Wednesday, February 9, 2011

the trip, part 2, part a: UP

Arriving in Queenstown by plane from Christchurch was a treat. Queenstown is sort of nestled right into a small patch of grass on the side of a mountain and in front of a lake. The airport had a helpful dirsplay of what not to bring on a plane, possibly inspired by terrible airplane disaster movies.

Queenstown is a small oasis that reminded me a lot of Boulder, Colorado. Small, colorful town, jumping off point for adventure. We did some last minute shopping for Bumper Bars (like clif bars), a mozzie net (for mosquitos, but better used for sandflies) and then a final kebab and ginger beer before heading into wilderness.

It takes a two hour shuttle ride to get from Queenstown to Te Anau where the Fiordlands National Park office and Kepler Track trailhead is located. The forecast for the trip went like this: rain, heavy rain, rain and gale force winds, chance of showers. It's hard to say why I thought hiking in four days of rain sounded like what I wanted to do, but I was intoxicated with finally being in the forests and mountains. I was not thinking straight, but fortunately neither was Coop and we set out. As it happened, the weather really went like this: rain, partly cloudy, light showers, sunny. Most of the rain happened at night, and the effect was to swell the rivers and waterfalls we saw. So it was all to the good.

The west coast, facing the Tasman Sea, gets a lot of rain on the west side of the mountain and not as much on the east. This means that the forests on the east side have different vegetation than the lusher and more rainforest-y west.

Day one took us to the Brod Bay campsite where it rained all night. Only the promise of Starbucks instant coffee, Via, kept me alive. Day two had the majority of the climbing, and in fact after a lot of effort we cleared the bush line, the altitude above which trees don't grow. That's where the really cool views started.

Day two ended at the Luxmore hut. And it was certainly more 'lux than we were expecting. It even had a helipad!

We arrived early enough to nearly get lost in the nearby Luxmore Caves. They kept going on forever down into the mountain. It was perfectly dark in there, there were no lights or handrails or signs. They just expected you to behave and be careful, although they did have signs in the hut that required you to take two light sources per person in case one failed. We crawled under rocks, over stalagmites, and through the small stream that was carving out the cave. A really amazing place. The only down moment was that the bald guy who dropped his ring in there. I felt bad for him.

Sun setting behind us, the view from Luxmore was one to remember.

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