Tuesday 17 December 2013

The Warrior

"Go back!", one said. "Let's go on! It's not far!" said another. Bad idea...

White water rushed through the braided river, and our knees had already disappeared in it. With mutual support, we acted like a six-legged beast moving very slowly through the stream.

Was it here that Niko, in upstream position, suddenly realized he had his wallet, with a table surface full of notes, ID's and licenses, was still in his pocket? He staggered, the mobile phone in his other pocket gave a faint hiss and bricked. But Dominik and I stood firm, and pulled Niko back upright. Now we formed a stable triangle formation in the middle of the stream, and I thought: how in the hell did we enter into this horrible situation, far away from our safe homes? Well, let's start from the beginning...

Saturday, November 30th. A rainbow of colors surrounded The Warrior on Saturday's rain forecast charts. Only Niko, Dominik and me were not impressed by this and headed towards it. Better start in storm and return in sun, than the other way around, I thought. But when we reached Erewhon Station, blue sky was greeting us; the depression had slightly changed course and was now north of us.

Here you see Mt Sunday, which was transformed into Edoras for the the movie Lord of the Rings: Two Towers. But it's just a little hill, so we were not interested in climbing it. Instead, our target was The Warrior, with 2584m being the highest peak of the Armoury Range.

Following an article Niko found, the plan was to walk up the Clyde River, past Black Bluff, up Sinclair River towards Rock Bivouac and head to Crossbow Saddle from where we could see The Warrior. The first leg to Black Bluff was said to be boring, and it was suggested to bring a MP3 player with some rock music. But The Warrior did not feel like to let us approach him so easily...

Rivers in New Zealand kill four people each year, and Clyde made clear that she had not reached her quotum yet. It is a braided river, so it continuously branches off into different smaller streams which later merge back on. Many of them could be crossed easily, but some were incredibly tough.

We lined up for one difficult crossing. "Gosh, it's getting deep here!", "Let's go back!", "Go on, it's not far!". So that's how we found ourselves back, thigh-deep, in the middle of a stream which was pondering on our legs and already took the life of Niko's phone.

Back in line formation, the six-legged beast did one step forward. Then another. Sun broke through the clouds, the wind eased and we were on the other bank, greatly relieved. But soon we found out that there were more fierce streams around us. We moved upstream, crossing a few smaller streams, but eventually found our way blocked by fierce streams which were too dangerous to cross. We wandered downstream, but found no way to reach the other shore. Trapped on an island in the middle of the river? We shall see...

We halted and I examined the water level for some time, estimating if (and how quickly) the water would rise and calculating how much time we would have left before the island would be completely flooded, knowing that it would probably take 90 minutes to summon a helicopter with the PLB in my backpack.

The other two had a totally different view on the seriousness of the situation: Dominik laid out his wet clothes and went sunbathing like it was a luxury holiday resort. And Niko, well, was fishing in the river to get a decent meal for the night.

After an hour or so, the water level was still the same. We walked along the east side of the river, and eventually found easy spots where we crossed the river back to the eastern bank. Now we were exactly where we started: at Erewhon Station. After three hours of crossing rivers, we had made zero progress. We lost the first battle to The Warrior, but the war was not over yet.

We now tried a different route by ascending the hill on the eastern shore, and traversed northwards through the bush. After two more hours, we were well beyond the difficult river section and again marched over the river bank. The road to The Warrior was now more or less open. But we had only covered two kilometres in five hours, and I calculated that with this average speed we would need four days to reach the Crossbow Saddle. We didn't have that much food, so we hoped that Niko would catch a really big salmon for us quickly.

We walked past Tank Gully, a little stream flowing through a beautiful canyon. We liked its look, and decided to enter it as we had no chance to get anywhere close to The Warrior anyway. A short time later we found a relatively level patch of grass on the slope. Evening was coming, so we decided to camp here. We set up one tent and secured the lines really well with our ice axes. But after a few fierce blasts from The Warrior, the tent more or less lay flat. We found out that some velcro tape had to be attached to the poles at the inside of the tent, quadrupling the structure quality.

