09 July 2010

New Zealand Jan 2008 - The Three Passes. Part 2

...Wilberforce R, Browning Pass, Arahura R, Styx Saddle, Styx R

Day 3, we headed up the Wilberforce River. Here you can see Hamer Falls again, below the rightmost of the Twin Peaks, and the grassy climb up Browning Pass (Noti Raureka). The 400m climb zig-zags at the bottom, but seemed to be ascended very quickly.

We're only about half-way up, but already the view down the Wilberforce is breathtaking.

Mt Harman/Kaniere, and Lake Browning/Whakatewa.
If you do this trip as a three-dayer, camping up high, this would be one of your spots. Gorgeous in the sun, but the water was very chilly.
From the Wilberforce up to Browning Pass, and over into the upper Arahura, we were following an old stock route for sheep being taken west. Apparently they had to be winched up the last part of Browning Pass.
The Arahura River initially drops 500m from Lake Browning /Whakatewa in less than 3km. Making it extremely active.

Continuing down the stock route, we were all a bit flummoxed at how they would have crossed the Harman River, as they wouldn't have had the high suspension bridge that we had (pictured left with Mt Browning behind).

We continued down the Arahura along the eastern flank of My Browning for a little longer and then climbed west into the Styx Saddle. This remarkable place is a suspended swamp, where the tramper must take care or they might end up slipping into a thigh deep muddy pond!

We were really getting into Westland territory, characterised by the lush green, and wetness underfoot. This was one of many sidestreams of the Styx River, as we commenced our final descent.

Oh, and did I mention the moss? This is a whole wall of moss, all of it drinkable. With only overnighting at Grassy Flat Hut to break up the walk alongside the river, we were treated to about 10km of this sort of vegetation, a sumptuous finish to our four days, 52kms travel, 2700m ascent and 3270 descent. A grand walk!
As seen on Andrew Purdam's Bushwalking Treasure Box blog.

07 July 2010

New Zealand Jan 2008 - The Three Passes. Part 1.

Waimakariri R, Taipoiti R, Harman Pass, Whitehorn Pass, ...

Inspired by some tantalising descriptions of this walk, we thought we'd try the slightly wilder Three Passes Walk. We took it east to west, starting at the Waimak and finishing on the Styx, but you can also do it the other way.

We took two and two-half days, staying at Carrington Hut, camping at Park Morpeth hut (it was full), and Grassy Flat Hut (13km, 12km climbing 900 and descending 900 metres, 16km climbing 500 and descending 850 metres and 12 km out). It can be done in three longer days (17km climbing 700m, 12km climbing 250m, dropping 850m, climbing 500m, and 23km, dropping 1200m), camping at Harman Pass and Browning Pass, which would be beautiful in good weather, and insane in bad.

It was a toss up as to whether or how we'd do this walk, as a front was predicted to cross on the day we were to start. However, after much humming and haing, we changed into our "tramping uniform" (polypro under gortex, shorts and gaiters - goretex not used in fine weather) and got dropped at the Waimakariri. Our object was to get to Carrington Hut 13km away in the afternoon, before the rain came and the river flooded. All the predictions worked out pretty well, and we avoided any flooding, however, by the time we arrived at the hut, we were soaked to the skin, and the rain battered at the hut most of the night, making the Waimak impassable the following day.

This was actually not a problem, as the following day we left the Waimakariri, crossed a rather active White River, and headed up the Taipoiti River. Amazingly, we woke to a a beautiful sunny day. Normally, we are not fans of huts, but when the bad weather comes through, they serve a vital purpose. So, we donned our apparel and headed off through some forest towards our route up to Harman Pass.


And so we came to a rather windy Harman Pass. We found a sheltered spot to stop for lunch and then headed further on towards Whitehorn Pass (somewhere beyond Glen's elbow). Even though this pass is continuous with the valley that leads to Whitehorn, it is a picky 2 km of climbing over rocks and debris to get to the snow.

The snow was actually quite soft, and we were at some risk of falling through to the river if we took the wrong route. We puffed our way up the 400m in the sun to Whitehorn Pass, which offered a stunning view of Cronin Glacier falling into the Cronin Stream valley, which was our next stage...

An earthquake several years earlier had rendered the descent down Cronin Stream valley rather treacherous, as the boulders were all unstable and large enough to break your ankle. It was an exhausting stage that took 2 and a half hours in western sun to descend the 800m in 5km. We were very pleased to find our campsite with some light still left. That's the 90m Hamer Falls nestled about 500m below Twin Peaks. We head that way tomorrow.

To be continued...

As seen on Andrew Purdam's Bushwalking Treasure Box blog.

