The Routeburn Track killed me.
This is how I went from Te Anau to Queenstown on foot, crossing a little part of the Southern Alps.
This morning, with Andreas we’re leaving Te Anau early in the morning to hike the Routeburn Track. I have to admit my plan is a little bit flawed… My plane is taking off from Queenstown to Denpasar, Bali on March 27th (in 4 days) and I thought it would be the coolest thing on Earth to hike my way from Te Anau to Queenstown instead of hitchhiking or taking a bus. Since I completely adored walking the Kepler Track, I’m more than thrilled to hike another Great Walk. The rub is, the Hut in the middle of the track is fully booked for months to come. Andreas told me that’s alright, we just have to hike more or less all the track in once and book the last Hut, Routeburn Flats.
23km in one day is fairly doable. It should take less than 10 hours. Okay. On the Kepler Track, I was hiking 16km a day, so the 23km aren’t that (much) scary to me. Here we go, baby.
But, here’s the thing…
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BALI D-DAY -4: (TE ANAU-) THE DIVIDE – ROUTEBURN FLATS (23km)
There were no seats available for the 7:00 AM shuttle from Te Anau to The Divide (which is the starting point of the track, located about 1:30 driving from Te Anau, on the Milford Road – that’s also the starting point of the Key Summit track), so we thought about hitchhiking our way to The Divide.
Except that, although we’re dancing there, on the side of the road under this grey sky, people won’t stop, they don’t want to pick us up. We have no choice than to book the next shuttle to The Divide, but it’ll make us arrive quite late over there. Quite late for a 10-hour walk. And as winter is coming, days are shortening (I know that you guys European folks are witnessing flowers blossoming, as for me I’m just witnessing that I’m freezing my ass off.) So, we finally get there by 11:00 AM, and I start to have a bad feeling about this (like Han Solo.) But I’m starting the walk cheerfully for I have my precious wooden stick with me so nothing bad can happen to me.
Another thing we didn’t plan is the rain. Well, we knew it would be raining. A little. But we didn’t plan the heavy pouring rain, almost continuously for our 10 hours hike. So, if you, my little novice adventurer, are reading this and planning to hike a Great Walk or another hike, better check the weather first and be WELL prepared for that. I had to activate the survival mode. And I realised one thing, on survival mode you have no choice but to move on. Even though it’s raining so much that the path is turning into a stream, even though your shoes are literally flooded (no matter if they used to be Gore-Tex Waterproof whatever), even though the same shit is happening to your so called rain jacket. You have to be careful with every step you make, otherwise, you might slip and fall down the mountain. Yep, baby, I was hiking on bloody ridges, and the void was all around me, calling me with its sweet voice.
As I’m slow when I’m ascending, Andreas is starting to carry my backpack in addition to his own for a few kilometres… It’s a bit of pressure when he’s telling me that we better go faster if we don’t want to hike in the night time. And I stumble when I’m under pressure. So, I try to relax myself. While the weather is clearing up, Andreas starts to sing. He teaches me a song I never heard of, that we’re going to sing in canon for several kilometres. Here we go. Andreas just found a way to ease my mind.
« I like the flowers. I like the daffodils. I like the mountains. I like the rolling hills. I like the fireside when the lights are low. Boom deeh ah, boom deeh ah dah. »
We can’t see much of the surroundings landscape because of the rain. It’s all foggy around us. We have a glimpse sometimes of how it would have looked on a nice weather, and frankly, it’s selling me some dreams. However, the big bummer is that my camera decided to die. Only temporarily, because of the rain, the sand, the fog, the waterfalls, the shocks, well, my camera had had a pretty hard time since I started my travels. It doesn’t want to open the focus anymore. It will come back to life again on the next morning, though. But it means I don’t have many pictures of this hiking adventure and considering I love to take loads of pictures all the time, it’s another pain in my (wet) ass.
As we’re reaching the Harris Saddle Shelter, we’re fed up. We’re completely drenched. We’re happy to find shelter at the Harris Saddle and meet 3 French people there, having a break from the hike. One of them is hiking the same way as we are, and the other two decided to spend the night inside the shelter even though it’s forbidden because they planned to hike the whole track today and they still have more than 15 km to reach The Divide. We try to dry ourselves a bit, removing our shoes and socks, and try to warm ourselves up. We still have to walk about 5 km until Routeburn Flats and it’s still raining cats and dogs outside.
On the way until the Harris Saddle, we met quite a few ‘freaks’ as Andreas is calling them. Those people, like us, who wanted to hike the entire track today. Some of them were well prepared to hike at night, in shorts for as it’s pouring rain, it doesn’t really make any difference if it’s your skin or your clothes that are wet. So, we’re feeling a little bit less crazy (and dumb) during this hike.
We finally reach Routeburn Flats at night time, around 21:00, and I came to realise that my head torch is really shitty to light properly my way through the dark forest. We walked during 10 hours, having only two breaks, one to get some lunch at the Lake MacKenzie, and the other one at the Harris Saddle Shelter. We’re dripping, but a fire is burning in the chimney and the other hikers are welcoming us with big smiles. What a relief. We end up playing some card game and eating hot noodles.
When I get into my dry and warm sleeping bag this night, my body all sore and achy, I still can’t believe I did it. I still can’t believe I made it through this day. For most people it doesn’t seem much to hike this amount of time in a chaotic weather, they’re used to hike anyway no matter the weather. However, for me, it’s a giant step. I never did something like that before, never ever. I feel brave, and most of all, I feel like I could go through anything. Because as simple as this could sound, life is like a hike, right? You just have to move on. There’s no other choice than to move on, step by step. And at some point, there would be a fire burning in the chimney.
BALI D-DAY -3: ROUTEBURN FLATS – GLENORCHY (KINLOCH LODGE)
What a lovely view we have this morning! The sky is clear and the sun is shining. Kea are fooling around in front of the Hut, trying to get in to steal the food. The Kea is such a fascinating bird, that’s the only mountain parrot in the world and it’s a very smart animal. In New Zealand, you can often witness them trying to steal food from humans or manipulating every kind of things, from the windscreen wipers to backpacks or cameras. They’re so curious they got the nickname of ‘mountain clowns’. Anyway, the one I’m seeing this morning is trying to open the window to get inside. I think he saw our breakfast on the table!
The last part of the track is superb. We have this amazing weather and everything glitters. We reach the end of the track in a short 2 hours walk, and since we didn’t really plan anything, we don’t really know how to get to the Kinloch Lodge, the place we booked for the night. It’s situated about 20 km from where we are, so we just start walking and hitchhiking.
A lovely retired kiwi couple picks us up in their well-equipped van, and they tell us that they saved money all their working years to get this van and go driving all around New Zealand. They’re selling us dreams. We would love to follow them and share some time with them on the road. They drop us off in Glenorchy which is still a bit far from the Kinloch Lodge, across the lake. We’re thinking of the water taxi to cross Lake Wakatipu, and as we’re inquiring about it in a little shop we meet the owner of the Kinloch Lodge who’s about to drive back there. It’s like serendipity all over again, as if fate wanted to apologise for the exhausting day we had yesterday.
The Kinloch Lodge is a sweet place, just beside the lake, with an astonishing view. We really enjoy the comfort of the place, the hot showers, the little Jacuzzi with a mountain view, the white wine, pastries and the Canadians’ giggles in the kitchen. We’re sharing our room with Tristan, a US citizen who’s working on boats on scientific missions. He’s having some days off in New Zealand before a several months mission in the Pacific. He’s even offering us to drive us to Queenstown the following day, which is pretty perfect!
During the Routeburn Track, I was daydreaming about relaxing in this Jacuzzi, about the euphoria that’s following a hike. The endorphins release. And when this moment finally came, I have a hard time believing it. This time, I really did struggle.
But I survived.
BALI D-DAY -2: KINLOCH LODGE – QUEENSTOWN – ARROWTOWN
Tristan is dropping us off, Andreas and me in Queenstown. Now, we’re splitting our group: Andreas is meeting some friends from Dunedin to go on a road trip along the west coast. It’s always strange to split with someone you met on the road. Especially when you shared this kind of intensive hike together. Hopefully, we’ll see each other in Basel when I’ll be back.
What I forgot to mention earlier is that I planned to do some Couchsurfing in Queenstown, for it’s really hard here to find accommodation, even in backpacker’s hostels. Everything is always fully booked. And it’s the Easter weekend, so I can’t hope to find any dorm to sleep in. I had a positive answer about a Couchsurfing host in Queenstown, although the guy cancelled my request just before I left for the hike. Bummer. I have to be creative here to figure out where I could sleep for two nights before flying to Bali.
