Thursday, May 1, 2008


Hokitika to Arthur’s Pass - The last day
We returned to the Café de Paris for breakfast today. They have great coffee and crepes that were stacked with apple slices and bacon between. They don’t use the maple syrup that we use but a Golden Syrup which is much lighter and less sweet. Yum, two cups of the most frothy cappuccino I’ve ever had and I was flying.

The morning’s ride was on a country road by a lake. There was very little traffic but many curves, and although the description was “undulating” - we felt that it was more “undulating up”. I felt cheated on the downhills, which seemed altogether way too short, given the amount of time needed to go up them.

Along the way we passed abandoned machinery - a boiler, cog wheel, and pistons that were left over from the gold mining days that the area was known for. Great excuse to stop for a water slurp and a sugar fix while admiring the plants growing out of the boiler. Picture time! (Every picture means I can stop to breathe deep, drink water, and give my thighs a chance to relax. Let’s see --- I have about 1,000 pictures. )

With some reluctance our ride ended and we headed off to lunch at an old time saloon with a great view of the mountains from the front porch. Even though it was a little cool, we sat outside and munched on whitebait sandwiches and soup. Whitebait is a little tiny fish that is scooped out of the sea in a net and mixed with an egg batter and sautéed like a pancake. It’s served on white bread and is rather bland. Could be an acquired taste.

Soon we were off in the van, headed to Arthur’s Pass and the Trans Alpine Train. The road made steep sharp turns as it climbed up and up. We were incredulous that Brooke was actually riding this road, which was very, very narrow with little or no shoulder. A car going too fast around one of those hairpin turns would take him out. Up over the pass we went and then down to the other side and the little town of Arthur’s Pass. There we spotted Brooke outside a cafe, just finishing lunch and looking fresh as a daisy in spite of the grueling ride. (Must be those thunder thighs.) He was suffering from post-ride high, that temporary euphoria one gets from an adrenaline infused rush of energy that gives you the final boost you need to make it to the top and then free-ride down the other side at speeds upwards of 70kph. His eyes were wide open as he described the ride, one of the best he’d ever experienced. (Caution: Don’t try this at home. This ride is for experienced professionals only. Consult your local bike tour guide for professional advice.)

The Trans Alpine Train is a scenic journey through the heart of the South Island, starting in Greymouth and ending in Christchurch, a four hour ride. Arthur’s Pass is midway in the route, but the views from the train were nonstop panoramas, first of mountains, snow, tunnels, and gorges and then leaving that behind to traverse the plains dotted with sheep and cows. Even though the constant motion of the train was soporific and we were all a bit tired, we chattered the entire way to Christchurch (no doubt to the annoyance of the other passengers who were all very quiet). The train has a “viewing platform”, basically an empty car with no windows where you can stand and take pictures. The wind rushes by making it very cold and very noisy. And there didn’t seem to be any shock absorbers on that car, so just maintaining balance was a real trick. Taking pictures? Ha! Just try to focus on a target moving at 100kph while you’re bouncing up and down. And yet the car was full of us crazies trying to immortalize the fleeting view as we jockeyed for position. Honestly, paparazzi to the mountains!

If taking pictures in the freezing air isn’t your thing, there is a bar car serving light fare, beer, wine and bubbly. And although you could pass the time reading or playing cards (there are booths in some of the cars), you will end up distracted by the scenery outside. On our trip, there was a gorgeous sunset and an almost full moon to mark the end of a challenging adventure that forged thighs of steel and relationships and memories to last a lifetime.

We pulled into Christchurch where we were met by Tim, the operations guru, who handed me a DHL envelope containing the needed proof of my existence. Behind the scenes, Tim had been corresponding with my husband to receive the courier package I needed to get a new passport in Auckland. I was instantly relieved but at the same time wary. If something were to happen to this envelope’s contents (my birth certificate, prior passport, photocopy of another passport and much needed money) I might not only truly be without a country, but I may cease to exist as well! From that moment on it never left me. I even slept with it under my pillow at the X Base Hostel in Christchurch, which was crowded for the Anzac weekend holiday.

Once I checked in at X Base I headed out to dinner with a young attorney from Sydney, Katie. From her I learned that all of the new hires at her firm work for about 6 months and then leave for about 6 months for an overseas experience (O/E) of their choosing. Some go to the firms overseas branches to work, others just travel overseas, but they all go back to the firm having had a travel experience. Brilliant idea! They bring back new perspectives, a more mature outlook and a less restless demeanor. This is a very common pathway in Europe and Australasia I have found from talking to so many recent graduates.

Of course we also talked about girl stuff. She was going to visit an old school chum who was engaged to a guy that she didn’t like and thought was manipulative. We explored all the possibilities of that relationship and the visit, and an entire soap opera unfolded before me. I admit I was hooked. I wanted to hear how the story ended and whether the girl married the guy in the end. Katie? Are you listening? What happened? I like happy endings!

