Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tongariro Crossing

According to whoever "they" are, the Tongariro crossing is the best one day trek in NZ (note: they do not 'hike' in NZ, they 'trek' or go 'tramping'). It is a 18.5 km hike that is pretty challenging in points.

So, not wanting to miss out, Alison and I decided to do this trek. We arrived at our accommodation on Wednesday night, thinking that we would relax on Thursday and then do the trek on Friday. Upon arrival, the very nice check-in man advised us to do it on Thursday, as the weather was looking better than Friday. And so.... feeling somewhat mentally unprepared....we did!

It was a great hike.  It was interesting because of the changing landscape and the different terrain throughout.  One hour you are doing stairs up the mountian and climbing up rocks, and then next hour you are scrambling down loose rocks (this was alison's favorite part...she was like a little goat!) 

We were very tired by the end of it- although we ran the last couple kms because we did not want to miss the 3:30 bus (it was 3:15 or so) and have to wait until 4:30.  Luckily we arrived there in time for our 3:30 shuttle, and Alison even had time to do stretches with the bus driver! (Alison was doing stretches on the grass and all of a sudden he was like "my physio therapist taught me some good stretches.  Let me show you.")

Anyway the views on the hike were awesome!  Very diverse! Up mountains, by lakes, rocky switchbacks, you name it, it was there.
The beginning of the hike, which was like a prance through grasslands, beside a friendly creek.  Didn't last for long.

I thought that this was what we were climbing.  Finding out that this was a different (or side hike) was the best part of the hike.  Just jokes, it was all nice.

Here i am, beside weird rock things.

Apparently this was mount doom in Lord of the Rings.  

Alison at the summit of the mountain.  Note awesome $2 toque.
Yes it was this cold at the top.  The mountian i thought we were climbing.  Phew!

One of the very pretty lakes.

I think this was my favourite.  It was purple on the sides, and a wicked blue in the middle. 

On the way down.  Which was easier but SUPER long.  I think we went down for 3 hours!

My chocolate raspberry cupcake flavoured protein bar.  It did not taste like a cupcake.
Alison's was better.  It was caramel coconut.

Little greet plants and purple flowers.

Alison in her victory pose in the parking lot.  We finished!!

We are a bit behind in our posts.  Hopefully we can get the other ones up in the next few days.  Currently we are in Murchinson, and just finished a 4 day kayak school.  Now we are off down the west coast (oh- we're on the south island now...).  One week until India.  We are not exactly feeling ready to leave NZ (i could live here!- except for the sand flies.  I will not miss them at all) but are feeling excited for India!

Miss you all!

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Rotorua: New Zealand's smelly city!  Well, it smells like sulphur because there is a ton of geothermal activity!  Ali and i hiked, enjoyed hot springs, and soaked in the geothermal sights!  Here are some pictures from our 2 day adventures in Rotorua :)

We went to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland- which has a bunch of thermal wonders.  This was a giant hole.

Alison caught in a Mauri pose by the ink pots aka boiling mud.

Here i am, tree climbing.  Look at me go.

This one is called the Artist's Pallet.  Apparently it changes colors depending on factors like how overcast it is.

View of campaign pool

frying pan flat.

Another view of the Artist's Pallet

Alison with terrific stripy rock.

Campaign pool.

The Devils bath.  It was such a florescent green!

Candy called a fairy mushroom.  Not recommended (but Ali liked them).

Hope you like the pictures! Miss you all!!

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Matamata is the town that has Hobbiton from Lord of the Rings. So yes, it is like Rolo, Saskatchewan, famous town of Corner Gas.

We hopped on the bus with our tour guide, a shaved Gandalf-type. BEFORE we left of course, we had to read and understand our confidentiality form. This is bad news for you, but great news for us. Bad news is, we'd get sued if we posted pictures here, so this is all you get:

Ok, here's one more at the silly thing at the visitor centre. Note I wore my hobbitest clothes for the occasion. And my hair is always like a hobbit's.

Good news for us was that because they are going to start filming the Hobbit soon (thus the confidentiality), the tour is not worthless now, it's absolutely beautiful! Our tour guide was great, and super specific (ie "remember how Gandalf drives in and the kids are disappointed and then he sets off fireworks? THAT IS THE VERY BRANCH IN THAT SCENE!" Or, "This is the exact spot where Bilbo did such and such and then he says exact quote").

The hobbit holes are completely real. Well, you can't go in them all, but the brick is brick, rock is rock, gardens are gardens, etc. It's also completely accurate to the books. For example, in the book there are little plum trees, but NZ's plum trees are too tall, so they have a real pear tree planted and they stuck a bunch of plums on it.

Caryn bought The Hobbit within the hour after the tour and we are reading it out loud to each other. We rented and watched LOTR's 1 as soon as we could find a place with a DVD player. It was a nice way to relax after our Tongariro crossing hike (and fitting - the hike is Mt Doom!).

Beautiful spot, Hobbiton. I could live there.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Before heading around the Coromandel, we slept over at our couchsurfing spot. Rosalie has rigged up an old gypsy wagon (actually) for people traveling through to use. Rosalie is sweet as, she is an older woman who loves making tea from herbs in the garden (mind the "chooks" - the chickens) and doing radical jobs. We'd tell you what they are but we don't want her to get arrested.

Coromandel Peninsula was one of the top most beautiful drives in the world according to us. It starts on the ocean edge and continues spectacularly like this until turning into sheep farm land. We stopped at one of my favourite trees (now) to have a climb. Drove up, exploring the towns and then went to find

New Chums Beach
A local secret, a couple we stopped for directions was a bit reluctant at first to reveal the way. When we told them we had a friend from NZ back home that told us about it (Steve, PA's swim coach) they launched into, "well, I think the only trouble you'll have is crossing that river..."

