Tag Archives: New Zealand

The ‘Finest Walk in the World’: New Zealand’s Milford Track

In 1908, British journalist Blanche Edith Baughan  sat down at her desk and declared the Milford Track the ‘Finest Walk in the World’. That’s a rather bold statement in itself. Even more outlandish is the fact that Baughan had never set foot on the track herself. Still, like a newborn lamb grasping at its mothers teat, the Kiwis have latched on to this statement and touted it as a universal truth.

The reality is this; the Milford Track is a pretty damn fine hike. The finest? Who knows.. I don’t know what really constitutes fine in regards to judging a hike. If it’s related to the weather, the Milford wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. During the 3 days I experienced on the track, it stopped raining for approximately 17 minutes. That may be a slight exaggeration, though the clear weather windows were few and far between. Pretty standard for an area that averages 6-8,000mm of annual rainfall. Despite the gushing skies, it was an incredible hike and a thoroughly enjoyable experience overall.

I was joined on the trek by 3 buddies over from Australia; Eric, Matt & Nick, 2 of which I’d just completed the Routeburne with the day prior (stay tuned for the post- some of the best scenery I’ve witnesses). Now, I also want to preface this by disclosing that we did the ‘pampered’ version of the Milford walk, through a company called Ultimate Hikes . We stayed in lodges, had guides, ate like kings and had a drying room for our soggy clothes at the end of the day. Yes, you read that correctly. They have rooms to hang up your clothes so they’ll be crispy warm and dry in a few short hours. It was a guilty pleasure.

 

Day 1: Te Anau- Pompolona Lodge (17.5km, 4hours)

We caught the bus from the lakeside town of Te Anau and then took a short ferry ride through to the start of the track. Needless to say, it was already raining. The track starts off as a well maintained limestone path, leading to a little apprehension on my part that this was to be one of those near ‘wheelchair accessible’ walks, such as the Heaphy track further north.  Thankfully, we were soon walking through mud and my fears were relieved.

For much of the day the path winds through a relatively narrow passage skirted by high, waterfall laden valley walls. The prehistoric plant life is diverse and immense, multiple shades of luscious green, while the sky is blocked by thick fog overhead. It gives the feeling of enclosure, as though trekking through a Jurassic Park exhibit. The closest we came to spotting rare and exotic life was in the form of the elusive blue duck. For Matt, this was probably the highlight of his trip.

Milford_track

Eric scoping out the scenery

Remember how I mentioned earlier we were staying in lodges? Well we strolled into our first one at about 2:30 on the first day and were greeted by fresh towels and the prospect of a warm shower. The guilt was oozing from my pores. That was soon taken care of by the perfectly pressured warm water… I honestly don’t know how I’m going to go back to multi-day tent expeditions after this experience. It may have ruined me.

After a little spiel about why we were doing the trek (we missed the introduction session on the first night, thank god) it was time to eat. Eat we did. Dinner was beef and rice with salmon balls for an entrée. That’s salmon meat rolled up into balls, not.. you get the idea. We promptly polished that off, got acquainted with a few of the other trekkers and hit the sack for an early night.

 

Day 2: Pompolona Lodge to Quntin Lodge + Sutherland Falls (20km, 5.5 hours)

Rising at 7 after a cozy sleep (bit warm actually. Too many blankets..) we hopped across to the dining area and made our lunches. Practically every sandwich making ingredient you can imagine was on offer and I attempted to use every one of them. We polished off a buffet style breakfast (no hashbrowns..) and took off on our way.

Today was to be the hardest of the trek. We were to make our way over Mckinnon Pass, a 600m odd elevation gain that was forecast to receive a smattering of snow the previous night. Leading us over the pass was our blonde, bright and bubbly guide, Veronica. Since this was technically a ‘guided’ trek, we weren’t supposed to be tearing around doing whatever we liked, a guide was supposed to be guiding us. Well, being tall and relatively fit young guys, we naturally liked to move rather quickly. This left Veronica in the position of having to stay ahead of us the whole way, which she handled well. Even more impressively, she was talking the whole time.. although I’m inclined to believe she would’ve pulled a Tonya Harding on us if given the chance.

Milford_track_mckinnon_pass

At the top of Mckinnon Pass, joined by our guides Veronica (left) and Adie (right)

The views from the top are spectacular.. so we found out in hindsight. It was completely fogged over when we were up there and visibility was about 30 metres. We raced down the other side (pretty fun decent down a small river bed) and rolled into camp (‘camp’ being a lodge with scones and coffee). We were ready for some waterfall action.

