Whanganui River Journey

The last two Christmases we did bike trips.  They were good, but I felt it was time for an easier (less kid whinge) activity.  I have good memories of canoe trips with my grandparents on Adirondack lakes, and I don’t remember putting out much effort as a youngster….my infinitely patient grandfather taught me to paddle, but I was doing well if my whirlpools reached to the stern of the boat.  And we spent significant time just watching the water trails we made as we dipped our fingers over the side of the laden canoe.    

The Whanganui River Journey is classed as a “Great walk.”  It’s a 5 day, 145 km route down part of the Whanganui River, one of 9 iconic journeys promoted and maintained by the NZ Department of Conservation.  We figured a silver lining to Covid is a summer with limited tourists, a good time to visit the relatively “crowded” north island.

We rented a canoe and Jeremiah paddled his sea kayak.  After a rudimentary kiwi-style safety briefing we shoved our gear into six barrels, two dry bags and a cooler, and launched from Taumarunui. 

I was at the helm of the canoe with the two kids in front, while Jeremiah had command of his sea kayak. Thank goodness for the little seat inserted into the middle of the canoe, allowing each child their separate domain….there was enough bickering about whose turn it was to paddle on the left and whose paddling was encroaching into the other one’s territory without sharing a seat!

“If you don’t tip within the first hour, you won’t tip until the last day,” was the reassuring outlook from the canoe hire guy.  The Whanganui has a couple rapids approaching grade 2 white water, mostly on the first and 5th days.  While I’m happy to paddle that in a kayak, I’ve never paddled a canoe in any rapids.  Odds are that one in three canoes takes to the drink during the trip, and my aim was to be squarely in the dry 2/3rds of that statistic.  I was comforted by the fact that the NZ Greatwalks are suitable for novices; with a reasonable level of fitness I didn’t expect anything untoward.   

The first couple rapids had me nervous, but they were straight-forward and I was able to direct the canoe where I wanted to go (basically a straight point and shoot, no fancy manoeuvres required).  We splashed through with only a few gallons of water sloshing inside from waves, and my confidence increased. Unfortunately no photos, cameras and rapid navigation don’t mesh!

First day lunch stop. Milo thinks it’s not cool to smile in photos, he actually enjoyed the trip but you wouldn’t know it from the photographic record.

We pulled into our first tent site by mid afternoon, and managed to set up camp before the rain started.  It rained all afternoon and all night, a steady gentle rain. 

I discovered that our 15 year old Marmot isn’t as waterproof as she used to be, and we were very thankful for the cooking shelter.
We’d already opened the christmas presents at home before we left, and we decided to open stockings a couple days early too…I think we were all in need of some CANDY to weather the rain.

Next morning we dressed the kids in their wetsuits, wrung out the tents, and anxiously checked the river level.  It had only gone up about six inches from the night before, and maybe another inch while we packed, but the water had gone from tannin-tea brown to milky capucchino.  Milo surveyed the turbulent flow.  “No logs or dead animals floating along, so it’s ok to paddle,” he stated, quoting our safety briefing.  He’s a funny combination of worry-wort and bravado, that boy; he likes precision in the rules, and as long as they aren’t his parents’ rules, he follows them.  We launched and sped along amid rain squalls and gorge sides cloaked with fern trees and waterfalls.  Some time after noon the sun peaked out and the outlook improved. 

We whizzed past this totally impressive side gusher pouring into the river, and Jeremiah paused to watch two bewildered ducklings ride the waterfall down to the main river.

“Whakahoro campsite, 400 meters upstream.”  The sign pointed up a chocolatey brown torrent lined with treacherous willows.  I raised my eyebrows at Jeremiah.  “I can’t get up that with just the kids in front.  There must be a trail up from the main river somewhere.”  We scoured the bank—thick bush and no trail.  We tied up the kayak and paddle all together in the canoe.  Zigzagging up the current with willow branches clawing at the edges felt mighty precarious, and despite our best efforts we had to pause in a boily eddy.  “I certainly didn’t expect anything this sketchy in a Great Walk,” I panted.  Quite possibly our sense of river hazards has been heightened by our whitewater kayaking experience, especially my own recent encounter with a side-stream willow.  A Danish couple had clawed their way to the submerged landing just ahead of us, and they generously came back to offer help with their bow rope towing from land, so we made it eventually.  Hauling our barrels up the slippery bank, we saw a sign pointing another 300 meters uphill to the campsite.  “Whakahoro” sounds like a swear word (it’s pronounced “faka-whore-o), and I’d certainly suggest giving it a miss in favour of a friendlier riverside site.  On the plus side, we met Becs from Taupo at this campsite, and she very generously carried a pair of our barrels up to the camp each night for the remainder of the trip. 

