Thursday, November 24, 2011

Adventure Race Tasmania

The annual World Adventure Race Champs - this time in Western Tasmania - had come around again and always seems to excite and frustrate those of us who follow these mad races. Because I am writing this well after the event it is impossible for the outcome not to flavour my post - those of you who followed the race online will understand.

We weren't really able to follow the race anyway, there was a strict "no spectators allowed" rule. So Viv, Karin and I decided to follow the general route of the course by car and enjoy some great camping and picnicking along the way, catching up with the race if and when possible.

I would have liked to post during the race, but this part of Tasmania is very sparsely populated and so there was virtually no internet access. The race started in Burnie at 9am, as the teams paddled out into the sparkling sea on inflatable kayaks and round the beautiful coastline to Penguin.

On Burnie beach minutes before the race start

We saw the racers paddling into the beach and transitioning to a trek at Penguin. From there we decided to take Karin to a nearby wildlife park where we were able to see Tasmanian devils and koalas, as well as close up kangaroos, potaroos and pademelons...all different kind of unusual roos which one might frequently encounter Tasmania.

Cute koalas sleep most of the day
Tasmanian devils

We spent the night back in Burnie. The following day we drove through to Tullah and met teams arriving in after 24 hours racing, looking very cold and tired having just completed a canyoning and kayaking section in cold waters. Seagate had a good lead, but had just been told the big blow that they had been given a massive 4 hour penalty for accidentally forgetting their spot GPS device on the second leg.

Arriving across the lake - this was the checkpoint where Seagate were told about their 4 hour penalty

I felt so bad for them, but they took it amazingly calmly and continued onto the bike section just as darkness fell. Aaron's team (Karin's Dad) Silva came in second place and headed away about 1 hour after Seagate.

We drove through the pouring rain feeling very sorry for the racers who would be biking through it to arrive in Strahan on the West coast of Tasmania late in the night. This was the place where teams had their compulsory 6 hour sleep. Seagate arrived in the early hours of the morning having had another disaster - Chris's derailleur had broken so he was having to ride single speed costing the team lots of time.
That day Karin and Viv had a great time on the old steam train which runs from Strahan to Queenstown. I took a walk through the beautiful forest near Strahan and enjoyed mucking about in the picturesque village.
The fern walkway
Fern fronds are so cool!

Strahan was actually one of the last points we could see the team until almost the finish of the race, so we would spend the next few days travelling back from west to east coast. We drove out to the Hentley Dunes and enjoyed the beautiful and wild beaches which abound on the west. We found a great campsite at Trial Harbour, toasting marshmallows on the fire and falling asleep to the sound of crashing waves.

Viv and Karin enjoying the beach (and sandcastles) near Strahan
Our beautiful campsite at Trial Harbour

The following day we followed the course of the race through to Corinna in the Tarkine Wilderness Area. There is a car ferry to cross the river and the forest closes in around you as you drive through - it had a distinctly NZ West Coast feel. We camped at Julius Creek with a little resident wallaby and kookaburra. Teams had to paddle the nearby Arthur River as far as Kanunah Bridge, from there they would cycle out to the coast again.
The windswept west coast of Tasmania
A little wallaby peeks through the undergrowth at Kanunah Bridge

By now they had been racing for nearly 6 days. Seagate still held over 2 hours lead, but with their 4 hour penalty the win was slipping away. Team Thule had raced well and overtaken Silva, so were almost certain to now win the race.

We drove to Rocky Point with its golden sand beaches and blue waters, and then around to Ships Harbour to find Seagate sitting out their 4 hour penalty and watching those hard fought minutes slip past as first Thule and then Silva raced past - it was awful. However, Chris was remarkably positive - especially when Nathan asked the small crowd which had gathered around if there was anyone willing to lend Chris a working bike for the final ride - and a local man offered his most excellent old school Avanti commuter bike complete with bell!

They took off at about 7 pm on the final leg, 20 minutes down on Silva. We raced to the finish, excited to see the finish of this saga of a race. Thule had already finished about an hour earlier, and as we entered the stadium we saw the lights of Team Silva coming in to the track for a final loop on the velodrome. Karin was very happy to see Dad after 6 days spent with me and Grandma - she really had been the most wonderfully natured little 4 year old to hang out with.