We lit a campfire and three rounds of really good spaghetti went down our throats. Niko had not caught a single fish, so we roasted his socks instead. He didn't seem too happy with the burn hole, but the warmth of the campfire blessed our minds and bodies. Sun sank down behind the mountains, and Venus was seen twinkling in the sky among many little stars. The Warrior was restless during the night, howling winds jiggled the tent until the crack of dawn. But it stood firm all night.

In the morning, the roaring Clyde had turned back into a calm, blue river. The mountain tops were no longer covered in clouds, and could now be seen in full beauty. We packed our stuff and ascended Mt Caroline, a gentle hill close to Erewhon Station. Dominik and I sat down comfortably at the top, while Niko climbed one of the peaks of the Potts range. From there, Niko could see Mt Warrior, the mountain we tried to get to, but we failed.

The Warrior, we bow for you.

For complete photo album, see here!

Friday 6 December 2013

West Coast

As said in my previous blogpost, Milos and I visited the West Coast in the weekend of 22-24 November. The Motukiekie rocks was stunning, but there was more: Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, Truman Beach, Pororari River Track, Cape Foulwind.

Pancake Rocks! The fun thing is that no one understands exactly why the rocks have this layered shape.

Truman Track, a short walk through the jungle to the beach.

The main beach at the end of the Truman track. The rocks are made of limestone. Long ago in geology, there were different layers in Earth which got mixed,and the sea washed the softer parts off, leaving limestone rocks in all sorts of weird shapes and interesting caves.

By going through this small cave, you can access another part of the coast, surrounded by high cliffs.

At first sight, you cannot get further because of the sea and cliffs. But with a little bit of jumping, cliff edge navigation and going through another cave, we found a well-hidden path to yet another part of the coast.

The beach was fully smooth, no footprints could be seen. I wanted to run to the other side, and Milos told me not to leave any trace in the beach which would not look nice in photos. So I just walked through the sea. Sometimes a giant wave was rolling in. At such times I leaped forward, lowered my camera and took a photograph of the rolling waves with the setting sun in the background.

And just when the waves came close, I run away before the waves catch me. With the camera in my hands, waves were battling me to knee height, almost knocking me over 'till the sea retracts again. And this process repeated a couple of times until I was happy with the shots.

After sunset, we did a lot of more photography in the dusk and at night. We were very happy with finding this awesome place and the good weather!

The long way back was pretty thrilling. There was no moon, we only had our torches to illuminate the environment and sea was rising again. We had to navigate our way over giant rocks, along narrow cliff edges, through two totally black caves and it happened that I left my small camera somewhere at a remote place for some timelapse shooting, which could only be accessed by a little bit of jumping and bouldering. Imagine to traverse them in the middle of the night, with the crushing sea below your feet, faintly illuminated by your headtorch. At such times, when you really can't afford a mistake, you feel far, far away from your safe bed back home!

The last day we went to Cape Foulwind to see seals and more rocks in the sea. This photo (and other photos of me) was taken by Milos Hroch.

We found a bay somewhere off the main path, and could go down all way to the shore, where some seals were sun-bathing like this one.

Bye bye, West Coast. It was an awesome photography trip!

For more pictures, see the complete gallery here!

Thursday 28 November 2013

Motukiekie Rocks

"Night time photography... involving rock pillars in the ocean... but where?" This is what Milos Hroch, a semi-professional photographer from Czech Republic, asked me. Six minutes later I responded: "Motukiekie Rocks". Nine more minutes later, the trip was settled. And so it became that Milos and I were driving to the West Coast over the Arthurs Pass on a Friday afternoon, for our photography expedition.

The Motukiekie Rocks are one of the numerous rock formations along the West Coast. The pillars are gigantic, and would indeed suit sunset and night photography very well. One problem: it can only be accessed at low tide, and you have to be careful not to get shut off when tide is rising again!

We looked up the tide charts and sunrise/sunset times, to see which days and times would fit best for our target. At low tide, you can walk over the mussel beds and count the numerous starfish, like this one!

