Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Who will you encounter when tramping in New Zealand?

The endless variety of trampers found in New Zealand

You are likely to encounter a wide variety of people when tramping in New Zealand.  Outdoor activity is an important aspect of what it means to be a Kiwi and we love being out on adventures. It is also an important part of may other peoples way of life as well.

Trampers outside new Kime hut (DOC photo)

Here are some groups of people you are likely to meet in your travels.

No-one.... that's right buddy just you!

Yep, you could quite conceivably go days on end without coming across another soul. This is less likely now New Zealand is a Mecca for tourists, but at least 50% of the time I find myself alone in huts at night. So will you.

You should remember that New Zealand is 30% larger than the UK with about a tenth of the population.Its empty (relatively speaking) out there.

Me and Magdalen Hut keep each other company...

This is fine if you don't mind being by yourself and you are a capable tramper. If that does not sound like you, then sister/brother, you got problems....

Squirt, the Old Man and Stinky Pete: Te Araroa hikers

You will most likely encounter folk walking the Te Araroa Trail either as through or section hikers. This is especially likely if you are walking through the central South Island as most TA hikers need to cross your path.

There will be some sections where you will only encounter TA trekkers, the tracks are just not used by anyone else. Examples of this would be the tracks between the Rakaia River and Wanaka, Snowdon Forest and 90 Mile Beach. Almost all of the high country trails are only walked by TA hikers with the occasional Kiwi hunter being the other small user group.

Gerald, Kiwiscout and James, TA 2014 from; Kiwiscout Walks Aotearoa

If you are lucky, you will meet TA trampers who will be happy to walk with you, so you get to know them a bit. The biggest group I've struck so far was 12 all moving together. More common are groups of 2-5 walking together.

Look for out Te Araroa trampers in their rest towns: Wanganui, St Arnauld, Hanmer, Arthurs Pass, Wanaka etc. they stand out like a sore thumb. Strange nicknames, long hair and big beards often set them apart.

Sven, Yuki, Greta, Jakob and Rob-bo the Aussie...tramping tourists!

Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Yƍkoso, Gidday Mate...Welcome, come on in....

New Zealand is an overseas visitors paradise, especially for those interested in the outdoors. There would hardly be a spot anywhere in the country that some backpacker has not visited.  I have spent time in huts with people from 27 different countries at one time or another.

Party of 'tramping tourists' I meet at Lake Rotoiti in 2016

Most are from Europe, Australia and North America. You seldom see people from Asia, Africa or South America...possibly some cultural reason they do not tramp???

 Language may be a problem but make sure you try to talk to people from other countries, you would be surprised how similar we are under our particular cultural baggage.

The "Great Walkers" 

Closely related to the 'tramping tourist" is the Great Walker. New Zealand has a series of nine trails termed the 'Great Walks'. Kiwis tramp the great walks, I am walking them myself, but most are overseas tourists. It is often the primary focus of their trip- often the reason they decided to visit New Zealand in the first place. Excepting the Hobbitons.....

Great Walkers in their natural habitat: Routeburn Track

The Great Walks are: Lake Waikaremoanna Track, Tongariro Northern Circuit, Whanganui River Journey, Abel Tasman Coastal Track, Heaphey Track, Routeburn Track, Milford Track, Kepler Track and Rakuiria Track.

There is some spillage from the official tracks. Ancillary tracks featuring Great Walkers include the trip to Lake Angelus, Rees-Dart Circuit, Caples-Greenstone Circuit,  Welcome Flat Hotpools and Travers - Blue Lake- Sabine Circuit. None of these are official Great Walks but they have similar features and so appeal to touring hikers. 

A movie series to rule them all- the Hobbitons!

Most of the Lord of the Rings (LOTR)/Hobbit series were filmed in New Zealand and we get a lot of people visiting to see the places where the movie magic happened. 
Misty Mountains from LOTR: aka The Remarkables
While some of the scenes are CGI, probably 50% of the live action was filmed in the mountains around Queenstown and in the Mackenzie Basin. There is also Hobbiton outside Wellington and 'Modor' aka Mt Tongariro in the Central North Island. 

