Around & about the North Island

As the capital of NZ, there is quite a bit to see and do in Wellington– half of which I still didn’t fit in.  It’s known for quite a few things: art, music, and film; craft coffee brewing and roasting (yay!); the famous (and mostly free!) Te Papa museum as well as several other museums; a wide variety of NZ’s craft brews; nearly all water activities– sailing, in particular, as it’s pretty consistently windy there (it’s also known as “the windy city”; apparently it just funnels straight through the Cook Strait up into Wellington).  With runners & cyclists galore, it’s also clearly a great place to be active. 

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                                                   A great place to run waterside

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Wellington sits right on the southern tip of the North Island, and from the higher areas of the city you can get some awesome views of the shoreline, surrounding peninsulas & a couple of small islands. My first morning there was also the first day of decent weather following a multi-day rain-spell, so by 9am I was off trekking straight up the hill to the top of Mt. Victoria to take advantage of the sunny & clear panoramic view (great exercise, too, might I add).  

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View from the top

Situated amongst the shoreline, a maze of a neighborhood, and a couple of parks, there are a multitude of paths leading up to & around Mt. Vic; enough to potentially occupy (and lose) oneself for the majority of a day. I, however, was on a mission to cover most of the city in a short span of time, so I didn’t quite explore the parks as much as I would’ve liked (more for later!), but instead headed off to check out the highly-acclaimed coffee scene, the botanical gardens, and the downtown cable car (which, actually, was the least impressive tourist attraction; I believe it only takes you up 600m or so, and I found the views less striking than those from Mt Vic.).  Though most of the flowers were out of season, there were still some pretty cool sculptures around the botanical gardens, one of particular interest was a giant funnel made from coiled copper tubing that, in theory, is supposed to focus all of the sounds from the city into its center (especially on windy days).

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So… naturally, I tested it out.

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Turns out it also acts like a gong, in case you were wondering.

As mentioned in the previous post, the Jazz Fest was going on the entire weekend, so I made it to at least one show each day I was there– and consequently found some pretty cool venues & pubs, such as Meow, Hotel Bristol, and Mighty Mighty.  A few bands also played randomly along Cuba Street (a smaller version of Boulder’s Pearl Street, for my Colorado peeps), so that was fun both for people watching and just a guaranteed bit of entertainment between sight-seeing activities.  

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I stumbled upon a pretty sweet little craft coffee cafe which served all single-origin coffee in nearly any brew-method one could fancy (i.e., plunger, chemex, pour-over, siphon).  I must say, I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the consistently well-made coffee I’ve had while in NZ– not just limited to Wellington.  Refreshingly, they don’t serve drip-coffee anywhere, nor do most even know what you are referring to if you ask about it; instead, long & short blacks, americanos, cappuccinos, lattes, & mochas are the main staples (goodbye floofy Starbucks drinks).  Plungers (french presses) are standard in most homes, though I have also noticed a fair amount of instant coffee drinkers (but even the freeze-dried stuff tastes better than what I’ve previously tried back home… placebo effect??).

As far as being the “craft brew capital” of NZ, I didn’t particularly find Wellington to be so. There are only two breweries in the city, neither of which have licensed tasting rooms & are basically open just for rigger refills (basically two-liter plastic bottles) or by-the-bottle sales.  The guys at the Garage Project Brewery were friendly enough to let us taste a bit of the only few brews they had left on tap, however.  Still a small operation, their range is creative and brewed in small batches; once the tap is out, it’s gone for good. Kinda cool.

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The Te Papa museum is one of the more popular attractions in Wellington. A massive six-story building, the museum hosts a wide variety of exhibits interactive & interesting enough to keep even the most ADD visitors– such as myself– engaged and keen to spend the greater part of a day there. Apparently, though, I did miss a really epic Andy Warhol exhibit… (Way to be cheap, Jenn! Fail). Some of the more interesting exhibits I did see (though I still haven’t covered them all) included: an extensive earthquake exhibit with a simulation house; another equally large volcano exhibit with pictures & artifacts from the most recent eruptions; a basketball-sized display of three different minerals which make up layers of the earth core that you can (attempt to) pick up and compare the weights between (quite heavy!). There was also an entire floor dedicated to Maori history & culture, which was quite interesting.

