New Zealand: Day 24

February 12,2015 (crossed the date line again)

Tahiti > LA > Denver

Asleep, awake, dreaming, asleep, awake, a dream.  Are we there yet?  Time slips by. Sometimes the flight seems short, other times long.  Tahiti to LAX is the longest part of the journey at nearly 9 hours, then at LAX, Priceline changed my layover so it was now 7 plus hours.  Ugh.  Did I need a wheel chair? Would there be a medic at the airport?  Should I take a cab to a hospital during my layover?  Should I try and change my flight?

I made it.  My sleep on the plane was disappointing as was my breakfast.  I’d requested a vegetarian meal, but would have traded my unidentifiable steamed vegetable breakfast for the crepes or eggs the other passengers had.  I was too stressed out about my foot/ankle to eat anyway.  I could find an egg and cheese croissant and a proper coffee at the airport anyway.  Did I mention all the coffee in New Zealand is instant and there are no bagels or really any breakfast sandwiches?

When I got off the plane in LA there was a man on the jet bridge with an airport name tag with a red cross on it.  I asked if he was a medic or if there was an airport medic.  He said no, but there was a first aid station, and asked what was going on, and I showed him my foot and he saw my countless bites and said how sometimes on planes some people’s feet and ankles blow up especially when they have bug bites like that.  I felt a little better.  I also felt better that I’d made it to the US and I was only one flight away from home, or at worst, a one day drive, and my medical insurance works here and they speak English, unlike Tahiti, and have clean water, unlike Tahiti, and I’d soon see my honey.

I talked to multiple airport (American Airlines) folks and finally got a straight answer about checking in and finding my next flight and if/how I could change it (which I could, for a price, but my relief of being back in the states was enough for now and I decided to wait out my endless layover) and how to get my checked bag home since it was already tagged and checked through to DEN, but I had to pick it up at customs.  Note, the customs line was super long, but super automated, and really quite quick.

I eventually scored a paperclip from a retail clerk and managed to get my US sim card back in my phone, made a few calls, and got on the internet.  Have I mentioned there’s no such thing as free wifi in New Zealand?  It’s all password protected and you need to enter a credit card to use it.

Anyways, a quick web search verified that many people experience swollen legs, feet, ankles, on long flights due to inactivity and being in a seated position so long, etc.  So I’m at this point hoping it’s just a accumulation of the allergy to the bites plus the pain/swelling from miles of rough trail with a pack plus the plane ride that have built upon each other to create the monstrosity that my right foot had become and not a spreading infection from open sores in wet boots for days on end.  Fingers crossed.

I fell asleep awkwardly sitting up in an airport chair, so I set an alarm and succumbed to a nap on the floor near my gate.

The LAX to DEN flight was unremarkable.  In DEN my bag didn’t come out on the carousel, but I had my ticket and the guy in the baggage office retrieved it quickly.

Clayton was lost somewhere near the rental car returns as he doesn’t come to the airport nearly as often as I do and instead of a warm welcome I was greeted by an angry and swearing fiance and I instantly wished I hadn’t come home.  Thoughts of him and my dogs were the only reason I’d wanted to come home at all.  If it wasn’t for them, I’d still be in New Zealand, probably would have cancelled my return flight and would have been job hunting.

*sigh*

The drive home was late and difficult.  I’d been travelling close to 36 hours at this point and Clayton had been up since 3:00 a.m. and it was nearly midnight local time.  We each made half the drive, made it up the steps at home, and snuggled, and snuggled, and snuggled my pups.  That seemed to fix everything, at least for an hour.

My foot was still huge.  A bunch of stuff was missing from my checked pack, and I had to clean the house and return to work and real world  responsibilities and obligations.

*sigh*

Life is easier when everything fits in your pack and your only responsibility is to your own survival and well being and to living in the moment and the surroundings mother nature gifted you.