And Now A Word From Our Sponsors………..
This is the commercial where I’m going to tell you about these various tour companies so you can book your own unforgettable adventure.

Ultimate Hikes New Zealand
Guided hikes of the Milford Track or the Routeburn Track
Phone: +64 3-442-8200

Adventure South Ltd.
Guided hiking or biking tours of New Zealand or Viet Nam
Phone: +64 3-942-1222

And Brooke and Pam also have their own tour company in Colorado
Dream Cycle Tours
Phone: 719-473-3110

But don’t go away………..Mrs. Q isn’t home yet and there are more adventures to come.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

FRIDAY, APRIL 18, 2008

Franz Josef to Hokitika - A long ride to get to tea -36km
The morning ride was supposed to start off at 8:15, so as to arrive at Hokitika earlier than we had been arriving. We were all ready - but apparently the weather didn’t get the word because it started showering about the time we wanted to leave. Our original schedule called for us leaving at 9am and sure enough, we pulled out at 9. So much for trying for an early start.

One of our guides, Rachel, was going off that afternoon to ride in a race of 100kms. It was supposed to be a fun ride with everybody dressed up like Halloween. We convinced Rachel that since she wasn’t going to be finishing the tour with us, then she should at least ride the mornings ride in her costume - a pink fairy. True to her word, we pulled out of town with Rachel cum Fairy and as we turned the corner out of town, an older couple on the corner just stared at Rachel as if they’d seen a ghost. It was hilarious. Unfortunately she changed due to rain and transformed back to a regular guide.

The morning ride of 36km took us through a beech forest and along side Lake Mapourika and Okarita lagoon, with some sporadic rain. The road “undulated” along until we ended up in Whataroa at the Kotuku gallery for morning tea and a chance to warm up. The gallery was owned by a Maori individual we does carving in Jade himself and contracts with others. His work was beautiful - delicate bone combs, large jade symbols and mammoth bones carved with Maori faces. It was fun to look around and I saw a “rock” I really liked, but not at $1,500NZ. It was very upright with one face highly polished and the other side au naturel. Very contemporary.

The Aussies and I skipped the middle ride -17km to Hari Hari after looking at the large uphill it involved. I was saving my strength for the later ride which was on an unpaved road along Lake Kaniere. It was scenic and shaded. We stopped for a group photo using a timer at Dorothy Falls and took turns posing in front of the falls for pics. I’m telling you - at our age, men and women don’t belong in tights and Lycra shorts. I just don’t feel dressed in public like that.

Dinner that night at the Café De Paris seemed strange without Rachel who left us for the following day’s race.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Haast to Fox Glacier - About 60Km - BEFORE Lunch
Yeah, that’s right. We skipped the biggest hills and let Brooke do them for us, but we still had our share. We also squeezed in a nature hike at Ship Point where Alison explained a lot of the local flora and fauna. I went down to the beach at the Tasman Sea to rinse my hands in the ocean, but ended up in water up to my calves. Unintentional, but refreshing nonetheless. Afterwards we drove to tea further up the coast.

From there we cycled 49K over gently rolling hills past pastures full of cows and over creeks such as Quad, Windbag, Kia, Kiwi, Hostel and many many others. Because the Aussie couple headed out first we all thought they were in front and when the Coloradans passed me, Rachel stayed behind to make sure I made it there. Though I had my doubts, Rachel kept encouraging me, giving me the updated Km left to go regularly. At one point she had a jelly type candy that runners use to get instant energy on the run, called Shock Blocks, and I wolfed it down and a granola bar with water. I would have sworn she had a little motor in her pannier - I’m huffing and puffing and there’s Rachel whistling to the birds calm as can be. It was brutal, my arms almost died, I need to find blister pads for my butt and I’m thinking of drastic measures - stealing the hotel pillow to cushion my poor posterior!! At the end of that ride was lunch at a very very picturesque beach, Bruce Bay. Lovely as it was, all I could do was crawl into the van, lay flat, and breath deep and slow. All this time I’d been trying to catch up to the Aussie couple, and here they had gone off the road and stopped for a tipple at the local fish farm. We were all tying to catch up to them and were very impressed at their speed. Little did we know that they were well behind us. After much encouragement to eat something, I made a plate of the lovely salads that Alison had prepared and bolted back to the van.

Unfortunately, we weren’t the only ones enjoying the beach. Sandflies, which like to come out just before storms, were swarming everywhere. Sandflies bite like mosquitoes and the itch lasts longer, driving you crazy if you are unfortunate enough to be bitten. Usually a bit of breeze keeps them away, but it looked like rain was in our near future.

Not being a glutton for punishment, the Aussies and I rode the rest of the day in the van while Brooke and Pam rode on. We all finally reached Fox Glacier around 5PM.

Dinner was at Cook Saddle Café & Saloon, a local pub with old time photos and artifacts of the gold mining days. Can you decipher this sign that was on the wall?



