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Hiking, kayaking and biking in South Island, New Zealand

Hiking, kayaking and biking in South Island, New Zealand

All photos are here.

Traveling and getting away from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong is always a relaxing experience. The small things are priceless. Things like letting random thoughts float around in the mind, observing tourists in the airports and trying to guess where they’re from and what they’ve been doing, drinking hot chocolate at every available opportunity whilst reading an insightful book and so on. All this while getting to remote places to do a lot of outdoorsy things — that’s the best part.

My choice of book for this adventure trip was “The Alchemist”. A short and insightful book that I finished reading during my layover in Kuala Lumpur. This travel blog is going to be interspersed with meaningful quotes from the book! I am going to start with this one:

“It is the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting”.

Now, over to the dream of hiking and kayaking in North Island.

13th February 2015

I boarded a plane from Melbourne to Queenstown to rendezvous with my travel crew for this NZ adventure, Dom, Adrian and Tilly. As passengers boarded the plane with a lot of carry on baggage, the overhead compartment in the plane was quite full. I was in an aisle seat and suddenly I saw a flight attendant’s foot right next to my bum. She stood on top of this little footrest beside my seat and gave the baggages in overhead compartment a big shove, so she could squeeze another bag in.

“Sorry I am getting close to you”, she said with a broad smile on her face, and continued, “making room for one more bag in the overhead compartment is the best part of my job”.

“Definitely, sounds exciting”, I replied.

On that note, here’s another quote from the book The Alchemist.

“Your eyes show the strength of your soul”.

What that has to do with the flight attendant and the overhead compartment, I don’t know. But, you’ve got to admit – it’s a pretty neat quote so I thought I’d stick it in anyway.

Reaching Queenstown immediately put me in the “I love nature” mode. Getting off the plane, breathing in the fresh mountain air, and looking at all the beautiful mountains that surrounded the runway — it was a wow moment.

Also, very cool was the fact that I got picked up by Dom at the airport in our rental car! Beats queuing up for some bus! (He got in a day before me and had picked up the car just in time to pick me up).

After checking in to Bungi Backpackers, we set off to do a short hike called the Mount Chrichton loop which took about 2 hours.

This is Dom by Lake Wakipitu

Old hut in the Mt. Chrichton Loop

Trail with full of tall trees

The day was concluded in fashionable style with a massive 20″ pizza. We couldn’t finish it so the last two slices became my breakfast for the next day.

By the way, on the subject of food, I do have to mention the name of a certain burger joint called “Fergburger” (or something similar). The queues for a mere burger seemed over an hour long! I just couldn’t believe that anyone would bother queuing up that long for a burger when there were so many other nearby places. Their marketing must be truly kick ass.

Speaking of which, this may be the right time for another The Alchemist quote.

“When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision”.

So, if you truly decide to have a Ferg Burger, you will find yourself in that strong current (read: queue) that will carry you to places you’ve never dreamed of when you first made the decision (read: to the front of the queue in about an hour).

14th Feb 2015

The last two pizza slices for breakfast meant one more hike before Dom and I drove down to the airport again to pick up Tilly and Adrian.

The choice of hike was Lake Dispute. Why it’s called that, ich weis nicht (that’s “I don’t know” in German — just showing off the few words of German that I know).

Lake Dispute – check out my pro camera angle with the beautiful flowers in the foreground

Super big mushroom – you find them in the Alps too

Super thick spider web. I hear you can use them to make bullet proof vests

After Lake Dispute, we greeted Tilly at the Airport Arrivals. Tilly looked tired and seemed to have several bite marks on her hands and legs. (The culprit was something called a sandfly – more on that evil creature later). She had done a 100km race the week before and spent about two days in the North Island wilderness which was the reason for her sandfly decorated hands and legs. Adrian came in after Tilly, looking fresh and animated, all set for a kick ass adventure in South Island, New Zealand.

Embarking on a South Island adventure

The kick ass plan

It was simple, at least in theory. We’d route march the whole of the Milford Track the following day (15th). The thing is that, conventionally, the Milford Track needs to be done in 4 days and huts need to be booked well in advance (something like 6 months in advance). We definitely didn’t do that, and, well, we felt that 4 days was really a bit of an overkill for a 53.8km track (including soaking in the nature, taking photos, etc). The track can really be run in around 7-8 hours or so on a clear summer day. Route marching it would mean 12 hours at most. During summers, the sun sets at 9pm or so which meant we had plenty of time on our hands. But there was a catch – we had to arrange transportation to and from the track. Being zillionaires in our own right, we thought we’d charter a plane from Te Anau to Glade Wharf (where the track begins) and have a boat pick us up at Sandfly Point (where the track ends). The boat would then drop us off at Milford Sound where we’d have our car parked. So, we’d leave all our unnecessary items in the car and only carry our day packs on the track. This meant that we had to drive all the way to Milford Sound (which is after Te Anau) on this day, leave the car there and hitch a ride back to Te Anau. Foolproof plan.

