Instead of arriving at our scheduled time, we ended up getting to our hostel at 2:30am. Our flight from Sydney to Christchurch was delayed by about an hour, and then on top of that due to our gear that we were carrying our tent was subject to being washed down before being allowed into the country. Although there were a few extras that we weren't planning for it all went quite smoothly. When we got outside our shuttle bus was still there (thank god), so we hopped in and told him our destination. Of course we were the last ones to be dropped off, so after our long detour around the city, we finally made it to Point Break Backpackers.
After sleeping for about 7 hours, not bad for being awake for 24 hrs straight, I got up, cleaned up and grabbed some breakfast. By 11 we were on our way out the door, to run and catch a bus. We wanted to head to the Lyttelton market since it was only open on Saturday, as we climbed on the bus we weren't sure whether or not we would make it in time, but we figured we would try. The lady at the reception desk told us it closed at 1pm, so depending on bus transfer times we could have still made it there with 45 min to look around. Unfortunately we missed the transfer bus by about 10 minutes, so instead we walked around the Eastgate mall, then bussed over to The Palms shopping Center in order for Lauren to get a cell phone plan for anew Zealand. We may or may not have meandered into a few other stores and did a tiny bit of shopping, but for the most part just wandered looking around at the cool things the shops had to offer. The coolest shop we went into was called Typo, which was a very cool styled shop with stationary items and other knick knacks.
We finished off our day with a beautiful walk down to the river where we saw a black swan, and then wandered down to the beach where they were having a Mountain Race Competition. The path following the ocean was fantastic with its rolling hills, sweeping grasses and scenery of the mountains in the distance.
We bussed downtown today to the core of Christchurch, expecting it to be a big city, since it claimed to be the second largest city in New Zealand. Surprisingly it was actually a nice size, with very few tall buildings and a lot less busy than the cities we had been visiting in Australia.
The bus station was more like a greyhound terminal where busses pulled into bays where people sat waiting inside, for their proper colour coded bus. Each route had a different coloured bus, which made it simple to know if it was your bus coming down the road or not.
We wandered in the general direction of the botanical gardens walking along a gravel path following what was called the river of flowers. It had a very appropriate name considering there were heaps of gardens and green areas surrounding it. Our first stop was in the rose gardens. It was a fantastic maze of flower beds filled with roses and many other types of flowers that seemed to compliment one another around every turn. Lauren and I took separate paths winding our way through and eventually meeting up in the middle. It was nice to explore the gardens alone, and since there were very few other people around it really made the experience special, allowing your thoughts to wander and reminisce.
When we crossed the bridge we stopped to take a look at the map of the gardens so we could figure out which areas we wanted to explore. First we started with the rock garden, moving on to NZ gardens and on to the watering hole.
By the time we reached the watering hole hunger was beginning to set in, so we figured that once we finished wandering through the pond area we would sit down for lunch in the shade. As we wandered along the edge of the pond we rounded a corner where the path led us to this picturesque stone bridge with a bench off to the side. It was a gorgeous spot so we decided it would be a nice spot to stop for lunch.
During the entire time we sat on the bench the ducks continued to swim up to the waters edge in front of us, proceeding to waddle up to us and hang around the area. One of the ducks even waddled its way across the stone bridge on to the other side just in order to hop back in the river and swim over to us again.
When we finished and began to pack up our things Lauren saw a bird and wandered down the trail about 20ft. On her way back she paused in order to observe a snail attempting to make its way across the path.
We both went back over to it to get a photo and as we were kneeling down on the ground immersed in our photos and the journey of this snail, the entire ground began to move beneath us. We looked at each other as this floating sensation ran through our bodies.
The earthquake didn't last for long, but still long enough for your mind to race to every possible scenario. When the ground stopped shaking we sat there crouched down for a few seconds before hearing a man on a microphone tell everyone to stay where they are, repeating it several times. We stayed put for a few minutes before continuing exploring the gardens. We found out later that the earthquake we had felt was a 5.9 on the Richter scale, and that it was large enough for most of the town shops to be shut down for the day due to damage from items falling off the shelves.
We were originally going to explore the Cantaburry museum but due to the damage from the quake it was closed down.
Instead we walked over to Cathedral Square to see the remaining of the standing structure of the Cathedral from the last big earthquake Christchurch had undergone several years earlier.
Back at the hostel our roommates asked if we were okay when we entered the door, because while we were gone, the earthquake was centred closer to New Brighton where our hostel was, and the building was evacuated. Thankfully no damage was done other than a few things falling over and off the shelves.
About an hour or so later, Lauren and I were busy planning logistics for the next few destinations on our list in our room when the next large earthquake happened, this time I believe around a 4.7. We hopped off the bed in no time since it was a bunk bed and sat low to the ground waiting for it to pass.
There have been no more large ones since, and we are hoping that there will be no more, especially during the night.
After a 3 and a half hour bus ride, and a well needed rest stop, we made it to Lake Tekapo. The entire ride my eyes were glued to the window watching the fields, hillside and eventually mountains pass by as we drove closer and closer. Many of the pastures were spotted with sheep roaming the hillside, others with dairy cows and horses.
When we got off the bus next to a strip of stores we grabbed our bags and got our bearings. After about a 20 minute walk along the lakeside, we arrived at the lake Tekapo motel and holiday park reception.
As soon as we were set up we grabbed lunch and our swimming suits and walked across the path to the beach. I had finished lunch first so I wandered down to the water to test the temperature and immediately knew that Lauren was not going to be swimming. Since the lake is glacier fed it was a little on the chilly side. I went in anyways walking in quickly not to let my body have time to react to the cold and only stayed in for a few minutes. It was nice once you were in and very refreshing. The water was so blue and clear, comparable to blue koolaid. I know get it why they call it "pure New Zealand".
On our drive into Tekapo, the bus had passed a nice walking bridge over the river flowing into the mouth of the lake.
We figured we would start with the bridge and explore from there. Before we reached the bridge Lauren spotted a stone church out on the peninsula, so we added it into our must see things while we were here.
Around the next corner past the strip of stores the path turned and led us towards the bridge we had saw earlier.
From the center of the bridge you could see the entire mountain range surrounding the lake with the church sitting just off to the right side below. We took a few pictures on the bridge trying to dodge the people that were passing through at the same time.
The stonework on the church is still the original stone work, holding a true piece of history intact. Upon entering the church there is a sign that stated enter at your own risk, although considering the time frame it has been standing for the church was still in good standing.
The landscape paired with the church made for a gorgeous photograph, that is if you could be patient enough to wait for 3 tour busses full of people to get out of the way.
We waited around a little trying to crop our photos in order to not have a group of random people in them, but instead decided that we would come back in the evening closer to golden hour and try and get some photos hoping that there would be less people.
Our plan kind of worked and we were able to get a few photos but there was still quite a few people there so by the time we got our photo the sun had disappeared behind the clouds.
My first trail ever that i have completed bare foot!
With the intention of only wandering into the forest a little ways of course with me turned into lets go further, to where the lookout is. Instead of going for the full hour and a half loop, we walked as far as the first scenic lookout then turning back to start in on dinner.
The pathway was soft with a mixture of sand, pine needles and a few stones here and there. The trees were mostly pine and spruce, with straight tall trunks reaching high up into the sky. The forest was cool and calming with very little noise other than the wind and the odd person passing by. I had a few comments, both from older men on my barefoot tramping (hiking), stating how brave or how cool it was to see. For me it was my way of trying to connect with nature on a new level and to try something new. It was overall an enjoyable adventure and I would definitely walk barefoot again as long as the terrain is conducive.
The drive to Mt Cook has been my favourite bus ride so far, and not only because of the scenery. Our bus driver who was super knowledgeable on his surroundings, history and wildlife filled almost the entire drive with stories, fun facts and even a song about a guy named Mackenzie who led his sheep through a mountain pass. As we drove around lake Pukaki, he informed us that he would stop at the dam for a few moments so we could get out and take a few photos.
Entering into Tasman valley we rounded the bend into the small town of Mt Cook with a population of 300 people, mainly staff for the accommodations and tourism facilities.
Camping in a National Park you would think that the accommodation would be pricier than a holiday park, but it is the exact opposite. It only cost us 10$ to stay for the night, the only catch was that we had to walk 2.5 km from the bus stop in order to reach the camp site.
The walk was not as bad as I had thought it would be, we walked alongside the road following its winding path through the center of the valley between two mountain ranges. The view was extraordinary.
Once we were set up near the back of the campground sheltered in an inlet of trees, we got out our lunch and sat in the grass outside our tent.
This is officially my favourite trail to date.
The scenery the entire way was spectacular, constantly opening up further and further each time you reach the top of a hill. The mountains surround you on all four sides some covered with snow and others not.
The size of the alluvial fans were incredible, reaching almost the entire height of the mountain and the clouds floated overtop and around the mountains blowing quickly past.
Shortly into starting the trail we took a side trail to the Alpine Memorial monument marking the journey of a few mountaineers who despite their best effort and hard work, near the base after descending Mt Cook they were wiped out by an avalanche. The monument had been erected later on my loved ones and friends of those that had passed. The structure of the monument was gorgeous, using only natural materials to construct it.
This trail had three bridge crossings all pretty spread out from one another.
The first one being the smallest of them all and the most sheltered from the crossed the first one no problem continuing on further into the valley. As the valley rounded the bend of the mountain range it narrowed into a smaller valley surrounded by mountains on all three sides. The largest mountain of them all being Mt Cook, with the top sections covered in snow threatened to fall with the next gust of wind.
When we reached the second suspension bridge Lauren had decided she didn't want to cross it since the wind was much stronger here, so she stayed on that end while I crossed and quickly checked out the view around the corner. This is when the first valley opened into the second one, giving you the first glance of Mt Cook. After talking to a couple sitting on the picnic bench, suggesting that we go all the way and that it was definitely worth the trek, especially considering we were so close. I walked back over to Lauren, and convinced her that the view was spectacular and that if she wasn't up to it I was going to continue alone. Since there were so many people on the trail I was not worried about hiking it alone.
In the end she decided that she would, so we hiked on with the end goal of seeing the ice chunks floating in the lake with the picturesque view of the mountains in the background.
When we rounded the last hill overlooking the glacier lake and Mt Cook, the view was breathtaking. In awe we both stared forward as we defended the last portion before reaching the lookout without barely saying a word.
I could of sat there all day staring at the mountains watching the clouds pass over. Since it was an hour and a half walk in, we knew we still had an hour and a half to go to get back to our tent. The track being a little over 5 km in length.
We captured a few photos and I attempted a headstand and being knocked over the first time by a gust but I got it the second time. When I did the people sitting at the lookout all clapped and cheered. I thought it was funny that they were so impressed, I guess I'm just used to being around a group of people that know I am capable of it.
Before turning back we took one last look and figured we probably had enough photos by this point that we could start giving some away.
The hike back was just as beautiful offering a few different angles on the scenery we passed while lighting it up with the suns rays.
Up at 4 am Lauren and I woke to the sounds of the rain pounding down on the tent. The sides of the tent slowly seeping water, we quickly pulled our things away from the sides as far as we could but some things were already soaked. We spread the tarp across the floor working our way from Lauren's side to mine moving our things section by section. It had been pouring rain since midnight and the ground along with the base of our tent was saturated with water.
When we woke in the morning the rain was still pouring down with no hint of letting up. There were puddles in the corners and almost the entire base of the tent was wet although the tarp had saved us to some degree. We packed up our things trying to keep what was still semi dry, dry by separating all of the soaked items. As soon as the rain let up a little, we quickly grabbed our packed bags from inside the tent and ran them across the campground to the covered kitchen facility then returned for the tent. It was probably the quickest we have taken down the tent yet, trying not to get soaked in the process.
For the next couple hours we hung out in the kitchen, making breakfast, and attempting to dry out what we could of our gear.
Talking to the other people in the kitchen, they had all had similar issues with the rain, with varying degrees. Some people said some rain got in and others said everything of theirs was soaked. We figured we had done okay considering most of our things had remainder dry.
Bussing into Cromwell, the rain had not let up for the entire drive. When we got off the bus the rain had lightened up momentarily so we quickly made our way to the grocery store only about a block away. After wandering through the store with our damp bags we had picked up some soup and noodles to try and warm ourselves up, knowing that we would be climbing back into our wet tent for the night and no possibilities of drying things out before bed since it was already dinner time.
