Archive for March, 2008

March 14th 2008
Lakes, Hot Springs and Glow-Worms

Posted under New Zealand

When I first met Aaron, he had a large world map in his home office with little red pushpins stuck into each of the places he’d been. I remember looking at that map, with the majority of the pins stuck into places in Central and South America, and thinking to myself “this man is going places”. A few months later, when we traveled together to Hong Kong with Aaron’s MBA class (coincidentally, the same week that the U.S. declared war on Iraq and the deadly SARS outbreak in Hong Kong reached near-epidemic proportions), we shared a twinge of excitement as we pushed the new pin into the map. That experience was pivotal in the early stages of our relationship because we realized that we shared an intense passion for seeing the world.

The first several days on the North Island unraveled as a mad dash toward Auckland. Having stolen a day here and there from our North Island itinerary to spend extra time in the South, we now find ourselves racing against the clock to fit in as much as possible before New Zealand becomes just another pin on the world map.


Land ho! We glimpsed the North Island through the window of the ferry. From a distance, it looked much like the South Island – pretty forest-covered mountains separating the sky from water on the horizon – but the ship turned parallel to the coast and glided along until it found Wellington Bay with the quaint capital city curving around the bay in the shape of a crescent moon. We arrived around 5pm and checked into what felt more like a backpacker factory than a hostel. After being “processed” by a robot-like receptionist, we were handed a key to a bland, impersonal box of a room, which shared two dirty bathrooms with an entire floor of what seemed to be mostly twentysomethings. Hostels are like a box of chocolates…thankfully, we were only staying one night.

We drove about five minutes into downtown and set out on a walk to explore the city. I was immediately impressed by the number of theatres, restaurants and bars. It was Saturday night and the sidewalks were dotted with diners and drinkers at patio tables, enjoying the music that gave each venue its own personality. New Zealand seems to have a very young population and the larger cities have a small-scale cosmopolitan feel. We took a ride on the Wellington Cable Car up the side of the mountain to look out over the city. A sprawling botanical garden is designed into the mountainside, offering an alternative route back down to town but we opted for the return trip on the cable track and stopped for a quick dinner at a kebab place on the way back to the hostel. The next morning we were on the road early, ready to continue our journey north. Wellington is a great example of a city that grew smartly without losing its small town charm.

Lake Taupo

The town of Taupo, nestled alongside the biggest body of water in New Zealand, was another one night stand. The town has seemingly been built on the edge of the lake to cater to tourists stopping over on their way north or south. Still, it is a lovely small town. After walking along the lake for a while to stretch our legs, we strolled through the public park on our way back to the hostel. The park was swarmed with families – children climbing, swinging, squealing with delight over every piece of playground equipment; young couples lying under shady trees – enjoying the sunny Sunday afternoon. It reminded me of the slow-motion scenes in the movies of children on an idyllic day at the park while the threat of the end of the world looms overhead.


As we drove into Rotorua, another lake town, the smell of sulphur infiltrated our nasal passages. We know this scent well; after our Dead Sea mineral mud bath, we took hot sulphur showers and the earthy stench never quite came out of our bathing suits. We arrived around lunchtime and, after surprisingly little coaxing, Aaron acquiesced to spending the day at the Polynesian Spa. We set out on foot through the quaint little town of Rotorua, stopping into a shop here and there and eventually turning into the Government Gardens. The English-inspired grounds include a mock-Tudor museum, a bowling green, croquet lawn, an historic Spanish Mission-style bath house and the Polynesian Spa. We spent the afternoon soaking in a series of thermal pools overlooking the lake.

The next day was for Aaron’s chosen activity – the Zorb – which is a large plastic ball that you can climb into and get rolled down a long hill. As we walked out to our car, parked along the street, Aaron immediately noticed that it had been side-swiped during the night so we began our day at the police station filing a report. Thankfully, the minor dents and paint chipping didn’t affect the car’s drivability but the prospect of dealing with the rental company and filing an insurance claim still took the wind out of our sails and we decided to spend the day eating ice cream, playing online, and going to our first movie on the road – The Bucket List. Despite the morning’s early mishap, it turned out to be another great day.

