FiNZ 47 – Mueller?…Mueller?…

Keith and I have been looking forward to this hike – the Mueller Hut track – for the past year. Although a mere 5k one-way and only a one-night trip, we knew it was one of the more challenging hikes so saved the best towards last. To summarize, this track is incredible primarily because your view the entire time is the beautiful Mt. Cook / Aoraki – highest mountain in New Zealand and mountain Sir Edmund Hillary trained on for Everest. I guess you could say the one disadvantage of this hike, is that your view is the same…the entire time…

So forgive me if this blog post looks a lot like this–

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24 hours of Mt Cook

Quite the same view though, eh?

Our tramping team of 6 all met up at Mt Cook Village, collected our hut tickets, and signed our intentions (so that the rangers would come find us if we didn’t return). Lucky for us the weather was PERFECT. In this part of the country you never really know what you’re going to get, the weather was definitely on our side for 2 straight days.

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Sealy Tarns Pit Stop

The first half of the hike is literally climbing thousands of stairs. Although challenging I’d rather the stairs than finding my own path!

Next came the real climbing. There was nothing crazy for any average fit person, but quite daunting to keep looking up and seeing where you’re supposed to be and realizing you have to actually get yourself there.

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Screeeeeeee! Part 1

Once we got to the top of the scree slope it was a fairly easy rock hop over to Mueller Hut.

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Made it!

The hut (1800 m / 5905 ft elevation) was your typical lovely DOC hut not missing out on an amazing view or cheeky Kea birds. It included a water source, long drop toilets (but bring your own TP!), and fully functional gas stoves!

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Mueller Hut Luxury

Once we arrived the guys dropped their packs to climb Mt Olivier beyond the hut. The ladies decided to stay behind and enjoy the views from the comfort of the hut bench. Keith brought the camera along and captured this view of the hut from above–

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Mt Olivier Views

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Guys on Mt Olivier

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Ladies enjoying their perch

I’ve heard through the blog-o-sphere that Mueller Hut is known as the “party hut,” since it’s relatively “easy” to get to (in NZ terms). And honestly I felt a bit old with all the college kiddos there! We’ve been on multiple hikes where other parties break out wine bottles and I am always jealous. So that wasn’t happening to me this time. I refused to carry the glass bottle (most people do!), but I poured a bottle into a plastic container and lugged that up with me. It was nice to all split a little glass once we were settled and making dinner.

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Wine made it!

Around 7:30pm was when the mountain started transforming a gorgeous pink color — quite the sight! Can you spot the “man” in the mountain?!

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Red Mountain

I need to come up with some more adjectives at this point, so that night the stars were breathtaking. I was originally disappointed with my mere 60 second exposure photographs, but apparently its nothing old “autocorrect” can’t fix.

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Starry Night

At about 7am we headed out bundled up to watch the sun rise over the mountains. Equally breathtaking.

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Sunrise

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Sunrise Photoshoot

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Most of the gang at sunrise

After a solid breakfast of oatmeal, walnuts, and instant flat whites, we packed up our belongings and began our journey 1100 meters back down the mountain.

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Lovely day for a trek down 1100 meters

I tried to capture the steepness of this scree slope. We weren’t quite expecting this, but we made it intact ūüôā

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Screeeeeeeeee! Part 2

Overall, if you find yourself in New Zealand, do this hike! Just do it! Ideally find a good weather weekend or check the weather a few days beforehand. Unfortunately, Mueller Hut does book quickly December through February and if the 10-day weather outlook is good it will definitely be booked right away (or just plan to bring a tent up with you). It can also be done as a tiring day walk, that just means no sunset/sunrise/star-gazing.

It will take a lot to top this past weekend. But we have a few precious weeks left and we’ll be trying! Until then…

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FiNZ 43 – The Wild West

How’s everyone doing back in New England and along the east coast? My parents sent me a photo of what life is currently like in Massachusetts–

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Definitely makes me appreciate enjoying the warmer climate after a year of winter!

As for our past weekend (that did NOT involve shoveling snow), we finally got out to the west coast. We’ve been saving a trip to the west coast for some time (more like¬†9 months!), mainly because it tends to always be rainy over there. But otherwise its a fairly easy 3 hour scenic drive over to the other side of the country.

