“At it again already?” you ask. Yes. We only had a week off in between the end of our Milford Track trip and the start of this next one. Why schedule the walks so close together? Like I said in my previous Great Walk posts, tickets sell out very quickly so you need to book in advance. Alana and I booked these walks back in May. At the time we had no idea what we’d be doing come November/December, but we wanted to do the walks so we booked them when we could and are now filling in the gaps in between. We spent the week in the small towns of Cromwell and Clyde, about an hour east of Queenstown. We chose these little towns because accommodation in Queenstown is super expensive. There wasn’t a whole lot to do, so we spent most of the week relaxing and resting our sore leg muscles. Before we knew it, it was time to set out on our next adventure!
We had to drive in to Queenstown to catch a van to the trailhead. This required us to get up pretty early (remember we had been resting aka sleeping in all week). We parked at the Queenstown airport. It was $16 for the two nights that we’d be hiking. Alana insisted on parking here because of the dangers of car theft in New Zealand. I gave in because I’d rather pay $16 than come back to a parking ticket- we don’t know Queenstown quite well enough to know where there is safe, secure, and free parking. We caught a public bus into the city center. There was still about an hour to kill before our scheduled departure, so we got second breakfast (first had been at the Airbnb back in Clyde) at Joe’s Garage, which was delicious. “Second breakfast? You gluttons!” Hey this is New Zealand, the home of hobbits, and with all the walking we’d be doing the next few days it couldn’t hurt to really fuel up.
After breakfast we made our way over to the pickup location to find that our driver had been looking for us (we were 10 minutes early, I swear!). We stopped to pick up some other hikers before heading north along Lake Wakatipu towards Glenorchy, where we’d begin the hike. The drive was very scenic, and we stopped for pictures along the way. It took about an hour to reach our destination. It was pretty hot so I took my pant bottoms off (convertible pants are awesome) before we started down the trail.
The path was a moderate incline (Routeburn, more like Inclineburn, or Calfburn, or Thighburn… You get the idea.) through some woods. It only took us about an hour and a half to get to the first campsite. That’s right, we’re going all out this time around! Campsites are available on all of the great walks except the Milford Track. If you’re on a budget then camping is the way to go. It only costs $20 per person for a campsite spot compared to $65 per person for a bunk in the huts. That meant we’d be carrying a tent and sleeping pads around with us in addition to our food and clothes. I cut back on the amount of clothes I brought (you’re gonna be stinky anyway, might as well embrace it), and we didn’t bring any fresh veggies this time around. With these changes our packs didn’t feel too heavy, even with the tent stuffed in.
While we were walking I was surprised at how different The Routeburn “felt” from The Milford. Saying this, I don’t mean that the fuzzy moss wasn’t as soft to the touch, but more of a general sense of feeling. Like how the whole is more than the sum of its parts; it’s a combination of the sights, sounds, smells…all the sense perceptions of a place rolled into one total unique feeling. The two trails are less than fifty kilometers apart, but the areas they pass through have very unique looks and feels. This trail winded along a hillside through the woods. Down a steep drop on the left we could see a small river with lots of waterfalls and rapids. The water was, of course, a stunning shade of clear blue. There were many large cliffs and mountains visible through the trees. “Look at that rock face!” Alana called out to me. Our mouths dropped open at the glimpse.
The campsite was the most scenic I’ve ever been to. Situated in a meadow in the middle of a large open valley on the edge of the woods, there were snow capped mountains all around. There was a stream running by that continued down into the valley ahead of the campsite. We spent the afternoon following a small trail that went along the stream back into the valley. We kept going until we entered a thick grove of trees and palm bushes. At this point the trail started moving slowly upwards towards the mountains. We’d be doing enough uphill hiking the next day, so we turned around to head back to the campsite.
Back at the campsite I spent some time reading. Since we’d be sleeping on the ground I needed to make sure I was adequately tired to fall asleep without any trouble. Alana, with her ability to fall asleep anywhere, took a nap on a bench. She clearly has a much lower sleep discomfort threshold than I do.
We had some boil in a bag rice with some super bean/grain packets. They weren’t the tastiest, especially since we were just boiling the rice and mixing everything together. I’ll eat pretty much anything if I’m hungry enough (heck, even if I’m not that hungry), but Alana especially didn’t like them because of how dry they were (we didn’t bring any sauce or oil this time). Our theory was: the simpler our cooking, the less stuff we’ll have to bring for it. Our camp meals are a work in progress that we’re constantly refining. Next time, more sauce.
It started getting chilly around 8:00 so we retired to the tent and got in our sleeping bags. In the huts the bags had been too warm and I usually ended up sleeping on top of mine, so it was nice having adequately cold temperatures to enjoy sleeping in a warm sleeping bag.