New Zealand Trip, 2004-05

Journal by Jim Mills

Jim Mills, Roz Dudden and Laura Dudden, Adventurers
Narrative by Jim - "What Jim Says"
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Pictures by Roz and Laura
Short commentary by Roz is located in the thumbnail picture list.

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A. Flight and Christchurch

I. Queenstown and Wanaka
B. Banks Peninsula J. Bungy Jumping in Queenstown
C. Mt. Cook by Air K. Haast Pass and Whataroa
D. Mt. Cook Hooker Lake Trail L. Franz Joseph Glacier Terminus
E. Kepler Track and Te Anau M. Paparoa NP and Pancake Rocks
F. Invercargill N. Nelson Lakes Tramp to the Speargrass Hut
G. Sheep and the Road O. Abel Tasman National Park
H. Doubtful Sound  

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Kilometers Traveled
- - Kilometers Tramped

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank my spousal equivalent, Roz, and her daughter, Laura, for their unlimited willingness to put up with my insatiable desire to walk in the mountains. I would also like to thank Roz for her tireless efforts in organizing and planning this trip.

Introduction

This is an account of my New Zealand South Island trip, 12/18/04 to 1/8/05. The purpose of this log is to put down every detail of the trip before I forget them. If the account seems at times excessively wordy, I apologize. This log is mostly the day-by-day account of our trip, but I conclude with some comments on the trip and New Zealand in general.

Highlights and Lowlights

     Best single day: Christmas

     Weirdest, wildest trail: Robert's point (Jan 1)

     Favorite anecdotes:

      The bungy jump (Dec 28)

      Search for the Southern Cross (Jan 7)

     Best shared adventure: Speargrass Hut trip (Jan 4-5)

     Worst weather: Hooker Lake trail (Dec 21)

     Most embarrassing moment: Abel Tasman coastal/inland track (Jan 6).

Day by day account

Thursday, December 16, 2004:

Flew out of Denver mid-afternoon, Roz, Laura, and myself. During the layover in LA, I put on my shorts in eager anticipation of waking up in summer.

Saturday, December 18:

Arrival, museums

As the plane approached Christchurch at 6 AM, I looked out the window and made a comment. "It looks wet." Living in the West for the last 30 years, I didn't give this a second thought. My life experience has taught me that if at any time it's raining, that in an hour the chances are less than 1 in 20 that it still will be. It rains, you get damp, it stops raining, you dry out. New Zealand, however, is different. And even for NZ, this time was also different. Some newspaper clippings from our stay: "coldest, wettest, December in 60 years", "summer hasn't been totally cancelled, but...", "300 millimeters of rain in 24 hours" (Ok, that was one place on the Northern Island, it didn't concern us), "the summer that never was". However, for all the complaining in the local newspapers, it is important to understand that NZ is a country with plentiful rain. Water gushes out of the faucets at a volume that can be seen only in a place that has far greater water per capita then just about anywhere else. However, the east coast supposedly is rather dry (not much more precipitation than Denver). Except, of course, when we were there. It rained a lot. The West coast receives immense rainfall (some places as much as 8 meters average annual precipitation).

While the weather was certainly discouraging, throughout the course of the trip it caused us very rarely to change our plans. It did, however, affect what we saw, sometimes in unexpected (but never beneficial) ways.

We picked up our rental car, and I drove initially, in a Mazda with the steering wheel on the right. They drive on the left side of the road down there, and it took some getting used to. The worst part is making right turns. First, it's hard to get over the instinct that we're cutting across lanes of traffic, and to not look behind to make sure no one is overtaking us on the right. Then, of course, you have to enter the new street on the far side. Left turns also take getting used to: it's hard to remember that you can go even if traffic is approaching from the left. Driveways and parking lots gave me a problem as well: it's one thing to remember to drive on the left on the roads, but it was easy to drift back into habit when you don't expect to see anyone. One unexpected difficulty was that the turn signals lever is on the right of the steering wheel, not the left. Even at the end of the trip, if I wanted to turn on a turn signal suddenly, more likely than not, I would turn on the windshield wipers instead. Eventually, however, we all got used to driving and we managed our trip without any incidents. They also have arrows painted on the road in many places as a reminder. Someone said something about the natives complaining that the arrows are there for the benefit of American tourists, and preventing some horrendous accidents, but Laura pointed out that most of the rest of the world drives on the right, it isn't just us.

We drove to our motel in the rain, hoping that we could check in at the very early hour of 8 in the morning. "Come back at 2, or perhaps as early as 1", we were told. So, we were forced to sight see right at the beginning. We drove around downtown Christchurch with no plan. At some point I changed back into long pants. I wasn't out of winter just yet. After driving around the church that is Christchurch's namesake, we had breakfast in a small freezing cafe [Roz "It was an Italian cafe serving Italian coffee, and an English breakfast with French Bagels and Canadian bacon"]. Then we made our way to the Canterbury museum, an interesting and free museum of a smorgasbord of NZ history, Maori (the native Indian) culture, and for me, the highlight, an extensive section on Antarctica, the driest continent. This included early and not quite modern exploration equipment, and a lot of information about climate, ice pack, ice flow, and wildlife. Outside the museum we walked around a university campus, where Nicholas Bohr had taught for a while, and performed some of his early experiments investigating key characteristics of the atom, in the early twentieth century. Over time, the campus has morphed into I'm not quite sure what, a mixture of museum, community center, studios for artists making and selling their wares, and flea market.

Then we checked into the motel, rested a bit, and saw the rain stop (for now). We drove out to the Antarctica center. This is from where essentially all flights to Antarctica fly. It's not the closest land to Antarctica (that would be S America), or even the closest in NZ, but over the years, this has developed into the place, with a huge support building and other structures. Located next to the airport, it also has a museum. This one wasn't free, but it does have interactive exhibits. Two deserve mention. One was a 'storm room', where conditions in an Antarctica winter storm are allegedly reproduced. Visitors are welcome to experience this in museum supplied parka and boots. Having come from Denver in December, this was nothing any of us felt we had to personally endure. However, we were intellectually curious, so we stuck around to watch. They turned on some fans to create a modest breeze, turned the lights down, and reduced the temperature. We comfortably watched behind a glass window. None of the 30 people in there looked especially cold. The second interest, which we had to pay extra for, was a ride on a Hţgglund snowcat. This is currently the workhorse of Antarctica surface travel. Having been on snowcats in ski country, I didn't expect to see anything substantially impressive. However, the Aspen Highlands Bowl snowcat doesn't go into a pool of water 3 meters deep. The Hţgglund is amphibious, able to power its treads, even the treads of the trailer, for locomotion when floating. After the driver came back and checked that the doors were securely shut, he drove us into a pool. I could see water come partway up the transparent door.

We stopped at a mall on the way back to the hotel to pick up a cooler, a pillow for Roz, and groceries.

Sunday, December 19:

First hikes, on to Timaru.

We drove out the scenic Banks Peninsula, an area of fiords formed by a long extinct volcano, and small villages. We started out in rain, but it stopped eventually. We stopped at a town called Akaroa, on the shore of one of the fiords, where we had lunch and inquired about hikes in the vicinity. I chose the one with the most vertical (of course), Stony Bay Peak. We had a time finding the trailhead, up a hill so steep the front wheel drive rental car at one time was spinning its wheels for traction. Roz and Laura accompanied me part way up the trail, a well-formed track once used by colonial farmers to carry their wares to market. They turned back after a bit, took in a scenic drive, practiced driving on the left, took a nap in the car, and went on a short scenic walk. My path was well formed up to a saddle, but the trail above the saddle to the summit was steeper and harder, with frequent double fall line, scrambling over rocks, pushing through waist high grass, and everything was wet from recent rain, including numerous tree roots. These were very slick. I slipped on one, fell, and hurt my shoulder. It took several days to recover. At one point it looked like heavy rain was moving in. I kept going, although on that steep slope, injured, I thought I was taking a risk. When I approached the summit I could see that it was showers passing by to the North. At the summit I looked down on the town and adjacent Akaroa harbor. The distant mountains were lost in cloud. With our walkie-talkies we met back in town, without having to drive the car up that access road a second time.

We drove on to our hotel reservation in Timaru. The highway down there was the busiest we saw in NZ. In the USA there would be enormous pressure to 4 lane such a road. What they did, instead, was to place 1 km long passing lanes every 5 km. At the volume of traffic, this works reasonably well. On the way we marveled at the many high hedge rows, apparently consisting of lines of pine trees, frequently trimmed as neatly as any hedge, often a full 6 meters high. We had dinner at a Chinese restaurant over an auto repair shop. We considered taking a scenic plane ride around Mt. Cook the next day.

Monday, December 20:

Mt cook scenic plane ride, arrival at Mt Cook village.

Roz managed to obtain a massage for her cramping foot, and we did some shopping before leaving Timaru. I tried to find a belt pack so I could hike without putting any weight on my R shoulder, which was still rather sore. I bought the biggest one I could find, after checking several sport shops all clustered within a couple blocks. Unfortunately, it was smaller than I wanted. Roz and Laura had coffee. We bought groceries before leaving town for the mountains. It threatened to rain several times that day but it never materialized. In the town of Lake Tekapo, we arranged and caught our plane ride around Mt. Cook. I asked to sit in the copilot's seat, which they granted. The pilot was a young lady from Britain, who said she had been flying for 5 years. It was a single engine 8-seater. Eventually we took off, heading south, climbing over Lake Tekapo. We continued climbing as we followed the heavily braided Godley River up valley. Soon we were flying over glaciers. Although the pilot identified one glacier after another, it looked like one continuous expanse of snow and ice. We crossed over several glaciated passes on our circuitous approach to Mt. Cook. The highest elevation I saw on the airplanes instruments was about 10000', well shy of Mt. Cook's 3754 meter summit. It might have just been a more turbulent day, but this pilot seemed more tentative at the controls then the pilot of a flight over the Grand Canyon I took years ago. Mt. Cook, initially just another peak on the horizon as we took off, soon became the dominant peak by far. The route circled the peak, and she also took a degree 270 turn above the mountain's east face, turning in towards it. It was an impressive mountain, very steep and heavily glaciated on all sides. Some of the glaciers on the western face extend down as low as 300 meters elevation. This is at a Southern latitude of 43'30", the equivalent in the north to Jackson, Wyoming. After this turn we descended, flying to the North, to drop off a pair of passengers who had started the tour at a different spot, as it turned out, very close to where we spent the next two nights. We taxied up a grassy slope to get to the passenger-loading place. After another short flight over green-blue lake Pukaki and some flatlands, we were back to where we started.

We did our first Internet session in Tekapo, and then we headed off towards the Mt. Cook village. It was on the village access road that we saw the first of the one-lane bridges. We were staying at a place 20 km down from the village, at the up valley end of lake Pukaki, Glentanner. Roz and Laura were done for the day, so at about 6, I headed up the valley to the village, intent on doing the Red Tarns trail. This turned out to be best-formed uphill trail I have ever seen, an essentially flawless staircase from beginning to end (perhaps creating a false sense of optimism regarding trail construction throughout the country, were it not for the far harsher Stony Bay Peak trail). It climbed steadily 300 meters up the side of the valley, to some small ponds, or tarns, left by glacial action. There was a high quality viewfinder with a swiveling sight, which would have identified many of the surrounding mountains, if they weren't lost in clouds. A search for groceries in the village turned up squat, so I headed back down valley under partly cloudy skies. Since there were no groceries as Glentanner either, we had cheese and bread for dinner.

