Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Shake, rattle, roll and tramp

In less than two weeks I am handing in my PhD thesis for examination. It's a pretty intense stage of the journey, but I recently managed to get out of Dunedin for a weekend trip around Haast Pass.

Sadly, an American exchange student had died nearby just weeks before our trip. It was a solemn reminder to be safe and vigilant in the backcountry.

We left Dunedin at 5am on a Saturday and took our time driving to the Fantail Falls carpark. By 11am we were crossing the ice cold Haast River and heading straight up to Brewster Hut.

Brewster Hut

The weather was fantastic for the 2 1/2 hour hike. When we arrived at the hut we were greeted by friends from Dunedin.  We were all impressed that the 12-bunk hut was spacious and warm.

Brewster Hut

Mandy enjoying reading in the sun at Brewster Hut

After lunch the group made tracks to Mt. Armstrong. We had great views of the glacier at the top.

Brewster glacier

 Snack break

It was quite windy near the summit so we didn't make it to the tippy top. Still a satisfying tramp, though!

 Descending back to the hut

That evening the sunset was spectacular.  My camera couldn't capture the bright reds, oranges, and pinks in the sky - what a shame! 

 Sunset at Brewster hut

On Sunday, we weren't in a hurry to leave. I enjoyed a few quiet moments by myself before the walk down the mountain.

 Sun and mountains

 Hiking down the mountain

On the way home, we stopped in Wanaka for a burger at Red Star. I highly recommend their burgers. Both vegetarian options are deeeelicious. There's so much food that it's hard to eat it all - even after a weekend of tramping!

The views on the way home were quite stunning.  Lake Hawea was particularly beautiful. The mountains around the lake were enormous, but look tiny in the photo below.

The day after our trip, a magnitude 6.1 earthquake struck just outside Wanaka and we felt it in Dunedin! It was the first earthquake I've noticed since I've been in New Zealand.

It was a strange experience.  I was in my office with three other students and the windows lightly rattled on and off for 20-30 seconds.  One of the students immediately knew it was an earthquake.  It wasn't strong enough that any of us went under our desks, but it had us wondering how strong it was at the epicenter.  Thankfully, there was no reported damage in Dunedin and only minor damage reported in Wanaka.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Fiordland: Falls Creek

For my last big Otago University Tramping Club trip, I joined forces with an incredible co-leader, Ella, to plan out a weekend we'd never forget.

Our original plan was to hike up Mistake Creek to U-pass on Saturday and then walk down to Hut creek on Sunday.  It would be challenging for us on a good day, but it'd only take a little rain to make the trip unsafe.  So, we scratched that plan and chose (what we thought would be) a more manageable trip up Falls Creek.

The tramping club drove up to Fiordland on Friday night.  I slept underneath the charter bus - a first for me!  On Saturday we started walking around 9am - a little bit later than ideal.  The track was steep, but manageable with a little upper body strength to hoist myself up and over fallen trees.

There was a beautiful water fall within the first hour or so of hiking:

It didn't take long for one of the fellas on our trip to start belting out 80s ballads like Foreigners "I want to KNOW what love ISSSSSSSS!!!!!" (my emphasis) and make Lord of the Rings references (that I did not get because I haven't watched any of the movies, tsk, tsk).

As soon as the track leveled out, we were in the moss covered everything patch of forest that is truly Fiordland-like and then made our way to a small clearing just above the river.  We had a few goes at walking up the river instead of the track because the bush kept getting denser and denser, but there were deep spots with swift water, which we weren't keen to attempt.

Around mid-day we were rewarded with mint weather and stunning views of Ngatimamoe Peak and Pyramid Peak.  I can't over emphasize how awesome the weather was - so unusual for Fiordland

I was feeling optimistic that we'd reach the head of the valley where a glacier fed tarn sits, but we encountered more dense bush once we reached the end of the track and made our way up the valley.  Incredible that it took us 8 hours of total walking time to find a suitable place to set up camp! We quickly put up a tent fly and small tent so that we could drop our gear and hustle to the tarn.

Randomly, a guy on the trip whipped out a recorder and started playing a tune from Lord of the Rings.  Hilarious and awesome. 

