Another school year is upon me, and I have to say I am really enjoying most of my classes this year, I feel like I am hitting my stride in a variety of ways. Teaching 1984 and Hamlet at the same time has been possibly the best combination for me on a personal level with Hamlet being my favourite Shakespearean text, and 1984, my favourite novel. But who wants to hear about my job? Yeah, no one! So onward to life...
Many years ago, three to be exact, when I discovered I would be living in Christchurch, I was leery because of the earthquakes. Upon arrival though I discovered that the imminent danger had passed, for now. I started to feel like I was not truly experiencing CHCH unless I too experienced an earthquake. And I finally did, in June or July of 2013. A tiny little tremor, but enough to be felt. I would experience many more, but I still felt a bit of a poser with friends and neighbours having lived through the real carnage, even knowing people who had not survived. Could I really claim to have experienced an earthquake? Also, should I really be seeking such an experience given all that Christchurchians had endured?
Fast forward nearly three years and I have a new appreciation for those who lived through the February earthquakes. On Valentine's day, we were privy to a 5.9 earthquake, that lasted long enough for me to be able to dart around the house to make sure Clara, who had just gone down fro a nap, was ok and that nothing was falling on her. This is about 20 times longer than any previous "earthquake" I had experienced. The house was definitely shaking, things fell off the wall. And poor Brynn, panicked from the noise and the site of her father dashing to check on her sister, was a bit scared and started crying. As if symbolically the B letter of ABC (each representing our daughters) came crashing down from its perch above the living room entrance. The aftershocks that continued afterword did not help this much. I feel like I can now say I have experienced a proper earthquake, and I am humbled. I could not imagine what it must have been like at the time of the real big ones, nor the aftershocks that continued, I am told, for months after the February 2011 quake.
So thanks nature, for giving me a taste of what Christchurch has endured, and also teaching me the all important lesson to be careful what you wish for. I do not wish for anything more than what I experienced on this day.
When we left Canada at the end of 2012, all of our letters home, blog posts and general musings were about a family in transition, travelling the world without a home. We were "The Homeless Hartlens". That was three years ago, and it is crazy to think it has been so long. I remember the first six months in New Zealand seemed like an eternity, probably because we packed so much into that time, and had all of the stress of Immigration. (as I write this we are presently waiting for the return of our passports with our permanent residency stamps!) 2014 saw a bit of a slowdown, although we did manage a two week trip to Australia, and another week in Fiji. By comparison 2015 has been a bit of a bore. I went home to Canada on my own for a wedding in July, and Steph went to Bali on her own back in January, but aside from that we have been fairly stationary. There was a week long trip to Golden Bay with our "New Zealand Family - Jenny and Richard, and I myself have ticked a fair few hikes off of my bucket list with my hiking buddy Patrick, but that is it. So I guess we have done stuff this year, but it just feels like we have been idle for some reason.
To end the year then, we need some excitement. We have been down on the South island for most of our time here aside from a few short excursions separately. So, with all of the complacency of Bali, and Canada, hiking and Golden Bay, it is time to get back to the frantic Hartlen travel schedule. We will close out 2015 with an epic North Island road trip, and ring in the New Year in the same fashion, in hopes that it will set the tone for what will be our most ambitious year of travel as a family yet, it will make 2013 look tame by comparison. And for those of you who know of our 2013 adventures, you will know that this is no mean feat.
In the weeks leading up to our trip we have taken on some extra house guests by chance, and it has made things around here interesting to put it mildly. If we cannot travel the world, we will bring the world to us! Just as we were homeless transients in 2012-13, we have welcomed some of the same into our home leading into Christmas. Over the weekend we had two young German families staying with us, each with a 9 month old baby boy, - 6 extras. In addition, we have a French couple Benoit and Clotilde living in their van on the driveway, but also in our living room - 2 extras. Finally, we have Atsushi, our Japanese home-stay student - 1 extra. This makes for a grand total of 9 extras, it has been challenging at times, but an experience not soon forgotten. Considering that there were 14 people in the house, and that one of them was named Clara, it has gone relatively smoothly.
So ends 2015 almost. Out trip starts this upcoming weekend, and we are really looking forward to it. My New Years resolution was to be more active with keeping this blog updated. I have failed. But 2016 is just around the corner...
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on’t! ah fie! ’tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely. That it should come to this! -Hamlet
As I look around, I marvel at how far the human species has come. Depending on how you see it, we have evolved from primates foraging in the forest, to hurtling metal objects around the universe after first figuring out how to understand that there was metal, and fossil fuels in the ground to make said objects. This would have been after first figuring out how to refine these things and discover their uses. How did man first cast iron? Surely you would need a mould capable of sustaining the heat required to get the metal to a liquid state. How did they get the fire hot enough? If they used coal, how did they get the coal? Was it that it used to just be lying around in heaps on the earth’s surface, and it wasn’t until they exhausted these that they had to start mining? How did they eventually figure out that metal can be used to send audio and video waves through the air, to be received and understood on the other end? Now we have computers that fit in our pockets and enable face to face conversations from one side of the world to another, all while sitting in an empty room with no electricity readily apparent save for the battery power of your phone. All this via an orbiting collection of metal in space! Stunning. Right now, I am comforting my daughter, who is in tears because she can’t listen to Uptown Funk-you up, on her mom's phone (which had been streaming on youtube) because the battery died. (#4yearoldproblems) How far we have come...
