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!

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 🙂

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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…

FiNZ 46 – #EscapeFromFroston Part 2

This post is a bit late. Excuses — 1) this past weekend we were busy with a pretty epic hike (that post to come) & 2) There were just WAY too many photos to go through–between my photos and our guests there were thousands to check out. If you want to check out my Flickr album from this past week, go here.

Anyways, it’s hard to get folks to come visit us on the other side of the world (time, money, blah, blah, blah); therefore, we try to go all out when they do. So we took a few days off of work and managed to drive the guys around most of the island within the 10 days they were here. We drove around so much, I thought a map might be useful for visuals and blog organization… 😉

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Our Journey and Trusty Crew

Numbers indicate what location we were in on what days the guys were here. Days 1-5 were covered in the previous FiNZ 45 post. Days 6-10 were covered on our 4.5 “long” weekend…which felt more like several weeks…you’ll get the jist as you read on.

Day 6

Keith and I thought it best to do a giant loop of the south as to avoid driving on the same road twice (if possible). So we headed out west on a beautiful sunny Wednesday afternoon. But not without a pit stop for a run mid-drive. With 4 distance-runners hanging out together for the week, the entire week turned out in a cross-country camp gathering. As much as I enjoyed breaking for exercise, daily was a stretch 😉 I figured this post wouldn’t be complete with some token selfies of the guys runs around the country–

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Starting Top Left Clockwise – Rapaki Track (Christchurch), Greymouth (west coast), Kepler Track (Te Anau/Fiordland), Queenstown Hill

Our first stop, which was probably poor planning since the car smelled like damp clothing for the rest of the week, was Cave Stream. Keith and I had done this previously and knew it would be fun to go back with first-timers. Luckily, it was a warm and sunny day, and the cave was a great way to cool off or “shower” after the earlier run.

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Scenes around the cave

Day 7

We spent the night in Greymouth, had a less than exciting dinner at the local dive, but enjoyed a quick west coast ocean walk. In the morning we diverted up to Punakaiki to show off the pancake rocks. The timing worked out perfectly as it was 30 minutes pre-high tide. This made SUCH a difference from our first experience. Sure, the rocks look cool, but the waves crashing up through them – incredible!

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Punakaiki Rocks & Blowholes

Then we were off to glacier land, but not without a lunch break at Hokitika and a side trip to Hokitka Gorge. We had some much better food in Hokitika (versus Greymouth), walked the beach with all its “stick-art”, found a great opportunity for a Titanic pose, and headed out to the beautiful gorge with its bright blue glacier water.

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Hokitika the town and Hokitika the gorge

We landed in Fox Glacier (yes, that’s the actual name of the town), got settled into our hostel and found dinner. At this point the West Coast was welcoming us with its typical pouring rain. Eventually the rain disappeared and we saw the forecast for the next morning was more pouring rain. So what do we do? Go for a glacier night walk of course…

We had the entire glacier to ourselves as we hiked up the path and enjoyed the silhouette of the mountains and sounds of waterfalls around us. It is truly amazing (and unfortunate) how much the glacier has receded from when I first visited it in 2012! (post here)

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Fox Glacier night excursion

 

Day 8

Keith and I were excited to drive through Haast Pass for the first time, but it was pouring rain…as expected. So the drive was okay, and at least the rain made the waterfalls truly spectacular. We made a few pit stops along the way running through pouring rain (the guys in bathing suits/shirtless) to get some token shots.

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Haast Pass views & Thunder Creek Falls (top right)

As usual in New Zealand, we got through the pass and the weather changed dramatically. The blue skies shown and the sun came out. We took several more pit stops on our way to Wanaka wear we stopped for a great lake-side lunch, and then on our way to Te Anau.