I made an uber dork decision to swap my tramping boots for Crocs to walk to the tarn (I just wanted my feet to feel dry for a little while!), but that was a dumb choice - we had a long field of boulders to scramble up and over before we could see the water, so I had to bail on the walk. Waaaaaaaaaah!

No biggie.  I had to start dinner anyway.  (As luck would have it for the group that carried on, several angry kea decided to make a fuss about having visitors.  Here's a video of different cheeky kea.)  We had a scrumptious chickpea, feta and raisin couscous dinner - the five guys on our trip raved about it! (Side note - Ella and I had no idea how much food to pack for seven people, and for some reason we expected them to have giant appetites, lordy we had sooooo much couscous!)

When the sun went down I started a little fire for us to snuggle around.  We shared stories of our worst dating experience, which didn't take very long because New Zealanders don't date much.  The culture is more "let's find each other in a pub and pash for a bit" (at least among the 20-something year old crowd, that is).  We had a bit of a yarn after that and passed around a bottle of cheap bubbly and Whittaker's chocolate.  Good times!

On Saturday, we made our way back to the car park where we got dropped off the day before.  Along the way we had a photo shoot.  The objective was to take a "derpy" picture of everyone holding fake roses.  The picture would be accompanied by a Tinder-style "dating profile" that would be published in the OUTC's annual Antics.  Here's my photo:

The boys' photos were far cuter and more creative. Ha!

We had plenty of downtime once we finished walking (a bus was due to pick us up at 4pm and we were out a bit after 2pm).  So, we used the time productively to craft our dating profiles.   We gave the German guy the nickname "Autobahn" because he's "smooth and fast".  I can't remember the other details for the rest of us, but they were pretty funny.

Now that the trip is over, I'll have my nose to the grindstone to finish up this PhD.  Just a few months and I'll be handing in. Yahooooooooo!

Fiordland: Kea Basin (Rees valley) and Routeburn track run

Last month marked three years living in New Zealand.  My, how time flies!

The last year and a half has been a blur.  I've spent long hours in the office planning, writing, coordinating intervention development, and conducting a pilot study to test that intervention.  I'm so proud of the work I've done and I'm looking forward to getting some publications out there to share the results.  Life hasn't been all work and no play, though.  Once in a while I take time to get outdoors for a breath of fresh air and a break from the thesis action.

In February, I lead five students from the University of Otago up the Rees valley in an attempt to hike up to Kea Basin.  The weather didn't cooperate though and the rain dampened everyone's enthusiasm to spend a day walking on a boggy track just to see views of fog and mist.

Lennox Falls (this what we should have seen)

One thing is for sure, a good ol' Tim Tam Slam can perk up the soggiest tramper!  At the base of Lennox Falls, I boiled water for coffee and tea and taught everyone the proper technique for turning a chocolate biscuit into a straw.

Rest stop in Rees valley

We skipped the hike up to Kea Basin and made our way back to the Sylvan campsite instead.  I served up awesome roasted red pepper and black bean tacos, cantaloupe slices, a vegan Mexican chocolate cake, and home brewed beer.  My group was pretty happy with that!

On Sunday, I joined a different group from the Otago University Tramping Club to run the entire Routeburn Track (32km/19.9 mi long).  I freaking LOVE this track!!

Routeburn Valley

I took seven hours to finish the run (the first guy to reach the car finished in just under four hours).  But, why on earth would I go any faster than I absolutely had to?  Look at the view!

Lake Harris

I walked all the uphill sections (and there was a lot of uphill sections) and then ran downhill in the safe sections of track.  For most of the run I was by myself, but I didn't mind - it felt so freeing to be out there!

Once I was past Lake Harris, it was pretty cruisy down to Mackenzie Hut.  The view from there looked familiar - this is the hut my group from last year had to stay in for safety reasons because our day walk over Emily Pass took so long.

Arriving at Lake Mckenzie hut (mid-right side)

I stopped to top up my water at the hut and then carried on to the Divide Shelter.  On my way I ran past Earland Falls.  Oh. my. god. The falls were STUNNING!  All the rain we had made for an impressive show.  Between the rain, and mist from the falls, it was a magical experience.  I actually would not have been surprised to find a unicorn standing there - it was that surreal. 

