Monday, August 23, 2010

The Home Stretch

First off, I would like to apologize for taking so long to get this last posting out. A few things have happened over the past month (Alaska, Turkey, a 1000 mile drive, etc.) and there has not been too much time to write. Life is good and I’m getting settled down again. Although Missouri might not be quite as cool as New Zealand, there is forest and fish here, so I’ll be able to make do. Now back to what this post was supposed to be about: my last month in New Zealand.

June started off with a lot of hard work on my thesis. On my typical 8:30-19:00 day I would write between 5-10 pages. I thought this was great, but my supervisor, Mark Gahegan, was starting to get concerned with the overall document length, which was quickly approaching 200 pages. After discussions with Mark and my friend Alex who helped me edit the thesis, I was able to cut the material back substantially and tighten the arguments up. In the end, the body of my thesis weighed in at 155 pages. It was a huge relief turning it into (and even more so, getting it back from) the University Bindery at the end of the month. While all this hectic writing, editing, and publishing was taking place, I made sure to take brakes over the weekend so I would not completely lose my sanity. Sometimes the breaks were short allowing me to get out for an hour-long run or meander through the local park. At other times the breaks were full scale exoduses from the city, usually a retreat south in search of rapids and the rejuvenation that only water can bring.
Mark Gahegan, Jan Lindsay (my supervisors), and I

John Rehm is probably one of the coolest blokes I have ever met. This sage architect and Rotarian from the Western Springs club, is also an avid hunter and outdoorsman. Naturally we have a lot in common. John invited me out to go duck hunting with him and his dog, Ruby, on Saturday, June 12, in the farm country just north of Auckland. We set up our decoys and waited till sunset. As the ducks would come in to land we would squeeze off our shots and Ruby would retrieve them upon command. By the end of the evening we had three beautiful paradise ducks and one mallard. I took a mallard and paradise duck home and cooked them up with my Czech friends Lada and Patricia. We used a recipe involving bacon, onions, and red wine. Man, were those ducks delicious!

Following the day out duck hunting, four friends from the canoe club and I drove down to Otorohanga to kayak the Mokau River. It had been raining for days prior so the river was very high and pushy. Interestingly, the high water made the hard class IV rapids easier to run as long as you were online. Little Aratiatia, a hundred meters of whitewater mayhem, was especially frightening, but we all lined it up perfectly and styled the rapid. In the final section of the river we passed through some awesome limestone topography and saw an abundance of wild goats munching away at the local hills. The Mokau was probably one of the most challenging and rewarding rivers I have ever taken on.

Over the next week, I spent a lot of time in the evenings (nights?) hanging out with my friends from university and watching the world cup soccer games. This was the first year in decades that the All Whites (NZ National team) had qualified for the tournament and the country was ecstatic. Considering their underdog status, the All Whites did surprisingly well and had the distinction of being the only team to go undefeated in the tournament (they drew every match).

My last two weeks in New Zealand were awash with thesis presentations. First off was a required presentation at the School of Environment, which I was pleased many of my peers came out to support me in. Next up was a presentation to the DEVORA (Auckland volcanology) group. Finally, on June 30th came the long awaited official presentation to the Auckland Regional Council (ARC) and the Auckland Civil Defense and Emergency Management Group (CDEM). More than thirty people were in attendance for my presentation, a turnout I was very pleased with. (To see the presentation slides click here.) The feedback I got was very positive. Two days later, on the 2nd of July I picked ten copies of my thesis up from the bindery and went around town distributing them. Two copies were submitted to the university for evaluation, two to my supervisors, two I kept, and the others went out to the individuals and organizations (like the ARC and CDEM) whom I had worked for and with. I sincerely hope that my thesis will be of use in assisting Auckland to better understand their volcanic risks and prepare for an evacuation if and when the need arises.

My year as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar in New Zealand has been fantastic. I would like to extend a big thank you to all my Rotarians, friends, and family who made this such a great experience for me. Though it may be a few years before I have the opportunity to return to New Zealand I have you all in my heart and move forward with a wealth of knowledge, insight, and inspiration that I gained over the past year. If you are interested in continuing to follow on with my adventures feel free to visit my new blog “On the Move.”