We waded the river, crossed the rocks, braved the trail and emerged suddenly onto the. most. beautiful. beach.

We quickly ate our annoying lunch (with bad watermelon and squawking birds and sandflies) and then I flew into the water while Caryn busted out the camera.

Also on the Coromandel we visited the famous hot water beach called Hot Water Beach. If you dig a hole in a certain area, the water that fills it in is hot! We joined the fray.

Climbing tree

Caryn on New Chums from Ali's ocean view perspective

Caryn is the next Martin Hill. Caryn's art on New Chums.

Neighbour dog, Sky, Rosalie, Caryn, gypsy wagon

Very busy Hot Water Beach. Can you spot Caryn?
The water where the people are sitting down is really hot!

Love you all very much. We miss you and wonder how you are.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Tua-Tuas and other adventures...

After sorting out car rentals in Auckland and learning to drive in NZ ( where the roads are narrow, windy, and they drive on the LEFT) we headed up north to the Coopers Beach and the Bay of Islands. 

We stayed with Mark, a couch surfer host, kind of a old surfer (who doesn't surf).   His house was BRIGHT purple and aqua on the outside, beautiful, spacious, and airy on the inside, and had a fantastic view of Doubtless bay.
Mark's house

Sunset view from Mark's house

In addition to being a cullenary genius (we had the best chillie and quiche ever.) he was a great tour guide!  On our first day he took us up the Karikari Peninsula to some beautiful beaches.  We had a couple of really good swims, and ate the most GIANT serving of chips (with a side of fish) for lunch at this little stand.  The chips we ate became how we measured how strenuous an activity was, from that point forward.  Mark would say "well that was worth one chip".
One of the many Amazing Views
Caryn and Mark on beach
Beach when it got cloudy

Alison's feet in Coca-Cola lake.  Apparently the water is this colour because of peat moss!

On our second day, Mark took us up to 90 mile beach- this increadably long beach that you can drive on (side note: the 90 mile beach was named because when it was first discovered, it took a horse 3 days to walk up it, and a horse could go about 30 miles a day.  However they did not factor in it would be more difficult for a horse to walk on a beach.  The 90 mile beach is actually around 90 killometers long.)  There was a fishing tournament going on and there were SO many fishermen. 

After 90 mile beach we went to the sand dunes, which seriously made me feel like i was in a dessert.  Ali climbed to the top, while Mark and i watched her from below.

Alison playing in Sand Dunes

After sand dunes, Mark took us to a few more awesome places- the light house, a look out onto white sand dunes, and then to a shop that makes beautiful furniture out of huge Kauri trees that are 50 000 years old.

View of Lighthouse
Signpost near lighthouse. 

View of white sand dunes (don't they look like snow!?!)

In the Kauri store there was this GIANT tree in the middle and it had a spiral stair case carved in it.  They had beautiful furniture in this store- but was quite pricey (the table i liked was a mere $30 000 dollars!)

After our day tour we went to the beach to get our supper!  Thats right, we went hunting for Tua-Tuas, which are a type of shell fish.  This was so much fun.  We waded into the water, and buried our feet until we found some, then dove down and got them. Alison was a natural.  

Our Tua-Tuas

When we got back to Marks we learned how to make Tua-Tua fitters.  I have never cooked shellfish so it was a learning experience.  Mark was a great teacher.  And our Tua-Tua fritters turned out great!

Here i am, steaming the Tua-Tuas

Ali chopping up the Tua Tuas for our fritters

After a couple days adventures with Mark we were off to the Coromandel.  Staying with Mark was one of the highlights of our trip!  He was awesome, friendly, and so welcoming.  A great way to start our New Zealand trip!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Auckland driving

It's about time for a post!

I arrived in Auckland around 2am.

Caryn 'arrived' in NZ two days later when she had finished her gripping book. It was nice to have her back (sniff, weep). I read Room next, so she had to put up with an absent companion too - haha!

When we got to our YWCA hostel we sneaked into our rooms, our separate rooms, which happened to be two-shares with other people. Keep in mind it's 2am. My roommate rolled over and went back to sleep. Caryn's, who had been living there for 6 months, FLIPPED OUT! She screamed! Caryn screamed! The whole floor screamed! Okay, just the little roommate screamed.

Our first day was mostly spent pricing out rental cars. Then I learned to drive in downtown-Auckland-rushhour-standard-left-side-left-side-watch-out-turn-there-turn-around-LEFT-SIDE!! I was only on the wrong side twice, no bigs. Caryn is a super navigator and is comforting when I had a tiny cry. Now I am tot's fine with driving, it feels natural on the left.

Caryn stopped us half way through the drive to go for a swim, which calmed me right down. So she knows me pretty well.

We spent the night at a couchsurfer's. We had tea and discussed birds and the bridge class she leads. Her neighbour's cat comes in her house which she acts grumpy about, but really she feeds it and we saw expensive cat treats on the counter.

We cleared out of Auckland lickity-spilt and headed North to northland.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Mardi Gras parade tips

- If you get there at 2 or even 3 pm you will have a front row spot. The wait goes by quicker than you'd think.
- Set up on Oxford Steet.
- Get milk crates from a convenience store (seriously) or bring $10 to buy a seat. Even though you won't need them to stand on (since you are in the front row), you are sitting waiting for five hours. Also, a milk crate is wider than you are when standing, so you create more room for yourself and don't have people constantly quashing you.
- UMBRELLA -ella -ella -ella -AY AY Ay ay
- they move the fence forward at 6 pm or so. Hold on!

China town bank lions, Sydney. Nothing to do with Mardi Gras, sue me.