Saturday, December 16, 2017

New Zealand - November 2017

Nov. 13

Arrived in Christchurch mid morning. Picked up Maui camper van. Took a couple hours for that errand. Then, looked for a lunch spot. Decided on King of Snakes Asian fusion. Had Panag curry beef cheeks and salad with sashimi yellow tail along with stir fried veggies. After lunch we visited the cathedral ruins and the shipping container shop area. There was a nice NZ phot competition and we tried to pick our favorites. Upon leaving, we brushed the side of the camper van on a parking barricade :(. Our last stop was Pak n Save where we loaded up on food for the first few days. Then we settled in at the Top 10 Holiday Park for the afternoon and got to know the logistics of our van.

Nov. 14

We drove out in the morning to find mountains - enough suburbia was already had. The first couple hours were like driving through the Central Valley of California. Then, after a small pass, we were in a Valley and a town called Fairlie. We stopped and tried the famous meat pies. Rick had salmon and bacon and I had a decaf almond latte thanks to my elimination diet. Then, we stopped at the market for a few more provisions. The town was like an old gold rush town. Very cute. Another pass had us gazing at the lovely peaks of the southern alps. We stopped at lake Tekapo holiday park. We climbed to the Mt John observatory and did the long lakeshore walk back. After dinner, we walked to the Church of the Good Shepard, which was still a zoo at 8 pm. We took a short nap and the got up at 11 for night sky photos over the lake as Telapo is a dark sky reserve. Amazing!

Nov 15

We decide to stick with a less driving, more being plan for the week. So, we set off for our next destination - the Hooker Valley. We stopped on the way to scout out the freedom campground at Lake Pukaki and snapped some photos. Then, we drove the final 45 minutes to the White Horse campground. After paying and staking out a spot, we did the 3 hour hike to Hooker Lake and back. Then, we refueled and I had a nap. In the late afternoon, we hiked down to the village to enjoy a beverage and then hiked back to make dinner. After dinner,
We hiked back to the mountaineering memorial to watch the golden hour before going to bed. 

Nov 16

We got a fairly early start with a morning hike up to Kea Point. After snapping some pics of Mueller Lake from a new angle, we walked over to the Mueller Hut track and did the first 30 minutes to where we could get a view of the mountains. Following our early hike, we drove down to Twizel. I got my first chance to drive a camper van and to drive on the left side. Woo hoo! We made arrangement in Twizel for a bike hire for the next day to ride part of the Alps to Ocean A2O route. And, we made a stop off to buy some groceries. We had some lunch at Shawty’s - a local watering hole that was recommended by Lonely Planet. I had a walnut and arugula risotto with a side of fried eggs. Following our errands, we headed up to grab one of the prime camping spots on Lake Pukaki. We had a clear view of the lake and mountains behind it. I took a brisk dip in the lake in the early evening. Then, we enjoyed reading as we watched the sun go down. 

Nov 17

We got up early to pick up our bike hire. Just before 9, we headed out from Twizel toward Lake Ohau. The route followed the valley along the canals connecting the lakes. As we headed south, we had glimpses of a range that very much looked like Rohan from Lord of the Rings. We imagined we were chasing the riders as we entered single track on the shore of Lake Ohau. After 10km of single track, we arrived at the village on the lake and sat on the shore of the adjoining Lake Middleton to eat our packed lunch. After lunch, we headed back, but took a hillier route over Makuna Terrace, which gave us some new vistas. We arrived back a bit earlier than expected and stopped for a smoothie after our ride at Poppies Cafe. The afternoon was spent driving to the Wanaka area for the next couple days. We went via a mountain pass that reminded me of the American West. Just before bed, we made it down to the Wanaka tree for golden hour.

Nov 18

We had a lazy morning. We walked to town and got some groceries and provisions for the trek. After taking those back to the camper, we walked back to town and had lunch at a brunch spot. I had eggs - delish. Then, we met up with our kayaking tour. It was us and another couple from Bern. We went out in a smaller inlet called Johnson Arm and ended at a small island for a tea break. Then, we had a difficult paddle back into the wind. We made a stop in town for a glass of wine before meandering back to our campsite. I crashed and after a shower and an hour of reading fell asleep for 10 hours!

Nov 19

My shoulders weren’t as sore as I expected in the morning, which was good. We headed out after breakfast to climb Iron Summit overlooking the two lakes. Unfortunately the view of Haewa was minimal to none. We had a nice hike nonetheless. Rick took a crash at the end, which meant picking gravel out of his hand and knee, but we got him patched up and bought some bandages to supplement what we had in our kit. We drove downhill toward Queenstown through a landscape right out of the American West and ended at the bucolic Lake Hayes. We took a walk around the east side of the lake in the afternoon before cooking our lamb rump steaks for dinner.

