Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Dispatches from New Zealand, Part III

It's been a few weeks now since I've returned to the land of snow and cold, and between skiing a lot and a fun holiday social agenda I haven't taken the time yet to follow up on the most excellent adventures that I had to good fortune to experience in NZ.

After returning from the Coromandel Peninsula the next soiree was to the Motu river.  The Motu is somewhat unusual in that it's a multi-day trip, which is a bit rare in NZ in general and particularly so on the North island.  But it carves a great gorge through the middle of the island and is pretty remote, particularly when the effects of the "native bush" is taken into account; much of NZ was logged/stripped long ago and there's not a lot of what we might call old growth there, but in rainy NZ the woods manifests itself as pretty much impenetrable jungle.  The remoteness and difficulty of the whitewater (back in the day; it's only moderate at class 4) of the Motu kept it unassailable by would-be loggers back in the day, so not only is it thick, but it's only populated by native vegetation, versus much of the rest of the country that  -due to colonization - had a lot of plants introduced.  So the Motu is pretty pristine for most of the 60-odd miles that we paddled.

If you had an issue, hiking out never seemed like it would be very feasible; even if you could move more than 20 feet off the river corridor, there's no where to go. 
it was so thick that I never saw a place to camp; nice lunch beaches like this:
Are appealing, but as with many rainy climes, it's unwise to slumber below the high water mark, no matter what the forecast is.  Just a month prior, this river - that had probably 1 or 2 thousand cfs at the takeout - had flashed to 60,000 cfs.  It was mostly pretty deeply-gorged:

So it was good to have the seasoned Motu vets who knew the secret flat spots, and camping high was fine with me:
And as it turned out, it did rain on us
Andy and I gave Ross and Bruce a bit of a hard time for bringing just a tarp for a multi-day trip in NZ, but it was nice and cozy when it started to pour about the time we were cooking dinner. 
The newness of the country and the big rains in NZ caused a lot of what they call "slips".  I call them really impressive landslides!
These things come down and dam the river every couple of years.  
The whitewater was mostly class 3, with a couple of places where it stepped up a bit:

the lads scouting a slot that hid a pretty nasty little hole right in the middle; we ended up going left of the island of rocks on the left of the picture. 

Andy lining up to shoot left.  
but mostly it was beautiful cruisin
with a few "wildlife" sightings
Wild goats, which the Kiwis consider to be vermin.  One of the Kiwi's paddling pards had seen some on their last trip, whipped out his waterproof shotgun, and killed one from his boat!
There are few people as friendly and stoked to be on water as Ross:

Except maybe Andy!  

Leaving the rivers behind for a bit we became a bit more terrestrial.  Lake Taupo is a ginormous lake (biggest in all of "Oceania:  Australia, NZ, and the part of Asia south of the equator) in the center of the North Island that's an ancient volcanic caldera.  But more importantly, there's a killer singletrack bike ride that ends at the shore of the lake that has water taxi service.

  Andy borrowed a bike from a friend (and wisely rode it, and let me ride his bike, so if/when I broke the bike it'd be his old one, versus his friend's nice bike!) and Kiwis - like all Commonwealth types - have their brake levers mounted on the opposite sides, so the rear brake is on your left hand.  But at least that rear brake on Andy's bike was in bad need of a bleeding, so I basically only had a front brake.  I took it easy on these turns that were hundreds of feet above the lake....

 Eventually we hit the lake, and sure enough, there was our shuttle awaiting us:

He's got a pretty fancy boat-based bike rack:

but for some reason just chucked our bikes over the side:
It's interesting to see that everywhere we went in NZ there were folks around who were keen to facilitate outdoor adventurers with logistic-based businesses, whether guiding, shuttles, etc.  On one hand you didn't get to delve into the research and details of "how are we going to pull this off", but on the other, you didn't have to worry about the details of "how are we going to pull this off?!"

On our way to the next foray we stopped for a gander at Huka Falls, a famous little kayak gorge that ends in an impressive waterfall.  It was at a stompin' level and we weren't keen to fire it, but it's impressive:
It's a famous sight in NZ and there are tour buses around, but once you drop into that little gorge with water thundering through it I think you feel pretty lonely.  

this is the final drop. 
Poached from the interweb, here is a shot of a guy running it at lower water:
and here is a link to a Kiwi hardman kayaker running it.  A good reminder of a classic Greg Hanlon-ism:  If I ever put a Red Bull helmet on my head, stop me from whatever I am about to do!  One of the drops in that gorge is an old weir that tends to grab and trash kayakers, and apparently in the not-to-distant past a couple of hardwomen paddling it both swam out of that and were literally clinging to the cliffs just above the last falls until they were lowered a rope (that would still not be an easy get-out....).  

Another amazing tale that apparently every Kiwi knows is that of a famous cricket umpire (apparently they can become famous?) who solicited a prostitute for a bondage session that got a little out of hand and he asphyxiated, and the freaked out prostitute and her boyfriend chucked the body...into the gorge.  Here's the tale.

But on toward more wholesome endeavors, like hiking and running!  The Tongariro Crossing is a 13 or so mile point to point hike across the biggest mountains on the North Island.  It is billed as "the best one day tramp in the country".  And anything that's called "the best" is bound to be crowded, and indeed it was.  But like the US national parks, it's worthy.  Our plan was for me to drop Andy off at one end, then I'd drive around to the other end and run "backwards", meeting him along the way, and he'd then drive back around and pick me up.  He had to wonder if it was going to work when he had to remind me to get in the right side of the car to then drive on the "wrong" side of the road....

But it worked out just fine.  Like national parks, the trails were pretty well-developed:

reinforced against erosion by this plastic lattice work

And because I was going "backwards" (the normal trail tail was about 1000 feet lower than the trailhead, so everyone goes that way; even Kiwis look for the easy way!) I had the trail to myself
Up to the cabin

I'm not sure why they have a cabin about 4 miles from the trailhead, but whatever; it was a very nice place, that had been rebuilt after a fairly recent eruption:

Would have been a rude awakening
After the hut I started to bump into people
including this guy:
But despite seeing this kind of riff raff, the views were impressive:

As continued to be the crowds:
but I realized that going against the flow of traffic was good, since they could at least see me coming (peaking out from under their hoods), which was good because I probably passed over 500 people.  

Working our way south, we headed for another river:
"River Valley" is a little resort there that is the takeout for a beautiful and fun class 4+ run and the put in for an equally beautiful class 2 run.  
The river was on the low side, but still plenty fun for some good creekin'

Our takeout was about 30 feet from our camp, and our camp was about 50 feet from some nice draft beers. 
The creek was fairly steep but  -again  -the Kiwis have no problem taking people down it in rafts, and were also kind enough to give us shuttles up to the put in.  It was interesting diving back into the world of the young river guides, one of whom was stoked for a day off to paddle with us:
For a long time I had heard stories about the legendary Richard Sage, who was a hardman kayaker in NZ back in the day. Years ago he started up a kayak company called Bliss-Stick, and the factory was....about a mile from this river, literally in the middle of nowhere.  Here is the sign for the factory and the business, on his gravel road:
Not too long ago Richard sold some of the assets to Bliss-Stick, but he still still makes plastic boats for NZ kayak schools, makes molds for the new kayak company that grew out of Bliss-Stick, and the molds are shipped to Europe for the manufacturing of the kayaks. 

After almost 3 weeks on the North Island Andy needed to get back to Tauranga and I felt like it was time to move on to the South.  I wasn't sure that Andy could stand me for 3 weeks, but he's an easy guy to be around and we had a lot of yucks. 

 Thanks again to a great host!  

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