Monthly Archives: March 2015


26 March

I selected four of the numerous geothermal activates near Rotorua and spent the day surrounded by sulphur. A larger percent of maori live here than elsewhere in New Zealand and they own many of the thermal areas.

Wai-o-tapu – this was the most colorful thermal area I visited; it has a geyser that erupts at 10:15 every day, thanks to a package of a soap dropped into the top.

Whakarewarewa – about sixty maori live in this thermal village, which has been home to the Tuhourangi Ngati Wahio tribe since before Europeans arrived. I saw a cultural performance, took a tour of the village, ate a piece of corn cooked in one of the pools and a hangi pie prepared in one of the steam boxes the community uses for cooking. I also saw the geysers erupt. These geysers, which go off randomly according to nature’s whim, can also be seen from the neighboring Te Puia as these villages share the same geothermal area.

Rotorua Museum – this former bathhouse is a museum containing historic information about the spa, a short informative movie about a nearby eruption, an exhibit on current maori culture, and some contemporary art. Nearby, in the Government Gardens, I took a stroll around small Sulphur Lake to view more than a dozen sculptures based on the theme “The Returning Soldier”. After WWI, they came to the spa to heal.

Hell’s Gate (Tikitere) – a light rain started as I arrived and I almost had the place to myself. There are lots of mud pools at this one; I got to soak my feet in hot muddy water. After my loop through, my silver jewelry had tarnished and I reeked of sulphur.

I then drove to Tauranga where I met Gladys. We enjoyed dinner in her beautiful home set in a tropical garden.

Tongariro and Taupo

25 March

Due to the weather forecast and logistics, I decide not to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing as planned. In hindsight, I could have stayed at the Tongariro YHA, taken the shuttle from there, and done the crossing today; the forecast rain did not materialize and it wasn’t as windy as predicted. (The NZ weather forecasts are among the least accurate I have encountered.) Instead, I drove up to the National Park, explored a few of the sights, and hiked for a couple hours on the beginning of the track. I liked the vastness of the view and the beautiful low growing plants.

I returned to Taupo in time to go to Café L’Arté with Erin. This café is set in an adorable garden filled with mosaic artwork. We later picked up fish and chips, and a bottle of wine, and had a most enjoyable dinner on a picnic table next to the lake. Thank you Erin.

Onto North Island

22 March – Wellington

I had a peaceful, photo-free day, hanging out in rainy Wellington with Trish. I bought a few pieces of New Zealand themed fabric, for the quilt I may eventually make. We saw two great exhibits at the Pataka Gallery in Porirua where we also had a tasty lunch. The first exhibit, Visible Women at 60, contained portraits of sixty women and their comments about life; their quotes were inspiring, full of wisdom and the confidence that comes with age, perfectly timed for my upcoming birthday. One quote referred to the 60’s as the teenage years of old age (that explains the recent braces); I prefer to think of it at the upper end of middle age.

In the other exhibit, Imagine Asia, contained New Zealand artists’ responses to contemporary Asia. It was quite diverse with some intriguing pieces. I tried unsuccessfully to find the book NZ Frenzy North Island after finding Scott Cook’s book on the south island to be a very hand guide. And I spent a bit of time on Trish’s PC, since she doesn’t have WiFi, planning my next few days.

23 March – Birds and Napier

Trish drove me to Ace Rental Cars and guided me through Wellington traffic onto the highway leading north. The windy road lead over a mountain and into the fog, which cleared just as I reached my first stop, Pukaha Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre. There I took a short bush walk past several aviaries where they are breeding native birds for release back in the wild. At the Kiwi House, I saw a couple kiwi, one a rare white one. They have reversed day and night so we were able to observe these nocturnal birds in very dim light.

I then continued my drive up to Napier. When this coastal town was severely damaged in a 1931 earthquake, it was rebuilt in an Art Deco style. I took a walk through the city centre to check out the colorfully painted buildings.

I stayed overnight with Sue, who I met through a women’s group promoting international friendships, and her partner Don. I enjoyed a home cooked meal and a wide-ranging conversation with a couple kindred souls.

24 March – Gannet Colony

There are two ways to get out to see the Gannett colonies on the privately owned Cape Kidnappers just south of Napier. One is a tractor ride along the beach, which goes once a day timed with low tide. The other is an overland drive across the top. Given the tide table, I had only one choice, which may have been the better of the two. The overland route provides great views of the peninsula and allows more time at the gannet colony, one of the largest in the world. Most of the birds, members of the Booby family, were chicks, getting ready to take flight, but there were also a few fluffy younger ones and several adults. The weather was gorgeous; I wore sandals for the first time since I left Moteuka.

