Christmas in NZ: tramping!

You may have noticed posts were a little slim at the end of Dec and beginning of Jan.  For those of you not familiar with NZ…  well, nearly everyone goes on holiday over Xmas.  We’re talking usually at least 2 weeks, road-tripping, to the beach, the bach or holiday park – nearly everyone gets out of town.  All the tour operators, hotels and service industry folks are flat out, of course.

So keeping with last year’s tradition, D and I headed off to do some tramping.  We had 3 tramps planned – Lake Angelus (the hut we missed out on the Travers-Sabine, which was the big Xmas tramp at the start of this year), the Heaphy (NZ’s longest great walk) and the Copland up to Douglas rock hut (I’ve been as far as welcome flat hut and the natural hot pools there, but wanted to go a bit further this time and get better views of the backside of Mt. Cook.  Also, NYE is always lame, so I really wanted a tramping NYE which I’ve never had.  And c’mon, soaking in natural hot pools on NYE on NZ’s west coast?  Does it get any more amazing then that?).

It was an ambitious plan.  2.5 days tramping, 1 day/2 nights break, 4 days tramping, 1 day/2 nights break and another 4 easy days of tramping.

Well, unfortunately for us, the weather did not cooperate.  As is often the case here in NZ, it was bucketing down rain for Xmas.  D and I had to cancel our 3rd tramp (so gutted!  The track was actually closed due to bad weather) and ended up driving back and having NYE in Dunedin (my first ever NYE  in Dunners, by the way!).  Actually we had a great time and have since had a few very lazy days around the house doing epic amounts of laundry and sleeping, but I still wish we had made our 3rd tramp…

However, our first 2 tramps were very successful!  So here are a few photos from our trip up to Angelus hut in the Nelson Lakes area (one of the most beautiful areas of NZ).

Day 1: Views over Lake Rotoiti

Day 1: Views over Lake Rotoiti

Day 2: Alpine hut, shrouded in fog

Day 2: Alpine hut, shrouded in fog

This is what I live for - Alpine views of crystal blue tarns

This is what I live for – Alpine views of crystal blue tarns

I would describe the track as "rocky"

I would describe the track as “rocky”

Our destination!  Lake Angelus

Our destination! Lake Angelus

This was a great little in and out 2 night or overnight tramp.  We tramped in to Bushline hut on the night of the 22nd, then went up via Robert’s Ridge to Lake Angelus (the weather cleared and we were rewarded with some truly spectacular alpine views) and came back down via speargrass (the weather turned on Dec 24 – rain and gale force winds.  So up on a very exposed and rocky ridge is not the place you want to be).  As an FYI, the track up along Robert’s Ridge is extremely rocky.  Several people in the hut commented on how they were quite surprised at the track – it wasn’t exactly what they had expected (it wasn’t what I had expected either, but D and I have seen our fair share of rocky precarious tracks).  We did have quite the trip out on Day 3 – we missed the speargrass hut and kept walking for (to me) what seemed like hours.  Also the track seemed very familiar (we had come out the Speargrass track last time we were here)…  It turns out that we completely missed the turn off for the speargrass hut and instead, walked for 4 hours non-stop until we were a mere 20 min away from the carpark.  At which point we finally stopped for lunch because I was getting hangry (Hungry-Angry).  We ascertained from the trampers who went past us that we had missed Speargrass hut completely, it was at least 1.5 hours behind us!  So much for a nice sheltered lunch stop!

One of the highlights was jumping in the very refreshing Lake Angelus (listen, you don’t just walk all the way in to these lakes just to look at them!  Sure it wasn’t exactly warm and some of the other people at the hut clearly thought D and I were nuts but hey, it was worth it).  Next time, I would allow for an extra day to climb Mt. Angelus (4-5 hour return) to get some even more amazing alpine views.

It’s always amazing to me the variety of people you meet while tramping.  People of all ages and from everywhere all over the world.  And always super friendly – I’m always amazed at how often D seems to make a new best friend!  Often, our group is the only group with any Kiwis.  It’s also strange now how D and I have moved from being the novices to occasionally being some of the more experienced trampers (woo hoo!).  We also like to have the delectable food.  : D  Tramping snobs, you say?  Surely not!

What does worry me is how unprepared many of the trampers are that we meet.  People wearing sneakers (a sure fire way to break your ankle is not wearing tramping boots.  We know this from experience!).  People not having waterproof jackets!  Ok, yes as a textiles person I know that a truly waterproof jacket is hard to come by (and often costs a small fortune).  But I honestly saw a guy tramping in a wool pea coat in the pouring rain!!!  We’ve met people who haven’t been carrying sleeping bags or cookers (again, 2 vital pieces of equipment, especially if you start having signs of hypothermia).

The weather here in NZ does kill.  And sadly it kills trampers – even experienced ones – far too often.  People going on when the weather is really really bad and they should turn back.  People by themselves.  Foreign tourists tramping by themselves.  I hate to say it, but if you are a foreign tourist tramping by yourself, you are way more likely to die tramping than anyone else!

I don’t want to discourage people from tramping, but tourists who are unprepared for the conditions in NZ die all the time.  It’s really sad.  And it ruins the experiences for other people as well.  You can barely even get within sight of the glaciers on the west coast these days unless you pay $$$ for a guided tour (2 Australian brothers were killed when standing under an ice cave several years ago, so the barriers preventing access have been moving farther and farther away from the glacial face).  A track that D and I wanted to do near Franz Josef was closed due to track damage – but it has been closed for around a year now, we actually wonder if DOC plans to re-open the track due to some recent and unfortunate deaths, or if it has simply been deemed “too dangerous” because  too many unprepared tourists decide to walk it?

Sign posted at Franz Josef Glacier at the head of a walk that we wanted to do but decided not to because it was closed and it would reflect very poorly on our judgement if we died while walking on a closed track...  :(

Sign posted at Franz Josef Glacier at the head of a walk that we wanted to do but decided not to because it was closed and it would reflect very poorly on our judgement if we died while walking on a closed track… 😦

Ok, I didn’t intend for this post to be quite such a depressing rant about tramping and travelling in NZ safely.  And certainly tramping here can be confusing because many of NZ’s great walks are just that – great walks.  You barely need boots and you don’t even need to carry gas.  And inevitably DOC has a million warning signs up along these relatively safe tracks.  It’s all the other tracks that you need to worry about.

It just seems that missing trampers seems to be a recurring theme in this part of the world.  And certainly, the prevalence of personal locator beacons helps immensely.  Every tramper who is walking alone should carry one (of course, if you fall and hit your head or are otherwise unable to activate said beacon, it won’t be very useful.  But it could absolutely save your life!).

Just plan, prepare, take the right gear, notify someone of your intentions, and if you feel unsafe in a situation – turn back, or hunker down in a hut for an extra day, etc.

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