Archive for March, 2014

Rotorua & Pueroa Forest Park and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing| NZ photo journal

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

I am feeling a bit guilty today waiting for Sadie to get home from school. She is struggling with some sort of virus right now–something that makes her feel tired and has given her a rash, but no fever and nothing to really keep her home from school. I found out that we don’t really have health insurance while we are out here. Well, we have our US insurance, but there is a large deductible to be met so I hemmed and hawed about taking her in. I finally decided I better rule out strep, and we did, but now I am just a bit poorer and still have a slightly sick kid who I sent off to school after the doctor’s appointment–hence the feeling guilty feeling.

This is a good time to mention how great the kids have been on this journey. While they haven’t really been thanking us for taking them on an amazing, extended vacation to a warm spot during a cold NY winter, they also haven’t complained too much. I think we have done some really fun things, but we didn’t hit any amusement parks and we don’t really try to cater the vacation to them==so all in all it has been a success so far.

After Hobbiton we drove to the town of Rotorua. Rotorua is known for it’s thermals springs (think hot and smelly). Some things we read called it RotoVegas because of how touristy and crowded it can be, but we honestly found it pretty empty and quaint–not words I would use to describe Vegas.  For instance check out this little hike along a spring that we found.


It also had a ton of CA coastal redwoods–they were only a century old, but already 55 m tall.




At the end of the hike there was a 50ft deep spring. The water was ice cold, but we did see some kids jumping in.


Driving around town at sunset.




About 20 minutes away was the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Park.


We spent about 2 hours hiking around on the self-guided trail with the strong sulphur smell, but crazy beautiful and strange.





Sometimes the smoke and steam made it so that you couldn’t see anything.


We had our next campground practically to ourselves. It would have been perfect except for the abundance of wasps. We didn’t get stung, but they were everywhere. This was also the only campsite where we were able to have a fire.


The basic facilities .


There was a great hike right from the campground.


We went right from our campsite off to Tongariro National Park. We had been prepping the kids since Syracuse about the hike we were going to do here–an all day 20 km trek on a volcano. Before that hike we did a “leg stretcher” on a 6km hike to Taranaki Falls.

Views of the volcano (also known as Mt. Doom).





We were supposed to camp that night, but we decided to upgrade to a cabin because it was quite cold at night and we didn’t really have the best gear for it. I was happy we upgraded the next morning when we had to get up at 4:30 to get ready for our ride to the trailhead.


The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is supposedly the best and most popular day hike in all of New Zealand. There have been recent eruptions so there were lots of warnings about, but for our hike the volcano seemed calm.


There was awesome cloud cover that slowly rolled in.



The kids were in a pretty good mood for having woken up so early. We did pack candy bars and they seemed to want to be full speed ahead.


Much of the first part of the trail is very easy with boardwalks and stairs.




Always looming the volcano.




This was where the trail got a little tricky. There was lots of hard uphill parts, but they were stairs and the trail was easily marked. Here you just had to scramble up loose rocks. And with the with blowing my hair around I couldn’t see a thing.


One of the Emerald Lakes.


This was the scariest part of the trail for me–heading down this trail. I am having trouble uploading my video–but there was a very steep drop off on both sides and the rocks were very loose.





The active steam vents on the north side.


The kids keep a quick pace. I wonder if all of the warning signs kept them moving along?



We all slept well that night in our little cabinIMG_5437

with the big view. J took this photo. I must have been too cozy to get up. 🙂



Hobbiton| New Zealand travel journal

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

The Hobbiton movie set tour is about what you would expect. For two hours you are guided through the Hobbit village with 44 hobbit holes with lots of photo-ops. The set looks exactly how you would image it if you have seen the movies.  The Bag End oak tree was completely fake with steel branches and plastic leaves imported from Thailand. There was only one hole that you could actually go into, but inside wasn’t decorated at all–it was just to film the actors opening the door, or standing at the door. The indoor shots of the hobbit holes were created somewhere else.

The attention to detail was amazing and the stories the guides told made me think that working on a set for Peter Jackson would have been very difficult (especially if you were the one who had to paint leaves or change apples to pears, etc. )

Although it was certainly a tourist site it was pretty cool to wander around a movie set and the kids especially enjoyed it because we were currently watching the movies with them.

Some of my many photos on our tour.

















The tour ends at the Green Dragon Inn where you can have a beer, ginger beer, or hard cider along with various other treats.


