Sunday, April 29, 2012


The Big Bush Adventure had it roots in a casual conversation last year between friends when Cat declared to Bottoms one day, “We should get Active.”

“Active?” said Bottoms, always suspicious of Cat’s plans. She was also confused. Was Active some sort of washing powder Cat was recommending they try? “What do you mean? What kind of ‘Active’ do you have in mind?”

“What about a nice walk? Loosen up the muscles, clear the brain, excite the senses!”  Cat danced around the room to demonstrate how exciting she found the prospect.

Bottoms gave the matter some thought and after a few weeks of procrastination, finally agreed to participate in some ‘Active’.  Arrangements were made to meet up to take a walk through the Botanical Gardens. And so they did.  After a cuppa at the kiosk, they set off through the well-tended trails, admiring the wonderful flowers.  They even took a bus ride around the Gardens, entertained by a not very knowledgeable driver before setting off once more on foot.  Unfortunately, Bottoms had just finished working nights and was not really up to strenuous exercise on such a tropical day.  When she recovered from the heat stroke, she swore off activities of all kinds.

Several months later, after Bottoms had forgotten the agony of boiled brain, Cat once more suggested some activity, proposing a long walk around the Scenic Rim. Seduced by the name of the area, Bottoms eventually agreed, imagining the two of them chasing butterflies through meadows of clover and even bought a new camera to capture the anticipated antics.

            The appointed day dawned grey and drizzly so Bottoms closed her eyes, wanting to burrow deep under the doona and forget about the whole thing but Cat was insistent.  “Let’s go! English muffins with lashings of marmalade all round,” she trilled and off they went, delivered to their destination in Cat’s car, aided by the nagging voice of the GPS (“You are over the speed limit”). Cat’s lead foot got them to the meeting point in good time to greet the rest of the Clan (Burn, Tink and Rid) who would be accompanying them on the trek.  Their guide was Possum, whose bright eyes and bushy tail were in stark contrast to the jaded, tired faces of some of the Clan.  Several expert bushwalkers were also joining the group which made Cat and Bottoms feel a little under qualified, however, they put on their brave faces as the group advanced upwards into the dripping forest.

            Gradually, Cat and Bottoms fell back to the rear of the pack despite Cat’s best efforts to overtake her younger brother, Burn.  She could only hope their wheezing and gasping would put him off his stride by making him feel sorry for her.  It didn’t work.  Burn’s long legs carried him further ahead, or perhaps it was that Cat’s short legs seemed to trip on every exposed tree root or stone.  The wet, slippery leaf litter underfoot didn’t help either but Cat kept up her spirits by cracking jokes and entertaining the group.

            Possum expertly lead the group onwards and upwards.   After what seemed like two hours of hard slog, Bottoms asked, “Are we there yet?” Titters of amusement ran along the group. “We’ve only been on the trail for 30 minutes,” said Possum. Bottoms was shocked into silence.

 “Thirty minutes?” she thought, “That can’t be right.”  Checking her watch, she saw it was indeed only 30 minutes ago that they had gamely started their journey into the unknown.  In some convoluted way time seemed to have stood still for her. She brushed perspiration out of her eyes, adjusted her demon backpack (inexplicably able to weigh more than it contained), squared her already square shoulders and pushed on.

            Ahead, Cat also trudged on gamely and resolutely, eventually passing a couple of other stragglers; she did not want to be last back to the cars.   
 Bottoms decided to take more photographs of the wonders that unfolded, despite her jelly legs and shaking hands and slowly she became detached from the conga line winding its way ever upwards as she stopped to record this and that.

 “Almost like a fairyland,” she thought as she recorded the lichen and moss hanging from trees like shrouds. But like all fairylands, there were monsters.  
Leeches everywhere reached out and latched onto passing legs, eager to suck the blood from their prey.  The fiends were adroit at winkling their way onto any unprotected skin and it was a constant battle to keep them out.  Some hikers succumbed, including Possum, but bravely carried on. Bottoms shuddered at the thought of the slimy, black vampires on her skin. 

Possum appeared up ahead ,checking on the slow coaches and cried out, “Come on. I’ll boil the billy at the top,” so that all would be uplifted with the thought of a nice hot cuppa.  In the dripping rainforest it was difficult to tell if it was actually raining and Bottoms was glad of her shady hat which was keeping her hair in check as well as doing a jolly good job as umbrella, of sorts.  

Finally, there was a break in the rainforest canopy and the whole of the Fassifern Valley was spread out below them, although clouds were rapidly moving in. “We must be there now,” thought Bottoms as she took another photograph.  But no.  She heard Possum urging them on, “Not too far now.”