Which brings me to another quote from The Alchemist.

“When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream”.

What we desired was simple: we’d drive to Te Anau, drop the newly arrived Tilly and Adrian there so they could get some rest, then Dom and I would drive all the way to Milford Sound with all the unnecessary items in our heavy backpacks, leave the car there and hitch a ride back. The “conspiring universe” (read: Firendly Car Guy) would help us hitch a ride back to Te Anau. Simple.

On the way to Te Anau from Queenstown

Our rental car

Dom goes dolly

In order to help the conspiring universe though, Dom and I had to look attractive enough for Mr. Friendly Car Guy to give us a lift at Milford Sound. Needless to say, I look quite handsome, in fact, very handsome. The problem, of course, was Dom. So, it was decided through an important team vote that he’d dress up like a girl (which would naturally suit him better). He’d put on a Hello Kitty tee shirt, some makeup (for what it’s worth, not that it would make him look that much better), wear a skirt and some pink lipstick. I will have to admit that it wasn’t the best solution but Dolly Dom was our best bet.

Dom himself (or should I say “herself”) wasn’t fancying his/her chances of being attractive enough to hitch a ride back. When we reached Te Anau and dropped off Ad and Tilly, he went up to the Reception of our hostel and asked them what our chances were of hitching a ride back from Milford Sound. “Not impossible”, was the very diplomatic and noncommittal answer. Perhaps the receptionist didn’t believe that the Dolly Dom idea would work.

In any case, Dom and I set off for Milford Sound after dropping off Tilly and Adrian at Te Anau. It took us about 2 hours to get to Te Anau from Queenstown and the time was already 5pm. We had another 1.5 hours to get to Milford Sound and hitch a ride back.

As we were driving to Milford Sound, we saw this one lone guy on our side of the road trying to hitch a ride. Judging by his beard, it looked like he had spent quite some time in the wilderness. Dom asked me if we should stop for him. I said “yes” to boost our karma balance. After all, I read in The Alchemist that “every blessing ignored becomes a curse”. This was the Law of Karma telling us that “thou who shall give lifts, shall get them”. We picked up that bearded chap and reached Milford Sound at around 6.45pm. The drive was picturesque and the scenery was stunning. We parked the car as per plan at the Milford Sound Lodge and went back to the road to try and hitch a ride back to Te Anau.

This is the stunning Milford Sound

It was 6.53pm and Dom went into his Dolly Dom mode and lifted his tee shirt up a bit for some spicy effect. Unfortunately, the only living creature that was interested in Dom was a sandfly. Later on, one car passed by without stopping.

When hitching ride back into town, you need an attractive girl by your side. Not this guy

Another one came and the driver told us that he wasn’t going to Te Anau. Then another. Same story. Which reminded me of another quote from The Alchemist.

“Everything that happens once can never happen again. But everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time”.

Our third driver who stopped wasn’t going to Te Anau either. Given it was close to 7.45pm, the roads were empty and all we were attracting was a large congregation of hungry sandflies. It was time to beat it or get bitten. We went back to our parked car and decided to drive back to Te Anau! So much for the conspiring world and Dolly Dom.

On our way back to Te Anau, just near the spot where we had been waiting for the longest time for a ride, there stood a guy trying to hitch a ride! We offered him one. Our karma balance was high for the day and it looked like we had driven to Milford Sound and back from Te Anau just to give two guys a lift! Such is the world of karma!

Meanwhile back at the hostel in Te Anau, we had a worried Tilly and Adrian wondering why we were so late.

A concerned Adrian had in fact tried messaging us: “We are starting to get worried about you guys, is Dom’s dress not working?! Try showing more leg?”

More leg, very much like Dom’s hip region, would have just attracted even more sandflies.

After close to two hours more of driving, we were back in Te Anau and it was time to sleep!

Very useful advice in our hostel in in Te Anau

15th Feb 2015

Our brilliant Milford Sound plan was put into motion as early as 6.30am. The four of us got up and walked towards our private chartered airplane. It’s not often I get to say this so I will say it again. The four of us got up and walked towards our PRIVATE CHARTERED AIRPLANE. Ok, I am done bragging. Unfortunately, this wasn’t an Airforce One or a Gulfstream Jet where the pilot gives you a pizza and a beer as you board the plane. This was a water plane which seats only 4 and costs about NZD 140 per person for a 15-minute fight to Glade Wharf from Te Anau.

Our “Gulfstream Jet”

This is where the first class passengers sit

The flight was incredible. There’s something about taking off from water, flying over coves, lakes and trees and landing in a remote destination, again on water. It was a short flight but an exhilerating experience.

The flight

Upon reaching Glade Wharf, Adrian met what would become his best pal for the remainder of our adventure in New Zealand — sandflies. They seemed to like him so much that the fact that he had put on a generous amount of Deet (a hardcore repellent that repels pretty much any insect) was good, but still not enough. Tilly, who already looked beaten up by sandflies, was getting even more bites. So were Dom and I. We were largely bathing in Deet yet being bitten by adamant sandflies that somehow always seemed to find chinks in our Deet armour.

