Thursday, Nov. 28
We left Queenstown and headed to Te Anau in Fiordland. Fiordland National Park is the largest of New Zealand’s 14 national parks with an area of approximately 12,5000 sq. km. Leigh Ann has saved the best for last. We are staying at the Fiordland Lodge. It is perfect. The lodge sits high on a hill, all by itself, overlooking the lake and across to the mountains, some of which still have a remnant of snow, and one of which we are going to climb (sort of). The lodge itself is beautiful –local river stone, huge log trusses, high ceilings. It would look perfect in the high alpine at Whistler. There are only 10 rooms, nicely laid out. The attention to detail shows, but the atmosphere is casual and friendly. The food is really superb. Appies and drinks are served in the lounge in front of the fire. And, just in case there was not enough for dinner, there is a magic cupboard. Close to our room, too close actually, it is filled with candies, cookies, popcorn etc. Just help yourself. Robin and LK were like kids in a candy shop!
Friday Nov. 29
Helen, from Trips and Tramps arrived right on time. She is carrying a large pack, filled with our lunches and emergency beacons and first aid kits. The helicopter arrives shortly after—lands on the lawn right in front of the lodge--and we all pile in. We ride up to Luxmore Hut for the start of our hike. This is part of the Kepler Track. In a parallel universe we might hike up here, (3 ½ hours) spend the night with 52 other people who have also walked up here, and continue on in this way for 4 days. Or, I could sit in the hut, watch the Keas outside, chat to the Ranger from the DOC (Department of Conservation) and trekkers, read my book, and wait for Robin, Rich, LK, and Helen to go to the summit and come back down (2 ½ hours). We ate our lunch in the hut, and then hurried off down. We left about 10 minutes late. The first bit was nice – nice wide track, good gravel, not too slippery, great views. Once into the forest things got a little trickier. The forest was really interesting, we saw some Keas, and lots of young people slogging up the hill. Helen had worked for the DOC for 30 years, 4 on the Kakapo project, so was really knowledgeable. The track deteriorated and I had a hard time – surprise!! Luckily, Helen was paid to take care of me. There are stoat traps every 200 metres on the descent, each one numbered. We knew that #43 was on the lake, so Helen counted down the remaining distance for me. It is a long way down. The hut where the helicopter dropped us off is at 1,000 metres, the summit is at 1,400 and the lake is at 0 so it is a long walk down.
It became obvious that we were going to miss the last water taxi out, but Helen called and they sent one to meet us. A quick boat ride from Brod bay, a short drive, and we were back at the lodge.
Sat. Nov. 30
Bard picked us up at 9:00 – this time in a truck. We headed to a water taxi for a ride across the lake and down a rarely visited finger of the lake. Sam, (calls himself small angry man), the water taxi driver is very funny. A beautiful ride – no one around. A short 30 minute (ha!) hike up and over a ridge on a narrow trail, takes us to another small gem of a lake where Sam (who tied up the water taxi on the first lake and hustled up the trail to the second lake) has taken a small “tinnie” runabout from its house in the trees. We motor up the lake, Robin and LK try their hand at fishing, and although they each get a strike, there are no fish in our boat.
At the top of the second lake we are in the most beautiful sanctuary. The river is rich in tannins, so a lovely tobacco colour. Really calm. We reach a small clearing, an old hut, restored by the guardians of the place. The table is covered with century-old graffiti carved in it.
Sam leaves us to take the tinne back and then take the water taxi home and Bard takes us for a nature walk. The river is quite high here and some of the track has been eroded by the river. The forest is still and beautiful. There are plants here that we have not seen elsewhere – some of them quite prehistoric.
Myths abound here. In Maori legend, demi-god Tu-te-raki-whanoa carved the fiords from rock using his adze, perfecting his technique as he progressed from south to north, with the last fiord, Piopiotahi (Milford Sound) being his greatest achievement. Worried that because it was so beautiful too many people would come and spoil it, he created the sand flea. They are brutal. Tiny, black and way too abundant. Bard has extra strength bug spray, which I use liberally. But, we hardly needed it as LK is a sand flea attractant. While the rest of us managed ok, she had a bad reaction to the bites. Our lunch was eaten inside!
Along the hike we come to the bridge across the river. This consists of 3 cables, one to walk on (like a tightrope walker) and two for hand holds. Pretty scary looking. Robin went out to the middle of the river but no-one else tried.
No hiking back for us – our helicopter arrived shortly after—landed in a small clearing beside the hut barely larger than the rotors. It whisked us back to the lodge. Some of the hills still have some snow – tinged pinkish, apparently from the ask of the fires of Australia. A most spectacular ride – over hills and through canyons. Landed on the lawn in front of the lodge so the walk to our room was about 10 meters.
There are new guests that join us for pre dinner drinks – mostly from Canada.
Sunday Dec. 1
We left in plenty of time to catch our flight from Queenstown to Auckland. We sat anxiously in the lounge listening to the announcements of flights to Auckland and Wellington being cancelled because the incoming flights could not land due to wind shear (the airport is surrounded by mountains so is quite difficult to get into). No more seats available today they said.
Our flight did land, the trip to Auckland was uneventful, although on an unusual routing due to the winds, and we had a relaxing time at the airport. Our flight out was delayed a bit but otherwise was pretty uneventful, if long.
Bard had talked about a huge storm coming in – we have been extremely lucky with our timing. The weather reports for Fiordland now just say rain. Lots of rain. Some places can get a metre a day. A huge storm is coming and will bring floods and grief to the west coast. But, we have missed it all.
Altogether a good trip! We are now back in Vancouver—time to get ready for the holiday season.