Friday 20th November
The Routeburn Track, Glenorchy.
It was a turbulent night of wind and rain and we could feel the van being buffeted despite our careful manoeuvring into what we thought would be a sheltered spot. The weather forecast from the DOC sounded grim... heavy rain - up to 3.3cm tomorrow morning - with snow above 700metres and a cold wind giving a predicted wind chill of minus 5. The afternoon looked rather better.
We excitedly planned a cosy lie-in with coffee and books, but after waking to rain, by 10am we could not deny the sunshine pouring through the sky lights, and blue skies behind the mountain tops forming an amphitheatre around us.
We scrambled together breakfast and a picnic, stashed our rucksacks with appropriate clothing, booted up and headed for the track.
The cascading river next to our camp was in spate, the mountain stream having been turned into a torrent by the nights rain. Our guide book told us that the Routeburn path started by following along the side of the side of the river, so we marched enthusiastically over the small suspension bridge, past the signboards, over the river and up into the woods on the far side. They were beautiful and full of sunlight and birdsong.
After tramping uphill and away from the river for a few minutes, our suspicions were raised. We re-traced our steps back over the bridge to the sign board, put on our glasses and discovered to our dismay that we had we had been tramping merrily along the Rockburn track, instead of the Routeburn track. The former was an 8-10 walking route to the start of the latter... Idiots!
Back in Madge, we drove back along the gravel track for about 10km to find the real start of the walk, complete with information boards showing maps, routes and wildlife information; and then we set off again!
As expected the walk was wonderful and deservedly one of the top 10 great walks in New Zealand. It is usually done over three days, staying in mountain huts overnight and arriving Great Divide near Milford Sound, 300km drive away by car. The first day normally ends at Falls Hut. The route on the second day crosses the highest point and continues over Harris Saddle and down to the Lake Mackenzie Hut, and the third day descends to the finish. We decided to climb to the Harris Saddle and back down again.
The first part of the walk was lovely, following the river very gently uphill through beech woods, crossing a number of small suspension bridges as we went.
The river was very full, crystal clear and pale blue in colour. The river bed was littered with enormous boulders and the water raced and crashed its way down the valley.
We raced up the first easy section, following the river to Flats Hut (6.5km).
The second section was a bit tougher, and the path became steeper and more uneven as it round around tree roots and rock slides. We crossed several more rather wobbly suspension bridges. At Falls Hut (8.8km) the waterfall became very steep and spectacular, it looked a very lovely place to stay over.
We continued on up towards the Harris Saddle (12.4km). Up until now the weather had been exemplary, with blue skies and sunshine and just the right temperature for walking.
This higher section of the path was much steeper and tougher and as we crested over a hill, suddenly we were in Scotland! Bleak moorland with sharp peaks rising above snow filled corries.
We continued up the valley before sidling along the bluffs above lake Harris to reach the saddle at 1255 metres. The surrounding peaks were shrouded in mist.
The wind had an icy chill as it gusted around the mountain refuge. We admired Conical hill looking very rugged but passed on this further ascent as it was time to retrace our steps. We headed back crossing a small snowfield before finding a sheltered spot for lunch- Brie and apricot chutney rolls- delicious at altitude!
The mist turned to rain as we headed back to the waterfall - all gushing with the additional rainfall, and then continued down the forest path, powered by meganuts bars we made good time and were soon back in Madge after 7.5 hrs glorious tramping. Revived by a cup of tea, we drove back to Queenstown to try the legendary Fergburger! Queues were short and we were soon chomping into a delicious 'cockadoodleoink' and a 'southern swine burger' on the harbour front. The town was lively but showed little evidence of tomorrow's marathon. Kathryn navigated well to reach the freedom camping area at Drift Bay where we grabbed a slightly sloping site before settling down to reflect on another remarkable day!