I think about Corbynn, this amazing girl I met in Te Anau, whom I remember has a boyfriend living in Queenstown. Sam. I met him shortly before leaving town, so hopefully, it’ll work out… And it does! He says he will gladly help me out, but as he’s a chef, he won’t be back home before 21:30. It means I have a whole day to myself, so better get a stroll somewhere while I’m here.
The lady at the DOC office advises me to go to Arrowtown, a little town about one hour bus ride from Queenstown. And she was right, I fell in love with the town as soon as I get there. Arrowtown is a former mining town, which was very popular around the XIXth century during the Gold Rush. And we can still stroll around what used to be the Chinese Settlement, for the Chinese emigrated to New Zealand at this time mainly for the Gold business. They were living in tiny cabins, and often they stayed between them because the locals were kind of racists towards them. The site is really interesting and impressing, and the autumn colours are astonishing.
A Geocaching session is bringing me along the riverside, then to the former town’s jail. As I like it here and I’m strolling around, I miss my bus. But it’s not that bad, I’m used to hitchhiking my way now and end up meeting a yoga teacher who’s offering me the ride.
As I get to Sam’s place, I’m gazing at the starry sky from his backyard waiting for him to come back home. When he finally arrive, with his housemate and co-worker Kane, he makes a honey tea for me, we settle ourselves on the terrace and they start talking about cuisine. He handing me this notebook who used to belong to a friend of theirs who was working at the Noma restaurant in Copenhagen. Noma is like one of the best restaurants on the planet. I have my eyes wide open while opening this precious notebook like I’m handling a treasure. There are some recipes and dry herbs inside. The atmosphere I’m in at this very moment is incredible. They’re talking about Easter menus they’re going to cook all this busy weekend and I’m carefully listening to everything even though I don’t know much this world. I’m still amazed by kiwi hospitality… Sam barely knows me and yet he’s hosting me cheerfully, making me some, making me feel comfortable by telling me to help myself in the fridge and even offering me his car keys if I want to drive around. I can’t believe how lucky I am –that’s serendipity all over again- and I’m smiling like a kid.
BALI D-DAY -1: QUEENSTOWN
If you remember right, (you can read this post), I met Kim and Julien in Napier 6 months ago, two crazy French folks. Kim had to fly back to France for a family business and she just got back in New Zealand in time for her birthday… Near Queenstown. They’re planning to throw a party at a campground tonight. They asked two of their French friends if they could host me in Queenstown and if I could drive with us to this birthday party.
This is the reason why I left Frankton and Sam’s and Kane’s house this morning. I put Monster on my back and decide to go back to Queenstown by walking along the lakeside. The stroll is really enjoyable for the sun is shining and the water has this beautiful blue colour. I reach the city just in time to taste the Fergburger without having to wait (too long) in the queue. The legend says this Burger is the best Burger in the whole world. I order a vegetarian one and seat myself on the lawn in front of the lake. I have a feast. Okay, it’s not necessarily the best burger in the whole world (because it’s hard to compete with Le Pied de Mammouth in Strasbourg, right), but man, this burger is delicious.
After that, I’m meeting Mickael who’s welcoming me with open arms and drives me to the campground. His girlfriend Pauline will meet us later on and that’s when we start to realise that she’s working in the same restaurant than Sam and Kane! That’s a hell of a coincidence!!
We have a great night celebrating Kim’s birthday and that’s such a joy to meet them again. We’re planning on meeting up again when I come back to Bali and I end up this day sleeping on Pauline and Mickael’s convertible couch.
As a lot of people are having trouble finding accommodation in Queenstown, a succession of random coincidences allowed me to meet extraordinary people that were willing to host me. It’s like my heart is ready to explode facing so much generosity.
Even though I felt I could die 42 times… That wasn’t that hard to walk from Te Anau to Queenstown, right?
BALI D-DAY: But that’s another story my friend.
LET’S GO THERE!:
ROUTEBURN TRACK, Fiordland National Park
KINLOCH LODGE, 862 Kinloch Rd, Glenorchy
ARROWTOWN, à 30 minutes from Queenstown by car
FRANKTON, 10 minutes from Queenstown by car
FERGBURGER, 42 Shotover St, Queenstown