Fox Glacier to Franz Josef
Water- Liquid and Solid
The weather had been iffy the day before and we were afraid that it would be cloudy in the morning, but true to our luck it was clear. We arose very early and drove to Lake Matheson, otherwise known as Mirror Lake. We were just early enough to see the mist rising and the sun shining on the lake, casting a mirror image on the water’s umber smooth surface. We walked around the lake, which has a hospitable path and platforms at key spots for viewing the mirror images. When we got to the most well know viewing platform there were already several photographers there, so we all jockeyed for position on the small platform then hurried on to the next event. Breakfast!

Most days we had continental breakfast in our rooms - cereal, toast, coffee, juice and most days yogurt. Believe me, if you don’t eat it all, you will be hungry and weak after the first 10ks and dipping into your stash of granola bars and “lollies”, a sort of Juicy Fruit. Sugar seems to be the drug of choice for serious bikers. And keeping sugar levels stable over long periods is the way they conquer mountains.

This hotel also had the best Internet connection - $5 for as long as you want. I could send email the night before, go to bed, and get the answer the very next morning when it was evening stateside. I furiously typed away, getting the answers I needed for acquiring a new passport. The good news: I could indeed get one, as proof of my existence could be couriered down to me relatively easily. The bad news: actually getting the passport could take up to a week. Grrrrr,…….I begged my new Auckland friends, Don and Jude to take me in and fortunately they agreed. Whew….at least the Girl Without a Country would have safe harbor from the storm. Hooray! So now as long as my documents arrive in Christchurch before Sunday, when I fly back north to Auckland, I’ll be somewhat set. No worries, mate - at least not at the moment.

Off to the next event. The town of Fox Glacier has……….a glacier. And of course an optional tour to allow us tourists the opportunity to experience it. We donned hiking boots, heavy wool socks, woollies, jumpers (sweaters) and gloves and hiked up the hillside - approx. 400 steps - to the face of the glacier. As we climbed the stairs you could see people walking on the glacier, but they were so far away they just looked like specks on the blue/grey surface. The walk was so steep, we lost a few in our tour group, either to fear of heights or inability to climb. Once we were ready to go onto the ice we put on crampons to grip the slippery surface. Our guide was a former Sherpa in Nepal and he was full of insights into hiking and the glacier. He carried a pick ax, which he used to chip away some of the ice on the ice stairs to make the surface easier for us to grip. We learned that the guides take turns spending the day grooming and cutting away at the ice stairs used as paths. They do it with the pick axes. Just imagine spending 8 hours a day chipping away at ice on a slippery, irregular surface in 30-40 degree weather. No desk, no coffee, and worse yet - where’s the bathroom? The nearest one is a 10 minute bus ride away, after climbing back down the mountain for half an hour. And if they miss a day of grooming, the ice paths will disappear.

One misstep and you could slide into a crevasse. The guides must pass a test whereby if someone falls into one of these cracks they have to unload their backpacks, drop lines down the crevasse to you and haul you back up within one half hour. Our guide said he hadn’t been able to pass it yet. I’m extra careful where I step. No crevasses for me.

We hiked past holes in the surface where glacial water pooled and then to a spot where there was a deep pit, about 12’ down, the size of a room. We scrambled down the ice stairs and looked around this marvelous room with a waterfall and deep sculptural cuts. On our way back to terra ferma we passed ice climbers as they picked their way to the top of a glacial wall. Apparently, the town of Franz Glacier has an indoor ice climbing wall. How cool would that be to try on a hot summer day?

Well, enough ice, we’ve got pavement to hit, and although it’s only 25k to Franz Josef, it isn’t flat! Not by a long shot. In fact the description of the ride is “Short but Grunty”

You can say that again! After all the hiking of the morning, the Aussies and I ride in the van to the top of the peaks in the road and cruise down hill to the next uphill, where we again catch a ride downhill. (We’re beginning to catch on the the downhill concept)

This was a really fun descent - fast and deep. But these roads are narrow and have hairpin turns so the risk of being bumped off the road is real. I was a little unnerved to know that there was a car on my tail following behind me as I wound on down the hill to a very sharp hairpin turn that led to a one lane bridge. At 40-50kph, one misstep can have you careening off the bike and into the mountainside. Ouch! Just at the point of the hairpin turn into the bridge the “car” passed me. It was an ambulance. No siren, just lights. Another thrilling day on the mountain.

By the time we ate dinner we were all already dreaming of bed, so dinner was somewhat of a blurr with painfully slow service. It happens.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Wanaka to Haast - A lot of Km
This day’s ride took us first to Lake Hawea via gradually climbing hills. We followed along Lake Hawea with it on our right, giving us something cool and calm to gaze at while our (ok - MINE) thighs burned. Morning tea with some great gingerbread and cookies was at the top of the lake, with the mountains as a backdrop. A folding lawn chair was an improvement over a saddle.

