Sunday 15 April 2012

And So We Tramp

Lake Wakatipu

The Tramp Begins

The Weather Holds


Artist at Work

The Cold Face of the Dart


Sitting on a rock waiting for the pieces to fit


From the Foxy Glacier we rode the coasts to Haast, then turned inland to the mountains and up over the Haast pass where we met once-more the frost and said goodbye to the sand-flies. The Maoris believed that because they lived in the most beautiful place on earth, god (which one I forget) sent sand-flies to teach them humility. Do we, with our bottles of Deet and fly-screens rid ourselves of humility? Some modern Kiwis seem to lack a little reverence; they have so it seems taken the noble constellation of Orion, turned him upside-down and re-named him the Shopping Trolley!
At lake Hawea we luckily met Paul and Jenny, a couple of kiwi itinerants who got out the maps and helped us plan the best cycle route to take from there on as we were spoilt for choice. They also made us promise to take the cycle-path through Albert Town to Wanaka which turned out to be one of the best little rides in the world. If you have half a day and are in this woody neck then make sure you pedal or tread this riverside track. I rode the second half five times.
In Albert Town we camped by a river where we met a young Canadian, Chad who had, like us decided to learn to fly-fish and, also like us had so-far failed to land a trout. He was however, further along the road to success than us and shared his knowledge willingly. We fished in the evenings for the large rainbows we could see breaking the surface but failed again to tempt them onto our plates.
From Wanaka we took the Cardrona which rose up and up into the Crown range and over the country’s highest tarmac road. The descent to Arrowtown with views to lake Wakatipu and the mountains beyond brought a great days ride to an end.
In Arrowtown campsite (not overly recommended) we met Roger and Dee who, the crazy two, had cycled there from England. Riding with them the next day to Queenstown and swapping tales and advice was a pleasure. They had ridden some of the same roads as us and were the first cyclists going our way since we left our Hungarian buddy back in Laos.
Queenstown: Backpacker Factory: Thrill-Seekers Mecca.
Following in Mark and Jenny’s footsteps once-more we decided to Tramp the Reece-Dart Trail. Other more famous and popular tracks in this walker’s paradise were all booked up and we wanted at least a little solitude while imagining we were traversing a wilderness. The four day hike with a day side trip to Cascade Saddle up above the Dart glacier got us out into the mountains on a well marked trail without the need for axes and crampons. It really was a great walk even if it officially lacks a capital ‘G’. Though we camped out back, the company in the huts at night was an unexpected pleasure. We were on the same schedule as a bunch of young, out-door types from the USA who shattered my theory that Americans, who I adore in their own habitat, just don’t travel well. These youngsters were quiet, courteous and informed, lit the fire and swept the floor and we were sad to say goodbye at the trailhead.
Also setting off on the same day were Andrew and Maureen, a great couple from Adelaide with whom we enjoyed some wonderful evenings and hope we will see again. You never know who you are going to meet.
We clung to grass in a force 10 gale and stared over sheer cliffs to the Matukituki river  thousands of feet below us and huddled behind lateral moraines high and dry above the shrinking glacier. We leapt from rock to rock up to the ice-face where the stone-grey river is born, already strong and wide from beneath the dirty white behemoth. There are cracks and splashes and falls as rocks roll from the top and splash into the water and giant ice-cubes split and fall into the river where they clink together with a familiar sound before heading off downstream. We stare into the blue-black void of an ice-cave where we lack the courage to enter.
Descending from the grey and white world of rock and ice we enter the realm of lichen and moss and strange, otherworldly plants unique to this southern alpine land. Then come the all-green mossy woods where the winding path lies under a blanket of tiny red-beech leaves. It feels underfoot like walking on branflakes.
The Dart river now is blue, with house size angular boulders, discarded by the retreating ice, each now bedecked with its own Zen garden where stunted trees cling and beards of lichen hang from their branches, blowing  in the gentle wind. The forest is tall and strangely quiet the moss sucking up all sound. A white breasted robin hops inquisitively from a tree-trunk onto Anja’s outheld walking-stick and a magic moment is broken by the sound of an engine. A damned jetboat, the scourge of New Zealands rivers, hoons its way upstream packed with fee-paying numpties, passengers on a fairground ride. We are back within reach of Queenstown and soon we emerge into farmland, the trailhead and bus ride back to the world of man.
Queenstown for all its backpacker hostels, adventure shops and rowdy clubs is a pleasant place to be. The setting, on a lake surrounded by willow fringed , bald mountains is impressive and the fish and chips are great. We are staying a day to do some household chores before setting off for the Otago Rail Trail. We will tramp again somewhere before Christchurch but are going to give Fjordland a miss. We just can’t bring ourselves to do the package tour thing (or afford it) and though not very far as the kea flies it is a hell of a long way to cycle. Guess we will just have to go to Norway sometime to see some fjords. Shucks.
Apologies for a Brysonesque ending but I must go as there is a bar in town where, so the poster promises, girls who turn up in bikinis get a free ride on something called a “horizontal bar bungy”. Over and out.

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