Sunday, 2 October 2016

Tararua Snow

03 – 05 July 2009
Mark, Me, Barbara + 7 others
Holdsworth Road End, Tararua Forest Park

Mid-Winter, and I was scheduled to lead an Easy-Medium trip to Sunrise Hut to play in some snow. We were hoping for maybe half a meter, enough to make it a tramp IN snow, but not ploughing through tons of the stuff being miserable.

Staying in the 

The weather snowed nicely for us the week before, so I contacted a campground in Dannevirke so we didn’t have to try and make it to the road end in snow in the dark before making our way to Triplex Hut in the snow and dark at midnight or later. They were happy to have us, and offered us a massive discount to boot.

Friday morning I arrived at work to a massive flurry of emails. The not-great weather I had been watching all week had hit the Ruahine’s hard. The leaders of the other trips were not thrilled with the idea of going in, with one having called the local DoC visitor centre that morning and receiving the advice that the CARPARK was under 1m of snow, with more expected over the weekend.

I cancelled our booking at the campground at Dannevirke. They were pleased to hear that news as they had been worried about our plans given the weather they were experiencing. I still met my punters at the railway station on Friday night at the standard time and we made plans to go a bit closer to home – so Powell Hut it was. Sad, as I had been there so.many.times before.

For some reason, we still decided to head over the hill that night rather than heading home and then regrouping early Saturday morning. This meant we had a cold night ahead of us, sleeping in the shelter at the Holdsworth Carpark, as the lodge was booked.

Thankfully the wind was in a good quarter, and we were joined in the shelter by a whole pack of scouts also off on a tramp, so the number of bodies squeezed in to the area with a roof kept us all a little warmer than we would otherwise have been.

Saturday morning dawned slightly overcast but dry, and so we headed off up the slightly muddy track. We came across our first snow patches somewhere above Mountain House. When we got to the last flat section just below the bushline, the snow was blanketing the ground entirely. Looking up the first steep scramble to the lowest point of the ridge, there was a LOT of snow ahead of us, but a good ground trail to follow our way up.

We all stopped to celebrate making it to the snow (and to don extra layers and sunglasses), as the weather started packing in a little. The snow was deep enough in places that our trail in the snow was walking on top of the stunted trees that grow on the ridge.

We made it to the hut with no drama, shook the snow off our boots and settled in to get warm. A scrummy dinner and dessert were had, books were read by candle light and we all settled in for one of the best nights sleep I’ve had at Powell as we had very little wind.

Sunday morning dawned overcast. No pretty sunrise for us. On went frozen boots and damp packs, and we inched our way back down the hill, out of the snow and back to town. We got to tramp to and in the snow, even if it wasn’t to our original destination, and we had a good time while we were at it.

Winning all around!

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Zealandia Pylon and Turbine Tracks

20 October 2015
Just me
6.9km, 1hr44min, total gain 208m, Visitor Centre to Visitor Centre

For some reason I cant recall, in the morning I had parked on Thorndon Quay and walked up to Manners Street and back (4.1km!), so I am really surprised, looking back, that I even considered attempting such a loop.

Writing this well after the fact a handful of moments stick in my mind. It was hot. The whole walk. I was incredibly surprised at my capacity to just keep going – I remember remarking to myself that the me of 12-18 months previously would have got halfway up the hill to the pylon, decided it was both too steep and too hard, then turned around and gone home (since I was on my own). I carried my dSLR, only to discover at about the 2km mark that it had either no battery life or no memory card loaded (I cant remember which, but I do know it was a heavy, expensive, pack weight of no use).

Sitting under the pylon that the track is named for to catch a breeze and have a snack, the turbine looked fairly close, so I figured I would continue on and get my first taste of the track that is marked on the maps as running around the inside perimeter of the fenceline.

I wish I had taken photos of the track. It was absolutely not what I had expected. Overgrown, full of holes, and in places only wide enough for my feet with steep drops. It also had very little shade to offer. Some of the climb was also much steeper than I had anticipated, and I questioned regularly whether I would be better off turning around to go back or continue on.

I was determined to continue on, and so I did. Eventually the turbine appeared immediately in front of me. It took what seemed an interminable time. After stopping in the sun to take some selfies and have another bite to eat, I plunged down the steep upper section of the track into the cool bush, stopping partway down after startling a Tuatara back into its burrow.