About 3 minutes later Seagate raced in after a incredibly fast ride averaging about 32 km an hour! It was lovely to have Chris back, but Team Seagate were pretty disappointed with the outcome of the race. They gave it everything, but it seemed like everything had been against them.
Seagate racing in to the finish
After nearly 6 days of hard racing they retired to the hotel for a very well earned sleep. The next day was spent cleaning and sorting tonnes of muddy wet gear.

The prize giving wasn't for a few more days, because there were still many teams fighting for positions and to finish the race within the 10 day cut off. We decided to escape Burnie for a night and headed up to Cradle Mountain National Park with Nathan, Jodie and Sophie.

Cradle mountain is a neat place - alpine tussocks and beach forest trick you into feeling like you are back in New Zealand - until a wallaby hops past. The mists were down low and it was could and windy as we pitched our tents in the campsite.

Chris looks pretty lively emerging from the tent!

Rain came down most of the night, so the following day I packed in plenty of warm clothes before meeting up with Jodie for a little mission up to Cradle Mountain. It was still very cold and windy as we set out from the empty car park and climbed the ridge up towards Cradle Mountain. Still, we were both loving getting out into the mountains!

We crossed a tussocky plateau and then climbed up amongst great pillars of rock, feeling like monkeys as we clambered up the big boulders. Mist swirled about the summit, adding to the atmosphere of being up there. A quick clamber then run back to the car made it a very satisfying round trip.

The next day back in Burnie we took a run around Rocky Cape and enjoyed a quick swim in the crystal clear waters. After the prizegiving that evening the rest of the team said their farewells and buzzed back to Nelson, while Chris and I had a few more days to potter around Tasmania before our return to New Zealand.

We spent our first night at beautiful Fortescue Bay in Tasman National Park

Curry for tea

Breakfast at Fortescue Bay
We came across these cool fossils on the coastline near Eaglehawk Neck
Cathedral Arch
Fortescue Bay

The highlight of our trip was a night spent out on the Freycinet Peninsula camping at Wineglass Bay. We walked over a little saddle in the late evening and then dropped down to the magnificent sweeping beach that is Wineglass Bay. We walked barefoot along the golden sand as the waves crashed onto the beach, this place could be treasure island!
The amazing evening view of Wineglass Bay

We reached the far end of the beach and the little campsite just as it got dark and millions of stars came out in the dark sky. Having expected this well known beach to be very busy we were pleasantly surprised to meet only two fellow trampers on our trip. I guess November is a good time to visit.
Treasure Island?

The next day was our final day in Tasmania and probably the best. We ate breakfast on the beautiful (and now very still) beach, before climbing up over Mt Graham and then Mt Freycinet. The views down to the bay were amazing and we wished we had another night to spend here!
Breakfast on the beach
This is a little advertisement for all my Norwegian friends to come visit this side of the world (-:
We had a picnic on top amongst the shade of some Eucalyptus, then wandered down through the ever changing forest to Cooks Beach. We were now on the opposite side of the peninsula from Wineglass Bay and we walked along windy Hazards Beach. The last section of track wound through the forest back to the carpark - a very nice 7 hour walk which is described on the sign as a 3 day tramp, hmm?
Casting a spell on the top of Mt Freycinet
Walking along Hazards Beach

Early the following morning we started our journey back to Christchurch, New Zealand and the many more adventures which no doubt await us in that amazing country.... But don't worry, I'll make sure the Silly Billies continue to post their silly stories here for you to read (-:
A silly billy in tree form?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Returning to Down Under

We felt right at home flying into Tasmania, over green pastures and small sunny towns. After landing in Launceston airport we rented a hire car and made a beeline for the local bakery and a delicious vegie pie! Such a delicious pastry and so unattainable in the rest of the world (-:

We took our car into the Walls of Jerusalem National Park, which backs on to the well known Cradle Mountain NP. We had two days to fill in before the rest of Chris's adventure racing team arrived - so we decided to head into the bush for an overnight tramp. The fog was hanging very low and it felt like rain was on its way as we wound up through the bush, passing through Eucalyptus forest filled with amazing tree ferns!
Chris amongst the ferns

We made our way up to Chapter lake on a very small and forgotten track. The lake is beautiful, densely crowded by thick bush with delicate falls cascading off a small rock outcrop. We had a little feast to cook up - including some good old corn-on-the-cob.

A very atmospheric Chapter Lake

The following day was very rainy and little brown leeches wriggled at us on the forest floor. We were entirely unperturbed because we thought they were friendly little worms - even when Chris found one had wiggled all the way up his pants!

We drove to Burnie, spotting a beautiful echidna (or spiny ant eater) along the way. That evening the rest of team Seagate arrived - it was great to be hanging out with Kiwis again. We went to bed that night feeling excitement and anticipation for the race to come.

A friendly echidna

Adventures in China

Arriving in China
We flew to Beijing Airport and then took a domestic flight with Air China to Kunming. On the flight we were served this very strange looking fruit – white with little black spots like a slice of dalmatian dog! We chuckled about the weird and wonderful things ahead of us (we later found out this peculiar and tasty thing was a dragon-fruit).

After a long taxi ride in rush hour traffic through Kunming we caught a rumpty bus to take us a further 4.5 hours to Dali where Matt and Lara live. Due to a series of unfortunate events they were currently at the hospital in Hong Kong, but we knew our friend Joe would be at their place.

Sunset from Dali

Communicating with drivers was pretty challenging, but we did finally find ourselves in Dali old town around midnight. Lugging our gear up the hill we located Matt and Lara's on the university campus with the help of Joe's detailed instructions and it was a great thing to yell out “Joe” and see a familiar face pop out of the third floor balcony.

On the streets of Dali the following day with Joe

The next day we mucked around in Dali old town, taking pictures of the lanterns and temples. We ate lunch at a little noodle place where the man actually made the noodles right in front of you by pulling and twisting some kind of pastry. The whole place felt a bit like a scene from Kung Fu Panda.

A trip into the Cangshang mountains

Backing right on to Matt and Lara's place are some great green mountains – the Cang Shang mountains, the highest of which is about 4100m! We packed lightly because we hoped to stay in guest houses along the way and Joe was sure we would be able to buy food as we went.

On the first day we climbed up a steep path, through a graveyard and then on up to the “Cloudpass Walkway”. This was a broad terraced and paved path winding around the steep mountainsides, with a clear view down to Dali and the Er Hai lake below.

A little shrine along the path

After a bit of exploration, locating some food and visiting a temple we climbed on up to the Higher Land Inn which Lara had recommended we stay in. We had a hilarious time with the innkeeper there, he spoke to us quickly in Chinese and then roared with friendly laughter when we stared blankly back at him.

A hairy critter I spotted along the way

Chris on the Cloudpass walkway
He cooked us a wonderful “Family Dinner” - curried eggplants, tofu, beans, rice, stir fried vegies. We enjoyed the evening talking to a couple of young French guys who were also staying over – while Chris went for a quick run all the way down to Dali and back again to get our tent (and for a bit of extra training).

Family dinner!

The following day we climbed up steeply following the path the innkeeper had directed us to. The trees became shorter and more stunted until we finally emerged into the sun to see blue sky above and clouds below.

Climbing up through the forest

We came to a huge construction site at the top of the (fortunately) incomplete gondola. Heaps of workers were building a big ugly plastic staircase up the mountainside. We wandered past them, wondering who could have seen this construction as a positive thing.

The crazy "plastic stairway"

By now the air was getting pretty thin and I was finding I got way more puffed than usual walking uphill. We reached the ridge, and then clambered along a fairly knife-edge but hand-hold-abundant ridge-line out to Mulong Peak (4100)! Cool! The wind had picked up now and was whipping up from one side of the ridge, and clouds and mists were constantly spilling over obscuring our view before suddenly revealing tantalizing glimpses down to the valley's below. It was an amazing ridge.

On our way to the first summit - Mulong Peak
Me on the summit of Mulong with the strange mirror ball that marked the summit. I am holding the cam which Joe managed to pull out from a rock.

We climbed back along the ridge, above the Horse Washing Pond where the gondola terminus is and then further along over a series of 4000m summits. We made good progress along a little well worn track even though the wind was now very strong.

Some amazing red flowers as we look back towards Mulong Peak
From Yuju Peak looking down to Horse Washing Pond and the plastic staircase again.
An amazing view from Yuju back to Mulong Peak
"Silver trees" in the valley below as sun rays shone through the clouds

After a very long day we were all tired as we neared our goal for the day – the Dragon Lakes. It became dark just before we reached them so I stopped to put my headlamp on. Unfortunately our group dynamics suffered a bit of a meltdown at this point – Chris wanting to go one way and Joe another. After some heated arguments and angry roaming around we finally had a tent site for the night – and we all sat and ate cold leftovers for dinner feeling cross with each other.

