QTown Holiday Park to Routeburn Start Meadow
0 k hiking, lots of hitching
Paying for camping in town: it must be one of Dante’s lower circles.
The holiday park itself is absolutely delightful in its details; it reminds me of the City Museum back home in St Louis.
We have a first breakfast of leftover pizza before packing up and walking back into the downtown. It is a bit less chaotic this morning than last night, excepting the line at Ferg’s, which is still stretching around the block. Luckily it is only for the burger door, and we are able to nip into the bakery for some carry-away veggie pies for breakfast and a hearty loaf of bread for lunch. We take our spoils to a small park space caddy-corner from the mobbed block, and run into Jasper and Miriam, who we haven’t seen since way up in the North Island. We trade stories while we eat, and they seem to be doing really well.
We go to the Four Square for hummus, which they do have, and ice cream, which they don’t. So we return to the third door of the Ferg trio – the gelato bar. I taste as many as I sense I’m allowed, (the gelato is equally as delicious, but the staff are not as cheerful or friendly as at Patagonia Chocolates) then choose a scoop of mascarpone fig and a scoop of lemon meringue pie. This seals the reality that I could never live in Queenstown- I would go into debt from ice cream purchases.
Prana finds a screaming deal on plane tickets from Queenstown to Wellington, and after some debate decides to book them. I’m reluctant because I absolutely do not want to run out of time to come back to the side hikes we are passing up for now, but we have also heard mixed predictions about the weather down here by that point of the year, there are things we want to go back to on the North Island also, there are too many choices on our list overall, and we have to go home sometime. So, there we have it, for better and worse. A hard date for leaving the mountains of the South Island.
I ask at the bike shop next door where the best place is to hitch out of town, and the mechanic describes the roundabout we need to find. We navigate to it and after about 20 minutes a car pulls over practically in the traffic to give us a ride. The driver is Brad, who is making a documentary about waste and reduction. He’s an interested and interesting guy, and drops us off halfway around lake, a little farther than his destination’s turnoff.
It is both a relief and unsettling to be out of Queenstown and stuck on the side of the road. The new hitch spot is spitting rain and sandflies swarm the air like static- but we know every car going by is going through the next town, our destination. I had thought facing this hitch with a good attitude would change the outcome, but so far, not so; only a fluke of a start. My perspective starts circling the drain, I find it incomprehensible that no one stops. One after the next zooms by. Don’t they care about ride sharing? Don’t they care about being efficient with fossil fuels? I soothe myself by finding a spot in the weeds where we could set our tents up if we have to. A few adventure type vehicles with big air snouts and lots of spare tires go by. A long string of cars, all filled with Asian tourists, passes. “I have never gotten picked up by an Asian,” I observe dejectedly to Mouse and Prana. Hope leaks away over a long, long carless break.
A white car appears on the horizon, and makes like it is about to turn into our pullout. About the distance the driver could make us out, it promptly swerves and continues to the next parking spot along the shoulder. “Do you think they are scared of us?” “How many people have we accidentally prevented from pulling in here that were planning to?” Strangely, the white car has flipped around, and is driving back towards us. “Oh, that’s why they didn’t pick us up,” I make the excuse on their behalf. “Because this is as far as they were going anyway.” But they pull into our turnout. They gesture for us to get in. They came back for us! And, in a poetic and fitting obliteration of my stereotypes, they are Asian.
They share Kit-Kat chocolate bars, and when they drop us at the Glenorchy general store they hand us a Costco-style bag of coconut wafer twirls. We thank them profusely, and dart into the covered porch picnic table area just as the faucet of the sky turns on full force.
The general store is cute, but we gambled correctly that we would not be able to resupply out of it; its all glass-jarred, boutique, dainty-portioned options. The picnic area is full of chatty Cathys. They are brimming with excitement for their own trips and plans, and I toil to access my beginner’s mind, so I can reflect their enthusiasm back to them; it’s buried deep this afternoon. The mythical map I had dreamed of finding in Queenstown is painted as a mural over and entire wall, and I stand before it in reverence- I want to do every single trail in this area. An anti-hiking man from Singapore hilariously appoints me his personal tour guide, I’m still not sure why other than the fact I am staring intently at the map, and in good sport I am able to research and recommend a lake for him to drive to this evening. He’s quite the jokester, bantering and laughing at his own quips, only about half of which I understand, and many of which involve Donald Trump’s name.
Around 5:00 pm the rain lets up and the three of us march out for the last leg of our hitch. Unexpectedly, in the next layer of whatever this lesson is I am supposed to be learning from hitching (non-attachment? patience? trust in the unknown nature of space-time? composure with lack of control?) we are picked up almost immediately by a man who is taking a leisurely scenic drive for the evening. “Where are you headed?” he asks. “The Routeburn, or any closer to it will do,” we say, “Are you headed that way?” “I’m just enjoying the light,” he replies, “and the Routeburn Shelter sounds as good a destination as any.” He is a contractor by trade, and a hunter by passion. He is soft spoken and kind, and it is apparent how deeply connected he feels to this land. The drive out of Glenorchy is incredible. The mountains rear up from the rivers. Garlands of waterfalls drops out of the cliffs. We cross over the Rees river, then the Dart, and I already burn to come back here. Our kind driver weaves through the valleys, and the crowning gem of views so far appears in the windshield, a double-tiered falls spilling down a beckoning fortress wall of rock. Like a beacon, it marks the start of the Routeburn as well as several cross country routes that I would sell my soul to freeze time for a holy pilgrimage on right this moment. But alas. I can only freeze time long enough to catch ice cream.
At the trailhead shelter, our gentle driver wishes us luck, and we face our decision- to start the trail and bushwhack off for camp, or try to find something off the road we drove in on. We have opposing opinions, and I prove the validity of mine by searching for and finding a spot that is flat, comfortable, completely out of sight, and a legal distance from the no camping areas of the Routeburn.
Spectacularly, a view of Sugarloaf Falls is framed through a hole in our surrounding vegetation, and a gray robin adopts is as his friends for the evening. A gentle rain moves in after our early dinner, and with the tent door rolled up I can lay on my token excuse of a sleeping pad and gaze and gaze at the falls in an introspective hypnosis. Mist swirls and thins as the rain moves through, the evening slowly dwindles, and I split my time between journaling and simply watching.