One thing I've come to understand is that doubt is most often a temporary feeling. That was an underlying theme in my mind as I began my long awaited fortnight of solo adventure in New Zealand. It didn't start that way, rather with belated excitement as I boarded the plane at Brisbane International and rose into the sky, but so much had changed in the four months since I was last in what I have affectionately named Mountainland.
The major change was that of a significant withdrawal from social media, which left me with a much healthier and more present frame of mind, but also an unexpected loss of appetite for most of the photography I had so vehemently ascribed to my persona over the eight years since I first picked up a real camera. In the last two weeks, I had begun to wonder if I was doing all of this for myself or for Instagram, and without much exposure to social media, was I now on a path I no longer really needed to tread?
I think that is what brought about the anxiety I was feeling as I found my way to my accommodation and throughout not only my first day in Queenstown but also at times on my trek across the mountains on the three day Routeburn Track, of which I began with a decent blister on my heel from not having worn in my bigger hiking boots for a few months. To quell some of my doubt, I decided to act on my idea of partially climbing Ben Lomond on my day in Queenstown, and while I was feeling great after doing it, I was not expecting a blister to form from boots I had hiked in many, many times.
That doubt about why I was here has since disappeared, thanks to the experiences I had on that trek as well as my brief time in Milford Sound. I made a few unplanned landscape photographs on the trek, enjoyed the stunning views and delighted in conversations with other travellers, and that has rekindled my love for this kind of adventure without the need for social media to drive it.
As someone who rarely sees a landscape like New Zealand in person, not even the most beautiful photographs or videos from some of my favourite photographers online could prepare me for the sheer scale and magnificence of the towering mountains adorning the road from The Divide to Milford Sound. The Routeburn Track, with its beautiful forests to open alpine plateaus and views was an experience I was not entirely prepared for as well.
Having done only some light training in the time leading up to the trek, I found it to be tough work with probably around 17-18kg of hiking, camping and photography gear on me, but each morning and evening proved to be a delight for the eyes and soothing for the soul, and the hard work was not without the benefits of the vast mountain landscapes that lay in front of me as I walked.
With no cell service and only the occasional scenic flight in the air, the peace and quiet mixed with traveller's conversations and a good amount of solid tramping exercise left me with a much greater appreciation for the mountains that my first in October visit did not bestow.
Queensland mountains do not in any way prepare you for tramping across mountains in New Zealand. They are on a scale altogether more massive than home, and at times I found myself tiring of seeing yet another hour or two of hiking in front of me. On top of that, at one point along the western traverse of the second day, I put my pack down to find that my fleece jacket, my primary source of warmth, had fallen off. Without the pack on, I found myself bounding down the trail to find the first tramper I saw mention it might have been picked up. I was lucky, as two women had taken it with them all the way to Lake Mackenzie where I was able to retrieve it.
I had also forgotten to go down and also stock up on some additional food, but I found myself given an unwanted meal by the same women, so I enjoyed that around the campsite table with the rest of the Lake Mackenzie campers. Routeburn taught me a lot about some key preparations and precautions I will take on the next expedition, so those few mishaps were not without benefit.
As we approach the tunnel through the mountains on my way back to Queenstown, I find myself comparing the geology of Fiordland to that shown and described in Lord Of The Rings, with the mountains towering above like stone giants, made from the heart of the earth then shaped by weather over countless millennia.
I'm thoroughly glad to have completed the hike on my own and to have seen the Southern Alps and Fiordland as I have.