When we got outside the shop the rain had changed back to a downpour again. The clouds were not looking as if they we're going to lift anytime soon, so we waited a few moments with high hopes that it would let up. In the meantime I started talking to a guy named Bruce, who happened to be the police Sargent of Cromwell. In the end he offered us a ride to the campground. During the drive there he offered for us to stay at his place in order to have a change to dry out our tent, saying that his wife would be mad if she knew he dropped us off in the pouring rain. When we arrived, Sue had met us at the door welcoming us in. They were both extremely nice, and had even made us dinner and bought us ice cream cones as a dessert explaining that it was kiwi tradition. They had bought two new kinds we hadn't heard of, one being jolly lolly and the other hokey pokey. I ended up choosing cookies and cream, and Lauren, Hokey Pokey.
In the morning we gathered our now dry gear from the garage, packed up our bags and sat down for breakfast with Sue before driving us back to the bus stop to catch our 8:30am bus to Dunedin.
When we climbed on our bus to Dunedin after saying our goodbyes to Sue, we realized there were no two seats free that were together, so we each picked a seat semi close to one another near the back of the bus.
I had chosen the empty seat beside a guy named Mike, who I later began talking with after the bus driver came on the speaker and began randomly telling us the balloon story which I think was supposed to be a joke. After he had finished talking Mike and I were laughing about it and trying to figure out what the point to the story was.
After that Mike and I continued talking, finding out he was travelling solo from Idaho, during his off season from trail maintenance along the Centennial Trail.
After a quick rest stop as Lauren and I were getting back on the bus she had asked me for a few of the chocolates that Sue and Bruce had given us, so when I got back to my seat I dug them out. Since we had figured out that neither of us liked the Turkish delight ones so I figured I would dig them all out and give them away. This of course was when Mike got back on the bus and make a joke about it being snack time, as I sat there with a pile of chocolate bars on my lap. Since we had so many, I ended up giving him the Turkish delight one along with another one.
When we got to Dunedin, Mike continued on and Lauren and I got off downtown. We quickly grabbed some groceries and found the bus we needed to get out to St Kilda holiday park. Once we were all set up we took a walk across the field and up over the sand dunes onto the beach. The waves were crashing in, with a few swimmers, surfers and paddlers fighting against them. We walked up and down the beach soaking our feet in the cold water. As I was walking up the beach I began making different markings in the sand, little curves by dragging my toes a little here and there.
On the way back I had stopped in a couple spots to quickly draw a picture in the sand using only my feet. I could of easily spent hours drawing in the sand, digging my toes in and drawing line after line. I ended up drawing three pictures, one of a wave, one of the landscape at the end of the beach and one of a mountain range.
With the weather being a little dreary we decided that instead of heading out to the peninsula today to check out the castle and the gardens that instead we would tour the town and that way if it did start raining we would at least have some shelter options.
We wandered in and out of a few shops starting with the ones closest to the bus stop (octagon). Lauren was looking for a hat so that she would be able to sleep a little warmer because the nights here were starting to become a little cooler the further we travelled south.
After a little while we tired of the shops and decided to find a nice spot to sit for lunch. We found a small little park beside a church, so we sat on the park bench and ate our cheese and crackers. Once we were finished we wandered around a few more blocks beginning to stray from the main strip, and we came across the Otago Museum and decided to check it out. The first two floors were free entry, and encompasses the history of the region and the native people of Oceania.
We only ended up looking around the first floor before we had come to the conclusion that we were both exhausted and ready to head back to the campground. When we got back we spent the remainder of the day hanging out in the holiday park tv room enjoying ourselves some down time on the couches, with a mixture of tv, Internet and planning for the remainder of our time on the South Island.
Since we got into town a little bit earlier than our booked tour for the Cadbury tour, we wandered around the octagon beginning at the booths that were set up close to the bus stop. I ended up stopping and talking with a lady that was selling her photographs of New Zealand about her future travels to Canada. After about 5 minutes I had given her a few recommendations and continued on to find Lauren and wander a bit more.
We walked up one of the many hilly streets and made our way around an old abandoned nunnery, before following back down the other side of the block.
We ended up making our way down as far as the train tracks where we could wander no further in that direction, so we went in the general direction of the factory and stopped by the train station where they had a few older train cars on display behind glass cases. On the other side of the train station there was a farmers market on encompassing the entire parking lot. There were people everywhere wandering through the aisles of booths. We quickly walked through but didn't have much time because our tour was about to start.
We were booked in for the 11:00 Cadbury factory tour, but since we got there a little early when we checked in they had asked us if we wanted to join the 10:45 tour that was just about to start. We hopped on it and quickly made our way to the end of the corridor past the history museum portion of the entrance and joined the people waiting to be let through the large door into the factory.
The first thing our tour guide did when we walked through the door was hand us each a plastic bag with a couple candy bars in it as ushered us to take a seat for our safety briefing.
After that we put all of our belongings into the lockers before continuing on our tour. The tour briefed us on the process of chocolate making, the ingredients used and the history of Cadbury. The majority of the chocolate that was given to us on tour were considered kiwi favourites. For the most part they were chocolate bars with marshmallow centres that are only sold in New Zealand.
The entire time we were on tour I felt as though I was in the the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie. We got to taste the chocolate crumb, watched a tempering demonstration, watched a waterfall of chocolate rush through the Center of a silo, and taste melted chocolate with cookie toppings. Everyone was on a chocolate high by the time our tour was finished, happy to have experienced the factory,
When the tour finished we gathered our things, took a photo with the old Cadbury trucks they used to deliver door to door chocolate, then made our way through the gift shop. We couldn't get over how much chocolate people were buying, they had filled baskets spending a couple hundred on candy bars. Lauren and I only bought one bar each since they had already given use each 5 or 6 while on tour.
After lunch we got on a bus and made our way over the the Glenfalloch Gardens on the peninsula along the windy road just before Macandrew Bag.
When we reached the beginning to the path there was an interpretive sign explaining the different types of trails throughout the garden. The main paths were all close to the start, winding in and around different flower beds and labelled for a nice stroll. The second type of path was labelled for people who are looking to walk a little further and the final and third type of path was labelled for the adventurous hikers.
We began in unsure of the scale of the gardens because the map unfortunately didn't tell us how far the trails went. When we got to the first area that we wanted to check out, we realized quite quickly that the gardens were not very big at all. Winding our way down the paths we passed a small little stream with a bridge and continued from the first type of path to the second, changing from a paved path to a wood chip/ mulched path. This led us further on and eventually turned into a path of stomped down grass heading back towards the wooded area following up the steep bank along the stream. There was supposed to be a waterfall at the end but unfortunately there was not enough water running through to even make a small waterfall. We continued on and instead went to the lookout. Although the gardens were small we still managed to spend a fair bit of time wandering around up as far as the old stone wall separating the properties. The flowers were beautiful, along with the homestead located near the beginning of the trail, and the sound of goats in the background really pulled the whole experience together.
When we reached the bottom of the hill again, as we made our way out of the gardens we realized that in the time we were gone, a group of people had arrived for a wedding reception, so dressed in our hikers and fleece we made our way by the crowd of people dressed up in wedding attire.
On our bus ride in a couple from the area had suggested that we walk down to Macandrew Bay after the gardens following the trail along the waters edge. The path winding alongside the road passing house shacks floating anchored to the land. The birds seemed to love the decks of the houses for perching on, away from pedestrians and the traffic. The majority of them being seagulls, but the other half a new one for us. We found out later that they are called Pied shags, otherwise known as cormorants.
Our journey to Larnach Castle began with our walk to the peninsula. Since the holiday park we were located at only had busses that headed downtown we decided we would walk closer to the peninsula in order to catch a bus, since the castle was located 12km down the road from the beginning of the peninsula. After a bit of a fiasco in finding the bus stop we finally made it there just in time for the bus to pass through. Since it was a Sunday the bus service came very rarely so if we wouldn't of caught this bus then it wasn't worth it to go to the castle. Thankfully we made it on time. During the bus ride the bus driver had told us he would drop us off at the base of the trail that would take us straight up the hill. Instead of taking the main walking track, he suggested this one for its straightforward directions, and shorter distance to the castle. It is also a less travelled route and offered great scenery. Excited to get to the castle and begin up this side trail, we quickly ate our lunch and began the climb. Happy that the bus driver had told us about this trail instead, we hoofed it about half way up along this goat track before turning and taking in the view. On either side of us there were rolling hills of farm pasture scattered with goats, a homestead off in the distance and the view of the harbor below displaying the several islands grouped together. Standing there you truly got the feeling as though you were standing in the center of Ireland's hilly landscape. Once we caught our breath we continued up the hill passing a few homesteads and winding our way along the gravel road into a forested area with large overhanging trees shading us from the mid day sun.
When we reached the top of the hill we rounded the corner to the castle gates. Walking through you gained the feeling of being in a fancier place than the hillside overlooking the coast. The gatekeeper welcomed us as we approached on foot, telling him of our travels up the hill along the goat track. He was happy to hear that we had walked up the hill, because apparently the majority of people don't bother and therefore miss out on the culture the landscape surrounding the castle has to offer.
A path wound its way through a car park and a forested area before opening up to the well manicured lawn. The exterior of the castle being complimented by the foliage with the gravel lane circling to the front steps. We wandered across the grass in the center of the lane way to a fountain that was placed precisely in the center with the stone work display facing outwards. After getting a couple photos we moved towards the front steps inclining up to the double set of doors. I was surprised when a sign on the door stated "please ring for service". I'm guessing this was to detour people from just walking in that had not payed for the interior tour. A bell man dressed in a suit from the 1800's ushered us in while explaining the order in which to tour the interior for the best overall experience.
The interior was for the most part restored back to its original state from when the castle was built, with the exception of a few areas, which were not open to the public. The couple that had purchased the fortress spent a good portion of their life and dedicating it to the restoration, which was then handed down to their children. The detail brought back into the space was exquisite, down to the molding on the ceilings and the upholstery on the furniture.
Once we had completed the interior we began our journey around the gardens circling the building. They had even incorporated an Alice and wonderland theme throughout the gardens, complete with sculptures and cut outs of the characters. There were rose gardens, rock gardens, and a garden with layers stepping down the side of the hill overlooking the bay. They even sectioned off an area for a Native plant walk, where they labelled and provided diagrams of the plants they had replanted in among the flora and fauna. After so much exploring we stopped into the ballroom, which was now converted into a cafe to check out the type of food they were offering, which was a huge mistake because once we saw it we were drooling over the idea of seasoned wedges and fudge for dessert. After indulging out on the pebble stone patio alongside a flock of sparrows we took our last quick look around and traveled back down the path towards the gates.
With it beginning to get late we decided to begin our journey back down the hill, waving goodbye to the gatekeeper, rounding the corner and descending down the goat path in which we ascended earlier that morning.
The descent taking far less time and much less strenuous. When we passed through the last gate heading out of the pasture and back onto the road, Lauren spotted a box labelled "help yourself" containing freshly picked plums from one of the local farmers. We grabbed a few and continued to the bottom where we sat along the shoreline to wait for the bus and enjoy our delicious treat.
Arriving in Oamaru, we were booked in at the empire backpackers just up the road from the bus stop. Once we were settled in and I was finally able to take my shower, we got some groceries and made dinner, before venturing out to try our luck with the Blue Penguin colony. We had been told that the best time to view them is just after 9pm, so just before at about 8:30 we walked down to the wharf (pier). Along the way we passed through the Victorian buildings lining Harbour street. The sun was past the horizon now and it was beginning to get dark. We quickly walked over to the spots that the owners of the hostel told us about along waterfront road.
When we found the spot there were already a group of people waiting anxiously for the Penguins to appear. We both wandered around the area in our own directions looking around, and I ended up talking to a gentleman from the area, who explained the whole process and where the best spots to stand. Within a half hour or so one penguin emerged, and shortly after there were a few others that were nesting under the sheds in the surrounding area. I attempted to take a few photos but the darkness had crept in by then, making it almost impossible to get a good photo.