Not having seen hardly any of the North Island, I was off on a three-day mission in a hire car from Wellington up to Auckland, trying to fit in as much sight-seeing as possible. The west coast drive was gorgeous & much like the eastern coast of the South Island, with lush rolling hills plunging directly into a rocky border before meeting the sea.

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First stop: Taupo, a town that sits on NZ’s largest freshwater lake created from a massive volcano crater. 

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Golf game on Lake Taupo: If you make the ball in, you get some kind of great prize.

Both Taupo & Rotorua (a city further north) are located inside a thermal volcanic region, which hosts many hot springs, thermal pools, and bubbling mud pools.  I visited the Craters of the Moon area in Taupo and walked through an “active thermal area” full of steaming craters & bubbling mud. I was strongly cautioned about stepping off the walkways, as the area off the path was “unpredictable & potentially dangerous” (burns & such).  Definitely interesting, but there are some more exciting thermal areas at which to stop between Taupo & Rotorua, such as Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland. I didn’t go on that tour, but did stop at a pretty sweet mud pool (yay, free!). Time was kind of a constraint, but I’d definitely be keen to go back sometime and do a full tour.

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Craters of the Moon

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Wai-o-tapu

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Wai-o-tapu mud pool

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Bubbling mud… it took more than several tries to get this shot

Huka Falls is also a really impressive sight near Taupo and apparently one of NZ’s most visited natural attractions.  A massive amount of water drains from Lake Taupo through a narrow section of the Waikato river (about 220,000 litres per second), creating an incredibly powerful–and loud– waterfall. 

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Huka Falls 

Rotorua is a city with tons of fun and hilariously entertaining ways of amusing yourself– or a great place to just enjoy watching others do so.  Complete with a luge, a zorb (a massive plastic ball inside of another massive plastic ball that you roll down a hill in…. like a human-sized hamster ball), and other miscellaneous activities, it’s definitely a place for the adventure-seeker (so take a buddy because it’s less fun solo).  Otherwise, there is a ton of Maori culture in the area; you can go to a traditional hangi feast & see a haka dance or you can visit the village in town where people continue to live today. Personally, I found the architecture & buildings to be pretty interesting, especially after learning a bit about the culture at the Te Papa museum in Wellington. 

I stayed two days in Rotorua with Rich’s aunt, Mary (thank you again, if you’re reading this! I really had a blast getting to know you!), who graciously took me on a personal tour of the city.  I didn’t even realize there was a Redwood forest so close and with so many other mountain bike trails…. apparently, the area is quite well-known for its mountain biking.  On my second day there, I made a side-trip to see the famous glow worms in the Waitomo Caves. It’s only about a two-hour drive from Rotorua… but it took me more like three & a half… I took the scenic route (on purpose!) but got a bit lost. “Lost,” as in… ending up on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, listening to Mozart because it’s the only station that comes up on the radio, stopping quickly and randomly to snap photos of the gorgeous countryside, and finally pulling over to ask the only pedestrian for miles (who bore an ever-so-slight resemblance to Smigel) where the heck I was & how do I get to the caves?? (His response: “You don’t want to know, it’ll only stress you out & further confuse you.. just go all the way down the road til it T’s, then left and you’ll be back on the highway”). Right. Back on my merry way, and correct he was.  Finally made it to Waitomo Caves and took the underground boat tour. And the glow worms were every bit as exciting as I hoped they would be (alas, no pictures allowed). 

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No idea where I was… but it was pretty!

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Yeah, middle-earth!

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Not a single hobbit to be found..

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Happy cows

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I may or may not have snuck onto a farm to snap this one…

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One of the many random gorgeous views along the way

Took another scenic detour on my way back up north along the coast… on some more narrow winding, potholed dirt roads popping in and out of the forest… before making it to Raglan, a west-coast beach town known for great surfing and beautiful black sand. It’s a pretty sweet little town that obviously has quite a bit of character. Maybe I will go back another time & actually take surfing lessons.  Unfortunately, my scenic detours had taken up more time than I’d planned for, so I only had about an hour’s worth of sunlight left to enjoy the town before heading back.

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Raglan black sand

I took the direct route back to Rotorua…. and got stuck in Hamilton’s rush hour 😉

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To the North Island… tally ho!

