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Our location as of 10/2/2012

Madison, WI, USA
Last updated 10/2/2012
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Roughing It in Abel Tasman

Abel TasmanWe recently spent four days and three nights hiking in Abel Tasman National Park. The hike is classified as one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, meaning it’s one of the best in the country. It follows part of the northern coast of the South Island. (The South Island is way better than the North Island, by the way.) As far as scenery, it was, of course, beautiful. The path mainly went from golden beach to beach, cutting back up the cliffs and through the rain forest in between, with stunning overhead views of the bright blue ocean. Our overall experience, however, was a little more rural than I prefer.

We slept in bunks in DOC huts that didn’t have electricity or warm water. Reading by candle light, not showering, starting a fire in the wood-burning stove for heat and eating beef jerky for dinner was kind of fun the first night, but I got pretty sick of it after that. We had really good hiking weather during the days, mostly sunny and cool. At night, though, it got really cold and we didn’t have a sleeping bag. Long underwear, wool socks, sweaters, coats, hat and gloves are definitely not the most comfortable pajamas.

Another feature/inconvenience of Abel Tasman is the tidal crossings. The tides bring drastic changes to the water levels in the park. Certain paths are only accessible around low tide, so we had to consult a tide table when we were planning our hike. The first day we had to wade through knee deep, cold water on a mucky beach with sharp shells for about twenty minutes. Needless to say, I was not a happy camper at the time.

Still, the park was worth all the trouble and we had a lot of fun. We hiked about four hours a day and saw many waterfalls and streams, along with the above mentioned beaches and forest. There were many steep uphills and downhills, but it was a really peaceful walk. Winter is low season here, so we didn’t see many other walkers. Our first night we had the hut all to ourselves. The second night we shared the hut with a nice Irish girl and the third night we hung out with a really funny group of Australians. We’ve already met a lot of really cool people.

At least now even the most basic hostels seem very warm and welcoming!

Rugby Madness in New Plymouth

New Plymouth is a very nice town on the coast with a pretty beach and boardwalk. But since it was pouring, we didn’t get a chance to enjoy that. We still had to trudge through the rain and pick up our tickets from the will-call window, though.

While we were walking downtown, we saw that most of the stores were rooting for the USA rugby team. Nearly all the shops had American flags and red, white and blue streamers hanging in the windows. Maybe they just felt like someone had to cheer for us, because, while there were hordes of Ireland supporters, there were hardly any USA fans. Or maybe they felt like they had to cheer for us, since it was September 11th and all.

The atmosphere before the game was not as crazy or intense as I had pictured it. I was imagining huge tailgates and tents filled with fans drinking beer–a Wisconsin football game, basically. Since there wasn’t much going on outside, we just stayed in our hostel until it was time to go. Then I stuck an American flag out the back of my shirt and we headed out the door.

The game itself was actually quite fun and the rain stopped for most of it. We had standing-room only seats in the north end, so it felt like being in the student section of Camp Randall. We didn’t really know what was going on in the game, so the people standing next to us started explaining everything. The US put up a good fight in the beginning, but we ended up losing 21-10.

Then we went out to the bars with the guys from the game. We had a pretty eclectic group: us, an older gentleman from New Zealand (Roger), a thirty-something Irishman (Dave, who kept complaining that he “got stuck with all the yanks”), and a young US Navy recruit (Adam). All of the bars were absolutely nuts. They were packed full of green-clad Ireland fans singing various songs and celebrating. It really felt like we had actually been transported to Ireland. Luckily, the Irish were all very nice to us. In a couple of the bars, we were the only Americans, but everyone kept coming up and talking to us. We had a really fun group and a great night.

The next day wasn’t quite as fun, but it never is, is it?

Hiking Through Mordor

Sickness has struck: when Nikki woke up for the drive to Taupo, she wasn’t feeling very well. Which meant her day in Taupo was largely spent sleeping and trying to recover.

However, I decided to venture out into the hills of Lake Taupo alone, in search of Huka Falls. The gal working at the reception desk strongly suggested I take an hour-long walking tour through town out to Huka Falls, instead of driving. The route looked great on a map–just follow the dotted line along the river. However, the start of the trail was unmarked, so after a half hour walking on what I thought was the trail, I had to backtrack. When I got on the path, there was trash all over the place, it wasn’t really that pretty of a river, and it largely passed by a sewage treatment plant. The trail also made numerous annoying forks, which were not on the map and were not marked. In the end, I gave up and went back to the hostel.

In the end, I gave in and took the car to Huka Falls. The water, infused with bubbles from the fast-moving rapids, was an unnaturally light blue. The falls were spectacular, well worth the trouble of getting there.

Tongariro National ParkThe next morning we left Taupo for Tongariro National Park, which was Mordor in The Lord of the Rings. We decided to take a five hour hike to the Tama Lakes, at the foot of Mt. Ngauruhoe, a.k.a. Mount Doom. Don’t worry, there was no spewing lava or prowling orcs. The scenery for most of the hike was a barren, desert-like land of alpine shrubs, and rolling ridges leading up to the base of the mountains. We saw Taranaki Falls on the way. The mountains were mostly hidden in thick clouds, but managed to come out a couple times during our hike. We were exhausted by the end of the long hike, and glad to be back.

Here are some photos of these couple days. Tongariro National Park is also our first UNESCO World Heritage Site on this trip.

Rotorua: This Place Stinks

The guidebook describes Rotorua as a “geothermal paradise,” which makes it sound much more pleasant than it actually is. Because of all the active geysers and mineral pools, the whole town smells like sulfur/rotten eggs. The town itself feels like a tourist trap, really. It reminds me of the Wisconsin Dells.

This morning we went to Kuirau Park and wandered around between the fenced-in steaming mud pools.  In some areas the steam and fumes were so intense, it was hard to see and breathe. So basically, in one day we went from postcard-perfect beaches to literally taking pictures of gurgling mud pits.

Then we went for a walk around Lake Rotorua, which started pleasantly enough. The lake is quite large and had many black swans swimming around by us. But as we kept walking, we came upon the aptly named Sulfur Bay. The water there has so much sulfur and so little oxygen, it appears milky and yellowish. The shorelines were rocky with the occasional crater venting steam and noxious gases into the air. All we could hear was gurgling mud and all we could smell was sulfur. The whole thing was very apocalyptic.

However, we stuck to our mantra of, “Let’s give this place a chance,” so after lunch we decided to drive a few minutes out of town to Whakarewarewa Forest to see some California Redwood Trees. They were planted there in 1902 as part of an experiment to see which trees could live in New Zealand (apparently they can!). We had a very peaceful hike through the forest, then we drove to our next stop: zorbing.

Zorbing was invented here in Rotorua by two bored New Zealanders. It consists of getting into a human-sized hamster ball and rolling down a hill. We did the hydroride, meaning the ball was filled with water, so we didn’t tumble. Well, supposedly we didn’t tumble, but we slid all around the inside of the ball. We had fun, but I definitely won’t be doing it again! I keep saying we need to bring this to the Dells, because I know it would be very popular.

Overall, I suppose I wouldn’t highly recommend Rotorua, but our day was filled with lots of jokes and laughter. Here are some pictures of the fascinating mud pits! The one saving grace of this place has been our hostel, The Funky Green Voyager. It’s a really cool place and the owner has been fun to talk with. I’m hoping our next stop, Taupo, will be better. (Or at least smell better!)

Coromandel: Welcome to Godzone

Coromandel is gorgeous. I’ve never been to such a breathtaking place. We’ve been stopping about every fifteen minutes to take stunning pictures. Everywhere you look could be a picture. Basically, it’s a lush, green, mountainous peninsula with steep cliffs dropping off to the sparkling blue ocean and perfect sandy beaches. A lot of the area is farmland, so there are many sheep and cows grazing in the hills while you drive by. In fact, we’re staying on a farm.

The Colville Family Farm is-you guessed it-beautiful. We’re staying in a stained-wood cabin with a nice Japanese guy who has been biking around the country for a year. Looking out our window, we see towering green hills and cows. Yesterday we helped feed the lambs and hiked around the farm. They have 1,260 hectares of land here with many different trails, so you could hike for days and not see the same thing.

Today we drove on a harrowing, narrow gravel road with sheer drop-offs to our left and rock wall to our right. There were also many blind corners, one-lane bridges, steep ascents and descents and the occasional sheep in the road. We even had to drive through a small stream! It was all worth it, however, when we made it to Port Jackson at the top of the peninsula. Then we hiked (are you sensing a theme?) from Fletcher Bay to Poley Bay and didn’t see another soul the entire time. At the beginning of the hike, I felt like we were intruding on someone’s farm because we were literally walking through sheep grazing in the hills. Then we had a nice picnic on a deserted, rocky beach. So I would say the terrifying drive up was well worth it! (“Well worth it?” I’m starting to talk like a New Zealander.)

Tomorrow we’re getting an early start and driving to Cathedral Cove, a popular sight-seeing spot on the Coromandel, then back to the mainland and on to Rotorua.

Be sure to check out our other photos from Coromandel Peninsula!