Day 96, 1730km: Waiau times two and a West Coast scooter spree – the end!

A quick recap of the last two weeks, in verse, and then a shoutout to the heroes and villains of the trip.

We paddled down the Waiau, from Te Anau to the coast;

And then we scooted on the West, most (ly).

That’s about it! Of course, a lot has happened since the last blog post, but when I wrote the first version of this update I ended up writing 2500 words without stopping, including the words ‘grateful’ ‘thank you’ and ‘scooted’ far more than is interesting so I have returned to this format instead. A brief summary of the last few weeks is: after leaving Te Anau, we paddled down the southern Waiau, bolstered by incredible hospitality from Scott and Chantal (more on that later) and then had some R&R with them, and Kate and Colin in Christchurch. Setting out into the cold one more time, we made our way to the Taramakau valley, in the center of the South Island, which is a place we left off approximately two months ago. From there, we scooted to the coast and headed south, along the way staying a night in Hari Hari school gym, hiding out the rain under a bridge, going stircrazy in a tent, being fed by friendly English people on the side of the road, and scooting an impressive 96 km in 28 hours which is a personal best. We finished our traverse 350 km away in Haast, to happiness, pride, excitement, and tuckered out legs, making our final route look something like this:

Actual Route

Lots going on

So, some of the highlights of the last few weeks were the following:

Scott and Chantal’s incredible hospitality! Scott and Chantal are the parents of three very rad kids and all five of them packraft. We were lucky enough to meet at the packrafting meetup in April. At the time we made tentative plans to potentially raft the southern Waiau together, as they have paddled parts of it before and live pretty close. When we sent them an email to see if they were still interested, we received a phone call a few days later that went something like this (background, it’s FREEZING, I am terrified we’re going to be cold the whole time, and the idea of tent camping every night with wet feet and putting on frozen socks and shoes in the morning has been something worrying me since our tenting paddle on the Haast river):

Scott: “So I got your email about paddling the Waiau. Chantal and I have decided that it’s a bit cold for us to come paddle with the kids, but I’ve rung up a friend whose bach you can stay in the first night, and the second night you can pull out and stay in my mate’s shed. Then the third night we could come meet you and take you home, or if you’d rather we could pick up when you’re done and you could come rest there for a few days.”

Jeremy: gets off phone and turns to me, gobsmacked.

So basically, Scott organized for us this incredible tour of south-west Kiwi hospitality. The first day on the river, we paddled 30 km and then pulled in to his friend’s bach (a NZ holiday home), where Scott was waiting, with a hot homemade lamb casserole.  And bread and cheeriness and lots of exciting plans. It was unbelievable. So that was a fantastic start to the paddle, and then it only got better.

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Waiau river gorge – just before meeting Scott and the casserole he left us

The next day we paddled through a nice canyon and some fun rapids, and pulled out at his friend’s farm. Expecting to stay in a shed, we instead got picked up from the river by the very funny Graeme, who along with Judy took us in, fed us more delicious food (Graeme: ‘would you prefer your chicken crumbed or as a stirfry?’ me: can’t believe my ears), gave us a warm and comfy bed in a sweet cabin, and were just total legends. Judy sent us off with egg and bacon sandwiches for (first) lunch, and Graeme sent me off with a pocket full of potatoes, as we had showed him a photo the night before of my happiness with the potatoes given to us by Catherine Long at Gorge River. What a happy day. We paddled that day among flocks of birds all swooping at eye level, darting starlings, jokester paradise ducks (who come in pairs, one waddling behind the other alternately screeching and hooting), and had a picnic for (second) lunch with Scott, Chantal and family! It was so much fun. Again, delicious food, hot tea, lots of jokes from the kids, and then we paddled on. Tent camped a night, got to the southern ocean, and then Scott picked us up and drove us home to their farm, where we spent an incredibly relaxing couple of days thawing out, chilling out, hanging out, and laughing at the many antics of the pets: the naughty puppy trying to headbutt the goat, the escapee goat called Harry (Houdini) getting tangled in the fence, the old snoozy dog jumping to his feet at the prospect of farmwork, the indifferent cat ignoring all of them. Scott, Chantal: thank you so much, your hospitality, generosity and fun loving natures were fantastic to experience and we only hope that we can paddle together again one day!

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Floating in ambience

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Scrubbing the Didymo (rock snot) out of our water gear at Scott and Chantal’s farm

Hari Hari hospitality: hospitality was a theme of the last few weeks. Another fantastic experience came just as we were leaving the town of Hari Hari, trying to find a place to camp for the night. As we were leaving, a small bus pulled up and the driver began to chat, very interested in the scooters and our trip. When we asked about local camping, the driver and his friend helpfully directed us to a good road outside of town, and then said, ‘Actually, you could camp at the school.’

Dubiously, not wanting to rock any boats, I asked, ‘Do you think anyone would mind, if we were at the school?’

Laughing, the friend jerked his thumb at the guy who offered and said, ‘Well, he’s the deputy principal, so probably not!’

Turns out the bus was the local school bus, being driven by the outdoor ed teacher and deputy principal, Mike and Nick! Two awesome people who not just let us camp at the school, but put us up in the school gym, which with a roof, lights, and tables and chairs, was a welcome change from camping. AND there were piping hot showers. Then the next morning we had the fun of speaking to the Yr 7s and Yr10s about our trip! The teachers seemed to worry that we were being roped into speaking in exchange for sleeping, but we were actually really excited to speak to people about the trip – it is cool to get a different perspective and reflect on what we’ve done. We spent the night making a short video to show them, and in the morning we talked about packrafting, how we planned a trip like this, making the scooters and the helpfulness of 3D printing, and then they gave us a rad gift made by the Yr8 class which we will be taking back to Sydney. It was such a blast to talk to them about the trip and we really enjoyed it. So, thank you so much to South Westland School! And particularly Mike and Nick. Our unexpected school soujourn was one of the highlights of the whole trip.

Meeting Jake and Louise! These were two very fun English people, travelling around NZ in their bright yellow van Pineapple, who along with meeting up with us at the end of the trip and being 500 partners, providing us with blankets and pillows to transform our tent into a snug palace, and being great people to chat with, provided us with an incredible meal on our last day. Jeremy and I were hustling to try and complete a personal best, 66 km in one day with a mountain pass (after doing 30 km the night before), and when they met up with us on the side of the road Jake very casually brought out a feast of rice and lentils, vegie curry, potatoes with preserved lemon, pickles, bread homemade by Louise, and chocolate (!!!), and fed us, so that we then scooted on our way well fed and buoyed by the wonderful experience. Guys, you’re legends, thank you!!!

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Jake and Louise making breakfast for us the morning after the traverse

As for some of the challenges of the last few weeks: black ice on the roads is not a friend of the scootourer. Also chilblains lol. Prior to the trip I didn’t actually realise chilblains were still a thing, I had only read about them in Dickensian novels. Well, turns out when feet are submerged in icy water for four days straight chilblains are still very much still a thing! (Credit to Milly for her great pun, ‘Sounds like it’s been Hard Times recently’ hehe.)

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Southern Waiau – beautiful but (chil)blainey. Constance’s body language says a lot.

Also, the rain, grrrr. As scooting in the rain is both dangerous and lame, the first time it rained this past section we spent three nights hiding out in a hut reading Shania Twain’s autobiography. The second time it rained we spent two nights hiding out under a bridge using the one bar of mobile reception I had on my phone to watch videos of people pulling wonky carts through the desert as a consolation for our own situation.

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#trolllyf

The third time it rained we spent one night in a tent, and one very antsy morning before finally exploding like a popped cork at the faintest glimmer of blue sky.

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Jeremy industriously and posingly putting up the tent in the Karangarua Valley

I was done with being cooped up in ever more confined spaces, trying to wait out the rain. In the end, the rain was a great propelling force, as it compelled us to try scooting 96 km in 28 hours which was a satisfying personal best. It is still nothing on the world record, which is an astonishing 512 km in 24 hours! On a Tour de France stage!

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Frozen sand. Damn.

A final highlight of the past few weeks was finding out that we got this awesome article published in Gear Junkie!

https://gearjunkie.com/adventure-packscooter-hiking-off-road-scooter

jezstandgin strong

In Jeremy’s words, “Scooters, sexy legs and mountains, what more could you ask for?”

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The views got pretty good at times

And, because this is the final blog post, I’d like to shoutout to some of the heroes of the whole trip:

Small piece of plywood cut up at Roddy’s house in Nelson before the trip began: This unassuming piece of plywood, 2x1x10 cm, began its life as a temporary fix to hold my deck in place. Successfully weathering 1730 km without complaint, grumble, or desire to advance in life, content in its humble role as Supporter of the Deck, it has now retired into what it thinks is humble obscurity. Well, plywood deck support, in the words of Miley Cyrus, ‘I wanna thank you with all of my heart’.

