Fiordlands National Park - Two Days of Hiking
Monday, March 20, 2006 (continued)
After the cruise of Milford Sound, I took the skipper's (Dave) recommendation and camped at Lake Gunn rather than driving all the way back to Te Anau. It was crowded with RVs, but I found a spot to park my car and put up my tent among the trees. Also, it was raining pretty hard when I got there, and the rain kept up almost all night. People in the RVs were worried about me when they saw me setting up my tent in the rain. One really nice lady said if the rain got too bad, I could knock on their door... and if they didn't answer she said I could just walk right in and crash in any empty bed. I thought that was really nice of them.
At one point in the night I woke up to my back in a puddle. It was getting a little hairy and I was just about to give in and sleep in the back seat of my car... when the rain suddenly stopped, so I could wipe up the puddles with my towel and go back to sleep... Close one!
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
The next morning it was quite a process trying to dry everything out enough to pack it up. I finally gave up trying to do it at Lake Gunn because rainwater was dripping off the trees as fast as I could dry it off my gear. So I finally balled everything up, drove to a parking lot and laid it all out there. It dried in no time while I ate my breakfast.
After it was dry, I packed it up properly and stored it away in the trunk. I felt more comfortable with everything out of view in the car. New Zealand has had problems with people breaking into cars. There are signs everywhere saying make sure everything's out of site, particularly wallets and phones, when you leave your car. For that reason, I made sure to get rental cars with trunks instead of hatchbacks.
Finally, I was ready to start my hike. The skipper, Dave, from the Milford cruise recommended two day trips - Gertrude's Saddle and Key Summit. He couldn't pick one over the other to recommended, so I decided to do both - one each day.
I hiked Gertrude's Saddle first because it was the longer of the two and because the location of its trailhead made more sense in terms of saving gas - I only had one tank and couldn't do too much extra driving or else I wouldn't have enough to get back to Te Anau.
The hike started out through a valley up to a saddle. The view as I walked to the base of the saddle was gorgeous. On either side was rugged rock faces with waterfalls now and again. The photo to the right is of one section of one side of the rock faces. Unfortunately, this photo doesn't do it justice because the massive size of the rock walls doesn't come through. They were HUGE - I'd guess about 250 yards high! The sound of water was all around me.
Below is a photo I took of the approach to the saddle itself. I got about half way (the easy half) up to the smaller yellow arrow - I didn't make the arrow very big because I wanted to preserve the beauty of the photo. Hopefully you can at least see a yellow dot. Anyway, when I got to that point I saw a place where four waterfalls convened - this photo to the left of the four waterfalls, once again, doesn't do the place justice at all. It was actually rather stunning.
The trail continued up from the waterfall, around a corner in the direction of the bigger arrow in the photo above. Around that corner it went up and up... but first, I stopped to take the photo to the left of a cairn on the saddle near the waterfall, and the view looking back. Actually, the cairns weren't very helpful on this hike because they were everywhere, not just on the trail. I think people find a nice view, sit down and build a cairn. I kept getting caught having to back track a few steps to find a safe way through a bunch of huge boulders.
But eventually I made it to the top. It was rough going, particularly with my aching arches, and there were areas where I was nervous about slipping, but I went slow... one step at a time... taking breaks as needed. The view of the sound from the top was worth all the effort! The photo below is what I saw at the top - the yellow arrow shows where the water is - where I took the sound cruise the day before.
After a short rest at the top, I turned to head back down... that's when the real challenge began. The photo below looks down on what I had hiked up once I got around the corner... And now I had to go down, down, down. The wind was incredible, and there were places with chains to hold on to. But again, I just went one step at a time... slow but sure.
Below is another photo from the saddle of the valley. It's a bit repetitive, but I just had to include this one too!
Near the parking lot was a bridge going over the water - water than had melted from the glaciers, fallen down those waterfalls and flowed through the valley to here. In the photo to the left you can see how clean and clear the water is. Those are pebbles under about a foot of water... and yes, I tasted it. Delicious!
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
After another night camping at Lake Gunn, I was ready for another day hike. This time I did Key Summit. It was MUCH shorter, so I was glad I did Gertrude's Saddle first. Most of the Key Summit hike is also the start of the Routeburn Track - a 5 day hike with overnight huts. My feet weren't up to an overnight, so I just did the first few miles.
Anyway, the hike started by going through a rainforest, as it zig zagged up the side of a hill (switchbacks for those who know hiking terms). Near the top of the hill it opened up to views like this one in the photo to the left. I really liked how the clouds were hanging in the mountains like that.
At the top of there was a half mile trail with interpretive signs. I walked it because I was curious. I'm glad I did because it was really beautiful. The photos below were taken along the trail. Look at this crystal clear little hanging lake and the view behind it... Also, look at that blue sky with the dot of a moon... can you see the moon?
To the left is a photo of me at the top of Key Summit. This is where three valleys converge - very interesting geologically.
(on to Mount Cook)