North Island Adventures

Zumba Party and There and Back Again, Part 2

Hobbiton and Mordor

For the first half of April, I went up to the North Island. The main reason for this was that there was a two hour master Zumba class with Beto in Auckland on Friday April 8. You may be asking yourself why I would bother to fly to Auckland just to go to a Zumba class. Well, this was just not a regular class. It was with the creator of Zumba, and this was his first trip to New Zealand. There were only 500 tickets available, and I was lucky to get one. I would have never known about it if Haley, one of the Queenstown instructors, had not informed me. So we jumped on a plane on Friday morning, checked into the hotel, and headed to the ASB Showgrounds at 3:30 in the afternoon. The event did not start until 7, but we wanted to check out the apparel sale that the organizers were having, which opened at 4:00. We were not the first ones in line. Let’s just say, Kiwi instructors love Zumbawear because there was a line to get into the shop until 7:00. I was able to snag a lime green instructor tank. As it got closer to 7:00 PM, the atmosphere became like queuing for a rock concert. At the beginning of the class, there was a traditional Maori greeting with all of the Zumba instructors of Maori descent. That was very cool. And then Beto came out, and the crowd went wild. We danced for 2 hours and had a blast! My photos turned out well too.  The best part came at the end in which Beto offered to take a photo with everyone who wanted one. Which of course was the entire room. There were over 500 people there so Haley and I ran for the stage. I got my photo with Beto and was very pleased with it. I also told him that I was from the Studio in Ohio and he said Ohio’s in the house! So cool! So after we got our photos, we headed to the afterparty…at McDonalds. We were starving and so was everyone else.

After the class, I rented a car and headed to Matamata for the Hobbiton Movie Set Tour. Now, as the Hobbit is currently filming, I cannot tell you anything about the actual tour or post any photos until after the movies are released. What I can tell you about is the sheep farm experience that my tour got to do before the movie set tour. It included a sheep shearing demonstration followed by the chance to bottle feed two 7-day old lambs. They were adorable!

Then I headed to Rotorua where I spent a day at the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. Think Yellowstone in New Zealand with geothermal pools, mud pools, and geysers. This was a two hour long boardwalk through an active geothermal area. I also hit the Craters of the Moon, which is another broadwalked area through a landscape that reminded me of Mordor.

On this trip, I also did the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which is advertised as New Zealand’s best day hike. This hike is filled with semi-arid plants, steaming fumaroles, crystal-clear lakes and streams, all in an active volcanic zone. This is where the filming of Mount Doom and Mordor took place in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy with Mount Ngauruhoe posing as Mount Doom. Now, you can climb up Mt. Doom and chuck your invisible ring as a side trip, but it’s extremely difficult and slightly dangerous. It’s a 600 meter climb up loose, volcanic rocks and boulders. The views are supposed to be magnificent, but it’s the way down that has caused people some problems. The fastest way down is to “ski” down the white strip without picking up too much momentum. Needless to say, I did not attempt Mount Doom. The rest of the hike was enough for me. I am glad this was not the height of summer because up to 500 people attempt this hike a day during the summer! The day I did it, there was a primary school group up there. Why can’t we make US kids do this kind of thing? It would be good for them.

Up next: Some semblance of normalcy. My internship at the University of Otago.

Mount Ngauruhoe AKA Mount Doom


Adventures on the South Island

What have I been up to the past 2.5 weeks?

  • Hiked the Routeburn Track and part of the Rakiura Track
  • Went on a two day kayaking trip to Doubtful Sound
  • Visited Steward Island – a bird sanctuary
  • Got a really nasty cold
So I have been pretty busy these past few weeks and am getting ready to set off for the North Island on Friday for a Zumba Master Class with Beto! And I just found a car tonight. It is a 1992 Subaru Legacy (with an ipod hookup!) so I can finally start seeing some of the countryside.

March 20-22
The Routeburn Track – Not for those afraid of heights

After mastering the Milford Track, I decided to tackle the Routeburn Track. The Routeburn Track is also another very popular track in New Zealand with up to 8000 independent trampers attempting it per year. It can be hiked in both directions; and I started on the Glenorachy side and hiked to the Divide, located close to Milford Sound.

This Track was a three day, two night tramp into some of the most amazing alpine scenery I have seen. The first hut, Routeburn Falls, is set just below the treeline next to a waterfall, where I spent most of the afternoon on Day 1. The weather was perfect, a lot of sun and no rain. Day 2 started with a lot of fog, but I soon climbed out of the clouds for some good views of the surrounding mountains. The trail mainly followed a ridgeline the entire day with a stop at the Harris Saddle Shelter for lunch. I also hiked (scrambled) up Conical Hill for a 360-degree view out to the Tasman Sea. This was as close to rock climbing as I have gotten to. To get down, one had to crab rock over rocks without falling. The day ended with a long descent into Mackenzie Hut, which was situated by a lake. Had it been warmer, I would have been tempted to swim, especially since I spent the day sweating. Day 3 was much easier with no major climbs or descents. I stayed at Rosie’s Backpackers in Te Anau, which is a lovely farmstay run by two former Department of Conservation Hut Rangers.

