Friday, February 16, 2018

Peel Forest and Penguin Spotting

Like most of the east coast, the vast majority of the forests of Canterbury have been cleared for agricultural uses.  There are only a few forests left with old growth behemoths like the totara tree below.  Peel Forest contains the majority of these ancient trees in the Canterbury region.  So we decided to give it a go.

This totara tree is over 1000 years old.  It was well established when the first major Māori migration reached the South Island.

Its truck is 8.4 meters in circumference, and it towers above us at over 31 meters tall.

These monsters once dotted the landscape wherever fertile soil was available.  Most were logged for timber, or burned by Māori during hunts, or to clear land for kumara (sweet potato) farming.

It was quite warm, so we decided to skip a longer walk Peel Forest, and head towards the coast.  With slightly better weather, we hoped to have success spotting yellow-eyed penguins at Oamaru. 

Yellow-eyed penguins nest year round at Bushy Beach, and they can be seen coming ashore a few hours before sunset.  These are the rarest penguins, having only a scattering of small colonies on NZ coasts.  We parked, had some dinner, and did the short walk to the lookout.  People are not allowed on the beach during nesting season. 

At about 7pm we were getting tired after waiting for 45 minutes with the sun in our eyes.  All of the sudden a very fast ripple shoots across the water right next to the beach.  A penguin pops its head out for a look around, zips up and down a few times, and waddles up out of the water.  Their awkwardness on land is more than made up for by their agility underwater.  These little birds are fast, with sustained speeds faster than Michael Phelps's 5-second swim sprint.

They look so small on the empty beach.  They only weigh 5-6kg (less than 15lbs) and stand less than 20 inches tall.

You can see the yellow crest over each eye.

The Māori call them Hoiho, which is a close approximation of their call.  When they come ashore they sing a loud high pitched “I’m home!” song with a little dance.  Nesting as pairs, this helps them find each other, and generally lets them cool off after a long swim.  Without the cooling effect of the seawater, they can easily overheat on land.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Cave Stream and Castle Hill

By Jen.

On our first pass through Arthur’s Pass, we tried to do Cave Stream, but then shortly realized I would be too wet and cold than was good for me while sick. The whole elaborate loop through both passes was just so that we could do this walk. This time, we were both quite healthy, and the water didn’t look too high, so we thought we make a try for it. We knew the water could get up to waist deep, so we changed into water-appropriate clothing (me into my stinger suit and swim gear), and pulled on shoes we didn’t mind getting wet. For me, that was Jonathan’s old pair of shoes that he wore daily in Australia and retired when we came here. For him, he thought he would see how water-proof his new hiking boots were. Geared up, we started down the hill to the entrance.



The entrance is the deepest section. And, sure enough, we had to plow right through the water that just kept getting deeper. I was reminded that Jonathan’s and my heights vary quite a bit. While the water only reached his upper waist, it was up to my chest at the deepest part. I was also reminded how different NZ is from AUS. The cave and accompanying stream in AUS was placid and you mostly got walk on dry ground with only occasional low-level water crossings. We were able to do that walk in our flip-flops (called “jandals” here). In NZ, it was a rushing, roaring stream in a rocky cave, walking almost exclusively in the cold water and not on land. We had to do it in secure shoes and watch each step. Definitely a different atmosphere!

The deepest section. Definitely much deeper for me!

Was it fun? Oh yeah! We acclimated to the cold water pretty quickly. While very dark, it definitely wasn’t quiet. You know how rapids sound? Magnify that in an echoing room. We had to shout and be close to each other to be heard. And, while there were no sharp edges, the walls were definitely not flat. It was like walking through a surrealist painting with whacky walls and shapes.

I made Jonathan take photographic proof that went through it.

This time the glowing red dot is my husband’s headlamp, not young crocodiles.

As we went along Jonathan was able to spot a few fun things as well (my light was way too dim to see much). This is an eel.

There were a couple sections around some of these dividers that were narrow, with water rushing through with great force. Some we were able to barely get through, another we had to try and rock climb on the walls past it (while not dropping my camera into the churning water).

Some foam.

A rock bridge that we had to go over.

Some water that was falling in from another source than the stream.

This is the end. See those rungs, we have to climb those to get out. In that dark chamber beyond is a 3m gushing waterfall that you can’t climb up on your own.

Then, when you get to the top, you have to hold onto the chain on the left and crawl along on all fours to make sure you don’t descend back down that 3m.

The waterfall and 3m drop.

Sure doesn’t look so bad from the outside, does it?

After drying off and having some lunch, we ventured down the road shortly to Castle Hill. Here rocks have been weathered down into fanciful shapes that remind some of old buildings, castles, or forts. We took a leisurely walk through them.




That isn’t actually an arch, just different colored rock. Deceptive, huh?






Next day was a visit to Mt Thomas, but with the heat and humidity, I didn’t last very long.

In a town on the way to Mt Thomas.


Then, the next day, we ran into Christchurch for supplies. Our colander developed a crack that was ever-widening, and I wanted some water shoes. The flip-flops that I had owned since 1st or 2nd year of college (11-13 years ago, a really hardy pair given to me by my mom) finally broke in Australia, back when we put our canoe into a crater lake in the Atherton Tablelands. I tried for a while to find a cheap pair to replace them, but couldn’t find what I wanted. I finally gave up and opted to wear Jonathan’s old flip-flops whenever I needed them (which wasn’t very often). But, Cave Stream had been a reminder that those wouldn’t work when crossing rivers, and I didn’t want wet feet for long hikes. So, we went in search of several items that day in Christchurch, and were mostly successful. And, of course, I had manipulated our schedule so that we would be in Christchurch on an ultimate-frisbee-pickup-game day. So, while Jonathan was being productive writing posts, I learned a new game of frisbee that you can play with only 4 players.

IMG_20170918_120210 IMG_20180210_205623
Only one of the flip-flops broke, but it was time. The water shoes are lightweight, cheap, and my feet won’t slip out of them when walking on awkward, wet surfaces.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Lewis Pass and Arthur’s Pass

By Jen.

We continued onto Lewis Pass from Hope River. We had stopped here before, but had not explored. This time we decided to try for the Lewis Pass Tops walk. It started off relatively level and wandering through beech forest with lots of native birds.



We wondered if this rock was the argillite that is colloquially (and unaffectionately) referred to as “Weet-Bix” (a brand of cereal similar to Mini Wheats in the States), as that is what it sounds/feels like as it crumbles beneath your boot.



Shortly, however, it started its steep ascent. Every time we start up anything even moderately steep, I am reminded that I am not at all good at inclines. I blame this on my Kansas roots. Many of you know that I grew up in Kansas. What you may not know is that in that “flat and empty” state that you tried to go through as quickly as possible on road trips, I grew up in the flattest county in Kansas. Hill? What is that? Ravine? Do those things even exist? Fortunately I did a lot of traveling, so I do know they exist, but apparently I don’t climb them very often. Combine that with 10 years of living in height-challenged Tulsa, Oklahoma, and a year on the flattest continent on Earth, I apparently revert to a snail’s pace anytime there are inclines. I thought with the past year of hiking, even managing 18 km in one day once, I would be prepared for hiking in NZ. That has not been the case. I can handle the distance, but I can’t handle the inclines. Going up is terrible, I feel tired and out of breath very quickly. Going down may be worse. While not as much required cardio; we aren’t talking about going down stairs here. When you are going down natural surfaces that are often loose (gravel, leaf-litter), you have to control each step and pray your foot doesn’t slip. Or, if it does, that you land on your butt instead of sliding down the mountainside on your face. I am slowly getting better, but make sure not to expect pleasant answers from me while I am focusing on traversing a mountain. At least the views are normally worth it.

After 1.5 hours, we cleared the tree line.


There was a set of birds at the top that were finding lunch and trying to avoid being blown away in the wind.



From here, we restocked at Greymouth and delved back towards Arthur’s Pass. Before we got too far, though, we were sidetracked by the Goldsborough  Track. We didn’t enjoy this track as much as we thought we would. We wanted to see the tunnels they made for redirecting the river for gold mining. But, we weren’t as prepared as we should have been (didn’t bring enough water nor lunch), and after an hour in, uncomfortable humidity, and no tunnels, we decided to turn back.


We were walking in a rainforest next to a stream after a recent rain. You can guess from where the humidity might be coming?

We think we found some uncurled/not-dried-up kidney ferns.

There were some flowering trees.

The birds were singing happily despite the humidity and warmth.

Red-orange fungi.

We came back for lunch and then decided to try Tunnel Terrace Walk. In one of our guide books, it was noted as great fun for children and walking through old water-race tunnels, so I figured I would be sure to enjoy it. Just call me a 30-year-old kid, as I loved it.

You start and finish the short walk by going through tunnels.

The landscape has been dramatically reworked by gold miners. This hill has been slivered into nearly a wall that looks like it could topple.

The harvested side is now showing signs of regrowth.

Leaf-like moth.


You can still see the pick marks.

From there, we drove into Arthur’s Pass, visited Dobson’s Nature Walk and called it a day.

This cliff is the result of a glacier that went up to top of the bare rock in the image during the last ice age.