Monday, August 28, 2017

Craigieburn Skiing

Sitting down and thinking on it for a while I can think of a reason why most people, including me, seem to not be able to keep their blogs updated after a few months of travelling. As I have travelled for the last two and a half years, it has become a normal state for me now. I no longer have a constant place I live at or extraordinary things happening in the area I'm settled in, as I tend to travel and stay at those places that many take of work for to visit and spend a lot of their earnings on. For me this has all become semi-normal, so not something I would write in a blog which I reserve for special occasions.
Thinking about this, I will tray and get in to writing more often again, as in the years to come where ever I may settle down, I will most likely regret not writing about all the things I did whilst younger.
On to the happenings then...

A week ago my flatmate Mark said he wanted to go to Craigieburn for a ski. A bit of back-story on Craigieburn is in order I think. Most places in the world you here about skiing are giant ski fields, owned and operated by corporates that have a lot of money and tourism interest in their areas. Hidden away in the Southern Alps of New Zealand you'll occasionally find another type of field, the ski club fields. These are small, sometimes family run businesses that have not got large developed infrastructure or even good access roads, but they are what New Zealand skiers like and love. On busy days you'll find even these small fields won't have a lot going on. Craigieburn is somewhat famous from what I have heard. Our neighbour and work college, Luke, mentioned that he even heard stories about that club field as far as Canada. A quick video look on YouTube found some people saying it can be the poor man's heli-skiing. So being only a few kilometres from Porters we had to check it out at some point.

The day Mark and me picked to go was probably the worst day for weather, but it was the only day we had and we took it. Driving there we passed the Porters turn of and carried on through Castle Hill, a village rather popular with climbers due to the boulders placed around the area by glaciers that have now receded. Even to a non climber like me it still looked like one of those typical New Zealand pictures and I'll have to get back there with my camera some time in the next few months.
After passing the club fields of Cheeseman and Broken River we turned of at Craigieburn and took a drive up through the native forest underneath the club field. Something nearly all ski areas in New Zealand miss is forests. Not that this is necessary a bad thing, but my personal taste rather enjoys trees and woodlands to go down through. Most likely a preference from my years growing up in Nesselwang.
After leaving the car in it's designated place near a shed with a generator running for the accommodations and a tractor with a snow plough parked out the front, Mark and me went to get our tickets (at a slight discount due to working on another field) and then returned with our gear, all set and ready to go. The next stage at Craigieburn was to work out how rope tows work. Rope tows are the lifts most club fields use, they are cheaper to operate than T-bars and Chairlifts, but it requires more skill on side of the customer to use. Both of us were Newbies in that area, so we had a ski patrol/instructor show us how things are done. I won't explain the full workings behind the rope tows, as you can most likely find videos on the internet showing what they are. To round things up, it took me three tries to get going, but the experience of being challenged by a new lift after skiing for twenty years was refreshing. 
Finishing the lifts both of us where buffed by winds blowing through the rocky spires of the top, all alone on the ski field. Talking to the ski patrol lower down, we had found out that at that point we were the only people on the mountain, apart from staff. The first run down promised to be an interesting day, as the conditions were so bad and challenging that it was funny. Heavy snow that barely let you turn, an unknown ski terrain, strong and gusty winds and an ever changing weather pattern (sun, cloud, rain, fog, snow, etc. We had it all) ensured that the day was an interesting one. The stops in the upper lodge of the mountain were a must and a nice dry spot to get ready for another excursion out in the elements. Over the day we were joined by a few other people, but all in all the total amount of customers on the mountain could be counted on two hands. Later on in the day, after skiing through chutes and staying just above the rocks buried in the snow, conditions got even more interesting. The top 50 metres were awesome skiing, underneath that line the fall of heavy snow ensured that the slope turned to glue, stopping even the most die hard attempts at picking up speed downhill. Still, everyone was laughing and having a great time. Mark torpedoed the snow at one point and later on in the day we got close to being blown of the top. We didn't manage to walk where we intended to go, but waited things out, as the wind was so strong we could not go against it.
Once the late afternoon pulled in we called it quits, with a long last run down a chute on the side of the mountain to get us down back to the car. Whilst returning our gear we also had a quick drink at the bar and talked to some of the employees there. Most where Canadian and American, something which is in stark contrast to Australia. Most Northern Americans seem to prefer New Zealand (similar climate?).

