Great Walking: The Milford Track

The planning for this was as straightforward as it could be, given we had started laying the groundwork for it three years ago. The decisions were all made by default due to date constraints – needing to be still in Wellington on a certain date, and needing to be back in Christchurch for Christmas. The hardest decision was persuading Mark that we should splash out on flights and a bus from Christchurch to Queenstown and back instead of driving – a decision that proved absolutely right.

The key factor for us was the dates – we wanted to tie this in with a planned trip to Christchurch, and the dates needed to work for Grandma J, who was looking after Mr4.5 while Mark and I tramped. It took more than half the day from bookings opening to get through the computer system and book, and we were nearly the last ones able to book on our day when we did.

Our route included one hills day, up and over the Mackinnon Pass – a total climb of 600m and descent of close to 1000m, all in one day. That long day was also the only opportunity to do the Sutherland Falls side track, which we almost didn’t bother with at all because we were shattered. It took us much longer than anticipated to get down from the top. Other than Day 3, the other days are largely bush bound, with limited scenic views.

The huts were as expected – fairly standard back country huts with large living areas, evening lights (from solar batteries), and flush toilets. The Milford has NO platform bunks, which is a bit different to other places I have experienced. Also, make sure you have your own hut shoes (I opted to share with Mark, whoops), because it’s a gravel path between the kitchen and bunkrooms at Dumpling Hut – everywhere else you only need the hut shoes to get to the toilet.

We had a wide range of weather. It was cool, clear and dry when we got off the boat, and we started our walk in our raincoats till we warmed up. I struggled with heat induced fatigue after we both ran out of water on day 2 (and I wasn’t the only one). About 4am on day 3, the rain arrived (as forecast), and so we had to go up and over the hill without the celebrated views, instead opting for hot drinks in the steam room of Pass Hut. Day 4 was perfect tramping weather – warm in the shade, a little hot in the sun (and we were in the shade most of the day).

Mark and I were much better matched on this trip than we have been on some previous ones, apart from the fact my new boots weren’t up to the task, which slowed me down a bit going down the hill. I also helped this out by ensuring that various bits of group gear, or my gear, were packed into Marks bag each day, weighing him down a little.

I had new boots. They are not the right boots for me. The shank was too soft for rock hopping of any description and I kept feeling like I was rolling over on my ankles. They were also cut too high in the back and gave me Achilles problems – thank goodness Mark had decent sandals as his hut shoes, as I walked out in those.

I was forced to retire one piece of kit – my spork. I had had it for so long that it was slightly gutting to unpack it at Dumpling Hut and discover it had snapped. Thankfully its only about $5 to replace, and given how much use I have had of it, I wont be without one for long.

Along the track we met a screed of really interesting people – and the unusually great thing about the Milford Track is that everyone stays at the same huts the same nights for the entire walk – so you actually get to know people. Like Mike, Lisa and their kids from Melbourne, the Tasman Teens family, and the 13-time Milford track veteran and his family. When the warden did a count at Dumpling hut to see if she had the hut tickets and came up two short, as a group we were able to recollect who was still on the track.

The best part of the track was all the bird life. It was incredible. We saw so many Robins they became passé, loads of weka, fantails, waxeyes, and a single juvenile kea (I was a bit gutted to not see more of them).

The worst part of the trip was how my boots let me down. I was exceptionally disappointed in the pain they caused and the need to walk the last day in Marks Teva Sandals was not ideal.

We had a convoluted path to the track – first up we took a ferry to Picton, then drove down the Kaikoura Coast to Christchurch. From there (a couple of days later) we flew to Queenstown and took a bus to Te Anau. The next day we took a bus to Te Anau Downs, and then a launch to Glade Wharf. The return was a mirror, except starting at Sandfly Point, and staying in Christchurch for a few days before taking the inland road back to Picton.

Our total cost for this trip doesn’t bear thinking about. Hut passes for two was $420, transport to and from Te Anau another $437. Flights to and from Queenstown $376, Bus to and from Queenstown $187, then two nights accommodation in Te Anau was $360. Add in food, meals while traveling etc, and we would easily have hit $2,000 for two. Still, doing it guided would have been that much EACH from Queenstown, minimum.

