Saturday, December 7, 2013

Bay of Many Coves

After months and months of searching, Dave and I finally landed the perfect job in New Zealand! We started work at the Bay of Many Coves Resort at the end of November and will be staying here until about mid-March.  Our working holiday, is now officially a working holiday!

By perfect job, I mean, we are getting paid, it is surrounded by nature, and we are getting free accommodation and wifi.  Dave and I have our own room and share the living room and kitchen with the other staff.  We are responsible for feeding ourselves, so we can either go into town and get groceries ourselves, or order them and they will arrive the next day by boat.

My original plan was to substitute teach in New Zealand, but somehow the idea of finding an apartment, paying rent and planning lessons wasn't too appealing. Dave's original plan didn't quite work out either. 

My job is in housekeeping and I will be doing some cafe and food and beverage work.  Dave's job is porter/maintenance work. We were also told he would be taking guests out on the little motor boat if there were dolphins or whales in the cove that they wanted to go see. Sweet as, brew!
I was a little apprehensive at first about the isolation we would be facing, but so far it's been great. Work is quite hard because there are no elevators and this place is built up on the side of a hill.  This means I get to cart things up and down said hills during my entire shift.  Whenever it's been warm enough, I have been going swimming after work.  The ocean is cold, but also refereshing when you've been running around in 25 degree weather!  There is also a surprising amount of marine life...we've seen dolphins, stingrays, starfish, and sea urchins.

We've also had the chance to go kayaking and stand up paddleboarding around the bay.  There are so many birds here to see while kayaking!  Yesterday, Dave and I hiked to the lookout point, which is about 45 minutes away if you're a slow hiker like me! You can see some of the mountain ranges on the South Island and the town of Picton is not too far away. Definitely a great place to be.

As part of the food and beverage team, I was also part of the vintner's training. We got to sample about 20 different wines and learn about their tasting notes and a little bit about how they are made.  I was pretty lost, but I definitely enjoyed all the samples! Afterwards, the rest of the staff were invited to socialize and finish off the many bottles of wine that we had opened..and that we did!

The next day, most of the staff went into town and went on a wine tour courtesy of Bay of Many Coves. We toured the vineyards around a large town called Blenheim, but more so known on the world stage as the Marlborough region. This is where New Zealand's famous sauvignon blanc comes from.

The lovely people I will be working with for the next few months!

Our tour included the Lawsons Dry Hills, Seresin, Villa Maria Estate and Giessens wineries. The nic people at Villa Maria were kind enough to give us a behind the scenes tour of the winery.   The amount of wine they make every year is astounding.  They had a whole warehouse of steel tanks that could hold 75 000 liters of wine in each.  Vincent, our tour guide and part Canadian, told us they also lose about 8000 liters of wine a year from evaporation... wine for the angels.  There was also a huge earthquake in the region a few months ago which broke all the bolts that held the steel tanks into place.

For safety reasons, we had to wear hard hats and vests on our behind the scenes tour.
In the barrel room. French oak only in here!

Outside the Villa Maria tasting room

Sarah our driver and tour guide was also nice enough to take us on a few detours to a fudge shop, a boutique chocolate factory and a cherry orchard. Definitely enjoyed the food pit stops, maybe more than I enjoyed the wine!

One of the wineries we visited also made olive oils. Delicious!

Chocolate factory.

At the fudge shop, I got ice cream!

It's been a great experience so far. The other people who live and work here have been so friendly and welcoming.  It's like we are one happy little family here.  It's a nice mix of kiwis and other people from around the world. There is definitely no shortage of accents here!  For Christmas, we are planning on doing a huge potluck and doing a Secret Santa exchange.  I was telling Stacey, who is from Britain, that it's weird for me to be 'wearing a Santa hat and a tank top at the same time' and she looked at me like I was speaking another language.  She did not understand what I mean by 'Santa' and 'tank top'. It was hilarious. =)

Hopefully I will have a bit more time to blog about our time on the South Island over the next few weeks.  It's way more scenic down here than it is on the North Island. If not, Merry Christmas everyone. =)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Review of New Zealand Rock Climbing

I have now had the privilege to have sampled a collection of some of New Zealand's finest rock. Michelle and I have climbed at Mt.Maunganui, Paynes Ford, Pohara, Castle Hill and Hospital Flats (Wanaka) which have all been a very unique but feature a common theme of technique, adventure and humility.

