Last Day in NZ

Posted in Uncategorized on July 8, 2010 by alangdean

It’s happened.  It is officially my last night in New Zealand.  I have been here for 5 months and it has been an incredibly awesome experience.  To spare getting all sentimental, I’ll just launch right into a quick summary of the past two weeks that I’ve spent traveling.

Week 1: South Island.  After saying goodbye to almost all of my awesome New Zealand and Australearn friends (and even a star friend), Tim, Mike, Gray, Ashlyn, and I piled into Serena (she failed to sell in Dunedin, which meant we got to travel around in the van one last time before Tim sold it in Christchurch. No rental car + Serena = Perfection).  Anyway, we drove off and headed to Queenstown for the start of the week.  The next day Gray, Ashlyn, and I went snowboarding on The Remarkables which was a ton of fun.  After watching the best snowboarding film of all time which features NZ (That’s It, That’s All) about 100 times back home, Gray and I had been itching to snowboard in this country all semester.  The sun was out and the mountain wasn’t crowded.  Gray and I hiked up past the lifts to get a stunning view of Qeenstown, Lake Wakatipu, and the surrounding white peaks.  Best part of the day – hiking up past the trails to find steep, untouched, fresh powder runs.  So Good.  Tim and Mike spent the day hiking the Ben Lomond Track and had and awesome time as well; we rendezvoused at the end of the day and had Fergburger one final time.  Ashlyn hopped on a bus back to Dunedin and the rest of us drove to Wanaka to spend the night.

We woke up at 5:30 AM and started hiking Roy’s Peak in the dark with hopes of reaching the summit in time for sunrise.  But the clouds were thick and low and the chances of a photogenic sunrise happening were far to slim to warrant the unpleasant, slippery, dark, and snowy hike up the mountain, so after about 45 minutes we turned around and went back to sleep in the van for a couple hours.  We ate a quick breakfast at a picnic table by the lake and watched as a bus of unhappy tourists unloaded right next to us and walked to see the lake.  Most looked pretty unimpressed as the lame weather made everything gray and boring and they looked at us like we were crazy for having a picnic in such weather.  We drove through Mt. Aspiring National Park and found the sun, and by the time we hit the west coast it was a beautiful warm day.  We stopped off in Fox Glacier and hiked around to Reflection Island on Lake Matheson and saw Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman in all their glory, not blocked by any clouds, as the sun set on the snowy peaks and they reflected across the photogenic lake.  We drove to the beginning of Arthur’s Pass National Park and camped for the night.

We woke up to another sunny day and drove through Arthur’s Pass, which was stunning.  Steep snow covered peaks all over the place.  We decided to capitalize on the good weather and spent the rest of the day hiking up to Bealey Top Hut.  This hut was the coolest hut I’ve stayed in here in New Zealand, it was built in 1925 and made of tin and logs, and it sat in a forest clearing close to the top of the summit.  We dropped off our gear and continued on to the very top of the ridge where we were rewarded with stunning views of the mountains around us.  Steep, snow covered peaks 360 degrees around us.  We stayed up there for sunset and I was stoked.  It was one of the best views I’ve had in NZ.  Too good.  Aside from my camera battery dying on me up here, everything was perfect.  I loved the experience of making my way up to the top of the ridge in the snow without any sort of trail.  We spent the cold night in the hut and woke up to yet another sunny day. (We also woke up to all of our wet socks, pants, and shoes from the hike in completely frozen) The hike down was fun as all of the slush that we hiked up in the day before was now ice.  We made it down in one piece and then headed over to Castle Hill, which is apparently the number 2 spot for bouldering in the whole world.  It’s basically a couple of rolling hills peppered with hundreds of crazy shaped boulders.  We all tried our hand at climbing some easy ones and just hung out and enjoyed the weather and views.  Castle Hill = best place to play capture the flag or paintball ever.  Hands down.  We finished the day by driving up to Kaikura and camping / finding yet another ridiculous way to sleep four people in the van without taking a single piece of our gear out.

The following morning our luck ran out and it wasn’t sunny, ruining our plans for sunrise photos on the picturesque coastline, but it was still nice and baby seals provided us with some entertainment as we ate breakfast.  We spent the rest of the day driving down to Christchurch and letting Tim sell his van to a nice Australian guy and then finding a rental car as we were now abandoned.  The next day we hung out on the Banks Peninsula with Gray’s Kiwi friend Richard.  The peninsula was beautiful (very similar to the Otago Peninsula, but a lot bigger).  We drove down a remote dirt road and hiked a short way on the muddiest, slipperiest trail ever to a pretty cool secluded beach.  I scared the crap out of a baby seal by accident and sent it scurrying off across the rocks in fear.  Seals are about 1000 times less graceful on land than in the water.

