Cecilia Vs. Nature

I am on a stunningly gorgeous island in the deep South Pacific where the air is impeccably clean, where the pollution is nil, where the produce is organic and fresh, where the dramatic landscape takes my breath around every corner…where human feces are flown out from mountaintop huts via helicopter…

these are the kinds of things that make the headlines here

these are the kinds of things that make the headlines here

Nieuw Zeeland (as named by the Dutch in 1642) is a lucky country indeed. In the next century, as the rest of Mother Earth rots in pollution and human neglect, I predict NZ will remain the solitary haven of natural purity if the country maintains its outstanding conservation practices. It will also probably be a destination only billionaires can afford (but hopefully not- hopefully they’ll keep going to Dubai).

the Catlins on the South Coast at sunrise

the Catlins on the South Coast at sunrise

Surat Bay in the Catlins

Surat Bay in the Catlins

Milford Sound

Milford Sound

Cathedral Caves in the Catlins

Cathedral Caves in the Catlins

Unfortunately, my time to explore this nature’s paradise is limited to a mere 5 weeks. My first week here was spent in sheer frustration, desperately chasing the rare good weather down the West Coast (deemed the “Wet Coast” for the notoriously heavy rainfall), hitchiking nearly every day from one town to the next. Because of the unpredictable nature of the South Island’s weather, and the unreliable nature of hitchiking (mostly being picked up by German dudes- some cool, some crazy, some stereotypically uber-German), my days have been virtually impossible to plan, and I never know what I am doing until the day of. As a self-proclaimed “[wo]man with a plan,” this kind of spontaneity is very hard for me to embrace. But it’s what landed me in Mt. Aspiring National Park, tramping the Routeburn-Caples trail for 4 glorious days.

down the West Coast

down the West Coast

Lake Hawea

Lake Hawea

I caught an unexpected lift to tiny Glenorchy (pop. 220) on a rainy day with intentions to start the Rees-Dart trek. When I arrived in town, the local barmaid slapped the day’s paper down in front of me, the headline reading “9 helicopter rescues, 1 still missing on the Rees-Dart trail.” The inclement weather had caused the rivers to rise rapidly and the crossings had become treacherous in the face of the storm. I was highly advised to stay off the trail. I decided to practice the art of “good judgement” and called the Department of Conservation, who seconded the motion to wait around for good weather…which I don’t have time for! I spent the day in silent angst, sitting in an antiqued cabin in Glenorchy as the rain poured down outside, using my energy only to tend to a log fire all the livelong day. No one knew when the weather would improve and I felt totally stuck, stagnant, and frustrated.

The next day saw little improvement, but urged by a young Swede who had arrived in Glenorchy late the last evening, I hitchiked to the start of the Routeburn trail (the Routeburn trail has swing bridges over the rushing rapids and thus the rivers are passable in torrential weather.) I had initially avoided the Routeburn because of its popularity as one of “NZ’s Great Walks,” but due to low season, the Swede (Martin) and I did not see another human until the first hut. The peaceful feeling of solitude in nature redeemed the previous angst-ridden day. When we arrived, a lovely snowfall descended on the surrounding Southern Alps. And though the night was utterly freezing, we were rewarded with stunning views on the tramp the next day.

the 2nd day of the Routeburn in the Southern Alps

the 2nd day of the Routeburn in the Southern Alps

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stumbling across a waterfall with rainbow included

stumbling across a waterfall with rainbow included

3 nights later, we continued the tramp on the less-traversed and more-demanding Caples tramp. The weather had improved significantly and after several days, we were in better shape for the steep up-and-down hikes through unbridged rivers and thick forests, which soaked me feet and also began to cause a sharp pain in my right knee. The last hut was a cosy shelther of 12 beds high up in Fiordland National Park. We had the full moon lighting the snowcapped mountains and a clear royal sky: an image I will only be able to remember in my head…forever, I hope. At nightfall, 3 kiwi deerhunters rocked up to our hut, armed with fully loaded rifles and a not-so-intimidating demeanor. We killed the night drinking hot chocolate and playing kiwi card games. When I asked the ringleader what he did when he wasn’t hunting venison, he answered, “I own a deer farm.” So I guess when they’re not killing them, they’re raising them.

full moon

full moon

The last day was a short one, thankfully as my knee was ready to give out. A kind French-Canadian I had met at the hut carried my pack in addition to his own as I hobbled my way up and down the last portion of the tramp. And now, 5 days later, my knee has only minimally improved. It’s hard to acknowledge that when my body says “no”, I should listen to it. If I don’t, I could really fuck it up and ruin the last 7-8 months I have around the world. Such a conflict of interest here. I’m just really begging my body right now to let me do Mt. Cook in a few days (for my birthday, please!) and one more multi-day tramp in the wonderful Land of the New Sea! Does anyone know if drinking wine helps?

the end

the end

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~ by ceciliabien on April 16, 2009.

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