New Zealand-Tasman Sea cows, Aroha Eco Reserve, big Kauri trees|photo travel journal

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

My memories of my time on the North Island of New Zealand are starting to fade so I need to hurry up and finish this journal!

After breaking camp at the Pueroa Forest, we headed on a hike that we had read about online. The directions were a little sketchy, so it took us a bit to find. It was billed as a short hike that went to a beach on the Tasman Sea–perfect. This is where we ended up after a fairly hot and longer than expected hike (much grumbling by the kids)–on a beautiful beach on the Tasman Sea.




As you can see we were the only people there–no resorts, no houses, just a big long beach with shallow water all to ourselves.




Somehow we didn’t bring any towels or swimsuits with us on this hike.


As we got ready to head back to our car we saw another car drive down the beach and set up camp…so parking seems pretty easy. :0


Now onto those killer cows. Our hike to the sea was almost entirely through pasture land and judging by how curious the cows seemed I’m pretty sure they don’t get many hikers on this trail. Even though I didn’t see any bulls the evil eyes the cows gave me had us all a little on edge.


Can you believe the views these cows have? I kept thinking that this would be a resort or a golf course if this spot was in the US.


Another view of our “trail” to the sea.


Feeling happy now that we have gotten past most of the killer cows.


There was a large hill at the end of the trail and I noticed some hornet nests on the way up so I warned the kids to be very careful where they stepped on the way down.

Right after this photo the hornets found me. I only got bitten once, but Jason was trapped for a bit behind me while he had to make a new trail down to avoid the angry hornets.


Another view of the stairs to the sea.


After our beach time we headed back to the forest to look for some of the biggest Kauri trees .



We also had our first taste of something truly New Zealand–hokey pokey ice cream–which is vanilla ice cream with little bits of honey toffee in it. I think it is the most popular ice cream flavor here.


This photos is just an example of a random spot on our drive. This spot isn’t in the guidebooks you just drive around a corner and bam! another little beautiful spot.


This was one of my favorite campsites of our trip- at the Aroha Eco Reserve.


The view from our tent at sunset.


Sadie found a great climbing tree that also had a tree swing.


Rainbow falls just outside the town of Kerikeri. This part of New Zealand kind of reminded me of Central New York.



We skipped most of the famous caves on the North Island, but we did stop at Waipu Cave. Sadie insisted on stopping pretty early into the exploration, but we did get to see some of the famous glow worms. Can you see them too? They are not actually worms of course, but they are insects that glow through bioluminescence. Jason and Echo traveled further into the cave and were treated to a ceiling totally aglow.


The cave entrance.


We left the very north, drove back through Auckland to the tiny town of Matamata. The town is now famous for being the location of Hobbiton from the Lord of the Rings movies. We stayed at the lovely Chestnut Lane Cottage. We stayed in the same place that Martin Freeman stayed in while filming The Hobbit. Our hosts were amazing and brought over fresh scones with cream and jam as well as a cheese plate.



The view from our cottage.


Next up–our visit to Hobbiton. storyboard060


New Zealand-Auckland, Waiheke Island, Trounson Kauri Park| photo travel journal

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

I am struggling to figure out the best way to blog about my travels and really why I am blogging about it in the first place. I’m not sure if this is a way for my family  and friends to see what we are up to, for my clients to get to know me better, for other travelers to get tips on places to visit, or just for myself to remember. I guess if it was purely for me to remember I wouldn’t need to publish anything to the web (and honestly my teenaged daughter, and maybe my husband, would probably be happier if I didn’t). Ah well, here I go.

I know when I was planning this trip I enjoyed looking at other travel reports on blogs so I suppose I do want other travelers to get tips, and it is a fun way for family and friends to see where we are. In any case, please forgive me if my blogging is sometimes more personal and sometimes more journalistic as I try to find my blogging voice as they say.

Our long flight from Hawaii was just as uncomfortable as you might expect it to be, but we arrived safely in Auckland and getting through customs was a breeze. It was about 7am when we dropped our stuff off at our hotel and we tried to keep busy so as to adjust to the time change quicker. Along with various chores (getting nz cell phone and bank account) we decided to walk to the Auckland Museum. I’m sure the museum is great, but I struggled to stay awake and probably should have saved my money as I was starting to see just how expensive New Zealand is.  A gallon of gas is about $11 bucks, sunscreen is around $15 a bottle (!), meat and fish are about double what I pay at Wegmans (and I thought they might be cheaper here since we are close to the ocean and near lots of sheep). I could go on, but I have decided to just close my eyes when the bill comes.

