Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sweating in Samoa

Yep, that's what I've been up to for several days. Sorry I haven't been able to blog from Samoa - did you miss me?

The thing about tropical islands is - man, they're hot! It's been a while since I spent any time in that climate. Not condusive to much physical activity I have to say. But despite that, we did manage to go on one short hike while we were staying in Apia, Western Samoa.

It seems that Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of such classics as Treasure Island and Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, spent his final few years living in Samoa, in the late 1800s. His former house is now a museum dedicated to him, a few kilometres outside of central Apia (uphill, of course!)

He was buried, per his request, on top of a small mountain beside his home. The hike up to his grave is one of the few bushwalks near Apia, and takes 30-45 minutes each way. Here's me, already sweating at the start of the walk.

On the way up we saw some lovely birds, and an interesting array of tropical plants. It's hard to get any scale in the photos, but the plant in the photo below stood about six feet high.

When you make it to the grave you can see why he chose the spot. It overlooks the town with a view to the ocean beyond. Very nice and scenic, although I'm sure being dead and encased in stone blocks the view a bit.

Turning 90 degrees, you get a view over the valley towards more mountains. As you can see, there are houses and other buildings in the valley. Most of the population in Samoa lives right along the coastline, but Apia being the biggest "city" has spread inland farther than most villages.

That's about the most walking we did on our trip. It was enough to give me a heat rash on my legs, and put my clothing from that day into a plastic bag so that it couldn't contaminate the rest of my luggage!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Great Balls of Fire!

If you've been following the blog along lately, you'll know that G has been learning the craft of primitive fire making, largely by trial and error. Well, tonight we dropped in on the Tararua Tramping Club to see a presentation and demonstration on the bow technique for fire making - G's method of choice.

After showing us a short video of himself doing this at home in daylight, our instructor Steve took the crowd outside so he could try to replicate his success live. He also had extra sets of materials handy, so some of the onlookers could also give it a try. The materials consist of a bow (slightly flexible stick and nylon cord), base (mahoe), spindle (kaikomako), and top grip (green hardwood).
He began by drilling into a slight depression in the base until it began to smoke, then cut a groove in the side to let the hot dust gather. Once it was smoking a lot, he gave it 30 or 40 strokes at high speed until there was an ember to dump out.
He used his hand to fan the ember for a minute or two before transferring it to a sort of basket made of sturdy grasses, and containing dry tinder. The idea is to swing the basket around so that air is forced through, helping the ember to light the tinder.
Eventually... well, you saw the photo at the top. Fire! We didn't take it any further because we were not in a particularly fire-friendly location. But at least one of the other people who tried it afterwards also got a flame. So at least we've seen for ourselves that it can be done!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Paying For Winter Laziness

It's been a long, lazy winter for me down here in New Zealand. Sure, we've gone for the occasional "hike" on a nice, sunny day. The kind of hike where you wake up late, have a leisurely breakfast, and hit the trail around noon for a couple of hours' strolling.

Last weekend we decided to do a proper day hike in Kaitoke Regional Park. We hadn't been there in a while, but our last walk there was decidedly gray and drizzly. This was a much nicer day by the looks of it.

We still started at the lazy hour of 11am, with our sights on a 5-hour (plus rest stops) loop up a ridge, then down to a river valley, and along the valley back to the start via a low saddle.

Our walk began with me immediately choosing the wrong fork of the track, and descending for 25 minutes on muddy clay before we realised we'd gone the wrong way. We did this last time too. I distinctly remembered taking the wrong track and having to backtrack. What I had forgotten was which track we took last time that was the wrong one. Hence, we took it again!

So 45 minutes and a fair bit of climbing after we began, we were back at the start of the track, heading the right way. This time the track went very much uphill, which is helpful when you're trying to climb a ridge! Aside from a bit of mud, there wasn't much evidence of recent storms in the area. No big trees blown over or anything.

By the time we hit the turn off the ridge I was feeling like we'd accomplished the hard part of the day. I was horribly mistaken! First of all, once you descend a bit off the ridge there's another hill to climb before you even begin to head down to the river. We made it up that and started our descent. The descent is much steeper than the climb up, so I figured we'd be down to the river in a matter of 20 minutes or so. Wrong again!

Down, down, down we went. It was never-ending. My lazy quads began to whine, then shout, then turn into jelly. By the time we hit the riverbed my legs no longer felt like part of my body. They had divorced me.

At least, I figured, we now had a couple of kilometres of flat walking ahead of us before we had to cross up and over the saddle. We took a good rest before starting on our way again, assured that this part of the hike would be quite easy. No such luck.

A detour sign popped up immediately thanks to a slip by the river. Something in the dark recesses of my mind told me the detour had been there last time, but I'd forgotten about it - as you sometimes do with traumatic experiences. So instead of enjoying a stroll along a flat track, we were heading straight up the steep slope to get above the slip. Then we sidled across for a bit before going straight back down. My legs were very grumpy about this. The rest of me was not impressed either.

So half an hour later, we had made hardly any progress towards the end of the loop, but at last the walking was easier. We eventually sweated our way up the saddle and back down to the car park. I looked at my watch. 6pm. We'd been going for 7 hours to complete a 5 hour hike (plus a 45 minute excursion on the wrong track, plus a half-hour detour, and a couple of rest breaks.)

