Monday, December 31, 2012

Marlborough Sounds

I spent a week in December driving the 1,423km from Dunedin to Auckland with Chris, stopping in Wellington for this silly exam I had to sit. We did this very cheaply via a relocation rental - a lark I recommend to others who have lots of free, flexible time and not much money. 

I wanted to find a place to camp near Picton which was fairly isolated, free (or very cheap) and involving a short walk. I researched like a maniac, like I always do, and once I had acquainted myself with every campsite in and around the Marlborough Sounds region (and, incidentally, not written my master's thesis), I found Davies Bay campsite, a '1 hour walk'* from the car park in adorable Anakiwa. Pictured above is my kitchen, and below - the results - couscous with mushroom, asparagus and lemon juice.  

* Actually 25 minutes. Also, in Anakiwa there is a very nice coffee caravan, which looks like it must be amazing, but I am a townie at heart and only had electronic money (or 'imaginary tokens' as my dear friend Lemuel calls it). Bring cash! 

Davies Bay was unfortunately hosting both a high school group and an outdoor adventure group (I find the latter more terrifying, to be honest). I watched the outdoor adventure group stand in the carpark in Anakiwa in a perfect circle, wearing all their gear, and spend roughly 45 minutes prepping (for a 25 minute walk) and discussing how they need to "stick together!" and "be careful!", and remembered fondly why I prefer to go into the wilderness by myself. I said to Chris, at some point during a long and bitter rant, that I felt that outdoor classes at school taught me everything that could go wrong in the outdoors, but not everything that could go right - and why tramping/ camping are actually very accessible, life-enriching things to do with your time on earth. 

In any case, as groups tend to do they stuck together and we managed to find an area where we had only the mosquitos and two snooty Swans for company. NB: I have always felt that swans resemble, in appearance and temperament, old couples who detest the uncultured world around them, and 'love' each other forever - in the sense that they are each the only person the other can tolerate. 

Tent light and morning light in Davies Bay above. The drive back to Picton took us on the Queen Charlotte Drive, which is an extremely scenic wind through stupidly beautiful hills and bays. The morning was spent at Governor's Bay (below), where a very large Sting Ray (!) swam around Chris. He yelled, I was too slow to see it, and we spent the rest of the morning swimming around looking for it, feeling mildly nervous and making uncouth jokes about Steve Irwin. Also, Chris is Australian. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Macetown: Abandoned Town

Chris likes abandoned, haunted towns just as much as me, so we borrowed MOM's car and hooned to Arrowtown, from which one can walk three hours along the old gold-mining trail to the historic town of Macetown. Macetown is dramatically placed in what I consider to be classic arid Central Otago landscape, at the feet of a range of snow-capped mountains. The town itself has some buildings still in tact, and a ghost who walks around the longdrop when I'm in there alone at night drunk.

We camped at Macetown for two nights, and on the day between we went for a ramble up the valley to a dwelling aptly called "Derelict Hut", where we joined the dozens of people who had scratched their names into the ancient wooden walls for posterity. The valley is carved out by an alpine river, we had blazing sun all day and I attempted to face my fear of heights. Note me lying on the edge of that cliff thing below, pretending to smile. Chris, on the other hand, danced around like a mountain goat and I didn't watch (NB: We also saw a family of actual mountain goats, including a tiny baby, balancing on some rocky cliff faces. There are no photos, because we were hopping up and down with excitement and trying to convince those guys to be our friends). 

Above: a very old sign. 

These photos don't do Macetown justice, as most of the time Chris and I were too busy looking around in awe and harping on about how perfect it is (a la St Bathans). On the way back, we walked the alternative route via "Big Hill." Schlepping myself and my pack up Big Hill was one of the few times I have genuinely believed I might not physically be able to achieve something, and Chris joked, once we neared the summit, that it was probably named by someone similarly exhausted and as half-dead as us:
"What should we name this hill?" someone asks, and the unfit, gasping person replies "I don't care. Big Hill." 

Most people take a 4WD trip to Macetown and I hear in summer the place can be positively over-run with these day-trippers. The 4WDs cruised past us, wading through one of the 27 river crossings, and the tourists inside stared at us in horror. Then one of them used the long-drop and stole our toilet paper. Luckily, we had spares, but seriously!!! Who. Does. That. They would be back at their hotel in Arrowtown within the hour - meanwhile, we were out in Macetown for the next 48 hours or so. Anyway. Day-tripping fools. In any case, I recommend this trip in the off-season, which is when we did it; we had the town almost entirely to ourselves. I also do, after all, recommend the alternative route on the way back - coming over the ridge to alpine views stretching from Arrowtown to Queenstown was well worth the near-death experience. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Before I Went

On my trip driving from Dunedin to Auckland what struck me the most was how my idea of a place, built up from random images on the news, or stories, or god knows where, is often badly out of line with the reality I find there. Or I do find it, but it's only a small part. 