Yet with all of this advancement, the miracle of higher human thinking, I am more taken aback by the social world at large that I see presented to me in the media, and I weep for humanity. Because, the gravity of the nastiness of the world in which we live in is overwhelming if you stop to give it more than the time it takes to scroll past a headline, or a cat video, in your news feed. The fact that many don’t, and remain oblivious, is going to be a cause for greater concern as the years tick by and the world of adolescent dystopian fiction comes to fruition. I wouldn't even say that these people are choosing to be oblivious, because that would imply that they were aware of the misery that exists beyond their bubble of ignorance.
It may not be healthy to dwell on all of the negativity in the world, but if we don’t think about it even a little, what is going to change it? It is quite easy to ignore it, pretend it doesn’t exist, and yes, I am a hypocrite, because aside from this rant, I am not doing a damned thing, but at least I am registering my disgust throughout the world, and that counts for something right?
Take the events of the last few days. Yesterday, two people were murdered on live television. The fiancee of the one of these people watched at home in abject horror as his bride to be was blown away on live tv. Her screams of absolute terror and her frantically running for her life is the last image he and her family will have of her. I ask you to think deeply and give this more than the five minutes it might have taken you to read an article on this story, or watch a news clip. How would you react to this horror? What if her parents had seen? What if it was your child, sister, partner? I am not sure why this unsettles me so? Things like this happen all of the time, people are murdered everyday. But this is as close as we have come to the Hunger Games yet.
I watched the video, unedited. I don’t know why I did. I am not sure what I was expecting. I wish that I hadn’t. Like thousands of others yesterday I clicked a link in my news feed, and despite the sensitive material warning I watched as two peoples lives were erased before my very eyes. I watched as the news anchors fumbled to process what happened. I watched again as whoever posted the video edited the murder to run for a second time. I watched because I felt a desensitised compulsion to do so, and I wish I hadn’t. I cannot unsee these images, nor unhear the screams and I cannot imagine what it must have been like to be those two people, and I cannot imagine what it must be like to be their friends and family right now.
This is not just because of what happened and the manner in which it did. But, also what has happened since. The comments on the video are a shocking view into cavalier attitudes of people protected by the relative anonymity of the internet, as calls for genocide, gun control and racial retribution ring out. Lost amid the empty condolences of total strangers drawn to the video, as was I, out of morbid curiosity. I am now ashamed to admit that I have seen this video. What is the fascination? This goes beyond gun control and racism. Our society has become desensitised to mass violence. Whether we want to admit it or not media surely must bear some responsibility. The old adage, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should, applies here. Why must it be first person shooters, war films and action movies that garner our attention when it comes to entertainment? I know its not real, most “normal” people do to. But we have been desensitised, and without mounting some ten year psychological study, I would wager it is having an impact on those who can’t differentiate, or do, but don’t care, I dare see we are all affected by this over-consumption of violence. That guy who murdered these two reporters yesterday, I dare say he has probably killed thousands of soldiers, and Nazi zombies before pulling the real trigger on these two.
So this story will be in the headlines for a few days, people will think oh what a shame. I can’t believe it. Yet, it is happening so often now, it isn’t that hard to believe. It is no longer, “oh my God, did you hear about what happened in Columbine?!” but rather, “20 dead in school shooting, man kills ex-girlfriend, 40 insurgents dead in Syria, tonight cloudy with a forty percent chance of precipitation, and after the break Diane talks to Taylor Swift about her upcoming charity concert.” No one bats an eye anymore. How did we get here, and how can we stop? I chose this moment, because it has had a profound effect on me. I have given it some serious reflective time, and it has truly shaken me. I wonder, if everyone did the same, dwell on the various degrees of misery that surround us on a daily basis, it would be maybe enough to truly appreciate the good that does exist in the world, of which there is plenty. Maybe if everyone actually thought about the consequences of the things they do, good and bad long and hard, and marvelled at the magical way we have been able to turn dirt into future colonies on Mars, and video conversations to grandma on the other side of the world, then the misery would eventually be overwhelmed by the actions of truly thoughtful people, and we would go back to realising the true potential of what brought us here in the first place.
I will begin by stating that: I do, love, my job. But at times, you reach a certain point where you hit a wall, and you think really? Is the path that I have chosen for myself? I learned a new phrase recently, at my job oddly enough. I feel sometimes that I am in “the trough of disillusionment”. The realities of my work life overwhelming me, the sinking feeling that I am just treading water, wiggling my toe in the ocean of education, scratching messages on sand in the face of an incoming tide. Bah, so melodramatic. It is really not so bad, but the feeling that it is impossible to make one iota of difference is, at times, inescapable.
Why so glum? I am not really, despite the expression on my face that states otherwise. (I am smiling on the inside 90% of the time, really! I am mostly just tired, honest!) To do what I do, you have to have a thick skin, be energetic and be accepting of failure, and more importantly willing to admit that you have failed, learn, and move on. You must also be aware that you are part of a system. A cog, constantly spinning at dizzying speeds, at certain times essential to the functioning of the machine, at other times, you are a spare part. The machine, the system, marches on with or without you, and will do so long after you have gone. It did so long before you came. The system is flawed, but I don’t have the answer, so for now: sheep. I have been thinking about this much lately, and it first hit me how seemingly insignificant we all are in this profession when I started this amazing journey to New Zealand almost three years ago.
I left my first job after four and a half years, in the middle of the year, at Christmas. I loved that job, the students, my colleagues, the comfort of it all. That January, whilst embarking on this adventure I realised how quickly I will become a footnote in that school’s history. A new person will take my job, form connections mould, shape, and inspire as I hoped I had done. Not six months down the road, one class would be gone, a new one filters in from the bottom to replace them, having no idea who I am, and then the next year and so on, and so on. In a few short weeks the fourth class will have left, of the five that I would have taught leaving only one. And I would have known them only half a year. How quickly time flies. I cling to the hope that somehow it all matters. I have received votes of confidence since then from the pupils of my past that suggest this is true, and if I didn’t believe it, I suppose I would be long gone.
Right now I am loving my job more than I have in a long time. I look forward to going to work. I feel relaxed. I feel little stress. This is problematic. I am a teacher and I have never felt this way. I have come to the conclusion that I am in denial, and I don’t know what to do about it. I have about two solid - no sleeping, eating, drinking - days of marking headed my way, that will result in a collective: sigh of disappointment, curse of anger/hatred, gasp of surprise, or shout of genuine glee from a collective 130 students as they get their results. This will last a combined total of 10 minutes, the end product of countless hours of planning and instruction summed up in such a tiny fraction of time. Such is life. But, having already faced a similar onslaught of “assessment” I can’t be bothered with this next batch. I am shutting down. I am refusing to confirm its existence. I am writing this blog/rant. I think this is the product of being in a larger factory of education. You are just a number as are the students. They change every year here for me as opposed to every five as they did back home. I tell myself this is what I wanted, but as I age it becomes harder to relate. Perhaps it is my accent? Or theirs? I miss the freedom of my department of one. Now I am in a department of twenty six or so - ones. (who are a constant source of entertainment, amusement, inspiration) Sometimes it feels like someone is always watching as I get ready for what seems like my 20th observation, it also feels like no one is noticing. No, that is not true. I know that I am appreciated, and I am noticed. But something is not the same, maybe this is just change and I need to get used to it. Maybe, I am by now making no sense and should go to sleep. But I want to write, I love to write. Instead of selfishly writing for myself, I teach others (hopefully) how to write. I am getting off track now, time to close.
Denial. I am not only in denial, I am distracted. I am burnt out. There is a light, and it is only three short weeks away. It is all I think about. I look around me and wonder how all my colleagues keep it all together: motivation, passion, energy. All I can think about is the Canadian summer a mere few weeks away and the seven days of relief I have to set as punishment. The system is wearing me down, I hope I will soon recapture my motivation. I hope #3 sleeps through the night. This latter point is, of course,wishful thinking. I wonder if my lack of stress despite the incoming storm-front I just outlined is the gradual abolition of my teaching “mojo”, my frustration with the system, or am I just looking beyond the now and becoming oblivious to my daily life? Perhaps this is the product of the profession. My failure to not figure out how to cut down on the three to five hours of work I do every night that every other sane teacher seems to be able to do in two leaves me feeling lost when I choose to do nothing. I need a beer. Ah well, tomorrow will be a great day. I am having a shared lunch with my year 13’s, they are truly awesome people and I love every second we spend together. And then I will have a beer, or five. And then I will do what I should be doing now instead of procrastinating.
Sometimes, timing is everything. I set out to climb Avalanche peak in Arthur's Pass National Park back in November, but its peaks were still covered in snow, and expertise that I did not possess was required to make the trek. At that moment I opted for Bealy Spur, a nice walk in itself, but no Avalanche Peak.
Avalanche peak is a cruel unrelenting mistress of a mountain, and though it takes only three hours to ascend, you earn every step the whole way up, and down. The track starts at about 780m and rises to 1822 in about seven kilometres, including the very beginning which climbs quite aggressively at incline ranging from 34 -80 degrees, this is then followed by a ridge that ascends 300m in a distance of 500 metres. This walk is not for the feint of heart, once you have handled the stiff beginning inclines, and crossed the competitively tame but potentially treacherous (in high wind) grassy slope leading to the final ridges and peaks where the path is narrow, and very steep on either side, one misstep, or gust of wind and it is goodnight. But the views encapsulate all of what makes New Zealand great.
Our international consortium of hikers were lucky enough to have the most glorious cloud free blue skies, and the trail largely to our selves with the exception of French girl looking for lost gear, and an irresponsible German/Swiss couple making the trek with a baby strapped to their back, and making their poor four year old walk on his own. ( I am all for getting the kids outside to hike, but I had a few missteps on the way down, and could only imagine how it must have been for the little guy) Aside from the stunning views we enjoyed on this day, the company is what made the trip.
