Saturday, May 30, 2009

"Great Rides" Coming to NZ

Photo: Real Adventures

No, it has nothing to do with improving Kiwi sex lives. It's the next step in the evolution of our Prime Minister's "cycling route the length of the country" plan.

That plan was hatched at a summit about employment back in February. While a long-distance cycling route along the whole country had a nice ring to it, the PM backed off when someone painted a $300 million price tag on it.

Instead, we are now looking at $50 million committed to a series of scenic, multi-day cycling routes throughout New Zealand, to be known as the "Great Rides".

This comes off the back of the hugely successful "Great Walks" which have brought hikers from around the world to New Zealand to experience some of our best scenery on foot. The rides will no doubt be aggressively marketed in the same way, and look to keep people in the country for longer, and visiting more parts of the country when they come.

No announcements have been made yet about where these Great Rides will be. Every community or region with a cycling route that could use some upgrades, or a disused rail line that could be converted into a cycling route, is now lobbying for their share of the cash.

It will be fascinating to see what comes of this, and whether New Zealand becomes as well known for cycling holidays as it now is for "tramping".

Monday, May 18, 2009

Cosmo Calling

When Sex in a Tent first came out, I was working with the publisher to get as much publicity as possible for it. They sent review copies to tons of magazine hoping to get word out. There was a pretty good response overall, particularly in "outdoors" circles like Sierra Magazine and the Mountain Gazette, but the mainstream didn't really go for it.

However, a year and a half later mainstream women's magazines seem to be waking up to the fact that the outdoors is sexy! A while ago I found myself in the enviable position of being asked by three big magazines to contribute to articles about sex in the great outdoors. I guess it's an idea whose time has come!

The first to hit the newsstands is the June issue of Cosmopolitan (American edition). Sadly my contribution has boiled down to 5 places to get it on outside, and my credit is microscopic - but every little bit helps.

Stay tuned for updates as the other articles (hopefully) make their appearances! I'll be crossing my fingers that all of this talk about outdoor nookie revitalises book sales for the summer.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

More Walking, Less Driving Pt. 2

Footbridge in the Catchpool Valley

I'm back with the promised second post about hikes within an hour's drive from Wellington. Sadly, we didn't manage to squeeze a walk in this weekend because Wellington is kicking up one of its famous gales. Apparently the gusts got up to 140 km/h! Surprisingly, these big blows seem to do very little damage around town, although I suspect the next time we get up into the hills there will be a few extra branches on the ground.

The Catchpool Valley is in the Rimutaka Forest Park, and it's a favourite place for families, older hikers and beginners because the main track, called the Orongorongo Track, is quite flat and very simple to follow. However, there are more challenging routes to take if you head up into the mountains on either side of that main route. Last weekend we walked up to Mt McKerrow and back down another trail. It's about five hours as a round trip, and really gives the legs a good workout especially on the way down. The round trip along Cattle Ridge on the other side is about as long, but not as steep going up or down.
The Catchpool Valley

On Wellington Harbour, opposite the city, is the town of Eastbourne. By heading into the hills behind the town you can spend a few pleasant hours hiking along tracks of various lengths, many of which connect with each other. They also connect with the Catchpool Valley eventually.

View across the Harbour to Wellington

If you cruise up the Hutt Valley, there are additional places to walk. Kaitoke Regional Park is just past the town of Upper Hutt. It's a bit of a push to make it there within an hour of leaving Wellington, but I figured it was close enough to include and we do go there for day walks now and then. Kaitoke is at one end of the popular Southern Crossing of the Tararua Range. But for day walks, we normally walk up a ridge, then either back via another ridge, or a river valley.

An ex-tree in Kaitoke Regional Park
Also up the Hutt Valley is the Rimutaka Rail Trail. This route is doable both on foot and bicycle, and is easy enough for the absolute beginner. It's virtually impossible to get lost, and because it is graded for cycling, there are no tricky steps. In fact, I'm not sure I can really call it a hike, it's more of a walk in the park. However, it does make for a pleasant day out. It's about 5 hours to do the whole crossing over to the Wairarapa side, but this makes for an awkward car shuttle so most walkers do a return trip to the summit (about 3 hours each way.)

An old train tunnel on the Rimutaka Rail Trail

If you're keen to do some walks in and around Wellington, I can recommend the guide book Day Walks of Greater Wellington by Reed Publishing. It covers all of the areas I've mentioned plus a few others, and while you'll still need a proper map it will give you a decent idea of what to expect and driving directions to reach the trailheads.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

More Walking, Less Driving

Eastern Walkway

One of the really nice things about living in Wellington is how close we are to a lot of good hiking areas. Going for a day hike can be a great way to touch base with nature when you can't spare the whole weekend for an overnighter.

I thought I'd dedicate a post to day hikes that take less than an hour to reach by car from our home. Some take as little as five minutes by car (or a 25 minute walk), some take close to an hour. But an hour is about my maximum time for driving to a day hike. Otherwise, you waste half the day in the car.
First there are the Green Belt walkways in Wellington itself. While these are not quite as "wild" as some of the other parks they're still a good option if you want to get outdoors for a couple of hours and still be able to scrub up and meet your friends for dinner.

There are several walkways through the Green Belt. I've done the Southern Walkway from Mt Victoria to Island Bay, the City to Sea Walkway from the Botanic Garden to Island Bay, part of the Eastern Walkway, from the South Coast along the Miramar Peninsula. And I've done part of the Northern Walkway - but not the whole thing - around Mt. Kaukau. Here are some pics:
Southern Walkway (view of Wellington CBD)
City to Sea Walkway

Also close to Wellington is Colonial Knob in Porirua, a three hour loop walk with great views but not much bush.

Belmont Regional Park in the Hutt Valley is another handy spot just 20 minutes' drive from home. There's a bush walk up to Belmont Trig (2.5 hours return) or a loop walk called the Belmont Dress Circle (4 hours) which passes through a lot of farmland and past some old battlements.
Makara Beach offers another decent loop (3 hours) with views of the South Island. I've had good luck with marine wildlife in this area. It's a great place to collect paua shells on the rocky beach, and I've also seen orca just offshore and a little blue penguin one day on the beach.

Makara Beach

Orca off Makara Beach

Whew, well that's a taste of what's in my backyard. Perhaps I'll save the rest for a part 2 covering the Catchpool Valley, Eastbourne and Kaitoke Regional Park. Yes, we're still only looking at options less than an hour's drive from my house.