Sawcut Gorge

In which Miles walks, then wades, through a chasm that is at one point 150 meters deep but only 2 meters wide.

I had some more problems with the gallery below, but it is not quite complete.  To view all 21 pictures on imgur, click here.

The gravel road in to Sawcut Gorge is possibly the roughest I’ve traveled, but the scenery is impressive.

Road to Sawcut Gorge
Road to Sawcut Gorge

Most or all of the road and trail are on private land, and parking is essentially on the lawn of property owners kind enough to allow access.

Sawcut Gorge route
Sawcut Gorge route

The trail quickly reaches the river, and I hopped from rock to rock to make the first crossing – and soon another – then another.  Soon even when I wasn’t crossing the river I was walking on large rocks.

Isolated Creek
River track to Sawcut Gorge

Now the online info available told me to expect to get wet, and I soon met people returning from the walk with wet shoes.  At least one person even told me that they had given up and just walked in the river.  But I kept trying to keep my boots dry.

Sawcut Gorge
Sawcut Gorge

But it is inevitable – if you plan to make it to the gorge, you will have to wade.  The picture below is, I believe, the point at which it got so deep that the bottom of my pack got wet.

Sawcut Gorge
Sawcut Gorge

I didn’t have to wade through this on the way back however, so I think I missed a trail around it.  At the point below I was ready to turn back until I saw some other people coming back along a trail I had missed.  I couldn’t see a way forward without swimming until I saw them – and even then I wasn’t sure I could get through.  The trail took me up above the rocks.

Sawcut Gorge
Sawcut Gorge
Sawcut Gorge
Sawcut Gorge

Below is the narrowest point I remember.  It looks a bit wider than two meters though.

Sawcut Gorge
Sawcut Gorge

I continued on and enjoyed the river and huge rocks and mountain backdrops.

Sawcut Gorge
Sawcut Gorge
Sawcut Gorge
Sawcut Gorge

The map indicated that the track ends where the track to Isolated Hill begins, so I turned back at that point.

Sawcut Gorge
Sawcut Gorge

I encourage you to check out the gallery on imgur for the full impact of this unusual landscape.

Back at the home of the landowners, I was greeted by their herd of alpaca.  These are friendly pack animals, and I hear that they are great companions on back country trips.  And of course they carry your supplies for you!

Alpaca near Sawcut Gorge
Alpaca near Sawcut Gorge

Enjoy the nearly-complete gallery below, or to view all 21 pictures on imgur, click here.

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and Blowholes

In which Miles takes in more famous New Zealand rocks.

You can view the full gallery of 18 pictures below.  To view them on imgur, click here.

Pancake Rocks
Pancake Rocks

An information board at Pancake Rocks says that scientists don’t really know how the rocks formed in layers as they have.  But the DOC website says:

The Pancake Rocks are most spectacular in the Putai area. They were formed 30 million years ago from minute fragments of dead marine creatures and plants landed on the seabed about 2 km below the surface. Immense water pressure caused the fragments to solidify in hard and soft layers. Gradually seismic action lifted the limestone above the seabed. Mildly acidic rain, wind and seawater sculpted the bizarre shapes.

Pancake Rocks
Pancake Rocks

Pancake Rocks is an easy stop, just off the west coast road State Highway 6.  The weather was much the same as in Arthur’s Pass; foggy, rainy and cold.  I did get a break in the rain though, just in time for the short walk to Pancake Rocks.

Pancake Rocks - Surge Pool
Pancake Rocks – Surge Pool

I’ll let the photos speak for Pancake Rocks.  The blowholes though are better enjoyed in video.  I checked the tides, and arrived in time for high tide, but the size of the waves also contributes to good action from the blowholes.  My guess is that the blowholes, and the Surge Pool, can be much more active than they are in the videos below.

The video below shows the Surge Pool.

Below is a video of the Surge Pool from another angle, showing the limestone bridge.

After enjoying Pancake Rocks I continued north.  At Charleston Highway 6 veers inland away from the coast.  The weather improved almost immediately.

You can view the full gallery of 18 pictures below.  To view them on imgur, click here.

Be vewy vewy quiet… New Zealand is hunting wabbits!