We stuck around for a little while watching them and listening to their cries when people got I between them and the water. Lauren and I sat on a grassy patch for about an hour and during that time two of the Penguins that were nesting under one of the sheds and crossed the path right in front of me coming within 3 feet of where I was sitting.
They are adorable little creatures, and I was super excited that I was finally able to see them in the wild and not behind a sheet of glass.
With it being our last day in Oamaru and we had already toured the town so we decided to explore the bluff and see the town from a different level. The lookout point was just on the other side of the harbour where we had viewed the Penguins the night before.
After dinner we walked up the hill following the streets and the signs leading us to the lookout. The entire hike was a nice steep incline so our legs were happy when the ground finally levelled out. Although by this point I was actually starting to get used to climbing uphill.
As we rounded the corner the view opened up overlooking the harbour, the wharfs, and the streets of Oamaru.
The main area of the lookout was next to the car park, but instead of just stopping there, we followed a series of trails networking together across the hilly landscape leading us towards the edge of the bluff eventually dropping off a cliffs edge to the ocean. I had been interested in checking out the trail that wound its way along the cliffs edge, but unfortunately it had been closed down due to erosion and apparently no longer deemed safe, hence why we took the hillside track instead.
The trail network was a series of bike and walking tracks winding and intertwining across the hills and valleys. It didn't take us long to reach the end of the trail where a bench was positioned facing the harbour. I was hoping to get a good view looking along the coastline, but a few hundred yards short of the crest of the hill, a farmers fence blocked us from travelling further. It was probably just as well, since dusk was beginning to turn to darkness. I had brought my headlamp along just incase, but since the landscape was so open, there was nothing blocking the light from the full moon that was quickly rising into the night sky.
After a few photos we began making our way back, this time following one of the smaller trails back and eventually linking up with the main walking track. When we reached the car park there was only one car left, and it looked as though they were leaving as well.
The sunset and the moon, made for an extra special evening walk where the scenic views of Oamaru are the main attraction for the lookout, I always enjoy it when the weather adds a few extra elements.
Some of the places in New Zealand have definitely been outstanding and have surprised me with the amount of beauty it has to offer in each different type of landscape.
Lauren and I made a day trip to the Catlins today, which has just left me with wanting to see more. The coastal region offers a variety of landscapes all within the confines of the park boundaries. We toured beaches, gravel roads winding in between the rolling hills and pastures, cliff sides, and rainforest paths that lead to layers of waterfalls.
A fellow traveller from England, named Ollie was also headed out for the day to the Catlins so we had decided to explore it together. We first stopped at Porpoise point in hopes that we could see some penguins and sea lions, but instead we got the chance to view a porpoise jumping and splashing around in the water only a short distance away from a few brave swimmers taking a dip in the cool water. The wind and the rain whipping in several directions, we walked down the beach and did some rock hopping around the point. From the higher points it gave you a good vantage point for watching the waves roll into the rocks and splash 10ft into the air before crashing down again and draining into the sea.
Our next destination being the main purpose for venturing into the Catlins was Maclean Falls. The hike was only a 40 minute return track, but since it was pretty much lunch time we quickly grabbed a bite to eat in the car park before starting the trail.
About 15ft down the trail the landscape transformed from small trees and low bushes to full on rainforest with lush ferns branching overtop and massive trees filled with moss and vines all reaching to the top in order to get as much sunlight as possible. All of the foliage sparkling bright green from the fresh raindrops. Since it had been raining the entire day before all of the flora and fauna were vibrant and fresh looking.
As we wound our way along the stream the water was rushing through and trickling overtop the rocks that were mid stream and as we walked further up the path the water falls grew in size and velocity.
When we reached the end of the path (second picture) the majority of people stopped there to take their photos, gaze into the rushing flow of water and then return back down the path in which they came. Others, similar to me went a little further down the path in order to get a better angle for my photo. Some people went as far as scaling the rock wall along the side or scrambling up onto the ledge closest to the falls. I didn't go that far because I didn't think the risk would be worth the reward. Plus I had already gotten a pretty good angle from where I was standing. Happy with my photos I went back up to the first platform and just after the rain started misting, giving the falls a whole new perspective. If you look close enough you can see the rain misting down in my photo. It was a fantastic set of falls, but with hopes of possibly seeing Cathedral Caves we decided to turn around and head back to the car park. On the way back Ollie and I climbed down to one of the smaller sets of falls (third picture) to take a quick look before exiting the lush rainforest. While walking he had told me it was his first time in a rainforest, so we chatted the whole way talking about the different features of the forest and the types of flora and fauna. I explained the ones I knew based off of the similar plants we have, and we stopped at some of the interpretive signage in order to learn some new ones. I enjoyed the short hike and was excited to continue exploring.
Unfortunately the caves were closed, either because the tide was starting to come back in or due to the high volume of rain the area had accumulated over the previous few days.
Instead we continued across to Florence Hill lookout a little further up the road. When we got out there were quite a few people taking photos of the bay. I took a couple photos and from there we began making our way back towards the side of the park we had entered through. The clouds had moved in and it was beginning to rain again, looking as though it will continue for the remainder of the day.
Our last little stop on the way back to Invercargill was labelled as the worlds smallest waterfall, named Niagara. Essentially it was just a little trickle over a few rocks in the middle of the stream.
With the morning being a whirlwind of noise, Lauren and I decided to go for a walk after breakfast. With no real direction in mind we just started wandering the streets of Invercargill. At this point we still had approximately 5 hrs before we caught our bus to Te Anau.
We passed by the familiar streets with the shops that we had already visited and continued down a few residential streets. Along the way we went to cross an intersection and I spotted water in the distance. Since we were just wandering anyways, we headed in that direction. When we reached the road just before we spotted a trail, with a signage board containing a map and some information about the area. We had only been gone about 20 minutes at this point so we chose the smallest track called the loop track at 3.5 km and chose a direction.
The estuary we were walking alongside was spotted with heaps of Black Swans swimming about.
The track was not too busy at all which was nice. We walked alongside one another just listening to the birds and the wind rushing through tall grasses. When we rounded to the other side of the estuary the loop track cut almost directly through the center, with the path narrowing and eventually opening up to a bridge. Just before the bridge I had asked Lauren to take a photo of me so I had gone ahead towards the bridge and turned around. Just after she took the photo and began walking out onto the bridge the wind scooped her hat right off her head and floated down into the water. It had happened so quickly that there was no time to react and catch it.
I watched it for second and watched Lauren's face drop, and with the direction of the water it was headed under the bridge across to the other side. I quickly climbed down the rocks to the edge in hopes that it would come close enough for me to grab. Instead it floated right down the middle. The water was only ankle deep and the current not strong at all. Her hat had flowed right under the bridge and proceeded to get stuck on the row of rocks where the water was spilling over into the main flow of water. I offered to go get it but by the time I had taken my shoes off and waded over stepping carefully on the rocky bottom the hat had just slipped away from its captivity and continued on floating down wind. I waded back over and Lauren helped me out of the water before continuing to follow it along the side of the path. Eventually the wind had pushed it back close enough towards shore that we were able to catch it. The hat had finally been rescued, sopping wet and a little slimy but non the less it was safe in Lauren's hands.
We continued down the path onto the winding board walk, leaning slightly as we took each step as the wind was quite strong cutting across the water and rushing past us. Soon we had made it back to where we started and began making our way back in order to make lunch before making the journey back to the museum where the intercity bus stop was.
We filled our afternoon by wandering around the museum, checking out the various exhibits they had to offer. The majority of them focusing on New Zealand's wildlife, while the others featured world war 1 stories, Victoria styles, and paintings & old photographs of Invercargill. It was all very interesting, especially the Tuatara rehabilitation unit where they displayed Henry the oldest living tuatara also known as the famous savour of the species.
By the time we made it through the entire museum it was almost time to hop on the bus to Te Anau, where we met Juan and the friendly bus driver who told us all about the features of the mountains in Te Anau and a few other areas on the islands.
Bus ride facts:
Rea - flooded by the seas, earthquakes (Malbourough Sounds)
Milford Sound - formed by glaciers (gneiss)
Lake Tapao - caldera, largest lake surface area (north island)
Booked for the 2pm tour we climbed onto the real journeys cruise, excitedly flashing our boarding passes before finding a seat inside the cabin of the catamaran. We cruised along the Western shore of Lake Te Ana'au, originally named by the Maori meaning "cave with a current of swirling water", passing the Kepler mountain range along with various others in all directions. The captain of the catamaran took us through the dome islands where the land created a natural wind break, allowing us to wander up onto the upper deck for photos. When he continued along I stayed up there for a little but eventually the wind became to much and I went back to my seat in the cabin.
We docked at the end of the wharf, and followed a series of linked metal walkways toward the Cavern House where we were offered a refreshment service. Shortly after everyone was seated in the small auditorium one of the guides began an informative talk regarding the four life stages of the glowworm and the geological features and history of the cave.
The life cycle of the glowworm being relatively short in comparison to ours, it is first introduced into this world as an egg for only 1-5 days, then a larva for 20-25 days, next a Pupa for about 9 months, and into its final stage as an adult fungus gnat (fly). During the presentation they played time lapse photography of the glowworms on the screen, showing the sped up version of the creation of fishing lines. These lines range from 20-150 mm in length and covered with thick sticky droplets of mucus, which traps and paralyses insects using the chemicals in the lines. Once the glowworm feels the vibration it pulls up the line and consumes its victim.
Right once their info session was completed they began separating us into groups of 12. Lauren and I were a part of the second group, so instead of heading straight to the cave, we first walked over to the beach hut, where they had poster sized signage of the birds and other creatures that lived in the area. Once it was our turn we followed the path back to where the stream crossed underneath a bridge, and grouped together for a brief message from our guide. Since I had walked onto the platform last I was then the first to enter the cave. Before entering the photographer took our photo which brought Lauren up to the front of the line with me. I was super excited to walk in first and have nothing obstructing my view of the cave ahead of me.
The entrance to the cave was quite low sitting at about 3ft from the metal walkway that took you across the rushing water below. In the beginning of the cave there were several lights illuminating the path, but as we walked further into the cave, there were less and less lights.
Our first stop was on a platform underneath a Tomo, which is a circular shaped hole in the ceiling of the cave where a small waterfall falls through. After that the cave opens up into a cathedral where the path winds up and around where you can view the large rushing waterfall from either below or above. As we made our way past the waterfall, walking above it the section right before the waterfall is, there is also a whirlpool of gushing water fighting to make its way to the end of the cave. Our last portion of he cave where we had light was in the corridor towards the boat landing.
The next part of the cave tour was the special part and the main reason why the majority of people were there. We all climbed into a small wooden boat sitting on the blue padded seats with our backs to one another facing the sides of the boat, as our guide unhooked us and grabbed ahold of a chain. At this point the only light in the cave was that from the glowworms. Our guide silently pulled us through the darkness towards the glowworm grotto, where the cave disappeared under water and for us it was our furthest point in the cave.
With the glowworms being inches from my face I got an up close and personal look at them as they stuck to the walls of the cave emanating light from their tiny bodies. Looking up I felt like I was getting a close up view of the night sky, and individually looking at each star. The light from the glowworms appeared to have a blue tinge making the whole experience seem magical. She pivoted the boat around so each person was able to see them close up before leading back in the same direction we came in. The entire time drifting in silence in awe of these little creatures.
Once we were back on the platform, we followed our guide the entire way out and back into the daylight, this time I was the last in line. We gathered once more back at the building where she concluded the tour and we were free to mull about for 5 minutes or so before getting back on the boat to Te Anau.
After asking 3 other intercity bus drivers if we were on their list we finally found our bus to Milford Sound. We were on what was called the awesome bus, which is just another one of their tour busses. Our bus driver was quite chipper and eager to begin our 2.5 hr journey. Once everyone was on the bus and situated, our driver began his prepared whirlwind of information which lasted for almost the entire drive. He pointed out mountain passes and valleys, types of trees, and many more things along the way.
Also since it was a scenic tour bus, there were a few stops along the way, allowing us 5-10 min at each stop to hop off the bus and take a few pictures.