Tuesday, December 21:

Hiking around Mt. Cook

The three of us started up from the Hooker valley trailhead. Laura had a good time with than name. This trail had the first of the swing bridges, of which we saw many. These are pedestrian suspension bridges that sway significantly as one walks across them. They typically have a sign at each end, "weight limit 20 persons', in some cases 10, 5, or even 1 person. There were two of them on this trail, crossing the Hooker River twice. It was an impressive sight, to be on this unstable bridge 40 feet above a roaring torrent of water flowing over huge rocks. The amount of water flowing from just this one glacier was incredible. The water in the river had a strange off white color, sort of like dirty milk. As we made our way up the valley, it started to rain. As we got up further, the wind really started to blow. We all stopped for lunch at a crowded shelter half way between the upper bridge and Hooker Lake. Roz and Laura headed back after lunch, but I pressed on to Hooker Lake. This trail, even though long sections were boardwalked, nonetheless had substantial mud and bog. The good trail ended at the lake and I was walking into a stiff wind carrying cold, heavy rain. I had somewhat of an epiphany. I have been hiking in Colorado for 20 years falsely under the impression that I was always ready for rain. My wool/cotton underwear, while just barely doing the job, was getting soaked. I had no motivation to press on, to the terminus of the Hooker glacier at the far end of the lake. I couldn't even see it through the fog and rain. I turned back. I caught up to them just before we got back to the trailhead. I thought I'd startle them; walking up behind them and seeing how long it would take them to notice me. They didn't see me until they stopped to read an information sign. I thought Roz would show at least a little annoyance for surprising them, but all she expressed was relief. She was cold, tired, wet, just wanted to head back to the room, and was glad she didn't have to wait for me.

After warming and drying ourselves back at the motel, and doing laundry, we drove once again to the Mt. Cook village, this time for dinner at an expensive buffet. It was very good. I wasn't done for the day, so I left them at the bar, and drove once again to the Hooker valley trailhead. It wasn't raining any more, but the tops of the mountains were covered in cloud. This time I started out in a different direction, up to the Sealy tarns. This trail, like the red tarns trail, switchbacks steeply up the side of the valley. It had no where near the flawless construction of the Red Tarns trail, but it may have been in better shape some years ago: It had many steps of the same type of construction, but the sand/gravel/dirt mix behind the step front was frequently washed out. Even new, I don't think it was as flawless as the Red Tarns trail is now. This is the start of the route to the Mueller hut, a famous but difficult to get to hut located on the top of the ridge at about 1800 meter elevation. I had this under consideration well before the start of the trip as a possible destination. If I had been given a full day of good weather, I may very well have tried to do this, even though the trail above the tarns is not as well maintained as that below. Given the late start (about 7), I couldn't consider going any further than the tarns that night. As I climbed the hillside the Hooker glacier terminus at last came into view. In both the glacier lakes below me (Hooker and Mueller), I could see large floating chunks of ice from the glaciers. I got to the tarns just after the time I figured I should be heading back. These tarns were even smaller than the red tarns, very small ponds on a shelf that couldn't have been 10 meters wide at the widest spot, with steep hillside immediately above and below. There was a bench I could sit on and look out at the valley below. I was close enough to the village that I could talk to Roz with the walkie-talkie. The trail above the tarns started out clearly enough, a rough track heading more or less straight up the hillside. I couldn't see the course of the trail more than a few hundred meters up the hillside. At the highest point of the ridge I could see, snow was plainly visible. Elsewhere someone said something about knee deep post-holing on the way to the Mueller. When I got down into the valley flats, I decided there was still enough light to walk out to Kea Point, overlooking the Mueller glacier. There was a sign that positively identified Mt. Cook, at this time free of cloud. When I drove back to the bar, Roz and Laura were impatient to leave. A quick tour through the tourist shop, and we left for our room.

It was about this time that I decided that I wanted to see the famous Southern Cross, a constellation only visible in the southern hemisphere. I planned to look for it the next clear night. It would be quite a wait (it still isn't over).

Wednesday, December 22:

Queenstown, Shotover canyon jetboat, tourist activities

In a small town on the way to Queenstown, Tarras, we stopped for a snack, and I made my single biggest NZ purchase, a merino wool shirt, $160 NZ, the first of many purchases to make me better prepared for the weather. It was here that I first saw trinkets of 'Shrek', a sheep who had managed to avoid being sheared for 5 years, lost in the wild, and had been found with an enormous wool coat. This story resonates with the Kiwis.

It rained off and on all day. We stopped on the way at the Kawarau bridge, presumably used at one time as a narrow one lane suspension bridge, now a tourist attraction and bungy jump site. This is supposedly where it all started, the first place to offer commercial bungy jumping. Laura had been interested in this since before the trip. It was cold, windy, and threatening to rain. No one was motivated, so we drove on. We stopped in Arrowtown for lunch, and the sort of shopping which ignites Roz [Roz: "Please !"] and bores me to tears.

Eventually we drove into the Shotover canyon, where we took the Shotover canyon 30-minute jet boat thrill ride. This company claims exclusive rights to several miles of this narrow river canyon. We got on this boat, several rows 4 seats across. I sat on the outside. The driver got on board, and made a comment that whenever he waved his hand in a horizontal circle above his shoulder, pointing up, it meant he was about to do a 360. He drove up river a little ways, showing the speed and acceleration of his craft, which was impressive. He turned back to the dock, and made his 360 wave. Sure enough, he drives us swiftly towards, the dock, first turns sharply one way to kill a little speed, then sharply the other way. We spun around, ending with a huge splash, motionless a foot from the dock. Photo op! Then we were off, down and then up the river for half an hour. He did the 360 spin a number of times. This canyon has a number of rocks. He would approach a rock at full speed, apparently leaving a margin just enough to comfortably miss it, then at the last second, he would turn right towards it, then turning away an instant later, after we were past the rock. He did this a number of times also. For some reason I didn't enjoy this maneuver all that much. Something was different in the execution of this maneuver and the ones leading up to a 360. Did he have a way of spinning the boat without initiating a turn? I never found out. He gave a few specs on the boat, noting its top speed was 80-90 kph or so, and since it lacked a propeller, it could apply full power in just a few inches of water (he wasn't specific). Overall, it was worth it, a thrilling amusement park like ride, although when the ride was over, none of us felt like purchasing the pictures.

In Queenstown, Roz negotiated for a larger room (which we had been promised), and I went shopping to revamp my rain gear. I bought polypropylene long johns, rain pants, and a backpack cover. While I still maintain my 2 ply wool/cotton long johns are very warm and still quite warm when wet, I concede this is a better combination for this sort of weather. We had dinner at a seafood restaurant on a pier in lake Wakatipu, the 'Boardwalk', recommended to us by a friend in Denver. It was fine. We also bought groceries and did another Internet session.

Thursday, December 23:

Ben Lomond ascent, on to Te Anau

Roz dropped me off early (early for us, anyway: at 8) at the Ben Lomond trailhead, about a half-mile from the motel, 380 m. I started up under overcast skies. They were going to meet me at the Gondola summit (about 1/5 of the way up the mountain) for lunch at 1. The trail, very wet but not too muddy, started up in a dense forest following the remains of an early water supply system, with a few pieces of big iron pipe rusting to pieces. At one point the pipe had been completely crushed by a rock. Then the trail took a turn away from the creek, and intersecting at a switchback on a dirt road (access to the Gondola summit), where the one-mile track split off and the Ben Lomond trail continued up the hillside, soon breaking timberline. It rained a little bit, then stopped. I noted the intersection with the side trail to the top of the gondola, and continued up the trail as it climbed a ridge towards a saddle. From here I had a good view of a big part of the lake, and the mountains on the other side, the tops lost in the clouds. The Top of Ben Lomond (1749 m) was also in the clouds. When I summited there was nothing to see but fog. There was a viewfinder similar to the one at the Red Tarns, but with even less to see than there. On the way down, the cloud level had shifted down. I wasn't out of the fog until far down the ridge. At the gondola (812 m), I met them in the gift shop, we had lunch, and we watched several people bungy off the 'ledge', another bungy site run by the same company. Again, neither Laura nor myself was motivated. We took the gondola down (evidently free for some one way down riders), and left town (in the rain) for Te Anau. This is where I would start on the Kepler Track.

We stopped at the local doc (the "Department of Conservation") office to pick up my hut tickets. We were planning on Roz picking me up at the Rainbow Reach trailhead (10 km out of town), at the end of my third day on the track. It occurred to us that if I started from Rainbow Reach, walking the track in the opposite direction, I would end the track only 1.6 km from town, a short enough distance to walk, so we could both make it to the hotel at our leisure, without needing a firm meeting time. Alas, the huts were sold out: this plan was unworkable. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. First, there was a shuttle from Rainbow Reach to town, and secondly, it turns out that essentially everyone doing the track does it in the same direction, so you are with the same crowd of 50-60 people for all three days. If I had done it the other way I would have been the odd man out! At the doc, there was an oriental fellow in front of me purchasing his tickets for the Kepler track. I continue if these tickets were the ones that kept me from going the other way. Did he have reservations or did he just show up? I never found out.

We bought supplies for my trip, two dinners, two breakfasts, and substantial snack and lunch food. I bought a small camping pot and utensil set.

Friday, December 24:

Kepler Track, day 1

With assistance from Roz and Laura, we got everything I wanted to take in my medium sized backpack, and we drove out to the Kepler track entry point. We crossed the water control dam on Lake Ta Anau, the crossing point of the Waiau River. This was the access point of the track. Roz and Laura started up the trail with me as it wound steadily along the shore of the lake, and came up with me as far as Dock Bay. We had lunch together at a picnic table on the beach. There was some sun, but a lot of clouds. A cool wind blew in from the lake, creating whitecaps. We parted. The trail continued by the lakeshore until Brod Bay, the last point on the trail for legal camping for 10 hours. The backcountry hut I was staying at was much sooner. After Brod Bay, the trail starts climbing; a steady, relentless, but not steep climb through the forest. There was a viewpoint occasionally. At one point I observed a fellow in front of me. He looked familiar. He was, in fact, the fellow in front of me at the doc. We chatted. He was doing it with his pretty wife, who readily took blame for being 'the slow one'. Sorry, dude, I've forgotten your name. I left them behind. Once I was walking along the base of a cliff. It had started raining by then. It was very muddy in a lot of places, in spite of occasional boardwalks. There was at least one detour, around a section apparently damaged by a rockslide. The detour included a wooden stair. Eventually, the trail suddenly broke timberline. There was a sign, "Luxmoore Hut: 45 minutes". I walked on in the rain. The trail didn't rise too much more after that. I came around a ridge, and there it was, the Luxmoore hut. It was huge! And crowded. It had a large common room, two dormitories, bathrooms with a number of stalls (and all the ice-cold running water you could use). The common room had a small coal/wood-burning stove. That kept the common room warm; the rest of the hut was freezing. After everyone went to bed, however, the sheer density of people got the bunkrooms warm. The dorms were set up with partitions, which allowed most bunks to be against a wall. They were not separated for gender. There was a wing for the hut caretaker/warden. The hut was at 1085 meters, Lake Te Anau 202.

At the entrance there was a sign, 'no boots worn inside', with a couple shelves filled with boots, all covered in mud. How I wish, I wish, I had brought my river sandals! Essentially no one broke this rule. I had to wear socks inside the huts (about half the people wore socks, the rest had sandals). I walked around for a bit, expecting to run into some one to tell me what to do. There were people everywhere, but no one seemed to be in charge. I picked a bunk in the larger bunkroom. I was able to find a lower bunk against a partition, and one window towards the end of my bunk. It rained all afternoon. The windows throughout the hut were soaked with condensation. Through the fogged windows I could see more fog outside. Eventually the oriental couple showed up. For the rest of the afternoon and evening, I alternated between hanging out in my bunk and the common room. One thing about the hut system: it forces you to be social. I did bring a book, "Why Things Break", which I soon realized wouldn't be enough to last this entire trip if all I did was read all the time. So, I had to socialize! The reading material available in the huts was truly limited (just a few old magazines).

