Q is for Queenstown Surrounds

posted in: Alphabet Challenge, Mini Adventures | 1

In this year’s Adventure gang alphabet challenge we scored the ‘Q’. Now we are 90% fulfilling this via hiking the (probably kinda boring) Queen Charlotte Track but we should probably get some extra credit for our recent adventures around Queenstown.

In a wonderous coincidence of luck Lorelei was asked by her employer to attend a transport conference in Queenstown, March 21-23, 2018. Some of you may remember ‘the best wedding ever’ being held not far away in Paradise on March 22, 2014. And so Jacob was encouraged to fly down at the end of the conference so we could celebrate.

Prior to Jacob’s arrival Lorelei spent a few days basking in the glory of transport nerdiness and the beauty of Queenstown, made more beautiful when a fresh coat of snow fell on the surrounding hills coating them in a gorgeous contrast of white.

Poor me I had to travel to Queenstown for work and then it snowed on the mountains

But despite the idyllic cruise on the ‘Earnslaw’ steamship, the decadent and ubitiquitous conference food, and warm company of transport colleagues, Lorelei missed her family and waited eagerly for Jacob’s arrival. Lorelei was also missing baby Shirley who she was apart from for an epic 5 nights! Further north poor Jacob was upping the ante on his parenting duties. He’d had a few overnight work trips but never had he been in charge of Shirley for multiple days on his own. In her classic fashion, Lorelei had tried to make an epic amount of food for the 2 of them before departing – turns out they still got through almost all of it! Poor Jake, work had gotten insanely busy at the same time, we couldn’t pick up an extra daycare day and Jacob was left on his own to finish packing and handing over Shirley duties to the amazing Nana Lynley who had offered to watch Shirley for 2 days to facilitate the romantic getaway. Let’s not even talk about responsibility for Cheeky and the chickens!

Somehow Jake made it to Queenstown, we immediately got some tasty Mexican to eat and groceries sorted, and headed back to our old stomping/marrying ground, the appropriately named, Paradise.

The road to Glenorchy was stunning as always, if not further enhanced by the recent dump of snow. We got to Paradise and checked in, had a little look at where the Homestead used to be before burning down, (3 chimneys and a wing of the house still remained) and we walked 10 minutes to where we would be staying. The walk there brought nostalgic memories as we went by the wedding information zone, the ‘drinking zone’, the outhouses, the spot where we had our late night bonfire, the ceremony location, the spot on the lawn that my dad passed out on in the middle of the day, and much more.

Our abode was called ‘Dart’ and it was a new (to Paradise) rustic little cabin. The cabin had an outhouse long drop and no heat or hot water but it had some of the most incredible views for just a 10 minute tramp! The panorama may be familiar to those of you who have seen our wedding pics:) we were looking over the Dart Valley straight in front of us. To our right, and on the east was Mt Earnslaw where we would be hiking the next day.

Good to be back together with you Paradise

After dropping our bags we had a lovely walk around the site and even checked on the kowhai trees that we, together with our friends and family, had planted 4 years earlier (they were growing well). We were both pretty sleepy and it was pretty cold so we snuggled into bed soon after.

The next morning (Saturday) Lorelei was talking to the host of Paradise and discussing our tramping plans to go up part of the Rees River and on the eastern side of Mt Earnslaw to Kea Basin where we hoped to camp under a rock bivvy. She said it was a good hike but that her favourite was closer, and called Earnslaw Burn. There were also rock bivvies to camp under. I knew where she was talking about and after a bit of discussion we decided to go check it out.

The side of Mt Earnslaw you can see from Paradise, it doesn’t look too crazy, right?

Most of the tramp in was fairly boring to be totally honest. We were primarily in a reasonably good beech forest but we did catch occasional glimpses of a pretty river (the Earnslaw burn) below and could sort of (like if we squatted in some areas) make out peaks/snow/maybe glaciers far up in front of us. We had trouble stopping for lunch because everything was wet and lacked views. Snobby Lorelei kept trying to make us hold out for a better lunch spot with sun/water/views/good seating. Eventually we settled for some wet moss with a few streaks of sunshine sneaking through and no views other than the beech trees. Once satiated we were re-energised to continue our walk.

We turned a corner and saw some other walkers, one of the guys was peeing (unfortunate timing). They were headed back out and there was a weird smell, then Lorelei jumped as she saw a bloody deer head lying off the side of one of their packs! We kept walking and began to see more glimpses of the aqua river and occasional elegant wispy falls leading to it.

Whispy waterfall: not bad but c’mon, is that all you’ve got?

Soon enough (well after 4 or so hours of walking), we walked out of the beech trees and into another world.

The portal to a new world

It was a world above tree line with sharp multicolored peaks, waterfalls falling and the huge Earnslaw glacier in front of us. We could only see some of Earnslaw Glacier and certainly not the peaks above it which were hidden in stubborn clouds.

Look at what those trees were hiding

Our awe powered us forward and after 10 or so minutes of walking Lorelei checked her GPS topomap app and realised we had passed by the rocky bivvy we thought we might stay at and that it was on the other side of the river. Although we had walked by a few campsites with spectacular views we had never stayed at a rock bivvy so thought we should, plus rain was expected and it sounded better than a wet tent. We got super wet boots crossing the river, clamberedup a steep hill, getting a little stabbed by pointy plants called Spaniards along the way and despite the cairn beforehand, Lorelei was skeptical we would actually find a dry bivvy ahead. It sounded like we would find a roaring river running under the rock overhang, rather than somewhere nice and dry to sleep. Luckily it was just an overly convincing echo of the river we had just crossed, the sound bouncing back off the massive rock walls.

Our wicked luxurious accommodation for the night

It was quite the shelter, there was a table, a platform with DoC mattresses, a slate fire pit, and pots and pans hanging. There was even an oh-so-slight water drip fall a close walk away that you could put a pot under to collect water, which Lorelei promptly did. Lorelei washed a bit of blood off the table that the hunters must have left. Then we left most of our gear, claiming a few beds and headed further up the valley to sightsee.

That is more like it

It was a spectacular valley. The behemoth glacier in front of us was the main feature with blue hues, little falls descending off it and the damage it had done on the enormous rock face below it breathtakingly beautiful. The clouds hugged the upper reaches of the glacier and higher peaks and we are not certain just how high it all went but our topo map said that we were at less than 1000m and the highest peak on Earnslaw (which our badass mountaineer friend Rob has summited!) is 2830m so we were pretty sure it was vast. If the glacier wasn’t enough there were also some other very impressive peaks, waterfalls and strikingly black rockwalls. We saw a few deer and possibly other high altitude ruminants but we didn’t get a good look.

Schmittsky and Earnslaw Glacier

Jacob wanted to press closer and closer to the glacier, to visit the moraine and perhaps what looked like a piece of glacier that had fallen down but Lorelei insisted we have a few snacks and turn back so that we could return to our camp before nightfall. The track had truly ended and footing was tricky, and she was getting tired.

So we headed back and ran into some confused hikers who asked if we knew where any of the rock bivvies were. We told them we had found the first one (but that it didn’t have too much more bed space) and suspected we knew where another was. We described the location and they grabbed their packs, which were overly laden with firewood they had gotten too excited about collecting, and their friends. We checked out their rock bivvy and it was pretty cool too, smaller but with better views, and then we headed back down the track, across the glacial-melt cold burn and back to camp. There Lorelei whipped up dinner while Jake set up the beds. Nightfall soon came and she tried to have her own fire with damp wood. That wasn’t overly successful but her perseverance was actually severed by the realisation that ash was blowing over our beds. And so we bundled up to deal with the cold and were soon snuggled up in our double sleeping bag to stay warm in our open air rock bivvy.

Our view from bed included a decent patch of night sky above the valley and as the sky cleared before we went to sleep we even saw a shooting star.

However, sleeping under the stars in late March in the mountains also had disadvantages. It meant we were sleeping in a codependent fashion – we were snuggled so tight that any movement had to be simultaneous. Unsurprisingly we both woke up a few times during the night.

With a flight to catch out of Queenstown at 3pm the next day we got out of bed at around 6:00am. Despite not having a tent to pack or mats to deflate and roll it somehow took almost 2 hours to leave camp! I am suspicious that this may have been related to dread at putting wet socks and boots on and crossing the glacial melt river again.

So we finally crossed Earnslaw Burn and got one last glimpse of the magnificent valley above the trees before beginning our descent back to our rental car.

Looking up the valley from Earnslaw Burn

Despite still needing to drive back to Queenstown, get changed, eat lunch, get rid of a partially used gas canister, repack our bags, return our rental car, and check in for our flights – we still found time for a quick, cold dip in Lake Wakatipu en-route to the airport! It was a wonderful weekend in the Queenstown surrounds.