Marlborough weekend

Last weekend was a long weekend here (Labor Day), so we resolved to go out hiking. But then everywhere on the south island showed 3 days of cold rainy westerlies….so we made for the one spot with the reputation of dry sun. Blenheim, in the Marlborough wine region 5 hours north of Christchurch. We chose a hiking spot on the western side of the mountains, hoping that the rain would be spent by the time it reached us. We definitely fared better than the west coast and probably better than the majority of the mountains, though we weren’t exactly dry. Here on the top of Mt Richmond (google map link) we got glimpses of the sunny valley below through the blowing clouds that we could see forming just west of us as the mountains pushed up the air.

Friday night we stayed at a hostel (called a “backpacker” here), and it was seriously the nicest hostel I’ve ever stayed in. No dingy kitchens or mouldering sofas here! It was nicer than the house we’re renting in Halswell, and we figured we could probably get a comparable long-term rate to stay there for a few months….but it would be a heck of a commute for Jeremiah. It’s set smack dab in the middle of the Marlborough wine region, with acres and acres (ok, hectares and hectares) of precision-planted vines and tidy trellis posts surrounding the town. AND the proprietors were friendly and genuinely seemed to like hosting guests. We already booked another stay in early December.

Watson’s Way backpackers had a huge old jasmine plant at the door. I have a silly girlish love of jasmine, with its delicate spiraled buds and it’s wonderful fragrance. For a year or two I had a jasmine plant shaped like a ring on my windowsill back in Schuylerville, I must have been about 15. At night I’d peer at my reflection in the dark window, wreathed in white flowers, like looking into a pond in a Tolkien poem. A whiff of it still takes me back to those days. Anyway, jasmine doesn’t survive outside at home but it sure does here.

Saturday morning we drove something like 30 K out of town through logging country to where the dirt road crossed a river, and decided not to test our little red VW by driving through like the 4×4’s do. Here we are, swatting sandflies (like black flies) and ready to go.

Those who don’t drive through the river must wade through the icy water. Ooh, aahh! At least it was only knee deep. There are plenty of tracks here that require wading through waist or chest deep water several times a day, and apparently Kiwis just walk through, boots, clothes and all. We pansy American’s aren’t too keen on that.

A river and a few miles of hilly logging road behind us, here we are finally at the trail head where the native forest starts. You step from man-made pinyon pine forest covering impossibly steep slopes (they log with cables) into native dense greenery, with mosses and lichens lighting up the trunks and forest floor.

The nice thing about a ridge trail is no more river crossings. It was steep, but supplemented with frequent views, we made it.

Mama carries baby, Sherpa Daddy carries most of the rest of the weight–Brilliant! The trail winds through mossy woods dripping with lichens.


Here’s our hut, a six-bunker but we were the only ones to stay there these two nights. You can see Mt Richmond above the goat-grazed clearing. We glimpsed a couple goats, they looked pretty good to eat….. Actually, they’re just domestic goats that once upon a time got out and are now wild. Jeremiah spent a bit of time thinking about how he’d get a heavy goat carcass out of the woods, but most of the feasible plans involve a 4×4 to drive at least to the trailhead. As Patrick McManus says, the best 4×4 is the one that belongs to your friend….

One time Emily, my college friend from Oregon, sent me a box of west coast greenery that had fallen from the tree tops during a storm. It was still fresh and moist when we opened it 3000 miles later in Schuylerville, NY. It’s amazing that the Marlborough plains below get very little rainfall, but just above in the cloud-catching mountains the greenery is like west coast USA.

After 3 days in the woods the lichens didn’t exactly grow on Jeremiah’s beard, but they did stick to it!

I wish I remembered by plant reproductive cycles better from Botany, but I do remember that lichens are a joint team between a fungus (grips the rock/trunk/growing surface and picks up minerals) and an algae (photosynthesizes). I’m guessing that these mini mushroom structures are making fungus spores. They smother every conceivable surface in this forest.

I guess given the dampness of the woods it should be no surprise that dry firewood was hard to come by. The hut has a tiny wood stove for heating, but fallen branches in the woods seem to be either still green or already rotting wet. But Jeremiah is nothing if not persistent, and with Milo’s help and a lot of smoke (mostly outside the hut) he got the fire going.

Lichens, mosses, miniature ferns….they all compete for a toehold on this tree trunk. No wonder dry firewood is so hard to come by!

Another lush miniature trunk greenery picture, because I can’t resist. In my next life I’m going to be a dryad clothed in this stuff, just residing in a little warmer climate.

Day 2 we hiked up Mt Richmond, it’s about like an Adirondack high peak in size (~1,700 meters) but the rock it’s made from is not like the hard Adirondack granite. It’s more brittle, more like the mountains in Argentina by Bariloche or the shaley rock at Glacier National Park in Montana. We climbed up loose scree that made us worry about coming down, but it didn’t turn out to be a problem.

There’s a baby in that pack, really! It’s not often that you worry about wind upsetting your balance, but we had to be careful of that up here.

The wind was FIERCE up on the mountain top. We swath Milo in multiple sweatshirts, his sleeping bag, and the wind-proof pack cover, which he tolerates best when he’s sleeping. He needs the “chewy concession” to tolerate this treatment when he’s awake. Here Jeremiah still has his hat…it’s moments before he stood up and the wind whisked it off miles down into the valley.

At the mountain top someone had built a stone windbreak where we huddled, ate lunch, and occasionally peeked out at the view when it appeared through the blowing clouds. Sometimes the clouds would envelop the peak and we’d be in a strange smothering mist.

Down we went, scuttling over the loose rocks, pack cover flapping. There seems to be no solid top to the mountain, which must make measuring its height a challenge.

“Where’s Daddy?” We played a little hide-and-seek in the cabin in the evening. Milo doesn’t seem to get spacial relations quite yet. He looked for Daddy in the backpack and under the benches before he found him tucked behind the mattresses.

Imagination games are starting. Milo filled a mug with rocks and asked me to blow on them because they were hot. Then he packed my boots with the rocks.

Toasty little caterpillar in his cocoon! We woke up to spitting snow for our walk down the mountain, but back in Marlborough valley it was sunny and comparatively warm. We made one quick winery visit before our drive home, we’ll have to explore more of them on the next visit.

2 thoughts on “Marlborough weekend

  1. What a great report. I was thinking of you this weekend, not knowing where you were, but guessing you were outdoors. Thanks for the vicarious trip. You all look great! The picture of Jeremiah before the hat blew away is a good one.

  2. You three continue to find beauty throughout your new country. Beautiful sights-both the grandeur and the closeups. I must admit, I came close to scurrying behind my chair when the picture of Milo looking out over the stone windbreak came up! Thanks for yet another blog adventure.

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