…we aren’t done yet.
Sunday, January 11th 2015
Sunday was more or less an uneventful day, albeit a great one! We packed up camp and continued our drive south on the West Coast. Not but 30 minutes on the road but did we spot a good-looking cafe on the corner of a junction. We stopped in and each ordered a Long Black (essentially the NZ version of an Americano), and we split the egg and bacon slice (very similar to a quiche) out of their display case and the West Coast specialty, whitebait patties. The coffee was strong and very delicious, the egg and bacon was plentiful and tasty and well priced and the whitebait was unique and tasty. The tartar sauce was great as were the salad and fries that came with it.
After filling up on breakfast we continued in the car for about two hours, first pulling into the town of Franz Josef glacier and then continuing on to Fox Glacier. At this point it had started to rain, hard! We were lucky enough to find one bar in the small tourist town with TVs. When we stepped inside the NZ vs. Sri Lanka cricket match was on. We though our chances of being able to get the TVs switched to ESPN would be slim but after the two locals at the bar recognized what we were asking, they vouched for us to get them changed, which they graciously did.
Relieved, Bryan and I took two bar stools next to the two women at the bar, with direct viewing of one of the TVs. We watched the Patriots first pull off a win and then saw our stadium and our fans on TV. We were both in our jerseys and we were THOSE loud Americans. But it was so fun! We explained the rules of football to the ladies and we were in turn taught the rules of cricket…during halftime. We tried the NZ beer (Speights, DB Draught, and a few Montieth’s for Bryan and a Montieth Black Ale for me), and we met a fellow Seattlite, living in NZ for a year, who later recommended our backpacking trip that we would be doing. We also chatted up a Colorado couple, who were first against the Seahawks and then when leaving said they were rooting for the Seahawks. We got to know the bartender very well and learned even more about the rural area. And finally we shared the large two lamb shank plate with mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, and squash, plus a salad and it was absolutely delicious and a great deal.
We were quite pleased with the whole experience when we left the bar. It was still raining but we thought we would do the short, 40 minute roundtrip, hike to see the legendary Fox Glacier, so we bundled up and set out. It was miserable! Raining really good, cool, muddy, and at least in the gray weather the glacier was neither pretty or impressive. We got back in the car soaked and chilled. So much for that. We continued south to Haast. We luckily found very nice accommodations for the night, pulling into the parking lot with no reservation at 8:30pm. We were fortunate to have a bed, shower, TV, kitchenette, and internet for the night. At this point Bryan’s foot injuries from Abel Tasman were getting infected and bothering him more so he was attending to those. We were both relieved to have some luxuries, and be out of the rain for the night.
Monday, January 12th 2015
With a good nights sleep we were on the recovery mode; Bryan with his foot and me with Bryan. We left our hotel mid-morning and stopped in the town of Haast for a light breakfast and coffees. We were now heading back east, away from the coast and through the mountains over Haast Pass. The drive was beautiful and we stopped a few times for waterfalls or panoramas. We also finished Serial, the podcast, on this drive, which we had been listening to since Day 2 in NZ.
The last 45 minutes of the drive was around Lake Wanaka, where we were intending to camp for the night. The lake and mountains were again breathtaking. We stopped in town at the “I Site”, their tourist information booths for some brochures on the area as were weren’t really sure what we wanted to do yet. We bought a basked of fresh fruit (peaches, apricots, plums and cherries) from a stall and the mixed fried seafood basket and chips from a very good and popular takeaway restaurant and enjoyed them by the lake. After we were finished we mosied over to the Lake Outlet Wanaka Holiday Park, set up camp, did laundry using their facilities for the first time (and only time of the trip) and then enjoyed more sunshine and lounging by the lakefront.
We drove back into town that evening to explore some more. The town is really very lovely; vibrant, lively, charming. We stopped in at the busy and famous Kai Wakapai, steps from the beach, for a thin crust pizza, beer, and a broccoli, tomato and bacon salad. We walked some more before grabbing gelato (mint and chocolate) and again enjoyed that by the shores of the lake. We headed back to camp and sat at the camp’s picnic tables and played online for a while while Bryan soaked his foot. It was late and we sat outside our tent and talked and watched the Southern Hemisphere stars before finally cozying up in our reliable tent.
