Rabbit Pass (Dec 27-Jan 1, 2016)

I know, Dylan and I have been super slack about posting lately.  My apologies, and I promise we do have a good excuse which will come to light later on.  But for now, I shall share our latest epic trip to date: Rabbit Pass.

This was Dylan’s pick for Christmas this year, and somehow I finally agreed (after years of him suggesting it and me saying No!  I’ll never do it).  I think I only agreed after one of our more experienced OTMC members said we’d be fine.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, it’s considered one of NZ’s scarier and more dangerous trips (at the time of the trip, I was actually not aware of a very recent fatality, a lucky thing too otherwise I may have had second thoughts!).  Many people choose to do the trip with a guide.

We chose Dec 27 as our starting date, and had been watching the weather forecast obsessively the week prior.  Luckily, it was looking quite good.  Only on day of rain was forecast for Dec 31.  We planned the trip to take 7 days including a rest/rain day in the middle.

rabbit pass 1

Rabbit pass 2

Dec 26 we camped at the Cameron Road end, and met our companion Adrian on Dec 27 at 7:30.  We left our car at the car park, and drove Adrian’s car to Makarora to make our 10:30 jetboat.

We were dropped off at Kerin Forks on a stunning day.  We dropped our packs and missioned up to Lake Crucible, as Dylan and I had missed the lake when we did the Gillespie Circuit in 2012.  This was as good of an opportunity as any to try and tick it off.

Let’s just say you can do Kerin Forks to Lake Crucible and back in a day, but I don’t know that I’d recommend it.  It took us 10 hours (we think it’s about 28km) without packs.  And it was hot.  But we did it and I can definitely see that it would likely be a highlight of the Gillespie circuit.  All 3 of us were pretty stuffed by the time we had made it back to Kerin Forks.  Too stuffed to try to get over to the hut.  Instead we just camped next to the Wilkin (ohmygod so many sandflies).

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Swimming in Crucible Lake – first equal in our ranking of coldest lakes (tied with the Bryant Glacier terminal lake)

Dec 28 we had a bit of a lie in, and made our way over to the Kerin Forks hut.  On the way, Dylan and I stopped and had a much needed swim as it was clearly going to be another hot day.  Then we were off to top forks hut.  It took us a pretty solid 8 hours to get to top forks hut (from our campsite at Kerin Forks).  That included a much needed stop for a swim (even Adrian jumped in!).

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I’m told this is a native Greenwoods Orchid.  Pretty stoked to have spotted this little beauty on the way to top forks hut.

Dec 29 we had another day trip, checking out lakes Diana, Castalia and Lucidus from top forks hut.  This was another spectacular day, and we got away from the hut in good time to get some of the climbing out of the way before the heat of the day set in.  We made it up to Castalia in good time, having a nice long lunch and a much needed couple of swims in the spectacular lake.  Once again, even Adrian had a swim.

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Pretty massive avalanche observed on the way to Lake Castalia

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Dylan showing us how you really swim in Lake Castalia

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Team photo at Lake Castalia

We then wandered over to Lucidus via “the adventurous” route.  We ended up going down some pretty steep and rocky scree (especially near the top) which was reasonably exciting.  Once we made it down, we came across some beautiful flat mossy spots that would be perfect for camping (if one was so inclined) and were rewarded with some up close views of the glacier and a massive avalanche we had witnessed that morning.  We then had a deceptively long (~1 hour) trip boulder hopping around lake Lucidus to the outlet and intersect with the track.  Luckily, it was actually not very steep, and in fact Lucidus has some quite nice beach in spots.

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Descending a rocky ridge at the Northeastern corner of Lucidus lake

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I have to admit I found the green colour of Lucidus absolutely stunning

We then headed back down to top forks hut where we had some more swims, chatted with the 8 million people that were staying there/passing through to camp up near lake Diana/stoating etc.  It was later in the evening when 2 blokes who had attempted Rabbit Pass that day returned after an unsuccessful attempt.  They had gotten partway (maybe 1/3) of the way up the waterfall face when one of them became really freaked out and they had to turn back.  Rarely do I remember seeing someone who looked so afraid – and keep in mind this is after at least 3 hours of walking back to the hut.  We assume that they probably went the wrong way, but it certainly put some doubts in our minds.  I have no idea how experienced they were, but they didn’t look like tramping newbies, and they were reasonably solid lads.

