Waking up on Day 3 of the Routeburn Track, one of the world’s classic treks, in beautiful New Zealand feels just like waking up on Christmas morning for these two hiking enthusiasts. And what do you know? It is Christmas morning!
Everyone in the dining area seems to be in an especially good mood on this special day. We have a nice breakfast with Janine and Casey and wish them well on their way up to Harris Saddle. They are hiking in the opposite direction, so our paths will not likely cross again. Tonight they will be staying at the Lake Mackenzie Hut where they will be treated to an elaborate Christmas feast cooked for them by the hut warden and his friends. How cool is that?
After breakfast, everyone pitches in to clean up the hut and make it as spotless as it was when we arrived last night.
The hut empties out pretty quickly with everyone eager to hit the trail. Before taking off ourselves, we head back up to the waterfalls behind the hut to spend some more time photographing this beautiful series of cascades.
While we are there, hut warden John comes by and invites us to his residence for some tea and cookies. We are honored and eagerly take him up on his offer. His place is small but cozy, and we spend an enjoyable hour talking about his life as a hut warden and his favorite hiking spots in New Zealand. What a friendly man and a great source of knowledge!
It’s a beautiful hike out along the pale blue Route Burn. Over tea, John informed us that burn is the Scottish word for river, and he also tells us where we can look for the beautiful endangered Blue Duck on our way out. Whenever we see rushing water, we keep our eyes peeled for them, but we strike out on spotting the rare birds. The gorgeous scenery serves as a terrific consolation prize instead.
Even so, we enjoy the fern-filled forest, and we even spot a few of the endangered yellowhead/mohua birds high up in the canopy. We also come across the New Zealand robin/toutouwai that is endemic to the island. These friendly little birds are quite bold and actually approach us for a change. We know that they are only using us for our ability to rustle up some invertebrates as we walk along the trail, but their close presence makes us feel like we are Snow White and only reinforces the notion that New Zealand is some sort of enchanted, magical place.
Although the views aren’t nearly as dramatic today, we are almost equally impressed by the bright blue waters of the Route Burn and the lush forests filled with every size, shape and color of fern imaginable.
When we finally reach the end of the trail, we are grateful to find our car parked at the Routeburn Shelter trailhead. Thank you to EasyHike for relocating our car to the end point and making the challenging logistics of the Routeburn such a breeze! Before driving on to Glenorchy where we have a room booked for the evening, we make a quick stop at Lake Sylvan. A hiker we met on the trail gave us a tip of where we could see some nesting falcons.
We have a general idea of where the falcons are, but our source told us that finding them wouldn’t be an issue as “the falcons will spot us before we spot them.” And this statement couldn’t be more true. As we are walking along, I step forward and see the falcon nest inside the hollow of a tree on the ground. As soon as the adult spots us, it shrieks and flies out of the nest straight at us!
Before I can even turn around to tell Matt to stop, the falcon starts to defend his/her nest by repeatedly dive-bombing us. It is instantly clear that the bird vehemently opposes our presence and that we don’t belong there. We try to wave the white flag and back off, but it’s hard to get away since we have to constantly duck behind trees to avoid being scalped by the outraged bird. This mama is seriously pissed off! Matt manages to snap a couple of quick shots between attacks before we finally get far enough away from the nest for the falcon to call off the attack. Man, talk about an angry bird. Lesson learned, lesson learned!
It’s a gorgeous drive into tiny, lakeside Glenorchy, where we check into our guesthouse. Everything else in town is closed, so we celebrate Christmas by taking an evening stroll down to the wharf and having a picnic dinner of a Backpacker Pantry lasagna and a bottle of wine. It’s an unconventional Christmas dinner, to say the least, but we enjoy it.
We cap off the evening with a hike on the trail around the lagoons north of town where we catch a beautiful sunset and photograph the birds and flowers we spot there. What a very Merry Christmas for us.
Next up on the itinerary is another of New Zealand’s Great Walks, the 4-day Kepler Track, in Fjordland National Park. After a good night’s sleep, we decide to take an early morning drive in the countryside around Glenorchy before driving south to Queenstown and then eventually on to Te Anau. The scenery here is quite charming, and it is no wonder that Peter Jackson chose to film many scenes from The Lord of the Rings trilogy here. Can you recognize any of the locales from the movies?
We are enamored of the beautiful scenery, but, as usual, the birdlife steals the show. We are especially grateful to see a pair of New Zealand falcons from the safety of our hard-sided vehicle after our misadventure yesterday.Some birds are best to be admired from afar, and this handsome little devil is one. Check out those talons, and you’ll see what we mean!
Next up: Fjordland’s Kepler Track. Stay tuned!
Trail Logistics Day 3:
Start Point: Routeburn Falls Hut
End Point: Routeburn Shelter
Distance: 6.5 kilometers
Walking Time: 1.5-2.5 hours
Date on Trail: 25 December 2016
Best Done: October-April
Getting from the Trailhead: We parked our car three days ago at The Divide Shelter and paid a pretty penny for EasyHike to move our car to the Routeburn Shelter sometime before we arrived. From there it was a quick and easy half hour drive for us to our guesthouse in Glenorchy, making the extra expense of the car relocation absolutely worth it.