Sunday, 26 April 2015

Queenstown and Ben Lomond April 16th - 18th

We woke up early and got a hunger buster at McDonalds and a subway sandwich for later and then headed into the woods passed the mountain bike trails towards Ben Lomond. This was supposed to be a stunning track that was said to be 8 to 10 hours return. We headed up through the dark woods and then emerged on a snowy mountainside overlooking Queenstown. Here we saw two Keas (Photo 1), which are large green endangered birds with brilliant orange under their wings known for being mischievous. We stood and watched them for 3 or 4 minutes as they hopped around looking for food coming within a meter of us at times before flying off into the trees ( We continued up to the Ben Lomond stopping for a sandwich break at this saddle. Once refueled we started up the very snowy, slushy, rocky Ben Lomond towards the summit. The snow was mid thigh deep at times and the track was very slippery. After a few hours we finally reached possibly the most incredible summit yet. We were on the tallest peak for a great distance and had a 360-degree view of snowcapped mountains, Lake Wakatipu, and all of Queenstown (Photos 2, 3 and 4). The summit was only maybe 4 meters wide. It was just a single rock above everything on a rocky ridgeline. There was a terrifying cliff in front of us that dropped off a few hundred meters. I had to continue taking deep breaths trying to let in all the beauty, as it was overwhelming in every direction. What an incredible thing to be overwhelmed by! We stayed there until the cold started permeate our layers. We booked it down the mountain stopping for a sandwich break in the saddle again. We then flew through the forest stopping to soak up a view of Lake Wakatipu illuminated by the dusky light in a way that made it all look fake it was so beautiful. Again it was a challenge to take in all the colors, and the sheer depth of the scene in front of me (Photo 5). We made it back to Butterfli watched the sun set (Photos 6 and 7), showered up and then headed into town to grab another Fergburger before going to a pub to grab some drinks. We stayed there for a few hours, Justin beat the bartender in rock paper scissors and got 50% off Jegerbombs which helped us get nice and smiley. We then headed back to Butterfli and played shithead (a card game) For a few hours before heading to bed.

We woke up and headed to an awesome little diner called Arnolds diner for breakfast. After that we walked around town checking out some thrift shops before stopping at the ice rink. David and I had some hot chips and watch playoff hockey while Justin skated. Justin is an incredible hockey player but decided to give it up a few years ago to pursue other passions. We watched him effortlessly and elegantly float through and around kids he was playing pickup with. It was truly stunning. It was an amazing feeling watching a friend who has mastered something express themselves through their passion. Justin could have played overseas but he decided to go to school and become a graphic designer instead. It was incredible to see him in action. After he had gotten his fill we grabbed food to make dinner back at Butterfli. I made us a huge pasta dish with veggies and toast. After dinner we settled in around the dining room table with the whole Butterfli crew and had an amazing night of stories and connection. It had me wanting to stay there for a while. The energy was amazing and it was full. It had me considering getting a yearlong working visa after I graduate and exploring New Zealand or perhaps a new country more deeply. Many of the people staying at Butterfli had lived there for moths and they had created a family feel together. I could easily see doing that at some point in my life. But that is a long time away but it is noted in the back of my mind! The crew headed out to town, we stayed behind as we had an early flight. The air was thick with connection and a feeling of home. We headed to bed satiated on many levels.

The next morning we were up at six. I made huge breakfast of eggs, veggies and musli and then we were off to the airport to fly back to Wellington full from our incredible adventure.

Photo 1 - Kea

Photo 2 - View From Summit Of Ben Lomond

Photo 3 - View From Summit Of Ben Lomond

Photo 4 - The Crew Atop Ben Lomond

Photo 5 - View Of Lake Wakatipu

Photo 6 - Sunset Over Lake Wakatipu

Photo 7 - Sunset View From Tent

Mt. April 14th - 15th

We woke up at 730ish grabbed some breakfast at our breakfast spot and then went by the tiny general store to resupply on food before heading up the main road a few kilometers to towards the Mt. McIntosh trailhead. Both the woman who gave us a rides to our previous tracks had recommended this one. They both said it was an amazing couple day tramp with backcountry huts that were free, old mine shafts and spectacular views and best of all had very light foot traffic.