Dec 30 was our “rest” day.  We got another early start and made it to the flats at base of the waterfall face at about 11:30 after a long and reasonably vigorous climb.  Luckily, we were able to observe a guy ahead of us climbing the face as we walked up, and he was conveniently wearing a bright flouro yellow packcover which allowed us to keep easy track of him and the route he took.  He was absolutely motoring up the face and we were impressed at the good time he made.

Meanwhile, we decided to have a very long and leisurely lunch (though truly all of us were a bit nervous so eating was kind of a challenge) while we studied our copy of Moir’s.  We then laid around and procrasta-rested and procrasta-packed our packs and then we finally had to walk up to the face and give it a go.  We had re-packed and adjusted our packs so that they were very tight on our backs (as per the guide we had met at Top Forks Hut’s recommendation).  I had also removed my camera which usually hangs off my front chest strap, and put it inside my pack as I suspected I’d want to keep my chest as close to the rock face as possible.

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The Waterfall Face

And then we were off.  To be honest, it was pretty straightforward.  There were more marker poles than we had anticipated (at least 5).  Also, there are a lot of foot marks in the dirt which makes the route pretty clear.  Dylan did a great job being pathfinder though!  I was also very pleasantly surprised that there were at least 3 or so places where we could stop and have a rest and even take packs off, which really helped to break up the climb.  Yes, it was a climb – most of the face is spent hanging on to short bits of grass and scrambling on all fours across rock face.  Yes, the last few metres is just that little bit hairier, but overall we found it to be just fine.  There were no tears.  No moments of panic.  Just concentrated climbing.  And then we were at the top!  Jubilation and group hugs all around (especially as Adrian had attempted the pass some 15 years ago but had to turn back due to poor weather conditions).

I think the reason we found the face straightforward and very achievable was the good weather conditions, more people doing the trip (making the track more obvious), better marking, all of us having a good head for heights, knowing what to expect (consulting Moir’s Guidebook, studying the map and route described), and experience.  Having done things like Waiua pass, Glacier Burn, Brewster Glacier, Mt. Titiroa, Lake Nerine (the three passes), Lake Mavis, Canyon Creek (the unnamed Lake above), and the Otehake meant that we had plenty of experience doing some high, steep, exposed climbing.

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Rabbit pass – Dominated!

Once we had recovered from our jubilations of simply arriving at the top, we spent some time taking in the scenery, taking photos and then went along to find a spot to set-up camp.  We pitched our tents, made some hot drinks and soup and had our celebratory octopus lolly (reward lollies are a key incentive for tramping)…  and then it started raining.  And it rained all night.

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Adrian is going to quit his job, and instead start a new career testing out $17 Warehouse tents in NZ’s most rugged backcountry settings

Finally, sometime in the early morning hours on Dec 31, the rain cleared and we were once again greeted with spectacular weather.  We had a reasonably slow start as we spent a bit of time exploring the Pearson Saddle and trying to see the west coast.

We also spent plenty of time taking in the spectacular Rabbit Pass (definitely not just procrastinating the descent, which we suspected would be even hairier than the climb).  It was pretty amazing.

The climb down from Rabbit pass is definitely an order of magnitude scarier than the waterfall face.  Climbing down steep, horrible, rotten, crumbling schist was not fun.  I can’t imagine how anyone who had trouble with the face would handle getting down.  Also, though the route down is clearly marked and we had some rope to lower our packs down, it was still very very tricky.  We spent ages trying to work out how to get across the worst bit – Adrian scouted out the route which eventually ended up being across a scary looking gut, a climb around a bluff, and then some more climbing down towards the next marker pole which appeared to need to be reached by a near impossible route.  Dylan lowered the first pack down (the rope got tangled, of course, and we just ended up throwing our packs off the ledge in the end – not recommended, btw).

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We have to go down there?  (the next orange marker pole is on the right side of the image)

We eventually all made it down, and our packs did too.  We did lose 1 ice axe (mine) and a walking pole (also mine) as they didn’t quite make it far enough and were in a rather unreachable gut.  The ice axe was a bummer, but I was truly lost without my walking pole.  I’m not going to lie, I rely on my pole heavily in uneven terrain, and especially that descent down to the flat.

