Thursday, 9 January 2014

The Routeburn Track over New Year

30 December
We were expecting bad weather so it’s a bit of a surprise when we get to Queenstown to find it bright, sunny and hot. However we’d come a rather circuitous route as the weather was so bad earlier, our flight form Christchurch had to be diverted to Invercargill in the far south and we had a 2.5 hour bus journey to get here. We meet Anne & Andy arriving from Napier and go into town for some shopping and a bit of a wander. Our friend Laureen is keen on having one of the famous Ferg Burghers for lunch but the queue is enormous and we all settle for Ferg pies instead.

A bit of sun in Queenstown
We take the bus to Te Anau and check into our 6-bed YHA room. The temperature’s dropped and we wrap up warm to go out for dinner.

31 December
This morning’s looking a fairly bright and it’s a fabulous lakeside drive up to The Divide where the Routeburn Track begins, however by the time we get out of the bus it’s raining again and we get dressed up in all our gear.

About to step out in the rain

The path is clear and easy, zig-zagging gently upwards through gorgeous green mossy forest, past waterfalls and over streams. We stop briefly at Lake Howden Hut which is set on a still, green lake, then continue to make our way through forest on the side of the mountain. Occasionally we break out into the open and catch a glimpse of how far we’ve come. The rain lessens but never quite stops altogether.

Michael looking lost in the enchanted forest

By a waterfall, showing off my stripy leggings

The path narrows, the moss thickens

Eventually we emerge from the forest and find ourselves walking through a beautiful white-flowering hebe garden. A very grand-looking hut is closeby and there’s a helicopter hovering overhead bringing/delivering supplies. The place is looking a little too smart and the DOC sign soon disillusions us. It’s for guided walkers only, and we’re directed further on to the Mackenzie Hut. This sleeps about 40 people and there’s a wood burner in the kitchen/living area below the sleeping quarters. It’s cold up here and we need that bit of extra warmth. A&A couldn’t get places in the hut and carry on to the nearby campsite, but the weather’s deteriorating to heavy rain. Luckily some people have cancelled and they can move into the hut after all.

Occasionally we're out of the forest, the cloud lifts and we can where we are

We eat freeze-dried food and drink the booze we’ve brought with us but it’s the driest New Year’s Eve ever, as no one wants to carry any more weight than necessary. The huts are more Spartan than we're accustomed to on the Camino de Santiago. No kitchen equipment at all, no pillows, and no extra blankets! We play Uno and 99 before going upstairs to sleep in our clothes for extra warmth.

Mike and Laureen in the hebe garden

The lake beside the Mackenzie Hut with snow-capped mountains beyond

1 January
This is the most fabulous day’s walk. We pack up and set off along a beautiful little track lined with trees and stones heavy with moss and lichen. We’re making our way up the side of the mountain and soon come out above the tree line and can see the lake and the Mackenzie Hut way below us.

The forest at its most beautiful in the damp early morning, elves and hobbits behind every rock
Looking back down through the mist we can see the Mackenzie Hut way below us

Over a saddle and we’re now making our way along the far side of the mountain towards the Harris Saddle, highest point on the walk. We stop at the shelter just before and Andy brews up some tea and we have lunch. Weather not too good outside but warm and steamy  inside.Mike and Bill decide to do a 2 hour diversion taking in the top of the mountain while the rest of us make our way over the saddle with the views clearing the other side. Snow-topped peaks above and lakes and streams below as we make our way down the valley.

Crossing over to the other side of the mountain, continuing up towards the Harris saddle
The shelter near the highest point, Anne gently steaming while Andy boils the kettle

Coming down the valley from the Harris Saddle

Approaching the Routeburn Falls Hut from above

We round a corner past waterfalls and there’s the roof of the Routeburn Falls Hut below us and a flat bottomed valley in the distance below that. The hut’s in a great position with a terrace looking out over tree tops. We settle into the dorms, Mike and Bill join us, and the sun comes out shortly creating a stunning double rainbow across the sky. More card-playing in the evening and then into the freezing cold dormitories wearing everything including a woolly hat to get warm enough to sleep.

Magnificent rainbow from the terrace of the Routeburn Falls Hut
Sunshine at last on our final evening
2 January
The rain’s heavier this morning and a weather ‘bomb’ is predicted. Heavy rain but it’s an easy if soggy walk down hill, following and crossing rivers swollen by the rain. We’re down at the Routeburn Shelter in less than 3 hours and have a long wait for the bus which takes us back to Queenstown. The showers in the YHA are really welcome after 3 days living in the same clothes and we go out for a good celebration dinner at Fishbone Restaurant.

3 January
Would you believe it our flight is delayed by about 3 hours.

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