Lake Taupo, 01/30/2020

Today we drove to Taupo Town where we parked at the far end of Lake Taupo and walked 1.5 into town along the shore. Interesting moments happened along the way!! Dave became the “winged whisperer” as he coaxed some black swans and a flock of ducks to visit him as he crouched down, they left quickly once they discovered he had no food. We next tried skipping stones where we picked up some hefty chunks only to find they only weighed as much as a marshmallow. We skipped a few where they bounced off the waves, then FLOATED on top of the water. They make rocks differently here!! Might not hurt if one was hidden in a snowball and chucked at Kathy!!! Just sayin’!

We then made a quick trip to Huka Falls, which was quite nice, but was small in comparison to Niagara Falls!! Still, we enjoyed the walk and the falls. We ended our day in Taupo by visiting the botanical gardens where we were able to finally capture the elusive and camera-shy Tui bird on film. We got lost in the maze of trails in the gardens and spent an enjoyable time just strolling around and viewing the trees and bushes. They had some of the largest rhododendrons I have ever seen and would give NC a run for their money. Lots of azaleas, rhodos, hydrangeas and hostas reminded us often of our old stomping grounds.

January 29,2020 And now for something completely different!!

AHHHHHHH! Absolutely nothing on the agenda except laundry, sleep, and an add-on of takeout Chinese food. (which was mostly the same as US takeout–for those who are curious).  After a lunch of Chinese takeout, we sat on the bed and watched a movie on Netflix (Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit)!! Not a single picture was snapped, less than 10,000 steps, nowhere near our expected heart points, and lots of calories as we snacked and recovered. A perfect off day!!! Kathy actually felt retired today!! I think Dave was wishing for Thing 1 and Thing 2 to come liven up this rainy day, but Kathy’s wishes won the day!! Just to provide one tidbit of information on New Zealand since we stayed in, NZ has a general sales tax on food of 15%!!!

Another twofer day—January 27-28,2020

Today was a holiday in New Zealand which meant there were lots of families out and about enjoying the day. We decided to do a “family friendly” hike called Tongariro River Trail. While it was fairly flat and had minimal uphill or downhill it was still almost 7 miles, or 11.265 kilometers. They must have different families in NZ. I cannot imagine taking a seven-year-old on this trail…maybe one of the shorter ones that abound around the area. Prior to starting the hike, we wandered around a trout farm and saw some gargantuan trout, any one of which could feed a family of 5!!! Vargo, your son would have loved it!! Further downstream, we saw men fishing outside the farm area and they were catching fish that were as long as my arm!!! Hiking in the heat is hard, but then I saw pictures of the snow piled up in Saranac Lake, I thought, “Okay, quit your complaining! You could be trying to find a parking spot at the hospital!!!” (We know how those disappear once the snow falls.)

While lunch was a little delayed, we enjoyed the traditional peanut butter and jelly sandwich after the long hike. Dave still had his apple, carrots, and Oreos—some things never change. He has yet to find Diet Mountain Dew, so I am pretty sure he won’t be moving to New Zealand anytime soon.

A quick trip into town to get shuttle tickets for the bus to take us up to the trailhead for our 20 kilometer hike up the Tongariro Alpine Pass tomorrow and then some quick groceries for our pack lunch. Pleasant way to spend the afternoon. Now time for a good old American BBQ (or grill if you are southern…just for you Lisa. Would hate to confuse you!!). Chicken on the grill, potato salad, and a green salad followed by boysenberry ripple ice cream. How else do you celebrate holidays—even those in New Zealand!!

Tuesday. Ahhhhhh, the almost 20-kilometer hike. We had to get up at 4:45 Am in order to walk to the location where the shuttle bus would pick us up. We were out of the Airbnb by 0525 hrs. Then back in at 0527 so Dave could run back and get his watch and phone. We made it to the pickup place by 0541, just in time to see a bus from our shuttle company whiz by. “Maybe he is picking up someone else and will be back for us at 0550, like we were scheduled?” we thought. At 0555, Dave was on the phone with the shuttle company about to ask if they forgot about us when another bus stopped at our location. Nope, this one wasn’t picking us up either. Finally, out bus stopped to pick us up, then went to 5 other paces to pick up others, before getting us to the trailhead at 0700 hours.

