Monday, December 31, 2007

Rameka Track

Today we went and rode the Rameka Track, which crosses the inland part of the Abel Tasman NP. You start at the top of the Takaka Hill and after a short ascent on the gravel road it is all down hill to Takaka. This is a one way track - unless you want to slog back up the tarmac to the top of Takaka Hill again, so it was Helen's turn to be chauffeur (payment for Aaron driving the girls around the wineries).

Aaron, Sarah and Dan about to head off

Helen spent the day pottering around Takaka, which is a crafty hippy town with some nice cafes. After lunch we headed back over Takaka Hill to see the source of the Riwaka River, which flows through limestone caves and reappears at the head of the valley through a big hole. Then we headed to Kaiteriteri beach for a swim on the way home. The water was surprisingly warm compared to Wellington!

Beach at Kaiteriteri

New Years eve - but we were all pretty tired so we just stayed at home, played a very long game of trivial pursuit and had a few drinks.... although later on in the evening Dan decided it was a great time to make a movie using all the toys that were in the flat! Dan has now posted the movie on youtube if you want a laugh...don't worry it is very tame!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Tantragee Saddle

Today we had a pretty cruisy day. Helen and Sarah rode over Tantragee Saddle and down into Maitai Valley while I went and explored around the Fireball Road area. Everything around was steep – up or down. I was pretty overwhelmed by the difficulty of the tracks, but would like to go back when I have someone else with me.

Dan Mackay arrives later today. Hopefully he will go ride the scary tracks with me.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Nelson Lakes

Today we drove up to Nelson Lakes the northern end of the Southern Alps, and a beautiful national park south of Nelson. We had checked the weather forecast which promised sunny and clear for Saturday and we were not disappointed as a few little clouds hanging around the sides of the valleys were soon burnt off.

Lake Rotoiti

We drove up to the lookout half way up Mt Roberts and got some spectacular views of Lake Rotoiti, a large lake in a glacial valley. We then continued walking, traversing the side of the valley and heading slowly up to Bushline Hut. Here we stopped for some lunch before Helen persuaded Aaron and Sarah that given we were so close to the top we might as well continue and complete the whole Mt Roberts circuit. The views walking across the top were spectacular and we walked past the back country Mt Roberts ski field. You have to be a dedicated skier to hike up the mountain and there are no lifts on the ski field either.

Aaron, Helen and Sarah near the top

We walked back down Pinchgut track through a beautiful beech forest. The whole walk took about 4 hours including our stops for snacks and lunch. On our drive back to Nelson we went and checked out the other lake in Nelson Lakes, Lake Rotoroa.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Kingsland Mtb and Rabbit Island

After a day off wine tasting it was back to more exploring of the local bike trails. We started out exploring the Kingsland mtb trails above Richmond, but quickly decided they were not too our liking. We ended up at Rabbit Island instead and did a fun little ride around the western part of the island.

Aaron riding up the Kingsland mtb trail

Lagoon around the far side of Rabbit Island

Afterward we tried to find some fish and chips for dinner on the beach, but struggled greatly. We drove along the beach and coast thinking that there must be a place, but didn’t managed to find one until we were one block from where we were staying.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Wine Tasting

We decided a day off from the bicycles was necessary and headed over to Blenheim and Renwick to taste some of the famous Marlborough wines. We arranged to meet up with Anne-Laure and her friend for the day and Aaron was designated driver chauffeuring his harem of women. We went to three vineyards in the morning. We started at Nautilus, then a rather random one and then ended at Saint Clare. This was followed by a long lunch break with some good food at the Saint Clare winery cafe to soak up the Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot's from the mornings tastings. With our tastebuds refreshed we managed another three wineries in the afternoon including Matua, Spy Valley and Cloudy Bay.

Vineyards at Spy Valley

Helen, Anne-Laure, Pauline and Sarah in the Cloudy Bay tasting room

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Hira Forest

Today we headed out to explore Hira Forest. We headed out of town on the Maitai Walkway – a nice little gravel track that follows the Maitai River. We left this track and travelled a short way down the road before turning into Hira Forest.

We rode up fire roads for nearly an hour before reaching the top of the Ground Effect Slingshot. A singletrack the Kennett Bros book described as one of the “few tracks in New Zealand that return as much for your hard-earned elevation.” This track must have been in much better shape when they wrote their guide because it was rubbish! The track was overgrown with grass and gorse, rough and bumpy, and littered with loose rocks.