28 June 2010

New Zealand Jan 2006 - Wilkin River

Wilkin River revisited

A walk that had tantalised Helen and me for a while, was to walk up the Wilkin valley, over Rabbit Pass and down the East Matukituki. We dragged to boys back to New Zealand in January 2006 for a one-off whirlwind trip which proved to be A Ford Too Far...

Azure Wilkin RiverWe took the jetboat up the Wilkin to Kerin Forks (where Siberia Stream, mentioned in a previous walk joins the Wilkin) and commenced our tramp. We actually got off the boat well after midday, due to timing of public transport, but it was still enough time to get to Top Forks Hut, as the NZ summer days are light til after 9pm.
Walking alongside the river, it was fairly flat except for the up-and-down bits... There is a prominent hill directly adjacent to the river, a route which must be taken in high water, but we were able to clamber/wade around the side of it on this trip.

Wilkin River ViewNext day, we planned a day-trip up the Wilkin's North Branch to Lakes Diana, Lucidus and hopefully Castalia. Here we see Mt Pollux and Mt Castor in the background as we head off. Helen took this one.

Lakes above Top ForksWe spent several days at Upper Wilkin Hut, waiting for weather, and hoping Joseph's back would improve sufficiently for us to continue our walk. Our walk to the lakes was thwarted by some typical NZ mountain weather, which is capable of making it both stunningly beautiful and miserable at the same time...

Pink icingBy this time (day 4), it had been decided that we would not continue with the whole party over Rabbit Pass as planned, and that we would simply walk back out the way we came. However, Helen and I wanted to see what Rabbit Pass was like, so we got up early enough to see the sun rising on Pollux (or Castor) before taking off up the South Branch.

Waterfall Face from Waterfall Flat
Waterfall Face from Waterfall Flat, Upper Wilkin, South Branch. The Wilkin River falls on the left are 50m, but the Mt Taurus Falls on the right are 400m!!! The 150m climb of the tricky (some would say treacherous - depending on the weather) Waterfall Face is right in front of us.

Helen, Rabbit PassHowever, climb it we did, in fact we climbed up it, and back down (since this was a there-and-back-again day trip to Rabbit Pass). Tricky even in good weather, the Waterfall Face becomes virtually impassable for trampers in the wet or under snow. Here, Helen is descending on our return trip, which we found much more difficult than climbing up.

Upper Wilkin Valley
That day, we saw only two other parties. The one who took this picture, (behind us is the top of the 400m Mt Taurus falls), and a party much later on, as we were descending back to the hut. They had flown into Jumboland early in the day, and were walking from there up to Waterfall Flat in the one day. Several of them were in their fifties or sixties, and they were as tough as nails! Even though we walked only 13km that day, we ascended 800m, and descended the same.

Wilkin River viewAll that was left was to walk out from Top Forks hut the next day. We had to ford the Wilkin at Kerin Forks to continue on the true left bank, but were eventually able to flag a jet boat to come back to pick us up (much to the jet boat driver's annoyance and our expense). Even though we had many great memories of the beautiful area that we got into, we couldn't help feeling that we had missed the target here, and this is a walk that may see a repeat performance some time in the future.

As seen on Andrew Purdam's Bushwalking Treasure Box blog.

21 June 2010

New Zealand Jan 2001 - Tongariro Crossing

Day walk to Mt Ngauruhoe, Red Crater, Blue Lake. Tongariro Nat Park

With only four weeks in New Zealand, there is much that you have to simply decide you won't get to see. For us, that was most of the North Island. However, Helen and I couldn't resist the temptation to slip in just one more walk, much to the boys' consternation. In the end, we agreed to leave them watching videos whilst we headed off to walk across the Tongariro.
Our late start was a blessing, as we didn't find any crowds until the South Crater, shown on the left here, below Mt Ngauruhoe. We were unaware that folks were able to climb Mt Ngarauhoe, which was squirting some steam out at the time. Then again, it had its head in the clouds only half an hour earlier.
The Tongariro Crossing is like walking across Mars. Bare, rocky, dry, windy, cold and not enough oxygen. The colours in some of the rocks are pretty amazing, though, as you can see from the two shots of Red Crater below. Emerald Lakes, whilst smelly, aren't even warm.

Red Crater Panorama

Emerald Lakes Panorama

Below, left to right, Mt Ngarauhoe, Red Crater in front of it, Central Crater, Mt Tongariro above it, Helen, Blue Lake and Mt Rotopaunga above it.
Blue Lake Panorama

As seen on Andrew Purdam's Bushwalking Treasure Box blog.

