a blog about seeing the world

Archive for September, 2011

Skiing and Speight’s: a week in the high country

High in the Southern Alps, a lonely road through Arthur’s Pass winds its way between collections of sharp mountains and along ice-cold braided rivers.

The high country here is starkly beautiful, the sort of place that’s breathtaking to drive through but doesn’t necessarily make you want to pack up and move there. Jagged peaks dominate the scene, the snow at their tops giving way to dry grasses, scree, and gnarled beeches covered in black lichen. A few sheep stations are tucked between the mountains, the sheep extra wooly and hardy looking.  It’s all very epic.

Several ski fields occupy the Craigieburn Range, an eastern outlier from the core of the Alps. New Zealand’s club fields have a no-frills reputation, where big terrain and a lack of crowds supercede the need for plush amenities. Rope tows and t-bars are the only upward offerings, often with a walk to get to them. Surprisingly rough single-lane dirt access roads cling to the edges of the mountainsides, with just a few spindly bushes between you and an unpleasant drop should your tires stray from the road. It made our local Vermont benchmark for a crusty ski area— Mad River Glen— look like Vail.

We started off at Cragieburn Valley ski club, which is well known for abundant and steep terrain, looking for a single ride to the top to begin a day of out-of-bounds touring.  Though we’d emailed to confirm the existence of the $15 ticket, a grumpy staff member was determined to turn us away, saying we weren’t “touring properly,” would “abuse the privilege,” and even insinuating that we’d steal their rope tow equipment. So, we tried out nearby Mt. Cheeseman, which had a huge array of backcountry options, friendly and accommodating staff, $10 single rides, and the exciting side bonus of many nickname opportunities.

After a t-bar ride to the summit, it was an easy ridgeline hike to the entrance of several long chutes and the snowy Tarn Basin. There was enough here to keep us occupied for days.

Tarn Basin.

One chute in particular caught our eye.  Spilling into a river valley off the sunny north side of the ski field, it quickly became our mission to ski it. We spent a day consulting with topo maps and the friendly ski patrol to determine the route out, and headed to the top the next morning.

The line was long, sufficiently steep, and held soft spring snow for 2,000 vertical feet. (more…)

On the road again

After six weeks in Blenheim— far and away the longest we’ve spent in one place since leaving home— we had mixed feelings about packing up and hitting the road once more.  Though the small town was by no means the wild New Zealand that we had come to see, we had grown quite comfortable here. There is something to be said for waking up and knowing what you will do that day, and where you will sleep that night. But having finished work, the time had come. We packed the car, tore ourselves away from our apartment, and said goodbye to the sea of vines we had become well acquainted with.

New Zealand’s endemic green hills reveal beautiful moments in flashes. Driving through, we catch glimpses of passing scenes between the vibrant grassy slopes. A breeze sweeps a cloud of rosy petals from a blossoming tree; tiny twin lambs doze in the morning sunlight; a hawk swoops and dives, seemingly for the pure enjoyment of flight.

Highway 1 parallels the coast most of the way south from Blenhiem, with rugged mountains rising to the right of the choppy, cold South Pacific. We arrived in coastal Kaikoura in the early afternoon to moody weather— wind-driven rain, plain old wind, and warm late day sunshine.

The next morning brought clear skies and slightly abated southerly winds. Kaikoura lies at the base of a small, solitary peninsula, which rolls out into the sea in a patchwork of hilly green pastures. At the weather-worn seaward end, high crumbling cliffs drop away into roiling turquoise surf, the inviting color disguising the assuredly frigid water.

A pathway winds along the cliffs’ edge and across the gently rolling hills, and we walked it in both directions, soaking up the views. Far below, fat seals rested on the rocky shores and sea gulls swooped just beneath the edge of the cliffs. Skittish cows grazed freely, very distrustful of the handfuls of grass we tried to lure them with. Looking west to the mainland, the green pastures ended at the imposing slopes of the Seaward Kaikoura range, snow covering their peaks.


Five Eyes Travel Reel

It’s about halfway through our intended travel dates, and we figured it was about time to update our reel with some of our favorite shots from the journey so far.  Some you’ll recognize from the videos we’ve posted, and others will give a sneak peek at more from Southeast Asia and Australia. Two more videos are on their way soon!

Rewind: Revisiting Kyoto

February, 2011…

After the long days of skiing in Japan’s unbeatable powder and the electronic madness of Tokyo, Kyoto was a serene and amazingly gorgeous dose of culture.

We stayed at Yonbanchi, an old samurai house turned bed and breakfast by a French expatriate named Divyam and his Japanese wife. Arriving with no itinerary, it only took one cup of tea for Divyam to plan out our three-day stay to the hour. While we secretly deviated at times— and felt slightly guilty doing so— his recommendations were worth the stay on their own. We rode one-speed bikes down narrow stone streets, wandered past thousands of mossy stone lanterns in Nara, and spotted maiko dashing out of tea houses in Gion.

Returning each night to Yonbanchi was infinitely more enjoyable than staying at a downtown backpacker’s hostel and it completed an immersion into old Japan. (more…)