Brief Interlude: Harbor Views

Since I’ve been away from Auckland for so long, I thought I’d make a short post of some views from the ferry. No adventure today, just the lovely harbor.

Auckland port. Those cranes still remind me of the AT-ATs from The Empire Strikes Back.

Big ship.

Bigger ship!

Mt. Victoria and North Head.

The Hauraki Gulf.

The Harbour Bridge.

Like a lazy cat
Presiding over the gulf
Rangitoto sits

And a proper photo of Auckland. It’s been a while!

That’s it. See you next time for an adventure…and a reunion!

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Trail Log: Karamatura Track to Huia Ridge Track

Alright, here’s the trail log. But let me once again start out with a map so those looking to do the hike can plan their routes effectively:

Check the DOC website for more up-to-date track closure information, assuming that it’s on the website and not just scrawled on a whiteboard leaning against a tree.

I went from the carpark (near the Ranger Station mark on the map) to the falls (not marked on this map, but near where Karamatura Stream crosses the track) then back to the Tom Thumb track, up and around to Huia Ridge then back over Karamatura Track to the carpark again. This is my story.

Annoyingly, the signs don’t have distances written on them so I’ll just be reporting times.

First sign, 11:13am. The time given on the sign is pointless since I’m not returning to the carpark via the Karamatura Loop, so this is only here to give a timestamp.

The next landmark is where the Tom Thumb track branches off. This is also where the loop part of Karamatura Loop hits the main track.

11:37am. It took 24 minutes to get here. This suggests that the estimate of 1 hour for the Karamatura Loop is probably pretty accurate. We can ignore the 40 minute estimate right now because I’m continuing on to the falls (I note that some helpful person wrote in directions to the falls on the sign).

This is where the short spur off to the falls branches from the Karamatura trail. Karamatura Forks is the name given to the intersection of the Karamatura and Huia Ridge tracks, so we will visit there later. Also, it’s a bit out of focus so difficult to tell, but is that a large feather on the ground in front of the sign? Just now noticing that. Anyway…

11:55am. It took 18 minutes to get here from the Tom Thumb branch. This means it’s about a 45-minute walk from the carpark to the falls, which is good information that is not included anywhere on the trail signage. Useless.

Also note that I ate lunch at the falls and generally lounged around for a little while.

12:25pm. Took me 30 minutes to eat lunch, mess about at the falls, and then walk the distance back to the split. It’s downhill on the way back, which explains how I did all that so fast.

At this point I’m beginning the main hike up the Tom Thumb track. It is all very much uphill from this point on until almost the end of the Twin Peaks track.

1:15pm. Took me 50 minutes, which is 10 minutes over the estimated time. This is the first section where the trail just is not very good, so most of that overage was spent picking my way around swampy areas. I was still at this point hoping to get out with a minimum of mud on my person.

Still 1:15. Time to do the Goat Hill track, which is just a there-and-back spur.

1:39pm. Even though Goat Hill is quite steep, the trail is in decent condition and I did it in 24 minutes, 6 minutes under the estimated time. I was pretty winded afterward though!

Still 1:39pm (Actually, I’m lying. This one is 1:15 because I took it before I decided to do Goat Hill and I didn’t take a second one after I finished Goat Hill. But you can see the back of the Goat Hill sign at the top of this photo, so it didn’t take a lot of walking to get between the two signs).

2 hours to the Huia Ridge track. Let’s do this.

Note that Twin Peaks track is <i>the worst</i>. It is muddy and swampy and dangerous. You will get covered in mud and if you’re pushing yourself at all you could easily slip and fall. A walking stick or trail pole is highly recommended.

3:59pm. This point isn’t on the map, but it’s significant because it’s the point where the trail levels out and begins to go down. Note that it’s been 2 hours and 20 minutes of muddy, uphill climbing — so at this point I’ve already gone well over the estimated time on the trail sign. But we’re almost to Huia Ridge.

4:14. 2 hours 35 minutes. That’s 35 minutes over the estimated time, which is annoying (especially when you’re running low on daylight).

1.75 hours to go ’til we get to Karamatura Forks, but the trail is getting better with every km.

5:53pm. 1 hour 39 minutes. But not quite at Karamatura Forks yet.

5:58pm. 1 hour 47 minutes, 2 minutes over the estimate. And that was with me pushing myself.

We have to go along the Karamatura Track and then finish out the Karamatura Loop, but at least the trail is in good condition.

