Monday, March 27, 2017

Kepler Great Walk

Kepler Great Walk
Date: January 2017
Category: Great Walk
Weather: Mainly fine
Location: Te Anau
Distance: Official distance: 60 km, distance from my watch: 59.8 km
Website: doc.govt.nz/

The Kepler is one of the logistically easiest Great Walks. One of only two loop Great Walks (along with the Northern Circuit in Tongariro), you don't have to plan much in the way of transportation. In fact, you can even walk the 2 km to and from the track and Te Anau. This 2 km walk can be mentally tough if you are tired on your last day. The parking lot at the Kepler Track Carpark has plenty of spots, but does fill up as the day goes on, particularly on nice days when the day hikers are out. We started just before 7:00 am, so there was plenty of room. There is an additional carpark at Rainbow Reach, which is a further drive from Te Anau, but less busy. You can also take boat transport to Brod Bay campground.



 As we were trying to fit in as much as we could to our Christmas holidays, we did the Kepler in 2 days. Though DOC times for the 2 days are around 12 hours each day and there is plenty of sunlight in mid-summer to do a 2 day walk, it is recommended only for the very fit or very silly. Most people complete the walk in 3-4 days. Because gale force winds were forecast up on the mountains for the first day, we completed the walk in the reverse direction of most people. This meant the majority of the elevation, both up and down, was left for the second day. However, it was also the slightly shorter day at 28 km, while the first day was 30 km.


The first section of the track, when going clockwise from the Kepler carpark takes you through some lovely forest. It's primarily flat, so the 9.5 km to Rainbow Reach goes pretty quick. You then continue on the flat portion of the trail to Moturau Hut. This is where many stop, as the next hut is 5-6 hours away. The hut was nice and looks out onto Lake Manapouri. According to the ranger there, the mornings tend to be calm with raging sandflies and the evenings tend to be windy with slightly less sandflies. Bring your spray! If you're hut bagging, Shallow Bay Hut is just before Moturau 20 minutes down a side track. This hut has only 6 bunks and can't be booked like the other Great Walk huts. This could also make for a nice little overnight trip from Te Anau.

From Moturau hut, the track continues on the fairly flat track up to Rocky Point shelter. This is a nice place to take a pit stop, though, like most places in Fiordland, it's best to have plenty of bug spray on. Another thing to watch out for on the Kepler are the cheeky robins. You may have heard about the mischievous keas stealing from you, but the robins can be almost as bad. They came right up to us without fear and tried to get in our bags. They also have a tendency to stand in the middle of the track, not wanting to move to let you pass.

After this last shelter before the halfway point, you slowly climb up to Iris Burn Hut. All of the huts on the Kepler (aside from Shallow Bay) have mattresses, lighting, and cooking burners with fuel. When full, the Iris Burn kitchen can get pretty busy and chaotic. I recommend eating a bit earlier than most to avoid fighting for space. Because of our long km days, we didn't go to the Iris Burn waterfall. However, if you want to, it is a pretty short walk from the hut and can provide for a refreshing swim on hot days.

The second day was a challenge, but we were rewarded with fantastic views. Directly out of Iris Burn hut, we started climbing, and steeply. Going this direction, you climb about 900 meters in the first 6.5 km. It's tough, but might be better than going down this steep path, particularly if it's raining and slick.

Once at the top, you arrive first at Hanging Valley shelter then Forest Burn shelter. The views are fantastic, but you are also very exposed. If it's windy, rainy, or very cold, this could be a miserable 15 km between Iris Burn and Luxmore (and a bit after Luxmore). Be warned that all hikers, regardless of how many days they plan to do or direction, must complete the 15 km between Iris Burn and Luxmore. This is a difficult section of track because of the elevation gains and losses and the exposure. You should be fit and have plenty of gear for all weather (i.e. rain gear, cold weather gear, sunscreen). At least you can put your bug spray in the bag for a while as it's too high for the sandflies. If you are lucky enough to get a sunny day like we had, the views are some of the best I've seen in the world.

