MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Archive for the month “March, 2022”

Hokitika Time

Food may not be the first thing that springs to mind when most tourists think of Hokitika. And perhaps, for many New Zealanders, the same may also be true. But for years I’d wanted to attend an annual food festival held there, and finally, in March 2020, I had a ticket in my possession and a weekend that I didn’t need to work. Traversing the width of the South Island from Christchurch on the east to Hokitika on the West, I bid the sun goodbye and arrived around lunchtime as the festival was kicking into full swing. I’d booked an Air BnB out of town so had to be sober for the drive there later on, but I readied myself for an afternoon of eating.

But this was no standard food festival, this was the famous Hokitika Wildfoods Festival, a celebration of edibles outside of the ordinary. The kind of grub that many people would balk at. I’m adventurous with food to a point. I’ve been privileged to have travelled to multiple countries across six continents and I’m always happy to try local cuisine and delicacies. It’s textures that tend to put me off, not so much taste, but I wandered round the food stalls eyeing up my options. As I did so, live music played on the main stage, and everyone was in a jovial mood. Thankfully it didn’t rain, so the cloud ended up being a blessing in disguise. It kept the temperature comfortable without being oppressively hot, and it saved my Scottish skin being over-fried.

I started off tamely with a mixed-meat kebab of rabbit, wallaby, deer, goat and wild boar. I’ve eaten all of these before so it was an easy bet. For dessert I got a grasshopper donut. Aside from the surreal experience of licking an ant’s bum in Australia (a zesty, lemony experience), I’d never eaten insects before. This was the perfect place to try as several places offered a variety of these snack-sized protein portions. The grasshoppers had been cooked so were extra-crunchy, and an odd but acceptable taste. I personally think that insects are an under-utilised food source for humans, but not everyone agrees with me.

 

After listening to the music for a while, I got myself a snail, electric eel and punga (a tree fern). The snail was always going to be a texture issue for me but actually ended up not being as bad as I expected and actually passed the taste test too. The ostrich from the South African tent was the biggest disappointment. I ate ostrich meat several times while in South Africa and it was always lovely, but this time around it was chewy and lacking in flavour.

I needed something more interesting so headed to the huhu grub tent. Huhu grubs are the larval stage of the huhu beetle, and live in rotting wood. Next to the tent were all the live grubs wriggling around in the sawdust of opened tree trunks, and whilst it was possible to eat them live and raw, I wasn’t keen on having one move around my mouth, so I opted instead for a cooked and skewered variety. A bit chewy and lacking much of a taste, I know they’ll do if I ever got lost in the wilderness for days on end.

The only ‘normal’ food I ate there was some lovely Hungarian fried bread. As I ate it, I stared at the sheep’s testicle tent for a long time trying to decide if I was game enough for one. I think if they’d been chopped up, and somehow made to look more edible I probably would have been more eager, but they were literally selling them as entire testicles, and being a vet I know exactly how solid and tough these things are, so I really couldn’t bring myself to buy one. That didn’t stop a steady queue of people lining up for them and they were the only stand I saw that sold out. In the end, my procrastination meant the decision was made for me.

As afternoon became evening, I procured some ice cream complete with witchety grubs. These were probably my favourite of the insects, and were nice and crunchy with a taste that was not off-putting. I’d easily eat these again and again and think they’d make a nice meal topper or crunchy addition to a salad. Food aside, there was such a great atmosphere there and some people had dressed up in unusual outfits which added some entertainment. I kept spotting a group of people dressed in pacman suits, and one of the event organisers was walking around dressed like a wild boar.

 

As a solo traveller, I’m used to doing a lot of things on my own. Going to a festival solo would not be everyone’s cup of tea, and in fact I know several people that would recoil at the prospect of such a thing, but I refuse to miss out on opportunities purely because I don’t have anyone to do things with, or don’t want to be tied to another person’s schedule. I had an absolute blast and spent a good 6-7hrs there enjoying the live music, filling my stomach with weird food and just generally enjoying an event that I’d wanted to do for years.

