Glenorchy, NZ to Glenorchy, NZ

Back to Glenorchy Village

5.0 mi / 11.6 mph / 184 ft. climbing
Home: Glenorchy Hotel

It definitely rained overnight, so it was nice to be under a roof. I also took advantage of the quiet space to fix my again-loosened kickstand last evening, which is a whole lot of work (maybe the magic Reefton-acquired Loctite will make the fix “stick” this time!) By morning the showers had cleared out, but we couldn’t check into our hotel back in town until 1pm, and Karen was nice enough to not shove us out.

Each of the last four days we exceeded three hours of pedaling time, a stretch we haven’t done since last August, in Montana. So we had two nights booked at the Glenorchy Motel to give us a rest day tomorrow, but this short day and the early check-in made today pretty close to a rest day too.

Day 2

Well crap, it wouldn’t quite be a rest day for me. Last night when I went to put my contacts into their case, my contact solution was not in my bag. I messaged Karen, and this morning got her response that yes, it was in her laundry room (where I went to clean my contacts because her bathroom sink didn’t have a drain stopper). So today I needed to do the 10-mile round-trip ride again, but at least I could do it unloaded again (I was proud to make it all the way up her 14%-grade driveway without stopping).

And hey, maybe it was all part of my master plan, to give me an “excuse” to make the ride. Because last night, it snowed! On February 2nd, the northern hemisphere’s equivalent of August 2nd, it snowed! Ok, not at ground level here in Glenorchy, but the range of mountains we could see from our hotel window was entirely frosted in white, where yesterday there had only been one nearby peak with a couple of snow patches on it. Karen said that even Mount Alfred, the isolated central mountain in the foreground of the valley, had a dusting on it at dawn (since melted away), so the snow-level was below 4500 ft!

The morning view from the front of the Glenorchy Hotel. 95% of that white wasn’t there yesterday.

I remember telling Rett months ago that we might not see any snow-capped mountains in New Zealand, because we would only be getting to the high peaks in mid-summer. I’ve since realized that was a dumb bet to hedge, but I still wouldn’t have wagered under any odds that we’d see the snow amounts increase during our time here! So riding up the valley (including up and down the 200 ft. hill in the middle) was a great way to see landscape looking even more eye-popping than it did yesterday.

These guys certainly had some snow on them yesterday, but not nearly this much!
All that ice-gray stuff up there is new.
The trip also gave me an opportunity to get a photo of Karen’s incredible house in better lighting.
The closeup of the mountains seen the cleft from Karen’s house.
Even the mountains “behind” us (to the South of Glenorchy), which had felt super-dry on our way in, had a dusting on top.

Day 3

Hiking: 12.2 mi / 1800 ft. climbing
Biking: 30.9 mi / 11.5 mph / 1510 ft. climbing
Home: Glenorchy Hotel

We had initially booked two nights at the Glenorchy Hotel to give us a full rest day (bringing us to four nights total so far in the Glenorchy area), but our desire to spend more time in this most-striking part of New Zealand (and Karen’s recommendation) led to an idea to hike a section of the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand’s 11 “Great Walks”. We considered taking a shuttle bus to the trailhead 15 miles from Glenorchy (the Great Walk is a 21-mile point-to-point multi-day hike, so a lot of people get shuttled to/from each end), but in the end decided we were badass enough to ride our (once again unloaded) bikes.

The first five miles were familiar, the next five took us around the left side of Mount Alfred to the unexplored Dart River (we did the right side and the Rees Valley the other day), and the last five were uphill on gravel into a headwind. But the time went faster because we terrified several flocks of sheep who had escaped their fences and gotten themselves onto the road, and in their panic could not remember where the hole in the fence was to return themselves to safety. So they would leap over each other, run head-on into each other while searching in opposite directions, or bash into the wire fence trying to brute-force a gap. But mostly they just ran ahead of us on the road, hoping an off-ramp would appear somewhere. The older, fatter ones were much more likely to settle faster and say “you know what, fuck it, if these cyclists want to kill me, go ahead. I’m just not gonna run anymore”. We don’t want to kill you, you goofy-ass sheep, just relax and it’ll all be cool! Lamby, who loves it when the sheep run through their paddocks, was very disappointed not to be along for this sheep-excitement.

