Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Back to the Bluffs

As B was just finishing adding the pictures to this I rushed up and told him to put the pc away and hurry up – he wasn’t very impressed, till I told him the sunset wouldn’t wait for him, he was pleased he listened to me really!

Woke up relatively early, so decided another climb was called for, so glad we did. It was fabulous, we’d both enjoyed yesterday, but wished it could have either been a little bit harder or a little bit longer, so we decided on 2 grades harder, one 30m pitch (with a 60m rope) and the second possibly needing a bit of gear as the bolts claimed to be a little ‘run out’. I did the first pitch (indoors B always had to go first, outside I always have to go first) which I thoroughly enjoyed, about a 16/6a, brought B up and he decided as he’d carried the gear in he’d give the second pitch a go, some shiny new bolts filled in the ‘run out’ gaps, shame he missed the one just below the overhang, and had used the not so good looking old one! Not that it mattered, he sailed up it, carrying the gear for nothing, but a bit of weight training!

30m off the ground, end of rope only just reaches second abseil chain!
Getting down was slightly interesting the rope only just being long enough to reach the second lower off, amazing what a bit of rope stretch will do! The day was getting hotter, so having had a thoroughly good time we left the Mt Cook National Park. We are now in Fairlie, at quite an old park, BUT it’s got FREE WiFi!!!! (and laundry, but that’s not nearly so exciting!) Most unusual, so we’ve had cake and iced coffee (B has become a dab hand – coffee, chocolate, sugar, crushed ice and whipped cream! He’s keeping the stone he use today apparently – it’s ideal as an ice crusher!) while uploading pictures, downloading the post (thanks Sarah), sitting in the sun and reading our books. (I’m going to have to go and have my second shower since arriving, if my newly washed towel is dry, as sunbathing is very hot work! I’m just worried I too may have developed stripes!)

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Aoraki Mount Cook area

Aoraki Mount Cook

The decision we made a couple of weeks ago not to go to the Aoraki Mount Cook area because of rain turned out to be the right one, as our return this time was absolutely perfect summer weather with clear blue skies and a light breeze, but a little too warm, up in the low to mid thirties degrees C! Additionally, it seems to have really settled in, with no sign of the high pressure system centred over us going away, much to the surprise of people here. Normally good weather in this area lasts for only a couple of days they tell us, so we are blessed with continuing good weather.

Aoraki Mount Cook and the Hooker Glacier & Lake
We’ve had three days and two nights in the DoC (Department of Conservation) basic campsite in an ideal position at the foot of the Hooker glacier, lake and river coming directly off Aoraki Mount Cook. We couldn’t stop any longer as our campervan has only enough battery reserve to power the fridge and lights for this period of time without external power (our indicator showed ‘poor’ battery level this morning, so it was time to move somewhere where electricity was available. We’re now 40 minutes drive away on a site still with great views of Aoraki Mount Cook).

An iceberg on the Hooker Lake
Aoraki Mount Cook (Jackie thinks it looks like a 'grumpy old man'
We used our three days well (we think), taking a three hour walk (which took us 2.5hours) to the foot of the Hooker glacier on our first afternoon, which is as near to Aoraki Mount Cook as we could get without climbing. It’s a well used track that crosses the rivers over two dramatic swing bridges and finishes in a delightful setting by the Hooker lake with excellent views of the glacier and Aoraki Mount Cook (equally dramatic was to see how far the glacier has retreated, it was like looking at a teacup full of ice in a litre glass!). On our first evening it was very satisfying to eat our sausage casserole followed by apple crumble and custard (and a chilled bottle of white wine) previously prepared at our last camp! What a great end to the day.
The DoC campsite

Close up - our van top middle. Can you see Jackie sitting outside (dark pink top) looking at her emails?
Sunrise in the campsite
For the next day I really wanted to trek up to the Mueller Hut and on to Mount Ollivier, mainly as it’s a great (but very strenuous) walk, but also because Mount Ollivier was the first mountain climbed by Sir Edmund Hillary in about 1939 and he officially opened the new (fifth) Mueller Hut in 2003. To my relief Jackie agreed and to my astonishment she also agreed to my suggested 7:00am start (she admitted later that she expected me to propose an even earlier start, hence her quick agreement)!

Having a rest halfway
The track actually starts from the campsite along a prepared gravel path, relatively flat for the first 15 minutes and then straight up! The first half is a very well prepared track with wooden steps for most of the way up to ‘Sealy Tarns’, a flat area with two small lakes (tarns) and superb views over the Mueller lake (formerly the glacier!), Aoraki Mount Cook and the Hooker glacier, lake and river, right out to Lake Pukaki. Jackie saw a note on the first step which read ‘Only 1810 steps to go’. So glad we started before sunup, but we were in direct sun from about 8:00am, although not too hot at that time of day. 

On the ridge finally
From Sealy Tarns to Mueller Hut (another 3 hours the book said) the path becomes an uneven path, of the type we’re more used to, weaving up over scree and snow fields, marked by orange posts every 25m or so. It was relentlessly up in ever strengthening sun and we were so glad to reach the ridge and have the path level out a bit (although still 20minutes to the hut). We were also rewarded with new views down to the Mueller glacier (which looked like a solid river of gravel!).

Final approach to the hut
Just to prove it!

Yours truly on Mount Ollivier with Aoraki Mount Cook in the background
We arrived at the hut just after 9:30am, so it took us just over 2.5hours (4.5hours book time) and had time for a drink and something to eat in the huts kitchen and enjoy the quite superb views, before ascending Mount Ollivier, another 30minute scramble (sometimes quite exposed) from directly behind the hut. It was worth it as we could see 360 degrees all around, including the campsite with our little van a long way below. It was nice to follow in the footsteps of Sir Ed and think that perhaps I was grasping the same rocks he had all those years ago.
View from the hut - Aoraki Mount Cook in the centre
Tikapu/Mt Cook lilly
It seems that most people who go up stop a night in the hut, most only to walk back down the following morning, others to do a bit of climbing nearby (although there seems precious little of it and not worth the bother), but we headed straight back down, being back at our van by about 1:00pm, having passed many people on their way up, most looking none too good in the high heat of the day (what were they thinking starting at that time of day?). The remainder of our day was spent reading and relaxing!

A black mountain ringlet butterfly on (possibly) South Island Edelweiss

Or this might be South Island Edelweiss (I'm not sure)
Wingless alpine grasshopper

Jackie about to start up pitch 3
This morning we went climbing at Sebastopol  Bluffs, a mountain crag 2km from the campsite (and in amongst spectacular scenery). There we did a bolted route called ‘Red Arete’ which is potentially a 6 pitch climb of easy grade 14/15. Pitch 6 isn’t bolted, so we just did the 5 pitches, of which Jackie did the first 2 together making it 4 pitches in all. It’s a three star climb and, although quite easy for us, was exposed and dramatic, finishing high up on the cliff with great views all around, but in full view of a midday sun! We considered other slightly harder climbs alongside, but thought better of it as it was so incredibly hot and we worried about sunstroke, so we headed off to Glentanner campsite, mentioned at the start of this entry. 
At the top

A very rare Rock Wren we saw in the DoC campsite
Another one photographed today

An inquisitive pheasant, while I type!
Unfortunately we are being bitten by sandflies and can’t go into the van as its too hot in there! But there’s also Rock Wrens (very rare apparently) and pheasants about so we’re quite happy! Tomorrow we’ll either head off, or return to Sebastopol Bluffs early on for another climb, we haven’t decided yet. Nearly time for an evening beer I think!

Saturday, 26 January 2013

I was driving in my van, its not quite a jag-u-an

Summer finally seems to have arrived, its 30 something deg C, not a cloud in the sky and was hot last night and looks like it will be tonight as well. The forecast is for this to continue for at least 4 or 5 days, which is nice, but it’s a bit too hot to do anything energetic. 

An amusing personalised numberplate we saw
As it happens we’ve been driving in the van for most of the day, partly to get from Ranfurly towards Aoraki Mount Cook, so it hasn’t been quite so bad with the air con on. We didn’t make it all the way, as it’s a long way, but also we wanted to go over Danzy’s Pass, which is a gravel/rocky roadway in a remote mountainous area. It is not recommended for campervans, but we checked with the i-site in Ranfurly and they told us our smaller van should be OK, its steep in places, with very sharp hairpin bends with large drops off on a narrow road they said, well, they were right! Fantastic views all the way and the 45km road took us well over 2 hours, so you can tell we were going slowly! 

The curling rink at Naseby

As we approached the pass we went into a town called Naseby, which seems to be the curling capital of NZ. I think I’m right in saying that the sport of curling originated in Scotland (Alex will no doubt put me right on that) and is now an Olympic sport. We both have mental views of people sliding ahead of the stone, rubbing the ice with brushes to fine tune its speed and direction to get it as close as possible to its position. ‘We must have a look’ we thought, so pulled into the car park to see an outdoor skating rink and luge track (both closed for the summer), as well as a big purpose built stadium for curling. We had a look inside to see three full sized curling lanes in a really good facility. Watch out Scotland, NZ will be on your tail in the next Olympics!
Naseby town centre
Anyway, once we got onto Danzy’s Pass proper the views were just fantastic, we stopped a couple of times for photos and it was absolutely quiet and amazing. As usual, the photos just don’t do it justice, but it was great! On one occasion we stopped for a large bird of prey pecking at a dead rabbit in the road in front of us, I’ve been trying to get a photo of one of these for ages, but on each occasion they fly off majestically before I can get my camera out, this was the same unfortunately. 

Sheep were also a hazard, they’d run off when we approached and, on several occasions, one would get separated and run off in front, with no-where to go, cliff face one side, huge drop off on the other, we’d just go at snail pace until it could find some refuge to allow us to pass.

The Flying Pig cafe
Eventually we got back to civilisation and ended up in a town called Duntroon which, according to our climbing guide, has a couple of climbing crags and a bouldering area. The climbing is a bit hard for us and well spread out, so we decided to give it a miss as we want to get on to Aoraki Mount Cook, where there’s some multi pitch climbing (if the weather stays fine), so instead we stopped in the town at the ‘Flying Pig’ café, which was, very pink, for a coffee, a look at the gaol and stocks and finally made our way across the road to the ‘Vanished World’ fossil exhibition and museum. 

Best place for her!
The exhibition was interesting and they have a trail you can follow in the locality to view fossils in the rocks and hillsides, but more interesting was the guy who ran the place as a volunteer. He was well past retirement and was great to talk to, we spent what must be half an hour having a laugh with him and talking about everything, fossils being only a small part of it. He’d never heard the old saying from a British barber ‘something for the weekend sir?’, so we had to explain, which caused great amusement to him. 

Lunch by Lake Aviemore
As we left he told us to take a side road off the main road further on and go over the dam at Lake Aviemore, round the lake and returning to the main road by going over the dam at Lake Benmore, as its very picturesque. Well, it was and we stopped for lunch right next to the lake, stopping again when Jackie spotted a pear tree and apple tree next to the road, allowing us to pick our own fruit.

Dinner on the barbie at the campsite
We finished the day at Omarama at a very nice campsite. As there is an oven in the kitchen here, I made apple crumble and custard (custard powder from the local shop as Jackie thinks its wasteful to use only the yolk of an egg for real custard!), so after a BBQ followed by crumble and a bottle of chilled white wine, we’re full, contented and happy people. As I write its 9:00pm, the sun is just setting and I’m sitting outside the van still in shorts and tea shirt! Not a bad life!

Friday, 25 January 2013

Where to go, what to do?

We’ve had a couple of days housekeeping, we stopped in a little place Mosgiel, because it is part of the free wifi libraries network and we had many photos to upload, and we knew Sarah had sent us some post, that always takes longer than expected. We’d been to the supermarket, and that always takes longer than expected, we are eating well, and cooking healthily, on the whole, but with very limited fridge space, and limited funds shopping happens little and often, and our meals are usually dictated by what’s going cheap! Steak going cheap is one of our faves, they do have very good steak here! 
So with time escaping us we looked on the web and sure enough there was a motor park in Mosgiel, turns out it was on the road we were on, oh look there it is! 17 pitches, behind the swimming pool adjacent to the sports ground, mad old man as caretaker, but for $27 (one of the cheapest we’ve had, with immaculate free showers (sometimes they are up to $2) and, first time ever, free laundry! Well you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, even though it was going to rain, but free tumble dryer too…. Great kitchen which we commandeered and watched a film and really friendly locals. 

I thought we were heading further off the next day, but I think B had a secret plan, all along to do some cycling along the old Otago Railway line, which is now a walking/biking/horse track, so we stopped in Middlemarch, made the preparations and found another odd motorpark. Popped out to look at a salt lake which was ok, but it did mean we had opportunity to do some bouldering on some of the hundreds of interesting boulders we’d passed.

Serene views over the salt lake
The railway station at Middlemarch. end of the line for the Tairea railway

At Ranfurly, ready to start
Yesterday was grey and cool, ideal cycling weather, this morning was freezing and misty, until the sun burnt the mist away, it got a little warm! We got a bus, with our hired bikes, from Middlemarch to Ranfurly and cycled back to the van – 60km, really quite flat (well railways are) a tunnel, a viaduct, some great scenery (some not so) and some very sore knees. 

Having got back to the van we then drove to Ranfurly to set off tomorrow and see what we shall see! The whole track is 160km, and tends to take 4 days, so we did pretty well in our 5 hours to do what we did! Not as good as the older ish couple we met who move the van, cycle to where they stopped yesterday and then cycle back to the van, so effectively doing the whole trail twice, but we were happy, and now are very tired.