Having been travelling for a few weeks now, I was starting to get a bit tired of packing up every 3 days and changing locations. I had booked a week on the West Coast at an Air B&B to chill out, but first I was set up to hike the Routeburn track just north of Queenstown. I was hoping it would be a little bit of redemption in terms of getting the views I was so cruelly denied on the Kepler. I was also pinning my last hopes of seeing Kea on this hike.
The hike technically starts just outside of Glenorchy, so I had to arrange a shuttle to take me to the start of the track. It took about two hours to get there, but our bus driver was great and stopped at a couple of filming locations for LOTR. My camera was unfortunately buried in my bag in the luggage trailer, but I did snap a couple of iPhone photos. Oh yeah did I mention, the hike basically starts from Isengard? Hell yeah!
Day one was set up as a really easy day of hiking. I had booked my first night camping at Routeburn Flats, which only amounted to 6.5km of hiking. I took my time getting there, stopping by a beautiful blue pool of water for lunch and watching the more brazen hikers dive in. There were birds everywhere but they were a little too quick to snap photos of while hiking. I got to camp around lunch time and after setting up, spent a relaxing afternoon and evening by the river with a perfect view of the mountains.
As a result of day one being so short, day two was stretched out more than I would have liked. Had I stayed in the hut at Routeburn Falls the first night, it probably would have made day two much more enjoyable. It turns out the section from the flats to the hut is pretty grueling, very reminiscent of the climb up to Luxmore on the Kepler. I stopped for a snack, took a couple of pictures of the falls and was then on to the second part of the ascent.
This section passes through the Harris Saddle, which was straight out of Middle Earth. I could have camped there for a week taking pictures and still wouldn’t have felt like I got enough.
Just past Harris Saddle was a shelter where I stopped for lunch, hoping to spot a Kea or two. As usual, they were nowhere to be found. I am always amazed at how varied New Zealand’s landscape is. Before the shelter the valley was dark and dramatic, with stone capped mountains and a lake I am sure the Watcher of Moria lived in. As soon as you turned and started to walk along the other side towards Lake McKenzie, everything felt so much lighter. Views that went on forever, walking along a path bordered by gold grass. I might have pretended to be an elf for a moment or two.
Eventually you arrive well above Lake McKenzie which is set in another epic valley. I made my way down and again set up camp for the night. The weather was becoming quite unpleasant at this point, with the winds picking up considerably and the rain starting. I finally had the hang of setting up my tent so I was very comfortable inside as the weather went down hill.
Day three was a solid decent of 8.6 km down to Howden Hut. It hadn’t stopped raining yet, so I begrudgingly put on my rain gear and headed out. I passed by Earland Falls and took the best pictures I could with my phone. Between the rain and the mist, I didn’t think my camera would have fared too well. I had luckily chosen to stay at Howden Hut for my third night instead of hiking out my third day. By this point the rain was really coming down, and while most people had just stopped at the hut to recoup, I got to get dry and have an afternoon nap.
The next morning I had arranged to have a cruise of Milford Sound immediately after my hike. I only had to hike a couple of hours before I arrived at the bus shelter where I was picked up. It was still raining quite heavily, so I was very worried my views on the cruise would be ruined. I can see why Milford Sound is so well known, it is quite an impressive place. The rain ended up making thousands of waterfalls which were mesmerizing.
The cruise itself ended up being amazing, the rain added quite a unique ambiance to the whole area and helped me learn how wet my camera can get and still function. I took an obscene amount of photos on the cruise, many which had me kneeling on the soaking wet back deck. What can I say, I am committed to getting the shot. I think the other passengers got quite a kick out of watching me try not to get thrown overboard.
Just as we were leaving Milford Sound for the long drive back to Queenstown, the bus driver pulled over for a few minutes because there were Kea next to the road. Before he could even finish announcing that we were pulling over for pictures, I was literally running off the bus. FINALLY. The Kea was a very good little model and let me take some very close photos. The rain falling in the background was the perfect backdrop and I am so pleased with how the photos turned out. I proceeded to get back on the bus and pass out, waking up once along the way to eat a pie of course. It's New Zealand, I felt obligated.