Sure enough the trailhead was exactly where they said it was! Once finding the beginning we gripped our newly made walking sticks and started up into old scheelite mining country towards snowy ridge lines. Scheelite is the raw material that tungsten comes from and these mines were heavily used around WWII when the price of tungsten skyrocketed due to the need for more gun barrels. Though this was once a busy area these mineshafts have been abandoned for the last 70 years now. Along our tramp we got to see old mine shafts full of rusty rail wheels and water disappearing off into deep darkness (Photo 1). We got to see the old managers lodge that was rusty and decaying yet still felt lived in (Photo 2). There were strange concrete buildings that seemed straight out of a horror movie made for god knows what. The thick heavy metal doors would howl a deep resonant tone when opened that would reverberate through my full being ( We then headed down to a small river before following switchbacks directly up a massive snowy mountainside. The snow got progressively deeper as we gained altitude. About half way up we encountered a pack of gorgeous wild goats that effortlessly scampered up the steep snowy terrain. We stopped of at the McIntyre hut for lunch. This hut was gorgeous with new clean bunks and an amazing view. From here we continued up to the saddle where the snow was now mid calf deep. We continued up the ridgeline another few hours until we reached the McIntosh hut (Photos 3 and 4). This was an old miners hut that had been shifted to a backcountry hut for trampers. It was an amazing old building with an incredible view (Photo 5). There was no wood stove or means of heat in this hut so it was incredibly cold. But even though it was drafty with holes in the roof that allowed for piles of snow to accumulate indoors the thin walls did protect us from the intense winds. We spent the night trying to stay warm, drinking tea, eating dinner and weaving more Harakeke leaves. After dinner and hot chocolate, with extra butter to give our bodies fuel to fight the cold through the night, we were off to bed. It was a cold night that got down to around -10 to -15 degrees C. There were times my -15 degree sleeping bag started to lose the fight against the cold but after a long fight we all made it safely to the morning light. We awoke to find our boots frozen solid and our socks frozen into solid tubes that kept their from when removed from the hooks where we had hung them to dry ( We had a hearty breakfast and then spent a long time trying to open our icy solid shoes enough fit our feet in. Finally we were able to don our frozen footwear and we started down the trail trying to keep our heart rates up to keep our feet warm enough to thaw our shoes. We took a different trail back to the main road that ridge lined the whole way down transitioning from snowy peaks (Photo 6) to a very steep downhill that hugged a small wire fence. This was a very dangerous way down in my opinion and we were surprised that it was marked as a track. We had to grip the fence to prevent ourselves from slipping in the deep snow. We passed Cliffs and areas where a wrong step seemed like it could start a slide that would be hard to recover from. After hours of carefully placed feet we all made it back down below the snowline into alpine sheep pastures. We continued through the green fields and made it back to the main road by around 1pm. Here we decided to hitchhike back to Queenstown where we would spend the last few days before flying back to Wellington. We were unsuccessful for nearly two hours. We went through many different tactics that finally culminated in us standing in a line and sweeping our left arms in a circle one after the other creating a wave and then using our right hand to present the thumbs of our left hand. This was successful! We were picked up by a woman from England who had lived in Glenorchy for the last 35 years and was heading to Queenstown to pick up groceries. She was an absolute delight and got us back to the Butterfli backpackers within the hour!
We checked in and set up our tent (Photo 7) and then headed into town to try a burger at the famous Fergburger. I got the Big Al, which was the biggest burger I have ever seen, which was amazing and incredibly filling! We then headed back to Butterfli and crashed.

Photo 1 - Abandoned Mine Shaft

Photo 2 - Managers Lodge

Photo 3 - McIntosh Hut

Photo 4 - Inside McIntosh Hut

Photo 5 - Photo From In Front Of McIntosh Hut

Photo 6 - View From Ridgeline Track

Photo 7 - Campsite View From Butterfli

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Glenorchy Round 2 - April 13th