The Kiwi "weekend warrior"

This group comprises everyday Kiwi trampers/climbers/MTB'ers out for a day or multi day adventure. They generally visit places where other people are not;  usually hard arsed bush on the West Coast of the South Island. Also found in the Kaimais, Ruahines, Kaimaniwas, Tararua's, remote Southern Alps and Fiordland.

A typical group of kiwi trampers meet on trail

Kiwis can sometimes seem a bit standoffish at first- don't be offended, it is just our nature.  We eventually warm up and you will find most of us interesting and generous to a fault. Kiwi trampers will often give you food,  good advice or a ride to civilisation if our paths cross at the right time. Don't be afraid to ask.

As a Kiwi, I make a point of talking to everyone I see on the trail or at a hut because we are all in this together. You should do the same.

Hunters and Collectors

New Zealand has a long history of hunting, trapping and fishing so you are quite likely to meet Kiwi hunters and anglers. I do the odd spot of fishing myself.

There is a strained relationship between trampers and hunters in NZ but some of the most interesting people I have meet while tramping have been hunters/anglers. Its all about the person, not the sport they engage in.

Kiwi hunts-women: Both women and men hunt in New Zealand...

Just show a bit of understanding for each other and you will have no problems. And you might just score a whiskey, tasty trout fillet (best cooked in a bit of tin foil with a sprinkle of salt and squeeze of lemon) or venison back steak for your troubles...

We do this for a job...DOC workers

You will almost certainly encounter workers from the Department of Conservation, or DOC as we call them in NZ. They may be New Zealanders or volunteers from other countries depending on the role. Most are really cool and totally passionate about the environment.

You are most likely to encounter them at the various DOC offices, working as hut wardens and occasionally out in the field.

DOC Ranger at work

Some can seem overly officious, especially if they believe you are doing something wrong. Hey, both you and I might be slightly peeved if we turned up at a hut (which is also our home) and found mud, food and wet gear all over the place! Especially if you haven't paid the very reasonable hut fees...sacre bleu as the French say..the cheek of it!

...exactly, add the government and your right on the money!

These women and men work hard at their jobs, and it is not always an easy job, so again show them some respect. Just take them as you find them and remember, they will most likely be the first people coming to look for you if you get into difficulties.

Some final advice to Kiwi and tourist both...

For a happy life, pay your hut fees!

No, I mean it, pay your damn hut fees!

DOC Hut pass and hut tickets...if you use the huts, then pay for your stay!

There is nothing more likely to get a DOC hut warden (or a kiwi tramper) riled up than you arriving, using and abusing a hut and then not paying for it. A six month DOC Hut pass is $90, most huts only cost from $5-15 per night. That is nothing compared to the $1000 i-phone and $2-3000 worth of other tramping gear you are carrying.

Pay up people, this includes the New Zealanders! As I have said before, no you haven't paid for it already with your taxes. Joe Blogg's paid for it back in 1967 when the hut was built. You are paying to maintain it...

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Arthurs Pass Walking Track: 24 October 2015

From Arthur's Pass township to Arthur's Pass...

Woo-hoo, I have finished study for 2015 so time to do some.....tramping!

I went for a tramp on the first day of the Labour Weekend break, just a day trip as we had plans to watch theWorld Cup  All Blacks vs South Africa rugbygame on Sunday morning.

My original plan was for a trip up to Carrol Hut near Otira, but when I arrived at the car park at the base of the track I was meet with the still smouldering wreck of a car that had been set on fire. After reporting it to the Police, I decided that maybe this was not such an awesome place to park my car for 5-6 hours.

Punchbowl Falls from the Arthur's Pass Walking Track car park

Instead I went back to Arthur's Pass and walked the new track from the Devils Punchbowl Falls car park to the pass. I've been wanting to do it for a while and this was the perfect opportunity.

Arthurs Pass Walking Track

The Arthur's Pass Walking Track follows the path taken by Arthur Dobson an early surveyor and the first European to cross the Pass between the Bealey and Otira rivers back in the 1880's.

