Hiking in New Zealand
I just went on probably the most enjoyable hiking trip of my life. It wasn't as adventurous as some, or as breathtakingly beautiful as others. It was just fun.
The scenery, while not as spectacular as in South America, was gorgeous and varied tremendously. One minute I'd be walking through a grassy valley along a sparkling clear river, then I'd go around a corner and find myself in a forest of ancient gnarled beech trees. I might then cross a river and suddenly the entire forest floor is covered in huge ferns.
The first night I camped by myself, in a nice open forest area where the ground was so soft I could have slept without my ground pad. It would have been perfect were it not for the one big nuisance to be found in New Zealand - Sand flies.
Sam and I had encountered them in small numbers before, little gnat-like flies that buzz all around your head, and really enjoy biting hands, feet and any other exposed skin they can get to. We could bear them when camping from the car, but to be out in the woods surrounded by millions of them was nearly unbearable. I frantically cooked my food while swatting at them and running around my campsite to keep from getting bitten and then when my food was finally done, grabbed it and jumped inside my tent for the night. After that I decided I would be staying in the huts.
The entire second day I walked through a forest of beech trees where nearly everything was covered in moss. The tree trunks, ground, rocks - everything. I almost felt like I was in a different world, and not seeing anyone for hours, felt like I had the forest all to myself. I kept picturing scenes from fantasy books I have read being played out in the woods around me.
On all of the major trails in New Zealand there are what they call "Backwoods Huts." They are basically hostels in the middle of the wilderness, with bunks, sinks, and bathrooms. You can sleep in one for 15 NZD a night, or camp outside and use the facilites for 5 NZD a night. Which meant for less than 3 american dollars I could set up my tent outside, then go in and cook food out of the rain, and away from the sand flies.
It is an awesome system because I got to hike by myself all day, which I really enjoy, but at night I could stay at a nice place and enjoy the company of fellow travelers from all over the world. Within 4 nights I met someone from Israel, Germany, Sweden, Australia, England, and the Czech Republic. We had great fun chatting about the differences between our countries, playing cards, and telling of the things we'd seen hiking that day.
They have turned backpacking, which is mainly an activity done alone or just with friends, into a very social activity where it is easy to meet fellow hikers and like minded people. It was a fantastic 5 days of hiking, which I will not soon forget, and it made me sad to be leaving New Zealand so soon.