Dirty Mochas: This cracking concoction of two tbsp. instant coffee to three tbsp. of hot chocolate powder, with as much powdered milk and brown sugar as possible, in a small mug is a total winner and I recommend everyone to try it. Best accompanied by the Poor Scootourer’s Cocopops: tropical muesli, combined with hot chocolate powder and milk. It’s delicious. And half as cheap as actual Cocopops.

Coatey: Ah, blessed coatey. Picked up for $1 in Christchurch, you’ve all heard of its glory. Jeremy and I are pleased as punch to officially announce that as heard in rumours, it is true that Coatey is 80% wool and 10% cashmere, and will be returning home to Sydney to live on in style.

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A trenchcoat underneath a drysuit… Only seen on the TitterPlatt Traverse.

Potato water of the 85th morning: When we awoke to chilblains and a heavy frost, with not much else to warm our frozen feet, we boiled Graeme’s potatoes, ate them for breakfast, and poured the hot, sludgey, potato water on our toes. While some might see this a low point, we were thrilled with our invention and most excited at how well this quick fix worked.

So, that’s it for now, thanks all for reading! Hope you enjoyed the blogs. We will be coming back to Sydney very soon, and if any of you are around, we’re giving a talk about the trip at Adventure Time on Thursday the 27th of July. Adventure Time starts at around 7pm and is at 197 Wilson St Newtown, get in touch if you would like more details!

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Finally reaching the ocean!

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Constance loves the YMCA

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A very funny goat (click to play, you won’t regret it)

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A glacier!!! Rad. As Jeremy says, ‘they’re pretty cool’ hee hee

Rainbows and mountains

This rainbow did indeed have a pot of gold, being a harbinger of the Australian tax return!

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A view + A downhill = :):):)

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Rope, helmet, pfd, drysuit – some might say that Jeremy is overly prepared for a paddle at the beach.

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Checking out the magical Taipo river after waiting out some stormy weather

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The Waiau was pretty great – particularly for Constance when she hooked her boat to Jeremy’s with a carabiner and got towed while eating lunch 😀

P.S Data by Jeremy

I have finally managed to wrestle the blog away from Constance and her flowery descriptions… to talk DATA!

So it is time to let the graphs speak:

Proportion of time and distance spent doing each human powered activity:

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Basics: The data above is based on 91 days of activity and 1667km of travel. You will note that both of these numbers are smaller than the figures in the main text and this is because they come from different sources – the higher numbers come from day to day map reading and estimation and include some rest days while the lower ones come from Google Earth estimations. Both are prone to error as they are manual estimations. As an example a braided river can have entirely different distances from its top to bottom depending on which path (the braids) you take. The position of the braids differ markedly between Google Maps and the Linz Topo series – who to believe? DoC routes are also constantly changing due to rockfalls/ flooding etc. The odd 1-2km of error a day adds up when you count for 90+ days. As a rough indication however it should be pretty close.    

Observations: We spent most of the time hiking on DoC trails and most of our distance came from scooting on paved surfaces. Rafting turned out to be faster than scooting on dirt surfaces on this trip but slower than scooting on paved roads. Speed whilst moving off track was particularly low as we only did a couple of sections and one of these was a very rough day (Matiri Ridge – 3 km in 8 hours, including a stunning 600 m in three hours).

How we covered our ground compared to the original plan:

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Run Down: We originally planned to traverse the South Island linking together routes totalling 1400-1500km. We ended up doing around 1700km but using a very different composition of activities. Now let’s look at why…

Ambition vs reality: We wanted to do roughly thirds of rafting, tramping and scooting by distance, but distance and time are VERY VERY different. We hadn’t fully appreciated how much longer it would take us to tramp with 25+kg packs and that many of the routes we were taking were indeed that – minimally maintained paths complete with cyclone damage, knee deep mud and rockfalls. Our expectations of 20km days quickly fell by the wayside as we often racked up dismal 8km slogs… Well I am being dramatic here – it was hard but we did also spend a lot of time enjoying ourselves, with more than a couple of sleep ins, second brekkies and extravagant lunches. Anyway, when the section through Kahurangi amounted to almost a month, it became obvious that much of the unnecessary but scenic routes in the south (Routeburn, Dusky, Milford), were not going to make it into our trip before the snows came in.

The snows came in: The snow did indeed come in sequentially starting in April. After getting over Clent Hills Saddle (1480m) and finding it pretty dodgy, we quickly ascertained that without any alpine gear or experience the next three high passes (Stag Saddle 1970m, Kaimakamaka Pass 2392m and Broderick Pass 1650m) were out. This led to an extended scoot around Stag Saddle before a change of plan to abandon the east and link the Taramakau to Haast via the West Coast.    

Rafting for the sake of rafting? Another big difference is the reduction in rafting kilometers. We tallied up 216km on the water and missed out on the Taramakau River (31km) and the Wilberforce River (37km) in order to get to the Southern Hemisphere Packraft Meetup. We also missed a further 18km of the Landsborough River due to a snowy pass blocking our entrance. Those rivers (86km in total) looked awesome – grade II-III and fast flowing and I would love to go back to raft them. Another 130km of floating however was not sorely missed as it was made up of paddling Lake Te Anau and Manapouri – both of which sported substantial wind blown waves as well as a very bony Eglinton River. We would have been lucky to have averaged 3km/h in our boats but instead whizzed along on the scooter at 10-15km/h.

The scooter was fun and survived! When planning the trip we didn’t know how long the scooter would last and more importantly whether we would even enjoy scootouring. Upon planning the food drop for the Haast – Cascade River scoot, Constance gave me the look of ‘I think we will be carrying the food by then’ as it was hard to believe that the scooter would still be merrily chugging along by this stage. A sentiment not helped by a major breakage the night before we set out. Somehow however, it survived and even thrived with the heavy loads and shot through to the Cascade without problem. We also learnt to love that kick kick kicking, and being exhibitionists naturally enjoyed the attention that came with travelling in a style that most see as a novelty.

Spot the difference

Hitching – the extent of our treachery: We ended up hitching 59km which would account for 3% of the traverse if we included it in our totals. It all started with a 3km lift near the tiny town of Tui when my scooter wheel had burned through 3 patches in an hour and our fix of grass didn’t work. The next was an 18km hitch from Rotoroa to Murchison when we had been out of food for two days, covered in sandflies and the local shop didn’t accept credit card – we ate all of the wedges in Murchison that night. 10km of hitching was had between the northern Waiau and the start of the Hope track and 18km of hitching took us over a particularly gnarly mountain highway between Franz Josef and Fox Glacier. I don’t regret a single one, they were all glorious! I also feel that we did enough pointless detouring to afford just a touch of Rudolph Diesel’s luxuries.

Pack weights Too heavy, as always. This time however they were actually pretty heavy. To demonstrate here is a graph. I also feel as though I am getting too flowery so time for more data.

Weights

Our fully loaded baseweights consisted of around 8kg of camping gear (pack, sleeping bag, medi kit, clothes, cameras, solar panel etc), 8kg of rafting gear (boat, dry suit, wetsuit parts, helmet, pfd, throw bag etc) and 4kg of scooting equipment (scooter, pump, spares) – 20kg yuk. Our longest trips had about 9 days of food – so the upper 20’s or low 30’s at the worst of times. We did however learn to utilise the fabulous NZ postal system which often allowed us to cut 5 – 12kg out of our bags.

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Clearly our concern for weight went by the weighside (hehe) in the final few days. Please note Constance’s pyjama pants, the pillow (!) the woolen blanket, the laptop in the corner…

It certainly had us thinking about the merits of each item and comparing our kits to people that had traversed before us sporting lighter rafting setups (e.g http://bit.ly/2uALJkh). The grade III northern Waiau was one the clear highlights of this trip and wouldn’t have been accessible with a minimal kit, but we certainly paid heavily for all of our safety gear over each pass. All thoughts to consider for the next big one!

Anyway, enough graphs from me now. Over and out.    

One last reminder: Thursday 27th, 7pm 197 Wilson St Newtown Sydney. Be there to hear about this trip in person!

Day 80, 1252 km: rock hopping, seal pups, and sneezing sheep.