Ara Harakeke – the way of Flax

One of my goals for 2017 was to “walk” all the local sections of the Te Araroa trail. I didn’t quite come close to that – I’ve still only done about 25% of the Wellington section (although the goal didn’t include doing the 4-day section in the Tararua Range).P1030106

On the weekend, I added a small section of the trail to my “completed” list with a bike ride. Parking our car in an industrial street in Plimmerton between the state highway and the railway line, we hitched up the borrowed tag-along bike for Mr4 and hit the trail to Pukerua Bay. The ride towards Pukerua Bay didn’t feel particularly steep for the most part, although it was definitely work, and had some steep up hills. 5km and 35 minutes later, we stopped for ice creams at the dairy.

The ride back was such a difference – and I totally recommend doing it Northbound first if doing a there-and-back – we hardly needed to pedal at all, and I hit P103011930km/hr on one section (and I was the slower of the two bikes still).

The track we followed was well maintained, smooth, and fully sealed. There were only two points where anything crossed the trail – one railway line access and the Whenua Tapu access road. Both had excellent visibility. The scenery was nothing spectacular – it certainly lives up to its name, with Ara Harakeke translating literally to “the way of flax”, but overall, it was a lovely and safe place to take a new bike for a trial ride.

Solo Camping – with a twist!

The inspiration from this trip came from a rough winter of not a lot of photography, and a burgeoning interest in challenging myself with night photography. I’ve shot the city firewoIMG_1648rks display many times in the 10 years since I got my first digital camera, and wanted a new angle to shoot from.

I had originally hoped to take the family and stay for a couple of nights (taking a half day on the Friday), but none of our friends wanted to join us, and Mark wound up not getting back from Sydney till midnight Friday, so just the one night and just me worked better in the end.

This trip was 99% about the photography. My hope was for a clearish and reasonably still night, to get sunset, fireworks, perhaps Milky Way (if I was lucky and very pedantic with my settings, as it would be setting over the CBD as the full moon rose behind me, immediately after the fireworks). Then maybe some star trails or moon-lit long exposure shots of the old quarantine buildings before sunrise. IMG_1681
Instead, I was stuck inside or in my tent a lot, as the wind was massive (strongest gusts in the range of 120km/hr overnight), and there was a lot of cloud. But I got to shoot the fireworks, which was a challenge in itself at that distance, and planned some future astro-photography options.

The camp site on the island has very little shelter from any wind direction. Given it was a northerly, I parked my very low profile tent adjacent to a small wall to provide some shelter, which stopped the wind getting in underneath. In a southerly, the sheds in the camp ground provide better shelter, but only for one or two tents. The kitchen is small, with only one standard oven top to cook on, no fridge, and no shelves for unpacking food to. But, all your pots, pans, plates etc are provided, so that’s a bonus.

The best thing about this trip was finally seeing little blue penguins. I went wandering after the fireworks with a group of people who were staying at the houses on the island, and we came across 5 of them. Amazing.

The hardest part of the trip was the lack of sleep from the wind. I hit the wall about 2pm Sunday and just could not do anything for the rest of the afternoon. Come Wednesday morning after I got home, I still hadn’t unpacked – good thing my food rubbish was taken home by the group who were camping alongside me!

After this trip, we’ll be retiring our very old (probably 12 years?) Kathmandu North Star

2017-11-04 21.35.11
Accidentally took a photo with flash – new cellphone, didn’t even realise it DID have flash – my old one didn’t!

tent. I picked it up as a second as part of my leaving shop when working at Kathmandu in late 2007. The seam seal tape has completely disintegrated, and I doubt the outer is actually waterproof any more. It’s been through a few good adventures with us over the years.

To get to and from Somes Island, I travelled by East by West Ferry. It’s the only way you can get there unless you are kayaking or own your own boat. And it has advantages over taking your own boat, in that you don’t need to then berth away from the island and kayak / swim back.

All up, I spent about $60 – one nights campsite fee, return pass on the East by West, and dinner supplies at the supermarket. Well worth it!

