June 24 - Manapouri/Queenstown
New Zealand - There and Back Again
I had a really nice night of sleep. The bed was comfortable and warm. It was good to be out of the elements again. I keep thinking I don’t know how Native Americans could survive in teepees their whole lives. Constantly packing up and moving, sleeping on the ground. It’s a hassle, especially if it’s cold or rainy at all.
We woke up around 7:45. It was Sunday so we wanted to go to church. We had looked on the map the day before and seen that there was a Catholic Church about ½ a mile down the street. We had to pack up all of our things into the car and eat a quick breakfast before we could check out.
I had all of my things nicely stacked so it was really easy. Andy had his things thrown out everywhere to dry so it took him a lot longer. I assumed church would be at 9 AM so I told him he needed to hurry and pack if he wanted to eat breakfast, otherwise he’d have to eat after.
We got our things packed neatly and dropped off the key at the reception desk. We were out the door by 8:50. The church was tiny and just on the side of the road. There was nowhere to park really because a truck with a boat had parked sideways and took up about 8 spots. We had to drive down about 60 yards in front of a little coffee shop and parked there.
We got to the church a few minutes before it started. When we walked in all I saw was old people. There was about 8 people already there and they were all sitting in the back. The building was maybe 100 feet by 50 feet. There were 10 pews on each side with one aisle down the middle.
We sat in the third row on the left. I don’t like sitting in the back. Eventually 40 people showed up. One of the families wasn’t old people. Te Anau must be a retirement community or something. The priest was probably in his mid to late 40s.
They didn’t have any instruments that I could see so the priest just said what the processional song would be and started singing. He was pretty good. The congregation was much better than the last church we went to. At the previous church they didn’t even seem to know the song the priest was having us sing.
At this church they were still learning the new parts to the mass. They knew all of them except the songs during the breaking of the bread. During those songs an organ was playing one time, so I thought maybe there was one somewhere in the back or upstairs that I couldn’t see. The next song though was obviously a tape recording with instruments and singing. So I’m not sure if the previous song was recorded also or not.
The service was basically identical to what we were used to except the end. For the final prayer the priest just stayed in his chair to say it. It was a very informal service. He made statements during his homily about something and asked a question and some of the people responded. I guess in a tiny town where everyone knows everybody that would be common.
The service lasted about 55 minutes. Afterwards the priest asked if we were in town for some fishing thing. I guess there is a tournament of some kind going on or there is good fishing in the area. We told him we were there for hiking. He thought it was a little cold for that.
We walked back to the car and got our cameras and took pictures of the church. It was set in front of mountains and the sun was shining really well on it. We ate our breakfast at the car. We had our last bananas and yogart.
A lot of the mountains we were unable to see on our previous stop through Te Anau were now visible. We planned to head south about 20 kilometers to do part of the Kepler Track. The Kepler Track is a 3 to 4 day hike that involves staying in huts. We didn’t have time to do the whole thing, but we wanted to do a section from Rainbow Reach to the first hut going the opposite way that most people go.
We wanted to see this section because part of Lord of the Rings was filmed here. The lady from the Te Anau visitor center had told us this the first time we stopped in Te Anau so we figured we would try to do it if we had time. Since we didn’t do the Milford Track and took out a few locations later on we were going to have time.
The hike is supposed to last about 3 hours. Before we could get started we needed to get gas. My credit card is maxed out until I pay it off so Andy had to buy gas. The benefit to getting gas on a credit card is the free miles you get. I should have my card paid off on July 2. Last night on the internet I set it to withdraw at that point.
We started driving south around 10:30 AM. We found the turn off which led us down a gravel road for a few kilometers. It was more bumpy than some of the other gravel roads we had driven on in New Zealand, but it was still not that bad.
We got to the start of the trail at 11 AM. There was a sign that said to lock up valuables because thieves come through the area. Ordinarily people park there cars there for days, and it’s in the middle of nowhere, so their belongings are easily taken I guess.
I was thinking that someone was going to steal our things. As I was packing my snacks in my bag another car drove up. It was a truck with a guy and a little boy, maybe 10 years old. They drove past, turned around, and then parked a few spots down from us. There were 3 or 4 other cars already there from people doing the hike.
Andy was packing his things as well and finishing his breakfast. He still had some limbus bread left so he ate the last of that. I was looking up towards the trail and noticed that the guy and the boy were starting the trail. It wasn’t a big deal except for the fact that he had a rifle strapped to his back. We were in a national park so I was assuming hunting was illegal. I was thinking he was going to teach his son how to hunt, or he was going to rob people. Most likely us.