Fortunately as we were making our way down, Matt and Craig (Auckland tramping club members who we met at Top Forks Hut) caught up with us and graciously lent the use of one walking pole (saved me!).  We ended up making camp with them that night at Ruth flat, and they taught us the joys of pics peanut butter sachets (didn’t know this was a thing until then!) and salami that has 200okj of energy per 100g (it’s pretty much a solid log of fat).  These 2 keen trampers/climbers were doing a 9 day link up of the Gillespie and Rabbit Pass.  We all went for a much needed swim at Ruth Flat, and celebrated NYE by running and hiding in our tents at about 8 pm when the sandflies finally became unbearable.  At least I finally achieved my goal of nearly 3 years – to spend NYE tramping (the rationale is that NYE always sucks and never lives up to the hype and so we might as well be tramping because tramping is always fun).

Jan 1 2016 dawned another spectacular stinking hot day.  We parted ways with Matt and Craig early in the morning (as they were much faster than us) as we tackled the bledisloe gorge track.  We reached the 1000m contour line and even though Dylan was keen to head over to the Albert Burn saddle and eventually Dragonfly Peak, Adrian and I had had enough (Adrian’s mat had succumbed to a sharp rock on Dec 30, and I had started thinking about burgers).  I maybe would have been tempted to go check out the Rock of Ages and Turnbull-Thompson Falls, but…  well, we can save those for next time, eh?

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Crossing the Kitchener Creek

In the end, we’d made the right decision.  IT was stinking hot!  We had lunch at Junction Flat next to the Kitchener river, and Dylan had to stop and “wallow” a couple of times to cool off.  About 40 min later, we had a prolonged stop as Dylan dealt with a bleeding nose (it looked like a small animal had been butchered next to the track after we left) – which we attributed it the heat.  It ended up being another 8 hour day and we were very glad we didn’t attempt Dragonfly.  What really saved us (me) was the swim in Homestead Creek next to the carpark at Cameron road.  There is nothing quite like being able to go for a swim at the end of a long, hot tramp.  It meant we actually felt remotely human when we drove into Wanaka looking for burgers at about 7 pm on Jan 1 (Wanaka on New Years Day – never a good idea but somehow it’s always where Dylan and I end up).

We then had to drive Adrian back to his car at Makarora, and then made our way back to Dunedin.  All in all, it was a pretty epic journey, and one that I’m glad to be able to say that I’ve done (considering the notorious reputation).

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Amazing sunset over Lake Hawea

Did you get up to any exciting trips over the holidays?  If so, please share in the comments below!

Happy tramping!

 

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Mt. Holdsworth/Jumbo circuit (Xmas tramp #2) Jan 1-2, 2015

Hello readers!  Yes, we did manage to squeeze in a fair bit of tramping over Xmas.  Although our original plan of doing the Thunderbolt track in the Kaimanawas fell through due to slightly iffy weather (and a lack of confidence on our part to navigate along the tops in cloud), we decided to start our Tararuas trip on Jan 1.

We rang in the new year in our wee tent in the Holdsworth Lodge camping ground just outside of Masterton.  For several years now, I’ve wanted to ring in the new year somewhere in the backcountry (last year it was supposed to be Welcome Flat Hut.  Sadly, we were rained out and the track was closed by DOC).  This year it was supposed to be somewhere in the Kaimanawas and we were rained out again.  😦  But in our tent in a campground (accompanied by some Lewis Road Creamery Chocolate Milk) wasn’t too shabby of a way to ring in the new year.  And there’s always next year, right?

The reason we chose the Mt. Holdsworth/Jumbo circuit is that in 2012, we did a modified version of the Southern Crossing which was pretty stunning.  That was my first foray into the Tararuas (though Dylan had been in with his Dad as a child) and I absolutely loved it – the old huts, the goblin forest, the steep knife edged ridgeline – honestly amazing.  Needless to say the Tararuas warranted further exploration.

Our original plan was to stay at Jumbo hut on Jan 1, then go along the tops via 3 kings or the Baldy track and descend into Mitre Flats hut.  But of course, Jan 2 dawned quite windy and admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of wind, especially seeing as how exposed we would be (Dylan, of course, being of sturdier build than I am, isn’t bothered in the slightest by wind).  So instead we had a leisurely descent out back to the Holdsworth Lodge campground, and then caught up with our friends in Wellington.  Such is tramping – being flexible and willing to alter your trip depending on conditions/abilities/level of comfort of other party members.

Trip map

Trip map

The track up to Powell hut is of a “great walk” standard meaning…  Stairs.  So.  Many.  Stairs.  Yes, it makes it easier.  But it also takes a bit of the excitement out of tramping.

Stairs.  Stairs.  Countless stairs.

