Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Routeburn Track

The picture above was taken as we drove from the glaciers on the west coast of the South Island, across the mountains and down to Queenstown. The drive was one of the absolute best in our lives passing amazing scenery all along the way. The day was gorgeous and the mountains were 'out' allowing for the amazing views.
This pic above was the view from our hostel in Queenstown and shows the Remarkables Mountain range. Queenstown was our base to buy a few last minute items before our big hike. Since we will revisit the place at the end of our trip we will save further commentary until then...I know you will all be waiting with bated breath.

Ok, so after getting provisions and the like for the hike, we hopped on the bus and set out for the Routeburn Shelter, the start of our three day wilderness adventure. The Routeburn was to be our first truly backpacking experience.

The hike involved approximately 20 miles spread over three days, with approximately a 1500 foot elevation gain and loss (though actually you do well over twice this as you gain and lose elevation).
The picture above was taken at the very start of the track. Julie was as eager as she looks while Dan was already tired (those packs were heavy!!). We've both hiked quite a bit, but with 30 pounds on the back its just a different experience. You do actually get a bit used to it after a fashion though.

The hike starts by following the Routeburn river as it races through a valley, down a gorge, through another valley, and then finally at a truly impressive falls that we weren't going to get to until the second day. The path crosses over the river repeatedly, multiple times with fun, if a bit scary, swing bridges. Dan had fun bouncing around (until he felt sick) while Julie merely hung on for dear life. Below is Julie on bridge 3 or 4.
The river itself was really pretty as it had that gorgeous turquoise color that seems to be found all over NZ.
After a cool forest and a big meadow, we started to gain some serious elevation. Soon we were treated to great views of the valley despite the clouds (and drizzle) that hung overhead. Really pretty!
Before too long (the first day was only 5.5 miles) we were approaching the first hut. Soon we would be enjoying baileys and hot chocolate as our reward for a good day's hike.

The second day started with a bang! We, being lazy and wet the night before, hadn't realized that 30 yards past the hut was a series of great waterfalls. Cool - but cold as we had arrived above the tree line and the wind whipping. Welcome to alpine country!
After a breathtaking hike in some stark but gorgeous alpine scenery, all the while treated to views far below to the valley we had come from the previous day, we arrived at the source of the river we had been hiking along for a day and a half. Lake Harris was beautiful, the rain was holding off and we were even seeing some blue sky. We were pumped!

Soon we were at the Saddle itself, the highest part of the hike and the place where we passed from one side of a mountain range to the other. We went from great views down the Routeburn to views along another valley, the Hollyford. This section of the track has been described as some of the most beautiful of any track in the world. While we were fortunate not to be staring into (and walking in) a cloud, our views were definitely heavily obscured by clouds along the other side. Despite this, we were enthralled by the few glimpses we were afforded as we walked along the exposed ridgeline for miles.

The day ended with a steep descent down to another mountain lake (Lake Mackenzie) and another hut. Like the previous hut, the second was sited in an amazing location. The pic below is taken just steps away from the hut along the shore of the lake at twilight. We had a moment alone and just savored being where we were.

Alas, no more pics as the last day of the hike it poured the entire day. We have a few with the waterproof camera but those will have to wait until our return. A bit of a bummer but we were treated to amazing forests (the moss is hard to describe - its everywhere and makes things so green its hard to take in and impossible to capture) and many, many, many waterfalls. Still cool.

All in all a wonderful hike and an experience we will long remember. Now, on to the 'sounds' - Milford and Doubtful. Cheers!

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