Monday, November 26, 2007

Father Nelson

Canoing. A tramper’s luxury. Rather than eating one course meals consisting of instant noodles or chunky soup and drinking only tea and water, you can nourish your body with perishable items and evening cocktails. It was time to give our blistered heels and sore backs time to recuperate so the next leg of our journey led us to the last great walk on the north island which is a 5 day, 145km canoe trip down the Wanganui river.

A little background……….The Wanganui is fed Mt. Tongariro and Mt. Ruapehu (Mt. Doom) – both are mountains that we climbed on the previous great walk. This river was the nucleus of all trade between the early European settlers and Maori (the largest Native tribe). The land surrounding the river is very young, roughly 1 millions years old. Formed of soft sandstone and mudstone from the ocean bed, it has been eroded by water to form sharp ridges, deep gorges, cliffs and waterfalls.

Our group consisted of 8 people, filling 4 canoes. Six of them were Germens – 3 guys and 3 girls. Stephen and I were the only experienced paddlers and we were riding together, therefore we knew the trip was going to be full of hilarious bails. A German expressionless face + cold water = priceless. The river had a similar skill level to that of the Saint Croix later in the summer when water levels are low. The majority of the canoes were 16’9” Old town discoveries, “Canadian canoes” they called them. Taking advantage of the fact we didn’t have to carry any belongings on our back, we had heaps of gear - coolers and barrels full of food and piss. Steve our chauffer suggested that Stephen and I take the largest boat to accommodate all or our stuff. The boat was not an old town; it was a meter wide, 17’ Feelfree. Talk about a piece of shit! I think we would have been better off taking a bath tub.

The trip began at 10:00 from Cherrygrove. After a crash course from Steve about hut locations, major rapids and dangers on the river, Stephen and I were very excited to make passage but the germens had faces riddled with uncertainty. About 20 minutes in we hit our first set of rapids. We were paddling like mad men but were still minutes behind the streamline Old towns. Coming around the corner where you could see the fast breaking water, two Germens were down. Their canoe was wrapped around a rock and both of them were hanging on for dear life as their heads were bobbing in and out of the freezing cold water. “Lift your feet up and let go” I yelled. In the meantime our tub was taking in so much water because of the shallow sides that we almost joined them. Upon reaching shore Stince and I grabbed one of the old towns and paddled to the “U shaped” canoe. We loaded all of their gear into our boat and freed the capsized boat. I had to swim with it while Stephen paddled the gear to shore. After a few solid foot stomps to pop out pressure wounds, the old town was back in working order. Again the Canadians saved the day.

That evening we tented along the river at the designated department of conservation (DOC) camp site. For dinner we fried some burgers and made a garden salad. We sipped cold beer with a few veteran canoers’ and played a germen card game called two heads (similar to that of Oh Hell) with the entire crew. Many good stories were exchanged and our group became close very quickly. The night was a great pace setter for the remainder of the trip.

The sleep was shit! Trying to share a 2 person tent with Stephen is next to impossible. You cannot pass the centre of the tent into his territory or he will wake from a dead sleep and viciously chop you. You cannot snore or breathe to heavy and recently I have developed a horrible snoring problem so sleeping had been unpleasant for the both of us. We were on the river by 10:00 just in time for the rain. It’s amazing how frequent the weather can change from ten minutes to the next. All day we were paddling in down pours, catching sunny breaks and getting thrashed by south westerly winds. I hooked two beautiful rainbow trout but both raised and spit out the hook. The waters were a murky brown due to the rain fall, making fishing conditions poor so we showed up the Whakahoro (pronounced “fuck a whore oh”) hut empty handed. The hut was located in a sheep farm below the main lodge of our canoeing company. As usual the Germens began “guganheiming” back and forth so Stince and I decided to walk up to the lodge. Gou-gan-heiming is the word we use for German conversation because it is a suitable word that depicts most words used in the German language. If only we knew what the night had in store for us.