We woke up around 8 and headed to our breakfast lodge. As we sat enjoying our food the weather turned to a heavy slushy rain, which added to the cozy vibe of the lodge. After breakfast we went back to our backpackers and the slush turned to snow. We spent a sleepy morning journaling and talking, feeling grateful to be in doors. After a few hours it cleared up and the sun beamed off the fresh snow. We decided to head to the GYC for another amazing massive sandwich and some hot mulled wine. The town cat joined us again for our meal and sat by the woodstove keeping us company (Photo 1). The weather was still gorgeous when we were done so we decided to walk out onto the peninsula at the top of the lake where we had spent time during our first visit in Glenorchy. The view was even more stunning with the snow coming down the beautiful mountains sticking as low as 300 meters. (Photos 2 and 3) From here we decided to do the 2-hour return Glenorchy walkway. Wooden slatted paths stretched out in front of us leading the way through marshy landscape (Photo 4). The foliage eventually opened up into a stunning lagoon full of more black swans than I have ever seen in my life (Photo 5). I would guess that there were over 100 in total gracefully gliding through the clear waters. It was almost too beautiful to believe with the snowy mountains with the sun setting and casting purples and deep blues on the thick clouds as the backdrop (Photos 6 and 7). On our walk back we plucked some leaves from the Harakeke plant, which is often falsely referred to as flax. Moari people have used Harakeke for weaving, rope making and many other things. We finished our night with a pasta dinner and then sat by the fire at the backpackers weaving until sleep allowed our dreams to entertain us until morning light. 

Photo 1 - David With The Town Cat

Photo 2 - View From Peninsula With Snowcapped Mountains

Photo 3 - View From Peninsula With Snowcapped Mountains

Photo 4 - Wooden Walkways Through The Lagoon

Photo 5 - Four Black Swans In Glenorchy Lagoon

Photo 6 - View Of Glenorchy Lagoon

Photo 7 - Panorama Of Glenorchy Lagoon

Friday, 24 April 2015

Rees / Dart Track April 10th - 12th

After breakfast we met our 9am transport to the Rees trailhead. We had hoped to do the full Rees – Dart loop but the Dart track had been closed due to a massive landslide that completely covered the river forming a new lake. The river then found a new way down which washed away the trail. Because of this we decided to do a day up to Shelter Rock hut, then a day up to the saddle and back to the hut, and then a day back to Glenorchy totaling 76 kilometers. There was also a large snowstorm predicted to hit on our exit day and the following day that would make the upper part of the track dangerous.
We set out on a misty, rainy day with very low clouds blocking the surrounding mountains from view. It also felt magical, as the clouds seemed to gently hold us on our journey (Photo 1). The first part of the track was through a very wet bog. Within a few minutes we were soaked to the core with our boots full of muddy water. We trudged through the mid calf deep bog for many kilometers before heading up into the woods. The woods were a deep mossy green (Photo 2) with enormous ferns that seemed fully alive in the misty air. We eventually came out of the forest into a golden field where we passed an incredible waterfall that disappeared into the low clouds. We then continued up to Shelter Rock Hut (Photo 3) where we stayed the night. We made it in only 5 hours (was supposed to take 7-8) so we had the afternoon to relax and dry out. We were the only people at the hut except for the hut warden, Manu. We made a fire in the woodstove, dried out our boots and clothes, drank tea made dinner and relaxed in the warmth before heading to bed.

