Thursday, February 28, 2008

Goodbye Old Friend

I kept it as long as it was still socially responsible to have it but, like the hike, all great things must end. Yesterday morning I shaved my beard into a few funny face styles, well, funny to me. This beard was the result of 159 days of growth. I didn’t trim it except for the area above my mouth. Definitely a successful experiment, my first ever venture into facial hair. It took at least ten years off my life, I am back to looking like a 12 year old. I have blown the dust of my license in preparation for trips to the bar. Here are a few photos of my transformation; I was tempted to stop at the handlebar, but Alice wasn’t in to it.



Just before heading off to Stewart Island I stopped off at a sports store to inquire about fishing. I heard it could be good if you could find a deep pool off the rocks that was kelp free. I ended up purchasing a hand line; fishing line wrapped around a plastic disk. We headed across on the ferry and I was so excited I tried fishing off the wharf in Golden Bay the night we got there; I didn’t catch anything. On the track I did have a bit of success, I caught two striped parrot fish and a spotty. Almost had a nice blue cod, but it got off near the rocks. I did my best to fillet the two parrot fish which proved to be difficult with our tiny knife but they were a nice addition to the dehydrated meals we were eating.

On our last day on Stewart Island we had a special treat, Jim, a Stewart Island local, took us out to his mussel farm to go cod fishing. We’d met Jim and his friend Phil while they were hunting at Rakeahua Hut a few days earlier. I was after local fishing knowledge so was grilling them about good spots near Oban. Turns out the fishing isn’t any good there without a boat. Jim said if the weather was nice he’d take us out. Despite the gloomy forecast, we had perfect sunny skies and no wind so off we went. It was really interesting checking out the farms, mussel farms are something neither of us have had any experience with so it was cool to see the whole process. Jim also knew the spots to find cod, they started biting straight away. Between us we caught 6 huge blue cod, the largest being about 50cm. Very impressive.

On the topic of fish, if you are after the best fish and chips ever you must go to the Kai Kart in Oban. Jim’s wife, Hilly, cooks up fresh blue cod and the crispiest chips. So delicious. Thanks to Jim and Hilly for your generosity, we really enjoyed meeting you both.


Dennis with his first parrot fish
Dennis filleting the fish
Kai Kart – best fish and chips you can get
Hilly and Vanessa running the Kai Kart
Alice with the biggest blue cod of the day

Stewart Island 3

Dennis on the muddy track to Doughboy Bay
Us on Mt Rakeahua
Another kiwi
The wharf at Fred's Camp Hut
Enjoying a frosty cold beverage at the end

Stewart Island 2

Smoky Beach x3
Long Harry Beach
Alice watching one the five kiwi we saw

Stewart Island

Wow, what an ending. Stewart Island was amazing, definitely one of our favourite sections. We didn’t want to come home. It was everything we had expected and more.

Once again we got lucky with the weather. We left the DOC office on our first day to a forecast that predicted rain for the next 9 days. The information brochure about the island said that it rained 275 days a year. Seeing as it hadn’t rained properly in over a month, we figured it was overdue and our luck with good weather had run out. Not so. We ended up having rain a couple of nights but other than that it was fine, just a bit overcast. We couldn’t complain, it made for a nice hiking temperature.

We walked for 13 days over the North West and Southern Circuit tracks that go in a loop around the top half of the island, following the coastline. We walked through bush every day, with the track dipping down to amazing beaches. Each one was different. The thick bush went right down to the coastline, with the only bad part being the hook grass that lined parts of the track. I had shaved my legs in Invercargill so didn’t have too bad a time with it. Dennis was another story. The nasty hooks would rip at his leg hairs as they gripped on, then rip again as he pulled them off. There’d be times when he’d spent five minutes de-hooking himself, only to be covered again straight away.

