Thursday, 17 April 2014

Tongariro Short Walks

January 2014

Based out of WTMC Ski Lodge, Whakapapa Village, Tongariro National Park

Team: Me, Mark, Spike

For some insane reason, after the success of the club families group gourmet weekend, I suggested that we should organise for the lodge to be advertised open over summer, and manned for a couple of weeks as a "drop in for wayward trampers". Which, of course, meant that I had to be there for a period of time.

After a week in Nelson, we had a long weekend at home (which included my mothers 50th birthday party) before heading up to the lodge. The weather report wasn't fantastic, but the day was glorious for our drive up - including the diversion up State Highway 4, which was a road we had never been on before.

The lodge was silent when we arrived. We were the only people scheduled to be there, quietly hoping at least someone would come join us. The space felt massive, even though we only used one bunkroom and one bathroom.

Tuesday morning, the weather was fine. Awesome. Time to get out and enjoy it. We opted to go and do a couple of short walks, to fit in around Spikes naps. We even picked things we hadn't done before.

Mounds Walk - very easy. Basically flat till a set of stairs up to the top of one of the volcanic mounds. Given you have only just started driving, or are nearly at your accomodation, I can understand why not many people bother with this one. Its interesting from a geography perspective, and you get a gorgeous view of the mountains from the top of the mound, but its also not a big deal.


Tawhai Falls Walk - slightly more difficult, and although it suggests its shorter than Mounds, it seemed longer. There are two down and back options to view the falls from near the top, and from all the way down in the water at the bottom. The falls are beautiful and well worth the visit, I am astounded at having never bothered with these before. How did we not know these were here? That said, there are MANY old former tracks splintering off from the main track, and I can well imagine some silly tourist ending up getting lost by trying one of them when not paying attention.

Above the falls

In the afternoon, we went exploring around the top of the Bruce. We have always driven straight up the main Bruce Road, and parked somewhere at the top or down the side, so neither of us really had any idea about the lodges on the other side of the road. We followed the 4wd track from the side of our lodge, down through past Scouts and dropped out below the top day parks, before heading up the down loop, to the cafe, and up past some of the lodges directly above the cafe before dropping on to the 4wd track again and coming home.

Up and away

Wednesday the weather was awful. Misty, almost zero visibility. We spent 95% of the day in the lodge, only venturing out to go for a swim at Tokaanu. Which was a bit of a mission with getting a 9 month old 5 minutes down to the car and back.

Two days at the carpark

Thursdays weather came and went. We had snow showers outside the lodge in the morning, then it cleared and we went for a quick walk to Meads Wall, heading home when it started hailing. The hail got heavier once we were back, and then we were treated to a gorgeous sunset.

Taranaki Window

Friday it was time to head home again. Of course, the weather had cleared. So we took advantage of it, and pushed out Spikes naps in order to take him in to Mangatepopo Hut. Parking was difficult as it was busy and we were a bit late heading in (and we had a short disagreement with an American girl about carpark reserving when there was no sign of a car). A helicopter kept buzzing overhead for track work, and it felt really odd being so disorganised and wrongly dressed (jeans and t-shirts with sneakers). We figured we were only going 20 minutes in, and were still early enough in the day that if anything happened, help would be easy to find.

Mangatepopo Hut

After a quick morning tea, it was back to the car and home via lunch in Hunterville. An awesome week, really, even if we did suffer from a bit of cabin fever with the bad weather and lack of company!

Monday, 20 January 2014

Gourmet Lodge Weekend

9 - 11 August 2013

Whakapapa Village, Tongariro National Park

Team: Mark, Spike, Me, and 29 others

This was a highly unusual trip to the lodgefor us. For starters, Mark and I had a 4 month old with us, second, we were going on a weekend full of other children.

Also, there was the awesome fact of it being a gourmet weekend.

We left Wellington as Spike was due his nap, just on lunchtime. After stopping at Z Mana, and debating McDonalds for lunch there, we decided to keep heading up the road instead since Spike had just fallen asleep.

Eventually we had lunch in Levin, followed by afternoon tea in Taihape, and a very brief stop just south of Waiouru with the sun setting over the mountain looking glorious. The drive west from Waiouru was challenging - straight in to the setting sun at times. We arrived at the lodge about 6pm, just after sunset.