After another week, or perhaps 30 minutes, they finally reached the summit.  Alas, there was no view at all as the cloud cover had moved right over the top of the mountain.  After consultation, it was decided to have that much yearned for cuppa further below.  

Cat and Bottoms were not included in the consultation but could see that with visibility so restricted it might not be in their best interests to stay too much longer staring at...  well, nothing, just white.

The line of hikers upped stakes and continued their hellish trek downwards, trying to keep upright while the slick, leaf mulch underfoot conspired to trip them up (or down).  Rid had fallen back and, ever the gentleman, was on hand when help was needed.  Then, suddenly they were a group again as Possum halted progress and waited for the rest of the group to catch up.

“This is where we leave the trail.  If you don’t think you can continue, this is the point to return to the cars.  This is not a trail but a route, which is occasionally taken by walkers. It’s much steeper than the trail down the mountain.  We’ll break for lunch and tea not  far from here.”

No one left the group.  In Bottoms’ case, because she didn’t have a car.  Where Cat went, she went and Cat’s car was at the end of the walk.  “Easy to moderate, be blowed,” she thought as she slid downwards, following the route taken by Possum.  

            Walking ahead of Cat, Bottoms turned back when she heard a loud “Oof!” to see poor Cat struggling to pick herself up after ending up A over T, her backside coming to rest on a rock.  “That’ll be a bruise,” Cat muttered as Rid helped her up, once she caught her breath.

Mike, one of the experienced hikers, kindly offered one of his walking sticks which Bottoms declined.  “It doesn’t seemed to have helped Cat at all,” she thought as she pointed out more fungi in the bush. "At least some guys are having fun," commented Cat.  

A little further on, Bottoms reversed her decision about the stick as her feet somehow took on a life of their own, leaving her sitting on her derriere instead of standing.  “Fish!” she yelled.

“Where?” said Cat, licking her lips.

“I’m just trying to clean up my language, thank you,” replied Bottoms as she gratefully accepted the walking stick again offered by Mike.  She was to end up on her bum once more on the treacherous walk down but it could have been more often without the stick.

Finally, Possum stopped, declaring it lunch time and set up the camp stove to boil the billy.  Everyone chose places to sit to consume what lunches they’d brought.  Cat didn’t notice she’d chosen a spot sprinkled liberally with cow dung which caused high amusement for Bottoms as she consumed her protein bar which had no taste except for oil and sugar.

The wretched camp stove ran out of gas and a few half cups of lukewarm water was all it produced. Bottoms scored one and reflected that it was a very expensive cuppa really given that she was using her own tea bag and had lost the first $40 she’d put aside to pay for the walk.  The tea’s restorative powers were somewhat reduced by the thought.

Mike discovered about then that Cat had been attacked by a leech which he managed to pull off her neck.  “Definitely vampire leeches then,” thought Bottoms while Possum applied a bandaid.  The leech incident came shortly after Cat discovered a red and black spider in her pack.  Later, a fat leech would drop off her leg, leaving her sock bloodied but her spirit unharmed.

Possum said that at the rate they were going, the walk may not finish until dark. The thought of trekking at night in that environment struck terror to Bottoms’ heart and she vowed to finish the walk before dusk; at least you could see the fiends in the daylight.  Torches were on the list of essentials for the walk and it was at this point Cat remarked that with their bright, red faces acting like beacons, they wouldn’t be needing them. And so the neverending walk continued, after everyone checked their packs for more unwanted passengers; several leeches got the flick.  Following an undignified scramble under a barbed wire fence, the walk followed a 4WD track, parts of which were more like a road. The walking was easier and they could walk several abreast, with gentle rises and dips along the way. 
The next ‘fiend’ was discovered off to the side of the track. A big carpet snake was quietly digesting whatever his last meal consisted of. He didn’t stir as nearly everyone took photos of him. Bottoms decided right then that bush walking was not her new hobby.  On the slip and slide down the mountainside, they had walked over many dead logs and stumps, any one of which could have harboured these creatures; perhaps even a deadly brown.  The thought made her break out in a cold sweat.  Exertion could have caused the sweating, of course.

More horror was to follow for Bottoms.  Just as they were crossing a creek full of treacherous stepping stones, she felt an itch on her shoulder.  It was a tick which must have dropped on her from any one of the branches they had pushed past.  Possum extracted it with some tiny tweezers and the walk continued.  Bottoms had been a victim of tick bite before so knew what to expect as the site of the bite begain to swell, burn and itch.

After 30 minutes or so of a reasonably enjoyable walk, the last part of the hike was ever upwards again.  Cat and Bottoms were soon left at the back of the pack, finding it hard going as they navigated deep, muddy ruts.  Sometimes it was almost one step forward and two back as they collected large clumps of mud on their shoes.  Possum fell back to walk with them, no doubt worried they would wander off into the bush and get lost.  She didn’t know the two friends very well so did not know how determined they were to finish the trek. "We weren't in the senior service for nothing," Cat muttered to Bottoms.  "Sail on."     

The sight of the other walkers resting while they waited for the two friends was a great lift to Cat and Bottoms; as well as the sign saying it was a 3. 2km return trip to the carpark.  So only 1.6km to the car!  Another easy walk as it turned out, although Cat somehow managed to ignore the point 6 and after walking for a while, complained it was the longest kilometre she’d ever walked.  Bottoms and Rid impishly pointed out that the walk was, in fact, 1.6km and they’d only done the point 6.

Bottoms skipped ahead and took more photos while Rid and Cat brought up the rear so was the first of the trio to see the car park, seven hours after starting out.  

“Cat!  I can see the cars!” yelled Bottoms.  

“Hallelujah!” replied Cat as she began to dance with relief and excitement.  Perhaps dance is too stong a word; Cat began to shuffle in excitement.  Bottoms decided she could have walked another kilometre (similar to the last level track; not uphill) and was surprised at how good she felt.  She kindly allowed Cat to go through the carpark gate ahead of her.  She and Cat agreed that even though it was a hard walk, they were glad they’d completed it, feeling it was a real accomplishment for two fairly unfit, almost elderly females.  Possum expressed her delight, and let’s face it, surprise, that they had done so well.  The heavens opened up shortly afterwards and all were glad their ordeal had already finished.

The Clan met at a local coffee shop before the drive home for a debrief, catch up and a hot drink.  Cat also ravished a raspberry slice because she needed to keep her strength up for the long drive in the rain while being berated by the GPS.  On their way home, Bottoms announced a few revelations for future use:

1. Always read the fine print while wearing reading glasses; eg ‘12km walk’ was not ‘1. 2km walk’.
2. Don’t always believe the fine print: running shoes may not be adequate footwear for hiking.
3.  Protein bars are not real food.
4.  Bushwalking is not to be taken lightly and not without a walking stick. 
5.  Next walk will NOT be the Kokoda trail.  That bush adventure would make this one look like a doddle.
6.  It’s good to be alive.
 Copyright SMG 2012, some names were changed to protect the innocent and provide comic relief, no animals were harmed in the production of this article and poetic licence was liberally used. Unless otherwise stated photographs were taken by SMG and are owned by

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Just a normal day on the steamboat wharf....

Another local we met, obviously drunk, legless anyway.

Spot the tourist...

Mt Taranaki also known as Mt Egmont, spotted from the plane on the way to Auckland to catch our flight home.  Amazing isn't it?

Until next time....

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Sunday started out cloudy and we were concerned that our much awaited trip to Fjiordland would be wet and miserable.  Fortunately, the closer we got, the finer it became.  In fact, by the return home we were quite hot, mainly because we dressed for the cool of Queenstown.  We took the bus there, thinking at least we'd both get to see everything on the way which was the case but didn't stop to think if we'd driven to Te Anau and caught a bus from there, we'd have been able to stop at our leisure, at least on the way home, to take any shots we wanted rather than be at the mercy of the most boring bus driver in the world.  Ah well, such is life and who knows? We may have been better off.  We would dearly have loved to have photographed several of the wild flowers we saw from the bus along the way or find out what the white fluffy stuff caught in various bushes was.  Spider webs? Tufts of wool?  Mould?
First photo stop was Mirror Lakes.

This moss looks like a barrister's wig. Or maybe some mystical creature...

Ducks enjoying Mirror Lakes.

 You can see where the Lakes get their name.

Next stop, somewhere near Mt Crosscut and Mt Christina. Those are hanging glaciers up high.

Even shots from the bus are picturesque.  Babbling brooks abound, although the driver assured me this was a river; the Hollyford River.

Homer Tunnel, read about it here.  It's avalanche country around here.

This is the remains of an avalanche which fell last winter right near the tunnel entrance and has lasted through summer.

Just near the marina as we set sail is Bowen Falls, one of the 2 permanent falls in the Sound.

A bit of whimsy: doesn't this shadow look like Sherlock Holmes just left stage right?

First sighting of promised wildlife.  Fat New Zealand fur seals. A shame they aren't more colourful or chose lighter coloured rocks.

These are juvenile male fur seals who get kicked off the first rock to make their own way in the world.

