Exploring New Zealand

Our 5 week honeymoon around the North and South Islands

New Zealand Highlights: Part 1

It’s been many months since we travelled to New Zealand, but I’ve finally gotten around to compiling some of our videos into a little trip montage. Turns out over 5 weeks you can take a lot of videos, so I’ll be posting the videos as I complete them. Part 1 includes our arrival in Auckland and our time on Great Barrier Island.

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3 Brothers Mountain Day Hike

I haven’t written about many of my day hikes on this blog. I’ve gone on tons of them over the years, but I tend to write more about my backpacking trips since sometimes it seems like there’s not a whole lot to say about day hikes. But I’m excited to write about 3 Brothers Mountain and have decided to make it the first post in a mini-series about E.C. Manning Provincial Park. My first time visiting Manning Park was in 2016. Since then I’ve hiked and camped all over the park and it has become my favourite Provincial Park in BC to date. The first time I travelled there was with Emily when she was visiting from Newfoundland after finishing her Engineering degree. She stayed with me for about a month and we decided to spend one weekend car camping in the park. It was just the two of us and though it was the middle of July, it was a pretty cold weekend. I’ve had both hot and cold trips to Manning Park since then, but Emily seems to always be there for the cold ones, so I’m starting to think she might just be bad luck.

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Anyways, after a cold night in the tent, we decided to hit the trail to try and burn some calories and warm up. It wasn’t very warm when we woke up, but as we started driving up Blackwell Road to get to the trailhead, the car thermometer kept dropping. By the time we reached the top, it was only 6 degrees. We hadn’t anticipated it would be so cold, so we grabbed all the sweaters and coats we had in the car and set off. It was a rough start when I realized I’d brought a camera with a empty SD slot, so I was forced to use my cell phone for photos. Probably not a big deal for most people, but I love my little mirrorless camera, so I was pretty bummed about it. You’ll have to excuse my photos for not quite being up to standard.

If you’ve never been up Blackwell Road, it’s worth going up there just for the view. You don’t even need to be a hiker. There’s an amazing viewpoint about halfway up and then another great view of the surrounding wilderness from the parking lot. If you have enough time for a short hike, follow the paintbrush trail, which does a short little loop near the parking lot and is covered with wildflowers (hence the name) around late July/early August. We had set our sights a little higher though and were aiming for 3 Brothers Mountain, a 21km out and back trip. The actual name of the trail is the Heather Trail and it continues on past 3 Brothers to Kicking Horse Camp and Nicomen Lake. I have also hiked that trail, but it’s a story for another time.

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The Heather Trail and 3 Brothers Mountain are really top notch though. Because you’ve driven all the way up Blackwell Road, most of the elevation gain is done by car. That means the trail is already starting in the alpine, which makes the entire trip incredibly scenic. There is still almost 500m of elevation gain on the trail, but a lot of that is at the very end when you summit the First Brother Mountain, so spread over the rest of the 10km, the elevation gain is not bad at all. You start out on the ridge from the parking lot and descend about 5km to Buckhorn Camp. It’s a very quick 5km and we did it in about an hour. It’s a good place to stop for a pee break and a snack because there are several picnic tables and camping pads. I’ve never seen anyone camping there, but I could see it being a great campsite if you wanted to drive out after work on a Friday and get an early start on the Heather Trail in the morning.

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After Buckhorn Camp, the trail starts to climb again and that’s when things get truly scenic. The remainder of the trail is through alpine meadows and since we were visiting in mid July, the wildflowers were starting to come out. They weren’t quite at their full glory, but definitely picturesque. The only downside of course is that the Heather Trail is known for it’s wildflowers, so it attracts a lot of people at that time of year. Overall there’s a lot of trail to spread out over, but we were still regularly passing large groups of people that seemed to be doing Meetups at the trailhead. We were making a pretty brisk pace to try and stay warm, so we ended up passing a lot of people. But the trail is really beautiful as you look out over the green meadows and wildflowers out towards the North Cascades, so you can kill a lot of time taking photos!