The side creek had gone down about 30 cm overnight but the landing is still submerged. With that drop went the majority of the water’s energy. I wish I had gotten a photo the previous afternoon!
There were a few showers that night, but the real rain held off. We emerged Christmas morning reasonably dry.
He’s been rocking his blue sleeping bag suit.
Paddling Christmas morning was the best—sunny weather, with the high river speeding us along with little effort.  We counted 176 waterfalls and sang old camps songs, and cruised into John Gould hut in good time to have a swim before cooking dinner.
John Gould Hut is very welcoming with the sunny deck and picnic tables.
Not as cold as south island rivers!
Couscous and ham for Christmas dinner

Next day we were staying in the hut at Te Keiki, where there’s a marae.  Reading the informational panel at John Gould hut, we learned that we’d need to be prepared for a traditional maori greeting—the man of the group would need to say what mountain and river we’re from, along with the necessary family introductions and thank you’s.  The woman of the group would need to sing a song, preferably a folk song from your country of origin.  I spent the paddling day practicing Yankee Doodle, which seemed a bit irreverent but was a favorite with the kids.  Alison Krauss’ “When I went down to the river to pray” seemed fitting, this being a river journey and all, but I doubted I could pull that off tunefully.  I settled on the Amish song “Tis a gift to be simple.”  In the end I was spared.  Marilynn, the hostess/caretaker of the marae, suggested that the whole group sing one song together.  The one kiwi family among the group was more familiar with the requirements of the occasion, and chose a maori song that the kids learn in school. 

Marilynn’s husband is the DOC officer in charge of the hut, and Marilynn is the person in her iwi (tribe) who has taken on caretaker job for the marae, which includes welcoming visitors each day.  Her dad did this role before her. 

The land on which the DOC hut sits is a contested bit of ground; DOC built it without the permission of the maori group who historically controlled the land around the Whanganui River, so the iwi staged a live-in protest where they occupied the hut until a suitable arrangement was reached. Thankfully the arrangement allows for regular people to use the hut. I didn’t realize upon booking that the maori consider that to be their land which they graciously share.

Naomi asked Marilynn about the “taniwhas” on the pole (a taniwha is a monster), and Marilynn patiently explained that the carvings are of ancestors, not monsters. The kids appreciated the anatomically correct male figures.
Marilynn also generously spent some time showing the kids the craft of flax weaving.

In this delicate balancing act for control, Marilynn was most gracious, explaining our roles in the ceremonial greeting and making many allowances for us being from a different culture.  Apparently there is no other marae that allows their visitors to speak, she told us proudly.  Though they still hold the tradition that a woman must not speak and must enter behind the men.  “That’s not very 21st century,” whispered the Danish woman.  I heartily agreed; of all the traditions to bend, treating woman as second class citizens seems to be a logical starting point. 

We started our last day’s paddle expecting the river gradient to increase; this last day had four named rapids to negotiate, as well as a few numbered ones between.  We put the kids in wetsuits and tied every loose bit of gear to the boat.  But the first long stretch was flat, with a wicked headwind, and I worked hard for every meter travelled, aware that our shuttle was booked for 1:30.  We passed the first described rapid in puzzlement—where was the rock mid-stream that we were meant to go left of?  We slowly realized that the water must still be high enough that the challenging waves were “washed out,” the term whitewater paddlers use to mean the features are so far under water that they aren’t tough to negotiate.  The real challenge was the headwind. 

We made our shuttle time, but another family were waiting for didn’t turn up on time.  The canoe hire guy checked his clipboard.  “Powell, that’s the group with two kids in front and the mom in back who’s a really good paddler, right?”  I hesitated; we were waiting for a family with three kids and two adults; they had two canoes, but I wasn’t sure how their kids were arranged.  Jeremiah chimed in; “No, you’re thinking about us.  The family we’re waiting for has three kids.”  Realization dawned sweetly.  That “really good paddler” he was referring to was me.  I let the accolade go to my head; I figured my battered self esteem needs all the help it can get these days. 

Eventually the canoe hire guy organized a local jet boat to launch in search of the other family, but much to our relief they rounded the bend just before the boat hit the water. 

The Danish couple are in the third row (the tall ones!), Becs is in purple and Andrew is peeking out in back. Hurray, we all made it through that last day of headwind!

Looking back on the trip, one of the major enjoyments was the little cohort of people who we spent the evenings with at the huts.  Since Christmas morning the personalities had been the same, and the comradery grew day by day.  There was the Christchurch family Milo called The Freckles, who kept strictly to themselves the first day but by day three had thawed sufficiently to be cordial.  There was a friendly hippie German couple living in Golden Bay, as well as generous Becs and her paddling friend Andrew (not partners, she carefully clarified), who had spent two years teaching English in Armenia, and had interesting things to say about a wide range of topics.  Then there was the nice aforementioned Danish couple, who had interesting things to share about Scandinavia. I find this with all the Great Walks that I’ve done, oddly enough.  We plan the trip to get out into the wilderness, but the most memorable part is the people we meet along the way. 

Back in Taumarunui we treated ourselves to a hotel room, soapy showers, and a nice Indian restaurant.  Stage one of the family trip had been a success. 

Lock-down art

In New Zealand, post Covid-19, our lives have largely returned to normal, though the economic toll will continue to be felt.  I was putting a couple finishing touches on a bit of collage I started two months ago while talking to my sisters in the US today, and I was reminded of how deep in the thick of things they still are.  

