Archive | April 2004

Mud wrestling

So I had just gotten to Dunedin and was looking for a place to stay. Well, I found one and ended up just hanging around Dunedin for a few days. I really like this town (which is why I’m back here again). It has a cool student vibe and lots of stuff to do (and $2 an hour internet – the cheapest in the country). It is also home to Baldwin Street: the steepest street IN THE WORLD (DUN DUN DUUUUUNNNN!!! – [dramatic music here]). I hiked up it and watched some guy ride a bike up it. Whatever floats your boat. I also met Anne in the hospital, a German girl who’s gonna be a veterinarian and was studying here in NZ, and we had a really cool night together.

But eventually, I had to get moving. My plan was to hitch hike down south to an island called Stewart Island and do a 10 day hike around the island. The only problem was that I had since developed a cold and my foot was hurting me. I figured it would get better in a few days, so I got a few rides down to a town called Invercargill and hung out for the day, buying all my groceries for the tramp (what they call tracks) and separating the stuff I was gonna need for tramping, and the stuff I could leave at the hostel. I ended up meeting these cool Kiwi chicks (Hi Briar!) and they hooked a brutha’ up with a ride to Bluff, the town where you catch the ferry to Stewart Island, and we stayed at the same hostel together. Seeing as there wasn’t much to do on the island when we arrived, we ended up going to the pub and the girls kept buying my booze and got me pretty hammered (I only bought one round of beers and the plan was to stay sober). We stumbled back to the hostel (which was actually just this old lady’s house and she rented out rooms) and bid our farewells in the morning when I started my tramp.

A bit intimidating, no? Ten days hiking around an island which once you start, you can’t really turn back and also happens to be one of the most isolated and difficult tracks in New Zealand. Not to mention the fact that you have to carry everything you need, from clothes to food for the entire time in a backpack. The first few days are the heaviest since you haven’t yet eaten any food and it really wears you down. Not to mention the fact that my cold was going on strong and my foot really hurt. But I started anyways and ended up asking myself why several times throughout the journey. The 90 mile track is very (very very very) muddy and at times, the mud comes up to your mid thigh. Climbing up muddy mountains, pulling yourself over slippery rocks, jumping over streams, walking through rivers (which can get pretty deep), trudging over sand dunes and generally sweating a whole lot in wet and muddy shoes and socks (that you have to put on wet and muddy every morning) are a few of the pleasures of the track. The first few days I was completely alone during the day and then at the huts at nice. The isolation was nice. A few of the days, I ran into hunters on the track and staying at the huts and a few of the days I spent with one other tramper (a Swedish guy) at night in the huts (he was faster than me so we didn’t see each other on the track). Within a few days, my cold turned into a really painful tonsillitis-like thing where it hurt like hell to swallow. My throat swelled up and I couldn’t even swallow my own spit (had to spit it out). After that subsided a little bit, I ended up waking up at 2am with a really painful ear infection which is only now starting to go away. I finished the hike despite wanting to die and did manage to get quite a bit of satisfaction out of it. The beaches, sunsets, forests and wildlife was incredible and the fact that I was able to accomplish such a challenging circuit on my own made it even better.

All in all (I did the math), I have hiked about 270 miles through New Zealand’s forests and beaches. I have destroyed my pair of $300 dollar boots (which I am taking back to the store to get them repaired and then subsequently shipped to China where I’ll be when they are ready). The seams are coming undone in a few places. Oh well, it happens, I guess. Although I probably wont be buying another pair of Scarpas again.

After finishing the track, muddy and unshaven, I walked directly into the general store, bought some ice cream and a candy bar and enjoyed what I couldn’t enjoy for 10 days. How incredible it was. The next day, I took the ferry back to the mainland and worked my way back up to Dunedin to hang out, relax and recover from my cold (I was still sick, which I figure is a byproduct of pushing my body so hard for so many days). I was also to meet up with my friend (the incredible and beautiful) Ali, who I met on the Rees Dart track, and she had promised to put me up for a few days (hey, can’t argue with that). I stayed in the hostel the first night, but last night stayed at her place and met all her room mates and stuff and we made stir fry for dinner. This morning I went to class with her and sat through a lecture on the idea of a social meritocracy. Interesting stuff. I also took a tour of the Cadbury Chocolate factory (you know, Cadbury cream eggs) and ended up eating a whole lot of free chocolate. It’s really cool to see assembly lines and machines that do all sorts of cool stuff like that. And the smell of chocolate was incredible. They didn’t allow any cameras in, so I didn’t get any pics, but oh well.

I just got back with Ali and her friend Rudi (to whom I just sold my tent – HELL YEAH!) from visiting the Otago penninsula. It was pretty cool.

