Friday, December 8, 2023

Pursuing a suntan

 What with COVID and my accident last year, it took me almost 4 years to get back to WA. I came over for a week in March after my AAWT walk, which gave me the opportunity to check the lie of the land and sort out getting my car back on the road in time for my return in October. I caught up with friends and even managed an hour out on the water windsurfing, but it was short and sweet. This time I was back for 2 months...

Getting the Troopy back on the road cost a pretty penny, but I needed wheels to go windsurfing up at Coronation Beach which is 30km out of town (only 15km for me though). Leaving your car exposed to ocean air for 3 and a half years causes a lot of metal things to go a bit rusty, like fuel lines, car bodies and door hinges (though the latter probably carked it a long time ago), so besides getting it road worthy I've also spent many hours grinding back the rust, bogging holes and repainting the body. I've also found somewhere a bit further away from the ocean to store it for the next 10 months. Hopefully the old beast will last a few more years.

After a week of temperatures in the high 30s and one day in the 40s, the weather segued into perfect windsurfing weather, with regular afternoon sea breezes multiple days in a row. There wasn't much swell, and the wind was pretty strong, but I was just getting my legs back. so I didn't mind. It took me three goes before I nailed my first jibe, and soon I was hanging it with the rest of them. 

The wind continued to deliver, but without a lot of swell. I was starting to get antsy as I wanted to be back riding waves again, and at last we got a few good days with some decent waves to have fun with. My fitness and strength are probably the best they've been for a while, a result of all those sessions in the gym this winter. Not that there's anything that can prepare you for blistering 30-35 knot winds when you feel like your arms become just a little bit longer!!!

The front garden needed a lot of work, in particular cutting back the trees and hedges to allow my car to actually get in and out of the driveway. My tenant hadn't done more than a rudimentary amount of pruning, enough for her much smaller vehicle, but not enough for my behemoth. So I called in the contractors, and half a day of chainsawing later I had a usable driveway and my view back.

The tank beds were disintegrating from rust, and had long since been productive for vegetables, so a bit of rationalisation has taken place. Three of the tanks were cut down and used to patch up other beds I plan to keep, and I've put in a rudimentary reticulation system to make maintenance a little easier. It also opens up the front yard a bit so I also did a bit more paving to connect areas better and extend the parking area.

The cellar needed cleaning out. My attempt to waterproof it with three coats of waterproofing paint wasn't completely successful, but the mould growing wasn't overwhelming so I didn't need to chuck too much out. The floorboards were really manky though, so they got binned and I've just popped a rubber mat down instead. I've also found some real estate within my tiny flat to store some stuff, so not everything needs to go back down in the cellar.

Aside from cleaning out the cellar, I also cleared out the storage area under the carport. There's nothing quite like spending a few years away to realise there's a lot of shit you don't need to hold onto!

I've been watching the agave plants put out huge flower spikes, the largest one being somewhere between 8-10 metres. I'm hoping the flowers open before I leave as the honey eaters love them. They didn't...

Talking about birds, the Ospreys have been hanging out on a disused electricity pole down by the beach. Their chick is very noisy, calling out to its parents for food. Those honey eaters better watch out! (Nah, I think Osprey prefer fish)

In between doing a huge heap of chores I've been really enjoying being home in my little tiny flat. Looking out at the ocean, plotting the garden and obtaining a very healthy suntan. Gotta get my Vitamin D levels up before heading to the northern hemisphere for another winter. Gosh I'm enjoying never needing to put on anything with long sleeves!

It's been great to catch up with friends, mostly the windsurfing crowd, but also my bookclub mates. I've volunteered to host next November so I'm committed to being back by then. Not that I've had time to read a book yet!

The biggest headache was waiting for my paperwork from Japan to arrive. I sent off my paperwork in August. My boss applied for a certificate of eligibility (to get a work visa) from the immigration department in September and it at last came through on the 21st November and was sent immediately. However, it took 10 days to reach me, so in the meantime I rang the consulate in Perth to ask if I could send a copy. My boss had messaged me a photo of the certificate before sending it by snail mail.

