Great Walks

Travel Books: New Zealand

Good books I read about New Zealand on this trip:

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I didn’t get to a lot of books on our New Zealand leg, and I mainly blame this book. Why? It’s long. Clocking in at over a thousand pages, it’s no breezy bathroom read – however, I thought it was worth the effort. Set in the late 1800s during New Zealand’s gold rush it offers insights into the time, as well as different towns affected, like, Hokitika (I think my favourite NZ town name to say out loud). The books received some criticism for being too long without too much payoff, but I thought it was an interesting read anyway, particularly learning how and why different towns came to be what they are.

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A journal of one trekker’s time through all of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks – which are so designated by a government body – as well as some lesser walks through the country. His experience’s are really funny – from eating uncooked lentils at night then sitting in his sleeping bag at night while they expand in his stomach to some characters he meets on the trail as well as the conditions of the trails themselves. I thought it was a great primer to read about NZ’s trails before we went – helping us shape our own trekking plans. We both met him as well ahead of our New Zealand trip, so admittedly there is a bias. Regardless, for a travel book where the author isn’t afraid to be self-deprecating and avoids earnestness, I think it’s a good one.

Obviously, you can see, my list is painfully anemic. If anyone has any recommendations, fire away – I really liked NZ, Rose too, and would definitely like to read more about it, whether fiction or non.

La-La, La-La-La-La on the Kepler Track

 

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This mushroom has a name. If I were a biologist or botanist I would share it, then wax about its areas of origin and whether you could eat it and see everything in extreme detail for the next 12 hours.

But I have no “ist” designation. Only an active imagination that was largely fed by Saturday morning cartoons as a kid and comic books the rest of the day. And, within that context, this mushroom reminds me only of the Smurfs.

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And, to a lesser extent, Tintin:

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The point of all this is that these mushrooms dotted the side of the trail on the Kepler Track – a Great Walk in Te Anau (TAY – ANOO) – and, in my mind, gave our saunter a magic feeling as we walked along through a forest of ferns:

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Mossy, fuzzy green that covered everything, and felt, at times, that we were walking through a 60’s shag carpeting store:

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Plus, the requisite babbling brooks, and flowing rivers that immediately brought to mind a kid’s show I remember called: Fables of the Green Forest.

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So, why all these allusions to pop culture?

One thought I had was that the landscapes in New Zealand in general, and on the Kepler Track specifically, have similarities to other forests I’ve seen, yet are, at the same time, wildly different. Plus the environments have an untouched, pristine quality that, to my mind, makes them seem almost unreal; so, the closest reference points I can conjure, for what seem like idyllic environments with combinations of plants and trees that are entirely unique, are fantasies about enchanted forests, because I’ve never seen anything like it in reality before (also there must be a reason – aside from just tax breaks – that fantasy film #1 – Lord of the Rings was filmed here).

A second thought I had is see paragraph 2 about an active imagination.

In either case, we were both under a spell walking along, Rose busy photographing as many red mushrooms as she could find, and me imagining Ewoks popping out from behind trees, Luke Skywalker speeding by on that forest bike he rode in Return of the Jedi and Gargamel on his hands and knees reaching under a tree looking for Smurfs.

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Quickly the fantasy came to a halt when we met someone walking up the trail with a rifle slung over his shoulder.

“What are you hunting for?”, Rose asked him.

“Deer. There’s heaps of them here.”, he replied, then asked if I’d seen a young guy ahead on the trail.

“Yeah, he was running past us”, I replied

“Running. Aah, that little…”, “Ok, thanks”, and then walked on.

I immediately wondered if “deer” was a euphemism for his son, who may have been running away from him for a reason?

Then, 10 minutes later we ran into two more hunters taking a break on the trail. I asked them where they go hunting, imagining they have a designated spot:

“In there”, the hunter points to the ferns off the trail.

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“Right. Okay. Well, good luck”, I replied and we walked on.

Immediately Smurfs, Star Wars and all other kids’ fantasies evaporated in my mind, and in their place were news stories I’d read of hunting accidents. Did those guys seem drunk? Maybe they’d fire towards the track?

I began to see headlines:

“Paradise Lost: Hunters accidentally kill tourists hiking”

“The New Game: Hunters kill two tourists on a hike”.

“Trail of Death: Tourists killed on Kepler Track” (that would go for the more sensational newspaper: Toronto Sun etc.)

Amid all of this – Rose and I were getting into our usual hiking zone of walking way too much. We agreed to doing a day hike on the Kepler Track, which is normally a three day hike, staying over in huts along the route.

However, we turned around on the track at about 12kms, which meant we now had another 12kms to walk back, and started to drag our heels.

As we got closer to the end, Rose complained of sore feet, and me a strained neck from staring too long, left and right into the forest for an orange coloured hunting vest, ready to take cover at the first sign.