Near the beginning as we drove alongside lake Te Anau, he pointed out what is called a Maunaka tree, which among many characteristics has medicinal properties. It also blooms with white flowers in the summer time which the bees collect nectar from and produce Maunaka honey. The branches from the trees are commonly used as walking sticks and ridge poles for shelters.
The temperate rainforest sections we drove through on the way to Milford consisted of a variety of different beach trees, ranging from red beach, to silver beach and further into the pass turning into mountain beach trees.
Our first stop was at Mirror Lake where he dropped us off at one end of the path, and allowed us 10 min for the 100m boardwalk following the stream with views of the mountain range in the background.
The next feature we passed on the bus was Hollyford Falls, which flowed directly beside the road where it narrowed into a one way bridge. As we drove across he slowed down so we had the chance to snap a quick photo but unfortunately there was no possible way of stopping for this attraction.
The Homer Tunnel, which is what made it possible to reach Milford Sound by vehicle was a fascinating underground adventure as you pass through the middle of the mountain. The dark tunnel allowing one lane of traffic through at a time. The thought of being in the centre of a mountain with thousands and thousands of pounds of rock surrounding you really puts things into perspective. The Homer tunnel spans 1207 meters in length, but by vehicle only takes minutes to drive.
Our last little stop for our bus adventure was in the Cleddau Valley on the other side of Homer Tunnel. As we exited the tunnel the road wound its way down to the valley floor with switchbacks the entire way. Our bus pulled in about halfway down the winding road, allowing us the chance to take advantage of the elevation near the top of the valley as a good vantage point for photos. The Cleddau Valley is one of the many fiords in the area, meaning that the valley had been carved out by glaciers.
Once we pulled into Milford Sound, our bus driver pulled over next to the road where the Milford Sound Lodge was so that we wouldn't have to walk back from town. Negin, one of the girls I had met while in Te Anau was also travelling to the lodge on the same bus, so we all hopped off together and walked down to the lodge.
Since it was still morning, and we couldn't check in yet, we stored our bags in the storage room, grabbed a bite to eat and walked up the road to the Tutoko Mountain lookout, where a suspension bridge stretched across the river providing you with a view of the mountain off in the distance. The hike to the bridge and back was only about 3 km round trip so it brought us back around 3:30 to the lodge where we were able to check into our rooms.
As soon as everything was squared away we continued exploring. First heading down to the Deep water basin & airport by following the rocky path that lead us along the rivers edge. Realizing that the road it brought us out onto didn't actually take us to the fiord, we walked back up the road about 500m and turned down the main road leading to the ferry terminal. After about 2 minutes walking along the side of the road we noticed a path and took that instead. It lead us directly to the fiord and branching off to the foreshore loop track. Since we were still good for time, we wandered up the trail to the furthest point of the loop where it opened up to a grand view of Milford sounds most iconic back drop.
We took this opportunity to wander out to the waters edge to take some photos and poke about. I had stepped right up to the edge of the stones where the water began, and as I took my photo a boat driving by in the distance had created enough of a wake, for the small waves to encroach on where I was standing so I quickly backed up so my feet wouldn't get wet.
The black oyster catchers (birds) were loving the water as the milled about along the shoreline.
We ended up sitting on the bench for a little while taking a moment to let the view sink in, while the shade from the tree provided us with a cool spot to rest. As I sat there gazing off into the distance, I began to wonder if the bridge on the other side led to the set of falls next to the visitor Center.
When we got out to the visitor Center the lady at the desk said that it was closed to the public, but we were more than welcome to wander out onto the pier where you could get a half decent view of the falls from. We wandered down not staying long before making our way back to the lodge for dinner.
As we left to go back for dinner, we had tossed the idea of returning to watch the sunset around, but decided that we would wait until after dinner to make the decision.
In the end we decided that it would be worth it since we only had the one night in Milford and it had been a clear skies all day. The walk to the fiord only took us 13 minutes since it was just the two of us this time, and we had a mission to get there before it disappeared behind the mountains.
When we turned the corner the sun had just perfectly slid behind the mountains which made for a perfect setting for photos. We hopped around taking photos from different angles here and there, then wandered across the areas where the tide had gone out. The silhouettes of the mountains casting shadows onto the water creating a mirrored effect. The sandflys buzzing about and the crabs burrowing into their holes in the sand, we took one last look as the sky continued darkening we began our walk back to the lodge for the evening.
With an early pack up, we packed our big bags, placed them in the storage room, and grabbed our day packs and headed to the main lobby to wait for the shuttle service down to the ferry terminal. We had double checked with the girl working the front desk for where was best to wait. As time went by it got closer to 8:15 and eventually passed. Since the shuttle was supposed to be at 8:15 I was curious if it was running late, so I went up to the desk to ask and found out she had completely forgotten that we were waiting and that the guy driving the shuttle had already left.
In the end they made a separate run to the ferry terminal since it was technically their mistake and we were still a few minutes early for our cruise.
The air was still quite cool from the drop in temperature overnight, so we were both bundled up in our sweaters and raincoats to keep warm in the wind. The view of the fiord as we cruised along was best seen from outside on the deck, so we braved the cold and found spots where the sun broke through the mountains as the boat made its way along.
The entire way one of the guides continuously wandered around with a microphone explaining information about the fiord, how and when it was created and the interesting marine life in the area.
About half of the way along the fiord the captain pulled the boat up close enough to the rock wall so that those standing outside on the deck at the front of the boat could reach out and touch the rock. I was on the upper deck so I still managed to get really close, and managed to take some photos of the surrounding waterfalls flowing down the side of the rock wall.
When we rounded into another bay, our guide directed our attention to a protruding rock lower than the rest in which there were several fur seals sprawled out enjoying their mid morning nap. For the most part they laid there not bothered by our presence, but there were a couple that moved around, sat up and one that decided he wanted to go for a swim.
Stirling Falls, our next point of interest, is one of the larger sets of falls in NZ, and we had the opportunity to go straight up to it, and even stand out on the deck if you so choose while the captain let the front of the boat drift up and under the waterfall. Since it was still quite cold, Lauren and I decided we would stand inside for this one, since it was really windy and we would prefer not to get sick. The view was stunning regardless, and we instead enjoyed it from behind the glass as people just 2 ft away on the outside proceeded to get soaked.
The tour lasted approximately 2.5 hours giving us the opportunity to explore the fiord from Milford Sound, out to the open ocean and back.
Just before arriving back to the terminal, those who had paid extra for the discovery center were dropped off in the bay around the corner. The majority of the people on board at this point disembarked leaving only about 10 passengers, including us.
The remainder of the boat ride was fantastic since now we practically had the boat to ourselves.
For the remainder of our afternoon, we wandered over to the deep water basin on the opposite side of the airport checking out the last of Milford Sound with the time we had left before hopping back onto our bus to head back to Te Anau for our second time around.
Kepler track was not our original hike that we were wanting to do, but since the routeburn was fully booked we chose instead to do a day walk along the Kepler trail with the intentions of reaching Luxmore hut and turning around.
In order to get to the Kepler trail, you could either walk around Lake Te Anau, adding an extra approx 7 km, or you can take a water taxi to Broad Bay.
We decided that we would take the taxi therefore making the round trip a 16.4 km journey, instead of a 23.4 km hike. The water taxi only departed at two times in the morning and picked up once in the afternoon. So in the end we departed at 8:30am and returned on the taxi at 4:30pm.
The short boat ride over got us there within 7 minutes, so we were able to begin our hike by 8:45am. Not far into the trail our uphill climb began, and so did the de-layering process. The majority of the climb to Luxmore hut was through the forest, it was not until near the top that we finally emerged from the tree line. The terrain changed from lush mossy, overgrown forest to the open arid tundra where the scenery opened up and the mountains lined the horizon. Down below Lake Te Anau seemed to spread out into every valley and crevice.
The view was already breathtaking and we were not even near the top.
Start - 8:45am
Luxmore hut & caves - 11:35 - 11:45pm
Summit - 12:45pm - 1:10pm
Luxmore hut - 2:00pm - 2:05pm
Broad Bay - 3:40pm
When we rounded the last corner before the hut, the trail split into two directions, one leading to the hut and the other leading towards the caves. Since it was only 11:00 and the caves were only a 10 minute walk we decided to check them out first before going to the hut for a lunch break. The trail to the caves was along flat ground so it didn't take us long at all to reach them.
Since the caves were unguided I didn't imagine the access would be very good, so when we got there we followed the set of stairs that wound down into the darkness of the cave. I pulled out my headlamp and proceeded to the bottom of the stairs, approx 10 ft inside.
After taking a quick look around we decided that we would go no further than the bottom of the stairs since the rock bellow looked to be wet and possibly slippery. We instead headed back up to the trail and made our way back to the hut. It was interesting being inside of a cave without a guide but it also makes you a little more leery.
When we reached the hut, we grabbed a spot outside on the picnic table and pulled out our lunch. Glancing at the time we were calculating how long it would take us to get back to the bottom, and had decided that we would be able to fit in a bit more hiking and still make the water taxi back. While we ate the balcony we sat on faced outwards towards Lake Te Anau and the mountain range that followed it.
I ate quickly however knowing now that I wanted to make it to the summit of Mount Luxmore and have enough time at the top to enjoy the full panoramic view.
As soon as we finished eating we began making our way to the top of the mountain with the goal of reaching the peak. I had decided that I was going to continue on until I reached the peak regardless of whether it was putting us over time for the water taxi back. I figured I had come this far, I am going to continue until I reach the top. Lauren had decided that she was going to walk for an hour and then turn around, so in the end we ended up splitting up as I walked on ahead. As I got closer and closer the path began to get steeper, until it rounded the backside of the mountain where it would split into two trails, one continuing along the Kepler trail and the other turning and heading straight for the summit of Mount Luxmore sitting at 1472m above sea level.
By this point I could no longer see Lauren so I figured she had turned around, since it had been almost an hour since we had left the hut. The sign read only 10 minutes to the summit, so I continued on and began climbing the narrow and steep track with two other people following behind me. The majority of people had left their packs at the split in the trail, making the climb easier. Since I only had a small day pack with me I brought it up the remainder of the way with me.
When I arrived at the summit, it took me exactly an hour to walk from the hut, leaving the hut at 11:45 and reaching the summit at 12:45. For the first 10 minutes I sat enjoying the view and chatting with the other hikers, some that I had passed earlier in the day or they had passed me. The view was stunning overlooking Lake Te Anau, Jackson Peaks and Lake Manapouri. With a 365 view you could easily sit there for hours gazing across the mountain peaks.
As I started taking photos, I was surprised and excited to see Lauren round the corner towards the peak. I had expected that she had turned around, but I was happy that she had come the entire way because the view was definitely what makes the climb much more satisfying.
Overall I stayed up top for 25 minutes in order to enjoy the view and get a couple photos before heading down again. With the wind starting to get cool on the skin, it was the perfect amount of time to stay so at 1:10 we began our journey back towards Luxmore hut and beyond to the forest.
The girl (Anya) that we had passed back and forth on the way up, ended up stopping at the hut again on the way down, where Lauren and I continued making our way back, not wanting to miss the water taxi.
On the way down Anya ended up tail running a portion thinking that she wouldn't have enough time, but when she bumped into us again she slowed down and we ended up walking together. Lauren was walking a bit slower than Anya and I, busy taking some photos and enjoying walking alone, so we split up again and met at the bottom. With our paces differing by about 15 - 20 minutes.
In the end we made it down to the beach again with lots of time to spare, so we sat down, enjoyed a snack and relaxed on the beach while we waited for our pick up.
With our late arrival in Queenstown, instead of trying to find a grocery store at 9pm we instead decided to check out Ferg Burger, a restaurant that was recommended by several other travellers along the way.
When we passed by it on the way to the hostel to drop our bags off, it was still quite busy so we were hoping that when we returned the line would of had a chance to go down.
Instead when we walked back the line was still just as full. The popularity of the burger place was astonishing for the size of the town. As we waited in line we read the means posted on the exterior wall, and watched people as they ordered and waited for their food. The tv screen flashing numbers of orders waiting to be claimed.
When we reached the end of the cue we both ended up ordering the Falafel burger, one with fries and one with onion rings, and splitting them.
The burger was delicious and worth every penny. Loaded with toppings it was a full meal in itself. The fries had the perfect amount of seasoning, but the onion rings were not as good as I was expecting.