6:55pm. Back to the split off for the falls. Beat the 1 hour estimate by 3 minutes.

7:12pm. Back to the Tom Thumb split. Note that this sign estimates 1 hour to Karamatura Forks, because this sign is a liar.

I don’t have any more photos of trail signs because by the time I got to the carpark I wanted to head out right away to avoid driving through the mountains when it’s totally dark.

So that’s Huia. If the Department of Conservation would add distances to the trail signs and maintain their trails better, they would be doing hikers a service and making the park less dangerous for everyone. If you choose to go there, make sure to leave yourself plenty of daylight and don’t assume you can beat (or even achieve) the posted tramping times.

Huia: Karamatura track to Huia Ridge

First of all, if you found this page via a web search and you’re looking for a map of the Huia area, here it is (click to make it big):

It’s not often that I get to provide a public service while also doing what I love. But when I was researching this hike, I could not find a truly good map of Huia, especially the area around Karamatura Stream. Which is odd, because the Department of Conservation obviously have a map (as seen above). In any case, I hope this helps out some hikers. And if you’re planning on hiking in this area, you might want to read on.

I intended to do a full loop. Starting from the carpark just beyond the ranger station, I planned to walk along the Karamatura Loop Walk down to the falls (not pictured). I would then walk back to the Tom Thumb Track, take it up to the Twin Peaks track, which I would take over to where it hits the Huia Ridge Track, turning South down to the Bob Gordon Track, then around, up a little bit of the Donald McLean Track, and back along the Fletcher Track to the carpark.

As to what actually happened, well…read on. I’ll warn you right now, this will be a super long post. Which is only fitting, as it was a super long hike!

Huia, as you can see from this heavily vandalized map, is situated on the South coast of the Waitakere Ranges, where they border Manukau Harbour. It’s less popular and famous than the Western beaches such as Piha and Muriwai, but it is home to some really cool stuff. It’s also super muddy, as we shall see.

The Monday after getting back from the South Island, I drove out to Huia to see what’s what. I wanted a fairly long hike, but as previously mentioned I couldn’t find a map or any reliable track information. So I went with a vague plan in mind and optimism in my heart.

The Karamatura Loop Walk is fairly well-traveled, and as such is also well marked and in fairly decent condition. Even the recent rainy weather had not made the track unsafe. Parts of the track are actually an old timber tramway, so it’s not surprising that the trail would be in reasonably good shape. (Can we also pause to admire how cool this photo is? I love the way the trees form a natural portal).

River crossings (of which there are many) are bridged with sturdy wooden bridges. So far so good! Compared to my travails on the South Island this should be a doddle!

This crossing does not have a bridge, but no worries. Even a short-legged explorer could step safely from rock to rock without getting a toe wet.

This mini-waterfall is slightly off the main track near the actual waterfall. It’s a cool little grotto though, so it’s worth taking a detour.

And further along the reasonably well-marked path is Karamatura Falls!

I climbed up a rock to get a slightly better picture of the falls. There were actually some folks swimming in the pool when I arrived, and some more swimmers showed up while I was eating my lunch. Seems like the locals enjoy the nice stroll out to the falls, and I can’t blame them!

Walking back to the Tom Thumb track, though, comes the first hint of something amiss. This sign reads:

Due to a slip, the section of Twin Peaks Track from the junction of Tom Thumb Bypass to Huia Dam Rd is currently Closed. Sorry for any inconvenience.

OK, not too bad. I wasn’t planning on walking that bit of track anyway. I do have to say, though, what was the thought process here? “What shall we use to convey this important safety message? I know! A whiteboard!” Sigh.

Tom Thumb track is where things start to get a bit dodgy. There’s some really old boardwalk along some of the track, which is as you can see in a woeful state of disrepair. The trail is that oh-so-unfortunate combination of steep and muddy that make it very slow going.

At the top, though, is the eponymous Tom Thumb: a large kauri tree!

I may write more about kauri at some point, but they’re properly large trees found in New Zealand and across the South Pacific. The New Zealand varieties are threatened by a parasite called kauri dieback, which is unfortunate.

At this point I took a detour up the extraordinarily steep Goat Hill Track. If Goat Island is an island only goats can live on, is Goat Hill a hill only goats can climb? Possibly, because despite feeling quite good at the top of Tom Thumb track, I was utterly winded at the top of the short Goat Hill track. The views, however, were worth it.

