March Madness: The New Zealand Bracket
It’s been 16 days since my last entry. Most of you have been too busy crying over your NCAA brackets so I’ve spared you a blog entry for a while and allowed you to get over the 1st and 2nd round heartaches so you can read this blog with a clear mind. The NCAA entered today with sixteen teams remaining, and each region started with 16 teams, so naturally here are my last 16 days in New Zealand seeded #1 through #16:
March 10th – #12 Seed -Wanaka to Haast – 168.6 km – 2838.6 km total in New Zealand to date
It is supposed to rain all day in Wanaka. They call Wanaka the smaller version of Queenstown, but it is hopping! Lots of little places to grab a bite or a coffee. Near the waterfront there is a tile walkway and each tile (more or less) represents one of the last 2000 years of history. As a former history teacher, I enjoy walking its length and reading each tile. While doing so the sun comes out for good.
But I have to stop early in the twentieth century so I can get to my movie on time at a quirky little place that serves meals at an intermission halfway through. I watch The Reverant with Leonardo DiCaprio. I love certain parts of the movie, but it really becomes all about graphic violence and revenge and it sort of puts me in a bad mood for the rest of the day. Plus, the dumplings I order for intermission aren’t very good.
I head north passing right along the edges of Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka and arrive in the region they call The West Coast. They get a lot rain, the shoreline is not as dramatic, and the sandflys are horrendous. Sandflys are what we would call midgies or no-see-ums but they are horribly more aggressive and always go for your feet or your ankles. The West Coast is the least populated region of New Zealand with only 16,000 people.
March 11th – #1 Seed – Haast to Welcome Flat Hut – 96.1 km – 2934.7km in all – 18 km walking
I pick up my hut ticket in Haast, drive an hour and a half north and begin an 18 km hike on a rugged trail to Welcome Flat Hut. There are many stream crossings. It takes me a good twenty minutes to find a route across the river at the start of the track. There are also a couple of mildly harrowing suspension bridges. They wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t hear in the news last fall that a suspension bridge in New Zealand collapsed with four people on it. Many of the bridges have signs saying that only one person is allowed on at a time.
This is my first time staying in a New Zealand hut and they are quite nice. There are probably twenty five people staying here. It is a good atmosphere and the hut wardens, a gentle older couple, are real welcoming. I meet a nice couple from Isreal and we talk over dinner; I leant them my stove as theirs was on the frtiz.
But the real highlight, and the reason why everyone has hiked 18 kilometers is to sit in the thermal hot springs near the hut. There are three pools. I go in one and it is too cold. I go in another and it is too hot. But the third one is just right. I look over my shoulder for Goldie Locks. The mountain views are fine.
After dark a number of us go in again and stare up at the stars of the southern sky.
March 12th – #14 Seed – Welcome Hut Flat to Fox Glacier to Franz Joseph Glacier back to Fox Glacier ? 99.9 km – 3034.6
I trudge the 18 km to get back to my car and make decent time. I catch UVA playing Miami in the ACC tournament semis and they win. Then I drive a short way to Fox Glacier. The access road marks where the glacier used to be in 1730 and in 1935. Pictures from 2008 to 2014 demonstrate just how fast it is disappearing. It is a pretty cloudy day overall.
Afterwards, I try to fill up my gas tank in the Fox Glacier settlement but the automated machine won’t recognize my card, which happens sometimes. I drive about 35 minutes north to Franz Joseph Glacier to fill up and stay there but then realize I forgot to put the gas cap back on in Fox Glacier, so as it is getting dark I drive on the twisty windy and dangerous road back to Fox. I can’t find the cap. The lady at the campground reluctantly unlocks the office door to let me register for the night even though it is only 8:30.
March 13th – #10 Seed – Fox Glacier to Motueka – 509.2km – 3543.8
In the morning I drive back north to Franz Joseph, where I just was the night before. It is another overcast day, but there is no rain on the walk to the Franz Joseph Glacier. After the hike I have a long drive ahead of me because I booked upcoming nights for campsites on the Abel Tasman Great Walk. My longest drive to date in New Zealand. I stop in the podunk town of Reefton to try to catch UVA in the ACC final, but New Zealand ESPN is showing the NBA instead. It is just as well, UVA ends up losing and I end up driving past 6 pm. I stay in a nice campground in Motueka, 15km south of where I will get the the water taxi the next morning.
March 14 – #5 Seed – Moteuka to Totaranui – 19.6 km – 3563.4 (Driving) 25.5km walking
This would be a higher seeded day if I weren’t so dang tired all day. I stayed up the night before because I really got into the book I’ve been reading and finished it between 2 and 3 am. It was a murder mystery, of which I don’t ever read, but the book was in my car when I bought it and it had some interesting WWII history.
