My Life in Motion

Archive for the month “December, 2015”

Mount Robert

If you were to have just one day to visit Nelson Lakes National Park, I highly recommend it is spent hiking Mount Robert. Towards the northern end of New Zealand’s South Island, nestled on a road between Nelson and Blenheim, is the little village of St Arnaud that lies by the bank of Lake Rotoiti. Flanked by the St Arnaud mountain range on the eastern aspect, opposite to them, and round West Bay lies the domineering peak of Mt. Robert.

Lake Rotoiti hikes illustrated at the DOC office


It is a short drive from the village, and up a winding unsealed road to reach one of the car parks. Stopping in to the local Department of Conservation office, I was recommended to hike the summit in an anti-clockwise route, and I would definitely recommend this too. From the uppermost car park, the Pinchgut Track sets off through an impressively dense and tall forest and immediately starts the constant winding gain of altitude that leads up to the summit. The middle section of the ascent is exposed to the elements – in the case of the day I hiked it, this meant the harsh and hot sunshine. Zig-zagging upwards for over an hour, Lake Rotoiti is visible for a large portion of the hike before the trail disappears again into the forest. Being in the middle of the summer, there were alpine flowers in bloom and plenty of Tui flitting about the trees.

Forest walk on Mt Robert

Nelson Lakes National Park

Lake Rotoiti on the ascent

View through the forest canopy

Alpine flowers


After about an hour and a half, the path burst out of the trees at a pseudo-summit. The true summit of 1421m (4662ft) is unmarked, but is effectively one of the two little hillocks that sit to the side of the path which is only a metre or two off the summit height. From this ridge track, the lake is hidden, but instead the vista is of rolling green hills spreading off into the distance. Nelson Lakes National Park is undeniably beautiful, and with the sunshine and associated haze, the mountains appeared blue. A little hut, called the Relax Shelter sits near to the split in the path which marks the turning point for the loop track to head back to the car park. With more time, it is possible to continue along the Pinchgut track which climbs higher to the Robert Ridge, and beyond to the Angelus Hut by a mountain lake of the same name, and further still to connect to one of the many tracks around both Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotoroa. The National Park is a hiker’s paradise with a large selection of track options to choose from.

Relax Shelter with Robert Ridge behind

Track options from the summit of Mt Robert

Summit view west

Summit view west


My partner, who is not a fan of hiking mountains, always spends the incline cursing me under his breath. I always know he will love the view and the achievement at the end of it, which is why I talk him into it, so after receiving the evil eyes on the steep climb up, the smile broke across his face as we rested up by the shelter. The bees were busy polinating, and some other hikers chatted to us for a while. After a pit-stop, we took the loop path that split from the Pinchgut Track, called Paddy’s Track. This took us first over a fairly barren ridge where we were facing the immense wall of the St Arnaud range, and finally Lake Rotoiti came back into view.

Looking across to the St Arnaud Range

St Arnaud range from Paddy's Track

Lake Rotoiti from the shingle ridge


Beginning the descent, we passed the Kea Hut, an old ski club hut from the days when people used to hike up mountains before ski lifts were invented, and beyond this was the Bushline Hut, a decent-sized overnight hut at 1290m (4232ft) altitude. Being a popular trail, we got chatting to a German hiker whilst we ate lunch. After having had Mt Alford to myself the week before, it was interesting to have so many tourists to chat to as we went. From this point onwards, Lake Rotoiti is in full view for the majority of the descent. The path has loose shingle making some parts a slip hazard, but with such an awesome view it was a very enjoyable walk down. On two occasions, there is a scree slope to negotiate which needs good treads on your feet, and finally, the path disappears back into the forest for a while before eventually exiting at a lower car park.