The next morning we packed only food, water and warm layers for our journey up t the Rees Saddle. We walked through the morning mist gaining altitude until we were above the clouds with only incredible peaks above us (Photo 4). Once we reached the saddle the sky was a crisp clear blue and the sun warmed us through the cool alpine air. After a snack Justin and I decided to try and summit a peak Manu had recommended. David decided to take it easy and sit back and enjoy the view. Justin and I started up a ridgeline and after gaining 400-500 meters and passing a few false summits the mossy mountainside turned into very crumbly loose shale that seemed to continue up to the summit. I made the decision to turn back as it felt too dangerous to continue along this route. We headed down into a steep drainage, had some food, dropped our packs and picked a new route up a different ridgeline that seemed to have moss growing all the way to the summit. We started scrambling up and reached false summit after false summit as the pitch continued to get steeper and steeper. We continued up stopping every now and then only to let the fire in our legs burn down to the low smolder of the embers of adventure. After some time we were sure the summit was only another 100 meters up. We pushed through the pain and wobbly legs and pushed our weary bodies towards the summit line. As we neared it the mountain seemed to unfold in front of my eyes showing another 100 meters or so to the next ridgeline. It was another false summit. Here the pitch grew from roughly 45 degrees to more like 55 to 60 degrees. And the moss we had been clinging to for support gave way to a huge shale scree field. We both wanted badly to summit but I felt it was unsafe to continue. So instead of risking our lives to peak over the ridgeline we decided to simply turn around, sit and soak up the view we had behind us. This was a challenging decision as the urge to continue grows greater while the danger and fatigue also grows greater. We later found out that we had Smeagoled nearly 1000 meters up a 45-degree mountainside. Needless to say the view was breathtaking. We sat giving our bodies a needed rest. We were already higher than all the surrounding mountains and could see alpine glaciers and clouds forming along rocky ridgelines. This was one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen and it felt appropriate that I had no camera to capture it. I had left it behind, as it was too difficult to climb with even the smallest thing in my pocket. We basked in the beauty and wildness that surrounded us. I felt grateful for the safety the mountain had given us and it felt right to sit and full of gratitude for how far the mountain had allowed us to ascend and feeling confident the any further steps would not be respecting the land and therefore putting ourselves in danger. I sat in awe feeling the vastness in front of us, my heart skipping beats as the wind would pick up reminding me of its power, feeling alive and without any regret. After absorbing all we could we started the very long treck back down. It looked as though we were on an oval of land surrounded by cliffs as each false ridgeline we passed on the way up was now a false cliff line on the way back. We had to carefully climb down checking over each large boulder to ensure that there was in fact earth below and that we weren't about to plummet off a rocky cliff. After some time we found our way back to the deep drainage where we had left our packs. We grabbed them and continued to final few hundred meters back to David, feeling exhausted yet deeply alive (Photo 5).

We grabbed David and flew back down the mountain back towards Shelter Rock Hut (Photo 6). Just before the hut I spotted an endangered wild green parakeet, which was quite a treat. We continued back to the hut where we made a huge fire and were joined by 10 others who were heading down to avoid the storm scheduled to hit the next morning. It was an incredible feeling. We were surrounded by groups of people full of life nourishing their bodies after a hard days work. Their faces were only illuminated by candlelight. It is one of those moments that is vivid in my memory. I can pan through the amber light across smiling faces fully present sharing stories of the day. Passed the boots laid out by the wood stove with their shadows dancing on the walls. Passed the steaming bowls of food gifting hungry bodies with much needed nourishment. Passed the 13 pairs of socks hanging on the line above the woodstove drying in preparation for another day of adventure. What a gift this life is!

We took it easy the next morning making a large breakfast before heading out back towards the car park. The storm had come as predicted and the mountains were dusted with snow down to 600 meters. The tramp back down was drastically different with peaks highlighted in white and a gentle drizzle of rain added depth to the otherwise clear air. As we hiked down the sun would frequently break through the thick gray clouds creating stunning views with its rays highlighted in the misty air (Photo 7). As we got back towards the bog the sky cleared revealing intensely tall mountains that had been blocked from view on our ascent. Waterfalls stretched tier by tier up until vanishing into the sky (Photo 8). We went through vivid golden fields that would shift perfectly in unison giving wind a physical form (Photo 9). We then sloshed back through the bog until we hit the small dirt road through pastureland (Photo 10) which brought us to the car park. After a short wait our scheduled ride arrived and whisked us back to Glenorchy just before the heavier rain hit.

That night we made pasta and a fire in the backpacker’s woodstove. It was an amazing night. The fire glowed a deep orange in front of us drying out our soaking gear. And rain poured just outside the open window gifting us with a cozy safe feeling. We toasted bread on the wood stove and sipped on tea until tiredness brought us to our bunks for the night.

