Craig arrived in the evening on boxing day and I picked him up at the airport and the straight southern highway took us down to Geraldine. We continued through Tekapo and past Pukaki into the evening. We called it quits about midnight, camping on Chris and Emily’s lawn in Queenstown. They weren’t there at the time but I didn’t think they’d mind, perhaps their neighbours but not them.
We continued driving to Lake Monowai in the morning. It’s on the outskirts of Fiordland National Park not so far from Manapouri. There were a bunch of boats and their trailors at the carpark at the hydrostation end of the lake. It took us a while to sort out all the stuff in my car but after some time we had our two kayaks packed with food, and tramping gear for a short trip. The kayaks were jammed full and we wondered whether we’d just sink to the bottom once on the water. With short breaks we carried them down to the water’s edge and got in. We had also crammed the cockpits full and even stuffed our tramping packs between our legs before pulling on our spray decks. A wet exit wouldn’t have been idle due to the increased difficulty to get out of the kayak with all the gear and the fact that all the gear would then be in the water too (and possibly sinking to the bottom).
It was warm and sunny and there were hardly any sandflies which made us wonder whether we were actually in Fiordland at all. We launched and began kayaking down the lake. A small headwind came up but then vanished again leaving flat water and perfect conditions for kayaking. We stopped for lunch on a little beach. The holds were large enough to store our lunch, dinner, and enough beer to keep Craig happy. After packing up we kayaked into the Rodger Inlet and checked out Rodger Inlet Hut, or at least huts. There’s a newer 12 bunk one and a smaller and older two bunk one. Despite the afternoon post-lunch laziness we decided to continue down the length of the lake to the very end. This took us a few more hours but was very pleasant even when the wind got up in the evening and gave us a bit of a push and some choppy water to contend with.
We got out of our kayaks at the end of the lake and started sorting out our gear and packing our tramping bags. The friendly boaty offered us a ride back out in case the weather turned bad. We carried the kayaks up into the bush and hid them and then we began walking up to Clarke A Frame Hut. It somehow looked closer on the map. The track was mostly well cut but there was a bit of windfall to contend with. We arrived at the hut just on dusk and I cooked dinner quickly and we drank a beer/cider that Craig had lugged up from the kayaks.
The weather forecast for the following day made us think it’d be best to get back along the lake today. We retraced the track back down to Monowai Hut. We could see the wind starting to get up on the lake and once we were on the water it started to get a little rough. We spent a few hours paddling in the choppy water, bobbing around in the little kayaks. The wind came from in front of us and then to the side and finally we had a tail wind kayaking into Rodger Inlet Hut for the night. We had the last of the beer that Craig had packed in the sun while lazing at on the shore beside the lake.
We left fairly early and kayaked the remainder of the lake back to the car park. The weather was fine and there was no issue moving across the water. We packed our crapage into the car and drove off to find cellphone coverage. After consulting with Gina on our life choices we headed back in towards the lake and up the Borland Road to the saddle. We packed for an overnighter and covered the kayaks on the car in case of rain. We were planning to walk into Green Lake Hut via the ridge from the saddle and to return via the track. We headed off up the ridge reaching the bush line quickly. We passed tarns as we walked through the tussock land. I navigated us with precision to the wrong saddle and we backtracked a bit before descending down towards the hut. My dodgy ankle that I rolled badly at the end of November wasn’t loving the rough ground. Craig moved more quickly and after a while we were both separated. I’d seen him off to the right and thought I’d wait for him to come around back towards the hut but he didn’t appear so after waiting for a while I walked down to the hut. After checking for mail in the letterbox by the lake (yes…) I unpacked my gear in the very tidy looking hut. Craig turned up shortly after. He’d been navigating from his 30 year old topo map. Apparently they’ve moved the hut from one end of the lake to the other in the last 30 years, a cunning trick.
We went for a quick dip in the lake and then cooked dinner. It was predicted to rain but hardly rained at all.
The following day we walked out via the track past Island Lake. We piled everything back into the car and drove to Lake Manapouri. After a hamburger lunch we decided that the weather was stable and that we may as well go kayaking again. We loaded gear into the kayaks again and launched from Pearl Harbour with no Japanese in sight. We kayaked into Surprise Bay, just as Leonie and I had done 8 years earlier. The wind seemed to be coming up so we backtracked and portaged along the George Track portage. It was perhaps 200m of dragging our kayaks through the forest. Kind of funny. This cut off about 7km of kayaking. The weather was messing with us and the wind dropped again. We kayaked into the Hope Arm and dragged the kayaks up onto the beach under the trees. It was cool and overcast. The Hope Arm Hut is around 50m from the lakeshore and we carried our gear up into the old hut. Nobody else was there, which was becoming a theme for the trip.
We kayaked out across a completely flat lake. I could see the reflection of the hills clearly in the lake water. It started to rain very slightly as we got out towards Mahara Island. We portaged the shorter section in Circle Cove back to Surprise Bay and kayaked back to the car in Pearl Harbour.
We drove to Te Anau from there and met Annu the Finn. The weather defied the forecast and it became hot and sunny. It was New Year’s Eve and we spent the evening hanging out with her and her friend’s as they consumed much alcohol. I was the sober driver and shortly after midnight I packed Craig into the car and we drove North towards Queenstown camping in a rest area beside Lake Wakatipu in the wee hours of the morning. It would probably have been more sensible to stay the night in Te Anau but we were keen to do some canyoning on New Year’s Day.
We drove back towards Christchurch, sometimes in pouring rain, other times in sunshine and under blue skies. The forecast looked like it would put an end to our canyoning near Fairlie and we ended up driving all the way to Glen Tui to canyon there. We didn’t start until about 6pm. It was a very easy canyon with a few abseils and a couple of jumps. It was over shortly after it started but was good fun. We drove back to Christchurch in the evening and there ended our Fiordland trip. Well, I guess our Fiordland trip ended in Fiordland but whatever…