August: more trips

Posted by Patrick Lam on Saturday, September 16, 2023

Table Of Contents

Quieter month on the research front, though I did submit my NSERC Discovery Grant Notification of Intent to apply (which is only a small fraction of the work for the complete application). Lots of trips: turns out I was away for 16 days out of 31. August outdoors activities in NZ need to be winter-ish, i.e. you have to be aware of avalanches (or someone does; we went to ski resorts and heard some avy control blasts). Some service: refereeing journal papers and more FAUW and OAC. Should get back to work in September, though so far this month there has also been a lot of travel (hence the date of this entry). Some of the days in August just kind of slipped by though. While restful, that is not good for non-August months!

Albatross feeding on chicken; Mount Travers summit; baby lambs at Tawharanui; view from Cardrona.


Still not over, still no wave in NZ, no more COVID rules in NZ. Probably still less than last Winter in Waterloo Region, “continuing to slowly increase” there.

XBB monovalent vaccine in Canada in mid-October, I’m estimating. Not a silver bullet but still helpful.


Most of my otherwise-unaccounted-for intellectual work this month was a TOSEM review (one of two I had to do), which I finished while I was on the Wanaka ski trip.

Worked on 13 days; nominally 22 work days in August. Time to get back to work in September after vacation.

Quite a few para-professional meetups with colleagues in Wellington.

Grad students/mentees

Talked with students/mentees/collaborators on 6 days. New students starting in September also, so I’ll have more meetings.


Did not manage to find time to work on conference paper resubmit in August, but the deadline is late in September, so we still have plenty of time.


I think I’ll remove this header until late 2024.


Freelance advising of a SYDE grad who asked for a reference letter. Working on another reference letter, for a Vanier Scholarship. That one took a few days.

Starting to work on the FAUW by-election for September, including talking to prospective candidates/convincing people to run. More to come after Labour Day (we put the nominations close date as soon as possible at the start of the Fall term without literally being the first day of class).

Trips (lots)

Yep, lots of trips. Indeed, I got back from the ski trip and left for the mountaineering trip on the same day, having stashed my mountaineering gear beforehand so that it would arrive on the ferry.

Petrel Station, Tutukaka, August 4-7

We’ve seen many of the treebirds of New Zealand (though I still have no good grey warbler picture). But there are also a ton of seabirds. Indeed, NZ has a disproportionately high share of the world’s penguins and albatrosses. The thing is, it’s hard to see those birds from land. (Research on them is thus also hard: before we were able to track them with GPS and daylight sensors (for latitude), how could we know where they even go?)

I noticed that the Petrel Station charters a boat and goes to observe seabirds. So I signed us up for a tour in August. We flew to Auckland and drove to Tutukaka to see seabirds. We would also stop by Waipu and, as described on the Petrel Station page, a nondescript lake in the Tikipunga suburb of Whangarei; eBird calls it Vinegar Lake.

Cape petrel; Australasian grebes; red-breasted dotterel; (white-capped?) albatross.

There were indeed tons of seabirds on the boat. We motored out 50km from shore to get to a place that these birds are known to frequent. Once we got there, the captain continuously threw out bits of chicken to get the birds to come. After some hours, they get the message and show up. Heaps of petrels and albatrosses.

The average swell was 1m, which doesn’t sound like much. But it’s an average. I was OK, but MP had severe seasickness and found herself glued to her spot. At least she saw the sei whale and many of the birds.

The Petrel Station also almost feels like the owner Scott and his birdwatching buddies operating on a coop model. I guess Scott makes a bit of money but I think he also just really likes watching birds. Many of the people also had fancy cameras and lenses. Mine was kind of mid-range. Also if I wanted good pictures I’d need to go out again. It’s really hard. One thing, I think, is setting the f/stop to be narrow enough to get wider depth of field. The Kaikoura Albatross Encounter we’d done earlier was in absolutely still waters and I got better pictures with the very average bridge camera.

North Island Championships, Rotorua, August 11-13

More refereeing. Also entered Senior Men -66 and took a silver medal. Lost in the final.

Also walked from the airport again, went to Patrick’s Gold Star Bakery again, and went to some other new-to-me restaurants. There is no Air New Zealand lounge in ROT, unfortunately. On the “fortunate” side of the ledger. a referee colleague was trying to fly back to Christchurch and that flight got cancelled, but fortunately she managed to get onto our WLG flight and then connect to a CHC flight. Otherwise, her options looked grim (bus to Auckland and then fly the next morning). Rotorua is indeed a bit out of the way and the Cook Strait makes it hard to get between islands.

Arrivals carving at ROT; pies at Patrick's Pies; shiai-jo at Energy Events Centre; SM-66 podium; out-of-focus sunset.

