Monday, 29 September 2008

The short Great Train Journey

From Bangkok to Penang (Butterworth)

My Great Train Journey started in Bangkok last Saturday and finished on Monday afternoon as I came into land in Jakarta, with a child vomiting over my back. Journeys are extreme experiences.

At 2.00 pm last Saturday 27 September, 2008, Stefan and I arrived at the Bangkok Railway Station. Built in 1910, this magnificent example of architecture from the Kingdom of Siam is captivating.

Looking a little lost as we tried to find our platform, a pretty female attendant came and said in impeccable English. “ Can I help you?” We showed her our tickets. “The 2nd class train to Malaysia leaves on Platform 5 at 2.46 pm. ”
This was the start of one of the best short train journeys in my life. And having traveled much of Europe, New Zealand and Asia, " I know that Never the Twains shall meet."
For someone who has looked with envy at the Eastern & Oriental Express which made history as the first ever train to transport passengers directly from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok, this was our $ 40 alternative to their $3000 plus price tag.

Stefan, who works for the International Federation of Red Cross in Bangkok on Tsunami rehabilitation, assured me the week before, "I am convinced you can get a second class train from Bangkok to Butterworth (Penang) in Malaysia." As I had an important meeting in Bangkok, I knew I could afford a long weekend to get back to Jakarta.

We were half an hour early for the train and we poured over Stefan's map of Thailand. The trip would take us east for two hours skirting round Bangkok and then it plunges south for about 1000 km to the Malaysian border.

We soon identified the staff on the three sleeping carriages, Mr. Pillow Slip, Mrs. Cook and Master McClean. Pillow Slip gave us just that the moment we walked in the train. We covered our dark blue pillows with a crisp white slip as Mr.McClean swept the floor yet again and Mrs. Cook asked if we wanted to order dinner. Flaggy, the guard, took us until departure, to identify.

Flaggy, the guard

The only work Flaggy appeared to do during the whole 22 hour trip, was to wave a green flag ceremoniously as he signalled the train to leave at 2.46 pm and the rest of his time he was chatting up the pretty women on the train endearing them with a practiced toothy smile.

The 2nd class train to Malaysia left on Platform 15 at 2.46 pm on Saturday 27 September

The first hour clearing Bangkok was fascinating as we passed thousands of shacks clustered into ribbon-like shanty towns along the tracks.

The Bangkok River

I didn’t realise how wide the Bangkok river was as we chugged across the bridge. Bang Sup, Bong Bamru, Sala Ya and a number of stations flashed by as we travelled West before turning south and following the coastline of the Gulf of Thailand. We saw a small floating market on a river and many Budhist temples. Mrs. Cook served dinner on the stroke of six o’clock comprising spicy Thai soup, rice, vegetables and sweet and sour chicken. Twilight accentuated the contours of the land.

Stefan produced a bottle of Chilean Red and life took on a rosier taint.

Rice paddies stretched as far as the eye could see and as twilight descended at 6.3o pm, I took a photo of the lady in the opposite seat, gazing out the window, silhouetted by the setting sun. As soon as the sun set, Mr. Pillow Slip, turned into a conjurer, as he produced a magic key from his chain, unlocked, a concealed compartment on the roof, and hey presto, an upper bunk was formed. Then he flipped the two lower seats together to form the lower bunk. Then out of the upper bunk, got two mattresses, and quickly had sheets tucked over them. Then out of a bottomless bag, he plucked out spotlessly dry cleaned blankets in a hermetically sealed plastic bag. The best he kept for last.

Like a card dealer laying a pack cards out in a fan-like formation,he clipped a pleated light green curtain with 15 hooks with a staccato sound, in one sweep of his hand. As we looked over the rim of our wine tumblers, we were waiting for him to pull a rabbit from his braided hat. There were no more tricks for tonight. Then like a matador, Pillow Slip stepped back to admire his work, before moving on. We had to wait until daylight for the finale.

McClean scrubbed the floor again, rid our table of circular red wine stains, and then he attacked the squat toilet, probably cleaning imaginary stains.

