The Abel Tasman Tramp or the shortest and scariest tramp of my life

I was scheduled to tramp the Abel Tasman track from north to south starting Wednesday December 14 and ending on Saturday December 17, covering 54.4 km. The weather forecast was not good, rain for most of my tramp. But I was prepared to tramp it anyways as it was my only time to go. I made it 5.5 km or 1.5 hours in before I got stuck at the north end of the park in Golden Bay at Whariwharangi Hut on Wednesday morning. It was raining steadily all morning, and I was prepared to push on to Awaroa, 13 km from that point, where I was supposed to stay for the night. However, two Canadians that got dropped off with me at the Wainui carpark had stopped and chatted with the Department of Conservation ranger (which I should have done). They told me that Awaroa inlet could not be safely crossed that evening at low tide due to all the rain. Awaroa hut is on the other side of the inlet that takes 20 minutes to cross, and can only be crossed 2 hours either side of low tide. Apparently, this rule only holds true when the weather is good and not in flooding conditions. There was no other hut between Whariwharangi and Awaroa, just a campground at Totaranui; and I wasn’t carrying a tent. So I was stuck at the hut for the rest of the day to wait out the weather. Turns out, I wasn’t the only one in the same situation. There was already a group of 5 kayakers from Auckland that were traveling south from Golden Bay and the seas were too rough to kayak so they had stashed their kayaks at Mutton Cove and hiked to the hut.  Also in the afternoon a guy from Poland showed up wanting to stay at the hut. He had been camping for several nights, and was sick of being constantly wet.

We were having a grand time at the hut after dinner roasting marshmallows on the fire. Then nightfall arrived on Wednesday and things got bad. Whariwharangi hut just happens to sit between two rivers, one of which crested at some point in the evening. Around 7:30 PM there was a new river gushing down the trail right next to the hut. The water quickly rose and the guys from Auckland brought in two ‘mud bags’ to stick in front of the back door to the hut. The DOC hut warden, Lois, arrived and told us to move our stuff and ourselves upstairs. So we did and piled into one of the bedrooms overlooking the raging river. I was not happy about staying in this hut overnight with the river rising that rapidly, especially since part of the first floor was flooded. Not too long after that, Lois recommended that the 7 of us move to her hut. The DOC staff hut was on higher ground and had only one river next to it. So we packed up as fast as we could. I stuffed my gear in my pack liner and left my pack and boots at the tramper’s hut because we were in a big rush to get out of there. I was really hoping the hut was still going to be there in the morning. It was pouring down rain as we made our way to the staff hut, which was located in back of the tramper’s hut. I was very relieved to arrive at the staff hut because it was warm, dry, and had proper lighting. The staff hut had solar power for lighting and heating water, a wood burning stove for heat, a kitchen complete with small refrigerator, a bathroom with a shower, and 4 bunks with extra mattresses. It looked like the Ritz hotel compared to the ‘rustic’ tramper’s hut we had just evacuated from. And we had enough mattresses for everyone to sleep on. It was very cozy that night…except for all the slips heard during the night. (Slip is New Zealand terminology for landslide).

Thursday morning arrived and it was still raining, but not as hard. Lois went out to the beach to make a cell phone call, which was the only place with reception. So we waited, but the guy from Poland packed up and left to head to the Wainui carpark. He didn’t make it very far before being forced to turn around. The track was full of slips, debris, downed trees, water, and was basically a treacherous mess in either direction. Lois arrived back and informed us that the roads were still closed to Wainui and Totaranui, effectively stranding us until the rain abated. She also told us that Sea Shuttle, one of the water taxi companies had evacuated about 50 trampers from the track further south. Unfortunately, the water taxis don’t go this far north. The guys made a run back to Mutton cove for more supplies for their group. They arrived back safe and sound, but said there were a lot of slips to navigate around and most of the track was underwater. So we were stuck at the hut for another day with a whole lot of doing nothing.  The good news was that the tramper’s hut survived so I went back to retrieve my pack and boots. It now looked like an abandoned shack, and the landscape had changed. There was a ton of silt and mud up to the door of the hut. And according to Lois, 195 mm of rain had fallen in 24 hours at the hut. In the evening, we formulated a plan for Friday. If the road to Wainui carpark was open, we would hike up the track as a group (which is where I had come in from) to Wainui carpark where we could get the bus out.

