A Travellerspoint blog

New Zealand

Avalanche Peaking out of Arthur's Pass

...and graveling screeing

sunny 26 °C

Our day begins with getting a long-overdue tire puncture repaired in Methven after about a month of adding air every couple days. With that finally off of our list of “to-do's”, we head off on the scenic route to Castle Hill, just south of Arthur's Pass. Castle Hill is a rock climbers dream come true, with rounded limestone boulders stretching into the blue sky. The sun is shining down as we scramble onto some rocks that are a perfect shape for nestling into and relaxing.

Castle Hill

Castle Hill

Leaving the boulder-strewn paddocks of Castle Hill, Julie eyes a pair of crested grebes with a baby on Lake Pearson in the Moana Rua Wildlife Reserve. We stop to watch the strange looking ducks with our binoculars as they dive for food. They are just out of range for her telephoto lens, so the finer details are out of focus in the photo below.

Making our way north to the town of Arthur's Pass, our mission is to gain insight on coming weather. I really want to tramp over the Goat Pass but that involves hiking up one river valley, over the pass, and back down through another river valley to civilization. DOC informs us of a slight chance of heavy rains within the next 24 hours. If the heavy rains arrive we might be stuck at the hut for an extra few days before it is safe to tramp down the river valley. Our best option is to prepare for the gruelling hike but to get a weather update again in the morning and then make our final decision.

With the remainder of the day, Julie is interested in taking a short hike up the Otira Valley to wander through an array of alpine flowers. The track starts above the treeline at Arthur's Pass (920m) and travels up the deep valley with views of the Otira River flowing below. We hike over the old glacial moraine now grown over with alpine flowers and tussocks waving in the wind. Mountain ranges are on all sides and the snow has melted off all of them except Mt. Rolleston.

Flowering Shrubs on Otira Valley Track

Flowering Shrubs on Otira Valley Track

After the quick hike up the Otria valley we head to Klondike Corner (south of the town of Arthur's Pass) for the night. A friendly couple from the UK, looking for some company, approach us while we are finishing our dinner. We chat about our travels and play some great card games as the sun sets. The setting is perfect in the open grasslands as the stars poke out one by one and the moon slowly appears from behind the mountain ranges. It's hard to call it a night, but we have to get some shut-eye before tomorrow's trek.

Camping at Klondyke Corners

Camping at Klondyke Corners


Moonlight Night at Klondyke Corners

Moonlight Night at Klondyke Corners

Morning brings more gorgeous sun and we find out that rain will not arrive until tomorrow afternoon. We discuss our options. We really want to do the day hike to Avalanche Peak but we also really want to stay in a back-country hut over night. The lady at the DOC office informs us of the perfect solution. That is to head up to Avalanche Peak (she mentions that it is the best day trek in NZ) and then drop over the other side to Crow Hut via an unmarked trail. Julie is bit nervous of the “unmarked” portion of the plan, but is convinced that it will be an amazing adventure. So we change our original plan, a 2-day trek over Goats Pass, to a 2-day trek over Avalanche Peak.

Our hike begins directly after filling out an intentions form and hiking to the trail head just north of town. We take Scott's Track literally straight up the steep mountain and within an hour we emerge from the tree-line with outstanding panoramic views of the Bealey River Valley. Devil's Punchbowl Falls is across the valley and looks just like a huge punchbowl spilling out down a rocky cliff. As we continue gaining elevation the track gets drastically steeper on all sides. Keas fly overhead letting us know of their presence by letting out echoing squawks that sound just like there name “KKKEEAAA”.

View of Bealey River Valley

View of Bealey River Valley


Enjoying the View from Scott's Track

Enjoying the View from Scott's Track

After a short break we reach the summit, the highest point on the ridge we ascended. There is only enough space on the summit for about 6 people to stand, it is quite small with steep rocky screes on all sides. The 360 degree views are astonishing, comprised of towering scree slopes, glaciers nestled between sharp ridges, and distant river valleys. It is break taking, words can't describe it, and photos don't do it justice. Once we get our barrings we trek off in the opposite direction of everyone else that is on the summit with us.