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Work Hard, Play Hard!

I’ve always liked that axiom and it seems especially apt for the past month.  May started out with a trip to Wellington for the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholars Conference.  The Auckland contingent took the Overlander train down.  This was the first time I had ridden on a train in New Zealand and though scenic, it was quite slow; very similar to the Alaska Railroad really.  The conference was a large success and we not only learned about the Rotary programs, but also had the opportunity to meet all the other Ambassadorial Scholars in New Zealand and hear from speakers to include the Governor General of New Zealand, Sir Anand Satyanand, and the U.S. Ambassador, David Huebner.  Rotary is such a wonderful community and I feel privileged to be a part of it.
The following weekend I went out with some friends and competed in the Whakatane Great Outdoors 6 hour adventure race.  After an interesting drive down from Auckland to Whakatane on Friday night where my friend, Simon, lost a few lug-nuts and we improvised by redistributing the remaining ones, the race started with a splash on Saturday morning.  Well maybe more of slur-ghhh as we traversed 2 kilometres of calf to thigh deep mud.  We then jumped on our bikes and began climbing some incredibly steep hills on dirt paths.  The descents were really the scariest part (thankfully, I had taken a course on mountain biking at West Point), and I managed to come away from my one accident, after hitting a ditch and flying over the handle-bards, unscathed.  In the next phase we ran and orienteered countless kilometres over very hilly country making our way to the rifle range.  West Point training really kicked in here, enabling me to hit five out of five shots in quick succession and drive on.  The final phases included trail biking, archery, river crossing, and climbing.  At the end of the six hours, which we barely made—yet, we managed to get all but one of the optional points—our team was beat.  We went for pizza and downed it like there was no tomorrow only to later find out that we won our category: mixed four person teams.  The following day we went to raft and kayak the Rangitaiki River, which was a good chance of pace.  The class III+/IV- white-water cleaned our faces off a bit and we enjoyed a nice long soak in the local hot pools afterward.
The following weekend, on the 16th of May, I was back in the Bay of Plenty Region again, this time kayaking the Kaituna River.  Ever since Tutea Waterfall ate me last time, I have been meaning to go back in something other than my packraft.  Being attached to the kayak and having that extra buoyancy really paid off.  The waterfalls were much easier to master in a kayak I found.  That said, I still love my packraft and am currently dreaming up epic adventures to take it out on when I get back to Alaska.  After all this paddling, I needed to resurface for air, so I spent the next weekend biking around Auckland and seeing the sites and having some friends over for a barbecue.
Last weekend was probably the most exciting of the month.  It began with eight friends and a caving mission into Gardeners Gut on May 29th.  This was my first time on a true caving mission and it was grand fun.  We saw the largest stalagmite in New Zealand standing at 6-7m tall and 2m wide aptly dubbed the Birthday Candle.   We also did a few abseils and climbs in order to make it to the grotto, filled with intricate crystal formations growing from the walls, and the organ grinder.  Now the organ grinder was something else.  At five meters long, 80-150 cm wide and perhaps 30-35cm high, it certainly was not something for those faint of heart.  It affirmed for me, in the most ruthless of ways, that I am not claustrophobic.   Gaining passage involved a combination of exhaling, scrunching, and dragging myself across through the narrow limestone passage.  Once on the other side I was incredibly relieved as seen by my expression in the photo below.  The following day, I drove back to Auckland and helped my Rotary Club run Circus Quirkus.  Circus Quirkus provides roughly 5,000 underprivileged kids a chance to go to the circus free of charge.  It was a great event and was very rewarding to see all the smiles on the kids faces.
 So by this point you are probably wondering, what is all this work business about, Erik just writes about his weekend escapades?!!  Well, during the week, I assure you I am hard at work hammering away on my thesis.  Significant headway has been made on the write-up over the past month, and I am now two chapters away from finishing.  As it presently stands, the body of the document is just over 115 pages long, with numerous models, charts, and maps presenting geographic analysis.  Better yet, I have arranged a big meeting/workshop with the Auckland Regional Council and Auckland Civil Defence and Emergency Management group for the end of this month.  At the workshop, I will present my findings and engage the organizations in a discussion focused on mass evacuation planning and what can be done to make Auckland a more resilient city.  Everyone, including myself, seems to be very excited.  I’m really looking forward to finishing the thesis up, presenting my results, and turning the thesis in (as well as furnishing copies to these organizations).  I expect in just over a month this will all be complete and I’ll be back in “The Last Frontier.”

