Sunday December 13, 2015 (New Zealand, Oceania)
My, oh my. Can you believe it’s December 12th? Thirteen days until Christmas? I mean, tomorrow we could reasonably be singing “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and be completely on point. We are unprepared.
Let’s start with a poorly kept secret. Sandra and I ran a marathon. We ran it in late November in Queenstown. The Queenstown Marathon! This completed our trifecta of running a 10k in India (Chennai), a half marathon in Bangkok and finishing up with a full marathon in Queenstown. In case you’re wondering, the event went pretty well all told. The weather was fairly cool without too much rain. We meandered through the water stations to fill our needy bellies. We lost to a blind woman. No joke. There’s this awesome company called Achilles International that supplies guides to help people with limited sight run races – so cool! Anyway, we couldn’t keep up with this blind woman and her sighted guide who kept passing us whilst being joined at the hand by a little cloth strap keeping them running together. Totally inspiring. And she obviously trained way better than we did. But hey, we completed it right? Now it’s just chocolate and celebratory wine until we get home for Christmas!
After the marathon in Queenstown we shuttled back and forth to Wanaka. Sandra was thinking she might want to check out the Roy’s Peak track that I had hiked previously, but she wasn’t feeling the flow after ruining her body during the marathon. So we relaxed! Taking pictures of Lake Wanaka, checking out some movies at the Cinema Paradiso and enjoying their fresh-baked cookies at “half-time”. Doesn’t get much better than that, right?
After Wanaka we returned to Queenstown. You know, just for fun I guess? We stopped into a Warehouse store along the way and checked out their festive holiday onesies. Sandra is pictured with the Rudolph outfit. We were seriously contemplating purchasing a pair, but at $39 a pop we just couldn’t justify it. Taking pictures of the fittings is the next best thing though, right? I was secretly hoping they’d go on sale before we left the country, but alas, it doesn’t appear we’re going to strike gold on the comfy Christmas sleepers.
In Queenstown we took a trip up to Glenorchy to try our hand at a small section of the Routeburn Track. Given only an afternoon you can actually walk a fair bit of it. We got ourselves to the second major hut and back to our car within about five hours. Something over 20km of hiking, but Sandra’s GPS watch lost tracking during the walk. The drive to Glenorchy and the hike up to Routeburn Falls Hut are the shots you see up until that majestic number with Sandra proudly atop a rock. The lovely electric blue lake was seen on the way back to Queenstown from Glenorchy. Incredible scenery!
Next up we started our journey north. We decided to head up the west coast of the south island, which brought us through Hokitika, Franz Josef Glacier, Greymouth and Westport. Sorry: no lovely pictures of the glacier because it was all crappy and rainy when we were in town. Them’s the breaks, right? We did, however, manage to stop in to visit the Pancake Rocks in Punakaiki. They’re the weirdo lookin’ rocks you see that look like layer upon layer of flapjacks stacked atop one another. There was a fun informational panel available at the Pancake Rocks stating that basically nobody has any idea why the rocks look like this. In a time where humanity sends objects to Mars it’s still pretty cool that we’re baffled at how some geological processes occur.
From Westport we headed up to Picton for two nights to check out the Queen Charlotte track. And to be honest with you, I didn’t take many photos. Most of the hike was in and around the forest without a plethora of lovely vantage points. But Sandra did manage to capture a lovely panorama of the general feel of the Queen Charlotte Sound, so mad props to her for that one! In Picton we also took time out of our busy schedule to check out the local theatre. You know, the theatre – the one at the aquarium. What? Yes. The aquarium. Because that’s the first place you’d think to put a movie theatre! Why not though, eh? We checked out the last of the Hunger Games films (thank goodness it’s over) at that fancy location. There were four other people in our “theatre” that had seats for about thirty people tops. We had a great time!
From Picton we took the unsurprising approach of ferrying ourselves back to the north island. We arrived back in Wellington and got to meet up with our wonderful friends Francis and Pearl! This is a Kiwi couple we’d originally met whilst partaking in the Carleton Cup in frigid Ottawa, Ontario. We randomly bumped into them during the race and kept in touch afterwards. They’d departed Canada several months ago but were arriving back in their hometown on a schedule perfectly timed to our arrival. The stars align! We had the pleasure of spending several nights with Francis, Pearl, and Francis’ mother Jill in Paraparaumu about forty minutes north of Wellington on the Kapiti Coast. It’s always such an incredible experience when you get to hang out with locals on their home turf – especially a couple as kind as these two! We indulged in local meat pies and breweries, visited the beach, hot-tubbed, and even checked out a local ten pin bowling joint! Francis won, much to my chagrin. My defense is that I didn’t realize that different coloured bowling balls meant different weights of bowling balls. It all seems so obvious in retrospect. We had an absolutely lovely time with them and Jill on the “lifestyle block” – what we in Canada would probably refer to as a “hobby farm”. Organic juice for breakfast, spelt bread for lunch. More relaxing days for the both of us. Great conversation, knitting, and comfy sleeps in quiet beds. A thousand thank-yous to Francis and Pearl for sacrificing their comfort to sleep on floor mattresses and allowing us exclusive use of the spare room. Oh boy do we owe them!
