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.

1 comment:

  1. Simply stunning. Imagine waking up above the clouds! Thanks for sharing!