One of the most important historic buildings in the New Zealand mountains.
One of the most important historic buildings in the New Zealand mountains.
In the heart of the Waikato there’s a multimillion-dollar industry based on a gnat. Glowworms are big business, attracting well over half a million people a year to Waitomo and prompting some to shift from working the land above ground to commercialising the creatures below it. But keeping the caves and their thousands of tiny performance artists in good health requires round-the-clock care.
When it rains, it’s very quiet on Tiritiri Matangi, except for the white-noise pattering on the canopy. When the shower passes over, there’s a pause in the forest, like a singer taking a breath before her first note, and then it begins: the fluting of korimako, the buzz of a stitchbird, the propeller-like whirr of a kereru flapping heavily through the canopy. Ahead of me, there’s an unfamiliar chuckling, and a heavy grey shadow on a branch. I’ve walked hundreds of kilometres through New Zealand’s national parks and visited some of the country’s remotest spots, but I’ve never seen a kōkako. There are two right here—a minute’s walk from the wharf, an hour’s ferry ride from the middle of Auckland city—gently murmuring at each other, hopping from tree to tree. The black mask over their eyes makes them look like old-fashioned bank robbers, or guests at a masquerade ball. I grew up on one side of the Waitematā, and now I live on the other. I’ve spent almost my entire life in Auckland, but this is my first visit to Tiritiri. The island is, according to TripAdvisor, Auckland’s number one tourist attraction. I’m delighted that it hasn’t been developed by a tourism company, but rather by an army of weekend warriors who have spent the last couple of decades planting hundreds of thousands of trees, transforming the island from empty farmland to a well-stocked bird sanctuary. Volunteers still do most of the work. The weekend I visit, a group is rebuilding a washed-out trail, and another dozen are tour guides, explaining the ecology and history of the island to small groups of visitors. The tour fee goes towards the island’s upkeep. Our volunteer guide, Trish, has a demonstration photo book, so that she can show us kororā when the nesting boxes turn out to be empty, kohekohe flowers when the tree turns out not to be in bloom, and a little bag of pohutukawa seeds so that we can see how tiny they are. When my friend asks her about the difference between mānuka and kānuka, she’s thrilled, and whips out a botanical illustration. Some tourists, she says, book their Tiritiri tour before their flights to New Zealand, and it’s the first thing they do—an early-morning arrival at the airport and they’re on the island by 10.15am. Tiritiri is the first impression we make. Nowadays we’re used to hearing about the environment in a state of perpetual decline, but Tiritiri is an example of the opposite: we came, we saw, we conquered, we regretted, we restored. In some places, we’re getting closer to the end of the trajectory than the start. There are so many Archey’s frogs—an IUCN Red List species—in a six-kilometre-square area of Whareorino that researchers have to be careful not to stand on them during monitoring. When urban streams are ‘daylighted’ in Auckland—opened to the air, rather than funnelled through concrete pipes—eels return as the streams’ health improves. And in those places where restoration and recovery are not within the Department of Conservation’s budget—as Tiritiri wasn’t—they remain within our capability to improve, as Tiritiri was. Someone had to stick the first spade in the ground at Tiri, plant the first plant, release the first bird.
