As Jim and I sit eating a late breakfast today in Queenstown I’m trying to form into words the amazing experience we had the last 3 days.
It’s truly hard to know which was most special – the location or the people. The food and trail lodges were amazing as well as you will see In the photos.
As I said it’s too hard to blog about it all, so I’ll post it in a few separate categories: the people, the area, ,the weather,the lodges and food, and the exit through Millford Sound.
We would soon learn that the Hollyford track and the surrounding Fjordlands were Hamish’s Temple and we we’re being led by it’s spiritual guide. His love of he area, knowledge of the history and flora and calm, joyful nature would guide us through an amazing experience.
Jock our second guide was young enough to be our son, but mature beyond his years and equally calm and helpful. He is a future Fjordland Shaman. We hope to see Jock when he makes his way to the States to run a rope course at a camp in Durango, Co this summer.
We shared the experience with eight other people: a lovely family, formally from Zimbabwe who currently live in Christchurch – Bruce, Michelle and their 2 children Jackie Lynn and Daniel; two couples from Auckland – Mike & Tracy who are also boaters, and Martin & Jackie.
The other characters in our journey were the hosts of our lodges and Chris, the jet boat Jedi master. But more on these people later.
The trip wouldn’t have been the same without all of these wonderful people who we now consider friends.
We began our adventure at 6:30 in the morning where we met up with the rest of our fellow trackers and one of our guides (Jock) at the hotel across the street. We put our packs in the bus and were off on our drive led by our astute driver Errol. We stopped in Teanua, where we picked up Hamish, our lead guide and we were treated to some yummy lattes to wake us up. It’s quite a long drive to trailhead of the Hollyford Track.
Our first stop was at Davey Gunn’s homestead for a pit atop, snacks and the beginning of our tramp.
Davey Gunn was the Daniel Boone or Davey Crocket of this area. We would learn of his adventures and heroic stories as we went through our experience all beautifully told by Hamish. His 2 young daughters are very lucky to have such a great story-teller as a Dad.
The Tramp along the river and Lake are split into 1 long day, one medium day and one short day for a total of 24 miles. The first day you carry real packs 12 miles to the lodge. The lodge on the second night is accessible by jet boat so during the second and third days the jet boat carried our heavy packs and we only carried small day packs.
We really lucked out with the weather. One of the group’s favorite Hamish sayings was “the weather is promising”, which in reality it was (although we got the sense he said that regardless of the forecast). Day one was beautifully sunny despite a rainy start in Queenstown. Day 2 was cloudy, but warm and we never got rained on. Day 3 was wet, but intermittently and warm.
We hiked in beautiful terrain with rivers, lakes, waterfalls and rocky cliffs the tallest topped with glaciers. We experienced the thrill of a jet boat and helicopters.
The forest here is so different then anything we had experienced. There is no real wildlife. New Zealand had no indigenous mammals other than 2 little bats. No squirrels, beavers, coyote, bear, or marmots. Birds are coming back now that they are trapping the ferret and weasels that stowed away to wreck havoc on the avian population. So the focus is on the trees, the fern, the vines. There really aren’t any deciduos trees. At first the forest looks homogenous. But it is so varied with textures and color. And, with an expert teacher like Hamish we were treated to a wonderful botany lesson. He even pointed out an ancient vine that was probably here at the time of the first plants. We saw the 1000 year old Rori tree amongst other giant specimens on our second day and crossed a number of single file suspension bridges including the longest in Fjordland. We learned about visited the unsuccessful Jamestown settlement which resulted in the successful McKenzie family. In Hamish’s stories there were many tales of the women self-delivering with unsettling regularity. These were tales of hardy westcoasters.
On our second and third days our tramps were enhanced and shortened by the use of the very fun jet boats captained by the enigmatic Chris. They were invented in New Zealand and are capable of navigating very shallow water with great dexterity and power. With a boyish smile Jim said “I could have had a lot of fun with this boat on the lake and creeks back home.”
