21 March 2022

Aotea Again - a Return to Paradise

Once again I've been to a paradise within the paradise we call New Zealand - Aotea/Great Barrier Island - this time with Catherine. This visit was by courtesy of our friends, Don and Helen Burns who have a place overlooking Awana Bay and the coastline beyond that - a really wow panorama.

Awana Bay from the South

We arrived by Barrier Air - a short 30 minute hop from Auckland and spent the first afternoon walking up the beach from their place. Along the way we saw dotterels, oystercatchers and several pateke, the friendly brown teals. It is a delightful estuary with sand hills and an excellent DoC campsite. That evening and thereafter we enjoyed the healthy food and company of our hosts - and later learning the intricacies and satisfaction of 'living off the grid'.

Awana Bay Estuary - Oystercatchers, Pateke and other birds

Day two, after a leisurely start, was spent exploring the Palmer track up towards Mt Hobson- beautiful bush and imposing rock formations. The two old folk found 'walking sticks' useful. Along the way, near the log hauler trestle we met locals working on the track - one of them remembered me from my yachting visit to Fitzroy nearly a year ago. 

Catherine with Don and Helen in the track to Mt Hobson.
There were fern birds up here.

We also enjoyed the company of a pair of fern birds - up in the scrub. The bush on the island, a bit like, I recall, on D'Urville Island, shows the difference of not having possums. We also visited Harataonga, a beach where were delighted to hear stories of thwarted attempts at commercialisation and amusing stories of sham reality survival shows.

For our next trick, on day three, we walked in to the hot springs at the head of the Kaitoke wetlands. Here we bathed in a warm pool to the sound of Kotare chicks who had nested in the bank above us.

To left: View of the Kaitoke Wetlands from the track walk to the hot springs. 

To right:     Bathing in the Kaitoke hot pools. 
                   Photo; Helen Burns

On our last day we visited a mining tunnel with numerous weta on the roof and a beach on a western bay of the island, Okupu. We returned to Auckland and Hamilton (well masked up) replete with hospitality and in a relaxed condition. This island has to be one of the gems of world and it is great to hear of how the locals jealously guard its special nature. Long may it stay the way it is.

Three Old Codgers on their Bikes

This trip had a long gestation both in planning and execution. Covid delays were the main problem. After our trip on the Old Ghost road last year we decided to do the 'Alps to Ocean' in the South Island, a cycle trail that goes from the Hermitage area near Aorangi/Mt Cook, to Oamaru. Jim did all the planning, Mike had a hip replacement and had to resign himself to a supporting role - taking our gear from place to place and biking back out to meet us. It worked well. Jim's sister, Margaret was made redundant but didn't get any payout. Sorry Margie. The plan was to start by going to Tekapo and then being driven to Mt Cook Station to start the cycling. I started off the trip with a night at Jim and Ann's on Monk's Spur - good catch up time. 

The Seven Sisters from the road to Braemer

The old codgers were showing their age. It nearly turned into a disaster. There were lost car keys, lost keys to our e-bike batteries, lunches and toilet bags left behind and more, even Covid chased us out of Tekapo. And there were no wives to find things for us!! Finally we left Mt Cook Station at about 10am on the 6th March 2022 and flew off down the road with a good tail wind. There was dust in the air as there had been a landslide up the Hooker Valley but we could see Aorangi and Sefton clearly over our shoulders.

Jim Standing Amid our Memories

Mike gave sterling support for his old mates. On this first day we also left our matches behind (for the midday brew) but Mike discovered them and fortunately we saw them on the roadside with the little cairn marker he built for us - that was lifesaving stuff for Jim and I.

From Our Brew Spot on Pukaki - Sefton and Cook

After lunch we biked on the the bottom of Lake Pukaki, purchased some salmon for dinner and, after meeting Mike, pedalled on to Twizel. Next door to us were Victoria and Emilie (7 years) who were over half way through Te Aroha. They were great fun and next morning we were amazed at the weight of the pack that Emilie was carrying. They were being supported by FMC and also raising funds for Mental Health and the FMC Mountain and Forest Charitable Trust.

Victoria, Emilie and Jim

Victoria, Mike and Jim at Twizel

The following day we pushed on to Lake Ohau Lodge via the good track around the bottom of Lake Ohau.

The Old Historic Shearing Shed

Our next day was a longish one. Steady but prolonged uphill and then down to an old historic shearing shed - starting to deteriorate - where the pens were made from beech saplings and where the ghosts of blade shearers wafted in the rafters - and so down to Omarama where we made a stop for coffee.

