Te Anau, New Zealand
June 7, 2008
“And now… for something completely different”: let’s talk about work! Work. Right work…that thing you came her for?? Oh ya..work! so I had commented in my journal almost exactly 4 months ago: “ I start my training tomorrow…woo! sure that “woo!” won’t be quite so enthusiastic while I’m hunched into the shower scrubbing limp curly hairs from the drain…” but I must say that I am still quite content in working here in the YHA even though I probably have scrubbed a cumulative amount of limp curly hairs to fill a large trash bag, it’s all part of a day’s clean. I’m learning all sorts of helpful skills…like how to perfectly fold sheets, do massive amounts of laundry…make a bed so perfectly that the queen could come and stay…as my fellow staff member commented after I had somewhat sloppily made the bed (the duvet wouldn’t un-clump itself! And I had honestly given up)… “ryan! Don’t you realize??! We’re 4 ½ stars!” well…actually I hadn’t realized…and now I won’t forget it. she was so adamant and proud of this fact in the same moment that every time I go to make a bed that phrase guiltily reverberates in my head “ryyyyyan…” uhhh…ok, ok. And then I re-do it. I’m sure my unkempt appearance most of the time does not scream “neat-freak!” or “tidy bed-keeper!” I honestly haven’t made my own bed in 23 years…apart from putting on clean sheets that is (yes I do this occasionally…jeeesh)…but now after 4 months…I am so pro. And let me tell ya…cleaning is a workout! Sometime’s I work up a good sweat making those beds, vacuuming and mopping the floors, folding the sheets, taking out the recycling, washing the sinks, wiping the toilets and scrubbing the showers…whew. But you just get into the mode…I put on my headphones, rock out and clean, clean, clean. Make look nice! I’ve just discovered that it’s kinda fun to hold the mop like a hockey stick and clean accordingly. I’ve also found that putting on my cleaning gloves while listening to ‘Enter Sandman’ by Metallica is quite a scary thing. And I always have to laugh when I notice that the toilets are American Standard brand. But that’s the best way to do the job…just put your mind somewhere else and don’t forget to admire your hard efforts of cleaning work…really is satisfying to leave a nasty, smelly, messy dorm room, all clean and sparkling for the next lot of nasty, smelly, messy backpackers who come through. Ahh life. but one of the most satisfying things was the award the YHA Te Anau hostel just received! Turns out we wipe, wash, spray, scrub and sanitize better than any other hostel! We won the hostelbookers “Cleanliness Award” which is an international website for…used guessed it…booking hostels. All over the world and we rated the highest on cleanliness! Our obsessive cleaning paid off and under Ange’s strict hand and high standard of cleanliness required we were honoured with the award. Pretty awesome. The sign neatly sits on one of our brochure tables where every day I make sure to wipe it down and keep it shining. Haha.
Of course now I’m also working reception which is a nice change to the ‘cleaning routine’ as I’ve now fondly coined it. Though reception ain’t no stroll through the tussocks…ohh no. During the busy times you’re folding laundry until closing and answering those same damn questions all day long. People are so…hmmm…interesting. The laundry, storage room and weather board are all obviously signed in the reception area yet I answer “where’s the laundry room?” or “what’s the weather going to be tomorrow” about 15 times a day…and that’s when it’s quiet. Some of my other favorites are ‘I have an umbrella. do you think I should take a jacket?” well…it is raining. Do you want to have a jacket? “ohh…ok…thank you”. And every person asking where the supermarket is. If you walk out of our hostel, and turn towards town the supermarket shines at the end of the street. Te anau is tiny…everything is basically on one street!…what happened to just exploring a place on your own. One person asked what there was to do and I suggested a walk. In shocked horror she responded “by myself!!!?” hahahaha. I really had to hold it back. Ohh…there are so many more I could tell you! It’s also interesting that people act as if I am god…in that I know ALL. I have to admit that I’ve done this before as well. You see an information center and think they should have the answer to any and all my questions! But it is humorous sometimes…I swear people ask me detailed questions about places that are hundreds of miles away. I ‘ve definitely learned lessons on how to treat people in the service industry. People are funny…oh yes. But besides answering the questions and giving out internet vouchers, I take calls to book people in, and call out to book our guests on the various fiordland activities. I’ll probably continue to answer calls at home “Te Anau YHA, ryan speaking!”. It was hilarious…once we couldn’t get our security alarm to work and one of the guys had to call our manager and when she picked up he stated with practiced preciseness “hi, this is richard from te anau YH—“ and just started cracking up. Definitely cool to get to know the locals who run the businesses in town and be part of the whole crazy tourism industry that dominates New Zealand. I swear you ask anyone around here what they do and it’s something to do with tourism: hostels, hotels, tourist shops, cruise companies, track guides, fishing guides etc. It’s an interesting job though and I’m definitely learning a lot about all that it takes to run a hostel…a lot of endless work for sure.
