Saturday, November 03, 2012

The Gangsters invade NZ

When the caching community of NZ announced they were hosting their first Mega Event, the gangsters couldn’t resist the opportunity to be part of it, so after begging and pleading with our respective wives we were all granted a leave pass to head across the ditch. Plans soon took shape and while there was plenty of enthusiasm to conquer all and see everything, we settled for a 10 day loop around the South Island. As with all our trips, there was plenty of things to prepare. Flights were booked, accommodation and transportation was locked in, caches solved and routes organised. It all came together on the 17th Oct 2012.

Day 1: As QF45 landed in Christchurch we were filled with excitement. The snow-capped mountains and majestic plains were the first thing that caught my eye. Collecting our Juicy van was our ticket to finding our first cache for the trip. The tally quickly added up as we made our way around the suburbs. It was in these suburbs where we got our first glimpse of the devastation from the 2011 earthquake. It started with buckled and pot-holed streets, roads that didn’t line up with bridges, some houses abandoned through to whole neighbourhoods evacuated, flooded streets and the demolition of the QEII stadium. The sense of shock and sadness was overwhelming. Our first night in Christchurch was spent in jail, the renovated Addington Prison was a novel place to stay. This backpacker style accommodation was a fun reminder to my backpacking adventure years ago.

Day 2: We’d all experienced some form of communication difficulty since arriving so this morning we headed straight for a Telecom shop. This detour ate into our caching time and coupled with a slow find-rate due to being in a big city we opted to leave the hustle and bustle and head towards Dunedin. Before leaving town we nabbed a few selective cache types like webcam’s and earthcaches. As we drove south we were constantly amazed at the vista. Snow on the mountains, braided rivers and green plains had us camera happy. However our focus was the upcoming 80 cache Thompson’s power-trail. This trail which starts at Rakaia heads inland through rural farmland, caches are dotted along both sides of the road and we quickly accumulated some good numbers here. After completing the trail we headed for Ashburton and our nights accommodation.

Day 3: Our gangster trips always uncover an array of cool cache locations and often a quote or two that sticks in my memory. Today we visited an old pile box (war bunker) and some interesting WWII tank blockades, however a moment that had us laughing for days was actually a DNF for us. We’d been searching for a cache when we decided to move on, however a nearby property owner approached us where she asked “what are you doing in my bush”. While Matt kindly explained the finer details of caching to her, the rest of us laughed uncontrollably about us being in her bush.
Moving down the coast we stopped at Timaru and Waimate where we found a plethora of caches. By days ends we’d arrived in Oamaru, this picturesque town offered so much. Not only did we find our share of the local caches, but we stumbled across some penguins in the wild and a place called “Steampunk”. This funky attraction consisted of old steel items welded together to form some unusual displays which came to life when operated by a coin.

Day 4: Reluctantly we had to leave Oamaru, it had captivated our interest with its beauty and attractions. Driving further south we continued to find highway caches, some of which provided us with some historical war interest, others made us laugh with oversize chooks laying eggs or climbing signal towers while some earthcaches enlightened us to the local geology, the Moeraki Boulders was one such cache. These massive cylindrical boulders were incredible. By mid-afternoon we’d arrived in the picturesque Dunedin where we soon stumbled upon the worlds steepest street and an impressive lookout. By late afternoon we were on our way to the 1st NZ Mega event. Arriving at the event we were all taken by the remoteness and the boggy conditions. With registration complete we attended a symposium on reviewers and caught up with a few Aussies but deciding the whole mega event thing was a little disappointing and it was time to move on! Back in Dunedin we checked into our accommodation where we made ourselves at home for the next 3 days.

Day 5: It was a day filled with various achievements, milestones and cache types to name a few. We spent the morning seeing the sights and caching through Dunedin CBD before attending a flashmob CITO event at the Octagon where we caught up with more Aussies over celebrating the NZ mega. After a hearty café lunch we headed out into the suburbs where we continued our NZ caching average of 50 finds per day. It was on this particular outing that the guru of earthcaches came to the fore-front. Professor Thompson, as we nicknamed him with his bag of tricks pulls out a refractometer and set about measuring the salinity of the nearby water. Likewise at another earthcache he starts studying sand composition with his own magnifying glass. Another interesting spot that caught my interest was a cool letterbox cache that highlighted a disused obscure rail tunnel.
To complete the day, Matt headed out for dinner with some other reviewers while we had Chinese takeaway and a few bourbons.

Day 6: From first light we noticed how bitterly cold it was, a harsh southerly wind that had persisted for the past few days had intensified, but that didn’t stop us. We headed off towards the Otago peninsula. The road out along the peninsula wound its way along the foreshore offering great views across the bay. Once again, there were a few standout caches, these included Yellowhead & Grandad’s army. The latter being an amazing insight into NZ war history and the measures that the Kiwi’s took to protect themselves. It was here that we explored old gun placements, bunkers, ammunition shelters and a seal that rested on the rocks. Continuing our drive out to the end, we joined a tour at the Royal Albatross centre which explored the headland and its habitants. Our tour-guide Mary, who had ancestry lines back to the original landowners, was very informative as she showed us the birds and war history.
Heading back towards Dunedin we detoured via Lanarch Castle, this iconic tourist landmark overlooks Dunedin harbour and normally offers spectacular views, but today it was far from inviting as it snowed and hailed for us. Needless to say we didn’t stay long and thus continued back into Dunedin for a well-earned bourbon.

Day 7: A change from our original plans saw us travelling further south today, instead of a large inland loop. Once again we had to dodge the unpredictable weather and on a number of occasions we drove past caches due to the rain. There were a few memorable finds, some included a wellington boot, an impressive whale fossil and a rail tunnel. However the highlight caches for me was our visit to Nugget Point and Slope Point. The Nugget Point cache took us to a very exposed lighthouse perched high on the cliff and offered breathtaking views, while the Slope Point cache took us to the most southern point of mainland NZ. At both spots the weather tried its best to deter us, but for me it probably highlighted the ruggedness of the area. The remaining drive into Invercargill offered very little caching but we did see plenty of white bait fishing huts that dotted various river banks. Once in Invercargill we found some backpacker accommodation where we shared a good meal and a few bourbons.

Day 8: We spent the morning caching and sightseeing around Invercargill. While the caching was pretty standard we did see the “Worlds fastest Indian”. Back in the 70’s Burt Munro (a local man) held the land speed record on his Indian motorcycle. Today his bikes, his grave and a memorial can be found in Invercargill.
Pressing north towards Queenstown we slowly got closer and closer to those snow-capped mountains that had followed us for much of our trip. Stopping in Kingston we were lucky enough to see the Kingston Flyer (steam-train) travelling the tracks. We were also surprised to see a plaque highlighting historical flood heights and how much of the area would be underwater. Tracing the edge of Lake Wakatipu we eventually arrived in the adrenalin capital of Queenstown. This bustling town was a hive of activity and where-ever we turned there were masses of people soaking up the atmosphere. We quickly found some accommodation in the heart of town and soon sort about booking some form of adrenalin activity which this town is renowned for. We chose the Shotover Jet ride after giving some seriously consideration to the 300m bungee swing.
With a day of fun and relaxation planned for tomorrow and our hostel having its own public bar we wasted little time in getting a feed and hitting the pub where a combination of cheap booze, lots of laughter and time to unwind made for a great night on the town.

Day 9: Seedy stomachs and hazy heads was our wake-up call this morning, but there was no sympathy from anyone as we were soon on the bus heading out to the Shotover River for our jet boat ride. After donning our life jackets and raincoats, final instructions were given and then we were skimming down the river, dodging cliff walls and submerged rocks at phenomenal speeds. As the driver gave the signal our jet boat was soon doing 360deg spins, all of which quickly cured our hangovers. My only regret was that was all over way too quickly. Heading back to Queenstown we experienced another one of those memorable quotes, this time the female bus-driver had accidentally left the rear bus door open. So Tomo impromptu-ally yells out to her “your back door is open”. Well, that brought us all to tears of laughter and a somewhat sticky moment for the bus driver.
Back in town we headed straight for the Skyline Chalet. A picturesque gondola ride soon had us admiring the amazing views from on top, but our focus was on the toboggan rides and we wasted no time in consuming five rides down the slick track. We then watched as Matt not do one, but two bungee jumps from the nearby “Ledge” facility. Back in town and with the afternoon free we jumped in the car and headed out to grab a few caches around Arrowtown, Glenorchy and an amazing trip part way up to the “Remarkables”.
Following our over-indulgence in alcohol the previous night we spent our last night in Queenstown fairly low key. A pizza and bourbon was about the extent of my partying. After catching up on a few logs it was lights out for an early.

Day 10: Saying goodbye to Matt felt a little strange but he had other activities in Queenstown while the rest of us had to get back to Christchurch. Being on the road by 7.30am paid dividends as we made our way north through the mountains. At every turn there was another beautiful turquoise lake lined with an abundance of caches. At one point we took a detour into a nearby valley where we came across an abandon goldfield filled with miners ruins dating over 150 years. Once again if it wasn’t for caching we’d never have found this incredible place. Pressing on we were soon at Lake Tekapo where our best chance of seeing Mt Cook was dashed by the high cloud, not deterred we stopped and took some spectacular photos of the mountains and lakes. Soon enough we were negotiating our final mountain pass and were back at the Canterbury Plains. Having driven all day Christchurch still seemed so far away so we opted to stop at Ashburton but with the fair in town, accommodation was scarce and we were forced to press on to Rakaia for the night.

Day 11: It was our last day in NZ and having seen our find tally approach 600 finds for the trip we decided it was only fitting that we’d push it to an even 600 finds. So as we neared Christchurch we found our final few caches. Returning our Juicy rental we waited for our flight and reflected on our tour of duty. The gangsters’ first O.S trip had been such a success, but it wouldn’t have been if it wasn’t for a supportive family.

Thanks to Tomo, Matt and Jas for an awesome experience.