An Old Codger trundles Through Omarama - note the Snazzy Lycra

The last bit of the day was along the edge of Lake Benmore - a magnificent recent addition to the trail.

Rest Stop - Upper Lake Benmore

Lower Lake Benmore Trail

Near Benmore Dam

 Finally we descended the Benmore dam to find Mike who'd been biking up and down the road to the lip of the dam - to show us what real men do!!! We spent a pleasant hour with Elder, an amiable Peruvian and his group. He was guiding his group down the trail. He'd helped me with my bike the previous night -brought him a beer.

Rest Stop at Lake Waitaki

Next morning was full of apprehension as we cycled back up onto the Benmore Dam - it wasn't too bad - and then we cruised off down the Waitaki River, past Aviemore and Waitaki Dams and on to Duntroon. This time Mike biked up the river in time to have lunch with us alongside a grape field. Very pleasant. Just 2k short of Duntroon my battery gave out and I had the unpleasant task of trying to keep up with the others, uphill, to our digs for the night. Here, next morning, Trevor and Kat, the real estate barons of Duntroon entertained us with stories of their little village.

Elephant Rocks beyond Duntroon

That morning we shot off for Oamaru - passing by the scenic Elephant Rocks, the Tunnel and finally the historic approaches to Oamaru and its beautiful Gardens. At Oamaru Mike fed us up on chips - we loaded our bikes onto Jim's faithful car, Rodger, ands headed off to Christchurch, first dropping Mike off Mandeville and finally me with John, my brother in Cashmere for more royal hospitality. And so to Hamilton dreaming of what form next year's activity might take. My task.

Alps to Ocean? Highly recommended as one of the best bike journeys in New Zealand. Good company too.

03 December 2021

Fallacies of Memory - Mounts Whitcombe and Red Lion and Carrington Hut

We were sailing along on our circumnavigation of the North Island of New Zealand about 20 years ago when, with nothing else to say, I said to Jim the skipper of Karoro, our yacht. "Wasn't it funny on Mt Whitcombe when Mike left his ice axe on the summit and we let him walk down the ridge a bit before we told him. And then he had to go back for it." Jim looked at me and agreed. He remembered the incident well. "But how did you remember because you weren't there" he said. "Rubbish", I retorted, of course I was there. "No you weren't" said Jim, "You and Dave were climbing Red Lion the day Mike and I climbed Whitcombe." I stopped in my tracks - Jim was right - I remembered the day quite clearly. How could I have got the story so wrong?

What I'd remembered was what Jim had told us that evening over 40 years before in our snow cave on Erewhon Col, and subsequently. And then placed myself with them on Whitcombe.

Dave on top of Red Lion Peak (note ice axe)

en route to Red Lion - good place to have ice axe

It didn't take too long for me to sort out how it had happened.

The previous year, I'd climbed Whitcombe from Erewhon Col and by the same route as Jim and Mike, but with a different party.  A few years later Jim, Mike, Dave and I were up the Waimakariri Valley and left Carrington hut to head home down-valley. Mike did it again - left his ice axe - this time at the hut. Jim sidled up to me and said, "Mike's done it again, He's left his ice axe back at the hut." We grinned and agreed to let him go another hundred yards before we told him. Off he went, back to collect it while his miserable mates sniggered to themselves. Mean buggers, but Mike had to be cured of this bad habit of his.

Mike and Jim on lower Waimakariri (note Mike grasping paddle)

My theory about how this mistaken memory occurred is as follows. I'd put three seperate memories together and come up with one false memory. The first memory is that, with another group, I'd climbed Whitcombe via Snow Dome 12 months before Jim and Mike and the 'incident'. The second is that I'd heard the story about Mike from Jim at least on two occasions. And finally I'd been present on another occasion when Mike had left his ice axe behind. Somehow, out of these three instances I'd placed myself into the story - and, albeit nearly half a century later, got it wrong.

We all have little lapses of memory. Usually unimportant small things. They might be corrected and, more often than not, forgotten. But it worries me to think how many innocents might have been sent to the gallows - because of 'false memory'. At the beginning I was so convinced that I'd been present at the mountain top event - only the incontrovertible evidence of having been somewhere else exposed the fallacy.

