Thursday, 27 January 2022

Motatapu Track

On Wednesday (Jan 19) our big group finished the Hump Ridge Track. Of that group, seven people had planned to do the Motatapu Track as a followup. I enjoy following up a big group walk with a harder walk and a smaller group — it gives me more of a physical challenge and less of a management challenge, plus when I fly to the South Island I want to be there for more than a few days. Unfortunately three of the seven had to drop out due to various issues, so only four of us ended up doing Motatapu. It was tough, probably the toughest multi-day tramp I've ever done, but epic; we had a great time and I'm extremely grateful we had the chance to do it.

That Wednesday night we had dinner with most of the Hump Ridge group at Hikari in Queenstown, and then two of them drove the four of us from Queenstown to Wanaka where I had booked accommodation for the night. The next morning I was feeling a bit nervous about the difficulty of the Motatapu Track, so we went to the local DoC visitor's centre and talked to the staff there about the state of the track. Fortunately they were very reassuring. We bought supplies from the local supermarket and outdoor sports stores, and then caught a taxi to arrive at the Fern Burn car park at 1pm to hit the trail. The weather was great — sunny but not too hot — and remained so for the entire tramp.

That first day we had a pretty straightforward walk up the Fern Burn valley to Fern Burn Hut. It's a lovely walk through farmland, then beech forest, and then out in the open along a gorge. We were however still recovering from Hump Ridge and carrying heavier packs, up to 20kg, partly because we were carrying tents so we could camp at Macetown on the last night of the track, so we were pleased to reach the hut.

At Fern Burn Hut, and every other hut we stayed at, we met trampers doing Te Araroa. It seems Motatapu is mostly walked by TA walkers and a few other hard-core trampers, so most people we met were more experienced and/or fitter than us — quite humbling, but also inspiring, especially the older walkers!

On Friday we had a relatively easy day, a climb up to Jack Hall's Saddle followed by a steep descent and a couple of ridges to reach Highland Creek Hut at about 12:30pm. This gave us lots of time to hang out at the hut, relax, chat with other trampers, and play games, all in a stunning setting with great views down the Highland Creek valley. Hanging out at huts is one of my favourite things about tramping!

Saturday was always going to be the toughest day. We started early, leaving the hut around 7:30am to do as much walking as possible in the cool of the day. The track from Highland Creek starts with a steep 400m climb, followed by a steep descent to a delightful little valley, followed by another 400m climb and descent, with a lot of sidling along narrow paths. The second climb in the afternoon sun really pushed me to my limits, and I was barely able to keep up with the others. A great workout! Fortunately there was plenty of water in the stream so we didn't have to carry a ridiculous amount of water, so things could have been worse.

On Sunday we started with another climb, up to Roses Saddle, followed by a nice descent to Glade Burn where it meets the Arrow River. At that point we had the choice of taking the "high water" track over the hills above the Arrow River, or the "low water" route down the Arrow River itself. We had been advised to take the low route, the Arrow River being low, so that's what we did, and I'm so glad we did, because it was a lot of fun! The river rocks were not slippery and the river was easily walkable in most places. Frequently there were obvious "boot tracks" where we could leave the river and cut across meanders or bypass the rougher sections of the river. The only tricky parts were where the tracks led through patches of thorny matagouri which we had to crash through. Other than that, the river route was pretty easy with water only up to our knees at most, and very refreshing on a hot day. Highly recommended!

We arrived at the abandoned gold-mining town of Macetown around 2:30pm. As we were warned, the sandflies were pretty thick in that area. We were prepared to camp there on Sunday night but unanimously agreed to just push on down the 4WD track to Arrowtown to complete our tramp, nominally around three hours more walking, though we took a little longer as we got tired. I thought the 4WD track might be a little boring, but the views of the Arrow River gorge are actually magnificent. We finally reached Arrowtown a bit after 6pm and were able to get accommodation at the Settler's Cottage Motel, which was delightful, and after cleaning up we had a great meal in Arrowtown.

So in the end we completed the walk in four days. Possibly we could have even done it in three days by combining our first two days, but I'm glad we took it a little easier because I do like spending time in huts and I think we all felt Motatapu was tough enough the way we did it!

One of the advantages of a physically demanding tramp like this, for me, is that it helps me relax socially. I'm off my guard and just feel more at ease with the people in my group and the other trampers in the hut. I really appreciated that on this trip.

If I do this tramp or something similar again, I should definitely look into reducing my pack weight with lighter gear and better planning. My sleeping bag and tent are old and it's definitely worth investing in more modern options. Some of the other trampers had amazing gear!

Overall Motatapu is well worth doing if you have a high standard of fitness and you have fine weather so the Arrow River is low. The Web site warns about tricky sidles along steep slopes, but in the good conditions we had, that wasn't a problem at all (and I'm not good with heights!). The scenery isn't as spectacular as the Rees-Dart, for example, but you get constant long-distance views across hills and valleys, including Lake Wanaka frequently, so it's pretty good. The track is well-formed almost everywhere and easy to follow and the huts are in great condition. Ideally, do it after some rain (as we did) so there's plentiful water at the huts and in the streams (bring a water filter for the Arrow River; I didn't want to drink from it directly since there are a lot of sheep upstream).

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Hump Ridge Track

We have established a tradition of a group tramping trip in the South Island every year. Usually it's in December, but this time we couldn't leave Auckland as planned, so we postponed it by a month — to last week. This year we decided to do Hump Ridge; I've heard from people who loved it, it is scheduled to become an official Great Walk, and I haven't been to the very bottom end of the South Island before.

The group keeps growing and this year we had seventeen people altogether. The core has been friends I've known through ACPC but as the group has grown it has become quite diverse — a wide range of backgrounds, ethnicities, and ages, and this year for the first time more women than men — lots of fun. At this size it's a challenge to organise but I love the people and relish the tramping (especially introducing new people to tramping) and this year I enjoyed it all as much as ever.

We convened in Queenstown on Sunday the 16th, most of us flying down in the morning although some arrived earlier. As traditional we met at The World Bar in Queenstown and had lunch together. We rented a few big cars and drove down to Tuatapere to stay at Tui Base Camp overnight to get an early start on the track on Monday morning. The table tennis table there was an opportunity for certain people to show off their (considerable) skills.

The first day on the Hump Ridge Track is pretty tough. There's a long flat stretch around the coast followed by a hard climb to the Okaka Lodge high up on the hill — 20km distance altogether. We started before 9am and straggled into the lodge between 5pm and 5:30pm. Some of the group definitely found it tough going — we didn't take the soft option of having our packs helicoptered up! However, it's a very nice walk, covering a variety of terrain — beach, coastal forest, rocks and hill forest, all unspoilt and beautiful. Those who trained beforehand definitely enjoyed it more, but I think everyone felt it was worthwhile.

The Hump Ridge lodges offer well-equipped kitchens, which made it much easier for us to cook for the whole group than at DoC huts. Also, we were blessed to have many skilled and well-organised cooks in our group so mealtimes were relatively low-stress. We had pasta with a creamy tomato and tuna sauce on Monday night, bacon and eggs for breakfast, and lodge-supplied sausages and mash (cooked by us) on Tuesday night.

After dinner, most of the group walked further up the hill along the "summit track" to view the sunset. It turned out to be shockingly beautiful up there in the evening! Apart from views over the mountains and lakes of Fiordland to the west, Te Waewae Bay to the east, and Stewart Island/Rakiura to the south, the track winds around a stunning array of tors and tarns. As a bonus, just as the sun set over the ocean, the moon rose over the hills of Southland in the other direction. In my opinion this was the highlight of the whole tramp, making me burst with joy and thanksgiving to God. The lodge staff had been pretty low-key about the summit track and I think they undersold it; if I'd known, I would have put more pressure on the group members who opted not to go.

The second day was relatively anticlimatic, walking along Hump Ridge itself down to the coast and then along the coast to Port Craig lodge. There are good views over the ocean, but it's still a long day (another 20km) and taxing if you're not used to downhills. At the end of the day some of us went for a swim at the sandy beach near the lodge — the sandflies were daunting, but we spotted dolphins nearby. (Or so I'm told; I didn't have my glasses on and couldn't see a thing!)

Normally we play some games in the evenings but on this trip we didn't, perhaps because people were just tired. Nevertheless we had a lovely evening relaxing in each others' company — for those who didn't go straight to bed.

The last day was another 20km but still relatively easy since it's dead flat along the coast. My feet got quite sore, perhaps because there's so much hard boardwalk, but at the track section along the beach I took off my boots and walked in the sand and surf, which cured them wonderfully. We finished the track more or less on schedule around 3pm.

Overall I think the trip went well. I need to take a bit more care with new people who haven't tramped before (but I'm glad to have them!). The weather was very good; rain was forecast for Wednesday but didn't fall until we left the track. There were no major logistical issues as far as I know, Hump Ridge is certainly worth the trip, everyone got on well and most people seemed to enjoy the company, for all of which I thank God. I hope people are keen to come back together for more!

Having said all that, the story didn't end there! As is our tradition, a subset of us followed this walk with a harder tramp, this year the Motatapu Track. But that's another story, that I will write up soon!

Sunday, 9 January 2022

The End Of The Runway

As of January 10 I'm leaving day-to-day work on Pernosco and joining Google's NZ office.

Pernosco is doing OK. We signed up significant new customers in 2021 and many of our customers really love the product. I'm very proud of it and I continue to think it has immense potential. However, I've been working on Pernosco for nearly 6 years now and my runway has simply run out. On the other side of the coin, Google has announced they want to start engineering work in their Auckland office, they reached to out to me, and ended up making me an incredibly attractive offer. I think having Google engineering here is important for NZ and I'm eager to contribute to building that up. I'm also very much looking forward to working with people in an office again after six years at home, on an interesting project too.

Pernosco is not going away! Kyle will continuing maintaining, improving and selling it, and there is significant revenue to support him doing that. I'm retaining my stake in the company, but I won't be doing Pernosco development, sales or operations while I'm at Google. I have high hopes that Pernosco usage will continue to grow and Pernosco will be increasingly successful.