For example, I thought the North island would be boring farmland. Nonstop. Everywhere. Somehow from the images I'd seen and the way people always say, emphatically: "the South island is the pretty one", I just had this idea that the entire North island would be like that awful strip of farmland between Ashburton and Christchurch. I didn't think this consciously or rationally, because I *knew* there were national parks and beautiful things, but somehow in my heart I felt it. 

Anyway, this got me thinking: before I go to a place, any place, I have an imaginary version of that place in my head. I like this phenomenon and don't want to change. For example, Paris Before I Went was a real life version of the tall, dark, leaning houses in the animated work of  Sylvain Chomet (and it actually kind of is! in certain areas). Berlin Before I Went was stark, industrial and full of parties (same deal!). In real life, a place is too myriad, complex, alive, unpredictable and three-dimensional to fit into my little brain, so it is *always* better than how I imagine it, because real life is outside my control. 

So, I was just chatting to my dear friend Brook about my upcoming visit to his home-city Manchester and I described it to him as: 

"manchester is going to be so fun

such a grimy place
a smart place
in a recession"

He replied: "sure."

Brook is very under-stated, but what he probably meant was "Sure, and all these other things." He did add this:

"though officially it is up and coming. it experienced something of a Renaissance following the IRA bomb. plus a musical heritage you can shake an Australia at and still come out choking."

Did I say Brook is under-stated? I meant he is a crass, rambling maniac. In any case, he is from Manchester, he lives there currently and he will be my host come next February. He also runs a boutique Gin bar with over fifty varieties of Gin. It is like I have designed my life to be Just So.

ANYWAY (for the last time), what I wanted to say was this: I am going to attempt to draw and describe my visions of places before I go and compare the results. This is going to be hilarious, as I cannot draw, but you can hopefully use my words to fill in the blanks, as it were. I won't do this for the North Island, since it is no longer fresh, as I have now seen that it is a place which is wildly alive. That there are mighty rivers carving through valleys which are 'mossy with life' (as my love put it); places where Taniwha live under bridges and local children throw leaves over the edge to honour them.

Coming up: Manchester, Before I went there. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Aventures R Us

One of my finest Dunedin friends, Lemuel, happened to be in Wellington at the same time as me and asked me to dedicate a day to a secret adventure he had planned. I cleared my wednesday, donned my matching red plaid shirt and geared up for a day of being a true badass. He said it would be historical, geeky, outdoors and with a touch of danger. To prepare, we had a huge hungover brunch at 'Sweet Mother's Kitchen.' I had 6 black bean quesadillas, Lemuel had a burrito and we both scoffed curly fries and corn bread. We were ready for anything.

First we spent about 45 minutes walking up and down central Wellington looking for our correct bus out to the nautical, sea-side suburb of Seatoun. Lemuel said he would live there if he lived in Wellington, and I said "typical!" - 'cos Seatoun is the most Dunedin-like suburb and also very separate from the city. You could really feel like a hermit here. Lemuel said he would like to live in one of the sea facing little houses and tell everyone he used to be a light-house keeper, and that he lost his job when light-houses became automated. Below, Lemuel on the beach and various examples of Seatoun to Scorching Bay architecture (the first house seems perfect for Lem).

After a walk around the bays and an uphill scramble in deafening, gale-force winds (p.s. I will never, not ever, live in Wellington - for this reason alone) we arrived at the location of the secret adventure - an old military fort on the hills overlooking the city - Kau point battery. The place was pot-holed with terrifying holes such as that pictured below (which would entail a 5metre drop with no exit) and the main fort entrance (third picture down) was in the most gusty spot, so I was trying to scramble in as the wind whipped my face, hurt my ears and made me feel generally hysterical and insane.

End result: N'est pas d'aventures. I wimped out. I climbed in, looked around, freaked out and climbed out, holding my nose from panic (?! why) and screaming at the goddamn wind. Lemuel tried to venture further than me but the build-up of debris (not there when he last visited) gave him the heeby-jeebies and we both rested and went to a cafe in scorching bay where we enjoyed an unearned hot soup and coffees.

In the late afternoon sun, on our walk back, I saw this Tui which I interpreted as conclusive proof that the day was, despite my cowardice, a raving success.

Here are some photos of inside Kau point battery by someone much braver than me. 

