Hobbiton!

I’m not going to lie… after 9 months of traveling, Hobbiton is still one of the most exciting [to me] things we did. I was pretty damn jazzed to finally see where HOBBITS live. *squeals*

Around the time we got tickets for the Weta Workshop in Wellington, I secured tickets for Hobbiton too. We planned to go there on our way from Rotorua back to Auckland as our trip to NZ was ending.I was THIS excited when we finally went. No… THIS EXCITED. All the excitement!! Look at me trying to hold my arms down at my sides like a normal person.Not only were we in one of the most amazing places on Earth, after five weeks in New Zealand with rain, the grass was starting to perk up again. It was here that both Kay and I felt we finally saw the rolling green New Zealand landscapes that we’d pictured in our minds before we came. And of course it just happened to be in the Shire.Kay on the other hand, didn’t quite get my excitement… I was literally bouncing up and down and hopping excitedly while pointing to things, like LITTLE SWINGS and LITTLE CLOTHES on little clotheslines.The attention to detail here is incredible. When you hear about the work that they put in to making this place, like hiring people to walk paths up and down the hills to make it look like they’ve been worn time and time again by little hobbit feet heading home or going to the baker, it makes you appreciate even more all the effort that went into these movies. (Even if I sort of loathed the Hobbit trilogy, for which the set was recreated permanently.)Even Kay had to admit that it looked really beautiful here.Soon we were upon Bilbo’s house!SO darn magical!After the tour was over, we were led to the Green Dragon for a free beer or ginger beer. There it is across the water, past the mill.I took a ginger beer since beer is a no-go for this celiac.At the pub, I took this Snapchat video which marked Kay’s enthusiasm for the whole visit. This actually spawned a whole series that developed into my #reasonsmyhusbandisgrumpy hashtag that we used for the rest of the trip. All thanks to this video.

After Hobbiton, we drove the rest of the way to Auckland and had a couple days before our flight to Sydney. A couple stressful days… as when we arrived, our car got stuck under the parking garage door at our AirBnB, then when we got checked in there was a fire alarm and the whole 23 story building had to empty, plus it was a university building, so people supervising thought we were students… After our rough start in Auckland, we had to find a place to arrange the shipment of 26 (!!) kilograms, that’s 57.3lbs, of camping gear to be sent home.

We pretty much figured we wouldn’t be camping in South East Asia coming up, so we sent home our tent, sleeping bags, cookware, and everything else we needed for our time in Patagonia and New Zealand.It was not cheap to mail that to Switzerland, but we figured with all our inter-Asia flights coming up on low carriers, we would actually save money sending the goods home rather than having to check a bag or two more in addition to what we still had. 1-2 bags X 10 low-carrier flight baggage charges would have been $$$.

After we sent all that weight home, we both still had around 24kg of checked luggage, thanks to filling out our dive kit and reducing what we had in our carryon. Do I regret bringing that camping gear? Nooo. That was our home for months.

Finally with Hobbiton and Auckland over, it was time to pack up and say goodbye to New Zealand. Next we would fly to Sydney for a long weekend with family and friends.

Rotorua Hot Springs

After Napier, it was time to go to NZ’s famous hot springs town Rotorua, known for its geothermal activity and Maori culture.
They weren’t joking about the geothermal activity… the sulphur smell hits as soon as you get out of the car! Pee-huuuu.
All over town there were pockets of activity where you could see springs bubbling and steaming.We headed over to Te Puia to see Pōhutu, the largest geyser in the southern hemisphere. We had to wait a bit because it erupts for awhile and then stops, but it is such an active geyser that she erupts 1-2x an hour.In between waiting for Pōhutu, we walked around the park and saw a real kiwi in an indoor nocturnal habitat and various geothermal pools that were bubbling. If you happened to fall into the pool below, it would instantly melt your skin off! :OThe water around Pōhutu was an incredible iridescent aqua, but most of the temperatures mean that you cannot jump into just any hot spring without a serious risk of burning yourself.It was fun to simply watch the bubbling muck sometimes, which provided a nonstop visual similar to simmering chocolate fondue.Eventually we headed back to Pōhutu and she was bursting in full steam. It was pretty impressive to see in person!Neither of us had really seen an active geyser before and they are pretty neat!With lots of geothermal boring in the 1980s, many of the geysers stopped being active during this time. There was another geyser here that used to be even bigger, but it hasn’t started erupting again since officials ordered the closure of all bores.Te Puia also has a Maori cultural center with some examples of traditional Maori architecture and housing as well as arts and crafts. It was a nice addition to the geothermal viewing since we sadly missed the Te Matatini National Kapa Haka Festival while we were there.

After visiting Te Puia, we also really wanted to try out some hot springs. Despite having the “worst summer in 20 years”, we ended up with one of our hottest days when we went and it was actually just too hot to enjoy the hot springs. The water coming from the springs is actually so hot when it comes out that they have to run it through a series of pipes to cool it down before it enters the pools.