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Subtropical Fall

Here in Auckland it is finally starting to feel like fall as the leaves turn red, orange, and brown.  The temperatures are still quite temperate generally in the 60s (~20C) and until today it had been very dry—for months.  Some were calling it the worst drought in decades.  I quite enjoyed the uncharacteristic normality of weather that we were experiencing though, riding my bike on dry roads into university.  It provides for both good exercise and a way to get around the terrible Auckland traffic.  So much for mundane stuff though, I know you’re keen on hearing about the exciting bits.

Last month, while working down in Christchurch at the Natural Hazards Research Centre, I got out on some fantastic tramps and paddling trips with my interim roommate Brian Thorne, who had graciously let me crash in his gear room for two weeks.  The first weekend we went out with the University of Canterbury Canoe Club (hereby known as the goon train) and kayaked the Hurunui River, which there is a proposed hydro project on.  If the dam ends up being built, it will change the face of the river forever, so I am glad I had the chance to paddle it while it was still “wild.”  (Interesting etymology note: the German word for whitewater is Wildwasser or “wild water.”)  The next weekend Brian and I went out tramping and packrafting, knocking out the 33km Cass Lagoon Track on Saturday, overnighting in a DOC hut, and then hiking up to the Otehake River Hot Pools on Sunday.  The hot pools were fantastic, with a cool stream that could be diverted in to control the “plumbing” of the dugout and pebble coated pools and make them just the right temperature.  They also had a resident weka who seemed very keen on sharing my lunch, though I deprived him of such pleasures knowing it is irresponsible to feed wildlife.  After a good long soak, Brian and I inflated our packrafts and paddled down the Otehake (mostly grade II) to the confluence of the Otira River (see my adventure map link page 2).  The scenery was breathtaking as we took out of the river just before sunset.  This trip was really a paradox, both hard work and simple pleasures; exciting and relaxing.
Packrafting the Hurunui River

At the beginning of April my dad, Chris, arrived from Alaska to go hunting in the Southern Alps with me.  My grandfather had planned the trip and intended on coming too, but could not make it for family reasons.  Dad and I had a wonderful time none-the-less.  We spent two days in Christchurch (while I finished up the last of my research) before departing for tahr country aka the Ben Ohau Range.  Tahr are a large Himalayan mountain goat, now endangered in their home habitat, but prolific in New Zealand were they were introduced roughly a century ago.  Tahr hunting is some of the most difficult in New Zealand as it involves climbing large, steep mountains to get to where the tahr reside; perfect for two Alaskans.  In two consecutive days dad and I both succeeded in getting a tahr (the meat was nice and tough, but decently tasty).  We then proceeded onto Cardrona where we hunted fallow deer, red stags, and chamois.  As much as I hate to admit it, my dad with his vast hunting experience, is a better shot than I, and thus bagged the last NZ mountain species prize.  In the meanwhile, while my dad was hauling the chamois out of the mountains, I was testing my bicycle legs with my friend Sam, on a new trail down the Clutha River.  It was a fantastic day, very representative of my time here in New Zealand.
Dad with his Tahr above Lake Ohau

Once the week of hunting was complete, dad and I loaded up my station wagon for the long trip back north.  We went by way of the West Coast making stops in Hokitika, Murchison, Wellington, and Whakatane before reaching Auckland.  In Whakatane we went saltwater fishing with a couple of locals, which provided yet more meat for the freezer!  To see more photos from our trip click here.

 Getting back to Auckland was both happy and sad.   It was good to be back “home” again, but it ended probably my last big trip around NZ.  I knew it was time to get cracking and back to work though.  Recently, I’ve been putting ten hour days at uni trying to finish up my thesis.  Things are looking good at the moment, but there is still a lot of writing to do.  The more people I talk to about it, the more interest it generates and the more ideas I get at the same time.  Community involvement is very important in such a project and I’m glad to know I am so well supported.  On the weekends, I’m still trying to stay as active as possible however and recently went for a bikeride to the Waitakeres, a run into town, kayaking at “church,” and ANZAC day festivities.  ANZAC day is a very special day on the New Zealand calendar, serving both as a kiwi memorial day and a celebration of national identity as distinct from merely a colonial identity.  My host counselor Paul Monk invited me to march along at the 6AM dawn parade at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, which I was proud to do.
Paul and I on ANZAC Day

Two months left in the country.  I better get crackin’ on that writing! Till next time…

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hard work, progress, and new friends

Happy Birthday Jan! My big sister (I call her that because she is older, even if shorter than me) is now 25. How exciting. This is one time of the year I really wish I could be home in Alaska. The equinox is knocking on the door, the days are longer, the sun is brighter, and the skiing is brilliant. I hope that all the folks back home are enjoying it. Meanwhile here in New Zealand life is quite good as well. The summer has been wonderful—sunny and warm, and seemed to last for a good long time. Even this week in Auckland I was walking around in shorts and a t-shirt. It has been very dry too, which I appreciate, but is making it hard on many farms I hear.

The past month has been spent at the university, working hard on my thesis nearly every day. I'm happy to report that I am nearly done with all the spatial analysis and simply need to wrap up the last bit with transportation modeling before I write everything up and turn it this June/July. My most recent work has focused on network analysis looking at accessibility to certain infrastructure points including welfare centres, wharves, train stations, and bus stops. I've also been volunteering my time as an “iSpace Mate” helping the new international students acquaint themselves with Auckland and the university. The uni international office has been hosting social events, barbecues, and lectures repeatedly since mid-February. One of my favorite events though was put on by Auckland City, when some friends and I went to see a free, public, open-air screening of the kiwi-classic film “Goodbye Pork Pie.” It was great and everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves. This semester, we have three new Rotary Ambassadorial Scholars at UoA. I have made a point of inviting them to events and providing them some suggestions. One of the new scholars, Chris Vera, completed the New Zealand Iron Man two weeks ago! I loaned him my car and even traveled down to Taupo to cheer him on during the day-long endurance fest. It was quite motivating to see so many people battle it out for so long. Chris finished in ~13:30, which in my opinion, is not a bad showing for a first time participant.

The canoe club has also been quite active recently. In addition to our “church runs” of the Wairoa River, which dam releases every Sunday, we have been organizing many social events. For instance on the 27th of February I went to play paintball for the first time in my life! It was great fun and my military training did pay off. Not only did I have decent ambush tactics, but quickly learned that conservation of resources (in this case ammunition) was paramount. Our side, the black team, came out on top capturing the green flag twice, while defending our base relentlessly. A personal favorite was when I sniped a unsuspecting person crouching behind long grass from decent range with a single shot. That said, in general paintball guns are not terribly accurate. Last weekend, the canoe club organized the FulJames event. It is easily the largest of the year attracting nearly a hundred “punters” or first time canoeists. To make things easier for the instructors, we hired sit-on-top kayaks, so that the punters could self-rescue. That said, it was quite the challenge trying to guide six of them down the easy class II rapids of the Waikato River and the grand finale “FulJames” rapid at the end. I estimate he claimed greater than 50% casualties, yet 100% smiles. Sometimes it's the swimmers that end up having the most fun! To test this claim, some friends and I tried surfing the rapid in the sit-on-tops, with at times astounding success (Claude and Paul each managed 30 seconds or more of “hang time” on the play wave).

Over the past month, I have also been very active giving presentations to Rotary clubs. Now that much of my analysis is completed, I can ooohhh and aaahhh Rotarians with my cool maps. I also speak on the history of Alaska and the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship program. At one point I have three evening presentations scheduled back-to-back! The Rotarians are all very kind and often have intriguing or even humerous questions to ask. One Pukekohe (a small town in the far south of the Auckland region) Rotarian wondered, “if a new eruption happens in Auckland, could Pukekohe become the center of the new supercity?” I could think of no better response than, “Do you really want to be?” The situation is somewhat analogous to Eagle River and Anchorage I have found.