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Road to Wanaka (top half) Road to Te Anau via Queenstown (bottom half)

Day 9

We had a great night in Te Anau, and booked our last-minute 9am cruise in Milford Sound. This all meant we were up before dawn to make breakfast and start driving the winding road to Milford. It POURED that morning, which just meant the quiet 7am drive to Milford was mysterious and filled with waterfalls. Once we arrived the clouds started to lift and reveal all the beauty that is Milford Sound…

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Milford Sound Road morning drive (top half) arrival at a foggy Milford Sound (bottom half)

We hopped on our giant Jucy cruise (with a mere 10 other people; definitely recommend the earlier cruises –  less tourists!!) and watched as the clouds broke up and the sun came out over the fiord.

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Cruise into Stirling Falls

I don’t think we could have gotten more perfect weather. The downpour created thousands of waterfalls throughout the fiord, and the sun revealed all its other beauty. It was a truly perfect day in Milford Sound.

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Milford Sound becomes sunny and even more epic..

The road back we got to experience with blue skies and sun! We had a lovely warm drive back through the Milford Sound road and up to Queenstown where we spent our last night of the journey soaking up resort-filled Queenstown with good food, dancing, and souvenir shopping.

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Drive back along Milford Sound Road with the sun out

 Day 10

The last day we spent driving back to Christchurch. Mt Cook was cooperating with us because Lake Pukaki was its beautiful blue and Mt Cook was looking as clear as ever. We couldn’t help but recreate The Lion King with the cliff we came across…

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“Simba!” & Lake Pukaki/Mt Cook posing

Good thing Mt Cook decided to have amazing weather this past weekend as well. More on that in a few days…

Overall we had an amazing time with Chris, Josh, and Pete. Thanks guys for visiting, we hope you had fun too!

FiNZ 45 – #EscapeFromFroston Part 1

The guys have arrived! We put out a call to our friends and families early on in our journey and these three accepted the challenge. Chris, Pete & Josh decided to make it even more challenging by enduring a long haul flight to layover in Aussie versus Auckland. But alas, they made it intact and with only 1 bag lost to Virgin Australia :-/

Despite the bag fiasco, they arrived! We spent Friday afternoon introducing them to the city of Christchurch and made our last-minute plans for the weekend. We knew we wanted to go north but weren’t sure where. I did a quick Airbnb search found this place in the tiny village of Anakiwa–the start of the Queen Charlotte Sound track.

We had a base plan, so we were off early Saturday morning along the scenic Route 1…

First stop Kaikoura and the seal colony…

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Kaikoura Beach Walk

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Seal Colony

Next stop Picton for lunch and to get groceries (Anakiwa does not have restaurants or beer…), and then through a very windy road to Anakiwa! Our Anakiwa stay involved going for a run on Queen Charlotte’s Track, enjoying the harbor, and cooking up some dinner and breakfast at our Airbnb.

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Anakiwa Harbor

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Pete’s Point

The next morning we decided to go back through Lewis Pass and stop through Nelson. This was a fabulous choice as there was a perfect beach in Nelson which I got to enjoy while a couple of the guys were out running…again.

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Tahunanui Beach, Nelson

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Tahunanui Beach Boys

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Landslide Waterfall Pitstop

Monday night we did something a little different — Ko Tane! A colleague had told me about a local Maori experience dinner that everyone agreed we should check out. Not only did we learn a lot about the earliest settlers of New Zealand, I learned how to dance with a poipoi and the guys learned how to do a haka. We ended the night with a table full of meat cooked with traditional Maori methods.

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Ko Tane – Maori Experience

It was still too early to go to sleep, so our initial thought was to go to a bar. Then we remembered the Dance O Mat. Without Keith or I telling anyone what was going on, we drove to the gap filler location, I created a quick playlist, asked for a $2 coin from our guests, and plugged in. For the next 30 minutes we owned that Dance O Mat with Taylor Swift, Kesha, & Lady Gaga singing along. We definitely had a few tourists come over to take photos of us. #famous

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Dance O Mat!

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Goodnight Christchurch

On to Part 2!…

FiNZ 44 – Relax & Remember

We’re gearing up for three of our WPI friends coming to visit us over the next 2 weekends and another big hike after that. Therefore this weekend was a well deserved break. We even passed on going to the cricket match in return for lounging around not doing much.

This past Sunday, February 22 was the 4 year anniversary of the most major earthquake to rock the city. I say the “most major” because from September 2010 through 2012 the city was rocked with pretty constant aftershocks. When I was here in 2012, feeling a small earthquake every couple of weeks was normal. The February quake caused catastrophic damage in the central city and claimed 185 lives. The liquefied soil that emerged from the ground left the roads in shambles and buried cars.

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City Skyline Post Quake – http://i.imgur.com/0vZbD.jpg

So when the documentary  – “The Day the Changed my Life” – aired this week, Keith and I figured we ought to watch it to learn more about the city’s experience before we arrived. (It’s also available online to watch here). Like you’d expect, its one of those things that’s hard to watch. I’d liken it to watching a clip on 9/11. The documentary interviewed a few people who were involved in the aftermath – a reporter, a construction worker that helped retrieve bodies, emergency medical staff, and a husband of a wife that died in a collapsed building.

 

So when I ran around the park on 22 February, seeing the flowers magically appear on top of the construction cones throughout the city, I couldn’t help but reflect how and why I came to be here and my responsibilities as a structural engineer.

So to conclude a bit of a sobering post…

The city has come a long way, yet there’s still a long way to go. So for this week, it’s a hearty cheers to Christchurch– The city that has humbly been my home for over a year. Until next week…

FiNZ 42 – High over Middle Earth

I’ve been avoiding sorting through photos from this past weekend because there’s just so many. Alas, I managed to pick out a “select” few and collage the crap out of all of them so they’d fit somewhat nicely here.

Friday was a precious New Zealand holiday – Waitangi Day, aka “the 4th of July New Zealand style.” Luckily, that gave us a head start to drive down to Queenstown and meet up with Kathy and Don Friday morning. Friday ended up being one of the most intense activity days we’ve had here.

To back up a bit, a freak cold snap had come across the country and Queenstown temps dipped to near 0 Celsius the previous two days. That meant that 1) the surrounding mountains were covered in snow in the middle of summer and 2) I was really glad I checked the weather and brought my fleece and winter hat.

Fortunately for us, Friday started to thaw the town up. Our first stop was the Shotover Jet–an activity Keith and I’ve been waiting until warmer weather (the joke’s on us) to do. I’ve heard its one of the “must-do” activities in Queenstown PLUS Prince William and Princess Kate participated when they were in New Zealand last April! I may have required the exact seat Kate sat in… Albeit a pricey activity at $130/person, if you’re going to do SOMETHING adventurous in Queenstown, pick the Shotover!

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Photos of our team and boat

We made it back to the center city just in time for…

THE RUNNING OF THE WOOLS!

which can only be further described through photos and video–

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Central Queenstown Running of the Wools

Soon after we were picked up and whisked away to the airport to do a Fiordland helicopter tour with Glacier Southern Lakes helicopters! Kathy had really wanted to do a helicopter tour but the weather had cancelled every trip until we arrived. We were more then happy to join and what an incredible experience–we landed at 3 planned locations and had to pick up a couple at the beginning in Glenorchy (because why get driven to the airport when the helicopter can pick you up outside?). It was the first time I’ve been in a helicopter and it was quite the first time!

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And we’re off!

Stop 1) Snow.

We were supposed to do a glacier landing but unfortunately the weather wasn’t going to cooperate. Although landing in secluded Fiordland on top of a snow-capped mountain was pretty epic in itself…

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Stop 2) Beach.

We flew through Milford Sound, past all the tiny tour boats below, and landed on a deserted beach on the west coast. Once again, amazing–

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Stop 3) Milford Sound

You can’t come to New Zealand and NOT see Milford Sound. Despite the flocks of people, it’s simply necessary. This was Keith’s first time out here — I’m glad we finally both made it!

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Then we enjoyed a beautiful scenic ride back to Queenstown. I forgot to take more video along the way. The short clip below will have to do–

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It’s noteworthy that our trusty pilot, Alfie, was the lead pilot in all the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit filming! I snuck a photo of him (far left) with Sir Peter Jackson. They’re surrounding the special camera they used while in flight.

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What a day. Possibly the most exciting day I’ve had in New Zealand. We enjoyed a well earned beer, had a great dinner at Cow, and bar hopped a bit the rest of the night.

Saturday we split up and Kathy and Don headed back in their campervan and Keith and I did some exploring on our way home too. We decided to check out Arrowtown and finally got our sheep photo we’ve been looking out for!–

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One of many excessive sheep+mountains photos

Then we decided to finally make the 10km journey to the clay cliffs. New Zealand has plenty of tiny tourist signs to natural wonders that people often zoom by. We figured we should finally check this place out and we’re glad we did. Check it out–

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And of course we ended our journey with yet another beautiful blue lake Pukaki, the water color is always so fantastic. Below you can barely see Mt Cook in the background through the haze. On to our next adventure!

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FiNZ 41 – Pats Nation

It’s rare we find other American’s in New Zealand let alone people from Massachusetts. So it was especially special to have some other local faces in town leading up to the Superbowl. Keith’s mom, Kathy, arrived with Don on Friday and we went right to work as tour guides. I don’t think they knew what they had gotten themselves into when we decided to drive them 2 hours outside of town and down a 40km long dirt road to get to Mt Sunday… (reminder – they had just gotten off the plane!). Unfortunately it was a little cloudy, but the views were still pretty “epic New Zealand.”

Mt Sunday is more like a little bump in the middle of a beautiful landscape–

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On the path up to Mt Sunday

Despite it being off the beaten path it was a pretty popular filming location for Lord of the Rings – Edoras! Helms Deep was also filmed here as well. Some of the outer parts of structures were actually built on top of the hill (only for the movie) but most were CGI’d in. Check out the photo from the film below–

Flanders Hiking Photo of the Week –

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Taking in the Views

At the summit trig, Don made sure we were all monumented there forever!

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Spot Marked!

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Jetlagged Troopers!

On the way back our visitors got a true New Zealand welcome. A farmer was out herding sheep so we got a good “only in NZ” experience of waiting for the sheep to cross the road…

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Traffic Jam

Saturday the weather started getting better so we went on a wine tour throughout Canterbury. We were able to hit up some of our favorites — True & Daring, Lone Goat, and Straight Eight — all before dinner at one of our favorites — King of Snake!

Sunday was GORGEOUS. Therefore we picked that day to bring the crew to Akaroa. We did a lot of scenic driving to get the best photo opportunities.

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Akaroa Bay Photo Opp

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Summit Road Views

Then we continued to do a lot of relaxing, drinking, eating, and wandering along the shore.

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Mother Son Bonding

Monday morning we said our temporary goodbyes to Kathy & Don until we see them again this upcoming weekend! We can’t wait to hear their stories of traveling around the island in a campervan over the next few days.

Pretty much the rest of Monday was devoted to the Superbowl. Being in the future we have to deal with work on Superbowl day. So luckily, as Americans we have a bit of lee-way with taking some personal time 🙂

Keith, a few coworkers, and myself headed over to The Carlton at lunch for their Superbowl party they’d been advertising all month. The actual party room was a little overcrowded so we just made our own private party elsewhere.The Carlton provided Budweiser “specials,” aka $30 for 4 bottles…along with corn dogs and hot dog sliders.

And what a game am I right?! That was easily my favorite Superbowl ever. It was a fun environment to be in and the game just kept everyone entertained (including the non-Patriots/Seahawks fans) the entire time.

PicMonkey Collage

Superbowl Monday!

What a week thus far! This weekend is a 3-day weekend so we’re excited to meet up with Kathy & Don once again and have some more fun exploring.

Cheers!