There are No Sandflies at Night

Let me just give you an idea of where I am, what I’ve been up to, and where I’m going before we get in depth here. I am currently writing from Queenstown getting ready to go fishing for a day with a guide, which is a long awaited Christmas gift from Papabear. I spent the last week in Dunedin with the most radical lady around, a friend named Montana from camp. We had an epic weekend because it was my last with her and last in New Zealand.

I left the city and entered sandfly territory again. The Matukituki Valley. A valley with high Schist peaks and alpine grass. Sometimes, at just the right angle, you could see past the alpine grassed peaks and see sheer rock peaks, and some cradling glaciers. Layers and layers of mountains creating big blue sky windows that opened a world of glistening and melting snow. Water falls, long, thin, exposed; all poured randomly out of the rocks and peaks. All of them feeding into one river, the Matukituki river. 

A river who’s main source is the melting glaciers higher up in the valley near Mt. Aspiring. A calm river for the most part. It flows swiftly but the water is so clear it’s hard to see how fast it is actually going. From high up on the trail I could see the bottom of the river. This water wasn’t crystal clear like the Young river or many others in New Zealand. The water was thick. Clear but thick. It had dark colors and big whites. It looked like elegantly moving ice. Felt like it too. Our whole hike we crossed streams that fed into this power and walked along the cow pastures that it carved through. Waterfalls pouring out of the valley walls closest to us and bigger and bigger peaks becoming more exposed the further back we hiked. 

The whole hike was with old and new friends. I was finally one of those people hiking in a group. I had seen so many groups of four hiking together while I hiked alone, they always walked with a little skip in their step as their conversations flowed and I walked with a little extra drag in my step as I counted up to my hundredth step for what seemed like the hundredth time. I saw their cool extravagant dinners, coffee together in the morning, laughs on their hikes. I was those people this trip and it felt great and it all started during my visit in Dunedin. 

After a week of visiting my friend Montana in the glass covered streets of the college city Dunedin we decided it was time to rent a car and find a place to explore and escape to. Mt. Aspiring hut. We rented a car and the amount of freedom that came with that was amazing. When we rented a car I felt we could go anywhere in New Zealand. No bus schedules, no hitch hiking, no small mountains roads to hike up; we could decide exactly where we wanted to go. So we grabbed two more people who love to play in the mountains and went for a drive, hike, then another drive, then a bungy jump. A weekend with plenty of playing.

We started our hike late. We woke up early on Friday but I moved slowly as my body remembered what being in college felt like. After a wonderfully mellow week of hanging out in the botanical gardens while Montana was in class, going to ridiculously cheap yoga classes, and ending each day snuggled up in flannel sheets while eating frozen mango with Nutella and watching dexter with Montana, a night out past 1am and more then two drinks had a toll on me, but we got on the road by 10:30 or 11:00.

We drove and drove and somehow I was in charge of directions and in retrospect I definitely navigated us the longest way. But we finally got to Wanaka. We went to the grocery store in Wanaka and bought food that wasn’t tuna and couscous like my dinners on every other camping trip. We got curry ingredients, s’more tortilla ingredients, hummus, chicken; we were going on an overnight trip so I didn’t have to carry everything I have in New Zealand, we had a car so I could leave stuff in it. I wanted to pack the whole grocery store. I wanted to cook a steak (we stuck with curry.) One night trips with four people at a hut that has gas stoves is pretty fun, so we did as the French do and ate very well in the backcountry. 

Before we got to our dinner we had to hike two hours up the golden valley. I had not hiked this late in New Zealand before. When I’m by myself I worry about the dark creeping up on me, I worry about the sun setting behind the mountains while I’m in the jungle. With friends we didn’t walk in a rush to beat the sunset: we hoped to catch it.  The constant approach of night isn’t so scary with friends to laugh with. 

It was the most gorgeous time to hike. The mountain’s Schist plates were highlighted by the setting sun. The full clouds hung on the peaks, dark blue and orange. The glaciers were a different white, a cream orange white that made it hard to look away. The gold pastures more gold. The talking more enthusiastic because of the changing sun and the hike more entertaining while laughing.  Hiking whole the day darkening and getting ready to rest for the night is beautiful and peaceful. We saw one person on the busy trail. We had the valley to ourselves.

That night we ate well. We had dessert, we shared, smiled and slept in a small out-cove in the hut that was meant for three people but we fit four. At night I saw the stars with no worries chasing me to my sleeping bag. We all stood under the Milky Way, quiet, still; all appreciating the same moment. I missed seeing stars and night. Night is one of my favorite things; I feel like I’m spying on earth while she sleeps. Everything’s is quiet and I get to just sit and watch the silence. Alone it’s scary at times. Alone I would crawl into my tent to escape sand flies, but with people I didn’t want to go back in side, I wanted to watch the stars twinkle like they do down here with no ozone, watch for shooting stars and hear earth sleep. When I did I discovered there aren’t sandflies at night. 

The next day I woke up early and saw the alpine glow on the snow covered peaks. An alpine glow I haven’t seen in a long time. Everyone else woke up just after me and we shared a quiet morning with bursts of laughter. We hiked out and saw the sun move the opposite way out of the valley. We saw cows, cow poop (lots of it), streams, played on bridges and saw more people. We got to our car and feasted on hummus, crackers and olives until the sandflies started joining in on the feast. 

That evening we drove to Queenstown to eat delicious gelato at the beach, go bungy jumping off a bridge and into water, and ate really nice food and drank really nice beer. It was perfect. Then they drove back to Dunedin and I walked into a hostel and am a solo traveler again. Not for long though, I’ll be back to the states soon enough. 


One comment

  1. Kathy Mitchell · March 16, 2015

    What a dramatic landscape! Delicious.


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