Wanaka skiing, Wanaka/Queenstown, August 19-24

Here we were skiing in Wanaka at Elliott’s instigation. (I thought I hadn’t done a ski trip for a while, but I did ski/snowboard 2 days in a row at Marble Mountain this April). The relevant resorts near Wanaka are Cardrona and Treble Cone. These resorts are full of international visitors (Italy, UAE, Canada…) I guess it’s where you go if you want to go skiing in August.

A three-day ticket for Cardrona costs only $40 more than a two-day ticket. I guess they know that people usually come for the two-day weekend. Anyway, since MP was only out from Saturday to Wednesday morning, we went skiing on Saturday afternoon.

Our first day was full of adventure. We needed to put chains on the car tires. Actually we didn’t really manage to do it, but a friendly ski hill staff member from Alberta did it for us. We got two hours of skiing in, which resulted in MP realizing that her boots were not suitable. We had gotten them from a discount outlet in Ontario. We instead went to BaseNZ and got a pair of properly-fitting boots.

Chains: not easy as; McDougall's Chondola; great visibility; our cabin at the Wanaka Lakeview Holiday Park; (the box for) MP's new boots.

We went to Cardrona for two more days and Treble Cone for one day. MP loved the keas hanging around TC, and got a bunch of snowboard practice in. We’ll be more ready for Nelson BC skiing in January. Meanwhile I explored all the open areas at Cardrona and Treble Cone on my telemark skis. There is some good terrain in the chutes, and, in the right place, good snow. (You have to look for it though. Usually in the shade.)

Crown Range view; traffic control in the morning; Elliott; MP; Exhibition Bowl and bumps; Pisa Range; Footrot Flats (not so flat).

It’s a different style of skiing from Northeast North America, where I’m usually in the trees and bumps. I think this is more like the skiing in the West, though smaller than the resorts in the Rockies.

The view at Treble Cone; Super Pipe (great run); flying kea at closing time.

Mount Hopeless attempt, Nelson Lakes, August 24-27

I put up my hand to lead this NZAC trip across the Cook Strait. At first we were planning to climb Mount Alarm in the Kaikouras, but the lack of a specific avalanche forecast, a persistent weak layer, and the 70 river crossings, combined with the Kaikouras not actually being more appealing than Nelson Lakes, made the decision to divert to Nelson Lakes quite easy.

Tom crossing the swingbridge; routes on Mount Cupola; participants of both Nelson Lakes trips; reflections on the lake; inside Lakehead Hut; Travers River; view across Cupola Creek.

Water taxi skipper Hamish brought us across the lake and then we did the 20km approach, first to John Tait Hut (mostly flat) and then up to Cupola Hut (last 2km not flat). The 20kg pack weight was soul-crushing, but the hike was on easy terrain.

Summit day had a 0715 departure for an attempt at Mount Hopeless via the SW Ridge. Over 9h moving time we travelled 6km with elevation gain/loss of 600m. We judged avalanche risk on our shaded aspect to be low, with minimal chance of loose/wet. Unfortunately the snow was crusty and sinky (like it had been at Wye Creek for our approach to Touchdown) and we got to 2000m elevation before turning around; summit is at 2300m. Not even close. We had two rope teams: the all-Canadian rope team of myself, Brandon, and Andrea; and the Dan and Gracie team. They moved much faster than we did: 2 > 3. After getting back to Cupola Hut, we continued down to John Tait to save us time on the way out on Sunday.

On the Sunday we had to put our soul-crushing packs back on and walk the straightforward and flat track all the way back out to the road end (Hamish was on vacation; no water taxi for us). Anyway, it went pretty quickly.

About boats

It turns out that one first gets signal again 6km from road end. I learned that our Bluebridge ferry was cancelled. I figured that nothing much would change in the 90 minutes it took us to get to road end.

Once we got to the road end, we took care of various important tasks like jumping in the lake and transferring gear. I also tried to find places on the Interislander ferry for the 3 of us who had a booking for the Bluebridge, but it claimed to be sold out. On the phone they told us to show up at the terminal and hope for the best.

Turns out that they weren’t planning to accommodate any foot passengers on the ferry. The walkway to the boat is currently under construction. But they brought the bus out to the ferry just for the three of us, fortunately. There were only about 45 passengers on the ferry in total. It was mostly a cargo trip. Anyway, thanks to Interislander for accommodating us after all! Bluebridge wasn’t very helpful, but at least they refunded our money quickly.

Lite bush bashing; Dan climbing the snow; assorted mountains; us on the second rope team; Lake Rotoroa; back in the trees for golden hour.

Travel planning

Planned some of our upcoming Canada travel (September, October, and December), as well as the trip which intended to go to the Kaikouras (but actually went to Mount Hopeless). Trip planning did take a lot of time in August. Just a bit more trip planning remaining for the year.

