By Anna Marie Stefanick

February 20, 2007March 13, 2007




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 Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.


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 USA days and dates.  The 747 glided through the hours of darkness toward New Zealand with over 400 passengers aboard, all soundly asleep.  The nighttime crossing of the Pacific Ocean allowed me to mimic my normal Circadian Rhythm without resulting in jet lag in even the slightest degree.  Unfortunately, I can not boast the same indifference on the return trip!




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.




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 couple from England most of the voyage who were visiting a brother and sis-in-law.   A couple of hours later, we boarded yet a second ship, this one quite a bit smaller with capacity to shuttle about 30 people to their hiking destinations deep in the back country.  Surprisingly, there was just enough time on dockside for Max, a black cocker spaniel to sniff out my “Downy-soft smelling back pack” and mark his territory post-haste.  I groaned knowing I would have to carry this tote for the next three full weeks bearing Max’s scent.  On-lookers, including Pat, were greatly amused by this incident as the dog-owner attempted to wipe away the evidence with her fleece jacket; I, on the other hand, found it not a damn bit funny.  


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.  New Zealand strictly regulates the inadvertent introduction of foreign materials on trampers’ boots and poles, as Pat discovered when customs emptied her entire pack on entry into the country to examine the cleanliness of her hiking gear.  Undoubtedly, one of the most spectacular sights while sailing was the Lady Bowen Falls on the exit trip from Sandfly Point after hiking the Milford Track. 




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 New Zealand, we hiked all or part of the Tongararo Crossing, Queen Charlotte, Milford, Kepler, and Routeburn Tracks.  For our Tennessee friends, it was like hiking Lakeshore, Mt. LeConte, Gregory Bald, Forney Creek, and Little River -- but with an ATTITUDE!  The Tongararo Crossing gave us the “water mark” to judge all future hikes ---- for the rest of our lives!  It just about did both of us in.  We found it extremely steep and rocky, above tree line, across crater fields as it serpentined into seemingly endless miles of treachery hurdling massive step-downs of 3’ and more into every turn.  It was our first hike.  I told Pat if the remainder of our walks equaled the difficulty level of the Crossing, we should consider just packing up and going home.  But old broads with bad attitudes think alike and never say “die”, even if they are, so we decided to continue on with measured caution.  Happily, the rest of our adventures provided only happy hiking miles and 1100 photos between us.  Reminiscent of excursions into the Grand Canyon and Rocky Mountain National Park, by the time our three weeks can to an end, we were both on sensory overload, visually flooded with images of precipitous mountains, surging waterfalls, aqua green glacial rivers, and cushy marshlands – we saw it all!  As I walked, I could envision the dinosaurs that must have scoured the hillsides millions of years ago as they blared territorial primordial warnings at intruders like us.  


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 North Carolina from the Appalachian Trail.


The most memorable event amid my footprints in New Zealand occurred at the Motorau Hut on the Kepler Track, where we met Allen and 11 of his local friends.  They had hiked through two days of persistent rains, and the rivers were swollen and angrily roaring.  The creek bed flooded over the trail in one section.  With footing obscured, Allen slid easily, with a full pack on, into the roiling waters.  At the hut, he downplayed the incident but later that evening, I walked the two miles upstream to the location of his unexpected swim and quickly came to realize how lucky this man was to even be alive!  The waters raced along the track at more than 50 M.P.H. in my estimation.  Three of his hiking friends pulled him to safety as he clawed the muddy banks for his life.  I told him that his guardian angel must be from the same boot camp as mine.  He admitted, and rather humbly came to discern, that he would not have been able to pull himself out of this certain death trap had he been hiking alone.  This could have been a very sad story had it not been for his kick-ass guardian angel, and the fact that he followed one of the most important hiking rules of all – never hike alone!




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 Israel women.  They had recently completed their required military service, and despite being thousands of miles away from home, just like us, every Friday night, they observed a religious rite like the celebration of Passover just before the Sabbath.  In the midst of a large and noisy kitchen, we had no candle to light so the flick of a lighter just had to suffice.  We washed our hands and shared the bread and a sip of wine in silence.  It was beautiful and I thanked them for giving me an opportunity to praise God with them.  Weeks later, we ran into the girls in Queenstown and passersby no doubt thought we were long lost friends as we hugged and squealed with delight in seeing each other again.  The only other time I got to visit a church was in TeAnau at St. Bernard’s.    Unfortunately, I was never in town when mass was celebrated, but I did stop in each time I passed by the simple structure to say the rosary or visit the Stations of the Cross as this is the Lenten Season. 


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 Germany and Israel.  Topics focused mainly on the military, the war and education, but we also broached business, economics and manufacturing in a delightful and insightful interchange.  The German couple was exposed to very liberal media from U.S. news in their country and asked about the enormous demonstrations here in the States against the war.  We were thunderstruck by their impressions and explored propaganda and bias issues on TV and in newspapers.  By the time the evening concluded, our German friends were using the expression “in my opinion” to preface their remarks.  It was enlightening for all of us.


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!







NEW ZEALAND                                U.S.A.


Freedom trampers                              Hikers on their own

Give Way                                           Yield

Toilets                                               Restrooms

Teen                                                  10 cents

No Overtaking                                    No passing

Crib                                                   Second home in the back country

Bush                                                  Woods

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






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. 


My bootprints in New Zealand left no trace, but strengthened my character and touched my heart in an extraordinary way - forever!