I’ve also been first-aid certified so now when you collapse of a heart attack I’ll calmly be able to tell you that in fact what you need is a defibulator and my valiant attempts at CPR won’t actually do too much good. But alas…I can pump a mean compression and blow a full breath with Red Cross certification! And I could definitely save ya if you were choking so that’s a bonus comfort and skill to surely put on the ol’ resume. And after the certification I now have “night manager” duties which means I have a cell phone in case people get locked out and such. although once I had a call at 1am that dragged me out of bed because some kids were “looking for accommodation”…how could they put it so formally at such an hour! When I got up I noticed a whole other group of American kids lingering outside the door…straaaange. Not much night life at the YHA here I must admit. But for the other 2 who had called I was nice enough to get up, open the hostel and book them a room and they were talking as nonchalantly as if it were the middle of the afternoon! “soo…what’s the weather gonna be tomorrow” (and that of all questions of course) and “ohh…where are you from?” I just responded “Irvine” hoping this would display my non-interest for the conversation in my sleepy state. “ohh really! I have friends that go to school there! cool, wow!” “ohh…really…huh…how bout that. Here’s your keys…goodnight.” They were grateful of course but maybe they didn’t see that the sign reads: in emergencies only … then I had to go back outside and pass through the crowd again who decided to ask more ridiculous questions like whether they should make the dangerous, 2 hour swerving drive to milford sound at 1am. or if I knew what time cruises would be leaving from there. seriously?? Seriously! I kindly asked them to come back tomorrow when the hostel would be open and I wasn’t wearing my pyjamas. “oohh…ya…right…cool, cool” Jeeesus. So yes…working in a hostel is definitely a unique experience.
Of course you also meet so many great people coming through. All different kinds…lots of trampers in this area because we are a jumping point for many of the walking tracks and it’s fun to chat with them…see where they’ve been…what they’ve hiked and such. Great when someone comes to reception and you just swap stories for an hour or so…definitely a good way to pass the time when it’s quiet. I know I’ve spoken of the repetitiveness of questions and answers that appear while travelling. And when travelling for an extended period of time, asking them and answering them does get a bit tedious. But even after all the tedium I have to say I still appreciate and enjoy the incredible opportunity to meet and discuss with people from all over the world (besides crazies who arrive at 1am). hear their travel stories, which are always unique to the person, and what it’s like where they’re from. After exchanging so many stories of differing backgrounds and traditions…what better learning opportunity could there be? This is why life is so fascinating…diversity! I never want to cease the exploration of things outside my realm…through music, books, travel, and people of course! What a wonderful decision to stay and have this experience. Definitely down with the kiwi way of life.
Wanaka, Gore, New Zealand
What a wonderful country to live in where there’s never a lack of intensely active, activities! When I first heard of the multitude of multi-sport activities that New Zealand has proudly created and hosts all over the country, all times of the year, I thought: “crazy-kiwis…they’ll do anything!” And, “dang, those people are hardcore!” Basically, I thought it was awesome and was a bit jealous I wasn’t participating in some way. Then suddenly, I found myself in training. My life has always been filled with various sporting diversions and I was beginning to feel bits of withdrawal from lack of purposeful workouts which, besides intensely scrubbing showers and making hundreds of beds, were pretty limited. Helen (Te Anau manager extraordinaire!) happened to mention triathlons and multi-sport; my ears immediately perked up. I had done a sprint triathlon thing once before and was excited I might get the opportunity to participate in New Zealand.
