BootsnAll Travel Network

Fiordland National Park

After a while even travel and seeing new places becomes routine. It just becomes what you do and obtains a sort of normalcy. It is still fun but you tend to loose the sense of excitement that comes with seeing a new place. It takes something truly stunning to bring back that feeling. Fiordland National Park is definitely one of those places.

I spent the first part of the week walking the Kepler Track (one of the great walks in the park). Before setting out on the three day walk, I had to rent some equipment that I needed and I didn’t have. In Te Anua where I based myself for the walk, I rented waterproof overtrousers and a personal locator beacon. The Kepler Track goes along exposed alpine ridges from which one can be blown off by a good puff of wind and the weather can turn violent quickly so the beacon was for such an eventuality. Once activated, a signal is sent out so that rescuers can find your location. The morning of the trek I went to the local DOC office to buy hut tickets and let them know when to expect me back. I then started the walk from a trail behind the DOC office. The first day’s walk was a 2800 foot climb to the Luxmore hut through forests and finally above the treeline to the hut. The weather was fine until I got above the treeline and then the rain moved in. I made it to the hut before I got too wet. Due to the clouds, I couldn’t see any views. I went to bed early that night as I was sharing the hut with a high school group (12 students with three chaperone teachers) out on a field trip for their outdoor class and the hut was very lively (loud). Not exactly a tranquil outdoor retreat.

The next morning I woke up and some of the clouds had blown away so that I could finally see some scenery. The scene outside was one of the most beautiful I had seen in New Zealand. Beneath a pink morning sky, snow capped mountains plunged steeply into a misty lake far below. There were smaller puffy clouds floating serenly at some of the lower levels. Between some of the peaks, rivers could be seen in the distance snaking their way down to the lake.
I set off early before the high school group. Not long after starting the walk I ecountered snow on the ground, but the weather was still okay. Slowly, but surely, clouds came blowing in with the wind obscuring a lot of the views. Before I knew it, the wind had picked up and I was in a full blown snowstorm. I spent the next three hours walking along narrow ridges (with steep sides) with snow at times blowing at me sideways. As the trail was beginning to get covered in snow, I had to rely on other markers to keep track of where I was. Most of the trail was marked by orange poles but in some areas those had fallen down. Where this happened, I had to look for eroded areas in the dirt or depressions in the snow to see where the trail went. At one point I almost turned around. I could not see anymore trail markers and as I was on rocky ground there was no erosion. I decided to walk up a small peak nearby to see if I could see anything. In the distance I saw more trail markers and continued on my way. I did manage to see some wildlife in this weather. New Zealand has the world’s only alpine parrot called the Kea. These birds are notorious for ripping the rubber seals from cars in parking lots and tearing up unwatched packs. I saw one trying to fly in the wind. There is just something odd about seeing a green parrot hopping around in the snow. When I stopped and ate lunch at one of the emergency shelters, I saw a mouse glare at me from the other side of the room waiting for me to leave. As I began the descent to the Iris Burns hut, the weather cleared somewhat. I was once again able to see the distant mountains. They were full of waterfalls. I made it to the Iris Burns hut at about 1:30 in the afternoon, a full hour or so before the school group. I spent the afternoon visiting with the boisterous group and drying all my clothes by the fire which were soaked despite waterproof pants and a jacket.

The last day of the hike was a long one (and with wet boots). I had to walk 35k+ (more than 22 miles) to get back into town. I started out early with some members of the school group who were leaving earlier to get the van for the rest of the group. Every year there is a race in which people complete the 60k of the Kepler walk in one day. One of the teachers leaving early runs the race, so he was going back into town like I was to get the van for the rest of the group which would have to walk 21k. The other guys in the group were stopping at the 21K point to watch his pack. I did the first 17K with the group. They were moving very quickly doing a combination of running (not easy to do with a pack on) and walking. I kept up with them as I wanted to get back to town before dark. We did the first 17k in 2 hrs and 40 minutes (normally a 5-6 hr walk). At this point they stopped for a break and I stopped for lunch. I let them go on ahead as I had made up the time that I wanted to. I was also developing a blister. I walked the last 17k at a more leisurely pace. Toward the end it turned painful as my blister came out in full force. The trail was, thankfully, mostly flat with only a few uphill sections. I arrived back into town around 3:30 pm very tired and with sore feet. I checked back into the hostel, washed my gear, and inspected my blisters. One blister was dark red with blood. I also had a few bloody toes. During supper which consisted of beef ravioli with a tomato basil sauce that I had bought, I met a German guy (Thomas) who had a car and was going to Milford Sound the next day. After speaking with him, we decided to go together along with a Dutch guy (Martin) and share fuel costs.

The next morning the three of us left around 7:00 am for the 120 km drive to Milford Sound. The sky was clear which was great as Milford Sound is the rainest spot in New Zealand. The road to Milford Sound is stunning (I use this word alot). The road goes through a valley bracketed by steep snow covered mountains. At one point the road goes through a very long tunnel (Homer Tunnel) and then empties out into a valley surrounded by a massive granite wall full of waterfalls. The road then winds down to Milford Sound which is actually a fiord. It still is called a sound for historical purposes. (a fiord is a glacier carved valley, a sound is a river carved valley) We booked a 9:30 cruise to take us through the fiord to the ocean, and back. Again, the views were amazing. The fiord is surrounded by steep mountains many hundreds of meters high including the famous Mitre Peak and very large waterfalls. The fiord is over 300 meters deep. The scale of the scenery is such that distances are hard to estimate. Waterfalls that are 100 meters high appear tiny in the distance against the massive rock walls. As we neared the ocean (or Tasman Sea) the water changed from a dark color (caused by tannic acid from the forest surrounding the fiord) to green. At several points there were dolphins in front of the boat riding the bow wave. There would be 8 to 10 at a time enjoying the free ride as the boat pushed them along. On the way back, we saw a young sea lion climbing up the rocks. After the cruise, we drove back to Te Anua stopping at various points on the way. We stopped and did a two hour walk up to an alpine plateau called Key Summit (off the Routeburn track) where we got great views. I had to wear my sandals so as not to aggravate my blisters. Today I am making my way to the Caitlins on the south coast ot the South Island. I am traveling with a Scottish girl named Jane (a veterinarian close to my age who is taking 6 months off to work and travel in New Zealand) who has a car and was looking for someone to share fuel costs. We should be traveling together for the next few days as she is going the same way I am.

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One Response to “Fiordland National Park”

  1. Kellie Says:

    I hope you took lots of pictures!!!

  2. Posted from United States United States
  3. Preeti Says:

    The average medieval pilgrim only traveled about 12 miles a day on foot taking into account weather and road conditions, illness, age, and group size. An average foot march for soldiers would be about 20 miles a day, although I’ve read an account citing a forced march covering 80 miles in one day. As I discovered in Italy, flipflops work wonders for walking with blistered feet, though it doesn’t sound like the weather much permits.

  4. Posted from United States United States

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