Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent school masters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books. – John Lubbock

From Wanaka the drive up the west coast was a quick two days but still full of amazing scenery. My first stop was Gillespie Beach, 20 km down a dirt road from Fox glacier. It was a free campsite right on the beach, with the best view of mount cook. After a run, through the forest and on the beach where I saw seals, I got back to camp just in time to start dinner and watch the sunset over the ocean. I watched as the sun quickly disappeared behind the horizon then saw the green flash that I’ve always heard about. I looked behind me and Mount Cook was standing so bold with a pink glow from the sunset. Small world I actually ran into my Chemistry TA there from my Freshman year, she didn’t remember me though. 

The next day after a longer day of hitch hiking, I tagged along with two German girls and saw another glorious sunset at Pancake Rocks. We stayed in Paparoa National Park and the next morning I ventured back to the Fox River Tourist Caves. It was a short hike back though a dense green forest then up to a huge cave that randomly appeared in the towering hundred foot rock wall. I went inside with my torch but didn’t make it far as I was reminded of the movie The Descent and got a little scared. It was a different type of beautiful as the dark cave was lined with jagged calcium carbonate icicles. I do hope to do some caving while I am in New Zealand as there are an abundance of caves everywhere. 


I wanted to stay on the west coast longer but only had so much time before I needed to be in Wellington. I wanted to get in one more walk and headed to Nelson Lakes National Park to do so. It’s hard to say what has been my favorite place in New Zealand, as it is all so beautiful and unique, but Nelson Lakes stands high on the list. 


I got to the park and spent far to much time in the Department of Conservation office trying to figure out which track I want to do.  I picked a short four day circuit to different lakes, hiking in valleys, up and down mountains and then along a ridge. Sounded good to me, and it was!  The first day I walked along Lake Rotoiti into a huge valley and stayed at Lake Head Hut. It was such a beautiful night when I got there but bees covered the ground and kept me inside. Two of the people in the hut had been stung earlier and the bees are quite a problem in the area. Usually the huts are full of Europeans, mostly German, but this time it was different a different crowd with Australians and Kiwis. It was a nice bunch and one guy even gave me a new spork as mine had broke in half the first day I used it. This one didn’t last long either, maybe a week. 



I woke up early the next day to start the climb up the Cascade Track to Angelus Hut. It started with a gradual climb through the forest, where I occasionally got a view of a waterfall and the mountains I was about to climb. I kept expecting to see people but I was all alone on the trail and it was quite peaceful.  I broke above treeline and was astonished with the graceful mountains all around me. They reminded me a lot of Colorado mountains and made me feel somewhat at home even though I was half way around the world. 



The rest of the hike was straight up big boulders at first which turned into scree.  My calves and legs were on fire but I was loving every minute of it and the view kept getting a better. As I was climbing up I would see what I thought was the col and think I only had a couple more minutes but would reach that point to find more to climb.  I eventually made it to the top where Angelus Hut laid on the edge of Angelus Lake and more glorious mountains. The hut was completely full that night with 30 people from all over the world, even some people my age which I don’t normally see in the huts.  It was by far my favorite hut I had stayed in and the view really didn’t get much better.  



I had the best bed in the hut and woke up the next morning to turn over and look out the window to the lake reflecting the mountains above.  It was hard for me to climb out of my sleeping bag but I was motivated with the good weather and wanted to climb Mount Angelus in the distance. It was a short climb up to the top and was the highest I had been in New Zealand at 2075 meters (6807 feet). The view was amazing and a huge inversion made it feel like I was floating on a world of mountains.  It was absolutely stunning and a perfect way to start the day. 



The rest of the hike I was above treeline and had amazing view for miles of different mountain ranges, lakes and small farms in the distance.  I made my way along Roberts Ridge and decided to stay at Treeline Hut to make for a short hike the next day. It was a quiet night with a couple of Germans like usual, they are everywhere.  Everyone was in bed by 8 even before the sun went down but being a night owl I stayed up and finished my book I haven’t been able to put down ( “A Wind from a Distant Summit.” If you like mountaineering, bad ass women or crazy adventures you should most definitely read this book). 