Avalanche Peak Track near Summit

Avalanche Peak Track near Summit


Kea on Avalanche Peak

Kea on Avalanche Peak

We find the slightly worn trail marked with rock cairns and slowly creep across the windy ridge looking for the scree that will take us down to Crow Hut. DOC gives us three critical conditions that must be met in order for us to know which scree will take us to the Hut. If we take the wrong one we could get bluffed out, which could be fatal. No big deal. The three conditions are: we must be able to see Devil's Punchbowl Falls in its entirety, we must be able to see all the way down the scree slope to the Crow River, and the scree is located before the trail sharply ascends. As we hike along the ridge we come across a large arrow formation on the ground made with rocks. At this location, all three conditions were met and without any doubt we know this is the scree we had to descend.

Heading North along Ridge from Avalanche Peak

Heading North along Ridge from Avalanche Peak


View of Crow River Valley

View of Crow River Valley

We strap on our scree boots and hit the scree slopes. The loose rocks slid under our feet making the decent a blast. It is like walking down a steep sand dune, but with rocks. After almost an hour of screeing down and some close calls of loose soccer sizes rocks tumbling past us, we hit the valley floor. When we started the decent down the scree we were nearly at the same level as the Crow Glacier and now it loomed high above us. The Crow River stems from the Glacier but at the bottom of the scree the water is not at the surface but beneath tons of rocks. We are standing in between two rock screes in the valley. As we follow the valley “down stream”, small pockets of fresh glacial water begin to appear, so we strip down for a polar bear skinny dip. Luckily the sun is beating down because the water is instantly numbing and is only tolerable for a heartbeat before stinging sensations set in. Before putting the packs back on, I dip down and take a slurp right out the stream, the pristine water quenches my thirst. Another 20 minutes down stream and we arrive at Crow Hut, a newer ten person hut. The entire afternoon is spent exploring the area and relaxing under the sun before it slips away behind the steep peaks. What an incredible hike to a remote paradise and we have the hut all to ourselves!

Top of Gravel Scree Slope

Top of Gravel Scree Slope


Bottom of Gravel Scree

Bottom of Gravel Scree


Drinking from Crow River

Drinking from Crow River


Views from Crow Hut

Views from Crow Hut


Crow Hut in the Crow Valley

Crow Hut in the Crow Valley


Getting Drinking Water from the Glacial Crow River

Getting Drinking Water from the Glacial Crow River


Stoking the Stove in Crow Hut

Stoking the Stove in Crow Hut

The quiet night passes and the sun finally hits the valley as we leisurely pack our bags and drag ourselves away form this beautiful place. We follow the Crow River down stream, which by this time is a raging torrent. The trail is marked again and after some boulder hopping and river crossings we reach the point where the Crow River joins the Waimakariri River. The vast valley has grown immensely since the point we descended the scree slope. We now trudge along the Waimakariri River over rocks, crossing its braids dozens of times. We have managed to keep our feet and boots dry up until now but have reached a point where we have to ford the river, and its deep. We plunge through the river, icy water filling our boots. I hate getting a soaker. It's only about an hour with sloshy boots before we reach the gravel road that takes us out to the main highway.

Crow River

Crow River


Waimakariri Flats and Mt. Wakeman and Mt. Davies

Waimakariri Flats and Mt. Wakeman and Mt. Davies


Fording the Waimakariri River

Fording the Waimakariri River

Julie sticks her thumb out and hails a ride within minutes. We end up getting a lift with a Newfie doctor working for a couple months in Christchurch. He drops us off at our car in the town of Arthur's Pass and we wish him well. The forecasted rain sets in as we unpack our gear and hit the road toward St. Arnaud and Nelson Lakes National Park.

After a good four hour drive we pull into the DOC campground only to find out that it is full. Luckily the warden points us to a free DOC campsite for the night. We utilize the full-service campground, indulging in much needed hot showers and filling our bellies while the sun drops calmly behind Lake Rotoiti. We then head to the free DOC campsite, which only contains an outhouse. Once the tent is upright, our heads hit the pillows and sleep arrives quickly after an exhausting day.

Posted by ontarions 15:33 Archived in New Zealand Comments (4)

Mystical Mt. Cook

...we are keen on alpine hiking

semi-overcast 18 °C

I am excited to explore the area around Duntroon as it is on the “Vanishing World Trail”. A trail has been formed connecting numerous cool fossil and geographical sites. We take a shingle side road from Duntroon to the town of Earthquake where ancient baleen whale fossils have been uncovered in the limestone dating 24-27 million years old. The landscape here was formed from a major landslide thousands of years ago. Massive chucks of limestone have been pushed upwards and split apart forming cliffs over a few million years. Boulders of limestone that have broken off and now rest scattered through the valley. The limestone was formed by sandy sediments originally deposited in shallow seas far off-shore. We walk slowly past the cliffs touching the Kokoamu Greensand layers that date back to 29 million years old.

