• Aotearoa
  • My first experience with paragliding

    He took two resolute strides forward, but almost came to a complete stop when the wing behind him came up in the air and started tugging at his harness. He kept trying to go forwards until the whole wing was inflated and flying straight above him.

    “Release”, the instructor shouted to him. He leaned forwards and let go of all the strings used for inflating the wing. Holding the brake handles in his hands and moving them to behind his back, he started running.

    One of the two instructors shouted at him to continue running, which is what he did. Somehow he knew he was centered under the wing, it felt right, so he kept on running. As long as he kept going he was going to get airborne.

    He didn’t jump or or anything that might collapse the wing. He just kept running and eventually the wing smoothly lifted him upwards, turning his speed through the air into lift. He simply noticed that his feet couldn’t reach the ground anymore.

    He was airborne.

    In December 2016, my last month in New Zealand at the time, I tried out paragliding and started studying towards a flying certificate.

    Paragliding might look similar to parachuting, and indeed, that is where the sport originated. In modern paragliding however, the thing you’re hanging from isn’t a chute, but a wing. This means paragliding has more in common with an airliner than a parachute, you can actually fly upwards!

    Of course most paragliders don’t have engines, but must use the winds and thermals to gain altitude. Thus a paragliding pilot must understand winds, weather and how airstreams move over terrain.

    Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get all the way to a certificate. I need eight more flights. If I have the time, I’ll do this in Sweden, but right now it’s looking like I’ll have my hands full with work. At least I bought a glider and have it waiting for me when I come back to New Zealand…

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  • Aotearoa
  • Mavora Walkway (Day 3,4)

    The book had an almost magical attraction to him. He just couldn’t let go. Reading while walking wasn’t optimal in any way. It made him super slow, and it was probably a bit dangerous too.

    It wasn’t because it was a particularly good book, it was more the pure joy of reading that entangled him so. It was probably the first time in years that he allowed himself enough time to get fully enveloped in a book. It was a joy he had missed, and now truly could enjoy after craving it for so long.

    A hill in front of him looked like it would be a good spot for a break. He walked up to the summit and put down his backpack. There was a light wind up here, chasing away any potential sandflies.

    Some ominous clouds in the distance promised rain but for now the sun was shining, so he sat down, leaning against the backpack, and continued to read.

    Several hours later, the first raindrops interrupted his reading. When looking up, he discovered that the clouds where now on top of him. A curtain of rain was slowly moving up the lake in the distance.

    Quickly shouldering his backpack, he almost ran the last kilometer to the hut where he was supposed to stay the night. Only to discover that the hut was already occupied by three kiwi families. Well tent it is, he thought and pitched his tent by the lakeside. He barely finished pitching the tent and shoving both backpack and himself inside before the rain arrived in force.

    The Mavora walkway stretches from the Mavora lakes to lake Wakatipu. After spending an extra day reading I just couldn’t put down my book while walking back to my starting point. Eventually I finished it whilst the rain poured down on my tent. In fact, it was raining so much that I decided not to leave the tent at all that evening, and did all my cooking and eating inside.

    Eventually the rains died during the night, and the morning gave some calm and somehow washed clean scenery. It was as if the rain had washed away a layer of dust and all the colors could be seen clearer.

    My path back along the lake passed the place where Sam almost drowned in Lord of the Rings (or where that scene was filmed). I did not know this, but you can see the resemblance of the place in the photos.

    Soon I was hitchiking on my way to lake Wakatipu and Queenstown.

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  • Aotearoa
  • Mavora Walkway (Day 1)

    Whistling to himself he started walking along the gravel road. Maybe another kilometer to where the track started. The long and wide Mavora valley lay before him. In the distance, at the end of the valley, he could see some snowcovered mountains. The mountains was quite big and looked intimidating, yet the valley floor looked flat and easily traversed. Eventually he’d have to leave the Mavora valley, but looking at the map told him that it was just going to be another long and flat valley.

    On the side of the valley, a bit of fog was still hugging the forest on the slope. The top of the ridge above that looked really close somehow.