The next day we dropped Mike off at the airport and said goodbye, sending him back home with his mullet and amazingly small amount of luggage.  We finished our big loop and drove back down to Dunedin.  We snuck back into Gray’s flat and crashed for the night, meeting up with Paul and hearing about his week in Australia.  All in all, it was a wonderful week and a great way to say goodbye to the south island, which is by far my favorite.  We got super lucky with the weather, saw even more amazing scenery, and had a ton of laughs.  Tim and I formulated a fail-proof plan for next semester while killing time in the Bealey Hut (you’ll have to ask), woke up in the van to our good luck song and drove off without even getting out of our sleeping bags, a kea landed right next to me and tried to jump into the back of the van, hiked through the spot where they HAD to have filmed a scene from the first LOTR where Merry and Pippin are concerned that Aragorn doesn’t know about all their meal times, almost camped in a spot until we discovered it had beehives and a pile of bones in it, everyone made fun of me for trying to get this certain “hill” photo and for always running way far away form the car when we pull over to take pictures, got a ride to the airport from a weird Australian lady who claimed she used to be a truck driver, ate a Christmas quiche, contributed to NZ’s roadkill, watched Tim sprint like a fat kid with his puffy vest on and camera bag in hand, and…

Week 2:  North Island.

I’ll try to keep this shorter.  Tim and Paul flew off to Fiji for a couple days and Gray and I flew up to Auckland, crashed in a sketchy airport motel, picked up our rental car, dropped our gear off at Nikki’s house, and headed south along the west coast to Raglan, NZ’s chillest surf town and home to it’s most famous break.  The clouds were incredible, hanging out over the ocean in bright blue skies as we watched surfers ride the waves and were actually able to wear shorts because it is way warmer here on the north island.  We continued south to Egmont National Park, home to New Zealand’s most photographed mountain, which is actually a volcano, Mt. Taranaki.  We crashed in a backpackers nearby the park and met some local kiwi guys who were out of control ridiculous, but a ton of fun.  The next day we hiked up onto Mt. Taranaki, and then up onto a saddle on a smaller mountain range next to the mountain.  We spent a couple of hours hiking up to get the best view of the volcano only to be completely enshrouded by a cloud once we made it to the top.  I was super disappointed.  We ate lunch at a hut up there, and as we were about to go, we decided to check the view one last time just in case, and low and behold, the cloud was completely gone, and we had a perfectly clear view of the snow capped volcano.  I was like a little kid I was so happy.  I got my feet soaked hiking down to a tarn and took some killer photos of the mountain.  It was great.  The clouds were going nuts again on the hike down and Gray and I had to expertly dodge huge puddles of mud (I even swung on a vine like Tarzan at one point to get around a massive one) and we made it back to the rental car.  Anecdote:  Our rental car is a VW Polo, which is basically a Golf.  The electronics are crazy on it, sometimes the windows don’t go down, sometimes the lights don’t turn on, sometimes the radio doesn’t work, and the driver side door only opens form the inside if you body check it, we had to put coolant in it because they rented it out to us practically empty, needless to say this car has character.  It did get us all over the North Island though; we logged over 1,700 km’s in just 5 days.

The next day we were planning on hiking the Tongariru Alpine Crossing in Tongariru National Park (Home of Mt. Doom from LOTR).  This hike is touted to be the “best single day hike in the world.”  I don’t know about that, but unfortunately I still don’t know because it was cloudy and raining and super windy, so we couldn’t attempt the challenging hike.  Instead we pressed on and drove up to Taupo, where I had to check in with the rental car company because some idiot backed into our car with his campervan and bailed while we were in the visitor center.  Luckily kiwi’s are nice and a guy saw it happen and he told me and gave me the plate number, so that’s good.  If you ever come to NZ, DON’T GO TO TAUPO, it’s tourist central and super boring.  Just a heads up.  Best part of Taupo = seeing Toy Story 3.  Spanish Buzz Lightyear was hilarious.  Is it possible for Pixar to make a bad film?  I don’t think so.

We finished off the trip to the north with two days on the Coromandel Peninsula, which is beautiful, one of my favorite places in the whole country.  Rolling green green green hills, turquoise oceans, empty, secluded beaches, small villages, pretty much the definition of peaceful.  My favorite part was a knarly hour long drive on a dirt road to the northern tip of the peninsula complete with slips and rocks in the road and fording a stream.  We hiked along the Coromandel Coastal Track which was beautiful and provided great views of the ocean and nearby islands.  I dropped Gray off at the airport today and he’s off to Fiji.  I believe that out of all of my friends, I am the last one still in New Zealand.  Pretty crazy.

This was my first time blogging, something I thought I’d never do.  If you followed along or just breezed through the photos, I hope you enjoyed it.  It’s been fun for me to record what I’ve done and create a montage of my experiences here so that years from now I’ll be able to read back through this and remember what New Zealand was for me.  I’m thankful for every moment I’ve had here and this experience has sparked something new in me, there are so many new things I want to accomplish in my life.  I was extremely lucky to make so many fun, genuine, loyal, and honest friends in such a short period of time.  They really made New Zealand special for me.

