New Zealand, Part 1

Day < 1: In which Halloween disappears
I won’t waste many words on the 20+ hours of travel that took us from Boston to Queenstown.  I will say that Qantas takes good care of its passengers on an 11-hour flight, with several meals and snacks, great movie selection, and video-game consoles for everyone.  Also, due to the vagaries of the International Date Line, we experienced only a couple of hours of Halloween.  The calendar pretty much flipped straight from October 30 to November 1 as we crossed the Pacific.

1 November: In which we overcome jet-lag with little difficulty
Our first good view of the New Zealand landscape came as our plane descended into the Queenstown airport, passing over green sheep pastures between ranges of low mountains.   A shuttle took us to Queenstown proper.

Queenstown is often touted as “The Adventure Capital of the World.”  While its location is stunningly gorgeous, nestled among hills and on the shore of a beautiful lake, the town itself has become devoured by its own tourist offerings.  The downtown blocks are cramped with outfitters promising all levels of adrenaline: jet-boat trips, white-water rafting, sky-diving, strange rocket-like devices that would shoot you across canyons, and ubiquitous bungie-jumping opportunities.   Standing on the sidewalks with our enormous backpacks, we were perfectly camouflaged.

A second shuttle took us from Queenstown to Te Anau, our first real destination.  The van was driven by an extraordinarily nice and talkative man named Steve who served as both chauffeur and tour-guide.  We shared the van with an Australian man who, upon learning we were American, started in on a flood of jovial bad-mouthing of the United States.  (“Hey, the bad thing about America is that everyone sues everyone else over every little thing.  And how about that war over oil?”)  Steve apologized for him after dropping him off, though it’s hard to argue that Americans aren’t a litigious lot.

In Te Anau we checked in at the YHA (our hostel) and had dinner at the Redcliffe Café, known for having hosted members of the Lord of the Rings cast during some of the filming.  Steve warned us that it was kind of an artsy-fartsy place with big plates and small portions, but the lure of sitting in a chair that once held up the butt of Viggo Mortensen, Elijah Wood et al. was too much.  Steve was pretty much right about the place, though the desserts were good.

View across Lake Te Anau

View across Lake Te Anau (click to enlarge)


2 November: In which we provision ourselves

This was a quiet day of preparation for the Milford Track.   In the morning we headed over to the Te Anau DOC (Department of Conservation) to pick up our hut passes for the upcoming trek.  While there we watched a private viewing of a narrated slide show demonstrating how powerful and omnipresent water has been in the shaping and evolution of New Zealand.   Oh, the foreshadowing.  We then went out for walk to the local wildlife center, which took us along the wooded shores of Lake Te Anau to a clearing where a number of rare birds (including mallard ducks and a Canada goose – how exotic!) were kept in large cages.

Back in town we bought supplies for the walk – largely bags of freeze-dried food that are light to carry and need only boiling water and time to become hearty meals.  We also picked up our rented sleeping bags and bought a small travel alarm.   Later that day we went walking along the lake in the other direction for a couple of hours, enduring a blasting wind but enjoying beautiful views*.   Toward late afternoon we went on tour of the Te Anau glow worm caves.

On one hand, the glow worm caves were a model of efficient tourist regurgitation.    Our group was ushered to a small theater where we were shown a short film about Glow Worm dos and don’ts, and then whisked into the caves themselves for a foot- and boat-driven tour.  They kept us moving with practiced economy, allowing enough time to see the sights but without dawdling – after all, another group was coming up behind us.

On the other hand, it was pretty darned cool.   Even without the glow worms it would have been worth most of the admission price, as we ventured into fissures carved out by a swift underground river.  The raw power of the rushing water was overwhelming in places, and always the din of it could be heard, sometimes faint and sometimes deafening.   And the glow worms themselves, dotting the walls and ceilings of various caves and chambers, were like constellations of tiny stars in a dark, damp galaxy.  Near the end we rode flat boats into a small, peaceful cavern, and were left to stare upward at hundreds of bright points overhead.

