New Zealand -The Milford Sound, The Routeburn, and The Wall
Updated: Jun 10
It was a bright cold summer's day as Beth and I head to the Franz Josef Glacier. It is the steepest glacier in the country, descending from its origins high in the Southern Alps deep into the lush native rainforest of Westland's National Park.
The Māori name for the glacier is Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere.
According to oral tradition, Hine Hukatere loved climbing in the mountains and persuaded her lover Tuawe to climb with her. Tuawe was a less experienced climber than Hine Hukatere but loved to accompany her until an avalanche swept him from the peaks to his death. Hine Hukatere was broken-hearted, and her many, many tears flowed down the mountain. Rangi, the Sky Father, took pity on her and froze them to form the glacier.
From Franz Josef, we journey to Wanaka (pronunciation of wānanga, which means sacred knowledge or a place of learning). It was a long and uncomfortable 7-hour bus ride to get to Wanaka, but well worth it. The view from my bus window of the turquoise lakes, snow-capped mountains, and the crystal-clear blue sky; was so beautiful. We walked around town looking at all the shops but we didn't last long. The freezing wind coming off the water felt like tiny needles hitting our faces. It was too uncomfortable so we headed back to the hostel to make dinner.
After dinner, Beth and I talked for hours. Beth told me about Rick, her boyfriend, and how their relationship was getting serious. She was excited he’d be joining her when we got to Greece. I talked about Scott (the guy was dating off and on before coming on this journey) and how he’s always distant and reserved with his emotions. How I wrote him a letter and said some not-so-nice stuff but I later regretted sending it. I know I'm not ready for a relationship, but I do like companionship. Still, there is a fine line between companionship and loving someone.
"He might be following my lead,?" I said.
"What do you mean?" asked Beth.
"I have a big WALL up and I won't let anyone in, so I can't blame him?"
This is the exact problem with any relationship. You can’t ever know how someone truly feels unless you are vulnerable. Unless you open up to them and tell them how you feel. But being vulnerable has only brought me pain and sadness so the WALL stays.
In the morning the air was brisk and the ground had a fresh coat of white. Beth and I ran along the lake with the massive mountains looming in the distance with their snow-cap tops reflecting over the smooth glass water below, appearing as two sets of mountains. One above us and one below us.
We decided to hitch to Queenstown, but it was slow going. It was Sunday, and there weren’t many cars on the road. We walked for 30-45 minutes and finally got a ride from a man named David, a geography teacher. Nice guy.
Once we arrived in Queenstown we went to Hostel to drop off our backpacks. There are a lot of nice-looking guys at the Hostel, but it’s near impossible to meet anyone when they either speak a different language or are gone the next day.
Everyone is on the move.
Somewhere. Someday… I’ll meet someone nice After our conversation last night, I keep thinking about Scott I’m not sure why or if I even want to be with him when I get back. I'm so conflicted.
Our plan is to hike the Routeburn trail the day after tomorrow, but due to the snow and cold weather, we might not be able to go. We’ll have to wait and contact the warden for permission.
They won’t let us go if the conditions are too dangerous.
I keep forgetting this is the beginning of summer for New Zealand. Certainly does not feel like it.
I woke up early to take pictures of the sunrise and mountains, but unfortunately, it was cloudy with horrible visibility. Yup...summer.
Beth and I and another guy from the Hostel named Amos, a short, thin-framed guy with a jolly personality and smile, decided to go on a tour of the Milford Sound. It started with a plane ride over the sound and a luxury cruise including champagne and a lobster lunch. It sounded perfect and a little bit of a splurge for backpackers on a budget but what the hell.
The views of the mountains coming out of the sea from the plane were spectacular but the ride was a little shaky. We were bouncing all over the place. At one point, I was white-knuckling the arms of my seat so hard because I thought we were going to die. I looked over at Beth to see how she was doing.
She smiled and laughed nervously.
I was so happy when we landed. The ferry ride was pleasurable and the lobster lunch was delicious.
Day 1-Routeburn Falls Hut, 8.8km
We got the 'ok' from the Warden so we were off.
In the morning, a van picked us up at the Hostel to take us to the trailhead, a 2-hour drive. There was Me and Beth plus, Swen, Abe, Sherri, Amos, Bruce, and Montana. On the way, we had to stop and wait for a herd or flock of sheep to get off the road. There were so many sheep it was mind-blowing.