Most of Huia is under tree cover, but Goat Hill is a small lookout over the Manukau Harbour.

Because of where Huia is situated, we can see East across Huia Bay to Huia Point on the other side (and then out to the Cornwallis Peninsula) as well as South across the harbor where you can see the Awhitu Peninsula where I visited the lighthouse (a bit of the peninsula, though not the lighthouse, is visible in the far distance).

If you Zoom and Enhance this photo sufficiently, you can actually see the lighthouse! Cool, eh?

But this post is already getting quite long and there’s still plenty of hike left.

The trail does offer a bit more of this old boardwalk, which is nice, but plenty of the trail is…less nice.

Just look at this utter shambles. Up until the Twin Peaks track I had tried to keep myself relatively clean, with decent success. But at this point there was just no helping it.

It was not uncommon for a small pool to form in the middle of the trail. And of course at the bottom of the pool is the slipperiest, deepest mud.

Yep, not mud-free after all that. I’m actually glad I wore sandals for this hike, since feet wash off easier than hiking boots do!

Despite starting pretty high up, the Twin Peaks track just keeps climbing. I’m no perfect physical specimen, but I liked to think that after my time in the South Island I was in pretty good shape. But before too long, I discovered the reason why the trail climbed so much:

Oh, hey, I didn’t know that was here! Yep, this unassuming point (with absolutely no view) in the middle of this poorly-maintained trail is in fact the highest point in the Waitakeres! And since the trail starts off quite close to the coast, I reckon I climbed quite a few of those meters on foot!

The trail is still utter rubbish, though. As I turn onto the Huia Ridge track, there’s another problem: I’m starting to run out of daylight! Yes, my detours and dawdling plus the muddy conditions plus the lack of good information about how long the trails are have held me up so much that rather than handily exceeding the time estimates for each trail leg I’m barely achieving them! This puts me in the unpleasant position of having to push myself to go faster in these wet, slippery conditions. Unsurprisingly, I did at this point take a couple of spills in the mud. Highly unsatisfactory.

Fortunately, partway down the Huia Ridge track we come to a long, newish boardwalk. (I also really like this photo, even though I didn’t particularly like the circumstances under which it was taken).

Even with the slightly improved trail, though, it was an easy decision to turn off when I got to the Karamatura track. I estimate that this cut nearly a kilometer off my return journey even ignoring the Bob Gordon Track (which was closed anyway). Since as previously mentioned the Karamatura Loop Walk is in pretty good shape I was able to just barely make it to my car with the sun still up. Understandably, I didn’t stop to take any photos of this leg, so it’s all text. Sorry!

So that’s Huia! Even with all that, I’m glad I went. It was quite the adventure, but now I can say I’ve been to the highest point in the Waitakeres, and even more importantly I got to have what felt like a proper adventure despite being barely an hour out of Auckland. Yes, I don’t have to get on a boat or a plane to have an adventure, and it was good to be reminded of that.

Next post will be a trail log, which will hopefully help other hikers be more prepared than I was.

The City & the Random

After my return from the South Island, I thought it would be suitable to have another post of random bits and bobs I’ve accumulated which don’t fit anywhere else. Although I gather these from all over, I want to focus specifically on Auckland City. Like China Miéville’s The City & The City, Auckland takes on almost the role of another character in the story of my life. And though I left down South, the city waits patiently like a faithful lover for the eventual return. And Auckland in many ways is my muse; even tonight before writing this post I took a short 20-minute walk around the Viaduct Harbour. The energy, the lights, the passions and stories; all the trappings of city life fill me with a desire to create, to write, to be. When I started writing in this space, I wondered if I would have the dedication to keep it up. Here, now, working on my 90th post, I feel it’s because of the energy I draw from the city that I can tell my story.

Paulo Coelho wrote in The Alchemist “You must understand that love never keeps a man from pursuing his Personal Legend. If he abandons that pursuit, it’s because it wasn’t true love…the love that speaks the Language of the World.” But he also wrote “Men dream more about coming home than about leaving”. We go away not because we don’t love but because we must; we return because we love.

I took this photo tonight on my walk. Paris may be the City of Light, but I hereby name Auckland the City of Colors. Cynics will say that we’re depleting the Earth’s resources to produce light pollution. I say we’ve created beauty.

