Detomo's Abroad

Detomos Abroad

Archive for March, 2016

Adventures “Down Under” AUS

March 13, 2016 7:59 pm

January 2016

After nearly 3 weeks in lovely New Zealand, we could not return home without spending at least a little time in Australia! Since the east coast of Australia was only a few hours away, we flew from the end of our Backroads Trip in Queenstown to Sydney, Australia.
Part-3: Visiting the Cities of Australia’s East Coast
We arrived at the airport in Sydney midday on Thursday, and caught a taxi to The Swiss Hotel, where we would be spending the next few nights. It was located in the middle of downtown, near the Metro train station, but within walking distance of the harbor, bridge and opera house. That afternoon, we explored the streets and shops around the hotel, stopped for sandwiches and a bottle of wine, and spent the evening planning and making reservations for our activities over the next few days.

Julie & Pam under a large fig tree at the Sydney Conservatory of Music

Julie & Pam under a large fig tree at the Sydney Conservatory of Music

Friday started out rainy, but it did not deter us from walking to the Conservatory of Music at the entrance of the Government House, built in the 1850’s. It was an historic building that was nearly fully restored, and it was surrounded by old and magnificent gardens, including 160-year-old fig trees that dwarfed anything around them. As the weather began to clear, we strolled down to Sydney Harbour and along the waters of Farm Cove to the iconic Sydney Opera House, where we had reservations to tour the building. The Opera House had a long, storied history as it was built from a design mimicking sails, submitted by Jorn Utzon of Denmark, without any certainty that it could actually be built. The early cost estimates were in the $12 million range, and at the end of the day, it ended up costing over $100 million! Jorn oversaw the construction for the site preparation and outer shells of the buildings, but disputes drove him from the project back to Denmark, and he never set foot in Australia again. The infrastructure goes 5 stories down beneath the opera house and studios that everyone sees, as this is where the offices, delivery docks, and infrastructure is all located. We toured all of the buildings and took “peeks” at rehearsals and sets in the playhouse and studio theaters, as well as the opera house and symphony house. After the Sydney Opera House tour, we took a ferry for the hour-long trip to the town of Manly, located near the entrance to the Harbour, and home of iconic surfing legends. Once there, we walked on the Manly beach, watched the surfers and surfing classes, and explored the town and local botanical gardens. After a nice Mexican lunch at the wharf, we caught the ferry back to Sydney. On the way back to our hotel, we stopped into the famous Queen Victoria Building, a palatial building converted into a high-class shopping mall, full of stained glass windows and ceiling, and decorated with beautiful and colorful floor tiles. Hanging strategically within the mall are two large animated clocks that play on the hour. That night we ate Chinese before returning to the hotel for wine and a rousing game of Eucher (cards).

View of the Sydney Opera House from the top of Sydney Harbour

View of the Sydney Opera House from the top of Sydney Harbour

 

One of the famous clocks suspended in the Queen Victoria Building

One of the famous clocks suspended in the Queen Victoria Building

On Saturday, we walked to “The Strand” and ate an Aussie breakfast – Italian style. Then we purchased “Opal Cards” for $10 each which would get us free travel all day tomorrow (Sunday) on the Metro train (and bus, and ferry) system. We then walked through Hyde park to St. Mark’s Cathedral, which had preserved its original wood buttresses and relics of the dead. Then we headed over to the Sydney Botanical Gardens, where we had lunch, and then, finally back down to the water’s edge onto Mrs. Macquarie Point, where we each sat in Mrs. Macquarie’s chair and took pictures of the water, flowers and ourselves. From here, we stopped for a tour through the New South Wales (NSW) State library to see the “What a Life” rock music photography display by Tony Mott, and an emotional flower exhibit in commemoration of the nearby Martin Place Siege of December 16 ,2014, where Sydney residents lost their lives. We then walked to the Sydney Harbour Bridge for our sunset hike to the top of the bridge. Upon arriving, we had to undergo a breathalyzer test before changing clothes into jumpsuits, where every single thing on your person could be hooked on or clamped down – no watches – no earrings – no cameras! After passing through metal detectors, we were strapped into harnesses that connected each of us to a stainless steel cable that would run the length of the climb and tour. Our small group of 12 then climbed through and up the beams of the heaviest steel bridge in the world, until reaching the top of the upper beam, which we then proceeded to walk on, until we reached the summit at the middle of the bridge, just as the sun was setting. Our guide took pictures of each of us, and our group of four, and Julie and I sent Mike his 35th Birthday Wishes via a short video. We then made our way back down with the whole trip taking nearly 3 hours. That night, it was simple burgers for dinner, and, after having walked over 25 miles that day, we simply had a few nightcaps and went to bed.