While Adrian was spraying himself with Deet, Tilly was brushing her teeth!

The track in itself was like a dense forest track for the first 10-15km. Mosses, ferns and lichens were omnipresent. The floor of the forest felt like a carpet of foliage. We crossed several suspension bridges and soaked in the beauty of the wilderness (minus the sandflies).

You get these amazing reflection shots in many places on the track

There are many such suspension bridges on the track

A typical forest track

We had lunch at a place called Mackennon Pass (around 1300m high and at the 30km mark) which presented beautiful views of the valley. Those scenic views from the track that you find in the Lord of the Rings movie were probably shot from here.

Near Mckennon pass

This bird is not a kia or a kiwi. It’s called a Wahi (or something like that!)

Mckennon pass

A group selfie

The four of us are also known to come up with very clever questions during a long hike, especially when we run out of food during the hike (which happened on Milford Track). Dom and I only had carrots and cheese (and some nuts) but there’s only so much cheese one can eat during a day! Adrian carried some yucky stuff he didn’t even want to eat (despite being hungry) and healthy Tilly seemed to have also run out of her healthy food too! Anyway, back to our insightful trail questions, they were:

1) if dolphins and whales are mammals, do they also produce milk? (Can you produce milk under water?)

2) is the southern most part of New Zealand still further south of Capetown?

3) the shiny minerals we saw on the stones of the track which gave it a glittering look, what were they? Quartz or granite?

The track seemed more and more similar during the last 10km and we were growing more and more hungry from lack of food. So, the topic of conversation gradually gravitated towards food, the different kinds of food, and what a hungry man would want to eat. (Anything but cheese!)

Dom’s hungry

Waterfalls near the end of the Milford Track

When we finally reached Sandfly Point, a sense of relief grew over us. I was also a bit worried (ok, very worried) about the boat guy not picking us up at Sandfly Point. That area “sandfly point” is aptly named. The sandflies are a royal pain in the bum. They bite you and make you itch so much that only the very determined can refrain themselves from scratching. Tilly wasn’t one of them. She had sandfly marks all over her arms and legs. Adrian switched to his ninja warrior clothes in an attempt to avoid them but he wasn’t the least bit spared.

As we approached the hut, Tilly was the first to spot a radio in the hut which was tuned to channel 10. Like in the movies, I picked it up and tried a “hello, hello, do you copy?” There was radio silence. I flicked through to different frequencies in an attempt to get some sort of a response. Zilch. I started scanning for other frequencies. Zilch. Then Tilly switched it back to channel 10. Adrian suggested walking outside the hut into prime sandfly territory to try and get reception. He figured that moving closer to the pier might help. I walked with the radio into sandfly territory and tried my usual “hello, hello, do you read?”

All of a sudden, like in the climax of a movie, the radio sprung to life and a voice on the other side inquired “are you the 4 runners? We will come there and pick you up”. The rest is history.

Dom and Adrian showing off our life saving radio

Tilly in the hut by Sandfly Point – all covered up and for good reason

After we got picked up by the boat and checked in into our hostel in Milford Sound, we each found that we would have liked something from our bigger rucksack which was in the car back in Te Anau. Tilly looked at my towel and flip flops with green eyes. I wanted new clothes. Dom wanted his lipstick and girly stuff while Adrian missed his electric toothbrush (?!) Which is when Tilly asked why we didn’t just drive the car back to Te Anau the day before AFTER storing our luggage in the Milford Sound hostel instead of the boot of the car. Doh! You live and you learn!

The godsend boat!

And in the evening, there was a vote for the “best part of the day”. Dom won the vote, his “best part of the day” was when the boat guy came for real to pick us up! Yup, had he not come, we would have been food for the sandflies.

Now, it’s time for a quote from The Alchemist.

“People need not fear the unknown if they are capable of achieving what they need and want.”

I still think one has to fear sandflies. Those menacing creatures are probably the devil’s creation! Had we had a full blown sandfly attack though, we’d probably have let Adrian go first as he is the most expendable out of all of us.

Speaking of which, during the night, we constantly heard the sound of a gaslighter going “click”, “click”, “click”. It turned out that Adrian had brought with him this tiny gaslighter like gizmo which sends a spark down the skin when you push the lever, temporarily shocking the nerves under the skin where the insect has bitten. It’s supposed to alleviate that itchy feeling, at least for an hour or so.

That night in the lodge, I must have heard at least a 100 clicks!

16 Feb 2015

“Sweet ass” kayaking

We got up at 6.15am for a 20km kayaking trip down to the Tasman Sea. Our guide was someone called Ricky – a very cool guide who seemed to have key expertise in geology and in using the word “sweet” every other sentence.

“You ready team?” he’d ask.

“Yes”, we answered.

“Sweet!” came the response, invariably.

