Alrighty, think I can actually sit down and write up a quick summary of what we've been up to for the last week or two.
Stewart Island was pretty neat, although we didn't end up spending a whole bunch of time there. We had planned to hike the Rakiura track clockwise, with a little out-and-back spur up to Mt Anglem (all these place names are from memory btw, just in case you go looking for them) which would put our trip at something like 5 days.
Day 0 of the Stewart Isladn trip started really early with a quick breakfast from a 24 hour convenience store, then a very early bus ride where one of the other passengers just happened to be Joe - one of my friends from the ice. The three of us (Clair, Joe, and I) arrived on the island by way of a bus from Queenstown to Invercargill, a shuttle from there to Bluff, and a catamaran from Bluff to Oban (aka Halfmoon Bay - the only town on Stewart Island.) Stayed at a nifty little hostel (they're called backpackers down here) and managed to score some free fresh (as in right off the boat) blue cod from some cool fishermen who were staying at the backpackers. Fried that up with some olive oil and butter to make a super tasty dinner along with some leftovers from another tasty meal back in Queenstown!
Day 1 on the track was supposed to be pretty wet, but turned out to be quite a nice day of walking. We stayed at one of the super cool huts that the DOC (department of conservation) has put in all over New Zealand. They're often pretty large things with bunks and mattresses for something like 20 people, interior plumbed running water (sourced from the tin roof and stored in a big plastic tank generally,) and sometimes even propane ranges. Very nice, and not too expensive to stay in generally. Clair and I each have ($90NZD) annual hut passes that allow us to stay in the huts for free as long as they're not on a "great walk," which unfortunately includes the Rakiura Track. So, we had to buy a hut pass for $10 to stay the night at the hut, but it was well worth it. Spend the evening hanging out with the other hut visitors, eating, and distracting Clair from writing a post for her blog on her pocketmail with random bits of conversation. Heard some kiwi birds in the night, but wasn't too inclined to get out of bed to see if I could go see one in person.
Day 2 was iffy forecast as I recall, but at any rate it turned out to be super wet. Lots of mud, roots, water, mud, wind, general wetness, and chill. Kind of felt like walking through a tropical rainforest, but without the tropical part. We bumped into the local warden on the way to the hut where we were going to eat lunch, and she basically told us that we were completely unprepared for what was ahead on our planned route. Don't think that was her exact wording, but it's the same mesage and tone - this lady didn't seem to be having a very good day at all (incidentally the next day wasn't too much better for her apparently..) Our motivation levels for continuing on were generally pretty low, so after a bit of munching on food and debating in the hut, we decided to spend a night there, then just head back into town the next day - essentially we would just hike the Rakiura track and drop off the spur to Mt Anglem. Met a bunch of neat people in the hut, which led to staying up a bit later than would have been ideal chatting, visiting, and doing our best to dry all our clothing out by the wood heater (all the huts seem to have these - or their coal burning equivalent.)
Day 3 was rather nice - only got rained on a little bit in the morning, then had a nice walk back to Oban, sometimes walking along sandy beaches with nifty seashells! Discovered that you can hear the sound of a beach in any beach articifact if it's fresh enough - even things like seaweed or old beercans! Unfortunately, it seems that only certain shells actually hold the sound in there long enough to show it to your friends who live away from the beach. On the way back to town we were undecided as to what we should do with the rest of our Stewart Island trip, and with the still dismal weather forecast, we decided to just catch the ferry back to the south island and find something to do where it might still be a bit drier. Caught the ferry with near perfect timing, then had a fun ride back to 'the mainland' over some big (heard 4-4.5 meter) swells. Nice and bumpy! Got a ride into Invercargill with a couple guys who were on the ferry, got bunks in a hostel, and made an attempt at posting something to the blog! (see below)
***Begin Fiordland Adventure***
Day 0 - After looking through travel books nad maps last night (Stewart Island adventure - day 3) we decided to head over to Fiordland and see what we could see there. Had a nice breakfast in a cafe that's part of our hostel, then hitched over to a little town called Te Anau in near record time with a neat Dutch (IIRC) couple in their RV. Looked around Te Anau a little bit to see what kind of sea (or lake, if you want to be technical about it) kayaking options were available, but between the iffy weather and the short notice, we weren't able to arrange anything more than a day trip, which really didn't seem worth it. So, rather than going kayaking, we opted to get set to backpack around Fiordland for a bit. After a bit of staring at maps, chatting up local hiker types at the DOC, and grocery shopping we had developed a super flexible plan and were ready to go!
Day 1 - We hitched up the Milford Road to hike up to Lake Marian, which we then walked halfway around and camped. Beautiful scenery! Had excelent weather, which was a super good thing given the iffy trail up to the lake and 6+ days of food that we were each carrying up to the lake.
Day 2 - The weather wasn't looking so good in the morning, so we opted to head out instead of just messing around at the lake all day and camping again in the same spot. Walked back to the trailhead, then a couple miles down the Milford Road to get to another trailhead in the rain. We got super wet and rather cold (especially Clair,) so rather than dragging our borderline hypothermic selves up another mountain to get to a hut for the night, we hitched back towards town. As luck would have it, the weather broke and it was suddenly bright and sunny as we were riding back to town, so we got out early at one of ~11 nice roadside camping facilities along the road, dried out our stuff, and camped there. Turned out to be rather nice with good views and quite a lot cheaper than staying another night in town!
Day 3 - We hit the trail again today - this time with only moderately damp gear and plenty of energy to go hiking. Climbed up to Key Summit, where we kept running into people we knew from other places and some generally cool other folks - a British photographer we had met at Lake Mariam, a hiker Clair had met a month or two ago at Mt Terinaki (sp?,) a guy I knew from the ice, and a neat couple from Vermont who we talked with for a couple hours. Unfortunately, after several hours of drying gear, visiting, and admiring the views, we still had quite a ways to go including some of the wettest and rootiest trail I've ever seen (and going straight up a ridge to boot!) But, as we're both super-amazing-kickass hikers we made it to our destination hut (Upper Caples) in 4 hours when the signs (which are generally pretty accurate) said 7-8 hours. Teehee, and they said we couldn't do it before noticing Clair was in trail runners and I in sandals ;).
Day 4 - Started today with a straight-up-burning-legs climb up to whatever the saddle is called that's on the end of Steele Creek Canyon. The climb up went well up into the inside of a cloud, but we were lucky and didn't really get rained on at all. The cloud was fortunately one of those clingy kind that just sticks to the tops of mountains in the morning, so we made it up to the saddle and were glad to find it was clear on the other side of the mountain. Had lunch on top of the mountain, then continued down Steele Creek canyon to discover that the trail wasn't rated for extremely experienced and fit trampers just because of the big (~1000m) climb at the beginning! No, this wasn't really a track at all down the canyon, more of a string of fenceposts painted orange to remind you that you're not exactly bushwhacking, but that it's still not at all an established trail... Lots and lots of thick small undergrowth - generally without anything even vaguely resembling a cleared route through it. Would have been a lot neater if I had regular boots, but it wasn't that bad really. After a while we made it to a lower elevation where a bunch of deer had gnawed a really impressive maze into some taller bushes, which we then got a bit confused in (and ran across a deer skeleton where apparenlty a deer had gotten lost [I still think it got attacked by the resident centaur.]) Eventually we made it out of the deer maze, found where the actual trail began again, and walked over to the extraordinary Greenstone Hut for the night.
Day 5 - Weather report wasn't looking too good, so instead of doing a two day out-and-back hike down the Minerva Walkway in the rain, we decided to just head out of the woods and into either Glenorchy or Queenstown for the night. Pleasant walk out in the morning, and we ended up meeting up with a couple of our new hiking buddies who had a car and were headed to Queenstown. Made it into Queenstown and another hostel in time to go out for dinner at an Indian place where we were interestingly the only two eat-in customers for the duration of our meal. Food wasn't too bad, service was alright, and we still haven't gotten sick, so just hoping it was only because everyone was out at one of the several Guiness-makes-us-Irish-pubs for St. Patricks day. Watched the tail end a lousy scifi movie, fired off a few emails to make a dent in my stuffed inbox, then went to bed.
Day 6 - That's today! Spent a bunch of time dealing with net stuff, trying to figure out what I'm going to do about taxes, picking up some souvenir type things to send home, resting, eating, making fun of Clair for running ~18 miles this morning (marathon training,) planning, etc. Still need to go do something about a couple little holes that are developing in my well-worn trusty backpack, but other than that the to-do list is getting pretty short! We've made arrangements to take a bus to Dunnedin tomorrow morning, where we'll likely spend a couple days, then heading up the east coast towards Christchurch (and/or Lyttleton,) then some sort of backpacking trip around the Arthur's Pass area depending on weather. We'll see how it goes though!