I’m going to miss that one of a kind feeling that can only be achieved by hiking a multi-day hike through the backcountry of New Zealand’s most stunning landscapes, the rainforests of Milford Sound, the striking ridgelines of the Keplar Track, the golden beaches of Able Tasman, the glacial lakes of Fiordland, the alpine lakes of the Routeburn Track, the swampy marshlands of Green Lake, the snow covered peaks of Queenstown and Arthur’s Pass, the sunrises, the sunsets, the crystal clear water, the neon green hills, the steep rocky summits, the muddy descents, the stars, the CLOUDS.  I imagine few places are lucky to be so utterly photogenic.

I hope to return someday.

-Alan Dean

(Photos will be up soon!)

Chasing Sunrises and Leaving Dunedin (Soon)

Posted in Uncategorized on June 21, 2010 by alangdean

The last week and a half has been awesome, and I didn’t even have to leave Dunedin.  With my impending departure from this unique NZ city, I have been trying to do all the things that I’ve taken for granted and never got around to.  Turns out Dunedin has quite a bit to offer.  Started out by hiking along the Pineapple Track, a nice day hike that takes you up along the ridges of the mountains that surround the city, offering great views of Dunedin, the Otago Peninsula, and the Pacific Ocean.  The sun was low in the sky and the clouds were awesome (as they often are around here).  I got some cool shots of the city and on the walk down it actually snowed on us, the lightest snow possible I think, but still, it counts.

The next three days all kind of blurred into one for me.  I spent my time staying up really late watching as many World Cup matches as I could, and also got up really early to watch the sunrise from different cool vantage points around Dunedin.  My lack of sleep was totally worth the views I got and the sunrises I was able to photograph.

Day 1: Peggy’s Hill – Otago Peninsula.  Theresa and I hadn’t been here yet, but I’d seen it in a number of photography books and wanted to check it out.  According to Google maps it is 12 miles from my flat, and the sun rises at around 8:15, and the earliest bus out to the peninsula would only give us about 10 minutes to hike up a number of miles and find the hill to catch sunrise.  Not going to happen.  So what do we decide to do?  Walk there.  Pretty much packed up our packs with tons of snacks, left my flat super early in the morning and made our way around the harbor to where we thought the hill should be.  After a brief stint of getting lost and shining our flashlights on fields of sheep sleeping, we finally just hopped a fence and trecked up the hillside, making it to the top with 20 minutes to spare before the sun crested the ocean.  The view was sweet, picture perfect New Zealand, rolling green hills, blue ocean, and even some sheep.  (I chased them).  Luckily we caught the bus back to the city and avoided the 12 mile return trip.

Day 2: Mt. Cargill – Dunedin’s Highest Peak.  The following morning Theresa, Tim, and I jumped in the van and drove around for a bit in the dark trying to find the road to get to the top of Mt. Cargill for sunrise again.  We finally found it (after opening a gate and driving along a sketchy dirt road before turning back to avoid any confrontation).  The vantage offered great views of the peninsula, and we could see Peggy’s Hill from across the harbor which was cool.  We captured some good photos and drove back down to frosty Dunedin.  It is getting seriously cold here.

Day 3: Moeraki Boulders.  The very next morning I again woke up super early (I actually failed, but my friends came and dragged me out of bed anyway) and a full van of us drove about an hour north to the Moeraki Boulders.  Basically, they are really cool round rocks that are on the shoreline of the ocean and look like dinosaur eggs or turtle shells.  We were blessed with a truly amazing sunrise, the entire sky was filled with super high and thin clouds which captured the light and exploded in orange and purple.  I went on a photo taking binge along with Tim, rushing to get the money shot before the colors faded.  I took my shoes off and waded into the freezing cold water to get some cool angles.  Worth it, but I remain convinced it wasn’t until midday that I could feel my toes again.  I’ve decided that waking up early is the way to go, we’ll see how long that lasts though.  I have low expectations.

Now I just have to get through my last final, say by to the friends, and then I’m off with Gray, Tim, and Mike for a roadtrip around the South Island and then some time on the North Island to explore some black sand beaches and volcanoes and who knows what else.  Random fyi: If you haven’t been following the World Cup, NZ tied the defending champion Italian squad the other day, making this NZ’s best (and only 2nd) world cup ever.  The kiwi’s are loving it.