Sutherland Falls is New Zealand’s largest permanent waterfall, 580 vertical metres of H2O flowing over the side of a cliff. Of course, we had to get under it..

The waterfall attempted to intimate us with it’s roaring sounds and powerful winds we could feel from a good 50m away. We would not be deterred in our quest. We charged down the rocks (slipping several times) and planted ourselves at the base of the icy torrent, for about 3 seconds. We hastily retreated to the safety of the land above and posed for a victorious snap, like the conquering heroes we were. (Note: To be fair to Nick, he actually fully submerged himself in the small pool below the falls. Myself and the squid ran in after him, got blasted by the icy spray and sprinted back out.)

Milford_Track_Sutherland_Falls

The falls are home to a rare bread of squid, a species surprisingly efficient at running marathons..

 

Dinner that night was a Rib-eye steak with a mushroom soup as an entrée and crème brulee for desert. No, I’m not having you on.

 

Day 3: Quintin Lodge to Mitre Peak Lodge (21km, 5 hours)

The third day was more of the same; waterfalls galore. TLC should’ve hiked the Milford Track, she wouldn’t have had to chase shit..

Milford track

The sandflies were also out in force. Seriously, if you ever visit this region, be sure to pack a flamethrower of some sort. There doesn’t appear to be any other way to keep these little suckers off you. I had bites on my face over 2 weeks later from the sandfly attacks here.

We ventured passed waterfall 987 and were blessed with a truly rare sight in these parts. The sun. We basked in the golden rays of this celestial deity for a few moments before it disappeared for the day once more. Good riddance.. who needs it anyway?

We stopped at the end of the track for a lunch break before being herded onto a small boat which was to take across to our lodging for the night. Mitre Peak lodge is absolutely brilliant. It’s this old fashioned, timber based maritime style building which presents pretty incredible views from the majority of it’s twin-share rooms. It has a washing machine, the standard drying rooms and best of all, a pool table. This occupied us for much of the evening. Veronica partnered with me for a couple of games, appearing to deliberately sabotage the teams hopes of winning.. perhaps she was still harboring a little resentment from that day 2 escapade. Who knows. If you’re reading this Veronica, let it go.. Thankfully we still pulled out the win.

Oh yeh and most importantly; our dinner was a rack of lamb with potatoes and brownies with ice cream for desert. I have literally never eaten this well for 3 days straight in my life.

The following day was a cruise around the Milford Sound, taking in the sights that Captain Cook missed as he and his crew sailed straight passed the inlet. I’ll leave you with a couple of pics of the boat ride. Hopefully they’ll provide adequate justice to a setting my mediocre English would fail to sufficiently describe.

Milford_ track_sound

Mitre peak and its reflection provided quite an eyesore..

 

Milford track

Tongariro Alpine Crossing: New Zealand’s Premier Day-Trek

Continuing the New Zealand Great Walks theme, here’s a guest post from Clare, an avid hiker who’s just completed the Tongariro Alpine Crossing on New Zealand’s north island. She covers practically everything you’d need to know about the journey. Check it..

By Clare Groom, editor & blogger at Altitude Treks

Where: Tongariro National Park, North Island New Zealand

How long: 19.4Km, 12 miles (I took 7hr 15 minutes, but allow 7-9 hours)

Elevation gain: Start: 1100 m, Red Crater 1886 m, End 800 m

Often hailed as the “best one-day hike in New Zealand” (if not the world), the Tongariro Crossing is an alpine trek through the active volcanic zone of the central North Island. Past Emerald Lakes and steam vents emitting sulphurous fumes up to Blue Lake and through valleys and past volcanos. And views!

It simply had to be done.

My research had led me to “take it seriously”. The changeable mountain weather conditions can easily make the journey hazardous, and with exposed ridges and loose scree I had visions of myself hurtling headlong into a bubbling, stinky volcano.

So prepare I did. Taking the Department of Conservation’s advice, I duly packed clothing to see me from summer heat to winter blizzard. And “enough” food. I should mention here that “enough” food for me tends to mean elephantine servings of deliciousness that don’t feature in my daily eating habits!

Emerging from our winter hibernation, I had not been out in the bush for many months. So I dusted off my trusty hiking boots that had seen many successful Kilimanjaro summits – and carried me to Everest Base Camp. It felt good to be loading up my daypack again and heading for the hills.