Kea Hut poking through the trees

Panorama of Lake Rotoiti

Lake Rotoiti with St Arnaud visible

Lake Rotoiti

Lake Rotoiti through the forest

Descending towards Lake Rotoiti

2nd scree slope


The DOC signs state 5 hrs for this hike, and that’s not far off what it took us to complete the circuit, although this included a lengthy lunch break and a shorter break on the summit. The majority of the hike is exposed to the elements making it a sweaty affair on a sunny day, but I was recommended this hike, and I highly recommend it as a must for any trip to this National Park.


Mount Alford

I had the whole mountain to myself. Pulling in to the little area demarcated as a car park, I was surprised to find no other vehicles, on a summer Sunday. It had even been a fairly traffic-free drive from Christchurch, along the Inland Scenic Route past the Rakaia Gorge and the bottom of Mt. Hutt, considering the tourist season is in full swing. Past the turn-off to Methven and a little further down the road, is the turn-off to Alford Forest and the road that leads to the start of the Mt. Alford summit track. Parking up next to a large field crammed full of sheep, the DOC sign marks the entrance and maps the route up.

DOC Sign at the car park

Map of the walk


The walk starts on private farm land where signs repeatedly note the importance of closing gates and sticking to the path. It is generally a case of follow the orange poles, but most of the track is well trodden and quite obvious. Leaving the sheep behind, the path crosses a private track and heads deep into the forest where it stays more or less for the best part of an hour. It was very muddy underfoot thanks to some recent heavy rain but the vegetation in the forest hints at frequent rainfall here, so no matter how good the weather is, this is a walk worthy of good boots.

DOC sign at the transition between public and private land

Sheep at the foot of the mountain


I’m not always a fan of forest walks due to the lack of view, but this forest was teeming with birds which made it a really enjoyable place to be. In fact the whole hike was really enjoyable, and the forested section reminded me of the Kepler Track in Southland. At times, the birdsong was interspersed with the bubbling of a nearby stream, which at one stage needed to be crossed. There is only a slight break in the trees where a private track cuts through, and the next section of forest was particularly boggy in places as well as having lots of tree roots underfoot.

Alford Forest

Stream crossing

Mt Alford summit track


Finally, there is a break in the trees, and the first proper look back over the expanse of the Canterbury Plains is possible. Whilst the clouds were high, there was almost a haze over the plains, and it looked suspiciously like the weather man had got the forecast wrong. At least the sky looked promising in the direction of the summit and I remained hopeful of getting a decent outlook at the top. Through another brief section of forest, I emerged at a gate into a field of cows who all turned round to look at me as I proceeded to hit my head on the fence whilst passing through the gate.

Ashburton River

Canterbury Plains


Having worked on a farm in my younger days, I feel confident around stock, but as beef cattle are handled a lot less than dairy cattle and therefore more prone to be inquisitive or seem aggressive, I could see how someone of a fainter heart would not be thrilled about negotiating a field of cows. The orange markers mark the path along the edge of the field, but I had a hundred pairs of eyes on me as I negotiated the quagmire in places. By now the sun was beating down from above and without realising it at the time, I was approaching the half-way mark.

Mt Alford behind the cows

The gate into the cow field

The cow field


At the top of the field and through the gate, the track very briefly follows a 4×4 track before veering off across the field and for the first time, losing an obvious route. The track is not well worn here and at one orange pole it really was not obvious where to go. As I knew I was headed up, I simply picked my own way up the hillock until I came to the next fence line where I found the next gate. On the other side of the gate was a picnic table overlooking a stunning view across to the neighbouring mountains. This would have been a sensible place to stop for a while, but I opted to push on, aware of some clouds creeping over the summit, and not wanting a repeat of Mt. Thomas a month prior.

Hiking the Mt Alford track

The 4x4 track

Table with a view


From here on though, it is a relentless uphill slog. The vegetation changes to a more tussock or alpine plant, and the path underfoot is quite stony. There are several alpine plants that have spines, and I repeatedly got stabbed in the leg or the hand as I negotiated my way up the slope. But the pay-off was the view which was spectacular from this point onwards, with one side of mountains visible to begin with, then eventually another side opening up as the ridge drew nearer. Finally, the lower ridge was reached, and then it was an easy walk up to the summit (1171m/3842ft).