20 June 2010

New Zealand Jan 2001 - Abel Tasman National Park

We sped north through dull Greymouth, skirted Punakaiki's pancake rocks for a later visit, and made straight for Motueka on the west side of Tasman Bay.
Joseph was too young for us to hire any sea-kayaks, so we walked along the Abel Tasman National Park's paths. This proved to be quite a good choice, as there were only dozens of walkers on the tracks, but there were hundreds of kayakers on the water.
This was a real change of scene, and the only part of the South Island that makes you think of warm climate and palm trees.
Here I met the weta (pronounced witta, which the local person told me only comes out when it's wit).
[Actually, it turns out to be a huhu beetle - and no I didn't make that name up]

It must still rain a lot here, though, as there were lots of tree ferns. There were also lots of sand-flies. Around the campsites, there are feral possums, too, one bailing up Joseph in the dunny at Te Pukatea. The cove of Te Pukatea is simply gorgeous (see photo below). This part of the coast has very large tidal variation (over two metres), making for lots of variety in the bays, and making some estuary crossings impossibly impassable at high tide, so you need to time your walk carefully.

Glen had decided that the sandy paths made for walking in bare feet, leaving him so sore the following day that he and Joseph were dispatched by boat to a spot further north, whilst Helen and I enjoyed a day of unfettered tramping, and sprinted up the track to meet up with them that afternoon.
The last day was a quick walk to Totaranui Beach followed by a boat ride back to Marahau and a drive to Picton to cross over Cook Strait the next day.

As seen on Andrew Purdam's Bushwalking Treasure Box blog.

17 June 2010

New Zealand Jan 2001 - Young Valley, Gillespie Pass, Siberia Valley

Young Valley, Gillespie Pass, Crucible Lake and Siberia Valley

We thought we had seen bad sandflies in the Rees/Dart walk. At Milford Sound, we had seen seals sunning themselves in a breeze to keep sandflies off them. Nothing had prepared us for the onslaught of sandflies at Young Forks. Created as a lunching spot on the way to Young Hut, the rangers failed to mention whom it was lunch for. As it turned out, you'd have to say we had fast food for lunch that day.

With two walks under our belts, Helen and I were hoping that the boys would have "hardened up" to walking a bit by now, but Joseph proceeded to fall to bits as the Young valley continued to go up and up and up. It is really gorgeous, with lots of trees, the odd dangerous landslip to cross, and constant riverside stimulation, but not much mitigated it for a ten year old who had had enough. However, there was little else to do but trudge on and whinge, so that's what we did. (Before you report us for child abuse, please consider that only the other day Joseph was remarking how lucky he was to have seen such beautiful mountain areas. I guess time heals all wounds).

We finally reached Young Hut late in the day. To say the setting is worth it is an absolute understatement. Nestled at the lip of a glacial valley, above a waterfall which topples into a densely treed forest valley (the one we struggled up), and backed by a punchbowl of snowcapped cliffs, complete with slow combustion stove, Young Hut seemed like we'd all died and gone to heaven.

The next day (day two), we had to climb over Gillespie Pass. Only about 800 metres, but very steep for a long time. Again, the weather was very kind, and we didn't have to battle the blizzards experienced by folks several days earlier. We met a falcon at the very top, which circled us inquisitively before landing and showing us how much it could ignore us.

That night we camped near Gillespie Stream, in Siberia Valley. Stupidly, we camped under the trees, and again became dinner for the sandflies. Our own dinner was very quick, and a card game in the tent was quickly arranged as our evening's entertainment.

Walking on airThe climb up to Crucible Lake started and ended quite vertically, and in the middle there was a gentle rise, punctuated with a leap across the creek.
So whilst it looks like Joseph is walking on an invisible tightrope, he was actually trying hard to stay airborne enough to clear the creek, in which he succeeded.

Day three saw us visit Crucible Lake. Yet another fairly vertical climb up the other side of Siberia Valley into the feeder valley of Crucible Stream, itself fed by ice falls from the cliffs that surround it. It is well named, being a lake formed by a terminal moraine and backed by rock walls.

By the time we got to Siberia Hut, we were all feeling pretty tired, especially Joseph. Greeting us when we arrived were folks from Israel, Germany, France, Canada and New Zealand, and Glen and Joseph very quickly joined in an internationally uniting card game of Ricketty Kate.
The next day, we had to decide on whether we were going to get dropped by plane up at Jumboland, to walk on to Kerin Forks and Lake Lucidus etc or just catch the plane out. Torpor decided for us, and we were granted a lovely view of the upper Wilkin River valleys, including bird's eye views of the upper lakes. The pilot was very nice to Glen, explaining how to fly the plane, whilst we approached a cliff face at 200 kilometres per hour. He was very good at showing us how to turn tight corners.

