routeburn track: day three



Another amazing sleep, didn’t even notice our bunk mates coming to bed.

Boxing day is another stunner weather-wise. The view from the deck of the hut, down towards Routeburn Flats is a wonder to behold and it stops me in my tracks each time I go outside.

More hot coffee and tiny mince pies before breakfast. A bit of chatting to our fellow travellers, pack our bags and we are on to the final day of walking. Our track transport is due to collect us from the Routeburn Shelter at 1pm and, leaving around 8am gives us loads of time to get there with a few stops along the way.

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We’re back down below the treeline in the beech forest now and I again make a zillion photos of the trees (in case you hadn’t already noticed, I have a lifelong love affair with trees) but I promise not to post them all here!

We stop at the Routeburn Flats hut for a quick drink of water and a chat to the ranger. The sandflies here are vicious so we don’t stop long.

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From the flats down to the shelter is by far the busiest part of our walk. It’s a relatively easy walk (we did it ourselves a couple of years ago) and there’s a heap of day trippers headed in the opposite direction to us. The rivers on this side are boulder-filled with incredibly clear and beautifully green water and the crossings here are more swing bridges and less metal ones. I like these better, not just because I think them lovelier to photograph, they remind me of my childhood and I find them much more fun to cross!

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I wonder how long that guy has been sitting here. Not a bad spot to meditate I suppose!


We get our second sighting of a black robin on our way down – the first was a juvenile up by the Routeburn Flats hut.


One final swing bridge and we are at the shelter. Time for a photo, some lunch and a rest in the shade before our driver arrives.

Another fantastic advantage of finishing at this end – the scenery on the drive back to Queenstown is a fabulous reminder that we really do live in paradise.

I really really REALLY loved this walk and I’m looking forward to doing more of them. Now to get my foot sorted out so I can keep running too!

Today we walked: 10.2km
Elevation: We started at 1000metres and ended up at 492



routeburn track: day two



It’s late (by our definition) by the time we wake on the second day of our Routeburn Track adventure. I’m glad I put ear plugs in before going to bed and I slept very comfortably on the thin bunk mattress – just like being at home! By the time we get up, half of our bunk mates have left, some of them at first light I’m guessing. We aren’t in that much of a hurry, most of them are going the opposite direction to us and will probably need to be out to meet their transport at a certain time at The Divide where we started. I take a look around the kitchen when we go in for breakfast, noticing only one single woman, one family of four and two guys headed the same way as us. I guess it’s more popular walking from the Glenorchy side but I’m glad we’re doing it this way… it took us four hours to get to the start of the track in our transport and it’ll only be about an hour-and-a-half back to Queenstown from where we finish – much much closer to hot showers and cold cider!


We make hot coffee and eat tiny mince pies before breakfast. Breakfast being the same as lunch each day, it doesn’t take long to prepare our food, do the dishes, pack our bags and get on our way. Still, it’s around 8:30am before we start, so we are going to be walking above the tree line through the heat of the day. Oh well, that’s what sunscreen and cold mountain water is for!






We get amazing views back down to Lake MacKenzie and the hut as we zig-zag up the side of the first hill. Up the top, around the corner we again get spectacular views of the Hollyford Valley and the mountains, the river growing smaller, and harder to see, as we climb. We are shaded from the sun for the first part of this side of the hill which is nice. Along this ridge, we meet the first lot of people coming the other way – they must have got up early to make it this far by now. I stop every now and again to look back the way we came. Sometimes the best way to make a photograph is to look behind me as I will be photographing into the sun all day otherwise.

With each new turn around a corner we climb higher, finally making it to the Harris Saddle shelter at lunchtime. After a quick sit down, we stash our packs in the shelter and head up Conical Hill. This side trip takes us even higher up and from the top we have a 360 degree view of the mountains and valleys around us. Spectacular. We see Lake Harris, glistening below us, around the side of it our pathway down to tonight’s hut at Routeburn Falls.






Scrambling back down to the shelter, we grab our packs and are off again. It’s all (mostly) downhill from here. My foot has not been right since about 8km in to our walk yesterday, but there’s nothing I can do about it until we are home and I can see a podiatrist, so I take some pain killers and anti-inflams and carry on. We pass around the side of Lake Harris, then go down into the first valley. We stop for a photo and a water bottle refill, then keep going, the roar of the Routeburn Falls getting louder and louder. One final scramble and we’re done.


That’s the top of Conical Hill in the background (above)





This hut is even fancier than the one we stayed in last night. It has separate mens and women’s loos, a glorious view down to the flats from the deck and two bunk rooms, each one with little pods of four beds. And it’s not full yet, so we manage to grab two lower bunk beds for tonight. Winning.