I'm now back on the South Island, this time for research. The Natural Hazards Research Center at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch extended me an invitation to come down here to work on my transportation modeling with their TransCAD software, an invitation I could not refuse for two reasons: 1)TransCAD outperforms ArcGIS in travel time estimations and 2) I love the South Island! Who knows I may even have time to get up to a little fun here on the weekends! Finishing my thesis still remains my top priority however, and at the moment things are looking really good.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Of Whitewater and Wildlife

There were two things that I saw more of this summer than ever before in my life: whitewater and birds. In fact, while on the West Coast with the Auckland University Canoe Club, at the beginning of January, we saw too much whitewater. Two weeks of constant rain left all the rivers in flood! Anyone who knows two bits about river running in New Zealand knows that West Coast rivers when combined with flood conditions don’t make for good, safe paddling. So what to do? Well, hit up the tourist spots of course! While in Hokitika, I made sure to check out the fantastic glass studio and the local museum, which details the history of the maori greenstone trade, the goldrush, and the first transportation routes across the Southern Alps. During a brief lapse in the deluge, the club was able to paddle the Arahura River, before retreating back over Haast Pass and the Crown Range to Queenstown.

While in Queenstown, we paddled one of the most exciting rapids I have ever run—Dog Leg. Rated at a solid III+, Dog Leg was not technically the most challenging rapid I have ever run, but with waves the size of small houses, it probably was the largest. In fact, the waves were so large they actually crashed onto themselves and anyone unlucky enough to be caught in their grasp. I was fortunate and rode the rodeo waves through like a giant roller-coaster making sure to keep my paddle in the water at all times (this adds stability, somewhat like a tripod) and not rolling once. We ran many more rivers after the Kewarau, finally making it back to the West Coast to run the Hokitika River after the weather had cleared and the river levels had dropped. This was my first ever heli-kayak trip and we flew into the wonderfully scenic Kakariki Canyon. Surrounded by lush rainforest, we kayaked past kilometers of magnificently sculpted and polished boulders while suspended (and occasionally submerged beneath) water the color of precious stones. It was truly a magical experience—one I will remember for years to come.

Realizing that I could not afford to always do heli trips for the rest of the vacation and desiring to get a bit more exercise in, I took up the alternative to penetrating the kiwi bush—tramping! Carrying a light-weight inflatable raft and utilizing the well established hut and track system that NZ supports, a person can reach many of the same destinations packrafting that kayakers are forced to fly into. The timing was perfect, Roman Dial, the packrafting guru and author of the book on packrafting, had just arrived in New Zealand with newly modified boats boasting thigh-straps. This makes the packraft not only generally more stable, as you can brace yourself snugly in, but also rollable. Ever since I started kayaking and learned to roll, I wanted to transfer the self-rescue skill to my packraft, and I now I could. Roman and I set up a bold plan, to be the first people ever to paddle the remote and rugged Sabine River. Reaching the river took us the better part of two days tramping and a bit of exploratory boating on the neighboring d’Urville River. We then maneuvered our way to the confluence of the east and west forks, were the river became deep enough to run, and inflated our packrafts. We had bargained for a unique and wild trip, what we got was so much more: world class packrafting! In the heart of Nelson Lakes National Park was this jewel of splashy whitewater and engrossing mountain vistas just waiting for us. The huts were large and comfortable and the tracks were well marked and maintained. Furthermore, the next trips we did just kept on getting better and better. The Taipo River (SW of Arthur’s Pass) was near constant class III action with plenty of small drops and wave chains. Here you could tramp as far as you liked and the further you ascended, the more challenging the water became.

The real jackpot was the Landsborough River however. Geographically isolated by high mountain peaks on three sides and a canyon funneling the exit, the Landsborough is truly unique. Not only is it the only major river in NZ to run parallel to the Southern Alps, but it is also one of the most remote areas of the country, much of it protected under a wilderness designation which prohibits the use of helicopters. Running the shuttle from the finish on the Haast River to the start above Lake Ohau took seven hours. Tramping into the watershed required crossing the main divide of the Southern Alps by way of Broderick Pass. As is often the case in climbing, the ascent was not the tough part, but rather getting back down. The Department of Conservation had chosen not to maintain the track descending into the Landsborough valley as it received so little use. The markers that we found dated back to 1941. The experience was worth every ounce of effort though. Shimmering glaciers hung to the sides of mountains as the clear, cold rushing water streamed forth providing excellent boating. Low water levels meant that the typically unrunnable rapids such as “hellfire” became a manageable class IV scout and run. During our four day expedition, we saw not a sole after crossing the divide minus the few chamois and rock wrens peering at us from the high mountain peaks. I can only imagine what packrafting in Fiordland must be like…