We indeed hit the best possible combination of sunset and low tide. We both chose (different) strategic spots along the beach while the sun was starting to sink. I had four lenses with me for my camera, and used them all at different positions and with various exposure times and other settings.

Every shot in this series shows (part of) the Motukiekie rocks, yet every photograph is different. Colors, reflections, composition, aperture, focus, exposure, weather: the possibilities are endless.

And the weekend had only just started yet. On Saturday we had even more great adventures, and also a few smaller trips on Sunday before we journeyed back home, over the Lewis Pass. Someday I will sort these pictures out and write a blog post as well, but I'm afraid the next trip will already have started before that!

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Most Awesome Birthday Ever!

On November 15th, I turned 30 years old! A good reason for a birthday party, followed by a very eventful tramp! Ok, let's start from the beginning: here is the where my birthday party took place!

Friends from the tramping club, current and former housemates and colleagues from university found the way to the fragrance of the four cakes that I had baked in the afternoon. We drank mixed fruit bowl, beer and wine, had a laugh, made some good music and everyone liked it!

Aaaaaand, I got presents! Apparently I did something good last year. What did I got: Dutch food! Pepernoten, honingdrop, stroopwafels, speculaas, chocoladeletters and more. Mjummie! And also the New Zealand Trampers Handbook, it will come in handy!

At midnight, it was finally my birthday, and everyone was singing for me! Then it was time for fireworks! We ignited quite a lot of sparkling stuff, and no one was hurt. But my birthday has just begun...

Later in the morning, a small group of seven people headed off to the Paparoa Range, a mountain range in the West Coast. I drove my Renault Clio; the first stop would be Arthurs Pass, which is on the other side of the Waimakariri river. A single-lane bridge connected the two banks of the river. I had priority and looked down the bridge, and saw no other car. Then I entered the bridge. But now I saw an upcoming car approaching fast. Too fast. I had to go back to make room for it. So I changed into reverse gear, looked and moved back.

Then I saw the other car. It was not a normal car. A. Red. Ferrari. F1 360 Spider, to be exact. Top speed 290 km/h. Goes from 0 to 100 in 4.4 seconds. Sold for over $200,000. It had been following me closely for a few minutes. Too close. And now I am driving backwards? Oh, BRAKE BRAKE BRAKE!!!

Just in time, I thought. The upcoming car on the bridge drove away just along me. At least I had made enough room for it. I drove a little forward and stepped out. So did the Ferrari driver. We looked at the beauty and spotted a very tiny little scratch, barely a few centimeters long.

I had kissed a Ferrari on my birthday. Of all cars driving around in New Zealand, I managed to hit this beauty. The jackpot.

Then, a second Ferrari appeared, even more beautiful than the first one because this didn't have that tiny little scratch, and stopped next to the first one. I can't remember having seen a Ferrari in real before, and now two are exclusively greeting me for my 30th birthday. Amazing! And I shook hands with the driver, which appeared very gentle after all. A magnificient encounter, let's say.

Oh and yes, I have a good vehicle insurance, though I probably won't need it after all. The owner has its own workshop and might as well fix the microscopic mark himself. To have any use of the insurance, I would have hit the beast much harder. The expression on the face of the other half of the tramping group when we told about this, it was priceless! And the birthday tramp has not even started yet...

Croesus Track. Originally it was called Garden Gully, but when a lot gold was found, it was renamed to the Greek king Croesus who had been swimming in the gold. We shuffled cars (my car to the Moonlight Creek, and with Niko's back to the starting point Blackball Smoke Ho) and set off. The Croesus track is an easy track, ideal for people new to tramping. About halfway, Niko and me joined the rest of the group and together we headed to the Ces Clark Hut, where we stayed overnight.

We chopped some firewood for the fireplace. Yanni felled a whole dead tree, and Niko chopped it into smaller pieces. I also helped chopping it for a brief time. But after handling the heavy axe, a log of dead firewood is much lighter than expected and I swung this blindly with a little too much force uphill towards Niko, which didn't look either. So it was that the log crashed on Niko's head. Blood flowed over his face. What had I done?! Luckily, Niko quickly recovered from the wound, and already continued chopping the rest of the firewood a few minutes later.

