Monday, October 27, 2008

Abel Tasman Coast Track

I'm not in a mood to really write, but I want to get this blog out. I'm just going to write a couple quick notes, but let the pictures speak mostly for themselves. The Abel-Tasman track is a 3-5 day hike at the north end of the South Island of New Zealand. I did it in 5 days and didn't see the sun until I was approaching the final stop where the bus can pick you up. I know I missed the rain in Antarctica, but this hike made me WAY over it.

The start of the Abel-Tasman track.

Sunset at Appletree Bay on my first night out and my last nice evening.

Abel-Tasman coast line.

Don't be fooled by this picture. The sun wasn't out. It seemed like it would, but I never saw a shadow. Also, the rain came back just a few hours later.

More Abel-Tasman coastline.

Rental vans.

This picture is for my sister. Her friends used to call my mom's Lumina APV minivan the Buck Rodgers Mobile because it looked like a spaceship. Apparently, someone in New Zealand agreed with the idea and ran with it. They have a full rental van fleet and all the vans have geeky names like Picard.

MORE Abel-Tasman coastline.

On one night, I got to campsite that allowed fires. All the others did not. I was super excited because I thought I'd finally get to dry my wet gear and clothes out. I started to build the fire and then checked my matches - drenched. This is what I get for not checking my gear for so long and then using it without checking anything. I decided it was only an hour hike down to the next campsite and it was a big one. I could probably run it in fifteen minutes. I got on my gear and headed over the hill to the next beach. Once there, I found a later and started the run home. I was elated about the prospect of a fire. When I finally got back, I settled into lighting and blowing on the coals to get things started. The fire wouldn't take. Everything was too wet. I probably pulled 20 feet of toilet paper out of the portajohn to try again. I felt guilty, but I was really sick of being wet. Round two went better, but no dice. Round three was more of the same and the lighter ran out of fuel. No fire. Very disheartening.

I should know what this bird is, but can't remember

Just around the corner from my third campsite.

I spent a while reading a book here. So peaceful. I've never been a big beach person. Sand gets everywhere. Too many people. Too hot. Too much sun and I always get sunburned. However, the beach at night is perfect. I love listening to the waves crash and feeling the cold sand between my toes. Two of my campsites were right on the beach and the others were less than a two minute walk to one. If only, it wasn't so wet.

Hanging all my stuff all over the campsite to dry it out EVERY night got old.

Ponga - the Silver Tree Fern that is used as a logo for Kiwi sports teams (i.e. the All Blacks).

Most of the Abel-Tasman hike was in the woods.

Crossing the beach at low tide.

There were a few different tidal crossings on the Abel-Tasman track. Most of them had high tide alternatives, but a few didn't. Those ones you simply had to check a tidal chart and time your hike accordingly. I timed most of mine alright, but still got wet up to my calves. Good fun. It didn't matter too much since I wasn't dry after the first day anyway.

More great Abel-Tasman coast line.

The evening my tent almost blew away.

On my second evening, a wicked storm kicked up. I had my tent out right on the beach like I did the night before. It didn't stay there. The wind pretty much blew it in so I had to move back into the more sheltered spot above. It didn't blow over again, but it still made a lot of racket. I think this was the night I didn't even bother to bring in my air drying clothes when it started to rain because I didn't think they could get much wetter. They were fabulous to put back on in the morning.

The easier way to get around Abel-Tasman - the water taxi.

One evening, I was settling into another one of my quiet camp sites. I was starting to mellow out and was so happy to not be staying in the huts where everyone else was. However, just as that feeling washed over me a loud boat starting pulling into harbor. It was followed by a second boat - water taxis. They must have let off about twenty people to hike from my beach back to town.

One of the tidal crossings.

More fabulous weather on the Abel-Tasman.

Birds at Separation Point.

A startled seal.

This seal and I had a quick heart to heart. I was bounding down the rocks and I got to the rock in the bottom of the picture. As I was about to vault to the next rock, that seal let out a loud roar. It had been sleeping on its rock but in a spot where it was out of sight so I didn't see it. It wasn't happy about being disturbed. I would have never expected a seal to be so far away from the water.

A seal at least 25 feet above the water at Separation Point.

Wanui Bay where the sun finally decided to come out on my last day.

Wanui Bay mussel farms on my ride out.

Kaikoura beach on the ride home two days later - even MORE sun.

Abel Tasman Coast Track (52 km) by the numbers:
  • Day 1: Marahau to Apple Tree Bay campsite 5 km
  • Day 2: Apple Tree Bay campsite to Medlands Beach campsite 15.4 km
  • Day 3: Medlands Beach campsite to Waiharakeke Bay campsite 16 km
  • Day 4: Waiharakeke Bay campsite to Whariwharangi Hut/campsite 10 km
  • Day 5: Whariwharangi Hut/campsite to Wainui Bay 5.5 km

Driving to Pictin

Driving along in my automobile.

