First true blog post from Australia! Unfortunately, Internet is not a strong point of this great nation (what I said in my last post about reliable Internet? It was fleeting). For days, I’ve been trying desperately to upload pictures, but with limited success. I was finally able to upload a chunk of them today, but not quite as many as I would have liked. I'll keep you posted if I'm able to fill in the gaps at any point soon!
Anyway, much has happened since I wrote my last post. We spent a few more weeks in New Zealand before wandering our way over to Australia. After Rarotonga and Auckland, we spent our first good chunk of time in National Parks. I can’t say I had too many expectations for this trip, but I certainly did not expect to do any of the things I did in those last few weeks of New Zealand. I drew a dead seal on a pristine beach, hiked up an active volcano that was in the process of spewing hot ash and steam, gazed at Orion, the Southern Cross, and a moondog in the Abel Tasman, visited a lavender farm, ate fresh mussels from a little stand on a coastal highway, and roadtripped on the left side of the road in a car that flashed warning messages at us in Japanese.
Our adventures in Tongariro National Park, which lies right smack in the middle of the North Island. We stayed at a bunkhouse that was nestled between three volcanoes – Ruapehu, which is covered in snow even in the summer, Ngauruhoe, which is a really young volcano (most of it grew in the past 2,000 years) and erupts every seven-or-so years and was used as Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings, and Tongariro, which we hiked most of the way up one glorious day. Normally, we would have gone all the way across the alpine crossing that straddles the volcano and down the other side, but the trail on the far side was closed because a portion of the volcano was letting off smoke and steam and ash. And so, instead of going all the way across and risk of being blown into a million little pieces, we stopped at the top of the crossing and had a look around. It was a steep hike, but the views were well worth the next day’s sore muscles.
Airing out the armpits after a day of hiking:
Another day, some friends and I took a short hike out to a nearby waterfall. It was a spectacular hike through the bush, and once we got there, we swam in a clear pool right under the waterfall. So cold, and so much water pounding on my head, but so refreshing!
We took a train from Tongariro to Wellington, and I could tell just by the weather that I was going to like it. Even though it’s the middle of summer, it was foggy when we stepped off the train. We stayed in a dormitory right near the heart of town on a street that could have been transplanted from San Francisco. Same hills, same Victorian houses, same types of plants, same weather. I was very much okay with it. The same night, a few friends and I went out to a delicious pizza place called Heaven, ordered three pizzas, and were given an extra one and a pitcher of good beer for free. The name was appropriate.
We spent only a couple nights in Wellington, and from there it was planes, trains and Automobiles down to Abel Tasman. Well, okay. Not exactly planes, trains and automobiles, but quite close. Euro Van to Wellington Airport, short flight from Wellington on the North Island to Nelson on the South Island (35 minutes from gate to gate – only 17 minutes of actual hang time), bus ride from Nelson to Abel Tasman National Park, tractor ride into the water (well, we were on a boat, but the tractor pulled us into the water), and water taxi ride into the National Park to our lodging.
We spent four days in Abel Tasman, which was really quite spectacular. The water was so, so clear and we went on some really great hikes to various drawing sites. One night, I sat on the beach and watched the sunset. After it got totally dark, a moondog appeared around the full moon over the water. Orion, the Southern Cross, and Milky Way were all right there too. Not bad, not bad.
Midterm break began when we left Abel Tasman. When we were in Auckland, four friends and I made a plan to go to Nelson Lakes National Park and spend three days (two nights) hiking around and staying in huts in the mountains. We planned out which day we would do what and which night we would stay where, but we didn’t make any reservations (car rental, permit, huts, etc.). We didn’t do it in Wellington either, as we had planned. Personally, I was really excited about hutting in Nelson Lakes at the beginning, but then it seemed like that’s what most other people were doing as well and I got less excited. I think that my group felt the same way, so when we were in Abel Tasman we decided to scrap that plan entirely and just wing it. It’s funny – someone in my group said that things just worked out really well for us throughout our midterm trip, but I suspect that it has to do less with and more with the attitude of the country. People are just more willing to make things work.
Let’s see. We were dropped off at the Picton Ferry Terminal and started asking all the rental car agencies for quotes. We found one place that was far, far cheaper than all the other places, rented to anyone over 18, and didn’t charge extra for being under 25, and didn’t charge extra for more than one driver. They agreed to rent us this weird station wagon (a Nissan Primera) for $50/day because the whole interior display was in Japanese. The screen displayed a symbol that meant the car needed to be serviced, but mechanics could find nothing wrong with the car and nobody could figure out how to make the warning go away because everything was in Japanese. It was sort of awesome.
