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Oceania Travel

    Oceania Travel

    Torrential to Triumph – Three Days on the North Island

    Rain, Wind, Sun and Hiking the Tongarui Crossing

    Location: New Zealand

    It was only a few days ago we sat in the 81 degree sunshine in the town of Napier, New Zealand.  The forecast warned of impending rain but it was hard to imagine on that day.  But kudos to the weather forecasters in New Zealand.  They nailed it.

    Not only did it rain – it poured.  For more than 48 hours straight.  We were in Rotorua, where we managed a nice afternoon walk on arrival but then nothing beyond that.  Once it started it was a deluge.  So, we hunkered down for two days.

    The morning star

    We then headed West from Rotorua to visit the famous Glowworm Caves in Waitomo, only to discover on arrival they were closed due to flooding.  We realized the storm had been bad, but hadn’t realized how bad until we began to drive.  Roads flooded and mudslides and trees down all over.  Poor livestock in flooded fields and swollen rivers.  Work crews around every corner trying to

    19.5km to go


    Since we couldn’t do the Glowworm Caves, we had to be spontaneous.  We drove south to the town of New Plymouth, which was not originally on our radar.  I’m glad we did.  It is a beautiful little beach town and we enjoyed a portion of their 25km coastal walk.  It was a heavy wind that day and the windsurfers were really taking advantage.

    The weather improved markedly overnight and we awoke to sunny skies and calm seas. We headed North and east again with a stellar forecast making us hopeful to hike the Tongariro Crossing on Saturday.  We now do not take the forecasting lightly, they seem to nail it everyday.

    Overnight Friday night we stayed in a beautiful lakefront free campground on Lake Taupo.  It was a frigid night with crystal clear skies.  Our alarm clocks (which don’t get much use anymore) were set for 5am

    It was really cold at the start – we eventually peeled off layers.

    and we planned to hike the Tongariro Crossing.

    Five am came early; after a very chilly night we awoke to Venus low in the sky as the sun was just starting to show pink on the horizon.  A good omen for a good day.  We had booked a bus to take us from a parking area to the trail head, and then pick us up again at the end of the 20km hike.  We caught the bus and headed to the start of the hike.

    19.5km to go

    Due to the weather having been so bad for the past three days, we weren’t the only ones who had been waiting to do this hike – literally 1000 people joined us on the trail.  But honestly it wasn’t a problem.  It was pretty crowded at the start – but eventually people spread out and it wasn’t so bad.  And we had an amazing time.

    The 20km Tongariro Crossing is one of the most scenic yet stark and stunning things I have ever done.  The crossing goes through craters, past active volcanoes, and over a pass. It peaks at 6000 foot level and skirts gorgeous sacred emerald-green thermal pools.   It was hard. It was exhausting. It was amazing.

    Lava tube

    What a workout.  And an accomplishment.  Every time we tackle and succeed in one of these amazing treks I wonder out loud “why don’t I weigh 100 lbs?” Sheesh.

    But that said, I feel strong and fit and fabulous.  My Fab Fifties Life in New Zealand has been good to the old body.

    Feeling accomplished

    We still have another two weeks, a little more than one week still in the Kiwi Karavan.  So, now that we have completed our goals of hiking the Tongariro Crossing, we head to the farthest north reaching finger of the north island to see what we can see.

    The Tiki Tour continues – and it is fabulous.



    Oceania Travel

    Kia Ora – Welcome!

    Chapter Six – The Maori

    Location: New Zealand

    We have been in New Zealand for a month already, but surprisingly have seen very little Maori cultural life. For some reason I was expecting to. But here in the thermally active Rotorua area we have finally found it.

    In fact there are several competing Maori Cultural Centers. At least five, which made it a bit confusing as to which to visit.

    Even though I’m always saying we try not to behave like tourists, I still find myself drawn to activities such as these. Because it’s the only way you really can learn about the cultural history – even if it is a bit touristy.

    And it was. But it was also a lot of fun and I’m glad we did it. I was expecting the Mitai Maori Village (the one we chose for no particular reason) to be like a Luau. And it was exactly like that – except for the fact it was pouring down rain!