I was the last one to the car. Unfortunately, I would have been a little bit quicker if I hadn't tripped about 20 minutes away from the car park.  Just as I had passed the sign at Key Summit saying '45 minutes to car park' I thought, I can totally make it in 20 minutes! So, I picked up the pace and... tripped on a rock and went ribs first into a rock wall and then hip checked the damn thing.  Ooph! Knocked the wind right out of me!  At least I didn't nosedive onto the track... with the momentum I had I could have ended up rolling off the track and down a hill.  Perhaps I'll stay on cruise control next time. :)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Cape Palliser, New Zealand

Sun, sea lions, a lighthouse, and eroded earth pillars that Peter Jackson used as background in the Lord of the Rings - that sums up my day trip to Cape Palliser.

Here's a view looking back on the bay we traveled along for a little bit:

Here's the Cape Palliser lighthouse and its 250+ stairs:

A close up of the lighthouse:

We made a detour to the Putangirua Pinnacles.  The return trip to the viewing point was 1 1/2 hours - just long enough to shake the legs out before getting in the car for another two hours. :)

If you really squint, you can see a small red dot at the bottom of this picture, in the middle:

That's my other half - Will.  He's there to give you an idea of how tall the pillars are.

Just before heading back to Masterton, we had a look for the colony of sea lions.  We saw dozens of them laying in the sun.  Here's one lounging in the water:

Cape Palliser was the last day trip in the Wairarapa before heading back to Dunedin.

It was relaxing and rejuvenating to be away.  Now, I'm ready to finish up my PhD - just a few months until I submit my thesis for examination!

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Pukaha Mt. Bruce Wildlife Centre

I was in need of rest and relaxation after the three-day trek around the Tararuas.  So, I lounged around Masterton for a day and then took a road trip to Pukaha Mt. Bruce Wildlife Centre.

All the wildlife were out and about on such a sunny day!

Highlights include:
  • Watching the takahē and kākā feedings
  • Seeing tuatara chillaxing (these guys can live to be over 100 years old!)
  • Observing a rare white kiwi chase her brown kiwi mate (this was quite amusing because she seemed to be making a game of running after him until he hid behind something and then she hid behind something until he emerged...as soon as she noticed him she'd pop out and start chasing him again)
  • Feeding ginormous eels (watch me feeding the eels in the video below - I was a smidge worried that one would slip into the waders I was wearing!)

I highly encourage visitors to make a day out of their trip to Mt. Bruce - it can really help stretch the $20 entry fee.  There are feedings and talks spread throughout the day, so there's plenty to see and do between the center's opening and closing times.

We arrived around 10am and had coffee at the cafe.  This was great because we could watch takahē strut around as we sipped long blacks on the patio:

Next, we walked around the educational indoor exhibit and made our way outdoors to the walk around the aviaries.

I  met this kokako and thought it was the cutest bird ever (and so friendly!):

After a bit, we ate a picnic lunch that we had brought along and then continued walking around until it was time for the eel feedings.  Feeding the eels was a great experience because I could see them up close.  I was a little apprehensive that so many eels were swimming between my legs and leaping at the spoon of food, but it was still a pretty darn cool opportunity.  So, if you're at least 15 years of age then I highly recommend putting a hand up to volunteer.

There's a two-hour walk around the native bush that I did to stretch the legs a wee bit and then it was time for the kākā feeding:

Next post will be about a day trip to Cape Palliser.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Tararua Northern Crossing

Recently, I took a trip to the north island to visit future in-laws and explore all that the Wairarapa has to offer.  You know what it has to offer? Very (very!) high tramping routes with steep drop offs on both sides.  These tracks provide several perfect opportunities to tumble thousands of feet to one's death with one wrong move.


The Tararua Northern Crossing was not my choosing.  Nonetheless, I was looking forward to it because my fiance had talked it up - he spent time in the Tararua mountains when he was younger and thought it would be fun to show off his old stomping grounds.

On day one of three we made our way to Tarn Ridge Hut.  Based on our fitness levels we expect to be there in less than eight hours.

It took 12 hours of huffing, puffing, photo stops, snack stops, whining, and some crying to get there.

Like many tracks, trails, and routes that I've hiked in NZ, this trip started off with walking through some farm land and up a mossy mountain.