    He closed his eyes and leaped, imagining himself appearing up on the ridge. He found himself exactly one leap from where he had stood. Of course, this wasn’t some childs fantasy but real life, yet he let the child out for some time and took some more leaps, imagining himself appearing in different parts of the valley.

    The fact that he was in the mountains hiking again gave his face a big smile. He had been without the freedom it gave for too long. However, the heavy backpack prevented him from jumping with joy. He still had to work on that, having less and lighter stuff.

    The Mavora walkway stretches from the Mavora lakes to lake Wakatipu. I spent one night in my tent next to one of the lakes before starting the hike. There was some exceptionally clear water with no wind during the evening. The resulting mirrorlike pictures are above. Unfortunately, no wind also meant an infestation of sandflies. I had a big fire going since they seem to dislike snow, the net result was that I was either coughing smoke from burned wood or getting eaten alive by the bloody flies.

    The Mavora walkway is a three to four day hike, unfortunately the Wakatipu side is closed for lambing during spring, something I did not discover until I was halfway through the track. I spent an extra day reading in the last hut that was open, and then turned back the way I came from.

    Even though I couldn’t walk the entire track, being up in the mountains again made my spirit feel alive. I was practically jumping of joy the whole way (as far as you can jump with 20kg on your back).

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  • Aotearoa
  • Haast (Day 2)

    He took another step, and suddenly he was slipping. As if everything was happening in slow motion, he could feel how the knee came way too much forward and started twisting his ankle.

    He could only think one thing, shit.

    Suddenly he was sprawled on the ground, he had not blacked out, the brain simply did not want to remember the moment when the ankle got twisted.

    A soaring pain came up through his right foot. Cold rational thinking replaced all other thoughts. Time for first aid, he thought.

    He twisted around on his bum to place the foot upwards in the slope, then he looked at Jacob and told him to get the first aid kit out. The foot quickly got wrapped up tightly to prevent swelling. Interestingly he could not feel anything in the ankle once it was fixed in place.

    There was however an abundance of signal substances going through his body after the initial surge of adrenalin. He realized that he probably suffered a light shock. In a cruel twist of irony, that was really good. Whenever he got light shock, he tended to think clearly and make really good decisions.

    If he suffered from severe shock though, he would probably lock up completely and panic like everyone else. He intended to not find out.

    This was the second day of a shorter hike in Haast, following an old kettle track named Paringa. The track was used to move livestock up until the sixties, when the new state highway made it abundant. There are still old logs for bridges over streams and even some logs in the ground to stabilize it.

    After the first day, the track follows on the slope parallel to a ridge. Mostly the track is really good, but in a lot of places it’s crossed by slips, places where the ground has slid away in a mudslide. There are also a large number of creeks passing and eroding the track.

    It was while negotiating a creek gully (they’re about four to six meters high) i slipped and twisted my ankle. Fortunately it wasn’t so bad that we needed to call mountain rescue. I managed to limp back to the hut we had stayed in, and the next day we limped back to where the car was parked.

    I was super happy to have my Swedish friend Jacob with me. He really helped to motivate me during some total of eight hours of limping. We also got some good cred for the first aid on the ankle. Wrapping tight and placing high initially to prevent swelling, then tape and rewrap more loose for support is apparently exactly the right thing to do. You can of course try and cool down the ankle initially too, to prevent swelling, but in my case the other countermeasures where enough.

    Now, back to the problem of what to do when you cannot walk, but you’re in the capital of adventure sports. Maybe I should book a flight to Wellington?

    Today, almost three months after the accident, my foot is back to almost normal again. I think I strained it a bit too early though, as I’ve lost a nerve connection going down through the ankle. A small part of my lower foot is now unaware of touch, though heat and pressure stimuli is just fine.

    Moral of story. Wait until you’re fully repaired until you start doing crazy shit again.

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  • Aotearoa
  • Haast kettle track (Day 1)

    The landscape around him was special somehow. The trees had a distinct shape to them, one stem and a bundle of leaves only at the top. It looked similar to a savanna, or at least what he thought a savanna looked like. The flax growing on the ground next to the trees was typical for New Zealand though, and the damp almost marshy ground was too wet to be a savanna. The dampness was probably the reason for why the trees grew in such a special way.

