There is a long dirt road past fields of sheep along with more fields of sheep, with an occasional view of the river. A sign at the beginning suggests that campervans and larger vehicles should not travel down this road. This is the beginning of the entrance to the Routeburn Trail, one of NZ’s 9 great walks, a long road just to get to the trailhead.
With the dirt flying up behind us in a cloud of announcement, we fly past all the sheep, drive over a few bridges and then approach a forest that is so very dark we take off the sunglasses. The road is narrow but has two sides so I keep to the left. There are some tight turns and low branches making us wonder if we are on the right road. Suddenly we pop out to an area of grass and dirt – a parking lot! What do we see in this lot? Buses and campervans! Glad we did not pass any of them, as it would have been challenging.
This end of the Routeburn trail connects to the side that ends (or begins) in Paradise. We are not hiking the whole trail as it takes 3-4 days, but we hope to hike up to the part where it starts to go directly up, about 7 miles round trip. There is a very nice information hut and toilet facilities, and we lace up our boots reading about the different species of birds and plants that are along the trail. There are several hikers mulling about, some having just come to this stop as the end of their trip, others hoisting their large packs onto their backs to start theirs. General hiking attire: Where’s Waldo socks, gaiters, shorts, hiking boots, and t-shirts. We must have missed the memo for this one as we are wearing long pants and a t-shirt. I grab my pack with our lunch and camera gear and we head over to the bridge, the start of the trail.
Moss, mushrooms, and Ferns!!!!!! What is not to like? A photographer’s dream. The trail is a very nice walking trail. We have learned that more advanced trails are called tramping trails. These hikes go up to various huts where you can spend the night and “tramp” on to the next one. Or they can be a trail that is a bit more challenging than a walking trail. The trail reminds me of the White Mountains in New Hampshire where you can hike the Presidential Range. I did quite a bit of hiking up there and the huts are pretty basic, just a bed, an outhouse, and a place to eat. We hear that the huts here are very nice.
We did not see too many walkers on this trail, but serious hikers passed us going both ways. Everyone gives a nice hello and all are smiling. They are enjoying this hike as much as we are. What is not to like? We have the gorgeous blue/green waters from the glacier passing us by intermittently through the trees, beautiful greenery, and the occasional bird flitting about. It is very peaceful and smells so green. I am not sure if the air is this good in the summer or not, but the autumn air is crisp and clear, making the simple act of breathing a joy. Reminds me of a quote by John Muir: “Another glorious day, the air as delicious to the lungs as nectar to the tongue.”
We arrive at a bridge where we can hear the falls somewhere, but cannot see them. There are a lot more ferns in this area due to the moisture from the river. This marks the starting point of up, so we enjoy the view and begin our return back down, looking for a place to stop for lunch.
Shawn wanted to walk down a side path for lunch.
Me: “Are you sure you want to go down there?”
Shawn: “Yes. We can be like Fido and go there and back again.”
Me: “Did you mean Frodo? Fido is a dog.”
The path was short and we enjoyed a nice lunch along the river. Then, it happened. We had brought with us a huge bottle of bug spray and so far we have not seen any need to use it. We had heard of the sand flies and how nasty they were but no one told us they were along the rivers as well. They bite right through your clothes and love your hands. Ugh. And they hurt! Luckily they do not carry any diseases but the bites itch like poison ivy, and more so for a special few. Like me. We grab the pack and head back up to the bug-free path and head back towards the car.
We took a different way back to the car near the beginning of the trail where the trees were just huge! They reminded me of the Sequoias in northern California. We really enjoyed this trail for its variety and beauty and we would love to do the whole route one day.