We were doing the hike now because the forecast had the morning as the only “good” weather period in several days, but we never saw any sun, and most of the time had a too-light-to-need-a-jacket “rain” falling. So it was a “lush forest” hike rather than an “epic views” hike, but that’s what most of it would have been even under sunny conditions, and lately we’ve had more than our fair share of epic views anyway.

Green mossy forest and a nice wide trail.
The view down into the gorge from one of the several suspension bridges along the trail.
A wider view of the nice tumbling river.
The river gorge was impressively narrow with high mountains closing it in.

New Zealand’s “Great Walks” are “upgraded” for the masses that hike them, so the path was wide and relatively smooth and we were able to make good time. But I was really surprised when we ran into a group of at least 40 coming the other way across a suspension bridge that we had to wait for (with maybe 20 more spread out behind them). Like, they all surely spent the night up here, but how could there be that many?

A pretty funny explanatory sign explaining what will happen to the six and seventh person to step on this bridge.
What is the name for the life form that comes from a giant squid mating with a tree.
A giant chocolate chip dropped onto a flat green cookie sheet. I’ve never seen a mountain like this!
The only reason this fantasy landscape is visible is because a big landslide came down the hillside we’re standing on in 1994, clearing out all the trees (which are taking surprisingly long to grow back). Very convenient!
Rett clambering over a smaller, more-recent landslide.

When we reached our designated turnaround point of the Routeburn Falls Hut about 6 miles in, it all made sense (well, it also made no sense at all): not only was the “hut” a giant building (with flush toilets, a huge kitchen/dining room, and of course big bunk rooms), there was also a whole multi-building “lodge” across the street (er, trail), with electric lamps shining, and who knows what else! (I’m guessing the relatively non-backpacker-looking crowd of 40 backpackers had been staying at the lodge). It was the most-expansive bit of off-grid civilization I’ve ever seen far up a hiking trail with no roads nearby. I’m guessing much of the construction materials were helicoptered in?

Anyway, it was a wonderful place for us to go inside out of the wind and rain and cold and eat lunch!

Inside the Routeburn Falls “Hut”.

On the way up, we had been passed by some trail runners, and I figured they were doing the whole thing. I converted the 32km distance (it’s the shortest “Great Walk”) in my head and realized it’s “only” 20 miles, and we have done a 20 mile hike before. But, since we didn’t arrange transport, and weren’t mentally or physically prepared for such a distance, we had to turn around.

#FindRett crossing the river on a bridge far below the mountaintop waterfall from whence it flows.
Chocolate Chip Mountain from a different angle.
These beech forests are supposedly very mono-species in tree-life (though if they’re all beech trees, they sure grow in wildly different forms), but the moss-life has enormous variety, with this “bush” growing off the side of a tree being just one example.
A close-up view of the base of Chocolate Chip Mountain. It just flips immediately from grassy river plain to a steep wall of enchanting trees.
The saturated colors of the Routeburn, which reminded me very much of Avalanche Creek in Glacier National Park.
Rett trying not to fall into the river.
The Routeburn flowing out of its valley to meet the Dart, and then into Lake Wakatipu.
This fairy house was the first cool thing we saw 100 yards into the trail, and when it still ranked high on the way back after over 12 miles of hiking, it finally got its deserved photo.

In the end riding our bikes to the trailhead (which also had a nice building, and a big overhanging shelter where we locked our bikes, though oddly only vault toilets) was the right call, because our hike took about 30 minutes longer (or 3 hours shorter) than the shuttle bus schedule. So it was nice to just take whatever time we wanted and not feel rushed. And we knew we’d have a downhill and tailwinds pushing us the 15 miles home.

Except…the wind had increased significantly by afternoon, and in the section where we needed to cross the Dart River, it was screaming down the valley perpendicular to us. It likely would have been impossible to ride if we had been loaded, and Rett did an amazing job even unloaded of keeping herself angled yet upright (we had to take the brim off her helmet so the wind wouldn’t break her neck, as even my head was being tugged hard by my brimless helmet).

Finally a right turn put the wind behind us again where it should have been, and coasting at a speed where the air felt still revealed it to be blowing about 23mph. It must have been at least 40mph across the bridge. But after one more section into the face of it, we finally got our push home. I heard a trail runner at the end report 21.3 miles; we figure 12.2 miles hiking plus 30 miles of biking is almost equivalent! Thus, we each got our own “carnivore” pizza for dinner at the Glenorchy Hotel restaurant, and then shuffled (actually we were walking pretty well still) the 20 steps back to our bed.


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