Te Araroa Start

Te Araroa Start

Monday, November 25, 2013

Last Full Day - Mount Cook

I woke up today with the sad realization that the next day I board a plane to leave New Zealand. Not that I don't love my home country, but this place really is God's Country. 

I hopped on the tour bus for Mount Cook, clouds looming all over, threatening to hide the sun again today. I hoped it would clear up... No hope for that this time. We went through some I the same country that we had gone through to get from Christchurch to Queenstown. Vineyards, farm land, and more sheep. We stopped at a fruit store and then stopped again at Omarama for breakfast. We got to see some great mountain area from the valley road and the glacial blue lakes and river along the way. 

We got to Mount Cook but with the cloud cover there was no way to even see the summit. I had planned on trying one of the helicopter tours that went around it and to a nearby glacier to touch down an walk around. But with the cloud cover there were no flights, so I had 2 hours at te base of the mountain. I watched a planetarium show and a 3d flick of Mount Cook, walked around and explored the visitor center before I grabbed a bite to eat from the cafe. Despite not seeing the summit, I still had a lovely view. 

I walked around a bit more waiting for the bus. I found a hidden trail I wish they had told us about. It was only a 40 minute return trip but by the time I found it I had half that time left. Sad indeed. So as thundered rolled in a distant part of the range I took a few more photos... This area looks like where Helm's Deep would have been... Tucked back in the valley between the mountains in the distance. I am seriously wondering if they used that to CGI the castle/defenses in. I could just imagine the Orc armies at the base on the flat land as it darkened and rained before the battle began. I think I have had too much LOTR on my mind in this country. 

I took a few more pictures to soak in what I could and I finally boarded the bus for the return trip. 

I returned to the sun breaking out as we got closer to Queenstown. I got back to my room, where the obnoxious girls had returned to. (Seriously, is there no other open room in this place?) I took my shower, and decided to kick back and relax. I will do a bit of souvenir shopping in the morning... Not that I can fit too much in my bag (nor do I want to). Then it will be off the airport for a little time travel. I take off at 1430 in New Zealand on the 27th... And 20+ hours of flying later, land in Portland at around 1900 on the 27th. Yay for time travel!!! I will be home for my father's birthday and just in time for Thanksgiving the next day. Not a bad way to return to the States I suppose. 

Milford Sound

Today was the most beautiful day of my trip... Which is saying a lot considering I am in the awe-inspiring country of New Zealand. It was my trip to Milford Sound. 

The day was cloudy and drizzling which I was first discouraged by. But the rain in Milford Sound simply creates more beauty. 

Away we went, leaving Queenstown. We drove on a road that bordered Wakatipu Lake, the 3rd largest lake in NZ (the biggest on the South Island) and went by the base of the Remarkables Mountain Range. Misty and cloudy they sometimes peeked through, towering and dark in the sky. We continued on, driving on the Devil's Staircase. (That's the second one I have been on since being in this country... How many stairs does the guy need?) we continued on until we took a break at Te Anau for breakfast... I always forget they don't expect you to eat before you go. I always get breakfast too early it seems. There were green paddocks filled with sheep, cows, and red deer along the way. 

Then a new set of mountain ranges was ahead of us. Clouded in, peeking through the condensation formed around. We stopped at Mirror Lakes (which really looks like a big pond). We had another stop at a small information center. 

After those stops the rest of the journey was incredibly gorgeous. I was thanking God for the work He had made, because there is nothing man could ever create to measure up to the mountains and waterfalls. I almost cried at the beauty of it and I am not a person easily moved in such a way. But when they say that the heavens and earth proclaim God's greatness, they are right. To me, there was no way to look at it and not see His hands at work. Sadly, some people were sleeping, chatting, playing games... Missing out completely on what we were passing. It reminds me of the Steven Curtis Chapman song... "I'm playing Gameboy standing in the middle of the Grand Canyon. I'm eating candy sitting at a gourmet feast. I'm wadin' in a puddle when I could be swimming in the ocean. Tell me, what's the deal with me? Wake up and see the glory..." Those people were missing out. New Zealand is unadulterated nature, hardly touched by civilization, a testament to a time we have lost. 