Crashed into a Ferrari. Crushed a log of firewood on Niko's head. Three more hours before my birthday would be over. I was already looking forward to it...

Sun disappeared and Moon rose in the sky. On the edge of the night, we walked down to the forest, listening to the sounds and looking for animals. Especially Niko had a keen eye for interesting species. He could recognize many birds, and ticked off which he had seen in his book with New Zealand birds. One of the missing items was the Kiwi. And here, in the Paparoa Range, there are Kiwis.

We knew they would be hiding under tree roots, and after a while Yanni had found one Kiwi hole. We peered inside, and saw the long thin beak of the Kiwi hiding in it! We set up strategic positions and turned off our lights and waited half an hour, but it did not come outside. Never did we see more than the beak, tongue and one feather of the Kiwi. But it was something!

Next morning, clouds rolled in and it was all wet and foggy. But nevertheless we went ahead with our original plan: to follow the Moonlight track in the mountains. Actually it is a series of poles (placed very far apart), and we had to find a way through the shrubs and rocks ourselves. In general we had to follow the most important ridge, but in the thick mist we were often not sure about our direction. We looked at the maps, we checked the compass, we used the GPS on our mobiles, but we made only slow progress in the rough terrain. Eventually we decided to camp on a relatively flat surface, hoping for better weather on the following day.

So it was that on the day after my birthday, we were camping in tents on some mountain ridge in the middle of nowhere, lost in fog and wilderness, far away from home. We ate pumpkin soup, rice with vegetables and my grandmother recipe's tutti frutti, which warmed our bodies.

The next morning the clouds had cleared up a little, and we could see one pole guiding the Moonlight track again. Apparently we had camped just 75 metres from the pole. We now had two options: proceed with the Moonlight trail, or go the longer way back to the starting point of the Croesus track. A really adventurous group would have pushed on, but we did not want to take risks as more clouds were already rolling in. So it was decided to go back to the hut, where we warmed ourselves again at the fireplace.

Rain fell down in the forest. So, that's why it's called a rainforest?! But we were well equipped and nothing could remove the smiles on our faces!

Back down, we still had to fetch my car from the Moonlight Creek. But first Niko managed to stuffed all seven trampers plus backpacks in his car (just some average Nissan station wagon). Don't ask me how, but he also drove it down over the muddy 4wd track to (formerly) The Blackball Hilton, and everyone survived!

Sun was already in its golden hours when we finally left the West Coast. Arthur's Pass was all covered in thick fog, but mist lamps were very effective in the darkness of the night. We finally arrived back home around 23:00.

The Ferrari. Lost in the mist. Niko's head. My birthday party. Things I will never forget! And now sleep...

Photo gallery

Friday 8 November 2013

Happy New Year!

New Zealand's clock is well ahead from Europe and the rest of the world, but December 31 arrives especially early here. Over the last couple of days, tons of fireworks was set off illuminating the sky with flashes and bright colors. The climax was Tuesday night at New Brighton Pier, where a huge fireworks show was displayed.

We sat at the beach close to the Pier, where we had a great view of the show!

Okay, this is not really New Year, but it is an event called Guy Fawkes day. It has nothing to do with the phoenix from Harry Potter, but the origin of the story goes back to England in the year 1605. There ruled the evil King James, which apparently needed to be assassinated. A conspiracy was set up, with the intention of blowing up the King plus the entire Parliamant House using gunpowder.

They started digging a tunnel towards the cellar of the Parliamant. Being almost there, they found out they could simply rent the cellar instead, which they did. The cellar was filled with 36 barrels of gunpowder and disclosed from sight with wood and coal. When the King was about to return home, they warned some people to stay out of the Parliamant, and unfortunately one of them betrayed the conspiracy. Guy Fawkes was found in the cellar with matches in the pocket, and also the gunpowder barrels were revealed. Poor Guy Fawkes was tortured, hanged and quartered; from then on, the King's escape has been celebrated every year on the fifth of November.