Though we stopped at Luxmore hut only for a quick pit stop, it looked pretty flash with a few separate bunk rooms. However, it is fairly exposed, so if it's a particularly windy night you may be kept up by the noise. After Luxmore it is a long way down. We actually ran much of it as this tired our legs and knees less than walking. Over 10 km from the peak, you descend 1100 meters. Do your strength training before hiking the Kepler, your knees will thank you.

5 km from the Kepler carpark you come upon Brod Bay campground. You'll find a lot of campers just there on an overnight from Te Anau. We found there to be slightly less sandflies than some areas of Fiordland at this campsite, but they were still outnumbering us a million to one. The campground is quite scenic, but we didn't stay long as we were shattered from our epic 2 days. The 5 km to our car felt like it took forever, as our feet were swollen from the heat and downhill, making our boots suddenly 2 sizes too small. We were very happy we hadn't chosen to walk the 2 km from town, as I don't think we would have made it.

Overall, the Kepler is tied for top place with the Norther Circuit for our Great Walk rankings. It was logistically easy, we had phenomenal weather, and the views were majestical (yes, this is a word if you've seen Hunt for the Wilderpeople - if you haven't, do so now).

Butterfly Creek Nighttime Madness

Butterfly Creek 
Date: 2016/08/20
Category: Walking
Weather: Mainly fine with a full moon.
Location: Wellington
Distance: Official distance: 9.64km, distance from my watch: 11.1km
Website: Race Site

We picked this event as it looked like a fun atmosphere and it was a nighttime run. The website showed people in fancy dress from the previous year. We opted not to wear our TMNT gear as it was cool enough for long sleeves and running vest for hydration. We were only at the start line for maybe 10 minutes when 2 teenage girls rolled in dressed like turtles. They ended up getting an award for best fancy dress.

The race started at 7pm with a short 1km road run before hitting a 200m climb. The elevation was gained in just over a 1km as well. The track was not super technical, but it wasn't an ultra groomed trail. There were rocks, roots, and uneven surfaces. I tried to keep a couple strides behind Beth to allow her to set the pace and also to stop my headlamp from automatically adjusting its intensity.

There was a discrepancy with the distance of the race. The race map said 9.64km, the website said 9.75km, and my watch said 11.1km. The elevation was just over 400m done over 2 climbs. The downhills were fun, but we could have really hammered it in the daylight as the headlamps don't necessarily illuminate everything.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Timber Trail


Timber Trail
Date: 14/05/2016
Category: Dual Purpose Track (tramping/MTB)
Weather: Some light rain, but otherwise mainly fine with a high of 14.
Location: Pureora Forest
Distance: Official distance: 85km, distance from my garmin: 80.6km
Website: http://www.doc.govt.nz


The Taupo Mountain Bike Club set out to do the Timber Trail, 85km, in a single day back in mid-May. Typically users start in Pureora and travel the 85km Southwest to Ongarue. We were no different. The journey started with about an hours drive from Taupo to get to the trail head. We quickly assembled our bikes and donned our packs before darting off. As we were getting picked up by Tread Routes on this point to point track we had already scheduled a pickup time as there is almost no mobile coverage on the track. This track is a prime candidate to take a PLB or SPOT unit out on. For several of us, this would be the first time riding the entire length of the trail, but for a few of the riders it marked a repeated effort. Their insight helped out as the profile doesn't do the trail justice and they could pick out features to regroup along the track. If you're in doubt that you are still on the track you'll be able to follow the km markers that line the trail. If you start at Pureora they count up. And if you start in Ongarue they count down. There are a few fire roads that you either cross or follow for a little bit, but the track is well marked.

Leaving Pureora, we gently climbed for approximately 14km gaining over 400m of elevation. The first few km we were in dense bush, but we transitioned quickly to some exposed brush track. We had to cross over several fire roads in this first section, but at approximately 9 km there is a small shelter where we regrouped. After topping out at 955m, we had a quick descent basically all the way to Piropiro, the approximate half-way point and huge campground area. On our way to Piropiro, we started to cross several of the 35 cable suspension bridges that will be traversed throughout the track. These range from very short to man that is a long way across. We also passed by a track to Bog Inn Hut for those that wish to make the trip longer.