Car park at the start of the Arthurs Pass Walking Track
Arthurs Pass Walking Track

There are a series of information panels near the car park laying out the various tracks at this end of the valley. This is the starting point for tracks to Punchbowl Falls, Arthur's Pass, Avalanche Peak, Cons Track and Mt Aicken.

Arthurs Pass Walking Track: information board at car park
 As you can see nice clear details and the required warning information for tourists, it is a busy spot. Thousands if not tens of thousands of people must walk up to Punchbowl Falls each year while travelling through Arthur's Pass.

Arthurs Pass Walking Track: details of the board
The start of the track is very clear, nice signage throughout its length.

Track junction for Punchbowl Falls and Arthurs Pass Walking Track
  The track quality is excellent, Great Walk standard really, and it stays at this level all the way to the pass. It certainly makes the track a lot easier to walk, years ago the previous rough basic track took about 2.5 hours to the pass, it is now an hour and a half. 

Walkin' Great Walk styles....on the Arthurs Pass Walking Track
 There are plenty of stairs and board walks along the trail here is a shot of the first of many for the day....

Arthurs Pass Walking Track: First of MANY steps!
 The bush to each side of the track is very dense, Arthur's Pass gets a lot of rain, over 2 meters most years and it actually holds the NZ record for the highest amount of rain in a 24 hour period (it was 2.4 meters, that's 39 inches or 7.8 feet) back in the 1960's. 

Dense bush to side of Arthur's Pass Walking Track
 There are a series of well constructed bridges along the track, they remind me a lot of the ones I've encountered on the Wharfedale and St James tracks. Standard DOC bridge design? Bridge, pedestrians, Mark I.....

Arthur's Pass Walking Track: example of the bridges en route

Jon on one of the bridges, Arthurs Pass Walking Track
 Periodically the far southern side of the valley becomes visible, nice views of Mt Avalanche, Mt Bealey and Mt Rolleston as you climb towards the pass. 

Mt Rolleston and Mt Bealey from Arthurs Pass Walking Track

Waterfall on the south side of the Bealey Valley
 The photo below shows the flank of Mt Avalanche as well as the distant and tiny looking buildings of Arthurs Pass township far below. This is a view from a scenic lookout about 30 minutes up the trail, it has a seat and picnic table. 

Flanks of Mt Avalanche from Arthur's Pass Walking Track
 You pass many small side streams on this track, all of them are bridged making this is an all weather track.

Arthur's Pass Walking Track: nice looking side stream
 I passed a number of  Dracophyllum traversii on the way, these are sometimes called "Dr Seuss" trees as they look exactly like the ones in The Lorax. We really have some weird and wonderful plants in New Zealand. 

Dracophyllum traversii tree near Arthur's Pass
 The track follows the route of a high tension power line for most of the way up the valley. The last time I walked this track back in the early 90's it was a rocky and wet experience as no formal track existed. The track was the cut back route of the power line. You still pass under the pylons every now and then on the new track. 

Track passing under the power pylons
 At one point you need to descend and then ascend a series of steps to get around a small gorge, the track has been well routed using a couple of handy gully's either side of the stream crossing. 

Arthurs Pass Walking Track : a stairway to heaven.....?

"Goblin" forest on the Arthurs Pass Walking Track

View north west towards Mt Rolleston, Bealey Valley
 Eventually you reach Jacks Hut, former home of a well known road man of the early 1900's. Up till the 1980's it was a private bach or holiday home. It must have been some experience living here full time over the winter as the road sometimes gets up to 3 meters of snow in a big storm. Cool!

Historic Jacks Hut, SH 73 near Arthurs Pass
 Near Jacks Hut the track crosses State Highway SH73, to the south side of the valley and continues up to the Pass. Take care crossing the road as it is very busy and has blind corners in both directions.

Arthurs Pass Walking Track: there be the track......!

