Sunday, March 20, 2011

Into the woods and over the clouds

It is said that in every walk with nature one receives far more than s/he seeks. This was none more true than our walk this past weekend. It was a tramp that we had been dying to check out all year but the few weekends that we had set aside for it always ended up with us staring out our apartment window watching the rain, wind, and clouds blow by.
Finally, after many failed attempts, the forecast for the weekend was clear skies ahead and so we loaded up the panda mobile and headed for the Tararua ranges. Situated just an hour North of Wellington, Tararua National Park was established in 1954 making it New Zealand’s oldest park. It holds an important role in conserving the native biodiversity of the lower North Island. It is also the most popular playground for Wellingtonians itching to get out of the city for a day or two.

On Saturday morning, we left the city before 6 am (after calling Kel to wish her a very happy 30th!) and were on the trail just as the sun was cresting the horizon.
The journey begins
...The starting line

 ...The route
...The long climb up
The first day’s tramp took us up to the tussock covered mountain top of Mount Holdsworth. Unfortunately (and not surprisingly), the weather forecast had not been entirely accurate and so our first day was fogged in. It made for some incredibly dramatic scenery but it was a bit of a mystery what surrounded us beyond 5 feet.
Like stepping into a Lord of the Rings set
Above the treeline and the fog starts to set in
Fog = in
Reaching Mt. Holdsworth
Taking a break

Such hearty vegetation up here
A spider waits patiently on his dew covered web
Still foggy but blissfully happy
Getting kinda steep...
It was a pretty tough climb but well worth the effort as walking the ridgeline was absolutely incredible. We were the first to arrive at our hut in the early afternoon and we wasted no time throwing on the booties and making ourselves a hot cuppa coffee with baileys. Yumm! Unfortunately, there wasn’t much of a view to enjoy but after the day’s climb, we were happy to just relax, enjoy the fresh air and the solitude. It wasn’t until this moment that I realized how quiet these mountains truly are; free of traffic, crowds. Fantastic. The bad news? They are also entirely free of birds. That’s right. Not a single chirp was heard. Sadly this is all due to the overpopulation of invasive species such as rats, possums, and stoats. Because of these four legged critters, the entire bird population has been literally wiped out of the area. Many local conservation groups have been working diligently to trap and kill as many invasive species as they can. In conjunction with this, they have also been trying to build natural corridors between Kapiti Island (a wildlife sanctuary off the coast of New Zealand) and the national park. In order for this to take shape, it will involve commitments from local conservation groups, Maori communities, and affected municipalities. The one key point that I think will ensure the success of this initiative is the very fact that New Zealanders pride themselves in the natural beauty of their land and seascapes (as they should!). As a result, their dedication to protecting native species such as kiwi birds and tuis is highly motivated and never seems to fade. New Zealand’s birds are lucky to have these folks in their corner. Hopefully, over time, these populations will return to the region and call it home once more.

By late afternoon a few other groups had arrived at the hut, including the hut wardens. By dinner time, we were 11-strong and having a blast! By the time we were headed to bed, we all stepped outside to catch a glimpse and were pleased to find out that Mother Nature had cut us a break and cleared the skies! The stars were out in full force and we spent some time enjoying the view before settling down for the night. By morning-time, we woke to a view that was unlike anything I had ever seen before…
Sun rising over Jumbo hut
Sun shining over a blanket of cloud. The best wake up call ever!
Jumbo hut (the hut we stayed in the night before) tucked into the mountain range
Due to the heavy fog we experienced the day before, I had no idea how high we really were and I was absolutely blown away to find a sea of cloud floating far below us and a glowing orange sun beginning to peak up behind the horizon. It was too beautiful for words. Clearly, there was no way we were going to let this day pass us by and so we decided to retrace our steps, head back up the mountain, and check out the ridgeline once more. Best decision of the weekend!
Clear skies and all smiles
Pete on the ridgeline
From this ridgeline we could see the ocean on both sides of the island!
Looking South toward Wellington
Looking back at the ridgeline we just crossed
Midday photo op
Taking it allll in
Creepy bridge. Didn't like.