Nov 20

We got up early and hiked around the east side of the lake, admiring the foxgloves and gorst in bloom. Then, we slowly packed up our things in the camper and prepared to return to civilization. We made a rubbish stop and then returned the camper and caught a taxi into Queenstown. After checking in the hotel, we got our tickets for the trek and transport and looked for lunch. Lunch was Japanese featuring an asparagus salad with smoked salmon. Then, we headed to the hotel to do laundry and prepare for our trek. We dined and watched the sunset from the hotel.

Nov 21

At 6am we were down for breakfast. Then, we got picked up at 6:45 by Shael of Go Orange tours. Shael was a pretty funny guide and excellent bus driver. We arrived in Milford Sound fjord after about three hours. We loaded up on the boat and took our two hour cruise of the fjord. We had the treat of seeing dolphins and whales, which is a bit unusual. The skies were clear, which meant the  waterfalls were less impressive, but that was a good price to pay. Following the cruise, we were dropped off at the Divide to start our trek. We walked 30 minutes uphill, and then took the diversion to Key Summit along with the side trip to the Lake Marian overlook. That was a worthwhile hour with 360 views of the peaks. The last 20 minutes dropped us to Howden Hut and its charming lake. We got to work cleaning up, making dinner, and avoiding the sand flies. 

Nov 22

I started the day by giving Rick his birthday card before breakfast. We got rolling about 8am due to the long day ahead. The trip to Mackenzie Hut was relatively fast, and we arrived before lunch. The next part up to Harris saddle was a long slog and quite warm out. We went through a lot of water. We were grateful for the ample streams of glacial water running off the mountains. On the way, we saw a large avalanche across the valley from us. We arrived at the saddle exhausted, but needing to focus for the descent. We took a nice break at the shelter before pressing on. About an hour later, we rolled into Routeburn Falls Hut, which was quite a bit more luxurious than Howden and was filled with young people. We had a restful evening.

Nov 23

There was a fast descent from the hut to the river valley below, and the rest of the walk followed the river canyon down. The temps rose as we descended and the last few km were unbearably hot. But, we finally arrived at the trailhead and had a pleasant surprise when Shael showed up an hour early to shuttle us back to town. We were the only two passengers on the entire bus. We got to town, did laundry and cleaned up and had dinner at Flame, which Shael recommended. It was a nice Thanksgiving day for us.

Nov 24

We took a lazy day around Queenstown having a long breakfast at the hotel followed by a stroll across town for a massage to try to work out my shoulder after the long trek. After the massage, we took a lunch break and then headed back to the hotel for napping and packing. In the evening, we had dinner and then headed up the gondola to catch the sunset. It wasn’t quite as good as the evening before, but was still a stunning sight and nice way to close our time out in the South Island.

Nov 25

We got up at 4:30am to catch our flight back to Auckland- ugh. After arriving in Auckland, we picked up our rental car and drove to Raglan - a beach town with a nice surf break. We had lunch at a local diner called Orca and then walked to a local surf school, which turned out to be a guy named Steve’s house. He was gearing up for a lesson at 2pm, so we rushed back to our car and got our swimming gear and headed back to his place. We ended up taking a lesson until about 6pm with a young French couple from Strausbourg. I got up a couple of times and thoroughly exhausted myself after many years since the last surfing. Rick was grinning ear to ear riding the waves. All in all a good time. We ended the day checking into our AirBnB and showering before heading to dinner at the Wharf, which was amazing.

Nov 26

We drove out to the Tongariro National Park and checked into the Tongariro Crossing Lodge, which is a Victorian era B&B. The room was spacious and hosts generous. We took two short walks to a waterfall and the “mounds” as an easy recovery from surfing. We had “Sunday Roast” dinner at The Station Restaurant, which was the hotel’s recommendation. 

Nov 27

The Crossing was “on” for the day based on the weather forecast. We took the 7:00am pickup and were at the trailhead just after 7:30. We aimed for a brisk pace, trying to target the 1:30pm shuttle back. The first hour we covered 4km. Then, the first big climb to south crater slowed us down, followed by an easier climb to Red Crater. The descent from Red Crater was epic with deep volcanic sand, but a nice view of the emerald lakes. I only fell 11 times! Sadly, the view was socked in all day and we never saw the top of Mt Ngauruhoe (aka Mt Doom) or Mt Tongariro. But, we enjoyed our walk up past Blue Lake and through the very long descent. In the end, we barely missed the 1:30 shuttle and ended up on the 3:00 shuttle. But, we still had time for a nap and call to my parents at the end. We dined at Eivens, which was serviceable.

Nov 28

We took the long drive back to Auckland and dealt with construction traffic preventing our entry to the parking garage of the Grand Millennium. But, we prevailed. Then, we took a walk out to the wharf and had delicious Peri Peri chicken at the Afro-Portuguese chain Nando’s in the evening.

Nov 29

We took a free walking tour of the city and then enjoyed lunch at Mexico. After lunch we toured an exhibit of Maori portraits at the Art Gallery done in the late 19th century. Then, we headed back to the hotel for our long journey home. We left around 8pm and arrived back at 11am the same day - an amazing International Date Line time warp.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Patagonia, March 2017

Rick's Flickr for the trip.

Timelapse of all our lunch stops in the mountains:

March 12

We arrived in Buenos Aires and headed to our hotel in the Palermo neighborhood, called the Miravida Soho. Rooms were nice and traditional, but small. We spent the afternoon walking around and enjoying lunch on the sidewalk. In the evening, we took the hotel wine tasting. We had a torontes/Sauvignon Blanca blend, a Malbec from Mendoza, a Malbec from Salta and a Malbec/Cab Franc/Metlot from Patagonia. And, some rare beef, some cheese, some prosciutto and empanadas, which means we have no room for dinner...

March 13

Another mostly travel day today. Flew from Buenos Aires to El Calafate in Patagonia. We did get a couple hours in the afternoon to wander around town. The best views today were coming in for a landing along Lago Argentina. We stayed at Hotel Michelangelo, which was the least exciting of the trip, but clean, family-friendly and serviceable. We dined in the hotel restaurant on traditional local stew - the restaurant was called Isabel. We had 'El Vigilante' dessert. It was cow cheese with a sweet potato 'pudding', which was very much like quince paste. Talk about Spain meets South America!

March 14

We went to the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares for a day trip. We had about two hours of hiking along walkways along the Perito Moreno glacier in addition to a boat ride up to the glacier itself. Most of the big calving happened while we weren't watching, but we saw a few pieces fall off. We dined in the evening at Mi Ranchito restaurant.

March 15

We took a "day trip" to Torres del Paine in Chile. It was a stunning and clear day. Our guide said it's only 1 in 20 days when the entire massif is clear of clouds. We got in quite a few vistas and a 1 hour hike to stretch our legs. We saw condors, flamingos, guanacos, rias and a grey fox. We arrived back in town around 10pm, and were happy for local late-night dining. We dined at Buenos Cruces, which was delicious and a charming restaurant.

March 16

We arrived in El Chalten after a 3+ hour bus ride from El Calafate. We checked into the Don Los Cerros hotel and walked around town-another beautiful day! We scoped out restaurants to try and grocery stores and had a quick lunch at a forgettable pizza place. The ice cream place - Domo Blanco was worth a re-visit. Dinner was at Don Los Cerros.

March 17

Epic mountain day today. 21km hiking to Lagune del Torre just below Cerro Torre. Clouds finally lifted off the peaks around 2:30 pm. Warm weather, light winds and epics views. Life is good! Dinner was at La Tapera - universally the highest rated in town.

March 18

Another epic day in the mountains. Rick officially declared this one of Sarah's Death Marches. A bit over 25km and about 1,000 meets of gain - 500 meters in the last "1 kilometer" (really 1.68, but who's counting!) to Laguna de Los Tres at the foot of Fitz Roy. For those not familiar, this is the "North Face" made famous by the clothing brand. Dinner was again at Don Los Cerros.

March 19

Took a recovery day today with cloudy skies and feet that felt like hamburger. Hiked up to Mirador de Los Condores. It's only about 3km round trip, but after we crossed town on foot. Did lots of roving about town - stopping at park headquarters to tell them about our huemule sighting, shopping for groceries, etc. and still ended with about 15km for the day. Oh, and a nap, which is required at least once on all vacations, and a massage. Life is good! Dinner was at Fuegia. We had paella, which was good.

March 20

Super-spectaculoso Fall color today. We did the Madre y Hija route connecting the Sendero Cerro Torre and Laguna de Los Tres routes. It might be the most under-appreciated route in the park. The trail has no kilometer markings or colored markings like the rest, but is very clear to follow. Something like 23k today with stunning views after the early rain cleared. We got clouded in for sunrise, but the weather made up for it when Roy G Biv made an appearance across the Cerro Torre watershed. In the evening, we thought it was time to try out a traditional parrilla - Asador - Parrilla El Viejo Nando. I had the biggest plate of lamb I've ever seen. Ok, that is off the list.

March 21

The sunrise did its magic this morning, and then we got in our last 20km+ hike to Lomo del Pliegue Y Tombado, a 1000 meter high outcropping where you can see all the major peaks of the area - if they aren't shrouded in clouds (which they were). We bundled up and ate our lunch before making our descent. We decided another visit of Doom Blanco and Fuegia were in order.

March 22

We bussed back to El Calafate and enjoyed a walk around the lake in the early evening. We even found some flamingos! This visit we stayed at Hotel Kosten Aike, which was a very nice place and only 10 dollars more than the Michelangelo. We returned to Buenos Cruces for dinner, which was again fantastic.

March 23 & 24

We flew back to Buenos Aires and stayed in the wonderful Hotel Fiero - definitely recommended for service and quality. We did the wine tasting and dined in their restaurant, which was highly rated and very good. A great meal to close out our time in Buenos Aires.

The next morning, we walked all the way across town to the Recoleta neighborhood and visited the famous Recoleta Cemetery and an artists' market before walking back. It was about 10km each way. The Hotel Fiero was nice enough to offer us showers in the pool area before heading to the airport to return home in the late evening.