Occasionally flaggy appeared, leering at the beautiful lady sitting opposite us.

Unfortunately it was early in the night when we passed the Marugathaiyawan Palace where the King and Queen of Thailand are resident. I met the King when he came to my home town in New Zealand Dunedin, in 1960, when he attended a rugby match. Years have passed and this man is still held as dear and respected as a God in Thailand.

At 9 pm we decided to go to bed. Only 7 hours into the journey and we had a feast of people and scenery.

I was rocked to sleep by a carriage’s version of I Walk the Line. This cacophony has three instruments, the clickety clack of the gap in the line, the whine of a worn and poorly lubricated axle, and the grinding of an ill fitting coupling. Every so often I would peer out the window to see the lights of small farming hamlets, or the glare of cities.
At 3 am had to get up for a pee and the bowl on the European toilet was the art of McClean, polished to a gleaming white. Cleanliness and orderliness are Thai traits.

Paddy fields as far as the eye can see

When we awoke, paddy fields stretched as far as the eye could see. Budhist Monks were out with their bowls receiveing food from theor devotees. (photo below)

The increasing number of Mosques indicated we were now in the Southern provinces of Thailand and not far from the Thai/Malaysia border.

At Hat Yai, a major train junction, all the other carriages were shunted to a siding, and our two sleeping compartments carried on to the border. With them went all the staff on the train except Pillow Slip. Here at Hat Yai was an office with a sign CHIEF PERMANENT WAY INSPECTOR My curiousity was aroused. It seemed the occupation of a lifetime. Inspecting the way, perhaps a fellow wayfarer ?But the office was locked.

The sign on the side of our carriage

We crossed the border at Pedang Besar at 07.45 am.. There were six of us crossing the border, two Thais, Stefan and I, and two other foreigners. Both Thai and Malaysian immigration and customs were most efficient and courteous.

I looked back at our carriage. The locomotive had been detached and a replaced by one from Malaysian Railways. The new locomotive above at Pedang Besar.

Here we saw crowds of Malays returning to their villages to celebrate the end of Ramadan for the Eid-ur-Fitri holidays. After a longish wait, we left Pedang Besar at 10 am, and passed Arau and Alor Setar a station with a commanding steeple. Palm oil plantations, and to a lesser extent, Rubber, were the dominent crops with jungle as a backdrop. Around 1 pm, we crossed a bridge which afforded a view of the strait separating the mainland from the Island of Penang. At 1.10 pm we slid into the station of Butterworth.

Stefan on arrival at the Butterworth Station. The small blue sign to the front left of him says the Eastern and Oriental Express Butterworth-Singapore was arriving at 7pm in the evening.

Butterworth is the site of the Malayan Railway station for Penang, and is linked to the island by the Penang Ferry Service and by the 13.5 km Penang Bridge. is also the site of a Royal Malaysian Air Force station, RMAF Butterworth, formerly operated by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force, and is now the Headquarters of the Integrated Area Defence System (HQIADS) of the Five Power Defence Arrangements.

Butterworth will be the site of an integrated transport hub called Penang Sentral, which will integrate rail, ferry and bus transport.

As we disembarked, Stefan pointed out a small, neat sign notifying that the Eastern and Oriental Express from Butterworth-Singapore was arriving at 7pm in the evening. Ours was not the same regal or posh experience, but a memorable journey from Bangkok to Butterworth down the Gulf of Thailand.

Strangely, during the trip I kept thinking of an acquaintence, Tiziano Terzani, travel writer who died last year in India. He said, "If I have time for reflection at the end, I would like to be able to say, 'I have traveled.' And if I have a grave, I would like a stone with a hollow from which birds can drink, inscribed with my name, the two obligatory dates, and the word, 'Traveler.'"

It was mid afternoon. I had to be back in Jakarta the following day. I took a bus from the station above and travelled down the E1 to Kuala Lumpur enjoying the rugged scenery as we crossed the mountainous spine of western, central Malaysia. It is amazing what you can do in a three day weekend, if you want to.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

13 Months in Antarctica - a few photos, a few thoughts

The excitement of being selected to go to Antarctica when I was 21 years of age seems as vivid and stimulating as if it were yesterday.
The first Antarctica sea ice I saw was from the window of the Super Constellation plane that flew us from Christchurch to Antarctica in October 1969. Photo: Bob McKerrow

It was May 1969 and I had to undergo three months training in Seismology, Geomagnetics, Earth Currents and micro-meteorology at the DSIR in Wellington and Christchurch, plus a one week training course on Mt. Ruapehu. Originally I was picked to be a science techician for one year at New Zealand's Scott Base, but a few months after arrived, I was offered a chance to go to the smallest wintering over station in Anartica, Vanda Station in the Wright Valley. There were four of us, two science technicians, Gary Lewis and myself, Tony Bromley,a meteorologist and a leader, Harold Lowe. Why we needed a leader, I'll never know.

I had read about the great leader Ernest Shackleton before I went to Antarctica, and the joy when spending a day in his hut at Cape Royds, the base from his 1909 attempt on the South Pole, was overwhelming. Photo: Bob McKerrow

I was in charge of Seismology, earth currents and magetism which measured the changes of the earth's magnetic fields. When I moved to Vanda Station I carried on these projects but also took over measuring ice thickness on Lake Vanda and assisted with 3 hourly meteorological readings.

While at Scott Base I frequently accompanied field parties to their drop-off points and acted as a safety coordintor to ensure the field parties were carefully tracked and picked up at the correct destinations. This is a drop off on the head of the Robert Scott Glacier, about 130 km from the South Pole. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Frequently I accompanied biologists and geologists on short field trips around Scott Base. Checking seals. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Penguins at Cape Royds. Photo: Bob McKerrow

US Coast Guard Ice Breaker cutting a passage for cargo ships into McMurdo Sound. Photo: Bob McKerrow

While at Scott Base, I used to assist our dog handlers Chris Knott to care for the dogs and we would often drive one team each after work for 3 or 4 hours. Sometimes in the weekend we would do long trips and overnight on the sea ice. Here are two of the lead dogs, that came from Greenland in 1966. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Chris Knott leaving on a trip with the dogs. Photo: Bob McKerrow

In mid-January 1970, I arrived at Lake Vanda where I spent 10 months as a science technician. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Our laboratory at Vanda station. For electricity we used a wind generator to charge our 12 volt Nicad batteries. When there was no wind, we would use a small Petter diesel generator.

For hygiene purposes, our toilet at Vanda Station was outside. Here is Tony on the thunder-box. When it got below - 40 degrees Celcius. it was dangerous as ones backside would stick to the painted seat and rip skin off. To solve this problem we made polystyrene seat covers to protect our bums. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The Wright Valley, View north through Bull Pass into Victoria Valley. The small stream flowing west (into Lake Vanda) is the Onyx.
Photo: Antarctic Images Library, Josh Landis. Halfway up to the lower contact of the "Basement Sill" is a ledge of "Pecten Conglomerate" marking an old sea-level.

The view of the Wright Valley taken from the survey station on the summit of Mt Newall (which now has a micro-wave tower on it).

We did long trips on foot in the late Autumn, throughout the winter and early Spring.
Bob McKerrow left and Gary Lewis right. with frozen beards and faces. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Bath time at Vanda Station. Gary Lewis having a bath after six months Photo; Bob McKerrow

The old hand painted sign outside Vanda Station

Bob McKerrow on his return to Vanda Station after a trip in early Autumn to the Dias meteorological station. A five hour return trip.

On reflection, the 13 months I spent in Antarctica were among the best of my life.
I remember vividly the last helicopter leaving us in early February and we knew it woulld be at least nine months before we saw anyone else.

At the end of the long winter's night where it was totally dark for four months, I looked in the mirror and saw myself for the first time in five months. I wrote in my diary " A man without a woman about him is a man without vanity."
A few weeks later while reflecting on the winter, I wrote " I turned 22 in March, it is now September. During the past five months I have got to know and understand my worst enemy, myself."

There was also the poem I wrote just before the long winter's night ended.

