Day 10: Te Anau, 0km
We took the day off and took showers, did our resupply, called home and visited an awesome bird sanctuary where we saw three Tehake birds. These are quite funny looking flightless birds that number not more than about 300 in the world, so we were staring at about 1% of the population.
Day 11: Te Anau, 0 km
We spent most of the day visiting Milford Sound. We took a bus, which took us on a very windy 2.5hr ride to Milford Sound. The ride was spectacular in and of itself, with beautiful views of surrounding mountains. Unfortunately, John was sick most of the way, and wound up not enjoying it nearly as much. The bus made several stops, and at one point we were able to see some Keas (big mountain parrots), which were not at all afraid of humans, and were jumping around on people’s cars in the car park.
We then took a 3 hour boat ride around Milford Sound, and it pretty much rained the whole time, which is to be expected in this area. The boat ride was fantastic, and due to the rain there were many temporary waterfalls which we wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
We got back to Te Anau around 7pm and found our friend Jeremy, one of the other northbound hikers we’ve met, and had dinner with him and traded stories.
When we got to the hostel, they had messed up our reservation such that we were stuck in a 6 person bunk room instead of a private room, and we were quite worried that we would get no sleep. We had made a friend, Anna, the night before who agreed to drive us back to the trail early in the morning on her way to Queenstown. We gladly accepted.
We slept better than expected in the dorm room.
Day 12: SR94 to Kiwi Burn Hut, 30km
We got up around 5:30AM to get a ride back to the trail with Anna, and so we got an early start. The day was quite long and tedious as it was all a road walk. We had the option of walking along a river for part of the day, but we heard from other hikers many days ago that the trail wasn’t good, and walking through the river was pretty crap too. The river was full of this invasive species of algae which looked like slime.
The gravel road simply followed the river as well, so we opted for that. Unfortunately there was very little shade- although there would have been almost no shade walking in the river either.
Eventually we found a spot where we could cut through and ford the river to join the trail to Kiwi Burn Hut, and although it looked like a trail was there on our map, it actually was another gravel road through a small farm.
A truck pulled up from behind us and the gentleman inside rolled down his window asking our intentions. We apologized for walking on his land, and asked him if it was OK to cut through his property on this road in order to access the river. He said that was fine, and announced that he was busy shearing sheep today. In the distance we saw a field full of naked sheep and giggled.
“Can we watch?” Asked John.
The farmer, whose name was Kevin, invited us into the shed where there were about 4 people shearing sheep, one after another. The sheeps with their coats on where behind a wooden gate, and one of the shearers would grab one by the arm and neck and drag it out on its back, and then shear it upside down. The sheep looked very content with the process, and really didn’t struggle much at all.
The naked sheep were then shoved down a chute where they exited the building and joined their flock of other naked sheep. The wool was then collected and pushed into large bags.
I was amazed by how quickly they could shear a sheep – probably in under a minute, and I was also surprised by how docile the sheep were once they were turned upside down for their hair cuts.
We finally left the farm and thanked Kevin and found a safe spot to ford the river before carrying on towards Kiwi Burn Hut. The hut was quite a ways off the main trail maybe 1-2km, so we actually decided to camp along the way out of laziness.
As we were setting up our tent, we had a number of “robins”, which are a completely different bird from the American robins, who came and investigated the situation. They came so close we could almost touch them, and they weren’t really afraid of any loud noises, or sudden movements. At one point we were nervous that they would peck at some of our gear and poke holes in it, so we encouraged them not to stay too close.
We’re looking forward to an early night tonight so as to make up for some of the lost sleep in town.
Day 13: Kiwi Burn Hut to Careys Hut, 27.5km
I slept like a log, and barely wanted to wake up when my alarm went off. The trail from Kiwi Burn towards Carey’s Hut was fairly easy, and mostly along a beautiful lake. We had the opportunity to cross several swing bridges, which seemed much more sturdy than the swing bridges that we’ve seen up until this point.
We passed by two southbound hikers, an older lady who was section hiking the trail, and a British lady who had a lot of advice for us, and luckily passed us as we were eating lunch, so we had the time to chat.
The lake was really beautiful, and there were many people enjoying the lake from the road- people on kayaks, boats, swimming, etc. We passed a campsite where people with RVs were hanging out. We had a section of trail that was mostly exposed, and it was very hot out, so we used our umbrellas.
We got to Carey’s hut around 5pm, and we considered the possibility of continuing another 6km to Boundary Hut, but we decided not to after striking up a conversation with a French lady who was staying at the hut doing sketches of the surrounding mountains. Soon after, another French guy showed up.
We had dinner, and decided to have a swim in the lake. It was hard to get in because it was cold, but I finally got the nerve to jump in. It felt really good. The temperature during the day was in the 80’s so we were covered in sweat. I was grateful to rinse off.
We chatted with the other two people for a while before heading to sleep. We thought it was funny that the French lady also was not carrying a stove (we aren’t either) and the French guy was a vegetarian but had the biggest knife out of all of us.
Day 14: Cary’s Hut to Greenstone Hut, 27.5km
We got going as early as possible so that we could hike in the early coolness for as long as possible. The trail spent ages on grassland in a very open and mostly flat valley. It was mostly easy walking, but before we knew it it was sweltering and we were dripping with the heat. Our umbrellas came in handy, but it was just oppressively hot. At one point my watch read 97F.
We passed one hut and stopped to have breakfast. We passed a bunch of people headed southbound, maybe 6 in all. Somehow most of them were French.
Right before we passed the second hut we found a little oasis. It was a largish stream with a few trees growing around it and a perfectly formed swimming hole. We couldn’t resist the temptation and jumped in. The water was absolutely frigid but it felt good to jump in and feel freezing cold for a split second before scampering back out again. We spent a good half hour there cooling off, hydrating and eating second breakfast.
It didn’t take long after we left our little oasis for the heat to become too much again. There was little we could do besides hike on and try to enjoy the views, which were absolutely fantastic. The valley we were walking through was formed by glaciers a long time ago, and the mountains around us were breathtaking.
At the next hut, we had lunch, and I was disappointed to figure out that a mouse had managed to eat a hole in my food bag the night before, and somehow I hadn’t noticed until now.
We walked through mostly grass, but also some tussocks (large grass), and a few muddy spots here and there.
Finally the trail went into the forest and we were grateful to have shade. The hut was not much further, and was amazingly big. Greenstone hut is the biggest hut we’ve seen with two separate bunk rooms, and an area for eating. They even have flush toilets. I hate to think where that water goes.
There were only two other people staying there and a warden, who took our hut pass information and gave us some information about local birds and plants. Nevertheless, we decided to set up our tent nearby so that we could go to sleep early and avoid any snorers.
Day 15: Greenstone Hut to Howden Campsite, 22km
We woke up around 6 and packed up to start our hike. We had an easy 18km until the next hut (McKeller Hut), and then an easy 5km or so to our campsite. Thankfully the temperature was much cooler.
This stretch is no longer on the Te Araroa. We decided to hike the Greenstone Trek- marked an “easy tramping Trek” to the Routeburn Trek adding about 2 extra days, but hopefully some beautiful scenery. The Greenstone Hut was still on the TA, but TA walkers typically walk from there to a car park and then have to get around the lake to Queenstown (there is no official route around). We are walking further north on these trails before hitching into Queenstown and continuing from there.
Soon after we left, I had to go poop. I decided to find a spot in the forest to dig a hole, and a New Zealand Robbin followed me to where I started digging. It was very excited that I was digging (obviously because I could unearth some bugs), and it came so close to me I could almost touch it. Unfortunately, the hole I was digging was for me to poop in, and the poor bird did not understand that. As soon as I squatted, I decided I would take my trekking poke and scratch the dirt in front of me so the Robbin wouldn’t do something stupid. It was throughly content with standing two feet away from me while I dug little holes for it, allowing it to jump in from time to time when it saw a bug. I quickly buried my waste so my new friend wouldn’t find any surprises, and as I walked back to the trail, it followed me hoping I would continue to provide a free digging service.
We walked through a valley next to a river, the Greenstone River, with some cows in it, sometimes in grassland, sometimes in the forest.
It was mostly easy hiking, but some parts still necessitated scrambling, and we laughed at some sections since it was explicitly labeled on the brochure “easy tramping Trek.” Apparently an “easy tramping trek”
is equivalent to “a trail” in the United States. In any case, that’s what we decided in the end.
Closer to McKeller Hut I saw a huge bird flying through the canopy and land on a tree not too far from us. We quickly realized it was a large parrot, and we only had to figure out if it was a kaka or a kea, which are the two types of large parrot in this area. There also used to be kakapo, a flightless parrot, but now they are critically endangered, and only live on islands off the coast of NZ. We watched the parrot closely, and noticed its markings. It had a deep red underbelly and it’s back was mostly grey or even slightly purple. There was a very white patch on top of its head. We figured out it was a kaka. So exciting! This is probably the only area where we would see one of these birds.
Moments later, we reached the hut where we took a very long lunch and chatted with Robert, an Englishman who lives in Nova Scotia. I think we convinced him to visit the Blue Ridge Mountains in springtime.
From there we entered Fiordland National Park, and it was an easy 1.5 hour walk to our campsite, which was just a grassy field with a privy in the middle. There was no shade and the sandflies were horrendous, so we decided to walk another 20 minutes so the next hut to have dinner and hang out a little longer.
We ate our mashed potatoes before the warden came in and asked us if we were spending the night there. I told her no, we were staying at the campsite, and she told us we had to move on, and that the facilities were for paying guests only. I was surprised we weren’t even allowed to sit at a table if we weren’t spending the night there. Hopefully tomorrow when we want to stop for lunch, we don’t find the same attitude further down the trail. These huts are on the Routeburn trek, which is a Great Walk, so they are bigger, more crowded, and much more expensive ($NZ 65/night/person)
We wandered back to our campsite and tried to set up quickly before being eaten to death by sandflies.
Tomorrow we hike the Routeburn, and camp right before the end, so we can easily get out to Queenstown the next day.
Day 16: Howden Campsite to Routeburn Flats Campsite, 23km
We woke up to fog, and we sort of figured that the weather was going to make a turn for the worse based on a somewhat old weather forecast that they had at the last hut.
The trail steadily climbed, sometimes over easy trail, sometimes over more difficult rocky sections.
We soon got to a gigantic waterfall, Earland Falls, 174m high. We figured if we weren’t going to get any views, we’d at least get waterfalls!
Surprisingly, though, the weather made a turn for the better and the sky began to clear up. We hit Lake Mackenzie Hut and made sure to sit outside of the hut to eat lunch so as not to be told off by a warden. There was a sign clearly stating that campers were not meant to use the facilities.
There is quite a funny class system on these great walks. There are the campers, who are just using their tents at campsites (paying $20 per person per night). Then there are people using the basic huts (paying $65 per person per night), with bunk rooms and gas stoves. Finally, there are the guided hikers who get a separate luxurious hut with food helicoptered in, paying perhaps thousands for the experience. We were at the bottom of the ladder. But at the end of the day, everyone has to walk.
Unnamed beautiful cascades
Soon after Mackenzie Hut we were above tree line and quite exposed. At this point the sun was shining and the views became more and more spectacular as we climbed. We passed a gentleman cleaning out stoat traps, and we learned that they check the traps once a month, and actually he only found 2 stoats and one weasel in 70 traps. I was surprised. The stoats are one of the biggest pests here, eating many of the endangered bird’s eggs and young.
We made it up to Harris Saddle where we could see snow covered mountains. We decided to take a side trail up to Conical Hill (1515m) to get a 360 degree view from the top. This was by no means a “hill”. It was quite a climb, and we had left our packs at the shelter at the saddle, leaving our water-bottles behind too. It was very hot and sunny, and the round trip took us about an hour. The views were totally worth it, but by the time we got back to the saddle, I was dying of thirst.
We made our way down the other side of the saddle and the trail improved significantly. It was a very well graded path, practically paved, with stairs where it was steep. By the time we got to our campsite, our feet were sore from all the downhill.
Our Campsite at Routeburn Flats was breathtaking. Again we were camped in a large field (where my allergies immediately started acting up), but the mountains shot straight up out of the valley. We had a clear view of snow covered mountains as we ate our dinner and got ready for bed.