Greensand Layer in Limestone Cliffs

Greensand Layer in Limestone Cliffs

Back on the road towards Mt. Cook, we make a quick stop at an ancient Moari Rock Drawing site. But due to a car sized boulder breaking off the cliffs and falling onto the trail below, the area is closed off. Up the road along the Waitaki River we go, gradually gaining elevation. We take the scenic route across the massive Aviemore Dam and along Lake Aviemore before crossing back to the main road via Benmore Dam. The Waitaki River is dammed eight times, generating heaps of NZ power.

We pass through Omarama, where Wrinkley Rams is located. Wrinkley Rams is a merino sheep farm where the semi-enviro conscious merino wool clothing company, Icebreaker, gets their wool. I say semi-enviro conscious because originally the entire company was New Zealand based, but now they ship the wool to China to have the clothing sewn.

Merino Sheep at Wrinkly Rams

Merino Sheep at Wrinkly Rams

Past the town of Twizel we pull off for lunch and a quick fishing mission. After casting into the trees on the other side of the river and loosing an awesome lure I pack up my gear and we continue on. The mountainous scenery increases as we approach Mt. Cook. We enter into Mt. Cook National Park and suddenly I realize that I had set my shoes on the roof of the car to dry out when we stopped for lunch some 70 kms back. Julie pulls the car over calmly while I am freaking out. I get behind the wheel, pull a u-turn and blast off back down the highway. Luckily my kickers had rolled off the highway and were patiently awaiting my return.

The quiet drive back up to Mt. Cook seems to take forever but we finally reach the end of the road and the home to some spectacular scenery. Mt. Cook is nestled in a valley with soaring peaks and melting glaciers on all sides. We make a short visit to the info centre to check the ever changing weather for the next few days before setting up camp at White Horse Hill Campground.

The chilly mountain air greets us early as we crawl out of the tent clothed with toques and layers to stay warm. Our plan is to hike up to Mueller Hut for the night but low cloud cover forces us to switch to a day hike up into Hooker Valley instead. Clouds float aloft the peak of Mt. Cook and we are told that the sacred mountain rarely chooses to emerge from its cloak of mist to show its face. But as we hike into the Valley the sun slowly burns off the cloudy skies and numerous peaks begin to appear, one of which is Mt. Cook. The majestic Aoraki (Mt Cook) is NZ's highest peak at 3754 m and is a World Heritage Site as this National Park covers more than 70,000 hectares of alpine landscape. Views along the trail include Mueller Glacier melting and draining into the grey and murky Mueller Lake. As we pass through the Valley, around the Mt. Cook Range and cross the Hooker River twice, Hooker Glacier comes into view. It is slowly melting, forming the frigid Hooker Lake where ice bergs float in the cloudy waters like ships out to sea. The chilly morning has turned into a beautiful shorts and t-shirt type day as we set up our pick-nick lunch along the rocky shore and gaze at the steep rocky screes across the Lake. As we head back towards camp we notice that Mt. Cook is once again hidden behind its cloak of clouds. We are fortunate to have seen the peak of the mountain today.

Mueller Lake and Mt. Sefton

Mueller Lake and Mt. Sefton


Aoraki/Mt. Cook

Aoraki/Mt. Cook


Aoraki/Mt. Cook

Aoraki/Mt. Cook


Hooker Lake and Mt. Cook Range

Hooker Lake and Mt. Cook Range


Butterfly on Mountain Daisy

Butterfly on Mountain Daisy

Back at camp Julie decides to give her bad knee a break, put her feet up and dive into a book for the afternoon, while I hike my way up to the Red Tarns. The alpine ponds are coloured red from red pond weed and sit peacefully high above the Village in a flat area upon a steep ridge. From here panoramic views of Mt. Cook Village sit in the shadows of the scattered clouds. I return to the campsite to find Julie relaxing in the sun, reading her book, with a big smile on her face. After an early dinner we stroll through subalpine grasslands and scrub to Kea Point for the sunset. The point over looks Mueller Glacier and its lateral moraine (a wall of gravel) left from years of retreat. Mt. Sefton rises above the Mueller Glacier, Hooker Valley lays beyond its lateral moraine wall; and Mt. Cook towers in the background covered in clouds. Our eyes are busy with the views as our ears listen carefully to the frequent crashing blue thunder in the distance.

