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Friday, October 22, 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 11, The Tongariro Crossing

Jen and Mt. Nguaruhoe (Mt. Doom)
On our last morning at the condo in Turangi, we woke up early and hit the road. The weather on the Tongariro Crossing looked good for the first time in a week, and so we decided to give it a shot. The Crossing is a one day, 19.5 km track up and over the saddle and volcanic area between two of the big peaks in Tongariro National Park: Mt. Tongariro and Mt. Nguarahoe (Mt. Doom from Lord of the Rings). The track is billed as New Zealand's best one day walk, and it lived up to its reputation.
Alex and I on Red Crater.
I was nervous about bringing the kids on such a long excursion in imperfect weather, but it turned out to be a great day. The hike was awesome indeed, with so much variety in topography and geology, and so much beauty: there were steaming vents, snow capped peaks, volcanic craters, and big views north over Lake Taupo.  Although it took us seven hours without much stopping, the kids both thought it was mentally easier than the first 13 km day on the Abel Tasman Track.
Emerald Lakes
The Crossing was probably the best single day of a great trip, and left us high as we began the long drive south to Dunedin.  The next day, we stopped off at the national museum in Wellington before catching the ferry back to the South Island, but otherwise drove our butts off back to our New Zealand home in still-cold Dunedin, exhausted and ready for a break from travelling.
Ellie and Emerald Lake
Jen, Alex, Ellie, Lake Rotoria, and Lake Taupo in the distance.

Kaikora Beach sunrise, on the morning of the final push to Dunedin.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 10, The North Island

Otaki Beach

The ferry ride to the North Island was uneventful; the seas were a little rough, but not enough to get us sick. Just yesterday we met some Germans who said that on their crossing the seas were so rough that a semi tipped and was leaning against its neighbor.

I write about a week into our time on the North Island, and so far things have been uneventful, at least compared to our South Island camping adventure, where we didn’t stay in the same place during any two consecutive nights. The kids have enjoyed holing up with TV in our condo in Turangi, on the mighty Lake Taupo, which sits in the crater of a massive volcano. Turangi is a very quiet town on the banks of the Tongariro River, which is famous for trout fishing.

Jen hot springing in Kerosene Creek

We’ve had only two day-long excursions while we’ve been here. The first was to Rotorua, where the kids drained our bank account doing extreme activities: a wind tunnel, and the Zorb. They had a grand time doing these activities, and on the way to and from Rotorua, we hit some nice natural (and free) hot springs, making for a great day.

Alex in the wind tunnel

Ellie in the wind tunnel

The Zorb

Our second major outing was a trip to Tongariro National Park, where we did a couple of day hikes around Whakapapa (pronounced Fakapapa – my new favorite word). Tongariro is a beautiful and pristine national park; it was the world’s fourth. Our hikes took us to a couple of gorgeous waterfalls.

Jen, Me, and my mustache (now gone) at Teranaki Falls, Tongariro National Park

What we’ve really wanted to do in Tongariro, however, is the Tongariro Crossing, which is a 19.5 km trek up and over the saddle between two of the three big volcanoes in Tongariro National Park. It is billed as New Zealand’s best one day hike. The track has been closed, as the winds have been high all week, but it looks like there’s a weather window on Friday. If it holds, we’ll give it a shot.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

New Zealand Odyssey: Week 9, On the Road Again

Family shot on an Abel Tasman Park evening. Jen talked me into the new stash ... not sure about it.
On the first Tuesday of the kids’ two week spring break – the day that I wrote my last post – we took off on a twenty-day road trip. I now write, nine days in, from a campground in Picton, where we’ll leave today on a ferry for the North Island.

Thus far, the trip has been great. Getting out of Dunedin was a necessity. Living out of a car, sleeping on the ground, cooking on a camp stove, are a challenge but are good for the soul, especially in early spring after weeks of crappy weather. And this beautiful country, with endless great places to camp and explore, doesn’t hurt matters.

We left Dunedin on the tail end of a spring cold snap I’ve heard locals call the coldest on record. On the first night, after perusing the Moeraki boulders, we found a great stealth camp spot on the coast an hour north of home. Also camping there was a young Canadian couple one month into a several month road trip.
Ellie and I posing on the Moeraki bolders.
During the next two days, as the wet spring weather settled in, we put on the miles, hitting hot springs along the way. We spent the night at the nice, but uninspiring, Hanmer Springs. Then the next day, after driving over Lewis Pass in pouring rain, we stopped at Maruia Springs, which successfully combines some of the best aspects of developed and undeveloped hot springs.
Jen at the Japenes inspired Maruia Hot Springs.

By day’s end, we found ourselves camped on the coast again, north of Nelson, less than an hour south of Abel Tasman National Park, at a campground with a friendly middle-aged care taker, at the job fourteen years, living in a tricked out old trailer/bus, something we’ve seen a lot of here.

The time that we spent in Abel Tasman has been the highlight of our trip thus far. First, we spent the night in Marahau at the funky Old MacDonald’s Farm Campground, run by some pleasantly alternative folks. The next morning, we set out on a three day, 17 mile trek along the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. We had perfect weather and the hike took us along some of the most beautiful and pristine coastline I’ve ever seen. We stayed in Department of Conservation huts along the way, which like overnight train travel, was better in the imagining than in actuality. On the other hand, we met travelers from places around the globe: Germany, England, Holland, USA, and France. On the last day, before the boat picked us up to take us back to our car, we hiked off trail and got close to a fur seal colony, maybe a little too close. As we left the park that day, and the area the next, we all felt the desire to return again; this far-north region of the South Island is a special place indeed.

On the way from Abel Tasman to Picton, via Nelson, we took a detour to remote Mistletoe Bay, on the Queen Charlotte Sound, where we found another pleasantly off-the-wall place, had a good night’s camping and some sea kayaking in the morning before heading to Picton to wait for the ferry.
On the Abel Tasman Coastal Track

The kids at Tonga Quarry with Tonga Island behind.
Abel Tasman colors #1

A fur seal, Alex's hat brim, and me.
Able Tasman Colors #2