It didn’t take too long before I was sketching out a training schedule (more of a mental preparation really, as I never seem to stick to these things), and fully excited by the prospect of a future sporting competition. I’ve always thrived on these sorts of distractions. It’s a means of entertainment really. So what better way to “entertain” than by gettin’ back into the sports bra and runners? The adrenaline fuelling my energies once more! The sprint triathlon is great because it is just long enough to make it a challenge and short enough that the training doesn’t entail sacrificing one’s normal life: i.e. working out 4 hours a day or buying one of those one-piece spandex suites (although I do kinda want one of those…then I’d really look the part). The distances are usually around 500m swim, 15k bike, and 5k run. A kayak option often appears for those non-swimmers out there as well. It’s a “sprint” for the true triathletes, a steady chug-along for the rest of us.
So…let’s get training! Hmm…bathing suit, cap, goggles: need to get those, bike? may be helpful to have. Shoes? yes…I do have those! A care package from home and kind lendings on the wetsuit, road bike and helmet front and I was all set to go. Well…I had to do the workouts myself, but at least now I was properly equipped. I mostly used the local pool, where I attempted to avoid all the splashing children, took a couple freezing dips in Lake Te Anau just to prepare for the real thing, biked the roads out of town and ran along the spectacular lakeside as much as I could. Training at home was never like this. Another thing I’m jealous of you Kiwis for. Everything I do around Te Anau is complemented by a fantastic setting. How can I whine of burning lungs and legs when mountainous peaks stretch as far as I can see, the sunlight raying through the low hanging clouds and sparkling on the lake. I can still complain, but at least I’m getting a great view.
When race day comes around the nerves vibrate my brain, swirl my stomach and palpitate my heart. Great, right?! I tell myself it’s just for fun but my competitive spirit won’t yield to my rational brain. But in the end when the whistle blows, those nerves channel into hyper-competition mode and adrenaline floods my body! Just what I need as I plunge into the icy lake waters of Lake Hayes. Wow…I’m glad I have a wetsuit…I wish it weren’t sleeveless though…come on…keep your arms moving…oh…breathe! Yes, air…good! Stroke, stroke, breath. Now we’re going. Once out of the water, my legs are jelly and my body defrosts as I suddenly feel the sweat break through my pores as I head up this wretched hill they seem to have put between me and the transition area. Whew…pump, pump, pant, pant. Next, the bike. Bike, bike? Where is it? This one—no, this on–… ah-ha! Strip off the suit (a baby-oil lather is key to a quick wet-suit change. You may feel like you are preparing to cook yourself…but man is it worth it), shorts, shoes, sunnies, helmet…and we’re off! Cycle time. Hmm…not my strongest point. Even people on mountain bikes were passing me…maybe I should have ridden more than 3 times? But I kept up a steady pace. Push, pull, push, pull. Wow it’s a spectacular day! Ready to hop off the bike, I arrive on ground with the ever-familiar jelly legs and awkwardly run to change my shoes (imagine that step you take when you think there’s one my stair? Now put that into a run). But then… I’m off again! At this point I feel half worn, half invincible. I try to focus on the invincible part and just go hard out until I see that finish banner. And what a glorious feeling that is! I’m done! I did it! Outta my way…where’s the water! The feelings flood in gloriously… the vibe proves indescribable: endorphins in the air and hugs all around. It’s probably why people get addicted to these kinds of events. Everyone is riding high and you can’t help but let your own smile shine. Free massage? Anyone?
I participated in two triathlons, the Fresh Choice sponsored women’s race in Queenstown and the Sport Southland race in Gore. Both were awesome experiences and I only wish there were more people out there. I’m currently gearing up for the Mountain 2 Mountain race with a YHA team. Alright! A true multi-sport, this one involves skiing, downhill mountain bike, kayak, road bike, run, and finally another bike, this time uphill. True to its name…one mountain peak to another. Crazy kiwis. And man am I stoked to be a part of it. Only wish I were here longer to sample more of these incredible multi-sport/triathlon activities that seem so indicative of the kiwi lifestyle.