For dessert, we had been told that while in Queenstown a must do is to stop at Patagonia for gelato. With so many choices it was hard to choose, but in the end I caved with the blueberry gelato, which tasted exactly like a smoothie in ice team form.
The morning we arrived in Wanaka, Lauren had gotten another message from Ollie saying that he would be getting in around the same time as us. Since the timing worked out so nicely, we met up just off the bus, dropped off our bags at our hostel in the storage locker, since they told us we had to wait till 3pm to check in, got our day bags and headed out on an adventure together.
We were all keen to check out the Rob Roy Glacier that was a fair distance from town, so We hopped in Ollie's car and drove there. The road on the way out turned from paved, to gravel with bridges and then to gravel where we crossed through steams. Eventually we reached the end of the road and turned into the parking lot where several hikes towards the glaciers began.
The trail that intrigued us was the Rob Roy Glacier trail, bringing you along the valley to where the glacier had receded to. The beginning of the trail followed the river the majority of the way in, winding through the open valley, across a suspension bridge and through a cool temperate forest. Just past the valley and into the trees, the trail began to gently slope upwards, increasing as we followed along. After an hour of walking the trail opened off to the side where a half way lookout allowed for a peak at the glacier, and a resting spot for those who needed a break.
We continued walking eventually arriving in the main valley below the cliff where the glacier threatened to spill off to the floor below. I chose a large rock in the middle of the valley so we could sit and relax for a little while we ate a snack, and examined the detail of the glacier carved valley.
During the time we sat there, Ollie was hoping that a chunk of ice would fall allowing him to experience the retreating of the ice and its devastating lengthy fall to the base of the cliff. Unfortunately, there was only a small little slide where a bit of ice broke off and slid down a few feet or so, still making for a cool experience, but not the type he was hoping for.
Between the rolling mist of the clouds over the glacier and the continuous flow of waterfalls I was amused and content with staying there for a while, but instead we sat there for a short time before returning back down the path in order to get back to town at a decent time.
During our drive back into town, we passed some wildlife some on the side of the road and others in the middle of the road and of course along the way someone had mentioned the idea of gelato, therefore practically implanting the dangerous thought and forcing us to cave. We parked by the lake and walked to the edge of town where there was another Patagonia chocolate shop, with the same range of flavors we had in Queenstown. This time around, I tried the dark chocolate and Boisonberry flavours mixed together creating the ultimate combination of sweetness.
Once we had indulged, we figured maybe we should walk it off before heading back to make dinner. Ollie had suggested looking for the lonely tree, which we later found out was called the lone tree and was quite famous among tourists for its contrasting photo ops it offered of Lake Wanaka.
After dinner we reconvened, meeting at our hostel where we then wandered through the small town for something to do, since it was still quite early. In the end we ended up passing a small pub on the corner, where some live music was playing. The music was pleasant so we stopped to enjoy a cider and listen while chatting among ourselves. Since none of us really wanted to spend money of drinks we headed back to the hostel and sat in the courtyard on the comfy deck chairs where we hung out for the remainder of the evening.
Today Lauren and I had agreed on doing our own things since I was interested in climbing to Roy's Peak and she was not so keen. This would be my first solo mountain hike and I was very excited about it.
I arrived on trail by 9:30am and began my hike. Knowing that the entire walk to the top was constantly all uphill, I had talked to a few people who had previously hiked it and they warned me of the steepness and the openness of the landscape. As I climbed the first portion I had decided that I would continue to the summit at a constant pace and save the photos for the way down. The hike up was enjoyable for the most part, some areas were quite steep where I focused on continuing to place one foot in front of the other, where other sections I was able to look ahead and enjoy the scenery.
At about the half way mark the land ownership changes, from being privately owned land to a conservation government owned land. They separate the land with fences and where the trail continues through, instead of placing a gate, they instead put in a set of small stairs going up one side and back down the other. When I began the hike earlier that day I figured that I could make it to the summit within 2.5 hours, and when I made it to the half way mark where the gate separated the land within the hour, I knew that I was walking a decent pace.
Around the 3/4 mark I passed the iconic photo op scene and pushed on figuring i could stop and spend time there on the way down.
With only the last pitch to go I forced my legs to push a little further, by this point they were getting used to the constant climb. The path winding its way along increasing with steepness with each step and narrowing with every other. As the clock turned to 11:45am I took the last step to the summit. With it only taking me 2 hours and 15 minute I was proud of my solo climb. The summit of of Roy's Peak reaching 1500m provided a stunning view of Lake Wanaka and the surrounding mountain ranges. With the feeling of accomplishment running through my veins I sat on the top of the mountain while I stared out into the horizon while I munched on my cheese and crackers. I snapped a few photos and asked one of the people sitting next to me to take one of me. Within a short time I met both Frank and Lilach, who had also both hiked the trail solo. Sitting up top the time seemed to stop, yet fly by at the same time, and it wasn't long before a half hour had passed. The wind was beginning to cut through my clothes even though I had layered up with my fleece and rain jacket to shield me from the cool breeze.
Lilach and Frank we're both beginning to get chilly too so we all headed down together back to the platform right before that last pitch, where we again separated. Frank heading down on his own, and Lilach accompanying me further till the bottom. I walked down the mountain with a constant pace but I slowed as my eyes wandered trying to take in as much as I could before reaching the bottom. I paused here and there to take some photos but for the most part we enjoyed the view as we chatted the whole way down.
I made it back to the car park by 2:00pm and back to the hostel at half past 2 where I found Lauren and Ollie chatting on a picnic bench in the courtyard. Ready for my shower I quickly described my hike and continued on inside to clean up.
The evening felt like a blur, exhausted from my journey I rested for a little while amongst the regular routine before heading back into town to meet up with my fellow hikers for a chance to check out the local cinema. When Lauren and I arrived we safely found out that the Revenant was full and that we would of needed to book seats earlier. Sad that we wouldn't get the chance to experience this special little cinema where you sat on couches, and got a warm fresh out of the oven homemade cookie at intermission, we wandered back outside. When we found Lilach and told her, she suggested we just go for the cookie. It turned out they had a few left over from the previous intermission and were willing to even warm them up for us. Once we demolished our cookie, Lauren and I returned to our hostel and Lilach met up with some other friends to see the later film.
Driving into Franz Joseph the low lying clouds created a mystic look to the small sleepy town, giving it the look of the pictures you see of Vietnam. Excited to get off the bus we walked into our hostel where the reception guy explained to us the flow of things. He explained that we were in the building across the car park called the Stables, and continued to tell us that everyday at 6pm there was free soup, and free breakfast.
Since it was only 4:30 we had some time before the soup would be ready so we walked over to our room, where we were greeted by two German girls. The room assigned to us held 9 beds in which were filled with the majority being girls.
We quickly made friends and proceeded to head to the kitchen together for our free soup with the added surprise of fresh pastries from the local bakery and a cup of tea.
Full and not yet ready to relax for the evening the whole group of us went for a walk around Franz Joseph. We toured the town, walking up one street and back down the only other one, we completed the tour in no time. Instead we made our way up towards the bridge that lead towards the glacier as far as crossing it and back.
When we returned to the hostel, one of the girls had mentioned there was a popcorn maker in the dinning area. I went over with Tony and Ulyua with full intentions of making some and returning to the room. Instead we met Jenna who was organizing a table soccer tournament in the communal area. Teams were being created based on home countries and we were quickly loured in. Two hours later, exhausted we returned to our room filled with excitement from the intense game and retired for the night.
Marley - U.S. (Seattle)
Antonia (Tony) - Germany
Ulyua - Germany
Jenna - UK (England)
In the morning we were all awake and in the kitchen early so we could get our free breakfast. When I rolled out of bed, I realized that it was finally not raining anymore although the clouds were still threatening.
Everyone busied about doing their things and getting ready for the day, when the suggestion of attempting one of the trails came up. Since Lauren and I were already planning on it we figured why not all go together. Overall there were 5 of us that were up for the hike so we quickly gathered the things we wanted to bring and headed out.
The walk to the car park was around 2 km at first following the roadside, crossing a bridge and then winding its way along a path through the forest. We all walked as a group separating here and there to snap a photo, and busily chatting away.
When we reached the car park we checked out the maps seeing which trail we felt up to walking. There were two we were trying to decide between; the forest path and the pools. Since the rain seemed to be holding out we started with the forest path and figured if we still felt like walking after that then we would do the pool hike too.
For the most part I had been walking alongside Marley and Ulyua chatting about our travels and the things we passed. Since Marley had done a geology major we were able to talk a little about the types of rocks that lined the trail and some cool hikes back home and so on.
The trail eventually opened up to the glacier valley and as we exited the forest a cliff side created the perfect spot for 3 waterfalls to spill over the edge dropping down to the valley floor and joining to the river in the centre.
The trail sides lining with large rocks and boulders covered in red and green moss, creating a neat contrast in the landscape. The further we continued down the trail the rock intrusions and glacial carvings got increasingly more interesting. In the distance you could see the glacier holding its ground between the peaks and the misty clouds spilling over and into the valley giving the overall effect a mystical vibe. I could of easily continued but the rain was starting up again and we still had quite a long walk back. I packed away my iPad and camera into my dry bag thankful that I had brought one with and began the walk back. We didn't get to far along before the rain starting coming down hard, soaking us more and more by the minute. When we got back to the hostel everyone was soaked and dripping wet. Once we were all dry again we made some hot chocolate to warm our insides while we waited for another batch of our free warm soup.
With the remainder of the time, I taught Lauren how to do a hair wrap in Ulyua's hair and relaxed in our common room as people came and went filling the beds that had emptied that morning. After dinner we played another tournament of table soccer, this time with a few new players.
Our time in Franz Joseph was up and it was now time to say goodbye. Amazed at how quickly you can become attached to a group of strangers it was sad to leave them, but with exchanging names for Facebook, there is always hope of reuniting in the future.
We hopped on the bus once it arrived, but since it was pretty full there were no two seats together so Lauren and I split up for the ride and I ended up sitting in the front seat beside a a lovely lady from the Uk.
As our driver played with the buttons for the sun shade we chatted about various things, allowing the landscape the pass by as well as the time. We stopped a few times, once at a coffee shop, another in a small town I believe named Hakaintiki where we had a half hour, so I bought a chocolate bar and explored the beach. Along the beach there was heaps of drift wood lying about and some locals had taken the initiative to gather up some here and there creating sculptures, one of which was of a whales tale reaching out of the sea of sand. During the remainder of the drive we passed by some really pretty landscape but one of the really neat features we passed was a one lane bridge that not only cars had to wait for their turn but so did trains, since the railway turned onto the road for the length of the bridge.
Our last stop of the day was in Punakaki, where we were staying for a couple days. The bus pulled into the stop up at the top of town, where the trail to pancake rocks and the blowholes were located, but he had offered if we were willing to wait he would drop us off at the hostel near the middle of town. We decided we would wait and explored the little shops in the meantime.
Walking up to the beach hostel we we're staying at, I was super excited,because we were literally staying right on the beach. The sound of the waves echoing in my ears and the smell of the salty air flowing through my nose, we quickly made our way to the office where we got our room keys. The office filled with the aroma of freshly baked goods, cakes, cookies and. bread. Resisting temptation for the moment we picked our beds and went for a walk up the beach allowing the sand to flow between our toes again. Along the beach the sand changed from soft cold sand to warm granular sand to small rocks all of which the sea had done its job at pushing it to shore. Eventually we couldn't walk any further along the beach because the Punakaiki River joined in and was constantly being washed away with the waves. Near the mouth of the river a large rock outcrop stood on its own, although once upon a time was apart of the cliff side. The first 10ft or so of the rock was covered in muscles and barnacles revealing the highs of the water during high tide. We took our time wandering around and playing in the sand exploring the beach and searching for stones that caught our eye.
When we got back to the hostel, we had convinced Ollie to come and explore Punakaiki with us where he parked his car in the campground next door when he arrived after dinner.
We greeted him with some freshly baked cookies that we had purchased in the reception and wandered up and down the beach again, this time searching for green stones, meanwhile sipping on my cup of tea.