Photo 1 - Just Before The Bog Rees Track

Photo 2 - Mossy Creek Rees Track

Photo 3 - Shelter Rock Hut

Photo 4 - Above The Clouds On Rees Saddle

Photo 5 - The Crew Together On Rees Saddle

Photo 6 - The Valley Back To The Hut

Photo 7 - Sun Breaking Through The Clouds With Snowy Peaks

Photo 8 - Endless Waterfall

Photo 9 - Golden Grass With Snow Capped Peaks

Photo 10 - Four Wheel Road Just Before The Car Park

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Glenorchy April 9th

Glenorchy April 9th

We decided to stay in Glenorchy for the night as it was a beautiful little town and was close to the other tracks we wanted to do. After talking with some locals awe decided to head out to do the Rees portion of the Rees dart track the next morning. There was bad weather coming in in 3 days so we decided to shorten it to a quick in and out. We booked transportation for first thing the next morning, resupplied on food and then spent the rest of the day enjoying Glenorchy. We went out to a rocky peninsula in the lake and soaked up the stunning views (Photos 1 and 2). We ate incredible food from the incredible Glenorchy Cafe or GYC  (Photo 3). And we were able to have a chill night and give our bodies some much-deserved rest.

We woke up at 7 to grab some breakfast. We found that all 3 restaurants in Glenorchy were closed until 8 so we meandered around the quite misty town. We found a giant cone shaped tree roughly 10 meters tall and 10 meters in diameter at the bottom. As we neared it a loud buzzing sound could be heard reverberating seemingly from all around. As we got closer we realized that the tree was full of thousands of yellow jackets hovering within this tree. It was a bizarre realization but added a lot to our misty morning. We grabbed breakfast at a nearby lodge where we were joined by the town cat. He seemed to be welcome in any store or restaurant and this morning he sat at the fourth chair at our table for our entire breakfast. He sat up very straight with his little head poking over the table. He never tried to get our food or anything he just kept us company. When we were done he got up with us and headed outside to continue his daily exploration.

Photo 1 - View From Peninsula In Glenorchy

Photo 2 - Panorama From Peninsula In Glenorchy

Photo 3 - GYC (Glenorchy Cafe)

Greenstone / Caples Track April 7th - 9th

We arrived at the trailhead at about 11 and headed out towards the Greenstone track. We decided to add the lake Rere loop onto our tramp, which took us through a beautiful wooded area that felt straight out of Jurassic park with large ferns and moss and added another 10 kilometers to our track bringing the total to 71 kilometers  We stopped at lake Rere for lunch (Photo 1). Here we had our first encounter with the very curious New Zealand robin (Photo 2). This little guy was fearless. He would hop up to roughly half a meter from us and when we would walk towards him would simply hop a few centimeters farther away.
We continued on through the woods and passed the path to the Greenstone hut until the trail opened up into a huge golden valley with a river running through it surrounded by rocky mountains jutting straight up. At this point a light rain began to fall so we went off trail and found a spot to set up camp. We were tucked up a hill under the tree line with a long golden hill stretching out below us, and a stunning mountain ridgeline in front of us. It was a perfect spot to call home for a night (Photo 3).
The next day we walked through ridiculous landscapes, including a forrest of dead sun bleached trees in the middle of a river (photo 4), as we followed the Greenstone track up past the next hut and towards the saddle. The change in environment felt unreal, as our surroundings would change in a moment from sprawling golden fields (Photos 5 and 6) into forests completely covered with thick bright green moss (Photo 7). Each one was just as beautiful as the previous yet stunning and new.

We stopped just before the saddle at a fairly large alpine lake and found a small, secluded section of beach off the trail to call our home for the night. Our tent was only 4 or 5 meters from the lake (Photo 8). There were giant stony mountains jutting straight up from the to our right. I made a little fire and relaxed for the remainder of the day trying to fully soak up the ridiculous beauty all around.
The next morning we were up with the sun and started our dramatic assent up the saddle. We gained roughly 600 meters in elevation and were rewarded with an incredible 360-degree view of the surrounding mountain landscape. We dropped our packs and went off trail up the ridgeline to have an unobstructed view of the surrounding peaks with the lake below (Photo 9).
After a snack we transitioned over to the Caples track and started our long descent back towards the car park. We walked for hours through dense forests before breaking out into another golden field following a new river down (Photo 10).
We passed the mid caples hut and continued along the river into open green pastureland (Photo 11). On our way we passed many adorable baby cows. We also saw a beautiful unknown brown work of nature art floating in the river (Photo 12). As we continued on I spotted two huge rainbow trout leisurely swimming up stream they were at least 18” long. Everything felt exactly as it should be.
A few kilometers from the car park we decided to tuck ourselves up under the trees for the night. We made some dinner and watched as the clouds turned pink and then disappeared as darkness took over leaving a perfectly clear night. The milky way and piercing stars watched from above, some peaking over the mammoth silhouetted of the mountain range in front of us. We slept out under the starts that night and awoke with the sun and then made the short half hour tramp back to the car park where we had a ride scheduled. We were then transported back to a small 350-person town roughly 40 kilometers from Queenstown called Glenorchy.