The next morning I am worried that I will have to get on a speed boat and I take an antihistamine and half of an Ativan. But we don’t take the speed boat, we take the cruise boat instead. It is a nice two hour ride along the coast. We stop at different inlets along the way to drop people off. I fall asleep at one point with my head on the table. When I get dropped off at Totaranui, I set up my tent, eat lunch, and then take what I need for just the day. I climb over 400 meters to reach the highest point of the peninsula and then come down other side in order to reach the start of the Abel Tasman Great Walk, then loop back to Totaranui and get into campground around quarter to eight after a long day. I am really out of it until maybe about 4pm.
It is a warm night. The moon rises early, backwards of course in the Southern Hemisphere as it waxes from left to right instead of right to left. The lapping waves along the shore help me to fall asleep.
March 15th – #3 Seed – Totaranui to Bark Bay 0km (driving) 20.6 walking
I think this day ranks high because it is so unique. This trek has a lot of beach walking, and also a lot of options where you can cross estuaries at low tide if you choose to. On this day there is no option. You have to cross at low tide, there is no other way around. You have to time it right. I wanted to get going no later than 8 am to hit the tide right but I don’t get off until 8:10. When I get to the crossing however I am okay. I take my boots off and put on my sandals and make the crossing. The tides here are pretty dramatic, much like in Maine. It is a warm sunny day, but my knees are sore and after a very large crackling of bones while settling into my tent the night before, my back is sore throughout the day, which lessens the enjoyment of the day, but all in all it is still a good one.
March 16th – #2 Seed -Bark Bay to Motueka 16.2km drive 3579.6 – 20km hiking
This might seem like an odd one to put as a #2 seed. After all, it rains the whole night before and the whole day. I have heavy dreams, I hear the rain in my sleep, but the waves on the beach become thunder claps in my dreams, then I dream that some large creature bares down on top of my tent trapping me. But in the morning I am pleased that my tent keeps me dry, it is the first time it has rained while using it, and while I’m not real happy with the interior mesh netting that runs easily, I think I’ll probably keep it for my AT thru hike. It’s spacious, but also very light.
I feel a sense of accomplishment finishing this trek today. Brendon Graf was right though, it would be sweet to kayak it, because there are so many islands to visit and some campsites that are only accessible by water. Right at the end of the trek sits a restaurant with excellent seafood chowder and I really enjoy the music they are playing by a group called “Raftborn.”
Then I have to get on a crowded bus back to my car, just a short ride south, but even though I have had a beer and an antihistamine, my hair starts to raise and everything accelerates as we are about to get started. A few factors other than the sedatives help to calm me down – first the driver is so chill and drives real slow, and second we have to make a couple of stops along the way, which always makes me feel like I have an “out.” Since panic attacks over such things are not a part of most people’s lives, I usually discredit them in terms of how I might rank a day. March 16th holds on to the #2 seed.
March 17th – #15 Seed – Motueka to Alfred Stream Reserve – 128.4 km – 3708.0 km
You know, a #15 seed can seemingly play a flawless game and seem to have the thing won but find a way to ruin it in the end. That’s how this #15 day goes. St. Patrick’s Day, and where better to be in New Zealand than Nelson, a town with a rich Irish tradition and the best craft beer in the country. I sample a few and I am a believer. Somehow though, I become very reminiscent of days gone by. It started on the trek. I thought a lot about how my college sports career (or lack there of) could have turned out differently. It was all very vivid. And today, I think about people in my life from high school. How things might have turned out differently if I had made different decisions.
But it’s over 20 years later and I’m in a bar in Nelson, New Zealand drinking a Guinness. The waitresses here, like at most bars, are young and beautiful and I wonder what lives they leave; what entertains their thoughts.
The noise escalates. It’s dinner time and young and old have flocked here on this semi-joyous occasion.
I am surprised by how much Nelson, New Zealand has embraced St. Patrick’s Day. Green hats and bow-ties are omnipresent throughout. Irish music dominates the playlist.
I order a burrito with chips and guacamole; an odd choice for this day, and this part of the world, but at 39 years old, preferences die hard.
Here’s where the story should develop. Here’s where another character comes into the fray. But not many characters have come into play in a moment like this during the past six months. With my three-week old bearded growth and an old worn down 1990s grunge-like UVA cap to boot, and an introverted INFJ personality, I sit alone mostly contented to watch the surroundings.
I love the energy though. The bagpipes begin to play. 11 year-olds dance the Irish step, as if it’s been passed down to them since their kin left the shores of Ireland. It’s quite sublime being in a land so much like the netherlands of New England where so many Irish made their home. A slew made their way here to New Zealand too where their Irish customs live on.
I am thankful for the day, particularly since I came inches away from getting hit by a car at the gas station today. In fact, I don’t know how he missed me – divine intervention?…My emotions run deep.