Waitomo Caves

There is only one reason to take the 2.5 hour detour from Rotorua to the Waitomo Caves – Black Water Rafting! We had booked the activity in advance of our arrival at the Long Black Café in Waitomo and showed up early for coffee and a sweet before our adventure. It began with a lengthy process of armor assembly: wetsuit and jacket, over-shorts, neoprene booties, helmets, and white rubber galoshes. Hideously appareled, we hopped into a mini-bus for the eight-minute ride to the Ruakuri Cave. We selected rubber inner tubes from a huge stack on the edge of a clearing and practiced a few maneuvers on the ground. Then we walked to a nearby dock on the edge of a shallow river and took one practice jump off the dock into the water. The jumping form is as follows: standing on the edge of the dock with your back to the water and your buns stuck into the hole of your tube; on the count of three, you jump backwards, ideally landing in the reclining position in your tube. In our group of twelve, which included one grandmother, I was the only one to fail my practice jump and flip backwards into the river. (Aaron: Hmmm.)

We walked a short way to the cave entrance – a tiny, inconspicuous crevice in the rock, which I immediately envisioned as the vagina of the earth. One at a time, we crouched through the crevice and regrouped just inside the cavernous underground to let our eyes adjust to the darkness. The caves were created over thousands of years as the river slowly eroded solid limestone and the river still flows through them. With our lights on, we walked further inside, careful not to disturb the stalactites overhead, and climbed into our tubes. Keeping our bodies as straight as possible, we “limboed” through a passage with only about two feet between the surface of the water and the wall of rock above. We paddled for a while, admiring the rock formations inside the cave. The water was frigid (about 50F degrees) but our suits kept us reasonably warm. Only when I stuck my bare hands in the water to paddle did I really feel the chill.

We had two opportunities to jump in the manner we’d practiced, including one leap backwards off a six-foot waterfall. The jumps were my least favorite part of the trip but I managed to land them both with only minor aches and pains from the body-wrenching jolt as tube slapped water. Shortly after the big jump, though, came the most rewarding part of the journey. We formed a long “eel” by lining up single-file and grabbing onto each others ankles, turned off our lights and floated slowly through the damp darkness while overhead thousands of tiny lights twinkled like green-hued stars. These were the glow-worms. “Glow-worms are the larvae of the fungus gnat, which looks much like a large mosquito without mouth parts. The larva glow-worms have luminescent organs that produce a soft, greenish light. Living in a sort of hammock suspended from an overhang, they weave sticky threads that trail down and catch unwary insects attracted by their lights. When an insect flies towards the light, it gets stuck in the threads and becomes paralysed – the glow-worm reels in the thread and eats the insect.” (Lonely Planet, New Zealand, 2006)

We spent just over an hour underground and, though I enjoyed the experience for its uniqueness, I must admit that I was happy to see light at the end of the tunnel. Back at the café, we were treated to hot soup and bagels before heading off to check into our farmhouse hostel just down the road. Black Water Rafting: Check. I wouldn’t do it again but I’m glad that I did it once.

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March 10th 2008
Wine Country

Posted under New Zealand

It rained like cats and dogs on our last day at Abel Tasman and we spent the day in Motueka, relaxing indoors and planning the future. The rain fell without reprieve and the air was so thick with tiny droplets of mist that we still got soaked on our single dinner-seeking venture outside despite the cover of an umbrella. We didn’t mind the weather, though, because it forced us to take a day of rest and catch up on a few things before moving on to our next destination: visiting the Fields in Nelson. To recap, we met Jerry and Hayley on Zanzibar while swimming with dolphins. They were, at the time, doing some brilliant volunteer work at a farm and cheesery in Zambia and had invited us to stay with them at the farm for a few days, which we did. The upcoming arrival of their first baby shortened their volunteer stint and they’ve moved back to Jerry’s hometown to await the blessed event.

We stayed with the Fields for three nights at their home in Brightwater, just outside of Nelson, and truly relaxed amid their warm hospitality. We immediately fell in love with Bear the Cat, who won our hearts when he leaped into bed with us the first night and nestled himself between Aaron’s legs. He lost a few points with me later when he brought a dead bird into the house but that’s what cats do. Still, he was kitten-soft and playful and endlessly entertaining.

During the days, Aaron and I ventured out – once to Nelson Lakes National Park and once into charming (with hanging flower baskets everywhere) downtown Nelson – while Jerry worked and Hayley relaxed around the house in her wonderfully round, uncomplaining eighth month of pregnancy. In the evenings, we dined together and drank local wine (well…three of us). The Nelson region is wine country and, while lesser known than the neighboring Marlborough region, it has some impressive wineries.

