A Great Walk – Routeburn Track – Part I

Routeburn Track

When you think of a ‘honeymoon’ – spa hotels, romantic suites, beaches, cocktails by the pool – these are the things that usually come to mind. Seldom is this word associated with tents, hiking boots, sleeping bags and eating out of an enamel pot. But when you have decided that most of your honeymoon will be spent hiking or, as New Zealanders call it, “tramping” New Zealand’s epic trails, these are the things you think of. Our journey would begin with the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand’s nine ‘Great Walks’. These are the country’s premier tramping tracks winding their way through spectacular landscapes that would make you believe you had somehow been transported to Middle Earth.

Queenstown Hill Walk

The Routeburn Track is 32 km one-way with most fit trampers completing it in 2-3 days. Now, I have never been blamed of being fit, but I love the outdoors with an intensity that is at odds with my general clumsy nature. Put a chair or a table or a rock even in the general vicinity of my path, and I will crash into it. But I was up for the challenge, or so I thought. Day 2 of our honeymoon saw us in Queenstown and as a sort-of rehearsal to the upcoming Routeburn Track, we were going to hike the 2-3 hour Queenstown Hill Track. I thought it was going to be easy – I’d been on several day-hikes before, I was in relatively decent shape, and how difficult could a hike that started on a residential street of Queenstown actually be? What I’d failed to take into account was the 500-m elevation in a relatively short hike, and was soon huffing and puffing like a steam engine. My husband (I still hadn’t got used to the word), Amrut, who’s known me for many years and understands what motivates me egged me on. “Come on. You can do it! Only a little bit more to the top. Imagine how good those chocolate croissants will taste looking down at that view.” (I don’t believe in hiking without a picnic.) We did make it to the top in record time (the right motivation helps) even after several breaks to appreciate the gorgeously unfolding vistas (no other reason) and no other croissants had ever tasted better, but a tiny nagging doubt had creeped in. Was I really ready for this? And this was before I had to make a visit to Queenstown emergency centre.

Kawarau Bridge

Amrut’s initial idea for our honeymoon was to cycle through New Zealand. Optimistic though I am about my outdoor prowess, even I knew this was way too ambitious to even consider. Having had to crush his dream, I’d planned a day of cycling on the Queenstown Cycle Trail stopping for a picnic and bungee jump on the historic Kawarau Bridge – no big deal. We were cycling on this beautiful trail by the river when suddenly a dog walking the trail jumped out at me. My dear, kind husband tells people that’s when I fell, to save me from embarrassment. What actually happened was that we were going downhill, I’d gathered too much speed and refused to hit the brakes. Why? Because I had this cartoon image of the front wheel getting jammed and the bicycle flipping over my head. Since this did not happen, I’d like to argue that I was right. What doesn’t help my argument is that I skid on the gravel and fell hard on my left shoulder with the bike on top of me. The adrenaline was still pumping and I laughed with my husband about how clumsy I was (He’d been murmuring to himself “Please don’t fall. Please don’t fall.”) until he came closer and checked my shoulder. To cut a long story short, I was soon at the emergency centre where a kind nurse dressed my shoulder, arm and fingers – now with much less skin and decorated with a blooming friction burn. (The shot and bill she gave me was just adding insult to the injury.) How was I going to strap on a bag with 3-days worth of food, water, clothing and other miscellaneous things much less carry it up-and-down a mountainous terrain? Things were looking bleak.

Queenstown Sunset

We spent the next couple of days strolling around Queenstown, sitting by the lake, drinking beer and eating some great food. People couldn’t help noticing my almost-mummified left arm, and I must say, it was a great conversation-starter. A 65-year old lady at a restaurant told me “At least, it wasn’t a Harley!” and showed me her surgery scars. (She still rides one.) What surprised me was how everyone we met – from random people at cafes to the wonderful people, who issued track tickets, at the DoC (Department of Conservation) – really wanted me to try and complete this hike. Most of them were locals and having walked a “Great Walk” they truly didn’t want us to miss out on the experience. Finally, the evening before we were supposed to start, Amrut hoisted the backpack onto my shoulders (he’d put most of the heavy stuff in his own bag) and looked at me. I knew he wanted me to try, but his expression said “No pressure.” I took a few tentative steps wincing against the pain, but it was not as bad as I’d imagined it to be. I looked at him, smiled and uttered his favourite words “Let’s do this!”

Honeymoon Hiking

To be continued…

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