After my tour, it was back in the car for a couple hour drive inland to Taupo. I made a brief stop at Huka Falls before meeting my next hostess, a fellow cat-lover, Erin. We enjoyed gin & tonics, a meal, and chatting. She has four grown children, nine grandchildren, and has traveled to more places than I have.

Congratulations New Zealand! The Kiwis got into the finals for the cricket world cup for the first time and there’s a lot of excitement around here.

East Coast of South Island

18 March – Lake Tekapo to Christchurch

Today was a boring day. In the morning I lingered in my ensuite cabin until checkout time (that was not the boring part, especially with a lake right out my window), then I took the long route to Christchurch (that was the boring part). I first went to Timaru to see the Maori Rock Art Centre (interesting, but not worth a detour, especially if you’ve seen actual petroglyphs elsewhere). Timaru feels like an industrial port town, though the city centre was walkable and I had a chance to stretch my legs. I then took the inland “scenic” route to Christchurch, eager to get off the busy coast highway, not realizing how much extra time it would add. It was no more scenic than any other rolling farmland, though I enjoyed visiting a gallery located in an old post office in Geraldine. In the end, I got stuck in commute traffic coming into Christchurch, much more than I expected for a city of 375,000 (NZ’s third largest). Apparently some of the earthquake-damaged roads are still closed, causing increased traffic on others. Fortunately, my evening was quite pleasant. I chatted with my B&B hosts, Jill and Ruth, over both tea and a drink, and then had a nice meal overlooking the beach.

19 March – Christchurch

I spent much of the day exploring Christchurch city centre. Many downtown buildings were destroyed in the 2011 earthquakes and the whole place looks like a construction zone. They’ve done a good job making it pedestrian friendly, despite the mess, with art installations, flowers, and decorative perimeters around constructions sites, some with view windows. I visited the Cardboard (a.k.a. Transitional) Cathedral, built within two years of the quake with many cardboard components, and the Container Mall

20 March – Kaikoura

Today was a great, car-free day. The swells were too high to swim with the dolphins, as I had scheduled (residual effect of the cyclone), but it was a sunny and warmer than the last few days. I had a wonderful hike and chat with Oscar, a fellow San Franciscan staying in the neighboring room at the B&B. We took a loop trail around the Kaikoura peninsula, starting at the beach since it was low tide; the rock formations at the point were fascinating. We came back up along the top just as the clouds were clearing over the inland mountains and we could see a bit of snow on the peaks. We had fun feeding bits of apple and carrot to a group of horses.

I ate a late lunch in the beautiful garden, walked into town to explore the souvenir shops, enjoyed a beer (opened with a mini pair of pliers), sorted photos in the nice sunny community room, and then walked back to the beach for a paua (abalone) dinner. Overall, a perfect, leisurely day.

21 March – Back to the North Island

Cute frolicking seal pups! I stopped to see them at Ohau Point on my way to Picton. The adults slept while the youngsters romped. The pups also make their say upstream to Ohau Falls. I saw them playing in the stream all the way to the falls. It was a challenge to take pictures of moving seals in dim light.

I then drove up to Picton, returned my rented car, and boarded the ferry back to Wellington. Trish was there to meet me when I arrived, three and a half hours later.

Aoraki (Mount Cook)

17 March, 2015

I was excited to see blue sky when the sun came up. I considered exploring the Clay Cliffs of Omarama, but the location was a bit remote and there were no other cars in the carpark, so I decided to skip it. As I headed north toward Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, clouds obscured the mountains. Hoping they would clear, I drove in along Lake Pukaki. When the sun peeked out, it was an incredible turquoise. A natural glacier fed lake; it is now dammed for electric power.

My first stop in the park was Tasman Glacier View. Clouds were still shading much of the area and it was cold. There were a few small icebergs floating at the edge of Glacier Lake.  The sun was just starting to come out as I drove over to Hooker Valley and I could see a tiny slice of glacier as I ate lunch in the car. And then the clouds suddenly shifted, and I could see a massive snow-capped mountain right in front of me! I put on my pack and headed out for the three-hour round trip hike to Hooker Lake; it was beautiful all the way and felt great to be hiking again.

Afterwards, I drove to Lake Tekapo (“tech-a-po”), where I had a nice dinner and spent the night.


15 March, 2015 – Otago Peninsula

Green and gold under blue sky. Sheep and cows along the way. A patch of fog above an unseen river. Low hills in the distance. And so the morning rolled by on my way from Te Anau to Dunedin.

I read somewhere that 50% of New Zealand is covered with non-native grasses. After all the pastureland I saw today, I believe it. I encountered my first motorway, a divided freeway, just outside Dunedin. Signal lights and one-way streets, get me out of here! (As a city resident, I get habituated to a level of stress that I don’t notice until I get away and return to it).

When I arrived, my airbnb hosts kindly let me take a short mid-day nap. That refreshed me enough to head into town for a quick visit. Most of the galleries and many of the shops are closed on Sundays, so I wasn’t tempted to stay long. After a short walk-around, I drove out to the tip of Otago Peninsula, along a windy road that hugs the coast. My primary purpose was to visit the Penguin Place and see the rare Yellow-eyed Penguins. Most of them are at sea at this time a year, but I saw several on land molting and got to visit the penguin “hospital” where injured penguins are recovering.

On my way back, I stopped in Portobello for a tasty meal at a pub (salad with a fish cake and a black beer). This looks like a nice place to stay and explore the peninsula. If I had longer, I’d go on an albatross tour and also try to find the blue-eyed penguins.

16 March – Cold Beaches and More Penguins

Oh no, my mind is going! This morning I put an electric water kettle on the stove almost causing a fire. I wish I could claim lack of sleep, but I slept soundly last night. Instead, I’ll defend myself by stating that it looks a lot like the one I use on my stove every day at home.

I made two great stops on my way from Dunedin to Omarama today. The first was at Katiki Point to see more yellow-eyed penguins. Near the lighthouse on this beautiful windy point is a penguin preserve. It’s free and open to the public, though donations are requested. I saw more penguins than yesterday and so many seals I had to walk around them. It was also very cold and I wore more layers than I have yet on this trip.

My second stop was just a short distance up the road at Moeraki is see a boulder strewn beach. It was high tide, so I didn’t get to see as many of the round bowling ball like rocks as I would at low tide, but the sea had washed up a beautiful collection of seaweed.

I made a couple other quick stops along the way to stretch my legs. It remained cold, overcast, and a bit windy all day, perhaps residual affect of the storm that hit the north island early today. I took a tour of town, which takes about ten minutes, and then spent much of the afternoon and evening catching up on photos. I ventured across the road for dinner at a very noisy restaurant filled with tour groups.

Milford Sound

14 March, 2015 

The drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound is about two hours. I left around 7:30, just as it was getting light, and resisted the temptation to make stops along the way since I was booked on a mid-morning cruise. I saw my first Kea today and I did not do stop in the middle of the road, on a curve, get out of the car, and take a picture of it, as did the driver in front of me. Overall, I’m driving more than anticipated, but the scenery is nice and traffic light, so I don’t mind.

I’m glad I got there early; it gave me a chance to take photos while the water was still enough for reflections and the crowds had not yet arrived. I took a 2.5 hour nature cruise, rather than the regular two hour cruise. The extra half hour allowed us to travel closer to shore where we could more clearly see the rainforest clinging to the cliffs and waterfalls from recent rain. Though it was a beautiful sunny day, it was cold when we were in the shadow of the cliffs. I was colder than I had been tramping, glad I had a thin pair of thermals to put on under my pants, and regretted not bringing my puffy jacket. The complementary mochas were most welcome.

I considered eating a picnic lunch near the shore, but even with my insect repellent shirt, the sand flies were annoying. Instead I headed back up the mountain, stopping at a handful of scenic spots along the way. Unfortunately, I didn’t slow down quickly enough when I reentered Te Anau, resulting in the second speeding ticket of my lifetime. Aarg!

It was almost 6:00 when I reached the hostel. NZ’s Daylight Savings Time throws me off; in the evening it always feels earlier than what the clock tells me. I stayed in and had hummus with carrots and crackers for dinner (yum).

Routeburn Track

This Great Walk is 32 km, not counting optional detours. I, and most of the independent trampers I encountered, took the route from East to West, starting at the southern end of Mount Aspiring National Park and ending up in Fiordland National Park. Guided walks seem to go in the opposite direction, perhaps to minimize congestion on the trail when hikers are leaving huts in the morning. I really liked this “walk”. There was a beautiful variety of scenery and NZ’s Department of Conservation (DoC) does a great job maintaining the clearly signed trail.

The hike times posted on the trail are at the lower end of the range listed in the brochure. Overall these times work for me if I walk fairly briskly and don’t stop. However, with photo and lunch breaks, I typically take 50% longer.