The Many Colors of the Sky Tower

Our iconic landmark continues to delight by changing colors on a nigh-monthly basis. It’s currently a boring white, but here’s a look at what it’s been up to recently.

Looking quite smart in red and gold. I don’t know if this signifies anything or if it’s just a random choice, but I quite like it. I managed to get some red traffic lights and yellow-tinged streetlights in the shot for a mise-en-scene that probably only I think is cool.

Green for St. Patty’s Day.

The red spire looks ominous, especially on a misty night.

City Summer

Silo Park in Wynyard Quarter hosted what we Americans would call a food truck rodeo nearly every weekend over the summer. I recommend Dixie Barbecue, run by some very passionate kiwis who really understand barbecue.

Summer in Auckland means cruise ships! In Spares by Michael Marshall Smith, one of the cool locations (and Michael Smith novels always include some pretty interesting locations) is a flying cruise ship that got beached and became a city. These ships aren’t quite that big, but they’re basically floating hotels. In January and February, multiple times per day you’ll hear the resonant honk of a departing cruise ship’s horn.

The American Football season works out well for Southerly countries, because Super Bowl in the Summer is just better. Yeah, we watched it. I of course had to cheer for the Carolina Panthers, who unfortunately biffed it. Which is just as well; I and some friends left at halftime to go to the beach. As I said, Super Bowl in the Summer is just better.

The footbridge over the Viaduct is a drawbridge, and I happened to be taking a walk and found it open. I like cool machinery and decided to film it coming down. I especially love the applause at the end.

Random Things to Amuse & Delight

Frida Spotting on K’Road. I asked the storekeeper why the obsession with Frida Kahlo, and she said “because she created beauty”. I note that there are no pictures Mary Cassatt or Henri Matisse hanging in the shop, though, so either she has a very specific standard for beauty or there’s something else going on. A friend suggested that it’s because Kahlo cultivated a specific “look” that was a part of her persona, but if that was the case I’d expect to see a picture of Salvador Dali as well. Whatever; at least I get to use my Frida Kahlo tag again.

She also has a Latin restaurant on the waterfront named after her. The logo is, and there is no delicate way to put this, a unibrow. Shine on you crazy diamond.

I can think of no more appropriate name for a bar at a bungee jumping venue than this.

Go home, light pole. You’re drunk. (I wonder if the light pole is mocking the red Sky Tower spire in the background).

Getting a custom license plate in New Zealand is not cheap, and you only get six characters to work with. It still seems to be popular, and many people will also get custom license plate holders. I wonder how Ayn Rand would feel about this reference to Atlas Shrugged. Since it’s Ayn Rand, she’d probably just be offended that this plate appears on a Holden Viva and not say a Rolls Royce Phantom.

People who know me also probably know that I love weird and gourmet sodas. This random convenience store (or dairy, for kiwis) sells Shaq-branded sodas which combine the two unfortunate characteristics of being unnecessarily large and not particularly good. Comparisons with the subject matter are left as an exercise to the reader.

I use a tempered glass screen protector for my Nexus 5. I recently ordered another one, because the one I had been using had…seen some things. After replacing it, I had to photograph the old one. I will say, this guy took it like a champ and the screen on my phone is pristine.

Here’s Your Sign

Warning! You should be reading a book right now!

(For Americans: abseiling = rappelling). Yeah, let’s not do that right now.

Ironically, you cannot observe the creek because of all the foliage.

I wanted to steal this sign and put it on the bridge over Observation Creek. But, y’know, video surveillance. Exercise vague caution.

(For Americans: star jumps = jumping jacks). I love whomever wrote this sign. Especially that third bullet point.

‘Til Next Time

Thanks for indulging my occasional desire for rambling and randomness (OK, so my desire for rambling is less occasional and more constant. Guilty.). Next post will return you to our regularly scheduled adventures :)

South Island, Pt. 18: The End

Well, this is it. Much as it pains me, it’s time to bid farewell to the South Island.