View of Mt. Cook Village from Red Tarns

View of Mt. Cook Village from Red Tarns

In the morning we pack up camp and point the car towards Methven. The four hour drive is through rolling hills of paddocks filled with sheep. Despite all the sheep here in NZ, sheep milk and cheese are hard to find and the meat is more expensive than beef and chicken! NZ exports most of their sheep products and locals end up paying export prices for items grown in their own country. Along the way, we make a quick stop at a roadside market in Geraldine where Julie finds a sweet deal on a handmade merino and mohair wool hat. She is really stocking up anything made from natural fibres.

We make a detour towards the Peel Forest, a remnant of a magnificent podocarp forest that once covered a huge area in mid-Canterbury but now only 783 hectares remain. It is rich and diverse and holds ancient giant totara, matai, and kahikatea trees. Totara trees can live to be 2000 years old and as we take a short hike through this pristine area we come across one that has a circumference of 9 m and is over 1000 years old. It's roots are massive and stretch for meters above the ground before disappearing into the earth. We give the tree a big hug before continuing on.

Massive Totara Tree in Peel Forest

Massive Totara Tree in Peel Forest


Totara Roots in Peel Forest

Totara Roots in Peel Forest


Totara Tree in Peel Forest

Totara Tree in Peel Forest

Julie wants to drive up the Rangitata River to Erewhon Station. The loose shingle roads wind up the valley past huge farms and pastureland. Far off in the distance mountains grow to soaring heights with rocky scree slopes pouring down from the peaks. The massive Rangitata watershed originates in the Southern Alps and flows east to the Pacific Ocean. It's an interesting area although far from pristine, as all the trees have been clear cut and irrigated paddocks take over.

Rangitata River Valley

Rangitata River Valley

From Erewhon Station we make our way to Heron Lake for dinner and possibly to camp. The campsite seems deserted as the strangely scattered old trailers look like they haven't been used in ages. The only picnic table that isn't ready to crumble sits nearby a newer trailer but nobody is home. So we use it and prepare a quick dinner of felafel before making our way back to civilization. The gravel roads are wreaking havoc on our poor car and Julie's knee. Nothing stays put on the dash and everything from map books to her camera has fallen onto her already tender knee. We freedom camp in a roadside picnic area near Methvan for the night, resting up for our next big adventure in Arthur's Pass in the morning.

Posted by ontarions 19:26 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Op-Shopping Crazy

...among heaps of other kiwi sights.

overcast 20 °C

On the first day wwoofing in Dunedin, Terisha takes us to Orokonui Eco Sanctuary to help transplant native trees and release young natives from the enclosing weeds. Orokonui is a 307 hectare area enclosed by predator fencing to protect kiwis and other native birds released within the sanctuary from introduced pests. As clouds hover around us, we work on our hands and knees in the fog until noon when Terisha takes us on a tour through the native bush. Bellbirds sing as they perch in the tall podocarps and fantails swoop over our heads gobbling up the insects that we attract. Kakas, the only bird here in an enclosure here, rummage through decaying tree trunks in search of large and juicy huhu slugs. These birds are enclosed to keep them from flying away, as their calls will attract more kakas to the sanctuary. The fencing doesn't just keep out introduced predators but also introduced herbivores such as rabbits and goats. As we wander the trails we see regenerating forest and lots of fresh young growth on the forest floor. With the removal of herbivores young plants have a chance to grow again. As a result of introduced herbivores many forests in NZ are in grave danger as new flora can't establish to take the place of the old dieing trees and shrubs.

High Security at Orokonui Eco Sanctuary

High Security at Orokonui Eco Sanctuary


Native Tree Planting at Orokonui Eco Sanctuary

Native Tree Planting at Orokonui Eco Sanctuary


Huhu Beetle

Huhu Beetle

The next day we work in the veggie garden in Terisha's backyard under beautiful sunshine. Julie weeds and transplants while I construct a trellis from tea tree poles to support climbing beans and peas. Julie loves it so much she wants me to build her one when we get home! After a few other odd jobs, we complete our working hours for the day and decide to drive out to the Otago Peninsula.

