Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Fork in the Trail

I've really been looking forward to my upcoming trip to the South Island, and all of the great trails we'll be walking. But one of the things I was not looking forward to was eating the same bloody dinners over and over again along the way.

So I started digging through the new cookbook by fellow Canadian Laurie Ann March, called "A Fork in the Trail". Laurie has put together a back country cookbook that covers everything from breakfast to dessert, with lots of fodder for the dehydrator. The recipes are easy to follow, and there are lots of great tips too.

Laurie aslo offers an online "Wilderness Cooking" course, in case you haven't had much experience making food for or in the back country. And if that isn't enough, she manages the "Outdoor Adventure Canada" website.

Anyway, so far I've been focusing on vegetarian stuff (I can't quite get over my fear of dehydrated meat) and the results are delicious. Lentil soup, black bean dip, and dal, have all been tasty and dehydrated well.

So if you're looking for some new food ideas for your wilderness adventures, check it out. Available on Amazon.

Goodbye cans of tuna, hello tasty curries!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Four Heels are Better Than Two

Tom Mangan, who writes the hiking blog Two Heel Drive, put up this great post about hiking with a date. While "Sex in a Tent" focuses mainly on overnight trips, day hikes are a fabulous way to introduce a new mate (or a potential new mate) to your love of the outdoors.

Here are some of Tom's tips:

  1. Stay on trails you know by heart (wow, a pun!) and don’t do anything stupid. Nothing says “loser” like having to call in a search and rescue team.

  2. Ask about allergies ahead of time and be prepared to change all your plans on a dime if an allergic reaction happens (if she has pine-related allergies, stay out of the redwoods, for instance). Put some Benadryl in your first aid kit.

  3. Single-track trails are terrible for conversation — avoid till you get to know each other (there’ll be plenty for single-tracks to tune out annoying chit-chat about her best friend’s outlaw biker boyfriend after you’ve been dating a few months).

  4. Walk at your companion’s pace (good advice for any hike but especially when you’re trying to prove you might be worth hanging out with on future hike).

  5. Five miles is a long walk for a rookie — as long as you’re demonstrating your capacity for compassion and empathy by asking about allergies, ask probing questions about fitness (think of the payoff if you have a leg fetish!).

  6. Unabridged version of “no means no”: “I don’t like to hike” means “I don’t like to hike.”

Good advice all. I'd like to add a extra bit of advice for the girls out there. If you're a seasoned hiker taking a guy out on the trails for the first time, be careful with his ego. Guys have a hard time shaking off the stereotype that says they should be in control of all "wilderness" situations - navigating, helping you over river crossings etc. Keep an eye on him and make sure he doesn't do something stupidly macho to impress you.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Holy Makara!

Yep, it's a cheesy Batman-esque pun . But some names just lend themselves to those, don't you think?

Last weekend we took advantage of more lovely, summer weather to go for a short hike in near Makara Beach, on the west coast of Wellington. It's about a half-hour drive from the city through mainly farmland.

The first hour of the walk takes you uphill, until you are rewarded with dazzling views over the Tasman Sea. The water was unusually calm, and stunningly blue.
We stopped for lunch at the old gun emplacements on top of the cliffs. This would have been a good place to defend the capital from a marine invasion approaching from, I dunno, Australia I guess. It was a clear enough day to make out the mountains on the South Island (which is pretty much directly west of Wellington) which don't seem to have any snow left on the peaks at this point. That's good news for our upcoming trip down that way!After descending by an old access road (for the gun emplacements and some barracks I presume) we returned via the rocky beach, which was loaded with driftwood. There were a few brief stops to skip rocks, which were generally deemed "not flat enough." The beach is also a great place for collecting paua shells. Paua is a type of abalone only found in New Zealand, and people take them as food (although this is, in theory, pretty strictly regulated). The shells are traditionally used as decoration in Maori carvings because of their colourful mother-of-pearl inner sheen. But they are mainly made into jewellery these days. However, people diving for paua as food sometimes throw away the shells, leaving them on the beach for scavengers like us. These are the two I deemed worth keeping.

Less than two weeks to go now until we're off to the South Island. I hope this great weather continues!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

And furthermore...

A quick follow-up on my last post, about not being able to locate the Mt. Reeves track.

G managed to dig up this report from 2001, describing the track coming from the opposite direction, as you approach the end where we were:

If you are heading north down to the Waiohine River from the junction then note
that the *track* is overgrown. There is not much traffic along it since the
walkwire over Coal Stream at the bottom was removed. There are at least 3 points
where the way to go is indistinct. Immediately after the junction the path seems
to go straight over point 745 but a plastic tie marks the real route which heads
left from a small clearing on top of the knoll. There is one point where the
padding vanishes and markers seem to head under a fallen tree. However the
*track* actually goes right into thick bush - a marker can just be seen from the
last marked tree before the fallen one. Take care above Coal Stream where the
*track* ventures close to the edge of a river bluff. From Coal Stream, it is
best to make a hip-deep ford of the river and join the good *track* from Walls
Whare to Totara Flats. This avoids the remains of the old *track* which has
vertical scramble up a 10m bank to the site of the walkwire and a 20m scramble
up a steep incline a little further on.

No wonder we couldn't find it! (And frankly, I'm just a little bit glad we didn't...)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Long Live the Tent!

I have something to confess. Although I wrote a whole book called "Sex in a Tent", I don't often spend the night in one these days. You see, the very convenient system of back-country huts in New Zealand makes it generally unnecessary to carry a tent around with you. And quite frankly, I'm in so-so shape and will take any shortcuts available to lighten my load.

However, last weekend we made an exception and took the tent out with us on what was meant to be a three-day weekend adventure. Our plans fell apart almost immediately, as we reached the trailhead, parked the car, and were totally unable to find the track we were planning to follow.

Two other tracks were clearly marked from the trailhead, but the "Mt. Reeves Track", a delightful little dotted line on our topo map, was nowhere to be seen. Not even the bridge leading to the supposed track was in view. So we hastily came up with plan B.

Plan B involved following the track we had originally intended to take back out to the car two days later. This track let to Cone Hut, a charmingly rustic 1946 construction that sleeps six people and has a dirt floor and open fireplace.

But as I mentioned, this was the tent's big day. So we continued along the track down to the riverside where the remnants of campfires past marked the most popular places to pitch a tent. We claimed a spot near the river (but not too near, just in case) and set up the tent. In the process we were viciously attacked by sandflies. The only good thing I can say about sandflies is that they usually appear in smaller numbers than their Canadian equivalent, black flies. Still, I managed to get bitten 3 or 4 times before the tent was up.

Being a long weekend in Wellington, there were a lot of people hitting the trails. So the hut quickly filled, and more people decided to camp down by the river instead. So much for a quiet, private night. But it turned out to be a pretty mellow bunch, including four people sleeping under a large tarp, and a young guy with his own tent.

The next day we hiked up out of the valley to the saddle we'd come down from the day before. Up a tree I spotted some old signs indicating the various tracks criss-crossing there.

It was about 15 feet off the ground, however, which made it rather easy to miss. I can't be the only one to think so, since a newer set of signs has been installed much closer to the ground.

It was decision time for us. We had been thinking of heading down the opposite side of the saddle to the next river. Up the river about an hour (maybe two) was another good camping spot called Totara Flats. On the other hand, once we reached the river, it was also about two hours in other direction to get back to our car. The weather forecast for the next day had been less than ideal before we left. Should we cut our losses and hike out, or go for another night in the tent?

In the end laziness and the overwhelming desire for a shower took over. We hiked out, promising ourselves that if the weather wasn't too bad the next day, we'd go for a good, long day hike.

We woke to a hot, humid day, and followed through on our plans. We headed off to the Rimutakas, and took on the Mt. McKerrow loop, which follows one spur up to the mountain, then the main ridge down again, then a flat track back to the beginning. All in all, it's a challenging (especially on a hot, humid day) 5 1/2 hour hike with some steep sections, especially on the way down. But we did pretty well, and managed to finish just as the first sprinkles of rain started to fall. You only get a few, brief views from the top. But you do get to look across the harbour towards Wellington. The skies were clear enough that you can make out a bit of the South Island at the back.But for the most part, the ridges are covered in mossy trees and lots of ferns.

So that was our weekend. Perhaps not what we had intended to do, but we had a good time anyway. (Give or take a few itchy bites.)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Thumbs up from Sue Johanson

Anyone who grew up in Toronto around the time I did will know the name Sue Johanson. She's Canada's Dr. Ruth - an unassuming older woman who can talk dirtier than a sailor in Bangkok.

Sue has taught at least two generations the nitty gritty of sex, first on the Sunday Night Sex Show, a call-in radio program, then on a local cable TV show in Toronto, and now she is in her sixth season of Talking Sex With Sue, on the Oxygen Network in the US. Sue is a genuine sex-ed hero.

