An Orange Inquisition!

Day two and what a day it has been!

I woke up at 4.00am, as I have been doing for the last three days for some reason, so rather than toss and turn for a couple of hours until my alarm went off I got up and watched the Mexico vs Cameroon game. The terrible weather was only surpassed by more terrible refereeing, as Mexico were denied two clear goals in the first half. Mexico were by far the more attacking team, Cameroon had a flat back six for most of the match, and duly got their just rewards with an excellently taken goal to win the match 1-0. By the looks of the first two games it looks like Brazil will go through top of their group with a hard fought battle between Mexico and Croatia for second. I can see Cameroon going home with no ponts at this rate!

FBL-WC-2014-MATCH02-MEX-CMR-FANS

Later on I watched Chile vs Australia. Chile taught Australia a lesson in the first half and could have easily been more than 2-1 up by half time. Two goals in as many minutes at the start of the half looked ominous for the Aussies, but a great leaping back post header by Cahill gave them a glimpse of hope. The second half was end to end stuff, The Aussies rattling the Chileans with courageous, physical play. Either side could have scored a handful of goals but, unbelievably, the game ended 3-1, with Chile scoring their third deep into injury time. A battling performance from the Aussies which left the Chileans looking very nervous, but Chile thoroughly deserved their win, accompanied by deafening fireworks at full time!chileSandwiched inbetween I watched a clash of the heavyweights between Spain and The Netherlands. Spain have pretty much every trophy in their cabinet at the moment. They’re the reigning World and European champions and Spanish teams also currently hold the Champions League trophy and the Uefa Cup! These two teams met in the 2010 World Cup final and Spain outclassed the Dutch, winning 1-0 while the Dutch resorted to kicking lumps out of their Spanish foes, so the game was going to be a very interesting one.

Spain started strong and were soon 1-0 up after a soft penalty. The Dutch were playing dirty again and looked to be second best for most of the first half. Spain had numerous chances and were cutting the Dutch apart. Would it be a case of same old Holland at a World Cup – tons of talent but no team ethic?
A minute before half time the Dutch launched a lightning attack and Robin Van Persie scored a glorious flying looping header after spotting the Spanish goalie slightly off his line! The Flying Dutchman indeed! Could be one of the goals of the tournament.

Spain v Netherlands: Group B - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

Just after half time Holland were 2-1 in front, Arjen Robben scoring a glorious goal from another pin point diagonal ball from midfield. A magical first touch to control the ball was followed by some composed close control before he powered a shot past a helpless Casillas.

Spain v Netherlands: Group B - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

rob3Ten minutes later it was three for the Dutch – a headed goal from a free kick as Casillas flapped at the cross. Spain were looking in trouble and the Dutch had the bit between their teeth. Would Spain rally and get back into the game or would they crumble and capitulate?
A second goal for Van Persie made it 4-1 – a driving run at the heart of the Spanish defence by Robben, before he laid it off to a team mate who flicked it on to Van Persie, who rifled in a stranded Casillas.Netherlands' forward Robin van Persie (L

Robben got a second too and added to Casillas’ nightmare of a game, leaving the Spanish keeper on his arse before firing into an undefended net. Only some face saving saves from Casillas prevented a cricket score for the Dutch, it could easily have been 10-1 by the final whistle, but the Dutch will be ecstatic with the final score fo 5-1!Group B - Spain vs Netherlands

This group looks like a tough one to call. The Dutch should go through after a morale boosting thrashing of Spain. If Spain can recover their composure then they should have the class to go through, but if they’re second in the group they should face Brazil in the next round! Chile will give Spain a close run for second place though I think – they’re a great attacking team and there could be a hatful of goals in this group. Australia will be the whipping boys of this group I think, even though they will battle to the last and give 110% in the process. They’ve got bags of effort, but lack that cutting edge that they’ll need to get out of the group.

Day two over and I’ve managed to watch all four games so far. Three excellent matches and one good one. Two dodgy referees and two good ones. The stars have also shone, with Neymar, Oscar, RVP and Robben setting the tournament on fire! Best of all though have been the crowds. The Brazilians, Mexicans and Chileans have been out in force and roaring with every attack. The Dutch crowd were also in the majority and were enjoying the party they so richly deserved, as only the Dutch can!

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A carnival of footy!

Well, World Cup footy fever has finally hit Mr. Rob and not a moment too soon!