At one point I noticed a small sign in the common room, which said, "Hut talk, tickets: 8:00". Sure enough, at 8, the hut warden appeared, and gave a short speech. Mostly it concerned fire safety, what to do if there is one, and no candles allowed in the dorms. He mentioned that the water wasn't tested or guaranteed free of Giardia, but he had been drinking it for 11 years, never gotten sick. Then he walked around and collected our tickets. It all seemed very casual. It didn't get dark until 10:30. There was not a hint of a change in the weather. The solar powered electric lights seemed brighter and brighter. I went to bed about when it got dark. So did most people. At one point the fellow in the bunk opposite me was snoring unbelievably loudly, but he only kept it up for a while. For most of the night, I slept fine.

Saturday, December 25:

The Christmas miracle on the Kepler track:

I woke up, and walked down to the common room. There were only a few people up then. On the porch, there was a bird that someone identified as a kea, and I got the impression seeing one is fairly rare. I had a meager breakfast (the NZ equivalent of shredded wheat and some coffee), and realized I had a problem. I was running out of food. Sure, I had a remaining dinner and breakfast, and snack food, but it wasn't enough. The meals were light, too light to stand by themselves supporting activity of this magnitude. The snacks were not sufficient to both boost the meals and give snacks during the day. However, my research into nutrition helped me out here. If you can get a small percentage (about 20%) of the calories you need from carbs, the body can get the rest it needs from stored fat, even, or especially, during heavy exercise. The body only stores carbs for a few hours before turning it into fat, so small carb based snacks every few hours is the way to get the most from the least. By carefully rationing what I had left, I should have just enough to keep me going. It would take self-control and a lot of hunger, however. If you think you know where this is going, you're wrong.

While I was waiting for the weather report to be posted, I took the side trip to the Luxmoore caves. My hiking shoes were so covered in mud I could barely recognize them. On the way out I walked around the hut. I noted the warden's radio antenna, many bags of coal underneath the bunkrooms, and a very small platform with a sign "helicopter landing: keep off". The paths to all the hut resources were boardwalked. The route to the caves was clearly marked, with a distance given of '10 minutes'. Everything was sopping wet. It wasn't raining, but there were clouds above and below. I thought there was so much moisture, both on the ground and in the sky, that any change of weather just wasn't likely. The trail crossed back across the ridge, contoured for a while, and led down into a small grotto. A wooden staircase led down to the entrance to the cave. The cave started out as a steep tunnel heading down, with a small creek. There was plenty of headroom at first. Soon my dim flashlight and dual LED headlamp was dominating natural light (although I never lost sight of the entrance). I walked down a couple hundred meters, to a place the literature suggested casual visitors turn back. A large boulder blocked the way. I could have squeezed by, but it would have been cramped and wet. I paused and looked all around. There were some stalagmites and curtains. What was unique about this cave experience is that it was the first time I had ever been inside a real cave completely alone. It was an interesting experience, but I was glad to be heading out. On the way back to the hut I passed a couple of young ladies heading out to check out the caves. These were the only people I saw on this side trip.

The weather report indicated today should be at least partly nice, but with snow above 1000 meters tomorrow. Eventually I packed up and left. Most people were underway by then, about 9:30. The trail contoured up the side of Mt. Luxmoore, with patches of snow in some of the couloirs off the trail. At one point I realized that the visibility was actually improving. I caught glimpses of the dramatic South Fiord of Lake Te Anau, very steep, very lush, hillsides right down to the edge of the lake far below, and mountain tops with snowfields among the clouds. At a high saddle the marked side trip up Mt. Luxmoore. There were a number of packs lying around, so I left mine also. It was a 10 minute walk up to the crowded summit. By this time we were in sun, with just a few clouds above us, but a cloud layer blocked most of the view below. We could see many mountaintops, with a lot of snow, but not a lot else. The sentiment was that just this was a dramatic improvement.

I had a planned snack at the first emergency shelter. A young woman with a doc badge and wearing a Santa hat walked up, said hi, and continued on back towards the Luxmoore hut.

As the trail continued to follow a ridge, the clouds below burnt off as well. Soon we were presented with stunning, dramatic, mountain views of Fiordland National Park. We commented that if the weather hadn't changed, we wouldn't have had any idea of what we were missing. At one point the trail followed the top of the ridge, with stunning views thousands of feet down on both sides. I was shedding clothing; soon it was just shorts and a T-shirt. Shorts and a T-shirt, above timberline, on Christmas Day! Life is good.

After a last above timberline emergency shelter, the trail started down, one wooden staircase after another down the nose of the ridge. The last side trip before the trail descended below timberline was a 5 minute walk up a knob with very steep, very lush sides. It reminded me of pictures I have seen of the Machu Pichu area. I took a last look around at those incredible mountains, and headed down into the jungle. After many switchbacks, the trail reached the bottom of the valley, and the Iris Burn hut. I noted a side trail to a waterfall, 20 minutes away. By this time, mid afternoon, I was hungry, tired, and very glad to see the hut. Having some idea of what to do, I claimed a bunk. This hut was not the same as the Luxmoore. Some bunks were against walls or partitions, but there was a long, wide shelf with 20 pads lying side to side. Most of the people were yet to arrive, so I was able to claim one of the bunks against a wall, and not right next to anyone. (A pair of bunks on the side of the partition opposite me, that's as close to privacy as you can get). As I waited around for my dinner ration, I overheard some people talking "and at the waterfall, there is a pool where you can go swimming--". I didn't need to hear anything else. I was out of there! As I was heading out with my camp towel, someone asked me where I was going.

At the waterfall, which was fairly dramatic, a good-sized stream coming down 10 meters, there indeed was a sizable pool. There was no beach, however, just a small boulder field. Access was awkward. The water was crystal clear but very cold. As I pondered what I wanted to do, some other people showed up. They said they had found out about it overhearing me talk about it. We egged each other on, and eventually all of us, even the woman, went completely in. I was the only one who skinny-dipped.

I went back to the hut, had my light freeze dried dinner, and waited for the hut talk. It was given by the woman we had seen walking the other way. She gave the same speech as the Luxmoore fellow, followed by some embellishments. She made Kiwi impersonations, the dramatically different sound of male and female Kiwi birds. She mentioned the Kepler marathon, held every year. The record time over those 60 km is 4:41. Her best time was 7 hours. She said that if we wanted to stay up to 10:30, we could walk 20 meters up the trail towards the waterfall, look up towards the cliffs, and see glowworms. If we were extremely lucky, we might even see Kiwi, nocturnal, flightless birds, the national bird of NZ. I had a planned very light early evening snack (got to give those glycogen supplies a chance to recover).

I decided to stay up. The oriental couple offered me some green tea, which I was happy to accept. Most people drifted of towards bed. As it started to get dark, it was just a small group of people. At some point a package of cookies appeared, but after every one of that party had theirs, there was only one left. I tried not to stare at it too hungrily. I just couldn't take it. Finally, one those guys put me out of my misery by eating it. I asked about Southern Hemisphere constellations, but no one knew anything. One fellow only found out then that doing the Kepler in three days instead of four was an option. "Think of us, as you are in your hotel rooms tomorrow night, taking your shower". I did. Finally, it was almost dark. There was a big moon somewhere behind the clouds, so it never got totally dark. We walked out, and sure enough, we could see glowworms, similar to the fireflies I am familiar with from my youth, but flightless, and they glow continually. We could see five or six, one of them very close to the trail, underneath a root at eye level. I could only see one star through the clouds, almost directly overhead. We never saw any Kiwi. (While I was on the Kepler, Roz and Laura did the glowworm cave tour out of Te Anau, and saw hundreds of glowworms).

Even though the people next to the windows kept them almost completely closed (fear of sand flies?), it was only somewhat stuffy, and again, I slept fine.

December 25, 2004 Christmas firsts:

Sunday, December 26

Last day on the Kepler

The shuttle buses left Rainbow Reach at 3 and 5. I was woken by the sound of heavy rain on the roof. I wanted to make the 3 o'clock bus, so I got up around 6. I had my usual breakfast, packed up as quietly as I could, and left about 7. Most people were still in bed. There was a little climb before heading down valley. It rained for a little while, then stopped. Most of the way down, the weather was fine, partly cloudy. I never saw reason to believe higher elevations got snow. There was a long section of boardwalk, and substantial mud. In a couple of places the trail climbed well above the valley floor, to get around cliffs. One was a crude lengthy detour above a place where a landslide had destroyed part of the trail. I arrived at the Moturau hut around 11:30. This was where people doing the track in 4 days stay the third night, on the shore of scenic Lake Manapouri. I had the last of my food, about 10 small crackers and some cheese. It was 6 km on to Rainbow Reach (for those doing the 4 day track, it was another 10 km from there to the entrance at Lake Te Anau). There wasn't any point in being early, so a bunch of us hung out at the hut. I left about 1. About half way out, there was a short boardwalked side trip into a wetlands, and a modest viewpoint. Then the trail followed the Waiau River. The section I wasn't doing was following this river all the way to the other entrance. Eventually I saw it, the huge swing bridge at Rainbow Reach. This was by far the longest swing bridge I saw in NZ, easily a 200 meter span. Weight limit: 10 people. Like all the swing bridges, it swayed noticeably as I walked across it, high above this substantial river, easily bigger than the Colorado is anywhere.

The bus driver asked each of us where we were getting off. I didn't remember the name of the place we were staying at (a different motel than the one 3 nights prior), so I requested the doc. It was more than half a kilometer from the doc to the motel. I arrived in a state of near exhaustion and extreme hunger, my last bites had been 4 hours prior. I recognized our rental car in the parking lot, and walked into the open door of our room. Roz had expected me to be hungry coming off my track, and had gone grocery shopping. They were ready for me. Roz says I didn't do anything but eat for the next hour and a half. That was before dinner. At one point I took an inventory of every item I had with me on the track. Each item was weighed after we got back to Colorado. See the appendix if you really want to know. It was this evening that we first found out about what the international press was going to call the Boxing Day Tsunami. This was going to dominate the news for the rest of the trip.

Monday, December 27

Doubtful Sound tour

This was the sequence. First, the bus picked us up at 8:30, and drove us to the town of Manapouri. We were offered the opportunity to buy some food for lunch. Then we got on a ferryboat to cross Lake Manapouri. This took about 45 minutes. It was a large boat, carrying perhaps 80 people in an indoor cabin, with the option to sit above in the open. It moved along at a pretty good clip, but it was a big lake, 30 km across. At the far side, after a quick look see in the doc/power plant visitor center, we got on busses that took us over Wilmot pass, a 22 km road. The bus driver claimed that while this might look like your typical run of the mill dirt road, it was in fact a specially built road with a foundation 2 meters deep, to hold up while moving 300 ton turbines from the ocean port at Doubtful Sound to the power plant on lake Manapouri. He also said that the west side of Wilmot pass gets 8 meters of precipitation a year. At the far end of the Wilmot pass road was Deep Cove, where we got on board the Doubtful sound cruise boat. This was bigger than the Lake Manapouri ferry, two indoor levels with a third outdoor level above. We ate our lunches as we headed out onto the fiord. We headed out towards the ocean. This boat was pretty fast, but not quite as fast as the ferry, I thought. We saw a few ocean kayakers, but there were few other craft overall. Standing on the upper deck against the wind of the boats' motion in addition to a breeze coming off the ocean, it was quite brisk. Although it was mostly cloudy all day, I don't recall any rain that day. At one point near the ocean we stopped next to a small rocky island that was covered in seals, hundreds of them. We headed to the ocean until that remained between us and the sea was a small island, in a narrow channel. There didn't seem to be enough room to get around this island, and sure enough, we turned back. I consider it a drawback of the tour that we never really got out onto the ocean proper (a slightly different route in the last km would have easily gotten us there). However, there were extras yet to come.

