It’s Monday morning here in Queenstown, NZ. I arrived at noon on Thursday after losing a day of my life to the international dateline (I do plan to get it back on the return trip!!).
Queenstown is lovely. It sits on the end of Lake Wakitupu and is surrounded by mountains on all sides. My hotel is right on the lake overlooking the city park. It was an excellent choice considering how I booked it from the other side of the world!
Queenstown is the adventure sport capital of NZ. Half of the town’s shops are dedicated to booking bungy jumping, jet boating, whitewater rafting and on and on. If there is a sport with the high potential of killing yourself, you can do it here! I think I’m going to settle for a day of wine tours when I come back in a few weeks. Much more my pace! The town is very lively with a lot of young travelers and lots of pubs to keep them entertained. It is very safe here so don’t worry about me on my own. The sun does not set until 10:30 at night so I’m usually in bed long before dark!
I’ve just returned from a 3 day walk along the Routeburn Trek which passes through Fiordland and Mt. Aspiring national parks. It was everything I hoped for and far more. I met up my group on friday morning. We had a crystal clear day of walking and I managed to get a little bit of sunburn even. Our walk began in the rain forest. It was incredibly lush and green with moss hanging from the trees and huge ferns everywhere. Only the ferns look familiar. Every other plant and bird is completely new to me. How wonderful is that to experience a whole new world. Even the stars in the sky are different!!
I now see why the Lord of the Rings movies were filmed here. I expected hobbits to pop out at any time. We began to climb and get the views of the mountains around us and it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. There was peak after peak, many snow covered, deep lush valleys, waterfalls, rivers and streams. The trails are in pristine condition. It’s obvious that the Department of Conservation spends a lot of time and money on them. Despite the great trail quality, I wouldn’t call it an easy walk because there are considerable elevation gains and it covers 24 miles in distance.
Day two was not so nice with rain and strong winds (gale force at times). We moved on and believe it or not I actually enjoyed it. I was dry with all my rain gear on and it was really invigorating to be out in those elements. Our views were limited, but we still had all the alpine plants, alpine lakes, waterfalls and streams to focus on.
Day 3 was a half day walk out along the Routeburn (river) to the Routeburn valley. The river begins at Lake Harris just above where our second hut was and flowed down a series of waterfalls until it became a river. The water was the most incredible turquoise blue color. Along the way we came upon a group who were doing canyoning. I had never heard of it, but it is another one of those crazy adventure sport things. Essentially people put on wetsuits, climbing harnesses and “bum plates”. They begin with a 20 foot feet-first jump into a gorge. They then slide down the gorge a ways on their butt (hence the bum plate for protection) and when they can’t go any further due to big waterfalls, they tie onto a rope and reppel down to the next spot and begin again until they reach the river below. It leaves you questioning what is missing or has been added to these people’s DNA to make them want to do something like this!!
We finished the trek and took the bus back into Queenstown. Our ride home was lovely… along the Dart River, though sheep farms and then along Lake Wakitupu (which was also a brilliant turqoise color). After a clean-up at the hotel, we all met for a final dinner and celebration at a local restaurant. I expected it to be a pub, but it was in a very nice hotel with a wonderful 3 course meal. The guides handed out certificates and group pictures. They were top notch and made the trip so enjoyable. They were excellent at pointing out plants and wildlife and talking about the history of the trail. The “huts” we stayed in were spotlessly clean and very comfortable. It was great to have a hot shower and sleep in a warm bed after a long day of walking. Our guides cooked all our meals (we made our own lunches with provided food) and the food was fabulous. I even took pictures of it as it was so good!
My hiking mates were all very nice too. There were 20 of us divided between 6 Americans (3 were grad students from Columbia U and one of them did his undergrad at Colby. Small world!), some Brits, Aussies, a very nice girl from Denmark and the rest were an older Japanese group. One of our guides was Japanese so that helped with the language difference. He was very very lovely young man and was also the “foot doctor” who patched up our sore feet. I was amazed at the older people. While they were slower, they had good endurance and all finished in good shape. Our Kiwi guides were wonderful as well.
I should take a minute and tell you too that the New Zealand people are so warm and welcoming. And might I add to it’s genuine… not just a “be nice to the tourists” thing.
Other than a couple of hotspots on my feet I felt very good. I’m not sore at all. I owe part of it to constant dose of Advil I kept on board and to the “purple jar of love” I used every day. It’s an herbal linament that seems to work wonders. I’m bringing some home!!
Well, my internet card time is up so I’ll close for now.
*** In January of 2008, I ventured by myself halfway around the world to New Zealand. This was before blogs and smartphones. When I could, I would go to an internet café, purchase an internet use time card and type frantically hoping to finish my email before time ran out. Other than fixing some obvious spelling mistakes, the following is as written in 2008. As tempted as I am to edit and embellish, I want to maintain the moment as it was then. I have added pictures, some of mine, some of my travel mates. I apologize that I can’t give credit since I’ve long since forgotten which was whose, but I am thankful I have them to relive this wonderful adventure. ***