To be honest I was always going to ‘get into’ the World Cup again this year, but it was only this afternoon that the spark landed on the touch paper and set the fire ablaze in my heart. After a year of watching West Ham lumping it up the pitch each Sunday morning I wasn’t exactly gagging to see more footy for a couple of months. Previous England World Cup performances haven’t halped the situation either. Getting up in the middle of the night to watch a team of professionals fail to string together more than three passes isn’t my idea of fun, even if downing a couple of pints before breakfast is quite a novelty! I’ve been aroused at the prospect of England’s young guns playing some attacking football in Brazil, but it’s a very cautious sense of anticipation that I’m directing England’s way…..

I’ve been following the World Cup build up on a handful of websites and listening to numerous podcasts to bolster my knowledge (doing the washing up and laundry is actually fun when plugged into my iPod listening to podcasts) and coming home from work this afternoon I listened to an awesome BBC podcast which really struck deep and tipped me headlong into the carnival that a World Cup in Brazil will surely be! Here’s a link to the podcast in question (only active for 6 days) if you’re interested in listening to it. One of the hosts is a Brazilian journalist (Ricardo Setyon) and what he said had me rushing home to watch the opening game at top speed!

 

I got home, turned on my computer and proceeded to watch Brazil vs Croatia (on demand) before I stumbled across the result. What a game! A great advert for the beautiful game with magnificent free flowing, attacking football being played by both sides.
Brazil went behind to an own goal early on, which was the ideal way for the game to start in my opinion. Brazil then spent the rest of the first half attacking the Croatians at every opportunity, while Croatia tried to counter at pace and catch Brazil overcommited. Brazil looked really suspect in defence and, as ever, looked like they had ten attackers on the pitch. As technically gifted as Croatia are, Brazil are just a handful of levels above them. Their technique is just awesome, their range of passing and vision amazing and their silky skills a joy to watch. The ineveitable equalizer came mid-way through the first half and was greated by deafening roars from the partisan crowd. Shivers raced up and down my spine – they sounded like a baying crowd in the Roman Colosseum! The rest of the half was a really good joust between two progressive looking teams eager to entertain and exploit the others weaknesses.

The second half started slow but soon resumed into a full blooded affair. A highly dubious penalty for Brazil put them 2-1 up and Croatia had to throw eveything at Brazil.

neymar

Towards the end of second half Brazil caught Croatia on the break and little Oscar got his just rewards and slotted home a sublime punt from outside the area to put the result beyond doubt. Oscar was just magnificent all game as was the man of the match for me, even if Neymar might have been the obvious choice in getting two goals. I really like Oscar’s workrate, commitment and attitude and he has truck loads of talent to top it off!

Oscar,  Dejan Lovren, Vedran Corluka

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What an opening game to kick off the tournament. I just hope that it sets the tone for the rest of the competition. Bring on the next game! 🙂

Summer hols pt. 3

And so we come to the final post regarding Kate’s and my summer holiday. I would have made this post sooner, but a certain demanding individual, who shall remain anonymous, kept sending me links to assorted light weight trekking sites and blogs, which distracted me enough to delay said post! That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! 😉

Our drive up through the North Island was a largely uneventful one. We once again underestimated how long it would take us to reach our destination and arrived later than we hoped. Looks like the times quoted on Google Maps must be made using a car with a bit more grunt than our trusty Ford Festiva Miniwagon. Not hard, I admit, but I didn’t think we’d be that far out. It’s not as if we dilly dallied on the way, our only stops being to change driver half way through and to pick up provisions for our next walk at a supermarket 3/4s of the way to Tongariro, and that was a quick in and out as we knew exactly what we wanted and were acutely aware that we were well behind schedule! The only other time the car came to a halt was when we came across an awesome army recruitment poster by the military training grounds to the east of Tongariro National Park. I can just imagine that it would ring true for so many parents in this day and age.

NZ army recruitment
Anyway, we got to National Park Village as the sun was setting and, after a bit of a search, found our accomodation for the night and met our surly landlord. I don’t think he could have been more unhelpful if he tried and it was only too obvious that he was over the whole tourist scene.
After a much needed and cherished shower to wash off three days of grime we headed out with stiff legs to find some dinner. Not much going on in the village and we ended up in the liveliest place in town – a sports bar heaving with locals and budget travellers. After a largely disappointing meal we headed back to our room and crashed for the night.

Next day we were greeted with dark skies and news that the remnants of tropical cyclone Lusi was due over any time now. We had been tracking this weather news for a week and Civil Defence, the Coastguard, Metservice and WeatherWatch were all issuing warnings regarding the system. We gobbled up our breakfast and headed off to the start of the walk to discuss the latest situation with the DOC (department of conservation) office. After looking at their weather information and discussing the forecast with the rangers we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and cancelled our plans to walk around and over the volcano. That they were good enough to refund our hut fees and suggest some possible day walks that could be completed before the proverbial hit the fan was the icing on the cake. They suggested that we would be able to squeeze in a return trip to the Tama Lakes if we got our skates on, but only if we had suitable wet weather gear, should we get caught out before our return to base. We dashed off to our car, kitted oursleves out in waterproof trousers and tops and loaded all our ‘nasty weather’ gear into a day bag each, with some trail snacks and lunch for good measure.

Tama lakes walk

We set off from Whakapapa village and things started off well, but it wasn’t long before we joined the Old Tama Lakes Track and we were walking directly into the gale force winds. Sustained winds of over 100kmh were forecast, with gusts up to and over 150kmh and up to 10cm of rain were due to fall each day over the weekend. The walk was around 5 hours return and the rangers thought we had just enough time to complete it before the worst of the weather hit. Kate and I soon recalled how we had last walked this area of Tongariro National Park, when we had done the northern circuit all those years ago. We remembered it being a long hard slog over exposed terrain as the winds were sandwiched between Mt. Ngaurahoe and Mt. Ruepahu. That time we had the winds at our backs, this time we would have a couple of hours of walking into them before we reached the Tama Lakes and our lunch spot!

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Eventually we reached the Upper Tama Lakes Track, but not before we had been sand blasted by the cruel wind and the grit that it picked up from the surrounding area. As soon as we got to the edge of the bowl overlooking Lower Tama Lake we were pummeled by the wind, so much so that we had to turn our backs to it and just concentrate on standing upright. We were bombarded by sand a bits of pumice that ate into any exposed bits of skin. We decided to make a run for it and try to get out of the attack but there was no hiding place. It didn’t take us long to decide that trying to make it to Upper Tama Lake would be a painful and dangerous exercise, so we looked around for somewhere to get out of the wind, so we could take stock and decide what to do. Kate found an awesome hiding spot behind a small dune like formation, so we huddled down and broke out lunch while we discussed what to do. By the end of lunch we had decided to backtrack and head back to Whakapapa village. We’d made it to the lower lake and had some fun on the way, but enough was enough and the promise of great views from the upper lake just wasn’t enough to convince us to risk the climb.

Heading back we passed numerous tourists who were heading to the lakes dressed in jeans and jumpers, with not a sign of any proper outdoor clothing or equipment. If the heavens opened they would no doubt soon regret their lack of preparedness. We kept glancing over our shoulders at Mt. Ngaurahoe as the clouds descended down it’s sides. If anyone had decided to make the crossing they’d now be walking in the clouds, which kind of detracts from a large part of the walk – the spectacular views from the top of the surrounding plateau and deserts.

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We got back to Whakapapa village sooner than we expected – we’d completed the walk in four hours and no sooner had we sat down in the cafe for a cup of coffee than the heavens opened and it started to chuck it down! We got back into our car and headed off to the nearby town of Turangi and before we knew it the three volcanos were completely covered in cloud as the rain sheeted down. Our landlady in Turangi was happy to bring forward our reservation a day, so we didn’t loose out with either of our reservations and we spent the remainder of the day chilling in Turangi and visiting the local hot pools to soak away the aches in our legs. Turangi turned out to be a far better base for walking in Tongariro National Park, we’ll remember that next time we’re down this way!

The next day we headed back to Auckland by car, a five hour trip through the pouring rain, but at least the roads were fairly empty and the drivers considerate, that is until we reached the motorway at the edge of Auckland, where the usual inconsiderate Auckland drivers arrived en masse! We finally got home mid afternoon and unloaded our packs, fired up the washing machine for the first of numerous washes and had a nice long shower each. We’d had a great time and were already planning our next walking trip away……

Summer hols pt. 2c

We woke to the sound of silence. Well, actually I woke to the sound of Kate’s voice, as she chatted to one of the blokes from Napier, while they enjoyed the sunrise outside the hut. I had my own little view of the world, from the coziness of my sleeping bag, out the glass door of the emergency exit and I spent the first 15 minutes of the day watching this rectangular patch of nature change from the monochrome greys of pre dawn, through the deep purples and pinks with the first signs of the sun, then rich oranges as the sun climbed slowly and finally the vibrant greens of its true colours. If I had had the presence of mind to reach for my iPod touch it might have made a good sequence of images, but the wheels inside my noggin where yet to start turning. I did decide to head back to the spot I had taken a photo from the previous afternoon, so I jumped out of my sleeping bag and scurried along the path to the spot in question. Luckily I wasn’t too late and still managed to catch some of the dawn’s golden colours!

photo 8

The hunter in the hut had long since departed as the rest of the occupants rose and had a leisurely breakfast. Kate and I were next to leave for the day and what a day it promised to be. There was absolutely no sign of the gales from the previous day and not a cloud in the sky, so the Napier blokes would be able to look forward to a glorious day on the ridges. Our mate with the dog and Kate & I were heading back into the trees and down into the valley and out, him to head back to work the next day and us to drive elsewhere on our holiday.
We said our goodbyes and set off down the hill in what promised to be a punishingly steep descent to the Atiwhakatu River valley. As per usual on downhills, Kate took the lead and scouted out the kindest descent, while I picked my way through the countless tree roots as best I could, following her lead. Things started off quite well and I was optimistic that I’d be in good shape by the time I got to the bottom, but things soon changed as it got steeper and steeper and the tree roots increased in number by orders of magnitude! I got slower and slower as Kate kept disappearing from view below me further down the hill. I’d catch glimpses of the other side of the valley every now and then, then what looked like the valley bottom, with the occasional hint of the sound of the river, but there never seemed to be any obvious progress being made! After what seemd like an age I heard Kate exclaim that she could see the hut and the bottom of the descent so I knew that it wouldn’t be much longer to go.
I rounded a clump of trees to see Kate face down to the hill. My first thought was that she was examining something very closely indeed! A badger hole? No badgers in NZ! A possum hole then? Do possums live in holes? Then I saw here walking pole ten foot further up the bank and she groaned as she tried to push herself back onto all fours. She inspected her knees and groaned again as I called out to her to stay still and wait for Grandad to catch up and help her. I was almost there when our friend with the dog skipped past me, his dog pulling him down the hill with gusto. He retrieved Kate’s pole, handed it back to her, made sure she was OK and then careered past her in one smooth motion as his little dog pulled him inexorably on! Soon after I hobbled up, my chance for chivalry gone and reduced to providing some morale support as Kate inspected the numerous cuts and grazes she had collected and the bump on her left knee that was growing as we watched: marble – walnut – golf ball – mandarin! We were literally a stones throw from the hut so we decided to carry on to flat ground and fresh water, where Kate could clean her wounds and bath them in cold water.
We both were grateful for the break at the hut, Kate to tend to her wounds and me to let my knees recover for the walk out along the valley floor. While at the hut we got chatting to some locals who said the DOC rangers were helicoptering in a new long drop loo today as the previous one had been crushed by a falling tree the week before! You can imagine the images that flashed across my mind’s eye. Thankfully it had been empty when it had happened. What a way to go though!
With Kate patched up we headed off for a very leisurely walk alongside the river. It gave us a chance to stroll side by side, chat about all sorts of things that entered our relaxed minds and warm down for our afternoon drive back up the country.
One strange thing happened photo 9during the walk back to Holdsworth Lodge. Kate had wandered off in front while I took some photos of ferns and other plants. As I was trying to catch up with Kate I looked ahead to see Kate walking through a ‘tunnel’ of overgrowth from the slight rise to the path’s right, enveloping the path as it dropped away to its left. I immediately thought of the scene in Lord of the Rings where Frodo and the other hobbits took shelter under the overhang of a tree’s roots by the side of the path, while a Black Rider tried to sense where they were. I don’t know why but the image was so strong in my mind. Kate stopped walking and waited for me to catch up and before I could say anything to her she said that the location reminded her of exactly the same scene! How weird was that? Our minds must really be on very similar wave lengths after all these years! We were still talking about this strange coincidence when we realised that we were back at Holdsworth Lodge and our car.

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We made use of the lodge carpark’s facilities to freshen up, have a quick wash and get some fresh water before heading off on the next leg of our journey – a five hour drive back up through the North Island to it’s centre and the imposing majesty of Tongariro National Park.

All that remains is to detail our kit for this walk, so here’s a list of what I took:

Pack – Daypack – Pack liner – Walking pole
Sleeping Bag – Silk liner
Walking shoes – Hut sandals – Two pairs of socks
Trousers – Shorts – Silk long johns – Boxer shorts
Warm jacket – Two long sleeve base layers – Silk top – Merino t-shirt (not used)
Warm hat – Sun hat – Silk balaklava (not used)
Warm gloves – bandana
Waterproof jacket – Waterproof trousers
Head torch – pocket knife – sunglasses
iPod touch – Mobile phone – Headphones – Wallet
Platypus hydration system – Spare bladder (not used)
Emergency whistle (not used)
Titanium cup – fold flat plate

Communal kit:
iPad mini
First aid kit – Suntan lotion – Mozzie repellant – Wash kit – Iodine (not used)

Food
Breakfast: Muesli with dried milk – Tea
Trail snacks: Nuts, raisins, dried apricots and dried pineapple
Lunch: Crackers with salami and cheese – Tea
Dinner: Dried packet soups – boil in the bag MTR Indian curries with rice – Milo

Kate took much the same clothing, equipment and food. In addition she took the following communal items:

Titanium cook pot and lid – Stove (not used) – Gas cylinder (not used) – Two sporks – Plastic chopping board – Cigarette lighter – Potwash bandana
Toilet roll
Compass (not used) – Maps – Trail notes
Paracord (not used)

Summer hols pt. 2b

Did I say three posts to cover the holiday? That didn’t last long did it! I’ve decided to break the walk into a post for each day, otherwise it takes far too long to compose them, and I presume far too long to read them too. So without further ado:

Not long after going to bed we noticed that the wind started to pick up. We were woken up numerous times throughout the night by both the noise that the wind was making whistling over the top of the hut and the fact that it was also doing a very good job of attempting to shake it from its foundations. Our fellow hut guest commented the next morning that he thought they might have been earthquake shakes, but we all agreed that it must have been the shear force of the wind.
Dawn arrived and nature called, so after doing my morning ritual I set off back up to the spot I checked out the previous evening, armed this time with my trusty iPod touch. As soon as I left the safety of the hut area I was battling the wind as it whipped over the top of the ridge. After a struggle I reached my intended spot and was rewarded with an awesome sunrise tinged view back down at the hut and the valleys beyond. It promised to be a beautiful, if somewhat wild day!

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Feeling happy with my pre breakfast work I headed down for some of Kate’s delicious homemade muesli and a cup of tea. Once packed up we headed off on our journey along the ridge to Jumbo Hut (E). Once again we were assualted by the wind as soon as we left the safety of the hut area although things seemed marginally easier with a pack on our backs and a walking pole at our sides.
Up the ridgeline we scrambled, all the while being buffeted by the winds to our left. There was precious little shelter from the winds and what bits we could find came as a welcome relief. We had a couple of smaller peaks to reach before we got to the main peak of Mt. Holdsworth and in between each peak was a small saddle which all the wind was channeled into and over. Crossing these were extra challenging affairs, as the wind seemed to increase in intensity beyond reckoning. On one of the saddles was a wooden post, presumably for navigation in poor conditions, and the wind got so strong that Kate decided to cling to the post for support. I considered taking a photo of the humourous scene, but then realised that Kate was in fact struggling to keep her feet and relying on the post to keep her upright. I don’t think an attempt at a David Bailey moment would go down well, so I resorted to offering some verbal encouragement at the top of my voice. I’m not sure if Kate heard me or not, but she must have steeled herself for a dash across the remainder of the saddle and to the relative tranquility of the far side! Once across she commented that she really didn’t want to let go of the post, but realised that if she didn’t she would be stuck there for ever! I still maintain it would have made for an awesome photo though! 😉
Once at the peak of Mt. Holdsworth the track swung to the photo 3right a bit and headed down and along more ridgeline. As it was a downhill section Kate went first (she is quicker downhill as her knees are stronger than mine) but she pulled up before we had to cross another saddle as the winds were getting out of control. Not only were they increasing in intensity but they were also blowing form all directings now, so we had no idea how to brace ourselves with our walking poles. Fortunately I was prepared this time and manged to snap a quick shot before scrambling down to join Kate and make our way across the saddle to the other side!
This fiasco continued for a couple more hours as we slowly made our way along the ridge to Jumbo peak, where the path split. Left to continue along the ridge or right down to Jumbo Hut. When we planned our walk we had intended to leave our packs at this point and continue along the ridge with day packs for an afternoon enjoying the ridgeline, but were so buffeted that we decided to head straight for the safety of the hut. We had photo 5managed to have some snacks on the way, when we found a spot sheltered enough to sit down in comfort, but we were both starving and looking forward to some proper food for lunch. Despite wearing our waterproofs all the way along the ridge walk, for their windproof properties, we were still chilly, even though it was a glorious sunny day. When we found shelter from the wind we soon found ourselves overheating and hastily disrobing to our t-shirts and shorts. Amazing how much affect the wind can have on the temperature. It must have been around 15’C difference!
We were on the final stretch now and it was all downhill to the hut, so Kate once again led the way. My legs were getting tired now too, in fact our whole bodies were, even though the walk itself had been relatively easy. Hours of fighting the wind must have really taken it out of us. Time and again I kept getting blown off my feet as I repeatedly did impressions of a baby giraffe in a wind tunnel turned up to eleven. At one point I even managed to arrest my fall by putting my hand right into the middle of a savagely spiked plant that I hadn’t seen anywhere else along our walk. I laughed out loud at the perfection of my clumsiness, then realised that my hand was in some pain, then looked up to see Kate waiting patiently for me some way down the trail. I can only guess what she must have been thinking as she watched me stagger like a Saturday night drunk down the narrow path.
Soon enough the hut came into view, then took the usual agonisingly slow age as we covered the last few hundred metres to safety. Why does that last stretch take so long when you are desperate to get to the cosy hug of shelter and a good meal? On arrival we dumped our packs and cracked open the biscuits, cheese and salami, before getting that saviour, the good old cup of tea, going!
Once nourished I went for a short stroll to check the surroundings and found a great view of the nearby valley head. The peak is Jumbo peak and the ridgeline is what we would have walked along had we not been so shattered after the four hours it took us to get from Powell hut to Jumbo hut. Oh well, there’s always another time!

