Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Keplar Track, Bluff, and a flight HOME

Take a look at our crazy map detailing our entire journey here:

March 18th: Late night on the Keplar

The only bus to Te Anau was going to arrive in town at 6:30 in the evening. Unfortunately this meant that the "short" 2 hour walk to the tent site was going to be done in the dark.

This worked out well for us since we were able to hear plenty of Kiwi calling to each other as we stumbled through the dark.

Have I mentioned that I picked a REALLY bad time to loose my glasses.

We ate dinner at around ten, and fell asleep by 11. Tomorrow was going to be an early wake up call, we had a full 9 hour day of vertical ascents and steep declines.

March 19th: Jaw dropping beauty on the Keplar

We woke up at 6:30 am- ugh! Neither of us wanted to get out of the tent; it was a cold, dark morning.

But we made it, and were rewarded by a lovely sunrise across the lake.

The track was very well kept, it took us through dense forest, and high alpine ridge line.

It was quite a bit chilly but thankfully not the freezing temperature that was forecast the previous evening.  Still, it was enough to leave frost on the ground.

                              This is the largest hut we've come across.  Sleeps over 50 people!
And it even has solar power

The best part was hiking up the ridge to an alpine cave, located near a very impressive 50 person hut.

We had been staying in huts all over the South Island, but none were as grandiose as this. It was starting to irritate us how much money they spent on the huts compared to how little was used in trail maintenance. On the TA the difference was striking, at least on the Keplar Track the hut quality matched the superb trail. We didn't stay in the huts on the Keplar, the 50$ per person price tag was enough to keep us confined to the tent sites.

But back to the it normal for caves to have lava in them?

Did you buy that?

Well the campsite warden did for a minute at least. But he figured it out the same as you I'm sure.

Cody was the one who had the bright idea of shining our red headlamps on the cave formations. We had a little too much fun.
Into the belly of the beast

Very cool formations 

Heading back out of the cave

After the cave came the ridge line, and with the ridge the beautiful views of the Sounds appeared

As we hiked, we heard Kea calling while they flew above us. If you don't know what they sound like you should look it up, they make a friendly chortling call as they fly. Most Kea are very intelligent and humorous. They are considered to be the "Clowns of the mountains". More importantly they are the only high alpine parrot. Sadly for us we weren't visited by any Kea up close and had to enjoy them from a distance.

It was perfect weather to be up on the ridge, no clouds or wind.

Can you guess which one of us was nervous about heights? 

The trail takes the ridge for a long time 

After the climb along the ridge, we started our decent down.

Beautiful craftsmanship on these trails 

It was a long way, and Cody's knee was not appreciating it. But we made it without seeming to do any extra damage to his knee.

This is a gas powered wheel barrel used for trail maintenance 

A nice fall to greet us near our campsite 

We got to the campsite at a more reasonable hour this time, which aloud us to cook dinner and get to bed at a decent time. We had another 9 hour day to complete the loop track back to Te Anau.

We heard more Kiwi that night, this hike was definitely the best we've done in New Zealand. The trail was wonderful, views stunning, and we heard more kiwi and Kea here than we have in 4 months of hiking the length of New Zealand.

March 20th: Hiking out

This is what it takes to build great trails in New Zealand

Found a Hobbit hole 

Scared some tourists from my den

The hike out was through lush, undulating forests that were filled with ferns. I love ferns!

We started seeing some really cool mushrooms during this section of forest 

After a few hours, the walk became very flat and we made it to Rainbow Reach in no time. Managing to get a very lucky hitch into town right as we neared the car park.

We prepared for a bus ride the next day that would take us to Invercargill. From there we'd spend one day hitching to Bluff, then flying out the next day.

March 22nd: Bluff

We hitched a ride from Invercargill with a friendly tourist named Leo. He reminded us a lot of the nice guy who had given us a lift at the start of our journey to Cape Reinga.

For those unfamiliar we were heading to the end of the Te Araroa trail. A place called Bluff which is the southern most point in New Zealand. This would have marked the end of an 1800 mile journey, had we walked all the way. Our adventure was now officially over, and although we enjoyed New Zealand immensely, both of us were looking forward to heading home.

After Bluff we headed into town and saw the sights... Can you guess what this is?

It's the worlds fastest Indian 

March 25th: Longest Day ever

We had quite the view from our hotel room in Auckland 

That evening we awoke to loud booms from a fireworks display.  Later on we learned it was celebrating a cricket game.  This was rather touching since we had a magnificent fireworks display  our first night in New Zealand. Which was also a surprise because neither of us were familiar with the Guy Fox holiday.   What a send off! 

Flying out of Auckland 

We started out with a 4 hour flight from Auckland to Nadi, in Fiji. Unfortunately I got the seat in front of a nightmare child that kept screaming and kicking my seat. There was no hope as we were surrounded by many other screaming babies in the cabin. I guess spring really is in the air.
Landing in Fiji, the air was very hot and humid compared to chilly New Zealand 

No barrier between us and the enormous plane  

They must have heard we were coming and organised the band

We were stuck in a 5 hour limbo period in Fiji where we both tried not to go insane as the airport staff made trivial announcements over the intercom every ten minutes.

The Fiji airport is really strange. We were nervous enough not to drink any of the water because it was clear we were in a developing country. The Fiji airplanes however, were top notch. Having spacious seats, and quality food which was served by attentive staff.
This is not the type of audio book I'd want to listen to during take off

Finally were were able to board at 9:40 pm Fiji time. Once we were served dinner, Cody and I tried desperately to fall asleep for the 11 hour plane ride to Los Angeles. I had taken a Sea Legs prior to the flight; to ensure drowsiness and no vomiting on this trip. It worked! But the screaming baby to our right ensured that we got little sleep.

March 25th...again!

Let me tell you, time travel is brutal!

Both of us were running on practically no sleep, but we were with it enough to still be hungry.

Just like I'd promised, we had Mexican food immediately after checking into our hotel. It wasn't just any Mexican food... It was my favorite restaurant El Tarasco! Luckily there was one near the airport. Great way to complete our trip.

After pigging out, I introduced Cody to Trader Joe's; he bought us a delicious dessert while we were there.

I bought a cheap, but cute dress to remind Cody after 5 months of hiking that I was still a girl. He liked it :)

Both of us will be parting ways after this, Cody will be spending time with his friends and family in a bunch of different states. And I will be enjoying my family in California.

After thoughts of hiking in New Zealand...

The trail tested us in ways I never expected.

I would say to anyone thinking of hiking that it's not just physical ability that will ensure completion of the TA. We saw an amazing hiker taken down by severe shin splints.

Twisted ankles, tendinitis, and hurt knees are common ailments on the TA. The hikers we knew that experienced these were strong, confident twenty somethings.

Patience, plenty of time, and complete understanding of what this trail is actually like before commitment is essential.

This trail tested my patience, and my courage. I was thankful to have Cody by my side to experience all the beautiful, and frustrating moments on the trail. He is a very brave, and determined man.

To everyone who gave us rides, invited us into their homes, and hiked with us on the trail...Thank you. You all contributed to a truly special experience that we had during our travels.

Before we left for New Zealand, Cody and I wondered if the trail would change us.

We have changed.

Hiking the trail gave us both the time, and space to think about our lives back home. Both of us are inspired by new dreams we have discovered, and refreshed from our break from reality.

Thank you everyone who read this blog, sent us touching emails, and encouraged us as we moved along the length of New Zealand. We appreciated all of your love and support.

I will do a couple of blog updates about our gear and general thoughts about the trail in the weeks to come. But for now, consider this the final post that chronicles our adventure.

Thank you, and good night. Both of us are on Kiwi time, hopefully we can coax our confused bodies to go to sleep.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Helicopters, Gold, and Cars

March 15th: Driving, helicopter flight, and gold panning

Yes we did all of that in one day

We have obtained a vehicle!  And now we are driving on the wrong side of the road..or is it the right side? No the left side, that's it! Either way its weird...but I like it.

Thank you to Paul for suggesting transfer car, Cody and I would never have been able to afford a rental car, and this way we were able to get one for free and tour the country for two days.

We also booked a helicopter ride on and got a pretty good deal on a flight over the Cromwell basin.  We planned to get the car in Queenstown and drive it up the west coast and down the east to Dunedin.  We only had two days to do it, and somehow we had to squeeze a helicopter flight, and any other miscellaneous adventure in there before our time was out in two days.

But back to the car... I had lost my glasses in the previous town Te Ana so drivng was going to be particularily challenging since I wouldn't be able to see little things like street signs or animals in the road. So if I was driving signs were being ignored and animals were going to have to hurry out of the way.

Some interesting facts about our rental car and driving in New Zealand in general

*In our agreement with the rental company (Jucy) I would pay up to $2,000 in damages if the rental was totaled.  However if I flipped the car and the roof was damaged I'd have to pay $5,000.  So if we flip the car we must set it on fire and shove it off a cliff.
*There are no straight freeways in the South Island, only very narrow windy mountain roads
*Most bridges are one lane, and there are lots of rivers to cross
*There are more traffic circles that street lights (These are particularly challenging for Americans)
*Local Kiwi's are very ill tempered and impatient behind the wheel and drive very reckless and fast. They also love to tailgate. This is weird because outside of the car they are the nicest people in the world
*Drinking while driving is illegal, but culturally accepted so everyone does it
And of course they drive on the left side of the road so right turns are the awkward ones now.
*Pedestrians don't have the right of way
*Chinese tourists often have never driven before and will purchase fake licenses before renting cars in New Zealand. Reticently there have been a lot of horrific accidents in the news

We were already pre-armed with all of this information because of our experiences hitching and walking the Te Araroa trail.

Because of my partial blindness I had Cody drive first out of busy Queenstown.  His first adversary was a roundabout right out of the rental parking lot.  This was very exciting since it was the first time being on the left side of the road for both of us. And neither of us have much experience with roundabouts.  He took it beautifully though and soon we were on the way to our pre-arranged helicopter flight in Cromwell.

On the way we saw an old gold mining town outside of Cromwell, we made a mental note to see that on the way back.

We made it to the airfield just as the bird was starting to land.  We were flying in a Heliview MD 600N

Cool fact about this bird: NOTAR (no tail-rotor system) Makes it quiet, safe, and very stable

Cody really wanted to fly in a little bird, but this was going to be even better by the sound of it.  Also, I'm really prone to motion sickness, and this one sounded like my kind of flight.  I hadn't ever thought much about helicopters but Cody had really wanted to do it. So off we went!

And so we boarded and took flight, it was better than either of us had expected.  It felt like you were really flying, the ride was so smooth and quiet.

Our flight time was 40 minutes, Cody got to ride in front with the pilot for half of that time

It was a very windy day and we easily glided through the air, heading for a high alpine landing.  You couldn't tell just how windy it was until we touched down and the pilot let us walk around the mountain for a bit.

The view was stunning from the top

Both Cody and I were grinning ear to ear the whole time

We flew over vineyards, and orchards

The river in Cromwell Basin, and the gold mine

View of Cromwell

Amazingly I never experienced motion sickness, I was very happy about that

Both of us thoroughly enjoyed our flight.  I think more helicopter rides will be in our future

After the chopper ride we headed back to the gold mines to try our hand at panning for gold.

First we toured the machinery and listened to old gold mining tales of NZ

Apparently miners were panning pounds out of the river daily.  Once the rush had settled in though it became harder and harder for anyone to make a living.  It seemed like most miners were either starving to death or killing each other for potential spots.

This was as close to gold as we got.  We never really found any while we panned, and both of us discovered that panning was very tedious and painstaking work.

We pocketed rocks that might have had some gold flake in them, but for the most part we left empty handed.

But we had to keep moving, we had a six hour drive ahead of us and it was getting on to be late afternoon.

We drove through Mount Aspiring National Park and saw many impressive mountains on the way to the West Coast.

one lane bridge

The further west we went, the greener it got.  The Te Araroa trail really did go through a giant section that was in the rain shadow of the bordering mountains.

The Coast was very tropical by contrast, we had finally arrived! And it was more jungly that ever.

The sand flies were murderous as well.  They are bigger, more aggressive, and in great supply.  Neither one of us were happy with this new addition.  Everything else we loved.

This was a very touching area where locals had placed heart felt messages on these naturally white rocks.

yay another one lane bridge
passing by the little town near Fox Glacier

never get tired of these one lane bridges

We stayed at the Franz Joseph glacier that night; having arrived in the dark we still went up to see it.  From what we could tell it was a very impressive glacier.

I was more impressed with the fancy room we got at discount.  Apparently the previous guest had accidentally left the sink on and flooded the whole room.  We took the swampy room at a discount, they even left us a swan made out of towels.  I thought that was quite fitting since the room used to be a lake. Fortunately it had dried for us in time and we had a pleasant stay.

March 16th: The long drive to Dunedin

We had to make it to Dunedin to have the car back by 4pm.  With a 9 hour drive ahead of us we clamored in the car at 7 am. It was still very dark and both of us were very sleepy from having come in late the previous night.

Cody drove first, I took pictures once the sun came up.
We got stuck behind these two in Arthur's Pass. a very steep and winding road that we were chugging along 10 miles per hour


                              righthand drive
we saw to coast in one day driving from the west to the east

We both switched on and off but since it was a rainy day I had Cody do most of the driving since it was almost impossible for me to make safe decisions in questionable weather without my eyes. I picked a really bad time to loose my glasses!

We finally arrived in Dunedin with time to spare, and we found a room almost instantly.

Unfortunately there is no public transportation to the international airport in Dunedin, this was a big problem since it was 30 K away from the main town and we were relying on getting a ride back.  We decided that since Cody had the eyes he'd be the one to take the car back and hire an expensive private shuttle to get into town.

Apart from Dunedin having the most ridiculous street way streets turning into two lanes randomly, awkward diagonal intersections, and an octagon shaped city center.  Cody navigated it all well and managed not to flip the car over.  Thank goodness!

We stopped by the Cadbury factory for a quick look around

 That's all chocolate...are you drooling yet?

Dunedin is supposedly the sister city to Edinburgh; it has a lot of very old looking, and beautiful architecture. Unfortunately we didn't enjoy it much because we had fowl weather the whole time. Thank you cyclone Pam for hitting the North Island.  We were fine, just cold since the old hostel we stayed at had no heating.

We planned to leave the next day for Te Anau and enjoy one last hike in New Zealand.  Cody's knee still hasn't healed but had been doing much better after weeks of rest.  We decided to take a little risk and enjoy the Keplar Track, a three day Great Walk.  We are going to keep gear minimal so that we are as light as possible.  Since the trail is so short neither of us anticipate to have any serious problems. Or at least none that Ibuprofen can't fix!