 

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New Zealand: Day 23

February 12, 2015

Queenstown > Christchurch > Aukland > Tahiti

I was up before sunrise to catch the first bus to the first plane to get from Queenstown to Christchurch so I could catch my flight out of the country, which wasn’t until noon, but I had customs to deal with first, and flights around here can be delayed due to quickly changing weather, low clouds, and high winds.

Got up, packed up, the camp kitchen was still closed at 6:20 a.m. even though the sign on the door said it opened at 6:00.  I headed downtown to try and find some coffee and a slice (a slice is something you can grab at any cafe, a slice of any sort of pastry) So apparently at 6:30 a.m. there are no open coffee shops in Queenstown even though there are loads of coffee shops.  Grr…  I can name 10 places to get coffee at 6:00 a.m. back home.  I even asked a restaurant delivery guy; I figured he would know.  He looked at me like I was crazy for expecting something open so early.  So in Queenstown you can get ice cream after 10:00 p.m., but not coffee at 6:00 a.m.  Ugh.

Caught my bus and my flight with no troubles.  They even gave me coffee on the plane!  Score!

Flight two from Christchurch to Aukland.  This is the official first part of my Priceline itinerary back home.  Once I checked in for this flight, I was confident I would make it.  Another smooth and uneventful flight.  The weather was flawless and things were going well.  In Aukland I had to get my luggage again, and go through exit customs, check my bag, and check in for my international flight, easy.

I had layovers of a few hours everywhere, so by the time I finally boarded my 6 hour flight from Aukland to Tahiti, it was 12 hours after I’d begun.  I was feeling pretty good, eating regular food, started reading yet another book.  I’d made the revelation that if I changed the date back on my e-reader it would keep my library books from expiring!  Yay, more time to read more books!  This flight would take me until about 10:00 p.m. so I watched movies, tried to stay awake, and tried to eat everything the airline gave me (unless it was really gross), after all, I’d paid for it.  I napped some and by the time we landed in Tahiti I was feeling good and confident I’d make it home and not get sick and excited to see Clayton and my girls.

Felt good, that is, until I stepped off the plan.  It was pouring sideways!  There was lightening, it was 80 degrees, and umbrellas were flipped inside out and sideways.  It was like a tropical storm, and I feared I’d be trapped there overnight.  Also, the Tahiti airport is tiny.  There is nothing there, and I needed a pharmacy.  Borderline panic attack.  I wanted to get home and get to a hospital, not be stuck in Tahiti in need of a hospital!

Here’s what’s going on.  My feet are not just beat; that is an understatement, they are wrecked, especially the right one.  Before I’d left camp that morning I noticed my right foot was still largely swollen from my time on the trail.  There were now no discernible bones from the ankle down.  It was swelling at an alarming rate, getting significantly worse instead of better.  If I was still in New Zealand I’d be at a doctor.  I had more bug bites than I could count and the reaction was not good.  I had bites that became deep purple bruised and others that were blistered and others that were draining open wounds, and my feet hurt.  The countless trail miles had taken their toll; they were throbbing and sore.  Did I break something?  Tear something?  Stress fractures?  Strained/sprained ankle?  Was it an injury?  A severe allergic reaction?  Did I need surgery?  An epipen?  Did infection set it?  Was it staph?  Would I spend time in a hospital?  My deteriorating  physical condition was tearing holes through my mental condition and I was out of all the over the counter meds I’d brought.  My health was now in the hands of flight attendants.

New Zealand: Day 22

February 11, 2015

Milford Track:  Dumpling Hut> Sandfly Point 18 km

Milford Sound> Queenstown

Up at dawn for breakfast on my final day on the trail.  18 km to go, after yesterday’s vert which was akin to climbing a 14er, today was going to be a stretch.  My pack was the lightest it’s been, but I’d done more km than most, and carried more gear than most as I still had my tent, sleeping pad, Jetboil, etc. from previous trails and I had to catch the first boat out.  No options.  They assured us there would be room on later boats and a later bus, but there was only one when the times synced up to get me all the way to Queenstown in time to make my flights to leave the country.  I figured I could always hang out by Milford Sound and read or write and have a picnic lunch while I wait for my ride out, but missing it was not an option.  Our hut warden warned us that Sandfly Point was aptly named and that we didn’t want to get there too early as it was not a pleasant place to pass the time.  Given my allergy to sandflies, my plans kinda went out the window.