Howletts Hut lies in a sheltered hollow on Daphne Ridge, an offshoot of the main Ruāhine Range. An appealing hut with an orange roof and blue walls, it has fine views of Black Ridge as well as an expansive vista of the Hawke’s Bay hinterland. In summer, it’s a place of golden tussocks, khaki beech fringes and rugged mountains streaked with grey scree slopes. From the hut, an hour’s tramp along Daphne Ridge leads through a stunted patch of mountain beech, over scree and tussock slopes, and up to a knoll beneath Tiraha, from where there is a stunning view of the Sawtooth Ridge. From this angle, the ridge certainly earns its name, with a broken spine that drops sharply to very steep, eroding gullies. During winter, after a southerly has dumped snow and an overnight freeze has cemented it in place, the ridge resembles the Southern Alps more than the Ruāhines. The hut takes its name from Hawke’s Bay schoolteacher and botanist William Howlett. Originally from England, Howlett came to New Zealand in 1875 as a remittance man (often a later-born son, not in line for any land or significant inheritance, who was paid by the family to go the colonies). He was an eccentric character. His strong interest in alpine plants drew him into the range from Mākāretu, where he taught at the local school. Naturally enough, the weather severely compromised his ability to explore the area, so in 1893–94 he and a companion built a hut on what he called Daphne Spur, named after the native daphne (Pimelea buxifolia) that grows there. In 1902, he even brought his young wife up the ridge to spend their honeymoon at the hut. Howlett’s construction lasted until about 1930. In 1938, a replacement hut was built, but by the 1970s, it had seen better days. The Heretaunga Tramping Club embarked on a major rebuild, and has maintained it ever since, with continual improvements. The hut has a distinctive design, with a steep gabled roof, and is cosy—especially on a winter’s night with the pot-belly stove glowing. Getting to Howletts is possible on several routes, all of them quite strenuous. The most direct route goes up the Tukituki River to the base of Daphne Spur, where a very steep grunt leads up to the hut (allow 6–8 hours). The Tukituki is impossible when flooded, but fortunately there’s an overland route that avoids all fords. This begins from Kashmir Rd, climbs onto the main Ruāhine Range past Longview Hut, then traverses the tops over Otumore and Taumatataua to reach Daphne Ridge. It’s a good summer route (allow 7–9 hours), but is exposed and can be slow-going in the snows of winter. A third option is to approach via Rosvalls Track, Black Ridge and the Sawtooth. Most parties attempting this route stay at Tarn Bivouac on the way in (allow 9–12 hours). Whatever way you reach Howletts Hut, you’ve earned a good rest in a fine spot.
Josh James reinvents adventure and manhood on the West Coast, with the world watching.
Go behind the scenes to find out how a team of 18,000 workers in northern China cut and shape nearly 400,000 cubic meters of ice and snow into one of the biggest winter festivals in the world… in less than a month.
Of all the Great Walks, the Kepler is the only one that was deemed ‘a classic’ from the moment it was conceived. Opened in 1988, it came about when the Department of Conservation joined several infrequently used routes on the Kepler Mountains to make a well-constructed track, with the aim of easing the number of walkers crowding onto the Milford and Routeburn tracks. That it failed in this intention and instead offered another high-standard multi-day track to walk in this wonderful part of New Zealand was entirely predictable. But its popularity seems to prove that a track doesn’t have to be an ancient Māori greenstone trail or a place of colonial history, or even feel the decades-old reverberations of explorers, hunters, trampers and their ilk to have poignancy in a world overwhelmed by humans. The well-conceived Kepler Track cuts a daring line across some spectacular Fiordland tops and links many disparate natural features—caverns of limestone, meadows of alpine plants, forests of lowland beech and two lakes of monumental size. Furthermore, it neatly returns to its start at Te Anau like a giant ouroboros (the serpent of creation that swallowed its own tail), having led you across a wild edge of Fiordland. It takes between three and four days to walk its 60 kilometres, and can be done clockwise or anticlockwise. From Te Anau to Brod Bay, the Kepler starts out gently enough through a forest of red beech and mountain beech on the edge of Lake Te Anau, the largest lake in the South Island. Whether you wander in silence or converse with a companion, these first kilometres help to clear the mind of the recent hectic past and other unnecessary thoughts. The harder work begins with the climb up the east-facing hill from Brod Bay to the bushline through an entrancing forest covered in lichens. From Luxmore Hut, the next day’s tramping is spent almost entirely above the bushline, winding around easily travelled mountain faces and ridges. The track zigzags a few times, then climbs gradually before commencing a long sidle under the northern faces of Mt Luxmore. The rocks around Mt Luxmore sparkle with crystals and mica, their grainy, gritty texture splashed in strong dark reds and blue–greys. Indeed the Kepler Track, of all the walks described in this book, has the most interest for those with a geological bent. Here it’s possible to point to the ground and roll your tongue knowingly around such expressive words as gabbro, dunite, pegmatite, diorite and gneiss. This second day, no matter what the weather, will etch long-lasting images into your memory. When glancing down to place your feet you will see rocks and alpine tussocks, flowering herbs and mountain grasshoppers; when you look out you will see huge Fiordland vistas, and may even experience an almost vertiginous feeling of spaciousness. By making an early start the following day you can walk all the way to Rainbow Reach carpark (allow seven to eight hours), or to the Te Anau outlet in 10–11 hours. But most prefer the five- or six-hour stroll down the Iris Burn to spend a third night at Moturau Hut on the shores of Lake Manapōuri. Beyond Moturau Hut, a boardwalk stretches out above a superb kettle bog, a soggy mire where tiny purple bladderworts, deep blue swamp orchids and diminutive sundews waver amongst rustling wires of rush and green sphagnum moss. After several swamps are traversed, the trail reaches the Waiau River where, at the Rainbow Reach bridge, you can catch (in summer) a shuttle bus to Te Anau. Otherwise the track continues for a further three hours of forest and riverside walk to complete the circle back at the Lake Te Anau outlet.
