Monthly Archives: December 2011

December 14, 2011: Milford Sound

Wednesday morning we leave Wanaka and make the 5 hour drive to Milford Sound, in the Fiordlands. Well, it should have taken 5 hours, but Mark stops about every five minutes to take photos, so it takes a lot longer. But we begin to giggle because everything just keeps getting more beautiful.

First, the lupins are in bloom, and there are millions of them everywhere.  Be sure to click on a few of these pics to make them larger and to fully appreciate the colors.

Then, it starts raining, and the cliffs become covered with waterfalls (click and enlarge these as well!).

Then we get on the overnight cruise (The Mariner) and start cruising around the Milford Sound. Both of us are overwhelmed with the beauty.  We had seen the pictures online beforehand and they just didn’t look that impressive.  Now we understand why.  It’s a matter of scale and without being there or having other objects in the photos, it’s impossible to appreciate the magnitude of the falls and fjords.  We did our best to capture it all with a camera, but imagine five-thousand foot sheer cliffs all around you, and thousands of waterfalls falling down the sides. Most of the waterfalls were temporary falls that only occur when it is raining, and we realize we are lucky there is so much rain today.  The ship gets really close to some of the falls and we enjoy getting soaked.  It’s truly breathtaking, and we both agree immediately that this is the highlight of the trip, and maybe the most beautiful natural site we have ever seen.

It’s hard to appreciate how immense these waterfalls and mountains are, but check out the size of the waterfall below next to a very large ship (this waterfall is taller than Niagara Falls):

and then as we pan back, check out the enormous mountains that seem to dwarf the falls (with another “disappearing waterfall” of its own in the top right, showing that there are yet taller fjords still above that:

Once again, look at the height of the waterfall below compared to the other large overnight ship (100 person vessel) that was traveling in the sound.  Also notice the “disappearing waterfall” to the right of the main waterfall.  There are a few of these and when the wind picks up, the falls actually flow left, right, disappear, and sometimes even flow upward into the sky until they disappear.  It was hard for the eyes and mind to agree on what was happening there!

And finally for perspective once again, the below photo is the same exact waterfall:

So many amazing views, we couldn’t stop taking pictures.


We went for a little tender boat cruise, and I stayed nice and toasty in my wetsuit!


We even got to see some Fur Seals basking on the rocks, although we did miss the penguins and dolphins that frequent the sound.

Over a nice dinner we meet some interesting travelers from India and New Zealand, and then we enjoy a slideshow given by the ship naturalist, all about the natural wonder of Milford. Afterwards we head back out on deck and it’s still light at 10pm. We anchor all by ourselves at Harrison Bay for the night, where waterfalls are still trickling down the cliffs. It truly is magical and we feel like we’re in the floating mountains of Pandora from Avatar.

The next morning we cruise out to the Tasman Sea (but don’t go too far as it’s a bit too rough) and then another hour cruise through the sound before departing the ship (so sad to leave!).


Posted by on December 31, 2011 in Uncategorized


December 13, 2011: Wanaka

Ok, now we’re off to Wanaka for the night, which is a ski resort area in the winter.  We sing “Have a Happy Wanaka” all the way there and enjoy the amazing drive through the Aspiring Mountain range.

We arrive late again, but are thrilled with the apartment we booked on the way down. It is up on a hill and has an amazing view of the lake.

We indulge in an hour of lounging and cocktails in our apartment, then head to the main street of Wanaka (so cute) and find another amazing Indian Restaurant. This one might be the best yet—so yummy!  I order my usual (chole, which is chana masala) and Mark gets his usual (dahl makahni).  Then we head back to the apartment and I ask Mark to start reading about the Milford sound, our next destination. In a few minutes he says, “Oh, boy, you are going to like this. I think we should do the overnight cruise.” It sounds amazing, and although a splurge, we decide to book it (we can justify it after the occasional hostels we’ve been staying at, right?).

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Posted by on December 30, 2011 in Uncategorized


December 12, 2011: Franz Josef and Fox Glacier

This is the longest driving day of the trip. Mark is definitely getting comfortable driving in New Zealand, although I still hear him muttering to himself “Lefty McLefterson” from time to time, reminding himself to stay on the left.  So today we drive from Takaka all the way to the Franz Joseph Glacier, about 450k, with a  brief stop at Punakaiki, famous for the pancake rocks, which were definitely worth the stop.

