Posts Tagged With: fun

Cathedral Cove and Waiheke Island

After Hobbiton, it really felt like our trip was starting to come to a close, but we still had a few fun activities left. One that I was really looking forward to was a day at the beach at Cathedral Cove and had my fingers crossed for nice weather. We stayed in a small town called Hahei at this lovely backpackers lodge and spent the afternoon exploring around the town – getting ice cream, walking along the beach, and having a few local beers. Beach towns always have a great vibe and we felt really relaxed.

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The next day the weather was great and we decided to skip the water taxi and hike out to Cathedral Cove, but not before renting some snorkeling gear at the local dive shop. It’s not too long a walk to Cathedral Cove, about an hour, and there are gorgeous views of the ocean and cliffside all along the trail. We took our time on the way there and decided to stop at the first beach to do the Gemstone Snorkel Trail. It’s basically a series of buoys in the water that you can snorkel between and there’s supposed to be all kinds of cool fish.

I ended up having a great time, but I’d advise that if you’re visiting Cathedral Cove, the snorkel trail is really better off done by boat. It is a little bit of a swim to get out to the buoys. I’m a strong swimmer and a former lifeguard, so I thought it was fine, but I was concerned about Seth and would really have felt better if we had lifejackets, which we didn’t. Seth swam out to the first buoy, but it was his first time snorkeling and he couldn’t really get used to it and had no where to stand up, so he bailed, but I had a great time swimming around. I didn’t end up following the buoys, but rather just swam around inside them until I found the fish. I did a bit of research after and I’m pretty sure I saw some blue maomao, red moki, banded wrasse, and maybe some snapper. The red moki was my favourite and looks like a zebra fish.

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We continued on along the trail until we finally arrived at Cathedral Cove! It was a weekend, so it was a bit on the busy side, but we found a nice little spot at the back of the beach to hang out for the day. The main feature of Cathedral Cove is the archway/cave that goes through the rock from the first beach to the second beach. There are several sea stacks around and beautiful golden sand, so it makes for a really picturesque location. Plus the water is really warm, so I had a blast swimming and we spent a ton of time in the water since it was so hot. Seth tried out the snorkel again and had a lot more fun with it in the shallows. We found some more fish swimming around and Seth was way more interested (then I would have been) in all the organisms growing on the rocks.

We planned to take a water taxi back, but there were so many people using them that it was a 2 hour wait to get on one, so we just walked back to Hahei instead and grabbed another ice cream before hitting the road for the last part of our road trip.

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It was back to Auckland for round 2. Although we didn’t actually end up spending that much time in the city. We wanted to finish up most of our food, so we had dinner at the hostel and had a lazy evening. The hostel was pretty interesting actually, it’s basically an old train station that has been reconverted into a hotel/boarding accommodation. So half the people actually live there for months at a time and the lobby is a huge train station entrance.

Our next day was devoted to a trip to the nearby island, Waiheke, which is known for it’s wine. It’s about a 45 minute boat ride to get there and we had booked a hop-on hop-off tour for the day. It was still a bit too early for wine, so we did the first part of the bus tour, stopping for an hour at the local beach, before starting our wine trail for the day. New Zealand definitely has some good wine, but it also makes for a pretty expensive day. Very few places do free tastings, so you usually have to pay $10-15 for a tasting. We each had our own for the first few places, but the more liquored up we got, we started sharing the tastings instead.

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I think we ended up doing 5 wineries. We had a light lunch at the first one, Wild Estate, and Seth went for a beer tasting since it was also a brewery. We stopped briefly into Stonyridge, which is one of the island’s most well known and most widely found wines. It was one of my least favourites though and I only ended up doing a small sample. Gorgeous views though! Next we went to Tantalus, which was probably my favourite of the day. It has this gorgeous building and the truffle fries were TO DIE FOR. The wine was great too and we each did a taste, but I still dream about those truffle fries.

The last two wineries were more memorable for the views. We went up the hill to Batch Winery, which has an amazing view looking out over the island, and then finished at Mudbrick (another really popular winery) for one last taster. In terms of decor and landscaping, Mudbrick was probably my favourite, It’s on the west side of the island and had a great view looking out over the water to Auckland. Plus the buildings are all made of a pretty red mud brick and there were flowers and a lavender garden sprucing the place up! We did stop briefly in the village to do a little shopping around before heading back across the water to Auckland.

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Rotorua’s Geothermal Wonders

After hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, we finally took some time to chill. We’d already burned up one of our days in Taupo white water rafting and we decided to explore all around the area on our way from Taupo to Rotorua. There are so many geothermal parks and wonders in the area, and none of it’s cheap, so it’s hard to know where to spend your time and money. A friend recommended Waimangu Volcanic Valley and we decided to just go with it and ended up having a great time!

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Waimangu Valley is the world’s youngest geothermal system and one of few (maybe the only?) whose date of birth is actually known. Mt Tarawera and Lake Rotomahana erupted on June 10, 1886, destroying all life within a 6km radius and birthing a new geothermal system in the valley. The valley has gone through many transformations since then – it was once home to the world’s largest geyser – but is now better known for its frying pan and terrace features. Its also ecologically important because it’s one of few places where you can see how flora and fauna have re-established in the area.