When we had checked in the man who owned the hostel had told us that there are exceptional sunsets here on the west coast so we made sure that we were back out on the beach by 7:30 which he was certain that would be when it would start to get good. Unfortunately the clouds had moved in on us creating a grey and white sheet and hiding the sunset. Once the little sun we did have went away the wind started to get a little chilly on the beach so we found a semi sheltered area on some benches at the hostel to hang out at.
I went in and made a pot of tea and brought out some mugs. We ended up sitting out there for a few hours while the sky turned to black allowing us to star gaze when the clouds created a clearing. I still find it difficult to identify the constellations from the Southern Hemisphere, but we were definitely giving it our best.
Finally a morning where there were not a million alarms going off for hours, I was able to sleep in past 7am, and instead didn't get out of bed until 8:30. After breakfast, Lauren and I grabbed our things ready for the day and walked over to wake up Ollie. The night before he was unsure as to whether he wanted to join us for our morning hike, and after asking him again in the morning he had made his decision to stay behind and join us in the afternoon instead.
The trail head was only minutes away so we got a nice and early start allowing us to have the trail basically to ourselves, aside from our little winged friends.
As the trail curved though the valley, the landscape continually changed from open grassland, to dense rainforest, finally to a mixed forest, while all along following the river. The entire time we were walking along the trail the surrounding forest kept reminding me of jarrasic park, and around each corner we would find a new spot where we could imagine a dinosaur would hide. We only walked as far as the swing bridge and turned around, which in the end took us nearly 2 hours, which got us back in perfect time to get to pancake rocks for high tide.
Back from our morning hike, we swing through the campsite to get Ollie in order to see what the blowhole activity was like at high tide. Walking up the hill, the waves were smashing against the rocks and splashing as far as some sections of the sidewalk.
The looped track for pancake rocks entered across from the cafe where we were dropped off the day before, with a rough time of 20 minutes for the full route.
The first loop took you around to the smaller lookout points to where the sea had carved its way through the rocks leaving behind sculpted outcrops.
When we turned along the second loop the first lookout area opened up to a surge, where the water had carved through the rock in multiple places and rushed into a larger opening where the waves smashed there way in and up the side of the rock walls. The loud smack of the waves against the rock paired with the vibration of the rock platform running through your body, describes the true power the sea holds.
The next lookout reached over the blowhole where the rocks were coloured from the constant spray of sea water during storms and high tide. By the time we got there the blowhole was still quite active although it was not as high as I was imagining.
Following along the limestone path ways, it lead us around the surge, past the blowholes and along the edge of the sea returning us back to the inland loop.
In the end it did actually only take us 20 minutes although in more active weather I'm sure io could of easily spent a little more time at the blowhole and the surge just watching the waves continuously work on altering the shape of the cliff side.
Along the walk back, Lauren and Ollie were busy in mid conversation behind me as I let my eyes wander from the cliff side to the sea side. About half way down the hill I glanced to my right over towards the cliff side, just in time to spot a small trail leading off into the side of the cliff. There was also a small sign that delineated the location of a self guided cave walk. Intrigued I paused, therefore causing both Ollie and Lauren to stop as well and continued to cross over towards the cave.
The path led down a slope through a few trees and opened up where a set of stairs climbed into the mouth of the cave. Surprised at the depth of the cave, we slowly made our way further in encroaching in on the darkness. I stopped to pull out my torch (headlamp) as Ollie commented that i looked like a proper cave explorer.
Moving further in our pace slowed as our visibility diminished and we became reliant only on our torch and no longer on the daylight reaching inside. Following the marked path, the walls of the cave turned from a large cathedral type opening to a narrow passage directing you further inside. We continued to follow the path reached the point where you could no longer stand up properly. If I would of been wearing proper footwear and brought along special gear then I would of continued, but for today this was the point where we decided to turn and head back.
On the way out I paused a few times in order to attempt taking a few photos in the darkness, utilizing my torch as a light source to observe the stalactites growing on the ceilings and the formations of the rock floor.
Dropped off at the ferry terminal in Picton we parted our way with our bus and continued alongside a Danish study group in order to check in our bags. After waiting for them to unload their bags from the bus and then check in all of their bags for the ferry, we were finally able to check ours in and head out for lunch.
First we found the grocery store, ended up purchasing a couple items we needed for dinner and decided that we would go back to the fish and chips shop across the street. For $2.50 she filled up a package of crispy homemade chips and sent us on our way.
Eventually time rolled around and we made our way back to the ferry terminal since we were told to be there for 1:30 to check in for our 2:15 departure. The interislander terminal was buzzing with excited travellers, the majority of which were school groups. As 2:15 came and went we sat there waiting for them to begin boarding, but instead there was an announcement on the speaker to inform us that our ferry was delayed due to a late kiwi bus.
After finally boarding, we found a spot on the 8th floor (out of 10) near the front of the boat in order to get a good view through the windows. We amused ourselves with a deck of cards and played rummy for what seemed like ages before the boat finally began moving and heading towards Wellington.
The beginning of the journey was pleasant, and we were able to continue our game of cards and we moved through the channel protected from the surrounding islands of the cook straight. When we reached open water, the tables turned and they turned rather quickly. For the remainder of the trip with an approximate duration of 2 hours, both Lauren and I were busy fighting motion sickness as the ferry sailed its way through 5-9m swells, where the waves were splashing above the 8th floor and soaking the sides of the ship. As soon as we rounded the corner, they restricted the access to the upper deck, closing it down for the duration of the crossing, due to the gale winds.
Needless to say our card game came to a halt, and Lauren made her way to the bathroom, while I stayed put in my chair, fighting the urge to continuously discard my lunch. The staff circled around, making sure everyone was okay as they passed out bags and fetched people ice cubes.
The ice cubes seemed to help me quite a bit, especially for bringing my temperature back down to a normal degree, as I continued taking deep breaths, breathing in and out with each wave while trying to focus on the horizon.
Lauren still hadn't returned, and since I was unable to move from my chair with the fear of emptying my stomach so instead I asked a staff member to check on Lauren and make sure she was okay.
I'm not sure how, but somehow I managed not to throw up, and once we reached calm water again I went to check on Lauren, finding her huddled up mid cabin in the hallway against a wall.
She didn't look well enough to move yet, but was looking pretty cold, so I walked back over to our bags and grabbed her sweater and coat, so at least she would be warm.
Eventually we returned to our seats for the last 10 minutes of the ferry ride, pulling into the bay, arriving to the north island for 7pm.
All we had left to do was get our bags and figure out the bus. After a half hour of standing on the side of the baggage claim round about, and being pushed constantly I had no more energy in me. We finally got our bags, flagged down a taxi and retired for the evening.
For the morning Lauren and I took a little extra time so we could relax and ease into the day instead of getting a jump start on the city. Instead we stayed in until lunch time, heading out just after we had eaten. Our main attraction we were headed for was the Te Papa Museum, which we had been told you need at least 3 hours to complete. Along the way there were several things that had caught our eye and we may have ended up getting distracted for an extra hour or so before heading to the museum.
We first walked by a pride festival happening in the courtyard of the building next door, continuing around the harbor side of the museum towards a jumping hole in the dock. People surrounding it, some standing others sitting a few brave people jumping. The spiral staircase leading up over a cutout in the boardwalk leading into the water below. I watched others in awe as they did their back flips and cannonballs into the water below as they breached the surface again after submerging into the sea. If I would of had my bathing suit on, I definitely would of jumped as that afternoon it was actually warm enough.
We had eventually found our way to the entrance of the Te Papa museum and beginning our exploration on the first floor through the discovery center and the sea and forest creatures. The first level also brought you out to a forest walk, where they had replicated a limestone cave and the features and plants you would find within a typical forest growing on top of limestone. The second floor led you inside some of the traditional Maori homes and gathering huts that would be found within their villages.
After four floors of copious amounts of interesting facts and knowledge about New Zealand we were exhausted mentally and ready for a snack break. During our walk to the museum we had wandered by a real fruit ice cream truck, so we decided to head back there. Just outside of the museum there were some entertainers performing with a crowd surrounding them, so we quickly went and got our ice cream and returned to watch their show. They performed various tricks with hats, juggling balls, hula hoops, and a unicycle while engaging and utilizing the audience in their tricks. When they completed their show, everyone scattered and continued on their way.
Our next destination was Frank Kitts Park where the Playground Art Festival was taking place. This festival/ carnival was a rather special one due to the fact that it is built and run by the arts community of Wellington using various items and parts in order to construct the rides. They had built a Ferris wheel, a fanning station, a swing set, a bike race and a carousel. They were all really neat and it was very interesting to see which components they had used to create the rides to make each one special.
Since the night market didn't start until 5:30 we figured we could sit for a little bit instead of wandering, so we sat in Civic Square on a patch of Astro turf surrounded by large buildings protecting us from the wind while still allowing the sun to pass through and warm us. While we sat there we watched many people pass by some stopping to do the same but the majority passing through and continuing on to their destinations. Shortly after we sat down a couple guys on the other side of the grass in an corner began playing some hip hop music and practicing their break-dancing moves. It was quite entertaining to watch but we only sat for so long because it was getting close to dinner time and the night market was almost in full swing.
The market lined the whole lower half of Cuba street with food trucks and booths, each one specializing in a different cultural flavor. For dinner Lauren and I each purchased a burrito and for dessert we split some churros, and a cherry chocolate waffle. By the time we finished we were both pretty full and ready to retire for the evening.
This morning Lauren was heading out for her tour of the workshop for the Lord of The Rings Movie, and since I was not accompanying her on this adventure I instead went for a walk downtown in search of a good cup of coffee and a quiet space to sit and read my book in the morning sunshine.
The city centre where we were the day before had a cafe right on the water with several bean bag chairs that you could pick up and move around the tiered lawn, so i grabbed one and moved it off to the side in order to have my own little space in the sunshine.
I ordered my coffee and pulled out my book, and sitting there for a few hours listening to the cafes playlist of jazzy songs while waiting for Lauren to return.
When Lauren returned we sat together and ate our lunches, mine being more of the hummus and crackers with cucumber I had purchased the day prior from the market, and Lauren's being the cheese and crackers from the grocery shop.
Before heading on to the gardens for the afternoon, Lauren wanted to look for a Gelato shop, so I asked the girl in the cafe where the closest one was and it happened to be just up the street. I had such good intentions that I would just accompany Lauren to the shop and not purchase anything, but the gelato got the better half of me and I caved. I got a scoop of chocolate and a scoop of peanut butter caramel. They were absolutely delicious and we ate them up so quickly, especially because they were melting in the sun. Near the end of mine I managed to bite the cone the wrong way ergo slopping chocolate on my pants, shirt and the bench on which we were sitting on. There was not much I could do other than wipe it off, which I did and then we continued on towards the gardens for the afternoon.
We had walked approximately half way to the gardens reaching the main strip of shops with side alleys extending into what seemed like nowhere, until we came across the one that led us directly towards the cable car that traversed the hillside directly up to the top of the gardens. We had heard that it is quite the experience and decided that we would take it up to the top of the gardens and make our way back down.
As soon as we had our tickets, we walked past the gate onto the platform, and within minutes the cable car was descending into the station. I stood at the end in order to get a photo and then joined in the line to get on. The seats were wooden slatted bench seats some wide enough to fit one person and others that fit two people. By the time Lauren and I got on there were not any spots left together so we each sat on separate sides. The ascent was not long at all and passed through a couple tunnels that lit up with colourful lights flashing in patterns. At the top platform, which was the last stop there was a cable car museum displaying the very first cable car and pictures of the track when it was first built. It also showcased the timeline of the cable car and how its importance has developed over the years.
I grabbed a map of the gardens when we headed out of the museum and we began wandering along the winding paths, at first with a general plan, and eventually just completely wandering and taking which ever path looked best to us. We walked slowly since the weather was warm and sunny and we had all afternoon. We kept our own pace stopping each at the plants that intrigued us most.
The path changed as we went on going from concrete to stones to wood chips where it passed through the fern gully. At the top of the hill a few very large trees stood strong beside an art installation, created for people to stop and listen to the sounds of nature and the city combined together.