Though the events run all year the best time to get outside and push yourself and “embrace the pain” (a triathlete’s mantra?), but also have a great time, would have to be summer. The sky clears, the sun shines, the swimmers swim, the bikers bike, the runners run, (crazies like me do all three), the cameras prepare and the smiles widen. And while everyone will tell you it’s just about participating (this is very true mind you), I think the best aspect of these events reveal in your ability to race harder and faster than you ever thought possible. And what better way to challenge yourself than in a laid-back, friendly environment.You don’t have to be a super-athlete, or any athlete for that matter, to participate. Grab your friends, grab your family, grab that random gal running down the street and put a team together…or go for it all yourself! Don’t let intimidation get the best of you…you’ll find most people haven’t done it before either …it’s fun, I promise. The finish will be the proof: you’re legs may be dragging, but your heart and mind will be soaring. You may even find yourself like me, online and constantly searching for that next race. Get out there! I highly recommend it.
Te Anau, New Zealand
February 02, 2008
So I was thinking and realized that this whole catch up business is just taking me too damn long and I have so much to say about the current time! So…I’ll continue to catch up, but for now why don’t I sneak in some current news. Just as long as you promise to check back for the old stuff that is. Who am I kidding…I think I’m only talking to my parents…and they’re on here anxiously clicking for new news every day (hi mum!). So here it is. ..new (relatively), fresh, and luke-warm into the public sphere of the weird-world-web. And really it’s only the readers who’ll take it anywhere…so I hope you enjoy.
Settled in, but nowhere near settled down, I’ve currently found my home back in Te Anau for a while. What a beautifully peaceful place. And no, that’s not some generous label for a boring little town in the middle of nowhere…really it’s not like that at all. Some people I meet outside of the town when I’m off on some touristy endeavour, comment, “te anau…not much there! you really like living there??” They just don’t know my little home properly (i.e. a toilet/ice cream stop on the way to milford sound doesn’t count). Yes, te anau is a bit quiet, but it has just enough going on to keep you interested, entertained, awed, and thankfully for me, employed. I’ve been here for 3 months already…can’t believe that much time has passed already…and I’m still loving it. Everyday the sky, the clouds, the sun, the lake and mountains has something new to offer. I can’t get over my surroundings. I’m still waiting for the day when I see tourists snapping pictures, all a glee, and I pass by thinking…eh…ya…it’s home. Thankfully this hasn’t happened. I’m hoping it won’t. and really it shouldn’t. everyday I’m still skipping around the hostel singing “it’s a beautiful day! Wow…look at those mountains!” and then insisting to my fellow locals “I hope you appreciate this place you live in!”
Whenever I head up to Helen’s (my manager) home I try to remember to bring my camera and the last time I was babysitting her son, Isaac, I said to him as we battled around their house with beach wood light-sabers, “Isaac, you do realize you live in paradise right?” pause in between another class of our light-sabers. “ya…I know.” I love baby-sitting that kid. We play Lego for hours (once I think there was complete silence for at least an hour because we were both so concentrated on our own little constructions) and because he has two guitars, one’s electric (only child) and we pretty much rock out. Seriously though, I looked after helen’s adorable pup, Sage, for a few days…and taking her on walks down to the lake felt like a privilege. The scenery really puts you in your place….you can’t help but contemplate the meanings of life when you’re in it’s midst. Whenever you’re feeling a bit stifled or pent up just walk outside, along the lakeside and breathe in the fresh air. It’s a cure I wish I could prescribe to the rest of the world and know it would be possible to obtain.
But back to the beginning…which is where I suppose I should start…it has been over 3 months now since I arrived…and whattya know…first blog. Ah well. As I’m sure you all already know by now…but my first little adventure in te anau was finding meeself a home! Yes yse…te anau was my home…but I’m talking shelter, a bed and such. Helen had originally offered a place in her office (ha) but we quickly realized this wouldn’t work for the long term, so after a week sleeping on a bunk mattress in her office we upgraded ideas to my own private space I could call my own . she hesitated as the words started coming out of her mouth but I soon completed them and was stoked on the idea. Her hesitance was completely overcome by my excitement: a tent??! Ya…I was actually thinking that…that’d be awesome!!” and so it was set, and I was off to pick out my own little plot of land for my soon to be, home of wood and canvas. Sam, another worker here (who’s now gone home : ( ), from Vermont…just taking off a year between high school and college (shouldn’t we all do this!)….and I were playing tennis at the time…as we often did when he was still here. and it got pretty serious as well…we went from bare-feet and sandals rallying…to proper shoes and score-keeping matches! Haha…everyday after work “sooo…tennis?” We’d sometimes play for hours. I decided I really liked Sam when we were cleaning the bathrooms together and he broke into song. Make that songs. And all from Aladdin…I joined in of course. knew we’d get along just fine…plus the fact that he’s just a fun, friendly, humorous guy.