After dumping our packs, we find a way down to the pools beneath the falls where we soak our tired feet. Not for the first time in a place like this, I get a sudden attack of the crazies, strip off my outer gear and hop into the screechingly-cold water. The perfect antidote to today’s hot walk.





Time, again, for wine and chocolate plus a bask in the sun before dinner and the hut talk by the ranger. He tells us that the we have been treated to a beautiful sight on our walk today – Mt Cook Lilies. They only flower for a couple of weeks of the year (which just happens to be now) and they’re a flower well-loved by NZ’ers and very rarely ever seen by them. So another reason to feel blessed today.

Another stunning day.

Today we walked: 15.9km (including the side trip up Conical Hill)
Elevation: We climbed from 868 metres up to 1591 today, then down to the hut at 1000 metres above sea level.

routeburn track: day one

It’s Christmas Eve and one of those mornings that I’m glad we usually wake early – we have to be up, packed, and ready to go by 6:30 am, when our Routeburn Track transport arrives.

We do a couple of rest stops, as well as a couple of shuttle bus changes and it’s 11:30am before we get to The Divide where our Routeburn Track adventure truly begins. Time for a quick rest stop, then we’re on our way.

Nic and I are spending three days walking the Routeburn Track (< that’s a link to his short write-up). It’s one of the reasons I wanted to move back to New Zealand. I’ve never done anything longer than a day walk and I want to do all the Great Walks over the next few years (as well as other NZ explorations).


This is one of New Zealand’s most popular Great Walks (the first one for me, the umpteenth one for Nic). All the huts have to be pre-booked and they’re FULL. Three days of walking, two nights in DOC huts, pack everything in, pack everything out – no rubbish service, no cellphone service, no cafe’s, no TV. Heaven.








The first section of the track, through silver beech forest, begins with a steady climb up to where the key summit track forks from the main Routeburn track. We dump our packs in the shade then head up to the summit. It’s a stunning day and we get magnificent views of the Hollyford valley and Darran mountains. The mountain daisies are in full bloom making even the close-up scenery beautiful.

[The summit is the first of many many places where I’m kicking myself for making what I think is the biggest packing mistake of the trip: instead of moving my wide-angle lens into my pack last night when I thought of it, I planned to do it when I got up this morning. Did it happen? Nope. So, I’ve got three days of stunning landscapes and only a 50mm lens! Working with what I’ve got will be an interesting challenge, and I’m less than happy with myself for such forgetfulness. Not gonna lie, that this less-than-happy feeling stays with me for the remainder of the trip.] Back down on the main track again, we soon end up at the first hut at Lake Howden. There’s already quite a crowd here, but we find a spot down near the lake to sit and have lunch. We’ll be eating the same thing every day – wraps with pastrami, horseradish mustard, cheese and spinach, followed by turkey jerky and a handful of chocolate coffee beans. It’s easy to make, easy to carry, and tasty enough that I won’t get bored of it before our three-day walk is over.















There are loads of small waterfalls beside the track on the way to Mackenzie Hut, and there’s an equal number of exclamations from me about how beautiful they are. There’s also loads of waterfall photos that I made that end up in my reject pile. The water in these is cold, clear and safe to drink, so I take advantage of this during the walk today and we make use of them for bottle refills for the duration of our adventure.

There’s a lot of up today, punctuated by a bit of down and we make it to Lake MacKenzie hut in the early afternoon. By the time we arrive all the good (bottom) bunks are taken, so we pile our sleeping bags onto two of the top bunks and get ourselves checked in.




After getting changed into our non-walking gear, we sit on the front porch of the kitchen/dining hut for a very well-deserved glug of wine and some chocolate!

We are both so tired that we eat dinner early, find the ranger to hand over our hut passes and are in bed, asleep, around 8:30pm.

Today we walked: 17.2km (including the side trip up the Key Summit)
Elevation: We climbed from 508 to 868 metres today



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the closest thing we have to a family ritual at christmas time, is staying away from the hype. we don’t buy each other (or anyone else) gifts. not because we don’t love and appreciate our friends, we simply find other ways – at other times of the year – to show them.

instead, following in the footsteps of Nic’s parents, we usually find a place in nature to explore. last year we spent it in our new island home, swimming and bbq’ing turkey.

this year we walked the routeburn track (more on that in later posts). spending time together like this – no cellphones, no internet, playing outside – feels like a truly amazing gift. i want to remember our christmas day for years to come – waking up in a doc hut, shared with 20-odd other people, hot coffee and tiny christmas mince pies before breakfast, the views as we climbed up and above the treeline. how it felt to be standing on the top of conical hill – as if supported and surrounded by friendly giants. the walk down to the falls hut and the screechingly-cold water i took a dip in at the end of the day..