Stairs. Stairs. Countless stairs.

It should also be noted that DOC has recently changed the booking system surrounding Powell, Jumbo and Atiwhakatu huts, so if you’re planning on heading to that area soon, make sure to do your research and determine if you need to pre-book your hut or not.  There was certainly a great deal of confusion about the new system among the trampers we met in the area.  At the time of writing this post, Powell and Atiwhakatu were booked huts and even provided gas, whereas Jumbo did not need to be booked and the gas was going to be removed (although luckily for us, there was still some there at the time!  Bonus!).

Mt. Holdsworth Trig

Mt. Holdsworth Trig

I think the highlight for me was coming across a fabulous swimming hole in the Atiwhakatu river on our way out – which was a very hot day.  It was clearly visible from the bridge (as seen in the photo below) and there was a little steep track off the side of the main track which led to it.  We weren’t the only ones there, so it was obviously a pretty popular swimming hole.

Swimming hole

Swimming hole

Anyways, Dylan and I hope to continue to explore more of the North Island’s tramps – we are definitely planning to do some in the Kaimanawas, Ruahines and Tararuas again as well.

Happy tramping!

The Tongariro Circuit (Xmas tramp #1) Dec 26-28 2014

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I hope you all had a splendid holiday.

Being a foreigner here in NZ, it’s pretty hard for me to celebrate Christmas in what I would consider the traditional fashion. Christmas away from family is always hard, but the lack of snow and general Christmas Craziness that accompanies Christmas in America, I have had to develop a new “New Zealand” Christmas tradition: Tramping, tramping and more tramping. As much tramping as can possibly be stuffed into a 2 week period, preferably tramps that are longer than 3 days, and more than 4 hours drive from Dunedin.

We had 4 tramps planned for Xmas with about a day inbetween each for rest (with backup plans and tramps in case of rain). We managed to get 3 of our tramps in, included 2 bigs ones, resulting in 10 full days of tramping over 16 days we were gone. Not too bad!

As Dylan’s family is based on the North Island, we thought 2014 would be a great year to tick of some of our North Island bucket list tramps. #1 being the Tongariro Circuit. We tried to do just the crossing back in 2013, however the weather simply didn’t cooperate. We just weren’t keen to do the crossing in fog and not be able to see anything.

So this year we decided that logistically it would be easiest for us to do the entire circuit. So we booked our trip back in August of 2014. We also decided to be budget, and tent instead of huts, and of course, do the circuit in 3 days instead of the suggested 4 (we skipped the night at Waihohonu hut).

Tongariro circuit Map

We started from Whakapapa village about midday on Boxing day, and literally 5 minutes into the track, we were given Kevin the Kiwi by a German family.

All about Kevin

All about Kevin

The first day’s walk was short, but the track was reasonably rough (lots of pretty major wash outs. I think it would be pretty interesting in heavy rain).

We were rewarded that evening with a lovely sunset and great views of Ngauruhoe.

Ngauruhoe at Sunset

Ngauruhoe at Sunset

Dec 27 was our “crossing” day. The DOC warden at Mangatepopo hut warned us that there could be up to 1500 walkers a day doing the Tongariro crossing/day walk. She also advised us about climbing Ngauruhoe – (2 hours up, 1 hour down) wear long pants, bring poles, wear gloves if you have them (to protect from Scoria) and climb up the rocky ridge on the left, come down via the scree slope/scoria and beware of falling rocks.

I think Dec 27 was one of those 1500 daywalkers days. Not surprising since it was the first Saturday after Christmas and the weather was perfect, but still, it was like a highway.

Last toilet - queues

Last toilet – queues

Climbing Ngauruhoe, looking out onto South Crater

Climbing Ngauruhoe, looking out onto South Crater

Climbing Ngauruhoe (2291m, aka “Mount Doom”) was definitely the highlight. It’s roughly a 600m climb from the track, and actually took us roughly 4 hours (we spent a good hour walking/exploring the crater rim). We took 2 fellow Australian trampers (and Kevin the Kiwi, of course) up with us, and shared a day pack with water and snacks among the 4 of us.

Seriously, if you’re going to do the Tongariro circuit or crossing, I’d recommend the climb to Ngauruhoe (before you go, ensure that you have good fitness, are comfortable scrambling on rocks at high levels, and are comfortable descending on scree. Mar-Oct you likely need an ice axe and crampons. There was still snow at the top during our visit). Seeing the crater honestly blew my mind.