New Zealand’s weather is a fickle witch. If the weather forecast is bad, the trail will be closed. However, just because the trail is open doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to be safe. What starts out as a crystal clear day can rapidly turn wintry. And Search & Rescue takes a dim view of rescuing people from a mountain who are dressed for the beach.

At 6am on the 23rd October, we waited by the roadside in a small town called Turangi, for a bus to take us to the trailhead. It was a clear morning, cold, with frost on the ground. I was glad I had packed the extra layers. On the half-hour drive to Tongariro National Park we were afforded amazing views of Mt Ruapehu, still snow-covered and the dramatic Mt Ngauruhoe – famously Mt Doom in Lord of the Rings.

Revelling in the wilderness, we were slightly taken aback at the trail-head where numerous buses were jostling for position. The queues for the toilets were long, it suddenly felt as though we’d happened into a theme park or something. Note: I would not advise doing this crossing in the height of summer, as there can be over a thousand people on the trail at the weekends!

Undeterred, we set off on the trail, the sun shining bright and the day promising to be clear. Mt Ruapehu loomed bright and white to our right, and the trail mostly flat…

Mangatepopo Car Park to Soda Springs (~1-1.5 hours)

The first part of the trail is flat or with a gentle incline. Alpine plants predominate, with tussocky grasses and heathers. The sun quickly burnt off any residual frost. The trail is typical of New Zealand – well maintained, with boardwalks across the boggy parts (this helps to protect the fragile environment, it’s not just for the trekkers convenience).

Tongariro Alpine CrossingRounding a corner, we get our first view of Mt Ngauruhoe, looming ominously in the distance. A perfect stratovolcano, with the top still covered in the remnants of snow, it’s easy to see how this sacred mountain was the inspiration for Peter Jackson’s Mt Doom.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

So far, so good. A lovely easy hike through dramatic countryside, and an opportunity to make a big dent in my food supplies… in spite of a hearty breakfast, food was on my mind.

This part of the trek is by far the easiest. We climb out of the valley and after a couple of uphill sections, there is a flat, rather barren-looking plateau. The heather at the start of the trail gradually recedes, leaving only the tussocky grasses and rough alpine plants in the moorland zone. Rocks underfoot and scree remind us that we are in a volcanic region.

Soda Springs is a 15-30 minute diversion off the main track – and the toilets mark the end of this section.

Rounding a corner, it’s clear that the easy part is over…

Soda Springs to South Crater (~1 hour)

Through the volcanic rock and scree, we are greeted by this signpost:

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Undeterred, we pressed on. Up the Devil’s Staircase. This section is steep, from 1400-1600m, hiking across lava flows, both ancient and modern. The track is rough, it’s hard-going and I was out of breath quite quickly. After about an hour of this – with fantastic views down the valley and a peek of Mt Taranaki in the distance, we got to the top.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

A quick rest to get my breath back was a perfect opportunity for a bit more food. I was enjoying this “eat as much as you like, when you like”.

The Devil’s Staircase is a tough hike. But taking it slowly, enjoying the views and resting when needed – it’s easy. The views are spectacular, how lucky we were to have such a clear day!

South Crater to Red Crater (~1 hour)

A chance to catch our breath, the flat plateau is partially covered with snow. The dramatic Mt Doom towers over us. We had wanted to climb to the summit of Mt Ngauruhoe but the previous day two people had been badly injured in a rock slide and it was out of bounds. Onwards we went, enjoying the bleak and inhospitable land, but well aware of the steep ridge ahead of us that we would need to scale.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

As we reached the ridge, the combination of compacted snow and scree made the trail slippery and I almost fell on my backside a couple of times. I was glad I’d brought my hiking pole! Much more rugged than the Devil’s Staircase, the trail climbs up slippery, exposed tracks, climbing over rocks with a rather precipitous drop to one side.

Sections of this path have chains – and with the frost on the ground we were quite literally hauling ourselves up with our arms, unable to get a proper foothold. I won’t lie, it was exhausting and only a little bit terrifying at times!