After a drink it was back home to get all our gear dried out for work again, but I could feel the onset of a flue getting to me.  

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Porters Powder & Lake Ohau Skiing

Once again a long time without writing anything in my blog. The last few weeks have seen me working the most time, but also getting a lot of time off, as the ski field was often closed due to bad weather. Most of the time this was due to wind, but we have also had a lot of snow over the last few weeks which is pretty unusual for New Zealand, apparently. Working has been rather interesting, actually. It seems we liftys have on of the best jobs on the mountain, as we can see a lot of funny stuff happening to the customers and we are outside a lot. What some people walk away from is surprising (collision with a lift tower, face plant in to a wooden fence, etc.) but sometime things don't work out well. We've had a few helicopter calls going through, but that is the case with a ski field. There are a lot of people I try to stay well away from, and even as an employee the mountain can be an unsafe place. One lifty had a border slip down the lift and hit him in the side of his knee and today another one got his shoe sliced up by a renegade snowboard. Anyway, so far all of us have survived (for the most part, but that story has nothing to do with the operations on the mountain).

Last Tuesday we had a powder day and I fortunately had the day of, so I hired a pair of skies from the rentals which were built for powder skiing and went out for the day with Hans mostly, but also a quick ride with Nick, Logan (NMIT guy), Chris and Flo. The best run of the day I had was coming down Bluff Face, with an unbroken powder line, being the fifth one down. The unusual circumstances with the snow is that New Zealand doesn't normally have this much. Last year quite a few runs were closed the whole season, where as this year everything has been open on a nearly consistent rate. Still, even this amount of snow isn't really enough for me, I'll have to keep my eyes on Canada in a few years time. 
Yesterday was kind of a hard choice where to go. Nick, Hans and Celine (ticket office Kiwi) were heading for Queenstown, skiing in Ohau yesterday and heading for Cardrona today. I really wanted to get to Cardrona, just because of the size of it. But they weren’t heading there until today, on which I am working. In the morning I was still undecided if I should go to Porters for the day or head down to Ohau with them. The journey to Ohau is four hours long. So I'd be driving for four hours, skiing for four and the driving back again. In the morning it was raining here at Porters and the top T-Bars seemed closed in the morning (in the end they were closed the entire day) so I headed south for four hours with the others. We passed Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki before we got to Lake Ohau. The journey up to the ski field had to be done in Celines car, as mine is only two wheel drive and I have no chains. That's the interesting part about New Zealand, too. No ski field has a town at the base of it. All of the ski field have a track to drive up. Probably due to the snow line being so high up.
The first hour at Ohau was mediocre at best. The clouds clung to the mountains, so we had nearly no view what so ever. After the first hour of exploring in fog the clouds broke up and we ended up having a nice view down to Lake Ohau with the barren mountains of the Southern Alps around us. At one point they even opened the ridge line which we hiked up to, and had a stunning view of the surrounding area. Throughout the rest of the day we continued to explore the small family run mountain, which according to the staff was a fairly busy day. Compared to Porters there was next to nothing going on.

At the end of the day we headed back down and I said goodbye for now to the other three. They headed down to Queenstown and I drove back up to Springfield. Along the way I rang Grandma, Mum and Lesley to wish Grandma a Happy Birthday and to chat a bit of the drive away. Back at Springfield I popped in to the pub, were most of the Porter workers were having an evening drink to say hi before heading home to get some well earned sleep.  

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Skiing Mt. Hutt

The ski season is finally upon us and we had the staff training on the mountain at Porters the past weekend. All in all the entire experience was actually rather fun, considering that training is mostly boring in nearly ever job. But this one saw us meting pretty much the entire crew on the mountain and getting out on the mountain to have a look at how the lifts operate. At the end of the three days all of us had a good idea of what to expect and what is expected.
The next week saw us settling in to our house at Benmore station and meeting all the others that I'd be living with in that time, too. We have Mark, an English guy I have stayed with at the hostel before, Nick (American from California), Lena (German), Flo (German), Chris (German), Gershon (err, don't really know, lot's of places), Hans (Kiwi) and me. The house we are in is really good to. We had a fire and TV installed whilst we were there and the heat the fire puts out is just ridiculous. The owners are also friendly, all being farming kiwis and looks like we got a good deal here (plus we are on the way to the Porters ski field and don't need to use our own cars).

Between going to Christchurch rather regularly and buying shopping and other gear a few of us managed to get a bit of skiing in on the our neighbouring mountain of Mt. Hutt. Due to location reasons they already have enough snow to open, but not enough for all runs. Most of the others managed to go to the mountain fairly soon, but the day all of them went my ski gear had not yet arrived from Germany (thanks to mum for that). They arrived the day they were all gone, and after a few parties to meet up with our other colleagues and a Rugby game between the All Blacks (NZ) and The Lions (UK), Hans, Lena and me managed to get a ski in to Mt. Hutt.
Awesome day to start of with it, too. Most of the Canterbury Plains was covered in a thick layer of clouds and Mt Hutt was sticking out of it. So for the better part of the day we skied above the clouds. Well “skied”. I'm the only one of the group that skied that day, as Hans and Lena both snowboard. But after some awesome views and fun carving the day was coming to an end.

Back at the house most of the others left for a party again (bit to soon for me and I was knackered from skiing) and Nick and me were the only ones left at the place. Shortly after it was bed for me, but a brilliant first skiing in New Zealand.  

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Taylors Mistake

Another day, another walk. This time to the outer end of the mountain range I have been hiking on so far. Izzy left for a road trip by bus today. As it left from the airport early in the morning I offered to drive her. No bus ran to the airport at that time and as I do have a vehicle now it was no problem. Also the airport isn't to far away either.
After dropping her of and returning to the hostel I had some breakfast and then got a few things sorted out on the laptop. The weather had been predicted to lighten up in the afternoon. It wasn't raining, but the clouds were thick with little wind. Means that the temperatures were also higher then yesterday.
The clouds still hadn't lifted once I had finished lunch, so I packed a snack and set of towards Taylors Mistake. The small holiday town is situated at the inlet for the Lyttelton harbour, so it was a bit of a drive. In the end I had to cross a part of the small range near to the coast to get to the start of the hike on the other side. Driving up I noticed the rather heavy weight of my car, but it got me over no problem. At the top I had a pretty good view in to Christchurch, so I parked the car and set up my camera in a small park. After the time lapse had finished I packed up and carried on to Taylors Mistake. 
Once arrived in the town I set of along the coastline. To be honest, most of the track didn't feel very New Zealandish, it looked very much like Scotland. Probably the reason a lot of English settled here in the first place. The trail was nice, a well gravelled stretch and I didn't meet to many other people (Tuesday). Saw more sheep than other people. At the tip of the of the hill range a few fortifications had been set up in world war two to deter the Germans from getting close. No idea what interest they had in New Zealand nearly 80 years ago. Even if the Germans lost then, New Zealand (and by extension Australia) is/are now overrun by young Germans anyway.
Walked around the hill and got back on to Summit road which runs all along the top. On all the walk I have done so far, I've had to cross it. Once I reached the Taylors Mistake again I had to go back down to the beach to get to my car. A bit of a steep walk, but nothing to bad. Some surfers were trying their best in the waves washing on to the black beach of the town and a few did manage to catch some waves.

Back at the car I headed of towards the hostel again, but stopped along the way for another time lapse and some photo shots of the sunset lighting up the sky.  