And, when we said something that seemed just a touch more exciting than the standard stuff, he’d have a whole new improvised term to express his awe.

“Sweet as!”

For example:

Ricky to us: “you guys are from Hong Kong?”

Our response: “Yes, we’re marathon runners there. “

“Sweet as!”

Tilly was particularly confused with his new phrase. “Sweet as what?” she’d ask.

The kayaking itself was, well, “sweet as!” We got suited and booted with thermal tops, Goretex jackets and something called a “water skirt” which is supposed to prevent water from entering the Amaruk kayaks. The guys could, of course, give the water skirts a more masculine name, something like “water trousers”. So, Dom put on the “water skirt” while Adrian and I put on our “water trousers”.

Getting suited and booted for kayaking

Armed with skirt/trousers and heavy cold weather gear, we set off into the Milford Sound waters.

Getting set to kayak!

Tilly in the front seat of the kayak

First stop was a gigantic 300m waterfalls called Sterling waterfalls. But, before that, we crossed a relatively junior waterfalls called “Lady Bowen” falls. Mr. “Sweet as” Ricky explained the history of the two falls to us. Apparently, there were two gentlemen (Mr. Sterling and Mr. Bowen) who first discovered the two waterfalls. After that, they had a dispute among themselves to see who would name which one. It so transpired that Mr. Sterling got to name the bigger waterfalls. Mr. Bowen, who at the time had marital troubles, had the intuition to name the slightly shorter waterfalls after his wife, hence the name “Lady Bowen falls”. Ricky surmised that naming the falls after the wife put him in good stead again.

Sterling Falls

And, speaking of intuition, here’s another quote from The Alchemist.

“Intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life, where the histories of all people are connected, and we are able to know everything, because it’s all written there”.

Hmm, deep.

Anyway, going back to the kayaking, we then passed by Seal Rock where we saw, you guessed it, many seals, and what you probably did not guess is that we also saw a chamois trying to run up a mountain. Now, chamois is not pronounced “sham-o-is”, the very sophisticated French name demands that it be pronounced “sham-wah”. Why? That’s French 101 for you. The language where the way you write is most definitely not the way you read! This animal, unlike the seals, was shy and scared. It quickly disappeared into the forests.

Seal Rock

The elusive chamois

We then saw two rocks that looked like turtles that were about to kiss each other but not quite. “Their relationship is on the rocks”, said Ricky, which I am sure was followed by “sweet” somewhere in the next sentence.

After 20km of kayaking, we were in the open Tasman Sea. Looking back on Milford was spectacular.

The Tasman Sea

A boat picked us up from there (the same one that picked us up from Sandfly point) and we had a thrilling ride back to Milford Sound.

We still had to go get our car back from Te Anau, so this time, it was decided that Tilly and Dom would go while Adrian and I would stay behind. (The argument was that given Dolly Dom’s unfortunate luck with hitching rides, with Tilly by his side, they may just be able to hitch one). Adrian and I, meanwhile, enjoyed a two course meal and went plane spotting at the Milford Sound airport.

Adrian and I went plane spotting in Milford Sound

In the evening, we saw a successful Dom and Tilly who had managed to hitch a ride from an Australian couple (thanks to Tilly I am sure) and we finally had our car back with all our stuff in it, which meant we could happily shower!

And, history repeated itself during the night in the lodge. Adrian woke up several times and went “click”, “click”, “click” with his tiny mosquito-bite-numbing gaslighter machine while the rest of us used our fingernails to scratch our itchy skin which by then boasted several red spots due to sandfly bites.

More pictures of the beautiful Milford Sound

17 Feb 2015

Another “sweet as” plan

Milford track taught us two things. (1) carry enough food for the long route matches (2) taking a small plane to or from a walk is very cool. So much so that it can be categorized as a “sweet as” experience.

The plan was to do the 72km Hollyford Track in two days. We’d get to the start of Hollyford road by taking a bus from Milford Sound, walk 18km to the road end to where the track begins, start route marching until we’d reach Lake Mackerow hut, spend the night there, finish the track the next day at Martin’s Bay and take a plane back to Milford Sound. Potential hitch in the plan was a very obvious one: our pilot could be a no show if the weather turned bad. (We were having clear blue skies for the past couple of days and the forecast predicted storms). In which case, we’d be stranded in Martin’s Bay with sandflies for company!

But, as it says in The Alchemist, “Don’t give in to your fears. If you do, you won’t be able to talk to your heart. There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure”.

Alright, so we spoke to our hearts and it strongly suggested calling up our pilot to ensure that he’d definitely fly over to Martin’s Bay to pick us up.

“Hi, is this Shaun?” I asked after dialing his number from our hostel in Milford Sound (I could only use the phone in the hostel. Milford Sound has no mobile reception.)

“Yes”, he said in his Kiwi accent.

“My name is Vince. We exchanged emails a couple of days back. Four of us are going to be doing the Hollyford Track in two days and just wanted to let you know that we are confirmed to be there at 3pm tomorrow. If the weather turns bad would you still be able to pick us up?”

