Following Sheep

The rain in Arthur’s Pass continued, and we were kinda done with it. What’s the point of being in the mountains if you can’t see any of them? We decided to go to Nelson Lakes National Park. Then, after realizing how far that was going to be, and since we only had a couple days until we needed to get Trevor to the airport, we decided to go to the beach town of Kaikoura instead.
It was an extremely winding road. Sitting in the middle, I felt like I was getting a core workout just trying to stay upright. (I should probs work on that more often.) But the countryside was gorgeous. We had left the national parks and were now in farmland, and most of the mountains had sheep pastures on them. (Shout out to Eileen in #theyamhillcounty!!)
Speaking of sheep….

We rounded a bend, and there were hundreds of sheep on the road ahead of us. The shepherd was behind them, wearing gaiters and short-shorts. I don’t know if that’s normal shepherd garb, but it seemed comfortable. There were dogs trying to keep the sheep in line, but even though their options were basically stay on the road or climb a cliff of either side, the sheep were not having it. We all laughed that this is what Jesus compares us to, but honestly, it’s kinda true: why would we trust this shepherd to lead us somewhere good, when there’s, like, three blades of grass no one’s eaten about 10 feet down a gravel slope?
The shepherd/dog team managed to clear one of the lanes of traffic, so we made it to the other side and saw the gate that some of the sheep were finally getting to. I like to think, two weeks later, that the sheep are all in there by now.

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Helicopter Hill and Fresh Trout

So my brother in law is a bit of a fisherman. Like, probably more of an expert on fishing than I am on hot chocolate, and that’s an accomplishment. He was kinda bummed that he hadn’t caught one in New Zealand. The extremely awesome DOC worker at Arthur’s Pass had told him about a fishing spot on Lake Grasmere, so Olivia and I dropped him off in the morning and then went back to our campground and took off for Helicopter Hill. On foot, though–flying is not necessary to get there.

The hike was mostly through trees, but the view at the top was lovely. In the grassy crown, we reenacted the opening scene from the Sound of Music. I’d post it here, but videos just take so long to load and I’d hate to use up all the data. Rest assured that my boyfriend says it’s pretty much impossible to differentiate it from the original. We’re thinking about starting our own theater company that does Broadway musicals on top of mountains. But only the ones that we did in high school, because as members of the orchestra, we got to memorize all the songs, and why would we waste that knowledge? Reminiscing about how awesome our classes were at theater, we came back down the mountain and returned to Lake Grasmere.
We couldn’t find Trevor, but a nice local man who was fishing pointed us towards him. He was laying in the sun at the edge of the lake, the net he had labored over now dismantled so that he could use the string to keep the fish on it.

It was right after he cleaned it that we realized we really had no way of cooking it. We drove 40 minutes back to Arthur’s Pass and found that, though the store sold tin foil, it was out of stock. The pizza place next door gave us some. Trevor chopped up an onion and cooked it on our camp stove, the tail hanging over the edge. (We didn’t eat that part.) It was delicious. Way to go, Trevor!!

Bealey Spur and some of the best hot chocolate ever

We were so ready for a good hike when we woke up to rainclouds in Arthur’s Pass. We stopped at the DOC visitor center and asked for recommendations.

“Well, you might get some rain if you do Bealey Spur, but you’ll also get some very moody views of the mountains,” the ranger said. “And just remember: if it’s raining there, it’s dumping on us here.”
Moody views, here we come!

It was actually a gorgeous hike. We walked uphill a few hours to an old (so old they don’t even charge you to use it) hut, and were rewarded with nice looks into the Waitomo River Valley. As the ranger explained to us, it’s a braided river, meaning that even though it looks empty to us Oregonians, it’s actually just very young geologically and is as full as it ever gets.

Refreshed with the hike, we returned to the cafe where it was, indeed, dumping rain. We had a lamb and kumara pie (insanely good) and hot chocolate that was served in a regular glass. That seems to be the trend here, and honestly, I kinda love it.

We drove down the mountain spent the night at Mistletoe Flats, grateful that our campervan was keeping us out of the rain.

Stuck in Arthur’s Pass

After the sand fly fiasco, we were ready for a great day. We had been really looking forward to this place, as the pictures looked awesome, and now we had a gloriously sunny day to enjoy it in.

At the top of the very steep pass, Trevor realized the engine was getting a little warm. We pulled over to let it cool down. There was a bubbling sound coming from the back, but the nice thing about having minimal mechanical knowledge is that sometimes you can pretend that is normal.
What you can’t pretend is normal is large quantities of bright green coolant leaking from the van. This was what we found when we stepped out to make sandwiches. I put on some hiking boots and Trevor flagged down a car.

The lady who helped us was awesome. She was a lawyer who was running late for a court appointment in Christchurch, but she still paused to give us a ride into town. It would have been a pretty dangerous road to walk, so we were grateful. Thanks, Laura!!
We set up camp on the porch of a cafe. Really, the only cafe in town. There were Kea hopping all over, stealing sandwiches and pies. As they weren’t my sandwiches or pies, it was pretty amusing. The restaurant actually had water bottles on all the tables so you could deter the alpine parrots.
Anyways, as the only one of our troupe with any sort of international cell coverage, I texted my parents an apology for the international charges we were to receive and called Lucky Rentals. And received no answer. So I called them again. And again. And again.
And again.
To this day, several weeks later, I still have not received a call back. Fortunately, Olivia was able to borrow the phone from the cafe, and they sent our hero, Roadside Roy. Actually, his name is just Roy, but adding Roadside sounded better in the song we wrote as we waited for him.

The whole ordeal took about 6 hours, aka our entire usable day in Arthur’s Pass, and when we were done the result was that Lucky Rentals over fills the coolant on older vehicles, so literally nothing was wrong. Thank goodness?

The briefest trip to New Zealand’s West Coast

I can’t say I wasn’t warned about the sand flies. I just failed to heed the warnings.

Failing to find good multi-day hikes in Mt. Cook or Mt. Aspiring, we decided to cross the Southern Alps, work our way up the West Coast, and visit Arthur’s Pass. As we studied the map, Trevor saw that we would be passing super close to the Tasman Sea.

“That’s pretty cool,” he said. We all agreed that we might as well jump out and touch it if we were going to be so close.

After driving through a really thick, cool jungle, we caught a glimpse of the ocean. We found an access site and jumped out of the van, ready to see a new sea.

14 seconds and 80 bug bites later, we said, “nah,” and got back in the van. We had a bottle of 98% deet and couldn’t spray it on fast enough. In the short time that we had the doors open, about 30 sand flies got in, and we had to pull over to massacre them. It was awful.

But not as awful as it was got another family. As we left the car park, a family of adventurers came running up the sand bank with a look of terror of their face, the mom gripping the hand of an early-elementary agreed child in an attempt to drag them along faster. They had braved the sand flies. They may have touched the water. But I guarantee, they did not enjoy the results.

Cascade Saddle: I’m not a fan

While camped at the Mt. Aspiring Hut, we consulted a warden about trails nearby. She told us we basically had 2 options:

  1. Continue the trail on the valley floor until we decided to turn around, or
  2. Hike up the Cascade Saddle trail, which adjoined the trail we were on just by our campsite.

We chose the Cascade Saddle. We chose wrong.

She had told us it was probably an hour and 15 minutes to the top of the trail. I think we look like we’re in better shape than we actually are, though, because about 2.5 hours of struggling over tree-root ladders and rocks as high as my waist, we reached the first view point. It was about a 20-for break in the trees. We looked around, took some pictures on the ledge, and turned around.

The way down took just as long, perhaps longer. I have to focus a lot when I go downhill owing to a weaker knee and a propensity to walk in an injury-inducing way if I don’t. So what we were expecting to be a 3 hour trip ended up being more like 5. On the plus side, the forest was really cool, and I felt a lot like I was waking through Fangorn, especially once the trail got tough and I was able to really feel the line, “What madness drove them there?”

We packed up our gear, hiked back to the van, and on the way out off there stopped at Wishbone Falls. There, we washed off some of the dirt and sweat before heading to our next adventure.

Magical Mt. Aspiring

After hiking to the Rob Roy Glacier, we returned to our van, packed our camping essentials, and got a very late start to our first overnighter of the trip. To be honest, I was a tad stressed, especially since we had yet to filter water. But after a bit of walking and fuming, even my bad mood was lifted by the beautiful scenery surrounding us.

The path to Mt. Aspiring Hut runs in a level valley through sheep and cattle fields, meaning that the whole way is blessed with views of the mountains above. The sun sank below the mountains just after we started walking, but it stayed light long enough for us to get to camp and set up our tents.

As we were walking, we kept startling sheep, who seemed to take offense to people being in their trail so late in the day. They would try to escape us by running, but they usually ran straight ahead of us along the trail, so we had many kilometers of following sheep. Seriously, if I were sheep or a cow, I would want to live in that valley. It would totes make up for the getting eaten eventually thing.

The next morning, we paid $5 each for having used the campground. That’s one of the main difference between hiking in the States vs. New Zealand: here, they pretty much have campgrounds inn all campable spots, and they charge you for the pleasure of using them. In this instance, though, we got to use a real toilet in the middle of a backpacking trip, so it was worth it.

And on that picturesque note, I’ll leave you with a few more photos from the walk out the next morning:

Rob Roy Glacier and the world’s most remote ice cream

The last place you expect to find ice cream is by the side of a river 30 kilometers down a gravel road. Okay, probably there is at least one ice cream stand further off the beaten path, but still, it was delicious.
At the suggestion of a hit at the Department of Conservation Visitor Center in Wanaka, we made our way to Raspberry Creek in the Mount Aspiring National Park. Buckbeak, our campervan, started making a noise, so we pulled over to check the tires. They were fine. Luckily, it wasn’t a wasted stop, because there was a tiny ice cream stand with 3 flavors: strawberry, boysenberry, and mixed. We weren’t about to pass up ice cream on our way to our first overnighter of the trip. #delicious
The person running the stand told us that most of the land leading up to where we wanted to camp was owned by the farm she worked for. The government has some sort of agreement with them where they continue to farm the land, but they leave it open for visitors as well. This was good to know, as we might otherwise have been confused by the number of sheep and cattle grazing all about the trail.
We left most of our gear in the van at first and set off for the Rob Roy Glacier. The walk was nice–a gentler grade than the walk to Sealy Tarns, with fewer stairs. And the payoff was completely worth it. When we got to the upper lookout, we could see the full glacier perched on the mountain top. At least 6 streams came cascading of it, merging into waterfalls. These converged into the river we had followed to the glacier.

On our way back to the car, we got stared down by a cow and had to walk around her. We met some people from Florida, echo laughed when we told them we’re from Oregon. “We were just saying how at home, you never met people from Oregon or Washington, but when you’re traveling, like 20% of the people you meet are from there.” While I don’t have any hard numbers to confirm this, I can say that it’s almost as common to hear an American accent here as a New Zealand one.

New favorite river: Rakaia Gorge

After picking up the van from Lucky Rentals, we didn’t have a ton of time, so we picked a cheap campsite a few hours down the road. Trevor was an excellent driver, despite being in the wrong side of the road…on the wrong side of the car. The first hour and a half was honestly concerning–it was pretty, but in a, “wow, look at those hedges” sort of way. Not what we flew to the opposite side of the world for.

Then we turned a corner, and without warning the land fell away into a gorgeous river. It was the sort of blue that looks like it belongs in a Skittles bag. There were striped cliffs on the other side, and mountains dusted with mist above it all.

We pulled into our campground and paid $10 each. That’s one of the things we’ve noticed about New Zealand: campsites are usually charged by user, not vehicle or site. The camp host was incredibly nice and told us how to get down to the river, as well as about a walk you could do. We set up camp, Trevor fished, and I went for a walk on the river.

After, we went for a slightly drizzly climb to a lookout. This was the view we got:

Beautiful, right?

Now look at the view I got the next morning:

The wind shifted overnight and drove away the clouds, revealing Mt. Hutt. It was gorgeous.

We got packed up, then left for Aoraki Mt. Cook National Park.

24 hours in Aoraki Mt. Cook

When we began our drive to Aoraki (ow-rack-key) Mt. Cook, it was glorious and sunny.

About an hour before we got there, the rain began. It poured so hard that, even though the mountains are extremely close to the road, we could only see faint outlines.

We decided to huddle in the van for the evening, trusting the weather reports that it would improve the next day. We went for a couple short walks, but the next morning was the first real hike of the trip.

We started with a walk to Hooker Lake. It was mostly flat, with a boardwalk towards the end.

The lake itself was pretty awesome. But, as you can see from the pictures, pretty cold. The far end lapped against a glacier’s edge, and there were ice floes the size of our van sprinkled throughout. We didn’t go swimming.

After we had a quick lunch at the van, we started the climb up to Sealy Tarns. You know that part of Lord of the Rings where they climb the step hillside to the tunnel and almost get eaten by a spider? That was inspired by this trail. Hundreds of steps made of 2x10s wind up a mountain which the day before Olivia and I had mocked Trevor for wanting to climb. Every time we had to stop, which was pretty much every thirty seconds given the grade, we were so much higher and could see further. Finally we could see the lake shore where we had stood a few hours before, and still we climbed.

The Tarns were 2 small ponds on probably the only flat spot for a kilometer. It jutted out over the valley and gave us an awesome view of a glacier with waterfalls running off it.

Also, there was a kea at the top!! This is an endangered parrot that likes to steal food but is pretty cute when it’s not doing that. #backoffkea

It took a while to get down the mountain (thanks, bad knees!) but we all agreed it was a perfect use of the day.