You can also climb Tongariro, although it’s not as high, it only takes about 1+ hours and is a good alternative if you’re not up for the very steep scramble to get to the top of Ngauruhoe. We skipped Tongariro on this trip.

Dylan and I at Ngauruhoe crater

Dylan and I at Ngauruhoe crater

I wonder how many times Kevin has been up to the Ngauruhoe crater?

I wonder how many times Kevin has been up to the Ngauruhoe crater?

By the time we descended Ngauruhoe, most of the day walkers had gone and the crossing had cleared out quite nicely. The emerald lakes were another highlight, and although we could see Blue Lake from Ngauruhoe, we decided to skip the extra hour or so it would take to get there, and just head straight to Oturere hut.

This section of the track was another highlight. I felt like we were on mars – the volcanic rock was really quite interesting. I only wish I had been a little less tired!

Fascinating landscape.  Camera doesn't do it justice, as usual.

Fascinating landscape. Camera doesn’t do it justice, as usual.

We had our last night at Oturere hut, and were very pleased to be camping as the hut is teeny tiny but sleeps something like 26 people. Also, the hut warden there was particularly awesome.

On Dec 28, we (Ok, maybe just me) decided to say reluctant good-byes to Kevin the Kiwi and pass him on to our Australian friends to look after.

Good-bye, Kevin!

Good-bye, Kevin!

Our last day turned out to be longer than expected (funny that, when you condense 2 tramping days into 1). We had an awesome long lunch at the flashest hut I have ever come across. Waihohonu hut is brand spanking new, absolutely enormous and apparently comes with running hot water. Seriously. Are we tramping or what? I’m a little gutted we skipped that one out now, but alas. Live and learn.

Anyways, we had lunch with a couple who the night before, came up to us and asked if we had done the Milford last year (2013). We said yes. So, they too, had been on that same Milford track with us. I don’t remember talking to them, but apparently Dylan and I are reasonably memorable. Also, that was the track where we decided to do really flash food (steak, bacon, pancakes, cake with blueberries and whipped cream, you get the idea. So maybe we weren’t so memorable, but our certainly food was! And yes, I do still need to write that post.). Turns out they actually live in Melbourne, but she is a kiwi who also did her PhD here in Dunedin… NZ honestly gets smaller every single day. And apparently doing a PhD and tramping often go hand in hand. I’m gutted we didn’t actually catch their names… But maybe we’ll bump into them again on another track, you never know!!

We eventually slogged our way back to the Whakapapa village and were totally stoked to arrive back at the car.

All in all, this is probably one of the more interesting and different tramps that I’ve done. The volcanic landscape was simply amazing. It was also probably one of the most exposed tramps I’d done. Barely a tree apart from a small section between Oturere and Waihohonu hut! I was actually a little concerned about sunstroke, especially the day of the crossing. Of course, if the weather packed it in, you would absolutely be exposed to all the other elements and day walkers are notorious for being unprepared for cold weather on the track.

I also enjoyed pondering where else in the world you can get so up close and personal with volcanoes. Hawaii? Certainly, there can’t be that many places with tramping/hiking/camping around active volcanoes. Speaking of, Ngauruhoe used to erupt on average about every 9 years. Except, it hasn’t erupted 1974…

I’ll just leave you with that.

Happy tramping!

Green lake hut (May 31-June 2, 2014)

June 2 was the Queen’s birthday holiday here in NZ, so a 3 day weekend means TRAMPING! Dylan and I hadn’t done a tramp with the tramping club since May last year which is totally shocking/depressing/abysmal. Anyways, we went on this trip after finally getting around to purchasing annual backcountry hut passes (so at least until May 2015, we’re committed to doing as much tramping as possible).

I won’t bore you with all the details of the trip, only that I’m glad we did it as a 3 day trip. Tramping into a hut and then straight back out the same route is never ideal (read: boring). And if you manage to get some alpine time in there, even better! Our middle day – day trip from Green Lake Hut up to Borland road and along the ridgeline past Mt. Burns (some superfit members of our group did climb Mt. Burns, even with diminishing daylight) was definitely the highlight of the trip.

