Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Any self respecting list of "Ten Best Hikes" will include at least one from New Zealand.  One of the  better New Zealand hikes is the Routeburn Track.  The Routeburn Track is a 2-3 day, 32-km tramp (hike) running from Mount Aspiring National Park to Fiordland National Park.  We decided to tramp the Routeburn to the first hut (Routeburn Flats), have lunch and return, just to get a feel for the experience in the hopes of a return sometime for the multi-day trek.

Along the Glenorchy-Queenstown Road

To get to the Routeburn trailhead one drives south from Queenstown along the winding road skirting Lake Wakatipu, through the town of Glenorchy and another 25 km beyond on single lane roads and gravel lanes.  Arriving at the trailhead, it does't look like much.  A small building, a toilet, a few information bulletin boards.  No signs that say "GREATEST WALK IN THE WORLD!" Kiwis are so understated.

There were some cars in the car park but not a lot of people.  We were getting our gear together when a man dressed in what I would call a park ranger uniform stepped out of the toilets wearing rubber gloves and handling a mop.  He was very friendly, asked us where we planned to go, etc. and wished well.

The trail begins at the green Department of Conservation sign and the crossing of the first of many suspension bridges.  The maximum number of people allowed on any one bridge was five.  These structures and well built and maintained, and they offer some great views of the rivers, creeks and gorges throughout the journey.  As you know, you can't comprehend beauty and grandeur from a post card or photographs, but here are a few pictures from the first leg of the walk.  But keep reading, the story gets way better.

"Where are the billboards, internet cafe, and souvenir stand?"

The first suspension bridge

Oliver and Molly thought the moss was really cool.  Very spongy and soft.

After the first bridge, the rest are quite narrow and 'wobbly.'

Load and loads of waterfalls and pools.

This is a toilet in the middle of nowhere.  The park officials call it "Cape Canaveral" because its on a rail system and can be shifted  a few feet to either side.  Amazingly clean. Take me to the moon. 

Fern Forrest

Back to Nature

Absolutely stunning

A rest by the river

Our destination was the Routeburn Flats Hut about two hours into the track.  After the initial easy bits along the Routeburn River, the trail was fairly moderate with some steep bits.  We moved along at a goodly pace. However, about an hour in to the walk, the "park ranger" caught up with us.  We struck up a conversation.  He was keen to show us some of the botany and he saw that we were keen to learn.  He is not a park ranger but a Hut Warden.  Hut Wardens hike into the National Parks to the huts and stay there for 8 days, looking after the huts, helping hikers, maintaining the trails and structures, assisting in emergencies, all the things that you would expect a 'ranger' to do.  He told us that we really ought to go all the way up to the Routeburn Falls Hut as that was the most beautiful area along the track.  Of course we thanked him but were suppose to return to Dunedin that night.  

After another hour of walking, watching some 'canyoneers' (nutballs who jump into freezing rapids and slide down the chutes--looked like fun but injury rate is way up there), and learning about the various trees, etc., the Hut Warden made us an offer.  He said if we were willing to make the trek, he'd put us up for the night in the Hut Warden Cabin.  Told us he had plenty of food, bunks, and sleeping bags.

My first thought was about the number of pieces he would have to chop four people up into to conceal them.  But no, that was silly.  He is the hut warden for one of the largest and most remote areas in New Zealand.  He would not need to chop us up--he would just hide our bodies, never to be seen again.  It took me a good 30 minutes of internal debate and a long discussion with Claire before I finally said what the heck.  This is an offer that comes along very seldom (if ever) and its all about taking advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.  We agreed.  This was a big turning point for me in getting out of my natural comfort zone and into the New Zealand mindset.  

As it happened, he was not an axe wielding maniac or serial killer.  He was an incredibly nice person who wanted to share the experience with us.  It was completely fantastic.

We had lunch at the Routeburn Flats Hut.  This was a spectacular valley surrounded by mountains.  Its really hard not to draw correlations to The Lord of The Rings, but its east to see why the scenery here lent itself so well to those stories.

Routeburn Flats or the Plains of Rohan? Yes, that's snow on the mountain.

The hike up to the Routeburn Falls was a more moderate to rugged with some steep areas. Not a problem and the views were INCREDIBLE.

Rising up above the Flats

A couple of hours later we arrived at the Falls Hut. Huts are simply bunk spaces with a communal area with some cookers and wood/coal burning stove.  You have to schedule your trip months in advance to get a spot. Its cold, a little rough, and you need to be prepared and friendly.

The Warden Hut and Falls Hut from the falls.  The Flats are in the shadow of the mountain.

The Routeburn Falls Hut

The Communal area.

But we had the penthouse!  The Warden's Hut was cozy and warmed up quickly with the fire started.  It had electricity and the pot belly stove boiled water in a flash.  We got settled in, made a cup of tea, and had a great time.  The Hut Warden, who I will call John, was an amazing and generous host.    He had plenty of stories about being a Hut Warden, about the Routeburn, and about life in general.  

Claire helping with dinner: Bangers!

Molly relaxing on the couch

Oliver checks out our bunks

Heating up the dishes by the stove--very civilized.  My father-in-law would be proud!

Sitting down to dinner with "John."