    It was fun to pretend he was in an African savanna though. What if he could see a lion or a giraffe?

    Jacob called from up ahead. It looked as if he had found something on the ground. Emil walked over to check it out.

    It was a big skeleton from some animal, a cow perhaps. Maybe there was lions around after all.

    Emil got a sudden image flowing through his head. The leftover bones from a gnu on the savanna, as the lions walked away in the background. He just had to see if he could replicate the image with his camera. Well, maybe without the lions.

    This was the first day of a shorter hike in Haast, following an old kettle track to Paringa. The track was used to move livestock up until the sixties, when the new state highway made it abundant. There are still old logs for bridges over streams and even some logs in the ground to stabilize it.

    The Haast forest is a rain forest, so the track has become quite overgrown in places. Continuously changing shapes of rivers and streams also add to the confusion. That the track isn’t high on the DOC maintenance list doesn’t help.

    Both me and Jacob (the Swedish guy I had along for the ride) agreed that a topomap would have been a good idea. Even if it’s pretty obvious where the track is, that extra security will make the walking a bit more relaxed. Especially when there’s no markers for some two kilometers.

    Even without a map we made it to the first hut pretty easy. An axe made for some good woodcutting competition on arrival. The huts need bigger woodburners though, we couldn’t burn all the wood we cut.

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  • Aotearoa
  • Breast Hill/East Ahuriri (Day 5,6)

    Lake Ohau Sunrise

    As always it was hard to wake up in a tent. Maybe it was because his body was tired after all the walking, maybe it was stress wearing off now when he was free from the problems of everyday life.

    Every day since he started walking it had been like this. His thoughts slow as syrup, his brain feeling like potato mash. Every time he woke he’d go back to sleep before he realized he was awake. Like all days, he wouldn’t crawl out of his sleeping bag until the urge to go to the toilet won over the drowsiness.

    He crawled out of the tent, stretched out his body, and stopped stunned by what he saw. Immediately he dived back into the tent, fumbling to find his camera. When the sunrise was this gorgeous he wasn’t going to miss the opportunity for some good photos.

    He started pressing the shutter button and the sound of the camera shutter added to the orchestra of birdsong in the background. Suddenly there was a bank of fog on the other side of the lake. It seemed alive in the way it moved, only it wasn’t moving. The fog was simply growing in a way that made it seem like it moved, it looked like it tried to grow limbs.

    Eventually the fog extended all the way to his side of the lake. With no visibility it put an effective stop to his photo shoot. That made him quickly remember why he had originally woken up.

    Dropping the camera on the ground he ran over to the campground toilets.

    After camping in the beech forest on my way down to the lake, I had a lazy day and pitched my tent in a campsite by the lake.  When walking along the lake shore the next day I got a ride into Twizel effectively ending my trip.

    Lake Ohau is part of a scheme of hydrodams along the Waitaki river. Ohau is the topmost dam. Twizel was originally built to house the workers building the dam, but now it is a popular tourist destination for cycling and fishing along the dams.

    As it turned out, Twizel had some beautiful summer weather (the only place on south island with sun at the time), however, one of my rides back to Wanaka told me they where expecting snow the next day. New Zealand spring weather is truly changeable.

    I also got to know there had been some Aurora during the night. Apparently I missed both that and a beautiful star sky.

    Will have to buy a tripod to take photos of these nature phenomena too.

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  • Aotearoa
  • Breast Hill/East Ahuriri (Day 4)

    East Ahuriri Valley

    The landscape in front of him was spacious. That was the only word he could come up with to describe it.

    Of course, walking in the mountains made you used to big landscapes, with the horizon in the distance and huge valleys and mountaintops in between. But this landscape was so spacious that you could probably fit one of those mountains on the plain in front of him.

    There were mountains in the distance, they looked like large hills, but the open plains in front skewed the perspective. Those mountains that looked like large hills were probably around 2000 meters high. The only thing to compare the scale to was the fence he was walking along. However, it continued for so long in a straight line that it disappeared in the distance.

