Day 17: Routeburn Flats Campsite to Queenstown, 6km
We got going fairly early. The signage indicated 6km, 1.5 to 2.5 hours. I figured we would be closer to the shorter side of that, but somehow the trail just kept on going. We were headed downhill, and I felt most of the time like I was practically running, since the trail was extremely well graded and wide, almost like a gravel road. We crossed a few swing bridges, but nothing difficult.
Finally we made it to the end of the trail about 2 hours later. I swear this trail was longer than advertised.
There was nobody at the car park yet, so we decided to set ourselves up to hitchhike, knowing it would take a while.
The area was swarming with sand flies. It was so bad that it only took about 5 minutes before we were wearing all our rain gear along with our head nets.
The views from the parking lot were still gorgeous, and occasionally a rainbow appeared.
One car passed, but was full of people. Over an hour had passed.
Several vans full of people were being dropped off to start their hikes, and we decided to stick our thumbs out when one of them pulled out to leave. The driver stopped and said that they were a paid shuttle service, and asked if we were interested. We inquired as to the price. $45 per person to Queenstown, he said. I thanked him and told him we’d wait a bit longer. He paused, and said “I’ll cut you guys a deal. How about $50 for both of you?”
John and I looked at each other and and nodded. We knew it would take a while for anyone else to leave the parking lot, and who knows how long we would be stuck there waiting for a ride while suffering with the heat and these horrendous sand flies.
An hour and a half later and we were in the bustling city of Queenstown. Not having made a reservation in advance, I spent part of the ride there calling various backpackers/hostels and asking if they had any vacancy. It turns out that Queenstown was pretty booked out. Finally I was able to find one backpackers with two beds available in a 12 share bunk room for about $60. Ugh. I guess we’ll make do.
The shuttle dropped us off and we were able to get some food and stop by the grocery store before checking into our hostel. Just 30 seconds after we started checking in, a bus load of 20-something year old kids poured out and joined the line of people to check in. It was almost a scary sight. Lines out the door waiting to check in. We hurried up to our room, and tried to immediately start getting things done. But soon enough, a bunch of young people, all seeming to know each other started to pile into our room.
I took a shower, but had no soap, no towel, and no clean clothes to change into. I decided to take my bowl and squirt some of the soap from the dispenser for washing your hands into it to use in the shower. The shower felt good, but then I had to attempt to drip dry, which was completely unsuccessful, and then put my rain pants and rain jacket on with nothing underneath so I could wash everything else.
I wanted nothing more than to have a private room where I would just lay in bed without a worry. No such luck.
Once back in the room I pealed off the rain clothes and wrapped a sheet around myself for the time that it took to do laundry. I wish I had a lightweight dress or something. I feel like my clothing choices aren’t on point this trip.
We soon learned that the group from the bus were all going to go out drinking for the night, and we lamented that we were likely not to get any sleep.
Just as we were putting in our earplugs to try to sleep, several guys in the room sprayed themselves with really noxious perfume, which caused both of us to start coughing in fits. I was surprised when this happens twice. I literally had to get out of my bunk bed and leave the room so as to breathe.
Luckily, after that I feel asleep, and didn’t really wake up until the morning, when somehow everyone else staying in the room had materialized. Somehow there were even more people in the room than beds. John and I snuck out at 7am and headed for the dirty kitchen to cook breakfast. This hostel left something to be desired. We were ready to get out.
Day 18: Queenstown to Arrowtown: 30km
Today was probably the worst day of walking I have ever experienced. It was supposed to be raining at tropical storm levels (seriously, there is apparently a tropical cyclone passing through), and I honestly thought I was prepared for that, but guess what? I wasn’t.
Today was mostly a road walk from Queenstown to Arrowtown along a bike path and walking paths, roughly 30km or about 20 miles. The day started off with rain, and the rain continued throughout the day, with sometimes heavy rain and quite a bit of wind. It was miserable.
John was attempting to cheer me up by laughing at all the really ridiculous things that we were walking past or though. For example we walked on a road where we couldn’t hear each other and got splashed by every other car going past. We walked past an airport where planes were attempting to land and take off in this horrid weather. We also found ourselves wading across many flooded areas of trail up to our knees in cold water, or walking past a sewage treatment plant reeking of… sewage. It was almost like every time I thought this couldn’t be any worse, it got worse.
Unfortunately along with all these external elements, my physical ailments started acting up at the same time. One of the muscles in my hip started spasming, and pretty much all the muscles in my shoulder, neck and upper back started tightening up to the point where my pack felt like it weighed 100 pounds. I honestly wanted to give up. This road walk really wasn’t worth it. It was only because we set this arbitrary goal of walking the length of the South Island. That meant that sometimes we were going to walk sections that made no sense to walk. This was certainly one of them.
We walked through at least 5 construction zones, one golf course, at least a dozen bus stops which, as we passed each one, I questioned whether we shouldn’t be simply waiting for a bus. Luckily John agreed to take my food bag so as to lighten my load. That made a big difference.
By the time we finally made it to Arrowtown, I was so happy to be done with the day. We had reserved a spot in the holiday park in town. We reserved a spot to pay an unreasonable $40 to pitch our tent at their facility. I was hoping to upgrade to some sort of room, and dry ourselves off.
I hobbled into the reception area, dripping from every exposed surface, and asked if they had anything else available. Unfortunately they were fully booked, and only the one tent spot I had reserved was available for us. I groaned. At least they had a coin operated laundry and John and I decided to put all of our wet clothes in the dryer. I went to the ladies room to take off my wet gear. I was soaked to the point of being able to ring out all of my clothes down to my underpants. I’m not kidding you. My bra and underwear were completely and utterly soaked though. I decided this was because I hadn’t seam sealed the seams on my rain pants and my rain jacket. I made mental note that I probably needed to do this.
I had just a few things in my pack that were dry that I could wear while the rest of my clothes were busy drying: my down jacket, a pair of shorts, and a dry pair of socks, which I wore without shoes, since my shoes were soaked through. We sat in the communal kitchen area while the drier was running.
We also set up the tent, and figured out where the grocery store was. When we had dry clothes on, and our umbrellas ready for the 5 min walk, we ventured out to the grocery store. There we attempted to buy a bottle of wine to help us cope with the situation, along with a bake in the oven pizza and some cheese and crackers. The cashier wanted to see our licenses for the wine. We happily handed them our driver’s license, and the cashier claimed he needed our passports since we were not from New Zealand. John started to get frustrated with the situation. The drinking age here is 18, and we’re in our 30’s. The cashier insisted, telling us he would get a $10,000 fine if he did not ask people who looked under 25 for the proper ID. I suppose I was slightly flattered that we looked under 25, but nonetheless, John had to walk back to the Holiday Park to get our passports.
Finally, we got our food and had dinner.
Then, finally, I crawled into the tent, and was horrified to find that my down sleeping bag had gotten wet inside of the pack liner I was using. I had been told that this thing was waterproof! It definitely wasn’t. A good portion of my sleeping bag was wet, and John was trying to convince me that he told me earlier that silnylon was not waterproof. We got into a huge argument because all I had was silnylon gear for rain, along with down, which cannot get wet. I have no other insulation- no fleece, no synthetic insulation, etc. I’m seriously considering taking the bus back to Queenstown tomorrow to go back to the outdoors stores and purchase a few more things to keep me warm. At the end of the day, that’s what’s important, and today I realized that if it were just a few degrees colder, I would not have had the ability to keep warm. And of course we won’t have a drying machine available whenever it rains. Luckily we do have the ability to dry gear here, and it’s not so cold at this elevation, but I’m very worried for when it rains for more than one day at a time, and the temperature drops more than it did today.
Day 19: Arrowtown to Roses Hut, 22km
We slept in, which was nice, since we were exhausted, but it caused us to have quite a late start to the day. It was slightly tricky to navigate through town, but a lady spotted us and asked us if we were hiking the TA. She gave us information about how to find the trail in the direction we were going.
The grass along the trail was wet, and very quickly we had wet shoes. There was only a small section with trees, and then the entire landscape was all just just made of grass. The views were amazing, and there were snowy mountains not too far away, since the storm brought colder temperatures, and some of the peaks got snow.
We climbed a hill and then headed down to a spot called Macetown, which is an old abandoned gold mining town. We ran into a British guy by the river and chatted with him for a short while. We had to cross several streams which were quite swollen from the rain yesterday, but they were not that difficult to cross.
From Macetown, you could take either the “high trail” above the river, or you could basically wade through the river for 4km. It was not advised to take the river route if the water was high, so it was easy to make the decision to take the high route. This section of “trail” was my worst nightmare for hiking. We were traversing a very steep slope, with basically no trail, with the continuous possibility of falling. On top of that, the vegetation consisted of bunches of grass which where hard enough to navigate over, but scattered in were these gnarly bushes covered in huge spikes.
Sometimes there just wasn’t anywhere you could step, and the slope was so steep my legs would shake. The trail went up and down over many little hills, and sometimes we had to bushwhack through dense vegetation consisting mostly of this thorny bush with very little in the way of footing underneath. It was really scary for me, especially because I am afraid of heights. I constantly wanted to grab hold of a plant so as not to fall, but they were all thorny. I walked so slowly I wondered if we would ever make it to the hut.
Finally the trail left the river, and headed steeply up. Like I mentioned before, the whole section was mostly grass, so it was very exposed, and offered amazing views in all directions. The trail was so steep that I couldn’t really walk flat footed. I needed to walk on my tippy toes most of the way, and my calfs were burning.
I’m not exactly sure how much of a climb we had, but it was probably more than 1000ft and less than 2000ft, but it felt really long. Finally we made it to the top and climbed over the most scenic stile we’ve encountered so far.
From there, the trail went steeply down to Roses Hut where we met a Dutch couple hiking southbound. It was nice to take off my shoes, stretch, eat some food and dry out our gear.
Day 20: Roses Hut to Fern Burn Hut, 16km
Today has been another one of the hardest days, and we only walked 16km. We got up at 6 and were walking straight up a steep “hill” by 6:30AM. Again, it was so steep, most of the time I was on my tippy toes climbing up. My calf’s burned. The uphill was hard, but doable. Then came the downhill. It was super steep and in many sections I was afraid of falling.
We got to a gully where I was navigating practically down a cliff, and I just felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. The trail was too hard, I was not brave enough, not strong enough, not fearless enough. My frozen shoulder still does not have any range of motion back, so I am extremely afraid of falling, and I cannot use my left arm a lot of the time for grabbing on to things. We also had to cross streams that were very small, but had carved holes maybe up to 6ft deep into the side of the mountain, and somehow you just had to jump across. The “trail” is also many times very narrow, only as wide as one foot, or even washed away, and really hard to balance on while looking down the side of a very steep mountain. Once we got to the bottom from descending the gully, I sat down and cried. I wanted to give up on the trail. If the trail is going to be like this, it’s not worth it to me; it’s just too hard, too dangerous, and I’m too scared. The terrain here is too crazy, and the trails only exist because crazy people walk this way, not because of any trail maintenance or building. I feel like a bit of a failure, and I don’t know if I’ll actually quit, but I did really want to earlier today.
Finally we got to the second climb of the day, and it was just as hard as the first. We had no flat ground in between. Just straight up, straight down, and now straight back up again. This section, from Roses hut to Highland Creek Hut was supposed to take 5 hours. In the end it took us 7. We did take a number of very long breaks, took time to talk with southbound hikers, and took the time to have a mental breakdown, so maybe if we had just gotten on with it, it would have only taken 5. But it was only 10km. Ugh.
We got to the hut and took another long break, used the privy, filled up our water, ate, and left for the next 6km section. It was a bit easier, but still hard, and still very steep up and down. We passed a lot of people, probably because it’s Saturday, and people are out for the weekend. We probably passed between 20 and 25 people throughout the day, and when we arrived at Fern Burn Hut, there were more people than I could count. The hut was completely full, and there were tents scattered around the hut covering most of the flat space. We searched around for a place to set up our tent, and only found one spot quite close to another person’s tent that was on quite a slope.
The person who we set up next to was actually from Maine and hiking the TA northbound, but was doing this section southbound because of the weather (he was ahead of us, and would have had snow in this section if he had hiked it when we hiked through the rain).
It looks like we probably got quite a sunburn today (I only thought to put sunscreen on too late, because it was quite cool most of the day for a change).
I’m happy we made it to the hut today, but I’m still very worried about what various sections up ahead are going to be like and whether I will actually be able to accomplish them. My vertigo plus frozen shoulder make it really tricky to cover difficult terrain. I think it’s likely only to get harder from here.
Lastly, I suppose I have to mention that although it was really hard today, it was amazingly beautiful. Since there are no trees, we always have an awesome view of these ridiculous mountains.
For now, it’s time to rest and let tomorrow happen. Tomorrow we will arrive in Wanaka.