Tuesday, January 13th 2015
We had another slow start at our camp. Bryan took care to his foot and I started to “make” us breakfast. We had coffee and the last of our cereal with those fresh fruits that we go the day before. Bryan’s foot was looking a bit better so we decisively chose to partake on a one night backpacking trip, the exact one our Seattlite friend, Hank, from the bar in Fox Glacier, had recommended to us. We packed up camp and set off to town for Subway subs to pack for lunch (they have beets, carrots and unique dressings in NZ Subways), and then to the grocery store for chicken and bell peppers to pack for dinner.
Once set with supplies, we headed for the hills; the Mt. Aspiring National Park that is. It was about an hours drive from Wanaka, half on paved roads along the lake before transitioning to rough gravel lanes through cattle farms. We were actually stopped by some cows on the road a few times. We pulled into the Raspberry Creek Carpark and set out to the trail at the early hour of 2pm, a very late start for us.
We were in the West Matuikituki Valley and the first two hours on the track were very gentle, a beautiful river flowing on one side and large mountains with many waterfalls on all sides. We stopped for our lunch break right along the creek. We reached the Aspiring Hut at just about 4pm but continued on to Pearl Flat, another 1.5 hours of gentle meadow trails with a nice breeze and more beautiful views. At Pearl Flat we took a break to discuss our plan. There was the very viable option of setting up camp right there in the valley; we had already covered 8 miles with our packs and were tired. There was the French Ridge Hut, which was our original plan but would require another 3 hrs to get to the top and we would possibly be short on daylight. And our 3rd option was the Liverpool Hut, on the opposite side of the valley of the French Ridge Hut but requiring just 2 hours more of hiking and what we thought was much fewer vertical feet to gain. So we set out for the Liverpool Hut.
This is where things got very interesting and quite exhilarating. Instantly the trail became more of a climb than a hike. We were reaching tall for roots of trees or rocks to grab hold of and pull ourselves up. The track was narrow and went straight up. And it did this for 2 solid hours. Our quads were shaking and our fear of heights was starting to get the better of us. The top of the track got worse even with the lack of trees we were fully exposed on the face of the mountain and could see straight down to the valley floor. I was seriously dying of laughter because apparently that is what I do when I am scared, especially if I find out that others are even more fearful than me, which might have happened in this instance with Bryan’s fear of heights. But we made it to the top, could spot the little red hut and its bathroom perched on a ridge, climbed over the ridge and warily made our way into the mud room where we finally dropped our bags and took our boots.
To our relief, there were several other backpackers already at the hut; 9 Israelis, 2 Spaniards, 2 Englishmen, and one French woman. It was after 8pm and everyone was busy making dinner over their camp stoves so Bryan and I set to making ours too. And dinner was quite delicious and filling, which we needed after a long and traumatic day of hiking and climbing. We made a delicious Thai chicken peanut satay dish with noodles and it hit the spot. We signed the guest log book, chatted with some of the fellow backpackers and commiserated about the descent required of us the following morning. As darkness settled in for the night, all of the campers did too. Being the last to arrive, Bryan and I set up our beds on the floor with two others but were still quite comfortable. Though sleep was troubled with worry of what was yet to come.
Wednesday, January 14th 2015
So, the day we were both dreading began. Around 8am everyone in the hut started to wake up. Like dinner, everyone started making breakfast together. For Bryan and I that meant a good amount of oatmeal with more peaches and apricots and our coffee. We took our time as the mountain clouds were lingering and we had the alpine parrots, Keas, to watch. Just before 10am we had clear skies and all of us departed the hut at the same time, with Bryan and I leading the pack. The top was nerve-wracking, just as we had predicted, but the downclimb was not nearly as bad as what we had in our minds. It still took time and it still left our legs quads spent and shaking. Just under 2 hours and we were safely back on the valley floor. Hugs and a rest were mandatory.
With the excitement of the descent over we were finally able to relax but realized how physically and mentally draining the whole event was. Though every part worth it! We still had those 8-9 miles to cover back and they were neither easy nor quick. We made it back to the car after 3pm and immediately soaked our feet in the icy cold creek.