For a tourist, it’s basically a big valley with a walk running through it to all kinds of interesting geothermal features. The frying pan is the largest hot water spring in the world and runs a temperature of around 45 degrees. But my personal favourite was the inferno crater, which is a brilliantly blue hot pool almost 100 degrees in temperature. It was cool to see the hot rivers and springs flowing throughout the valley and the interesting terraces and formations that have been created from the mineral deposits in the river. We spent about 3 hours wondering around exploring the area.

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It was a hot day, so I wasn’t super tempted by all the hot springs in the area, but still wanted to visit at least one, so we decided on Kerosene Creek, which is a free, local hot spring. Word has definitely gotten around about the hot spring, but nothing compared to how busy they get in BC. There were quite a few people hanging out in the hot river and pool, but it was big enough that there was enough space to spread out. It has a nice little water fall before the biggest pool that you can soak your shoulders under.

After that we drove the rest of the way to Rotorua to check into our hotel for the next few days. There was a street festival on at the same time, so we dropped over to the market for a delicious dinner and then did some shopping. Merino wool is super popular in New Zealand, understandably since there’s so many sheep, but it is surprisingly expensive. A lot of it is mixed with possum wool and we did some shopping around to pick some items to bring home with us.

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The next day we took in some of the cultural sites. Rotorua is home to a lot of different indigenous groups and we decided to visit Te Puia to take in a local performance. You can find Maori culture all over New Zealand and it was fun to learn about some of the local history and customs. Seth learned the haka with the men and I learned a few poi skills with the women. Te Puia is home to a weaving and carving school for Maori students, so we got to see artists working and some of their beautiful artwork.

The village is also filled with its own geothermal wonders. Well… all of Rotorua is filled with geothermal wonders. You kind of get the feeling that the earth’s core is almost trying to burst through the ground in Rotorua and that the crust must be extremely thin in the region. We went to Kuirau Park and for a walk along the edge of the lake and we were constantly running into warnings of dangerous thermal zones. All of Kuirau Park is dotted with fenced off areas where the land seems to be almost burning away, Although they have set up a nice foot spa in one area of the park with hot water piped to soak your feet.

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Te Puia is also home to another kiwi sanctuary and they regularly breed and release kiwi. They had 2 young kiwi when we visited and I’ve never seen them so active! They’re hoping to breed the two kiwi, but didn’t think they were going to be successful because the female really didn’t seem to like the male, which became very obvious when we entered the enclosure and the two were running around fighting something fierce (kiwi are very territorial). It’s unreal how fast they can move and we barely caught a glimpse of them! We returned later when they had calmed down and were able to watch one of them feeding.

Besides Te Puia, the rest of our time in Rotorua was dedicated to relaxing. I found a lovely little bookstore that I was thrilled to explore and we decided to treat ourselves to thai massages, followed by a soak in our hotel’s hot tub. I feel like maybe we should have visited a few more hot springs, but New Zealand was finally treating us to beautiful hot and sunny weather and we just couldn’t be bothered. Overall Rotorua is a bit on the smelly side (hello sulphur!), but it was fun to explore around for a few days.

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Hiking Mount Doom

I was so nervous about hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. After the disaster that was Fox Glacier, I was really weary about hiking in less than ideal weather and I really wanted to enjoy the hike. The shuttles said they would be going ahead for our second attempt, but it was calling for a cloudy day with rain in the afternoon and temperatures as low as 0 degrees. I wasn’t sure if it was even worth doing the hike if we weren’t going to see any of the views, but I was incapable of walking away from a hike to Mordor.

In the end we decided to go for it and I went on the most over-prepared hike of my life. I must have been traumatized from my experience on the glacier because I packed SO MUCH extra clothing and food, it was a little out of hand. Even though I snowshoe all the time in Canada, everyone had me freaked about about the “cold” temperatures. One part of me was like, “wear two pairs of pants for the cold!” while the other part was saying, “you snowshoe in below zero temperatures all the time and you never wear two pairs of pants!” I did wear the extra pair of leggings, which was a mistake and I ended up ditching them at the first outhouse we came to, so needless to say I was desperately over-prepared.

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But none of that ended up mattering because we had the most awesome hike! The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is a 20km hike that goes right through the national park, crossing over Mount Ngauruhoe, past the red crater, and around Mount Tongariro back to the road. I hiked a volcano once before in Costa Rica, but this was totally unlike anything else I’ve ever done. It was super overcast when we started and we couldn’t see any of the 3 volcanoes in the park, so I wasn’t super optimistic. But the landscape is still pretty neat. We started hiking through some low shrub areas and as we got closer to Mount Ngauruhoe, the landscape started to become more barren and interspersed with volcanic rock that had been catapulted in all directions from a previous eruption.