But anyway…back to the tent! Helen came and retrieved us for the task. It was harder to set up than you’d think! If you can imagine laurel and hardy you’re getting close. But in the end, it went from a pile of sticks and material to my brand new home. it was better than I could have possibly imagined…sam was pretty jealous.. It was an old school camping tent that reminded me more of M*A*S*H* than the wilderness. Of course this is how I came to describe my new abode, but many others found it reminded them of a variety of different things. Over the time I spent in that tent I had heard so many times “you live in the tent??! You live out there? doesn’t it get cold? What happens when it rains?” and then this next line always varied a bit “it reminds me of: (insert word)” I heard circus tent, army tent, Laurence of Arabia, refugee, mountain man camping, and I’m sure there were others I unfortunately don’t recall now. But it was my little m*a*s*h* tent and I loved it. And I suppose I should answer those previous questions for ya…as I’m sure you’re all curious yourselves. Yes. I lived in a tent. For a little over 2 months. But I cheated. I wasn’t hardcore. I cooked my meals in the hostel… although, I would often make my food and go and sit in my tent to eat…just looking out. I realized that it’s quite lovely…the amount of time we could spend outside but just don’t think to do it.
The tent really made me get out and enjoy the daylight and use that daylight to read until I was bending the pages seeking any glimmer of the fading sun. when the natural light was gone I would sometimes read or write by flash-light lamp until all moths of te anau had come to join me. and for the most part, i used the toilet inside (way too far to go in the middle of the night)…I had my own little “ensuite” or “pee alley” as Helen so crassly termed it…ensuite…much better ( I give Leith the credit for that title). There may or may not be a dead spot in the grass now…haha. Cold? Yes. Plain and simple…It did get cold. Frickin’ cold, as a matter of fact. A few nights I checked my little thermometer and through the visible breath I was exhaling, made out a chilly 3-5C. mmmm…frosty. Getting ready for bed involves long underwear, socks, another top layer, and a beanie hat that reminds me more of a wetsuit cap than snow hat…so basically I feel like I’m preparing for a deep sea dive in the arctic before I hop under the covers to begin generating enough body-heat to get comfy and cozy. I did revel in sleeping “outdoors”. So fresh when you breathe in…and it was a great feeling…the cold on the outside…but it’s 98.7 in my warm bed.
Of course in the morning putting on damp, freezing clothes was not so appealing. I think I wore the same clothes for a few days at one point because I was too cold to change. One night I stupidly thought I would be warm enough to not wear socks or my fleece. Bad move. I woke up several times huddled in the tightest foetal position you can imagine…my body just desperate to maintain heat. And not to mention that my joints were so stiff by morning because not even one toe would dare move out of the circle of warmth into the frozen depths of…gasp….ice-cold sheets! anything but that!! The next morning fellow workers inquired if I was frozen in my tent yet. Not yet…but last night it was close.
The cold I can prepare for…no problem really. the rain and wind are mightily annoying. Combined they are a killer. in an unfortunate-for-the-canvas-tent-goer demonstration of nature’s power, the wind billows the flimsy “walls” with angry vigor and the rain peppers down. And as most have responded like you might have just done “ooh…but I love the sound of rain when I’m sleeping”…you my friend, have not slept in one of these canvas abodes. I might as well be in a tin can. a light sprinkle sounds like a downpour, and anymore than that and I feel like I’m under attack. I’ve tried to describe it…like someone’s throwing rice?? I often wake up to the persistent tap-tap-tapping, grab my ear plugs and nod back off to sleep in hopes I’ll hear the alarm in the morning. And when the wind really releases some angst, I feel as if I’m being digested. Wshhhhooo…shwaaaah it violently pulses IN and OUT…whapping my head and then pulling back to gear up for another swiish. And of course when a good rain is helping along the canvas gets soaking wet. There are no leaks…none at all…this is not the problem. It’s the wet canvas shwooshing against my bed that will arouse even the deepest sleeper. One stormy night I crawled into bed and upon rolling over…yeeeep…that’s not just damp…nope! That’s wet! It’s officially wet! So…naturally I rolled back over to the dry side of the bed and went to sleep.