Movement statistics

I thought I did a lot of walking, but it was just one 3-day 54km hike. Other than that, walking was below average. Skiing and birdwatching don’t contribute to walking amounts.

  • 🚶 Walking: 116km on 22 days (way less than expected)
  • 🚲 Biking: 94km on 9 days (judo, airport runs; includes 8.8km ebike ride when I was disinclined to climb the hill twice in a day)
  • ✈ Plane: 3,250km (AKL, ROT, ZQN, BHE)
  • 🚗 Driving: 1168km on 16 days (ski trip, birds)
  • 🚗 Taxi: 11.3km (skis back from airport, and gear back from ferry terminal)
  • 🚌 Bus: 51km on 8 days (almost all Wellington, including getting to WLG)
  • ⛴ Boat: 107km (Petrel Station trip and Nelson Lakes water taxi)
  • ⛷ Skiing: let’s say 100km and 100km chairlifts.
  • 🚡 Cable car: 0.6km (1×)

Blenheim completes the list of Air New Zealand South Island stations. I took the plane in and the ferry out. I forgot that while planning how I would get to the airport and had to go back and retrieve my bike the day after I got back to Wellington on the boat, though maybe I still saved time.


Just the Mount Hopeless attempt; see the trip report above. Also a walk from the Rotorua airport.


This month it was mostly July and August 2023 pictures. Kind of got bogged down with the Lake Matheson pictures, of which there were 1000. I split it into two sets and did one of the sets.

Paparoa etc, September 2021

Some pointy peak at sunrise; W European song thrush; pink reflections; Aoraki/Mount Cook closeup; Lake Matheson reflecting.

Now I am definitely past the two-year window for this trip! Better finish the remaining days soon.

Petrel Station trip, August 2023

I haven’t touched the 400 pictures from the boat yet (which are mostly blurry).

NZ scaup; dabchick; white-faced heron; paradise shelducks and little black shag.

NZAC Wellington Section trip to Mount Hopeless, August 2023

Did a fast turnaround on these. Selected pictures above.

Ice Climbing at Wye Creek, July 2023

Core ice climbing days; surrounding days should be quick but aren’t done yet.

Underpass on the way to the boat; our ride to Wye Creek; icicles; the crag; at the crag (Touchdown); pointy peak; snow ramp; chiaroscuro; Dan; Bianca.

Auckland International Open, July 2023 This small set is now complete.

Another tunnel, under WLG runway; Canadian flag at Auckland Int'l Open; gentoos; king penguins; crab; Auckland at sunset.

West Coast Tour (two more days left), May 2023

The List

Progress from 2021 is not visible, but getting there.

  • [January] Zealandia, January 4/14/18/Wellington Butterfly (23), Zealandia (April, June, September, November), Wellington Sunset (November), lens tests (November)
  • [September] Paparoa Track & the Glaciers (3)

Backlog from 2022:

  • [January] Walking around KW
  • [February] Reading week trip to Montreal
  • [April] Northland (6)
  • [May] trips 1 and 2 to Montreal
  • [July] Vancouver (2)
  • [August] Brisbane airport walk
  • [August] Colonial Knob
  • [September] Napier (2)
  • [September] Motueka (2)
  • [October] Queen Charlotte Track (6)
  • [November] New Plymouth (4 days with more than a few pictures)
  • [November] Radome/Red Rocks
  • [November] Remutaka overnight (2)
  • [December] Kereru (03/12), Zealandia (05/12)
  • [December] Auckland
  • [December] New Lens Day
  • [December] Wanaka Grebes (6)
  • [December] Gillepsie Circuit (4)
  • [December] Mueller Hut (2)
  • [December] Glacier iceberg kayaking
  • [December] Omarama

Added a bunch more pictures from July, although I did get one day of Auckland pictures and the main Turoa pictures up.

  • [January] AMC (6)
  • [May] West Coast Tour (3)
  • [May] Montreal and NZ (4)
  • [June] Wellington Open (1)
  • [July] Skyline (1)
  • [July] Wye Creek (2)
  • [August] Petrel Station (3)
  • [August] Rotorua (3)
  • [August] Wanaka Ski Trip (6)

August posts



Not really much to report except for trips above.


Sometimes one puts up with sub-optimal things for longer than one should; our kettle kept on dripping whenever I poured water out, and this is a problem that is really easy to solve with money.

  • replacement electric kettle: the old one was leaking and not worth it to use


Judo practice 8×: all regular weekday practices except when I was on a ski trip. North Island Championships. Refereed, and took 2nd in -66. Lost in the final by strategic play by opponent, who admitted that he didn’t see how to throw me, and made me take penalties instead. People have different opinions about whether one should strive for the ippon (score) or win by whatever means the rules allow. I guess that, for me, with literally nothing on the line (not even grading points), I might as well try for the score.

A whole-ass ski trip.