    Some of the highlights included the fact they picked us up at the park we are staying at, the Cultural performance was wonderful- especially the musical selections, watching the tribe makes arrive by traditional canoe and the food was abundant and delicious. Worth the money.

    My favorite was the performance. The native performers were very talented singers and dancers. The show included explanations on history. We learned there are still 80 Maori tribes in New Zealand. The Maori arrived on the islands, which they call Aotearoa (land of the long white cloud) 2000 years ago. The Tearawa tribe (which we watched perform) moved to the thermal Rotorua area 500 years later.

    For hundreds of years the warring tribes battled each other over two things – women and territory.  The Maori were cannibals, killing and eating their enemies. Today their battles take place at the annual Maori Tribes Rugby tournament. 

    But we were assured we weren’t eating any other tribes – just chicken, lamb, sweet potatoes, seafood chowder and bread, Rowena, the traditional sweet bread.  The meat and potatoes were cooked in a pit over hot stones very similar to the imu the Hawaiians use for roast Kalua pork.

    There were definitely other similarities to the Hawaiian culture as well as to the Rapanui culture we enjoyed on Easter Island.  The dance and language has some aspects that are similar while the dress is more dependent for each culture on the local plant and animal life.  But there is no question there is a connection amongst the Polynesian people who history believes all originated somewhere in Africa

    I am glad we took the time to visit the Mitai Maori Center and I recommend it if you visit the area.  Very fun and interesting, even if it is for the tourists.




    Oceania Travel

    Discovering the Napier in the North

    Location: New Zealand

    We’ve spent a lot of time in the van the past few days – seven hours to Picton one day then four hours on the ferry and four hours driving the next.  This morning we just wanted not to be in the car.  So we got up and drove three hours.  Haha.

    But we ended up in the beautiful town of Napier on the Pacific Ocean side of the North Island.  Gorgeous little spot.

    Normally we aren’t really attracted to cities.  But this one is cool.  Apparently in 1931 Napier was leveled by a devastating earthquake.  When the townspeople rebuilt, the purposefully rebuilt the town in an Art Deco style.  Today the draw to the town is this unique architectural style.

    We skipped the historic architecture tour and instead opted for a self guided walk up to the beautiful residential area high above the city overlooking the ocean.  The town has a similar feeling to San Fransisco, but also to Seattle’s Alki Beach or Queen Ann Hill.

    We stumbled onto a lovely botanical gardens, a historic cemetery and a vintage girls high school – not to mention all the lovely houses.  We walked back along the beach and enjoyed watching the locals out soaking up what is likely one of the final summer days here.

    Weather looks good for tomorrow but then the forecast calls for rain for a week.  We are following the forecast closely as we have options of what order we see things on the North Island, and some are more weather dependent than others.

    So our North Island adventure is really just beginning.  And what a beautiful place.  I’m so glad we stopped to check out Napier.


    Oceania Travel

    Northbound in New Zealand

    Chapter Six – Twenty One Days in the South

    Location: New Zealand

    We leave the amazing South Island of New Zealand today after twenty-one glorious days. We have been truly enchanted by what we have seen and done so far in this beautiful island nation. And the best news is we still have more than three more weeks to explore north.

    We have been prepared all along to have bad weather in this notoriously wet country. But so far we really have only had a handful of days with rain and none of those days did it rain that much. The forecast for the weeks ahead looks a bit wet, as we really begin to get into the New Zealand fall now. But even in the rain we love it here.

    We have met great people and enjoyed spectacular scenery. And as we spend more time we learn more interesting things –

    Road Construction – it’s pretty constant. The roads are narrow with lots of very old bridges. There are no “freeways” and the “motorways” are only near the larger cities. Otherwise it’s two lane and sometimes even two is not exactly quit it. On the South Island a major north south road was damaged so extensively in the 2011 earthquake (that also greatly damaged the city of Christchurch) that there is no estimate as to when it will reopen. In the meantime all traffic is diverted to the other north south road which is currently undergoing extensive expansion to try and handle the load. You just can’t be in a hurry.

    Costs – in an earlier blog I mentioned the high-costs of things in this country. But now that we have been here for awhile I am noticing some things. For instance we have never paid a fee yet to enter any of New Zealand’s abundant national parks. We have never paid for a toilet or to fill our water tank. We have stayed in several free campgrounds. Those costs alone in the USA would really add up. There is no sales tax and that is definitely a savings over the 9% plus in the county I live in. And while many items in the grocery store are more expensive particularly produce, I’m now seeing that other things are ridiculously cheap. Today I bought a bottle of ginger spice that at home would cost me $4-5. Here I paid $2. Today I bought a large jar of dill pickles. At home it would have been $3-4. Here I paid $2. Today I bought a bottle of olive oil that at home would have cost $10. Here I paid $7. And remember a NZ dollar equals 70 cents in US dollars.

    So when all is said and done. It’s really not that expensive after all.

    Green – I thought when I visited Ireland last summer that I would never be anywhere again that was so green. Sorry Ireland. New Zealand has you beat.  A veritable green world pours forth from forests and meadows, moss and ferns, miles and miles of vineyards and even the blue-green of the water.

    Forestry – and speaking of green, the hills are alive with evergreen and deciduous trees.  There is an obvious forestry industry including the clear cutting practice used in my own home state of Washington. But there is also what appears to be a very successful reforestation program and new growth and mid growth are obvious next to old”er” growth.

    The South Island, home to a pretty impressive list of Hollywood film locations, is rugged and mystical and crystal clear from sea to mountain top.  I’m told the North Island is different, but different is always good and I am looking forward to learning first hand what the differences are.

    So halfway through Chapter Six it’s Northbound in New Zealand! Fabulous!


    Oceania Travel

    Sheepish in New Zealand

    Chapter Six

    Location: New Zealand

    I know next to nothing about sheep farming. As a matter of fact everything I know I learned in one afternoon on a sheep farm in southern New Zealand.

    When we hiked the Abel Tasman Trail two weeks ago we met three couples – two from New Zealand and one from the states. We were all about the same age. One of the couples graciously invited us to stop into their sheep farm when we were in the area. So we did.

    Isn’t that amazing?  We were nearly strangers and yet they invited us to their home.

    Their home is a 700 acre sheep farm that has been in their family for 140 years.  During that time much has changed on the farm and in the industry but this farm and this family have endured. Endured the depression, world wars, falling and rising wool prices, weather and more.  In 1874 New Zealand was in its infancy. Still today the area around the farm is remote.  The town of Nightcaps only has 180 residents.  Teeny.

    The farm has about 2500 sheep and today the majority of their income comes from lambs rather than wool.  Wool is currently not as profitable as it once was. But lamb is.

    A lamb is a sheep that has not yet gotten their adult teeth.  They usually go to slaughter between six and nine months. The lambs are culled early in their lives and divided. The ones to slaughter (all the boys and some of the girls) are kept together and fed and prepared for this destiny.  The others are kept for breeding and wool.  They spend their days rotating through the paddocks grazing on the grass  in the winter they also eat a turnip like plant called a “swede”.

    Sheep that are not specifically bred for wool produce a rougher texture of wool – mostly sold and used for wool carpets.

    Just a few years ago New Zealand had twenty sheep to every human being. Today it is seven to one. Many sheep farmers have switched to breeding deer for venison (exported to Germany) or dairy cows (dry milk exported to India).  Most of today’s New Zealand lamb is exported to China and Great Britain.

    I enjoyed my crash course on New Zealand sheep farm and my afternoon tooling around the farm. What a special opportunity to learn first hand from these generous Kiwis.

    Oceania Travel

    Taking On The Tiki Tour

    Chapter Six – Caravan Life

    Location: New Zealand

    I expected living in the camper van (caravan) to be similar to our six weeks living in beautiful pink Betty last fall as we traveled across the United States.  It does have some similarities, but to be honest, I think I enjoyed Betty more.  The most important reason is we could set up Betty at a campsite and then take the car and go off to tour or do whatever we needed to do.  With the van, the entire campsite moves with you no matter if you need to run to the store or travel 500 miles.  But we are getting used to that.  I slept really poorly the first few nights but I’m getting used to the van bed now and we made some adjustments to the cushions that has helped.  Arne finds he sleeps much better in the van than he ever did in Betty – but I loved the custom foam mattress we had made for Betty.  Wish I had that now.

    The kitchen in the van is small, a bit smaller than the kitchen I had to work with in Betty, but I do prefer the propane stove in the van over the electric stove we had in Betty.  And the van has a working sink which Betty did not.  I make a point to cook good, healthy colorful meals, no matter how small the kitchen.  I believe just because we are essentially “camping” we don’t have to eat bland or instant food.  Since I love to cook and try creative things its just as fun to try that in a tiny kitchen.  We have had everything from Chicken Tacos to Swedish Meatballs. Our system is Arne sits at the table with the cutting board.  I hand him things to chop while I stand at the stove and cook.  It works and its fun too.

    But alas the van does not have a toilet, just a port-a-potty.

    New Zealand has an amazing caravan culture and caravan tourism is huge business. No matter where you drive in New Zealand hundreds of caravans and campers are driving with you – as are rental cars and tour busses.  Even in March which is past the peak season and well into Fall.

    Along with the caravan culture comes fabulous services provided by the government including restroom facilities frequently along any and all roads as well as FREE campsites through out the country.  Some of these sites have services but most don’t.  We spent our first two nights in free sites.  The first one had no services (no bathroom or running water) but the spectacular view made it worth it.  The second night had sanikans only, and not as nice of a view, but just down the road was a visitor center where we headed first thing in the morning for coffee and a “flush”.

    We spent the next three nights in a beautiful campground in Milford Sound that we paid for, about $25 US.  It was very pretty, had power and water and we had access to bathrooms, showers, laundry, restaurant and bar.  But no wifi or cell service in this very remote area.

    But the van doesn’t have heat and the nights have been pretty darn cold – dropping into the thirty’s one night in Milford.  We sleep in warm clothes and wool socks and huddle under a warm comforter.  In Mount Cook I pulled out my fleece hat for the first time in our four months of travel – and in Milford I pulled out my gloves.  I’ve now used every item in my suitcase. It should warm up when we head North.

    We are now as far south as we plan to go.  This photo shows what territory on the South Island we have covered so far (both in the car and in the caravan) and now it’s time to do an about-face and begin the drive north along New Zealand’s South Island’s West Coast.

    Stay tuned as our Tiki Tour continues!

    Oceania Travel

    Mindful in Milford

    Chapter Six – Out in the Wop Wop

    Location: New Zealand

    Mindful in Milford Sound

    We have been offline and out of cell range for the past four days as we toured the incredible South Island area known as Milford Sound.  It definitely is out in the Wop-Wop! No technology distractions to take attention away from the scenery – which takes your breath away. No technology distractions keeps us mindful of our surroundings.  I’ve never seen anything quit like it, although it is reminiscent of fjords we have enjoyed in Chili, Alaska, and Norway.  But I think more beautiful than any of those.  And the road to get here had some frightening yet exquisite moments – reminding us of driving in the Swiss Alps or the Road to Hanna. In fact, it’s become a bit of a joke as we wander about the world how often we start a sentence with “this reminds me of…”.

    We spent two glorious days in the Aoraki Mount Cook area, hiking and exclaiming around every corner how stunningly beautiful it was.  We couldn’t imagine anything prettier.  Then we drove south to Milford and “Wow”.  Milford is actually not a “Sound” it is a glacially carved fjord (sound is created by a river fjord by a glacier) and is part of New Zealand’s largest National Park – Fjordland National Park.

    In some ways the fjords are comparable to other astounding world sites we have seen and yet also other-worldly.  So many similarities and yet so magnificently unique as well.  Glaciers on the mountain tops and it feels you could just reach out and touch them.  The sun glinting off the snow and the waterfalls that tumble hundreds of feet into the water –  everywhere you look.  Moss covered forests with unusual looking ferns – I keep imagining Bilbo Baggins with his giant feet will come trodding down path.  This is the place we were fully prepared to experience soaking rain.  And yet, the sun has shown her magnificent face each day and blessed us by illuminating the spectacular mountains falling straight into the sea (or more accurately jutting straight out of the sea), the greenest greens of mossy forests and the brightest skies of azure blue, and the clearest water where the fish look up at you and give you a wink.

    Milford Sound.  Magical.  Magnificent.  Mindful.  My Fab Fifties Life.