The Journal Vol.7
Touch down in New Zealand. Back in our favourite country on earth, and probably staying here for a while. Our plan is to live here until July and then see where to next when the time comes. We had departed Canada abruptly three days before Christmas, because it just wasn't working for us as a place to live. Winter was harsh and the rain, let's just say, sucked. Anyway, we've been down in New Zealand for a while now. We started by spending some time with Madison's family in the North Island for Christmas before making our way to Queenstown. We had about a month in a share house while we settled in, before some friends came over from Australia to join us. So we all moved into a new place, 10 minutes out of town, which we could all live in together. So far we are loving living in this part of the world, especially with people we love! We've been on plenty of hikes and had all-round phenomenal weather. Here's what happened during our first month living in New Zealand.
Started In The North Island
This was my first time in the more populated North Island whereas this was Madison's 5th time, as she has family who live near Auckland. We spent Christmas with her Gran then picked up a car and started planning out our trip and how we were going to get down to Queenstown. Before we knew it, we were on our way to the west coast and the town of New Plymouth in search of Mount Taranaki and the wild coastline it's known for.
After researching some locations, we decided to take a trip out to the Elephant Rock, a section of coast with black sand, tall cliffs and interesting sea stacks. It was only accessible for a few hours of the day due to tidal shifts. Luckily for us, sunset was in prime time so we could walk the beach back and forth and not worry about getting swept away or trapped. We explored some beautiful caves and enjoyed the warm summer sun, carrying all our gear out there in the Escape Hike 30L day pack. This was one of my most memorable days in recent times.
The west coast of New Zealand's North Island has some unique sights to take in, including the Elephant Rock and Three Sisters near Taranaki.
The Elephant Rock is a short drive from New Plymouth and stands as one of the most memorable rock formations along the west coast.
We spent a beautiful day soaking up the spectacular scenery along this incredible coastline, including black sands, tall cliffs and sea stacks.
So Long 2019
My favourite campsite ever. Hands down, I don't think I've camped in a more beautiful place. This is Mount Taranaki, a perfectly symmetrical active volcano on the isolated southern tip of the North Island, known as the second most dangerous mountain in New Zealand, behind Aoraki/Mount Cook. This made me amped to camp underneath it and see it for myself.
It was New Year's Eve 2019 and what better way to bring the year to a close than to be camped out in the mountains. So we stocked up with snacks (Tim Tams, Shapes and wine etc.) and we started the 2-hour hike to our intended campsite. The hike was a steady 700m gain but really humid - I'm not a fan of hiking in the heat! Plus after having a break from backpacking in Canada and over Christmas we had lost a lot of our fitness. Nevertheless, we made it to the top, walked past the hut and waited to see Taranaki towering over us. Much to our disappointment, there were no views of Mount Taranaki; it was a complete whiteout. So we set up our Geo 2P tent, opened some snacks and sat waiting. The clouds were moving so fast, eventually some sun popped out and we started to see the silhouette of the giant volcano be revealed. Around an hour before sunset as the light started to get golden, we were sitting in front of Taranaki without a cloud in the sky. We took in the beautiful view with a glass (aka camping mug) of wine while reflecting on what has been our best year yet. Cheers to 2020!
Mount Taranaki is an active volcano in the Taranaki region on the west coast of New Zealand's North Island.
Tongariro National Park
Words by Madison
Tongariro NP has always been somewhere we've wanted to visit but we were running out of time due to our ferry booking in only a couple of days. We knew we didn't have enough time to do an overnight camp but we were pumped to get out and do our second hike of 2020. A very last-minute decision meant that we reached the trailhead at around 4.30pm and we still had a few hours' walk ahead of us. It's not often that I truly enjoy the hike to a destination (usually I just can't wait to get there) but this one I did so I was glad that we made the call to start when we did. The whole walk we watched lenticular clouds form above us in crazy shapes we had never seen before, and there were waterfalls, wildlife and then of course the sunset views of volcanoes and lakes at the end.