 

 

Friday arrived with clear skies and sun. I swear the weather was just mocking us at that point. Lois went to the beach for another cell phone call, and came back and told us that DOC was sending a boat from Pohara to evacuate us from the track because the track was impassable in both directions. I liked this idea much more than hiking back up the track. So we packed up our stuff and went to the beach to wait. DOC sent a little water taxi that had to make two trips to collect everyone. Once we arrived in Pohara we transferred to a car, which then dropped us off at the Takaka visitor center. I then caught a bus back to Nelson, and went straight to DOC to get a refund on my hut passes.

 

 

All in all, it was an adventure, just not one I would have chosen. I am very grateful to DOC and to Lois for keeping me and everyone else safe during the ordeal.

North Island..Redux

I’m back on the North Island for another week, this time for work.

I am doing another internship, based in Christchurch, with Lincoln Ventures. Lincoln Ventures is owned by Lincoln University, which is a suburb of Christchurch. This is a vastly different environment that Otago University. Lincoln’s main industry is agriculture, which is a new area of research for me. There are farms everywhere around Lincoln. I just finished assisting with a field study in Te Puke, which the locals call “the kiwifruit capital of the world.” Cartoon kiwis on wheels present safety signs to drivers, which are pretty funny looking. Both green and gold kiwi fruit are grown here. I have never been to an orchard before, and it was an interesting experience. Kiwifruit is a vine crop so it grows above your head. My supervisor and I basically tagged along on Zespri’s study and to gather some baseline data for a much bigger project in March. In this study, the study directors were interested in testing the efficiency of four different sprayers, including an electrostatic sprayer from the U.S. That one is interesting because it releases charged particles, which then supposedly adhere to the crop surface more efficiently than traditional sprayers, thus making for a more productive harvest.

Gold kiwi orchard in Te Puke

During the study, there were no pesticides being sprayed. I wouldn’t have participated if there had been. Only water mixed with a fluorescent dye was present in the sprayers. The experimental design allowed for 16 different treatments, which was quite a lot given that the test areas were not that large. The main interest was to visualize and quantify where the spray ended up; and this was done by collecting water sensitive papers, which show how spray is dispersed, and collecting leaves from the vines. My job was to wash the leaves collected from the vines. The idea behind this is that the spray ends up on the leaves, and by washing the leaves, the fluorescent dye washes off and can then be analyzed in the lab to see how much dye ended up on the leaves. My supervisor is more interested in spray drift, which occurs when chemicals are inefficiently sprayed on plants; there is loss to the air. Spray drift has a lot of human and environmental concerns; and there are many questions. Where does the drift end up? How far does it travel? How can we reduced spray drift? These are the questions Lincoln Ventures is interested in. Obviously, it is best to try to reduce spray drift when spraying. Unfortunately, we were not able to measure spray drift in the study due to the experimental design, but we were able to collect leaf wash. The main objective of our collaborators was to test the efficiency of the four sprayers due to the problem of PSA. PSA is a bacteria that was introduced about a year ago and destroys the leaves from the kiwi vines. The theory is that the bacteria was introduced from Italy in the form of pollen about a year ago. It is particularly virulent in that most of the kiwi orchards have already been infected and poses a major threat the industry. Introduced species in an environment are never a good thing. Ultimately this project was interesting, in that I got to observe the opposite end of my research spectrum in the form of agriculture and the application of pesticides rather than environmental effects of pesticides.

Up next: More tramping. This time on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, which is the most popular walk in New Zealand. Yeah, I really shouldn’t be tramping it this time of year, but it’s the only time I have available.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

View of Auckland from Mount Eden