Tramping for Tramps

Three of my darling Wellington friends banded together and bought me a ticket to their fine city as a birthday gift. I've never explored the North Island, excepting Auckland and Wellington, so I wanted to go on a little tramping trip. We drove out to Upper Hutt (1 hr from town) and did an overnight tramp to Tutuwai hut in the Kaitoke regional park. It's pretty amazing there's so much lush wilderness so close to Wellington city, and there's hardly anyone there (to be fair, I think the huts on the Tararua southern crossing are fairly booked out all summer). 

Compared to the well-kept tramps I've been on in Fiordland, where the tracks are super wide and well-marked for international tourists, the track here was pretty scruffy, over-grown and badass. We did lose it a few times, and the 'detours' due to slips were a bit exciting (signposted above with "GIRLS" and "DOC" scrawled below 'Detour' and 'trampers' with an arrow pointing the opposite way).

To prove we really are GIRLS we changed into pretty dresses in the hut, and drank whisky, ginger beer, tea and coffee. We cooked up a dinner of fresh pasta, sun-dried tomato pesto, spinach and pepperoni. Bliss.

Tutuwai hut is awesome, the night sky killed my tiny brain and the company was the best ever. Babes.

Practical information: the tramp took us a bit longer than it says on the DOC website, which is weird since I usually find DOC times to be extremely conservative. I googled and lots of people report similar issues, with some people taking 9 hours to complete the '4.5 hour' tramp. I find that hard to believe, since we were walking pretty slowly (a combination of general dawdling and then Logan having an injured knee) and took about 6 hours, including breaks. In any case, the time estimates around these parts don't seem especially reliable and the track was definitely more rough than I've seen elsewhere. Still totaaally dreamy though. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

If you ask the universe for an adventure...

I was feeling bold - bold and stupid. This wasn't particularly unusual, but I decided that the burning in my core had become pretty acidic and would burn a hole right through my chest if I didn't run off on some solo madness pronto. It's winter. It's New Zealand. Mom let me borrow her car. Let's hope it wasn't the last time.

As always, I took the 'pig route' (or 'pig root' as some idiot put it on wikipedia, or Highway 85 if you're a townie) over the barren plains of Central Otago. Swinging past St Bathans was hard, because I could happily have stopped to visit Jack the dog and Jude at the Vulcan hotel. But I saved myself for Clyde, which - like so many virginities saved for a special someone - turned out to be a waste. I really don't like Clyde. The main street is beautiful. Every other building is hideous, the people are weird/ rich and it all sits waiting for doom under a huge dam.

Instead of bounding head-first into true solo adventure, I stopped in Wanaka for a night to visit Ellie. We drank a few pints in this quite lovely bar packed to the brim with 17-year-old looking snowboarders. Observance/ question: these guys wear their extremely stupid flat caps on their heads, tilted to the side, even in a bar, even at night. So, my question is this: do they wear them when they're naked? Say, during sex? Ellie said she thinks they do, with thick snowboarding socks on too. Mm. If anyone is brave/ desperate enough to investigate, do let me know.

Plusses of stopping in Wanaka = any moment I spent with dear Ellie, her dad's fabulous cooking and watching Terms of Endearment (during which her dad cried, but both Ellie and I remained as stony-faced as ever. We are truly heartless). AND: driving over the Crown Range the next day. Check it out.

Selfie on the top of the Crown Range

On the drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy (a stretch of road I love) the weather started to pack up. Note the Düsterkeit in the following photos. Gorgeeeous. 

In Glenorchy, the woman in the shop/ DOC office told me there was an "extreme weather warning" for the whole area and asked if I had a personal location beacon thing (I did) and all the other questions. I chirpily went on my way.


The road from Kinloch lodge to the start of the Greenstone/ Caples track is a pretty rough road with a few fords to cross. Usually it's about two or three fords and they are nothing dramatic, just put the car in first and roll through. They seemed a bit worse than usual on the way in, and my nerves started to jangle. Worse, my petrol light had chosen this inopportune moment to come on. I had passed several gas stations in Queenstown but hadn't stopped since 1. I hate going to petrol stations anytime ever and 2. I really don't like Queenstown and it was busy as. The hunters I ran into later described this as "woman's logic", which - despite my rampant feminism - I found quite hilarious. It certainly is ME logic. In any case, the rain was becoming harder and faster, I was hangry, the car was struggling and the petrol light was becoming more and more insistent - and I was only on the way out.

At one point I thought cheerily "what would Martha Gellhorn do?", then I remembered how in her drives across East Africa she had been religious about checking oil and petrol at every opportunity and even carried extra of both in her grunty old 4WD. As in, Martha Gellhorn would never be this stupid.

