A Travellerspoint blog

Hokitika and Surrounds

After a couple of days in Craigieburn we went back over Arthur's pass to a small town on the west coast, Hokitika. After searching around for a proper camping spot we found this unique place on a bluff over looking the ocean. It certainly was not wilderness, but as it turned out, it was an ex-mental hospital complete with extensive grounds, staff housing, and of course, the main wing of the hospital. It was bought on the cheap by a New Zealand couple who had the idea of turning it into a resort. Well, resort would be a stretch, but they did turn it into a backpackers hangout. The place was fairly run down, but no matter, it was full of young people from all over. Some were staying inside in small rooms that had been part of the hospital, while others were camped out on the main lawn. A few had campers like ours which were spread throughout the grounds.

A portion of the main hospital building
large_5de748c0-0611-11e9-90f9-27748def31e1.jpg

Campers on the lawn overlooking the ocean
large_74c578a0-0611-11e9-90f9-27748def31e1.jpg

There was a large kitchen where we cooked our dinner, and yes, hot showers to our everlasting delight. Shortly after we arrived a cold rain had already started and it got harder as the night wore on.

It was still raining the next morning, but seemed to be letting up as we ate breakfast in the main dining hall. The forecast was for improving weather so we decided to head on to our next hike, maybe an hour away. This was the Toaroha Valley Tramp as they say in Kiwi. We were told about it by the ranger at Arthur's pass as a place with possible hot springs and very few people. When we arrived at the trail head it was still drizzling, so we sat in the van for a while hoping for the best. Eventually the sun did come out. This was to be two day venture into the Cedar Flats hut, a 3 or 4 hour hike, or so we thought. Because of all the rain, sections of the trail were flooded and we had to ford numerous streams. Not wanting to get our boots wet, we stopped often to take them off and wade across in our sandals. All of this took a lot of time. After an hour or so, we came to a juncture that indicated a high water trail that went up higher in the forest. Since it was so wet down below, we figured this to be our best bet. It turned out to be a highly rugged path that was poorly marked, but slowly we persevered, seeing no one. In spots it was also damn slippery and muddy as it went up and down the steep hillsides of the canyon, staying away from to Kokataki River down below us. In the late afternoon we got to a spot where the trail just seemed to disappear. No markers could be seen, although there was a small cliff leading down from where we stood. Bill got out his gps app and we tried to figure it out. Surely it couldn't lead down that cliff. We must have been there 10 or 15 minutes when a family came by. There were two teenage boys and a couple that looked to be in their 40's. We chatted with them as they seemed to know what they were doing, especially George who was a helicopter pilot with the conservation department. He laughed when we told him that it seemed much more than 3 or 4 hours to the hut especially because of all the time we wasted taking off our boots.

"You don't take them off. Just wade on through. They're going to get wet anyway."

He seemed to think the trail did indeed lead down the cliff, and scrambled down to take a look. Sure enough, there was a marker down below hidden in the trees. We helped each other down with some difficulty, and then hiked together for a while until it became apparent that Bill and I couldn't keep up. We said we'd meet them in the hut in a couple of hours. Unfortunately that was not to be.

Despite not taking off our boots again, we made slow progress through the steep and dense terrain where route finding was a continual issue. True, we didn't start hiking until about 1:30 PM, but figured that gave us plenty of time because it didn't get dark until close to 9. Well now the light was already beginning to fade in the dense forest and we seemed to be nowhere near the hut, but we plodded along. There were more streams to cross despite being on the high route, and we didn't stop to take our boots off. As the light continued to fade we both wondered where the hell the hut could be. How much further? And then, suddenly, or so it seemed, the light went out entirely. We had already put on our headlamps, but unfortunately I had lost my good one on Mt. Cook, and only had a very small one that was practically useless. Bill would go ahead 10 or 20 yards and shine his lamp back towards me so I didn't slip on the boulders and wet ground. Once again the trail seemed to disappear into one of the numerous streams. We got out the gps to try and figure out the way, but that slowed us down even more. Both of us began to think we might have to spend the night out. Yes, we would probably survive without a tent, but it was starting to get cold and it would be damned uncomfortable. Every time Bill got out the gps I worried that we were wasting more time since it was still very difficult to find the trail, but I kept my mouth shut. Whatever we had to do, we certainly had to stick together. By now it was close to 10:30 and we were both feeling somewhat desperate. Above all, we didn't want George to have to come out looking for us as he probably would if we didn't show up. Finally, wading down another stream, we saw a trail marker, and then in he distance a narrow suspension bridge leading across the river to Cedar Flats and the hut. Crossing the bridge was the coup de grace. It was a one person bridge, extremely narrow and shaky, dangling some 20 or 20 feet across the raging river. Bill went first and then shined his light back so I could cross. And just so you know, I am actually afraid of heights so this was not an easy crossing for me and I had to take it slow because of how shaky and slippery the bridge was. Obviously, I did eventually make it ,and the hut was right there as we stumbled in, exhausted. Our 3 to 4 hour hike was more like 8 or 9, almost two hours of which was in the dark. George and his family seemed quite relieved to see us.

