A Travellerspoint blog

October 2011

More South Island / Hostel Burnout

*Franz Joseph Glacier, Wanaka, Queenstown*

semi-overcast 14 °C

My bus rolls into Franz Joseph Glacier on a rainy evening. The town, a small collection of hostels and restaurants, serves as a stop along the West Coast and a base for visitors to the glacier. At the hostel I wind up chatting with a cool girl from Germany, and we watch the rugby together. This rugby thing is growing on me. It’s loads of fun to watch and I find myself squirming/shouting along with the action on screen. Not that I understand the half of it, but no matter. Meanwhile, my Israeli friend from Motueka walks in from the rain bearing hot pizza and joins us on the sofa for the rugby. Given that there are only a few ways to get around NZ’s South Island, people often end up following the same route, so there tend to be reunions along the way as you hit the major nodes of the network. A neat little phenomenon.

Next morning. One can experience the glacier via hiking, heli-hikes (whereby you helicopter up to a point on the glacier and walk around on it with crampons and pickaxes and such), and scenic flights. My own two feet seem by far the most budget-friendly option, and a perfectly good one at that, so I hike with the German girl and four French guys to a lookout point near the glacier. NZ tramping continues to be fabulous. This hike has some steep challenging parts, more swing bridges, and the view is awesome.
In the evening the French guys make crepes – yum! Meanwhile I have moved to the hostel across the street (lured by free internet), and my roommate is from Spain. So my day has been a lovely language soup of French, German and Spanish.

The next day the Frenchies are driving down to Wanaka, which is the direction I want to go (toward Queenstown), and they agree to take me. They have rented a camper van with two seats in front and a sleeping area in back, so it is three of us lounging/rolling around in back on the 5 hour drive down to Wanaka. It looks kind of like this:

Wanaka is a small city/town with a nice offering of tramping and ‘adrenaline activities.’ Set on gently sloping hills around a lake with mountains in the background, it looks - as does much of NZ - like a postcard:
At the hostel I re-reencounter the Israeli guy, who feels like an old friend by now. We take a quiet walk along the lake and grab food at a kebab stand as the sun sets. I am craving quiet now, by the way. Although I am meeting great people, human interaction is beginning to feel taxing. As a matter of fact, I am noticing a pattern. This seems to happen after a few consecutive nights in staying in hostels. I have started to think of it as “Hostel Burnout.” Its chief symptom is that no matter how pleasant other people’s company may be, I basically want to be alone. So the next day, instead of sticking around Wanaka to hike with friends (lousy hiking weather anyway), I book a bus to Queenstown where I don’t know anyone yet.

Queenstown has a cool vibe. Restaurants, pubs, all night hamburger joints, and countless businesses catering to the adrenaline junkies that gravitate here (no pun intended) for bungee jumping, paragliding extreme mountain biking, river sledging, skydiving etc. Which reminds me. About all that adrenaline stuff... A couple months back, I managed to slip a disk in my neck. Wasn’t my first stupid injury, but this time there was… Nerve Pain. That plus some absurdly intense muscle spasms obviated sleep for weeks, and it put the fear of God in me. Eventually things seemed to be moving in the right direction, I had clearance to travel, and I asked my PT about bungee jumping. He made a pained face and groaned (much like when I asked about tumbling the week before). He finally said it would probably be okay, like the odds were in my favor should I care to chance it. Strolling down Shotover Street now, I recall this pronouncement, consider the sumptuous adrenaline menu, then juxtapose it with… Nerve Pain. I decide that God willing I will have the opportunity to bungee jump/skydive/et al when I am not three months post slipped disk, and for now, hiking it is.

The main tramp near Queenstown is up to Ben Lomond Peak, a mountain overlooking the city and surrounds. It starts with a steep ascent to the upper cable car terminal called Skyline Complex, which is also a starting point for loge tracks, ziplining adventures, mountain biking and probably more. Nearing Skyline Complex I hear some strange noises that I realize are mountain bikes braking. Frequently and sharply. They sound almost musical, like blasts on a clarinet. Then the hiking path intersects with a mountain biking trail known as “Vertigo” whose grade is so steep that I would scarcely attempt it on foot, let alone a bike. I’ve done my share of hazardous things, but gain a new level of respect for these ‘Queenstown adrenaline junkies’ who are clearly much crazier than I.

What can I say. Another fabulous NZ hike. Ben Lomond Peak, reached after a couple hours of challenging uphill, rewards you with killer views from up in the clouds. It is above the bush line, above the snow line, and – a special treat – above the sand fly line, so you can hang out without being pestered. At the summit I meet a couple guys from overseas who are living and working in Queenstown. We pass around some cookies and binoculars as we chat. I also inquire about a sofa to crash on, just in theory (why not save a couple buck on a hostel?). They explain that they live in a house with 15 people and the landlord doesn’t technically allow it… but hey, it’d probably work, so let them know if/when I need it.

Back at the hostel, I make dinner for the second night in a row courtesy the Asian Mart, where I have taken a liking to shopping. Last night was udon soup with fresh tofu and bok choy, tonight coconut curry. It is a pleasantly quiet evening. Some hostels are more social than others, and people tend to hang out, make dinner together and plan activities together. Here it's more like everyone does his/her own thing, which is exactly what I wanted. Still. I am craving even more pure isolation, like tramping and camping. Queenstown is fairly far south, so most of the Great Walks nearby are still limited by wintry weather conditions, i.e., the DOC updates say things like, “extreme risk of avalanche.” The Kepler Track, just outside Te Anau, is partly passable and sounds beautiful, so I book a bus for the next day.

Side note: Apart from the ride with the French guys, which is different because we already knew each other by then, I have not hitchhiked since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I can posit two reasons. (1) I am now traversing routes fully covered my prepaid Flexipass, and (2) That ‘Driftwood’ episode felt like hitting the hitchhiking jackpot. Anything after would be anticlimactic, and really, I just don’t want to press my luck because if it comes in any kind of finite quantity, I have surely maxed out.

Posted by sbw2109 16:54 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)


*Or, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs*

overcast 16 °C

Yom Kippur morning. I wake up in my tent to birdsongs and wind along the Karamea coast. I have decided to fast today as I am less than two hours’ walk from the trail exit, so it’s not like I’d be hiking all day without nourishment. I will drink water, though; not looking to pass out here.

On the walk I sight two 60-ish looking men a ways down the beach. We wave hello; NZ is just friendly like that. When we get close enough to exchange a few words, I ask if they are by any chance driving back to Karamea later. Affirmative.

I take a liking to Rob and Gene as we engage in the usual getting-to-know-you conversation. They are from the North Island, here on holiday, staying at Gene’s brother’s house with some other friends who came for the whitebaiting (to be explained later). Meanwhile, there are some caves about 20 minutes off the highway known as the Oparara Arches that I would have liked to see, but it is only practical to go by car. When Rob and Gene mention they were there yesterday but missed one of the arches, I volunteer that if they’d like to catch that last arch I’d be happy to tag along. So off we go onto a dirt road winding through forested hills. Amazing how quickly NZ’s vegetation can change and it feels like you’re in a different ecosystem. As for caves, geology happens slowly and I’ve never really had the patience for it, but I can appreciate amazing rock formations when standing right at/under them.

As we drive back to the main road, Rob asks if I’m hitching a lot. He is a little concerned for my safety, says bad things do happen albeit rarely, and asks where I’m trying to get. It feels just a little weird to be having this conversation while driving along a remote forest road with two strangers. But here I am, so I answer that I’d like to make it to Westport or Greymouth and catch a bus on south from there. Rob says they are driving down to Greymouth tomorrow morning and I am welcome to join if I don’t find anything sooner. They’re staying just down the road and we can meet in the morning. For that matter, I am welcome to bunk with them at Gene’s brother’s house, “but that’s up to you – we are seven men, after all.”

I say thank you very much, I’ll think it over. Which I do not. What a no-brainer: Absolutely not, why would I ever do such a thing. And yet. I have an odd little sense that maybe, just maybe… As we roll into Karamea and they ask whether to drop me off there or head to the house. I hear myself saying, Let’s head to the house. They chuckle over how the group will react when I show up. “I’ll let you do the explaining,” I say. “Oh no, we’re not gonna say anything, we’ll just walk in with you and see what they do.”

The banter starts up right away. “Where’d you find her?!” “Well, we were just walking along the beach and there she was looking for a ride, so we picked her up and took her home with us.” “Like a piece of driftwood, eh!” The nickname sticks. “Make yourself at home, Driftwood! Care for a beer?”

I am thus welcomed and christened by these seven Kiwis in their 50s and 60s, having a holiday away from the wives to hunt and fish and enjoy friendships forged over decades. They are highly amused at Rob and Gene’s beachcombing find, and offer me more food and drinks as we sit around chatting. Rather than saying, “No thank you, I’m not hungry/thirsty” for the next six hours, which would (a) seem weird and (b) be patently untrue, I explain that I am fasting until sundown because it is an important Jewish holiday.

“Really? How about that!” They are all interested, and a hearty fellow named Mike is particularly tickled. “Wow. I’d never have that much faith, I wouldn’t, wasn’t raised that way you know. And I’m sorry, the way people go on about religion sometimes, all a bunch of bullshit and jellybeans. No offense mind you, I admire it I do. You must be bloody hungry, though, eh?! So what’s this holiday all about?” I explain a little about Yom Kippur, then we’re off on a conversation about life, death, belief, etc. In between hunting stories and exploits of epic proportion. “Bob here, he was so fit he could run circles around all of us. Just run up and down the mountain with two deer on his back, he would! Say, Driftwood, do you like venison? Ever tried it? How about whitebait?” They promise I’ll taste both tonight.

I’ve been hearing about this whitebait stuff for a while now. As best I can gather, it is a small fish that swims down the rivers and streams this time of year, making for whitebaiting season. The classic preparation, known as a whitebait patty, is to throw some fish into a pan whole and cook them up whole along with some egg. Which doesn’t sound half bad going on 20 hours of fasting. They pull a bowl from fridge to show me the day’s catch. The fish are tiny and clear, and they are still alive, squiggling and squirming to get out of the bowl. “Whitebait, it’s also sometimes called white gold. What’s in this bowl here, it’d probably sell for $100. But we just like to fish it and eat it – you gotta have ‘em fresh, of course. And a lot of restaurants, they do have fresh whitebait around now, but you go to a restaurant and order a whitebait patty, you might get an egg patty with two little fish somewhere in there. Whereas these ones we’ll be making here, they’ll be chock full of whitebait they will…”

Meanwhile, rugby makes the New Zealand world go round, let alone a Rugby World Cup. Ireland is playing France tonight, so some of us head to town to watch at the bar. Yom Kippur excuses me from having a beer, which is fine by me. As we stand around chatting and watching the game they periodically remind me, “One hour left til sunset, eh Driftwood? You’ll be good n’ hungry! Soon you’ll be tasting the finest whitebait patties you’ll ever eat.”

By the time we return from the match it is decidedly dark and I am decidedly hungry. Bob, who seems to be the appointed chef, is cooking up the whitebait, and in no time appears with a steaming platter. The patties are golden, fluffy clusters of the delicate little fish held together by just the right amount of egg. I add lemon and salt as instructed and take a bite, my hosts watching closely for my reaction. I don’t have to fake it: This is GOOD. Then, the main course is venison steak (courtesy Gene’s grandson’s hunting) with a balsamic reduction, served with fabulously creamy mashed potatoes and vegetables. As I take my first bite of venison they again watch my reaction: Delicious. “Did you ever think you’d be eating whitebait patties and venison tonight with seven Kiwi guys tonight, eh Driftwood?” Someone else says, “It’s like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs!” That name sticks as well, and we spend a while trying to recall all the dwarfs’ names and decide who’s who among us.

We turn in around 10pm. I sleep out in the shed with one of the guys who says the rest snore too loudly for him. Indeed, the few who have already passed out are inspiring visions of chainsaws, jackhammers, trombones and tympanis. In the morning Rob, Gene and I head for Greymouth, with a quick stop in Punakaiki to see cool rock formations with blowholes.
As we part ways and I thank them again for everything, Rob gives me his email saying, “Just write me in a year to let me know you got home safe, okay?”

Posted by sbw2109 15:45 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Yom Kippur on the Heaphy Track / Why I love my tent, part II

*It works against sand flies*

sunny 14 °C

Having stopped by a DOC office to reserve my tent site like a good girl, having hitchhiked to reach the Heaphy Track like a less good girl, and having filled my belly with hot fish and chips like a proper Kiwi, I am hiking towards the Katipo Creek shelter. I am a lazy tramper, don’t like carrying a big backpack all day, so I will camp two nights at Katipo and just do a day hike in between. I reach the site with plenty of time to pitch my tent and dine on PB&J while watching the sun set over the ocean. It is exquisite, and exquisitely lonely.

New Zealand is blessed with incredible natural beauty, no large carnivores, and next to no poisonous animals. All of which makes tramping ideal. There is only one downside, aside from the country’s highly unpredictable weather: Sand flies. Little devil creatures that leave super itchy bites anywhere they get the chance. When you stop along the trail, it takes about 30 seconds for every sand fly within 30 meters to hone in on you. Leave a water bottle or backpack sitting for a minute and they’ll swarm around it, I guess because it smells of human. The bug spray I have doesn’t seem to deter them in the least, so once I stop to camp, I just cover up from head to toe. I have developed the following protocol for entering into my tent: Pee one last time so I won’t have to get up in the night, perform a goofy dance of stomping and swatting to shoo away the current entourage, run up to the tent, unzip it, shoot inside, and close it as fast as I can. Within seconds, dozens of sand flies are hovering nearby, fiending for a human meal.
I glare out at them. Then smile adoringly up at my tent, which keeps them out… I love my tent.

Tonight the sky is almost free of clouds, so I take a chance and sleep with the rain fly rolled back. The moon is so bright that I don’t see many stars at first. But when I awake briefly around 4am, the moon has moved on. I admire the diamond-studded sky in wonder for some unmeasured time before drifting back to sleep. In the morning I am greeted by pastel blue sky and cottonball clouds. And sand flies, still dotting the mesh of my tent. I lie there until I feel like getting up, looking alternately at the sand flies and the lovely sky. Eventually I pull on clothes, assemble my day pack, shake the tent to shoo away the flies, exit as speedily as possible and re-zip the tent.

On my day tramp I see a few hikers going the other way, but otherwise have the trail to myself. I stop every so often just to stare out at the beach and ocean, trying to let the immense natural beauty it soak in.
And these swing bridges are good fun, every bit as shaky as they look:
The only blemish on the day, besides those infernal sand flies (okay I’ll stop talking about them now), is a beached whale. I peer at it as I approach, trying to figure out what it is; hard to tell right away. I finally make out the shape of the animal and think, how sad. Then I get downwind, mind you the poor thing has probably been sitting there for a good few days, and all conscious thoughts are instantly banished: I have never had a smell make me want to vomit so immediately. I cover my nose and mouth and walk at top speed.

This sundown will be Kol Nidre, marking the start of Yom Kippur. Normally I would be in shul with friends or family. Possible I’ve missed a year here or there, but I cannot recall having done so. The prospect of spending it alone is bizarre and a little sad. But I could have made sure to be in a city with a Jewish community for the holiday, and I did not. So that’s that, and I will spend Kol Nidre alone on the beach. As I walk back to my campsite towards evening, I find myself saying prayer for everyone I know, that they be written in the book of life. Everyone. It takes a while. It becomes a walking meditation of sorts, as I say the words under my breath in rhythm with my steps. It feels right.

I have dinner well before sundown, then wander around the rocky beach. As the sun sinks lower I hum the Kol Nidre melody, three times as it is normally done in shul. Tonight’s sunset is even more majestic than last night's, the sun painting the clouds amazing colors on its fiery descent towards the ocean. Easy to feel a sense of spirituality here. Admittedly lonely, but I cannot wish myself anywhere else.

Posted by sbw2109 13:28 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Winging it

*Things I promised my mother not to do*

sunny 14 °C

New Zealand is a great country, but some things seem unfairly expensive. Like transportation. There are of course buses serving the major cities, and I have purchased an Intercity Bus Lines “Flexipass” for NZ$300 that will allow me to get all around the South Island on whenever schedule I want. It seemed a fair price for the service, and the flexibility of course appealed, so I am pretty satisfied. However. There are many cool little towns, not mention trailheads for the Great Walks, that lie maybe an hour’s drive from Intercity’s main nodes and cost maybe another NZ$50 to reach via the smalller shuttle or taxi companies. You might say my sense of justice prevents me from shelling out another couple hundred dollars for these additional legs of my journey.

And so it is that I walk out of Abel Tasman at Wainui Bay (north end of the park) having no arranged transportation, no set plan for how to reach the next town, and no idea what I’ll do once I get there. Well, that’s not entirely true. A few days ago, on a bus to Motueka, I chatted with a nice Kiwi fellow from a town called Takaka about 30km / half an hour’s drive from the north end of Abel Tasman. He said if I was ever passing through and needed a place to stay, just drop by. So that’s something.

I start walking, figuring I may see a car going my way. The road makes a big U-shaped detour around Wainui Inlet, one of those tidal crossings you can only do within two hours of low tide, which it is not at this time. At first I enjoy viewing the countryside at the leisurely pace of traveling on foot. The cows stop to stare at me as I walk by, I mean really just turn their heads and gape. It’s cute, though a bit unnerving. Gets me thinking about reincarnation and such for a while.

Then this walking thing starts to feel pretty slow. I look longingly across the “U,” realizing it may take me another hour to get there. I have now passed the tidal area and there is a swath of fenced off land separating me from the other side. I see a dirt road that looks like it might cut across. It is clearly private farmland, but the gate is open so it’s not like I’m breaking and entering…
I take the dirt road, it ends after a while, and I continue making my way across wet grass, determined to make the shortcut work. I am almost to the other side when I come up to a line of trees. The vegetation looks thick but passable. Then, behind the trees, I register a stream that would make for a wet crossing. To top it all off, there appears to be an electric fence. I walk up to the fence and lean over to get a closer look at the stream, maybe there is a passable spot…


I step back, a little in pain but mostly just dazed, and wait for a very funny feeling in my chest to subside before I turn back towards the main road. I think of what my grandfather likes to say: “What’s the longest distance between two points? The short cut.” I also make a note to myself for future reference: What looks like electric fence probably is an electric fence.

After another 20 minutes of walking along the road, just as I am cresting around the “U,” a colorful camper van approaches. I give a wave. They slow down and stop. It is a French couple that, as luck would have it, is heading for Takaka. They are willing to take me, but warn me they may stop to look at a beautiful beach along the way, if that’s alright. I assure them que je ne suis pas pressée – I am not on a tight schedule.

Here is my ride, and a picture at said beach:

We reach Takaka mid-afternoon. I thank the French couple and find my way to the address of my friend from the bus. When I arrive, he and a mate are unloading a trailerful of lumber that they will use to build some garden boxes in the rear yard. Which looks out across green pastures. With a backdrop of mountains and a painted sky. They offer me a beer, which sounds like a lovely idea after two days of camping in the rain. Meanwhile the sun is peeking through the clouds and turning the sky pretty colors. Life is good.

Later I have a hot shower (an even lovelier idea after two days of camping) and we make a coconut curry for dinner. I crash around 10pm, sinking blissfully into a mattress on the floor of the extra bedroom. The next morning I get up early to buy eggs for our breakfast, plus more beer (I won’t drink it myself, but it seems like the sociable thing to do when a Kiwi puts you up). Then I do a little trip planning and opt for some hiking on a trail known as the Heaphy Track, by the northwest coast of the South Island. My first step is to get down to Nelson so I can catch an Intercity bus to the west coast. Most New Zealand cities and towns have Information Sites, known as I-sites, which seem to be able to tell you whatever you want to know or direct you someone who can answer your question. So I swing by the Takaka I-site and ascertain that there is a bus leaving for Nelson at 11:30am, price $35. I decide I’ll take it if need be, but I do have half an hour to see if I can find a better option…

I walk by the gas station and see a man filling up, a woman sitting in the car. I inquire if by any chance they are heading for Nelson. He replies that he and his mother drove up from Nelson for the day to explore around Takaka, and will probably head back around 4pm if that’s not too late for me. Not at all, I say. We arrange to meet back up at 4pm.

Since I have some time to kill, my host offers to show me around a nice hiking and rock climbing spot about ten minutes’ drive out of town. He has a car, only not a current license, so he asks if I can drive. I gulp, recalling my Wellington rental car woes. Moreover, his Beamer is stick shift. In the interest of partial if not full disclosure, I leave out my New Zealand driving record but allow as how I am mainly used to automatic and haven’t driven stick in a few years, and is he sure he wants me to drive?

A few minutes later, he is sucking in his breath as I cut it very close to the corner of the house (I’m not used to sitting on the left side of the car, dammit), then we are on the road. It’s a pretty easy drive to the trail, and I am pleasantly surprised not to stall out at all. The hike is beautiful, and the rock climbing areas are amazing. See?
We have leftover curry for lunch, sitting in the yard looking out over a little corner of paradise.

At 4pm, much to my relief (these things are never of a certain nature), my ride to Nelson is indeed there. The man and his mother are from England, he now lives in Australia, and they are here on holiday in New Zealand. We have a pleasant chat on the drive down to Nelson, stopping for a coffee and a scenic lookout at the Ngaraua Caves. I’m afraid I’m starting to enjoy this hitchhiking thing.
They drop me off in time for a sunset hike up to the “Centre of New Zealand,” a lookout point with a lovely view over the Nelson.
After the walk come laundry and then bed, as my bus to Westport leaves early the next morning.

The Heaphy Track lies about 16 km north of a town called Karamea, which is about 100km north of Westport. I have made an inquiry along the formal channels and learned that a bus to Karamea costs $30, and the taxi service up to the Heaphy trailhead is another $40. Which equals… $140 roundtrip for some hiking? Not if I can help it.

I arrive in Westport circa 11am. I liked the gas station strategy, that worked well last time, so I approach a woman filling up and ask if she is by any chance going towards Karamea. “I’m not going all the way, but I can take you as far as Granity, which is halfway there.” She is sweet and cheerful, and I instantly like her. On the ride she asks me about Chicago and tells me about Granity, a small seaside town she and her husband chose in order to give their three kids what sounds like an idyllic childhood. He works in a mine and it’s hard work, but he does five days on and five days off which allows for plenty of family time, and she explains how a big part of the area’s economy is based on the mines. You learn a lot from traveling with Kiwis.

As we traverse the Karamea coast, I admire the unique West Coast scenery: Desolate palms, windblown trees and shrubs dotting the landscape, ocean to the left and mountains to the right, with a wide windswept sky over vast moody seas. I also notice that this 100 km stretch from Westport to Karamea is very remote, with little in the way of civilization. I begin to wonder about catching a ride on from Granity.

She lets me off near a little dairy (that’s New Zealandese for a convenience store) where she thinks I’ve got the best chance of finding a ride onwards. I wander around for a bit admiring the ocean. Not many cars passing. As in, not any. When I see a small bus slow down and turn in to the dairy, I quickly walk over. I catch the driver on his way out and inquire about a ride to Karamea. He can oblige, he says, but he’s running an actual shuttle service so this won’t be a freebie; $20. I hesitate. Hitchhiking is supposed to be wild, adventurous, living off the land, and buying a ride seems somehow like cheating. But given that I am a good 50km from Karamea on a quite empty road, I decide to take the ride.

Around 1pm the bus drops me by a Karamea hotel/restaurant /bar, and in the end I only end up paying $15. Not bad. A sign on the corner indicating it is 14kim to Heaphy Track, and I am not optimistic about hitching this last leg, but it is at least a distance I can walk in a few hours. But I could sure use a hot meal before I hike off into the bush, so I go into the hotel. Fish and chips has been on my list of New Zealand foods to try, and they have a very affordable bar food special. The place is quiet inside. While I wait for them to fry it up fresh, the few workers and patrons get a kick out of my Five Fingers shoes, the likes of which they have never seen before. I explain that they are supposed to be good for you, like walking barefoot, I only tried them on because they look so goofy but they’re really comfortable, etc etc. All real friendly-like.

Food comes out. Oh my. The fish is perfectly crisp and golden on the outside, steaming-hot and flaky on the inside. I practically inhale it, both because I am hungry and because this will be my last hot meal for two days. When an older couple walks in, I heartily recommend the fish and chips. I also ask if they are, perchance, driving up towards the Heaphy Track? No, they say, unfortunately we just came from there. Ah, thanks anyhow, I say.

We chat a bit while they wait for their food. They’re Kiwis, from Nelson, having a little holiday here on the West Coast. In the end, they offer to drop me at the trailhead, which isn’t too far a drive. And so it is that after a multi-leg journey based on luck, chance and the kindness of strangers, I set off into the park with plenty of daylight left to reach my campsite.

I think I promised my mother not to hitchhike on my travels. Don’t know if I promised her not to bunk with random strangers I meet on buses, or not to electrocute myself on fences meant for cows; she probably didn’t think to ask me. No matter. If/when she reads this, I hope she’ll forgive me and just be grateful that someone up there must be looking out for me, else I’d surely not have made it past age three.

Posted by sbw2109 01:05 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Abel Tasman / Why I love my tent, part I

*It works in the rain*

rain 14 °C

I was getting into a nice Wellington routine: Drive into town in the morning with Crystal and Louise, have a swim at Freyberg pool, hike up Mount Vic to ponder panoramic views of the city... All of which meant I was getting too comfortable. Time to move on. So I gave myself a swift kick in the rear and booked a ferry across Cook Strait to the South Island.

The 3-hour crossing, annoying pricey at first glance, turned out to be fabulously scenic, and even the weather cooperated for exquisite views of the Wellington Harbor and the convoluted South Island coastline.
I arrived that evening in the town of Picton, checked into a cute little hostel, and started plotting my next move. I had a couple camping trips in mind and was excited to get started. Alas, the forecast was cold and rainy. Alas, I can be a wee bit stubborn when I've set my mind to something. The Abel Tasman coastal track, one of New Zealand’s nine ‘Great Walks,’ is generally advertised with images of happy tourists kayaking on crystal blue waters glistening in the sun, white sand beaches or rocky coastline in the background. I figure it can’t be too bad in the rain.

Before getting onto the Abel Tasman trek I have one more night in a hostel, this time in Motueka. There I meet an Israeli guy feeling glum about an injured knee; he came to NZ intending on lots of tramping, but has just been told to rest his knee for six weeks. I can surely relate. We cook dinner together – spaghetti, the backpackers’ classic – and drive up to Abel Tasman together the following morning in his rental car with the notion of hiring kayaks. When we arrive, the weather is so lousy that the kayak companies are all closed. So we kill some time at a near-empty cafe overlooking a coastline that even grey skies can't spoil. I also make use of the piano to make sure I don't completely forget how to play. Happily, no one seems to mind.

Around 1pm, weather still stormy, I say goodbye to my new friend board a water taxi to get partway up the track, leaving me a 1-2 day hike to exit at the north end of the park. The ride is jolly good fun: The waves are wild, the boat is going fast, and it requires some effort not to get thrown out. A good time indeed - I would have paid just for the ride.
Abel Tasman water taxi

Abel Tasman water taxi

A note about New Zealand’s Great Walks: To keep a handle on the tourist traffic and its accompanying ecological impact, the NZ Department of Conservation (“DOC”) requires that you register for your campsite and stick to your plans. It is around NZ$25/night for a bunk in the huts they maintain along the tracks, or $12 to camp. To enforce this, DOC officers regularly patrol the campsites and huts to make sure you are registered and paid. What a pain – I quite dislike being forced to have everything all planned out. Thus I had registered for my first night of camping but not the second, as I was unsure where in the park I might be or if I would even be there at all. Now, as we’re bouncing along the waves, the driver inquires casually where I’m camping after Awaroa. I allow as how I’m not really sure and haven’t planned it out yet. He gestures to the other two men in the boat and says, “Okay, well, these are the guys who’ll be checking up on you.” DOH! I mutter something about how I’ll probably hike out the next day so I don't need a pass, then do my best to make friends with the two DOC officers.

Further along, the driver informs me that the sea is too rough to get all the way to Awaroa where I had planned to camp, so he’ll let me off early and I can hike the 1.5 or so hours to Awaroa. He is nice enough, and correct enough; some of the waves look about as tall as the little boat. Shortly thereafter, I find myself standing alone on a beach in the rain. My first task is to cross a tidal area with water nearly up to my waist (Abel Tasman is famous for these tidal crossings, some of which cannot be done at all if it’s not within two hours of low tide). It’s probably good that I get all wet right away, makes the rain a non-issue. Also, I am wearing my fabulously goofy but fabulously comfy Five Finger shoes, so I get right out on the other side and keep walking. Meanwhile, I seem to be the only nut out on the trail in this rain, and it feels magical to have this beautiful place to myself.

When I reach the campsite a couple hours later (I walk slowly with my big pack), it is raining heavily. There are maybe five clearings for campers to set up tents, plus a large cooking shelter with a roof and three walls. There is also a toilet hut, which I use with the door open since no one else is around. Talk about a room with a view. Having the place to myself in fact quite convenient, and I basically use the cooking shelter as my own personal staging area: First I put on dry clothing to keep warm, changing right there in the shelter and hanging my wet stuff all over the place. Then I have dinner, peanut butter and homemade golden kiwifruit jam on crackers. Finally I assemble my tent inside the shelter, poles and all, and wait for a lull in the downpour so I can dash outside and stake it down. Not very hard-core, I know. But I'm just getting started with this camping thing. At last I snuggle down into my sleeping bag, wondering how my tent will hold up in the rain.

About the tent. Before leaving Chicago, I invested a sweet little 2-person tent weighing just over two pounds. Supposed to be top-notch, yet you always hear stories about people waking up swimming no matter how "waterproof'" their gear supposedly is. This is the first time I’m using it, let alone in heavy rain, so it is a bit of an experiment. But the next morning, to my delight, I wake up warm dry... I love my tent!

The next day begins with another tidal crossing, this one longer and more tiring. Plus my Five Fingers shoes fill up with sand and grit. It is also a little more worrisome given the heavy rains; I suppose one could get washed out to sea or some such. But it works out fine, and I make a new friend along the way. He stayed in the Awaroa hut (as opposed to a tent), is from Germany, and we chat in a mixture of German and English as we hike together in on-and-off rain. Rain or not, this place is beautiful.
Along the way, I make a reservation to camp that night further up the track at the Whariwangi site, so I am legit in case my DOC pals should decide to visit. We make dinner together in the Whariwangi hut, as he has a cook stove with him. Dinner is spaghetti again, but oh my goodness does a hot meal taste good after that cold wet day. For dessert I contribute chocolate (thanks to the ‘you break it you buy it’ purchase I made from Jon), which is happily received by the chef. Chocolate – always have it handy.

By the way, being rather new to camping, watching him make dinner turns on a light bulb in my head. Dry spaghetti becomes a big bowl of hot food, tomato powder and seasoning become sauce, some beef jerky and dehydrated meat add protein, and all of this weighs mere ounces on the trail. And here I am toting around food like trail mix and peanut butter and jelly. No wonder I walk slowly with the pack. I realize a cook stove is essential for camping trips of more than like two days. It does seem rather obvious to bring light, dry foods like spaghetti and oatmeal and turn them into hot meals when you camp. Live and learn.

I once again assemble my tent in the shelter of the hut’s front porch, dash out during a lull in the rain to stake it down, and snuggle down into my sleeping bag as night falls, this time content with a bellyful of warm food and the prospect of a dry night's sleep. We are only a couple hours’ hike from the north end of the park; tomorrow morning I will hike out and see what’s next.

Posted by sbw2109 16:26 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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