Back to the Mountains
The year’s gotten off to a busy start – lots of work, long days and weeks, not quite the amount of free time that gives much chance to get out and about with a camera, or sort & post the photos once I’ve gotten out. Still and all, I did manage another hiking weekend back to the lovely Auberge la Visite, at Seguin. This really is a lovely if challenging hike. (Because it’s rolling, very steep ups and downs, and almost all in blazing sun unless you start really early or get a cloudy day…without rain: you would NOT want rain on this road). This time I walked again with a few work colleagues. We started really early, and in late January so the sun rose above the mountains too the east a bit later, and we actually walked in shade much of the time.
The stars at night were wonderfully clear and abundant – we spent time studying the milky way & deciding which were planets, which stars, and which satellites. On the way back we were actually surprised when we reached the end: if you look in some of these shots below, you’ll notice one can see the road most of the way – and we thought we had yet another village, and another down & up road segment, to cover before reaching our end-point. The end point, if you’re curious, is the last village that any regular 4-wheeled vehicles come to from the north. From the south, you can get to about where we spent the night and even a bit further – but the middle chunk of this road is so steep and rocky that it’s foot, mule, and motorbikes only. I, for one, would not have any wish at all to be on those motorbikes: it’s how I felt backpacking the grand canyon; I trust my own feet more than the mules (in the canyon) or the motorcycles.
There are mules here but mostly as pack animals: very few were being ridden by people, though I suppose after they drop off their carrots or scallions at the market or transport towns, the folks may ride them back home… (I’m sort of assuming there are brokers or agents in the village where we start, who buy up what all these folks are carrying, then shuttle it the rest of the way into the PaP metro area…but I haven’t investigated further.) The only real downside to this time of year for a visit is that the waterfall is more of a lovely water trickle, not much of a fall. Oh well. Enjoy the shots, even though they’re probably quite repetitive with the ones I put up last summer…haven’t checked but I suppose I will shortly, just to see how repetitive I’m getting! Happy spring, to those of you in northern climes where spring has sprung.
In this shot below, plus the one at the very end and a few others scattered through the post, you’ll see these rock-strewn hillsides. My current suspicion is that this is the result of erosion — deforestation, as we know, has led to a lot of Haiti’s topsoil being washed into the ocean. I figure these rocks may have become more and more exposed, as the topsoil has washed away…but again it’s something I’ve not checked into. They make for an interesting sight, though, eh?
Walking to La Visite
A thing I learned long ago is that Haiti is almost entirely deforested. In the last post I put up, from a short trip I took up the coast to Arcahaie (about an hour north of PaP), you could see evidence of this fact in the hills I showed. And PaP too is nearly treeless – and full of cars, people, and dust at this time of year. Last weekend four colleagues and I drove to a town about an hour south of PaP, beyond Kenscoff village high in the mountains at the southern base of PaP, to a point where even a good 4wd vehicle really won’t be able to cover the road any more. (As we learned in our onward walk, motorcycles DO make the onward journey, though it’s not one I’d relish making that way.) In any case, the point of being deposited in this little town is that one can – and every weekend some handful of expats living in the capital, and apparently some straight-up tourists as well – do get dropped off in that town and start the walk further south, aiming to end up (after four or five hours of walking in hot sun on mostly shade-free road) and spend the night at what turns out to be quite a lovely little guesthouse set inside what’s now Parc Nationale La Visite. One reads, in a lovely coffee-table book available for sale at the guest house, that the national park is recently created, and that less than 2% of Haiti’s forest is protected. During the visit we played cards and chatted a bit with another American guy who’s part of a program to pay landowners to not cut down their trees for firewood or to sell for making charcoal, construction, etc.
As you’ll see in these shots, the deforested steep mountainsides can certainly be beautiful…but look closely and you’ll also see apparent evidence of erosion, and of rocks left behind in landslides. (Some of the rocks seemed to be eroded lava from more ancient flows, but I’m no geologist so I might be quite wrong.) We wondered how much longer before all the top soil washes into the sea…and without trees to rot and replace it, what will be left? Again, not my area of expertise, but when I consider the amount of agricultural products I saw being carried on people’s heads or panniers on mules, and which we ate during our short stay at the guest house, I hope enough is retained to keep providing PaP etc. with food to eat. (That handful of expats hiking the road weaves into a much larger stream of foot, mule and motorcycle traffic, much of which is clearly geared at getting nice fresh produce to market.) For us it was mainly a lovely 2 days of walking and enjoying beautiful vistas and some stretches of forest which, without realizing it, we’d all grown to miss during our weeks and months on the dusty, busy streets of PaP. I did edit the photos, but not enough, I acknowledge. Sorry – after weeks with little but buildings to look at, I got a bit shutter-happy.
You’ll notice these three shots in a row show the same things from different angles and perspectives. My attempt to give a sense of how things fit together in this steep mountainous zone of windy roads...
Many Muddy Misty Magnificent Miles on the Milford Track
The Milford Track is the most famous, and most popular, of the Great Walks. It starts at the bottom of the Clinton Valley, formed by the eponymous river which features a few times in the gallery of square photos further down. The first two nights of the three-night, four-day hike are spent within the Clinton Valley, hiking from the boat drop at the northernmost end of Lake Te Anau where the Clinton River feeds it, up to McKinnon Pass where the images above and the whole slide show below were taken. After the slide show, you’ll see a variety of views from other sections of the trail: rivers, waterfalls, dramatic valleys and trail segments snuggled into a rock face alongside the Arthur River at the end of the track, where it meets up with Milford Sound. Milford Sound has been cited by many magazines as one of the most beautiful places on earth; and Milford Track as has been cited as one of the most spectacular hikes on earth. I certainly found McKinnon pass to be one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever seen, and I found many of the miles along the Clinton Valley quite beautiful in an ever-changing, other-worldly manner that was different yet again from the other-worldliness of the glaciers featured in my last post.
But allow me to say this, of the Milford Track: it is indescribably wet. We hiked it in the midst of the southern summer, during peak season. Peak season is also, strangely, the rainiest season; but even the driest season has plenty of rain. And the drier winter season is, we were told, the season of such landslides as the one just below where you see the trail marker placed to navigate walkers across the rubble field. I can imagine that a mostly-dry hike over this trail would be an unbelievably great experience. And I can certainly attest the truth of that oft-quoted adage that rain makes waterfalls, which are the joy of the trail. But can I just say that my own brain can only really appreciate xx-many waterfalls, and after a certain point both my feet and my soul wish to be dry, warm and comfortable again? So I ended this trail – which, indeed, gave me more spectacular scenery than most other hikes I’ve done – with the sense that it won’t likely call to me again…whereas the Abel Tasman, for all its comparatively mundane (hah!) scenery, is one I’d readily return to again and again – in part because it’s just so much more warm and comfortable as a hiking experience. (Even the Kepler, another Great Walk within the extraordinary Fiordland National Park, showcases a wider range of terrain with a lower preponderance of heavily rainy days — witness this post: https://somuchworldsolittletime.wordpress.com/2009/03/05/kepler-track-fiordland-national-park/
But don’t get me wrong: even the most amazing of these photos (some of which still give me vertigo) can’t convey the gift of being present to feel and hear the roar of wind and rain, marvel at the shifting windows of sunlight along a mountainside, or see a rainbow materialize above one of those windows…with the sense perhaps you’re the only human positioned so as to appreciate that particular ephemeral wonder. Whatever the case, I encourage anyone who loves the great outdoors and appreciates natural beauty to bump NZ up your must-visit list, if you’ve not done so already. Feel free to research on this blog (from 2009, 2013-14, and 2015!) some of the many wonders you might consider experiencing in person. Enjoy. 🙂
