Abel Tasman Coast Trail

I’m gonna skip literally everything that happened with Olivia and I. We laughed, we drove, we ate ice cream, we occasionally broke the van…it was a good time. But, since my blog is now 3 weeks behind, I’m gonna make like a tardis and time travel to the much more recent past.

Like, this week.

I spent 3 days hiking the Abel Tasman Coast Trail. It was gorgeous. Turquoise water that was warm enough to swim in, golden beaches covered in purple oyster shells, and green rainforests with not a terrible number of sand flies–how could it get more perfect?

Answer: by having a freaking pirate ship moored outside your tent on the second night. Okay, maybe they weren’t literal pirates, but it was a three-masted ship and they were just chilling there. Luckily, I just reread Treasure Island a few months ago to help me get in character for Halloween. Yes, I was the person tramping along the beach yelling, “By the powers, Jim lad!” and singing the Muppets classic, “sailing for adventure on the big blue wet thing.” Oregonians don’t get that chance too often, okay?

Also, the people who were camped next to me made too much food, so they gave me a heaping plate of risotto about 3 seconds after I got to camp. Glory.

My final day of hiking, I arrived at Totaronui Campground around 1 in the afternoon. I spent the rest of the day napping in the sun, swimming, collecting sea shells, and then repeating the process. It’s the first time I’ve slept through the night while camping since arriving in New Zealand.

Instead of hiking back, I got a water taxi. What took me three days to hike took about an hour to sail back to. Honestly, the taxi was nearly as fun as the hike. We stopped to watch birds at Paradise Island. This is one of the few places in New Zealand that is untouched by non-native species. It’s also where one of the last seal colonies in the area was before they began conversation efforts to rebuild the population. It was pretty awesome.

When the boat got back, the tide was low. Did we have to walk through the mud? Nope! They towed the boat out of the water with a tractor, along the road, and back to the car park. And thus concludes the tale of how I rode in a boat on dry land.

The Legendary Niceness of the Kiwi

We dropped Trevor off at the airport and picked up a smaller van. Then we drove to Lake Tekapo to camp. Upon arrival, we found that it was so rainy that we decided to drive until we found a clear spot. That’s how we got to Queenstown a full day earlier than planned.
Pros of the new van:

  • Smaller, so it didn’t feel like it would tip over on corners
  • Accelerated without having to push the pedal all the way down

Cons of the new van:

  • Battery dies easily
  • So much mildew we could trace constellations in it
  • Produces such a smell when going uphill that people will get out of their car when stopped at a construction site to tell you something is wrong
  • Sliding door gets stuck open.

We discovered that last one when we got to Frankton, a few miles from Queenstown, and made awesome plans for the evening. We would go for a walk in the sunlit lakeshores, the rain an hour behind us. It wouldbe beautiful.
And then the sliding door wouldn’t shut.
As we struggled with it, we acquired a team of random kiwis to help us. One guy stopped to help work on it. Another guy saw him pulling on the door and ran to his truck to get tools. This prompted another to find even cooler tools. A fourth had a van just like ours, so he took a picture of his door and compared it to ours to see if we could find any differences. A fifth had no tools but did have a hilarious wife who told us the password to the WiFi at the pub…”not that we’ve been to the pub, mind!”
They ended up hitting the door a few times until it slid shut. We cheered. We high fived. We vowed to never open it again.
We didn’t exactly keep that last vow, but that’s okay. More on that later. For now, here’s a picture that Olivia took of the dream team.

Kaikoura and a ton of fish

Kaikoura is a cute town on a peninsula that sticks into the Pacific Ocean. According to a sign that I read, on clear days, you can see the north island from there, and it was a useful spot for the native people to keep a lookout.
We couldn’t see the north island, though it seemed pretty clear to us. We did get a beautiful walk on the peninsula, though. The whole path looked down into coves of turquoise water that were just begging for a mermaid population to move in.

On the way back, we found a trail to the water’s edge and walked the rocky beach. A path led through the white rocks. The birds were nesting so we couldn’t go to the water, and the cacophony of their cries was a reminder that we were meandering aimlessly through their home. It inspired a slightly faster pace, I’ll admit.

Back at the van, we did a little window shopping and then tried to figure out dinner. Kaikoura being a bit of a tourist town, most places were over $20 a plate, aka, not what we wanted to spend. We were about to give up and eat sandwiches in our van (vanwiches?) when we saw one more place, Cooper’s Catch. Trevor ran to check out the prices, then waved us over.
When we saw how cheap it was, we were a bit worried that it would actually include enough food. The guy in line ahead of us assured us that the portions were good, though. For like $8, we got a package wrapped like a present with enough fries for 3 people each (none of us were able to finish them) and fried lemon fish that was heaven. Also I got bread, because I like me my carbs.
We camped at the Mouth of the Hurinui, where there was a river to fish in and a bunch of plum trees.

