Monday, December 14, 2009

New Zealand!

It had been far too long since we visited New Zealand (Jasmine’s home country!), but we finally made it back, spending nearly 3 ½ weeks there. Pictures can be found here: .

We flew in and spent a couple days in Auckland, then drove our rental car South, making stops to see Jasmine’s great aunt Dorothy (88 years young!), then visiting the geysers, hot mud pools, and the lake at and around Rotorua, just like real tourists.

From there we drove to Lake Taupo, where we me met up with Jasmine’s dad and Shirley at a “holiday batch” (a “cabin” in Minnesotan) owned by Shirley’s family. The batch was terrific, and within walking distance of the lake. Lake Taupo is also a short distance from Tongariro National Park, which boasts “the best one day hike in New Zealand”, the Tongariro Crossing. Imagine a trail crossing the three sisters wilderness from east to west or vice versa – it’s kind’ve like that. I think. For Jasmine and I, however, it was mostly inside a cloud and really, really, REALLY windy and cold. Surrounding the peaks and high plateaus of the crossing it was actually a nice, albeit breezy day. But high the on crossing itself, the weather was just insane. Visibility was maybe 20 feet at times. Rime ice formed as tho fog froze onto our clothes, and up on highest ridges, the wind nearly knocked us over. It was as “fun” as any alpine adventure I can recall, in that respect. At one point we were following a ridge, not knowing what was to our right, below the drop. I just sort’ve figured we were on the edge of a valley. Then for an instant we could see waves below us, then they disappeared back into the fog. Pretty weird feeling. A few hours hike brought us to the descent on the far side, and eventually we dropped back below the clouds and were treated to a nice view of Lake Taupo from high above. We stopped for a snack at the hut, maybe 3 miles from the finish. The hut was full of hikers, mostly young Scandinavian women. Sometimes crowded hikes aren’t all that unpleasant, afterall. J Eventually Jasmine dragged me from the hut and we continued down. Eventually we dropped below the alpine grasslands into thick forest, featuring tall fern trees and other flora that seemed almost tropical to me. It was cool to walk from the frozen, high alpine wasteland into thick, green, warm forest.

We spent a few more days at the batch, highlighted by a visit from Jasmine’s high school friend Bridgitt, who served as tour guide and entertainment (as she did again a few days later when we visited her near her home in Wellington). Other highlights of the Taupo portion of our trip included: throwing hundreds of pumice stones into the lake, carving pumice stones into shapes and throwing them into the lake, sticking sticks into pumice stones and throwing them into the lakes, and sticking two pumice stones together with a stick and throwing them into the lake. I can’t overstate how much fun this really was. Another outrageously fun time was had when Avery and I decided to redirect a small creek. It was a small, warm water creek that flowed into the Huka river at a nice little sand and rock beach. Avery and I, through considerable time and effort, redirected that last 10 feet or so about three feet to the right, creating a new channel through the beach into the river. Good fun.

After Taupo we spent a could days and night in Wellington, the capitol of New Zealand. To economize a bit, we stayed at a Youth Hostel. I think this was Avery’s favorite place to sleep, because she got to sleep on the top bunk of a bunkbed. Wellington was a great museum where we spent half day and got to see the preserved remains of a giant squid (the largest living squid ever caught). It was pretty big, but not huge. It was pretty gross too, truth be told.

We dropped off the rental car in Wellington and took the ferry across to the South Island where we met back up with Derek and Shirley. We spent the next 5 or 6 days at Tuna Bay in the Marlborough sounds, at the house Jasmine considered “home” while in high school. Tuna Bay and the surrounding area is a wonderful place, with a very few houses, beautiful and sheltered bays where we did lots of sea kayaking, and native forests where we did lots of hiking.

