A Travellerspoint blog

New Zealand

Waitomo Caves

Did you know that glowworms actually exist? . . .they are not just those plastic light up dolls that you slept with as a child…read on to find out more ☺

So, being that our last entry was pretty heavy on the text, we thought we would give our loyal readers a break and convey our cave experience mainly with pictures. Plus, Marin took some amazing shots from inside the magnificent Waitomo Caves. First, just a bit of background about the caves. Waitomo, a small town on New Zealand’s North Island, is home to over 300 natural caves. Only about ¼ of the 300 caves are open to the public. We visited 3 of these underground wonders... most tourists opt for 1 cave visit, or maybe 2…but Marin insisted upon the cave TRIPLE PACK. Turned out to be pretty sweet.

The caves form over millions of years as groundwater from above seeps through the earth and glazes over the limestone below. Beautiful formations, known as stalactites (these columns grow down from the roof of the cave, they hold on “tite…” get it? get it?) and stalagmites (these columns grow upward from the base of the cave..they “mite” reach the ceiling…get it? get it?) are created by the water. They form verrryyy slllloowwwly –about 1 cm of growth every 100 years. Take a look at what knocked our socks off 65 meters below the surface of the earth (first photo is of the ramp going down into the 1st cave)


We could not believe that these gorgeous structures were created naturally by flowing water over rock! They looked as if someone had molded and shaped them by hand.

These caves are also home to many, many, many glowworms. They attach themselves to the roof of the cave and live there for the majority of their 11-month life span. What our awesome tour guide let us in on is that these bioluminescent worms actually create a lovely blue glow from their tail end when they are, um, pooping. It was thought by some that “Incredible Pooping Maggot Caves!” would not draw the same crowd that “Stunning Glowworm Caves” would. Right on, then.


The loveliest part of the cave prohibited pictures (the glowworms dim when subjected to bright light, like say the flashbulbs of hundreds of tourists), which was initially discouraging but then wonderful. We took a boat in pitch blackness through an underground river while above us billions and millions of blue glowworms glowed away on the cave’s roof. Very Willy Wonka, except peaceful instead of terrifying. Felt like we were in a planetarium…but it was all natural…again unbelievable!

Tune in next time for our sorrowful farewell to the country of New Zealand (already planning our next rip back to the most beautiful place on earth) and our warm, rainy welcome to Tasmania (the beginning of our stint in Australia) ☺

Posted by Marbert18 05:59 Archived in New Zealand Tagged caves waitomo glowworms Comments (2)

Tongariro…THE Alpine Crossing

Welcome to the North Island

After our fantastic experience at Abel Tasman, we jumped in our Nissan and high-tailed it to Picton, the city from which we would depart on the ferry for the North Island the next morning. The “two hour” drive to Picton – with Marin’s “short”cut (insert Nikki’s angry driving grumbles here) over the scenic route (turns out one-lane winding roads with incredible views of a bay are not meant to be driven in the pitch blackness of night) – was um, less than thrilling. As were our gross-out digs in Picton when we finally arrived, alive. Luckily we were only there for about 8 hours, which we spent sleeping (after wine and Cup O’ Noodles in bed). We knew we were in trouble when we checked in and were directed to the “back cottage” – code for the place where they usually stash groups of teens, complete with a fly-infested kitchen…aka our very own private hellhole.

We rose the next morning, all ready to jump on the ferry from Picton (on the South Island) to Wellington (on the North Island). Prior to our embarking, Marin picked up an email from her mother, Sharon, who was en route home from Hawaii. Sharon wrote, “Wow, it’s a good thing we got out of Hawaii when we did, had we stayed another day we might have been stuck there.” Marin’s response (prior to checking cnn.com): “Why, was it raining or something?” Then Marin checks cnn.com and sees, for the first time, the devastating news about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Great day for a boat ride! Needless to say we were unenthused about jumping in dangerous waters – especially when the woman we sat next to on the ferry held up the newspaper and the headline read, in big, black, bold letters,“TSUNAMI WAVES REACH NEW ZEALAND!” Nikki spent the duration of the 3 hour ferry journey keeping up to date on the latest headlines via a spotty $7 wi-fi connection Turns out we made it to Wellington unscathed.

We’ve started to develop a bit of “seen one mountain, seen ‘em all” malaise. We’d heard the ferry ride was sooooo beautiful, but really, we were underwhelmed. Here’s a nice view coming into Wellington, though:


After arriving in Wellington, we drove 4 hours north to Tongariro, a town known for its great hikes and great trout. We went there to conquer the 19 KM Tongariro Alpine Crossing, arguably the best day hike in all of New Zealand (and the universe, in our humble opinion). Oh, and conquer The Crossing we did! Boo-yeah!

The day started with a 7:30am shuttle bus pickup and drive to the start of the 7 ½ hour mammoth hike. We were weighed down a bit by our packs, filled with the day’s provisions- 2 PB&J sandwiches each, 6 liters of water, and a whole lot of trail mix. Although the signs detailing the length and hazards of the journey ahead were a bit intimidating, we sallied forth into the volcanic rock:


The beginning portion of the hike was relatively mellow (and level), filled with purple wild flowers, gentle streams, and interesting volcanic rock formations. Here is Nikki (aka Maverick) posing in her 1980s aerobic gear- all she is missing to complete the outfit is the leg warmers (and yes she wore this garb for the duration of the trek- see pics below and notice the additional wool gloves later on- who said lesbians weren’t fashionable anyway?)


Check out Marin below posing in front of Mt. Ngauruhoe. Notice she is smiling (ignorance is bliss). She is completely unaware that the trail ahead will lead her up and over this massive volcano via approximately 4 million steps and extremely steep, treacherous terrain. Just when we were about to give up and jump off the side of cliff, we met a 79 yr. old woman with a fear of heights (also wearing plaid wool pants, love it) who was hiking The Crossing with her daughter and granddaughter. Talk about a slice of humble pie. Take a look at some pics from the initial ascent (notice the lava imprints from previous eruptions...also those things that look like ants in the pictures are people, should give you an idea of the scale).


The portion of the hike atop the volcano just before we hit the pinnacle of our climb involved two large craters, South Crater and Red Crater. The red volcanic rock was Marin’s favorite part of the hike. Take a look:


It honestly felt like walking on the moon- completely uncharted territory ☺- too cool!!! Nikki became a bit distracted with the idea that due to the recent earthquakes in the Pacific region, this volcano might be due to erupt unexpectedly. It was this scene that prompted her worry:


Scary- right? Oh wait, that “eruption” is just a cloud…ok, nevermind.

We came up and over the peak of the climb (it was an extremely steep descent and we were sinking into the volcanic ash- Nikki decided this was the safest way to make her way down…who needs hiking boots?):


At this point, Nikki discovered not only her favorite part of the hike but her favorite part of our travels thus far, the Emerald Lakes. Nikki described these lakes and this moment as the most naturally beautiful thing she has ever seen!!! Take a look:


Oh and we should mention that these hot springs high atop mo are surrounded by sulphuric, steaming, earth. It was an unbelievable sight to behold!

We ate our first of two PB&J sammies at the Emerald Lakes and felt great to have reached the climax of the climb. Unfortunately, at 10k in, we had 9 more kilometers to go to complete our overland pilgrimage. The scenery on the way down was lovely (ocean views and gently rolling hills) the damage to our feet, hamstrings, and ankles was not so lovely☹! Not too many pictures of this as a Marin-meltdown followed us down the trail for the last two hours. Take a look at Nikki trying to alleviate some of the strain by stretching in yoga-like poses with Hanz and Franz:


Completing the walk was exhilarating- check out our happy “after” victory pics:

Thanks for reading this incredibly LONG addition to our Migration Blog. Come back next time for our thrilling cave adventures with stalactites, stalagmites, and glowworms ☺!!! xoxo Marin & Nikki

Posted by Marbert18 05:23 Archived in New Zealand Tagged hiking tongariro_alpine_crossing Comments (1)

Sunny, Sunny, Nelson ☺!!!!

Up, Up and Awaaaayyyyyyyy

Nelson rocks!!! We fell in love with this small gem of a city in the Northwest corner of the South Island. This was our last stop on the South Island and it did not disappoint. Nelson has the best weather in all of New Zealand. Some figure like 97% of the days in a year in Nelson are bright and sunny – obviously the cause of the friendly nature of local Nelsonians. During the day, folks are outside doing things like hiking, biking, jumping off of things and flying – it’s the hangliding capital of NZ due to all the sunshine, temperate winds and cool geography. Come evening, folks are still outside…drinking, eating, laughing, and chilling to the latest hot beats (Nikki has been trying to work “hot beats” into one of our blog entries for awhile now).

Here's Nikki taking in theDSC_3984.jpg flavor:

We sampled some of the local fare at an awesome brewery called Free House. It is a converted old chapel with a plethora of fresh New Zealand beers on tap. After downing a few brewskies, we headed across the street for some of the tastiest Indian food we have ever eaten. The lamb curry literally falls apart in your mouth (seems like all those roadside sheep are being put to good use…hehe…forgive us, vegetarian readers) and the garlic cheese naan was outstanding!

We woke up the next morning at one of our favorite accommodations thus far on our journey. This hostel, Accents on the Park, was clean, spacious, and felt like a hotel. An alarm clock – no way! Whoa, bedside tables! Two of them! We were glad to get a good night’s sleep as Marin had a big day ahead of her…

The preparation and practice runs:


The take-off:


The flight:

The victory after landing:

It was incredible. So much so that I am loathe to try to put things into words here. Just so amazing and so peaceful to see everything from above. One surprise was that we didn’t just jump off the hill and float down, as I expected us to. We actually rode a thermal and circled quite a bit higher than our launch spot – so much so that I looked down and suddenly Nikki was a little blue dot on the hillside. LOVED IT.

The following day we set out to explore Abel Tasman, New Zealand’s smallest but most highly frequented national park. We drove about an hour West of Nelson to a small beach town called Kaiteriteri This is where we left our car and boarded the infamous “Aqua Taxi.” http://aquataxi.co.nz/

Abel Tasman is comprised of the richest, softest, golden sand beaches (the color is due to the limestone and various minerals in the mountains and green hills surrounding the beaches). The Tasman Sea itself is a turquoise green color that we can honestly say we have never seen before. One of the locals told us that they are a bit disappointed because due to a comparatively cold winter last year, the water temperature has dropped a few degrees, which has affected the clarity of the water (one of the park’s claim to fame). In his words, “The Tasman is a bit cloudier than we are used to.” Take a look at a picture of this “cloudy” water:


As you can see this water is crystal clear!

In order to get to the most pristine portions of Abel Tasman, you must arrive by boat, hence the Aqua Taxi, a boat that transports you to various locations along the shoreline of the park. We opted to ride an hour out to Tonga Beach, home of an amazing seal reserve. Take a look at these seal pups:


Sooooo cute!!!

After gooing and gaaing over the seals, we hiked along the coastline for 2 hours, stopping to explore tiny bays and enclaves. We wound up at a gorgeous, golden sand beach called Bunk Bay.


Although this beach was glowing in the beautiful 5’o clock sun and there were virtually no other humans around (which we loved), we were joined by a few other beings, such as mosquitoes, horse flies, and sand lice. Scroll back to the conversation between Nikki and Marin approximately 4 hours earlier in the general store before boarding the water taxi.

Nikki: “Should we buy the bug spray?”
Marin: “I’m not sure, it costs $15.00!!”
Nikki” “Yeah, we probably won’t need it anyway.”

Boy, did we regret that decision…5 days later we are still scratching ourselves to sleep at night! Although we shared Bunk Bay with a few of our eight-legged friends, the scenery on the beach and our hike leading up to it was amazing!