On the way back, the wind was with us, and it was a lot more pleasant on the upper deck. Roz and I stayed up there most of the way. As we came back to a branching bay off the fiord, the 'crooked arm', the pilot turned us into it. We came in quite close to the shore and slowed down to wakeless. Soon we saw dolphins, as many as 15. Even when they weren't surfacing (with the distinctive sound of their blowholes being emptied of seawater), they were frequently visible just below the surface. They swam besides us for a while, then apparently swam off. The pilot came on the PA and said something like "I don't want to promise anything, but you might want to keep looking to our left". He opened up the throttle somewhat, and sure enough, the dolphins were soon swimming along sides us once again, and this time they were jumping clear out of the water, again and again, playing in our wake.

We were on the Doubtful sound boat about three hours. When the busses reached the inland end of the Wilmot pass road, they gave us a tour of the power plant. This started with the busses heading down a tunnel, 2 km long, 3 sides of a rectangle, to the power plant, which is located deep underground, in an immense cavern. We were led into a viewing platform near the ceiling at one end. We saw the tops of the generators, emerging from the floor below us. Lake Manapouri is 177 meters above sea level. It is fed by the massive Waiau River, and numerous other smaller rivers and streams. Most (all?) of the precipitation that the eastern slope of Fiordland Park gets winds up in this lake. The west end of the West Arm of lake Manapouri is 10 km from the end of Doubtful Sound. Two large tunnels from Lake Manapouri to Doubtful sound discharge the water from the turbines, located just above sea level underground at the lake. The tour guide spent a lot of time describing how the second tunnel, completed within the last two years, dramatically improved the power generation capability, and why it was necessary (they were initially going to get the increased power by raising the level of Lake Manapouri substantially, but this proved to be very unpopular, they got the same affect by building the second tunnel). I have written a short paper analyzing and verifying the increased power available from the second discharge tunnel. If anyone expresses any interest, I will add it to the website.

On the way back across the lake, I tried hard to see where the Kepler track let through the mountains to the north. In the mass of mountains, it was difficult to spot exactly where the trail goes. The bus dropped us at hour hotel about 5:30. On the way to dinner, we walked out and found the shortcut from the hotel to the lake road. It came out right at the doc. If I had known about it, or explored for it, the walk back to the motel would have been less than 100 meters. The thought that I had missed this made me ill (I was that far gone). It was sunny at this time; we had a fine dinner, then a little shopping around town. Laura made reservations to go bungy jumping the next day. She made a reservation for me, also.

Tuesday, December 28:

The bungy jump

On the way back through Queenstown, we observed the summit of Ben Lomond free of cloud. We arrived at the Kawarau bridge half an hour before 1, our scheduled jump time. After some confusion about reservations and prepaying, they weighed me, wrote '68' on my wrist, and sent me out onto the bridge, 43 meters above the Kawarau River, or, as I prefer to think of it, the River Anduin. I went out with considerable self-doubt. Would I be able to step off that platform? Well, these guys are pros. They got me to step off without a hitch. This is how they did it.

There were 4 people waiting to jump ahead of me when I got to the center of the bridge. However, there were two lines, and a sign saying 'those under 74 kg queue here, those over, queue there'. I was the only one lighter than 74 kg, so I got to go first. Oh Joy! The one time in my life I wouldn't have minded waiting, I'm booted to the front of the line. First, they had me step into a climber's harness (waist and thigh straps), then they had me sit down, and they wrapped a towel around and between my ankles, and then wrapped a strap around the towel, also going in between my ankles. This was the primary attachment; the harness was just a backup. It felt secure and not uncomfortable. They asked me if I had ever done this before. No. They asked me if I wanted to get wet. I said, "just my wrists". My nervousness was palpable. They said that if I get wet depends on how I jump off: If I dive off, I stay dry, if I just fall off, I get wet. Eventually I figured out why. Then they got me to the edge. I could barely move, with my ankles tied tightly together. They told me to hold my head to my chest and keep my hands overhead 'just in case'. Give me something to concentrate on, then a quick series of commands to get me used to following instructions. "Step out further, toes over the edge, good, now smile and wave to the camera, smile and wave to the crowd, three, two, one, GO!" I went. My mind sort of blanked out. I only remember three things from the descent. I remember falling over towards the river far below, the harness around my ankles tightening with a gentle jerk, and my head going in the water. I got a lot more than my wrists wet! I went in to mid back, although I was only in for an instant. Then bouncing up and down several times, spinning wildly, then motionless, hanging upside down 15 meters above the river. The bounce at the top of the rebound wasn't as severe to me as some had said. They had a rubber raft tethered in the river. They lowered me as they maneuvered the raft below me, they had me grab onto a pole they waved in the air, and lowered me into the boat. They had the harness off in a jiffy, and set me out on the dock. Roz told me later that the spectators had cheered when I went in the water. I was the first to go under in a while.

When I got up to the viewing platform, Roz said the Laura, out on the bridge, wanted something. She asked me to go see what. Laura gave me something she didn't want to jump with, a necklace. After a couple more jumpers, she had her turn. She got just her wrists wet. Unlike me, she had the presence of mind to tuck in her shirt as she was hanging upside down.

We drove back to Queenstown so that Laura could do the second bungy jump in the area, "the ledge", at the top of the Gondola part way up Mt. Ben Lomond. This platform was at the end of a cantilevered structure protruding from a cliff. This one I didn't do. Roz and I watched as she jumped. This one was slightly different, the primary attachment was at the waist, and you were supposed to run off the platform. Back down the gondola, and we visited the Kiwi and Bird life Park, at the base of the gondola. We saw kiwi, for the only time on this trip, in very dark terrariums. Since they are nocturnal, this is the only way to see them: in the dark. We could just barely see them, but we definitely saw one moving about quite a bit, with its distinctive, needle beak. They are endangered. We also saw kea, in a small walk in aviary, and other birds.

Then it was over the very windy, narrow, precipitous Crown Range road to Wanaka, where we stayed the next two nights. This road made Roz very nervous. The hotel in Wanaka was one of the nicer places we stayed in, a two-story townhouse.

Wednesday, December 29:

Mt Roy.

I had Mt. Roy under consideration since before the trip. Just outside of Wanaka, it offers views of Mt. Aspiring and the Southern Alps, to the north and the Queenstown mountains to the south. It had been written up in the Rocky Mountain News travel section. The tops of the mountains were in the clouds, and it had rained heavily the night before. Everything was wet. Given the weather, a choice that I would have preferred would have been up the Matukituki track, part way up the valley leading eventually to Mt. Aspiring, a walk up a gently climbing valley in the rain, as far as time would allow. However, Roz was going to drop me off, since she was going to drive Laura to yet another bungy jump, and shopping in Queenstown. The Matukituki trailhead was 50 km away. This was not a drive I could ask Roz to do twice. Mt Roy was just outside of town, I could walk back at my convenience, and they could stay out as late as they wanted.

We stopped at the motel reception to pick up a second set of room keys, and Roz drove me out to the trailhead (320 m), and walked up the path with me to the second switchback. This trial winds through sheep pasture from bottom to top. Before long, it started raining. It didn't stop until evening. I walked uphill in the rain. Since I always look at where I place my feet (it keeps my knees and ankles from hurting) avoiding the constant sheep dung was not a problem. The trail followed an obvious 4 WD road, although one with no evidence of recent motorized travel. The hillside was less steep lower, than steeper higher up, and completely free of trees. I could see Lake Wanaka through the mist. Eventually, I came up to the ridge, steep and rocky. I was in the clouds by now. The road appeared to head away from the peak on the far side of the ridge. A trail branched towards the summit, following the ridge. I took this, but if faded, and before I knew it I came out on the road once again. It was an access road for radio towers on the summit. The top was completely socked in, windy, rainy, foggy (1578 m). Like on Ben Lomond 40 miles to the south and a week earlier, there was nothing to see. With my polypropylene longjohns, raincoat, and gloves I was at least not cold.

When I got back to the bottom, and was walking on the road the 6 km back to town (in the rain), I reflected on how glad I was that bicycling had not been included in our plans. We had considered it, and the literature we had seen back in the states had talked about how pleasant bicycling in NZ is, riding on sparsely traveled mountain roads. Ha! More like narrow, twisty, heavily traveled. Just walking on a road was bad enough. People would leave you room if no one was coming, but when cars pass each other, there just isn't much room left over. I frequently had to step off on to the shoulder. The second half of the walk to town was on a pedestrian path next to the lake, and would have been pleasant, if not for the weather.

I walked through town, back to the motel, 7 hours after I had started, wet, tired hungry. For the last four hours, I had been thinking, when it stops raining, I'll find a place to sit and have a snack. Since that never happened, I had been on my feet the entire time. I ate, rested, cleaned up, did laundry, and wondered where Roz and Laura were. As the hours went by, I grew increasingly concerned. However, they finally showed up, in the early evening. They had gone to the Nevis Highwire bungy jump, from a cable car suspended 134 meters above the valley floor. Laura had jumped. It had just taken longer than expected.

Thursday, December 30:

Puzzling world, Haast Pass

On our way out of town (observing the summit of Mt Roy free of cloud), we stopped at 'Puzzling World', a tourist attraction just outside of Wanaka. They presented a number of illusions, puzzles, and a maze. The first illusion was a hall full of holograms. These were not that impressive: the same old technology that has been around for decades. True 3 dimensional appearance, but just a series of portraits. More impressive was the room of faces. This was a large circular with the walls lined with what looks like a series of busts, all the way around, floor to ceiling. As you walk around the room, they all appear to rotate to keep looking at you. Upon close examination, it is evident they are concave, like looking into the inside of masks. They are lit in such a way that from more than a few feet away, they look totally convex. They are definitely stationary. I think the key to the illusion is that lighting. The perception of convex versus concave depends on lighting. Take a look at a picture of the craters of the moon, or a map shaded to show mountains and valleys, upside down. Next was the diagonal room. There were several linked rooms with the floor, ceiling and everything else, including fixtures, cocked at a 20 degree angle. This made it impossible to correctly judge true horizontal, as water and marbles placed on platforms that looked almost but not quite truly horizontal, objects appeared to slide, roll, or flow uphill. They had a chair on a slide that you could sit in, as it appears to slide uphill on rails. They had a false perspective room. Viewed through a window, it appears to be normal, rectangular room, with a doorway on the right side of the back wall. However, as people walked along the back wall from the entrance to the left side, they appeared to get bigger, until they were crouching in between the floor and ceiling. The corner where people appear big, is, of course, located physically closer to the view window, with floor and ceiling slanted so that they are closer to each other in this corner, as well. The illusion of a normal room is accomplished by shaping everything in the room (the checkerboard pattern of the rug, and the light fixtures in the ceiling) into a trapezoidal shape, with the degree of out of squareness set by proximity to the left wall. There was a video system set on a continuous two minute delay, so you could see yourself walking around the room. They literature mentioned that this affect is frequently used in cinematography, with, of course, a mention of 'The Lord of the Rings'. They had two sheet metal constructs that at first appear to be impossible to construct out of bending a continuous piece of sheet metal. The first one I quickly ascertained was in fact not a contradiction, but cleverly bent so that at first glance it looks impossible. I wish I could remember the details of the design. The second one was clearly accomplished by distorting, or stretching, a piece of metal in the plane of the metal, following stamping out the outline of a square with cutouts. They had several exhibits of miscellaneous puzzles in display cases, including what appeared to be a solved 9 x 9 x 9 RubikŐs cube. The last thing we did there, prior to lunch, was the maze. This covered perhaps an acre, with numerous bridges. There were enough bridges that they obscured the view when you were on them, so you couldn't glean any useful information about how to proceed. Laura maintained that we could solve the maze by following one wall, but I was skeptical. As something to do, however, I went along, and we followed the left wall all the way through. We eventually did reach each of the four towers, which were the stated objective (although not in the order posted as the tougher objective) and emerged an hour later, having apparently traversed every inch of the maze. As the literature stated, it wasn't supposed to be the world's toughest maze, just a place to give visitors an hour or two's entertainment.