I couldn't look down but Pete captured this midway
The one downside of this plan was the alternate route that we had to take to return to the valley. The route had us climbing (literally) down incredibly steep terrain for 2 ½ hours. By the time we touched down in the valley, my legs were shaking. But it was well worth the journey. For while the views from the mountain peaks were certainly incredible, it was the journey itself that was truly rewarding.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Daddy & Erinn tour New Zealand - Part II

When last I left you Daddy Piller and I were leaving Wanaka in our trail of dust and headed South en route to the great Fiordland National Park. 
Our full route from Wellington to Dunedin
Prior to my dad’s arrival, I had a heart to heart with Mother Nature and so far, it seemed that she had been keeping up her end of the bargain. We spent our first day on the outskirts of the park and spent the afternoon relaxing and getting caught up with family and friends via the local internet cafĂ©. The next day we enjoyed the first leg of the Kepler Track. Unlike the mountainous terrain that we had traversed in the days prior, the Kepler took us along a winding path through rainforest to the glorious lake Manapouri.
Kepler Track
Swing bridge
Cruising the boardwalk
Red tree
Colourful fungi decorate the forest floor
Meandering the rainforest toward Lake Manapouri
Enjoying our reward
Lake Manapouri was a great first taste of the great Fiordland National Park. But it wasn’t until the next day that we truly got into the thick of the mountains. The following morning we made our way up to Milford Sound where we boarded a boat with 18 others and set sail deep into the sounds for an overnight cruise. The views - a symphony of waterfalls falling out of thousands (literally) of crevasses that time has created. The food – beautiful seafood, grilled veggies, roast beef. Yum! The company – Australians, Malaysians, fellow Canucks. So fun! Absolutely everything was spectacular. I truly cannot put into words the majestic power that these mountains have. So I guess I’ll stop trying and will simply let the pics tell the story…

The Milford Mariner
Our room
Milford Sound

To give you a little perspective - the waterfall in the middle is three times the height of Niagara
Misty mountains
Snow on the mountain tops
A double rainbow!
Out at the Tasman Sea looking into the mouth of Milford Sound
Homer's tunnel - a 1.27 km long tunnel that works its way through these spectacular cliffs
Next on the grand tour was a road trip to Dunedin through Central Otago. Dunedin is a town of about 132,000 people and is the home of much of the country’s arts and culture. It also has some stunning architecture, amazing cafes, and some killer surfing! Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to get some surfing in but we certainly didn’t waste the two days that we had left for our adventures.
Dunedin train station
Inside the station
Beautiful tile work
Dunedin graffiti
Dunners art gallery
Doorway in town
On our last full day, we hit the road again and made our way up the Otago Peninsula. This peninsula together with its 20 km long Otago Harbour is home to a huge colony of Royal Albatross and the endangered Yellow Eyed Penguin. The roads in this area are incredibly steep and the drive was incredibly rugged and yet the sharper the shoulders got and the higher up we drove, the more beautiful the views.
Yellow Eyed Penguin hospital. Where penguins go to get better before being released back into the wild
Happy feet!
Baby penguin waiting for its parents to return with some grub
Look closely and you'll see the underground bunkers from which we were able to get up close and personal looks at the beautiful penguins
The view from the penguins' homes. Pretty decent real estate!
Entering the tunnels
Exploring the tunnels
Penguin neighbours chilling by the bay
The royal albatross has a 3m wing span - the second largest albatross in the world
On our very last day in the South Island, we took a quick drive north of Dunedin to check out the Moeraki boulders. These boulders and basically huge spherical stones that look like they’ve been strewn along a stretch of Koekohe Beach near the town of Moeraki. Over millions of year these boulders have been exposed through shoreline erosion from black mudstone coastal cliffs that back the beach. It is here that our trip had come to an end. It was time for us to pack our bags and catch our flight back to Wellington where we had a day and a half left to make the most of daddy-daughter time.
Seagull takes a rest
Moeraki boulders

On Monday morning I took him to the Wellington Botanic Gardens to check out my office, meet my colleagues and get one final glimpse of beautiful windy Welly from above. It was really nice to be able to show him the place I’ve been calling home for the past 8 months and to give him to chance to put faces to names. That afternoon, he caught his flight to Auckland – San Fran – YYZ. As his plane was passing overhead and I was running along the waterfront, I saw a pod of orcas wandering into the Wellington harbour – an incredibly rare occurrence. I hope that he was able to see them from above as he bid farewell to this fantastic country. I miss him already but am so happy that he was able to visit while I was here. It was really great to see him and catch up. Now it’s only a matter of months before we see him once more and we start calling ‘The Big Smoke’ home again!