Just as we put our foot in the door a squirrelly looking Kiwi ran to greet us. He spoke very quickly with a heavy accent and used so many actions to accentuate his conversation that it was almost impossible to understand him. His name was Dave and boy was he ever a character. I would compare his presence to a camp fire. You could sit there and watch him and be entertained for the entire evening. After the hand shakes and small talk he invited us in to his living space. Pete his other friend introduced himself and handed out beer. I noticed a guitar resting in the corner so I picked it up and began to strum quietly. Immediately I was bombarded with requests so I began to play like nobody was watching. Stince was singing along, Pete was stomping his feet and Dave was snapping and clapping. The musical setting catalyzed an unforgettable evening. They treated us to spaghetti and we all shared stories which had great impact on our lives. Within an hour of meeting them I felt as though I have known them my entire life. Just when things couldn’t have gotten any better one of the rare species of Owl called a Morepork flew in the illuminated room. He was catching the meaty moths that were circulating the outdoor light. After many escape attempts while blinded by the light he rested on the centre truss of the high ceiling. Its intelligent eyes were jetting around the room, studying the surroundings. Rarely a Moreprok is seen by the human eye so we were all memorized by its presence. We burned our midnight oil dry and upon dispersing, many times one mentioned how special the evening was.

The next day we were storm stayed. The heavens were pissing and the wind was blowing. Dave was very excited to have us stay an extra day so he called Pete to bring his 454in3 300hp jet boat to the landing to take us for the ride of a life time. As much as I hated being in a deafening motor boat traveling in waters that should only be navigated by canoe, it was a hell of a time. This boat could accelerate from 0 to 80km in two seconds and turn on the dime. The hull of the boat went as deep as a canoe so you should literally jump rapids when flying up river. Normally a jet boat ride costs $150 a person but for us the only condition was to have a fire with them later that evening. The Germens joined us for the fire and again the night was fulfilled with great stories and ab-busting laughs. We all were fortunate to witness the sport of sheep bumping. Sheep bumping is a native sport which involves getting on a 4-wheeler, extremely pissed in the wee hours of the morning and knocking over sheep as they run for their lives. Dave was very experienced so no sheep were harmed during the show.

Staying the extra night was not anticipated so everyone’s food supply was behind a day. Being the amazing host’s that they are Dave and Pete drove two hours into town to buy a list of food items we needed in order to complete the trip. It was hard saying goodbye to our new mates but I guess all good things must come to an end. They insisted that we come back during our travels to work with them and stay at Pete’s house. What generous men.

The trip that day was very slow. The water was high which hid many of the challenging rapids beneath the surface creating many swirling eddies. Again the water was murky so fishing was like dropping a line in a mud puddle. The bath tub did not fair well in these waters, if we stopped paddling for a moment our momentum would shift in the opposite direction. Reaching the John Coull hut was a great relief. That evening I cooked pasta and we sat around the kitchen table commenting on an outdated People magazine and playing who am I. Our body’s were exhausted from hours of paddling and spending two nights the crazy Kiwi’s so we were all in bed by dark.

The water was clear the next morning so I was looking forward to catching the trophy Rainbow trout I dreamt about. We were on the river very early because we had 40km to paddle. This morning Stephen put everyone’s name in his hat and drew out new canoe partners. Our current travel buddy Simon had been working on the beautiful German in our group and you could tell he was praying that his name would be picked with Hanna’s. Stephen rigged the draw and when their names were picked together you could almost see him jump out of his skin. Stephen was picked to canoe with another girl Stephanie and I was fortunate to partner with the clown of the group named Carsten. Carsten was a powerful lad so manning the back of the canoe was a pleasure. All day we paddled together like a four pontoon catamaran. Carsten snagged my only fishing lure, so again I was not able to fulfill my promise of fish for dinner. We shared songs back and forth, raced around many corners and had some splashing fights. It was definitely the most beautiful and entertaining day on the river so far.

Our hut site that evening belonged to the Maori tribe (native Indians). There were beautiful hand carved totem poles around the perimeter of the property, a large cooking hall and sleeping area. Carsten, Stephen and I made the traverse to the other side of the river after dinner to check out a luxurious building on the crest of a hill that we could see from the river. It turned out to be a comfortable lodge equipped with a bar, guitar and large deck with a panorama of the river. We had very interesting conversations, sipped a few toddies and watched the sun descend below the horizon before heading to bed.