Joining me this time were Dale and Peter. Dale a fellow colleague of mine at Burnside, and Peter the brother to another colleague, who I had previously travelled to Fiji with. Dale and I had also had previous adventures together, but they were of a different sort! A surprise dinner guest, also pictured below, was the notorious Kea, the world's only alpine parrot, and arguably one of the smartest birds in the world. These guys are famous for taking our weather stripping on windows, flying off with cameras and all sorts of unwanted behaviour. On this day or friendly Kea swooped in for lunch, and was quite ballsy in trying to get a bite of my Afghan chicken, and had no trouble invading my personal space. I think the pictures do a better job of describing this day, so I will leave it to that, as part of my new year's resolution to keep this more up to date for the five you who actually read it from time to time! Until next time!
Legal Aliens: From Ireland, France, England, Australia, Italy, Belgium, Czech Rep., United States, and Finland with love
For those that we do not speak to all that often, you may not know what actually happens in our day to day life, or what our day to day life is actually like. We live in New Zealand now, did you know that? Christchurch to be specific. Its an interesting place that Christchurch, it had some pretty heavy duty earthquakes a few years back and the city is still very much in recovery mode.
One of the many after-effects of living in such a city at such a time is exorbitant cost of living. We have figured it out now, and it is starting to improve, but to get by on a single income with three kids has been a challenge to say the least. To offset this hardship, we have taken to renting out rooms in our home, and none of the twenty or so people we have had live with us have been Kiwi, we were about to have our first today, but he changed his mind. So, here is an ode to living with citizens of the world whose lives have crossed paths with ours for whatever reason, and in general, we are so much richer for this having happened.
When we first started letting people live with us, we did so on the sly, as we were ourselves renting, and were not sure our rental company would approve. In the end they did and all was well and good, but for the first little bit, it was a bit stressful. Our adventures though, begin with Janek our friend from Ireland, he here for economic gain for just three short weeks while away from his temporary home in Queenstown, while he tried to sort out being able to live legally in Australia with his then girlfriend. He is now in Wales, so that is how that story ended. As per a previous post, Brynn fell in love with Janek, and was quite distraught when he left us just three short weeks later. At the same time as Janek, we also rented out a room to a couple from France who were not far removed from living in Quebec, and had plans to someday return, though I dare say this may not be the plan now? From Sylvain and Erika we inherited our Honda Odyssey, which they will be happy to know is still going strong and has had many south island adventures with us. Sylvain taught me a great deal about photography, and these three lovely people all together shared with me my first "night on the town", that was a lot of driving around looking for a place to happen, and while it didn't happen the way we thought it might it was good times nonetheless. You guys will be happy to know that CHCH does actually have a bit of a pulse now, and down-town is showing signs of life!
We have since seen Janek and Sylvain on various return visits through CHCH, and I am still in touch with all of them, and one year and a bit down the road, we are four people in four different countries.
The next batch of roomies are just a small footnote in our journey. Danny and Ryan from England moved in after having toured the north island, and with impending plans to travel Canada in 2014, and Emma from Tasmania took over Janek's room. Emma was doing Earthquake repair work, and was the one room-mate we had that didn't really workout as we had hoped. Dani and Ryan were meant to stay for much longer than they did, but were unhappy with their job situation and moved to a place closer to their new jobs, which is too bad because for the brief time we shared together we really enjoyed their company.
As luck would have it though, one of our longest term room-mates and among the best friends we have made in Christchurch soon replaced both rooms. Into the couples room moved Thomas and Laetitia from Belgium, and Jonas from Italy into the single. Thomas is here working on his Doctorate in biochemistry and so he and Laetitia will be here in NZ for about three years. They have since found a place of their own, but we were their first point of contact in New Zealand, and Stephanie and Laetitia have become very good friends. We see them often and they have engrossed us (though Stephanie more than myself) with their board game addiction. It is safe to say that these two are likely to be fixtures in our lives for years to come, especially if we remain in New Zealand for any significant amount of time.
Jonas was one of our favourite house mates. He cooked amazing Italian dishes, and was a good hiking/biking partner for me, though we didn't get out as much as I would have liked. During the days when I was at work, he and Stephanie would wile away the afternoon playing Settler's of Catan, and he got on amazingly with the girls, who referred to him affectionately as Mr. Jonas.
We had a nice little extended family set up with Jonas and the Belgians. Jonas would cook one night on the weekend, Thomas/Laetitia another, and Stephanie on another, in this way we had family suppers every Friday Saturday and Sunday, these were often quite epic if we also happened to be hosting any couch-surfers. We frequently had dinners where we were representatives from four or five different countries/continents, eating on yet a different continent. Moments like this were valuable for many reasons. The cultural exchange highlights the amazing smallness of our world, and was good exposure for the girls. Also, any amount of homesickness, or loneliness we may have been feeling was offset by the international community of wanderers we had established in our homestead.