It was a cool morning for a change, thank goodness. Less than 100 meters into our 12-mile hike, the battery on Dave’s GPS died. (Do you think that little nugget will make it into the After Action Review??) The first hour was an easy hike along a wide, flat trail through crushed lava. (Did I mention this trail passes by 3 ACTIVE volcanoes??) The next was spent trudging uphill and conquering stair steps – Oh, those steps! There was a light mist in the air which kept us cool along with the 60-degree temps and a nice breeze. Once we climbed to the top of our first ascent, it was suggested we put on more clothing as the next uphill would be colder and windier. We donned our rain jackets just in time as the winds picked up. By the time we began our next ascent, the 30 mph winds began their effort to toss us down the hill…and pelt us with that lovely “light” mist. As if the weather and steep climb weren’t enough, the footing became very unstable. Luckily, the winds made the footing even trickier. At one point, Kathy looked at Dave and asked, “Why do people do this?” Dave could only manage to reply, “For fun?” We finally made it to the saddle between two volcanoes, and thought, “Thank goodness the hard part is over!” Wrong-o! After a short section of easy flat, came the descent. The loose sand and pebbles descent. The loose stones and rocks descent. The loose boulders descent. More like a semi-controlled series of slides. Dave caught a glimpse of that look on Kathy’s face that he has only seen a few times previously. Staring daggers!!! After about 30 minutes of scree-ing, the footing finally began to solidify…mostly. Then came the long and winding gently downhill portion of the trail. At some point, the clouds and fog gave way so that we could see a few beautiful views. One or two of those views were at steaming volcano vents, reminding us that we were hiking past 3 very active volcanoes. At about mile 10, we actually entered a forested environment. We made it down to the parking lot at just under 7 hours, faster than many, but behind quite a few others. We had leap-frogged past many along the way, only to be overtaken by them later, then past them again. We met people from all over the world on New Zealand’s most famous day-trek. We couldn’t have picked a better day. After the heat we had been in the last week or so, it was nice to have clouds, pleasant temps, and mist to keep us from overheating. Yes, the views were not as great, but I’ll trade that over blistering sun on that hike any day. The final stats: 401 move minutes, 189 heart points, 35,453 steps, 2,826 calories, and 15.1 miles after walking back to our Airbnb for a shower and cold drinks.

Sunny days sweeping the clouds away!! January 25-26, 2020

Sunny days here in New Zealand. The sun is bright (thanks to the minimal ozone layer here in NZ), the days are warm, and yes, Doc and Rebecca, we have hats and sunscreen. Kathy has a “duck hat”! Today started out nice and relaxed. We were out the door by 0900 in the morning to catch in some Saturday hiking before the afternoon crush began. We headed up to Tree Trunk Gorge where we hiked along until we got to a stream that was not navigable unless we wanted to have waterlogged boots. Turning around we headed for another branch in the trail, but we were foiled again. Time to regroup and plan another hike.

Lunch was our planning session where we discussed the next steps and then took a brief siesta! Something about a nice warm afternoon and a full belly that is just complimented by a catnap!! Heading out the door, we looked for our next stop today. Kathy had one job: remember the name of the trail. After a few reminders, she remembered most of the name. If only it was a number!!

We finally arrived at our next hiking trail, Rotopounanu Track, which was a loop trail that went around a lake. Beautiful day to hike in the trees which provided shelter from the sun. The loop trail went from mountains down to the lake and then back up again. It was relaxing to do something that seemed so familiar, at times we could even envision that we were on the Mountain-to-Sea trail in NC.

The next day was Sunday. We had no plans except to attend mass, which was an hour drive away. Taking advantage of the fact we had driven so far, we stopped at a local visitor center. A quick decision was made, and we decided to visit the Waitomo glowworm caves a couple of hours away. This was the closest we would be, so strategically this made sense. A long drive up some winding canyons and we were at our first stop.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves had two tours that we took a chance on. Not being able to decide one over another, we decided to try both as they approached the tours differently. The first tour of the day was an approximately two-hour walking tour that took you down in the heart of the caves. An excellent tour guide who was both knowledgeable and engaging taught us about the formation of the caves. She also taught us about the life cycle of the glowworms. She showed us how they caught food, explained their life from birth to death, and then gave us an opportunity to see the worms glowing in the dark caverns. After they pupate and become insects, they have no mouth or stomach! This allows them to live only about 4 days, barely enough time to find a mate and lay eggs.