All of the Evenings are very peaceful in the wops of New Zealand. There is never the constant sound of clicking crickets or bubbling frogs. It seems as though every species enjoys a peaceful evening.

It was the last day on the river and roughly 2 hours in we pulled ashore to hike an hour to the famous Bridge to Nowhere. The landscape felt as though we were trekking through the lush rain forest of the Amazon. Ferns were towering 15ft in the sky and moss covered vegetation was aimlessly growing in all directions. The combination of sunshine and sounds of exotic birds melded to create a setting only one could dream of. An elevated concrete bridge was doing exactly what it was famous for – leading to no where. While throwing many objects off the bridge I decided to make things a little more exciting and pee a waterfall. The Germens were now beginning to understand our humor.

After a swim, 5 hours of paddling and one last pitch of large rapids we reached the pick up point where Dave was waiting for our arrival. We unloaded the canoes, tied them down and headed back to Tongariro National park. This trip was definitely the best great walk so far.

Currently we are staying at a hostel in Nelson. Nelson is a city with the population of 40,000 located on the northern tip of the south island. It receives the most sunshine out of any city in New Zealand. Tomorrow we begin our first day of work on an apple farm, thinning the trees.

Thank you all for reading. The blog from our great walk (the 4day northern circuit) before the canoeing trip should be posted in a few days.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Courtesy Flush

With Stephen Crabbe

The Courtesy Flush is a highly effective method of reducing the smell of feces when you are in a situation when it may be offensive to one of more person(s).

How it works:

When the unfortunate circumstances become a reality first study the ventilation system present in the lavatory as well as the proximity of other person(s). Time your bowel movement when you feel the others will not use the “area” until time has erased the odor of your stool. The optimal timing is achieved when person(s) have used the facilities and you are certain you have ample time. Examine the toilet to ensure the flushing lever is accessible from a comfortable sitting position. If time permits perform a test flush to assess the magnitude of water flow, you have to accept the fact you may get slightly wet. If everything mentioned above is in order you are ready. As the log(s)/loose matter hit the water you must flush immediately for a floater bobbing or other consistencies can dramatically increase the pungency level of your stool. Repeat flush if necessary to ensure the foreign dirt does not fester in the water.

In conclusion if the “Courtesy Flush” is executed in proper fashion it can be a handy tool which can turn a messy situation into a mere blip on the radar. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

That Will Rip Your Undies

With Stephen Crabbe

The next lag of our journey began after some great rest and relaxation at Jordan Walkers flat in Whangerai. We were treated to 3 square meals and some great company. Props go out to Jordan, Shelley and Wendy thanks! Box of Birds!

We drove Midnight Special from Whangerai to Auckland where we stayed another night at the fat camel hostel, groovy place. As we drove to Te Urewera National Park I couldn’t help but think about how much has happened since we arrived in New Zealand. Every day and night is so different, the people, the scenery. Hostel rooms are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get. It could be empty; it could smell like Rodney’s jeans after he wore them for three weeks with no underwear. There may be someone sleeping, or a foreign exchange student learning English. One thing remains constant regardless of who your bunk mates are for the evening, everyone wants to have a good time. The conversation always starts out the same way. “Where are you from?” That opening question brings me to another rant altogether; nationalities can be quite deceiving…New Zealand being the global soup that it is can be a phenomenal place for people watching. Just when you have someone pegged as a Russian they end up being from Brazil. The hoards of German girls, aside from being quite fit are hard to nail down until they talk. And locals, Aussies, and Brits all have that same beaky demeanor making them impossible to distinguish. There is one exception though, Swedish guys. Usually riddled with pimples and of course blond hair they stick out like a sore thumb.
You look out on the dance floor “Look at the Swedish guy go”
Walking down a crowded city sidewalk “Look! It’s a couple Swedish backpackers”
“Hey Swedish guy! Can you pass the marmite?”

