Sunday, January 27, 2013

New Zealand - Wellington (Day 5)

Wellington. Capital of New Zealand. Home to about 396,000 people and still the second most populated city in New Zealand. This may explain why I loved New Zealand, and Wellington in particular. There are 46 cities in the US larger than the second most populated city in New Zealand. I guess my bottom line is, this did feel like a city...there were tall buildings, museums, parks, bars, restaurants, music venues, lots of trendy young people out on Saturday night. But it also felt clean, green, walkable, and totally not overwhelming. I fell in love with this city and would welcome an opportunity to spend more than one day there. There was a lot we didn't get to do, but I feel like we got a great taste of this marvelous city and still have some things on our to do list to check off if we make it back there in the future.

Wellington is at the southernmost point of the North Island (yes, New Zealand has two main islands - the North and the South) and on a harbor that is part of the Cooks Strait. We drove south for an hour from our free campsite and arrived in the city around 9am. We were concerned about finding a place to park the campervan in the city all day, but there is a great parking lot right on the harbor (by the Bluebridge ferry terminal) that allows up to 12 hour parking. (It says it allows 24 hour parking, but we learned the hard way and got a ticket for parking there overnight. Talk to someone before attempting this.)

Before heading to New Zealand, we decided we wanted a hotel in Wellington because we didn't feel super safe camping in a "big" city. Although the hotel was super nice and it was nice to have a real shower and some privacy, it isn't necessary. You can park your campervan for $50 in the campervan site right on the harbor, if you don't want to splurge for a hotel.

Highlights of our day included: walking along the waterfront (saw a penguin, lots of people running and walking, kids jumping from platforms into the, no doubt, freezing cold water, and just generally spectacular views of the harbor), walking up to the Mt. Victoria Lookout (quite the walk but so so so worth it), visiting the Te Papa National Museum of NZ, and dinner at The Tasting Room. In between and all around, there was lots of people watching and checking out the different neighborhoods we had to walk through to get to our next stop.

Walking along the waterfront

 We could not escape LotR (not like we would want to...)

Favorite sign ever

 Solace in the Wind

 Second favorite sign ever

 Look at those kids having fun on the climbing wall! 

 Strong, confident men can walk now

Site of the World Premiere of The Hobbit

Follow the signs to Mt Victoria Lookout 

 On our way up, up, up

 That's a lady on a tree swing. Super cool. 

 Mt. Victoria Lookout

Two thumbs up for big beautiful trees and parks in cities. This park reminded me of Golden Gate Park, so it gets another thumbs up for that. 

A fern before it has opened up. Koru (Maori for loop) is a symbol of new life, growth, strength, and harmony. 

 Te Papa Museum 

We saw one other obvious gay couple on our whole trip in New Zealand, so was happy to see things that demonstrated acceptance. Although we did get looked at a lot, we didn't encounter any negativity at all. 

 Back on the waterfront

 Not sure what two guys getting married by the pope has to do with a power company, but I'll take it!

 Thanks Simon! Drinks on him. 

Great dinner at the Tasting Room, sitting outside in December and watching tons of young people out celebrating the holidays. 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Botany Bay on Edisto Island

Just a short post about our long weekend on Edisto Island this past weekend. My dad and his girlfriend had been staying on the island for almost a month (to escape winter) and we decided to make the 5 hour 15 minute drive down there for our 3-day weekend.

Edisto Island is where I proposed to Allyson a little over two years ago. We had never been to Edisto before that trip, but it will forever be an important place for us. If you don't care about fancy resorts and spas, and just want a quiet beach town with lots of opportunities for walking on the beach, this is your place. Even better, there is a great state park with a campground right on the beach.

About a 10 minute drive from where we were staying is Botany Bay Plantation, a heritage preserve and wildlife management area. This place was totally worth a visit. The Boneyard is a forest of trees right on the beach that have died, which makes for some amazing Dali-esque pictures. People are not allowed to take away anything they find on the beach, which means there are tons of shells that remain there for everyone to enjoy. The coolest part about this beach is that it is a location used by loggerhead sea turtles for nesting. We weren't there during the nesting season, but I just think that's so cool!

I've been reading a lot of Pat Conroy books recently, because I'm slightly obsessed with the landscape of the South's marshes and coast. It's so different from the rugged California coastline but there is something very special about this place.

 Edisto Beach

 Spanish Moss all over the trees

 The Boneyard

If you do make a trip to Edisto Island, don't forget to make a stop at the Old Firehouse in Hollywood. This place doesn't look like much, but the food is terrific!

Tongariro Crossing...But Not Really (Day 4)

For months and months, we had been looking forward to what is proclaimed all over the internet as "the best day hike in the world." I had seen pictures, but I didn't get it. I mean, it looked cool, but with no snow capped mountains, no trees, and no just didn't seem like the best day hike ever. Obviously, we had to check this place out and determine whether this claim is true. We reserved a campsite at Discovery Lodge for the night before because it is the closest lodge to the start of the crossing and provides the earliest shuttles to get to it (it's a crossing so you typically have a shuttle service take you to the start and pick you up at the end.)

When we got to the lodge the night before, the host asks us "so you are aware of the eruptions right?" Unfortunately, we were unaware that Mt Tongariro had erupted twice in the last six months, the second time being 3 weeks before we got there. Because of this, we were not allowed to hike the whole crossing. After having done the section we were allowed to hike (and after reading this article from National Geographic), I actually can't believe we were allowed up there! We were basically on Mt. Tongariro and the article states that scientists predicted another eruption within the few weeks following the last one.

Anyway, we're home and in one piece so obviously no eruption happened while we were hiking. We were allowed to hike out and back, basically to the viewpoint of the Emerald Pools and Blue Lake, making our out-and-back hike a similar distance to the point-to-point crossing (19.4km). We would have loved to hike to the top of either Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mount Doom from LotR) or Mt. Tongariro, but the fog/clouds were so thick this day we knew we wouldn't have seen anything up there anyway.

We got to the trailhead at 6am, right when it opened. Thank goodness we did. We were already heading back down the trail when mobs of inexperienced hikers were making their way up. Our hike was quite peaceful, with only a few additional insane morning people!

It wasn't green or full of wildflowers, but this hike was incredible and unique and the changing weather added to the excitement. 

Wow. Not sure I've seen a sign like this before on any hike we've done. Consider turning back! Glad we didn't, but feel like a lot of the people we saw probably should have. 

 Where we had just come from. 

 Don't let the flat landscape shots fool you. There are two sections of this hike that have some SERIOUS climbing. First section between Soda Springs and the South Crater (1,740 feet elevation gain) and the second (much scarier) section from the South Crater to the Red Crater summit (almost 800 ft elevation gain.) The highest point on the trail is Red Crater summit (1,886m/6,188ft).

 The weather was absolutely insane this day. We'd have a clear view of the whole crater, and then only be able to see 3 feet in front of us, within a matter of seconds. 

 Same crater as the photo above (South crater)
 Red Crater. My photos don't really show this, but this part of the hike was ridiculously treacherous. I can't believe so many inexperienced hikers take this crossing on every day. It was especially scary with the strong winds blowing us toward the drop off. And it was freezing!

 Highest Point on the crossing (Red Crater Summit)

One guy who had gone up right before us came back down and said he saw only one of the Emerald Lakes in the right hand corner for second. If he had waited patiently for the clouds to blow through, this is what he would've seen. It was worth the wait!

We completed our hike right before noon and were exhausted! Although I wouldn't say this was the best day hike we've ever been on (Highline Trail in Glacier National Park might win that one), it was one of the best hikes. We took it easy in our campervan for awhile and drank some more tea before heading out for our next destination. We stopped in Wanganui for dinner before making our way down to Waikawa campground, a free DOC (Department of Conservation) campsite about an hour north of Wellington. We soaked our tired feet in the glacier cold stream right next to the campsite and enjoyed the songs of many birds before falling asleep.