At the top of the ridge we were starting to heave a big sigh of relief that the worst was over. How wrong we were! The last part of the ridge, around the Red Crater, is a slippery, narrow track, exposed on both sides. I can’t imagine what it would be like on a windy day. Abandoning my reputation, I decided to proceed through the steeper parts on my hands and knees. I was fully aware of what an idiot I must have looked.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Arriving at Red Crater – I could smell it before I could see it – and finally looking up from my study of the track ahead I was greeted by vistas that have to be seen to be believed. Photographs don’t show the half of it. Over the Otuere Valley, the Rangipo Desert, out over the Kaimanawa Ranges. How lucky we were to have such a clear day!  

The Red Crater – it really is red, from the iron deposits – drops away steeply, deep into the volcano, steam wafts from the fumaroles, it’s like another planet. Mt Doom watches over, close-by now.

Next stop, those glorious Emerald Lakes.

But first… downhill.

Red Crater to Emerald Lakes (~15-20 minutes)

I’ll say it. I hate downhill. It always seems preferable to the relentlessness of uphill – but loose scree on a slippery slope and I do not get along. As I cling to a rock, easing myself off the lip of the Red Crater, I immediately start to slip. The descent is exposed, and the only way to remain upright was to crab-step and go very, very slowly.

I know, on Kilimanjaro I “skied” down the scree, fast and furious, crashing frequently. The steep drops on either side meant this was not an option, and after several hard-landings on my backside, I arrived at the Emerald Lakes.

They really are an Emerald color. Their colour comes from leached minerals. Sulphur deposits can be seen on the slopes, and the scent of rotten eggs pervades from the surrounding steam vents.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

I had a celebratory sandwich, and worried that I was getting low on food.

Emerald Lakes to Blue Lake (~30 minutes)

Another short descent, a muddy and snow-slushy hike across a crater and it’s uphill again to the Blue Lake. This uphill section is short, and after what I’d been through climbing to Red Crater, nice and easy.

It really is Blue! A cold acidic lake, sacred in Maori tradition, apparently it is disrespectful to eat or drink on her shores. A blue lake with a bright white “beach” of snow. By this time we were feeling exhilarated. Knowing the worst of the climbing was behind us, we just revelled in the beauty of the pristine environment. Reflecting on how lucky we were to have a cloudless day with little wind. Feeling strong, we moved on, thinking ahead to that nice glass of wine back in town.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

 

Blue Lake to Ketetahi Hut (~1 hr)

Leaving the Blue lake, we climb to the edge of the North Crater then descend into the gorge. The landscape becomes less bleak and the heath and moorland plants are in evidence again. A few more ups-and-downs and we get a view of our destination in the distance. And then it starts… the relentless downhill.

Relentless it certainly was. I mentioned I hadn’t worn my hiking boots in several months. My toenails were crying out in pain, threatening to go black and leave me. My creaking knees were complaining and it went on. And on. The track is well-maintained and the alpine zone is fascinating, with wonderful views over Lake Taupo.

After the first hour, I’d had enough. I was tired and grumpy. Even eating yet another sandwich didn’t help. My feet hurt and my knees hurt and it was down down down.

Arriving at Ketetahi Hut for a short rest stop, the end felt nigh.

Ketetahi Hut to Ketetahi Car Park (~2 hours)

Oh no, more of the same. The moorland gave way to thicker, heather-type bush and the temperature was warmer, with no icy mountain winds. The path continues downhill for what feels like hours. Then the forest appears. A dense, montane forest, with a roaring stream through it.

And an ominous sign “if you hear a noise from upstream, do not enter” – it’s a live volcanic area and the Department of Conservation advises you to move quickly and not delay!

By this point, my spirits started to lift. The forest was beautiful and the path flattened out and my toes and knees allowed me to enjoy the hike once again. Winding through the forest and over a little bridge, eventually the hustle and bustle of the car park appears.

I did it! Very happy to have made good time, I could now look forward to getting out of my hiking boots and sipping the inevitable glass of wine.

Closing Thoughts

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing, in good weather is a fantastic experience. In poor weather, it could be pretty miserable, if not dangerous. Whilst the climb to Red Crater is hard, there is a great sense of achievement on getting to the top and seeing the incredible views that this part of New Zealand has to offer. The walk out can get a bit boring as it feels you have done what you came to do – and still the hike goes on. I may have felt differently about the last few hours if my feet weren’t hurting.

Overall – well worth it for an amazing day out!

Recommendations

  • Check the weather with MetService before you go and remember that it’s a mountain region, and it’s volcanic. The weather can change quickly, so be prepared.
  • Wear sturdy hiking boots as the terrain is uneven and rocky.
  • Take rain gear and layers in case the weather changes suddenly. Don’t underestimate the cold mountain winds.
  • Take plenty of food and water. It’s a strenuous hike at times and you need to stay hydrated.
  • If you are in doubt, do not climb to Red Crater, turn back and try again some other time!
  • Sunscreen & sunglasses – the New Zealand sun can be brutal.
  • Take a bus from your accommodation, as your start point is different from your end point. The bus also provides a layer of security as they know when you are due to come down from the mountain. If you don’t meet the last bus, they will call Search & Rescue.

Hiking the Heaphy Track: Worthy of Great Walk Status?

The Heaphy Track was the second of New Zealand’s great walks to be ticked off by yours truly, having completed the Abel Tasman a couple of years back. I was up at the top of the South Island once again so I decided to give it a whirl; I’d heard positive reviews so expectations were high. The Heaphy also has a bit of history in my family; my mum, aunt and grandparents having completed the walk over 40 years ago. I imagine it would be almost unrecognisable today.

My very first comment: this is probably the cruisiest type of ‘trekking’ I’ve ever done (tramping as they call it over here).  The huts were perhaps the most impressive I’ve seen on this type of hike (although we camped), while the track was incredibly well maintained. There were machines in operation along the way that looked like they tidied up and compressed the path. I personally prefer a little more ‘wilderness’ in my hikes but I can imagine the work that goes into this track would appeal to many.

Secondly, I was expecting a little more in the way of the spectacular views I’ve come to expect of New Zealand. While the ocean vistas and tussocky planes were certainly appreciated, the vast majority of the walk took place in forest. Now don’t get me wrong, I LOVE forest, it just gets a little repetitive after 3 days. There were none of those breathtaking mountain or lakeside views that can make up for hours of trudgery and make a trip worthwhile even for a brief glimpse.

With those observations out of the way, the Heaphy Track is still a pleasant hike, worth a look if you’re in the region. It’s a great fitness booster and could be a decent challenge if you took it on in 3 days or so. We chose to stick to the typical 4 day option and this is how it turned out…

Map_Heaphy_Track

A map detailing all huts and elevations along the Heaphy Track

 

Day 1

Transport to the track from either end can be a bit of a pain in the ass. I was looking at shuttle options which run through Motueka (from Nelson) and cost around $65. Fortunately, I met a German girl who happened to be doing the trek at the same time I’d planned to. She had a couple of friends dropping her off and then picking her up from the other side. Absolute bonus.

I was picked up in Motueka around 10 and we were dropped off at Browns hut a couple of hours later. This marked the start of the track on it’s Eastern end. Practically the whole first day was up a gentle gradient to the Perry Saddle Hut and our campsite for the night. It took us around 4 hours to cover the 17.5km.

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This was the campsite for the night. The highlight came at about 8pm. An older English fellow who was hiking with his son decided it was going to be more comfortable sleeping in the shelter there than a tarp his son had set up. It was raining pretty hard at the time. About an hour after he’d hunkered down to sleep, one of the young girls staying in the hut came out to brush her teeth. She stopped just before the sleeping Englishman and shone her headlamp directly on his head for a good 30 seconds. This of course woke him up and he peered up in a daze to try and work out what the hell was going on. She finally realised what she was looking at and moved on. I’m in tears just writing about the incident.. I don’t know why but fuck it was funny.

 

Day 2

My new tent held up to the rain soaked night and we awoke on the second morning to find a relatively clear sky. This was to be a rare occurrence. There were very few stretches of sunshine throughout the whole 4 days, thick cloud hung about for the majority, usually spewing out hefty doses of rain.

After a light breakfast we packed up at a leisurely pace and were on our way for the day. 2 hours in we were still enveloped in forest and growing a little skeptical about the ‘views’ we’d read about on this track. A few minutes later we were out of the treeline and strolling through tussocked planes stretching across rolling hills for as far as the eye could see.
Heaphy_Track

 

There were also some pretty awesome swing bridges along the way…

Heaphy_Track_River

 

We covered the 24 odd kilometres to James Mackay hut in 5:45, stopping a few times along the way for snacks and pics. Now, I feel like I’ve already done enough complaining in this post already but I have 1 more to make. The ‘campsites’ at James Mackay are in fact elevated wooden platforms. Presumably they’ve done this to level out the fairly uneven terrain at this spot but these wooden slabs don’t make great sites to pitch a tent. Particularly so if you don’t have a sleeping pad..