Lucky? for us Keith volunteered me for his coworker’s marathon relay team when their female team member wasn’t able to participate. Keith and I drove to the tiny town of Reefton Friday night, picked up another hitchhiker from Germany along the way, and stayed at a lovely little hostel that used to be an old bakery…pretty much a¬†typical start to journey in New Zealand. The Buller Gorge Marathon was the next morning, each of the 4 of us had a 10.66km leg and the other team members drove the course in a van to cheer the runner on. It was a lot of fun and our team placed 7th out of 36 mixed relay teams!

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Since the day was still young, Keith and I hoped in the car and “did” the west coast for the rest of the day before meeting back with my teammates¬†for dinner. Our first stop was Charming Creek Walkway. We were told this walk was quite “charming,” and it definitely was! The west coast has their population mainly thanks to the mining industry. This walk took us along an old mining track–through tunnels, along a river, and along some old fun relics.

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Railway tunnels and Waterfalls!

At points it was a bit of a wanna-be horror movie setting, but quite cute in the daylight!

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Watsons Mill Abandoned Camp

Then we drove south along the coastal scenic route. It was GORGEOUS. I can’t believe I never made it out here my first trip to New Zealand. SO BEAUTIFUL! It reminded me a lot of Great Ocean Road in Australia, with less people. We stopped at the ever-popular Pancake Rocks to grab some obligatory photos. You’ll see the rocks are formed into tall stacks that sort of look like pancakes. No one really knows why…

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Then it was off to a typical Kiwi bach for the weekend! A bach is the kiwi’s word for a holiday home or vacation house. They could be cabins in the woods or extravagant houses. Keith’s coworker’s family had one on a beautiful lake with the southern alps beyond. That night we thoroughly enjoyed fresh pork, sausage, and lamb, that were all literally from one of my relay-mates farms (another “only in New Zealand” moment).

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Lake Brunner

The next morning it was time for some boating and waterskiing. Keith couldn’t pass up waterskiing at this beautiful spot, and in February nonetheless–

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While we waited on shore a weka came to visit. Weka are a threatened species of flightless bird in New Zealand, yet still more¬†prevalent than¬†kiwi birds. This is¬†probably the¬†closest we’ll ever come to a “sort-of kiwi” bird. So obviously Keith had to chase it down…

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You can’t catch me!

To make this post even more random, I’ll conclude with Christchurch’s celebratory Cricket World Cup fireworks! We kicked off the competition last week with a very large opening ceremony right in the nearby park. It was definitely a fun experience and likely a “once-in-a-lifetime” type event! When will I ever have a world cup opening ceremony in my backyard again?! I know most of my friends &¬†family have no idea what cricket is or how it’s played, but to give you some perspective, the opening ceremonies were predicted to have over 1 BILLION viewers.

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Fireworks over Hagley

This weekend is going to be a little more relaxed than normal. A few of our friends are flying in next week and we’ll have hectic plans for those next three weekends so I think it may be time for a break…maybe…

FiNZ 40 – Avalanche Peak

I can’t believe we’re finally at week 40 of my “Flanders in New Zealand” posts. Only a few months shy of a year! This past weekend was ideal in terms of summer south island weather – warm, sunny, no wind. Therefore, Keith, I and a couple of coworkers (Mike & Erin) headed out to Arthur’s Pass to do one of the most difficult day hikes around — Avalanche Peak!

To get to the summit (1833 m / 6014 m), you climb a fairly steep 1105 m / 3625 ft (almost like Mt Washington in terms of elevation) along the Avalanche Peak Trail and then descend a slightly less steep Scott’s Track to get back to the start. Keith decided to pseudo run it, Mike power-walked, and luckily Erin and I were able to stick with a pretty consistent pace after the other two crazies. The Avalanche Peak Trail was definitely more intense than any great walk; however still a fairly well-kept trail. Way to go DOC! Right from the start you were scrambling up rocks but everything was really well-marked. I have to admit we got towards the top and I realized I brought my nice camera with NO SD card! Our iPhones had to do for this hike. Check out our day above the bushline below…

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Myself trudging up towards the summit

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made it to the top!

Flanders Hiking Photo of the Week —

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Team Avalanche Peak

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Myself, Erin, Keith on the way dooooooown

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Mike, Keith and Erin on the way down Scott’s Track

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Looking back towards Mt Rollston

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Keith started bounding down the mountain again….

