Thursday, September 2, 2010

August Adventures in NZ

Watching baby seals playing in the Ohau Creek waterfall was our most notable and unique experience this past month.  The Department of Conservation estimates that up to 200 baby seals "hike" up Ohau Creek to relax and play in the waterfall, while the adult fur seals hang out on the ocean shoreline.  We found the seals during a rainy, cold day, so it was hard to get decent pictures.  We watched them for nearly 2 hours -- I could have stayed longer.  I smiled and laughed the entire time.  They were so unafraid of humans that we found a couple of them scooching up our hiking path as we were heading back to the van.

The month of August also marked our first backcountry skiing adventure in 2.5 years.  We were anxious to dust the cobwebs off the backcountry gear.  It turned out to be a bluebird day for our climb up Mt. Ruapehu on the North Island.  Unfortunately, since it's a massive, exposed volcano, the snow was very windblown and icy. Snowboarding down was downright treacherous.  On the first day, we got a late start, due to a flat tire, and then had some route-finding issues. Therefore, we had to wait until our second day (another bluebird!) to make it to the top, where we peered down into the crater lake (pictured).

We were in a bit of a hurry to travel south in search of better snow.  With bad memories of our puke-inducing ferry crossing in June, we started watching sea and weather forecasts weeks before booking our tickets.  Our patience was rewarded with an almost-windless, sunny, FLAT-water ferry crossing!  To be on the safe side, Scott bought a box of ground ginger. He read that it's a natural remedy for sea-sickness, although when I tried his very strong ginger tea, it came close to inducing flat-water sea-sickness.

On the South Island, we had some great hikes and some mediocre mountain biking before our first real backcountry snowboarding in the Craigieburn Range.  We had been keeping an eye on the forecast so that we could be on the mountain during a clear day.  When we got to the mountain carpark, I noticed at least a dozen endangered keas.  These alpine parrots are rare (only 5000 in NZ) and are quite cute.  Within minutes of parking, they had destroyed our bike seats.  Apparently they are veracious with anything rubbery on cars and bikes.  It was a little too late when a couple of people warned us that keas would go after our bikes.  We put the muddy bikes inside the van while we snowboarded.

The mountain weather changes so rapidly here that you can't even count on a 24-hour forecast.  We didn't expect to get 2 days on the mountain, so we hadn't provisioned appropriately.  Our second day found us eating PB & X sandwiches because we ran out of J.  The PB & maple syrup came out the winner. The PB & strawberry yogurt was kind of like washing down a PB & J with milk gone bad.

The snowboarding itself exceeded our expectations. It put smiles on our faces for days.  Since then, we've been itching to go back, but the weather hasn't been cooperative.  While waiting, we had over a week to explore the area around Christchurch, including the gorgeous Lytelton Harbour and the nearby beaches. When dry, the Port Hills are probably great for mountain biking, but since it was wet, we had to settle for road biking on our full suspension mountain bikes.

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