In which Miles tries to decide whether it’s possum hunting season, or kea hunting season.

I knew that the DOC was waging chemical warfare on invasive species.  Today I learned that New Zealand also wages biological warfare against rabbits, and that groups are seeking approval to import a new biological weapon for this purpose.

Just two posts back I mentioned  seeing no kea in Arthur’s Pass because the local population had all been killed by 1080 poison set out by the New Zealand Department of Conservation.

A Google search turns up lots of interesting reading on this subject, including the suggestion that the DOC knew that kea were being killed by 1080 and kept using it in their territory.  Kea have been killed by 1080 in various other parts of New Zealand, not just Arthur’s Pass.

Preservation of New Zealand’s native birds is of course one of the important objectives of the DOC’s work.  The ‘Battle for our Birds’ predator control program is just one aspect of this work that focuses on reducing populations of invasive species that threaten the birds, such as possums and stoats.

Today I learned that the New Zealand Rabbit Coordination Group is working with Landcare Research to seek approval to introduce a new strain of virus into New Zealand to kill rabbits.  The virus is called RHDV1-K5, and is a Korean strain of the lethal calicivirus already present in New Zealand that causes rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD).

The article suggests that one motivation is to avoid farmers importing and deploying the virus illegally.

For information on the image above, and fair use of this image, visit the Wikimedia Commons.
For information on the image above, and fair use of this image, visit Wikipedia.

Castle Hill

In which Miles enjoys some impressive rocks in the impressive Southern Alps at Castle Hill.

To view the full gallery of 42 pictures on imgur, click here.  It’s been a day of jousting with the windmill that is usable WiFi in New Zealand, and I’ve given up on fixing the problems with the gallery below.  Most of the pictures are there too.

Castle Hill is about 40 minutes before Arthur’s Pass as approached from the east.  It sits on the first big flat area after the climb into the mountains.  You can see it from the road, and by the time I had parked I knew that I’d spend a couple hours at Castle Hill.  I ended up spending a few more than that.

It’s a lot of big rocks basically.  I think the pictures do a good job of telling both the scale of the rocks and the area they cover.

To view the full gallery of 42 pictures on imgur, click here.  You can also see most of them below.

Arthur’s Pass

In which Miles heads west without checking the weather and finds rain – but also some of New Zealand’s best mountains and rocks and sea.

You can view the full gallery of 15 pictures below.  To view  on imgur, click here.

The road from Christchurch to Greymouth goes through Arthur’s Pass, over the Southern Alps.  My destination was Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki, north of Greymouth.  The Tasman Sea brings the west coast of New Zealand most of its weather.  I’m not sure why I didn’t think to check the weather on the west coast before I set out.  The Tasman showed me what it was planning soon enough.

Arthur’s Pass starts to get really beautiful as soon as it starts going noticeably up.  The panorama below looks west, just after entering the foothills.

Arthur's Pass
Arthur’s Pass

Below is one more pic of the east side of the Southern Alps.

Arthur's Pass
Arthur’s Pass

Castle Hill is a great stop on the way.  I have over 40 pictures I want to share with you, so I’ll give Castle Hill its own post in a couple of days.  Here’s a quick taste:

Castle Hill, Arthur's Pass
Castle Hill, Arthur’s Pass

I spent hours at Castle Hill, then continued west, soon entering Arthur’s Pass National Park.  I stopped where the road crosses the Waimakariri River to take in the spectacular views in all directions.

Looking east along the Waimakariri River
Looking east along the Waimakariri River

The weather I was approaching was visible between the peaks to the west – dark clouds, fog, and rain.

Looking west along the Waimakariri River into Arthur's Pass National Park
Looking west along the Waimakariri River into Arthur’s Pass National Park
Looking north into Arthur's Pass National Park
Looking north into Arthur’s Pass National Park

By the time I reached the frequently photographed man-made features of The Otira Gorge Road shown below I was well into the fog, and a slowly increasing drizzle had begun.

The Otira Gorge Road – State Highway 73
The Otira Gorge Road – State Highway 73 – looking west

The fog stayed dense as it rained harder.  The mountain turns were tight in places, and I was stopped briefly for an accident on the two lane road – a car had rear-ended a pickup truck, after apparently coming around a corner too fast to stop.  I didn’t wait long, but those ahead of me may have been waiting for some time.

The Otira Gorge Road – State Highway 73
The Otira Gorge Road – State Highway 73 – looking east

Later, on the other side of the mountains, on my way north to Greymouth, I waited for nearly an hour for authorities to clear a one-lane bridge after a local slid and struck the railings.  We were told that he was taken to the hospital with a broken arm.

The Otira Gorge Road – State Highway 73
The Otira Gorge Road – State Highway 73

I arrived quite late to Greymouth, and had to park outside the gated campground.  I was awake and about before being told to move in the morning.

At the stops for viewing the vistas shown in the three photographs above, I missed the presence of kea, the world’s only alpine parrot.  They aren’t brightly feathered, but they’re fearless and full of personality.  I guessed that the weather was too cold and wet for them, but I didn’t quite believe that theory.

I made a stop in the mountains for dinner and spoke with a local who told me that about 20 kea had eaten 1080 poison put out by DOC and died.  That was probably the entire population in Arthur’s Pass – he hasn’t seen any kea since.  The pics below are from 2006.  I guess these birds are no longer with us.  Rest in peace feathered friends.

Kea in Arthur's Pass
Kea in Arthur’s Pass

Wikipedia says of the Arthur’s Pass kea “Around 10% of the local kea population were expected to be over 20 years of age. The oldest known captive kea was 50 years old in 2008.”

Kea in Arthur's Pass
Kea in Arthur’s Pass

Use of 1080 poison is quite controversial in New Zealand, with many kiwis calling for a ban.  “Worldwide, New Zealand is the largest user of sodium fluoroacetate. This high usage is attributable to the fact that, apart from two species of bat, New Zealand has no native land mammals, and those that have been introduced have had devastating effects on vegetation and native species. 1080 is used to control possums, rats, stoats, and rabbits. The largest users, despite vehement opposition, are OSPRI New Zealand and the Department of Conservation.” – Wikipedia

Kea in Arthur's Pass
Kea in Arthur’s Pass

I was told that the DOC has promised to reintroduce kea to Arthur’s Pass in the near future.  I hope to see some on the road to Milford Sound, or maybe near Mount Cook.

Kea in Arthur's Pass
Kea in Arthur’s Pass

The kiwi in Arthur’s Pass told me about having taken his motorcycle for a ride on a summer day and left it outside for a short time only to find that the local kea had torn apart his seat.  He is a happy guy, and couldn’t blame the kea.  But they are famously destructive, known to peel all the rubber from a car, including the wiper blades and around the windows.  I’ve also heard of them pulling nails from corrugated metal roofs, and sledding down snow-covered slopes on their backs for fun.  Below is a video I found on YouTube of two kea working on a police car.

You can view the full gallery of 15 pictures below.  To view  on imgur, click here.

Audience Participation

In which Miles gives the band a break and chats it up with the audience.

It gets lonely out here in blog country.  Let’s hear from some readers today!  I always love it when you post comments, and I’d love to hear from you today.

Feedback would be great as well.  What do you enjoy when you come here?  What would you like to see?  What can I do better?

I’m going to try to do my part to be more interactive.  You can follow Mile Steppin on your favorite social media:

I’m tweeting pictures from beautiful places these days.

You can also follow me on Google+.

And of course facebook.

I’ll get the proper buttons sorted out for the “Follow me” thing.  And I’ll work on getting things happening on Pintrest and Ello and the rest.

I’m currently on mobile data, and hoping for a better option on Monday for uploading photos for Arthur’s Pass.

Until then, thanks for your patience.  And thanks for reading!

Arthur's Pass
Arthur’s Pass

Christchurch

In which Miles experiences an earthquake on a third continent, and continues his quixotic quest for internet in New Zealand.

You can view the full gallery of 16 pictures below.  To view on imgur, click here.

The campground in Kaikoura was great, except that it was outside of 2Degrees coverage, and my Vodafone data plan had expired, and was therefore forfeit.  The campground’s WiFi was the only option, and it is provided by Internet Kiosk Specialist.  In my experience that means that it costs $5, and will work just great until it suddenly doesn’t work at all.  My experience with IKS in Kaikoura was no different.  North of Oamaru, all the campgrounds I experienced let IKS provide their internet.

So before leaving Kaikoura, I posted on a popular internet message board asking where I could find fast, free reliable WiFi in Christchurch.  The kiwis on that message board questioned my motivations for using the internet, accused me of being a freeloader for planning to use so much of such a valuable resource, and showed no interest in my claims that businesses that want customers to stay, use the WiFi, and spend money actually do exist in New Zealand, and that I was simply asking where such business might be located in the South Island‘s largest city.

Then after a while some other kiwis posted some useful information.  One was even able to say yeah, the state of internet access in NZ is an embarrassment, it is 2016 after all.  But only the one.

One helpful kiwi recommended New Brighton Library.  Many cafes close at 5:00pm, and New Brighton Library actually stays open until 6:00pm, and it offers desks with great views of the Pacific Ocean and the New Brighton Pier.

View from desk at New Brighton Library
View from desk at New Brighton Library

Internet at New Brighton Library is free and unlimited.  It is usually pretty fast.  It was reliable in the sense that when it goes out, it was always back reasonably soon.  So many things so right so far, but sadly I was told that I needed to be active in a browser window every 30 minutes or I’d be disconnected and need to go through the process of accepting their terms and conditions all over again.  And using it, I could discern no actual rhyme or reason for the disconnections, which would happen even while I was actually busy in a browser window, accessing the internet.  One might think that it was just not quite flaky enough, and needed to be made just a bit more so.

New Brighton Library from the beach
New Brighton Library from the beach

Unfortunately, working during the day means that I’m not free to be a tourist during the day.  Much of what I saw of Christchurch was on the way to and from some restaurant for lunch or dinner.

It has been about 5 years since the big earthquake that took down some of Christchurch’s favorite buildings and a number of her people.  Repairs are still underway.  Fenced off buildings are not hard to find.  Repairs seem to be underway on some, others not so much.

Fenced off building
Fenced off building

The campground where I stayed still used shower units, and a kitchen unit as well, provided by the Salvation Army.

Salvation Army Shower Units at campgrounds
Salvation Army Shower Units at campgrounds

I saw roads close suddenly on more than one occasion, and navigated around closed roads was common.  Street construction was everywhere.  I didn’t expect this sort of thing 5 years later.  It looks there hasn’t yet been a definite decision on whether to repair or condemn Christchurch Cathedral.

Billboard about Christchurch Cathedral
Billboard about Christchurch Cathedral

A kiwi I spoke with in Kaikoura ran a construction company and had become discouraged by what he saw as corruption in the rebuilding of Christchurch, especially on the part of a construction company owned by the New Zealand government.  This is anecdotal, and I’ve done no research.  But I certainly got the feeling that rebuilding has been a long process, and the feeling that it is being milked at least a bit.

I thought that many of the old buildings of Christ’s College had fallen.  I was happy to find that many are still standing.

Christ's College
Christ’s College
Christ's College
Christ’s College

I experienced a quake of around 4.5 during my stay.  A young Hungarian showed me the Christchurch Quake Map, and I learned that the city has dozens of earthquakes every day, sometimes hundreds.

There is a lot of nature accessible from Christchurch.  But after a week there I decided not to stay the weekend.  I didn’t even make time to go punting.  This is something I’ll consider doing if I pass through Christchurch on my way back to the north.

Punt rental
Punt rental

For anyone wondering I’ve also experienced earthquakes in North America and in Europe.

You can view the full gallery of 16 pictures below.  To view on imgur, click here.

 

Leaving Kaikoura

In which Miles takes one last look at Kaikoura before heading south to Christchurch.

You can view the full gallery of four pictures below.  To view them on imgur, click here.

I shared this picture of the long beach in central Kaokoura previously.

The beach in central Kaikoura
The beach in central Kaikoura

Below is a panoramic view of the same beach.

Panoramic view of the beach in central Kaikoura
Panoramic view of the beach in central Kaikoura

I stayed at the Kaikoura Peketa Beach Holiday Park south of Kaikoura.  It offers powered camping spots just at the back of the beach.  Below is a view of the front of that beach.

The beach at Kaikoura Peketa Beach Holiday Park
The beach at Kaikoura Peketa Beach Holiday Park

It stretches on in each direction for almost as long as I could imagine walking it.  I was told that sometimes a walk along the beach might reward me with a pod of Hector’s dolphin swimming by just beyond the breaking waves.

There are many ways to encounter dolphins, whales, seals and little blue penguins in Kaikoura, but the dolphin swimming was booked solid, and the little blue penguins were molting, so I met only seals.  I’ll look at water temperatures and consider booking a swim with dolphins for my return north.

The beach lies just off one of the main roads in central Kaikoura, and it is the highlight of the town.  Beyond the great views, the town itself is fairly nondescript, although it does have some nice bus stops with a stylized silver fern theme.

Bus stop in central Kaikoura
Bus stop in central Kaikoura

I’ll return to Kaikoura.

You can view the full gallery of four pictures below.  To view them on imgur, click here.

Mount Fyffe

In which Miles spends 11 hours walking to the top of Mount Fyffe and back, enjoying views of the Kaikoura Peninsula and coast and the Seaward Kaikoura Range.

You can view the full gallery of 32 pictures below.  To view them on imgur, click here.

I intended to get an early start on Mount Fyffe.  The walk to the top is estimated at 5 hours.  I was able to prepare by stocking up on electrolyte additives for my water, and packing plenty of food, but I didn’t start my walk until 11:00am.  The forecast predicted sun, but I was grateful for a day that remained mostly cloudy.

The mountain doesn’t take long before presenting views of the Kaikoura Peninsula…

Kaikoura Peninsula from Mount Fyffe
Kaikoura Peninsula from Mount Fyffe
Kaikoura Peninsula from Mount Fyffe
Kaikoura Peninsula from Mount Fyffe

…and the valley to the southeast…

Mount Fyffe
Mount Fyffe

…and soon enough, the Seaward Kaikoura Range beyond Mount Fyffe.

Seaward Kaikoura Range from Mount Fyffe
Seaward Kaikoura Range from Mount Fyffe

The walk was immediately exhausting, in spite of not looking that steep.  The benches along this walk are beautifully spaced so that when I began to feel the need for a rest, I could push on confident that a bench with an amazing view would appear shortly.  This worked consistently all the way to the top.

Kaikoura Peninsula and coast from Mount Fyffe
Kaikoura Peninsula and coast from Mount Fyffe

Taking breaks at every bench meant that a number of people passed me along the way.  This was actually one of the busier walks I’ve taken in New Zealand.

Mount Fyffe
Mount Fyffe

There is a hut about 1.5 hours from the top of Mount Fyffe where visitors can spend the night.  I was told that rain water is available there, but it hadn’t rained in several days, so I wondered whether any water would be available.  I asked a young French couple who passed me on the way down about the water.  They hadn’t checked, but kindly filled my bottles for me.  Shortly after I met three young people from the UK who had passed me on their way up.  They likewise topped up my water bottle, confident that they had enough to make it back to the bottom.  They had turned back at the hut.  Their gift could have been just what I needed to make it to the summit.

Kaikoura Peninsula from Mount Fyffe
Kaikoura Peninsula from Mount Fyffe

I spent too long talking with a young Englishman at the hut, then (after refilling my water bottles) set out for the top at 5:00pm, knowing that it was 1.5 hours away, and that the sun would set around 8:00pm.  He stayed behind, but caught up with me a short way up.  This last part was noticeably steep.  But it was good to reach my goal.

Seaward Kaikoura Range from Mount Fyffe
Seaward Kaikoura Range from Mount Fyffe
Kaikoura Peninsula and coast from Mount Fyffe
Kaikoura Peninsula and coast from Mount Fyffe

The steepness of the trail became much more obvious on the way back down to the hut.  Our feet wanted to slip out from under us on the gravelly surface, and watching our footing became essential.  We came to a complete stop to enjoy the view and take pictures of the evening light.  The sky wasn’t dark when I left the Englishman, and a number of other visitors, at the hut, but it was when I got back to the carpark.  The walk remained steep and the surface unstable, and I felt it in my knees, but kept moving to make the most of the available light.  I used a flashlight app on my phone to cover the last half hour or so.  The evening light and sunset gave me some of my favorite pictures of the day.

Mount Fyffe at sunset
Mount Fyffe at sunset
Mount Fyffe at sunset
Mount Fyffe at sunset
Kaikoura Peninsula at sunset
Kaikoura Peninsula at sunset

You can view the full gallery of 32 pictures below.  To view them on imgur, click here.

 

Haumuri Bluffs Walk explores more isolated parts of Kaikoura’s coast

In which Miles admires coastal views featuring decaying railroad wreckage, shares the time and space with just one fellow human, and avoids surprising any large seals.

You can view the full gallery of 23 pictures below.  To view them on imgur, click here.

I learned of this walk from the Motor Camps New Zealand Touring Guide website, which I found in a Google search for walks near Kaikoura.  That site provided me with all the info I needed for locating and navigating the walk, and for avoiding the hazards.  The first hazard is the tide; the coast can only be navigated near low tide, so I was warned not to go without knowing the times for high and low tide for the day.  The second hazard is large seals, far less accustomed to people than those living closer to Kaikoura, and prone to rushing those who wander between them and the ocean.

The mountains apparently forced the railroad to stick pretty close to the coast in the Kaikoura area, a shame really because you often find the tracks between you and the beach, both in and outside of town.  This walk follows the tracks until just before they disappear into a tunnel through the Haumuri Bluffs.

Haumuri Bluffs Walk
Haumuri Bluffs Walk

Figurative train wrecks are not unusual in New Zealand, but this is the first literal train wreck I’ve seen… probably anywhere.  I don’t think it would be incorrect to observe that the coast here is strewn with railroad trash.  But it does make for some unique and interesting views.

Haumuri Bluffs Walk
Haumuri Bluffs Walk
Haumuri Bluffs Walk
Haumuri Bluffs Walk

The road seems to exist for railroad access.  It passes some pasture land with trees for some of the limited shade options on this walk.

Haumuri Bluffs Walk
Haumuri Bluffs Walk

Soon it becomes necessary to find a way down to the coast and start rock-hopping.

Haumuri Bluffs Walk
Haumuri Bluffs Walk

This is where it becomes important to watch the time and the tide, and to make enough noise to avoid surprising any large seals who may be lying in the sun, concealed by the many large rocks.

Haumuri Bluffs Walk
Haumuri Bluffs Walk

It’s slow going, and it is wise to focus on where you’re walking.  As advised, I made noise as I went, frequently calling out “Big seals!  Don’t be surprised by me!”

Haumuri Bluffs Walk
Haumuri Bluffs Walk

It may have worked, because when I finally saw a seal, it was clear that he had been watching me for some time.  He remained vigilant, but didn’t seem angry or bothered.

Haumuri Bluffs Walk
Haumuri Bluffs Walk

It was a hot day, and it seemed wise to turn back shortly after emptying the first of my two water bottles.  In the distance I was able to see what must be the remains of the arch called “Spy Glass Point”, which collapsed in 2007.  This walk leads further and offers more views, see the Motor Camps New Zealand Touring Guide website for details.

Haumuri Bluffs Walk
Haumuri Bluffs Walk

Shortly after turning around I met a somewhat younger seal who expressed his displeasure at my presence by exhaling at me loudly.  I did not come between him and the ocean; he wanted to come further ashore, probably to find a good spot in the sun.  He posed unwillingly before grudgingly turning back to the Pacific, looking over his shoulder to give me dirty looks as he went, or maybe just to keep track of my where I was.

Haumuri Bluffs Walk
Haumuri Bluffs Walk

A woman at the Kaikoura i-Site added the Haumuri Bluffs Walk to her knowledge of the area, when I inquired, and was able to add no new information.  This walk is a great option, especially if you’re in a mood to enjoy nature away from other people.

Haumuri Bluffs Walk
Haumuri Bluffs Walk

You can view the full gallery of 23 pictures below.  To view them on imgur, click here.