In love with Wanaka

After stop-offs along the way at the top of the Crown Range Road, and the Cardrona Hotel for lunch, the first thing we did after unloading the car was walk to the playground, then back via the supermarket. Our accommodation in Wanaka was so super central that we only took our car out when we were going out of town, which was great for getting our step counts up and enjoying the fresh air.

We saved money by staying in a holiday rental that is part of a workplace programme for both our companies. It’s a two-bedroom house slightly larger than our current home, and includes a full kitchen and a washing machine. Yes, this meant we had to wash our own dishes, but when you’re paying $320/week for up to six people, it’s worth that small hassle. It also saved us a packet on food. While our groceries were much more expensive than at home (lots of packet mixes as we didn’t have herbs for example), we only ate out for three lunches and two dinners in 10 days. We learnt a valuable lesson too – we’ll take far fewer clothes next time, and wash every night instead.

We splurged on 3 days on the skifield. $1200 was totally worth it (and the details are on a separate post here, because there is so much to share). Outside of that, our only really spendy treat was a swim in the hot pools at Tekapo (we gave Mr4 the option – waterfalls on the Haast Rd, or a long day to see a big mountain, finishing with a swim at hot pools, he chose the latter). At $64 for a couple of hours for the three of us, I cant really say it was worth the spend.

Outside of facing my fears and learning to ski, the hardest part of the trip was one night when Mr4 had a tight, asthmatic cough going on that wouldn’t settle. It only kicked off at about dinner time, and no amount of Ventolin seemed to work. If we had been at our Queenstown accommodation, we could have whipped down the road to A&E, but in Wanaka, there is no after hours medical service, so we had to call an ambulance. Thankfully, another big dose of Ventolin was enough to bring things under control and he finally got to sleep about 2am. By some miracle, he was still up and about and excited to go to ski kindy the next morning.

As a family, we really enjoyed Puzzling World, as cheesy as it seems. We managed to find all four corners of the maze while avoiding the domestics we had last time we tried it, and the indoor rooms were also fun (although Mr4 didn’t like the angled room!). We actually went back to the café on one of our last days to waste some time doing their puzzles, which was a great way to fill in an hour or so.

Our worst experience was totally the Transport and Toy museum. The various hangars were so packed full that it was near impossible to see anything within them, and it really failed to keep Mr4’s interest. Add to that, it was colder in the hangars than it was outside (and this was still late winter, so that’s saying something), and I have to say I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone travelling with kids. History buffs who like aimless collections would enjoy it, but leave the kids at the café at Puzzling World (just down the road) while you do it.

We skipped the Warbirds museum because Mr4 was already scratchy from the Transport and Toy museum and really just wanted to hit a playground or café again. And sometimes, you have to do what makes the littlest one in the group happy, because otherwise everyone ends up miserable. I think I would have enjoyed that one more, myself.

An unexpected highlight was the little wharf right on the main waterfront. Turns out, there are HUGE eels who live around there, who love being fed (pick up feed from the LakeLand Information Centre right by it), along with beautiful Scaup and some white ducks. We stopped here several times to either just enjoy the location, or feed the eels.

The most tourist-obvious thing we did was visit That Tree. We made one trip as a family, late in the afternoon, and I made two more – a 9pm mission for a Milky Way shot (and the angles were awesome) and another evenings sunset.

We did one big day out of town (other than our three skiing), where we went over the Lindis Pass and out to Mt Cook Village. We got stunning views of Mt Cook on the drive in, enjoyed a slice and a drink at the café at the Hermitage, and then drove around to Tekapo for the hot pools, where we were also treated to a wee bit of a sunset at the Church of the Good Shepherd when almost no-one was around. Arriving home well after dark, it was an epically long day, but some great memories were made, and definite plans for future holidays were hatched.

Our last day in town we chilled for a bit at Puzzling World, played at the park, walked around town, found a gorgeous wee café in Albert Town. Our drive back to Queenstown included stops in Cromwell, Kawerau Bridge and Arrowtown to fill in our day.

Queenstown 2017

IMG_0682
At our holiday rental

The first thing we did when we arrived was thank the heavens it wasn’t raining. We were staying under 1km from the airport and had decided not to get a car immediately, so needed to walk Mr4, Marks skis, and a weeks worth of other gear for three of us to our accommodation. We “borrowed” a couple of trolleys from the airport to do it, then had a great adventure walking them back again.

