Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

Today we woke up to a clear beautiful day on the beach where we slept, at the end of Ahu Ahu Road. The surf had come down a bit to a more manageable size and was clean and glassy. There were some intimidating rocks strewn about the line-up, but there was a nice spot with nothing but a fun left peeling through. We expected a big Saturday morning surf rush, but it was just us and one other guy at that peak, although up the beach a ways there were about three guys out. The water was blue and inviting, but even with my warmest wetsuit and booties on, it was chilly. It felt like a San Diego sunny winter day out in the water, and we surfed until the tide got too high.

Back in the van for a hot shower (nice!) we packed up and headed inland to Taranaki National Park, but this time going in on a different side of the mountain. We drove through the cute town of Stratford where we stopped and had lunch at a little cafe. You'd think the food here would be pretty much the same, but I've only seen a few brands I've recognized and the rest seems extremely European. They love pumpkin everything (which was great for Halloween today as we are a day later than the US) along with Kumara which is like a sweet potato. Curries and fish 'n chips are everywhere, as to be expected from the Brits.

After lunch we drove up the windy road to Dawson Falls Visitor Center. Located in the midst of an enchanted looking forest, we got a map and started out on our hike. We walked through the mossy wonderland to reach Wilkies Pools which were sculpted by running water over the lava rock. The series of pools and falls were gorgeous with the volcano looming over us in the background. We continued our loop up a ridge trail and linked up with the Dawson Falls Track. We passed a dozen smaller waterfalls on the way, one that ran entirely through the trail, and eventually came up to the 60 ft Dawson Falls. Even though it was Saturday and again we expected crowds at one of the top sights in the National Park, we had the entire falls to ourselves for a little break.

On the way out, the mud was so deep in some spots it came up over my gortex hiking shoes (which I am SO glad I have on this trip!) and filled them with mud. All of the snow is starting to melt off the top of the peak and saturate the trails along the bottom. The temperature has been pretty nice over on this side of the island, in general. Not as warm as what we are used to in San Diego, but comfortable anyway. As we move on down to the South Island (where there are Penguins!) I know I will be freezing and am enjoying the warmth while we have it.

A four and a half hour drive put us way down in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand where we will take the ferry across tomorrow. Driving through the small towns to get here, and at the grocery store this evening, we've seen loads of people in costumes and out trick-or-treating. I didn't think the holiday would even be acknowledged here, but I guess it's a big party night.

Welllington is obviously very urban and I can't say I'm excited about sleeping in the parking lot near the ferry station since our boat leaves so early in the morning. It is the first night we have not had a fabulous panoramic view to ourselves, but it will be nice to get on the South Island before it's too late in the day tomorrow.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Mt Taranaki Area

After the drive of several hours yesterday, we were happy to have the entire day to explore the Taranaki Area on the west coast of North Island. The massive snow-capped volcano is visable from most of the encompassing circular road. We woke up at the beach and headed out early to check some local surf spots. Kumera Patch was a first choice, but wasn't really breaking right and was totally deserted.

We continued on down the Surf Highway 45 to Stent Road, which is famous for the point break at the end. We arrived to a completely empty parking area and not a soul in the water. It looked pretty big, and after six other locals pulled up and drove on, we knew we probably shouldn't chance the paddle out. Continuing south for 10 minutes further, we turned off to visit the Egmont Lighthouse at the end of the road. While the lighthouse was cool, the real highlight was that a couple of surfers were tow-in surfing (when you use a jet-ski to get into really big waves) at the end of the road, and only then could we tell how massive the waves were out there. No wonder no one wanted to get in the water at the other spots. Without the scale of a person, we had no idea the waves were triple-overhead.

With the surfing idea ruled out, we went on to Egmont National Park which contains Mt Taranaki. The drive in wove up and up a narrow mountain road until we reached the North Egmont Visitors Center. It took awhile to decide on a trail as they do not give you any of the hiking distance information. You simply get the amount of time it would take an average person to walk that particular track, or trail. We thought the four hour Maketawa Hut loop sounded like the best option and packed up all our gear and headed out.