Arthurs Pass Walking Track, approaching the tarns on the pass

Mt Rolleston and Bealey Valley from the Arthurs Pass Walking Track
 You eventually breakout of the bush after 15minutes past Jacks Hut, the rest of the track is on board walk over a series of classic alpine bog's. There are stunning views in all directions. 

Start of the alpine bog-lands looking down valley, Arthur's Pass

Arthurs Pass Walking Track : alpine bog-lands looking up valley

Arthurs Pass - Highway 73  looking east or down valley
 There are a series of excellent interpretive panels along the track explaining the flora and fauna, history and topography of the surrounding area. 

Interpretive panel- Alpine plants near Arthurs Pass Tarns

No name falls near Temple Basin ski field from the Arthurs Pass Walking Track
 During the last ice age this valley was home to a massive glacier that was 200 meters higher than the existing pass. It stretched all the way to the Canterbury Plains and as far west as Lake Kaniere. That is nearly 100 km's!!!

The whole of Arthur's Pass National Park has been shaped by ice, wind and water. 

Glacial moraine field near Arthurs Pass
 As you can see I have my fleece on, even with the sun it was cold due to the wind from the Otira Valley. I could see steam from my breath as I was walking, too windy for a hat so I got a bit wind burnt on the face. 

Jon standing on Arthur's Pass
Below is a selection of photos taken as I walked around the short nature walk at the Pass. If you are ever heading for the West Coast stop and have a look, it is fascinating and very beautiful in a stark, rugged kind of way.

Series of tarns on Arthurs Pass

Looking East towards Otira Valley
Below is a classic kiwi tramping track leading off from the nature walk, this heads to the Otira Valley. This is more like the mess of rock, mud and roots we have come to expect and love on a DOC track.

A more basic DOC track heading to Otira Valley

One of the small tarns on Arthurs Pass

The Arthur Dobson Memorial marks the crest of Arthur's Pass. On the east side is Canterbury, on the west side it is the West Coast. You have just crossed the Southern Alps!

Arthur Dobson Memorial from the Arthurs Pass Walking Track

Arthurs Pass: one of the interpretive panels- glacial action

View west towards the West Coast from Arthur's Pass tarns

One of the many bridges on the Arthurs Pass Walking Track

View towards Mt Bealey from alpine bog lands
After 20  minutes walking around the nature walk at the tarns I headed back down towards the village.

Below is a view of Jacks Hut from the opposite (southern) side of SH73. There are tracks from this point to the "Chasm" (a point where the Bealey River goes underground) and the Bealey Valley Track both of which are worth a look.

Jacks Hut from far side of SH73, Arthur's Pass

Arthurs Pass Walking Track : one of the picturesque side streams
I stopped about half way back to the village and sat on a log for a break for 5 minutes listening to the forest, river gurgle and birdsong.

Stopped for a snack on the Arthurs Pass Walking Track

Arthurs Pass Walking Track : new stairs to climb and descend a gully

Young Dracophyllum traversii alpine tree
The scene below will be familiar to anyone who has visited Arthur's Pass, these are the Punchbowl Falls close to the village. They are 112 metres high and come from an ice field on the saddle between Mt Cassidy and Mt Aicken. 

I am told that DOC have up graded the track to the falls and they now a wonder of board walk and platforms, I will have to visit sometime to confirm this. 

Punchbowl Falls from near the Arthur's Pass Walking Track car park

Close-up of Punchbowl Falls from the car park

View up Bealey Valley towards Arthurs Pass

It was a good days tramping and while not the trip I had planned it still worked out very nicely. It was excellent weather for a walk, dry but not too hot. Even though this is a popular track I only saw four other people on the track. It was surprising but Spring has only just started so possibly there aren't many tourists around yet.

Access: The track starts at the car park for the Punchbowl Falls, this is at the western end of Arthur's Pass township, look for the sign on the Bealey River side of SH73.
Track times: 1.5-2 hours to Arthur's Pass, same return.
Miscellaneous: All weather track, all streams bridged. Take water as all side streams along this track are contaminated. Watch for traffic on SH73 as you cross at Jacks Hut.