It turns out that the Japanese Government has acknowledged that this is causing a lot of delays, and have started issuing the COE electronically. But my boss wasn't aware of this until after I spoke with the Consulate in Perth, so he plans to do the required paperwork so that we can get them electronically next season. Luckily, the Consulate agreed to let me send a photo print out of the certificate with my application, and show them the original when I go to pick up my passport in person. It takes 5 business days to process the visa, and I still needed to get my passport and visa application to Perth via the postal service at least a week before I flew out!! It's an entirely unnecessary piece of bureaucratic drama that I thought I could avoid by being well organised. Crazily, some of my colleagues who applied later than me had theirs come through weeks before me!!

After that initial week or so of wind, we entered a 2 week hiatus, where the weather didn't get too hot for outside gardening activities, but the wind didn't get strong enough for windsurfing. I understand why many of my friends have taken up wing foiling, but I had enough chores with the garden and the rust removal project to prevent any boredom.

My two months back home was great. I was worried it wouldn't be enough, and when the wind finally returned, along with some very nice waves as well, I contemplated changing my flights to get a couple more days out on the water.  But the two days I got at the end were just brilliant, and I'm definitely ready to head on to my next adventure.

Japan here I come!!

Monday, October 9, 2023

Ski Goddess news 2023

 Another winter in NZ and another season working at Cardrona Alpine Resort as a ski instructor. This year  I worked full time, which meant 6 days a week during the busy June/ July school holiday period, and 5 days for the rest of the season. I got a really good mix of adults and kids, both group lessons and privates, a few adaptive lessons, a really cool Wanaka Primary School group for five Thursdays, and one week on SkiWees. Mercifully few under 5s, though I did get a return request after teaching a lovely young 3 year old for an hour.

I don't really want, or need, to work full time, but the resort works on a priority system where those with the most qualifications and seasons get work ahead of those new to the game. But if you work part time, you don't get work until every full time employee ( including the Polytechnic trainees and other newly qualified instructors with no experience) has been allocated. This sucks, meaning lots of time waiting around to get work, and lots of first timer lessons. If you are only planning to work one or two days a week then it's not so bad, but when I was working up to 4 days (which is technically full time, but I never got the priority recognition) it was like Groundhog Day....

I actually love first timer lessons. It's the perfect opportunity to introduce new people to a sport I love, but not all season thank you. I was happy to be doing first timer lessons on the very first day of the season, especially as most of the terrain at the resort wasn't open due to a distinct lack of snow, and temperatures far too warm to make it with snow guns.

A lot of people were very surprised to see me back up there again after my accident last year. I think people perhaps thought my injuries would take much longer to heal, but no, I'm Back!!!

A good thing however, is that the resort management decided to cap the number of passes they would sell each day, meaning the numbers during the busy July school holidays never reached the ridiculous crowds of last year. Yes there were still people sliding unsafely, but there were less of them, and once more terrain opened up, more room to avoid them. And in a bizarre twist, I am now less anxious about other skiers and snowboarders around me than I was before my accident! Go figure...

It wasn't until late July/ early August that the whole mountain was open for sliding on. Treble Cone also had atrociously low snowfall and much of the terrain never became skiable the entire season.

I was planning to sit my Level 3 exam this year, but a combination of a minor knee injury, poor snow conditions, and an understanding that I was nowhere near the standard to pass, saw me decide to postpone that particular torture. I did do some training towards it though, and enjoyed a number of breakthroughs in my progress towards becoming a better skier. Still some way to go, but I've definitely improved.

I did, however, sit my Freeski Level 1, a prerequisite for the Level 3. I unexpectedly had a wonderful time learning how to do all sorts of flatland tricks, plus a few jumps and a box slide. I learnt so many things that I could take into teaching my lessons to keep them fun and interesting, especially for kids. I was the oldest by a few decades, but I wasn't the only one completely exhausted after those 3 days of shenanigans!