I already bought my ticket to Australia (for really cheap, $90 bucks) and will be heading over there on May 3rd, so the plan is to hang out here in Dunedin for a few days, get over this cold and then head up to Christchurch where I will leave to Melbourn, Australia. It’s gonna be sad leaving New Zealand, a country which I have very quickly fallen in love with, but I have to continue the trip. Much like Argentina, I have to continue on, no matter how much I want to stay because I know that I’m going to fall in love with lots more countries. I did, however, end up staying here nearly two and a half months (my original plan was a month) so I guess that says something. Sorry this post is so short and there’s no really funny stuff in it. It’s quite hard to cram so many weeks into a single post and fit all the details. I solemnly promise to make the posts funnier when I get to a place with cheaper internet, like China. I can then post more frequently and put more effort into the posts.

I’ve been lucky here. All the New Zealanders that have given me rides, bought me booze, fed me, educated me, and made me laugh have made this place an incredible experience. All the other really awesome fellow travelers (like Ali, Anne, Matt, Katrina, Simon, Kat, Tom, Maria and countless others) who have helped me out and shown me a great time have made this experience that much better. This life is awesome. Traveling is awesome. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Actually, I guess I don’t really have to…I get both the traveling and the world at the same time.

What year is it?

So there I stood, ready to write my name and date on my bag of food so I could put it in the hostel fridge without them throwing it away in the morning. Yep… 09/04/….03 (they write the day first here in the date). Yeah, it’s 2003, right? Shit…or is it 2004. It’s not 2005. I think. Dammit.

I eventually just took a look at the expiry date on some butter. I left before the year change and don’t have to think about which year it is that much. Give me a break.

So what’s new with me? I’m in Dunedin! My plan is to check out this bustling little city (with a cool University vibe) before heading south to Stewart Island to do a 10 day hike around the island. But, the last time I posted, I was in Queenstown. So, let’s backtrack to how exactly I got here.

Like I was planning, I did the Greenstone hike as a “shortcut” (of sorts) to Te Anau. I had no luck hitch hiking so the hike seemed like a better option. It turns a 3 hour car ride into a 20 minute lift so I was on my way. I headed back to the hostel, cleaned my boots and backpack and let them dry next to the heater overnight (they both smelled like DEATH) and was ready and charged by the morning. I headed to the Greenstone Valley and started the hike.

And I was carrying all my stuff.

And my backpack was soooo heavy.

I don’t know how many times, exactly, I called myself an idiot. Why not just take the bus? I’m gonna pass out with all this weight on my back! But I soon realized I was making good time. I was at the first camp site ahead of the recommended time, so I continued on. After a 15 minute lunch and another 6 hours of walking, I arrived at the second, and last, hut. Soooo, that put the grand total to about 8 hours of continuous hiking. I arrived in the dark and the cold, and arrived right before I was about ready to give up and just put up my tent.

“You planning on sleeping in the hut tonight?”, a guy who was cooking his dinner on the front porch, in the dark, asked me.

“Yeah, that’s the plan”, I replied.

“Good luck. There are about 15 kids on a school trip in there and it’s a madhouse. We’re starting to claim parts of the floor.”

I got in quick and put my stuff under the table. That’s MY table! I ended up sleeping under it.

In the morning, I took my time getting up, had breakfast and finished the 2 hours of walking to the main road where I met a couple from Spain and chatted with (in Spanish, of course, so I don’t forget it) them for a little bit while I changed clothes and had lunch. Then I went to the road to get a lift. The first car stopped and a Swiss guy happily helped my bags into his car. We chatted on the ride to Te Anau.

Once there, I found a hostel and hung out. Not much to do in Te Anau on Good Friday. Everything was closed (you couldn’t even buy liquor in the town) so I hung out and read The Economist and watched movies on cable. A bunch of high school kids from Vermont kids were staying there for a school hiking trip and all the girls were staring at me while I ate dinner and trying to talk to me. Cute. If only they were like 5 years older. But it always works out like that, no? The next day went pretty much the same. Everything was still closed and I tried to do as little as I could.

I was tired. Near burnout from the hike (try walking 8 hours in wet boots with 60 pounds strapped to your back after hiking nearly every day for a month) and needed a rest. You really have to pace yourself sometimes. A day “lost” can save you from having to just sit and stare at the wall for about a week because your totally burned out from doing anything. So, yeah, I enjoyed doing nothing. It hurt to walk and was raining anyways.

