Tea Party for One

The next few posts may be a but jumbled as far as their chronology. I did name my rental car the TARDIS, so let’s use that as an excuse, okay?

I got to Tongariro National Park late, set up my tent in the dark, made some pretty awful rice, and went to bed. The next morning I decided to go to the visitor center to see about hiking the Tongariro Crossing. It’s a trail that runs over the shoulder of Mt Doom, so it felt like a necessity.

As I drove to the visitor center, though, I was enthralled with how gorgeous the area was. There were two main mountains–the black cinder cone used in Lord of the Rings, and also a mountain with a long, jagged peak that reminded me a lot of Mt. St. Helens. They were glorious.

As I came up the road, I caught sight of a huge brick hotel with a blue rooftop. I love beautiful old buildings, and the Chateau Tongariro instantly caught my imagination. Perhaps it was the blue roof, or the fact that they use the word chateau in the movie, but it reminded me so much of Cinderella. I decided to have hot chocolate there if they didn’t mind a somewhat smelly camper.

Looking around, it became obvious that I wasn’t going to be okay with just one day in that park. I thought of the other things I had tentatively planned for the next few days, and decided none of them sounded at all as fun as getting one more backpacking trip in. I managed to get the last set of permits for campsites, and spent the day getting supplies and doing short hikes in the park.

I also saw a sign advertising high tea at the Cinderella Chateau. I found myself asking, if the hobbits had been able to have high tea this close to Oroduin, wouldn’t the last half of the Two Towers have been a mite easier to read? That settled it. The next morning, I wiped the mud from my face (most of it), put on the only dress I brought, and had high tea at a table facing Mt. Doom. There were 2 scones, five tiny sandwiches, a bunch of desserts, and enough sugar to propel me through the first stage of my hike. Also, they let me substitute hot chocolate for tea, so I didn’t even miss out on that. It’s officially my favorite way to start a backpacking trip.

Auckland Night Market

Tonight I’m in Auckland, preparing to turn in my rental car and go home in a couple days. As usual, my goal was to spend as little time in the city as possible. They’re gross. Until they’re awesome.

Like tonight. I found the cheapest hotel room I could that still offered free parking and got in around 9. This is the first time I’ve had a whole room to myself since leaving home, and yes, I promptly flung my stuff all over it. Then I remembered that I have zero food. I mean, I have a bag of trail mix that I ate all the chocolate out of today. So, zero.

Luckily, Google said there’s a supermarket just around the corner. I went and found that it’s in a mall, and the only access at this time of night is through the underground car park. As I walked through, I could see a huge crowd of people to my left. There were tables set out in what looked like a giant garage sale. It was crowded and noisy, and I figured I would just avoid it.

After buying my orange and a deal of yogurt, though, I realized that there was a shortcut to my hotel leading just past the crowd, so I decided to sneak towards it. Which resulted in me walking slowly past the stalls. Which resulted in me braving the crowd (spoiler alert, it was fine). Which resulted in me sampling Hungarian sweet bread (the looks of an elephant ear with the flavor of an Olive Garden breadstick), South African pork (the salesman had to coach me on how to eat it…there’s a bone in there, apparently), pizza (okay, I’ve had that before, but it would have been rude to refuse), and Korean honey crispy chicken. It was the last one that got me. I had to run back to my hotel through the extremely useful shortcut, grab some cash, and return for my very late dinner. She gave me a deal–2 meats for the price of one. Okay, she was actually just trying to close shop, but it was still nice. In a move unlike anything that I’ve ever done, I decided to go with whatever she asked. (For those who have never had the misfortune to eat with me, just know that I can be a bit of a high maintenance eater. That’s all you need to understand how rare of an event this was.) And yes, I was praying that she wouldn’t choose the spicy chicken that was simmering in a sauce so red it would have made lava jealous. She didn’t. She went with teriyaki chicken instead. #blessher

So that’s how I ended up in my last-minute hotel with a bowl of Korean food. It probably doesn’t sound that exciting, but it was one of those moments where I can’t stop smiling and thanking God that I get to experience this. I’m in freaking Auckland eating Korean food at 10 at night–that’s not something I ever expected to be doing, but I love it.

Abel Tasman Coast Trail

I’m gonna skip literally everything that happened with Olivia and I. We laughed, we drove, we ate ice cream, we occasionally broke the van…it was a good time. But, since my blog is now 3 weeks behind, I’m gonna make like a tardis and time travel to the much more recent past.

Like, this week.

I spent 3 days hiking the Abel Tasman Coast Trail. It was gorgeous. Turquoise water that was warm enough to swim in, golden beaches covered in purple oyster shells, and green rainforests with not a terrible number of sand flies–how could it get more perfect?

Answer: by having a freaking pirate ship moored outside your tent on the second night. Okay, maybe they weren’t literal pirates, but it was a three-masted ship and they were just chilling there. Luckily, I just reread Treasure Island a few months ago to help me get in character for Halloween. Yes, I was the person tramping along the beach yelling, “By the powers, Jim lad!” and singing the Muppets classic, “sailing for adventure on the big blue wet thing.” Oregonians don’t get that chance too often, okay?

Also, the people who were camped next to me made too much food, so they gave me a heaping plate of risotto about 3 seconds after I got to camp. Glory.

My final day of hiking, I arrived at Totaronui Campground around 1 in the afternoon. I spent the rest of the day napping in the sun, swimming, collecting sea shells, and then repeating the process. It’s the first time I’ve slept through the night while camping since arriving in New Zealand.

Instead of hiking back, I got a water taxi. What took me three days to hike took about an hour to sail back to. Honestly, the taxi was nearly as fun as the hike. We stopped to watch birds at Paradise Island. This is one of the few places in New Zealand that is untouched by non-native species. It’s also where one of the last seal colonies in the area was before they began conversation efforts to rebuild the population. It was pretty awesome.

When the boat got back, the tide was low. Did we have to walk through the mud? Nope! They towed the boat out of the water with a tractor, along the road, and back to the car park. And thus concludes the tale of how I rode in a boat on dry land.

The Legendary Niceness of the Kiwi

We dropped Trevor off at the airport and picked up a smaller van. Then we drove to Lake Tekapo to camp. Upon arrival, we found that it was so rainy that we decided to drive until we found a clear spot. That’s how we got to Queenstown a full day earlier than planned.
Pros of the new van:

  • Smaller, so it didn’t feel like it would tip over on corners
  • Accelerated without having to push the pedal all the way down

Cons of the new van:

  • Battery dies easily
  • So much mildew we could trace constellations in it
  • Produces such a smell when going uphill that people will get out of their car when stopped at a construction site to tell you something is wrong
  • Sliding door gets stuck open.

We discovered that last one when we got to Frankton, a few miles from Queenstown, and made awesome plans for the evening. We would go for a walk in the sunlit lakeshores, the rain an hour behind us. It wouldbe beautiful.
And then the sliding door wouldn’t shut.
As we struggled with it, we acquired a team of random kiwis to help us. One guy stopped to help work on it. Another guy saw him pulling on the door and ran to his truck to get tools. This prompted another to find even cooler tools. A fourth had a van just like ours, so he took a picture of his door and compared it to ours to see if we could find any differences. A fifth had no tools but did have a hilarious wife who told us the password to the WiFi at the pub…”not that we’ve been to the pub, mind!”
They ended up hitting the door a few times until it slid shut. We cheered. We high fived. We vowed to never open it again.
We didn’t exactly keep that last vow, but that’s okay. More on that later. For now, here’s a picture that Olivia took of the dream team.

Kaikoura and a ton of fish

Kaikoura is a cute town on a peninsula that sticks into the Pacific Ocean. According to a sign that I read, on clear days, you can see the north island from there, and it was a useful spot for the native people to keep a lookout.
We couldn’t see the north island, though it seemed pretty clear to us. We did get a beautiful walk on the peninsula, though. The whole path looked down into coves of turquoise water that were just begging for a mermaid population to move in.

On the way back, we found a trail to the water’s edge and walked the rocky beach. A path led through the white rocks. The birds were nesting so we couldn’t go to the water, and the cacophony of their cries was a reminder that we were meandering aimlessly through their home. It inspired a slightly faster pace, I’ll admit.

Back at the van, we did a little window shopping and then tried to figure out dinner. Kaikoura being a bit of a tourist town, most places were over $20 a plate, aka, not what we wanted to spend. We were about to give up and eat sandwiches in our van (vanwiches?) when we saw one more place, Cooper’s Catch. Trevor ran to check out the prices, then waved us over.
When we saw how cheap it was, we were a bit worried that it would actually include enough food. The guy in line ahead of us assured us that the portions were good, though. For like $8, we got a package wrapped like a present with enough fries for 3 people each (none of us were able to finish them) and fried lemon fish that was heaven. Also I got bread, because I like me my carbs.
We camped at the Mouth of the Hurinui, where there was a river to fish in and a bunch of plum trees.

Following Sheep

The rain in Arthur’s Pass continued, and we were kinda done with it. What’s the point of being in the mountains if you can’t see any of them? We decided to go to Nelson Lakes National Park. Then, after realizing how far that was going to be, and since we only had a couple days until we needed to get Trevor to the airport, we decided to go to the beach town of Kaikoura instead.
It was an extremely winding road. Sitting in the middle, I felt like I was getting a core workout just trying to stay upright. (I should probs work on that more often.) But the countryside was gorgeous. We had left the national parks and were now in farmland, and most of the mountains had sheep pastures on them. (Shout out to Eileen in #theyamhillcounty!!)
Speaking of sheep….

We rounded a bend, and there were hundreds of sheep on the road ahead of us. The shepherd was behind them, wearing gaiters and short-shorts. I don’t know if that’s normal shepherd garb, but it seemed comfortable. There were dogs trying to keep the sheep in line, but even though their options were basically stay on the road or climb a cliff of either side, the sheep were not having it. We all laughed that this is what Jesus compares us to, but honestly, it’s kinda true: why would we trust this shepherd to lead us somewhere good, when there’s, like, three blades of grass no one’s eaten about 10 feet down a gravel slope?
The shepherd/dog team managed to clear one of the lanes of traffic, so we made it to the other side and saw the gate that some of the sheep were finally getting to. I like to think, two weeks later, that the sheep are all in there by now.

Helicopter Hill and Fresh Trout

So my brother in law is a bit of a fisherman. Like, probably more of an expert on fishing than I am on hot chocolate, and that’s an accomplishment. He was kinda bummed that he hadn’t caught one in New Zealand. The extremely awesome DOC worker at Arthur’s Pass had told him about a fishing spot on Lake Grasmere, so Olivia and I dropped him off in the morning and then went back to our campground and took off for Helicopter Hill. On foot, though–flying is not necessary to get there.

The hike was mostly through trees, but the view at the top was lovely. In the grassy crown, we reenacted the opening scene from the Sound of Music. I’d post it here, but videos just take so long to load and I’d hate to use up all the data. Rest assured that my boyfriend says it’s pretty much impossible to differentiate it from the original. We’re thinking about starting our own theater company that does Broadway musicals on top of mountains. But only the ones that we did in high school, because as members of the orchestra, we got to memorize all the songs, and why would we waste that knowledge? Reminiscing about how awesome our classes were at theater, we came back down the mountain and returned to Lake Grasmere.
We couldn’t find Trevor, but a nice local man who was fishing pointed us towards him. He was laying in the sun at the edge of the lake, the net he had labored over now dismantled so that he could use the string to keep the fish on it.

It was right after he cleaned it that we realized we really had no way of cooking it. We drove 40 minutes back to Arthur’s Pass and found that, though the store sold tin foil, it was out of stock. The pizza place next door gave us some. Trevor chopped up an onion and cooked it on our camp stove, the tail hanging over the edge. (We didn’t eat that part.) It was delicious. Way to go, Trevor!!

Bealey Spur and some of the best hot chocolate ever

We were so ready for a good hike when we woke up to rainclouds in Arthur’s Pass. We stopped at the DOC visitor center and asked for recommendations.

“Well, you might get some rain if you do Bealey Spur, but you’ll also get some very moody views of the mountains,” the ranger said. “And just remember: if it’s raining there, it’s dumping on us here.”
Moody views, here we come!

It was actually a gorgeous hike. We walked uphill a few hours to an old (so old they don’t even charge you to use it) hut, and were rewarded with nice looks into the Waitomo River Valley. As the ranger explained to us, it’s a braided river, meaning that even though it looks empty to us Oregonians, it’s actually just very young geologically and is as full as it ever gets.

Refreshed with the hike, we returned to the cafe where it was, indeed, dumping rain. We had a lamb and kumara pie (insanely good) and hot chocolate that was served in a regular glass. That seems to be the trend here, and honestly, I kinda love it.

We drove down the mountain spent the night at Mistletoe Flats, grateful that our campervan was keeping us out of the rain.