The peninsula houses the only mainland colony of royal albatrosses and is habitat to many other species of seabirds. As we drive closer to the point the area quickly clouds in and the rain begins to pound our windshield. The winding road along the ocean is at the base of large rolling mountains that are now shrouded in greyness. Our stop at Taiaroa Head ends at a parking lot wreaking of fish surrounded by an unappealing grassy field loaded with gulls, some dead, and void of any native trees or shrubs and no sign of albatrosses. Because visibility is so poor we decide not fork out the cash to enter into the beautiful Albatross Reserve. After all, we did see some Royal Albatross while on the fishing boat at Stewart Island. So we continue back along the other side of the peninsula to the Chasm. Again because of the poor visibility, only about 40 meters, it is pointless to hike the trail to the soaring cliffs over the harsh Pacific waters. We move on to Sandfly Bay where we sneak below the heavy clouds to see the stunning windswept dunes. The dunes face south directly into the winds, and are formed by a combination of currents moving the sand on shore and wind blowing the sand inland. Unfortunately, we can't venture onto the beach because it is after 3pm and off limits due to yellow-eyed penguins coming ashore. None the less, the coastal views are brilliant.

Sand Dunes at Sandfly Bay

Sand Dunes at Sandfly Bay

Terisha has planned for us to work the afternoon at VOLCO, a VOLunteer COmmunity, digging up invasive blackberries. Terisha is eager to show us everything around the property before getting to work as she used to live here and has put in many hours establishing the gardens and planting native trees. So she takes us on a walk through the paddocks to the forest which illustrates all stages of regeneration. We end our walk deep in the woods at the oldest part of the forest, completely native and beginning to crowd with mosses and lichens. By the time we get to work digging out blackberries the rain and wind pick up and soak through our jackets. She decides to call it quits and we head indoors to stay dry. Dinner at VOLCO tonight is special because it is a potluck and a birthday celebration for a girl that lives here. Everyone in the community brings a dish for the potluck party as do we. The food is awesome and the people are interesting to say the least. When we get back to Terisha and Marvin's for the evening we play a board game to satisfy their urge.

View of Dunedin

View of Dunedin

In the morning we say good-bye to our great hosts before moving on. They insist on us taking all kinds of food from the garden, which we gladly accept. I aim our sights to Oamaru, a couple hours north of Dunedin to explore imposing 19th century limestone buildings that grace the town. Along the road to Oamaru, we stop at a stunning stretch of beach scattered with spherical boulders strewn about like a giant kid's discarded marbles. After some fun photography with the strange rocks we continue on to Oamaru.

Boulder Hopping

Boulder Hopping


Moeraki Boulders

Moeraki Boulders


Bowling with Moeraki Boulders

Bowling with Moeraki Boulders

Oamaru holds some really amazing historical buildings built with local limestone in the mid-1800's. Many of the old buildings are home to some really talented artisans and craftspeople. We check out a book-binding and pottery shop, and a textile shop full of beautiful clothing and many historic sewing tools. We also watch an artist carving limestone and see how easy it is to manipulate the stone into awesome shapes. This area of Oamaru is really amazing but it is missing one thing. We determine that one thing to be nature, there are no trees, no grasses, and no flower pots in this heritage section of town. As we wander on and towards downtown we notice that limestone is not the only material being used to create art. Here some unique artwork by an insane welder lines the boulevard. Julie hops on a chopper/tracker and lets out the throttle for a photo op.

Criterion Hotel Est. 1877 in Oamaru

Criterion Hotel Est. 1877 in Oamaru


Crazy Tractor in Oamaru

Crazy Tractor in Oamaru


Steam Punk in Oamaru

Steam Punk in Oamaru


Julie Riding Chopper in Oamaru

Julie Riding Chopper in Oamaru

In the evening, once again we watch yellow-eyed penguins, this colony is the most northern colony for this rare bird. This viewing is special though because we catch a glimpse of the fuzzy grey chicks in their nests. Oamaru is also home to a huge colony of little blue penguins strangely located in the industrial part of town. The only way to see the penguins is sadly sitting in an auditorium with views of the penguins coming ashore into their natural environment and listening to commentary from a guide. So we opt out of that. From the town of the penguins we head west, inland, making our way towards Mount Cook (Aoraki). The sun is setting so we pull off into a park and commence freedom camping in Duntroon.

Shags on Pier in Oamaru

Shags on Pier in Oamaru


Yellow-Eyed Penguin Chicks at Bushy Beach

Yellow-Eyed Penguin Chicks at Bushy Beach

Posted by ontarions 19:13 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Moving on to the Big City

...Catlins to Dunedin

semi-overcast 19 °C

After finishing up a few things around the “Food Forest” and Julie blowing their minds with a new way of handling chickens, we part ways, heading to the Catlins to finish exploring the area. Along the way we stop at Cathedral Caves but the tide is high and the gate is locked until the ocean retreats. We plan on returning at low tide so we continue along the southern coast. The Guytons had told us that we must stop at The Lost Gypsy Gallery in Papatawai, and so this is our next stop. The owner has a shop/gallery in an old house truck that is filled with his automatic creations made from reused/recycled materials. It was heaps of fun winding up toys and pressing buttons to see what kind of lights, sounds, or moves the toys would make.

The Lost Gypsy Gallery in Papatowai

The Lost Gypsy Gallery in Papatowai


Exploring Gadgets

Exploring Gadgets

The Catlins area is prime sea lion spotting territory and since we have not encountered any yet we decide to walk the beach at Surrat Bay. Strolling barefoot down the the vast beach, large shapes slowly come into focus. Our first sea lion encounter is a massive male and playful female lumbering across the sand. The size of males range from 350-500 kg and this one must be upwards of 500 kg, his face and build are “bear like”. He lays on the beach and flips sand on his back to reflect sunlight and reduce overheating. Continuing down the beach, mom and dad oyster catchers poke in the sand around driftwood and washed up seaweeds foraging for food and delicately passing it to their two chicks. As we stroll the beach, another sea loin rolls up in the surf and beaches himself on the shore. After a short break he bounces up the beach on all fours to find a suitable napping spot.

Seascape at Surant Bay

Seascape at Surant Bay


Big Daddy Sea Lion at Surat Bay

Big Daddy Sea Lion at Surat Bay


Oyster Catchers at Surat Bay

Oyster Catchers at Surat Bay

We return to the car taking an alternate route along the inlet and find a pack of sea lions barking and play fighting. The males usually have multiple ladies, called a harem, and will chase off contenders that show an interest in their harem. It seems that this pack of sea lions includes a larger male who has rounded up younger ones and is rehearsing behaviour used for maintaining these breeding harems. Surrat Bay is protected land and it was great to see these massive marine mammals. Unfortunately locals ignore the posted signs and rip up and down the beaches on dirt bike and four wheelers, likely completely oblivious to the damage they are doing to this habitat.

Sea Lions at Surat Bay

Sea Lions at Surat Bay


Sea Lions at Surat Bay

Sea Lions at Surat Bay

The last stop of the day is Nugget Point for amazing coastal views and huge colonies of sea birds, fur seals, sea lions and maybe elephant seals. Spoonbills nest off the point and we observe large eggs in some of the nests through the binoculars. We listen to the seals squeal like children as we watch the bull kelp slither like snakes back and forth between marine life that gracefully swims among the turbulent waters. The views and smells of the endless Pacific Ocean from the lighthouse are soul-stirring.

Nugget Point Lighthouse

Nugget Point Lighthouse


Seascape at Tokata Point

Seascape at Tokata Point

After a wholesome meal of lamb chops and veggies we proceed to the “hide” at Roaring Bay to watch the yellow-eyed penguins coming ashore. Four penguins waddle up the beach, stopping every few meters to stretch out their wings to dry off, its as if they are asking for a hug. They hop up through the coastal shrubs to feed their hungry chicks. It is great to watch from the hide as it provides a shelter and hiding spot for people to observe from, preventing the penguins from being disrupted. These penguins are very shy and won't come ashore if people are on the beach. If the penguins stay in the water it increases their chances of being predated upon and it leads to starving chicks with the end result being a declining population.

Yellow-Eyed Penguins at Roaring Bay

Yellow-Eyed Penguins at Roaring Bay

Just outside of Waihola we pull into a picnic area and we quickly transform the car into a hotel on wheels. This freedom camping isn't too bad. You have to accept camping wherever you can find it, there is no such thing as searching for the “perfect” spot. The moon and stars are out and we drift asleep. Suddenly it's Sunday morning and since we saw a church just down the road we decide to stop in to give thanks. We enter into the Waihola United Church and are are pegged as newcomers instantly and greeted with many smiles. After the service we are treated to coffee and snacks before continuing on towards Dunedin.

Along the scenic road to Dunedin we make a few quick stops to stretch our legs and take in the sights. The plan was to explore the Otago Peninsula before checking in with our next wwoofing hosts but heavy cloud cover and drizzle alters our destination. We cruise right downtown Dunedin for a sushi lunch and a tour of some of the historical sights. Dunedin is a university town with tons of 'scarfies' (students). It is said to be the best preserved Victorian and Edwardian (whatever that is) heritage city in the southern hemisphere. St. Paul's Cathedral Church is astonishing and packed with stained glass windows. Its arched ceiling is an amazing feat of construction as is the much photographed heritage train station. The Edwardian style of architecture and the intricate mosaic tile floors of the train station make this hub an amazing site.

Tunnels Beach

Tunnels Beach


First Prespiterian Church of Otago in Dunedin

First Prespiterian Church of Otago in Dunedin


St. Paul's Cathedral Church in Dunedin

St. Paul's Cathedral Church in Dunedin


Court of Law and Railway Station in Dunedin

Court of Law and Railway Station in Dunedin


Dunedin Railway Station

Dunedin Railway Station


Mosaic Tile in Dunedin Railway Station

Mosaic Tile in Dunedin Railway Station

Along the road to Tershia and Marvin's, our next wwoofing home, Baldwin Street catches our attention. It is the steepest street in the world with a crazy gradient of 19 degrees. We slowly climb our way up, taking a break half way to check out the roof tops and see if any chimneys need repair. Julie is nervous on the wet slippery asphalt and sticks to the sidewalk of stairs along the road. At the top, the view back down the road is strange since it seems to fall away at the steepest point preventing a view of the entire road to the bottom. After we walk back down the road, we decide to drive it, hoping the brakes don't give out.

Baldwin Street Climb

Baldwin Street Climb

We head up another steep winding road on our way to the wwoofers' beautiful property at the top of a hill overlooking the north end of Dunedin. They have a wonderfully packed front yard of flower beds and a backyard loaded with veggie gardens, fruit trees, and a green house. It makes us realize the potential of our property! We get to know the quirky couple over a great curry dinner and a short walk further up the hill through old sheep paddocks. Terisha is passionate about the environment and Marvin about climate change and politics. They have a new documentary about the endangered kakapo that they have been waiting to watch with us. It is an amazing story about the extreme efforts being made to save the worlds largest flightless parrot, including artificial insemination in the wild! We look forward to the week ahead and it sounds like Terisha has some interesting spots to show us and some meaningful work to complete.

Posted by ontarions 14:03 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Forest Gardening in Riverton

...loads of fruit with little work.

sunny 19 °C

Julie nudges me awake from a deep sleep in our roomy car. We have slept the night across the road from Taramea Bay in Riverton. Relocating further south, after re-arranging our belongings from the front seats back to where we had slept, we end up at Howell's Point. As we relax and eat our breakfast, a pack of Hector's dolphins glide into the calmer waters of the bay to rest before heading back out to sea.

Today is the kick-off to Riverton's 175th birthday and the town is buzzing with excitement. The main street is closed off for festivities and residents crowd around live music being performed on the back of a vintage truck. As the parade makes its way through town, Julie notices a family dressed up in settler type clothing and riding antique bicycles. It turns out that they are our next wwoofing hosts, the Guyton family. After the parade we make our way through the busy street to the Environment Centre where we meet Robin Guyton. She is busy organizing a scavenger hunt for the town's folks. Later we are introduced to Robert, her husband, and their children, Terry, Adam and Holly. After some quick small talk, they all have duties to attend to and we are left to further explore the sites and sounds of Riverton. Riverton turns out to have an interesting history as New Zealand's old whaling harbour.

Arrowtown Miners Band in Riverton Parade

Arrowtown Miners Band in Riverton Parade

We return to see if there is anything Robin needs a hand with and she instructs us to jump on the bikes and hurry to the start of the second parade. Yes, we road the old bikes, with their handmade detailed leather seats, down the main street with Robert and Holly, waving and laughing all the way. Funny thing is, due to some misunderstanding, half of the parade started from the north end of town and the other half started from the south end of town! So the two parades met in the middle, laughing at the circumstances.

Guyton Family in Parade

Guyton Family in Parade

Once the festivities die down, we make our way to the Guyton's house to settle in. They live on approximately an acre of land that they cleared of gorse and broom (invasive plants) around twenty years ago and slowly built and grew their dream. Robin always wanted an old rustic house with character but they couldn't afford to buy this. So piece by piece they salvaged and reclaimed building materials from houses being torn down in the area to build their amazing home which is full of character. They have an old toilet with the tank located close to the ceiling, and there are stained glass windows, antique light switches, and beautiful old wooden doors. Amazingly they don't have a fridge, instead they have a neat old “cold box” which they place ice packs into. Yes, they do have a freezer.