We thought we were saving money by not renting a car until we needed it to get out of town, but the bus to and from Frankton was expensive. Thankfully, by not using the airport bus stop, we saved $5/adult, but confirming what the price per person was before we got on the bus was impossible – the website didn’t have a clear pricing table, and the call centre wasn’t answering their phone on a Saturday morning. It wound up costing us nearly as much for a return on the bus as we paid per day for our car. But at least we didn’t have to worry about parking time limits.

We splurged on a trip up the gondola and a package of luge rides, and it was worth every cent. Mr4 had an amazing time, although he’s definitely getting too big to ride pillion – good thing he’ll be old enough to solo by the time we go back in a couple of years. I was in agony by the end of it, the shaking and effort required of your wrists aggravated a wrist injury I’m still in physio for. Thankfully we took heat and cold packs on holiday with us!

On our way back to Queenstown, we stopped at the Kawerau Bungy centre, to walk across the bridge, and to watch people throw themselves off it. Probably some of the best free fun we had in 10 days outside of various playgrounds we found. Mr4 loved rambling up and down between the various viewing decks, and watching the jumpers. Personally, I’m keen to try the zipline ride there next time we’re in town. Not anywhere near as adventurous as a bungy jump, but also significantly cheaper!

We went off the tourist track and hit up Alpine Aqualand on our last morning, after returning our rental car and checking in our bags. As always, the pool was lovely. Interestingly, the pool tastes salty, as if it uses salt-water chlorination or similar rather than traditional chlorine. Its not a cheap treat to visit the pool, but we got a solid nearly 2 hours of play to fill in our day, so it was worth it.

The hardest part of our time in Queenstown was probably that it was so short – two nights on our way to Wanaka, one night on the way home.

IMG_1024

Review: Cardrona Skifield

The key reason for our trip south this year was for skiing. I’ve been trying to learn to ski since not long after Mark and I met, with little to no success. Having a pre-schooler hasn’t helped when we’ve based ourselves at our club ski lodge on Whakapapa, because someone still had to be looking after the kid, so Mark got first dibs on skiing since he already enjoyed it, whereas I was slightly terrified of it.

Given we are aiming to spend a chunk of time skiing in Canada in a few years (potentially a Christmas ski holiday), this needed to be resolved. I needed to learn to ski.

Friends had raved about Cardrona, they go every year, so we decided to emulate them and try it for ourselves.

Lesson packages and lift passes are similarly priced between Cardrona and Ruapehu, with Cardrona being ever so slightly cheaper across the board. But what sets Cardrona apart is how family-friendly it is.

I have two words for you: SKI KINDY.
(and another pair for those who have older kids: KIDS CLUB).

Enrolment in Ski Kindy comes with three levels of options: Straight daycare, daycare plus either a morning or afternoon private lesson, and daycare with morning and afternoon group lessons. It caters for all ages from 3mo, and over 2’s can have ski lessons. Awesomely, Ski Kindy is now located in the same building as the kids club, which makes drop off and pickup easy for parents with kids of different ages. All gear is included at Ski Kindy if you opt for lessons – skis or board, boots, helmet, goggles, mittens. You’ll want to provide your own jacket and pants (since you’ll need those to get from the car anyway). We gather than in Kids Club, fitting for those hiring is also done within their rooms – no need to take your kid through the crush of the hire room.

Gear hire for adults is not the smoothest process, but that appears to be normal – there is no queue management, and its not always clear where you should be waiting. That said, the staff were friendly and competent, and when I went back mid-day on day 2 with pain in my calves, they were super helpful with changing out what I had for what I needed. When I came back on day 3 requesting a specific pair of boots, they hunted them out for me.

Lessons. Wow. The instructors I got were awesome. Friendly, patient, encouraging. Starting lessons on an all-but flat area was fantastic. We learned how to stand on skis without having to learn to stop first. Moving on to the learners slope, it was far flatter than I experienced on Whakapapa or Turoa. The learner carpets were fantastic.

My learner package included 3 days of gear hire and four lessons – two hours each, with two on day one and one each on days two and three. I lucked out and got the same instructor for lessons one through three, but got someone else for lesson four, and although he was lovely, some of his techniques confused my brain and I feel I lost some technique.