The track was what you would call undulating. Up, then down, up, then down… When we left Halfmoon Bay at the start my pack weighed 18kg, Dennis’ weighed 22kg. These were our heaviest packs. We did our best to pack light food but there’s only so much you can cut out and still survive for 13 days. My pack didn’t make me a happy tramper on the first few days, those hills were hard. Normally I like hills – they give challenge and rewarding views, but adding a third of my body weight to my back slowed me down. Dennis, of course, was fine so we ate out of my pack for the first couple of days then I was fine. Back to loving the hills again.

As I mentioned in our last post, Stewart Island is renowned for it’s mud. The mud was great for us, you could avoid or walk over it, although even after over a month without rain the ground was definitely still very squishy in parts. There were sections on the Southern Circuit that required some innovative manoeuvring to get around the mud. And this wasn’t your typical, squelchy mud. This was bog. Big black holes of unknown depth, strange smell and a weird film covering the top. What you would call a ‘no fall zone’, as we teetered over the top on precariously placed branches and tree stumps. We were dirty enough after 2 weeks without showering without falling into something like that.

We had a much more social time on Stewart Island than we’d had the opportunity to have during the rest of our trip. For the first time we stayed with the same people in the huts over multiple nights. We met groups of hunters who showed us penguins, trampers from all over Europe and America, and Stewart Island locals. This really made our trip more memorable.

One of the biggest highlights of the island was seeing kiwi! Most people hardly ever get the opportunity to see these flightless, nocturnal birds that form a key part of our national identity, but down here they’re not nocturnal. We saw 5 of them, at various times during the day as we were walking along the track. We were determined to see at least one, getting up early one morning to hunt around East Ruggedy Hut where there had been sightings. But the easiest thing was just to stumble across them. You can definitely tell there isn’t much survival instinct going on with these birds, although their legs are really strong to fight off other animals. We were able to watch one bird for 40 minutes as it fossicked around in the undergrowth. We were able to get within a few metres of it, creeping quietly on the moss. It’s response to hearing us would be to put it’s head up for 2 seconds, look around, then go back to eating. We’d just freeze, then keep moving when it had forgotten about the noise. They were a very cool sight, and we feel privileged to have seen them in such close range. We also saw the endangered Yellow Eyed Penguin, White Tailed Deer, Shags and countless other native birds.

But now we’re finished for good and back in Auckland which feels a little weird. We’re left with a feeling of ‘now what?’, plan the next adventure I guess! I’m not happy with the idea that from now on, tramping is just a recreational activity, like it is for everyone else. It’s not what we ‘do’. But it all had to come to an end at some point, we had an amazing time. We’ll be putting more detailed route information on our website soon for anyone who is planning on doing this trip in the future. We’re open to ideas for interesting, challenging adventures if anyone has any ideas.


The chain link sculpture at the start of Rakiura National Park
Coastal outlook
Yellow Crested Penguin
Dividing up the cheese - making sure we have enough for 12 lunches
View from Mt Anglem, the highest point on Stewart Island

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Done! Time for a vacation hike in Stewart Island

Well, we've done it. At 12:45 today we reached the signpost at Bluff, the southern most town in the South Island. It was a pretty surreal feeling, bittersweet in fact. We're happy and proud of ourselves that we've achieved our goal but we're not ready to stop hiking. It's our life now, we get up, walk all day and do it again the next day. We love it and can't imagine not doing that every day.

We've walked 119 out of the last 139 days, and we've decided to follow it all up with two weeks tramping around Stewart Island. Ironically, our 'vacation' will be our longest section yet which means we'll be heading off on the ferry with our heaviest packs so far. We don't have to be back in Auckland until the end of February - Alice's sister Emma is getting married on March 1st, and we always wanted to get to Stewart Island if we had time. Everyone we've spoken to have raved about the place although the sentence "It's the most amazing you'll go to", is always followed up with "but the mud will be up to your thighs". It’s been an unusually dry and hot summer here so we're hoping the mud won't be too out of control.

