March: more bad professional news from 2023 efforts, Canada trip, Wānaka climbing, and start of the Whanganui River Journey

Posted by Patrick Lam on Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Table Of Contents

At the time, 2023 felt OK, but it was really professionally unsuccessful. We’ll explore that more when I finally write the 2023 summary post; with no upcoming travel I should be able to do that in the next two weeks, I hope!

Anyway, I was in Canada for the first 10 days of March, then in Wānaka for 5 days (we’d hoped to hike the Cascade Saddle and the Rees part of the Rees-Dart), and on the Whanganui River Journey trip for the last 3 days, along with the first 3 days of April. Also, our former neighbours Dirk and Martha were in NZ, just missing us in Wānaka, but then we saw them when they stopped by Wellington. And, last but not least, when coming back to New Zealand, I was avoiding our place for a few days while MP was recovering from COVID (hence no Cascade Saddle); thanks to Cam for hosting me!

Anna's hummingbird; Edmonton International; Wellington harbour view; kākā; medals at N Wellington Open; Ah Lum's store in Arrowtown; three cows; saddleback; Taumarunui; paddling; four goats.


March in Wellington was definitely not quiet! A bunch of people at judo had it. Closer to home, MP got it and didn’t know where from. The local collection point was out of RATs several times. Yet, the data and the FluTracker data don’t show particularly high peaks. May be localized.

I hear it’s actually quieter in North America now; local minimum while people have immunity.

Incremental progress continues:


OK, I’m going to complain about peer review. Our PLDI submission was rejected, despite receiving 2 accept reviews, 1 weak reject, and 1 reject. I have to conclude that the reject reviewer was influential, despite not really having (in our opinion) very strong arguments for rejection in their review. We’ll resubmit to OOPSLA. I figured that a software engineering venue would not get the attention that we want.

I’m also grumpy about a special issue submission to the Journal of Systems and Software where there were instructions for the special issue asking for a description of our artifact, and reviewers who didn’t seem to evaluate according to the instructions. C’mon. (Yes, I complained.)

My NSERC Discovery proposal also got sunk by Reviewer #2, though that was perhaps more arguable, based on my not citing some work that I probably should have. At least that was on “merit of proposal” rather than my own record or my record of supervising students, so I should be able to apply again next year and get better results. I hope.

What that means, I guess, is that March had a bunch of vacation days for me, with 13 days where I worked and 21 work days in principle, though I was on airplanes for a few of them and didn’t do work on those flights this time. Couldn’t make up work days on weekends either, as I was refereeing on 3 of the weekends, and away in Wānaka on the other. I think that I did less service and didn’t replace it with more work this month. April should have more work.

Grad students/mentees/collaborators

I was talking to my students and collaborators on 7 days, which is pretty typical.


Definitely much less (or January and February had so much more). One Walk as a Service when on campus, plus visiting the SESoc rock climbing event on campus. Met a prospective summer undergrad. Did a final check of conditionally accepted PLDI papers. Reviewed a JSS submission.

A couple of PhD background exams and a master’s presentation coming up in April and May; they are early morning for me, which is annoying.


Had an in-person meeting with WLU collaborators. Light month on this front.


A chunk of March in Canada, then back to Wellington (in exile), with a weekend in Palmerston North for the North Wellington Open, and then Wānaka and the Whanganui River. So, 4 discrete trips plus exile.

Flying to Canada: Pacific and Edmonton International

I picked out a different set of photos for this month’s entry.

Sandhill crane at Reifel; Lyne at Pacific International; Joe Rockhead's; Silver Lake in Waterloo; March is still winter in Edmonton; matches at the Edmonton International.

Exile in Wellington

Having gotten a text from MP about having COVID while I was flying from Vancouver to Auckland, I stayed away from our place for about a week. At first I stayed in an airbnb in Aro Valley, one suburb over from our place, next to Waimapihi Polhill Reserve and often visited by kākā. Then Cam hosted me in his spare bedroom in Kilbirnie, which was much appreciated. I stayed there until figured it was likely no longer infectious (per RAT and number-of-days-since-infection).

I also visited my place a few times (with a mask) to provide moral support, managing to dodge COVID. Also, Craig let me use his office during the day. So, it was annoying but manageable, and it’s interesting to see different parts of Wellington, though maybe this wasn’t the preferred way to do that.