I was tired but feeling OK about it when we got home. What I didn't expect was that I'd spend the next three days barely able to get up or down stairs because my quads were stuffed! I mean, I knew I was a bit out of practice, but to waddle around for three days after a reasonable day hike is just pathetic! So now I see that sitting out the winter can do a lot of damage to my fitness levels. And since we've got big plans for a trek next September, I'd better be more vigilant when this summer ends!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

NZ Government buys farmland for conservation

The St. James Walkway

Last summer on our South Island tramping holiday, we walked the St. James Walkway.

The 5-day (at a rather relaxed pace!) route was partly through crown-owned conservation land, and partly through a privately-owned farm called St. James Station. Now the family who own the farm have decided to sell it to the government so that it can be protected.

The farm isn't just part of the Walkway. According to Prime Minister (for now) Helen Clark: "It has 11 different tramping routes, the Amuri ski field, and great mountain biking, fishing, kayaking, horse riding and hunting opportunities. The property's almost untouched landscape is dominated by exceptional natural features.

"Some 430 indigenous species of flora have been identified on the property and 30 native bird species have been sighted there."

The farm covers over 78,000 hectares of land, but recently only about 13 percent of it has been used for grazing. I'm thinking that 13 percent must all be along the St. James Walkway, because we sure saw a lot of cows on our tramp.
Animals grazing on the walkway

Here's hoping that the cows get moved to new homes, so the walkway can return to a more nautral state and those of us who enjoy a good tramp don't have to watch out for cow patties everywhere!

The acquisition of this land completes a coast-to-coast protected corridor across the South Island, which is very cool. Now if only they could finish creating that north-south trail they've been talking about for years...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Spring Storms Make For Dangerous Tramping

A river in flood can be a terrifying thing.

It may be going on fall for many of you, but down here spring is in the air and we are basking in the delights of daylight saving time. It's so tempting once the longer days arrive to head for the hills and enjoy some quality time in the bush. But with spring bringing some intense weather this year, it has led to unexpected adventures for some.

One recent even has a happy ending. A Scottish man went tramping in the Tararua ranges, but got into trouble when he slipped and fell down a steep slope. To climb back up to the track with an injured leg he had to ditch much of the weight in his pack, and he was unable to walk out.

Although he managed to raise the alarm the next day (nobody has said how he did this - but it's possible he had cell reception in the area) the winds were gusting up to 150 km/h so a helicopter rescue was out of the question. Teams were sent in on foot to locate him. He spent a second night in the bush, having made himself a little 'nest' out of flax on a sheltered ledge.

By the time he was found he was in the early stages of hypothermia, but rescuers got him to a backcountry hut where they looked after him overnight until a helicopter flight was possible. Rescuers were impressed with his mental toughness, and believe that's what got him through the experience.

The other recent spring storm story does not have a happy ending. A woman in her fifties, who was an ecologist and botanist (and therefore should know a thing or two about the natural environment) was out tramping in Egmont National Park with her daughter. Despite a warning from Dept. of Conservation staff about the possibility of rising river levels after heavy rain, she attempted to cross a swollen stream.

The stream was waist-deep and moving fast after a night of heavy rain. The rain had arrived ahead of the predicted time, and the two trampers decided to continue on their planned route rather than taking an alternative track that would not cross the stream.

Wearing a heavy pack, the woman was swept off her feet while her daughter was helpless to save her. Rescuers found the woman's body 500 metres downstream.

River crossings claim more trampers' lives in New Zealand than any other kind of accident. People seem to forget that a river that was crossable yesterday, may be impassable today. Hopefully the unfortunate woman's death with serve as a timely reminder during these unpredictable spring rains.

Windy Hilltops was also inspired to write a post on river crossing after this unfortunate event.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

One Book - Two Titles

I'm doing some reading as part of my research for "Take On Camping", including other instructional books on the subject.

Recently I took the well-known guide "The Backpacker's Field Manual" out of the library for a bit of a refresher. There are some interesting things in there, although it is mainly geared towards people leading groups into the backcountry.

Last weekend that book was due back at the library, so I returned it and had another browse around the bookshelf to see if there were other books on the topic I hadn't checked out yet. There I found the "Collins Camping and Hiking Manual."

I grabbed it and signed it out figuring there would probably be some worthwhile reading in it. Then I cracked it open when I got home, and much to my surprise it looked awfully familiar. Kind of like the book I had just returned.

In fact, they are exactly the same book - just slightly revised in the Collins edition to suit the UK market. (ie. metric measurements are more prevalent)

This was kind of funny to me - but what really took the cake was looking up the Collins book on If you shop on Amazon at all, you'll know that they often pair up two books and offer a slightly discounted price if you buy both together. Well, they were offering a discounted price to buy "The Backpacker's Field Manual" AND "Collins Camping and Hiking Manual" - that's right, two versions of THE SAME BOOK!

I'm guessing Amazon simply didn't realise these were the same book with two titles - or at least I hope not. I hate to think they were intentionally trying to rip people off like that. It's a useful book and all, but I think one copy is enough for most people.