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Mt Rollston

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One last panorama shot near the summit

The DOC times the loop at 6-8 hours, we surprisingly finished in about 5! We were back to Christchurch and enjoying some local tacos in no time. I don’t think I’ll ever get over how easy it is to enjoy this beautiful country in just a day trip.

Sunday was the last day of the Buskars Festival. The only act left that I really wanted to catch was the “English Gents” – a duo of strong men that do some pretty crazy lifting acts. Keith obliged and we’re both glad we made it, they were pretty incredible! There last acts involved one partner holding himself up on the others head and then the finale involved one lifting the other starting lying down and slowly going into a standing position. The pair actually ended up winning the “iron chicken” of the festival – meaning they were the best act!

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The English Gents

We’re both pretty excited to welcome Keith’s mom to New Zealand this Friday! It will be a fun couple weekends of playing tour guide to family. (have I mentioned how much we love visitors?!)

Until next week…

FiNZ 37 – Holidays Part 3 (“The North”)

It’s like a light switched on in Christchurch over Christmas Break–the wind has died down (…sort of) and it rarely dips under 20C. I think summer has finally come around (fingers crossed!). This all made showing up to work this past Monday not TOO bad. But admittedly, the past two weeks were the longest two weeks of my life, which made this whole holiday pretty awesome. I kept thinking of activities like the Kepler Track and remembering, “wait, we did that a mere week ago? It feels like it’s been over a month!”

Fellow Americans please take note, it’s currently 9 January and most of the country has not returned to work yet. It has been very difficult coming to work with my regular coffee and pastry shops still closed. Most Kiwis take of at least 2 if not 3 weeks for the holidays.¬†All of our client’s offices shut down for at least 2 weeks. So far the country hasn’t gone into depression or economic slowdown for taking 2 weeks off, maybe there’s something the US can learn from this… ūüėČ

Now onto week 2/weekend 3¬†of the Flanders holiday! — After hopping off the boat in Doubtful Sound, busing along the access road, then boating across Lake Manapouri, and then busing back to Te Anau we started our journey back “home” to Christchurch. Along the way we picked up a stranded coworker in Queenstown which made for some nice extra company on the return journey. The next two days were a great mini staycation–we pretty much chilled out and did nothing except a barbecue with our neighbors and all the stranded UK doctors in Christchurch (one of those rare NZ professions that didn’t have their office shut down for 2 weeks – good thing!).

Tuesday 30 December

We were up at 6am taxi-ing to the airport with our borrowed tent (our one checked bag) and fly to the North! Keith’s boss and his wife were amazing hosts — picked us up from the airport and¬†offered us a place to stay for a couple of days before we headed out for further camping exploration. Since we had the whole day ahead of us we ferried to Waiheke Island and explored a few wineries by foot. We were initially worried about renting a car/moped/or figuring out the bus schedule, but for us walker-fanatics, walking around to Cable Bay Vineyard, Jurassic Ridge Winery, Mudbrick Vineyard and even to the beach at Oneroa Bay wasn’t a big deal. We loved Jurassic Ridge! It was a smaller place with no people (which we LOVE when it comes to wineries) and the tastings were great (try the Montepulciano!)

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Selfie in front of Auckland, Auckland by Ferry, Oneroa Bay Beach

Wednesday 31 December – New Years Eve!

Our host recommended we walk up Mt Victoria. Mt Victoria is a volcano outside the doorstep of where we were staying in Devonport. Albeit a short walk, it was a steep straight up! Unfortunately, New Years Eve was a bit cloudy but we took in the city views and checked out the old gun hidden up there (New Zealand used to worry a lot about the Russians)

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Auckland Skyline, Big Gun

Since we had plenty of time before New Years, we drove across the country to the west coast ūüôā Around Auckland the country is so narrow you can easily get to the west coast beaches within the hour. We drove to Muriwai beach to see the black sand beach, beautiful cliffs, and the gannet colony! Hundreds of beautiful white and orange birds make this beach home (inches away from the public). They raise their young and then fly off to Australia for a season.

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Muriwai Beach

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Muriwai Beach

Upon return we cleaned up to get ready for new years eve in the first city that celebrates! I think we may have been the most excited about this fact in all of Auckland. But first…a mandatory trip to Dunkins (only found on the North Island), then dinner, then drinks and a walk about the skytower and casino.

