Marc's Public Blog - Hiking / Backpacking


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This is a collection of my blog entries about hiking
You can find all the pictures I've taken here, and read below for the more recent trips that I have recorded in blog entries

Table of Content for hiking:

More pages: April 1999 June 2000 August 2003 March 2006 May 2006 July 2006 November 2006 May 2007 July 2007 August 2007 July 2008 May 2009 July 2009 June 2010 November 2010 July 2011 September 2012 June 2013 October 2014 January 2015 February 2015 August 2015 October 2015 July 2016 August 2017 September 2017 May 2018 January 2019 June 2019



2019/01/11 Routeburn Track with Ultimate Hikes
π 2019-01-11 01:01 in Hiking
For our 2nd trip in Queenstown, I looked at other great walks we didn't do. By the time I looked, it was too late to book DOC Huts, which still cost more than $100 per person per day, but that's nothing compared to Ultimate Hikes, which charges $1000+ for the whole trip. On the plus side, the huts (which contain gas and water, but where you sleep in bunks very close to other people in a big room), are replaced with lodges what could be multiple star hotels in the middle of the wilderness with a choice of dishes for the 3 course dinner. They also include guides on the trail, convenient transportation, equipment loans, and more. Compare with DOC huts:

DOC Huts often look like this. Many people in one big room. One person snoring is probably guaranteed
DOC Huts often look like this. Many people in one big room. One person snoring is probably guaranteed

Here is a picture of the 3 days we did in 3 different colors:: -

The Routeburn as I found out a bit too late, is actually only 32km, and I ended up hiking more than that in a single day on the kepler track 2 days later, so in hindsight we could also have done the routeburn in a long single day, except maybe for the transportation issues (getting dropped off soon after sunrise on one side and picked up end of day on the other side, may have been more challenging). Actually, I just found this page that shows how to do it with one day
Another interesting bit I didn't know was that the routeburn and the milford track actually were only private tracks for many years where you had to use the private (and expensive) lodges as the sole option. It's only after enough people complained that the DOC (Department of Conservation) added public huts and allowed regular hikers/backpackers to enjoy the tracks by being able to stay overnight too. That bit of history aside, given that we had just flown in to NZ the afternoon before, and Jennifer was still battling a cold and resulting poor sleep, doing the routeburn in 3 days with short days, plush accommodations and nice meals, as opposed to a very long day with few breaks, made things easier for her :)

For the price, ultimatehikes still offers a convenient package that takes you to/from queenstown, lends you gear so that you don't have to fly it in or rent it, and in case of problems like a track being flooded to a point that it's not safe to cross, they have at times flown their customers across an impassable points where the other hikers had to turn back and cancel their hike.
Ultimatehikes is more of an obvious choice for people who don't hike as fast, feel more comfortable with guides who can help them out if they run into trouble, and also benefit from not having to carry as much (you can do the hike with a mere 5 to 10kg given that you don't have to carry any food, bedding, tent, just your clothes and personal items).

In my case, it felt like so little weight and cheating so much that I took my laptop and extra stuff I really didn't need (I knew we'd have short hiking days and I had lots of pictures to sort as well as a talk to write for the conference I was attending), which added another 5kg to make it a bit more challenging. I had around 15kg and it still felt super light compared to what I'm used to carrying :)

this is so wrong that I had to do it :)
this is so wrong that I had to do it :)

this was also wrong enough that I had to take a picture :)
this was also wrong enough that I had to take a picture :)

All the pictures are GPS tagged, so if you click on them, you'll see where they were taken

Anyway, back to the routeburn. On the first day, we met at the ultimatehikes location in Queenstown at 06:30 and they drove us over 3.5H to Te Anau and then the track start north of that:



By 11:00 we were finally on the track and started our first day. It was an easy 15km, 500 meters uphill (including a detour to key summit for views):







After a short while, we had a break at Howden Hut



the routeburn lost many birds due to introduced mammals, we only got to see a few
the routeburn lost many birds due to introduced mammals, we only got to see a few




We then resumed the rest of the hike for the day:


little puffball :)
little puffball :)






eventually we arrived at the lodge, pretty early in the afternoon
eventually we arrived at the lodge, pretty early in the afternoon

the lodge is much better than the DOC huts of course :)
the lodge is much better than the DOC huts of course :)


the generator output went into a room that became a drying rack, nice idea
the generator output went into a room that became a drying rack, nice idea

you could even do your laundry
you could even do your laundry

the lodge was spacious of course
the lodge was spacious of course

you could even pay more to get a private room
you could even pay more to get a private room

After dropping our gear and enjoying some welcome snacks, wine and cheese (yes, this is wrong :) ), we went to check out the lake:





a few courageous people went in the very cold water
a few courageous people went in the very cold water

We also went to check out the DOC lodge:

it's obviously less plush, but still beats sleeping outside in a potential heavy rainstorm
it's obviously less plush, but still beats sleeping outside in a potential heavy rainstorm

it explained how they are trying to kill the mammals have been decimating the local birds
it explained how they are trying to kill the mammals have been decimating the local birds

those traps are all over the track, hopefully they work
those traps are all over the track, hopefully they work

warning on how the keas love to destroy your hiking boots :)
warning on how the keas love to destroy your hiking boots :)

We then went back to our lodge for dinner:



Day 2, we got a picture by the lake before hiking. It just 16km including detours:


the lake by the lodge is quite big
the lake by the lodge is quite big


great view all the way to the ocean
great view all the way to the ocean


we got lucky enough to a flock of Keas fly by
we got lucky enough to a flock of Keas fly by





we had a lunch break by saddle shelter huts
we had a lunch break by saddle shelter huts

our guides made drinks for us, served with cookies :)
our guides made drinks for us, served with cookies :)

Now is a time to make a small segway on my hiking boots. I have a double wide foot which is very hard to fit, so when my boot soles started failing in Tasmania a couple of years ago, I worked on fixing them with glue and screws when I got home. It worked well enough for another 2 years until the filler material under the sole started disintegrating making the glue useless and even the bolts I put in started falling out (arguably my fault for not putting a nut on the other side). Thankfully I had prepared for this possibility and was carrying duct tape, other kinds of tape and enough zip ties to mostly fix it:

my boot didn't look great, but it worked for the rest of the hike
my boot didn't look great, but it worked for the rest of the hike

We did a short side hike to Conical Hill and then resumed the hike:








Routeburn Falls Hut
Routeburn Falls Hut

this was going to be our hike out on the 3rd day, but we never got that view again
this was going to be our hike out on the 3rd day, but we never got that view again



the other lodge was very nice too
the other lodge was very nice too

while the DOC hut was a bit more packed
while the DOC hut was a bit more packed

Another evening and dinner:



my salmon was quite tasty :)
my salmon was quite tasty :)

This brings us to day 3 which thankfully was a mere 10km (given the weather). Now is not too late to mention that the weather in Fiordlands often sucks. It rains meters of water per year. Our guides were actually pleasantly surprised at how nice the weather and the views were the first 2 days. We apparently got quite lucky those first 2 days, but that luck ran out on the 3rd day, we got moderate non stop rain until we exited the track:

I did manage to miss a spot with the sunscreen the previous day
I did manage to miss a spot with the sunscreen the previous day

[rigimg:1024:602*| he falls were more "wet" the next morning]


view were more 'limited'
view were more 'limited'


sadly Jennifer's waterproof jacket didn't really keep her that dry
sadly Jennifer's waterproof jacket didn't really keep her that dry




And by noon, we had reached the exit, and got a ride back to Queenstown:


my 2nd boot also failed just as I exited. I guess it didn't like the water
my 2nd boot also failed just as I exited. I guess it didn't like the water

bus ride back to queenstown
bus ride back to queenstown

And that was it for Routeburn, while the last day kind of sucked, the first 2 were very nice. This was an unusual hike given the very fancy lodges, limited things to carry, and short hiking days, but it was interesting to try something different and I guess we got lucky that we had such good weather the first few days when terrible storms, including snow, are possible or even somewhat frequent in summer.

2019/01/15 Kepler Track
π 2019-01-15 01:01 in Hiking
After finishing the Routeburn track just a day prior, the plan was to go back to Te Anau and do the Kepler in 2 days. I had found by then that the DOC definitely stretches the time you really need to do those tracks. They recommend 3 to 4 days and I ended up doing the Kepler in a day and a half with still a moderate pack (10kg when light could probably have been 5kg given that you don't have to bring a tent, or sleeping pad, or gas). I was carrying a bit more necessary mostly in gadgets and extra clothes (layers) I ended up not needing, but that in Fiordland are always a good idea given how changeable the weather can be.

Jennifer was sadly still battling a cold and resulting poor sleep, so she took the time off and stayed in Queenstown to rest while I did the track. As a result, I just took the convenient tracknet bus to Te Anau which saved me over 4H of driving (return) and removed the need for any rental car.
When I arrived in Te Anau the day before my departure, the bus barely arrived in time for me to pick up my permit at the DOC and look at their exhibits again (I had a faint recollection from our trip on the Milford track some years back).

the kakapo is so cute, but critically endangered (about 130 birds left in the world)
the kakapo is so cute, but critically endangered (about 130 birds left in the world)

The kepler track was able to do a better job killing most of the mammals that eat the native birds and their eggs, which means it has a lot more bird life:


there were plenty of these on the track
there were plenty of these on the track


After getting my DOC hut permit (and sadly losing all the money for Jennifer's due to their non generous cancellation policy on a sold out track, I'm not sure if they tried to give the permit to someone else or not), I went to the nearby bird sanctuary to check out birds that would be easier to find :)






I spent the rest of the day in Te Anau and got an early night:




The next morning, with good weather in the forecast, I went bright and early. I got dropped off at the track start by 06:30, and got started around 06:45 when it wsa still overcast. I started early because the first day ended up being 36km with the side trips, making a long day (a bit over 12H) out of a massive 15H of sunlight.



Here is what the track looks like: -




I got in Brod Bay in no time, where a few peole were camping
I got in Brod Bay in no time, where a few peole were camping

Then was time to go inland and uphill through the forest with some nice birds:




I got a tui to make fun noises for me
I got a tui to make fun noises for me


I finally got to the top ridge in the middle of clouds, thankfully the sun burned through while I waited a short while:



the peaks started showing up slowly
the peaks started showing up slowly





eventually got to luxmore hut
eventually got to luxmore hut


the added pads in the room very packed together, must suck to sleep with so many people in the same room
the added pads in the room very packed together, must suck to sleep with so many people in the same room

I went to nearby luxmore cave. I went as deep as I could before I could not fit through holes anymore while still wearing my fanny pack. Having gloves would have been nicer for my hands on the rough ground:












eventually got back out after about 1H
eventually got back out after about 1H

I went back on the track since I still had a long distance to Iris Burn:

those pretty fearless birds were all over the track
those pretty fearless birds were all over the track


by the time I came back, the fog/clouds had fully lifted
by the time I came back, the fog/clouds had fully lifted



interesting rocky ground lifted up and cracked
interesting rocky ground lifted up and cracked

with picture perfect weather, I went from peak view to peak view
with picture perfect weather, I went from peak view to peak view

eventually got to luxmore peak, an easy climb
eventually got to luxmore peak, an easy climb




emergency weather hut
emergency weather hut


I ran into a googl gfit personal trainer from Isreal :)
I ran into a googl gfit personal trainer from Isreal :)

more views
more views

the 2nd hut had keas waiting to steal food from you
the 2nd hut had keas waiting to steal food from you




instead of having it destroy my pack to steal my food, I just gave it some :)
instead of having it destroy my pack to steal my food, I just gave it some :)


last peak view
last peak view

After the last peak, I did a long set of switchbacks down to Iris Burn (they must suck on the way up):




lovely birds
lovely birds

eventually made it to Iris Burn in 10.5H or so (plus the 1H detour to Luxmore cave)o
eventually made it to Iris Burn in 10.5H or so (plus the 1H detour to Luxmore cave)o

I arrived by 18:12; total was 33.6km in 11.3h. After quickly selecting the last bunk in a smaller room with fewer people, I went to the waterfall:


the waterfall was not fantastic, but eh, it was closeby :)
the waterfall was not fantastic, but eh, it was closeby :)

the way back had lots of birds, here a fantail
the way back had lots of birds, here a fantail


the fearless NZ robin
the fearless NZ robin

I then spent a bit of time in the hut, listening to the ranger's talk, a quick dinner, and time for well deserved sleep after more than 13H on my feet and 36km walked total:





our ranger for the night
our ranger for the night

The next morning, I went to check the nearby river to see if the elusive NZ ducks were here, but they were not, so I went for my day2 hike:



these robins were all over the track, checking us out
these robins were all over the track, checking us out


valley back down to the river
valley back down to the river


robins came back to check out my feet
robins came back to check out my feet



eventually made it to Moturau hut in just 4h13 at a moving average of 5.4km/h
eventually made it to Moturau hut in just 4h13 at a moving average of 5.4km/h






final bridge to rainbow reach carpark which I got in just 6H, including a lunch stop
final bridge to rainbow reach carpark which I got in just 6H, including a lunch stop

yeah, done! :)
yeah, done! :)

took an earlier tracknet bus back to Te Anau
took an earlier tracknet bus back to Te Anau

still managed to get a bit of sun despite sunscreen :)
still managed to get a bit of sun despite sunscreen :)

See more images for Kepler Track

More pages: April 1999 June 2000 August 2003 March 2006 May 2006 July 2006 November 2006 May 2007 July 2007 August 2007 July 2008 May 2009 July 2009 June 2010 November 2010 July 2011 September 2012 June 2013 October 2014 January 2015 February 2015 August 2015 October 2015 July 2016 August 2017 September 2017 May 2018 January 2019 June 2019