Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Top of the World

As you may have read in the last blog post, Liam's flight out of Dunedin was unexpectedly cancelled, giving us another 24 hours together.  This was brilliant for us, as a) the weather was supposed to be awesome after a couple of overcast and drizzly days and b) it gave us the opportunity to do the other hike we had been wanting to do, to Mount Cargill and the Organ Pipes.  If you haven't heard of them before don't worry, neither had we and as it turned out, none of the locals we spoke to had either!  But after browsing all the options on the Dept of Conservation website we thought that this one sounded pretty cool and were keen to get cracking.  The walk was described as steep and uphill but that didn't phase Gareth and I.  After all, people had said the same about Tunnel Beach and that wasn't bad at all.  As we were to discover however, this hike made Tunnel Beach look like a picnic!

Grahams Bush Reserve

Taking my own sweet time!

Liam waiting for us to catch up.  Poor fella had to do this a LOT!

The sun shone as promised and we headed out in the direction of Port Chalmers, which is a lovely area we hadn't visited before.  There are several ways you can get to the Mount Cargill track, but we decided to go the whole hog and do the longest route, which starts in Sawyers Bay via the Grahams Bush Reserve.   It didn't take long for Gareth and I to realise that, although we walk everywhere as much as possible, there are very few hills in Gore and it had been a long time since we had climbed any!  Liam on the other hand, well accustomed to the hilly streets of Wellington handled the track with ease.  The bush was beautiful and luckily for us was full of wildlife such as the kereru (NZ pigeon), tui, bell birds and tom tits.  They weren't remotely phased by our puffing and staggering through their territory, which gave us several much-needed opportunities to stop for a breather while we photographed them!  Up and up the track climbed as we zig-zagged higher and higher, faced with yet another hill around every corner.  Despite the excellent weather, parts of the track were quite wet and muddy and involved half climbing. half clawing our way over slippery rocks before we finally reached the promised staircase which brought us out at the top.  The top of Grahams Bush that is; there was still a long way to go!

View from the road at the top of Grahams Reserve & the foot of Mount Cargill

The transmission station at the top of Mount Cargill.  We had no idea
at the time that THIS was the mountain we were climbing!

The view from the top was stunning and we took plenty of photos whilst catching our breath.  We didn't know it at the time but this gorgeous lookout was nothing compared to where we were going!  The Grahams Bush track comes out onto a main road, which you need to cross in order to arrive at the foot of the Mount Cargill track.  Normal people (as in not mad like us) can also park here and simply start the track from this point. We had no idea what Mount Cargill was, or how high it was, but figured it wouldn't be all that big.  When we first parked the van at the start of Grahams Bush, we could see a huge mountain dominating the skyline way in the distance, topped by a transmitting station.  This station we later discovered is the tallest man-made structure in Dunedin.  As for that far-off mountain?  THAT was Mount Cargill and can actually be seen from most parts of the city.  At 2,218 feet high it's probably just as well we didn't know at the time, or we would have never attempted it!  I never clicked at the time, but it was named after the same man who founded the Tunnel Beach track, carving 150 steps by hand through limestone cliffs.  This guy was obviously a real glutton for punishment! 

Mercifully, the track to Mount Cargill was considerably less challenging than Grahams Bush, not being quite so vertical and less slippery.  The climb - at least at this stage - was more gradual and gentle and although Liam was still racing along miles ahead of us, we ambled along quite comfortably, stopping to take more photos as the view started to open up before us.  Although it didn't feel like it; it became apparent that we were now much, much higher than the view we had left behind back at the start of the track!  The temperature had now hit 21 degrees, the hottest day of the year so far in Otago and we couldn't think of a more perfect way to spend such a glorious day, although severe winds had been forecast for later on.  Once out of our sheltered bush canopy and onto open ground, we started to believe it as we began to feel the first gusts of wind.  Still, it was understandable seeing as we were so high up and the cool breeze was welcome.

Just a tad windy up here!  That's Dunedin City and the Harbour behind us

A little further along we spotted a sign pointing to the left which said 'Butters Peak'.  We had no idea what it was but were enjoying the walk so decided we would go and investigate.  The sign is actually spelled incorrectly and its real name is Buttars Peak.  However you want to spell it; this side track leads up a rocky dome, at the top of which is the most insanely incredible view you could ever hope to see.  To get to it, you literally have to scale up a rocky face, which normally wouldn't be a problem.  Unfortunately due to the weather and the sheer height of the peak, the wind was now gusting unbelieveably to the extent it was hard to stand up.  We weren't just being buffeted by it; we were being HAMMERED.  There was nothing but gorse to hang on to (not an option!) and even taking photos was risky, as there was a very real fear that our phones and cameras would be blown out of our hands and lost forever!  Sadly for me, I had to give up and take shelter behind a boulder just a few feet from the top as it was just too dangerous and I became too frozen with fear to move.   So near, yet so far!  Frustrating as it was, I was more than happy with what I could see as I peeked out from behind my boulder, with Dunedin city on one side and Port Chalmers on the other.  Well, that's what I thought it was.  As it turned out, we were staring at a whole lot more than that!

Liam getting blown away by the view and the wind!

360 degree views as far as the eye can see

From the top of Butters Peak you can see over 100km away!

Not far to the top of Mount Cargill from here!

Whilst the wind was still rather disconcerting for Gareth and Liam, they continued to scramble their way up to the top and were in awe of the spectacle that awaited them.  We literally were on top of the world.  None of us had ever seen anything like it; the view took in the entire Otago Peninsula with all its magic beaches, the harbour, right across to Blueskin Bay, miles away on the other side of the city on the road to Oamaru.  We could even see as far as Nugget Point in the Catlins, more than 100km away!  We stayed here as long as time would allow, before reluctantly making our way down.  The way this wind was going, it was quite possible that Liam's flight would be cancelled again!

View from the foot of the Organ Pipes.  You can see how many of these
ancient basalt columns have collapsed over the years...

But the remaining ones standing are still impressive!

We still had one more mission to tick off however before we headed for home - we had yet to see the Organ Pipes.  This stunning rock formation is one of only four like it in the world and unsurprisingly they really do look like organ pipes.  They were formed millions of years ago as lava from an ancient volcano cooled, with shrinking and cracking of the rock occuring vertically, creating geometrically perfect hexagonal columns.  Over the years, earthquakes have caused some of the pipes to come crashing down and they lay broken at the foot of their still-upright counterparts.  It was here that I once again was forced to wait while the guys scaled up to the top of the pipes.  This part was extremely challenging even for them, not to mention risky on a day like today.  It wasn't possible to stay up there long and I was extremely relieved when they both descended safely!  Still, we had done it; our mission was now complete and it was time to whiz all the way back down (well, as quickly as we could whiz!).  Down the Mount Cargill track and back through the slippery, squelchy Grahams Bush Reserve until we finally made it back to the van.

Now Liam can see why we love the South Island too!

We didn't have much time to spare until we had to take Liam to the airport but this time we were all fairly relaxed.  Surely the flights weren't going to be operating this evening with 120kph winds continuing to escalate and storms pummeling Wellington and the Cook Strait?  We smiled as we saw all the previous flights had been delayed or cancelled - but not Liam's.  Even as the plane took off there was still a chance it would have to turn round and head back to Dunedin if it was unable to land.  After an extremely rough flight the plane was unable to land on the first attempt but a second proved thankfully successful.  It was so wonderful to see Liam, and better still to be able to share with him why we love the South Island and living the way we do.  After experiencing it for himself, I think he definitely gets it.  With a bit of luck, he'll be back again before too long!

1 comment:

  1. What an awesome experience Jackie, those views are to die for!
    Am enjoying your blog so much and am very envious.