Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Mt Cook

I Continue From Here 

Backpacking NZ : Day 13 (15-Dec-2016) 

In The Mountains

When I woke up next morning, I witnessed one of the most beautiful sights that I have ever seen. The morning sun was playing a game of light and shadows with the snow capped mountains. 

I got ready and left on my first trek for the day - Red Tarns (2hrs return, 300mt height gain). The trail starts behind the motel so it was easy to get there. Again, I was all alone along this trek and the views were stupendous. Occasionally as the clouds cleared, I got a glimpse of Mt Cook, Standing tall. 

At the end of red tarn trail, is a lovely little lake. To be alone there, midst the mountains, absorbing every bit of that beauty in silence and tranquility was an inexplicable moment of joy. 

I headed back to the motel and had my morning tea. It had a lovely view from my room.

I checked out at 10 AM and moved my bags to the storage room. By then the clouds had poured into the valley and it was drizzling. Despite the weather condition, I went ahead with my plan to trek the Hooker Valley. Anyways, I had my gears to prevent me from the rains. I stopped at the museum to view some interesting displays before heading on the trail.

As I walked the Hooker valley trail, the clouds and the mist gave the experience a mystical touch. Hooker valley trek is very scenic and generally takes 3 hours for a return journey from the Hermitage hotel. It is about 5km walk. During my walk, the rain turned into a mild hail storm. Visibility level began to reduce drastically.

I am generally not the one to give up but considering poor visibility and my bus timing, I decided to turn back. It was pointless to continue when I could not see the mountains anymore. I had enough time to return to my motel, cook some lunch and then head back to the Hermitage hotel to catch my 2:30 pm Intercity bus. 

On our way, the Pukaki lake was a major attraction; hard to be missed due to the colour of water.

The bus drivers are really informative and they always have interesting stories to tell. Our driver educated us about the different types of sheep in New Zealand. He talked about Merino sheep from Queenstown area and English sheep found on the way to Christchurch. He also told us how silly they were in naming the MacKenzie Basin in the 1850s by and after James Mckenzie, a Scottish-origin shepherd and sheep thief.

We stopped at Lake Tekapo to view the Good Shepard church. I had missed seeing this so called iconic church on my way to Queenstown. But again, the church is no architectural wonder or anything but the pictures of Lake Tekapo night sky by the church makes a great shot and thus it is popular. 

We stopped at Geraldine again and I had some tea and Shortbread. I have got hooked to this delicacy called Shortbread. I tend to buy them in every café I stop at. Most of these guided tour buses have Chinese tourists. They usually travel in a large group and they continuously head from one place to another, eventually covering the entire country.

As we approached Christchurch, mountains gave way to plains. I enjoy observing the farms. It always is interesting to note what man can do with a piece of land. I was also eager to view the modern farm tools and equipments used here as compared to the traditional tools still being widely used in my country. 

I reached Christchurch at around 8 PM and checked in at YHA. I had walked around Christchurch when I had arrived to NZ, So, I really did not feel like going except for buying some grocery. After dinner, tired that I was, I straight away headed to bed. 

Route - Mt Cook Village - Lake Tekapo - Christchurch

Continued Here 

Mt Cook Village

I Continue From Here 

Backpacking NZ : Day 12 (14-Dec-2016)

A Most Awaited Journey

My intercity bus to Mt Cook was scheduled to leave Queenstown at 7:30 am. At the bus stop, I met Mandy, the American girl I had met at the Routeburn trek. It had been just one week since that trek but to both of us it felt like we were meeting after a long time. That is because so much had happened. While I had been to the Deep South, she had trekked in Te Anau area. 

The bus driver was very friendly and he had stories to tell along the way. Some of them, I had already heard on my way to Queenstown. 

We stopped at a small shop near Cromwell that is attached to a farm. They sell fresh fruits and fruit products. Cherry, apricots, pears and apples dominated the stall. I bought some sun dried and caramelised fruits. 

We also stopped to spot some lupins along the way. It is always a delight to view them in full bloom. 

Our second driver after a change midway was very informative and we heard a lot of stories related to Mt Cook and the surrounding area. He told us about Harry Wigley who pioneered the use of ski planes. He landed planes on snow.  We heard about the first long car drive from Timaru to the Hermitage hotel in Mt Cook that took  22hours in 1906. And there was also the story of Lynne Cox who became the first woman to swim the Cook strait and other Great Lakes of NZ. We stopped at lake Pukaki for some views. Unfortunately Mt Cook (The tallest Mountain of NZ) was hiding behind the clouds. 

At Mt Cook village, I got off at YHA and took a short cut to my motel. There are limited stay options in the village so an advance booking would be a smart idea. Hermitage hotel is a landmark and stands tall with best views of the mountain. I stayed at Mt Cook Motels and lodges. Their dorms were full and I learnt later that the Stray bus was arriving there and the beds were all pre-booked for them.  

Route - Queenstown - Mt Cook Village.

As my room was not ready, I dropped my bags in the store room and headed to the common kitchen to cook some lunch. I made some pasta for myself.

At 2 PM my room was allotted, I unpacked my bag and found the shells were still stinking and now they had worms growing due to the water that had not dried properly. I washed them again and allowed them to dry. It smelled sea weed everywhere in the room. 

I got ready to trek in the cold and rain before stepping out on my first of the three treks in Mt Cook - Sealy tarns (6kms round trip with elevation of 547mts). The weather prediction showed rainfall late in the afternoon. With my jacket on, I walked up to the Hermitage hotel from where there are sign boards that lead you to different trails. Trek to Sealy tarns was amazing due to spectacular views the track bestowed. I shall let these pictures speak for themselves.