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Tower, Dunkins, Manhattans

Around 10pm we leisurely headed down towards the water, found a vacant bar–Wildfire–with a great view around 10:30pm, and eventually it was packed right around 11:50pm. COMPLETE 180 from any other crazy New Years experiences I’ve had in the States (i.e. New York City) and plus it was warm out! New Zealand really doesn’t get enough press for being the first big city to celebrate New Years, but we had a great time and it was definitely fun to experience.

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First to 2015!

Thursday 1 January – Happy 2015!

We woke up relatively early to pack it up and begin our journey Northland. We planned out a loop where we’d drive to the “rugged” west coast first and then loop over to the more popular Bay of Islands. After understanding that the North Island had plenty of unpopulated places, we realized we couldn’t just set up a tent and find a nice restaurant for dinner. So the next ONLY town we passed through we made sure to pick up some PB&J and snacks for the next couple days. Then it was on to Tokatoka volcano for a short yet super steep (I didn’t make it, Keith took the photo below) walk to the top where you got a view of the always-brown river below.

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Tokatoka Volcano Views

Then it was on to the Kai Iwi lakes area. The Kai Iwi lakes are super popular, we weren’t there for them, we were there for a secret farm-walk down to an amazing abandoned beach! We parked the car near all the tourists, grabbed our snacks, and walked a mile to get here sans other tourists…

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Abandoned Paradise

I could understand why families don’t hang out here, the waves are rough on the west coast and there’s no lifeguards. Plus there’s that little fact that you trek through farmland and barter with bulls to get here (we stayed as far away from the animals as possible). However, the scenery was beautiful. I’ve never been the ONLY person on a beach as gorgeous as this!

We drove over to the DOC Trounson Park to set up our tent and then realized we HAD to go back to the beach for sunset. Further north up the beach there was an access road where a little population actually exists. Although, other than a couple other fisherman, Keith and I were still the only souls on the sand watching the sunset.

Aside, on the way down we saw a wild peacock. I didn’t believe it was wild until we did a bit of research and found that throughout Northland the “peafowl” population has gone feral–pretty neat!

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Peafowl on the way to Maunganui Bluff, Maunganui Bluff Beach

Of course we broke out our PB&J sandwiches and then continued to watch this for the next several minutes (can you tell I had a hard time picking ONE sunset photo)…

Fun fact – In this little bluff community there were pet goats everywhere and they all had their own little “goat house.”

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Maunganui Bluff Sunset, Goat with a View

At night we broke out our headlamps and tried to find a kiwi at the little nature walk near our camp. In Trounson the DOC has done such a good job killing of kiwi predators that the kiwi population has boomed. Unfortunately, we never saw one, but we heard quite a few (Keith DID spot a kiwi later in our travels in Russell). Their calls are rather creepy when you’re wandering around in the woods in the dark! We DID hear some rustling, got very excited, and shone our light on…a possum. Fun.

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Kiwi Lookouts

Friday 2 January

On Friday we packed up early and headed out to see “the big trees.” This was the main tourist thing I thought we’d see on the west coast–the giant kauri trees. The beautiful beaches were a bonus. First, we walked a short walk to see Te Matua Ngahere, or the “father of the forest.” The picture below really doesn’t do the size justice since I am so far in the foreground. Some statistics…the tree is thought to be about 1500 years old, the tree trunks girth (circumference) is 16.4 m (or 54 feet!).

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giant trees!

Second we walked the very short walk of the road to Tane Mahuta, “Lord of the Forest.” This tree is the largest known kauri tree standing today. Its girth was much smaller than our first tree (a mere 13.8m); however it was definitely tall!

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more giant trees!

After our quick tree detour we were off to the touristy east coast!–Bay of Islands via Paihia! I was prepared for Paihia to be trashy and busy and annoying. But I actually kind of liked it. I made a fun comparison photo below… (We decided to AirBnB our night here and stayed at Two Trees BnB — a small ground floor studio inside a lovely family’s house. I’d highly recommend for a nice quiet cheap place to stay in Paihia!)

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NZ “busy” vs US “busy” (US “busy” source – seacoastonline.com)

After sleeping on the beach for a while, we decided we needed to go up. This parasail boat kept driving by us all day so we needed to check it out (great marketing there). We managed to get on the last boat of the day. In actuality, I’m sure they just wanted to add a quick last couple ($$!) at the end of the day, but either way, we got our own private charter with Flying Kiwi Parasail. This parasail was 1200 ft high!–The highest in the country!

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Getting hooked up

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Raising the Sail

The great part about being the last flight of the day was the beautiful sunlight photos we got pre-sunset!

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Bay of Islands Views

Saturday 3 January

Originally our plan was to get up early and keep driving down the coast on Day 3 of Northland. We enjoyed Bay of Islands so much thus far we had to explore more. We jumped on an early ferry to Russell–“the hell hole of the pacific.” Russell had a fun “wild west” downtown. Russell was the first permanent European settlement in New Zealand. The historical town keeps their heritage intact very well. Of course we didn’t stay in town, we walked about a mile across town to Long Beach–again another beautiful empty beach. Apparently the tourists are scared away from this beach due to the walk, eventually the locals came out and joined us. Around lunch we decided to walk over to Tapeka Point to get some better views of the bay. We decided on the “easy way” by just following the coast line. Lucky for us the tide was still sort of low, and this just involved a bunch of rock scrambling and dodging incoming waves.

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Long Beach and walk to Tapeka Point

Once we got to the beach near Tapeka point we noticed the hole in the rock from the shore! Tourists shell out a lot of cash to take a boat here (you can sort of see all the little boats out there surrounding that island). So I was pumped we got to spot the hole from shore ūüôā

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Hole in the Rock from shore

The climb up to Tapeka Point was short but tiring after our coast-line adventure. We got some amazing views of the bay so it was worth it.

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Tapeka Point Views

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Flanders Hiking Photo of the Week

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The Bay

We left the Bay of Islands that afternoon and went south to some more adventures! We pitched our tent at Uretiti DOC campground (this was WAY busier and crazier than Trounson). I actually wouldn’t recommend staying here, it was just way too busy and didn’t really feel like camping. Its one good point is being next to a really nice beach.

Once we pitched our tent we backtracked to Waipu Caves – the best UNcommercialized glowworm cave in NZ. Tourists love glowworm caves in NZ. NZ has made a great business out of this and charges folks all over the country to go see the glowworms. Not Keith & Jen…we drove a one-lane dirt road to this cave in the middle of nowhere, donned our headlamps, and went for it. The cave was enormous! We got our sneakers pretty muddy, but we only walked some hundred meters or so until we came to a milky way of glowworms. You can kind of see some reflections on the ceiling above me in the photo below, but I failed at capturing them in the dark with my long exposure. So I attached an internet photo so you could sort of experience what we saw.

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Caving experience

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Amazing Gloworms! source – http://www.panoramio.com/photo/639242

Sunday 4 January

On Sunday we woke up early, packed up our tent, and tried not to wake the entire 300-person campground when we rolled out of there at 6:30am. Unfortunately, our journey in the north was ending. We headed back to Auckland and off to the airport and flew back “home” to Christchurch. Lucky for us, we returned to a beautiful summer day. With this current big freeze back in the US, makes me happy to finally be enjoying summer down under!

PHEW! I don’t think next week’s blog post will live up to my epic last 3, but I will keep you posted ūüėČ

FiNZ 35 – Holidays Part 1

I‚Äôm currently writing this when I‚Äôm not distracted by the mountains, sheep, lake, and nice breeze just outside on our house rental‚Äôs north-facing, unobstructed-view, porch. I may not get this up for a bit, the one downside of this rental is no wifi and a wired connection that doesn‚Äôt appear to be working…*5 days later*…

Keith and I finished our last work day of 2014 on 19 December and spent the night packing for our first half of our 2 week New Zealand adventure. Our plan was to drive to Queenstown Saturday afternoon and start our 4 day Kepler Track hike on SUNDAY. When I was printing out our week of confirmation emails, I had a major freak out when the Kepler Track booking said ‚Äúthanks for scheduling your track journey, starting MONDAY.‚ÄĚ It turns out the booking we made several months ago was for Monday instead of Sunday‚Ķoops. Well our Christmas house rental started on Wednesday (Christmas Eve) so we HAD to end our hike by Wednesday. After confirming from the Dept. of Conservation (DOC) there was NO WAY we could change our booking (the Great Walk huts book up MONTHS in advance especially during Christmas time), we decided we would hike almost all of the track in 3 days instead of 4 and skip the last night in the hut. Looking back, this honestly made our holiday even better — 1) we had a full day to just relax in Queenstown and leisurely drive to Te Anau (the jumping off town for Fiordland national park where the Kepler Track is) 2) the weather was more perfect a day later and 3) we were super tired by that third day and ready to relax.

