Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Road Trip... Trivia!

The epic New Zealand road trip of 2010 has come to an end.  On Tuesday morning, I arrived back in Tuateawa, where I will be working and living for the next month.

The road trip was an awesome experience.  I could probably write a novel about it, but isn't a list of trivia more entertaining?  Yeah, that's what I thought.

Life in the Van Trivia
  • Road trip length:  36 days/ 35 nights
  • Distance driven:  5,447 km/ 3,404 miles
  • Nights in random people's houses:  2
  • Nights the cold kept me awake:  1 (thank you, upstate ny)
  • Total restaurant meals eaten:  3
  • Cheese consumed by both of us:  5 kg/ 11 lbs (eww)
  • Juice drank by Dave:  15 L/ 4 gallons
  • Diet cola drank by Nicole:  not telling you
  • What I think of oatmeal for breakfast:  like eating plaster
  • Longest consecutive days w/o seeing the inside of a shower or bathtub:  14
  • National Parks visited:  7 (Tongariro, Egmont, Westland, Mt. Aspiring, Fiordland, Mt. Cook, Nelson Lakes)
  • HEY COW points:  a lot
  • Favorite North Island city:  New Plymouth
  • Favorite South Island city:  Dunedin
  • Favorite moment:  hiking into Angelus Lake basin at sunset
  • Creepiest moment:  sharing a very small backcountry hut with an insane hunter packing a large rifle
Tramping (Hiking) Trivia
  • Distance hiked:  290.5 km/ 181.6 mi
  • Days hiked:  24 out of 36 (66.6%)
  • Trail hours:  113.5 (nearly three 40-hour work weeks)
  • Average trail speed:  1.6 mph
  • Approximate elevation gain:  8370 m/ 27,600 ft (almost an Everest)
  • Highest elevation:  2590 m/ 8547 feet (summit of Ruapehu)
  • Lowest elevation:  sea level (Tasman Sea)
  • Longest day:  10 hrs (camp to summit of Ngauruhoe to camp to Whakapapa Village)
  • Greatest consecutive days on the trail:  9 (Mt. Aspiring Nat'l Park to Routeburn/Caples Tracks to Kepler Track)
  • Longest without resupply:  5 (Routeburn/Caples Tracks)
  • Nights in backcountry huts:  11
  • Nights in a tent:  1
  • Named mountains summited:  5  (Ngauruhoe, Ruapehu, Taranaki, Luxmore, Roberts)
  • Alpine crossings:  8
  • Unbridged streams crossed:  38 (yes I counted)
  • Places where my boots are held together with glue:  11
  • Wipe-outs (defined as ass on ground):  9
  • Foot mishaps:  2 (1 strange something between the toes; 1 ball of foot strain)
  • Ibuprophen taken:  too many...  waaaaaaay too many
  • Useless DoC warnings:  3 (1 bridge out, but the stream was easy to cross; 1 hill slide that was easy to bypass; 1 very muddy section, which was actually dry)
  • Times I got rained on:  3 (not bad!)
  • Things I daydreamed about most while hiking:  a hot shower, obscene quantities of bacon (yeah, I know) and eggs, Mumford & Sons songs
  • Kea seen:  5
  • Sea lions seen:  3
  • Penguins seen:  17 (7 yellow-eyed penguins; 10 blue penguins)

The end...  or maybe to be continued.  :-)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

My Favorite Hike

Our last hike on this road trip was a four day excursion in Nelson Lakes.  Talk about ending with a "bang"--it was my favorite hike from the entire road trip, Great Walks included.

Day 1:  We got a late start from St. Arnaud, not leaving the carpark until after noon.  The first section, the "Pinchgut Track," was about an hour of switchbacks straight up the ridge.  More like the "Knee Cruncher Track."  We then took the Robert Ridge track...  felt like we were walking on top of the world.  There were sections that had very steep, long drops on either end, and we were working our way over somewhat unstable, uneven rock piles, but I did ok.  The sun had just dropped behind the mountains when we arrived at the final descent to Angelus Hut.  It was the single most beautiful moment of the entire road trip.  Pure magic.  Angelus Hut had just been rebuilt and reopened the month before, so it was new and very nice.

Day 2:  Long day.  We started down from Angelus Hut around 9:00 a.m. on the Cascade Track.  The first section of the track went pretty much straight down the back of the ridge.  It was slow going, especially due to my knees.  It leveled out a bit eventually, but we still had many hours walk through the beech forest.  Basically, we had to walk all the way around the big mountains.  Would have been much easier to go straight over!  We got to Hopeless Hut around dusk (5:30 p.m.).  Hopeless was an apt name.  We shared the six bunk, single room hut with a very creepy hunter.  I'm very glad I wasn't staying there alone with him.

Day 3:  Fortunately, Mr. Creepy Crazy Hunter got up before light to head into the bush, so Dave and I were able to relax with a cup of tea in the morning before hitting the trail.  We backtracked part of our steps from the previous day, following the Travers Valley.  We were only on the trail for about a half-day, arriving at Coldwater Hut in time for a late lunch.  We found two more hunters at Coldwater Hut, but they were completely different from Mr. Creepy Crazy.  The four of us had a raging fire going, and spent most of the evening talking about everything from guns to movies.  They were great company and great conversation.

Day 4:  After breakfast, we hit the trail for the last time.  We were only about 2.5 hours walk from the carpark.  The first part of the trail was more of the same (beech forest next to a body of water).  The very last part followed a gravel road, which was monotonous and boring, but it's always great to see the van after some time in the woods (and even better when the engine starts!).

The trip was great.  Arriving at Angelus at sunset...  the interesting trail down Cascade Track...  great company with the hunters at Coldwater...  definitely my favorite hike.

Check out the pictures.  The ones from the first day are stunning.  It was even better in person!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Milford Sound, Mt. Cook, & OMG PENGUINS

Yeah, so, we went out to Milford Sound.  It looked just like the postcards.  It's a pretty fiord, yeah, but I have this feeling that it's popular because the tourism industry has made it popular.  We didn't do any of the cruises or anything like that.  Maybe if we had, I would have been more impressed.

looks like a postcard

Kea, however, will always delight me.

who is playing with whom?

We also went to Mt. Cook for a day.  That wasn't that exciting, either; the weather sucked, so I didn't even see the famous mountain.  Unless you're prepared with crampons and an ice axe, there isn't a tremendous amount of hiking to be done in Aoraki Mt. Cook National Park, either.

iceberg. kinda cool, but probably not worth the drive.

On the drive from Milford Sound to Mt. Cook, we stopped in Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula.  Dunedin was a sweet little city; it's definitely my favorite city on the South Island!  I wanted to visit penguin colonies on the Otago Peninsula.  The iSite tourist information bureau told us there was a chance that we might see penguins at a certain beach.  We went to that beach and got talking to a few friendly, kind Kiwis who told us that we'd have much better luck at a different beach.  Puttered down the potholed, one-lane country road, pulled into the carpark, ran down the largest sand dune I've ever seen, and HOLY SMOKES that's a BIG and unexpected mammal!

i think that i could outrun him if i needed to

We did make it to the hide while the yellow-eyed penguins were coming back to land from fishing at sea all day.  I was totally stoked, because yellow-eyed penguins are some of the rarest penguins in the world.

OMG penguins!!!

Here are the rest of the photos, with commentary:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

This Is How I Earn My Trail Legs

We just finished nine consecutive days on the trail. It would have been ten, had we not combined the last two days of the Kepler Track. I don't have my track register handy, but I think that's about 70-odd miles of trail.

Last night we got takeaway dinner instead of cooking for the second time since we've been on the road. We stayed in a holiday park, complete with showers, laundry facilities, and internet access. I took a shower last night, and I'm going to take another one today before we leave.

 From here, we're heading out to the Milford Sound for a day of relaxation. From there, we'll make our way over to Mt. Cook National Park, then start working our way up the east coast of the South Island. We've been on the road nearly a month, and we'll be back in Tuateawa in two short weeks. Time goes so quickly.

So, yes, we got our multi-day backpacking trips. Two of them, actually, and we did them consecutively. It hurt, it was beautiful, and I'll never forget it. From here, I want to go see some cute, chubby penguins and climb a few more mountains. Don't worry about me, Mummers. That's the update!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Kepler Track

We finished the Routeburn/ Caples on Sunday morning, making it back to our van in time for lunch.  We ate, unpacked, and went back to Queenstown and the DoC office to check the weather to plan for our next adventure.  What's that?  Another break in the weather?  If we left the very next day, we could start the Kepler Track outside Te Anau, and we'd have good weather for the climbing day and the alpine traverse day!  Were we crazy enough to start another four day trip, after six consecutive days on the trail?

That's a stupid question.  Of course.

Here were the highlights of the Kepler Track:
  • Dave's turn to get sick.  He got it worse than I did.  He's still sniffling.
  • The alpine section of the Kepler wasn't as magnificent scenery-wise as the Routeburn, but I liked it even more.  Instead of traversing the ridge on the slopes, you spend a lot of time walking across the tops.  You get to see both sides and feel a bit of the exposure.  
  • The second night, we enjoyed really nice evening conversation with the other folks staying in the hut.  It was all young people:  Canadians, Germans, Aussies, a Brit, a Kiwi, and us Yanks.
  • We ended up doing the Kepler in three days.  The last day, it was supposed to rain and I hadn't washed up at all after nine consecutive trail days.  I was ready to be out of the woods.  We were going to combine the last two days (17 km x 2 = 34 km, or >21 miles), which was completely do-able, as it was through a flat river valley.
  • In the end, our last day was about 25 km/ 15 miles.  We came out at a different trailhead and hitchhiked back to the start.  Dave ended up getting a ride with some of the Germans that had been in the huts with us.  He picked up the van and then came to get me.
Here are my favorite pictures:

Monday, May 3, 2010

Routeburn/ Caples Tracks

After our long day in Mt. Aspiring National Park, we went to the Department of Conservation (DoC) office to check the weather, which would inform our hiking plans for the next few days.  Amazingly, it looked like there might be a good break in the weather!  We decided on the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand's “Great Walks,” with a return via the Caples Track.  We did a food shop, got a fuel canister, and arranged for trailhead transport...  four hour after deciding to go, we were on the trail!  It was awesome how everything pulled together.

We took five days to hike the Routeburn and Caples together (starting from the northeastern end to the west, picking up the Caples to the southeast).  Rather than a day-by-day account of all five days, here are the highlights:
  • I got sick.  On the first day, I could tell something was brewing.  I woke up in the middle of the first night with a fever and bloody, green snot on my hanky.  Uh oh.  I was really lucky:  Dave took all of my group gear, including food, and I was able to carry on.  I was only feeling unwell for two days.
  • We spent two nights in the huts with thirty-odd high school students.  They were part of an outdoor education class (New Zealand has outdoor education just like US high schools have physical education).  They were enthusiastic, well-behaved, funny kids, and their teachers, especially a guy named Ray, were very nice.
  • I didn't get rained on.  Considering the amount of rain that Fiordland gets, that was freakish.  The rains started late one day, after we had already reached the hut, and we managed to wait them out the next morning, setting off late for the next hut.
  • One night on the Caples, we stayed in a hut with three Germans, a Brit, and four hard-drinking, ribald-humor-loving, tough-guy Kiwi hunters.  I knew it was going to be a special night once the Kiwis started pushing the Jagermeister on us.  :-P  They reminded me a lot of the “type” of person you'd find in Upstate NY.  Made me a little homesick.
  • The Routeburn track was beautiful.  The alpine day traversed a ridge in full view of magnificent snow-capped mountains.
  • The Caples track was fun.  The fourth day of our trip we had a long descent through some pretty gnarly track.  It was covered in slippery tree roots with more unbridged stream crossings than I could count.
  • I had the most spectacular wipe out of my entire life.  It involved a very deep stream, a slippery bridge log, my hiking poles sinking waaaaaay down into the bog, a mad scramble for the muddy banks, and going knee-deep into mud.

Here are the best pictures from the trip...  not representative, just my favorites.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

That Was A Long Day, And Also KEA!!!

On Monday, May 3, we were still trying to figure out how to fit a multi-day trip into the poor weather.  We decided to do a “little” day hike in Mt. Aspiring National Park.  We walked up to the Rob Roy Glacier amidst the snow-capped mountains.  It was very pretty...

mt. aspiring, 3033 meters, in the center

...but if you've seen a bunch of snow-capped mountains before, it was meh.  It was great to put some miles on my boots, of course, but I was actually a little...  bored.  I know.  I'm in New Zealand, hiking through one of the most outstanding national parks, and I'm just not blown away.  Yet.

On the way up the trail, there was a sign warning against feeding the kea.  Kea are alpine parrots.  That's right:  these boys don't fly through the jungle.  They prefer the snow.  Weird, huh?  They have a reputation for being bold, curious, and rather cheeky.  They have learned to open zippers, so you can't leave packs unattended, and they also have a reputation for stealing part or all of boot laces (unfortunate!).  I was a little disappointed that I hadn't encountered one yet.

do not feed the kea

At the top of the trail, Dave and I stopped for a snack under the shadow of the glacier.  Dave said that he was a little bummed that we hadn't seen a kea yet.  I nodded and took a bite out of my apple.  My butt was getting cold, sitting on a rock, so I stood up to stretch.  Behind Dave:

"hullo, there!!!!!"


He was standing maybe a meter from us, looking right at us and doing that funny swaying thing that parrots do, staring at our backs while we were oblivious to him.  Once we noticed him and gave him attention, he circled us and came right up to us.  He was observing us as much as we were observing him.  He tried to pull some pieces of metal off a post.  He tried to beg for our food.  He tried to pull at my hiking poles.  He almost grabbed Dave's camera.  I was absolutely ENCHANTED.

"are you giving me something?  can i eat it?  can i play with it?"

Of course, we did not feed him.  The only thing he got was a little entertainment, and the only thing we got was a few pictures.

"i am such a pretty birdie!"

Oh yeah, the rest of the day.  We hiked down the glacier path, then out to the Mt. Aspiring hut, then back to the carpark.  It was a full day hike, about 26 km/ 16 miles.  A long day, but the kea made it worthwhile!

Hiking Around Wanaka & Updates

The torrential rains here on the west coast of the South Island have been messing with our hiking plans.  Parts of Fiordland have received a meter of rain in only a few days.  This is one of the rainiest parts of the world, but even a meter of rain has people saying that it's been a wet few weeks.  Many tracks are closed due to infrastructure damage (to bridges, huts, and trails).  The Milford track, which we hope to tramp in the next few weeks, has sections drowned in waist-high flood waters.

We got lucky, with three dry days.  We did a short half-day hike around Diamond Lake to Rocky Peak, and then we did an overnight trip to Fern Burn Hut on the Motatapu Track.  Here are some pictures and comments:

Now, a few updates...

(1) I just posted a bunch of stuff I had written previously, while I was still staying up in the Coromandel.  Posts from here forward will be about the road trip...  so no more auto-posts while I'm away from the internet.  If nothing appears here for a week or two, it doesn't mean I'm dead.  Just means I'm playing outside!

(2)  With any luck at all, we'll take off for a multi-day tramp soon.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the rains stay on the other side of the Southern Alps and the trails dry out.  Until next time...  onward and upwards, and happy trails!

It's Eel-ectric!

Once upon a time, Bexie was digging some juicy, dark, clay-heavy soil out of the mostly dried out duck pond muck to use in a salad green garden bed.

duck pond...  the upper few centimeters of earth are dried out and crusty, but the muck below is juicy, blank, and dense.

And then...  out of the corner of her eye...  she saw a large worm slither under the upturned soil.

A really large worm.

A REALLY large worm!

hint:  they're not worms

There were baby eels living in the muck of the dried out duck pond!  And not just one eel--in only a few minutes, we liberated a half-dozen from only the top 20 centimeters of soil in a square meter patch.  They thrashed about and were really difficult to grab until they dried out a little.  We forced them to slither into the mouth of a jug of water.  When we turned the water jug upside down and the contents went plop-plop-plop-plop into the creek, some of the baby eels just rested on the sediment for a while.  I reached into the water and ran a finger along its spine.   It was unexpectedly soft and oh-so-slimy.  Now I understand the saying, "slippery as an eel"...  it's descriptive and very true!

Jon postulates that the eels swam into the duck pond during the last wet season.  The last time Tuateawa had any rain of note was a great storm and flood in November of 2009.  This means that the eels had been in the muck for at least 4 months, and perhaps as long as 7 or 8 months!!!

When we got home, I cracked open one of our books about New Zealand natural history from our library.  I wanted to know how on earth these fish could live out of the water!  What I learned was more bizarre than I could have imagined.

(Begin eel tangent)

Bexie's Vegetarian Mushroom Gravy

I don't really like potatoes...  unless they're smothered in this gravy.  Rock on.
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1/2 c. diced mushrooms
  • 2 T. oil
  • 2 c. vege broth or water
  • 3 T. nutritional yeast
  • 1 vege bouillon cube
  • 1/2 t. onion powder
  • 1/2 t. garlic salt
  • ~3 T. flour
Saute onions and mushrooms in oil until soft, 2-3 mintues.  Add remaining ingredients, except flour, and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently.  Slowly add flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, and whisk thoroughly to combine.  Continue adding flour until gravy reaches desired thickness.

Apartments for Bugs

On the scale of bizarreness from "common housefly" to "outlandish freak of your nightmares," the puriri moth sits somewhere around "imaginative Hollywood creation."  It's the largest moth in New Zealand, with wingspans up to 15 cm/ 6 inches.  Basically, it's the size of a small bird!  Strangely, this gentle giant only lives 2 days.  Its mouth parts don't work, so it doesn't eat.  It lives in its adult stage just long enough to breed.

adult female puriri moth.  photo credit:  Tony Wills, 2007

Even though the adult form of the puriri moth lives for only two days, the caterpillar form can live for up to 5 or 6 years.  The grubs gnaw their way into a tree and form a little burrow where they will sit.  And sit.  And sit.

checking out burrows--occupied and formerly occupied--in a kohekohe tree.  it's like an apartment complex for grubs!

close-up of an occupied burrow in a putaputaweta tree in our backyard.  there's a puriri moth grub waiting in there!

close-up of an unoccupied burrow in a putaputaweta.  the grub has emerged as a moth, but the hole in the tree remains...

eventually, the tree forms a scar over the burrow.

Recently, a scientist caught on camera for the very first time a puriri moth hatching out of its chrysalis.  It's awesome to see its wings unfurling.  The footage is here.  I definitely recommend that you take a look!

Pigs Do Fly

This is the laziest bird I've ever encountered:

"i'm not moving.  you can't make me move."

It's a wood pigeon.  He was hanging out in a cabbage tree in our front yard.  I walked within 8 meters/ 25 feet of him and took a picture of him; he looked at me.  I walked within 5 meters/ 15 feet of him; he ate a few more berries.  I walked right up under the cabbage tree; he turned his rear end toward me.  I extended my hand and took a picture.

He pooped.

Fortunately he missed, but I was again surprised by how placid and nonchalant most New Zealand birds seem to be.  This is what millions of years of evolution without humans, much less any other land mammals, will produce.

"how do i look from this angle?"

Wood pigeons, or kereru in Maori, is beautifully colored in gem-tones of emerald, amethyst, ruby, and sapphire, with a cream white belly and a perfectly round, sunset-colored eye.  Very pretty.  They're quite large, and they seem like they'd be dense and heavy and very nice to hold in your lap, like a cat.  When they jump off a branch to fly, usually the branch moves and they do not, not until they flap their wings hard to keep their large bodies afloat.

But I'm not writing about kereru because they're cute, fat birdies, even though I do like me some cartoonishly adorable, chubby birds.

"and how about this?"