If you’d like to plan a South Island trip yourself, here’s my itinerary:

Sunday, Feb 14
Fly to Wellington, arrive evening, take bus to city, walk to hostel

Monday

Take bus to ferry terminal, board ferry 9am. Ferry arrive 12:30pm Picton, hire car
Drive to Nelson (2h) Queen Charlotte Highway (stops for photos)
Check in YHA Hostel Nelson
Explore Nelson Town (Trafalgar Square, ANZAC Park, Royal Gardens, the Centre of New Zealand)

Tuesday

Drive to Nelson Lakes Park (~2h)
Whiskey Falls track
Lake Rotoiti

Wednesday

Drive to Abel Tasman Park (~2h)
Wainui Falls track
Wainui Bay

Thursday

Drive to Marahau (~1h15m)
Abel Tasman Coast Track to Anchorage (24km return)

Friday

Drive to Rabbit Island (~30m)
Rabbit Island beach and walk

Saturday

Check out of hostel
Drive to Greymouth (4h)
Drop off car at train station
Get lunch in town
1:45pm TranzAlpine Kiwi Rail to Christchurch
6pm Arrive Christchurch, shuttle to city
Check in YHA Hostel Christchurch
Christchurch Gardens, see city

Sunday, Feb 21

Pick up car
Drive to Mt. Sunday
Drive to Queenstown
Check in hostel
Lake Esplanade

Monday

Kawaru Gorge and suspension bridge
Roaring Meg
Arrowtown
Queenstown Gardens (disc golf; discs can be rented at hostel)

Tuesday

Drive to Glenorchy (~45m)
Lake Sylvan walk
Drive to Te Anau (3h)
Check in YHA Te Anau
Te Anau bird sanctuary
Bits of Kepler Track

Wednesday

Drive to Pop’s View lookout (~45m, dodgy road in places)
Lake Marian track

Thursday

Milford Cruise (Go Orange, leaves from Te Anau)

Friday

Drive to Queenstown (2h)
Check in to YHA Queenstown Lakefront
Explore Queenstown, relax

Saturday
Check out of hostel
Drop car off at airport
Fly to Auckland

Bonus Pictures

Here’s some pictures which didn’t fit anywhere else.

I was driving along and saw this bridge. I had to stop at a petrol station, walk back, and get this photo. Worth. It.

Got this photo near the end of the trip, as I recall. Just a random scenic overlook off the motorway.

The End…?

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
-Bilbo Baggins

This is the end of my two-week vacation. But really, living in New Zealand is almost like a permanent vacation.

The road goes ever, ever on. Next time, we’ll be back in Auckland. See you then :)

South Island, Pt. 17: Milford Sound

Welcome back! We left off last time (Part 16) right before I got on a boat. If you’re confused about why I’m getting on a boat, read the previous post (if you did and you’re still confused, that’s my fault. Sorry.)

There is no other word for the weather than “wet”. I apologize for any shots marred by droplets on my lens; I tried to keep it pretty clean, but when it’s as wet as it was on this trip then there’s only so much one can do.

The trip started out pretty foggy. Fortunately, it did clear up a bit.

Ahh, better. Still can’t see into the distance, but at least I can see my hand in front of my face!

I hope you like waterfalls, because in addition to the water falling from the sky the cliff faces have torrents of runoff all over.

You think I’m exaggerating? Well, you’d usually be right, but in this case just look!

There is so much water just absolutely roaring off that cliff. Utterly unbelievable.

These falls are called the Four Sisters, though in this weather there’s some smaller bonus sisters as well :)

Off to our starboard the fog was lifting a bit; enough to see another boat go right under a pretty substantial waterfall. We would do so as well later on in the journey.

I believe this kind of fall is called a horsetail fall. The fog lifted just enough to give me a nice clear shot of about 80% of it.

Most of my fellow passengers stayed indoors (and dry), but a few like me ventured outside.

This one’s pretty cool because it turns sideways at the bottom!

And then…wait…what’s on that rock? Zoom and Enhance!

Why, it’s some seals! I’d say they were sunning themselves, but the sun is nowhere to be seen.

Off in the distance there’s Captain Squigglefalls, which I think is it’s official name (it’s not).

It’s a bit hard to get a sense of scale for these falls, but trust me when I say these are massive.

These are called the Disappearing Falls, because the wind will pick up the water and make it look like it disappears in midair. I think I managed to catch it in the act with a good enough shot that you can see what’s going on.

We also, as previously mentioned, went beneath a rather large waterfall. I put my camera inside (lest I demonstrate the difference between water resistant and waterproof), though I myself stood outside just to experience it. I didn’t think I could get any wetter, but I was wrong. I was utterly and completely soaked by the end of the trip.

So that’s Milford Sound. And that’s also the end of my South Island adventure. I will have one more post to wrap everything up, but I have no more trips to show you. I hope you enjoyed! Thanks for coming with me, and I hope you’ll join me back in Auckland as well as I continue to have adventures back home too.

