New Zealand 2006
Alan and Alison Visit New Zealand's South Island Feb/Mar 2006.

Wild, wet and beautiful. More rain than we believed possible. We spent a total of 10 days 'going bush,' New Zealand lingo for
backpacking into the back country. The South island is every bit as stunning and unpopulated as it is cracked up to be. On a 5-day outing we saw only 2 people. We spent one day kayaking in a fjord and another day kayaking from a coastal lagoon up river, deep into the rain forest. The rest of the time we spent on shorter trips in the bush, day hiking and searching out specialities of the south island like rare penguins, thermal hot springs, or navigating river caves.

The weather was a bit challenging. We had four days out of 17 that had any sunshine and only two days where it didn't rain buckets. An Antarctic blast came through early in the trip with wind gusts to 120 kph and freezing temps at night. A record storm that made headlines on the national news. We had a whole 12-hrs in a 5 day backcountry trip, when it wasn't blowing a gale and pissing down rain. Fronts came through about every 12 hours, each wetter, colder and windier than the last.

Some places we went on the west coast have over 250 days of rain a year giving them over 10 meters (that's 330 inches!). The only place wetter is Hawaii. The rain makes for incredibly lush rain forest and we spent a great deal of time hiking in forests of 30 to 50 ft tall tree ferns.