For more pictures, see here!

Sunday 3 November 2013

Avalanche Peak

It's 5:45 on Saturday morning when I was happily woken up by my alarm. Yes! Need to get up in time, for another mountain trip! This time target: Avalanche Peak.

In total nine people joined the adventure. We checked the weather conditions ('moderate avalanche risk in Arthur's Pass Regions') and studied route information (read yourself here).

As the name suggests, avalanches are not uncommon at Avalanche Peak. Among us we had one very experienced mountaineer (Glen) with advanced avalanche risk assessment skills. Well, had. The day before the tramp he tried to kick a ball over his head, but instead he dislocated his own head and/or a few other bones, and had to visit a doctor instead. Luckily we quickly found three replacement guys, although these were apparently selected by their awesomeness rather than snowcraft skills.

Yes there was snow. But the rocks stood tall and marked the way. With my legs very long and arms pretty strong, no rock in the way could hold me away. All of us took the courage to tackle the tricky rocks, and we made it to the summit!

Turned out that we were not the first... The mountain is full of Kea's, a large species of parrot only found in New Zealand. They are... smart. Were waiting for us and stole our food leftovers when we were looking the other side. One flew off with a banana peel and more. 'Do not feed the Kea!': I have read these signs hundreds of times, but for some people the Kea's are simply too smart.

Time go get back before dark then. Originally we planned to go back by the same route (Scotts Track), but there is also another path down: the Avalanche Creek Track. One disadvantage is that you have to travel a certain distance through a potential avalanche path, and yes, the snow was pretty thick there (one metre at least). Nevertheless we made a try for it, taking extreme care here, not to awaken the ferocious gods of the mountain.

Doh. Snow was all pretty okay over there. Back at the holiday home we had a very delicious meal and warmed ourselves around the fireplace.

The beds of the house were way too luxurious for us, so we didn't touch these. Instead we slept on the floor and couches next to the fireplace, just sufficient for simple trampers like us.

On the way back to Christchurch we enjoyed a lunch at Castle Hill. Of course, climbers as we were, we attempted to climb a few of those big limestones out there. It wasn't easy! But at least I have my length to compensate for the lack of skills!

As usual, you can view my whole gallery here!

Oh, and I have to say: I really love the country!

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Mount Somers

At Labour weekend we headed Mount Somers, one of the mountains I hadn't visited yet. While driving to there, we passed through many beautiful half, full and even double rainbows. Which also meant that we left sunny weather behind and drove straight into the rain.

But we are happy trampers with good gear, and not afraid of some wet weather!

After a few hours we reached Woolshed Creek Hut where, we stayed overnight. It was pretty crowded, a few were sleeping in tents.

But after rain comes sun, and yes, the following morning the skies were crystal clear. But because of the chill nor'wester wind, it was actually colder than the day before when walking over the exposed hilltops!

An interesting place off the main track were the water caves. Actually they are collections of giant boulders with streams running over and through them; you could wade in the water, creep through the narrow holes and climb out of the caves. Yes it was fun!

Halfway we encountered some odd-shaped statue atop of a rock, representing some weird guy from The Netherlands. And a few more hours later, we reached Pinnacle Hut.

Bunks, fireplace, table full of food and games, seperate cooking place, water from rain or mountain streams, other happy trampers to have a chat or play a game with, and above all a roof over our heads: everything and much more we need for a good night's rest!

Then it started snowing. Yes, snow. Snow in spring. From a blue sky. Those nor'wester thing is messing up again, blowing snow all way from the to here. I would not have been surprised if we would have to dig ourself a way out soon.

But weather turned out to be perfect on the third day. The forest got warmed up by the sun really quickly, and we cooled ourselves in the numerous waterfalls and pools, like the one above. After two days without shower, this really comes as a relief!

It was a great trip with the tramping club again! Next one: Welcome Flat Avalanche Peak.

For more photos, see the gallery!