Tuesday, March 27, 2012

hike to Ben Lomond peak, Queenstown (28.02.2012)

Alright, over the past few months I had been rather lazy and motivation to do any kind of hikes was lacking. But then I felt the urge to climb a mountain and when those urges arise you do best not to resist them!

Ben Lomond stands 1747m high and is the peak visitors can see left to the Gondola, when looking up from the township. In case you have too much energy or time you can attempt the climb right from the bottom (vertical rise 450m) but neither applied to me. I rather enjoyed the ride up in one of the many gondola cars, enjoying the view over Queenstown. Some of my workmates have done the walk previously and asking for their advice and opinion I received responses that varied from "that's a walk in the park" right to "you'll be crawling up there on all fours!". Very helpful, right?!

The first section up to Ben Lomond Saddle I managed to reach in 2 hours and I was quite proud of myself. The hike was steep and tiresome (as I said before I've been out of practise for a while) and I had to pause for air often. In hindsight I think that wasn't a bad thing since I had enough time to enjoy the beautiful view over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu opening up in front of me. Every now and then I had to pinch myself when a loony ran past me up the steep mountain. I will never understand those people!

When I reached the saddle I had to skip my well deserved break since I couldn't find a place to sit and continued my climb up the peak. The first part looked comparatively easy and with my own field-tested routine (look down, do a few steps, force yourself to breathe and whatever you do, do not look up!) I made good progress up the mountain and thought myself close the summit. Unfortunately what I assumed to be the peak was only a massive ledge and after you make your way around it it becomes worse. Bloody steep, path disappearing every now and then, and huge boulders and chunks of chist that are too big to just climb them (my legs are just not long enough to do that!). So here you have it, in some parts I ended up on all fours! Twice I was thinking about turning back because I had enough but then my pride stopped me and I thought I'll never hear the end of it. So I kept going; crawling, puffing and swearing and praying for an end. When I finally arrived the summit after 1.5 hours with shaking knees, I was so incredibly proud of myself. I love this feeling!

The view is incredibly beautiful and awe-inspiring. To one side you have Queenstown, Frankton and Lake Wakatipu and to the other side you look right into the Southern Alps with it's hundreds and thousands of mountain peaks and nothing inbetween but more mountains, valleys and a few lakes here and there. I couldn't get enough of it!

It is well know that the way down is worse than the way up and I always like to challenge that comment. But they are right. I had to be so careful not to slip and fall that I didn't take in anything from the surroundings and halfway down to the saddle my knees seemed to be in a wobble contest (can't say which one won but they both wobbled at their best). After 6 hours I finally arrived back at the Gondola, where I treated myself with a piece of chocolate cake before heading back to the hostel and having a long shower. I was dead tired and slept like a baby that night!

The track is well worth doing, but I recommend to only attemp the hike in good weather. I would have been devastated if I hadn't been able to see through thick clouds and fog.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

short trip to Melbourne (January 2012)

Since leaving Melbourne in May 2009, I have always wanted to come back one day for at least a visit. This resolution finally came true late January this year when I accepted a detour via a flight to and an overnight stay in Christchurch, before flying to Australia. The same happened on the way back when I spend a very uncomfortable and cold night at Christchurch airport, laying on the floor and trying to get some sleep (which didn't happen, in case you were admiring my ability to adapt to those inconvenient conditions).

I arrived on a Tuesday morning and had to leave Sunday evening. Enough time to re-explore my old home. First though I had to get used to the heat. When I left Milford a few days previous to my arrival in Melbourne, the thermometer didn't show more than 15 centigrade -now I had to cope with almost 40!

The days I spend with a mixture of sightseeing and catching up with old friends from New Zealand. The condition of my skin (there is no beating around the bush here, it was white!) was taken into account as well and so I spend plenty of time in the sun. Most times unintended while sightseeing (which isn't always pleasant and can sometimes turn into an annoyance) and at other times voluntarily on one of the many lawns. Let me assure you, the sunbathing was always done carefully and in compliance with my wellbeing (well, when you could fry eggs on your skin it's definitely too hot and time to leave the sun!). I didn't get too much of a sunburn except for those parts of your body you reach with difficulty when applying sunlotion.

There are some things I didn't get around to doing when I lived in Melbourne and I tried to do a few of those during my short visit. A visit to the nightmarket at the Queen Victoria Market is one of those missed events. Well, an event it was, a memorable one too but I can't say I need to see that chaos again. Hundreds of people tried to make their way through the aisles of the market and thousands lined up for food, blocking the way for everyone else. I was hoping for exotic cuisine from foreign countries I've never tasted before but the queues were far too long for my liking and so I ended up eating - have a guess..........- eating a German sausage with Sauerkraut and mustard because they worked efficient enough to keep the waiting to a minimum ;-). That evening was quite a disappointment to be honest and so I went back to the hostel to grab my camera gear and do what I had done the previous nights - night photography. I had developed a liking for that kind of photography while I lived in Melbourne and so it was nice coming back to my old domain.

I was also looking forward to doing a wine tasting tour with my German friend Katrin, who had arrived in Melbourne during my stay (after a trip through the outback). Although I had made a booking weeks earlier we never made it to the Yarra Valley. Long story short: We had booked with operator A but never saw any of their busses. Nobody came around looking for anyone and so after a while I checked my mobile, saw that somebody had tried to contact me, called back and found out that it was A, trying to find me. Unfortunately the driver had left because he couldn't find us and now he's too far out the city to return for us. I learnt that I shouldn't have looked for operator A since they have sub-contracted operator B who should have contacted me 48 hours prior to the trip advising of the situation. None of that had happened and so I hadn't bothered approaching buses of operator B because I didn't know we were supposed to go with them. What a screwed up situation! I asked for a refund and was told to leave my email address (which they already had from my booking...) and the manager would get in touch with me. Guess what, he never did and my follow up emails were all ignored. They left me no choice but to contact my bank and ask to retrieve my money from the operator's bank account. It took a while but they managed in the end and I've got my money back. Operator A (which is Autopia Tours) has still not bothered to contact me so I assume they haven't even noticed the money went missing. I am quite disappointed with their customer service. This is not the way you handle a situation like this. Sure, things didn't go the way they were supposed to that day but good customer service doesn't show when everything is going alright but when you have to deal with unusual events.

By the way, during my stay, the Australian Open were in full swing just a few yards away in various venues around the city. I didn't make it to one of the events but I joined hundreds of people at Fed Square, watching parts of the matches on the big screen. I guess during the Australian Open every Melbournian becomes a tennis coach and expert and knows a thing or two to say about what's happening. Since I don't know much about tennis and the rules I found that quite helpful at times.

It was awesome being back in Melbourne and I hope it won't be the last time in that wonderful, vibrant and exciting city. I'll be back, I promise!