Tag Archives: adventure

John Muir Trail

 

Aras overlooking Garnet Lake.

 

John Muir Trail

 

Ice & Fire: a wee wander on the John Muir Trail in two acts

 

 

I don’t recall the impetus for wanting to backpack the John Muir Trail (JMT). I’m guessing that it had to do with my love of the outdoors, going on an occasional backpacking trip, and naming my first son Muir. I do recall that my interest started to climb a couple of years ago as I realized that my younger son, Aras, might favorably mature by taking such a trip, as well as realizing that I wasn’t getting any younger.

 

Shortly after I started to ponder such a trip and the various logistics, I realized that my nephew, Vladas, might enjoy the trip. I mentioned this idea to my sister-in-law while we were traveling in Alaska and she thought that it was a good idea to consider. Shortly thereafter, Vladas was on board.

 

A few weeks later in September 2016, I mentioned to that first son, Muir, that I was looking to take Aras and Vladas on the JMT in the summer of 2017. Ten minutes later, Muir surprised me and said that he wanted to go, along with his (then) girlfriend. So, the logistics quickly magnified!

 

The fall and winter of 2016/2017 were spent studying and planning. Permits for five were obtained from Yosemite National Park in January, 2017 for a southbound adventure. The winter of 2016/2017 was one of the snowiest on record in the Sierra Nevada mountains and I was always monitoring the Sierra snowpack. We made a “go” decision in late spring 2017, knowing that snow would be an issue. The combination of everyone’s schedules allowed us a window from late June to the end of July. The permit that we received in the lottery was for a 25 June 2017 start, which seemed early given the historic Sierra snows (200% of average). But, we were unable to obtain a permit in the lottery for any later.

 

There was a lot of food dehydrating and vacuum sealing occurring during Spring 2017, as well as picking up additional gear from REI and eBay. The overwhelming snowfall the winter before meant that our hoped for first resupply at Tuolumne Meadows wouldn’t be available; we needed to make it to Reds Meadow to resupply. Buckets of food were shipped in June 2017.

 

 

ACT I:

 

We all flew to Fresno and the next day missed our bus to Yosemite Valley. Quick-thinking Muir found us an Uber to the Valley that was cheaper (I don’t know how the Uber driver made any substantial money). We picked up our permits and heard the warnings about bears and snow. Our last night in civilization was at Happy Isles campground.

Starting, 25 June 2017. L-R: Aras, Tim , Britney is just standing in, Vladas & Muir.

 

On 25 June 2017 we made our start on the trail. After a few pictures, we were slogging the long, steep grade up Nevada Falls. We had to pack food for more than a week on the trail before our first resupply as well as gear that we’d need in the snow. All of this considerations lead to some heavy backpacks. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that my pack was in the range of 55-60 pounds and Vladas’ pack was likely heavier (but, he’s a much bigger and younger than me). Muir, Aras and the former girlfriend were likely carrying forty pounds or so. The first day to Little Yosemite Valley and beyond to Clouds Rest Junction were extremely difficult, especially for our first day at altitude. When we sighted a bear at Clouds Rest Junction, that was a good sign to enjoy our first stop. (Note: The geolocations I link here roughly came from my GPS.)

 

The second day, Aras, Vladas and the former girlfriend backtracked and summited Half Dome. This lead to a noon start on the trail. We first ran into snow when we reached an altitude of about 8500’, which was about ten miles into the trip. At that point the snow was instantly about four feet deep, when we could see bare soil/rock. From that point on, the trip was difficult. We were all tired from slipping and sliding, route finding (couldn’t see the trail under the snow) and navigating around tree wells (snow melted around trees to create “holes”). Our goal had been to make it to Sunrise to camp, but we ended up a mile or so short when we stopped about 8:00 pm. It was a rough night as we didn’t eat well and there wasn’t much water where we camped on a bald knoll.

Snow covered Long Meadow, 27 June 2017.

We slept in the third morning which caused another late start (~10:00 am) and spent most of the day slipping on the snow and route finding. There was beautiful scenery but the hiking was brutal. Vladas postholed deep late in the afternoon and it took twenty minutes to extricate him. The goal was to make it to Tuolumne Meadows, but we were well short when we decided to stop near Cathedral Lakes.

Camp near Cathedral Lakes

We had a good discussion that evening and realized that we were in over our heads given the conditions. Our trail pace was much slower than we’d hoped and we’d likely run out of food before we made it to Reds Meadow (if we made it, since we still had a few thousand feet more to climb over some passes). While we were likely hiking at a rate of about ten miles/day, our trail mileage was maybe half that with all of the walking around the tree wells. And, we still weren’t hiking over the higher passes where the snow would be even worse. We decided to bail out at Tuolumne Meadows and figure out next steps from there.

 

The end of that trip was bittersweet. We “failed” on the trip that we had hoped to make and for which we’d planned so hard. But, we were safe and humbled. We spent a couple of weeks bumming around the Sierras and San Francisco as our “backup” plan.

 

 

ACT II:

 

Not completing a goal like this – especially one where you’ve invested so much time and effort in planning and training – sticks in your craw. In the early fall of 2017, I told my wife that I’d like to try the JMT again and she was agreeable. When I told Aras that I wanted to make a second attempt, his response was on the order of “UGH!” But, we planned the trip, carefully, for the two of us during the winter of 2017/2018, starting from Tuolumne Meadows (where we’d ended). Again because of schedules, we had a similar window for going on the JMT. Unfortunately, we were not able to win a permit in the lottery to backpack the traditional JMT over Donohue Pass. But, we scored a permit to leave Yosemite over Parker/Koip Pass. The other good news is that the Sierra snowpack during the winter of 2017/2018 was about 20% of normal!

 

We took a bit more time to acclimate this time around by spending a couple of nights in Mammoth. We also significantly reduced our pack weights. I’m guessing that Aras started at less than 25 lbs and I was just under 30 lbs (better planning and paring, and less snow gear). We also started a few days later than the year before – 29 June.

 

We enjoyed one last civilized snack at Tuolumne Meadows and hitched our way to a late morning start at the Parker/Mono Pass Trailhead. The trail to Parker Pass was smooth and gently sloped. But, I thought that I’d lose Aras as we climbed the side of Parker Peak to get to Koip Pass – the altitude and effort got to him that first day (but, never again!). When we topped out on Koip Pass and could see Alger Lakes, we were pretty excited! We set up camp near Alger Lakes in the waning light, later than we wanted, but very satisfied with our first day’s effort.

 

Aras crossing Minaret Creek.

The second day started with frost and quickly warmed. The hike to the JMT from Alger Lakes was longer than I calculated, which was not encouraging. We made it to Thousand Island Lake for a late lunch and over to very crowded Garnet Lake for the night. (Day3) Our first resupply was at Reds Meadow the next day, but it was a slightly smoky hike there. The food at Reds was quite welcome as well as the shower.

 

It was on the second day that Aras and I had our favorite discovery of the whole trip – Rona & Jason, Oscar and Ron. I’m an introvert, so thinking of interacting with other people is not something that was on my radar when I was planning our JMT trips. We met many nice, wonderful, interesting people on the trip who made it fun. But, meeting Rona, Oscar and Ron on the trail late on the second day was the best thing that happened to us for many reasons. It turns out that Rona is originally a Midwesterner and went to college right here at the University of Wisconsin – Madison! And, her son, Oscar, is the same age as Aras, and they became fast friends on the trail. “Ron” is a very sweet Korean woman who surprised me with her strength and stamina. But, for most of the rest of the trip, we camped and ate together, cajoled each other and enjoyed each other’s company. Rona traded out with her husband, Jason, about half way through the trek, and I certainly appreciated Jason’s company, especially when I needed a break from Aras. 

 

(Day4)  The smoke from the Lions Fire near Reds Meadow the next morning still obscured our views but didn’t affect our breathing. We made it to Purple Lake for the night. I had hoped that we might make it Lake Virginia, as I’d heard it was beautiful, but a late start from Reds nixed that goal, and the smoke from the Lions Fire made for a hazy view at Lake Virginia as we found out the next day.  (Day5) Tully Hole was as mosquito infested as reported. The trail over Silver Pass was spectacular – one of my favorites! The ferry to Vermilion Valley Resort was waiting to leave when Rona & I arrived at Lake Thomas Edison. Vermilion Valley Resort was a wonderful stop. We enjoyed the food and especially enjoyed the company. Sitting around the bonfire there and listening to Pacific Crest Trail hikers tell their stories was wonderful.

 

The view along the John Muir Trail from Silver Pass, overlooking Chief Lake (left) and Warrior Lake (right), John Muir Wilderness, Sierra National Forest, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, USA.

 

 

The view along the John Muir Trail – Marie Lake from Selden Pass; John Muir Wilderness, Sierra National Forest, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, USA.

 

 

Taking a break in Mono Creek.

 

Along the JMT.

 

 

Aras approaching Selden Pass, with Marie Lake in the background.

(Day 6) Leaving VVR on the Fourth of July was tough – a bit of civility and comfort is difficult to let go. But, we slogged on in a bit of heat and made it to the west side of Bear Creek. (Day7) Marie Lake and the north side of Selden Pass were as spectacular as Silver Pass. When Aras & Oscar reached Sallie Keyes Lake, they decided it was a good time to jump in! At Muir Trail Ranch (MTR) we had to hustle to resupply (our last!) our bear canisters before MTR closed for the evening. Rona headed home the next morning and Jason started with fresh legs and a heavy load.  Video: Aras jumping into Sallie Keyes Lake

 

(Day8) After some searching we found John Muir Rock the next day. Our first night with Jason was at beautiful, but mosquito-filled, McClure Meadows, and supper on a boulder in the middle of Evolution Creek. (Day9) Next up was a beautiful hike around Evolution Lakes and then into the rocky alpine zones above before topping out on Muir Pass and its stone hut, before camping along the Middle Fork of the Kings River. (Day10) The following day had an easy morning but a warm afternoon climbing up Palisade Valley. At lunch, I slipped into Paradise Creek and dropped my water bottle and our primary water filter into the raging stream. I quickly decided that it was best to let them go and not chase them; fortune had it that an eddy brought them back to me! Oscar lead us up the Golden Staircase to the most beautiful campsite of our trip with a view over the valley.

 

 

Sunrise view over Palisade Creek Valley with the Devil’s Crags in the background.

 

Sunrise view at an unnamed lake (just downstream from Lake Marjorie).

 

Aras crossing Evolution Lake Inlet.

Aras & Tim take a break at Muir Hut.

(Day11)  The next morning was tough for me with the long slow climb to Mather Pass. The afternoon was mostly downhill with a last climb to another beautiful campsite at an unnamed lake just below Lake Marjorie. Near the Bench Lake Range Station, we started to hear that there was a forest fire near our planned exit at Whitney Portal that might cause us to change our plans. That evening we lost our knife between the boulders in the lake while trying to wash it – whoops! (Day12) It was an overcast morning climbing Pinchot Pass and beyond that gave way to nice camping weather at Arrowhead Lake. (Day13) Our brief time in the vicinity of Rae Lakes was overcast and the steep climb over Glen Pass may have been the most difficult for me. That night was spent at one of our higher campsites in the upper reaches of the Bubbs Creek Valley. (Day14) The next morning was a long, slow slog (for me) to get over Forrester Pass. The weather descending Forrester was overcast and cool and I worried about lightning as well as the mild rain. But, the cooler day was a blessing as I was able to hike more easily. We made it to Crabtree Meadows after a sixteen-mile day – our longest day of the trip! This is also where we collected our wag bags!!

