Sellwood Riverfront to Johnson Creek Loop

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Ok, I actually did this about 6 weeks ago, but I’ve only just gotten round to blogging about my latest foray into 1001 Walks You Must Experience Before You Die.

I was in Portland, Oregon for several days before travelling up to Seattle to attend the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop (which was fantastic; more tomorrow). I flew into Portland from NZ for two reasons – firstly, it was considerably cheaper. Secondly, there was a simple, accessible walk from 1001 Walks in Portland. I couldn’t resist…

The Sellwood Riverfront to Johnson Creek Loop is easy to get to by light rail, and only takes a couple of hours to walk. There are really three different sections. Starting at the rail station, I wandered through the Johnson Creek renewal project, which was fantastic and my favourite part of this walk (and a strong contender for favourite part of the trip all round, actually). According to the informative panels sprinkled along this creek walk, there’s been an ongoing ecological restoration project going on here, trying to return the creek to a viable state, and it’s clearly working. This little green corridor is beautiful, and full of wildlife. I even saw a Chinook salmon swimming upstream, not two minutes after reading about them on the information panel! Highly recommended.

Also recommended is the stroll through the neighbourhoods on the way to Sellwood Riverfront. The houses were all so pretty! With amazing gardens and shared community playgrounds on the footpaths. I didn’t take any photos here – it seems rude to me to start snapping at people’s family homes without permission – but I was charmed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Sellwood Riverfront Park, including the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge (a wetland, the only one in the city I believe) was also enjoyable but didn’t quite have the appeal of Johnson Creek if you ask me. Lots of people enjoying it though, both in the park/refuge and at one of the country’s oldest amusement parks, which was overrun with children so I didn’t go in. And despite my love of all things rollercoaster I didn’t really want to – it had been such a quiet, happy walk that I was loathe to wander off the loop for sugar and screaming.

Definitely worth doing – if only for the restored Johnson Creek, which was wonderful in every respect. I don’t recall who/what person or community group has spearheaded that effort, but they deserve a medal, every one.

Current Count: 995 Walks To Experience Before I Die.

Dunedin Heritage Walks

I spent many years at university down in Dunedin, so technically I’ve walked every bit of these walks already. But there I was, flipping through the utterly delightful 1001 Walks You Must Experience Before You Die, and there they were: the Dunedin Heritage Walks.

They’re not very long, less than an hour each. Both of them start and end in the Octagon, which is Dunedin’s version of the town square, a place where I’ve spent many happy hours, mostly drinking. And each walk wanders round the oldest buildings of the city, built way back when Dunedin was the richest city in the country, courtesy of the nineteenth century Otago gold rush.

So last weekend I happened to be back down in Dunedin, attending a conference there (I gave a paper on the presentation of science in a couple of second season episodes of The West Wing). And on Saturday morning, after the conference, I had a few hours to kill before flying home and there was a southern miracle: sunshine on a winter’s day! It was even warm. So I picked up the relevant pamphlet from the information centre and went and did the Heritage Walks officially instead of technically. It was basically a hunt for those little historic plaques on the sides of buildings I was already familiar with, but the walks were very pleasant nonetheless. And I was pleased to see that Dunedin’s being covered in murals – like the one of a moa, by an artist called Phlegm. Another detail I’ve never seen before is one of the stained glass windows in the cathedral, which refers to the local environment, being filled with seals and yellow-eyed penguins and other organisms rarely seen inside a church.

Current Count: 996 Walks To Experience Before I Die.

My new favourite book…

untitled1001 Walks You Must Experience Before You Die. This book is going to become the Bible of my life, I can tell. It’s the size of a couple of heavy bricks, so I won’t actually be taking it on any of the walks, but I am in love nonetheless.

It’s gratifying to see that I’ve done a small amount already! I did the King Ludwig Way in Germany with a German friend some years ago (we went to a Star Trek convention and then went walking), and there’s a handful I’ve already done here in New Zealand. Abel Tasman Coastal Track, and Kepler, and Milford, which are three of NZ’s nine Great Walks. I’ve also done bits of Te Araroa, the long pathway running down the length of the country. It’ll probably take me years to finish, but finishing TA is on my bucket list.

Also in NZ, I’ve done part of the Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk, though I had to abandon it halfway through when I fell down a bank and broke my arm. I’ve also done the Tongariro Crossing (the finest walk I’ve ever been on) which isn’t in 1001 Walks but is a day in the Northern Crossing, which is. Similarly, I’ve done the Rakiura Track on Steward Island, which isn’t listed but is four days on North West Circuit of the island, which is.

And I’ve visited Petra, in Jordan, where I spent less than an hour on one of the trails, the one going in, and all of that time I was ignoring everything about me in a desperate attempt to get into Petra itself, so I’m not really counting that one. I really want to go back for the much longer day walk.

So I’ve got incentive for some return trips. Of course there’s 1001 walks in this book so the likelihood of my completing them all is very slim. And that’s alright, because on a flick through I saw a page about a Chinese plank walk, and Hell No. I am not shuffling along that ridiculously high, ridiculously thin trail even if they do strap me on with a harness. Also, the happy predictions on some of the American walks: “If you’re lucky you’ll see a bear!”

I don’t want to see a bear. Not when I’m walking. Those fuckers eat people. You know what I could do against a bear? NOTHING. No thank you.

So with these torpedoing any possibility of completion, I feel free to skim through and pick out the walks which I want to do most.

Even then there’s far too many.

Current Count: 997 Walks to Experience Before I Die.

Waikato and the Waste Land

Just a couple of disparate little things today. I’ve been out walking again – only a very lazy half day walk, but another step towards my bucket list goal of one day completing Te Araroa, the walking track that runs the length of New Zealand. I’ll probably be 70 before I finish it, but I don’t really care. I’m only doing it for fun, so racing along isn’t something I worry about.

Anyway, the portion I did today was part of the Waikato section: the Ngaruawahia to Hamilton stretch, which links up to the Hamilton City Traverse I did a few years back. Only about 12km, going alongside the Waikato river, so it wasn’t what you’d call strenuous. There’s a dual purpose cycle/walking trail (Te Awa) being built along the river here that’s part of Te Araroa but it isn’t finished yet, so I walked Te Awa when it was there and along the road bypass when it wasn’t. I’m not a particular fan of road walking – it’s very hard on the feet – but Te Awa itself was looking really impressive. Concrete, which is great for cyclists, not so much for walkers – but still beautifully done, with picnic sections stepped down to the water and scattered with nice solid tables. One day, when the whole thing’s finally done, I might try biking it.

The second is totally unrelated, except for alliteration purposes. A paper of mine, “Witnessing the Waste Land: Sight, Sound and Response in Edith Sitwell’s Three Poems of the Atomic Age” has been published. You can find it in volume 18 of UnderCurrents: the Journal of Critical Environmental Studies. If your library doesn’t have a copy of the print journal, you can find it (and my article) free online here.

It was a bitch of a paper to write. When it was done I was so glad I wouldn’t have to see those damn poems again (“Canticle of the Rose”, “Dirge for the New Sunrise” and “The Shadow of Cain” if you’re feeling particularly masochistic) but lately I’ve begun to think of another paper I could write about them.

Shoot me now.

Rakiura Track

I’d forgotten about adding this to the tramping blog, so yay for being able to make posts in retrospect. Anyway, on the 19th of March I’d just come back from finishing another of DOC’s Great Walks: the three day Rakiura Track on Stewart Island.

I’ve never been to SI before this – all in all I’ve never been so far south before. The only place more south at this point is Antarctica. So I took the ferry over from Bluff into Oban, and got a shuttle to the start of the track proper. Now you can walk the hour or two to the track start, but it’s all over roads and I’m just not that big a fan of road walking, so I passed all the far-less-lazy people and got to the start of the track in good time. It’s marked with one end of a big sculptured chain – the other end is across the Foveaux Strait in Bluff (I saw it when I walked the Bluff to Invercargill stretch of Te Araroa).

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The first day, from Lee Bay to Port William Hut, was an easy coastal walk through bush. Only 8km, so not strenuous at all. The big draw of walking on SI is the bird life – everyone tramping here hopes to see a kiwi, and at both of the huts people creep out at night to try and spot them. Unfortunately, I didn’t see one the entire trip, although to be fair that was largely due to weather. I doubt rain really bothers kiwi of the avian variety, but I’m not about to huddle outside in the cold damp for extended periods of time when I can be in the nice dry hut eating my way through brie and crackers. It’s not that I didn’t give it a go, I did, but I’ve seen kiwi  before if not in the wild and so there was a limit to my enthusiasm.

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The first day was enjoyable, but the second was not so good. Slightly more strenuous in that the 13km track to North Arm Hut leaves the coastline to cut over the hill, but it was the weather that was truly challenging. Rain and more rain, a solid drenching pour. Now I and my pack had waterproof coverings so that was fine, but I took glasses instead of contacts on this tramp and I could not see a thing. I had to stop every minute, sometimes literally, to wipe them off. It wouldn’t have been so bad on the flatter coastal parts of the track, but on steep slippery surfaces you really need to be able to see, so it was slow going. I grumbled and swore – a lot. Highlight of the day was seeing the old sawmill machinery left to rust in the bush. I enjoy old machinery, so it’s fun to be able to poke about it and have a good look.

The last day was the best, I think. The weather had improved and the track was visible again, so I walked back into Oban – which is really such a pretty little town, I was quite struck with it – and had lunch at the pub before taking the ferry back to the mainland.

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Overall impressions of the track were mixed. It and the huts were constructed well, as always – I am never less than impressed with the work that DOC does, always high quality – and Stewart Island is indeed a lovely location. Rakiura Track is surely well worth doing. I do wonder, though, why it’s a Great Walk. Granted, I haven’t done them all but the ones I have done tend towards the absolutely spectacular: the alpine section of Kepler, the fjords of Milford, the deeply lovely Abel Tasman and the volcanic landscape of the Tongariro Plateau (alright, I haven’t done the Northern Traverse yet but I have done the Crossing and it’s the same environment). Compared to these, Rakiura is positively subdued. I wonder if the GW appellation is simply to get people to visit the National Park on Stewart Island? Well, more power to ’em, but Kepler remains the high point of my GW experiences thus far.