December: Christmas in NZ, 2.5 trips, a Great month

Posted by Patrick Lam on Friday, January 1, 2021

Table Of Contents

This post will just be about December. I’ll post soon about the whole year as well. Still grateful to be here.

Christmas trees in Wellington, Queenstown Airport, Queenstown, and Wellington

More NZ

I was on the South Island for more than half the month. On December 1 I was in the middle of the Kepler Track. Then some intense days of work (plus Christmas parties) and two more Great Walks just up to Christmas Eve.

from Mount Kaukau; tuatara at Zealandia; Wellington Closed; Kaukau again; Wellington from Kaukau; Pohutukawa from our window

We then figured out that everyone was leaving town between Christmas and New Year’s so we got cheap plane tickets to Dunedin for a less Great but still great trip, coming back on New Year’s.

Dunedin Railway Station; no farmers; pastoral; red-billed gulls at Royal Albatross Centre; more gulls; penguin beach at night; blue-eyed penguins; Otago skinks; Mapoutahi; baby fur seals redux

No changes in my situation in the past month.

Pictures: I posted Rakiura pictures. Currently behind by:

Other events this month:

  • Christmas parties/lunches: 5
  • Judo tournament: Wellington Closed.

NZ and COVID-19

NZ really seems to go on summer vacation around Christmas, so there really hasn’t been much local news at all. It’s similar to August in Canada. There hasn’t been a lot of news about anything, including local COVID-19 news. No community transmission since November 18. There is a music video with the Director-General of Health, Dr. Ashley Bloomfield. Despite the video, scanning into venues remains rare. The NZ Covid app now has Bluetooth proximity support though that has not been tested for real yet here. People do wear masks on airplanes as required.

There are semi-regular press releases (eg 23 Dec) with cases found at the border. Most cases are at day 3 but a couple take longer to manifest, like the first one in that previous link (9 days in). There was an announcement of plans for possible outbreak types in the summer: small, medium, and large.

There was an announcement of a travel bubble with the Cook Islands (“a self-governing island country in free association with New Zealand”) and Australia in the next few months, pending lack of community transmission. Australia is doing pretty well but isn’t quite there yet: 8 locally acquired in the last 24 hours (Victoria and New South Wales).

Canada and COVID-19

Last month I’d written that the vaccine was coming. It’s here now, though not arriving in New Zealand until March or so. Ontario especially has been doing a really poor job of distributing it: around Christmas they were behind BC and Quebec in absolute numbers. The provincial response hasn’t been super effective in general and this just illustrates that.

September’s still up in the air. Initial deployment certainly hasn’t given more reason to hope that Ontario is going to get this under control soon. I ran into Covid Strategic Choices today. That would be, I think, a better stategy, especially with the apparently more-transmissible B117 variant.

I would really like to have the vaccine before going back to Canada, but I’m a bit worried that the timing might not line up well. Which is more of an issue if we have to transfer through the US especially. We’ll see.


We arrived in Dunedin in the rain on December 25 and left in the rain on January 1. Fortunately, between those days, we got pretty good weather: good enough for rock climbing, though only once in a T-shirt and sometimes in long underwear. It is certainly not consistently hot in Dunedin.

South of Auckland it seems to rarely hit 25°C; my father says that, based on my reports, it doesn’t really sound like summer (but it’s also never really winter). This evening at 8PM in Wellington it is 18°C. People wear shorts and T-shirts everywhere in NZ, though I don’t.

A list of new things

  • Camping stove (sigh), purchased at gear store in Queenstown. Dunedin Mountain Warehouse wasn’t allowed carry gas canisters, the staff told me.
  • USB chargers (a portable one and a larger one, to replace a flaky one; it wasn’t the cable that was flaky!)
  • Kathmandu jewellery kit to store charging technology.


  • Gave talk about Waterloo’s Software Engineering program.
  • Inspired by the talk, started writing a 20-year-SE-retrospective paper with other previous SE directors.
  • TSE re-review (revisions).
  • Unsuccessfully tried to hire undergrad RA.
  • Wrote another reference letter and sent a bunch of copies of them.
  • Some thinking about NSERC Alliance though no writing yet.

Bringing back the list of things to write up:

  • Photos: still in progress
  • ICSME (test your siblings) blurb
  • August trip writeup
  • September trip writeup
  • Travel philosophy (been in final-drafts form since before the pandemic)
  • Greece recommendations (mostly drafted)
  • November trip writeup
  • November-December trip writeup
  • December trips writeup

At least I wrote up SE student support.

Days with work: 12/31. In a normal year I’d expect to Work until Friday, December 18, which is 14 days, with the rest of the month being just light email checking. Our Dean encouraged us to take time off during the holidays, which I did.

Ongoing (my grad students)

Talked to my students again on 12 days (same as November).


Did journal paper review. Still need to review an NSERC Discovery Grant application. Served as MASc thesis reader. Filled out PEng referee form.


Finished my contribution to ECE 459 lecture notes. Should probably do some recording. Perhaps more urgently, need to pick papers for grad course next week.


This month, South Island plus some Wellington destinations.

  • 🚶 Walking distance: 215.8km (record for 2019? hard to go up from here!)
  • 🚲 Biking distance: 21km (away from bike half the month)
  • 🚗 Driving distance: drove 538km, driven 162km
  • 🚌 Bus distance: 494km (around Te Anau)
  • ⛴ Boat distance: 106km (Doubtful Sound plus start of Milford)
  • 🛩 Plane distance: 2540km, ZQN-WLG, WLG-ZQN round trip, WLG-DUD.
  • 🚁 Helicopter distance: 11.8km from the Boatshed to Milford Helicopters
  • Aeroplan points earned in 2020: 0


Silverpeaks: Lots of ridge views; Jubilee hut; ABC cave; mind the gap

That is 5 Great Walks now, which is half of the full set. I hope 2021 brings a few more.

Queenstown: Grebes; mallards; Fergburger (deserted); Fergburger (busy); grebe

Other sports

Small regional judo competition: Wellington Closed. Won senior men’s -66 (pool of 2) and finished 2nd in senior open.

Managed to get three half-days of climbing at Mapoutahi. The climbs here in the sub-20 grades are not super strenuous but knowing the beta helps a lot. I managed to unlock beta on all of the routes that I tried but didn’t go for the redpoint on any of them. I did do clean TR runs.


Last day of the Kepler Track on the Waiau and past Rainbow Reach; Control Gates (beginning/end); double rainbow driving back to Queenstown
  • Finishing the Kepler Track (to Dec 3): talked about that last month.
  • Milford and Routeburn: did some Great Walks with almost no last-minute changes (just a heli ride). Went to Queenstown the day before, got a TrackNet bus to Te Anau. Then started Milford the next day and out four days later. Rest day in Te Anau (laundry and re-provisioning!) and then on the Routeburn from The Divide, which is closer to Te Anau. Left for early pickup at Routeburn Shelter and avoided the rain. Flew back to Queenstown the next day.
  • Dunedin: some short day walks, Royal Albatross Centre (albatrosses and penguins), Orokonui Ecosanctuary, climbing at Mapoutahi, Silverpeaks Track overnight at Jubilee Hut (“sweet as”).

Great Walks

I think I won’t rank them. This is not an ordered list. Instead I’ll write descriptive comments.

  • Routeburn (December): Routeburn Falls hut is the best we’ve stayed at. Day 2 and Conical Hill have great scenery.
  • Milford (December): Best overall quality. Mackinnon Pass is impressive, as are Sutherland Falls.
  • Kepler (November/December): The day 2 traverse with the keas was the best. Days 3 and 4 could be combined.
  • Heaphy (July): Long but relatively easy. Fourth day on the beach super-scenic even if we were rushing to catch the plane. Interesting to see mountain bikes.
  • Rakiura (August): First day to Port William the best. Also Mason Bay. Day 2 is swampy.
Milford, Heaphy, Rakiura, Routeburn, Kepler

More Milford

“The greatest walk in the world”.

Days 1 and 2: Helicopter bringing stuff; new Mintaro hut construction; to Glade Wharf; baby weka
Day 3: Mackinnon memorial; aretes and cirques; spiderweb en route to Sutherland Falls; the best outhouse (windy); a glacial valley
Day 4: out of Milford
Waterfalls of Milford

Routeburn too

Sheep; moss; mountains; Lake Mackenzie; Key summit in the rain; Lake Mackenzie Hut
View of Routeburn Valley; flowers; Routeburn Falls Hut; Routeburn Falls; Stop! Think!; Conical Hill; Routeburn Falls Hut

Travel planning

Nothing specific yet. Glad we did a last-minute Dunedin trip.


  • Fergburger, Queenstown: no lines on Dec 2. (It had lines just before Christmas!) Excellent burger.
  • Restaurant 88, Wellington: Haven’t had Ga Con Chien before. Liked it.
  • Lodge Bar, Queenstown: Had a game pie, which was actually a NZ pie (not quite a hand pie). Tasty.
  • Dost Turkish Cafe, Dunedin: Iskender with spicy sauce was indeed spicy.
  • Bao Now, Te Anau, yet again.
  • not a restaurant, but I got a good loaf at Harvey St Merchant in Waitati. Was good when I remembered I could have it with margarine. Cheese would have been even better.


Keas on Milford and Routeburn; takahe at Zealandia and Orokonui; kaka and bellbird at Orokonui
  • retroactively spotted a grey duck in Christchurch photos in September (probably a hybrid)
  • keas (Routeburn, Milford)
  • probable rock wren on Routeburn
  • little blue penguins
  • yellow-eyed penguins
  • royal albatrosses
  • royal spoonbills
  • crested grebe at Queenstown (told DOC they were nesting on the water taxi)
  • takahe, kaka at Orokonui
  • chaffinch
  • South Island robin
  • fantail
  • bellbird making tui calls
  • tui making bellbird calls


There’s a lot more concluding to do in the year in review post that I’ll do next. Let’s focus on December. I’m very fortunate to have been able to see more of the South Island this month, including basically all of the highlights of Fiordland now. (Looking at the Dusky Track which is definitely not type 1 fun.) Also around Dunedin, which doesn’t have high mountains, but does have a few rocks to climb, coastal scenery, and birds.

I didn’t set any December goals having seen what was coming up. For January, I have some trepidation about online courses. I think aiming to have the NSERC Alliance ready to go is a good bet also. And taking care of the backlog of photos.