As seen on Andrew Purdam's Bushwalking Treasure Box blog.

14 June 2010

New Zealand Jan 2001 - Mt Cook area

Mueller Hut

As if to make up for the bad weather of the coast, Aoraki (Mt Cook) allowed itself to be in full view for us for over two days. It is another stunning place to visit, with several glaciers quite accessible. It does rather startlingly underline the fact that NZ is full of falling down mountains. Much of the Hooker Valley is below scree slopes, leaving it looking more like a quarry than a national park. However, as one gets higher (and further away from the "mess"), one can take a more sanctified view of the whole area (probably caused by altitude sickness).
We had chosen to overnight in Mueller Hut, being the lowest hut (a mere 1000 metres above the car park) as well as the most accessible.

It took several hours to climb up the side of Mt Olivier to get to Mueller Hut. To make the feat achievable by the boys, Helen and I took all their gear (we didn't need tents) so that they could go up without packs. This made the feat much more of a challenge for us parents, as we struggled yak-like up the steep slopes.

We celebrated our arrival at Mueller Hut with some snow cones. God, snow is gritty...
Aoraki is doing Phantom Mountain imitations.

Click on the pic for a larger view, or click here for an enormous view!
Meuller Glacier, Aoraki/Mt Cook Nat Park, NZ
270° Panorama stitched from 11 portrait prints(!).
L ro R: Lake Pukaki (in distance), Helen, Mt Ollivier (sic) and Sealy Range, Mt Burns at the top of the Mueller Glacier, Main Range's Mt Isabel and Mt Thomson, highest point Mt Sefton (3162m) dropping down to the Footstool and finally to the Hooker Glacier, over 2000m below Sefton.
Aoraki/Mt Cook is the white blob 2800m above Hooker Gl.

As seen on Andrew Purdam's Bushwalking Treasure Box blog.

12 June 2010

New Zealand Jan 2001 - Milford Sound

Not a walk, but part of my original diary, so here it is.

I'd originally intended to have only walks in this blog, but I'll toss this little day trip in, as it was a feature of our first NZ visit. Oh, and we did do a little kayaking and walking...

A great part about Milford is driving there. The road tunnel which takes you through to Milford is a really spooky place, being only just wide enough for two directions, and full of fog. It is like driving into a dragon's mouth. On the return journey, just after the tunnel, we met some keas (NZ parrots) who were very interested in our hire car. With their highly inquisitive nature and strong beak, they have made car demolition an art form, and have been known to pull all the rubber from around a windscreen, causing it to fall in! Car aerials are often chiropractically adjusted and windscreen wipers used for jousting.

Known as "the drain of NZ", Milford Sound boasts over 7 metres of rain a year. So all those photos you see of Milford Sound shining in the sun, sparkling waterfalls cascading straight into the sea? Well, your chances are better in summer, but overall, it'll more likely rain. As it turned out, the sun shone for us for about ten minutes as we got on the tour boat.
Either way, Milford Sound is quite stunning, and boatload after boatload after boatload of tourists are taken up past Mitre Peak, the Lion, the Elephant, waterfalls etc out to the heads and back.

Wanting to experience Milford a little more intimately, we enlisted for a kayaking/walking trip. Unfortunately, this was not on the main bay, so we missed the seals and dolphins shown on the brochure. However, we backtracked the Milford track a bit, under the guidance of "Wicked Dave", who made a pretty mean scroggin, and had a speech defect whereby all advectival utterances (eg "Fantastic!" "That's funny" "Great") were replaced with the word "Wicked".

As promised by statistical probability, we got some weather. That's Mitre Peak in the middle.

As seen on Andrew Purdam's Bushwalking Treasure Box blog.

10 June 2010

New Zealand Jan 2001 - Rees & Dart Valleys

Rees & Dart Valleys, Dart Glacier & Cascade Saddle
Our first walking trip was the Rees-Dart Valleys. You can tell this was taken in the first hour, 'cos we're all still smiling. Reading the trip notes for this walk... er... tramp (more of a slosh, actually), there is one small line about boggy areas... Please, note how clean the gaiters are. They failed at keeping the mud out of our socks, as they weren't designed for full scale long-term immersion. Thank goodness it hadn't rained heavily in the last 24 hours, 'cos we hadn't tested our packs as canoes...

