Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Routeburn Track – Hilary’s Walk

Hilary suggested – no, demanded – that we include the Routeburn Track on this, our first tour of New Zealand’s hiking trails. Even half way through the first day’s hike I thought she might be right.

Three days on the Routeburn Track, New Zealand

These things can be subjective, the clear blue sunny skies could have played a persuasive part. The Humpridge Track, which we recently completed, yielded none of it’s views so dense was it’s fog. The Kepler Track tried hard with it’s gusty winds, blizzard and endless rain. But weather considered, the Routeburn Track was the best track – thanks for the tip Hilary.

The trail – or, at least, our experience of it – was one that soaked the senses. Yes, the bright sunshine and cloudless blue sky we had seen so little of in Fiordland, but the trail seemed to tease us in and out of the treeline to show us silver beech forest and stunning mountain panoramas. The Hollyford Valley before us seemed to stretch forever, with the river winding it’s way along the valley floor. The trail was interspersed with waterfalls, both large and small. Even at the smaller ones one could breathe – smell even – the cool, moist air and feel it cool one’s lungs. Urged on I filled my water bottle from it so I could taste it delicious fresh pure mountain taste. These falls were a mere hint of the falls we could feel thundering around the corner. Could I feel the waterfall’s might underfoot? To stand and gaze up into the mist of a mighty fall as is shared all with you is quite something.

Green valleys, lakes, rivers, snow capped mountains feeding waterfalls – it’s so hard to describe. I’ve not taken many photos on this three week holiday, most have been taken by my travel companion. Quite why I have taken so few, even to the surprise of friends, I’m not quite sure. Maybe over the years I have taken too many and have reached my limit? Maybe I would prefer to remember a place rather than be busy photographing it. One can come across these places and spend time seeking out different angles and compositions – or indeed, just point and shoot – but perhaps all one takes away is photos and some poor memories, the photos further serving to backbone the memories. I would just stand and try to take in what was around me, trying to commit to memory this moment in time. Let me share an experience with you, a few mere moments of my day. For those of you unenlightened ones, I took some of the first photos since the early Milford Track, so just scroll down for a mere glimpse of what the Routeburn has to offer. Anyway, my day’s moment:

A hut downstream, I was sitting in a carefully chosen location which seemed so far way from it, but at the same time was only a short stroll upstream. The stream emerges from the dense, shady beech forest nearby. Far above I can see the water fall over the mountain edge from a long, hanging, valley to make it’s way past me. From the forest, the stream winds out into the valley, the steep mountain sides standing in such contrast to the wide, flat valley floor. The stream, it’s cool, aqua tinted waters passing quickly over it’s flat rocks riverbed, the water so clear and pure that without the noise and waves it would be hard to know it was even there. The stream sweeps a wide arc out into the valley to merge with the another arm of the river to create a larger stream – no, river.

The valley is filled with grasses, such a wide variety, the wind blowing waves through the longer grass. The trees on the mountain end abruptly where the steep mountain inclines meet the flat valley floor – nature has drawn a sharp line ad both the grass and trees know not to cross over into the other side. From these trees one can hear what seem like all manner of birds. The trees climb as high as they can, but altitude defeats them, and again as if a line has been cut, they grow no higher. They do not grow less dense, or smaller, but are densely treed until that line is reached. Above them the mountains soar, so high the clouds roll over the top of them. Only occasionally do we glimpse the snow capped peaks.

From where I sit I can see all this, as the wind brings the gushing water sounds from different parts of the valley as it chooses. The river has issued it’s invitation to join it, so I step into the cold water as it envelopes my limbs, finally sinking beneath it. The cold is not a problem, for I know that in a few moments I will be lying in the sun upon the grassy bank as the warm sun and cool breeze blows over me.

How was that my friend? Still itching for a photo, can our well trained minds visualise such a place without a photo? Well, I took no photos – none could do this place any justice, they would merely reduce it to a million flat pixels, just a portion of the enveloping panorama, and hint at nothing of how this place feels. Should I add a few other things such a photo – if there was one – might show? I hesitate to note these, these things perhaps I do not wish to remember. One is the humble sandfly, which cannot be escaped with so much skin being made available to them. Secondly, is the niggling thought, the bird cries – as numerous as they seem – are nothing to what they once might have been. Birds, once the king of animals in New Zealand, indeed, so dominant were they that many lost the ability and need of flight. These birds began their long journey down the extinction path when they first encountered man one thousand years ago. Even two hundred years ago when the European explorers sailed into Doubtful Sound in Fiordland, they could not hear themselves think for all the sounds of the birds.

There were many other sights and experiences, or course, camping beside a crystal clear mountain lake surrounded by soaring mountains; crossing the Harris Saddle; the Routeburn itself – the river – not the track); and the Routeburn Gorge with it’s moss wall of falling water, it’s illusions of glass green water. For these I suggest you follow Hilary’s advice and undertake this walk yourself. For those of you who skimmed over this text, as we are wont to do, I present – perhaps with some reservation – a small selection of photos.

The above map data does not come from my GPS unit, I accidentally deleted all files from my GPS unit losing this map. This is someone else's file.

1 comment:

Ben Kilpatrick said...

What fantastic country side!

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