Current Location: Queenstown
It’s mid-April in New Zealand and winter is certainly on the horizon. Our uncharacteristically pleasant weather window is coming to an end, our good luck soon to run out. But before it does, we have been blessed with blue-bird days and hot afternoons. Such weather accompanied me up onto Martha’s saddle, a spectacular sight in the middle of the mountains, where the trail took the form of a meticulously bulldozed track. It eased it’s way up to a whopping 1,500 meters which is a pretty incredible feat considering the nature of the loose scree that dominate the mountainsides. From that saddle, I caught my first sight of Mt Aspiring, which like Mt Cook, pierces the sky. Little did I know it, but in a few days time I’d veer from the trail and up into the heart of Mt Aspiring NP.
Before doing so, the trail climbed up to Breast Hill, whose 360-degree views were most certainly a TA highlight. Once atop the calf-straining ascent, the trail rolled about across a ridge allowing me to fall into a very enjoyable time of meditating on the beauty around. At Breast Hill the views looked down along Lake Hawea and west toward Lake Wanaka. With such astounding beauty, Dylan and I tried to cowboy camp out on the ridge, by by 1:30AM, a light rain patted against our sleeping bags and down to the hut we went. Good thing too, because the rain picked up that night and we would have been soaked through had we stayed.
After that we stopped in Wanaka for a short afternoon having lunch with a very kind couple whom I’d met through the article written about me in the Bend Bulletin. They reside in Oregon most of the year, but take two months a year to live in the nearby city of Queenstown. They were very accommodating, scooping us up at the trailhead and driving us to town where we had lunch and preceded to talk about maps, routes and trail the whole time.
From Wanaka, Dylan and I hatched yet another spontaneous plan to head up to Aspriring NP where we’d hike Cascade Saddle and the Rees-Dart Track. A gloomy outlook on the 60-k hitch turned into disbelievingly good luck as the two men who picked us up ended up driving us past their original destination and all the way up to the TH. Along way we forded many small creeks and eased our way through herds of cattle. After a short side trip to a waterfall beneath a leaping rainbow, and after more than an hour of being enertained by the witty humor of these men, Dylan and I were back at it again and hiking up a valley. The following morning, hoping that the small weather window would be in our favor, we ascended 1,300-meters (METERS!) up toward the Cascade Saddle. It was a long climb, both below and after the tree line. But there, as the trees faded away, I saw my first kea, a very cheeky NZ native pird that looks like a big green parrot. What a delight that was.
And after we reached the saddle, we were swept away with views of the Dart Glacier, Mt Aspiring and the valley floor below us. Waterfalls plunged over the edge, diving thousands of meters down while mist and clouds soared around us. From there, we dropped lower and lower into the valley, past lateral moraines and a river valley that once housed the massive shapes and sizes of glaciers. When we reached the hut, we were greeted by a nice couple from Australia and a day of dreary weather. We all took a zero-day in that hut, drinking tea, playing chess (At 30 years old I finally learned how to play the game….and….I like it!), swapping stories and lounging around.
Clear skies greeted us the next morning and Dylan and I headed up to Rees saddle. Beautiful mountains, valleys and an easy 9-k day. You see, now that thru-hiking isn’t a priority, neither is popping out big mile days. It’s a nice way to ride this journey out, that’s for sure.
So now I’m in Queenstown, where Dave and Joyce (the couple from Bend) have put Dylan and I up for a couple of nights. This morning I awoke to a beautiful sunrise out over the lake. I’ve taken care of some remaining chores and tomorrow will head back out onto the ways of the trail.
Up next: Routeburn Track, Milford Sound, Greenstone and the Mavora Lakes….