From the parking lot, we crossed a swing bridge to begin the track. We walked and meander through the beautiful beech forest before slipping above the Routeburn Gorge. A second swing bridge took us to an open, grassy flat before the track climbs steadily through more beech forest. Cross two more swing bridges we enjoyed the vast views of the valley below before arriving 3 hours later at Routeburn Falls Hut.
We were all sore from carrying our heavy backpacks, so we decided to have a massage party. We all sat cross-legged in front of one another with our back to the person behind us. Unfortunately, the last person in the line wasn't getting a massage so every few minutes the first person (who had no one to massage) would get up and go sit behind the last person. We did this until everyone was massaged out.
It was raining hard and the Warden wasn't sure if he would let us go the next day. So there was nothing we could do but wait and see.
Day 2, Routeburn Falls Hut to Lake McKenzie Hut, 11.3km
I woke to the sound of rain and wind pounding against the hut. Everyone is very disappointed in the weather but what can you do. The Warden wasn't happy with us but let us go. We had breakfast, got packed, and were on our way. Abe went back the same way because he had to catch a plane.
This morning's walk-through puddles and mud climbs steadily to the outlet of the river at Lake Harris – unfortunately, the views were blocked by the fog, and we couldn't see the Routeburn Valley. The long climb to the Harris Saddle, the highest point of the track, is worth every step. We were greeted by the beautiful Lake Harris with slate grey waters.
As we hiked through the mountains we encountered more puddles, snow, and mud. From the top of the saddle, you are surrounded by mountains - the Darren Range, Mount Madeline, and Mount Tutoko just to mention a few. The track then traverses down towards the Hollyford Valley, where Lake McKenzie becomes visible. Once through the bush 3.5 hours later we arrived at Lake Mackenzie hut.
Montana, Bruce, and Swen went on to the next hut.
We were cold and wet. Once in the hut we took off our wet clothes and hung them in hopes they will dry before morning.
Come morning, it was still raining so Beth and I decided to stay in bed since the bus to pick us up at the trail end would not be there until 3:45 and it was only a 2-3 hour walk to Milford Rd.
It stopped raining around 10:30 am so we ate and figured we better hit the trail before it starts raining again.
Leaving Lake Mackenzie Hut, the track winds through grassy flats dotted with trees before coming to the spectacular Earland Falls. The track then continues on a gradual descent to Lake Howden Hut, where we stopped for lunch.
From here, the track climbs steadily to the Key Summit Track turnoff. Key Summit provides panoramic views over the Humboldt and Darran Mountains. We then head gradually downhill through silver beech forest to Milford Road, where we grab the bus back to Queenstown.
It had rained for 2 days out of the 3 with no showers or hot water but it was still fun.
It's Thanksgiving, so we all showered and met for dinner.
I'm not sure what triggered it at dinner, but sadness washed over me like a rogue wave with all its power and unexpectedness.
Maybe because it was a holiday and I was 9,113 miles from home.
Maybe because I'm cold, tired, and alone.
Maybe because I should be happily married, but instead, I am divorced at 23 years old.
Maybe because I should be celebrating with my family, but here I was having dinner with a bunch of strangers (nice strangers but strangers nonetheless).
Heck, I've only known Beth for a couple of months.
"How the fuck did I get here?"
I proceeded to drink too much and got drunk.
Beth had to help me walk back to the Hostel and put me to bed.
As I drifted off, I repeated to myself.
The WALL stays...the Wall stays...the Wall....
This is a true story that chronicles my rebellious journey when I was 24 years old, backpacking around the world looking for solace after the end of an abusive marriage (ok to escape). An intensely graphic and heartfelt memoir of self-discovery is about how getting lost can be where you belong, how traveling to new cultures and meeting new people helps you heal (they don't judge), and how to find your voice and remember who you really are, and want to be. It is certain to inspire anyone who has ever woken up in a life they don't want to be in. Many life lessons and some bad decisions (sorry Mom) along the way. Buckle in! It's going to be a bumpy ride.
Barbara Murphy-Shannon, Psy.M. is a Business and Marketing Coach. I would love to hear your thoughts. Reach out at Barbara@barbaramurphyshannon.com