Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Roy's Peak

Backpacking NZ : Day 07 (09-Dec-2016) 

Roy’s Peak

I had dedicated this day for a trek to Roy’s peak. The beginning of the Roy’s peak trail is at around 6 kilometres from Wanaka town. That is about an hours walk. The girl at i-Site had asked me to hitch-hike and she had told me how easy and common it is to hitch-hike in NZ. Alex though had told me that she had walked all the way to the base. She always felt  uncomfortable to hitch-hike as it is illegal in Canada. She told me that she had followed the track by the lake. So, undecided of what I would do, I left the hostel at around 8:30 AM. I stopped at i-site and made my reservations at Mt Cook motel. I packed a vegetarian sandwich at a café for my lunch. I tried to hitch-hike but after 5 minutes, without any success, gave up and decided to walk along the lake as Alex had mentioned. The views were beautiful. 

During my walk, I came across one of the major attractions in Wanaka called Lone tree. I am not sure what I was expecting but this sight really made me laugh. I mean its really pretty and all but seriously, an attraction?

I walked along the lake for some time. The track passed by a resort, vineyard and houses and then joined the main road at Wanaka creek. At the main road, I was a bit confused if I had to head back towards the town or move forward. After a few rounds back and forth I finally decided to head forward (Away from the town). After a kilometre or so, I saw a parking lot and the trail to Roy's peak. 

By the time I reached the base it was 11:30 AM. The trail passes through a private farm. The grazing sheep shied away as I approached them. It was also interesting for me to see that rose plants grew like a weed in the hills. Back in India, the same tiny pink roses gain a special place in our gardens and here they were just an ordinary wild bush found on the hills. I had a sudden urge to convey this thought to my mother. I clicked some pictures to show it to her later.

On my way, I met the Swiz couple again. I had mentioned to them last night that I was doing this trek and when they went to DOC that morning, the authorities had asked them to avoid it as it was expected to be windy. While driving past the trail, when they saw a number of vehicles parked, they decided to do it anyway. Senisha mentioned to me that he had read in the newspaper that there was an earthquake in the Solomon island and a tsunami warning was raised. I was heading to Stewart Island the next day and that worried me a little but by then I had already taken many risks that this did not seem any bigger. 

The trek is very steep and that made me slower. Senisha and Rita though were too fast for me. Senisha told me that Rita is an avid trekker and she has done a lot of hikes in the alps. Allowing me to take my time, they moved ahead.

On my way, I befriended Yusifi from Indonesia. He was struggling to climb up. Our speed matched so we stuck together for some distance, engaging ourselves in some conversation. He had visited Christchurch for a college conference and had extended his stay by a week to travel around south island. At one of the view points, he gave up and decided to stay there while I continued. 

Almost close to the peak, I met Senisha and Rita again who were returning back. Senisha suggested that I take a short cut up to the peak that was extremely steep but would take me less time. Many were doing that route so, I decided to take it.  That was a scary path as it was almost at the edge of the mountain. A slip could have been fatal. But, I enjoyed this stretch as it was challenging and bestowed some spectacular views.

At the summit, I relaxed for a while. It was just amazing to be surrounded by mountains. There was one girl who loved to take pictures of others. When she declared that everyone else requested her to click their pictures. She happily obliged. Wanaka lake looked different from the top. One could see it in its entirety. It was windy but very relaxing at the summit. I had reached the summit at around 2:55 PM.

Returning was much easier, as always. I started heading back at around 3:30 PM and reached the base by 6 PM. A total of 19 kms was covered in 6 hours. That is the estimated return time for this trek and I did it in a much relaxed pace. With my initial walk to the beginning of the trail, I had trekked about 25kms on this day. An achievement by itself!

I was delighted to see a few rabbits emerge from the bushes. Finally some wild life!

At the base, just as I entered the main road to head towards Wanaka, Yusifi who was passing by stopped his car to offer me a ride till the town. I was delighted. Yusifi had returned before me but he had driven past the trail to see if there was something interesting and thankfully he returned right on time to meet me at the trail end. I thanked him for the ride and bid him farewell at the lone tree, which he wanted to see. 

On my way to the hostel, I stopped at a grocery store and bought some tea bags, milk, yogurt, fruits, pancakes and jam. I decided to cook at the hostel like everyone else. A tea after a long time tasted like heaven.

Along with other hostel mates, I watched a very funny movie called "Grownups" in the living room. It is hilarious and we had a great time laughing. I really liked the ambience at this hostel. 