Ok let‚Äôs back up and start from Saturday‚ÄĒwe actually went swimming with dolphins! Pretty random, but I saw a GrabOne deal (New Zealand‚Äôs version of Groupon) a few months back and thought it looked like a cool experience. I think this is probably one of the few places in the world you can swim in the wild with dolphins, or at least with the rarest dolphin in the world. The dolphins in Akaroa are also the smallest dolphins in the world (the Hector Dolphin).

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Keith & his friend

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More Friends

Apparently the dolphins are typically even more friendly, so Akaroa’s Black Cat Cruises gave us all some money back (even though we already got a discount to begin with)! I was impressed with their honesty – I’d recommend them!

Then we drove the leisurely 6 hour drive to Queenstown, enjoyed the night and day there, and then headed to Te Anau to spend the night. Te Anau is a nice quiet town that caters to all the tourists visiting Milford Sound etc.

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We found a tree swing on Lake Te Anau

The next day we were up bright and early to eat a big brekkie at Bailiez–which definitely doesn’t look like much from outside, but was very cozy and served us great food and coffee on the inside. We then went to the DOC visitor center to pick up our hut tickets and we were on our way! The weather was great–my first trek with NO rain! Taking from my co-workers’s example during the Routeburn trek, we decided to take several video clips throughout and splice a quick video together. Feel free to watch below for a 3 minute overview of our 3 day journey. We picked our background music wisely with Keith Urban’s “Days go by”–

“We think about tomorrow then it slips away
We talk about forever but we’ve only got today”

 

If that didn’t cover enough, read on…

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Luxmore Cave explorations

When we got to Luxmore Hut it was another 1.5 hrs to Mt Luxmore’s summit. If it’s one thing you should know about hiking in New Zealand, when the weather is good – TAKE ADVANTAGE. We knew it could easily be miserable the next day, so we sucked it up and hiked even farther up.

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climbing to Mt Luxmore

This may be the oddest photo ever, but I really wanted to share what a great view the track bathrooms have…

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Bathroom with a view

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The second day of the Kepler Track was the most challenging day of I’ve done of the Greak Walks thus far–lots of up and down, up and down, crossing a ridge line for a bit and then a whole lot of down. The views made it all worth it!P1060473 P1060494 P1060496 P1060497 P1060499 P1060516

Warning…stepping on the soap box now…I’ve checked off all the Great Walks in Fiordland (3 of them–Milford, Routeburn, Kepler). It’s quite bittersweet. I’ve thought a lot about this over the past week and I can’t pick a favorite. They each have very unique qualities, and I had very different personal experiences hiking each of them that make them all amazing.

MILFORD (post here) is super popular. Some people don’t do it because of the popularity…however, you have to figure, they only book 50 people/night in a hut, and that spreads out throughout the day of hiking. I am always so amazed about the lack of people we run into on these trails even if it is the height of tourist season. It is a heck of a lot of work to get to it…taking a shuttle, taking a boat, walking, taking a boat, taking another shuttle. However, that just means you’re walking through one of the most remote places there is. The valley views are incredible, topped with the drive back on Milford Sound road. It was a lot of fun hiking with my big group of coworkers in the off-season. I don’t think I’ve ever been so worried in my life with all the avalanches coming down the night before we crossed the McKinnon pass, but it ended up being quite the epic experience. Milford = a big valley with huge mountains & waterfalls.

ROUTEBURN (post here) I think is the easiest to do in terms of time–it’s the shortest distance–however is a bit of a pain to transfer your car or figure out the bus schedule. Going down over that pass is another beautiful view. I honestly have no idea what this hike looks like from the highest point due to the blizzard I walked through while doing it. Luckily I wasn’t quite as worried as Milford, but still made for an awesome story and experience. Routeburn = a mix of terrain with a beautiful view on each end.

KEPLER is the most accessible being a loop track–no car transfer, boat, or bus required. Kepler, in my opinion, is the most physically challenging. I was so glad the weather was perfect (FINALLY!) for this hike, especially since we were on the mountain ridge for most of the second day. I could see this hike being far less enjoyable in dodgy weather. It was also nice hiking with just the two of us for once. Kepler = most accessible, with epic ridgeline views.

Alright, that’s my schpeel! Another blog post to come (probably within the next day) on the next adventures we had shortly after Kepler!

FiNZ 30 – “Lockers in the wild are pretty hard to find!”

If anyone’s flown on Air New Zealand, you know they have some pretty extensive safety videos. The one that’s been playing sporadically over the past year is “The Bear Essentials of Safety” – a man-versus-wild parody starring Bear Grylls. The whole video takes place on the majestic Routeburn Track–some pretty great marketing for New Zealand all while making sure everyone knows how to use an oxygen mask.

This past weekend Keith & I, along with 3 other colleagues, journeyed to Fiordland to tramp the Routeburn Track. This is my third of nine New Zealand great walks! I can’t wait to get more under my boots. [Milford Track here ; Abel Tasman Track here]

At this point I’ve had the pleasure? of doing a few multi-day hikes between New Zealand and the Appalachian Trail in New England. I have NEVER had consistently great weather. Routeburn was no exception. We monitored the weather throughout the week, and the day we left the weather service noted gale force winds on Friday night and Saturday. What we ended up getting was a bit of a blizzard. To give you a sneak preview to our situation, this is what the Department of Conservation depicts the Routeburn Track as…

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Propaganda! ūüėČ

This is what we got…

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Blizzard

Thursday afternoon the 5 of us – Keith, me, Mike, Nick, Erin – squished our packs and ourselves into a Toyota Corolla and drove the 6 hours to Queenstown. Nick’s GoPro proved very useful for taking multiple selfies throughout our journey.

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Keith is the great walk planner. He put together a pretty extensive menu for the entire weekend, including chicken sandwiches for lunch pre-walk.

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The walk is one-way. We decided to start on the west side (“The Divide”) and go towards the east to Glenorchy. This way we would have a shorter drive home on Sunday. Because it’s a one-way track you typically either take a bus or do a car transfer. We picked up a lock box and hired a couple to drive our car to the other end. Another one of those only in New Zealand moments.

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Luckily Day 1 was pretty nice despite the weather report. A little overcast, but still got some great views up Key summit. If you only have a day, I’d highly recommend just doing the day walk up to this summit and back down. It makes for some great photo opps!

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This waterfall literally made everyone say “WOW”

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By the time the weather got worse, we made it to McKenzie hut.

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There was a nice little lake and a couple of side trails. We all decided to start the “Emily’s Pass” trail. This ultimately would have brought you over Emily’s Pass, but that was covered with snow and apparently required an ace ax…sounded intense. Instead we got a group shot in front of Emily’s Pass. Later on we had a hilarious hut talk by Clive, the hut ranger of 20+ years, and a nice toasty night with 30 of our closest strangers in the bunk house.

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After a night filled with gale force winds, thunder and lightning, we nervously gathered up our gear and prepared for the hardest day–the climb over Harris Saddle. You can’t quite see it yet, but it is snowing in this photo…

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…and it continued to snow. More and more and more.

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It took us a couple of hours to get to the saddle. I was a little overjoyed to see the emergency shelter where we ate lunch…

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The rest of the walk down was a bit frustrating since then it really started snowing and the rocks were a bit slippery. Nevertheless, we made it intact, and after the fact were pretty pumped of how epic our day was.

When we arrived at Routeburn Falls hut the wood was damp and a fire just wasn’t happening. I engineered a few of us hot water pads by boiling out water and dispersing it between Nalgenes. Keith & I awkwardly walked around all evening clutching our bottles underneath our clothing. Although awkward, it definitely saved me from being cold & miserable all night!

We woke up the next morning, left the bunk room, and BAM….

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This is what we were hoping for seeing on the Routeburn – beautiful views. We all knew we had to climb back up the trail and see what we missed. We didn’t go all the way back to Harris Saddle, but climbed up a bit to get that clutch view of the valley. Since the snow was still plentiful a snowball fight may have ensued…

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Flanders Hiking Photo of the Week –

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We made it! Unscathed and with some great photos.

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One of the best parts about ending on the Glenorchy side is enjoying the drive post-track. Glenorchy is one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand. Peter Jackson seemed to think so too since a good portion of Lord of the Rings was shot around here.

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Overall a pretty epic weekend with a good group of frolleagues to say the least. We drove back through Queenstown to all get our coveted Fergburgers (a tradition for Fiordland great walkers). Then we had a gorgeous drive back to Christchurch. This all just made me even more excited for our 2 week December break where we get to do more traveling through Fiordland! I doubt I will compose a better post than this for the next couple weeks but I’ll continue to keep you all updated. Plus, it is FINALLY getting warm out (currently 25C outside!!).

I leave you today with this YouTube “trailer” Nick whipped up on his iPad during our car ride home. Turn the music up.

Flanders in NZ 12 – The 1st Great Walk

Yikes! Late post, but this week has been a bit busy¬†at work…on to some¬†story-time and beach photos!

Last time I was here I had the extreme pleasure of walking the Milford Track Great Walk. In total, New Zealand has 9 “Great Walks” and the Flanders did their first one together this past weekend–Abel Tasman Coast Track! Not wanting to take any vacation days we planned to do only 2 days, 1 night¬†on the track, and 33.9 km of walking (21 miles). Only one other colleague was brave enough to join us ūüėČ (and the fact that most had already walked it a few months ago).

First off…Abel Tasman?! Nearly EVERYTHING is named after him around here…he has a peninsula, bridge, highway, an entire sea, glacier, lake, river, mountain, bay, district, and the national park which bears his track. I eventually HAD to look this guy up, he is obviously a big deal — dutch explorer to be the first (european) explorer to many areas throughout Australasia. Golden Bay (the bay off of Abel Tasman national park) was originally called Murderer’s Bay because the Maori people killed so many of his men… drama!

Anyways, the track. Most of this I can do photos, but I’ll give you a bit of the outline.

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Our Weekend Hiking Plan – boat to Awaroa and walk back to the car

Friday we left somewhat early (3:30) to drive 5.5 hours and arrive at a hostel in Matoeka for the night.

Early Saturday,¬†we got up and drove to the start of the track. As we were driving towards the park the rain got heavier and heavier…and the wind picked up. By the time we got the shore Keith was asking if we thought the boat was even going to take us to our destination. In typical Kiwi fashion, the welcome center cashier told us “Of course!” and pointed us to our waiting area.

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Waiting hut/Enjoying the rain/Packs all lined up with Keith’s umbrella making an appearance

The boat ride was…”exciting” to describe it. I’ve managed to be on quite a few boats in my 27 years, and this was the bumpiest. We were basically out in the ocean, with 10 foot waves, in a 20 foot water taxi. The captain seemed to know what he was doing, and made a few jokes about taking care of his own life…which attempted to put me at ease (while steadfastly¬†tightening my life vest). To say the least, I’d never been so happy to climb ashore, even if it was rainy and windy throughout the hike.

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Yes we got on the boat while it was hitched to the tractor/yes we had to jump out of the boat while it was slightly beached on shore…

The rain died down and our “4 hour” kiwi timed hike of 11.4km turned into 2.5 hours to get to Bark Bay Hut. Eventually another hiker arrived who was also, coincidentally, our one hostel bunk mate the night before! She was also an American (from Kansas) who was traveling post graduation and pre-going to work as an engineer in California (small world right!?)

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Start of a drizzly, albeit beautiful day!

 

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On the boardwalk

 

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Onetahuti Selfie

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Bark Bay Hut

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Keith went for a run on the beach…

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Admiring the view in front of our hut for the night…

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Rock scramble

Sunday was the day we were gearing ourselves up for. Luckily the rain went away and the clouds started to part. We ended up walking a total of 15 miles to get back to the car. Normally, the official walking guide has another hut in the middle but we wanted to try to get in as much track as possible in a weekend. We miraculously got back to the car by 2:30pm and were back in Christchurch by dinner time!

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Team Tasman @ Sunrise (again, chilling out in our hut’s beautiful front yard)

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We couldn’t quite get the jumping thing down…

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Start of a much more beautiful day…

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Too many ocean/land photo ops

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Made it to Torrent Bay Village (where several private houses reside — quite the nice vacation getaway!)

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On a limb

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Flanders Hiking Photo of the Week

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Usually the sign photo is captured at the beginning of the hike, but considering we started in the middle and hiked back to the “beginning”¬†we had to make an exception.

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Drive home through Lewis Pass

Overall a lovely weekend, followed by a busy week. This makes me realize next week may be a struggle to get an entertaining/trip-infused post out. I’ll have to start brainstorming now!

Cheers!