I journeyed south to an icy cage
The sun never shone, there was no day
When I looked into the jaws of night
Far off I saw the threads of life
Twisting themselves into an eternal web
That stretched unbroken from dawn to death
It was the Aurora that gladdened the eye
A frenetic serpent that snaked the sky
Pouring mellowed colours that sparkled rime
On icy pendants soon to sublime.
Yes high above towers all form
Soon will come the first blush of dawn
My life has changed my dash is done
O welcome the King, O welcome the sun

The Aurora Australialis

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Glaciers are spiritual places

The Franz Josef Glacier, like all the other Glaciers in New Zealand, is rapidly shrinking. Photo: Bob McKerrow

To stand on a glaciers and feel its power as it grinds, flows, shakes and rests, is to feel power like no other. To see glacial mills, worn mountain sides and sweeping morraines is to observe the work of glaciers over millions of years. They are spiritual places and for me, places of pilgrimage.

I have been visiting the Tasman, the Fox, the Franz Josef, Brewster and Bonar Glaciers since 1966 and in just over 40 years they appear to have almost halved.

Most of New Zealand's glaciers are now the smallest they have been since records began - and they continue to shrink at a rapid rate.
The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, which made the discovery, said global warming was the main culprit.

WARMING SIGN: Marion Glacier in Arawata Valley has recently withdrawn from its proglacial state. Most of New Zealand's glaciers are the smallest they've been since records began.Photo:Trevor Chinn

Between April last year and March this year, glaciers in the Southern Alps lost about 2.2 billion tonnes of permanent ice - the equivalent in weight to the top section of Mt Taranaki. It is the fourth highest annual loss since monitoring began 32 years ago.

Graham Saddle which connects the Franz Josef Glacier, via the Rudolf Glacier, to the mighty Tasman Glacier. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The total ice for the glaciers now comprises an estimated 44.9 cubic kilometres - the lowest on record. The volume of ice dropped by 50 per cent during the last century.

Niwa principal scientist Jim Salinger said glaciers were fed by snow, but because of the La Nina weather system over New Zealand, more easterly winds and warmer than normal temperatures during the period, there was less snow in the Southern Alps and more snowmelt.


Peaks at the Head of the Tasman Glacier. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Dr Salinger said while the glaciers were sensitive to changes in wind and precipitation as well as temperature, global warming was a big factor in their shrinking.

"It's one of the clearest signs that our climate is warming and that [the shrinkage] is a definite physical response. To have that amount of melting you would have to reduce the precipitation at least by a half or more or warm a degree," he said.

The retreating Tasman Glacier. Photo: Bob McKerrow

"They are definitely a sign of warming. There is no doubt about it. You get a very rapid loss of snow and ice and that's what's been happening."

"We know that precipitation has not gone down in the Southern Alps. In the last quarter of a century it's gone up. So to make them retreat you've got to have more melting, which is higher temperatures.

"This is certainly a definite sign of warming in the New Zealand area."

Niwa has surveyed 50 glaciers in the Southern Alps for the past 32 years, recording the height of the snowline at the end of each summer. On average the snowline this year was 130 metres above where it would need to be for the glaciers not to shrink, Dr Salinger said.

It was unlikely the glaciers would disappear entirely, as that would require a temperature rise of 7 degrees Celsius and no snow even at the top of our highest mountain, Mt Cook.

But they would continue to retreat. Another sign of warming were 12 glacial lakes, including ones at Marion Glacier and Tasman Glacier.

Looking from Castle Rocks Hut across the Franz Josef Glacier to the Southern Alps of New Zealand. Photo: Bob McKerrow

What moves me most is mountain landscapes and my dream of being a snow flake wafting from the sky. To fall on a mountain pass or a col, or even top of a mountain peak. To later to be part of a bergschrund, a snowy arete, a snow field, a neve, a glacier, a crevasse and in my anger and power, an avalanche. And then when I melt, that long trip down the river to the sea. The processes of snow, ice, glaciers, and mountain geology fascinate me and have drawn me back in awe time and time and time again. While reveling in the beauty of the mountains it reminds me our life on this earth is as ephemeral as a snowflake.