Our stay with Jerry, Hayley and Bear the Cat was pleasantly uneventful. We had a lovely drive around town, including a stop at a favorite swimming hole and an impromptu visit with Jerry’s adorable parents, and a farewell dinner at a delicious lakeside seafood restaurant. The days flew by and, as we were packing our bags once again, I admiringly reflected on the Fields’ gift of homemaking. During both of our brief stays with them, we felt immediately welcome and comfortable and the feeling remained through our entire visit. It takes a special knack to create that atmosphere and the Fields seem to do it effortlessly. I think that they would make wonderful guesthouse proprietors.

Back on the road, we set out for the much-anticipated destination of Marlborough and it wasn’t long before the highway landscape turned to meticulous rows of grapevines against a backdrop of mountains and pale blue sky. Blenheim is the most popular home base for wine tourists but we chose the much smaller town of Renwick for its closer proximity to the wineries and, accordingly, the allure of touring the wine lands by bicycle.

Were it not for its prime location, the one horse town of Renwick would be anonymous but our cozy family-run Watsons Way Backpackers guesthouse was overflowing with curious little winos. After checking into our runt of a twin room, undesirably located just off the common area, we spent the remainder of the gorgeous sunny day relaxing, walking the length of the town in a mere twenty minutes and succumbing to the temptation of the corner fish and chips shop. We have enjoyed self-catering again in New Zealand – a must on a backpacker budget – but we nonetheless feel inclined to sample the local cuisine, however deliciously fried and devilishly detrimental to our arteries it may be. I don’t know if anything batter-dipped and deep fried could really taste bad but this fish was sensational! Despite a joint discontent at living life on the pudgy side these days, we resolved to have fish and chips from the nameless corner shop again before leaving Renwick and vowed to eat more healthily after that (and yes, Momma, I know that “a diet that starts tomorrow never works”)!

The next day was for wine tasting! After a leisurely breakfast, we rented bikes from the guesthouse proprietors and set out into the wine country. The weather was overcast and breezy but it didn’t detract from our giddiness. Riding a bicycle is a delight too often reserved for childhood. Since learning to drive, I’ve had only one great mountain bike, which was subsequently stolen out of my house in Tucson and never replaced. It’s a shame because, in the few opportunities that we’ve had on this trip to rent bicycles, the old familiar feelings of freedom, possibility and youthful exuberance came rushing back with the first whisper of breeze through my hair. Despite Aaron’s long-time love of road cycling, I have never considered the sport/hobby because he rides so damn early in the morning and, as previously mentioned, I don’t function well before my first cup of hot black, caffeinated, kidney-wrenching sludge. Still, having recently partaken in the two-wheeled pleasure, I discovered a rekindled passion for it and, much to Aaron’s delight, plan to add it to my repertoire of outdoor endeavors when we return to the real world again.

There were several familiar winemakers on our planned itinerary as well as a few conveniently located boutique wineries. Aaron had requested panniers (saddlebags) for his bike so that we could fill them with wine bottles purchased along the way. Our first stop at Spy Valley – a beautiful twenty-minute ride from Renwick – yielded an expectedly excellent tasting, conducted by a perky and inquisitive sommelier, and a bottle of unoaked chardonnay. Next, a fruitful impromptu stop at Bladen Vineyards led us to discover an array of lovely boutique wines produced by a friendly couple from the North Island who once dreamed of owning a vineyard. We are continually inspired by fellow dreamers and these two were living their dream and pouring it proudly for anyone who ventured up the gravel drive to their outdoor tasting patio. Forrest Winery had a crackling fire in their tasting room – a warming reprieve from the chilly wind – and a patio area where we lingered to eat our picnic lunch. We had the place to ourselves and the wonderful sommelier invited us to enjoy the fire and grounds for as long as we liked.

I’ve been especially looking forward to the Nautilus Winery since, many years ago, as my first-ever taste of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, it catalyzed a preference shift from California Chardonnays to Marlborough Sauv Blancs lasting through the present day. When a shift like that occurs, a wine lover remembers the details. First tasted at Bistro Zin in Tucson sometime around 2002, I ordered a bottle at every subsequent visit (which, in those glory days, was frequent) until it somehow slipped off their wine list. I have not come across it since, though many others have tickled my palate from the roundish depths of polished glasses. It was a pleasure to taste it again at Nautilus after all these years and it was as delicious as I remembered.

By this time, we are happily buzzed and the bottles in our panniers are clinking when the rotation of Aaron’s pedal occasionally collides with them. We make silly stops to photograph grapes (it’s harvest time in Marlborough so the grapes are ripe for the picking) and ourselves and to scare sheep in the pasture. Actually, if the truth be told, my mischievous partner in crime with the shit-eating grin shouted to scare them while I was trying to get a picture of them. He gets away with a lot of mischief for having such a cute face and because his heart of gold shines through everything he does. God help me if my babies are as convincing.