At the end of January, I picked girlfriend Alexandra up from the Queenstown airport. Planned was a two-week tiki-tour that traversed the entire length of New Zealand from Steward Island to the Bay of Island. We began at Milford Sound, where we spotted bottlenose dolphins and fur seals. Our brilliant luck continued on Ulva Island (a wildlife sanctuary), with south island robins, red-crowned parakeets, wood pigeons, riflemen, wekas, tomtits, oystercatchers, tui, kakas, saddlebacks, & fantails. By making a special trip out to Mason Bay by way of water taxi and a return bush flight, Alex and I had the rare opportunity of seeing a kiwi in the wild. On our way north we stopped by the Otago Peninsula, were Alex, who is a penguin enthusiast, was ecstatic to see both yellow-eyed and little blue penguins. Further sightseeing ensued by way of Dunedin, Christchurch, Abel Tasman, Wellington, and Rotorua on the way back to Auckland. We shared the joy of a cruise around the Bay of Islands, were we both caught snapper and had a swim with phosphorescent algae, and climbed to the crater of Rangitoto volcano in the Huraki Gulf. Though Alex and I realized after 8 months apart that we had both changed quite a bit and have decided to just be friends and go our own ways, we both greatly enjoyed the vacation and will remain close friends.

Now it is back to work at the university. While the new semester does not begin till the 1st of March, research never ceases and I have plenty to do. In addition I have the pleasure of going to speak to numerous Rotary clubs in the coming month, which I am greatly looking forward to. Yes and the Winter Olympics are now underway. February is a very exciting time indeed!

To see pictures from over the summer click here.
To read Roman’s descriptions and videos of the rivers we ran click here and scroll down.
Also be sure to check out my updated adventure map on the right.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Summer Begins!

Happy New Year! I hope 2010 finds everyone in good spirits. That is certainly the case here in New Zealand where the summer has just begun and so many fun and exciting things have happened already. (You might have guessed as much as it has been a while since my last post—many apologies).
At the end of November my sister, Jan, came to visit for two weeks. Jan works as a naturalist guide in Denali National Park and had heard many grand stories about New Zealand from her clients. After tramping 120km, eating 21 avocadoes, and spotting 51 different species of birds, just to put a few statistics onto our escapades, I think Jan will have some to tell now as well. We started with a few warm-up tramps around the Waitakere Range before heading to Tongariro National Park and completing the Northern Circuit in a blistering 26 hours (normally a 3-4 day tramp according to the Department of Conservation). The landscapes in this volcanic region were quite fabulous, though the weather stole some of the more magnificent views from us during the alpine section, which was socked in with clouds and pounding winds. On this section of the track, Jan and I must have passed at least 200 day-trippers headed in the opposite direction, far more than either of us can ever recall seeing on any section of trail. Upon completion of the circuit, we decided that a visit to some local hot pools were in due order, so we headed up to Waiotapu. Utilizing my handy guide to the Hot Pools of New Zealand we tested four different thermal areas including two creeks, one lake, and a hot waterfall—yes, a waterfall, ie a natural Jacuzzi. Next on the itinerary was visiting Jan’s good friend Kari, who now works at a kids YMCA outdoor camp on the Bank’s Peninsula on the South Island. Kari was kind enough to lend us her car, so I got to relearn how to drive manual, and we headed off to the Routeburn Track, which kiwis claim is one of the finest walks in the world. And hey, after tramping it, I’m not putting up any argument. The alpine panoramas were quite spectacular and I especially enjoyed swimming in Lake McKenzie, which is quite possibly the most beautifully located campsite in NZ, and the birthday cake that Jan surprised me with. Rather than taking the normal “easy way out” via the Te Anu Road, we tramped back over the mountains via the Caples Track, which when compared to a “Great Walk” such as the Routeburn, seemed to be in rough shape. Yet, the Caples passed though its own magnificent rainforest, particularly in the upper reaches, where absolutely everything was covered in moss, strikingly reminiscent of Middle Earth.