No climbing gym visits. I should do something about that. It’s not even like it’s far, but I don’t go climbing with anyone.


Drunken noodle at Thai Panda (Picton); mezes at Turkuaz Cafe Kamo; duck confit at Urbano (Rotorua); surf n turf at Mac's Steak House (Rotorua); Chat-Pata at The Jayas (Wellington); lamb on salad from Akbabas (Blenheim).


  • Logan MacLean Cafe: egg salad sandwich and a good tart; tip jar was the “send Chris to Japan” fund, which I didn’t want to comment on as I wasn’t tipping (not expected in NZ).
  • Turkuaz Cafe Kamo: I especially liked the cheese that was part of the meze.


  • Urbano: a bistro; had a duck confit special.
  • Mac’s Steak House: after weigh-in (which wasn’t hard for -66 but I still worried), I had the surf and turf, which I usually never do. I do like shrimp. Normally not a great fan of a hunk of meat.
  • Patrick’s Pies Gold Star Bakery: Back again. This time, I had the award-winning duck pie. Filling was excellent, though maybe the pastry wasn’t as crusty as it could have been. There was a Vietnamese woman working the cash register.


  • The Jayas Wine Bar: We didn’t have any wine, but we did have their Wellington on a Plate Burger, the Chat-pata, which was great (and also meatless), though maybe the green bun might put people off.


  • Thai Panda: the “medium” drunken noodle was kinda spicy but quite good; maybe Picton is underrated.
  • Akbabas: lamb on salad; more avoiding of carbs. Worked for me.


  • a slice of pizza from the Captain’s Cafe at Cardrona. It was fine.
  • The Hayes: We had a platter of fried food (hence the bagged salad the next day). I always like croquettes but the garlic pizza bread was good too.
  • Amigos Wanaka was good again, with three tacos and a tortilla soup.
  • Kai Whaka Pai: I’ve climbed at that area, now I’ve had a scone from there, fresh from the oven just past 7am.
Piping-hot scone from Kai Whaka Pai; tacos from Amigos (both Wanaka); fried food from The Hayes (outside Queenstown).


FAUW was fairly quiet, though the by-election work would ramp up in September. JORC also started to ramp up. Some OAC work.


Annoying to carry and hard to read physical books when travelling, and I don’t really do ebooks.

  • Kerry-Jayne Wilson. Flight of the Huia. 2004.

Turns out I picked up two books by this author at the library a few months ago; the seabirds book is much newer (so way more pictures) and focused on seabirds.

I wrote a detailed review. Some excerpts.

This book is from 2004, and it’s interesting to be able to look up “what happened next”. She writes: “I expect that in 20 years’ time the management methods described in this book will have been superseded by much more sophisticated and cost-effective controls”.

  • From pest control to eradication: since 2004, the Predator Free 2050 project has been, basically, approved in principle, and being worked on. There is a detailed 5-year progress report from 2021. This moves from running-in-place (the book talks about how NZ hasn’t lost a vertebrate species in the last 40 years, though some species remain on the edge) to something that is potentially more stable, should it succeed. You don’t have to keep dumping poison in the environment (and having it get less effective over time).
  • Predator Free Wellington, Zealandia, and Capital Kiwi have made huge strides, with kākā now being common (I hear them all the time and see them every other day) and kiwi being released in the hills not far from here. In the book: “on the mainland both [North Island and South Island] forms are now thinly distributed through a few large tracts of indigenous forest.”
  • The concept of mainland islands was coming down the pipe. Zero Invasive Predators writes about Perth Valley, which is a eradication of predators over 12,000ha since 2019. Instead of fences and water, they use rivers and mountains.

At a higher level:

  • New Zealand is really a world leader in species conservation and has a lot of diversity in birds that don’t exist elsewhere. Instead of cows, we have takahē (now 70 years from re-discovery). It’s hard to digest grass!
  • Alberta has no rats but winter is a big advantage there. The rats will freeze to death on the Prairies if they don’t have anywhere to shelter from the cold.
  • Practical vs theory-based approach. The work with saving species has been carried out by the Wildlife Service and later the Department of Conservation, who were very practical-minded, as opposed to more theory-based conservation work in North America. Makes me think of some of what Amy Ko has written about theory in computer science, specifically human-computer interaction. The NZ approach tends to resonate with me; I’m more concrete than many other academics.

Great quote:

  • “Jared Diamond likens a winged rail on a predator-free island to a backpacker placing 15 kilograms of bricks in her pack then tramping on half-rations.”

The 20kg of gear I was carrying the other day felt heavy.

Most of the book aims to be scientific and to analyze root causes from an ecologist’s perspective. She does provide a call to action in the final chapter. “Our biota is part of humanity’s global heritage”.


Last month before September, though maybe that month doesn’t change that much for me. Vacation’s over; I should probably work more in September.