North Wellington Open

This was my third tournament in three weeks. The North Wellington Open judo tournament is run by the North Wellington Area. As far as I can tell, North Wellington means “north of Wellington”. It’s the first tournament of the year, and it’s been in Palmerston North for all the years I’ve been here. That is a 2 hour drive from Wellington (or the Capital Connection train, which runs outbound on weekday evenings and inbound on weekday mornings). I got a ride to the tournament on Saturday morning and back on Sunday afternoon, staying at an airbnb 15 minutes' walk from the centre.

This tournament is much tinier than Edmonton International: an order of magnitude smaller, I’d say. Then again, Edmonton International is huge. There were some computer hiccups but it was generally well-run. The organizers partially covered referee expenses, which I appreciate.


The original plan was to stay at the brand new (rebuilt) Aspiring Hut and then go over the Cascade Saddle to the Dart Track. This is half of the Rees-Dart Track, but I thought it would be far less annoying than climbing the Cascade Saddle and then descending it. Logistics are more difficult than doing the Rees and returning by the Dart, though: you need custom shuttles.

Mount Barff; new Aspiring Hut; yellowhammer; cragging at Riverside; parking lot is close by!

However, the 1000+m elevation gain of the Cascade Saddle was a bad idea so soon after MP recovered from COVID. So we re-planned the trip to be a walk out to Aspiring Hut (where we had a booking) and then three days of cragging at Wānaka. We moved our shuttle reservations to May and got new flights; hope the weather is favourable (less likely than in March). And, we booked a cozy cabin at the Wānaka TOP 10 Holiday Park and rented a car.

I’d done the drive out to Raspberry Creek (the carpark for Aspiring Hut) twice before. It was pretty dry this time and the river crossings weren’t that scary, though they still required care: likely wise to drive around the water when possible.

Our first trip to Aspiring Hut was pretty special, with well-placed sheep and a hunting NZ falcon/kārearea. No such luck this time. And we’d been back in the area on our first attempt to do the Gillespie Circuit (foiled by rain). That time, we did do the Rob Roy Glacier Walk, which is now supposedly inaccessible (bridge rated unsafe).

Karearea, March 2020 (photo edited by Allister Jenks as a tutorial; more skills for me to learn!)

This time, we made quick work of the 2-3 hour walk to the hut, but with no falcons seen. The new hut is very comfortable. I wish it had better air circulation though: it is well-insulated and the CO2 in the bunkrooms gets quite high, even with the window cracked open. Outside the bunkroom at night it was back at 415ppm. I made a half-hearted effort to do astrophotography, but not really.

There were heaps of yellowhammers and some lesser redpolls. I didn’t really know about birds in March 2020, but I did know enough to photograph the kārearea!

The cragging was the cryptic Wānaka schist as usual. I decided to do a lot of laps on moderates, including mostly toproping once I’d set up an anchor on lead. Hard to beat the approach for the Beginners’ Wall, which is 2 minutes from the parking lot at Riverside. Route notes on Grandma Funk (16): “not actually fun”. No redpoints of anything harder than 16, and about 5-7 climbs each day, which is not bad for volume.

The holiday park was great, as usual. At first I reserved a tent site because there were no cabins. But they asked another group to move to a different cabin and were able to accommodate us. Way more comfortable than a tent for sure, and costs like $110 a night instead of $40 for camping. They have a set of kitchenware that you can borrow if you are staying in the cabin.

Whanganui Journey

I’d planned it so that the day after getting back from Wānaka I could do something with our former neighbours Dirk and Martha, and then the day after that we’d leave for Whanganui.

The Whanganui Journey is an 87 or 145km canoe trip from either Whakahoro or Taumarunui to Pipiriki on the Whanganui River, over 3 or 5 days.

No cars, no planes. Buses and trains (and vans) from our place in Wellington to this adventure. I always find it to be a waste to rent a car for an adventure and leave it parked all the time (even more than how cars usually spend vast majority of their time parked).

Our departure briefing was at 9:30am the next morning, said the info on our (probably waterproof) barrels. Well, the small 4 barrels were supposedly waterproof; the large one (for tents) not. I noticed Robert’s group of 16 with tons of barrels, also leaving with us on a 5-day trip. We packed our barrels in the evening so that we wouldn’t have to do anything in the morning. (Breakfast ended up being some bars; no cleaning needed.)

