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!

Thursday 24 October 2013

Queenstown part 2: Skyfall

What's wrong with rocking back on your chair? Oh yes, it could tip over, which might be dangerous. Especially if you are on the very ledge of a 108m high cliff, surrounded by two crazy people with a strong let's-see-what-happens-if-he-goes-down attitude.

But we are in Queenstown, and here the nightmares become reality. So there we go... experiencing the Shotover Canyon Swing! Oh, don't try this at home.

The next day I boarded some random plane for a scenic flight.

At this point I should have been warned about the many loops and straps of the aviation suit, and the plane having no chairs, just a flat floor. At an altitude of 12000 feet (about 3600m) a door swung open, and we all jumped out one by one. The freefall that followed were the 45 most awesome seconds of Queenstown! I saw the huge range of mountains with its numerous magnificient white peaks, Queenstown itself along Lake Wakatipu, the green valleys and the awesomeness of New Zealand all way around me while totaling down at a speed of 200 km/h.

At around 1000m the parachute was deployed and we landed safely back on earth (the picture above showing the previous group). No mid-air pictures of me this time, as I did not want my once-in-a-lifetime 360 degree panorama view being obstructed by some paparazzi photographer ;)

Next trip: Mt Somers.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Queenstown part 1: Downhill mountainbiking

On Saturday I jumped in my car for a magnificient 477 km drive through New Zealand's magnificient landscape to Queenstown: a small village on the map but also a big adventure resort in the south. I had heard interesting stories about the ability to do extreme sports over there, so I had to try out myself!

First, the downhill thing. In Christchurch you have to cycle the mountain all way up yourself to go downhill. Not needed in Queenstown: we have a gondola here!

I grabbed a more appropiate bike and downhilled the fastest and smoothest track, then another time, and another, each time going faster and faster. The entire way down is about 15 minutes. There are also some optional obstacles like very narrow/elevated tracks. Not all of them went very smooth... well, see the video compilation then ;)

It was a shame to wreck a $4500-priced bike in this way. Luckily it was just the front brake handle, and I could continue (slowly) with the remaining brake. After paying $55 at the bike rental shop, I immediately got a brand new bike to follow my way. Great service!

Friday 18 October 2013

Dark Night, Bright Moon

Skies seemed clear again, and house Totara Left Floor headed to Lake Ellesmere.

How different is it with the shining silver disc high in the sky. The moonlight outshone the Milky Way and the faint stars and deep sky objects. Also, clouds were rolling in fast.

Eventually we focused our attention to flash-assisted night portrait photography, and we had fun in setting the angles right for the creepiest effect!

Four noses lined up. Okay, it is a photoshopped combination of two seperate photos. But here you see four of the five flat members of Totara Left Floor.

Well, until yesterday. I have moved to a different room! Twice as big and only half the rent price. A queen-sized bed. Two large doors that open to the outside, and one door directly to the kitchen. A swimming pool in the garden, which the three new housemates quickly set up for me upon arrival. How sweet! So it seems that I can go on with photographying in New Zealand...

Hinewai Reserve

Last weekend a happy group of the tramping club went to Hinewai Reserve.

Long ago, it was all native forest. In the past thousand years, humans turned most of it into farmland, destroying most of the original bush. But one man liked the native bush better, and in 1987 (with help of the Trust) he launched the Hinewai project: turning farmland back into native bush.

The white-bearded manager Hugh Wilson. At the beginning, everyone laughed at him. But now, 26 years of hard labour later, it has become a very beautiful place again! The invasive plants and animals are either eliminated or put under control, and a lot of the original forest and wildlife have come back. 

We slept two nights in the hut which Hugh and his friends had built here for all the visitors, and made some delicious meals there.

We had nice walks in the area, seeing many beautiful big trees, waterfalls, hills and a few birds.

Me on top of Stony Bay Peak. For more pictures, see the album! (Can you spot the other Dutch person?)

Friday 11 October 2013


Last week, the undergraduate group finished working on the exoskeleton!

Thousands of wires connect the electronics and pneumatics together. You have to know where to plug each wire in, or you'll blow up some Very Important Electrical Circuits. Yes, I actually managed to do this last month by accidentally short-circuiting the 5V and 12V rail, which is about the biggest disaster possible in electronics. The Raspberry Pi and two SMD-soldered chips were blown up, which I all managed to replace within one day.

We measured the muscle activity without exoskeleton, then with unpowered exoskeleton, and finally with powered exoskeleton. The exoskeleton is very heavy, so when wearing the exoskeleton we could easily see a significant increase in muscle activity. Unfortunately, it did not help much to turn the power on. The current control system is too simple and limited, lagging behind the user's desired actions. So this is where I jump in: I will use my research to create a much better exoskeleton control system!

The team's final presentation, last Thursday. They did an awesome job and it was well received. Now the team only has to write its final report, and then I am fully on my own in this project.

It's not only internship business during weekdays. Up to now, every Wednesday evening we have a meeting with the tramping club: presentations about past trips, making plans for next trips etc. The projectors generally show amazing pictures of previous tramps, and then topomaps and current weather charts, zooming in on interesting regions for a good walk and/or climb.

Now off to Hinewai Reserve. See ya on Sunday!

Monday 7 October 2013

Carrington Hut

On Saturday we started a new adventure, this time to the Carrington Hut in the Arthur's Pass National Park.

We had to cross a lot of streams, such as this one. Looking for a good spots cross, holding to each other for support, we managed to cross 'em all. The streams together form the Waimakariri river, which flows all way to the sea along Christchurch.

In the forest we could easily follow the path...

... but on the plains of the Waimakariri we mostly had to find a way ourselves, following the general river flow and looking for markers.

Eventually we reached the hut, and we pushed a little further to try out the cool cable lift. By operating the winch (and pulling the rusty cables) we transported Laura to the other side. And back too, of course ;)

This is Carrington Hut, somewhere in the forest close to the river, where we stayed overnight. It's quite large with 36 bunks, a fireplace with plenty of wood (we are a in forest, right), space for cooking, rainwater from the tap: after having walked for 6 hours it is a really welcome place!

In the hut we met other travellers, also there is an Intentions Book in every hut with small notes from everyone: where one's going to, what the current weather is etc.

The next day we journeyed the same way back, along the banks of the Waimakariri.

For more pictures, check the photo album !

Thursday 3 October 2013

MTB ride in Hanmer

Last Sunday we went mountainbiking in the hills of Hanmer. It was the third time in one month I got there, each time with a completely different group of kind people. Weather was very fine (dry), but because it had rained the day before the tracks were a bit muddy. Not long after the start we had to cross a stream over a narrow wooden bridge, and make a sharp turn immediately after it. In the turn I slipped and fell down; luckily I could hold myself on a some tree branches to prevent falling into the stream, and got back almost unscratched.

We rode up and down over beautiful tracks, speeding through the forest along narrow tracks, taking sharp bends and occasionally a small jump, after we stopped and took the group picture above. If you right-click and download/open to see full resolution, then you can see we are all pretty much covered in mud. How we got clean? Well, back to the same stream I encountered in the beginning again, but this time riding right into it! After giving the bikes a clean wash, we ourselves went relaxing in the thermal pools of Hanmer Springs, tired but pleased after again a beautiful day!

Wednesday 2 October 2013

Stargazing time!

Night sky was clear as never before, so I jumped in the car and drove to Lake Ellesmere (36 km out of town) and parked the car somewhere off the main road.

Alone in the darkness, using lights as little as possible to keep the eyes wide open, you automatically listen for every small sound, as if there could be dangerous animals nearby (even though spiders and snakes don't make sound anyway). The click of the camera, a passing car, my own footsteps. Then out of a sudden, some intense ticking came to my ears, which I couldn't understand. At such times you have to stay pretty cool, and not run or drive away, possibly ruining some long exposure night shot.

From this lonesome dark place, the Milky Way could easily be seen with the naked eye. No binoculars or photography was required, just a very dark sky with no moon or city lights visible. 12mm, f/2.8, 30 sec, ISO3200.

The bright star in the upper-right corner is Alpha Centauri. In the bottom (just left of the center) the Crux constellation can be recognized. Can you spot Coalsack Nebula as well? 50mm, f/2, 20 sec, ISO800.

The Large Magellanic Cloud. 50mm, f/1.8, 20 sec, ISO3200. Both this LMC and the Crux/Alpha Centauri picture, are small sections from the Milky Way picture.

And the strangle tickling sound that I heard? Well, it was a bag of M&Ms which I put on the roof of my car, that tipped over. I leave the rest to your own imagination ;)