After the movie when everyone else had left, while I was writing my journal, Pamela, a middle aged American solo traveler who currently lives in Singapore stopped by for a chat. She was appreciative of the fact that wherever she traveled she found at least one person writing a journal and she had thought that it was a dying art. For some reason, she spoke a lot to me. She went on about how she plans a vacation every year to take a break from work, how her friends always tell her that they would join her on these trips and then they never turn up and how she was contemplating about taking a deputation in Mumbai etc. She had been to Mt Cook and she told me how beautiful it was and she suggested that I do Red Tarns and Hooker valley trek. She advised me not to do Blue lake trek which after a climb of several steep steps leads you to a lake that is blue! She too, like me found the lone tree a hype. 

Another great day had come to an end and I had yet another incredible experience like a feather to decorate my hat. This trek was more challenging than the Routeburn track. Not only did it take me higher (1578m) than the previous trek (1300m) it also was far more steeper and was truly a demanding trek. I realised how much I need to improve my stamina to bring myself in par with the other trekkers I had met. I found that revelation very encouraging.

Sunday, January 15, 2017


Backpacking NZ : Day 06 (08-Dec-2016) Contd…

The Alarm!

At Queenstown, I got rid of all the rubbish and decided to eat some Indian food. I walked to a food court in a mall and ate some Naan and Channa masala. Following which, I headed to the bus station where an alpine connexion bus was taking me to Wanaka. There were two Moroccan looking boys with big suitcases who got off at a cherry farm at Cromwell.  Our driver joked saying that in some time, they would start hating the smell of cherries. Cromwell is filled with farms. On the way, I noticed vineyards and other farms; that of cherry, lavender, vegetables, apricot etc. 

I reached Wanaka at around 7:30 PM. Wanaka lake looked calm and pretty. The town was much more relaxed than the crowded and noisy Queenstown and that suited me perfectly. 

Route -  Queesntown to Wanaka

Flying Kiwi backpackers is a hostel that is at about a kilometre walk from town centre. It is located in a residential area. In a small town such as Wanaka, one would not mind a descent walk such as this. The hostel had a certain air of friendliness. There were a bunch of hostilities watching a movie in the living room. 

In my dorm, I met Alex, a French-Canadian girl who has been traveling in NZ for a long time. I must say that she is one of the friendliest persons I have met on this trip. We had some great conversation about our travels. When I mentioned that I had not been to Mt Cook, she was insistent that I go there instead of Fox or Franz glacier. She assured me that if I had to choose between the two then it was definitely going to be Mt Cook village. She showed me a couple of the pictures from her visit and that changed my mind almost immediately. However, by then, I had already booked a bus to Franz glaciers. I decided to cancel that. Only other problem was that there were no vacant hostels. I decided to book a motel despite the expense. I had to go there! We also discussed how a company of book becomes very important while traveling alone. I told her that along with my kindle, I occasionally kept myself engaged through my sketching.

By the time I was done chatting with Alex and dropped my dirty clothes for washing, it was already 9:40 PM and I was hungry. So, I decided to go to the town and eat at a Mexican restaurant. Unfortunately they were closing and so I walked to other restaurants by the lake. Surprisingly, all of them seemed to be closing. Finally, at Relish Café, a kind server told me that she would check with the chef if he would take another order. A Swiz couple sitting next to where I stood, joked saying - "By the way, the food was excellent."  We laughed about it and began a conversation. When I told the that I had just returned from Routeburn track, they were eager to know more about it as they were contemplating about doing it as well. 

In the hour or more that followed, we had some great conversation about various topics. They had already finished eating by the time I entered but they stayed back till I finished my Pasta, as our conversation was interesting. Rita, the wife, told me that I was the first Indian backpacker she has ever met. I explained to her that backpacking is not very common in India and that I receive weird expressions from family and friends when I tell them that I was backpacking alone. They also seemed surprised about my proficiency in English. 

Senisha, the husband, told me that the deers I had seen in the farms are for venison meat. He told me an interesting story of how all of a sudden there was a dearth of venison in Europe and his Butcher explained to him that all the meat was being exported to China. Apparently, the Chinese had discovered the taste of venison and began ordering them in large quantities. Now, he says, venison they get, are from NZ. He also tells me that farmers in NZ are very adaptable to the market conditions and they switch their crops almost immediately based on the trend. I really felt bad for the deers. They shall now be eaten like other animals like chicken, cows and lambs.

