Category Archives: Travel

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!

New Zealand Great Walks: Whanganui Journey

After our rainy walk on the Tongariro Northern Circuit we headed to Whanganui to start our next Great Walk, which is not actually a hike, but a canoe trip! We loaded up our canoe with watertight barrels and started our 5 day trip on the water.Along the way we stopped at a local lavender farm for an overpriced coffee and to use their bathroom. If this were a one-off holiday, I would have loved to buy some lavender honey or lavender products to take home! As it were, we had to keep moving.Kay was pretty happy to be on the water as canoe boss.Here he is, obviously in his element.Along the way we passed smaller streams and waterfalls flowing into the main river. It was so peaceful and easy going.The company had given us the canoe, dry barrels, and some maps of the area, although we were missing the map for day four. We had booked camping permits along the route where we could set up our tent for the night. All the camping spaces need to be booked in advance, which is what Kay had organized so quickly in January before we left for this big trip. He had quite a lot of booking to do to make sure we could complete these Great Walks. Permits for camping are extremely limited and book up quickly!We made a pretty good canoe team with minimal bickering. I tried to listen to orders… We also never flipped over or capsized even though the guide seemed to warn us that it was fairly common and there was a 70% chance of flipping on the last day.We stopped for lunch by a cascade and Kay took the opportunity to cool himself off.This is the closest thing to a shower we took that week.Campsite number two below was definitely my favorite. Not only was it easily accessible to the water and the bathroom facilities were well ventilated, we had it all to ourselves!It was the only time on the whole river cruise that we slept totally alone, and we really enjoyed the privacy! Every campsite was pretty nice though. They all had tables, cooking areas, rain water, and the NZ bathrooms with wind-powered ventilation.Below you see a closer look at our barrel setup. We had a big main barrel for the tent, our mats, and sleeping bags, and then a barrel each for each of our personal items and clothing and two for food, snacks, and cooking supplies.We actually splurged and bought a Jetboil right before this trip to take on the river cruise and our other hiking. We had used the MSR below for all our camping in Patagonia, but with the Jetboil, we planned to go even lighter for our eventual 8 day trip to Abel Tasman which would require a lot of heavy food supplies to last the week. And for the river cruise, it didn’t really matter if we brought both since we didn’t have to carry anything. Without worrying about weight, we brought a lot of canned food that we would never take through-hiking because of the weight and packaging to carry around afterward, but in the canoe it was no problem. We ate pasta, chili, beans for breakfast, thai curries, and more.
The water situation at camps was also very easy. All over NZ, the campsites collect rain water and then we just used our Aquamira drops on the water to drink it or boiled it for three minutes before using.On our last day we did need to get up before dawn and get started on the river early enough to make it in time for our pick up. We had been warned how long it would take from our campsite, but it was the last “camping” site and not an expensive lodge, so we were trying to save a bit of money by continuing to camp in our tent and avoid the private lodging.

So, around 5am, we got started on the river with our head lamps and were a little nervous about coming upon rapids before it was light out.It turned out to be fine and the sky brightened pretty fast. We also enjoyed the time alone on the river as no one else from our last campsite left as early as we did.We also seemed to paddle way faster than expected, because we showed up to the pick up at the end about 2h too early and spent the time having a last snack and swim before the van came to pick us and our canoes up and drive us and all the other paddlers back to our cars.If you are thinking about doing a Great Walk, I would definitely recommend the Whanganui tour. It is very relaxed and easy, with only a couple trickier rapids on the last day. And while we did the five day tour, it’s also possible to just do day tours or one night overnight trips with earlier pickups.

After our canoe tour we stopped in Whanganui itself to meet a friend of mine and then we headed further south to Wellington, where we would take the ferry to the south island for our next trek.

New Zealand Great Walk: Tongariro Northern Circuit

After leaving Argentina on February 12, we landed in rainy Auckland on February 14 (hellooo time change!) and hit the ground running: we picked up our car rental, stopped at an Icebreaker Outlet because we are weak people, and then drove down to Waitomo to visit the amazing Waitomo Glowworm Caves, which if you’ve never seen glow worms, I highly recommend! Afterward we continued on to Tongariro national park, where Kay had planned the first of the New Zealand Great Walks we would be doing.

With folks telling us it was the worst summer in 20 years, the pouring rain convinced us to turn our 4D/3N hike into a 3D/2N hike, starting from the opposite end to try and get some better weather for the often unpredictable Tongariro alpine crossing in the middle of the hike. The weather started out fine enough on the first day. Even though it was supposed to be rainy, it was actually pretty dry and the temperature compared to Patagonian summer was wonderful.I was pretty excited to see “Mt Doom” from the Lord of the Rings in person, even though Kay is not a fan of LotR. He was still enjoying how different the landscape was from Patagonia.Meanwhile, I was enjoying the cushy paths they have in New Zealand. This was like the Rolls-Royce of hiking paths after all of the “path”, aka little stones scattered around a vast, rocky terrain in Patagonia, where one often had to guess if they were still indeed on the “trail”.
I mean, look at that. My feet are dry and not knee-deep in mud!We were expecting New Zealand to be very green especially as we drove along the highway down to Tongariro, and honestly when we arrived, most things actually looked pretty brown. We had been told that it hadn’t rained much, but it was raining now. So we were enjoying mostly brown landscapes with colder-than-normal weather and precipitation. I hoped with our six weeks here that things would perk up a bit by the time we left.
This drizzly waterfall was the greenest thing I’d seen in the country so far.When we made camp, I was amused  to find that I had gotten quite a hiking tan from my poles in Patagonia. Thankfully I can say by now that it has faded completely… but it was very strong those first couple months! Also, probably about 30 minutes after we set up camp, the weather suddenly changed and mist rose out of the valley like a straight-up zombies-rise-from-the-dead moment. It freakily came up from the left, drifted over camp and stayed for the night, lightly drizzling everything.Normally I don’t get up in the night during camping, but it was a special time of the month, so I woke up at like 3am to wander over to the bathrooms. It was a bit of an adventure in the fog, especially because my headlamp chose that moment to stop working, so I was fumbling around with my iphone and all my “supplies”.

I have to say, the New Zealand camping bathrooms are EXTREMELY impressive. I loved them! Real, sit-down toilets with ventilation for the smell, and they have rain-collected water you can pump to wash your hands. I was in toilet-heaven the whole time in New Zealand after the horrifying Patagonian squat experiences.

I want to say that we had great weather for the Tongariro crossing the next day, but we did not:After hiking in Patagonia, we both agreed that it was not a hard hike, but it was a bit of an upward slog on semi-unstable ground through thick mist and rain, with wind blowing rain sideways as we made our way up.

And very surprisingly, I didn’t really care.What am I going to do? Change the weather? They say that there is no bad weather, only bad gear, and I had on my gortex and rain pants. Even without what I’m told are amazing views, I was still pretty happy to make it to the top!

We had a snack before going down the part known as “Devil’s Staircase” which I was told by an older Kiwi hiker that it’s not really at all like it used to be. It was still a steep downward slope that I was happier to go down than up, but he said it used to be way worse since they remade the path.

Over the top, the weather cleared up almost entirely, although by the time we made it to the hut, it started raining again where we were too.We had originally booked only camping spots, but because we had to change our reservation due to the weather, instead of three nights with reserved camping spaces, we had to swap two of the camping nights into one night in the hut, which was more expensive, but the only available option.

It was my idea to take the hut option instead of trying to push the whole hike into 2D/1N and we agreed that we were almost happier that night in the weather to be in the hut instead of out where the tents were.The hut facilities were also actually very nice and a great option for those who just want to hike with their sleeping bag and food and leave a tent and cooking gear at home. You can go much lighter this way and the social atmosphere was very nice as well, better than hostels these days, as everyone was interested in hiking!Our last day the weather was again a little so-so, but not terrible. They had promised this day would be the worst, but in fact, it was much better than the second day of hiking.It was a little frustrating with the park reservation system, because you absolutely need to reserve ahead of time, or there is a real chance that you will not acquire either a hut or a tent camping space, but they also fill up, making it nearly impossible to switch dates around due to inclement weather.

The best you can do is book and decide if it’s still safe and worth it for you to do the hike with your gear when you arrive. We did hear of people asking if they could hike the Tongariro crossing with their babies or young toddlers, which I cannot recommend. The trail is not suitable for strollers and prams, and the crossing has rugged-enough ground that it’s not safe to baby-wear either. But for everyone else, we even had a man in his 70s doing the trail along with us, so it’s really not that hard.

After this we headed down to Taumarunui for a night before starting our next great walk. Kay wasn’t going to let me rest for a minute. 😉