Stuck in Arthur’s Pass

After the sand fly fiasco, we were ready for a great day. We had been really looking forward to this place, as the pictures looked awesome, and now we had a gloriously sunny day to enjoy it in.

At the top of the very steep pass, Trevor realized the engine was getting a little warm. We pulled over to let it cool down. There was a bubbling sound coming from the back, but the nice thing about having minimal mechanical knowledge is that sometimes you can pretend that is normal.
What you can’t pretend is normal is large quantities of bright green coolant leaking from the van. This was what we found when we stepped out to make sandwiches. I put on some hiking boots and Trevor flagged down a car.

The lady who helped us was awesome. She was a lawyer who was running late for a court appointment in Christchurch, but she still paused to give us a ride into town. It would have been a pretty dangerous road to walk, so we were grateful. Thanks, Laura!!
We set up camp on the porch of a cafe. Really, the only cafe in town. There were Kea hopping all over, stealing sandwiches and pies. As they weren’t my sandwiches or pies, it was pretty amusing. The restaurant actually had water bottles on all the tables so you could deter the alpine parrots.
Anyways, as the only one of our troupe with any sort of international cell coverage, I texted my parents an apology for the international charges we were to receive and called Lucky Rentals. And received no answer. So I called them again. And again. And again.
And again.
To this day, several weeks later, I still have not received a call back. Fortunately, Olivia was able to borrow the phone from the cafe, and they sent our hero, Roadside Roy. Actually, his name is just Roy, but adding Roadside sounded better in the song we wrote as we waited for him.

The whole ordeal took about 6 hours, aka our entire usable day in Arthur’s Pass, and when we were done the result was that Lucky Rentals over fills the coolant on older vehicles, so literally nothing was wrong. Thank goodness?

The briefest trip to New Zealand’s West Coast

I can’t say I wasn’t warned about the sand flies. I just failed to heed the warnings.

Failing to find good multi-day hikes in Mt. Cook or Mt. Aspiring, we decided to cross the Southern Alps, work our way up the West Coast, and visit Arthur’s Pass. As we studied the map, Trevor saw that we would be passing super close to the Tasman Sea.

“That’s pretty cool,” he said. We all agreed that we might as well jump out and touch it if we were going to be so close.

After driving through a really thick, cool jungle, we caught a glimpse of the ocean. We found an access site and jumped out of the van, ready to see a new sea.

14 seconds and 80 bug bites later, we said, “nah,” and got back in the van. We had a bottle of 98% deet and couldn’t spray it on fast enough. In the short time that we had the doors open, about 30 sand flies got in, and we had to pull over to massacre them. It was awful.

But not as awful as it was got another family. As we left the car park, a family of adventurers came running up the sand bank with a look of terror of their face, the mom gripping the hand of an early-elementary agreed child in an attempt to drag them along faster. They had braved the sand flies. They may have touched the water. But I guarantee, they did not enjoy the results.

Cascade Saddle: I’m not a fan

While camped at the Mt. Aspiring Hut, we consulted a warden about trails nearby. She told us we basically had 2 options:

  1. Continue the trail on the valley floor until we decided to turn around, or
  2. Hike up the Cascade Saddle trail, which adjoined the trail we were on just by our campsite.

We chose the Cascade Saddle. We chose wrong.

She had told us it was probably an hour and 15 minutes to the top of the trail. I think we look like we’re in better shape than we actually are, though, because about 2.5 hours of struggling over tree-root ladders and rocks as high as my waist, we reached the first view point. It was about a 20-for break in the trees. We looked around, took some pictures on the ledge, and turned around.

The way down took just as long, perhaps longer. I have to focus a lot when I go downhill owing to a weaker knee and a propensity to walk in an injury-inducing way if I don’t. So what we were expecting to be a 3 hour trip ended up being more like 5. On the plus side, the forest was really cool, and I felt a lot like I was waking through Fangorn, especially once the trail got tough and I was able to really feel the line, “What madness drove them there?”