The trail crossed over many small wooden bridges and entered a world where you expected to see fairies and elves and goblins around every twist and turn of the track. It looked like it should be a tropical rainforest with moss and lichen dangling off of every limb, but there was actually still snow on the ground in most places, and it was pretty chilly. So chilly you could see your breath. As we hiked up and up through the Dr Seuss landscape of strange plants, we rose above the treeline and saw Mt Tranaki towering in front of us, it's peak misted with clouds. We hiked on to the Maketawa Hut which sleeps 16 people, had four rooms, a huge fireplace, sink and toilet for backpackers. Up the ridgeline we climbed, with less trees and more snow with every step. At the end of our hike we reached the summit track which looked very long and steep all the way up to the 8,512 ft summit, and turned to finish the loop trail back down to the camper.

After a beautiful hike, we headed for Fitzroy beach to check the surf once again. Erich ended up going out in the cold bombing surf, while I enjoyed the sun and watched people get long barrels from the sand. We drove south of town and found a spot to park for the night at the end of Ahu Ahu Road, right on a stream and the black volcanic sand beach.

Plan B (or C?) West to Mount Taranaki

Through the night we woke up to crazy winds and pelting rain storms, but by the time the sun came up, the sky had cleared and the lake was glassy as our campsite was hidden behind a point protecting us from the wind. We headed south into the town of Turangi with the plan of getting a fly fishing guide and trying to learn since it is widely known as the fly fishing capital of the world. Once we reached town we found an i-site, which are stops around New Zealand full of maps and information. The guides were reasonable and taught complete novices, but when we went to book the three hours, we were told by the guide that it was unfortunately too windy for fly fishing. I know nothing about fly fishing but was surprised to hear that this was a glassy water sport.

Our next idea was to hike what is commonly called New Zealand's best one day tramp (or hike as we say) in the National Park of Tongariro which hikes over the saddle of volcanoes and craters to reach a huge vista. The drastic weather once again foiled our plan and we were let down to hear that it was SNOWING (ugh) and unsuitable for any hiking until at least two days from now when the weather was expected to clear.

Our next plan was to drive west to the area of New Zealand's second largest volcano, Mt Taranaki, and escape the windy cold area of Lake Taupo and the Tongariro National Park where we had been. We decided to take the scenic route called "Forgotten World Highway" and it certainly lived up to it's name. It was truly a gorgeous scenic drive of green hillsides and river valleys, allowing us to see more sheep in a day than we have seen in our entire lives 100 times over. The sheep had just had their lambs in September, so it was actually very cute to see all the babies running around the bright green landscape. We stopped to hike out to Mt Damper falls, which at 85 meters is the highest waterfall on the North Island of NZ. It was cool to see the water cascading down the amphitheater of rock into the river gorge below. Yet again, an amazing sight with nearly no one around for miles.

After passing through the tiny slit of Moki tunnel on the "Forgotten Highway," and passing about 10 million more sheep, we made it to New Plymouth just past Mt. Taranaki. The town was cute and we went straight to the local Fitzroy beach to see some massive surf rolling in from the south. It was just before sunset, so we continued south to find a spot to sleep. Avoiding campgrounds and RV parks (or 'holiday parks' as they say) like the plague, we finally settled on a quiet strip of grass along the beach in Tataraimaka Historical Preserve. The van is once again right up against the rocky beach and waves, although the surf is messy and huge, we have a perfect view out the window over the ocean.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Rotorua to Taupo

After waking up on the North Shore of Lake Roturua and making some coffee, we got the van packed up and headed south along the East coast of the lake. The road twisted and turned around the shore of the water until we reached the artist studio and home of Jeanette Blackburn. Our Kiwi camping neighbors had told us about her work and we decided to stop by. Their house is on a quiet street outside of downtown Rotorua with a massive flawless garden and the cutest little Coco-like poodle running around. Her work was pretty amazing and she was extremely friendly and welcoming into her home. Had we brought some money to burn I definitely would have bought a painting, one of which was commissioned for a New Zealand postage stamp and another went the Queen. She did not specify which Queen she was referring to, but it sounded important.

We drove on into the town of Rotorua which I cannot say that I loved. It smelled entirely like rotten eggs from all of the sulphur and hot springs, and I was not overly anxious to sit in a hot tub full of the stinky hot water. It is said the waters cure joint pains like arthritis, and smooth and clarify the skin, but I was skeptical. It reminded me of my dad's story about how in the old days people drank radioactive water thinking it would cure them of all ailments. However, we did really enjoy touring the Government Gardens, with a croquet match going on, and seeing some of the bathhouses from the early 1900s.

Ready to get out of the town, we drove south to Wai-O-Tapu which is called a "thermal wonderland." This region is full of geysers and springs and boiling lakes and bubbling mud-pools and this spot seemed to have it all. We saw sulphur caves, boiling craters, neon lime green lakes, and the champagne pool which is colorful, steaming and bubbling. Of course everything reeked of toxic gases, but the 90 minute walk around the area was amazing.

On to the south, we came to Lake Taupo which is enormous and surrounded by huge mountain peaks, some still with snow. The town was cute and friendly with little water front cafes and bars. We drove down the Eastern side of the lake until we found a nice place to camp, right on the water with another group of black swans hanging around the van. We got a quick hike in up to a viewpoint and headed back to the water's edge for sunset. The tires of he camper are only a feet from the water's edge with no one else around.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sailor's Grave to Rotorua

We woke up to a little shower followed by gorgeous clear sunny skies at the beach called Sailor's Grave. The waves were too small to surf, so we ended up hiking up a little perfectly maintained trail to a lookout over the beach and the neighboring Otara Bay. The forest was wet and lush with lots of Kauri trees and Fern trees and felt like a pre-historic place. We didn't see a single person on the entire hike. After returning to the beach, we walked south along the gorgeous coast, with islands offshore and tiny little peeling waves on the inside. The water is crystal clear and turquoise, but once you put your feet in, it is very actually very cold.

After our walk and breakfast, we got back in the van to check out Hot Water Beach where you can dig in the sand to make your own hot tub. The water under the sand when the tide is low is extremely warm. Being without a shovel, we checked out the small surf and continued on south to the cute surf town of Whangamata. Again the water was crystal clear and aqua blue, but unfortunately there were no surfable waves coming into the bay. We had a nice walk around the beach and the tiny town, visited some of the local surf shops, and continued the drive south.

The drives have mostly been picturesque rolling green hills dotted with cows and sheep and pigs and the occasional farmhouse. The country up here almost feels as if you combined the tropical vegetation and turquoise waters of Hawaii with the rolling farms and cool temperatures of Ireland. And everywhere there are very few people so you really feel as if you have the place to yourself.

After a windy drive down a gorge road, we got into Rotorua in the late afternoon. The lake is big and windy but beautiful. It smells a bit like sulfur and minerals from all of the geothermal activity going on around here. We found a perfect camping spot right on the water of north shore of the lake, and set out for a walk before dark.

We met some local Kiwis who were full of tips and suggestions on places to go and what to see, and told us about the Hamurana Springs walk that we should really check out. It was an unbelievable stroll though a massive grove of redwood trees that would rival anything up in Northern California, along a rolling river with black swans with red beaks floating around. The river had some spots in it which were neon-blue where the sand was exposed on the bottom, while some areas had seaweed type plants and giant trout swimming. When we made up to the end of the trail, you could see where the river started coming out of the ground. The spring pumps out 1,000,000 gallons of water an hour and creates the entire river. When you looked down into the massive hole, you couldn't see the bottom, just blue water pumping up out of the bottom, 50 feet down in the ground.

We cooked up some curry in the camper and crashed out with the lake waves putting us right to sleep.

Monday, October 26, 2009

New Zealand is Beautiful!

We've finally made it to NZ after a surprisingly nice flight on Quantas. We're getting used to driving on the opposite side of the road, Erich is actually doing really well! We only drove on the wrong side once :) but people are so nice they didn't really seem to mind.

Last night we parked and slept at this gorgeous deserted pristine beach and could hear the waves all night. Too bad the swell was too small to surf since there were four breaks right there. Turns out the spot was called Sailor's Grave, which maybe would have been intimidating if we had known that last night, but it worked out okay! There was a grave right across the stream from where we slept so no wonder we had the place entirely to ourselves.

My wi-fi is almost timed out, but we hope to upload some pics soon!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Welcome to Boston

Well, Mochi and Coco we tried to keep you guys in sunny SoCal by the beach, but too bad for you, you're getting shipped to Abu dabi, oh, I meant Boston. For two miserable, cold, frosty months, you get to hang out inside with grammy and grampy and poor old Indy. Hopefully you will get walked and fed and pet at some point while we're away. We'll be on our trip, driving around the countryside in our camper van, exploring first New Zealand and then Australia. But we promise to update this blog so you can see what you're missing!