Sarah Mcmurray

Joined May 2015Living in: Denver, United States
  • Day19

    Last night in the van

    May 19 in New Zealand

    But not our last night in New Zealand.

    Tomorrow is Sunday, and some accounting needed to be made of our return of the van. We had wrongly thought that you could return the van at any time, like any rental car. Turns out, you can only return during business hours; so we will need to be returning the van Sunday evening, rather than Monday morning.

    We've located a potential congregation called Morningside, and are spending our last van night just south of Auckland, on the coast of the Firth of Thames. This is in the southern portion of the Hauraki Gulf. If you're like us, you're wondering what a firth is. I'll save you the google. It's a narrow ocean inlet, an estuary.

    Leaving Raglan this morning, we stopped for breakfast back in the charming surf town. Our tiny fridge is running low on groceries. It's important to note, when traveling in a camper van, that you will need time for grocery shopping, and the fixing of food. I have refrained from detailing these delightful grocery runs. But we have really enjoyed them - so many different fruits, or varieties of fruits, un-homogenized dairy, unusual brands and ideas for food, salamis galore, and styles of bacon, and of course the honey. New Zealand is famous for it.

    But as I say, we stopped for breakfast. Nate got avocado, and I got mushrooms. As it turns out, these are rather typical New Zealand breakfasts. I've started to see the avocado on toast pop up in the states. I won't hold my breath for the mushrooms though.

    On the way out of town we stopped at Bridal Veil falls. A lava flow had stopped at one point in time, and a seemingly lazy river was careening out over mid air to drop 55 meters. It didn't come down along the rock face, or cascade over boulders, it dove down with nothing else. And the lava formation was quite gorgeous. You could see the columnar joints (similar to those in Iceland), but they curved around the cliff side, apparently a result of non-uniform cooling.

    The falls had a variety of viewing platforms, from right on top of them nearly, to the bottom. It was good exercise to travel down those 261 steps and then back up again.

    Every day we try to minimize drive time, and maximize sight seeing and relaxing. So we decided to stay slightly south of Auckland, such that we could wake up, and drive in to worship in reasonable time. So looking around on the map for an area that might be good, we landed on Miranda Hot Springs.

    The town appears tiny, known only for the hot springs and migratory wading birds. And the nearest larger town, Thames, is also quite small, known for once being a gold town. The fall season is somewhat unpredictable. The nights are quite chilly, and there are frequent downpours. It's not a season good for every activity, but it is great for hot springs. So spending our last van night in an out of the way, little known hot spring sounded like a great way to unwind.

    Imagine my surprise to find this the most crowded campground to date. They matter, the stories we write in our heads. The above was the story I framed for myself. The real story is that it's Saturday, and this is one of the closest hot springs to Auckland, and a pretty easy drive (why we picked it after all!). There appears to be at least one family reunion here, and some kind of Indian ladies' retreat. At one point, I counted at least 26 Indian ladies in the hot pool.

    We drove over to Thames and had dinner in pub built in 1869. It was delicious. We both agree that the food here has been exceptionally good. It's not cheap, but given the quality, it's much less than Denver prices. And even the littlest most out of the way towns will have incredibly good food.

    The hot pool was also large and the temperature perfect. Even with all the company, we had plenty of space to ourselves.

    I made a few last videos of Nate transforming the van into a bed.
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  • Day18

    Raglan

    May 18 in New Zealand

    I love the mountains, but nothing beats a westerly facing beach for a sunset.

    Nate got up first thing this morning to take a run around Raglan, a west coast beach down. I was a bit more leisurely and started my day reading my New Zealand fiction of choice - the Luminaries. It's quite good. A fictional novel set in a real place and time period, near the time of the invasion by the british and centered around gold mining. Being here has gotten me interested in a number of other New Zealand novels I was considering reading, especially around the Maori/European interactions. I'm already glad I read Katherine Mansfield's collection of short stories. I didn't recognize them as being particularly New Zealand-y at the time, but now that I'm here, they are continually brought to mind.

    Here in this beach town, so many of the flowers are taking center stage. Flowers like I've never seen anywhere else before, and this in late fall!

    It was a lovely long day of walking. We were blessed with the rain clearing up after the morning. We ate a leisurely breakfast with more delicious golden kiwis and manuka honey in yogurt. Then we set off along Nate's jogging route. He had seen many things he wanted to show me.

    The tide in Raglan bay was very in, and we walked along the beach, and a waterside board walk. Many of the huge trees had plaques nailed to them naming them "Notable Trees". We went out to the wharf, where men were fishing, and artisans were making lovely handmade crafts, from pottery to leather sandals.

    We ate the best fish and chips of my life. There were about 8 different types of fish to choose from, many of which must be local, as I'd never heard their like, and 3 kinds of fish. We chose Snapper for the fish and kumara chips. She asked if we wanted 1 or 2 pieces of fish. We said 2, as we were sharing. We got 4. It was great. Really great.

    Raglan is known for being a surf town, and having black sand beaches. They are in fact very black and gorgeous. Nate and I took a long walk this evening out of the bay and out to the open ocean to watch the sunset. When we got there we were thrilled to watch about 12 para-surfers careening around the bay.

    I've never seen this before. It was incredible. They would guide their parachutes straight ahead of them to build up speed. They looked to be going as fast as a speed boat. Then they would launch themselves into the air! They must've gone up 20-50 feet, and just seemed to float there forever, lifted by their sail. A slow count of 5 to even 10 seconds, they hovered. Or flipped. Or turned directions in mid air.

    How does one even begin to learn how to do this? I was inspired to take up a new hobby; but eventually talked myself down to getting my scuba certification as a next step.

    We hiked up on a high ridge overlooking the beach. The sunset did not disappoint.
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  • Day17

    Waitomo Glow Worm Caves

    May 17 in New Zealand

    Glow worms aren't actually worms. They're said to be the larval stage of a fly. The fly only lives for 3 days though, and has no mouth, so it starves to death after mating. The glow worm lives for 9 months, hanging beautiful strings of glue droplets down from its clear, worm sleeping bag, to catch insects. Once an insect gets caught in one, the worm slides over, and pulls it up like a fishing line.

    Glow worms live near water. Insects attracted to water come into a cave system, then fly upward toward the glow worm's glowing light. A cave full of them looks like a beautiful starry night.

    Waitomo has the most famous glow worm caves in New Zealand. There's a whole system of multiple caves, and we went into one called Foot Whistle. It's named for a gorgeous formation that the discoverers thought looked like a train whistle on top of a foot. As our guide noted, it takes a little imagination to see it.

    Nate and I chose to do a tubing tour through the caves. Tubes in New Zealand are truly little tire tubes, not the gigantic ones we use in the states to float down streams. A big tube like that honestly wouldn't have even fit through some of the passages.

    The winter wetsuit was tight, the water a bit chilly, and the tour absolutely fantastic. A highlight of the trip for sure, and no one should miss it that comes to this country.

    The sun came out beautifully after breakfast, and our tour started with a hike ovver farmlands to get to the cave entrance. My suit was so tight, I felt like a filled sausage trying to walk uphill, and probably looked like one too.

    The opening to the cave was steep, a crack down through the jungle floor, with wooden steps going down down down. We walked further into the cave, began walking through wet paths, and ended up walking through water about knee high.

    We heard a waterfall up ahead. He made me the leader, turned off all our lights, and made an insanely loud crashing sound. It not only startled me, it startled every glow worm in the cave. All their strings felt the vibration, and every worm turned on. You could see the "sky" light up above you.

    He had us put our right hand on the wall beside us, and everyone put their left hand on the person in front of them. All except me, as I was the leader. I thought he might lead me, but he didn't. He told me to stop before I got to the waterfall and then went off ahead in the darkness. We felt our way through the dark, looking up above us at the twinkling sky, and all the while the water was getting deeper, and the waterfall louder.

    I knew it must be some ploy of the guide, designed to add intensity to the tour. I imagined him up there laughing at our conversation. But truly it worked! Eventually I couldn't touch the ground anymore even on tip toes, and the wall became hard to hold onto. Nate switched with me because he was taller, and could better lead.

    I was impressed with his impetuousness. He had actually never been in a real cave before, and wasn't even sure if he would be claustrophobic (turned out he wasn't, thankfully). Eventually though, he coudn't touch either, and switched on his headlamp. The guide was seating a few feet in fornt and above us on a chair smiling. He said most people switched their headlights on about 30 feet back.

    I won't recount every detail, but the triip had several thrills in addition to the worms. We had to fall backward down the miniwaterfall and were submerged in gave water. We floated along holding the feet of the persons behind us, pulled ourselves on ropes, and went down a hugh metal slide and a breaking speed. But the glow worms were really magical.

    We were so happy we did the tour. After a hot lunch, we continued north to Raglan.
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  • Day16

    Forgotten World

    May 16 in New Zealand

    We started our morning at the Taumarunui Holiday Park, one of the least populated campgrounds of our visit, which I very much loved. The bathrooms were free, the kitchen was empty, the laundry was open, the shower was warm. I think in good weather, they may have had kayaks for use. There was a little put in near the campground, and I saw boats stacked up back in the woods.

    Canoeing and kayaking is apparently a big deal down the Wanganui River, which our campsite backed up to. Good thing we got our little kayak trip in up north, as down here the rivers all seemed very flooded. The rain continued off and on throughout the day.

    We wanted to explore the forgotten world highway, and decided our best bet was to drive it down to Whangamomona, have our meal at the famed Whangamomona Hotel, and then continue our trek north.

    The Forgotten World Highway is New Zealand's oldest heritage trail, and has a number of attractions along its route. Even though I had a list of attractions we wanted to look at, we honestly couldn't find them all. The highway truly did seem forgotten. They call it upsy downsy, and it's clearly a challenging route to maintain.

    Today, landslides and rock slides were prevalent. It was both interesting and unnerving to observe. Huge portions of the road had collapsed, and very large boulders and mud slides had come down into the road. These were some of the steepest most undulating sheep farms I've ever seen, and the Tangarakau Gorge seemed primatively untouched.

    The forest in the Tangarakau Gorge is called podocarp, and the road here is also unpaved. All the rain made magnificent displays of waterfalls everywhere! Fall after fall after fall was spurting out of the rock walls on both sides of the road. Some fell hundreds of feet, some less than 10 as they spurted out of the greenery.

    We stopped for a break and a walk at the grave of Joshua Morgan, a very early surveyor and trail blazer in the gorge. He died at 35, and they buried him there in the gorge.

    The river there was rushing, as it was everywhere. Every stream had become a river, and every river had overflowed its banks. Huge trees had fallen all over farms and hillsides. Ones that didn't fall were drown over in the floods. Even hillsides in sheep pastures became waterfalls in places. But zero livestock seemed to mind, and the cows appeared quick frolicky.

    Whangamomona is funny for not only having the only restaurant on the route, but for being its own republic. It declared itself such in 1989. The revolt started with political dispute, but didn't seem to take itself very seriously ever after. Only one of its presidents has been human.

    The hotel is truly old, as it was settled in 1895, and was going strong into the 1960s. It's filled with antique photos of the town, and warmed by a wooden stove. You can even get your passport stamped with their own stamp for their region. Of course we did. We were each tempted by the venison sausages, which were delicious.

    As happens every day, the end of the day arrives. Today we broke our policy of finding a campsite by 5.30p. Our next stop is north at the famed Waitomo glow worm caves, and there was some concern if all the flooding was going to further damage our Forgotten Highway. So we pulled into our Waitomo campground tonight around 8p, and are beat.
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  • Day15

    Tongariro National Park

    May 15 in New Zealand

    Alternate title: Mt. Doom gets cloudy.

    We awoke to a beautiful view on the north side of Lake Taupo. A great freedom camping site, it had one pit toilet, or as they say here, a long drop toilet. We agreed that we wished we could stay longer everywhere to just enjoy our many gorgeous campsites. Each one has lovely hikes and walks all around it. And Lake Taupo was huge and very gorgeous in the sunrise.

    It's not as large as one of the great lakes, but still very large. It took us about 40 minutes to drive from the north at Taupo, to the south end at Turangi. So we got on the road right away, and got breakfast at a cafe connected to a bait shop (Taupo is known for trout fishing), connected to gas station. I had the full mixed grill, which included "streaky" bacon, sausages that are very finely ground with an outer casing that feels like paper, eggs and cooked tomatoe. And a flat white of course.

    Our destination today was Tongariro National Park, and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. This was New Zealand's first national park, and the 4th ever in the world. In 1887, after the Land Wars, a foward thinking Maori cheif gave it en tact to the crown as a national park. He feard that their sacred area would be parceled up and turned into sheep pastures, like so much of the charming countryside today.

    The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is considered one of New Zealand's "Great Walks", and the best one day walk. Nate had massaged my calves the day previous, and so I felt reasonably recovered after our Mt. Te Aroha hike. It's about 20km, that's estimated to take 6-8 hours to complete.

    In traveling, it's important to accept that weather is weather. So when an enormous cloud came and settled over the entire park, completely covering all 3 volcanoes, well, we were disappointed. But it also had its interest. I was reminded of seeing the Isle of Skye in Scotland. What typically looked like the home of faries in all the photos, was freezing, driving rain the whole day we were there. And the time I went camping in Denali. I gave myself 3 full days at the campsite to try and capture the photo I wanted, but when the whole state caught on fire, I coudln't even tell I was camping at the base of one of the tallest peaks in North America.

    The best you can do in planning for weather, if you don't have unlimited time, is just plan to dress for it. Which we did. With long johns, and sweaters, and rainproof layers, and hats, we set out with snacks and water.

    When in nature, I highly suggest taking a professional geologist with you everywhere. If you don't have your own geologist, I have one I can recommend. Nate was terrific at describing the geologic landscape to me, and found many interesting rocks to examine. Lava rocks had been thrown everywhere, black, twisted and craggy. They were fascinating. And the clouds rising and lowering over the valley gave everything a very mystical and primitive feel. Twisted craggy shadows would emerge out of the mist and vanish again.

    To our right was Mt. Ngauruhoe, the famed Mt. Doom of Lord of the Rings, and to our left was Mt. Tongoriro. Both of them young, active volcanoes. Mt. Doom is the youngest volcanoe on the island, and until 1975 was eruping every 9 years. Unfortunately, you'd never know we were walking between them. The mountains were not visible at all.

    We made our way 5 km in to Soda Springs, through intermittent rain and wind, and then headed back out. Heading over alpine crossings in stormy weather is strongly discouraged in Colorado, as well as New Zealand. And the view would'nt've improved. It was predicted to rain through Thursday.

    I have to say, I had been rather intimidated by the hike. After all, locals acted like Mt. Te Aroha was a 3 hour jaunt, and it had been extremely difficult. There are multiple warnings surrounding the Tongoriro Alpine Crossing, about how tough it is, and requires a high level of fitness, etc. But now I think that primarily has to do with the popularity of the hike. The more popular the hike, the more information abounds, the more people do it, and the more tourists do it badly. I now definitely think I could've completed the Tongariro crossing in 8 hours with an early start and good weather. Mt. Te Aroha was much more brutal.

    We've now started our shift north, up the western coast. We'll explore the Forgotten World Highway tomorrow.
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  • Day14

    Geothermical Activity

    May 14 in New Zealand

    Between Rotorua and Taupo is a loop of crazy geothermal activity. Turns out that the north island of New Zeland is made from the joining of two tectonic plates, and this region is a result. Yesterday afternoon we toured Waimangu Volcanic Valley, and today we did Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, and Orakei Korako, on the west side of the loop.

    Again, it continued to feel like a young, tropical Yellowstone. And the landscape lends itself to certain themes. Mainly, anything to do with the Devil, Hell, or a frying pan. Devil's bath, devil's home, devil's throat, and so forth.

    We started the day with the Lady Knox Geyser at 10.15a in Waiotapu. I was at first intensely surprised that the guide crossed the fence and walked right up to the geyeser to do her speech at 10.13a. I thought it must be incredibly predictable. And it is, sort of. She went on the explain a story of some workmen working nearby in the bush, who wanted to find a way to wash their clothes. So they got them wet, sudsed them up, and put them in the hotspring nearby. Where apparently the surfactant agent of the soap caused the hot pool to turn into a geyser!

    So now they take the Lady Knox Geyeser, which is somewhat unpredictable, and put soap in her at 10.15 every morning and she shortly thereafter massively erupts. For a very long time. It was great. The only part that wasn't great was all the other tourists.

    Even in this off season, tourists can run amuck. There was a bedlam of media, cameras on tripods, everyone standing in the way, taking selfies simultanous to someone taking their actual photo. And not just one selfie! 20! From every angle. And then let's start on the cute ones where we pretend to hold up the geyeser etc. I really started to pop my own top, and had to ask multiple people to stop standing in front of me.

    Given this ridiculous tourism disiplay, the end of the day was quite nice. Orakei Korako is off the beaten track a little. The price includes a ferry across the river, and the park contains the largest silica terrace on the island. Nate and I ran into no one else on the walk. Open holes in the earth were everywhere, big and small. The whole place was smoldering and venting. One of my favorite parts was probably the mud pools, which were bubbling with the consistency of a pudding.

    I wouldn't mind staying in this region longer, but there's more to do tomorrow as we make our way down to Tongariro National Park. That's likely as far south as we'll go, as we need to start making our way back north up the west side of the island. I'd reccomend for folks coming over, give yourself a month for each island. There's a lot of amazing things packed into this tiny place.
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  • Day13

    Rotorua

    May 13 in New Zealand

    This is a trip of many goals. Many milestones. The first, I saw a whale. Today, I saw the world's largest boiling lake. Not insignificant, I went to Hobbiton yesterday.

    It's mother's day in New Zealand, as it is in America also. We tentatively located a church in town. It had no website, and seemed a bit doubtful, but it was the best plan we had going so we set out for the 10:30a service. A very tiny and diverse group of believers met there. Five, to be exact, so we made seven. Two south Indian teachers, a New Zealand truck driver and his wife who had been battling cancer for 20 years, and I believe a Maori gentleman. I'm glad we went, and I believe we were an encouragment to them. I plan to give them a rating on google at least, so others can find them and know what to expect.

    It was pouring rain in the morning, which made transporting our breakfast supplies to the community kitchen a bit uncomfortable. I honestly looked all over trying to get a handle on what to expect of weather in May, and had a hard time. Some aspects of NZ are widely popularized, and others not a bit. As it turns out, what I never learned, but what everyone knows, is that winter is the rainy season here. We just hadn't experienced it yet, as May is a fall transition.

    Thankfully, the sun started peaking out after the morning's service, and so we set out for one of the primary reasons we chose the North Island - Waimangu Volcanic Valley, and Frying Pan Lake, the world's largest boiling lake. I've been wanting to see it ever since I went to the world's SECOND largest boiling lake, in Dominica. That still stands as the toughest hike I've ever done in my life. And today was actually a leisurely downhill stroll. Ahhhh.

    But the lake, and the park, did not disappoint. It was a tourist site long before the lake existed. In the late 1800s, it was the site of a geyser that is still the largest ever recorded, that massively exploded every 36 hours. The pictures are just really unbelievable. In 1917, mt Tarawera, a still active volcano, erupted, and completely changed the landscape, blowing out what was once Frying Pan Flats, and making the lake. The rest of the geothermal sites, the pink and white terraces, were also covered in water, in what is now Lake Rotomahana.

    Everything everywhere is venting, smoking, bubbling and spurting. And the water is very acidic, with pH's at 2-3. Nate and I agreed it reminded us of a young, tropical Yellowstone. It is, in fact, considered the newest geothermal site in the world, and it was remained unaltered, and highly studied since the big 1917 eruption.

    An unexpected bit of wildlife: the place is thick with black swans! I counted at least 21 of them swimming and dunking all over the steaming Lake Rotomahana.
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  • Day12

    A day of two springs

    May 12 in New Zealand

    A motivating factor for me in our hike on Mt Te Aroha yesterday was the thought of their famous mineral springs. Their famed waters are crystal clear, and bicarbonate. There's no sulfur smell or discoloration, which they vaunt over Rotorua hot baths. The soda water is supposed to be especially good for sore muscles, and my feet, ankles, calves, knees, hips and quads were all sore.

    Sadly, when we finally reached the base of the mountain, the baths were all booked. So we made a reservation this morning just before heading out.

    They were as lovely as advertised. Crystal clear, the perfect temperature, each tub is a private room. And it felt great on my aching muscles.

    Then it was a quick drive down to Hobbiton. Of course I had to see the Shire. It was a rainy misty day all over this region. At some points the fog was incredibly thick, and once on the tour, we took umbrellas. It would take more than rain to affect the charmingness of tiny hobbit holes though. There was quite a bit of interesting trivia over several items about the set, but tonight is too late for me to write in detail.

    Because after Hobbiton we got on the road again and headed for Rotorua. We've landed in Rotorua Thermal Holiday Park, which had its own springs free for the soaking. They are quite terrific, and not nearly as stinky as the "Naffa" springs we hit first. We're both pretty sure that doing our laundry with the Naffa swimsuits in it, has given a faint stink to all of our clothes.

    Certainly the whole town here has a sulfury smell though. And driving in, it was hard to tell what was fog coming down, and what was steam coming up all around. We have three geological parks we plan to visit in the next two days, full of geysers, mud volcanoes, hot springs, and the world's largest boiling lake.

    Time for me to get my 9 hours.
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  • Day11

    Te Aroha means love

    May 11 in New Zealand

    Mt. Te Aroha is the tallest peak in the Kaimai-Mamaku Forest park. The trail head starts at the spa, with the world's only known hot soda water geyser. The water is heated over magma and filled with bicarbonate, which it spouts every 45 minutes or so.

    When compared with Old Faithful, or most geysers in Yellowstone, the geyser in Te Aroha seems amusingly small. Some noisy spurts. But its chemical uniqueness make it fun to see.

    Everyone we talked to here asked what we're doing, are we going all the way to the summit? And wanted to tell us it would take 2 hours or less if we're used to hiking. Nate & I would like to know when the last time was any of those folks actually went all the way to the summit. I thought I had read the hike was around 6 hours, but everyone was saying around 3.5 round trip, so I thought I must be confused. I'd read a lot of NZ stuff before arriving after all.

    The first part of the trail starts off going to the lookout area, which looks down over the town of Te Aroha. It was steep going. Several people seemed to take it in as their work out or some such, heading up to the look out and back. The ascent was steep and relentless for probably 1- 1.5 hrs. The mountain is steep, and so is the track up it. To the right was a huge drop off. It wasn't too scary though, as all the trees and brush were there to break your fall. This was still somewhat of a semi-tropical forest. There's no tree line, just lush greenery all the way to the top.

    While the greenery was fascinating and different, I ended up getting a bit tired of it. Since I couldn't see out, I could never tell how far up we had come in relation to the other peaks, or the town below. Just ferns and vines, and vines on trees, and ferns on trees, and ferns going on vines.

    After reaching the look out we sat a spell and chatted with a local, who told us not to be too pround not to go to the top. So we set out for the next 2/3 of our journey, and that's when it really got tough.

    If this was Colorado or Utah, I know there would have been signage, and warnings, and ratings of this being a primitive trail, and very difficult. Here there was an arrow. I don't actually even know how many kilometers we climbed, because any signs that had additional information, just gave us their time estimate! 2-3 hours up, 1.5 hours back.

    Primitive would probably even be an understatement. It was like doing huge lunges for 6 hours. I've never been on such a continuously steep trail in my life. We agreed it was like the Hanging Lake trail times 15. Most of the time I was surprised it was even a trail. It looked more like a rock fall, or roots clinging to an eroded hillside we were climbing, or just a washed out rivulet. When there were no tree roots or rock slides, logs were strapped into the mud as a staircase.

    The top was gorgeous and magnificent. We were above the clouds and every surrounding green peak. We stopped a moment for our snack, and finished just in time before it started raining. Luckily the rain stayed light, as I began to be concerned about sliding all the way down the mountain.

    The fear of rain was soon succeeded by the fear of dark. It was taking us much too long, dusk was falling, and under the tree canopy, even less light was able to penetrate. I could feel my legs shaking, but tried to go even faster to get out of the most treacherous parts before night. We succeeded in getting back down to the first part of the trail before it got really dark.

    It was funny to review the trail in reverse. I had thouht that first part so hard, until I saw the second half! Now I was happy to be back on the "easy" part. We could see lights in the town turning on below, but there were no lights in the forest, it only got darker.

    I had had one bad fall up on the treacherous part, I slipped on a root, and both of my shins slammed into respective roots on my way down. Nate slide down a set of steps that had gotten damp. We had a huge number of near misses. Finally, down in the final stretch, it was so dark I misplaced my foot in a rooty rocky area, and fell all the way down. It was a fall in stages, I coudln't seem to stop, finally nearly landing on my face.

    At that point, I turned on my cellphone flashlight. I had avoided it for as long as possible, fearful that it might drain my battery too early and leave us in the dark. But we were very close by then, and made it out happy and whole.

    Dinner at the Taj was huge. We were exhausted and got their banquet special, taking about half of it back to the camper van as well.

    Trying our first night of freedom camping.
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  • Day10

    Leaving the Northland

    May 10 in New Zealand

    I could spend weeks in the Northland I believe. The Northland is what they call they north part of the north island, I have deduced. It's rather a tropical paradise. Very moist. This morning was a heavy dew and thick fog over Waiwera.

    We stayed in another little park with a big gate the locked at 7p. Our new camping goal is to always find a campground before 5.30p. It typically is getting dark by 6p, and then things get tricky. Swamp chickens were fearlessly everywhere this morning, and I finally got some good photos of the odd screamy things. We breakfasted on a bench overlooking the bay beside our camping spot. A quick breakfast of kiwi, feijoas, and bush honey on yogurt. With coffee and unhomogenized milk. Yum.

    Due to time constraints, we decided to cut our visit to Hot Water beach, which was on the northern tip of the Coromandel Peninsula. It looks amazing, but there's just so much to do, we decided to concentrate on things that aren't big drives out and back. So we headed straight to the little town of Te Aroha.

    It's at the base of Mt. Te Aroha, which is a Maori word for Love. It's a restored Edwardian era spa town and is quite charming. Tomorrow we'll hike to the top of Mt. Te Aroha, and do some exploring around the spa complex.

    This evening we were checking it out, and soaked our feet in the free foot soaking spa they had on the hillside. This region is less tropical, and you can see that it is actually fall. Ginko leaves are turning yellow and lovely.

    Aside from some early curfews, we've been having great luck with camp sites. Because it's the shoulder season, nothing is booked up. Tonight we're staying in Te Aroha Holiday Park, which is said to be one of the last classic holiday partks in the area. I don't know exactly what that means in context, but the buildings do seem to be of an oder architecture, and the place is quaint and fun.

    I spent a little time reading my book in a hammock. Then Nate & I played on their playground while we were waiting for their hot spring to open. The play ground says it's for children, but it was honestly quite intimidating for adults to conquor. It's made of huge logs and metal rope. There's no rubber padding or safety anything. It was quite fun and the danger was a little thrilling. They also had old bicycle pedal 'go-karts', and a huge zip line! Included for free. That was really pretty terrifying. I sat on a handmade wooden disk on a knot in a rope and stepped off a very high platform. I wasn't exactly sure what would happen at the end. I thought I might slow down, but I didn't at all. There was a telephone beam with a pad strapped on it ahead of me, but before I hit it, a spring above me caught me, and then shot me backward! I called Nate over to come grab the rope so I could stop moving and get off.

    After all of this terrifying fun, their hot spring pool was open. I pretty much picked this site as it included a free hot spring soak. They open up their natural hot spring pool for only about 2 hours every evening.I thought everyone else must've picked this campground for the same reason, and so I was stressing to hurry up and be the first in the pool before it filled up with other campers. But to my surprise & delight, we had the whole thing to ourselves the whole time.
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