By Anna Marie Stefanick
FIRST BOOTPRINT: AIR TRAVEL
It began as all trips do –
researching, reading journals, questioning other travelers, and making
reservations based on dubious decisions made thousands of miles away from the
target destinations. Exciting,
frustrating, and even scary at times, but ultimately, a skeletal itinerary
emerged and grew with layers of fleshy tracks, hostels, boats and buses. Ideas, inspirations, imaginings – educated
guesses all geared to plan a three week adventure to the other side of the
equator, some 14,000 miles away from our beloved families and familiar
The very idea of traveling 18 time
zones and a full day back in time over the International Date Line dazzled us
as we turned our watches forward in time yet mechanically maintained the
calendar to reflect
SECOND BOOTPRINT: LAND TRANSPORTS
New Zealand public bus drivers from Intercity and Track Net delighted us with their amusing conversations regarding all range of topics from sheep with legs of uneven length to accommodate the sloping, worn ridges ribboned across each hillside, to plans for changing directional lanes three years from now, but allowing trucks and buses to get a head start next year to see how they liked it first. We withstood as much flabbergasting and smoke-blowing as we could until a healthy skepticism invaded our responses while trying to dodge the tongue-in-cheek humor of these delightful people. One interchange between Pat and a bus driver named Robert went something like this:
“Seeing lanes of traffic approach from the opposite side of the road we are used to is a bit unnerving Robert. I am certainly glad you are driving and not me.”
“Yes, Americans cause most of our traffic accidents here. I’m certainly glad you are not driving, too!”
One especially cordial driver in a enchantingly crisp-white Panama hat kept turning full around to make eye contact with us as he spoke, resulting in some lane crossings that distressed us enough to issue gasps, stutters, and a few back-seat driving suggestions to which he piercingly replied, “Oh yes, this is just like driving with my wife!” We chuckled as he described Bulls as a “hickelty-piclety” town surrounded by sheep and deer farms. Throughout our stay, some 13 bus rides, varying in length from 30 minutes to 10 hours, informed, entertained and educated us.
THIRD BOOTPRINT: WATER TRANSPORTS
Five boat rides --- there’s no
greater delight than a journey across crystalline glacial waters as mountain
sentinels tens of thousands of feet tall scream skyward all around. Some say a picture is worth 1,000 words; in
this instance, one pristine shot is probably worth 10,000 words! All boating excursions traversed smooth
waters under sunny skies. The ferry, our
longest chariot ride, carried at least 1000 visitors and tons of cargo
including vehicles. I chatted with a
Reilly, a Jack Russell terrier, with a personality more winning than some people I know, made the voyage into the Queen Charlotte Track on my lap – he was probably trying to make up for Max’s prior rudeness. Ironically, we met Max once again while on the Queen Charlotte, near his owner’s crib tucked into the mountain side just a few feet from the water’s edge in a glade of tranquility. Bad dog. I dared not stop or put my pack on the ground within his target zone again!
The Department of Commerce met us
dockside as we disembarked the boat onto the Milford Track into pans of bleach
to disinfect our boots before even beginning the hike.
FOURTH BOOTPRINT: FREEDOM TRAMPERS
That’s what the guided hikers called
us – they had escorts, catered food, more sophisticated huts, and breakfast
served in bed! As freedom hikers, we carried
our own food supplies and sleeping bags.
In 17 of 21 days in
Despite Pat sustaining either a badly
bruised or broken little toe from
tripping over the bed ladder to an upper bunk the night before starting on the
Milford, and her on-going other foot and ankle problems, she managed to
continue through all of our planned outings.
While she rested up between tracks, I enjoyed some solo strolls,
exploring YHA surroundings in several towns.
In TeAnau and Queenstown, I delighted in lakeshore walks, and in the
National Park, a mangy-looking, limping shepherd-like, mean-looking black dog with
one ear ripped off, escorted me on a two hour jaunt to an overlook that
reminded me of vistas into
The most memorable event amid my footprints
FIFTH BOOTPRINT: IMAGERY AND EMOTIONS
SIGHT AND SOUND: On our last night in Queenstown, we rode the gondola to the top of the hillock that embraces the town’s seascape and attended a theater for Maori Dance and Song. Performers glared with over-exaggerated eyes and protruded tongues, stomped and pranced to the rhymic jungle beats, slapped hands to chest in significant tribal gestures, and clomped feet as the pois twirled to match the throbs. Dark tattoos from lower lips to chins on both the men and women as well ample celebrated body art made the artists appear fearsome. Pat and I were whisked on stage as volunteers to participate in swinging the pois to the unfamiliar rhythm of the songs. I only hit myself in the head once with the soft instrument as it dangled from a 16” cord.
SOUND: We could barely hear one another speak as the cicadas sang and clicked incessantly along the Queen Charlotte Track. This racket in conjunction with habitual bird calls and screeches from bellbirds, keas, and wekas sounded like a concert with the Knoxville Symphony during our entire stay there.
TASTE: We ate well during our entire stay. While grocery stores did not provide the quantity or quality of fruits and vegetables available in the States, we found an abundance of eggs, tuna, and vegetables. I enjoyed a wonderful fish dinner in National Park, some venison as well as a Greek Salad in TeAnau, and the best treat – a burger with fried squid at Ferburger’s in Queenstown. I lost 6 pounds and Pat lost 14!
INSPRIRATION: Without a doubt, one of my favorite things was
evenings spent sharing conversation and culture with the many people we met
from all over the world. In National
Park, we met two young
RESPECT: At the Flats Hut on the Routeburn, the last
night in the bush for us, we discussed the similarities and differences of our
country with young couples from
COMRODERIE: On the Kepler, we passed a delightful evening with a young father and husband, who after years of teaching primary education, went back to school to become a Psychiatric Nurse. That night, I dreamed three men came in white coats to take me away from my hiking trails to a comfortable room for disturbed people who were out in the woods too long!
EMBARRASSMENT: Restrooms posed a real challenge for me at first. You see, all huts, and some hostels did not separate men’s and women’s facilities. The first time I exited the “toilet” into a room full of men, I just lowered my head and walked out with speaking. By the end of the trip, I engaged in conversations readily and although never became really comfortable with the arrangements, I did come to accept them.
GRATITUDE: I lost track of how many times my guardian angel (Ninja – it’s a long story!) saved us. He must be exhausted! I think by the end of the trip, even Pat was a believer! He saved the day in these and countless other “Murphy’s Law” events:
- Getting us on the Milford Track
- Getting off the Tongararo Crossing without injury, and providing a driver when we missed the bus
- Finding Pat’s passport
- Providing an unexpected bed for me when only a top bunk was open
CONFUSION: Crossing the streets in towns was probably the most dangerous thing we did! We’d be part way out into traffic with our heads turned the wrong way, as the sound of breaks shook our confidence! I never really got used to it, even after three weeks!
SIXTH BOOTPRINT: ENGLISH – THE LANGUAGE BARRIER
Freedom trampers Hikers on their own
Give Way Yield
Teen 10 cents
No Overtaking No passing
Crib Second home in the back country
It’s all good. Whatever you want.
It’s too easy. No problem.
No worries. Everything is going to be okay.
Woofing Working just long enough to
earn travel money.
Take Away Take out
What the bloody hell. So what.
Billy Cooking pot
Wee bit Small amount or distance
Isn’t it? Do you agree?
Turn around Traffic circle
SEVENTH BOOTPRINT: SUMMATION
I used everything I packed, and all gear fit perfectly into the wheeled suitcase. I did laundry twice and managed to stay squeaky clean and fresh-smelling despite many consecutive days in the woods covered with Deet. Weather remained outstanding the entire time – between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit with only two days of light rain, and a drizzle here and there on rare occasions. We didn’t have to worry about copperheads and rattle snakes - or black bears! I saw 2 kiwis, many keas, stoats (rodents that look like little weasels), wekas, and even a cute skunk-like looking possum (which in no way resembles our ugly-American version).
I end my journey contented, physically stronger, and spiritually renewed. I am grateful to Pat for all her hours of planning, and to my husband for encouraging me to seize this opportunity.