There’s been so much that has happened since last updating this blog! An action packed couple of weeks means that this is the first chance we have had to get to a coffee shop and tap away at the blog. Jeremy and I are currently in Te Anau, only 100 km from the end of the traverse! Pretty exciting. In summary, since last updating: Jeremy and I blew out a tire so hitched to Twizel to pick up a spare part from the post. While there my mother impulsively decided to come join the traverse. So we waited for her in an extremely cold fog, wearing out our welcome at the bakery and resorting to kicking it in the skate park like overgrown tweens. She came and hired a bike, and off we all rolled on the Alps to Ocean Cycle trail from Twizel via Lake Ohau to Omarama! There Mum fell in love with Omarama so we waited out the weather – it was snowing at 300 m. After a fun week, Mum said goodbye to us at the confluence of the Haast and Landsborough rivers, we paddled to Haast, and then began scooting south to the end of the road. Once there, we walked to the coast, started heading south, stopped to hang out at Gorge River with a family who live out there two days’ walk from the road, kept walking south, ducked inland to the Pyke Valley, paddled the Pyke River, walked along the Hollyford Track to the road, then scoot scoot scooted up and over the divide and then 85 km of rolling downhill to Te Anau. So, a pretty fantastic couple of weeks. Below are some of the highlights, some of the struggles, and some of the plans for what’s next!

Highlights:

Biking with my mum: It was so much fun! And hilarious. I thoroughly recommend everyone to do something outdoorsy with their mum. We stocked up on necessary supplies before she came like extra tea and mint slice biscuits, and we all had a blast. Thank you for coming to join 🙂 Maeve, you’re next…

lakeland-explorer-s-panniers.jpgSnacks are important.

one-of-the-many-beautiful.jpgHaving a chat.

we-had-such-a-great-time.jpgMum, leading the cavalry.

P1010535Me lounging at the back enjoying the view of Lake Ohau.

P1010520The Three Musketeers.

Paua dinner with NZ’s most remote family: Along the coastal stretch, we were lucky enough to meet the Long family, who are often referred to as ‘NZ’s most remote family’ as they live two days’ walk from the closest road end, and raised their two children out in this incredibly beautiful coastline. We sent them a message letting them know we were passing by and when we arrived their son Chris, our age, was at home with a friend. A DOC hut is right beside their house so Jeremy and I stayed there a day, resting up, enjoying being out of the rain, and eating copious amounts of fresh veggies given to us by Catherine. On the second night, the Longs invited us for dinner and we got to prepare paua (abalone)! Dad you will love this. So, the Longs had a harvest of paua, and to prepare it, you slip your thumb under the pointy end to loosen the meat, then from the other end rip out the prehistoric looking guts, adorned with rudimentary teeth, and chuck it away. Then you shuck the meat off entirely. Then we put the meat on a stone/fencepost and bashed away at it with a heavy mallet, to tenderize it. The paua were slippery and I was too fearful of bashing my fingers, so my pauas would keep on flying away. Sometimes I’d catch it with a quicksilver reflex and feel like Wonderwoman, but mostly it would just shoot away and into the grass, so I’d wash it off then begin again. Chris Long, who’s been tenderizing paua all his life, was a gun at it. We had them for dinner fried up with garlic and as fritters with zucchini, and they were delicious. Thank you so much to the Longs for having us over and being so generous with tea and cake and fresh food and great conversation!

Thanks Catherine for the potatoes!!! Dad, another photo for you…

Getting to the coast: Seeing the sea again for the first time since Karamea was really special. Growing up in Sydney, I have always taken the presence of the ocean for granted, and I miss it when I spend too much time away from it. Getting back to the coast and seeing my first glimpse of ocean blew me away. It was truly mesemerising, I just couldn’t stop watching this big, roiling mass of water just moving in front of me. We ended up staying by the beach until the sun went down and then scooting onwards because neither Jeremy nor I could drag ourselves away. The next day, I felt happy all day, scooting alongside the ocean just knowing it was there, and falling asleep camped on the beach the boom and whoosh of the waves crashing was as soothing as if it was breathing deeply in sleep beside me.

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Seals! We saw a pup too! They look so strange when they walk.

rockwaterA wild coast at times.

The weather: As soon as Jeremy and I got to the coast we got lucky with a string of fantastic weather. We were swimming in the ocean on the first few days of winter! The little rain we did have we hung out in a hut and drank tea and hot chocolate. And then when back out again we tent camped by the ocean with blue skies and pink sunsets, spent the days hopping from rock to rock with stops when it got too hot to swim in rockpools, and just thoroughly enjoyed the coastal warmth. We enjoyed it so much that we have concocted a kooky plan to finish off the traverse… see below.

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Paddling the Pyke River: What a beautiful ride. Starting out with a headwind, we worried that we wouldn’t be able to get in the river, but soon enough it died down and Jeremy and I both jumped into my boat. It’s a cruiser deck packraft from PacKraft (who kindly loaned us the boat and made the paddling possible!) which means that the deck is detachable. Because the Pyke was at low levels and a fairly placid river, Jeremy and I opted to both share the boat and remove the deck and thigh straps, to save on weight. It worked really well! I kneeled up the front on one pack, Amazon style, with the second pack in front of me, and he perched on the bow and paddled from there. We paddled efficiently and it was a lot of fun. A beautiful river, made even better by the fact that the track beside it is largely fallen into the river and where it isn’t is a slow bash through cutty grass… so we were stoked not to be walking and instead just floating through water that was clear during the day and tranquilly reflective at dusk, with big beautiful lakes.

IMG_20170605_122452883Jeremy sits up back behind me.

IMG_20170605_112928148We’re squinting, which is good, because that means it’s warm and sunny! Check out the snowy mountain behind.

Noticing the changes in myself: It’s interesting to see. Cold weather has made us very hibernatey, often entering the tent at 6pm and not emerging until 8am, sleeping for long nights and talking for hours in the morning over a cup of coffee in our sleeping bags before the sun rises and we get going. It’s been a beautiful trip but I think I am ready now to finish and move on to the next thing. It’s interesting seeing the effect the cold and the dark has on my body, I am definitely a lot sleepier than when I started. But I’m also far fitter and have gained muscles where I didn’t have them before – at some point both Jeremy and I passed the point in scooting where we can think and muse and ponder while scooting, whereas before the physical exertion would take up most of my mental space.

IMG_20170607_093321578It’s hard for a bedslug to emerge from layers of down… here I am uncharacteristically in an actual bed. Please note magazine on right, unpictured is chocolate on left. I am Very Happy.

Hitting 1000 km: This was a happy moment! The day before, I’d received a package from a friend in Alaska who sent me chocolate and three hats, two for warmth and one for sun. And the hat worked! So Jeremy and I sat by a river south of Haast, filled up with sunshine, hot enough that we had a swim in the freezing glacial river and felt very refreshed (albeit with a bit of brainfreeze), eating our chocolate bars very proud and happy. I remember excitedly telling people about this trip on the second day, and they asked how far we’d come, and I had to confess ‘20 km’ and hope that we were going to make it further. And now we’re over 1200km…

IMG_20170527_125042036Thanks Travis and Clare for all the treats!

Struggles: 

Weeing on the river: The eternal struggle of weeing as a woman while wearing a drysuit designed for a man. If I want to wee, I have to perform a complicated unsuiting manuevour which involves peeling off sticky latex with wet and cold hands, and then deal with 10+ layers of overlapping merino and polypro. And then do it all up again. So, I put off the task as much as I can…

Crying on the river: One day when I was crying on the river because my hands were so cold, I all of a sudden started crying even harder and Jeremy, concerned, asked, ‘Oh no, what’s wrong?’ Hiccuping, I bawled, “And I can’t even cry with any dignity because my hands are tucked under my arms like a big chicken and so when I cry I look ridiculous!!” Which Jeremy had to laugh at and admit was true. He said I had to put it in the blog, so there you go.

A mysteriously jumping tent: One night, camped on the beach, the rain was falling on our roof, but it sounded strange, like it was echoing off the floor. I put my ear to the tent floor and sure enough it sounded like raindrops, but a little different. I turned on my headtorch and shined it on the floor and to my horror, the floor was alive and jumping up and down! Turns out we had camped on a nest of amphipods (tiny, seethrough little jumping bugs that live in the sand) and they were having a party under our floor. It was equally horrifying and hysterical.

…What’s next?

Well! In the Geraldine-Twizel-Haast Pass area, Jeremy and I hitched a lot of the route because we were meeting my mum and heading onwards to post offices to pick up spare parts. So there’s a significant section we missed, but it was never on our original route – it was a detour we were taking because the lateness of the season meant we couldn’t walk over the passes we’d originally planned (as we planned this trip for summer but started late and then went slowly). Although we will have travelled 1400km by the time we get to the ocean, we would still very much like to have a continuous line running through NZ, as a point of glory. We were going to go back and scoot the section we hitched, but it’s not really the most exciting (or inviting) thing in the world. However, when looking at the map a few nights ago, we realized that if we travel up the West Coast, we can link our travels from Haast up to Otira, making one long continuous line of movement, and obviously West Coast is Best Coast! It’s warm, we’ve been swimming off it even in winter, it’s beautiful, there’s tonnes of cool and interesting towns, we both want to check it out, there’s a fun cycle trail, and there’s a long running commune out there that I’d like to meet if possible. So, we are going to go do a ten day West Coast Scoot Safari to finish off this traverse, and if anyone would like to come join us on a bike or scooter or rollerblades or even driving, we would love to have any company along!