It was a sad day when all of these people departed our household, but international good times soon resumed with our second set of English housemates Diana and Shamoon, and into Jonas's room Jan and Zuzana from the Czech republic. This was by far the busiest our house ever got, and despite having only one bathroom for house with six adults and two children, things worked amazingly well. Jan and Zuzana happily crammed into a room meant for one person on a bed meant for one, they were nearing the end of their New Zealand tour, and were just trying to make some extra spending cash to finance the rest of their trip. We shared a Christmas and New Years in the park together and learned much of Czech culture, and customs. Diana and Shamoon were here for work, though for Shamoon it never quite worked out the way he had hoped and he ended up doing unskilled labour. A work shortage forced both them away earlier than they had both anticipated and our girls were both gutted, as they were hugely popular with both Aurora and Brynn, with Brynn quite famously hoping she had enough money in her "wow-let" to afford a plane ticket to "Lip-poo" where Diana lived. I think Diana and Shamoon enjoyed their time with the girls as much, if not more than their time with us.
France returns to the household with Sophie and Aumeric, they too like many before them were doing the one year working holiday thing. I cannot say I got to know these to very well, there was a bit of a language barrier and they kept to themselves, but they were nice and friendly, and Sophie was quite a talented artist and left the girls each with some lovely drawings. On the heels of these two quite literally was Taylor an American from Georgia, she and Stephanie got on really well and shared a common love for My Kitchen Rules, and wine I am quite sure.
As I write this, we are just getting acquainted with Piaa and Julien, to absolutely crazy hikers from Finland and France respectively. they have just hiked 1300km through the Canadian Rockies, and are cutting short their stay in New Zealand to return, from the pinnacle of new Zealand Summer, to Alaska in the pinnacle of North American Winter! If that is not crazy enough, while here they plan to do the Souther leg of the
Te Araroa, the world's longest walking trail which stretches 3000km from North to South. Needless to say, they like to hike.
We are nearly to the end of our journey of flatmates here in CHCH, but I would have to say our time here has been defined by a chaotic household that has somehow worked. Not just with the flatmates, but also our active hosting of over 120 Couch-surfers in a year and a half from all corners of the world. We have made some amazing connections, and have learned much of the world outside of our beautiful island. You might say we are crazy to have so much community in our house, and it is a at times frustrating, but mostly it is amazing and helps to keep our world small, and any possible bouts of homesickness to a minimum.
We moved to New Zealand for the scenery, the experience, the people, and the weather. And when I say weather, I mean the absence of Canadian winter, more so than the presence of anything Kiwi. Don't get me wrong, I love snow as much as the next guy, and lets face it Christmas was not quite right at 30 C. When deciding to move to New Zealand, we were prepared for rain. And, after discovering that Christchurch was to be our home, we were prepared for earthquakes, earthquakes and glorious dry weather. But on the penultimate day of the April calendar, I must say I was ill-prepared to be sinking.
Canterbury has been unseasonably wet this month. Historically, 19mm of rain is expected in the month of April, making it one of the more dry months. We have just endured 170mm, 50 of which has come in the last 24 hours rendering my back and front yards a swimming pool. There are road closures, and the river is flooding across the city that was built on a swamp, go figure. The sad part is, most of the flooding (though not as bad as March of this year, which saw proper flooding after 100mm fell in a 12 hour period) affects the areas that were also mostly drastically damaged by the earthquakes, as if these people haven't suffered enough
But, at least it is not shaking, right now. And at least I am not having to warm up my car, or shovel my drive. And at least our roof is not leaking, yet. So, Canada, I guess this is payback for what I hear was a pretty brutal winter. And although I am thoroughly soaked, I am on holiday until Sunday, and a little dampness trumps -40C any day of the week.
The First Great Walk - Keplar Track (over the mountaintops on the mountain sidewalk in perfect weather!)
When I wrote previously about tramping in New Zealand, I had been ill-prepared, and ill-equipped, and was attempting a moderately difficult track that required a moderate bit of perseverance to navigate, but was by no means difficult.
This time, I attempt one of the nine epic Great Walks of New Zealand: the Keplar track just outside of Te Anau, on the South Island. Again I have a partner in crime: (Jonas has since left us to return to Italy) Mike Gemmil, a fellow Canadian from Kingston Ontario, who I had met at couchsurfing gatherings in Christchurch. We blew some Kiwi minds on our first night camping when we got stuck in Kingston NZ for the night whilst hitching. We were of course in Kingston, NZ, and Mike was from Kingston ON, and when I asked where I was from I half lied and said Kingston NS, which does exist, and is literally attached to the village of Greenwood NS, (Google it if you don't believe me) where I spent the earliest parts of my childhood.
Stephanie is about four weeks away from delivering our third child so I cannot very well abandon her for the weekend with no vehicle, I have just left my job, and am unsure if my old job is actually going to pay me the rest of what they owe me, so I opt to hitch-hike down to Queenstown to meet Mike, where he will drive us the rest of the 171 km to Te Anau to start the track. I am looking forward to it. Hitch-hiking is always an adventure, and I had not done it in a while. On Monday, we suffer the first of many setbacks in our travel plans. Mike's truck craps out; the engine is "hooped" as we would say in Canada, and not worth the repair job. No problem, we will just hitch to Te Anau. Sadly, this would prove easier said than done.