So the next day (yesterday), I decided I would try to hitch hike to Dunedin. I stood on the highway and after some Israeli’s ahead of me got a lift, I got a ride from an American couple. They left me about a quarter of the way there as they split of to go up to Queenstown. I then got picked up by this huge guy out for a cruise in his Mercedes. He told me he was a bus driver and that he didn’t have much money to travel, although he tried to get out every 2 years. He took me to the next town. The sky looked ominous. It was going to rain. Next? An English guy who lived in New Zealand picked me up. I smacked my forehead on his door (I still have a big bump) and got in. We had a great discussion about New Zealand opinions from an outsider’s perspective and talked about farming and prices and stuff. Very cool.

So he let me off, in the rain, in a town called Gore – home of New Zealand’s largest Brown Trout statue (Quiet down, people. Please). I tried to get a ride, in the rain, for about 45 minutes before giving up. Two cars stopped, but could only take me 5k up the road. No one wants to take a wet backpacker to another city. So I gave up and checked into the only hostel in the city. Easter Sunday. Again, not much open. I read and watched “A Knight’s Tale” with the others in the hostel and managed to secure a ride to Dunedin with three others who had a car. Right on.

So now I’m here. After spending about 3 hours walking around the town with my backpack, looking for a vacancy in a hostel (Easter weekend, remember), I found a place and am killing time until the weather gets better.

I’m not keeping my fingers crossed. After all, this is New Zealand.

Big FAT snow!

Yeah, so guess what. I did some more trekking. Yup. Just like I said I was going to. And you know what? I had fun. As usual. Honestly, having fun all the time can get a little monotonous after a while. It’s like: “Oh great, more fun? Damn, when is it gonna stop??”. Hah, just kidding.

It may seem like I’ve been out in the mountains for like 6 days at a time only to pop my head into civilization for about a day or so to check my email, make a post, then disappear back out to the mountains. Yeah…well, that’s probably because that’s what I’ve been doing. Here’s a rundown of what’s gone down since the Routeburn trek.

So I went out to dinner with Matt and Katrina (whom I met at the beginning of the Caples) for dinner and a beer when we got back to town. It rained that night and it didn’t stop the next morning and luckily, instead of having to pay the 15 bucks to get out to the start of the Rees/Dart track via the bus, Matt offered to give me a lift in his little (really little) car. So I packed up my stuff, left a lot of it at the hostel (my tent, sleeping mat, lonely planet, etc… that I wasn’t gonna need since I would be staying in huts, which are pretty much like little resorts with wood/coal stoves, bunk beds and kitchens, but without electricity, along the way). So we set off and about half way there realized his car wasn’t gonna make it. It couldn’t cross the streams. He would have needed four wheel drive. Or at least a bigger car. So we said goodbye and I walked from there. As I walked (which ended up being about 2 hours to get to the start of the track) in the rain, I saw the bus I didn’t take pass me filled with people.

“Fuck”, I thought. “The huts are gonna be full and I don’t have my tent.”

But what could I do, so I continued on. They all had quite a start on me but I figured I could catch up with at least a few and make it to a bed first (I realized later on that I had nothing to worry about. There was plenty of space at the huts). The track was hard core. Walking through the rain, through rivers you had to cross with your boots on (yeah, you get pretty wet), up really steep sheer drop off hills to avoid the river you were walking along, mud/swamp up to your knees and to top it all off, there was no real track. You just had to follow these orange poles every few hundred meters up the valley and hope you didn’t miss one.

But I eventually caught up with everyone and passed them. I met some cool peeps my age on the way (Ali, I know your reading this, HI!) who were hiding under a rock while eating lunch to avoid the rain.

I forged ahead after dumping the water out of my boots from the river crossing and after a really long day of climbing over mountains and crawling under fallen trees in the forest, I made it to the hut. REALLY nice! It was like a little resort with everything you could want…except like, internet and hot water. And electricity. But it did have toilets that flushed! HARDCORE!

Ali, Cam and Jesse arrived (the girl and guys I met on the track) a little bit after me and we made dinner together after getting the stove going (coal fire) and spent the night chatting and laughing. It was cool.

The next day, we left together after making breakfast and tackled the mountain pass, where you hike up the mountain to the snowline to get to the next valley where the next hut is. We made it all in one peace after scrambling up and then sliding down the other side (it’s up to about 4600 feet) and finally arrived at Dart Hut, which was even more impressive. We hung out, played cards, had dinner, hot chocolate (I have a little gas stove for dinner and, of course, hot chocolate) and talked a lot. We hit the sack about midnight and the next morning, we hiked up towards the Cascade Saddle. Since Ali, Cam and Jesse had to get to school in a day or so, they had to turn around early and head towards the next hut. We said goodbye and I continued on to hike up the mountain. It took me all day to get back, but I hiked right up to the Dart Glacier (very impressive) and made it back to the hut before it got dark.