Other pics:

IMG_20170526_161435135Scootourer #1…

IMG_20170611_101550324_HDR…and scootourer #2.

IMG_20170528_162449341_HDRWhat a great treehouse! Freshly constructed. En route to Barn Bay, the start of the coastal walking.IMG_20170528_081647701_HDRFriends made on the road! With a great sunrise behind. Thanks Chad and David for wining and dining us!!

IMG_20170527_100540672Scooting in the sun and my classy new turtleneck – winter uniform.

P1010763Woah ho ho. We paddled across this (Lake Alabaster) and were very pleased not to walk, taking a route that would have bashed through the scrub on the left side!

P1010774This time last year, Jeremy and I went the furthest north we’d ever been, which was to the Brooks range, above the Arctic Circle in Alaska. This year, we are the furthest south we’ve ever been! Pretty fun, we are lucky.

P1010627The view from Gorge River – what a beautiful place to live. The river mouth is in the right of this photo and when it was taken the surf was rolling right in (it’s high tide). Jeremy and I had packrafted across the river a few hours earlier when it was a calm low tide.

P1010713Our trusty boat! A durable and spacious PacKraft.

P1010732Getting to a hut after a day of packrafting – a warm stove, the moon rising, paddle in, paddle out – it’s a great life!

P1010741It’s cold in the mornings…

P1010743…but it only makes us giddier!

P1010748Frosty grass and iridescent web – a beautiful winter’s morning.

P1010596Scooting from Haast to the end of the road – it felt a bit like the Daintree.

P1010601Barn Bay! 

P1010621Plodding to the warmth of Gorge River Hut.

P1010610And I leave you with this jem… Jeremy takes a nap. 

Day 60, 920 km: bubblegum mountains, scree slopes with chairs, troll-kings eating yoghurt.

“Well, you can hop in the truck, but you’ll have to cuddle up. Then again, you’re probably used to that, ya pair of buggers!” The farmer couldn’t stop chuckling as he poked his tongue out and gestured for us to hop in. It seems like Kiwi humour is only matched by generosity in South Canterbury, our current region. Big high country sheep stations supply Icebreaker with their merino wool, while the lower stations run sheep that would just ‘keel over and die’ if they went up country (according to another friendly farmer we met on the roads). Everyone around here is friendly and we’ve had many smiles, waves and toots of the horn as we scoot along these backcountry roads. The plains are getting bigger and flatter, the mountains are getting taller and snowier, and we’ve been lucky to have tail winds which propel us through this country like landsails.

big expanse2Big country…

exhausted…makes me exhausted!!!

Highlights since last leaving Christchurch include the morning after we started out, waking up two hours predawn to check out a meteor shower. We had the double luck of no cloud cover and a set moon, so the stars were bright and every shooting star visible. We lay in our sleeping bags under the sky with a pot of coffee brewing and date cake with fresh butter (!) and were very, very happy just watching the blazes fall and burn across the sky. Eventually as the earth turned towards the sun and the sky lightened so that only Venus, the Southern cross, and the two pointer stars were visible, we thought we’d seen the end of it. But then one last burner blazed across the east and it was time for Mt Hutt, far off to the west, to turn bubblegum pink against an apricot horizon. Invigorated by the sky’s colourful gymnastics, we got an early start to the morning’s scooting, stopping only for second breakfast under some pine trees.

date cakeYummmm. Cake for breakfast and mountains for background always makes for a good day.

coatJeremy can’t believe his luck at just HOW GOOD the day is (and how great his coat is, please see below).

One unexpected aspect of winter is that we sleep deeply and well, always refreshed by a full night’s sleep, yet still wake up before dawn most mornings, so we get to see both sunrise and sunset in a day. Below is one of the best we had, where we woke up before dawn, chatted in the warm tent for ages, but then when we poked our heads out of the tent the sky really seemed like it was on fire, and that’s not just a turn of phrase. Each of the clouds looked like it could be made of flame.

sunrise2Fire in the sky…

frostAnd ice in the earth.

Another highlight of the last eight days was climbing Clent Hill Saddle. At only 1500m, it’s pretty low by NZ standards – yet there was still snow on the shady side of the mountain! We spent an afternoon clambering up a freezing creekbed, crossing it about a million and six times on numb feet that were more like clumps on the end of my legs than anything with muscle movement of their own. Then onto the tussocky top hills, pushing through friendly grass but edging around the spiky Spaniard grass, which, if you so much as look at it, leaps out to prick your legs painfully.

climbingSpaniard grass, all over the place!

Finally, we climbed onto the saddle, which had fantastic views south. Someone had carefully placed two chairs up there, wedged between rocks for stability, covered in foam for warmth. We later found out that the builder, a thru-tramper a few years ago, had been declared missing by his tramping mates when he hadn’t made it out of these hills in a timely manner. After Search and Rescue had mounted a full-blown operation and successfully located him, they found that he’d been having a perfectly great time just building up these chairs and hanging out in them.

chairsThank you chair builder!!

Then down the other side we crossed snowy scree slopes, with a track tramped into it by the thousands of thru-hikers who past his way every year. Following a track which wasn’t cut by the government but just stamped into the ground by thousands of feet makes me feel very connected to all those other walkers. I hate scree slopes, loose stone that makes me fearful of landslides, but when there’s a track this visible the rocks have been pounded into stability by those other feet so I was very grateful to everyone who’d passed that way before me. Also, although I was scared, gazing down onto the hundreds of meters of scree to cross, when I was on it I didn’t have the mental attention to be scared as my mind was fully occupied with yet another fantastic sunset, lighting up all the peaks around me, changing the colours of the clouds minute by minute, and transforming the snow from squishy to crusty underfoot so that I had to start knocking steps into it. We descended, descended, descended these slopes, off the scree, onto a loose bare earth hill, back into the tussock and Spaniard grass, and then finally onto the flat valley floor, which by this time had a ceiling of stars and a moon so bright that both my shadow and the snowy peaks framing the valley were sharply defined.

big expanseWe took a short walk-out and scoot-back trip to Double Hut, this tin hut. At night, the valley sky was filled with stars and the snow on the mountains glowed in the moonlight. 

One last highlight of the last week is successfully making yoghurt – water, warmed up to the point where you can hold a finger in for 12 seconds, no more, no less, combined with dried packet yoghurt, poured into our cleaned screw top stove holder, swaddled in my down jacket and hidden in my bag, and then in the morning – voila! Yoghurt, sloppy, but set, and absolutely delicious, which we ate with stewed peaches and muesli. That morning Jeremy and I woke up under a bridge, living a cheapskate troll life lurking on the edges of town, yet we had a local, artisanal, handcrafted breakfast and so felt like hipster troll kings.

I leave you with this gem of a photo: Jeremy, beyond happy with his latest acquisition, a $1 wool/cashmere coat which has transformed him into a flamboyantly fashionable scootourer!

coat!

Now onto the next adventure of sharing the traverse with a special guest – my mum, which will require special preparations!

unnamed-1Preparations are underway.

Until next time,

Constance

P.S. If you have any questions, feel free to write them in the comments down below and I will answer them!

Bonus photos:

nordicScooter configured as Nordic walking pole.

jezrockJeremy with phone in hand, looking at the map. It’s very tricky figuring out which way to go on the track. Up… or down? Oh dear. It’s a tough one.

happy jezWhen the routefinding is not too difficult, Jeremy is very cheerful…

even when working! Here he is fixing a flat tyre.

littlejWe’re tiny in this big landscape.

 

Day 51, 650 km. Halfway: beginning to reflect on why we are here and what we’re doing.

Well, it’s getting dark and cold… and Jeremy has been requesting that our next adventure be  a ‘snorkel circumnavigation of Tahiti’. Fair enough. We are both worried about the encroaching winter, but hope that its beauty will make up for the pain of cold feet!

The last time we posted, it was early April, and we had just finished a wonderful section in Nelson Lakes. That was a month ago, and the last time we carried all of our gear (boats + scooter + tramping gear). Since then, we have had a week of lightweight hiking with no boats or scooters, only food and sleeping gear, attended the Southern Hemisphere packraft meetup, been on a social trip with friends, had repair time in Christchurch, and had a false start to the second half of our trip followed by a second bout of repair time in Christchurch! That’s a month in summary, and details are below. But first, a little contemplation.

