We were basically out of food at this point. We had two pretty small granola bars so we each ate one. We got a late start since we were both exhausted from our 44 kilometers hiked over the last two days. We didn’t have very far to go (we thought about 7 kilometers from the Divide to Gunns Camp plus the one hour hike out from Howden Hut to the Divide. Late morning to early afternoon, we had everything packed up and were ready to leave the wilderness and get back to semi-civilization with a food shop. I say “semi” because Gunns Camp is definitely not a very modern camp ground.
There is a trail that the Hut warden told us about (Pass Creek Trail) that went from the Divide down to the road that Gunns Camp is on. She told George about it and described it as “tricky.” This wasn’t very comforting to me. What does she mean by tricky? Like, tricky terrain? Tricky to follow/not well marked? Tricky because of mud or bad trail maintenance? Tricky could mean a lot of things and I didn’t want to find out while walking the trail. I would have a major panic attack if we got lost on the trail at this point in our trek and level of food supplies remaining. I was going to ask her but the weather ended up decided our route for us.
It rained pretty good earlier in the morning and so the trail would have been very wet. George’s hiking shoes are not water proof or water resistant and so to keep dry feet, we opted for the trail down to the Divide, a short walk along the main road, and then the side road to Gunns Camp. It was a unique feeling when we were approaching the Divide car park and heard the sound of traffic. We had been in the forest for 6 days and hadn’t heard any traffic; it was so quiet. Well, with the exception of the morning of our full rest day (I forgot to mention this in the previous post)…. within the space of as little as an hour, I think three small passenger airplanes and maybe four or five helicopters flew by; planes going one direction and helicopters in different directions. It was so weird! The warden said it was all the VIPs that get flown into and out of Milford Sound; this valley is in their flight path apparently. Otherwise yes, the wilderness and mountains had been spectacularly peaceful.
We continued our walk along the “highway” as they call it here. Really it’s just a regular two-lane road with pretty moderate speed limits due to the very curvy and sometimes narrow roads. It wasn’t scary at all really; maybe slightly in a narrow section where we couldn’t walk on the other side of the guard rail because of the dropoff on the other side. But seriously, the drivers here are really aware and very friendly and respectful. We made our way down to Lower Hollyford Road with no problems all. That walk from the Divide to Lower Hollyford Road was about 4 kilometers. Then, to my chagrin, the sign on the main road pointing towards Gunns Camp said 8 kilometers…. WHAT! That’s a long way!
My feet were beginning to ache in my hiking boots already. I found out pretty quickly after I started using them that they were not made for standing or walking on man-made hard surfaces for extended periods of time (concrete, asphalt, etc). I can walk for a while with no issues on a nature trail (˜14-15km range is when my feet start to ache) because the ground is naturally softer than concrete/asphalt. So my feet were starting to ache after about 6 or so kilometers from Howden Hut because we were walking on the side of the road. The 8 kilometers from the main road into Gunns Camp became more and more painful. I was walking as fast as my feet would carry me because I knew that the sooner we got to Gunns Camp, the sooner we would have access to some food and could have (it’s all relative folks) a feast.
There was basically NOWHERE to sit dow and rest along this road. Thankfully it had rained in the morning or else we would have been dusted by each car that drove by (it was a gravel side road). The downside was that the sides of the road were wet and so if I had given in to my legs’ desire to stop and rest, I would have had a wet and dirty rear end. So, one foot in front of the other as quickly as possible. The last 3-4 kilometers were the toughest. George’s backpack was bothering his shoulders; my shoes were not agreeing with my feet. Each of us were walking in silence, urging ourselves to continue, to push through the aches and pains that we were feeling.
As we got closer and closer, I was also becoming more and more famished. We only had a very small breakfast and now my body was calling louder and louder for something substantial. We finally came upon a sign that said Gunns/Hollyford Camp 400M Ahead; a sweet feeling of relief washed over me. This helped put just a little pep in my step to get there just a bit faster. We walked into the reception shop area and I saw two glorious bookshelves with food: chips, pasta, sauce, licorice, Bundaberg sodas, rice crackers, chocolate…. yes, we were going to eat it all! 😀
I asked if they had any beds/bunks available but there weren’t any so we made due with a place to put up our tent. Camp set up, we returned to the little shop and bought a pound of pasta, a can of sauce, chips, chocolate… I went back later and bought a bag of their natural licorice. I’m pretty sure I could have eaten a whole pound of pasta but we cooked half to save some for tomorrow… their food was not cheap at all. I call this place “semi-civilization” because it really is out in the middle of nowhere (Fiordland National Park). I heard that there was no cell reception at this place a while ago, there was no Wi-Fi, no phone lines, and no electricity. This place operates off the grid. They run the generator from 6:00pm – 10pm at night each day. They heat the water for showers by burning wood/coal in a fireplace in the bathroom building. They have satellite internet that they use for their online bookings for the accommodations that they provide. After dinner, I took my first shower in about 3-4 days (seriously needed – yeeesshhh)… then bedtime.
January 9th and 10th
I knew that my Mom would be starting to freak out by this point because I hadn’t yet been able to contact her. The hosts at Gunns Camp were super nice people. They gave us some coffee and 4 beautiful eggs for free for our breakfast. I figured that if I asked nicely, I may just be able to send Mom a quick email saying that I was out of the woods, safe and sound and put her mind and my mind at ease. So, I went to their reception area when no one else was in there and just said that I needed to let my Mom know that I had reached this place safe and they were like “Ok, but it has to be quick.” So they motioned for me to immediately come to their back office area where they had opened up their email page. I quickly wrote Mom’s email address (thankful that I knew it by heart by then) and wrote a note basically saying that I’m alive, I’m at Gunns Camp, here for a few nights, that we would be reaching Te Anau and Queenstown within the coming days and that I would in touch when I had access to Wi-Fi (in Te Anau). Email sent; I prayed that it would send through successfully. Thankfully it did.