A new Cafe experience Sunset over Mountains

Feed and bed for Spike, then dinner for us before the rest of the families arrived by van at about 9pm.

Saturday morning dawned clear. Dammit. I was in charge of the cooking for dinner during the day, and that was going to take most of the day and I was hoping to have plenty of help - especially with Spike having a cold that was bad enough we considered not going away.

By the time we had finished breakfrast, cloud was coming over the top of Pinnacle Ridge. The snow cover was already awful, and the weather report was average, so Mark agreed to stay in the lodge rather than waste a whole days pass on what looked to be a half days skiing.

Cooking started. By lunchtime we had much of the preparation done. The casserole (Beef, Onion & Guiness) was in the oven already, the pumpkin soup in a pot on the stove, cheesecakes were setting in the fridge and one set of bread was also in the breadmaker for turning into pull-apart garlic breads.

People started to arrive back in the lodge, having given up on skiing because of the weather. Spike was the centre of attention for some of the other kids, with his portacot setup in the lounge for his naps. More people started also helping with the last bits of dinner prep, as I abandoned plans to do potato dumplings and scones, instead simplifying the 5-course dinner ever so slightly.

We started dinner with standard lodge nibbles at about 4pm, followed by pull-apart garlic breads (BAM, and the bread was gone), before serving mains at just on 6pm, and dessert just after 7pm. The food went down a treat, and it was lovely to get so many positive comments.

Through the window

Mark and I joined a few others for a few rounds of 5-handed 500 (no scoring) once Spike was in bed, before heading off for an early night ourselves. Breakfast in the morning was awesome, mini mushroom and egg pastries, apple danishes, loads of bacon. Even better, it was all cooked before we got up!

The weather was awful, however. So we packed up, and as Spike was due to go down for his nap, we loaded him down to the car and headed home, via After Hours for Spikes wheezy cold.

Finger food: As usual for lodge. Carrot and celery sticks, dip, crackers, cheese and pickles.
Entree: Pull apart mini garlic breads
Starter: Curried Pumpkin & Kumara soup with Sourdough bread
Main: Beef, Onion & Guiness casserole with mashed potato and veges
Dessert: White chocolate & berry cheesecake with ice-cream

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Spikes First Hut

27 December 2013

Abel Tasman Coastal Track

Team: Mark, Spike, Me

Mark and I decided to have the first part of our summer holiday (Christmas through to nearly New Years Eve) in Nelson this year, catching up with old friends of ours and their new baby, and hopefully doing some walks. We opted for a kitchen cabin at the Richmond Top 10, rather than a tent site, simply because Nelson has a reputation for getting some heavily stormy weather around Christmas, and tenting with a 9 month old in bad weather was not high on our "to do" list.

Mark had really wanted to stay at Tahunanui, as he had a strong connection to it from family holidays there as a child, but it was full up by the time we decided in July that we definitely were going away.

Various forces conspired against us, and instead of the 3 or 4 walks we had originally hoped for when we booked, we only got in one. So we made it a goodie.

Spike was up early, which for once was a blessing. Popping him in the car at exactly the time we wanted to leave for Kaiteriteri, he was asleep almost as soon as we left the campground.

Split Apple Rock

We grabbed tickets to Anchorage from the booth at the carpark, sorted sunscreen on everyone, checked we had everything and boarded our boat. Spike played with another young boy on the boat up to Anchorage, which was lovely, and helped keep him occupied. After dropping off a couple of groups at various lodges along the way, we arrived at Anchorage about 10.15am, just nicely in time to give Spike some morning tea on the deck of the hut before we headed off for a walk.

Anchorage Hut

We decided (since it was basically bang on low tide) to take the low tide track over to Torrent Bay for an early lunch before catching the 1pm water taxi back to Kaiteriteri. The climb up and over the saddle was quick, and walking through the cool water of Torrent Bay estuary was wonderful on a warm, sunny day.

Eating Sand

We had lunch on the beach, before heading back again the same way. We debated trying to find the track for Cleopatras Pool from the low-tide crossing (and therefore take a later water taxi back), but opted instead to return as planned before Spike got grumpy at being up and about for so long.

Our water taxi ran late, so we got to spend a good half an hour chilling on the beach at Anchorage, waiting. Shame we had no umbrella as there was no shade! Spike (again) didn't like the sand or the water at the beach, but was happy to be held while we stood in the water cooling off.