When we first had the idea for this trip, it was fuelled by a desire to use the scooters, try something longer than either of us had before, complete a thru-hike of an entire place, naturally bounded by the ocean, and basically do what both of us enjoy – be outdoors – for a long time. As we go further into the trip, and it begins to become the framework of our lives at the moment, the motivation to continue with this traverse changes. Many people attempt records which are the fastest, highest, longest, or ‘most’ in some way. Our trip is none of these things. Carrying so much gear, we are limited in what we can achieve – we can’t paddle the hardest whitewater we’re capable of, or take the highest, hardest off trail routes. But, conversely, carrying so much gear means that we can be flexible and change our route to suit the weather and our desires. We are able to accept “failure” and make calls to leave situations rather than to carry on into danger. Because we have so much flexibility it means we are constantly questioning how we will head south, and I think this is a good thing. Without a fixed external objective, our goal for the trip – to see NZ and have a lot of fun doing it – can be achieved in many different ways, and we’re constantly negotiating between ourselves and the weather how we want to head south. Sometimes I worry that we’re not seeking out ‘the most beautiful’ places, or that our route could be more exciting. But there are so many beautiful places to see and amazing things to do on this island that accepting that this trip will only see and do some of them is good for my peace of mind.

Anyway, enough contemplation for one post. I wanted to write about that to give people reading this post an idea of the mental context which surrounds our most recent sections. Walking day in day out with one other person, we do a lot of chatting together about the trip, about the scooters, about the impending weather, and future plans. The places we go are marked as much by the terrain as they are by the recurrent themes of our conversations. Most recently on our wanders from Nelson Lakes to Lake Coleridge via Arthurs Pass, flexibility and route change has been the topic most often discussed!

As for specifics of our wandering in the last month, well, it has been very wandery indeed. So, in early April we started out at Boyle Village, an outdoor education centre that we would be returning to in ten days’ time for the Easter long weekend to attend the packrafting long weekend. Due to awkward timings in our original route, we decided to ditch the river we’d planned to packraft, the Taramakau, as well as our scooters, and go ‘lightweight’ by simply taking eight days of food to walk the Te Araroa Trail, NZ’s main long- distance trail and a very popular option for thru-hikers. It was a blast. Our backpacks felt like daypacks, they were that light, and we happily bounded up the Hope and Hurunui valleys feeling like rabbits.

It made me realise how fit we have become from lugging very heavy packs through NZ so far! Eight days of food used to feel like a heavy weight to me, but this time it was in fact lighter than our normal base weight :o. (For those who don’t hike, base weight means the weight of your pack with all your gear but no food or water – so our normal base weight is tent, sleeping bag, stove, mat, boat, drysuit, pfd, helmet, scooter. etc. …) A gale was forecast, so we had extra food to wait out the storm, but in the end we accidentally walked through the eye of the storm as it didn’t affect our low valley very much at all. Wind and rain were nothing out of the ordinary. Other highlights included meeting a hunter who gave us freshly baked BREAD!!, and venison which he had hunted the day before, as well as hitting up a small hot pool terraced into a steep creek with views of the Hurunui river flowing through the valley below. Towards the end of this week we took a small detour to loop via another set of hot springs, which were ‘dig your own’  in a river bed. For us, they were ‘benefit from other people’s digging’ as we arrived at night, after a large tramping group of 15 people had been hard at work all day. So we soaked in style with no labour involved 😀

P1010045Walking up to the Otehake hot springs.

P1010034A whio! These are NZ native ducks who only live in high mountain streams. They ride whitewater like a boss and every packrafter can learn a lot from them.

P1010048About to have one last soak before heading off for the day.

Some other photos from this section for those interested in the day-to-day minutiae.

P1010056We primarily use topo map apps on our phone for navigation, with hardcopy printed maps as a backup. Here I am reading the map, dirty but happy.

P1010082We charge the phones, our camera and Jeremy’s gopro with this solar panel (the Anker 5V powerport – thanks Bjorn for the recommendation!) It’s been awesome and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone looking for a solar panel. 

After leaving those hot springs, we took the Deception-Mingha track up to Goat Pass, which had one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen in a long time. I paused to let Jeremy go ahead so I could walk in silence through it, clambering up the creek past boulders and dracophyllum trees, which have broad, curvy leaves with spiky tips – quite a sight. Below is my equivalent of a cathedral’s stained glass window.

 P1010092A still of scudding clouds framed by curved, spiky-tipped dracophyllum leaves. In motion this sight was breathtaking. The clouds were streaming around and then over this hill as they changed colour from gold through to pink.

Then, the next day – a surprise! Walking down the Mingha valley, it was raining, and Jeremy and I were well and truly Over It. For whatever reason, maybe knowing that we were walking out back to town, maybe in anticipation of the terrible weather meaning that we’d find it hard to hitch, maybe just because the descent didn’t live up to the beauty of the climb up to Goat Pass, we were grumbling about the weather, the track, the stones, and thoroughly enjoying it. Making spiteful comments about PUDs – Pointless Up and Downs – was our main activity. So, we were standing by the side of a river, preparing to cross it, when we see a figure coming up the valley towards us. No backpack, so clearly a day walker, but it was raining cats and dogs, we were three kilometres from the highway, and I thought this person was VERY bizarre for choosing this situation to walk in. But each to their own. Jeremy and I stood by the bank of the river complaining about the rain for a while, then the figure was nearly on the other side, but had still made no nod of acknowledgment. We waited for the person to cross so that we could say hello, as carrying on a conversation is pretty awkward when both parties are knee deep in water, but the person didn’t cross, and instead just lurked on the far side, looking decidedly shifty, glancing at us briefly from under his parka…. but then the brim lifted, we saw a familiar cheeky smile, and no way! It was our friend Craig, who had no information about our location other than his own smarts. Because we’d changed our route, it wasn’t listed on this blog, and we hadn’t told anyone, but Craig had figured out what we were most likely doing and managed to time his arrival perfectly to meet us. So we had a blast. Having Craig surprise us like that meant that our spirits instantly transformed and we walked out on (also in) cloud nine, chatting away, laughing, teasing Craig and each other and generally very happy. Nice one Craig!

P1010101A classic Craig cheeky smile and a classic Jeremy photo face. Prior to this they’d been intently conferring about the water levels in the Taipo, plotting and planning when and where to run it.

We then spent a few fun days road tripping around together, including highlights of basically getting a whole house to ourselves for the cost of a room one very rainy night in the old mining town of Kumara, staying in a sweet hut up the Taipo River eating biscuits and playing Hearts, and then heading on to the packrafting meetup!!

The packrafting meetup was a social meetup of packrafters from across the world, mostly Aussie and Kiwi but a smattering of other places too. It was so much fun. Thank you Dulkara for organising it! My favorite thing was the women-only paddle, although some naughty non-women paddlers came and ran the same river (!), and had to skulk past us with their heads bowed, ashamed of themselves. They knew they were being bad…! I loved the whole meetup, and hanging out with people who will hopefully stay as friends in the future. If any of you are reading this, Jeremy and I would love to paddle with any of you again, and the southern Waiau (from Te Anau) could be a great time to do this in a couple of weeks! Jez and I gave a short talk on the trip so far, which was a lot of fun.

After the packrafting meetup we parted ways with Craig, and went on a trip with Berin, Natalia, and Remi, which is a story unto itself (!)

P1010120Heading off on our trip very excited.

Then, post-trip, Jeremy and I rested in Hanmer Springs, caught a ride to Christchurch with Mark and Jen, who have been bountifully generous to us, playing the role of Santa in our perpetual traverse holiday season. Venison risotto, coffees and more coffee, hot chocolate, boat patches, car rides, and now tent pegs, not to mention advice, thoughtful leadership, and great company… thank you so much!!!

We were briefly back in Christchurch to post food, do some scooter repairs, and contemplate our next move, but out again pretty fast. Thank you so much to Kate, Colin, Jenny, Tim, and Dulkara who hosted us! Gosh we have a lot to thank people for. This trip really has been supported by so many people in so many ways.

Then, finally, after a two week break which felt like forever, we were back on the road, heading to Hanmer Springs. We had a fantastic lift with a very fun mum and daughter who were moving farms from the West to East coast, and their playlist had us all bopping to Bounce and then belting it out to All By Myself.

If you’re reading this, thanks for the ride and the good memories!!

At the end of that lift, we were finally back in the bush. And it felt very good.

P1010255Harmonica at sunset – our typical evening entertainment.

