Thursday, 23 November 2017

Routeburn Track 20 - 21 November

Yesterday's vertical zig-zag climb to the hut is forgotten, as my body has refreshed itself overnight. Did I mention dinner? We were given 6 packets of freeze-dried dinners by some guests we had staying at The Shed before we left Bridgetown. I thought it would be great to have ready-dinners, but they are tasteless. We must do better for Stewart Island and gather tips and hints from other walkers.

There are still clumps (mounds?) of snow along the track - it would have been amazing to see the plateau completely covered in snow but the Track is closed in inclement weather, so we would have had to take the helicopter ride from the Falls hut to Lake Mackenzie hut. I'm glad we're walking. The air is so clear. A few trampers rush past us - they only see their bootcaps in their rush to get from A to B. I look back towards the cleavage in the mountain - the wind ruffles the tussock grass as I pass by.

The crows of Mordor evade us as we hide under these rocks. If only Frodo was here too, it would make my day. It is easy to spot Gollum lurking in the small streams or waterfalls that rush below us under steel bridges (which are removed over winter to stop trampers trying to cross the plateau).

I am enjoying the walk so much with my new backpack (No. 4 over nearly 40 years) and my newish boots (also No. 4 pair). The Aarn backpack has been designed by a Kiwi to fit a body perfectly. It moulds to the spine and the pack contents are distributed evenly between the main back pack and the two front 'boob' packs. I walk upright for the first time ever with a pack. It's bliss. Richard wishes he had one too (I did offer to buy one for him but he said his old one was fine - it isn't).

This lake marks the start of the Harris Saddle. We are almost at the peak.

We stop for lunch at the peak - there is a refuge hut (small, nothing inside but it would be ok if needed for an emergency) that is home to a kea, but we don't see it, only the poo it leaves on the little verandah. Some people ditch their packs and scamper up Conical Hill (a one hour return walk). We don't. I need some coffee and hot soup to get going again, but I think it's downhill from here to Lake Mackenzie.

The track gets back below the treeline again. So much tillandsia dripping from the trees. I can't photograph it all, but I'm tempted to try.

Day 2 was a 6 hour tramp. We have been averaging under the max. time but only just! We have a long hike across several ridges, along gullies, dipping in and out of trees before a steep descent over gnarled tree roots, large boulders, fallen logs and more waterfalls amidst quite dark forests. Suddenly we emerge into daylight in front of Lake Mackenzie huts. The black sandflies are out in force here and stupidly I take off my boots. Thousands seem to latch onto me, biting any bit of flesh or clothing that takes their fancy. I sit outside and sketch, but eventually I'm driven indoors. We take bunks 1 & 2 again, maybe we're getting superstitious as those bunks are always available when we register in the logbook.

Day 3 and we leave Lake Mackenzie hut by 8am and head for Howden Hut. It may only take us 4 hours today. I learn to readjust my 'boob' packs so that I don't carry too much on my back. It is such a pleasure to walk upright rather than stooped over. Even my feet don't complain!

The snow is not evident now - we are below 1000m - and the air is warm. I needn't have carried my thermals or wet weather gear. I haven't packed a change of clothes because there are no washing facilities except cold taps at any of the huts. Wet wipes suffice and a toothbrush! I must mention the Kiwi who stopped me yesterday and asked how I liked my Aarn backpack. He was an industrial designer and helped Aarn with the design! He runs the track in 4 hours and we met him again today. At a pit-stop loo, perched on the side of a hill. He explained he transfers cars from either end of the track, then runs back to collect another car. He's done the Track 4 times this week and barely raises a sweat. He says running is easier than walking with poles because by the time the rock underfoot has rolled in the wrong direction, his feet are already off it! I'll stick to walking with poles as we still have two weeks holiday left in NZ.

Our final pleasure for the day is reaching the Earland Falls - what an amazing sight. The wind blows spume across the path and one tramper dons wet weather gear, but we brave it!

Howden Hut appears after a long boardwalk. We are not the oldest at this hut, which I think is a pleasure!

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Routeburn Track 19 - 20 November

Our packs are loaded into the mini-bus and the driver, Ivan, chats away as we head towards Glenorchy. We will be walking the Routeburn in a southerly direction, because I looked at the map and it seemed to be mostly downhill in that direction!
The weather is fine - there's a large high pressure system sitting on top of the South Island of New Zealand and sun is forecast for the foreseeable future. At least that means the Harris Saddle alpine pass will be open (damn, I fancied a helicopter ride for $95 even if it was only 5 minutes of flight over the snowy section).
Routeburn Shelter is our drop off spot and we clamber out, adjust our packs (mine is a new Aarn featherlight pack - it's already proving to be wonderfully light and I think I'm carrying 8kgs in total) and our walking poles and head off across the first bridge.

The following photos are taken on the Track, heading towards Routeburn Falls hut where we spend our first night. We walk along mossy-banked paths, seeing few fellow walkers. It's quiet, shady and the only sounds are rushing waterfalls or occasional birds. Sadly the bird population has been depleted significantly by the stoats that were introduced in the late 19th century to control the rabbits. A massive failure of gargantuan proportions. But we see lots of small, rectangular wooden boxes along the way, filled with an egg and some raw mince - the stoats and rats are enticed in and killed instantly by a trap inside.

The track slopes very gently upwards - we hardly notice the incline and I'm lulled into a false sense of security.

