Along the Away

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Posts Tagged ‘ hiking ’

Mount Kosciuszko Full Moon Hike

Have you heard of Meetup? That brilliant online platform uniting like-minded peeps into offline communities? I’m a member of Sydney Weekend Adventurers, a wonderfully diverse group of people organised by a northern beaches couple who run a medley of outdoor adventures in Sydney or within a day’s drive.

I was one of the first to sign up to a two-day adventure to hike Mount Kosciuszko under the full moon. Perfectly timed over a weekend, the plan was to enjoy Australia’s highest mountain by the moon’s silvery light, camp overnight near the summit and walk back down the next day.

I had never been to Mt Kosciuszko before, and I was eager to test out the backpack I had just bought to take on my 900+km Camino in a couple of month’s time, so the trip was ideal for Camino preparation, and perfect end-of-summer-adventuring.

Preparing for the Adventure

It had been years since I’d been on an overnight hike but I was longing to get back into it despite not having much gear. If you’re in the same position – don’t worry and don’t let it hold you back. There’s only a few key pieces you need and it’s possible to get everything at a pretty affordable price thanks to stores like Anaconda and websites like Wild Earth that have good sales on all the time. Just keep a list of what you need and then keep your eye out for the right sale. 50% off backpacks one weekend, 40% off tents the next, and so on. Also, the outdoor community is so generous, if you’re just starting out then join a club or a Meetup group and you will be pleasantly surprised how helpful people will be to help you get out there!

In case it helps someone in their planning, for this trip, here’s what I took:

  1. Backpack (mine is 36l Osprey including rain cover – because I was trialling my Camino gear I took this pack which is a squeeze for overnight hiking, my tent had to be strapped to the outside. A 50-60l would be a better size for overnight hiking.)
  2. Tent (mine is Denali Zephyr I Hike Tent which I got from Anaconda on sale – at only 1.55kg and after surviving an overnight electrical storm in this I can’t say good enough things about it!)
  3. Sleeping bag (I took a 3 degree sleeping bag I’ve had for 15 years)
  4. Sleeping mat (thanks to good old Anaconda I got a Denali Trek Short Hike Mat on sale, I got half size to fit it into my pack, but I will get the full size if I get a bigger bag)
  5. Hiking clothes – the exact outfit I intended to take on my Camino de Santiago (Prana hiking convertible pants, Icebreaker tee, Kathmandu light weight fleece, Injini toe socks)
  6. Sleeping thermals (Icebreaker pants, Icebreaker tank top & long sleep top, Icebreaker mid-weight socks)
  7. Wet weather gear (Marmot Precip rain jacket – so lightweight but high performance, definitely recommend! – and Montbell rain pants)

Down South We Went!

I made the 6 hour drive down to Jindabyne on Friday night after work with friends I’d made on previous hikes with the group, Megha and Jo. It was relatively easy getting out of Sydney despite the end of week traffic, but driving at night on the Hume Highway was hard work; there was just so much roadkill, which put me on high alert. So much poor Australian wildlife like kangaroos and wombats were lying on and by the side of the road at regular intervals, and at one point we ran over the top of a kangaroo that must have only just been knocked down as we shortly passed a couple walking back towards the roo from their car pulled over just past it. It was quite harrowing given the dark of the night and the size of the animals. Many more hopped across the road a couple of metres right in front of my car, or stood frozen in my headlights in the opposite lane. I kept my eyes scanning the road, fingers clamped to the wheel braced to avoid a collision – unfortunately that’s all you can do. Judging from the amount of roadkill the odds are not great for the poor natives.

We stopped at a fairly nondescript roadside cafe for a quick dinner but we were eager to get a good night’s rest so we pushed on. We planned to sleep overnight in a cabin at the NRMA Jindabyne Caravn Park. We had our camping gear for the following night’s hike but we knew we would arrive after midnight so it was great when we did pull up and could jump straight into bed!