Their property is based on permaculture principles. They have planted a vast array of fruit trees, berries and native plants all coming together to form the “Food Forest” that surrounds the house. No weeding is involved, no lawns need to be mowed, but every few days a stroll through the forest is taken to pick fresh, organic fruit and nuts from the trees. This is the life! And they have veggie gardens placed within a clearing in the forest which need additional care.

Food Forest and The Guyton Home

Food Forest and The Guyton Home

After getting to know them over the course of the evening we learn that they are very driven people and have their hands in many different community projects. Robert was a teacher turned writer and plays an active role as a Riverton Councillor that truly cares for the environment and the future of the town. Robin was also a teacher and started the Riverton Environment Centre. The Centre is a place where people can shop for organic products and learn how to live a sustainable and wholesome lifestyle from their extensive library and project display boards. Their children, Adam and Holly, are extremely knowledgeable and are very in tune with the earthy ways taught by their parents.

Throughout our stay we pick up heaps of red and black currents, raspberries, plums, and apples. We help plant new gardens, harvest their organic vegetables, remove overloaded apple tree limbs, and transplant black current cuttings to propagate for sale at the Environment Centre. Julie also helps out at the Environment Centre, learning all about the multiple projects happening in the town. I get the task of laying slate tile in the laundry room to finish a job that Robin has wanted to complete for 15 years. While working with Robert, conversation about his hobby of collecting non-electrical old tools peaks a lot of interest in Julie. They are collecting these tools because human's have a huge reliance on electricity and therefore oil and oil is unsustainable and will run out at some point. Even sustainable energy, such as wind farms, rely on oil to be built. Non-electrical tools are important as they use human energy rather than unsustainable energy and will become essential once again in the future. The Guyton's are one step ahead of everyone else on this planet! Sounds like work around our house might take a bit more elbow grease when we return.

Picking Red Currants in the Food Forest

Picking Red Currants in the Food Forest


Wwoofing - Tile Work

Wwoofing - Tile Work

The Guytons have many projects on the go, all linked to sustainability. Two of the projects include saving heirloom seeds and saving heritage Southland apple trees. To save the apple trees, they take cuttings and graft them onto root stock suitable for the growing conditions. The purpose of both of these projects is to prevent the species from going extinct. Most of the varieties of vegetables grown in the 1900's are now extinct. There are many reasons to explain why this is occurring, one of them being monoculture farming.

Julie Grafting Heritage Apple Trees

Julie Grafting Heritage Apple Trees

A third project, which is more Robert's responsibility is called Te Wai Korari Wetland Reserve. He takes us to the property along the estuary that they saved from becoming farmland. Restoration efforts such as planting native vegetation, creating wetlands, and realigning the stream have taken place with the help of a hydrologist's expertise. This restoration was completed to provide fish habitat, especially to provide breeding grounds for native fish. It was a giant effort and the results have slowly become successful as the area bustles with life.

Te Wai Korari Wetland Reserve

Te Wai Korari Wetland Reserve

One sunny afternoon I finally feed my urge to stroll along Gemstone Beach, since I have a serious problem of collecting rocks throughout our travels. It is a neat area, rich with tumbled stones ripe for the picking. I find and select only the best gems to keep, since Julie isn't fond of loading down our car with my habits. The beach is flanked with sandstone cliffs marbled with orange and yellow colours. On one such cliff a cottage is carved into soft stone with a window facing the ocean. We watch a local hunting for gold flakes with his elaborate homemade sluicing set-up before heading back to the Guytons.

Gemstone Beach Cliffs

Gemstone Beach Cliffs

During our last night spent with the Guytons we resurrect a 120 year old candle lit magic lantern. It has small glass slides consisting of old nursery rhymes in coloured images that become projected quite vividly onto the wall of the darkened living room. The antique slide show is hilarious with the Guyton's commentary. This slide show is an unbelievably simple form of watching a movie and put us back in time.

They are a very inspiring bunch and love to educate anyone who is willing to listen. On our last day an opportunity arises for Julie to educate them while moving chooks. The Guytons usually carry chooks upside down by the legs causing the chickens to go wild. When Julie shows them how to hold multiple chooks in one hand, while the chooks remain calm they were ecstatic. Robert blogged this new found knowledge immediately! http://robertguyton.blogspot.com/2011/01/how-to-hold-hens.html

Over our days with the Guytons we spend tons of time talking about their past and future plans and projects. With lots of laughs, due to their never ending puns, we feel blessed to have wwoofed for them.

Jacobs River Estuary in Riverton

Jacobs River Estuary in Riverton

Posted by ontarions 20:05 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

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