South Island | Mt. Cook (1/9/15)

Going to Mt. Cook was extremely high on my New Zealand to-do list and after an intense week of Great Walk searching, lakeside camping, and endless kilometers of driving, we made it.

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Like just about everywhere else, we arrived late and set up our tent just before dark. It was a busy campsite but we managed to score a lovely spot off the main path and so we were tucked away nicely (we later learned that our friends were camping at the same place on the same night and we totally missed each other – despite hanging out in the shelter to cook and everything! Bummer!). The view with Mt. Sefton behind our little tent was quite grand.

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As was the view from the window in our tent!

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The next morning we slept in until well past 10 (I had my worst night of camping there – I was freezing all night!) so our day was spent in the scorching sun on busy trails. We had quickly drained some Up & Go breakfast drinks before setting off and the dairy did not sit well in my stomach and our Sealy Tarns hike, which was over 2,500 steps straight up, was proving miserable.

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So I sat for a while about two-thirds of the way up. I was feeling sad, frustrated, and sickly and was worried I was ruining Jesse’s day. Then along came another slow moving couple and they stopped to chat with us briefly. I convinced Jesse to go ahead without me and I’d slowly make my way to the top to meet him. The woman’s husband carried on with Jesse and she and I ended up walking together. They were from San Francisco, I learned, and as the minutes ticked by, I felt better and better. We laughed and chatted and it was nice to have someone relate to my struggles. A faster moving couple quickly passed us with big packs on and my new hiking partner wondered aloud why their packs looked weird. I mentioned they were probably paragliders and she laughed unbelievingly. Lo and behold, at the top they had told her husband they were “wings” and we saw them flying soon afterwards. It made me feel nostalgic for France.

We met up with the boys at the top and enjoyed the view and the relief from the climb. They were carrying on to the hut and we headed back down, wishing them well.

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Our second hike of the day was the Hooker Valley track – a much more popular route because it’s only rolling, rather than climbing, and features some sweet suspension bridges. Jesse and I decided to run it. He ran on ahead of me and I enjoyed the minutes ticking by without my knee hurting. At the end of the trail was the glacial lake and even though it was a billion degrees out, that lake was cooooold! Some ice chunks were floating near the shore and we couldn’t resist fishing them out for a cool photo.

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When we got back to the campsite, we decided to drive back to Christchurch that night and conclude our epic journey around the bottom of the South Island.

I had one last good-bye as we drove away…

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South Island | Central Otago (Jan 5-8, 2015)

Our allotted time for Southwest New Zealand was coming to a close. Jesse and I had accommodation booked in Cromwell, which is a little town in central Otago that provides easy access to Queenstown and Wanaka. We had been camping for 5 days at this point and I was craving a shower. And some fruit (which Cromwell is apparently known for)!

We arrived at our AirBnB place just before dark. It was a lovely home with even lovelier hosts. Their place was full of other guests, both long and short term, from all over the world and it was fun to see different cultures colliding. The young French boys taking over the kitchen, the Chinese couple quietly streaming videos, the Croatians kindly living from their suitcases in the hallway so we could have a bed. The homeowners, Tracey and Tony, took it all in stride. I loved it there. We found some Thai food for dinner (Thai Crom…highly recommend. They let us in at closing time and fed us deliciousness without the slightest hint of annoyance) and called it a night.

In the morning we hit up a pick-your-own cherry place, which I thought was fun but Jesse didn’t agree! There’s a funny story though: We picked our 1.5 kg maximum of cherries, varying between dark and light varieties. We went up to pay our $18 and were asked by the checkout girl if we were headed to Wanaka and if so, could we deliver a box. Jesse looked to me (we had planned to go to Queenstown that day) and I shrugged. Sure, we could head to Wanaka. She was so grateful, she gave us about 2 dozen peaches and a dozen apricots (about $30 worth of additional fruit) for our trouble. But we still paid for our cherries. (Why not just give us those for free? Bizarre. But I’ll take it!) We drove to Wanaka, delivered the box to another fruit stand there (he asked if we’d like some free fruit. I told him we had plenty!). It felt only slightly sketchy, but it was a little adventure nonetheless.