However, I should note that tramping is always a learning experience. Especially when you go with experienced trampers. As I have mentioned in past tramping posts, tramping in NZ is not without risk. Especially in winter. Sometimes snow is easier to walk on, sometimes you need a ice axe and crampons. Coming down from the ridgeline, we were faced with a lot of very icy snow (on the southside of a peak identified only as 1476), where crampons and ice axe were really a must. We came down with another party who didn’t have all the required gear – 1 of them had an ice axe and cut steps for the others. Most of our crew had both ice axes and crampons (however, I am neither experienced nor confident with this gear – something I still need to remedy). If you had done the walk without any of the proper gear, and come across that icy rather perilous descent (at about 3:30 in the afternoon in winter – meaning you only have 1.5 hours of daylight left), what would you have done? I honestly don’t know.  Going down without the gear would be crazy dangerous.  But going back the way you came meant hours of tramping in the dark…

Anyways from now on, I shall always tramp in winter with crampons and a torch (headlamp)! [I accidentally left my headlamp behind with our cars lying on the ground… fortunately it was still there when we returned on Monday afternoon!]. Diminished daylight hours is really the only downside to winter tramping (fewer people, fewer bugs, huts are extra cozy…  Mountain peaks are especially beautiful covered in snow – what’s not to love?!). Therefore I also learned how important it is to get a super early start (get out of bed before it gets light out so that you can be moving as soon as the sun comes up!) to maximize daylight hours.

Other people in the group learned the value of plasters, blister blocks, athletic tape (honestly, this is one of the most useful things to carry as a tramper). Actually, it was excellent to help other trampers out for a change (can you say “group bonding”?). Inevitably, someone in the group has a spare something that they carry “just in case”. I also learned that you can get powdered coconut milk and make a really delicious thai green curry in the backcountry without carrying much weight at all!

Overall, the trip was really excellent. The hut was BUSY – Saturday night there were 25 people (4 slept outside on the porch, 2 slept outside in a tent and at least 4 slept on the floor), and on Sunday night, 23. The hut toilet was not coping. Despite it being a newer long drop… oh the smell. I almost threw up Monday morning before we left. Not. Even. Joking. Usually, I’m not really bothered by these things (it’s tramping, be as hygienic and clean as possible [frequent use of hand sanitizer!] but also accept that you will smell and be covered in mud at the end). But in all honestly, I was dry-heaving. Oh, the glamorous side of tramping!

So now, some photos:

The side of me that has rarely been seen on my blog these days...  (aka, proof)

The side of me that has rarely been seen on my blog these days… (aka, proof)

Early morning fog lifting over Lake Monowai

Early morning fog lifting over Lake Monowai

Views of the southwest, below Mt. Burns

Views of the southwest, below Mt. Burns

MMmm...  tussock flavoured ice.  Delicious!

Mmmm… tussock flavoured Popsicle. Delicious!

View of green lake from the ridge

View of green lake from the ridge

The super glamorous side (aka, the reality) of NZ tramping.  Mud, mud and more mud.  Plus some mud.  Followed by walking through mud.

The super glamorous side (aka, the reality) of NZ tramping. Mud, mud and more mud. Plus some mud. Followed by walking through mud.

I've never seen as many mushrooms and types of fungus as I have on this track, it was spectacular for anyone who is a fan of fungi (which I am)!

I’ve never seen as many mushrooms and types of fungus as I have on this track, it was spectacular for anyone who is a fan of fungi (which I am)!

Green Lake Hut was a brilliant trip with several opportunities for daywalks.  I would definitely recommend it as a 3 day trip, if at all possible.  Oh, and beware the south facing slopes.

Happy tramping!

Please do not copy, use or distribute these photos without permission. Copyright of the author.

Cameron hut (Makarora) (Aug 2014)

So it appears that I am going to do posts in reverse chronological order…  LOL.

We didn’t get a ton of winter tramping in this year, but we we made our trips count.  We did a really excellent trip with fantastic weather into a wee 4 bunk hut near Makarora known as Cameron Hut (not to be confused with the Cameron hut in Canterbury, which is a private hut but also well worth a visit!). We spent Friday night at Boundary Creek Campground just south of Makarora, and walked into Cameron hut on Saturday morning. Despite the mere 6 km into the hut, it took us a good 6 hours (so embarrassing as track time is 5 hours!) with birdwatching (3 kakas, riflemen, tomtits, tuis, etc.); stopping for photos; taking our time crossing a number of steep, fresh, slips; getting lost for a good 30+ minute after crossing the river; and stopping for lunch.  We decided upon arriving at the hut that it wasn’t really a “newbie” track (though to be fair, experienced trampers certainly wouldn’t find it terribly demanding).

Frosted spiderweb - Makarora

Frosted spiderweb at the start of the track – I think this is one of the most beautiful valley in New Zealand and here it earns its reputation over and over again – near Makarora

However, it was absolutely worth it, as Cameron was an absolutely immaculate wee hut, perfect size for 4 people, with extra room on the floor. It also had an excellent woodburning fire, and tons of available wood. The hut is also not hugely popular which is quite fun – we were the first visitors since June 1st!

We hung out in the hut in style, complete with wine and cheese. We also took a number of ridiculous photos with the random antlers we found at the hut, as you can imagine.

Cameron hut - complete with antlers

Cameron hut – complete with antlers

The valley, looking back up to Cameron hut

The valley, looking back up to Cameron hut

There wasn’t a ton of snow, as you can see.  But enough to be interesting.  Actually, the snow was very old and had managed to grow some pretty impressive ice crystals, the like of which I have never seen before.

Sunday was especially picturesque – not a cloud in the sky! We had a nice lunch by the Cameron creek, and made sure to add some more rock cairns at the point where we got lost the day before (you cross the creek at an angle from the true right, and the track doubles back on itself in the direction of the true left after the crossing – rather counter intuitive).

You would think at seeing this sign we would have realized the track was farther to the right...  alas, we instead tried to go the way we "thought" the track should go.

You would think at seeing this sign we would have realized the track was farther to the right… alas, we instead tried to go the way we “thought” the track should go.

The drive home was especially beautiful in Central. We stopped off and got a number of great photos near Lake Hawea and Wanaka.

Mountains reflected into Lake Hawea on our drive home

Mountains reflected into Lake Hawea on our drive home

This tramp seemed especially awesome as we hadn’t been out since June. Also, our friend Chris accompanied us, and although we had never tramped together before, was an excellent tramping companion (being a zoologist who studies NZ birds, he certainly scored all the points on exotic bird bingo!*).  Dylan and I are gearing up and getting pretty stoked for the summer season. Here’s hoping we can get all the tramping in that we’d like!

*Just kidding.  We didn’t actually play exotic bird bingo.  Now go watch “The emperor’s new groove” so you know what the heck that was in reference to.

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Day trips from Albert Town (20-21 Sept 2014)

This past weekend we did some glamping (glamorous tramping) with our local tramping club. I call it glamping as we stayed in one of the member’s baches in Albert town (just outside of Wanaka) and even went out for dinner on Saturday night!

We didn’t know if we were going to even go on this trip considering the metservice had been predicting snow for Saturday, yet other sites said it would be fine. We decided to risk it anyways (we were staying in a bach after all) and started off from Dunedin at 6 pm on Friday night and stopped for tea at Subway in Alexandra. Funnily enough, the Otago university tramping club was also there having tea. Small world.

Saturday the entire party climbed Isthmus peak (1385 m). We had a rather inauspicious start by following the wrong track down into a small gully… *shakes head* We had a reasonably uneventful climb. A few people weren’t feeling very well. I was trialing out my new camera so spent most of my time at the back trying to catch up.

Eventually we reached the top and a bit of snow. Only 7 of our 13 actually made it all the way to the top of the peak. Those of us that did were rewarded with stunning views of Lake Hawea, Lake Wanaka and the neck. We took our time having lunch and I even got to try out my camera and remote control setting for the first time – with great success.

Top of Isthmus peak

Top of Isthmus peak

Lake Wanaka from Isthmus Peak

Lake Wanaka from Isthmus Peak

Saturday night we all rewarded ourselves by going out for tea to the kiwi classic, Speights Ale House, and then returning to the bach to watch New Zealand’s election results.

Sunday morning, despite our disappointment in the election, everyone decided to do their own thing. Four of us decided to tackle Roy’s peak (1578 m) – one of the more popular day walks from Wanaka. Most of the rest of the party did a strenuous 2 km hike into Wanaka to the cafes.

On our way up the mountain, we picked up 2 British tourists (easily identifiable in their NZ branded polar fleeces). They hung with us the whole way (as all of us were passed by a dozen or so very keen runners) and admitted when we got to the bottom that they probably would have turned back if we hadn’t been there. Considering it was the highest mountain they had ever climbed, they did very well! Especially considering we dealt out hours of travel and tramping advice!

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Lake Wanaka

Lake Wanaka from Roy’s peak with Wanaka township on the right.