It seems a long time ago that I was feeling blue about being nonessential in the workforce. It is good to get out of the proverbial bubble and imagine other people’s lives.
We had friends who had young kids home from school but who were expected to still work normal hours from home, while full time parenting; they had it a lot harder than me.

SCWBI put out an illustrator’s prompt during the lock down– “Cooped up.” I decided to make a scene of Milo and Naomi playing “floor’s lava” one afternoon. We don’t have a dog, but I added one just for an extra dose of chaos.

And here’s a “Half-ass” to round out how we felt about our ability to parent while simultaneously working, keeping the house, managing kids’ on-line learning, do some exercise, and moderate the alcohol consumption.

 

Kids at Castle Hill

Castle hill is one of those places we seem to visit again and again.  Only a bit over and hour from Christchurch, it's a giant child's playground and easily accessible from the main road.  These photos are from the weekend Jeremiah was hunting, and I took the kids to met our friends the Summerfields for a play day among the rocks.

Castle Hill is one of those places we seem to visit again and again. Only a bit over and hour from Christchurch, it’s a giant child’s playground and easily accessible from the main road. These photos are from the weekend Jeremiah was hunting, and I took the kids to met our friends the Summerfields for a play day among the rocks.

"I can squeeze in there....as long as you go first, Mom."

“I can squeeze in there….as long as you go first, Mom.”

 Naomi was delighted to climb and crawl her way thorough this little tunnel cave. Milo's pretty self-sufficient on the rocks, but Naomi is still a hazard, unconcerned about  running full tilt down a steep rock slope, unhampered by Mommy's visions of little bodies pitching head first down slopes, shedding teeth on the rocks.

Naomi was delighted to climb and crawl her way thorough this little tunnel cave. Milo’s pretty self-sufficient on the rocks, but Naomi is still a hazard, unconcerned about running full tilt down a steep rock slope, uninhibited by Mommy’s visions of little bodies pitching head first down slopes, shedding teeth on the rocks.

There's a natural slide washed into this rock, unfortunately not smooth enough to get up any speed.  The kids spent a lot of time finding ice chunks in rock puddles and doing what kids do with ice--cradling it lovingly if you're a Summerfield girl, smashing it to smithereens if you are Milo.  He has become quite adept at getting a rise from the girls, and the advice my own father gave me in such situations ("don't squawk, it's exactly what he wants") is just as incomprehensible for them as it was for me.

There’s a natural slide washed into this rock, unfortunately not smooth enough to get up any speed. The kids spent a lot of time finding ice chunks in rock puddles and doing what kids do with ice–cradling it lovingly if you’re a Summerfield girl, smashing it to smithereens if you are Milo. He has become quite adept at getting a rise from the girls, and the advice my own father gave me in such situations (“don’t squawk, it’s exactly what he wants”) is just as incomprehensible for them as it was for me.

The two youngest Summerfields, Amelie and Ella.

The two youngest Summerfields, Amelie and Ella.

Look there, Naomi could be Ian's forth little girl.

Look there, Naomi could be Ian’s forth little girl.  There were a ton of people out that day, from rock climbers to tourists to families like us.  If you come visit us, we’ll take you to Castle Hill too.

People often ask, “Why do you do it?”

Molly informed me that I have not been hunting in a long time and I should go out for a weekend… Well, not sure if she was trying to get rid of me or be nice, but I took the bait and planned an overnight trip to the mountains.  A few of my hunting mates just got back from a week-long trip, so they were taking the weekend to rest at home. That meant a solo trip in the mountains was on in store, i.e. no help from someone to carry the uber heavy load back to the car.  And no splitting the booty….

Big Game Hunting New Zealand is starting a TV series and put together this promo.  They put the Ethos of the Hunter so eloquently that I borrowed snippets for this post, (including the title) rendered in red.

“People often ask, “Why do you do it?”

a muddy mess of a 4wd, it was frozone on the way in. only had it ballancing on 3 tires once.

The access to my target mountain range can be shortened by 2 miles with a 4wd.  As the sign says, it’s only 4wd’s beyond this point.  I need to get mud tires or should have put my snow chains on, because it was a muddy mess of a drive.  It was frozen on the way in, but on the way out the top layer had thawed in the sun.  I only had it balancing on 3 tires once.

“It’s about experiencing the wild mountains”

the majority of the 4wd route in was easy farm track.

The majority of the 4wd route was easy farm track.  The highest peak in the foreground is where I was headed.

some access points to the mountains have old 4wd tracks that are now closed to vehicles but a Mt. Bike makes short work of the distance.

Some access points to the mountains have old 4wd tracks that are now closed to vehicles, but a mountain bike makes short work of the distance.

an old muster's hut from the days that these hills were run with sheep. the land has been turned over to DOC and for the publics use.

The hut where I stayed is an old muster’s hut from the days that these hills were run with sheep. The land has been turned over to DOC for the public’s use, and a stream babbles along near the front door.  The classic old hut smells of musty wood and dead fire great those lodging within.

“It’s about the sights, sounds and smells”

a view from the hut to the mt. I was headed up to find some Alpine creatures.

