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Posts tagged ‘mountains’

Southward bound – yay!

It’s always a surreal feeling to be finally free of the day-to-day and have your holiday stretching out before you. The chore of packing isn’t such a chore, and 10 days away seems like a looong time. At the beginning at least.

Before it all becomes a distant memory I’ll recap the first couple of days of our trip down south, this post covering the journey down to Queenstown. This is almost a month ago now – I can’t believe how fast the year is going. Anyway…

A winter holiday generally requires more space to pack all the woolly layers, not to mention extra bags for snowboards and gear. It was a good call to drive down rather than fly and we filled every nook and cranny in Mike’s car. At a respectable hour on a Friday morning in August we set out for the Interislander ferry terminal.

With car locked and loaded, the happy travellers wait to drive onto the ferry

Onboard the ferry, though not a day to linger on deck

Once on board we found the lounge bar and staked out our patch. The weather was a bit dubious but fears of a rough crossing were soon dispelled, and later when the announcement was made that pies were being served, yours truly cut a brisk path to the cafe. Mmmm pies.

We didn’t linger in Picton and pressed on to Kaikoura for a coffee stop. The stretch of coast on the way is home to a seal colony and we had to stop maybe three times to watch them for a while. Very cute.

Cute wee fella

Couldn't resist veering off to look at this chap as well

We’ve done the ferry-and-drive-through-to-Queenstown-in-one-day thing before and as well as being a slog, much of the scenery is traversed in darkness which is a waste. So we broke the journey with an overnight stop in Methven, located near the Mt Hutt ski field. From our hotel we walked along to the Blue Pub for dinner (across the road from the Brown Pub).

The Rakaia River near Methven

Saturday morning began with a quick soak in the outdoor hot pools – a tad hot to linger for long, but a novel way to start the day. Yesterday’s cloud had cleared to blue skies and we were treated with our first views of the alps. A breakfast stop in Geraldine may have resulted in pie no.2 of the trip…

Between Methven and Geraldine we got our first view of mountains

Along the way are a couple of stunning lake views. Tekapo is a near-compulsory stop for all travellers even if you’ve seen it all before. The glacier-fed Lake Pukaki creeps up quite suddenly and its gorgeousness is rather distracting. Luckily I wasn’t driving.

Being driven round the bend! In the nicest way, with Lake Pukaki unfolding in front of us

Tarras is a very small community made famous in recent years by Shrek the sheep. It is now a thriving wee hub offering a few shops (including beautiful merino garments) and a small Shrek museum. Not much further on is the Lindis Pass, the boundary between North and Central Otago. We remember it well as last time through there we pulled off to turn the car inside out looking for Mike’s wallet.

In the Lindis Pass. A couple of days later snow descended, lots of it, and closed the road

Lake Wakatipu from outside our hotel

We made it to Queenstown mid-afternoon, hoards of people everywhere. TomTom guided us to the hotel and while checking in I made a shocking discovery.

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Powder day

The mountain opened today and though conditions were going to be a bit dodgy, the lure of fresh powder was more than Mike could bear. So we were off… after the not-insignificant tasks of getting clothes and kit together, de-icing the car windows, putting chains on etc. Mike did a great job of the latter, under my excellent supervision.

There was a bit of new snow overnight but not bucketloads. Wellington is still being hammered by the southerly storm and I’m a bit sorry to be missing it actually. I feel a bit short changed where we are as the Cardrona Valley seems to have gotten off relatively lightly. Maybe I’ve just hexed it by saying that?

At the bottom of the mountain access road there was a car jam as chains were fitted, so with that task already done we blew right by. As much as you can blow by with chains on.

The first few k’s were ok but higher up the road steepened, the wind got a bit ferocious and the road more icy. Still, Mike’s 2×4 wagon held its own amongst the convoy of 4x4s. Though when the road got quite slippy you can betcha I had a firm grip on the door handle and was relieved when eventually we arrived at the top.

At that stage of the day only a couple of runs were open and they were selling lift passes at the half day rate given the rest of the mountain was in doubt. We bought our passes and I bought a lesson and then Mike literally headed for the hills.

Having not been to the mountain for a couple of years and only reaching the status of a vaguely competent novice I wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence. My lesson was early afternoon so I filled the time just puttering around the beginners’ slope.

I booked a private lesson this time, only an hour mind you given the price of these things, in an effort to kick start my re-acquaintance with the snowboard. My instructor Jesse was from Lake Louise so I mentioned my brief visit there a few years ago. He was good value and maybe I didn’t suck as much as I thought I might, so I was feeling pretty good about things at the end of the hour. At least to the point of continuing to putter around McDougalls on my own.

But after a few more runs my legs started to fatigue – unfortunately I let work get in the way of fitness leading up to the trip – so I pulled the pin. And happily waited in the bar for Mike to finish up, which he was in no hurry to do on account of the insane (quote/unquote Mike) conditions over at Captains.

The weather had started to clear by then but earlier in the day snow fell quite consistently and the wind whipped through, causing exposed hair and woolly hats to grow ice coatings. The snow and the sky were the same colour and you could not really discern the terrain. Still the snow was nice and soft should one have cause to involuntarily eat it. Happily I didn’t come a cropper too spectacularly.

We headed back to the resort at about 4pm and made a beeline for the jacuzzi and the refreshments. 🙂

The convoy heading up the hill

Higher up the wind was obvious to see. The roads are nice and wide which makes it all feel a bit safer

Morning rituals underway in the carpark

Mike good to go

Murky conditions for much of the day made very bearable by the powder snow

Mike visited briefly but I'm too much of a handbrake for him to stay for long! Hat and hair looking very white by this stage

View of the valley on the way back down

Rockies last hurrah

I had one full day to look around Jasper and kicked it off with a bus tour. The hostel was 7km from town and I had entertained the notion of walking in, but it was still dark at the time I needed to leave. So, taxi it was. Besides, a measure of sensibility is necessary with the wildlife roaming around these parts. We passed this chap on the way.

The tour had three main stops. At Maligne River and Canyon there was a cougar warning, though no sign of the kitty.

Medicine Lake is not a lake in the usual sense as its water levels fluctuate randomly, disappearing into an extensive underground system.

The main stop of the tour was at Maligne Lake.

From here we jumped onto a boat out to Spirit Island to see one of the most famous views of the region.

Once back in town I caught a regular shuttle service back to the hostel and began part two of the day. Only about 15 minutes walk up the road is the Jasper Tramway, a cable-car type attraction which takes you up to The Whistlers mountain (different from the one near Vancouver!).

I was blessed with a lovely day and clear views. Given more time and better footwear I would have hiked the 90 minute return journey to the summit.

And thus my stay in the Canadian Rockies came to a close. The next day I was heading north, way north!

Highway through the icefields

Jasper was next on the destination agenda. From Lake Louise it is about 230km north via the Icefields Parkway, a highway through the Banff and Jasper national parks. To extract maximum value I booked another bus tour to get me there.

Being a tour there were several stops along the way and being eager tourists we filed off the bus each time to photograph the awesomeness. Crowfoot Mountain was one such stop.

Peyto Lake with its luxurious milky looking waters was another.

The lake viewing platform was down a sloping path which ice had made quite treacherous.

The main stop of the day was on the Columbia Icefields to see the Athabasca Glacier. Unfortunately as with many/most glaciers in the world today, this one is receding at an alarming rate so I’m glad I saw it when I had the opportunity. This is the view from the visitor centre. You can see from the moraine that the retreating glacier has left behind that it used to be substantially bigger.

From here we boarded a bus and travelled a short distance before transferring to purpose built vehicles that would take us onto the glacier. There we could walk around, albeit in a carefully marked off area.

It looks nice and peaceful… though in the other direction, and with this happening several times each day, it is easy to see why this is the most visited glacier in North America.

We got to Jasper early evening and I began my next hostelling adventure… a shared 30 bed dorm!

Snowy trail to the Plain of Six Glaciers

From Banff I booked a shuttle for the 40 minute drive over to Lake Louise, where I was to stay for one night. Specifically this was at a hostel in Lake Louise village, about 5km from the lake.

The weather had turned drizzly but I had lots of walking planned so I pressed on. I caught a taxi up to the lake to find a completely different landscape to the one experienced the previous day, when we stopped at the lake during a bus tour. Drizzle down in the village translated to snow up at the lake and it was amazing to see.

There is a big chateau at the lake and I lunched in the cafe before setting out on the 5.5km hike up to the Plain of Six Glaciers. While visibility was clearly going to be an issue, the appeal of visiting the teahouse at the end of the trail was an irresistible pull.

The first 2km was getting to the other end of the lake. This is from the far side looking back to the chateau:

The trail then started to ascend – and I began to realise that my everyday travelling boots were not really up to the task of today’s challenge. Some patches were just slushy and relatively easy going. Not to mention spectacular.

However, the higher I got the icier it got. My pace slowed as I navigated some of the trickier parts. It snowed all the way and it was impossible to really know what the scenery was actually like.

Eventually I made it to the teahouse, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Quite a small place it was nonetheless full with other hikers seeking refreshments. Despite the effort to get there I only stayed for a few minutes due to being concerned the trail would ice up more. Still I enjoyed those few minutes sitting on the deck.

Just beyond the teahouse there are apparently views of six glaciers, but on this day that was going to be a redundant mission. So I headed back. The descent turned out to be relatively quick and easy. Once back at the chateau I decided to take another trail through the woods to get back down to the village. Nearing the bottom I belatedly noticed a sign cautioning trampers about bears…

For that reason, and the fact I was cold and soaked, I was glad when I finally made it back to the hostel!

More mountains, lakes & waterfalls

A few more photos from the tour I did while in Banff…

We stopped for lunch at Lake Louise. I was staying at the local hostel the following night to have a proper look around the lake, but no point frittering this first opportunity to have a wander around.

The whole day was full of must-see wonderfull stuff but Moraine Lake was a stand out. It was gorgeous, and as with essentially all the lakes around these parts the glacial blue-green waters were nothing short of stunning.

The bus drove into Yoho National Park on a road that closes during winter. The main feature here was the Takakkaw Falls.

There were around half a dozen stops in all, a great day. I would love to go back to this region in winter!

Fabulous Banff

Banff has an instant appeal to it, in the same way that Queenstown and Wanaka do with their beautiful alpine surrounds. My base was a hostel about 20 minutes walk from town, a nice set up and by now I was getting used to (if not exactly loving) sharing a dorm.

I went on sightseeing missions to the point where I started to get a bit blase about the natural splendor of the place. Much of this tripping around was on foot though I joined a bus tour or two as well.

One of the grander establishments in the region is the Banff Springs Hotel, seen here over the Bow Falls. I called in for a hot chocolate. Maybe next time I’ll be able to graduate from hostels!

Also within walking distance from town is the Banff Gondola. The weather was dubious with light snow falling at the top of Sulphur Mountain but I still had some fantastic views across Banff National Park.

And of some local wildlife.

And for my walking efforts I rewarded myself with a soak in the hot springs near the bottom of the gondola.

One of the bus day tours I went on was aptly named ‘mountains, lakes and waterfalls’. One such mountain….

…and this was technically a canyon, but something to ooh and ah over nonetheless.

A view while wandering back up the hostel after another long day being a tourist:

After leaving Banff I didn’t venture far as I still had a few more days to enjoy in the Rockies.

Rail tour through the Rockies

I looked around Vancouver for a couple of days, again just a bief stop but it was long enough to get a taste. Then it was an early morning departure from my hostel over to the train station. I regarded this as my spluge of the trip: two days on the Rocky Mountaineer.

Primarily the domain of the somewhat older traveller, this train journey did seem to put me in the minority demographic. However, I sat opposite a young-ish couple on their honeymoon which made me feel not so out of place.

Like the previous train trip, much of the time was spent perched in reasonably comfy seats, camera at the ready. Commentary was provided and our meals were brought to us so there was plenty to be happy about.

The only downer was the weather. I’d seen some stunning photos of snowy mountains and beautiful landscapes… unfortunately I wasn’t to get any of my own on account of rain and low cloud.

Never mind, there was still plenty of great views. This trip stops overnight at a town along the way, rather than waste scenery by sleeping through it.

The end of the trip was only just the beginning of my brush with the Rockies: I was in Banff!

Another snowy southern sojourn

While I take a break from study and indulge in one of my favourite tv shows I thought I could manage a bit of multi-tasking.

This time it’s our Wanaka trip from 2009.

We flew to Christchurch and drove south. Lake Tekapo is a great wee stop-off for lake views and the wee stone church.

We stopped overnight at Lake Ohau (hiding behind the cloud).

The road south took us over the Lindis Pass…

…and via the Crown Range Road between Queenstown and Wanaka, which is not complete without a stop off at the iconic Cardrona Hotel.

We based ourselves in Wanaka and made the most of the gorgeousness.

This was my third year of snowboarding (noting that a season for me consists of about four days) and this was shall we say not an unfamiliar pose… occasionally a little more spectacular 🙂

A night in Queenstown rounded out the trip before flying home.

Looking forward to winter

I’m in the midst of an intensely busy phase of work and study and these endeavours are impinging greatly on the blog. Grrr. Happily there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but in the meantime it’s belatedly occurred to me I could delve into my photographic archives and pluck out some pictures of past travel-y things.

This first batch is from a trip to Wanaka in winter of 2008. It’s topical because we have just booked our next visit down there. I love that part of the country and it is so beautiful in winter, so I can’t wait for August. I just hope my meagre snowboarding skills have not been set back too much by not going down last year.

Daily convoy up the hill to Cardrona

Looking across Cardrona skifield and valley

A beautiful day to be on the hill

Pausing during one of my blinding downhill runs (not really!!)

From the chairlift

Lake Wanaka

Around the lake shore

Tree on edge of Lake Wanaka

A glimpse into the Southern Alps during the flight back to Wellington

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