We glided back to Watsons on the wings of mild intoxication and, after the panniers had been relieved of their clinking cargo, we relinquished the bikes. Mid-afternoon must be prime tasting time because there wasn’t a soul in sight at the hostel as we wiled away the hours until just before dinnertime when the winos began to trickle in with their grocery bags and liquid treasures from the day’s exploits.

The next day was sunny and gorgeous and we set out for another day of tasting, this time by car due to the longer distance of some of the selected stops: Montana, Cloudy Bay, Alan Scott and two retailers – the Wine Room and Wine Cellar – each representing a group of winemakers without their own cellar doors, including Kim Crawford and Nobilo – two of our favorites for Sauvignon Blancs. Not surprisingly, however, the aromatics dominated both days’ purchases and we came away with soft, supple Pinot Grises and well-rounded Rieslings with flowery bouquets.

For dinner, we found ourselves back at the fish and chips shop, devouring every bit of our salty fried cod. The natural result of this greasy indulgence is the fatty food coma, which is best endured in couch potato form, but just as I had finally laid down with my book, eager to succumb to the wave of fatigue, I heard a familiar voice asking an unfamiliar question: “Want to come outside and play tennis with me?” and I knew the little stinker was serious. I reply, “Hell no, I don’t want to play tennis! I’ve just spent the last three hours drinking wine and gorging myself on fried food.” Aaron: “Come on, it’ll be fun. We’ll just hit the ball a few times.” Me: “I feel like poo. Besides, I’ve played tennis recently and I’m terrible at it.” Aaron: “Then just come out with me while I play by myself against the wall.” Me: “No!” Aaron: “Last chance.” Me: “Fine, I’ll bring my book,” and I peel myself out of bed. Aaron grabs a couple of balls and two rackets (just in case) and, before I know it, I am playing tennis in cargo pants and sandals. The things we do for love!

Our week in the wine country concluded our travels in the South Island. The next morning, after ambitiously swinging the rackets again, we packed up the car and drove north to Picton to catch the ferry across the Cook Strait to Wellington in the North Island. We’ve enjoyed the outdoor adventures, the arresting beauty of the landscapes, the glaciers, the wine country and especially the sheep, but we’re ready to see what the North has in store.

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March 6th 2008
Abel Tasman National Park

Posted under New Zealand

The tiny town of Marahau is the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park. The smallest of New Zealand’s national parks, it is also one of the most visited. We stopped off in Motueka, just 18 km south of Marahau, to buy groceries for three nights in the woods and made our way over winding forest roads to our small family-run lodge, Kanuka Ridge. The cabins were small and basic, with communal restrooms a good thirty yards down the hill, but the common lodge area was cozy and we made ourselves at home. We booked a guided half-day kayak trip for the next morning and settled in to make dinner as well as a picnic lunch for the kayak trip.

The morning was brisk as we bundled up in our long pants and jackets I was dreading the prospect of a water activity. New Zealand summer has been a bit chillier than expected. In fact, the maritime climate ensures that long sleeves, short sleeves and jackets are required in various combinations throughout any given day. We dropped the car off at the car park and walked to the kayak office. After a tedious two-hour briefing, instruction and equipment preparation, we were finally pushing our two-person boat into the water. By the time we started paddling, it was already turning out to be a beautiful day. After the lesson of the canoe in South Africa, we were both keenly aware of the importance of good teamwork and I felt confident that, with the four other kayaks in our group, the Bear would be on his best behavior. With me setting the paddling pace from the front position and Aaron controlling the rudder, we started off well, impressed by how smoothly the long sea kayak cut through the water when we paddled in unison. The water in Tasman Bay was surprisingly temperate and I couldn’t stop dipping my hand in to feel it, especially as the midday sun beat down on us.

The view from the water was spectacular with forest-covered Adele Island and the smaller Fishermans Island to our right and the unspoilt beaches of the national park on the left. The beaches are only accessible by hiking trails and by boat and are strewn with boulders and driftwood. With the exception of the occasional pair of hikers stopping off for a swim, the beaches are uninhabited.

At Watering Cove, we beached the kayaks and recharged with hot coffee, sandwiches and crisp New Zealand apples (delicious!). Most of the paddlers in our group took a water taxi back to Marahau but we’d decided to walk back through the national park. We changed out of our wet clothes, pulled on our hikers and hit the trail. We immediately noticed that the landscape was much drier than the fiordlands and Routeburn, but as we reached the first lookout point at the top of the hill, the stunning views of jagged coastline opened up before us, showcasing the full allure of Abel Tasman.

We took the nearly four-hour walk back to the car as leisurely as two high-strung, competitive, efficiency-minded former yuppies can, stopping briefly at every beach and scenic viewpoint along the way but never lingering long. We encountered at least four distinct species of bees, including a white bee and an evil-looking fuzzy hornet-like menace that taunted and haunted me throughout the hike. Not surprisingly, this region is known to produce wonderful honey. Our walk ended with three consecutive long bridges with high tide on the Tasman slowly filling the lagoons below. We were tired from the day and looking forward to a relaxing evening at the lodge.

My most cherished benefit of long walks with my husband is their propensity to stir up conversation and positive, productive energy. Often we find ourselves absorbed in quiet thoughts or a good book, creating those crucial pockets of private time within each other’s company that we wouldn’t otherwise get on the road. We’ve found, in fact, that we can endure an excruciatingly long bus or train ride together with the minimum of conversation but walks make us talk. They get our hearts racing and our wheels turning out thoughts and ideas that simply pour out of us. We do some of our best planning then.

We occasionally recall with a smile now how we felt during the crazed preliminary planning stage of this trip in our quiet suburban neighborhood in Texas. Our house was on the market but, in the four months that it took to find a buyer, we couldn’t yet share our rather unconventional plans with our friends and colleagues so we were constantly bubbling with excitement and holding it all inside. Almost every evening after work, we would come home, collect our little dog, and go for a long family walk, letting everything spill out – our excitement, dreams, nervousness, frustration over the home sale, my mania over the prospect of leaving my puppy, and the financial impact on our family. We kept setting deadlines. “If the house doesn’t sell by the end of this month, let’s just call the whole thing off.” The deadline kept extending until one day, on another of our many walks, we decided that the deadlines were nonsense. The dream had taken over and the notion of having the ability to pursue such a dream and turning away from the chance suddenly seemed crazier than the idea of the trip itself. That night, we committed ourselves and set a departure date. We would carry the house for a few months if we had to. The more excited we became, the faster we walked until all of that nervous energy and pent up frustration pounded themselves out on the pavement.

As the years go by and our lives get busier while our bodies get older, I hope that we will always make time for long walks together. In addition to the exercise, fresh air, and beautiful scenery, I love it because of the bond that it fosters, the free flow of ideas that play off one another and entwine into ever more dreams.

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March 5th 2008
Glaciers to Greymouth

Posted under New Zealand

After extending our stay in Queenstown from three to five nights and loving every minute of it, we reluctantly left the room with the million-dollar view and headed north toward Greymouth where we’d booked a one-night stopover on our way to Abel Tasman National Park. The scenic drive up the west coast combined all of the usual elements of the thrilling landscapes that we’ve come to expect on the South Island – mountains, lakes, rivers, rolling hills dotted with grazing sheep – and enter into the collage the rolling waves of the Tasman Sea and raw, white sand beaches; it’s enough to leave you breathless. As we began to happily lament that our repertoire of exquisite landscapes had been vastly expanded in just a couple of weeks, we came upon the sign announcing the exit to Fox Glacier. Yes, I said GLACIER! As in gigantic ice formation of the same sort that, over millions of years, cut the fiords out of solid rock.

As we pulled into the car park, we caught a glimpse of the glacier in the distance. It was dirty white with shaded contours and looked as if it were once a rushing torrent that solidified instantaneously, its velocity frozen in time. The trail led to the base of the glacier and we followed it nearly as far, carefully crossing a narrow river that kept the less adventurous onlookers behind. We had previously discussed joining one of the guided glacier hikes but I had vetoed the idea because it sounded cold. As we skipped around on the river rocks and set up photos from various angles, we were surprised by the warmth of the air. We looked enviously at a few groups of hikers heading toward the base in shorts and parkas, half-wishing that we were among them. As we walked back to the car park, we shed a couple of layers down to our t-shirts and wondered again how the glacier could stay frozen in such a warm climate. Back on the road, it was only a short distance to another glacier called Franz Josef. We pulled in and walked down to the first viewpoint. The glacier itself looked almost identical to the Fox Glacier in both size and shape and it was a much longer bushwhack over river rock and sediment to get to the base so we mentally checked the box and headed back to the car.