The walk down the Turbine Track was uneventful otherwise and apart from a brief debate of whether to take the Tui Glen track or continue down the Turbine track (the Turbine track won), I was back on the main path before I really knew it.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Thwarted Effort

Turere Lodge (351:365)

17 December 2011
Party: Mark, Myself, Paul A (leader), Karl, Nic, Jose
Turere Lodge (meant to be Paua Hut), Orongorongo Valley, Wainuiomata

Coming so close to the end of the year, this trip was unsurprisingly late to be properly organised, with emails going out on Friday morning to confirm Saturday’s planned departure – “regardless of the weather”. The weather had been awful, and was forecast to remain so for the entire weekend, but we were intrepid proper trampers, so tramping we would go, regardless of the weather.

I don’t recall the weather being massively abhorrent while we were walking, but we got to the bridge at the Orongorongo River to discover a nasty, brown, fast-flowing and VERY high river in front of us. That had our destination on the other side of it.

A quick conflab was held and the easy decision made – no way were we going to try and cross that river and get the hour-or-so down the valley to the hut. Instead, we opted to trudge up the valley a short distance and head for the newly opened Turere Lodge for a lunch break before heading back to the van and home.

We found Turere Lodge booked by a set of Ranger Units, with the units tramping in over the course of the day, so only a couple of leaders were in residence when we got there. They obligingly let us look around (Turere is a locked, bookable hut normally) and allowed us to warm up in front of their fire while we ate, which was a huge improvement over the intended plan to eat out on the deck.

Given Karl had his traditional multiple-kg bag of lollies with him, we ate what we could and gave a pile to the leaders to lighten his pack before heading back along the track towards the carpark.
Good practice at carrying an overnight bag again after a while away from tramping, even if we only got halfway to where we had wanted to be. And a good team to have an unusual day with!

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Zealandia Faultline and Raingauge Spur tracks

 16 April 2016
Just me
7.4km, 1hr52min, total gain 229m, Visitor Centre to Visitor Centre, inside the sanctuary fence

I wasn’t feeling massively inspired this day, but we had no LJ at home for the weekend, and the sun was shining after a few days rain, so off I went while Mark did some work around the house and study. I was still aiming to finish my goal of red-lining all the tracks inside Zealandia, which I still haven’t completed, so off I launched into the back of the Upper Valley.

The best view I had all day
The faultline track was muddy. I seriously regretted opting for sneakers and shorts rather than boots and gaiters. It wasn’t overly surprising though, given the weather we had recently had, and the fact that the faultline track doesn’t see a lot of sunshine. I opted not to take the detour up the Western Firebreak for some reason that I cant recall now, perhaps I was running low on time, as I had only started walking at 2:30, and knew I had to be back at the visitor centre by 5pm, not knowing how long the loop around the back was going to take.

A burst of colour on the upper Raingauge Track
The track climbed gradually, with a couple of short steeper sections, until it got to the back fence. Unlike around the Brooklyn side of the valley, this part of the fence line track inside was actually moderately well defined. It was also quite steep (and so quite slow). I also found a surprise – a road around the back of the sanctuary. It looked to connect Brooklyn and Wrights Hills. The amount of undeveloped farm land to the south and west of the sanctuary was also quite a surprise. I sort of knew that the bottom of the island scooped around like it did, but at the back of the Faultline track, you feel like you are in the back of beyond – and then you look out and you are nowhere.

The raingauge track was also steep, and slippery in places, as well as starting to get quite overgrown with gorse and blackberry in places. I definitely wished I had gaiters and walking poles inching my way down the hill. The bottom of the track is very sudden – one moment you are in a dry, exposed bit of track, the next you are in the bush, and barely a moment later you are back on the faultline track, heading home again.

This leaves me with the Western and Eastern Fire Break and Tui Glen tracks to complete, and then I will have done all the tracks inside the fence except some sections of the clearing around the inside of the fence. Given the average condition of the “track” inside the fenceline, I’m not going to push to complete the last segments of that once I have done the others, instead I will do the loop around the outside one day.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Spikes first "tramp"

Waihohonu Hut, Desert Road, Tongariro National Park
Team: Mark, Spike, Me
Date: 06-07 Feb 2016

The last long weekend of summer seemed an ideal time to take Spike on his first overnight tramp. We reviewed all the places we had been before, and after deciding that we wanted somewhere bookable, to be sure that we would have a bed each, picked the only one that had beds available on the long weekend Saturday night that was under 2 hours at our pace from the road end – Waihohonu Hut.

Unfortunately, this meant long-weekend Friday night traffic to get out of town, and we made the mistake of trying going via Masterton instead of straight up the coast. Given Spike slept all the way to Masterton, sitting in traffic for a similar time to get to Levin would have been fine. We ran into the club van, headed for Tukino, at Taihape – they had left an hour after us.

Spike then stayed awake all the way to our nearly-midnight arrival at the lodge, and took a chunk of persuading to go to sleep, even once the lights were off and Mark and I were nearly asleep ourselves.
Bookending our night at the hut with nights at the lodge meant we could leave fresh food and non-tramping belongings behind while we tramped, rather than having to leave things in the car.

Having the lodge to ourselves also meant that we didn’t have to worry about disturbing anyone.
Saturday morning arrived with indecent haste. We only had an hours drive and about 2.5 hours walk ahead of us for the day, so there was no rush, but we also wanted to be at the hut at a reasonable time, in order to attempt to snag a set of bottom bunk mattresses together. Lunch was made, water bladders were filled, packs were packed (and seemed indecently full for a single night trip). It was cool and drizzly at the lodge, with an average forecast so we dressed accordingly, locked up and wandered down to the car.

And we're off

The forecast was wrong. While it never actually rained, it stayed overcast. So instead of being cool and wet, and it was stuffy and muggy. Not the best weather for getting the best movement out of a not-quite 3 year old who doesn’t like to walk long distances anyway!



Liberal applications of food, water, and lollies, along with several sessions where Mark and I carried Spike on our shoulders on top of our packs as well, still didn’t get us to the hut before Mark and I started hitting spent, and Spike started melting down. So I raced ahead to dump my pack and then come back to carry Spike the last chunk in the Tula we had bought for this purpose. Incredibly, Spike perked up and started moving at a reasonable clip once he was down to only being with Mark, and so my carry wasn’t that far.

Spike perked up once we were at the hut, charming everyone, eating anything he could get his hands on, and running around everywhere constantly. Dinner was roundly ignored, as was dessert, but while we could tell he was tired, he refused to go to sleep until it was dark – the same time the last of the adults went to bed.


Sunday morning dawned deathly early. We really should have bought the blackout blind to the hut. Thankfully, Spike was tired enough to go back to sleep for another half hour / 45 minutes to a time when more of our hut mates were also waking up.

The weather had cleared overnight and we were greeted by clear skies and cooler temperatures. Spikes enthusiasm for walking died after a very short time, and we had used the bulk of our lolly stash getting to the hut. Two nights of poor sleep were also telling on our tempers. Tantrums were had (both toddler and adult ones), carries were given, threats were made to leave Spike behind (I couldn’t do it. If he wandered off track we would never find him).

Rising Maunga

When we got to the last segment before the car, we reversed the day before and sent Mark off to dump his pack and come back to collect. Again Spike picked up the pace markedly when there was only one adult around, and Mark barely managed to turn around before we were there.

More food was divvied out and we headed to Turangi for an early lunch and a swim in their indoor pools (which were both cheap and wonderfully refreshing), before heading back to the lodge for an early dinner and early night.

Thankfully, Mondays drive home was drama-free. We stopped in Ohakune and Levin for food, playgrounds and icecreams.

I wont lie – this trip was HARD work. We definitely over-estimated how interesting the track and surrounds were for a pre-schooler. And I think the distance was a little far. But we’ll try again, for sure.

Views for miles

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Routeburn: The physical work

I used Map My Walk on my phone to track our route - speed and altitude - for our Routeburn Tramp, and it was quite interesting (and INSANE) to contemplate, now that its all said and done.