Anyways, enough about that let me set the scene in Te Urewera National Park. One of the last large parcels of land owned by the indigenous Maori people of New Zealand it was squeezed from their control in the 70’s and turned into a national park. It is located in the central North Island sitting around a half of a kilometer above sea level. According to Maori legend the forest is inhabited by “little people” whom move nomadically with the abnormally thick fog that swirls and meanders around Lake Waikaremoana. A good word to describe the lake is mystical. The water is very deep and dark but as it gets shallow toward the banks it takes on a jade green hue which is very beautiful to look at. Since the altitude is high the area typically gets high volumes of rain, snow, wind and generally pear shaped weather. A week before we began our hike it got dumped with eight inches of snow. Towering trees and aggressive rock faces add to the overall majestic nature of Lake Waikaremoana. Our drive into the park was quite eventful. Not knowing what to expect we entered the north side of the national park at a round dusk. The road quickly transitioned into an unsealed winding passage with livestock everywhere! Sheep, cows and horses were plentiful, lying on the road, running about. After sixty minutes of driving deeper into the heart of possibly the most remote place we have ever been we started to see shanties that looked like something out of the Blair Witch Project, it was creepy. You could almost hear dueling banjos twanging in the darkness. Finally after two hours of driving we spotted a small sign that indicated that there was a campground fifty kilometers away! Three hours after we entered the boundaries of the park and several dozen possum spottings we finally came to a campground. It was late, around eleven we pulled midnight special in and pitched our new tent! This one was mosquito proof. A cold night filled with battling for inches and listening to Pat saw logs wasn’t the most ideal sleeping situation but it did the trick.

The next morning we were woken up at sunrise by two very territorial male paradise geese locking horns for an impressive sounding battle as a female squawked in the background. I wanted to kill these fuckers, they never shut up making what could have been an amazing camp site irritating. We took a sun soaked day to organize our packs, buy our great walk pass, check out some waterfalls, and cook one last semi nutritious meal. We arranged our shuttle to the entrance of the walk for the next morning at eight AM.

A brisk morning with scattered clouds and sun greeted us as we got dropped off at Onepoto, the starting point of our tramp. My cheerful demeanor soured quickly as we ascended 532 meters over four kilometers. I kept looking up to see Pat’s bulging calf muscles scampering up the trail, hazed by lack of oxygen I kept thinking I was following a half breed mixed between Morgie McElman and Mike England. Two and a half hours after our inception onto the trail we reached the highest altitude of this hike at 1181m. We had climbed the spine of Panekiri bluff and the view was our reward. Looking down at the colossal lake we could see all the facets of the water outcropping into areas like spider legs. There was dramatic rock faces scattered around breaking up the thick, lush forest. We stopped at a hut where we filled our water bottles with collected rain water. We also met Simon and Stephan there, two German trampers which we are still traveling with two weeks later. The rest of the day we descended closer to the water, crossing several impressive suspension bridges. We stopped hiking at around 4pm at a Waiopaoa hut on the lake edge and set up our tent in a lovely secluded area with a fire pit. Luckily we got to see some of the thick fog that gives the lake its mystical reputation. It was so dense and packed in individual pockets that it looked like smoke. If you had Pink Floyd “Echoes” on your ipod and a hit of bathtub acid you would be in for a mind melting evening. Soon after we set up a few other trampers entered the site and we had a relaxing evening filled with light conversation and warmth from a wood stove in the hut. At around nine we retired to our tent after an hour of non-consequential rain to pack it in. Sleeping was easy after a day of rigorous exercise in the wops of New Zealand. We laughed ourselves to sleep listening to the comical owls scream “More Pork” Pat kept saying “I don’t have any fucking pork!” We didn’t have any pork so they screamed for it into the wee hours of the morning. And we would laugh, the other campers must think we are abnormally gassy, crazy Canadians…wait, we are.

