Friday, March 16, 2012

Avalanche Peak and Westland

February 7th to 11th
Scott, Darrell and I drove into the town of Arthur Pass early to try and dry our laundry. (Scott and I had done some hand washing that refused to dry overnight…) When we couldn’t find anyone awake in town with $2 coins, and the dryer didn’t seem to work anyway, we just hung our laundry on the line behind one of the backpacker places and went off for a hike!

The kiwis outdid themselves with this trail. It went straight up (almost literally) 1,100 meters (that is 3,575 feet for you Amerikuns) and ended with a spectacular view of the peaks and glaciers of Arthur’s Pass. Lovely. It was incredibly warm and there was barely a breeze!

Darrell, Scott and I on top of Avalanche Peak
A friendly kea, an alpine parrot, greeted us when we arrived. He was waiting to be fed, and often is, despite the many signs telling people not to feed these birds. They can be a true menace, and will chew on backpacks and bike seats now that they are used to people. 

Kea on Avalanche Peak in Arthur's Pass National Park
We took a different trail down which wasn’t quite as steep, but we were all pretty exhausted at the end. By the time we staggered back down our laundry was toasty and then we found a sweet place to camp along the river with no one else in sight.

View from our campsite the next morning
There is a crazy race that traverses the width of New Zealand that was going to enter the Pass soon after we left. Participants begin on the west coast and run, bike, kayak, and run and bike some more, until eventually reaching Christchurch on the east coast.  The winners can cross in less than 11 hours. Phew!

Instead of running and biking, we drove our van to Hokitika (again!) and worked at the library (again!). We picked up Thomas the German hitchhiker as we left town and drove to Okarito, a place my sister enjoyed when she was here on her epic bike ride. Okarito is the setting for the “The Bone People” by Keri Hulme. In fact, Keri still lives in Okarito and may have been throwing a stick on the beach to her dog, but I don’t know that for sure. Just a guess. There seemed to be a lot of people throwing sticks for their dogs at the beach that day…

We left Okarito early the next morning and beat the rush to Franz Josef glacier, one of the tourist hotspots in New Zealand.  Our walk close to the glacier terminus was pleasantly uncrowded.
Darrell and Scott looking at glacial features
Seeing subtropical ferns and glacial ice in the same view is one of the wonderful aspects of New Zealand's glaciers.
Subtropical foliage in front of Franz Josef glacier
Fox Glacier was just a bit further down the road, and we stopped at the DOC office to get our passes to stay at Welcome Flat on the Copeland Track.  We didn’t tour Fox Glacier as we wanted to get started on our 17 km hike into the hot springs. The sand flies in the parking lot were TERRIBLE so it was miserable trying to pack up our backpacks while constantly swatting at flies.  Scott is zen-like about bugs, but I pretty much go ballistic and swing at anything that moves. Darrell helped us get out of there as fast as possible! And then got some concentrated work done while we were hiking.

Scott and I were eager for our first backpack!
The track was mostly in the woods, but we got some views of the river.  Soon after we started it began to rain so you can see some mist in the picture.

View of the river from a stream crossing
We were ready to get into the warm springs when we got to the hut and campground at Welcome Flats!
There are three pools, all pretty shallow, and water can be diverted from the source to serve different pools.

Next morning's view of Welcome Flat Hot Springs
The weather cleared enough the next day we could see the mountains behind the hut.

The hut at Welcome Flat
Scott was the only camper, and was able to set up his tent under a ledge so he was completely dry and didn't have to listen to anyone snore. The hut had room for 44 trampers but there were less than half that. The mattresses were just on the floor in two long rows, so if it had been crowded, the only space you got was the length and width of the cot-size mattress!

The return hike took us on the same track, and we recrossed all the fun swing bridges we had gotten on the way in.

Scott crossing one of the swing bridges
All in all, the hike was fantastic. It was just the right level of difficulty and had beautiful views. We enjoyed visiting with other hikers at the hut and in the hot springs. When we reached the end, it was already after 3 pm so we didn’t drive too far to camp. And who showed up to swim “nudey rudey” at Lake Paringa but Mikaela and Donald from Cairns whom we had met on the track! So we visited with them over some crackers, cheese, and NZ cider. Yum.