I stayed there that night and the next day, woke up to big FAT snow, everywhere. It was really coming down and there was about an inch of it on everything. YEAH! The day before was a perfect sunny day which made it kind of weird, but I went to the Whitbourn Valley to check out another glacier anyways. About 10 minutes later it was another perfect sunny day. Weird, huh? The hike was hardcore all the way there. I was going nearly straight down a mountain where there was this drawbridge, then you hike nearly straight up this other mountain, along these foot wide cliffs which plummet down into a raging river below and better yet, there was snow everywhere, making it really slippery. I spent the next 3 hours walking through this crazy volcanic river valley jumping over rivers and streams and climbing up rocks (sometimes wondering how I was gonna get back down). After seeing the tip of the glacier, I turned around and headed back. The trip to the next hut was through mostly grassy flat lands between two incredibly stunning mountain ranges. I made it in 4 hours (as opposed to the 6-8 the signs said it would take) and got back just before dark. I spent the night reading poetry from a book I had bought in Wellington and I got to bed early.

The next day was the last day and after sleeping in, I hiked down the mountain in about 4 hours to the parking lot where the bus picked us all up (my friends had gone out the day before, but I was still with a few others from the trek). I made it back to Glenorchy and stayed the night to recover.

So this morning, I got up early and hitch hiked back to Queenstown and then a little ways out of town to see if I could get a ride.

There were a lot of people hitch hiking and no one was getting rides so I’m heading back to Glenorchy after finishing this post and hiking the Greenstone track tomorrow. The end is right near where I wanted to hitch hike to, so it cuts out the middle man and I get some great hiking in too. Can’t beat it, eh?

I head down to the Kepler track area next to see if I can do any hiking there, which I hear has had the mountain section closed down on account of snow and ice. Crazy, eh?

So today gives me enough time to let my muscles recover from 2 weeks of non stop hiking before doing it again tomorrow. God bless New Zealand!

Damn. I need a bath…

Well, I’m just stopping in to Queenstown to fill up my pack with food and then I’m heading back out to Glenorchy. They have a little corner supermarket with nothing for a backpacker to eat while hiking so I had to hitch hike 50k’s to go to the supermarket then hitch back. I just got done hiking the Caples track, taking a day to visit the Milford Sound and then hiking the Routeburn track. They were pretty incredible and the scenery was absolutely spectacular. They say it rains about 300 days out of the year here and I managed to spend 6 days without a drop of rain (after a day of hiking in the rain though).

The other day I had perhaps one of the best days of the trip so far and I have labeled it the “Perfect Day”. It went kind of like this: I woke up in this valley I had been camping in surrounded by huge mountains with snow frosted tips. The sun had finally come out which was a relief after a day of rain the day before. The beads of dew on my tent had frozen and as I put it away, the ice shattered in a million places in the grass beside me. I put away my tent, ate breakfast, then hiked an hour to the road where I stood in the cold waiting for someone to feel sorry for me and pick me up. My destination? Milford Sound. Take a look on the net to see what it is, but it’s basically a big curvy cove from the Tasman Sea formed by glaciers with awesome waterfalls and incredibly beautiful mountains. Finally some people from New York picked me up and and we headed to Milford. I arrived just in time to catch the 11:00AM boat trip around the sound (which entailed a 15 dollar discount) and drank all the free tea I could. From there, I hitchhiked back to the spot I was in the morning, took a cool 2 hour hike on a side route to the top of this mountain, then hiked back to my same campsite the night before. I made a fire, made dinner and spent the evening staring up at the stars. The Milky Way was splashed across the sky like a cloud and I was the only person for miles. Incredible. Perfect.

This country is really beautiful and I am meeting a lot of people. I met a really cool couple my age the other day on the track and instead of sleeping in our tents one night on the Routeburn, we sneaked into this resort cabin that no one is allowed into except those on guided walks. There was no one in it and they left it unlocked so we slept in the beds and woke up at 5:30AM to sneak out so we wouldn’t be caught. About 8:00AM we were awoken by a helicopter dropping off supplies and a person to that cabin. Close call, no?! It was pretty incredible. In the middle of nowhere they had a cabin with hot water, showers, heat, electricity, tons of alcohol (they left the kitchen open too, although we didn’t take anything except cookies in the jar) and a pretty cozy set of dorm rooms. It sure beat freezing in the tent.

So yeah, I’m going out for another 9 days or so. I’ve got my pack loaded with food as I type this and am going to do the Rees-Dart trek which is 6 days of hiking up to these cool glaciers and then back towards Milford via the Greenstone Valley track so I can go down to Te Anau and do the Kepler track. I bought a hut pass for 65 bucks so I don’t have to lug my tent around and get to stay in the huts with fireplaces and stuff, so hopefully I won’t freeze too bad.

Wish me luck!