After tea commenced the afternoon’s punishing uphill ascent past an elk farm, water falls, and signs with falling rocks up to the Gates of Haast (personally, I think it should be the gates of hell). That’s one looong and steep hill. Many grannies. I’ll even admit to walking a bit. Alison, one of the guides, came by in the van at one point and said “You’ve not much further to go. It’s just up and around that wiggle and then just a little way further.” And I and the Aussie couple believed her. But when we got to the top of the next “wiggle” what did we find but another jog. Groan. Keep going. Get around that “wiggle” and then there’s Rachel with a camera and Alison half way down the jog cheering us on as if it’s a marathon. Gotta have a good finish you know, so the thighs be damned, I’m off. I’ve got to tell you that there’s no cool overlook, no stunning views and I wouldn’t have known I was there except that for a sign and Alison and Rachel telling, no promising, me that there wasn’t any more uphill. I guess that means you’re at the top. Photos all around.

And then we get to the good part. A really really steep and long down hill that curved and curved and gained more speed and then there was a runaway truck ramp (you know it’s fast when you see those) and another curve and then a really cute one lane bridge that you prayed no one was going to come through. And then we stopped for the photo ops that presented and then there was yet more downhill. Not like a rollercoaster where it’s done all to soon. And it didn’t stay as steep as the first part, but it definitely was still downhill a good 4Km. Alison picked us up at the bottom at a stop where there were stunning views of the mountains enshrouded in clouds with mist coming off a lake.

Further down the road, we stopped for a short walk in a rainforest area of Mount Aspiring National Park and then had lunch on the banks of the Landsborough River. A team of kayakers were just steaming by as we ate.

At the end of the day’s cycling we arrived at the hotel about 5PM, very tired. After a shower and cup of tea, we headed to dinner at a restaurant festooned with antlers draped over the rafters. As this is a seacoast town I ordered
the local fish, grilled. It had been panfried, but no matter - I just wanted to eat. It was still tasty. Alison took a lot of good-natured ribbing over the “last wiggle” and we all recounted the days events and the next day’s ride.

After that, all I wanted to do was go to bed.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Immediately after I checked in to the YHA I dropped my plastic bag and headed out the door to retrieve my suitcase and backpack, which had been stored at the other YHA in town which had more storage space. After I returned, I set about downloading my pictures onto the computer and preparing for another post to my blog. There is an internet café right next door here so that’s where I headed to inform the world that, yes indeed, I still existed. I returned to the YHA at about 9PM and went to my room where I stayed like a good little girl until morning.

This was supposed to be 3 days of R & R in preparation for the cycling tour, so I took advantage of my private ensuite room and slept in late. I was just preparing to go find a good cuppa when I thought I’d best bring with me my passport and other important stuff - like money! - that I had put in the plastic bag. (Don’t ask me why I put the money in the plastic bag,.I do do dumb things occasionally, but only when the negative consequences are really bad.) So I started to take things out of the bag, sure that it was all there somewhere…….. Somewhere……. Yes, it’s got to be there somewhere….. Ok, where is it? …. These things don’t just walk away. ….Right?…. Right?… Now I know I put it in here…. Ok, I’ll take everything out of the bag and sort through things one by one…. Ok, so it’s not here…. So I’ll take everything out of my suitcase and sort through it one by one. ..Not here. Ok I’ll take everything out of my backpack and look there. Oh God it’s not there, where can it be? Oh no, it’s not here, what has happened to it? Ok , let’s look once more. Ok, I’ll put everything out of the suitcase and put it back one by one. Ok, now the backpack. Now think…..when did you last see it? And so on and so on for 2 hours. Even the garbage was suspect.

When it became clear to me that it wasn’t here, and I didn’t want to think that it wasn’t, I decided I needed to go back to the tour company and see if anyone had found it and turned it in. Could it be on the bus? Could it be in the backpack? Or the small travel bag? The whole day was consumed with what ifs, could it, or is it possibles. But still no luck. I decided to take account of where I stood. I had approx. $NZ190 and one credit card. Making telephone calls cost $NZ5 per phone card. I used up 3 just trying to contact the American Consulate in NZ. I would call and get voice mail. That’s $2. Once, I got a real person and was in the middle of having her explain what I needed to do when………click. Time’s up. I called back after buying another phone card only to hear…..“Our offices are open………“ - obviously not now. That will be $3 please for that stellar information. My taxes at work. Grrrrr. That thought only served to increase my agitation.

Sigh, obviously this was a situation that I was not going to resolve on my own with phone cards so I headed to the internet café. First order of business, find out what the consulate needs to issue a passport. The connection was slow. The connection died. Won’t someone please help me? A geek came over and fiddled with the settings and, the part that always scares me, he writes code. On my computer. I hope I didn’t catch anything - like a virus. A minute later I’m connected again. Time is valuable here. I just can’t type fast enough. I can’t write what I find fast enough, and printing is $.30/pg. Next order of business, email home:


Do you think that was too subtle?