I did quite a bit of running on the local trails as well. My favorite run of the trip (and of 2009, now that I think of it) was a run from Penzance Bay (just a hundred yards or so up from Tuna Bay) up the “power-line trail” which climbed well over 1000 feet from the sea, ambled along a high rolling traverse for a while, then dropped over to Elaine Bay (the “next” town along the coast, to the North of Penzance Bay), and then back along the “Archer Track” which follows the winding coastline back to Penzance Bay. The run took about 2 hours, plus some added time to stop and take pictures and admire the views of forests and sea. It would have taken at least twice that long to drive to Elaine Bay and back, as there are simply no roads directly connecting the two bays.

Another highlight from Tuna bay was Sea Kayaking. Shirley’s family has a pair of sea kayaks that we were fortunate enough to be lent. On the windy days with choppy water, this was a ton of fun. On the one morning where we had calm, glassy ocean, it was spectacular. There are endless bays, beaches, and rocky coastlines to explore. One day we encountered lots of huge stingrays that we chased around from the safety of our kayaks. Another day we paddled through waters filled with hundreds and hundreds of purple jellyfish.

And of course I can’t forget Jasmine’s trip down memory lane, as she sorted through box after box of stuff saved from her high school and university years in New Zealand. She spent hours sorting trash from treasure, condemning the trash to the fire. More than a few teenage love letters didn’t make the cut – a fact I took a guilty pleasure in as I watched smoke rise from behind the house as I paddled a kayak in the bay out front.

The last leg of our trip was spent in and around Nelson, with a side overnight trip to Golden Bay and Abel Tasman national park. Derek and Shirley recently moved into a new, really nice, smaller house that’s part of a larger retirement community. They’ve really got it good. They’ve also got some great hills right behind town in which I was able to get in a couple great runs. The forest reminded me of Mac forest in Corvallis, in that it was used for both logging and recreation, and the hills were on the same scale. Beyond the front range of hills (the Barnicoat range), however, one could pretty much continue on trails for hundreds of miles, into range after range of increasingly high and rugged peaks. But I enjoyed just the small slice that I got to explore near Nelson

Our side trip to Abel Tasman and Golden bay was blessed by warm, beautiful weather. The first day we took a sea taxi into the national park, were dropped off along the Abel Tasman track, and then picked back up a few hours later at another bay, 8 km down the track. Avery and I started the hike barefoot, having removed our shoes for the taxi drop off in a foot or so of water. Before long we were locked in a contest, to see who could continue to hike the longest without shoes. I lasted maybe 3 miles before I gave up. Avery was still going strong. It was a hoot seeing the reaction on other hikers faces to our bare feet, while they were clad in heavy, burly hiking boots.

Our last Sunday in New Zealand was our last day of perfect weather, and we seized the opportunity to hike on Mt Arthur, a roughly 6000 foot peak in another National Park. The road in was as exciting as the hike, being insanely steep, and narrow, with huge drop offs to the grassy sheep farms below. Jas, Avery and I first hiked up to the Mt Arthur hut, which took a bit over an hour. They stayed there for a couple hours reading, watching birds, and enjoying the views and the sunshine, while I jogged and power hiked to the summit and back. This was a blast – some of the best mountain running I’ve ever gotten to do, as the trail rose in a series of steps, then traversed gently along high ridges between the steps. Near the summit there was a bit of easy scrambling and a good sized snowfield to cross, which completed the high, alpine feeling of the hike. I managed to pass all the other hikers on the way up, and had the summit to myself for a few minutes. I had a perfect 360 degree view: rugged mountain chain extending to the horizons in three directly, with Tasman Bay and the city of Nelson in the other. In the distance I could even see Mt Egmont (a.k.a. Mt Taranaki) on the North Island.

After hiking/running back down to the hut, I convinced Jasmine and Avery to hike just a few hundred feet above the hut, which brought to a high point along the ridge, above treeline, and offered a 360 degree view nearly as good as that I enjoyed on the summit. We lounged around there for an hour or more, enjoyed a the sun and the warm rocks. Finally we dragged ourselves away, and enjoyed a long down to the Flora hut through native beech forest, and then completed a loop with a mile or so of uphill, back to our starting point.


Jason Robillard said...


So you tried hiking barefoot... ever try running barefoot? It's a blast! If you're ever interested, drop me a line!

-Jason Robillard

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