I highly suggest staying away from the roads if you come to New Zealand (just kidding). They will let anyone drive here, even Americans. All I had to do was show that I had a US driver's license and I was allowed to hit the open road. They didn't give any instructions or even mention that they drive on the left here. Of course, I don't think we tell people we drive on the right in the US. Hopefully, you just figure those things out. I've driven on the left in Bermuda before, but I was still worried to be heading five hours north to Picton.

The coast just outside Kaikoura.

When I first got the vehicle, I just kept telling myself drive on the left and right equals frights because driving on the right would be bad and I need to be careful on right turns. I managed to run a few errands and then make it out of the city center without any excitement. I then set off on the highway which isn't like highways in the US. They had a small stretch of 4 lane highway just outside of Christchurch, but most of the highways that I've been on the South Island are just two lane roads. They go right through towns and force you to slow down. They are really windy if they are in the hills or mountains. They have passing areas galore to allow you to get around someone. It was a little weird, but I think I like it. It keeps each town linked up and they aren't building extra roads just to gain a few extra minutes time by skipping a small village or city.

Near Blenheim.

The scenery on the roads was fantastic and the hills were pleasant enough that I think it would make for fabulous bike touring. I'm a little worried about the cars using the same road as their major artery, but I'm sure it works just fine. At least to other cars, the drivers were really friendly. The first part of the drive had me cutting through rolling pastures. For the second part, I was against the coastline and could see snow capped mountains in the background. I finished out the day going past more lush green rolling hills before arriving in Picton where I'd spend the night. For future reference, it is cheaper to take the bus than to drive yourself and only takes a little more time. However, having the freedom to explore a little is definitely worth the extra cost.

This duck walked right up to me like I owed him a levy for using his park bench.

The town of Picton didn't inspire me in the twelve short hours I was there. I was tired and just wanted to sleep. However, the scenery around the area excited me. The harbor reminded me of Maine, but it was a lot warmer and sunnier than Maine is right now. They also have the Queen Charlotte Track which is a multi-day hike or bike along the coast line. I might head back there at some point to do it.

Picton Harbor where the ferry picks you up to go to the North Island.

Hamner Hot Springs

Hamner Hot Springs cooling pool.

One of the many treats within a ninety minute drive of Christchurch is the Hamner Hot Springs. It is a commercial hot springs so purists might turn their noses up at it and I normally would too. I prefer to hike in to a more natural hot springs setting. However, just coming off the ice it was one of many things that I was willing to partake in. The drive took us northwest of Christchurch through pastures and up windy roads towards Lewis Pass and the Southern Alps, the mountains that are the backdrop for the hot springs. It was sunny, warm, and just about the perfect day for a drive.


Once there, it was just like any other hot springs. Sit. Soak. Enjoy. Smell the sulfur. Move to the cold pool. Drink water. Soak some more. Their hottest pool was 41C (105.8F). The only difference from what I might do back home is that I made a big point to stay in the shade. Three days off the Ice, I was whiter that white. I might have been whiter than Jay Paulonis and Finn combined. (Yeah, I said it. The gauntlet has been thrown.) After a few hours soaking, Lee and I had enough and we scooted back down to Christchurch. I didn't even get a sunburn. A great, mellow day.

A sign from the hot springs. When isn't it cookie time?


Punting (boating) on the Avon River in Christchurch.

I can't think of a better place for the USAP to drop us off than Christchurch, NZ. If you get dropped off anywhere from October to late February, it was one of the greenest places around. It is a smaller city so you won't necessarily get swept up in the bustle. The people are friendly. It doesn't hurt that the US dollar does reasonably well so we can make our savings go a little farther too. I love it. I'd love to live here for a season.

Kids playing in the park.

There are tons of outdoor activities near by. It seems to be enough of a urban center that there are good jobs. For ultimate, they have a couple university teams and a club team. Their available field space seems infinite compared to either Pittsburgh or Denver. Don't get me wrong. There is plenty here that people could probably improve on - I just don't know what it is. I know if you get a few blocks out of city center, the greenery disappears and it quickly looks like a suburban strip mall followed by a car dealer followed by a chain store followed by . . . However, I spent most of my time near the city center so I'll just keep my rose colored glasses on. Also, if you keep going farther out of town, it quickly turns into beautiful green pastures and farm land.

The Curator's House restaurant near the Botanical Gardens (what a view!)

Most of my days here have involved eating a big breakfast at the hotel, running a few errands, going for a run, wandering aimlessly until I find other ice people and then being corralled into whatever plans they have. I struggle with the lack of anything to do, but I'm slowly getting used to it. I suppose it is the definition of R&R and how I'll stop being so freaking tired.


