FiNZ 52 – Mt Doom

Our last major NZ bucket list item was to hike the Tongariro Crossing – New Zealand’s most popular day hike. Tongariro National Park is an amazing plot of land full of active volcanoes, craters, and piercing blue lakes. We knew we had to make it here before we left. Plus, Mt. Ngauruhoe was the inspiration of Mt Doom in Lord of the Rings. I couldn’t go home without being able to answer “yes” to everyone that asked us “did you see Mt Doom!?”

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Tongariro National Park

Unfortunately, the trip from Christchurch is not easy. Tongariro National Park is in the middle of the north island. Luckily we had some leftover airpoints we weren’t sure what to do with other than use for some free flights (shoutout to Air New Zealand!). We convinced a couple of my colleagues to go a bit crazy with us and fly up to Wellington Friday night, drive the 4 hours to National Park, hike all day Saturday, drive back to Wellington Saturday night, and fly back to Christchurch at 7am on Sunday morning.

The predicted weather did not like our plan. A weather “trough” decided to flow over the north island Friday through Saturday. This meant Sunday was supposed to be beautiful, but alas…Sunday we would be flying home.

00Our shuttle was cancelled ahead of time but we figured we would still make it work. We drove up to National Park in the dark and some rain, and fell asleep at 1am. We awoke, opened the window shade to find this…

01aand more specifically this…

01bSure it wasn’t sunny, but it still made Keith say “holy crap!” when he opened the curtains. We both jaunted outside to take some photos next to the giant kiwi sculpture…because that’s what you do when you see a giant timber kiwi right?

0203Despite no rain, the New Zealand weather god–also known as “Metservice”–kept telling us it was going to rain 19 mm every 3 hours (that. is. a. lot.). Since the shuttle cancelled on us, and the Tongariro Crossing is one-way, we figured we’d either do an out and back, or Keith would walk with us half way and then run back to drive the car around… We arrived at the DOC info center at the start of the track and the on-site ranger suggested going west towards Tama Lakes. He said the top of the Tongariro Crossing would be windy and cold, maybe rainy, the Tama Lakes walk you still saw the same blue lakes, the volcanos, and it was still park of the Tongariro Northern Circuit (another Great Walk!). So eventually we were sold and gave up on doing the official “Tongariro Crossing”

04And we were off…

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0606aAfter a couple hours we made it to our first blue lake, and continued up the adjacent ridge to make it to the upper Tama Lake and to stop for lunch.

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09On the walk back to the visitor center the clouds parted a bit more for our money shot of the volcano.

10We were all really loving the lava flow areas…

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Keith and the Flow

P1090015 P1090023Overall our journey was a success–our friends had a good time, the Flanders stepped foot on another Great Walk (that’s SIX out of nine for Jen!!), and everyone saw Mt Doom. We drove the 4 hours back to Wellie in the daylight and enjoyed a night meeting up with old friends and eating a hard-earned burger. Then it was up at the crack of dawn the next morning for this enjoyable flight back to the south island —

20This weekend is our LAST weekend! I can’t wait to write about that post next week!

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FiNZ 18 – Absolutely Positively Wellington

Wellie Week! Keith, myself, and NINE other colleagues/spouses hopped on a plane or ferry on Friday to head to the capital–Wellington!

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This was the first time EVER we went to an airport and didn’t have to deal with ANY security. Going there and back I never stepped through a metal detector at the airport. We showed up at the airport about 30 minutes before our flight, walked down to the tarmac, and hopped on the prop plane. Quite the easy trip! I’m going to organize this post with a lot of places we ate and visited, because we did a lot in our short 2 days!

Once we arrived we met up with a few others after checking into our hotel (Keith and I stayed at the Comfort Hotel — cheap and central location, but TINY and a bit dated) and headed for dinner on Cuba Street. We were starved so ended up at one of the first places we found and then headed over to Little Beer Quarter with the rest of the crew. The reason for the trip was Beervana; therefore, there were a lot of craft beer fans in the group. Little Beer Quarter was a great little spot with some unique beer options.

Saturday morning I had to try some Wellington coffee. Some of the best coffee in the world comes from Wellington so I searched out Customs coffee shop for an epic flat white. They also roast the Coffee Supreme brand that can be found throughout most coffee shops in the country. We then met up with a couple of colleagues for breakfast at Felix Cafe; all of our dishes were pretty awesome. You also can’t really go wrong in New Zealand with their amazing egg and veggie brekkie dishes.

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Customs

Everyone then went off to Beervana except for us. Yes, we were the black sheep couple that didn’t go to the beer fest and instead explored the city for the day. Unfortunately, the weather was awful. Wellington is known for being windy and rainy and it was both on Saturday. Our plans to walk/hike up Mt Victoria were thwarted. Instead we rode the cable car up the hill on the other side of the city. Much like the first time I was in Wellington — blogged about here. We wandered outside and saw a bit of the botanical gardens only for a few minutes. And then we started exploring…there are so many free activities to do in Wellington!

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Cable Car Fun

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Windy…Rainy…Wellie

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Botanical Gardens

On the tram ride down we looked up the Parliament buildings and realized they give hourly free tours. After explaining to the security guards we weren’t German (they like guessing visitor’s nationalities) we hopped on the next tour. We went through the “beehive” (see photo with Jen below) which is the newest parliament building, and then through the older, classical style parliament building (photo with Keith below).

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Jen & the Beehive

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Keith (blending in front of the door) & Parliament

The BEST part of the tour was the BASE ISOLATORS! Since Wellington is right on top of the ring of fire they expect a lot of earthquakes (it was pretty surprising that Christchurch had “the big one” and not Wellington). Therefore, during some seismic upgrades to the Parliament buildings they literally cut the building from the foundations, raised it up, and set it on top of giant rubber and steel pads. These allow the building to move independently from the ground during an earthquake. It was like a structural engineer candy shop in that old, damp basement. I was probably the most excited member of the tour group.

base isolator

Other than the base isolators, it was interesting being able to go into the chambers and see some of the more significant meeting rooms. It reminded me of being back in DC…with less security everywhere.

Post Parliament we headed over to a historic old church — Old St Pauls. Unlucky for us there was a crowd prepping for a wedding. So I felt a little awkward bursting in to take photos of the architecture. Lucky for us the rain was, sort of, dying down. We walked along the water and ran into a giant Japanese Festival. Again, Wellington has an amazing amount of free things to do. At this point we were starving and ended up with some of the festival’s awkward, untasty octopus dough balls (we probably should have asked what they were before purchase).

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Japan Festival

Next we walked through the small portrait museum, and then headed over to the Museum of Wellington City & Sea. Still haven’t paid admission for anything in Wellington (other than a $7 ride up & down the cable car). The Museum was very well done, and gave Keith and I a pretty extensive history of New Zealand.

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Museum of Wellington City & Sea; New Zealand – 1st country to let women vote!

We then took a break and headed to The Library before meeting up with the other 9 for dinner and rugby. The Library is not your typical library, it’s a bar, and just happens to have a lot of books and comfy chairs. It was a great, relaxing, place; I’d definitely look forward to coming back here.

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Library Lounging

I made reservations for 11, a few days earlier, at Public–a popular sports bar in town. Other than getting served food a good hour after we ordered, the projector screens were awesome and the atmosphere while watching the game was great. Plus the All Blacks (New Zealand) crushed the Wallabies (Australia).

We continued the night with a bar crawl around the area. Stops included:

  • Malthouse – good craft brews, right next to Public
  • Basque – Fun! Had a great spanish vibe with a live band outside.
  • San Fran – turned around once they asked for $10 cover and we realized it was a club…too much loud music… #old
  • The Matterhorn – ended the night with some great whiskey cocktails @ Matterhorn.
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Playing with Fire @ The Matterhorn

Sunday morning we had brunch at Sweet Mother’s Kitchen–the closest I’ve gotten in New Zealand to your typical American, eclectic, breakfast diner. This place loved New Orleans–so much bayou decor, and amazing food!

The rest of the day was devoted to Te Papa – one of the best museums in Wellington if not the country and world. (saying a lot from a DC local!). We spent a good few hours exploring all the exhibits which included WOW (world of wearable art fashion) and an earthquake display with a real life shaking demonstration. And yes, we got to go see more base isolators that Te Papa is founded on!

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Framed

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World of Wearable Art

After meandering through the city some more, grabbing more coffee by the waterfront, visiting the City Gallery (not as cool as all the other museums we went to), and dining at the Cuba Street Bistro (a great last-minute find right next to our hotel), we hopped on the bus to go to the airport (note the bus is a great $9/person option when you don’t have extra bodies to split a cab with).

With all the Lord of the Rings press New Zealand gets, Wellington has literally titled its airport “The Middle of Middle Earth.” You can see the giant, lit-up, sign on the airport as you taxi down the runway. Keith had to grab a shot of the giant Gollum flying over our heads as we waited to board…

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Gollum invading the airport

Phew, lots of details! Next week there’s not too much going on right now, so we’ll have to find something interesting to do for next week’s post. Upcoming is going to Melbourne, Aussie in September, and then we’ll be back in the States for vacation in October! Cheers.