February: mostly work, plus Tongariro Northern Circuit

Posted by Patrick Lam on Thursday, March 4, 2021

Table Of Contents

Remote teaching has definitely been grinding along and keeping me busy this past month. The workload has been different for the fourth-year undergraduate course (answering questions, holding office hours, improving materials) versus the graduate seminar (weekly meetings). Aside from teaching and research, there was also returning from the Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track at the very start of the month, the Tongariro Northern Circuit at the end of the month, and the Jumbo Circuit in the middle. No new areas of NZ visited, but did re-visit new places in old areas.

Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track, Jumbo Circuit (2×), Tongariro Northern Circuit

Between February 2 and 25

Just doing the job! Apart from the big trips, enjoyed life around Wellington, including visits to Zealandia (baby quail, teenage kakas), the garden store, and walking Round the Bays. Also posted the 2020 non-travel retrospective, which complements the 2020 travel retrospective.

Pictures: Treading water: processed October pictures, including Paraparaumu Beach, moving, Wrights Hill Fortress, and birds and flowers. Processing one month of photos in one month is precisely the definition of treading water. Currently behind by:

  • [November] around Auckland / Bay of Islands
  • [November/December] Kepler
  • [December] Routeburn/Milford
  • [December] Dunedin climbing, Silverpeaks
  • [January] Hump Ridge Track
  • [February] Jumbo Circuit
  • [February] Tongariro Northern Circuit

The free hard drive space situation is getting critical. I have 82G of pictures on my hard drive and can’t put any more pictures on it. I swap out to the external drive, but that’s inconvenient. Right now I have 328MiB free.

NZ Valentine’s Day COVID outbreak

On Valentine’s Day they found 3 unexpected COVID cases in the community in south Auckland (Auckland : NZ :: Toronto : Canada, with south Auckland maybe like Scarborough?). It’s B117, the UK variant. The thing about this cluster is that it is not obviously related to the border.

As I write this on March 5, there are 15 known cases in the outbreak, and Auckland is in Level 3 lockdown-lite for a week, with the rest of NZ in Level 2 (mostly open). As of Sunday March 7 at 6AM, Auckland goes to Level 2 and the rest of NZ to Level 1. The issue is that one of the cases was in the community while infectious, and there was the serious possibility that we might have seen more positive cases come through. NZ has been lucky so far in the current outbreak and there hasn’t been additional community spread detected all week.

Ironically for me, this person is a student at the Manakau Institute of Technology—the other MIT. Apparently that case’s mother went on an outdoor walk with the mother of another family while Auckland was under a 3-day lockdown. (Oops. I understand that people in Ontario have been doing outdoor walks, but the context is different: people here in NZ have not been asked to stay apart for a year, and there is very much a zero-COVID goal. Still, B117 is a beast.) I hope that there aren’t too many cases out there. Wastewater testing and genomic sequencing are key here. Apparently wastewater testing can detect as few as 100 cases in South Auckland (or one per 10,000).

Before this current lockdown, Auckland went to Level 3 lockdown lite for 3 days while they investigated the source, still unknown. There was a week and a half between lockdowns.

How to do communications: on Valentine’s Day, there were two surprise press conferences with the Director-General of Health, Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, and first the COVID-19 response minister and then the Prime Minister. Day 1 had a PM/DG press conference. Since then, there have been regular press conferences with updates.

Testing: one of the family members went to high school for one day before self-isolating. They closed the high school and basically everyone at the high school was asked to get tested, multiple times. Also the government continues to post locations of interest and people there are asked to get tested too.

Vaccines: have started for border workers, 9000 doses administered.

Canada and COVID-19

People in Canada have been complaining a lot about the vaccine supply and rollout. But my parents are supposed to get the first dose on March 8. Quebec isn’t doing second doses yet, and I think it’s prioritizing Montreal. We’ll still have to see how long it takes to get everyone vaccinated. It’s plausible that things are largely under control by September.


Still summer. Days are getting shorter, though still 13 hours. Felt distinctly colder and windier last night while walking in the Botanic Gardens.

Here’s how things match up between NZ and Canada: Waitangi Day (February 6 this year) seems to play the same role in the calendar as Canadian Labour Day, i.e. holiday before back-to-school, which is in February here. (By the calendar, February would be equivalent to Canadian August, but it doesn’t really feel like August, either in terms of weather or time-of-year). The new Matariki holiday coming next year is pretty much a winter solstice holiday, i.e. what Christmas could be if not commercialized. Exploring this correspondence deserves its own post.


As I mentioned above, the term continues. We’re past the halfway point now. I found out recently that there is an “additional scheduled pause” in two weeks, pushing the end of classes two days later. But the exam period is fairly short.

My main personal scholarly activity has been producing content for our SE retrospective paper. Getting there.


The main thing I learned is that MS Teams for Linux is less functional than for Windows. Under Linux I can only see 4 people at once. Under Windows I can see at least 9 (maybe more if more people turn on their cameras). I guess I’ll be using Windows Teams for the rest of the term.


I corresponded with a friend in Toronto about collegiality and plusses/minuses of being department chair. (It’s an opportunity to try to create culture change, but is mostly a slog, since profs aren’t really into being managed.)

I’m not sure I’ve ever had a month with such minimal service. I reviewed one grant proposal and had one committee meeting. Plus PLMW mentoring.


I wrote last month about scheduling woes. Mostly I managed but there was a day where I misscheduled all of my meetings. Oops.

My students are in the plugging-away-at-research phase. It’ll pay off eventually but right now it’s a grind. Aiming for a workshop paper in 3 weeks. Talked to students on 16 days and worked on 22 days (Ontario had 19 work days this month).


Bookended by tramps plus one in the middle. Otherwise, normal life in Wellington.

  • 🚶 Walking distance: 147km (essentially equal to the monthly average for 2020)
  • 🚲 Biking distance: 95km
  • 🚗 Driving distance: 800km
  • 🚌 Bus distance: 16km (rainy-weather judo practice)
  • 🛩 Plane distance: 645km (ZQN-WLG)
  • 🚆 Train distance: 56km (commuter train to outside Porirua)


OK, now at 6/10 Great Walks (+1 future Great Walk). Thinking about Waikaremoana. Many of the Great Walks are somewhat logistically challenging; Heaphy and Rakiura both involved general aviation flights, and we got airlifted from 6km before the end of the Milford Track, though that is not routine. Tongariro was the logistically easiest one for us yet from Wellington.

Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track

Pretty short in terms of days but the days are pretty long in the current state. DOC is going to comfortize the track a bit to make it a Great Walk. The lodges that currently exist are way fancier than huts. We had to get a room rather than bunks (sold out due to a large hiking meetup group from Auckland). But that was the most comfortable hiking accomodation I’ve ever had, with beds and blankets. Also we travelled quite light. Could have been even more light by buying freeze-dried suppers en route, on sale at the lodges.

There were some excellent views, especially near Okaka Lodge, and some forest walking. Also lots of mud. Hector’s dolphins like to swim at Port Craig and you can get in the water too. They’ll just continue doing their thing just metres away from you.

Tuatapere Hump Ridge Track: from Okaka Lodge (afternoon and morning undercast), tarn, goblin forest, Port Craig School hut, Port Craig Lodge, dolphin-containing beach, early morning departure, more beaches and bridges.

Jumbo Circuit

This had been on MP’s radar for a while. We’d done part of it last year, just to the Atiwhakatu Hut. This time we’d do the whole thing. To make sure that we would get to the hut early enough to get good beds, we stayed on Friday night at the Holdsworth Lodge. There was also a group of 3 staying there that night; when we showed up, two were out for a walk and one was napping. The next morning, two of them were wearing football jerseys labelled “Allen” though not really looking like brothers. In any case, the Jumbo Circuit can be serious due to weather, but we again lucked out with weather and got good times. The track is well-formed even though some of it is designated “route”. It’s often done in winter but I’d take it seriously then.

There were tons of trail runners. I think they were training for some upcoming race.

Jumbo Circuit: Holdsworth Lodge, Tararuas, inside Powell Hut (wow!), ridge line, more Tararuas, sunrise from Jumbo Hut, goblin forest.

My camera was in for cleaning but I figured that the Pixel 3a would be good enough for this one.

Tongariro Northern Circuit

This one was quite easy to get to (4.5 hour drive from Wellington and Auckland). Conditions were favourable for us and involved almost 0 mud. 54km and 2431m elevation gain including sidetrips. The scenery reminded me a bit of the Grand Canyon although it’s also completely different, being volcanic. I think it’s a much better walk than the Alpine Crossing, but of course requires more time (unless trail running).

We started the first day of the circuit super late at 4:45pm because there were some errands we had to do in Palmerston North: picking up my camera from the shop and getting fingerprints for the visa extension. Fortunately the first day’s hike was super easy and we got there well before sunset. Extra-fortunately because my headlamp was packed away somewhere.

From the Tongariro Northern Circuit: scenery going towards Mangatepopo, Soda Spring falls, pictures from the intersection with the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (South Crater, Red Crater, Emerald Lakes).

We heard good things about the Round the Mountain (Ruahepu) track. There were some women doing it in 4 days which was a bit tough, and rangers Tom and Sam highly recommended it.

Tongariro Northern Circuit after the Crossing: jagged lavaforms in the Oturere valley, Ngauruhoe, Tama and Ruapehu, falls at Waihohonu Hut, Ngauruhoe again, scuplted sand near Ohinepango Springs, whio at the springs, lower Tama Lake

Yup, no more smudge in the sky.

Other sports

I was training for the North Wellington Open judo tournament, but that got postponed a week before the date because of COVID. Still, I made it to judo practice 10 times, missing once after Hump Ridge due to blisters and once while on the Tongariro Northern Circuit. Didn’t even miss training the same day I finished hiking Jumbo Circuit. Next tournament is the Wellington Open in about 6 weeks.

Round the Bays included a running component, but I didn’t run.

Travel planning

Planned more logistics for the Gillespie Pass Circuit: booked jetboats to avoid extra stream crossing and walking. Practiced putting up a shelter while at Jumbo.

That’s it for now! More to come I’m sure.


Found out that steel tent stakes are way too heavy and that light ones can cost $6/peg. Got some Sea to Summit pegs at $3/peg, which is more than I wanted to spend, but they were available to buy in the store in Palmerston North.

  • 8 tent stakes
  • mesh bag
  • another camping pillow
  • bivy sack & emergency bivy, purchased at bivouac/outdoor (ha, ha).
  • USB-chargeable headlamp (revolt)

I also bought plant stuff for my succulents. That requires a 20km round trip bike ride to a garden store.

And I found a place to clean my camera sensor, in Palmerston North. I picked the cleaned camera up on the way to the Tongariro Northern Circuit. I also got an estimate for my RX-100M1 which had gone for a swim in summer 2019. Wasn’t doing me any good in the current state.

Negative spending: I reduced my Freedom Mobile bill by changing MP’s plan to $9/3mo pay-as-you-go (I hope). My plan is grandfathered $29/mo so not worth changing.

Restaurants/other food

  • We actually ate at the Wellington airport after Hump Ridge. Too many foot blisters to get food elsewhere! Usually I’ll eat at the airport before flying but not after flying.
  • Nora Kebab in Upper Hutt, highly-reviewed on Google Maps and tasty mix iskender. Also good decor.
  • Carterton farmer’s market was quite modest. Bought some fruit.
  • Buckhorn Bar & Grill in Carterton had a sign on the road that I’m surprised one can still display in 2021. I’m not posting it. See racism in NZ vs Canada; this somewhat contradicts my points there.
  • Quite good fish n chips at Cable Top Eatery right next to our place. Much better than the other Kelburn option.
  • I liked my hangi croquettes at Karaka Cafe, had a smoky taste. But I always like croquettes.
  • Subpar poutine at Choice Bros. But hey, we’re pretty far from Quebec.
  • Dragons was as tasty as always, although the rockfish was a bit underwhelming. I prefer lobster.


Borrowed a bunch of books from the library, including Parking the Moose (meh, but I wanted to get his take on places I know well) and some books on lightweight hiking/etc. Read a fascinating guide to the Chatham Islands, which I’d sort of like to visit (but it’s not super high on the priority list).


The Wellington Cable Car is the iconic Wellington picture. I usually walk but sometimes I make an exception and take the cable car, e.g. after judo practice. There was some public art “multi-sensory experience” on the cable car on one of my rides, with music, perfumed fans, food… Also there were people playing music in the other cable car on another ride. And the tunnel is lit up in various ways (go LED lights!)

Wellington Cable Car and the view from there. Not pictured: museum.

Also got invited for dinner at the Peter Jackson Childhood Residence. Sir Peter did not join us for dinner.

Again bringing back the list of things to write up:

  • Photos: eternally in progress
  • August (Rakuira) trip writeup
  • September (Canterbury) trip writeup
  • Travel philosophy (been in final-drafts form since before the pandemic)
  • Greece recommendations (mostly drafted)
  • November (Northland) trip writeup
  • November-December (Kepler) trip writeup
  • December (Milford/Routeburn) trips writeup
  • January (Hump Ridge) trip writeup
  • February (Tongariro) trip writeup
  • Days of Great Walks writeup
  • SF vs Wellington writeup


Definitely working a lot, but getting out on some extended weekends as well. It is much easier to get out to good hikes than in Waterloo. (There are a couple of good hikes near Waterloo, but way fewer than in New Zealand). Even taking a plane is cheaper here than in Canada and doesn’t take as long. Looking forward to the end of the term.