A Travellerspoint blog

December 2008

On the road in New Zealand

Snip-its from our travels around the North Island

View A Rough Outline of our Trip on daveliz's travel map.

After 13 hours in an airplane and totally losing Dec. 16, Dave and I were happy to touch ground in Auckland, New Zealand. We are in this country of four and a half million people for six weeks. As the seasons are reversed, Christmas time is the beginning of summer vacations from work and school, and we've been warned this is the busy season. Dave and I have braced ourselves for the masses, picturing Nantasket Beach on the hottest summer day when Bostonians pack in like sardines for a plot of sand.

A little geography .... New Zealand has two main islands, appropriately called the North Island and the South Island. We traveled around the North Island first. Our photos tell the story.....

This is our Jucy Crib - our wheels for six weeks around New Zealand.

We've mastered driving on the opposite side of the road! Truth be told the wind shield wipers go on every time we want to turn left or right. Oops! (All controls are reversed.)

Our crib is also our kitchen.

And it is our cozy bedroom. DVD included!

As for the much needed toilet .... well, New Zealand's landscape is our bathroom. Sometimes they even supply toilets on the side of the road. Showers happen about every three to four days in very clean bathrooms in most city centers. Some cost a dollar, others are free.

AUCKLAND - our first stop in New Zealand is to the country's largest city.
I love the motto of the city University!

'Tis the season in Auckland....

To get the best city view, one must go to the top of Sky Tower, the tallest building in the city. We had lunch in a rotating restaurant at the top and as a bonus got to watch bungy jumpers dive off the top of the building.

From here, we walked to Mt. Eden, the city's tallest volcano. Auckland is surrounded by extinct or dormant volcanos. We think they look like mole hills compared to what we saw in South America. And Dave is off the hook. I claim responsibility for the lengthy walk this time : ) You can see Sky Tower in the background about 10 miles away.

There are several islands off of Auckland. We went to Waiheke Island, which is known for its crafts, wineries and walks. We fell in love with the Cable Bay Winery.

BAY OF ISLANDS - this area off the eastern north coast of New Zealand is a beautiful location to see dolphins and go for a sail. We took a trip on Gungha with Canadian Captain Mike Carere. What a life! He left the cold of fishing in Canada and Alaska to tour the warmer waters. He ended up in New Zealand and Fiji with his kids and now sails lucky guests like us around the islands.

We stopped at one of the Bay Islands. We got there by kayak and hiked to the top for another great view!

Dolphins gave us a show!
DSC_0110_3098x2074.jpg DSC_0077_3098x2074.jpg

Then the paparazzi arrived! Only three tour boats are allowed around the dolphins at a time. Fortunately, we got there first for the best show.

MONGONUI - this quaint town on the northern coast of NZ is known for its fish and chips.

Check out the shells on a nearby beach on Doubtless Bay. The crowds are really packed in for the high season too ; - )

CAPE REINGA - this is most northern spot of New Zealand where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea. We were there on an extremely rainy day with lots of tacky tourists.

A very windy beach side at Rangauna Bay...

Sand surfing and sledding are the way best way to experience the immense sand dunes in the area.

This is ninety mile beach, which is actually about 60 miles. It is a highway and our bus was doing record speeds on the dirtway. I found it interesting that a beach was named in miles when kilometers are the main way to measure distance. The driver told me miles were used until the mid 60's.

WAIPOUA KAURI FOREST - the giant kauri trees are quite popular in New Zealand. Named for a Mauri god of the forest, the Te Tane Mahuta tree, is 5 meters in diameter and nearly 2000 years old, the oldest tree in NZ. It is giant!

You got to love this sign posted at the Department of Conservation Campground in the forest. Despite my personal attributes, the campsite remained closed for the night.

TONGIRIRO NATIONAL PARK - this is the first National Park in New Zealand. There are several ski resorts in this area, but the most popular site is an active volcano. Dave and I did a day hike on Christmas Day to see the Volcano, but were out of luck due to some stubborn clouds.

Not quite Niagara Falls, but the Taranaki Falls in the park were nice.

Check out these houses built on volcanic rock near the ski chair lifts ..... definitely not visually pleasing if you like flora and greenery.

WAITOMA CAVES - this area on the western coast of NZ has nearly 300 explored caves. We repelled into one cave, got hooked up to a zipline to move to a new area of the cave and went tubing in the cold waters deep in the cave to see glowworms, a unique creature that only lives three days. It is born, has sex, then dies. The tour guides broke the news to us in the caves that glowworms aren't really worms, rather larvae of a moth, and it isn't the worms that glow, but their poop. I guess a cave tour featuring larvae with glow poop wouldn't sell as well. (The company wouldn't allow us to bring our own camera, so here is what we got from their photog. You have to look really close at the last photo to see the glowworms. We aren't sure how they missed the lite bright ceiling of the cave!)

ROTORUA - known for its smell of rotten eggs due to high levels of sulfur in the ground, Rotorua is also a playground for adventure athletes. We threw ourselves into a Zorb, an 11 foot inflatable rubber ball filled with water and then rolled down a hill at record speeds. It was awesome (and a much needed shower!)

TAUPO - we stopped in Taupo, a neighboring town of Rotorua and major competitor for adventure sports as it claims to be home to the first bungy jump. On a good day you can also see the volcano in Tongariro National Park. Of course, the clouds didn't cooperate.

NAPIER - heading south, Napier is known for its Art Deco architecture and plethora of wineries. Dave and I also found our first bike path, giving us much joy and needed exercise! Again, please take note of the crowds as it is the busy season. Two weeks into our travels, we realize Kiwi's (people from New Zealand - and also a non-flying local bird) clearly have a different perspective of what a busy season should look like!

Love this sign on the path!

Dave and I did tastings at about six of the 30-something wineries in the area. Some were in small make shift sheds. Others had an elaborate spread in an estate-like building. Unfortunately the wines weren't as good as we were hoping.

I thought my grandma Rose who is a wine connoisseur and former wine store owner would enjoy this vintage which takes her maiden name!

WELLINGTON - New Zealand's capital is also the gateway to the South Island with several ferries that haul people to Picton (3 hour ride). Wellington is known as the arts capital, but the few theaters and galleries don't seem vibrant. We'll go to the famous Te Papa museum today.

We found a pretty spot to sleep our first night here along Princess Bay.

We rang in the New Year with our new German friends Clara and Werner.

Overall, the New Year's celebration in Wellington was weak. A band played in the city center, but they lacked enthusiasm and the count down was just pathetic. Confetti was about two minutes late and the fireworks display we were promised never happened. The bars, however, were packed, giving us hope that people do go out.

So far, Dave and I have enjoyed our adventures in New Zealand, but our high expectations have not been met. We both were expecting to be in awe of the landscape, culture and people at all hours, but that has not happened. The countryside on the North Island is beautiful, but nothing too unusual and as Dave says, it does not have the unique appeal seen in Lord of the Rings. Perhaps we are spoiled as we are well traveled. The people are kind, but not that forthcoming or friendly. The arts are lacking and the food is bland. We've been told the South Island is an entirely different place and our dreams will be met ... stay tuned ... and we'll let you know!

Please bare with us as email cafes are expensive and rare in NZ, so we won't be logging on much.
- Elizabeth

Posted by daveliz 17:10 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Hasta Luego South America

Our last days in Chile

View A Rough Outline of our Trip on daveliz's travel map.

Our last days in South America were spent in Santiago, Chile, with our wonderful hosts Fernando, Valeria and her family. We couldn't thank Fernando and Velaria enough for providing great company, a place to stay, delicious food, and especially our own shower!

Mmm... empanadas! We'll have to learn to make these back home.

This is the best dessert a chocolate lover can possibly imagine... an Alfajor... made in a bakery run by relatives of Valeria is like a cookie with caramel, peanuts and loads of chocolate!

Valeria's family dog had puppies while we were traveling in Chile and Argentina. Elizabeth, of all people (she's not much of an animal person,) fell in love with them... who would have thought!

We also had a great time exploring more of Santiago and some of the Chilean sea shore. Fernando heard of a triathlon taking place in Vina del Mar, one of the ocean villages we planned to visit, and couldn't resist entering the competition. After an 11 year hiatus from triathlons, Fernando still managed to come in 1st in his age group! He's a bit of a local celebrity on the triathlon circuit. He was one of the top triathletes in the country during his time, so it was a bit of a reunion for him seeing old friends. (A small side note...we couldn't help but notice that the triathalon was a lot more rough than one in the US. Safety and logistical concerns weren't as much of a priority.) After a wonderful long weekend we bid farewell to Chile and South America, excited for our next adventure in New Zealand.

The finish.

First place Fernando "Superman" Reeve.

A vernacular in Valparaiso... the cultural capital of Chile or perhaps all of South America! This city built into the hills has a ton of interesting areas to explore.

View from a vernacular in Valparaiso.

- Dave

Posted by daveliz 17:08 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Patagonia Penguins

The penguins of Isla Magdalena, Patagonia

45 °F
View A Rough Outline of our Trip on daveliz's travel map.


Dave´s tux was at the dry cleaners, so we had to compromise. We put on our best black and white for a visit with the Magellanic Penguins on Magdalena Island, just north of Puntas Arenas, Chile, in the Strait of Magellan, which is named after explorer Ferdinand Magellan who discovered the area as an easy shipping connection between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It was about a two hour boat ride in the Strait, a body of water Dave has dreamed of visiting since reading Joshua Slocum's "Sailing Alone around the World."

These penguins are commonly referred to as ¨Jackass Penguins¨. The non-flying birds arrive to the Island around September, nest in October by burrowing themselves in dirt holes, and begin to have baby penguins in November and December.

These penguins have loud voices and apparently find their mating partner by a similar cry. They´ll stay on the island until April and then head north up either the Atlantic or Pacific coasts.

It is an amazing site with nearly 120,000 black and white furry friends with duck feet welcoming you. They look like big pigeons, yet are much smaller than I was anticipating.

We´re heading back to Santiago for a few days to visit with friends and then are off to New Zealand and Australia. Feel free to email us suggestions or people you might know there if you haven´t done so already! Please pass along the inquiry to your friends and family as well.

Adios for now,
- Elizabeth

Posted by daveliz 04:03 Archived in Chile Comments (1)

Torres del Paine, Chile

Two views mountains apart

semi-overcast 48 °F
View A Rough Outline of our Trip on daveliz's travel map.


Ever since seeing a Patagonia poster nine years ago featuring the granite and magma towers of Los Cuernos in Torres del Paine (I was on a ski trip with Raj in Portillo, Chile) I've wanted to visit the region. Los Cuernos are beautiful formations of nature and definitely lived up to my expectations. This area of the Torres del Paine park was the highlight for me even though the park had a lot to offer including great hut-to-hut backpacking with relatively few people on the trails, clean drinkable glacier water throughout the hike, and very few cars that come into the park. We were hiking just on the edge of the high season, so it may get busier as the season progresses. One of the things I appreciated most about this area was the little infrastructure for tourism. This is likely to change soon as we observed them paving new roads leading up to the park and throughout Patagonia. Right now the trip to the park is primarily on curvy mountain dirt roads.

This was Elizabeth's first backcountry backpacking experience. I tried to ease her into it by planning a refugio-to-refugio (aka hut-to-hut) trek so we could carry less weight (no tents, stoves, or pots and pans needed) and plan shorter hikes. At the refugios we rented tents rather than sleep in their bunks and used their cooking facilities.

Admittedly, I've become more of a hut-to-hut person anyway. It was confirmed when I saw the grimmaces on people carrying 40 to 50 pound packs with the extra equipment. I carried a 25-30 pound pack and E carried a day pack with sleeping bag tied on the top. Even without carrying all of that stuff, it was apparent that Elizabeth's backpacking career would be short lived!

She totally checked out when we ran into a guy we met in Bariloche who had leaped from one slippery rock to another, fell and broke his nose. I think we were both thankful we took the safe route and didn't attempt any dangerous pirouettes across the river. Elizabeth made it to our final camp safe and sound, so I'm very proud of her. From here on out we'll likely stick to day hikes, which is perfectly fine for me! Although... the "Great Walks" of New Zealand are calling my name... we'll see :-)

Safe and sound after the trek.

- Dave


Yes, I have perspective. I have my health (not even a blister), the weather was pretty good, I haven´t overcome any major trauma, nor am I living through something life-altering like war, but after six days in the middle of a national park I need a little room to complain and not feel guilty about it. I quickly realized the sport of backpacking is not for me!

My top ten thoughts....
1. Torres del Paine really means Towers of Pain. Ok, not the literal translation, but the flat first day of the W Circuit (as I was sold before the trip) was really a two hour incline. The hike on day two to the park´s famous towers was literal rock climbing, and it continued from there with hikes ranging from four to six hours. At this point, all mountains and rivers blended (the towers look just like Mt. Fitz Roy in El Chalten), so turning a corner for a new view didn´t get the reaction a real mountaineer appreciates, nor did I have any interest in comparing stories of the marvelous magma mountain tops with fellow enthusiastic hikers at the end of each day.
We had to climb this maze of rocks for the last hour of the hike to see Los Torres.

This is the view of Los Torres from over the rocks. Yes, amazing, but doesn´t it look like Mt. Fitz Roy?

2. By day three I declared war on the flies that were so big they wore aviator glasses. My 100% deet from REI didn´t even attempt to scare these buggers.

3. I don´t understand the joy in hoisting roughly 40 pounds on your back to walk miles up and down hills, over trees and through rivers. In all fairness, Dave was pretty much ´Sherpa Dave´ as he lugged all of our food and carried most of the weight. Still, my ´biker back´, as I like to call it, could not withstand the weight of my ´small´ pack. And to this point, most backpackers give the polite ´hola´greeting as they walk by, but they all seem to be in pain. What fun is that?
Here we are at the beginning of the hike. It is one of my few smiles with the pack on my back.

4. How can you appreciate the beauty of the park when you are walking with your head down to make sure you don´t trip on anything? Clearly my form, even with the trendy ski (walking) poles, wasn´t working. I was only able to really see the beauty of the park´s mountains and lakes on the fifth day of our trek when I sent Dave off into the wild and I didn´t move from our campground. I was at that point finally able to breath and look up at what I had been missing.
View of the famous horns, Los Cuernos.

5. On days three and four there were several river crossings, rather areas with massive amounts of snow and glacier runoff. As my stride to play leap frog from rock to rock didn´t always reach, I opted to take my shoes off (usually after about five minutes of tears)! The water was in many cases extremely forcefall and it was as cold as sticking your feet in a bath of ice cubes. Who calls this fun?

6. Dave and I set out to do the W Circuit. I did accomplish getting from one end of the park to the next, but I skipped out on some legs in between, so my W looked more like a seven. I felt defeated! A 72-year-old man jumped over the rivers like he was Superman, a father-daughter team did the entire trek, plus ice hiking on a glacier and kayaking on a river in the same amount of time, and groups of middle-aged Europeans and American college students wizzed by us. My competative nature got the best of me. It was hard for me to realize where my two feet took me, rather my focus was on what I failed to reach.
72-year-old leaps with ease across the glacier runoff.

7. This leads me to the mental game of hiking. If the physical part isn´t draining enough, you are left with nothing but deep thoughts while you are walking for hours on end. My day dreams got the best of me.

8. Tents, with the added bonus of rocky terraine, are not romantic, especially when you have been wearing the same clothes for multiple days with few showers in between. Must I say more....

9. A few park comments:
- Every sign with estimated hours to the next major sight or lookout was wrong. Two hours on the sign shouldn´t take four to six hours in reality, just like six hours shouldn´t take two hours. This creates mind games for the struggling hiker - me!
- Personnel at the campgrounds (refugios) should try to smile at guests. After all, we just walked up a mountain to see them and we are paying astronomical fees to stay and eat with them.
- Weather - they don´t seem to believe in weather reports in southern Argentina and Chile, so don´t ask anyone. They´ll just shrug. In other words, bring enough clothes to layer for every climate.
Extreme wind is normal, which you can see as I try NOT to get blown over the waterfall at Salto Grande.

10. My recommendation:
If you are an experienced hiker, love the challenges of the sport and don´t mind fighting the elements, then go for it! If you enjoy day hiking, like myself, don´t set out to do the W. Instead, go to one or two campgrounds (refugios), leave your bags and do day hikes from there and plan for a rest day in between. Most importantly, hike with someone who is either your same ability or someone who has massive amounts of patience. Dave is my personal rock for dealing with my often sour attitude and attempts to jump off the mountain!

- Elizabeth

Posted by daveliz 16:25 Archived in Chile Comments (4)

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