Early December was spent working diligently on my thesis. I spent many days digitizing Auckland’s neighborhood boundaries to use as Traffic Analysis Zones and populating a geodatabase with all possible neighborhood exits, which could be used in case of an evacuation scenario. This enabled me to produce maps of relative evacuation difficulty as determined by population to exit capacity ratios and will come in handy for studies I hope to do in the future. I managed a bit of time on the water too, hucking my pack-raft off the 8m Tutea Falls on the Kaituna River (class IV) and practicing a bit of kayaking as well. I then traveled to Taihape, where I worked a week at Bliss-Stick, the only kayak manufacturer in NZ. While most of my time was spent cutting, grinding, and gluing plastic, I was able to manage a trip down the nearby Rangitiki River (class IV-V) with a
local guide in a two person “Duckie.” Due to my work, the kayak only cost a scant NZ$500 and I got to customize it with a big dipper on the front and map of Alaska of the bottom. The following weekend, I tested the worthiness of my new craft on the class III whitewater of the Wairoa River, where it preformed wonderfully.

On December 23rd, my mom arrived to spend her Christmas vacation time with me here in New Zealand. The first thing we did after checking out Auckland and showing her off my new flat (with its incredible view on Okahu Bay), was head north to check out the giant Kauri Forest of Northland. Kauris, which reach 23m in circumference and grow straight up for 15-20m before producing their first branches, are mighty impressive. Due to heavy logging at the turn of the century, there are few of these slow-growing trees left and all are now protected. Next we drove south over Napier, where we checked out the Art Deco architecture, took the ferry across the Cook Straight, and spent some time in Nelson. While mom perused the city and its numerous shopping opportunities, I went to kayak school in Murchison and learned the fundamentals of self-rescues, barrel rolling your buddy, and how to clean up a “garage sale” when everything goes awry on the river. Mom and I then drove up to Motueka, the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park and enjoyed a fine day on the beach. We celebrated New Years in Christchurch exploring it neo-gothic architecture and visiting the numerous museums. Mom particularly enjoyed the great Thai food and extensive botanic gardens of Christchurch.

Now I am on my way out to the West Coast to meet up with the University of Auckland Canoe Club and to explore the whitewater of this incredibly wet region. It is raining now and the rivers are rising… great conditions for paddling. Till next time a splash in your direction.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Island Exploration

Summer is just around the corner here in the Southern Hemisphere.  Not that you would ever notice winter in Auckland with all the greenery around and nearly permanent absence of snow.  Summer nonetheless is welcome relief as it means two things: warmer temperatures and visiting relatives and friends.  This means I get to act as a tour guide for a bit and travel the country.  My sister will be the first to arrive, landing on Thursday, and I already have an ambitious schedule for her two-week visit involving lots of tramping, a few water sports, and helping me move.  What’s that?  Yep, I’m moving out of my solo flat in the city in favor of a gorgeous view over Okahu Bay and barbecuing opportunities, not to mention a dramatically reduced rent, wireless internet, and having flatmates.  I’ll move in on the 24th, which will be a busy day, one sure to appear in my next blog post.  To keep you updated, my new address is:
22 Karori Crescent
Orakei, Auckland 1071
New Zealand

Home Phone: +64 95 23 26 47

Goodbye living in Auckland City!

Now down to business!  Kayaking… I have been meaning to get into this sport for years and I don’t mean the sissy stuff.  Sure, sea kayaking is nice; you get some beautiful views, smell the salt water; maybe go fishing if you have skills.  Real kayakers take on whitewater though; they get rolled (sending water up their nose), hit their head on rocks, and dodge eels, all of which I experienced my first time out on the Kaituna River.  Thankfully I was wearing a helmet, which I have learned is a must.  I also got to put my Canoe Club pool training Eskimo roll to use—good use.  I probably rolled a hundred times on Sunday (1 Nov) both in preparation for the real thing and in the real thing-- that being “the chute” and the other class II rapids on the river.  Okay, so class II is not very big, but you have to start somewhere and to a beginner it can be quite fun.  I worked on moving into and out of eddies, edging the kayak, and most of all rolling.  It was all good fun and I could not get enough, even though CJ and I kayaked the same 200m section of the river for six solid hours.  No shuttles required, gnarly.   The next day I was quite sore in muscles I did not even know I had, but that is all part of picking up a new sport.

