Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sun, a Hike, and Merry Christmas!

Christmas Eve 2010
Oakura, NZ

Happily, the sun came back to us for the day yesterday! We got a nice warm, if windy, day in the midst of all the rain (which is back today) and took full advantage by spending most of it outside! We hit the beach at Weld Road just before noon, at the highest of high tides I've ever seen there. The full moon is making the tides very extreme, and the ocean was invading the river and leaving very little beach out of the water. It was sunny and blowing 12-15 knots, and throwing out some crazy waves and currents. Matt headed out for a surf, but the conditions were beyond my ability. With the river too deep to wade across, I found a back way across a bridge and through a paddock to get to the south side of the river mouth, where I sat in the hot sand and watched the surfers and the waves.
(Click on photos to enlarge)

 Crossing the paddock, a not uncommon way to access the surf in New Zealand!

 Carpark and river mouth at Weld Road. Gorgeous, eh?

 VERY high tide!

With the surf not particularly manageable, we decided after lunch to take a hike we'd been meaning to do for some time, but needed to be done on a clear day. We drove up into Egmont National Park, literally across the road (if you look at a map of Taranaki, you will see that the national park is perfectly circular around the mountain, except for a blobby bit on the northwest side- that bit reaches to about 800 metres from the Wavehaven). We went up Lucy's Gully to the trailhead for the hike up to Patuhua, the highest point in the Kaitake Range, some of the foothills of Mt. Taranaki. On a side note, we recently found out that Lucy's Gully is named after an old Maori woman called Lucy, who lived in this area from 1820-1916. Her husband and son were buried in the woods just across the road from here, and every year Lucy would make the trip from Oakura to keep a solitary tangi (funeral observance) at the site, then would recover from the ordeal with her friend who lived in this very house. We've heard tell that her spirit actually is still around, and there have been a number of guests over the years who have seen her ghost in the back bedroom- which happens to be ours! No worries, though- by all accounts, she was quite a cool lady, doted on all the local children and was a very strong character, so would be quite a positive spirit to have around :) When she passed away in the early 20th century, she was buried up in the gully next to her husband and son.

The hike we took yesterday is a loop track, with a spur up to the summit of Patuha. It turned out to be quite a gnarly trek, but well worth it for the views and for the exercise! It was almost all through the dense native bush, full of crazy vines, tree ferns, and loads of songbirds, New Zealand pigeons, and tuis.

 If you enlarge this photo, you will see me up at the top- the trail was VERY step almost all the way up, and slippery from the recent rain. Luckily, some kind soul had left two nice hiking sticks at the trailhead, which we used and then left in turn for the next trampers.

 Matt, off-roading.

 View of Oakura Village from about a third of the way up.

Loads of amazing fungi on the trees.

It was about an hour and a half of uphill hiking to get up to the top. We didn't manage to make it all the way to the summit- we were totally knackered when we hit a rocky open area with fantastic views, and decided to call it good, since we had a pretty decent hike to get back down!

 Not bad for the 23rd of December!

 Matt, keeping Portland weird, as usual. 

 New Plymouth, from the top.

 Patuha, with Mt. Taranaki hiding behind it.

An immense erratic and landslip in the gully below the summit.

At some points, the trail was a bit hard to find. Can you tell where it is in this photo?
Matt of the jungle. 

On the way down, via the other side of the loop, we came around a corner not too far above the trailhead, and found ourselves in a gorgeous redwood grove, with a completely open understory, far different from the thick, tangled bush we spent most of the hike in. We had a major moment of "Hey, wait- are we in California?"

It was almost 7 pm, and the evening light coming through the trees was incredible. 

It felt absolutely wonderful to get outside, and to give my body a good workout, even if it was a bit steeper than we bargained for! It felt like a really nice Christmas present, and Matt and I agreed that we felt pretty intrepid, and were grateful for the opportunity to take a hike that is not catered to tourists and is pretty far off the beaten track. What a way to spend one of the longest days of the year!

And with that, today is Christmas Eve and tomorrow morning we will head up to Merv & Michele's for a day and night to celebrate in true Kiwi fashion, while missing all of our family back home. We feel so grateful to have a bit of a surrogate family here in New Zealand, and also grateful that the forecast is calling for a clear and sunny Christmas Day before the rain really sets in again! Here's wishing you all a wonderful holiday, however you celebrate and whoever you may be celebrating with. May you all spend the day in good company, hopefully with lots of joy and laughter! 

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