The Franz Josef Glacial neve taken from Almer Hut. The Southern Alps of New Zealand in the background. Photo: Bob McKerrow
I once could ski like the wind down mountainsides in New Zealand, France, Austria, Italy and Switzerland. I often repeat the runs in my mind. What keeps me traveling and working these days is the anticipation of seeing something new and the sense of awe evoked by architecture, landscapes, people and their cultures. To close my eyes and to look back at the history behind these special places, provides a sense of place and purpose in my life. Frequently the kaleidoscope of contrasts, from awe to awfulness, between pomp, power and poverty, and death; which I see almost daily in my work, wearies me greatly. Every year I return to New Zealand and visit the mountains to restore by soul, and rest my burnt body.

The Waiho River Valley which was covered by ice 15,000 years ago.

Special thanks to Tom Cardy of The Dominion Post to quote from his recent article.

Monday, 15 September 2008

"I want to eat your liver."

Jason Elliot is emerging as one of the world’s great travel writers with a style somewhere between Robert Byron and Peter Fleming. His works include An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan (1999) and Mirrors of the Unseen: Journeys in Iran (2006).

Jason stayed with me twice during his journey in Afghanistan late in 1995 and again in early 1996 when he was writing An Unexpected Light. I was flattered when the book came out, as the first words in his book are, ‘ Dear Ropate’ which is the name he calls me. It is Maori for Robert.

In 1998 he flew from London to Almaty to be at Naila’s and my wedding, but was deported on the return flight as he didn’t have a visa. He came back a month later with a visa and we travelled in Kazakhstan for ten days together. It was winter, and as we drove and walked in the mountains, it frequently was snowing. I remember walking with Jason to a mountain pass in the Tienshan mountains at 4000 plus metres, and eating salami with Russian bread and washing it down with a bottle of red wine, as huge snowflakes swirled around our heads.

I phoned Jason last night. He was in London. We phone about once a year and share our comings and goings.
I joked with Jason about a beautiful Kazakh lady who had fallen in love with him when he visited us in Kazakhstan. I said “you left her broken hearted and she is still in love with you.” I told Jason that her name in Kazakh means love. Jason, fresh out of Persia (Iran) replied, “In Persia when you love someone deeply, you say, I want to eat your liver.”
We spoke about his first An unexpected light which his publishers are about to republish as a classic.

Jason went to Afghanistan in the 1980s at the age of 19 to live with the Afghan resistance, or mujahideen.

Here he looks back on the chaos of combat and reflects on how a patriotic cause became embroiled in foreign ideology.

I had arrived at a mujahideen headquarters at a tiny little ravine on our route towards Kabul from the Pakistani border.

One of the men had been injured after stepping on a landmine. The commander gave me a shawl the injured man had been wearing and told me I could wash it. It was soaked in his blood but I just saw a dirty shawl. I put it in the river, pushed the fabric down and saw the water turn red.

It was a defining moment - I realised this was the blood of a real man and he was dying at that moment on the donkey at the end of the path.

From those simple beginnings as a young adventurer at 19, Jason Elliot has blossomed into a seasoned travel writer, possibly the best in the world. I value his friendship.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

The Mountains of Our Mind

The North Face of Mellizos- Cordillera Vilcabamba-Peru

The photo above arrived this morning from John Lawrence, who lives in North Carolina, USA. The photo was taken 40 years ago. John is finally digitizing his vast photo collection. John and I did the first ascent of the North Face of Mellizos, by the route shown on the photograph.

In the forty years since we did, from memory, five first ascents in the Andes, we have both gone our separate ways but have kept in touch regularly. John has gone on to be a very respected psychologist and is still very interested in the 'Mountains of our Minds." He has explored the theme rigorously.

I recall John and I on two occasions, being stuck in tents as blizzards raged outside. In the intimacy of a tent at 19,000 feet, where there is no privacy, and your life is in the balance, you think about mountains and the place they have in your mind. In fact, you think a lot about fear when nature takes control of your life and environment.

John was about eight years older than me and had just obtained his PhD in psychology. I remember John telling me that "the mind is limitless," and he quoted the following.

"It is not the chains that bind our body, but the chains that bind our minds that restrict us."

Another view of the North Face of Mellizos

It was John's influence that helped me come up with the title of my second book, The Mountains of Our Mind, a collection of essays, poems and photos I wrote in Afghanistan The cover photo of my book is below.

In 1995 when I was camped under the peak of Mir Samir in Afghanistan, I wrote this poem about the mountains of our mind which explores the way we escape to the mountains from the mess on the plains.

Mountains of our Mind

From the courtyard of our dreams
To the mountains of our mind
We escape the blood and violence
To a white world sublime

Born on the edge of a cloud
I saw snowflakes form
Together we danced a ring of fire
Before the day was born

We travel on a moon ship
Where lunacy dictates
Where love is like a mountain
And where there is no hate

We scud along the summit ridge
Where the updrafts push
I am the King of Kabul
And lord the Hindu Kush

Bob McKerrow (copyright)

The same year as I published my book, Robert Mcfarlane published a book with almost a similar title as mine, 'Mountains of the Mind."

The result is a compelling and affectionate portrait of Man’s changing attitude to Nature at its most extreme.

Bob McKerrow at the top of the North Face of Mellizos, climbing up to the summit.

This attitude started to change in the eighteenth century, when ‘people started for the first time to travel to mountains out of a spirit other than necessity, and a coherent sense began to develop of the splendour of mountainous landscape’. Prior to this, dangerous peaks were to be avoided, and climbing them for the sake of it was considered tantamount to madness (and, to other cultures, such as the Sherpa people, almost sacrilegious).

As the nineteenth century progressed, courting danger at high altitude for the sheer thrill that it provoked became firmly entrenched in society. Ruskin in particular thought that turning back from a dangerous place would result in a slight deterioration of character.
Upon their return to Britain from their exploits, explorers gave lectures to huge crowds in the cities, and it soon became the thing for sons of the aristocracy to be guided through the Alps as part of their Grand Tour.

Gradually, this spirit of adventure, in conjunction with the twentieth century’s advances in transport and communication technology, has conquered almost all the unknown regions of the world. No matter how many people die on mountains every year, climbers will continue to climb, in search of personal fulfilment and victory over the inanimate peaks.

Macfarlane’s book is a classic.

The one we didn't climb in 1968, Pumasillo, Cordillera Vilcabamba, Peru. We got well (over 6000 m)up on this, the north ridge of Pumasillo, and John got snow blind, and we had to retreat. I doubt as if we would have climbed it as the snow was like melting like ice cream, and kept breaking under our weight.

I started this posting with a tribute to John Lawrence who opened by mind to the mountains, to handle fear in a rational way, and above all, to understand the mountain of my mind.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Chasing moon beams and red Lions.

Moonbeam Hut (above)is one of my favourite West Coast Huts as it stands midst pristine bush, and is a gateway, upstream, to the high mountains and, downstream, a start for some of the best kayaking on the West Coast. It is one of those rare huts where you can have climbers, kayakers, shooters and trampers under one roof for the night.

At the head on County Stream, which forks off from the Waitaha valley, is Mt. Evans (left)and Red Lion Peak (high peak) right. The photo was taken on the first winter ascent of both peaks of Red Lion in August 1992. Photo: Bob McKerrow.

But read on, for at the end of the article, I have just discovered news that developers (westpower) may ruin the lower reaches of the Waitaha River by building a hydro-electric plant on the lower reaches at Morgan Gorge. GOD SAVE NEW ZEALAND !!!

Moonbeam hut can be found on the true left of the Waitaha valley on a terrace 10 minutes upriver from Moonbeam Torrent. Surrounded by pleasant montane rata/ kamahi forest it provides a mid-valley stopover for those heading to the head basins of the Waitaha River or the County Stream.

County Hut looking up County Stream to Smyth Saddle: Photo Warren Chinn 2005)

I used Moonbeam and County Huts after the first winter ascent of the high and low peaks of Red Lion in 1992. I climbed the Red Lion peaks with an overweight and unfit Publican who was 'Le Patron' of the Red Lion Hotel in Hokitika, and the peak was named after his pub in 1865 by two surveyors who used to drink at the Red Lion Hotel, and who first surveyed the area. What an affort it was getting Peter Hill (photo below)up an 8,000 foot mountain in winter. But with a few friends we managed it.

I remember clearly our final camp at 5,000 feet in the upper couny stream. Getting Peter Hill ready for the climb was a hoot. It was 8 degrees Celsius below. He didn't know how to put his gaiters or putties on so Rod Buchanan offered to help. The cotton gaiters had frozen and Rod was wrestling to get them on with his head between Peter's legs. As he looked up, he remarked, " Now I know hos Queen Victoria's gynaecologist must have felt."

Peter Hill, on the top of the low peak of Red Lion, heading for the high Peak on the left. Photo: Bob McKerrow

County Hut is located in the headwaters of the County Stream in the Waitaha valley. This is an area of superb, rugged, and remote West Coast high-country. The upper County basin is open tussock and extends up to the pristine alpine snowfields, glaciers and ice plateaux of the Mt. Evans massif.The Hut is perched above the true right of the County Stream just below the Bloomfield Creek confluence. Vegetation around it is mixed alpine scrub and tussock and there are views of the Smyth, Bloomfield and Hitchen Ranges.

Mt.Evans taken from Red Lion Peak. Photo Bob McKerrow

I have written and showed photos of what is above my Moonbeam Hut, but below it, is some of the best white water paddling in New Zealand. Thanks to Zak Shaw for providing this information.

Paddling through the Waitaha Gorge.Photo: Zak Shaw

Image - Zak Shaw

The Waitaha is a big day by any one's standards. Most parties take between six and nine hours to break down the continuous class 4-5 rapids that exist below Moonbeam hut. The difficulty of the whitewater is unrelenting and is mostly found in several committing bedrock gorges.
Once the third gorge opens out and the valley walls widen the intensity backs off briefly before smooth schist walls rise again and the river dramatically carves its way into the heart of Morgan gorge.

New Zealands Waitaha under threat

This is what they are planning to ruin with a dam. Morgan Gorge. Photo: David Taylor Maurier

We stand to loose one of New Zealand's most stunning river gorges, the Morgan Gorge. An area of pristine wilderness and supreme beauty the Waitaha river in years to come will find itself becoming increasingly threatened.

In the words of kayaker Zak Shaw "Its the classic river dichotomy. To construct a single turbine hydro scheme or realise that 40mw of power is bugger all and the sacrifice is far from being worth it. This time its the Waitaha that will be exploited. "We stand to loose one of New Zealand's most stunning river gorges, the Morgan Gorge. An area of pristine wilderness and supreme beauty the Waitaha river in years to come will find itself becoming increasingly threatened." Read Zak's blog

What has Westpower to say about
this ?

15/11/2007 - Lines company Westpower is looking at building a 120Gwh hydro power scheme on the Waitaha River, 15km south of Ross on the West Coast.

Chairman Mike Newcombe said on Wednesday the scheme would be situated where the river flowed through the Morgan Gorge, below Kiwi Flat, at the head of the valley.

The proposal -- which would generate about half the power of Trustpower's proposed 46MW Arnold River scheme near Greymouth -- would have a peak output of about 20MW.

Westpower said it had already undertaken an environmental risk assessment and started flow monitoring of the Waitaha. Consultation with interested groups would be held.

Green Party conservation spokeswoman Metiria Turei said she would be keeping an eye on developments.

"A hydro scheme in the Morgan Gorge would intrude on a pristine and rugged valley, much valued for its biodiversity and recreational opportunities," she said.

Westpower is also working on reopening the old Amethyst hydro scheme on a tributary of the Wanganui River, near Harihari.

It hoped to lodge the consent application for that scheme in the new year.

Meridian Energy has an even larger proposal for the Mokihinui River, in northern Buller.

That would generate about 20MW more than the Arnold River scheme, and the company also hoped to lodge the consent application soon.

Source: AAP NewsWire