Following Sheep

The rain in Arthur’s Pass continued, and we were kinda done with it. What’s the point of being in the mountains if you can’t see any of them? We decided to go to Nelson Lakes National Park. Then, after realizing how far that was going to be, and since we only had a couple days until we needed to get Trevor to the airport, we decided to go to the beach town of Kaikoura instead.
It was an extremely winding road. Sitting in the middle, I felt like I was getting a core workout just trying to stay upright. (I should probs work on that more often.) But the countryside was gorgeous. We had left the national parks and were now in farmland, and most of the mountains had sheep pastures on them. (Shout out to Eileen in #theyamhillcounty!!)
Speaking of sheep….

We rounded a bend, and there were hundreds of sheep on the road ahead of us. The shepherd was behind them, wearing gaiters and short-shorts. I don’t know if that’s normal shepherd garb, but it seemed comfortable. There were dogs trying to keep the sheep in line, but even though their options were basically stay on the road or climb a cliff of either side, the sheep were not having it. We all laughed that this is what Jesus compares us to, but honestly, it’s kinda true: why would we trust this shepherd to lead us somewhere good, when there’s, like, three blades of grass no one’s eaten about 10 feet down a gravel slope?
The shepherd/dog team managed to clear one of the lanes of traffic, so we made it to the other side and saw the gate that some of the sheep were finally getting to. I like to think, two weeks later, that the sheep are all in there by now.

Helicopter Hill and Fresh Trout

So my brother in law is a bit of a fisherman. Like, probably more of an expert on fishing than I am on hot chocolate, and that’s an accomplishment. He was kinda bummed that he hadn’t caught one in New Zealand. The extremely awesome DOC worker at Arthur’s Pass had told him about a fishing spot on Lake Grasmere, so Olivia and I dropped him off in the morning and then went back to our campground and took off for Helicopter Hill. On foot, though–flying is not necessary to get there.

The hike was mostly through trees, but the view at the top was lovely. In the grassy crown, we reenacted the opening scene from the Sound of Music. I’d post it here, but videos just take so long to load and I’d hate to use up all the data. Rest assured that my boyfriend says it’s pretty much impossible to differentiate it from the original. We’re thinking about starting our own theater company that does Broadway musicals on top of mountains. But only the ones that we did in high school, because as members of the orchestra, we got to memorize all the songs, and why would we waste that knowledge? Reminiscing about how awesome our classes were at theater, we came back down the mountain and returned to Lake Grasmere.
We couldn’t find Trevor, but a nice local man who was fishing pointed us towards him. He was laying in the sun at the edge of the lake, the net he had labored over now dismantled so that he could use the string to keep the fish on it.

It was right after he cleaned it that we realized we really had no way of cooking it. We drove 40 minutes back to Arthur’s Pass and found that, though the store sold tin foil, it was out of stock. The pizza place next door gave us some. Trevor chopped up an onion and cooked it on our camp stove, the tail hanging over the edge. (We didn’t eat that part.) It was delicious. Way to go, Trevor!!

Bealey Spur and some of the best hot chocolate ever

We were so ready for a good hike when we woke up to rainclouds in Arthur’s Pass. We stopped at the DOC visitor center and asked for recommendations.

“Well, you might get some rain if you do Bealey Spur, but you’ll also get some very moody views of the mountains,” the ranger said. “And just remember: if it’s raining there, it’s dumping on us here.”
Moody views, here we come!

It was actually a gorgeous hike. We walked uphill a few hours to an old (so old they don’t even charge you to use it) hut, and were rewarded with nice looks into the Waitomo River Valley. As the ranger explained to us, it’s a braided river, meaning that even though it looks empty to us Oregonians, it’s actually just very young geologically and is as full as it ever gets.

Refreshed with the hike, we returned to the cafe where it was, indeed, dumping rain. We had a lamb and kumara pie (insanely good) and hot chocolate that was served in a regular glass. That seems to be the trend here, and honestly, I kinda love it.

We drove down the mountain spent the night at Mistletoe Flats, grateful that our campervan was keeping us out of the rain.

Stuck in Arthur’s Pass

After the sand fly fiasco, we were ready for a great day. We had been really looking forward to this place, as the pictures looked awesome, and now we had a gloriously sunny day to enjoy it in.

At the top of the very steep pass, Trevor realized the engine was getting a little warm. We pulled over to let it cool down. There was a bubbling sound coming from the back, but the nice thing about having minimal mechanical knowledge is that sometimes you can pretend that is normal.
What you can’t pretend is normal is large quantities of bright green coolant leaking from the van. This was what we found when we stepped out to make sandwiches. I put on some hiking boots and Trevor flagged down a car.