The trail to the end didn't end up being as easy as we thought. We only had about 10km to finish up today, and we headed around the base of the Bluff hill. We (wrongly) assumed that this would be a nice tourist track that we could knock off in a couple of hours. It was like that at the end, but the first two thirds of it was pretty much an unmaintained track - poles showed us the way but the ground was all rutted from cow tracks, there was mud, then we had to fight through gorse to reach the easy trail. It was nothing worse than what we've experienced so far, just different from our expectations. We really had to push the pace to make sure we didn't leave everyone waiting at the end.

We haven't been alone in our celebration down here. Desley from Project K, and her partner Tony, along with Alice's parents, Andrew and Jenny, have come down from Auckland to welcome us in. Thank you for your support, it made the end much more special for us. Definitely better than standing next to the sign and having to have a random tourist take our photo.

We are traveling to the Catlins for a couple of days with Alice's parents, then heading to Stewart Island on the 10th. Our next update will be from back in Auckland when we return at the end of the month.

Alice and Dennis

Oreti Beach
Dennis on the trail round the base of Bluff hill
Dennis fighting his way through the overgrown flax bushes
Alice at the southern most point
Us at the Bluff sign, showing our support for Project K

Monday, February 4, 2008

Back to the coast

So we've made it to Riverton on the south coast of the South Island, we can see the hill of Bluff. Its only a few days away, we'll be finishing there on the 7th of February. It's hard to believe that after all our planning and months walking that the end is literally in sight.

We started off this section going through the Takitimu Ranges. I nicknamed that day 'Angry Foliage Day'. It brought back memories of struggling through the North Island bush, with every plant trying to entangle you. There was a vine similar to Bush Lawyer that hung down above us, the tiny hooks digging into our clothing and skin and ensnaring our packs. Lining the track at shin height was a constant trail of a benign looking grass which actually had nasty hooks at the end. The worst part was that we could walk past some of it and be fine, other times it hooked your leg so it felt as though a knife was being pressed into our skin. Not the best feeling.

We headed through five farming stations over a couple of days. The biggest by far was Mt Linton Station. We started at the back end of the station, walking down the 4WD tracks to eventually get to the main road. It took us most of the day to walk through it, right from the start I decided that this was one of my favourite stations so far. Everything looked well maintained with nice fences, good roads, and a bustle of activity. Often we head through farmland and don't see anyone, just a bunch of stock hanging out. When we got to the road end we found out that it was actually one of New Zealand's biggest stations and had over 100 000 head of stock. We knew it was big, but had no idea it was that big. Thank you to all the station owners who have let us walk through their land, we really appreciate the access. It gives us the opportunity to stay off the main roads.

Dennis celebrated his 27th birthday on the 2nd of February. The gift offering was a little meagre, it can be tough when his birthday falls on the 5th day of a 6 day section, there's only so much extra you can carry. We ended up pushing on further than intended that day and made it to Riverton so we could at least go out for dinner.

Throughout our hike we have come across the most generous people who have been really interested in our trip and willing to help us out. It has made the trip for us, we have loved meeting a wide range of people from all over the country. This section was no exception. We stopped in at one house to get water and were offered an orange drink - on a hot day there's nothing better than a cold glass of anything but water, its nice to have a change. We also met the family from Blackdale Stud as they were herding their sheep down the road. We ended up going back to their house for a chat, some cake and were given some fresh eggs. These experiences really brighten our days.

We've come across some amazing local hospitality here in Riverton too. We're staying at the Riverton Lodge, which at $10 a night is the best deal around. We met some of the locals at the pub attached to the lodge last night. Since then we've been given fresh crayfish, a driving tour around Riverton, and are heading out for a home cooked meal tonight. We have been blown away by everyone's generosity. Thank you so much, we won't forget you.