“Two days? The second half is much worse and that’s a lot of walking.”

“Yes, but don’t worry. We’re trained marathon runners. If the weather changes, would it still be alright for you to come pick us up?”

“I don’t see a problem there but two days for the walk is going to be tough.”

“Oh, please don’t worry about that. We will see you at 3pm tomorrow.”

Hmm, that left me wondering if we were taking on too much in two days. Our pilot, Shaun, seemed more concerned about doing the track in two days than he was about being able to pick us up in bad weather.

Anyway, as the famous Chinese saying goes, “A journey of a 1000 miles begins with one step”, our journey of 56km began with a bus ride to the start of the Hollyford road.

Group picture at the beginning of lower Hollyford Road

We started walking on dirt road while discussing the meaning of life and other philosophical matters en route, which is when we suddenly got a lift for 5km from a nice lady driving a van with many tourists in it. That shaved off about 5km from our first 17km walk to the road end, which is where the Hollyford Track begins.

The road was ominously punctuated with many signs depicting death. “Deadman creek”, “dead horse creek”, “dead valley”, etc. Reminded me of Coolio’s song, Gangster’s paradise. “As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”

And, it reminded Adrian of, well, death. He was apprehensive about our route.

There were many such ominous signs en route

We did however manage to eventually reach the beginning of the track alive and there began our long route marching through beautiful forests and windy tracks.

The plan called for us to reach Mckerrow Hut (which is a standard hut) but we wanted to get to Demon Hut (a serviced hut). Reason was simple yet powerful. Adrian, who now viewed sandflies as his only and most powerful enemy on the planet, thought that a serviced hut would somehow not have any sandflies. Dom had a better reason. He was cognizant of what the pilot had said about the second half of the trail and figured that the more distance we could cover the first day, the better.

There were many such suspension bridges in the first 15km

And many beautiful streams

And waterfalls

And gigantic trees and ferns

There were also many such wire bridges!

Adrian did have a concern about Demon Hut though. “The name is a concern”, he said in a worrying tone. “It should be called that for a reason”.

But, we never got there. We somehow got a little lost and had to cross a technical path when the time was around 8.30pm. We decided that it would be best to spend the night at Mckerrow hut.

We missed a sign somewhere near here and got lost

We saw an Irish an American couple in the hut. The hut was basic but sandfly free. After introductions, we played monopoly with everyone there and eventually tried going to sleep.

Our home for the night — Lake Mckerrow Hut

We exchanged stories and played monopoly which Adrian won

Adrian’s miniature gaslighter went “click”, “click”, “click”, as he continued his war with sandfly bites while I quickly stepped outside to look at the stars on a clear blue sky night. It was, to say the least, absolutely spectacular. The sky glittered with millions of stars which made everything and every problem of life feel distant.

Which takes me to another quote from The Alchmist.

“The darkest hour of the night comes just before the dawn”.

When it comes to star gazing, the darkest hour is the best! And, come dawn, we’d be shuffling through our backpacks, dumping all our stuff including our precious sleeping bags back in there in order to begin our route march through the supposedly difficult second half of Hollyford Track.

18th Feb 2015

0530. That was the wake up time. I felt sorry for the friendly Irish couple who were still sleeping (or trying to). The hut was a giant exercise in repacking. The plastic bags were making ruffling noises and the bunk beds were creaking with the slightest movement. By 6.15am, we were out the door.

We somehow missed this sign the previous day

Then came a trail, aptly named “Demon Trail”. Slippery, technical and mossy. Those three words should conjure up your imagination. The undulating trail was filled with creaks, wire bridges, stream crossings and huge boulders. It was a true forest track. Again, we got lucky with the weather. The supposedly impending storm never came. Otherwise, I can see how much of a nightmare it could have been to try and cross those overflowing streams.

Our friend Keith in Hong Kong, did warn us about this. “What will you do if Vince twists an ankle and can’t cross the streams?” he inquired, preparing us for contingencies. Unfortunately, Dom’s contingency plan, in case of such an event manifesting itself, didn’t bode well for me. “Simple. We’ll just leave him behind”, was his solution. Reminded me of an old proverb, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer!”

Two hours and several wire bridge crossings later, we found ourself at Demon hut. The hard technical bits were now behind us. Our new challenge was then to find a way to cross a large stream which had a pretty strong water current. I read in the guestbook back at Mckerrow hut about how trampers had to call in search and rescue after being stuck on the trail under heavy thunder and lightning. Today, we luckily had another clear day but, still, this crossing wasn’t all that easy to negotiate. The wire bridge had been swept away and we had to find the correct route after crossing the stream with wet feet. Had the impeding storm really arrived, we would have probably been in trouble. That stream crossing would have been very challenging to cross. Apparently, there was an Indonesian girl who tried crossing the stream after it had rained and got swept away.