The drive through the west coast is desolate, with hardly any gas stations, restaurants or towns for hundreds of miles.  We finally arrive at Franz Josef at 8:30 pm, exhausted but exhilarated because it seems that in just a few miles the terrain has changed from coastal to alpine.  The clouds part for just a moment for us to see the amazing peaks of the southern alps,

and we are so excited we drive right past our hotel straight up to the glacier. We get to the car park just before dark, and decided to jog up to the glacier viewing spot (just a quick 10 minutes). It’s amazing, giant, and surround by beautiful snow-covered peaks and a few waterfalls.

When we get back to our car we find a Kea bird on the roof. The Kea is the world’s only alpine parrot. He’s a totally curious, very intelligent-looking giant parrot—so cool!

We go back to our Glow Worm Cottage hotel and I catch up on work the rest of the night.  We are up early doing more work and trip planning (we book our flight to Aussieland as well as our flight back to Auckland to meet up with Erica), and then head off to see the Franz Josef Glacier in the daylight.  This is my first time up close to a glacier, and for a few minutes I kinda think, big deal, it’s just snow, but then we read about what a glacier is and I begin to understand that basically I’m looking at a frozen river that is moving ever so slightly as I watch it.  This particular glacier is what’s left of an enormous glacier that sculpted the valleys around us, and it still shifts greatly depending on the snowfall and temperatures each year. I begin to contemplate that and I have to admit it’s pretty cool.

Then, back in the car to Fox Glacier, which is just 20K away.  This is another beautiful glacier, and were are able to get a bit closer and see some glacier pools, which are beautiful.

We also stop for a picnic lunch at Lake Mattheson, which was recommended to us by our friends who used to live here.  Mark runs around it while I plop down and take a break. It’s pretty, but unfortunately Mt. Cook is covered in clouds so we miss the famous view.

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Posted by on December 30, 2011 in Uncategorized


December 11, 2011: Takaka

Sunday morning we get a message from my friend Erica in Auckland, inviting us the next week to her friend’s private beach in the north. We are thrilled, and decide to hustle through the south island so we can get back north in time to meet up with Erica.

Even so, we don’t want to leave Abel Tasman, so we drive up to Takaka, another gateway to the park, this time accessing a different part of the trail.  This section is part of Golden Bay, and you know why when you see the color of the sand.

We drive down to Totaranui with another plan to catch a water taxi down and run back up. The last water taxi pulls into the bay and we wave at him, but for some reason he turns around and doesn’t pick us up. We are bummed, cause this means we’ll only be able to cover about half the trail since it will be an out and back run.  We head out, and the trail again is another beautiful track.

However, there is a giant section of wet sand to cross which pretty much sucks.  I head back early and see my first penguin on the beach (sadly, it’s a dead one washed up), but now I’m on penguin alert.  We meet back at the car and head back to Takaka and grab what turns out to be a gross fish and chips dinner at the last place open.  Back at the hotel I was doing laundry, and so after dinner when I go to put the clothes in the dryer and realize Mark used all the coins on dinner, I have a mini-melt down. So we go to bed hoping for a better day.

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Posted by on December 30, 2011 in Uncategorized


December 8-11, 2011: Nelson

On Thursday we left Wellington via the ferry boat. It was a pretty cool experience to drive our rental car onto the giant ship, and then go upstairs to enjoy a beautiful lounge, wifi and food.  We cruised through the Cook Strait to the south island, and once we got into calm waters it was beautiful.

We drove off the ship into Picton–it looked a lot like Pacifica, actually–check it out:

and from there drove a few hours to Nelson, known as the sunniest place in New Zealand. It lived up to its promise, and proved to be our sunniest three days all trip.

We checked in late to the Bug Hostel, and got three days of true hostel living. It was a great place, with free (spotty) internet, fresh baked bread in the morning, and a really cute private room in an old Victorian styled house.

We met a lot of travelers there, and the first night there was a pot luck which we enjoyed.  Now Nelson is a cute little town, but the highlight was its proximity to Abel Tasman National Park.  This is an amazing coastal wonderland of trails and bays.  So the next day we drove up there (got a bit lost on the windy roads, which sucked), but we made it there before the last water taxi took off from the east end of the park.  The water taxi driver was great and gave us a mini tour of the coast, then dropped us at Bark Bay, 20 k from our car. Yes, we did another monster run, and it was amazing.

The trail followed the coast with lots of ups and downs but tons of beautiful views and many bays to cross.  I told Mark to run ahead at his pace, and I was cruising pretty good for the first hour. Then I had to cross a couple streams that took me awhile, and fell a bit behind.  Still, I was about 12 k in when I bump into Mark running back my way. He was so relieved, and said that after awhile he started worrying about me, and couldn’t keep going. It was so cute.  So we ran the last 8k together, and it was a great, beautiful run.

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Posted by on December 21, 2011 in Uncategorized


December 5-8, 2011: Wellington

Ok, it’s been awhile since I have blogged. So many adventures in last three weeks, but no time to write because we’ve been moving so swiftly around New Zealand.  First let me tell you about the first week of December.

We left Tongariro National Park (so beautiful there–here’s a shot of the “broom” bush):

Then we spent three days in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. This fairly big city is at the southern tip of the north island.  The weather was awful, so we decided to work for a few days inside our hotel, with a few quick ventures out to see the city.  We stayed on Cuba Street, which is a cool street with tons of restaurants and bars and pedestrians only, and even though our hotel room was tiny, the hotel itself had lots of amenities we enjoyed including an indoor pool, gym,  and hot tub.

I spent the first afternoon wandering around in the rain looking for the Wellington Writer’s Walk, which supposedly is a nice stroll around the harbor, sprinkled with statues of famous quotes from New Zealand writers. Sounds cool, huh? Never found it, and got soaked looking for it! Oh, well!

Every night we indulged in the amazing Indian food that was all over Wellington.  Here’s a picture of the giant dosa I was served. Yum!

We also took a tour of Parliament, which was great.  We learned about the MMP parliament process here in New Zealand, which allows for more than just the two-party system we have in the states.  The parliament is made up of members from a lot of different parties (11 total I believe?) and the prime minister is selected from the majority party.  Parliament wasn’t in session (a new parliament was just elected in last week), but we got to walk around the halls and see where all the discussions took place.  I have still never been to our capital, so it was pretty cool to finally see where some politics take place.

We also stopped by a travel agency and got the low-down on the south pacific islands, how to get from each one, which ones have what we are looking for, etc.  The plan is to spend the holidays and new years in Sydney and then head for the pacific islands, which we are very anxious to explore.  The brochures and stories all look and sound amazing!  Fiji still sounds like our spot, but we also want to see Samoa, Tonga, and especially Vanuatu.

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Posted by on December 21, 2011 in Uncategorized


December 4, 2011: Tongariro Crossing

Quite a day today!  It is our big chance to attempt the Tongariro Crossing.  We had been hearing reports on this hike for the last three days from backpackers who trekked through the rain. This morning the rain has finally let up, and even though we are checking out of the hostel and bound for Wellington tonight (about 4 hours south), we start considering it.  Now, everyone has been taking this hike very seriously. It’s 19.4 km (12 miles round trip) and climbs 2,600 feet to get to a 6,200 feet peak.  They leave at 6 or 7 in the morning with rain gear, food, extra clothing, and tons of water, and usually don’t finish until after 3.  I was a bit intimidated and nervous.  Mark, however, has a different perspective. “All that advice is for the fat f**ks who are out-of-shape candy asses. We can just run the whole thing in shorts and T-shirt, and maybe carry a water bottle in our hand.”  Does that sound like Mark or what?

We get to the trailhead just before noon, hours after the last hiker started off this morning.  I wear a light running jacket (the one you sent me for Xmas years ago, Matt. I wear this thing all the time, by the way!) and carry a balaclava in case the winds get bad at the top. Mark is just wearing little dolphin shorts, though he’s got a shirt tucked out the back of his shorts just in case. We find some plastic coke bottles and fill them with water, and at the last minute shove some slices of white bread into my pocket, just in case.  I feel very ill-prepared!

It’s 6 miles to the highest peak (Red Crater), and I don’t think I’ll make it that far, so I’m aiming for the South Crater (4 miles up). So we make a plan to run our own pace, Mark aiming for the Red Crater peak, and me meeting up with him on his way back down at the South Crater.  I lose Mark right away but I’m trucking along. The first 3 miles are relatively flat, which is a great way to warm up. Suddenly the sun comes out—totally unexpected—and Mt. Doom is revealed in all its glory. I am impressed. It’s such an intimidating but beautiful mountain, and I have a view of it the whole time.

I start  passing hikers and the grade increases. I switch back and forth from running to walking for the next 45 minutes.  Then, at an hour in, I reach the South Crater. I’m shocked it was so relatively easy. I see the Red Crater up above, and decide to keep going.  The trail to the Red Crater is on an unprotected ridge and the wind is blowing. But every step is rewarded with amazing views. Just before I reach the summit I see Mark above me. He is surprised to see me, but really happy. We summit together and enjoy the amazing Red Crater, the Emerald Lakes, and of course, another great view of Mt. Doom. It’s totally exhilarating.

I’m anxious to hear Mark’s perspective. I’m hopeful that his ego was knocked down a bit after such a long climb, and that maybe he has more respect now for the Kiwi guidebooks.  Hell, no. He loved the trail, but is barely winded, and as usual, thinks he’s king of the world. Oh, well!

The run down is easy (though hard on the knees) and I officially complete my longest run ever.  We are both pumped as we drive down to Wellington, ready for our next adventure (which, luckily for my aching legs, won’t involve any hiking for a few days)!


Posted by on December 6, 2011 in Uncategorized


Nov. 30-Dec. 3, 2011: Rotorua and Tongariro

Well, we had another three full days in Rotorua.  The town never stopped stinking from the sulphur, but besides that we found a lot of cool things to do and see.  On Wednesday we both worked most of the day, then went for an afternoon run around Sulphur Lake.  Man is it stinky over there! At times it almost gags you.  We ran by the Laughing Gas pools, where a hundred years ago European settlers used to bathe and giggle, not knowing why.

Turns out the gas is nitrox, so that explains the fun.  A bit dangerous to be bathing in it, though.  We were also accosted by the gulls here. Apparently they don’t like runners!

We got home and relaxed in our own mineral spa at the hotel (hard to say what medicinal value it provided, but it was a nice soak) and then got picked up for our cultural evening at the Mitai Maori Village.  Now, we were expecting a hokey, touristy evening, but it was actually a lot of fun.  The Maoris had a great sense of humor, and staring with the introduction host (who was amazing—he called out to the audience to see what countries they were from, and 24 countries were represented by the end. He greeted each country with a few phrases in their language. Quite impressive when he started speaking Gaelic, Farci, and Dutch!).  Then we got a tour of some cultural activities, seeing how the food is prepared, canoes are carved and rowed, fish are caught, etc.

The young Maori men were quite impressive in their native costumes. Then they took us to a simulated village, where the Chief educated us on Maori tradition and history. There was a lot of music and dancing. All of the participants seemed to be really into it, and we really enjoyed the exuberant Maori woman in the back who kept popping out the whites of her eyes in excitement.

The Chief had a great sense of humor and the best part was the Haka at the end. I’ll upload this video when I have more bandwidth.

After that it was a delicious dinner and then a tour of the Rainbow Springs animal park, where we finally saw a live kiwi!  They are so cute, even late at night they seemed very active and busy running around their pens.  We also saw the biggest rainbow trout ever, and guess where they came from? Yep, California!

The next day we decided to go mountain biking in the Redwood forest (another flora gift from California). I had never been mountain biking before, and both of us were hopeful that this would be a great new sport for me. I love being outdoors and I love my beach cruiser, so this would be great, right?