I will be including photos that Jason has taken as well so that I am in some of the photos. I was told that it isn’t fair to only include my photos.

So here I am looking as awake as I can muster after all that time on a plane.


Sadie is looking wide awake as we head out to explore Auckland.


On our first full day in New Zealand we took the advice of a friend and took a quick ferry ride over to Wahiheke Island. storyboard003

It is windy all the time. I need to learn to pull my hair back. 


Waiheke Island is known for it’s wineries, but it also has some beautiful coastline hiking trails. We started off with a hike and I had hopes of coming across a winery or two along the way. storyboard004





After an hour or so the kids were complaining pretty hard despite this view.


And where are my wineries?




Finally we found a few wineries and even though the menu pricing should have scared us off we couldn’t resist this view for our lunch. They even had a kid’s menu where Sadie found out that when you order a hot dog here it is really what we call a corn dog. storyboard011


And Jason found a bug in his wine–but he was cute. We tried to rescue him, but I’m not sure he survived.


After lunch we found another winery with an outstanding view.




The lawn behind the winery had bean bags where most people were lounging. We were starting to think it was weird that nothing was crowded. I mean I would think a place like this on a weekend would be packed full, but it was really only about 15% full(if that),  but as we traveled more in New Zealand we started to realize that there are just not that many people in this country, and really nothing has been crowded yet. storyboard014

Notice that I am still wearing my Hawaii uniform. My luggage was finally found right before we left for New Zealand, but my clothes was all so wrinkled that I found it easier to stick with my new uniform. storyboard030

After visiting three wineries total we wandered around the main part of town and found a spot to get an early dinner.


This is the view from the restaurant. Really–every place on this island has an amazing view. If I were to visit Auckland again I’m pretty sure I would want to just stay on this little island the whole time.


By the time we got back to our hotel that evening we were all ready to crash. The island had been great and we felt okay about our wine tasting after all the hiking we did that day.

The next day we picked up our rental car and headed north to see some big trees and do some camping. It should be noted that rental cars are a bit different out here. Instead of getting a spiffy new car, our car had about 90,000 miles on it and was from 1999. I will say it did just fine.

Our first experience camping was a bit different. Instead of getting an actual campsite there was just a big lawn with a few tables for everyone to share. You just put your tent up wherever. I do like how all campgrounds seem to have shared kitchens. So, if you don’t want to cook at your site you can use the kitchen to cook and most had shared fridges and sinks to do the dishes.

I also enjoyed not worrying about bears, or raccoons or snakes or spiders (I do worry a lot) or really anything. The bugs were not even bad and no squirrels either. Just a lot of strange birds. The have a really cute possum here in New Zealand (different from the possum back home), but they are really invasive and so people are encouraged to kill them. Many shops carry clothes made from possum fur. We have been told they can be a best to campers as well, but we didn’t spot any. storyboard018

The campground (on the north of the north island at Trounson Kauri Park) said that it could have 20 tents, but there were only about 6 tents by the end of the night. storyboard019

There was a nice trail that left right from the campground. storyboard020

Kauri trees are the largest trees in New Zealand and also among the most ancient in the world. storyboard021



I loved the moss that grew off of them. storyboard023

Walking in a forest where everything was slightly different was really exciting–even for me. storyboard024


Once it got dark we went looking for the national symbol of New Zealand, the kiwi. Kiwi’s are nocturnal so we waited until it got really dark. We were told that this park offered one of the best opportunities to see the rare bird in the wild. It didn’t get dark until pretty late and there were lots of new bird sounds out so Sadie decided that she really didn’t want to go out of the tent. While Jason stayed back with Sadie Echo and I went out. You are supposed to put some red plastic over your headlight so as not to disturb the bird. We walked for a short while along the same trails and then turned our light off and waited. We were told to do this and wait to turn on our light until we heard these flightless birds scratching about. After a few minutes we heard something, turned on our headlights and glimpsed a kiwi running away from us. Since it was fairly easy to get our first kiwi spotting I thought I would have another opportunity to see one a bit closer later, but unfortunately this was to be my only wild kiwi spotting.




Kauai, Hawaii-part 3| photo travel journal

Sunday, March 9th, 2014

This will be my last Kauai blog entry so I am going to cram a lot into it. I’m afraid if I don’t get moving on this travel blog I will never get caught up, and I have a backlog of photos that want my attention. I brought along a hard drive of my personal photos since 2007 to go through and I’m still working on Jan 2014!

The Limahue Botanical Garden (on the north of the island near the Kilalua trail) was a real highlight of our visit. Jason was busy taking hundreds of plant photos while I was appreciating the cloudy skies for some portraits.




You had a great view of the coast from here so my mom is taking the opportunity to search for some more whales.




And for some official whale watching we took a tour with Blue Dolphin Charters. Before coming to Hawaii Sadie was adamant that she did not want to get on a boat. In fact, if my mom didn’t insist we probably wouldn’t have pushed the whale watching. It took the kids about 2 minutes to decide that boats were pretty cool and Sadie especially loved it. We went on the “sunset tour” and despite early warnings of rough water our day was perfect. We saw bottle nosed dolphins, a sea turtle and many humpbacked whales with babies. They served unlimited beer, soft drinks and mai tai’s along with muchies and cookies so we were all happy.




Sadie stayed out on her perch at the front of the boat most of the time.


We made our longest drive on the island to get to Waimea Canyon (sort of a mini Grand Canyon). The weather was okay on our drive up the steep and winding road, but by the time we got to the top we were driving in total fog and rain. I walked out to the viewpoint while everyone else stayed in the car and I couldn’t see anything except a sign declaring that spot as the rainiest spot in the world.

On our way down the weather was clearing a bit so we stopped at one of the viewpoints just in time for another rainbow.



We drove by Kelia Beach (just north of Kapa’a) many times, so on my mom’s last day we decided to stop. It is a nice long beach with lifeguards, toilets and a long paved walkway along the coast. I’m not sure why we didn’t stop earlier, but I am guessing it is because it was too easy to get to!

The best part was watching a pod of dolphins put on a show for the paddle boarders. They swam around them for 30 minutes or more jumping and flipping right next to their boards.

storyboard030Another perk of this beach is that right across the street is the best lunch spot–The Green Pig. I could actually afford the food and it was so yummy. If this truck is still around on our next visit I might have to stay close by. storyboard035

Our dinner out spot was at Dukes–a restaurant right near the airport and in the middle of a resort.


I like beaches with mountains behind them.


On our last day we finally checked out the Hanalei Pier. It was very photogenic with the beach facing the mountains and a whole bunch of kids having a surfing lesson. *photos here taken with my point and shoot camera. storyboard036


Oh–and before I leave my Hawaii blog posts I will include this incredible rainbow I woke up to one morning. It really was that electric (for about 30 seconds).


Next up–the New Zealand blogging. Thanks again for following along.


Kauai-Napali Coast Trail| photo travel journal

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

One of the most famous hikes in Hawaii is the Napali Coast hike on Kauai. We told the kids they had to do the hike with us, but we let my mom off the hook and she went on a Hollywood movie set tour. We bribed the kids with nuts from the Hanalei Nut Roasters ( I liked the mango honey berry almonds and the Pinapple Li Hing almonds)–which really is the place to stock up on yummy before hitting the trail.

We got an early start and had the first part of the trail to ourselves.


We were warned.


Right from the start it was a very rocky walk on wet slippery rocks.


Once you got up a little bit the views were as good as advertised.


As you are hiking you will occasionally see a boat doing a coastal tour and a helicopter doing the sky tour, but for the most part you just gawked at some of the most amazing coastline views ever. storyboard003



At about the halfway point of the trail you can get down to this beach. I saw one person swimming, but the signs pretty much scared the kids enough that they didn’t even want to put their feet in the water.


After the beach the hike continues to Hanakapi’ai Falls. I think it was only about 2 miles, but it took forever due to a very muddy trail. I put my camera away for most of this part of the hike because I was just trying to stay upright.

The waterfall was pretty, but I’m not sure I would do it again if the trail was as muddy as we experienced. I lost my shoes a few times in the mud.


Sadie wasn’t thrilled with the mud.


The walk back from the waterfall was even muddier as the rain started. All in all the hike took us about 7 hours, and then it took another 30 minutes to rinse off the mud before getting in the car.


Next up–more Hawaii rainbows.


Kauai, Hawaii-part one| travel photo journal

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Today as I write about Hawaii I am freezing cold in Christchurch. We are having really rainy, cool weather with high winds. While I know it is much colder back home Syracuse–here in New Zealand I am living in a house without central heating and the space heater is just not cutting it. So–it is time to look back at some nice warm Kauai photos.

Kauai was as amazing as advertised and someplace I have to get back to soon.

We said goodbye to some family in Kona and hello to my mother who joined us for our week in Kauai. We decided to stay on the north side of the island in Princeville at a great privately owned condo in the Ali Kai condo complex. If you ever head out that way I would be happy to share the contact info because it was a perfect spot with views of the mountains and the ocean.

Our first spot to visit was the Kilauea Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge which was pretty close to our condo. We went for the views and some bird watching (we saw lots–red-footed booby, albatross, shearwaters), but a few hundred feet off shore we were treated to humpback whales breaching.

It is a great spot to head to if you want the views without the work of much hiking.




I felt lucky to have a misty stormy sky for my photos. I soon learned that on the north side of the island this sky comes and goes several times a day, along with rainbows and rain.


The Hawaii goose called the Nene–the official bird of Hawaii.


After we dragged ourselves away from the whale show we pulled off the road for a gawk at another amazing view.


Of course we forced the kids to pose for us.


This is apparently a game they play–seeing who can smile through the pain of the squeeze.



My mom wanted me to make sure I got a photo of the chickens that have taken over Kauai. They are fast things and they wake you up every morning. Apparently since Kauai doesn’t have the mongoose the chickens have no predator. I was wondering why people don’t just eat them–free food and all, but I was told they are not good eating? So–Kauai is an awesome place to be a chicken.




This dress (and a swimsuit) was my uniform while in Hawaii since my luggage still hadn’t arrived. I did learn an important lesson. If you go to Hawaii all you need is a swimsuit, flip-flops and a sundress. This uniform is accepted at all locations and makes getting ready in the morning very easy.


Our favorite town on the North Island was Hanalei. There are lots of little spots to eat and shop, and a rainbow pops up a couple of times a day to make even the parking lots quaint.


I think I could become a regular here if I moved to Kauai. The mai tai’s  were super yummy and the pizza was good for an affordable meal. This bar is also featured in the movie,  The Descendants .kauai0014

Hanalei has a great fish market as well where we got ahi tuna and ahi belly. I was happy that I liked the oily belly best since it was half the cost.


We found what must be one of the safest swimming beaches in Hawaii at Anini Beach near Princeville. It was very gentle with lots of sand, parking, and views. Many people were snorkeling as well, and no crowds.



I noticed that they had a pretty sweet campground and have filed it away for a future visit.



We planned to do a “jungle hike” that J had read about near the Keahua Arboretum. We had rented a 4WD drive car and so when the road ended and  muddy track continued we kept going, following the directions in our guide book. At one point the after going uphill the road had a steep downhill. I tried not to be the one to ruin the fun, but I did say that I would rather get out. My mom said, “let’s do it”, but luckily J sided with me and we turned around. A few minutes later a guy came up and told us that he had seen another person go down and get stuck at the bottom and had to get a $600 tow out. I felt relieved to have some back up. I know—I should have taken a photo, but at the time I was too busy convincing the rest of the family that going down the hill was not a good idea.

Instead we decided to go on the Kuilau Ridge trail. January is the rainier season in Hawaii and the trail was pretty muddy. It was about a mile climb to the top with some great views.





Once we made it to the top the rain came down to cool us off.


After the hike we force the kids to pose in front of another waterfall on our drive back.


Our beach of choice this day was Lumaha’i Beach. Remember in Hawaii it seems you are always looking for a different beach–one that fits your mood that day. This beach had a few surfers for us to watch as well as lots of teenagers gearing up for what looked to be a great party. Perhaps in the evening this is the party beach?

The beach swells that day made swimming unsafe for us. My mom even got pulled in by a wave when she went to put her feet in which demonstrated my “not a good day for swimming”  point nicely to the girls. Sadly, I didn’t have my camera out yet for that photo. 🙂

And guess what –we saw another rainbow.




The light in Hawaii was always changing–which makes figuring out color balance a bit tricky, but man…always amazing.



Next up—hiking the Napali Coast Trail!

And, as usual–thanks for following along.