March: finishing the Tongariro Circuit, climbing trip to Pohara, and hiking Wanaka

Posted by Patrick Lam on Thursday, April 1, 2021

Table Of Contents

Usually by this point we’d be getting close to the end of Winter term (was April 3 in Winter 2020), but we’ve stretched lectures out because of the pandemic (later start, additional scheduled pause, shorter exam period), so we still have 1.5 weeks of class left. I feel like the wheels are starting to fall off at this point, with all sorts of random life things happening to the students in my graduate course.

The mechanics of teaching in March have been similar to those in February. Just more of the same. I also got back from the Tongariro Northern Circuit on March 1 and went climbing at Pohara for a weekend. And, we attempted the Gillespie Circuit at the end of the month.


Recent posts:


Matukituki Valley in Mount Aspiring National Park; Taranaki Falls on Tongariro Northern Circuit day 4; passionfruit; Halifax Café in Nelson

Life in Wellington

Temperatures have started to decrease, though it’s not actually cold outside; as I write this it’s 11pm and 12°C outside. We have heating now, so in the living room it’s 21°C. Yay! I don’t do well at temperatures below 20°C inside. I haven’t really been cold outside in NZ yet.

On March 2 I encountered His Royal Floofiness Mittens, though he didn’t have much time for me. I encounter Sylvester the Allenby cat way more often and he’s happy to jump on anyone’s lap.

Mittens (who didn't have time for me) and Sylvester (who almost always does)

Back at the beginning of the month we were in Level 2 due to an outbreak in Auckland. Since then there hasn’t been any real COVID news in New Zealand. There’s been a couple of announcements of announcements, the most notorious one being that on April 6 the NZ government is going to set a date for quarantine-free flights from Australia. Also there will be 6 months of discussions about Auckland Light Rail after the previous plan was derailed by coalition politics and a surprise bid from back home in Canada (Quebec’s Caisse de dépôt et placement along with the NZ Super Fund). And there is a housing plan for NZ. I hope it helps, but who knows.

On a more personal (vs political) level, there was my annual visit to a movie theatre, this time to see Reel Rock in the Wellington suburb of Brooklyn; a couple of restaurants; colleagues’ BBQs; buying gear; judo practice; and other things that go on in normal life. It’s great and I’m still grateful, especially as cases surge in Ontario and Quebec again and there is another not-quite-lockdown announced for Ontario. Again too little two weeks too late. Still a lot of video calls with people back home. The Zoom fatigue continues to add up. But who am I to complain?

We’ll need new visas to stay beyond June. Working on that. Need police checks (hurrah the US one just arrived). But, we also should be eligible for NZ healthcare. It would be much easier to get Canadian police checks while in Canada. But we still couldn’t go there and come back.

Pictures: A bit worse than treading water: did almost three-quarters of November (late rally). Currently behind by:

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

Well, I broke my phone on my climbing trip, so I don’t have more pictures from that.

In terms of mapping the times of the year, Easter in NZ seems like Canadian Thanksgiving: it’s a 4-day weekend (more like US Thanksgiving but not as big a deal) at the end of the summer. Travel gets expensive.

NZ and COVID-19

Vaccine rollout continues (somewhat slowly). People don’t seem so concerned about that, even though it’s currently behind Australia. I think there’s a thing where the Australian PM is quite unpopular and this just adds on to it. And NZ has never over-promised for the vaccines. I saw some Internet advertising with the Director-General of Health, Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, and something about Easter, but it doesn’t seem to be on YouTube.

Be a good egg:

We had an experience with Healthline, a cough, and getting sent to do a COVID test in Wanaka. It is inconvenient to get a cold while travelling. But better to take some inconvenience than to spread COVID. The test was relatively efficient; they told MP to show up at 2:15, she got swabbed (by a nurse; … wearing a face shield?!), and got results in 36 hours. Travel changes cost a bit of money but not exorbitant. I would worry more about going to Australia though and particularly the ability to get back to NZ.

Canada and COVID-19

Yikes. Variants vs vaccines. I’ve said that we’ll get through this, but the question is how many people we lose along the way.


Now fall. We’ve passed the equinox and are going back to standard time this weekend (sigh).


Lots of teaching work somehow, talking to students, bailed on a workshop paper (will try for ASE instead, hope the additional time helps; I have a decent idea and hope we can get it executed). Had 0 time to work on the SE retrospective.

Got around to finally getting back to students who had written me about grad school and made an offer, about which I’m optimistic.

Talked to a researcher from Huawei about collaboration. Haven’t had time to work on the Alliance grant, still, but at least I’m getting more familiar with the code with the non-profit partner.


For Programming for Performance, I changed the assignment so that students turn in a commit log/pull request rather than a report, as we’ve been getting bogged down with report marking. Hope that helps. And I think it’s more reasonable. Aside from that, I had office hours and answered Piazza questions. Need to write final exam questions.

For Static Analysis for Software Engineering, I continued to prepare intro videos for the papers under discussion each week (just did the last one), watched student presentations, provided presentation feedback, and led discussions during weekly class meetings. Also, as the deadline for the course project approaches, I’ve been working with those students who want more in-depth advice on their course projects.

Vaguely thinking about the first year ECE project course for Fall. But not really. Have a call to talk about it next week.