    According to the map, he was going to walk some three to four kilometers along that fence. From time to time he stopped and checked his progress. There wasn’t any landmarks, so he couldn’t be sure how far he progressed. But by using simple trigonometry, eyeballing the angle between two distant objects and himself, he could get a fairly accurate estimation on the map.

    Slowly he walked to the end of the fence and up the valley that was going to get him to lake Ohau. Behind him, on the other side of Ahuriri valley a dark mass of clouds was forming and slowly starting to catch up with him. Soon it was going to start to rain.

    This was my fourth day of walking from lake Hawea to lake Ohau. The trail starts over Breast hill (1578m), follows the Timaru river up to Mt Martha saddle (1700) and then drops down to Ahuriri river. After crossing the river, it follows the east branch of the Ahuriri river through another mountain pass to lake Ohau.

    This day saw me walking up the east branch of Ahuriri. There is no formed path here, but the trail is still marked with occasional red marker poles. Since it’s a fairly big valley there is however not much question where to go.

    Initially walking was fast and easy, but further up the valley the rocky terrain slowed me down quite a bit. There where also parts covered in tussocks. I’m not too bothered of slipping on wet rocks, but the dead grass from the tussock terrain is bloody dangerous. The small pieces of grass always seems to start rolling under my feet, it doesn’t matter how good shoes I have when the ground below starts moving.

    The rain eventually caught up. It never rained heavily, but it discouraged me from having my camera out. If you ever decide to buy a camera for adventuring, buy a waterproof one.

     

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  • Aotearoa
  • Breast hill/East Ahuriri (Day 3)

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    His stomach growled loudly. It was not pleased. He wanted to throw up, get it over with, yet the only thing he could do was to wait and listen to his growling stomach.

    Why did this have to happen right now, he thought. Even concentrating on whining was hard. His body was tired to the bones and all he wanted to do was to go asleep. So far he had only gotten something like a trans, where he wasn’t awake and his brain was switching between thoughts like a bumblebee between flowers.

    Of course, all this was all his own fault. There were no one and nothing he could blame.

    The chance of his state being caused by food poisoning was minute to say the least, and he had experienced this kind of unwell feeling before. Always because of him eating to much fatty foods when his body had exerted itself. Never before had he thrown up because of it though.

    A sudden surge through his body made him run out through the hut door. The night sky was beautiful, but he could not appreciate the beauty while hulking over the tussock grass. The body felt like it would throw up the dinner any moment now.

    Nothing came up though, and he soon went inside again. Sitting down, he placed a bucket in front of himself and used the sleeping bag as a blanket to get warm again, it had been very cold outside.

    This was my third day (second night) of walking from lake Hawea to lake Ohau. The trail starts over Breast hill (1578m), follows the Timaru river up to Mt Martha saddle (1700) and then drops down to Ahuriri river. After crossing the river, it follows the east branch of the Ahuriri river through another mountain pass to lake Ohau.

    I did throw up just after readying my bucket, and had a fantastic sleep afterwards. Surprisingly, my body felt perfectly fine in the morning. I had plenty of energy when walking over the Mt Martha saddle, even though I was missing a dinner from the night before.

    Except for climbing up to the saddle, the trail through to Ahuriri is relatively easy. The trail passes over high country stations with lots of sheep, and most walking is done on the 4WD access tracks.

    The Ahuriri valley consist mostly of a very large and open landscape closed in by 2000m high mountains. The river, which is one of the larger ones in New Zealand, cuts through the flatter hills in the middle of the valley. I had to negotiate some very big cliffs and riverbanks until I finally reached the actual water.

    Using my experience gained from the previous day, I found a place with weak current to ford and started shuffling across holding an old fence post for extra stability. As it turned out, the Ahuriri was far deeper than I expected. At one point, when I had water up over my waist, I considered turning back, but the currents where very mild and I never felt in danger of toppling over.

    Now, how do you go about drying out stuff in a tent while it’s raining?