During all my back and forths to the tour operator I ran into one of my fellow hikers on her way to the beauty parlor. I explained what had happened and she said she’d stop by later. I didn’t think anything of it and continued roaming and thinking and - what any sane woman would do in this situation - shopping! After all I still had one credit card and I thought I’d better try it out soon before I really needed it, like after I’d eaten a meal. I wouldn’t want to end up having to wash dishes.

So my wanderings took me into a jewelry store full of black pearls. As I’m perusing the cases trying hard not to let my backpack fling anything valuable off a shelf, I look up and there is another fellow hiker, Rebecca, admiring a ring she had just purchased. After a few minutes of chatting she suggested we get a coffee and lunch to celebrate her purchase and she would treat. (Why is it we women celebrate large purchases with another purchase?) We passed a lovely lunch watching a slide show of my pictures and reminiscing the hike. (I carry my computer everywhere now. Losing it would just push me past the edge.)

Back at the hostel is a message board with my name in big letters at the top. Gee, I must have a message. It’s two of the group of Kiwis from the hike, inviting me to dinner. I gladly accepted and they picked me after I made a stop at the police dept. to file my “Missing Property” claim. As we walked up the hill to the house they had rented for 10 of them I gave them the story of what happened. And then when I got to the top I repeated it, mostly for the other women. Collectively we worked out the possibilities and what ifs and maybe this or that’s, but all came to the same conclusion - Yeah, it’s missing. And it’s all very strange.

I was so delighted to be invited to a Kiwi barbecue, and Brent, the group’s chef did a marvelous job with steaks, Waldorf salad, leaf lettuce salad, potatoes and lots of wine and champagne. After dinner everyone reluctantly brought out their stash of cookies and chocolates from the walk to share. It was so funny to see who had the largest pile.
And they are all so very animated when they are discussing politics, rugby, their shared past, education today, and any other subject, that the time passed very quickly and all to soon they took me back to the hostel, but only after arranging to pick me up at the airport when I arrive in Auckland to deal with the passport issue. One of the women also had quietly asked me if I needed any money to see me through, and I was so touched it just about made me cry.


Aside from spending the day writing and emailing I managed to eat. Even though I had a credit card, I didn’t really want to use it. It’s almost a challenge to see how well I can get by for at least the next 2 days. So…..
Breakfast There is instant coffee, tea, and creamer in the room
And I had pitas left over from before the Milford tour.
In the common fridge in the “free food” bin was
Margarine and jelly. No cost

Lunch Left over cookies from Milford and an orange from

Dinner Packaged udon noodles, one large carrot, $NZ 1.20
Tomato, garlic, spices, oyster sauce, soy sauce
In “free bin” No cost
Broccoli left over from Before
Milford No Cost
Made a delicious stir fry
Dinner was served with a $NZ 30 bottle of Voigner that I had purchased in the wineyard at Renwick. I served it out of a plastic glass because the wine glass I had broke.

Internet to email $4.50

SUNDAY, APRIL 13, 2008

Back and Forth, Back and Forth
And still no luck. The manager of the YHA reviewed the tapes of the hallway to my room and saw no one come into my room other than myself. So it boils down to somewhere in Milford Sound. I believe at this point it’s a lost cause and just want to get on with my travels. Oh well. Might as well go shopping.

Breakfast More pita bread, tore off moldy parts
Instant coffee No Cost

Lunch Candy bar left over from hike No Cost

Dinner 2 eggs, tomato from “free bin” No Cost
One portabello, small piece cheese $1.15
Made an omelet with mushroom, tomato
And cheese (cheddar)
Served it with the Voigner in a plastic cup

My afternoon snack was a ginger hot chocolate at a café that had free WIFI so I got to have a snack and do email for $4.50

MONDAY, APRIL 13, 2008

The Weakest Link - Queenstown to Wanaka
Oh yeah that’s me! Monday started the West Coast Escape bike tour, six days of biking up the West Coast of New Zealand through Mount Aspiring National Park, Haast Pass and the Southern Alps to Hokitika where a trans apine train will take us through Arthur’s Pass and on down to Christchurch.

The first challenge Monday morning - figuring out how the brakes work. They’re backwards here, small gear on the right, big cogs on the left. And the gear shift! There are 2 clickers on each handlebar. Push the lever down on the right to make it easier, but up on the other side for easier. I’m constantly getting it backward, and consequently either falling off because I’m in too low a gear, or killing my thighs because I just pushed into too hard of a gear. And the helmet adjustments. I’m being strangled.

Second challenge - a very steep decent down with harepin turns. Well, I thought, that was fun. But then we kept going. It was hard to get warmed up after that because it was so windy and cold coming down, but a few miles of roadway and I warmed up. And then we hit the first hill. No, correction, this was no hill (to me). This was every bit as steep as the first decent, only it was up, and with a lot of truck traffic and dust to boot. Oooohhh - what have I gotten myself into. Two of the group went ¾ of the way up before being picked up by the van, and 2 went the whole way up. One of those two was long gone before we even got near the place, and that’s after he had already ridden I don’t know how many Km just getting out of town while we all took the bus. And what did Mrs. Q do? Hah - she hopped on the van at the first bend in the road. Thighs of jelly. And knowing for sure that I am the weakest link!