My vineyard workaway venture ended last Friday, and I came back to Christchurch for the holiday weekend (the Queen’s birthday).  Pete and Maura surprised me with a farewell/thank you bottle of 2011 Pinot Noir from their vineyard! So sweet! Definitely not expecting that at all. Rich came up & we visited a few of the region’s better wineries before heading back to Christchurch.

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There were still a few areas of the city I had yet to see, one of which was the drive over the Port Hills (an cyclist’s happy place) to Governor’s Bay, at the top of which you can see nearly all of Lyttleton Harbor (the main port through which all the cargo ships enter the South Island). And… it’s also the home of She Chocolat (pronounced “shay”), a well-known gourmet chocolatier in the area (a slightly pricey, might I add). Still worth a visit, though!

Originally, I was supposed to head back to the Marlborough region to another workaway   host, a family owned & operated lodge along the Nydia Bay track in the Pelorus Sounds (gorgeous). Unfortunately, due to a family emergency, they had to cancel their commitments for the next couple of weeks…. so, I’m now headed up to Wellington for a few days.

The capital of New Zealand, Wellington is supposed to be quite a bit of fun to explore and learn about NZ history/culture.  It’s located at the base of the North Island, and you can either fly or ferry over from the South Island, a ferry ride being about 3.5 hours. I opted for the ferry ride, as the route travels through a large chunk of the Marlborough Sounds– much of which is completely inaccessible other than via boat (even hiking– there are only a few tracks open to the public).  Four main Sounds make up the entire Marlborough Sounds region: the Queen Charlotte, Pelorus, Kenepuru and Mahau.  There is a track the runs the length of the Queen Charlotte one, and it’s supposed to be stunning. (weather and time-wise, an endeavor I may have to postpone until my hopeful return).  The sheer amount of little coves and waterways that make up the Sounds is amazing– they actually comprise one-fifth of the entire NZ coastline. Quite impressive.

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Back to Wellington, turns out the Jazz Festival is going on this weekend– heck yes! Kiwi and international artists galore, venues are hosting both free (yes, please) & paid shows all over town… shall be a good time, I’m sure. Hoping to meet some new people in the area; couchsurf is an awesome resource (and legit, if you check people’s identity validations) for others looking to do the same. Chatted with a girl today who was unable to host me, but keen to meet up for coffee & show me around the city a bit.

Not quite sure yet how long I will stay in Wellington; I’m currently checking into one more possible workaway opportunity near the Bay of Plenty, almost halfway between Wellington & Auckland along the east coast of the North Island. Otherwise, there are plenty of things to see and get into not too far away, so maybe I will just continue my quest northward…

P.S. Here’s a sweet little sunset shot for ya 🙂

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Off to the Vineyards… to work, this time

I am officially on my latest workaway venture– this time, a vineyard in Waipara (an area about an hour north of Christchurch).  The region is smaller than Blenheim’s wine region, but still produce some wines of great quality– Pinot Noir & Riesling being what the region is more known for. During my two-week stay, I will attempt to absorb as much knowledge about vineyards & wine-making as possible (in addition to some sampling, I’m sure.. hehe).  Peter and Maura, my host couple, live smack in the middle of several vineyards, but within cycling distance of the nearest town.  Maura works at the Police Station in Christchurch, and Pete works primarily on the vineyard. They have 16 acres (definitely a smaller vineyard), but grow high quality grapes of four varieties: Pinot Noir (about 60% of total production), Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Riesling. So far I have unclipped trellis wires, pruned vines, and tied pruned vines.

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Trellis clip

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YEAH, I tied that. Bam.

Check out these gum boots! And the fanny pack!

Check out these gum boots! And the fanny pack!

Not a bad gig. Or view, for that matter.  As my computer will not work on the wireless network here, it’s also been a good break from things I usually distract myself with… definitely a good thinking and journaling space.

Last fall leaves

Last fall leaves

First snow!

First snow!

This is what I woke up to!

This is what I woke up to!

Nearly too perfect to be real

Nearly too perfect to be real

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Taylor, my… helper?