That night I settle in at a free campsite. After using the loo I return to my car and try to open the door but my intentions are of no use. I have locked myself out of my own car. (I’ve since tried the same tactic – locking the door from the inside then opening the door – the doors automatically unlock.) But on this night they don’t. And on this night, I am not as careful about carrying the key with me at all times. I search for and find a huge rock and swing it at the passenger side front door. Once…just a nick. Twice…a bigger nick. A nearby young French neighbor opens his van door, “What are you doing?” he asks.
“I’ve locked myself out.”
“Get something to break it with.”
“I already have a big rock.”
He tells me to not worry about the noise keeping him and his apparent girlfriend awake. My other neighbors probably aren’t as patient.
At this point I am losing faith that I can actually break the window. But I’ll try again with a little more force if I can muster it:
I’m in. The night will be windy, there might be some bugs, hopefully it doesn’t rain, but I’m in.
“I’m happy for you,” says the Frenchman.
March 18th – #9 Seed – Alfred Stream River to Rarangi – 123.3km – Total 3831.3
I’m in the Marlborough region, known for their wines, many of which are exported abroad. At a tasting the lady behind the counter is able to look up where their wines are sold near where I live: The Food Lion in Elkton, Virginia comes up on her screen. It means nothing to her but it means a lot to me.
I am able to get my window fixed for only 70 US dollars. A new gas cap cost almost a third that price. I camp that night at a beautiful spot in Rarangi on the way to Picton where I will get a ferry to the North Island. I am peculiarly sad to be leaving the South Island. I walk to the beach that night. The moon is bright, but then peaks behind clouds. The sound of the waves lull me to sleep on my last night on the South Island.
March 19th – #6 Seed – Rarangi to Rivendell (102km ferry crossing) – 84.6 km driving -3915.9 (crossed to the North at 3865.7)
I believe I have under-achieved and probably should have had a better day than a #6 seed. After all I am taking one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world : through the Marlborough Sounds and across the Cook Straight to the second biggest city in New Zealand of Wellington. But somehow I get caught in the lounge eating fish and chips, checking NCAA basketball scores, and watching Taylor Swift’s top ten videos. I do catch a couple of glimpses from the outside deck, but I regret not catching more; am I getting that complacent about New Zealand’s beauty?
I drive about a half hour north of Wellington and camp near the sight of where they filmed the scenes for the elf dwelling of Rivendell in the Fellowship of The Ring. It’s odd how they found these little nooks. Coincidentally, another entirely different film is being filmed right up the little drive at the same time I come to visit Rivendell. The nearby campsite is very nice and very large, good thing because a whole contingent of New Zealand scouts(?) I don’t what they are, they are all in camouflage and making camp here. It is a busy place – Saturday night after all. The next night I pretty much will have the place to myself.
March 20th -#7 Seed – Rivendell to Upper Hutt (train to Wellington and back) and return – 31.1 km – Total 3947.0
I have a nice day in Wellington and wish I could spend a little more time here. It is weird to take the train in to a New Zealand dwelling. I got so used to the small hamlets of the South Island.
I visit the Te Papa Museum and it is incredible, especially the exhibit on the battle of Galipoli. New Zealand lost 3000 men there and had a higher causality rate than any other nation. The WWI battle of Galipoli is quite possibly New Zealand’s greatest tragedy. I fit in a quick glance at the Wellington museum, take the cable car up to the top of the botanical gardens, watch young men playing cricket in the park, and catch in a bar a UVA win and a UConn loss (San Antonio beats the Warriors)
March 21st – #11 Seed Rivendell to Big Bush – 479.2 km – Total 4426.2
This is a big driving day. I stop in Napier on Hawke’s Bay for a few hours where I can’t help but feel like I am somewhere in Florida. Art Deco is the style here and entering the town the streets are lined with palm trees. I book my next Great Walk for Lake Waikaremoana and make a dash for Big Bush where I can camp and the next day they will water taxi me across the lake. It is a long windy gravel road to get there.
March 22nd – #16 Seed – Day 1 of Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk 0.1 (moving car) 35km hiking
There have been quite a few close calls with #16 seeds almost beating #1 seeds. But in the end it’s a play or two that makes the difference. The same can be said for this day.
I prep myself for the water taxi with a couple of antihistamines and a beer. Sad yes. I got a good night sleep the night before. From my drop off point I have to backtrack to the start of the trail.
“You’re going the wrong way, Tim!” The boat driver yells as he sees me head right instead of left. Over and over he yells it. But over the motor and 50 meters away I can’t successfully explain to him that I am backtracking to the start of the trail so I can say that I did the whole thing.
After he leaves, I realize that I forgot my headlamp. It is already 10am and I have to walk 20 miles before dark. So I leave my pack at the hut and just take my iPad mini (my camera) and run to the start of the trail, walking places where it is possible to sprain an ankle. I make it back to the hut in about an hour and 15 minutes, grab a bite, grab my pack and head on.
Lake Waikaremoana is considered one of the nine great walks. But it is not in any way spectacular. Walking along the lake is fine. It is very remote and I don’t see a whole lot of other hikers. The lake has so many inlets that you spend half the time walking out and walking back in zigzag-like fashion. It is mostly cloudy, but the temperature is good for hiking.
Late in the day I come to a side trail to a waterfall that says “30 minutes.” It is already getting late enough where I want to make sure I get to the hut in time to be able to see well enough to make my dinner without a flashlight. But the map marks this waterfall trail in blue as part of the hike. Damn! My obsessive compulsiveness kicks in. I drop my pack, throw my iPad mini under my right arm and off I go, running, jumping over roots and rocks and swearing after several minutes just wanting to arrive already. My left boot catches a rock or a root and I go flying forward breaking my fall with my hands. Unfortunately my right hand has my iPad mini in it and I crush it against a stump and crack the glass. Enraged, I keep nearly the same pace wanting to just get to the waterfall already. I have to cross a tricky river with a built-in wire to hold on to while crossing so that I don’t lose my balance.
Finally I arrive…and it is breathtaking. And I appreciate the beauty. But then the anger just envelopes me and I swear out expletives so that the birds take great notice, if not another human soul, and my ears ring louder than their usual incessant ring. I decide that perhaps the best thing I can do is just walk briskly back from whence I came hoping that my quick breath will quell my anger. I am able to take a moment to thank whomever or whatever for it not being worse: a twisted ankle, or an impaled stomach. Just a smashed piece of glass. But what is it about me and smashing glass. The car window…and I always remember dropping and breaking a glass on my 35th birthday. Maybe there is some significance.
I am barely able to see the dinner I cook. The hut is lively but I talk to no one. One woman says hello to me and I only realize later that I saw her and her significant at the boat ramp that morning. They are going in the opposite direction. I crash early after taking a sleeping pill. The first to sleep and the last to wake.
March 23rd – #8 Seed – Day 2 of Great Walk – Big Bush to Murupara – 20.4 km walking – 115.2 km driving – 4541.5 total
The second day of the great walk is more impressive. It is cloudy all day but the trail follows the edge of the ridge line of the mountains 600 meters above the lake. It is a 45 minute walk along the road from the end of the trek back to my car. For the next three hours I drive along a curvy dirt road through the Uruwera Rainforest and finally come to civilization when I reached Murupara where I get a shower and stay for the night.
March 24th – #4 Seed -Murupara to Rotarua – 90.1 km – 4631.6
Today I meet up with Taline in Rotorua. She is traveling south with a tour group while I’ve been heading north. The last time we met was four months ago in Kathmandu. As she aptly points out, we’ve now met on three continents but never on our home continent of North America. It rains all day, but we make the most off it by getting, pizza, coffee, and later a beer. While she attends a cultural event in the evening, I check into a campground that has natural hot baths and indulge before meeting up again with Taline for that beer. We have a great time catching up and it makes me realize how much I’ll miss TASIS this summer.
As soon as we part ways I am pulled over by a cop who takes notice of a U-turn I attempt and fail at. He breathalyzes me and then lets me go. It isn’t really a good driving day. My defroster doesn’t work very well and I actually bump back into a camper in the campground as well. No harm no foul? Oh, also I don’t have a rear view mirror. It fell off weeks ago. I tried to re-glue it, but I guess I must have failed that portion of kindergarten too.
March 25th – #13 Seed – Rotarua to Cambridge via Waiotapu and Mount Maunganui and “The Shire” – 282.2km – 4913.8
The intention is to get my “warrant of fitness” renewed today so I can resell my car. But they are closed because it is Good Friday. in fact, everywhere is closed, including grocery stores and I just happen to be out of food. So I spend too much much money on restaurant food today, – I definitely have developed a thru-hiker appetite. I actually hit McDonald’s today twice out of four meals! Ick! And too much money on a geothermal tour: I mean they are nice, but not probably $32NZ nice. I drive north to Mount Mauganui. I don’t know why they call it that: it’s a beach town. It also is raining and probably not worth the detour. I intend to camp near where they run “The Hobbiton Tours” – also overpriced at $80 NZ but I at least get to see the surrounding area and I guess it sort of looks like The Shire to me, I just don’t get to see any hobbit holes.
Even though it’s quite warm tonight and the peepers are peeping, I’ve seen more and more yellow and even some oranges today- Autumn is approaching in New Zealand – it’s almost time to go home.
Oh, go UVA! – #1!!