Meg and I’s stay in Queenstown is coming to an end. We are heading to Christchurch tomorrow to find ourselves a campervan as we have not really had any luck here. We have, however, been lucky enough to see some amazing landscapes though and on a bit of a whim we headed south to Glenorchy a couple of days ago to one of the Great Walks of New Zealand – the Routeburn Track. A four day hike through an alpine hut system, we did the first leg up to the Routeburn Falls Hut to a breathtaking view of the valley below.
The drive down to Glenorchy was in and of itself a sightseeing adventure. The road twists and turns along Lake Wakatipu and demands you roll the windows down, feel the breeze and take in the views. This place was made for summer driving. The roads here, besides throwing right-hand drivers for a loop, force you into tight turns between narrow lines. They are mostly in good shape thankfully but signs for curves ahead or adjusted speed limits are not suggestions. It is why we’ve repeatedly been told to look up travel times, as distances on a map are meaningless. Being in the enviable position of not being in a rush these days, we genuinely enjoy the ride and thrill of turning these corners where new and exciting sights are constantly opening up before us.
Glenorchy is a small, sleepy town with a cafe, some motels for backpackers and an actual “general store”. Stopping to fill up our water, we then made our way down the gravel road towards the trailhead that would start the hike. Driving past the long stretches of bright green meadows, fields of lambs hopped around with the soaring mountain tops behind them. Beautiful.
We parked our Toyota Yaris rental, put on a coat of sunscreen then threw on our packs and headed through the station and into the forest. Crossing many streams throughout, we immediately came to a suspension bridge that led us to the ascending dirt path that would take us up and into what is called the Routeburn Flats.
The icy streams are so clear, and such a captivating shade of turquoise, you almost want to neglect the freezing temperatures and dive into one of the pools. Past the trees and ferns and into the open valley of the flats, you come upon the Routeburn Flats Hut a little over two hours into your hike. Set just off of the path and surrounded on all sides by towering mountains, walking into the open grasslands places you square in the amphitheater of these giants. It was impossible to capture the scale through my lens but is something that needs to be experienced firsthand to be appreciated.
After a snack in the warm sun we filled up at the water station and pumped our legs up the steep incline towards hut number two. Spring creeping into summer here in New Zealand, the temperature was tepid and the trail shaded which made for excellent hiking conditions. We passed the location of a 1994 slide, occurring after a particularly bad flood that year, and gave us our first elevated view of the Routeburn Flats we had just left.
We quickly gained altitude and passed a couple of descending hikers who told us that Routeburn Falls Hut was just around the corner. Getting into a rhythm, I hadn’t noticed that we’d left the flats an hour ago. As we did turn the corner we were astonished to see the level of construction the New Zealanders had accomplished at such heights. This was no austere alpine hut nailed together with plywood but a luxurious looking cabin held over the rocky cliffs edge on stilts. Better still, it was complete with a long deck veranda to sit down on, kick off your boots and soak in the sun and view.
It was here we met a couple who had come to the end of their New Zealand adventure. Ben, a good-natured Belgian, and his laid-back Dutch hiking partner Feera (pronounced Fee-air-ah). We quickly fell into comfortable conversation and spoke at length to them about their year long journey.
We ran into a fellow Canadian from Toronto on a day hike later that week who, I will paraphrase, put it best – “I love talking with fellow travelers, the normal back and forth falls to the wayside and you can get into some big conversations really quickly”. I wholeheartedly agree with him. The passion of exploring and gaining new experiences has been plastered on almost all the faces of people we’ve met in this country. They are always eager to open up about the things they’ve done, the people they’ve met and what lies ahead.
Ben and Feera told us to hike 15min further up the trail to the start of the waterfall to take in the unobstructed views. They told us how it felt to come up over Harris saddle, the col between the mountains to enter the Routeburn Flats, after tramping through the peaks all day. We of course needed no further prompting and found a flat rock to relax on at the top of this epic trail.
Finishing just enough of this trail to really spark our desire to complete the circuit, Meg and I will definitely be back to finish the route. Accommodations being as expensive as they are, we need to first find ourselves this campervan in Christchurch so we can really be self-suficient and discover a little more freedom to roam. So, this next week is campervan shopping. When we’ve decided on what we want, we will need help naming our sweet new ride and will be posting pictures on our Instagram, FaceBook and here on our blog. My newly engaged sister and her fiance Derek (congratulations again you two!!) being the pun-masters they are have already served up Pamela Vanderson and Van Diesel as a couple of options.
After this, the start of this next month will be spent on a sheep farm as a couple wants help docking the tails of their new lambs as well as taking care of the litter of pugs that they breed. Yes that’s right pugs – Meg’s dog obsession. Pretty sure this was meant to be. We are of course also very excited to see the rural side of this country and meet its residents.
It’s been one adventure packed first week with Meg and I turning new corners all the time in this country and what lies ahead never ceases to amaze us!