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A brief account of what we are up to when not on GHOST, when we are landlubbers. For our "sea" based blogs, check out The link below shows our most recent photos but for other photos go to:

Monday, January 26, 2009

New Zealand

Well if you haven’t heard from us in a while it’s because we were in New Zealand, or more specifically Queenstown, for a good few weeks of hiking, biking and boozing. We flew out early on the 3rd direct into Queenstown and spent the afternoon organising a few activities. After only one night we scooted down to Te Anau so a few of the group could scoot up to Milford sound for a look-see.

Kat and I hung out in Te Anau and did a few hours hiking up the beginning of the Kepler track. After a couple of nights it was back to Queenstown to get hut passes and food for the main reason for the trip, 5 days walking the Routeburn track followed by the Caples track.

We weren’t alone. There was Dave, his elder bro Steve, and mate Phil. Then there was Kat and I plus Jim and Gav. A great cross section of people made for a hell of a good time. The first days’ hike was pretty relaxed. While Dave and I executed a car shuffle to make sure we had a car at both cars parks (the beginning and the end) the others set off. Pretty relaxed walking, with waterfalls, amazing views but the falling temperature suggesting inclement weather was on the way.

To say we awoke to torrential rain wouldn’t be technically correct as I don’t think many of us slept -except for Dave (Greybee) the world’s strongest snorer! - but it was absolutely pouring. The walk up to the Harris Saddle was much like walking through a river and up a waterfall, through river and up another waterfall. Even so this part of the world is still stunning despite the heavy rain and poor visibility.

After the climb we stopped at the top for lunch when the rain finally stopped. The long descent saw us in and out of misty cloud sweeping up the valleys, past around and through water falls and finally down to the Howden hut 7 hours after we started complete with sodden boats and plenty of wet weather gear to dry.

The hut on the second night was a similar design to the one on the first, so to preserve our rest we all banned poor ol’ Dave from the communal sleeping room and he snored away in the kitchen/living area to his heart’s content, although I think I still heard his midnight overture despite two walls and a flight of stairs!

The third day dawned sunny and fine and we set off through the forest at the start of the Caples track. The trail had been closed for a few days due to high water levels making river crossings impassable as the rain the previous day had topped up the already high water levels. Thankfully this land drains remarkably quickly and we had the green light to proceed with extreme caution. The best we could do was extreme humour as we spent half an hour laughing as we all tried to cross the Caples river without sinking up to our waists and meet the unspoken challenge to see who could conquer the crossing with dry toes. Gav made his intentions clear and simply waded in. Then Jim took a dip off a log, one leg up to mid-thigh. Steve, accepting dry boots wasn’t an option but confident he’d have dry knees set of and was soon waist deep. Dave followed Steve’s trench but with a stumble was up to his waist!

At well over 6 feet tall Phil set the standard due to is unusually long legs and simply jumped the larger pools. Kat enlisted Phil’s help for a pull on 3. But Phil’s misinterpretation of the number 1 had her water skiing bare boot before that sinking feeling took over. Finally Brad was left with a wide gap and short legs cursing the lord for inadequate height.

Next was a gruelling 90 minute vertical climb up to the McKellar saddle to a stunning vista of wild alpine flowers and towering mountains. After a good rest (and a chance for Gav to apply some extra anti-chafe talc!) we set off down the valley through forests, crossing more rivers and tributaries until we arrived at the Upper Caples hut.

The weather was now warm enough, thanks to clear blue skies and enough O-zone depletion, to warrant a plunge into the freezing glacial waters of the Caples River for a quick wash. Dave and Steve tried some fly fishing to no avail and as the hut consisted of only one room we spent a restless night listening to his un-dulcet-like tones. Given the unique nature of his snoring prowess there was a small crowd of onlookers come morning videoing and photographing him in his natural environment!

Then followed perhaps the best walking day of the trip, in beautiful sunny weather we walked down alongside the Caples River across the glacier-carved meadows between towering mountains. It was quite simply stunning and as the day was considerably shorter we spent the afternoon swimming and reading next to the river.

Gav decided he couldn’t face another night socialising in the hut so walked the remaining 3 hours back to the car and spent a night on his own in Queenstown dinning on Fergburgers. Unfortunately he missed one of the best nights of the trip, a fantastic view and 2 separate bunk rooms with 6 bunks at either end of the hut, so we gleefully split into snoring and non-snoring factions, though Jim somehow covertly slipped through the anti-snoring net but was rumbled in the wee hours….

The final day was relatively short and leaving Dave, Steve and Phil fishing we headed back to Queenstown, for beer and Fergs (possibly the best burgers in the world!). Wow beer tastes good after 5 days without….. but perhaps we slightly over-indulged…

As some of our group were leaving the following day we enjoyed a lovely lunch in Gibbston Winery followed by a BBQ that night, enjoying the bounty of Dave’s successful arvo on the river - a decent brown trout. After that Jim, Gav & Phil headed off to the airport.

Steve and Dave then tried their fishing luck again and were rewarded with a rainbow-trout that they put back in the river. Kat and I had a fantastic couple of days biking with our mate Greg (who owns Fat Tyre biking and who we first met on our honeymoon). The first day was a regular gravity-assisted ride out Cromwell way followed a wicked helibike the next day. Doesn’t get much better than flying up to 1600m then pegging it down to 200m!

Steve flew back to Melbourne and then there were three - we headed down to Stewart Island for the last few days of our trip. We decided we were fed up of student-like accommodation and instead booked a rather nice apartment in the only “town” on the island. Unfortunately the 4 days of rain were not that conducive to leaving our rather comfy home (with Sky TV) and cold beer but despite the lure of more movies we managed to head out to visit Ulva Island which is supposed to be the most pristine part of NZ, representative of how it used to be before the introduction of non-indigenous species such as rats and deer. As they have no natural predators the birds have no fear of humans and appear tame, and we were particularly lucky to see some particularly rare birds nesting. Even when back on Stewart Island the variety of bird life is amazing and we had a constantly entertained by the Ka Ka’s on the decking.

Like all good things through the trip had to come to an end but not before Kat and I spent a night out at Greg’s for a bang up BBQ and wine, while Dave loitered out front of Ferg’s for one last time!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Christmas and New Year

Christmas was relatively busy, with Brad's sister Suzy, her husband Michael and Alistair (3) & Sammy (1) over from Sydney. The kids certainly keep you on your toes, Alistair with a constant appetite for play, and Sammy with a constant appetite! It was good fun having the kids around and we now know all the words to Bob the Builder - Can we Fix it? Yes we can!

On Christmas day Brad's Aunt Pam (who now only lives about 20 minutes away in McCrae) cooked an enormous traditional English roast for all 3 of her sister's, and various nieces and nephews and as usual we all ate and ate and ate.... thanks for looking after us so well Pam!

Unfortunately we all then got a really bad cold from the kids so the next few days were a little restrained though we all enjoyed the benefits of living down on the Penninsula (about 1 hour south of Melbourne) with trips to a nearby winery, walks, biking and several visits to the penguins on the local beach! The garden cricket pitch was also much used and Brad lovingly tended to it daily on his John Deere tractor-mower, don't worry Hughie you'll get a go one day...

Last night we had a fab New Year seafood barbie at the family beach house of the soon-to-be-Mrs-Nagy, based down near Sorrento (about half an hour away from Hastings further down the Penninsula). As we munched through about 8 delicious seafood courses we gradually drank the evening away in the very merry company of the Hardman family and friends and finally retired around 3am. A big big thank you for such welcome hospitality!

Today we had a brisk walk down to the beach nearby in attempt to clear our somewhat foggy heads, then spent the afternoon sleeping, doing a last few jobs in the new house and packing for the trip to New Zealand as we leave the day after tomorrow for around 3 weeks of walking and biking.

Happy New Year to you all!