That evening, with our legs stretched out and our packs ready for travel, we considered ourselves fully prepared for the Milford Track.  We were mostly right.

* Trust me:  you’re going to be sick of the phrase “beautiful views” before this account is even half over.

3 November: In which we learn the meaning of rain
We woke early and made ourselves an omelet breakfast in the YHA kitchen.

(For those who aren’t familiar which such things: hostels (called “backpackers” in New Zealand) are cheap, comfortable accommodations that provide kitchens stocked with pots and pans and gas stoves and such. Guests cook their own food and clean up their own messes. Many of them (the hostels, not the guests) also have pay-for-use Internet connections, TV’s with small video libraries, and coin-op laundry machines. While most of the rooms are multi-person bunkrooms, Kate and I typically sprang for more expensive private rooms. Still, a typical night’s lodging cost us about $25-30 American for the two of us.)

We bought some emergency iodine tablets in town (in case our water filter malfunctioned), stopped into an Internet Café to send some e-mail back home, and dropped off some non-essentials in a storage room at the YHA (so we wouldn’t have to lug stuff like our Lonely Planet guides with us on the hike.) Then we hauled our (still 35-40 lb.) packs to the DOC where a bus waited to take us to the start of the Milford Track. By coincidence the bus was driven by the same Steve as before, to the wharf at Te Anau downs. This particular bus carried about a dozen walkers who would be hiking along with us.

The rain picked up while we drove, and by the time we arrived and dashed from bus to boat it was coming down fairly hard. While many of the independent walkers endured the boat ride standing up in the drafty tarp-covered stern of the ship, Kate and I slipped into the warm area near the bow and sat on padded benches with a 40-person group of Japanese tourists. (In hindsight we probably weren’t supposed to do that. We soon learned that the Japanese tourists had paid exorbitantly for the “luxury tour” version of the Milford Track, and that getting to sit in the warm part of the boat was part of the package.) Oops.

After about 45 minutes the boat landed at Glade Wharf and we all piled out into the downpour. We hastily put on our waterproof pack-liners and set off into the woods.

Kate and Dorian at the start of the Milford Track

Kate and Dorian at the start of the Milford Track

This short first day (only about 90 minutes of walking) took us along a flat, perfectly groomed gravel trail through some extremely shaggy and moss-covered woods. Around us were the thirty-six other independent hikers, as well as the forty or so guided tourists. The latter were colorfully dressed in bright ponchos, with small red backpacks and garish umbrellas. After about forty-five minutes of walking we emerged briefly from the woods and saw a large well-lighted cabin in front of us. This was Glade Hut, a comfortable lodging with electricity, private rooms, hot prepared meals and showers.

In other words, it was nothing like where we were staying.

Glade House approach

The guided walkers, with their umbrellas and light packs, head toward their luxury accommodations at Glade House.

After leaving the Japanese tourists behind at Glade Hut, we walked for another forty-five minutes, crossing our first swing bridge and plunging back into the woods. The rain kept its steady pace the whole time, stopping only to give way to a burst of hail. The trail, well-maintained though it was, filled with puddles. We were treated to more of the lush forest, with amazing views of a river that paralleled the track, misty multi-layered hills and huge carpets of moss on the forest floor.

Milford Track rainforest

Most of what we walked through in the first day looked like this.

Finally we arrived in the still-pouring rain at the Clinton Hut, a modest facility composed of three large buildings and a separate one for bathroom facilities. Of the three main structures, two were large bunkrooms and the third was a commons/kitchen with gas stoves and dining tables. We hung our sopping outer layers on pegs outside (under awnings), found bunks for ourselves, and headed to the commons for dinner. On the menu that night was a freeze-dried veggies-and-lamb dish with mashed potatoes. (Cooking instructions: 1. Boil some water. 2. Pour boiling water in with the food. 3. Wait for it to become to cool enough to eat.) We had gorp and Cadbury bar for dessert.

