Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mini post: Picton - Gateway to the South Island

After leaving the holiday park, Dave and went to Wellington and picked up Natalie from the airport. Natalie and Dave worked at the Tim Hortons camp together over the summer. She flew in from Australia and also got an interview at the resort Dave and I applied to!

In Wellington, we stayed at Worldwide Backpackers again and got the sweetest room. Mainly because it had a mini loft in it. It took us all a few seconds to figure out where the third bed was. 

Dave also tried some golden kiwi! It is not as sweet as green kiwi fruit but still tasty. 

The day after we got on the ferry to Picton, the gateway to the South Island. You get to see some beautiful ocean and  some great landscape. At one point we caught a glimpse of the Kaikoura mountain range in the east coast of the island.

Our hostel in Picton, is called the Juggler's Rest. It has a really cool vibe and a very welcoming atmosphere. Nikki, our host came over from England and  also used to be a teacher but couldn't find a job in the age group she was trained in. Boy, do I know the feeling! 

At our hostel we were greeted with homemade wool socks! There was also a  veggie garden, hammocks, fresh free range eggs and grape vines everywhere. 

During the evening we took advantage of the juggling balls, hula hoops, poi and diablos that were lying around. We also hung out on the hammocks and played around with the slack line for awhile too!

Dave also made friends with the resident cat if course. =) 

For breakfast, we had freshly baked bread, homemade jam, coffee and fresh grape juice, prepared by our host. The juice was so sweet and delicious with no sugar added!  It was a great way to wake up! Afterwards, we hung out and lounged around in the sun like little kitty cats before our interview. We will be off in a few minutes so I better go! 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Our First Work Exchange

Dave and I did our first work exchange at a place called Tongariro Holiday Park. We worked two hours a day, seven days a week in exchange for accommodation for most of the month of October 2013.  Holiday parks are something we have never encountered until we came to New Zealand. They are a sort of campground and hostel all bundled up into one.

These holiday parks are everywhere in NZ and Australia and offer different types of accommodation to people. This includes camping (in a tent), car camping (in an RV, van, campervan etc.), rooms with or without an ensuite bathroom or a self-contained unit (kitchen, bathroom and bedroom all in one place!). If you are not in a self-contained unit, you use a communal kitchen and bathrooms.

Just outside our room

The cabins...and forest!

Kitchen building

Most places have that something extra too like pools, trampolines, playgrounds, thermal pools and giant pillows.  Dave and I have stayed in a few already in NZ, and they are a pretty unique place to stay, in our opinion.  

Our hosts, Greg and Donna and their two sons have been here for about eight years. They have been super nice (most Kiwis are) and have shared a lot about Kiwi culture and the area we are in. They even put us in charge of this place and left for the beach within a week of meeting us!

Inside the kitchen

Inside the kitchen

They also have a commercial grade espresso machine in the kitchen for their own personal use... I don't know what Dave and I are going to do for coffee when we go back to Canada... but I'll save that for another day...

Our days consisted of waking up around 8:30 am, having breakfast, then cleaning for around two hours.  We would clean the bathrooms and showers, then move onto the kitchen. Sometimes we would need to clean a few rooms, and make some beds.  

Our cabin. Bit of a tight space, but we were thankful to have it!

Greg and Donna put a lot of effort into making their rooms look great.  Trying to copy their work was extremely frustrating for me. I obviously know how to make a bed, but to make a bed look as nice as Greg and Donna's bed was tedious and a total pain in my ass!  I would spend way too much time adjusting the sheets and tugging on ends, trying to get all the wrinkles out. Then comes the pillows... They had to be propped up just right, otherwise they would look sad and lumpy.

Being here for a month gave us time to do this!  View of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing from Mount Nguaruhoe. 

After cleaning, if the weather was good, Dave and I would go hiking in Tongariro National Park. In our first week here, we hiked around 50 km of trails.   We had time to get on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing three times. We only did the whole thing once, but we also attempted to summit Mount Nguaruhoe. Dave succeeded but I did not.

During the rest of our time here, the weather wasn't as nice as the first week. It rained quite a bit and got quite windy.  There were a few days here where it was hovering around 4 degrees.  You would think as a Canadian, this wouldn't feel so cold to us, but when it's damp AND cold outside, it feels way colder. Definitely wish I had my down jacket here for those days. Thankfully summer is coming, and we (hopefully) won't be needing a ton of warm clothes for much longer.

Dave says, when it rains it feels like Soviet Russia. This is mainly because we are about a 25 minute drive from the nearest town and when the weather is poor nobody comes to the holiday park. The nearby town, Tarangi, also has very little in the form of entertainment and is not really worth the drive if you're bored.  It was also the closest place to get groceries. Prices were generally more expensive than other grocery stores, but the other grocery stores were an hour drive away in Taupo.  We did find a delicious fish and chips place in Tarangi called the Grand Central Fry. We could both eat well for $11, which is cheap by NZ standards! 