As usual I woke just before dawn the next morning, and on my way back from the toilet block realised we were right beside the very pretty Lake Jindabyne, backdropped by the Snowy Mountains.

We made our way into Jindabyne for breakfast at Birchwood Cafe, my ability to sniff out the best coffee and food in town led us straight there (thanks foodie blogs), and it was the perfect spot to fuel up for the day ahead. We met the rest of our group at the meeting time but then had a slow start as we waited for everyone to gather. Then our group organiser Con updated us on the weather. It was being unpredictable, rain was expected shortly then then it should pass through and come back the next day, leaving us with a good afternoon and night to do our hike. That meant prolonging our departure, which was fine with everyone. Happy to eat and enjoy more coffee, and time to pick up any last minute gear we would need. Cold temperatures and rain were now guaranteed so most people ended up popping into the gear stores for something or rather. I ended up getting a pair of rain pants and a possum-hair beanie (yep, possum hair, very cosy but scratchy FYI). Rain pants had been on my ‘should I or shouldn’t I’ pack list for my upcoming Camino de Santiago, so it was a good opportunity to get them and test them out on Kosciuszko.

On to the adventuring!

Finally we departed Jindabyne by road convoy and drove about 50km or so to Charlotte Pass. A bit more fussing about as we piled out of cars, helping each other adjust our backpack straps and tie on gear, then we were off!

Mount Kosciuszko Full Moon Hike

We had a gorgeous sunny start, a true pleasure to walk along the wide track and enjoy the sunshine across the grassy mountain-side. We set off on old Kosciusko Rd, crossing the Snowy River Valley to ascend the Main Range.

Mt Kosciuskzo Hike

Mount Kosciuszko Full Moon Hike

We passed by Seamans Hut, a monument built for two guys who lost their lives in 1928 after setting out skiing one sunny afternoon and then got stuck in a blizzard that swept into the range. A testament to the unpredictability of the weather in the mountans. We were lucky to continue enjoying good weather at this point, so we stopped to snack and rest awhile.

Mount Kosciuszko Full Moon Hike

We pushed on and passed the Snowy River, time for photos and snacking again!

 

Mount Kosciuszko Full Moon Hike

The afternoon walk to the summit was easy, a wide clear path the whole way with a truly beautiful and expansive landscape, the rolling fields and rocky peaks stretching in every direction.

The sun was sinking as we started the last incline, the light was just amazing.

Mount Kosciuszko Full Moon Hike

Mt Kosciuszko Hike

My heart was skipping all over the place. I spaced myself out on the path eager to have the landscape and horizon to myself. The glimpses of walkers ahead of me and behind were meandering in the light and shadows.

Mount Kosciuszko Full Moon Hike

We summit-ed in time to take in the glorious view. We put on our extra layers in anticipation of the sun’s warmth leaving us, which it quickly did. We perched on rocks and ate our various picnic dinners, gradually growing quieter as the we watched the sun set and the full moon rise.

Mount Kosciuszko Full Moon Hike

The streaks of colour on the horizon cleaved the way to an inky purple, flaring with forks of lightening all around us in the distance. The storm the forecast couldn’t make its mind up about seemed to be skirting around us. It was mesmerizing to watch, the air was calm and quiet, but settled icily on my cheeks. I snuggled into my layers, I hadn’t brought much but I was happy they were all performing as intended. I was grateful for the research I’d done and the quality I’d bought. Even the last minute addition of the possum fur beanie.

Mount Kosciuszko Full Moon Hike

I settled into the stillness that only nature gives me, when I take the time to give myself over to it, when all that other life stuff drops off to where it belongs. Feeling free but connected, insignificant but worthy.

Hiking by the Moon

We couldn’t stay all night, we needed to hike on northwards along the crest of the Main Range to Muellers Pass, from there we intended to pick up a faint track that would lead us up to camp in the saddle between Alice Rawson Peak and Mt Townsend.

We hiked by the full moon’s glow looking for the faint signs of a ‘path less travelled’. Con had hiked it before, he knew vaguely where it was and that it would be hard to find. At some point he knew we’d walked past it, so seeing another path that should take us toward it, we took that one. Well, detouring at night, even under the magical powers of a full moon, is rife with potential to backfire.

Mount Kosciuszko Full Moon Hike

Our hiking became trudging. Our path became rock scrambling. Everyone grew quiet. The reverent atmosphere grew more tense as tired hikers, sore hikers, less experienced hikers became uncomfortable and stretched. I personally felt OK about the unplanned detouring. It happens, I felt prepared, and so in the situation I accepted the path as it appeared. I did find the rock climbing with my backpack challenging. At times I was apprehensive knowing my usual centre of balance was off, the height in the dark made me nervous, and from that in wriggled doubt as I struggled with my own strength to pull my weight up and over large boulders. It was tough going, there were moments where I faced my limit and with effort pushed on past it. It was a suprising situation, it was meant to be a straightforward hike after all, but by the end of the weekend I would be really proud of myself for finding my inner strength and seeing what I was made of.

Finally we reached the top but it was obviously not where we were supposed to be. The grassy incline was strewn with boulders and shrubs, but the wind had picked up and we felt rain steadying to spit on us. Con told us all to set-up camp so in a flurry of activity we all unburdened our packs and tents started flying up.

Megha and Jo were sharing a two-man tent and I had my brand new little one-person tent. With the wind whipping up around me and the energy in the air descending opressively around me I suddenly realised how little and light I really was on the mountain peak, so I nestled in between the girls and another guy’s two-man tent, hoping for a little protection. It was a tight squeeze once I started to hammer in the pegs for my fly, especially as the front flap ended up being exactly where a big boulder was! Thankfully Con came around with a spare elastic cord and helped me rig it up. The rain started descending so quick as rabbits we all hopped into our burrows.

Tucked in my little haven I awkwardly shed my shoes and hiking pants and put on some thermals. I only brought the half sleeping mag to save on space and weight, so with my upper body on the mat and my lower body on my backpack I wiggled into my sleeping bag and lay down listening to the wind and the rustle of my fellow hikers settling down. Gradually all other noises stopped and I closed my eyes wondering if I would get some sleep despite the excitement of being on a mountain top. It’s not every night you are one of the highest positioned people in the country.

The Adventure Intensifies

I must have dropped off, because at some point I became aware of the distant boom of thunder. I snuggled deeper into my bag and felt the thrill of being warm and cosy with the elements right outside my thin shell of nylon. I drifted in and out of sleep and was just becoming conscious of the pounding of the rain and the increasing frequency of the thunder when I heard a man’s voice raised in alarm outside my tent.

“The storms coming, we have to go! Pack up!”

My eyes flew open. What!?! I couldn’t hear anything else clearly, just the muffled sounds of voices and the flurry of zips and commotion in between the buffeting of the wind against my tent. I took a breath and urged myself to act calmly. I started stuffing my sleeping bag in my sack and packing my bag while listening to the snippets of voices I could hear in between the howling wind. Then Con’s voice came between my and the girls tent:

“We don’t have time to take our gear, we’ll come back later, put wet weather gear on and get out”.

I stopped again. I had packed everything already so I focused on getting fully dressed and into my rain gear while thinking “this is crazy, we can’t leave now, I’m safer here than scrambling around out there in the middle of the night” The scenes from only hours before replayed in my mind, my body perched precariously atop boulders, unbalanced under the unfamiliarity of my backpack weight.

I heard lots of noise outside the tent but I stayed put. I called out and the girls responded, they were dressed but waiting instructions. Con came back around –

“Stay where you are, it’s too late! We’ll stick it out, stay until morning” and then he was gone.

My gut instinct was relieved, I knew that was the right decision. Luckily I felt calm and prepared. I was all packed up, but wearing all my layers. I pulled out my sleeping mat and emergency blanket and wrapped myself up like a caterpillar.

So, cacooned in my tent, an electrical storm passed through until the early hours. I later wondered if the emergency blanket was a good idea amidst the lightening but some later research indicates that was OK, though I probably should have kicked my backpack out of the tent (metal frame). Oh well, lucky escape.

Listening to the thunder booming, lightening flashing and the wind buffeting my little safe haven was a truly awesome experience. I decided that I was going to enjoy it. I would never plan to be on a country’s highest peak in the middle of an electrical storm, but here I was. I would let the sounds wash over me, I would feel the intensity of the energy in the air and give myself over to the majestic power of Mother Nature.

Descending into the Mist

Mt Kosciuszko Full Moon Hike

A brief lull at 6am gave us the opportunity to pack up and make a foggy wet exit. Again the group was quiet and efficient, we helped each other, offered spare clothing to those who had gotten soaked during the night. There were varying degrees of people coping. Personally, I was pretty happy! The night was challenging and beautiful. My gear had held up wonderfully, and now hiking out in the morning I could test out my rain pants!

Mt Kosciuszko Full Moon Hike

We trudged down through the constantly changing landscape. There was foggy mist all around us, we could see then we couldn’t. I put my blind faith in Con to lead us out, but it wasn’t easy. Others in the group had reservations and opinions on where we should be heading. Megha realized she had GPS working on her phone and between her and some of the others they pieced together that maybe we were walking in the wrong direction. The mist obscured everything.

Mt Kosciuszko Full Moon Hike

I wished I was more capable of self navigating, I felt like I was no use so I stayed quiet and supportive, and didn’t complain. Finally we reached the river and could get our bearings. At that point we knew the path we were trying to take out of there was too risky to try to find with such low visibility. The group agreed to walk back to the route we had taken the day before and make a return trip on that instead of a loop as intended.

Once we found the familiar path and the fog lifted a bit, we stopped to rest and eat, which started to lift everyone’s spirits rise again.

The rain did not give us many breathers though, it was fairly consistent on the walk out. We stopped again at Seamans Hut, then quickly continued on as we could hear storm number two coming for us. We reached our cars just as it started to unleash on us. We stripped off, trying to contain our sopping wet gear from water-logging my car and jumped in – turning up the heater and turning my car into a humidity box.

Mt Kosciuszko Full Moon Hike

Homeward Bound

Back in Jindabyne we changed into dry clothes and stuffed ourselves with hot carbs and strong coffee. There really is nothing better than refuelling after something so gruelling.

I got back into the drivers seat and took us six hours back to Sydney, dropping off both the girls then heading straight into a steaming hot shower the second I got home.

Honestly, I loved every minute in this breathtaking part of the world, it was certainly an adventure!

Mt Kosciuszko Full Moon Hike

It was the beginning of 2014 that I set myself the challenge to walk all 37 coastal walks from the Coastal Walks Sydney book… I did 6! But luckily they’re not going anywhere, so I’m still ticking them off in 2015.

I just came off a BIG work project and after weeks without a day off I had five days stretching out in front of me. It’s the end of winter at the moment but Sydney was boasting that gorgeous feels-like-summer weather that often dazzles us at the end of the cold season. I was craving some outdoor time after too many long weeks in the office so the book came off the bookshelf and I did three coastal walks over the next five days.

Spit to Manly walk

First up was the Spit Bridge to Manly walk which is a very well known coastal walk in Sydney. Obviously it can be done in both directions, but I prefer doing it from south to north so that I end up at the beach – and judging from the people I passed it seems to be the most popular direction!

It is a truly beautiful walk, the water is alongside the track almost the whole time, except for a section that heads upwards. It’s fairly steep but nothing a reasonable level of fitness can’t handle. Where there’s a climb, there’s a view – and this one is amazing.

Spit to Manly walk

I was so happy to be back in my natural habitat under the sunshine, amongst the trees and beside the ocean. Nature is a great healer.

Spit to Manly walk

The walk is about 10km and according to the Coastal Walks Sydney book should take about 3.5 hours. Once again, similar to other walks I’ve done in the book, I took much less time to finish – about 2 hours and 40 minutes. I did that with plenty of stops along the way, probably about 20 minutes worth. I’m a pretty brisk walker once I get going!

There are a number of toilet blocks along the way and water bubblers/taps to refill your water bottle. I recommend filling up at every tap you see as they are not as frequent to chance that you’ll see one when you need it. When I did the walk in summer I struggled in the last 30 minutes with an empty water bottle, so this time I topped up at every chance.

Spit to Manly walk

Once I walked into Manly I wandered around looking for a brunch spot to refuel. I discovered a new cafe called Bare Naked Bowls on Market Lane. I was heading to the Swedish Fika Kitchen which is a fave, but Bare Naked Bowls caught my eye. I wandered in to look at the board and on recommendation from the waitress decided to try the Chia Bowl – it was delicious, as was the coffee.

Once nourished, it was time to relax! The glorious thing about coastal walks is that once the hard work is done there is a beach to relax on, which I did… for about three hours! I may have even fallen asleep on the sand. Considering how stunning the weather was I was surprised how quiet it was, I’ve never seen Manly beach this deserted – I guess that’s the perk of being there on a weekday when most people are at work.

Spit to Manly walk

In regards to transport, the walk is fairly easy to get to, coming from the lower north shore I drove to the Spit Bridge and parked in a side street just north of the bridge. There is a timed carpark there but it can be costly, I have always been lucky to get an untimed spot on the road. Once I was in Manly I got the bus back to the Spit. It was a bit tricky as I didn’t realise the footpath stops before the bridge on the north side where I got off the bus. I had to chance my luck across the road and then walk up the steps and around the suburban roads – all without a phone thanks to my battery dying. Next time I will get off south of the bridge where the foothpath extends… or else get the bus the whole way.

Along the Away NZ Trip Map Tongariro

New Zealand is home to an epic series of ‘Great Walks’ which I have read about and hope to tick some off of my bucket list sometime in my lifetime. I was really excited to go to the World Heritage Listed Tongariro National Park where the only Great Walk you can do in one day, the Tongariro Crossing, is located. The Crossing is 19.4km long and is incredibly steep in parts (there is a part called The Devils Staircase. Enough said.)

There are three mountains in the national park – Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu, which are important landmarks to the Maori people for spiritual and cultural reasons.

We stayed two nights in an alpine lodge in Whakapapa Village, which was cosy but rustic – it reminded me a bit a school camp to be honest, lots of pine furniture, bunk beds, shared common rooms with board games and fireplaces. There is a kitchen and bar there, the food was good and the staff were friendly and helpful – especially in regards to giving me a cup of uncooked rice – more on that later.

I love bushwalking and hiking outdoors, I try to walk everyday but even still I wouldn’t say my fitness is at a high level because I don’t train or intentionally challenge myself to tackle steeper terrain or anything – I mostly stick to coastal tracks. So I was a bit nervous about doing the Tongariro Crossing but I knew enough of its beauty to sign up immediately anyway. When our bus arrived in the national park the night before it was raining pretty heavily but the forecast was looking good for the next day. We were getting picked up by a guided hiking company called Adventure Outdoors at a very early hour, so I prepped all my hiking gear at the end of my bunk bed ready for a quick and quiet rise in the morning (lesson number one in being a considerate room-mate). When the morning came I woke to the sound of rain pattering down but I jumped up, got ready and assembled optimistically with the rest of the group ready for the pick-up. Alas, Mother Nature had other plans for us. Sarah and Perrin, from Adventure Outdoors arrived with the sad news that the wind higher up on the crossing was too fierce to make the trek – the Tongariro Crossing was closed. For those that haven’t heard of it before, here is what I missed out on:

Emerald Lakes

So sad, I felt really disappointed as I had psyched myself up to take on the challenge. Hiking through snow and navigating ice on the track was going to be a new experience for me, I was really mentally preparing myself for the challenge of using crampons and ice picks to earn that incredible view. But as travel always (always) teaches us, when something doesn’t work out, just roll with it onto the next amazing experience. Sarah and Perrin were revved up with enthusiasm and wouldn’t let our spirits stay down for long – they proposed we head out and do some hiking along the base of the mountains, some of which was part of the Tongariro Crossing anyway. So we did!

Tongariro National Park Hike

It rained. The entire 6 hours.

But look, I’m smiling! With rain drops on my nose.

Tongariro National Park Hike

Coz it was fun! Seriously, we’ve developed into such precious souls when it comes to getting a bit uncomfortable. I would never normally go hiking in the rain. Even if it’s forecast to rain later during the day I’ll cancel an intended hike. I’d get wet! And cold! And uncomfortable!

Well, so what. I did get a bit of all of those things, but I didn’t stop smiling! Neither did anyone in our small group of 8 or so. We laughed at ourselves and each other. We stumbled and bounced back up. We stopped for photos, to listen to stories from the girls, to try and picture the scenes in Lord of the Rings which were filmed here.

Tongariro National Park Hike

We started at Mangatepopo Car Park and walked as far as Soda Springs, stopping before ascending the Devil’s Staircase.

Tongariro National Park Hike

The track was beautiful in the rain. The fog hung low and heavy, the silence of the land except the rain hitting the ground and our feet crunching on the rocks.

Sarah and Perrin were wonderful guides, they acted as if it was a perfect blue sky, sunny day and we were out for a leisurely stroll. Sarah was actually 7 months pregnant at the time! Which none of us even realised til about two hours in – we were all so bundled up in fleeces and rain jackets that her bump was hidden and her unbelievable energy would never have given it away. Once realised that, it put us all in our place – if she can keep going then we can!

I learnt from the walk that Lake Taupo was once a volcano that blew up in about 1180. It threw lava and rock over a third of the north island. All the trees were flattened creating the lava fields we walked through on our walk. Lake Taupo is hours away – so that gives you an idea of the how powerful the volcano eruption was.

Tongariro National Park Hike

Tongariro National Park Hike

I might have missed out on hiking with crampons on the ice, but I got to step over some. It was this cold. 

Tongariro National Park Hike

Tongariro National Park Hike

I can only wonder at how the walk looks and feels on a gloriously sunny day. Our experience was oh so different, but appreciated.

Tongariro National Park Hike

Tongariro National Park Hike

Soda Springs popped up in view, our walk’s target.

Tongariro National Park Hike

On we trooped, letting the rain soak in and roll off.

Tongariro National Park Hike

Tongariro National Park Hike

Finally we reached Soda Springs. A quick photo op and we turned around and trudged back to the Mangatepopo carpark.

Tongariro National Park Hike

Once we got back in the van and had the heaters pumping we all laughed and kidded around, trying a hopeless battle to keep seats dry when everything about us was soaked. We had the giddy high you get after doing something you probably wouldn’t have thought you would do, relief mixed with achievement. Then Sarah turned from the front seat and proposed we head to a lake walk – only about 2 hours and mostly under a rainforest canopy so we wouldn’t get much wetter (can you get wetter than 100% soaked?) The van got quiet. We all made non-committal noises sliding side-long glances at each other. Was anyone going to object? Was the seven months pregnant woman going to be shut down? Non-committal noises turned into non-committal head bobs as we all waited for someone to say the words that would send us all home to a shower and dry towel, food and a heater. The words never came and Sarah and Perrin clapped their hands and took off toward the walk. We all rallied as we realised ‘OK, we’re doing this!’ Later we all laughed when we realised not one of us thought we had it in us to do another rain walk, surely 4 hours had been enough. But we were all so glad that we’d followed the crowd – we had another fabulous walk!

Rotopounamu Lake is located at the foot of Mt Pihanga in the Pihanga Scenic Reserve, believed to have formed about 10,000 years ago by a landslide. The walk is 6km around, and took us about 90 minutes.

Tongariro National Park Hike

The name translates to ‘greenstone’ which apparently reflects the colour of the water on a clear day – I will have to trust our guides on this one seeing as my view was rather grey…

Tongariro National Park Hike

Dreary, but strangely still beautiful and rather invigorating to be there!

2014 New Zealand (2374)

I mentioned at the start of this post a cup of rice which was given to me without question from the kitchen at our accommodation. Along the walk I couldn’t help but keep getting my iPhone out to snap photos. Of course I hadn’t brought my camera along due to the rain, but with my phone slipping into the inside pocket of my trusty Kathmandu Gortex raincoat I figured I could chance it.

I took lots of photos – amidst lots of rain drops.

Tongariro National Park Hike

I made sure to wipe it dry every time I put it back in my pocket, but by the end of the day the combination of constant downpour and the humidity inside my jacket due to my body heat, my iPhone was NOT happy. As in the front screen was completely streaked with water marks and condensation under the screen. I could barely read a thing. I did a Google and read that I should turn it off and sit it in a cup of rice. I gave it a go as I LOVE my iPhone and would have been devastated to have it die, mid-trip no less. I kept it in the cup of rice overnight to no avail. I moved both rice and the iPhone into a clip-lock bag and kept it in there for another 48 hours with still no luck – it looked just as bad. I felt sad and decided to turn it on and use it as much as I could til I could get home and replace it. Well, gradually, over the next three weeks my iPhone healed itself. I suppose it dried out over time in my pocket next to my body heat. I was stoked! So for anyone looking  for a solution to a water damaged phone – time, heat and a little TLC should see it right :-)

 

Along the Away NZ Trip Map Bay of Islands

The next stop on my Kiwi travels was the Bay of Islands, on the north coast of the North Island. I travelled up on a backpacker bus which was good as we stopped a couple of places along the way.

The McKinney Kauri Tree in Parry Kauri Park is estimated to be over 800 years old! It’s 125 metres tall and 25 metres around – a bit too wide to fit my arms around!

McKinney Kauri Tree

 

We stopped at Whangarei Falls where it was drizzling with rain, but luckily I had my new goretex rain jacket with me. It was an expensive splurge (even at less than half price in the Kathmandu sale) but worth it.

Haruru Falls Selfie

There is a circular track that took less than 30 minutes to walk with a view of the falls from the top and then from down below.

 

Whangarei Falls

 

The falls drop 26.3 metres!

Whangarei Falls

 

Look how lush and green the forest is, just beautiful.

Haruru Falls

We got back on board the bus and continued on our way to the town of Paihia, a handy spot from which to explore the Bay of Islands. I had read about an overnight cruise around the islands called Rock the Boat which sounded like a lot of fun so I booked it in while still in Australia, but then I arrived to a wet and windy scene… and the news the boat had sprung a leak! It’a always disappointing when travel plans don’t pan out, but there’s always usually a bright side to find and in this case I’m glad that I wasn’t on the boat while the weather raged (bad) or when it sprung the leak (very bad).

Paihia

In hindsight maybe the Bay of Islands would best be left to the summer months when the weather is dryer and the water more inviting, however despite the wild start the weather did fine up enough the next day to head out on a cruise around the islands with our eyes peeled for dolphins. The ocean was too rough to go out past the bay so we missed seeing the famous ‘hole in the rock’ but dolphins we did see!

Bay of Islands map

The important question one must ask oneself when returning from an outdoorsy coastal holiday is ‘how many dolphin photos can one person take, seriously?’ The answer is ‘freaking hundreds’. Most of them random shots of water with maybe a hint of a shadow of a dolphin under the surface. After a massive photo purge, I still really want to show these ones.

Look how beautiful the mist looks in the trees on this island, with the first sighting of dolphins in the water.

Bay of Islands Dolphins

And then they came closer! Yay!

Bay of Islands Dolphins

Beautiful, graceful, happy dolphins.

Bay of Islands Dolphins

With a baby!

Bay of Islands Dolphins

The skipper spotted a sailing boat moored near one of the islands which is part of a youth support program. Young teens who are selected to be a part of the program live on board the boat for weeks at a time with no phones, junk food or other modern conveniences, while they learn to sail, fish and other life skills.

Bay of Islands youth sailing boat program

 

Our skipper pulled up close to the boat and sounded the horn to wake them all up. He said that sometimes the kids come out on board and will perform the Haka for the cruise boat. We waited awhile and then signs of life appeared. A bunch of happy but shy looking kids came out on board, and three stepped forward and launched into a wonderful display of the traditional Maori war dance. It was really brilliant, and so unexpected!

Bay of Islands youth sailing boat program

We kept on cruising… and we saw more dolphins!

Bay of Islands dolphins

Bay of Islands dolphins

Bay of Islands dolphins

We had the opportunity to jump off the boat at Urupukapuka Island to explore for awhile.

Bay of Islands Seagull

 

Urupukapuka Island

The colour of the water was so beautiful, and constantly changing.

Urupukapuka Walk

Urupukapuka Walk

Urupukapuka Island

I headed for a water-logged path that ran past a ramshackle building, through a sweet gate and up a very steep hill.

Urupukapuka Walk

Urupukapuka Walk

Urupukapuka Island

Urupukapuka Walk

I trudged up to the top and was rewarded with a breathtaking view across the water.

Urupukapuka Island

Back on the boat we started heading back to Paiha where we had started the cruise; finally the sun was out and putting a sparkle on the water for us.

Bay of Islands boat cruise

We were given the option to hop off at the tiny town of Russell if we wanted. I thought it sounded like a quaint place to visit so when we docked I hopped off with a small group. The skipper gave us ferry vouchers so that we could get back to Paiha when we wanted inclusive of the cruise price we’d already paid.

Russell was a really sweet place, but it wasn’t always that way!  This excerpt from the Russell Wikipedia page sums up some of it’s fascinating history:

When European and American ships began visiting New Zealand in the early 1800s, the indigenous Māori quickly recognised there were great advantages in trading with these strangers, whom they called tauiwi. The Bay of Islands offered a safe anchorage and had a high Māori population. To attract ships, Māori began to supply food and timber. What Māori wanted were respect, plus firearms, alcohol, and other goods of European manufacture.Kororāreka developed as a result of this trade but soon earned a very bad reputation, a community without laws and full of prostitution, and became known as the “Hell Hole of the Pacific”.

Given how small and far away it is from everything it is unbelievable to think it was New Zealand’s first capital! It was also home to New Zealand’s first church and pub.

Russell - Bay of Islands

After about an hour we got back on the local ferry and headed the short distance across the water to Paihia. By this time the day was putting on a fine show for us and I can see how beautiful the Bay of Islands must be in the glory of summer.

Bay of Islands cruise

Back at Paiha the clear and sunny afternoon was too tempting to stay indoors so a long walk along the water and beach was called for.

Paihia Beach

Paihia Beach

 

I’m not sure what the story of these totem-like carvings are, but there was a row of them standing in the middle of an large reserve across the road from the beach.

Paihia Totem

I walked around the local library which is housed in a heritage home donated to the town by one of the earliest Anglican missionaries in Paihia.

Paihia Library

The Bay of Islands was a lovely place to visit, but best when the weather is dry and clear enough to enjoy the beautiful sights of the water and islands.