Unfortunately, the Lake Paringa DOC site filled up and Scott’s tent got hemmed in by noisy campers.  We won’t mention any nationalities here, ahem, but it isn’t Americans that get the bad name in NZ…

The next morning we took a short walk to Monroe Beach where we were hoping to see the rare Fiordland Crested Penguin. We didn’t see the penguin but it was a lovely walk anyway. We had to boogey a bit in order to get Scott to Wanaka in time to catch a bus to Queenstown, so we skipped all the waterfalls as we went over Haast Pass, but we did go to the Blue Pools for lunch when we got over the pass.

Darrell and Scott eating lunch along the river at Blue Pools
The last view of the day shows what New Zealand sand flies did to Scott's feet. We wouldn't want you to think we didn't have to suffer a little for our amazing experiences in this country!

The cold water soothes, but doesn't eliminate the intense itching!

Scott is here!

February 2nd – February 6th
We drove from Funky Mary’s (see last post) to the airport to pick up Scott Tice, one of my college buddies, who left winter in Wisconsin for winter in New Zealand.  Oops, I mean summer in New Zealand, though you need your winter clothes here year round! He packed light for backpacking, but also carried a heavy duffel of FOOD! Prior to coming, Scott contacted biocontrol at the Auckland airport so he knew what he was allowed to bring into the country, and he put his new dehydrator to work making tons of dried fruit and veggies. His wife (and my dear friend) Jean made some killer granola and energy bars we are now enjoying as well.

The next morning (after cherry and almond granola with amazingly creamy NZ yogurt), we drove north to Waipara to meet some folks from Lincoln University. Peter and Phil, along with two students, showed Darrell some geologic sites in the area. The forecast on the radio called for “fresh and exposed” weather, so I asked what that meant when we met them. Basically it means you will have a good cool breeze! To reach two of the exposures we crossed farmer’s fields, traipsing across sheep paddocks (watching out for the fresh droppings) and fields of stubble left from the oat harvest. I will never see oatmeal the same way. The view of huge coastal bluffs was the reward.

Darrell at the first site in Waipara
Peter was carving out steps in a giant loess deposit and found this moa crop stone as well. Moas (eleven extinct species in NZ) used small rocks to help them grind their food, and you can see the grind pattern on the rock!

Moa cropstone
We camped at Motunau, and the next morning Scott led me in some yoga stretches on the beach. I hadn’t done yoga in a long time and it felt great… Darrell hoped to collect some shells from a glacial deposit on the Haumuri Bluffs so we drove to the railroad tracks in Claverley and then walked on a path between the tracks and the beach. We crossed the river on the railroad bridge then hiked up into a farmer’s field. The gate to enter the field was open, but there was a bull there ready to defend his cows, and I didn’t like being inside the electric fence with him! Scott gave me a cow femur to defend myself, but it didn’t make me feel much better! We crossed the paddock and went over the fence (carefully avoiding all the hot wires) to check the bluffs for any accessible deposits. We never did find the deposit but we had a great hike.

Darrell and Scott on Haumuri Bluffs
When we returned to the van, we should have camped right by the beach, but another camper was already in the best spot, so we drove further north to camp and ended up in a holiday park having a long night listening to competing music and karaoke from groups celebrating the long Waitangi Treaty holiday weekend.

I was pretty grumpy the next morning, but recovered as Scott and I hiked the coastal trail on the Kaikoura Peninsula. There were New Zealand fur seals lounging everywhere! We finally bushwhacked inland when we got tired of trying to avoid getting between the seals and the sea.

Lounging New Zealand Fur Seal at Kaikoura Peninsula
View of Kaikoura Peninsula
We then drove on the interior road south and had lunch while listening to a soulful saxophone being played by Brett, a Maori DOC (Department of Conservation) ranger, who was checking 4WD vehicles in and out of the Clarence River checkpoint. We had a wonderful conversation with Brett and he shared the hongi with each of us. The hongi is the traditional Maori greeting where you press foreheads and noses together. Scott gave him some wild rice he had collected in northern Wisconsin and we said our goodbyes, so grateful we had met him and been able to share a bit of ourselves with each other.

Brett the DOC ranger and his lovely sax music
Scott and Brett with a hongi greeting
We camped at a DOC site at the foot of Mt. Thomas so Scott and I decided to hike the summit trail the next morning. If this trail is typical, the kiwi’s don’t mess with switchbacks very often! This trail went straight up.  We were huffing and puffing and a woman passed us going up the trail.  Lisa is a local and was training for an ultramarathon (see for the one she is helping organize) but stopped to visit with us. Her record for going up and down this trail is 10 times in 19 hours. In pouring rain. It took Scott and I four hours to do it once! So Lisa is our new wonder woman hero!

