Eyes Above The Waves

Robert O'Callahan. Christian. Repatriate Kiwi. Hacker.

Thursday 22 January 2015


I just got back from another tramping trip in the South Island. We did the famous Routeburn Track and added the Greenstone Track to make it a five-day, four-night tramp.

On Sunday we entered at the Routeburn Shelter (eastern end) and walked about 3.5 hours to the Routeburn Falls hut. It was drizzly but not too wet. On Monday we spent about six hours walking over the Harris Saddle to the hut at Lake Mackenzie --- this was really wet, and quite cold on the saddle (1250m). The Harris Saddle area was amazing, even in the drizzle and low cloud; it's a tussocky alpine environment, full of streams and tarns and rapids. The track winds around a bluff high above Lake Harris, dramatic but not too precipitous. Descending into the glacial valley containing Lake Mackenzie is amazing --- it's surrounded by snow-capped peaks dropping in cliffs to the crystal-clear tree-lined lake. Unfortunately, due to the weather, we got almost no views across the Hollyford valley to the west.

On Tuesday we hiked from Lake Mackenzie along the side of the Hollyford valley to Lake Howden hut. The weather was a lot better so we got good views. I did a side trip up Key Summit --- one and a half hours return, and well worth it for the amazing environment and views at the top. After that we continued on to Mckellar Hut for the night.

Wednesday and today we hiked down Greenstone valley, staying overnight at the Greenstone hut. This is a quite different environment to the Routeburn; instead of being alpine, it's a mostly flat river valley with some glacial moraines to tramp over or around. You've still got dramatic mountains around but it's definitely a more pastoral feel.

The entire trip is well away from civilization: no roads anywhere nearby, no phones, no electricity other than some solar power at the Routeburn huts. Everywhere you see mountains, rivers, waterfalls and trees. Everywhere the water is crystal-clear, even in the drainage ditches by the track! (OK, apart from those alpine bogs...) You really feel immersed in the wilderness ... though the track and hut facilities are excellent. The Routeburn is internationally popular so all the huts were full (40-50 people each night), but the Greenstone huts are less busy, only 12-20 people even now in the height of the tramping season. The landscape is large enough that, on the track, we only saw people a few times a day in the last two days.

Actually I find the social side of tramping as much fun as the walking. We finished our walking at 2-3pm each day, so there's a lot of time relaxing around the hut with other trampers, and it's surprisingly easy to talk to total strangers for hours in such an environment --- something I'm normally terrible at. We met a lot of interesting people --- a lot of tourists, especially North Americans, Germans, and Israelis, but also New Zealand families from all over the country. They've all got great stories to tell. And, they've all got tramping tips to share and favourite tramps to recommend, so we're already thinking about the next trip :-). There's a lot of time to play card games; we brought Bang! and taught it to several people we met along the way.

And now, back to work for a different kind of excitement :-).