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Wanaka is a cute tourist town right on the lake. Much like Queenstown, but quite a bit smaller. We had some ice cream and lay by the water, debating renting paddleboards and/or kayaks. In the end, laziness won.

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We drove the back way to Queenstown, flying down narrow winding roads, enjoying views of the mountains and valley, passing caravans left and right. We got into Queenstown and wandered around, eventually ending up at the famous Fergberger. Jesse is a huge fan of gourmet burgers and we heard this was the crème de la crème. The line was about 30 people long (both pre and post ordering) but dammit, we were gonna get some Fergburgers! So we waited. We stood in the hot sun and inched toward the counter. We ordered and waited for our number in the tiny restaurant. Jesse would argue it was worth it and was the best burger he’d ever tasted. I’d give it a shrug and a meh. But it was fun for the experience, if only for the jealousy that ensued amongst our NZ friends when they heard we’d been!

IMG_6049 IMG_6046 IMG_6050 We finished the day with a little fishing and a little reading along the Kawarau River. A beautiful end to a fabulous day.

IMG_6052The following day we again found ourselves in Wanaka after getting a late start. We grabbed some lunch, spent time by the lake, and then carried on to Lake Hawea. We first stopped by the grocery store and bought a carton of premium Maple Walnut ice cream. With our camping spoons at the ready, we sat on the rocks and ate the whole thing. Then we skipped rocks, played games, watched the dogs swim and run on the beach, and just…were. It was perfect.

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We left Tracey and Tony’s the next day and ended up in Twizel for some salmon fishing. Tony gave Jesse some bait and some tips (sadly, neither were successful). However, the Twizel area featured the bluest water I’ve ever seen. I don’t know how or why it looks like that, and the color is exaggerated somewhat with the brown and dry surroundings, but I couldn’t get over it. We also had a side trip mixed in to Lake Tekapo and had some fun on the flying fox!

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Just beyond Twizel was our next stop: Mt. Cook.

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South Island | Milford Sound (1/5/15)

Fiordland National Park was everything I dreamt it would be and more. Jesse and I went back and forth on whether we should visit Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound and in the end Milford won due to convenience. And I’m not sorry.

I can’t describe it and I won’t even try. The photos don’t do it any justice (though I’ll share some anyways). You couldn’t tilt your head back far enough to see the top of the walls, let alone get a decent photo of it all. You’ll have to do an image search of Milford for any sunny day photos because we had a typhoon-esque cruise, but the waterfalls were raging and because the Sound is rainy most days, we were experiencing the real deal, apparently. The captain told us Milford Sound gets significantly more rainfall “than your hometown”. It’s a tall order for Portland, but sure enough. Milford Sound = ~270 inches. Portland = ~40 inches. You win, Milford. You win.

On the boat, we’d go out on the upper deck and were instantly soaked and almost blown over. It was so cold, but so beautiful. The whole day was really incredible and it should be in the top 5 places to visit on anyone’s list. That’s all I can say.

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This next photo is the Homer Tunnel. It’s one lane, dark, damp, and scary. And also remarkable. It opened in 1954 and is the only way into Milford Sound by car.

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The morning cruises were certainly popular and it was reminiscent of an airport or train station; people queuing for tickets, lining up at the door for their respective boats, sorting out bags and children and cameras and tickets. We were on the lovely orange ‘Milford Haven’.

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Our cruise served us BLTs for breakfast. They were not bad, but someone told me I should cut back on my bacon intake. I was not impressed.

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After the cruise, we quickly walked the 10 minutes back to the car and changed out of our soaking clothes. On the other side of the tunnel out of the Sound, it was a beautiful day. Mountains are funny that way.

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We stopped at a river outside Te Anau for Jesse to get in some fishing. He didn’t have any luck, but it was a relaxing spot for me to do some reading and enjoy the sunshine. A man wandered by and we explained we were on our way to Cromwell. He told us not to miss Mrs. Jones’ fruit stand; she can’t be beat. I love getting tips from locals!

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We drove inland for a few hours and the view into Queenstown was also just as incredible as they say. New Zealand is truly beautiful everywhere.

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South Island | “Milford Track” (1/4/15)

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? I’d argue that even if it’s not the most important, it’s certainly the most delicious! Even when we’re camping, I have eggs. Yum yum!

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After breakfast, we packed up our campsite and drove up the road in search of the Milford Track. Now the Milford Track has been described as “the finest walk in the world”, so you can imagine how excited we were to be in the vicinity, our running gear on, hydration packs full and ready for the day, and were actually able to find a parking spot at the trailhead. We wanted to get on the trail before the guided tour began and we’d have to awkwardly pass everyone.

But it suddenly became clear – we weren’t at the trailhead at all. The Milford Track was out of reach – we. couldn’t. get. there.

All those (prepared) people who got off their big bus were loaded onto a boat and left us scratching our heads in the parking lot. So we decided to drive into Te Anau to see how to get on a boat to the Milford Track. We were told it would be about $130/person. Just to get there! “Well, we’ll drive to the Sound and do it from the other end, then”. But wait! Can’t do that either, they don’t allow it unless you book a guided tour. And even then it’s only accessible by water taxi. I was furious! We hadn’t read this anywhere or heard this at all throughout all of our research. I began rejecting the idea of the Milford Track on principle and quickly gave up wanting to get there. They can keep their “finest track in the world”. (Can you tell I’m bitter!?)

We found a fabulous track elsewhere, as I knew we would! Beautiful views, stunning single track, and no guided tours to navigate. At the end of our hike, we jumped in the river (it was quite a shock to the system, that cold NZ mountain runoff!), shivered our way through dinner, and found a lovely campsite for the night. We were asleep before dark because in the morning we had a 2 hour drive before catching our 8 AM cruise boat. Milford Sound waits for no one.

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South Island | Routeburn Track (1/3/15)

After a windy night of camping on Lake Te Anau, Jesse and I hung out in the morning on the beach, enjoying hard boiled eggs and oatmeal for breakfast. Afterwards it was almost enjoyable doing dishes with this view!

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We headed off in search of the Routeburn Track – another New Zealand Great Walk. It was pretty easy to find and I do believe we took the last available parking space, so we expected the trail to be busy!

We slathered on the sunscreen, per usual, and set off (you’ll see I’m wearing my Taupo Skydiving buff for additional sun protection). Our goal was to make it to the summit and head back down; an easy 2.5 mile trip.

Part way up the track we stopped to enjoy a kaka playing with a beehive. He had a beautiful red underbelly and it was fun to watch him dig for snacks. I snapped a few photos, but the zoom on my camera is not so great, so they weren’t really worth posting. Sorry guys!

But the views on the rest of the track were pretty great, too!

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We did the additional “Nature Walk” loop around the summit to see Lake Marian, and before we headed back down we carried on to the first hut, adding about 30 minutes to the day. I loved the view from here!

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South Island | Kepler Track – 01/02/15

Now that cookie-less January is upon us, I want to say “Happy New Year!” and that I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season! I’m not usually one to make “New Year’s Resolutions”…it seems no one is any more. It’s all about goals and intentions on a smaller scale. For the past few years I’ve done a (relatively achievable) list for myself; a number of items for that year (i.e. 15 things for 2015). An excerpt from this year looks like this:

  1. Visit one new country;
  2. Visit two new states;
  3. Try a new hairstyle;
  4. Be able to do two consecutive pull-ups;
  5. Climb a V3 at the bouldering gym…

…you get the idea. Later this month, Jesse and I will check off number 1 with a trip to Australia, but in the meantime we’ve still been busy exploring New Zealand!

Our first week of 2015 was truly incredible. We’ve been efficient in the South Island and had a whirlwind itinerary for our recent road trip.

We left Christchurch on New Year’s Day and drove along the east coast, through Dunedin, and circling around the bottom of the island to the west coast, setting up camp at Lake Monowai. We found this sweet (free!) campsite just south of the lake and raced to set up the tent before it was dark. We then quickly hopped in and zipped the doors up tight before we were completely devoured by sandflies and mosquitoes (note: we were not fast enough. I have scars on my ankles from all the bites!).

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In the morning we explored the campsite a little, taking a short trail to the edge of the lake to see the view.

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On our walk we encountered the cutest family; the little boy with glasses was a pirate in search of Captain Hook, dinosaurs, and (bizarrely out of place), teddy bears. His name was Riley (it was meant to be!) and he wanted us on his team. On the way back up the trail, Jesse and I decided to have some fun so we hid behind some bushes and planned to jump out to scare him (only a little, though. Nothing too terrifying). We were certain he spotted us, so we prematurely jumped out with our sticks and the poor boy froze in his hiking boots, totally petrified, and yelled “I’m a good guy!”! We felt bad because he clearly didn’t see us after all! After he realized it was just us, he was relieved, but we may have scarred him for life. Whoops!

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We packed up the tent and drove up to town, hoping to get in some kayaking on Lake Manapouri. We arrived and it was clear we were not going to be getting in any boats that day – it was so windy! This photo looks lovely, but there were definitely whitecaps later in the day!

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We ended up in Te Anau and found ourselves on the Kepler Track for a lovely 11 mile hike (with a little running, which I was pleased about). Kepler is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks and also somewhat of a legendary running trail, so I was excited to check it off the list.

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The trail was beautifully green and lush and we had a view of Lake Te Anau for much of our section. Then we started to climb, as most Great Walks do! We only went up about 2,000 ft, but that was plenty for me and my sore knee. Didn’t want to overdo it on day 1.

We found a campsite for that evening on Lake Te Anau, though it was not free this time. It was incredibly blustery and even though our tent was in a slightly more sheltered spot, I couldn’t sleep all night because I was having anxiety that a tree would fall on our tent, crushing my legs and then I’d really never be able to run again. It was a very specific paranoia that Jesse clearly didn’t share. But yes, it was that windy.

Next up: Routeburn Track!

Bouldering at Castle Hill – 12/29/14

To begin the week, Jesse, Dan, Laura, and I packed up the car with climbing shoes, towels, extra layers, sunscreen, and heaps of food for a day of fun. We drove a few hours and our first stop was for some bouldering at Castle Hill.

The area is filled with limestone boulders in peculiar shapes and sizes, but it goes on for ages and looks really cool. Also perfect for some difficult bouldering! But we all had fun figuring out the routes, each conquering some, and just enjoyed the scenery. It was a little sketchy without pads, but we all walked away uninjured so I’ll call it a win.

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After our climbing session, we carried on down the road for a little Cave Stream action. I don’t have any photos from this because, well, it was pitch black. The cave is about 600 meters long, featuring waist-deep water, waterfalls, and various rock formations inside. We strapped on our headlamps and waded in – it was a lovely reprieve from the New Zealand sun!

After our caving trek, we headed in the direction of Christchurch, making a small detour for the Wharfedale Track for a little running/hiking. With such amazing views, sweet singletrack, and a waterfall destination, I can definitely see why this is one of Jesse’s favorite trails. He was the only one brave enough to jump in the waterfall, though!

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Another epic day in New Zealand, for sure.

Christmas 2014

Jesse and I have been camped out in Christchurch, enjoying time with our friends and adventuring all over Canterbury. We were invited to our friends’ family Christmas for dinner and Secret Santa, so Jake flew down from Hamilton to join us for the week and we all had a wonderful time.

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On Christmas morning, before the festivities began, we took the mountain bikes out to Bottle Lake for a quick ride in the sun.

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I loved this section of trail, right out by the ocean.

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I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season. This past year was so unbelievably magical and I can’t wait to see what 2015 brings!