After about four hours we had a scenic lunch stop.

Then, up and away we went.

Mitre Peak - 1571 meters

Yes, we felt on top of the world... but, I was also feeling lightheaded, wobbly, and anxious.  The heights started getting to me.  I wasn't mentally prepared for the route we took.  I wasn't expecting an easy walk in the park, but I had no expectations that this trip required a head for heights!

I struggled when we had to hike upwards.  I got myself through dodgy sections by taking baby steps and using two trekking poles to feel steady.  On the steep downwards sections I slid on my rump.

Somehow, I bum slid down this little gem right here:

Onwards, onwards, onwards.  Right across the top!

In between whimpers, I managed to put my distress aside and look around me.  Even though I was a bit freaked out, I still appreciated the natural beauty of being on top of mountains.

Just before sunset we reached the hut.  It was freezing and so we got right to work on heating up water for sugary hot drinks and preparing dinner.  Since we had the whole hut (which sleeps 16 people) to ourselves, we turned up the music on the iPod.  Being busy and having a tunes helped me relax after a stressful day.

The next day we left the comfort of Tarn Ridge Hut and started making our way to Te Matawai Hut.  This time, I was fully warned that there was a dodgy section (the Waiohine Pinnacles - 1400 meters) that would be worse than the previous day.  Then, I was given the option to take an easier route: get off the ridge line and head down to the river.

Ha! I am not one to back down from a challenge! I would be just as nervous crossing the Pinnacles as I was the day before, but I was determined to keep going on our planned route.  (Besides, years ago a small group of men managed to get over the Pinnacles at nighttime, holding flashlights, without a scratch.  Surely I could do it in daylight with both of my hands free!)

I made it over the Pinnacles without too much of a hitch.  Our lunch break was at Arete Hut.

Unfortunately, I don't have pictures from the rest of the trip. Bummer! Basically, we had an uneventful (but HOT) walk to the hut followed by an uneventful night in the hut.

Our last day was my favorite.  We tramped to South Ohau Hut and had a quick rest stop before making our way out via the Ohau River.  And, when I say, "via the river" I mean that we were actually in the river for a few hours, sometimes wading in water up to our butt!

Truth be told?  The water felt amazing.  My feet were so tender and the cool water was a relief!  I actually walked in the water when I didn't need to, just because it felt so good.

So, now I've done the Northern Crossing.  I totally underestimated what the Tararuas could throw at me, but I'm glad I was able to roam around my fiance's "backyard".  I honestly couldn't imagine the pre-teen version of himself doing the same hike - I'm quite impressed!  With that said, he didn't think the hike was too difficult and didn't quite grasp what I was on about ("Heights? What Heights?").

Well, that just means I'll have to give him a taste of his own medicine.

This summer, when we visit upstate New York, I've decided that we're going hiking in the Adirondacks...  He's never had to deal with rattlesnakes and bears before!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Training for the Wanganui 3 Bridges Marathon

Have I mentioned that I have a marathon coming up?!

In two weeks I'll run my 4th marathon in Wanganui.  I've been building my cardio fitness through weekly swims at Moana pool, Monday night rides with the Cycle World ladies, and looooong runs around Dunedin.

Otago Harbour in background

A few weeks ago, my 18-mile route took me to the south end of Dunedin, past Tomahawk Lagoon, and up a wee track to the Soldiers' Monument.

These sheep were unfazed by my presence.

This past weekend I did a 20-mile out-and-back to Port Chalmers.  I saw great views of the peninsula!

Four-hour solo runs aren't too shabby on roads like this: 

No more long runs until race day!  So, maybe next week I'll go for a long day walk or overnight tramping trip to Port Craig hut.  I enjoy the time away from thesis work and there's still a lot of New Zealand to see before I leave!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Lake Tekapo, New Zealand

I was treated to a weekend away in Lake Tekapo.  Let me tell you, it was awesome!

We stayed at the oh-so-lovely Peppers Bluewater Resort, which had a luxurious bathroom (I love having a cold beer in a warm bubble bath!) and a deeeelicious breakfast buffet.

