Joined October 2016
  • Day32

    Hanmer Springs, NZ

    Yesterday in New Zealand ⋅ ☁️ 13 °C

    Boulders and bites.

    It feels like we've pulled the rip cord. After four weeks of meandering south, we've uprooted from Queenstown and in less than 24 hours we've made it to Hamner Springs. Within the week, we'll be back in Auckland which means plenty of driving, the same amount of work and a lot less activity. But not for trying!

    The Moeraki boulders was our first stop out of Queenstown. The eerie grey clouds we left behind were no less grey, the air temperature only slightly warmer and the wind, much stronger. Combine that with a high tide, which covered much of the famed boulders and you have a very unexceptional trip out of Otago. My enthusiasm for rocks, apparently uncontagious. Must have been the hand sanitiser.

    We took a more eventful break at a winery off SH1 just south of Christchurch in an effort to add some fulfillment to our day. In the kerfuffle of an entry that we made, Cat was bitten by a dog. Her only conceivable mistake was perhaps that she was a Cat, and had presumably crossed some kind of doggone boundary. Shock was rife, if not that she had just been bitten, but of all the animals we have petted, played and parted, this tame farm dog would be the one to bite. The result was a couple of bloody fingers and very awkward introduction to the owners, who had witnessed the whole thing and were now attempting to remediate the situation with pawpaw, plasters and wine. It was from then on, a very personable and hospitable tasting-turned-local-history-lesson, sealed with a verbal and bottled apology.

    More irony was waiting for us in Christchurch with a yelping, jumping, barking Bella taking some time to warm to after recent events. We'd caught Hamish and Kasia between soccer games, half marathons and house warmings, so we made an agreement to babysit the dog in exchange for a night's accommodation. As we pulled out of the driveway for Hanmer Springs the next morning, with Bella whining at the window, I hope I speak for Cat and I, that we still like dog's but prefer Cats?

    Two things surprised me about Hanmer Springs, and neither of them are even mildy interesting. The first is the order of the 'm' and 'n' in the word Hanmer, which would more commonly be found reversed, and is easier to say when reversed. Hence perhaps why it can be said either way, just so long as its pronounced with sufficient brevity to create ambiguity. The second surprise is that it's in the foothills of the alps, as opposed to the Canterbury plains, where it appears to be located when viewed at a distance on a non-contoured map as obviously, I had only seen before. Unsurprised? No surprise.

    What is surely unsurprising to us all, is that Hanmer is famous for hot springs, which have underpinned the now substantial adventure tourism hub it has become. I managed to convince Cat, recovering from skiing injuries, a burn and a dog bite, that her injuries couldn't get much worse and she should come mountain biking in the mud. Unbelievably, they didn't, which is a testament to her skills alone, as I foolishly led her up and down some trails which are considered advanced on the best of days, when they didn't look like waterslides. We brought plenty of mud and all of our dignity back into town and made a quick transition into the hot pools. What mountain biking didn't do to her, the hot pools did: miss accident prone skinning a knee on her first slide!

    Aside from the slides, and the kilometres walked getting around that complex (it's rather large), the pools were very relaxing. The only thing missing was the David Attenborough commentary which had unlimited potential, given the quantity and variety of human like creatures lurking about.

    Work filled Monday for Cat. I'm taking a holiday from my holiday - making the most of a lull in the workload. Stuffed full of souvlaki, I severely underestimated Mt Isobel and my plan run turned into a walk / climb in what was a stunning venue. Snow, ice and hurricane force winds were also on the list of underestimations.

    That aside, it was a very relaxing wee stop. Highly recommend!
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  • Day28

    Queenstown II, NZ

    July 2 in New Zealand ⋅ 🌙 0 °C

    More ski.

    We went back to Coronet Peak for more action on the slopes. Our luck with the weather and snow continued and we had an awesome two days skiing (yes, I actually skied this time Mungo). The snowmakers were in full force for the school holidays prep and our plans to finish up on Friday were bloody well done if I can say so myself.

    Our plans to see Fox Glacier were foiled by the super rain which took out most of the country, but being the jammy rain dodgers we are, we escaped east through a narrow window and left behind rain and crowds.

    Not much else happened in Queenstown this time round as we battled old age in a young peoples sport.
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  • Day26

    Milford Sound, NZ

    June 30 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C

    Milfiord Sun.

    Sounds like a fiord, looks like a fiord, and is found in - you know it - Fiordland. The fact that Milford Sound remains incorrectly named is the most preposterous show of cartographical incompetence since Captain Cook gave Banks an Island. And the rest of them - Doubtful, Dusky, Sutherland, to name a few - are no more excusable. Piopiotahi you have my vote.

    The closest I've been to Milford Sound is an old canvas painting that used to hang on the wall in Baa's living room. It's a reflection of Mitre Peak from the head of Milford Sound - and it comes with Baa's claim to fame: she was the first woman to reach the summit. Now Baa's claim has not been founded and if you're lucky enough to catch her on a few savvy blancs, she might just admit her attempt fell a few feet short. Nonetheless, her story stands and that old oil painting shows Mitre Peak today no less impressively than #mitrepeak would retrieve on Instagram. That's not something to be taken lightly when the old rock sees over half a million visitors per year!

    Another thing Milford sees plenty of is rain. Unbelievable quantities of rain. Rainy Auckland sees on average about 1.3m per year (maybe not this year...); Milford sees 6.5m per year and if it hasn't had rain in 10 days, they're in drought. Having driven all the way from Queenstown in some rather damp conditions, when we drove through the Homer Tunnel into sunshine, spirits were soaring and our jaws on the floor. We'd nailed it! The irony was that Milford Sound's reknowned waterfalls were running at all time lows, some not even existent. Waterfall schmaterfall, we'll take sun.

    We'd scored a cheap deal on what turned out to be a very empty cruise. No doubt ready to cater for those half a million tourists, Milford Sound cruises were by far the most visibly impacted tourism business we've come across to date. But they were still operating, so there's hope...I guess.

    Milford put on a show for us that day, no doubt. Stunning scenery and entertaining commentary made the time fly, and we're keen to come back for the Milford Track, to tame Mitre Peak and for some pacific cray hunting one day. All said, we were very much 'shown' Milford Sound this time.

    We departed back into the rain for a night in a cosy Te Anau air bnb. It seemed like forever waiting for the sun to rise the next moring, but by 8.30 we were able to head our for an icy run to the start of the Kepler track.

    Manapouri's finest cafe took care of the rest of the morning, as we set up for a few hours work which succumbed to heavy distraction as we observed the coming and goings of the locals.

    A short and sweet swoop into the deep south, lwft much to be desired. We'll be back.
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  • Day23

    Queenstown, NZ

    June 27 in New Zealand ⋅ ☁️ 5 °C

    The big smoke.

    Traffic, of all things, welcomed us to Queenstown. I suppose it wasn't unexpected, it just wasn't really expected if you get my drift.

    The drive from Tekapo was grand. Cloudy and dramatic, with patches of afternoon sun, rain, rainbows and snow. We visited Mt Cook National Park (other footprint), Twizel (for Frasers sake, or rather for pies) and hammered through Cromwell in a mad dash to get to the snow centre before close. Lift passes for tomorrow's skiing was essential admin.

    I do recall holidays being a leisurely affair; namely that sleep takes priority over all activities, people and places - especially once sleep has begun. This holiday has not been leisurely much at all. As it would turn out, combining a holiday and work does not magically produce additional hours in the day to both holiday and work. I'm certainly not complaining - we're extraordinarily lucky in numerous way to be able to do what we're doing - I'm just pointing out that if you see bags under my eyes it's because we're not all play down here! That said, a 9am ski date is hardly an early start!

    Speaking of play, boy did we get a cracking day at Coronet Peak on Friday! First day of the season, plenty of first tracks, fresh snow and loads of people. Managing to escape without injury was undoubtedly the highlight of a day marred with poor technique, awkward crashes and general embarrassment. If we bounced when we were young, one could accurately regard our graceless inability to remain upright as remarkably unskilled and they'd not be far at all from the truth. Recovery periods and quantities of bruises are at life long highs.

    Fortunately we'd only committed to going two days on the trot, because by the time Tom and Celeste had finished educating us on the standard we should be at, we were well and truly spent.

    We opted to support a local tour company on Sunday. At least that's what we told each other as we indulged in a treacherous trip to Skippers Canyon. Chariot #1 was a late 90s OKA, which had seen better days. But it took to Skippers road like a duck to water, and there was plenty of water gauging rivers from the road as we proceeded in torrential conditions and with windows fogging faster than the recollection of a hefty night on the turps. Lucky, because the unguarded corners had some gut wrenching vertical drops which were probably best left unseen.

    Surviving the ride of Chariot #1 granted entry to Chariot #2: a jet boat. We rugged up warm, Cat especially, and belted up the upper Shotover river with yelps and screams in some actually quite painful stinging rain. Heated handholds were a slice of heaven and made all the difference between suffering and enjoyment. The latter definitely winning out in what was an adventurous day.

    Work, work, work rounded out our last day (and some) in Queenstown before our wee trip down to Milford.

    PS - yes, of course we got Fergburger, and Ferg Pies. We're not animals!
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  • Day21

    Mt Cook National Park, NZ

    June 25 in New Zealand ⋅ ☁️ 5 °C

    Hooker Valley Track.

    Second time. Still no sight of the mother mount. Ten out of ten otherwise, even for the outlandish volume of walkers, in some fairly discouraging weather. We'll be back!

    Brilliantly timed and paced to make it back for Cat's midday meeting. Pats on the back all round!
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  • Day19

    Tekapo, NZ

    June 23 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 6 °C

    Take a poo.

    That's what we had to tell Cat to stop her calling it Tepako. Tekapo actually means 'sleeping mat night', which is momentarily interesting, not very meaningful and swiftly forgotten. Take a poo, much better.

    Dark night reserve and bright day beauty, this place is just wow!

    We've got the ground floor of a two storey house, self contained, new, warm, clean and with a view of the lake. The sun won't stop shining until the earth spins out the stars and leaves us hung jawed and crook necked gazing into the abyss. Incredible. It's like I had a star for every time Cat told me she was freezing. Which this time, was a fair and accurate comment, given it was minus three out.

    I was keen to learn more, but as Corona virus would have it, nobody was available to teach. Thus Cat the astronomy hater was off the hook and it was hot pools instead.

    We did have an amazing walk up and around Mt John, after John Hay, earlier that day which was just spectacular. And much longer than anticipated. And muddy. And icy. But no falls!

    Working again, but this time with a view to die for! And running too, down river beds, past dams and culverts, over snowy golf courses with Mckenzies finest back drop: the alps. How good. Lucky us.

    I'll let the pictures say the rest.
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  • Day16

    Christchurch, NZ

    June 20 in New Zealand ⋅ ☁️ 9 °C

    Boisterous Bella.

    Our adventure through Arthur's Pass was underwhelming. Low cloud and light rain made the views unremarkable. A short walk and a hot pie were about the highlight of the trip as we rolled through the plains and down to Christchurch.

    Bellas yelps could be heard from Auckland. Her deafening squeals and energetic crotch punches haven't relented with age, nor has her demand for attention. She welcomed us to Hamish and Kasias home where we set up for a quick work power hour, followed by a few beers and a delicious lasagna. We had been joined by Alastair who managed to squeeze us in between setting up for a wedding and a cocktail party. Thanks Al.

    Saturday involved a brisk visit to the local markets, an expensive spell in Torpedo7, a delightful salami sandwich, a lime scooter tour of the CBD (thanks Kasia), an informative visit to Quake City museum, and dinner at H&Ks local favourite - the Laboratory - where the flirtatious Bella stole the show again.

    Sunday started slowly but we managed a relatively uneventful visit to Lyttleton, which included a genie lamp and a towball fiasco in the bunnings carpark, all while Kasia "played" soccer. Regrettably, we did not get sausages.

    Mcleans park hosted us that afternoon, with some loopy rolly mtb trails, which was ultimately a serious workout - big hamo tapping out first arguably for ice cream over true fatigue.

    Dinner was the filling in Sunday's icecream sandwich. Roast lamb and Annys potatoes- que bueno!!

    We worked the morning out of Monday, said our goodbyes and hit the road to Timaru where we were hosted for dinner by Cat's Scottish friend's brother David and partner Alice. A lovely pair of adventurous doctors who between keeping the people of Timaru alive, appear to enjoy kayaking, hiking, skiing, cycling, collecting lamps and on occassion, running out of gas. Fed and watered (thanks guys!) we took a very dark road to Tekapo.

