We’ve just completed the second leg of our walk through New Zealand. After a rest day in Havelock, we continued south to the Pelorus River Track.
The first 20km or so followed gravel roads and crossed a through farm fields, so it wasn’t the most exhilarating walking. Over the next three months we’ll walk some of New Zealand’s most spectacular tracks. The sections of road walking joining them together are the cost of making a continuous footpath across the country.
When we arrived at Pelorus River, I couldn’t have been happier. It’s a beautiful deep green and warm enough to swim. After a long day of hot walking, there’s nothing as refreshing as a dip in the clean cool river.
We’re getting up into the mountains too! Often in New Zealand, we’ve found, the forest is so dense, you don’t really have a sense of the larger landscape around you. It’s thick and embracing like a jungle. Now we’re getting high enough that the trees are becoming smaller and we can get a glimpse of the mountains we’ll enter in a few short days.
But first, it’s time for another cultural diversion from the trail. Since we’re in the northern part of the South Island, it’s a great opportunity to visit the town of Nelson. I can’t wait to soak up the coastal scenery (and abundant food) before heading into remote mountainous New Zealand.
New Zealand is known for its stunning scenery. An island nation that’s at the same time both lushly tropical and bleakly glacial. We want to get a taste of that scenery and have started by walking the Queen Charlotte Track.
This hike is a classic. It starts at the northern end of the South Island and runs for ~60km along a lushly forested ridge. Below are countless inlets, bays, coves, and sounds. We dipped down to the sea one evening for a restaurant meal and stayed up high on other nights, enjoying the solitude of camping in the forest.
I always learn something new when I visit a new country. In the case of New Zealand, it’s that they lie about the wildlife. They tell you there are no dangerous animals. That’s not true. While you might not get eaten by a bear, there’s something even worse: the stealthy weka. This chicken-size bird lurks in the bushes waiting for you to turn your back. As soon as you do, it will pounce into your campsite, grab anything (and everything) it can get its sharp beak around, and dash off. Don’t be fooled: it may be flightless but you cannot outrun this pesky bird. You will hurt yourself if you try.
One weka successfully stole my bag of trail mix. A neighboring camper has her chocolate bar disappear. A particularly bad weka even pinched someone’s wallet. Now, how does that not qualify as dangerous wildlife?
After finishing the Queen Charlotte Track, we walked another ~20km to the small town of Havelock, known for its green mussels. It was a pretty walk but mostly on roads and hard packed cycling trails. My feet don’t do well on such hard surfaces, so I finished the walk pretty sore. Time for a nice rest before continuing south toward the mountains.
2018 was a year full of travel, adventures, and some nice time back home. I made sure to keep things interesting by having a wide diversity of themes to each trip, probably more so than I’ve done in recent years. From cooking classes in Dubai, Hong Kong, and Kuala Lumpur to backpacking trips in Kyrgyzstan and the Grand Canyon, and cycling through Western Australia, it was a great year.
2019 is shaping up to be another great year of travel with even bigger, grander adventures in the works. Can’t wait!
The Grand Canyon is the second most visited national park in the US. Five million people come here every year to catch a glimpse of the iconic mile-deep tear in the earth. You’d think, then, that this would be a pretty busy place for someone who likes to explore remote corners of the earth. Yes, it is crowded, but drop down into the canyon, turn off the main trails and you’ll be all on your own. That’s all it takes – from millions of people to none in just a few short miles.
It has become quite difficult to book spots in the campgrounds along the “corridor trails” (the well maintained tourist route that runs from the south or north rim). Both of the nearby campgrounds were fully booked, so we reserved a spot at Cottonwood campground, all the way down to the Colorado River and halfway up to the north rim.
We took our time walking down into the canyon, enjoying the constantly changing scenery, but this meant it would be dark long before we made it to camp. I really didn’t mind. There’s something special about walking under the brilliant night sky in the desert.
The Tonto Trail runs along a plateau about 2/3 of the way down from the south rim to the river. It curves in and out of countless side-canyons, sometimes taking miles to cover what would be just a quick walk if you could jump over the gorges that cut into the sides of the main canyon.
After two nights at Cottonwood, which gave us time to explore up toward the north rim, we headed back across the river and turned off onto the Tonto trail. Almost right away, the trail got much rougher and almost all the people disappeared. It felt great to be all alone in this spectacular landscape.
One reason you don’t see many people along the Tonto trail is that there’s very little water. What little water we did come across near Salt Creek campground, I would never drink.
It’s not just that it’s salty. Up on the rim above Salt Creek are the ruins of Orphan Uranium Mine. It wasn’t until 1987 that the Parks Service managed to acquire this land. In 13 years of mining uranium, the Orphan Mine allowed radiation to leach down into the canyon, contaminating its water with dangerous amounts of uranium. Disturbingly, the mining industry is still trying to overturn a ban on uranium mining in the canyon.
After exploring the radioactive Tonto plateau, we were keen to spend a night right next to the river. We dropped off the plateau, down a dry sandy wash to Granite Rapids.
What a beautiful spot! We found the perfect place to pitch a tent – right on a sandy beach, next to the calmly flowing river. Just out of sight, the river plunges into thundering rapids.
As we were relaxing after dinner, I noticed a blue object appear from around a bend in the river. Then another. And another. Rafts. Soon there were six rafts. And two kayaks. Our quiet little beach quickly became overrun by a group of 16 rafters. But we couldn’t have asked for more friendly neighbours. Apologizing for the intrusion, they started a campfire and invited us for dinner and offered us a few of their 2,400 cans of beer. You can carry a lot more on a raft than you can in a backpack!
Best of all, we got to watch quite a show as our new rafter friends ran the roaring rapids in the morning.
We continued along the Tonto trail then up the Hermit trail back toward the south rim. I think I must have gotten used to the warmth of the inner canyon as the air felt rather thin and chilly as we ascended. You forget how far up it is when you’ve been down in the canyon for a few days.
All together, we spent six days backpacking in the Grand Canyon, from the cold Colorado River, up through the surprisingly lush Kaibab trail toward the north rim, and across the dry and convoluted Tonto plateau. I’d like to return to hike the entire length of the Tonto trail, seeing even more of this amazing part of the world.
This trip started with the idea of doing something big and challenging (as do the best trips). For a milestone birthday, Jodi wanted to really push herself. Memorable and hard. What could be a better setting for such a challenge than the Grand Canyon?
Three years ago I ran (well, mostly walked) from the Bright Angel trail, down to the Colorado River, and back up the South Kaibab trail. Both trails start at the South Rim but Kaibab is higher and Bright Angel more gentle. All together, it’s 20 miles and about 5000 feet (1500 m) of elevation gain. I loved every minute of it, soaking up the scenery and moving quickly through the landscape, but I could barely walk the next day. It seems, that sounded like a great idea to Jodi.
We set off in the dark, down into the depths of the canyon. Once we reached the Tonto trail, two-thirds of the way down, I branched off, traversing along the canyon, while Jodi continued down to the infamous Colorado River.
From Tonto, it doesn’t look like it’s that far down to the river, but looks are deceiving. The Colorado has carved sheer cliffs deeply into the hard granite and schist that sat here for 2 billion years before the Colorado ripped into it. I waited expectantly at the top of a rock outcrop until Jodi reappeared, moving at a good strong pace as she climbed up and out of the inner canyon.
We met up with Sil who was waiting with water and snacks and all continued back up together. Despite struggling with some stomach upset, Jodi pulled ahead, reaching the canyon rim feeling elated. The Parks Service warns you not to attempt going all the way down to the river and back up in a single day. Doing just that is a big accomplishment.
Now Jodi wants to come back for a much bigger challenge – the rim-to-rim-to-rim!
My favorite part of travel is discovering new places and having an adventure. Some people like relaxing on the beach or taking a cruise but I’d rather be hiking over a snowy mountain pass, visiting an incense-filled monastery, or cycling through charming little Italian villages. Here are six great travel adventures on my bucket-list. Continue reading “6 of the Greatest Travel Adventures To Try”→