After the track thankfully finished, we entered Scottwood Wiggles. This track started out very similar but improved greatly when it entered the forest. This track eventually turned out to be pretty fun.

After the wiggles we made our way to the top of Ching’s Highway. This was described by the map as an intermediate grade descent back to the main forest entrance. In the end it turned out to be the worst trail any of us had ever had the misfortune of riding. It was overgrown with gorse, steep and rocky in places and we had our first casualty of the trip with Sarah going over the handlebars and grazing the inside of her mouth. Fortunately there was only minor damage to the bike, but I think her confidence took the biggest hit!

View from the top of Chings Highway

Can you see Helen?

I think we had better take the advice of the guy in the bike shop next time and go with a local! Sounds like there are lots of good, recently constructed, tracks out in the forest, you just have to know where to look!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Fringed Hill

Today was Christmas day, and the weather finally cleared up at lunchtime, so we headed out riding. Our plan was to ride up the Dun Mountain walkway to Third House and hopefully get some views of Dun Mountain. A last minute decision by Helen had us take a slightly different route up and over Fringed Hill (only 750m of climbing!). The views from the top of Fringed Hill were pretty spectacular looking down over Nelson and as far as Abel Tasman National park in the distance.

View of Nelson

There was a track that connected up with the Dun Mountain Track. What we didn’t realize was that the track down from the top was rated ‘difficult’! We started down the track, which was damp, rocky, root-infested and covered in beech tree leaves. This proved to be rather tricky to negotiate on the bicycles. After a few tens of metres the track rose very steeply – it was difficult to push the bikes up! Once we reached the top of the hill the track dropped rather steeply. I dropped my saddle and headed downward; thankful for the new back tire with lots of grip. Helen and Sarah did a lot of hiking!

Intersection on the Fringed Hill track

Eventually the track met back up with the Dun Mountain Walkway at Third House. From here we were all pretty wet and tired and decided to head back home. The ride down the walkway was a gentle gradient through a beautiful beech forest. Unfortunately a navigation error at an intersection had us miss the rest of the walkway and ride down a 4wd road.

Not the most traditional way to spend your Christmas Day and we finished with a meal of burritos!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Exploring Nelson

The weather was looking pretty ominous with grey clouds hanging over the mountains, so we decided to spend the day exploring Nelson. We walked into town and had a look around. We found our way to the Botanic Gardens and the geographic centre of New Zealand. Not too long ago we visited the geographic centre of the North Island. Now we just have to find the centre of the South Island.

The centre of New Zealand

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Ferry to South Island

Sunday morning we caught the ferry across Cook Strait. Luckily, the sea was calm and the crossing uneventful. It was a beautiful sunny day so we spent a lot of time out on the deck as we cruised through the Marlborough Sounds. The drive from Picton to Nelson was not very far but took quite a while because of some pretty twisting and windy roads. Dan Mackay’s father had kindly allowed us to stay in a granny flat of the house he owns in Nelson.

The ferry going through the Marlborough Sounds.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sarah O'Callaghan Arrives

Sarah O’Callaghan arrived from Australia last night. We had brunch with Liz Forbes and her new boyfriend, Jay. Afterward we took Sarah for a ride around Makara Peak mountain bike park. In the evening we took her into Wellington to taste some of the delightful beers at the Macs Brewery and dinner.

Sarah at the top of Makara Peak

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Tree Trunk Gorge

On our way home we stopped to ride a popular mountain bike track called "Tree Trunk Gorge" just east of Tongariro National Park. This was a great little ride through some beautiful forest and with a couple of fun stream crossings to negotiate. The gorge is quite spectacular, supposedly you can kayak it but you have to abseil in! The "Pillars of Hercules", on the other hand, were not as imposing as their name leads you to believe. Another fun ride, and would make a nice walk.

Tree Trunk George

One of the several creek crossings

Pillars of Hercules Bridge

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Pureora Forest

On the way back from Tauranga we did a couple of side trips to explore some mountain bike tracks that we hadn't ridden before. Pureora Forest is just to the west of Lake Taupo and is an old logging area that has been reforested with a few remnants of original podocarp forest with Rimu, Kauri, Totara and other native trees. There are several tracks for mountain biking in the forest, mostly disused logging tracks, we headed to the northern one "Okahukura Loop". This was a fun, relatively short ride through some really spectacular forest. It wasn't too technical, and fairly undulating, but there were a few muddy spots.... it had been dry for weeks, but it had rained the night before. Therefore, I wouldn't recommend riding this after lots of rain... We also did a couple of short walks within the forest, one of which was to the centre of the north island - why? because we could! Lots more exploring to be done in this forest!

