Matadorian Amanda Zeisset spent 3 days crossing New Zealand’s Southern Alps.
THE ROUTEBURN TRACK is a 32km traverse of the Darren Mountain range in Mount Aspiring National Park. My boyfriend Antonio and I completed the track in 3 days, starting from The Divide and ending in Glenorchy.
It’s a track of variety, with landscapes of mountain peaks, fjords, alpine lakes, waterfalls, forests, and valleys. These views, combined with the smell of oxygen-rich rainforest, the sound of native birds, the taste of cold glacial water, and the feeling of mist from the waterfalls helped us achieve the ultimate goal of trekking: to feel close to nature.
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Approaching Lake Mackenzie, we were relieved to have completed the first day of trekking. The campsite is a short walk from the water's edge, and some fellow trekkers braved the cold to take a swim in the glacial waters. Others wandered through the dense beech forest that runs alongside the lake.
Taking a break to enjoy the breeze and mist generated by the 174 meter Earland Falls.
View of the Hollyford Valley
The next morning, we left the shelter of the rainforest and began our ascent into the alpine zone. The thick mist of Fiordland covers the valley, but from this lookout point, we could still see how far we had come: the campsite is situated in the middle of the photo. During the last ice age, which ended 14,000 years ago, a huge glacier flowed down the Hollyford Valley, carving out its U shape.
Climbing Harris Saddle
For the next few hours, we faced rain, dense fog, and high winds. As we hiked along the ridge, I didn't talk to Antonio. The intensity of the wind makes communication difficult. As the rain hit my face and the wind roared past my ears, I fell into an unintentional meditation.
Harris Saddle and Lake Harris
After a steep zig-zagging trail, we reached Harris Saddle, the highest point on the track at 1,225m. The water of the glacial Lake Harris is a gradient of hues, ranging from emerald at the edge to deep blue to slate grey.
Mountain plants and glacial lakes
Alpine tarns and white Mt. Cook buttercups cover the lakeside slopes. 90% of New Zealand's mountain plants are unique to the island, thanks to 80 million years of geographical isolation.
Lighting up the camp stove
The best treat for a long day of tramping is a nice, warm drink. We stopped to light up the stove and relax our tired legs.
The name Routeburn reflects the Scottish heritage of the early settlers of the South Island. "Burn" means mountain stream. Here, the burn cuts through the valley floor, curving around the Darren Mountains.
Back into the bush
In contrast to the harsh alpine conditions we faced just hours earlier, the bush (the Kiwi word for rainforest) is pulsing with life. Mosses and lichens cover the trees and path, creating a world of green. New Zealand has no native mammals; however, the islands are home to a vast variety of bird species. Here in the bush, you can hear the songs of tomtits, robins, fantails, wood pigeons, and bellbirds. The very lucky may spot a kea, the world's only alpine parrot.
Twilight by the mountains
We pitched our tent in the long, grassy flat just beside the river and watched the sun disappear behind the mountains.
The last segment of the track leads through a beech forest that runs alongside many streams, creeks, and rivers. The landscape of the Routeburn track is dramatic, with the bright turquoise hue of this river as no exception.
Swing bridge finish line
We crossed one last bridge before completing the track.
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