Dennis and his gravity defying socks
The landscape around Mt Linton Station
Sunset at our campsite
The sheep from Blackdale Stud heading down the road
Riverton from the Aparima River

Monday, January 28, 2008

Leaving the mountains

Rain, rain go away. It finally did, but it took a while. It wasn't until after 2pm. We started off in Queenstown where we had to hitchhike back out to where we left off. We hitchhike to get into towns to resupply with food, never in a positive direction. After we get food and a break, its back out to where we left off, so we don't miss a single step between Cape Reinga and Bluff. Thank you to all the kind people who have given us rides, and to those people who offer them. We always get offered rides when we can't take them, but when we do need them we're often left stranded on the side of the road, watching cars wizz by at 100+km an hour. When its raining, it can be hard to turn down rides. Especially when a large, dry, warm bus pulls over and offers you one. The driver's comment was: "I thought you were one of the crazy ones who didn't get the shuttle to the start of the trail. But you're not. You're even crazier."

We eventually got to the trailhead of the Greenstone Track where we slept in the shelter. We only did a small portion of the Greenstone, a very well maintained track that had small footbridges over every tiny dip in the trail. From there we made our way to the Mavora Walkway, quite the opposite from the Greenstone. I wouldn't have turned down a few of those small footbridges as we picked our way through the boggy marsh.

We found ourselves back in farm country, I even saw my first real life cowboy. He was out mustering cattle in the Mararoa River Valley, moving them into the Greenstone River Valley over 5 days. Cattle must walk pretty slow because it was only 30km away.

One highlight was a waterfall stream crossing. The easiest place to cross was at the top of a 5m high waterfall. The water cascaded past the rocks we jumped between and dropped into an emerald green pool.

We've had plenty of time on this trip to observe crazy stock antics. It seems sheep tend to run away when they see us, while cows run towards us. We have had times walking along the road when there are over 100 cows trailing us in an adjacent paddock. Sheep on the other hand can be painful to watch. We can be 100m away and half the time they see us then proceed to barrel right into a fence. Two things can happen, it hits the fence and rebounds off, or it manages to get half its body through. With each ensuing step we take the sheep squirms and bucks until either it gets through or gets stuck. I walk over to the stuck ones, my presence is usually enough to get them to try harder to get through. We saw a mother and a lamb in a field, they were 50ft away and looked totally calm. Then all of a sudden they bolted towards the fence, I'm usually shouting "No! No!" at this point. They smash into it, Mom gets halfway through, the lamb rebounds, the mother squirms through and keeps running. Doesn't even look back. No more lamb.

We finished off this section with some on the fly route changing. We saw some DOC workers along the way and enquired about another small section that would keep us off the roads. We headed down the Oreti River Valley and spent the night at the Lincoln/Patterson Bivouac, a pint size, orange box in the trees with 2 bunks. On popular tracks some of the huts have flush toilets but they do not have as much character as these small, rarely used ones.

Next update will be from the south coast of the South Island. It will have been over 2 months since we've seen the sea, almost to Bluff.


Dennis at the waterfall crossing
Alice walking through tall tussock
Carey's hut on the shores of North Mavora Lake
Lincoln/Patterson Bivouac

Monday, January 21, 2008

We changed up our route again between Wanaka and Queenstown. It meant
we had to head north a bit, which goes against our final aim but it
was well worth it. We ended up heading through Mt Aspiring National
Park which was full of jagged mountains and glaciers.

We meet a lot of people on our journey who are impressed with what we
are doing, the most common response being either "you're crazy", or
"you're keen". On our way up the Matukituki River Valley we met a
family who definitely won our respect. The couple from Seattle, who we
totally forgot to even ask their names, were out hiking with their two
young sons. One was 8 months, the other I think was 2 years. The
mother was carrying the 2 year old in a backpack with some gear, the
father had the hugest pack I've ever seen and the baby on his front.
That's dedication to keeping up the outdoor lifestyle when you also
have a young family. We were impressed and inspired (not that we're
planning on popping out kids any time soon.)

