Category: walks

Adventure in Mo’orea

faunaholidayleisureMooreatravelwalks

So, Nigel and I have escaped for a real holiday. Overseas, together, just the two of us. I feel a song coming on! No, sorry, I won’t even go there!

Anyway, we’ve run away to paradise. Tahiti. I might write some other blogs to tell you about what we’ve been up to here, and our photos will all be on Flickr as usual.  But this evening’s blog is just to recount the adventure we had today.

Our plan for our time away is to be as active as possible. Two reasons – one, we just don’t like sitting around sort of holidays and two, we’re in training. I’m running the Abel Tasman trail event in two weeks time so just need to keep my legs moving and, in January we are both doing the Old Ghost Road.

We explored what guided walks were on offer so that we could learn about the local flora and fauna and history. We couldn’t find any that went on ‘real’ walks although we were given the number of a local ‘sage’ who we tried to contact but were unsuccessful.  Undaunted, we decided to go it alone.

Mark, our host at our accommodation, Mark’s Place, told us that a well visited view point called Les Trois Cocotiers (three coconut trees) was accessible by a less well-travelled route from just a few kms around the road from us at Vaianae. It is also possible from Les Trois Cocotiers to continue on to Le Belvedère which is where most people walk from.  Our plan was to try to get across to Le Belvedère and then return by the same route.

Mark dropped us off at the start of the metalled road just a few metres further on from the shop at Vaianae. He gave us some basic instructions as a starting point but told us to call in at a place called “La Maison de la Nature” and introduce ourselves and say that Mark had sent us. They would give is more detailed information about the route from there.

On the way we chatted to a local who confirmed what Mark had said; it would take us about an hour and a half to reach the col and then a further 90 mins to get to Le Belvedère. However,  unlike Mark he said the route was quite straightforward and well way-marked.

The first 30 minutes climbed gently up a metalled road past houses which varied from being simple dwellings, with gardens full of fruit trees, chooks and dogs to more lavish houses with well-manicured gardens. There are dogs everywhere here.  Even though they bark they tend to stay put even when there is no fence but I still find them alarming.

Man walking up metalled road palm tree to left, lush vegetation all around, cloudy sky but sunshine.

Our first challenge came when the road split. One way went over a bridge and then turned sharp left up the hill. At the bend was a white house. The other road turned left up the hill and it seemed to be the continuation of the road we had been following so we took it.  About 100m higher up there was this sign;

Hand drawn map of local roads showing where people should be to start a walk

It might have been more useful to put it at the junction!  So back down we went,  over the bridge and up the rougher road.  Ten minutes or so further on we came to a building.  By this time the road was more overgrown,  the trees much thicker. There was a sign but it only had a phone number on it.  It looked like the whole place was being renovated.  To the right we could see a large shelter with a sort of climbing wall.  We climbed the wooden stairs which kindly asked us to walk ‘doucement’ to a balcony where a pair of jandals sat on a mat. We called bonjour,  but got no answer and didn’t feel that we should walk in so we continued up the track.  However, it went past an upper entrance to the building where a man was working a saw of some description.  We introduced ourselves, said we were staying at Mark’s Place and that he had said to call in.

His instructions were as follows.  Continue up the path,  at the windmill turn right,  continue on until you get to a stream. There used to be a bridge but it’s broken so just follow the track across the stream then turn left.  Keep going to the col. At the col, head left for about 10 minutes to the viewpoint where you can see north and south.   It should take about 45 minutes. To carry on to Le Belvedère, go down at the col for about 20 minutes or so then the path traverses, meandering up and down through beautiful terrain.  Roughly an hour to an hour and a half. ..

Off we went. No sign of a windmill (We saw it on the way down) but a junction of sorts – the single track path through knee high grass was clearer to the right.  Then we spotted a sign post hidden under the tree.  Confirmation.

A windmill in bush area with a mountainn in the background

Old signposts with indistinct writing attached to a tree

Reminders that La Maison de la Nature used to be, and may well be again, a ‘Colonie de Vacances’ for children lay half buried in the grass and vegetation.  Rope swings, balance beams, stepping stones and other adventure challenges. We came to a waterfall at a stream with a broken crossing but not what we would call a bridge and there was no obvious way on.  From the way the description had been given, I didn’t think we should have got to the stream crossing yet anyway.  So we looked for another way on and found a grassy track heading up to the left. It wasn’t well-defined but it was definitely a track and there were more kids’ adventure type obstacles half buried.  Convinced we were on the right track we continued.  Until a fallen tree seemed to block the way.  Maybe not,  we thought, and went back down looking for another option.  But not finding anything we went back up again.  The fallen tree negotiated we refound the path. A little further on we started to descend gently on a grassy slope, back to a single track in knee high grass.  A junction gave us a choice of continuing down or turning sharp right.  A rope looped between wooden posts helped to convince us that this was the right way.

Now we came to another junction.  A wide grassy shelf headed up gently to the right, to the left, a narrower steeper path.  I went up it to recce. It seemed to continue on as a well defined path, but we weren’t sure it was heading in the right direction.  We tried the other way. After 20m or so, there was another wooden activity challenge but then the path seemed to head back down in a loop.

Man walking in forest, heavyvvegetation, lush and green

We decided to go left.  On we climbed.  The path was rugged, steep at times, very rooty with quite a lot of fallen vegetation and we had to keep our eyes peeled to stay on track but it was clearly a path. All the way up were had enjoyed the changing vegetation, the lush tropical plants – the sort that I once had as house plants in my bedroom as a teenager in the 70s. The colours are beautiful,  bright red hibiscus in the trees around us and also splashes of colour on the path where the blooms have fallen.

Mountain shrouded in cloud seen through forest

The path started to climb more steeply and through the trees we glimpsed the impressive tall rocky peaks, half shrouded in mist. We were still waiting for the path to turn right and eventually it did. After having spent the last half an hour on a ridge we descended into a bowl of trees. Quite different, dark but not foreboding.  We were still searching for the way on when we suddenly noticed the trees.  Tall, incredible buttress roots, gnarly and twisted into the most surreal shapes.  We marvelled at them,  realised these were the chestnut trees or Mapes that we had read about, and thought about sitting down and having lunch.

twisted buttress roots of chestnut tree in a forest

Man in the middle of a forest of tall trees, sunlight shining through the branches

We decided we couldn’t have far to go by everyone’s timings so thought we would press on.  Despite thinking that we needed to stay right, we weren’t happy that right took us down hill.  So we went left,  uphill thinking it would swing back round.  After bushwhacking our way through more fallen trees and rotting vegetation up an indistinct but definite path we came to a stream and small waterfall which we crossed.  We were clearly climbing higher,  the canopy was lighter,  we could see the sky.  Surely we would hit the col soon!  I battled my way up and got to a point where I could see down to the ocean on the west side of the island.  But just more forest behind me.  A path alongside a stream led us up to an impressive black wall of rock with a path to the left.

Black rock wall with hollowed out area at the base, and a stream bed running down towards the viewer, fallen trees across the valley with new growth growing upwards from horizontal trunks

By now we were well past 45 minutes.  This was not an easy route.  We seemed to be heading in the wrong direction. We must have gone wrong way back down at the ‘shelf’ when we chose to go left and not right.

We turned round.  On the way down we noticed slash marks on the trees. In NZ in the back country, hunters and bushmen mark the trees to help them back track.  We started to think that we must have come across the traverse route from Tuatapae which we had read about.  It didn’t take long to get back down to the Mape forest where we spent 15 minutes or so just checking that we hadn’t missed a way on.

Feeling quite weary now and very frustrated and annoyed that we had missed a turn off somewhere, we knew we should really eat to put some energy back in our bodies. We had been bashing through the bush for over an hour but were reluctant to stop until we knew where we were.  So, we retraced our steps. Back down to the ‘shelf’ in no time. As we had thought the first time,  it simply looped down to the waterfall. I crossed the stream and climbed up the other side.  An unlikely route as it was not easy. The stream that fed into the waterfall bounced over dark rocks and I scrambled over and through but could find no easy path.  I heard Nigel call me.

white fungi growing on a fallen tree

Just a few metres back down the track he had spotted some bits of wood.. broken structures of some kind which he assumed were more of the kids adventure stuff.  Looking the other way,  a track down to the stream was more obvious and Nigel then spotted more wooden debris.  The broken bridge

stream bed, foliage and broken wooden structure in the streambed that used to be a bridge

We were back on track! With renewed energy we set off up the much easier, open track.  Still quite gnarly,  lots of trees roots, the path zigzagged up the flank of the hill, the stream gurgling beneath us.

A few very rickety bridges were crossed very gingerly and a couple of fallen trees negotiated. But it was well signposted with Xterra race markers.

man wearing walking clothes - hat, shorts, tee-shirt waking gingerly across a rickety wooden bridge

35 minutes later we reached the col!  10 minutes after that we looked out north and south at the coast and along the ridges at the peaks shrouded in cloud.  Stunning! Worth the effort! And time for lunch.

signpost that reads "le col tetoatoa dit des 3 cocotiers alt 357m'

Man on top of a hill with more hills in the background.

A couple at the top of a mountain, clouds gathering atop a mountain in the background

Panorama of a view of mountains from the top of a hill

Man climbs the last few metres to the top of a hill. He is just emerging from the vegetation. Hill shrouded in cloud behind him

Down was uneventful.  And quick.  Despite stopping to take photos of the abundant, colourful and beautiful flowers on the way. We called into the Vaianae store for refreshment…a nice cool Hinano beer, and we trudged the last 3km back along the road.

Total kms: about 15km!

Total elevation: more than 500m!

Total time on feet: over 6 hours!

 

 

 

 

 

A fun day out

NZsportwalks

Yesterday I ran/walked in the Surf to Firth off road half marathon. Here is my race report!!

Are you tough enough? The Surf to Firth is described as ‘the most technically challenging off road marathon in New Zealand’ on its own website . There are so many off road races now, in so many different parts of New Zealand, and I haven’t done enough of them to compare, but it certainly was a challenge. Having said that, I suspect that in fine weather, it is a lot less of a challenge.

I enjoy technical stuff having spent the 30 years before taking up ‘trailrunning’ walking, tramping and caving in the Lake District, Scotland, Wales and Europe. I am used to uneven, rocky, slippery, muddy and steep trails. However, I am a bit of a self-doubter and worried, after I signed up to the half marathon in a random moment of insanity, whether I wasn’t going to be ‘tough enough’! There are no aid stations on the route, just SARs volunteers at checkpoints along the way to ensure that everyone is accounted for on the trail. Only one of them about 7km from the end had some water and lollies. I was well-prepared with enough fluid and fuel to last me and some more in case of disaster. I also carried emergency gear – thermals, beanie, gloves, first aid kit and blanket, although the event didn’t stipulate any compulsory gear. I am an ex-rescue team member, after all, and it wouldn’t look too good to become a statistic due to my own poor preparation! IMHO a compulsory gear list is something the organising group do need to consider.

It rained during the week in the run up to the event, but the message on the Facebook page was positive, despite rain forecast it was going to be warm so the race would go ahead – just make sure you have a rain jacket. It rained steadily all Friday night. We were in our wee campervan in a motorvan stopover in Thames and I woke regularly to hear it falling on the roof, wondering if it would peter out before the morning. It didn’t, but the race was still on and we were bussed up to Wainora campground where the half marathon started.

The river up the Kaueranga Valley was already high and the fords were flowing. The bus driver made light of them but we all looked out a little nervously! I had opted to go with the early tortoise group – walkers and run/walkers who expected to take more than 4 hours 30. The faster hares would follow an hour later. It tippled it down as the race briefing happened and then we were away. The first part is on well-prepared, very accessible trail and we set off at a good pace. A few fast folk raced ahead, I chose to plod in the middle and the walkers brought up the rear. Then we hit the steps – I was reliably informed by a local that there were 350 of them but I didn’t bother counting. The rain was steady at this point but it was warm and I was tempted to take my jacket off. Once off the steps we hit a real steep section, very rough ground, roots, rocks, mud. Quite a lot of upper body work to pull yourself up the steep climbs – I love that sort of stuff so went past a few who struggled a bit more, just making sure as I went that they were ok. In between the steep bits the trail was very muddy – deep pools of water, some of which you could skirt round the edge but mostly just waded through the middle. Sometimes they were ankle deep, others I sank knee deep in the mud! I think that’s what made it hard on the legs – you never knew what was underfoot and couldn’t get into any rhythm. It was dark in the bush and at times it was difficult to make out the profile of the trail to pick where to put my feet. And the rain just kept pouring down, every now and then the bush lit up with flashed of lightning followed by huge, long rolls of thunder. The wind also started to get up and I was glad I had kept my jacket on.

For a while I was running with a couple of other people and it was nice to have company. The steep section was done, we reached the ridge where I stopped to take a photo of the stunning and atmospheric view of the clouds and rain over the forest.

female trailrunner, wearing turquoise cap and purple rain jacket. Self portrait at the top of a hill in the rain with dark clouds and forested valley in the background
Light at the top
Dark clouds, rainy and low cloud in a forested valley
A break in the rain
Dark clouds, rainy and low cloud in a forested valley
Atmospheric view over the valley

For most of the way we were literally running through a stream – water poured on to the track from the hill at the side and found the line of least resistance down the trail. The middle section was more runnable albeit on terrain I have just described. I reached a junction with several ways on and initially followed another competitor down a track which was marked with the orange DoC trailmarkers we had been told to follow. However, I wasn’t convinced and said I was going back to check – just thought we had made the decision too quickly. When I got back to the top, a couple of others arrived and they confirmed that we were wrong. We shouted and whistled to the girl who had carried on, contemplated trying to catch her, but decided that we wouldn’t manage it, and that if she carried on she would end up in the valley. We would let the SARs guys know so they could pick her up. We weren’t to know at that stage that the Kaueranga Valley was now impassable, the marathoners were trapped and their race had been canned. Fortunately, she had heard our shouts and whistles and caught us up about 15 minutes later.

The three of us ran together through the mud and water until we reached the final checkpoint. I had no idea how far we had gone and only a vague idea of how long we had been running as I had had a ‘watch fail’. We were told at this point that we were being re-routed. I had been expecting some more of the steep terrain we had had at the start, with drop offs, roots etc, but instead it was pretty plain sailing – actually a boat might well have been handy! The trail was more rocky with the stream still flowing steadily along it, quite hard on my hips as there was no give in it and I couldn’t always see what I was putting my feet on because of the water, so keeping balance was a challenge.

water flowing down a trail in the bush
‘Stream running’

The added excitement now were the streams we had to cross that flowed over the trail. None were very wide but required me to be in the water with both feet for two or three steps, so I was quite circumspect, tried to find branches or rocks to hold onto and test the depth before committing. The deepest was thigh deep, but most were mid calf to knee deep. Running ‘blind’ – no watch to indicate time or distance is weird but quite liberating in a way once I had got over the frustration of my watch giving up the ghost! As the vegetation changed, I sensed that I was getting closer, then I heard a siren which meant I must be close to a road, then I saw the Hauraki Gulf through a break in the trees…. then I met a volunteer who said ‘Not far now!” “How far?” I asked. “About a km, down to the road, and there might be a bus waiting for you.” It would be a bit over the top to say that it was the sweetest thing I had heard, but it was great to hear I was so close as I was sure that I still had 2 or 3 kms to go. No big finishing line, just a time mat and a van, and a few other finishers waiting for the bus.

Whilst we had been running, the organisers had been working maniacally in the background troubleshooting, problem solving, trying to make sure we were all safe. I have some questions about decisions made about to go ahead with the event given the weather conditions. And I know that the marathoners had a pretty hard time. But once the proverbial hit the fan, they did what needed to be done to get people out. Plenty of learning to be done, I think! I loved my 4 and a half hours out on the trail/stream. I was tough enough! I will be back. It’s all in a great cause, after all. Proceeds go to SAR.

Wet training shoes, a race number and muddy socks

Our first adventure; Part 1 Christchurch to Kaikoura

holidayleisureNZNZ Placestravelwalks

So, we flew to Christchurch and met ‘Vera’. Although I had bought her just a few weeks ago, I have to confess, I was a little worried that I might have been sold a pup! It all happened so quickly.

Nigel: There’s a camper van in CHCH, see if you can arrange to view.

Anne: OK.  Contacts vendors, they bring it to my hotel, I look around it. Test drive it around Christchurch on roads I don’t know, scared to go too far in case I get lost! Decide the vendors sound legit, WoF and history seems ok, bit tatty, but engine seems fine, drives ok. Deal done! Money transferred. 24 hours later, they deliver it to work. We are the owners of a 25 yr old Toyota Hiace camper van!

Now what? Well, I won’t go into the details of driving the wrong way up a one way three lane street, nor the narrow missing of a huge boulder rolling down the hill and landing on the other side of the garage where we parked the van for safekeeping for a few weeks.

We’ll start the story as we head north with our new acquisition.

Part 1: Christchurch to Kaikoura (the naming of names)

Camper vans have to have names. Don’t they? So my friends say, anyway. And my Dad always named his cars. Kevin, who looked after the van, whose own car even more narrowly missed being hit by aforementioned large boulder, has two very tiny, very cute dogs. One of whom is Vera. Seems to fit! Nigel isn’t sure…

Pandas also need names. Not entirely sure what panda’s history is but he (she?) came with the van.  On the way north we stopped for coffee with the rellies. They had a tour of the van and when William asked what Panda’s name was, we asked him to do the naming honours. Pete it was. Pete the Panda.

Panda soft toy looking out of a white campervan
Pete the Panda

Apart from the coffee detour we also had a whiskey detour. Who would have imagined a whisky distillery in the middle of suburban Kaiapoi? We didn’t, but it would have been rude not to have called in! And even ruder not to have bought any!

The Kaikoura coast really has been decimated. In 2016, it was the centre of a magnitude 7.8 earthquake which pretty much cut the place off.  Subsequent ‘weather events’ have undone some of the remedial work that was done on the roads and when we drove north, it had just been re-opened, albeit with a curfew.  Access was only in daylight hours, – 7 am to 7pm.  The landslides and the damage to the road and coastline are incredible and progress is slow with lots of the road operating one way only with traffic lights or Stop Go signs.  It has been difficult to imagine what the road looked like from the constant news articles, and I think that it is worse than we ever thought.

mountain landscape in the background, repairs being made to a road, cranes and diggers working on the road. Bottom right hand corner is the reflection in the wing mirror of the car of the photographer taking the photo.
Roadworks

We stopped at Kaikoura itself for a break and a wander along the seal colony. It is 13 years since I was last there and so memories are a little hazy.  But we saw plenty of seals basking like large slugs in the sunshine. However, there is evidence of the earthquake apart from the obvious shift of the level of the coastline. In one section of the trail, we noticed skeletons of young seabirds, in situ, seemingly in nests. It was quite eerie. We have struggled to find any documentation specifically and it may well be that these are victims of a weather event subsequent to the earthquake.

skeleton still with feathers of a seabird nestled in the remains of a nest in the white pebbles on the beach
Young seabird skeleton: Kaikoura
man wearing a red tee short and shorts walking across the rocky beach area at the coast. Mountains in the background with wisps of cloud in front of them.
Nigel at Kaikoura

folded white rock whic looks like it is waves. A single windswept tree stands on the horizon on a hill

As 7pm drew close, we needed to make it off the road. The NZ Campervan Association manual told us that there were several possible overnight campsites along the road. Unfortunately, it didn’t tell us that they were no longer available because of the damage to the road. Maybe because the NZ campervan association is almost entirely analogue and so can’t easily update. However, eyes peeled we scanned the coastline and soon saw the telltale white of another van parked up close to the beach. The railway track was now conveniently on our left and so we easily pulled off, followed our noses and found a sweet spot right on the beach. We nudged Vera backwards so that we could open the tailgate and have a view of the ocean. Set for the night.

Sunset, fire, sleep, sunrise. Magic. #campervanlife

panorama of the sunset over a beach.

fire on the beach with a glass and a bottle of whisky in the foreground
Fire and Kaiapoi whisky – sweet combination

sunrising over the ocean, turbulent waves in the forground

 

 

 

 

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