Here is a view from the hut to the mountain where I was headed to find some alpine creatures.  I drew a line up the ridge that I was climbing.  The ridge to the right held some chamois last year,  www.giveitaburl.com/2014/06/03/frosty-boots-in-chamois-territory/

 “It’s a feeling; a feeling only hunters know”

Climbing up the mountain, I ran into this big Bull Tahr. Wish I had my bow with me, I snuck in so close, could have stuck him with an arrow.

Success.  Climbing up the mountain, I ran into this big bull tahr.  Wish I had my bow with me.  I snuck in so close, I could have stuck him with an arrow.

Tahr is the only animal other than a Lion with a long mane.

Tahr is the only rug I’ll ever have with a mane.  Later in winter males’ manes grow twice as long as this.

“It’s about the wild things that people who don’t hunt never knew existed.”

close up for those wondering what a tahr looks like.

A close up, for those wondering what a tahr looks like.

a selfie with the phone as the weather starts to pack itself.

A selfie with the phone as the weather becomes “a bit average,” as they say.

 “It’s about surviving mother nature and being able to withstand everything she throws at you.”

as soon as I had shot the Tahr,the weather packed in, the wind pick up to a gale, with a snow squal.

As soon as I had shot the tahr, the weather packed in, the wind pick up to a gale and spit a snow squall.

butchering an animal in the alpine with no trees takes a bit of planning and finness to keep the meat clean.  all of the bags of meat made it in my pack for the monstrously heavy pack back to the hut.  crawled back into the hut, only about an hour after dark.

Butchering an animal in the alpine with no trees takes a bit of planning and finesse to keep the meat clean.  Try cutting up a huge floppy slippery mass on the side of a precipice and you’ll understand.  All of the bags of meat made it onto my shoulders for the monstrously heavy pack back to the hut.  I staggered back to the hut about an hour after dark.  I made a curious spectacle for the six other scrogs (= scroggin eaters = gorp eaters = trampers = backpackers) sharing the hut.

“It’s about pushing through the pain down on your aching shoulders, while you’re packing out 30 kg of meat you have just harvested.”

all packed the next day. rested and ready for the big haul out.

All packed the next day.   Rested and ready for the big haul out.

 “It’s about going back to your roots, becoming one with your surroundings in order to survive”

The new Kuiu backpackhas been great! the bag extends away from the frameto get the heavy weight as close to your back as possible.

The new Kuiu backpack has been great!  The bag extends away from the frame to get the heavy weight as close to your back as possible.  Molly thinks I should start making home videos of the Kuiu backpack in use (advertising) to see if the manufacturer will give me a gift certificate….

“It’s the wild things that make us hunters.  It’s the wild things that make us who we are.”

The ride out was a bit grueling, hard yakka!

The ride out was a bit grueling.  Hard yakka!

“The answer can not be found purely in words.”

We typically motivate Milo with an M&M ever time we pass a trailmarker, I was desperatly wanting an M&M everytime I passed a trail marker.

We typically motivate Milo with an M&M every time we pass a trail marker.  Milo thought it was pretty funny that THIS time, it was ME desperately wanting M&M energy. 

How does your meat get to your table?

 

Kiwi As

Kiwi As_________  The New Zealanders never finish that bit of the simile, which is too bad because that’s the crux of it.  “Sweet As______,”  “Cool As_______,” “Kiwi As________.”  Never closure.  It’s a particular shame because in other styles of expression, they can be quite colorful.  “I’ll bet my left testie” comes to mind.  Or “as obvious as dog’s balls.”

At any rate, last weekend I went tramping Kiwi style--Wet Boots.  "Kiwi As wading thigh deep through crystal clear snow melt in one's prize leather hiking boots."  Stripped polyprop leggings with short shorts and gaiters would have completed the picture, but it was too warm for leggings that day.  Growing up in the northeast USA I had adopted the hiking mantra: "whatever else comes, at least keep your boots dry, and you'll be ok."  Walking straight through thigh-deep rivers in expensive leather boots seemed a travesty, but, "when in Rome, do as the Romans"....I've adopted the practice.

At any rate, last weekend I went tramping Kiwi style–Wet Boots.  “Kiwi As wading thigh deep through crystal clear snow melt in one’s prize leather hiking boots.”  Striped polyprop leggings with short shorts and gaiters would have completed the picture, but it was too warm for leggings that day.  Growing up in the northeast USA I had adopted the hiking mantra: “whatever else comes, at least keep your boots dry, and you’ll be ok.”  Walking straight through thigh-deep rivers in expensive leather boots seemed a travesty, but, “when in Rome, do as the Romans”….I’ve adopted the practice.  Besides, at times there’s not much choice.

My friend Carrie and I took to the hills with a forecast of "fine" weather (to this day I'm confused as to whether that means "sunny," or merely "not raining."  As we chatted our way up the Minga river valley in Arthur's pass I thought of a book I'd read by a British author, characterizing kiwi trampers as chatty and always coming in pairs.  Yup, that was us.