29 June 2021

The Death of a Kayak

It was with great excitement that Kees Wesselink and I took possession of our new downriver (DR) kevlar kayaks back in about 1986. For years these two craft and their equally important paddles carried their owners on several kayak and multisport events - South Island Coast to Coasts -  North Island Coast to Coasts - Ruapehu to the Sea (at Whanganui) - Taumarunui and Waikato downriver events and some coastal races - and not to mention numerous weekly Saturday morning teas on the Waikato - always social and always competitive! Kees died some years ago, as did Eric another kayaking friend. So the old kayak languished in the boat shed for several years.

A couple of years ago I dusted it off to have an adventure with two of my sons - from Hamilton down to the Port Waikato, two days away by kayak. My cunning plan was to use my fastish DR, which would enable me to keep up with the two young fifty-year-olds, David and Warren.  But along with fastness comes instability.

Start of its Last Journey

We packed up and set off on Easter Saturday. All went well until the afternoon. But after rafting up with David to have a break and a bite to eat I pushed off and promptly turned upside down. My out-of-practiced Eskimo roll failed to work so I had to be rescued. And it happened about half an hour later, The next day in the estuary of the Waikato River wind and current were against one another and making waves so I managed to turn over five more times - being ignominiously rescued each time. In amongst all the thrashing about, the kayak became somewhat damaged and stayed that way until a few months ago. I decided that it was beyond repair and mentally consigned it to the Hamilton rubbish dump.

With the kayak on the car roof rack and with my granddaughter, Tasman, for company I arrived at the dump to find a long line of cars and trailers waiting to get in. This is no good I thought - parked the car on the berm - and untied the kayak. With it on my shoulder I walked past the waiting cars and into the recycling section of the dump. No, they couldn't use it, so I proceeded on towards the great concrete chasm in the ground.

"Hey! You can't take that in there" some official said. "I AM taking it in there" I replied. No, he read the riot act and all the OSH (Occupational Health and Safety) regulations. I continued walking into the dumping area. When he saw that he was getting nowhere he said " OK old chap. Give it to me. I'll dump it for you." The last I saw of it was it disappearing between the trailers and into its concrete graveyard on the man's shoulders. Hardly a decent burial for an old mate. Back in the car, Tasman was waiting. As we drove away, she said, "Have you got dust in your eyes, Grandad?" Sad day for Grandad.

19 April 2021

Four Men in a Boat - Adventures in Hauraki Gulf and on Great Barrier Island (Aotea)

 At last, the plan to visit the outer Hauraki Gulf came to pass. Four of us gathered at Terry Jeffries' place in Drury and proceeded to the Pine Harbour Marina and stowed our food and other necessaries aboard "Reminisce", Terry's beautifully crafted yacht. That night we dropped anchor in Owhaneke on Waiheke Island. and the following day sailed over to Barrier arriving at Oneroa (Red Cliff Cove) just outside Fitzroy Harbour at about 3.30pm. The main event of the day was when a distracted helmsman lost his bearings and the mainsheet on the boom caught Terry's arm as it swung across, taking a slice of skin with it - a plastic surgeon couldn't have done it better. An optometrist expertly patched Terry up, a veterinarian, while the other two managed the yacht and offered sympathetic comments.

Motoring Through Man-O-War Passage (Geoff, Terry and Mike)

The following day we motored through Man-O-War Passage and across to Fitzroy, anchoring inside Quoin Island. Like the night before we had time for nibbles and a drop to drink before one of us would cook (better to describe it as reheating the food our wives had lovingly cooked) and then after tea there might be time for a little rum-laced coffee or something similar. And apart from the occasional grunt, there were no snorers among us. This routine continued for the remaining nine days and, being a compatible group we were always discussing something of mutual interest. A frequent topic was the origin of the 'snap, crackle, pop' we heard often on the hull (it seemed) and Geoff suggested the theory of 'snapping shrimps'. The role of phosphorescence was also suggested. Breakfast, by prior arrangement, was each organizing his own.

Our first outing in Terry's little dingy was to the Akapoua campsite to get our land legs back (!) and in the evening talked to David, who was Acting-Manager for the DoC presence on the island, and who gave us good advice. The next day we walked into a beautiful small waterfall on "Warren's Track" a short jaunt. At the end of the walk we braved the cold showers DoC supplied in the camping ground. We were taken with the Pateke (Brown Teal) which were plentiful about the bay with one of them even paying the yacht a visit.

Pateke Reminiscing

We motored around to Bush's Beach on Kaiarara Bay and the next day we headed off relatively early for Mt Hobson on well-formed and graded tracks. In the upper mossy mist zone, we spied many Entaloma hochstetteri, the beautiful blue mushroom found on our $50 notes, more than I've ever seen before.