 

I pulled up to my Air BnB in the evening as the light was starting to fade. I’d booked a cabin in the woods, or at least the closest thing I could find in that area, and found myself with a view of the coast, in earshot of the waves crashing below and a nice comfy cabin to keep me warm at night. I still had a cricket donut to eat so this was my evening snack. Of all the insects, this ended up being my least favourite, partly because the crickets were so friable and bits got stuck around my teeth.

As is typical of the west coast, I woke up to grey skies and the threat of rain. This wasn’t going to put me off though, so I headed down to the beach below my cabin which felt wild and was littered with flotsam as the grey waves crashed on the shore. After grabbing brunch in Hokitika, I headed south across the river to Lake Mahinapua. It’s very hidden from the road, with a need to drive through a forest to get there, but it was drizzling when I pulled up, so I didn’t spend as long as I would have liked there. I don’t always have the best of luck with weather on the west coast, so I’ll need to make a return trip here if I ever get the weather Gods right.

 

Back in town, I did a walking tour of the many historical sites around the place. Like many places on the west coast, the presence of prospectors and historical commerce has shaped the modern town today. The drizzle was a slight nuisance but I was still able to appreciate the various sights, and old architecture that is hidden down a variety of streets. Wildfoods Festival aside, Hokitika is also known as the driftwood capital of New Zealand. The prevailing currents deposit a large amount of flotsam on the wild beach, and there is also a driftwood sculpture competition here too. Multiple sculptures were still littering the beach, and I was able to wander around them before the rain became heavier.

 

I was eventually beaten by the weather, so I grabbed a pizza from nearby Pipi’s Pizza (a Hokitika institution), and parked up in front of the Hokitika driftwood sign to watch a movie on Netflix as the rain pounded down. Rather than being frustrated by the west coast weather, it was actually quite enjoyable to just sit there in my car. I have a lot of memories of family road trips with my parents in Scotland where we’d inevitably get a good dose of Scottish rain, forcing us to park up and sit it out in the car. This just reminded me of that, and that made it feel quite homely.

 

There was still the hint of rain in the air the next morning. I had stopped working Mondays the year before meaning my non-work weekends are a 3-day weekend for me. This has made weekend getaways that bit better with having that extra day to explore before needing to head home. To the south-east of Hokitika is the large and long Lake Kaniere. When I arrived at the north-western tip of the lake, the far bank was shrouded in clouds, hiding their peaks. My original plan had been to do a walk around the western shore of the lake but with a perceived lack of time and the threat of rain still looming, I decided instead to just take the scenic drive round the lake.

 

Away from Canoe Cove and Hans Bay, the only settlements and lake access available, the road quickly became a dirt track, and a track that I quickly discovered, had been previously washed out and was in a pretty poor state of repair. Thankfully it wasn’t impassable in my 2-wheel drive, but it was muddy in places, narrow in others, and it just generally looked a mess. As I reached the eastern shore there was a light drizzle as I appeared to have caught up with the clouds, but what the rain did mean though, was that Dorothy Falls was gushing. This waterfall is a very short walk from the road side, so was easy to access, and the tannin-stained water flowed noisily over the hillside and down towards the lake.

 

It ended up being quite a long drive to circumnavigate the lake and get back into Hokitika. Heading north to start the journey home I took a road up to the cemetery where there was a bit of a view over the coast and the town. The sun was out here which made a nice change from the rain. A little further up the road was a historic railway bridge that is a remnant of the old commerce that used to exist here.

Cutting east towards Arthur’s Pass, I decided to follow some of the tourist signs that I’ve driven by multiple times without investigating. I was a little underwhelmed at the Londonderry Rock, which whilst indeed being a big rock, was effectively just a large boulder overgrown and surrounded by trees. I was already on a back road from here so I took another detour to Kapitea Reservoir which despite being a reasonable body of water, was also rather underwhelming. At least the scenery on the drive through Arthur’s Pass made up for it. This road never fails to disappoint, especially between Otira and Porter’s Pass.

