Monday, August 27, 2012

A small taste of the North.

W2K Trail head.
We are both of the opinion that you can't not see and experience everything.  If we stopped at everything, I would still be in the Auckland area.  The following is from my recollection which is filled with my own internal commentary and does not reflect those who happen to travel with me.

Our first day together was a lot of traveling around.  I left the hostel at just before 6 am to pick-up Skog whose flight was due to arrive at 5:45am.  I was well rested as I got to sleep early in the evening knowing that the next day was going to be a long one.  I made good time down to the airport and as luck would have it, I was greeted by a familiar face once I got to the International Arrival gateway.  I was in the airport for less than a minute and he comes strolling out.  We quickly make it back to the car where, I don’t have to pay any fee as I was parked for less than 10 minutes.  Talk about an auspicious start to what has already been a gnarly adventure.
Can't go here without bumping into someone I know.

We quickly departed Auckland along Hw1 towards Hamilton.  We pulled over for some pie action as the same rest stop that Beth and I were at on Wed and Beth and her parents were at back in July.  I didn’t realize it when I was pulling in, only after I was starting to park.  I also introduced him to L&P here and Ginger Beer a little while later.  I think I created a fiend.  Our first destination was to go to my hometown of Tauranga/Mt Maunganui.  I had to drop off a few things and pick-up some stuff as well.  We stopped by Macpac for a wool t-shirt.  Then we proceeded to walk up Mauao where we bumped into Elaine and Faye.  Just before this, I was commenting how I couldn’t go to there without seeing someone I knew.  This time proved the same.  We also ate Copenhagen Cones with Hokey Pokey Ice Cream for dessert.  For lunch we had grub from the local Fish ‘n Chips.  Much to my surprise and luckily Beth is already gone so she can’t enjoy this carnal creation of fried fistful of awesome, also known as the Moro bar.  We walked around the Mount and I showed him my new digs and the beach.

After all that we loaded up the car and drove down to Taupo via Rotorua.  We were going to make a detour to Hell’s Gate, but it was a paid thermal park and we weren’t down for that.  The trip to Taupo wasn’t very remarkable to me other than I was driving.  I haven’t driven since last April and never before have I driven on the left hand side nor on the right hand side of a vehicle.  It is not that difficult, but some things take some getting used to like the blinkers and the beeping while in reverse.  We got in and made a few calls around for a place to stay.  We ended up staying at Taupo Urban Retreat, a place that Beth and I had stayed at in the past.  I set about the task of finding bikes for the 42nd Traverse.  It ended up being a bust as the one company that is supposed to do the bike hire and the pick-up/drop-off is no longer doing it in the winter as the cold and the trail is too hard on the bikes.  I ride in MN during the winter occasionally and the cold doesn’t affect my ride, the chemicals for the ice does.  I ended up calling another company located out in Ohakune and was pointed to doing some local rides in Taupo as it wouldn’t be cost effective for us to get out on the 42nd as they would have to charge a lot for that service.  She also agreed that the guy was full of BS.  I figured it was just people screwing around on rental bikes and treating them badly.  We ended up taking her recommendation and the recommendation of Sarah from work and doing the W2K trail. 
My faithful steed

So on Saturday morning we wandered over to Avanti in Taupo and rented bikes.  We were entrusted with our 26in steeds for the day.  I made a comment that the owner must hear all the time about the $250 bond.  We also got directions to the start of the trail as I had no idea where I was going.  The start was in the town of Kinlock just west of Taupo.  The trail itself was approximately 14km with an optional 9.6km loop.  We assembled the bikes and donned our gear to set out for what was to be a pretty stellar ride.  We had a little trouble finding the start of the ride as the initial sign was very small.  However, once we got on the trail we quickly left the city behind us and started a sweat inducing series of switchbacks that quickly increased our elevation and heart-rate.  
We got awesome helmets.

We ascended for probably 40 minutes to an hour and were greeted to an impressive outlook over Lake Taupo and the town of Kinlock.  We would stop from time to time to take photographs and to grab a sip of water.  We only encountered a few people the entire afternoon, a couple walkers, and a family of 3 out biking.  We basically had the run of the trail, but had to be cautious as it is a combined trail meant for walkers and bikers going in either direction.  The day was filled with ups and downs.  Skog had some issues with his legs and walked the bike up a few hills.  We both were getting into the groove and I made the comment about it and was quickly dumped from my bike as it slides out from underneath me.  I felt fine, but evidently I bruised my knee as it pained me on Sunday morning.  As our time with the rentals was nearing, we decided to turn back after doing the Kinlock entry and the Headland Loop.  If we would have gone to the other side it would have been another 15k and we wouldn’t have been able to return the bikes on time.  I was fine with turning around and so was Skog.  The great thing about turning back here was that it was all down-hill and we got to bomb the descent.  I was pumping over the bumps and pedaling on the flats.  I was feeling much more confident that when I went to the Redwoods with Tim.  I’m looking at getting my own Mtb over here so I can continue riding the variety of terrain.
Our hovel for a couple nights.
Saturday Night was our 2nd night at Taupo Urban Retreat and we were in for a treat.  The All Blacks were playing Australia in rugby and there was some local Navy boys cheering on the AB.  They were decked out with sombreros and fake mustaches.  It was quite the sight.  I had a brief conversation with Beth and she talked about her recent driving experience at the Great Barrier Reef.  This just means that I have to spend some more money and get SCUBA certified before leaving the Mount.  There is a place that does certifications and I’ll be able to drive while on my biking trip.
Can you see Taupo behind me?
Sunday was packed with 2 hikes and a fair bit of driving.  We started in Taupo and headed east on Hw5 and turned off shortly after Hw1 and did the Mt Tauhara hike that starts, much like many other hikes I have been on, on a farmer’s property.  We walked through his pasture to a white fence post in the middle of nowhere and kept following them until we reached a couple of water tanks.  It was here that we entered the tree line and the “real” trek started.  We almost had the trail to ourselves, but a young couple pulled up right after us.  We walked through a dense forest to the 1,088 m summit where we were going to be provided with magnificent views of Lake Taupo and the city of Taupo.  However, the cloud cover or fog blocked all of our views and kept barraging us with a windchill that forced our time at the top to be cut short.  As it was, we explored the ridge line for about an hour.  As we were exiting the woods to start our walk through the pasture, we encountered several other trekkers and they were keen to ask about the track and the visibility.  I quickly relayed the following information.  It was about 2.5km to the summit and it took us under an hour each to get there and back.  The visibility at the top wasn’t allowing us the magnificent views we were expecting.  However, the walk itself is very pleasant.
Robo is this the path down?

After that we jumped in the car and drove north along Hw1 as we were headed to Te Aroha, which coincidentally is not all that far from where I am living except for the Kaimai Mountain Range between us.  We ate at a really good place called Ron’s Roast and then made our intentions known about staying at the local YHA ran by Dannie and Helen Young.  The hostel is interesting as they don't have any staff on site.  You are greeted with a sign saying claimed rooms will have a sign on them.  So we made up the beds that we choose to sleep in that night.  I thought it was common practice to make the bed you wished to use for the evening as they are typically unmade in the dorms.  If the bed is already made, then either take the towel on it or place an article (book,etc) on the bed.  Evidently coming into a room and seeing 2 out of 4 beds made up means that they are all free and that you can pick one of the made up beds.  Yes this happened to Skog.  Evidently while we were out seeing the Wairere Waterfall another person decided to “claim” a bed that we had already claimed by making it up.  There was a brief discussion and Skog was the bigger man and took the double bed instead of the bunk below me.  Interestingly enough the guy had stayed there the week before and would be in my mind be classified as a nutter.  He was getting his classical music fix and I told him I played the classical on my violin for many years and he quickly retorted that he didn't like the strings.  Um, so what kind of classical does he listen to?  I don't know but the stuff on the record player happened to be mainly piano.  We got into a debate if a piano was a stringed instrument and I said no.
These times are not indicative of our times

Te Aroha local art
The home of Hobbiton, Matamata.
The Wairere Falls walk could be described as an ankle breaker as there are plenty of spots where one could easily roll their ankle.  The rocks are slick from all the moisture and the rocks are not always positioned in a flat step like fashion.  However, much of the walk has been well planned and executed.  There are log stairs and processed wood bridges and steps.  There are also natural material switchbacks.  All of these lead to a couple spectacular views.  The first is the lower viewing point of the falls where you can see the entire waterfall from a short distance off.  The second view is at the summit and its right next to the falls.  You can see the water running over the edge and can feel the water sprinkles.  The views up here are stunning as you can see a good way out in the distance.  One of the nearest cities, Matamata, is the home of Hobbiton.  We stopped at their I-Site to ask for directions and we ended up with pictures of Gollum and a Hobbiton sign.  Also a lot of the shops had signs in the LOTR font.  I wonder how much tourism has increased because of the films and how much the new Hobbit Trilogy will impact that number as well.  Despite my nerdiness, it wasn’t a factor in the decision to move here.  It was all the outdoor activities one can do.  As Skog and I drive around the North Island, we are constantly shown signs about a reserve this way or a park over here.  Talking to the hostel owner in Te Aroha, who has been here for over 30 years, he hasn’t done a lot of things in his own backyard of the Kaimai.  
Fuel for Wairere Falls, Lamb Roast

This brings up a conversation I had with Skog about not experiencing all that MN has to offer.  I would like to do the Superior Trail, Boundary Waters Canoe Trip, bike the Iron Range, to visiting Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.  I wonder if I could get a job promoting MN Tourism and enticing other local residents to enjoy what our great state has to offer instead of vacationing elsewhere.  I know that I do love traveling and experiencing foreign things, but I have a great backyard that I haven’t fully experienced myself yet I keep running away every chance I get.  Maybe I should create a list of things to do locally before I collect another stamp in my passport. 
The 2 falls of Wairere Falls.

Dannie and I had some good conversations as he is a Canadian living in New Zealand for the last 30+ years.  His side gig is running the hostel with his Kiwi wife.  We had a good chuckle about insulation and double paned glass and the lack of both here.  We also talked about the many tracks to do in the Kaimai and about my upcoming cycling adventure.  One of the cool things about Te Aroha is that they have a Rail Trail going through the town.  If you have never experienced one of these, they are a fairly easy ride over crushed rock and are fairly straight with little drastic elevation change. I've done the Glacial Drumlin Trail in WI several times.  He also recommended that we drive an alternative way back to Auckland that had us go through the Hunua Ranges Regional Park around the Firth of Thames.  I believe I found a road that will get me to the Coromandel Peninsula without having to get on the major highways.

We are back at the Skyway Lodge not to be confused with the Skyway Lounge.  We have an early morning flight over to Australia where we'll be looking to go out to the Blue Mountains for some fun and a gorging at Nishiki.  If this is like the all-they-will-serve-us we had in Hakuba Japan last year, we'll be impacting their bottom line for the night.  Well its time to grab some dinner and think about catching some sleep as we have to leave for the airport at 3:45am.  Small price to pay for an international flight I guess.

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