New Zealand: looking for hobbits

At this point, we were already very impressed with New Zealand landscapes! But the main reason we came so far was to do some hiking, or as they say over there, “tramping”. Not only is the country so beautiful it’s awe inspiring, but there’s a whole business around hiking. They even marketed some of the most famous trails “The great walks”. It sounds scary but really it’s just a way to make us pay more! They are expensive and have to be booked in advance. The one we wanted to trek, the Milford Sound, was sold out when we started looking it up 3 months ahead of time! Who are those people who decide on a trek 6 months before getting there? Apparently some were even worst than us in organizing  their walk as they popped in the visitor center without a booking on the day they wanted to hike (ahahah). Because not only do we need to book the trek, the accommodation (camping or basic hut) had to be booked as well. The other treks we wanted to do all had full huts on all our possible hiking dates… We ended up going for the Kepler track because it is famous for being “above the clouds”, but had to do it the other way most people do, as huts were full 2 out of the 3 nights if we were going the right direction. So yes, organization, hum… We hesitated with camping but finally didn’t want to carry the specific gear on top of everything else, so we opted for the huts. Once we got to Te Anau, the village near many trail heads, the weather forecast kinda got bad… Rain and strong winds everyday, but everyone kept saying “this is Fjordland’s weather!”, and I really hoped it would change and we would be lucky enough to avoid the rain.

The Kepler track goes (if it’s done the “other way” like we did it) like this: day 1 in a flat forest, day 2 in flat wetlands, day 3 doing all the climbing to the top all at once, walking on the ridge of the mountain exposed all the way, day 4 going down through a forest. The first day went fine, the weather was nice and the forest was beautiful, full of birds and unusual plants. The hut is facing a beautiful lake and since it was flat all day, we were not tired at all. At night, we started”cooking” our ramen noodles and snacked on our dry fruits and saw how much food and gear people brought… It was absolutely crazy! I even saw a girl get a pizza out of a brown bag, a damn pizza! I was so jealous with my 60g of ramen. Someone had a chocolate cake, which drove me crazy knowing all I had for dessert was gonna be dry fruits for the next 4 days. The only thing we allowed ourselves was a bottle of wine for the first night. Other people were all eating this packaged dehydrated food that goes for at least $10 for one single meal! While I was left devastated and envious they were all having feasts! The second day we left very early to make sure we’d avoid the rain as it’s supposed to break out after 3pm. After going outside the forest, we passed an exposed area that is a result of a massive landslide that happened 20 years ago, we could tell by the way the mountains around us look… As soon as we were on the exposed part of the trail, it started to rain, more and more… When we arrived at the hut it was raining so bad that there was no more visibility! Wewere wet but the people who left after us and walked slower arrived soaked! At 8pm, the ranger gave us a talk about local birds and a very funky imitation of a kiwi, that happens to live right there! As a nocturnal bird, if we simply stand outside around 10.30pm, one might come sniff our feet (a fetish bird apparently). Unfortunately, everyone was so tired that no one even considered going outside that late, even if the rain had stopped… We were all in bed at 9pm, like the old people we are. Sadly, we didn’t see any kiwi at all, so maybe we should sucked it up. Before going to bed though, we talked with the other people coming from the other side of the track, who did our day 3 that day. Apparently, they all suffered a lot, were crazy cold on the ridge and had to deal with strong winds. The ranger told us that the weather had worsened and we should expect 80 km/h strong winds, which is potentially dangerous as the whole day is on completely exposed area. She added that at a specific point, if we didn’t feel it, we should come back to the hut where she’d make room for us. And yes, it didn’t rain too much, but wow those winds! We had to do all the climb up at once, and then deal with the wind, sometimes stop or wait in the shelters. The guys from the night before either overplayed it (they didn’t have to climb so much and the wind was nothing compare to that day) or were plain bad hikers. The views were stunning and once at the top it was mainly flat. Luckily enough, the sky cleared up pretty much for as long as we were on the ridge. On the fourth day we simply went downhill for a short couple of hours and, again, avoided the crazy rain that started to pour down 5 minutes after we completed the walk. The poor people at the ridge that day had to endure the clouds which blocked completely the view, the very heavy non stop rain and even thunderstorms! Some turned down which is understandable.

From that point, it rained and rained and rained… And everybody kept saying again “that’s Fjordland weather”. We moved on to Milford Sound, that is so unbelievably beautiful on all advert pictures with people kayaking on clear waters to find a terrifying place where water was going down an overwhelming chain of huge black mountains surrounding us, clouds were low, it was like getting closer to the Mordor. It was beautiful nevertheless, but apparently it doesn’t often look like the marketing pictures! That day was so rainy that we didn’t camp out and for the first time stayed in a proper room, slept on a proper bed.

We then drove up to a famous vineyard area only 30 minutes South of Queenstown and enjoyed some wine testing on our last day with Fred who brought home some bottles of very good reds and one great dessert wine. The area being much dryer, it was finally a nice change with a bright sun. We dropped off Fred at the Queenstown airport and kept going North to go to Wanaka. There, we decided to go on another 2 days hike, on Breast Hill (I don’t know why it’s called like that but on the road to get there, in the middle of nowhere, thousands of bras were lying along the road, no kidding!). And there the shit got real. Once we were too high on a very steep hill and completely exposed, the wind got crazy. I seriously feared for something bad to happen, we had to stop many times to wait for the wind to get weaker and that freaking hut was never there (we knew it was behind a hill but hopped it would be one of the first ones, not the 10th!). After we finally arrived there, the weather seemed to get better, and the next day was actually much easier due to no wind at all, which changed everything! The views on the lake was amazing all the way down, it was worth every scary step on the way up!

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Before going on our 4 days trek!

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This cute bird is a very curious and not easily scared breed. There would always be one close to us. We saw that one on our first day on the Kepler track.

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The landscape in front of the hut on the first night.

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On the way up, higher than the clouds.

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Those smiles mean that we were finally done with the steep walk uphill!

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When we arrived at the very top of the track after an exhausting climb up, there was a beautiful rainbow to cheer us up!

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The keas are very smart parrots. We found them right in front of the 2nd shelter, waiting for us to make a mistake allowing them to steal our food. We heard a story of a group of hikers being entertained by three keas doing jumps and funny tricks while a fourth one was opening their backpacks behind their backs and taking their food out!

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Fjords on one side, mountains on the other, Fred in the middle.

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The view from the 3rd night hut.

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On the way to Milford Sound. That, everywhere around us, with waterfalls of rain pouring down like strips on the mountains, and sooo much biger than it looks on the photo!

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Milford Sound, in its most black metal way. When the weather is good (not often apparently), it’s green and crystal blue. I’m glad I got to see it so awe inspiring!

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New Zealand has some of the best wines in the world! We’re close to a vineyard area so we visit some and sample local wines.

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Our camping spot near Queenstown.

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When we entered the hut after our day hike, it was cloudy, starting to rain and grey. When we noticed it cleared up we went out to watch the sunset on the lake, and we saw that!

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A hundred meters away from the lunar landscape near the hut was that gorgeous sunset!

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And this again on one side.

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And this on the other side.

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Nice meditation spot right!

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The view on the lake the next morning.

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Mount Aspiring pointing up.

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After two days of hard walk looking at a lake and a night in a basic hut, I simply couldn’t resist the temptation to strip down and jump in it.

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