Tuesday 30 December 2014


After Cedar Flat Hut, I drove south and crossed the Southern Alps for the fourth time, again chasing the beautiful sunny weather to the other side of the mountains. I ended up in Queenstown, New Zealand's capital in extreme sports!

So I rented a proper donwhill bike and booked a shuttle to Coronet Peak where I took the chairlift to the top of Coronet Peak. From there, you have no easy route going down. Only intermediate and expert. Guess which one I took? Yes, the intermediate one, I needed to save my kicks for the canyoning on the next day.

So, this is part of the view of Coronet Downhill XC track. It is a 7 km singletrack flowing over ridges and mountain slopes. The powerful downhill bike (Specialized Demo 8, $4600) is doing an excellent job in riding over the rocks and numerous hops. Although I have few experience in tackling hairpins, the track is a beautiful ride!

Next day, I went canyoning! The Queenston Adventurer seemed too easy for me, so I chose the Routeburn Explorer option which is more demanding and for fearless people only. It was a great experience! Jumping from cliffs, abseiling, sliding heads-down into waterfalls, scrambling, zip line travel: it has all in it!

See here for some pictures of Routeburn Canyoning (not from me). Image you are standing on top of a 5 metre high waterfall and that you had to jump right into the white water. You had to trust the instructors that jumping forward was a completely safe thing to do, which is not quite obvious at all. But you see, I am writing this blog so I have survived it all!

Hostel life here is nice here as well. Pancakes are cheap and tasty, so I bake these a lot. My newest invention is the strawberry pancake, it is just a banana pancake but then with strawberry slices instead of bananas. On one evening, someone else was cooking a rice meal, but when it was ready she accidentally hit the table edge and smased all the rice on the floor! So she ended up eating a few of my pancakes and she really enjoyed the one with strawberries. That's just one those little things that make hostel life good.

I will stay in Queenstown until the second of January. Still, time is too short to do everything I would like to do, but I try to make the most out of it!

Christmas tramp to Cedar Flat Hut

What to do with Christmas when you are in New Zealand? Yes, join a Christmas tramp! Organized by Tania, seven people set off to Cedar Flat Hut, somewhere in the mountains not far from Hokitika.

After almost four hours of walking, boulder hopping, rock scrambling and stream crossing, we finally arrived at Cedar Flat Hut.

At the hut, we had two nights of delicious dinner, played card games and shared fun stories!

We also had the time to explore the beautiful environment. We went swimming in the Toaroha Canyon, tackled (part of) the Adventure Ridge, did a rather unsuccessful search for the Squall Peak track, crossed a very high swingbridge after some bushbashing...

The river was ice cold, but along the river there are some pools which are very hot! Quite a surprising contrast in the wilderness.

And of course, there was plenty of opportunity for taking night shots.

Yes, we had a Christmas tree with us! (I should have placed the tree much closer to the camera.)

More photos here!

Saturday 27 December 2014

Hanmer Springs

Hanmer Springs is a great place for mountainbiking! Long and beautiful tracks for all grades. Mostly going through forests, but you don't have to worry about the tree roots as the tracks are excellently prepared. It is not my first time there: last year I already visited Hanmer Springs a couple of times, so many tracks were quite familiar to me.

I also cycled the Jacks Pass - Jollies Pass loop, a beautiful, not too long circuit over gravel roads.

View from Jacks Pass over the Hanmer Plains.

Besides mountainbiking, I also walked up Mt Isobel (yes, again). From my hostel it was a three hour walk uphill. But this time I ascended in the evening, watched the sun sink down behind the other mountains and stayed on top for half of the night, making numerous photographs and timelapses.

Less than one hour before sunset.

Hanmer Springs at night.

The planet Jupiter with three of its moons.

The journey back was not easy, as there is only a poled route along the ridge and my headlight was too weak to see the path markings from a distance. So I was just walking in the general direction, searching for the route that was not too steep, sometimes retracting my steps. After leaving the ridge, following the path got much easier. When I finally arrived back at the hostel, it was already dawning and I was quite exhausted, sleeping half the day away. But it was totally worth it all! The first series of timelapses look promising, but I need to add more material in order to make a good compilation. Stay tuned!


Hokitika. A small and cosy place in the West Coast where I stayed three nights. Baking pancakes for the other backpackers makes good friends. We played games, visited the glow worm dell together and I cycled around a bit on my MTB.

The backpackers come from all over the world. Of all the ones I encountered so far, most seem to come from Germany. Others come from France, Switzerland, Canada, USA, The Netherlands (yes!), Iran, Alaska, New Zealand itself and some more countries I can't remember right now.

The glow worm dell at night. It was very impressive to see all those small lights in the valley!

From Hokitika, most backpackers continued their pre-planned trip and went South, to Fox Glacier. Initially I planned to go that direction as well, but after studying the weather forecast charts I decided to turn around 135 degrees and go Northeast instead, back to the eastern side of the Southern Alps over the Lewis Pass.

Guess who was enjoying the days in sunny weather thereafter? Me! And who has been sitting all day inside because of the rain? The others! Long live the total freedom holiday :)

Friday 19 December 2014

Night skies from Helihill

Helicopter Hill (or Helihill in short) is an ideal place for night time photography. I walked up at aroud 21:00, and returned at 2:00. Going down through the forest, walking for one hour in darkness, the path only illuminated by the light of the torch, gives a quite special feeling.

In darkness, trees seem taller and the sounds of the forest are much creepier. Did I see something moving over there? You know there cannot be big wild animals out there. This is not Russia or Brazil. There are no wolves or giant snakes. But still, after walking alone for some time you start seeing "things" that are not really there, connecting them with the sounds you hear or don't hear. Pretty creepy, but also an interesting experience!

Ok, back to night time photography. I had two cameras with me: the NEX-C3 and the Alpha 6000. Great cameras these are!

Orion. Upside-down, of course. The bright orange star is Betelgeuse.

In lower right, you can see the Southern Cross.

Large Magellanic Cloud.

Wide angle view of the Milky Way with a distinct glow over the hills, probably coming from the rising Moon which illuminated the faint clouds over there.

Craigieburn Forest

My car is all packed with food, drinks, stuff and of course my bike. Time to leave Christchurch and head west.

Getting closer to the mountains!

I set up my tent at a campsite in Craigieburn Forest, along a nice stream.

Cooking food. One day I made a simple pasta meal, another day pancakes was on the menu. The other campers (some Germans and a Dutch family) liked the pancakes too!

There are nice MTB trails in the Craigieburn Forest. Hogs back is an easy ride, going through forests and open lands which gives nice views like the one above.

 I had to be on one picture as well, so here it is.

The Hogs back trail involved crossing a few streams as well.

Not all trails were easy. Some had many tree roots, and the combination of steep slopes with extruding tree roots made some tracks too difficult. So one time I left the bike at the campsite and walked the track instead.

One of such a trail goes from the campsite to the summit of Helicopter hill, 1256m high. It is just over an hour walk from the campsite and offers nice views around. See the 360 degree panorama here. The top is all flat, so that a helicopter could land on it.

At night the skies were all clear, which gave fabulous views to the stars.

Sunday 14 December 2014

Hinewai Revisited

Last year, on October 18, 2013, I visited Hinewai Reserve for the first time (see blog post). Yesterday, on December 13th, I revisited it with two new friends: Alfonso and Teun. It was raining on the way to Hinewai, but later the clouds all cleared up as expected.

Not much has changed in the fourteen months, it is beautiful as ever.

We walked all way to the sea and back uphill through the forest, in about 6 hours of walking.

It should be obvious enough which one is Teun and which is Alfonso. One is Dutch, the other is Italian.

All going well!

The famous manager, the white-bearded Hugh Wilson, painting his maquette of the Banks Peninsula. He still remembered me from last year's visit and was happy to see me again!

Back to the car, a nasty surprise was waiting us: I had forgotten to turn off the lights and now the battery was completely flat! There was no mobile phone coverage, and being an automatic you cannot push the car downhill for a rolling start. Hugh himself does not use machines or cars, he maintains the entire forest with his bare hands (with help of a few friends) so would not be able to help us. Visitors were quite rare, and if there were any, they could be anywhere in the forest, and how many of them do have jumper cables?

So how was it that we got the car driving again after five minutes?! By sheer luck, we met another visitor who parked his well-filled van next to ours, and we jump-started our car. Phew.

After enjoying one well-deserved fish-and-chips meal in Akaroa, we finally drove home.

Full album here!

Haven MTB Park

There are a lot of mountainbiking trails around Christchurch. The Port Hills (today), Bottle Lake Forest (Wednesday) and McLeans Island (not visited yet) have a many nice tracks. But slightly further away there are a few hidden gems as well. Haven MTB park, all constructed by volunteers, is located at about 40 minutes driving from Christchurch. You can read all about the park at http://www.havenmtb.org.nz/ . So on one good day, I put my bike in the car and drove to Haven, which turned out to be a wonderful area, exactly suited for my skill level. I will definitely come back one time!

In an old caravan, you can sign the guestbook. The door doesn't close tightly anymore, which is sort of an extreme understatement. The entire carvan is in the process of falling apart, only delayed by the patches of tie-wraps and ducktape. But it is still a caravan, right?!

Beautiful tracks and nice views. You can MTB all way to the top of the hills (using AliTrack followed by Eagle's Nest for example) and have a great view all way around.

One minor incident happend on the Chicken Run track. The front wheel dug into the sand, sliding sideways and the bike collapsed into the position above. No one was hurt by the way, except for a small scratch on my pride. Especially considering that "Chicken Run" is the easy alternative to a more difficult track running in parallel...

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Back in New Zealand!

After obtaining my Master of Science degree in Embedded Systems, I decided to go on holiday in New Zealand for eight weeks. (Actually, I made the decision long before, but only arranged the ticket recently). A long journey later, I am officially on the other side of the globe again!

After arrival I picked up my rental car and on Sunday, I spent all day driving around, shopping food, arranging a mountain bike, buying a SIM card, visiting the local barber shop (because of the massive climate change in two days), taking a power nap, cooking for myself and then finally meeting my best two NZ friends in the pub!

On Monday I went walking in the Port Hills. It is nice to wander around its tracks again. Also, one track that was closed last year due to the earthquakes, has been re-opened and is now fully accessible.

Views are good, although a bit cloudy and windy. No problem though: it is summer and with no clouds at all it could get very warm. Only when photographing the stars, the clouds have to go away one time!

The hillside sheep are shy as usual and did not let me come too close. But for a picture, this is fine enough.

From the hilltops, you also have nice views over Christchurch on one side, and Lyttelton on the other.

My rental car, a Mazda Demio.
So I also have a rental car. I already warned the owner of the Ferrari that I had crashed into last year, to watch out for my tail...

Sleeping times are rather odd now. In the last few days, I sleep twice a day for 3-5 hours at irregular times. Eventually my biological clock will adjust itself to the local daylight times, but without structural habits it might take a few more days.

A lot of activity is going on in organizing upcoming trips. But many people have different plans, or are very busy (Zeinab: "I have built a bridge!"). Also, certain people prefer hard trips that are too challenging. Luckily, there are also other people on holiday looking for the same type of trips like me. So, if current plans come out, a few trampers including me will be heading to Hinewai Reserve this Saturday!