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About 9km in you reach a junction – you can either continue on along the Heather Trail for another 11km to Nicomen Lake and beyond, or you can take the branch that leads up First Brother Mountain to the viewpoint and our final destination. The name 3 Brothers Mountain is somewhat confusing. I couldn’t find a whole lot of information about it, but from the Park website I learned that the alpine meadows used to be used for sheep grazing until 1931, when they created the 3 Brothers Mountain reserve, which included the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Brother mountain peaks. It later became part of Manning Park in 1941. There’s the trail branch to go up the First Brother and the Heather Trail passes by the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Brothers along the way. But don’t ask me what the deal is with the Fourth Brother and why he was excluded from the trail and park name because I really have no idea why.

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We were just aiming for the First Brother on our trip though. It was a pretty overcast day, so while we’d been able to enjoy the views on the way up, some of the higher mountains were still shrouded in fog – this included the First Brother. We branched off the trail and started climbing into the clouds, lamenting that it was both getting colder as we climbed and the view worse. We made it all the way to the signpost at the top of the mountain, but we couldn’t see anything from there and it was very cold and windy. We sheltered behind some rocks to eat our lunch, but while we were eating, the wind finally moved the fog out and the view started to clear for us! From the top you have an incredible 360 degree view in all directions. The climb up is not for the faint of heart – it is pretty steep, with lots of rocks to climb over as you make your way along the ridgeline with a drop on either side of you. It made for an incredible walk back down though! Everything we couldn’t see on the way up came into view on the way down and it took us a while to get back as we were constantly stopping for photos.

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Even though this is a 21km hike, which I would normally expect to take a minimum of 7 hours, but more likely 8 or 9, somehow me and Emily did the whole thing in just 6 hours, including lunch break. This is a bad pace by which to measure other hikes because that is a super intense pace for us, but it does serve to highlight that the topography is definitely easier on this hike than others I’ve done (and that is was COLD). Please don’t use this as a reference for how long this hike takes though because another group of friends that I often hike with did the same hike in 10 hours. We ended up running into one of my friends on the way out. He’d spent the night at Kicking Horse and was heading back to the parking lot, so we did the last 6-7km together. He’d been planning to stay a second night, but he said it was just too cold up there to stay any longer. So we made good time on the way out and before we knew it we were back at our campsite again, building a campfire to warm ourselves up properly!

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So my first visit to Manning Park was a little rough around the edges, but it was the start of a long and beautiful love story! That first visit inspired me to hike the Skyline II Trail a year later and the entire Heather Trail the year after that. We continue to car camp in the park annually and it’s become one of my favourite places to snowshoe in the winter. It’s a beautiful park, but it attracts less visitors than Garibaldi (I don’t actually know if this is true, but it definitely feels like it), so even though I love both parks, Manning makes for a more enjoyable experience. Plus the night sky in Manning is to die for! Tune back soon (hopefully), for more stories from my many adventures in Manning Park.

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Saying Goodbye

The last stop on our 5 week tour of New Zealand was a little trip to the north of Auckland. Sadly we never made it up to the Bay of Islands, which was the one thing I had to drop from the itinerary. It’s hard to believe that even with 5 weeks, it still wasn’t enough time. I would have loved to have 1 more week, but had I gone for 6 weeks I probably still would have said the same thing.

Instead of going the whole way north, we just did a few of the attractions near Auckland. We’d planned to go on a glass bottom boat ride at Goat Island Marine Reserve, but the weather decided to ruin one more thing for us and it was cancelled just as we were pulling out of our hotel in Auckland. It wasn’t raining, so we think it was due to wind? We’re not really sure. But we made the best of it and decided to drive out to Muriwai Gannet Colony instead.

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Seth did his bachelors honours thesis on the gannets in Newfoundland, so this stop was mostly for him, but I ended up really enjoying it as well. The gannets have settled their colony right on the cliffside, which is a bit weird for seabirds as they usually stick to islands to avoid predators. It definitely smells like a bird colony, but it was surprisingly fun to watch all the birds interacting together and we ended up spending the better part of an hour just watching them flying around and fight among themselves.

Then we continued north to Tawharanui Provincial Park for our last hike of the trip. Turns out it’s pretty popular among the locals and there were a ton of families boogie boarding in the waves at the beach. We ate our lunch watching the water, but then headed a little more inland to go tramping through the fields. Tawharanui is interesting as far as parks go because it’s the first park where the government tried to have a blend of eco-sanctuary, farming, and recreation. So the park is gated with a predator fence going around the whole thing and is a popular place to release birds that they’re trying to re-introduce. But there’s also a ton of farmland and people can enter the park for recreational activities like going to the beach and hiking.

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We drove past so many fields and rolling hills as we made our way around New Zealand and I always felt like the hills were calling to me. They just looked really fun to hike up with all the wide open grassy space – but I never got the chance because they’re almost all farmland and fenced off along the road. Since Tawharanui is a mix, I finally got my farmland hike! The hike starts off through field after field. It’s supposed to be a great place for birding, but we didn’t see a lot of birds out in the open space, so we just enjoyed the views. On the way back we took a different track through the woods in hopes of seeing more birds and it definitely paid off. Supposedly there are takahe wandering free in the park, sadly we didn’t see any of those, but we did see several North Island Saddleback! We’d seen the South Island Saddleback on Stewart Island and Seth really wanted to see one on the North Island, but they’re not very widespread. When we didn’t see one at Zealandia, he assumed he wouldn’t get to see one at all, but lucky for us, they had been released at Tawharanui as well and we were lucky enough to spot them.

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It started to drizzle towards the end of the hike and we returned to the beach to find it completely empty. There was something really gorgeous about the lighting and the way the beach looked. The tide was out, but the sand was still wet from the rain, which gave beautiful reflections of the landscape. We took the opportunity to take some personal time at the beach to reflect about the trip and though I was looking forward to going home, it made me sad to leave. There’s a lot to love about New Zealand and I really felt that it was a place that fit our own personal values. Seth loved all the biodiversity and there’s a real appreciation of nature and wildlife. I just couldn’t get over all the gorgeous landscapes. I’m a sucker for beaches and mountains and I felt the country also had a real appreciation for it’s natural landscapes.

We spent one last night at a little cabin in Leigh. I’d really wanted to camp at Tawharanui for the last night, but it was full up. In the end it was for the best though because it really poured overnight and I can’t think of anything worse then trying to pack up wet gear and then having to fly back to Canada with it.

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Our flight didn’t leave until 2pm, so we re-arranged and re-packed all our gear, leaving what remained of our food in the donations box in the hostel kitchen. We stopped at a car wash to give our rental a good cleaning and then dropped it off and made our way to the airport. Unfortunately the flight was delayed, but it was direct flight, so at least we didn’t have to worry about missing any connections. It was one of the weirder flights I’ve been on – it left at 3pm in the afternoon and we arrived in Vancouver at 7am in the morning… the same day! Gotta love crossing the dateline!

It was a Wednesday and I had to go back to work the next day, so we were glad to have the whole day to relax, but it ended up not being that relaxing because we arrived back to Vancouver right in time for a snowstorm! It’s no more than a 45 minute drive to our house from the airport, but it ended up taking us almost 3 hours to get home… in a cab! Vancouver doesn’t deal well with the snow and everything was stalled on the highways, but eventually we made it.

I tracked all our stats while we were on the road and at the end of the day, we drove 4600km, hiked 150km, kayaked 26km, and biked 25km! I’m probably a little biased because I spent so much time there and it was my honeymoon, but I would definitely say New Zealand was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken! Hope to go back again some day!

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