Descending into the mists just before it got dark and we tried to find a camp spot

After a chilly night (the wind was blowing hard through the first part of it) we woke to beautiful sun! We didn't have too much to eat for breakfast other than some dry bars, then we climbed back up through some rhododendron scrub onto the ridge. Now we didn't really have a track to follow so progress was much slower.

Joe caught the fire sunrise on his camera

Beautiful clear skies in the morning

The map Chris was using for this trip was an ancient Russian survey map from the war which Matt had somehow cunningly sourced. It was a pretty average map and Chris was having some trouble interpreting it. By lunchtime Chris thought we had reached the road which would lead us down to the Valley of Flowers – but then he realised we had to climb over another peak.

We climbed up that peak through some amazing thick patches of bamboo following a very narrow walking track. But once we reached another point where we could see out he saw that there was still more ridgeline to traverse until we might hit the road. The track we were now following dived off down into the main valley back to Dali – not the Flowers.

Bamboo bashing
Then the bamboo gets bigger!

We climbed the next peak to try and scout a route but swirling mists made it tricky to see. By this stage Joe had decided he was very keen to give up on the Flower Valley plan and just head down here. We were very short on food supplies by now, so we reluctantly (Chris especially) turned tail and started down the long descent to to the main road.

A little lone Chris tries to rectify the terrain with his poor Russian map
The steep and rough descent back to Dali

It was a very long way down and the track grew into a deeply rutted horse track as we neared the valley. The temperature also increased dramatically. Finally, just as it was dark yet again, we reached the streets of a little village bustling with life. People were unloading big bales of hay from wonky motorbikes and stacking bricks along the streets, there was a hubub of activity.

We wandered down to the motorway and managed to hitch a ride in the dark with a taxi guy back to Dali, dinner and a delicious hot shower.

Shuanglang Kayaking

I had a large blister on my little toe from so much walking and Chris needed to do some paddling, so Lara had suggested we take a trip to a little place called Shuanglang around the Er Hai lake. We caught a crammed minivan with the help of a lady who seemed to be running the show, then she put us on a little 4 person wagon attached to motorbike thing, then we took another minivan along a prettty bumpy section of road to Shuanglang.

Fortunately the taxi driver directed us to the start of a walk down some very narrow passageways to find the Sea and Sky Lodge. On the way there we saw huge cobwebs above us full of the biggest stripey spiders I have ever seen...

A donkey on the streets of Shuanglang


The Sea and Sky lodge is a cool place right on the lakefront with good food and nice people. We enjoyed the evening there, and in the morning took the old double fibreglass kayak out for a spin. The lake was a little smelly, but otherwise very nice for paddling. We watched lots of fishermen rowing boats out and hauling in big nets.

The lake shore from the Sea and Sky Lodge
Evening at the lodge

The man who hired the kayaks out to us told us to watch for "large sheep on island" - after puzzling over this for a bit we figured it out.

The calm (but rather smelly) lake

The waves and wind picked up in the afternoon following the trend of previous days, and we were pretty wet and chilly when we pulled back into the lodge. A quick shower and a nice “baked spaghetti” at the “western cafe” and we journeyed back home to Dali to meet back up with Joe and hopefully Matt and Lara.

Chinese food at the Sea and Sky lodge - tofu and tomato and spicy sliced potato, yum!

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Sadly, Matt and Lara still were in Hong Kong, and now it looked like we would hopefully see Lara in the weekend, but Matt would have to zoom off to guest lecture in another city and we would miss him. In the meantime we decided to travel to Lijang (a very touristy and famous city) and then on to the popular spot of Tiger Leaping Gorge.

A view during the bus ride to Lijang

Arriving in Lijang after a 5 hour bus ride from Dali was a pretty amazing thing – it was dark so the city was all lit up, glowing lanterns and trees, packed with people, and an aray of open shops and markets selling all kind of amazing things – fried grasshopppers, black goats feet, chicken feet, frogs...and those were the things we could identify!

An amazing sight greeted us in Lijang

We found Mama Naxi's – a nice cheap hostel full of foreigners and a friendly Mama who fed us bananas all the time. After a good sleep on a very hard bed we took an extremly bumpy minivan ride to the start of Tiger Leaping Gorge. We followed a spectacular track high up above the gorge. There were a couple of very pushy old saleswomen along the way who harrassed us a bit, and we learnt the best technique was to avoid taking any pictures or stopping at all anywhere near these women.

