Sunday, August 31, 2008

Northland rain and Waikaremoana sun & snow.

After two long weeks back at work (it was straight in to three night shifts the day after arriving from London - jet lag? Didn't have a chance.), it was time for another holiday in the apparently miserably wet NZ winter (thankfully I missed most of that!). Adele & two of her friends (Anna & Ben) had flown up to Auckland that day & we managed to fit everyone & everything in the mighty (so to speak) Galant - including three large tramping packs & my bike (of course), you could easily tell that the rear shocks had not been replaced in the seven years I've had the car (probably never). Staying the night at Matakohe, we visited the Kauri museum in the morning - mostly for Adele's benefit as there is a bit of Dad's family's history in there, not to mention the restored house of our great-great-grandfather. A stop in Whangarei saw the rest of the car filled with wedding presents & we continued up to Coopers Beach, where Anna had rented us a house for the rest of the week.Settling in to watch the Olympics on the 14" television with awful reception, I tried to acquaint myself with Adele's macbook & mostly enjoyed it - but it still bugs me that there is no easy way to maximise windows (not that I could find anyway). As Thursday dawned reasonably fine, if a little breezy, we hightailed it in to Kaitaia, had a quick look around & met up with a lot of the people involved in the wedding (two of Adele's med school friends, also a former flatmate, getting married). Eventually our little procession of cars set off to Cape Reinga stopping a lot along the way - to look at flowers on the side of the road, wait for stragglers, change a flat tyre, stop at a service station & so on. Eventually we hit the twenty kilometres of gravel that is the top of SH1 only to find that it wasn't quite twenty kilometres - sealing of road has started at the top of the country & is working slowly down (apparently so that all the heavy vehicles don't ruin the recently laid tarseal while going to lay the next section). Obligatory photos at the top of the country in the wind & then off to the sand dunes to have a look - somewhere on that road is part of a rental Corolla's muffler & a fair chunk of the underbelly of the Galant as we managed to bottom out twice landing in rather large holes in the road. Somehow I found myself at the stag party for someone I didn't even know six hours previously - for such a low key event, it was surprisingly eventful. Mike got knocked out on Coopers Beach, the cops turned up & then finally (to add injury to insult or injury to injury) Mike went off to A&E with a rather large gash in his heel.Friday's weather was utterly miserable, but we were happy to stay inside & read, start a jigsaw, watch the Olympics & generally do sweet buggerall. I did manage to have a phone interview that day - but as I was outside in the car (stuffed cellphone battery) in the middle of a massive thunder storm, I was slightly distracted (not to mention firmly in holiday mode) & was a bit poor at answering questions. About the only thing I did know was what a pivot table was - geek that I am, I had made one that morning while I was still trying to work out the macbook. Saturday dawned a lot better & it was almost warm for the wedding (it definitely wasn't raining). Sunday, up early for the hike back to Newmarket where we spent much too much on tramping gear - pack, down jacket, gators, shoes, Camelbak... Dropping Ben at the airport, it was back home to Pukekohe for a night of rest & unpacking & repacking for Waikaremoana.

Monday held another big day of driving, via Hamilton to drop Anna at her parents, on to Rotorua to leave valuables at Andrew & Kate's (I don't rate the security of my car) & the mission that is the gravel road to Waikaremoana. Adele managed to drive most of that, so it was good to have a break; with the weather closing in, it started to sleet & then snow on us - much to Adele's surprise ("this is the North Island, it's not supposed to snow down here"). At the motor camp we decided to change the direction of our walk to start at the flat (ish) end as the forecast wasn't looking fantastic & so we would have a bit more company than just each other (a German couple - Anna & Thomas - were the only other people we saw for three days). A much better packing of our gear was called for & then it was off to bed with the snow falling outside - this was possibly the coldest night of the trip & we hadn't even started walking yet.

When we got up on Tuesday morning it wasn't much warmer & walking to breakfast the snow started falling again. Looking out of the dining room it was quite easy to see the snow settled on the trees not so far away. Well packed & our hut passes changed the four of us loaded our packs on to the water taxi for the ride across the lake to Whanganui hut (we had to start here as there was a impassable landslip blocking the track close to the end). Well rugged up on the back of the boat it wasn't too cold & the lake was so wonderfully flat I was dreaming of a waterski; however the cloud was still low & I would have taken a lot of persuading & a thick wetsuit to jump in.

Landing, the water taxi took off & left us to ourselves in the middle of nowhere. The sun even managed to come out long enough for me to drag my sunnies out of my pack - & then promptly disappeared. The first morning of the tramp was a mixture of ascending & descending - nothing too high or steep & a mixture of rain and then snow. At this stage we were still quite excited by the sight of snow at such a relatively low altitude in the North Island. Thankfully we didn't have to walk all the way around one of the peninsulas (not that the track even went that way - but it sure looked like quite a circuitous route) - there is a relatively recent kiwi sanctuary there. Being day time & all we didn't see a kiwi, but did manage to spy a rather impressive predator fence. For an early lunch we arrived at the brand spanking new Waiharuru Hut (it replaces one that was removed closer to the kiwi sanctuary). It is actually two pretty large buildings - one kitchen & dining, the other thirty odd bunks - a sign of just how popular the track is in the summer; a common remark during trip was how glad we all (all four of us) were to be walking such a beautiful track in the solitude brought on by winter - the place must be teeming in summer. Nice and close to the lake with great views of Panekeri Bluffs & some sunshine by now made for a great lunch stop. We reached our overnight hut (Marauiti) by 2 pm and proceeded to do nothing all afternoon - that's not quite true, I did nothing much, Adele tried to study. Dinner over & done with we gathered around the gas heater (luxury! - when I was a child we used to have to sleep in a lake) & attempted a game of Who Am I? - Twenty Questions. This proved a bit trickier than normal as ze Germans had little idea of NZ celebrities and we ignorant Kiwis had even less idea about famous Europeans (don't mention the war, I did once, but I think I got away with it). Sherlock Holmes proved to be the trickiest of the night & Obama the easiest - although we never quite got over Adele thinking his first name was Frank & the game ended slightly after that & it was off to bed at the late hour of 8 o'clock.
After easing in to the tramp with a nice five hour day first up, the plan was for the second day was slightly more ambitious. It was supposed to be eight hours to Panekerie Hut & we wanted to do an hour detour to a waterfall to have a look. Leaving earlyish (nothing compared to starting work at 5 am though) it was more of the walking close to the lake and going up, over & down the odd ridge. By this stage we were beginning to see just how ravaged the bush had been by recent high winds & high rain fall. Still we managed dry feet & enjoyed the brilliant sunshine that was to be with us for the rest of our walking. Lunch in the sun again at a campsite & it was off to the waterfall. Thankfully it was only about twenty-five minutes up the river to the falls - but there was one good crossing over the swollen river using big slippery boulders as stepping stone, aided by a cable strung across the river. We had to stand in the river a couple of times (still dry feet), but thankfully no embarrassing & chilly falls. Quick look at the small falls & it was back to pick our packs up again & carry on. Beginning to realise it could be quite late & dark by the time we finished, we blitzed the next section to the next hut (another really new one) and from then on it was pretty much (I've got one word for you, Kim) vertical. It wasn't too long before we had climbed long enough to be walking through small patches & then large patches of snow. Round a corner after three hours climbing we were pleasantly surprised to see the hut (we were expecting another hour) & it was packs off & time to admire the wonderful view of the lake & the setting sun. Off to the east the lights of mighty Wairoa started to flicker against the much mightier Pacific. A much quieter night after such a long day - the gas heater was a complete let down; Adele did manage to spend twenty minutes standing outside in the freezing cold balancing on a bench wishing Mum a happy birthday after she found her phone worked up there.
Sun was the order of the day again for our last day - unfortunately, we didn't feel quite as radiant - Adele sick & my knees aching strangely. Away early with more great views & walking along (more up & down really - the down playing havoc on my weak knees) the bluffs we could really admire the amazingly still lake. Not much more of note except beautiful lunch spot perched on a rock on the edge of the bluff & a slow descent - almost forgot, all the snow that was quite fun to walk through. Still we were nicely early for the water taxi & that gave us (more me really) heaps of time to read the displays about the hydro scheme flowing from the lake - strangely, the lake was lowered five metres (I'm not sure I've quite worked that out yet) - and the track - it was built in the '60s & '70s by high school students (it probably wouldn't happen like that nowadays). Back at the motor camp it was straight in to the car for the drive back to Rotorua & then Te Puke. The ninety kilometres of gravel sure made it easy to spot all the ice on the road (c.f. tarmac) - this was despite all the sun; at least icy gravel is not too slippery.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sun, ships & seaside

From Taunton I returned to pick up Mum & we were off to Portsmouth on a hot (for England) day. A brief stop at Salisbury for lunch (outside yet another cathedral) & we eventually made it to our hotel in Portsmouth. After settling in it was off down to the historic dockyards for a quick look - managed most of the Mary Rose museum. Quite amazing some of the stuff that was preserved for so long down there - all sorts of things: weapons, doctor's supplies, shoes, kitchen equipment & so on. Saw Portsmouth Cathedral (another one), a Nelson monument (another one) before trying to drive around & find somewhere to have dinner. Not without some difficulty finally found a nice Turkish restaurant - concluded apart from the Historic Dockyards, there isn't really much to Portsmouth.
Back to the dockyard the next morning with a great look around the Victory (still can't imagine the chaos it must have been fighting on those ships) , saw the remains of the Mary Rose with the waxy solution being sprayed all over it - when this has penetrated all the way in to the wood they will start drying it out properly (over twenty years since it was raised). Because there was a Royal Navy "Meet Your Navy" few days starting the day after we were there, the hour long cruise around the harbour was very interesting with many naval ships in - highlights were two aircraft carriers, three Japanese frigates & some other mammoth-sized ships (slightly bigger than a mammoth then) that I don't really remember exact descriptions for.
Out of Portsmouth before rush hour (if they have one) & on towards Mum's second (I think) cousins who live in a small village south of Southampton. Another warm welcome - was interesting to see an armchair-bed, I have seen plenty of sofa-beds before, but never a single armchair-bed - still it was comfortable. A brief look around the original Christchurch on Friday morning & then the half hour Lymington-Yarmouth to visit my previous Pukekohe flatmates, Ben & Gina, on the Isle of Wight.

The double-decker bus ride to Newport (where Ben & Gina live) was great, as I was at the front up the top & as we careened down these narrow back country walled lanes we hit a great number of overhanging trees. Dragged my small amount of gear (pleasant to be travelling without a bike some of the time) to the top of Ben & Gina's shared house. As Gina works with maps at the Isle of Wight council she had considerately pinned a map of all the pubs on the island on the wall - we crossed three of the 150-odd off during the day I was there. Also got the big island tour (still can't believe there was a chairlift down to the beach), saw The Needles, lots of pleasure boats (c.f. with most of England), watched a few cruise ships go out at high tide, visited Carisbrooke Castle (at least I will remember it this time - I still have the pencil case from 21 years ago) & generally enjoyed the warm weather. Up much too early to get back to Hordle & pick Mum up for the dash up to Kent for a family reunion of sorts. There I got to meet all Mum's cousins on her father's side - I don't think they had been all together for quite some years. Of course, I didn't remember any of the ones I had met before. That was pretty neat, if a little strange - getting to know all these people that are quite close, but not (no we are not Irish).

Unfortunately, the follow day was my last in the UK. Mum & her cousin Trish headed off to the Imperial War Museum to do some genealogy research in to both of Mum's grandfathers in WWI, while I gave my bike & shoes a thorough cleaning for the inevitable MAF fine tooth comb inspection back home & was entertained with stories of spying in Egypt for the British after WWII by Fred. Managed to get back to Heathrow on the M25 in about an hour - which I thought was ok from Sidcup & Junction 3, the Passat was gone & I embarked on the long trip home & back to work. To borrow from Captain Darling - simply says, "Bugger".

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The longest ride for a while, for me.

The ride John & Richard took me on may have been the biggest that I had been on since N-Duro 1 almost two months ago - but it was nothing compared to what John (crazy guy that he is) completed a few days later. That is, 300 km+ solo during a 24 hour event - and to top it off on a singlespeed. It makes me tired just thinking about it - or perhaps that is just recovering from the first shift set starting the day after I got back. Either way, I can't quite face sorting over a thousand photos from the last six weeks in to some sort of highlight package that some one may be able to view some day with out getting completely bored. I'd much rather think about great rides in far off (& warmer) places...

Arriving in Taunton, it was pleasing to see Anna home & not off at work (almost everytime I visited in Mt Maunganui I was left wondering if John actually did have a wife or was just making it up - as Anna always seemed to be at work). Although that didn't last for long as Anna was soon off for her week of night shifts at the hospital - John & I took off for the a look around the Quantrocks (some hills close by). After following a car with a very flat tyre up the steep road, we discovered our first mistake as three mountain bikers tore past us down a hill - there was still plenty of light at 8.30 & we should have brought our bikes. Instead we wandered around looking across to Wales, finding previously ridden singletrack & John remarking how much faster it was on a bike - oh well, there was always tomorrow. We had to get back home to meet Richard (who I met last year when he came out to visit John in NZ) who was driving down from near Oxford for tomorrow's ride. There we discovered our second mistake, we didn't have house keys - off John went to the hospital while Richard & I unloaded & put our bikes together on the side of the street. To set the mountain-biking tone we watched The Collective's Seasons - great. I think I like mountain biking movies more when there is a small chance I could see myself riding the same trails without certain death being involved somewhere. Obviously, my life is just not all about big air.

A reasonably undisturbed sleep (except waking up at about 5.00 thinking I was at the beach thanks to the loud but geographically challenged seagulls - we were no where near the beach) & another cooked breakfast later, we were off to Minehead & Exmoor National Park. A little bit of road riding through the seaside town took us the quaint little village of Dunster; from there we were on to bridleways (quite steep climb to start with) and then riding along the top of a ridge. As John & Richard pointed out where we were going, I couldn't help thinking that it was an awful long way off & much further than I had ridden for a while. Just as well that the weather was a lot better than what they described last time - consequently, the icebreaker came off fairly early & the jacket stayed firmly (metaphorically speaking, that it could work its way out is never far from my mind) on the Camelbak. It sure is fun riding in different places - contrasting with my normal NZ riding, I could see a lot further, it was generally rockier & more attention was paid to wear the front wheel was going between those rocks.After a bit of ridge riding, it was down to the small village of Wootton Courtenay via a nice long chute that was filled with rocks & at these nice big corners that were naturally bermed. The rocks reminded me a bit of the 6 km downhill I went down in Pokhara, Nepal - only this time I was hoping that I wasn't going to go over the bars & split my chin open near the bottom. While I managed to avoid the endover, I did puncture a hundred metres from the end (it's always strangely satisfying to have a mechanical problem at the end of a sweet bit of track, as opposed to the start). This was a good spot for lunch & the necessary tube replacement.

Crossing through the village it was back to the bridleway, up on top of another ridge, along the ridge & we got to a point where the guys weren't sure which was the best way down. Thankfully, they chose a sweet descent & all smiles, we arrived at the turnaround point - Porlock (although the return was slightly more direct). It was off down some sealed lanes for a while to Bossington Green (nice steep climb here). On the way we had a photo stop as it looked English.After John made us ride through that stream for the photos, I had great delight in riding up behind much too fast & soaking him - of course, I had rather wet socks too, but it was worth it. Especially considering how far behind I was up the next hill. Just as well riding back along the moors towards Minehead there was one nice long fast downhill. And that was about the ride. Back to Taunton, where Andy (who I also met & rode with when he was out visiting & touring NZ last year) turned up for dinner (well cooked by John) & we settled down to watch Seasons again - I think I enjoyed it more that time, possibly because I'd just been out for a great ride.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Much water in the Lake District

From Campbeltown it was off to the Lake District in the north of England. Instead of the road up Argyll, east & then down to Glasgow we opted for a little less driving & two short ferry hops across to just west of Glasgow. From there it was A-roads down until we turned off in to the Lake District. Unbeknown to us, the last part of the journey took us on some ridiculously narrow roads & then what turned out to be the steepest road in England - a mountain (in some sense of the word). Lucky for me, I had my done my driving in the morning & I sat at the back and enjoyed the view as the clouds got closer & closer. Completing the first pass (Wrynose) , we saw an impossibly windy & skinny road snaking up a 30% incline in to the clouds & immediately dismissed this as not the way we were meant to go. Of course the roads signs had other ideas & it was up & around & down many corners where the road in front simply disappeared from view as it was so steep (this was Hardknot pass). Eventually we made it & were off for dinner down the road to the Woolpack Inn - perhaps the worst meal we had our whole trip. Being a hostel dormitory that I ended up staying in, naturally there were at least two snorers, grrrr.
Of course the cloud hadn't lifted by the next morning, but being encouraged by all the mountain bike I had seen on the drive in yesterday I hauled the much travelled & little riden GT out of the boot, put it together & set off for a ride in the rain down a riverside bridal path towards the coast. As the weather was utterly miserable, I was pretty sure that I would be the only insane one out & about down this path. Crossing stone bridges, opening & closing countless gates (I think I perfected the MTB magazine technique there, John) I would see that that was not the case as I came across all number of people kitted out for the rain strolling/rambling/hiking/tramping along. The weather improved slightly as I got down to the coast (with one very big hill to climb along the way - quite a shock after the last few weeks). A spot of lunch at the small Ravenglass station (where my burger actually had salad inside it, not sitting on the plate beside burger consisting of nothing but bread & meat) & I caught one of the few narrow gauge railways left in Britain back to near where I started.It was half way back up the pass (the not-so-steep part) that we returned to look at the remains of one of Hadrian's forts. The sheep seemed to like grazing around the area & dodging their presents & the myriad streams running down the grass we could get a good look at the remains. Why anyone would have built a fort all the way up here close on two thousand years ago eludes me...

The following day we took the easier coastal route to Arnside where we stayed for Dad's final night in the UK. From Arnside we drove down, dropped Dad off at the coach stop in Birmingham (coach to Heathrow) & continued on to visit second cousins of Mum, drop Mum off at another second cousin's place & then made my way to Taunton to stay with English friends that I had met randomly mountain-biking in Rotorua about a year ago. That was some three hundred miles & unfortunately we lost the second driver when Dad left us.