The second tour started out pretty mundane, except for the Kiwi Pavlova ice cream. We spent some time with a tour guide who explained the difference between cave formations. The nice part is once we had finished the “housekeeping” tour guide items, we hopped on a rowboat that took us through the caves where in hushed silence and complete darkness, we saw more glow worms. THOUSANDS of them! Their bright lights reflected on the pools and it was like floating in space. No pictures were allowed in this tour, so you will have to take our word for its awesomeness!!! Dinner was pizza. No not the normal NY pizza, but not horrible either. I should have taken a picture, but I didn’t think about it until it was half gone. It was not a very large crust, but was piled high with ham, vegies, and then a layer of cheese that was baked until the cheese was crisp. Needed hot peppers and oregano!!! The long drive back to the Airbnb gave us some time to reflect on our great day.

Start, stop, start, stop…….!! January 24, 2020

Today started out just hunky dory, we did some early morning exercises, scarfed down some breakfast and hit the ground running. Arriving at Lake Taupo at about 11:30, we were stopped and told “sorry, you can’t check in yet.” Time to find lunch. We shared a plate of loaded potatoes (we need to teach seasoning to this country—bland food) and discussed our next steps. Starting again we found a local visitor center where we got quite a bit of information on hiking in the local area. Dave found out that this weekend in nearby Taupo, Billy Idol, George Thorogood, and Creedence Clearwater Revisited were playing a concert. “Sorry, no tickets available”, another stop!! But then, woo hoo!!! Start again: while we were discussing trails, a representative in the visitor center got a text. Someone is ill and not going to the concert. Is there anyone who was interested in the tickets. Dave leaped at the opportunity. “How much?” he asked. ……………Screech! The brakes were hit again – another stop. Sorry Dave, these tickets are only for employees of the visitor center. He was unable to get a job at short notice.

We wandered around the grocery store to see what options we had for dinner and kill a little time until it was 2 pm and we could pick up the keys. Starting off again, we headed off to pick up the keys at the local gas station for our next AirBnB. We arrived at the station and they advised us, “Sorry, we don’t have the keys. Maybe the owner is at the house.” Another screeching halt!!

Starting off again, we headed to the accommodations and we finally connected with the local host and were able to get into the room.

Finally in the room, the internet starts, then stops, then starts, then stops, then starts, then stops. Needless to say, it is not the easiest way to blog when you have sporadic internet access. Oh well, we will head out and get some groceries for the next 11 days. Success occurred when we started dinner. We had tacos, something we were finally used to having, and only stopped when we were completely satiated!!!

Olympics activities in Rotorua, New Zealand 01/23/2020

The day started out by mentally preparing for the “Olympics” in Rotorua. While we have completed the sport of luge in Lake Placid, both during the summer and winter, we were still not prepared for the luge in Rotorua. After a gondola ride up to the top of the hill, we got in line to get the instructions from the “coach” or attendant before racing down the first course in the racetrack. Dave quickly picked up speed and rounded a corner overtaking Kathy, zipping in and out he passed several slower “athletes” to find himself down at the bottom before Kathy could catch up. After a ride up the chair lift, we decided to try a more difficult run. Dave, again being the gentleman, let Kathy get a head start and then promptly passed her as he sped down the hill (weight can be helpful at times!) This time Kathy and Dave both passed slower riders, but Dave still managed to beat Kathy to the bottom of the hill!! Another run, another attempt for Kathy to try and redeem herself! This time, the “expert” track was decided upon that required the “athlete” to navigate obstacles and occasionally catch air as the luge flew over bumps in the track. Kathy, ever cautious, was passed by rider after rider and Dave waited patiently at the bottom for Kathy to reach him….dead last!! Kathy and Dave then decided upon a scenic run where we meandered down through the shade. One last run, Kathy opted out and Dave took the expert run so that he could risk it all to achieve maximum air!!! He came back with no bumps or bruises and did not overturn his luge. Success!!!

Then it was time to find some mellow activities. A walk through Kuirau Park where we had the opportunity to view multiple geothermal features. We were able to sit and stick our feet in a manmade geothermal pool (one that was a bit cooler) and watch the tourists (us included) marvel at the warmth.

Winding down, we visited Government Gardens where we saw black swans, pied cormorants, Australasian swamphens and some apparently lost Canada geese. It was interesting to walk around the gardens, read the historical information, and watch the people play croquet. It was a great way to end our last full day in Rotorua!!