We eventually ran into a Park officer on the trail who said that hunters were allowed to be there, but had to do it 500metres off the path, which offered some comfort, despite the fact that, I’m sure a bullet could make up that ground pretty easily.

It occurred to me that had we not known there were hunters, we would have remained under the fantasy spell, and probably interpreted the sound of a faraway gun shot as a branch coming down or maybe a woodpecker doing what he does best, and would have been blissfully unaware that the sound was Bambi being dispatched.

In any case, we got back to the car park, exhausted, and in need of airing out:

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Though the idyllic bubble I was under for the first half of the walk had burst, and the Smurfs had fled, it remained a nice walk – which, if we return to do it again, I might add bright orange colouring to my hiking ensemble.

Next stop the Catlins on the Southern tip before swinging up to Dunedin on the East coast.

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A light, 20km jaunt down the coast

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Abel Tasman National Park contains one of New Zealand’s Great Walks – which is a group of nine walks throughout the entire country that the NZ government rates as exceptional, and maintains the walkways, huts and other facilities for anyone to walk along.

The Abel Tasman coast track is a 50km stretch, located in the Northwest portion of the top of the South Island, which most people complete over three days.

Having learned how painful 19.4km was during our Tongariro Crossing (the volcano one) we rationalized that the Abel Tasman track didn’t have the same climbs and disorienting moonscape atmosphere, and therefore wouldn’t be as difficult.

Is it arrogance? Or garden variety delusion?

A: Probably both.

But the one point I won’t fault us on is that we decided to sign up for a PORTION of the track, which we’d walk in a single day.

50km would be crazy. But 20km?

Well. The truth is that is also crazy. The unfortunate part is that we only fully realized it at about the 16km mark.

So, with that, won’t you please join me for a second tale of our gruelling encounter with New Zealand’s wilderness.

The track started off in a boat, which thankfully we had no responsibility for, or this would be a story about a Great Swim.

Called Aquataxis, the small boats run up and down the 50km stretch of coast, dropping people off at the various points that they want to begin their track.

The bonus was that you get to see things you wouldn’t by foot like “Split Apple Rock”.

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Plus these guys basking in the sun, exhausted from their previous performance for tourists (Seals. Photo’s hard to tell):

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Before getting off the boat, we chatted with some other passengers about the track we were about to walk from our getting off point.

One person said: ” Yeah, I heard it was 8km return walk”. “Really?”, I said. “The woman at our backpackers said it was 6hrs tops, and even that was factoring in a lot of pictures and taking a break to eat”.

To which someone else said: “Yeah, I’d also heard 7 hrs”.

I immediately looked overboard, thinking I should start swimming to the shore to get this epic underway.

Thankfully we made landfall soon after. As people got their bearings, Rose and I waved at everyone over our shoulders as we hustled on to the track, hoping to make it back without the help of a search party.

Once again, New Zealand scenery didn’t disappoint:

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The tracks were in really good shape, with a lot of bridge crossings over turquoise coloured water:

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And the occasional burst of colour from a local flower

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The other interesting thing we learned was that the tide had the highest fluctuation within a single day of the Southern Hemisphere.

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Low and high tide could change 10 metres between morning and afternoon, which made for dramatic shots that could easily be construed as a drought. It made me think that environmentalists, if they were devious enough, could easily use as marketing shots for global warming:

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About halfway through, we reached a spot of the track which required us to walk across a lake bed to the other side, revealing what seemed like an endless amount of clams and other shellfish for easy snacking by seagulls.

It was shortly after this portion that we hit a steady decline. Couples we’d past en route were now passing us, as our strides turned more into shuffles, and I began to consider asking the next person who passed if I could borrow their cellphone to put in an advance order for a helicopter rescue in about 2hrs when we would surely collapse.

Hungry, I kept seeing shapes of food wherever I looked, like this pig:

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which made me think of BLT sandwiches, and how someone could really make a good living by having a BLT stand set up on the side of the trail.

As exhaustion took hold, other ideas that occurred to Rose and I – have a marching band walk down the path in marching band gear, blowing on tubas and trombones purely for the sake of it.

While we were having difficulty, others looked like they had it harder:

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Yet, despite our fatigue, the scenery stayed bright and sunny. It got to be a joke that Rose, walking ahead of me, would come to a clearing that had a stunning view of the beach and hills, and I’d reply:

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“Whoo. Let me guess? Another screensaver?”.

Improbably, the whole track eventually came to end, just before we did:

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That night we slept 12 hrs, and I don’t remember a single dream. It was only when I stood up from bed the next morning that I remember what happened.

Next stop Franz Joseph Glacier + Fox Glacier on the windy roads of the West Coast.

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