Once they are confident of your skill, you’ll be taken up the chairlift for a run down skyline. Awesomely, if you’ve skied before, you can still have lessons, at a range of skill levels all the way up to introduction to the terrain park, on a standard lesson voucher. We’re definitely planning on sending Mark on a lesson next time, just for fun.

Mark had an awesome time over his three days. He got over every trail that wasn’t black (Cardrona has four levels – beginner, intermediate, advanced, expert), rode every chairlift multiple times, and did more vertical meters in a day than I did over 3.

Overall, the skifield also had an awesomely cruisy, small-town vibe. Having competitors from the Norwegian Winter Games team riding the learner carpet was such an odd experience, but awesome. The halfpipe being in view from the main base area means you get some incredible shows while waiting in line / riding the chondola. You can leave your bags pretty much anywhere in the base area (take your valuables, leave your walking shoes and lunch) without concern. Riding the chondola to the top with your kids is awesome, there’s even a bar / coffee shop at the top to chill out in.

If you’ve never done Cardrona, you are missing out. And that’s coming from me, who nearly threw up with nerves at the top of Skyline – the first run available to people once they are out of the learners slope.

2017-08-24 14.18.41

Queenstown and Wanaka – Teaser

Later this week, we fly to Queenstown for a 10 day adventure!

After a couple of nights at a rental in Frankton (without a car! Eeek!), where we’ll probably take the bus into town and go luging (provided the weather is nice), we’ll hit the road and head to Wanaka.

Our plan sees Mr4 offloaded to Ski Kindy at Cardona for three days, so that Mark can enjoy some skiing, and I can take some lessons. The flexibility this provides is something I am in awe of, and am so confused as to why there isn’t anything like it at Whakapapa – having to have someone supervising Mr4 at all times is the main reason I haven’t learnt to ski yet.

Anyway, hopefully by the end of that we’ll all be happy ski bunnies and uninjured, because then it will be time to explore Wanaka and the area a bit – we’re definitely going to Puzzling World, I want to have a go at Clip & Climb, and we’re debating where to go on a drive day – Haast and its waterfalls, or Mt Cook and Tekapo for hot pools and iconic views?

An extra night in Queenstown on our way home will give us a chance to go back to Alpine Aqualand, which is an awesome, family-friendly pool.

Cooking on Fire!

Last years Tramping Club Families Group trip to Battle Hill to cook lunch on a fire in the depths of winter was such a success, we decided we should try and make it a tradition.

This year went better again – a total of 24 adults and children turned up. We got a surprise in that it was SUNNY (the forecast had been average all week). The kids loved the stream again, and we packed tired kids up just as it clouded over and started spitting.

Our lunch this year was also more successful than last year. We did bacon-wrapped potatoes and a cheese scone (although we forgot to take butter and cheese for the potatoes, and butter and jam for the scones!). All were cooked in foil in the embers of the fire.

Kiwi S’mores went down a treat with Mr4 as well, who last year refused toasted marshmallows. My GF attempt (with Caramilk chocolate and a pair of shortbread biscuits) didn’t go quite so well, but was still tasty!

Explorastory – Sydney for Vivid

The first thing we did when we arrived was follow what felt like “Amazing Race” instructions from the train to our apartment. Once we got that sorted, we wandered down to Martin Place, to see the smallest of the Vivid zones, before grabbing cereal for breakfast and heading home for an early night.IMG_9501

The hardest moment of the trip was on our walk at North Fort, when we realised the bus only went every 2 hours, and we were probably 3 minutes too late to walk to the other bus in time. I was in agony with some back problem, and I actually cried. Head down, power on, walk another 3km back to Manly just nicely in time to grab a gelato and board the ferry back to the city.

An unexpected highlight was definitely seeing Humpback Whales on our ferry TO Manly. Maritime requirements meant that our ferry had to slow right down to a stop to figure out exactly where they were, so for $2.50 (a Sunday fare), we got a whale-watching tour thrown in! I dIMG_9350idn’t get any photos of the whales, sadly, but still!

