A slick road, shaded slopes, a lack of snow, the conditions neither diluted my anticipation nor rang any warning bells. Tinkle, tinkle crunch, our boots smashed through the fragile façade of delicate leaf-like ice formations coating the upper slopes of Tahurangi. The southerlies had left their calling card. The fine rime needles weren’t here on my visit the previous fortnight. The beard hadn’t had sufficient exposure to wind and rain to reach full growth, allowing our crampons to shave it off step by step. Rime is an excellent micro forecast, patches of luxuriant growth indicating the most wind exposed aspects and spots of thin stubble the sheltered places. Continue reading “How my bum got iced”
It’s not yet light but the train we take from Chamonix to Saint Gervais is already half full. At Saint Gervais we follow pilgrims bristling with excitement and wearing numbered hire boots, small day packs festooned with ice tools and nervous smiles. Continue reading “Ebb and Flow”
Smudges of khaki rainforest clot the swirling mist as we surge upwards and circle to the north. I’m without headphones so the burly medic sitting beside me shouts over the chopper noise asking whether we prefer Murchison or Nelson. The closest hospital is at Westport but there is no way the pilot can fly through the thick wall of cloud. I exchange a raised eyebrow with Sarah seated opposite. “Nelson is fine” I respond and settle back for my longest chopper ride ever. Continue reading “Switchbacks”
“Anyone interested? Weather forecast is dry.”
I check the forecast. Clear skies and a freezing south-easterly, snow down to 1100m not too far above the top of the route, possibility of frost on the rock or verglas. Numb fingers, frozen toes, an ice cream headache, chattering teeth, shivering legs.
Finally the yo-yo slapping world of lift and drop ceases. A lifetime encapsulated in fifteen bone jolting minutes. We cautiously crab our way forward off the lurching boat onto the slippery but stationary rocks. There is no time to adjust we’re straight into parting tree branches, untangling vine traps and edging round thick nests of ferns. I’m grateful for Pavlo. Not only has he driven us from Christchurch, he’s figured out how to get across the wind swept fiord and as the non-Kiwi he is, as far as the clouds of ravenous sand-flies are concerned, tasty. Continue reading “Getting a feel for the place”
The star-spangled curtain of black has a circular window glowing cold white. Dew is busy condensing to frost. We’re so busy talking we fail to take the Taihape turn off and realise only when the sign for Wanganui is silhouetted by our headlights. With renewed focus we feel our way north spurning the main road to Waioru in favour of darkness. My soda water bottle lying on the floor of the car acts as a spirit level rolling left and right as we wind our way between hills. Detaching from the hill cover where the Pukeokahu and Mangahoata roads meet Grethe steers us left towards the Pukeokahu school and our campsite. A home-made sign directs us to a paddock where a cluster of shadowy tents stand to attention flanked neatly by cars. Viktor, our welcoming party of one, indicates the precise location of our respective tents. With the car engine extinguished the only sounds are Moreporks and the occasional bark of a dog.
Camp light. Photo by Jan Ducnuigeen
It was love at first light. The trail weaves a connecting path through many toanga – the Waitakeres, home to our fast disappearing coastal rainforest including beautiful groves of kauri, rata and pohutakawa. Wild, isolated, rugged coastlines with dramatic cliff faces and the towering walls of sand dunes (black) of Bethells that contrast with the wild surf pasted sand beaches (white) and dangerous rips of Piha. The primordial, green, scrawny spine of a peninsula that marks the way to Whatipu. My childhood hero and adult inspiration, the guy on our five dollar note, Ed. Continue reading “Melting Moments”