March 24-25
Kayaking Trip to Doubtful Sound

I met Katie, from London, at Rosie’s. We decided to tackle the two day sea kayaking trip to Doubtful Sound, Milford Sound’s not-as-popular cousin. Again, the weather was perfect; a lot of sun; and the only thing I would have changed about this trip was the sandflies. Sandflies make mosquitos look positively tame. These things travel in swarms, and attack you as soon as you stop moving. While we were on the water, in the middle of the Sound, they were not a problem. However, we got eaten alive every time we stopped for a break and had to suffer with some hyper-itchy bites after we returned.

We got lucky with this trip. Katie and I were the only clients on it. So it was basically a private tour of Doubtful Sound. On the first day, we took a boat across Lake Manapouri to Deep Cove, where we put the kayaks in the water. We then paddled down Hall Arm for the afternoon, looking at the amazing scenery. We also saw a New Zealand Fur Seal that afternoon sunning himself on a rock. We ended the day at campsite 2 AKA Sandfly Central. At least there was an insect shelter in which we spent most of our camping time in. Then we ran for our tent where we stayed until morning. On day 2, we paddled out of Hall Arm and into the Malaspikla Reach, heading out towards the Tasman Sea. We didn’t paddle all the way to the Tasman Sea because it was still about 35 km away. We stopped for lunch around Elizabeth Island, where we swatted sandflies while we ate. Towards the end of the paddle, we came across another fur seal. Then it was back to the shore for the trip back across Lake Manapouri. The only major downside to this trip is I started getting sick, which made things not so fun on our next adventure…

March 28-April 2
Stewart Island

Katie was really keen to tackle the Northwest Circuit, which is the legendary tramp on Stewart Island that takes 8-10 days to complete, and has lots of mud. I almost decided to do it with her, but by this point I was not feeling up to it. I ended up with a pretty nasty cold after the kayaking trip. So as a compromise, I was going to do the first day of the NW Circuit, which was Half-Moon Bay (Oban) to Bungaree Hut with her and Paul. Paul was working at a backpackers in Invercargill and decided to tag along at the last minute. Since it is the end of the tourist season in New Zealand, Katie and I flew from Invercargill to Oban, which was a 20 minute flight on an 8 seater. It was a little scary, but we made it intact. And we did not have to take the hour long ferry ride, which is notorious for being unpleasant. We started on March 29 and the first half of the day went well. It was an easy hike to Port William Hut, which is on the Rakiura Great Walk. That’s where the fun ended. As soon as you veer off the Great Walk, and enter the Northwest Circuit, the mud fest began. I was so happy I had my gaiters, otherwise I don’t think I would have ever gotten my socks and boots clean. The trip from Port William Hut to Bungaree Hut is only 6 km, but it took us about 5 hours because it was so hard. Not only was there a lot of mud, this track is true New Zealand backcountry tramping in which there are lots of tree roots, streams to cross, very steep hills to scramble up, and energy sapping mud to deal with. By the time we reached this point, we had already hiked about 12 km. The other thing that really sucked was that I bent one of my trekking poles after falling in the mud. We finally made it to Bungaree Hut as the sun was setting; and the hut is located in a beautiful, remote location on a beach. Too bad I had to turn around and do the same portion again the next day. Katie and Paul were going to continue on the NW Circuit. I was going to turn around and head back to Port William Hut, stay the night; and finish out the Rakiura Track. However, the next day I decided to bail. I hitched a ride with the hut warden’s son who had a boat and was heading back to Oban that morning. I am very glad I did this because I really wasn’t feeling well at this point. I spent the rest of the day at the backpackers watching movies, and then had a great seafood BBQ that night.

Since I aborted my Rakiura attempt, I went to Ulva Island on April 1, which is a predator-free sanctuary for native wildlife. The island had a few nice, easy walks that ended at some beaches. I ate my lunch at West End Beach with two Stewart Island Wekas looking for handouts. These birds are cheeky! I had to shoo them away several times as they tried to approach. These birds are almost as annoying as seagulls, but at least they don’t fly. So I didn’t have to worry about one swooping in from behind and making off with my sandwich (thank you Florida seagulls for that one!). I spend most of the four hours on the island meandering around on the trails looking for birds. Here’s what I saw:

Blue Penguins – On the boat ride over. They are very small and sound like ducks.
Stewart Island Weka
South Island Saddleback
Stewart Island Robin
Tui – one of the songbirds
New Zealand Parakeet

After Stewart Island, I spent a few days recovering in Invercargill, and am now back in Queenstown, ready for the next adventure.

The Routeburn Track