Sunday, February 1, 2009

Routeburn Tramp; Or, There and Back Again Via Bus


The Mackenzie Hut, Vicki Stepping Out into the Rain

Earland Falls, 182m, and a Really Nasty Over-Hang

Strangely, the Heli Was Not Visible in My Pix of Its Landing and Taking-Off in the White-Out at the Bottom of the Canyon

The Drying Rack at Routeburn Falls Hut; Everyone Was Soaked

On the Way to the Routeburn Shelter

Double Rainbow Near Mossburn, From the Bus

The Routeburn Track, another of New Zealand's “Great Walks,” encompasses parts of two national parks, Fiordlands and Mt. Aspiring, and, like most mountainous regions, there are places you can't get to from here. Whether you do the Routeburn east to west or west to east, you are still faced with a 350km ride, normally via bus, back to your starting point. Having already done the last day's part of the Routeburn as a day hike earlier in the month, we had hoped to avoid the bus trip with a little back-tracking. Thus, we thought we would do the first day from the Divide to Mackenzie Hut, then cross the pass and stay at Routeburn Falls Hut; and then, having already done the rest of the tramp, back-track to Mackenzie and then back out to the Divide, where the Bongo was parked. No bus ride. Clever.

Except that the second day, Lake Mackenzie to Routeburn Falls, across the pass, was much harder than we anticipated. The Routeburn is a “moderate” track (not “easy”), and the pass section, virtually the whole second day, was rough alpine trail, not the groomed DOC track to which we have grown accustomed. It was particularly rough on Vicki's knees, which don't like the rockier alpine paths, boulders, downed trees, stream crossings, and such. Add to this it rained most of the first day and all of the second, and we saw little of the advertised alpine scenery. By the time we reached the Falls Hut late Friday afternoon, we had resolved to continue on to the track's end, an easier downhill trail to Routeburn Shelter, and do the bus return, via Queenstown, to Te Anau; and later, just me, back to the Divide to pick up the Bongo.

We did get to see a bit of the alpine stuff, peaks and glaciers and such, on the way out, the third day. And despite the white-outs and rain, we saw some interesting sights the second day, a helicopter landing in the white-out, tarns, waterfalls, alpine flora, and so. Tree-line, bush-line here, is only about 1000m. (I observe, FWIW, that there are many bushes above bush-line, but no trees). And we met and broke bread with more nice people, lots of Kiwis, two Americans, two Canadians, a Finn and an Ozzie. The Ozzie explained the Oz thing about Australia to me. The beech forests were rather better on the Mt. Aspiring side, we thought, which we had already seen (Lothlorien), and it was noticeably drier there. Several streams and one big waterfall were already gone since our last walk, two weeks before. There also were no sand-flies on the east side. The Canadian couple, very experienced younger trekkers who were coming off both the Greenstone and Routeburn tramps, agreed that Alaskan mosquitoes were far preferable to Kiwi sand- flies. You can at least see the Alaskan bugs and occasionally bring one down. The highlight of the tramp, at least for me, was the very entertaining hut warden at Mackenzie, who gave us useful information about the granite worms and also about predicting local weather. “If you can see Mt. Dunston out that window, it will soon rain; if you can not see Mt. Dunston out that window, it is raining.”

The bus rides from Routeburn Shelter to Te Anau afforded opportunities to briefly revisit Glenorchy, Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown (a lay-over), and Mossburn (the deer capital of New Zealand). Just north of Mossburn we were treated to a double rainbow. I had seen a triple rainbow before—in Missoula, of course—but the double was still unusual enough to be of interest.

The bus and other tourist transportation in these parts, and throughout NZ, is excellent. Mostly it is private, but very affordable, and goes just about everywhere. In Fiordlands we have ridden TrackNet several times, all around Milford, Te Anau, and Queenstown. We met one Ozzie family that got off the four-day Milford Tramp at 2 PM, immediately caught the boat to Milford Sound, the 2:30 TrackNet bus back to Te Anau and then Queenstown airport for their flight back to Sydney that evening. They were perfectly confident of the connections, said they'd done this sort of thing many times. With enough time, one could really do most all of NZ without a car.

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