My friend Carrie and I took to the hills with a forecast of “fine” weather (to this day I’m confused as to whether that means “sunny,” or merely “not raining.”  As we chatted our way up the Minga river valley in Arthur’s pass I thought of a book I’d read by a British author, characterizing kiwi trampers as chatty and always coming in pairs.  Yup, that was us.  It was Carrie’s first weekend away from her baby, so she was particularly giddy with the regained freedom.

Mingha River narrows up towards the saddle to a stream, and a gorgeous one at that.    What makes that blue color to the water?  I've been told "glacier flour," which is particularly unsatisfactory because glacier-crushed rock is still made up of specific minerals that have distinct names.  Plus, we went up to the river source for this watershed and there aren't any glaciers.

Mingha River narrows up towards the saddle to a stream, and a gorgeous one at that. What makes that blue color to the water? I’ve been told “glacier flour,” which is particularly unsatisfactory answer because glacier-crushed rock is still made up of specific minerals that have distinct names. Plus, we went up to the river source for this watershed and there aren’t any glaciers.  Whenever I see beautiful cold pools of clear water like this I think of my college buddy Emily, from Oregon, who, like a naiad, never able to resist a dunk in alluring stream pools.

There's our hut for the night, in Goat Pass.  We dropped most of our gear there, then climbed up a mountain overlooking the pass to find a little alpine lake reputed to be beautiful.  This bit of the hike had no trail, but it didn't really matter because there weren't any trees either.

There’s our hut for the night, in Goat Pass. We dropped most of our gear there, then climbed up a mountain overlooking the pass to find a little alpine lake reputed to be beautiful. This bit of the hike had no trail, but it didn’t really matter because there weren’t any trees either.  The Deception River valley is beyond the hut, a sinister name if there ever was one.  One day a year scores of intrepid runners traverse this pass, competing in the Coast to Coast race, an endurance test that includes biking, running and kayaking.  We decided that we were quite happy walking.

We got up the shoulder of Mt Oates (the peak is behind), and realized that the lake was up still a bit further.  That dark spot where all the snow is melted is where the waterfall exits the lake.  It looked like a long way away from where we were standing, but the snowy landscape wasn't as massive as it seemed, and we tooled along to the lake in short time.

We got up the shoulder of Mt Oates (the peak is behind), and realized that the lake was up still a bit further. That dark spot where all the snow is melted is where the waterfall exits the lake. It looked like a long way away from where we were standing, but the snowy landscape wasn’t as massive as it seemed, and we tooled along to the lake in short time.

There she is, Lake Mavis.  Whatever possessed the namer to label this alpine tarn with such a stodgy and unromantic name, I'll never know.  Even the alpine mud puddle that is the official headwaters of the Hudson River has a lyrical title, "Lake Tear of the Clouds."

There she is, Lake Mavis, tucked into the clavicle of Mt Oates.  Whatever possessed the namer to label this alpine tarn with such a stodgy and unromantic name, I’ll never know. Even the alpine mud puddle that is the official headwaters of the Hudson River has a lyrical title, “Lake Tear of the Clouds.”  In summer this would be a superb place to tent, but given the dark early nights of winter, we scrambled back down to the hut to put on our “puffer” jackets and ensconce in our toasty sleeping bags.

Here's our hut, 20 bunks but we're the only souls out here on a gorgeous winter weekend.  Not sure why DOC thought it necessary to put the water cistern in FRONT of the porch....  The hut has no heat so we watched the stars come out while completely swaddled in our mummy bags, then went to bed early and slept nearly 12 hours.

Here’s our hut, 20 bunks but we’re the only souls out here on a gorgeous winter weekend. Not sure why DOC thought it necessary to put the water cistern in FRONT of the porch…. The hut has no heat so we watched the stars come out while completely swaddled in our mummy bags, then went to bed early and slept nearly 12 hours.

Morning found the valley swathed in mist, with the tips of the sunny mountains  promising warmth to come.  My frosty breath added (insignificantly) to the dampness, while my camera finger numbed.

Morning found the valley swathed in mist, with the tips of the sunny mountains promising warmth to come.  I could imagine native peoples coming up with interesting mythology about creatures who breathed over the land and created fog.

Boiling water for tea and oatmeal is a good start to the day.

Boiling water for tea and oatmeal is a good start to the day.  Hurrah for efficient little camping stoves and tidy canisters of butane.

The night before we had wagered from the setting-sun position that the hut wouldn't see the morning rays, but we were wrong.  We sat with our breakfasts, sunning ourselves like turtles on the front porch.

The night before we had wagered from the sun set position that the hut wouldn’t see the morning rays, but we were wrong. We sat with our breakfasts, sunning ourselves like turtles on the front porch.

There was a little knob protruding from the valley near the hut, and we decided to climb it and take in the view.  Frost had turned to icy dew on the grasses, but the puddles were still frozen.

There was a little knob protruding from the valley near the hut, and we decided to climb it and take in the view. Frost had turned to icy dew on the grasses, but the puddles were still frozen.

Here we are on the nob.  What a backdrop for a cartwheel!  Carrie is a much more accomplished cartwheeler than I, my wobbly flips hardly deserving to be called true cartwheels.

Here we are on the nob. What a backdrop for a cartwheel! Carrie is a much more accomplished cartwheeler than I, my wobbly flips hardly deserving to be called true cartwheels.

Carrie, thank you, we'll do it again!

Carrie, thank you, we’ll do it again!

On to Plan B

For months now I've been wanting to get up to Goat Pass near the divide, but as my scheduled hiking weekend drew near the forecast looked not just damp, but chillingly  drenching.  On to Plan B.  There are some tracks off Lees Valley, on the eastern (drier) side of the mountains, which have the advantage of being...well...not so wet.  The hike overlooks a big station in the valley, the track is paved with sheep droppings, but we're still out in New Zealand countryside.    Our friends graciously offered to have Milo and Naomi for the weekend, so Jeremiah and I walked together for the first time in over a year.

For months now I’ve been wanting to get up to Goat Pass near the divide, but as my scheduled hiking weekend drew near the forecast looked not just damp, but chillingly drenching. On to Plan B. There are some tracks off Lees Valley, on the eastern (drier) side of the mountains, which have the advantage of being…well…not so wet. The hike overlooks a big station in the valley, the track is paved with sheep droppings, but we’re still out in New Zealand countryside. Our friends graciously offered to have Milo and Naomi for the weekend, so Jeremiah and I walked together for the first time in over a year.

Remnants of the torrential rain in the divide occasionally misted our way, creating some spectacular rainbows and reminding us that we really were glad we weren't in Arther's Pass that weekend.

Remnants of the torrential rain in the divide occasionally misted our way, creating some spectacular rainbows and reminding us that we really were glad we weren’t in Arther’s Pass that weekend.

This is speargrass.  It's beautiful, but WATCH OUT, it has pointy sharp needles on the ends of each grass blade that effortlessly pierce expensive gortex as well as human flesh.  Apparently the roots must be quite lovely to eat though, since we saw dozens of patches rooted up by wild pigs.

This is speargrass. It’s beautiful, but WATCH OUT, it has pointy sharp needles on the ends of each grass blade that effortlessly pierce expensive gortex as well as human flesh. Apparently the roots must be quite lovely to eat though, since we saw dozens of patches rooted up by wild pigs.

Here's what Jeremiah is doing a lot of this time of year.  No firearms on this trip because Molly DOES NOT HUNT, but that doesn't mean Jeremiah can't look.

Here’s what Jeremiah is doing a lot of this time of year. No firearms on this trip because Molly DOES NOT HUNT, but that doesn’t mean Jeremiah can’t look.

This is what hunters are aiming for this time of year--big stags.  This fellow wandered past the hut on the trail of two females, and lived to....well....to do what stags do in the fall.  Jeremiah's currently out stalking more of these guys through the mountains, this time gun in hand.  Milo, ever astute to the family dynamics, graciously offered to let the head be hung in his bedroom if the trophy hunt is successful.

This is what hunters are aiming for this time of year–big stags. This fellow wandered past the hut on the trail of two females, and lived to….well….to do what stags do in the fall. Jeremiah’s currently out stalking more of these guys through the mountains, this time gun in hand. Milo, ever astute to the family dynamics, graciously offered to let the head be hung in his bedroom if the trophy hunt is successful.

Annihalation of the Flies

Hunting flies. Can you hear Milo’s delighted giggles?

It’s late summer in Christchurch, and the house flies have started their invasion. Being of British decent, Kiwi’s don’t consider window screens to be a necessity. So on warm window-opening days, particularly when food is cooking, the flies swarm indoors.  After two years of frustrations with pitifully inaccurate dishtowel swats, I finally added “fly swatter” to the shopping list.

It’s late summer in Christchurch, and the house flies have started their invasion. Being of British decent, Kiwi’s don’t consider window screens to be a necessity. So on warm window-opening days, particularly when food is cooking, the flies swarm indoors. After two years of frustrations with pitifully inaccurate dishtowel swats, I finally added “fly swatter” to the shopping list.

Now for a bit of a fly rant:  I hate them.

I’m not super cleanly when it comes to house (ok, admit it: I’m not super clean about anything).  But when there are more than 3 flies swirling between cutting board, hair, and door frame, my blood pressure starts to rise. I should be concerned because their feet have been exploring the diaper pail and are now traipsing over my scrambled eggs…but, well, we have immune systems for a reason.  (Speaking of, have you ever heard of “contact immunity” with live vaccines?…yeah).  Instead, these flies are repulsive for the same reason I hate the scuttling silverfish in the pantry—the memory of my entomology professor’s sage advice.  “You want an unusual order for the bug collection?  Find silverfish in dirty frat houses–they’re a Thysanura.”  These insects, like house flies and cockroaches, stereotypically plague residences of the sloppy and slovenly.

I don’t want my house to be like a college frat house!

The house sure looked like a trashed hovel this morning, after Milo dumped the toy baskets to use the baskets as pretend animal cages.  In the foreground Naomi tries to figure out the snazzy new fly shooter given to us by our friend Laura.  She understands annual NZ fly invasion.