We arrived in Greymouth around dinnertime and checked into a quiet backpacker hostel in the center of town. The largest city on the west coast, Greymouth is still a sleepy little town, with a long gold history, nestled at the mouth of the Grey River. At six o’clock, it seemed almost deserted but we managed to find a restaurant open and sat down for dinner. The food was average but we shared a nice bottle of wine and enjoyed the homey feel of the place and our smiling Julia Roberts lookalike waitress. Toward the end of our meal, two guys from a large party took out their guitar and banjo and serenaded the dining room with a medley of popular songs. This impromptu concert called for more wine, of course, and I ordered a luscious liquid dessert. Little did I know that in the tiny town of Greymouth, I would strike gold of my own in the form of New Zealand aromatics. With a flowery bouquet and a touch of fruit, the aromatic New Zealand Rieslings lack the syrupy sweetness of the California and German Rieslings, making them decidedly drinkable. In the States, we get a great selection of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs and, as previously mentioned, the Marlboroughs are divine but the aromatics are a newly discovered treasure in our repertoire and we cannot wait to taste more of them!

The serenade continued through two Heavenly glasses of Montana Riesling and, thankfully, ended while we were still able to walk out of there. Greymouth was a lovely town for a stopover. We could easily have spent one more day walking along the river and admiring the old European architecture but Abel Tasman was calling us from the north to come hike its trails and kayak through its calm waters. Who were we to argue?

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March 3rd 2008
Routeburn Track

Posted under New Zealand

On another beautiful day in Queenstown, we headed north along the lake towards Glenorchy to the trail head of the Routeburn Track. As one of New Zealand’s designated Great Walks, Routeburn is a well-trodden and much-photographed path and we were brimming with excitement. The trail begins at Glenorchy and ends near Milford Sound, winding through forest-covered mountains and sweeping river valleys along the way. There are four huts along the trail where hikers can book a bed for $40/person/night but, with only a day to devote to exploring the three-day track and getting a late start (because I am not a morning person), we ambitiously aimed for the second hut as our turnaround point – a ten-mile roundtrip trek.

The hike to the first hut at Routeburn Flats took a couple of hours over a well-graded and reasonably flat trail. We crossed shallow, rocky rivers over swinging bridges and paused to admire the greenish ethereal glow of the enchanted undergrowth; bright green and yellow mosses shrouding the tree trunks and reflecting what little sunlight filters in through the leafy canopy above. Despite our staggered stops to marvel at the grandeur, we managed to reach the first hut much more quickly than the estimated time on the signposts. I would like to attribute this to our superb physical fitness but it is more likely due to some combination of the following: our competitive nature, residual corporate mentality (efficiency!), lack of patience and abundant nervous energy. Even on this months-long dream vacation, we often find that it takes a concerted effort to stop and smell the roses.

The Flats Hut was an impressively built and maintained complex of basic cabins with modern restroom facilities and a lovely picnic area edging an expanse of golden valley with a lazy river ambling through its straw-colored grasses. We stopped to eat our sandwiches at a picnic table near the river, admiring the views of craggy snow-covered peaks and lush green forest.

After a leisurely pause, we were back on the trail, heading up steeper inclines and rocky terrain. This stretch was decidedly more challenging but the diversity of scenery and obstacles kept it interesting enough to distract from the physical exertion. As we climbed higher, the same golden flats where we’d taken our rest opened into a radiant field enveloping the shy, curling river and carrying it around the imposing mountain bends. The higher altitude also brought misty air and just enough rain to keep us cool.

We reached the Falls Hut at the top of a steep, uneven stretch of natural stairway created by rocks and the elaborate exposed root system of the surrounding trees. Impressed again by the second hut, we regretted that we hadn’t allocated more days of the itinerary to the full three-day endeavor. In the end, we tossed the idea into the ever-growing “We’ll have to come back here with the kids” category and moved on. As we walked around the hut complex, taking in the view from the cabin terrace and envying the hikers who were settling in for a relaxing evening, we noticed that the Routeburn Falls, a series of boulder-strewn waterfalls was just a short hike further up the mountain. We took a few weary steps up the rocky path and abruptly decided that we had already seen enough waterfalls for the week. Instead, we started back down the trail and maintained our usual racer’s pace all the way back to the car. With landscapes of the fairytale variety, deliciously fresh air, and mystical waterscapes, the Routeburn Track has been one of our favorite spots in New Zealand so far.


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