I didn't get much personal skiing done this season. My work days were usually fully scheduled, my days off I spent training in August and September, and there always needed to be one day down the hill doing life admin. And then as work levels tapered off we had multiple days of stormy weather with one or both mountains closed, and I just sort of lost my momentum....

I finished up on 1st October, bookending with another first timer group. A perfect way to end what was a slightly disappointing season. I'm thinking of reducing down to a 4 day week (full-time) next year, or just a couple of days max, and spend more time on my own skiing.

In the meantime I'm packing up my life of the last 3.5 years and storing all the toys away, because I'm off overseas for more adventures.

First stop home to WA for some much needed wind and waves (the sea breezes are already cranking, yay!), and then I'm off to Japan for another winter.

And after that, depending on how the Aussie bush manages after a dry winter and a forecasted extremely hot summer, I'm hoping to knock off another 10 day section of the AAWT.

Stay tuned....

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Hutbagging cleanup on the Greenstone Mavora

I'd walked the Greenstone Caples a few years prior, but hadn't actually bagged all the huts in the vicinity. I'd ended up very cold and miserable walking down the Greenstone Valley in the rain and hadn't enjoyed that day at all. In early May a lass named Linda walking Te Araroa posted on Facebook that she was looking for a lift from Queenstown to the start of the trail at the Greenstone carpark. I checked the forecast and discovered a decent weather window to clean up those huts I'd yet to bag. There was snow forecast for the days before, but a clearance on Thursday opened up a few good days ahead before the next front would descend. I contacted Linda and offered her a lift.

Greenstone carpark to Mid Greenstone Hut 12km, 5 hours

I left Wanaka at 7:45 am. It had snowed heavily overnight so I drove via Cromwell to avoid putting chains on to go over the Crown Range. I got to Frankton around 9:15 and went to Bivouac to buy some new waterproof socks, a strategy I use for keeping my feet toasty warm when the weather gets cold and the stream crossings get icy. 

I continued on into Queenstown, to Small Planet, where I paid for and picked up the key for the Mid Greenstone Hut. The hut is owned by the NZDA and has to be booked and paid for before staying there. There, I met up with Linda. We left town around about 10 and got to the car park a little bit after 11. I faffed around getting myself ready but Linda headed off fairly quickly.

A group of fellas turned up, also hiking into Greenstone Hut, but I left before them. I passed three trampers on their way out, but otherwise saw nobody the rest of the day. The track was not too muddy, much better than last time I had walked it. It was certainly muddy in places, but not as if a large herd of cattle had ploughed it up, my experience back in 2019. The river was running clear, but I suspect high after the recent rain and snow. It took me just over three hours to the Greenstone Hut turn off and that included a stop for lunch. I didn't go and visit Slip Flat Hut as I had decided to visit it on the way back out. 

Crossing Caples River

Looking down Caples to Greenstone confluence

Bridge across the Caples

Heading up the Greenstone

Autumn fungi

From the Greenstone Hut turn off, I continued along the Greenstone Track for another hour, past some curious cows, and then took the unmarked track through the trees over some windfall to Mid Greenstone Hut. 

Overnight snow further up the Greenstone valley

The hut is a beauty. It has a wood burner, lots of dry firewood, solar lighting, a gas cooker and all the crockery and pots and pans of a small kitchen. It's quite cold though, because the snow fell to almost valley floor at this level, perhaps 100 m off the valley floor, and the hut itself doesn't get much sun during the day. The fire had already been set by the previous occupants, so the first thing I did was light the fire to get the hut warmed up. Then I turned on the gas and made myself a hot cup of tea, enjoying the spectacular view up the Greenstone Valley. I had a lovely evening, warming the hut up nicely before heading to bed. The solar lights are such a great addition to these backcountry huts. Well worth the $25 per person per night.

Mid Greenstone Hut

Simply fill bucket and turn tap on to have a shower (there's a dedicated shower room on the lower level)

DAY 2 ☀️
Day trip return to Steele Creek Hut (4 hrs return) then back downriver to Greenstone Hut ( under 2 hrs)

I slept really well, not waking up until 8 am. After a cup of coffee, and packing up, I headed off with just my day pack along the trail to meet up with the Greenstone Track. There was a bit of windfall and a couple of rock slides to get over, but the trail joined the main track at the swing bridge over Steele Creek. Neither trail to Mid Greenstone Hut is marked, to discourage unwitting trampers taking the wrong track, and besides, the hut is locked.

a bit of windfall to climb through

More views up the Greenstone

Once over the swing bridge, the track up Steele Creek veered off to the right and climbed up a terrace with more great views up the Greenstone Valley. The track then entered the bush. There was quite a lot of windfall, but most had tracks around them as the windfall had been there for a while and the track obviously gets a fair bit of use. Once the track rejoined the river there were a number of open river terraces to walk along, weaving in and out of the bush. At the end of one of the terraces there was a difficult clamber around some treefall to rejoin the track. At first I climbed too high, so I came back down, clambered through some trees and then descended back to the track. That detour added about 15 minutes. From there, the track pretty well followed the river the whole way up until climbing a little away from the river and then back down to the hut. 

swingbridge over Steele Creek

Steele Creek Hut had real character. Somebody has done some work on it and it was really weather tight with a concrete floor and a fireplace, yet it's still a beech framed tin building. There were patches of snow on the ground outside the hut and the fire was prepped for lighting.

I had a quick lunch in the sun, then returned along the same track. When I got to the difficult tree fall, I stayed low and sidled very close to the river, even stepping into the river to get around. I still needed to climb through between 2 fallen logs but it was quicker and easier than the trip out. The rest of the track back was uneventful. 

Once back at Mid Greenstone Hut I replaced the wood, reset the fire for the next occupants, had a cup of tea, turned off the gas, did a quick final sweep, locked up and headed on my way. It was a magnificent sunny day and a considerably different experience to the last time I had walked down the Greenstone Valley in the rain and wind, feeling very cold and miserable. The track was nowhere near as muddy, even though there was evidence that cows were using the track as well. 

I got to Greenstone Hut a little after four and was surprised to see nobody there. I tried to get the fire going, but unfortunately was unsuccessful. There is coal supplied, but very little dry wood around to get the fire going with. The hut is quite warm anyway, because it is double glazed and well insulated. I had dinner and then headed to bed.

Greenstone Hut to Taipo Hut along Mavora Walkway including Passburn Hut detour and looking for Pondburn Hut 14 km, 6.5 hours 

I got up a bit earlier, managing to get away just before 9 am. I joined the Mavora Walkway, which sidles up through forest until reaching a saddle above the Pass Burn. I left my pack there and walked down to the Pass Burn Hut, following a very old four-wheel-drive track which doesn't look like it gets any vehicles on it any more. At the bottom of the hill I needed to cross the river to get to the hut, so I took my shoes and socks off and walked across in bare feet. The hut, being private, is locked, but there was a back room with bunks in it which wasn't locked. Neither of the two huts had windows, though there is a fireplace in the main hut that was locked. I re-crossed the river, put my shoes and socks back on and returned to my pack. 

Sunrise at Greenstone Hut

Passburn Hut

I set off again on the Mavora track at 10:30. The first mission was a descent to the Pass Burn and the need to cross it again, this time with my boots on!!

This section of the Mavora Walkway is pretty diabolical. It's muddy and it has a lot of windfall. The windfall doesn't have great tracks around it so most of the time you are climbing over logs or clambering through it. Someone had kindly used blue tape to mark the way through some of the more difficult windfall, which made it a bit easier but it was still an exhausting undertaking. I now understand why 10 km takes 4 to 5 hours!!

Really old track markers on the Mavora Walkway

Follow the blue tape....