I was now a little hesitant to do the hike. Not because I actually thought I would be robbed, but because he may see us from a distance and mistake us for an animal and shoot at us. Especially since there are literally no animals bigger than a rabbit in this country. If they are, they are cows, horses, sheep, or fenced in deer. It would be a great place to have wild animals, but they don’t seem to exist.
Maybe he was going to hunt birds or something. I never found out, but I was tempted to ask him what he planned to shoot since there were no animals worth killing. At the trailhead there was a small shelter with information about the hike. One of the things I read mentioned a warning to hunters that park rangers rode bikes through the park at dusk and dawn. I thought it was going to say they would be looking for illegally hunting, but all it said was to be aware of this. Maybe so they wouldn’t be mistaken for an animal.
There were signs that mentioned hunting was illegally in the park. Maybe they didn’t go on the trail and turned off before it started.
Andy was taking forever to get ready. I was already apprehensive about the murderer and his boy on the trail, so I was ready to get started. I remember thinking that if they did go on the trail that they were going the other way than us. I guess I don’t really like seeing guns since I’ve never really been around them. Who wants to hunt for food when you can just go to the grocery store? I would rather just take pictures of animals.
The trail begins with a long swing bridge. That seems to be a common thing in New Zealand. We did some filming and got some pictures. Andy was taking a long time to do this and I couldn’t figure out why. We had seen bridges like this a lot already. About 15 yards onto the bridge there was a spider web from a cable to the wood siding. It looked really cool because there was water droplets on it. It looked like silk. There was no spider though. We got pictures of it and then continued on.
The hike is pretty wooded at first, but different than what we had experienced. It wasn’t really a mossy forest like the others. The trail was very open. It was like going for a stroll in the woods because it was very flat and very easy.
We stopped along the way and did some videos and took some pictures. A few people with backpacks passed us. There was one old guy that was alone, then about 10 minutes later two ladies passed us, and then not far behind them were three ladies. We passed four more old people later. They were all heading out as they had completed the track.
If old people can do the hike, than you know it’s easy. It’s one of the more popular treks, and it’s accessibility is probably one of the reasons. The first part follows the river from about 25 yards above. Most of it is about 30 yards inland from the edge of the cliff, but occasionally it led to the side for views of mountains in the distance along with the river below.
The trail stayed flat for 99% of the time. There were a few downhill and uphill portions, but they were very minor climbs and descents. As we went further into the forest the scenery became more of what we were used to. The trees, rocks, and sides of the trail were mossy.
Along the way there were four little sign posts. They were just numbered either 1, 2, 3, or 4. We didn’t know what they meant, but assumed that because Lord of the Rings was filmed in this area that they were something to do with that. One was next to a bridge, and another led down to the water’s edge. From what we had heard and read it seemed like this was the area where the elf girl ran with Frodo through the winds to safety.
We passed a lot of small wooden traps. I was thinking maybe the hunter had set them and went to check on them. Then I was thinking that the park rangers were trapping animals to study the population or to get rid of something that wasn’t native.
At one point me and Andy got separated. He was taking pictures and I was ready to continue on. I had walked ahead and out of the woods the hunter and his son appeared. As they saw me the guy started walking towards me, but his son sat down on the side of the trail. The guy turned around and told him to get up. They walked right on by. Andy was somewhere behind me, I couldn’t see him because the trail curved. I walked off as fast as I could.
There were two boggy areas on the trail. The first we came to was a lookout of a small lake. The trail leading up to it branched off the main track and was a boardwalk. It looked like the place where Frodo may have fallen into the water. There were a few parts that looked just like it. I got there about 10 minutes before Andy did, so I just took some pictures and filmed myself. When he showed up we did some more pictures and filming.
The other bog part was a boardwalk as well, but was just part of the normal trail. About half way across the boardwalk was a sign that explained the importance of the bogs. 90% of the natural bogs in New Zealand have been drained for farmland, which is the case in most countries. In the past people didn’t realize their necessity in times of heavy rains or drought.
The bogs can trap lots of water so if there is lots of rain than they can keep it stored up and therefore there isn’t as much flooding. In heavy droughts that stored up water can be used. I learned that from reading the sign post.
These two areas would be perfect for moose. I really wish they would have more animals in New Zealand. That is my only complaint so far, other than the fact that everything is way over priced.
We made it to a fork in the road that pointed to two different huts. One was a 20 minute walk, and the other a 15 minute walk. We wanted to go to the closer one. It led down to a rocky beach surrounded by mountains on three sides. Most of the mountains were in the distance, but some were right across the lake.