P1010156Beautiful views over the Waimakiriri valley.

P1010186Loving the cairns.

P1010281One last gratuitous shot of a beautiful sight.

The first day, we just walked, and the second day, we spent the morning transforming hiking poles back into scooters. It’s been a while since we last scooted! This was a picture of putting them together, coffee courtesy of Mark and Jen, my diary underneath. The cover of my notebook is a big map which unfolds to show the whole country, and I love marking down our route with all its wiggles and waggles and circles. I’ll try and take a photo for the next post.

P1010202

 P1010223One of the typically beautiful verandahs of the Kiwi backcountry huts. Here, Jeremy’s scooter is taking in the view, considering whether to go for a morning scoot or just have that second cup of coffee and read the papers inside.

We scooted that day, which was gloriously beautiful with huge mountain views. 

P1010257Looking backwards…

P1010270There was sunshine everywhere, warming our backs, playing tag with the wind in the grasses, lighting up Jeremy’s floofy hair, shining on the snow of the southern peaks. So lovely. 

The next day, we began scooting again, along a sweet 4WD track with soft pounded dirt which ran slightly downhill. Absolutely idyllic. The joy of flying along on two wheels, not carrying any weight, just having a blast in the backcountry, can’t be understated.

P1010269

Unfortunately… oh no!!! Jeremy’s rear dropout, which has always been the weakest part (due to a manufacturing error– a seam not reinforced enough) finally gave up the ghost and broke irreparably. RIP rear drop out. As you can see below, it has cracked clean in half.

P1010259

P1010261A despondent Jez kindly posing dramatically for me as I am trying to create more conflict to eventually turn this blog into a book deal… hey there, Random House 😉

P1010286Luckily, one scooter (with the help of one girlfriend) can still serve as a packmule!

So we trudged along the road (which would have been GREAT scooting) and slowly began to walk out to Lake Coleridge. Luckily, not all is lost – Jeremy had made a spare part, which was in Christchurch, so we have temporarily returned there to reinforce that part. Jez is in the garage clattering around as I write this.

Our one reward for the disappointment of the break was a beautiful sunset at Lake Coleridge, and later on, a clear night sky filled with the Milky Way.

P1010300

And, as with most things in life, what we thought was a setback was in fact not so bad at all – a very low dump of snow (down to 700m) means that had we gone on with the scooters we would have been forced to either turn back or hang out in a hut, as we were planning to go up to 1700m. Being back in Christchurch has meant that we could get in contact with some landowners to take a track that runs through their farm, so now we have options for this next section – we can walk up and through the hills, or if the snow sticks/returns, we can have a luxurious river scootour on this private road. So, in fact, although it felt disappointing at the time, we’re in fact not any further behind “schedule” (said in inverted commas because it’s a great joke to both of our families how long this traverse is in fact taking) than we would have been. And now we have stronger scooters, more route options, and extra hot cross buns on post-Easter price specials in our bellies 😉

This post is well and truly long enough now so I’ll sign off! Lots of love from both of us.

Constance.

P1010063

Day 37, 482 km: Wow, Wow, Waiau!

As you might be able to tell from the title of this post, the last ten days have been filled with amazement. For me, it was the most beautiful and rewarding leg so far. I’ll keep to the same format as last time: a short summary, and then the highlights.

SummarySo, starting out from Murchison, we got a flat within 5 minutes and despondently ate a third of our chocolate for the leg. Spirits revived by our reckless rationing, we were soon scooting on again with no problems, a cool 20 km in an hour and a half of evening light to the start of the Tiramea Track. We camped there for the night and transformed the scooters into hiking poles. Starting out the next morning, we wandered up a track which holds the record for most river crossings- twenty within the space of a km- and stayed in a hut. Then, wandering past Lake Rotoroa, we entered Nelson Lakes National Park proper and began to head due south up the Sabine valley. We followed the river for a few days, along the way having my birthday! (more on that below), and watching the river transform from the peaceful lake inlet to a raging stream of whitewater that roared over boulders and down waterfalls. At the top of the valley, the track narrowed to a twisting climb before popping out into the flat that holds Blue Lake, the clearest waters in NZ. Another day, another valley step, and we got to Lake Constance, the base of Waiau Pass.

P1000662Jeremy at Lake Constance – tranquil, reflective.

Blessed with fantastic weather, we headed up and over Waiau Pass in one day, a big climb and bigger descent. Our knees were knackered but our souls filled with the immensity of the view and the happiness of being perched in between two beautiful valleys. Descending from Waiau pass, the landscape was immediately drier, very different to the dampness of the Sabine side and the wetness of Kahurangi NP where we’ve spent most of the trip so far. We headed down the valley and on one blazingly hot day decided on a whim to pop into the river a few km short of where we’d planned. So we transformed the hiking poles into paddles, blew up our boats, and began to wade through the water, dragging our boats as it was far too early to properly put in! But, within a few km, where we had originally planned based on satellite coverage and trip reports, the river transitioned into a properly raftable river and ended with a fantastic Gr 2/3 canyon which was hands down one of the highlights of my life so far. In between the start and the end we lost a road, found a road, lost two days, found ripe blackberries, and had some stunning river camps. Now for the highlights!

The canyon: Oh, wow. This is the main source of the ‘Waiau’ing in the title. The whole river was fun, but the highlight was the final canyon – a narrow twisting canyon, mainly Gr 2, with some Gr3 rapids. For those not familiar with whitewater ratings, it goes from 1 (flat water) to 5 (not the place you’d want to swim). This canyon was smack bang perfect for me, as a practicing beginner, and perfect for Jeremy, as a more experienced rafter, as the consequences of falling out of the boat were reasonably low yet the water was challenging, difficult, and rewarding. I was stoked to see that all the paddle practice and river reading I’ve been doing over the past year has paid off, as I was able to see obstacles, maneuver away from them, and put my boat into the line of water that would lead me to where I wanted to go. One of the highlights of this type of trip is that I get to develop skills and challenge myself – it’s not just a static three months of doing what I already know, but instead I get to practise a skill, whitewater rafting, and (hopefully) improve, so that I can incorporate more rafting into my life and trips in future. I like that this traverse is as much about self-development as it is about having a good time and seeing beautiful landscapes.

IMG_20170401_124026033Canyon glory, once again thank you to Geoff from PACKRAFT for providing this boat and making this fantastic paddling possible!

The canyon twisted and turned, with frothing rapids alternately shooting over bumps and round corners, then leading to clear, calm pools of deep blue-green water. In between were long sections of swift moving water, like a travellator at the airport, that carried us through the striped canyon walls with their waterfalls and secret beaches and caves and moss-scapes. After 13 km of this bliss, we came out into the big wide valley where the Hope, a river of comparable size to the Waiau, joins it, in the process bringing with it glacial silt which turns the water a pale milky blue. We were blessed with a stiff wind at our backs so we literally sailed along, using our spray skirts as sails. And then one more little canyon, very different, dry walled and with a wam wind, and, best of all, ripe blackberries on one side!! So obviously we stopped the boats there and gorged before continuing.  What a day.

IMG_20170401_124006271Gorges of the Wonderful Waiau

IMG_20170401_124653845Delightful Gr II/III paddling

My birthday: My birthday, which I expected to be low-key and pleasant, was one of the most unexpectedly fun and sociable days of the trip! The birthday eve was spent camping in one of our most beautiful spots yet, a river flat with a grove of trees filled with dead wood, so we made a fire and cooked on that in a misty evening. Waking up the next morning to clouds parting to show rocky peaks either side of us, we ummed and ahhed about whether to push up to the head of the valley, or just take an easy day and go to the next hut. Upon getting to the next hut, we decided to stay there, which was an excellent decision, as not only did the rain start just as soon as we’d stepped into the huge but cosy West Sabine Hut, with an already roaring fire, but also there was a surprise!

~Background to the surprise~ I have a history of sharing a birthday – for most of my life I have shared it with my childhood friend, but when one of us is in a different country, I have always been surprised by a birthday friend – my best friend, Etienne, came as a shock after 8 months of knowing each other, and then one another year a houseguest called Despina. I haven’t yet had a birthday alone (or what I call a ‘lonely birthday’) but I thought that this year was a sure thing, given that I was in the middle of a national park. Still, there was a little voice inside my head saying, ‘I wonder if someone will be in the hut…?’ But having met no-one having a birthday on my travels so far, chances were highly unlikely. But, as you may have guessed- in the hut was another person whose birthday it was!! What are the chances of that? High, given my track record.

