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We were in the Valley of the Trolls.
I spent the night before the trip at my friend Petrina's home in Luggate, near Wanaka. Joining us on this trip were Petrina's cousin, Matthew, and his girlfriend, Emily. The next day the four of us drove on one of New Zealand's most scenic roads over the Crown Range, through Queenstown to Glenorchy and continued to the start of the Routeburn Track. It is not surprising that Sir Peter Jackson chose this spectacular scenery to film some footage of his The Lord of The Rings and Hobbit movies.
We followed the beautiful Routeburn Gorge for two hours until the walls on either side of the river parted, opening on to grassy flats surrounded by spiky mountains. Half an hour later we arrived at the Routeburn Flats Hut. The campsite, located 200m upstream from the hut, is well appointed with enough picnic tables, benches and two covered cooking stations. We ate our dinner admiring the last rays of the setting sun illuminating the mountain tops.
We woke up to a frosty morning in a tent soggy with condensation dripping on to our sleeping bags. Frozen dew on the outside fell off in chunks as we shook the fabric. As the fog dissipated, the almost horizontal rays of the rising sun enveloped the camp and the people.
It took an hour to reach the entrance to the Valley of the Trolls, a fitting name for this remote and wild place with huge boulders grotesquely scattered on the ground as if tossed about by angry giants. Certain light brings out monstrous faces in the rocky walls around.
Few feelings can compare to the satisfaction of reaching a beautiful spot like this - a mountain lake reflecting the surrounding peaks illuminated by the orange glow of the setting sun. We celebrated with a cup of tea, a perfect reward for our trouble to get there.
We didn't linger for too long though, mindful of the approaching night and the distance to our camp. Luckily, we reached it just on dusk. Later, as we cooked our evening meal by torch light we pondered how hard it would've been to walk in the dark across the bog full of tarns and creaks.
The next day, the sun was shining as we walked back to the car park. Keas and falcons were flying above our heads, while robins and tiny riflemen checked us out in the bush. It was a joy to walk among this amazing alpine scenery on such a glorious day.
One of the benefits of tramping is that it makes you appreciate the simple comforts. Back at Petrina's place, a hot shower, the heat from the log burner and a comfortable bed seemed like real luxuries after two nights spent in a tent.