After an extremely long and stomach-knot inducing drive, I pulled into the car-park (after a hairy confrontation with a cow) and a mosquito promptly flew in the window and bit my hand. What the jesus christ. It is freezing and still?! Anyway. Anyway. I ate some day-old coleslaw, felt mildly ill, put all my wet-weather gear on and started up the damn hill, trying to will myself to enjoy this. You have bankrupted yourself for this I reminded myself. The other voice chimed in, reminding me that the alternate plan for the weekend would have been days off, cosy bed, BBC and fire places. Why do you do this? I asked myself a million times. It rained, I crossed a few rivers, I trudged along - alone and muttering, swearing and saying "oh my GOD" whenever I saw one of the beautiful snow-covered peaks of the Humboldt mountains. It was a confusing time.

Below: the (rainy) views from the hut veranda.

After what felt like the rise and fall of an entire empire, I turned a corner and saw the beautiful Mid-Caples Hut - with smoke pouring out of the chimney! This was something of a surprise, as I had seen no sign of human life and expected to arrive to an empty hut. I was too tired and cold to expect anything but the best from my new friends, and I was right. The hut was warm and filled with four gentleman hunters from the Dunedin area, on their annual group trip to go deer hunting - which they've been doing since 1976. As I slopped in they looked at me in alarm and said: "only DRY people allowed in here" and burst out laughing. Then they cooked pancakes, which I thought were delicious, but they said I was just delirious from cold and exhaustion and that they would more accurately be described as "edible." Then they gave me Haloumi cheese, a million stories and saved my life.

Above: my dinner of chicken green curry with rice and a PUMP bottle full of pinot noir.
Below: the place where one of the hunters had rubbed off the condensation so he could sit by the window looking out.

As all people who spend a lot of time around each other do, the hunters had developed their own way of communicating and their own brand of jargon. For example, if something was going to be dangerous or a bad idea, they would call it "a bit exciting." For example, "crossing that river tomorrow is going to be a bit exciting." (It was).

Alternately, when we were walking through a particularly beautiful spot, Frans interrupted our awed silence to state: "well, this is tolerable isn't it?"

One of the hunters had managed to nick a deer slightly, catching a bit of fur but nothing more (he said he had made sure there was no blood, as he would hate to be sending an injured animal off to die slowly). This piece of fur was a running gag in the hut - there were various requests that it be framed or mounted, or that it be taken it into a lab to see if they can work out how big the deer would have been. The resident scientist/ bee keeper found this especially hilarious.

The fur also matched one of the other hunter's hair colour and the suspicion that it was he who was was nicked, not a deer, was also bandied about.

Below: Gary with his war-era gas cooker. "Three times a day Gary tries to burn down the hut" Brett told me after Gary threw a lit match into his gas cooker, "but he always fails."

For dinner they all ate the infamous freeze-fried 'Backcountry Cuisine' and told me it should say "first, walk for ten hours" on the instructions, because that's what you have to do to make it taste good. Below, a picture of the 'apricot crumble.'

The walk back was a lot more fun than the walk in, as I had Frans telling me stories of his (mis)adventures the whole way and the rain was easing up. Despite this, the rivers were more swollen than ever from the combination of rain and snow melt and I was feeling very apprehensive about taking Mom's Toyota Corolla across the many fords on the way back; I told the hunters this approximately every 8 minutes. They surrounded me with their guns and khaki and called themselves my "armed escort" and said they would also escort me out and make sure I was ok. The road back was truly awful, but at every ford they were waiting to guide me across and at one particular ford - when I was hopping about too scared to drive over (it was deep and fast, and there was a cliff to one side), Bernie (aka MY HERO) came over and drove the car for me. We both nearly died, but we didn't and that's what really counts.

Below, Frans with some of the deer they killed. The relationship these men have with this land and with the animals they hunt was really incredible to me. They were deeply conscientious and ranted at length about the problem of irresponsible/ reckless hunters (their going joke was "Oh I'm just going to shoot at this shadow in the bush"). They talked about how they feel hunting is far more ethical than the meat industry, because the animal gets a life in the wild "and, if you're a good hunter, it'll be dead before it even knows anything happened." They bragged about their families and how many years they'd been married - when I said to Frans that it must be hard to stay in love for so long, he laughed and said "no, it's easy. The trick is, choose the right person, and the trick for doing that is to be yourself. Then there are no surprises."

NB: the petrol lasted 'til I was back in Glenorchy, where I spent my last $50 on gas and gingerly drove back to Waikouaiti via the pig route. I told the car I would honour it if it made it. It did, so I put flowers on the bonnet, kissed it and did a small dance of gratitude. My old theme song ("petrol light please go out, I've got no money in my bank account") has never had more weight or relevance.