Senisha also had an interesting topic to discuss about something that he had read in the newspaper, the previous day. According to a survey, The NZ employers were found to be exploiting their employees the most followed closely by the Indian employers in NZ. After giving it some thought, I told them that this could be possible as in India, there exists nothing called "dignity of labour" and jobs such as that of helpers and servers are looked down upon. Even though the Indian owners have migrated to other countries the mentality would not have changed. I also noted that since some of the Indian employees are college students who are working for extra money and their expectations could be slightly higher because they are not the typical working class. Senisha though was surprised to read that the Chinese employees on the other hand, were the most satisfied. 

We continued our conversation up to Wanaka lake. There were only a few stars up in the sky and we discussed how both of us wanted to see a star filled night sky because that is what we had pictured about NZ.

Anyways, despite our wish to continue the conversation, we had to say good bye to each other as it was already 11 PM. I walked back to the hostel. When I had just finished hanging my washed clothes, a loud siren filled the air. I was frightened as the first thing that came to my mind was that this was an alert on a probable earthquake. Ater all, I have been hearing so much about earthquakes in the recent days. From the ones in 2010 and 2011 in Christchurch to the most recent one, two weeks ago in Kaikoura there were always stories about earthquakes, wherever I went. 

I ran in and noticed many others had also freaked out and assembled at the living room. Some told that they literally jumped from their bunkers without a second thought when the alarm went off . Everyone feared the same. I googled up the situation and found out that it was just a call for volunteers. Wanaka is a small town and there are not many people employed at the fire service or the police. Hence in case of fire or theft, there is a siren that goes off, as a call for volunteers. That information was a relief and we went back to our dorms. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Routeburn Track - Day 03

I Continue From Here 

Backpacking NZ : Day 06 (08-Dec-2016) 

The Mountains

I had one of the best sleeps of my life. I slept undisturbed until morning. That hardly happens to me. Physically and mentally, this had been one of the most satisfying experiences. 

Outside, the clouds were retracing from the valley and hinted towards a relatively clear day. Good for those who are trekking up today, I thought.

I was ready to leave by around 8am. Had a short chat with Mandy and another American boy who was doing the 22km trek in the Reverse direction from that of mine. I assured him that Routeburn flats hut where he would stay that night had the best views. Lake Mackenzie follows close behind. 

I took off at 8:20 am. On my way to the Divide, I witnessed some spectacular views of the mountains as the clouds began to clear. That was a magical moment and it made up for all that I had missed the previous day. I think these pictures would tell how speechless I would have felt. I never felt so close to the mountains as I had felt during this entire trek.

I could have done a short trek to key summit which provides some great views of the mountain ranges but I decided against it considering the time. I had to reach the parking lot by 10 am and I was unsure of my speed. 

On my way, I trekked with a very sweet Israeli couple who live in London. The man was rather quiet but the lady was very social. She was thrilled to know that I am from India and since she and her husband are contemplating over a 3 month assignment in Bangalore at the company he works in, she had a lot of questions about the city. They also love Indian food and we discussed a lot about our cuisine. She told me that Indian restaurants in London spiced up food with extra chilly and she could easily tell that it was not authentic Indian. I agreed and told her that the flavour our food gains is through the blend of spices and not just red chilly. I also informed them of the fact that the amount of Indian food they find abroad is probably just 10-20% of the total recipes we have in the country. They were excited about this assignment but wanted to know if Bangalore is a safe city as she would like to travel around the city when her husband is at office. That is a question, I am not sure how to answer. I might feel that India is safe for me but then I am thinking like a local. But, is it really safe for a single woman traveler? Perhaps yes but how can I say that or otherwise with certainty? Well based on my experience, I mentioned to her that Bangalore is mostly a safe city. We reached the divide at 9:40 Am after a relaxed walk with great conversation. 

Route - Routeburn Shelter to The Divide.

At the parking lot, we met with this Italian guy who was also at hut Howden last night. He had walked up to key summit and told us that he had to run back to be on time. He works in Auckland and is on a week long vacation trekking in the mountains. I am going to share a gossip here, not to be silly or immature but just because I enjoy a close observation of human behaviours and layers of emotions that dominate a personality always fascinate me. 