At the end of our first and longest day we were introduced to our other favorite Hamish phrase coined by Tracy, “the Hamish 20.” It was just another 20 until we reached (fill in the blank) which was very close to lunch or the easy saddle which was “just another 20” to the lodge. The “Hamish 20” was a wee bit of an underestimate. But when we arrived at the first lodge it was an oasis in the wilderness.
Our fist lodge was Pykes Lodge and we were greeted by our hosts Liz and Phillip. They met us out front with the warmest hospitality and showed us to our rooms, offered us barley and lemon water and then hot showers ( which were close to a religious experience) or wine depending on our immediate needs. Settled and showered we all gathered in the great room for an amazing tray of appi’s (shrimp, mussels sushi and dips). A scrumptious venison dinner and lemon tart for dessert followed. It was clear this was not your average backcountry experience. We were all very ready for bed by 8. Our day ended with a briefing and story by Hamish and then a description of first breakfast (continental with fruit and yogurt and porridge) which would be available after our wake-up time of 6:45 and second breakfast (eggs Benedict) which would be served in time for us to push off by 8:10. Hamish runs a gentle but tight ship and we left Pikes lodge on time after hugs with Liz and Phillip. They waved good bye as we headed out for a quick morning hike before heading to the jet boat.
After the fun jet boat ride we were deposited on the shore for our tramp to our lunch spot which was a great surprise. No box lunches here. We arrived at a hut, table set with large sandwiches or gluten free meals for those who needed it, fresh lemonade, tea and coffee. After lunch we continued our hike out of the forest and to the sea. We were picked up by the jet boat and deposited at Martins Lodge where we were once again greeted outside by our hosts Jimmy and Laura with refreshments and the dinner schedule. After the amazing hot showers it was another yummy appie plate and a salmon dinner and yummy dessert. We played some cards, toasted to our last night together and were once again in bed early after our briefing and stories. Here is Hamish’s farewell toast to our group: 13-15 April 2014
The glasses charged, this toast,
Down the Hollyford, to the coast.
The first day the temperature soared,
The sweat from within, out it poured.
From Pyke Lodge and to the boat,
Ah Madeline, the finest ship afloat.
On leaving Jamestown the feeling was somber,
The feeling of hardship, sure made us ponder.
Then on to the seals, we made our way,
And so ended a magnificent day.
My season on the Hollyford has now come to an end,
Thanks to both the staff and you my friends.
Tomorrow promises some adventure too,
And so to this I say to you.
The glasses charged, this is the toast,
Down the Hollyford, to the coast.
After our early awakening we enjoyed another yummy first and second breakfast before another jet boat ride to the sand dune hike. This was our first hike in the rain.
Another hot shower and lunch was shared at the lodge before we said our goodbyes and thankyous and we boarded our “machines” (helicopters) out to Millford Sound.
Exit to Milford Sound
Helicopters make the running of these amazing lodges possible. They are used for all kinds of needs from delivering supplies to moving guests and people. They call them the machines. We were picked up in front of the lodge and swept to our bus home via a spectacular helicopter ride down the coast and into the fjords surrounding Milford Sound.
Although it was raining the day we left the helicopter ride out was spectacular. Most people think the view is best when rain enhances the multitudes of cascading waterfalls all around.
Most of the group had hoped to take a scenic plane or helicopter ride back to Queenstown but because of the weather we had to take the bus. It included a stop for refreshments and snacks. We dropped off Hamish and Jock along the way before we all said our goodbyes in Queenstown.
Off to Sydney
Today we fly to Christchurch before jetting on to Sydney. We will stash our down coats as we leave the chill of fall and head back to warm 70 degree days. New Zealand has gained a special place in our hearts. We love the adventuring warrior spirit of the Mauri, the English culture and the hearty infusion of the Celtic Pioneer of the “westcoasters” of the South Island. From the Seattle-like city in Auckland to the rugged mountains of Fjorland, it’s been a great experience that we hope to do again someday.