Turns out that “Robert” was Rob O’Callahan, who I’d last seen at SPLASH 2022 in Auckland, and had known from way back in the program analysis research community. He runs these trips with a big crowd and, in this case, had coincidentally planned the Whanganui River Journey at the same time as us. We’d be staying at the same places except on the first night, where he was at Ohinepane and we were 2 hours down the river at Poukaria. We had, however, managed to get huts for the nights after the first night; easier for 2 than for 16! [Rob’s writeup]

Except for the 50/50 rapids right at the end on day 5, the first day has the most challenging rapids throughout the trip. MP and I managed to get through them all without swimming. There were some spills in Rob’s group.

Train cars in Taumarunui; upside down canoe; breaktime; should we dock here at Whakahoro?; looking up the Whanganui.

Day 2, to Whakahoro, was shorter (since we had chosen a longer day 1). It turns out that there is also a 400m walk with 20m elevation gain from the tie-up to the campsite/bunkroom. Which isn’t that far, but there are barrels to bring up. The hill features prominently in the Intentions Book.

Turns out MP and I were the only ones staying inside the hut (old schoolhouse). The group of 5 and Rob’s group all showed up a bit after us and camped outside. The hut had power and a heater. The heater doesn’t work but the power does.

Whakahoro also features the Blue Duck Station, which serves breakfast and lunch. Also accommodation, though I don’t know how that works. I had eggs benedict. Happy to help out local businesses, and a nice change from the ramen that we had for 3 of the 5 days of our trip. The whio (blue ducks) certainly aren’t on the Whanganui, but the guestbook at Blue Duck Station records sightings of blue ducks nearby.

At dusk at John Coull, we managed to see bats over the trees at the hut, and the warden found a bat listener, which made clicking noises when the bats were echolocating. Too hard to photograph, though.

Day 4 is the chance to visit the Bridge to Nowhere, which is otherwise accessible by mountain bike or by jetboat. The bridge (surprisingly far from the water, 1.5km) is a significant infrastructure project, with tons of concrete over the river. There are some signs of the post-WWI settlement, but not many. Yes, it is possible to engineer this bridge, but was it really a good idea? Well, I guess the engineers were just carrying out their instructions.

On Day 5, some of the rapids were noticeably harder than what we’d seen over the past few days. But nothing was actually hard on this day, including the 50/50. Indeed, almost everyone got through the 50/50 without swamping. It was definitely easier than in this video, even if everyone had said that it was hard around now due to the low water levels.

Probable bat at John Coull; machinery at Bridge to Nowhere; awaiting powhiri; Raetihi; leaving Whakahoro; looking back at John Coull Hut; Josh in rapids; on the Bridge to Nowhere; last bit of the Journey.

Taumarunui Canoe Hire drove us back to Raetihi and we made our way to Raetihi’s Coach Café. We had 2 hours there before our pickup at 4 for the bus to Wellington. We saw the Whanganui River again at Whanganui City before going inland.

Travel planning

Currently we have 3 trips coming up; this list below includes same-month replanning.

  • booked hotel room for Palmerston North (Whanganui Journey) at the last minute (whoops)
  • last-minute replanning for Wānaka
  • Overland Track, early May
  • Cascade-Dart take 2, mid-May
  • Melbourne, July

Movement statistics

A canoe trip and climbing don’t contribute to walking totals, and neither does a trip to Canada! There was a fair amount of driving and some train distance though. This is the first time canoe distances are on this list. There has been kayaking on the list in the past.

  • 🚶 Walking: 98km on 23 days (canoeing ain’t walking, plus trips; half as much as February)
  • 🚲 Biking: 69km on 7 days (close to February)
  • 🚗 Driving: 939km on 17 days (Abbotsford and Edmonton; Palmerston North; Queenstown-Wānaka)
  • 🚗 Taxi: 0 (!)
  • 🚌 Bus: 370km on 10 days (Waterloo to Toronto, Palmy to Taumarunui; around town)
  • 🚆 Train: 208km on 4 days (GO; UP Express; Capital Connection)
  • 🚇 Subway: 11km (Toronto)
  • 🚆 LRT: 13km (Waterloo and Edmonton)
  • 🚣 Canoe distance: 59km (first two days of Whanganui Journey)
  • 🚡 Cable car: 0.7km (1×)


Just the walk to Aspiring Hut.