At the top of the hill was a very nice sign, a downhill truck on a wedge and a sign below saying “Downhill next 43Km”. Very nice indeed. We took that road down partway, ( I got up to about 50KPH on that road) then turned off to go into a little town called Arrowtown, a leftover from the gold rush days. It was here that we had morning tea, under the trees of the city park facing the mountains with their brightly colored fall trees. Could have been Vermont it was so cute. But soon enough we had to head out of town on a road that was gently rolling hills until we had lunch at the Cadrona Hotel. This Hotel, another throwback in time, is about the only thing in town, and if you saw it, you probably wouldn’t stop, but you would be missing a real treat. Out the back is a large yard with picnic tables and umbrellas and a lovely rose garden and a handsome stone fireplace that would be great for evening cocktails on a cool evening. We had huge bowls of soup with crusty rolls and lemonade, a drink similar to Sprite. After lunch we loaded the van and drove actually past Wanaka to a park from where we cycled on a single-track path that went up and down and around always following Lake Wanaka on the right side. Parts were very narrow with steep drops to one side. Further along the track goes by some beautiful homes with stunning views of the lake and the mountains. These homes I later learned would be $2-3 million each. It seemed that all to soon we rolled into town and, groan, up a hill to our motel. I was thrilled to have a private room there being no other single people on the tour. After a hot shower and brief rest we headed to dinner down the hill and fille our stomachs with local fish and a great dessert. I staggered up the hill and barely made it into bed before falling asleed.

The Real Cyclers - And Me
The group consists of a Colorado couple ^v^v^, an Australian couple ^^, and me _ _ _ _. Brook, from Colorado, is off to climb Denali when they return from doing this and the Milford Track, not the luxury walk, but the one where you carry all your food and sleeping bags. He and his wife, Pam, have climbed (I forget which mountain) and Brook hasn’t ridden in the van yet. Whereas we may drive 40K to get somewhere to bike, Brooke will bike the whole way, probably over 100K, and arrive before we do.

The Australians are regular cyclers who talk about some of the races and rides they’ve done in the past. His seat looks horribly uncomfortable with absolutely no padding, but he swears otherwise. I can’t get enough padding.

(Finished this at 12:30AM and haven't had time to edit to terribly but must go to cocktails now. Long day in the saddle.)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Read the post after this next one first. I couldn't fit all on one post and couldn't get it to post in order. Sorry. I have about 300 pictures in between these two and picking two was hard. Sorry I can't add more but they take too long to upload.
Love you all. Thanks for reading my blog.

The Climb, The Descent, The Very Sore Feet - 9 miles (6-8 hours of blessed torture)
Today was the “big day” - one meter of climb for every 8 meters distance. We had to start earlier today- 7:30, and we are told that if we normally packed one sandwich, to pack two and to not hold back on snacks and water. We do as we are told. (One of my fellow hikers commanded me to make another sandwich because I looked too skinny.) The walk starts out fairly flat, but soon starts climbing. The rocks themselves that line the path are so colorful that you have to remind yourself to look up, though do it to often and you risk twisting your ankle. Quartz, feldspar, gneiss, and many others all different sizes and colorings. There are trees with bluish berries that are edible and taste similar to a blueberry. Up through the trees we went constantly climbing, hemmed in by mountains. About 16 rocky switchbacks needed to be traversed. Periodically you are reminded of the danger as there are signs saying “Danger Falling Rocks, Do Not Stop Next 200 Meters”. And you don’t. Who wants to get whomped on the head after all.

Finally we climb above the tree line and the landscape changes dramatically. There are all low-lying shrubs and grasses, but it isn’t as parched looking as a tundra. Way, way down below is the valley and a view of Pampolona Lodge, a mere speck in the far distance. The wind picks up and it is definitely cooler. No longer is there a wall of mountains to look up to. It’s like arriving on the set of “The Sound Of Music”, only this set has a friendly guide to greet you with a hot cup of Milo (NZ hot chocolate). Oh, and Julie Andrews wasn’t wearing a dress but several layers of wool, a hat and gloves. Very chic, especially the long underwear. Believe me, I was glad for every last fiber.
I leaned against a rock out of the wind and sipped the warm fluid, my hands trying to sap the heat from the paper cup.

The view was stupendous as the day was a clear one with few low lying clouds, which allowed a rare and unobstructed view of the valleys on either side of the pass. A memorial to Mackinnon is a touching reminder of the travails endured to get here in 1888, but hey, it’s too cold to linger here for long. A quick tour of the top, a few pics (until my camera started acting up from the cold) and I continued on. The little ponds around the area (they reminded me of giant water-filled pot holes but really they’re called tarns) reflected the clouds, and in the sky was a group of Kea birds, a type of parrot that doesn’t ask for crackers, but sings rather nicely and is apparently very mischievous.