The track at last came out into an alpine clearing with a lovely spot in the sun and out of the wind, with a dry stone for me to sit on. A perfect spot for lunch and to set out the solar panel to charge my phone. After waiting half an hour for the phone to charge I continued on. 

The track reentered forest and then re-emerged in a larger, very boggy clearing with views down to a large tarn. I spent a bit of time trying to find Pondburn Hut, but was unable to locate it. 

From there, I descended to the main valley and followed the orange poles to Taipo Hut. The poles stayed high at first but then lead across very swampy ground before climbing to the terrace where the hut sits. 

Heading down valley towards Taipo Hut

Taipo Hut

Despite the swamp, it was absolutely beautiful, especially with the snow on the hills. By the time I got to Taipo Hut at 3:20 I was very glad to be finished for the day. It amazes me how much mileage TA walkers manage. Linda and the boys I had met at the carpark had simply kept going. Admittedly they hadn't wasted time hutbagging!

Taipo Hut is situated on a terrace above the river and there is a swing bridge across the Mararoa just south of the hut. The hut itself was quite warm inside although there is no fireplace. There is a fire pit outside and even some scavenged firewood from the river. 

Mararoa River, looking up valley

Down valley

cattle deterrent??

My shoes and socks were sopping wet after the mud and swamp, but the waterproof socks did an amazing job keeping my feet dry and warm, even though my shoes were soaked through.

As I arrived at the hut I could see that some bad weather was coming in so I messaged Karen to let her know that I might be staying an extra day before returning to the Greenstone. I had enough food to stay an extra day, and I would prefer not to tramp in rain at this time of year!! The hut looks straight up the Mararoa through the large windows, which looks lovely with snow on all the peaks. 

Later in the evening I noticed what I think was a helicopter up the valley for some time, perhaps extracting people before the weather came in. Another early night.

Zero day at Taipo Hut.

I had sent off a weather forecast last night, and Karen also confirmed in a message that the day would be rainy and unpleasant, whereas Monday and Tuesday were forecast to be great days. It rained overnight, although not a lot, and in the morning there was low cloud up the valley though it looked clear in the other directions. I sent off another forecast and it confirmed that there would be rain on and off all day so I sent a message to Karen to let her know that I would be staying at Taipo for the day. It's good to have the flexibility to be able to change plans when the weather doesn't cooperate. 

The sun came out around 11:30, so I put the solar panel out to charge the InReach and a bench outside in the sun to enjoy a cup of tea. The wet shoes and socks also got a dose of sun, but within half an hour the clouds had regathered and it was back to hunkering down in the hut whilst the rain squalls hammered away. There's a lot to be thankful for out here in the backcountry, not least these wonderful shelters from the fickle weather. A fire would've been nice, but clad head to toe in down apparel makes for a good substitute!

I had lots of reading material: a few books on my phone, the usual hunting magazines and a 1979 issue of National Geographic featuring the recent discovery of the first hominid tracks by Mary Leakie! 

The sun made another appearance around 2pm, again short lived, so it was back to more cups of tea and a jigsaw puzzle on the phone. Planes went by overhead, being on the flight path to Queenstown, and the recent snow on the hills became sparser after each downpour. The hut didn't warm up as much, due to the limited appearance of the sun, but it was still a cosy shelter from the elements. No one came by, there being only a few lone stragglers left of the 2022/23 TA crew. The most recent hut book records only 2 people not walking TA, and I'm one of them!

The clouds started to clear around 5pm, allowing for a little colour to the sunset. It was time for another hot drink, this time a cup of soup, to rehydrate my dinner, and enjoy another night in my little hut in the hills.

DAY 5 ☀️
Taipo Hut to Greenstone Hut via stock track, including detour to Pondburn Hut 10km, 4 hours

I got away at 9, and stayed high rather than walking through the swamp. Since there was a frost, and no track through the tussock and hebes, my legs and feet probably got just as wet. 