South Island, Pt. 16: Milford Road

This is it; my final trip on the South Island! This is also the only trip where I paid for a proper tour. If you want to properly explore Milford Sound you need to pay someone with a boat…I went with Go Orange (who didn’t pay me to plug them, though if someone from Go Orange is reading and you want to hook me up then I’m all ears) and was entirely pleased.

This post will be mostly the trip to the sound, as I have enough pictures of the sound itself to warrant their own post.

All pictures in this post will be from the Nikon. I left my phone behind because I thought it might perish in the wet, which as you will see turned out to be quite a good idea.

When I pointed my camera toward Te Anau, this is what I saw. Overcast, mildly rainy, not bad.

Pointing at Milford Sound, this is what I see. Even for such a wet place, the weather was wet that particular day.

I had been advised that rain is not a bad thing when touring Milford Sound; it makes the waterfalls and runoff all that more impressive. I have to agree, though perhaps the rain could have been a little less hard that day. Ah, well, I have some great pictures of some Misty Mountains!

Such as this one right here, for instance :)

The bus loaded up in Te Anau very close to my hostel. Everything in Te Anau is very close to everything else, but the place where it loaded up is even closer than most things. The bus comes all the way from Queenstown, so those not interested in coming all the way out to Te Anau can still enjoy Milford Sound (I love Queenstown, but Te Anau is pretty great too. Definitely don’t give it a miss if you’re touring the South Island).

We took heaps of photo breaks. This one is at the Mirror Lakes, which apparently on a clear day are almost as reflective as their name suggests.

I love how clever this sign is. As you can see, even on a rainy day the lakes are amazingly clear and reflective.

Although I mostly tried to eliminate people from my shots, here’s what it was actually like. This is why I don’t particularly love tour groups; it’s a much less personal experience. But what’cha gonna do?

We spent about 15 minutes at the lovely Mirror Lakes before saddling back up and heading on down the road. Our driver wanted to head out quickly so we can get ahead of some of the slower buses which were in front of us. I like his style.

In this really cool photo, you can see one of the things that makes Milford Sound famous: the runoff from the mountains creates hundreds of tiny waterfalls all down the cliff sides.

The runoff comes both from rain and from melting snow. As you can see in this photo, even in late Summer there’s still some snow left on the higher peaks!

I Zoomed and Enhanced the snow a bit. It was too wet outside to change to the big lens or else I’d have zoomed more!

Right before the Sound we stopped off at a bridge. Look at this river! I would not like to be in this river tied to a log with a talking llama that’s actually an emperor, that’s for sure! (Bring it on!).

As we walked along the bridge, we saw the high ridge surrounding the sound. The impressive waterfalls coming down the cliff gave us a little teaser of what was to come.

And it’s with this teaser that I will leave you. Come join me next post for a rather wet cruise through the Sound itself! See you then!

Trail Log: Lake Sylvan Walk

Alright, the Coastal Track trail log ended up being a bit of a slog because that was a pretty long walk, so hopefully this one will be a bit shorter and sweeter.

(Why is this being posted now and not right after the Lake Sylvan post? Because I forgot it was there. I hope this doesn’t shatter any illusions you have that I’ve got it all together somehow :)).

These signs don’t tell you how many km the trail is, so I’ll just have time information.

First sign. 10:29am. 40 minutes to Lake Sylvan via the normal track, 1.3 hours by the tramway.

Second sign where the track splits from the tramway. I took the track.

10:47am. Took me 18 minutes, which is 2 minutes less than the predicted time.

Third sign at Lake Sylvan.

11:02am. 33 minutes total, so I shaved 7 minutes off the total estimate and 5 minutes off the second leg.

On the way back, I took the tramway. I note that this sign estimates a vague 1-2 hours. We will ignore that and go with the more precise 1h20m estimated by the sign at the trailhead.

Now 11:05am, so it took me all of three minutes to take photos of the lake.

This is the only sign you get, which is where the tramway meets back up with the track.

11:50am. Took me 45 minutes, which is 15 minutes less than the estimate.

And here we are back at the start.

12:06pm. That’s 16 minutes from the last sign (a savings of 4 minutes). Total hike via the tramway: 1 hour 1 minute, for a savings of 19 minutes.

Total hike: 1h37m, including picture taking time.