Just another Bill and Jon adventure.

Bill crossing back over the bridge the next morning. It doesn't look particularly threatening in the light of day
large_IMG_0167.JPG

The water levels looked to be much lower the next day, and so we decided to take the low route back. Route finding was still quite difficult, as was all the boulder hopping we had to do to stay out of the water. It didn't take quite as long as the previous day, but it still wasn't easy.

large_IMG_0170.JPG

[i]An example of the rugged terrain[i]
large_IMG_0171.JPG

Posted by jonshapiro 11:08 Archived in New Zealand Tagged landscapes mountains postcards foot Comments (3)

Craigieburn Forest Park/ Lake Pearson

After Mt Cook, our plan was to spend a few days at Arthur's Pass but the closer we got to top the more the weather deteriorated. The east side of the island is generally drier than the west and the pass marks the transition from one to the other. This was quite noticeable in terms of the vegetation which was considerably more lush and green the higher we climbed. We stopped in the ranger station to check about the weather in the coming days and indeed it looked to be rainy and very windy for the better part of the week. The east side appeared to be a much better bet, and so we drove back down and managed to find a fairly secluded spot near Lake Pearson. There were plenty of other campers on the lake shore, but further back far fewer. We spent a couple of nights there and hiked during the day.

Views from our camping spot near Lake Pearson
large_ab989ac0-0548-11e9-8fee-d962e6423cbc.JPG

large_92dbdc50-0547-11e9-b79d-e1a2ed416f20.JPG

Our first hike was a few hours up to Helicopter Hill. We started out in the forest and were almost run over by a group of kamikaze mountain bikers near this spot. The tell tale red marker denoting a mountain bike trail should have tipped us off.

large_IMG_0165.JPG

The 360 views from the top of the hill were superb.

large_4adabe90-0546-11e9-a175-cf7b16868e28.JPG

large_IMG_0155.JPG

large_60217b00-0545-11e9-b662-3dae082a4e50.JPG

It was extremely windy cooking dinner that night, and because we were now in our Wicked Van there was no place to cook inside. We had to make due with a one pot butane stove which kept blowing out. Finally we managed to rig something up behind the tire of the van and managed to cook our lamb burgers. You have to make do with what equipment you have. As Bill would say, "It is what it is."

The next day was also clear and warm and we ended up, more or less inadvertently, hiking up to the Cheeseman Ski Field. Starting out in the forest, we came up to a steep and what felt like a road to nowhere.

large_4c64c480-0547-11e9-b79d-e1a2ed416f20.JPG

But rounding the bend here is what we saw

large_IMG_0158.JPG

large_IMG_0145.JPG

The only lifts were poma style up some rather steep terrain. Falling off the lift, easy to do, would not be an option unless you want to slide down backwards several hundred feet. This was bare bones skiing where even getting up the road would be an adventure with snow and ice. There was nary a condo in sight

We sat on the floor of the porch outside the lodge and ate lunch. It was difficult to stand in the nearly gale force winds

Posted by jonshapiro 10:30 Archived in New Zealand Tagged landscapes mountains postcards foot Comments (4)

Aoraki/ Mt. Cook

Upon landing in Queenstown, more or less the extreme sports capital of the south island, we picked up our new home not far from the airport. Here it is in all its glory, along with yours truely. The picture was taken at a different spot.

large_60357df0-fbde-11e8-8fcb-7d99d44f5c4b.jpg

We think the company was goofing on us by giving us a van with that title, as we were probably the only "old ones," ever to use a Wicked Van. We tried to exchange it for an upgraded and bigger model, but alas, they were sold out as we were there during peak season. No fridge, no curtains, nearly bald tires, a tiny and hard bed, a butane stove that had to be used outside. You get the idea. It was a beat up very mini-van. The one saving grace, as peviously mentioned, was that it was automatic.