There were murmurings afoot prior to this weekend away, and they grew stronger within the following couple of weeks. I hoped to be wrong, but not only would this turn out to be my last trip out of Christchurch for a few months, but it was beginning to become clear that my upcoming trip home to Scotland might be under threat. Just a few weeks after this fun weekend away, New Zealand was plunged into a 2-month lockdown, a rhetoric I would have never foreseen in my life before then. Like the rest of the World, COVID-19 was now here. And we all know how things went from there…

Reaching New Heights

Sometimes you just have one of those days that are incredibly enjoyable. Where everything is exciting or new or exhilarating or all of these things combined. After a long hike out from Port Craig on the third day of the Humpridge Track, I’d left Southland behind and driven north into Otago. One of my favourite parts of the country is Wanaka, but by this point in February 2020, it had been a while since I’d been. I’d last been there for a friend’s wedding where the sun had shone brightly above, and now, late in the evening, I arrived to overcast skies.

New Zealand is normally all bustle in February due to an influx of Chinese tourists for Chinese New Year. Still being summer, this usually adds to the large numbers of foreign visitors already here from foreign shores. Wanaka is usually packed all summer, but the gradual spread of the coronavirus, which back then was just filtering out across the globe, had curbed the usual February influx, and although still full of people, I noticed immediately that Wanaka was not as busy as usual. And that suited me just fine.

I was staying at the YHA which has a fabulous outlook over a large park with the lake behind it, and once checked in I headed straight down to the lake side for a walk along the promenade. The clouds masked the sunset over the peaks to the west and on the far side of the lake I could see rain moving across. I had my fingers crossed for some good weather the next day, and went to bed hopeful of clear skies in the morning.

I wasn’t disappointed. It was a glorious morning, and I retraced my steps down to the lakeside as the sun rose high enough to bathe the lake in light. But it wasn’t long before I needed to jump in my car and head out to the back of the town for my day’s adventure. Meeting my group and my guide, we bundled into the mini-van to head out towards Mount Aspiring National Park where we pulled in to view our challenge for the day. In front of us was a multi-tiered waterfall cascading down 450m of the mountainside, and one of the few Via Ferrata sites in New Zealand.

I’d wanted to do a Via Ferrata for many years. The ‘iron path’ in this case was a choice of 3 trips up increasingly higher routes next to the waterfalls. Wild Wire Wanaka, an awesome local company, offers Lord of the Rungs trips up and I had booked into the full ascent, all 450m up via a series of iron rungs and cable ways, which is the highest waterfall cable climb in the World. I’ve abseiled a few times and done some basic clip-climb adventures, but I hadn’t done anything to this level before. Down near ground level, there was a practice boulder to get us used to clipping on and clipping off to the safety cable, as well as getting used to the feel of our harnesses on our body. There was just 4 of us doing the full ascent, everybody else was doing a lower level climb. I wasn’t as fit as I would have liked but I’m a regular hiker and aerialist so figured my background fitness would see me right.

The lower route was a breeze, snaking up the hillside next to the lower cascade and negotiating some cable bridges that criss-crossed the water. After 150m vertical ascent, we reached the base of Picnic Falls from where we could start to get a broader view along the valley where the road heads into the National Park. Lake Wanaka was only just creeping into view from behind the nearby mountain. From here, a series of waterfalls cascaded down a fairly vertical section of rockface, and the sun was now beating down on us from above. Across more cableways and up rung after rung, we pulled ourselves up to 320m to a ledge which had a spectacular view of an increasingly visible lake.

 

By now we were at the base of Falcon Falls. This was the turning back point for everyone apart from the 4 of us and our guides. I was lucky enough to have the company owner as my guide and he was incredible at making sure we had fun and stayed safe. We had a bit of time to hang around here because this was our refreshment stop ahead of the final push. I’d been loving the trip so far, and although it was a hot day, I’d felt fit enough to cope well with the route so far. There was still another 130m ascent to gain to reach the 450m total drop of the falls, and I felt ready to take it on.

 

We ascended 2 people per guide. Myself and another solo traveller went first behind our guide as we headed up through vegetation initially, reaching the gantry which was one of my favourite sections of the whole climb. Effectively a plank of wood on metal rungs locked into the rock, we were able to cross this and go behind the waterfall we were scaling. It was beautiful and the sun against the water created a pretty rainbow to frame the view. There was a pleasant spray from the water as we cut behind it.

 

Only as we got higher did I realise that my guide had been keeping an eye on me. I had felt perfectly fine climbing up so far, and I thought I had looked that way too. I’m not sure whether I was being judged on my age, or whether something had given it away, but it turned out there was a method in my guide’s choice at putting me directly behind him. I had just thought it was luck that I was able to watch how he distributed his weight and was able to copy him, unlike the other woman who wasn’t able to see and could only watch me. For all of the climb so far, it had either been a vertical ascent or a near vertical ascent, but beyond the waterfall was a section where there was an overhang to negotiate. This involved having to trust the harness and actually hang off the mountain while using upper body strength to pull up. I hadn’t for a minute thought this would be a problem, but when it came to it, I actually struggled a bit. I couldn’t work out how to distribute my weight correctly to optimise the move and quickly fatigued in the process. Perhaps the guide had anticipated this, as his placement in front of me, meant he could offer me a bit of a haul up, something that wasn’t an option for the other climber behind me. While I was in my 30s, she was in her 20s and by comparison she was nimble and had no issues getting up to join us. I was a little embarrassed.

There was still the final climb to go but it was just back to a vertical ascent again, and finally, and almost sadly, we reached the canyon where the river came down to the top of the falls. Our 450m ascent was over. A track led through the trees and out onto the mountainside where we could see up the river valley into the edge of Mount Aspiring National Park, as well as across to Beacon Point on the far side of the lake. Above us was a 1955m peak which looked totally reachable but wasn’t actually accessible. There was a short wait till we were joined by the other pair with their guide, and then we watched as the final fun part of the trip came up to meet us.

 

Unlike the ascenders of the lower two sections of the falls, we were not going to be walking down. Instead, the full via ferrata is rewarded by a helicopter descent. I had actually thought we were going to be flown back into town which would have given spectacular views, but as it turned out, we were just to be flown back down to the car park. I wasn’t disappointed for long though as even that short flight was fun, simply because I don’t get to fly in helicopters that often. At the same time, the valley was full of paragliders which the helicopter pilot had already skillfully avoided on the flight up, and after we had watched them floating around for a bit, the helicopter had us loaded up and down on the ground in no time at all. It was the perfect end to an incredible adventure.

 

But the day was far from over. After being dropped back in town, I almost immediately headed back out towards the National Park. Just a little before the waterfall is the parking lot for Diamond Lake and Rocky Mountain tracks. Despite a few prior visits to Wanaka, I’d only discovered the Diamond Lake track on my previous visit, and had gone as far as the lookout with my partner. This time though I was wanting to conquer Rocky Mountain which is only 775m high. I’d been looking across to it all day from the waterfall ascent, so it only seemed right to knock it off on the same day.

From the car park, the track heads up a switchback to reach the lake which, despite some incredible reflections seen from the lakeside track, is best appreciated from the lookout partway up Rocky Mountain. From the lookout, there are two ascents up to the summit, but having never been up before, I opted to take the eastern route up which included a side-track to a lookout of Lake Wanaka. As is often the case when I’m down this way, I take hundreds of photos because why wouldn’t you? The place is gorgeous, and between the lake and the mountains, there’s barely a dull spot to look at.

 

The track, while well worn, is a little rough underfoot in places, and after a day of hauling myself up the via ferrata, I was a little tired in the legs. I’d hiked 3 days solid followed by a slog up an iron ladder. I was feeling both fit yet exhausted from the exertion. But the views were worth it, and I sat on the summit for a long time as the shadows grew long as the sun dropped low to the west. Below me, the lake water looked so still, and behind me, the towering point of Mount Aspiring, the National Park’s tallest peak, stood in the shadow with its glacier perched near the top.

 

It took some pull to make me leave, but the views accompanied me on the way down too. I took the western track down, descending a different way which gave me a view across to the twin falls, one of which had been the site for the via ferrata, now in shadow. I was mainly looking across to Roys Peak, one of the first mountains that I climbed in the South Island back when I first emigrated. I haven’t been up it since, because back in 2012, I was one of only 5 people on the summit, and it was another perfect day like this one had been. Sadly, it has become Instagram famous, and since then, it has become overcrowded with queues at the top to take specific photos, and degradation of the vegetation has occurred as a result. Despite the stunning views, I’m not really in any hurry to go back up.

 

It was after 7pm by the time I got back to my car and I had a good appetite now in need of satiation. Being a Sunday night, the eateries were busy but I got my stomach filled. The following day I had to drive home to Christchurch, and I wished I could have stayed longer. When I woke up on the Monday, it was another cracker of a day. The locals were all back to their day jobs, but there were a few tourists milling around at the lakeside. After breakfast I joined them, slowly walking the shore until I reached the wharf. It would have been a perfect day to go hiking, but instead I joined the small crowd of people that were feeding the eels in the lake. I’d never seen an eel before moving to New Zealand but they’re often a bit of a local attraction wherever they can be found in accessible waterways. It was a complete melee between the large eels and the myriad of waterfowl that all fought over the food scraps on offer.

 

I took my time heading back, savouring the views before grabbing a sundae from Patagonia, the wonderful ice cream and chocolate shop that can be found in Wanaka and Queenstown. But by lunchtime, I really had to leave. It takes 4-5hrs to drive back to Christchurch but the weather followed me most of the way. I stopped at the head of Lake Pukaki to savour the blue water which shimmered under the blue sky. From here, Aoraki/Mount Cook, the country’s highest peak, is in full view. To savour this sight, I stopped at a lakeside car park half way up the lake for a meander along the shore. I love living in Christchurch, but I’m also often sad to return to it after being away in the countryside. It was back to work and the daily grind the following day, but I didn’t have too long to wait till my next trip away.

Humpridge Track – Beyond Humpridge

A high bank of clouds hung over the mountain as the hut began to empty itself of hikers. It made for a grey start to a long day of hiking ahead up on the Humpridge, a little over 900m. I had a long descent ahead with my next bed an estimated 8hrs hiking away at an altitude of just 33m. There was a short trek up from Okaka Lodge to the ridge line and shortly after I turned to head downhill, I was greeted by a couple of kea. Kea are such cheeky interactive birds, and I always love to see them. They hung around only for a few minutes before taking off, revealing the bright orange underside of their otherwise predominantly green plumage.

 

Looking down either side of the mountain, wisps of morning cloud hung around the valleys and trees within view. I was facing directly out over Te Waewae Bay and Rakiura, surrounded by low alpine vegetation either side of the track. By the time I reached the track junction for the ascent I’d done the day before and the descent in front of me, I was walking through what is generally known as goblin forest, an ethereal type of forest typified by lichen-covered trees and moss-covered floors, where goblins and mythical creatures would not seem out of place. They can often be eerily quiet too, but on this occasion there were regular fantail and tomtit sightings as I moved through.

 

Back out on exposed ridge line, the descent was easy but the path was narrow making for the occasional jostle as faster hikers wanted to pass each other. There were great views looking behind and forwards, and I could make out the distinctive boulders atop Humpridge for quite some time. It looked stormy inland and then out of nowhere, a large cloud began to sweep up the eastern aspect of the mountain, enveloping the trail as I approached the area known as Luncheon Rock. The view was just obliterated and it became suddenly very cold. I waited it out for a bit, knowing from experience that it would only be temporary, savouring the view when it returned before disappearing into thick forest.

 

The rest of the descent was through forest similar to what I’d hiked up through the day before. I caught glimpses of kaka parrots feeding in the trees, and there was the sound of various bird species as I descended lower and lower. It took about 4.5hrs to reach the South Coast track at a mere 80m altitude and within minutes I found myself at the first of a series of historic viaducts. This coastal route used to be used by loggers and had a historic sawmill train running along it. The Edwin Burn viaduct was first, followed by the Percy Burn viaduct some time later. On the path between them, there were the hints of railway tracks just about visible through the soil. The viaducts themselves were huge wooden structures spanning wide gullies in the forest and as I crossed the Percy Burn viaduct, I could just make out the sea to the south, peaking out above the tree line.

 

After crossing the Sand Hill viaduct, the track continued to follow the contours of the coastline. I naively assumed I’d get a view of the sea as it skirted round Sand Hill Point but the forest was just too thick. Port Craig felt both tantalisingly close but also still some distance away. I was repetitively distracted by birds though with South Island robins keeping my company as I negotiated what was sometimes a rather muddy track. The foliage here meant sunlight didn’t penetrate well but being a typically wet part of the country, the undergrowth wasn’t getting the chance to dry out. By this point, the clouds had left and as the track started to turn north-east, I was bathed in glorious sunshine wherever the foliage would allow.

I reached Port Craig just shy of 8hrs since I’d left Okaka Lodge. Port Craig Lodge was a series of buildings around a central boardwalk, and my assigned bed was thankfully away from the snorer of the night before. The only view here was down by the helipad, but nearby there was a historic walk which led through some remnants from the sawmill days, as well as a track that led down to Mussel Beach at the edge of Te Waewae Bay. As I followed the beach track there was a lookout over the expanse of blue ocean and as I looked down on it, I saw a dolphin in the water. That was enough to spur me on to get down to the beach pronto.

 

The tide was out, and there was a gentle lap of water on the sand. I had no swimming clothes but I waded out to my knees to let the water soothe my aching feet and I craned my neck looking for signs of something break the water. My reward was the little rounded fin of a Hector’s dolphin feeding in the surf. Time and time again its fin cruised through the water and I caught it breathe as it moved back and forth across the bay. Sometimes it was tantalisingly close to shore, and then it would go out quite far till I could barely see it. At one point it was joined by a second dolphin and I couldn’t believe I pretty much had this moment to myself, despite how many other hikers had already arrived at the hut.

 

I spent over an hour either sitting or meandering on the beach. The dolphins kept me company for a large part of that before they moved further offshore. Latterly some other hikers joined me but they had missed most of the show. I felt so privileged to have experienced that. Eventually I headed back up the steps and walked the historical loop track past abandoned and rusting pits and chimneys. Back at the lodge, the common room began to fill up as everyone crowded in to to make and eat dinner. Once again, the presence of a bar meant I could indulge in a post hike cider. For the second day in a row, I’d hiked 21km, and I’d seen so much wildlife. I thankfully slept so much better that night.

The cloud had moved in over Fiordland National Park during the night and I woke up to a cooler and overcast morning. There was no great mountain to conquer that day but there was still a predicted 7hr hike back to my car. Te Waewae Bay is huge, and the trail was effectively following the coastal margin, although within the forest. The vegetation was so dense away from the trail and I was again reminded how easy it would be to get lost or disorientated if you strayed too far. I spotted kaka again as I moved under the trees then the rain began, and despite the density of the canopy above my head, it made it through the foliage and it was time to gear up in my waterproofs.

Despite the rain, I paused on the beach at Breakneck Creek where I could see the rain moving across the bay. It was steady enough to feel damp, and there was only so long I wanted to hang out in the rain before moving onwards. After another forested section, the trail actually cut down to another beach and the beach became the track. Among the debris on the sand I noticed a rock that looked like it had shellfish fossils in it. Among the waves some jagged rocks were being pounded by the surf but this didn’t seem to deter the spotted shags that were hanging out there. As I moved from one beach to a second beach, the rain began to ease a little and I could see that I was going to out-walk the bad weather. Finally though, I reached the track junction that led up to Okaka Lodge, and now I was retracing my steps from day 1.

 

Exiting Fiordland National Park through the edge of the forest, the long stony beach beckoned once more but it felt a little wilder this time, with the surf breaking on the rocks. A lone shag rested there despite the steady stream of hikers that passed by. The little beach shacks were passed and the last of the swing bridges traversed. Around 2pm I found myself heading up the stairs to the final forest section, eventually popping out at the car park, highly satisfied and tired.

 

I have to admit that often the first thing I’ll do when I come off a multi-day hike is to head straight to a coffee shop for a decent coffee. I used to only drink coffee on the weekends when I lived in Scotland, but the quality coffee in New Zealand means I’m firmly a daily caffeine consumer now, and I always crave a decent brew when I return to civilisation. I had good reason to on this occasion though as I had a 3.5hr drive to my bed for the night. Always one to pack the most into my time off work, I had one more adventure to go before returning to Christchurch.

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