photo 6

About an hour after arriving at the hut we were joined by our friend from Powell Hut, who had had a worse time than us as he had no walking pole. As the afternoon wore on we photo 7were joined by a group of older guys from Napier who were on a ‘bloke’s getaway’ for a few days. The hut was getting busy so I chilled outside with my trusty iPod touch and listened to a few podcasts (more of podcasts in a future post) while the afternoon passed.
There was over a dozen of us in the hut by dinner time, including a hunter and his rifle, and the evening was spent socialising while the group of blokes played cards and got progressively drunk on a mystery alcohol drunk from a plastic milk bottle container! It wasn’t long after dark that everyone started to head to their sleeping bags, beaten by the effects of the day, or the alcohol, or both! By bedtime the wind was still blowing strong with the promise of another blowy day to come…..

Summer hols pt. 2a

We drove south from Napier for three and a bit hours, had lunch in Masterton and headed off to Holdsworth Lodge (A) to park the car and start our walk. We must have miscalculated our times somewhat as we started our walk at 3pm and it was due to be a three to four hour walk, so we’d be cutting it a bit fine if we weren’t up to the times advised.

Holdsworth Lodge to Powell Hut
The walk didn’t get off to the best start, when 400m up the walk I realised that I had left our map and my ipad mini on the back seat of the car. We were in such a rush to start walking that we parked up, opened the boot of the car, where the packs were, and scooted off down the path! Thankfully it was only 400m to backtrack. Imagine if I had only realised my oversight once we had reached our destination for the day! Inventory complete we headed off once again!
Tararua

The walk started off nice and easy and we felt great about the weight of our packs and our prospects of reaching Powell Hut by sundown. We got to the crossroads in the track (B) and headed up Gentle Annie Track. It was mid afternoon, the heat was quite oppressive and we were soon regretting setting off so late in the day. Had we done this first thing in the morning it would have been a much more pleasant affair. As it was, we were soon huffing and puffing and stopping for water and rest breaks. Thankfully it wasn’t long before we emerged into a clearing and were rewarded with a morale boosting view from Rocky Lookout (C)