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  • Aotearoa
  • Breast Hill/East Ahuriri (Day 2)

    Timaru River

    The force of the water pushed against him, if he wasn’t careful, the water would topple him over. As he took another step, the river only became deeper. The water was cold as ice, and stung like knives when it hit a part of the skin that wasn’t already soaked.

    He remembered that he had read to bend his knees, like in skiing, to have better balance. Maybe he could also lean more on the pole he held in his hands.

    Just by increasing the angle on the knees slightly, probably not even visibly, the force of the water became less of a problem. It was still there, it just didn’t seem to push as much any more. The water, which had a gray tint because of mud it carried, no longer seemed so frightening.

    Slowly he moved a leg, then the pole, then a leg again. He repeated the process until he had safely shuffled across the entire river. He was wet up over his knees, but the body was still warm from all the walking.

    I might as well start walking to keep warm and dry out. Boots wont dry unless I get a fire going at the hut though, he thought to himself, and started at a quick pace.

    Five minutes later he stopped and burst into laughter. The track had passed through gorged part of river, now it crossed back to the other side. Time to get wet again.

    This was my second day of walking from lake Hawea to lake Ohau. The trail starts over Breast hill (1578m), follows the Timaru river up to Mt Martha saddle (1700) and then drops down to Ahuriri river. After crossing the river, it follows the east branch of the Ahuriri river through another mountain pass to lake Ohau.

    Walking through the Timaru turned out to be a wetter experience than I expected. The trail follows the river upstream and fords it in numerous places. Even though it’s not a very large river, I’m largely inexperienced with river crossings.

    Taking it slowly and safe made for a great (and wet) experience, and I can now say that I’m confident in what I can do and not when crossing the rivers here in New Zealand.

    The trail not only crosses the river, but also climbs the steep sides of the valley to avoid gorged sections. This made for some cool views over the beach forest as well as lots of sweating. Since it’s not a lot of people going here, the trail conditions added to the toil. I reached the Upper Timaru hut happy but exhausted, with only 13 km done I must have walked about half the speed from the day before.

    The hut had no fireplace to dry out the boots at.

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  • Aotearoa
  • Breast Hill/East Ahuriri (Day 1)

    Breast Hill Track (Saddle)

    As I start walking up the hill it gets hot. Really hot. Even though my hat blocks the sun rays from hitting my face it burns as if there is a big fire right in front of it. My whole body feels warm, feverish. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to go hiking, maybe my body still needs to rest from the illness.

    But my mind is feverish too. I want to go, I’m unable to sit still any longer. I want to go up the entire hill, further on than the last time, when I woke up with a fever halfway up.

    The view of lake Hawea is astounding. Just the glacial blue color of the water would be enough reason to hike up here, but with the mountaintops in the background, with a slight dusting of snow on them, makes the steep walk more than worthwhile. Yet I’ve seen it before. It was cloudy then, big dark gray rain clouds rolling in over the lake, and a strong wind at that.

    I try and pace myself, walk as slowly as I can up the hill. If I want to walk further today than last time I will have to spare my energy.

    This was my first day of walking from lake Hawea to lake Ohau. The trail starts over Breast hill (1578m), follows the Timaru river up to Mt Martha saddle (1700) and then drops down to Ahuriri river. After crossing the river, it follows the east branch of the Ahuriri river through another mountain pass to lake Ohau.

    I had made a try on the trail the week before, but after the first night in Pakituhi hut (which is two thirds of the way up Breast hill) I woke up with a fever. I had been resting in Wanaka for a week before my second try.

    The track up Breast hill is very steep, but since I walked it before I managed to pace myself and reached the Pakituhi hut just after noon. On the way I met Nick and Michelle, who acted as model for some of my pictures. After reaching the hut, I still had plenty of energy, so I refilled my water bottle and continued towards Stodys hut over the top of Breast hill. The lake of clouds made fore some good views (and photos) of Mt Aspiring from the top.

    Stodys Hut is an old musterers hut, bare more than a shack with dirt floor and a fireplace. It turned out to be crowded though, with a Kiwi group of six, and an American couple staying the night. There were no bunks left for me, so I cuddled up inside my tent after doing some stretches and having dinner.

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