The sand flies were even worse here than at Howden Hut. So you can’t just hang out outside unfortunately. But that’s fine. We were too tired to do anything so we just hung out in the common room, worked on a puzzle with a girl from Canada (Toronto I think), two guys from Estonia, and one guy from eastern Europe somewhere. Oh, we also met a family from New Caledonia.
I took a nap or two while staying here. We went swimming in the ice-cold river that flows by Gunns Camp….brrrrr. I also got a piece of paper and added up all the kilometers to know just how far we had walked in 7 days. See below:
Yup – I walked almost 100 kilometers in 7 days (almost 60 miles)!!! No wonder we’re exhausted!! Holy beeper!
The hosts lit a little bonfire a couple of evenings and the first evening we had quite a good group around the fire. We chatted with a guy who was here with his family (originally from Poland) but living and working as a software engineer in Christchurch. There were the guys from Estonia and eastern Europe, a couple that were living in Canada (guy from Spain and girl originally from another small European country – can’t remember because I’m so far behind), an older gentleman from Germany, and the girl from Canada. There was just a really nice vibe and attitude from the group around the fire and made for a really nice time.
We had been keeping an eye on the weather because we didn’t want to get to Milford Sound and have it all foggy and not be able to see anything. The weather report was ok for the 10th but better for the 11th of January. So we decided to pay for two more nights and go to Milford Sound the morning of the 11th and decide which time of cruise we would take when we got there and found out about availability from the tour cruise operators. The afternoon/evening of the 10th, we were hanging out in the common area and started talking to a middle-aged couple that we recognized from earlier in the day. They had set up their campsite next to our site. George was speaking Dutch to them. They said they were already booked on a cruise in Milford Sound in the morning and that we could ride with them to Milford Sound if we wanted to. Yea sure and thanks so much, Chris and Renata! It was really nice spending part of the day with them. Super nice people.
We had heard that it was good to head out early to get to Milford Sound because there was a one-way tunnel that acted as a bottleneck to incoming and outgoing traffic to/from. So we were up and ready to go by 7:15AM when we headed out with Chris and Renata. The morning was slightly overcast but the sun was winning the battle over the clouds and it was becoming more and more sunny. George and I were really happy we had waited a day to let the weather improve. We walked into the building and started asking the tour operators about their cruises, times, and costs. Real Journeys was $95 for a bit of a longer cruise than normal. Another operator was either a little cheaper or the same price. One tour operator, Jucy, was $45/pp for a 2 hour cruise. Chris and Renata were on that cruise at 9 so George and I decided to go with that one.
I found that this place/building had wi-fi for a price and so quickly signed in and paid the cost and had a few awesome minutes of connectivity to the outside world. My phone was buzzing for maybe half a minute straight from being off for about 9 days now. I quickly sent mom a few select pictures from our time in the woods so she knew I was fine, etc. Then, we hopped on the boat for our cruise.
Now, I was a bit underwhelmed by Milford Sound from the start. Only because I was expecting and hoping for a little bit of a longer cruise than two hours. Additionally, I think it had been so hyped up in my mind from hearing reports from other people, that I just expected this mind-blowing experience. While it was very incredible, I didn’t find it completely mind-blowing. But anyway, I’m very glad we did it and enjoyed it very much! So, now I’ll just stop talking, add some pictures, and let you be the judge, although, you really need to see it in person.
After the cruise, we stopped at the cafe for a small brunch and coffee time, then started the drive back. We stopped at a few places to get out and take some pictures. First place was called The Chasm and was a waterfall down into a gorge.
After that it was just a couple of stops on the side of the road to see the views, and a Kea.
January 12th and 13th
We knew there was a Stray bus going to come to Gunns Camp (this is one of Stray’s stops on the Stray Everywhere pass) and so we were hoping we could talk to the driver and hop on the bus to get to Te Anau, a real town with a real grocery store with fresh food! So we did talk to the driver and we were able to hop on the bus! We didn’t have much for breakfast; we split our last granola bar that I had scavenged out of my backpack. We didn’t want to buy any more of the expensive food from Gunns Camp and so just opted to wait till we reached Te Anau in about 3 hours. We made a couple of stops on the way but otherwise it went pretty fast. We got to Te Anau, hopped off the bus, walked to the Fresh Choice supermarket and bought fresh rolls, cheese, cream cheese, bananas, jam…. I think that’s all. We had to limit ourselves because we were grocery shopping way past the level of hungry…. we were famished.
We brought breakfast to a picnic table near the lakefront and devoured the food. Finally I was full and remained that way till late afternoon. We stayed at the Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park for two nights in the backpackers dorm… and we slept in bunk beds. It felt amazing! By then we had been camping for 10 nights. It was time to sleep in a real bed. Later that day, we went back to the grocery store and bought stuff for a hearty salad, muesli and yogurt and fruit and fresh juice for breakfast…. and continued the feast. It seriously was the best few meals ever! 🙂
We spent most of our time walking around town, looking at tourist shops, mostly browsing but partly looking for para-cord; cord to make a survival bracelet out of (will explain later). We spent part of one afternoon resting by the lake. I think you get the point: easy walking and/or being stationary. Resting… We went for a nice long walk one evening before dinner to the Kepler Control Gates which is basically the start of the Kepler Track (which is another Great Walk). We stopped at Te Anau Bird Sanctuary and ended up feeding some ducks. I love ducks… they’re so adorable!
It was a really nice relaxing and restful couple of days in Te Anau. Late afternoon of the 14th we caught a bus back to Queenstown.