The house sure looked like a trashed hovel this morning, after Milo dumped the toy baskets to use the baskets as pretend animal cages. In the foreground Naomi tries to figure out the snazzy new fly shooter given to us by our friend Laura. She understands annual NZ fly invasion.

Milo has the fly shooter sorted, at least the firing mechanism.  To tell truth, he's a better aim with the swatter, and he proudly brings me his kill to admire before popping them in the trash.

Milo has the fly shooter sorted, at least the firing mechanism. To tell truth, he’s a better aim with the swatter.  He proudly brings me his kill to admire before popping them in the trash.

Here's my lame attempt at biological control.  The first night we had the venus fly trap it caught two flies, but I'm not sure it's caught anything on its own accord since then.  We feed it.

Here’s my lame attempt at biological control. The first night we had the venus fly trap it caught two flies, but I’m not sure it’s caught anything on its own accord since. We feed it.  I’m delighted with it nonetheless.

Floundermania

I had plans to go hunting last weekend, but the weather in the mountains was predicted to be gale-force wind and we decided to “take a miss,” as the Kiwis say.  A small consolation trip was out to Lake Ellesmere, just 45 minutes south of Christchurch, to work on our duck blind construction.

Our blind is a pallet-and-scrap-wood engineering marvel which we hope will snag us some mallards come duck season.  You might wonder how we'll ever retrieve said ducks from the middle of the lake (provided we actually make contact with our bullets).  The "lake" might better be termed an overgrown "puddle," 48,000 acres but not more than waist deep.  It's gradually filling in with river sediment and will some day make prime sheep pasture.

Our blind is a pallet-and-scrap-wood engineering marvel which we hope will snag us some mallards come duck season. You might wonder how we’ll ever retrieve said ducks from the middle of the lake (provided we actually make contact with our bullets). The “lake” might better be termed an overgrown “puddle,” 48,000 acres but not more than waist deep. It’s gradually filling in with river sediment and will some day make prime sheep pasture.

    I was given a fish net from a mate at work that didnt have a use for it anymore. I have tried using it before and caught a few sticks and seaweed, so Mark and I had very low expectations this time around. we happened to bring it along with us when we went out to work on our mai-mai (duck blind)

I was given a fish net from a mate at work that didn’t have a use for it anymore. I have tried using it before and caught a few sticks and seaweed, so Mark and I had very low expectations this time around. We happened to bring it along with us when we went out to work on our mai-mai (duck blind) which can be seen beyond, that incongruous “bush in the middle of the lake.” 

 

mark dragging the net

As the net is dragged along, the weighted bottom edge scrapes along the bottom of the lake, waking up the sleeping flounder and catching them in the net.

fish emptying

shhh-bam! Fish in the net! After dragging the net in 3 times, we had more fish than we knew what to do with, or more accurately we knew that cleaning all of them was going to be a BIG chore.

Here we are with our catch, ready to dig in.  Not really, we did cook them first.  To be more accurate, three hours of hard work later we had honed our filleting skills to a T and had a bowl of paper-thin fillets (there's not much flesh on a flounder this size) ready to pack in the freezer.

Here we are, two bald guys with an appetite.  We did cook them first. To be more accurate, three hours of hard work later we had honed our filleting skills to a T and had a bowl of paper-thin fillets (there’s not much flesh on a flounder this size) ready to pack in the freezer.

 

Old History: Christmas

It’s January 8th, meaning Christmas was two weeks ago.  Are blog posts about such long-past events like eating left-over mussels?  Maybe so, but since we spent the time in Northland (north of Auckland, north island of New Zealand), I thought it still worth posting a few photos.  That way if anyone from NY wants to visit us, they’ll know what they can skip.

I'm not saying that Northland isn't beautiful.  Kiwis were unanimous in their exclamations; "You're going to the Bay of Islands?  It's so BEAUTiful up there!"  And I'm not saying that we didn't have fun.  Warm(ish) water and sand are a kid's delight.  But check out at that rolling pasture with the holstein cows--it just looks like home.  Not super exotic.

I’m not saying that Northland isn’t beautiful. Kiwis were unanimous in their exclamations; “You’re going to the Bay of Islands? It’s so BEAUTiful up there!” And I’m not saying that we didn’t have fun. Warm(ish) water and sand are a kid’s delight. But check out at that rolling pasture with the holstein cows–it just looks like home. Not super exotic.

Giant Kauri trees are a perk of Northland.  In a few preserved spots their barrel trunks still tower over the forest floor.

Giant Kauri trees, however, are an exotic perk of Northland. In a few preserved spots their barrel trunks still tower over the forest floor.

Aw, a good sibling moment in the Kauri forest.

Aw, a good sibling moment in the Kauri forest.

We stayed at a Top 10 campground (in a hotel unit) in Russell, a little town which, back in the day, had a reputation as a rough port town replete with the amenities craved by sailors.  Read prostitutes and alcohol.  The catholic missionaries labeled it a Hell Hole, but the town has cleaned up their act since then.

