The Kaimanawas – Thunderbolt circuit (Dec 26-28, 2016)

This year we carried on our Christmas tradition of tramping, tramping, tramping as much as possible in New Zealand (even though these days we reside in Australia).  We flew into NZ on Dec 23 and had a couple of days with Dylan’s family on the north island.  Then, on boxing day we drove and picked up our mate (another kiwi who lives in Australia with us, but was also visiting family over Christmas) and drove south to start our first trip.  Due to the weather patterns this year (a La Nina weather pattern in NZ), there was a lot of re-shuffling of our plans.  We ended up doing our trips backwards from our original itinerary (the best laid plans in the world are all for naught if the weather doesn’t cooperate).

The Kaimanawas is an area that we have wanted to explore for some time.  Although there isn’t the same quantity of tramping in the North Island as the South Island of New Zealand, there are still a number of areas that we have wanted to explore, and the Kaimanawas was one of these.  Dylan picked out the most difficult route, a three day circuit up the Thunderbolt track, across the tops and down to the Waipakihi hut.

This trip was also my chance to try out a new lens for my camera, which I conned Dylan into letting me buy right before our trip, and a Dylan got to try out his brand new Osprey pack which I was somehow conned into letting him buy!


New pack!

Overall the trip was good.  After living in Australia for 8 months, I have a renewed appreciation for how lush NZ bush is and was able to see it through new eyes!


We did end up doing quite a bit more bush bashing than anticipated, as the track isn’t quite a complete loop and you will either need to road bash a few kilometers at the start or end of the track, or do as we did, and try to follow some old power lines from the substation (I do not recommend).  We then climbed up to Urchin, down to Waipakihi stream and intended to follow the thunderbolt track.

Well, just as an FYI, this track is not correctly located on the NZ topomap.  We followed the track as mapped, but just bushbashed our way up the hill for about 450m.  We did find these lovely old permalac markers to taunt us.


Infamous track marker

Eventually, we did find the track, about 150m lower than we were.  At which point we were totally exhausted (both myself and our mate were getting over some seriously nasty bugs, and our mate’s knee was absolutely done for) and nearly at the bushline.  We popped up above the bush and camped for the night.

Day 2 resulted in some pretty incredible near white out fog conditions.


Mist provides such atmosphere and views are over-rated.


Actually no, no they are not.

We ambled (or, in our mate, Scott’s case) shambled across the tops.  There was a bit of a route in some sections, and Dylan did an amazing job navigating us across the range.

At the end of the day, the weather had really cleared and we were treated to a most welcome swim in a perfect swimming hole just before reaching Waipakihi hut and becoming re-united with the official track.


Swimming hole

Day three dawned absolutely amazing – and we knew it would be our shortest day back to the car!  We had a pre-tramp swim (as you do).  And after a short climb up to the Umukarikari track, we were rewarded with some absolutely stunning views of Mt. Ruapehu.


Mt. Ruapehu

It was an absolutely perfect day with crystal clear views of Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe.  It’s views like this that make us get out of bed, put on a pack and start walking.  Simply stunning and there is no place I’d rather be.


This is what we live for

Writing this post makes me realize how much I miss NZ, the landscape, the mountains.  I don’t know that there is any place I’d rather be.

And if you’re wondering how Scott’s knee fared after 3 days, well it’s safe to say he was done for after this trip.  But Dylan and I managed to squeeze a few more days tramping in despite the odds being against us (it was an eventful holiday).

Happy tramping!


Mt. Feathertop (Oct 15-16, 2016)

Mt. Feathertop is not only Victoria’s second highest peak (1922m) but it’s also a great weekend trip (and our third such trip in Australia)!  There are a number of different approaches to Mt. Feathertop, however, we ended up taking the easy route (from Harrietsville, up Bungalow Spur).

There are a number of reasons for this.  Mainly, our mate brought his tinder date along.  I’m not even joking – a girl who had never met our friend (nor any of us), agreed to come along when he said he was going to “climb a mountain” that weekend.  Now, when we kiwis/appropriated kiwis say that we are going to “climb a mountain”, we mean that we are actually going to climb a mountain.…  not just go car camping of whatever it is other (normal?) people do.

