New Zealand:Thanksgiving Down Under (again)

I am currently sitting in the front row on the top deck of a double decker bus traveling north from Wellington. What a way to travel. Sitting back with my feet up and staring out a window the width of the bus watching the world (or more accurately, a small portion of New Zealand) go by. Up until now I’ve spent much of my time on the South Island walking and kayaking around glaciers and mountains. I recently arrived on the North Island and my plan here is pretty much the same except now around volcanoes and geothermal holes.

After my time at Mt. Cook I headed To Queenstown as a waypoint before heading to Milford Sound. Queenstown is a winter(skiing)/summer resort town very similar to Breckenridge or Lake Tahoe except it also has a lot of extreme activities on the menu (been there, done that). After a day, I headed to Milford Sound for what I expected to be three days of walking. A few years back I spent a memorable thanksgiving day hiking the Torres del Paine trail in Patagonia (shout out to Diane if she is reading this) and thought it would be great to be hiking in a beautiful place again on the holiday. Woops.

My expectations were to get to the Milford Sound, enjoy a little water time, and day hike some of the world famous Milford trek. The name of the place Milford Sound is kinda accurate in the sense that we soon found out that is all it is. The sound. Not Milford Sound and Walking. Not Milford Sound and Biking. Just Milford Sound. Other than the water, and boats that take you on the water, there is nothing there, nothing, just a road, that ends, at the sound. Evidently we passed the nearest section of the Milford trek on the bus an hour before we arrived. BTW, the name is only kinda accurate because Milford Sound is not in actuality…wait for it…wait for it, a sound.

So although disappointed there would be no hiking, I did do some kayaking that including a great paddle on the “sound” out to the Tasman Sea, and saw penguins and seals ( but again failed to see dolphins that were talked about). I initially signed up for the 6:30 morning kayak trip but was told soon after that it was already full and was asked if I’d like to do the 5:45 trip instead. I said no, I only wanted to do a morning trip and was then told that it was in the morning, 5:45, AM. Well, after almost choking on whatever I was eating I said “sure, why not”. It was a great decision as we were the first ones on the water and got to experience the sunrise and serenity of Milford Sound which few people can. We were paddling for a good 2 hours before the first planes and large day tripping tourist boats started their daily routine.

Since the only other thing to do was take pictures of the Sound from the same location as day fell to night, I shortened my Milford Sound excursion by a day and headed back to Queenstown on Thanksgiving. The hostel that I stayed at in Queenstown on my way through previously might be the best hostel I have ever stayed in. That and the fact that I knew they were planning a true turkey day feast made the decision even easier. I arrived back at the hostel at 7:45 (pm) giving me just enough time to drop my backpack in the room and run to the liquor store for a bottle of New Zealand wine before the 8pm dinner. Even though there was a small percentage of Americans, the turnout was impressive. The hostel has 50 beds and 42 people participated in the dinner. Each table had a person from the States as the designated turkey carver. I of course volunteered so I could eat the scraps as I carved. 

It was strange however because New Zealand is a day ahead so even though it was technically Thanksgiving, no football was being played and it just didn’t feel right. The next day while football was on TV, I headed to Franz Josef, a town named after the glacier that lies above it. Unfortunately this is where my streak of good weather ended. I hiked and ran around around the area for a couple days in the rain and then moved north to do a few segments of one of New Zealand’s great walks, the Abel Tasman Track. 

This walk is unique for New Zealand in that it is along a tropical coast and alternates between rainforest and coastline throughout the tramp (Kiwi term for trek). All of the other treks they classify as “great walks” are in alpine terrain like Colorado. It’s usually done in 4 days but to conserve time I did 3 days walking and 2 nights in the huts. Did I mention my luck with the weather changed? While the coastline has lots of emerald green bays and white sand beaches I mainly saw overcast skies and rain. The good news is I walked through a rainforest in all it’s glory. 

To get to my starting point I took a water taxi out to a drop off point. During the ride, I am happy to say I finally saw those elusive dolphins. And when I say saw, I mean could almost touch. We had a pod of dolphins swim with and around our boat for a good ten minutes as we slowly motored our way through one of the bays. Sadly, my camera was stuck below deck in my pack trying to stay dry so I didn’t get any pictures or movies.

After the Abel Tasman tramp I headed to the ferry that would take me from the south island to the north. Since it’s all about trilogies here in New Zealand (i.e. Lord of the Rings, Hobbit), you’ll have to wait until my third post for my encounter with Mt. Doom…