Being my third time in NZ, I was keen to see parts of it I had not seen before. I did Milford Sound and the Routeburn tracks about nine years ago, straight out of high school (it makes me cringe to say that – almost time for a school reunion). We joined a tour group with Hiking New Zealand. One of our first walks was a short part of the Routeburn track, the hike up to Key Summit, and I was glad to see it still looked exactly the same as in 2001.
We stayed in some very out of the way places, one of my favourites being Gunn’s Camp, a kitschy set of cabins loaded with all sorts of photographic goodies, from retro signs to the first Irish skydiver on the South Island. Another place was Lake Monowai where we stayed in old 50s cabins built for the hydro-electric scheme workers.
One of the highlights was the day in Cannibal Bay (cannibals not included). We saw wild sea lions, who were either fighting or making out… I’m still not sure. The yellow eyed penguins waggled their way across the beaches, posing delightfully for the cameras.
That night we feasted on a hangi, a traditional Maori way of cooking by burying the food under hot coals and tea towels.
We got beautiful weather for the most picturesque parts of the journey, kayaking on Milford Sound and camping under Mount Cook. However, we were treated to the whole spectrum of Kiwi weather; at one point it snowed when we were hiking, resting on all the ferns at the 200m level. Even our guide was surprised! Goes to show, that the scout’s motto still applies – be prepared.
Pouring rain often occupied our hikes, the result of which was a nasty cold, making the exercise particularly difficult. We took a rest day at Mt Cook and while some of the super-fit members of our group hiked to Muller Hut, we visited the Sir Edmund Hillary museum and ate cafeteria food. It is amazing that the man who climbed Everest couldn’t summon the courage to propose to his wife (in the end, his mother wrote a letter to her to propose on his behalf!). Peter Jackson, there’s a movie in that for sure.
As the weather cleared we were treated to sparkling sun on the alpine scenery. John told us that only one in three people ever see Mount Cook so we were pleasantly surprised.
The great thing about our trip were the people we met along the way (and the ultra cheap New Zealand ice-cream – $2 for a giant two scoops). Our tour group had a great camaraderie, so that even walking in freezing conditions was made bearable. I had so much fun on this trip, and being driven around and taken care of made taking photos easier.