One day in Bangkok

I’d never visited anywhere in Asia before, so we took advantage of the journey from NZ back to the UK and stayed in Bangkok for a day.

We arrived late at night. It was very dark, very humid, very hot and lightning filled the air.

The next day was our full day in Bangkok; we wanted to see a bit of the city and take full advantage of the authentic thai food!

Our first rather exciting adventure was the Lumphini Park; an inner city park with lakes and grassy areas. Even though this park is surrounded by the city, it holds an extraordinary range of ‘wild’life….

First we saw lizards that were the size of alligators, called monitors:

A monitor at Lumphini Park

then turtles…

Turtles at Lumphini Park

Some very pretty white herons ….

A white heron at Lumphini Park

and some rather scary centipedes that were 1 cm in diameter!

Following our park adventure, we joined a ‘Bangkok Food Tours’ walking tour to get the opportunity to sample the best local food. We visited 5 restaurants in total and enjoyed a wide range of Thai food:

First, delicious roast duck

Lunch number 1; Roast duck on rice at Chareon Wieng Pochana

then egg curry (one of my favourites)

Lunch number 2; Curry lava on egg at Muslim Restaurant

then Tom yum noodle soup (Richard’s favourite)

Lunch number 3; Tom yum noodle soup

then pork buns and custard buns (delicious), with thai iced milk tea (which is delicious; it’s thai tea, with condensed milk + ice)

Lunch number 4; thai bbq pork buns and thai style green custard buns, plus thai iced tea, at PanLee Bakery

then finally, we finished with thai chicken curry, which was very tasty. This was followed by coconut sorbet (yum).

Lunch number 5; Thai curry served on roti at Kallaprapruek

We were quite full and needed a sit down after all the food, so we hired a man and his long-tailed boat to take us on a tour of the Bangkok canals. It was quite amazing seeing where many of Bangkok’s poorer residents live. Houses were built on stilts on the edges of the canals and many were at bizarre angles, having sank into the mud beneath.

Long-tailed boat on a Bangkok canal

The long-tailed boats are so-named because the propellers are mounted on the end of a long pole at the back of the boat. It seems that the size of the engine is of key importance!

The size of your engine appeared to be important!

After the tour, we spent time walking around the streets and visiting some amazing temples. This was fun and interesting. The journey back to the centre of town in a tuk tuk was far too adventurous for my liking and I don’t think I’ll be repeating that form of transport – the roads are absolutely manic here! The driver was on the wrong side of the road a number of times, eeeek.

Later we came across a shopping area and spent a while walking around the huge and varied foodcourts. We found this array of wonderful cakes 🙂

Amazing cakes in the Siam Paragon Food Court

I think we made the most of our day in Bangkok. It is an amazing city and is certainly worth a stopover if you’re passing through.

Karori 3 hour rogaine

Browsing the internet for orienteering events, revealed that the Hutt Valley Orienteers were organising an afterwork 3 hour rogaine in Karori. This appealed for two reasons, first it involved 3 hours of running around and secondly, the event was centred in the town where Richard grew up. This location had the advantage that we could use all of Richard’s local knowledge …. or so I hoped.

Karori is a pretty suburb of Wellington with quite large hills on every side. These hills harbour lots of trails and tracks, providing quite a good setting for the 3 hour score event. The only difference between running this event in NZ compared to the UK is that the vegetation here is rather man-eating and therefore it is more difficult to assess the relative merits of taking shortcuts through the bush.

We were given the event map 30 mins prior to the start of the event; a luxury to which we are not usually accustomed. So we sat around and discussed our options, and decided to go with the first possibility that we noticed.

RIchard studying the map in the 30 minute map viewing time available before the race began

The route we choose is shown on the map below.

Our route

We decided to collect a few urban points, before heading up into the hills to the northwest of the area. The paths were quite straightforward and controls easy to locate, but this wasn’t going to last for long. Our first brush with the bush was at control number 84, which was located in the midst of vegetation described as ‘thick forest (enter at your peril)’ on the map. It was rather man-eating and slow-going, but thankfully we came across the control fairly quickly and then decided to head up a stream to escape. We headed up to the ridge, where the fog was a fairly thick and the wind was blowing a gale, then we made our way in a southwesterly direction down the ridge to the Karori Park Reserve where we searched and searched for number 62, but to no avail… Richard’s local knowledge had failed us… either that, or all the paths were in different places and the map only showed a small number of them! We headed back down to the urban area and then over to the Burrows Avenue Reserve (almost running past Richard’s childhood home!) where we collected more points and travelled through more man-eating vegetation (yuk), before heading back to the events centre with 4 minutes to spare.