The lake was Lake Manapouri, which is the only access point to Doubtful Sound. We had wanted to go there, but during the winter there aren’t as many activities. In the warmer months there are kayaking trips. In order to get there now the only option is a cruise which costs over $250 NZD. We didn’t want to pay that much.
At the lake we took a lot of pictures. I did a few self portraits. Andy wanted to do some jumping pictures so he set up his timer and did a few. I thought it looked fun so I had him take some of me. They turned out really well. We also did a video jumping shot with Andy’s camera. It turned out kind of stupid, but it will be something to work on in other locations.
We spent about 20 minutes in this area. We weren’t to the hut yet so we had to walk along the beach for a few hundred yards than back into the forest. Off in the distance we had seen a small motor boat, so we assumed that’s where the hut was.
We walked for another 20 minutes after a few stops for photos and then walked out of the forest back onto the beach. The motor boat was gone, but the hut was just ahead. It was tiny. It only held six people and was just a one room building. Outside there was a fire pit. In order to stay in the huts people must pre-book.
Across the lake I could see the motor boat. I guess it was a ranger and figured nobody was signed up to stay there for the night so he went over to the other one. We walked a little further past the hut along the beach to a peninsula. I was hoping it would give views around the corner and we’d see more mountains. We didn’t see that many, but it was worth the walk.
The tide was going out so we could walk out a little further. There were some large footprints of some kind of animal that led down to the water and disappeared. They reappeared again further down on the beach. Next to them was a trail of human footprints. Honestly the footprints looked like an elk, but I haven’t seen any except those that are in fences.
Maybe this one broke free. I was thinking that the human footprints were from someone tracking it and then killed it. Maybe the hunter guy had walked that far.
It was around 2:30 PM at this point and we were ready to get back since we wanted to get to Queenstown for the night, if not farther. Queenstown was about 2 ½ hours away, and we didn’t want to drive on the roads in the dark for too long since they could be icy and the roads twist and turn a lot on sharp curves.
We began our trek back through the woods, across the beach, and back into the woods. We only stopped a few times to do some video shots and take pictures. We passed the bogs, and in a few places Andy stopped to take pictures of mushrooms growing on logs and trees. I took pictures of the mushrooms on the log, but I was just trying to walk fast. We even ran on a few parts to get back faster.
We got to the point where I had seen the hunter come out of the woods. This was an area where there was a small stream that Andy wanted to take long exposure pictures of. We went a little bit off the trail and jumped across the stream. We sat up our cameras and did some pictures. The entire area is very mossy and looks like somewhere hobbits would live.
We spent about 30 minutes in this spot. My pictures looked really good. Afterwards we started running a little bit more to get back faster. It was after 3:30 PM by now. We wanted to be done around 4 PM if possible. We stopped a couple more times to take pictures.
We passed a big tree with an opening in the trunk at the bottom. Definitely a house where hobbits live so we took pictures. We only stopped one or two more times to take pictures of the mountains along the river. The lighting was different and some of the mountains were more visible than they had been earlier in the day. .
We got back to the car around 4:15 PM. We had driven south to Manapouri, so we had to back track through Te Anau on our way to Queenstown. There were only two towns between Te Anau and Queenstown on the map. Neither were big towns and not ideal stopping points.
We ended up driving all the way to Queenstown with the hopes of staying in a cheap Holiday Park, or settling on the Twelve Mile Delta Campground we had stayed in before. We hadn’t had lunch all day so we were starving. We were craving Fergburgers.
Andy wanted to Big Al, which had two patties, bacon, two fried eggs, beets, and then all the normal things. I just wanted the same basic hamburger I had before. The sauce and buns are really good. We figured it would be enough food to fill us up.
The drive back wasn’t too bad. It was mostly flat and straight, but the last 50 kilometers or so follows a lake and the roads constantly turn. A lot of cars were on the road for a Sunday night, at least a lot compared to what we expected. It was very few, maybe a few hundred for the whole drive, but it felt like a lot. It gets dark at 5:30 PM, so at 6:30 PM we thought it was late.
We got to Queenstown around 7 PM. There was a winter wonderland festival going on. At least that’s what we called it. There was an outdoor ice skating rink lit up with people skating. There was a Samsung tent lit up. Tree trunks were wrapped in Christmas lights. There were lots of people out walking around as well even though it was freezing. For a small town of only 11,000 they seemed to all be out that night. Of course it is a tourist trap, so lots of those people were probably foreigners.
We parked next to the little church we had before where the crazy guy kept backing into the car. We parked in front of it though this time. Being a Sunday night and after 6 PM it was free. We walked about 7 minutes through the cold to Fergburger. It was packed!
There must have been 30 people crammed in this little building plus people sitting outside eating and waiting for their order to be called. We walked inside and got behind people that looked like they were in line. We only had to wait a few people to put in our order.
We went to wait outside, but I was cold. I wanted to go inside. I pushed my way through the crowd and stood on the far side of the restaurant. Andy came in next to me. We had to take our bags off because it was so crammed.
A lady and her daughter were sitting in bar stools in front of us. The lady threw away an entire thing of fries. They were $4.50 NZD. She then threw away her daughters. I was shocked. She should have asked if anyone wanted them first. I would have taken them. Her daughter than threw away half her sandwich. She was probably 8, to think she could eat that whole thing was nuts.
I asked if they were done with the stools and the lady said yes and that they were leaving. She said it in a way like she was mad. I thought maybe she didn’t like the food since they threw it away and were leaving the way they were.
We sat down in the seats and waited for our food. On a TV in the front was a blooper show of people doing skiing. They were crashing all over the place. It was pretty funny. We also leaned over and watched the guys make the hamburgers. They were caking them in sauce and other sides.
Behind them was the grill and we watched the hamburgers cook. There were some with cheese, some with eggs, some with pineapple. They were huge. For some reason in New Zealand they like putting pineapple on hamburgers and chicken.
Our number was finally called after about 20 minutes. Our burgers looked really good. Before we ate Andy got pictures of the burgers. We ate the smaller one first. We meant to ask them to cut them in half so we could share, but forgot. Andy had his pocket knife so he cut them in half. The first burger was easy because it wasn’t so huge.
The Big Al was much harder to cut. Everything was falling out. The hardest part was cutting through the thick bun. Both of the burgers tasted good, but I preferred the normal hamburger. The bacon was good on the Big Al, but fried egg just seems weird to me. It’s not the right kind of flavor to mix with the other ingredients. There were also beets, which tasted fine, but it’s not a normal ingredient for anything.
Both hamburgers were very messy. I kept spilling things everywhere and sauce was dripping out all over my hands. These things need to come with a plate, a fork, and a knife. We finished eating and cleaning up and started the walk back to the car.
We wanted to see if the Holiday Park Campground near the Skyline Gondola was cheap since it was close and would have a kitchen where we could fill our water bottles to keep us warm. We really considered just going to the kitchen and getting hot water and then leaving to the cheap place.
When we got to the Holiday Park it looked more like it was just a motel, but in the back we could see campers and a kitchen facility. The entrance to that section was blocked with a swinging gate. We could park and run over there, but we thought there may be cameras watching us.
We decided to go inside and just ask about the price. I went in while Andy waited in the car. The lady was helping other people and took forever. After about 5 minutes I asked the price. It was $22 NZD per person. I didn’t want to pay that much so I told her I would go see if we wanted to stay here. We didn’t. We drove off never to be seen again.
We just settled for the farther, junkier campground. The price was right. We considered going further down the road to Glenorchy in the morning so it would be best to be in that area anyway. In Glen Orchy a few scenes from Lord of the Rings were filmed there. At the Twelve Mile Delta campground the scenes where Frodo and Sam watch the elephants and riders fight against Gondor soldiers.
We got to the campground just before 8:30 PM. A sign says to pay before 8:30 PM, otherwise to pay in the morning. We drove straight on through without stopping. We went back to the spot we camped before next to the bathroom. There were a few campervans in the area. It seems like they all park in the same vicinity even though it’s a big campground. It’s also the only campground we have stayed at where there aren’t trailers parked as if people are living there year round. This seems to be more for people just looking for a cheap place to stay for the night.
I wanted to do a time lapse of us setting up the tent so we got our head lamps and left the car lights on so we could see and the camera could take pictures. Hopefully it turns out ok. It was cold, but not freezing like it had been before. It took about 20 minutes to get everything set up, including the inside mats and sleeping bags.
I was trying to blow up my mat and noticed that a piece of the air bag was missing. It was the nozzle that goes from the bag to the mat. I had to just blow it up with my mouth. It was fine though because the bag isn’t very efficient anyway. I thought maybe I dropped it or it fell off in the hurricane. It also could be in my dry bag or somewhere in the car. I didn’t feel like digging around for it.
We got back in the car and wrote in our journals for the next hour and a half. It was after 10:30 PM and I was tired. We went into the tent to go to bed.