Return to Kiwiland, Part VI: Middle-Agers + 20Something = A Trip

When we spent a sabbatical year in New Zealand back in the ’90s, we spent it with Sons One and Two. On this most recent return, we invited Son Two to join us, and, being between jobs, he eagerly accepted. But for him, this trip wasn’t really a “return,” because on his first visit, he looked like this:

on the golden sands of Abel Tasman NP, 1997

He was four then. He remembers NOTHING. Clean slate. When we traveled around, we generally went from playground to playground.

Every little town had one–still does!

And when we hiked, we couldn’t go very far.

Back then I had to carry the boys over the swinging bridges–they didn’t like the bouncing.

Now, having grown up in the family Church of the Great Outdoors, Son Two knew he was up for a lot of hiking on this trip. Not the kind of thrill-adventure New Zealand’s become known for. (After all, Kiwis did invent bungee-jumping, or “bungy” as they spell it.) He likes to hike.

Even in the rain (on the Routeburn, one of NZ’s Great Walks)

But I think we were all relieved when he managed to peel off and enjoy some good 20something-style touring on his own. Not rafting, though we were all tempted…

Ooh! We would have done that. But this trip was for research, not adventure.

As it happens, our good friends Nancy and Graeme live near Queenstown, NZ’s crown jewel of adventure touring. Their house is right above the Shotover River, where jetboats filled with screaming tourists roar up and down throughout the day. But Son Two didn’t need to pay for a jetboat ride…because Graeme has his own! A true Kiwi.

They really were just a blur.

Son Two also rode the lift up above Q-town for a glimpse of the whole spectacle…

Lake Wakatipu in the background

and spent a late night on the town with Graeme, capturing a scene I missed by going sensibly to bed.

It’s high summer, so this is around 9 pm.

But his true millennial attributes came to life when he announced he wanted to bungee-jump. Since he was paying for it himself, we had nothing to say on the matter (Graeme did use to work for A.J.Hackett, the bungee-inventor himself, but no more–so no discounts, sorry).

Bungee bathroom

Yes, I have a video of the actual jump. But no–I didn’t want to upload it to YouTube just for the purposes of imbedding it in this blog. I’ll only go so far to violate my sons’ privacy. ūüôā These stills will have to do.

Kawarau Gorge Bridge, site of the World’s First Bungy Enterprise

Just in case you need some…

Ready for the plunge!

Good news: he didn’t break his neck. Nor barf (“chunder”) after his night out with Graeme. Phew.

After that, it was back to hiking.

Copland Track, west coast–another Great Walk

Hokitika Gorge, west coast. “Hm, good spot for bungee…”

Heaphy Track, west coast (up north). Notice he no longer needs to be carried over swinging bridges!

But up north, in Abel Tasman National Park, I think we finally impressed him.

This is the same beach he ran on in 1997!

Blue water and sun, in January? Yes please!

Maybe a little less sun for us oldsters.

Cleopatra’s Pool

Tramping around an inlet along the coastal track

Happy to embrace his Hiking Heritage

Giving our sore feet a rest after all that hiking (tramping), we did some paddling in Marlborough Sound (Totaranui).

The Mate, enjoying the lack of mosquitos.

Yeah, this’ll do.

That won the Official 20something Seal of Approval.

Pun intended

But when we got back to town, the lil’ tyke showed he can still enjoy a good playground.

in Motueka

Do I recommend middle-agers traveling with their 20somethings? If you have one like ours–absolutely. Would Son Two recommend to his cohorts traveling with their middle-aged parents? We can only hope.

Milford Track-elogue: Walk With Me On “The Most Beautiful Walk in the World”

“Tramp,” actually–not walk. Kiwis don’t hike trails, they tramp tracks. And we’re going to New Zealand now, where I’ve been¬†for most of the past month, and still am, mentally, for the past week since coming home. This blog entry will allow me to stay a while longer. Thanks for that.

January 30, with our tidy, heavy backpacks, we hopped a bus in Te Anau (in Fiordland, on the southwest of the South Island) to a boat which took us to the top of (beautiful, 40-mile long, 1,200 ft-deep) Lake Te Anau ¬†and dropped us off at the start of the track. I was filled with that childlike sense of “I can’t believe this is finally happening!”–a feeling which never wore off, as a matter of fact, during the whole five days. (That’s what you get for wanting to do something for 20 years, I guess. I’ve always enjoyed the extra boost of joy I get from anticipation, and this was extra-extra.)

Let's go let's go let's go!

Let’s go let’s go let’s go!