We collected 1270 points and came joint 4th out of 19 teams, with the teams ahead of us collecting 1380,1370 and 1310 points… if only we had found number 63 – which was worth 60 points!

Anyway, we had a really great time and enjoyed the nibbles afterwards. Thanks to the Hutt Valley organisers!

Abel Tasman coastal track

We decided to explore the beautiful beaches and rocky coastline of Abel Tasman a little more by walking a section of the coastal track. A number of the track sections are across tidal estuaries and beaches, and so our plans had to fit around the tide times. This proved slightly tricky as low tide was around 9 o’clock (rather unsociable given that the tidal sections were not at the start or end of the walking day). This resulted in us taking the high tide path on at least one section, which was a couple of hours longer than the lower alternative across a bay.

We started at Marahau on the eastern coast of Abel Tasman and headed north towards Totaranui. The coastal path wound up and down over the headlands and was mostly in the bush, but provided pretty views of the coastal scenery at regular intervals. The path itself was extremely well-trod and was about 1.5 m wide at all times! There was certainly no navigational challenge! Such a path was necessary as tourists were frequently dropped off by the water taxis, allowing them to walk a short section of the path, before being collected a little further along the coast. So, frequently one would meet people in flip flops on the path, despite the location being a days walk from civilisation!

Blue sea of Abel Tasman

After about 7 hours, we reached our beach-front campsite at Medland Bay, where there was space for only 10 people. Thankfully the campsite was very quiet, with only one other couple there.

Beach at Medland Bay campsite. Our tent was pitched just above the bay

Over dinner we watched a heron and a kingfisher fishing in the river, and then once it got dark we took advantage of the darkness and stargazed for a while. Once we’d spotted enough satellites, Richard brought out the camera and played with his torch, lighting up the trees on the opposite hillside.

Southern cross over Medland Bay

The next morning, we set off sharpish, so that we could get to the next tidal section of the path (Onetahuti) before too late. We were actually there quite early, so given that the day’s walking was relatively short, we decided to make hot chocolate on the beach!

After a further hour of walking we got to the Awaroa Lodge, where we enjoyed an apple strudel :-). This was the end of our coastal trek as the next section of the path to Totaranui was tidal and uncrossable at that time. So, we spent a few hours on the beach, drying our belongings and swimming (for Richard anyway), and then we were picked up by our pre-arranged water taxi. This was great fun. The boat was fast and the pilot was kind enough to stop to show us a passing blue penguin and a seal colony.

Eating apple strudel at the Awaroa Lodge.
The speedy ride back to Marahau

Sea kayaking at Abel Tasman National Park

Inspired by Pete and Tish’s recent sea kayaking adventure, we spent the day sea kayaking around the north-western coast of Abel Tasman National Park. Golden Bay Kayaks at Tata Beach, near Takaka, were great! They sorted us out with a two person kayak and all the kit, as well as telling us where to go and what to look out for. We set off around the Tata Islands and then kayaked eastwards around Abel Tasman Point and into Wainui Bay. We passed lots of shags on the way and a rare heron (according to the kayak shop owners), but these were nothing compared to the sting rays that we came upon further into the bay. In the shallow estuary entrance, these creatures could be seen at a distance of about 15 m from the kayak as huge black things. Richard steered us over to a huge one that was about 1 m across, but it got rather upset at our presence and put it’s stinging tail into an upright position and out of the water. It scared the life out of me, as I had no idea whether it was going to spit at me or whether it was just a warning! We saw lots of other sting rays, but nothing quite so large. The water in the shallows was amazingly warm. The next cool creature we saw was after we had beached the kayak near Taupo Point; this was a Gannet. It flew around the bay and then suddenly beak-dived into the water right in front of us to catch its unsuspecting prey! Amazing.

Lunch on the deserted beach.
Lunch on the deserted beach.

Once beached, we had our lunch, and then since the water was warm, went for a snorkel around Uarau Point and saw lots of mussels and chitons, a few fish and some starfish.

Rachel on the beach.
Rachel on the beach.

After our break we headed back, again exploring the shallows of Wainui Bay looking for sting rays, and then kayaking through an archway and spotting seals on the rocks. We had a second break at Little Tata Bay to enjoy the late afternoon sun, before finally heading back to return the kayak. A lovely day out!

Paddling towards the arch at Abel Tasman Point.
Paddling towards the arch at Abel Tasman Point.