I was almost alone on this trail. The trek passed through some avalanche paths and the Mueller’s glacier looked almost at the verge of a break. Even though the thought of an avalanche could be scary, somewhere within me, a wish to witness a small shake or a slip of snow seemed exciting. 

I met two other returning trekkers on my way. One of them seemed happy to see me. She said that she was all alone at the top and had wanted to trek upto Mueller’s camp but since she was alone she did not do it. I kind of understood her thought as sometimes its nice to have some like minded company while experiencing an exhilarating moment.

The wind blew so heavily that occasionally I felt that its power would throw me off the mountain. It truly was scary at times and being alone there made it worse. At the end of Sealy tarns trail is a small lake and a view point that over looks Mt Cook, Mueller’s Glacier and the Hooker valley. It is interesting to note that as you trek higher and higher the perspective changes and you get to view more than what you see at the lower heights. At the base, I saw only the mountains. As I gained some height, I could see a lake beyond those mountains and then a valley beyond that lake. Trekking truly, is a remarkable experience. At times as the clouds cleared I got a glimpse of Mt Cook. The experience was truly magical.

While I was up there I met Jack from Australia. He is doing a Pediatrist course in Sydney and also working at a place that supports disabled kids. He was planning a trek in Nepal during Jan 2017. 

While returning, it began to rain heavily. Soaked in rain, I walked directly back to the hotel and took a much needed hot shower. I decided to try the café in the hotel for dinner. The guy who took my order checked with the chef if he could make something vegetarian for me and I got grilled vegetable wrap for myself. It was delicious. I saw some of the stray bus mates there but none I had been friends with were there so I happily chose my lonely corner table. I had great views of the mountains to accompany me and end my interesting day over some good food and a glass of apple juice.

Continued Here 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Māori Beach

I Continue From Here 

Backpacking NZ : Day 11 (13-Dec-2016) 


A morning walk is inevitable by me during an overnight stay in a beautiful place. In small towns, I enjoy the activity that people indulge in during dawn but in a remote island such as this it was birds chirping and trees swaying to the early morning wind that created a pleasurable walk. I took a short walk (Raroa Track) and returned to the hostel. At the breakfast table, I met a French guy who was starting the Rakiura trek that morning. 

After having my breakfast, I checked at the front desk about different trails around the island. Rakiura track is one of the popular great walks but would take you at least two to three days to complete. As 70% of this island isn’t inhabited, I imagine that it would be an interesting walk. However, there are a couple of short treks along this track that could be done in a matter of few hours. The lady at the reception suggested that I hire a scooter at a shop close to the wharf. I thanked the old couple running the hostel and walked to the store that rents out scooters. An old lady there got my paper work done and I paid $70 for four hours. As a protocol she required me to ride a few distance as she observed. She also warned me about riding on the left side of the road. To that I told her that so was it in India. 

It was little uneasy for a while to ride such a light scooter but I got a hang of it over time. I first rode to the beginning of the Rakiura trail near lee bay, which is about 5kms from Oban (The town by the wharf). I met the French traveller again here. I also met two Dutch boys from our bus who where doing the entire trek as well. At Lee bay is the other end of the chain that I had seen at Bluff.

I decided to take the 3km walk to the Māori beach. From Oban it would have taken me 5-6 hours of return. I walked a little fast as I had limited time. The views were spectacular. It's a different terrain than the mountainous South island. I imagined that it would have been a great experience to do the entire trek and stay in the forests by the beach. 

Having lived most of my life by the beach, beaches do not fascinate me a lot but at Māori beach, I was all alone and that made the difference. It is truly an unmatchable experience to be alone in a beach. Let me correct myself, I was the only human there. Several beautiful shells had reached the shores and I picked a few to carry back. 

After spending some peaceful time at the beach, I decided to walk back. I speeded on my way back so that I could fit in another small trek before I returned the scooter. On my way back, I took some last glimpse of the beautiful beach. 

At one spot, I tried to take the route that is meant to be taken during low tide. Though, there was no high tide, at some point, I had to jump into the water and wet my shoes completely. I really did not mind that as heading back to the other route would have been a bad idea anyway. It was adventurous as at times I feared slipping on wet rocks. 

Back at Oban, I rode to the beginning of Acker’s track and walked to the lighthouse. My hometown has a beautiful lighthouse and perhaps thus, I had great expectations from this lighthouse. But what I found was a rather unimpressive structure. Everyone from the bus who had visited the lighthouse had similar opinion about it. On my way back, I met James who was taking a leisure walk along the road and reading his book at one of the view points. After speaking to him for a while, I rode back to the shop and returned the scooter.

Back at the hostel, I cooked my lunch, packed my bags and checked out. At around 2PM we all left to the wharf and took the ferry back. 

The bus ride back was uneventful and mostly quiet as all of us were tired. Our driver as usual had stories to tell. At Winton, she narrated to us a story about a woman called Minnie Dean who adopted children for money and then killed some of them. She was the first woman in the country to be executed. 

As always, I was happy to be back by the mountains. The Remarkables had received some snowfall while I was gone. 

Route - Stewart Island -Bluff -Invercargill- Queenstown

I bid farewell to some of the friends from bus and checked in at YHA. Stray had booked beds at Base for the others. I got the same room and was surprised to see the three German boys still sharing the same dorm. They have been in Queenstown all that while. When I opened my bag, a horrible smell filled the room. It took me a while to realise that it was from the shells I was carrying from the beach. I took them to the washroom and noticed some stinky weeds inside them.  I washed them and put them back in my bag.

I was not in the mood to cook so, I had some delicious enchiladas at a Mexican restaurant.

When I returned to the hostel, the others had sprayed some room fresher to supersede the odour from the weed. I felt so embarrassed. Thankfully, I was leaving this place early next morning. 

Continued Here