Work hard, play hard.  That has always been my philosophy and though much of what I write about here on my blog is on the play side, I do a quite considerable amount of work too (it’s just not as fun to write about).  The GIS work for my thesis has been coming along pretty well and on Friday the 6th of November I gave a presentation to the DEVORA research forum (to view the program and forthcoming slides click here).  My presentation was well received, particularly by the civil defense and emergency management officials in attendance.  On the 7th, a number of DEVORA researchers including myself went on a field trip to Brown’s Island--more commonly referred to by its Maori name Motukorea—a volcano in the Hauraki Gulf.  Motukorea is one of a handful of undated centers in the Auckland Volcanic Field, which is what my mass-evacuation planning thesis focuses on.  The rest of the group, almost exclusively vulcanologists and geologists, were ├╝ber-excited about the stratigraphy of the island, which took a fair amount of effort for them to translate into terms even a aspiring geographer could understand.  Seeing all the scoria and tuff was pretty exciting though.  My favorites were hiking up on the crater rim and checking out an old pyrochlastic bomb (see image below), where you could actually see how it was warped as it traveled through the air. To view more photos click here.

On Sunday, I invited Eugene out to discover some more of our local Auckland surroundings.  The first stop was One Tree Hill, another former volcano and renowned Maori pa site (fortified hilltop).  Today it bears a monument to the Maori at the summit and is surrounded by a wonderful park.  Next stop was Thai food—I had been longing for some as I had not had it since leaving the US—and then off to the West Coast beach at Whatipu.  The West Coast beaches are renowned surfing beaches with very curious black sand, which gets quite warm on a sunny day.  Eugene and I hiked all around the beach, over the sand dunes, and then took a small trail up to the base of the hills where there are numerous caves to explore.  Apparently the largest of the caves used to be used for parties as long as 70 years ago!  To view more photos click here.

Last week was a bit more lively than usual.  No, not because I was taking finals like the undergrads, but because of some exciting Rotary initiated events.  On Tuesday (10 Nov) after the Newmarket Rotary Club meeting, my counselor Paul and I went across the harbor to Devonport to speak with the DOC rangers about our upcoming service project on Motutapu Island.  We then checked out the Passchendaele WWI exhibit at the old Fort Takapuna, which was a very fine display that one of the Newmarket Rotarians was central in bringing to Auckland.  Tuesday evening I was invited to attend a small screening of the movie Bottle Schock and a nice roast dinner with some of the Rotarians from the Westhaven Rotary Club.  It was a very fine social evening and I even met a Rotarian who manufactures his own muzzle loaders and mentioned taking me out hunting.  How cool is that?!  On Friday evening I went out for dinner with Newmarket Rotarian Martin McGahan, whose son, Andrew, had been a Rotary Youth Exchange Student in Eagle River and lived with the Arlington family, who I know well.  The world seems so small sometimes.  The McGahans were very generous hosts and the dinner was superb.  I assured them that they had to come back to Alaska and visit my family at Mile 6.2 sometime.

Last weekend I recruited four friends to come out to Motutapu Island with Paul and I to do some community service work, cleaning out old WWII magazines (similar to bunkers) constructed by guess who?-- the US Army.  During WWII many American soldiers and sailors came to New Zealand as a jumping off point for the Pacific Theater.  The concrete magazines were in great shape, but had collected a considerable amount of dirt as cattle moved freely in and out over the past 67 years.  With the help of the Motutapu Trust, which Paul and the Newmarket club are greatly involved with, the historical military sites around the island are being cleaned up and fenced off (so the sheep and cows don’t wander back in).  Cleaning the magazines meant a few hours of shoveling, but it turned out to be a good change of pace from normal work at the uni and the rolling green scenery of the island and its peacefulness were more than worth the effort.  Erik’s Motutapu pics.