Anyway, I had attempted to set up an interview with her while I was writing Sex in a Tent, as it would have been great to get her take on moving the bedroom to the great outdoors. But my timing was bad, and it never happened.

So I was delighted to find a mini-review of my book on her website. I'm not sure if she also reviewed it on her show, so if you saw it, let me know. While she wasn't a fan of the cover art, she did think the contents were worthwhile. You can check it out on the bottom of this page.

It's funny how some people's opinion can mean so much to you, even if you've never met. So thank's Sue - you made my day!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Goodbye Sir Ed

Today marks the passing of a iconic athlete and humanitarian, who will not only be mourned here in New Zealand, but all around the world.

Earlier today, Sir Edmund Hillary died at the age of 88. His list of acheivements is certainly impressive, but perhaps the most impressive thing of all was his humility and generosity of spirit.

In 1953, Hillary and his sherpa Tenzing Norgay were the first people to successfully summit Mt. Everest. Hillary's humility would not allow him sole credit, and he has never admitted which of them was actually the first to reach the summit.

Since that achievement propelled him into the international spotlight, he has used his fame to assist the struggling people of Nepal. He set up a trust which has funded new schools, and built two airstrips high in the mountains to help supplies make their way to the people.

Hillary was also a key player in New Zealand's presence in Antarctica, as the first person after Amundsen and Scott to get to the South Pole. He was involved in setting up New Zealand's Scott Base, and returned just last year to mark the base's 50th anniversary. Today, the flag at the base is flying at half-mast in his honour.

Closer to home, Sir Ed was an activist for activity, always encouraging more Kiwis to be involved in sports and athletics.

Among his other honours, Hillary appears on the New Zealand $5 note.
Rest in peace Sir Ed - if there's a heaven, I'm sure it looks a lot like the Himalayas!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Worth about 8,000 words

I seem to be exhausting my vocabulary these days. So rather than blab on about my recent hikes, I'll just share a few pictures with you all! They say a picture is worth a thousand words, which explains why it's so hard to make a living as a writer - words just don't hold their value these days.

This is from our Jumbo-Holdsworth tramp last month. I just like the twisting of the boardwalk through the woods.

Beech trees and ferns dominate Mt. McKerrow's ridge

G sits atop a large rock arch on the Kapiti coast

Kapiti Island, seen from a walkway on the coast.

An old ammunition bunker in the hillside near Round Knob.

What's the p-a-a-a-a-a-a-assword?

Belmont trig, and I'm feeling the sun!

Wellington Harbour seen from Belmont trig.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Long-distance Paddler News

Seems this is the season for determined kayakers down under to set records, or a least try to.

Just the other day, German kayaker Freya Hoffmeister became the first woman to circumnavigate New Zealand's South Island in a kayak. The 43-year-old took 70 days to complete her trip, which was expected to take three months.

The first man to complete the same task did so in 1978, but only two more people have managed it since. But hot on her heels are two other women hoping to share the glory. A Swedish woman started the trip a couple of weeks ago, and a Welsh woman is planning to begin in late February.

Also, a group of four paddlers have finished crossing the Tasman Sea from New Zealand to Australia, the first to do so without the help of sails. The waters are notoriously nasty, and a solo paddler recently died just off the coast of New Zealand's South Island trying to complete the crossing in the other direction.
There is a pair of kayakers also trying to make the trip from Australia to New Zealand after starting their crossing on November 13, 2007. Their original plan was to arrive in Auckland on Christmas Eve, but big waves and high winds have been working against them, and the pair are still trying to get through the last few hundred kilometres!
It all sounds like very hard work to me. Think I'll stick to paddling around in more sheltered waters, like Wellington Harbour!

Photos via Yahoo-Xtra and

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

InTravel Review

Online travel magazine inTravel has reviewed Sex in a Tent in their January/February issue. (Do online magazines have "issues"? Maybe "edition" is better.)

If you're not familiar with inTravel, they are a good read for armchair travellers, looking at a lot of unusual destinations from a variety of angles. Whether you're looking for something romantic (In Love), low budget (Inexpensive), morally rewarding (Involved) or just a cautionary tale (Inept) there's a story somewhere on there you'll enjoy.

If you look under the "Inept" category, you'll find a story I wrote about an experience during my first trip to New Zealand, called Attack of the Killer Seals. Ah, my solo travel days!

Happy New Year everyone!