Try your luck or plan going in autumn or winter! Sitting in a steamy pool in the cold sounds heavenly.

Napier Wine Tour

Woo. Long time no update here… if you follow my Instagram account, you know that we’ve been traveling pretty extensively lately. Let’s get back to where we were in March in New Zealand. After finishing our freezing trek to Angelus Hut and spending a couple days recovering, we took a ferry back over to the North Island and spent a further week in Wellington mostly relaxing and planning our Japan trip, which was quickly approaching.

With that out of the way, we started our journey back north with a stop in Napier to do some wine tasting. Kay had found the company Bike About Tours, who got us on the road and on the way to wineries in no time.I was pretty excited to be on a tandem bike, which Kay had never ridden before. First stop was Mission Estate Winery, where the wine was OK, but not our favorite on the tour.

We didn’t realize how uh… fast the wine would affect our driving abilities. Biking and wining is hard work!

Church Road was close to Mission, so not a long bike ride. We enjoyed their wines more than Mission, especially this 2014 Syrah.Last on our list was Moana Park, which we nearly didn’t make it to because we actually started our wine tour pretty late in the day and places were closing up shop.

Moana Park focuses on making natural, low-allergen and incidentally vegan wine. Kay and I hadn’t known exactly why wine isn’t vegan, but it has to do with some animal products being used in the process. And unlike those baked goods that are noticeably different without butter and eggs, vegan wine is JUST as tasty as non-vegan wine. The Moana Park wine is lovely, and whenever Kay and I land somewhere after all this traveling, I would love to order some wine from this small winery.If you happen to be in Napier and are looking into a wine tour, I do recommend starting a bit earlier in the day than we did. Beginning only around 2pm meant that with biking, we only had time for three wineries before they closed for the day.

We would just have to practice our wine touring later on this trip, but that wouldn’t be for another five months. After Napier, it was time to head up to Rotorua!

Angelus Hut

Kay had heard wonderful things about this trek, not a Great Walk, but still a very nice tramp on the south island, so after a couple days recovering from Abel Tasman, we headed out to Angelus Hut.
I’m not sure what it was… maybe 2 months of tramping through Patagonia and NZ, but I was SO tired out ascending to this campsite. At 1,650m, it’s not exactly that high up… we hike higher routes in Switzerland even, but I was pretty winded going up.  By the time we made it to the pristine lakes, I was out of breath and tuckered out.

It was about all I could do to help Kay pick out a place to set the camp up on the very hole-filled ground and then lay down and nap for an hour. I actually felt very sick at some point and needed to lay down or I probably would have gotten worse.It was also pretty hard to find a place to set the tent. Out of all the places we camped in NZ, this was the most uneven campsite and if it were not for our astounding Exped campinng mats, we would have felt rocks and holes in the ground all night long. As it were, the mats made all the difference in the world and we actually were not kept awake from this form of discomfort… (More on that later.)I have to say that I was slightly disappointed by the route. I found the whole trek up to be pretty bland compared to the sights along the Abel Tasman trek. All around me was just grey brown “blah”. But that wasn’t what would make me regret doing this hike at all.As the sun dipped below the hills and made its way into dusk, the temperature took a SHARP drop. “Fine”, we thought. We bundled up with our down jackets and hats like we had in Patagonia, which arguably should have been the colder of places, and we stayed up for awhile more to try and take some star photos and long exposures, which was a little tricky with a blazing full moon, but we tried!It was Kay’s idea to light up the inside of our Exped tent for a long exposure, which turned out very cool in my opinion. 🙂After finishing up these photos, we climbed into our sleeping bags with our silk sacks, as it seemed like it would be a chilly night, read our Kindles for a bit, and then went to sleep. Or at least we tried to.
While I didn’t start out terribly cold, I could not for the life of me get warm in my sleeping bag. Normally, before we go to bed, we strip down to our undies so that in the morning we can put on some warm clothes when we get up for breakfast.

Already anticipating a cold night, I actually had my thermal tights on already and a tank top… but this wasn’t enough. I was still freezing even with my silk sack and sleeping bag. After an hour or so trying to fall asleep, I ended up rummaging for my pullover in the dark. No help!

Thirty minutes later, I thought, “To hell with it, I need warmth!” and I let all precedent out the window and put on my down jacket and my hat, which would leave me nothing more to put on in the morning. Only then could I finally fall asleep, although I was still so cold I woke up off and on all night. It ended up being the coldest camping night of the whole year.Funnily enough, in the morning when the sun came out, we didn’t even have problems with the cold. It was just at night! After breakfast we made our way down the Speargrass creek route, which left me cursing quite a bit. I underestimated where to step across a few stones and for the first time ended up stuck in a river knee high with water flooding into my boot.

Thankfully it was just one boot and I whipped it off quickly and wrung out the water and then used a couple quick dry towels I had on me to blot out the water in the inside of the boot. It helped so that when I put a fresh sock on, the boot almost didn’t feel wet and I didn’t receive any surprise blisters from the rest of the hike.I was pretty “over” hiking after this trek though. Something about the overexertion, the lackluster views, and the beyond freezing night didn’t do it for me. While for others Angelus Hut is one of their favorite NZ treks, it won’t be one I will be recommending to friends.

New Zealand Great Walk: Abel Tasman

Aside from the sand flies, I can only recommend the Abel Tasman Coastal Trek. It is one of the prettiest treks we have ever done, and it is also incredibly easy-going and relaxing. A win-win in my book.You can walk parts of the trail for a day trip, or like us, pack seven nights worth of supplies on your back for an eight day camping trip, our longest yet! As Kay quipped, the first part of the trek is so easy, all they need to do is paint the white stripe in the middle of the path for the prams and wheelchairs because it is so much like a road and not an actual hiking path.I’ll admit that setting out with eight days supplies on my back was quite a load, one that did not go unnoticed by my knees. I was a little slower even on the flat route, but as we went along, things got lighter and easier.It’s also a wonderfully flexible route with water taxis and kayaking options that can get you to and from the beach access points along the route faster than just walking as we did.Most of the walk itself is also shaded by the lush jungle.Amazingly enough, while it is so flat, the trek also provides plenty of panoramic vistas to enjoy along the way.When we made it to our first campsite for the night, we knew we’d made the right decision to do this trek.Also with eight days, we didn’t have to work hard to get from one campsite to the next. Most days only required a few hours hiking before we were at the next beach for a swim and nap, with optional side treks in case we were bored.The weather in late February was still pretty warm and after sweating it up on the path walking, it was bliss to cool down in the ocean after setting up camp.Below was one of my favorite campsites at Bark Bay, I believe. Literally steps from the beach, you can see Kay in the lower right corner laying in the sand. The only weird thing here was that after an hour of swimming, suddenly the water was filled with rows and rows of connected fish eggs, which were sticky and felt like swimming through aloe.  We asked the camp master about it, and he said that every once in awhile these fish eggs just show up and they aren’t sure why. They don’t harm you, but it is kind of disturbing so we stopped swimming after that.Later that evening while we were watching the sunset and enjoying our honey whiskey for dessert, Kay decided to use one of the designated fire pits to see if he still had the skills to start a fire from scratch. Which he could.Also at this point in the trip, we were well into enjoying the wekas… the annoying birds on the trek who would come disturb your campsite and literally steal your shoes. At one of our later campsites in the week, a woman came to me asking if I had seen her hiking boot, which we eventually saw had been dragged to a bush somewhere away from her tent. Bad, bad birds! Look how evil they look!Meanwhile, the birds had attacked my breakfast and dinner meals and dragged them into the woods along with my toiletries bag, poking holes in the bags that meant I had to get a little creative how to salvage the meal and still be able to re-hydrate it with water. Nothing was safe from these devilish creatures! After this I learned to keep everything not only inside the tent walls, but inside my backpack so that they couldn’t pop under the side and drag things out.On one of the later days we came to the Awaroa inlet, which Kay eagerly wanted to pass on foot when the tide was low, which is only possible twice a day. We had to pay attention to the changing time of the tides each days and had planned more or less before we left what time we would complete the crossing on this day.When we arrived, the water was still pretty high, so we had snacks and swam while we waited for it to lower enough to make the crossing before it got too dark and get to Waiharakeke Bay campsite. Below you can see how much the water lowered just in the time we were there.Starting our crossing!Kay thought this was very cool, because crossing the inlet meant that you saved a lot of time hiking around it… plus the idea of hiking on paths that are inaccessible for most of the day tickles him.I was enjoying the crossing, but at the same time, Kay was trying to get me to go a bit faster because the sun was really going and he didn’t want to set up camp in the dark.One the penultimate day, we hiked to Separation Point where we were looking forward to observing the seal colony that lives up there.Sure enough, there were plenty of seals to view until our heart was content! There’s something special about seeing an animal like seals in the wild.I am also not sure if there is anything cuter than a baby seal hopping around. Seals are funny creatures. Without any further plans for the day, we could easily stay and watch the seals for a few hours. It was great fun watching them jump off and on rocks and dive for fish.We climbed down on a couple rocks and came upon a mother and her baby seal, but we were careful not to get too close. We did not want to get too close to any of the seals in case they could be dangerous, especially protecting their young.Eventually we started for the way back up the path and onto our last campsite.Some of the beaches on the last couple days had such a deserted and ancient feeling to them, like something out of Indiana Jones. It was a special place for sure.On our very last day we headed to our pick up point and were driven back the whole route to Motueka where we picked up our car with all our belongings.

Again, I can only recommend this famous trek to anyone who is thinking of visiting New Zealand. It was the highlight of our trip there! Even if you only have time for a day trip, it is worth the visit!