Friday, November 25, 2016

Dispatches from Down Under: Canyoneering and Sea Kayaking

Another few days, another few good adventures in New Zealand.....

Next up on Andy (and Tom's) excellent adventure was canyoneering.  The first time I ever experienced "canyoning" was on a trip many moons ago to Chamonix when I did a trip down a steep creek there, and since then all my canyoneering adventures have been in the Utah desert, where water typically exists as only a skanky, cold pothole deep in a sandstone canyon (with the exception - that I'll never admit to - of a quick slink down the Deer Creek narrows in the Grand Canyon).  But given the proximity of the mountains and the sea in New Zealand it didn't surprise me that there was good canyoneering to be done down here, and sure enough there's (at least one) good adventure that lies in the hills of the humble but beautiful Coromandel Peninsula, which lies due east of Auckland across a 30 mile bay.  Andy has a couple of "mates" who are making a go of guiding people down the "Sleeping God Canyon" and were keen to show us their goods, and I was keen to see how NZ canyoning compared to what we have in Utah.  Additionally, I was curious to see for myself what the "no fear of litigation" has done to make New Zealand somewhat unique in the adventure world; the country has a reputation of taking absolute joeys down - and up - some fairly spicy stuff (as evidenced by the previous post; it's not many places that send raft clients over 20 foot waterfalls).

At first glance it looked promising:
And then we suited up alongside old timber harvest debris
Tbe first horizon line looked promising:
And Andy was stoked to drop in
It's a pretty big drop in its entirety
But I was impressed by Lee and Tessa - who hailed from the adventure mecca of London - who were totally game:
And weren't phased by the exposed-feeling secondary rappel anchor:
Andy getting himself pumped up for more big Canyoneering:
Note the log he's standing on.  It's a Kairu, and back in the day the loggers would use big rain events to try - mostly unsuccessfully - to launch these logs down the canyon
There were two big jumps:  one 30 feet
and one about 45 feet:
It's best to clear the rocks....
Here's another perspective of a massive Kairu log
One rappel mandated a bit of water hammerage; pretty rare in Utah, but pretty common in NZ canyons, apparently:
Goin' in....
In deep.  
Here's a view looking down into that rap:

Overall quite a fun day; these Kiwis know how to get after it, and indeed I was pretty impressed by the quality of the "adventure" associated with a guided trip.  I'm not sure that this would fly in the litigious US of A.  At the beginning of the day we all signed a liability release, and I noticed that a) it wasn't very long, and b) it said something to the effect of "as a participant you should know that there is a history of NO successful lawsuits being brought against outfitters for guided-activity accidents in New Zealand"  Good.

It was really interesting doing a guided trip after many years of not being guided on anything and doing an activity that I was pretty familiar with and in fact have kinda "guided" folks doing myself.  Russ and Ryan were pros and I learned a lot from them, both about gear/rigging (they set up a couple of zip lines, had different anchoring techniques than I'm familiar with) and about how they approached the activity and their clients to make it both adventurous yet safe (they made a big deal out of the practice rappels, but then - after looking the clients in the eye to confirm that they indeed "got it", sent them off on rappels, and then at the end - while safely attached to a fixed zip line - purposely shortened the rappel rope so that the hapless Londoner rapped off the "end" of his rope!  Made for a good thrill....)

Next up was an adventure that Andy has long had in his sights:  a sea kayak loop around the head of the Coromandel.  Here is the loop (in blue):
I have paddled a lot of rivers but have only paddled a sea kayak a few times, and as always, I thought "it's sea kayaking:  how hard can it be?"  But the boats that we borrowed are a bit specialized and have a keel to make them unusually fast, and as such they feel inherently unstable until they get going, when they feel slightly less unstable.  We had taken them out in a local bay for a test run earlier in the week, and indeed they felt tippy.  We tried rolling them without much success, and thus also practiced getting back into them (using a clever dry bag that fits over the paddle to act as a surface-lever).  All of the sea kayaking I had done had been in very protected bays, and now we were preparing to head around a thumb that stuck fairly prominently into the Pacific.  How hard could it be?
Andy about to find out. 
Fortunately we weren't tested much:  the waters were quite calm:
with only some vast nets and fishing boats to contend with:

Realistically it shouldn't be called "sea kayaking" - it should be called "Staying-close-to-the-shoreline kayaking"
As it turns out, we sort of misunderestimated a bit in our navigation, and inadvertantly picked an incorrect point to shoot for, and instead of a 6km/4mi crossing we made it into a 13km crossing, and were several miles from any land, even as the wind and swell picked up a bit:
This was closer in, when I finally felt comfortable to take my hands off the paddle....
Here's a view from our crossing:
We went out to those islands because it seemed like they were "on the way", but we realised that the ocean view can be a bit deceptive......
Finally happy in camp, I saw that even the New Zealand ducks are friendly:
Andy's not so sure....
Our campsite was in a nice little bay:
That met with approval from Beefcake Boy:

Back in the boats, we were blessed with a southwesterly wind that blew at our backs on the way up the coast, and then transitioned around to westerly, then northwesterly as we headed back south. Even the winds are friendly!  The route had some sublime views:

And from one camp I was able to do a great 18km trail run through some of the best native New Zealand bush Andy had ever seen and then up and over one of the highest hills around.  The trees here are incredible:
And ofd course there are New Zealanders who prove that ostentatiousness is not exclusive to Americans:
The road to this house alone is impressive, much less the amount of glass that was hauled along it for this monument to someone's ego
We had plenty more of nice weather, glassy water:
And sublime beaches:

And ended up in a deserted coastal resort community.  Things pick up on the vacation front around Christmas, apparently), but when we pulled in hoping to hitch a ride back to our car in the evening there were literally no human beings to be seen, despite hundreds of nice homes.  Reminds me of Deer Valley in the fall!  But that just meant one more nice beach camp:
And we were able to hitch around back to the car the next morning (after walking a few km to a busier road).

The Coromandel is a great place. Not sure how I'm going to fit all of New Zealand in over just a month if I keep finding awesome little nuggets like it all over the place..... 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Dispatches from New Zealand

When I graduated from college I went for a big European bike tour and returned home from Portland pretty broke and needed to work for a while.  At about the time I got home a coupla good friends headed off on a bike tour of New Zealand, but due to the aforementioned financial issues, I couldn't join them.  A few years later I also had a friend who was going on a bike tour in NZ and wanted me to join him, but I couldn't afford the 3 weeks of vacation.  Some years later my 75-ish year old mom went to New Zealand, and....well, tearing around NZ with her probably wasn't appropriate.  About 15 years ago Ashley went to NZ for a bike tour and....I wasn't invited!  Which is not quite true; she was doing the trip with her great friend Audrey and I probably coulda horned in, but I was getting going on a new biz and it wasn't a good time.  Then I met Kiwi Andy, who had moved to Utah and became one of my best kayaking pards, and then he moved back, so I had yet another good reason to go.  and finally, And, our good friends the Southwicks were so bold as to actually pick up their family and move their entire life from SLC to a beautiful town on the north end of the south island, so we had yet another great reason to go.  But other adventures beckoned and still I didn't make it, even as Andy has kept coming back to visit us.  But this past spring when I gave my gratuitous "I really want to come down there" he just scoffed at me:  "you've been saying that for years.  You're not coming down!"  Of course, I was offended, but it was true.   But events have come together, and finally....after far too many years and opportunities, I'm in New Zealand!

One of the things that has kept me going other places is that NZ represents somewhat of a lack of the buzz of "travel adventure"; yes, it's far away and there are a zillion lifetimes-worth of adventures to be had, but in terms of exposure to a radically different culture ala many of the trips that Ash and I have taken to Vietnam, Peru, Japan, Italy, Bulgaria, and others New Zealand is....very similar to the US.  It even looks a lot like Oregon; at least, so far (albeit with lots of different plants, that in total provide a similarly-verdant landscape).  But then again, I charge all over the US looking for good adventures, and they are all very US-like, so why not go to NZ to get some great adventurin' in with a great pard and partake in their culture?  

And though I had no idea that I would need it when I booked the flights a couple of months ago, after the gut-wrenching election, it's nice to be slightly away from that (though all the Kiwis are keen to hear my thoughts....)

Andy lives in Tauranga, which is a few hundred km south and east of Auckland on the coast (of the north island).  As mentioned above, it looks like Oregon, but they grow avocados, passionfruits, and citrus here!
Avocados for $2/bag, and they STILL wish me to "have a nice day?!"  I love the Kiwis....

"Rocket Lettuce"  - a far better name than "Arugula!"

My first experience with the legendary Kiwi niceness was in the Auckland airport; as I was getting ready to board my flight I asked the ticket agent if I could bring my bottle of water through security, and she said "well, this IS security, and I think it's fine if you want to drink some water!"  Hear hear!

One of the primary reasons for coming to NZ was to paddle the rivers, and if the first coupla days are any indication, they live up to their reputation.  So far we've paddled the Kaituna and Wairoa rivers; both dam release runs that are short (1km and 5km respectively) but offer a surprising number of pretty incredible quality rapids in their short span.  I didn't take my camera down the Kaituna, but here are a coupla pics I poached off the web:

I haven't paddled anything with significant gradient for a few years, so it is taken me a little to get back into the swing of things.  I flipped the first two times running the waterfall in the pic above until I realized that I wasn't quite on line; on our third lap I was able to appreciate the view with my eyes above the surface rather than below.

Paddling such a cool run (reminiscent of the White Salmon in Washington, but with warm water and a gradient sorta in between the BZ run and the Farmlands run) would be a great day in an of itself, but this river happens to drain Lake Rotorua, and I had heard about the mountain biking in Rotorua.  It bills itself as "The Best Mountain Biking in The World".  Hmm.  Really?  A bold statement.  But of course, after 3 laps on the Kaituna I had to see this for myself.

Andy and I were joined on our ride by Kylie, who knows the trails there perfectly and had also been showing me the lines on the Kaituna (she warned that she was not "bike fit", but it was clear pretty quickly that fitness doesn't have too much bearing on how much brake you grab on descents, and for her it wasn't much!).  I am never, ever prone to superlatives, but I must admit that it's the Best Mountain Biking Ever!   An area as big as Portland's Forest Park, with "heaps" (a common Kiwi term) of ridonculous singletrack; every trail is pretty much the best "flow trail" I've ever done!  (with a few more roots thrown in).   It was so much fun that we ended up riding nearly 5 hours, and there are many trails that we didn't do.
that grin is well-warranted

It was a good example to me of what can be done with proper management: this area has mt bike-only trails, pedestrian-only trails, horse-only trails, and shared use trails, with clear, concise, and descriptive (ie length, vertical) signage on all.  There's a shuttle that runs up and down the mountain that cyclists and peds both use:
I was a bit horrified by this, but the system is so vast that it seems to simply absorb people into the woods
and there's even a water station:

something that would be much-appreciated in the arid Wasatch (and in Forest Park and many other US parks as well for that matter!).

JC joined us mid-ride (he'd also been on the Kaituna) and was showing us all how to truly flow - at high speed - down the trails:
 and on one climb that traversed up through a big clear cut I said something about "too bad about the logging" and he said: "Well, we all need paper, this is second growth anyway, they rebuild the trails after they log, there's much more forest here than there is logged terrain, and we get a nice view when there are no trees!"  Those Kiwis, looking on the bright side.

We also met Reginald:
"Um, I gotta tell you, that's a HUGE lens you have there, Reg...."
who is an avid birder/photographer and was there shooting a pair of New Zealand falcons:
from wikipedia, but Reginald had some comparable pics
That are quite similar to our peregrines in size and flying ability.  We were a couple hundred yards (across a clear cut, which apparently the falcons prefer; another reason that logging is good?) from a couple who brought a dog up on their hike, and we had a good laugh watching the falcons dive bomb the threesome; they had to grab a big branch to fend the falcon off and ran down into the woods to escape the falcon's wrath!  There were signs saying "don't bother the falcons" but it was clear to us that they can handle themselves.
if our day riding in Rotorua is any indication of what's to come, they didn't even include it in this book??!  
The Wairoa is another coastal river that was almost denied to paddlers due to a dam, but local paddlers rallied to ensure 26 releases every 1976!   And it's another gem: really high quality, lowish-volume class 4+ river that's only 20 minutes from Andy's house.  His "mates" asked me how far I had to drive from SLC to get something like that, and were horrified when I said "seven hours!"
Again, I needed to get my low-volume gain on, and realized that my water-reading and boofing skills were a little rusty, but despite a coupla flips all went well.  Here are some good pics poached from the interwebs:

I missed the boof stroke here and went for a bit of a ride

I flipped once right about where this guy is; exciting time to roll!

I came a bit close to going into "the toaster" to the looker's left there....
Andy perfectly executing a boof stroke
Ash has said that she likes to put on a river and leave the car and the shuttles for three days at a time; in this case, we did the river three times in a day!  Exactly the same only completely different.  But along the shuttle route is a nice cafe, so we had ourselves a very civilized midday break in the action:
It was great to reconnect with Bruce (glasses), who was on the Rio Maranon trip in Peru last year 
I was also out for a nice road run this morn (while Andy was watching NZ's "All Blacks" national rugby team take on Ireland); I haven't done an exclusive road run for many years, but with roads like this:

It makes it quite tolerable!

So far New Zealand is living up to its billing fo sho.  The next adventures that await are a day of canyoneering (far different from Utah canyoneering:  there's running water!) and then a 3 day sea kayak around the Coromandel peninsula, and will throw up another dispatch.