We also found an SPCA fundraiser book sale in Tarangi where Dave and I were able to buy four books for about eight dollars.  New books here are even more expensive than they are in Canada unfortunately, so this was like a gold mine! 

Overall, it was a pretty good experience. It was a great break from driving around for a month, and now we are ready to hit the road again.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Hiking Around Tongariro National Park

Hiking around Tongariro National Park has been a pretty cool experience!  Hiking around volcanoes, active thermal vents and craters has been quite surreal.  It's been great being so close to the park. We have had to drive anywhere from 2 minutes to 40 minutes to get to the hikes around here. 

Tongariro is the oldest national park in New Zealand, and the area holds many sacred Maori sites along with some active volcanoes. For the skiers out there, this is also where New Zealand's largest ski area is located on Mount Ruahepu below!  The ski season here usually runs from June to the end of October.  

Lower Tama Lake with Mount Ruahepu in the background. It has very little snow on it right now! 

It's interesting because the trails are all really well developed and maintained, but the touristy, commercial part of things was less so.  I came here with my Canadian Rockies bias expecting a sort of 'Canmore' and 'Banff' type towns to be established here, but that was not the case! Don't get me wrong though, Tongariro National Park is a popular destination for Kiwis and international tourists. There are tour companies, and a variety of accommodation options, but it all seems so minimal when you are used to the Rockies!  

One of the best parts about hiking around here are the signs and trail markers. The trails here are marked with poles when things get confusing.  At trailheads and trail junctions, there are signs that tell you where to go and how long it will take you to get there! It's amazing!  Never be confused again!

Dave and I also went into one of the backcountry huts we passed by and they look so cozy! I've never been in a backcountry hut in Canada, so I have nothing to compare it to.  This one was on the Whakapatiti Valley trail.  They also collect rain water outside so there is always a freshwater supply somewhere. You still need to filter it though!  

In the nicer huts on the Great Walks, there are hot showers, flushing toilets, and gas stoves that you can use. You obviously pay more, but, yes, you can have a HOT SHOWER in the backcountry. Crazy talk! I know!

Twaihai Falls - A short 20 minute walk, and a LOTR set location! 

If you are a Lord of the Rings fan, like I am, you really get the feeling that you are in Rohan and in Mordor. Peter Jackson did an amazing job showcasing New Zealand's natural beauty in the movies. Dave and I went on a hike to Twahai Falls (above), and didn't even realize we were at one of the set locations! 

A lagoon we encountered in the middle of a Ohinetonga Walking Track. 

 One distinct track we went on was called Ohinetonga Walking Track. It's only four kilometers, and has very little view, but the forest you walk through is breathtaking. It was so dense, and lush...two words that don't really do it justice, but it was just amazing and beautiful.  It was also the scene of a rather dramatic pond crossing...but you can ask Dave about that one!

Ohinetonga Walking Track

Ohinetonga Walking Track

That being said, if you are planning to go hiking in New Zealand, here are a few tips from me to you:

  • Be prepared!! Check the weather. Ask questions at the info center. Bring the right gear!
  • Do not ignore the warnings and track closures you come across. Dave and I have learned that the Department of Conservation does not sugar coat things nor do they over exaggerate their warnings.  
  • The weather DOES turn on a dime here, and you can just assume that it will rain. If it doesn't rain, you will probably be hiking in a cloud at some point, so bring your rain gear anyway!  If it just rained, bring your gaiters. There will be mud and puddles, and it will be slippery.
Bring your gaiters!

Hopefully this has given you a nice taste of what Tongariro National Park has to offer.  I can't wait to explore the mountains on the South Island!  

Hiking in the rain.

View of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing from Mount Nguaruhoe

Happy tramping!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Michelle: The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is supposed to be New Zealand's greatest day walk, and it delivered!

Our day started at 7:15 am on the Tongariro Expeditions shuttle bus from the holiday park we were working at.  Jarod, the driver and owner, was quite possibly the most enthusiastic person I'd ever met. He made the short bus ride so exciting and genuinely loved what he was doing.  Within minutes of meeting Dave and I, he offered up his place in Taupo because Dave mentioned he wanted to try the trout fishing in Lake Taupo.

Dave:  Jarod was also quite the showman on the buses PA system. In Jarod's words seeing Mt.Taranaki in the distance was 'the shizzle', the day was going to be a 'stunna' and just about every was 'sweet as'. He also mentioned to me how much he loves the Tongariro area. Jarod was quite open and mentioned that he had buried both of his children's afterbirth (placenta and umbilical cords) beneath trees of significance. I found this very interesting and I did a little Google search and it's a Maori practice that is suppose to establish a connection between the newborn child and the land of their birth. I find it interesting how much the Maori culture has permeated the dominant western culture here. In Canada I think it would be fair to say it would be very rare to hear about any non-first nation person practicing rituals of the First Nations people. 