So, last evening, when I had entered the hut, I obviously walked up to the only familiar face in the room and began speaking to Julie about the day's trek. This Italian guy, who was sitting next to her seemed a bit upset about this acquaintance. Gaging from his expressions, I distanced myself from them after a brief chat with her. But it was very evident to almost everyone in the room that he was desperately trying to woo her. After all, Julie is a strikingly beautiful woman. Anyways, at the parking lot, the Italian guy who knew the Israeli couple really well began to discuss Julie. He had offered to host Julie when she would be in Auckland and was wondering if she would call him. The Israeli woman who seemed very practical told that she was not sure as Julie seemed a little reserved to her. But what was interesting was that the guy looked so hopeful and that also made him anxious. I do not know these people but such strong emotions in just a single meet is something that arose my curiosity in this affair. As a writer, I have always been fascinated by all kinds of emotions that govern our behaviours. 

Anyways, while the others got off at Te Anau, I changed buses to head towards Queenstown. We stopped at a small town called Mossburn for tea. On my way, I passed through some farmlands. I was a bit surprised to see a lot of deers behind fences. I wondered what the deers were doing there, they should have been outside the fence. 

Anyways, with that question still lingering in my head, I continued to observe everything that passed by, with great excitement. Queenstown as usual was active with some or the other adventure activity in progress.

Route - The Divide to Queenstown

An interesting trek had thus come to an end and I felt like a different person all together. This experience has been very educative to me in so many different ways. Firstly, I learnt how important it is to be well prepared for a trek in extreme weather conditions, I appreciated the discipline followed by the Westerners in these aspects. Above all, I had passed yet another endurance test and I was extremely motivated to build my stamina to match that of other trekkers, who, irrespective of their age, were always faster than me. I truly felt motivated and the sense of confidence grew further in me. 

Routeburn trek will always remain one of my most special treks as it exposed me to a new world of trekking. I am sure this has brought a certain amount of discipline in me that I intend to apply on all my future treks. The magnificent views of the mountains and the dominance of the waterfall, however are etched in my mind forever. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Routeburn Track - Day 02

I Continue From Here 

Backpacking NZ : Day 05 (07-Dec-2016) 

A Long Walk!

I was the first one to wake up, at around 6 AM. Outside, it was drizzling. Cloud and mist were slowly filling the valley. 

By the time I finished packing some bread and cheese for lunch and had some for breakfast, one by one, others woke up. Julie wanted to wait until the weather report came in at 8:30 AM but I wanted to leave early because, considering my slow speed, I knew I would take more time on this long trek.

I pulled out my water proof jacket, pants and covered my bag with rain covers. The Belgian old lady asked me if I had also covered everything inside my bag with a water proof cover. I do not know why I nodded despite not having done that. All geared up for a walk in the rain, I left the hut at 7:40 AM.

2.3km hike up to Routeburn Falls hut is a bit steep and is probably the most toughest climb of the entire trek. Well, I did not feel it was too tedious but it was relatively challenging as compared to the previous days walk. I took my time to stop  and watch the game of hide and seek between the clouds and the mountains. 

Along the way, I imagined how the Māoris or the Britishers would have traveled here, perhaps on foot or on horses. I remembered some similar visuals from the movie Cold mountain. 

By 9AM, I was at Falls hut. I spoke to the warden who by then had received the weather report. He told me that it was going to be cloudy all day and since there was no wind it was highly unlikely that the cloud would clear later in the day. I was slightly disappointed but I remembered how the warden at Flats had joked about it - Everyone has pictures of the mountains in clear blue skies, who needs them, you guys are gonna see something new. 

After spending almost 50 minutes at the Flats hut, I set off on my next leg of journey to Harry’s saddle, the highest point of this trek. On my way up, I saw these green stones. 

The first human traffic in the Routeburn area (around 1500AD) is believed to have been local Maori on the pursuit of their precious Pounamu (New Zealand Greenstone or Jade). The Routeburn itself didn't contain large quantities of Greenstone, but was used by Maori as a passage between two of their main sources, the Dart Valley and the Arahura River on the West Coast.

David McKellar and George Gunn were the first Europeans to map the area whilst searching for grazing land in 1861. Gold was discovered and so the government investigated establishing a port on the West Coast and a track up the Routeburn Valley over the Harris Saddle to the Hollyford Valley with the intention of transporting gold overseas. Work was started on the track but abandoned in 1870. However the Routeburn did become the link between those families who had settled in the Hollyford Valley and the Wakatipu, which was a thriving commercial centre.

