Monday, April 28, 2014

City Life

You may think that Jared and I had gotten the exhausting part of our trip out of the way-- 400 miles of hiking up mountains in downpours, across freezing rivers in thick forests. But no. Cities are way more exhausting-- there's always one more thing to see, or eat, or drink. When you're hiking, once you arrive at your destination, that's it (other than fishing, reading, chatting, and cooking). On that note, our trip ended with two days in Wellington and then four days in Auckland...and whew, it was exhausting.

After our early arrival in Wellington, "the coolest little capital in the world" according to Lonely Planet, we dropped our stuff of at our hostel and headed for Te Papa, New Zealand's national museum. Free wifi aside included, it's a really lovely museum, incorporating New Zealand's prodigious Maori history, as well as biology, geography, ecology, and modern European history. Definitely worth a visit.

As we left, we noticed some sort of competition going on nearby along the waterfront. Lo and behold, it was the National Firefighters Competition: squads from around New Zealand racing to carry dead weight up six flights of stairs, knock down debris with a firehose, and drag crash dummies around. And all with the world's most enthusiastic emcee.

This was just the first of a couple random quirky things we stumbled upon in Welly. After lunch, we cruised to the hottest microbrewery in New Zealand, The Garage Project, who make a delightful array of hoptastic, in-your-face (shall we say American-style?) beers. We were disappointed that the brewery could only sell retail bottles, and only in one liter plus volumes (well, not totally disappointed), but we happily bought a liter for an afternoon siesta on the hostel patio. After a little rest, we rode the cable car up the hill to the Wellington Botanic Gardens.

We enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the gardens, watched a little pick-up cricket, and then rounded out the evening with some delicious Malaysian, a cuisine which Wellington is apparently known for. I'm not the first to notice this, but Wellington has some San Francisco-esque characteristics-- on an iconic harbor, hilly, and packing a cultural punch above its size.

On the morning of day 2, Jared and I stumbled into Caffeination, New Zealand's national coffee conference (free admisison!), including the national barista championship, and the experimental room. The American coffee-snob in me was really excited to finally have a pourover (gasp!) and even a little cold brew (still a very new idea there). Suitably caffeinated, we headed for the surprisingly decent Museum of Wellington City & Sea and then on to Parliament for a tour. I was moved by the monument to New Zealand's soldiers near the capital:

These Laid The World Away
Poured Out The Red Sweet Wine Of Youth. Gave Up The Years To Be
Of Work And Joy And That Unhoped Serene
That Men Call Age. And Those
Who Would Have Been Their Sons
They Gave Their Immortality

From there we toured the (in)famous capital building, endearingly (and un-endearingly) known as the Beehive.

Our tour guide was, ahem, a little boring (as dirt), but Jared and I couldn't help but be intrigued by the workings of NZ's parliamentary democracy, so it was worth it. 

After our tour, it was time for a quick dinner, and then our overnight 11 hour bus ride from Wellington to Auckland. Unfortunately, we made one large miscalculation: in the U.S. when you ride an overnight bus (e.g. MegaBus or BoltBus or Greyhound), you get on the interstate and drive in basically a straight line, at a constant speed, all night. There aren't any interstates in New Zealand, so instead we spent 11 hours on hellishly curvy, hairpin-filled roads. Since the bus was mostly empty, I tried to curl up across two seats, but instead just found myself frantically grasping for handholds (and sliding into the aisle) whenever we rounded a corner, as people and backpacks slid around the bus. 

After a less-than-restful bus ride we arrived in Auckland at 6:30 AM, grabbed a coffee, resupplied, and then hopped on the 9 AM ferry:

We were bound for Rangitoto, one of the fifty volcanoes in and around Auckland. Our plan was to hike to the summit and then wander to neighboring Motutapu Island, where we were camping for the night (we just can't get enough camping!). Rangitoto reminded me of a mini-Big Island (of Hawaii)-- lots of fresh lava flows (a'ha everywhere!), with lava tubes, and a gradually sloping trail to the top.

There were sweet city views from the top:

And by now, you probably saw this coming:

After lunch on the summit, we strolled over to Motutapu and down to our campsite for the night.

We spent the afternoon exploring the nearby WWII-era gun emplacements and bunkers (reminiscent of the Marin Headlands),

and enjoying the views,

before taking in sunset back at camp. The best part: no sand flies. What a treat. Sunset was pretty good too.

The next morning we caught the noon ferry back to Auckland and then walked to our cute little AirBnb apartment near the University of Auckland, about fifteen minutes from the ferry terminal. As a special treat, we got to catch up with our BU friends from the Kepler Track (see 4 posts earlier). 

The next day Jared and I embarked on the symbolic Coast to Coast walk through Auckland, fifteen kilometers, from the Tasman Sea in the west, to the Pacific Ocean on the west. Coincidentally, it's also part of Te Araroa, the through-trail that Jared and I were loosely following on the South Island. See the little icon Jared's pointing at:

From there, we walked over One Tree Hill (isn't that a TV show?) and up scenic Mt Eden, with it's awesome views of the city. As you can probably tell, it's an extinct (thankfully) volcano.

We ended the hike with a beer on the harbor-- not necessarily the best hiking, but a very symbolic journey nonetheless.

On our final day in the city, we decided that we hadn't been getting enough nature (or maybe were getting too much city?), so we rented a car and headed for the Coromandel, a peninsula about two hours east of Auckland that juts out into the harbor. After an hour delay caused by the national hotrod convention (sigh), we arrived at our first stop, the delightful Hot Springs Beach.

There are hot springs beneath the beach (hence the name), so at low tide, you can dig into the sand and sit in a toasty pool while cool waves wash over you. The hotrod convention delayed us enough that we only had twenty or thirty minutes before the tide washed over the beach, but it was still very cool. 

Our next stop was Cathedral Cave trailhead, with its stunning Pacific views.

After that, it was a 30-minute hike down to the cove, where we enjoyed lunch.

We then took some time to explore the feature landmark of the cove. Here I am coveting a perch...

Here I am deciding maybe not...

And finally. All mine.

After enjoying the beach, we drove north around the top of the peninsula and over a pass.

The area reminded of Big Sur-- not in it's climate (far too sunny), but in it's ruggedness and proximity to a major city. A beautiful end to a beautiful trip.

That morning Jared decided to extend his trip through May, so the next day he hopped on a noon bus south to work at brewery, while I spent the afternoon wandering the city, eventually stumbling into a pretty impressive botanic greenhouse.

That evening, alas, it was time to return to the real world after seven months as a nomad. As I flew out, I got one last parting gift from New Zealand: sunset over Auckland Harbor.

As the plethora of blog posts have attested to, wow-- what a trip. 

Thanks to those who shared their cars, their time, and their stories with us. 

A shoutout to you who kept things interesting (you know who you are...). 

And of course...

A trip is only good as your travel mate. And I had a good one.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

To The Top. And Out.

We were excited to find that Cyclone Lusi had already blown through Nelson Lakes-- after our shuttle dropped us off,  we quickly resupplied and then headed for the day's hike, along the panoramic Robert Ridge track to Angelus Hut. After an easy hike along Lake Rotoiti, we thankfully hitched a ride up five kilometers up the road to the trailhead. From there it was all up--- here's looking back on the lake and St Arnaud:

A nice clear day for the hike. 

But things started to get a little more ominous as we approached the shelter at the start of the ridge.

From near the top, I got a nice panorama of the area,

and then BAM. That was it. It was don-your-rain-gear time.

It was where-the-heck-is-the-trail time. It was 60-mph-wind-gust time.

Above, the wind generously holds Jared up. We finally stumbled into the Angelus Hut a few hours later-- we almost literally stumbled into it in fact, since visibility was about 10 feet at the point. 

Luckily Angelus Hut was well-appointed with a friendly ranger, a wood stove, a drying rack, and a friendly Canadian named David. We even had it all to ourselves since the other thirteen people booked for the night (wisely perhaps?) decided not hike in.

Just as I settled into my book, Jared asked if I wanted to play cards, mainly because I mentioned that my deck of cards was the only thing in my backpack that I hadn't used at all. A bit annoyed, I agreed to a game, so Jared proceeded to teach the Davids cribbage; and boy did we play. Cribbage is great for dreary rainy days (and we definitely had one of those), so we got five or six games in. 

Jared and I had planned to spend the entire next day day-hiking, and David joined us since he didn't have to hike out till the afternoon. It was maybe the best day of hiking on the trip. We hiked up and around the bowl that surrounds Angelus Hut and Lake. The views got pretty awesome pretty quick-- here's looking back down on Angelus Hut:

And here's looking back along Roberts Ridge (the previous day's hike), which was entirely obscured the day before:

I'm pretty sure this ridge was created for awesome photos. Here's David surveying his domain:

This is the panorama I grabbed from one of the vistas-- note David (in green) and Jared (in black) climbing into the center of the picture.

From there, we continued working our way along the knife-edge ridge.

Around 1, David had to turn back toward the hut to the hike out, while Jared and I continued our climb toward Mt Angelus, the highest point on our trip, at 6,808 feet (a little comically low in elevation...). It was a great scramble up to the top.

The lake in the center left, is Angelus Hut (you can maybe just make out the hut there...). Jared took a moment to celebrate out accomplishment:

Of course, I couldn't resist either.

Some thunderish-looking clouds began rolling in, so we promptly descended. See tiny Jared in the photo below for scale looking back up toward the peak.

The next morning we said goodbye to Angelus Hut, dropping nearly 3,000 feet down Cascade Canyon. We were pretty convinced that there couldn't possibly be a trail down...

But drop we did, and we soon found ourselves at the 12-bunk Coldwater Hut on the shore of Lake Rotoiti, where we planned to spend the night.

Note the black swans cruising by the end of the pier-- judging by the log, they're quite well-known residents of the area. Coldwater was basically full, so we decided to trudge 20-minutes to Lakehead Hut on the other shore. It was a good choice-- Lakehead Hut was large, new, and basically empty:

Since it was our last night in the wilderness, we decided it was now or never for fishing. So, after arriving around 2, we spent the next four or five hours fishing. No luck (surprise!), but lots of good fishing shots.

Here's the man himself. He means business.

Here's his quasi-bored photographer enjoying the scenery:

And here's the man, five fish-less hours later. At least it was a nice sunset.

We even fished most of the next morning with no luck (seriously-- I give up forever). 

That afternoon we hiked back to St Arnaud where it was clean laundry, pizza, and beer time. Check. The next morning I had an interview arranged at 6 AM (!!!), so I was actually a little relieved to find it was cancelled, but also a little annoyed, since I had hiked out just for the interview. Luckily, they made it up to me by offering me a job as a Data Analyst at the Global Footprint Network. Spoiler Alert.

We shuttled back to Nelson (again), where we enjoyed a celebratory beer and dinner and went for another hike around town (still addicted). The next morning it was time to say goodbye to the South Island-- our beautiful, loyal companion of the previous six weeks. A bittersweet departure indeed. You will be missed.

At least we left in style. Rather than take a three hour bus, to a four ferry to get to Wellington, we opted for a thirty-five minute plane ride (for the same price!). While it was a little "unofficial" (we just walked out onto the tarmac), It. Was. Awesome. Our chariot:

The beautiful sunrise:

And our final approach into Wellington:

It's city time!