These pictures are just a snippet of what we saw in Hollyford Valley. Carved out by glaciers we drove through mountains like these, all streaming with waterfalls that grew as it rained. And when I say we drive through mountains, I mean it literally. There is a 2.7 km tunnel dug into the mountain to go through to continue on the journey! I can't wait to post more photos on my Facebook page when I get home. I think I took more pictures today than the rest of my days combined. 

At the end of the mountains was Milford Sound. I hopped on a boat and we cruised away. I braved the cold wind and stood outside on the deck as we went past mountains, more waterfalls, and seals on the rocks. We got out toward the Tasman Sea and the boat rocked up and down. The older ladies around me held onto the boat and squealed every time the ship bucked under the swells, giving you the feeling like your stomach has turned weightless. 

We turned around and headed back and loaded back onto the bus for the return journey. I took more photos, especially of the area after the tunnel, which made me feel like I was in a huge bowl, a basin created by ancient glaciers long gone. 

We went back through the gorgeous valley, through forest and rolling hills, dairy and farmland, paddocks of animals, and finally back by Lake Wakatipu to Queenstown. 

The obnoxious girls in the dorm have gratefully all gone, replaced by older and quieter gals. I returned from an awe-inspiring day in the rain and cold to a happier room. God has truly and honestly blessed me during this trip. It wasn't what I planned, but it was what HE planned. What a great and powerful Lord He is, giving us so much when we deserve so little. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Christchurch to Queenstown

I only spent a night in Christchurch. It is clearly a city still rebuilding. Empty lots in the central area are clear markers that something once stood in those spaces. Parking garages closed, streets blocked off everywhere, and many shops not open. Although it was a couple of years ago the earthquake's effects were still apparent. 

The day ended with some laundry (done in the sink as always), a hot shower and a night in a single room... Oh the privacy!!! Then off to the bus once again for another day of traveling. I didn't mind this time as the South Island varies from the North. New landscapes to enjoy.

 It began with the coast line, which I slept through much of. But then I was lucky enough to see Lake Tekapo, where we stopped for lunch, in front of Aoraki (aka Mount Cook), New Zealand's highest summit. 

After this we continued on into the mountain range. Instead of the rolling green hills I had seen on the North Island there were mountains all around, tussock and brush growing. Some vineyards in a valley close to Queenstown were also readily apparent on the way. It was in stark contrast to the Canterbury Plains we had passed through in the morning. 

I saw this ridge line as we neared Queenstown. The adjective that first came to my mind was "remarkable". And what do you think the name of these mountains are? You got it - The Remarkables. A sign directed down the road to them for winter skiing.

After we passed that road and got to the other side if the ridge line they were even more towering and beautiful. I snapped some photos with my camera, totally forgetting my phone. I managed to snap this one as we continued to Queenstown with Lake Wakatipu at the bottom. 

I walked a bit around Queenstown to feel the vibe. It feels busy for its size, and young. Of course, they call it the adrenaline capital of New Zealand, with chances to hang glide, sky dive, bungee, etc. so I suppose it attracts a young crowd. Outside the town is the bridge where the first bungee site in the world is. Historical, but I bungeed once before - which was enough for me in a lifetime. 

I had some noodle stuff I can't remember the name of for dinner, took a shower and have settled in for an early evening. I have a day tour to Milford Sound tomorrow... I will get to see the fjordland and take a cruise as well to see waterfalls and fish, and greenery. Knock taking a cruise off the life to do list as well (although one day I will take a longer luxury cruise). It's supposed to rain and be chilly tomorrow. One thing I am glad for is the layering system of clothing I packed for my trek. It was light and minimal but prepared me for any type of weather except a freak blizzard. 

I am all set up to get up, grab, and go for the morning. I saw a 24 hour convenience store (a rare breed in this country) on the way to the bus stop from which I can purchase a breakfast of some kind to eat in the morning. Another gal in my hostel room is doing the same tour, so I will likely have a traveling companion for the day tomorrow. Tally ho!!! Ready for the last days of adventure!!!

Friday, November 22, 2013


After a 6+ hour bus ride from Taupo to Wellingon I finally arrived. Found my way to the hostel, got checked in then headed out for dinner. A man in Auckland had said that although Wellington was significantly smaller it felt more like a big city than Auckland. As I walked from the train station to my hostel I understood what he meant. Everyone was in a rush to get somewhere and get there quickly. High heels and business shoes clicking and clacking down the street around me. It definitely had te hustle and bustle vibe I didn't get in Auckland. I was scheduled to have dinner with a gal in Wellington I had connected with as I researched the trail. We met up at a pub, had dinner and a good chat! Then it was bedtime for me. I am not the night owl type these days. 

The next day was my LOTR tour around Wellington. I figured a tour was the best way to see a lot in my one full day in the city. I got picked up in a little can. Our tour had one guide and only 6 passengers so it was great and personal!  We went to Mount Victoria, WETA cave and a tour, all around the coast line, a river, a rock quarry, and a park or two...4 all filming locations for LOTR movies. The guy had stills of movie scenes to compare to what we were looking at. We stopped for tons of photo opportunities, posing and acting like the characters. He had good ideas for poses and those of us not there attached to another person he helped with photos. We had lunch and an afternoon tea snack included in the tour. It was a wonderful experience with Wellington Rover Tours and worth it. 

I decided to take it easy when we got back. I hit up a food court and had some chicken noodle soup in an Asian style and then saw the Hunger Games movie before coming back to crash in bed. 

So the next step of the trip is a 3 hour ferry trip from the North Island to the South Island. I take a 5-6 hour bus ride to Christchurch to spend the night before heading on to Queenstown. The days are too short and the time I have left remaining in this country are coming to an end far too quickly for my liking. Back to reality soon. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Today was the most dreaded and most anticipated day of the trip. I was excited to see Mount Doom and walk a bit of the trail that I had originally planned to walk as part of the Te Araroa. But I simply wasn't sure how long it would take or how it would feel. 

An early start and a hourish long bus ride brought me to the mangatepopo car park at the start of the 19km track. I got a bag , extended my poles, and headed onward. All was well and then the Devil's staircase was ahead. The climbing up the mountains had truly started. The trekking poles have proved to be a precious commodity. I rested a lot as I went up. Met a gal from Ireland I walked with for the rest of the time. 

Finally got to where the official mount ngauruhoe summit track started. I debated for a few minutes.  I had come to climb it but I had many more miles to go and I was already starting to hurt. So I decided that climbing at the base of it counted to me. More impressive pictures from afar anyway. 

At that point I linked up with a guy from London I had met on the bus that picked me up from my failed Te Araroa trek walk. So the three of us traveled the rest of the trail together, all the steep ascents, terrifying descents down slippery scree, and the stairs that never seemed to end. We finally finished, well before pick up time. I used to think the Army was unique in the way it bonded people, but turns out it's not that, but ANY  trying experience endured with others that can do it. 

I didn't realize exactly how much I had been relying on my poles until we went to check the bus and I left them. My knees, which had given out a couple times while tramping, barely held me up. The pain will come tonight and tomorrow... All the walking followed by sitting on a bus for hours... Luckily I won't have any other day hikes this trip so I can baby myself again until I get home and see a doctor. 

Took a long and lovely hot shower, put on some clean clothes and grabbed dinner to eat by the lake. Seafood fritter and garlic chips. Sill funny to me that chips are fries. It was delicious. Seafood here tastes fresh. 

I am all packed up again for tomorrow, just the essentials left out. It's a late bus morning which is refreshing after the early morning today. Then off to Wellington for a day tour. 


I left Rotorua this morning and in a little more than an hour was in Taupo. I had only a block of walking to the hostel, which is in turn only a block or two away from the biggest lake in New Zealand - Lake Taupo. (Funny how they say lake whatever its name and we always say the name and then lake. Just little differences to be noted.) 

I couldn't check in yet so they stored my bag and off I went. I had not planned today. I had decided before arriving to be spontaneous and figure it out when I arrived. I went to the information center, gathered some pamphlets, and made a decision. 

I was going to see the Manuka Honey place. I decided to take the walking trail next to the Waikato River, a longer route than the road but I was sure it was going to be more interesting. On the way I was supposed to pass something called the Huka Falls. 

I have never see a river more clear in my life. You could easily see the bottom of it because the water was so pure. 
The track followed the river path for over an hour until I finally reached the falls. To my surprise, not really a waterfall. More like rapids. The river narrows at a certain point, bordered by hard rock creating the rapids. With such amazingly clear water churning the water was white and blue. Beautiful and terrifying at the same time. 

I crossed the bridge over the falls and walked to the honey place. They had bee hived you could see inside, with information about the bees on the walls. Everywhere you could find honey products. I tested some lotions, sampled some honey types, even tried mead. The honey wasn't my favorite. I guess I like my American processed honey. But I learned that the honey takes on different flavors based on the flowers and pollens the need gather. It is not any man made flavor added, but the natural raw flavors of each type of honey! And the mead... I am not an alcoholic but I could drink the mead I sampled all day. It reminded me Of wine, but without that cringing face pucker I usually have to try to hold back. The first one was somehow processed through oak tree and after the mead sweetness there was a woody aftertaste. I can't explain how you can know what a tree tastes like, but that's what it was. And the one flavored with berry was a subtle kind of sweet. Seriously delicious. 

I bought some hokey pokey. A candy apparently commonly known and loved in New Zealand. I snacked on my hokey pokey as I took the faster road route back to the hostel. It sprinkled a bit on the way but it was cool and felt nice with the sun heating my skin. I was rewarded for my route change with a spot to overlook Lake Taupo and the town and see the Tongariro Alpine Crossing across the lake in the distance. I also got to see this sign (which I think some Americans need): 

At this point I was racing a rain storm back to the hostel to finally check in. I got to the center of town and managed to grab some sushi and seaweed salad for dinner on the way. I had beat the storm by the grace of God!

I got checked in to the 3 bed gal's room. Ate my dinner. Walked to Countdown to grab some snacks for the walk he next day and some fruit for dessert. Came out to rain that wasn't done yet. This REI rain jacket is one of the best investments I have ever made. 

I settled in for the night. I got the transportation and accommodation plans settled for the rest of my time in New Zealand. Just some activities left to plan. 

Tomorrow I go to Tongariro Alpine track so I can climb Mount Doom. After loads of walking today I have a guess as to how much pain I will be in after the approx. 20 km walk. I may not make it to the summit of Mt. Ngaurahoe but I will at least climb halfway. I won't suffer pain for 150ish days but for one day to cross something of my life to do list? Absolutely! 

And to add to the LOTR nerdiness, I decided what to do with my one full day in Wellington. I am doing the Rover full day Lord of the Rings tour. I saw the Shire, why not other places like Frodo's tree, Lothlorien, Mina's Tirith, etc.? There are some parts kf the tour at WETA, the Hollywood for New Zealand. I am a movie buff, I admit it. And with this tour I know I will see beautiful parts of the area around the city I would have missed trying to see all in my own. And if its centered around movies I love... Why complain?

So that's it. The North Island is coming to an end. And there is not enough time to devote to the South Island the way I would like. Plane ticket prices and holidays... What can you do?

Waitomo Caves - The Galaxy Inside

I had the Waitomo Glowworm Caves scheduled for the morning.  Onto the bus for a nice tour of the brilliantly green (as always) countryside. Before our destination the driver stopped at a cafe and I grabbed a salmon, cream cheese, and lettuce bagel. Something new... It was delicious! 

Finally got to the caves. Outside as we waited for the tour I met a couple from California. We chatted a bit and found some things in common. The man had lived in a town in Oregon not far from where my family lives. Proves to be a small world no matter how far from home you go, I guess. 

I have been on a cave your before but this cave was extremely spacious. Poorly lit but huge. Not a lengthy or very informational tour as I had experience in Colorado. I was glad to have that one under my belt as it helped me at least know what was worth noting in my own mind. 

The boat ride through the Glowworm part  of the cave was what everyone was really waiting for anyway. In almost total darkness and silence we all found our way into the boat. You have to keep it quiet and dark for the glowworms to keep glowing our tour guide informed us. We got going, moving smoothly through water we couldn't see, only hear. Above us the tiny glowworms shined like stars in the heavens. With everything dark except their tiny spots of color it felt as if I was lying under a tree, looking through the dark spots of branches into the galaxy beyond them in the sky. I was seriously awed at how it could really look as if it was the night sky. 

Then out of the cave into the sunshine again. We headed out, crossing a trail entrance. It made me a bit sad because it was one of the trails I would have taken if my knees would have held up. 

I went back to Rotorua and spent some more time at the lake and wandering around town. I finalized some more plans for the next few days and lay down for a good read and some sleep!