April 28, 2004

Important Pie Update

Since Miriam's enquotification* of the word "pie" (oh dear, I've gone and done it again) has stirred up so much interest and controversy, I couldn't help but take a photo of this pies-only fast food outlet in a food court in downtown Melbourne. Jesters is Australian, not surprisingly, as are the companies producing large-scale manufacture favourites Mrs. Mac's and Four'N Twenty.

Also, a quick search on Google turned up the following important statistics:

"Australians are the world's largest consumers of meat pies per capita, with each person on average consuming over 12 meat pies and a further 17 combined pastries, sausage rolls, and party pies per annum."
-- Patties Pies Four'N Twenty

Yikes! As our very dear friend Madhava would say: "And now you know."

[*] What, that's not a word?

Posted by anatole at 04:42 AM | Comments (2)

April 25, 2004

In the Land of Mordor ...


The rigorous and scenic one-day Tongariro Crossing was the first tramp that Miriam and I did together. We met up in Wellington on April 3 and drove the next day in the direction of Auckland, hoping for good weather en route in order to tackle this 17km volcanic tramp in Tongariro National Park.

We got the good weather and, as a result, an unbelievable tramp. The Tongariro Crossing is out of this world. That is, it looks as though it's out of this world. We walked through landscapes that look more like the moon than anything on this planet. And if these photos of volcanic Tongariro National Park look familiar, it's because the area played the role of Mordor in the Lord of the Rings, especially in Return of the King. Mt. Ngauruhoe, the peak visible in the photo above, starred as the basis for Mt. Doom.

The tramp was very challenging, especially the rocky climb up to a saddle (mountain pass) between Mt. Ngauruhoe and Mt. Tongariro and then up past the rim of Red Crater to the track's peak at 1886m. But the scenery made it more than worthwhile. We walked through steaming South Crater, under the shadow of towering Mt. Ngauruhoe, and enjoyed views of the mineral-coloured Emerald Lakes as well as Blue Lake.

If you're already salivating for photos, click here. If you want to read about the crossing in some more detail first (with photos, too), keep reading.

New Zealand North Islanders will argue that the Tongariro Crossing is the best one-day tramp in New Zealand. It's hard to argue with them, although we haven't done the South Island favourite (Avalanche Peak in Arthur's Pass National Park).

Our day spent on the Tongariro Crossing was probably our most striking day in New Zealand. Neither Miriam nor I could remember being right in the middle of such a volcanic setting before. The scenery was pretty spectacular.

The early fog of the day lifted, luckily, allowing us to decide to undertake the trip. They say that in bad weather you can barely see the next pole marking the trail ahead on the steep climbing section of the track. We saw quite a lot, however, including the bright yellow uniforms of a guided tramping group up ahead (they looked like some sort of HazMat Response Team). Anyway, the tramp climbs quite steeply in the beginning toward the saddle to the left of Mt. Ngauruhoe, and the clouds were still lifting away from the peak.

Before you actually get to the saddle, however, you have to walk across the wide, steaming expanse of South Crater (actually a drainage basin, not a crater, apparently). Here, there could be no confusion as to our whereabouts. We were definitely near a volcano. There was, after all, steam coming out of the ground.

     

The steep climb continued after the crater, climbing to the saddle where we stopped for a rest and ... a carrot. Mmmm, carrots! Then we continued climbing up to the rim of Red Crater, the high point of the track at 1886m (note Red Crater and Miriam celebrating).

     

After Red Crater, the track begins to descend towards the brightly mineral-coloured Emerald Lakes. We got our first glimpse of the lakes a little ways along the descent as we came over a small crest. They looked quite spectacular, and we were excited to see that the track passed right by them, providing us with a picturesque spot for lunch. Our picnic location was indeed photo-worthy, but it wasn't quite perfect. The steaming in this area carried with it a strong smell of sulphur. Still, the winds provided some relief and the views were worth it.

     

After lunch we walked across Central Crater toward Blue Lake before leaving the bleak, lunar lansdcapes of the craters for the tussocked hillsides of the Ketetahi Hot Springs. Here we encountered -- you guessed it -- more steaming!

