice of beds and drying spots next to the fire. The hut was very new and was situated at the top of the tree line next to a huge waterfall, I imagine it would have been a very nice scene if I could have seen it! I had been walking for 3 hours and it was only 1pm so there was a lot of time to kill that afternoon, I decided to use this time eating a huge amount of food to make my pack lighter. It was nice to be sitting in dry warm clothes with cuppasoup in hand and watching lots of sodden people arrive (mainly those who had walked the opposite direction across the summit).

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The night the hut warden came round about 7pm to give a talk on weather and safety. I had seen a huge banner on the wall which contained the saying ‘Happy Christmas, enjoy your time on the Routeburn’ in 34 different languages and at the end of the warden’s talk we were given the task of figuring out 25 of the languages in return for a block of Cadbury’s. Me and Kees teamed up with Doron (an Israeli) and Ronald and Peter (two other Dutchmen) to take on this task. Luckily they were very clever and figured out all of them, I got English and Welsh! We won in the end by getting exactly 25, we shared it with everyone as we had had a lot of help getting ones such as Swahili and Basque. It made for an entertaining evening anyway but sadly everyone retired at about 9pm and I was left feeling wide awake so I listened to some podcasts and read until about 1am.

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The next morning I was rudely awakened at 7am by 47 people all rushing about to get wet again. I groaned, got up and walked into the kitchen to brew up and eat a cereal bar. As soon as I smelled it I screamed “WHO IS COOKING BACON?!?!?!” This received a few laughs and groans and we all went back to our cereal bars. In hindsight I should have organised a lynch mob.

For some reason I had lots of energy on the second day and set off around 9:30 towards Harris Saddle where the track reaches its highest point and there is a shelter to get out of the rain and eat lunch. I got my head down on this section and took a few pictures before deciding it was not good for my camera. As it was raining heavily I decided to put a podcast on and opted for Stephen Fry. This was about an hour long and it finished about 2 minutes before I reached the shelter. Perfect timing! I stopped for some crackers and Laughing Cow and salami sticks and continued on my after chatting to Peter, Ronald and some Aussies doing their Duke of Edinburgh award, I was pleased to see the Aussies were also in shorts!

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So far the $39.99 boots had held up in the puddles but on this day the paths had turned into streams almost all of the way. I had avoided the puddles up until the shelter but shortly after my left foot got swamped and I decided to just go for it from then on. The boots were so poorly made that the water was squirting out with every step. For some reason I had boundless energy (maybe it was the scroggin) and was running the less scary sections when upbeat music came on the iPod. The track rounded a bluff and there was the hut (Lake Mackenzie Hut) next to a beautiful emerald lake but unfortunately it was 500 metres below me and I had to zigzag down the hill for half an hour entering once again into forest.

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I arrived at the hut to find it empty but the warden had kindly started the fire which I stoked up and put my wet clothes in prime position on the racks. I secured one of the bunk beds as most of them were in a row with no dividers which didn’t really take my fancy. Me and my cuppasoup were joined after half an hour by a dripping English man Ben, he had carried all his travelling belongings in a 90 litre bag and was looking very tired, later he sliced his finger open cutting cheese with his penknife, a clumsy man indeed!

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Slowly people began to arrive and I read my book and took photos of the lake until 7pm when this hut’s warden was due to give a speech. Doron (the Israeli) had met someone walking the other way who warned him the warden liked to talk for a long time. We prayed there had been a shift change but sadly not. He rambled on about the local flora and fauna for an hour and then attempted an April Fool (it being April 1st) which was scuppered in the first 20 seconds. His speech ended at 8.30 after a harrowing story of a party of school children, two had died of pneumonia, whilst on the zigzag section I had walked earlier that day.

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After this ended Doron invited me to play some cards and drink sweet tea with him and 3 other Israeli’s which was interesting and added a new card game to our repertoire called Yanev. We played until the lights went out at 10 and everyone retired. I decided once again to stay up reading by the fire by headtorch but again was unable to sleep very well because it was so early!

Unsurprisingly in the morning I was awakened at 7am. I had no reason to hang around today as Joy would hopefully be waiting for me at the end of the track so I got ready, opting to wear my walking shoes instead of the wet boots and set off. The rain wasn’t so bad today and again the trees were offering cover so I made good progress. The main highlights were Israeli creek, aptly named after an Israeli couple who fell and were stranded on a rock precipice for 2 days before being spotted by a walker, Earland Falls which was huge but there was so much spray it was hard to get photos and an area of forest which looked like something out of this world, like an enchanted forest or something similar with orange moss growing everywhere.

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I stopped at Howden Hut for lunch before the short half an hour walk to the car park. Towards the end I could hear a strange rumbling noise and then something white appeared out of the fog... I eventually realised it was a lorry. Back to civilisation then! I walked out into the car park at The Divide and knocked on the camper much to the annoyance of Joy who was watching something on the laptop.

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On the road again:

When Richard arrived back from his walk safe and sound we decided to cruise up to Milford Sound to have a look! It was a pretty grim and overcast day – Milford Sound is one of the rainiest places on earth! We had a little wander around the bay and we imagine it would have been really nice on a fine day to take a boat cruise but as it was thick with mist and fog we decided to forego it. Driving back we stopped at an area called ‘The Chasm’. We also stopped at ‘Mirror Lake’ but for the umpteenth time on our trip it was too foggy and rainy to get any good photo ops on this so-called Mirror Lake.

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So ended our time in Fiordland! Next stop would be the Catlins and hopefully some sunshine!

Posted by RichardJoy 22:35 Archived in New Zealand Tagged backpacking

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