Grand Canyon, May 2019.

Supai Group rocks; Ooh Aah Point; moon and agaves; which way?; western prickly pear; Lead Mountain view; sunset at Grand Canyon Lodge.

Eclipses have been in the news. Here is a lunar eclipse from 2021.

Moon sliver; red moon.

There is a huge Petrel Station trip day. This is just on the way there, at the Tawharanui Regional Park. I saw a report of a kiwi sighting there recently, but we visited during the day and saw lots of baby sheep.

Mom and baby sheep; pīwakawaka; two baby sheep; whitehead/pōpokotea.

Here are most of the pictures from the recent Abbotsford/Toronto/Waterloo/Edmonton March 2024 trip; there are enough pictures from there above.

And from this year’s Wānaka trip:

One of many yellowhammers seen on the trip; glacier; lesser redpoll; New Zealand pipit/Pīhoihoi; view from Riverside Crag.

The List

Processed 7 days, including 4 March days in March, leaving me at net +7 days (i.e. more backlog). Maybe I can actually clear 2024 to date, knowing that I’ve done a bunch more in April, and am not going on any more trips quite yet. Feels like the backlog through to 2021 is still huge though.

To do, all from 2021 (days):

  • [January] Zealandia, January 4/14/18/Wellington Butterfly (23), Zealandia (April, June, September, November), Wellington Sunset (November), lens tests (November)

Even more pictures from 2022:

  • [May] trips 1 and 2 to Montreal (judo nationals)
  • [August] Colonial Knob
  • [September] Napier (2)
  • [September] Motueka (2)
  • [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] Wānaka Grebes (6)
  • [December] Gillepsie Circuit (4)
  • [December] Mueller Hut (2)
  • [December] Glacier iceberg kayaking
  • [December] Omarama
  • [December] Wellington NYE

And 2023:

  • [January] AMC (6)
  • [May] Montreal and NZ (4)
  • [July] Skyline
  • [July] Wye Creek (2)
  • [August] Petrel Station (1)
  • [August] Rotorua (quick)
  • [August] Ski trip (4)
  • [September] Wellington double rainbow, Zealandia (2)
  • [September] Waterloo/Calgary/Seattle/Squamish
  • [September] Taupō (3)
  • [October] Winnipeg, Scarborough and Sydney (3)
  • [November] Whitireia Park (1)
  • [November] Puke Ariki Traverse (1)
  • [November/December] Ouvea, Noumea Zoo, Riviere Bleue, Aquarium, Grandes Fougeres, Pic Malawi (6)
  • [December] Seattle, Montreal, Nelson (4)
  • Various (5)


  • Various
  • [January] Nelson (2)
  • [January] Sydney (2)
  • [February] Travers-Sabine (7)
  • [March] Vancouver and Edmonton (5)
  • [March] Wānaka/Aspiring Hut (1)
  • [March/April] Whanganui Journey (4)

March posts

I linked it last month, but this is the list of March posts, so here we are.


I’ve been trained to not put two headings together without text between, but I’m always a bit at a loss to figure out what to write here.


Nothing new worth noting, though I did get some new Darn Tough socks in exchange for old ones. Figured it would be easier to do that from Canada, and MEC Toronto helped me out. I also got my poofy jacket back with a much burlier patch which should stick. Oh, and we got a new-to-us toaster from the op shop, after our previous toaster stopped toasting.


OK, so I was in Wellington for 9 days in March (including exile), and went to judo practice 3× and Faultline also 3×, plus once at Joe Rockhead’s and once at the University of Waterloo wall. For now I have a 10-visit pass for Faultline as I figure out how often I really am going to go there. Three times a month is usually the breakeven point compared to day passes, but I haven’t done precise calculations yet.


I acquired a copy of Ru but haven’t read it yet. I should also get a copy in the original French. Haven’t read it yet.


I actually watched the movie version of Ru on the plane. It is fictionalized vignettes from the author’s life moving to small-town Québec (Granby, actually).

People talk about on-screen representation. This is it for me. Many Vietnamese resources are Northern Vietnamese, the prestige dialect, but the characters in this movie speak the languages I speak: Québecois and Southern Vietnamese.

It’s not quite my story, since my parents left before things got “interesting”. There was a quote along the lines of how nothing in Vietnam changed until everything changed; my parents anticipated that and got the hell out of there, going to France and then Canada. Also, the father in the book was a senior civil servant in Vietnam (and took on low-level jobs in Quebec), while my parents left before going to university.

The question of privilege is an interesting one. My mother’s family was definitely privileged. I have more mixed information about my father’s family and his relative position in it.


Whanganui Journey (Palmerston North, Taumarunui):

  • Jasmine’s Cafe & Thai Restaurant: Like many places in NZ, it was a bit too sweet, but the fried rice was OK. Could have used some hot sauce, but we didn’t have any back at Taumarunui Canoe Hire basecamp.
  • Alexandre Patisserie: Croissant was good but not as good as the best NZ croissant I’ve had (Le Moulin, Christchurch). Took sandwiches away for lunch as well. They didn’t actually speak French, even if they greet you with “Bonjour”.
  • Afghan Darbar Restaurant: Kabuli Pulao was tasty, with tender meat.

Also in Palmerston North:

  • Neighbourhood: surprisingly tasty lobster mac & cheese.


  • Cave Arrowtown: I enjoyed my okonomiyaki, but I think MP’s sushi was especially good on the NZ scale.
  • Best Kai Wanaka—Slow Cooked Meats: plate looked huge but I ate it all, you decide.
  • repeat visits, as always, to Amigos and Big Fig.

In Exile in Wellington:

  • Mao & Co: contrary to their marketing, I don’t think they’re Wellington’s #1 food truck; that’s the Orange Chinese Food True at Wellington’s Harbourside Market.
  • Lemongrass Kitchen: reasonable $11 banh mi, don’t remember seeing cheaper banh mi in NZ.
  • Hey George Cafe Kilbirnie: looks to have community vibe; was busy when I stopped by in the morning to get some food.
  • Vietnameezy: more traditional banh mi (to me) with slices of meat.
  • Aro Cafe: have definitely been there before but had a bacon toasty while in exile.
  • Arobake: good eclair and bacon sandwich for NZ while I was figuring out where to go.


  • Acorn Cafe: walking distance from AKL; has quite mediocre reviews but I thought it was good enough as a source of pies.


  • An Chay Restaurant: vegetarian Vietnamese food (there is a long tradition of this); I don’t know that I appreciate vegetarian pho though.


  • MOMO: took my grad students to this place near campus for lunch; was decent.

Vancouver (Richmond, Abbotsford):

  • Uno Beef Noodle, Richmond: a few years ago MP and I went to the ramen place across the street and MP really didn’t like that. The beef noodle here was quite good, though too big.
  • Yaffa Café, Abbotsford: had a good chicken poutine (not enough sauce, but tasty) at this place that looked like a new small family restaurant; there is now a for sale ad on Craigslist?
  • Lepp’s Bakehouse & Deli, Abbotsford: I had a Saturday morning (chocolate chips, marshmallows & corn flakes) cookie; of course it was sweet, but one should expect that.
  • Steveston Harbour Café, Steveston: Somehow an authentic Vietnamese restaurant with A-tier banh mi, on my way to see birds.
Square meals this month: Steveston banh mi; Saturday Morning cookie from Lepp's; chicken poutine; beef noodle from Uno; outrageously-priced sushi at YYZ; pho from An Chay; eclair and bacon sandwich from Arobake; bacon toasty from Aro Cafe; another banh mi from Lemongrass Kitchen; dumplings from Mao & Co; a third banh mi from Vietnameezy; okonomiyaki from Cave; meat from Wanaka food truck; "Southland sushi" at ZQN lounge; Kabuli Pulao; fancy pie from Alexandre.

Southland sushi is not that much less sushi than chicken sushi from St. Pierre’s Sushi?


Judo refereeing is basically volunteering and I did that for three weekends. Actually not much else. We did not have a Judo Ontario Referee Committee meeting, though I did help write some more questions for our referee exam next month. I had an OAC Board meeting. In March I didn’t workaround the CiviCRM bug but I did manage to do so in April. Still some fixes I’d like to do to the OAC mailing list setup.


It actually is hard to plan out longer-term things while on the move. I’ll have more time for that in April, with no trips for most of it. Anyway, I’ll be resubmitting the things that got rejected; in academia I’m not subject to age limits, unlike with judo refereeing.