Mt Hutt beginning to appear in the distance

Mt Alford track

View from Mt Alford track

Mt Alford summit from the lower ridge


Unlike other walks maintained by DOC, there is no summit sign or trig point. A man-made stone cairn denotes the top of the mountain and for 360 degrees, there is an amazing view of mountains spreading out in an arc behind and to the side, with the expansive Canterbury Plains opening up below. I spent an hour at the summit, just me and a few bees for company. Many of the alpine plants were in flower, and despite the high cloud, there was still an impressive vista to soak up. The sun teased me, threatening to break through, but it never did. Instead, I watched as clouds formed on the neighbouring mountains and swirled around and up the valleys.

Mt Alford summit

Yellow flower

View from Mt Alford summit

Mt Alford summit

Clouds building up

Alpine plants


In fact I was so mesmerised with the clouds that I didn’t realise how much they were building up. I had been so busy ogling the landscape and the clouds in one direction then the next, that suddenly I looked round and realised that both neighbouring mountains had been partly engulfed with clouds, and there were a cluster threatening to obscure the face of Mt Alford. With my descent purely visual based on following orange poles, I came to the sudden realisation that if I didn’t get my ass off the summit, I may lose visibility to get back down again. Supposedly, the afternoon was supposed to be better weather than the morning, but by 1.30pm, it looked the opposite.

Clouds creeping up neighbouring Mt Hutt


Pausing briefly to study some more alpine plants and to photograph my descent past the clouds, I made it back to the picnic table in no time at all. In the end, I needn’t have worried, because it wasn’t long before all the cloud dissipated and the sun appeared. Retracing my steps, I passed through the gate and picked my own way down the hillock before joining the cows once more. Again they watched as I passed by, and soon I was back in the forest where I came across the only two other people out on the track that day. Back through the forest I picked my way down, being ever careful of my footing, but once again surrounded by birdsong. The sun was out with gusto when I reached my car, still alone in the car park by the sheep.

Pretty alpine plant

Ashburton river

Cow & calf

Little waterfall


Walking at a reasonable pace, it took about 2hrs 15mins to reach the summit and about 1hr 45mins to get back down. With the start of the walk being roughly 1.5hrs drive from Christchurch, it is a very accessible and very enjoyable day trip away from the Garden City.

Old Favourites

I regularly need to pinch myself when I think how unbelievably blessed and lucky I am to call New Zealand home. I will always be a proud Scot, but there’s something about New Zealand that makes me immensely happy. I love getting out and exploring new parts of the country but I also love revisiting some of my favourites. I love living in Christchurch in the country’s South Island, and I can’t imagine living anywhere else right now, but at least once a year, I try to get up north to visit Auckland, the country’s largest city. It was the place where I touched down when I first arrived here, nearly 4 years ago, and I have spent many days here exploring different aspects of the city and its surroundings. I have my favourite places that I like to go each time, but I also try to go or do something new too.

This past weekend, I headed up for the first time in nearly a year. The weather played ball, and for the most part, I got to soak up the sun whilst making the most of the place. The greater Auckland population is over 1.5m compared with Christchurch’s roughly 360,000, and with the latter still in the throes of a post-earthquake rebuild, it is nice to escape to the Big Smoke and experience the goings on of a big city. Usually there is another reason to head north, and on this occasion it was to support some of my fellow pole dancers in a national competition. There were some amazing performances and it was lovely to see several people from the studio I attend winning awards.

