New Zealand (part 2) Queenstown, Greenstone, Kepler Tracks

Queenstown. Adventure capital of NZ. It’s a funny place, and also a beautiful one.

Kaitlyn was resting and getting her knee checked out while we did shorter day trips.

Including the bike park. We had pretty capable bikes, so why not?

Deluxe accommodation in Queenstown. The grass was just barely wide enough for our tiny tent. Being outside was somewhat preferable to the ‘partying’ that was going on inside the hostel. Flexibility, make due with what you can.

Now these are accommodations! We met up with Andras, Eszter’s brother, and he showed us his secret camp spot above town. Somehow we crammed five people and four bikes into Yeti, his campervan. And we all returned to the campervan when it rained.

A Thanksgiving feast was prepared, with the Remarkables (jagged mountain range) and a rainbow as the background. Life was pretty darn good.

Mountainbiking with Andras, near his campsite. Stunning mountains and being more interior they aren’t completely covered in rain forest. Thus far we’d spent a lot of time in the trees, where us westerners that are addicted to endless views tend to get ancy.

Kaitlyn’s knee checked out OK, but it needed rest. They found a free place to stay in nearby Wanaka, while we set our sights on a nearby ‘Tramp.’

The Greenstone Caples track! Hut passes were secured. Optimistic readings of the forecast were made (i.e. Eszter read it optimistically and convinced me to go for it). Somehow we talked Andras into giving us a ride out to the trailhead, which was on a dirt road. And that dirt road had several yellow signs with exclamation points on them.

Often an exclamation point means a ford on a dirt road. These were deep ones. He let us out and we started the 10km trek to the trailhead. About halfway a van full of middle school girls picked us up. Wahoo!

It was our first exposure to popular ‘tramping’ with huts that often fill up.

Huts may be full, but the track is generally empty. And generally beautiful. And this one was very wet. We were often crossing water, or walking in bogs, or just generally walking in water.

Favorite NZ bird? The fantail.

We discovered that if we stay in huts we can easily carry 3 days of food in our Osprey packs.

Walking through deeply carved glacial valleys, past thousands of waterfalls, we also discovered what we already suspected: to see some of the best stuff (e.g. national parks), we needed to ditch the bikes and get out on foot.

Errr, get out on boat! The best way to continue south to the Fjordlands and our next tramp was to take a 40 minute boat ride to the start of the ‘Around the Mountains’ cycle route.

Free coffee in hand, sitting on bean bags on the deck, yes we felt like we were winning at life. Any time you can take a boat ride on a bike trip, you probably should.

The route on the other side of the lake felt remote and surrounded by unfamiliar mountains. Just what we like.

A 10km diversion along the shoreline of the next major lake took us to a hut. We had the hut pass and were determined to use it as much as we could.

We shared this hut with an older couple from Invercargill. They were ever so kind and fun to talk to as well. We’d ask them a question and they’d respond, “Ahhh, yeeeees.” They were old-school trampers, carrying giant packs, sub-freezing sleeping bags and giant billies (water pots). They must have boiled 10L of water while we were there — stove on the entire time.

A steep and overgrown climb above the hut let us survey the area. Whooeeee.

Next up, another hut, along the Te Araroa trail (the long distance route across both islands). A young french couple joined us, pulling out their instruments to serenade us to sleep with original and folky french songs. It was just magic, and we were beginning to see the magic of the hut system.

In Te Anau, we had reservations for two nights on the famous Kepler Track (tramp). But a little bit of time to kill until those ‘sniped’ (last minute) reservations were ready.

Local mountainbiking trails were on the docket, including a jump over a ‘mini’ (mr. bean car) that had been junked on the hillside.

And birds! This is a Kaka, one of the mountain parrots with whom we’d start to get to know soon enough. These are hilariously mischievous birds, and stunningly beautiful, too.

Rainbow Chicken! Also know as Takahe, these guys are seriously endangered. It’s amazing such flightless birds survived the (not all that recent) invasion of homo sapiens.

We ditched our bikes in the bush and began the rather massive ascent to the Luxmore hut. The Kepler Track is a ‘great walk’ and thus is pretty popular.

We reached the hut with time to spare. Despite the gales about the tops, we ventured out to climb Luxmore peak. The next day was forecast to be nothing but cloud and rain, so we wanted to see the views while we could.

Being us, the ridgeline return called to us more than a track return the way we’d came. It was a fun ridge and then open tussocks back to the hut.

We dallied in the hut the next day, putting together a puzzle with ‘grumpy magoo’ (as we called him) from San Francisco. I think the fact that he had to stay in a hut grumped him out more than the weather. Who likes a roof when it’s pissing rain out?

I do! I do!

There was a limestone cave nearby, so we went to check that out before setting off down the track.

Most of the day was spent above bushline, walking in the rain. It was disappointing to not see the views we knew were there. The mystery of the place pulled us in, instead, as we only got glimpses here and there. We looked at plants and finer details.

It’s the fjordlands, and a rainforest, you know. A sunny day is a blessing.

At the lower hut there was also much to explore. A short hike took us to a magnificent waterfall. We discovered a scribble in one of the books in the hut mentioning glow worms nearby.

Darkness didn’t fall until 10pm, so everyone else was going to bed in the hut when we ventured out.

We heard Kiwis calling and stamping in the darkness. And we found and were able to photograph glow worms, too. What a place this is.

A rowdy group of Keas (mountain parrots) decided to wake everyone in the hut up at 5am. It was getting light out and I think they’d learned that if they make a racket, dumb tourists like us will rouse and they will have some entertainment. Silly Keas.

We were out of sniper hut reservations and facing a bit of a long walk back to our bikes. At the far point of the circuit, we decided why not hike back along the ridgetops, hoping that the weather forecast written on the chalkboard in the hut came true:

“Becoming fine…. EVERYWHERE!”

(Everywhere? Everywhere! I like the sound of that).

It was pure clouds as we climbed several thousand feet back up to bushline, somewhat dubiously of the chalkboard and hut warden’s prediction.

But then… hints of light.

We were climbing out of the clouds, and they were lifting!

All that had been hidden the day before was revealing itself.

It was a magic ridgline walk.

Hi Keas! I bet you’d like some rubber from our shoes or some of our food.

Topping off water, Fjordlands style. You don’t really worry about going thirsty here.

Yay, tramping! Our bikes were waiting for us back in the bush. We decided we really liked the mode of bike touring between tramps, then getting out on foot for a few days.

So then, what was next?

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