18 May 2014

A Family Trip - Tararua Southern Crossing

My Dad and Uncle had been telling me that they really wanted to go hiking. Nicole, my girlfriend really wanted to go hiking in the Tararua's which is the range just behind where I grew up so we killed to birds with one stone and Nicole and I took my Dad and Uncle on the Southern Crossing which is one of the more popular routes from West to East (or vise versa) across this rugged range that runs North to South. Truth of the matter is, it ended up being me that needed to be carried by the group because I seem to abuse my body with all of the different things that I do and I had some tight ligament in my knee which nearly crippled me on the first afternoon… All of this aside, we had some amazing weather and it was a really cool chance to hang out with some family not just at a normal dinner outing or equivalent, even if my Uncle thought his heart might just jump out of his chest!

 The Tararua's are a pretty hard place to get in amazing weather (especially in May), but we did a pretty good job of ordering some good weather on the way up to Kime Hut. This was one of our first views West, that is Kapiti Island in the distance and just on the other side of that distance hill is where I grew up looking straight across the sea at that island. Out of five times being up to this point (Table Top), this is the first time I have ever had a view!

 Happy photo of Nicole and I with some views that came and went and came and went and… 

 This is my Uncle Mike and I having a well deserved breather on the way up Judd Ridge. I bet he was wandering what he had gotten himself in for by this stage already having concerns that his heart would jump out of his chest. And then there was me hobbling along behind with a crook knee.. What a view though (again, coming and going with cloud swirling).

This is a pretty nice view back along the ridge line that we had just come up.

And here are the two brothers smashing out the walk enjoying some sun

And the cloud cleared for a beautiful sunset over Kapiti.

 And then it came back!

Our first night was in a nice new version of Kime Hut. Just because it was new didn't make it any warmer than the last hut, it was only a month old. Being above the tree line means that a fire is useless because there is no wood around to feed it so unless you have a whole heap of people in there it more or less feels like your in a nice, light fridge.

 We woke up the next morning feeling refreshed to look outside the window to see white. The weather report was to be good so we waited a bit, not being in any hurry because this was our shortest day, but visibility just got less and less and the air got more and more wet. It was a shame that we couldn't see much because on this leg the ridges that you walk are steep, narrow, and really high. It wasn't all bad though because there was still no wind and it feels like you are in another world when as you look down all you see is white.

The third and final day offered more good walking. After spending the night in Alpha Hut, which had a very nice fire, we had some clear blue skies and could forest to walk through. Moss moss and more moss.

Through the beech forest we could see where we had come from the day before and were super jealous of the people we had met in the hut that were heading along the tops this day.

 People give the youth of today shit for their addiction to technology. As you can see these two old dogs couldn't get enough of their cell phones out here. Because you are looking down on Wellington, Kapiti, and the Wiarapa, there is cell phone service even if it is quite limited. 

This is a view of where we came from. We had walked right to left of the horizon line, spent the night just below the bush line, then walked the closer ridge to where we stood for the picture. Pretty cool!

All in all it was a good trip before heading to the USA with Nicole to keep just wondering around in the hills and do some sweet skids on our bikes. Bloody good!

Hike hike hike - Torres Del Paine

Going to Antarctica meant that I had to go through Chile. On the way down there was no time for anything except for getting crucial paper work done, issued uniform, and flown south. On the way home on the other hand there was a 10 day slot where I could do something before needing to be in Australia so I was tossing up whether to head up to Pucon to do some kayaking or to visit this national park called Torres Del Paine which I'd never heard of before heading to Chile, but once there no one would stop talking about it. Not being a huge fan of bus rides nor being able to say anything in Spanish I opted to go hiking in Torres which was much closer and there was a 7 day hike that fit perfectly into the available time slot. I was all excited about seeing a Puma… 

 We came over the Young John Gardner Pass to see this huge sucker of a glaciar (spanicho for glacier) called Glaciar Grey. Rather than looking into a river valley with streams acting as tributaries this was just one massive glacier with little steeper glaciers flowing in.

Safety was paramount! There were a couple of these deep, steep, and rickety ladder things that were set up but this one was my favorite. Everything had been eroded away but these ladders still existed so they just tied them with rope and number 8 wire to things like this fallen tree. She'll be right eh.. and she was!

 This is a really old volcanic area so the rock formations are really beautiful. This view came and went really quickly as we went down and crossed one of the little streams because as you can see the valley walls are pretty steep and narrow. 

 This place is notorious for being windy, rainy, cold, and when you put those factors together it quite often means miserable to. Luckily for us it was the opposite. Dry, hot, calm weather meant that it was rude to not have a wash or just splash your face in every stream as you crossed it. As you can see from the color of Lago (lake) Norjisrdke full of sediment, it's fed by water that was locked up in ice so these streams were extremely refreshing.

 This is one of my favorites, and we got to walk and marvel at this for a few hours which took your mind off the sore legs and whatever else that began niggling after 5 days of hiking. That is super dark granite on top of super light granite and the result is pretty damn cool looking.

And these are the famous towers… Not quite worth waking at 4am, hassling my travel partner to get the fuck up, and the 3 hour walk up to see them in the light of a sunrise. It would have been if it was a little clearer though. So we got up there, waited, hoped that the cloud would magically lift to produce amazingness. This time we were not so lucky. Still pretty cool though, and we did see the tops of them already from the other side. 

In the 7days that we took to circumnavigate this massif, we covered about 120+ Km and got rained on for one morning only, I extended my spanicho (even if I did get mocked every time I tried a new word),   saw heaps of cool glaciers, mountains, streams and lakes, made some friends, and I even made it back to Punta Arenas to catch my flights back to Australia. So huge success all made possible by the host from work. Pretty lucky really!

17 May 2014

Trip of the summer - Antarctica

This is an Adelie penguin on the Yalour Islands

This year started off with a very cool job opportunity of being a sea kayak guide in one of the last wilderness areas left, Antarctica. It was a little short notice but how could I refuse, so off I went to the biggest, coldest, windiest, and highest continent with no real idea of what to expect. Turns out to be one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen with my mind being blown multiple times a day for weeks! I did some pretty cool sea kayaking and had the greatest encounters with wild life so for most of the time I just enjoyed the moment and left the camera sitting just in front of me on the deck of my kayak. When I did pick up the camera there were some pretty cool results. Enjoy!

 The biggest colony of penguins that I got to see (100,000 pairs). This is the point where they all go for a swim to get some krill to go feed their chicks with. I sat here for hours just watching them get smashed by waves and launch out of the water before going and having a look at where they all nest. Didn't get very far in before I ran out of time and had to start launching zodiacs full of the passengers to head back to the ship. Hopefully I'll get further in next time!

 My favorite paddle. It started off with me getting ultra excited with my binoculars on the top deck of the ship spotting multiple groups of Hump Back whales and then while waiting for the crane to lower the kayaks I lost sight of all whales. Then once on water we proceeded with Plan C, Nacho not having the best luck with zodiacs we broke down. This actually worked in our favor because with the extra 15 minute delay we spotted our mega friends feeding again and ended up having the best encounter of the trip. This is a photo that Nacho took from the zodiac of a very excited whale breaching for us. Thats me in the blue claiming the shit out of it!

 This is a little further inland at Bailey Head. Penguin colonies are real sensory overloads. I try to describe it as the intensity of noise and smell as being at the tip (different smell though) and so many birds on the mission to either get food, or get to their chick or chicks. Though just like Rotorua, you soon get used to the smell and you can just enjoy watching the hilarious behavior of these not so little birds.

 As you can see here they are not all pure white and black either. In reality they are quite often covered in each others shit! All pink colored from the amount of krill that they eat.

 This one is from the day that Nacho and I were put in charge of watching the zodiacs with the tide. We never ventured further than 2 or 3 meters from the boats but I was way to entertained by these guys so end result was that the boats were well and truly beached. This is a young Gentoo penguin still with its baby fluff.

 This Gentoo was all made up with lipstick and all! I had my 18-200mm lens as zoomed out as possible because this one was getting to close. These young guys are just like toddlers, they just want to come and check everything and everyone out!

 Sunrise at Pleneau Bay where there are so many icebergs that get blown in and stuck on the bottom. This was the first of 4 outings that day for a ship full of photographers. That was a BIG day!

 This is looking towards the Lemaire Channel from a little hill that takes less than 5 minutes to climb up just next to Wordie House which is right next to the Ukrainian station that was bought of the brittish for 1pound in the 1990's. Turns out it was cheaper to cut their losses and sell for nothing than to tear it down and take everything away.

 This is a Leopard seal on an ice floe in Pleneau Bay. These guys are big and scary! Probably my favorite of the seals though.

 The evening I learnt/ realized how the polarized filter on my camera worked… Pretty cool.

 Pleneau Bay

 Even made it south of the Polar Circle on one trip. As you can imagine there was heaps of ice, but it was little ice so it was safe to get really close.

 ICE!!! Still south of the Polar Circle, the weather was so calm that we had an Antarctic BBQ down there.

 These guys are cool, it's a Skua. They like eating baby penguins. Life is rough huh.

 BIG BIG ICEBERG! Paradise bay where we usually saw some whales and I made friends with a leopard seal

 This is the Lemaire Channel at sunset with a humpback having some supper!

 Hey buddy! This is a lonesome Gentoo on an ice floe which is usually where you find their pain predator. But this one is happy as giving us a wave.

And here we have a Weddel Seal. They are just straight up cute. Not scary, don't want to eat me, attack me, or even that bothered, this guy is just having a scratch and chillin.

Hopefully that was enough. There is so much to see and oogle at down there with glaciers, mountains, giant ice bergs, and more wildlife than you could shake a stick at.. words and pictures don't even do it justice!