What a great time.  There was even a potential emergency with lost trampers but it turned out to be a couple of amateur photographers taking night photos of the sky. They were not lost at all. It was a little cool in the morning but we soon got up and moving around.  After a hearty breakfast we thanked John profusely and headed back down the track. The whole event was just a phenomenal experience and really put the capstone on our Queenstown/Arrowtown/Routeburn trip.

This is part of the Routeburn Falls.  Please take a moment to admire this photo as I took it using settings on my camera I have never used before.


Arrowtown is a tourist hotspot that was once a boomtown during the Otago gold rush of the 1860s.  It has a tourist appeal and is very beautiful in the autumn.  Arrowtown also serves as an alternate ski town to Queenstown.  We had a nice evening in Arrowtown after surviving "the world's most exciting jet boat ride."

Old buildings and turning leaves

The Post and Telegraph

The Masonic Lodge

It should be noted that life in Arrowtown has turned many a good child bad.  Oliver spent most of his time sitting at the bar . . .

. . . or shooting pool with his sister.

If you are in Arrowtown, I high recommend the Fork and Tap.  Great atmosphere, people, food, and drink!


We did this.  The video does not do it justice.  A lot of fun but bring the dramamine!

Monday, April 16, 2012


Finally, Molly and I have left the comforting hills of Dunedin and, with Claire and Oliver at hand, we ventured to the mountains of Queenstown.  We drove from Dunedin through Milton, Miller's Flat, Roxburgh, Alexandra, Clyde, Cromwell, and into Queenstown (see map below).  With the exception of a few places, most of the major roads we traveled on were two-lane, winding highways with very little traffic and varied terrain, both beautiful and stark.

Very large fruit is grown in Cromwell.

This is the overlook at the Roaring Meg Hydro Electric scheme on the Roaring Meg River.  

The Roaring Meg is named after either a Scottish cannon or a rather boisterous "paramour" of gold miners back in the gold rush.  The history one chooses to except may say something about one's personality, don't you think?

Central Otago is well known for its vineyards.  The Pinot Noir is very popular and rightfully so.  You could easily spend a few days doing the "Wine Trail."  We stopped at Gibbston Valley Winery and had lunch. 

A few hundred meters down the road is the Kawarau Bridge where bungee jumping was invented.  The bridge is about 45 meters (147 ft.) above the cold, clear water of the Kawarau River.  Even if you don't plan to jump (we didn't), its worth stopping to see.

This is the bridge from the viewing platform.

This person is wondering why she paid good money to leap off a perfectly safe bridge because she is looking straight down at . . . 


Queenstown was not what I expected.  I had it in my mind that the town--not the skiing--was going to compare in someway to a place in Colorado.  I thought it would be similar to a North American ski resort like an English Vail or Aspen.  In fact, it was much more like a Steamboat Springs, a Breckenridge, or even a Frisco or Silverthorne.  That was a pleasant surprise.  We went up in the Skyline gondola which had excellent views and some fun things to do (the gondola does not go to a ski area).

Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu

Getting ready to ride the Luge

The Luge as seen from above.  This is an 800 meter concrete track that you ride down on carts that accelerate down the track by force of gravity and the occasional use of brakes.

Long walk home.

Oliver found a very interesting fungi on the Ben Lomond track.

Red means dead!  Don't cook the mushrooms.

Sharing a moment on the Ben Lomond track.

It will be interesting to see what Queenstown is like during ski season.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


If you are thinking about immigrating to New Zealand for awhile or permanently, it won't take much research until you find the forums at ENZ (www.enz.org/forum/) or similar website.  There is an incredible amount of useful information within these forums and, to be honest, a lot of junk as well.  But its worth a good bit of time there to figure out the good and the bad of life in NZ.

One person of particular note is Ki-wised American dbonnet.  db and his family have been a tremendous source of information and help in understanding Kiwi culture from the American point of view.  They did not talk us into coming here, but they made us feel comfortable about it.  So it was a great pleasure to get together with the dbonnet's while they were traveling the south island from Nelson.  We had a great dinner at Zucchini Brothers and the next day we went to Sandfly Bay.

Inman's and dbonnets at the entrance to Sandfly Bay.

Kids on the beach

Ms. db, Mr.  db, and Claire admire the scenery.

All hands of deck for kelp dragging!

Oliver meets with the seal of approval.

A very large Hooker Sea Lion.  This chap had a tremendous scar around his neck.

We also saw couple of Yellow-Eyed Penguins that were too far away to photograph.  A delicious bottle of Pinot Noir at the penguin hide and we were ready for the march back to the car park and dinner in Portobello where db thrilled with his stories of NZ SAR (Search and Rescue), of which he is a member.  

Thanks dbonnets!

UPDATE: Apprently enz.org has moved to http://nzandyou.freeforums.org


 The Dunedin Botanical Garden is a major attraction in Dunedin and it is spectacular.  According to their website, "hill views from sunny lawns, over 6,800 plant species and the birdsong of wild native bellbirds, wood pigeons and tui - just some of the delights of the 28 hectare Dunedin Botanic Garden." I took lots of photos of flowers, but I don't want to bore my admiring readers with more pictures of the local fauna--unless there is a general public outcry for them.

Claire reflects (on how glad she is to be married to me) during a stroll in the Lister Garden.

Walking through the native wood.

 Oliver holds a redwood up.

The Gardens share their home with the Dunedin Aviary.

There is a Cockatoo just below the sign talking to Oliver and Molly.

The view from the Mediterranean Terrace