Holding on to my hat against the wind I started the descent and about 20 minutes later reached lunch, a very welcome sight where I could briefly take my boots off to rest my aching, bruised and very tired feet. A cup of hot soup, a sandwich and a cookie helped fuel me up for the afternoon fun. Just outside the hut is a “long drop”, a port-potty that has a window so you can view the valley below while taking care of business. Personally, I found it to be a bit scary - the wind just howled and I was sure that at any moment I was going to be carried off, dropped drawers and all.

Several of our hikers were having problems making this part of the trek and a few of the stronger ones hiked back a bit to relieve them of their packs.

I didn’t want to linger at this point fearing that I would seize up and I didn’t want to miss the “optional” hike (1.5 hours total) to Sutherland Falls that was near the Quinton Lodge where we were staying that night. So off I went. About 20 minutes later, in the shelter of the mountains to the right, the wind died out and I was able to peel off a layer of clothing. From this vantage point the mountains had more shadows. Watching my footing was a real concern here because you are dropping your weight onto your foot, so the walking stick became very useful this part of the journey.

Once I reached the tree line, about 3:00, I entered what the guides call “The Enchanted Forest”. It was dark here with lots of shadows. The trees weren’t straight up but often curved in eerie shapes with moss dripping from the limbs. Roots were abundant, thick, and spooky, like vines spread upon the forest floor. To put it mildly, I would not want to be here alone at night. I’m sure there are goblins and elves and hobbits and all sorts of creatures I don’t need to know about. All the same it was awesome to think that something like this really exists in the world. It was cool there and water ran in little streams everywhere. Birds continued to sing and soon the sound of rushing water reached my ears. Falls. Glimpses of them seen through the trees gave a burst of energy to descend the many-tiered steps to see the full fury of the water at the base. Lots of pics here. Further on though my feet are about to burst through the toes of the boots and it’s time for the poor dogs to be let out. A damp rock, a moss covered stream, ice cold water and my feet thank me. Of course a snack and some water don’t hurt either.

Soon I was off again, singing out loud whatever was on the Ipod at the moment. It’s great for motivation and we were all so spread out by this time that no one could really hear me, so Grace Kelly danced on down the track without a care. That is until nature called and this time It was a long drop in the woods without a door. Geez, I was glad no one was too close behind on the track.

The Ipod really helped keep my mind off my feet and thighs to such an extent that by the last half mile I was dancing away, skipping over the stones. But once I reached Quinton Lodge and a soft chair and a glass of Tang ………aaaahhhh. I dared not sit too long for fear I’d never get up again and there was still the walk to Sutherland Falls, the 5th tallest in the world. I didn’t come this far to miss anything good. That’s for sure.

The climb was worth the effort because the falls were spectacular, though certainly not as wide as Niagara. The force of the water was unending and I really wondered where it all came from there was soo much of it.

As I showered after the hike the sounds of “aaaahhhs“, and “oooohhh that feels good” could be heard throughout the co-ed bathrooms.

The level of chatter rose yet again during cocktails and dinner that evening as by now we were all getting to know one another and there was much to replay of the day, as two of our hiker were limping in at the end and one of the hikers missed the lunch spot, causing a brief panic. (How can you miss lunch? I mean, that to me is a really key part of the day.) And of course the Kiwis and Aussies regularly tore into each other. As arduous as the hike was that day, I hated to have it end. My feet and thighs, however, thought otherwise.


The Final Trek - 13 miles (6-8 hours of walking)
The lights came on at 6:15AM and I think there was a chorus of groans, though not audible because, well, there is this Aussie/Kiwi rivalry thing going on among the boys. Everyone staggers up. I took another hot shower to warm up and be nice to my dogs, who were barking. Made lunch. Packed. Ate breakfast and out the door. After two minutes of walking I realize I’d forgotten something and turned around and went back. Aaaaahhhh my feet yell. Back on the track I try to speed up to make up the time. The walk followed a river and, while it wasn’t as demanding as the prior day’s, it was actually longer. Footing was always a challenge. Big rocks, little pebbles, sharp edges, wet and moss covered. Today’s walk is all about endurance. Everybody was hurting. I used the walking stick in one hand, but that arm quickly became sore so I switched to the other.

It was very cold out and daylight had barely begun. But when it did cross the mountains and seep through the trees it changed the whole nature of the track, giving the leaves of the upper branches of the trees a whitish glow, sort of like iridescent confetti. The rhythmic music of the Ipod helped keep a pace until tea time where the track ran through the Boatshed. A hot Milo, a cookie, a bandage and fleece feed me and my feet for the next few hours. The potty stop here was scenic - open slats in the floor of the building that sits about 5’ off the ground. Is this for ventilation?