Tent life was incredible. I loved all the different moments I had in there. from chilling in the afternoon warmth, looking out, reading in my little camper chair, eating with only the sounds of birds chirping, and leaves rustling. I loved feeling more in tune with nature instead of shutting out its powers and beauties with walls and regulated temperatures. I loved bundling up for bed, and sewing up the door flap when the weather got bad. I loved even having a little unexpected visitor, a wee hedgehog, come hopping in one night. I loved the realization of the simple basics we need. (of course I was astounded that even with so little I could still somehow achieve a mess akin to the aftermath of a tornado). Tent life was certainly for me…mum, dad? Tent space in the backyard doesn’t cost rent does it?
Copland Track, New Zealand
January 12, 2008
So after we were dropped off by our first hitched ride we checked into the hostel, unloaded our gear and ate a very backpackery dinner: rice and beer…with some raw broccoli thrown in. We began to make some plans for a tramp Hamish had told us about: the Copland track. Was exciting just to think about getting on a trail again. The next day we headed to DOC to sort out hiking but found that it was only open like 3 days of the week or something like that. Well, we chatted with the dude at the hostel and he agreed to let us work for our accommodation that morning for the next night’s stay and advised us to just ‘go ahead’ on the track. Sooo for the time we raced around making beds, vacuuming and killing bacteria (of which I’m sure there is a multitude at any backpackers). We laughed our way through it, but the hostel manager said it all: ‘same shiit…different day’. we then had the rest of the day to chill out: read, write postcards, check emails etc in the wee town that is Fox Glacier village. And by wee I mean you stand at one end of town and can wave to your friend at the other end…or walk about 5 minutes and say hello to them. Tiny.
As for the tramp, we thought…well…why not…risk getting a bed and not quite knowing what the official weather report was (this track is prone to flooding…conveniently a river that is about 5 minutes from the hut…could be a slight problem….eh…let’s just go and hope for the best). Another fun issue. Neither of us has a camper stove so instead we made a huge vat of rice to take with. Unfortunately my incredible tupperware container that has travelled along like a dear friend for all of my journey went mysteriously missing somewhere between punakaiki and fox. sooo…we were forced to buy a 2 litre tub of ice cream. Forced! And of course forced to eat it’s contents. What else would we put the rice in! it was a tramping necessity. Anyway…all the ice cream here uses super artificial flavors and we discovered that they just never satisfy…which actually makes you keep eating the damn stuff cause you’re never satisfied! We made a nice mess of all our gear to sort out what we’d take and what we’d leave at the hostel to retrieve later. Now…transportation…hitching worked before…you have the sign? Right…let’s do it. And I’m not lying when I say we had literally hit the main road and about 2 minutes later a station wagon pulled right over! Sweet! Two kiwi trampers that had just come off a serious 5 day tramp…each of the days at about 10-12 hours…we added our packs to the stack of gear, pushed aside the hiking maps and hopped in for the ride. One of the guys had been working overseas but couldn’t stand his job anymore and had returned to live off his earned money and stay mostly in the NZ bush doing tramping. Really cool guys.
When they dropped us off there were two weary trampers hoping to catch a ride…we swapped places, thanked the guys and took heed of their warning to “keep moving because otherwise the sandflies would eat us alive”. And off we bounced down to the start of the trail singing Eye of the Tiger. And yes…the sandflies already had nasty tidings to share…to our hopeless defeat, they glommed onto our skin and into our warm blood with the thoughtless type of savage brutality that only those little creatures have perfected so well (yes…I am talking about a fly…come to NZ and you will experience the suffering!). The beginning of the track greeted us with one of the two infamous stream crossings. And did I mention that the sky was forecasting rain…or rather a downpour. Well…it wasn’t raining yet and the cross wasn’t bad at all. Just took a bit of extra surveying, jumping and teamwork (!)…and the inevitable acceptance that our feet would get WET…mine were soaked already…nothing like sloshing around in your boots for a 7 hour hike! But when you’re moving at least your feet stay warm…like a cozy little bathtub in there. and since I wasn’t getting any dryer, might as well tramp right through the waters and mush!