South Island, Pt. 15: Lake Marian

When I was preparing for my South Island trip, I asked the advice of the travel desk at IEP. One thing which really stuck in my mind was the description of the road from Te Anau to Milford Sound: “quite grim”. Milford Sound is one of the wettest places in New Zealand, and according to its official website it is in fact one of the wettest places in the world. Thus, in addition to being poorly-maintained, narrow, plied with tour buses, and tortuously windy, the road is also constantly wet.

Of course, I was keen to give it a go.

Guess what? I survived. I also don’t have any pictures from the drive, because I was of course focused on driving. Anyway, the place where I drove to was the hike to Lake Marian.

Lake Marian and the surrounding area has the reputation of being clear, beautiful, and lush. Despite the rain, which was heavier than usual even for the Milford area, I decided to drive out there and give it a go.

The trail starts out with this suspension bridge over shockingly clear blue waters. The recent rains had turned this river into an absolute torrent, which did not make the bridge seem any safer!

The first bit of the track is pretty accessible. This photo is reminiscent of Wainui Falls quite a ways North of here. The weather is similar as well!

This water really is remarkable, both for its clarity and for the ferocity of these rapids!

Let me Zoom and Enhance, which on the Nexus means clambering down and holding the phone close, to show you just how clear this water is. Of course, legend has it that compared to Lake Marian this water is practically turbid! Legend also has it that if I wasn’t lazy and used a real camera, the top of that photo wouldn’t be completely overexposed. Just goes to show what legends are worth.

The trail quickly becomes…how to say this…not much of a trail at all. It really is slow going for most of the way, not because the trail itself is remarkably difficult but just because the terrain is so rough, the ground is so wet, and the trail is so difficult to find sometimes!

If it weren’t for the trail markers, there would be no chance of making it all the way to the lake. As it was I still wished for more frequent blazes to show the way.

The trail does involve some significant inclines, though it’s still the rocky ground rather than the topography providing the most difficult challenges.

The day wasn’t just rainy, it was misty. Mist is so lame; it’s like rain that’s too lazy to be rain. As you walk through it, you’re sort of making the air rain on you. I could totally see a horror film being shot here though. Blair Witch Project 3 location scouts, take note!

Uhh, which way?

As I recall, I wandered around here for a bit trying to find the path. I need to start taking notes; I don’t remember if this is the real path or a fake path I followed thinking it was the real path!

I do remember this climb, though! Only like three meters, but it’s literally a straight-up rock climb with wet, muddy rocks. At least it’s well marked! (I don’t seem to have gotten a photo from the bottom. Lame!)

Very atmospheric!

This is another part where I found it hard to figure out which way to go. From this perspective, it’s a little unclear.

Sometimes you have to be right on the markers before you can see them, especially in the fog! If you’re playing “find the trail marker” at home, clicking the picture for a bigger version will be helpful. I wish I had a way to convey using text and pictures just how difficult it was to even find the way forward on this trail. I don’t want to make it sound super dangerous or dodgy, because it really wasn’t, but it certainly wasn’t as easy a hike as the distance and elevation figures suggest!

But after seemingly hours (or, according to camera timestamps, a bit less than an hour and a half), I came to a sight I did not expect:

Public toilets?

Seriously, who in the world built an outhouse way out here in the middle of nowhere?

And then, just a slight bit further on, the beautiful, majestic, picturesque lake that makes it all worth it…

…is what I probably would have said, if I could have seen any of it. (And yes, for those waiting for the answer to the riddle from yesterday: this is how one can walk up to a lake without seeing it.)

I heard tell from other travelers that the view up here is quite amazing, with the hills covered in small, temporary waterfalls from the runoff. Indeed, here is the view of those hills:

Yes, friends, that was my reward.

I do want to point out that what I could see of the lake was amazingly, shockingly clear.

Not a wasted trip; I’m glad I came. But admittedly could be better photo blogging material :). Perhaps I will get a second chance to hike back to Lake Marian some less foggy day and will be able to properly enjoy its picturesque charms.

Next post will be, much as it saddens me to say it, the start of my final South Island adventure. But since I just can’t let go, I will turn it into two posts in order to savor it as much as possible. And believe me, it’s worth savoring. See you then!

South Island, Pt. 14: Te Anau

Friends, I am sad.

Why am I sad? Because we’re fast approaching the end of my time in the South Island. It’s been so great getting to relive the memories as I write about all these amazing things that I experienced while down South.

My mourning is premature, though! There’s still some cool stories left to be told and cool places left to visit. And one of those cool places is the tiny town of Te Anau.

Te Anau (population: 1900) is the creatively-named town on the shores of Lake Te Anau. It’s primarily known for being sort of the gateway town to the Milford Sound, which is a very popular destination and about which more shall be said anon. The Kepler Track, yet another of New Zealand’s Great Walks, also starts in Te Anau. Finally, the town is home to a disproportionately large number of surprisingly good pizza places. I don’t know what the significance of that is, but I’m sure it’s important.

There’s also a quite nice breakfast place called The Sandfly. You can walk to pretty much anything in Te Anau in about ten minutes, so if you’re staying there I suggest you make that happen at least once. I’m not sure why they would name the venue after one of the most annoying creatures in the country though. We would never do anything like that in the US!

Not sure how that photo slipped in here. Anyway, moving on!

For lovers of the rural life, Te Anau must be paradise. The views are phenomenal (it can honestly stand toe-to-toe with Queenstown on that front, which cannot be said of most places), there’s a supermarket for all your foodular needs, and so long as you never feel the desire to go anywhere or do anything other than hiking then you’re set for life.

Te Anau is also very wet. Actually, as I find out later, there are much wetter places than Te Anau. But being on the West coast in the Fiordlands, even in the summer it rains very frequently.

The views, though. The amazing, amazing views.

Just look at those mountains. Writing this post, some of the pictures I’m rejecting would be the headliner picture for other posts!

Te Anau is also home to a bird sanctuary. This is a kākā, a type of parrot. Kākā are cheeky and annoying but vulnerable enough from a conservation standpoint that we’re starting to take action to make sure they’re going to be preserved (see also: the kea). This one is obviously incarcerated.

These are not just fat pukeko, although you might be excused for thinking they are. This is actually a takahe, and for fifty years we thought they were extinct. Then a doctor and amateur birdologist found one near Te Anau — demonstrating that animal conservation is not an exact science but instead depends much on the efforts of passionate and involved amateurs. The bloke who rediscovered the takahe is not only remembered almost exclusively for that but also got a lake named after him, so fair play as far as I’m concerned.

(Birdologist, much like foodular some paragraphs back, is not, strictly speaking, an actual word. But I like it better than ornithologist, which is a word but should not be.)

I must say, I’m quite glad that the takahe are still around. I don’t think they contribute much to the ecosystem as a whole, but they’re pretty neat in a goofy-looking sort of way. It’s so strange to think of an entire species going extinct. I’m certainly not opposed to human progress and I’m not sure that “living in harmony with nature” is entirely possible when substantial portions of nature either want to eat us or at least strongly want us to go away, but given the choice between making the effort to preserve takahe or just figure that their demise is evolution taking its course, I’m strongly in favor of keeping them around. So much so that I would like to share with you this picture of some takahe butts.

Although their girth and coloration help differentiate them from the pukeko (which, pleasingly, is both singular and plural), takahe are also entirely flightless. As far as I know, takahe are only found in New Zealand, while pukeko are also found all around the South Pacific (where they are more broadly known as the Australasian swamphen).

The bird sanctuary is right next to the lake and…wait, what’s that in the lower right-hand corner? Let’s Zoom and Enhance a bit:

That would be a white-faced heron. I was hoping to get some shots with its neck out, but it was too busy chilling in the stream and I’m not such an oaf that I would annoy it into flying away just to get a shot.

(If you are for some reason heartbroken about the lack of heron action pictures, I have a few properly good white-faced heron shots coming up in posts so far in the future I haven’t even written them yet. Just hang tight for about a month and you’ll get all the heron you want!)

While walking past the bird sanctuary I found this weird waterfall window thing.

The Kepler Track (or, perhaps more accurately, the path to the Kepler Track) is right beyond the bird sanctuary. I walked it casually for about an hour or so just to see what it was like, but nothing serious. The full track can take four or five days to complete, so one hour of idle strolling did not get me particularly far along :)

So that’s Te Anau. Although Queenstown was a bit more my jam, I did quite enjoy my time in Te Anau as well. If you’re a fan, then don’t worry: I stayed in Te Anau for three nights, so the next couple of adventures will be starting off from there!

Next time, we will walk right up to a lake, but we won’t see it. If that sounds like a riddle that would stump both Gollum and Bilbo, then stay tuned for the solution!