About 5 hours to civilization I got a surprise visit from my period, so hopefully I was sanitary enough to deal with it on the trail.  I’m never one of the lucky girls who skips it or is late when the body goes haywire travelling, I’m the one who gets it doubletime.  Ugh.  But I felt pretty good, all things considered, and finished the trail.  Boarded a small boat for a short but sweet ride through Milford Sound, and caught my 5 hour, miserable bus ride to Queenstown.  My stomach at this point was killing me and my knees were jammed up into the seat in front of me.  So much for sleeping.

I was thrilled to be back in Queenstown for my final night in New Zealand, and surprisingly no chance of rain.  I had my pick of places to chow down and clean up and after staggering through town for ages with my pack, reading all the menus in town (it’s overwhelming to actually have a selection) I decided on Thai food, a huge plate of pud Thai with eggs and tofu and heaps of noodles, carbs and proteins and fresh veggies in a delicious pile.  I almost ordered and app too, but knew my eyes were bigger than my stomach at this point and decided if I was still hungry after dinner I could always get dessert.  The food and service was excellent and I never was given a sideways glance for my large pack and dirty, stinky appearance and attire.

I checked into the holiday park, took a shower with water pressure to rival the pressure washer at the car wash, and donned the cleanest clothes I had and packed the rest.  I was still craving ice cream and was elated to discover the famous Mrs. Ferg’s Gelato shop was still open after 10:00 pm with no line (despite the crowd at Ferg Burger) and had a white chocolate raspberry cheesecake cone and I couldn’t be happier.

My trip was incredible and a success and despite a few hardships I would do it again in a heartbeat.  I would seriously entertain the idea of going back to and/or living in any of the areas I’d visited and though exhausted, I am elated with my trip on the whole.

New Zealand: Day 21

February 10, 2015

Milford Track:  Mintaro Hut> Dumpling Hut 14 km & Sutherland Falls

Today was to be the hardest day on the track, by far, but we had a stead and surefooted team and the clearest skies you can envision.  Today was the day to climb to the summit of Mackinnon Pass and descend 1000 meters to the next camp.  A lot of vert, a lot of km, and an hour and a half side trip to Sutherland Falls, New Zealand’s highest waterfalls at 580 m.

The climb was steady, rockier than the rest of the trail, but still a non-technical class 1+ hike.  The saddle was my favorite, as always, reveling in the moment when I can first see over the other side and also look back on all I’d accomplished and all I’d climbed.  The wind whipped as we read the plaque on the Mackinnon memorial on the saddle and the temperature dropped as we crossed to the shelter, which is the 4th (maybe 5th, I forget) of its kind; the previous structures each having been blown off the top.

The descent continued for ages, but offered stunning views of new terrain through the fiordlands ahead of us, including glaciers threatening to fall off summits.  We were exhaused and my feet were beat from the pounding of the rocky downhill terrain, but we were determined to make the falls.  Another hut member had done the trek 6 times and never made the falls due to Milford’s infamous and typical rainy & foggy weather.  He said today was the day and we knew we’d regret it if we didn’t go.  We dropped our packs at the shelter and headed in, prepared to get wet.  We thought the trail would be flat, but there were steps, lots of them, and then we reached a sign stating that the distance of the final approach was equal to the height of the falls.  Standing at the base was awe inspiring, humbling, mind blowing.  As you receive a blast of glacial mist that quickly drenches you and chills you to the bone.  The wind created by the cold falls powerful enough that its flattened all the grasses around it.  I cannot comprehend how that amount of water can continuously pour off the top of the mountain.  Where does it all come from?  How does it never dry up?