We were really lucky and the clouds started to lift just as we were approaching our first view of Mount Ngauruhoe, also known as Mount Doom. It’s unreal because you can actually see the lava flows coming down the side of the mountain where they eventually became too viscous or cool to go any further. The volcano is still active and you do feel somewhat like you’re tempting fate by even attempting to hike through – especially so soon after the eruption at White Volcano, which occurred 2 days before we flew to New Zealand. All our friends and family told us to “have fun and maybe stay away from any active volcanoes”, to which we politely nodded and pretty much ignored since the whole center of the North Island is all active geothermal wonders.

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The two islands are pretty interesting in that they’re located so close to one another and form 1 country, but geographically have nothing to do with one another. The South Island is all about mountains and plate tectonics, while the North Island is entirely volcanic. There were no shortage of warnings as you approach the volcano though. Apparently on average someone is airlifted out of the park by helicopter once a week, so it’s obviously a dangerous place. Though the risk seems to be from adverse and unpredictable weather conditions and people underestimating the difficulty of the hike (it’s 20km long!) versus any risk from volcanic activity. But the signs all warn to turn around if you’re struggling or if its so cloudy you can’t see the volcano (fortunately we could).

The trail loops around the base of the volcano to Soda Springs, the only freshwater source we saw for another 15km, before starting to climb up the side of the volcano. It’s an easy walk until that point, but then you finally start climbing, which most people hate but I was excited for. So many of the hikes we’d done had been valley hikes and I was excited to finally climb something! The views as you climb up Mount Ngauruhoe are awesome looking back at the trail you’ve come from. Eventually you branch off the volcano and hike over the ridge next to it and start down into the South Crater.

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This is when the scenery really changes and I felt like I was hiking on Mars. There’s absolutely no vegetation and it’s just a straight shot across the red soil of the crater to the base of Red Crater. So you do get a respite from the climbing before starting up the side of the Red Crater to the highest point on the trail. This was probably my favourite part of the trail. Before you get to the Red Crater, you have to climb back out of the South Crater. From the South Crater ridgeline, we had an awesome view looking down into a very barren and mordor-like scene. Looking back we had a perfect view of Mount Doom, which the clouds had finally totally cleared off. Then you start hiking the Red Crater and have no idea where you should be looking because its so steep and the views are amazing on all sides.

The Red Crater was very different again. It’s hard to get an idea of the scope of the crater until you actually hike down the other side and look back at it, but it’s exactly as its name suggests, a giant red crater that’s still active and smells of sulphur with steam literally coming up out of the ground. The whole area is steaming from various vents and despite how cold it was up there, it was easy to find little hot spots.

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Our timing really couldn’t have been better. We got to the top for one last view of Mount Doom before the clouds ate it up again, and then rushed over to get a look at the little alpine lakes on the other side. There’s several brilliant green lakes and giant blue lake in the distance. We added a layer and enjoyed our lunch looking down at the lakes from the top.

I can understand why they make everyone hike in the same direction on the track. it’s a steep hike down the other side of the crater on a scree slope that I would hate to have to hike up. We did some exploring around the little lakes before crossing the bottom of yet another crater to climb up to Blue Lake. This is where you get the best view looking back at Red Crater, which really puts into perspective what you just climbed. It clouded in pretty fast at Blue Lake and finally started to drizzle, so we didn’t spend much time there and started to move on as we were still only a little over halfway through the hike.

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As soon as you leave Blue Lake though the landscapes change again entirely. Hiking the volcanoes and craters really felt like being in a wasteland, but as soon as we rounded the corner of the lake and started hiking down the other side, it was like coming back to Earth. I still wouldn’t exactly call the vegetation ‘lush’, but it sure felt that way after hiking across a volcanic desert. From there the last 8km are just winding back down the side of the mountain to the highway. There’s a great view of Lake Taupo and you can still see steam coming from the Te Mari Crater, which last erupted in 2012. There’s chunks of volcanic rock spewed across the landscape, which is a good reminder of the danger still associated with the park. The Te Mari Crater erupted in 2012, putting holes in one of the huts on the Tongariro Great Walk. Fortunately no one was injured, but only because the eruption took place in the middle of the night in winter. There was no prior warning, so had it been any other time of year, there almost certainly would have been fatalities.

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It’s definitely a sobering reminder and it seems lucky they’ve avoided disaster in the park up until now. One of the placards by Mount Ngauruhoe told the story of a school group that was hiking the volcano in the 1970’s when it suddenly started erupting, cutting off the way back and forcing them to have to evacuate over to the Red Crater. Fortunately nothing of the sort occurred on our journey. The rain disappeared as quickly as it had started and we had an uneventful hike down to the end of the trail. We felt really accomplished when we finally reached the end and had our car waiting for us!

I’m so glad we weren’t too jaded from the glacier experience to try this hike as it ended up being one of my favourite parts of the trip! We had a lot of fun goofing around on the trail, re-enacting the Lord of the Rings and taking pictures of me pretending to me Frodo, Sam, and Gollum at various parts of the trail. It’s not a hike to underestimate, but it’s also not a hike to miss!

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