Geared up and ready for our second hike of 2020.
The beauty of Tongariro National Park.
In Search Of The Perfect Backcountry Hut: Heather Jock Hut, Whakaari Conservation Area
I'm a sucker for a good backcountry hut. They're quite famous and well known as part of the New Zealand wilderness. There's actually over 900 huts scattered across the country and I've only been to five of them, but hoping to increase that list soon. After hitting a few on previous trips, the stoke was high to find some others, and more importantly some unique, less visited ones. I spent three days in January on Google images, looking hard for something unique that wasn't too far from home. After a while I stumbled across this particular old mining hut, located high above the town of Glenorchy. I fell in love with the view through my screen and I made Madison well aware that we were going when we got a weather window. It would be our first South Island overnighter since getting there. Packing our bags with all our essential gear, we were off. A fairly easy three hour send got us well above the dart river and we could see out to Mount Earnslaw and the Humboldt mountains.
We had the most beautiful night up here, even meeting a guy from Canada who we shot photos with for a few hours. The hut was all ours for the night and we bunkered in to escape the cold summer night. Using our UltraTek 900 sleeping bags for maximum warmth was a good idea until the hut got stuffy, but all we did was unzip the bags to get some airflow. This bag is rated down to -10°C comfort, but can easily be used on warmer nights up to 3°C to 0°C.
A backcountry hut above the town of Glenorchy, which is located northwest of Queenstown at the northern end of Lake Wakatipu.
You never know what these little huts will reveal, which is part of the fun of exploring them.
Sefton Bivouac, Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park
If there was any place in NZ I'd been dying to hike to, it was this one. Three prior trips had fallen through due to weather but now was the time. Clear summer weather with beautiful temperatures and no wind made this the perfect opportunity to ascend to the hut located around 900m above the Hooker Valley. My mate, Ash, and I packed our gear and hit the trail around 3pm, in the blistering sun.
The route up is extremely misleading and requires navigation skills and a high level of fitness. A few scramble sections reminded me why people have died climbing up this route, especially in the spring when snow is still present. Lucky for us we were smooth sailing and had no snow worries.
Around three hours later we were on the final push to the hut. By this time, we were shaded by the Footstool, which made the temperature much more bearable. On the final push, we noticed a few other faces and quickly got chatting, realising a few of them were fellow photographers and climbers. It was great to mingle and share some stories of adventure.
Sefton Bivouac is located high above the Hooker Valley around 1,650m elevation and sits just below the Te Waewae Glacier, a beautiful but receding glacier. I can't think of a more beautiful place to stay in the mountains.
Sefton Bivouac, high above the Hooker Valley around 1,650m elevation, is the oldest hut in Mt Cook National Park still on its original site.
The route up to Sefton Bivouac requires navigation skills, a high level of fitness, and concentration.
Milford Sound's Second Wettest Day Ever (02/02/2020)
Today was WILD. We expected rain, but nothing of this extreme. Milford Road got washed away, leaving hundreds of people stranded in the sound. We were lucky enough to leave by 5pm, roughly two hours before the road gave way in different sections. Our original plan was to camp in Fiordland overnight, but with the amount of rain falling, we opted to head back to Queenstown, a four hour drive.
We jumped on a GoOrange cruise while down in Milford, expecting some wild conditions but what we got was more than we could have ever imagined. While the entire ship stayed inside in the comforts of the dry, warm cabin we went out onto the deck, embracing the weather in full force. Madison and I both wore our Cumulus GORE-TEX jackets to attempt to stay dry from the horizontal rain and extreme wind. People must have thought we were stupid being out on the deck, but we wouldn't have had it any other way. We're photographers, and that's what photographers do. Here's a few frames, attempting to show how mental the conditions were.
The famed Milford Sound, unleashing its full force.
Madison and I braved the upper deck for as long as we could, but the driving rain and wind was something else!