*Dumpling Hut is the wettest DOC Hut and receives 8 meters of rain a year on average

It was a long day.  We started at 8:40 am and got to camp at Dumpling at 6:00 pm.  To say my feet are beat in an understatement (more later).  At Dumpling I stayed up socializing.  It was my last night on the trail.  I was low on food, but my spirits were high.  In the end I spent 17 days backpacking with 1 day off as I traveled between trails somewhere in the middle.  Sleep can be fleeting in the huts.  This one was quietest and the most private, so less rustling about in the dark with the zippers, plastic bags, and lack of lighting, hut life can be noisy and you are awake until the last person is in bed and awakened when the first person arises.

This day actually began when we were awakened by Keas at Mintaro and they go from cute to brats quite quickly.  They scream and yell and carry on just before sun up, then start running around and banging on the roof and the windows and tearing up everything they can get their beaks on.  They effectively are trying to force-ably deconstruct the hut bit by bit and in my early morning fitful sleep someone walked past and something brushed my head, a sleeping bag, a towel, a pant leg, but I was convinced it was a kea and they’d actually managed to bust their way in and from then on was paranoid that one was trapped in the bunk room and would be eating our food and shredding our stuff and making quite a wreck of things.

New Zealand: Day 20

February 9, 2015

Milford Track:  Clinton Hut> Mintaro Hut 16.5 km

Today was the day for making friends and soon the hut of 50 had divided up into groups of 5 or so that would bond and spend the rest of the trip together.  I fell in with a couple from Kodiak and a couple from Belgium and without asking, ended up hiking together, sharing stories, making sure everyone was ok, waiting for each other, snapping photos of the same sights as the trail meandered in and out of the trees of the temperate rain forest greeting us with vistas of high peaks, glaciers, countless waterfalls, creek crossing on swaying suspension bridges, and the clearest water you have ever seen.  We were encouraged to dip our water bottles straight into any running source and drink the purest most refreshing water I will likely ever have in all my life.

Sand flies became the bane of my existence and they were now only extremely attracted to me, but I had an extreme reaction to them.  The bites on my feet that were rubbed all day by my boots either bruised to a lovely plum color or developed swollen, puss filled, blisters that I asked a ranger about and we determined I needed to drain them.  He’d never seen anything quite like it and I hope to never have anything quite like it again.  I kept even better covered after that, never venturing out of my sleeping back without long pants, long sleeves, and socks.

*go back to daybreak*

We were in no rush to start our hike.  It was overcast and the weather was only supposed to improve as the day went on.  We had roughly 6 hours of hiking a mellow uphill grade, and daylight until almost 10:00 pm.  We ate a leisurely breakfast and packed up only to discover the track had been closed due to flooding from heavy rains overnight.  No one was allowed to leave camp until the flood waters subsided.  Water on the trail would be more than waist deep where the river overflowed its banks and the danger of being swept away downstream was real.  The river had transformed.  Gone were the crystal waters and calm swimming holes.  Gone were the pebble islands perfect for lazing in the sun.  The water was dark and fast with hidden rocky dangers just below the surface.  Before too long we were given the all clear and told the worst bits were knee deep and would likely only be ankle deep by the time we reached them.  We managed to stay virtually completely dry until the end of the day!

New Zealand: Day 19

February 8, 2015

Routeburn Track:  Howden Hut> Divide 3.4 km

Divide> Te Anau Downs> Glade Wharf

Milford Track:  Glade Wharf> Clinton Hut 5 km

This is a transition day.  I hiked out an hour from Howden Hut to the end of Routeburn Track at the Divide where I would catch a bus to my next destination.  I had survived my (potentially) last night in my tent and my first night in a hut.  Howden Hut was nice and I was in a bunk without a bunkmate, but unless you are last to bed and first to rise your sleep will be interrupted about 10,000 times.  I was so excited to sleep somewhere warm and soft, almost a real bed, but it was too hot and noisyand one of the worst nights sleep I’ve had on this trip.  The hike out was an unremarkable hour through the forest in the rain with no view due to clouds that came straight to the ground.  I was at the bus stop with more than enough time and began m favorite new game *sigh* waiting for transportation.