Besides this minor grievance it was a nice venue with a distant glimpse of the ocean. The sunset was also pretty awesome..

Heaphy_Track_Sunset

 

Day 3

Practically all downhill.. The 21km to Heaphy Hut took us 4 hours 45. Awesome campsite. Completely separate to the hut with a little shelter and fire-pit for those clear nights. We didn’t get one of those unfortunately, although we did get a fire blazing for a couple of hours. At this site, you’re camping in proximity ot the Heaphy river, making for a nice change of scenery. The river also provides a nice little refresher if you’re game. Be warned, it is damn cold.

This was the first time either of us were introduced to the little New Zealand terroriser known as the sandfly. Holy shit. Sitting here writing this 4 days after a night at this spot and I’m still scratching like a meth addict.Those little fuckers are fierce. Completely relentless. Make sure you pack the most powerful insect spray you can find.

Heaphy_Track_campsite

 

Day 4

The final day was probably the most impressive scenery wise. The morning had us walking through palm filled forests with abundant birdlife singing out harmonic melodies. There were also a couple of gigantic fig trees just off to the side of the track..

Heaphy_Track_Trees

Which meant I had to channel my inner Tarzan..

 

This forest trundled lasted about an hour before we finally reached the notoriously rough West Coast ocean.

Capes on capes on capes..

Capes on capes on capes..

Definitely the most scenic part of the trek. A day trek/overnighter from Kohaihai to the Heaphy Hut would be well worth it. A few more bridge crossings and we were finished.

Heaphy_Track_Bridge

The final days hike took us 4 hours on the money. Our ride was waiting for us at the finish and we were promptly on the way to Westport. Just in time for a sneaky pint or two.

South Island of New Zealand: Spectacular is the Only Way to Describe It

A post I wrote last year about my time spent in the land of the long white cloud..

Before I start, I’ll admit I’m one of the first to give the Kiwis a bit of shit. Beside their ridiculous accents, their religious like infatuation with rugby and their reputation for romance with the population of local sheep, they also flood into Australia by the planeload, annoying us while bragging of how good things were comparably ‘back home’.

I always took this with a grain of salt, the last time I visited, being 8 years old, I don’t really remember a lot of detail. Having just spent a few weeks over here and with a greater appreciation of the world at large I can honestly say, begrudgingly, they do have a lot to brag about. I will use a few highlights of my trip to show you why..

 

The highlights of my trip

 

Hiking

New Zealand has a reputation for world class hiking tracks and when you get here, it’ easy to see why. The scenery is pretty special and the diversity of landscape offered not only on the different tracks, but on different New_Zealands_South_Islandsections of an individual track, is quite unique. One of the 3 most famous, theAbel Tasman was right on my doorstep and I would have been a fool if I didn’t take advantage.

Although summer is the preferred period for most trampers (and for good reason, winter is bloody cold..), I put on my woollen socks and enjoyed having the track basically to myself. I still met  few people along the way, including a French couple I helped cross a river at 5am in the morning (low tide) and a couple of German backpackers, one of which knew of Perth due to there having been ‘a Malaysian plane crash’ near the city.. I think we’ll be stuck with that one for a while.

The track itself is well maintained, even in winter, and winds over and around a hilly coastline consisting of golden sand beaches and crystal clear waters. There is accommodation in the form of serviced huts every 10km

Very cozy..

or so where you can lay your head for a small fee, or if you’re a little sneaky like me, for free. I spent just over 2 days on the track, walking from Marahau to Totaranui and although it can be achieved quicker, it’s worth slowing down and enjoying it.

 

The other hike I did on this trip was called the Tablelands circuit, running up and behind the Mount Arthur range overlooking Motueka. Personally, due to the novelty factor of having practically the whole track covered in snow, I enjoyed this even more than the Abel Tasman. This is where New Zealands diversity truly comes into play. Less than 50km from the sunkissed coastline I experienced in the Abel Tasman a few days before, I was transported to a scene which could well be at home in the Artic Tundra. At the far end of my walk, I was balls deep in snow for a good couple of kms and that pure whiteness is all that could be spotted within eyesight (bar the Salisbury Hut, with the best view I’ve ever woken up to in my life..)DSCN0145

 

 

Skydiving

Something that has been near the top of my busketlist for a long time now (as I’m sure is the case with most busketlists) I finally took the plunge and got it done. The Deadat30 mindset has held me accountable to a lot of self-made promises over the last 6 months and this is a prime example.

I won’t go into much detail as I think the only way you can understand what its like jumping out of a perfectly well functioning plane at 14,000 feet is to actually do it yourself. I’ll admit I wasn’t actually nervous on the way up but the minute we left the plane, I entered a state of shock which I only really snapped out of after the shoot had been pulled.

Deadat30_skydiving

 

Mountain Climbing

Given the challenge I have set myself, this was the perfect opportunity to get a bit of practice and build some fitness from my Kilimanjaro climb later this year. There is a reason some of the worlds best climbers hail from the South Island of New Zealand, there are literally mountains everywhere.. Although not as high as many places in the world, they are pretty treacherous, every year taking the lives of those who attempt to tackle them ill-prepared.

As I was climbing solo and was lacking in ice-capped mountaineering experience, I stuck to some of the easier climbs around where I was staying, spending 6 hours on Mount Campbell on my first day and tackling Mt Lodestone as a finale to the Tablelands circuit hike. Both presented unique experiences for me, Mt Campbell being the first time I’d ever climbed in snow, snow falling for the top few hundred metres, Mt Lodstone being steep and full of ice, making it pretty bloody hard at some points.

Not much traction here..

 

Fishing

I did three types of fishing on this trip, the good old rod and reel setup, a small net used to target the infamous whitebait and shellfish hunting on the coastlines rocky outcrops.

We didn’t have a great deal of success with traditional line fishing, hooking mostly pesky sand sharks on the day we went out. To be fair it was the wrong season, summer producing bountiful numbers of snapper around the top of the south island.

The town I was staying in predominantly, Motueka, gets a pretty serious case of whitebait fever when the season rolls around in New_zealand_whitebaitmid-August, giving me a prime view of the obsession over these little bastards. I say bastards because they are hard, very hard, to catch.. Not only are they nearly invisible in the water, they’ll swim right into the mouth of your net then freak out and take off again, leaving some very frustrated Kiwis. We did manage to snag about 2 cupfuls of them which were dispatched to the frying pan with egg and salt. There’s a unique flavor to them, not as strong as regular fish but still with that distinctive taste. Not bad at all.

Finally came the shellfish hunting, the region I was in containing mussels, a couple of varieties of oysters and the unique to New Zealand paua. I encountered a pretty unique occurrence in that the moon was the closest it had been to that part of the Earth since 1930. As such, the tides were going through some radical swings and when we chose to target mussels, the water was basically as low as it would go. This allowed us to check under some otherwise submerged rocks and crevasses which normally would have required getting very wet.. We pulled out about 50 green-lipped mussels which provided a quality feed at very reasonable prices!

 

 

Exploring

Like mountains, caves are literally everywhere in the South Island, indicators being displayed all over in the form of sinkholes and large holes in the Earth appearing at random. A few weeks before I arrived, a woman and her friend were walking around the hillsides when one of them suddenly disappeared 6 meters into the ground. Luckily she was ok and they managed to get her out safely.

I visited the Ngarua cave up at Takaka, containing stalactites & stalagmites 10’s of millions of years old as well as Moa fossils 25,000 years in the making (an extinct New Zealand bird, the biggest the world has known). It’s pretty crazy seeing the remains of these creatures of a bygone era and made me feel like a curious kid again as the guide rolled through his list of facts.

harwoods hole

In the same vicinity is Harwoods Hole, thought to be the deepest natural drop in the southern hemisphere. It’s about an hours to get to the site and it’s surprisingly open.. no barricades or fences to prevent you from getting too close, not that you could accidentally stumble into the 357 metre drop, its pretty well blocked off with large boulders. I made full use of those boulders and avoided getting too close to the edge. There’s a strange magnetism that feels like it’s drawing you in as you get closer, quite an unsettling feeling.

 

Hospitality

Despite giving the Kiwis a lot of shit, most of what I say is in good natured jest and its certainly reciprocated. At the end of the day, there are a good bunch of people over here and they will always help you out when they can. Although I didn’t personally try it, a number of travelers I spoke to hitchhiked everywhere and remarked that New Zealand as one of the best places in the world to do it. If you’re ever so inclined to head to the South Island, check out Motueka, a little character town on the doorstep of the Abel Tasman and with plenty of places worth checking out in the surrounding region. I highly recommend Motueka Backpackers for a place to stay, right in the heart of town. Most importantly get out and enjoy nature. There are few better places to do it.