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October 10, 2004

Glenorchy to Te Anau

I left Queenstown the day after I wrote my last entry (I couldn't tell you what day that was, nor could I tell you for sure what today is for that matter). I was able to get a ride with an adventure tour company. All the other passengers were on their way to a cheesy tour of one of the filming sites of The Lord Of The Rings by jet-boat, 4WD, raft and who knows what else. I checked in at the hostel in Glenorchy and walked around town--three times in one hour. It's a tiny community at the end of the lake. The scenery was beautiful once again. This was my third town in a row that is on a lake and by the mountains. Each was beautiful yet different from the others.

It wouldn't be New Zealand without...

I gathered some information on the Caples track. The idea being to use the Caples track as a bridge to Milford Sound, I would send one of my packs by bus to the Sound while I hiked accross the mountain range to arrive at Milford Road. The weather wouldn't be good enough to leave the next day, but overall the track was not flooded or snowed in.

The next day I explored the area some more by getting permission from a farmer to hike through his land and up the hills to get a bird's-eye view of the town. I had photography on the brain but the cloud cover made some shots difficult. Still, I couldn't resist taking pictures of the farmer's sheep.

Mountain sheep.

Back at the hostel I shared my traverse plans with other residents who thought it was a good enough idea that they decided to join me.

I went to the Info center to arrange for the bag transport when something weird happened: in a freakish occurence of the world being very small, it was in the tiny I-Center of remote Glenorchy, NZ that I ran into somebody I used to party with in Engineering school in Montreal. He was also interested in doing the Caples track, so there would be four of us. He and I had the obligatory beer at the town bar and then met up with the two girls to prepare for the hike.

The next morning we put up our thumbs and smiled at the cars passing through town. I ended up being driven to the trailhead in a BMW X5 while conversing with a delightful Australian couple. The hike went smoothly. We all found our pace and walked individually through the forest, meeting up every few hours. The views were as wonderful as I have come to expect from this country. The hut was comfortable, and frankly it was not much of a step down in comfort for someone who had been sleeping in hostels for the last few weeks.

Typical New Zealand

The second half of the hike was more strenuous, and more scenic as well. The Caples crosses a mountain pass of 900+ meters. It's not high but it puts the surrounding mountains in perspective. Indeed the alpine scenery of New Zealand continues to amaze me. The mountains are not high, but they are very rugged and steep. The thick coating of snow that is still on them is the cherry on top, so to speak.

Hiking the pass.

The other aspect of tramping in this country that surprises me is that a trail that is labeled as being "rough" is, well, actually rough. The descent from the pass was a difficult hike. It was very steep and rain had eroded much of the mud away, leaving an array of roots criss-crossing the route (there was no real trail at that point). It was a tedious excercise to high-step the roots and plant my foot in a six-inch deep puddle of mud while hanging on to some branches for balance. I spent so much time looking at my feet that I missed a few trail markers and had to back-track to find my way. In a few instances so much of the mountain had washed away that it was a matter of no-kidding class-three or -four bouldering to get down. Did I mention it was very slippery? This lasted an hour and a half.

We all made it in the end, although we were more weary than we could have imagined. There would be two more hours of easy hiking to get to Milford Road.

While we hiked the Caples on our two-day tramp, our extra packs travelled 400 kilometers by road to Milford Sound. The Sound is easily accessed because there is a road that leads to it, but this road runs up from Southerly Te Anau. To get to that town from Queenstown means going around the lake, then South then West for a long ways. Putting it all together, the road from Glenorchy to Milford Sound is a large 'C' with the two ends very close together. The Caples track essentially bridges the small gap between the ends, although we would have to hitch hike into town from the trailhead (a thirty minute ride).

We each caught enjoyable rides to Milford Sound individually (my University acquaintance headed to Te Anau). Typically the ride home after a hike is a dull experience spent longing for a shower and bed. I was so focused on the hiking that I forgot where I was going. Milford Sound... one of the world's most scenic places. After going around a few curves in the road the scenery opened up and my jaw landed on my muddy lap and stayed there for the rest of the drive. My driver was a photographer so he he pulled off the road for the good photo ops.

Photo op.

On arrival I was craving a big meal but there would be no such thing. A tiny store in the hostel sold a few canned goods. I showered the mud off and ate rice and beans.

The next morning I was on the Sound in a sea Kayak with a couple of guides and a small group of paddlers. Many large cruise boats and small aircraft patrol the sound, but only kayaks allow you to get intimate with its flora and fauna. I also enjoyed being in a small group with no rehearsed commentary barking out of a loudspeaker.

Guide and scenery.

The Milford Sound and its surroundings is an incredible sight. I can not put together the words to describe the sights. The beauty of the scenery is combined with its immensity to give the visitor the impression that maybe its nickname Godzone (or God's Own) is not such a pompous name after all. It also gave this visitor the idea that maybe it's time to get a camera with a wide angle lens. The scenery is so huge that my narrow-field compact only manages to capture details or distant landscapes.


With bad weather in sight I shared a ride to Te Anau the next afternoon with a POS-Ford-driving traveller. She and I agreed that things couldn't get any better as we slowly wound our way up the valley, the Milford scenery towering above us and still so captivating. Brakes and stomach problems aside we had an enjoyable drive to Te Anau, stopping here and there to hike around and enjoy these good times.

Posted by piegu on October 10, 2004 07:26 PM
Category: New Zealand
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