I Continue From HereContinued Here
Backpacking NZ : Day 09 (11-Dec-2016)
An early morning again! I made some breakfast and left YHA at around 7:45AM. I just had to cross the street, to outside of Base, where the Stray bus would arrive at 8 AM. While waiting for the bus, I chatted with a girl from Sweden. She was taking a gap year and was basically spending an year in Australia. She tells me that if you work in a farm, then the one year visa would get extended by another. She had taken a break to visit NZ and would return again later to explore more.
The bus was almost full. Our driver was a middle aged lady with a great sense of humour. Let me tell you more about backpacker buses. There are a few backpacker bus agencies like Stray and Kiwi that have scheduled buses running through out the country. You can hop on and hop off at any location and stay in a place as long as you wish and then hop back on a next scheduled time. Booking them in advance through online or phone is pretty easy. I had booked this three day deep south tour which if I wanted and if I had extra time, I could have extended to stay longer at any town of interest. But, as I was traveling on a limited time, I could only spare three days for this tour; the minimum time needed. Another advantage of backpacker buses is that they have a pre-booking with hostels in the town they are visiting and so your accommodation is confirmed. You could also choose to stay elsewhere. Another bonus is that they are not an A to B kind of bus like intercity or naked bus. They stop at some view points and take detours to keep the travellers engaged. We stopped at a couple of interesting spots along our way to Milford Sound.
At Te Anau, our driver suggested that we buy some grocery for that night and next morning. She told us that shopping here would be much cheaper than the other places we were heading to. She alerted us about the flies that surround Gunns camp (Where we were staying that night) and suggested that we buy some bug spray. "Otherwise you guys are dead meat", she warned. I did my grocery shopping for the day and made sure to buy a small bug spray. One thing I have learnt in NZ is that the warnings here are always legitimate and not necessarily exaggerated. I also bought some tasty Nougats.
In the bus, I befriended a friendly Chinese girl and a Japanese couple. The guy did not speak English but the girl did and he just kept smiling.
We stopped to buy our Milford sound cruise ticket and a return ferry trip to Stewart Island. While waiting for the bus, the others were sharing their experiences in hostel. They were talking about people speaking in their sleep. One guy mentioned how a girl was scolding her boy friend in her sleep and another mentioned how one girl had urinated in the bed turning that entire place stinky. I recollected my experience of the Indian guy screaming in the middle of the night. Apart from that, I don’t thing I had had any weird experiences. Unless it was me who was speaking in my sleep!
We stopped to embrace some great views of the mountains. We also spotted a kea bird there which seemed extremely friendly with humans.
On our way, we passed through 1.2km homer tunnel. Our driver told us that the rock above the tunnel reminded her of the wall from Game of thrones series. So, as we entered the tunnel she played the title track from the series. The tunnel was hand built in 1953 and took about 18 years for completion. It passes through the Darran mountain range to connect Milford to Te Anau. We were about to stay in the Gunn’s camp that night, where apparently the workers who built the tunnel and road to Milford stayed.
I was spellbound at the sight of Milford sound. From the wharf, I could see the mountains emerge out of the sea. Fiords are deep narrow inlet of sea between the cliffs. The cruise was amazing that got us close to the cliffs and the waterfalls. The ferry took us all the way to Tasman sea before returning.
We got to see some baby seals lazily sunbathing on the rocks. Baby seals, they say are abandoned from the breeding colony. They arrive here to fish and laze around and once they are grown up they return back to the colony.
The driver also mentioned that the area is known for tree avalanches. As the trees do not get enough soil to hold on to, there are several tree avalanches happening here. And during rains, he says, all the cliffs are filled with thousands of water falls turning this into a mystical sight.
On our way back, we saw more friendly Keas.
We took a detour into the jungle to reach Gunn’s camp. The camp is not very far from one end of Routeburn track - The Divide. Our driver told us that if there were enough people interested in trekking to Key summit the next day, she could take us there. She also narrated the story of a Czech couple who trekked on Routeburn track in August 2016.
Despite the warning from DOC, they had decided to trek without notifying anyone. During winters there is no wardens in the huts. They did not write their intentions in the book at the beginning of the trek as well. They spent one freezing night outside and the next day, disoriented in heavy fog and strong winds and with snow falling, slipped five to seven metres down a steep slope. The man fell further and became trapped between branches and rocks. The woman was able to reach him but could not free him. She heard his last gasps of breath before he died.
Unable to move her partner, the woman spent two more nights sleeping above the tree line against a "vertical rock", whatever possessions she had stuffed into her sleeping bag for warmth. Over the next two days she tried but failed in foggy, snowy conditions to reach the campsite she could make out in the distance. on the fourth day, she managed to get to lake Mackenzie hut and break into wardens cabin. There was a radio too but she was unable to understand the English instructions to operate it. Heavy snow and her mental condition prevented her from stepping out. She fashioned a snow shoe out of sticks but failed to walk in deep snow.
When an alarm was raised by friend and relatives, the Czech embassy contacted NZ authorities who began a search for the couple. Their car was found at the parking lot that directed them towards the track. She was finally rescued from the hut. There was a search for the man’s body as well. Our driver joked saying - "While you trek there tomorrow be aware that there is a dead body lying around somewhere there." Sad story and thankfully I had heard of it after my return from that trek. Else, the story would have followed me all through the trek.
Gunn’s camp is situated deep in a valley and is almost in middle of nowhere. We were allocated cabins. It was impossible to step out without inspect repellent sprayed on your body. There were a lot of flies as the driver had warned. There is a small museum that displays the tools and equipments used by the workers during the tunnel and road construction.
We assembled at the main hall and cooked dinner. While I was waiting for the kitchen to be a little free, I spoke to an old Australian lady. She has visited Rajasthan and told me that she loves India. She understands that for some the chaos can be disturbing but she was impressed with the culture, tradition and even the noise. Looking at the noise at the hall, she commented that there was no culture here (in NZ). "It is just Western", she said. She also checked if liked traveling in the bus. I replied that I enjoy meeting people but this can be noisy at times. My preference, I told, would be to travel on my own. Her husband who was cleaning the vessels arrived and having learnt that I was from India, greeted me with a "Namaste".
As I wrote my journal after dinner, the place got really noisy. That is a downside of backpacker buses. It can be noisy and small closed groups can form. There was no interesting conversation like the one I had had in Flats hut during Routeburn track trek. Perhaps it is the age group. Most of them in these buses are youngsters. Stray is better with some older people than the Kiwi bus which has the bad reputation of being a party bus filled with teens.
After dinner, the Japanese couple, the Chinese girl and I decided to go watch glow worms in the forests. We had to walk some distance to spot them but no one exactly knew where it was. On our way, we met the Sweden girl and James. We all walked together looking for the glow worms. Some distance gone, I spotted them. We walked into the dense and dark forest to get closer to them. That was a great experience. We laughed about how good it was that there are no wild animals in NZ. In India, I said, we would have been greeted by several snakes by then.
James is basically from England, he is studying in the US and is currently doing a semester in Australia. He had visited his neighbours in London who have now settled in a farm in NZ. He helped them at the farm for a week. He said he weighed sheep etc. And then set off on a weeks trip around the country. James is studying political science so we had some interesting discussion on current affairs like US presidential election, demonetisation in India. We also talked about the hikes around Colorado. It was great talking to him.