Most of the rock we have climbed on has been very technical and powerful. Being physically strong and thoughtless can leave one very frustrated. There has been lot's of technical footwork, mantles, smearing on rounded edges and delicate movement (the mantles are not limited to bouldering as well). After a good handful of climbing days throughout New Zealand I've only once had a sore upper body.

Cleaning draws off one of many awesome climbs at Mt.Maunganui.

The rock has been a combination of all three rock types igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary. Mt.Maunganui featured a really nice igneous rock called rhyolite that was highly featured with pockets, jugs and ample texture for confident smearing. It was a pretty cool experience to be able to climb on the exterior of an extinct volcanic cone. This climbing area has ample atmosphere and with most the routes being between 10-15 meters it allows one to climb with more of a bouldering headspace.

At Paynes Ford, Pohara and Castle Hill it felt nice and familiar, limestone. Although, the erosion and weathering on the rock at Paynes and Pohara have created a series of really interesting ridges and horn features that were really interesting, but overall it had the same texture and confidence inspiring grip that I'm used to back in the Canadian Rockies. The only limestone choss we came across was at Pohara, which is likely due to the proximity to the Sea. I can only speculate that the salt water plays a huge roll in the exfoliation of the rock.

Stairway of the Gods, Pohara

The climbing in Wanaka is metamorphic and offered a totally different experience. The rock there is called Schist. It has a similar feel to quartzite but visually shares a similar graininess to that of wood. Unlike the rhyolite at Maunganui, and the limestone at Paynes the rock at Wanaka didn't have the same obvious holds and required a keen eye to find the right little incut holds or chunky edges. Also when in the blazing hot sun the rock became quite slick and extra tricky.
On the Tombstone at Hosptial Flat in Wanaka

Castle Hill's limestone was unlike any limestone I've ever climbed on. The boulders at Castle Hill are amazing, beautiful, and awesome but, most of the boulders are notoriously under featured and somewhat slick. The boulders are actually a very soft limestone and the exterior of the rocks feature a coating similar to that of stalactite in a cave. The slickness of the rock is partly due to the weathering and erosion of the limestone and the wear and tear of climbers.  A lot of the features in Castle Hill are sloppy huecos, scoops and blunt arretes (corners).  Positive features are rare at Castle Hill and problems that do have positive holds are mostly polished by the thousands of international climbers like ourselves who don't have the time or patience to learn how to climb highly technical featureless rock. As noted in the guide book most international climbers are shut down hard on what appear to be easy problems. The hardest problem I managed to climb was Quake V4, which I flashed. However, there were plenty of humbling problems that required much more effort to gain the topout.  

Super tricky footwork on Beautiful Edges V4

The yellow streak reveals the soft inner limestone

Sloppy Castle Hill scoops

The best route at Coronet Crag

The only climbing we managed to do around Queenstown is at the Coronet Crag. Although the rock was exactly the same type of rock in Wanaka it was surprisingly loose and sandy. It was well featured though and reminded me of climbing on soft sand stone. Overall itwas really good, well protected and enjoyable. In the 2 days we were there we climbed over 9 routes.

New Zealanders are also quite bold and adventurous in terms of climbing. Most routes are run out by Canadian Rockies standards. Run out is a term used to describe a route where there is large distances between points of protection (bolts or trad gear).  I've seen plenty of routes around 15-20 meters long with 2,3, or maybe 4 bolts (if you're lucky) and the first bolt being very high up. In other climbing areas 5-6 bolts would be pretty standard for this length of route.

 I've also noticed that some routes become much more run out between the last bolt and the anchor of routes as to say 'You have plenty of bolts below you and you probably won't hit the ground'. Most of the routes are 'safe' as in you won't smoke the ground but you will be going for a ride where your rope will be flossing the air for a little bit.

On one of the easier routes at Paynes. Note the height of the first bolt.

I distinctly remember freaking out climbing a route called Blockbuster rated 19 which in YDS is about 5.10a/b and was 20 meters tall with 3 bolts. On top rope or in a gym this difficulty would be a nice easy warm up, but with the risk of taking big gnarly falls it requires a certain level of calmness and precision that far surpasses the physical difficulty. The first attempt I made at the route I climbed up to the second bolt, took a good long breather and treaded slowly up to the crux and totally wimped out and needed to down climb and try it again. I went up to the crux again to try to find a different sequence but came to a realization that I would need to make a semi-dynamic move to a edge (that could be sloppy) right below the 3 bolt and risking a 12+meter fall. I down climbed to the second bolt and got lowered down. I chilled out and got back up and committed to the move and the edge was beautiful and after I stuck the move I gained enough confidence to blitz to the top. If this exact same route had 6-7 bolts this wouldn't have been even a noteworthy route, but due to the potential risk of flying through the air it made it much more engaging and rewarding.

First bolt on Blockbuster

New Zealand climbing is very humbling and I'm super stoked that I've had an opportunity to sample a good handful of classic routes and boulder problems. If I had to go home tomorrow I'd feel like I've had a great climbing experience. That being said though, I'd love to make another trip to Paynes Ford and Pohara again.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mini post: Picton - Gateway to the South Island

After leaving the holiday park, Dave and went to Wellington and picked up Natalie from the airport. Natalie and Dave worked at the Tim Hortons camp together over the summer. She flew in from Australia and also got an interview at the resort Dave and I applied to!

In Wellington, we stayed at Worldwide Backpackers again and got the sweetest room. Mainly because it had a mini loft in it. It took us all a few seconds to figure out where the third bed was. 

Dave also tried some golden kiwi! It is not as sweet as green kiwi fruit but still tasty. 

The day after we got on the ferry to Picton, the gateway to the South Island. You get to see some beautiful ocean and  some great landscape. At one point we caught a glimpse of the Kaikoura mountain range in the east coast of the island.

Our hostel in Picton, is called the Juggler's Rest. It has a really cool vibe and a very welcoming atmosphere. Nikki, our host came over from England and  also used to be a teacher but couldn't find a job in the age group she was trained in. Boy, do I know the feeling! 

At our hostel we were greeted with homemade wool socks! There was also a  veggie garden, hammocks, fresh free range eggs and grape vines everywhere. 

During the evening we took advantage of the juggling balls, hula hoops, poi and diablos that were lying around. We also hung out on the hammocks and played around with the slack line for awhile too!

Dave also made friends with the resident cat if course. =) 

For breakfast, we had freshly baked bread, homemade jam, coffee and fresh grape juice, prepared by our host. The juice was so sweet and delicious with no sugar added!  It was a great way to wake up! Afterwards, we hung out and lounged around in the sun like little kitty cats before our interview. We will be off in a few minutes so I better go! 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Our First Work Exchange

Dave and I did our first work exchange at a place called Tongariro Holiday Park. We worked two hours a day, seven days a week in exchange for accommodation for most of the month of October 2013.  Holiday parks are something we have never encountered until we came to New Zealand. They are a sort of campground and hostel all bundled up into one.

These holiday parks are everywhere in NZ and Australia and offer different types of accommodation to people. This includes camping (in a tent), car camping (in an RV, van, campervan etc.), rooms with or without an ensuite bathroom or a self-contained unit (kitchen, bathroom and bedroom all in one place!). If you are not in a self-contained unit, you use a communal kitchen and bathrooms.

Just outside our room

The cabins...and forest!

Kitchen building

Most places have that something extra too like pools, trampolines, playgrounds, thermal pools and giant pillows.  Dave and I have stayed in a few already in NZ, and they are a pretty unique place to stay, in our opinion.  