 

As our trip was winding down we were talking of when and how to summit Mt. Whitney. We’d been worried about the possible difficulties of exiting at Whitney Portal because of the nearby fire and maybe needing to hike further south to Cottonwood. Fortunately, Whitney Portal opened a day or two before we arrived. We thought about camping high on Mount Muir at the Trail Crest site, but we would need to take lots of water with us. But, the benefit would have been arising early for a pre-dawn hike to enjoy sunrise on Mt. Whitney.

 

Aras’ “rain coat” wasn’t as helpful as he thought, so he used the tent groundcloth. 🙂 Photo courtesy of Jason.

Jason & me on Forrester Pass. Photo courtesy of Jason.

(Day15) In the end, we decided to get an earlier than usual start and hope to summit Mt. Whitney by noon or so, which we did (actually, a bit after noon). There was no real view on Mt. Whitney as it was socked in by the clouds, but we certainly enjoyed our accomplishment. I cried a bit when I was up there, happy and proud of our accomplishment, especially over two seasons. After a long, slippery and tough-on-the-knees downhill hike, we made it Whitney Portal about 5:00 pm. Of course, Aras and Oscar were waiting on me – Slow Poke – as usual. I was too tired to really eat much of anything and about as sore as I’d ever been. Our last day was about 4000 feet up, 7000 feet down and 19 miles. That night, we enjoyed our first real immersion into civilization in more than two weeks at a hotel in Lone Pine, along with a nice, hot shower!

 

 

Ron, Oscar, Jason, Aras & Tim on Mt. Whitney! Photo courtesy of Jason.

 

On top of Mt. Whitney! Goal attained!

 

In Act II we hiked about 200 miles over the fifteen days. This was one of the most meaningful and difficult accomplishments of my life, at least over a couple of weeks. I’d do it again, but I’d take my wife with me. As I write this now, five months later, I’ve regained most of the weight that I lost and I reminisce many times every day about this grand adventure – the ups and downs, and the wonderful people, especially Aras!

 

 

Closing thoughts:

 

I wish that I’d lost some weight prior to the trip. I was in generally good shape except I was carrying a few more pounds than I wish. The heat on the trail wasn’t that great, but the exertion and intense sun left me drenched in sweat. As often as I could I was wetting my shirt and hat to help me cool. I was the slowest person in our group which lead Aras to give me the trail nickname of Slow Poke.

 

I’m glad we pared our packweight between the two trips. It would have been a slower, more difficult trip carrying ten to twenty more pounds in Act II.

 

I’m glad that we went earlier in the season as the trail was relatively clean. I’ve heard stories about folks who went later in the season and found more human trail scat than they appreciated.

 

I heard about Rock Tape a couple of weeks before we left for Act II and it was wonderful! I highly recommend it for managing blisters and raw spots on feet and fingers.

 

I hope that you enjoy your own backpacking trips, whether on the JMT or elsewhere. These kind of trips are wonderful for cleansing the soul and humbling us in these modern times.

 

“The mountains are calling and I must go.”  ~~ John Muir

 

Lastly, here’s slidewho of about 300 photographs from along the trail – enjoy! You’ll likely enjoy it more if you view full screen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in backpacking, bucket list, California, John Muir Trail, Sierra Nevada Mountains Also tagged , , , , , , , |

Lake O’Hara

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This past July, we were able to spend a wonderful couple of weeks wandering around the Canadian Rockies in Banff, Yoho and Jasper National Parks. This trip had been on our “to do” list for some time and we finally made it happen. It took about four days to drive there and it was well worth it!

 

While performing our research on places to visit, particularly places with great hikes and photographic possibilities, one of the places about which we learned was Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park. The Canadian Rockies remind me somewhat of the American Rockies, but there are differences. The mountains aren’t quite as tall, but they seem more stark and impressive. Since the latitude is further north, this area is a bit cooler and wetter, and these slight differences in climate make for a wonderful improvement in your experience. While we were frequently warm from our hiking, we never really felt hot and drained like we can expect in the American Rockies. At night, the temps were cool and the humidity was higher than if we were further south.  But, I’ve digressed.

 

Lake O’Hara reminds me of just a few places that I’ve experienced while traipsing around the world. It’s indescribably beautiful *and* the powers that be limit access to it, very similar to how access is limited for visits to The Wave or The Milford Track. Parks Canada allows about fifty people a day to visit Lake O’Hara (but, don’t quote me on that figure). You can obtain a day hiking permit, a permit to camp in the single, modest campground, or you might stay at the Lake O’Hara Lodge (only ~$300 per person per night). We were able to score a camping spot for a couple of nights, which required me to be on the phone to the Parks Canada reservations system exactly three months before we wanted to be there to try to claim a spot. To enter the area of Lake O’Hara it is necessary to ride a school bus from the parking lot just off of Canadian Highway 1 a few kilometers east of the town of Field, British Columbia. The bus slowly drives you eleven kilometers up the one-lane gravel road to the campground. Once there, y0u’re welcomed by the ranger and given a brief introduction to camping at Lake O’Hara and then turned loose to find your tenting spot. There are no significant amenities at the Lake O’Hara campground – a pleasant composting toilet, water from a solar pump, bear lockers, and picnic tables. The only amenity of note are the totally awesome views!

 

There are numerous hiking trails in the area for a variety of skill levels.  A basic starter hike around Lake O’Hara is about an hour or two and it’s relatively flat, and this is the hike that we did on our first afternoon. The weather was a bit iffy for us over our two nights at Lake O’Hara, but never really terrible. Okay, it did rain a fair amount on our first evening and that made making supper a bit of a challenge, but there are small shelters there that you get to share with all of your newly made friends. Unfortunately, since there had been so many wildfires in the Canadian Rockies and the firefighting resources were stretched thin, we weren’t allowed to have open fires at Lake O’Hara, not even in the wood stoves in these cooking shelters.

 

Winter in July...

Winter in July…

During our single, full day at Lake O’Hara we took off on one of the more popular routes for the day and it was very easy to see why. We started our hike around Lake O’Hara as we had done the day before, but then started hiking uphill for a few kilometers. By late morning, we were sitting in a beautiful glacial bowl overlooking spectacular Lake Oesa. It was a wonderful backdrop for a well-earned lunch. The day that we were there was overcast, but still very pleasant and beautiful. We next took a slightly wrong route to hike the Yukness Ledges over to Opabin Lake. If you have the opportunity to take this route, make certain to look back to Lake Oesa after you’ve left as the view is even more stunning! From Opabin Lake, the hike back to camp was another hour or so, downhill, and we were entertained by a few hoary marmots along the way. This was one of our best hiking days ever. We were tired by the time that we got back to camp and enjoyed a nice warm supper, followed by the coldest night of our whole trip – the next morning, it snowed on us (OK, it wasn’t that much snow, but it was still snow in July).

 

Lake O’Hara is one of the few places in the world to which I’d like to return – not because I dislike everywhere else, but because there’s so much of the world to see. But, there are some things that I’d do differently. Since we “assumed” that we were headed to some type of a backcountry campground on this bus, which was true, we carried most all of our gear in backpacks – a reasonable decision when we were planning. However, since we didn’t really backpack in to the site, we would have been smarter to carry our gear in duffel bags or something similar, just as we saw the more experienced Lake O’Hara campers do. And, I’d likely desire to bring something more to drink than water.

 

Enjoy the slideshow!

 

 

Signing off (to plan my next awesome adventure!)…

 

 

Posted in Canada, Lake O'Hara, Yoho National Park Also tagged , , , , , , , , |

Isle Royale

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A few years ago, back when I was in gradual school, there was an article in National Geographic magazine (April, 1985) about a place called Isle Royale. I had never heard of it before then, but was quite taken by the story and photographs. My friend Kent and I even talked about heading up there to go backpacking, but it never came to fruition before we graduated. Every once in awhile over the years, I’d look at a map of the Great Lakes and see Isle Royale there, think about it again and tell myself that I’ve got to get there someday.

Over the winter when I found that I’d have several days available in late May (Ačiū, mano meile!) with the opportunity for some travel and adventure I obviously started to think about heading to the southwestern deserts. Since we were planning on going to Utah in April, it just didn’t seem quite right to head back there again so soon (that’s an almost unbelievable thought for me). Somewhere out of the dark recesses of my brain crawled the memory of Isle Royal National Park and it stuck! Oh yeah!

ISRO Map

Map of Lake Superior with Isle Royale circled (click to view a larger image)

Most people to whom I mention Isle Royale National Park have never heard of it and that’s not surprising. Isle Royale is one of the least visited national parks in the United States even though it’s not too far from many populations centers in the Midwest. The problem is that it’s an island in northern Lake Superior and your only options for getting there are your own boat, ferry service from Houghton or Copper Harbor, Michigan or Grand Portage, Minnesota, or a seaplane flight out of Houghton. The National Park Service estimates that were ~15,000 people who visited Isle Royale in 2014; there have been a little over a million visitors to Isle Royale since it was established in 1940. Just for a little contrast, Yellowstone National Park had about 3.5 million visitors in 2014, or about 9500 visitors/day, Grand Canyon hosted 4.7 million visitors last year (12,880 visitors/day), Yosemite enjoyed about 3.9 million visitors, and Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska welcomed just 12,700 visitors last year. Isle Royale National Park is most famous for secluded backpacking over its forty mile length, many harbors and coves for boaters, and for the dynamic population of moose and wolves on the island. Unfortunately, it’s now estimated that there are only three wolves left on Isle Royale due to a lack of genetic diversity from inbreeding, and this loss of wolves is creating a quandary for the National Park Service and others who are fretting over whether they should intervene and introduce more wolves. (I’m in the camp of let it be; wolves will eventually repopulate the island again, and this likely isn’t the first time over the past few millennia that the wolf population has crashed due to inbreeding.)

I started preparing for my solo backpacking trip in late winter by carrying a fifty pound load through the neighborhood. The first few times were tortuous, but I slowly grew stronger, a bit faster and more comfortable with the whole idea. While I’ve been on a few backpacking trips before, these trips were always with friends with whom I could share the load of food, tent, stove and so on, but that wasn’t the case this time.  I also wanted to carry my camera gear, so my load added up quickly.

Over Memorial Day weekend I was off, driving north to Houghton and its airport for my relatively quick flight to the Rock Harbor Visitor Center on the eastern end of Isle Royale. I arrived there late on Friday afternoon, had a quick orientation with the ranger, and was then off to Three Mile Campground. There, I thought that I’d be relatively alone until Amy (from Madison!) showed up with her bum knee that she had injured a day before. (Yes, Amy made it safely home and the big, bad wolves didn’t catch her.) The second day, it was a couple of hour “jaunt” to Daisy Farm Campground and a relatively warm and pleasant afternoon and evening. It seems that Amy had it a bit rougher at Daisy Farm a few days before because it snowed on her. Daisy Farm-0447On my third day, I humped it over the ridge to the other side of the island at Lane Cove when it was quite warm; the bad news is that my water filter broke when I needed it and I stumbled into Lane Cove quite parched. I spent a couple of hours boiling water after that. The last day of hiking saw some cold and rain, and I made it back to Rock Harbor, where I spent most of the afternoon in my sleeping bag, keeping warm and reading a book. All in all, it wasn’t that adventurous of a trip, but it was so nice to get away to the seclusion of Isle Royale – us introverts are into that kind of thing. From the time that I left Rock Harbor until I returned, about three days, I ran into maybe sixteen people. And, I can’t wait to do something like this again – but where?

Finally, here’s my requisite gallery – enjoy!

 

 

Another happy camper, signing off…

 

Posted in Isle Royale, Lake Superior Also tagged , , , , , , |

Von River Valley, Eyre Mountains

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I’m a person who loves to read maps, especially finely detailed topographic maps. First, I like to discover places that are new and interesting to me, and hopefully interesting photograph. With the plethora of maps on the internet (Google Maps and Google Earth, to name a couple), it’s really interesting to start to see someplace and then dig deeper. When I’m performing my research on US locations, I then find that deeper level of detail by pulling up USGS topographic maps on the Libre Map Project. I suspect that there are other, similar resources in the US, but I’ve been using Libre Map Project for years, so it’s my “go to” resource. My GPS is also a really good resource when I’m in the field, but I love these computer sites when I’m doing my research before I get into the field because it’s so much easier to see things on the bigger computer screen.

  

  

Fortunately for me, there’s a similar resource in New Zealand – NZ Topo Maps. When we’re planning our trips and tours in New Zealand, I’ll check out Google Earth for a start, and then head to NZ Topo Maps for a different view. I just love to pour over a good topo map and discover nooks and crannies that I didn’t know exist before.  For example, that’s how I “discovered” The Branches and made the trip further up Skippers Canyon.

  

  

Over the past few months, we’d heard about a place called the Mavora Lakes and it has been on our radar as a place to visit, maybe hike, maybe camp. It’s only a couple of hours from Invercargill and it’s not a major tourist area like Milford Sound, Te Anau and Queenstown. It seemed like a nice place to get away for a day and to relax.

  

  

I then hit the maps and “discovered” that, yes, Mavora Lakes looks like an interesting place. But the road to Mavora Lakes keeps going further and further from civilization – that’s my kind of road to explore!!! In fact, the road to Mavora Lakes and beyond goes all the way to Lake Wakatipu, which is the lake on which Queenstown is situated. There are no towns or villages on the road beyond Mavora Lakes. The only signs of civilization in this area on the map are a couple of sheep stations at the end of the road on Lake Wakatipu. These two stations are remote. The nearest town, Mossburn, is about a two-hour drive from them, although it’s only a eighteen kilometers by boat to Queenstown.

  

  

When we went to Mavora Lakes, the weather didn’t seem like it might be the best. It’s late autumn here and there was a lot of fog as we started the drive. The fog eventually lifted and we made it to Mavora Lakes uneventfully. The lakes were nice and pleasant, and it did seem like it would be a good place to relax. Of course, the sandflies were there, too. There were even a few people camping and exploring the area like us, so this is likely a reasonably popular place to visit in Southland during tourist season. We were contemplating lunch (actually, the kids were more like demanding it) when I suggested that we drive further on the road. It looked like it might be “only” another hour until we reached Lake Wakatipu.

  

  

A few kilometers further north of Mavora Lakes is when the good scenery and clouds really kicked in! Asta and I were oohing and aahing all of the time. When we finally came over a rise and saw Lake Wakatipu, we both blurted out WOW! at the same time. I have to say that this drive is one of my top three drives in New Zealand. Driving from Te Anau to Milford Sound is likely my favorite drive, and Skippers Canyon is my second favorite. The autumn foliage and dark, majestic clouds really set off the Von River Valley and the Thomson and Eyre Mountain Ranges, as well as Lake Wakatipu. At the end of the road, there wasn’t much to see in terms of civilization, but the views were spectacular! We stopped and enjoyed our lunch surrounded by a few hundred sheep who were hoping that we might want to share with them.

  

  

At the end of the road, there are two sheep stations, plus a resort.  One of the sheep stations, Mount Nicholas Station, also doubles as a nice, small, remote getaway place. The resort is the Colonel’s Homestead and is operated a resort by RealJourneys, which is a major tourist operator in southern New Zealand. We didn’t get close to the Colonel’s Homestead and just enjoyed our lunch views of Lake Wakatipu.

  

  

On the way back, the skies looked a little dark and blustery. These dark clouds made for excellent photographs and also for a bit of angst – would it start raining and make it difficult to ford the streams before we got past the last ford? Obviously, we made it, again with lots of oohs and aahs.

   
 
Again, enjoy the gallery – especially full screen:

  

   

  

46 S EnZed signing off…

 

   

 

Posted in Colonel's Homestead, Eyre Mountains, Lake Wakatipu, Mavora Lakes, Mount Nicholas, New Zealand, Queenstown, Thomson Mountains, Von River, Walter Peak Station Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Moeraki Boulders

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It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a month since my last post.  Time flies when you’re having fun in Australia.

 

 

On the big trip around New Zealand in January, one of our first significant stops were the famous Moeraki Boulders, a few kilometers north of Dunedin on the South Island’s east coast. The Moeraki Boulders aren’t exactly spectacular like a lot of New Zealand’s mountain scenery, but they’re still awe-inspiring in their own way. These boulders (and other similar boulders around the world) are concretions that were formed when minerals (calcite) seeped into the interstitial spaces between mud and sand grains and “hardened.” Don’t ask me exactly why these minerals hardened; similarly, don’t ask me why these concretions are so nicely spherical in shape. Just chalk it up to some of the wonderful geological mysteries of Nature.  (Yes, I know that I’m a guy and that I’m supposed to know everything, but let’s just leave it at that.) I’m not going to write a whole lot this time and just leave you to enjoy the gallery at your own pace.

 

46 S EnZed signing off…

Posted in Dunedin, Moeraki Boulders, New Zealand Also tagged , , , , , , , , |

Purakaunui Bay

In late January, I was able to dash over to The Catlins for part of a day to a place that I hadn’t yet visited – Purakaunui Bay, which is just downstream from Purakaunui Falls. I love to look at topographical maps, Google Earth and any resource like that where I can get a bit of a view of the land and a sense as to whether it might be photogenic. And, in this case, while we were visiting Curio Bay once, I asked a Department of Conservation warden where her favorite places to visit could be found, something that might be a bit off the beaten track, and she mentioned Purakaunui Bay.

The weather in Invercargill was wonderful that day – blue skies, warm and a bit of a breeze blowing in from the Southern Ocean. Driving to Purakaunui Bay is only about 75 minutes on the main road, but then another fifteen minutes or so down some gravel roads. The closer that I got to the coastline, the more low-lying clouds and fog that I could see hanging over the sea. I was beginning to think that maybe my trip was for nought…

Oh, but I was so wrong!!! Yes, I didn’t get the spectacular landscape vistas of which I’d been dreaming, but I did find a very interesting, eerie, ethereal setting – and it was wonderful and inspiring! The cliffs, waves and beach were coming into and going out of view depending upon the thickness of the fog. The creative side of my mind recognized the non-landscape, non-nature possibilities of this setting and I was not disappointed.

In the following gallery, yes, you’ll certainly see nature and landscape photographs. But, I also felt the “tug” to go a bit more “zen” on these photographs and I’m quite pleased with most of the results. Enjoy and if there’s one that particularly speaks to you, stop the slideshow and just breathe it in…

46 S. EnZed signing off….

Posted in Catlins, Invercargill, New Zealand, Purakaunui Bay, zen Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Lake Marian

Just a few days before Christmas and a couple of days after Muir arrived (and, he still had a bit of jet lag), we took a day trip to Fiordland National Park with the intent of tramping (hiking) to Lake Marian.  In October, we had hiked to Marian Falls, which was only about a half mile, but we got drenched in the process.  Hiking to Lake Marian has been on our radar ever since.

  

So, we loaded up the car and made the three-hour drive to the trailhead.  One of the nice parts of the hike is that there’s a suspension bridge just as you begin that crosses the Hollyford River and gives you a little early excitement. The hike is “only” about two miles, but it felt like it was a little longer than that.  We were surrounded by the forest much of the time and didn’t realize (until recently – more in a later post) how much of an uphill trudge it was to get to Lake Marian.  Another reason that the hike seemed a little longer is that I was carrying my heavy load of camera equipment as well as food, water and some spare clothes (the weather did seem a bit cool and dodgy that day).  The Lake Marian Track is a very popular route in Fiordland National Park as evidenced by the trail erosion.  And, another factor in the trail erosion were the couple of very obvious rockslides. It’s very easy to locate rockslides on New Zealand’s trails – they have signs that say “DO NOT STOP FOR THE NEXT 200 METERS!”

  

After about an hour of sorta strenuous hiking, all of the sudden we came out into this opening with a very large glacial cirque/bowl that’s filled with a beautiful turquoise lake!  There were only a few other trampers/hikers at the lake and it was absolutely gorgeous place to enjoy a picnic lunch and lighten the rucksacks.  I think that Muir enjoyed one of his first major tastes of New Zealand’s landscape!  I hope that the gallery at the end of this post does justice to Lake Marian.  And, Lake Marian provided a beautiful setting for a very special family portrait.

  

  

After hiking down from Lake Marian, we “forced” Muir to ride to the end of the road and see Milford Sound and he did seem to be a bit impressed.  I was also able to capture one of my favorite photographs (so far) from New Zealand.  This photograph was taken looking west from near the Homer Tunnel entrance and down the Cleddau River Valley:

  

 

  

After enjoying Fiordland, we stopped in Te Anau and enjoyed supper before driving home.  Surprisingly, on the way home, Muir quickly fell asleep – so much for being a high-energy young adult (with jet lag).

  

And, we understand that our friends Jolanta, Asta and Gedis also enjoyed the Lake Marian hike when they visited Fiordland in early February – it’s a truly special place and hike!

  

  

46 S EnZed signing off…

    

Posted in Fiordland, Lake Marian, Milford, New Zealand Also tagged , , , , , , , , , |

Adrenaline!

Queenstown, in the southern end of the South Island, markets itself as the “adrenaline capital of the world.”  We’ve had the pleasure of visiting it several times since we’ve been here, averaging about one visit a month. We’ve gone skiing in the area twice, once to The Remarkables and the second time to Cardrona (our preference of the two was Cardrona).  We once drove north from Queenstown to Glenorchy and the Paradise Valley.  But, this trip…  OH BABY!!!  🙂

 

 

Over Christmas, we lived it up, and some of us more than others!  Muir is visiting us, as he’s on college break from American University.  Since we have someone here now who is younger and more foolish than us, we decided to have more fun.

 

 

On Christmas Day, after opening our few presents, we drove up to Skippers Canyon, which is west of Queenstown.  Skippers Canyon is a part of the original New Zealand goldfields from the early 1860’s.  Today, it’s a beautiful little canyon for jet boats and four-wheel drives.  Our little Subaru was easily up to the task.  Christmas Day here was hot – ~80 degrees F – and Skippers Canyon seemed even a little warmer.  It was a pleasant drive, except for the part where I backed off of the road, trying to get out of the way of a tourist bus on a very narrow section of the road.

 

 

The day after Christmas was one of the more exciting days of Muir’s life.  For a Christmas present, we gave him the gift of adrenaline – his very own bungy jump experience!  It was so interesting to enjoy the mixed look of excitement, happiness, joy and fear on his face.  And, me being me, I had all kinds of fun making jokes about his impending doom.  🙂

 

 

Now, just to be clear, I would have bungy jumped, too – it’s something that I’ve wanted to do for quite some time.  However, I have a couple of doctors who have advised me against it – something about my weak, old eyes and the distinct possibility of blindness.  So, I had to live vicariously…

 

 

The main bungy jump company in these parts is A.J. Hackett.  They operate three different bungy jumps in the Queenstown area.  Since this was Muir’s first time, we decided to go with the historic, first bungy jump location of the Kawarau Bridge for him.  There’s a location in Queenstown, but you jump off of a platform and head down toward a mountain slope which isn’t as exciting as jumping towards a river.  The other option is a major undertaking, Nevis Bridge, and it’s a bit higher – 143 m, vs. the 43m that Muir did at Kawarau. Without further adieu, here’s Muir (just click on the blue link below):

 

 

Muir at the Kawarau Bungy

 

 

Yep, that’s him, screaming like a big baby!  And, since he told me that he did feel a little uncomfortable hanging upside down with the blood rushing to his head, maybe it’s a good thing for my eyesight that I was just a spectator.

 

 

There are a lot of other things to do in Queenstown – horse riding, riding the gondola, eating (try Fergburger – it’s famous in these parts, but too much for us), riding the jet boats on the Shotover River, watching and feeding trout at the underwater world observatory, enjoying the zip line, shopping (ugh!), four-wheeling, riding mountain bikes, hiking, and a lot of other things…

Now, one of those other things is the Skyline Luge. OMG, what a great time! We went on the luge a couple of months ago, on our second or third trip to Queenstown.  Since Muir was here, we just HAD to do it again!  I remember riding my wagon down the little hill in our yard with my brother when I was growing up.  I have to say that the thrill is very similar, if not better, now that I’m older.  The luge tracks are a few hundred meters long and slope downhill with several twists and turns.  The scenic track is for beginners and it’s a bit slower, more twisty and the corners have cobbles on the edge to help slow you down when you miss the corners (which you will).   The adventure track is a bit steeper and faster, with a couple of slight jumps and the cobbles on the corners less aggressive.  The first time that you ride the luge each day, you must start on the scenic track; after that, you’re free to ride on either track. We rode the luges three times this day and I was smart enough to remember to try to capture a video on my second (and last) ride on the adventure track.  Yes, that’s me laughing in the video.  Also, I will say that it is more difficult to steer a luge when you also have your phone in your hand…  (just click on the blue link below)

 

 

Skyline Luge Adventure Track

 

 

My only question is why don’t they have a luge track and bungy jumping at Wisconsin Dells?  🙂

 

 

So, I hope that you enjoyed a part of our adrenaline rushes in Queenstown and I sincerely hope that you’ll have the opportunity to do the same!

 

 

46 S EnZed signing off…

 

 

Posted in Queenstown Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Catlins IV

Here’s another post about The Catlins!  It’s nice to have this pleasant area so relatively close to us, starting less than an hour to the east of Invercargill.  There are hikes in the forests, hikes to waterfalls and a lot of coastline to explore, along with the wonderful small towns and cafes.

 

 

Our goals for this trip were to go to Matai Falls and hopefully to Cathedral Caves.  Well, Cathedral Caves was still closed because of lambing season and the higher winter/spring tides, but we did get to enjoy Matai Falls.  Matai Falls is about a twenty-minute walk from the car park, and it’s worth the bit of effort.  It’s character is that it’s smaller than some of the other waterfalls and more intimate.  It’s sorta tucked into it’s little valley rather tightly and pleasantly.

 

 

After Matai Falls, we drove over to Nugget Point so that Asta could enjoy her first taste of it.  The weather wasn’t as nice as the first time that we were there, but Asta got the idea.  We also managed to see some New Zealand Fur Seals, and that’s always a treat.  And, again, we enjoyed the small communities along the way!!!

 

 

Enjoy,

 

 

46 S. EnZed signing off…

 

 

Posted in Catlins, New Zealand Also tagged , , , , , , , , |

Camper Vans, Kiwi Style*

So, if you’ve been enjoying our odyssey so far, you’re likely aware that our school holiday plans went through a very significant and quick change when we discovered that Julija had chickenpox.  Instead of driving around in our car and staying in hotels that we might contaminate (we’re still working on our camping gear), we found a good deal on a camper van and hit the road.

 

 

There are only a few locations in NZ where you can readily rent camper vans, and fortunately one of them is only a couple of hours from us in Queenstown.  The other common places to rent camper vans are Auckland and Christchurch.  At the end of this blog, I’ve included a list of many of the NZ camper van rental firms.

 

 

On the whole, kiwi camper vans are smaller than American camper vans.  The largest NZ camper van might be a medium-sized camper van in the States.  The more common “land yachts” that you see in the States are very rare here – the roads are smaller and the turns tighter.  Additionally, fuel is more expensive!  Besides, if you’re coming from the States or elsewhere besides NZ, you’re not going to be carrying a whole lot of gear with you.

Lunch break along the road to Arthur Pass

 

Also be aware that these smaller campers might be “tight” for four people to enjoy, even if the rental site suggests that four people will fit.  For example, our camper van had a bed just barely big enough for Asta & me, and a second “berth” above the main area that was fine for Aras & Julija.  But, two more adults would not have made it happily in the upper berth.  If you have the means, I’d encourage you to consider renting a slightly larger van than you think that you might need.

 

 

Driving a camper van, at least in the mountains of the Southern Island, is not difficult, but you do need to slow down in several different ways.  The posted speed limit on many rural roads is 100 km/hr.  However, it takes a little effort to get the camper van up to 100.   And, about the time that you get up to the speed limit, then a curve appears on the road, or rain (sometimes horizontal), or wind.  Accelerating, decelerating and fighting a top-heavy van in the wind and rain takes a toll on your arms, shoulders and nerves.  (I consider driving a camper van akin to driving a vertical mattress – soft, springy and not very responsive.) Even more common, there’ll be a magnificent sight out the window and you’ll be drooling on the steering wheel!  So, the best way to enjoy NZ, whether in a camper van or your car, is to slow down to ~ 80.  The distances in NZ aren’t as far as in the States, so driving about 50 mph/80 kph is rather pleasant and will delightfully fill your day.

 

 

And, when you’re driving on those NZ roads, when you approach a corner you’ll often see a “recommended speed” for the corner.  When you’re driving in a camper van, those recommended speeds are pretty good for enjoying the corners.

 

 

You can rent either a gas (petrol) diesel camper van.  Currently, diesel fuel costs about three-fourths of the price of petrol, so that might be an advantage.  You’ll also have to pay a government road-user charge with a diesel vehicle equal to about $0.05/kilometer, so there’s another expense to consider.  I have no idea of the “mileage” that we achieved with our camper van, so I can’t recommend what might be more efficient and how the fuel and road-use costs might compare.  Just be aware…

 

 

Here’s another “plus” about enjoying a camper van in NZ – the “holiday parks.”  A “holiday park” in NZ is about the same as a campground in the States, but BETTER!  The Americans could learn a thing or two about campgrounds from the Kiwis.  The holiday parks are frequently smaller and more compact than their American cousins, which is part of the reason that a smaller camper van is more appropriate.  All of the holiday parks had electrical (240 V) hookups, and water and wastewater disposal readily available.  One of the big differences that set an NZ holiday park apart from an American campground is the community facilities that you’ll find in these parks.  Every (?) holiday park that we enjoyed had a laundry and communal kitchen facility.  You’ll find campers cooking their meals in the same kitchen, cleaning their dishes and conversing.  Since there’s so much rain in NZ, there are also communal eating spaces at many holiday parks, both indoors and outdoors.

 

At a Queenstown Holiday Park

 

Along with these kitchen facilities, you’ll frequently (but not always) find a BBQ area on the grounds.  This BBQ area is essentially an outdoor kitchen and eating/picnic area that’s under a roof.  We’ve seen BBQ areas with basic grills where you might need to supply your own wood, all the way up to BBQ areas that include gas grills (with the propane!), sinks, small refrigerators, toasters and electric kettles.  Again, with all of the rain, it’s very nice to be able to make camp someplace and then to NOT be confined to your camper van while you prepare a meal or relax.

 

 

Finally, the holiday parks have often had some type of a communal room that includes a television and maybe internet service.  In some parks, the internet service was included with our camping fee, whilst in other parks the internet service was an additional charge (and, not necessarily cheap).  “Roughing it” does not seem to be a term that the holiday parks know.  For all of this camping luxury, you can expect to pay NZ$40/night to >NZ$60/night.  There are a couple of major holiday park chains – Top Ten Holiday Parks and Kiwi Holiday Parks – from which to choose, as well as many other smaller, local holiday parks.   Also at the end of this piece, I’ve included a list of the holiday parks at which we stayed.

 

 

If you really feel more like roughing it in your camper van, you might always consider “freedom camping” – pulling over and camping wherever you might land.  To legally do this, your camper van needs to be “fully self contained.”  This means that you’re able to collect all of your waste water and human wastes for delivery to a proper disposal facility.  With NZ’s popularity as a tourism destination for outdoor lovers, there have been many instances of abuse of freedom camping, so various levels of government have started to institute more rules governing where you might freedom camp.  The best thing to do is to assume that you may NOT freedom camp in a particular spot until you officially learn that you may.  If you’re caught freedom camping in a place where it’s not permitted, then the fine might be $200 or so.  There are many NZ Department of Conservation (DOC) sites where you might camp with basic/minimal services, so that’s a good place to start.  Each local/regional government has its own rules, so ask or look for the signs before setting up home.

 

 

Here’s another little tidbit that I learned only after we made this trip and this makes a LOT of sense and might even meet your needs.  Or, you might consider changing your trip plans around to make it meet your needs.  With all of these campervans running around New Zealand, especially during the austral summer months (December through February), these campervans are not always in the places that the campervan rental companies want them to be located. For example, a lot of visitors to New Zealand fly into Auckland, since that’s the main international airport, and then possibly they fly on down to Wellington or Christchurch.  Those three locations are the main ones from where many folks will rent their campers.  And, many people will then drive their campers to a different airport such as the Queenstown airport in southern New Zealand, drop them off (and, pay the extra drop-off fee) and then fly on home.

 

 

But, that campervan is still not in the location where the campervan company wants. These rental agencies then “hire” people to “relocate” their campervans. These rental agencies will basically “loan” you the campervan for next to nothing as long as you drive it back to the designated airport.  🙂   Yes, there are certain fees that you’ll still have to pay, so check this idea out carefully.  These rental agencies also want their campers to get from Airport B to Airport A very quickly, so you won’t be able to enjoy a leisurely pace through New Zealand.  But, might it be possible for you to configure your trip to New Zealand so that you really start your trip in Queenstown, maybe rent a real campervan from the Queenstown airport and drive around the South Island some, return it to the Queenstown airport, and then “rent” a camper that needs to be relocated to Christchurch, Wellington or Auckland and then dash north? Hmmm… It might work (let me know if it does!).  To further consider this idea, try this link to TransferCar, RentalCarRelocation or simply google “campervan relocation new zealand” for a lot of other options.

 

 

Any other questions?  Likely, yes.  The best way to answer your questions about camper vans and camping in NZ is to experience it for yourself!  Get up and go, mate!

 

 

46 S EnZed signing off…

 

 

List of camper van rentals:

 

JUCY

Britz

Apollo

Air NZ

Backpacker

Maui

Mighty

Wicked

Escape

Lucky

Rocket/Spaceship

Wilderness

Hippie

Happy

Kiwi

Kiwi Campervans

United

Kea

CamperVanHireSalesFinder

Fetch

 

 

List of some of the holiday parks we’ve visited:

Wanaka Aspiring Holiday Park

Glentanner holiday park

Lake Tekapo holiday park

Christchurch Top Ten Holiday Park

Hokitika Shining Star holiday park

Haast Top Ten Holiday Park

Queenstown Top Ten Holiday Park/Creeksyde

 

 

* Dedicated to Jolanta & Gedis, Lianne & Rick, and whoever else dreams of exploring NZ in a camper van…  Please elevate such dreams from your bucket list to your thimble list!

Posted in Campervan, New Zealand Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |