A Travellerspoint blog

Aoraki/ Mt. Cook

Upon landing in Queenstown, more or less the extreme sports capital of the south island, we picked up our new home not far from the airport. Here it is in all its glory, along with yours truely. The picture was taken at a different spot.


We think the company was goofing on us by giving us a van with that title, as we were probably the only "old ones," ever to use a Wicked Van. We tried to exchange it for an upgraded and bigger model, but alas, they were sold out as we were there during peak season. No fridge, no curtains, nearly bald tires, a tiny and hard bed, a butane stove that had to be used outside. You get the idea. It was a beat up very mini-van. The one saving grace, as peviously mentioned, was that it was automatic.

Here is a pic with our sleeping bags laid out


At any rate, we stopped just outside of town, did a big shop, and then headed out towards Mt. Cook.


As you probably know, Mt. Cook is the highest and most heavily glaciated peak in New Zealand. Made famous by Sir Edmond, it was his training ground prior to climbing Everest in the early 50's. It is a highly technical peak, and so our plan was to hike part of the way up and spend the night at the Mueller Hut, 5500 feet elevation.

We arrived late afternoon and were lucky to get a camping spot in the national park. By the time we cooked dinner, the weather had already deteriorated and a cold rain began to fall. The next morning it was still raining hard and the mountain was totally socked in. Luckily our hut reservation was for the following day, and so we donned rain gear and went for a hike up to one of the glacier lakes.

It looks a bit sunny here, but I must have taken this pic at a rare moment

Despite our fancy assed rain gear, we were both soaked after a few hours of hiking. A harbinger of things to come on the Milford Trek. Luckily the park had lodge with a pub, and so we spent the rest of the afternoon imbibing and eating junk food.

The next day dawned clear, and so we were ready to take on the hike up to the hut, not something to be done in bad weather. The trail gains 3 or 4000 vertical feet in less than 4 miles and is quite steep.The first part consists of over 2000 high steps constructed of timbers, then a big boulder field, until the last stretch of relatively flat rocks along the edge of deep ravine to the hut.

Here is Bill starting out on the steps


Looking into the valley at the start of the hike

A flat section near the top of the boulder field

Looking down at some hikers past the boulder field

Rounding the top of the trail near the ravine

It began to get very windy here, and getting around this corner to the final stretch up tp the hut was not easy.

Here is a full shot of the ravine

By this time our beautiful day was gone and some weather had started to move in.

Finally, the hut appeared.


When I arrived the skies were spitting grappel and the hut was rattling with gale force winds. Using the outhouse, not pictured, was quite the adventure. It was maybe 50 feet from the hut and was up on a platform with 15 or 20 steps. Negotiating that in the wind, and later in the dark, and cranking open the door, held closed with a large metal bar was difficult.

Nonetheless the hut was full, as people went about preparing their dinner meal. It was cold. No woodstove. A basic quonset shelter, but with the wind, I certainly wouldn't have wanted to be in a tent.

I took a short walk around in the late afternoon and was startled by the crack of a snow slide on the far side of the ravine.


Hiker against the sky, close to dusk

Unfortunately the summit of Mt. Cook never came into view. Always in the clouds, which is probably more the norm.

After a rather uncomfortable night sleeping like sardines on a large wooden platform, the wind finally died down by the morning.

Morning light

Nearby peaks in the morning

Getting back down was just as difficult as getting up. Those steps and rocks were murder on these old knees.


Posted by jonshapiro 12:07 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Tapapakanga Regional Park

Our original plan for the North Island was to head up to hot water beach on the Coromandel Peninsula. However by the time we were done with Kerosene Creek, the weather had taken a decided turn for the worse and so we decided to go to the other side of the Firth of Thames. As we found out, this was a rather obscure area despite its proximity to Auckland. And while the weather was not great, it didn't look quite as bad as Coromandel and entailed less driving.

We found a delightful spot to camp overlooking the bay.




We pretty much had the spot to ourselves, and the park itself was all rolling hills and deserted beaches. Verdant to be sure, but with the weather it had a bit of a foreboding quality.

But no matter. We were quit snug in our little camper.


The sunset was the equal to any I have seen, even here in the big skies of New Mexico.



The next day we followed the scenic shore road back to Auckland, but not before stopping at Clevedon Coast Oysters for some much needed hot oyster stew. Picking up the van near the airport was a challenge, and so was dropping it off. The Kiwis seem to be particularly fond of roundabouts, and in the city there were sometimes 3 or 4 in a row with extremely heavy traffic. Once again Bill managed to avoid killing us, barely, and we got to the airport in time to make our flight to Queensland on the South Island. We had considered taking the van on the ferry between the islands, but that proved impractical because of the cost and the distance. Little did we know, however, that the Wicked Van would almost prove to be our undoing. Well, a bit of an exaggeration, but it certainly was a shit hole, and a tiny one at that. And I have no one to blame but myself.

Posted by jonshapiro 17:46 Archived in New Zealand Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises sky photography Comments (0)

Kerosene Creek

Our next stop was Rotorua, famous for its hot springs and geothermal activity. However on arrival, we found the whole area to be touristy and crowded, with many of the springs using their Maori history to attract the hordes. We were not interested, and figured that the hiking would be similar. And so, after asking a number of folks, we were directed to undeveloped Kerosene Creek. Though not exactly undiscovered, by the time we got there it was close to dusk and most of the soakers had left.


Photo by Bill Wertz

The creek meandered through the forest creating small cascades over the rocks and pools of deliciously hot water, just deep enough for soaking. There were enough pools that privacy was usually assured. And yes, they did smell like sulpher, but that was a small price to pay. Although we were never sure whether the camping was strictly legal since the creek looked to be on a private logging road, nevertheless we decided to spend the night, and, as it turned out, the next as well. Nobody chased us out, and there were a few unmarked trails that went off into the forest so we spent the day exploring, in between long periods of hanging out in the creek. After several days on the road, it felt great to get squeeky clean. You know the feeling when the tips of your fingers get wrinkled after a long time in the bath. In this case, it was more that just our fingers. Even after two days it was hard to pull ourselves away.

It took Bill and I a while to get our sleeping and cooking routines down. I have been an insomniac for more years than I care to remember, but in many ways, Bill was an ideal sleeping partner. He would be out within 5 minutes of hitting the pillow, and my tossing and turning generally didn't bother him. Alright, after time went by he did insist on putting a long pillow between us so that I would not encroach on his side of the bed. Getting up in the middle of the night to pee was a somewhat arduous process as each of us had barely enough room to squeeze by one another. Often we would end up getting up at the same time. I know, more information than you needed to know. He was also in the habit of waking up at 4 or 5 in the morning, but he was quiet enough not to wake me. Usually I would get up about 6:30 and sometimes he would have the water already heating for coffee. That went a long way in making up for his grouchy periods. I really can't complain, as I was very fussy about where we would camp. I never wanted to be right next to someone, and often we would drive a long distance just to find pristine spots. He was the designated driver and was always a good sport about going out of our way.

I hadn't given much thought about what sharing a very small van for six weeks would be like, but it sort of felt like a second marriage, minus the sex. And unlike a lot of second marriages, we are still good friends.

Posted by jonshapiro 16:07 Archived in New Zealand Tagged landscapes people postcards Comments (2)


On the long and windy road. not far from Tongariro

We didn't realize how large a beach resort Tauranga was, but we kept driving along the coast until finally, we got to a deserted stretch of beach.You know how it is to try and find the perfect camping spot away from it all. Or maybe you don't. I will go a long way to find to find the best spot, and luckily Bill was usually game. Of course we went a bit further on just to make sure, but nothing was a nice as the first place we came across. Matata did have a fish store, and not much else, and we managed to snag dinner which we brought back to the van to cook. Other than a couple of fishermen who left after dark, we had the place to ourselves.


I am strictly a warm water guy myself, but relaxing with a couple of cold one's on the beach and then cooking dinner was delightful.



Posted by jonshapiro 15:28 Comments (3)

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Known as the best one day hike on the North Island, the Tongariro Crossing is probably the most popular hike in all of New Zealand. It's popularity no doubt increased substantially after Lord of the Rings was filmed here several years ago. Not sure we wanted to do the entire 12+ miles up and down several peaks we opted to start at the far end of the hike, and go as far as we liked before turning around. This proved to be an excellent decision as almost everyone else starts at the visitor center and then arranges to be picked up via a shuttle service at the other side. However this did entail getting up at 5 AM to snag one of the very limited parking spots at the far side. The weather decided to cooperate, a very good thing as most of this hike is above tree line.

Start of the trail in a very lush section full of warning signs about possible volcanic flows coming down the mountain


Emerging out of the woods, the first fumaroles were highly visible.

Continuing up more fumaroles visible

I was hiking faster than Bill and so eventually we got separated, and figured we would meet up on the trail somewhere near the half way point. After a few of hours of hiking seeing very few people, I started noticing more hikers who had started very early from the other side. Just a trickle at first, the numbers increased dramatically until there was almost a continuous stream of humanity. Eventually, I got to a high alpine lake and stopped to a have a bit of lunch.

Although not noticeable in this photo, there were hundred of people sitting on the opposite bank/i]

[i]Your's truely, not far from the lake

Beyond the lake, a large flat area with Mt. Doom visible in the distance

Continuing on, I got closer to Mt. Doom.


Fumaroles near the bottom

On a summit next to Mt Doom, many folks were descending, some practically running

It seemed rather dangerous to be going against the traffic, and so this is where i decided to turn around. I had already been hiking more than 5 hours and figured this was close to the half way point. I assumed that I would run into Bill somewhere on the way back. Unfortunately this was not to be. Apparently there were just so many people on the trail that we must have walked right past each other.

The descent was also beautiful

Billl was not there when I got back to the trailhead. After more than 1 and 1/2 hours went by and he didn't show up, I began to worry. Just as the parking lot was clearing out and the last shuttles leaving, he turned up. As I later found out, he continued up to the same point I did before turning back, but it took him an additional hour or two to make it back down.

Posted by jonshapiro 12:57 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

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