After resting a bit we made our last drive of the trip; the ride to Queenstown. It was the one hour drive back to Wanaka and then another hour through a beautiful cliff side road to Queenstown offering sweeping views of the Otago region. We again had no accommodations booked for Queenstown but were looking for a hotel for our remaining three nights there. We were fortunate to find a vacancy at the Queenstown Motel Apartments, a 1km walk to downtown and the waterfront and with lake and mountain views.
After settling into the room and cleaning up from the hike, we sat out on foot for dinner. The walk to downtown was an easy 1/2 mile walk and once we found ourselves in the harbor we walked into the restuarant Flame. We sat at the bar and ordered the massive meat platter for two and a large house salad to share. We were able to watch the kitchen and the grills flaming away and turning out massive quantities of meat. Our food arrived and my first instinct was that our eyes were bigger than our stomach. But after a long, exhausting hike we easily finished off all of the 16 oz sirloin, half a peri peri chicken, a half rack of ribs, and several potatoes. We took the lamb sausage and potatoes home for a future breakfast. We left the restaurant, circled the downtown in search of ice cream, settled on a carton of Tip Top Neapolitan ice cream to bring back to the room and watched the impromptu marching back in NBA jerseys play through the streets before heading back to the room and passing out…after ice cream of course.
Thursday, January 15th 2015
Our first full day in Queenstown had to have been the laziest day of the entire trip. Both of us were so sore we were still having trouble walking, nevermind stairs or hills. We also had to return our rental car at the Queenstown Airport. After getting a slow start, we facetimed Bryan’s parents before heading out to return the car. We took the city bus back to downtown from the airport and grabbed kebab sandwiches at Habebe Cafe to take to the waterfront to eat. We watched the jetboats in action while eating lunch and then walked along the lake and the botanical gardens.
The rest of the day involved facetiming my parents, making margaritas in the room, watching TV, and then heading back to town to find ourselves some dinner. We went to a dumpling restaurant that we had seen the previous night; Queenies Dumplings. We shared a miso soup and the mixed dumplings of chicken, shrimp and lamb. It was fast, cheap and delicious and offered great people watching. We set off to find more food and went to a food court where we unsurprisingly got Thai Pad Kee Mao to takeaway back to the harbor. It was nice weather and the spot for street entertainers where we watched a guitarist and a magician only 50′ apart from one another. We stopped at the grocery store before heading to the hotel still tired.
Friday, January 16th 2015
We had another early wakeup call. We made breakfast on the campstove of scrambled eggs, with bell peppers and that leftover sausage and potatoes. It was hearty and got us out the door in time to get picked up by the Jucy coach to take us to Milford Sound.
The coach was a great way to do the trip since it is about 8 hours of driving round trip and allowed us to just see the sights and provided commentary from our bus driver, who was very good. Our first stop was the town of Te Anau where we were given a 30+ minute break to get food or use the restroom. We headed to Miles Better Pies for the best meat pies in NZ. We chose the steak, bacon and mushroom pie to share (we weren’t very hungry with breakfast not that long ago). We thoroughly enjoyed the amazing hearty pie on a bench along Lake Te Anau. We enjoyed it so much that Bryan picked up a venison pie on the way back to the bus. We were on he road again for the last 2 hours of the drive with several pit stops. We enjoyed a beautiful valley, Mirror Lakes, a stop to see more Keas, and a walk to see the Chasms. After a long drive through a one lane tunnel we entered Milford Sound. The earlier rains had created dramatic waterfalls and the mist upplayed the majesty of the area. The walls are several hundred feet high and remarkable.
We arrived at the ferry terminal and immediately boarded our 90 minute cruise. We were provided as much free tea and coffee we liked to warm up below deck. We tried to spend most of our time on the top, open deck to take in the views. 360 degree views of waterfalls, huge rock faces, seals, and towards the end we had some sun. We were never able to make out the top of Mitre Peak unfortunately. It was a very worthwhile cruise. The waterfalls were also noticeably disappearing or diminishing by the end of the cruise from the lack of rainfall.
The coach ride back went quickly without those scenic stops. Once back in Queenstown w were set to packing our bags. The hotel manager had unfortunately confiscated the campstove for the night without notice and we were required to wake up at an ungodly hour to receive it before our flight to Auckland the next day. I walked leftover, and mostly unopened, backcountry food goods to the nearest backpackers hostel. We finished our Tip Top ice cream before settling into our last night in Queenstown and before getting to see Amy!
Next we head back to the North Island…