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We’ll Go Anywhere

Posted in Uncategorized on June 12, 2010 by alangdean

Turns out that having three weeks to take three tests gives you a lot of free time.  Tim and Paul have to sell their van soon, so we decided to go on one last big road trip in Serena.  On the menu: Queenstown, Wanaka, and Mt. Cook.  We’d been to these places before, but now that all the mountains have snow on them because it is winter, we thought it would be fun to check them out again.  We started out on Sat. morning and caught sunrise at Portsmouth, giving awesome views out over the Otago Peninsula.  Drive to Queenstown / pickup Tim’s friend Jamie and her brother from the airport / cruise around the tourist town / climb to the top of a mountain ridge overlooking the city and lake and mountains for sunset / almost catch the gondola back down for free but get kicked off / walk down in the dark / meet Jennie who had been snowboarding all day at Fergburger / ate a Southern Swine hamburger (It’s awesome) / drove to a random secluded campsite that Tim found (basically involves driving straight through bushes for 3 min, no idea how he found this in the first place) / camp by Lake Wakatipu / wake up early again / cram food into my stomach (pb, bannana, and potato chip sandwich) / drive north to Wanaka in the rain / arrive at Roy’s Peak Track / It’s still raining and the top of the peak is completely covered in bright white snow / no one says anything, we just look up at it / then everyone puts on gear / hikes up the mountain / rain turns to snow / snow turns to blizzard.  (Sorry for the choppy terrible writing, I just got out of a 3 hour history final where I had to write 4 complete essays about Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and all the wonderful things they did… the last thing I want to do right now is write any unnecessary words).

Despite losing heart multiple times and seriously debating stopping the ascent, Theresa and I persevered and made it to the summit.  It was pretty much a white-out and super windy.  I took a photo of my view.  It’s solid white, zero detail.  We made snow angels on the very top of the peak to leave our mark and then turned right around and headed back down the mountain.  The way down turned out to be very difficult in it’s own way.  The snow was falling at a much lower altitude than when we started, so all the grass was now covered in fresh snow, and it was slippery.  Waaaaaay slippery.  Any step you take you could fall straight in the mud slippery.  And we did.  Quite a bit. (Some more than others…ughtheresacough)  I don’t know why I do things like this.  But it was awesome, as I’m sure it sounds to you, all the cold, rain, wind, snow, wet socks, steep trail, slippery, muddy, descent, as you sit in your warm house reading this with tea or something.  An anecdote: I successfully made it all the way to the summit of a mountain in a blizzard without any injury, but suffered an injury trying to catch snowflakes in my mouth.  Indeed.  Turns out that even when there are 4 billion different snowflakes falling, sometimes two people try to catch the same one.  Liz and I are apparently these people.  Just as the fattest one was about to fall onto my tongue, I nail the top of her head with my wide-open relaxed jaw.  Now my tooth is loose and I can’t bite anything.  (Don’t freak out Mom, its better now.)

Get dry / drive to grocery store / buy snacks / drive to Mt. Cook / Camp on lake Pukaki / wake up / It’s raining / and it snowed on us over the night / no one is out of their tents / so we don’t get out either / for like 6 hours / I almost die trying to eat another pb sandwich as apparently I don’t chew my food properly and it gets stuck in my throat halfway down / I throw up in a plastic bag…which had all my food in it / finally at around 2 pm it stops raining and we load up the van / drive into the valley below Mt. Cook / the road to our destination Hooker Valley is closed b/c of snow / so we stop by the side of the road and have a super long snowball fight instead / finally we get back in the van and decide just to drive home to Dunedin instead of camping another night in the cold.  Best day of doing hardly anything ever.

The next afternoon we all (Tim, Liz, Jamie, Tyler, Theresa, Mike, Myslef) get back in the van and head south along the southern scenic route to get to Nugget Point (awesome lighthouse and rock formation in the Catlins region.  Tim wanted to hike up a ridgeline above the lighthouse and take photos at sunrise.  We stop at some beaches on the drive down and see some cool rainbows.  We find a sweet campsite pretty close to the ocean and meet up with Tim’s friend Greg and his friend Anna.  Camp. Again. Wake up at 6:45 / pack up / drive a short distance over to Nugget Point / hike up the ridge / take awesome photos / head out / drive back home to Dunedin so Tim can take his final at 2:30.

Great way to spend some free days before studying.  I’m going to miss a lot of things about New Zealand, and trips like this top that list.  My bad if this was long and boring, kinda wrote it for myself.  Peace.

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My Return to Milford Track and Dore Pass

Posted in Uncategorized on May 20, 2010 by alangdean

If you’ve been following along you will remember that a few weeks back I got evacuated from the Milford Track because of torrential rainstorms.  I was discontent not finishing the “finest walk in the world,” so when the opportunity to go back came my way, I took it.  DOC has two season’s for its tracks, peak and off-season.  As winter is creeping its way to New Zealand, we are now in the off-season, which means you have to be totally self sufficient and the backcountry huts are cheaper.  Traditionally, trampers take a boat ride up Lake Te Anau to access the start of the Milford Track, but we didn’t want to spend the money for the boat, so we decided to hike into the trailhead via a little known route called Dore Pass.  It was a very challenging hike, starting with a river crossing and traversing up a steep valley to the pass.  We camped the first night along a river at the base of the pass; it was a beautiful place to camp, and I felt truly remote and on my own.  It rained on us that night, and we woke up at 6:30 and started hiking the pass at 7:00.