The boat dropped us off. Every tramper had to step carefully through a pair of tubs filled with bleach solution, to kill an invasive algae that’s plaguing NZ waters. Milford’s rivers are still blessedly pure.

After 20 years...we're on our way.

After 20 years…we’re on our way.

Off we tramped into mature beech forest, those giant Lord Of The Rings southern beeches with tiny, dark leaves and craggy, ferny, rainforesty trunks. Huge. Immersed in silence, with occasional blasts from tiny fantails and black robins with outsized voices, I could not wipe the smile off my face.

Imagine birdsong...

Imagine birdsong…

Mountain Beech

Mountain Beech

The first hut was only 5k away and the day was fine. (In NZ, food is “nice” and weather is “fine”–the opposite of how we say it.) So we took our time, stopping for lunch and photos. We both wished the first hut had been further in, making the next day shorter, but I guess the public huts are spaced carefully apart from the lodges of the paying trampers (who have their packs carried and meals prepared), and those lodges seem to have been built first.

The irony of this river's name was inescapable, as we hiked along it only 10 days after the other guy's inauguration...

The irony of this river’s name was inescapable, as we hiked along it only 10 days after the other guy’s inauguration…

At Clinton Hut (on the Clinton River) we had plenty of leisure time. I covered myself up from sandflies and found a mossy log to lounge upon and write in my journal, and a sweet little black robin came and sat on my feet! I think it was eating my sandflies. (No pictures of that–I didn’t want to scare the lil’ guy off.)

***Not pictured: black robin eating Gretchen’s sandflies***

That night it started to rain. We’d seen the weather reports; the next day looked horrible, and we fully expected to be hiking in torrential rain and wind. Our Hut Warden, Rose, warned us, “It’ll be like walking into the shower with the spray pointed at your face.” ¬†But we took comfort in the hope that the following day would be¬†clear to crest the pass.

OK, I see what they mean about trail washouts...

OK, I see what they mean about trail washouts…

Rain it did–where we were, yes, but even more above us, and on the other side of the pass. We apparently received 9 inches; I’m not sure what they got, but it was more. Which was a problem. That first morning, all packed up and ready to roll, we 40 trampers listened to Rose telling usthat the track would become impassible up ahead.¬†(Neck-deep, in fact, is what it turned out to be on the other side of the pass!) So the 40 trampers in the next hut couldn’t move on, which meant that we couldn’t either. Having already spent a full afternoon in Clinton Hut, we were now officially forbidden to leave it for another 24 hours. (Rose actually put a rope across the track–never seen that before.)

Clinton Hut wasn't my favorite, especially after being trapped there an extra 24 hrs. This is Mintaro, Hut #2--so happy to be there!

Clinton Hut wasn’t my favorite, especially after being trapped there an extra 24 hrs. This is Mintaro, Hut #2–so happy to be there!

***Not pictured: rainy, rainy Clinton Hut***

As we were digesting this, feeling dismayed, it dawned on us that the hikers scheduled one day after us were having their entire trip CANCELLED. No way to double up folks in those huts, or at least no way the orderly Kiwis wanted to try. Wouldn’t that SUCK, to get all that way and have your tramp denied? So we counted our blessings: hey, an extra day on the Milford!

But hey, it's a RAINforest. It's just doing its job.

But hey, it’s a RAINforest. It’s just doing its job.

It was a long 24 hours, especially for the Mate,¬†who hadn’t brought a book or cards, but all our fellow trampers were pleasant, so we got to know some folks from Israel, South Africa, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia, Japan, Thailand… (Only one other American; nice.)

Kotukutuku (Fuchsia tree)

Kotukutuku (Fuchsia tree)

Our official Day 2 (actually Day 3) took us 8.5 miles, still only gently uphill, to Mintaro Hut in the fuchsia (kotukutuku) forest favored by bellbirds, so the birdsong got even better. The river valley narrowed there as we approached the river’s source, and of course there were waterfalls everywhere.

Waterfalls EVERYWHERE.

Waterfalls EVERYWHERE.

Day 4 was the highlight: MacKinnon Pass. It’s only about 3,500 ft, but considering that we started at sea level, we were not taking it lightly. To our pleasure, most of the climb was graded so gently that we made it much more easily than expected.

Passing the source of the Clinton River, on our way to the pass

Passing the source of the Clinton River, on our way to the pass

From beech/fuchsia to flax/shrub to red tussock grass/bare rock/tarns we climbed, more wildflowers and more interesting lichens at every switchback.

We've reached treeline!

We’ve reached treeline!

Really nicely graded trail, if a bit rocky.

Really nicely graded trail, if a bit rocky.