So, that was the surprise. Hope was turning 25, I was turning 24, between the two of us, her two hiking buddies, Jeremy, and the other solo traveller, we had an incredibly fun and rowdy birthday. Hope’s group shared their hot chocolate and Tim Tams for a Tim Tam Slam fest, we shared our banana pancakes with melted chocolate, and then we had a ‘Hut Olympics’, in which every participant elected something they were good at and everyone competed. I garbled the alphabet backwards, Jeremy took the opposite tack and held his breath the longest, we had planks and headstands and standing long jump, but the funniest sight you’ve ever seen is two Europeans madly wheelbarrow racing each other around a blazing stove, benches and tables cleared away, legs held high and arms flailing, to win the ‘intracontinental wheelbarrow race’ component of the Hut Olympics. 17sec is a very respectable time. Team Australia was a poor showing, coming in at 23 seconds, but Team North America also did very well, at 18 seconds. Hilarious, incredibly fun, and we were clattering round the hut until well after dark with bonus rounds of ‘knock over the chapstick using only your nose’ and ‘pick up the vitawheat packet using only your teeth, balancing on top of three mats’. So, basically, a fantastic, and very unexpected birthday.

Waiau Pass: A highlight for me. I love the big views. I’m also terrible with heights. A strange combination, but it feels good to work so hard for a view, slogging away at getting up something, at times being afraid, and then being rewarded with such an expansive and relaxing view of space. There is so much space in the world! What a huge place we live in. On top of Waiau Pass, we could see Lake Constance to our north (oh yeah!) and the valley we’d soon descend into stretching out for ages to the south. It felt great to look ahead, both literally and metaphorically, and consider that we were a third of the way through the island, heading south, sometimes indirectly, but on other days such as this, very directly. Also, the quietness up there, after the loud roaring of the river in its upper stretches, and then the constant chatter in my head as I negotiated a scree slope of “Oh, don’t step there, uh oh, slippery, ow, my legs hurt, ugh, when will this upwards grind end”, is so calming. Watching birds do their thing, wheeling across the skies, hanging out in a draft, chatting with friends on top of a mountain top – life is good on the high passes. It felt like a fitting end to a birthday week, ascending to Lake Constance and then leaving it behind as we headed over the highest pass yet.

IMG_0799.JPGJeremy dancing on top of Waiau Pass, looking south.

IMG_0786.JPGConstance overexcited on top of Waiau Pass, looking south at Lake Constance. Or rather the camera is looking south, I am looking north at the camera as I take a selfie of ‘Constance with Constance’. Yeah girl…

IMG_20170328_145806141Scrambling down from Waiau Pass – pretty steep!! For scale those poles directly under my feet are my height, standing vertically. 

St James Cycleway: golden grassed, smooth wheeling downhill, if you’re in NZ with a bike, go bike it!! Truly beautiful.

P1000722Looking over the vast St James Walkway

The day of difficulties: Despite the name, a highlight! Towards the end of the trip, although we rationed food, we were still running out, so we were on slim pickings. Our planned end came a day later than expected due to a road lost and found. When we put out of the Waiau river to portage around the Narrows (translation: stopped rafting, began to walk around a section of rapids that were too dangerous) we planned to hop onto the road that ran parallel to the river on the map, but lo and behold, was there a road?

… No.

P1000762The pull out before the portage

IMG_20170331_154558934The portage didn’t go so well…

So, after deciding to bush bash up to a ridgeline to see if we could see it (unsuccessful, could only see another hill) and getting well and truly tangled in every spiky viney plant thing NZ has to offer (big spikes, small spikes, some as big as your head – 0:42) we made our way back to the river, six hours delayed, and literally, SIXTY METRES DOWNSTREAM. Ridiculous. So! Never have I been happier then seeing Jeremy with a sly smile, sitting on the river bank, as I grumpily and hungrily marched up to him thinking, ‘Why isn’t he looking for the road?’, only to see a hallucination of glistening, plump blackberries in his hand, and hear him casually say, ‘Oh, and there’s more by the road.’

The travail of a road lost is only made up for by the joy of a road found, and the annoyance of hunger is far exceeded by the euphoria of unexpected food!

IMG_0803.JPGThe crazed eyes of those who have searched for a road and finally found it, plus blackberries!

P.S. The non-existent road, NZ Topo’s idea of an early April Fools’ joke, does come into existence further down. For future trampers/rafters, jsut north of the entrance to the narrows, about 50 m up, you can access the road on river right.  Don’t bother looking for it any further north. topomap.co.nz appears to have the correct beginning of the road, at -42.445628, 172.537537, but topo apps for iPhone and Android show it starting 2km north of where it actually does. Best to pull out where safe upstream and just walk along the riverside until you can access the road.

IMG_20170331_180929631The start of the Narrows

Writeup in The West Coast Messenger: check out p.14 of this publication! They wrote up a little article on our trip which we are quite stoked on 😀 Photo credits in the article go to Richard Rossiter.

Ok, that is it from us for now! The next section, we will leave the rafts and all rafting gear (pfd, helmet, throw bags, dry suits, water booties, spare thermals….) at Boyle Village, and go ‘lightweight’ for the next ten days, before returning to Boyle Village for the Southern Hemisphere packraft meetup over Easter! Very excited for it.

Bonus photos! For my mum, who asked for more photos…

P1000710The sandflies got pretty bad at times… this is the top of the tent, luckily, outside the flynet!

P1000708A misty river camp, first day on the upper Waiau

P1000756Floating in the sun with some splooshy splashes

IMG_20170330_190856540_HDRBeautiful evening walking, as you can see much drier than the wet Kahurangi.

Day 25, 330km: munching in Murchison.

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Well, we are now well and truly into the traverse! It’s been a very ziggy and zaggy few weeks, heading generally south, but with a lot of east and west too. A brief summary so far: starting from Wharariki beach, we walked through some private property with permission, had a cup of tea with the land owners, then scooted south on coastal roads to get to the Kaituna route.

beach scootingCoastal scooting – benefits include beachside tea breaks.

The Kaituna route was a hard scramble up and over hills with the bonus of some excellent mountain bike track scooting. Then we scooted along roads to the Heaphy track, which rather than bushwalking, we ‘pushwalked’, aka pushed the scooters with the packs on the front of them. After a few days on that great track, we had our first tiny taste of rafting, on the Heaphy river, and were lucky enough to run into a ranger, Richard Rossiter, who was also a professional photographer! So he took some sweet photos of us on the river.

Setting off on the Heaphy – photo credit to Richard Rossiter.

Then blissfully fast coastal road scooting dead south to Karamea, a rest day there, where we were interviewed by the local radio station about the scooters, and did some repairs using a ham bag (more on that below). Then another road scoot to the Wangapeka track, a tough slog at first through a cyclone-destroyed route, then beautiful walking up and over a saddle until we got to a ridgeline which headed due south. Our original plan was to follow it south, but a combination of bad weather and terrifying hundred-meter drops either side of the ridge meant that we decided instead to walk out east, then do a 70km road scoot detour along back country roads and a little bit of a state highway.

country roadsSunny back road scooting.

After a tyre blew out, we patched it four times in 50 km, replaced the tube, duct taped the tyre, and even stuffed it with grass when the tube was no longer useful! But eventually we hitched the final 20km into Murchison to arrive in town in style and proceeded to eat 2L of chocolate icecream in less than 24 hours.

Now that that summary is written, here are a few of the highlights and challenges:

Huts! Bad weather becomes just weather when you stay in huts! NZ is blessed with a fantastic hut system, most wooden and equipped with stoves and mattresses, and so when we faced five days of rain it was not an issue. Starting out the morning in a warm hut, walking through the beautiful hobgoblin beech forests featuring trees covered in moss, and finishing out the evening drying boots by a fire and sleeping on comfy mattresses is a vastly different experience to soggily topping and tailing the day in a tent. We’re fans.