Laura was going to refer to the ensuing events as "The day of the three failed hikes". We drove north, shortly following the shore of big Lake Hawea, across a neck, and then continuing north along the shore of even bigger Lake Wanaka, then up Makarora river valley towards Haast pass. The first plan of the day was to start up the Mt Shrimpton trail. We would start out together, have lunch, then I would continue up the mountain for a ways, while they would leisurely do the nature walk and then hang out at the nearby visitor center/cafe, if they wanted. I felt confident that in two hours I could get up to timberline and back. Everything started out fine. The sun was shining through the trees, and we walked the first 2 km, and we had lunch, overlooking Pipson creek. We parted, and the character of the trail abruptly changed. I was climbing over huge roots, steep embankments, large rocks, one obstacle after another. Some people do not seem to be to hindered by these obstructions, but it slows me down enormously. I need to carefully consider every footstep. It became clear that I wasn't going to get anywhere near timberline in the time I had. I pursued far enough to make sure it wasn't a temporary rough stretch, but after struggling up for 15 minutes, I gave up. Just not my kind of trail. They got back to the car at about the same time I did (they had also gone a little ways up the tough part of the trail, but had turned back sooner). Mt Shrimpton, at 2002 m, if I did the whole thing, would be an all day venture (trailhead 320 m), and perhaps something to consider on a future trip (assuming the nature of the trail changes at timberline).

The next attempt was the Brewster hut track. Since this trail leads to an actual hut where one can stay overnight, the trail would have to be in better condition, right? Roz and Laura would take a short walk to the waterfalls, and wait for me to walk out a ways and back. Because of the time wasted on the Mt. Shrimpton misadventure, I promised to be back in one hour. I started out confidently on the trail. It started out in fine shape, for about the first minute. Then it abruptly ran into a river, easily 20 meters across. Surely they couldn't mean... The bridge has to be around here somewhere, right around that bend, maybe? Nope, there's that familiar yellow triangle right opposite me on the other side of the river. It looked dangerous to ford, at least a foot of deep, swiftly flowing current. I decided not to try it. I looked around, and spotted Roz up river 200 meters. It turns out the waterfall was a side creek flowing into the other side of the river, a little ways upstream. I walked up to meet them, and brought them down to the crossing. Before we left, I decided I had to see if I could cross that river. I waded out into it, and got most of the way across, but already in up to my knees, the remaining channel was deeper and swiftly flowing. I just didn't want to risk it. I gave up, again, and waded back. My wool socks didn't dry for 3 days. That was the last hike I took in New Zealand without my river sandals.

In the town of Haast, on the west coast, we stopped at the doc, and got some information on hikes in the glacier region. Then we drove over an immensely long one lane bridge, across the (what else?) Haast River. There were two pullouts spaced apart on the bridge, where oncoming traffic could pass. At some point as we drove up the coast, it started raining. By the time we got to the Fox Glacier turn offs, at 6 PM, it was pouring. The Fox River was very full, roaring underneath the bridge. There are roads going up valley on both sides of the river, the Glacier Access road and the Glacier View road. Both were closed. This had been the final planned activity of the day, and we couldn't get to it. Later we were told that there had been some flood damage up the river. We were told that for the park to be completely closed at the entrance was very unusual.

We drove on to Whataroa, where we would stay the next three nights, in half of a cinderblock cottage, 2 bedrooms and 50's style furniture. There was a TV, which got two channels, and never once talked about the news of the outside world, or the tsunami.

Friday, December 31:

Whataroa White Heron Nature Reserve, Okarito coastal track and Trig, New Years Eve.

The hotel was operated by the business that runs the white heron tour, so the shuttle bus started out from the hotel, and drove us to the dock on the Waitangitaona River. There we got on a fast jet boat that took us downstream fast enough to be moderately thrilling (at least he didn't turn into the rocks, unlike the Shotover Canyon guy). A mile from the ocean, we headed wakeless up the Waitangitaona River to a dock, and then a half-kilometer boardwalk, through wetlands, to the viewing blind. On the other side of creek was the White Heron nesting site, 50 or so birds, some with young. They had binoculars laid out for us, and insect repellant. There were lots of sand flies. Interesting if you're into it.

That afternoon we drove out to the coastal town of Okarito, and a short walk on an inland coastal track. We all did the 'Trig' side trail to the summit of a small hill, 157 meters, a steady climb with a fine view up and down the coast, and inland towards the mountains, which of course were lost in cloud. The hill was so named since it was once used in an early survey as a reference point. I walked on 5 km to the three mile lagoon. There was a long pedestrian bridge across the tidal outlet of the lagoon (not a swing bridge). I considered walking back on the beach (recommended during low tide only). The tide was going out, but there was an unpleasant foam left by the waves, each time a wave ran up onto the beach, it left behind a foam strand 10 centimeters thick. I just didn't want to walk in it, so I returned on the trail, a well maintained track, meandering above the coastal cliffs, up and down. I saw a few joggers.

We drove into Franz Joseph for dinner and New Years Eve. We had a fine dinner, after a long wait for a table and then another long wait for food. Since we were waiting for evening, it was OK. We were seated outside, under a heater, and I got colder and colder, but made repeated trips to the car for more clothing. Eventually I was warm. After dinner we walked up and down the main street (about 3 blocks). We stopped in a bar for some drinks, but failed to engage any conversations with the patrons. We were in bed just before midnight, and listened to fireworks going off outside (set off, evidently, by the inhabitants of Whataroa, all thirty of them).

Saturday, January 1:

Franz Joseph Glacier

We drove into Franz Joseph and up the short access road to the trailhead, less than 5 km from town, at an elevation of 220 meters. We started out towards the glacier, up the valley. It was a popular trail with people everywhere. It wasn't raining, but the mountaintops were in the clouds. At one point we wondered if a white rock a couple hundred meters off the trail was rock, or in fact ice from the glacier. We were still a least a km from the terminus of the glacier. I decided to find out, but there was a substantial stream in the way. I thought, maybe later. As we got close to the glacier, we found the way blocked by another stream. I was not going to be able to cross it without getting my feet wet. This time, however, I was ready. I changed into the river sandals, and walked right across. Roz walked up stream a hundred meters and stepped across in a place I considered dangerous. We were soon at the fence, with warning signs just beyond. There were a number of tours of the glacier that day, leading people past the fence and up onto the top of the glacier, which was about 50 meters thick. Laura took a picture of Roz and I in front of one of the warning signs, it said "Extreme danger ... Do not proceed". Then I walked up a little ways towards the route the tours were using. I walked up as far as I felt like in the river sandals. It was a steep, rocky slope. When I got back down, Roz had started out across the valley bottom, towards the river coming out of the glacier. I followed, and we got close to it, and we could see a substantial river of very turbulent glacier melt emerging from a tunnel of ice underneath the glacier. When we got back to the creek crossing where I had first put on the river sandals, a guide from one of the tours assisted Roz across. We chatted a little bit, and he didn't think that the NZ glaciers were currently retreating. A sign at one point had a photograph of the glacier terminus, and outlines of the glacier front at various times over the last 200 years. At that time, the glacier came out much further, but the line for 1999 was about the same as now. On the way back, I did walk out to the white rock, once again getting my feet nicely wet, and found it was indeed a piece of ice, almost a meter across, a long ways from both the river and the glacier. I also did a short walk up a side trail, to Sentinel Rock, 280 meters, a knob in the valley floor offering views upstream to the glacier terminus. All of the streams I forded on this hike were runoff from the hill sides, not glacier melt, and were only moderately cold

After a light lunch back at the car, they dropped me off at the Pete's Pool trailhead, where I would start up the Robert's Point track. Roz and Laura drove back to the cottage for an afternoon nap after lunch and shopping in town. This trail on the maps appeared to be barely longer than the valley floor trail, providing a view above the glacier just a little ways up valley from the terminus. Not very far, at all. However, the return time was posted as 5 hours. I had learned by now that if the time is unreasonably long, and the trail doesn't do a lot of climbing, an unnaturally long return time means a very rough, difficult trail. It started out easily enough, a smooth, if somewhat muddy trail past Pete's Pool, a small pond with marsh land all around, then crossed the main river from the glacier on a large swing bridge, then the character changed. It had a lot of up and down, in and out of many drainages feeding into the main valley, and a lot of rock, slippery, uneven, difficult footing. Roz wasn't going to pick me up for 5 hours, so I kept going. There was some interesting engineering on this trail. We saw a number of swing bridges in NZ, but none like the one I encountered half way up the track. The sign said, "weight limit: 1 person". The floor was two narrow planks wide. Passing another person on this bridge would be very difficult. The handrails were further out, perhaps a meter apart. There was chicken wire from the handrails to the floor, making a 'V' shape. It was 50 meters long. At the center of the bridge, I was far above a busy creek in between large, steep faced rocks so close together you couldn't see the creek except for the exact center of the bridge. I dropped a stone from the bridge, and it took over 3 seconds to hit the ravine bottom. Do the math.

In another place the trail was suspended from the side of a cliff. Poles set into the cliff supported planks that I walked on. There was a handrail, and wires also supporting the structure from above. It would steeply down the face of the cliff. There were little wedges spaced about a foot apart fastened to the planks, to provide traction on the steep grade. If not for the unusual construction, the overriding sensation would have been discomfort. The wedges were nowhere near big enough for an entire foot, and so my boots flexed awkwardly as I stepped on them.

It rained for a while. As the storm was coming in, there was a continuous cacophony of helicopters flying up and down valley, presumably evacuating all the helicopter tours (which were landing, I think, near the top of the glacier, high above the point, on smoother, less crevassed, ice).

Eventually, I reached Robert's Point, well above the valley floor, and the lower portion of the glacier. I saw for the first time how enormously fragmented this glacier was. Going up or down valley, you would probably cross 100 deep crevasses in a km. The top of the glacier, far above me, was lost in cloud. Every bit that I could see had this total fragmentation.

When I got close to the bottom, I contacted Roz by walkie-talkie, and we met at the first swing bridge, across the mighty glacier drainage river. Roz pointed out that there were chunks of ice floating in the river. Sure enough, once every few seconds, we could see a chunk of dark, frequently black, typically a meter across, ice passing swiftly below us. This kept up for as long as we watched, a few minutes. I hadn't noticed any ice in the river earlier.

Sunday, January 2

Paparoa National Park

After stopping briefly to yearn for Arthur's Pass, we continued north and had lunch in Greymouth, an industrial looking town. It was in this area that we saw some one lane bridges with a twist: a one lane bridge with a railroad track as well, running right down the middle of the one lane. We drove on to the Paparoa National Park visitor center, on the coast. From there, we did the short Pancake Rocks and Blowholes walk, a walk on top of rock formations on the ocean's edge. There were interesting rock formations, many layers of rock just an inch or two thick, seemingly layered on top of each other, extending down to the ocean, 15 meters below. The tide was wrong to see the blowholes, but it was interesting to see the waves crashing on the rocks below us, as the trail wound along the top of the formations. At one point the trail crossed a natural bridge, where the ocean entered a small enclosed basin, as wide as it was below the tops of the rocks. We were in sun at this time, but it was only partly cloudy.

We drove to the mouth of the Porarari River. We walked up the river track to the intersection with the inland track. It was very muddy. As we walked up the lower portion of the trail, we saw numerous kayaks in the river, many from the rental place where the road crossed the river. We discussed the possibility of me continuing on the inland track to Cave Creek. This would start out with the fording of the Porarari River. When we got there, Roz and I went wading the river, and we did make it across. The creek was swift and up to my knees in one place. However, I just wasn't motivated, so I went back down with them. Where the inland track branched off on the same side of the creek, I went up the trail a few hundred meters. It went up a short hill, then was flat and muddy. Not my kind of trail.

Back at the bridge (after three hours on the trail), Roz and I rented kayaks. We struggled upstream for a ways, (not that far compared to how far we had walked). In one place I got out and walked up stream, towing the kayak, since the water was too swift and shallow to paddle upstream. When I got to the second place I would have had to walk, I turned back. After a quick cruise downstream, and a brief tour into the coastal lagoon, we came back to the rental place. We were out just an hour.

We had dinner at a bar and restaurant in the area, and drove on to our hotel in Westport, next to Cape Foulwind. We arrived just before sunset, so we never made it out to Cape Foulwind. What a name, eh?

Monday, January 3

St. Arnaud track

Early that morning, I left them in the hotel while I drove down the main drag to go grocery shopping. In the parking lot, a 4-wheel drive rally was getting organized. We had lunch in St. Arnaud, at the motel we were going to stay at that night. Roz dropped me off at the St. Arnaud Range track trailhead (620 m). It was very muddy across the flats, no so bad as it switch backed up the steeper slope higher up. It rained for a while. Eventually I got above timberline, to the 'Parachute Rocks' (1440 m), with a good view of Lake Rotoiti, and the mountains on the other side, with their summits lost in cloud. The cloud layer was right above me when I stopped, but I was in fog when I left. I saw a hunter heading up the trail when I was descending. The top of the ridge, above 1700 m, was also lost in cloud. We had dinner at a fancier restaurant also in the hotel complex, and we bought some supplies for our planned overnight track to the Speargrass hut, including a fuel canister for my camping stove. I was glad to see that they had it. My stove takes one of the less common fuel/fitting combinations. We spent some time that evening getting organized. It rained that night.

Tuesday, January 4

Speargrass hut track, day 1

We finished packing and we left a suitcase of more valuable possessions at the motel, with everything else except what we were taking out of view in the trunk. It was raining while we were getting ready. When we had been planning this trip, we spent quite a bit of time looking for a track that the three of us could do. This trip won out, 8 km up a mountain valley, with no significant climbing. I couldn't imagine that it would take Roz more than 3 hours to make it up the valley. I pictured a smooth, flat trail following the creek up the valley. Roz was determined to attempt it, this being her overnight tramping experience in NZ. There was no reservation system for this hut: it was first come, first served. We felt confident that if we got there and it was full, we all could make it back down fine, and find a hotel. What was Laura going to do but go along?

We drove up to the trailhead. The road turned to gravel, and switch backed up the mountain quite far, to 880 m. It was lightly raining as we started up the trail. It stopped after a while. The posted one-way distance for this trail was 3 hours. That should have been a warning: a long time to go a short distance. The builders of this trail had devised a scheme to suck you in. The first creek crossing had a bridge with a handrail. The first swamp had a boardwalk across it. The second creek crossing had a bridge without a handrail. After that there were no more bridges, or boardwalks (except for right at the hut). The trail started with a gradual descent to the river, which we picked up at 780 meters. It was slow going, climbing around tree after tree with massive root systems. At some time, the roots were probably all underground, but with erosion over time, they have emerged from the ground, frequently crossing the trail half a foot from the ground. In a lot of places it was tricky finding footing in between the roots. Stepping on the roots was difficult: they were extremely slippery from the rain, and pretty slick even when dry. It wasn't any faster when we got down to Speargrass creek (what else would it have been named, eh?). The trail down to the river wasn't too muddy, but at the creek, there was more. At one point there was an indicated 'flood route'. I am sure glad we didn't have to take that, since the flood route detoured above a large slide. An even bigger slide a little further up didn't have a detour: presumably contouring across this slide wasn't as dangerous. When we had been on the trail about 2 hours, we asked a party coming down how far it was, and they told us, about an hour and a half, dashing any expectation that we were 'almost there'. At some point we decided that we were committed to making it to the hut, and staying the night there. In order to make sure we got beds, we would split up, and I would proceed alone up the valley to attempt to claim 3 beds. Laura and Roz would follow at their own pace, also splitting up.

Very soon after I started up I ran into a bog. I stepped in mud and went in to the top of my ankle. I thought, 'great', and kept going, hoping that splitting up was a good idea. A little while later I heard Laura yelp. I headed back, and she had done the same thing. She was fine, though, so I headed up again. Later, I found out that Roz had spotted the detour around this bog, and had avoided it completely. The trail climbed for a while, getting up the side of the valley well above the river. I came across a creek crossing that was quite dangerous. It was filled with large logs, oriented up and down the drainage, with water flowing over the logs. It was quite odd, actually, since up and down the creek was filled with large logs. Water flowing over the logs made a couple of the footsteps very slippery. Crossing those treacherous steps made me regret not protesting Roz and Laura splitting up. Right after this crossing was a large deadfall on the trail, but at least there was an easy detour. I talked to Roz on the walkie-talkie, expressing misgivings about the trail, but she didn't see anything to do except keep going, so we did. Further up the trail there was another substantial bog. I managed to walk on the edge of the trail and not sink in too much. Shortly after was the bridge across the river, a short climb, across a field on a slat fence boardwalk, and there was the hut. It was small, 3.5 by 5 meters. It had 3 bunk beds, 6 beds in all. It was crowded. There were 10 people in it. Somewhat panicky, I asked, "How many of you are staying the night?" Only one person raised his hand. I asked him, "You're the only person staying overnight?" He nodded. "That's a relief", I said.

The fellow who was staying was named Mike. I ascertained that there was a party of four Germans, and a more standoffish party of 5, who were speaking a language I didn't recognize. I was offered a seat on one of the beds, and I sat down, somewhat uncomfortable in that small, crowded room filled with strangers. Both parties were cooking lunches with their stoves. 40 minutes later, Laura showed up, much to my relief. She had not had her walkie-talkie on, and so had been out of touch the entire time we were separated. About this time, the Germans left, and Laura was able to crack the ice with the other party. They were Israelis, speaking Hebrew. They were perfectly friendly after all, and at least several of them spoke English. Eventually they left too, and it was just Laura, Mike, and I. I asked Mike if he could grant the favor of letting us occupy the lower bunks, and he agreed. Roz, at one point, called rather panicky about securing a bed, so I put stuff on all three lower bunks, and filled out the tickets. I assured her that I did have the beds reserved. When she notified me that she was at the bog, I went out and met her. Truthfully, I didn't want to cross that bog again. She had tried hard to find a detour around the bog, failed, and had made it back just as I was coming up to it. The area with tricky footing was actually not more than 10 meters across. Soon we were all at the hut. Roz was exhausted. She had been on the trail for 5.5 hours. About this time it started raining hard, which kept up all evening. Roz lay down in her sleeping bag for an hour. She had difficulty getting up, but once she was moving, she was OK. Later in the afternoon another fellow came by, James Watson, a couple (who tented it, since it was 5 people by now), and finally, another guy, Tali, showed up to give us a full house. No one else showed up. James and Tali gave the impression that tramping, rather than career, was the focus of their lives. Roz did great with the guys, was very social.

This small hut had no 'no boots inside' policy, and nobody bothered to take off their shoes inside. This hut, like the others that I had seen, had a boardwalk leading up to it, so at least you aren't stepping directly from mud to indoors. The outhouse was, shall we say, rustic. The seat was split in two, and the hinge was broken: the pieces were completely unattached. I marveled that no one had accidentally let one half or the other fall into the pit. (Maybe someone had, and then fished it out!) It was a good thing we had brought toilet paper, there was none. We managed to keep a small fire going in the wood/coal stove all evening, but it was not easy: essentially all of the available wood was completely soaked, water logged to the center. We kept a supply of wood on top of the stove, in an attempt to dry it out, and it never did. I cooked dinner for the three of us, a NZ equivalent to Rice-a-Roni, with some freeze dried minced beef, and some pre-prepped vegetables. I had to cook two batches, since my pot was too small. There was no running water in this cabin, but no one seemed to think there was any risk in drinking water right from the creeks, which we did. Giardia is not unheard of, but it appears to be very rare.

Although I didn't feel at all sleep deprived the next day, it felt like I didn't get any sleep at all that night. I slept with my head next to Roz's in the next bunk (both of our bunks were against the wall), and her loud snoring kept me awake all night. This is unusual, since normally she barely snores. However, I figured that if anyone in that hut needed their sleep, it was she, so I didn't do anything at all. Just lie there and listen to it. Later, Roz said she was awake and saw the moon in the window, which I never did, so presumably I was sleeping then, at least. As I said, the next day I didn't feel tired at all.

Wednesday, January 5

Speargrass hut track, day 2

We leisurely had our breakfast. Roz gave Tali a strap to aid in packing his WW II era pack, and we gave what was left of our fuel to James. The other people all packed up and left. I cleaned off the cooking counter while Roz swept out the cabin. There was an unattended pair of walking sticks inside, which turned out to belong to the couple who had tented (we hadn't seen them since they first showed up). They had breakfast in the cabin after we left. It was overcast but not raining as we left. I decided that I would walk down with them, rather than the more arduous return route of starting out towards the Angelus hut, and returning on top of the ridge parallel to Speargrass creek, Robert Ridge. This way would have been more than twice as long. The trail to the top of the ridge was considered a 'route', not a track, and there were warnings about attempting the top of the ridge in stormy weather. In addition to all that, given the hazards of the primitive Speargrass track, I just didn't feel like splitting up.

The trail was not wetter, but also not any drier, than it had been yesterday. We made it down to the dangerous river crossing together, and had lunch. With the worst of the hazards behind us, we felt better about splitting up, so I headed down ahead of them, so I could spend some time on the trail that goes up Robert's ridge starting from the bottom. I noted the familiar landmarks on the way down, the descent to the river, crossing the two slide areas, the lower bog now wise to the detour, the contouring climb up the hill side, more roots, the bridges, the boardwalk. Back at the car (with the keys still with Roz), I left behind the things I wouldn't take on a short hike, and that I could live without if they were stolen. It amounted to the sleeping bag, the stove, and a few other items.

I started up Robert's ridge on the Pinchgut track. The difference in this trail and Speargrass was like night and day. This trail was similar to so many I have seen in the American west, as it switch backed up the opposite side of the ridge from the Speargrass. There were no roots. None! It was what Roz would have called 'straight up', but that trail was in great shape. Barely muddy in one spot, bone dry mostly. I walked up at a good pace, getting up to the top of the ridge, 1420 m, in less than an hour. This put me above timberline, and two thirds of the way to the Bushline hut, with the last third downhill. I remain haunted by the fact that, while Roz would have been slow on the climb, the Bushline hut would have been a much easier track for her. At the emergency timberline shelter, I ran into a young lady, a native, who was going to the Bushline hut. We chatted. As I walked along the top of the ridge, I noted everything to the west, from north to south, was socked in, perhaps 10 km away. I met her again as I descended, and I asked her about the ski area that the signs mentioned, and she assured me that there was a road to the base of the ski area, even though none of my maps showed it. She mentioned that there are a couple of ski areas without access roads in NZ. On the way down, I made radio contact with Roz, frustrated that she still wasn't down yet. Finally she said she was there. A half hour later I was down. It didn't start raining until after we were on the road, but it kept all afternoon and evening. We had a snack at the hotel, after we recovered the suitcase, and then we drove on to Motueka, where we would spend the last three nights. Laura said she dreamed about climbing over roots that night.

Thursday, January 6

Abel Tasman water Taxi, coastal and inland tracks

Roz made the arrangements with the water taxi; it would pick me up in Marahau, and drop me off at Bark Bay. I would walk back to Marahau, either 20 or 23 km, and Roz would pick me up. There was a time element: if I could get to Torrent Bay during low tide, I could take the shortcut across the bay, shortening the trip by 3 km. Low tide was at 12:20. The shortcut was considered safe 2 hours after low tide. She drove me to the water taxi place. It was inland, at least 300 meters from the beach. The boats were in the parking lot, on boat trailers, which were pulled by large tractors. When I got my ticket, I asked the sales lady about returning on a portion of the inland track, a longer return route. She was very negative, claiming the inland trail was very tough, very steep, and strongly recommended against it. We all got on different boats (so that everyone on my boat was getting off at Bark bay). The boats didn't get off in time. We all boarded our boats, and the tractors pulled us out on the main highway (at typical tractor speed: slow), down to the turn off to the beach, and across the beach to the ocean, a few hundred more meters. Roz hung around long enough to see the boats start of towards the ocean, then drove back to Motueka, where she and Laura relaxed and went shopping. When the tractor got to the edge of the ocean, he turned us around, and backed into the surf. We slid off the trailer, and we were floundering in a couple feet of water. While the driver was struggling to get on board, we drifted sideways, and a wave splashed against the side of the boat, getting me quite wet. Then he got us underway, headed out into the waves, and passed out towels to those of us who had got wet. Finally, we were underway, but did we head right to Bark Bay? With many kilometers between Bark Bay and Torrent Bay, and the tide soon to be coming in, I wanted to get started. However, this guy felt the need to show us a little sightseeing. He drove us a short distance to the south, around the next point, and stopped offshore of a small rocky island with a large spherical boulder on top, cleaved neatly in two, 'Split Apple IslandŐ. He told some lame joke about how they were left over paper machete rocks from LOTR sets. All the time, I am thinking, "the tide, the tide". Finally we really were underway. He stopped briefly at Anchorage Bay, and told us what times we could pick up the water taxi here if we didn't make it all the way back to Marahau, then drove on to Bark Bay.

When we got close to the beach at Bark Bay, he turned the boat around and backed towards the shore. I noticed on a competitor water taxi, a folding catwalk that allowed people to disembark without getting their feet wet. While I was waiting for the catwalk to magically materialize at the stern of our boat, the pilot says, "I need all of you to take off your shoes and socks!" I was at the front of the boat, and from my perspective, I couldn't tell. Anyway, I got on the river sandals, expanded the walking stick, and carefully stepped off the boat onto the sand, feeling confidently using the stick for balance. The pilot said to me, "Why don't you leave that with me. You won't need it on the walk." I thought he was making a kidding comment about my ski pole, the trail being so flat that my walking stick would not be needed again today. When I was on the beach, a lady from the boat runs up to me and says, "Sir, could I have your life jacket?" Ouch!

I walked to the end of the beach, where many of the people from the boat were putting on their shoes. I then found the bathroom (and the foot wash; like so many relatively remote places in NZ, they have running water). Then I started out briskly towards Torrent Bay. I stopped briefly at the swing bridge across Falls Creek (the last swing bridge I was to see on this trip), and on to Torrent Bay. The path led through a subdivision of houses that looked, shall we say, very affordable (boat or foot access only). The tide was still out, so I headed out, once again with the river sandals on. The route was marked with poles with circles on top. I walked past several boats sitting, anchored, on the sand, with the ocean not even in sight, hidden by a spit of land. I walked across five or six creeks, some warm (tidal basins draining) and some cold (fresh water). The deepest was almost knee deep. The poles were just over 2 meters high, and I suppose they must stick out of the water at high tide.

At 3, with 3 hours remaining to the rendezvous, I reached the intersection with the cutoff to the inland track. I headed up. The cutoff climbed to the top of a ridge, where it joins the inland track, at just under 600m. The views were impressive, both out towards the ocean and inland towards the higher hills. There were just a few clouds. It was warm; for the first time on this trip, I was sweating profusely, even though only wearing shorts and a T-shirt. I had a bit of a water scare, although I did have some left when I got back. The trail was not especially difficult, although it did climb steeply. Similar in character to the Green Mountain trails in Boulder County Open Space. In a lot of places, the trail had a clay surface that was very slick. I couldn't tell if that was since it was still damp. At one point, on the ascent, I got a view of Torrent bay, now with the tidal creek apparently a lot wider, but the basin was still mostly clear of water. Shortly after getting on the Inland track, the trail at first descended steeply down the nose of the ridge, interrupted by several false summits. At one point, the trail abruptly changed character, and started following what may have been an old canal, or railroad, contouring steadily and very gradually downhill. I swear, that lady in the Aqua Taxi office was insisting this section of trail in particular was very steep. I had a bit of self-doubt: was I still on the trail? The yellow triangles, ubiquitous on the steep portion, were not seen at all on this contouring section. I decided to keep going, and sure enough, it eventually dropped all the way to the ocean edge, and intersected the Coastal Track. The coastal track is very well maintained, wide, mostly flat, and very popular. On the entire inland track and cutoff detour, however, I saw no one. I contacted Roz by radio as I got close to the trail, and we met at Tinline Beach. We walked on the beach for a while, then got back on the track, and walked back to the car. On the way back to the motel, Roz pointed out that the beach I had been driven across that morning, hundreds of meters to the ocean, was now completely covered by the tide. The ocean's edge was just a few feet from the highway.

Our hotel room faced out on a field of kiwi fruit vines, with essentially no city lights, so we slept with the curtains open. This was because my attempts to look at southern hemisphere constellations had been thwarted every night so far. I was determined that if I woke up in the middle of the night and saw stars, I was going to go outside and take a look.

Friday, January 7

Wetsuit swim, search for the Southern Cross

I happened to wake up at 4:30, and noticed I could see some stars out the window. I decided to go for a walk. It was partly cloudy, but I could see some stars in patches of the sky. I didn't know the town, but I knew it wasn't too big, so I decided to try to walk away from the city lights. It turned out to be bigger than I realized. I never got away from the city, and it never substantially cleared up. I did note 5 stars in a pretty good representation of a cross shape, so I thought, "The southern cross, finally. Pending verification." It was getting light in the east, so I headed back to bed.

We arrived in Kaiteriteri well before our scheduled 'Swim with the Seals' tour, so we walked up and down the beach. This was a crowded resort town with a nice beach, expensive real estate, and lots of boats. The beach was in a sheltered bay. There were long lines of boaters at the gas station and the boat ramp. The tour guide took us up in a van to a house where we were outfitted in wet suits and given instructions on how to cope with the seals and the suits. Then back down to the beach where we got on the boat. Before heading to the nature reserve, the pilot drove us out to Split Apple Island, and explained the split by a long-winded romantic tale about an explorer captain and a native princess. I think I was supposed to hear this tale before the one I was told the day before. Then we headed off to the island. It was actually a disappointment. There were only a few seals, and they didn't show any interest in swimming, with or without us. We spent an hour floating in our wetsuits. I saw a school of small fish swim by, other than that, we saw no marine wildlife. They told us that the water would normally be crystal clear, but with the runoff from all the recent rain, the water was cloudy. I could see rocks plainly 2 meters down, but 3 meters down was just barely visible. They drove us to the beach at Bark Bay for a picnic lunch. Unfortunately, I had to go to the bathroom so badly that I rushed onshore leaving stuff in the boat. I didn't think that would be an issue, but when I got back, the boat was gone. They had dropped everyone off, and then gone on some errand, picking up some people for some water taxi function. I never found out for sure. Eventually they came back, and drove us back to Kaiteriteri.

Before dinner in Motueka, I did some research at an Internet cafe. I found out that the so-called 'Southern Cross' is not in fact 5 stars, but only 4, shaped in a square! I had never seen it. What is with these constellations, anyway? As one wit said on the Kepler track, "Now take these two stars here. You don't see a chimpanzee?" I also investigated where in town I could easily get a view, and found that the ocean was less than 2 km away. I could take a walk on a path by the ocean and look for the stars. I printed out information on where to look.

We had dinner at 'The Gothic Grill', where they had an interesting routine; they brought a slab of raw meat to your table, which you cooked on a superheated stone they placed in front of you in a dinner tray. The stones were so hot that a drop of water placed on the stones sizzled even after we were done eating.

As we went to bed that night, it was mostly cloudy. When I woke up in the middle of the night, it was completely overcast and raining.

Saturday, January 8

Auckland, Denver:

We drove to Nelson in steady rain, returned our car, and eventually caught our flight to Auckland. The layover in Auckland was over 4 hours, so we took a taxi downtown, and hung out downtown, shopping and overeating. I bought gifts for a few people. Then another taxi back to the airport, and our long flight back. When the plane approached landing in LA, I had a comment. "It looks wet", I said.

Comments on New Zealand

Favorite expressions: Take away, Give way, reception, doc, no worries, one lane bridge, weight limit x persons, return time, trim milk or whole.

Plans changed due to the weather:

Mueller hut attempt, Hooker glacier terminus attempt (only one would have been possible, probably the Mueller hut)

Return from 3 mile lagoon: in land track vs. beach

not stopping at Fox Glacier

Views affected by the weather:

Completely obscured:

View from Mt. Roy, Ben Lomond, Luxmoore hut, Southern Cross

Partially obscured:

Stony bay peak, Red Tarns hike, Hooker Lake hike, Sealy Tarns hike, view of the mountains the entire time we were on the western coast, from Trig, Franz Joseph Glacier, St Arnaud track, Speargrass hut track, ocean clarity at Abel Tasman.

Sand Flies.

These are the NZ equivalent to mosquitoes, smaller, usually easier to kill, except their bites itch more and there are a lot of them. A lot! At one point I counted 35 bites on my body. Drenched in deet seems to be the only thing that gives them momentary pause. They also have mosquitoes, but they aren't anywhere near the annoyance that sand flies are.

New Zealand and 'The Lord of The Rings'

New Zealand is where they filmed LOTR, ...and they never let you forget it! There is LOTR memorabilia for sale everywhere (I was actually tempted by a Suruman's staff, a full 2 meters long), and we saw any number of tour operations, many around Queenstown, but other places as well. I wasn't disinterested, but I just always felt I had more interesting things to do. Roz and Laura at one point tried to find Fangorn forest (not far from Te Anau), but didn't succeed. I suspect many of the film sites are on private land, and even if not, back in any number of possible locations far from the main roads. Not easy to find if all you have is a mark on the country map. The guided tours would have been the way to go, but we just never found the time.

How hotels are different:

Most of the places we stayed at had at least a separate bedroom. Some had two. Most of the places we stayed in also had a full kitchen, and everyplace had a refrigerator. We also saw a lot of teapots, which plugged into the 220 volt outlets, boiled a couple of quarts of water to a boil in a hurry. Every place we stayed had one of these, and though they were all different models, they all functioned about the same: About half a gallon, with a switch that shut off as soon as the water started boiling. 2000 plus watt appliances were everywhere. In the safety vs. power tradeoff, NZ has chosen more on the power side than the US has. We used these to make water for coffee or tea each morning.

Plumbing:

Water gushes out of the faucets in a way that is truly delightful. They have a lot of water there. In a typical shower, a lot of water comes at you. It was great! Toilets: Some countries have their own distinctive type of toilet. Visitors to the Netherlands, you know what I am talking about! New Zealand (at least everywhere we went), one particular design is prevalent. The water mostly gushes out of a spigot at the front of the bowl. It works quite well, better at self-cleaning than the typical American toilet, with the drawback of a few drops of water splashed on the seat. About half the toilets have two flush buttons: half and full, a water conservation measure in a country that truly acts like it doesn't need it.

The daily routine:

We almost always had breakfast in our hotel room, and I had coffee from water boiled in the teapot, and coffee from coffee bags, that is, coffee in tea bags. I had a cereal widely available there, similar to shredded wheat ('Wheat BiskitsŐ). I would also have my all fruit snack at this time, since it was too awkward to do this on the road. By the time we would finally be ready to hit the road, it was frequently close to check out time. I'm not blaming anyone, what with all my fruit and fruit prep, I was probably more to blame than anyone. If we were driving somewhere, we would usually stop and have a snack somewhere on the road, well before noon, 'second breakfasts' or 'elevensies' as in 'The Fellowship of the Ring'. Grocery stores were similar to those in the states, all though the produce selection, at least for the stuff I like, was typically not quite as good. I could always buy grapes, but I never saw any but the large red grapes with seeds. Laura swore she saw seedless grapes somewhere, but I never did. Our cooler proved to be woefully inadequate for all the stuff we wanted to keep in it, so we developed a system with higher priority stuff in the cooler proper, and other items in the 'secondary' cooler, 3 large triple sacked plastic bags. Items would chill overnight in the hotel fridge, and then would take their chances during the day. It was a challenge fitting all our goods inside that rental car, a Mazda, and still have room for someone in the back seat. A full size cooler might not have been possible. We traded off driving, but I almost never had to ride in the back seat. Although I did offer to ride in back repeatedly, either Roz or Laura would usually express a greater willingness than mine to sit in back.

Highways and driving:

Most of the areas we visited were primarily tourist destinations, and traffic was usually not especially heavy in between towns. The roads were narrow and windy in many places, but we could typically pass eventually. Shoulders were non-existent, and bicycling would have been difficult, all though we did see quite a few. Interestingly enough, almost all the bike riders we saw were touring. I think the typical highway was narrower than in the US, but most vehicles were smaller. We saw many RV's, but I don't recall seeing a single one with pop-outs, or one longer than 20 feet or so. People do have SUVs, but the biggest were also not seen. The largest SUVs we saw were on the order of a Ford Explorer. The less traveled highways had a number of one-lane bridges, including some that were very long. The long one-lane bridges had pullouts at intervals. Each one lane bridge specified a direction that supposedly had the right of way, but in practice, it was always whoever got on the bridge first. Then, there were the unforgettable one-lane bridges shared with railroad tracks. They do seem to be very gradually replacing the one-lane bridges with normal two lane bridges. One other comment: They were currently undergoing a widespread national 'don't drink and drive' campaign. Billboards and TV ads encouraging sober driving were ubiquitous.

Maps:

Prior to the trip and during the trip, we spent liberally on maps, getting a detailed atlas of the country and park maps of everyplace on the agenda, and even a few that weren't. It was great, to always have this information available, planning each day's events and finding our way. We probably spent $200 on maps. I am patting myself on the back for this money well spent.

NZ and crime:

Crimes of violence appear to be somewhat rare in NZ, but theft is evidently not uncommon. Most of the trailheads we parked at had warning signs regarding leaving valuables in parked cars. We never had any problems, but when I got back to the Speargrass hut trailhead, I did notice a car with a handwritten sign in the back window, pleading with would be thieves that there was nothing inside. I got the idea that most theft occurs to cars parked overnight at the trailheads, which we of course only did once: at the Speargrass hut.

Jet Lag:

Having accomplished both ways with no jet lag whatsoever, I feel that I have earned the right to explain how to do it. The key is sleep management. It means forcing yourself to be awake at prescribed times, and asleep at others. When traveling east, one needs to be prepared to go to sleep at the equivalent of early evening or midday of the first day in the new country. The only way to do this is to be dog tired going in, so the night of travel should be spend getting just a little sleep: just enough to get through the next day, but to be so sleep deprived that one can go to sleep in mid-afternoon. It is vitally important not to get too much sleep, or it won't be possible to get to sleep at the new time. When traveling west, it's mainly important just to stay up late enough the day of arrival to go to bed at a reasonable time for the new time zone. Of course, NZ is only four hours different (in the winter, that is, when they are on daylight savings time and we aren't), so perhaps I shouldn't feel too smug.

The International Date Line:

I left my watch on Colorado time. To convert to NZ time, subtract four hours and add 1 day. NZ is among the first to see each day, while we in the US are nearly last. If one flies by overnight flight, one arrives in NZ two days after one leaves, at least according to the date on the local newspapers. Likewise one returns to the US on the same day they left NZ.

Glasses:

When we were getting our stuff organized for the trip, I asked Roz if she had some eyeglass cases I could use on the trip for my reading glasses. She directed me to where she keeps her eyeglass cases, and invited me to pick one out. Looking through them, I found one had a pair of glasses still in it. I tried them on. They improved my distance vision in both eyes. Roz confirmed that they were old glasses of hers, and I could have them, her eyesight having shifted in the ensuing years. Now I have had prescription glasses in the past, but I have generally not used them, since I do pass the drivers test without them, and since I have astigmatism, they can only give me so much improvement. These old glasses of Roz brought my vision to about as good as it can be, I believe. Roz and Laura were both skeptical, and felt I should get an examination. Anyway, I took those glasses on the trip, and I used them a lot. I also hat my reading glasses, which I now use almost all the time with maps, but still not for normal reading.

Trail signs and trails:

In general, the trail signage is excellent. However, in the entire three weeks, I never once saw a trail sign that gave distance in units of distance, that is, kilometers or miles. Instead, trail distances were always given as times, either one-way or return time. This was sometimes useful, although they had different rating systems, in that a popular, flat, well graded trail would sometimes have a time posted longer than what an equivalent stretch on a overall tougher or longer trail would get. On the tougher trails, the times were usually fairly close to my actual travel time, except that I usually beat the posted time handily on steady uphill climbs. It was a plus, though, in that a longer posted time than just the distance would lead you to believe would indicate a tough, uneven trail with careful footing required. Estimating the actual distance, however, was now a challenge, since that wouldn't ever be spelled out. A case for getting good maps. The quality of trail construction varied enormously, from the flawless Red Tarns trail to the frustratingly primitive Mount Shrimpton trail. I think overall, their trail budget, mile for mile, is probably similar to that of the US, at least in terms of hours spent on construction and maintenance. However, they have to deal with erosion and mud from substantial rainfall, the overall steepness of so much of the terrain, not to mention heavy foot traffic, so that a trail with substantial development might nonetheless be very difficult (for example Robert's Point), or might be very muddy in spite of long sections of boardwalk.

Solutions:

The math, how to get wet, and sheet metal will be posted if anyone requests them.

Tours:

Christmas 2004 Kepler Track

Backpack mass analysis

Spreadsheet started 2/16/05

 

Kg

Lb

Pack items

Total:

10.85

23.91

Non pack items

Total:

2.63

5.80

 

Total:

13.48

29.71

Pack items

gr

Kg

Lb

pack cover

105

   

pack

1955

   

sleeping bag, inc stuff sack (75)

1555

   

water bottles (3 ea)

110

   

silk sleeping bag liner & sack

160

   

straps (6 ea)

135

   

Rain parka

455

   

polypropylene long johns

125

   

rain pants

200

   

camp towel

125

   

gloves

175

   

spare rag socks

120

   

neck gator

65

   

spare shorts

325

   

underwear

80

   

T-shirt

225

   

Bandanas (2)

60

   

lightweight socks

70

   

fleece parka liner

540

   

Long sleeve T shirt

245

   

plastic trowel

55

6.89

 
       

Small water proof pouch

     

pouch

40

   

Travel itinerary

25

   

Kepler track flyer

30

   

Kepler map

50

   

Kepler transport flyer

5

   

Book: "Why Things Break"

210

0.36

 
       

Large waterproof sack

     

sack

135

   

monocular

100

   

sunblock

70

   

paper towels

40

   

reading glasses (30) case (90) cloth (5)

125

   

distance glasses (20) case (95)

115

   

toothpaste, toothbrush, floss

200

   

cup

30

   

filter

450

   

LED headlamp

30

   

blistex

10

   

insect repellent

100

   

walkie talkie

190

   

flashlight

105

   

camp utensils:spoon, knife, fork

75

   

pen

10

   

camp pot (145) lid (150) handle (45)

340

   

emergency kit extension

55

   

standard dayhike emegency kit

320

   

headlamp spare battery

10

2.51

 
       

Food

     

cashews

100

   

candy

300

   

rolls

50

   

Wheat Biscits 10 ea 15 gm

150

   

Crackers inc. box (30 gm)

155

   

cheese and butter

70

   

freeze dried dinner (package 15 gm)

105

   

rice dinner (rice-a-roni variant), half pkg

70

   

prepped veggies (carrots and celery)

80

   

2 coffee seep bags

10

1.09

 
       

Non-pack items

     

hiking sneakers

890

   

rag socks

120

   

walking stick

280

   

cap

85

   

sunglasses

25

   

shorts

305

   

underwear

80

   

watch

45

   

wallet

145

   

passport pouch

30

   

passport

20

   

T shirt

225

   

wool shirt

245

   

belt

105

   

NZ coins

30

2.63

 

Roz kept track of various statistics and generated the following table:

Tramping Chart

   

Jim

Roz

Laura

Date

Place

Hours

km

Hours

km

Hours

km

19-Dec-04

Akaroa-Banks Penninsula

3.5

10

1.5

2

1.5

2

20-Dec-04

Glenntanner-Red Tarn

2

6

       

21-Dec-04

Glenntanner-Hooker Lake

3

6

3

4

3

4

21-Dec-04

Glenntanner SealeyTarn / Kea Pt

3

9

       

23-Dec-04

Queenstown-Ben Lommond

5.5

16.5

       

24-Dec-04

Te Anau-Kelpler track

6

13.7

2

2

2

2

25-Dec-04

Te Anau-Kelpler track

6

14.6

       

26-Dec-04

Te Anau-Kelpler track

6

22.2

       

29-Dec-04

Wanaka-Mt Roy

6.5

19.5

0.5

0.5

   

30-Dec-04

Haast Pass

1.5

4.5

1

2

1

2

31-Dec-04

Whataroa-Okarito Trig

3

6

2

3

2

3

1-Jan-05

Whataroa-Franz Joseph

3

4

3

4

3

4

1-Jan-05

Whataroa- Robert Pt

6

18

1

1.5

   

2-Jan-05

Paparoa National Park

3

5

3

5

3

5

3-Jan-05

St. Arnaud-Parachute Rocks

4

12

       

4/5-Jan-05

St. Arnaud-Speargrass Hut

8

24

11

24

8.5

24

5-Jan-05

St. Arnaud-Extra after Speargrass Hut

2

6

       

6-Jan-05

Motueka-BarkBay to Marahua

6

24

1

3

   
   

78

221

29

51

24

46

 


Today is Wednesday, 15 July 2020, 11:32:05 am

Page written and maintained by Rosalind Farnam Dudden, roz@dudden.com
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