The weather wasn't too fab, so I don't have any pictures from our walk to the Mt. John Observatory. But, I can assure you that the views from the nearby Astro Cafe are well worth the 1 1/2 hour walk.  (Seriously, click the link to see a video of the 360* view from the cafe!)

We took a morning dip in the Tekapo Springs hot pools - it was soooo relaxing to sit back and enjoy the view of the mountains.  I bet it would be really fantastic to go at nighttime to sit in the hot pools and enjoy the starry sky.  

It wouldn't be a complete weekend without some hiking.  So, we explored the Richmond Trail.  

On the way to the trail head, we bumped into some sheep crossing the road (this sight never gets old):

We drove to the end of Lake Tekapo to have lunch before beginning the hike.  Here's a view from our picnic spot: 

Once we finished, we headed off for a hike.  We had good views of Lake Tekapo and the mountains. 

Lots of tussock... and more mountains...

After 45 minutes the trail headed steeply towards a stream.  So, we took this as a sign to head to the car and make our way back to Dunedin. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Karitane, New Zealand

On a beautiful sunny day I joined my flatmates for a drive up to Karitane.  

The girls went exploring the peninsula and the beach while the boys went surfing.

We found a neat land bridge and snails that had a really cool iridescent shells...

 and these rocky pillar things:

Quite a weird and interesting shape!

These rocks below are evidence of volcanic activity from a long, long time ago - you can vaguely see the basalt columns that are similar to the Organ Pipes on Mt. Cargill.

It's not too far from the city center, maybe a 30 minute drive? It'd be a nice place for a little picnic. 

There's still so much to explore around Dunedin, I hope I can see it all in the next year!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Aurora Australis - the southern lights seen from Dunedin, New Zealand

Last night, conditions were ripe for viewing the aurora australis from the southern parts of New Zealand. So, Will and I drove out to the Otago Peninsula to escape Dunedin's light pollution and see the light show.

From Sandfly Bay, I could make out a light blue/gray glow on the horizon.  It turns out that Will's camera could capture a much different picture than what I was seeing - the results are amazing!

Here's a brief video of the aurora australis:

Video credit: Will Styles

We watched the sky for a bit over an hour.  Here is one of my favorite shots that Will took when we first arrived:

Photo credit: Will Styles 

Another spectator taking photos was a bit grumpy about the clouds, but it turns out that the clouds made the photos more interesting!

Photo credit: Will Styles 

Perhaps next time we'll see a bit more sky.  I imagine seeing the Milky Way and the aurora would be spectacular!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bushball 2014: videos & photos of Otago University Tramping Club in Mt. Aspiring National Park

It's an annual tradition: pack up 40+ university students on a Friday night, transport them to Mt. Aspiring National Park (with a pit stop at a small town pub), then party all Saturday long.  The Otago University Tramping Club promised to turn an average 2-hour walk to Mt. Aspiring Hut into a day long adventure followed by a 3-course meal and dancing. Lots of dancing.

They came through on their promise.

Here's a little video to show what a bunch of c-c-c-cold trampers looks like the morning after a night under the stars in frigid temperatures:

After we warmed up with coffee/tea and porridge we set off towards the hut.

Someone from home commented on NZers clothing preference: dressed for winter on top and summer on bottom.

After several games of tug-of-war and a potato sack race we stopped to lunch on the river.

Mt. Aspiring Hut was home for the night.

After our pleasant walk, we started getting dinner ready: corn chowder, chili, BBQ chicken, cheesy mashed potatoes, and apple crumble. Trampers don't mess around when it comes to food!

My favorite part of the evening was the band. They were perfect for the hoe down theme!

Most of the group moved pretty slowly the next morning. (I think the keg had something to do with it.)

We got the group rejuvenated with a kiwi-style fry up: bacon, eggs, toast, hash browns, and fried mushrooms. Yum!

Eventually, it was time to walk back to the car park and shuttle everyone to the bus.

It took a while for us all to regroup, but I can't complain because it was a pretty nice spot to relax:

Above all, the highlight of the weekend for me was when I got back to Dunedin and shared a picture I took with family and friends.  See, we were given a list of things to photograph on Saturday's walk to the hut and one item on the list was a 'pretty rock'.  Here's what I took a picture of:

I don't know what the future holds, but I know who will be by my side.   : )