 Day One. Not at all sure what was recorded for that first hour, because I'm pretty sure it wasn't all down hill (and dramatically so), especially since the breakdown suggests we started at 580m, not the 1500-odd that the elevation indicator shows! The map is fairly close to accurate though for the line.
You can clearly see where we started climbing - bang on the 9km mark. There were a LOT of stops on the way up the hill, and I had a rule that apart from lunch, I didn't stop the tracker during the day. Every km has some climb, with the last 2.7km involving 330m uphill (Routeburn Flats to Routeburn Falls Huts).
Fitbit: 24,398 steps over day
MapMyWalk: 10.72km, 14,577 steps while walking, 16,000kJ

 Day Two. Started reasonably high and got higher. You can see we climbed quite gradually up to the saddle, then it was a chunk of drop on to the Hollyford Face, before a gradual climbing sidle to the top. Clearly Laurie and I made good pace dropping down to Lake Mackenzie. Average pace much slower, and that first 3km was SO slow. Yikes. That will have been the 400m climb, plus the views, snow and heat! The last 2km was almost entirely downhill, with only a 3m gain from the lowest point at the very end. All other km breakdowns had a bigger climb.
Fitbit: 30,211 steps over day
MapMyWalk:  10.93km, 14,870 steps while walking, 21,824kJ

Day Three. Our fastest day on average, which is awesome, considering how exhausted we all were. Also just the longest. The gradual climb away from the hut is clear, and then its obviously a long sidle around. The descent to Lake Howden looks more obvious here than it felt at the time. The slower sections involved a bit more climbing on rough terrain (which Claires sore feet found really hard) and then the 5-6km distance involved Earland Falls, which we negotiated very slowly (large, wet rocks, with a nasty fall), and stopped for food.
Somehow, our climb up to the Key Summit turnoff (199m over about 1km) only took 20 minutes, and every single km involved SOME uphill from its lowest point (the least uphill was the last km, with 4m up).
Fitbit: 31,943 steps over day
MapMyWalk:  12.91km, 17,555 steps while walking, 18,723kJ

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Sunshine on Harris Saddle

29 November - 1 December 2015
Routeburn Track, Mt Aspiring / Fiordland National Parks
Team: Laurie, Ange, Claire, Marion, Me

Friday was spent in a haze of packing and worrying. Reports in from Queenstown were not good - a severe storm had just gone through and the Glenorchy Road was closed due to tree fall. Thankfully, by the time we got to the airport on Saturday afternoon, the roads had been cleared and power and been restored to the district.

Our adventure began at Queenstown airport, where Claires pack lost a strap when she tried to pick it up to carry it to the taxi stand. Oh dear. A pack with only one shoulder strap is no use for a 3-day, 32km tramp. Grabbing a taxi the 1/2km to our accommodation (because our bags were huge and it was trying to rain on us), we started googling for pack hire, trying to find one local at Remarkables Park. No such luck. We sent Claire off on the bus to Queenstown to pick up a hire pack in town, while we aimlessly wandered the supermarket for ages getting our tramping food and something for dinner.

Sunday morning dawned incredibly fair, if a little nippy. Up stupid early to get everyone through a last shower before we hit the track, we were all just nicely ready when our shuttle arrived to collect us. The amount of treefall on the side of the road was incredible. It was amazing what the roading staff had managed to clean up since the storm.

We were among the first on to the track that morning, our five, two others who shared our van, and a group of guided walkers all heading off at about the same time. We overtook each other with regularity past the first gorgeous waterfall, and all the way to the riverside where we stopped for morning tea and to soak in the atmosphere of exactly where we were, and what stunning weather we had (just in case it didn't last - Fiordland weather is fickle!).

Cascading A river runs through it

Cruising on up valley, we got to Routeburn Flats hut at a good time for lunch. Yes, it had taken longer than the DOC suggested time to get there, but while we had fine weather we didn't care. Chilling out in the sunshine at a picnic table on the grass in front of the hut was blissful. The hut is clearly designed with daywalkers in mind, having a HUGE covered space with benches, sinks, tables and seats.

The rest of our days walking was uphill. All of it. So in went my earbuds and off I went. We agreed before we headed off that we would all climb at our own pace, taking long stops in a couple of specific locations, with the person at the front regularly waiting for sight of the person at the back, and each person stopping when they wanted to, for however long they wanted to (avoiding the caterpillar effect of the front stopping and then moving on as soon as the back catches up, leaving the back feeling like they dont get a break).

Find the trampers

The climb was a long, plodding slog. But we made good time - I arrived first in just on 1.5 hours, and the others dribbled in one every 5 minutes after that. I had planned to walk back down the track and find the back marker, since I was feeling good, but by the time I had greeted each person and celebrated with them that we had made it, the next person had arrived.
Snagging ourselves some bunks, we also grabbed a prime position on the deck, where we had a view out to the peaks on the opposite side of the valley, and chilled out for a while. It was still early afternoon, but Routeburn Falls Hut was already largely in shade. Taking turns, we went for wanders up to the falls proper, and down to the prominent rock below the hut (which is so popular it really needs a track built to it rather than the scramble over slippery boulders that you take at the moment).

Dinner was endured, the hut talk from the ranger was hilarious, and we all stayed up late enough for the lights to turn on. The early loss of sunshine meant the bunkroom was quite cold - the dining room was only warm because the ranger had lit the coal range around 5pm.

Waking at 6am Monday for a toilet break, I discovered that some keen beans were already up, packed and on their way out for the day. The beginning of the morning was beautiful and I contemplated just staying up, but opted to go back to bed for a bit more rest as I knew we had another chunky climb and big descent ahead of us.

Routeburn Falls Hut

Breakfast, pack and a little bit of housekeeping later and we were on our way. Two steps off the deck and the climbing that would be the bulk of our day started. We dawdled our way up to the top of the falls, enjoying our last views over the Routeburn Valley. Then we turned into the upper valley below Harris Saddle. Wow. The valley opening ahead of us was immense. And incredible. The track vanished into the distance where we could see tiny people walking ahead of us. 

Rocking out Lake Harris

We took a LOT of photo stops on the climb up to Harris Saddle, including to play with some snow and to watch an Australian family climb a huge rock to get a great photo. We again followed our caterpillar approach, each walking at their own pace, stopping frequently to make sure everyone was ok. We briefly debated stopping for something to eat on the promontory overlooking Lake Harris, but opted to continue on the 500m to the shelter at the saddle and have an early lunch (so we could claim to bag it by stopping in and eating there). We somewhat regretted this decision, as the promontory had been sheltered from what was actually quite a cool breeze apparent at Harris Saddle Shelter.

Harris Saddle

Lunch at Harris Saddle was rediculously early - not long after 11am. But we figured from the map that it would be our last place to stop and stretch out for a good couple of hours at the pace we were all going. The trip along the Hollyford face is a bit of a blur for me. The combination of heat, exertion, pack weight on shoulders and sunhat / sunglasses pressing on the side of my head was not doing wonders for my brain. This was exacerbated by running out of water before Ocean Peak Corner, leaving me with a near migraine. The views through this part of the day became a bit monotonous, compared with what we had been experiencing, since we were simply walking above the Hollyford Valley for several kms. Some parts of the track are quite tremendously exposed through here, which left some members of our party struggling.

Laurie and I wound up pushing ahead to try and beat my migraine to the hut, leaving the other three behind as a group to make their way at their own pace. Just before we started off, having left a message with the Australians to pass on to Ange, Marion and Claire (who we were confident weren't far behind us), we saw Ange bounding up the track with no pack on. "Oh fuck" went the murmur through the six of us. Thankfully, Ange was just coming to tell us they were fine, just slow, struggling a little with the exposure and Claire having a sore foot and were more than happy to just see us at the hut. I was loathe to break the group up to the extent we were going to. But if I slowed myself down to Claire's pace with her sore foot, I would have been blind from the headache before I reached the hut.

We tried to cheer them (and ourselves) up by telling them the top should be "just around the corner". This was a lesson in how big a distance "just around the corner" is, in such a landscape. Turning the corner at that point, where we thought we had done the last of the uphill / sidle and should be starting to drop again was the only point of the trip where I really struggled - more uphill. We were sure the ranger the night before, and the track profile in the brochure had said it was "basically all downhill" from Harris Saddle to Mackenzie Hut. What a load of bollocks. It was a bumpy sidle that seemed a lot more uphill than down and ended with a vicious wee climb.

Down there

A seat in the shade with lots of water, no pack and no sunhat was such a blessing once we finally got to Mackenzie Hut, first spotted as a tiny dot ALL THE WAY DOWN THERE. Laurie and I collapsed on the front deck of the hut at about 3:15, just over 7 hours after we left Routeburn Falls (although we did spend nearly an hour at lunch). We dithered for a bit about bunk spaces, eventually signed ourselves in, changed out of our sweaty clothes and into lightweight alternatives (it was still 22C at the hut at 6pm, despite being at nearly 900m AMSL).and settled in to wait for the others, hoping they weren't too far behind.

Our relaxed state started turning to nerves as our self-imposed "will go looking for them" (to make sure nothing had happened) time started to draw closer. We asked people as they ambled in if they had seen them, and most indicated their last sighting had been somewhere up on the switchbacks above Lake Mackenzie. Finally, the ranger (who we had seen way up on the Hollyford face) came through and said he had seen them only a couple of minutes prior, taking the turnoff for the high water track. Finally, over 2 hours after Laurie and I arrived, and nearly 4.5 hours since we had last seen them, they stumbled in. Claire promptly burst into tears of relief at having made it - her description of how she was feeling sounded a bit like plantar fasciitis to me, far from ideal when tramping.

Chilling Sun Strike

Another dinner was endured (freeze-dry is not really my ideal food, but with 5kg of camera gear, I was weight saving where ever else I could), we all had a quick wade into the (very cold) lake and wandered around in shorts, singlet and jandals till it was time for the hut talk. Which we had on the deck in the sunshine. Bliss. Until the sun suddenly vanished and the temperature dropped about 10C in 2-3 minutes. I was stuck in the middle of the group, unable to get out surreptitiously, still in my lightweight warm-weather clothes. Not ideal!

Bedtime followed almost immediately the hut talk finished (the ranger was certifiable, and hilarious), with a plan to definitely be off early in the morning to allow extra time for Claires foot to slow proceedings. Allowing ourselves 6 hours to complete track that was indicated to take 4-4.5 should be plenty, right?

Amazingly, Tuesday morning dawned brilliantly fair again. What a run of weather we had hit! The forecast was for rain “mid afternoon”, which suggested we may just miss it with our 2pm pickup. The track from Mackenzie hut ambles along with a few climbs for a while, then starts to sidle past a couple of gorgeous waterfalls. We left Laurie at the first to take photos, agreeing to wait for her at the second if she didn’t catch us before then. She caught up to us as we arrived at the massive Earland falls, which were beyond incredible. Thankfully the flood track wasn’t required, and so we could get an excellent view, walking across the bottom of the falls.

Tumbling down Earland Falls

Beyond here it was mostly downhill to the hut. I needed to pee and was losing sensation in one arm for some reason, so opted to push ahead of the group - no-one needed to put up with the grump I was developing - through to Howden Hut. Although I worried because I hadn’t seen the girls for quite a while by the time I got to the hut, they were only 10 minutes behind me. Sadly, we had taken almost a full 4.5 hours to do the “3 hour” walk from Mackenzie to Howden. The suggestion was 1-1.5 hours from here to the road end, and we had exactly 1.5 hours before pick-up.

Lunch was a hurried affair, watching the new batch of guided walkers arrive to be greeted with chocolate biscuits, hot tea and coffee and raro on the few picnic tables outside the hut, leaving us standing along the front of the deck. Laurie checked herself in for her night at Howden, grabbing just her camera kit, water and jacket and hefted Claires pack onto her back instead, to help Claire get up the hill in better time. Which worked a treat, those of us who left 5 minutes after her didn’t catch her on the slog up to the Key Summit turnoff.

Here we said goodbye to Laurie, who was continuing on to do the Caples track without us. Marion and I stretched out our legs and whipped down the hill as fast as we could to ensure we made it to the carpark before the “15 minutes or so” grace from the shuttle ran out, arriving at about 1:50 (which means, even at our good pace, it still took the full suggested 45 minutes down the hill). Dumping packs and grabbing a drink, Marion headed back to see if she could help the others, who walked out at 2:01 under their own steam, totally stoked (as well they deserved to be!). 

Back to Queenstown in the shuttle, window wide open almost all the way because it was still really warm. We grabbed dinner from the supermarket across the road from our accommodation, and then most of us headed for a walk to the pools (about 2km) for a shower and then swim, absolute bliss after three long days walking!
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