Posts Tagged With: fun

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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Categories: Exploring New Zealand | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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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Long Weekend Trip to Las Vegas

I’m taking a departure from all the outdoor adventure stuff I’ve been posting about lately to write about my trip to Las Vegas instead. I went to Vegas with Carolyn for the first time in 2017 to run a half marathon. We had a great time, but because of the race, we felt like we didn’t really get to experience Vegas properly, so we were anxious to go back. At the time, I knew I was probably going to be getting engaged within the following year, so I promised her we’d go back for my Bachelorette.

And we actually did it! We were joined by my sister, Emily, my cousin, Katie, my oldest friend, Karen, and my work bestie, Sarah. I wasn’t really sure what to expect because it was a bit of a mix of friends, but we ended up having the BEST time! I know what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas, but I’m going to tell you about it anyways, well the PG parts at least, after all, it was a bachelorette party 😉

We decided to take advantage of the Easter long weekend and make a 4 day trip out of it. We went straight to the airport on Thursday after work and stayed until late Monday night on Easter Monday. I flip-flopped a lot on where to stay on the strip, but we eventually decided to stay at the Flamingo, which I have absolutely no regrets about! It was right in the middle of the strip and had an awesome pool party! They were able to give us two adjoining hotel rooms, which also made for a lot of fun.

We took it easy on our first night because we didn’t get in until pretty late and we figured Friday might be our only sober morning, so we got up pretty early on Good Friday and decided to spend the day exploring the strip. Carolyn is bridesmaid extraordinaire and surprised me with matching shirts and sunglasses for everyone, so we wore them out on our first day, which was an excellent decision. Plus, apparently bachelorette parties are in high demand at all the Vegas night clubs, so we got approached by a ton of clubs offering us skip the line and drink for free at their night clubs. Katie lives in San Francisco and was the only one with a working cell phone, so we set her up as our agent and she started texting with all the clubs to get us the best deals. We had a good laugh out of it and loved feeling like a VIP for a night!

We explored the south part of the strip on our first day, walking from the Flamingo down to Excelsior and then heading back up. My favourite hotels were the ones that really commit to their theme. It makes it so much more fun to explore them and see all the cute little themed shops. My personal favs (on day 1), were Paris and New York New York. Surprisingly, I liked Excelsior too – I thought it was going to be kind of childish, but the whole castle theme was cute.

Katie worked her networking magic for us and we decided to spend the night at Marquee Night Club in Cosmopolitan. I was super fun to just show up and skip the line and have a great time on the dance floor! Carolyn and I didn’t do any night clubs our first time in Vegas, although we did have a great time partying at the Piano Bar in NYNY, so it was fun to try out some of the night clubs. They’re all super chic and it was my first time (I think?) going to a club where the DJ didn’t play top 40’s music and actually just played dance beats. It was really different, but fun.

On our second day, we decided to take things easier and had a bit of a sleep-in before going out for brunch and then joining the pool party at the Flamingo. I haven’t really been to any of the other pools on the strip, but I loved the pool at the Flamingo! We strolled in our matching “booty veils” that Carolyn made for us (which were absolutely adorable), and spent the afternoon alternating between relaxing poolside and partying in the pool. I wish I took some photos of the pool, which had these awesome waterfalls and everything, but apparently I was having far too much fun and totally forgot. We all had a good laugh at the “booty dancing competition” hosted in the middle of the pool party. When they announced it, I was like, “We should sign up and dance with our booty veils”, but thank god we didn’t because the competition was the most ridiculous and extra thing I’ve every seen in my life. I loved watching, but I’m glad that’s where our involvement ended!

We decided on a club crawl for our second night. It started off at a Margaritaville, which was a bit lame, but we were really only there for the purpose of cheap drink deals. Mostly we just watched Sarah and Carolyn school everybody at flip cup before moving on to two clubs. The first was Omnia at Caesar’s Palace. Omnia was so cool! Overall, I think I had more fun with the VIP experience at Marquee, but Omnia was definitely the coolest club we went to. In my opinion, it had the best music of everywhere we went, and it had the coolest setup. The dance floor was completely on wheels with the DJ playing the most energetic beats and I had the best time dancing. It has this giant chandelier thing over the dance floor that does all these crazy light tricks and sends out fog – it was really cool, but hard to describe. It’s actually 3 clubs in one, sadly one of them was closed, but the second one was outside on the roof and had this really amazing view of the strip!

The second club we visited was Chateau, which is located right under the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It was probably my least favourite of the 3, but still really cool to visit. It was the least crowded though, which I really liked. Omnia was awesome, but towards the end when we were there it got crazy busy on the dance floor, like to the extent that you couldn’t dance anymore because you could barely move, at which point it stopped being as fun, but it never felt like that at Chateau and it was really nice being outside in the open air.

Day 3 marked the beginning of the more chill part of our trip. We had a few more drinks, but we took it easy after that and explored a different side of Vegas. Our third day was our foodie day. We started the day off with lunch at Gordon Ramsey’s Burger restaurant in Planet Hollywood. It’s one of the few places where you can actually order how you would like your burger cooked because they actually grind the meat into burgers right on site. You could also make any burger into the vegan “impossible burger”, which our two vegetarians really appreciated! I can’t even describe how good these burgers were, even the fries and onion rings were to die for with multiple sauces for each. Sarah and I shared a Mediterranean lamb burger and a blue cheese beef burger that were phenomenal! We finished it off sharing Katie’s oreo milkshake which I think I still have dreams about, it was so creamy!

We spent the afternoon in Downtown Las Vegas, also known as the Old Strip. It’s a lot different than what the strip looks like now, but it’s cool to see the old casinos and it has a fun vibe. There are outdoor stages with performers set up along the strip and the entire thing is covered with a huge roof that I’m lead to believe is actually a giant screen? We didn’t spend too long downtown, but we did take the opportunity to get our souvenirs as everything down there was cheaper than the strip.

We postponed supper to take in a Cirque du Soleil show, Mystere at Treasure Island. Since Treasure Island is on the north side of the strip, we took the opportunity to explore that end. The Venetian still takes the cake as one of my favourite hotels on the strip. I love the canals and Mark’s Square outside and I love that the theme is continued inside with the canal running through the building and all the shops set to look like you’re walking through Venice. It’s definitely a strong contender for where to stay next time I go back! This was my 4th Cirque show and as usual, it did not disappoint. Katie gets a discount to a bunch of the shows from her job and she was able to get us front row seats for it!! We had a great view and my favourite part was when the clown kicked Sarah and Carolyn out of their seats for a laugh.

We had a late dinner, but it really paid off because we didn’t have to wait in any lines and we got a fantastic table sitting on the patio of this fancy french restaurant in Paris. It’s directly across the street from the Bellagio, so you have an awesome view of the fountain show as you enjoy your meal. The restaurant was called Mon Ami Gabi and it had the best food, it was my second time eating there and I would absolutely eat there again because the food and ambiance are fantastic. We finished the evening with a stroll over to the Bellagio, which I’d never been in before and had the most beautiful garden inside! The Bellagio was classy. I wasn’t expecting to like it so much because I thought it was one of the oldest casinos, but it is lovely in there and I really liked exploring it.

The last day was a bit tricky because we were all preparing to go home and we had to check out of the hotel, but our flight wasn’t leaving until 9pm. We made another great decision though and after we checked out, we picked up a rental car from the hotel and peaced out of Vegas for the day to do a little bit of exploring. Carolyn agreed to be our driver and we had a good laugh when we saw what she would be driving us in all day. There were 6 of us (and luggage), so I had booked a 7-seater SUV, but we ended up getting upgraded to a Suburban, which had 7 seats, plus an enormous trunk that Emily informed me later actually had more seats in it and easily fit 6 pieces of luggage.

We spent the day at Valley of Fire State Park. None of us has really spent any time in the desert, except maybe for Katie who goes to Burning Man every year, so it was a lot of fun to explore. Valley of Fire State Park is all this bright red desert rock that makes you feel like you’re living on mars. It was really hot and we didn’t want to do to anything too strenuous, so we did a short hike on the “white dome trail”, which takes you through some of the landscape and this really cool canyon stretch. We stopped into the visitors centre and had a bit of a photoshoot at the “Seven Sisters” before heading back to Vegas again to drop the car at the airport.

So there you go, that covers about 90% of our trip – you’ll just have to use your imagination for what we got up to on the rest! I really had the best time and we’ve already started to pressure Karen about where she’s going to take us on her bachelorette next year! For someone who thought she wouldn’t like Vegas, it’s become a favourite and I would definitely go back again!

Categories: American Road Trip | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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