Entaloma hochstetteri - photographers paradise.

We found clusters of them every minute or so as we struggled up the steep upper steps. There must have been over 200 of them - thousands if you consider that we only saw those visible from the track. I was in photographers' heaven and had to be encouraged along the track by my companions - hungry for the lunch we were to have on the summit. And get back in time for tea. The track was great and even the steep steps appreciated by some!

At lunchtime, we were joined by several other climbers of Mt Hobson. I was amazed at the number of times I heard the word "Paradise" in the conversations. Yes, I agree.

View From Hobson (Little Barrier in the Distance)

After lunch, the blue mushrooms continued down towards the Heale Saddle hut - a delightful new hut with a grand view. We continued down on our chosen circuit - an excellent track until it petered out near the bottom due to riverbank washouts. After the usual evening drinkies and nibbles (and a meal) we retired to a well-earned rest. 

Geoff on 'Warrens Track'

Mike on Hobson Track

Terry at Smokehouse Bay

After a lazy start, we moved over to the "Smokehouse Bay" visited by Geoff many years ago. What a magnificent place.  Now run by a Trust, the bay has all the facilities boaties could want, baths, pizza facilities, whatever - everyone should find some firewood. And that evening we cruised up the harbour to find a gentle anchorage ready for the next day. After breakfast, we motored back through Man-O-War passage and southwards down the coast to Whangaparapara where we anchored and visited the old whaling station and the timber mill.

At the Old Timber Mill

The next morning three of us did a great circuit ending up at the hot springs which we relished and then returned along the edge of the Kaitoke wetlands - and so home to our floating palace.

Reminisce anchored off Wharf at Whangaparapara (Orcas arrived about 30 min later)

But it was just as we were getting off the dingy onto the yacht that we had the fright of our lives, We hadn't seen them coming but suddenly three Orca surfaced only five metres away. I think that Geoff who was the last to get out of the dingy cleared the yacht railing by about six feet! They were so impressive close-up. We thought that they were hunting stingrays. We watched them for some time and it seemed that there were two groups of three in the harbour. They were not aggressive towards us but were so close that they had to change course sharply to avoid the yacht.

Reminisce's Dingy (even more beautifully crafted by Terry) - Awaiting an Orca

I made contact with friends of both myself and Geoff who happened to be on Barrier but by the time arrangements to say hello were being proposed we were well on the way to Kawau. And so the next morning we set sail with a tailwind. There was much enthusiasm from Geoff for the spinnaker and although we set ourselves up for the spinnaker we just made do with the mail and jib, goose-winged out with the spinnaker pole - we made good progress.

Heading Back to Kawau Island

Dolphins gave us a short visit along the way. We relaxed and rested safely before Governor Grey's old residence but decided later in the afternoon to move around the corner to a gentler mooring. Here we happened upon Terry's sister and several other members of the family. They invited us to moor on their jetty and we spent a very pleasant time having drinkies and nibbles with them - delightful situation. That evening we anchored just off their jetty and next morning headed off back to Reminisce's permanent mooring via a couple of short 3-4 hr hops over two days.

And so ended a very pleasant sojourn amid amiable companions and in a great part of New Zealand. One mystery remained from the trip. Geoff always finished his meals with a perfectly clean plate. We could never fathom how he got it so clean and we could never catch him in the act of licking it clean. The mystery remains.

 I'd never been to GB before and was much taken with the surroundings and the well-maintained tracks. There seemed to be something wrong with the kanuka (?manuka) on a couple of parts of the island. We wondered about myrtle rust (or such like) but never got close enough to get any samples.

? Kanuka dieback ?

And finally, I've done a bit of offshore sailing about the Pacific (always as crew) and as for the Hauraki Gulf, I reckon it offers some of the most enjoyable sailing imaginable. There are wonderful safe anchorages all over the place and you can pick and chose your sailing days according to whim and weather. And the islands are wonderful, each with its own character and history. A sailor's paradise.

08 March 2021

Oldies on the Old Ghost Road (From Covid to Contorta)

Our first oldies project for 2021 was to walk the Old Ghost Road from Lyell on the Buller River on the West Coast of NZ to Seddonville about 50 km NE of Westport. Mike White, who'd done the walk years ago when some of it was just a marked trail, offered to walk in with us to the first hut and then return and drive around to the other end and walk in to meet Jim Wilson and me. The plan was then to go up the Kowai Valley near Porters Pass and spend some time murdering wildling Pinus contorta which are starting to establish themselves there - probably having been blown there from the Castle Hill Basin. We'd just bedded down ready to start next morning when the mobile phones blasted off, alerting us to the Covid lockdown to level three in Auckland. Next morning we headed off hoping that Covid wouldn't follow south.

