Monday, 16 July 2007

So these ‘Trampers’ then...

Last week was the first of having to attend compulsory learning! Am doing 1st, 2nd and 3rd year courses (one of each). Just the usual introductory lectures so nothing exciting to report there - much the same as you might expect from a Lancaster lecture, just the lecturers have funny accents - not all Kiwi however, the GIS lecturer is Irish. The most interesting course is the Year 1 ‘Antarctica, Unfreezing the Continent’, which is quite interesting and rather different to anything previous as it focusses on certain things, such as the early expeditions, the ecosystems, the science rather than just talking in general terms, as some courses tend to do.

After nearly three weeks in New Zealand, Friday was another opportunity to be welcomed to the country by the international office, in every language except English itself, I guess British people are not International enough for that! It was also a good chance to meet up with all the people who I met in the Nomad’s hostel and during the orientation week. We were even provided with free New Zealand beers, wines and (international) food!

A little bit of Lancaster got lost - by 12 000 miles, and ended up as a small street in Karori, suburban Wellington, NZ!

And then for Saturday - the first of the trips with the ‘Tramping Club’. This was to the Rimutaka range on the East side of Wellington Harbour, the aim was to walk up to Mt Matthews, the highest in the Forest Park at 941m. The day started clear and frosty, however the plans were slightly altered due to the rather extended lunch break, nearly two hours of (faff) frying all luxury components of a cooked breakfast polished off with hot puddings and drinking chocolate. I decided to settle for the more traditional mountain lunch of sandwiches, home-baked flapjack and an apple, which I polished off in about 10 mins. For the remaining 1hr 50mins of the ‘lunch break’, I harnessed the fine aroma of a greasy cafe in the middle of a NZ temperate rainforest!

After the lunch break, those who had found it difficult move decided to descend, whilst I and a group of keen followers (intent on burning off all the well earnt calories) ascended to a bush-free shoulder on Mt Matthews, above the South Saddle. From this vantage point we got great views of the surrounding rainforest choked valleys, but unfortunately no sea view, as the cloud had started to roll in.

Johnstone Hill summit, looking East over Wellington, the Harbour and East to the Rimutaka Forest Park. Mt Matthews with summit dipping into the cloud

Sunday was another clear and sunny day and after visiting the fruit/ veg market with Jon (from flat) I headed out to explore the Wellington Suburbia. This expedition took me west out to Karori and then up to Johnstone Hill just before sunset, for fine views all around Wellington and down to South Island.

So these ‘trampers’ then... Firstly, they certainly don’t mind getting wet feet - we crossed the Orongorongo river that was often nearly up our waists about 10 times, this is fairly normal for a Tramping trail. I think my recent investment in Scarpa SL’s may have been a mistake, waders, or even a wetsuit may have been a better idea! Secondly, the shorts thing! I guess it would be generalising to say that all Kiwi’s opt for shorts when out and about on Tramps (for whatever reason) but this was 100% true on Saturday, and it’s only the equivalent of UK January over here! The only strange ones in trousers were myself and another northern hemisphere counterpart, Nicolai from Germany. Thirdly, these hardened people, unlike yer average rambler, are not kept going by the prospect of a cosy fire ‘n a pint a Cumberland at end ot ‘day... shocking!

All wrapped up for the weather above South Saddle, Rimutaka Forest Park

I think I’ll stick to being a 'TRambler' for the time being!

Monday, 9 July 2007

The ‘Tramps’ of Greater Wellington...

A frosty Korokoro Valley, complete with native bush!

The tramps in question of course being of the type that tend to lead you through forest and moorland, along coast and up and down the Hobbiton like rolling green hills, of which there are many in the Wellington area.
I have now taken up residence in Victoria University’s equivalent of Grizedale College - not that I mean to say I’m living atop of a pile of rubble surrounded by a safety fence, as that wouldn't quite keep the Wellington wind and rain at bay very well, but I’m sure it would be far less warmer and less draughty if I were sleeping in my tent. Anyway it’s a nice corridor with fine Kiwi people and even a communal lounge/ dining room. The lack of central heating is quite interesting though as it seems more necessary to be wearing a down jacket when inside than out - as Wellington’s hills tend to do a good job of keeping you nice and warm when walking out and about.

So I moved in on Sunday 1 July, and spent much of last week being educated about what being an international student, and of course this meant standing in queues for hours on end to check that I did want to sign up for 3 whole courses! In the end I have a first, second and third year course this semester.

NZ Fur Seals hauled out at Sinclair Point

In between all the talks/ waiting there were days off - so I managed to get out and see some more of the sights of Wellington and around. Tuesday I headed south down to Island Bay where you can walk along the coast to the ‘Red Rocks’ and ‘Sinclair Head’, the former being the remnants of a submarine basalt eruption and the latter being home to New Zealand’s largest Fur Seal colony - which you literally just walk through. There are seals lying all over the beach, totally oblivious to the fact that you are taking photos, eating lunch etc. they merely opened an eye to a rather loopy dog that passed by, on a lead of course! The next significant event was Thursday evenings international quiz night - the first opportunity to try out one of the many ‘Irish Pubs’ of Wellington. It seems compulsory for any building that is remotely pub-like to be given the prefix ‘Irish’, I’m yet to discover why such a phenomenon should be so celebrated, and whether they have ever considered more exciting names such as “Ye Olde Fighting Cocks” (Arnside), or “The Drunken Duck” (Barngates). Incredible as it may seem there is one anomalous tavern that goes by the name of “Welsh Bar”, complete a massive Welsh dragon on the side, but this is yet to be investigated, watch this space. Anyway this particular Irish Pub, called JC Murphy’s was unfortunately rather lacking in leprechauns - I’m sure they must have done a runner when they found out there were hundreds of Americans, Germans and Chinese descending on their local. The quiz was actually pretty good, my team consisted of 4 British, 3 American, 1 Dutch - and seeing as the questions were not too taxing for anyone slightly British i.e. “What sport does Steve Redgrave do?”, we managed to sweep the board of prizes - firstly a free pint each, and secondly a $20 book voucher - all in all a very successful event!

Friday it was a tough decision between a 3 hour long ‘Study Skills and Communicating effectively in English’ session or more exploring of Wellington in driving rain and a strengthening southerly gale - it was a tough one but thought that I had learnt enough new phrases for one week, for example the highly complex ‘terms and conditions’ (courses in NZ have these by the way - and apparently you actually have to meet them to pass - unbelievable!), and headed for the waterfront and the National Museum, Te Papa, where I spent the afternoon discovering the geological history/ human settlement of New Zealand.
Saturday was another wet one so this time it was the Wellington Museum of City and Sea that was visited with lots of pictures and relics of Wellington’s maritime past.

Belmont Trig summit, looking East across Hutt Valley to the Rimutaka Range

Finally today, probably the finest winter’s day so far. Not a cloud in the sky and only a slight breath of a southerly wind. I jumped on an early ‘tranz-metro’ service up the Hutt Valley to Petone the start of the Puki Ariki, a fine ridge walk through the hills to the North of Wellington Harbour. The tops are up above the bush and you get great views of all of lower North Island from the snowy Tararuas right through to the Kaikouras and the Abel Tasman Coast of South Island.
Well thats it for this action packed first full week in Wellington, next week I’ll hopefully be able to report on who these people that call themselves ‘trampers’ are and maybe even become one myself by joining the Victoria University of Wellington Tramping Club or VUWTC...

North from Boulder Hill to the Tararuas

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Wellington to Christchurch (first NZ Rail Journey)...

After being in New Zealand for two days I thought it was about time I got out on my first rail journey to of course test out the network over here. The planned journey to Auckland on ‘The Overlander’ was fully booked so instead I booked myself up on the ‘Tranzcoastal’ to Christchurch. This of course involves crossing the Cook Strait to South Island, so the journey started on Friday aboard the 0820 interislander sailing from Wellington to Picton at the very N of S Island. The ferry itself 'Kaitaki' - Maori for The Challenger, as it turns out is the ex Pride of Cherbourg from what was our very own P&O Portsmouth-Cherbourg route back in the UK - just shows the range of destinations these ships get to visit during their liftimes! The crossing was awesome, unfortunately no sun - but the rain held off. The second half of the journey involves entering the narrow Malborough sounds, so the ferry travels at a slightly reduced speed. We were also lucky to get a school of 50+ dolphins swimming alongside the boat in the sounds, jumping right up and out of the water, riding the bow wake and some in small groups with young ones too.

Another of the interislander vessels Aratere in the Malborough Sounds, South Island, bound for Wellington

The small town of Picton is the northern terminus of the South Islands railway, these days largely a freight line but with the one each way ‘Tranzcoastal’ service from/ to Christchurch. The journey takes five hours and runs for 150km right alongside the Pacific coast. The NZ network being of narrow gauge of just over a metre limits the top speed on the line to 100kmph, but even so it certainly seems like you’re racing along - especially from the outdoor observation carriage - which of course has a roof to keep the NZ rain at bay. The coastal stretch was just fantastic - with the 2000m+ Kaikoura mountains inland coming right down to a narrow coastal plain with simply the railway line, the East coast road, the beach and then the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. It passes one NZ’s largest colony of Fur Seals just N of Kaikoura town. Literally hundreds of seals hauled out on the rocks a few metres from the train. The line trundles along long expanses of black sand beaches and through numerous tunnels before heading inland across the Canterbury plains, from where you would see the Southern Alps (except it was dark by the time we crossed on Friday night), towards Christchurch - the largest city on South Island.

The outdoor observation carriage on the "Tranzcoastal"

Arriving in Christchurch I was greeted by lashing rain, so naturally decline the offer of a $5 dollar shuttle which would have dropped me at the hostel door to take a scenic 2km walk into the city - most satisfying! Arriving at the hostel rather drowned, I warmed up a bit before heading out to brave the rain again to find some food and a pub. Tried out the local beer (nothing special, and freezing cold for some strange reason - and it claims to be Ale!) and then got a curry. The morning shuttle to the station is free, by which time it had stopped raining, but I took it anyway to avoid awaking even earlier. Left Christchurch in the dark again at 0700 for the Northward trip on the ‘Tranzcoastal’. I also got my first view of the Southern Alps foothills. After chatting to the train manager about the awesomeness of Virgin Trains and all things transport, I managed to bag myself a ride in the cab of the diesel locomotive for the final 30mins of the journey to Picton which was really fun to get the drivers eye of the line.

Black sands and the Pacific Ocean, the snow capped Kaikoura mountains dip into the clouds in the background

It was rather wet in Picton, so rather than wait for my booked 1805 sailing I decided not to hang around and take the 1415 back to Wellington, It was a rainy and foggy voyage with no dolphins this time unfortunately - they must have been hiding from the wet...