QUEENSTOWN, NEW ZEALAND — This day went completely different than we had imagined. Instead of getting ready for our first New Zealand Great Walk, we had to come up with Plan B.
We woke up and made our way to the art fair on the lakefront. Once back at our motel, we started making a meal plan for our 3-day backpack on the Routeburn Track, which has been on Torsten’s to-do list for over a decade. After picking up the food, we went to the DOC office in town to pick up our tickets for the campground.
Then the ranger told us about the weather forecast: Cold and very rainy/snowy on the day we had planned to do the high-alpine section from Routeburn Flats (elevation 750m) to the Harris Saddle at 1250m and down to 1000m at the Lake McKenzie campground.
Rain? Pfft. No problem, except that Beth didn’t have her rain pants. So we went hunting in town at various outfitters and outdoor clothing stores, which ominously had all rented out their last set of rain pants that morning. At the Small Planet store, a woman told us that she had rented all the smaller-sized pants for her school group. What was going on? It started to feel like those cheesy movie scenes where everybody is preparing for Armageddon and we are the dumb people who don’t know what’s going on.
We found out a bit later, though, when we stopped in the Outside Sports store. The very friendly clerk brought out his last pair of rain pants and inquired about our plans. When we told him, he flat out told us that the pants he could rent us would be soaked through within minutes. When we asked why he was so sure, he showed us the local rain forecast for the next few days on his computer, and we decided right then that we’re going to abandon our hike:
On Monday, our day on the exposed ridges, we could expect winds around 65km/h (41mph), rain accumulations of 45mm (1.8 inches) and wind-chill temps below freezing, with the snow line dropping to 1,000m. The Tongariro Crossing was windy, but this promised to be a whole new level of insanity.
Out came the laptops in search for an alternative plan. Hiking in the mountains was out, as was staying in Queenstown. We both had figured out that there wasn’t much to do there, besides all of the adrenaline-rush activities.
After 2 hours of double-barreled surfing, we came up with a plan that included a whitewater rafting trip through a gorge on Sunday morning, a biking trip on Monday further east on the Otago Central Rail Trail, where only a little rain was forecast, and a hike in the eastern reaches of Mt. Aspiring National Park on Tuesday, after the storm was supposed to have passed.
So we canceled our Routeburn shuttles (with a full refund for our return; thanks Info&Track) and signed up for the rafting trip, joining the tourist circuit in town. We had planned to raft the Kawarau River east of town, which was used as the river Anduin in the first Lord of the Rings movie, but too few people had signed up. All the cool kids apparently prefer the more challenging Shotover River, with Class 5 rapids and a 180m tunnel. And who can argue with the cool kids?
Back at our motel, we chatted with our neighbor John, an avid hiker from Adelaide, about our outdoors exploits. He has done most of the tracks in New Zealand, some multiple times, and was about to head out on a 10-day trek into Mt. Aspiring National Park from the Blue Pool we had visited on our drive to Queenstown.
When I mentioned that I envy him for the easy 3-hour flight from Australia to New Zealand, and the opportunities that afforded him, he replied that he’s never hiked any trails in the US. Fair enough; there is a lot of good hiking in the US, probably a lot more than in New Zealand.
All that was left to do on our part was hope for better weather for our other Great Walk and for the kayak trips in the sounds of the Southern Alps.