This picture captures the beauty of the cold and rainy trip. A clearing storm and sunset. We enjoyed drying out and the view in a river valley of the "Southern Alps."
Mountains just emerging from morning mists on the Routeburn Trail.
On our last day, we tramped (the Kiwi word for trekking) high on a ridge overlooking this valley south of Arthur's Pass to catch the last rays of light shining on a classic braided glacial river.
Alison looking over a high hanging valley on the Routeburn Trail.
Somtimes your "best" route is the river bed. Alison en-route to high mountain thermal hot springs.
Clearing storm and alpine river. We hit an Antarctic weather pattern on the trip (there is nothing between the South Island and Antarctica). Antarctic cold fronts came through on a 12 to 24 hour basis . It seemed that each was colder and windier than the last.
With all that rain and rugged terrain, New Zealand is home to thousands of spectacuar waterfalls. While beautiful, this waterfall is nothing special among all the others.
Kayaking on a typical rainy day in a fjord along the southwest coast.
Not what we wanted to see from trailhead. Yes, we are heading directly into the nasty weather. The wind was blowing so hard we parked our car in the lee of some large trees to prevent everything from blowing away while we backpacked.
Alison putting on her raingear...
The rain started 30 minutes from the car and continued for most of the next five days. This picture was taken in fairly nice weather. It isn't raining all that hard and it is probably in the mid 50's during the day.
Although Alan looks disgruntled in the third day of constant rain, it's not the weather he is upset about. He is warm and comfortable enough in his rain gear. He is envious of Alison's gaiters. The last two days hiking were along, or rather in, a river and his shoes are full of silt and gravel. He will solve this inequity just as soon as he can get into town (stay tuned...)
When it is raining inches a day, wading rivers is the most challenging part of the trip. It seems we were always thigh to waist deep in torrent cold glacial water. More hikers die from wading swollen rivers than any other cause in NZ. The gaitors (which Alison had from the get-go and Alan acquired mid-trip) were crucial for keeping rocks, river sand, and silt out of shoes.
Even on the rare sunny day, the main river is still running high and full of rock flour and silt. With narrow and deeply forested valleys, one spends a lot of time walking river beds and wading streams. We preferred it to treacherous side tracks on the precipitous valley walls with mud, moss, and wet rocks. Scooting along a 6 in wide muddy lip with a 100 ft drop is not our cup of tea. (That's what's above the cliffs in this picture.)
After thee days of constant rain and wind, a remote high mountain hut is a WONDERFUL thing. Who could pass up getting warm and dry in front of a wood burning stove? The hut system in New Zealand is superb. Since the 1930's the Kiwis built some 900 huts across the country --- many built since the 70's were helicoptered into improbably high and remote areas.
The weather can do what it wants. With a hot stove, a pot on for tea, and a nice bed, Alison is content.
One of the coolest parts of tramping in NZ was their famous "swing bridges".
The dawn of a rare sunny day. We "tramped" every minute of it snapping as many pictures as we could
Like this one. Warm and happy (for the moment...)
Morning light. A high mountain hanging valley still in shade
A remote and seldom visited valley. An antidote to crowded tramps like the Milford and Routeburn Tracks.
In the same valley: a high waterfall and the glacier feeding it.
The next day we headed out (in the rain, of course) and happened upon this spectacular rainbow.
In between tramping adventures, we went to visit the animal specialities of New Zealand. This is a juvenille yellow-eyed penguin who is in the middle of his moult. They moult for 4-6 weeks and then head to sea. Because it is a juvenille, you can't see the distinctive yellow band around his head (it's white here). He will acquire the yellow band only when he becomes an adult.
New Zealand fur seal
A rare Black Stilt. The introduced predators (cats, possum, rats, etc. -- there were no land predators prior to man arriving on the islands) in New Zealand hunted the ground nesting stilts almost to extinction. At their low point, they numbered in the 20's. The Kiwi's started a conservation program and today, have over 200 stilts -- all closely monitored and protected. We managed to see three birds in the wild.
Our second tramp was the famed, and duly crowed, Routeburn Track. New Zealand's "Great Walks" attract thousands of visitors from around the world. The Routeburn Track is so spectacular that even a good number of hikers can't spoil its beauty. The Track has a first class hut system that you have to reserve months in advance. We camped out where it is much easier to reserve a space.
It had lots of clear blue streams...
and nice waterfalls...
but it was the high apline scenery that captured our attention. The trail winds along the lower left corner.
Alan climbs a minor summit mid-day, while Alison naps below.
We only spent one night on the Routeburn trail -- evening view of a lake next to the Mackenzie Flat Hut.
After the Routeburn we planned to kayak for 5 days in a remote fjord. Unfortunately, the weather had other plans. With 35 to 45 knot winds forecast every day, the outfitter refused to put us in two days running. So, we settled for a day of kayaking in Milford Sound and took in as much of the fjord as we could. This is pretty much the nicest part of the day. Note our full rain gear, many layers of fleece underneath, complete with thick fleece hats. You do not want to flip and swim here.
Heading up the west coast for glacier site-seeing. The Fox Glacier with a river running out of its terminal face.
And the Franz Joseph Glacier. Bucking a worldwide trend of rapidly receding glaciers, the FJ Glacier has advanced in recent years.
We also went to see these round boulder things that....well...fell out, no eroded from the sea cliffs. The boulders were formed around a central core of carbonate lime crystals...blah, blah, blah science [Alison note].
Called the Moeraki Boulders.
Then there were the Pancake Rocks. Cool...
Mostly because they had blow holes (not shown here, but imagine a huge water spout coming out among these rocks).
After some siteseeing, it was time to hit the tramping again. This time, through the rain forests of the west coast (yes, it did rain on us). This is a rare opening with enough light to take a photograph. Alan was incredibly frustrated taking photos of the rain forest. It was so dark that his point and shoot camera would not take decent pictures.
Complete with a few swinging, swing bridges...
And tramping through the waterfalls (note Alan's newly acquired gaitors). Once out of the first tramp he made a beeline to the nearest moutaineering store.
More rain and the never ending stream crossings.
Although we found it hard to adequatly capture the rain forest in photos, suffice to say it was stunning, magical and serene -- full of fern trees, moss and lush greenery.
Alison takes a break to admire the gorgeous view as mist clears in the high mountain rain forest.
One last swing bridge crossing before......
NIRVANA! Hot Springs with a backdrop of glacier clad alpine peaks. Life really doesn't get much better than this.
Time for one more day kayak trip--this one along a huge lagoon on the Tasman Sea.
From the lagoon we kayaked deep into coastal rain forest.
Luckily, it was one of our four sunny days. A spot of sunlight pentrates the rain forest as the river becomes too shallow to navigate.
On a sunny day, the rain forest at the edge of the Tasman sea looks warm and tropical.
But the Tasman Sea, driven by circumpolar winds, is fierce and rough. Next stop south is Antarctica
The last adventure of our trip (literally at 9pm the night before we left) was in a cave. It was dark anyways, eh? The cave is about a half mile long and is an end-to-end tramp.
Oh, and did we mention the water flowing through it waist deep and climbing up slickrock waterfalls?

The crux was to traverse around a deep pool and scale a high waterfall. Once through that, you had to crawl across a wet ledge to exit the cave. Yeah, hard core!