I was sad to hike out of Nelson Lakes and wished I had more time to do the whole cirque that takes 7 days.  I guess it’s just another track to add to the list for next time. I continue to be amazed with New Zealand at its variety of environments. You drive one hour and you are in a completely different landscape.  In the matter of a week I saw rivers, lakes, dense forest, beaches, caves, waterfalls, glaciers, 12,218 feet mountain tops, alpine terrain and more.  How many places can offer all of that in a matter of 300 miles?  Not many and I am so fortunate to be seeing it all. 

We are now in the mountains and they are in us – John Muir

I don’t know how it’s possible but the days seem to get better and better as I make my way further down south. I scrambled through the city of Christchurch looking for my bus and finally a nice man on a walk took me the right way. The next stop was Tekapo where I was hoping see some mountains, that I already miss so much. When I arrived in Tekapo I was instantly overwhelmed by the bright blue lake and the glacier topped mountain in the far distance. It was absolutely stunning and the bluest lake I’d ever seen. I hung out in a coffee shop charging my phone for while and taking advantage of the free wifi, which is harder to come by.  My plan for Tekapo was to hike up to Macaulay Hut and stay there for a couple nights. After talking to the information desk I found out that it was another 40Km up to the trial head but I thought why not! 

 

I started walking up the Lilybank road and soon found out that catching a ride wasn’t going to be so easy. The paved road soon turned into a dirt road and there were few cars that wouldn’t pay me any attention. After walking for an hour and a half while doubting my decision a semi truck turned the corner. I was a tad skeptical but at the last minute put my thumb up.  It’s actually been on my bucket list to ride in a semi and now I can cross that one off (sorry mom!). Alan was the driver and he was taking two crates of deer back to the farm at the end of the road which was right where I was headed. He was such a nice man and told me all about New Zealand animals which are all most all introduced like deer, tahr, cow, sheep and much more. You can hunt New Zealand without a permit because they thought of as a nuisance or a pest. However, it’s one of there biggest exports so it’s quite a mix up of how to manage it all. All this I learned in a quick ride with in a semi full of deer, I’d say what an experience! We dropped off the deer at a farm with a guy named Jonny.  I got to see the whole process and even see his two smart dogs herd the cow and deer into the right fenced off areas.


Jonny and his two adorable dogs took me part way to the Macaulay Hut. It was a lovely ride in to the valley that had towering mountains on either side.  Jonny showed me all the places he skies right in his backyard and told me all the places he’s skied around the world. I was quite jealous and long to ski around the world someday. He dropped me off in what’s called Boulder field as there are huge boulders laying everywhere. Apparently the boulders  didn’t roll down the mountains but were catapulted from an earthquake 50 some years ago. While in the valley I feared of getting smushed by a flying Boulder in earthquake but I surely lucked out. 

As I sat alone cooking dinner I was absolutely memorized by the unique beauty of the valley, as the mountains so vast and jagged towered over the river bed on each side.  You could see for miles where there used to lay a enormous glacier that now in the distance was so small. Across the river in the middle of a scree field there was a cascade of water coming from the middle of the mountain. The sound of the rushing water echoed up the valley along with the variety of birds singing into the everlasting sunset. 

The night sky was one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen with the silhouette of the tower mountains laying against the mist of the twinkling starts. Not a cloud dare disrupt the beauty along with the absence of city lights. More stars appeared as the night grew older and galaxies above became so clear. It was a whole new side of the universe I had never seen and I enjoyed every second of it. 

After sleeping in and being awakened by the hot sun I finished my hike to the hut. The hut could have been a house it was so big. It had 14 bunks and a huge kitchen area with a stove and running water. There was even a tub down from the hut that you could warm water with a fire and enjoy the nice view of the glacier mountains in the distance.

 After settling in I figured I go exploring while I had the chance.  There was a creek running right by the river and a waterfall I could see in the far distance.  I grabbed my bag and was off up the valley jumping from rock to rock following the river. I was surprised with not only one water fall but probably upwards ten. Each one unique and absolutely beautiful. I kept climbing up and soon found myself at an alpine glacier lake. Like Lake Tekapo it was bright blue and so clear that the floor seemed so much closer then it actually was. I decided I would take a swim to cool off and reward myself. I walked out further and further all the way up to my stomach. I stood there for a minute then counted to three out loud multiple times trying to motivate myself to dunk my whole body. I couldn’t bring myself to emerge in the freezing water and chickened out.

When I started hiking down the mountain I saw some tahr in the distance. The only other place in world you can tahr is the Himalayas. They are some what like mountain goats but a grey cooler and not as broad.  I continued walking and two kea landed on a rock ten feet in front of me. I instantly grabbed my camera and got closer to snap some pictures. They are the only alpine patriots in the world, and boy are they stunning and smart too.  They have a beautiful green outside coat but when they fly there wings are a mixture of orange, yellow, red, blue and green. After watching them for a while I carried on but one liked my presence and followed me down the mountain for quite some time. From meeting amazing locals, to hiking the river bed, to wondering the vast mountains and hanging out with kea birds. I gotta say this short trip up the Macaulay River was really a trip of a life time.

Bush Man Bruce

Due to the season being different in New Zealand I was able to travel around the South Island for 6 weeks before school started.  I had an amazing time exploring the new area and meeting people from all over the world.  One of my favorite experiences was meeting Bruce. Here’s the story!

After a nice soundless night in the first hut on the Hollyford track I woke up eager to continue hiking. I climbed up a small pass through the forest not really knowing what to expect in the next couple days even hours, as the whole trip depended on the weather. The next couple days of the Hollyford track were going to be long 20 plus kilometer days. It was suppose to be a spectacular track but with rain there would be no views and slippery rocks on the Demon trail. I hiked on thinking of all my options hoping to run into a ranger to ask about the weather. 

Luckily, I came to Pyke Lodge, a catered hut for guided walks. I didn’t even hesitate and went in to ask about the weather.  Liz the host ended up giving me a print out of the weeks weather, some tea and a bag of cookies.  Before Liz had printed out the forecast, an older man, also sipping on a cup of tea, had told me the whole weeks worth of weather, which mostly consisted of rain.  I was a tad disappointed but was more intrigued to here more about this mysterious man that looked quite rugged. He had crazy grey hair that stood up like he’d be electrocuted and a medium size beard to match.  He wore high rain boots, short jean shorts and a collared turquoise V-neck.  His name was Bruce Reay and he was a bush man that lived off eel fishing and possum hunting.  He told me he lived in a hut upstream at the end of Lake Alabaster, which had been his home now for five years.  He has lived in the bush since 1978 in a variety of areas mostly on the west coast of the South Island.  You might be wondering what exactly it mean to live in the bush.  Well it basically means you live in the middle of no where away from society, on your own.  Kind of like something you see on the discovery channel.  Bruce is one of the few left to live out in the bush as it is a dying culture. 

While sipping on my tea Bruce asked if I fished and I told him I was quite the fisher women. He offered to take me up to the next hut in his boat and fish along the way. I couldn’t say no and was thrilled, as I’ve been wanting to fish since I’ve got to New Zealand. He had a small white blow up raft with a small motor attached, that he called Anemic.  He called his other yellow boat Hepatitis. We started trolling for fish and the first questions he asked me were, how long I had my nose piercing, if I had any tattoos and if I was a smoker. It was his three go to question to instantly judge someone’s character. It was quite amusing and reminded me so much of my Papa Bill who also thinks piercings, tattoos and smoking are revolting.  Despite my piercings Bruce decided to still take me fishing and asked more “real” questions to get ask feel for who I was.

To continue the adventurous day Bruce invited me to go possum hunting and to stay at his hut, since it was gonna rain for the next couple days.  I was a tad skeptical but knew it was a one and a life time experience to be a “bush women” for the next couple days. Bruce had 20 or so possum traps set up randomly deep in the forest.  There were lucky pink markers that lead us to each trap but Bruce knew the forest like the back of his hand.  Unfortunately the traps were all empty which i was kind of happy about as the next steps seemed a bit gruesome. To kill the possum you whack it on the head with a hammer then proceed to pull all of its fur out.  Possums are a considered a pest in New Zealand but I still feel bad for the little guys.

Bruce’s hut was upstream the river and he couldn’t take both my backpack and I in his small boat.  So he dropped me off on the side of the river and drew me a map on a magazine of how to get to his hut. I jumped off the boat and realized I was now truly off the beaten path.  I’ve bushwhacked before but this time was a bit different as I only had a hand drawn map to guide me to an unknown destination.  I followed all of Bruce’s key points on the map crossing creeks, pushing through dense bushes and walking through grass two times the size of me. I was really glad at this point there are no big animals or poisonous animals in New Zealand that would attach me. I came to another pond that wasn’t on the map and got a bit nervous that I was in the completely wrong area. I walked toward the river and was relieved to see Bruce down the river getting fire wood.

Bruce’s hut was a pretty small and made out of rusty old metal. He got his drinking water from the rain that dripped down off his roof into buckets that said gooder water and badder water. The view tho! It was spectacular. There was a huge waterfall on the side of the mountain and beyond that towered glorious Mt. Madeline.

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I came to find out that living in the bush was much more luxurious then I imagined.  Bruce had a satellite phone that he texted his friends daily with. He had plenty of food that wasn’t half bad. He had a radio to call different huts and get the weather each day.  He had another radio to listen to music.  He also had quite the library of magazines, books and newspapers.  He had generator to run the lights and charge his phone and power his radios.  Even a helicopter brings in his food, fuel and mail every three months and he can catch a ride on it to go into town every once in a while. To my surprise he seemed to have a lot for living in the bush.

For dinner that night Bruce cooked me a lovely meals of fresh brown trout, potatoes, corn and beats. I could tell it was the meal he ate almost every night but it was surprisingly pretty good. Bruce told me story after story the first night along with many jokes.  He was so excited to have company and I eventually had to tell him that I needed to go to bed, as it was already 12:30.

The next morning the rain, as expected, started to come in. We waited for a break in the storm so we could go see the Olivine waterfall up steam. We thought we were in the clear but of coarse when we got in the boat it started to pour. It didn’t stop us and we got to the waterfall just in time for the sun to peak out of the clouds.  It was a huge 70ft waterfall coming out of a gorge that twisted up the mountain. Bruce told me a couple of kayakers wanted to go down it a couple years ago but chickened out when they saw the real thing. I would have too.

It came time for me to part ways with Bruce and get back to society.  Living in the bush was much different then I imagined but very peaceful. Bruce said he asks people “could live in bush?” If they said yes he then asks “would you live in the bush?” It was interesting to think about but made me realize it takes a certain kind of person to live out alone in such a remote area. I was fascinated by how passionate Bruce was about where he lives and how he makes a living off the land.

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Bruce didn’t live in the bush because he hated people, or because he hated society.  He truly just loved being out in the vast remote area that held the true peace of the world. Bruce told me he’s just always put the bush first and that’s where his true home is. When I first told Bruce I was studying conservation he had a discussed look on his face and I soon found out why. DOC (Department of Conservation) has been trying to get him out of the area for a couple years. Despite all the court dates, lawyer fees and DOC nonsense, Bruce continues to fight for what he loves which is quite inspiring.  I never in a million years thought I would have an opportunity to see what life is like in the bush and it will be a memory that I will never forget. Staying with Bruce was an truly a one in a life time experience and an eye opener to the true appreciation for the beauty and gift of the Mother Nature.