…about the blurry spots you’ll see in some of the rainier images: my camera has survived but there were days where the lens never really got dry. Most of the rain-splattered photos are deleted, but I felt some of these convey what words cannot about the omnipresence of water at times…
The Many Moods of Mt Ruapehu
…and other views from Tongariro National Park, a place which can truly and safely be described as otherworldly. One factor that makes it a world heritage site is the presence of three volcanoes right next to each other. You will see more than you want of these three, in this post…sorry. The moods and clouds, the light and colors just change so often that when one is there one just can’t stop! I am blessed now to have visited New Zealand three times, and I am going to work my way through the (too) many photos I took there roughly in chronological order: this was the first major place our group visited as part of the big Howard’s-turning-50 tour. What a great start! (Btw if you’d like to see Tongariro in other moods, and more shots from the top part of the Tongariro Crossing day hike, check out the post from my last visit, which is here: https://somuchworldsolittletime.wordpress.com/2009/03/05/tongariro-crossing-the-summit-of-mt-doom/)
I won’t say much here. NZ is so lovely and so endlessly various and fascinating that the photos better speak for themselves or I’m not doing my job right. For those curious, I’m back and settled in the bay area, in great health thanks, and trying to put down some roots here in the this intermezzo before the start of my next assignment…about which more, when the time is right :-). Peace. Oh, and btw: linger on the shots below: it’s a slide show of Ruapehu, which is sort of currently the biggest, though not the oldest, of these three volcanoes – and one that I explored in more detail this time than when I was last there, from up close. (More on that further down.) All the photos have names which pretty well identify them.
Of Christmas Dinners & Misty Mountains
When last I myself visited the wild, entirely rug, very wet & green & remote & spectacular southwestern expanse of South Island that’s known as Fiordland National Park, I managed to squeeze in a day trip on Doubtful Sound. (Which is so named because, in the days of sailing ships, captains usually doubted they’d find the offshore wind which would allow them ever to escape from the narrow, deep sound.) This time around, knowing a multi-day hike such as we undertook last time was out of the question, I thought I could still get Mom and my brother out for an overnight – and so we spent the night of 23rd December snugged into a little anchorage in the midst of, probably, the most remote and wild place any of us had ever spent a night…and we’ve been a few places, so that’s saying a bit of something. Our little boat had eleven passengers and three wonderful crew, and despite omnipresent rain and mist, it was simply an extraordinary experience which left us all feeling quite privileged.
Thence we drove on up to Queenstown, on Christmas Eve, where we had the lovely dinner whose dessert course you see having its five minutes of fame above. I’m popping these photos up on the blog at the start of New Year’s Eve, here, knowing that tomorrow we all fly back to our current home countries – me to PNG, they back to North America – and that the first weeks of 2014 will be full and hectic for me. Happy new year & lots of love to all my readers, known and unknown.
And for anyone interested in other, often sunnier, photos of the Fiordland region, check out these entries:
https://somuchworldsolittletime.wordpress.com/2009/03/05/definitely-doubtful-sound/ in which you can see how Doubtful looks when the sun’s shining a bit, and another shot remarkably like the top photo here…and with blue sky. Ah well, don’t tell my family. Cheers.
Since I figure many of you will only be interested in a few of the atmospheric, misty-foggy-rainy waterfall shots, I’ve plugged several of them into a gallery, below, where you can either skip over the thumbnails or click to see the full-sized shot if you’d like. Below the gallery are a few more full-sized foggy-misty shots for the atmosphere and then a shot of Lake Te Anau from the southern shore, and then a few from Queenstown and the shores of Lake Wakatipu.