11 March, 2015 – Routeburn Shelter to Routeburn Falls Hut

It was barely light when I left Te Anau. I drove back through Queenstown, stopping for a few couple vistas along the way, and then to Glenorchy where I picked up a lock box on my way to the carpark at the Routeburn Shelter (pronunciation hint: as in England, “route” is always pronounced “root”). I left my key in the lock box and hoped my car would be waiting for me at the end of my tramp.

I started hiking around 11:30 and reached the hut around 3:30, not bad for a trail described as 2.5 – 4 hours. Though I wasn’t carrying a tent or cooking gear, I still felt a bit like Cheryl in Wild with a monster on my back. The majority of the hike was through Red Beech forest, along a river much of the way. There was a bit of uphill in the beginning, then a more gently climbing section in the middle, followed by quite a climb at the end.

I was happy to see the hut and surprised to see how nice it was. There are two bunk rooms with 24 beds in each. They are organized into quads so there is some privacy and plenty of room. As one of the later arrivals, I had a top bunk. The deck provides a great view overlooking a valley and there is a nice spacious kitchen with plenty of stoves and sinks. After checking in, I walked up and checked out the beautiful series of waterfalls. Some more adventurous trampers scrambled down to the river and went swimming in the cold water. I settled for bathing my feet in the sink.

I didn’t realize that I needed matches for the stoves, but fortunately plenty of people had lighters, which they shared with me. After a freeze-dried dinner, I attended the ranger briefing. In addition to reviewing the rules, he regaled us with humorous warning stories, of Kea (native parrots) shedding clothing and packs left out at night and possums startling people in the bathroom when the doors are left open.

12 March – Routeburn Falls Hut to Lake Mackensie

We were above the tree line most of the day. I headed out shortly before 9:00. The first portion of today’s hike was uphill; I like getting the toughest part over first. To lesson the weight of my pack, I skipped filling my water bladder and instead filled my water bottle at streams throughout the day. (When I first started backpacking, we could still do this in the Sierras, but sadly no longer).

I spent much of the day hiking with a nice couple, Monika and Rolf, from Melbourne. When we reached the Harris Saddle, we dropped our packs in the shelter and started up Conical Hill. On a clear day it apparently offers a 360o view. The first third of the trail is fairly easy, though all uphill. It then becomes rocky and a bit of scrambling is required. After another third, I decided to turn back. Given the overcast weather it didn’t seem worth risking a twisted ankle.

The section of the trail right before and after the saddle was stunningly beautiful. There were several small lakes and in between drifting clouds and fog, an occasional glimpse of mountain peaks and a glacier.

The last section switch-backed down through a magical forest. I had to watch every step to avoid tripping on roots and rocks, but stopped frequently to admire the moss-covered trees. As another tramper commented later, it was a workout for mind as well as body. FYI, for photographers, I boosted my ISO to 1600 and still needed a slow shutter speed in the forest.

I reached Mackensie Hut around 4:30. I was too tired to take the side trip to split rock when I got to camp (and it was too wet in the morning to consider).

The sleeping setup at this hut is not as nice as the last. Instead for a private bunk, with room for a pack, the beds are in slabs that hold four people each. I was one in from the end on a bottom level. The ranger at this hut gave us an overview of his pet project, trapping non-native stouts, which are killing the native birds. Before humans arrived on these islands 1000 year ago, the only mammals were bats; this was a bird paradise. Rats arrived with the Maori and Europeans deliberately introduced most of the other species. The bird population has dropped drastically with several species now extinct.

13 March – Mackenzie Hut to the Divide

It wouldn’t be a classic Routeburn tramp without rain, so I wasn’t disappointed. I’m glad I carried all my rain gear. I used it all and stayed dry J. I woke at first light and was the first one on the trail, heading out in a light drizzle. The trail starts uphill through a Silver Beech forest, with periodic openings that on a clear day would provide vistas overlooking Hollyford Valley, but today were simply white with vague mountain shapes. I soon abandoned my glasses as they kept fogging up.

Shortly after the beautiful Earland Waterfall, it began to rain harder and I retired my camera. I stored it in a waterproof bag inside a plastic-lined pack with a waterproof cover (too bad I didn’t have this setup in Peru). When the trail returned to the trees, it was almost dark enough for a headlamp.

Today, I reached the trailhead, at the Divide, in just 15 minutes over that posted four hours. That included a short snack and restroom break at Howden Hut. (It’s nice to have a place to get out of the rain). No one was taking the detour up Key Summit, which on a clear day provides a view of Milford Sound.

I was pleased to see my car in the lot. Shortly after heading south towards Te Anau, the rain stopped and the sun came out; it was hard to believe it was the same day. I spent the afternoon running errands: drop off lock box, return rented pack, pick up suitcase, fill car with petrol, do laundry at the hostel, take a very welcome shower, sort and repack all my stuff, walk to the market for groceries. No time to sort photos, so this blog post is getting out several days later.

Queenstown to Te Anau

8 March, 2015 – Getting to Queenstown

According to Google, the drive from Fox Glacier is about four hours. I spent several more than that with short stops along the way to stretch my legs and take in the view. I also detoured to Arrowtown, a gold rush era town now filled with cute shops and restaurants.

Queenstown is just as touristy as I feared, primarily geared towards a young, partying crowd. It redeems itself with beautiful Lake Wakatipu. I strolled along the shore for a bit, then went shopping. I needed to replace a pair of hiking pants that I inadvertently left behind in the closet in Hokitika.

9 March, 2015 – Queenstown

I spent the morning on the Queenstown Hillside Walk, which leads above town for great views of the lake and surrounding mountains. The route is listed as one and half to two hours; it took me over three including an early lunch break. I stopped for many mushroom pictures on the way up through the trees, plus view shots at the top, of course. It was a very enjoyable hike until a helicopter began flying about the summit obviously taking photos of a group of hikers. They walked back and forth as the helicopter circled round and round, like a large, angry wasp. If you don’t mind hiking uphill, this gets you to a higher point than the pricy gondola (this town is designed to suck your wallet dry).

In the afternoon, I visited all the galleries in town and got prepared for my upcoming tramp (I’ll spare the details; suffice it to say that it would have been easier to coordinate transportation to the track from here rather than Te Anau). Though not quite as warm as Abel Tasman, the weather has been perfect.

10 March, 2015 – Te Anau

I picked up a hitchhiker, a rare event, for my two-hour drive to Te Anau. It turns out he’s a tour guide and gave me looks of good tips. We had a great time talking about his country and world travels. I learned that many of the trees have familiar names, but don’t look quite right, because European botanists often named them after similar-looking northern hemisphere plants.

I enjoyed a lunch overlooking the lake, toured town for a bit, rented a backpack, and then hiked a two and a half hour segment of the Kepler Track, from Rainbow Reach to Shallow Bay. It was mainly through a forest of false beech trees. I spent the evening packing for my upcoming trek and getting out this blog posting.

The Wet West Coast

6 March, 2015 – Motueka to Hokitika

Wind gusting, wipers wiping, downed branches on the road. One lane bridges crossing torments of brown water. Quite a change in weather from yesterday.

I skipped an anticipated waterfall detour and didn’t get to the pancake rocks in Punakaiki because one of the roads to the coast was closed due to slides (another commonality with California: mud slides after heavy rain). It took almost five hours to get to Hokitika and it rained continuously, sometimes light, sometimes deluge. The rain stopped as I was eating my lunch, in the car, overlooking the beach. The local artists have had a great time with driftwood.

After lunch, I strolled through town, and then drove up to Hokitika Gorge. Instead of the beautiful blue water seen in photographs, the river was grey, filled with sentiment after the recent rain.

I drove back to town, made my daily trip to the supermarket, posted a blog entry, and read a bit. The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton, is a historical novel / murder mystery set here in Hokitika during the gold rush. It’s a good thing I’m reading it on my Kindle; had I realized how long it is, I probably wouldn’t have started.

7 March – Fox Glacier

Given the forecast, downpour followed by showers, I took my time getting ready this morning. I did a bit of online research and finalized a few trip details. It was raining when I headed south, following a grey path through green walls. It was quite meditative with little traffic. As the sky cleared, details emerged and the walls became ferns backed by a variety of leafy trees. By the time I reached Fox Glacier a couple hours later, it was barely drizzling and the sun was emerging.

I had lunch at a café near Lake Matheson and then took the hour and a half track around the lake. Ooh la la, this was nice, lush foliage with flowing water and occasional vistas overlooking the lake with the mountains reflected. Clouds obscured the peaks (Mt. Tasman and Mt. Cook) much of the time, but it was still beautiful.

I then drove just south of town to Glacier Vista Road. High water has blocked access to the trail leading to the foot of Fox Glacier, so I settled for a glimpse in the distance beneath the clouds.

8 March

When I woke, the sky was clear, not a cloud in sight. And as I was heading out of town, sun was just starting to hit the peaks. Now, I’m off to Queenstown.