More wire bridges

We managed to find the right route (thanks to my clever navigation abilities) and were on an easier track again which took us to the “airport” at Martin’s Bay.

The final stream crossing — looks easy, but the current was strong

Group picture at Martin’s Bay

We stopped for a minute to check out the dirt road which doubled as the runway but a new delegation of highly biteworthy sandflies got us moving to a luxurious hut at the far corner of the runway. A guy at the hut came out in an attempt that made it seem as though he was trying to prevent us from entering his classy hut (perhaps we stank too much, or maybe it was Dom). He told us that we were at the right spot for an airplane pick up but asked us to seek shelter at another tent which was on the other end of the runway.

We are walking on the runway

However, in the short conversation we had on the doorsteps of the luxurious hut, the sandflies had declared a full blown war on us. Adrian’s miniature gaslighter had no effect. We were thinking about packaging a sandfly and gifting it to our enemies (worse than killing them).

The luxurious hut which were not exactly welcome to enter

The not-so-luxurious hut where we waited until our plane arrived

We spent about an hour at the hut, took our final group photos in Martin’s Bay and emptied out all our last stash of food. A plane then swooped above us and landed at the airstrip in front of us. Excitedly, I ran out and had a déjà vu from two days back — the time I saw the small water plane that took us to Glade Wharf on the Milford Track.

Our group picture inside the hut

“I am more excited to see you than you are to see me!” exclaimed Shaun, our pilot.

He added that a lot of walkers underestimate the difficulty of Demon Trail and end up making him wait much longer than originally planned! (We didn’t dare to be late! The last thing we wanted was to get stuck in prime sandfly territory without a way out!)

A 15-minute plane ride took us back to Milford Sound. We then took much needed showers and drove straight to Wanaka (4-5 hours). As we were leaving, it started to drizzle and we heard that a thunderstorm was imminent! We got lucky with the weather!

It was a great relief to see this plane!

The first class passengers

Flying into Milford Sound was such a thrilling experience with the small plane banking hard on occasions!

And, back at Milford Sound!

I need to insert two meaningful quotes at this point. The first one is something you have heard before from The Alchemist but it’s worth repeating for two reasons (1) it’s deep and has some good meaning to it (2) I am running out of quotes.

“When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream” – The Alchemist.

“Wherever you go, bring your own sunshine” – not sure who said this! But, in the context of Milford Sound, it means carry your rain gear because that’s the norm in this part of the world. We somehow lucked out! The stream crossings on Hollyford would have proven too big a challenge otherwise.

We slept well in Wanaka, at least mostly well, and we could still hear Adrian and his portable gaslighter clicking every now and then!

Wanaka Time: 19th/20th Feb 2015

Wanaka – what a beautiful place! Doesn’t have the “in your face” like hustle and bustle of Queesntown and is not as deserted as Te Anau either. It’s somewhere in between. It has ample running and biking tracks and the sunrises and sunsets behind Lake Wanaka are absolutely stunning. I could see myself retiring there — except for the fact that winters will probably be too cold for my tropical blood.

Wanaka — the perfect place for retirement

There is a Roy’s Peak and a Rob Roy’s Peak which is above Rob Roy Glacier. The two peaks are in different locations, although they carry similar names. And, btw, it’s probably not possible to ever reach Rob Roy’s Peak. The glacier and the avalanches en route are probably going to be a show stopper!

Kiwi traffic — plenty of sheep blocked our way when we where driving to the start of Rob Roy’s Peak

Good advice – “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine!”

I am trend setter when it comes to trail fashion

We went up to a look out point below Rob Roy’s glacier on the 19th. The vast expanse of the receding glacier was quite incredible to watch.

As we stood there gazing at the glacier, we also finalized our Photo Competition rules for the trip. Each of us would have to send our best photo to master photographer Claus by March 2nd. Claus would then pick the winner and the rest of us would have to buy the winner a beer (or another drink of choice). Naturally, having been trained by Claus himself, I had an unfair advantage. Especially in the art of taking selfies. Once upon a time, back in the great Swiss Alps, Claus had entrusted me with his smaller camera and instructed me to take several photos of runners near Chompex and Trient in the French speaking part of Switzerland. What he got in return for his trust in me was a truck load of selfies. There was me doing a smiley face, me sporting a serious look and a variety of other mes. Since then, Claus hasn’t contacted me for a second gig. I wonder why.

Rob Roy Glacier — looks much more spectacular in reality. My photo taking skills don’t justify its beauty

Probably my entry for our Photo Competition. Look how cleverly I’ve captured the lone tree and the waves. It’s called “The Art of Photography”

Dom tried to ruin my photo when I trusted him with my camera. He only got a photo of my bum instead of me posing like a model in front of that lone tree

On the evening of the 19th, wine connoisseur Adrian wanted to make a little trip to Chard valley but we settled for the local winery in Wanaka. He used words like “Pinot” and “Ortago” which sounded like Latin and Greek to me. My theory on wine is simple. If the wine is hard to pronounce and has a long name, it’s supposed to be expensive, and sadly, by virtue of being expensive, it is also supposed to taste good. If it’s easy to pronounce and has a short name, don’t pay the top dollar for it. And, if the name is neither long nor short, then it’s probably “old wine in new bottle”.

Beautiful tall coniferous trees flank Lake Wanaka

Our local vineyard in Wanaka

The boys copied my photo taking style on this one. The vineyard in the foreground and the lake in the backdrop

Dinner in an Italiano restaurant on the 19th

On the 20th, we went mountain biking on a fantastic track by Lake Wanaka. We rode our bikes all the way to a place which had a name that rhymed with Hawaii, I think it’s called Hawae. We went with the aim of creating a ruckus in Keith’s house there but were distracted by a plum tree that stood outside his house. Hundreds of plums were hanging on the tree waiting to be eaten. Adrian warned us about excessive plum gorging, “if you eat too much, you’ll get diarrhea”, he said. Those warnings didn’t stop Tillly and I from going on a plum eating spree. The outer soles of my shoes were dark red in color from stepping on plums.

Lavender trees — what a beautiful smell

Our friend Alice from Hong Kong probably has a shop in Wanaka

Awesome biking day — the tracks were such a pleasure to ride on

Crossing a suspension bridge on the bike

Tilly by Lake Hawae

A selfie – my specialty. Given my handsome looks, selfies automatically turn out well

They built this artificial “rafting thing” (not sure what it’s called) on Lake Hawaii for river rafting and surfing practice

Gorging on plums

After all the eating, we finally concluded the day by sitting on a bench outside our hostel, reminiscing about the events and the adventure of the past week. All the walking, kayaking and plane rides were now memories. But, we still had tangible evidence of our outdoorsy experience in the form of sandfly bite marks which were now all over our itchy legs and arms.

Wanakabakpaka — our cleverly named hostel

Concluding our week long trip with a group photo

21st Feb 2015

It was time to part ways after a week long adventure in South Island.

Adrian and I were the last to leave. We had a sumptuous lunch by the pier in Queenstown and then decided to go to a shopping centre by the airport called The Remarkables.

The strange thing was that it cost $6.50 to go to The Remarkables by bus which was one stop AFTER the Airport and $7.50 to go to the airport. When Adrian boarded the bus with his heavy backpack (much bigger than mine) and told the driver that we were headed for The Remarkables, the driver looked stunned. “Not the airport, are you sure?” he asked with the look of disbelief in his eyes. “Yes”, Adrian replied. At that point, the smirk on the driver’s face was priceless. He thought Adrian was trying to save a dollar by getting off at the next stop! The driver made sure neither of us got off at the airport and when Adrian disembarked from the bus with his heavy backpack at The Remarkables, he let out another priceless smirk which read “what a cheap guy!”

And so ended a week long adventure of hiking, biking and kayaking in South Island, New Zealand. There’s only one more thing that I would have liked to do in this part of the world which is to have climbed Mitre Peak in Milford Sound. But, on my next trip to New Zealand, I think North Island is on the cards.

Goodbye South Island

And, one final quote from The Alchemist to conclude this blog post.

To put this in the right context, in the story, an English man tries desperately to convert the metal lead into gold through purification. He somehow crosses paths with this boy who is himself on a destiny fueled odyssey in search of treasure. (I won’t tell you the rest of the story, you should read the book).

“This is why alchemy exists. So that everyone will search for his treasure, find it, and then want to be better than he was in his former life. Lead will play its role until the world has no further need for lead; and then lead will have to turn itself into gold. That’s what alchemists do. They show that, when we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too” – The Alchemist

Read the book and make your own interpretation of the philosophical quotes in the book! And, of course, go to South Island, New Zealand for what I am sure will be, a “sweet as” experience!

 

HKTR’s first annual Summit in Sipalay plus capture of Mt. Kanlaon in the Philippines

HKTR’s first annual Summit in Sipalay plus capture of Mt. Kanlaon in the Philippines

All photos here.

Leaders to meet and discuss economic affairs of the world
We’ve all heard of the APEC Summit, Kyoto Summit, United Nations Summit and blah, blah, blah. Forget all that — an event far more important and exciting than any of the above –The Hong Kong Trail Runners’ Summit– was to be held in Sipalay, Philippines in February 2013. Key world leaders Martijn, Vivien and yours truly were expected to meet there to solve the problems of the world over some beers. And, all this while looking over the beautiful sunset from the bar stools of Artistic Diving Resort, Sipalay in The Philippines.

Leaders very busy at work solving world problems

Read about the Summit Achievements up ahead

 

Trail running in South Island, New Zealand “No baggage” style

All photos are here.

Trail running in South Island, New Zealand “No baggage” style

Me, my hand-carry backpack and my heavy-duty rucksack
Armed with one light hand-carry backpack and one heavy-duty rucksack, I set foot for what promised to be a great adventure in Kiwi Land!