    Thanks a bunch to the older brother, the jock and the princess for hosting!

    PS feel free to send podcast reccos!
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  • Day12

    Westport, NZ

    June 16 in New Zealand ⋅ 🌧 15 °C

    It's Westport. The only thing that's changed since your father's father visited is the declining prospect of gold.

    Coal, on the other hand, still very present and currently the predominant source of household heating, as my nostrils deduced.

    I'd love to tell you how exciting it was but that would be lying. Our experience of the famed Buller Gorge was very underwhelming, despite the efforts the rain was making to flood it.

    Cape foulwind was wild, and to be fair, there were plenty of seals and an exciting swell, but Cat made me walk and I wasn't in the mood.

    We ate both meals in and worked all day Wednesday so we hardly made an effort, but our quiet beer in 'town' certainly reinforced our decision to stay in. The stopover highlight might just have been the complimentary cooked breakfast by our air bnb hosts, if it wasn't for the relentless chat we endured for more or less, the entire duration of our stay. My historical knowledge of a two storey dwelling in Westport now exceeds that of any structure I've worked on in my short and wandering career. Nonetheless, a very clean and pleasant stay with lovely people.

    We did however, both separately enjoy a nice run, which has been a bit of a silver lining in these work days. Despite an absolute start to finish drenching, I looped the wetlands trail (fitting, I know) on verbal direction from a previously acquainted Cat. It was curvy, flat and completely empty (save for two other joggers). There's nothing like running new routes and even better when they're out on trails in remote areas throughout NZ. I've thoroughly enjoyed all of my runs, which I'd say carry the touristic value of a half or full day walk, with the added entertainment of trying not to get lost.

    Onward to Greymouth, the wet coast had really lived up to it's name. The westerly swell made the Punakaiki blowholes come to life, which did impress a pair of scraggly half drowned rats.

    Greymouth, however, wasn't worth the night we spent there and would have easily won a scrap with Westport for lowlight of the trip so far. Not even the Monteiths Brewery could persuade us, with it's warm fire, cold beer and fish and chips - falling short with a typical west coast lack of atmosphere almost intentionally by playing Pure NZ tourism ads on loop instead of say...music? Perhaps it's off season. Or there's a pandemic or something.

    Full marks for the Global Culture hostel, on a hostel scale. Geez we're mixing up this accommodation!

    I do realise I'm being harsh and these are just gateway towns to the wonderous likes of the Heaphy, Paparoa National Park, Arthurs Pass National Park, and the glaciers to name just some. Better weather, more time and a higher level of capability on a mountain bike are three things which could easily turn my review on its head.
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  • Day9

    Nelson Lakes National Park, NZ

    June 13 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 2 °C

    Alpine Paradise.

    There's a fair amount of preparation that goes into tramping. I'd forgotten. As had I forgotten that hiking is an unsuitable word for what is clearly tramping, no offense to you non kiwi readers. The art of finding a walk requires somewhat more effort than say, finding a new series on Netflix; after all, you can't really just close your screen when you've had enough. After much googling, a trip to DOC and much more googling we discovered that DOC is just amazing. Oh, and we chose the overnight walk to Angelus hut. Cat can't handle me smelling for more than one night.

    It was the obvious choice but we felt a lot of discouragement for the track conditions at this time of year. Our back up was the alpine circuit in Kahurangi NP overnighting in Salisbury hut. Nonetheless we grew a pair and headed out to Nelson Lakes at an hour on Saturday morning that shan't be repeated.

    Pinch Gut was an apt name for the first hour of consistently steep ascent which culminated in penetration of the low lying cloud. From there, the ascent continued, tapering throughout the day, oddly in sync with the ever reducing cloud cover. As we neared the end of Robert Ridge some epic views opened up to the west, but not soon enough for us to see Lake Rotoiti in all her might.

    A sketchy ridge ride took up much of the afternoon as my trusty work boots struggled for traction control. The rocky, snowy ride down did not look like fun.