By complete chance, my first official meal off the ice was the same as my last meal before going to the ice - Sala Sala sushi. On my way to the ice, Katie, Jon, and D'Sousa took me. On the way out, William T. took me. That man has missed sushi more than anyone on the Ice except maybe B-Nelson. These pictures were for B-Nelson to show him what he had to look forward to, but I didn't get them up in time. He has been here for two days now so I'm assuming that he already got his fix. Last night, we went to a brew pub of sorts. Good, good stuff (yes Katie, the food was good too!).

Sala Sala sushi.

Between jaunts in Christchurch, I've gone hiking twice (blogs coming on those). Between the hikes, I get more gear from the CDC and shift my stuff around. My bag is still too heavy, but I'm getting closer to where it needs to be. I just want to take everything and I can't. It is a learning process.

William T. enjoying being off the Ice and now on his way back to Boulder, CO.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Leaving on a Jet Plane

I left on a jet plane, I don't know when I'll be back again. On Thursday, the 16th of October, I wove goodbye to Antarctica. I checked my bags in that morning, said goodbye to people all day and was on the flight that evening. Writing this almost two weeks later, I can't remember most of that day. I think it was spent giving stuff away, reorganizing my room, and saying goodbye. I do remember that I didn't get a deli sandwich to take with me on the plane and that was sad.

My last look before boarding the plane.

Shuttle Bob is the man. He was supervising some one's first trip drive out to Pegasus Airfield in a Delta and commandeered a spot in the cab for me with them. Normally, you have to ride in the back and just bounce along without being able to easily see outside. Sitting shotgun, you get to see everything. On the way out, I saw one of the largest fata morganas that I have ever seen. Thanks, Bob!

An almost empty C-17.

When I came to Antarctica, the plane was full with almost 125 people. There were more seats and all the seats down both sides were filled (comparison picture). On the way back, the plane was almost empty. It was weird. There were four McMurdo winterovers, maybe eight Kiwi winterovers, and then 20 grantees who were already on their way home. I can't imagine what coming down for such a short time is like.

Watching out the window.

The mountains

The flight out was very similar to the flight in. Everyone gets up as soon as they can and walks around. They settle into music and reading. They look out the three port holes for one last look at Antarctica. The best views were early on in the flight when we were crossing the mountain ranges. In the second half of the flight, it was all clouds, water, or flat ice. People chose a different activity to pass the time - sleep.

Sleeping on the floor of the plane.

Having the extra space to spread out and sleep on the plane was great. I tossed my big red on the floor and zonked out for at least a couple hours to make up for the sleep I missed the night before. Some of the air crew, who are used to the long flight, rolled out beds for themselves. They had air mattresses and sleeping bags already to go. Great stuff. Sometime during the flight, a lot of people stripped out of their ECW so that they would be properly dressed for the weather when they got to CHC. I didn't remove all of mine because the floor where I was sleeping was cold and so was the seat where I was by the back door of the plane (thanks for the tip though, Atlas).

The Botanical Gardens in Christchurch.

I've already rambled about my first moments in Christchurch. Terrible smells. Great smells. Peace. Not so quiet. The next few days were glorious. I spent so many hours just strolling through the park. Great stuff. Hopefully, it will be the first of many steps to getting rid of the dark bags that seem to have been permanently under my eyes at McMurdo. However, that might have just been how pale I was. Either way, walking around in the sun will fix that too.

I'm tired. Time to go home.

The Joy of Giving, The Joy of Leaving.

As most of you know, I had to leave Antarctica on short notice. I thought I was going to pack all of Thursday and then fly out Friday at 2pm. Unfortunately, someone broke their leg and needed to be medivac'd out sooner. Therefore, I found out on 4pm Wednesday that I'd have fly the next day at 6pm. That left me one night to get everything done.

Over the year, you transform your room to make it more comfortable. You have to undo all those transformations. You have to clean the entire room. You have to return anything that was lent to you. You have to lend your own stuff out that you don't want to take with you, but want back. You have to find good homes for the stuff that you just can't justify taking off the ice. You need to decide what goes in skua (i.e. goodwill) and what will go to a specific friend. Lots of stuff goes out to friends, but you need to find those friends to give them stuff. It is a wonderfully chaotic time. When I was trying to do my room cleaning, Brian and Katie were doing the smart thing of just having a yard sale in their room for friends to come take stuff.

Obviously, I'm not on the ice anymore, so I got everything packed. I think one of my main beneficiaries of stuff was Bamma. She is either a pack rat or all of our tastes line up. I don't care which. I'm just glad she took so much from me. Thanks, Bamma! Having to rush didn't allow me to process that I was leaving the Ice or say goodbye to everyone. I've been figuring that out as I go. It has been interesting.

Seeing Bamma's face explains the joy of giving.