One of the many nice guest houses along the route, a great spot for a beer!

Looking up Tiger Leaping Gorge

The track sidles on one steep side of the valley looking directly at the steep face of the other

We climbed the “28 Bends” and then drank a nice cold beer at the Tea Horse Inn. We talked to a helpful guide there who told us we could climb up to the peaks above from the following lodge if we wanted to, so we decided that was a great plan for the following day.

I loved the Half Way Inn with it's magnificient view and bright red dried chillies hanging from the roof. From the dinning room big windows looked straight across at the sheer walls on the very close opposite side of the valley.

Chilly peppers hang to dry at the Half Way Inn

Chris felt he needed to get a good amount more height into his legs, so the next day we climbed above the lodge on the little trail the guide told us about. It lead to a series of quarry sites were workers were living under tarpaulines mining the river for tungsten. The river was completely silt filled and the place looked dirty and depressing.

Workers tents dotted down the stream which is being intensely sluiced

We climbed up so high on a smelly donkey track which had an extremely consistent steep gradient. After several hours climbing we finally reached a large plateau area where the trail flattened out. There were trucks and diggers and a massive quarry area. We were above 4000m and the hillside was a mess. Above us (but still in the mist) loomed the summit of Haba Snow mountain that we would have liked to climb had we had the time.

Mules carry up logs to the mine at the top

After a little snack we headed down a narrow and more interesting trail, but not before a train of mules and their guide who had been bringing up supplies to the mine.

Finally reaching the top of the mine works at about 4000m

We ran down the mountain as quick as we could for the fun of it and arrived back at the Half Way house for a late lunch. We all ordered the most humongous soups I have ever seen and left the Inn feeling extremely bloated - but happy.

Lots of soup and vegies for lunch

The final section of the track was very spectacular – we wound in and out of steep gullies until we descended back down into the gorge. Once there we paid a little extra to the locals so we could descend the steep ladder right down into the gorge and to the river. There we could see the point where the massive brown river is squeezed into a super narrow gap in a canyon with sides over 5000m high!

Joe climbs down the ladders into the gorge

The story is that a hunter once chased a tiger into the gorge, and to escape the hunter the tiger leapt right across the river. We had the place to ourselves because the last bus had already left for Lijang, but we saw no tigers. Joe and Chris did sneak across the forbidden bridge to get a good peak at the river from the Tiger Leaping Rock – naughty boys.

Tiger Leaping Gorge and Stone

We climbed back up the ladders to Jane's Guest House and felt pleased with our day's efforts – over 2000m climbed and descended. We managed to find a lift with some young Chinese guys and a rather over eager driver and we made it back to Lijang in a record 3 hours. I tried not look out the front window too much.

Back at Mama Naxi's we ate more bananas and found some good food. In the morning light the streets of Lijang looked a bit different and the crowds were much less so it was nice to poke our noses into some shops and explore a bit more.

On the evening we arrived back in Lijang Joe purchased three of these innocent looking baked apples - I don't think so! They were the most horrid play-do balls with a strange nut thing in the center - Joe and Chris managed to gag down all three much to my horror!

We had a long bus trip home – first accidently taking a taxi to the train station not the bus – then the rickety bus we were on broke down. Finally we reached Dali in the evening, and we were happy to finally get to hang out with Lara. We ate at “Superman Vegetarian” - what a great name (-:

Chris sits besides some entertained Chinese on the bus trip back to Dali

Back to the Higher Land Inn

We decided to walk back up to the Higher Land Inn with Lara for our last weekend in China. We had loved the old fellow's laugh so much from the first visit – and the family dinner was so good too! There was another man working with the older man this time and Lara conversed easily with him in Chinese.

Leaving the uni campus to walk up to the Inn, Chris performs the "lotus" position

He showed us heaps of great photos from his mountaineering trips in the Sichuan Province – up many 6000m plus peaks. We got all inspired for a future trip in that region of China to climb some bigger mountains!

The final day in Dali we spent in the old town and enjoyed learning that New Zealand had just managed to win the rugby world cup against France.

Some neat flowers we saw along the path

Joe headed on his way to the North – Europe – where we had just come from, while we continued on our journey home – now to Tasmania for the Adventure Racing World Champs which Chris will compete in with Team Seagate. On the way we spent a night in Bangkok and from the plane window I got some views of the massive floods spreading out across the lands.