Fiordland is severe country with an uncompromising climate, which makes the Milford Track all the more remarkable for the relative ease with which it conveys people into the heart of this rugged wilderness. Not that walking the Milford Track is an effortless undertaking—it’s more that the Milford’s well-constructed path belies Fiordland’s severity as it comfortably steers trampers along two immense glaciated valleys and over a high pass within a spectacular landscape of mountains, snowfields and deep-green forests. In effect, walkers of the Milford are granted all the rewards of tramping in this exceptional mountain area, yet spared the struggles necessary to tramp in most other Fiordland valleys. What many aren’t spared walking the Milford is wet weather. It rains frequently (on average 7–10 metres a year) and torrentially, rapidly transforming the landscape as waterfalls formed in an instant career down previously blank rock faces, gentle watercourses become seething torrents, and water flows across the valleys—taking everything in its path like the mythical Assyrian army. Water is thus a dominant motif on the Milford, although not one that should deter you because the experience of a Fiordland storm—seen from the safety of a bridge—can be just as exhilarating as the stupendous vistas of a fine day. Beyond the immediate and awe-inspiring effects of a Fiordland inundation, water also works in more subtle ways, sustaining the luxuriant coatings of moss and epiphytes in its forests, and filling the pools, cascades and waterfalls that have added so much character to the Clinton and Arthur valleys. Gigantic Ice Age glaciers of frozen water carved the walls of these two valleys, and even today frozen snow released in mammoth winter avalanches continues to alter the landscape and vegetation. That water forms a major theme on the Milford Track is dramatically confirmed by the 580-metre Sutherland Falls, among New Zealand’s highest waterfalls (its status as the highest waterfall was only recently eclipsed by discovery of a higher one, also in Fiordland) and also by the fact that—uniquely for this country—reaching the track requires passage across two large bodies of water—Lake Te Anau and Milford Sound.
Two contrasting landscapes are likely to linger in your mind after you’ve walked the Heaphy: one, a high, silent, tussock plateau; the other, a loud coastline where waves reach brashly towards groves of tropical palms and flowering rātā. These contrasts often accentuate divergent emotions of fear and attraction, awe and intimacy—it is all part of the appealing variety you experience on this traverse through forests and ancient geological structures in the northwest of Kahurangi National Park. Once beyond the first paddocks and scrubby spurs, the track enters a diverse forest that includes huge old red and hard beeches, rimu and miro, with distinctive mikimiki and toro trees in the understorey. The track crosses streams at regular intervals, and windows in the forest open towards the granite summits of the Lead Hills and Mt Olympus across the Aorere Valley, and beyond to the Dragons Teeth on the Douglas Range. The downs immediately make an impression by their strangeness: the high rolling plateau of open tussock and occasional forest contrasts with the rustling patches of mountain neinei and silver beech. Perhaps the downs landscape catches you off guard because mountainous country isn’t meant to be so smooth and flattish, and forests aren’t supposed to sit above alpine tussocklands. For whatever reason, it’s queer country and nearly everyone feels something of its eeriness, even if only retrospectively, once down in the semi-tropical forests of the Heaphy Valley. As you move over the downs the track traverses tussock flats where rivers like the Big cut raw into the old peneplain and begin coiling and curling in slow meanders before their sudden descent into mossy beech forest. Heading downriver, the track wends between exquisite avenues of nīkau palms and tree ferns, and massive northern rātā clear the surrounding canopy, festooned in perching and climbing plants. Kiekie and supplejack vines make much of this forest quite impenetrable, and warmth-loving species like kawakawa, rangiora and kōwhai complement the forest’s exotic nature. Further enhancing this section along the river’s final meander to the coast is a dramatic array of limestone landforms, including a rank of bluffs that not only walls in the southern bank, but also provides intriguing track-side architecture. A large surf invariably runs hard into the river, as it rushes across the swollen face of the sand. After three or four days walking, the almost violent power of the place seems paradoxically to create a sense of inner peace and contentment, especially at dusk when the sun boils into the western sea behind the rising spray of breaking waves.
The Darran Mountains lie deep in the marrow of northern Fiordland—a chunky, perplexing range of diorites and sandstones, gneisses and granites. This is a land of extremes, with the country’s most remote summits, the greatest rainfall and the longest, hardest-to-climb alpine rock walls. Adventurers have been coming here since William Grave and Arthur Talbot in the late 1800s, to test themselves and forge new routes through this vertical landscape.
New Zealand’s 11 wilderness areas offer adventure, solitude and a glimpse of the world as it was. But what does the future hold for what one tramper termed our “hunting grounds for the imagination”?
The Routeburn Track is a high mountain traverse of the Ailsa and Humboldt mountains, two spectacular glacier-sculpted sandstone ranges wedged between the granite peaks of Fiordland’s Darran Mountains and the crumbling schist ranges of Mount Aspiring National Park. If you start the Routeburn from its southern end and climb to the grand viewpoint of Key Summit, you almost immediately gain an impression of the impact that glaciers had on the southern South Island landscape—in fact everywhere you look is a postscript to the last Ice Age that peaked 15,000 to 20,000 years ago. Below, the Hollyford Valley describes the classic U-shape of a glacier-carved valley, and its steep sides retain the classical imprints of a post-glacial landscape: hanging valleys, headwalls, cirque basins and aquamarine tarns. Across the valley, where remnant glaciers persist on the highest Darran summits, are fine glacier-honed ‘arete peaks’ like Pyramid and Christina, while northwards lies the beautifully rendered Emily Peak above Lake Mackenzie in the Ailsa Mountains. If morning cloud has filled the Hollyford to the bushline you can imagine that cloud as a huge glacier, fed by numerous side glaciers, and so start to comprehend the enormous drama that took place here when the ice was on the move. Indeed, the glacier that filled the Hollyford was so deep that it flowed over Key Summit (today a forest-fringed mountain bogland) and dispersed tongues of ice into the Eglinton and Greenstone valleys, while the main flow continued down the Hollyford to well beyond the present shore at Martins Bay. The glacial imprint appears so fresh because the granites and sandstones of these dramatic mountains are more resistant to the weathering forces that elsewhere have worn away the glacial record. At any time of year, even in midsummer, walking the Routeburn can become a meditation on the language of glaciers as you move beneath sculpted faces and ridges, past Lakes Howden, Mackenzie and Harris—created when the ice retreated—and past large boulders sure to be heavily scratched and serrated by broken rocks dragged over their surfaces while embedded in ice. The Routeburn is most often walked in three days, with evenly spaced stops at Lake Mackenzie and Routeburn Falls.
As the world ponders global warming and the end of oil, a small subculture of futurists with a view beyond the petrol pump are planning a coming-of-age party in Darwin for October next year. They'll be toasting twenty years of successful solar car racing. In 1983, inspired by the excursions of Paul MacCready in to solar-powered flight, Danish-born Australian adventurer Hans Tholstrup and racing driver Larry Perkins slowly coaxed a "photovoltai-covered bathtub on wheels" the 4000 kilometres from Perth to Sydney. Four years later this spawned the World Solar Challenge (WSC), the epic trans-continental sunlight-powered 3000-kilometre race from Darwin to Adelaide. While Tholstrup's pioneering "bathtub" tortoised along at about 30 km/h, modern solar racers can now sustain over 100 km/h and sprint up to 170. Some even carry a passenger. Numerous events, large and small, now appear on the international solar car calendar, but the WSC, now owned by the South Australian government, is still the flagship event for the maturing brainsport. Second-hand solar cars are occasionally even offered for public sale: there was one on TradeMe recently. In a cramped concrete garage, some clever Christchurch chaps have toiled through the long winter nights to produce the skeleton of a curious vehicle. In the Canterbury University wind tunnel, the car's carapace has also been undergoing aerodynamic refinement. Electrical engineer Rob Glassey and his multi-talented Team SolarFern are planning to fly a lonely NZ flag competing in next year's World Solar Challenge and the chassis has now been completed. They still have to complete the wheels, motor, body, solar panels and electrical work. Al so in Darwin for the WSC anniversary will be a group from Hamilton's Waikato University who are building an electric car for the Greenfleet demonstration section of the event, which provides an opportunity to showcase practical and ecologically sound transport solutions. In spite of the WSC event being "just across the ditch," New Zealand representation has been rather sparse over the years. Stewart Lister's Solar Kiwi cars performed well in both 1990 and 1993 but, so far, have been the only two NZ vehicles to cross the Adelaide finish line. Despite this success, Lister failed to attract funding for the more ambitious two-seater he had hoped to build for 1996. Neville Baxter from Wellington entered the (pedal assisted) solar cycle class in 1996 and despite getting to Darwin, couldn't finish his vehicle in time for the race. A rather novel solar vehicle design attempted by Long Bay College, an Auckland high school, failed in 1993 through lack of money, and another school team, from Hutt Valley High in Wellington, managed to actually start the race from Darwin in 2001 but had to withdraw early beca use of equipment failure. In Christchurch, Team SolarFern leader Rob Glassey is optimistic. He attended the last WSC as an official observer, has done his homework Stewart Lister's Solar Kiwi cars performed well in both 1990 and 1993 but, so far, have been the only two NZ vehicles to cross the Adelaide finish line. Despite this success, Lister failed to attract funding for the more ambitious two-seater he had hoped to build for 1996. Neville Baxter from Wellington entered the (pedal assisted) solar cycle class in 1996 and despite getting to Darwin, couldn't finish his vehicle in time for the race. A rather novel solar vehicle design and has a realistic idea of what lies ahead. The recent official launch of the SolarFern project went smoothly enough in spite of an exuberant Canterbury wind trying to dismantle the display tent. The prototype SolarFern vehicle, still in its skeletal state, took bumps and turns in its stride as it was tested on the tarmac. The finish line in Adelaide is still a long way off, but Team SolarFern successfully cleared the first hurdle at the A&P showgrounds and is up, running and looking good.
It’s a fiercely-fought contest, a 24-hour endurance event, a significant pest control operation, and a family sporting occasion. The 25th birthday of the Great Easter Bunny Hunt is one more assault in the war against the rabbits of Central Otago—and for the Southern Hopper Stoppers, it’s also a celebration of the friendships forged on the front line.
When you're hemmed in by rain for three days, camped in soggy forest at the junction of two rivers in South Westland (see "Back for the Gold" in the latest issue of New Zealand Geographic) there is plenty of time to talk. Snippets from an interview I recorded with Mick Abbott—head of the School of Landscape Architecture at Lincoln University, a member of the Canterbury Aoraki Conservation Board, and co-founder with his wife, Carli Richter, of Kiwi Ranger, a family environmental education programme—appear in the story. Here are some longer excerpts from our conversation, beginning with recollections of Abbott's epic solo traverse of the South Island, which he made in 1988/89. How did that journey come about, I asked him . . .
Rescuers working on one of the world's most treacherous mountains answer an emergency call which turns out to be their worst nightmare.
An action-packed look at the science and psychology behind the extreme adventure of paragliding.
Experience the tensions and triumphs of filming in the world's most inhospitable environment in this rare, behind-the-scenes view of the filmmakers' art.
Thanks, you're good to go!
Thanks, you're good to go!
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