 

Weather has been kinda wacky around here the last week– we even got  a dusting of snow yesterday morning– so this is the first nice day I’ve had to get some work in the vineyard done early enough to bike into town and also to the winery to which Pete & Maura sell their grapes, Pegasus Bay. I spent about an hour & a half in the cellar room tasting amazing wines & chatting with the German lady who has been working there for nearly 20 years– and still loves it. Speaks well of the business.

Maybe I will try to get a job here if I come back on a work visa in a few months…. wink wink 😉

Gratitude

Just a thought…

We will never be here again, exactly as we are right now. Are we grateful? Are we present in the moment? Amongst my planning, worrying and running…. do I get that?

As the Eagles say, “We may lose or we may win, but we will never be here again…” Yup, pretty much.  This is my life right now; this is your life right now.. all of the things we keep talking about doing/wanting to do/coming up… not here yet. 

Today is.

How am I today? Have I smiled at anyone? Made anyone else laugh, smile? Smiled to myself thinking of how lucky I am at this moment?

Rich & I went for a run this morning up around the hills near his house in Christchurch… sea level to 500m.  He was jogging easily & gracefully up the trail as I was huffing, puffing, dying, stopping, walking, reminding myself that this is good for me…. not particularly excited about being in the presently painful (and embarrassing) moment…

But, really….

Can I not be thankful for… lungs that work enough to drive me crazy? Legs that burn while propelling me forward? Having a vacation so good that I need to get back in shape from? A running partner patient enough to put up with my currently minimal fitness level?  

Gratitude… 

It really is good for the soul. 

And… it’s a damn good view once you get to the top of that hill 😉

Heaphy, Kaiteriteri, Nelson, Picton, Blenheim

After a hilarious & exploratory day-long road trip with Sean back to Christchurch last week, Rich & I packed up and headed off for about two weeks of travel.  First adventure was the Heaphy track, which is a beautiful 78-82 km trek (depending on who you ask) up the north-west coast of the south island and inland a bit through the grasslands & forests.

We drove across the southern alps, passing heaps of the little ski fields & excellent climbing spots along the way to the west coast– gorgeous.

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Stopped near Greymouth at Punakaiki (Pancake Rocks), which were just freaking cool:

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We stayed the night before beginning the trek in Karamea, not realizing that there was quite a bit to see and do in the area (consequently, much of that is now on my return list of things to do).  Apparently, one of the largest natural arches in the world exists a short way out of the town– and the photos were quite impressive, but slightly torturous as we never actually saw it. Fail. Anyway, the Heaphy track more than made up for it.

We did the trek in four days, in opposite order of the majority of people that hike it (who likes being conventional, anyway?).  Absolutely stunning in a totally different way than the Milford.  Started out along the beach for several hours, which is great minus the sandflies (which swarm at you like mosquitos & look like blackflies). Yeesh. We were forecasted for heaps of rain, but only got one & a half actual days of rain while we were hiking…. the second day was our shortest & rained on us a fair amount, but we made it to the hut just as the worst part hit– horizontal rain with angry-sounding winds. Kinda felt bad for the rest of the trampers who hadn’t made it in yet. The vegetation & climate along the trail varied pretty greatly; beach-side to tropical viney rain-forest to lush mountains to grasslands to mossy wooded glen to alpine & back down to lush forest… pretty sweet.  After finally figuring out my foot situation (I’ve determined that my last two toes require wrapping to avoid blisters, in case you were wondering) 😉 the Heaphy tramp was much better in that regard.

Because we were unable to book the huts along the track as the track was most often hiked, the first day we ended up trekking 24 km (15 mi) to get to the 2nd hut.  It seemed slightly more daunting than it turned out to be… especially as we left just in time to make it for high tide at one of the path crossings. Whoops. Actually, it wasn’t even bad at all… just crossed between the waves 😉

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Things we should have packed:  Beer. Or wine. Binoculars. Better naan (I bought the cheap stuff… no bueno) or any other type of bread. Sauce packets of any kind (canned chicken is pretty bland). Scrabble. Cards. Something to amuse ourselves while it was crazy-pouring rain outside from 3pm onward. (We did manage to produce a clever piece of poetry our last evening of the trek– to be posted later) 😉

Things I learned along the way: How to amuse myself with nothing to do. Watch where I’m going. The coast is beautiful, but not so much after you smack face-first into a tree branch while glancing sideways. Sandflies are evil and nothing repels them.. or even thwarts their efforts to bite you.  Do not attempt to dry long underwear on top of the fireplace; it melts into a God-awful smelly mess with fumes will probably give you and everyone else lung cancer.  Make sure any items you do not wish to be relocated overnight by a Weka or Kea is out of beak’s reach (mischievous little birds they are). Dry-bags are a life-saver. So is instant-coffee. Earplugs are essential when sleeping 12-deep in a sardine-style bunk (Rich was gifted a pair by a sympathetic fellow camper who was traveling with snoring chorus). My sleeping bag is still one of my most-prized possessions.  Beware of looney old men who are constantly searching for things lost, yet managing to find everyone else’s items in the hunt (hang on to your headlamp).  Walking the track backwards (not literally) & at a relatively brisk pace has its perks; arriving early at the huts ensures first pick of bunks, best spots on the clothes-line, having the place to yourself for a few peaceful hours.

Heaphy hut

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Also, I will be in trouble with Rich if I do not mention the wooded glen we stumbled upon; it was like walking right into LOTR or some type of enchanted mossy forest with caves, waterfalls, & streams. It was only for a short stretch, and so random that I almost questioned whether or not it was real.

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As with most multi-day excursions, the last few kms–or miles– are a bit lengthy in the anticipation of getting back to the things you love and missed (like… a real cup of coffee, a shower, any sort of fresh fruit or veggie, etc).  After making it back to the car, we and a few determined sandflies made our way back out to the Tasman coast.  We stopped at the Mussel Inn Brewery for a post-hike microbrew and a long-awaited chicken camembert pie for Rich (um, amazing, for anyone who hasn’t tried a savory pie– I was skeptical until then. YUM.)  We had a lovely hostess who, upon my inquiry about the nature of one of the tap beers, responded bluntly: “Brown.”  Right… helpful.  Great beer, though.

We stopped through Te Waikoropupu Springs, which is known to have some of the purest water in the world… second only to sub-glacial waters in the antarctic.  Apparently, the volume of water produced by the spring is enough to supply the entire city of Boston with its freshwater needs.  Impressive.

Salmon, spinach, caper, & goat cheese pizza and Stoke Amber beer (a Nelson brewery) in Takaka…. then off to Kaiteriteri, a charming little seaside town at the base of the Abel Tasman NP.

A bit north of Kaiteriteri

A bit north of Kaiteriteri

It’s a town that clearly thrives in the waves of summer tourists, and shuts down for the most part for the fall & winter seasons. Kind of nice having the town to ourselves… we ended up spending three days there running around along the Abel Tasman track, in the national park, and taking the water taxi up the coast.

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Drove through a fair amount of vineyards & orchards on way to Nelson… most were closed for the season, but I did manage to make a couple stops for fresh figs & a bag of apples, pears, & nashi (a pear/apple hybrid). They just have a little honesty box next to the fridge or fruit stand where you drop the money into– pretty convenient set-up.

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Made our way along the coast to Nelson, where we visited the jewelry shop owned by Jens Hansen, who made the rings for the LOTR movies.  Also had some great craft brews– Stoke and Sprig & Fern.

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Off to Blenheim, which is centered in one of the main vineyard & winery regions in the South Island (apart from central Otago).  Rich & I rented a tandem bike for a full day of winery tours– and got really lucky with the weather as it was forecasted for rain through the weekend, but we only saw it on the days before and after our tour.

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Lunch at Georges Michel Winery

It was also nice having the region to ourselves; peak-season ends in March/April, so not all of the wineries were open, but enough to fill our day with good stops. And finished off with a visit to the Makana Chocolate Factory– yayyya, truffles! Oh, and… I may or may not have been taking selfies off the back of the bike… 😉 Still peddling, though!

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The next morning, we hit two more wineries before heading back down the east coast to Christchurch. Found a couple of seal colonies– one randomly off the roadside & another one in Kaikoura (known for its consistent whale sightings).  Got some pretty solid seal pics.

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“Pretend we’re friends for the photo, please”

Back in Christchurch for a low-key rainy day & then we leave in the morning for Auckland…