Wandering Past the Cliffs to the Waterfall
smw, slt has been back in the hills, able for the first time in very nearly a month to get out and about. It was a gorgeous day – dry season has arrived, so it’s not too terribly hot…which was a real gift, since there was such an enormous group out for this popular hike through a rubber plantation near Port Moresby. With such a large group, after our brief stop at the waterfall you saw above, our group got a wee bit split up and I & some friends ended up with the group that didn’t follow the sanctioned path, and ended up doing a rather fun bit of bush-whacking – fun for some of us, not enjoyable for others who I think found it more than they’d gambled on. I’m glad of the good weather because I would not have enjoyed the bush-whacking in the wet, humid, hot season nearly as much…probably not at all in fact. As an aside, I’m sorry I was too wrapped up in a great chat with a(nother) friend to get any photos of the rubber-tapping cups on the trees. But you can always go back here if you wanna see yours truly’s take on rubber trees being tapped: https://somuchworldsolittletime.wordpress.com/2006/08/20/rubber-trees/, from a stroll through another plantation in Malaysia some years ago. If that’s not enough, we’ll likely go to this plantation again and I’ll try to get some more rubber-tree shots for you then…I must also offer a FAR MORE important apology, right: turns out my lens had something on it, which I didn’t notice. I’m hoping it’s not a permanent scratch. I’ve decided most of the pics are still worth showing despite the fuzzy bit, and I hope you agree…this shot immediately below, taken during the up-and-down bushwhacking part that was not in the original plan, is an example. Cross your fingers with me that this is not something permanently on the lens… Above and below, and then again several times, you see the extraordinarily sheer and steep cliff drop-off where the water fall was. It’s shocking, dramatic, scary, and very beautiful all at once. I’d been on this hike once before last year, and forgot my camera that time. This time I was determined to have it along so I could catalog the views for myself.
I suspect I’m overdoing the shots of the cliff and drop-off, but it truly is so startling and compelling that I kept snapping. And I’ve been selective about what I put up on here, honestly! As you see, the walk took in grasslands with gum trees, steep hills strewn with boulders as though a giant had gotten angry and started throwing them about, and lots more. It’s great hike – I just wish my camera didn’t have that obnoxious bit on the shots of some of my favorite parts!
Beauty, Big and Small
so smw, slt has been back in pom for precisely six weeks now, since the end of the vacation from which those lovely last photos of coastal fnq originated. thanks to all who liked and commented on that post – i seem to be picking up some readers who didn’t know me back when: i’m delighted that my pics and ramblings appeal to you. in this post – mostly photos from a wonderful hike just today, up a mountain to a swimmable many-tiered waterfall, past a mini-copper mine (we’re talking a watery mosquito-breeding hole in the side of a hill: don’t get excited), and back through grassy fields and hillsides. you’ll notice that rainy season has returned to pom, borne on the change of wind direction: which made possible the aerial photos of downtown and suburban-sprawly port moresby, including the majestic and rather dramatic house of parliament (a short walk, actually, from where i sit as i post this…), since the planes now land and take off in the opposite direction, northbound rather than southbound. honestly: i’ve never carried my camera aboard so many flights as i do in png, nor been as glad so often that i have it with me. i will write nothing more – you may have heard some distressing things in the news about png lately; those exist, as they do for the US and any other place where humans gather; but so do very many people, places and things of beauty. i’m choosing to focus on those, at the moment. enjoy.
…i was also in tari this week on a visit; the head decoration you see up above in the fourth photo is one of our colleagues there: many huli men routinely adorn their heads or their hats with leaves and other such accessories, which when you first arrive from the streets of LA or Paris seems unusual, but it really grows on you. the other shots above and below are from tari hospital and surroundings.
Here you really see how the coral reefs grow up closer to the water and how they differ from the sandy bottom or whatever else there is. At the top is a real island with sand around it; but below that there is only one area which barely was breaching the surface. This is off the coast of Gulf Province, west of POM, on the trip up to Tari earlier this week.
Below, depending on your browser and how it reads the layout: the airstrip at Tari; furhter below, you can see the old-town part of downtown at the top, and the sprawl of the suburban areas where I’m living and working, and where the House of Parliament is, all strewn around these lovely green hills. Well, now they’re green — a few weeks ago when I landed from Cairns they were getting mighty brown…