Matiri Ridge: Ah, Matiri Ridge. Our desire and our bane! The ridge line looks beautiful, and it’s definitely possible to traverse, as some people have done it before. But – there are a plethora of excuses why we didn’t/couldn’t. Bad visibility didn’t help with navigating a route, heavy packs meant that slight winds threatened to topple us off, the wet mist meant that both stone and roots were not safe but instead slippery places to put feet – but at the end of the day, probably other people could have/would have done the route in those conditions. Certainly it would have made our trip faster, simpler, and easier. But with a dizzying drop on each side, the consequences of making a mistake were high, if not fatal, and neither Jeremy and I want that level of risk on our trip. We are not mountaineers, and this trip isn’t worth dying for. So although it was hard to turn back, not least of all because we faced a big detour and it was emotionally uncomfortable to take an ‘easy’ option, we decided to and it brought into mind a lot of questions about why we are doing this trip anyway. Is the goal to get south as fast as possible? No. Which leads onto…

matiri ridgeThe very beginning of Matiri Ridge. Confronted with a narrower and narrower ridgeline, we attempted to head to the left and hook up again with the saddle visible behind this knob. Unfortunately, three hours and 600 m of hard travel later, we returned to the same spot…

Hitching! Also an activity which causes a lot of questions about the purpose of the trip and why we are travelling. So, we hitched the last 30 km into Murchison from Lake Rotoroa (an detour which unsuccessfully sought food). As mentioned above, we had a tyre blow out near Tadmor. With the exception of a 3km lift down the road, we limped a further 50 km to Lake Rotoroa, utilising every bit of McGyvering we could! The most hilarious fix was definitely a trick picked up from the iconic Australian show Bush Mechanics back in 2006, stuffing a tyre with grass. Never did I think I would actually use that fix… Anyway, after all this fixing, using up all our patches, duct taping the tyre, using boat repair fabric on the inside, we were well and truly out of food and limping along the highway, which with no shoulder was a very dangerous place to be. Possibly more dangerous than Matiri Ridge. It was fairly easy to ask ourselves, “Is this fun, or challenging in a way that will develop us?” and answer ‘No’.So although hitching means the end of a claim to be entirely self-propelled, the positive feedback we’ve been getting from everyone when they hear how we are getting around means that neither of us is too sad about it.

grass wheelScooter repairs – thank you Bush Mechanics!

More scooter fixes!

_ICH6235Photo credit to Richard RossiterWilderwheels‘ latest mechanic. If you can, zoom in on the right and notice the swarm of black dots – each one a maddening sandfly seeking blood from Constance’s exposed hands.

Responses: People LOVE the scooters. People literally pull over when they are driving to ask about them and us. We’ve been given sandwiches, brownies, Red Bulls and lots of smiles solely because of them. It is very satisfying to see Jeremy’s hard work from the past few years being appreciated and admired. Seems like there is a big market for Wilderwheels in NZ! Check out the radio interview we did about them in Karamea:

 

Nature: Ah, beautiful nature. Everywhere is beautiful. We have made many friends with the robins/toutouwai which are curious, cheeky birds, coming up close, always checking out the scooters, often jumping onto a pole as they would a tree and being surprised at how their feet fail to grip on the carbon and they slide off. We have had many a laugh at them sliding off the scooter and then pretending to be unconcerned. They are small, fat, black and white fluffballs with long spindly legs which are excellent at gripping onto any tree, no matter how vertical. And huge old trees, on the Kaituna route a forest of pukatea and rima trees covered in tiny pink orchids, big orange dinner plate mushrooms, and ferns up the wazoo, and on the Heaphy a rata tree which was one of the most impressive trees I’ve ever seen – a whole ecosystem to itself, supporting kea, spiders, all the plants you can imagine. Beautiful trees. We’ve seen rivers where you can see the colour of every stone on the bottom, and big green pools which make you just want to jump right in. We do, but the water is freezing, so we jump out just as fast!

goblin forestBeautiful hobgoblin forest. When this landscape is wet, the leaves drip, the ground squidges, the moss leaks, my skin is damp and my lungs breathe in cool wet air. I feel like a happy frog in a quiet green pond.

P1000556Yum! Snacking on the descent from Matiri Ridge.

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Photo credit to Richard Rossiter. Happy days in the boat, and looking forward to more coming up on this section! Once again a big thanks to Geoff from PACKRAFT for providing us with the yellow boat 🙂

So, now we are heading off on the next few weeks, which will involve a lot more rafting, probably less scooting, and the NZ packraft meetup at the end. We’ve had a wonderful time in Murchison but can’t wait to head out again tomorrow!

Constance, on behalf of us both.

 

Food Finale

food drops touched up.jpgThe picture above is of Constance gingerly hugging the final food drop, as she prepares to hide it somewhere. Not pictured is Jeremy, trollishly scouting under a bridge for a dark and disused hole.

Over the past week we have become well acquainted with the hiding places of NZ! With our mission being to stash 15 bright orange buckets of food, well hidden from the prying eyes of children and keas (species of human and parrot respectively renowned for their curiosity), we have kept a close watch on the density of thickets, brambles, gorse bushes and ferns. All are now safely hidden, please send them your best wishes that they stay that way. A further four are either posted or prepared for postage – please send a little prayer along the lines of

O’ Postal Gods, we know you care,

Please let the weather be fair.

Let neither rain nor snow make the cardboard soggy,

And please, don’t rest our boxes in places boggy.

please do not take!.jpgThe very first bucket!

The preparation for this component of the trip was pretty big. For those curious about how we did it, the basic steps were:

(1) Calculating the time: We finally sat down and added up all the time components of our trip. Because nobody has done this route before, we had no examples to compare ourselves to, and had been throwing around a rough idea of two months, give or take a month. We sat down in McDonalds and over the course of 3 pancakes, 4 hash browns and a lot of free Wi-Fi, added up the motley collection of ‘6 hours here, plus 3 days here, plus 10 hours for this track which realistically will be a day and a bit, plus 3km here but at an incredibly steep gradient so likely a few hours, plus 5 days for this river but 7 days if it’s in flood and we have to walk out, plus two days of a 40 km mountain biking track, but if it’s scootable then only one day…’ to end up with 100 days! So, definitely on the ‘give’ side of our rough estimate, making our expected trip duration 3 months.

(2) Calculating the quantities of food: Now that we knew we needed a hundred days of food (actually, 97) we created an excel spreadsheet listing our menu and calculating the amounts of each food we’d need. Our rough menu each day is:

Breakfast: either muesli and milk, or  oats, or scrambled egg and tortilla, or pancakes. Plus a cup of tea or coffee.

Lunch: Salami and cheese and tortillas, or couscous and soup, or instant noodles, plus some flavourings sometimes (dried parsley, sundried tomatoes).

Dinner: Freeze dried meals or packet Indian curries and couscous.

Snacks: 2 muesli or protein bars, 50 g (small handful) nuts, 50g dried fruit.

Treats: chocolate, lollies, the odd random thing like jelly, condensed milk, miso soup.

pancake-breakfast-yay

Banana pancakes and coffee for one lucky morning!

(3) Buying the food: Woah. This was quite an experience. Brighteyed and bushytailed, we arrived at Pak’n’Save, a bulk discount warehouse, only to be confronted by the post-work weekly rush for the discounted discounts. It was madness. I’ve never seen crazier driving than I have in that carpark. For those who have seen Planet Earth 2: Iguanas v. Snakes, it was like all the shoppers were the snakes and the discounted discounts were the plump, juicy little iguanas. Lessons for next time: Never go to a Pak’N’Save on Wacky Wednesday; never go to Pak’N’Save at 6pm; never, ever, EVER go to Pak’N’Save at 6pm on Wacky Wednesday.

At any rate, after going back for a second round on Thursday we had all our food.img_0630Jeremy dramatically throwing down a museli bar in the Pak’N’Save carpark.

(4) Packing the food: Well! Turns out a rented Fiat Punto doesn’t easily fit three months’ worth of food, plus a scooter factory in miniature, plus two bags, boats and associated water safety gear… but it does fit it. So that’s all that matters. We ended up packing largely on the road, stopping every couple of food drops and packing up a couple of buckets’ worth. In addition to the food, we put in things like ibuprofen, scooter odds and ends, metho (for our cooker), toothpaste, sunscreen, insect repellent, spare lighters and batteries. all the food.jpgFrom L to R: three months’ worth of breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinners on couch, and metho and TP in far right.

We took off from Christchurch last week and spent a week driving round the island dropping food. The week was very busy, with lots of early starts and late finishes, but we also got the chance to catch up with friends in Twizel and Nelson, and see some beautiful country, with huge variance from the lush We(s)t Coast with cascading waterfalls, to the dry Mt Cook area, with its huge mountains, huge plains and huge skies. We also had the chance to scope out specifics of our route, resulting in one or two changes, and got well and truly stoked on the idea of crossing the rainbow paddlepop-coloured Lake Pukaki. We also left a package of lollies and a note on the front gate of some private property we hope to cross, requesting permission to walk across. To our happiness, the owners of the property got in touch, giving us their permission, and inviting us to stop in for a cuppa on our journey! This positive reaction gives us great joy and is a good omen for the trip.

Now we are back in Christchurch, finishing off some final touches on the scooter and printing maps. We’d like to thank Roddy and Jess for allowing us to turn their spare bedroom into a food swamp, and feeding us many meals! And thank you to Craig for buying us the best burgers in town (and feeding us all the beers…) And finally a massive thank you to Colin and Kate who have hosted us the whole time we’ve been in Christchurch, going above and beyond helpfulness in lending us their car and home, and been ace games partners.