The next morning was a late one starting; I don’t think we got onto the trail until after ten. We strapped on our packs and hit the trail with a vengeance. Our strides were powerful as we carefully stepped the trail in our usual formation of Pat setting the pace and myself doing everything I can to keep up. We were crushing estimated trail times by hours with conversations that made hours seem like minutes. Something about tramping makes you have the most lucid thoughts. We were both remembering things about our childhood that we hadn’t though of in years. There was an optional hike off the trail into Korokoro fall which was signed at one hour thirty return. We set our packs down and minus 20 kilos we scorched the trail to the waterfall and back in an impressive 45 minutes. By mid afternoon were we both moving like snails. We had bad blisters which was making any change in elevation excruciating. A little confused as to where we were on the trail we pushed on to Marauitu hut and set up shop lake side, close to a fenced off Kiwi reserve. Pat started a small fire and had a great moment on a makeshift bench which he noted “this is the life!” As darkness fell upon us the birds were sounding calls that were very different and amusing. We also got to hear a female kiwi calling after dark which sounds like a terrified woman screaming. The Kiwi is a nocturnal bird so the call is probably the closest contact we will encounter but we are passionate about seeing one.

Yet another late morning as we hit the trail after ten in an attempt to make our water taxi at 1:30pm. Surprisingly after an hour of slow and steady tramping we came to a sign that had the water taxi only 45 minutes away. With this great news we stripped down and enjoyed an hour in the sun relishing the accomplishment of another multi-day hike. Pat tried some fishing, I finished yet another book and we walked to our taxi spot were a sweet boat was waiting for us. The boat ride was great because we got to scope out where we had hiked from the perspective of the water. Looking up Panekiri Bluff which was a towering monstrosity of rock, we got to see why it seemed like a never-ending ascend on the first day. Pat and I sat back and smiled the whole way across the lake.

Thanks for reading the blog, I hope you enjoyed it. Pat and I are having the time of our lives!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

From Ballers to Backpackers

After catching unexpected Labor Day sales – Shopping in a frenzy for camping necessities as though it were Christmas Eve – Stince and I were fully equipped for our cherry popping outdoor adventure in New Zealand. It was difficult deciding on which trail to tackle first, we have no experience, cheap new gear, and could be great supporting actors in a Super Size Me sequel for all the Mc Donald’s we have been eating. How could anyone pass up on the Mac Attack deal (2 big macs, 2 large fries and 2 large drinks) for $10, especially when you’re on a backpacker’s budget? All that aside, with reference to our Lonely Planet guide we decided on a 3 day, 41km tramp around Cape Regina. Cape Regina is labeled as New Zealand’s most northern point where over two hundred miles of white sandy beaches surround the coast and sub tropical forests occupy the mainland. It was only a 300km drive, Auckland was cold and it was about time we got a little color before we were mistaken as British backpackers.

The drive was very entertaining but extremely long. If you were driving you were blessed with the smooth shifting of Midnight Special (the name of our car) through twisty, undulant roads with similar composition of a video game. If you were riding passenger your head was on a swivel trying to capture all of the beautiful sites and strange looking creatures. It took longer than expected because with the profile of these two way highways you’re lucky to reach highway speeds of 80km. Not factoring this in, we had to pull into a campground as the Midnight Special was having a hard time illuminating the road.

Setting up for the evening was very exciting. It was like Christmas. We had been accumulating so much stuff throughout our days in Auckland that it was a surprise to open the large bags full of new gear. Our Moral was soon dampened once our erected tent displayed a mesh that a fucking bumble bee could fly through. Now it makes complete sense as to why it was 50% off. The bugs were non existent that evening but all we could do was pray that the Woods of Cape Regina are nothing like the Bush of northern New Brunswick.

We reached the Cape Regina check-in point early afternoon on the 24th, expecting to spend the rest of the day organizing our gear, planning meals and strategically packing our packs with intentions of leaving the next morning. No deal. They insisted we catch our shuttle to Te Paki stream two hours after we landed. We made the deadline but our packs were extremely disorganized.

After a quick orientation with our driver named Honey, at 17:00 we were tramping. It was a feeling I cannot describe. My boots were grazing fine white sand of the famous ninety mile beach, barreling waves of the Tasman Sea were crashing to my left, 300m wind sculpted sand dunes to my right and a mountain of tropical vegetation ahead. I turned to my side to look at Stince and followed by a big high five was gut wrenching laughter.

There were only a few spots along the way where fresh water ran to the ocean so our options were limited as to where we could camp. We purchased an ionic carbon filter that could make any water but sea water drinkable. While filling up at these streams it was important that the unfiltered water didn’t make contact with your mouth piece or drip into to your bottle because there is a bacterium called Guardia that thrives in these streams. If you ingest it, I guess you will not stop shitting until you shit your intestines out.

We tramped up and over two mountains to the fresh water destination of Moon Light Bay. The sun was beginning to set so we needed to set up camp quickly. We nestled behind a sand dune and pitched our tent in a bed of knee high field grass to escape the high winds. The sunset at this point was so beautiful it distracted our growling bellies until dark. Our main course for the evening consisted of mixing 5 hot dogs into a boiling pot of canned spaghetti. Boy was it ever good. At this point I was just waiting for a hatch of sand flies (black fly) or a swarm of mosquitoes to invade our site and penetrate the tent, but luckily there were none.

The sleep was fabulous. The sound of crashing waves accompanied by memory foam field grass caused us to sleep in. It was a must that we reach our next freshwater destination and time the tide at Tapotupotu Bay, so we packed up on empty stomachs and hit the trail at 09:10. It was a beautiful day for tramping, the sun was shining and there was not a cloud in the sky. For brunch we ate almonds and a bevy of granola bars. Everything was seamless until the Te Werahi descend. The tide was quite high and there was not a dry passage to the beach. We searched and searched and walked in circles to avoid having to take off our boots and wade across the estuary. In these areas you had to watch for quick sand. The grain of sand is very fine and the current of water runs beneath the sands surface, creating suction and no resistance for the step. After hours of searching for a shallow passage we unlaced our boots and made the cross safely. The hike was very tiring along Te Werahi beach because most of the energy from our steps was lost in the movement of the sand. After the beach we began a very steep ascends up a narrow trail to the peak of cape Regina’s highest mountain. The scenery at the most northern point was breathtaking. The South Pacific and Tasman Seas was crashing together catalyzing large waves with a tropical blue hue.

After many serene yet grueling climbs and descends we reached our camp site at 16:00, much earlier than expected. At this point we were both moving like old men, our legs were filled with lead, our feet riddled with blisters and our asses raw with chafe. The campsite was at a secluded campground you could reach only by traveling hours on dirt roads. We had the campground to ourselves until two beautiful Germen women pulled up in a van next to us. The tide was moving in quickly and this was where we had to make the crossing but Stephens’s infatuation with the German babes caused us to miss our window. Nothing more escalated from this scenario and in order for us to make our pickup point the next day we had to wade across the bay at 02:00. A full moon helped us make a safe passage through the bay where we quickly re-set up the tent and fell back asleep.

You would think that wading in salt water and walking through a field of waist high grass at 02:00 is a little unnerving but here in New Zealand it gives you peace of mind to know that there are no snakes, ticks, spiders or insects that will harm you.

The next morning arrived early. Both of us were awake in time to have a cup of coffee and a bowl of oatmeal. Again we were blessed with another gorgeous day. The hike began at 09:00 with a 1.5 hour climb that caught us by surprise. Throughout the entire afternoon the trail slowly descended along the spine of a 500m mountain giving us a clear view of the south pacific on one side and Hobbit like terrain on the other. By the time we reached the final stretch of Pandora’s beach, our bodies were dipping into the Big Mac fat reserves. Shrieking with joy thinking that we only had another hour beach walk left we took off our shoes and decided to soak in all the elements of our victory lap. The finish point was visible but it seemed as though we were not getting any closer. After an hour of walking we put our boots back onto speed up the process because the finish point was not getting any closer. The hour beach walk ended up taking three hours, later to find out it was 9km long.

Reaching the end point an hour ahead of schedule (15:30) gave us both a great sense of accomplishment. What a life changing experience it was. The ice has now been broken and a new chapter in our lives has started to unfold.

Stephen and I are now in Taupo after finishing the first great walk around Lake Waikaremoana. It took 3 day to tackle 46km of moderate terrain. The blog on this tramp will be uploaded by the weekend. Today we are traveling to Tongariro National Park to complete the second great walk through snow capped mountains that are volcanically active. Currently the trail is closed due to heavy snow fall but by tomorrow it may open.

Thank you all for reading. All the best!