The woman who was helping us gave some suggestions about places to drive and things to do in our time there and we grabbed some maps and flyers and decided that was good enough for a plan. We began by heading south towards Kaikoura, stopping here and there for food, to sheep-gaze, and to watch seals and seal pups play and lounge around on rocks. We spent the night in Kaikoura at a really cute little backpackers’ place called the Lazy Shag. We made omelets for dinner and sat on the porch and chatted with a racist young German guy, who desperately wanted us to conform to all his stereotypes of the US (for example, he asked us if we "did spring break". We eventually realized his idea of spring break was wet t-shirt contests). I don’t think he ever quite understood how wrong he was about us.
The next morning, we got up early and went for a run and drove to a lavender farm just a few kilometers up the coast. There were huge fields of lavender and beautiful gardens and the mountains were just emerging from the fog and we ate lavender honey ice cream – truly perfect. We stopped for lunch at a little seafood shack on the tidepools and got some fresh, delicious mussels. A bit later, we embarked on what was supposed to be a three hour walk around the peninsula. A few minutes into the walk, I realized I wasn’t terribly invested in the idea, and I suggested we drive up and spend some time in Abel Tasman again. This was a bit of a ridiculous proposal, as we were on the east coast and Abel Tasman National Park is in the northwest corner of the country, but my tripmates were immediately on board with the idea.
We started driving, and around 8 or 9pm we stopped in a tiny little town called Murchison for a bite to eat. We were getting a little tired and cranky and didn’t have a good idea of where we were going to stay that night. We stopped in one of the three cafes that were open and started talking to the owner (Louise) and we mentioned we didn’t really know where we were going to spend the night. She replied, “Oh, well you can stay at my house if you’d like – my husband and I take in backpackers and we live thirty minutes away on Lake Rotorua.” So we drove to her house, dragged her husband Tony out of bed, and slept in their spare bedroom off the garage that they had converted into a small bunkhouse for backpackers.
In the morning, Louise made us a “plunger” of coffee and freshly baked scones (bacon, onion and cheese – yum). It was perhaps the most fantastic wake-up call I’ve ever received. We realized that we were basically in Nelson Lakes National Park and that Lake Rotorua was actually part of the park, so we walked over and had a morning swim in the lake. It was really beautiful, but the sandflies (another wonderful European gift to New Zealand) were horrible.
In keeping with our spur-of-the-moment decisions, so we decided to hit the road again instead of hiking around Nelson Lakes. When we were walking back to our car, we ran into Louise’s husband (Tony) and his friend Jimbo and they took us down to the river and tried to show us fish and eels. To lure the eels in, they threw deer bones into the water, but the eels weren’t having it. They also showed us how they hung a dead possum from a branch right over the river and when maggots and things started infesting the possum, sometimes some maggots would fall off into the water and trout would come and eat them. That way, they could pretty much just reach down and grab the trout right out of the water. Sadly, neither the eels nor the trout wanted to show their faces while we were there. Tony had been out in the bush in the morning and had seen an injured deer and went out of his way to shoot it to take it out of its misery. In the process of doing so, he disturbed a wasp nest and was stung twelve times all over his face, hands and arms. He was pretty swollen but didn’t seem to be phased by it.
The drive from Lake Rotorua to Abel Tasman National Park was only a couple of hours. We arrived in town around one in the afternoon, bought some food, stopped for tastings at this tiny brewery called Monkey Wizard in an even tinier town called Riwaka, and headed into the park. Annika had visited a place in Abel Tasman called Cleopatra Pools when she was eleven years old and had amazing memories of it. She remembered it as being like a bunch of natural rock water slides that you could slide down and splash into pools of deep, clear river water. It was supposed to be 16 kilometers out and sixteen back from the trailhead, so we decided to take the water taxi out to Anchorage Bay (about four kilometers from the pools) and walk back (it was already mid afternoon). We had a lovely picnic on the beach, hiked into Cleopatra Pools (which were amazing and just as Annika remembered them), and hiked out by nightfall. The hike felt really, really good after being in the car for a few days. That day, we swam in a lake, the ocean, and a river. Not bad.
All in all, I could not have asked for a better midterm break adventure. I loved traveling without a plan or a destination or any real time constraints. But alas, all good things must come to an end in order to make room for… well, other really amazing things. Our whole Carleton group reassembled in Wellington and made the journey to Melbourne, Australia, where we’ve spent the past two weeks printmaking and exploring the wonders of Victoria. Melbourne truly is a beautiful city, but more on that in my next post. Which, come to think of it, might be a few weeks from now. We’re about to embark on another National Park stint. First, we’re headed to Apollo Bay and Wilson’s Prom in Victoria, and then we head up to Carnarvon Gorge and Heron Island in Queensland before finishing the program off in Brisbane. Actually, even though I was in Australia last year on the Biology program, it is only these last three locations that I will have been to before. I cannot even begin to explain my excitement about going back!
Until next time, whenever that may be! It’s really all in the hands of the temperamental Gods of Australian Internet.