The lady who helped us was awesome. She was a lawyer who was running late for a court appointment in Christchurch, but she still paused to give us a ride into town. It would have been a pretty dangerous road to walk, so we were grateful. Thanks, Laura!!
We set up camp on the porch of a cafe. Really, the only cafe in town. There were Kea hopping all over, stealing sandwiches and pies. As they weren’t my sandwiches or pies, it was pretty amusing. The restaurant actually had water bottles on all the tables so you could deter the alpine parrots.
Anyways, as the only one of our troupe with any sort of international cell coverage, I texted my parents an apology for the international charges we were to receive and called Lucky Rentals. And received no answer. So I called them again. And again. And again.
And again.
To this day, several weeks later, I still have not received a call back. Fortunately, Olivia was able to borrow the phone from the cafe, and they sent our hero, Roadside Roy. Actually, his name is just Roy, but adding Roadside sounded better in the song we wrote as we waited for him.

The whole ordeal took about 6 hours, aka our entire usable day in Arthur’s Pass, and when we were done the result was that Lucky Rentals over fills the coolant on older vehicles, so literally nothing was wrong. Thank goodness?

The briefest trip to New Zealand’s West Coast

I can’t say I wasn’t warned about the sand flies. I just failed to heed the warnings.

Failing to find good multi-day hikes in Mt. Cook or Mt. Aspiring, we decided to cross the Southern Alps, work our way up the West Coast, and visit Arthur’s Pass. As we studied the map, Trevor saw that we would be passing super close to the Tasman Sea.

“That’s pretty cool,” he said. We all agreed that we might as well jump out and touch it if we were going to be so close.

After driving through a really thick, cool jungle, we caught a glimpse of the ocean. We found an access site and jumped out of the van, ready to see a new sea.

14 seconds and 80 bug bites later, we said, “nah,” and got back in the van. We had a bottle of 98% deet and couldn’t spray it on fast enough. In the short time that we had the doors open, about 30 sand flies got in, and we had to pull over to massacre them. It was awful.

But not as awful as it was got another family. As we left the car park, a family of adventurers came running up the sand bank with a look of terror of their face, the mom gripping the hand of an early-elementary agreed child in an attempt to drag them along faster. They had braved the sand flies. They may have touched the water. But I guarantee, they did not enjoy the results.

Cascade Saddle: I’m not a fan

While camped at the Mt. Aspiring Hut, we consulted a warden about trails nearby. She told us we basically had 2 options:

  1. Continue the trail on the valley floor until we decided to turn around, or
  2. Hike up the Cascade Saddle trail, which adjoined the trail we were on just by our campsite.

We chose the Cascade Saddle. We chose wrong.

She had told us it was probably an hour and 15 minutes to the top of the trail. I think we look like we’re in better shape than we actually are, though, because about 2.5 hours of struggling over tree-root ladders and rocks as high as my waist, we reached the first view point. It was about a 20-for break in the trees. We looked around, took some pictures on the ledge, and turned around.

The way down took just as long, perhaps longer. I have to focus a lot when I go downhill owing to a weaker knee and a propensity to walk in an injury-inducing way if I don’t. So what we were expecting to be a 3 hour trip ended up being more like 5. On the plus side, the forest was really cool, and I felt a lot like I was waking through Fangorn, especially once the trail got tough and I was able to really feel the line, “What madness drove them there?”

We packed up our gear, hiked back to the van, and on the way out off there stopped at Wishbone Falls. There, we washed off some of the dirt and sweat before heading to our next adventure.

Magical Mt. Aspiring

After hiking to the Rob Roy Glacier, we returned to our van, packed our camping essentials, and got a very late start to our first overnighter of the trip. To be honest, I was a tad stressed, especially since we had yet to filter water. But after a bit of walking and fuming, even my bad mood was lifted by the beautiful scenery surrounding us.

The path to Mt. Aspiring Hut runs in a level valley through sheep and cattle fields, meaning that the whole way is blessed with views of the mountains above. The sun sank below the mountains just after we started walking, but it stayed light long enough for us to get to camp and set up our tents.

As we were walking, we kept startling sheep, who seemed to take offense to people being in their trail so late in the day. They would try to escape us by running, but they usually ran straight ahead of us along the trail, so we had many kilometers of following sheep. Seriously, if I were sheep or a cow, I would want to live in that valley. It would totes make up for the getting eaten eventually thing.

The next morning, we paid $5 each for having used the campground. That’s one of the main difference between hiking in the States vs. New Zealand: here, they pretty much have campgrounds inn all campable spots, and they charge you for the pleasure of using them. In this instance, though, we got to use a real toilet in the middle of a backpacking trip, so it was worth it.

And on that picturesque note, I’ll leave you with a few more photos from the walk out the next morning: