Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tongariro Alpine Cross!

7 layers up top. 2 pairs of pants, a pair of wool socks, 2.5L of water, a pack full of food and a brilliant sunny morning. This is a description of what I was pulling together at 5 am Saturday morning in preparation to walk 19.4 km (let's make it a nice 20 km at the end of the day) across Mount Ngauruhoe; or more commonly known as Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings.

My friend Anke and I headed out towards the mountain with the beautiful sun shining, excitement and some apprehension of what we were going to face; it didn't look TOO steep from the ground.

The first lag wasn't too bad. It was mostly boardwalk and path over a few streams and through flatland. The next lag was called the "Devil's Staircase" or "Thigh Master". Basically, 1 hour of stairs and mountainous incline. With a brief stop at the top we carried on up to the Red Crater and up the second steep slope of the day. This was covered in Scree which is loose gravelly rock alongside snow and ice. We basically took 2 steps forward and 1 step back slipping on this stuff. Not a very nice 1/2 hour climb. Once we reached the top of this, the sights were unreal and the burning sensation was forgotten. We made our way down to the Emerald Lakes where we sat on rocks naturally warmed by the volcano and ate our lunch.

As we carried on across a snowy plateau, I was especially giddy when it started to lightly snow at the top of the second peak. The scenery drastically changed again to rock and brush on the other side of the mountain as we began our descent.

At the bottom of this mountainside, we wandered through a rainforest for about an hour to find ourselves out by the bus. A great day for an unreal hike! The next day I took it easy thinking my body was going to hate me but it wasn't until a few days later when I could hardly walk.

After Taupo, I went to Turangi for a day, did a short hike and found my way to the lovely "Lahar Farm" to stay with Mr. and Mrs. Bishop. I had a fantastic stay with them on their farm playing around with the sheep, cow and deer. I ate like a queen and got to sleep in an actual bed. The first night I was staying there, I was actually quite afraid to sleep on my own as I hadn't slept in a room with less than 4 people in almost 2 months. It felt pretty silly to be 22 and talking myself out of checking for monsters under the bed.

The weather changed drastically while I was there being beautiful and summery one day allowing you to see Mt. Ruehpu from their back window, to a complete blizzard the next.

The one afternoon I decided to take a little walk around the farm on my own. I bundled up, and mentally prepped myself for some fence climbing and bushwalking. Brent had warned me to be cautious when I entered the deer pens because if I cornered them, they may jump the fence which would mean that their livestock just ran away. As I wandered through the fields chasing sheep around and taking pictures, I found myself in a small bushy area and got a little lost. I made my way out to a grassy part which I was familiar with and had to jump over a little 1.5 meter gully. I don't know if I was a little confident from all of the fence hopping I had been doing, but there was a reason why I had always avoided the jumping sports in track and field and jumping this ditch reminded me why.

As I backed away a couple of meters, took a few running steps and launched myself to the other bank with perfectly pointed toes in a jazzy type of way. I thought I had made it when my left foot landed; until my right shin caught the edge throwing my knee into my gut and winding myself. As I rolled onto the grass trying to catch my breath I couldn't help but laugh to myself thinking about how poor I had always done in the running long jump.

After the farm, I made my way to Wellington for 1 night. I would have loved to stay a little longer in this windy city but I was more than ready to carry onto the South Island. I boarded the ferry first thing Saturday morning and travelled across the Cook Strait to Picton and onward to Nelson. We had a fantastic Halloween party Saturday night with everyone dressing up in mismatched costumes.

Sunday morning myself and a friend took off to Abel Tasman National Park to do a day hike. It was easy as compared to the Alpine Crossing but beautiful none the less.

Today I climbed a hill to stand on the "Centre of New Zealand" in the heart of Nelson. Beautiful view, and again, great climb!

Off and running down the coast tomorrow.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

What's that stank?!

We were welcomed to Rotorua by rain and a brutal stink. Thanks to the volcanic nature of New Zealand, specifically Rotorua, there are many pools, geysers, etc that are made up of various minerals bubbling up from the earth; specifically Sulphur.

On Wednesday we made our way to Wai-O-Tapu: The Geothermal Wonderland. It is a park that showcases the different pools of minerals and streams that are natural to the area. It was any science nerds' heaven!

That night I made my way to the Polynesian Spa to hang out in a couple of mineral pools that very in temperature all of which are heated from the earth. The temperatures ranged from 38-42 degrees with various minerals believed to aid different ailments. I do have to admit that it was a glorious treat for the scoliosis.

Thursday we were off to Waitomo to go through the caves looking at stalactites, stalagmites, and glow worms! The glow worms were by far my favourite as we drifted through a cave on a river in the pitch black. It looked like the milky way of glow worms as thousands of little blue glow worm butts filled the ceiling.

Today I am in Taupo doing a day hike in preparation for the big one sometime this weekend!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bay of Islands

Saturday morning I was up early to be on the road to Paihia (Pie-hee-ah); The Bay of Islands. I had a few nights booked here as it is supposed to be beautiful, with plenty to do, possibly some sandboarding, kayaking, etc.

It was a beautiful drive up the coast and when we got to Paihia, we were given the opportunity to take a boat trip to see "The Hole in the Rock" and told that if you want to see dolphins, the Bay of Islands is where to do it. I had a funny feeling about this, so I opted out as I had seen plenty of dolphins and whales in Aus, and thought I'd save the money and go for a kayak. Sure enough, our beautiful afternoon took a turn for the worse, and the waters were rough and the sky's were terribly dark. When the boat trip returned, they were soaked from the rain, with many unhappy backpackers with pictures lacking dolphins. My tourist-trap sense is tingling!

I took the time to wander around Paihia grab some great photos, and decided to cut my trip short and head back to Auckland the next day. It was a full bus tour across to Hokianga, and down the west coast stopping into Waipoua Forest to see the giant Kauri trees.

Today I hopped on a free city tour to explore the underbelly of the Auckland Harbour Bridge, watch a guy dressed as a dinosaur bungy jump for a music video, tramped around Devonport, up to Mt Victoria to get a great view of Auckland, One Tree Hill, and a whole lot of Maori history thanks to our knowledgeable tour guide!

Off to Rotorua tomorrow!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

So Stoked for Lord Of the Rings!...I mean New Zealand!

Had a safe journey back to Brisbane, an early morning to the airport, and an uneventful journey to Auckland. Landed in 18 degree weather and rain. As unfortunate as it may have seemed to most, it was kind of nice to have a break from sun, surf, and sand. Quote me and hit me when I'm complaining about the cold back in Canada in 2 months.
After a ridiculous climb down the steepest hill I've ever seen in a city (Yay for 17 kg packs!) I found my hostel. Clean, civilized, and clean. MUCH different from where I was staying in Aus. Did I mention it was clean? The YHA is by far the way to go when it comes to cleanliness standard. The downside, is that they're bloody expensive to stay in in Australia.

*Backpacking Tips and Tricks from Pitts*
It's a good idea to pick up a YHA or any other hosteling card as you'll get great discounts on tours, etc. When booking your hostel be sure to check out before booking through the hostel or the hosteling website. I've done my research and found the same room for $3-4 cheaper online. When I went to book a room through reception, and cringed at the price further explaining I found it cheaper online the girl nodded, and said it is often that way but they obviously don't want to promote it. Furthermore, I've been upgraded to a better room a couple of times because you are able to book one night at a time online, when they often discourage that booking in house :)

Back to the adventure; it was pouring rain the first day I was here so I wandered around with my 2 lovely German roommates. We were later joined that day by another Canadian and had to go out for a celebratory pint. Celebrating what you may ask? Our lives.

Today we made our way to Rangitoto Island which is the youngest volcanic island in Auckland. It was an awesome hike with a fantastic outlook point at the top. We also checked out a couple of the Lava Caves which were exciting and hilarious to navigate through with no torch. Good fun.

I'm off to Paihia tomorrow. Stay posted for pictures!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Beach Bum

Surfer's Paradise was the beginning of an awesome week of beach. I met up with 2 of my Swedish friends, had an intro surf lesson, and dug a lounge couch into the sand. A successful day. After consuming enough salt water to heal any canker I have over the next 20 years, I made my way down to Coolangatta for a few days.

I was told by many people not to stop here as it was a bit of a sleepy town; perfect for a holiday from my holiday before New Zealand. The hostel, Sands, was one of the nicest I've stayed in yet. ACTUAL mattresses, windows, shower stalls, etc. The whole 9 yards. I met a lovely Aus whom I spent the next couple of days hanging out with. On the Saturday, I decided it was time for me to do something about my lack-of tan as there is hardly any evidence I've been in Australia for over a month. So, I chose to live on the edge and slapped on the SPF 30 instead of my usual 45+ (still wearing SPF 60 on my face...obviously.) and revealed my baby-skin body to the sun. Now, if you were to think of the 3 most inconvenient places to burn I would think this would include a) the bottom of your feet b) your hands and c) your butt. I escaped the first 2, but my butt was so burnt I could hardly sit, and it resulted in me scratching it furiously over the next few days. After many applications of "After Sun", going back to the SPF 45, I would like to proudly introduce;

"Off-White; The New Transparent by Pitts... Get into it."

This would have been a great line for a new tan product if the tan was evenly distributed but at the moment I look like a wall with various shades of white being compared by a couple who can't decide on a colour for their baseboard.

From Coolangatta I made my way to Byron Bay where I met up with another Canadian (WE ARE EVERYWHERE...and we all have Canadian flags on our packs. It's a running joke in the backpacking world.) I experienced my first real rain out in the 6 weeks I've been here which only resulted in meeting some awesome people in my hostel. The next day, I had a surf lesson booked, ate so much sand thanks to the fierce winds and waves that they called the lesson. At this point, I have a ridiculous amount of respect for surfer's and will stick to my snow...until I'm back in Aus next month.

My last night in Byron we pulled a group together, a few of the girls' I'd met while travelling the coast were in town, and headed to the Cheeky Monkey for a few. It was a great way to end my time in Aus.

I'm off to the airport bright and early tomorrow to start my tour of NZ. Sweet as, bro.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Fraser Island Extravaganza!

After an overnight train ride into Hervey Bay, I knew I had to get it together before Fraser Island. 4 days, 17 people, 2 trucks, Dingoes; all on the biggest sand island in the world.

I stayed in a lovely hostel that was actually clean, and met some amazing people in my room that were going on tour with me. For those who don't know, I haven't slept in a room with less than 4 people this entire trip; no, it hasn't been "that" kind of trip. Get your mind out of the gutter.

Friday morning we met our crew, organized the camping equipment and got pumped to do our self-drive tour. The group consisted of 8 Americans, 2 French, 2 Dannish, 2 Sweds, 1 Irish, 1 South American, and of course, Miss Canada.

Now, a "self-drive tour" would be great if 1: we all knew how to drive on the left side of the car, and 2: If we were all professional sand-dune drivers. I was in the truck with the Americans who fit the classic stereotype and loved anything that was loud and obnoxious. Our driver was actually very good, and as safe as possible and we didn't get stuck once. Unfortunately, the other guys also fit the American stereotype of having a surplus of testosterone and anyone who we came across who was stuck, the football team unloaded from the back of the truck to flex their muscles only to finish the session with a chestbump and high fives.

The first night we stayed in an Aboriginal camp ground which was awesome, and the second night we camped on the beach. I was so happy to get some legitimate camping in, the South American girl and myself got up bright and early to watch the sunrise on Fraser Island. Very cool. We also watched whales playing while sitting on the beach. Hervey Bay is where whales bring their babies to play with before they take them back down to coast to cooler waters.

On the tour, we visited Lake Mackenzie, which was this unreal fresh water lake in the middle of the island that is surrounded by bright white sand, and has beautful crystal blue water. We also went to Indian Head to see more whales, sting rays, turtles, etc.

After we made it back to Hervey Bay, with sand in places I didn't even know I had, there was time for a washing, quick dinner and bed with an early train down the coast to Brisbane.

I met up with my friend's Siobhan and Pavan in Brisbane to celebrate Pavan's last few days in Aus as she was heading back to Vancouver. Fortunately for me, Pavan was booked into a hotel, and offered for me to pay her whatever I would have paid for a hostel and stay with them. Luxurious! I had forgotten how nice it was to shower without wearing flipflops.

Yesterday we spent at the Australian Zoo...THE IRWIN ZOO! It was AWESOME. Pictures coming soon.

As for right now, I'm heading into Surfer's to meet up with a few friends, visit Coolangata and Byron Bay for maybe a surf lesson or two. Too easy mate, too easy.