The bus ride to Te Anau Downs where I would catch a boat to the start of Milford Track was less than an hour.  Here is the part of my journey I was unsure of, the boat I hadn’t booked.  I couldn’t find anything prior to my trip about a boat at the beginning of the track, only about a boat at the end. I had asked the bus company about it over a week ago without much of an answer and I checked in for the track at the DOC office in Queenstown and asked if there was anything else I needed and they said I was all set, so when the boat captain wanted $80 cash for my boat ride that was not booked (and not included in the high price of Milford Track permits) I was irritated.  He let me on anyway and said we could work it out with the DOC later.  UGH.  I was on the boat with two tour buses filled with guided groups and met a woman who couldn’t conceive of planning her own trip or backpacking or hiking without a guide.  Be a guide it’s hard for me to pay anything for a “camping” trip, and the DOC makes things easy with their Great Walks.  There are huts, toilets, gas cookers, sinks with running water that rarely needs to be treated, trails that are well signed and well maintained and virtually paved.  The trails while will traveled, still cover difficult/taxing terrain and one must still be in good shape and prepared, but backcountry experience certainly is not required.  You could leave your shelter, fire, compass at home and likely things will wok out just fine.  That being said, on my trip there has been an earth quake, snow sloughs, and now a trail closed to flash flooding.  Ha!  I’ve had it all!

The boat ride was ok.  Pretty through Te Anau Lake, again, it reminded me of home, of the mountains coming into Lake Dillon, but on a larger scale.  I didn’t feel so impressed as other passengers seemed to be, perhaps I was still jaded by the $80 ticket request that I’d been convinced was taken care of.  When we got off we rinsed our boots to help prevent the spread of Didymo (an invasive algae) and were on our way.

About an hour and a half along another beautiful turquoise river through a beech forest.  I’ve learned that some of these trees are 600-700 years old and I started wondering if trees ever just die of old age or if they have to be taken out by some force of nature, fall over, drought, fire, man?  hmm…

Our hut warden took us on a little nature walk and showed us where to look for glow worms later, but I couldn’t stay awake until it was dark enough.  After 10:00 pm sleep seemed more important.

New Zealand: Day 18

Routeburn Track

Lake Mackenzie> Howden Hut 8.6 km

Before I start on Day 18, I forgot to mention the helicopter of Day 17.  I spotted a helicopter hauling a load on a line coming up the valley.  Turns out it was on its way with a delivery for Routeburn Falls Lodge, where I happened to be standing taking a short break from my climb.  It swooped in twice, trying to line up perfect, load spinning beneath it.  In the end the load was dropped and the helicopter landed beside me.  It was quite impressive to watch the pilot maneuver down through the mountains like that.

Today was a rest and hiking day.  How can it be both you may wonder…  Well the weather was to be good all day and the hike to the next camp was only 3-4 hours so I was in no rush to go anywhere.  I was cold all night.  I spent extra time in my tent.  I made the last of my coffee and how muesli for breakfast.  I set my fly and my boots in the sun to dry and wandered off to split rock.  It was only a short jaunt from camp and definitely worth it.  A rock the size of a house, split in 2 by a glacier, with the crack about as wide as a person in the middle.  I was curious, but not so much that I was going to squeeze through for 30 meters to the other side.

Packed up and left camp about 1:00 pm.  The hike was waterfall after waterfall and creek crossing after creek crossing after creek crossing, including Emerald Falls at 173 meters high (some of the highest in New Zealand) and too tall to fit in a photo at once (there was no stepping back for a different angle as you would step off the edge into oblivion).  There were views of snowcapped peaks and I felt quite at home.  Apparently there is precipitation 250 days a year and 8 meters of rainfall here, so I got lucky with 24 hours of sunshine.

Lash night was possibly my last night in my tent for the trip and tonight I am in Howden Hut.  I chose a moderately private bunk in that I am only attached to the person above me and can’t help but think I would love to have this hut as my home.  Some people may think rustic or primitive, ubt I think the DOC huts (the newer ones anyway, are incredible).  I keep thinking about how my trip is almost over.  I have 4 days left on the trail and then 2 days of flying to get home.  *sigh* It’s bittersweet.  I have enjoyed my time here.  I feel good physically and mentally (maybe I need to be a park ranger) but at the end of the day I want to see Clayton and the girls.  If I didn’t have them to go home to I probably wouldn’t care much about going home at all.

New Zealand: Day 17

February 6, 2015

Routeburn Track:  Routeburn Flats> Lake Mackenzie 13.6 km

I made great time going up, but lost some on the way down.  Today the trail was running water, standing water, several inches deep mud, slush, snow, ice.  The weather was beautiful or “fine” as they say in New Zealand, but the trail was a mess.  There was upwards of 20 cm of snow on this segment, which was also the steepest and rockiest bit, which made for slow going.  I was tired and weighed down with a week’s provisions and one misstep would send me over the edge in an instant.  I especially likes the views on the Routeburn Falls side of Harris Saddle, but admittedly didn’t take as much note of the view as I maybe should have as I was so focused on my foot placement each step of the way.  I was in avalanche terrain and while the DOC did not deem it dangerous enough to close the trail, I was constantly aware of it and there were many natural sloughs around me as the temperature rose, including large chunks that fell into or obstructed the trail.  I did not want to be berried alive in one of the 32 avalanche chutes along Harris Saddle, nor did I want to be knocked off balance and sent over the edge by a cinder block sized, wet, heavy, snowball.

I lunched at the summit shelter, having made good time, thinking the rest would be easier.  The descent was a never ending side hill that never quite let you drop below snowline and was always exposed and a bit cliffy.  This day of hiking was the first on my trip where the terrain made me uncomfortable and nervous for my own safety.  It it had been snowless and I had only a daypack, it would have been a whole different ballgame.

A woman jokingly said, “You know if you came back and did this hike in summer it would be a completely different experience.” (It is summer).

I kept hoping I would see Lake Mackenzie (my destination) around the next corner and when I finally did, there was none of the anticipated relief.  It was still an hour or more of hiking away and countless vertical feet of challenging descent.

When I finally reached treeline, I actually hugged the first tree I got to and when I made my way out of the woods and stood before the gorgeous lake and my sanctuary, I actually cried.

I quickly made friends at camp and found my old friend “Montana.”  We cooked and hung out and listened to an informative, historical, and humorous hut warden talk, but I never quite warmed up from wearing my cold wet boots all day and the freezing winds of the morning and struggled to sleep and regulate my body temperature all night.

New Zealand: Day 16

Routeburn Track

Routeburn Shelter> Routeburn Flats 6.5 km

I packed up, charged my phone, and wandered Queenstown.  Figured out airport transport and caught a bus to Routeburn Shelter, the starting point for my next Great Walk.  The scenery, not obstructed by low laying clouds, was spectacular from the bus window and I really think I could live here, outside of Queenstown, more than anywhere else I’ve traveled.  The mountains are spectacular and I enjoy the town.  It’s all comfortable and I feel like I belong.

The bus kept threatening to quit every time the driver switched gears and hill climbs seemed impossible at best.  We nearly rear ended a gaper as well.

By the time we reached the track it was pouring rain.  I took extra care to button up tight because in this case, rain threatened hypothermia and it was snowing on the peaks.  Day 1 hiking was under 2 hours and I made quick work of the trail with an older gentleman named Graham from England who had done the track 19 years ago and has always wanted to come back.  The river is powerful and deep and a milky turquoise.  There are countless waterfalls, bridges, and creek crossings, and the vegetation is lush and the birds are silent and I make it to the flats which are a high alpine meadow.  The river is lazy here and I’d live here if I was a moose, but there are no moose in New Zealand.  Later, when the clouds part, I get a good view of the surrounding, imposing, snow capped peaks with numerous waterfalls that look to be as tall as a skyrise apartment.