Camp setup - including our new tent!

Aaron stuck in the mud!

Geographic centre of the North Island

Thursday, November 29, 2007


We were up in Tauranga for the New Zealand Geology Conference, but we took the opportunity to hit some of the local mountain biking trails in the evenings. Although not extensive, we found a few really fun areas to ride - the Summerhill Mountain biking park was great fun with some beautiful forest and swooping downhill and some relatively easy, and not too scary, north shore structures to ride over. The park also provided some great views over the Bay of Plenty from the Pa (old settlement/fort) at the top of the hill.

Dodgy creek crossing

Helen and Geoffroy overlooking the Bay of Plenty

Monday, November 26, 2007

Whakarewarewa Forest

As if we hadn't done enough riding the next day we met up with the NIWA geology boys to do some mountain biking at Whakarewarewa Forest - NZ's mountain biking mecca! Fortunately they had had a big ride the day before - so they were equally as tired. We set off to the top of the hill, a slow one hour climb. Then we hit one of the new tracks, a twisty track that contours across the hill before heading down to hit some of the old favourites. Aaron and Josh decided to climb back up the hill for more punishment and to descend Hot X Buns and came across some young ladies in distress. The girls couldn't get their 4WD up the loose gravelly hill - so of course the boys came to their rescue and drove the vehicle up to the top of the hill - with their bikes in the tray of the truck. What Gentlemen! At least that is their story....

Relaxing near the end of the ride - the "Motown Bikers" sporting their wonderful "moustaches" that they had been growing during "Movember" to raise awareness and money for prostate cancer.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Around Taupo

Well after a tiring day of riding around lake Taupo the next day we spent relaxing in the hot pools which flow into the Waikato River and walking along the river to Huka Falls. It was hot and sunny and we had a nice picnic. Thank god we didn't have to ride in this weather - it was 28 degrees C.

Hot Springs flowing into the Waikato River

The cold Waikato River

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge

This year a friend and I decided to give the Round Taupo Challenge a go, but as neither of us had much time to train (I was out at sea and she was away at a conference) we did it as a relay, each of us doing half of the total 160 km. As you would expect the ride is on the road that goes around the lake, but several sections are fairly hilly. The ride is very popular with around 9000 participants this year. It is quite impressive to see the town of Taupo totally overtaken by bicycles...

This year the weather was perfect - cloudy and warm (not too hot), and no wind. This was ideal conditions for riding, and the course record was broken and many people got their best times. I was riding the second half of the ride, so I had to wait around quite a bit for Kareen to come in to transition - the waiting around was a little frustrating, especially as I had no idea how long she would take and I kept drinking too much and then running to the loo! Having never really ridden 80 km in race conditions I had no idea of how long it would take me, but I guessed around 3 hours - my official time was 2 hours 42 minutes, so I was very happy with that and I felt pretty strong at the end. Next year I will probably try and do the whole thing. The ride is really nice and the hills were no where near as bad as I had been led to believe.

Kareen and I in fancy dress with our support team, Aaron and Dave.

Kathryn and Kareen waiting at the start.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tour of the Wairarapa

Sunday we and several of our friends participated in the Tour of the Wairarapa a 100km cycle race/ride thorough the wine growing region east of Wellington. The course was mostly flat with a few hills and rolling sections. It is pretty nice countryside and very green - this is still a slight novelty for us after being in Canberra for the last few years.

The course went from Masterton to Martinborough and back in a figure of 8. The weather was wonderful and we all got slightly sunburnt. Fortunately it wasn't too windy and we even had a slight southerly pushing home. Helen managed 100 km in 3 hours 25 minutes, averaging 28 km/hr, while Aaron was very kind and rode with a friend of ours who hadn't done any group riding or a road race before and Aaron and Kathryn finished a little after Helen.

The main surprise was how bad everyone was at climbing the few little hills that there were on the course. Surprising considering Wellington has so many hills and I don't know how they avoid them..

Setting off at the start

Monday, November 5, 2007


We have recently acquired two beautiful cats. Mifi is a grey Abyssinian X with tabby stripes on her tail and back legs. Safi is a Cornish Rex X Burmese and is a creamy white and "Apricot" or ginger in colour. They are very entertaining and already have nick-names - "Princess" - because Mifi loves to be the centre of attention the whole time and follows Aaron around, and - "Fluffy butt" - because Safi is much fluffier and fatter and does tend to leave quite a bit of hair around - so Aaron will have to start vacuuming a bit more often. They are 10 years old - so they are fairly mellow and sleep a lot of the time!

