Eli and I went on an overnight hike in Fiordland National Park. We hiked the Routeburn track because it is one of New Zealand's "10 Great Walks." Due to heavy snow this past winter there was an avalanche blocking a part of the trail. Unfortunatley this meant we would have to pay $55 each for a "heli lift" (helicopter) to do the whole track. We opted not to do the heli lift and instead hiked up as far as we could and hiked back down. Day 1 - was overcast without rain and the views were mostly visible showing us glacially carved valleys and waterfalls. We set up our tent and a beautiful mountain lake surrounded by snow-capped peaks.
New Zealand has a great network of mountain huts for the multi-day hikes which most people take advantage of. They are simple but nice including a wood burning stove, gas cookers and bunks to sleep in. This leaves the campsites for us tent sleepers pleasantly uncrowdded...we are usually the only tent around. Since the Routeburn is one of the "Great Walks" the huts were $45 per person per night. We had pay $15 each to camp outside.
Day 2 - we woke in the morning to a steady drizzle which always makes getting out of the tent even more difficult. We ate our standard bagels and coffee in the little shelter area before packing up our tent that never seems to dry out. The hike down to the trail head was soggy and foggy all the way down. We got especially drenched as we passed near a 500 foot waterfall that seemed to double in force and volume from the day before.
I counted 85 streams that we crossed over that day during the 4 hours we hiked. Good thing for Gortex (waterproof) shoes but I can't say the same for the rest of our clothing. We reached our car in record time, quickly put on dry clothes, and scarfed down some lunch (granola bars, summer saugage, cheese, oranges). We debated about going to Milford Sound with the bad weather but we also knew we could not pass it up. Along the 1.5 hr drive to Milford sound we stopped to watch some curious Kea's trying to find ways into parked cars. These alpine parrots were much bigger than I expected. I love them. When we got to the Sound, it was shrouded in clouds so we had some coffee in a nearby cafe to wait it out. Sure enough, after a little while the rains stopped, the clouds partially lifted and we could see the beautiful Fiords of Milford Sound.
The one redeming quality about all of the rain was that it created literally hundreds of waterfalls streaming down the cliffed areas. We stopped at least dozen times on the drive back from the Sound to see the spectacular snow-capped mountains that we missed on the way in.
Eli couldn't take enough pictures! Definitley one of the most beautiful places we have ever seen. For dinner, since we were on a roll with poor food choices for the day, we regretably stopped to get some "takeaway" (take out). Takeaway is always the cheapest but always fried. With our fingers and lips glistening, we headed east to find showers and a place to rest our heads. We stayed in Gore, the "Brown Trout Fishing Captial of the World." We splurged for a cabin (double bed in a brick bomb shelter looking room) and it was everything we needed. Eli says the smell and style reminded him of his Grandma Everman's basement. He felt at home.
Our primary mission for heading east was so I could see some penguins. We drove out to Moeraki's lighthouse and perched in a camouflage shelter and waited with binoculaurs. After 20 minutes or so, out hopped a belly bulging rare yellow-eyed penguin! Shorlty after we saw a second. I think they were boyfriend and girlfriend.
Also along Moeraki beach we snapped some photos of the infamous round boulders. Eli thinks they are actually alien eggs waiting to unhatch on an unexpecting tourits. They do seem like they are from out of this world.
That evening while camping some of the surrounding campers invited us to their picnic table for some wine. By the end of the night, our group grew to include 4 Israelis, 2 Belguins, a German, and a Kiwi. Sadly I decided to retire to bed when the rain started and after I discoved I was the oldest one at the table. The Israelis were not shy about telling me how old I am. It was a great time to be in the company of diverisity yet sharing the same passions for travel, wine, and music. We even had a "knockin on heaven's door" jam session when one of the Israel's busted out his guitar. Apparently everyone knows Bob Dylan.
The following morning, Sunday, we made a bee-line inland to Mt Cook National Park. What a glorious cloud free sunshiney day. We went for an easy 3 hr hike the base of the mountain where we skipped some rocks and basked in the sun. Being in God's magnificent creation was our church for the day. Our campspot had a great view of the surrounding glacier covered mountains. During the night I woke up to the sound of some growling avalanches in the distance, which apperently is very common in that area. Around 4 am the wind and rain started. Eli was worried about the tent being flattened by the violent gusts so by 5am we packed up and started our Monday. This day we drove to a place called Castle Hill. This place is a series of grassy hills with scattered boulders, some as big as houses. We spent an hour or so jumping and climbing like kids on a playground. Another surprisingly magical place.
Our time in New Zealand is now winding down. When we first arrived, I was a little anxoius and had some restless nights thinking about living life on the road and out of our tent. Now I am glad to say that I am adapting well and have found some routine in our currently non-routine lifestyle. At night, I take comfort in our trusty tent and my faithful sleeping bag and I can sleep easy. Luckily I have Eli next to me everystep of the way to hold my hand and encourage me.
We will spend one more full day in Christchurch before heading off to Australia. We are sad to leave such a wonderful place but of course we are excited to see a new country and a familar face. We will be spending a couple of days with our friend Rachel that we know from High School. She let me know that she is planning to have Thanksgiving while we are there.