Saturday, March 8, 2014

New Zealand Day 23: Walking from Te Anau

We woke in Te Anau after hearing rain on the roof all night. It was chilly and damp but with the promise of an only partly-cloudy day, clearing towards evening in preparation for a spectacular day tomorrow. Alex and I were itching to do some big walking together but knew that the route we wanted to do was really only a half day’s walk, so I proposed that all five of us walk together on a flat portion of the Kepler Track (one of the country’s Great Walks) in the morning, and then that Alex and I go off and do Key Summit together in the afternoon.

As usual, it took us forever to get going in the morning and we didn’t get to the Rainbow Reach carpark to start our Kepler walk until about 11 AM. The skies were clearing, though—a big plus! And there was even a rainbow leading the way to the trailhead:

Off we went over a big swingbridge (not swingy enough in B’s opinion)...

Were treated to this interesting sign:

...and headed off into the beech forest.

The plan was to follow along the flat portion of the track, perhaps the whole 5K to Shallow Bay or perhaps not. The woods walk was not really enough to hold B’s attention, despite some nice river views, and she and my parents turned around after about an hour of walking. First she played on a much swingier swingbridge (video to come)!

Alex and I pressed on at a much increased pace, though we did pause to check out this bird, who ended up pecking at my hiking shoes a bit. We’re not sure what kind of bird it is, but it sure is bold! In the first photo, Alex caught it mid-flutter with the flash, though it recovered quickly.

We came out on a little beach at Shallow Bay with beautiful views, though still somewhat clouded in.

After a drink and a snack we booked it back out to the parking lot, which took us just over an hour.

Then we scarfed down some lunch in the campervan, headed back to the campsite, swapped vehicles, and Alex and I zipped off up the Milford Road. Our main objective was Key Summit, which starts off on the Routeburn Track (another Great Walk) and then switchbacks up above bush line for some lovely views. It is widely thought to be the best day walk in the area.

Our travels started very well, with gorgeous views from the drive:

From Te Anau Downs:

Eglinton Valley:

On the way, though, my NZ Frenzy guidebook had alerted me to a spot along the road where we could go on a short walk and arrive at an old-style walkwire across a creek: one wire for the feet, and two wire hand-ropes. So we stopped there first and followed some colored arrows through rarely-tramped temperate rainforest. We had to slog through/around some muddy mires and moss-laden trees, and our main tip would be to follow the orange triangles rather than the red ones, as orange marks a better-established trail! It took us about fifteen minutes to get there but we did indeed find it, and it was awesome.

Then we found our way back to the car. As you can see, the trail was...not well-established. Which made it even more fun.

We then drove another ten minutes or so to The Divide carpark. It was after 5:20 when we finally hit the Routeburn Trail, so we tried to move pretty efficiently upward.

We hit the trail junction after about 35 minutes and the bush line shortly after, emerging on Key Summit just under an hour after leaving the carpark. The first thing we noticed as we came around a switchback and stepped above the brush line was a big metal privy! Helicopters and open summits come in very handy…

The summit area was dotted with these beautiful little tarns:

We followed on past Key Summit (which isn’t a summit exactly, just a topographic curiosity) to the Lake Marian lookout...

...where we saw the last two people we’d see all evening. Then, as instructed by the Frenzy guidebook,  we looked for a much less traveled trail behind the Lake Marian benches. After a false start (more a pool than a trail!), we found it, and headed out for higher ground and the promised even-better views.

It was an odd walk. Early on, there was a beautifully constructed bog bridge, and stretches with gravel path.

Then suddenly things would be overgrown and or the trail would get lost in a patch of moss.

We picked our footing as carefully as we could, conscious of not harming the alpine zone, but also finding enough constructed trail that it was clear that we weren’t just bushwhacking our way along.

This continued after coming through a stand of trees just dripping with moss…

And the views kept getting better. This is Mt. Christina, which had wisps of cloud floating off the summit for most of the evening.

Some alpine flora:

Looking back at the ridge we traversed past Key Summit proper:

Finally we could see our objective, an open knob with some rock fins atop it. After at least 30, and probably more like 40 minutes of stop-and-start trail, we made our way to the top and were met with stunning views and equally stunning wind coming up the valleys to our south and east.

We’d thought that the views from Key Summit were amazing, but the views from this unnamed spot are another order of magnitude more spectacular, dominated by the snow-covered point of Mt. Christina in the foreground. The sharp outlines and trail of wind from the summit made it look just like something out of the Himalaya.

We also hit the jackpot with the weather this afternoon! Fiordland is almost always rainy and cloudy, and in fact Te Anau remained partly cloudy all day, but over us it was virtually nothing but blue sky. There were a few clouds wisping off of the highest peaks in the panorama.

Alex added more layers (I was already in four) and we took some photos before being forced down by the combination of wind and rapidly diminishing sun. The sun set right around when we returned to Key Summit, a journey that took us almost an hour because of photo stops!

We headed down in shadow, working on warming up our hands, and once back below bush line were able to pull out some snacks and fuel up. We were back down at the car 45 minutes later, right about 9:00, without having to use our headlamps.

Truly one of the most stunning days (half-days?) of hiking I’ve ever done. Plus it was especially fun to just get out with Alex.

No comments: