Arthur’s Pass

March 10th, 2010 No comments
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Amy and I arrive in Arthur’s Pass – approximately the midpoint between Greymouth and Christchurch – in the early evening and make arrangements for lodging. Since there is some light left in the day, we decide to find a trail and hike.

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I mark a waypoint in my GPS for the cabin – just in case – and we find the Avalanche Peak route which starts approximately 100 meters from our cabin. At the start of the trail, a sign warns us that the route is treacherous and there are avalanches there in the winter. This being summer in the Southern hemisphere, we adventure forward. The path gets steep fast and about 50 meters later we find another sign warning us that the trail is difficult and requires food, water, rain protection, boots, hat, etc., with a picture of such a hiker standing in a Captain Morgan pose with boot situated squarely on a sturdy stone beneath him. I imagine a sort of twisted amusement park sign with the caption, “You must be this studly to ride.”

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Amy and I push forward fearlessly and immediately the trail gets very steep. We are regularly climbing up 3, 4, and 6 foot rock faces between bouts of switchbacks. I believe this would be categorized as a Yosemite decimal system level 3 which can be summarized as passable without rope and if you fall you will probably survive.

The occasional vistas are astounding and a water fall runs alongside the trail for much of the first part of the trail giving splendid views as we occasionally catch our breath.

This tramp is exactly the challenge I have been seeking in my hikes in New Zealand all along and had just not been finding. This ascent literally makes my entire trip.

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We stop short of the bush line and rest. From the readings on the GPS we moved laterally approximately 600 meters and vertically a bit over 400 meters from the cabin. Since the first 150 meters of the trip were mostly flat, this means the trail itself averaged an almost 45 degree ascent.

The next morning I begin a 48 hour process of getting out of New Zealand via Bus, stop in Christchurch, airplane, stop in Aukland, airplane, stop in Sydney, and finally a 14 hour plane ride to SFO. Ask me about the stop in Sydney next time you see me — I met a fascinating Swedish woman.

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Travels With Amy

March 9th, 2010 No comments
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Amy meets me at the kayak company headquarters in Motuaka, we agree to travel South and we’re off!

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Amy enlists me as the navigator for the journey as she drives an old blue ford station wagon purchased for the purpose of travelling New Zealand. She purchased it for less than the cost of a rental car, put a little money into the radiator, and plans to sell it prior to departure. A little tired from the day’s hike on the Abel Tasman coast trail, we first agree to go at least as far as Murchison and consider further destinations. In Murchison, we decide to go at least as far as Reefton or Westport. Amy says her favorite New Zealand brewery is in Westport so we go there with the idea to spend the night there and do a brewery tour in the morning.

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Immediately after this decision we see a hitchhiking backpacker so we stop to pick him up. Eli is great. He is a botanist who worked on the antarctic science station to run and repair the garden there. He is from the Seattle area originally making him the third American I have met here. He loves New Zealand so he is spending some time there before a likely career switch to the life of a farmer and is attempting to woo a woman who works for the DOC in Arthur’s pass. Today, he would like to get to Greymouth. We offer a ride as far as Westport and we’re off!

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We land in Westport arriving 2 minutes before the Hostel closes and secure dorm beds for the three of us. We walk to the local pub to interact with the locals and find two distinct groups — the regulars at the pub and a set of a dozen or so teenagers tied to each other at the ankle with a strip of white cloth. Ten of the couples are boy-girl and there is one girl-girl pair.
Curious, I ask one of the women about the bonds.
“It’s for you and your friend. Want to join? Don’t you want to have a friend?”
“I’m not sure. What’s the deal?”
“I see you’re not tied to your friend,” motioning toward Amy and a motion which I do not acknowledge.

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She lets out a tipsy schoolgirl squeal and turns to her friends. I think the whole thing is marriage practice for kids though they did seem kind of old to be playing house. Come to think of it, house with cocktails does not sound that bad.
In the morning Eli and I awake prior to Amy. He wants to go to get going and starts hitching. Amy wakes up and we decide to travel to Greymouth since that is the actual location of the Monteith brewery and we’re off!

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On our way out of Westport, we pass through Cape Foulwind, travel South along the coast to Greymouth where we find a liquor store that sells self-serve two liter bottles of beer. The store clerk tells us, “We sell *a lot* of those.” Amy and I travel to the water front and drink the beer on a park bench. We tire of Greymouth and head out to Arthur’s Pass and we’re off!

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Abel Tasman

March 7th, 2010 No comments
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Awakening to a still and silent morning in the hostel, I prepare and pack for my 2 day trek through the Abel Tasman coast via kayak and Hike. The shuttle bus arrives and carries us to the kayak company headquarters in Motueka. I meet Kim there who will be our kayak guide as well as a German couple, Claudia and Sebastian, I briefly talked to in Wellington’s finest cafe, Plum. The New Zealand tour circuit suddenly seems very small.

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In my previous travels so far I have maintained two basic packing strategies, everything on my back and the travel alternative of clothing and toiletries with accessories in a duffel bag. This two day adventure requires a new strategy: a couple of days worth of clothing in my backpack along with some essentials for the journey with everything else in the duffel bag stored in Motueka.

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I hand the duffel over to Kim for storage indicating it contains my valuables. She decides the best place to keep the bag is on top of the first aid kit behind the counter. I look at the duffel bag and wonder if this is the last time I will see my lovely laptop.

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In Nelson

March 6th, 2010 No comments
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Picton is small and uninteresting, so I book travel and lodging to nearby Nelson which makes a good way-point for the Abel Tasman National Park while my ankle heals. I book a stay in Palace Backpackers which is the Chateau co-op disguised as an international hostel.

The hostel is staffed by people staying there on extended stays in New Zealand. here is Jessi from Canada who is the spitting image of a long-time FnB volunteer — dreads and all. The bearded maintenance man from New Zealand eerily reminds me of an old Chateau maintenance manager. One major difference about the hostel is that it is owned by an older gentleman rather than ostensibly by the residents. I wonder why he runs a hostel and does not staff it himself like all other family operated hostels. Is it simply a young, hot, backpacker track where he can get them drunk at night?
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To Picton

March 4th, 2010 No comments
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While on Kapiti and contemplating how brains function and how to program brains, I should have been paying more attention to the trail because at some point I sprained my ankle.

Instead of hiking in the surroundings of Wellington prior to departing for Picton in the South island, I decide to check out the Te Papa Museum. The museum is fascinating with lots of information about New Zealand history, geography, flora, fauna, and a wealth of information on the indigenous Māori. While there, a string quartet as well as a Māori troop performed musical numbers further endearing Wellington.
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Awake

February 25th, 2010 2 comments
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For this trip, I just show up some place and see what I can do for lodging, food, exercise, and entertainment without prior arrangements. This has been delightful and works well here. It also introduces a nice bit of randomness since my first choice is not always available. One thing which requires advance booking is Kapiti Island permit from the Department of Conservation for each of the North and South end.

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I secure permits for the North end of one day and the South end on the next. The island is beautiful, filled with exotic birds not found anywhere else on the planet or at best found in only a few places. The bulk of this post will have little to do with my travels on Kapiti and instead focus on scientifically tested and philosophically posited interactions in our brain.

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Arrival in New Zealand

February 23rd, 2010 No comments

Arriving at the SFO international terminal on Friday morning to catch my flight to LAX and connection to Aukland, I notice the SFO->LAX flight is run by American Airlines rather than Qantas which means the flight will certainly not be on time. Long and boring story short is that the flight to LAX is delayed by 3 hours which is tolerable since I have an 8 hour layover. I spend my time in Los Angeles with Steve for dinner and billiards.
On the flight from LAX to Aukland I discover that at least wine is free with dinner. I do not feel like drinking cocktails so I never found out if this policy applies past dinner or to real drinks which is a shame since I cannot seem to sleep for the entire flight. We land in Aukland, and I decide to head into town to get situated and determine my next steps. This is a mistake Aukland is like somebody who’s been married and living in the suburbs for a little too long — there are nice features and interesting things to know, though you know they’re really dead inside.

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I leave Aukland as quickly as I can for Wellington since the city sounds more interesting. I am right and the city is really nice with a lot of different neighborhoods with at least some character. I secure permits to visit Kapiti Island about 45km North of Wellington and 5km out to sea and Sunday night I have my first sleep since Friday morning in San Francisco. I take the train to Paraparaumu and walk the final 3.5km from the train/bus station to Barnacles Seaside Inn arriving well after closing time. I had foreseen this possibility earlier and called ahead to ensure I could get in.

Full album.

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Yummy Mushrooms

February 15th, 2010 3 comments

Jason and I harvested some mushrooms in Mendocino. We were prepared with little more than a paper bag, a few plastic bags, and a copy of “All That the Rain Promises, and More”.
We picked up a few mushrooms we would like to eat and this is a discussion of what we found, what I think it is, and why.

Upon returning to San Francisco, I separated all of the mushrooms into 4 paper bags with one set of apparently the same species in the same bag. Because of our poor preparation for the hunt, many of the specimens are bruised.

Click on the pictures in the post to see the full resolution version.

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Jug Handle Park

February 12th, 2010 No comments
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In the morning, Jason and I headed to Eggheads where I had the “Cowardly Lion.” After breakfast, Jason had to take care of some issues over the phone so I wandered around a bit. I went to a coffee shot to caffeinate myself further and a cute hippie girl with a baby in a stroller asked me, “Do you read?” I told her that I did and she reached into the stroller and pulled out a dog-eared copy of “On The Road” by Jack Kerouac.

Since I spent much of the previous night dreaming about mushrooms, I walked over to a local bookshop and picked up a copy of “All That the Rain Promises and More” by David Arora. Jason finished up, so we went back to The Outdoor Store to ask for Kate’s suggestions on destinations. After some discussion, we decided to go to Jug Handle Park and Ecological Staircase.

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Mendocino Woodlands

February 11th, 2010 No comments
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After a delicious fresh crab benedict (Dorothy’s Revenge) breakfast from Eggheads in Fort Bragg, Jason and I headed to The Outdoor Store across the street to see if we could find a map for nearby Jackson State Forest. The proprietor of the shop, Kate, was extremely helpful and awesome — if you’re ever bicycling, hiking, or just in Fort Bragg and need some outdoor equipment then you should go. She sold me the last map she had for the park and made several hiking suggestions. The nicest sounding hike was the Mendocino Woodlands inside the park.

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