We regrouped and had lunch at the Piropiro Campground. After Piropiro, you best have your climbing legs as the elevation profile is deceptive and the climb never seems to end. At about 65km in you come to the Ongarue Spiral, an engineering marvel left over from the days of the locomotive, which is the start of a wicked fast decent. The last few km are flat and wind through some paddocks. Once you get to the end of the trail, you can turn left to a parking lot or turn right and ride a few extra km into the town.

Along the track there are a few small shelters and a couple toilets, but I didn't see any easy water supplies other than at the beginning at Pureora campsite where there was running water. So you might be able to get to the stream to top off your water, but your best bet is to bring everything you may need as its a remote trail and once you start on the section between Piropiro and Ongarue you can either finish or turn back as there are no connecting tracks to a quicker exit.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Abel Tasman Coast Track

Date: ANZAC weekend 2016
Category: Great Walk
Weather: Showers evening/night #1, rest of the weekend, clear skies highs of 20, lows around 10
Location: Nelson, Tasman
Distance: Official distance: 60 km, Distance with my GPS watch (only sending a signal every 60 seconds), including 2 short side tracks: 55.6
Website: www.doc.govt.nz

We did the Abel Tasman Coast Walk, one of New Zealand's 9 Great Walks, over 3 days at the end of April. ANZAC day (April 25th for those outside NZ and Australia), generally signifies the end of the official DOC season. Many huts and campgrounds maintained by DOC are not serviced or serviced less frequently after the last weekend in April and before October, so be sure to bring your own tp, cooking equipment, and emergency communication device (i.e. PLB, Spot Tracker, etc.). These are items I always take, but it is even more important for anyone tramping in the off-season. As Abel Tasman is not terribly technical or hilly, it is easier to put in more kilometers per day than most of the other Great Walks. We hiked 21 km the first day, 23.5 the second day, and 11 the third day.

The first thing you should do when planning to hike Abel Tasman is check the tidal charts. DOC has links to these on their website above. The Awaroa inlet can only be crossed 1.5 hours before to 2 hours after high tide. Go outside of these times and, at best, you'll be carrying your pack on your head and fighting strong currents, or, at worst, swept out to sea. Plan your trip from this point, calculating how much further after the crossing you would like to walk, or have daylight to walk. All other tidal crossings along the track have high tide bypass tracks.
As it was a holiday weekend, huts were already booked up by the time we made the decision to do this walk. As such, we brought our MSR Hubba Hubba tent, our awesome, lightweight 2-person tent, along with sleeping pads. Other than that, we brought the usual tramping gear.
To get to our starting point at Marahau, we took a shuttle run by Trek Express, that also goes by Heaphy Bus. I recommend finding any other way to get to the track than using this company. They were very misleading on price and did not discount our fare when another person was added last minute. The customer service was appalling and were told that not only would we pay (the higher than should be price was told to us when we were being picked up on the day we were scheduled to start walking, so had no other choice at that moment), we would also have to pay a fee for them to charge our credit card or stop for cash, as we did not have enough cash to pay the high price. When the owner picked us up at the end, he continually made snide remarks to attempt a reaction out of me on the way back to our hotel. The return trip took 4 hours, not the 2.25 hours listed on their website. To avoid the hassle of having to deal with the less than pleasant people at Trek Express, I recommend taking a taxi to Marahau or driving yourself, then taking a water taxi to or from there.
The entrance to the Coast Track is just beyond the cafe at the Marahau parking lot. You follow a short section of boardwalk before continuing up and down the rolling hills of the coastline. All along the track, there are wonderful sea views and many great sandy beaches. Campgrounds are found every few kilometers on the first section, so facilities are easy to find. However, if you are taking the high-tide track after Akersten Bay, you will not be close to any of the campgrounds until Torrent Bay. We took a quick side trip to Cleopatra's Pool, which I think is worth the short 20 minute detour. The waterfall has a natural rock water slide, that both K and I thought would be great fun to slide down, but too dangerous to attempt. Torrent Bay has several private homes and the track takes you along the village roads for a short time. Be sure to stick to the track, as I'm sure owners of the private homes don't appreciate a lot of through traffic on their property. The first night we camped at Bark Bay, a large campsite with capacity for 40 tents. It had nice shelters, fire pits, and clean flushing toilets. It was quite a luxury. Rain cut our evening short after dinner, so we didn't get to spend much time outside at Bark Bay. The early night allowed us to get an early start the next morning.