We packed up our gear, hiked back to the van, and on the way out off there stopped at Wishbone Falls. There, we washed off some of the dirt and sweat before heading to our next adventure.

Magical Mt. Aspiring

After hiking to the Rob Roy Glacier, we returned to our van, packed our camping essentials, and got a very late start to our first overnighter of the trip. To be honest, I was a tad stressed, especially since we had yet to filter water. But after a bit of walking and fuming, even my bad mood was lifted by the beautiful scenery surrounding us.

The path to Mt. Aspiring Hut runs in a level valley through sheep and cattle fields, meaning that the whole way is blessed with views of the mountains above. The sun sank below the mountains just after we started walking, but it stayed light long enough for us to get to camp and set up our tents.

As we were walking, we kept startling sheep, who seemed to take offense to people being in their trail so late in the day. They would try to escape us by running, but they usually ran straight ahead of us along the trail, so we had many kilometers of following sheep. Seriously, if I were sheep or a cow, I would want to live in that valley. It would totes make up for the getting eaten eventually thing.

The next morning, we paid $5 each for having used the campground. That’s one of the main difference between hiking in the States vs. New Zealand: here, they pretty much have campgrounds inn all campable spots, and they charge you for the pleasure of using them. In this instance, though, we got to use a real toilet in the middle of a backpacking trip, so it was worth it.

And on that picturesque note, I’ll leave you with a few more photos from the walk out the next morning:

Rob Roy Glacier and the world’s most remote ice cream

The last place you expect to find ice cream is by the side of a river 30 kilometers down a gravel road. Okay, probably there is at least one ice cream stand further off the beaten path, but still, it was delicious.
At the suggestion of a hit at the Department of Conservation Visitor Center in Wanaka, we made our way to Raspberry Creek in the Mount Aspiring National Park. Buckbeak, our campervan, started making a noise, so we pulled over to check the tires. They were fine. Luckily, it wasn’t a wasted stop, because there was a tiny ice cream stand with 3 flavors: strawberry, boysenberry, and mixed. We weren’t about to pass up ice cream on our way to our first overnighter of the trip. #delicious
The person running the stand told us that most of the land leading up to where we wanted to camp was owned by the farm she worked for. The government has some sort of agreement with them where they continue to farm the land, but they leave it open for visitors as well. This was good to know, as we might otherwise have been confused by the number of sheep and cattle grazing all about the trail.
We left most of our gear in the van at first and set off for the Rob Roy Glacier. The walk was nice–a gentler grade than the walk to Sealy Tarns, with fewer stairs. And the payoff was completely worth it. When we got to the upper lookout, we could see the full glacier perched on the mountain top. At least 6 streams came cascading of it, merging into waterfalls. These converged into the river we had followed to the glacier.

On our way back to the car, we got stared down by a cow and had to walk around her. We met some people from Florida, echo laughed when we told them we’re from Oregon. “We were just saying how at home, you never met people from Oregon or Washington, but when you’re traveling, like 20% of the people you meet are from there.” While I don’t have any hard numbers to confirm this, I can say that it’s almost as common to hear an American accent here as a New Zealand one.

New favorite river: Rakaia Gorge

After picking up the van from Lucky Rentals, we didn’t have a ton of time, so we picked a cheap campsite a few hours down the road. Trevor was an excellent driver, despite being in the wrong side of the road…on the wrong side of the car. The first hour and a half was honestly concerning–it was pretty, but in a, “wow, look at those hedges” sort of way. Not what we flew to the opposite side of the world for.

Then we turned a corner, and without warning the land fell away into a gorgeous river. It was the sort of blue that looks like it belongs in a Skittles bag. There were striped cliffs on the other side, and mountains dusted with mist above it all.

We pulled into our campground and paid $10 each. That’s one of the things we’ve noticed about New Zealand: campsites are usually charged by user, not vehicle or site. The camp host was incredibly nice and told us how to get down to the river, as well as about a walk you could do. We set up camp, Trevor fished, and I went for a walk on the river.

After, we went for a slightly drizzly climb to a lookout. This was the view we got:

Beautiful, right?