Monday, May 22, 2017

Witch Hill

Last night when I came back, Shane and me had a new room mate. Izzy, a young woman from England. We got talking a bit and found out that both of us had nothing planned for today, so we decided to do a hike together. Most of the others in the hostel had to work as it was Monday, so in the morning after breakfast and making some sandwiches for lunch, the both of us headed out towards the mountains on the other side of Christchurch.
I've sort of come to not liking Christchurch that much. I'm sure it is an interesting city for people who like bar crawls and history of earth quake stricken city's, but for one as me that enjoys the rural areas more, it just isn't my sort of thing. A few days to view a couple of things, but not weeks. So the past few days have seen me increasingly driving to the foothills and beaches to get away from the town. Today was no different and once the car had been parked Izzy and me set of up through a valley to the top of one of the hills. The valley turned out to be a lot nicer than I had anticipated. Before leaving I'd done a short look at the semi-planned route from a satellite picture which showed no features what so ever, just shrubs and rocks. At the bottom of the valley we encountered an older women on a bike clearing the path from a tree that had fallen over and gave her a hand until the bulk of it had been taken of the track. Walking up we got our shoes and trousers muddy, as the rain and cold of the past few days had not helped in keeping/getting the track dry. To both our advantage it meant that the track was closed for mountain bikers, as that took a bit of the watchfulness out of walking. Still, paying attention was a must, as the same reason it was closed for the bikers meant that we were slipping and sliding across the tracks at occasions.
Further up we were meet by some sheep (what were we to expect, it is NZ after all) and saw some fellow hikers and bikers on the tarmac road running along the top of the ridge. The same one I had traversed the day prior. Once we reached that it was a short walk further before we got of the road again to hike up a hill known as Witch Hill. Getting up was a short but exhausting experience. I thought that Izzy was up behind me the entire way as I couldn't hear her huffing as much as I was, but it turned out (rather funnily) that she was thinking the exact same thing. Reached the top and had a brilliant view of the Canterbury Plains, Christchurch underneath us and the Southern Alps in the distance.
Short note: It is really weird for me to say that any other mountain range in the world is the Alps, coming from the original, but that's what they are called.
Once pictures had been taken and warm clothes put on, back down it went. The day was a lot better than the previous one, with not a cloud in site and the wind had slightly died down, but the air was still chilly. Had a quick stop for lunch once we got in to a wind sheltered area along the Summit Road again and then proceeded to walk down a bike track back in to the valley. Looking at some of the trails there, I had to think how much skill you need to come down there. Some of the tracks I would not touch with my mountain bike, but then again it's probably built more for downhill biking. Going down on foot was interesting enough, as the wet earth and pine needles were a challenge to manoeuvre. We reached a walk able track once we got down in to the valleys again and carried on until we got back in to town. Then it was only about half an hours walk to the car. On the way we got ambushed by a cat that wanted some cuddles, weird behaviour for a feline.

Back at the car, back to the hostel with a quick stop for some shopping and then to put the legs up. A really nice walk with some good scenery on a day just made for being outside.  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Christchurch

Christchurch has been a rather dreary, but nonetheless an, experience. First of my primary reason to travel to the “capital” of the South Island was to have an interview with a prospective job at one of the ski fields. So far the only one that has offered me such, two others wrote back in that time saying they were unfortunately fully staffed already (sort of surprising, since I had written to them in February).
On the way to Christchurch I passed some of the iconic scenes of the South Island of New Zealand. No use what so ever, as the complete days travel we had a heavy fog. The bus drivers talked of the grand view over Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo to the mountain range in which Mount Cook is located. Didn't see a thing.
Once in Christchurch I got to the hostel I had booked in and I reckon I got a fairly good choice. Not a raving party hostel, as my money is slowly going down and I want to be able to sleep at night, but close enough to the city centre. The only down side is that the nearest cheap supermarket is about 30 minutes walk away. Bit more exercise then.
The day of the interview came and I thought I had stuffed it up completely. The boss interviewing me is from exactly the same place in Germany I am from. Füssen to be precise and he knows my ski instructor boss at home (Hanse) personally (or did a few years ago). Half the interview was about the actual job and half was about how things are at home.
Shortly after the interview I got an email asking if I wanted the job and that I could have it. Without much mucking around I accepted and am looking forwards to working on the snow fields for four months. 
After getting the job situation sorted out I was a bit more relaxed about my financial situation, but one thing I was sorely missing was a car. Spending a couple of months in Australia with one showed me what sort of freedom you can get with only an own vehicle. Expenses, too, mind you. A rough calculation of my old car in Oz got me to a five digit sum over the course of the entire time I had spent there. But I wouldn't have traded what sort of things I managed to do with it. So the week after the interview I had a look around cars. In the beginning I just went to dealers, but after viewing a few cars that backpackers had I expanded in to that seller field, too. Turned out it was good that I did, as a lot of backpackers are currently fleeing the cold and winter of the South Island to go back home in to summer in the Northern Hemisphere or the tropics. Absolute buyers market at the moment, which reflected in the prices. Also I had driven a few cars of dealers and the last one I looked at was a piece of garbage. Mind you, he only wanted 1700$ for it, but that probably reflects the condition of the thing. In the end I purchased a Honda Odyssey 2003 Model from two German backpackers. All is already set up for camping and I can sleep the nights away in the back. Once purchased I got a check on it done and only needed to repair things worth 200$. 
Once those days had passed I wanted to get out and explore the surrounding are of Christchurch a bit more. I was getting sick of the interior city and needed to see a bit more. Unfortunately the days following saw a lot of rain and cold weather come in, not the ideal conditions for hiking. The Southern Lights were showing up again, too, but no luck with the clouds hanging above. Once a day with a bit of sunshine arrived I took a quick drive to the beach and had a walk there. The next day I popped by a lake south of Christchurch, Lake Ellesmere. The weather was biting cold and the wind was pushing the car around, so after a very short walk I hopped back in and drove back to Christchurch and the warm hostel.
The next day I was starting to get fed up, so I packed all the warm clothes I could fit in to my bag and headed of to the gondola on the other side of Christchurch. Didn't take that, but walked up next to it, safe in the knowledge that should it start to pour down I had a fast way of getting down. The weather held, but it was still freezing in the wind. The Southern Alps are covered in snow, which is hopefully a good indication of the season to come, and even the hills near to Christchurch that I was walking around on had a light covering of snow. After getting to cold I walked back down, hopped in to the car and decided to finally update the blog again.

Currently in a nice warm room in the hostel felling good at having gotten some exercise done.  

Friday, May 5, 2017

Queenstown Hill

Over the past couple of days I have started getting a bit nervous. My bank card hadn't shown up yet and I'm leaving the hostel on Sunday to travel to Christchurch for a job interview on one of the potential sky field. Having the post chase me around is not what I had in mind with something as sensitive as a bank card.
But today all got good. I found the awaited letter in the letter box of the hostel and contained was my bank card. Got all the first steps sorted out and found out that my first superannuation payment has come through from Australia. The sky was blue, the day was warm and so far I had only had good news. So in the afternoon I decided to do the Queenstown Hill, the hill I had to stop at last time due to my cold.
Set of after having a lunch of fried vegetables and walked up the hill for a good one hour. The closest thing I can compare it to is the walk to the middle station of the Alspitze, both length and gradient wise. The were a lot of other people on the way up and down as well, so I wasn't the only one using the blue sky of the day to take a walk. The first part of the walk is to actually get to the start of the walk at the top of Queenstown. Queenstown is a city built on the side of a mountain/hill leading down to the water and I had to reach to top of the town first. That was the shortest part, after that the longest one goes through a pine forest with a few deciduous trees in their autumn colours here and there. After the walk through the forest you reach the top of the tree line, which seems to happen rather sudden here in NZ. Then it's more shrubs and rocks everywhere, but the scenery just gets better and better. Underneath one, Queenstown is nestled in the gorges with Lake Wakatipu stretching out in the deeper parts of the valley. At the top you are treated with a stunning view of the Remarkables (a mountain range with a sky field in them) stretching along the other side of the lake. The pictures I've put on here hopefully serve it justice. 
Spent a short while at the top having a drink and just enjoying the scenery of snow capped mountains and blue lakes in the valley before heading back down again. On the way I had a chat to a guy from Hong Kong who was flying his drone around (a Mavic Pro, one I have been looking at) and then raced down at a fast walk through the dark pine forest.

Time: aprox. 1.5 hours.