Still pretty minimal. Put together a package for running for the FAUW (faculty association, i.e. non-union union) Board. Reviewed a bunch of grant proposals. Chatted with SE students on their new Discord. Sent another version of a grad school recommendation letter.


Scheduling gets harder again as New Zealand goes back to Standard Time and North America moves to Daylight Time. A 6-hour gap is easier to deal with than an 8-hour gap. I guess I’ve done it before and can do it again, although it requires people back home to have meetings rather late in the day.

Talked to students on 23 days and worked on 26 days. March had 23 work days. Yikes. Maybe that’s why things feel like such a grind.


Got out every second weekend.

  • 🚶 Walking distance: 100km (at least I hit 3 digits!)
  • 🚲 Biking distance: 45.5km
  • 🚗 Driving distance: 1158km (yikes)
  • 🚗 Taxi distance: 7.9km (2 trips)
  • 🚌 Bus distance: 36.7km
  • 🛩 Plane distance: 793km (NSN-WLG, WLG-ZQN)
  • 🚆 Train distance: 93km (commuter train to Paraparaumu)
  • 🚡 Cable car distance: 2.1km (3x)


Other sports

Climbing trip to Pohara Bay. Got a bunch of mileage on NZ rock. This thing happens where the routes (normally well within my grade range) are hard to onsight; typically I can easily do them with 1 hang.

Judo practice as usual (well, level 2 less-contact practice for the first week of March). March tournament was also postponed. April’s is coming up. Waiting till my cold goes away to go back to practice.

I also “attended” two Judo Quebec virtual clinics: refereeing and Kodokan goshin-jitsu.

Travel planning

Planned partial logistics for Avalanche Peak Route and out via Crow Hut: booked rental car and accommodation at Arthur’s Pass Lodge. No further trips planned yet.


  • Pixel 4a and OtterBox case
  • Travel scale
  • Sony HX-90V and case (there’s always a case)

New phone (sigh). I had put my Pixel 3a in the chest pocket of my poofy jacket and then set it down. Somehow, despite the padding, this broke the screen. I got a new Pixel 4a, shipped from Australia, and an OtterBox case to protect it. The backup phone was useful for the week where the new Pixel was in the mail, though it is excruciatingly slow.

In other phone-related news I wanted to activate WhatsApp on the new phone, but couldn’t find the SIM card for my Freedom account. Turns out that eSIMs work and now I have both Freedom and 2degrees active. The phone spam situation in North America has become untenable. WTF?! 10 calls in a morning. Obviously I’m not going to answer them for $5/minute.

International roaming: now disabled.

I also decided that I wanted to know how much my gear weighs, so I got a travel scale. Works well. The gear store was not the best place to buy this; PB Tech (computer stuff) was.

Replaced the RX-100M1 that had gone for a swim in the Koroc in summer 2019 with a light superzoom Sony-HX90V. This one does 30x. Hopefully it gets better image quality at the end of its range than the Panasonic does at 60x. Took a test shot but ISO 1500 made it quite grainy.

I brought in my softshell for warranty repair after a year (zipper). I also got a replacement strap for my hiking poles.

We rented a PLB for Gillespie and then returned it in Wanaka, where they shipped it back to Wellington for us for $7.50. Good deal. I wonder whether I should get an inreach.


MP wanted me to get a mole looked at. The GP said he thought it was probably fine but the Skin Institute would know more. I also mentioned some chest tightness and got the standard checklist and suite of tests. The blood test was offsite but quite fast. I should follow up on that.

Restaurants/food trucks (Wanaka)

  • We’d walked by Mr. Go’s in Wellington a lot but never actually tried it. It’s good pan-Asian cuisine. The decor is non-fancy.
  • Satay Palace was one of the first restaurants we’d been to in NZ and we had liked it, but never actually managed to get back.
  • Kika in Wanaka had good seared tuna. The cabbage dish was a bit weird: it had okonomiyaki toppings on a big head of cabbage.
  • Burrito Craft had tasty tacos. I got the fish, beef, and pork.
  • Aki Sushi had properly vinegary rice in their chirashi sushi. Also things that were not salmon. A win.
  • I overheard that Little Cup of Happy had recently opened. Worth visiting for your flat white needs.
  • Queenstown patio dining at Pedro’s By the Lake while waiting for COVID test results. The issue with staying in a closet of a hotel room is that it’s hard to hang out in the room. It was marginally OK for having class at least.

Burrito Craft, Aki Sushi, and Little Cup of Happy are all at the Brownston food truck hangout. Firebird looks good too but I didn’t get a chance to try it out.


Read the The Ethical Algorithm book as well as some not-so-novel-to-me guides about wilderness travel. The Ultralight Winter Travel: The Ultimate Guide to Lightweight Winter Camping, Hiking, and Backpacking had some useful tips though. (Don’t use a Gatorade bottle for water in winter! It doesn’t screw back up right when filled with hot water.)


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
  • NZ National Parks writeup

While writing up March I got sidetracked and wrote up the Wanaka trip and posted the pictures even.


The end of the term can’t arrive too soon! With luck I’ll record the last intro video tomorrow and then I can write exam questions (hurrah). Meanwhile, it’s fall here and we should figure out what are the best places to go during this season.