The Kiwis and Helicopters

Kiwis love helicopters. They use them for pretty much everything. In the States if you see a helicopter, that’s kind of a big deal. Here, they’re everywhere.

For example:

  1. Hunting deer. The process is thus: acquire semiautomatic rifle and helicopter; fly into a valley; go nuts, shooting any deer you see! Generally I’d deplore this, but New Zealand has a real problem with deer populations (they lack any predators), and together with hunting huts, this has brought sanity to the problem. I guess. This process is apparently also applied to farmed deer inside a fence…seems a bit much, but hunting isn’t really something I understand.

  2. Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs). In New Zealand, there’s a very strong culture of carrying PLBs. I think there are three reasons for this. First, PLBs are highly encouraged by local TV shows. There’s a Search and Rescue reality show, and apparently they push PLBs on practically every episode. Second, the weather here can change rapidly, leading to bad situations. Third, helicopters are cheap (emergency ones are even state-sponsored for kiwis, from what we hear), so triggering the PLB is not such a big deal as it would be in the States.

  3. Standard trail work. Need to do some work in a trail? Get airlifted in! Weather turns sour? Get out quick! In some of the more rugged areas, we’ve seen this to be standard operating procedure for Dept. of Conservation workers. We’ve also observed that on great walks, helicopters are everywhere.

Great Walks are beautiful, but they often sound like this (from the Routeburn, airlifting dozens of bags of gravel to a fancy trail):

And look like this (from Tongagriro):

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This one was hauling poop from a hut tank by tank for a few hours.

On some great walks, there are also so-called “lodges”. These allow entire groups of people to walk casually in, have their meals prepared for them, etc. Quite something, and involves a lot of helicopters.

  1. Finally: Herding cows. This must have been pilot training or something, but observe for yourself:
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Yes, this copter is herding cows.

All this to say: Helicopters are everywhere here.

M, 30 March 2014

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The Routeburn: A Great Detour

We continued our detour that took us to the Routeburn track. This is considered a ‘Great Walk’, which means a couple of things.

1.  It’s ridiculously popular, full of people.
2. The trails are mostly ‘fancy trail’.

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  1. The huts are most definitely fancy huts, housing up to 40 people. This is the bunk house (yes, a separate building for the beds). Looks like a train car to me.

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  1. And last but not least, the views, the rivers, the waterfalls are mind blowing.

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We also met a young French traveler, Quentin, that we had met on the Hurunui Trail about a month ago. What a small world. We had a very pleasant lunch with him and his friends by the waterfall.

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The next day, we were back on the Te Araroa, happy to be back, but very happy with the amazing things we had seen. Thanks Jon and Carol for the suggestion and the maps, and weather reports. We wouldn’t have seen it without you.

Z, March 26th, 2014

The Sandfly Solution

A huge part of our life here is spent avoiding sandflies. They’re just terrible, and if you’re not in a hut, you have to get to camp, set up your tent, and dive in immediately to avoid blood loss.

Well, today we created a partial solution, forming a symbiotic relationship with this bird:

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We call him, "The Fixer"

With precision and skill, he eats our sandflies right out of the air. He is the bird on our back, the vengeance we seek, and the savior we needed.

Watch him as he works:

M, 28 March 2014

Dart River and New Zealand’s Newest Lake?

OK, maybe my facts are off (Jon will let me know), but we may have passed New Zealand’s newest lake.  Not sure if it has a name yet, but will probably be called the Dart Lake.

At some point recently, there was a massive landslide that pushed a bunch of rock and debris into the Dart River, pushing it off course into the tree line and creating a lake that swallowed up the trail.

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Because it’s all silty, glacial water, the color is a weird milky blue.

There was a temporary trail that we followed and every glance at the new lake reminded us of the power of mother nature.

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We made a quick video showing how hectic it was where the slide occurred.

Z, March 25th, 2014

Fancy Trail

We are doing so many different types of track. Some is up, some is down. Some is slippery, some is sharp. Some rock, some tussock. Some marked, some not marked.

But we all agree that fancy trail is a luxury to be appreciated. Fancy trail is well built, well marked, well benched (level). No vines, no roots, no tussock. It’s fancy trail.

This is fancy trail:

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This is fancy trail:

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This is NOT fancy trail:

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This is fancy trail:

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This is NOT fancy trail:

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This is fancy trail:

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Z, March 25, 2014

A Hard Climb to Cascade Saddle and Glacier Country

What can we say? One of the most difficult climbs of our trip with some amazing rewards.

We found this sign waiting for us at the start of the day. What a way to start the morning.

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Jon had warned us of rain in the afternoon and we knew that the climb was going to be hard so we started out super early, before the sun even, with our headlamps on.

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Up, up, up. Over 1300m of climbing. That’s almost 4000ft! Up to Cascade Saddle.  Some parts we were climbing up rock face. The weather was cold and gloomy, but we got lucky and had no rain until later in the day. In the meantime, we made our way up and over.

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At the top, we were rewarded with views of the Dart Glacier, which is huge and amazing.

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There are bright blue crevasses and big rock slides. The glacier gave way to the Dart River, which started small, but grew huge (see other post).

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The glacier is so thick but covered with rock. You can see how thick it is and see where the river starts in the cave.

We made our way another 30km to the Daley Flat Hut in the pouring rain, arriving right when the sun was setting. It was one of the longest, most beautiful days we’ve had and we got to be really up close and personal with a glacier.

Z, March 24th, 2014