Rocky & Julie at the top of Sydney Harbour Bridge

Rocky & Julie at the top of Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sunday morning, we used our Opal cards to negotiate our way onto a Metro train out of Sydney to Featherdale Wildlife Park. The hour-long train ride was followed by a brief bus ride to the gates of the Park just in time for its daily opening. Inside, we were treated to seeing much of the native wildlife of Australia, including its huge crocodiles, its numerous types of kangaroos, and it strange assortment of birds, reptiles and other mammals. We had the good fortune to pet a koala bear, to feed an assortment of wallabies and kangaroos, and to see the “little penguins” eat close-up. After the day there, we had a late lunch before taking the bus and train back to Sydney. Once in Sydney, we walked back to the Harbour Bridge to climb to the top of one of the bridge’s massive pylons for a final scenic view of the city. After taking pictures there, we stopped in a nearby pub in an area known as “The Rocks” to have dinner and to watch the Green Bay Packers play their NFL Playoff game on Australian television. To A.J.’s dismay – they lost! We finished off a great day with a game of cards in our room and an Australian bottle of wine.

Julie petting a Koala Bear at Featherdale Wildlife Park

Julie petting a Koala Bear at Featherdale Wildlife Park

Rocky feeding a Wallaby at Featherdale Wildlife Park

Rocky feeding a Wallaby at Featherdale Wildlife Park

 

Australia's "Little Penguins" getting ready to eat

Australia’s “Little Penguins” getting ready to eat

 

View of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from its pylon

View of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from its pylon

It was now Monday, January 18th, and time to leave Sydney. After a taxi ride to the airport, we caught a flight to Melbourne, Australia and taxied into the heart of town to the Pegasus Hotel. Once checked in, the four of us explored Burke street and went to a local restaurant on the corner for dinner. Again we gathered to make plays for our time in the city, to enjoy a lively game of cards, and to drink the local wine, before calling it a night.
Tuesday’s are Market Day in Melbourne, and so we walked over to the nearby, massive “Farmer’s Market” for breakfast and shopping. After exploring the wares of the locals, we walked through the city’s Central Business District and shops to Federation Square – an eclectic set of building featuring cultural and artistic centers. Then we walked over to Melbourne Park, where the Australian Open Tennis Tournament was just getting underway. It is easy and convenient to get around in downtown Melbourne, since there are street cars nearly everywhere, and in the Center of Town, they are free! After the Tennis Expo, we walked to an area in the park where Cook’s Cottage is preserved. Although Captain Cook is credited with “rediscovering” Australia, his cottage was actually in England, until the City of Melbourne bought it, had it disassembled, shipped, and reassembled. Now, one can explore the history and life of the man, and dress up in period-clothes and costumes from those times. After a long day exploring the gardens and town, we made our way back across the river to our hotel for “Happy Hour” before heading down the street to a Chinese Restaurant for dinner.

Rocky & Julie at the Australian Open Tournament

Rocky & Julie at the Australian Open Tournament

Wednesday, after breakfast, we trammed and walked to the “Old Treasury” Building. This is the building that stored that vast gold bars that characterized the great Australian “Gold Rush” that turned Melbourne into a thriving metropolis. We then returned to town and visited “The Ugg House” – home to UGG boots and shoes, and Pam tried to find a pair that we just the right shade of pink to suit her. For lunch, we had reservations on The Colonial Tram Restaurant – a traveling restaurant that only consists of 3 cars that travel the tracks at lunch time serving a spectacular 4 course meal with free drinks over a 2.5-hour journey. We took a tour of the city while we were served an outstanding Aussie meal including champagne, wine and port – duck, steaks, and deserts – all with excellent service. Then we explored the waterfront where the river meets the harbor and where old sailing ships and restaurants abound. Finally, we made our way back past the hotel to the Wednesday Evening Market, where live bands and street vendors abounded. We joined with the locals to have a BBQ dinner with wine and beer here tonight before heading back to the hotel for the evening.

The Colonial Tramcar Restaurant - a traveling restaurant

The Colonial Tramcar Restaurant – a traveling restaurant

The next day, we took a combination of tram and walking to make the journey to the Carlton United Brewery. This major Aussie brewery is the result of a uniting of a number of local breweries to compete with the local hotels who used to brew their own beer. Today, it consists of 7 major brands, including: Carlton, Fosters and Peroni. We toured the entire operation and finished up with a large tasting of their many brands. While there, we were treated to be able to get up close and personal with the Carlton Clydesdales while they were hooked up to a typical beer wagon. After returning to town, we toured the Royal Botanical Gardens – a series of footpaths and walkways that wind through manicured examples of rainforest, meadows and gardens – all beautifully and carefully taken care of. Finally, we spent our early evening shopping before getting dinner along the River and returning to the hotel to pack.

Impressionist photo of Pam & Julie behind a waterfall pane

Impressionist photo of Pam & Julie behind a waterfall pane

Friday, January 22nd, and we prepare to finish our month-long visit to the land “Down Under”. We showed up at the airport, only to find that our return flight is cancelled due to weather problems over the Pacific. Instead, the airline put us up at the Mantra Hotel in North Melbourne for the night so that they can fly us to Sydney the next morning to connect us to a flight that returns us to the USA via San Francisco. That all goes well, but when we get to San Francisco, (1 day late), our flight to Washington, D.C.is also cancelled, this time due to the snow storms in the northeast. Rather than spend another couple of nights stranded, Julie and I fly to Houston to spend two nights with our friends, Dave and Angie, before finally getting home 3 days late.
What a great adventure!!

Cycling the “Down Under” South Island NZ

March 12, 2016 8:30 pm

January 2016

After spending 10 days ushering in the New Year, 2016, in the North Island of New Zealand with our Backroads Multisport Adventure, we headed to New Zealand’s South Island where we would begin Part 2 of our adventure, with a challenging cycling trip along the island.
Part-2: Backroad’s Cycling Trip in New Zealand’s South Island
We arrived in Christchurch at the airport fresh from our North Island adventure on Monday, January 4th, and immediately took taxi’s to our hotels near the train station. We gathered up at Speight’s Ale House for dinner and made our plans for meeting everyone for the first day of our new trip the next morning. It had been a long day, and we called an early night after a dinner of burgers, beer, fries and wine.

Tower at Railway Station in Christchurch.

Tower at Railway Station in Christchurch.

The next morning, we gathered with all of our gear at the train station, fully dressed ready to ride bikes. The six of us were joined by 16 other people this time, and they came from Brazil to Canada. Our guides, Bradley and Darren, would be supported by two other staff, Grant and Sophia. After loading up all of our gear into luggage vehicles that Grant, Darren and Sophia would drive, Bradley joined the rest of us on the train for a cross-country scenic tour through the Southern Alps, from the east coast to the west. Along the way, the scenery was gorgeous, and, in addition to a dining car, there was an “open air” car without windows where one could take pictures. As we climbed into the snow covered passes, however, most people stayed to the inside cars. Near the midway point, the train stopped at Arthur’s Pass, allowing us to stretch our legs outdoors and view the local flora.

Julie & Rocky at Arthur's Pass.

Julie & Rocky at Arthur’s Pass.

We finally disembarked before the coast in a small town of Moana on the shores of Lake Brunner for lunch at the Station House Café. After lunch, we fitted out our bikes and then began our first ride – 26.5 miles from Moana to the coast. We followed the Arnold River down from the hillsides, crossed the Grey River and passed the mining town of Rununga, to end up at a “beach pub” in Rapahoe. There, we gathered for a quick drink while others made their way in, before taking the van a short way north, up the coast, to the Punakaiki Resort, located on the beach. After cleaning up and a relaxing stroll down the beach, we met up with others for drinks and dinner at the hotel and discussed the upcoming day.

View of Sunset over the Tasman Sea from Punakaiki Resort

View of Sunset over the Tasman Sea from Punakaiki Resort

The next morning, after breakfast, we took a brisk walk up the coast on the side of Highway 6 to the “Pancake Rocks” – stacks of limestone layered into amazing formations, eroded by the runoff from the mountains and the pounding surf.

Pancake Rocks hike north of Rapahoe

Pancake Rocks hike north of Rapahoe

From there, we boarded our bikes to begin a 27-mile ride south along the Coastal Highway and then to the city of Greymouth. After crossing the Grey River bridge, we all met up at another Speight’s Ale House where we were free to order whatever we wanted for lunch. After lunch, we rode another 12 miles to the coastal town of Hokitika – an historic gold mining town that morphed into a quiet resort community. The town is also known for it “driftwood art” that springs up along the beachfront on unexpended occasions. Once we were checked into our hotel, we met a local historian for a walk-about around the historic buildings of the town. That night we traveled to a local working farm restaurant called The Stations Inn for wine and dinner, before settling in for the night.

Driftwood Art at Hokitika Beach

Driftwood Art at Hokitika Beach

The next morning, we were up for breakfast early before shuttling a short distance to the town of Ross, where we boarded our bikes for the most challenging day yet – a morning 30-mile ride along the Kakapotahi River and through the Waitaha Reserve to the town of Hari Hari to take lunch at the Pukeko Tearoom. After lunch, it was another 37 miles, but this time with over 2000’ of elevation change making our way over Mt. Hercules and through the Whataroa Reserve to the Te Waonui Forest Retreat in the town of Franz Josef. It was a grueling but rewarding ride, and we were met with a fierce but friendly Maori warrior, and guided to the nearby geothermal pools to soak and recover. It was a long but adventurous day, and we all gathered for dinner at the hotel restaurant and made plans for the next day’s exploration.

Biking up the Kakapotahi River Valley

Biking up the Kakapotahi River Valley

 

Rocky with Maori tribesman at Te Waonui Forest Retreat

Rocky with Maori tribesman at Te Waonui Forest Retreat

It was now, Friday, January 9th, and we were free to explore the local area and town on this day. After breakfast, we traveled a short distance to the entrance to the Franz Josef Glacier terminal moraine. There, we hiked through the temperate rainforest to the river where one had the option to hike up to the Franz Josef Glacier’s retreating ice-face. Unfortunately, it was raining and chilly, but Rocky hiked in to check it out, while the rest of the group headed back to the hotel. Thankfully, the weather cleared enough to make a great hike, but not enough to allow us to take a helicopter to the top of the glacier. Therefore, after walking 3 miles back to the hotel, Julie, Pam and A.J. joined Rocky in returning to explore the glacier’s retreating moraines and ice-face once more. The glacier has retreated over 2 miles since it was discovered in the 1800’s, but it is still an impressive, massive ice sheet, hundreds of meters thick. This time, on return to the town, we explored the local shops and made reservations for dinner in town – again at a Speight’s Ale House! After over 15 miles of hiking that day, a few drinks, and some steaks, we called it a night.

Rocky holding ice from Franz Josef Glacier in the background.

Rocky holding ice from Franz Josef Glacier in the background.

Today we would cycle further into the South Westland National Parklands and along the wild and sparsely populated New Zealand’s West Coast. However, before leaving, we were again treated to training in learning a Haka from the local tribesmen. It was great fun, and will certainly be the source of numerous pictures and movies. Then we boarded our bikes and began our 38.5-mile morning ride from Franz Josef through rolling fields to the Salmon Farm Café for lunch. The Café is surrounded by pools of salmon in various stages of maturity. After a light lunch of chowder and salads with a coffee boost, we took off again for another 17-mile long ride to the Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge – a quaint retreat on the shores of a small lake, in the middle of a Reserve, only a few miles from the coast. It turns out that it was originally a Worker’s Camp during the construction of the Western Coastal Highway in the 1960’s that was rescued and improved by Dr. Gerry and Anne McSweeney. They then petitioned and actioned to get the surrounding area protected and preserved from development. The area now serves as a home for many native species of temperate rainforest trees and flowers, and is home on the coast to colonies of New Zealand’s “little penguins” and fur seals. Before dinner, Dr. Gerry gave us a brief walk through the rainforest, pointing out the native species, including the massive trees that served as inspiration for the movie “Avatar”. After returning, cleaning up and having dinner, we again followed Gerry, this time into the night in the search of “glow worms”. These are centimeters long worms that glow with a fluorescence, and that are usually found making webs in areas located in overhung embankments. In the dark, the banks along the road looked like a million stars, glowing and twinkling as the breeze rustled the foliage around them.
The next day, we skipped a short morning bike ride to explore the area on our own. We hiked down to nearby Munro Beach through rainforest trails to check out the nesting site of local penguin colonies, but we were too late in the season to see any remaining penguins. We wandered upstream along the glacial Moeraki River to look for the large native eels that populate these waters, and where we have the option to feed them. Finally, we returned to the lodge where there are kayaks available to go further upstream into Moeraki Lake. After lunch, Dr. Gerry took a group of us on a challenging hike through a more secluded part of the rainforest to a deserted portion of the beach, where we clambered along surf pounded rocks and avoided large waves to make our way south to a fur seal colony hanging out at a point on the shore. The seals were numerous and wary of us, but we did not get between them and the water, and so it went well. Along the way, we stopped to pick up sea urchins and to sample them raw straight from the shell and to take an afternoon coffee. The way back involved pulling ourselves 500’ vertically up with an extended rope and crude steps carved into the cliff face. It was the most physically challenging part of the entire trip, but everyone who went made it, with a little help. It was then back to the hotel for showers and dinner and the sharing of excited stories.

Hike along Coast to Seal Colony near Lake Moeraki

Hike along Coast to Seal Colony near Lake Moeraki

 

Fur Seal Colony on Tasman Sea

Fur Seal Colony on Tasman Sea

In the morning, we left the Lake Moeraki lodge early, knowing that this would be the most challenging day of the trip. Today, we would ride our bicycles from the coast, inland and uphill through the Mt. Aspiring National Park, past a series of scenic lakes, and over the Continental Divide of the Southern Alps, to the scenic town of Lake Wanaka. Our morning portion of the ride consist of 48.5 miles, with over 5000’ of elevation climbing, including a steep ascent over Haast Pass. Today, A.J., Peter and Rocky decided to tackle the challenge together. It then became clear that both Peter and A.J., and especially A.J. are “hill animals” when it comes to ascents. We all made it, however, to our lunch stop at the Makarora Café. Then, after a quick and light lunch, we took off again for the afternoon challenge of another 60 grueling miles! This time, Peter and Rocky supported each other and rode together past the pristine lakes, stopping to briefly enjoy the scenic overlooks and to keep hydrated. After replenishing their water supply, Peter and Rocky rode into the vacation town of Wanaka, and to the Edgewater Resort Hotel with their odometers reading over 110 miles of travel that day each! Of the only 6 individuals that completed the whole challenge that day, they arrived first! Meanwhile, while the boys were finishing their ride, the girls cut their ride short, and had explored the local area around the hotel, including a nearby winery. However, such an accomplishment by everyone called for drinks at the bar before our celebration dinner.

At the top of Haast Pass - The Southern Alps Continental Divide

At the top of Haast Pass – The Southern Alps Continental Divide

The next day was Tuesday, January 12th, and we were free to explore town or take a plane ride over the Southern Alps to Milford Sound. Again, the weather’s high winds did not permit the flying option, and we chose to spend our morning with Julie and Pam bike riding and Rocky, A.J., Peter and Nikki hiking. The bike ride was a short, but challenging 24 miles out to Treble Cone ski area and back, and the hike was a 5 mile climb up Iron Mountain with a hike back down and into town. We all met up at the hotel and walked up to Rippon Winery for a scenic lunch overview of Lake Wanaka. That night, we went back to town to have dinner at a local pub where we watched the NCAA Division 1 National Championship Game on TV. After strolling 2 miles back to the hotel, we all met up in Nikki and Peter’s room for nightcaps and camaraderie.

 

View of Wanaka Lake from Rippon Winery

View of Wanaka Lake from Rippon Winery

Wednesday would be our last day on bikes in New Zealand – The “Final Ride!” It would encompass a challenging morning ride of 37 miles along the Clutha River to Bannockburn and the Otago wine region. Along the way, we coasted through “Old Town” Cromwell historic district, before heading out along country roads lined with vineyards. Our destination for lunch was Wild Earth Wines, a restaurant across the Kawarau Gorge ravine, with a small suspension bridge leading to it. The restaurant is built upon the ruins of an old mining village where cables, buckets, and wash-nozzles are scattered about. Here, we loaded our bikes up onto the vans for the last time, and proceeded to enjoy a great lunch of wine-barrel BBQ and local vino, before loading ourselves into the vans for the hour-trip to Queenstown. Upon arriving in Queenstown, we checked into the Sofitel Hotel in the center of town. Queenstown is located on the waters of a large lake, and is one of the recreation capitals of the country. After checking in, one could explore the upscale shops in town, walk the picturesque waterfront, explore the local Arboretum, or take on bungee jumping from the original bungee jumping venue in the world. New Zealanders A.J. Hackett and Henry van Asch built the sport here in Queenstown from observing vine-jumpers in Vanuatu, opening this first venue in 1988. That evening we gathered in the hotel bar for a group cocktail hour, and then walked next door for a “last meal”. Everyone had been challenged and had a great time.

Silver Fern Art in Queenstown

Silver Fern Art in Queenstown

The next morning, some of us met Bradley for a final walk and tour through the local Arboretum and lawn bowling club. Many of the trees there were hundreds of years old, and the flowering shrubbery was fully in bloom. Then it was back to the hotel for shuttles to the Queenstown airport for our flight to Australia, and the third-leg of our adventure. As we climbed away from the runway, we said “good-bye” to the country that had hosted us for the past 3 weeks with adventure, beauty and hospitality. We will miss it!

Backroads Guides Bradley and Darren

Backroads Guides Bradley and Darren

 

Cycling the “Down Under” North Island NZ

3:17 pm

December 2015 – January 2016

In spite of our extensive previous travels with friends and family, we had actually never been to New Zealand or Australia, and Julie and her sister, Pam, had this “idea” that we could see it more intimately by “biking” the country! Now, although we wanted the physical challenge of biking, we were not willing to completely “rough it”, so we planned a 3-part vacation by chartering “back-to-back” cycling trips with Backroads Active Travel Company and following it up with a week exploring the east coast of Australia.

Starting out in front of our Backroads' van with our bikes

Starting out in front of our Backroads’ van with our bikes

Part-1: Backroad’s Multisport Trip in New Zealand’s North Island
Our trip began on Christmas Day, 2015 as we flew from Washington, D.C. through Los Angeles and Sydney to Auckland, New Zealand. After checking-in for the night at the Auckland Hilton, we connected-up with family, Pam and her husband, A.J., and with friends, Peter and Nikki. For dinner, the 6 of us explored the local marina and docks, viewed the historic America’s Cup boats, and sampled the local cuisine before preparing for the next day.

A renown New Zealand "Silver Fern" which grow to tree-size.

A renown New Zealand “Silver Fern” which grow to tree-size.

The next morning, we met up with the other 14 “adventurers” and our 3 Guides, Heidi, Johnathan and Max, loaded up into three vans and traveled east to the Coromandel Peninsula where we had lunch in Pauanui and began our afternoon with a 3-mile hike to explore local fauna and flora of the Broken Hills area. Then we checked into chalet cabins on the edge of an undisturbed rain-forest ravine at the Puka Park Resort. This was only about a mile from the coast, and so we walked to the beach and explored the popular local recreational area. That night, we had dinner outside at the Miha Restaurant, located high up on a hill overlooking the surrounding vineyards, countryside and Mercury Bay.

Taking the bikes out to the ferry after leaving the Puka Park Resort.

Taking the bikes out to the ferry after leaving the Puka Park Resort.

The next day we boarded our bikes for the first time, and then rode to board a ferry, after which we began a challenging bike climb up Pumpkin Hill along the Mercury Bay coastal road in the wind. This ride would take us 18 miles to Mercury Bay Vineyard for lunch and a little wine, but a significant number of riders got lost along the way. After recouping, we rode another 6 miles to the beach where we were outfitted onto our 2-man sea-kayaks for the 1.5-mile paddle to Cathedral Cove – a section of beach where low-tide exposes a beach tunnel that towers beneath a lands-head that extends into the bay. After beaching our kayaks and exploring the area, our guides surprised us by setting up a “pop-up” coffee service on the blanket on the beach. After a return kayak trip back to our starting point, we rode the vans back to the hotel for drinks and dinner, and to get ready for the next day’s adventure.

A glass of wine looking over the grapes pf Mercury Bay Vineyard while having lunch.

A glass of wine looking over the grapes pf Mercury Bay Vineyard while having lunch.

 

Sea-kayaking on Mercury Bay on our way to Cathedral Cove.

Sea-kayaking on Mercury Bay on our way to Cathedral Cove.

The next day, we shuttled in vans to Karangahake Gorge, where we explore the remnants of an historic mining area. We hiked over 5 miles through tunnels, over the ruins of wash plants, across suspension bridges, and along mining-car train tracks to eventually reach a beautiful swimming hole with crystal clear water and inviting jumping-off points. After a refreshing swim, we had a picnic lunch, before hiking out of the gorge to rejoin our vans for the trip to Rotorua. Our hotel here was a resort on Rotoiti Lake where we were treated to a dinner or pork belly and snapper, and an enchanting evening socializing on the lake’s grass lawn and strolling along the lake’s edge.

Taking a "break" while cycling in the area of Rotorua.

Taking a “break” while cycling in the area of Rotorua.

It was now Thursday, December 31st, and after breakfast, we began the day with a vigorous bike ride of only 16 miles through the quiet local countryside. Upon returning from the cycling loop, we showered, ate a barbeque lunch of chicken, beef and lamb before collecting ourselves and heading to the “Agrodome” – a working sheep farm where we got to visit various “fiber-providing” animals up-close, and where we were treated to demonstrations of herding dogs and competitive sheep shearing. On the way back from the Agrodome, some of us took on an extra adventure of “Zorbing” – rolling down a hill inside of a double-hulled, giant plastic ball that’s partially filled with water! It’s a crazy minute-long ride that we all would recommend. Upon returning to the hotel, we cleaned-up again and prepared to visit a Maori marae at Taheke. We were welcomed into their ancestor’s house, the Whare Tupuna, in a traditional “calling” event, and spent a number of hour’s getting to meet and learn from on of the tribal leaders, Sean, and his wife, Jen, and their family. We had a local dinner prepared by them, and the men of the group were then privileged to learn a haka. – a Maori war chant made famous by New Zealand’s World Championship Rugby Team. When we returned to the hotel, that night was New Year’s Eve, and since we were only 2 hours from the Earth’s “date-line”, we ordered a bottle of champagne and celebrated the occasion as a precursor for the rest of the world.
2016 would begin with a 21-mile cycle ride along the white cliffs of the Paeroa Range through grasslands and farmlands to the Waikite Hot Pools. Here we were treated to a good swim and soak in geothermal pools while enjoying a lunch of lamb burgers, fries and a beer. After lunch, we rode a short distance to the Waiotapu Geothermal area, where we walked along artist’s palate of colorful pools of boiling mud and steaming water filled with arsenic, sulfur and mercury.

View of a colorful pool at the Waiotapu Geothermal area.

View of a colorful pool at the Waiotapu Geothermal area.

We then checked into the Millennium Hotel on Lake Taupo, before taking a short drive to Taupo Bungy for a chance to jump from New Zealand’s North Island’s tallest Bungee platform – more than 160 feet. Some took the plunge headfirst, but many of us chose to take the drop on the “swing” instead. That night, the six of us took dinner on our own at Mulligan’s Irish Pub before making a wine stop at a local store and making a gentle stroll along the lake back to our hotel.
After breakfast in the morning, we made a short trip to Huka Falls and took a 3-mile hike along the Waikato River. Huka means “great body of spray”, and the falls were not so impressive in height, as they were in water speed and volume. We then traveled to the River Valley Café in Hawke’s Bay wine region, for a meal of chowder and salads. The Café was a kitschy little place with knick-knacks and lots of charm, and from here we were to kick-off on one of our more difficult bike rides thus far – 33 miles with a substantial uphill to start. Wouldn’t one know it, Rocky’s bike chain broke on the climb, and after an hour’s delay to get it fixed, he and Peter rode and still caught nearly everyone on the ride. We checked into a lavish private hotel called the Mangapapa Petit Hotel. It consisted of only 12 rooms, and so we had the whole property, and it was a magnificent, quaint but modern place. That night, we traveled a short distance to the Elephant Hill Winery Restaurant for our best meal, by far, thus far on our trip. Dinner of chicken, fish or beef followed appetizers on tuna, venison and pork-belly, and desserts included cheesecake, mousse and crepes, all accompanied by their own wines! Back at the Mangapapa, we took a leisurely stroll around the gardens and readied ourselves for the next day.

The six of us in the Hawke's Bay Region at cape Kidnappers'

The six of us in the Hawke’s Bay Region at cape Kidnappers’

On Sunday, we would have the opportunity to bike from our hotel up the Te Mata Peak Road, riding 36 miles and climbing over 1100’ of elevation. The first part of the ride was relatively level, past wineries and out to Cape Kidnappers Point, where we took pictures of the ocean and ourselves. Then we stopped at Clearview Winery for tasting, trying hard to avoid the rain and to maintain an ability to continue to cycle. The route then took us over hills and the Tukituki River, past vineyards and wineries, until we reached the scenic overlook of the ride on Te Mata Peak. From there, it was mostly downhill back to the town of Havelock North, where we stopped for a late lunch at The Rose and Shamrock Village Inn. Finally, we returned to the hotel to get ready for dinner there, hosted by David and his staff, and preceded with a rousing sing-along with one of our group, Steve, at the piano. After a dinner of lamb chops, we took time to explore the hotel rooms more fully while drinking nightcaps with David, the manager. We were very much impressed by the gold-plated plumbing and the original Chagall’s, Picasso’s and Tiffany lamps spread between our rooms.

The whole group "hugging" Redwood trees at the base of Te Mata Peak

The whole group “hugging” Redwood trees at the base of Te Mata Peak

Day 8 of our North Island Multisport Trip began with a short drive to the base of Le Mata Peak, and a pastoral 3.5-mile hike through the redwood forest groves and up the grassy ridgelines to the summit. From there, the group surveyed the past day’s routes, took pictures and returned to the Mangapapa hotel for lunch and departures to the Napier Airport. We said our “good-byes” to our newest friends, and set off on our flights to Wellington, and then to Christchurch on the South Island to begin the second part of our adventure.

Climbing Te Mata Peak in the wind, rain and cold.

Climbing Te Mata Peak in the wind, rain and cold.

 

The view from the summit of Te Mata Peak with the Tukituki River in the background.

The view from the summit of Te Mata Peak with the Tukituki River in the background.

 

Jonathan, Max, and Heidi - our Backroad's Guides for our Northern Island Multipart Adventure.

Jonathan, Max, and Heidi – our Backroad’s Guides for our Northern Island Multipart Adventure.