We stayed at a Top 10 campground (in a hotel unit) in Russell, a little town which, back in the day, had a reputation as a rough port town replete with the amenities craved by sailors. Read prostitutes and alcohol. The catholic missionaries labeled it a Hell Hole, but the town has cleaned up their act since then, and it’s a pleasant little tourist trap now.

Bay if Islands boasts spear-fishing opportunities for Jeremiah, and he came back one afternoon with this goodly sized Porae fish.  The kids were more impressed with their candies from the "lolly scramble," but they paused long enough to pose for a photo.

Bay if Islands boasts spear-fishing opportunities for Jeremiah, and he came back one afternoon with this goodly sized fish. The kids were more impressed with their candies from the “lolly scramble,” but they paused long enough to pose for a photo.

Milo was more pleased with this fish, a Porore.  Locals turn their noses up at them saying that they're not good eating, but we couldn't figure out what they're talking about.  I suspect they're just easy to catch compared to snapper, so they are common enough to be snubbed.

Milo was more pleased with this fish, a pouraia. Locals turn their noses up at them saying that they’re not good eating, but we couldn’t figure out what they’re talking about. I suspect they’re just easy to catch compared to snapper, so they are common enough to be snubbed.

We spent a day or two (the overcast ones) on short hikes, including this one down to the cove where there was an old whaling outpost.

We spent a day or two (the overcast ones) on short hikes, including this one down to the cove where there was an old whaling outpost.

Jeremiah played endless rounds of hide-and-seek along the trail with Milo.  He might whine and want to be carried, but if you offer to race or to hide, he's all game.  They had the palm fronds to carry with them, making a mobile camouflage whenever necessary.

Jeremiah played endless rounds of hide-and-seek along the trail with Milo. He might whine and want to be carried, but if you offer to race or to hide, he’s all game. They had the palm fronds to carry with them, making a mobile camouflage whenever necessary.

Our camera has a funny setting where we can turn off all the colors except blue.  I wonder if there is some animal species that sees the world like this.

Our camera has a funny setting where we can turn off all the colors except blue. I wonder if there is some animal species that sees the world like this.

Pohutikawa is the New Zealand Christmas Tree, flowering red in the summer especially along the coast.  We saw some good specimens down in the whaling cove.

Pohutikawa is the New Zealand Christmas Tree, flowering red in the summer especially along the coast. We saw some good specimens down in the whaling cove.

On Christmas day we took a ferry out to Urupukapuka island for some clear fishing water and calm warm beaches.  There aren't any roads, but grassy trails through pasture and scrub connect the beaches.

On Christmas day we took a ferry out to Urupukapuka island for some clear fishing water and calm warm beaches. There aren’t any roads, but grassy trails through pasture and scrub connect the beaches.  If you didn’t look too closely at the flowering Manuka and Pohutukawa, you could imagine that this was an Adirondack scene.

This serious sand shovel was a Christmas present for Milo, and he's proudly displaying his strength and prowess at hold-digging.

This serious sand shovel was a Christmas present for Milo, and he’s proudly displaying his strength and prowess at hole-digging.

Naomi is BOLD in those waves.  She runs right into the water, gasps a bit if it splashes high on her chest, and then comes back for more.

Naomi is BOLD in those waves. She runs right into the water, gasps a bit if it splashes high on her chest, and then comes back for more.

The kids' pleasures are pretty simple, at this stage.  They enjoyed the camp's playground at least as much as the beach, and decidedly more than any scenic views.  Naomi is a proficient climber, Milo bounced on those trampolines, and there was nearly always another kid or two hanging around for added interest.

The kids’ pleasures are pretty simple, at this stage. They enjoyed the camp’s playground at least as much as the beach, and decidedly more than any scenic views. Naomi is a proficient climber, Milo bounced on those trampolines, and there was nearly always another kid or two hanging around for added interest.

Eat Local; sea catch

Us guys wanted to get in the water with our spear guns today, and took a blind stab at this beach.  Molly didn't think they'd even be able to get in the water--the waves are usually fierce and crashing.  They got lucky--we had never seen the ocean here this calm before, but I guess the magic condition was an easterly, or northeasterly wind.  The beach remains unnamed so this popular walking spot doesn't become too popular with the fishermen.

Us guys wanted to get in the water with our spear guns today, and took a blind stab at this beach. Molly didn’t think they’d even be able to get in the water–the waves are usually fierce and crashing. They got lucky–we had never seen the ocean here this calm before, but I guess the magic condition was an easterly, or northeasterly wind. The beach remains unnamed so this popular walking spot doesn’t become too popular with the fishermen.

not going hungry here, a decent catch of Butterfish, Blue Moki and a limit of Paua.

Not going hungry here.  A decent catch of Butterfish, Blue Moki and a limit of Paua.

I didnt catch this crayfish(like a lobster with no large claws), Rosman who went with me grabbed them. I am still learning how to find them. this guy was a baheamoth, weighing in at 6.5lbs.

I didn’t catch these crayfish(like a lobster with no large claws). Rosman, my fishing mate, grabbed them. I am still learning how to find them. The one on the left is a normal size you’d buy at the store– the guy on the right was a behemoth, weighing in at 6.5lbs.