Our hosts, Greg and Donna and their two sons have been here for about eight years. They have been super nice (most Kiwis are) and have shared a lot about Kiwi culture and the area we are in. They even put us in charge of this place and left for the beach within a week of meeting us!

Inside the kitchen

Inside the kitchen

They also have a commercial grade espresso machine in the kitchen for their own personal use... I don't know what Dave and I are going to do for coffee when we go back to Canada... but I'll save that for another day...

Our days consisted of waking up around 8:30 am, having breakfast, then cleaning for around two hours.  We would clean the bathrooms and showers, then move onto the kitchen. Sometimes we would need to clean a few rooms, and make some beds.  

Our cabin. Bit of a tight space, but we were thankful to have it!

Greg and Donna put a lot of effort into making their rooms look great.  Trying to copy their work was extremely frustrating for me. I obviously know how to make a bed, but to make a bed look as nice as Greg and Donna's bed was tedious and a total pain in my ass!  I would spend way too much time adjusting the sheets and tugging on ends, trying to get all the wrinkles out. Then comes the pillows... They had to be propped up just right, otherwise they would look sad and lumpy.

Being here for a month gave us time to do this!  View of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing from Mount Nguaruhoe. 

After cleaning, if the weather was good, Dave and I would go hiking in Tongariro National Park. In our first week here, we hiked around 50 km of trails.   We had time to get on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing three times. We only did the whole thing once, but we also attempted to summit Mount Nguaruhoe. Dave succeeded but I did not.

During the rest of our time here, the weather wasn't as nice as the first week. It rained quite a bit and got quite windy.  There were a few days here where it was hovering around 4 degrees.  You would think as a Canadian, this wouldn't feel so cold to us, but when it's damp AND cold outside, it feels way colder. Definitely wish I had my down jacket here for those days. Thankfully summer is coming, and we (hopefully) won't be needing a ton of warm clothes for much longer.

Dave says, when it rains it feels like Soviet Russia. This is mainly because we are about a 25 minute drive from the nearest town and when the weather is poor nobody comes to the holiday park. The nearby town, Tarangi, also has very little in the form of entertainment and is not really worth the drive if you're bored.  It was also the closest place to get groceries. Prices were generally more expensive than other grocery stores, but the other grocery stores were an hour drive away in Taupo.  We did find a delicious fish and chips place in Tarangi called the Grand Central Fry. We could both eat well for $11, which is cheap by NZ standards! 

We also found an SPCA fundraiser book sale in Tarangi where Dave and I were able to buy four books for about eight dollars.  New books here are even more expensive than they are in Canada unfortunately, so this was like a gold mine! 

Overall, it was a pretty good experience. It was a great break from driving around for a month, and now we are ready to hit the road again.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Hiking Around Tongariro National Park

Hiking around Tongariro National Park has been a pretty cool experience!  Hiking around volcanoes, active thermal vents and craters has been quite surreal.  It's been great being so close to the park. We have had to drive anywhere from 2 minutes to 40 minutes to get to the hikes around here. 

Tongariro is the oldest national park in New Zealand, and the area holds many sacred Maori sites along with some active volcanoes. For the skiers out there, this is also where New Zealand's largest ski area is located on Mount Ruahepu below!  The ski season here usually runs from June to the end of October.  

Lower Tama Lake with Mount Ruahepu in the background. It has very little snow on it right now! 

It's interesting because the trails are all really well developed and maintained, but the touristy, commercial part of things was less so.  I came here with my Canadian Rockies bias expecting a sort of 'Canmore' and 'Banff' type towns to be established here, but that was not the case! Don't get me wrong though, Tongariro National Park is a popular destination for Kiwis and international tourists. There are tour companies, and a variety of accommodation options, but it all seems so minimal when you are used to the Rockies!  

One of the best parts about hiking around here are the signs and trail markers. The trails here are marked with poles when things get confusing.  At trailheads and trail junctions, there are signs that tell you where to go and how long it will take you to get there! It's amazing!  Never be confused again!

Dave and I also went into one of the backcountry huts we passed by and they look so cozy! I've never been in a backcountry hut in Canada, so I have nothing to compare it to.  This one was on the Whakapatiti Valley trail.  They also collect rain water outside so there is always a freshwater supply somewhere. You still need to filter it though!  

In the nicer huts on the Great Walks, there are hot showers, flushing toilets, and gas stoves that you can use. You obviously pay more, but, yes, you can have a HOT SHOWER in the backcountry. Crazy talk! I know!

Twaihai Falls - A short 20 minute walk, and a LOTR set location! 

If you are a Lord of the Rings fan, like I am, you really get the feeling that you are in Rohan and in Mordor. Peter Jackson did an amazing job showcasing New Zealand's natural beauty in the movies. Dave and I went on a hike to Twahai Falls (above), and didn't even realize we were at one of the set locations! 

A lagoon we encountered in the middle of a Ohinetonga Walking Track. 

 One distinct track we went on was called Ohinetonga Walking Track. It's only four kilometers, and has very little view, but the forest you walk through is breathtaking. It was so dense, and lush...two words that don't really do it justice, but it was just amazing and beautiful.  It was also the scene of a rather dramatic pond crossing...but you can ask Dave about that one!

Ohinetonga Walking Track

Ohinetonga Walking Track

That being said, if you are planning to go hiking in New Zealand, here are a few tips from me to you:

  • Be prepared!! Check the weather. Ask questions at the info center. Bring the right gear!
  • Do not ignore the warnings and track closures you come across. Dave and I have learned that the Department of Conservation does not sugar coat things nor do they over exaggerate their warnings.  
  • The weather DOES turn on a dime here, and you can just assume that it will rain. If it doesn't rain, you will probably be hiking in a cloud at some point, so bring your rain gear anyway!  If it just rained, bring your gaiters. There will be mud and puddles, and it will be slippery.
Bring your gaiters!

Hopefully this has given you a nice taste of what Tongariro National Park has to offer.  I can't wait to explore the mountains on the South Island!  

Hiking in the rain.

View of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing from Mount Nguaruhoe

Happy tramping!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Michelle: The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is supposed to be New Zealand's greatest day walk, and it delivered!

Our day started at 7:15 am on the Tongariro Expeditions shuttle bus from the holiday park we were working at.  Jarod, the driver and owner, was quite possibly the most enthusiastic person I'd ever met. He made the short bus ride so exciting and genuinely loved what he was doing.  Within minutes of meeting Dave and I, he offered up his place in Taupo because Dave mentioned he wanted to try the trout fishing in Lake Taupo.

Dave:  Jarod was also quite the showman on the buses PA system. In Jarod's words seeing Mt.Taranaki in the distance was 'the shizzle', the day was going to be a 'stunna' and just about every was 'sweet as'. He also mentioned to me how much he loves the Tongariro area. Jarod was quite open and mentioned that he had buried both of his children's afterbirth (placenta and umbilical cords) beneath trees of significance. I found this very interesting and I did a little Google search and it's a Maori practice that is suppose to establish a connection between the newborn child and the land of their birth. I find it interesting how much the Maori culture has permeated the dominant western culture here. In Canada I think it would be fair to say it would be very rare to hear about any non-first nation person practicing rituals of the First Nations people. 

Michelle: I think that is one of the most amazing thing we have discovered about Kiwis, they are genuinely nice, honest and trusting. We've been treated so well by everyone we've met, offered beer, wine, food, coffee and shelter!

It was a beautiful, clear day, and the temperature was tolerable.  From the beginning of the track, we could see Mount Taranaki off in the distance, on the west coast of New Zealand.

Because a storm was forecasted for later in the afternoon, Jarod recommended everyone skip the side trips to the summits of Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe.  We decided to take his expert advice, as he'd been shuttling people to and from the walks for twenty years.

The beginning of the walk. Mount Ngauruhoe is right in front of us. This was taken a week and a half before we did the entire walk, so there is more snow.