The walk to lunch was cold and damp with climbs over piles of downed trees and rocks (from avalanches). I passed several walkers only to have them pass me when I stopped for photos. And although I heard the river beside me, I couldn’t see it very often for the trees and brush. I thought the stop for lunch would never come. And just when I thought I’d have to stop anyways for a break, there it was - a swing bridge over a river and a roaring falls with sunshine and a large group of our walkers eating lunch out on the rocks, soaking up the sun. Heaven, at least until the sand flies started helping themselves to me for lunch. Lovely as the setting was, there was a timetable for the ferry at Sandfly Pt. to take us to Milford Sound and our hotel. So there was no time to linger.

Keith stayed behind as I finished my lunch to walk with me, as I arrived shortly before everyone else was heading out. Even though they all had a good 10 minute start, we soon overtook them. Keith kept asking me what I did for training for this trek because I walk rather fast. I said that I just got on a treadmill, set it for 3.5mph and walked for an hour, mostly uphill. And now that’s my pace and I can’t slow down without feeling like I’m crawling. So after about 10 minutes of trying to walk slowly, I passed a slew of hikers, ignored my feet, and picked up the pace. (If you want to be sociable, set your treadmill for a more modest 2.5-3.0) This bus didn’t make frequent stops for pictures; it was an express to Sandfly Point and the finish line.

And it seemed like that point arrived before I knew it. The end of the track. A cold glass of Tang. A bench and a fire. And the wait for the ferry. A walk that rose to 3,278 feet in height and 34.2 miles over 4 days. A real sense of accomplishment and endurance.

The other walkers trickled in and soon the ferry arrived, we boarded, and took our last look at the track, the water, the trees that we had gotten to know those last few days. The ferry took us through equally stunning scenery to Milford Sound, where a bus drove us the last ten minutes to Mitre Peak Lodge, our home for the night. We suffered through the orientation and schedule briefing and then headed to our rooms where our small day bags awaited. As I opened the door of the room, offloaded the backpack I’d carried for 4 days and looked around, my eyes spied a tub, and the thought of looking around the grounds or of anything else drifted away. I had this wonderful room with a gorgeous view of the mountains and a garden all to myself. And a long hot bath in my own bathroom was just what my sore body craved at that point.

As you can imagine, the cocktail hour was celebratory and dinner was a virtual din of chatter. The menu was either roasted rack of lamb or fish and chips, both with fresh veggies and potato. Dessert was a giant chocolate cupcake with whipped cream and I don’t think anyone left hungry.

After dinner was the usual tea, coffee, and cookies accompanied by the issuance of certificates of accomplishment and the final briefing. There were many speeches and an exchange of addresses. And of course, because so much was made of my being the last on the bus, I was the last to receive a certificate.

Many in the group progressed to the local pub for additional carousing, but I headed for the gift shop to pay my bill, purchase a t-shirt and then head off to my room to do laundry in preparation for my next adventure. Little did I know that an adventure of a different sort would soon unfold.


End Of The Road For This Adventure?
The generator never stopped, and I wrote and read until I couldn’t see and then fell asleep. My internal alarm clock woke me early the next day, so I folded the remaining laundry and finished packing my stuff into the large plastic bags they had given us. Then I headed down to pack my lunch and eat my final breakfast with the group I had become so fond of.

After breakfast we brought our backpacks, small travel bags and large plastic bags down to the lobby where they were separated. The large plastic bags went in one pile for transport on the bus to Queenstown. Then I headed off, walking down to the wharf for the boat ride around the sound and out into the Tasman Sea. It was a bright, sunny, but very cold day and the tour was jaw-dropping as it cruised along. The mountains literally came down to the water and the light cast amazing shadows all around. The sun finally peaked up over the tops and then a new set of shadows appeared. We headed for a large waterfall and were drenched in spray as we neared, but the shear power of the water was magnetic and it made patterns in the water like a spider web as it hit and rippled outward.

All to soon the ride was over and we boarded the bus to take us out of Fiordland and back to TeAnau. But even the bus ride was interesting as the driver gave a running commentary on the area, the length of time it took to build the road, and the care taken to prevent avalanches from closing it.

Back at Te Anau ,as the bus rolled in, we spied a group similar to ourselves 5 days earlier, all awaiting a photo. They were as curious of us as we were of them and the guide asked us, in all seriousness, to put on a good limp for them when we got off and to look a little haggard. What fun. The circle complete.

We bid farewell to a number of our own, who were going on to hike the Routeburn, and two of our four guides, who were going to go off with the new group, hiking the trail yet again. They do the trail about 30 times in a season, taking groups of up to 50 each time. I can’t even imagine what their feet look like. Is there a podiatrist in the house?

Back on the bus, we had another 2 hour ride to Queenstown, during which most of the group dozed or at least had that glazed over look about them. Once we arrived in Queenstown, we collected our plastic bags and headed off in our own directions to our various hotels, with nary a goodbye. Exhaustion took over and autopilot engaged until I could finally check in, unload, and put my feet up to rest.


To Be Continued
Ha Ha Ha………I love a good cliff hanger!!!!!!