But the most exciting thing about this trip, was the boat trip that I treated myself to the next day. Aside from travelling, I have a major love of all things cetacean, and am always eager to get out to sea at any available opportunity. I had discovered a couple of years ago that a whale and dolphin safari is available from downtown Auckland, and now was my chance to head out for a new experience. The weather conditions couldn’t have been better and it was a lovely calm trip east to the dominating Coromandel Peninsula that juts sharply out into the Hauraki Gulf. A convergence of currents here brings blooms of both phytoplankton and zooplankton which attracts Bryde whales and common dolphins on a regular basis, and Orca and bottlenose dolphins on a seasonal or sporadic basis. Any or all of these was going to keep me very happy indeed.


There was a while where it looked worryingly like there wouldn’t be a sighting. I’ve been lucky enough to have a multitude of whale watching trips under my belt, and not a single one of them has occurred without a sighting. But I’m always aware that there could be a first time, and I was starting to think it might be this one. But finally the call came out that a whale had been seen popping its head out the water straight ahead, and finally, not far off the Coromandel coastline, we came upon a Bryde whale lunge feeding. It repeatedly threw its head straight out the water before rolling onto its side. After a few lunges, it stopped feeding and swam around us from a distance. I’d last seen this species 10 years earlier in South Africa where the sightings had been so brief that I had managed no photographs, so it was fantastic to get a much better viewing this time round. We spent some time watching it move around us for a while before we went off in search of dolphins. Common dolphins are my favourite species of dolphin, and I was thrilled at the prospect of seeing them again. My memories from my only sighting of them are fading as again it was a brief occurrence in South Africa 10 years ago. We took a long route north then west back towards Rangitoto island, but alas it was not to be. The crew told us that it didn’t happen often, but I was gutted to see no dolphins on this trip.


The next day, I decided to revisit a place I hadn’t been for nearly four years: the observation deck of the Sky Tower. Auckland’s most iconic building, it was officially opened in 1997, three years after construction began. Like the Sydney Opera House in Australia, the Sky Tower had its critics, but like in Sydney, it is hard to imagine the skyline without this building now. Next to the SkyCity Casino, the entrance is underground, and then the elevator with its partly-glass floor whisks you up to the 51st floor to the lower of two observation decks. From here there is a 360o view of Auckland and its surroundings. It was an awesome thing to do when I first arrived in New Zealand as it helped me get my bearings in such an expansive city, and on a second visit it was just nice to see everything from above again. Like many buildings of its type around the world, there are sections of the floor made of reinforced glass so that you can stand over the massive drop and laugh as people either jump up and down on them or scare themselves silly on them.


On the 60th floor is a smaller observation area, but the glass up here is tinted differently, so I personally prefer the view on this floor with regards to being able to take photographs. The day I was there, there were two men doing repairs on the outside, suspended off the side of the building in harnesses and inside a ‘bucket’. It’s definitely not a job for the faint of heart. There are a few adrenalin activities available from the Sky Tower itself. It is possible to do a Sky Walk where you are harnessed up on a platform outside the building on the 53rd floor for a wander round. From here, it is also possible to do a harnessed base jump down to the ground. I don’t remember there being the Sky Jump there last time (although it’s quite possible I was oblivious to it!), so although I knew about its existence more recently, I didn’t know a lot about it. As it turns out, you can be merrily looking out the window on the 51st floor to be caught off guard by a human being hurtling past the window towards the ground. It was funny hearing the gasps when people on the observation deck weren’t expecting to see this! I’m thinking next time round, this may be my new experience to try in Auckland!


A trip to the City of Sails isn’t complete for me without a wander along the foreshore past the ferry terminal, the viaduct and beyond Wynyard Quarter to the marina. With an estimated 1 in 3 households in Auckland owning a boat, there is a plethora of boats in the marina, and the harbour is always full of boats, both private and commercial, chugging past. In the summer months, large cruise ships dock regularly, dwarfing the neighbouring Hilton hotel. There is also a multitude of spots to get a different angle of the stand-out Sky Tower dominating the Auckland skyline. It’s a view that’s hard not to fall in love with.

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