The sun was shining and it was glorious weather walking back up the valley. When I got to the 4WD track crossing the Pond Burn I noticed a second 4WD track on the Taipo side of the burn heading uphill. Could that be the way to the hut? I dropped the pack and followed it up onto a terrace, and just inside the trees was Pondburn Hut. Completely not where it's marked on the map or hutbagger site. Cute hut, with horseshoes laid into the concrete floor.

Pondburn Hut

Back at the pack I continued down towards the tarn and picked up the stock track which follows the other side of the valley ( right hand side if heading north). It stays out of the forest almost the whole way, but is muddy and boggy in places, with lots of rock hopping required. I really enjoyed the walk as it was sunny with great views, unlike the forest walk on the Mavora walkway on the left hand side. Unfortunately I had a slip trying to avoid one swampy hole, and fell in! Wet from the waist down!! Lucky the temperature was mild with little wind. 

Mavora walkway goes through the forest over on the left. This side is much nicer...

The track crossed a secondary branch of the Passburn (with some nice spots for camping) and then climbed up to follow above the Passburn as it began its descent towards the Greenstone. I got to the intersection with the Mavora track at 12, which meant it took considerably less time going that way. I was back at Greenstone Hut by 1pm.

The hut was drenched in sunshine so I had lunch and changed out of my wet clothes, placing them out in the sun to dry. I also put out the solar panel to charge my phone, Inreach and Fitbit, and went searching for dry firewood. I decided not to push on to Slip Flat, and just enjoy the sun.

By 2:30 the sun had gone behind the hill to the north so I made another warm cuppa after packing away the panel  (everything was well charged by then anyway) and was surprised to meet Falco, a Czech wire haired pointer, and his owner/handler. They had been doing a whio survey down the Greenstone and were waiting for their chopper back out. I chatted to them and got lots of cuddles from Falco, but it was getting chilly so I got the fire going. With a bit of persistence I managed to get enough wood alight to get the coal burning and put the now only damp clothes up on the ceiling rack above the burner. All going well they should be dry by the morning.

unexpected visitors at Greenstone Hut, flying back out

The chopper came in about 3:45 to pick up dog and handler, and I was by myself again. But 45 minutes later an Australian couple turned up, after finding Slip Flat Hut already occupied so walking on. There's only 3 bunks at Slip Flat. Here they could have their own bunk room!!

It was a pleasant evening in the warm hut, but I still went to bed early.

Greenstone Hut to Slip Flat Hut
Slip Flat Hut to carpark

I got up before 8 and headed off a bit after 9, the Aussie couple still in their bunk room when I left. The walk to Slip Flat was uneventful, though the track up to the emergency swing bridge could do with some work. Once over the bridge there's a faint track heading uphill, which leads to Slip Flat Hut in a small clearing well above the river. 

A different Greenstone sunrise

Greenstone gorge from bridge, looking upstream

and downstream

Slip Flat Hut

I met Sam and Charlotte, Arrowtown locals who work at Coronet Peak Ski Patrol in winter, who had enjoyed a night at Slip Flat knocking off most of a gifted bottle of Cardrona Distillery Whisky. We had a wee chat about the route via Lake Rere, which they had come in on, and which I was thinking of taking back out. In the end I decided to walk out along the faster main trail as the clouds were gathering again and the temperature dropping. And there's no huts to bag on that route, so I'll leave it for another day.

I was back at the carpark by 1 pm, where I met a Brisbane lady just off the Caples, who needed a lift back to Kinloch where she'd left her hire car. She was super chatty, after no doubt spending a lot of time by herself, but I did chastise her for not writing in the hut books. She had a hut pass and a PLB, but hadn't understood the importance of writing one's intentions in each book along the way.

I dropped her off at Kinloch then drove to Glenorchy for a late lunch at Mrs Woolleys, before heading to Queenstown to drop off the hut key, then over Crown Range and home.

Huts bagged: 8 including the two Greenstone Huts which I'd bagged before. Not a bad haul.

Well that's my final tramp for the season, it's now time to get ready for the ski season....

That's next!