Explore the beautiful country of New Zealand with Contributor Bozenka Raich as she talks about her trek along the Routeburn Track.

Day One of two days

Whilst sitting at the pub on a Wednesday night in April with my two new friends (Lisa and Amanda), I was listening to them both talk about the hike they were about to go on that weekend. They were going to hike the Routeburn Track, a 32 kilometer walk through part of the Southern Alps into Fiordland, listed as one of the Great Walks of New Zealand.

Most people walk the track in three days and two nights but the girls and their friend, Sarah, were planning to cut it short to two days and one night. They were going to start at The Divide which is the opposite of where people normally start in Glenorchy. I thought to myself how exciting it would be to join them but wasn’t even sure if I could book a bunk at the hut with such late notice. I voiced my thoughts anyway, and Lisa said she would check the hut vacancy on the chance there had been a cancellation or a space available. Well the universe must have heard my thoughts as there was one bunk left!! Clearly someone was saying I should go, so I contacted my boss to ask if there was the possibility of taking Friday off with such short notice and again I couldn’t believe it, he said yes! There was definitely someone shining down on me that night.

Being a novice hiker and this being only my second overnight hike, I didn’t have all the gear I needed. So in a flurry that night and the next day, I organized to borrow a pack, sleeping bag, and got some very handy tips on what to take. One day later on the Friday morning, I met the girls early in town and we caught the bus to The Divide. I had a faint idea of what was in store for me but I sure wasn’t looking forward to the heavy pack I was about to carry on my shoulders, nor the amount of time I would need to carry it for. However, with a big grin and a great “gungho” I was excited to be outdoors and to discover a new track. Woohoo! I was in the mountains again AND about to go on one of the Great Walks!

So with my pack full and my jacket filled with treats and snacks to keep me going in every pocket off we went. The first few sections were steep in some parts, but as it was a fairly easy path we kept plodding up. Eventually Lisa and Sarah were well ahead of us, and Amanda and I were left. Thank goodness we discovered we were both at the same level of hiking and this was a huge adventure for us. But we were determined to keep going, even if we had to stop every now and then to ease my poor tired shoulders and back. I say every now and then but I am sure I was stopping to get something out of my pack every half an hour or so throughout the day because you know I NEEDED to get that jacket or that cap or whatever else I could think of.

Roughly about an hour in after starting at 10am, Amanda and I decided to veer off to the Key Summit which is still on the Routeburn Track but a nice little detour. It was definitely a brilliant choice but even better for me was that there, in the middle of nowhere, was a toilet! I found this to be hilarious so of course could not miss the opportunity to take a photo with this wonderful piece of architecture. The Key Summit provided jaw dropping alpine views and a long wooden boardwalk where I lay down and stared at the clouds going by for a while. It felt like I was the only person in the world and it was so peaceful.

Returning to the main track, we trekked on with gorgeous mountain views, waterfalls and many a rocky outcrop and beautiful flora. Two to three hours in, we found Lake Howden Hut. In my naivety I of course thought yippee, we have found our overnight stay, but no chance. There was still more steepness to go but, with that came more stunning views. At least though I had another excuse to take off that darn heavy pack and have lunch.

With lunch over, we started the walk to Lake Mackenzie Hut. We were very lucky with the weather considering it rains on average about 200 days per year! The weather is highly unpredictable as well, as it can go from freezing to hot to rain but as the sun shined down on that first day it was glorious. As my long time friend Fraser said to me once, “it’s not how quickly you get there, it’s about enjoying the journey”, so I was determined to enjoy every bit and soak in those views on this sunny day!

As it was such a beautiful warm afternoon I decided to do something daring with the help of Amanda. Being the great photographer she is, I knew she would do it justice so I went where I hadn’t been before. A topless photo (but only of my back)! I hadn’t had the courage before but thought, here we were in the great outdoors, hardly anyone around and what a magnificent moment just to be free! It was great and the photo….exhilarating!

We actually didn’t come across many other hikers that day; there were a few but not as many as I would have thought there would be on a Great Walk. There were of course quite a number though at the huts, maybe it was due to how slow Amanda and I had been that meant everyone was way ahead of us and relaxing whilst we were still hiking.

After the fun of the photo and a few more hours later, we arrived at Lake Mackenzie Hut our overnight stop and where we rejoined Lisa and Sarah. It was about 4pm in the afternoon so the hike had taken us roughly 6 hours or slightly more. It was a full house that night and even the camping area nearby was full. I was so happy to not have to carry that pack anymore and just wanted to enjoy my new friends’ company and that ever tasty freeze dried food. Yes my first experience with a freeze dried cottage pie! I love my mashed potato but don’t think I reheated this meal properly. I was so happily tired that I didn’t care, so even the powdery non-cooked bit tasted good! Hmmm….I am still learning. I know I may have gone on about the heavy pack but being a newbie hiker I still hadn’t learned how to pack to reduce weight or even how little you can get away with. These are all lessons I am still learning and tweaking in my own way. I fell asleep a very contented hiker that night and day two was still to come!

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