Unsuprisingly, he fell asleep as soon as we were back in the car. Highly successful!

Hut Bagged: Anchorage Hut, Abel Tasman Coastal Track. (0 nights). Mark / Spike first visit, Amelia 3rd or 4th (although first time at New New Anchorage Hut)

Anchorage Beach

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Still here!

Dont worry, I haven't forgotten this blog!

I've been busy with my now four-month old elf we will (on this blog) call Spike.

In the background, I've been slowly working on some updates to my hut book. We also went for a day walk to Zealandia when I was 38 weeks pregnant and barely able to walk, which was still lovely. Right now we are preparing for Spike's first visit to the snow. Should be fun, and I promise to write it up soon!

Sunday, 26 May 2013

History in action

28 December 2012

Hapuawhenua Viaduct, Old Coach Road, Ohakune

Team: Mark, Me

We decided to head to Ohakune for a couple of nights between Christmas with my extended family and a New Years visit by Marks parents. Our last chance to have some time to really relax and have a holiday that was just us, sans baby.

The only plan we made was to stay at the Top 10, where we have stayed before. Its a lovely place, and we recommend it to anyone. Other than that, we would do what the weather made us feel like doing, even if that was spending most of the day in bed.

The weather was indeed pretty rubbish for most of our time. It either rained or threatened to rain. After a "daytrip" to Taumarunui for lunch (tip: dont bother), the next day was forecast thundery showers in the afternoon, so we got up at a reasonable time and went for a walk up to the Hapuawhenua Viaduct in the morning. Its a track I saw in Wilderness Magazine ages ago (and I remember the bridge being talked about when I did the Overlander train trip all those years ago) and have wanted to do ever since.

Old Viaduct New Viaduct

There are options to be driven to the far end of the Old Coach Road track and mountain bike all the way back, but with my balance being a bit precarious, we opted to walk in and back instead after some consultation with the local i-site about the track.

After stopping in at the supermarket to buy the makings of bread rolls for lunch, we headed the couple of kms out of town, parked up and got started.

At 28 weeks pregnant, the climb up to the viaduct felt long and steep, but coming back I realised it really wasn't. The signs and I-site had indicated a return walk should take about 2 - 2.5 hours including a lunch stop, so we felt we did pretty well getting up to the viaduct in under 1.5 hours. The track is largely exposed, so with the muggy weather, the going was pretty warm and I seriously wished I had managed to find a better pair of shorts before we went away on holiday.

Thankfully Mark was carrying the bag, and there were regular information panels I could use as an excuse to stop at on the way up the hill. We decided to visit the old tunnel on the way home, figuring that if the weather did come in, we would rather have already had lunch before it did. The track up and around the hill is through some lovely bush, and is much more narrow as it is not the original Coach Road (which you can still see some of the old cobbles of as you are walking it). Eventually, it drops down under the current Main Trunk Line bridge before popping up next to the old bridge.

Trail Marker Green

A massively long picnic table at the far end of the old viaduct makes a wonderful lunchspot, and the toilet was remarkably clean. We had ham and cheese rolls, fruit and a bottle of juice to share as lunch and debated whether to stay and wait for the Overlander to come through. We eventually decided not to, and started walking back, this time stopping in to walk in and back the old tunnel.

Old and New in curves
Curving gently away Spirit Level

About 2 minutes after we passed the last spot where the main trunk line could be seen, the train went through. Oh well. After that, it was a nice walk back down the hill in increasing heat to the very warm car in the very full carpark. A stop at the supermarket for ice-creams later, and it was time for a hot shower and a nap to round out the afternoon.

I highly recommend that anyone visiting the Ohakune area either walks or mountain bikes the Old Coach Road trail. Its family-friendly, and really quite interesting.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Beacons and Bollocks

Mike over at Windy Hilltops has been recently talking a bit about the excessive selling the media has been doing lately of "Always carry a beacon".

Now, while I agree that if you can access one, they are a good thing to take with you on any trip, I am getting a bit tired of this new "tradition" that has appeared of publically berating people for not having one when 12 months ago they would have been credited with doing everything correct. Not everyone can afford to buy one, not everyone really needs one, and they are not always available for hire.