We walk for about three hours, stopping for photos, snacks and just looking at the scenery as we pass by.
A sign to Routeburn Flat Hut appears, alongside one pointing to Routeburn Falls Hut. We take the Falls track and suddenly we're climbing up a zig-zag path, just like the one on the first day of the Kepler Track. Oh no!

But with scenery like these falls we pass, I'm not complaining, nor are my legs. We reach the Routeburn Falls Hut around 3pm and select our bunks, register ourselves on the log book and look outside across the tree tops to where we've just walked up from.

The Hut is full - lots of visitors from North America, Asia and a smattering (us) from Australia. Not many Kiwis.

Day 2 - Routeburn Falls Hut, across Harris Saddle to Lake Mackenzie Hut
I've slept well, so has Richard who had the bottom bunk. I chose the top because there was a window I kept open for fresh air. Breakfast (porridge and tea) dispatched, boots laced up and poles at the ready, we head off up the Track, with a very steep rise ahead of us. The Route Burn Falls are directly behind the hut.

I quickly remove my thermal jumper as the weather warms up as we climb. It's so beautiful here and once we reach the plateau, it's a pleasant stroll across to Harris Saddle (the alpine pass that was blocked with snow last week).


Friday, 17 November 2017

Queenstown revisited - with 10,000 marathon runners

Day 1. Friday 17th November 2017
Friday's breakfast is in the Qantas lounge - somehow Richard scored two free passes courtesy of Westpac, so we help ourselves to the brekky bar! We are late-ish leaving Sydney - probably because the plane is full.

It seems Queenstown is a mecca for marathon runners this weekend and the plane heaves with lithe bodies. The taxi driver wends his way through hundreds of vehicles, roads clogged by the influx of runners from NZ and overseas, maneuvering themselves to their accommodation for the night. We didn't know we'd picked the busiest weekend of the summer when we booked in June! Even the YHA Lakeside is overwhelmed with guests and we share with two from Asia who keep a different time schedule to us. But after a full refurb, this YHA is bright, clean and comfortable. We are right on the water's edge and listen to the hum of speed boats zipping passengers across the water.

We mosey into town and get food provisions for this first walk. I miss green veg. already but this time we carry an absolute minimum and no fruit cake! Next stop sees Rich sporting new thongs, sunnies, and walking poles. Kathmandu has a sale on so of course I buy some new tops. We eat our first icecream - why can't Australia offer the same vast choice of flavours?

Monday, 22 August 2016

The Old City of Lyon

It's (gently) pouring with rain - cooler today too and we need jumpers. The beautiful Mont Blanc is covered with cloud - not a good sight if you are camping on the upper slopes. Many climbers spend up to three days camped on the Aiguille du Midi, waiting for conditions to be favourable, but they won't be going anywhere today.
We don't farewell my sister and b-in-law and their son - they sneak out of the apartment so quietly for their very early easyJet flight, we are still asleep. 

It's a short walk to the train station from our apartment. Its location borders both old and new Chamonix and although the rooms are small, I have no complaints about it except maybe a tree that blocks an almost perfect view of Mont Blanc. A full train. Somehow we slither into seats together. We stop at St Gervais for a few minutes to change trains, luckily it's the same platform, as our backpacks seem to be heavier. Another 'milk train' stopping all stations, before Annecy appears through the rain. We have almost two hours to kill here and eat our lunch on a platform seat. We find our train about half an hour before it departs but it is already full, this time with boy scouts and girl guides. It must be the end of the French school holidays because there are children everywhere. We climb the stairs to the upper carriage and have wonderful views of fields of maize, and sunflowers whose heads are bowed with the weight of their maturing seeds.
There are no services on board the trains, so I'm glad we brought at least water with us.

Gare de Lyon Part-Dieu is about two kilometres from our hotel, the Mercure Beaux Arts, which is in the centre of the old city. Our taxi driver rushes there, zigzagging between cars and buses, making me cling to the seat edge for support. What a surprise, our privilege room is enormous (for a Mercure hotel) and well worth $160/night (but meals aren't included).

 We spend the evening wandering through the old quarter of Lyon, a mass of tiny streets crammed with restaurants. We choose one at random because it has a French menu (many don't). Named The Winch, it doesn't sound French but the food is beyond delicious - we both have duck with fresh cranberries, followed by real crème brulee. Fixed menu for EUR26pp for three courses. I eat so quickly I forget to take photos.

Morning comes with sunny skies and we go out to find breakfast. There's a fresh fruit and veg market along the Saone river bank, so we munch on brioche and croissant. I drink freshly pressed orange and peach juice. The fruit is so enticing, if only we had more time to eat it!

Early morning walks reveal the best lighting for photography - and the city is quiet

We wander over the river Saone to find an artists' market and buy two paintings. I worry about bringing in wooden frames and select two that need to be framed. They are modern and very French.

At the top of the hill overlooking the old city is the Cathedral de Notre Dame. Mass is being said so we wait respectfully for it to finish. The wait is more than worthwhile. There's a heady mix of incense lingering in the air as the massive doors are swung open at the end of the service.

There's an enormous Roman amphitheatre close by, so we wander down the hill before taking the funicular train back into the old quarter.

Richard finds the statue to the author Antoine St Exupéry, who wrote The Little Prince at the turn of the last century - it's delightfully whimsical

And so farewell to Europe - it has been a wonderful holiday. I am cured of wanting a campervan to travel in (too cramped), realise that remote walking is more enjoyable than touristic, chic locations, and can't wait to take out my walking poles and boots for another walking holiday in England and Europe.