Sunday, February 24, 2019

When Rivers Rise - a wee trip in to the Takitimus

I was in Te Anau purchasing a packraft. So why not explore the nearby countryside. There seemed to be a fine weather window of a few days, so I hatched up a trip in to the Takitimus, south of Te Anau but east of the main Fiordland mountains. The plan was to walk in to a wee hut upriver, then walk over the tops in the forecast fine weather, bunk down in a hut on the other side, then walk back out the third day. Yes, a cheeky loop!!

Day One I drove to Mossburn then left the highway to drive up Dunrobin Rd to the carpark by the Aparima River. Then on with the backpack, and an easy amble along the river to the Aparima Huts. The Te Araroa trail intersects here, and there were already 2 trampers in the hut when I passed through at lunchtime.

From Aparima Hut I got completely confused by the poor signage, and tried to find a non existent track. After a little bushbashing I found the correct track (there was only one, but the signage suggested there were two separate ones) and then it was more gentle strolling over tussocks to a great viewpoint over a bend in the river.

From there the track re-entered beech forest, and skirted quite swampy terrain, following the Aparima upstream. A few hours later it was time to cross the river to get to the hut. I was apprehensive, so did a trial walk through without my pack, and found the riverbed mostly shingle, and only mid calf deep. Easy peasy!!

The Hut at Aparima Forks (situated between the north and south branches) is an old Forestry Hut with an open fire and only 2 bunks. There's lots of dry wood around so soon I have a nice fire going and am all toasty overnight.

Day Two I woke to rain. It wasn't forecast to rain, and I certainly didn't plan a walk across rocky alpine terrain in zero visibility. I waited to see if it would ease, and then when it didn't, I packed up and planned to walk back out the same day.

Two minutes from the hut was the river crossing. It was now a lot higher, and a lot more discoloured. I decided I wasn't going to try and cross it. Back to the hut to wait it out. It was still up at 5pm, the latest time I could leave and get back to the next hut before dark. By then I'd already restoked the fire and was perfectly resigned to staying a second night. The rain ceased around the same time.

Day Three I was woken at 1am by more heavy rain, but it had settled by 5am and the clouds were receding rapidly by the time the sun came up. I checked the south branch river level, and it was dropping, so I packed up and headed back to the crossing.

The river was still high, but much less discoloured, so I took the plunge and walked across. With a stable river bed the crossing wasn't too difficult, even though it was now mid thigh and the current was fairly strong.

With the weather being so good, I decided to try for the alpine crossing after all, so headed upriver. There was no trail, so I had to make my way through the trees using navigation skills. Not too difficult when you are simply following a river upstream. But there's a lot more vegetation to struggle through, including nasty bush lawyer vine, and many creeks to cross.

After about an hour I realised I wasn't making very good time, and was feeling a bit claustrophobic in the forest, so decided to ditch my first attempt at off trail tramping, turn around, and head back the way I had come. I hadn't started super early and was worried I wouldn't make it over the tops within daylight hours. Plus it seemed a bit windy, and I've learnt from experience to avoid the tops in high wind. Yes I talked myself out of it, but you only have one life right?

I stopped for lunch at the riverbend, enjoying the luxury of my brand new Helinox chair. Relaxing back enjoying the view without the wet bum just might be worth carrying the extra 500g!!

Then it was a simple walk back to Aparima Huts and on to the road end carpark.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Purchasing a New Toy

Over winter in Wanaka I usually attend the Mountain Film Festival. This is a great opportunity to see a huge assortment of crazy activities filmed by adventure junkies from all over the world. In particular, I'd noticed these wee inflatable crafts that could be carried on your backpack, then used when the path got obstructed by a waterway. Not an uncommon scenario in NZ. Then last year one of the local filmmakers had brought his along to the opening night. I took one look and was hooked!!

For quite a while I've wanted some sort of watercraft that allows me to access rivers and lakes when travelling, but wasn't keen on a heavy kayak or even a SUP, as lifting them on and off a vehicle is a right royal pain. Something light and inflatable, yet still very durable, seemed impossible, and then I discovered packrafts. My search was over....

So began quite a bit of research. I discovered that the pioneers in modern packrafts were an American company called Alpacka, who had been designing and producing these awesome wee craft for over 20 years. Then a large amount of copycat companies, selling rafts at cheaper prices, had entered the market within the last 5-10 years. But the real innovators in rafting were the original company.

The local bike shop in Wanaka were stocking Kokopelli packrafts, another American company. I went to have a look at the boats but wasn't impressed by the workmanship. The shop service was also non existent, but it was the same day as the Wanaka Challenge so I'll excuse them that...

I then drove down to Te Anau, where the NZ supplier of Alpacka rafts lives. I went to see Arno and spent a good 2 hours discussing just exactly what sort of raft would suit what I wanted to do. In particular, Arno convinced me that I wouldn't want to restrict myself to simple lakes and rivers, and would want to challenge myself in whitewater at some stage. With that in mind he suggested a raft that would see me through a lifetime of paddling, for which I am extremely grateful. He suggested I go away and think about it, and then order my raft online.

I did!

Then I waited six long weeks for it to turn up. So of course I went tramping.

That's next.....