It was incredibly steep, and there were only two markers the entire way up that were pretty much impossible to see until getting close to them, so we pretty much found our own way up to the saddle.  After clawing at snowgrass and making our own switchbacks, we finally made it to the top of the pass and were rewarded with stunning views in both directions.  Ahead of us was crystal clear views of Lake Te Anau, Clinton Valley, and several impressive snow capped mountain ranges.  This was to be our path for the next three days – The Milford Track.  It was cool to have such an incredible vantage point of where we would be heading.  We hiked along the ridge for some time, actually getting higher than the saddle where we crossed over, until we made it to a safer and less steep ridge where we started our descent back to the tree line.  The hike down through the forest was incredibly wet, muddy, rooty, and anything else that makes walking with a heavy pack difficult.  A fantail bird followed me down for over an hour of the descent, flying from branch to branch, chirping.  That was pretty cool, I felt like I had a personal guide.

We crossed another river at the bottom, and found our way over to the start of the Milford Track.  It took us 7 hours to get to this point.  In order to stay on schedule we had to hike not only to the first hut of the track, but on to the second hut.  This is estimated on the trial map to take 6 hours.  We ignored our sore feet and tired shoulders and soldiered on at a fast pace, making it to our destination in a quick 4 hours (the last 1.5 in the dark).  That made for 11 hours of straight hiking.  I was completely dead and could barely stay awake to cook myself dinner, but I was impressed that we had hiked so far in one day.

The rest of the track we hiked like normal people and enjoyed sunny weather each day which I was very thankful for.  We hiked over Mackinnon pass the next day, down to Dumpling hut for the night, and then out the valley to Sandfly Point the following day.  We caught a boat ride to Milford Sound and were rewarded with the iconic vista for which Fiordland is famous.  It was a challenging 4 days of tramping, but worth the blisters and sore muscles in every way.  Now I can legitimately check “Complete the Milford Track” off my list of goals.

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Caving, Marshing, Night-Hiking, and Love Lost

Posted in Uncategorized on May 13, 2010 by alangdean

So after spending an entire two weeks in Dunedin and writing papers, a trip back into the middle of nowhere was most definitely needed.  I joined Tim, Paul, Theresa, Mike, Ashyln, and Kristen (That’s 8 people and 8 backpacks in one van…cramped…) and we drove to the Clifden Caves on Fri, which are incredible limestone caves that not very many people know about.  We just parked on the side of the road, hopped a fence, and climbed into a hole in the ground.  The caves are super cool, high, steep ceilings, narrow spaces you have to crawl through, and water dripping from the ceiling.  We found an underground river, and stopped at one point and turned off all of our headlamps to discover that we were surrounded by glow worms.  They were incredible, after about 10 minutes of letting our eyes adjust, it looked like we were looking up at the night sky.  It took about an hour and a half to get through the whole cave, and when we came out on the other side it was dark outside, and we could see the real night sky.

That night we hiked into Fiordland National Park along Lake Te Anau on the Kepler Track for a little over an hour to a campsite right on the lake.  We woke up early enough to catch sunrise over the lake which was very beautiful.  After warming up and hiking back out to the car, we headed to a different part of Fiordland and drove along an awesome dirt road that was built as a service road for power lines to the start of the Green Lake Track.  We knew little about the Track, except that it was supposed to be pretty awesome.

It definitely was awesome.  But it was also wet.  Ridiculously wet.  After a short stint through some rain forest we came to a clearing that looked nice and dry from a distance, but turned out to be a swampy, marshy, wetland.  There was no trail, just orange markers every 200 yards or so that guide your way.  I quickly gave up trying to keep my feet dry and just accepted the ankle deep plunges that came with every other step.  Sometimes if you were unlucky they turned into knee deep plunges, or if you’re Tim and Paul waist deep plunges! We hiked through two swampy clearings like this, then ascended through the rain forest to the last leg before reaching Green Lake.  Due to the fact that we got started too late in the afternoon, the sun set on us and we made the final push in the dark.  We made it though, and reached Green Lake Hut, which was very nice and luckily also very warm.

That’s pretty much it.  Hiked out the next morning, got lucky and avoided the rain, and drove back home to Dunedin.  If you’re wondering, Love Lost is a song by The Temper Trap that we listened to probably 25 times over the weekend.  Check it out.

Enjoy the Photos!

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Milford Track – Helicopter Evacuation!

Posted in Uncategorized on April 28, 2010 by alangdean

One of the first things I did when I got to New Zealand was reserve my booking for the Milford Track.  This “walk of walks” is the most famous track in NZ and is known worldwide for its stunning views and destination: Milford Sound.  I was really looking forward to this excursion and excited to get another Great Walk under my belt.

To reach the trailhead we had to take an hour long boat ride to the northern tip of Lake Te Anau where we were dropped off on a tiny dock on the misty shore.  Jurassic Park was the first thing to come to mind.  Because the transportation takes you a while to get started, the first days hike only takes about an hour.  The sun was peaking through the clouds and I was happy to have 3 more days of tramping ahead of me.  We were woken up early the next morning by the hut warden; he advised us to start hiking as soon as possible to beat the rainstorm that was coming our way.  So off we went, nice and early.  It was drizzling for our 6 hours of hiking, but not enough to dampen my spirits.  The valley looked awesome shrouded in mist, and there were waterfalls everywhere.  We made it to Mintaro Hut and settled in for the night.

And I guess we got too comfortable, because the rain was so heavy, DOC made us stay there the entire next day to wait out the storm.  Having to ration our food and find someway to fight boredom, I played a ton of card games and met the other people in the hut that we were tramping with.  Lots of cool people from all over the world – Ireland, UK, Israel, Poland, Australia, Japan… The rain didn’t let up once, and people were starting to get concerned that we wouldn’t be able to hike out the next day either.

Turned out they were right.  I woke up the next morning to our hut warden Scotty telling us the rain gauge had recorded 600.4 mm of rain in the past 24 hours.  Thats 2 feet of rain!  Far more rain than many cities over the world get all year!  The rainwaters were apparently causing heavy flooding and damaging the track, making it very dangerous for us to walk in either direction.  Solution:  Helicopter evacuation.  Yep.  It was awesome.  Incredibly talented helicopter pilots flew in and picked us up, 5 at a time, and flew us through the valley, in low visibility and pouring rain, back to the trailhead so we could get on a boat and get back to Te Anau.  This was my first time in a helicopter, and it was pretty epic.  To top things off, once we got back to town, we discovered that flooding had knocked out a bridge on the only highway out of town, and we had to spend another night there with no cell phone service, internet, or atms.  Pretty crazy.  I’m disappointed I didn’t get to complete the track, but all in all it was a pretty cool adventure and we all had a ton of fun.

Check out a video I shot of the helicopter ride at    http://vimeo.com/11282215

I also got interviewed on Radio NZ!  Listen to the MP3 below, or find the original link here at    http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/afternoons/20100427

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Abel Tasman Coastal Track

Posted in Uncategorized on April 16, 2010 by alangdean

So pretty much my main preference of destinations in NZ has been lakes and mountains, the two combined is even better.  But after Routeburn, we thought that heading to the coast on the northern part of the south island where it’s nice and warm would be most welcome.  Fastforward to Abel Tasman Coastal Track, located in NZs most visited national park.

We ditched our car in Marahau, booked our water taxi for when we finished the track, and headed out, this time wearing just shorts and t-shirts.  No rain gear = very nice.  I had built up a vision of tropical sunshine, beautiful beaches, and warm weather in my head, and I was hoping that I wouldn’t be disappointed.  Turned out what I had envisioned was pretty much spot on.  It was warm, sunny, and very beautiful.  The track is 51 km (32 miles)  and quite easy.  We pretty much walked along a beach, up over a ridge, back down to another beach, up into the forest, back down to another beach…

The awesome thing about Abel Tasman is the colors.  The water is nuts.  Very turquoise.  Then contrast that with golden orange sand, bright green forests, and you can’t help but geek out a little bit.  The park is advertised as providing postcard perfect views, and I would definitely agree.  Perhaps one of my favorite parts of the track were the tidal crossings.  At several points on the track, you have to cross through large bays that are extremely shallow, so shallow that the change from high to low tides actually fills up and then drains the entire bay.  You have to plan what time you leave camp to make the crossings at low tide.  While crossing, I felt suddenly transported into a desert; it was cool to go from the green forest and blue ocean to that.  Some high points:  Waking up and walking about 10 seconds straight into the ocean for a morning swim with Theresa.  Playing frisbee about 100 yards out in the ocean still standing (the beach was suuuuper shallow) catching crabs, warm weather warm weather warm weather, and of course Mitch absolutely freaking out at night when a gang of possum/stoat/marmot/creatures wouldn’t leave us alone at camp.  They were crawling in the trees above us and Mitch just couldn’t handle it – very entertaining.

Spending three days on the track was relaxing and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Combining Routeburn with Abel Tasman made for an adventurous and absolutely awesome mid-semester break!

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Routeburn Track

Posted in Uncategorized on April 13, 2010 by alangdean

For my second Great Walk adventure, I headed to the Routeburn Track.  Located at the northern end of Fiordland National Park and crossing into Mt. Aspiring National Park, it is a 32 km (20 Mile) tramp through waterfall saturated rain forests, rocky ridge-lines, and mountain enclosed valleys.  After the complete awesomness that was Kepler, I had pretty high expectations for Routeburn as well.

But the rain gods in this country are very active.  1 in every 3 days active.  Given we were spending three days on our tramp, it made sense to expect at least one day of rain, and we got it.  First day.  It rained.  Forever.  Tramping in the rain isn’t so bad, once you accept the fact that despite all the expensive rain gear you bought and are currently wearing, you are still going to get wet.  The thing about the rain is it transformed the trail into more of a stream bed like environment, and given the fact that any decent hiking boot in NZ costs a minimum of at least $300, I was hiking in my running shoes.  Light, netted, 0% water proof running shoes.  Not really that bad once you mentally get over it.

The plus side of all the rain – it made the waterfalls intense and frequent.  We must have passed a water fall at least every 3-5 minutes, no joke, including a massive one that after standing next to I got even more soaked from all the mist, if that was even possible.  It was cool being in such a misty environment; I am not exaggerating by saying that we were literally hiking in the clouds at times.  The views were pretty limited on the first day, considering all I could see was gray clouds below, in front of, and above me.  Setting up a tent in the pouring rain was lots of fun.  We survived it though, made it to Lake MacKenzie campground, and made some warm dinner and played some cards before sprinting from the shelter to our tents to pass out.  As we fell asleep to the sound of the rain I assured Theresa that there was no way God would let it rain on Easter; tomorrow would be sunny.  It had to be.

It was.  I crawled out of the spaceship tent to awesome sunshine and hardly any clouds.  We packed up all our wet stuff and set out on day 2.  Day 2 is always the best; we hiked up to the top of a ridgeline, then along the ridge for some time, before finding an intense alpine lake enclosed by cliffs and a huge waterfall.  It looked like something from a fairytale.  Super cool.  (Check out the panorama photos)  We descended down to Routeburn Flats campground, threw up the tents in the valley by a crystal clear river, played more cards as we slowly froze, checked out some serious stars, and finally gave in, calling it a night.

The last day was pretty easy, we took our time, played by the river, had a skipping stone contest, and hiked out.  Catching the bus back to Queenstown was great.  Civilization and easy transportation is always welcome after multiple days in the bush.  Overall Routeburn was pretty sweet.  It was fairly technical, the weather made it intense and challenging, and the views were amazing.  Good stuff.  Stay tuned for an update on Abel Tasmen, and cruise through the photos below for a peak into Routeburn.  🙂

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The Backlog

Posted in Uncategorized on March 30, 2010 by alangdean

So obviously I started this blog a bit late.  I’ve been here in Dunedin for over 5 weeks now, and I’ve been gone doing things every weekend except for the first weekend I got here.  I’m definitely living life in the fast lane, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

So here’s the cliff notes version.  Mt. Cook National Park: 8 of us crammed into Tim and Paul’s van, lovingly named Serena (by the Japanese).  We camped the first night in the valley below the mountains, then hiked up to the top of Mt. Olivia the next day.  Steepest hike I have ever done.  Hands down.  The person right ahead of you would literally appear to be an entire story above you.  We made it though, and the views were incredible (My camera batteries died, sad day).  We camped on the top of the mountain and watched the sun set over Mt. Cook, NZ’s highest mountain. The next day we hiked back down, then made camp along Lake Pukaki, a beautiful, turquoise, glacier lake below Mt. Cook, we all went swimming in it, it was awesome.  We slept out by the lake in just our sleeping bags that night, until a ridiculous unrelenting wind made us eventually run back to the tents for shelter.

Catlins:  The next weekend, the same 8 of us piled in the van again and drove down the Southern Scenic Route to the Catlins area (Southern tip of the S. Island).  It was a less intense weekend as far as the camping went, but we still saw some awesome things:  Slope point (Southern most point of the South Island), Paul got knocked off a rock in a tide pool by a MASSIVE wave, camped on a bluff overlooking the ocean with sea mist floating up to our camp, hiked to Mclean Falls and trail-blazed our way to the top of the waterfall, ran through the forest like we were on our flying creatures from Avatar (New Zealand rain forests are pretty much Pandora fyi), Cathedral Caves, (Awesome huge beach caves only accessible during low tide, and we found penguins in some of them!), camp again where some nicknames were coined (mine was Wrench?) and we played a game that made no sense involving a rugby ball, frisbee, and trampoline.  The last day we went to Nugget Point and Jack’s Blowhole.  The blowhole was pretty sweet, except for the fact that you couldn’t see it very well.  Picture a huge underwater river from the ocean leading inland, and then in the middle of nowhere there’s a huge hole and you can look down (way down) and see the water.  Finished up with lunch on the beach, some swimming in the ocean, and then back to Dunedin.

Kayaking Lake Manapouri:  Gray and I signed up through our universities recreation center to go on a kayaking trip to Lake Manapouri (Beautiful lake in Fiordland National Park) around the first week of school.  It was nice to go on a trip where I didn’t have to plan anything.  We went with 6 other people, 2 American girls and 4 Germans.  The Germans were great, super nice.  Jonas: You’re the bomb.  Turns out we actually signed up for some pretty intense kayaking, and the weather did not help our cause any.  It was stormy.  Super windy.  Like, Suuuuper windy.  We threw on some wet suits, launched our double kayaks and went for it anyway though.  Gray and I did some serious work in our kayak, to the point where the guide told us we weren’t aloud to lead anymore.  So we fell back and let the others go ahead, and what happened then?  We capsized.  Out of nowhere, no warning, just flipping.  The water wasn’t that cold and it gave the Germans a good reason to make fun of us (We had some serious American vs German competition going on here).  Unfortunately the elements got the best of us, so we turned off our course and went into a bay, hiked our kayaks through some bush, and kayaked some more to a beautiful beach to make camp for the night.  Gray and I took off into the woods and totally geeked out about Lord of the Rings (End of the first movie:  Borimir tries to steal the ring from Frodo – Frodo decides to go on alone – The orcs take Merry and Pippin – Sam almost drowns – Aragorn kills lots of orcs – etc. All that was filmed on Lake Manapouri!)

Queenstown:  Gray wanted to go to Queenstown for his week of 21st birthday celebrations.  So we hopped on a bus (Actually we sprinted through Dunedin with our backpacking packs on to just barely catch in time as it was starting to drive away….. yeah….) but we made it, and after a really slow bus ride we arrived in Queenstown, the adventure capitol of the world!  I loved this city – outdoor sports stores everywhere, snowboarding and surf and bike stores everywhere, it was heaven.  The city is small, and right on Lake Wakatipu, and is NZ’s #1 tourist destination.  You can do anything here – skydiving, bungy jumping, jet boating, parasailing, hanggliding, heli-mountain biking (Now on my bucket list for sure!), heli-skiing, pretty much any adrenaline activity.  Gray and I decided to go bungy jumping.  There’s three different sites you can bungy at, and we chose to jump from the Kawarau Bridge – apparently it is the world’s first bungy.  It was pretty scary, especially when you inch out on the ledge and put your toes over, looking straight down (In my case I was staring down at a bright blue/green river)  Then before you know the guy is counting down “3…2…1…Bungy!”  And you just jump.  Coolest feeling ever.  To rip off a slogan I heard in Queenstown, gravity is a toy, play with it.

That catches me up to this past weekend, when we hiked the Kepler Track.  See below.  I hope you like the photos!

Kepler Track

Posted in Uncategorized on March 30, 2010 by alangdean

So this past weekend Gray, Dylan, Theresa, Mackenzie, and I left Dunedin at 6 in the morning, drove to Te Anau, and set off on the Kepler Track.  Kepler is one of 6 Great Walks on the south island, and is supposed to be one of the harder tramps.  We walked a total of 50.6 km (31.4 Miles) over the next three days, and we did it in impressive time I must say.  The track is amazing, starting along the bank of Lake Te Anau, branching off into a rainforest, switchbacking up past tree line to the top of the mountain ridges.  We spent the first night in Luxmore Hut, and woke up to beautiful weather (we were anticipating nothing but rain the whole weekend; the sun was much better) and stunning views as the layers upon layers of clouds were awesome.  Click on the panorama below to view full size.

The view we woke up to

We then spent the entire second day traversing along the ridge line of mountains, looking out over Fiordland National Park.  Dylan and Mackenzie charged it, but Gray, Theresa, and I kept getting distracted by all the awesomeness around us and stopped to film and photograph everything, so we fell behind a bit.  We made it to the end of the cool stuff up on top of the mountains and had to make our way back down into the rainforest and into the valley to make camp for the night.  Gray and I got to use our new stoves which work super well and Gray taught us how to make fire-balls in our hands with a lighter.  I also learned which brand of hot chocolate NOT to buy, as it took an entire third of the package just to get the sensation of chocolate.  We were pretty tired so everyone passed out pretty quickly.

Except we didn’t because it got cold.  Super cold.  I’m pretty sure Gray was the only one who was able to fall asleep because of his fancy multi-layered sleeping bag.  We had to start hiking again at 8 in the morning, because we had 8 hours of tramping ahead of us and had to make the 5pm bus back to our car.  Theresa and Mackenzie led our hiking machine for most of the day, and because of their pace we did some serious work, hiking through more rainforest and along Lake Manapouri, making it to the end of the track at Rainbow Reach in only 6 hours, a whole hour early before the 3pm bus we were able to catch instead.  Legit.

Overall, awesome weekend with awesome people.  Theresa and I decided that life is much better on top of mountains, Dylan learned how to play hearts, Gray felt the wrath of the Queen of Spades, Mackenzie can’t light a lighter if she holds it sideways, I coined a new tramping term – The Slinky (Ask about it), Theresa became addicted to her spork, peanut butter, and honey, we all experimented a bit with macro photography, found a purple mushroom, and saw truly stunning landscapes.  I can’t wait for this Friday when we leave for mid-semester break.  On the agenda are two more Great Walks – Routeburn, a road trip up the West Coast, and then 4 days on the beautiful beaches of the Abel Tasman Track.

Check out the photos!

Hope you enjoy them!