Carol and Steve - even my neighbours were there.

Halfway up to the Lyell Saddle Hut I was surprised to find my Hamilton next door neighbours, Steve and Carol on their bikes heading for the second hut on the track.  They were just a few of the many who overtook us along the way over the next few days - I don't recall us overtaking anyone!! As expected we were last to arrive at the hut. The huts were full and the friendly occupants, once they discovered (from our wobbly gaits and drooping flesh) that we were somewhat aged, ensured that we always had bottom bunks. Respect for the aged is still alive and well  in NZ I'm pleased to say! Next morning Mike returned to the car and Jim and I plodded on northwards. 

Jim plodding up Old Ghost Road

We now left the old original horse and dray road and continued along the newer-formed track linking the south with the northern tracks of the pioneers. We were astounded at the efforts of both the early pioneers and the recent coasters who'd constructed the track - in places so steep that explosives had to be used to get about the granite bluffs. At lunchtime we emerged from the bush and had lunch. Here a weka emerged too, this time to peck Jim on his resting head and to try and steal my hat.

Three Old Codgers

At Lyell Saddle Hut

Most of the afternoon was spent above the bush line in glorious weather - which stayed fine for the whole trip. At Ghost Lake Hut we saw our track for the next day in the distance and a glorious view to the east. We cooked well and were reminded of our youth when a new arrival wolfed down the leftovers of our meal.

Upper South Branch - Mokihinui River

Nice Spot For Lunch

The Wicked Weka

Next morning we thought how wise we'd been to walk the track when, on foot, we descended a quite 'technical  bike' track and then the 300 odd stairs down from the 'skyline ridge'. The hut warden from the Ghost Hut had taken these two old codgers under his wing and saw us down to the bottom of the steps - and safely off his territory!! Back in the bush there was lots of zig zagging in the bush and a good slog down to the 'already fed' trampers and bikers. Another night on bottom bunks provided by our now friends. We girded our loins for the 25k long day to follow.

View East from Ghost Lake Hut

Looking Back Up at Ghost Lake Hut

We were first to leave but one by one they all overtook us. The 'grave yard' turned out to be a huge earthquake slip but thankfully the track only traversed a little of it and we were warned not to stop on the last part of it. On over the Solemn Saddle we descended down into the final catchment. We stopped at Goat Creek to ease my feet in the cold water. The last several kilometres were hell on the soles of my feet and I had to stop every couple of km to take the weight off them. Jim had taken on our Prime Minister's advice and was very kind and patient. But it all came to an end when we staggered into the hut where most of the others had already fed and they burst into applause. "Noisy bastards aren't they", I said and Jim said he felt a little insulted by their deference to our age. Nor very gracious of us we thought in retrospect.

Track in the lower Mokihinui

And so we struggled on into the last day and past the amazing slips into the Mokihinui River where we could see huge trout lolling about amid the rocks - where no fisherman could reach them. By now all our passing fellow trampers were aware that the 86-year-old Mike was coming in to meet us. And sure enough when we met up with him he said he'd been regaled with stories about his 'young friends' who would 'soon' be arriving.

Water Along the Way

Lower Mokihinui River and Slips

Mid afternoon we arrived at the track end and continued to Westport where we had a good Indian nosh-up and then on to RCS at Arthurs Pass and a well earned sleep.

Next morning, not too early, we packed again and headed for the Kowai Valley armed with two saws and two loppers to do battle with the dreaded 'contorta'.  Getting up to the John Hayward Memorial Hut was at out usual slow place and the next day, after killing off a few contorta visible from the hut, we wandered up the valley towards Red Peak to the scene of our previous engagement with the enemy. We now had the hut to ourselves as two fathers and their delightful daughters had returned to the lowland swamps. On the last day we engaged with more contorta but discovered more than we could cope with. We slaughtered a few before heading down valley to inform the farm manager of his problem. He concurred and admitted that plans were in place for their ultimate annihilation. We'd managed to get about 50 of them.

Kowai Valley and Red Peak

When I got back to Christchurch my brother, John, invited me on his weekly walk - this one about the South Brighton beach and estuary. More sore feet - but with a coffee. And so back to Hamilton for a rest.