No, it’s a dog!
It’s interesting how we humans try to see shapes of things we know in the features that nature present to us. Does that cloud look like a bird? Or, that mountain looks like Queen Victoria lying in state, you can tell by the nose. Here at Punakaiki the shape that nature presents to me is a dog, but you may see something else.
Punakaiki is on the road between Westport and Greymouth (or is that between Greymouth and Westport, because it is closer to the former?) and is a geological feature of stratified rock formations created more than 30 million years ago. The feature is known as the Pancake Rocks. That’s not unusual really. There’s that shapes in nature thing again.
Punankaiki is actually the nearest village to the rock formation at Dolomite Point in the Paparoa National Park. The pancakes are formed from minute fragments of dead marine creatures and plants that landed on the seabed some 2 km below the surface. Immense water pressure caused the fragments to solidify into hard and soft layers. Gradually seismic action lifted the limestone above the seabed and mildly acidic rain, wind and seawater sculpted the bizarre shapes seen today.
In wild weather, which is very common on the West Coast, the blowholes that form part of the Pancake Rocks are said to be spectacular. Unfortunately in all the visits I have had to the area over the years I have never seen them in action in any serious way.
The rocks rare are a very popular West Coast tourist attraction and on a good day the walking paths provided and maintained by the Department of Conservation are busy with people trying to get the best views.
I still think its a dog!
Let’s get it out up front. Some people are masochists; either that, or plain stupid (or more kindly – very determined)!
We had heard of the famous “Luxmore Grunt” from friends who do lots of walking whenever they are on holiday. I wouldn’t call them serious hikers (or trampers, as they are commonly known in New Zealand), but keen day-walkers. They keep a book listing all their completed walks, which they respectfully call their “Alzheimers Book” in case they forget which walks they’ve done.
The “Luxmore Grunt” is a mountain running event sponsored by the Asics sports shoe company and is run each year in December. The full race runs over the complete 60 km of the Kepler Track (another of New Zealand’s “Great Walks”), a circuit that starts and ends at the control gates outlet of Lake Te Anau. Part of the track between Brod Bay on the lake shore and the Department of Conservation operated Luxmore Hut is normally a 4 1/2 hour, 8.5 km one way walk, and part of that rises from lake level (210 meters) to the hut at 1085 meters, the first 3 1/2 hours of which is steeply uphill. The course record for the full 60 km Kepler Challenge is 4:37:41 for men, and 5:23:34 for women! For the Luxmore Grunt from the control gates to Luxmore Hut and back (27 km) is 1:52:30 for men, and 2:04:18 for women!
With only part of this knowledge available we set out to walk the return trip to Luxmore Hut, on the day after dropping our son and his wife at the start of the Routburn Track. Starting at the Lake Te Anau control gates at 9.45 am we thought we had plenty of time to complete the walk, given the long evenings experienced in this part of the country during summer.
Following the lake shore we made our way to Brod Bay which, according to the walking guide was a gentle hour and a half walk through forest of mountain and red beech. The problem when two people walk with cameras is that time gets stretched out – one and a half hours turned into two.
Knowing we had a steep climb ahead of us, we stopped for an early lunch to fuel us for the next stage of the walk. With energy levels duly topped up we set out on the climb, gentle at first, but then into an unrelenting 750 vertical meter grind. About one third of the way into the climb we glimpsed a view of the Te Anau township across the lake through the trees.
Onwards and upwards for another hour we reached a limestone bluff, a suggested lunch stop in the walking guide. Having already eaten lunch, we stopped anyway for a drink and some trail mix. Hikers making the downward journey informed us there was still another hour before the track cleared the treeline, so back into the grind we trudged.
Finally, four and a half hours after leaving the car we emerged from the forest onto alpine meadow-land. The immediate reaction was one of relief. After catching breath the scenery came into focus.
There before us were panoramic views of the Te Anau Basin, Takitimu Mountains, and the Snowdon and Earl Mountains. We never did reach Luxmore Hut. It was another 45 minutes further up the hill. That didn’t really matter as we achieved what we set out to do, which was to get a high alpine view of the lake, township, and surrounding mountains.
Being late in the afternoon we needed to commence our return journey after only a short rest.
Long stretches of downhill walking are very tiring. After a long day of walking legs turn to jelly. It was tempting to stop on reaching Brod Bay, but we were still ninety minutes away from the car. Switching to auto-pilot and brains into neutral we stumbled our way to the car park and collapsed into the car, ten and a half hours after setting out. Back to the motel we drove, dived into a hot bath, grabbed some food for a quick dinner and fell into bed, exhausted!
The Luxmore Grunt had lived up to its reputation.
(Click on images for a larger view)
A View to the Cape
Yesterday’s post talked about terroir and the stony nature of the grape growing soils in New Zealand’s Hawkes Bay wine region. The image used to illustrate the post was taken at Te Awhanga Beach. Here is another image of the beach, this time taken along the gravelly shore towards Cape Kidnappers in the distance.
Apart from being a wine region, Hawkes Bay is a tourist region as well. Much of the activity is centered on the city of Napier which was rebuilt in an art deco style after a devastating earthquake flattened the city in 1931. In recent years the city has hosted an annual “Art Deco Weekend” when thousands of people from all over New Zealand and overseas come to dress up in the fashions of the 1930s and celebrate Napier’s resurrection.
Long before the art deco event came into existence New Zealand families and tourists alike came to Te Awhanga and nearby Clifton beaches to the south of the city to camp for the summer, and to visit the gannet colony on the cliffs at Cape Kidnappers. Many walk the 5 hour return journey at low tide along the base of the cliffs between Clifton Beach and the Cape. An enterprising local farmer offered an alternative, however. For a family-affordable fee he would tow a trailer carrying holiday makers behind a tractor along the narrow stretch of sand below the cliffs to the gannet colony, and bring them back again before the tide came in. This is how we first took our family of three young boys to see the gannets. Everyone who undertakes that journey (it still operates in the summer) comes back with happy memories of the adventure. For some, the gannets are a added bonus!
The Cape Kidnappers Gannet Reserve is managed by the New Zealand Department of Conservation.
Pilot Run – Hooker Valley, Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
Six months after Valerie broke her leg skiing we had made our way to Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. Mt Cook had been one of the stops we made during our honeymoon 45 years ago and we had only visited the Mt Cook Village once in the intervening years. Part of our plan to “complete” the holiday that was interrupted by weeks in hospital and months of recovery was to stay for two nights in the village on our way to Wanaka.
We had never before walked in the Hooker Valley that leads from the Mt Cook Village to the terminal moraine and glacier lake at the foot of Aoraki Mt Cook, so we decided to (in Kiwi parlance) “give it a go”. It is not a difficult walk, but we had an encumbrance – Val was still walking with a limp and had only been off crutches for a month. Being a very determined person, she wanted to do the whole walk. Although it starts from the village, a shorter version starts at the Department of Conservation camping ground that reduces the posted return time by 1 1/2 hours. This is what we did, a pilot run for things to come.
The DOC camping ground provides a magnificent view Mt Sefton and La Perouse with their ice fields tumbling down the granite walls into the Hooker Valley. This makes a great place to start the walk, the most popular in the area. A short 15 minute stroll up the valley brings you to the Alpine Memorial. Aoraki Mt Cook is a technically difficult climb. More than 200 climbers have lost their lives over the years attempting the ascent since the mountain was first climbed in 1894.
The view of the Hooker Valley from the memorial is stunning.
There are two swing bridges to cross during the walk, and the first one comes shortly after the memorial. The hill above the bridge provides a view of the Mueller Glacier Lake at the base of Mt Sefton.
The walk continues on up the Hooker Valley beside the river, with the occasional stretch of boardwalk …
… finally reaching the Hooker Glacier Lake at the end of the terminal moraine.
The walk is described as being of easy to moderate difficulty, and most people complete the round trip from the DOC Camp in two and a half to 3 hours. We took 5 hours, but had a very happy lady at the end – tired, hot, a bit sore, but very satisfied.
Lake Waikaremoana is located in Te Urewera National Park in the North Island of New Zealand, 60 kilometres northwest of Wairoa and 80 kilometres southwest of Gisborne. Although these distances don’t seem great, you need to understand that the whole of the East Cape region of the North Island is very lightly populated and both Gisborne and Wairoa themselves are some distance from the main population centres of the North Island. To visit Lake Waikaremoana and Te Urewea National Park requires a determined effort and a journey over twisting unsealed dusty roads.
So it was that in January 2009 a group of friends gathered at the shore of the ‘sea of rippling waters’ for a week to walk parts of one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks”. Each morning we were greeted by this view from the windows of our chalets as the sun rose in the east and crept over the hills between the lake and the Pacific Ocean.
This wasn’t our first visit to Lake Waikaremoana. Each previous visit was memorable in part for the dusty winding road to get there, memories stretching back to childhood holidays with family. The road never seems to improve with time, and on occasions still gets washed out by heavy rain. Our most recent previous visit was to undertake the four day Great Walk around the lake, with overnight stays in hiking huts provided by the New Zealand Department of Conservation. That trip was memorable for another of Lake Waikaremoana’s claims to fame, rain and mist. Indeed, the local Tuhoi Maori who live in small settlements around and near the lake are known as “the people of the mist”. On that occasion the rain started the moment we set foot on the track and ended just as we exited the track four days later!
I’m pleased to report that during our January 2009 visit we had beautiful weather every day and managed to see the views from high points around the lake that we missed on our previous visit.
Here are two further images taken on our first night at the lake as the sun was setting.
Weekly Photo Challenge: Green
This oasis of green is at the site of the old St James Station homestead beside the Clarence River in the St James Range in North Canterbury. The original St James Homestead built around 1880 burned down in 1947 but the out buildings that remain are considered of special importance and worthy of restoration by the Department of Conservation. The area is reached by car by following a winding narrow unsealed road out of Hanmer Springs leading to the Molesworth Station. At a “T” junction the road to the left leads to the site of the old St James Homestead. In summer this area is very dry but the area immediately around the homestead site is green and sheltered by trees.