From Wellington we headed north again to a town called National Park. Yep, that’s the name of the town. Strange, huh? National Park is well known as a jumping-off point for the Tongariro Crossing. This is a hike that takes you between two volcanoes: Tongariro and Ngauruhoe. It’s a 19.4km journey all told. Our lodge hooked us up with transport that dropped us off at one end and picked us up at the other end 8 hours later. Unfortunately, the walk only took us 5 hours. And the weather was… not ideal. They had cancelled the previous day’s trek due to high winds and cold temperatures. We sneaked in on the second day and were the happy recipients of winds well in excess of gale force and temperatures dipping below freezing. We were socked in with fog which meant we really didn’t get great views of, well, anything. When I took a shot of Sandra overlooking the emerald lakes near the peak of the trek, I could barely make my fingers function well enough to depress the camera shutter due to the cold. It wasn’t overly pleasant. And of course, we arrive at the other end, request an early pickup, and are promptly denied. So we sat around for three hours and waited for our ride to come. Tongariro Crossing? Check.
Our next destination was Rotorua. This was to be our last big “hurrah” of adventure activities before leaving the country. We indulged in some river rafting on the Kaituna River. This is Grade 5 rafting. We took our raft over a 7 metre waterfall. We were too cheap to buy the photos after the experience, but rest assured that you’ll be seeing some pretty epic GoPro footage. That’s the plan, anyway. We also managed to spot some kiwi birds at Rainbow Springs park in Rotorua. No pictures of those little critters since they’re nocturnal and their enclosure is thus completely darkened. But we got to see them live and in the flesh! Another check on the list of New Zealand musts! Instead of grabbing a shot with a real kiwi bird, we instead got Sandra with her arms around a massive Kiwi sculpture complete with old-timey Rugby lace-ups. Classy. Oh, and I threw in a shot of some Tuataras (native to New Zealand) and Jenny the Kea (a mountain parrot endemic to the country) for good measure. Sandra actually teared up when we had to walk away from Jenny the Kea. We hung out with her for a while and she seemed to like us. Somehow this trip has really instilled in us both a greater appreciation for wildlife and the beauty of nature.
From Rotorua we continued up to the Coromandel peninsula. We had our sights set on the Hot Water Beach for which the region is famous. At low tide you bring yourself and your shovel and you dig yourself a little pit in the beach. You sit in that pit and you allow the hot, geothermally heated water to provide you with a natural hot spring bath. Sounds straightforward, right? There are a few gotchas. One of which is that the area is kind of crawling with tourists – I’d say at least a hundred or so people crowding around the small area in which the hot water vents make it to the surface. Now add in the fact that the tide is supposed to be going out, but big waves keep coming in and completely annihilating the sand barriers you’re trying to set to form the walls of your little geothermal pool. And all with a set of tiny spades that you rented for moving sand around. Oh, and if you move too far away from the tide line, the water you’ll hit a foot down from the surface isn’t hot at all. And if you finally set up a pool in the hot water area, you’ll likely find yourself being scorched by water around 60 degrees Celcius. Needless to say, we tried our hands at digging some pools for ourselves and were remarkably unsuccessful. Either dig a hole away from the waves and sit around in luke warm water, or succeed and have your skin scalded off by the ridiculously hot water bubbling up to the surface. Unfortunately the engineer in me had to admit failure.
In addition to the Hot Water Beach, we checked out Cathedral Cove. It’s famous as being a great destination for kayaking, but it’s nice just to drive up there and do the short hike to the cove to check out the beautiful rock archway. Scenic, no?
And now we arrive at today – our last real “vacation day” in New Zealand. Scary how quickly the time has passed. We took a drive up to New Chums beach with one of a pair of friendly Canucks that we’ve met here at our hostel in Whitianga. Taylor came with us on the trip and we thoroughly enjoyed some magnificent weather during a relaxing beach day. Soft winds and twenty five degrees. What more could you want? Sandra and I played some frisbee on the beach (frisbee pictured) and I relaxed under a Putakawa tree (the kiwi “Christmas Tree” due to its red blooms during the holiday season). A beautiful way to finish off our time here in New Zealand.
Tomorrow we drive back to Auckland and return our rental car. One night staying near the airport, and then it’s a 7am flight to Bali for our last week on the trip. Seems so strange to say! We’re excited to get home and see our families, but it’s so hard to believe our one year journey is almost at an end. We hope you’ve enjoyed it a fraction as much as we have!
See you in Bali!