We stopped for a snack and photo opportunity at Ketetahi Hut (which the multi-day Tongariro Northern Circuit trampers use) before descending through a seemingly interminable forest to the carpark*.

All in all, we hiked from about 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. The Department of Conservation puts the hike at 7-8 hours, so with lunch thrown in there it was pretty much bang on. A tiring but exceptionally rewarding day's tramp.

[*] Note: For those of you who know Miriam and I well, you will no doubt be entertained to hear that we received a rousing round of applause from our fellow trampers when we arrived at our bus in the carpark at 5:05 p.m., five minutes after the bus was due to leave. Some things never change, even on the other side of the world.

Posted by anatole at 07:52 PM | Comments (0)

Ridge-walking in Fiordland


I managed to get away from Australia a few days before Miriam did -- she must be working harder than I am -- in order to tramp (hike) the Kepler Track, a four-day, 60-70km* track in Fiordland. Incidentally, aren't "tramp" and "tramping" wonderful words? I find "tramping" to be perfectly evocative of the hiking experience; the word manages to communicate a lighthearted "Don't mind me, I'm just wandering about exploring" sort of sentiment without letting you forget that the rewards of tramping often demand a good, hard slog.

But I digress. Right. The Kepler Track is one of New Zealand's "Great Walks" and, located in New Zealand's Te Wahipounamu - South West New Zealand World Heritage Area, it didn't disappoint! The track took me through stunning beech forests, high across alpine ridges, and alongside beautiful fiords, rivers, and lakes.

If you want to jump straight to the pictures, just click here. If you're a tramping keener and want to read about the track in some more detail, keep reading!

The Kepler Track was completed in 1988 to celebrate the centennary of New Zealand national parks. It is thus very cleverly designed -- a loop that starts and ends in the small, tramping-crazy town of Te Anau in Fiordland.

The track profile gives a pretty decent idea of what the track is like. The first day is a very pleasant walk through beech forest to Brod Bay followed by a very steep ascent through a seemingly endless series of switchbacks up to the treeline. There, the track levels off somewhat for the remainder of the walk to Luxmoore Hut (and the nearby Luxmoore Caves, which were pretty cool!). I somehow managed to pull a Mehmet and beat the DOC times for the day. Weird.

The second day began with an absolutely spectacular sunrise. I'm not often that excited to be awake at 6:30 a.m., let me tell you, but this was worth it. Softly lit clouds blanketed the serene waters which were visible about a kilometre below the hut.

     

The weather had been kind to me on the first day, so the only disappointment of the track came when clouds followed me on the second day's ascent up to Luxmoore Saddle and, after a hopeful ascent, the peak of Mt. Luxmoore. The reward of clambering up to the peak is supposed to be 360-degree views; instead, I got visibility of about 5 metres.

But no matter! The rest of the day was beautiful. The ridge-walking section of the track is supposed to be the most impressive part of the Kepler Track and was, with the weather clearing up to reveal views of South Fiord.

     

You spend most of the second day above the treeline, and I had little inclination to leave the stunning views. I lingered around the Hanging Valley shelter for as long as possible before crossing the final ridge-walk and descending back into the bush, enduring a long and knee-numbing descent to the Iris Burn Hut.

The third and fourth day were more easy-going. They are longer but with minimal and much more gradual ascents and descents. Highlights included walking through the valley changed by The Big Slip (a 1984 landslide caused by heavy rains) on the third day and following the very green Waiau river on the fourth and last day. The forest on the fourth day also featured a mind-blogging plethora of fungi.

You can do the track in three days by pushing on past the last hut and leaving the track early at a bus pick-up, but then you miss not only part of the track but also a night at Moturau Hut on the edge of peaceful Lake Manapouri. Sitting on the beach munching on banana chips and watching the sunset was a nice, relaxing treat after three days of tough tramping.

The other really great part of the track was meeting other trampers. I tramped most of the third day with two Germans and a South African who I had met on the track. At Moturau Hut, the four of us and three others we had spent time with (two from England and one from Scotland but living in Perth, Australia) had a communal dinner, making potluck-style contributions out of freeze-dry meals. Together, the seven of us met up in Te Anau after completing the track to celebrate with dinner and an exchange of e-mail addresses.

And so, not surprisingly, I would highly recommend the Kepler Track to anyone making it over to New Zealand who enjoys multi-day hiking. The track is very challenging but not insane, and the views -- typically, for Fiordland -- are something else.

[*] The Department of Conservation or DOC website lists the Kepler Track at only 60km, but if you count the track's side trips and if you walk -- rather than bus -- between Te Anau and the track's start/end (about 4km each way), you're at about 70km.

Posted by anatole at 06:07 PM | Comments (6)

April 20, 2004

New Zealand by the Numbers

Since it will take us a few days to put up pictures and stories from our trip to New Zealand, we thought we'd better get the cold, hard facts up as soon as possible.

Here you can learn about how far we "tramped" (very far), how much our packs weighed (a lot), and how many photographs we took (a suitably enthusiastic amount).

Suffice it to say, for now, that New Zealand is a stunningly beautiful country and we had a fabulous time there.

Miriam Anatole
Days in New Zealand 18 24
Tramping
Days spent "tramping" 6 10
Km tramped 87 157
Metres climbed while tramping More than 3,680 More than 5,300
Maximum altitude reached 1886m
(highest point on Tongariro Crossing)
Maximum pack weight carried ... ... felt like 100 lbs. (over Routeburn Track's ~35km) ... was actually over 50 lbs.
(over Kepler Track's ~70km)
Fjording
Fjords visited 1
Hours kayaked on Fjord 4
Consecutive hours in rain on Fjord 5
Tallest waterfall kayaked under 700m
City-hopping
Km travelled over land More than 1,350 by car, 160 by bus More than 1,350 by car, 620 by bus
Cities visited 9
(Wellington, Auckland, National Park, Queenstown, Te Anau, Manapouri, Dunedin, Akaroa, Christchurch)
Number of days in Christchurch 3
Number of days enjoyed in Christchurch 0*
Maximum fever reached in Christchurch 38.7 Celsius / 101.7 Fahrenheit N/A
Eating
"Pies" eaten Too many
Sausages eaten See "Pies eaten"
Banana chips gleefully confiscated by Australian quarantine authorities ~600g worth
Wildlife-watching
Number of rare bird species seen 4
(yellow-eyed penguin or hoiho, kea, takahe, Royal Albatross)
Sheep seen At least 5% of NZ's est. 50 million
Counting
Pairs of pants worn 1 each (see "pack weight" above)
Number of photographs taken 85 (film) 1,240 (digital)

* Our apologies to citizens and fans of Christchurch, but we really had a lousy time there.

Posted by miriam at 11:17 PM | Comments (8)

April 07, 2004

Gone Tramping

In case you're wondering why the Koala Tree has been so quiet, we're in New Zealand. We're on an ambitious two/three-week, breakneck-speed itinerary that includes both islands, a whole lot of cities, and four "tramps" (a.k.a. hikes a.k.a. bushwalks a.k.a. etc.):

  • Kepler Track (a four-day Fiordland tramp that I completed a week ago before Miriam joined me in NZ);
  • Tongariro Crossing (a very rigorous North Island volcano-setting hike that we did together two days ago);
  • Routeburn Track (a three-day South Island alpine trek that we start tomorrow morning);
  • and Banks Peninsula Track (a two-day pastoral & coastal walk on the East coast near Christchurch starting on the 14th).

So instead of writing blog entries, sadly, we're trying to stay alive in the mountains. (Just joking any parents who might be reading this! :)

We miss you all and will blog copiously upon our return to Melbourne on the 19th of April (photos included, of course -- we're trying to overcome our nature-over-cities bias, but it's hard to do with NZ's scenery!).

Posted by anatole at 08:44 PM | Comments (2)