We continued down the other side of the hill where the path led us to the bottom of the tree house which was more or less an info center, and as we were about to press the button for the elevator we could hear it coming down with people inside who were making ape noises. When they reached the bottom and the doors opened one of the girls got quite embarrassed and was hoping that we didn't hear them. There were a few information panels inside along with a couple interactive bits for the kids as well as a looped video playing on the screen off to the side. I ended up finding a map again while we wandered around so I figured out the easiest path to the duck pond and we set off for it.
A stone bridge led us over a stream to a viewing platform where you were able to sit and watch the ducks swim about and plunge their heads underwater to feed. We stayed for a little while watching them go about their business and admired the detail of their feathers and the different types of ducks and how they were interacting with one another.
Both Lauren and I felt we had gotten our fill of the gardens so we followed the main path out towards downtown. Along the way we passed a rose garden which we stopped at in order admire the colours and fragrances. While Lauren continued looking at the roses I walked across the road to a man made waterfall, sitting at the base watching the ducks bathe.
The remainder of the path followed a small side road that bordered the edge of the gardens until emerging into a historic cemetery where signs pointed you in the direction of well known priests and names of people who held high social status back then. The cemetery was interesting to walk through, but for me I personally enjoy walking through gardens much better.
With Huka Falls only being 6km from the town we figured that it would make for a perfect day hike and along the way back we could stop off at the spa park. It was supposed to rain a little in the afternoon so we headed out just after breakfast.
On the way we passed the grocery store and to grab a thing or two for lunch.
The first bit of the walk was along the city blocks passing both residential and commercial districts, then it opened up to the highway heading out of town. The sidewalk continued to stretch on the way we wanted to go and brought us out to a scenic lookout of the town of Lake Taupo before turning off to the side road that brought us to the falls. At the turn off we still had another 4 or so km to go and we had gotten talking to a young couple at the lookout and they ended up offering us a ride the remainder of the way dropping us off in the parking lot. We skipped over the visitors centre and headed straight over the bridge which led you directly over the extremely fast flowing Huka Falls channel.
Lauren and I sat there for a few moments contemplating whether or not the turbidity of the water was too strong for a white water raft to make it down safely. In the end we came to a decision that it was possible but for extremists or highly trained professionals and that we would be okay not going down it ourselves.
Off to the left the path led us alongside the Waitomo River with several lookout points where people lined the metal fence a short distance from the cliffs edge. At the last lookout, otherwise known as the Huka Falls Lookout, a display sign with the Mauri name "Huka" printed on it with the translated word foam, describing the icy blue and white water colours once it had passed through the falls and filled with air bubbles.
Huka falls in some regards is similar to Niagara with the pure velocity of water rushing through every minute, just on a smaller scale. The water pushing through Huka Falls per minute is enough to fill three Olympic swimming pools, so for the amount of time that Lauren and I stood watching the falls 45 Olympic pools could have been filled.
Following the trail in the other direction this time we followed the river as we watched the water turn from an icy white and blue colour to a pure emerald green. The path opened up in areas here and there but for the majority of the time there was vegetation on either side, following us as we hiked towards the geothermal hot pools also known as the Spa Park.
When we emerged from the path the tree line followed the left side while on our right it opened up completely to the river flowing past us at a steady pace. The path split in two, so instead of taking the path straight across the bridge we instead turned left where it took us up along the flow of geothermal pools exploring the area first.
We passed over another bridge further up and took it around the other side back down meeting up with the original path again, and after reading the signs for the hot pools we retreated up to a small hill where a large tree shaded the lookout perfectly. We relaxed from our walk and took the chance to grab a bite to eat, and afterwards change into our bathing suits.
Once we were ready we grabbed our backpacks and brought it all down to the stream with us since there were signs everywhere saying to keep a careful watch on your belongings due to high theft rates. Even before leaving the hostel that morning the guy at the front desk had warned us not to bring any valuables with us to the stream incase of theft. We sat our bags on the edge of the pool under the bridge and dipped into the pool under the bridge first. I couldn't believe the temperature it was as if I had just stepped inside a hot tub, the water was quite warm, but it was fantastic to be sitting inside a natural geothermal hot pool with a waterfall flowing in on the side of the river.
We are unable to stay in there for too long and instead retreated to a lower pool where the cool water from the river and the hot water from the geothermal stream were able to mix together to form a perfect bath like temperature to lounge in. Every so often you were able to feel the water mixing through when one source would over power the other and either turn warmer or colder as if someone had turned on a tap to top up the water.
The sun was beating down on us in the water and Lauren didn't have any sunscreen on and had gotten her fill of swimming so she retreated back under the tree where she could relax in the shade while I continued swimming and hopping from one pool to the next and so on.
While sitting in the lower portion of the pools I began chatting with two girls from England who were heading in the opposite direction as we had across NZ and in half the time. Before I knew it an hour had passed so I went to head back to where Lauren was under the tree but instead met her on the path heading towards me.
I quickly changed out of my baiting suit bottoms and we began walking back to our hostel. As we started out Lauren turned to me and said "you will never guess what just happened to me". It turned out while Lauren was resting under the tree she had an unwanted visitor, naturally my mind immediately jumped to some sort of animal, but that was not the case. Instead she had turned as she heard someone approaching the tree where she had hung her towel and bathing suit, just in time to see a Middle aged man stroll up to the tree, boldly grab her towel and sit down as if she was not even there. As soon as I heard the words come out of her mouth I couldn't help but immediately begin to laugh.
For the remainder of the 15 minute walk back to the hostel, I would every so often chuckle a little as i thought about her having to confront this man in order to get her towel back.
With a 5am wake up in order to catch the earlier shuttle of the two, we began our day in the dark. We sleepily pulled ourselves out of bed, forced ourselves to eat some breakfast and grabbed our pre packed day packs from the night before and went outside to wait for the shuttle. Thankfully the shuttle does door to door service for the early ride so there was no worrying about making it to a pickup location on time. Our driver arrived promptly at 5:50am, we climbed in signed our names and blankly stared off into space for the remainder of the drive, as the skies slowly changed from pitch black to a light shade of grey.
The forecast for the day stated 25km winds, with periods of showers, in which we were prepared with our rain gear. Before getting off the shuttle our driver made sure that everyone was well aware of the weather conditions as well as the pick up times on the other side before we dispersed.
Beginning at 7:30 we crossed through a hut, taking a quick moment to complete a survey then off down the trail. The grade of the trail eased us into the upward slope of the mountain allowing our legs and breathing to adjust to uphill climb although it didn't last to too long before it turned into a full climb of flight after flight of stairs eventually reaching a plateau labelled as Soda Springs. The plateau was completely flat with dark rich soil, yellow tuffs of grass and large erratic boulders that had been placed there many years ago from the volcano. The clouds were quite low so the peak of the mountain in front of is was hidden, although we were able to see across the plateau and over to the base of what was to be our next climb up to red crater.
The first part of the climb was steep, but every so often I would pause to turn and look back and admire the view below. It overlooked the plateau in which we had just crossed with the straight path leading directly through the center and the pool of mineral water sitting in Soda Springs off to the side. The higher we climbed the further we went into the clouds until the view below completely disappeared. With only a small stretch left to climb, it seemed as though it went on forever. The incline of the path turned from a steady uphill to a scramble where there were chains and guidelines for you to hold onto. It wasn't a far stretch of treacherous slippery climbing but with one slip you could easily end up back at the bottom where you started. We moved along slowly inching our way up the mountain eventually reaching the summit. There were a few other people up there taking photos amongst the thick cloud and some just stopping long enough for a drink of water.
We didn't stay there fore long because once we were exposed to the wind our damp clothes filled with partially frozen water droppers clinging to our pants continually worked viciously on dropping our core temperature. Quickly double checking the sign to ensure we were heading the proper direction we took off and began the descent from the summit of red crater. At 1886m the rain clouds seemed to push on forever, never letting up in thickness and with the constant accumulation of moisture Lauren was unable to wear her glasses and therefore proceeded ever so cautiously. Instead we used each other for stability and proceeded along the ridge taking one step at a time. The loose gravel shifted with each step making it seem as though we were walking down a ski hill in deep powder, sinking my heels in every step so I didn't slide.
Just over the other side of the ridge the elevation dropped onto another smeller plateau where two emerald lakes revealed themselves amongst the thick fog. We were only able to really see one, but the other one hung faintly in the distance just beyond the first one. The colour of the water was a milky blue turning a deeper blue towards the center of the pool, reflecting the clouds from above. On a clear day the pools are a rich turquoise blue the sunshine reflecting on the water exposing the minerals below. The pools are supposed to be a beautiful sight on a clear day, but the mist from the clouds added a special feature to the volcano, one that you wouldn't see on a normal clear day. The rain had chased away the majority of the tourists clearing the path of more than half of the regular flow of people. This definitely added to the vastness of the volcano, creating the feeling that we were one of few crossing the Tongariro, embarking on a special journey, one that was ours to complete as well as one to share.
We reached the Ketetahi Hut just in time for lunch, and just before the rain began to pick up. From walking through the cloud my outer layers had accumulated a thick layer of moisture which was beginning to thaw inside. Our descent to the car park didn't take long at all, and therefore finishing the 19.4 km hike in 6 hours. We were among the first few that made it back from our shuttle so we sat and waited for the remainder of the group to complete the trek.
After our regular morning routine we packed our day packs and followed the map that the receptionist handed to us in order to reach the walking trails in the redwoods forest.
The beginning of the path led us along the main street and over to where the biking and walking trail meets up. This trail from what we were told was supposed to lead us directly to the redwoods. In the end we had reached the cultural geothermal spa and realized that we had gone too far. I slipped in to the administration building and asked for better directions to the walking trails. The lady at the front desk was super nice, gave us a proper map of the streets and showed us the path that we needed to take in order to get there. Unfortunately we had ended up walking a half hour further than we needed to, so our original half hour walk to the forest turned into an hour and a half walk. Happy that the rain had at least held out for us we turned around and followed the roads back in the proper direction instead of following the trail which took you on an extra long windy route.
We arrived at the info center for noon which put us right at the start for all of the walking tracks. Before setting out on one of them we decided instead to sit at the picnic table and have our lunch while looking over the map and deciding which track we wanted to do.
We ended up choosing the Quarry Lookout Trail which stretched on for 4.9 km. Originally we were going to choose a bit of a longer trail but since we had already added a few extra kilometres to our day we stuck with a shorter trail and saved the longer trail for the next day.
All of the trails began in the same spot leading you through a tall stand of red wood trees, that towered over the path. The temperature within the trees dropped a few degrees and with the rain starting it cooled off quite quickly. The path led us over to a boardwalk past a couple massive trees with plaques and over a stream. Unlike a normal stream this one was stagnant and crystal clear. The palm and fern leaves scattered on top of one another underneath the water, showing the depth of the water. Unfortunately the photo doesn't do it justice, but the stream is actually several meters deep. The water is so clear and filled with sulphur that anything under the water possesses a blue colour instead of its true colour.
After the stream the path separated and each coloured arrow pointed you down the trail you had chosen. Our trail veered to the left following a row of large redwoods and up a hill and eventually off onto a smaller side trail. As always we had chosen the trail with the most amount of uphill climbing there was to offer, hence the name Quarry LOOKOUT Trail. We climbed little by little, eventually reaching the top of the quarry over to the edge where it overlooked the basin of which was once filled with rock. As we stood there I pointed out the trail that followed the base of the quarry joking saying that we probably get to walk along the basin further along the trail and heading back down that hill that we had just climbed. In the end we did follow that exact trail, but it was interesting to watch the forest change several times as we continued on. Starting out with the large towering redwoods it transformed to ferns and palms and then again eventually to a type of skinny maple trees with a type of aspen. Within four kilometres it was almost like we had travelled through time seeing the succession of the forest in all of its developing phases.
At the other end of the basin we reached the entrance to a massively long tunnel of redwoods and palms that lead in the direction of the car park. The coloured arrows lead us down the corridor and eventually turned off before we reached the end, again looping us through a side trail, bringing us back into the towering redwoods. We exited the trail on the opposite side of the car park from where we had started, following alongside the treetop adventures that linked the trees above.
We sat down on the picnic tables again as a 5 minute rest to drink water and make the decision of hiking another trail or retiring back to the hostel. In the end we chose one more trail, although this time our trail was a little shorter with only 2 km in length.