Here is a pic with our sleeping bags laid out

.7cf850c0-fbde-11e8-a94c-0f1e47fa6d9f.jpg

At any rate, we stopped just outside of town, did a big shop, and then headed out towards Mt. Cook.

large_IMG_0132.JPG

As you probably know, Mt. Cook is the highest and most heavily glaciated peak in New Zealand. Made famous by Sir Edmond, it was his training ground prior to climbing Everest in the early 50's. It is a highly technical peak, and so our plan was to hike part of the way up and spend the night at the Mueller Hut, 5500 feet elevation.

We arrived late afternoon and were lucky to get a camping spot in the national park. By the time we cooked dinner, the weather had already deteriorated and a cold rain began to fall. The next morning it was still raining hard and the mountain was totally socked in. Luckily our hut reservation was for the following day, and so we donned rain gear and went for a hike up to one of the glacier lakes.

It looks a bit sunny here, but I must have taken this pic at a rare moment
large_IMG_0076.JPG

Despite our fancy assed rain gear, we were both soaked after a few hours of hiking. A harbinger of things to come on the Milford Trek. Luckily the park had lodge with a pub, and so we spent the rest of the afternoon imbibing and eating junk food.

The next day dawned clear, and so we were ready to take on the hike up to the hut, not something to be done in bad weather. The trail gains 3 or 4000 vertical feet in less than 4 miles and is quite steep.The first part consists of over 2000 high steps constructed of timbers, then a big boulder field, until the last stretch of relatively flat rocks along the edge of deep ravine to the hut.

Here is Bill starting out on the steps

large_1ce11f60-fbdd-11e8-934b-f582fa3fae72.JPG

Looking into the valley at the start of the hike
large_IMG_0077.JPG

A flat section near the top of the boulder field
large_c9a079a0-fbe5-11e8-b004-39582a63f6a0.JPG

Looking down at some hikers past the boulder field
IMG_0124.JPG

Rounding the top of the trail near the ravine
large_IMG_0113.JPG

It began to get very windy here, and getting around this corner to the final stretch up tp the hut was not easy.

Here is a full shot of the ravine
large_IMG_0111.JPG

By this time our beautiful day was gone and some weather had started to move in.

Finally, the hut appeared.

large_IMG_0101.JPG

When I arrived the skies were spitting grappel and the hut was rattling with gale force winds. Using the outhouse, not pictured, was quite the adventure. It was maybe 50 feet from the hut and was up on a platform with 15 or 20 steps. Negotiating that in the wind, and later in the dark, and cranking open the door, held closed with a large metal bar was difficult.

Nonetheless the hut was full, as people went about preparing their dinner meal. It was cold. No woodstove. A basic quonset shelter, but with the wind, I certainly wouldn't have wanted to be in a tent.

I took a short walk around in the late afternoon and was startled by the crack of a snow slide on the far side of the ravine.

large_IMG_0114.JPG

Hiker against the sky, close to dusk
large_IMG_0094.JPG

Unfortunately the summit of Mt. Cook never came into view. Always in the clouds, which is probably more the norm.

After a rather uncomfortable night sleeping like sardines on a large wooden platform, the wind finally died down by the morning.

Morning light
large_IMG_0093.JPG

Nearby peaks in the morning
large_IMG_0091.JPG

Getting back down was just as difficult as getting up. Those steps and rocks were murder on these old knees.

large_IMG_0125.JPG

Posted by jonshapiro 12:07 Archived in New Zealand Comments (3)

Tapapakanga Regional Park

Our original plan for the North Island was to head up to hot water beach on the Coromandel Peninsula. However by the time we were done with Kerosene Creek, the weather had taken a decided turn for the worse and so we decided to go to the other side of the Firth of Thames. As we found out, this was a rather obscure area despite its proximity to Auckland. And while the weather was not great, it didn't look quite as bad as Coromandel and entailed less driving.