It turns out most people have cancelled their bookings due to weather and there are only 6 people inside the cabin and 6 for camping.  We all hung out together attempting to warm up by a weak coal fire and hoping our clothes would dry by morning.  Routeburn Flats may be my favorite place I have been on this trip, though it is the most like home and favorite hikes in Colorado.  I suppose that means I live in a good place.  One of the boys brought a laptop to study on break from university and we decided watching a movie was a better use.  We watched “The Fighter” which was emotionally difficult for me, but I couldn’t tell you why.

I miss Clayton.  I miss Sunshine and Nollie and even little Athena.  The other day someone said I have a farm.  Today someone called it a menagerie, and I hadn’t even mentioned the cat.  I feel like everyone I know has pets and I would be lost without them.  Someone said the problem with pets is you need to find someone to watch them wile you vacation.  I don’t even know where/how to begin talking about what is wrong with that statement.  What about all the other days of the year, days of your life you are not on vacation? They certainly add a richness to my life for which I am extraordinarily grateful.

The first night the hut warden said we could pitch our tents under the outdoor shelter, kind of like a pavilion with half walls.  This was a huge relief and I was no longer contemplating paying extra to stay in the hut. This would likely add 10+ degrees of warmth and keep everything dry for the next night.  The floor was a bit hard, but I slept warm enough with my hot water bottle technique.

New Zealand: Day 15

February 4, 2015

Nelson> Queenstown

Gas up rental car, drive 10 min. to airport, return rental car, and wait.  I was earlier than need be for my flight, but I had to return the car.  Initially I was going to drive this leg of the trip, but my time is precious and with gas, driving wouldn’t be much cheaper in the end.  Travel/transport has been the most difficult and most expensive part of this vacation, and I can’t say I’ve learned much that would make it cheaper or easier in the future.  If I had one more person, a long term car rental for the duration of the trip divided between us would be the most economical option, but solo, it’s a toss up.

The only way to fly south from Nelson is to first fly north to Wellington.  Wellington is known for its high winds, and I was perhaps in the smallest plan I’ve ever been in.  Rough air, or turbulence, doesn’t even begin to explain the way we were tossed around on descent, scary, but we made it.  I was warned my flight to Queenstown may be delayed due to weather on the other end.  We took off on time, but the captain warned us it would be a bumpy ride.  It was another rough one, but this time in a much larger plane.  It didn’t seem so bad.  I had a window seat, my favorite, and the view didn’t disappoint.  On the descent into Queenstown, the plane dips lower than the surrounding mountain peaks with their fresh snow, so close it looks as if the wings could just about touch the mountainsides.

I caught a cab right outside the airport because it turns out I needed to be downtown and airport is out of town.  It was $40, ugh, big mistake.  I should have looked for better transport, but it was so quick and hassle free, and got me exactly to my destination.  I picked up my DOC permits/tickets for the track, and began to explore.  I can already say I Love Queenstown.  You could live just out of town on a mountainside, but there’s a great city center that is a bigger version of Frisco or Lambertville.  I found a grocery store that was crowded, expensive, and worthless, and left empty handed, then found a proper one and bought 7 days worth of food for $40, so I felt I did good and take myself out to dinner for the first time in all my time here, also knowing it would be my last/only non-camp meal for the next 7 days.  Mexican, pizza, or the place with a sign for all day breakfast?  It all sounded delectable at the moment.  In the end I ordered a veggie pizza whose listed toppings coincidentally were exactly the combo I would have selected on my own, no alterations.  I found my bus stop for tomorrow’s ride to the trail, and a bus to take me back to the airport in a few days for only $10, and found a holiday part to pitch my tent that’s walking distance to everywhere I need to be.  Did I mention I Love Queenstown? and every other shop has outdoor clothes and/or gear.  Soon to bed.  7 days on the trail followed by 2 days on the plan is going to be a long haul.