Caves near Karamea

We slept solidly last night after our trail exertions of the previous days. This morning we drove to the Oparara Basin outside Karamea, renowned for its limestone arches and caves. It did not disappoint, with a huge arch over 100 feet tall and 600 feet long spanning the river. Just watching the long journey as droplets of water fell from the ferns on top of the arch was impressive. 

The second arch was smaller but no less impressive, as we clambered through a cave to reach its underside and then walked across the top of it as well!


The day had started cloudy, with scattered showers predicted, but by lunchtime the skies cleared and it was an absolutely gorgeous day – a rarity in the rainy west coast. We had a beautiful drive on the coast with an hour’s walk at Cape Foulwind, which today fell far short of its moniker. Cliff top trails led to vistas of lighthouses, offshore rocks, and finally a seal colony with dozens of tiny and adorable seal pups just starting to find their land legs. A neat sign showed just how far from everywhere this isolated coast is. 


And now we are camped in Charleston, an old gold mining town just down the coast, where a short walk took us down to a sheltered cove and lovely beach to watch the sunset. 


It’s our first privately run campground of the trip, compete with hot showers, a well equipped kitchen, and even wifi! A good find for us, as the busy season for New Zealand tourism means we expect to be spending more nights in our tent.

It’s 10 pm here and the sky is just starting to darken. Ah, summertime! Tomorrow another day of slow exploration and relaxation before we embark on our biking adventure on New Year’s Eve. The forecast is for rain all three days but I’m determined not to be deterred. You’ll hear how that goes … but for now I sign off. Good night!

Holiday hiking on the Heaphy Track

We celebrated Christmas early, with a gourmet dinner at a French restaurant in Nelson: soupe à l’oignon, salade de chèvre chaud, lamb wrapped in kumara rosti, steak in Roquefort sauce, and crepes for dessert (plus two craft beers for Michael). 

After shopping for groceries on Christmas Eve, we drove to Westport and then north on “the world’s longest cul-de-sac” to Karamea and set out for four days of hiking. 


The Heaphy follows the coast north for 10 miles among palm trees, tree ferns, white sand beaches, and swing bridges. It was beautiful, and the hut we stayed at was deluxe, with individual bunk beds, lots of gas stoves, and covered passages to reach the outdoor restrooms. 

That evening on the coast we enjoyed a beautiful sunset and a bonfire on the beach. 


From the coast we headed uphill for several hours to a tussocked ridge far above the mouth of the Heaphy River. In theory there would be views from there but the fog was dense and the wind whistled mournfully. We stayed cozy in the hut all evening and the next morning before retracing our steps back down to the coast and its fabulous views. 


Eighteen hours of hiking, three cozy huts and evenings of mac and cheese later, we were glad for a hot shower and a warm bed in karamea, but delighted to have seen some of the New Zealand wilderness. Now if the blisters would just heal …

Watery adventures in the sunniest part of New Zealand

Last time I wrote, we were reveling in the waterfront paradise at Hopewell on the Marlborough Sounds. We spent our last morning there making pancakes and relaxing in the hammocks, but the obvious flipside of kayaking to one’s lodging is that, when the time come, one must kayak back.

The forecast had been for steady but manageable winds, and as we headed across the sheltered bay we made steady if wet progress. Turns out that when you’re in the back of the boat and it’s windy, your partner splashes you thoroughly with every stroke! But it was sunny and beautiful, so getting wet was no problem.

As we approached the point we would have to kayak around, however, the wind picked up considerably and the waves began to wash steadily over the front of the kayak. After ten minutes of hard paddling had brought us little closer to rounding the corner, we decided to head back to the nearest beach and wait it out. We called into the kayak rental company and the very helpful owner not only offered to come check on the waves on the other side of the point but also hopped into a kayak to paddle over and meet us to make sure we made it safely.


Luckily for us, it was sunny and warm and we were dry, so we spent an hour reading on the beach and waiting for our kayak guide. Of course by the time he arrived the wind had substantially died down and we paddled home without incident. But better to be safe and dry and wimpy than to capsize into the cold waters!

We took hot showers and piled into the car for the short drive over the hills to Nelson, where the plan was to set out yesterday morning for two days of biking on the Great Taste Trail. Unfortunately for us, the watery theme continued: the forecast called for two days of steady rain, unusual here in the sunniest part of the country! But we had flexibility – we hadn’t even rented bikes yet – and decided that biking 100 miles in the rain didn’t sound fun. So instead we have spent the last two days exploring country roads and craft breweries by car. Not so bad an alternative. We also hiked up to Mt Arthur Ridge for gorgeous views and a lovely trail among trufala trees and wild birds and got to watch a river emerge from a cave.



Now off to the west coast – we start our three day hut-to-hut hike on Christmas morning!

Kayaking to paradise

Ah, paradise.

We thought we might find it on the tropical island of Phuket, but instead it lies nestled in the Marlborough Sounds of New Zealand, a two-hour drive, twenty-minute boat ride, or three-hour kayak from civilization.

p1060185Tonight is our second night at the hostel at Hopewell, and already we’ve swum off the jetty, played frisbee, dipped into the hot tub three times (!), enjoyed fabulous star gazing, visited the resident glow worms, and dined on gourmet smoked salmon pizza in addition to kayaking around in the clear blue waters. It’s more a resort than a hostel, with hammocks and picnic tables laid out on the immaculate lawns, and views of the ocean from our verandah.

Perfection.

We rented kayaks to get over here from Havelock, paddling through some waves and wind but arriving without incident. Today we set out for an afternoon adventure to a shipwreck and scenic reserve, going on a two-hour hike and spotting not only hundreds of jellyfish but also dozens of stingrays as we paddled. Michael says he will never swim again now that we’ve seen what’s lurking under the surface … and yet the water is so lovely and warm.

Tomorrow we have to leave paradise and paddle back to civilization. Now if only this place weren’t booked solid from Christmas through April, we’d have to come back …

Rafting!

Our photos from rafting came through – here’s a peek into our river adventure. It was just the two of us (plus the guide!) in the raft so we had to paddle hard – my muscles are still a little sore!

We went through Ultimate Descents in Murchison – they were very nice, skilled, and informative, and even let us hop in for a hot shower after our ride down the river!

North from Christchurch

Seven hikes of up to six hours apiece over five days and four nights of camping at three different campgrounds later, the two of us remain willing to spend our days in one cramped Yaris. That said, we are enjoying our night of luxury in a homestay (real bed! hot shower!) and feeling lucky that it fell on our first rainy afternoon. 

We left Christchurch on Wednesday morning, and by afternoon were hiking to Lake Daniells on Lewis Pass. It was a straightforward walk to a peaceful alpine lake, and we set up camp for the first time and made tasty chicken tikka masala before it started to rain just as we went to bed. And continued to pour for the next eleven hours. Luckily, we had chosen the better-draining of the available tent spots, and emerged almost completely dry (and delighted to learn that our inexpensive camping equipment was up to Kiwi weather). 

By the time we set out on our afternoon rafting trip, the rain had turned to sunshine, and we spent several hours paddling and floating down the Mangles River with our guide. It wasn’t quite as wild a ride as I had anticipated, but lots of fun nonetheless (and definitely an area where slightly too little excitement is better than too much!).

We spent Thursday and Friday nights at Nelson Lakes National Park, hiking all day Friday and testing out our gear for our multiday hike over Christmas. The alpine views from Mt Roberts were exceptional, with a fresh coating of snow from the night of rain. Our attempt to hike up the parallel mountains of the St Arnaud range, on the other hand, was cut short – after two hours of relentless uphill and no views we cut our losses and headed back to our deluxe campground with a communal kitchen for a peaceful night, awoken only by birdsong at dawn. 

Since yesterday we’ve been in the northernmost parts of the South Island, camping at Pelorus Bridge and hiking along the gorgeous turquoise river to an emerald green swimming hole yesterday and along the coast of the Queen Charlotte Track today. 

Tomorrow we set out by kayak across Kenepuru Sound to our hostel – should be an adventure! But now I need to take advantage of this access to the Internet and get some work done! Keep in touch!

Aotearoa at last!

We spent a good chunk of time in Australia planning our time in New Zealand, because it turns out that visiting New Zealand over the Christmas holidays is a little like visiting Kyoto at the peak of fall foliage season: everyone does it, meaning that things like lodging and transportation are thin on the ground.

We found a discount camping outlet in Brisbane and Michael biked over there and purchased us a tent, sleeping bags, and thermarests so that we would have the option of camping when we needed lodging in a pinch, and from there our plans have ballooned into multiple days of camping and at least one multiday trek in New Zealand’s fabulous hut system. We spent the day today ferrying between Christchurch outdoor outfitters and equipping ourselves with necessities like a camping stove, tent peg mallet, compass, and so on. Tomorrow’s docket includes such exciting things as a New Zealand road atlas and a water filter! We are excited to be tackling the great outdoors in this beautiful country (but a little frightened to find the temperatures in the low 50s even at sea level).

Here’s our plan so far:

nz_plan

We plan to keep driving around the South Island until January 27, so feel free to send along any suggestions! Especially of places that might not be too crowded during the summer rush …

Sydney coastal walks

It occurs to me that Michael and I have spent the vast majority of our adventuring days traveling slowly along bodies of water: biking down the Geumgang river in Korea, cycling the coast on Jejudo and from Karatsu to Fukuoka to Kitakyushu to Imabari, and enjoying the bikeshare and riverfront paths in Melbourne and Brisbane.

In Sydney, spending time on and around the water is pretty much the thing to do anyway, so we were well prepared. We spent a lovely weekend using the ferries and buses of the Sydney area to get to and from two delightful coastal walks, from Spit Bridge to Manly in the north and from Watsons Bay to Coogee Beach in the south.

The feel of the two walks couldn’t have been more different – bush hiking and a series of sheltered harbor coves on the way to Manly, followed by well-manicured clifftop walkways and pounding ocean surf as we walked from South Head to Coogee Beach. The weather was perfect and the views stunning. And to top off our day on Saturday, we spotted an echidna nosing about in the forest near Manly and got to watch it cross our path all nonchalant in search of delicious insects to eat under a log nearby. Echidnas are kind of ridiculous animals that look like hedgehogs and lay eggs like birds, so it was pretty neat to see one in the wild. (Michael had actually spotted one on our last trip to Australia, but that one was much more shy and just rolled into a ball when it felt us nearby.)

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On Sunday I jumped into Coogee Beach for a swim – the water was much colder than in Thailand but quite refreshing after a long day’s hike!

And now we’ve just arrived in New Zealand, where we’ll spend the next 7 weeks camping, hiking, and biking our way around this (so far very cold) island!

Beautiful (balmy) Brisbane 

Going to conferences Down Under isn’t all about listening to talks on microservices, mob programming, and management. Michael and I have taken some time out to explore and we can confidently report: Brisbane is awesome! It’s a balmy 85 and humid this time of year, but with lovely riverfront paths and water parks it’s relatively easy to keep cool.

There are elevated riverwalks over the river itself as well as along its banks, well separated for pedestrian vs bicycle traffic. They make for a lovely ride (with only one hairy moment when I followed a local onto the bikeway only to find myself on the motorway entrance with only a last-minute turn onto the bikeway rescuing me from certain death).

Free museums include not only a history of Brisbane exhibit in City Hall but also a fabulous modern art gallery complete with spiral slides I could actually slide down! I don’t think I’d been down a slide in at least 10 years – I’ve been missing out.

We did get caught in one amazing thunderstorm while out biking – the clouds blew in while we were shopping and we came out to a dark sky in the middle of the afternoon – but even that led to an amazing lightning show while we rode the free ferry back upriver to our hotel!

And in addition, the conference itself went well, with an engaged audience laughing at my jokes and following my story of data at Pinterest. It’s a lot of fun to get to know the other speakers better and better as we caravan from one city to the next.

Next stop: Sydney!

View from the conference center!
Papua New Guinea designs in the art museum
Spiraling slides at GOMA
Along the river
Vine-covered walkway
Pedestrian bridge
… which of course I biked across!