Rare mountain buttercups (as if the scenery needed embellishment)

Rare mountain buttercups (as if the scenery needed embellishment)

Up on the pass, looking over the drop on the other side (typical lack of fence–New Zealand does not have tort law, thus doesn’t appear to share the US’s preoccupation with saving people from their own stupidity), my “hallelujah I’m really HERE” sense swelled almost to painful proportions.

almost...there...

almost…there…

It was cold up there, though, and the weather threatened a change as I guess it always does. So no lingering.

...except for the obligatory We Made It shots! Gotta linger for those.

…except for the obligatory We Made It shots! Gotta linger for those.

Gretchen in her happy place

Gretchen in her happy place

Of course there was a hut up there and of course it had a gas cooker, so of course I had a celebratory cuppa, then gave the Mate¬†a head start for the “down” walk (he has a metal hip, so down is harder than up). I took a few more pictures.

But I don't WANNA go back down!

But I don’t WANNA go back down!

Then, OH so reluctantly, I headed after him. (What is it about high alpine that thrills me so? Must be a past life thing.)

Looking back at the Clinton Valley: World's Best Latrine View?

Looking back at the Clinton Valley: World’s Best Latrine View?

The ecozone was different enough on that side that I couldn’t stop taking pictures–look, tree ferns!! Blue waterfalls!–so I didn’t catch the Mate¬†till nearly the bottom.

img_2796

I love me some tree ferns.

I love me some tree ferns.

Thanks, Dept. of Conservation, for building a LONG staircase to allow us to follow this waterfall in relative ease.

Thanks, Dept. of Conservation, for building a LONG staircase to allow us to follow this waterfall in relative ease.

The trail down was way steeper than the climb, with a rough portion that required big, jolting steps, so the Mate¬†was really feeling it. (Me too, but my legs are 15 years younger and contain no metal parts.) He rested a while, then headed down the last portion of the 10+ mile day; I took a brief, packless side trip to NZ’s highest permanent waterfall.

All you need to know...

All you need to know…

As close a picture as I could manage. Approaching Sutherland Falls, one gets absolutely drenched.

As close a picture as I could manage. Approaching Sutherland Falls, one gets absolutely drenched.

When I joined the Mate at the last hut (called, for some reason, Dumpling Hut), the sandflies were so thick there was no question of sitting outside. We pretty much ran from bunkhouse to loo or dining hut. Shades of things to come.

***Not pictured: sandflies (use your imagination)***

But the last night was still sweet. Everyone felt great about making those steep miles, especially us retired or less in-shape types (which was most everyone; the young Israeli guys, of course, could probably have done the whole 34 mile track in a day if allowed). Everyone had rationed their food enough to to make do even with the extra set of meals. (Actually, the Mate¬†and I had been kinda hoping that we’d all end up with a big potluck on that last dinner, but nothing that organized needed to happen.) And everyone, even the Israelis, was SORE from that long downhill.

***also not pictured: interior of a hut. Imagine a Boy Scout Camp bunkroom.***

But not as sore as the next day. Which was the longest: 12+ miles. Gently downhill, so not a problem, but the sandflies were so thick one couldn’t stop without being swarmed. The only way to hike was to keep moving, exactly what our poor tired legs didn’t need. Once again I gave the Mate a¬†head start, but I never caught him. For the most part I enjoyed the solitude, writing songs in my head and stopping as much as I could to take pictures…

Oh look, another swing bridge!

Oh look, another swing bridge!

Giant's Gate Falls--and another half-dozen sandfly bites.

Giant’s Gate Falls–and another half-dozen sandfly bites.

But, man–I sure could’ve used his company for the last 3 miles or so. Uff da. ¬†“When’s the last time we hiked 12 miles with packs?” we asked each other afterward. “Right.”

GIANT beech just off the track--redwood-sized.

GIANT beech just off the track–redwood-sized.

Despite sore legs and shoulders, though, I refused to wish the track to end. I soaked that last day up, sandflies and all. New sights: a huge black river eel, four feet long at least. A tui–my favorite NZ bird! A rimu, my favorite tree–just a small one, saying hi. It rained, and I said, “Oh, good, we’re in the rain forest, this is what’s supposed to happen,” and then it stopped raining and I said, “Oh, good, we can dry out now.” I drank from little waterfalls. (All the water’s drinkable there.) And yes, of course I cursed those little sandfly fuckers.

***not pictured: all my bites***

The pickup spot at the end of the track, where a boat whisks the trampers ten¬† minutes across what is suddenly salt water to Milford Sound village, is called Sandfly Point. The only thing that made it bearable was the fact that the shelter there had a door on it, and also the boat driver was a good guy and just kept picking folks up, regardless of reservation times, as fast as he could shuttle them. So we didn’t have long to suffer.

Hurry up, boat! (That's Milford Sound: suddenly, salt water!)

Hurry up, boat! 

Too bad we couldn’t stay longer in beautiful Milford Sound.

Iconic Mitre Peak--goodbye, Milford!

Iconic Mitre Peak–goodbye, Milford!

But the good news: a bus whisked us  back to Te Anau, so we were able to enjoy the still-just-as-jaw-dropping scenery.

***not pictured: scenery as seen from bus windows. But my jaw stayed dropped.***

I’m not much of a “bucket list” person. But this trip has been urging me along for 20 years. Was it as good as I’d been dreaming? No. It was better.

 

Return to Kiwiland, Part II: Why New Zealand? 2 Words: Milford Track

Kia ora! (Gotta start practicing my Maori for Pakehas–that is, white folks. I just said hello.)

Last post I promised TWO REASONS why the Mate and I are heading back to New Zealand 20 years after spending a year there.

Here goes reason #1: the Milford Track.

But before that makes sense, a little background. As I mentioned, when we lived in Dunedin in the mid-90s, our kids were small. Or, as the Kiwis put it, “wee.” Six and four. Therefore, our experience of NZ’s wonders was somewhat skewed.

For example, if you google Oamaru (the closest town of any size to Dunedin, where we lived), you’ll quickly learn that it’s home to a colony of Blue Penguins, the world’s smallest.¬†I’m sure our boys remember the penguins–but not as well as they remember Oamaru’s AWESOME town playground, which featured a slide in the shape of a life-sized elephant.

Penguins, shmenguins.

Penguins, shmenguins.

We saw a lot of playgrounds in NZ. The Mate and I joked that we should write the kid version of Lonely Planet when we got home.

We also, of course, did a lot of hiking–what the Kiwis call tramping. Ready for some pics?

We tramped in native bush...(here, on the Abel Tasman Track)

We tramped in native bush…(here, on the Abel Tasman Track)

...and bush that had been pushed back for sheep...MILLIONS of sheep.

…and bush that had been pushed back for sheep…MILLIONS of sheep.

We tramped down south in the Gold Country (near Queenstown)...

We tramped down south in the Gold Country (near Queenstown)…

...and up on the North Island, in Rotorua (their version of Yellowstone's thermal areas)

…and up on the North Island, in Rotorua (their version of Yellowstone’s thermal areas)

We tramped up mountains--little ones like Mt. Cargill, Dunedin's high point

We tramped up mountains–little ones like Mt. Cargill, Dunedin’s high point

...and around the feet of Mt. Cook, NZ's highest peak. (Saw wild parrots here!)

…and around the feet of Mt. Cook, NZ’s highest peak. (Saw wild parrots here!)

We tramped through forests...

We tramped through forests…

...across beaches...

…across beaches…

...and across some pretty iffy bridges. (I had to piggyback the boys across; they didn't like the bouncing.)

…and across some pretty iffy bridges. (I had to piggyback the boys across; they didn’t like the bouncing.)

Most of these tramps, however, were short day hikes–normal kid fare. We only went on one multi-day tramp when my parents were visiting, so we’d have an extra set of arms to help carry gear or pooped-out kids. Tramping the famous Routeburn Track was not only once-in-a-lifetime memorable, it was also, turns out, a bit of a preview of the Lord of the Rings movies.

Son Two enters Mirkwood. Right?!

Son Two enters Mirkwood. Right?!

Which brings me back to Reason #1. We only managed part of the Routeburn (including walking behind a waterfall, so no one complained). We did not even attempt the Milford Track.

The Milford is considered one of the World’s Great Walks. You hike from hut to hut, no tenting, and you have to make reservations about nine months in advance to tramp in summer. This, of course, limits the number of people on the track (the Kiwi word for trail, in case you hadn’t figured that out). We probably couldn’t have gotten reservations even if we’d tried, that year. But we didn’t try. Because the distances between huts ranged from a few miles to twelve. Our kids were up for about five miles; the Mate and I were not up for carrying them, along with packs, for the remaining seven.

So I don’t have pictures of the Milford–yet. But I promised myself, when we left Aotearoa (“Land of the Long White Cloud”–NZ’s Maori name) un-Milford-tracked, that if I could manage it in our lifetime, We Would Be Back.

So that’s Reason #1. Pictures to follow–in a couple of months, probably. For now, here’s a teaser, courtesy of Wikimedia Creative Commons:

Thanks, AlasdairW! Can't wait to follow in your footsteps.

Thanks, AlasdairW! Can’t wait to follow in your footsteps.