Nice camping spot at Mt. Thomas
Our next stop was in Arthur’s Pass National Park. Scott read about the cave stream in Scott Cook’s “New Zealand Frenzy”. This book includes places that aren’t in most of the guidebooks – or you hope they aren’t because you don’t want hordes of people there! A fast-moving stream ran through a pitch black cave, and you could walk through the rushing water to the next opening in the cave in about 30 minutes. The tramp began in a pool of chest deep water and then proceeded upstream through a series of small waterfalls. It ended with a waterfall and a tummy-slide out between the rocks. Really cool! Highly recommended to you – but don’t tell anyone else about it!

Scott and I emerging from the cave stream.
Stay tuned! More adventures coming!

Earthquakes, Native Plants, and Funky Mary’s Cottage

January 28th to February 1st
Note: This blog is from just before Scott arrived.

Staying in Christchurch, we felt several small (magnitude 4) earthquakes. And the news is dominated by the rebuilding efforts and the frustrations of many of the citizens in dealing with the stressful situation and bureaucratic hassles in trying to get compensation, find a place to live, etc. For those of you that are interested in seeing a map and even watching a timelapse movie of earthquakes on the map, you can go to this site:

A running count of the Canterbury region earthquakes and their magnitudes is at:

On Saturday, January 28th, Matt and Margaret took us on an earthquake and native plant tour of Christchurch. We first drove out to the south and east of Christchurch to where there were visible signs left from the September 2010 earthquake. We started out on a straight road, and it was really obvious when the road got pushed to the side by earthquake forces.

December 2010 Earthquake realigned a once straight road!
We went to the next road over and here the road had been lifted up as well as shoved to the side.

Note the realigned fence! The bump in the road ins't obvious though.
Matt also took us on a short tour of the Landcare Institute where he works. Matt is a palynologist (pollen specialist), but also knows his plants on a macro level. He taught us some of the plants in the Institute’s native garden. There are almost 300 endemic species of trees in New Zealand, so I can only hope to learn the most common. When the Maori arrived, probably less than one thousand years ago, they burned much of the native forest. The white settlers have deforested more for timber and to create pasture, so less than 15% of NZ is now covered with the native flora. The common names tend to be Maori, but if we used the English names it would be even more confusing because the white pine here is not even in the same family as the North American white pine.  So, instead, I will say rimu, tawa, matai and rata, and you can just be as confused as I am!

Darrell in front of some native biodiversity at the Landcare Institute where Matt works
One of the most interesting adaptations of the trees and shrubs here is that the juvenile form is much, much different than the adult form. For example, lancewood (horoeka) is a small tree with sword-like foliage that changes dramatically as the tree matures. The juveniles are so different from the adults that early botanists believed they were different species. Young trees grow straight and thin with no branches, having only a cluster of long, lance-like leaves at the top. The adult leaves are less than half the length and twice the width of the juvenile's leaves and create a crown at the top of the tree.

Juvenile Lancewood at the Landcare Institute
Mature Lancewood at the Landcare Institute
The best explanation scientists have for this dimorphism is that the juveniles needed to defend themselves against moa appetites. There are no moa left, so maybe if we wait a million years or so, we can see if this theory holds water!

Another example of lower juvenile leaves being morphologically distinct from adult leaves above.

We then walked around a remnant patch of native forest purposefully left by a settler family in Christchurch called Riccarton Bush. It is hard to imagine the entire Canterbury plains (a vast agricultural area now) being covered in this dense forest!

Matt looking at a crazy root in the Riccarton Bush, a preserved area in Christchurch

Margaret in Riccarton Bush
Our tour day ended sitting at the picnic table in Matt and Margaret’s yard sharing a beer and talking more about New Zealand evolution and ecology, two of my favorite topics!

The next day we moved to the coast at New Brighton where we stayed five days at Funky Mary’s Cottage.  Mary and Dennis were great hosts and the cottage really was fun and funky. Darrell got a lot of writing done, and I walked along the beach and started to clean the fossil shells Darrell had collected at Wanganui on the North Island.

Cleaning shells in the sun at Funky Mary's Cottage
Dennis also shared some of the pictures he took from the earthquake liquefaction in this neighborhood, so I am circling back to the ever-present theme of earthquakes in Christchurch with these images.

Dennis's photo from near where we are staying: A car meets liquefaction.
Dennis's photo of a bustop in New Brighton
Thank goodness this isn't our van!