photo

If you click on the above image and zoom into it you might just be able to make out our destination for the day – Powell Hut – just below the peak and above the treeline that is beneath the big cloud towards the left of the photo. It sure looked a long way to go, but we were positive that the views would be awesome once we got up there and the temperatures would only decrease as the afternoon wore on and as we gained altitude.
The track also began to contour around the valley from here, so we were also granted a respite from climbing, for a while at least! It wasn’t long before we reached the junction with Totara Creek Track, then we headed across a ridge called Pig Flat, until we got to Mountain Hut Shelter. We knew we were making good time, but we also knew that the real climbing started here and our legs were already showing signs of tiredness. We had tried to get fitter over the previous weeks, by doing day walks on our days off, but nothing can prepare you for trekking with a pack on, short of doing day walks with said pack I suppose.
As soon as we passed Mountain Hut Shelter the track went steeply uphill and it soon became a case of thirty seconds walking, fifteen seconds rest, or thereabouts. We quickly settled into our own rhythms though. I would walk until I could litterally not take another step, then rest for a long while. Kate would walk in shorter bursts and take shorter breaks more often. Despite this difference in style we were both progressing up the hill at very similar speeds. Our biggest bugbear was not the steepness of the climb though, it was the number of wooden steps that had been placed to protect the hillside from erosion. Sometimes one flight at a time, sometimes up to five, they really played havoc with our legs with their deep rise and regular pacing.
My legs were just about giving up when we broke through the treeline and were once again rewarded by energy giving views in all directions. This really spurred us on and we felt re-energised to press on to the hut. Our trail notes were a bit misleading, implying that it was up to an hour more from the treeline, but our map showed otherwise, so we were overjoyed when Powell Hut (D) popped into view a few minutes further on!
One other person was staying at the hut (and his little dog) so we had a relaxing remainder of the afternoon and evening. By the time we had unpacked, set up our sleeping arrangements and had a cup of tea it was time for dinner. A mug of packet soup each followed by curried lentils/chickpeas and rice, then a mug of milo and we were content as can be. It was gratifying to see that our hut companion was suffering more than us (he had done no training prior to his walk) and his little dog was the most knackered of the lot of us. Not surprising when you imagine how many little steps she must have to take compared to one of ours!
To our surprise we discovered that the hut had good cellphone reception, so I headed off up the hill intending to take a picture with my phone to send off into the internet, but, on returning to the hut discovered that the camera on my phone was worse than useless and none of the five images I took we any good at all. I then started to play with the phone, trying to get it to work as a mobile wifi spot, so I could tether my iPod to it and try that way, but by the time I had worked it out the sun had gone down and the moment was lost. It didn’t stop me having some fun on the internet though and I managed to do some surfing and fire off some emails before fatigue overtook me and I hit the sack for the night.

Summer hols pt. 1

I’ll split our summer holiday into three seperate posts, as I hope that it will divide nicely that way and make for a more pleasurable reading experience. We sure did a lot of driving, 1622 km in all, which was largely endless hours of dull cruising (our iPods thankfully came to the rescue) and there was very little to mention about it, so my posts will instead focus on the three destinations of the roadtrip.

Napier
We got to Napier after a long five hour plus drive, split into two halves by Kate and I, with a light lunch stop half way along the way. We arrived in Napier mid afternoon, checked into our lodge, which exuded distinct overtones of old peoples home (which we should have picked up on there and then), and headed into town to check things out. We spent the best part of two hours wandering around, looking for signs of life, looking for anything that might hint at something interesting for us to do. All the cafes were closed, all the shops were closed, closing or closed down and there didn’t seem to be anything of interest, apart from a solitary vintage car parked by the seafront! Hmmmmm, we were scheduled to spend a whole day and two half days in Napier and things weren’t looking good already. The tourist information centre was closed and our only other source of info was our i devices, which would mean going back to the lodge to have a browse on their speedy wifi. Thankfully we had a list of prospective dinner locations, so we scouted those out with a view to having an early dinner before heading back to our florally scented HQ!
Our dinner shortlist were all either closed for the evening, closed for the day, or bereft of customers, so we fell back on that old adage – look for the place with the most punters in – which just happened to be the local seafood wholesaler with accompanying takeaway shop. What we failed to take into account was that they serve bigger portions outside of the big cities, so our two crumbed fish, two battered fish, one chips and one wedges turned into a feast suitable for six! We headed for the nearest park bench and were immediately joined by a host of hungry, noisy seagulls, who obviously had their dinner routine honed to a fine art. We made a heroic effort, but could never hope to finish the mountain of food we had ordered, so left our avian audience to the leftovers, if they could extract them from the nearby bin.

Next day we headed back into town to have breakfast and were surprised to find quite a few tourists milling around. They were, by and large, American, middle class, in their 60s and being led around by locals dressed up in apparel from the 1930s and 40s. I guess that would account for the ambience in our lodge then, and the fact that Napier seemed so bland and dull. After breakfast we wandered around some more, hoping that a new day would shed a new light on Napier, but by midday we had given up and decided to give the tourist office a go, in the hope that they could liven things up. We had already planned to take in some wineries in the afternoon, so asked them to name their top three choices. One of them happened to be on our list of good places to eat, so we decided to kill two birds with one stone and headed off to Craggy Range Winery for lunch.

Terroir @ Craggy Range Winery
I had already read the Cuisine review, and we were both excited by the blurb on their website, so it was an easy choice to make for a simple, but well considered lunch:

‘When we created Terrôir we were inspired by the classic French bistro that is relaxed, where it’s not about frost or foam, but more about a great piece of protein and quality fresh local produce. We have an organic vegetable patch and much of the produce is from our own garden. We’ll always have a one-pot dish or a shared plate for two on the menu, such as coq au vin or a rack of veal or a great shoulder of lamb. It’s a grand and magnificent setting, but we’re very much about relaxed country food and the feeling of sharing a memorable meal.’