The red marked trail started out in the same place again as all of the other trails although it took the shortest loop around the tall redwoods leading us off to the left following a basic square pattern around the visitors center, but still far enough into the woods to be away from the busyness of the central traffic. The red marked trail brought us back to the same long tunnel as our other trail had but instead of taking a side trail it led us all the way back straight to the car park.
When we emerged from the trail we didn't stop at the visitor center and instead continued directly back to the hostel, this time around taking the short cut through the dog walking section. After a long day of walking our 14 km we retired back to the hostel.
Returning the next day, this time it took us less than a half hour to get to the beginning of the walking trails. We had decided to walk a lengthier track since our walk to the redwoods had been shorter than the previous day. We chose the Pohaturoa Trail, marked in yellow arrows with a length of 7.4 km. The weather was warm but the skies were clouded over with a constant misty rain. We had waited out the morning rain in hopes that it would clear up a little but eventually decided to go anyways and embrace the rain.
Starting out along the same section of trail, we followed it until the path split heading in separate directions for each coloured arrow, ours this time around leading us to the right and following along the edge of the parking lot until we reached a hill ascending towards the mountain biking section of the forest.
We passed a terrain park off to the right with several jumps and steep hills where at the top of the hill we turned onto the path again. It brought us past a section of recently planted trees in a clear cut section of land off to our left and an older forest off to our right. For the first bit we remained on the edge of the forest until we finally dipped back in towards the lookout that displayed the geothermal attributes of the town. It was the geothermal area that we had walked to the day before, and realized how close we were, yet how far at the same time since there were no entrances into the park from that side.
Throughout our time on the trail we only passed two other couples who were also braving the rain, or were just unlucky to get caught out in it. Despite the rain Lauren and I were enjoying the trail and excited to have another opportunity to explore further into the redwood forest. At several different points along the trail we crossed over mountain bike trails and equestrian trails, all of which never actually linking into the same trail although sometimes running parallel instead. For the latter half of the trail it opened up from a path onto the service roads that crisscrossed through the park, leading us back towards the information center at the front of the park.
Content with one hike today we made our way back to the hostel and spent the remainder of the day playing ping pong and watching a movie, and taking some well deserved down time.
Today Lauren had gone on her Hobbiton tour, and therefore I had the entire day to do what I felt like doing. I packed my day pack, put on some quick dry clothes and walked down the road to the bike rental shop.
Arriving at approximately 11am I signed my waiver and rented a mountain bike for a half day. Since I had come in a little early she ended up giving me an extra hour on top of my four hour rental, which meant I had until 4pm to check out as many mountain bike trails as i could in the Redwood forest. The bike ride there didn't take long at all especially since there were bike paths pretty much the entire way to the cycling entrance of the park. When I got closer the trail ended and you could either follow the road the remainder of the way to the next turn off or take a side path taking you down by the river. I of course continued following the path and started to get comfortable with the brakes and skidding on corners to prep for the trails that would be in the park.
After taking a good look at the map posted at the entrance, I had chosen a grade 2 track marked as easy that looped in with the beginner level here and there. I started out with a lot of energy and excitement, pounding my knees hard pushing the pedals as fast as I could up the muddy incline. Starting off with a hill it made it easier to enjoy the ride down, but about half way through my first track I began to realize how long it actually had been since I was on a bike last. My legs felt like jelly and I was definitely working up a sweat. When the trail finically opened up a little I found a spot off to the side out of the way for a quick rest and a water break. I realized quickly that I didn't have enough water to keep me going for the whole day, but I knew there was a water fountain at the entrance of the park so instead after a few runs I refilled my bottle.
I switched here and there from grade 3 tracks to grade 2 as well as testing out the beginner level kids tracks. Out of all of the trails I think I enjoyed the grade 2 the best as it offered some steeper sections, a few ramps, some mud holes, and some flat sections. Overall it was the best well rounded track and suited my level of skill. The grade 3/ intermediate tracks were also fun, but much more technical and I found I had to ride quite a bit slower.
The more I rode the more familiar my body got with the motion of the bike on the turns and jumps and I eventually got rid of my stiffness.
I think in the end I ran the grade 3 track twice, the grade 2 track 6 times, and the beginner track twice as well as riding between the tracks and to the visitor centre. I even tried the terrain park once through on my way over, it was a thrill to dive down the hills and race up the mounds in order to gain some air. Along the road heading back to the side where the majority of the tracks were I found a side trail that followed it but instead ramped up and down following the clear cut section. For that section I was able to race through because I was able to see the turns coming ahead of time.
By this point it was coming on to 3pm so I pushed my tired legs one last time along the beginner track and I gave it all I had, pushing hard into those pedals, racing along the path, skidding with every turn and hitting every mud puddle at full speed covering myself in mud.
I excited the trail splattered in mud with a smile from ear to ear, feeling grateful for the opportunity to rip through the forest and be reunited with a bike.
I rode to the end of the tracks where I had originally entered the park and biked back to town to return the bike in time and clean up. Not only did I manage to cover myself in mud but I also covered the bike in mud too.
With it being our last full day in NZ we got up early, packed our things for the day and set out on our journey to Rangitoto Island. The island is only about a 20 minute ferry ride, so they are able to do multiple trips throughout the day for both pick ups and drop offs. The Volcano was only formed 600 years ago, which makes it the youngest volcano in NZ's north island and It is also the largest cone in NZ.
We had chosen to get out first thing in the morning and hop on the first ferry over to the island, departing at 9:15am. The weather continued to stay cloudy with showers here and there, but with our rain gear we were all set for a day of hiking. The clouds were a little higher than the previous day so there was still hope that we would be able to see the view of the mainland from the lookout point on top. Our 20 minuted ferry ride picked us up, brought us across the choppy 2 m swells to the wharf at Rangitoto and returned back to the main land.
As soon as we disembarked the boat, Lauren and I headed straight for the summit trail. This was the main trail that we had come over to the island for because it provided a chance to look into the crater and out over the island and the harbour towards the mainland. Basically giving you a 360 view of Rangitoto and the surrounding islands. The sign at the entrance read "Island Summit hike, 4.6km" and knowing that it would be a constant uphill climb, and that there was a side trail to a cave system we started off our island adventure there to ensure that we had enough time before the last ferry of the day.
Along the way we stopped off at all of the lookout points and info boards explaining the geological history of the island. At about 3/4 of the way up, the path split into two one direction continuing uphill to the summit and the other off to the side towards the cave. We chose to continue the uphill to the top first so that the weather didn't have a chance to cloud over further before getting to see the view and saved the caves for the way down.
When we rounded the bend up at the top emerging from the tree line, not only did the view open up but the wind also rushed past us sending chills through our body. At the lookout you were able to see a misty outline of the cityscape off in the distance as well as the odd boat out in amongst the swells. On a clear day you would most likely have a clear enough view of the city that you could count the cars driving by the ferry terminal. We didn't stay too long up top since the wind was quite chilly and the rain was starting again, but the path led us along the rim of the rim of the cone looking down into the now filled crater. I found it fascinating at how quickly life had taken over and reclaimed the land and filled the once desolate area with the succession of forest growth. The crater reached 60ft in depth with the trees climbing and covering the entire surface area of the cone.
On the way back down the steep section just inside the tree line was absolutely stunning and reminded me of back home with the changing colour of leaves and the leaf little scattering the ground making a crunch underneath my boots with every step I took. It didn't last for long before it turned back to gravel but the nostalgia was there for a brief moment and sent a longing excitement for home and the familiarities of it.
When we reached the turn off for the caves we turned off to follow the side trail it lead us along a rocky uneven surface marked with sign posts in order to stay on track. The caves we only a 15 min walk up the path but along the way there were some other small caves and geological features that stood out from the remainder of the environment. We only briefly stopped off to explore before continuing along towards the cave.
When we reached the cave I stopped to get out my head lamp from my backpack before climbing into the entrance of the cave that disappeared underground. I led us into the cave with Lauren following close behind, the light from the entrance only reaching so far into the cave before we began to rely solely on our lights to light up the path. About mid way the cave opened up again to the sky above where the ceiling had collapsed revealing the forest around it and allowing the foliage to encroach into the cave. Just after the opening the cave dipped back into the darkness and the circumference of the tube began to shrink and changed from a full height stance down to a crouching stance. The interior of the cave was surprisingly quite dry for the fact that it had been raining on and off for the entire morning.
The lave tube continued right till the end where it opened back up to the forest and the brightness of the light reflecting off of the clouds. It took a minute for my eyes to adjust back to the light before continuing along the trail where we circled back around alongside the cave although this time on the surface instead of underground.
We stopped off at the turn off where the trail rejoined with the main summit track and sat on a group of cut logs for our lunch break. There had been a few signs along the trail warning us of the high population of wasps in the area, but since we hadn't really come across any so far I figured the rain might have kept them away. Within five minutes or so they emerged from their nests and began swarming around our legs and our cheese and crackers. At first they were fine and not really bothering me, until they began swarming my face and head. I suggested packing up and continuing our lunch further down the trail on a bench at the lookout and Lauren immediately agreed, so we gathered our things and slowly moved away from the wasps as not to startle them. We managed to escape with no stings and ate our lunch elsewhere away from the wasps.
After lunch the weather began to take a turn for the worse, so we hiked back down to the main hut on the island where there were several others waiting for the next ferry ride back to the mainland which was supposed to arrive within the next 15 minutes. We discussed the idea of staying and hiking more of the island or returning back to the mainland and in the end decided to return back before the weather got worse.
When we reached the mainland we wandered around the shops for the remainder of the afternoon before returning back to Carl's house for a snack. There were a few really cute trinket shops and second hand stores close by so after dropping off our packs we went back out and wandered some more.
Later that evening after dinner we all ended up hanging out at the house and got into a game of cards against humanity with Carmon, Anna, Lauren, Carl, Mercedies, and Melinda, which in the end turned into a huge laughing fest with the language barriers and the cultural backgrounds. We had a blast and ended up staying up playing past midnight.
With it being our last night and all, we had decided that it would be the perfect time for a celebratory dinner and to cap off our trip with one last bit of New Zealand culture. Originally it was just going to be myself and Lauren, and we had decided on pizza, but as we asked Carl about which places were best we ended up turning it into a group outing.
Since at that point in time it was just Carl, Carmen, Lauren and myself at the house it was just the four of us that went for dinner. If we didn't need to be at the airport for 8pm then we would have stayed and waited for the other girls to get back before going out but unfortunately we were on a bit of a time crunch.
Around 5:30 we drove down to Toto's, a local Italian pizzeria which sold meter long pizza's. Unsure of the amount we should order we confided in the waiter who suggested that for the four of us we would be perfectly content with one meter long pizza and that we were able to order two different kinds. Lauren and I went for the margarita pizza (the veggie option) and the other two ended up getting a meat version similar to Hawaiian. It didn't take us long at all to demolish the entire thing, and before we were even finished Carl had called ahead to reserve us seats at an elite dessert place called Milse.
Milse on a normal night is said to have a long lineup outside due to its popularity. Once we got inside i realized why it was so popular, the desserts on display were each a separate fancy intricate piece of artwork in itself.
We were seated in the far corner where we had a view of the staff piecing the desserts together. The waitress served us some carbonated water and gave us a few moments to look over the menu. At this point Carl had offered for us each to pick a dessert and we would share the three of them among the four of us. Once I picked mine I sat there admiring the intricate lattice designs on the wooden screens covering the windows and ceilings in order to create a more intimate atmosphere.
In the end we had ordered 4 desserts, one of which was a completely new concept to me but absolutely delicious. The amuse bouche shooters were served in a tube of layered flavors ranging from berry flavored jelly to crumble to whipped creme, all meant to be sucked up in one shot mixing the flavors all in one shot.
The other three desserts came as a plated dessert all decked out and presented each in their own specific manner. We had ordered the chocolate, blueberry and pear desserts, all of which Carl generously paid for as a parting gesture.
The evening flew by so quickly, and we all had a blast telling stories and sharing the flavors of the fantastic food. It was the perfect way to say our goodbyes to Auckland, but most of all our entire journey across New Zealand and the amazingly generous people that we had met along the way.
I can officially say that i wholeheartedly agree with John Muir and his quote "In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks".