All 8 entries tagged Hiking

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November 17, 2006

Wrapping up the Barrier : Almost There

Now my parents are tucked away in their hotel, I can finally get around to finishing this one off, thank god for that!

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We’d been camping at random places and not really seen a soul throughout our days except when we hit the road. So it was strange in the morning to meet several people as we woke up to bright sunshine. And what a glorious day it was. After stopping off at the most luxurious portaloo I’ve ever seen in the middle of nowhere (it was space-age white and clean with soap that required no water and no hand drying) we pottered along the dusty road leading to the start of our trail.

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It was steep, winding, and very hot (and much further than we thought) so it was a relief when we entered the forest and into the shade of the Windy Canyon (a glorious breeze it was too). The first peak we reached gave us some great views of the eastern shores, but there was still a long way to go, and no time to dawdle. It was approaching eleven and we had to be up and back down to a hostel before night set in.

The trail soon led straight back into the bush, and straight into an evil climb up tree roots and dirt paths. The final section seemed to be the devil’s work, trying to finish you off to stop you getting from the top. Being the mighty fine hikers we are (hehe), we eventually made it. This time the peak gave the opportunity of a full 360 degree view, almost showing the whole coastline from this one fine vantage point. So it was inevitable that we decided to have a quick afternoon kip on the peak and let our breaded lunch settle. The signs had told us it would take three hours, but we made it in under two, so I think we deserved the rest.

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Reluctantly, we had to move on to catch time, this meant we also had to miss out on viewing the Kauri dams that had been built on the mountain to harvest the trees long ago. Instead the road led us steeply down the other side in light heather-y brush, so steep we all managed a chuckle when Alex’s attempt at dirt skiing went slightly astray.

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This path down the mountain was even more arduous as the trees returned and the incline worsened. Swinging around, under and over branches just to get to the next zig-zag as we moved slowly down. Hours of random terrain and fallen trees made it seem like the path would never end, but just as we were getting worried that night was about to fall, we found what we’d been looking for, the hot springs…

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They were not quite hot but pretty warm and they smelt like eggs, but it was the perfect respite for some aching limbs and sagging spirits. And you wouldn’t believe how long it took to get that photo to take right…

The night was coming in fast, so we had to make a move quickly, we hadn’t even reached the main island road yet. Headlamps were donned and the path we found was now widened, gravel-laden and bordered resulting in an easy-going stroll for easy access to the springs. It wasn’t long before the moon was fully up and lighting the road ahead. We figured we were going to stay at a hostel on the only crossroads on the island, but we had no idea how far it was or if it was open for lodgers when we got there. So naturally, when we pass a huge sign saying ‘Export Gold served here’ we follow the track to a golf club for refreshment. The lights are on and people are inside, and there’s a guy sat on the porch who greets us. Turns out that he owns the hostel we’re heading to, and he can give us a free ride up there. Winner. So we stock up on bar beer and hitch a ride in the most battered up estate ever to the fabled Crossroads.

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It was a fine little place and while cooking dinner we chatted with an Alaskan who’d been just ahead of us the whole time on Mt. Hobson. Strange actually having a vaguely warm shower and an actual bed to sleep on, and it was a good final night to end our expedition. Of course, we weren’t home yet, we still had to get to the ferry on time…

October 26, 2006

Wrapping up the Barrier

I thought to give over prolonging the agony of waiting for each installment and finish this in a rather abrupt way, because there’s plenty of other things that I probably should be writing about…

Day 3

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We headed out from Medlands Beach and a short hike and walk later arrived at the next collection of houses (you can’t really call any of these places towns to be honest)...

This is us relaxing at the amusingly named Claris, Texas restaurant, in, you guessed it, Claris! It’s also where we found about Steve Irwin, much to the amusement of some of the locals when we declared it quite loudly with some amount of surprise. Fish and chips were gobbled down for the second time this trip and we hiked off again towards the north, and wherever the next lift would take us.

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The next lift took us to the north-eastern corner of the island, courtesy of a DoC official and his exquisite Jeep (at least it seemed like it at the time). It also took us to a campsite full of sheep (not pictured) and a long beach rather pretensiously captured by Jens’ handling of my camera shown above. We spent the evening dancing around a campfire of driftwood, excited by flames and egged on by the shots of lemon-tinged vodka before light rain persisted enough to make us give up and return to our tents. A rather unexceptional night of keeping a stove sheltered from the wind and rain for an unexceptional meal of our ‘tuna tikka’ was quickly ended by a few more warming shots to finish off the last of the whiskey and send me off to sleep.

Day 4

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This picture of the morning after rather reproduces the image of the night before with our eyes transfixed on flames but with the rain finally dissipated and our pot full of oatmeal. We didn’t wait long in the morning to leave, giving ourselves the whole day for a forest trek that followed the coast to the next beach and campsite. The rain had relented for a while but it was quite soon into the walk when the heavens opened again. The forest provided a little shelter but now all equipment had to be covered and waterproofs donned.

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The track headed around the coastline and occasionally peeked out over bays and unreachable beaches that were marred by the grey weather. A swift and simple lunch taken halfway through did little to brighten the mood. What did eventually cheer us up was the realisation that the advertised five hour hike was dispensed with in a mere three hours, and that in reaching the campsite on the other side, even the most stubborn clouds had given up pouring water on us.

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The campsite was at the head of a great estuary, leading to this amusing ‘walking on water’ feat from Alex as he went off to find the sea. The rain had let off enough to hang our washing on the line, and grab a nice sunset view over a game of cards and the last of our rationed alcohol. It was a pleasant relief after the persistent rain to have some respite. In the morning, we’d be heading up Mount Hobson, the largest peak on the island and hopefully end up somewhere to spend the night. It’d be a long day…

October 06, 2006

Great Barriers Pt. 2

The next installment of the Great Barrier adventure, day number two… excuse me if things seem a little out of order… it’s been a while. Tis a short one today.

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It’s quite something else when you wake up one morning, realise you’re in a tent, open up the door, and you’ve got this brilliant sunshine greeting you along with a fantastic beach and surrounding vista. Not surprisingly, my reaction is to immediately take an underwhelming photo of the occasion then go back to sleep. On waking, our plan for the day is simply to enjoy the beach as we wanted. Of course, no beach enjoyment is complete without running for a quick dip in the deceptively cold ocean to start us off. If the senses weren’t fully operational before, I’m not in the mood for any sleeping now. Alex prepares a hearty breakfast of instant oatmeal and raisins, which sits like a brick in the stomach, considering our simple sandwiches the evening before. An examination of the campsite’s facilities reveals a rather curious cockerel, as well as the soon-to-be expected hole-in-the-ground toilets. At least there’s plenty of water to be boiled for our meals in the day, we just have to make sure our gas lasts…

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So, our bellies full, we set out to explore the beach and surrounding area that we kinda missed out on when we arrived in the dark the evening before. It’s a fantastic day that begins with a startlingly powerful sun, so cream is lashed on the ol’ pale white skin to protect us from that big hole in the atmosphere. Alex sets out fishing on the rocks out on the sea while the rest of us clamber around looking for any form of sea life (rock lobsters are apparently known to be found in the area). Alex swears to catch us a fish to go with our curry for lunch so we leave him to it and continue around the coastline.

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All I manage to come back with are a handful of photos, but Jens returns with a plastic bag full of hand-selected souvenir shells painstakingly picked with a keen eye and a unique sense of quality. Alex also returns empty handed, but vows to return to catch something else in the afternoon. We enjoy our (tinned tuna) indian curry either way and spend much of the time entertained with a game of frisbee (ultimate!).

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Great Barrier 30Despite having done nothing much all day, I succumb to the student disease of complete laziness and cast myself off to sleep, as the others continue to scout out the areas. A few hours later, I wake to find Alex back from his second bout of fishing, only this time freaked out from a squid encounter (“It was squirting ink at me, man!”) but still completely empty-handed.

We decide to sacrifice some of our salami in order to bolster our pasta dish (mmm… more tuna fish) as the moon begins it’s early rise again. It’s beginning to get much cloudier, which doesn’t bode well for the coming days, but we don’t dwell too much on that. The plan is to hike up to the island’s central town (again, if you can call it that), Claris, and from there take whatever lift we can to one of the main walks on the north-east coastline.

The cold of the coming night is again fought against with fruit tea with a side order of whiskey. Despite having spent at least five hours in front of the sea the previous evening, it still hasn’t lost any of its wonderment. We spend another good few hours in front of this replacement TV before heading to the plastic huts for an early night to be ready for the journey tomorrow…

Let’s just hope it doesn’t rain…

September 21, 2006

Great Barriers Pt. 1

Woah this took a while, well, it took me a while to get all the photos together but now I have. On the night before leaving, I had spent most of it preparing and packing things, so it didn’t seem long before 8 am came and I headed out to meet the others…

The Railway Campus is really dead now, and our band exits without any fanfare but outside into a great morning’s weather. Alex, with his camera in repair, has packed his fishing rod to in some way compensate for such a downer, it’s left to me and Florian (Jens’ camera is also AWOL) to be the David Bailey’s of this excursion. We catch the bus out to Victoria Park, which lies just inland of the harbour. Just as we are crossing the football field, we jump a small barrier, and already one of Jens’ backpack straps snaps. Great. Luckily, it’s not in complete disrepair, and a quick buckle fix is administered so we can make it out to the ferry port.

Great Barrier

When we get there, we get some rather unfortunate news. The ferry that we should have been taking to Great Barrier island is under maintenance and we are now boarding a backup vessel in the form of a freight barge. Fantastic. As we get on board, we look around at the on-board ‘entertainment’; a cabin with a coffee machine and some assorted magazines (like Home and Garden, Truck and Driver and yes! Fishing!). With an estimated travel time of six hours, this is going to be a long haul.

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Fortunately, the sun is out in force, and we set up bedrolls on the upper ‘deck’ and enjoy it for a while, watching the Auckland harbour drift away. This lasts for about half an hour, and the realisation of complete and utter boredom sinks in. I take out my sketchbook and pencil and start drawing one of the cute sleeping dogs that lie on the lower deck (I’ll post the sketches up later), Florian takes to reading women’s magazines, Alex has Hemingway while Jens explores my camera and takes photos of the Coromandel peninsula as we pass by. The other few passengers are of similar motivation, finding space where they can to just pass out or in the case of one of the Vietnamese students that made up half of the numbers on the barge, play on a PSP.

Great Barrier 1Suddenly the numbing boredom is broken when someone spots something splashing behind the barge somewhere in the midst of it’s wake. I rush to the barrier with a few others, and we’re soon greeted by a small group of dolphins jumping out and around the backwater. It’s a very amusing sight as they tease us by jumping up by one side of the boat before disappearing and reappearing on the other side, only for them to go back into hiding. It’s a short burst in activity that soon passes however, and it’s back to the drawing boredom.

Great Barrier 22Hour after hour passes (making around two hours) and it’s possible to see the Great Barrier landscape in the distance. Jens has taken to playing one-on-one basketball on the barren car deck with one of the Vietnamese guys while the rest of us look on and spot the unbelieveably bright moon that’s in the sky even though it’s only around 3pm. As we pass parts of the island, it really does feel isolated and special, with custom houses dotted on the various slopes of the hilly coast. We’re supposed to be stopping at the main port of the island, but looking at the group of houses in the distance, it leaves a lot to the imagination about what the smaller towns are going to be like.

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We finally dock, haul our backpacks on, decline the extortionate $45 taxi ride to where we want to go, and wander down the coastal track towards the ‘town’. Tryphena turns out to be just as looks from the ferry, very small, and very strange. Yet there’s still room for a little adventure playground and skateboard half-pipe next to the island’s seemingly only school. We spot a shop, well, the only shop, and realise it’s past five o’clock and we haven’t eaten since we left. Fish and chips are duly ordered, and dealt out between a game of cards. Of course, a large beer is downed with the delicious meal and we say a gracious goodbye as we decide our destination for the night, Medlands Beach. One of the few other customers assures us it’s no more than thirty minutes over the hill, so we march off, as the sun sets out over the bay.

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We walk along the coast for a while, passing small groups of houses that must be the ‘districts’ of Tryphena, all the while the sky is getting darker. By the time we start making our way over the center of the island half an hour later towards Medlands, its getting really dark and we wonder if it actually is as close as the locals said it was. Luckily, after a few poor attempts at hitching a ride, a pickup truck stops off at our sorry bunch and lets us hop on the back. It’s a startling yet exhilarating ride down the other side of the island and within minutes we’re back on solid ground again and only metres away from our promised beach. The campsite there is dull and full of sheep, so we scout out the beach for the tideline and find a suitable flat area at the top of it to pitch our tents. The sun has disappeared a long time since, but the moon is impressively bright tonight. It’s quite unsettling actually having a shadow on the ground when there’s not a streetlight to be found.

It’s not even eight and the night has settled in, the television channel tonight is set to ocean, and it’s an enthralling watch with a cup of tea and a sandwich (our meal plan is already out of the window), followed a tipple of bourbon whiskey. Time seems to be lost in the sea somewhere, because remarkably midnight arrives and we decide it’s finally time for a kip, and our time at Great Barrier has not even barely begun.

September 15, 2006

Great Barriers Prologue

An account of the six day trip I took to Great Barrier Island off the north coast of Auckland. I’m just building it up because I haven’t written for a while so I’m getting back into it again…

The half term arrives without much fuss, the weekend is like any other, a bit of work here and there, a bit of drinking to follow and plenty of procrastination. However, the Railway building starts to empty, although it’s only noticeable at mealtimes, when the usually bustling kitchen are reduced to a mere handful of cooking students. Groups head off on trips to various destinations; Samoa, Skydiving, South Island, Fiji, Australia, California while I have not made any plans mainly because I don’t really have enough money for a big trip, and I want to have at least some time to get some of the assignments I had been assigned (obviously) for after the break. I took a short trip with Jorn to Auckland’s famous SkyTower (Tallest building in the Southern hemisphere. Fact. Apparently.) which I’ll post about after these episodes but there is nothing really to count as a holiday.

Luckily, I am not alone in this situation and a small trip organised by Alex and Jens is uncovered, to Great Barrier Island off the north coast of Auckland. It’s not a large island, and its sparse population is scattered across gorgeous beaches and great walks around the landscape. I rope Florian into coming along as well, and ferries are booked for the Sunday in the middle of our holiday.

This gives me plenty of time to realise I actually don’t have any of the following: a backpack, a torch, any sort of waterproofs, a tent and a bedroll.

While this would strike panic into the most normal of trekkers, I rally around my budget planner and find a fancy fax organising a larger overdraft to my bank account and a grant from the IMechE for my overseas study. Money is no longer a huge problem, but being the tight-fisted skinflint that I am, I go straight for the sales and buy jacket ($50), pants ($20) and backpack ($130) for around £65 in total. Bargain.

The tent issue is solved by a friend of Florian (I knew he was a worthy nominee for this trip) but only on the last day of asking. The remaining parts of torch and bedroll are found in the local army surplus store, where I shall most likely be returning because I’m quite partial to buying one of there quite sweet outback cowboy hats, and maybe one of the military jackets, cos they were damn cheap (and were damn smart at the same time).

I’m now fully armed and ready to go. Only now I have to fit some food into my backpack. Our troupé heads off to the supermarket in order to gather our menu for the coming week. Foodtown is dangerously low on lots of things (a strike apparently was imminent) and our options limited somewhat. After taking two meals out of the equation (ordered fish and chips at the port harbour both inward and outward bound) we deal out the following regime:

Breakfast – Instant oatmeal (no milk required!) each morning with brown sugar and raisins
Lunch – Alternate days of bread and tortillas with cheese, salami and tomatoes
Dinner – Alternate days of rice (with Tikka sauce) and pasta (with packet cheese sauce) with tins of tuna
Snacks – Apples, oranges, cookies and Tim-tams


In order to savour the meals with something a bit more flavourful. We head off to the liquor store to fuel up. I anticipate only a few nights of drinking but we each take a bottle of spirit (two whiskey, two vodka – complete with free shot glasses) to balance out the load.

Adding all the provisions, clothes and stuff to the backpack weight equation, it comes out to a value of pretty damn heavy. The next morning starts at 8 am to catch the ferry.

Looks like it’s gonna be a long week…


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