I set off from CHCH, a little later than I had hoped after Stephanie drops me at the edge of town, and I get a ride straight away to Rolleston, and then another one, to the Geraldine turnoff, from a Swedish immigrant, who told me much of the changes in New Zealand in the last 30 years, including a 33% income tax rate (it is now at about 24%, dependant on your wage) Then I walk, and walk, and then walk some more, about 7km until I finally make it into Geraldine after a third ride. I then proceed to walk another 5 km or so out of Geraldine until I get my first long distance ride to the Wanaka turn-off, and finally a ride to Frankton where I meet Mike at McDonald's. All up it takes me about seven hours, not too bad for a drive that takes 5+ hours in normal situations.
Now the difficulty sets in. We are two unshaven dudes, with backpacks, which helps, as it means we look less likely to stab you and leave on the side of the road, but also hurts, because not every vehicle can accommodate such cargo, given that we are both over 6 ft, we are not the tiniest passengers either.
We hiked another 5 km out of Frankton, to no avail, and were scouting farmer's fields to crash for the night, when after about an hour we got a ride to Kingston, where we blew minds with our Kingston Kingston Kingston story.
We were up and on the go the next morning with two quick rides to Mossburn, but then our luck dried up and we sat, for 2.5 hours. We finally accosted a Dutch family who stopped to allow their kids to play at the park and asked if they were going to Te Anau? They were. And then asked if we could come? We could! I will never forget the expression on the two young boys faces as we sat facing them in the back of their campervan. Aged two and four years respectively, they just stared at us with a combination of fear and interest, not really sure what to make of these two hairy strangers who didn't speak their language. Not keen to play games, not keen to talk, but also not keen to look away ever. They engaged us in an awkward stare down the whole way. I was certain that the reason for this stemmed from a deep seated fear of what we might do to them. The younger one had been a bit fussy at the park, I dare say we scared him straight.
On the track finally - So we finally got started on the track at about 2 pm on Friday, which was about six hours later than we had hoped. We opted for the counter-clockwise route as it was less in your face uphill that way, but it was still uphill, to 1400m elevation, after first traversing beech forest at the base of the mountains.
Planning has never been my forte 100%, and I left Mike to make accommodations. He booked us two camping spots for the weekend, as the huts were already booked solid. You are not technically supposed to "camp" at the first hut, but we assumed that this was just a suggestion. Not so. More on that later. On the route up the to the first hut we passed a couple of hikers from France. They had just come from the opposite way, and had done so in two days. This buoyed me, because looking at the distances ahead, and the fact that we were starting so late, I was thinking we were going to have to push to do a similar feat.
This seemed more a reality to me in the back of my head, because I remembered the DOC brochure saying that camping at the first hut was strictly prohibited, and the next possible camping spot was another 10km beyond that, I had visions of 2 am hikes over mountain-tops dancing in my head.
The track up was amazingly easy, and having been in New Zealand now for almost a year, I was becoming desensitised by the amazing natural beauty that never seemed to be far from reach. The first thing I do remember being taken with was a veritable sea of ferns (see pictures attached) The fern sea was adjacent to the tranquil Lake Te Anau, which was surprisingly still given its size, and the calm passage through the fern forest was cushioned by a very well maintained, spongy yet firm peat moss addled trail. This trail would maintain its quality for the duration of the hike, and I came to refer to it as the mountain sidewalk.
Two or three hours of unremarkable rainforest trekking (unremarkable if you are used to being in rainforests all of the time. It is true I may becoming desensitised to New Zealand's natural beauty :( ), followed. We occasionally caught a glimpse of Te Anau as we zig-zagged our way up the mountain, but these were only fleeting glimpses, and always obscured partially by forest growth. Just before 6pm, we were finally out of the canopy of the forest, and were reasonably high up. We were by now being rewarded with nice wide open skies, and a diminishing sun that cast the perfect light on the red tussock fields we were now walking through.
As we neared Luxmore Hut, the Tussock fields were protected by wooden walkways, to prevent direct human contact. This was why we would be unable to camp, the whole area around the hut was covered in Red Tussock fields. We arrived to find all of the sensible hikers already in a state of relaxation, preparing their dinner at the various gas stoves provided by the DOC. It was essentially a low budget hotel at the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere.
The water supply was straight from the source mountain water run-off that was crisp and refreshing. Before being dispensed through the faucets of the hut, it was filtered by various layers of peat moss, volcanic ash and various other stones and elements. It was not purified, yet we were assured it was totally safe untreated. (not like that stuff I took a swig of in Morocco! *see adventures in Morocco under family travels for that one)
So we were in a bit of a pickle, since we booked camping sites and there was no camping at this location we hoped to find a spare bunk, and pay the difference. The trouble was that there were two school groups, one from Australia, one from Auckland doing some Duke of Edinburgh expeditions, as well as the usual tourists. This left by our count three beds, with the possibility of travellers still arriving from the trip up or across, depending on their direction of travel. As with everything in my life in New Zealand thus far (knock on wood) it just worked out, no more late arrivals, and beds to spare.
Day 2 - Over the Top I had only recently been made aware of the Keplar track. Our room-mates from the Czech Republic had done it previously, and had showed the pictures to me once we met. I was immediately enthralled at the prospect of literally walking over mountain tops, above the clouds, and while the journey so far had been good, I knew the best was yet to come.
On the second day, we knew that most of the vertical was now behind us, and what remained was the walk over the saddle, literally over the peaks of the Murchison Mountain Range. We awoke to another sun filled day, with a few wisps of cloud cover handing in the valley below us. This, is what I had hoped for. Clear skies above, but the definite experience of walking in the sky.
We had hoped to beat the rush out of the hut in the morning, but we got caught up with the Australian school group. This was not all bad, I shared some travel stories with a few of the students, and a good conversation with an American teacher about living abroad as a teacher.
We reached the Forest Burn Emergency Shelter, which had been the next possible shelter spot had we encountered any of the inclement weather, which is known to plague the region. My room-mates Jan and Zuzana, had warned us that along the mountain tops it can be extremely windy. When they had done their trek, they had traversed this portion of the track literally on their knees because the wind was so strong. This plus rain, made for a memorable experience for them. We were fortunate, we experienced nothing but crisp blue skies, and a light breeze. Heavy wind and rain had been forecasted though, and snow to 1100m, we were therefore well within the snow zone, and as we edged along the narrow edges of the mountain with nothing but canyons and majestic but deadly rock formations below I couldn't help but thinking to myself how thankful I was for the present pristine conditions. We broke for a proper lunch at the Hanging Valley Emergency Shelter where I enjoyed the quintessential Canadian backpacker meal of Canadian sardines in hot sauce, cashew nut based trail mix, peanut butter sandwiches, and Whittaker's Fruit and Nut Chocolate for dessert, and then, onward.
The section track that followed lunch on the second day was what I had come for. It was also the most treacherous if conditions were bad. This was the section my Czech friends had to complete literally on their hands and knees as gale force winds threatened to blow them off the mountaintops, and into the oblivious forest and rock blanketed canyons below. However, as I have already stated, we were fortunate weather wise, and we had nothing but clear skies.
The track from the shelter to the Iris Burn Hut went literally over mountain tops. Lunch had been at just under 1200m, and the summit of the range was at 1400m. This part of the track was known as "the saddle" because of the high mountain peaks on either side of our present location. This left a lower lying peak region, which from a distance would likely resemble a saddle. The trail in this section was a series of ups and downs along the very narrow path across the various peaks and valleys of the mountain range (see pictures inset below) The view on either side were of deep mountain forested valleys, and pristine alpine lakes, since we were not yet at the summit, there was also the ever present peaks piercing the skyline as we gradually made our ascent. As the path unfurled in front of us, I was reminded of images I had seen of the Great Wall of China, this then was an all natural version of the same (see if you agree with the pictures below).
About 90 minutes after lunch we reached the optional summit climb, a full 1400m above sea level. The detour was only 15 minutes so we made the short scramble and were rewarded with panoramic views of both Lake Te Anau, and Lake Manapouri, as well as the South Fiord, the Keplar Mountains, the Murchison Mountains, and the Te Anau town-site. The trail resumed in snakelike fashion over and around multiple peaks, with huge valleys carved our of rock sloping at drastic angles on either side of us, as we began our gradual descent. The weather held, and as the more altitude we lost the it got.
It was during the descent that fatigue finally started to set in. We had by this point done about 40km in just over 24 hours, this included out sleep at Luxmore hut. We stopped at Iris burn shelter to freshen up and have some food. Mike took the opportunity to change socks and dry off his feet, I did not. We were now down the mountain, and ahead of us was nothing but beech forest, as we entered the tree canopy. What we had come to do had been done. As remarkable as rainforest can be, I was by this point over it, and my thoughts shifted to the impending potential two day trek back to Christchurch. We decided it was best to take advantage of Sunday traffic, and try our best to finish this track and hopefully make it as far as Queenstown.
About an hour in to our beech forest walk, my pace really started to slow, my legs were screaming at me, and flashes of my Copland track adventure started seeping into my consciousness. I stopped to change my socks by a creek, and was instantly savaged by sandflies. I was left with about nine quality bites for the next three weeks. Sounds like nothing you say. You have obviously experienced the after effects of the notorious sandfly. The creature is silent, these are not mosquitoes. They swarm, and if you aren't paying attention, you will not know what hit you, but by the time you do, it will be too late. They are also slow, which means if you keep moving, you are generally fine, they physically cannot keep up. They are also easy to swat, but you cannot swat them all, and this was my issue. My unattended right foot was exposed for about one minute, and five minutes later I looked like contagious pox patient.
Fresh socks made all of the difference, for a while. It seemed we were walking forever to get to the next hut. And this time my body was really starting to shut down, I was done, I wanted out. I commend Mike for suffering through my griping during this stage of the hike. We were by now separated by quite some distance as my pace really slowed, legs stiff with exhaustion. Finally, we reached the lakeside, which was the cue that we were getting close. Not close enough it would seem. The next hut, was still another hour and a half. Mike eventually found me, sitting on the ground after he had first reached the hut and enquired abut a place to sleep, (as it was apparent by this point that we were not going to make it out in one day). No room due to a large american university group.So, onward, but Mike, my hero, stayed positive despite my outwardly irritable bitching, and shouldered my pack onto his back as we made our way to the hut for supper. The wardens there were a bit more strict, no place to sleep, and no place to use our camping implements, or the gas provided at the huts. They did however tell us of a "secret" hut twenty minutes up the track, where we could spend the night.
This hut was a fishing hut, and was more like an hour up the road, but we found it eventually, well off the beaten path, and on the shores of Lake Te Anau. We had dinner, and then attempted to pass out, as above us the skies opened up in a merciless downpour.
The night at that hut, was one of the worst sleeps in living memory. It was infested, literally infested with mosquitoes. The common insect scourge of my life, had been a forgotten pest since moving to New Zealand. They did exist, but they did not thrive as they did in North America. Apparently this was a holiday home for all mosquitoes of New Zealand, though I must say during dinner, they were surprisingly absent. as soon as we went to sleep however, the descended on what was the first human flesh in their presence in about two months ( this ascertained from the guestbook). It did not matter which way I folded my sleeping bag,blankets, or clothing. The incessant buzzing in my ears all night long was maddening. I even took to stuffing toilet paper in my ears, it made no use. Given that we were in a cabin without electricity, there was no light to confront the problem head on, it would not have mattered. There were thousands, and the room was small, yet tall enough to hide them from our reaches.
Day 3 Homeward Bound- We fell short of our two day trip, but we finished the track after a two hour hike in the morning, and miraculously caught a bus right to Queenstown, where my luck ran out with a connecting us to Christchurch. Hitchhiking was successful initially, I was able to coerce some British travellers to take me the long way to the Wanaka turn-off, and from there a couple Israeli girls took me over the middle of the island in exchange for gas money. My luck ran out on the main #1 highway, and I was heading to a farm house to ask if I could pitch a tent in their yard, when I noticed one car approaching on the horizon, I had been standing at the side of the road for about an hour at this point, and was losing sunlight. But, this final car turned into a ride to Timaru. A night in a hostel, on the road early, with a ride to my doorstep from a lovely opera singer from Montreal, and I was home.
2013 has been an amazing adventure. I am way behind on blogging about the whole experience, but thought I would try to sum up how awesome it has been. We have seen pieces of five continents and ten countries since Christmas last year, and that has meant seeing some amazing sites. We have had almost 100 random visitors in our new home in New Zealand from all over the world, and that has meant meeting some amazing people. We have been successful in all that we needed to do to stay in this amazing country beyond this year, we are healthy, we are happy, and we have a new Hartlen joining the herd in the new year.
The best part of our whole year has been being able to spend some quality time with my family experiencing all of these things. 2012 had its ups and downs, but one of the ups was getting to know my extended family a little bit more, and appreciating the importance of family in times of need. This carried forward into this last year as we traipsed around the world. I was thrilled that Stephanie and the girls finally got to meet some of my UK family, and we have had the opportunity to spend more time together as a family. For the first time ever, we have all been living in the same house seven days a week for a whole year!
My father passing last year was hard on me, and reinforced for me the fragility of life. I have tried to make sure that I do things now in the pursuit of happiness, both mine and my families, and I hope that I am headed in the right direction. For four years I missed out on family life while I worked in Two Hills. I liked my job, but hated the situation I was in. New Zealand had been a goal for a long time and it felt like it was slipping out of grasp. We could have stayed where we were and been much more successful financially, but what is money if you are not fully content?
So here we are in New Zealand, one year into living the dream. However, the dream has not been all roses. I was not particularly happy in my job, so despite a promotion and a raise, I resigned. It was the first time since moving furniture that I dreaded going to work, well, perhaps not dread, but definite displeasure. If I came to New Zealand to experience the country and be happy, it was not going to happen at my current job. So, 2014 will begin with my third teaching post at the South Island's largest school, working in a real live English Department with more than just me! So, excited!
But this is more about the awesome year that was, and what made it awesome: my family. Aurora started school this year, and has "heaps" of new friends (heaps is an over-common kiwi expression meaning lots). She has grown a lot, I mean, heaps, and I am happy to report that I have had more time in this last year to actually hang out with this amazing girl, and cannot believe that she is already school-aged! Brynn has shown us so much character, and is proving to be as hilarious as she is stubbornly independent. She speaks in full sentences, and is a very active child, and, full, of personality. She has shown us the beauty of interior bedroom wall murals, and is nothing short of amazing, just ask her, she will tell you, she is amazing!
This last year I have also been able to share 360 odd days in the same house as my beautiful wife Stephanie, and been able to see from a closer perspective all the amazing things she does, and better yet I was able to spend more of my evenings with her, something that has not happened enough because of my various job situations. I am now ending 2013 with some time off, and a lot more of that to devote to my lovely wife. We just had our first extended camping trip together, and will be finishing off the year with more of the same, maybe now that we know a few potential babysitters,and with mom, and Mom in law visiting, we may actually go out for a change!
2014, will likely be a little more tame, but we are still at the bottom of the world in a beautiful country trying to get used to Christmas in 25°C+ weather. Not sure that's going to happen, but I don't miss shovelling my driveway or scraping off my car one little bit.
The fam jam and I took a trip to Port Hills yesterday and got some lovely shots. I decided it was my turn for some photos, as I am always the one behind the camera. Here is the wonderful series of pictures I posed for, and I had a great time doing it!!
Happily married to my beautiful wife Stephanie, and proud father of three beautiful girls, Aurora, Brynn and Clara. Instructional designer, writing when I find time.