 Gulls diving for a feed.  Look at the colour of the water!

 More gulls, near the entrance to Milford Sound.

Turn left and next stop is South Pole!  Well, perhaps an exaggeration....

 More sparkling water.  Perfect, if only a dolphin had come to visit. Just after this they said 2 penguins were swimming around but we couldn't spot them.  

 Captain Cook missed the entrance to the Sound and travelled much further south before finding safe harbour.

 Stirling Falls, the bigger of the 2 permanent falls. 

 The boats go right up to the wall and you get wet if you're on the top deck. There's a legend that females who get wet in the mist wake next morning looking younger.  I have to report that didn't happen....  
to us anyway.

 Loved the look of the mist on the water though.  Next stop Queenstown and Australia next morning, much packing to do.

Our last sunset in Queenstown.  In fact, the first we saw as we were usually inside eating when the sun set around 8.15pm.


Day 4 we were at a bit of a loose end as we'd been promised a helicopter ride if they could manage it seeing as that leg of yesterday's challenge had been cancelled.  We hung around the hotel for a while but by 10am it was obvious they weren't going to call. We found out later that all flights out of Queenstown had been grounded due to high winds.  So what to do?
Pam had cunningly found a voucher in one of the info booklets that gave us $10 each off the cost of the Kiwi Birdlife Park so off we went.  It's situated near the bottom of the gondola ride and is a fair hike up the hill to get there but as we'd managed it okay on Day 3, we decided we could only benefit from the exercise.  My knees held up well too.
Remember I said to use your imagination for the shots taken Friday on that overcast day?  This one was taken  from near the Birdlife park on Saturday.  Much better colours don't you think?
First up was a Conservation show given by a conservation officer (Irishman!) and we found out all about how the horrible possums which are so despised by New Zealanders were first brought over by New Zealanders.  Hah!  There is a thriving possum fur trade now in an effort to get their numbers down as they... brace yourselves... actually eat baby kiwis and the eggs as well.  Prior to their arrival there were no mammal predators in the land of the Long White Cloud.  We donated to the fund and Pam actually bought some possum fur products before we left Queenstown as a percentage of the products goes to the Conservation Fund.  We did see some kiwis which are nocturnal but were unable to take photos of them. The Park keeps them in big sheds where the lighting is the reverse of the real world. They fossick around in the litter so that tourists can appreciate them but when the park closes, special lighting comes on so they go to sleep while we sleep.  They lay HUGE eggs; the largest egg in relation to their body size of any other bird in the world. It's enough to make your eyes water.  The chicks they rear at the Park are released into the wild once they are a couple of years old because they would be unable to fight off possums or stoats (more introduced predators) before then.
Clever little Red-crowned Parakeet or Kakariki which did lots of tricks for us.
This happy fellow is the tuatara, apparently a living fossil or throwback to the days of the dinosaur.
 They don't do much and move very slowly.
This is a New Zealand pigeon and which is the second largest pigeon in the world.
After the show we wandered around the park and saw many of the local residents.  This is a Paradise Shelduck . Very striking with their piebald appearance.
I didn't take notes, trusting the old memory, so not entirely sure of this beauty's name. They are green gecko's (Duh!) but I think it said South Auckland gecko...
 We thought these critters were salmon but found out they are trout. Ugly looking fish facially (I know, very unkind of me) but their pretty pink underbellies make up for that. And, of course, they'd be delicious!
I seem to lack the ability to take a decent shot of New Zealand birds other than ducks. Most of them are just brilliant blurs; hopefully Pam got some better snaps.  This is the tui which was slightly more cooperative, beautiful singers and are expert mimics. 
Wondered what this beauty's name is; the hover fly seems to be on good terms with it.
I dubbed this trio "Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil". They are Scaup which are very cute and great divers.  We watched them a lot on the lake where they pop up all the time having been fossicking around on the bottom the whole time you'd been standing there watching the other ducks.

After our visit to the Park we had lunch, wandered around the markets and found some cakes to buy...

(cakes of soap! Aren't they beautiful?) 

Taken at Armisfield Winery

We then took a drive in the country and visited a winery on the way.  Of course, one could only have a tiny taste of the wines on offer as one was driving.  Lovely countryside and the driving is easy though. 
Home for dinner at Winnies again although we didn't pick anyone up this time and managed to spend the whole voucher by ourselves.  We started with cocktails this time.  Pam had a beautiful blue concoction called "Illusion" and I had a "Toffee Apple".  Both absolutely delicious but being the forgetful dills we are, didn't think to take snapshot of them.  Home to bed to get ready for our  big day out to Milford Sound...