Well, we got there and right away I was in a bit over my head since I didn’t know how to change the gears on my bike (been awhile since I rode my 1985 10-speed, the last bike I had with gears!). This bike was pretty fancy, and as soon as I figured out how to ride it, things were getting better.  Mark tried to find his way on the confusing map, but first we had to climb a gravel road for about half an hour. Well, that sucked. We finally made it to a trailhead, but it wasn’t the beginner level one we were aiming for. I thought, no worries, level 3 sounds fine. I know how to ride a bike, right? No way. Oh my god, riding downhill through blind turns on a track that’s about two feet wide is absolutely frightening. I could hear Mark shouting with glee up ahead, but I was screaming my head off, and not in the fun way!  We met up and I showed him my sad face, and he said, “Uh, oh, you don’t like it?”  Heck no.  It was way too scary for me, and I felt like I was going to go over my handlebars the whole time. After some time calming me down, he coaxed me back to the beginner loop (“The Dipper”) and we did that loop a few times. He loved it (except for the scary part of never knowing if you are going in the right direction—the trails are not well-marked).  He left me there to loop the Dipper and he rode to a bunch more advanced trails. He even saw a local Geyser and great views of Rotorua.  I peddled my way back to the car and relaxed, deciding that this just wasn’t my sport.


Since we seemed to be going in different directions yesterday, today we decide to split up.  Mark decides to go for the adventurous River Rafting tour down the Kaituna River.  I opt for the slightly tamer Sheep Show at the Agrodome! I know, we have SO much in common!

So, picture me petting little lambs, learning about the 18 different types of sheep and how to sheer them, and enjoying the highlight of the show which involved sheepdogs herding sheep!

Then picture Mark, crewing up with a bunch of Kiwi travelers to raft down 11 rapids including a 25 foot waterfall!

Yes, pretty much the same experiences on both ends!

We both had a good time and met back in the evening for dinner and a planning session of our next spot: Tongariro National Park.


We left Rotorua in time to catch the 10:15 eruption of Lady Knox Geyser in Waitopo Thermal Wonderlands.  This was the first geyser I had ever seen, and though it was a bit contrived (to time the 10:15 eruption, they drop a reactant into the hole to set it off everyday), it was pretty neat.  We had fun taking pictures, too.

Then we wandered around all the other thermal and mud pools, and they were pretty amazing. Tons of different colors and temperatures (none that you could actually get in), and lots of bubbling, gurgling and steam.  We learned that in Rotorua everyday there’s a seismic movement of at least a 2.0 due to all the volcanic activity. Luckily they haven’t had any damaging volcanoes for over 100 years.

From there we headed south, stopping at Huka Falls for a quick look and then having lunch at Lake Taupo.  After a delicious lunch of California Rolls and Udon noodles, we are lucky enough to bump into another parade! Mark’s less than thrilled, but humors me as we enjoy a more local Christmas parade this time. Seems like everyone knows everyone here, and it’s pretty cute.

Then we drive to Tongariro National Park, known in part for being a big set for the Lord of the Rings films.  The weather turns and we get rain and clouds for the rest of the two hour drive. We arrive in the town called National Park and get turned away from a few hotels because they are full. Turns out today was the Goat, a 20km running race through the mountains.  Too bad we missed it!  We finally find a spot at the Plateau, a nice hostel that offers us a private room with a shared bath for cheap.

Mark goes out for a run but I’m lazy and relax in the common rooms, which are really nice, with a big kitchen, dining room, comfy couches and a TV. He has a great run, exploring Taranaki falls, and even though it’s cloudy he catches a glimpse of Mt. Doom (from Lord of the Rings).

He’s super jazzed and when he gets back we enjoy the hot tub (you have to “book” a half-hour soak, so we book 7-7:30pm). In there we meet some nice German/Swiss travelers who give us lots of tips about the hiking around here. Everyone is talking about the Tongariro Crossing, a 19km 6 hour hike that crosses several volcano craters, lakes, and on a clear day has views of all the famous peaks.  We are trying to decide if we should do it. Mark wants to run it, but it just seems impossible to run that far for me, and if we walk it we’ll need to carry more gear because it’s cold and raining and we’ll be exposed for a lot more hours.  We decide to sleep on it and see about the weather tomorrow.


Posted by on December 3, 2011 in Uncategorized