Michelle: I think that is one of the most amazing thing we have discovered about Kiwis, they are genuinely nice, honest and trusting. We've been treated so well by everyone we've met, offered beer, wine, food, coffee and shelter!

It was a beautiful, clear day, and the temperature was tolerable.  From the beginning of the track, we could see Mount Taranaki off in the distance, on the west coast of New Zealand.

Because a storm was forecasted for later in the afternoon, Jarod recommended everyone skip the side trips to the summits of Mount Tongariro and Mount Ngauruhoe.  We decided to take his expert advice, as he'd been shuttling people to and from the walks for twenty years.

The beginning of the walk. Mount Ngauruhoe is right in front of us. This was taken a week and a half before we did the entire walk, so there is more snow.

The trail starts off pretty flat. The first hour is a nice walk with some beautiful scenery. The board walks made it even nicer.  Just like their roads, the boardwalks never allowed us to actually walk in a straight line for very long. After that, the fun really begins. The next section is called the Devil's staircase. It takes about an hour to do, and yes, it is all stairs!

Near the summit of the crossing. Mount Ngauruhoe is behind us with considerably less snow than a week and a half ago! It was quite cold and windy up here! Also note how inflated our pants look, it's because of the rip roaring gail force winds.

Once you reach the top of the Devil's Staircase, you pass by the base of Mount Ngauruhoe, which is about a 3 hour side trip. You can only do it safely on a clear day. Clouds surround the peak quickly and make the trail very dangerous due to poor visibility.  It is all scree, and apparently, many people have been hurt by falling rocks and lost their way due to the poor weather. 

After that you cross the South Crater, which is a vast, flat, muddy bowl-like area.  It was also once an active volcanic area. Afterwards, you start climbing again, this time on a ridge. There was considerably less snow on the ridge this time, but it was much windier! It was supposed to be 35 km/h winds, but it felt like more... Dave and I both forgot our gloves too! 

Almost at the summit and feeling very cold.
At this point, I was feeling a little panicky. The trail still had some ice on it, and it was quite narrow on the ridge.  My hands were hurting because it was so cold, and I had to decide between having my hands in my pockets or using my poles to help me stay upright. With the windchill, it got down to minus nine degrees and it definitely caught Dave and I a little off guard. 

As you approach the summit, the Red Crater appears to the right.  It's basically a big red gaping hole in the earth that was steaming. Unfortunately, it was difficult to capture it all on camera. 

Watch out for those eruptions!
To the right of me is the Red Crater. It is still active, and there were gases (sulphur smelling) being released everywhere.
Right below you, you can see the Emerald Lakes, and a big blue lake in the distance.  This is definitely the highlight of the hike. The views are stunning, and the landscape looks alien-like.  This was also the beginning of the descent.  The slope to the lake was soft soil, and felt like scree. Dave and I ran down the trail quickly and had lunch down at the bottom. 

Looking down at Emerald Lakes. Dave and I ran down the scree-like surface. It was awesome!!

To get to Blue Lake, you cross the Central Crater. You can see it behind me in the photo below. The snow in the picture also highlights some old lava flow.  It was so unbelievably cool! Once you pass the Blue Lake, you begin the long descent. 

Around kilometer 11.  The Red Crater and summit of the crossing is just above my left shoulder. I was so cold, I decided to wear my extra pair of socks as mittens.

The trail to the Ketetahi carpark passes through some rolling hills and by the Te Mari crater.  There is also a backcountry hut that is close. Not sure why, but it looked as if it was damaged when the Te Mari crater erupted.  Along the trail, you can see where some pieces of rock landed, and some were quite close to the hut!

The descent seemed endless to Dave and I, and we were also being chased by the storm. Every time we turned around, more and more of the peaks behind us had been engulfed in the clouds.

In August of 2012, the Te Mari erupted and blew off the top of this hill. It has been steaming ever since! 

View from the descent. You can see Lake Taupo, Lake Rotoraira in the distance. The Te Mari crater is also on the right.
Luckily, it did not rain really hard until we reached the end of the trail.  My left knee was quite sore by the end of it, and Dave got a wicked blister on his little toe, but other than that, we survived!  We started on the trail around 8 am and ended our 19.4 km journey at 2:45 pm.  The ascent to the summit was 750 meters, and the descent was a gruelling 1100 meters.

Dave and I agree, this is definitely one of the most beautiful hikes we have ever been on. The changes in landscape as we progressed through the hike were incredible.  I highly recommend it to anyone visiting New Zealand!

Makes me wonder what people would consider the best hike in Canada! It's hard for me to choose, and I welcome your opinions!  What would you say is the best hike in Canada, or any other country, for that matter?