Lunch at the top of Roy’s peak was rather breezy (however due to the close range to Wanaka we were all happily able to post to our various social media accounts from the top), and it was too icy and treacherous for us to repeat our jumping photo from the day before. Instead we picked a less precarious spot a bit further down.

Then it was time to head back to the bach to tidy up before our drive back home. All in all, an excellent weekend with amazing weather (the snow waited until we were back home to arrive!).

For future recommendations, Isthmus peak and Roy’s peak are very similar track and time-wise (5-6 hours return). I personally preferred Isthmus with fewer people and more interesting scenery. Dylan liked Roy’s peak better because he enjoyed seeing the track below from the top. But apart from that they are very similar tracks and both would be recommended on a fine day for anyone of moderate fitness. In summer, we think it would be hellish to climb on a hot day as there is no water or shade.

Happy tramping!

Gillespie Pass (April 2012) – where it all started

How did all this tramping madness get started, you might ask?  Because let me tell you, it’s highly addictive.  Now I know there are people who can’t imagine anything worse or more miserable than carrying a heavy pack over kilometres and kilometres of track.  I’m not one of those people.

Tramping is quite possibly one of the greatest joys of my life.  I LOVE it.  I came to NZ in 2007 and started tramping in 2008.  I started off with some of the popular tracks – Milford, Copland, Rees-Dart.  About 1 a year.  They all absolutely kicked my butt, but I still loved them.

Then Dylan and I started dating in February 2012.  What better way to test your relationship than going on one killer tramp together, right?

We decided to do the Gillespie pass over Easter (and my 29th birthday!) 2012.  Gillespie pass is a popular 4 day circuit just north of Makarora.  The weather was perfect – warm, it had barely rained in weeks (low rivers!).  Five of us started out for this epic journey through the mountains.

I knew it was going to be tough (58 km, not a great walk, , but I’ll admit I was still a bit of tramping rookie (1-2 tramps a year max) at this point.

Lets just say I learned a lot on that tramp.  If I did the Gillespie again, I would do it totally different.  But hindsight is 20/20, isn’t it?

Amazing views on the Gillespie

Amazing views on the Gillespie

Dylan, in his underwear, in the snow, going over the Gillespie

Dylan, in his underwear, in the snow, going over the Gillespie

The first thing we learned early on was that the heat is not our friend.  Well, the heat is not Dylans friend.  Our first day was hot and long.  We knew day #2 (going over the Gillespie pass) would be the real killer (you climb and then descend 1000 m), so we got up ridiculously early on day #2 and set out to do most of the climbing before the heat of the day (it was still hot enough that Dylan did most of the climb in his underwear.  Just his underwear.  Not only that, but New Zealand is a small enough place that inevitably Dylan ran into someone from his department while he was tramping in his boxers.  Typical.).  Now day #2 is 12 km and supposed to take 6-8 hours.  I think it took us 11.  😦  We were fine getting up to the pass, it was coming down where we became absolutely stuffed.  It was hot, there was no water, and Dylan was on the verge of heatstroke.  We were saved by the tiny amount of crusty snow that lives at the top of the climb all year round.

But we learned!  We learned critical things.

  1. A heavy pack is your worst enemy.  Pack light.
  2. Always carry hydration salts.
  3. If you’re carrying a tent, you’re stuffed, and you come across an excellent camping spot – just stop.  Don’t keep going to the next hut just because.  Undoubtably it will be filled with a million loud children.
  4. If there is the option to jet boat out, don’t be cheap.  Just pay the $85 and save yourself 27 km of walking through farmland.
Looking back up the Wilkin valley

Looking back up the Wilkin valley

So day #3 we were so stuffed most of us didn’t make the day walk up to crucible lake – aka the highlight of the trip.  Day #4 was a horrible 27 km slog out along the Wilkin river, watching every single other person zoom past us in a jet boat.  Jerks.

Jet boats passing us along the Wilkin

Jet boats, zooming passing us along the Wilkin

I know, it sounds amazing (amazingly agonizing) right?  Dylan loved it so much, we went on another tramp later in April with the tramping club (a much, much easier one.  Just into the Greenstone hut and back out again).

If I were going to do the Gillespie again, I would definitely take a tent so that I could camp either just below the alpine area of coming over the pass, or down at the bottom of the valley where the track splits of to crucible lake (and saving you from having to backtrack the next day).  I would also absolutely pay the ridiculous $85 or whatever it is these days to get jet-boated out.  Live and learn.

Happy tramping!  Read more about the Gillespie circuit here.