Following our “tramp from hell”, we decided that it would be a good idea to take a few days off and chill out in Greymouth on the west coast of the south island for a while. If anything, our feet needed the rest – when walking, which was more like hobbling, we looked like crippled old men with limps. We needed a break.
So we hung out in Greymouth, explored the town, made good use of the free internet at the local library, and got our strength back. Greymouth is an old gold mining town perched on the west coast with a pretty interesting history. Following the San Fransico gold rush of ’49, the miners went onto the Yukon for the next rush, but everybody already knows that. What most people don’t know is that following the Yukon gold rush, those who actually survived and were crazy enough to give it another go, made the voyage to New Zealand and took part in the Greymouth gold rush. To think that the same guy might have mined in San Fransico, the Yukon, and Greymouth is a bit insane, but supposedly it was done and those who struck out in Greymouth needed to find a new hobby / profession / obsession.
Once we did a bit of grocery shopping, some research, and direction setting, we set off down the coast in Cindy to Franz Joseph Glacier. The glacier and the surrounding area sits close to the top of almost every “must-see” list for New Zealand, so we decided that 3 days would be enough to check it all out. Once settling in, in our tent of course, we went to the local information station to get some information about the glacier. It was there where we found out that the area between the glacier and the coast gets almost 5 times as much rainfall as New York City every year, which we later found to be quite accurate as we sat through many downpours.
A few days later, we had explored all of the hiking paths to the glacier, gone to Lake Matheson for New Zealand’s “View of Views” and done our best to bribe a helicopter pilot/company with $100 and a fifth of Jim Bean to take us on a helicopter tour of the glacier (in this we were quite unsuccessful because the 15 minute tours started at $275 per person). It was a nice overall experience, but we were starting to itch for the backcountry again and we knew that we didn’t have anything close to the amount of cash that would get us an aerial adventure above the mountains. So we jumped into Cindy once again to make our way down the west coast of New Zealand, which turned out being one of the most stunning drives we have ever taken.
After about 2 ½ hours of driving along the winding, windy coast, we made our way inland towards Queenstown. Soon we found ourselves in river valleys, alongs mountain lakes, and high up above the clouds. We were honestly stopping about every 45 minutes to take a pictures of the landscape and enjoy the drive. We would get out, dance around a bit, sit on Cindy and just take in the world around us. It was truly a wonderful 6 hour drive – one that we will not forget for some time.
Upon arrival in Queenstown, we made the decision to forgoe the tent and splurge on a hostel. In reality we wanted to just hang out with somebody other than the 2 of us, but we blamed it on the fact that they provided showers and mattresses and we hadn’t had those in some time. It was nice to meet people in the hostel, all enthusiastic young people who wanted to party, but it was strange how we interacted with them. They had stories of spending $450 on skydiving and how the rain stopped them from bungi jumping and we had stories about how we hiked 20 miles in a day and how our tent was really starting to smell funky. They had comments of “I feel kinda letdown – almost as if Queenstown has been too tame” while we felt that it was completely tame compared to the wilderness surrounding the town. It was hard to not be arrogant about our adventures, but we had the overwelming sensation that by this point in the Grand Adventure, we were over the hostel backpackers crowd and were much more comfortable with a heavier dose of adventure. Needless to say, we only stayed one night and by 9am the next morning, we were in the Department of Conservation office finding our next adventure on the large maps detailing the hundreds of mountain options.
We do have to give Queenstown some credit though – it was a gorgeous and really laidback city. Everywhere you turned there were apres-ski bars, large log fires blazing, and wonderful restaurants. It was the perfect place for older adults with more than $15 to spend and some time to relax – we will be coming back in a few years time – it was just too cool to pass up. Queenstown is also home to the burger Mecca known as Fergburger. This place honestly had the best burger of all time, which was about the size of a human head, so we were quite, quite happy after eating tuna ramen for the past 2 weeks.
After choosing our next trail at the DoC office, we made our way down beautiful Lake Wanaka to the mouth of the river which we would be hiking up the next day. We camped on the edge of the lake, preparing our gear and hoping that our feet would forgive us for the impending 4 day hike up/over McKellar saddle. The next morning we were off and on our way and 6 hours later we had casually made it to our hut for the night. We popped the tent, did a bit of journaling and passed out while trying not to itch the dozens of sandfly bites we had all over our bodies (*note – sandflies are the evil cousin to the mosquito in the fact that there are more of them, they are harder to smash, and they leave just as bad itchy bumps all over you skin – the sandfly is our mortal enemy in the backcountry).
The next morning we were off for our “bad” day of hiking, up over McKellar saddle, which turned out to be a bit nasty because of the trail snaking its way up over boulders and roots. Eventually we made it to the saddle, enjoyed our standard lunch of peanut butter sandwiches and apples, and continuted down to our 2nd hut of the trip. It was at this hut that we met 3 other trampers who began to instruct us on the impending storm that was about to grip the entire mountain range, causing every river to swell and making some of the trails impassable. Great. That is when the wheels began to turn in Ryan’s head, while Jack’s feet were just too angry to even contemplate the fact that we would most likely have to hike the distance of the planned 2 day route in 1 day.
We woke to pouring rain and that is when Ryan turned to Jack and states “get your big boy pants on today Peabody, we’ve got a real big day today.” 4 hours later we made it to our lunch spot, which was supposed to be our sleeping spot for the night, and lavished in the fact that the rain wasn’t too bad and that the many cows and bulls we passed on the trail didn’t charge us. Up on our feet again, we knew that we were on the final strech, but we were starting to drag a bit, which is when your mind drifts into the abyss.
You have a lot of time to think to yourself on the trail and you wonder about a lot of things ranging from the list of the top comedians (Robin Williams topped our list) of our time to what food you will have when you get out of the backcountry (Fergburger “Big Stuff”). It is at this point that you start to question your “hobby” of tramping/hiking/backpacking – you wonder why in the world would you want to put your body through this much pain while all you are doing is just moving from one campsite to another. It is not like you are playing in a game against another team nor is it like you are racing for the best time. The pain is not paid off when you summit a mountain, the view isn’t quite good enough to really fill you up and motivate you towards the next step.
After much contemplation you come to realize that we do what we do because of the spirit of adventure. We had the threat of flooding and didn’t know what the river would be acting like around the bend. We had to rely on our instincts to carry us through, just as the centuries and centuries of adventures had done before us. We do it to separate ourselves from those in their cushy bunks at the hostel in Queenstown who complain about their trip being tame, yet don’t do anything to change it. We got closer to the world outdoors, to the natural world around us, the world that dictates everything for us in the backcountry and decides at the end of the day (in the extreme) if we should live or die. Most importantly, we got closer to ourselves, rooting deep down in our souls to find what motivates us, what makes us happy, and what we are meaning to find on this adventure of ours.
All of these things bumping around in our heads made us not mind that 27km that we hiked in 7 ½ hours that final day…
Current Location: Canterbury, New Zealand