Over dinner we got to chatting with some others of our fellow trampers – one of whom, Hilary, was from Belmont, the next town over from us back in Watertown! We also met Mark (originally from London, now living in L.A.), Jen from Australia, Tal from Israel, and Leslie from Alaska. They all had two things in common: they were extremely nice and sociable, and they were in better shape than we were.

Clinton Hut

View of Clinton Hut on the evening of our arrival.

4 November: In which the fates are kind
We awoke the next morning to a most unexpected sound: silence. There was no sound of rain falling on the roof of our bunkroom! Kate woke earlier than I, grabbed the camera, and walked out onto an icy wooden helicopter pad to admire the views. She took some of the most beautiful photos of the trip from that spot, with a low sun illuminating a fading mist on the forested hills.

View from Clinton Hut

View from Clinton Hut

View from Clinton Hut

View from Clinton Hut

Breakfast was disappointing. The instant oatmeal was fine, but the dehydrated blueberries and kiwifruits didn’t live up to the lofty expectations raised by the mouth-watering picture on the front of the bag. Kate made use of her “coffee paste,” which was a sort of coffee/sugar/cream substance squeezed from a toothpaste tube and mixed with hot water. I passed.

We were among the first to set out on the second day’s walk; others were still milling about, eating and packing up while we headed toward the distant Mintaro Hut. It wasn’t long, of course, before we were passed by just about every other independent walker, but it was a good day to go slow and absorb the spectacle. The sun was bright and unhindered, but the recent rains had made sure the waterfalls were in good working order. And, oh, the waterfalls! We saw dozens of waterfalls that day, and we’re not talking small woodsy stream-over-rocks type falls. These were hundreds-of-feet-high, mountain-top-to-valley-floor, straight-out-of-Lord-of-the-Rings waterfalls. During the parts of the walk that took us through a wide mountain valley, the falls became so regular that they ran a slight risk of seeming commonplace. We saw several types of birds, including a paradise duck, a weka, and a kea. This last bird, about which knew little at the time, looks like a large red-brown hawk. We spotted one on the track ahead just as we were emerging into the above-mentioned valley. We stopped, not wanting to scare it off, and I quietly fished out my camera.

As I was setting up my shot a ranger came down the path in the opposite direction, seemingly ignorant of the bird in her path. She must have passed within three feet of the bird, and the creature hardly seemed to notice! Emboldened by this, I walked right up to the kea and took its picture from nearly point-blank range. In hindsight, I’m lucky it didn’t try to eat my camera.

(The kea, it turns out, is a huge pest in this part of New Zealand. They’re like feathered raccoons. If you don’t watch them they’ll eat your pack, eat your boots, eat your jacket, eat pretty much anything they can get their greedy little beaks on. Many doors in the area sported signs featuring a kea in a bar sinister, warning that if you’re foolish enough to leave the door open, anything inside is liable to get torn to shreds.)

Jen, Mark, Leslie and Kate

Jen, Mark, Leslie and Kate

For another couple of hours we hiked along the valley floor, gazing in wonder upon the waterfalls that cascaded down the mountainsides. Every few minutes I’d stop, look around, and declare the particular spot on which I stood to be “the most beautiful place in the world.” Not once did I intend it as hyperbole. It turned out that the actual “most beautiful place in the world” was at the base of one of the waterfalls, which crashed down into a small pool. We sat on a rock by the edge of the pool and ate our lunch.

A good spot for lunch

A good spot for lunch

Typical view on day two of the hike

Typical view on day two of the hike

Toward the far end of the valley the path started to lead us in and out of woods, and then past the Pamplona Hut. Like the Glade Hut from the previous day, this was where the Japanese tourists were staying. We stopped to chat with an employee at the hut, who described in excruciating detail the three course meals that started with salmon and ended with ice-cream and chocolate sauce. And the full bar. And the en-suite rooms set aside for honeymooners. We caught a glimpse of well-set tables in the dining room, but that’s as close as we got.

The remaining approach to our more humble lodging took us through a long avalanche site. It’s a sobering thing, walking over the aftermath of an avalanche. It’s easy to see why people caught in them don’t survive, and I’m not talking about being just buried in some snow and ice. The avalanche debris consisted of mountains of ice-crusted mud, caked around dozens of uprooted trees and boulders the size of Volkswagens. The mountainside above the avalanche was stripped bare, as every feature once on the slope now rested in a Brobdingnagian heap at its base.

