NZ2020: Day 13, Ben Lomond hike

February 6, 2020

After two days of being sidetracked by flooding, heavy rain and road damage, the road north was opening for limited time windows while being repaired. We departed from Te Anau at 5:30 am to drive to Queenstown. We waited in the dawn at Five Rivers for the 7 am opening.

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Queue waiting for the partially flooded road to open

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Sunrise with llamas

We arrived at the Queenstown Skyline Gondola on schedule for the 9 am opening.

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A ten minute gondola ride took us up the first 1500 feet of the Ben Lomond trail.

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Great views from the Upper Gondola complex.

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Views below to Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu

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We still had about 4 miles, and 3400 feet to hike to the top of Ben Lomond. We started up, through sun, mist, and a little rain. The weather got better through the day, but many of the surrounding mountains retained a high cloud cover. The cooler temperature was perfect though, as it gets warm hiking continually up. This was a challenging hike for me! We took a steady pace, with rests.

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Lower trail. Ben Lomond is the high peak on the skyline.

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Looking back toward Lake Wakatipu.

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Getting closer to our destination.

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First we have to get to the saddle,

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then up the rocky and steeper ridge.

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Looking back down at the saddle.

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Up the rocky section, with mist wafting in and out.

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A feral goat below on the rocky crags.

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The last steep pitch…

At the top, my relief of making it to the peak was almost completely sidetracked by the surprise of finding mountain parrots at the summit!

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Kea, or mountain parrot, perched on the summit cliff of Ben Lomond.

There were five or six of these large birds (about 18 inches tall), flying around, undaunted by the people, and fairly aggressively scrounging for hiker lunch crumbs. I am accustomed to seeing marauding chipmunks where I come from, so this was an unexpected reward for the last three hours of steady upward effort.

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Kea and hikers on summit of Ben Lomond

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Kea, metamorphic rocks

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Kea, flashing orange back feathers while flying.

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Face close up

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Mists rolling in

I watched the keas for a while, and rested, while clouds rolled in and out from the steep southern cliffs. We looked around as much as possible before beginning the hike down. I would have liked to stay longer, but it was very cold and windy.

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Lake Wakatipu

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Clouds wafting across

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The view!

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Southern alps to the west

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Starting down – view back to The Remarkables and Queenstown, with our trail in view.

(Geology interlude) As we looked back toward Queenstown on our return hike, I noticed the effects of the rain on the rivers downstream from Lake Wakatipu. The very brown and muddy Shotover River flows into the deep blue Kawarau River (the Lake Wakatipu outlet). Downstream farther, the Kawarau River is muddier in color.  (I saw this happen a long time ago at the confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado Rivers in the Grand Canyon, on a once in a lifetime river trip.)

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Confluence of Shotover and Kawarau Rivers

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Wider view, muddier Kawarau downstream.

We continued down the mountain, on tired and satisfied legs.

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Resting, Southern Alps beyond.

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Clouds have lifted, this peak finally exposed.

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Last look at Ben Lomond

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and the tiny people enjoying the summit.

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The down trail crosses over the luge track at the Gondola Complex.

We took the gondola back down to town, then checked back into the Crowne Plaza Hotel. We had a group dinner in town, and said goodbye to our additional tour members and guide. We still had two more days with our guide Kaleb, and we were going north toward Aoraki/Mt Cook.

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NZ2020: Day 12, Southland improvisation; Te Anau Bird Sanctuary

February 5, 2020

After the previous few days of constant rain, we were happy to see blue sky this morning. The roads in most directions were still closed by flooding. Fortunately, our guides had grown up in the area, and chose some of their favorite places for our day’s adventure in Southland.

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Snow on the mountains near Te Anau

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Today’s route, and stops in Southland.

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Clearing skies above the Southern Alps as we drive south.

Clifden Suspension Bridge

We stopped here to stretch our legs, and to look at the historic bridge over the Waiau River as it continues south to the sea. We had been walking along its banks yesterday near Lake Te Anau.

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Historic Bridge

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Clifden Bridge

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Muddy river – from the recent storms

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The Waiau River is connected all the way upstream to Doubtful Sound.

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Feral rooster

We continued driving south on the Southern Scenic Route, eventually reaching Te Waewae Bay near the mouth of the Waiau River.

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Quintessential New Zealand scenery – sheep and mountains,

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Te Waewae Bay, muddy from the recent storms.

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My Google maps image – showing that I am the closest I have ever been to Antarctica!

We stopped at several beaches and took two longer hill walks while in Southland.

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Southland stops

Gemstone Beach

Once on the coast, we stopped first for a walk at Gemstone Beach.

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Gemstone Beach

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Caves in the sandstone

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seaweed

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beach rocks

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oyster catcher

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sandstone erosion

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Orepuki

By this time, we were ready for a coffee break at the Orepuki Beach Cafe.

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Lovely setting and delicious cakes!

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Monkey Island Beach

We took a short walk at another beautiful beach – at low tide one can walk out to the island.

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Monkey Island Beach

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Monkey Island

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Westward view

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Long Hilly Walking track

Next we went on a short hike on the Long Hilly Walking Track to Round Hill, through historic gold mining areas of the 1870’s.

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Tree fern forest

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Tree fuchsias

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Historic mining ventures

Riverton

We continued our drive along the southern coast to the town of Riverton,

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Riverton, Pourakino River Bridge

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Surfer crossing 

then to a beach cove along the drive to Howell’s Point for our lunch break.

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Cove with picnic bench along Rocks Road

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Lunchtime

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Exploring the cove…

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After lunch, we stopped to see the view to the south from Howell’s Point:

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Bluer water away from the river

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Red billed gulls on the beach

Hilltop Lookout

Next, we took another hill walk over the headland – past cows and Balancing Rock.

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Balancing Rock

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And a cow…

After the hike, we drove back to Te Anau, with our guides keeping touch with the flood status of the roads for tomorrow.

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Driving back through Riverton

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View of the flooding rivers and the southern alps beyond

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Sheep again, and the Tasman Sea

Te Anau Bird Sanctuary

We arrived back in Te Anau with time to visit the Bird Sanctuary. Here was a chance to see some of the endangered birds that are endemic to New Zealand. It was a challenge to get good photos through the chain link fencing.

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Entrance to the Birdpark.

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First, the parakeet/kakarike:

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Next, the parrot/kaka:

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We walked past the lake area, and saw some waterfowl…

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Paradise shelduck

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And last we spent quite a bit of time admiring the flightless Takahe, who were running around free range in their enclosure. There were several adults and a chick. they were very odd and fascinating to watch, and gave us a good final interesting new thing for the day.

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Takahe are about the size of a chicken

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Takahe chick being fed

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Both beaks and feet look formidable!

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Takahe

I enjoyed our improvised day in Southland. It was all new landscape to me, and as with everyday day so far, brought me surprising new views and experiences. Tomorrow, we were returning to our originally scheduled tour, and going back to Queenstown to take a hike up a mountain called Ben Lomond.

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The only kiwi bird we saw at the bird sanctuary. It is extremely rare to see one anywhere, as they are nocturnal and almost extinct. There are a few refuges one can visit, but we did not seen on our trip.

The rest of October, 2021: knitting, neighborhood, more hikes…

A transitional month – the last of the summer flowers, leaves turning and falling, more rain, an atmospheric river event. We got our Covid booster shots, are poised for reentry, again, again, again, again….

Knitting, etc: 

I knitted some little creatures – a gnome, three cats and a witch, and finished a pair of socks. My collection of twelve hats and a cowl are blocked and ready for donation to a local women’s shelter. I sewed potholders and a door light curtain for my daughter.

Around the neighborhood:

Colors of the season:

Two more hikes, besides our Mt Adams and Eagle Creek adventures:

With more frequent rain in western Oregon, we go east of the mountains, beyond the rain shadow. 

10/21/2021 Tom McCall Point, Oregon: Orange oak trees, views of Mt Adams and Mt Hood, and a surprise viewing of a buck near the top of the mountain.

10/27/2021 The Labyrinth, Washington: A saunter with our son through some of my favorite basalt piles and oak groves on an overcast day with sun breaks.

New Zealand Albatross update: The chick Tiaki that I watched in the webcam from the time it was laid as an egg last fall, to its fledging in September 2021, has flown across the South Pacific Ocean to the coast of South America.

And some inspiration for staying positive…

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Internet meme – author unknown.

Our first return to Eagle Creek since the fire of 2017

October 12, 2021  Eagle Creek Trail to Twister Falls

We had been planning to hike all the way to Tunnel and Twister Falls in the autumn of 2017, after the summer crowds cleared out. Alas, the Eagle Creek Fire started on Labor Day weekend that year, scorching 48000 acres of the Columbia River Gorge on the Oregon side of the river. After years of trail maintenance, the Eagle Creek Trail has reopened intermittently this year, occasionally reclosed by landslides. I was wary of hiking this trail, and many of the reopened Gorge trails, for just this reason. Burned trees will fall. Burned, denuded slopes, will slide. And yet… we have been waiting to hike this trail for years.

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Map showing extent of 2017 Eagle Creek Fire. Our trail up Eagle Creek to Twister Falls shown in blue.

The trail extends for 13 miles up Eagle Creek, from the Columbia River, to its outlet on Wahtum Lake (elev. 3700′). We have hiked above this trail, from Wahtum Lake to Chinidere Mountain, many times. And we have hiked the lower trail, past various of the waterfalls, many times before the fire, but never all the way to Twister Falls, which is 6.5 miles from the trailhead.

A notable feature of this trail is that several sections are carved out of the vertical basalt rock walls that line Eagle Creek. Trail ledges were blasted out of the cliffs in the early 1900’s, around the time the old Columbia River Highway was built. People with fear of heights do not like this trail.

We chose a clear fall day, no recent rain, and not windy. Onward!

The trail begins near the banks of Eagle Creek, but mostly stays well above the creek on the east bank.

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Trailhead

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Eagle Creek trail along the cliffs

The trail passes by several waterfalls – we were not stopping much – keeping our end goal in mind.

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Punchbowl Falls

 

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Almost to High Bridge

 

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Loo Wit Falls, near High Bridge

 

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High Bridge, 3.3 miles

 

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Looking down from High Bridge

After crossing High Bridge, the trail is on the west side of Eagle Creek. 

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New undergrowth in the burned forest beyond High Bridge

 

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Skoonichuck Falls –  the farthest we had been on previous hikes.

 

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4.5 Mile Bridge – crossing back to the east side.

 

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Fungi

 

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“Potholes” section

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Grand Union Falls

After 6 miles, we reached the first view of Tunnel Falls:

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Tunnel Falls, East Fork of Eagle Creek, 175 feet.

 

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Approaching the tunnel

 

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View across to the cliffs and ledge trail on the other side

 

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Into the tunnel

 

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Looking up at the lip from the other side

 

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Fern-lined trail ahead

 

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My husband took this photo of me after I walked through the tunnel.

We continued around the corner, and upstream another quarter mile to Twister Falls:

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Twister Falls, West Fork of Eagle Creek, 148 feet.

 

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We couldn’t really get a good look at the full drop of this waterfall from the cliffside trail.

 

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Eagle Creek, just above Twister Falls.

We found a quiet place beside the creek to rest and eat lunch before heading back down the trail.

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Top of Twister Falls

 

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Back through the tunnel,

 

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and out the other side.

 

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My turn…

Hiking back through the “Potholes”, where the trail surface is a parquet of columnar basalt:

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Potholes

 

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Columnar basalts

DSC00687We continued hiking downstream:

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Vine maple turning orange in the burned forest

 

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Big leaf maple turning yellow

 

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We hadn’t noticed Wy’East Falls in a side canyon on the hike up.

 

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Basalt cliffs on the east

 

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4.5 mile bridge again.

There were many areas of obvious trail repair in the burned forest.

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Scree slopes, burned and fallen trees

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High Bridge again…

We successfully completed this hike – 13 miles, 1600 feet for the day. I was glad to have seen Tunnel and Twister Falls, but I also felt a bit of vertigo on that section of the trail, and thought that maybe I won’t need to repeat this hike. The week after our hike, the trail was closed again briefly after an atmospheric river event caused more trail damage (quickly repaired by the valiant trail-keeping organizations in the area). It is a special place, and I am glad to have finally been able to see it.

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Last look at Punchbowl Falls.