We both like eating out for lunch at fine dining restaurants, as we much prefer starters to mains and like to order two starters and a dessert each, rather than the usual three course meals. There always seems to be much more imagination shown with starters and desserts, rather than main courses, even when the menus are simple ones. So, without further ado, I’ll detail what we ate.

Terroir 1Kate – Watermelon, soft goats cheese, olives and basil
Nothing new here, but a delicious, fresh, vibrant dish to start her meal. The watermelon was juicy and refreshing, the goats cheese young and bursting with flavour, the olives deep and rich and the basil adding its flavour to the main trio of ingredients. The salad was dressed simply in olive oil and lemon juice, but all the ingredients were so fresh and perfect that the whole dish just sang. Paired with a glass of their Sauvignon Blanc and Kate was off to a flyer!
Rob – Anchovies, tomato sorbet, potato crisps
Wow! What a dish! The ingredients came in three distinct areas of the plate. The anchovies in a little dish of their own, the sorbet in its own little bowl, the potato crisps in a little basket of their own. A wedge of lemon accompanied the anchovies which I duly squeezed over them, then dove in, stacking the ingredients into little ‘open sandwiches’ before consuming. First the lemon juice hit the front of my palette, then the hot paprika sprinkled on the potato crisps, then the tomato sorbet, which turned out to be smoked tomato sorbet, then the rich fishiness at the back of the palette. I loved it, especially when paired with the same Sav that Kate had.

Kate – Crumbed boar belly, caramelised verjus apple
Four deep, rich. meaty croquettes of wild boar, with thin slithers of apple to accompany them. Crisp and golden on the outside, juicy strips of pulled boar leaking out onto the plate when cut into. To be honest, we both thought the dish could have done with some sort of remoulade or salad to cut through the richness of the dish, but Kate washed it down anyway with a lovely glass of the house Chardonnay.
Rob – Wild rabbit and pork country terrine, brioche, pickles
I’m a sucker for terrine and can rarely look past something meaty for my second course. I’ve got a handful of awesome terrine recipes and I always like to compare terrines I have eating out to the flavour memories I have stored in my head and this terrine stacked up well. Meaty and moist, well balanced and perfectly seasoned, it was accompanied by a nice trio of pickled cornichons, pickled onions and pickled walnuts. We drove past a small farm selling cornichons and pickling onions on the way to the winery, so can only presume that they sourced the ingedients there, which is always a nice touch. The terrine was paired with their house Pinot Noir, which went down a treat, even if it was a roasting afternoon

Kate – Textures of lemon with fromage blanc sorbet and meringue
It looked like it had snowed in Kate’s plate when they presented it, a pure white mound of ingredients. The dish comprised of a ball of fromage blanc sorbet, surrounded by shaved meringue, diced lemon jelly, lemon honey, lemon mousse and the delicate white flower petals of lemon balm. Once again Kate went for the light, refreshing dish and she was in heaven eating it. We decided to share a glass of Noble 06 dessert wine, which matched well with both our puds.
Rob – Hay tart, rhubarb, white chocolate, strawberry sorbet
Hay tart intrigued me and I couldn’t look past it on the menu. It turned out (as we both guessed) to be a custard tart made by infusing lightly roasted hay in a custard, then straining it and baking it. It had a really nutty, creamy, sweet and rich, yet mellow, flavour and made a divine mouthful when combined with the other ingredients. Once again the different flavours coming to the fore as they were consumed and swallowed! I just love dessert wines, so it’s no surprise to say that I enjoyed may half glass too!

We spent three lazy hours over this delicious lunch and thoroughly enjoyed our time. So much so that we didn’t want to leave, even though we were the last ones there by quite a margin. We contented ourselves with a wander around the public areas, before heading back to town for what remained of the afternoon.

2014-03-11 16.10.35

We followed another adage of ours for dinner. Either splurge or go for takeaways, so we headed to the nearest Carls Junior for a burger, fries and soda for dinner. A far cry from our delicious lunch, but at least you know what you’re getting.

The next morning we headed back to town for breakfast, then returned to our lodge to pack, ready for the next leg of our trip and our first walk. We only got to go to the one winery while in Napier, but I think we struck gold, so it was definitely a case of quality, not quantity!