45 river crossings before 11.30 am

The Inland Pack Track in the Punakaiki Region of the west coast was our next NZ adventure. This track entailed a 1.3 day journey, with promises of limestone gorges, forest and lots of river crossings.

We started the track from the mouth of the Fox River at Tiromoana at about 3 pm. Our first destination was the Fox River Caves on the north of the Fox River, and to reach these, we only had to cross the main river twice; which was chilly, but nothing to tricky. The track to the river cave was a diversion from our intended route, but it was well-worth it. The cave entrance was quite spectacular, and the 200 m or so of cave was well-decorated, having lots of stals, all covered in white popcorn-type stuff. After a brief explore, we back-tracked onto the main path, which welcomed us with a wide, crotch-deep river crossing (very chilly!).

Fox river caves.
Fox river caves.
The umbrella and mallet formation.
The umbrella and mallet formation.
Rachel lights some formations.
Rachel lights some formations.

Another 30 mins along the path came another river-crossing, equally as chilling. Another 4, less challenging, river-crossings led us to our campsite for the night, which was under a huge rock shelter, probably 100 m long, and overhanging by about 40 m. We set up camp, cooked tea and then watched the glow-worms in the roof of the cave. That was until we heard rustling and noticed that there were rodents and possums about, so the next 20 mins was consumed with deciding what to do with our food (in the end, we wrapped it in 2 rucksack liners and a dry bag, and Richard used it as his pillow!).

Crossing Fox River for the third time.
Crossing Fox River for the third time.
The Ballroom Overhang.
The Ballroom Overhang.

The following morning, we left camp around 9:30am and headed into Dilemma Creek. We think the ‘Dilemma’ at stake was whether or not to cross the river when the gravel banks petered out. In actual fact, there wasn’t really a dilemma as crossing the river was necessary to avoid deep pools. In total we crossed the river 45 times in Dilemma Creek and the subsequent Fossil Creek! Most of these were only knee deep but some were thigh deep and resulted in us having very cold feet! However, the limestone cliffs on either side of the gorge, and the contrast between the white of the rock and the green of the vegetation made up for the discomfort.

Yet another river crossing, this time with an added challenge!
Yet another river crossing, this time with an added challenge!

About 11:30am we came to the end of the river section of the track and started the forest yomp. We trekked through the forest for about 4 hours, admiring the birds, trees and the many many caves and shakeholes.

The last leg of the journey was down the Pororari River Gorge. There was both a bridge and a path along the river, so our feet remained warm! This section of the trail had pretty, almost tropical vegetation, namely Nikau Palms and Keikei vines, which kept Richard snapping with his camera. After a bit less than an hour, and just as the drizzle started, we reached the carpark where we had left the car. We celebrated surviving all the river crossings with cookies, ice cream and apples.

A Nikau Palm against the cliffs of the Pororari Gorge.

Ascent of Mount Fox

After finishing the Rees-Dart Track, we travelled over to the West Coast of New Zealand where it rained torrentially for a day and a half. By the time the rain had subsided, we were in the tiny village of Fox Glacier, which, funnily enough, is near to the Fox Glacier. The sky was still cloudy and rain still fairly likely, but we decided to entertain ourselves by climbing Mount Fox anyway. The view from the top of Mount Fox was supposed to provide great a great panorama of the Fox Glacier and surrounding mountains.

The path to the viewpoint quickly gained a personality, featuring some extremely steep sections. At one point, the path was near vertical with an elevation gain of about 1040m! This was no rock climb however, the ground was held in position by the roots of kahikatea and other large trees. The climb was relentless; in total it took about 2 hours to get to the viewpoint (just below the summit) and we were setting quite a pace (Richard was almost gasping for breath at one stage!).

Rachel climbing one of the vertical sections of track.
Rachel climbing one of the vertical sections of track.

During the entire climb the view was very much obscured by the vegetation, but it was obvious that the cloud was very much around us, suggesting that the climb would not yield the promised view. However once we climbed past the tree line, we were pleased to find that the view out to the sea was clearing. Whilst this was a nice view, the cloud on the mountains was thick.

First glimpse of the glacier through the cloud.
First glimpse of the glacier through the cloud.

We climbed on and after about 20 mins we reached our final destination and suddenly, the cloud began to part providing us with the view of the Fox Glacier and the surrounding mountains. We were quite glad that the near-vertical climb had been worthwhile!

Fox glacier with sunshine on the tussock in the foreground.
Fox glacier with sunshine on the tussock in the foreground.

The downward journey was rather slow. Lots of slippy tree roots, rocks and mud!

Here’s the map of the route; the GPS only seemed to work on the way down….
20120325-MtFox

Tramping the Rees-Dart

After a few days in Dunedin, we headed to Queenstown in search of adventure. We arranged a five day tramp at the North end of Lake Wakatipu, up the Rees Valley and back down the Dart.

Day 1 saw us driven from Queenstown to Muddy Creek, the start of the track. As usual, we were travelling fairly light – Rachel was using one of our mountain marathon packs while I was testing out our new OMM Villain, a 45l pack. This, along with our trail shoes rather than tramping boots, elicited a certain amount of disapproval from one of the bus drivers!

From Muddy Creek, we headed up the flats that make up the lower part of the Rees Valley. It started out fine, with occasional showers, but the weather steadily got worse as the day went on. After a couple of hours of walking mostly across boggy river flats, we reached the edge of the bush, and shortly after, the suspension bridge that marks the edge of Mt Aspiring National Park. Since by this time it was raining pretty hard, we stopped for lunch under a rock overhang. From this point we were mostly in thick Southern Beech forest with occasional views of the river, and waterfalls cascading between the trees. Eventually we climbed above the bush line, still in driving rain, and shortly afterwards we were glad to see the smoke rising from Shelter Rock Hut.

A rainbow over the Rees Valley flats.
A rainbow over the Rees Valley flats.

The hut was pretty luxurious, with 22 bunks, but only nine of us staying, and we had a sleeping room to ourselves for the night. The other trampers included a group of four from the Manawatu Tramping Club who entertained us with stories of various epic trips.

The second morning dawned with a little drizzle, but the promise of a brighter day later. We carried on up the Rees, climbing up into the upper basin, then up a very steep climb to Rees Saddle. Unfortunately it was rather cold, and still drizzling lightly, so we didn’t hang around at the saddle long before descending down the spectacular “Gloomy Gorge” of Snowy Creek towards its confluence with the Dart River. On the way down, the sun finally came out, and we got lovely views down the valley to Hesse Glacier and the waterfall that issues from its terminus. We got to Dart Hut in time for lunch in the sun outside the hut.

The rather cold summit of the Rees Saddle.
The rather cold summit of the Rees Saddle.
Swing bridge over Snowy Creek, with Dart Hut behind. This was taken from our Day three campsite.
Swing bridge over Snowy Creek, with Dart Hut behind. This was taken from our Day three campsite.

After lunch we dumped our packs and headed up the valley to see the Dart Glacier and Cascade Saddle. The views were spectacular, with small glaciers hanging from the valley sides, and the larger Dart Glacier pouring down the valley. We climbed up the side of the valley above the main glacier until we could see the ice fall at the top of the valley and the nevee. Then we scrambled up a final climb to reach Cascade Saddle, with views down to the Matukituki Valley on the other side, and Mt Aspiring, New Zealand’s second highest mountain at the end of the valley.

The upper part of the Dart Valley on the way to Cascade Saddle.
The upper part of the Dart Valley on the way to Cascade Saddle.
The Dart Glacier.
The Dart Glacier.

By this stage it was 4pm, so we ran back to the hut to ensure we were there before dark. Dart Hut is in a lovely position on a sunny ledge above the confluence of Snowy Creek and the Dart River, and on the edge of a little patch of bush. We saw lots of birds around the hut – riflemen, keas, and even a New Zealand falcon.

A yellow-breasted Tomtit.
A yellow-breasted Tomtit.

Having visited the saddle on the previous day, we had a free day at Dart Hut, and took up the invitation of the hut warden, Manu, to try to climb one of the nearby mountains, Headlong Peak. The day was gorgeous, with not a cloud in the sky. We headed up a ridge covered in dense alpine vegetation, including spiny Horrid Spaniards and scratchy Dracophylum. After a couple of hours of struggling through this stuff, we reached a boulder field, and shortly afterwards the vegetation got smaller and the going got easier. Soon after we were on bare rock, that was very steeply dipping and shattered. We reached the main ridge with some difficulty, and headed on up this until our way was blocked by a series of small cliffs. After traversing under these on steeply sloping scree, we stopped for lunch on a small outcrop, then continued on gradually worsening terrain until we were forced to descend to safer ground. After investigating another ridge that didn’t seem much better, we were forced to admit defeat and descend.

Looking up at Headlong Peak.
Looking up at Headlong Peak.
Our lunch spot high on Headlong Peak.
Our lunch spot high on Headlong Peak.

Despite our failure to reach the summit, the views were fantastic, across to the glaciers of the upper Dart, down the Dart Valley to the Barrier Range, and out to Mt Earnslaw, and we enjoyed hiking without a path to follow for a day, as well as the company of Manu.

Looking down the Dart Valley from Headlong Peak.
Looking down the Dart Valley from Headlong Peak.
Rachel and Manu with Mt Edwards and the Hesse glacier behind.
Rachel and Manu with Mt Edwards and the Hesse glacier behind.

Day four of the trip saw us tramping down the Dart River to Daleys Flat Hut. It was another glorious day, and although we were mostly in forest, we got glimpses of mountains, glaciers, and the blue of the Dart River below us on the descent. Eventually we reached Cattle Flat, with lovely views in all directions, but no protection from the hot sun. After playing on a bridge across the river that has no track on the other side, we continued down the valley, and eventually reached the hut after around five hours. Daleys Flat Hut is on the edge of the bush at the far end of a grassy flat so has nice views up the valley, but is unfortunately afflicted with huge numbers of biting sandflies. We arrived at the same time as the Manawatu Tramping Club group and escaped the insect attack and the hot sun by hiding in the hut. I spent some time trying to photograph birds in the bush around the hut, and got some nice pictures of Robins and Tomtits, but was eaten alive in the process.

Rachel and the group from the Manawatu Tramping Club crossing the river flats.
Rachel and the group from the Manawatu Tramping Club crossing the river flats.
Looking back up the Dart Valley on the way to Daleys Flat Hut.
Looking back up the Dart Valley on the way to Daleys Flat Hut.
Daleys Flat from Daleys Flat tramping hut

The final day was rather duller, with showers in the morning. We headed down the river through a mixture of bush and river flats. We were getting picked up at 2pm, so tried to balance going fast enough to outrun the sandflies with going slow enough that we wouldn’t have long to wait for the transport. The forest was particularly nice on this part of the trip, with tall beech trees and huge moss and fern-covered rocks. The lower Dart Valley is one of the few places left where Yellowheads are present, and we were fortunate to meet a couple of flocks of them flying through the treetops. We also got to watch the jet-boats of Dart River Safaris shooting up and down the river between big tree-covered rocks and gravel banks.

A Mohua or Yellowhead.
A Mohua or Yellowhead.
The Dart River jetboat going through the gorge below Sandy Bluff.
The Dart River jetboat going through the gorge below Sandy Bluff.

I was rather sad to reach Chinamans Bluff, the end of the walk. It has been a glorious five days, with spectacular views, good company, and magnificent forest with lots of bird life.

A South Island Robin takes a keen interest in the tag on my backpack.
A South Island Robin takes a keen interest in the tag on my backpack.
The End!
The End!

Dunedin – Sealife Central

We’re in Dunedin, in the South of the South Island, to visit my brother and his family. We’ve also found the time for a little sight-seeing, in this case, of the local wildlife. Dunedin is famous for its albatross and penguin colonies, so naturally we went looking for them.

Pied oystercatcher on the Akaroa peninsular

On our first day we went to Aramoana, where a long spit extends out into the harbour mouth. We were looking for penguins, but didn’t see any. We did see albatross, but only from a distance, so settled for some seals and terns. The next morning, we opted for a trip on the Monarch, a boat that goes out of the harbour in search of wildlife. The trip was brilliant – we saw a New Zealand Sealion on the way out of the harbour, then were visited by a pod of Hector’s Dolphins who played and showed off around the boat. We also saw a lot of albatross – there wasn’t enough wind for the Royals to take off, so we only saw them sitting on the ground, but we had visits from a couple of the lesser species. Lesser for an albatross meaning one with a wingspan of less than 3m – these are still very big birds!

New Zealand sealion at Aramoana
Hectors dolphins.
Hectors dolphins
A white-capped albatross.
A white-capped albatross

In the late afternoon, my brother Peter took us to one of the local beaches where penguins nest in the dunes. We walked along the beach to a hide at the far end, and then peered through the windows in search of penguins. After a few minutes we realised that a Yellow Eyed Penguin had been in full view the whole time, and eventually we spotted two more, another Yellow Eyed, and a Little Blue Penguin, both of which had also been pretty much visible the whole time. Unfortunately, they were quite a long way away, so the picture isn’t great, but it was nice to see them, especially as populations on this beach have been falling in recent years due to disturbance from visitors.

Yellow-eyed penguin near Dunedin