The trail starts off pretty flat. The first hour is a nice walk with some beautiful scenery. The board walks made it even nicer.  Just like their roads, the boardwalks never allowed us to actually walk in a straight line for very long. After that, the fun really begins. The next section is called the Devil's staircase. It takes about an hour to do, and yes, it is all stairs!

Near the summit of the crossing. Mount Ngauruhoe is behind us with considerably less snow than a week and a half ago! It was quite cold and windy up here! Also note how inflated our pants look, it's because of the rip roaring gail force winds.

Once you reach the top of the Devil's Staircase, you pass by the base of Mount Ngauruhoe, which is about a 3 hour side trip. You can only do it safely on a clear day. Clouds surround the peak quickly and make the trail very dangerous due to poor visibility.  It is all scree, and apparently, many people have been hurt by falling rocks and lost their way due to the poor weather. 

After that you cross the South Crater, which is a vast, flat, muddy bowl-like area.  It was also once an active volcanic area. Afterwards, you start climbing again, this time on a ridge. There was considerably less snow on the ridge this time, but it was much windier! It was supposed to be 35 km/h winds, but it felt like more... Dave and I both forgot our gloves too! 

Almost at the summit and feeling very cold.
At this point, I was feeling a little panicky. The trail still had some ice on it, and it was quite narrow on the ridge.  My hands were hurting because it was so cold, and I had to decide between having my hands in my pockets or using my poles to help me stay upright. With the windchill, it got down to minus nine degrees and it definitely caught Dave and I a little off guard. 

As you approach the summit, the Red Crater appears to the right.  It's basically a big red gaping hole in the earth that was steaming. Unfortunately, it was difficult to capture it all on camera. 

Watch out for those eruptions!
To the right of me is the Red Crater. It is still active, and there were gases (sulphur smelling) being released everywhere.
Right below you, you can see the Emerald Lakes, and a big blue lake in the distance.  This is definitely the highlight of the hike. The views are stunning, and the landscape looks alien-like.  This was also the beginning of the descent.  The slope to the lake was soft soil, and felt like scree. Dave and I ran down the trail quickly and had lunch down at the bottom. 

Looking down at Emerald Lakes. Dave and I ran down the scree-like surface. It was awesome!!

To get to Blue Lake, you cross the Central Crater. You can see it behind me in the photo below. The snow in the picture also highlights some old lava flow.  It was so unbelievably cool! Once you pass the Blue Lake, you begin the long descent. 

Around kilometer 11.  The Red Crater and summit of the crossing is just above my left shoulder. I was so cold, I decided to wear my extra pair of socks as mittens.

The trail to the Ketetahi carpark passes through some rolling hills and by the Te Mari crater.  There is also a backcountry hut that is close. Not sure why, but it looked as if it was damaged when the Te Mari crater erupted.  Along the trail, you can see where some pieces of rock landed, and some were quite close to the hut!

The descent seemed endless to Dave and I, and we were also being chased by the storm. Every time we turned around, more and more of the peaks behind us had been engulfed in the clouds.

In August of 2012, the Te Mari erupted and blew off the top of this hill. It has been steaming ever since! 

View from the descent. You can see Lake Taupo, Lake Rotoraira in the distance. The Te Mari crater is also on the right.
Luckily, it did not rain really hard until we reached the end of the trail.  My left knee was quite sore by the end of it, and Dave got a wicked blister on his little toe, but other than that, we survived!  We started on the trail around 8 am and ended our 19.4 km journey at 2:45 pm.  The ascent to the summit was 750 meters, and the descent was a gruelling 1100 meters.

Dave and I agree, this is definitely one of the most beautiful hikes we have ever been on. The changes in landscape as we progressed through the hike were incredible.  I highly recommend it to anyone visiting New Zealand!

Makes me wonder what people would consider the best hike in Canada! It's hard for me to choose, and I welcome your opinions!  What would you say is the best hike in Canada, or any other country, for that matter?