Mifi (Princess)

Safi (Fluffy-butt)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Last Days in Arizona

My last few days in Arizona were filled with biking. Tuesday I did a big loop up on National and and Mormon.

Wednesday, Stan and I went out to Mesa and rode the Hawes trails. I didn't ride here much when I lived in Arizona, as there weren't many trails out there. Now it has become a pretty awesome place to ride. We rode this trail called Twisted Sister, which twists and turns down a slight hill weaving in and out of staghorn cholla and creosote bushes.

Thursday, I had to get one last ride in even though I was feeling pretty tired. I decided to do a quick run out to the helipad again. Climbing out of one of the washes I managed to get knocked off balance and couldn't get my foot out in time. I fell over on my hip and elbow creating some nice scratches and bruises.

Friday, I packed up my gear and headed to the airport. I had a really easy trip back home and even managed to sleep most of the way.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Papago Park

Catching Up

The last few days have been filled with random things. Sunday I went over to my cousin's for dinner. Monday I went for a ride with Stan around South Mountain. Tuesday I ran a bunch of errands, including getting a quick service for my bicycle. It was beginning to show signs of all the abuse it has been receiving lately. It is running beautifully now.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Skiing with the girls

Well no sooner was I back from being at sea was I dragged up to Ruapehu by the girls to go skiing. It had been snowing all week so the snow conditions were looking good. Unfortunately the forecast for the weekend wasn't. I was hoping that the forecast would be wrong, as it often is, but it wasn't - so Saturday was windy, raining and with very poor visibility. We were briefly tempted to sit in the lodge, but we were here to ski, so off we went. There was only one lift open and only one run possible, so we went round and round. The run seemed vaguely different each time - only because the visibility varied! By about lunchtime, however, the snow was slushy and we were soaking wet and getting cold - so we retreated back to the lodge to have a hot shower and dry out.

Kathryn and Anne Laure

Late Saturday afternoon the clouds lifted and we could finally see the mountain. We had a busy evening in the lodge as Kathryn and I were cooking for 13 people. The lodges are run by different clubs so everyone has to help out with chores. I also spent a bit of time playing with the large box of lego that was at the lodge and helping the 3 children build houses, boats, cars etc.. We also had a couple of games of quick scrabble!

Clouds lifted on Whakapapa resort Saturday evening

Sunday morning the clouds were down at the resort - but they soon lifted to a beautiful sunny day. The rugby world cup game between the All Blacks and France was on - so the ski slopes were pretty empty in the morning. We went in to the cafe to check to score, which was 13-3 at the time, and then we headed up the hill. Unfortunately Anne Laure had a small crash on her first run down and landed awkwardly twisting her knee in the process. She managed to ski down to the bottom and walk to the medical centre - but she was in a lot of pain, so that was the end of her skiing for the day. She was only cheered up when she found out the rugby scores "Oh la la!! C'est incrueable!"

I helped Anne Laure to the cafe and headed back up the slopes to find Kathryn to tell her what had happened. The snow was pretty good - obviously where it had been raining down low it had been snowing a bit up higher, and it had also softened from a few weeks ago as it was much warmer. So there was some great skiing on spring snow. I skiied a couple of the double black diamond runs, which are basically popular off piste runs that are not patrolled or groomed. I also spent a bit of time coaxing Kathryn down some of the harder runs. I'm such a bully!

Probably the last ski trip of the season as the snow was disappearing fast over the weekend.....

South Mountain

Wednesday morning I decided to head up National again, this time from the east side. I rode up to the park again and took Desert Classic in the oppsite direction to the Pima Canyon entrance to South Mountain.

From there it is short ride up the access road and the bottom of Mormon Trail.

Desert Classic

Monday night I moved over to my Aunt and Uncles. The live a couple kilometres from South Mountain and some awesome mountain biking trails.

Tuesday morning I got and headed out on the Desert Classic trail. This trails rolls around the base of South Mountain instead of going up it like National. It is a nice fast rolling track, that can get pretty technical in places.

Climb out of an arroyo (wash)

Drop-in to the same arroyo

I rode out to the Helipad, a nice little climb up a ridge about 10kms from the house. I took a different track down, which had a few large boulders and steep drops to keep me entertained.


This past weekend I went up to Flagstaff for Stan’s Buck’s Night. Flagstaff is about 2.5 hours drive north of Phoenix and over 2000 metres higher. I got a ride up Friday afternoon with Doug, Steve, and Stan. We reached the campsite just before dark and met up with Major Tom.

We spent the evening sitting around and talking. The temperature was steadily dropping and we got cold enough that we decided to turn in for the night. The temperature dropped to around 4 degrees. There were some clouds around which kept it from getting any colder.

When we woke up the next morning Humphreys Peak (3850m, the highest mountain in Arizona) had a light dusting of snow on it. We had planned on going for a ride this morning, but it was cold. We slowly got ourselves going and made some breakfast, followed by more sitting around. It was about 11:00am by the time we headed out on the bicycles.

Humphreys Peak Saturday morning

We camped a little over a kilometre from the Fort Valley Trails trailhead. We rolled down to the trailhead and headed east toward Shultz Creek. The trail rolled along with some small hills and nice twists and turns. We climbed up Schultz Creek Trail for several kilometres before turning right and up a rocky fire trail. This led us up to a meadow. We didn't really know where we were, but we kept going.

From the meadow we followed a trail up to a rocky lookout. We had a nice view over Flagstaff, but still didn't know where we were exactly. A faint trail continued on from the lookout. We decided to keep going thinking it would come out somewhere eventually. After a short while the trail got so bad we ended up carrying our bicycles.

We finally reached the top of a hill and the track dove off the backside with some really nicely cut switchbacks. These took us down to a trail which ended up leading us back to the meadow. Since we were now found we decided to just to head back the way we came. the descent down Shultz Creek was well worth retracing our steps. It was fast and flowing, with a few tricky spots to keep you on your toes. I was following Doug down and was just amazed at how smooth he rode through the corners and rocky bits.

The next day we decided to stick to the Fort Valley trails. Only Stan Doug and I managed to ride, the others were feeling a bit ill or had to leave early.

We cruised up the trails and stumbled onto this track which wound through a boulder field. We climbed up this track which was super technical but really fun. Every couple meters there was a boulder or some other obstacle that had to overcome. It was really fun because you got this great feeling of accomplishment each time you made it through a section.

Once again, when we reached the top of the trail we didn't know where we were (seems to often be the case when riding with Stan). We decided going back the way we came would be just as fun as riding up. It was!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Back on dry land

While Aaron has been biking and visiting family in the US I have been hard at work on the NIWA research vessel, the Tangaroa, for the last month. We were working off the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand mapping and sampling a series of submarine canyon systems that transport sediment from the Southern Alps out to the deep ocean.

It was great to be at sea again and get some more hands on experience, something I don't think I've had enough of in the past. I was sea sick for the first day, but after that I felt fine even when it got pretty rough with over 60 knot gusts and 10 m swells. However, we were really lucky as we only had a couple of storms go through, one at the beginning of the trip and one at the end, the rest of the time we had beautiful calm, sunny days with some great views of the Southern Alps and some spectacular sunsets and sunrises. We also saw lots of wildlife with some pilot whales, dolphins, seals and basking sharks (although I personally didn't see the sharks). There were also lots of birds including albatrosses, mollymawks and other little black and white ones (can't remember the names of).

Mt Cook and the snowy Southern Alps.

Sunset over the Tasman Sea.

Dolphins came up to check out the ship.

Unfortunately I was on the 4am to 12pm shift (not the best time of day for me). My shift mate John Mitchell found me highly entertaining as I was not the most chatty person at 4am - in fact I didn't make much noise until after 8am and several cups of coffee.... Probably worked out best for both of us as we didn't get annoyed with each other as we hardly spoke for half the shift! John was great as he was really patient with me and taught me how to operate and run the multibeam and how to set up and deploy the different types of cores and grabs. We also did 5 days of seismic, so it was good to get some experience of a whole range of techniques.

Me, Annette and Fay dressed in our flotation jackets and hard hats waiting for a core to come up on deck.

When I wasn't working I spent a good deal of time playing scrabble with the girls on deck. I also managed to make it to the gym occasionally and ride a few kms on the exercise bike to keep my fitness up and try and keep the weight off. The chef on the boat was really good so it was hard not to eat too much when he was making some great food. Snacking every two hours to stay awake is also not very good for the waistline. I haven't dared weigh myself since I got back.

Scrabble out on deck enjoying the sunshine and scenery
Well back to reality..... and cooking my own dinners!