No place for a picnic

No place for a picnic

We hurriedly picked our way over the debris, since there were signs indicating that we shouldn’t stop until we saw the next sign indicating a “safe zone.” (Some of these stretches were quite long.) After clearing the avalanche area we made slow progress until arriving at our hut. We had some trouble finding bunks there, since a) there were only as many bunks as people, and b) some of our fellow walkers, a few of whom spoke little or no English, had piled up their possessions on two bunks and then gone to the commons. But we got that sorted out eventually, and were about ready to settle in for the rest of the late afternoon and evening. But word was spreading that the view from the saddle of MacKinnon Pass was particularly good, and that tomorrow it would be clouded over in the expected rain. Climbing up to MacKinnon Pass was ordinarily the first thing one did on the next day of the walk, and we were pretty tired by that time, but it was only an hour more to the top of the pass, and Mark convinced me to go with him. So without really thinking about it, and leaving Kate behind (who was exhausted, thirsty, and seemingly more sensible), I followed Mark onto the upward trail, along with Leslie, Jen and Tal. (When I say “without really thinking about it,” what I mean is “without taking any water,” since while we all figured we could leave our heavy packs behind for the quick up-and-back, I alone neglected to grab my water bottle.)

Let me say this about Mark straight up here: he was in crazy good shape. I’m sure he didn’t think anything of the pace he set as we left, but I pretty much had to jog to keep up, and after a few minutes he had left me (and some of the others) behind. Even so, it was liberating to hike up the switchbacks without a pack on, and I was able to mooch water from Jen and Leslie. Up and up we went, and all was well… and then we saw the detour sign. The switchback path was roped off, and we could see avalanche damage beyond the cordon. The sign itself had an arrow indicating that the new way to go was essentially straight up the mountainside.

The slope was steep enough that it would have been a difficult scramble, not even counting the slick, muddy terrain. Someone had thoughtfully tied a rope to a tree, high up and out of sight – it snaked down out of the shadows of the trees above. There was no way to tell how long the “detour” lasted, but there was also no other choice, so I grabbed onto the rope (itself fairly slick) and hoisted myself up. Between the rope, the muddy indented footprints of previous hikers, and some well-placed trees, I managed to make a slow ascent up the mountainside. There was much slipping in the mud, and several desperate lunges at the next branch, but it was only about fifty feet up to where the path picked up again. I gulped at the thought of coming back down, or worse, climbing the next day with a full pack on, but for now it was a final dash up to the pass.

About five minutes after the muddy scramble the path became dotted with clumps of snow, and by another ten minutes it was all snow and ice, with the trail marked mostly by other hikers’ footprints. Half an hour later I stood shivering at the top, looking down upon a beautiful (and well-earned) view of the valley on the far side. Figuring that Kate was making dinner back at the hut I stayed for only a few minutes before starting back down, but five minutes into the descent I saw my lovely wife trudging up through the snow! It turns out that after half an hour of rest she felt well enough to follow us up. Kate bribed me with some chocolate bar to accompany her to the top (unnecessary, but I didn’t refuse the chocolate), and it was well worth it. As we gazed upon the wide vista below, a rainbow formed in the mist, arcing downward and out of sight.

View from MacKinnon Pass

View from MacKinnon Pass

Rainbow over MacKinnon

Rainbow over MacKinnon

Here are a few more pictures from this, my favorite day of the trip:

Looking back from the top of MacKinnon Pass

Looking back from the top of MacKinnon Pass

Milford Track, day 2

Milford Track, day 2

Milford Track, day 2

Milford Track, day 2

In which I obscure an otherwise picturesque shot

In which I obscure an otherwise picturesque shot

5 November: In which (path == stream) for some definitions of path.
Our respite from the rain was over; we could hear the sound of it hammering on the roof of the hut as we woke. Kate had the idea of squeezing some of her coffee paste into our morning oatmeal along with some fruit. Thus fortified and caffeinated we joined Jen in our trek back up the mountain to MacKinnon Pass. It was harder and slower with the packs, though the muddy detour actually proved easier this time around. There were more footprints than before, and the extra weight made it harder to slip.

At the top of the pass we took a mean satisfaction that the view was now entirely obscured by clouds. It was cold and wet, and there was a small shelter up there somewhere, so after a few photos we trudged on until we reached Pass Hut. This was basically a concrete room, but it felt warm and comfortable after the chilly rain and strong wind outside. We ate cheese-and-sausage sandwiches, and steam flowed from the heads and bodies of everyone around us.

Descent from MacKinnon Pass

Descent from MacKinnon Pass

After a few minutes it was no longer so warm and comfy (it being, as I said, a concrete room), so we started our descent from MacKinnon Pass along a series of waterlogged switchbacks. In many places strong streams, fueled by the rains, crossed the path. Elsewhere the stream literally was the path. As we were above tree-line, we were directly exposed to the wind, rain, and (occasionally) hail. Ouch! It was still well worth it for the gorgeous views across the opposite valley, with exotic vegetation and ubiquitous waterfalls. (Among the former were humongous mountain buttercups, ferns so large they’re called “tree ferns,” and the largest fuchsia trees in the world. Amazing what an inch of rain every day of the year will do for the local flora.)

Mountain buttercup

Mountain buttercup

Below the tree-line we descended a series of man-made stairways and bridges, that crossed and re-crossed a raging river resplendent with crashing falls. With our boots filled up to the ankles we reached the intermediate Quinton Hut, dropped our packs, and joined Hilary for a forty minute detour to see the nearby Sutherland Falls. The path to the falls was eventually indistinguishable from a mid-sized stream, but our boots were already so drenched it hardly mattered. Sutherland Falls, 580 meters high, was awesome. Wind and spray blasted outward from its bottom, where the waters smashed endlessly into the ground. It was evidently possible (and some of our fellow hikers managed it) to lean into the spray and force passage to a spot behind the falls, but we lacked the fortitude. (My reasonable excuse was that my glasses became opaque still a hundred feet from the target.)

The "path" to Sutherland Falls

The “path” to Sutherland Falls

Sutherland Falls itself

Sutherland Falls itself

Back at Quinton Hut we ate more meat and cheese, hoisted our packs, and walked the final hour to Dumpling Hut. Once again path and stream became synonymous. We were treated to a series of jaw-dropping waterfalls (they never got old) that came barreling down the steep slope to our right, en route to a swift river on our left. Alas that the heavy rains prevented me from taking pictures – as it was, I feared my photography of Sutherland Falls had left my camera permanently damaged. The final ten minutes of the day’s walk involved another avalanche detour, through knee-deep mud that left us wondering with each step if our boots would emerge along with our feet. Finally we arrived at the Hut, stripped off our soaked outer layers, and set our boots to drying by a wood stove. We dined on reconstituted lamb fettuccine and apple crumble.

Drying Boots at Dumpling Hut

Drying Boots at Dumpling Hut

(Kate writes this note in our journal: “Forgot rain pants at first night’s hut. Soggy underwear. Blech!”)

6 November: In which, through no fault of my own, I nearly give a complete stranger a heart attack.
We awoke to yet more rain, and some seriously sore muscles. Worse, Kate had a stomach bug and couldn’t keep down her breakfast. By 8:45 we were on the trail again, setting out on the final day of the Milford Track.

Kate. Moss.

Kate. Moss.

The trail was mostly level, and under most circumstances would have been an easy walk, but I was weak and sore, and Kate kept getting sick along the side of the trail. Have I mentioned how much stronger my wife is than I am? Despite her illness, she was the one who forged ahead while I stumbled slowly along behind. We clambered over the remains of another avalanche, and arrived at a shelter where we handed out the rest of our chocolate bars to our friends. (The shelter did have an indoor room that was warm and dry and had hot cocoa. We weren’t allowed in it, of course – that was the prerogative of the luxury walkers. We stood outside beneath an aluminum awning.) Beyond that shelter were more waterfalls, one of which we stopped to admire from an observation platform.

One of many

One of many

We crossed more streams and swing-bridges, were routed around another avalanche through some deep mud, and climbed a narrow ledge with a rising hill on one side and a drop down into a distant pond on the other. All the while Kate was getting sick on a regular basis, and I thought my legs would fall off, but that didn’t stop us from admiring the scenery. We saw even more enormous fuchsia trees (forty feet high, we estimated), gargantuan redwoodesque beech trees, and veritable forests of tree-ferns.

At last we arrived at Sandfly Point, where we waited around for a ferry to take us back to Milford. The luxury hikers lounged in a hut with a fire and hot tea, while we got the concrete-room treatment, though one of our fellow hikers had a stove going and made tea for Kate. Eventually the ferry arrived and we stuffed ourselves onto it with the Japanese tourists. Once off the boat we called the Milford Sound Lodge, (where we had booked our room for the night ) to arrange a pickup, and before you could say “just amputate my legs; it’ll be better that way” we were driven to a lovely paradise with a laundry, hot showers, delicious home-made pizza, and French fries. It was absolute bliss. We dumped our stuff out in our room, spread some of it out near the heater to dry, and spent the rest of the evening chatting with Mark and Jen in the Lodge’s comfy commons. Outside the rain and wind worsened, becoming a terrible, roof-rattling storm as the hours passed, but inside we enjoyed cheery warmth and good company until it was time for bed.

That would have been a good place to end the day’s narrative, but this entry gets an unusual postscript. While eating our dinner with Mark and Jen (also staying at the Lodge), and taking notes in our journal, I jokingly asked Mark to do something interesting that I could write down. And while Mark didn’t oblige, I was soon taught a lesson in the “be careful what you wish for” category.

Sometime around ten o’clock we sauntered back to our room. I put in the key, unlocked the door, walked in… and a late-middle-aged Japanese man in his pajamas leapt to his feet from our bed, where he had been sitting with his wife. He had a shocked expression on his face that one would expect from a person whose room had just been broken into. I’m sure I appeared similarly.

Time slowed down. My brain raced. Had I gone into the wrong room? No, this was the right place, and besides, my key had certainly worked. And look, there was our stuff, still all over the floor at one end of the room, right as we had left it. The man and I stared at each other for a long moment, and then we both started to babble at each other in different languages. I motioned to all of our belongings, which they must have noticed when they took up residence, but that didn’t seem to matter to the man. Eventually through a combination of sign language and his halting English, we agreed to walk together to the front desk to find out what was going on.

The explanation was simple enough. The worker who had assigned us to our room hours before had forgotten to write down that fact in his official log book. Another worker, thinking the room was open, had later assigned the room to the Japanese couple, giving them the spare key since he couldn’t find the main key. (Which made sense, since he hadn’t looked in my pocket.) Another Japanese tourist who spoke fluent English came along to help translate, and things were soon worked out. The Japanese couple was moved out to another room while the friendly staff of the Lodge showered all of us with apologies.

7 November: In which we are cut off.
We had scheduled a kayaking trip in Milford Sound that morning, but when we woke we could hear the storm still raging outside. A rep from the outfitter came to the Lodge and confirmed that all kayaking was cancelled for that day, so we went back to sleep. (I considered this something of a blessing, since my legs still ached and I was coming down with a nasty cold.) It was closer to noon when we got up for real, and enjoyed waffles and hot chocolate with Mark and Jen in the lounge.

Mark and Jen

Mark and Jen

It was here we learned that the storm had effectively cut off Milford (pop. 624) from the outside world. There was only one road in and out of the town, and it had been blocked by an avalanche knocked loose by the violent winds. The phones were out as well. Fortunately we had built some extra days into our itinerary, and our next scheduled activity wasn’t until the 9th. The four of us hung out in the commons most of the afternoon, occasionally getting up to run the rest of our clothes through the laundry.

The storm let up for a moment in the mid afternoon, luring the four of us out for a walk. We headed into town, which consisted of a (closed) café, a (closed) pub, a small airstrip, a petrol station, and a large RealJourneys office. (RealJourneys is a tourist center that runs excursions and sightseeing trips in Fiordland National Park and Queenstown.) The RealJourneys office was mostly empty, as the phones were still out and the road still closed. One of the skeleton crew on hand told us there’d likely be a bus out the next morning, assuming they cleared away the avalanche by then.

We walked back to the Milford Sound Lodge through resurgent wind and hail, where we ate a pasta bowl with fries and played two games of Cluedo with Jen and Mark before bed. (Jen won the first game, and Kate won the second.)

There were no surprise strangers in our room that night, which was a definite plus.

8 November: In which we cruise the Sound.
The roads were clear, the phones were in order, and a warmish sun rose into a blue sky. We grabbed our belongings and headed to the wharf for the 9:00 bus, but on arrival decided to buy tickets for the 3:00 P.M. bus instead, giving us a chance to book a short cruise around the Sound. (Milford Sound is legendarily beautiful, and our cancelled day kayaking was going to be our chance to see it.) We boarded a mariner (again with Mark and Jen, who had the same idea) for a “nature cruise” and spent the morning observing sea lions, waterfalls and rare Fiordland crested penguins. I had a rotten cold, but it didn’t stop me from taking a zillion pictures from the deck of the ship. Here they are.

(click to enlarge)

At 2:00 we called ahead to the owner of our next lodging: a man named Evan who runs a guest house called “Scallywags” in Queenstown. Evan was curt on the phone, and signed off with an admonition not to call during the rugby

(Rugby in New Zealand is as popular as baseball and football are combined here in the States. The NZ national team, the All Blacks (named for the black uniforms, I assume), is insanely popular. We had the good fortune to be in the country during the Rugby World Cup, with the All Blacks a favorite for the title. Tonight they were playing South Africa in the quarterfinals.)

Our bus from Milford to Queenstown via Te Anau had a sloped glass roof so that passengers could better admire the lovely views. In Te Anau we returned our rented sleeping bags, picked up our gear we had left behind at the YHA, and bought some cold medicine. The bus driver claimed to know where Scallywags was, and once in Queenstown he dropped us off at the bottom of a hill and pointed up and around a bend. We thanked him, and he drove away.

Alas, around that bend was not Scallywags, or anything like it. We fished out a street map and managed to locate both ourselves and our destination, thus making the sad discovery that nearly the whole of Queenstown stood between the two. Queenstown is laid out like a large bowl, with the main tourist thoroughfares on the bottom and residential areas on the sides. With binoculars we probably could have looked out across the bowl — we were high up on one side – and seen Scallywags way on the far side. Sigh.

There was nothing else for it but to start the long walk (we guessed it would take about an hour) across Queenstown, so we hoisted our heavy packs and tramped down the hill. At least this afforded us a good opportunity to buy groceries; we picked up meat pies, pasta, and some instant mashed potatoes to make once we reached Scallywags. As luck would have it we picked a route through the heart of town that took us directly past the RealJourneys office, so we stopped in and explained what had happened. The folks there were very apologetic and paid for a cab ride that took us the rest of the way. It was a darned good thing, too, because Evan might not have let us in had we arrived during the game.

After dinner we settled in with our host to watch the rugby match in his living room. New Zealand had a pretty easy time of it, beating the South African team (the “Springboks”) 29-9, and it shouldn’t have even been that close. The only really exciting thing that happened during the match was that the phone rang in the middle of it. I thought Evan was going to blow a gasket. He glared at the phone on the first ring as if daring it to try it again. When he finally picked it up, instead of saying “hello,” or “Scallywags Guest House,” he shouted “the rugby!” in a tone so aggrieved I nearly lost it.

He was a little weird and uptight, but his place was nice, and the view was pretty cool.

View from Scallywags Guest House

View from Scallywags Guest House

On to Day 2==>

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