Hiking from Bark Bay to Awaroa is relatively easy, with no areas of very technical trail. Just before Awaroa, there is a section of the trail that you walk along the beach. You may have to wait until closer to low tide if you arrive at high tide, as much of the track is underwater during high tide. There is a cafe at this point on the track, along with a few private homes. Again, stick to the track rather than walking through private property. Awaroa is a great place to lunch and wait for the tide to go down until you cross the inlet. The inlet is covered with small shells, so if your feet are sensitive, it is a good idea to bring some strap-on sandals with you, but most do the crossing barefoot. At the earlier times available to cross (1:30 before low tide) or the later crossing times (2:00 after low tide), the water will be knee-deep, or slightly deeper. It's best to wear shorts or quick-drying pants unless it's a really hot day and the cool water will be appreciated for the rest of your day. There is a flushing toilet just across the inlet from Awaroa. Just before Totaranui, there is a newly cut detour track, that is quite steep both on the way up and on the way down. It can be a bit of a trial if this is the end of your day, so save a bit of energy for this hill. Totaranui is a large campground that can be driven to as well as hiked to.
However, Coastal Track walkers have a designated camping area just for them. The facilities here looked plentiful. For a better camping experience, I recommend staying at Anapai campsite, which is just 4 km down the track from Totaranui. It only accommodates 6 tents, but is right on the beach and absolutely beautiful. You will need to fill up with filtered water at Totaranui or filter/boil your own water at Anapai. We were the only ones staying at Anapai, aside from a very curious weka, who wanted to know what was in our packs and tents. The wekas can be really fun to watch, but don't feed them and try to secure your food so you don't inadvertently feed them. Wekas are very curious and will go in your tent if you turn your back.
The final day of our journey was spent hiking around the peninsula to Wainui Bay. Mutton Cove is the furthest point DOC recommends for kayakers, as the currents and weather to the North and around the peninsula can be strong and unpredictable. From Mutton Cove, you can choose to go to Separation Point, or take a more direct inland track to Whariwharangi. We took the inland track, as the track to Separation Point is only about 1 km longer, but can add an hour to your time because of the hills. Many of the water taxis pick up from Whariwharangi rather than Wainui. The track from Whariwharangi to Wainui has some great ocean views from atop the hills/cliffs, but can be fairly exposed in the final few kilometers. Take care if there are strong wind gusts and wear sunscreen if it's sunny.
Overall Abel Tasman is a lovely track with few challenging hills, wide paths, and fantastic views. Many of the beaches start to look the same after awhile, but all are beautiful. One downside of the track is its popularity with day-walkers and tourists on boats. The boats can be loud as they announce on their PAs what they are looking at are the elusive multi-day hikers. The track can be crowded because of its accessibility, though we saw very few people in most areas North of Awaroa.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Mount Ngongotaha Nature Walk & Jubilee Track

Date: May 6, 2016
Category: Easy walking track
Weather: Occasional light rain, humid, 16
Location: Rotorua, Bay of Plenty
Distance: Ignore the distances on the website, as they are wrong. According to a more accurate sign, Mount Ngongotaha Nature Walk is a 3.2 km loop and Jubilee Track is 5 km return. Total route seen below - 7.2 km
Website: www.doc.govt.nz



Despite this track being very close to Rotorua CBD and what I would consider a nice lunchtime walk or run, I saw only two pairs of people on my run of Ngongotaha. The weather was very humid and towards the end of my run I encountered a light rain, so perhaps others were staying inside on this Friday. The track is easy to get to, only about a 10 minute drive West of Rotorua on Paradise Valley Road. There are small (not DOC) signs for the Paradise Valley Walks that lead you to the parking lot.
Parking Lot Rubbish
The parking lot was atrocious, resembling a place Oscar the Grouch would avoid. Signs of heavy partying were littered throughout the parking area, with beer bottles, fast food containers, and other things you definitely didn't want to step on strewn about. I was pleasantly surprised to find there was no rubbish on the trail, it was confined to the parking area. It is rare to find somewhere that covered in rubbish in New Zealand, so hopefully it was a fluke and will be cleaned up soon. From what I can tell, the parking area and short track up to the Mount Ngongotaha Nature Walk and Jubilee Track are managed by the Mount Ngongotaha Bush Restoration Trust, while the tracks themselves are managed by DOC.
Nature Walk
The nature walk starts by going through two gates and past some long drops (latrines), that were stocked with toilet paper and relatively clean. I started going West (left), but you can choose to go around either way. The path was well kept on the nature walk and there were quite a few signs detailing the plants and animals of the area. The birds were plentiful along the track, with their songs easily louder than the moos from the cows on the neighbouring farms. The Jubilee track connects with the Nature track once near the start of each direction of the loop and once at the top. I did not take the section of the Jubilee track that goes inside the loop of the nature walk, but instead took only the upper part of the Jubilee track in order to see the entire nature walk. The nature walk section is a fairly easy walk heading up the mountain on the way out and down on the way back. The path is wide enough in most areas for two people to walk side-by-side. The East half of the nature walk was more overgrown than the West, but still easily passable and navigable.
Jubilee Track
The Jubilee track is considerably steeper and slightly more technical than the Mount Ngongotaha Nature Walk. Roots cover a lot of the path and you'll be slowed some by the steeper terrain. Still, the path was pretty easy and had less mud than one would expect from a humid forest as those generally found in the Bay of Plenty. In fact, these tracks allow you to keep pretty clean if you wanted to do them on your lunch break from work in Rotorua. The Jubilee track ends abruptly at the summit road. I followed the road for around 1/2 a kilometer to the summit. Unless you're after a bit of extra distance, you can skip this, as the summit is simply a large radio tower and there is no view over the tall, dead gorse.

Overall the tracks are nice because of location. The Mount Ngongotaha Nature Walk is informative and would be great for families. The Jubilee can be fun to run (I like bounding over roots), but lacks any reward for your effort.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Waitomo Trail Run

Date: April 30, 2016
Category: Technical Trail Run, Race
Weather: Sunny, 22, no wind
Location: Waitomo, King Country, Waikato
Distance: 11 km (11.4 km according to GPS)
Website: www.waitomotrailrun.co.nz


This past weekend I did the inaugural Waitomo Trail Run. The event had 4 distances to choose from: 6, 11, 22, and 33 kilometers. As I wasn't sure how my training would be progressing this early in the trail running season, I choose the 11 km run. My friend, her daughter, and her daughter's friend ran the 6 km event. Though I don't personally know anyone who did the 22 or 33 km events, talk at the finish line lead me to believe these were excellent events as well. At $45 it was a fairly price event.

The number one reason I picked this race: their rubbish policy, which stated: "Anyone caught deliberately littering will be severely penalised. You will be disqualified from this event. As further punishment, you will be tasked with clearing gorse from the hills above Te Anga road wearing only jandals, short and a singlet and you will be served warm cordial for sustenance. After that you will spend days crutching wet Perendales."
To those unfamiliar with Kiwi speak the following definitions are helpful:
gorse: an invasive plant that grows anywhere it can and has nasty thorns
Te Anga Road: a twisting road heading West from Waitomo through Tawarau Forest Conservation Area
jandals: Flip flops. Comes from Japanese sandals. Credit to the Japanese for creating the national footwear of NZ (if anyone chooses to wear footwear at all).
singlet: tank top, sleeveless shirt of any kind
crutching: removing wool from a sheep's behind and tail
Perendales: breed of sheep bread by Massey University to handle steep hills.

We started Saturday by driving out to Waitomo and picking up my registration materials at the Waitomo Caves Homestead, the new cafe/store where the Big Apple used to be on Highway 3. It was a bit difficult knowing where to pick up my number, as the address for Waitomo Homestead wasn't posted anywhere (that I could find) on the race website and the business was so new that their web presence wasn't great. I was not the only one, as K, my partner, saw many people being turned away from race parking and sent back to pick up their packets. DOC representatives were on hand at registration to ensure everyone's shoes were clean and dry, so as not to spread didymo to the area freshwater from other areas.
Photos courtesy of photos4sale.co.nz
Parking was well organized, and we easily made our way to the line for the buses to the start line. Though I say we, K was just there for support, having recently sprained his ankle and not yet recovered enough for trail running. The event ended up being far more popular than race organizers initially anticipated, so both the 11 km and the 6 km were divided into waves for the start. I was in the second wave, having signed up relatively early on. The bus took us to the start in the Ruakuri Cave. At this point it would have been really nice for the organizers to have water at the start, as we had spent a fair amount of time waiting for the bus and waiting for our turn to enter the cave. However, it's unusual to have 22 degree sunny heat at this time of year, and I should have known better than to leave my Fuelbelt at home. We went down into the cave, had a picture taken, and climbed back up the long spiral walkway to the exit of the cave and the start of the timed race. Despite having a fear of caves and others around me being uncomfortable with confined spaces, this was a pretty cool way to start a race.


The first part of the race was through hilly, bumpy farm fields, with a few fence climbs to protect the livestock. The hills were pretty steep and difficult in the hot sun. Further on in the race, the trail went into the forest. This is where the fun really began. Even though it had not been a particularly rainy week, the trail was slippery mud in many areas. This was particularly difficult given the steep hills in the area and served to slow me down considerably. Roots were covering the path so completely in areas that one had no choice but to run on them and risk the slip. This is also the part of the race where the 22 km and 33 km runners met up with the 11 km runners. Though it was busy, the only part I had to wait for others on the single track was at the river crossing. The river was almost knee deep and swifter than I had anticipated, but I managed to stay upright. This is more than I can say for one of the girls running in front of me, who did a roll fall down the steep, muddy hill just before the river. She popped up saying she was ok, took another step, then proceeded to fall once more before running off. My main concern was to stay upright so as not to slip down the hill and fall on top of her. The end of the course was through a small cave and down some tourist walking paths and fire roads with large rocks.
Photos courtesy of photos4sale.co.nz
My friend said the 6 km was a great, family friendly race, not at all resembling the technical trail the 11 km was on. The two girls with her (around 8 years of age) loved the course and ran most of it. The 6 km started in Ruakuri Cave as well, but went on more well formed tracks to finish in Waitomo Domain with the other distances.

Overall the race was well organized. The two aid stations were a bit close together for my liking (7 km in and 8.5 km in), but this was mostly a problem because of standing in the sun for so long before the race and failing to bring my own water. The 8.5 km aid station had an assortment of lollies (candy) and savory food such as pb sandwiches. The medals were plastic and nothing to write home about, but I never do races for the medals anyway. I didn't attend the awards ceremony, as we had friends coming over that evening.


A few notes if you decide to do this race:
The wait for the bus and to get into the cave is in the open, so dress appropriate for standing around in whatever the weather is that day.
They have a 13 year age minimum on the 11 km. It is there for a reason. I saw some small children on the course, and many ended up being carried by their parents because of the difficulty of the course.
It is a fairly technical course. You will have plenty of lung-busting hills, ankle-breaking rocks and holes in the ground, trees to climb over, muddy hills to slide down, one small river to cross, and plenty of exposed land to cross. Be prepared for the race to take you longer than your average trail run on well-formed trails, and much longer than a run of the same distance on the road. However, these technical parts of the course are what make it so much fun.
Be warned, at least this year, there are a lot of wasps near the course (as there were this year everywhere in NZ). If you are allergic, be prepared.
Photos were free for all participants thanks to photos4sale.co.nz. How cool is that?!

New Zealand Trails

Welcome to kiwi trails! This blog will give you reviews and knowledge about trails in New Zealand. I'm a keen trail runner and tramper who loves the outdoors. As I live in Waikato, many of the trails I post about will be from Waikato, Central Plateau, and Bay of Plenty, which are driving distance from my house. I will also attempt to have guest contributors on from time to time to give you a perspective of a mountain biker or to post about a favorite trail of theirs.
At times I will review gear that I use for tramping and/or running. Though I love trail running, I run slower than windows 98, so any times given is to give you a rough idea. I'm training to do 50 km in the Taupo Ultra this Spring, so hope to run a new trail every week as part of my training. When possible I will post maps, kilometers of the trail, and entry/exit points of the trail.