we stayed in a hotel in queenstown on either side of our routeburn walk that serves the most delicious and nourishing food; so now i am home again, putting my own spin on things that we ate there.

three things i am truly thankful for right now are my island home, my husband (who loves a good adventure as much as i do) and friends who send lovely emails and cards in the post. and i am grateful for being home again now, so i can bake bara brith, make bread & butter pickles and have a go at a couple of new sewing projects.

right now, our our beautiful wanderlust-loving cat is doing just that (again). he took off on boxing day, whilst my parents-in-law were here and he’s not home yet. this weighs heavy on my heart but, since there’s a storm brewing, we are hoping he will decide to come home tonight… that would make the start of 2016 really great for us.

today being thursday, the last day of the year, sunny and a day begging to be got out in, we put on some walking gear grabbed our towels and drove to stony batter at the eastern end of the island. we were headed for the small bay just east of hooks beach which we thought might be good for a swim.

the route markers took us down through through hilly farmland, past a few wooly clumps of wary sheep and the sun-bleached bones of a couple that met with some untimely demise.

the final descent through huge pohutukawa, just now coming into flower…
then a bit of a scramble to a rocky bay that we didn’t feel at all like swimming at…
so, after a bit of a rest, it was back up the hill, through the sheep to the car.


This is my wish for 2016 for you all…

Let it be a year with more friends and less Facebook. More loving and less liking. More long walks and mad love-making. More art and less artifice.
– from Let it Be by David duChemin.

»» Read the whole article by David here. I could not have said it better myself.

easy like sunday morning

milo, coffee and mini xmas mince pies

7:46am feels like a mega lie in for us – we are usually awake by 5:30

our furry flatmate is asleep on the bed, paws covering his eyes, making tiny snoring noises

in the other room, the coffee grinder burrs into life, then i hear the coffee machine and the rustle of a brown paper bag. nic returns with coffee and three-bite mince pies.

milo wakes to investigate… something for him?
no. back to sleep then…

the gear for our christmas trip is mostly assembled, just needs the gear we wore for bootcamp yesterday to dry, then we can pack ready for tomorrow’s departure south.

there are vegetables for kimchi to be sliced and put in the crock, bikes that need oiling and locking up, and floors that need to be mopped.

everything else is done.

no reason to get up yet.


currently tickling my fancy: do you have / are you an instagram husband

te toki reserve

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it’s not looking good for my 5dmkii…. it’s currently in camera hospital and the technician isn’t sure he can fix it.

i have an event on the island tomorrow that i am doing some photography for, and one of Nic’s workmates has kindly loaned me his 550d body. i went for a wander through the park near our place this morning, wanting to make sure i know where all the buttons are (without having to stop and look) before i need to use it tomorrow.


monk with an ipad on castle hill. copyright leonie wise

we gave up watching ‘regular’ television years ago and now just buy all our tv series using the itunes store or watch on netflix. my current favourite – suits.

another surprising month for me. i haven’t embarked on any ‘new’ exercise regimes recently, and i don’t ‘diet’ but the constant commitment i have to exercise and taking care of myself seems to still be paying off. more jeans gone from my drawer, replaced by a smaller size.

there was a visit to christchurch to see family. and i got to hang out with one of my sister-in-laws that i’d not previously spent much time with. we had a load of laughs, bonded over shopping (for – amongst other things – those new jeans for me) and glasses of wine.

and i spent a morning at castle hill. i’d just been sitting on top of a stack of rocks pondering something i’d read about the dalai lama naming the place as the spiritual centre of the universe and what do i see below me? a van full of monks! so perhaps there was some truth to that.

then i hopped on a bus to queenstown to run a half marathon, with a foot/ankle issue, so i’m trying to get things sorted out before i commit to another event of a similar length. i don’t want a short-lived long-distance running career so i’m working with a physio and a chiropractor to treat the underlying cause now that event is ticked off my list.

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today i’m feeling a little sad, as i write the last daily dispatch to my little list of 31-day subscribers. it’s been so much fun writing a little note to them every day and has made me realise just how varied and amazing my days are.

during the month, my 5dmkii stopped working properly. so i’ve sent it off to the camera hospital, crossing my fingers in hope that whatever needs to be done to repair it can be done quickly so i have it back in time for christmas, because…

i’m thinking about that already, planning and eagerly anticipating a tramping holiday. i have made a list of all the gear we need, and formulated a basic menu. there’ll be home-made turkey jerky and christmas mince pies, and we’re testing some tramping food to see what we can take that is light, wholesome and low on packaging.

i come across these photos of iceland and show them to Nic. the trip we had planned for 10 days in august 2012 (that never happened) feels like unfinished business. two trips in the winter to that beautiful country leaving me wanting to explore it in the summer and these photos just add to that desire.