13th December 2012: Welcome to Queenstown!
What a landing this was! I could barely take my eyes off the plane window. By the time we landed, I had craned my neck so much to the left that it started to hurt! It felt like we were part of a flight simulator video game where the plane has to carefully navigate through picturesque mountain ranges. One tiny mistake by the pilot and it would have been game over! Nature kept beckoning us through the airplane window. Each time the plane banked right, I could see glimpses of a serene greenish-blue colored river. As the plane descended, this river showed off more and more of her beauty. The snowcapped mountains we saw moments ago quietly disappeared into the backdrop while gently giving way to lush green grasslands. And, all of a sudden, a runway appeared out of nowhere and we were somehow in Queenstown, New Zealand!

What a landing! This is Read more

 

“Holdin’ it in” and practicing Putonghua in Northern Xinjiang during October 2012

“Holdin’ it in” and practicing Putonghua in Northern Xinjiang during October 2012

All pictures here.

Holdin’ what in?
Read on and you will be enlightened. But until then, here’s the story.

Strange departure from the original plan
The original plan called for a trip to Vietnam in October 2012. The group was supposed to consist of 6 of us. That number first went down to 5, then 4, then 3, then eventually … 2. We could have still gone to Vietnam but then came one of our brainwaves. Why not do something MORE adventurous?

Enter Xinjiang in Northwest China. Picture Muslim music playing in the background. Then picture eating some nans (bread). Picture kebab and lamb. Picture thousands of square kilometers of desert and contrasting grasslands and majestic mountains. That’s Xinjiang. It occupies 1/6th of the total land in China. It’s home to several distinct tribes. It’s a mysterious land – a land far, far away geographically, ecologically and, of course, spiritually to Central in Hong Kong!

So, Martijn and I decided to be brave and explore Xinjiang. “Brave” because, of the two of us, only I could speak the best Mandarin. And my Mandarin was unfortunately largely limited to “Wo bu ji dou Read more

 

Relaxing, caving, biking and learning to spell in the Philippines – July, 2012

Relaxing, caving, biking and learning to spell in the Philippines – July, 2012

All pictures are here.

Monday, the 1st of July. This date means a lot to Hong Kong. It’s the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China. It is aptly celebrated by literally blowing up HKD 5M (yes, five million dollars) in the form of fireworks. It’s also a day when a large number of people dissatisfied with the government of Hong Kong take to the streets to protest. Some protest over serious matters like democracy in Hong Kong aka “Universal Suffrage” (I still don’t know what that means) while others protest over supposedly serious matters, i.e. things like too many mosquitoes on The Peak or the weather being too cold during winter, etc, etc. And, to me, that can only mean one thing – hiking, biking and relaxing in some remote destination!

And so came the desire to jet set to the Philippines for the weekend plus a day to do some hiking, biking, swimming and caving. Strangely, the first thought that always comes to mind when the Philippines is mentioned to me is not the white sand beaches or that hugely popular witty response by that famous Filipino beauty pageant. Know what I am talking about? During a Miss World or Miss Universe contest, a panel of judges asked this Filipino beauty pageant how many islands there were in the Philippines. Her response was, “during the tide or after?”

What instead comes to my mind when “The Philippines” is mentioned to me is … spelling! Tell me truthfully, how many of you can even spell the name “Philippines” correctly? And, once you scratch the “spelling” surface, there’s more super hard spelling!

My getaway plan called for taking a budget airline to Cebu on Friday night, and a ferry to Dumaguete on Saturday morning to meet my partner-in-crime Liza Avelino. Wait.. Duma.. what? (There you go.. hard spelling again). And, it doesn’t end there. From Dumaguete, the plan called for taking yet another ferry to the island of Siquijor. (No, I do not know how to properly spell that, much less pronounce that!) But, what I do know is that it’s supposed to be an island offering sparkling white sand beaches, pristine hiking trails, mysterious caves, a thrilling motorbike ride and much, much more! And, of course, thanks to all the inevitable lessons in spelling that one will invariably have the benefit of learning, it also offers the chance to win the next Spelling Bee competition.

Friday, 2012-06-29
I took a budget airline, Air Phil Express, from Hong Kong to Cebu. It wasn’t hard to say that it was a budget airline. The boarding gate was at the remotest possible corner of the Hong Kong airport (I almost needed another flight to get to the boarding gate) and the flight attendants were wearing quite ordinary looking budget tee shirts and shorts. (They surely need a lesson or two from Eva Air).

I stayed at a backpackers place Cebu Guesthouse. I arrived there at close to 11pm and spent the night in a dorm room at a nominal cost of 350 pesos (HKD 50) a night! The online reviews of this guesthouse were terrible. I thought it was going to be one of those keep-wallet-hidden-in-underwear kind of experiences but it wasn’t all that bad! Decent enough bed and friendly fellow backpackers.

The dorm in Cebu Guesthouse (about 15 mins from the pier)

Continue reading about the adventure and the witchcraft!