We headed up and camped just below the treeline on the way towards
Cascade Saddle. We heard that it was meant to rain overnight but clear
around midday. We planned on having a sleep in to let the weather
clear and I went to bed thinking 'alright rain, bring it on, get the
wet out of your system by tomorrow'. By that I did not mean for it to
start raining inside the tent. It deluged from around 7pm to 1pm the
next day. We tested our single wall tent to the limit, and it didn't
do so well. Luckily we were on foam sleeping mats, otherwise we might
have drowned. We woke to water dripping on our sleeping bags, our
faces, all our stuff inside the tent, and pooling in the indents in
our sleeping pads like an ice cube tray. Life was pretty miserable at
that point. Our bodies were seizing up from too much time lying down,
it was pouring out, and we needed to pee. We debated what to do, it
was approaching 12, the weather didn't look like it was changing but
we couldn't handle much more time in our cramped, wet tent. Finally
around 1pm the rain abated, by this point we were already starting to
pack up inside the tent. By the time we got going at 2 and got above
the treeline the sky was a perfect blue, its crazy how it can change
down here.

The Cascade Saddle route was another that can with serious warnings:
Do not attempt this route in adverse weather, steep snow grass slopes
are treacherous when wet, etc. We didn't have any problems, in fact,
we were delighted to find an actual trail went the whole way so we
didn't have to walk right on the slippery snow grass and tussock. I
guess a lot of people do get caught out every year who aren't prepared
or do not have the common sense to deal with bad weather conditions.

We ended up having an amazing day. The Cascade Saddle is right next to
the Dart Glacier, the closest we've got to a glacier since living in
France a couple of years ago. It was impressively deep and there was a
stunning 1000m drop off on one side back down to the Matukituki River.
It was worth the wait in the rain and the steep climb to get to it.

We saw some Kea when we were up at the saddle. Kea are a big green
parrot native to NZ who are too smart for their own good and have an
attraction for shiny and expensive gear. They are known for ripping
rubber parts off cars and shredding unattended tents. This made us a
little nervous as they hung around while we were having lunch with all
our wet gear spread out around us. Other than having to keep a close
eye on them, they are magnificent birds. Especially in flight with the
orange underside of their wings flashing as they soar above.

We then finished our route down to Glenorchy down the Dart, then Rees
River Valleys. We saw more people on the Dart/Rees loop than we have
in a while. You can always tell which are the most used tracks because
the huts are in the best condition. We feel some of these huts have
moved beyond the 'backcountry' label, we stayed in the Dart Hut which
had 32 beds, a huge kitchen/seating area, big deck space and,
unbelievably, flush toilets! Definitely unexpected but necessary I
suppose when there are that many people coming through one area.

We're now in Queenstown which isn't officially on our route - we
hitched from Glenorchy down to here to resupply. Plus we were able to
stay in the Markham's place down here which has been pure luxury for
us. Beds with sheets and a real pillow instead of a rolled up fleece
and sleeping bag, a couch to hang out on, and a kitchen with pots and
pans that we don't have to share with 1000 others. We loved it. Thank
you so much.


Impressive backpacking family
Alice and Dennis at Cascade Saddle
Alice looking over the 1000 M drop off
Dart Glacier
Inquisitive Kea

Sunday, January 13, 2008

RIP second pair of shoes

They were doomed from the start. Out of the box just five days before in Wellington I ripped a hole in the side in the Richmond Range. I was almost reduced to tears, $150, 5 days old. Al propped me back up, slapped some sense into me, and I was off hiking again. I wasn't about to give up on them that early, I can sew. I must've been a cobbler in a past life because I managed to keep the shoes alive until yesterday, when I put them into retirement.

Half a spool of thread, seven sewing needles, five thread patches, two duct tape patches, two cloth patches, a tube of glue and probably over 20 hours of my time into keeping them going.

It was said in one of the backcountry hut books in the 'main activity of this trip' column: "Wearing the tread off the soles of my shoes". We have been doing just that. Have I learned anything? Mesh shoes have no place in the rocky New Zealand terrain.

Thanks to Santa, who is apparently great friends with my parents, I was sent some brand new Montrail Hurricane XCRs, the same shoes I used for the entire North Island. I am very thankful for that and can assure you all I will be walking out of Wanaka with some shiny new shoes on and a big smile. I'll probably be tripping a lot, its been a while since I've had tread. I hate that.