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New Zealand Trip, Dec 1999/Jan 2000 - Page 1

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A little over 3 years ago, we took a bike touring trip with our friends, Joy and Joe Rutch, to New Zealand's south island.

The biking was often rainy, cold, hilly, and the wind was always in our faces. It was also one of the best trips we've ever taken, with breathtaking scenery and friendly people.

On this first trip in 1996, Shelley and I took a flight from Queenstown to Milford Sound on the south island. Milford Sound was one of the most beautiful places we had ever seen; on the flight back, the pilot pointed out the famous Milford Track, mentioning that hikers took 4 days to hike in to the sound through rainforests and over a pass. "One of the finest walks in the world," he said. We filed it in the back of our brains for future reference.


Welcoming Y2K

Fast forward to early 1999. We've moved back to Asia, and were thinking of plans for what we'd do for the New Year - something special, we hoped. Why not do the Milford Track? We booked our slot on the trail to put us 2 day's hike from civilization to welcome in the year 2000.

Driving to Mount CookOne thing that was different about this trip was that it would be primarily a hiking trip, and we didn't take our bikes. This meant that we'd use a car to go from place to place - which definitely makes you forget the hills and headwinds that in '96 seemed so formidable from the seat of the tandem. The other thing was that Shelley's parents would join us for much of the trip, going off on their own while we would hike, raft, explore caves, or do other activities.

The Milford Track is probably the most popular track in New Zealand, and as a result, it is relatively well managed. During the peak season, hikers can only go in one direction, from Te Anu to Milford Sound, and they must either reserve a slot with the commercial Milford Guided Walks or as an independent hiker. With more money than machismo, we chose the former.

Dinner at the Blue Pengin homestayFirst on the agenda was to drive down the east coast to Omaru, where we enjoyed a visit at the Blue Penguin homestay for Steve's 36th (gulp!) birthday.

From here, we drove up to Mount Cook for a few days of hiking. Three years ago, this was one of our hardest ever bike touring days, with brutal headwinds that forced us to pedal downhill in our granny (lowest) gear. This time, a 1999 Toyota Previa did the work for us. (Note the smiling faces in the picture earlier on this page, a far cry from the previous trip's hard ride.)


Mount Cook

Steve and Shelley at the Hermitage, Mount CookHere are a few images from our stay at Mount Cook. We were able to upgrade to the Hermitage for the first evening, but had to settle for our (originally-booked) Chalet the second night. Dinner was at the Hermitage's Panorama Room - good food in NZ proportions (i.e., large). Service was a little spotty the second night - we should have stopped with the first evening. The food was still just as good (I guess the kitchen staff was the same).

Red Tarns at Mount CookShelley and I took a hike up to the Red Tarns (Tarn: a mountain lake, usually formed by glaciers) on our first afternoon there, trying out our new Tevas. The Red Tarns are red from the plants living in them. Calling them the Scummy Red Ponds probably wouldn't have enticed us to take the hike up to this place!

We stayed a while up here, relaxing, reading, and actually dozing while listening to the gurgle of the stream feeding the tarns.

The view from up at the Red Tarns was spectacular; below is a panorama image composed of three separate photos and stiched together using Adobe PhotoDeluxe. Mount Cook Village is below, with Mount Cook in the distance. (They all look like ants from up here!)

Mount Cook Panorama from the Red Tarns

The next day we split up; Ray and Sue went on a 4WD trip up to see a glacier, while Shelley and I hiked up to the Sealy Tarns (view below), located past Mount Cook Village and to your left in the picture above. Another good climb, where we relaxed in the sun, reading and enjoying a picnic lunch.

Mount Cook Panorama from Sealy Tarns

Mount Cook Panorama with Glacier from Sealy Tarns


Milford Track

The main reason we scheduled this trip was to hike the Milford Track, a famous 4-day trek from Te Anau to Milford Sound in the south island's Fjordland National Park.

Kuwara Bungee BridgeWe drove down to Queenstown, stopping to see the Kuwara Bridge bungee jump where I jumped on the trip 3 years before. An evening orientation session was held in Queenstown; in the morning, we jumped on a bus with our backpacks for the 4 hour drive to Te Anau.

Along the way, we stopped for a break next to a playground. Of course, being stuck in the bus for a couple of hours meant we were full of some pent-up energy, so we jumped on all the rides - specifically, the Flying Fox (think of a pulley slide down an inclined steel cable). Shelley's first ride was fun, but on her second she "really jumped" and found herself almost instantly flat on her back. A few scrapes on her elbows was her reward. All we could think was that here we were, a couple of hours from the start of this great hike, and she almost breaks her neck on a piece of playground equipment!

Glade House on Milford TrackAfter lunch in Te Anau, we got on a ferry to take us along Lake Te Anau to the trailhead, where it was a short one-mile walk to Glade House, the first lodge where we would spend the night. The lodges for the people on the guided walk had electricity (generators) during the day, hot showers and excellent meals (complete with wine). We would normally have to share a 4-person bunk room, but we were fortunate to have our own room for the first night.

The second day of hiking (December 31) featured fanastic weather - sunshine and warm. Fantastic views through the rainforest, covered with moss everywhere. The route followed the Clinton River up the valley, up to the Pomplona Lodge. As we neared the lodge, we were treated to a couple of swimming holes fed by cold streams coming down the sides of the mountains.

Some of the better pictures from this day follow below.

Te Anau Ferry

Bridge after Glade House

Taking the ferry on Te Anau Lake to Glade House

Bridge over the river by Glade House

Steve and Shelley at the River's Edge View across the river, nice colors

Steve and Shelley at the River's Edge

Great image across the river; clear waters



Walking on the Trail

Everything covered with moss and ferns

Steve and Shelley on the Trail


Bridge with nice reflection A bend in the trail

Nice image of a bridge over the river, with reflection

A bend in the trail


Waterfall at the swimming hole

Shelley at Dead Lake

Waterfall at the swimming hole

This lake was formed when a landslide diverted
the river; Pompelona Lodge is up the valley


Pompelona Lodge

Our friends from Melbourne at Dinner

Pompelona Lodge, where we welcomed 2000

With our new friends from Melbourne;
New Year's Eve dinner at Pompelona Lodge


As we waited for the new year to arrive, the weather moved in. It started to lightly rain around 9PM. Most of the other hikers decided to celebrate the "New Year" at 11PM (in order to get an extra hour of sleep for the strenuous mountain pass coming up the next day. Shelley and I thought that we'd waited for this moment for quite a while, and we could handle staying up for the real end of the year. We were fortunate to share this time with the lodge staff and our guides, making it especially memorable for us. I packed in a great bottle of Champagne to celebrate, which we shared with the staff.

After celebrating, we all went outside to look towards the pass hut, where the manager of Pomplona Lodge was staying for the night. He lit some flares for us to see, but the thick clouds made it impossible. At least the radios were still working; we could hear the good wishes of the other staff members on the trail, as well as being treated to a drunken verse of Auld Lang Syne.

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