For example, we have this article in the Dominion Post:

Three Lower Hutt women missing in the Tararua Ranges have been found after spending two extra nights in the bush.
The Palmerston North Rescue helicopter located the 55 year-old woman and her two daughters aged 18 and 21 at 10am at the Island Forks bivouac.
They were airlifted back to Levin where the 18 year-old received medical treatment for a minor knee injury. The women were due back from an overnight tramp to the Waitewaewae Basin on Sunday, but took shelter at the bivouac after the daughter hurt her knee.
The injury and the high level of the river stopped the group from completing the tramp. Search Coordinator Constable Kevin Dalzell said police were notified by the woman's husband late Sunday evening when they did not arrive home.
"While the group had good clothing, shelter, a cellphone, and food, they did not have a personal locator beacon or a mountain radio which are crucial to take when you're out in the bush. There was no cellphone reception where the group was located and they would have had to climb some distance to get reception."
The older woman is an experienced tramper while her two daughters have limited tramping experience, he said. "It was a good call by the women to stay on the track under shelter until they were located."
The search covered a large area from the Waitohu Valley Road, through to Mount Thompson and the West Waitewaewae River, down to the Waitewaewae Hut and back up to High Point Mick.
(Bold emphasis mine)

I'm sorry, but calling a PLB "essential" in situations like this is a bit ludicrous. The women had found shelter, and appear to have been waiting out a drop in river levels before probably attempting to get themselves out. They had left what appears to be substantial information with someone who raised the alarm. The injury was "minor", and it does not sound like it had become a life-or-death situation yet, although they might have started running out of food. (In fact, a later article suggests just that).

In fact, in this situation, the "experienced" tramper (the Mum), was a former Search & Rescue member (according to articles). If she went out for a weekend with no beacon, but was still confident she would be found when something went wrong, then she seems to have done a lot right.

I have seen many situations recently where, yes, carrying and setting off a beacon was a good thing. And similarly situations where the person involved should have carried a beacon or similar - although in that case, the runner did a lot else wrong, like going a different route to intended, keeping going when lost, and taking no other emergency equipment. In fact, he was lucky to find a hut, which gave him knowledge of where he was again so he could get out.

Mark and I sat down and discussed the situation these women found themselves in and we agreed, if we had been in this situation and WERE carrying a beacon, we still most likely would not have set it off until it became VERY obvious we couldn't get ourselves out and / or we were completely out of food. But then I guess I wouldn't particularly be expecting SaR to be out the morning after I became overdue, especially if it was known I would be across a river that might have flooded in the rain we have had - so you then have the debate of "If SaR are likely to be looking for you, do you set the beacon you have off to tell them where you are, or do you opt to NOT set it off in the hopes they realise its not that urgent?"

For anyone who has read any of my back-stories, you'll recall a tramp we did where a beacon was set off for what was probably a similar injury to the one in this story (funnily, in the same river catchment, just much closer to the road). In re-hashing that trip and the situation, Mark and I concluded that if we were now leading it, we would probably not set off the beacon - something that was only done because it was the old 121.5 beacon, whose batteries were 10 years out of date, and the frequency was not being monitored soon, so may as well try - instead relying on the two people we had sent out to the road end to "raise the alarm" and let SaR then decide how they wanted to evacuate our punter - whether they thought they could walk her out, since we were only a couple of hours in from the road end, or if they would send in a helicopter anyway.

Yes, that would have meant a couple of hours extra waiting for the helicopter to arrive, or possibly 4 or more hours for a walk-in party. But (like the three ladies rescued this week), we were not in a life-or-death situation. Unlike the ladies, we had enough members of our party to spare two to walk out together and we didn't have a high river to cross. We had emergency shelter, and it was only soon after lunch on Saturday, so we still had the better part of two days food. We also knew that at least 6 other tramping club members would be coming through our location the next day - these are all things that a PLB cannot transmit to SaR.

With a modern beacon in hand, in the same situation, with the same kind of party, I would not activate it. Simply for the fact I believe that, other than life-or-death situations (where a beacon still might not get you a chopper fast enough) beacons should be used in situations where you cannot rescue yourself, and / or cannot walk out to get help in a reasonable amount of time.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Glam Tramping

02 - 04 November 2012

Queen Charlotte Track (Ship Cove - Endeavour Inlet)

Team: Mark, Me

Yes, this is the first post I have written here in a -VERY- long time and I am sorry! To be brutally honest, I've only done two tramps since January, what with going to Europe for six weeks and then coming home pregnant.

I decided I wanted to do something a little different for our 2nd wedding anniversary, and given the hellish time we had been having in the preceeding weeks, Mark took very little convincing, since it was something I was (for once) enthusiastic about.

Roll on Friday night and a ferry sailing for the first time since January. It was reasonably calm and quite quiet. The only bad thing was I went to get dinner too early and wound up with less options, but at least I found something to eat! The ferry ran a little late, and by the time we had collected our bags and walked to the Mercure (oddly actually about the cheapest place in town that offered private rooms), their front door was locked as reception was closed. Thankfully the staff hadn't left yet, so they let us in and got us checked in.


Saturday morning, and unusually for a tramping trip, we dressed in "normal" clothes so we could head down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. It was ok, but we were both left wishing there was something more akin to a McDonalds in town to get a second breakfast at. We headed back up to our room to get changed and finish packing before checking out and walking the two minutes to our water taxi.

A bit over an hour later, after a water taxi ride that more accurately impersonated an extended rollercoaster, we are delivered to Ship Cove in damp, breezy conditions. Leaving our overnight gear on the boat to be delivered to the nights accommodation seems almost sinful, but so good at the same time. We figure there is no point in rushing out of Ship Cove, so take our time using the toilets and making sure my pack is well adjusted before starting the grunt up the hill.

Starters orders

Once we got to the top of that first climb (Lookout Point), things got markedly easier. Apart from moving very slowly down some wet clay-based steep bits, we made really good time all the way to Tawa Saddle, including having stopped for lunch. We were in and out of raincoats all day till Tawa Saddle when it started really raining, and turned southerly with a vengeance.

Lookout Point

Cnoc Na Lear guesthouse was further along Endeavour Inlet than we had expected, and so getting to it seemed to take a *really* long time, especially since I had started to get sore / tired hips coming down from the saddle. But we made it, our hosts were wonderfully welcoming and the room was immaculately presented. I threw myself straight in a nice warm shower before getting dressed again and lying down on the bed for a nap. We had opted to have dinner provided, and it was lovely - both the food, and because it meant we didn't have to cook (but there were 4 hotplates, a toaster, jug and microwave in the room, so you could cook if you wanted). The owners cat came to visit several times, and earned the nickname "unimpressed cat" when we put it back outside, as it sat there staring at us for a while.

After an evening wander down to the wharf, we had an early night. It was amazing how dark it was. I guess thats what happens when there are no street lights. I know its something I'm used to from tramping, but it was so surreal to experience when staying in a hotel-like setting!

Man Alone Our Wharf

In the morning, we had a relaxed breakfast, paid our hosts, packed up and went for a cruisy wander around to Furneaux Lodge for a drink before our scheduled pick-up. We had planned originally to walk around to Punga Cove, but the afternoon pick-up risked us missing our ferry home, so we settled for a morning pick-up instead, deciding to see if we could get on an earlier ferry.

Curl Lots of little droplets  Sun bathed wharf

The walk was just what I needed to ease the muscles from the day before, and it was lovely walking in the sunshine with close to no breeze. Sitting on the deck of the restaurant at Furneaux with a nice glass of OJ was a treat too. Once back at the guest house, we changed back into town clothes, and our wonderful host put our packs on his 4x4 to take down to the wharf for us. Our water taxi was a little late, but at least conditions were smooth this time!

Seal Wave

We made it to Picton with just enough time to ring the Bluebridge and ask whether we were likely to be able to get on to their earlier ferry. Thankfully we could, and even better, the shuttle over to it was due to arrive at the water taxi berth within about 5 minutes. Just on an hour later, we were on the ferry, heading home (and I have vowed to do everything I can to avoid the Santa Regina in the future. The vibrations, for over 3 hours! I wound up having to put my head on Marks knee and sleep to fend of the migraine-strength headache that was trying to arrive).

So, final thoughts on "glam tramping"? I love it. Seriously. And I think Mark quite enjoyed carrying a lot less stuff than normal too. Now to find some money and persuade him that the Milford Track as a guided walk IS a good idea. I'm working on that one for about our 5th wedding anniversary, when perhaps our new adventurer is old enough to stay with its grandparents for a week.