Monday, October 25, 2010

Trout Wishing

by Scott

Several months ago, I met a Kiwi mountain biker who read me the riot act for traveling around NZ without a fishing pole. With all the ocean-side, lake-side, and river-side camping spots, not to mention the high cost of seafood, he thought I was crazy. Soon after that, my father-in-law recalled his cousin's story about the fabulous fishing in NZ. He claimed that you had to hide behind a tree just to bait your hook. So, I finally bought a fishing pole, and the weather has improved enough that I've done a fair amount of fishing over the past month. I've found some beautiful spots, but I haven't had a single bite.
Trout wishing on Lake Wakatipu near Queenstown

I'm starting to think the story about having to hide behind a tree to bait your hook was not because the fish are so eager to bite, but because the water is so damn clear that the fish can see what kind of bait you're using and actively avoid it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Queenstown Part II (The Good)

Portable yurt
A large storm hit Queenstown and the surrounding mountains during the first weekend we arrived, that dumped 2 feet of new snow. This coincided with the end-of-season closing of the local ski resort in the Remarkables mountain range, aptly called "The Remarkables". We were able to use their road to access some incredible backcountry snowboarding and equally incredible camping in the portable yurt. The mountain road rises sharply from Queenstown into the steep mountains. The van got quite a workout. On much of the upper road, we had to drive in 1st gear.  We even had to use our chains for the first (and probably the last) time.

Winding and steep road from lake to mountain

Kea like bike seat foam
One day, as we were climbing up for the last run, we heard the ominous call of the Kea, the world's only alpine parrot. We didn't see them in the parking lot, so we didn't put the bikes inside (note to self: birds can fly). We watched helplessly as they flew across the valley toward the parking lot. When we got back to the van, sure enough, a gang of kea had chewed through our brand new bike cover and finished what they started  on Scott's bike seat. Luckily, when Scott put on the tire chains, he happened to put the heavy cordura tire chain bag over my brand new bike seat, so it survived unscathed.

As is typical this time of year, the snow ranged from powder on the south facing slopes to corn on the north facing slopes to ice and/or slush depending on the time of day. When all we could find was heavy wet snow, we gave up on snowboarding and made a snow-us.

Link to related pictures

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Queenstown Part I (The Bad)

Gorgeous scenery in the Queenstown area
Since we arrived 10 days ago in Queenstown, the "adventure capital of the world", our experience has been a mixed bag. Our first impression of this tourist town was not good.  As we drove into Queenstown, we were overwhelmed with the blatant consumerism and tourist-targeted money grubbing.  Bungy jumping, bunjy swing, 4WD tours, paraglide, parasail, skydiving, helicopter/plane tours, alpine slide, monster truck driving, flying fox, jetboat tour, kayking, rafting, river diving, the list goes on...  Luckily, the surrounding landscape, dominated by snow-capped mountains and a large glacial lake, is so breathtaking that you can almost forget about the overdeveloped center of it all.  The area was the sight for many scenes from The Lord of The Rings -- all of those scenes where you think to yourself, "Where is that?!".

My clipless bike shoe was dismantled during the crash
We prematurely panicked when we found ourselves amongst the trendy shops, raucous springbreak-like 20 somethings, and rich tourists.  We quickly retreated out of town to reassess our options. We found a nice bike trail along the lake, and started to feel better about the area.  That quickly changed when I had a head-on collision with another cyclist on the bike trail.  It was a blind corner and both of us were going pretty fast.  He put his head down and bashed it directly into my bicep -- good thing he had a helmet on to sustain the impact from my big pipes.  The guy kept asking me if I was okay. At first, I couldn't answer him.  Both of us stood up, and I realized that the sole of my shoe was gone -- a testament to the force that removed me from my bike.  As I hobbled up the trail, the guy asked me for the 20th time if I was okay.  My answer: "I'm fine, I just need to get the sole of my shoe...".  I did, in fact, find the sole of my shoe. Fortunately, I only had to hobble about half a mile back to the van.  I must have landed on my arm, because I was convinced that it was broken. I decided to postpone the hospital visit until the next day, but in the morning, I was shocked at how much better it felt.  However, with the "broken" arm feeling better, I noticed the other deep bruises all over my body.  Looking back on the accident, I feel sooooooo lucky that I didn't break anything -- what a major bummer that would have been.  

Stay tuned for Queenstown, Part II...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ohau We Love Backcountry Snowboarding

Portable yurt in Mt. Dobson parking lot
We finally managed to pull ourselves away from Timaru and head towards the mountains again.  The weather forecast was for sun, light wind, and warm temps so we revisted the Mt. Dobson parking lot with our portable yurt (the van) and spent 3 days in the backcountry.  We stayed until the last day of the season, afterwhich, they closed the private access road.

Next, Scott had scoped out the Ohau skifield, about 2 hours southwest of Mt. Dobson in the Ohau Mountain Range.  Our backcountry ski book had suggested that even if the skifield is closed for the season, you can request access at the bottom of the road at the Ohau Lodge. We headed to the
Lake Ohau in the background
lodge and expected nothing more than a quick transaction to pay an access fee and/or get a key to unlock the gate.  What followed was a very weird interaction with one of the co-owners of the Ohau Lodge.  At first, he told us "no, we don't let people up the mountain when there is snow and danger of avalanche".  Scott pushed back, saying that our backcountry book suggested that they allowed it.  The manager told us they allow people up there in the summer, but not right after closing the skifield (which had been the day before).  He went on to tell us that they hadn't locked up the buildings or property.  Although Scott continued to push back, both of us were resolved to leave and started turning to head out the door.  The manager then started asking us where we were from, where we had been, what we were doing, etc.  Annoyed, Scott gave him short answers.  It turns out, the manager was worried that we were locals (the accent didn't give us away?) and that we would soon be telling everyone about the poaching opportunity in the Ohau backcountry after the resort was closed (again, it was in the book!).
Hiking up from Dumbell Lake in the Ohau Range
After he felt assured that we weren't locals, he told us he would unlock the gate for us, and he didn't charge us anything.  We still don't understand why he played such games with us, but we'll be prepared next time. There is a lot of public land in NZ that can only be accessed via private roads, so this may happen again.

The following 2 days were bright, sunny and magnificient on the mountain.  The views of Ohau Lake below us and the southern alps were the best part.  Since the snow wasn't the best, we were happy to leave after a couple of days.   Only one casualty -- we lost a hub cap on the road up (or down?).

A baby huck in the Ohau Range