Brian Merewitz is a senior Natural Resources Management major and is currently studying abroad in New Zealand.
[Originally posted September 29, 2013]
No, this has nothing to do with the Sam Adams song for the few of you who even know who that singer is. Instead, it has to do with my weekend starting in Dunedin on the Pacific Ocean (east coast) and going to Fiordland and the Tasman Sea (west coast). This one may be long, so let’s get started (but at least read the P.S. at the bottom). And I haven’t gotten picture formatting perfect, yet, so sorry! Working on it still!
We began on Friday morning at the ripe hour of 6am–the sunrise in Dunedin was beautiful! Unfortunately, the forecast for our trip was not. Like last weekend, this one was calling for steady rain Friday and heavy rain Saturday. Our plan was to hike up to the Luxmore Hut along the Kepler Track (one of NZ’s Great Walks) in Fiordland National Park on Friday night. Sounds eerily similar to last weekend, right? Well, luckily we had daylight this time–sorry, I was willing to sacrifice going to class in exchange for hiking in the daylight. And, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just improper clothing. This time, equipped with a waterproof pack cover and rain pants (I had neither last weekend), we hit the trail head around 10am. For this trip, there were 5 of us–myself, Jeanne, Craig and Abbie representing America and Graham being the lone Canadien. Oh, I forgot to mention our other companions, the hundreds of sandflies (NZ’s version of a mosquito) at the trailhead, but luckily, they stayed behind in the car park. I guess they are a sign of summer approaching, though!
Anyway, enough rambling. The trail to Luxmore Hut begins in the bush, but climbs up above tree line with a 2,250ft elevation gain over 8.5 miles, which the sign said is expected to take 6 hours. So, off we went. There were drizzles along the car ride and it was cloudy at the trailhead, but no rain for now. Shortly after entering the bush, that changed. Just as expected, a steady rain came down, but luckily, the trees helped protect us. It’s a great thing NZ has this hut system because a forecast like this would’ve most likely forced us to cancel a tent-camping trip. Regardless, we continued, had a wet lunch break and broke tree line around 2pm! As we were exiting the bush, the clouds opened and the rain cleared for the final 30 minutes of our walk! Hint: you’ll notice a trend. However, we made it to the hut in just under 4 and a half hours, so we were feeling great! Well, actually we ached. We ached a lot for a group of five 20+ year olds, of which 4 (all but me) are or were NCAA D1 athletes. Craig and Jeanne ski at Colby College in Maine, Graham skis at St. Lawrence in NY and Abbie did play field hockey prior to back surgery for St. Lawrence.
From the hut across Lake Te Anau
Anyway, after a short snack and stretch, we went to explore the Luxmore Caves. By this point, the rain had begun again, but the caves were only 10 minutes away and, obviously, covered. So, we went in and it was really neat! You are free to go as far as you want and explore as much as you want, but there are signs warning you that it can get dark and don’t touch stalactites or stalagmites. When we were done and got back to the cave opening, we were welcomed by a beam of light coming through–the sun returned! Hint: start catching the trend. With the clouds broken, we took the opportunity to catch a few photos of the area around the hut. It was stunning! The mountains surrounding the hut were so jagged with Lake Te Anau just below. Anyway, we went back to the hut, relaxed, met the others staying there (1 girl from Dunedin and 2 English couples), lit the wood stove, hung our wet stuff to dry and made dinner. For the rest of the evening, the clouds would come in and block all views, then clear for just a few minutes, so we could snap pictures. After dinner, we lit the wood stove and all decided to sleep in the common room in front of the fire, rather than in the cold bunk room, so we dragged our mattresses (foam pads) out and played some cards then were in bed by 9pm. Yes, 5 college kids, in bed by 9pm on Friday night. And boy did we sleep–at 8am, 11 hours later, the sun was shining in our faces as we finally awoke from a deep sleep.
Light through Luxmore cave
After an oatmeal breakfast and a long stretching session, we were off to conquer Luxmore Peak. We weren’t going to do the entire Kepler Track, due to deep snow and not having enough time, but we did want to wander up to the peak, which is the highest part of the track. Some friends went last weekend and said the conditions were good enough to make it up. So, with the sun out, we wandered up. Leaving our heavy backpacks at the hut felt great! We made it up to the summit in just over 1 hour, with much more of the same cloudy-then-clearing weather. In no rush, we sat at the top for a few minutes, then wandered back down and as soon as we left, of course, the clouds came in heavy and eliminated all views. If you haven’t caught on to the hints yet, we hit the weather clearings perfectly for everything on this trip! We ate lunch, stretched again, and talked to two new folks who showed up. Both ladies, in their 40s or 50s, were breathing heavily and in running clothes, but there’s no way that they could’ve possibly just run up the trail that five athletic college kids just struggled with, right? We got up in 4.5 hours, when the sign said it took six. Well, they did, and it got even worse. They kept coming. There ended up being 7 or 8 people, between 30 and 50, who had just run up the 8.5 mile trail in 2.5 hours. Boy, did we feel dumb. One proceeded to tell us that she once ran the entire 36 mile trail in just over 10 hours! So, we stretched our aching, decrepit bodies in awe and began to walk back to the car park, which took only 3.5 hours, but of course the group of runners passed us again going down. We got back to the car just around 4pm and were going to drive towards Milford Sound (2hrs away) to camp because we had to be at the sound at 9:30am for a cruise. This time, we were in a tent.
On the way to the summit!
Since luck was with us, we got to the campsite during a break in the rain and set up the tent alongside a river with occasional glimpses through the clouds at the surrounding peaks. Once the tent was set up, the rain returned, so we sat in the car and ate dinner with the sandflies who were waiting for us at this campsite too. Anyway, it worked out fine, and we were in bed now at 9pm. Unfortunately we didn’t sleep as well, and had to get up at 7:30am. We finished the drive into Milford Sound, which is an amazing drive. The sound was even better. I’m not sure I can describe it in words, so I’ve attached several photos and a video. All I can say is it was definitely worthy of a World Heritage Site status. Imagine sheer mountain cliffs raising 2,000m out of the water (and they told us they continued down to depths of 200m below the water) covered with waterfalls, as this is one of the planet’s rainiest regions. By the time we actually got to the sound, many of the clouds have lifted and we had a beautiful day in Milford Sound standards. We saw seals and dolphins, who loved to swim in front of the boat and put on a show! They are so playful!! Oh, and the sandflies were here too, but one sign told us that the Maori (native New Zealanders) believed god put sandflies here to make sure that humans wouldn’t stay too long and mess up the area. Anyway, Milford Sound with Mitre Peak is often the iconic image of New Zealand and it lived up to its name! Milford Sound leads out into the Tasman Sea and is actually a fiord, not sound, because it is glacial, but the original settlers didn’t know that. Our cruise took us to the Tasman Sea, then we drove across country back to Dunedin (it only takes 5 hours in this country) in time to make fajitas for dinner! Milford Sound may be the most beautiful place I’d ever seen and this was one of, if not the, best weekends I’ve had here! Couldn’t be happier.
Mitre Peak (centre) and Milford Sound
Hard to believe I’ve been here over 3 months and only have 2 months left. We only have 2 weeks of class left and I’ve never been so upset to be done with school… Last random thought: I actually liked coffee for the first time, which I’m not sure is good or bad, but maybe it was just because it was free and I loaded it with sweetener…