That's probably Mt Earnslaw in the background. One problem we encountered photographing in NZ is that there is a lot of white about, making for too much contrast. One solution would be to take photos in another country, but I think I'll simply bring a filter with me next time.All through the months of preparation for our trip, Helen had forgotten to tell the rest of us (silly her!) about sandflies. Imagine!? The one critter in New Zealand that is more annoying and badgering than a four year old asking you where they came from. One thing I learnt very early on day two, after I'd got up first to cook brekky, is "don't get up first to cook brekky". Otherwise the sandflies have you all to themselves...

Cascade Saddle Panorama
L to R: Mt Edward above the Dart Glacier, Plunkett Dome, the West Matukituki above which is Rob Roy, and rightmost Cascade Falls. If the sky had been clearer, you would also have seen Mt Aspiring.
210 degree view, stitched from 9 photos

Helen and the boys at the foot of Dart Glacier. The black stuff in the background is actually ice. I used to think ice was white, but as you can see from the above pic, a lot of rubble falls onto the glacier. In fact, all of New Zealand's peaks seem to be falling down.The next day we commenced our walk out. It rained. Not heavily, but constantly. All day. In those circumstances, there is not much to do but keep walking, which we did, the boys being propelled foward by an unending retelling of Monty Python sketches, dredged up from my youth.
Actually, the really groovy thing was going out on the jet boat. We had the maniac driver (fortunately our packs were in a boat driven by someone more sedate) who would spin the boat into reverse, and you would liken the experience to having a bucket of ice-cold water tipped over your head, and then sitting in front of a strong fan. It was fun, though.

As seen on Andrew Purdam's Bushwalking Treasure Box blog.

07 June 2010

New Zealand - Jan 2001, 2006, 2008 & 2012

"We do sell food over here you know". The customs officer glared at us.
"Well, we weren't sure what was going to be available to us, what the serving sizes would be and so on, and we didn't want to spend the first day of our holiday in a supermarket" we explained nervously as the New Zealander waved us through, "… not in such a beautiful country", I added hopefully.

As if you need to add that. New Zealand oozes pulchritude in every corner (apart from Auckland, but we'll get there much much later, and even Auckland has its own appeal).
Permanently capped with white, like soft-serve ice-creams towering over their surrounds, NZ mountains lead one to scoff at Australia's piddling Great Dividing Range. As we flew from Sydney to Christchurch, seemingly under the nose of Mount Cook - or one of its lesser molehills - you could not help but be stunned by the country's sheer vertical scale. The South Island may be skinny, but she's tall - dunno why they lose at netball. And speaking of losing, you have to be careful being an Ozzie in NZ. They can get a bit touchy about cricket and stuff, tho' I could normally disarm them with a comment about keeping the America's Cup, or the Super 7s. Personally, I don't see much difference between Oz and NZ. One letter and a bit of capitalising.
Due to one of those something-for-nothing flukes that never occur in the real world, we were able to fly from Christchurch to Queenstown for no extra cost. Queenstown has a delightful mountain airport where they let the planes down by rope. Despite being surrounded by snowcapped mountains - which think nothing of towering up to 1000m above the town - Queenstown is of lower elevation than Canberra. In fact it is alleged that the bottom of the adjacent lake is below sea level. One of those quirks which - because of the coldness of the water - no one is ever going to challenge.
This is it. The land of the jet boat, the home of the bungy jump, cradle of white-water rafting and nursery of the goal of our visit - tramping! (as the kiwis quaintly describe it).
The Oxford Concise Dictionary defines the verb tramp thus:
  1. a walk heavily and firmly b go on foot, esp. a distance
  2. a cross on foot, esp wearily or reluctantly b cover (a distance) in this way

The kiwis obviously knew more than we did, as we were to find out...
January 2001
  1. Rees/Dart Valleys
  2. Milford Sound
  3. Meuller Hut, Mt Cook/Aoraki area
  4. Young/Siberia Valleys
  5. Fox and Franz Jozef Glaciers
  6. Abel Tasman National Park
  7. Tongariro Crossing
  8. Rotorua
  9. Auckland
January 2006 
  1. Wilkin River   
January 2008
  1. Karamea River whitewater rafting
  2. Three Passes, Part 1 and Part 2
  3. Nelson Lakes

February 2012
  1. Dusky Track, Days 1-3, Day 4 (Tamatea Peak), Day 5 (Supper Cove), and Days 6-8 (Centre Pass, Mt Memphis and out)
  2. Five Passes, Days 1 & 2 (Beans Burn, Fohn Lakes), Day 3 (Fiery Col), Day 4 (Parks Pass Glacier and Lake Nerine), Days 5 & 6 (Route Burn North Branch, and out)

October/November 2012
  1. Milford Track
  2. North West Circuit (Stewart Island)

As seen on Andrew Purdam's Bushwalking Treasure Box blog.