Saturday, March 17, 2007

Tramping at Fairy Falls

Of all the words that differ between English-speaking countries, I must note that variants of "hiking" are my favorite. This is because "hiking" appropriately changes based on what country you're in: saying "hiking" in the States helps you differ how the activity is different from "bushwhacking" in Australia, and "rambling" in the United Kingdom. It seems completely inappropriate to use one word over the other in its native habitat for the simple reason that no one bushhwacks through the moors you are amicably rambling through instead.

New Zealand, being another landmass and all, has its own word to describe this activity: tramping. It describes the act very well, as walking around the New Zealand wilderness a lot of, well, tramping in the undergrowth over slippery rocks and streams in an attempt to get through the mountains. It's really a quite enjoyable thing to do, as I found out yesterday on a day trip with the Tramping Club at the university. We went out to Fairy Falls in the Waitakere Ranges about an hour north of Auckland. It was a nice little dayhike following a series of waterfalls cascading down a mountainside, meaning what follows is going to be primarily a series of several different and lovely scenery pictures that you will all be very jealous of. Alright? Alright.

This is a picture of a Kauri tree, which is so tall that only about half the tree fit in the picture. These trees are incredible: they can reach up to 50m in height and 5m in girth, meaning they can rival the California Redwoods. Unfortunately they were logged excessive amounts in the last century meaning there are very few of the tall ones today (they grow about 20 millimeters a year), which has guaranteed a change in the New Zealand landscape for the next few hundred years.

Luckily, the patch of the Waitakeres we were in was a national reserve first set aside at the turn of the twentieth century, so some of the big trees like the one in the picture remain.

By the way, this entire national reserve is one huge rainforest, in case that wasn't clear. The picture above is a very typical view of what the forest looks like around here: pines and ferns and palms all living together in a rather fascinating mix!

This hike was also cool because a very nice Kiwi girl took the time to explain and point out a lot of things about the native flora and fauna that we had no idea about but she knew like the back of her hand. We were all rather impressed by this talent like a visitor would be impressed at my knowledge of maples and poison ivy back home, which she politely shrugged off with a "no worries" attitude. As a result though, I now know which red berries are safe to eat versus which should be used as ammunition to shoot down birds.

This is the waterfall we stopped to have lunch at, and hence the one I have the most pictures of. This is also where I let it slip that the entire region is incredibly gorgeous to the Kiwi girl who was showing us the forest, and she just shrugged. "This is all pretty typical for us," she explained.

Like the picture of the Kauri tree, I'm in here for scale. This is the main waterfall of the collective Fairy Falls, which is apparently popular for locals to rapel down. I say "apparently" because in true New Zealand style we never saw anyone outside of our group the whole time, save one photographer and his friends taking pictures of the waterfalls.

After this last main waterfall, I should note, most of our tramping was done essentially in the streambed over rather slippery rocks. This was quite fun in a paranoid "it would really hurt to fall right now" sort of way.

Tui bird! Most of the New Zealand forest is actually disturbingly silent and void of life for someone in North America- there are no native mammals so you don't have squirrels or deer making noise, and most of the native birds are silent and are nocturnal anyway. The most notable exception to this was the tui bird pictured here, who raised quite a racket in trying to get us away from his tree. It was so nice to see him moving up there though!

My excitement in seeing a Tui was admittedly twofold though: Tui is the name of my favorite New Zealand beer. It's one of two default beers in this country, the other being Export Gold, but is a bit darker.

This last picture was taken towards the end of our dayhike, when the trees gave way a little and we were treated to a view of Auckland in the distance. Isn't it wonderful to have such places of beauty so close and at hand? Aucklanders are a truly lucky group of people!