The first sightseers from Queenstown up the Routeburn Valley were in the 1880s. The NZ Government Department of Tourism was set up in the early 1900s, and work on the Routeburn Track restarted. In 1912 a direct route from the saddle to Lake Howden was investigated, which led to the discovery of Lake Mackenzie. Construction of the track began, but tools were downed with the outbreak of World War 1 and this section was not completed until the late 1930s.

On this stretch, I was walking with a very sweet Malaysian family. I later learnt that the boy and his wife lived in Australia and the girl’s parents and siblings lived in Dunedin, NZ. So they had planned this trek during their vacation to NZ. The girls’ father and her brother both had the same Quechua jacket as mine. We joked about it by complimenting each other for having a nice jacket. Even the French traveller I had met at Christchurch had the same brand. Seems like a popular one. 

Despite the rain, I got some great views of the mountains as the clouds slowly moved uncovering the landscape beyond. 

All along the track there are some blue or pink arrows with numberings. They are basically pointing towards traps. The population of Weasels, Ferrets and Stoats that are a threat to the birds are being controlled. They were introduced to the island due to the growing number of rabbits. 

Green and purple stones were all through the track and I was really surprised to see the colours. I grabbed a few for my collection.  Also stunning were the alpine plants and flowers.

At one point, while clicking pictures, I dropped my iPhone 7 into water. Quickly removed it fearing a damage. But thankfully, the latest iPhone is waterproof. 

It was drizzling all through the trek and my waterproof gears saved my life. I was happy that I had decided to carry them from Bangalore. I reached Harry’s saddle, the highest point (1300 mt/ 4300 ft) in the trek at around 12:20 PM. 

There is a hut that has wooden bench along the four walls. People had occupied the available space to prepare their lunch. As I munched bread and cheese again, I saw people prepare burritos, heat some water to prepare tea. No wonder their bags were that big, I thought again. I met this old couple who were in the same van that dropped me at Routeburn Shelter parking. I was surprised to see them so fit and active at this age. They were faster than me, a man perhaps half their age. More than feeling bad for myself, I felt inspired.

Soon after my lunch, at around 12:55 PM, I began my journey downhill to Lake Mackenzie. This stretch was a disappointment as on my right, was probably a beautiful valley but all I could see was clouds. Nothing was visible. 

But as I descended into the forest, I was taken aback by the views. Moss covered trees and rocks created a magical setup that resembled a fantasy movie set. 

After what seemed like a long walk, I reached Hut Mackenzie at around 4:15 PM.

The hut is located by the lake Mackenzie. It is a beautiful place. I saw a rabbit run into the bushes here. That was the first animal I had seen in the forest. I wondered why there were no wild animals in such a dense forest. Not even snakes. That surprised me. 

I sat outside the hut talking to the Malaysian guy and that is when he told me where they were from and their plans of heading to Malaysia for Christmas. I also met the Belgian couple who were waiting for the girls parents to arrive. They were planning to camp that night as otherwise all the pain they took to carry the tent would be pointless. 

The next 8.6km walk from Lake Mackenzie to Hut Howden seemed the longest walk of this day. I remembered what Julie had told me the day before. "It is going to be a long walk but finally you will be so happy to see the hut." I was mostly alone on this track. 

However, the best part of the trek was when I arrived at this gigantic waterfall called Earland falls. Water ferociously dropped from a descent height on the rocks below splashing drops far away. To my shock, the trail was leading me almost into the waterfall. I  must admit that the waterfall scared me a bit. The ferocity in which it fell and the roaring sound it created, overpowered all my senses. The track took me very close to the waterfall and then deviated away. By the time I crossed it, I was completely drenched. 

That walk in front of the falls was so exciting that I threw my bags and headed back to the waterfall. I stood there facing it for about thirty seconds before I gave up to its power. But those few seconds that I spent there facing it was one the best moments of this trek. I was completely drenched but it felt awesome. 

I was the last to reach hut Howden at around 7:30 PM. As Julie had said, I was glad to finally reach the hut. 

Inside the hut, the warden was briefing everyone else. Julie had arrived an hour earlier. She probably overtook me when I was at Routeburn Flat hut speaking to the warden. Hence, I never met her on the way. 

I spoke to Mandy, an American girl who is doing a couple of treks in the country. After dinner, I wrote my diary and at 10PM, when the electricity (Solar power) was cut off, I headed to bed for a much needed rest after that long walk of 22 kms. What an incredible day this had been. A memorable one to cherish for a lifetime.

Continued Here