    Angelus hut came into view in the mid afternoon, placed angelically in the centre of what might have been a crater, perched between two defrosting lakes and now baking in full sun. In my excitement to arrive, I slipped on the descent, hurting nothing but my pride as we skidded into camp with the day's gumbi award safe in my arms - Richard 1, Cat 0. My perfect streak broken.

    We were in the nick of time to snag two of the last five bunks in a 28 bed hut which end up sleeping 35 guests that night!! And what a party it was: 8 rowdy and excitable post high schoolers, a group of 10 from South America bringing wine by the box (yes 6 bottles in one bag), whiskey and jager (??!?), plus a myriad of other international, regional and local trampers, all surprisingly below the age of 35.

    The beauty of this place was rivaled only by Bonniedoon. As was the sun, the sunset and the stars. Wow! Worth the walk twice over if you ask me!

    There were some antics that night but all told everybody was reasonable and in fact, the stupidest of activities was undertaken the next morning when two idiots walked into the centre of the lake unfrozen just the day before. Possibly the same guy who jumped through the ice for a swim on saturday afternoon. Madness.

    We chose the Speargrass track down the next day which commenced with a short hike to the ridge summit (not Angelus summit - save that for summer) for more endless views. The next few hours were knee breakingly steep, and initally icy as I battled to avoid a blow out in yesterdays score. The alpine scenery, rivers, rocks and snow under the sun and absence of wind was just what we love about this country!

    After a multitude of river crossings, it took forever to weave our way out through the beech forest but we had enough chocolate and candy and our fix of good views to see us through. We even had a fantail escort who saw us all the way back to Johnny.

    Our 90min drive back to Nelson turned out to be a perfectly timed run for the Blues Hurricanes kick off - I literally landed on my seat in the Vic as it started - and as if the cold, pints, hot chips and a Blues victory could have left any room for a better day, we topped it off with a spa at Anny and Stu's and a few red wines.

    I won't be forgetting that for a while.
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  • Day7

    Nelson, NZ

    June 11 in New Zealand ⋅ ☁️ 17 °C

    Sunny Nelson.

    Our streak of good weather continued in unprecedented beauty. In fact, I recall it might have been close to a record high pressure, but we went seven full days with but a cloud or a breath of wind. Gee whiz.

    Gravity winery was our first stop out of Picton. Save for a delicious butter chicken pie in Havelock of course. We found the most idyllic and otherwise empty winery where we posted up for a generously poured tasting and enormous platter of all good snacks. I'd love to say we did more with our day, but....ah the serenity.

    According to our Sommelier (who surely wasn't a sommelier), there was plenty of business and they'd more or less had a steady stream of customers since the lockdown ended. Given our afternoon was interrupted only by one other pair, I couldn't believe her.

    We posted up the night as psuedo kids of Annie and Stu who run an Air BnB in Marybank. Lovely folk. We cooked every meal in Nelson, save for the winery, and it was surprisingly easy and comfortable in another household's working kitchen.

    Work and tramping prep were the order of Friday, breaking only for a leg stretch to the centre of NZ (disappointingly uncentral) and pausing briefly for a drink in town before cooking up a feed and hitting the hay. Angelus hut in the Nelson Lakes National Park was our weekend mission, we would need our rest! (Separate footprint).

    Monday was a designated work day but I'd been dying to hit the Coppermine MTB trail from central Nelson. Unfortunately the weather had finally given way to light drizzle forecast to turn heavy in the afternoon. My luck too, had also taken a turn, with unsuccessful attempts to hire a bike at the first three stores. Looking at the $160 bill at the fourth, and with my legs waning from yesterday in the short walk around town in the deteriorating weather, I threw in the towel.

    My disappointment and frustration prevented concentration at work so I popped down the road for a wet and steep jog up the Cable Bay trail from Glenduan and busted a gut. Cat all this time, being the hive of productivity and example employee we're all not jealous of.

    Anny and Stu were great hosts. Unsurprisingly, they've had their rooms full almost non-stop, even throughout lockdown (long term guests). They had a couple right before us and another couple while we were there. I'm starting to get the feeling that there's more to the story of this so called 'tourist flop'.

    Next stop: Westport. Yes, Westport.

    Coronavirus update: two reported cases - prematurely freed from lockdown!!
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