A key tourist attraction we skipped this trip was Taronga Zoo. Even though they had a special Vivid exhibition, we didn’t want to tie ourselves to being over there for at least two hours (between the ferry and the exhibits), when there was so much to be seen in town. We opted not to visit in the daytime either, as we did there last visit (in 2009) and will most certainly do it again when we take Mr4 sometime in the next couple of years.

Our most abiding memory would have to be the crowds around the Vivid inIMG_9517stallations. Massive crowds. And it wasn’t even a public holiday weekend! We definitely agreed that if we were to go back for another year, we would go during the week, when hopefully it might be slightly less crammed.

We got off the tourist-beaten track and did a couple of coastal walks. The first, after a super-early wakeup (yay jetlag) was from Bondi to Bronte. The swells out there were incredibly powerful, and the rocks very dramatic. The other was North Fort from Manly, which took mucIMG_9316h longer than we were advised, and really did treat us to 4 seasons in one day – we went from wishing we had taken togs for a swim at Shelly Bay, to wrapping up in every warm layer we had plus a blanket at the café we stopped at for lunch.

The most tourist-obvious thing we did was simply enjoying Vivid! Its what drew us there, and it was worth it. We wandered the Rocks, Circular Quay, Darling Harbour, Mrs Macquaries Chair, the Botanic Gardens. It was all amazing.

IMG_9743
Titanic Exhibition. Don’t recommend

It turns out that you can get quite a nice view of both the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge if you walk along the Cahill Expressway (and it surprises me that you are allowed to!). Probably the single best spot we found on our guided photography walk on Sunday night. Friends who also went up there didn’t go far enough along, and wound up with just the bridge.

Something we’ll have to go back for is the Saturday market at Bondi school. Something like 75% of the food stalls offered gluten free options, including dumplings (something I desperately miss!). We had only recently had breakfast, so didn’t get anything to eat. If we’d started at Bronte for our walk, it would have made a great lunch stop!

The very last thing we did before we left was go for a swim at Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre. I was in agony from back spasms, and needed to get weightless for a while to try and resolve them before our cattle class flight home. The pool felt colder than the reported temperature, but was still a relief. Closing the curtains over our last glance out the windows of our AirBnB was a little sad, but our train trip to the airport was smooth and check in uncomplicated.

Our First AirBnB

This weekend in Sydney was the first time we have used AirBnB for booking our accommodation. Mostly this was down to the fact I wanted a kitchen, to enable us to actually cook some meals ourselves – trying to find coeliac-friendly food in an unfamiliar city can be a bit of a nightmare, so knowing we had somewhere central and easy to get to, where we could prep food for ourselves was one less stress.

Because we took a while to get around to booking, we missed out on a couple of cheaper options that we had liked the look of. But what we got instead, slightly above our usual upper limit for accommodation bookings, was a stunning 1-bed apartment with the most incredible views.

THE GOOD

Our hosts were lovely, including allowing us to check out super late (as late as 5pm if we wanted). The apartment was sparingly furnished but lacked for nothing we needed for the weekend. There were plenty of power points. The accommodation was between two major train stations, and within 5 minutes walk of a range of useful bus stops. There was a supermarket literally the other end of the next block, which was fantastic. The kitchen was compact, but had everything, including a full-sized oven.

IMG_8946b

THE AVERAGE

There was nothing bad about this apartment. Arriving home from Vivid at 10pm on Saturday to a neighbour blaring music so loud it was clear in the hallway is a risk in any block, but incredibly, the apartment door was so good we couldn’t notice it over the road noise once inside. The black out blinds did a wonderful job of stopping the street lighting getting in, but the one morning we weren’t awake before the sun, the sun woke us by sneaking in the corners (I suspect this is a seasonal thing, where there would only be a handful of days the angle is right).

THE EXCELLENT

The view. Honestly, I could have sat and watched the view for days. We had an unhindered view of the north half of Hyde Park, and could see all the way out to North Fort at Manly Heads. Who needs the Opera House / Harbour Bridge combo when you’ve got that? The walkability to get everywhere was lovely. The compact size meant the apartment was easy to keep warm (although a couple of the mornings we would have loved a blanket / dressing gown for chilling out watching the view without getting in to street clothes while the heater warmed up).

IMG_9332b