Now look at the view I got the next morning:

The wind shifted overnight and drove away the clouds, revealing Mt. Hutt. It was gorgeous.

We got packed up, then left for Aoraki Mt. Cook National Park.

24 hours in Aoraki Mt. Cook

When we began our drive to Aoraki (ow-rack-key) Mt. Cook, it was glorious and sunny.

About an hour before we got there, the rain began. It poured so hard that, even though the mountains are extremely close to the road, we could only see faint outlines.

We decided to huddle in the van for the evening, trusting the weather reports that it would improve the next day. We went for a couple short walks, but the next morning was the first real hike of the trip.

We started with a walk to Hooker Lake. It was mostly flat, with a boardwalk towards the end.

The lake itself was pretty awesome. But, as you can see from the pictures, pretty cold. The far end lapped against a glacier’s edge, and there were ice floes the size of our van sprinkled throughout. We didn’t go swimming.

After we had a quick lunch at the van, we started the climb up to Sealy Tarns. You know that part of Lord of the Rings where they climb the step hillside to the tunnel and almost get eaten by a spider? That was inspired by this trail. Hundreds of steps made of 2x10s wind up a mountain which the day before Olivia and I had mocked Trevor for wanting to climb. Every time we had to stop, which was pretty much every thirty seconds given the grade, we were so much higher and could see further. Finally we could see the lake shore where we had stood a few hours before, and still we climbed.

The Tarns were 2 small ponds on probably the only flat spot for a kilometer. It jutted out over the valley and gave us an awesome view of a glacier with waterfalls running off it.

Also, there was a kea at the top!! This is an endangered parrot that likes to steal food but is pretty cute when it’s not doing that. #backoffkea

It took a while to get down the mountain (thanks, bad knees!) but we all agreed it was a perfect use of the day.

A Tour of Hobbiton

I’ve written this post about 4 times, but then my phone dies and all is lost. So here’s a quick summary, because I’m tired of rewriting it:

Hobbiton is incredible. It’s 12 acres in the middle of an already gorgeous 12,000 acre sheep farm. When I was first researching the trip, many blogs said there wasn’t much there but sad empty holes, so my expectations were low. What I didn’t know was yay those reviews were written before the Hobbit trilogy was filmed. For those films, the property owner requested that the set be made of permanent materials. The result: 40+ gorgeous dwellings, complete with chimneys, clotheslines, gardens, windows, and beautiful round doors–everything except space to live inside. Those scenes were shot in a studio 🙂

It was honestly the most peaceful spot I could imagine, even with hundreds of tourists wandering the area. We got a brew (well, a ginger beer) from the Green Dragon. On the way home, or hilarious tour guide, Mike, took us on the scenic route, told us a lot about cows and golf courses (he’s a farmer and New Zealand has the second highest number of golf courses per capita in the world). Then we got cheap ice cream, returned to the hostel, and got ready for the south island the following day.

Surprise! Extra Day in Auckland

Original plan:

  • Arrive in Auckland on Thursday night (local time)
  • See Hobbiton on Friday
  • Fly to Christchurch on Saturday. Spend as little time in the city as possible.

Actual events:

  • Arrive in Auckland on Wednesday
  • Not realize the date disparity until we get to the hostel at 1 am
  • Find out said hostel has no beds available
  • Walk down the block to another hostel who does have beds
  • Feel really bad about walking in at 1 am
  • Feel like we’re dying because the room is so hot
  • Leave to find water which kind of annoyed our roommates
  • Finally get to bed
  • Wake up the next morning with no plan for the day.

After wandering in search of brekkie (the kiwi term for the morning meal), we got back to our hostel and consulted a bulletin board showing things to do in Auckland. It was a bit awkward because someone was sitting right under the bulletin board, charging their phone. As we threw out ideas, he looked up at us.

“Are you guys trying to find something to do today?”

We explained our plight.

“Well, I’m going to walk to Mt. Eden and then go to the museum. Wanna join?”

Sure thing! So we spent the day with our new tour guide, Alex. He’s living in Chicago and working with the government to fix the crime rates there, and so it was a super interesting conversation. Did you know that you can look at someone’s vocabulary in third grade and get a pretty good idea of whether they will end up in jail? Or that poor kids in Chicago almost never get silence, so when they start spending half an hour in a silent room, their learning improves? Not that that has anything to do with this blog, but it was still interesting stuff.

Mt Eden is one of 30 or 40 volcanic cones in the middle of Auckland. We got a beautiful view of the city, then walked across a cricket field to the Auckland War Museum. Which was awesome.

After, we had some subpar but very cheap pizza and parted ways with our guide. After a rest, I went to the bookstore and was surprised to find so many titles about American politics, most of them negative.

All in all, I enjoyed our extra day in Auckland.

Hustlers in Honolulu

I used to think that I wouldn’t like Hawaii because I prefer mountains to beaches and also crowds annoy me. I was wrong.

During our overnight layover, Olivia, Trevor and I had fish tacos, swam at Waikiki Beach, then quickly left the beach because, yeah it’s warm, but not a swimming-at-sunset-with-a-light-breeze sort of warm. #worthit.

When we got dry, we walked along the main strip at Waikiki. It was still decorated for Christmas, which warmed my heart immensely.

About a mile into our walk, we found a grove of trees lit by a path of tiki torches. Obviously that was our cue to explore. After following the lights through a building and down a cobbled driveway, we ended up in front of a giant pink hotel called the Royal Hawaiian. My research told me that this was the hotel in which one of the movies we used to watch as kids, Gidget Goes Hawaiian, was filmed. Having fulfilled a childhood dream that I hadn’t even known I had, we followed the lights back to the crowds and began to wander back to our own hotel.

On the way, we noticed a crowd forming around 5 people with a sound system and sweet dance moves. We paused.

At first the people were kind of funny–“The better energy you give us, the better our show will be. What were saying is, if the show sucks, it’s your fault.” They danced together for about 30 seconds, then a couple of them did some breakdancing solos. Not gonna lie, I was pretty impressed.

“Alright, time for the grand finale! But first we need some volunteers!! First, we need 2 sexy white guys up here!”

No one moved.

“Come on! Thank you for helping us out!” The guy said, dragging two guys who had not volunteered onto their platform. “Now we need a couple pretty ladies!” Again, no volunteers. Again, people were led by the hand up there, though unlike the white dudes, they seemed to be having fun. They had to drag another woman up, who I think spoke limited English and was very confused, but they did get a volunteer for a kid and gave her $10 and told her to never give up on her dreams. Sweet, right?

With all of them lined up, they turned back to the crowd. “Before we do the finale, it’s time to get paid! Pull out your twenties and drop them in the bucket. Don’t worry, we’ll come to you!” They proceeded to walk through the crowd and act like we were robbing them if we didn’t put $20 in the bucket. Unfortunately, this is 2019, and I don’t exactly ever have cash on me, especially when I’m traveling to a country with a non-US currency.

Luckily, the rest of the crowd was pretty generous. Soon they had about $150 for the 5 minutes of performance we had watched, including the $10 they’d given the little girl.

Not satisfied, they turned back to the “sexy white guys” they had voluntold for their show. “You’re rich, throw in a hundred for us!”

One shook his head. The other smiled about pointed to his wife. “She has the money.”

“I already gave!” she said.

“This ain’t no two for one deal!” two of the performers replied in unison. When it became clear no one else was going to give, the main speaker turned back to the guy whose wife had already given.

“You guys are a bunch of cheapskates. None of you get to see the grand finale now. Get out of here and stop staring at us like we’re a science experiment.”

Ah, sir, a science experiment has the potential to be useful.

A bit flabbergasted, and extremely grateful we hadn’t given them anything, we continued down the strip in search of dessert. It was mostly places that sold ice cream for $10 a scoop, but about a block from our hotel we stumbled upon a gem of a restaurant, The M. Three hot fudge sundaes later, we returned to the hotel, repacked our bags, and got to bed early to prep for the next leg of our journey.