The trail took us winding through the rainforest, over much rocky terrain and exposed roots…not to mention the miles of mud and muck. Apparently this track is notorious for being quite wet. and we experienced the Copland track showing its true character! We eventually moved out of the covered forest area and alongside the rushing river, a pale, silty blue. It was raining at this point and we clambered laboriously over the rocks, mossy boulders and gray sand that matched the color of the sky. When we finally reached the trail of solid earthy ground I was happy to be on less cumbersome ground. The rain stopped after a couple of hours and it was just glorious to be walking along the track…eyes carefully surveying the next spot to place my foot and avoid a tumble, but my mind was off in other places. No better place to be than surrounded by the beautiful and peaceful solitude of the NZ bush. I don’t know how many streams, creeks and river-like flows of water we crossed over as we trekked up to the Welcome Flats, past the Pick and Shovel Flat, across the memorable “unnamed creek” (don’t they realize they have in fact named the “unnamed”?!) and over many sketchy swing-bridges. Another challenge was avoiding the “hook grass” which should actually be termed “tear all the hair off your legs grass”. And though feeling a bit damp, I haven’t mentioned that what awaited us at the hut was more than any tramper could dream of…natural hot springs! The cold, the rain, the sandflies…none mattered because soon we’d be jumping into a bubbling, silty pool of water rising out of the earth!
Pretty soon we arrived at the second infamous stream crossing and once again, no worries. By this time we had caught up to a few other trampers, a kiwi family with two young kids…we all navigated across and hiked up to the Welcome Flat hut…melanie and i hoping there would be space. Sure enough, we were very “welcome” here! the hut warden (a hot pools obsessor who travelled all over the states finding her beloved natural bath tubs!) said that only the weekend before the place had been packed, but today there were only 9 of us in total. 3 of the people were from the states, Vermont to be specific, and the girl around my age had friends at Hamilton and was even close with a girl on my hockey team! Woooah. (and as a side note…about a month later…Sam, the guy who I worked with here in te anau, from Vermont as well…ran into them when he hiked the kepler track! What are the chances…crazy world). But of course the first thing to do was take off our drenched socks and shoes and let our squishy feet feel the air. And right behind on the agenda was checking out the hot springs! We quickly stripped the wet clothing, grabbed our towels and pranced up to four steaming, colourful pools of natural hot spring goodness that awaited us. The water comes up from the ground at around 130 C…hot indeed! of course it’s cooler in the pools but not much! I practically burned my entire body as I dove down in an attempt to evade the sandflies. so awesome lying in the mushy green silt, this natural hot tub while staring up and out at the misty mountains that surrounded. Wow….this was just incredible. Couldn’t stay for too long or you begin to cook yourself. Cook. Mmm..dinner awaits. Time for some cold rice! Haha. anything tastes good after trekking and after we settled in our sleeping bags and began to play cards. Well…more like attempted to play cards…we got as far as Go Fish and realized that both of us were in the category of people who everyone else always has to re-explain card game rules to. Haha. A long day brought an early bed time anyway.
Woke up the next day feeling like my shoulders had carried a car…forgot what it’s like to have a pack on my back for long hours. For our second day we hoped to trek up to another hut that would provide great views of the valley below and glaciers hovering among the mountains and then back down to our current hut. Unfortunately a heavy downpour was forecasted and once again…yet another infamous stream could prevent us from getting back to the hut. But for now the skies were only misty so we headed out for day hike to get as far as we could. Had a nice “cruizy day” as the kiwi mum termed it…2 hours just walking along the valley…the stream was already a bit flooded to cross but we still got nice views of a couple of glaciers and it was just good to be moving about outside. Some sunshine even peaked through. Almost right after we returned to the hut the “torrential downpour” began…we made a good decision to not try and cross that stream. And because the rain still sat on all of the plants from the previous day we had completely soaked ourselves again…I think I took every ounce of moisture off those overgrown tussocks…had to wring out my shorts several times. But a perfect excuse to jump in the thermal pools again! Pretty cool sitting in there the rain trickling down around you. Back at the hut there was no better place or time to take a nap in your sleeping bag.
The last day of our little tramp was back the way we came. But that’s alright because going a different direction provides a completely different perspective. And it was a beautiful, sunny day. Amazing how that changed the whole feel of the trail. Before we knew it we were back to civilization and airing our damp feet in the warm day’s sun on the side of the road, thumbs out and trying not too look too filthy. Just another great day in New Zealand…and when you’re tramping…you really feel part of it.