Sean Mc on Skynet

Dunedin to Bluff and back

From Dunedin to Invercargill there's 2 options, there's the main road and the scenic route. Being tourists we had to opt for the scenic route, it's certainly very scenic but it's also a good adventure. We had already decided that we wanted to visit slope point (the most southerly point in the South Island of NZ) but we didn't really realise how much dirt road we'd have to drive on to get there. There's not really much to see there apart from a sign telling you how far you are from the equator and from the South pole, still though it's worth going just to say you were there. Driving the scenic route between Dunedin and Invercargill takes you along the coast in an area known as the Catlins. It's yet another NZ region renowned for it's scenic beauty and yes it does live up to it's reputation. One of the more interesting places we stopped at along the way was nugget point. It's basically a rocky outcrop with a now automated lighthouse out at the end. But the point gets it's name from the rocks which stick out from the sea which are said to resemble nuggets of gold, I didn't know that gold nuggets had any particular shape!

We continued on our way south determined to get to the very south of New Zealand this evening. We did get there but it involved navigating a lot of unsealed roads, it felt like everytime we went on an unsealed road we still had another one to travel on. For the record Slope Point is the most southerly point in New Zealand and is 5140km from the equator and 4803km from the South Pole. After a tiring day's driving we stayed at a nearby campsite.

We moved on to Invercargill the next day, we'd had enough of driving on unsealed roads the previous day so we made a beeline for the nearest sealed road, approx 15km away.

We arrived in Invercargill and it was very quiet and sleepy, almost had tumbleweed blowing through the streets. The place was also cold and windy so there was little incentive to stay. In good Irish fashion we went for tea before making a decision. Our decision was not to hang around Invercargill for the night but first we were going to go to Bluff, the Southern end of State Highway1, and we were going to have a look at the recently opened indoor velodrome. We went to Bluff, there wasn't really much to see but we took a few pictures anyway. Afterwards we trundeled back to Invercargill and off to the velodrom. I'd never seen an indoor cycling track before and I certainly thought it was an impressive sight. I never knew that the banked corners were so steep or so high. I definitely wouldn't like to take a fall from the top of a banked turn. We eventually left Invercargill that night and weren't too sure how far we'd get.

We drove as far as Gore and decided we'd stop there for the night as it'd been quite a long day, even though we hadn't gotten up to much. To feel better we went for a run, it was only a little over 30minutes but at least we'd done something for the day.

We'd previously been told that Gore was the type of town that everyone in New Zealand makes jokes about. Knowing this we didn't expect there to be much around the town but we went to the iSite anyway. Attached to the iSite was a museum about the prohibition era in the region. It was one of the more interesting museums I'd visited in a while and we ended up spending several hours there. It was a extremely well put together and informative display with lots of artefacts from the era.

On leaving Gore we made our way back to Dunedin. We stayed in Dunedin Holiday park just across the road from Kerry's house. We stayed there as Kerry was studying for some exams so we weren't going to be too much of a distraction. As a campsite it was clean and tidy but I wouldn't stay there again nor would I recommend it to anyone else. The kitchens, TV room and lounge rooms all closed at 10pm, it's one thing if the place is quiet but it was jam packed with holiday makers of all nationalities. So after 10pm we had little to do but sit in the van, if it was a warm night it would've been ok to sit outside but it was a little cold and windy.

We didn't hang around for long the following day, shortly after we were up we left the park and went into town for a look around at the few remaining sights in Dunedin that we hadn't yet seen. They included Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world. We didn't try to drive up it in our van, instead opting to walk up it and take a few pictures.

posted by SeanMc @ 4:49 AM, ,

Murchison to Dunedin

Another of my irregular updates, since the Bullerfest in Murchison we've spent our time touring the East coast of the South Island. From Murchison we headed back over the Lewis pass to Christchurch, we had hoped to make Christchurch that night but it was pretty late when we left Murchison so we settled on stopping in Hanmer for the night. A convenient excuse to go to the hot pools there. Hanmers springs is basically a town that has grown up around some hot springs and is almost 100% dependent on tourism. Given that we were feeling a bit tired and the weather was rubbish we decided to treat ourselves to a few hours in the hot springs []. It was a great feeling to sit in the rain in a hot , circa 37degrees, swimming pool. The biggest downside was having to walk back to the van in the rain L. A lot of people had told us that it wasn't worth paying $12 to enter the pools but I think it was, again given the cold and wet weather it was well worth it in my opinion.

We got as far as Christchurch the following day but as we were headed for Dunedin we only stopped off to do a big food restock and kept heading South. We got as far as Timaru this time. To be honest there wasn't much to see between Christchurch and Timaru. Timaru is a quite town in the evenings with not a lot happening. We went for a drive around the town just to pass the time and see what might be happening with nothing happening we ended up going to the Cinema. That was as quiet as the rest of the town, we went to see the George Clooney film 'Michael Clayton' and we were the only 2 people in the cinema, talk about a private viewing!, and cheaper than putting a big screen in your house.

Between Timaru and Dunedin there's plenty of scenery to see and there's a scenic route that runs along the coast instead of travelling the main road. Most of the tourist stuff along the way is scenery but we did see some strange rocks in the sea at Moeraki. The moeraki rocks are some large boulders that have been uncovered as the sea has eroded the surrounding land, what makes them unusual is that they're all spherical in shape [].

Eventually we made it to Dunedin but weren't in too much of a mood for doing the whole siteseeing thing so we just went to the iSite and got some information. We were in Dunedin to visit Kerry, another Irish friend of mine. We had a few hours to kill before she finished work so we hung out around the beach for a while where we met John from sweded and Malin (again!). Being pretty tired the rest of the evening was spent catching up with Kerry as I hadn't met her in 6 1/2 years. Great to catch up though.

posted by SeanMc @ 10:12 PM,

Bullerfest 2008

For those of you who've never heard of Bullerfest it's a 3-day paddling festival. This year the format was
Friday: Extreme race on the Matakitaki river
Friday night: Big Party
Saturday: Kayak Slalom and Raft Slalom races on Sullivans rapids on tehn buller
Saturday evening: Slideshow by local paddler Ben Jackson about his expedition to India
Saturday Night: Big Party
Sunday: Big Air ramp
Sunday Afternoon: Prize giving and raffle

This year Bliss-stick had donated a one off special edition Scud as top proze in the raffle.
See for the results
Over all it was a great weekend with some great paddling and a very well organised event. The party still wasn't as big as the Big Boat Bonanza at home!!
I've a load of photo's so I'll try to get them up shortly.

posted by SeanMc @ 5:49 AM, ,

More fun in Murchison and the West Coast

We spent the most of the next week in Murchison, paddling on various sections of the Buller river, including Doctors creek and Granity creek. Although levels were low there was still more water than there had been a few weeks earlier when we passed through first. Nothing too tough, just a load of grade3 rivers, relaxing though. We met up with some American and Danish paddlers too. At least there were a few of us hanging around together because Murchison is a very quiet town with not a lot to do in the area. JP, Liz, Alan and Aisling left from here as they had a ferry to catch in a few days time so it was time for us to move on for a while too. We drove to Westport with the plan of going up to the Karamea region for a few days. We visited the seal colony at Cape Foulwind, an interesting reserve and well worth a visit. There were hundreds of seals at the colony. After seeing the seals we continued on north towards Karamea. The Karamea area is noted for it's limerstone caves, they are spectacular to view, and as they are off the beaten track a little there isn't too many people at them.
Between Karamea and Westport is the former coalmining town of Denniston, although it's no longer a settlement the remnants of it's coalmining days are still preserved for all to see. The bigger attraction for us was that a load of mountain bike trails have been laid out in the area. In places the trails are a little hard to follow but overall the trails have it all, some tight technical parts and some long fast flats.

After this we were pretty tired so we hung around Westport for another day before heading south and back to Hokitika. We had a few days to spare before the Bullerfest ( so we were hoping to find a few paddlers in Hoktika. Luckily we met with John from Sweden and his friend Malin. Still not much water to be had but we did paddle the Milltown gorge run of the Lower Arahora. It's a 10km long section with some grade 3 boulder gardens, in big water it would be amazing. The worst thing about the river is that the last few km are flat and very slow moving. We didn't put on the river until nearly 6pm so by time we got off it was nearly dark and we still had to collect 2 cars at the get on, the shuttle takes about 40mins each way. I was well tired by the end but what a day.

After the adventures od the previous day no one felt like doing much so we drove back to Murchison so we could go to then bullerfest which was starting the next day(Friday)

posted by SeanMc @ 5:29 AM, ,

Queenstown to Murchison via Mt Cook

The following day we left Queenstown to drive up the middle of the country towards Christchurch. We drove via Mt Cook, there were some spectacular views of the mountain as there had been 3cm of snow the previous night. After seeing Mt Cook we got as far as Fairlie that night.

The following day as we left the campsite in Fairlie the rain was bucketing down, an absolutely horrible day. To make things worse another driver crashed into the back of us, fortunately there was no damage to either vehicle or to our bikes which were on the back of the van. We continued on to Christchurch where we were hoping to get some paddling kit. I especially needed a new drytop since I'd lost mine in Queenstown. We picked up a few other bits too while we were in Queenstown. We stayed in Belfast that night, kinda weird seeing Belfast on my mobile phone as the location

A lot of rain fell the previous day so we were hoping to get some rivers done but it seemed there was no other paddlers willing to go run some rivers. With no rivers being run we continued on to Murchison via Hanmer springs and the Lewis pass. We stopped briefly at Hanmer springs but it was mobbed with people so we took a quick look around and continued on our way to Murchison. We got to Murchison that night where met met up with JP and Liz again.

posted by SeanMc @ 5:20 AM, ,

Back to Queenstown

We went back to Queenstown on 12/2/08. We did some sightseeing that day
but it was all scenery, much of which we'd seen on the journey out to
Milford, but good scenery all the same. Back on the Dogleg run... what a
section of river, probably one of my favourites runs in the world. After
the tough journey into Milford we need new brake pads on the van,
everything is tourist prices in Queenstown, including mechanics but we didn't have much choice. Up bright and early and off to the mechanics to get the brake pads changed on the van, not wanting to be late we arrived a few minutes before 8am,
and they weren't even open yet! The boss man didn't show up until nearly
8:30, but we can't complain because they did fix up our van even though
they had other work to do. It was a little pricey but it the only option
we had. As we had stayed in Queenstown another night we had made plans to go
paddling again. We met the others back at their campsite (i.e. Dogleg take
out). Because it was Alan's birthday the previous day they were having
pancakes for breakfast, how fancy is that for greenfield camping? Being my
birthday they gave me some pancakes too. Off to the Dogleg again, taking our time playing on some waves, why not?
It's a sunny day after all. After getting off the river we did the usual
thing and got some lunch. The John the Swede had the bright idea of going
off to do the Citroen rapid later on. Sounded good, a nice ClassIV rapid
and that would only take an hour at most and then hit the road out of
Queenstown... little did we know what was in store. As Clare and Aisling
weren't going to run the section we had agreed that they would do shuttle
for the 4 of us, Alan, John the Swede, Alaska John and myself. We floated
down to the rapid, took a look and decided where to run it, some went left
and some went right of the big cottage size boulder that splits the flow.
I went right of the boulder, it was an easy enough move to make, follow
the green tongue at the start of the rapid then cut through the edge of
the tongue to be lifted onto the cushion wave that forms on the big
boulder. Then sit there side surfing for a few seconds to see what's
happening, put it 2 strokes on your right and shoot off around the corner
to safety. All went well on the rapid, some went upside-down for a little
longer than expected but it was all good. More flat stuff after the rapid
until the take-out. Paddling along on the flat stuff when we start asking
"where's the take-out?" Only the two John's had run the section before but
neither of them were too sure of where to get off the water. To cut a long
story short we came to another rapid... "I don't remember this rapid" say's
the Swede "but it looks ok" Not taking chance's I took the first eddy I
could get and started walking, over a few big rocks where I see the Swede on
the water waving furiously to tell me not to run the rapid and to tell the
others not to run it. It's little wonder he didn't remember the rapid, we
had missed our take-out by a few km and had wandered to a rapid know as
'Retrpospect', a seldom run classV rapid that's not in the NZ whitewater
guidebook. It is withour doubt the most heinous river hole I have ever
seen, it can only be described as a horiztonal whirlpool that will
swallow what ever comes near it. On the plus side we figured that if you
were to paddle into it the experience would be quick, violent but quick.
Unfortunately not one of us had a camera with us to take a picture of it.
Know that we had missed out take out we eventually opted to paddle back
upstream a bit an look for an alternative take-out. With a flow getting
stronger and no obvious paths out to the road which runs near to the river
we figured on going through the bush at the nearest point to the road, a
distance of about 50m. That 50m took us nearly an hour of fighting briars,
brambles and trees. Eventually we made it to the road, the Swede opted to
run back to where the girls were waiting for us. There we were, 3 of us by
the side of the road in our smelly paddling gear with branches and
brambles hanging off of us. Being optimists Alaska and I starting hitching
a lift... you can imagine my surprise when a Porsche 924 pulls in to give us
a lift…. All the bush whacking was worth it just to get a spin in a
Porsche on my birthday. BY this stage any plans on leaving queenstown that
night had been well and truly abandoned, especially as it was now getting
dark. By the end the section of river that should've taken about 1 hour
had taken us almost 2 1/2 hours. Nothing much happened for the rest of the
evening, just some food and beer around a campfire... what a life!

posted by SeanMc @ 12:15 AM, ,

Off to Hokitika for some paddling (hopefully)

We finally got as far as Hokitika and were hoping to get a warm up run before hitting anything too hard. Trouble is that with water levels being so low, it was mainly heli runs that were working. Anyway we got a run on the the lower Kakapotahi river, we were told it was class III with a little of IV, we got off it wondering where the IV was. The following day it was off to the Waiho river with JP, Liz, Alan and Aisling. I’ve paddled some cold rivers in the past, including some glacial melt rivers in the French Alps, but nothing to date has been this cold. We put in roughly 400m from the Franz Josef glacier and were able to see chunks of ice running past us at the get on. There was nothing difficult on this river but it was fast and cold, none the less there were 2 swims, the swimmers will remain anonymous for now but I wasn’t one of them. We stayed in the town of Fox that night and got a huge dinner in one of the restaurants in the town. I can’t remember the name of it but it’s the saloon style one in the town and if I’m back that way again I’ll be calling in.

The next day we drove towards Queenstown and just figured on driving as far as we could that day but also doing some of the tourist stuff along the way. Most of it is just going ooh aah at the scenery but I think the Gates of Haast are worth a mention and the Blue pools, both of which we stopped at. We didn’t get as far as Queenstown that night but stopped in Wanaka.

Back on the water the following day when we paddled the roaring Meg section of the Kawarau. This was another class III run but with lots of boils and whirlpools, what fun it was.

The next river we did was the Shotover Gorge just outside Queenstown. The river is good with a unique feature, near the end you paddle through a 150m tunnel with a gradeIV move at the exit. The river needed a bit more water bit was still worth paddling. The highlight of the day was the shuttle back to the top to collect the cars. There’s a 9.5km dirttrack to get to the put on, and almost all of it is downhill, what a bike ride it was great!!

After this we went into Queenstown for some food and started driving to Te Anau. It was after 8pm when we left Queenstown so we didn’t get as far as Te Anau, we camped at the side of the road about 40km before Te Anau. We met up with Liz and JP in Te Anau the following morning and drove to Milford. Out in Milford there wasn’t much water in the rivers but we paddled various stretches of the Hollyford river. The campsite we stayed in was unique, Gunn’s camp, it was really remote and only had a generator for electricity. The cabins had woodburning stoves for heat which was great.

posted by SeanMc @ 12:10 AM, ,

The South Island... at last!

A lot has been happening since the last update. Most significant, we finally made it as far as the South Island, it only took 3 months to get away from the North Island. We got the ferry south from Wellington on the 25th January to Picton on the South Island. Our first stop was going to be Nelson. There we were meeting up with some kiwi friends of ours. We spent a few days around Nelson, didn't do too much just catching up really but we did go mountain biking for an evening. We got a map in the local bike shop so we were good to go. We selected an intermediate trail from the map as it look reasonably easy and taking a look at the contours on the topo map all looked ok. What we found on the ground was different though, it was super steep and we ended up walking sections of both uphill and down hill. I think that the map was drawn and then they spilled ink onto a page where they figured there might be some trails. Still though it was good fun.
After spending a few days in Nelson we went north to the Able Tasman national park. We didn't really have enough equipment to overnight along the trail so we got a water-taxi in as far as Bark bay as we figured that would give us a good days walking. According to the guidebook it should take us about 7 hours to walk back out. Again the DOC times are a little misleading, we were back home in 4 1/2 hours. We even stopped at a little bay to go for a swim just to pass the time.
Next on our target was Murchison to meet up with some Irish paddlers who had recently arrived in the Country. We drove back down through Nelson and continued to Murchison, along the way we got a text from them saying they were moved on to Hokitika already. We planned on sticking with our original intentions of driving to Murchison and staying there for a few days and doing some paddling. Again our plans were altered, we arrived in Murchison and it was like a ghost town, not a paddler in sight, not really a surprise given that water levels turned out to be super low.
We opted to keep driving towards Hokitika and see our far we'd get before getting tired and Hungry. We got as far as Greymouth on the West Coast.
Onwards to Hokitika the following day in the hope of some paddling.

posted by SeanMc @ 7:09 AM, ,

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