Overall, she did great!  She was super fit and she essentially climbed most of Mt. Feathertop in heeled boots (not even kidding).  She only stopped at a point where the track was covered over with snow and it was actually quite wet, steep and slippery.  But seriously, points all around for going tramping in heeled boots.

For the rest of us, it was a great excuse to knock off one of the highest peaks around, see some snow, and remind our legs why we keep them around.


Walking up through some lovely bush


Amazing day to climb Feathertop


Snow covered ridgeline


No mate, no more tinder matches up here… (Just kidding, I think he was ringing his mum)

From Federation hut, it was maybe a 90 min return to summit Feathertop (even in snow).  We ended up returning back down the bungalow spur track to the car park, and helping out some fellow trampers by returning them to their vehicle (versus them plowing their way along the razorback to Mt. Hotham).  We’re always happy to help out fellow trampers because inevitably, we’ll be the ones needing a hitch someday.

Completing the rest of the razorback circuit is on our list of things to do.

Happy Bushwalking!

The Grampians (16-17 July 2016)

Hey readers – so I just found this post sitting in my “drafts” folder.  My apologies that I’m only getting around to posting it now.

So we’ve actually managed to get out and about here in OZ already. We’ve got some friends who are just as keen to get out amongst it as we are, so we’ve already started exploring our new corner of the world.

Given our new location, we decided to hit up the Grampians which is a classic Victoria trip, especially in winter (in summer it is apparently ridiculously hot and dry).

Day 1 consisted primarily of walking along what we would ordinarily consider a road, but was actually a track! This would be a great “intro to tramping” track. Nothing too technical or scary.  That also meant we were a teensy bit bored with the walk and scenery…  It’s possible that New Zealand has ruined us for all other scenery and we’ve become tramping snobs.

However, we still want to explore our new landscape, spend time with our friends here, and keep up our pack fitness.


What Australia considers a track to be

I was very excited to spot some Australian fungus. This one I’ve identified as Tremella mesenterica or literally “Yellow Brain”.


Tremella mesenterica


We also took in an absolutely incredible sunset from the top of Mt. Thackeray.  Definitely the highlight of the trip for me.  Mt. Thackeray is about a 1km 1 way trip which involved some actual navigation and rock scrambling (a welcome change at this point after road walking all day), and took us roughly an hour.  Well worth it.


Sunset from Mt. Thackeray


Can’t help but love this shot

Sunday we had a bit of a sleep in and late start.  The track was much more varied and interesting (more like a tramping track).  I enjoyed going past the fortress.  We also came across this fabulous campsite, literally called “bush oasis”.  It would be a very pleasant stay in autumn or spring, I think!


Bush oasis campsite


And finally, yes, we literally saw Kangaroos everywhere when we were walking.

Of course, one of the main differences between Australia and NZ tramping (apart from lack of Mountains and lack of water), is the wildlife.  There were literally kangaroos jumping through our campsite at night.  Yes, we continue to encounter wildlife wherever we go.

Happy tramping – er, or is it bushwalking now?

There are two types of people in this world

Dylan and I have been living in Australia for just over a year now, and it has definitely taken an entire year to adjust.

Mostly, things in Australia are great.  We both have good paying jobs.  The city we live in is quite cheap – our rent is very reasonable, we have a great cheap veggie shop nearby, and we’ve both been biking to work most days.

But there is one thing in our life that is missing:  Mountains.  Big, beautiful, pointy, snow capped, glacier covered mountains.

(And, yes, we really do know how very spoiled we were with the incredible access to tramping in NZ.)

So I’ve realized that over the 9 years I lived in NZ, I definitely became a mountain person.  So what is a mountain person?  Someone who thinks a life without mountains isn’t really much of a life.

I’ve also come to realize that while I’m a mountain person, there are also beach people – people who can’t imagine not living near to a beach.  It is estimated that roughly 85% of Australia’s population lives within 50 km of the coast, so I guess we know which camp most Australians are in.  I thought that once we moved to Australia that I could switch from Mountain to Beach person (I envisaged myself learning to surf)…  But after our first summer here in the land of Oz, I quickly realized that would never happen.  1) I hate salt water, especially in my eyes.  I actually have to wear goggles in the ocean and I look like a complete nerd.  2) I hate waves.

That pretty much rules out surfing.  I can do a bit of body boarding, but I will never be a beach bum.  Dylan, on the other hand, can spend hours on end frolicking in the ocean.

So yes, I miss the ridiculously easy access to fantastic mountains that I had in NZ.  I knew I would.  But I didn’t know it would be quite this painful.

Are you a mountain person, or a beach person?


Bryant Glacier (21st-22nd Feb, 2016)

Bryant Glacier

Described route to Sleepy Hollow (Blue) and our actual route around Bryant Glacier (Red)

Ever since I had read a trip report about Sleepy Hollow in 2013, it has been right at the top of my (very extensive) list of weekend tramps. Generally you are supposed to start in Kinloch, walk up the Glacier Burn, take a very steep gut up to point 1731, traverse the tussock bench, over the saddle at 1913 then down to Sleepy Hollow. The next day you descend the ridge to the east to the Caples River, walk out to the Greenstone car park and hitch a lift back to Kinloch. Simple right? I thought I would be clever and kill two birds with one stone and check out Bryant Glacier on the way. As you can see from our actual route my plan did not quite come to fruition, although it does rank as my favourite weekend trip.

Since this was supposed to be a reasonably strenuous off-track tramp, I decided to only invite reliably hardy people. So as a result, only Cleo come with us. We drove to Kinloch on Friday and spent the night in the campground to give us a full day to get to Sleepy Hollow. Saturday morning dawned slightly cloudy, however the warm breeze suggested that the cloud was going to quickly burn off and the day was going to turn into a typical Otago scorcher. After half an hour slogging up the road we got to the Glacier Burn track which turned out to be a nice leisurely amble through the Beech to the treeline. Now by this time the low cloud was lifting, but as we were climbing we still didn’t have a view of the valley. This was a bit of a problem, as I still hadn’t fully decided to go via Bryant Glacier and was keeping the original route as a back-up. By the time I had checked the GPS we had blown past the turn off to point 1731 which effectively made the choice of route for me.

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When slogging up the true left of the Glacier Burn we followed a scree ridge which, for the most part, made the climb was quite easy but gradually led us slightly away from the creek towards Point 2016. By the time I realised that we needed to get off the ridge and follow the creek more closely we had climbed quite a long way the ridge had turned into quite the incised gut whose sides were composed compressed gravelly scree, which was quite the challenge to traverse. After my small navigational hiccup, it was a straight walk to the outlet of Bryant Glacier. We got to the outlet 1-ish and thought it was a good time to have lunch. During lunch, while listening to the Glacier creak and groan and watching rock falls, the cloud finally burnt off and we got our first good view of the Glacier Burn Valley and the Dart River, it turned out the Glacier had shrunk much more than what even I was expecting, down to about a fifth of the size depicted on the map, with the ice just north of Point 2195 completely gone.


Bryant Glacier Terminal lake and newly exposed rock below Point 2195. (Note the patch of ice on the skyline was were we tried to access Sleepy Hollow)

After lunch and a bit of exploring, we started the very slow rocky climb up towards point 2105 in order to get above a couple nasty ravines. The plan was to skirt around 2105, as low as possible, and regain the original route. However, the ravines pushed us quite high into fairly slow going technical territory. By the time we crested the ridge it was getting to about 4 pm and we still had a quite difficult 300 m down-climb to reach the original route, with the distinct possibility that we were going to get bluffed. After spending most of the day climbing 1800 m we were also getting quite tired. So after a rest, some photos and a discussion about what we were going to do next I made and executive decision to turn around and head back toward Bryant Glacier to camp a tarn we had passed earlier.

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With some creative use of our ice axes as rudimentary shovels we had two somewhat flat patches of rock to pitch our tents on. After the tents were up it was still quite warm and I suggested a swim. Cleo joined me, but Rebecca was worried that it was too cold and she wasn’t going to warm up afterwards, so declined. Rebecca was right of course it was quite cold, and immediately after our swim the sun ducked behind a cloud and was then obscured by Mt Bonpland. Immediately after that, the wind picked up and it turns out that camping at 1900 m a cross from the glacier is cold, irrespective of how warm the day was.

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Despite not willing to go for a swim, Rebecca still wanted to get to the rocky outcrop in the middle of the tarn which was a bit to far to jump to. So I proclaimed I was going to build a causeway for her (chivalry is not dead). The girls thought I was crazy. I proclaimed that despite a ten-hour day there was plenty of gas in the tank. After spending the next half an hour throwing the largest rocks I could find into the water, in what was looking like a very futile attempt at proving my masculinity, I gave up and agreed that I was indeed crazy.


Trying and failing to combine chivarly with masculinity.

After a very chilly night we woke up to an amazing inversion filling the whole Dart Valley with Mt Earnslaw poking above the cloud. So the girls went crazy with the photos.

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I still hadn’t  given up on Sleepy Hollow as there was an alternative route via the saddle between 2195 and 2187. After scrambling up to the saddle we found that the map was slightly wrong and the south face was completely covered in ice. Ordinarily this wouldn’t have been a problem, however we had  left the crampons in the car. So after taking some more photos it was back to Bryant Glacier, down the Burn and back to the car.

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At Bryant Glacier I decided to have a swim in the terminal lake, which required me to smash through the ice to get to (I did say it was cold the night before). I knew it was going to be freezing so I rushed in and out as fast as possible. After I got out and was finished swearing over how bloody cold it was, both Rebecca and Cleo pointed out that my knees were bleeding quite profusely. Turns out that the hole I smashed through the ice was not quite big enough and that thin ice is very sharp and strong in the horizontal direction. Despite all this excitement I managed to convince Rebecca to go for a swim (Yay peer pressure!). Thinking this would also convince Cleo I asked her if she was keen. She is usually quite reliable however just looked at me as if I was crazy and laughed, so no Cleo.

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Rebecca went for a dip and, admittedly, made it look much more elegant than I did. Then she decided that we needed a couples photo in the water so it was back in for both of us with Cleo playing photographer. After that is was back down the Glacier Burn to the road. Halfway down the valley we  saw a group of day walkers near the bush-line, I decided to see if we could get a lift back to Kinloch our car. So Cleo took off into the bush to catch them while I stayed with Rebecca, whose leg problems were flaring up. By the time Rebecca and I got out of the bush Cleo was waiting for us with the car we piled in and headed back to Dunedin.


Heading back down the Glacier Burn

Freehold Loop and Black Peak (20th-21st Dec, 2014)

Black Peak

The route we took.

About a week before Christmas and our usual epic ‘new year tramping trip’ I had decided I still had not had my tramping fix. Rebecca was out because her legs were sore from the Kepler, but as I have no compunction leaving her behind, I enlisted my flat-mate Tim and two of our friends Devonia and Penny. As I hadn’t tramped with any of these guys before I decided on a high reward low effort tramp behind Genorchy which was previously the site of extensive mining. Apparently, the hills around Bucker Burn contained marginally economical quantities of Scheelite Ore, which is comprised of Tungsten. Tungsten can be alloyed with steel to dramatically increase its hardness and its resistance to stress and heat which is important for armour plating in ships and in shell casings. So the hill was extensively mined during World War One and World War Two when Tungsten prices were high and the operation was supported by the government. The end of the Korean War saw a decline in demand for Tungsten, however mining continued for a while in ever dwindling volumes until the seventies when the last miners just walked away leaving a lot of rubbish  and interesting machinery just lying around, not to mention quite a few open mines.

In order to maximise tramping time I usually prefer to drive to our destination Friday night and camp at the start of the track or at a nearby DOC campground. However, for once I wasn’t driving and Rebecca wasn’t with us, resulting in me being over-ruled, and we left early Saturday morning. Which, in this case, was fine as the Mt McIntosh Loop Track was only 8-10 hours in total. We finally  at the start of the track at 12 so decided to have lunch in the car park and after a bit of mucking around didn’t start walking till 1-ish. But seeing it was the longest day we still had plenty of daylight left.


Humboldt Mountains and Lake Wakatipu from Mount Judah Road.

About half-way up the mount Judah Road we encountered an abandoned ore crushing site and Tim found a big toy to play on. All the way along the Mount Judah Road we encountered open mine shafts mostly full of rubbish and water. We didn’t venture any further than the entrance as there were signs warning that the roof was prone to collapse.

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After about an hour of easy walking along an overgrown bulldozed road we came to the only river crossing on the tramp, which unfortunately wasn’t bridged. As it had been pretty dry and the river was pretty low I crossed without my boots on. After a bit of debate Tim, Penny and Devonia decided to follow my lead, which was largely successful apart from the fact that Devonia had tied her boots by the laces to the bottom of her pack. Due to Devonia’s Dutch inherited height this would usually be fine, however half-way along she stumbled and bent over just enough to dip her boots and only her boots into the river and they promptly filled up with water, which I found to be quite ironic.


Penny and Tim crossing the Buckler Burn

After the river crossing and putting on our boots the real tramping started, and the climb out of the valley and up to McIntyres Hut was ridiculously steep for a road. When we got to the hut we found that DOC had refurbished it six months before (thanks DOC!) and it made a great place for afternoon tea. While poking around the hut I found a propeller and chain which Devonia and Penny helped me to model.


Modeling a pimping propeller with my tramping bitches at McIntyre’s Hut

About 20 minutes after leaving the hut Tim realised he had left Rebeccas walking pole behind. So of course he had to go all the way back down to the hut to grab it. After rejoining us he breathlessly pronounced he wouldn’t make that mistake again. I personally believe he would just leave whatever he forgot behind. After about one and a half hours of continual slog up the hill we finally reached the McIntosh huts which were occupied the gang of juvenile Kea who looked like they were having a great time throwing around the mining detritus discarded near the huts.


Lower McIntosh Hut and the Humboldt Mountains from Upper McIntosh hut at sunset.

The larger upper McIntosh hut was interestingly rustic and more than serviceable for our needs especially after I found some deck chairs for us to sit on and watch the sun set behind the Humboldt Mountains. After reading through the hut book it turns the water tank had been installed only six months before when DOC was refurbishing other huts in the area which was quite fortunate as there was no nearby water source (the pond in the photo was full of diesel drums and mining rubbish). Apparently, many other people had been caught out previously and forced to go all the way back down to McIntyre’s Hut for the night.


Dinner with a view at McIntosh Hut.

The next morning I made an executive decision to climb Black Peak, as the walk out was only 3-4 hours and I have a policy of Tramping more than I drive. Between Mt McIntosh and Black Peak we passed the remains of a Hut which had completely collapsed into a pile of rubble (It was lucky we weren’t quicker up the hill the day before, as I had plans of staying there for the night). Black Peak was pretty straight-forward to summit as a four wheel drive track had been bulldozed nearly all the way to the top. At the top I was surprised to discover that, apart from in an airplane, this was the highest that Tim had ever been. We didn’t linger at the top too long as the wind was coming up forcing us to beat a hasty retreat back to the hut and our lunch.

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After lunch it was a simple walk along the ridge-line back towards Glenorchy. This was only somewhat complicated when Devonia’s knees packed in on the the steep downhill portion. At car we all agreed it was quite the successful tramp. All the good cheer was broken when Devonia checked her phone and found that her Grandmother had passed away the day before which made it the most uncomfortable drive back to Dunedin.

Credit for most of the pictures goes to Penny (My phone ran out of battery 20 meters from the summit of Black Peak)


Lake Wakatipu and the Humboldt Mountains near the car park.









Eldrig Peak, Fiordland (6th Dec, 2014)

Eldrig Peak

The route I took. (The DOC sign says 4-5 hours to the tops as long as you are fit and dont lose the track the whole round trip can be done in 6-7 hours)

So Rebecca had decided to do the Kepler challenge that year which consists of running the Kepler Track (60 km) in a day. This was kind of weird as the year before I had asked her if she wanted to walk it in a day it with the Otago tramping club and got a flat no. However in the succeeding months it went from a flat to a maybe to a grudging yes. Now with getting Rebecca to do something she doesn’t want to the trick is to suggest the trip, get a ‘no way’ then let it go. Now what will happen is that you have planted a seed and she will go away have a look at it herself and slowly talk herself into it. You can gauge how far she is to a ‘yes’ by casually suggesting the idea in the middle of a conversation about another tramping trip. Even better is to get someone else to suggest the trip, then she also thinks its not just one of my harebrained schemes. So she grudgingly said yes to doing the Kepler with the tramping club. We got most of the way around, bailing at Rainbow reach, which was the 50 km mark, cause we had had enough and the other 10 km is pretty boring. After finishing Rebecca grandly pronounced ‘that while the Kepler was a nice and rewarding walk doing it all in once made it unnecessarily hard and it was to be once off’. Fast-forward a month or so and Rebecca comes to me and grandly pronounces that she is ‘going to enter in the the next Kepler Challenge Race because she thinks she could actually finish and get a better time’, madness! (she clearly had gotten a dose of Type Two Fun).


Looking West with Borland Burn South Branch and Borland Road centre, and Mt Burns upper left.

Anyway, while Rebecca was doing the Kepler challenge I decided to knock off a peak in the Te Anau region by myself instead of waiting around for her to finish. After researching the area for decently high peaks within an hours drive and reachable in half a day, I decided on a traverse of Eldrig Peak just off the Borland road. So after seeing Rebecca off at the start line at 6 am I shot down to the  Borland road. The sign at the turnoff to the Borland road warns off non-4WD vehicles but, with a touch or trepidation, I ignored it and the road turned out to be fine. After parking and climbing up the side road, I had a bit of difficulty in picking up the start of the track which was a bit overgrown and had a few false starts. However, once I got into the bush proper the track was fine.


This bit was not as steep as some other stuff I have done. However, it was made considerably moretechnical due to the very strong winds.

When emerging from the bush and into the tussock the views were welcome however at the ground was quite boggy. Apparently, the month before, Southland had 2 meters of snow and twice the average rainfall, so it wasn’t too surprising. However, i was suprised by my GPS as apparently I was off the track by nearly half a kilometer, despite standing next to a track marker. So as note to others the track is wrong on the Topo map and actually heads towards point 1269. Once on the tops I had a decision to make, go directly to the peak via the right, but rougher route, or the left which is gentler but longer. Seeing as it was going to rain in the afternoon I decided on the right which, although shorter, was definitely not quicker. From 1415 to the peak I got continually bluffed and had to drop off the ridge and attempted to summit the peak via a very steep rocky gully directly to the north, which normally would be fine, however the wind picked-up and I seriously considered turning back, as one mistake would have seen me tumble 1000 m back to the road. However, a touch of summit fever and a fair bit of scrambling on all fours got me to the top.


West: Mount Burns and and Unnamed lake.


South: Southland and Lake Monowai.


North: Mount Titiroa. Note the sandy top sometimes fools people into thinking its covered in snow. (We climbed this the next year).


East: Takitimus and the small lake I walked past back to the car and, uncharacteristically, no, I did not go for a swim.

At the summit it was even windier so after a quick 360-degree photo and a selfie I called a retreat. The way back down via the South ridge was much, much, easier, more like a road actually. After swinging past the small lake I picked up the track and it was only a short walk back the car.


Eldrig peak from near the bushline. Note the craggy ridgeline to the left of the peak compared to the rolling right side.

Because I had wanted to be at the finish line to support Rebecca end her race I was worried I was taking too long and hadn’t stopped to rest or eat all day. However, my worries were unfounded and instead ended up waiting at the finish line, in the rain without a jacket, covered in mud for two hours. But I knocked off another named peak and got to see Rebecca successfully finish the Kepler challence so it wasn’t all bad.


The Wife. Stretching and stuffing her face after the Kepler Challenge (I reckon it was all just an excuse to eat lots of junk food guilt free).