Photo 1 - Lake Rere

Photo 2 - New Zealand Robin

Photo 3 - View From First Camp Site

Photo 4 - Dead Forest In Middle Of River

Photo 5 - Valley Greenstone Track

Photo 6 - The Squad In the Valley Greenstone Track

Photo 7 - Mossy Creek

Photo 8 - Second Camp Site 

Photo 9 - View From Ridgeline Above Saddle (Note Justin On Hill To Right For Perspective)

Photo 10 - Caples Track

Photo 11 - Pastureland Caples Track

Photo 12 - Mysterious Nature River Sculpture

Arrival in Queenstown April 4th and 5th

Hello dear family and friends. I just got back to Wellington on the 18th after having an absolutely amazing two weeks in the south island. As is often the case it is pretty strange being back in the “real world” surrounded by people all doing their part to keep a city moving and alive. Reading through my first chunk of emails had me literally feeling dizzy. Like I was recalibrating to a world with non-verbal interaction. I feel as though I am walking through a zoo of people who don’t even realize they are caged and are voluntarily staying within its confines. But returning also feels good. I know this city so well that it is definitely comfortable coming back and it is nice to view things through the shifted perspective that time in the wilderness always gives me. That being said it definitely does not feel as real as where I have been. I feel I have learned far more in these last two weeks than I have all semester here so far. And the learning has taken place on a felt level deeper than the intellectual. Because of that I don’t think I can verbalize it and frankly I don’t really want to try. But I would be happy to update you all on what I did during my two weeks. I will break this up into multiple posts based on different Tramps I did.

Arrival in Queenstown April 4 – 5th

Justin, David and I landed in Queenstown on a beautiful sunny afternoon and threw on our bags and headed up into Ben Lomond to camp for the night. We found a perfect little ledge a few hundred meters off the trail just wide enough for our tent. We made a little dinner and settled in for the night. As we sat and enjoyed our food a shape appeared on the ridgeline in the dying light. A fox? We all watched as it sniffed in our direction and then disappeared over the ridgeline only 5 meters or so above us. We got up and shined our flashlights to see 3 or 4 of the most adorable little animals along the ridgeline and in the surrounding trees. They looked like small lemurs. We later found out that these are the New Zealand possum. Below is a photo of one (I did not take this I just found in online Photo 1)
We woke up the next morning and headed into town to see if we could get to a trail head that day but unfortunately all the busses had left already so we planned one for first the next morning. We spend the rest of Easter Sunday walking around Queenstown. We skipped rocks in the lake and sat and admired the uniqueness of this small town. It had a quaint vibe but at the same time there was every manner of extreme sport happening all around us. There were Para gliders floating down from the ridgeline, parasailers being pulled in front of us, there was a person a bit way out in the lake riding a water jetpack, there were kayakers, a few people drove jet ski like machines that looked like sharks and were watertight flying through the water, others rode speed boats as they spun and whipped through the water, there was a steam boat tour and behind us seemingly endless busses leaving with bungee jumpers and skydivers. The backdrop for all of this was the most beautiful mountain view (Photos 2 and 4) complete with low cloud bands contouring along the mountains (Photos 3 and 4). The lake muted the sound off everything creating a dreamlike aura and maintaining the quaint feeling. It was very surreal.

We spend the rest of the day exploring and then spent the night at an amazing little backpackers called butterfli. 

The next morning we got up early and were on a bus by 8 to the Greenstone Caples trailhead.

Photo 1 - Two New Zealand Possums

Photo 2 - View From Queenstown

Photo 3 - View From Queenstown Cloud Bands

Photo 4 - View From Queenstown Panorama