Wednesday, May 4, 2011

So we've been out of touch for a while, having got ourselves a cushy grape-picking job in Cromwell. We made our way to this nondescript little town via Dunedin, Invercargill, and Bluff, the more-or-less southern point of the South island.

The last few weeks with the vineyard crew in Cromwell and Gibbston Valley have been some of the best of the whole year. We've been working in the most picturesque locations, staying for free on the vineyards, and working with the best bunch of nutcases we could have hoped for.

Monday, March 14, 2011


Ok, it's bee a while since the last post, seeing as the only place in the South Island we could easily get online got flat before we got the chance. Excuses excuses. So here's a quick run-through.


Despite being home to less than a third as many people as Auckland, Wellington is rightfully New Zealand's capital city. Pinned between the sea and the mountains, the city is concentrated into a very small space, houses built on steep hillsides as though squeezed up and out by the energy of the city centre. It is easily the most vibrant and culturally stuffed city we have visited, and is also surprisingly beautiful - buildings from any time in the last hundred years coexist with startling grace.

It was time to sponge off my family for a change, and Auntie Julia and Uncle Kevin were very generous, lending us a spare room for a week or so, and it was great to catch up with the cousins again after so long.


We spent a week in Kaikoura - camping on a virtually empty beach, walking in the day and burning driftwood by night. The top of mount Fyffe, and the ridge approaching it were so windy we thought we might just float away if we stood up straight. On Penny's birthday we went fishing off a small wharf and I caught a barracouta, or barracuda, or a WOLF WITH FINS, I don't know. It was bigger than my leg, and thankfully, got away just before I got it on the wharf. I have no idea what I would have done with it. Much less stressful seafood was had at the local crayfish hut, Nin's Bin, which does the best seafood in the world, in the best location.


We found work in Waipara, north of Christchurch in an unbelievably scenic vineyard, and stayed at the coolest little campsite - Waipara Sleepers, which is full of old railway carriages converted to cabins. There was a family of cats living under the TV carriage, and Penny spent almost all her time covered in kittens.

The Earthquake

I suppose we were pretty lucky to be out of Christchurch for the quake - we had been in the city centre only 2 days earlier, celebrating my birthday. As it was, we certainly felt the shake in the vineyard, rocking the smoko cabin from side to side as we giggled like we were on a fairground ride. We felt pretty bad about that when we found out the extent of the damage in Christchurch.

Arthur's Pass

Most recently we spent a week in the mountain village and walker's paradise of Arthur's Pass, and we left about half a pint of blood each still buzzing about inside about a million sandflies. Despite the bloodsuckers, there are some amazing walks in Arthur's pass, and we've tried to capture the views on camera. The second big walk, Mount Aicken was amazing, in that we saw, literally, no-one - from the moment we hit the trail in the morning until we left the trail in the evening. From the magical beech forest of the lower slopes, to the cliffs and scree of the later ascent, to the enourmous jagged ridge of the summits with views in every direction and egg sandwiches, this was a perfect walk.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tongariro Crossing

Yesterday, we walked what has been called the best day walk in New Zealand, the Tongariro Crossing.

Initially, we were fairly disappointed, as, after getting up at 4:30, the first few hours of the walk were a low-visibility trudge through low cloud. Our intention had been to motor through the early ascent and reach the South Crater before 9:15, which would give us enough time to attempt Mount Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings films), and still make the bus back to Taupo. Unfortunately, the cloud was far too thick to think about the very difficult climb, and we reluctantly turned our backs on the (active) volcanoe, and began the crossing of the vast and ghostly South Crater from the foot of Ngauruhoe. at about 9:30, the wind suddenly shredded the clouds from the Tongariro Crossing, and for the first time we got a look at the place. The view of and across the South Crater is absolutely stunning, as is the view from the top of Mount Tongariro, a smaller diversion than Ngauruhoe that we consoled ourselves with; not to mention the fact the fact that the view from the top of Ngauruhoe couldn't be as good as that from Tongariro, because on top of Ngauruhoe is the only place you can't see Ngauruhoe. It dominates the landscape utterly, impressive given the surreal and hellish scenery that surrounds it.
Maybe next time. Still, with its unbelievable alien landscapes, The Tongariro Crossing is by far the best New Zealand walk we have done so far.

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Bill and Jane, Penny's lovely aunt and uncle, put us up for the night in Whangerei, and we got to eat some of Jane's delicious free-range potatoes and home-grown eggs.

Next stop, the Coromandel, was serious walking time, with two big day walks - the Pinnacles, a jagged spire of a mountain with dramatic views across the Coromandel penisula, and better yet, the Orange Peel Corner walk. This walk took us up miles of native sub-tropical rainforested mountain, over ground that undulated and rolled, knotting the very slim path around gigantic tree stumps, boulders, mossy outcrops and up near-vertical staiways made of roots. Occasionally we were reminded of the altitude when we peered through a curtain of ferns and creepers at empty space. The whole time, we were pelted with a heavy rain or wrapped up in cloud, which would have ruined the views of a mountain walk, but, as we generally couldn't see more than 25 feet through the forest anyway, only added to the great atmosphere of the place. We never saw a soul on the entire walk.

We stopped in Rotorua for a few days of R&R&luging, before heading for Taupo, and the Tongariro national park.
Anyway, after seeing the very end of New Zealand, we started our long journey South. We are making a beeline for the other end of the Long White Cloud, probably turning around at Fiordland. There is some serious catching up to do now, as the last entry only covered about half of what we'd done, and there's more that needs attention been done since.
 In Manganui by Doubtless Bay we sampled the "world famous" fish and chips of the Mangonui Fish shop for lunch, and found a place to stay in the Bay of Islands. We spent some lazy days here kayaking and catching the ferry to the ex-whaling town and NZ capital, Russell. On our way away, we relieved ourselves at the inappropriately attractive Hundertwasser toilets in Kawakawa.
 Our next stop, Opononi, is a tiny communityin the Hokianga Harbour, which we chose simply for its proximity to the giant kauri forest of Waipoua, but it is one of our fondest remembered stays. It looks out over giant sand dunes on the northern shore, and the sun sets, depending on where you stand on the beach, either over these dunes or into the mouth of the harbour.It also just so happened that Fat Freddy's Drop were playing in the grounds of the hotel next door, providing us with the perfect soundtrack to the evening.
 We hit the kauris of Waipoua the next day, ancient beings measuring hundreds of cubic meters in volume, which have stood, in some cases, for thousands of years. The two giants that we visited could hardly have been more different. Te Matua Ngahere, the Father of the Forest, is a massive shattered column of wood, fatter even than  the biggest of the remaining kauri. Its crown is incongruously small, made up of a few small boughs sticking out of the gigantic trunk, hung about with a forest of smaller plants. The largest of the kauri, Tane Mahuta, is younger than its famous neighbour, but stands far taller, and its shape is by far grander, rising nearly 60 feet without tapering at all from its before exploding into a jagged canopy. it is, all the way up the trunk, 45 feet around. It's bloody huge. Despite the majesty and power of the giants, my favourite memory of the Waipoua forest is the Cathedral Grove, populated by over a dozen large kauri, slimmer than the giants, but still very tall, which suddenly lift the forest canopy like enormous wooden pillars, creating a vast open space. Stumbling into this glade from the closeness of the bush is a quiet and beautiful experience. We have tried to take some pictures of the forest, but they don't do it any justice; the most stunning views from inside the forest exist right across your peripheral vision, wrapping completely around you.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Empires of dust and steel, A new beginning

It's been a little hectic, this last fortnight.
For the last few months, we have been trying to support ourselves in New Zealand, working hard and spending very little. Not that this hasn't been a rich seam of experiences - working through agencies, I found myself in some extraordinary jobs in the industrial sector, from stacking frozen fish to operating 80-ton steel presses and guillotines unsupervised. One of my favourites was the night shift in a fertillizer plant, which was like being inside the belly of mechanical fish. The great conveyor belt that was fed orange dust by a constant stream of trucks runs like a cross-section of the fish's gullet, just under the apex of the gigantic a-frame shed. Perched on the rickety gangways that accompany it, you can peer down over dust dunes that stretch away in all directions. Nothing but the belt in that shed exists without a thick accumulation of dust, caked on tough. the motors and fans that power arcane machines, the switches, plugs, bulbs and handrails all gather dust faster than the traffic of human hands can clear them. The belt is festooned with walkways, which here and there knot themselves into a tangle of grey ladders, stairs, cables and cages. At the very end, a door in the wall accesses a fire escape, where I, my workmate, and some guy sat for the last hour of the shift, looking out over Mount Maunganui.
Later, I worked in a palm kernel shed, which was very much like being in the Fire Temple from the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, right down to the eerie moans and whistles of machinery. Here, overtired at the end of a 13 hour shift, I closed the sprung latch of a dump truck incorrectly, and it flew open and hit me in the face and flicking me off my feet, leaving me very dizzy and bleedy. It spread my nose out a bit, but it turned out I was lucky, as I could easily have lost a few teeth or even an eye.
I finally got a job as a stevedore at Mount Maunganui wharf, which was probably the best job I've ever had. Dangerous as hell, what with the heights, the manhandling 35 tonne containers, and keeping an eye on the spreader, which is always creeping up on you to ruin your day, but it was certainly dramatic.

Anyway, that's not why we're here. We came here to walk, and to be in the outdoors, and on New Years day, we just said bollocks to it, and we bolted for Cape Reinga, to kick things off properly.
We stayed a night at the Spirits Bay Department of Conservation (DOC) campsite, which is a (very) remote and basic, but absolutely stunning location, sandwiched between the sweeping ridge which makes up the eastern end of Spirits Bay, and gorgeous bush to the west. The atmosphere is one of a more relaxed and tidy festival, and the campsite manager offered to watch our van for free while we walked. On the 2nd of January we hiked out with our packs full of tinned food and camping gear, but no gas for the stove, and no cutlery to eat our (cold) beans with. The hike along Spirits Bay is draining but worth it - the beach is a pure white crescent stripe, dividing the very blue sea and the sweeping dunes. I got nipped by a crab very hard and it hurt and my little toe was bleeding a bit. After a hottest-part-of-the-day uphill and ridge leg, we camped at Tapotupotu bay, and decided to turn back, having no way to afford the pricy transport from Cape Reinga to Spirits Bay, walking back via an alternative route through the dunes.