We found a delightful spot to camp overlooking the bay.

14f615a0-fb4f-11e8-8964-5baf93398c01.jpg

large_6c7236a0-fb50-11e8-9f8e-a3bae1a58a4b.jpg

large_5e6ac090-fb50-11e8-9f8e-a3bae1a58a4b.jpg

We pretty much had the spot to ourselves, and the park itself was all rolling hills and deserted beaches. Verdant to be sure, but with the weather it had a bit of a foreboding quality.

But no matter. We were quit snug in our little camper.

large_83e08370-fb4e-11e8-a507-6b255343a114.jpg

The sunset was the equal to any I have seen, even here in the big skies of New Mexico.

large_e28cf6b0-fb4e-11e8-9f8e-a3bae1a58a4b.jpg

large_IMG_20180208_202712834.jpg

The next day we followed the scenic shore road back to Auckland, but not before stopping at Clevedon Coast Oysters for some much needed hot oyster stew. Picking up the van near the airport was a challenge, and so was dropping it off. The Kiwis seem to be particularly fond of roundabouts, and in the city there were sometimes 3 or 4 in a row with extremely heavy traffic. Once again Bill managed to avoid killing us, barely, and we got to the airport in time to make our flight to Queensland on the South Island. We had considered taking the van on the ferry between the islands, but that proved impractical because of the cost and the distance. Little did we know, however, that the Wicked Van would almost prove to be our undoing. Well, a bit of an exaggeration, but it certainly was a shit hole, and a tiny one at that. And I have no one to blame but myself.

Posted by jonshapiro 17:46 Archived in New Zealand Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises sky photography Comments (1)

Kerosene Creek

Our next stop was Rotorua, famous for its hot springs and geothermal activity. However on arrival, we found the whole area to be touristy and crowded, with many of the springs using their Maori history to attract the hordes. We were not interested, and figured that the hiking would be similar. And so, after asking a number of folks, we were directed to undeveloped Kerosene Creek. Though not exactly undiscovered, by the time we got there it was close to dusk and most of the soakers had left.

57c88b40-f8e5-11e8-aabc-2d5c80d64a49.jpeg

Photo by Bill Wertz

The creek meandered through the forest creating small cascades over the rocks and pools of deliciously hot water, just deep enough for soaking. There were enough pools that privacy was usually assured. And yes, they did smell like sulpher, but that was a small price to pay. Although we were never sure whether the camping was strictly legal since the creek looked to be on a private logging road, nevertheless we decided to spend the night, and, as it turned out, the next as well. Nobody chased us out, and there were a few unmarked trails that went off into the forest so we spent the day exploring, in between long periods of hanging out in the creek. After several days on the road, it felt great to get squeeky clean. You know the feeling when the tips of your fingers get wrinkled after a long time in the bath. In this case, it was more that just our fingers. Even after two days it was hard to pull ourselves away.

It took Bill and I a while to get our sleeping and cooking routines down. I have been an insomniac for more years than I care to remember, but in many ways, Bill was an ideal sleeping partner. He would be out within 5 minutes of hitting the pillow, and my tossing and turning generally didn't bother him. Alright, after time went by he did insist on putting a long pillow between us so that I would not encroach on his side of the bed. Getting up in the middle of the night to pee was a somewhat arduous process as each of us had barely enough room to squeeze by one another. Often we would end up getting up at the same time. I know, more information than you needed to know. He was also in the habit of waking up at 4 or 5 in the morning, but he was quiet enough not to wake me. Usually I would get up about 6:30 and sometimes he would have the water already heating for coffee. That went a long way in making up for his grouchy periods. I really can't complain, as I was very fussy about where we would camp. I never wanted to be right next to someone, and often we would drive a long distance just to find pristine spots. He was the designated driver and was always a good sport about going out of our way.

I hadn't given much thought about what sharing a very small van for six weeks would be like, but it sort of felt like a second marriage, minus the sex. And unlike a lot of second marriages, we are still good friends.

Posted by jonshapiro 16:07 Archived in New Zealand Tagged landscapes people postcards Comments (4)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 191) « Page 1 [2] 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 .. »