Take a look:

Nikki keeping warm on the trail


Seriously, between the golden sand beaches, the turquoise water, and the emerald hills, the palette of colors at Abel Tasman left us speechless! This was a perfect end to our time on New Zealand’s awesome South Island.

Thanks for being patient as we take some time to catch up. Although in blog-time we’re still on the South Island of NZ, in real-time we’ve already been through the North Island and arrived in Tasmania, Australia this morning!

Next up: Our ferry ride from South to North (in dangerous waters), the tremendous hike that was Nikki’s favorite experience of the trip so far (and left us sore for days), and the unbelievable glowworm caves…stay tuned! The trip (and trip planning!) continues:


xoxo Nikki & Marin

Posted by Marbert18 22:10 Archived in New Zealand Tagged abel_tasman nelson hangliding Comments (6)

Franz Josef Glacier (to be pronounced GLASS-i-er!)

Our hike on ice and our sunset on the beach...in the same day

Two pictures taken on the same day in NZ…furreal:


Once again, on our drive from Queenstown to Franz Josef Glacier, we were privy to some pretty damn picturesque views. Translation: lots of stops for photo ops on the side of the road. What made this leg of the journey particularly special was the variety of landscape and rapidly changing environs we passed through – mountains, lakes, snow, rainforest, sheep farms.

Some of the awesome views from the car:


We were psyched to arrive at Glow Worm Cottages, our hostel in Franz Josef – admittedly, our standards had been lowered tremendously by our Queenstown digs – and discover a quiet, clean and rather pleasant vibe. Ahhhh, relief: nothing so peaceful as spending the evening over a steaming Cup o’ Noodles while lovely Swedes complete a jigsaw puzzle and politely sip Ovaltine in the background. We were a bit confused as to the actual location of the glacier as tremendous clouds disguised it above. The next morning, as we packed the car prior to our arctic hike, Marin asked Nikki to bring our packs out to the car, and then turn around and look above the roof of Glow Worm. There it was! The ginormous Franz Josef Glacier slicing the sky in half behind her! Here’s the view of the glacier from the end of our driveway:


We arrived at the Franz Josef Glacier Guides building promptly at 9:15 AM. After getting outfitted with waterproof pants and jackets, clunker boots, wool socks, caps and mittens and fashionable fanny packs in which to carry our crampons, we headed to the heli-pad. The ride up to our landing spot in the heli was…out of this world. We got to sit in the front seat right next to the pilot! He flew us around the mountain on a scenic tour so that we could get up close and personal with the mile-thick ice peaks and caves.

Some views of/from the chopper:


Highlights from the glacier hike:

1. Putting on the crampons (the spikes that you attach to your boots to grip the ice):


2. Posing for pictures in ice caves


3. Discovering the difference between white ice (has air in it) and blue ice (is the most solid)

4. Viewing a waterfall through an ice tunnel (the glacier changes so much that this wasn’t visible as recently as 2 months ago…we knew this was a tremendous sighting when our guide took his own camera out for a shot )


5. Drinking glacier water right off the ice (and the large man who came on this rather pricey trip specifically to fill up multiple liters of empty water bottles)

6. Our very cute carrot-topped guide named Dean

Pretty amazing that this thing just exists out there in the world. And we were able to walk on it.

After warming up with a “Flat White” coffee– this has become our drink of choice, it’s like a Latte but with less milk and more coffee -- at Full of Beans, the FJ local coffee shop, we hit the road to head up the West Coast towards Punakaiki, a secluded beach town. What we found when we arrived was probably the best accommodation we have stayed in thus far – waterfront property and ocean views from our room for $70 NZD/night! We couldn’t get over being on a beautiful beach the same day we’d hiked across a glacier. The sound of the ocean lulled us to sleep and felt fantastic on our run in the morning.

But, note to selves: do NOT run barefoot on beach that is flooded with Antarctic sea waters and covered in volcanic pebbles, prior to the sun’s rising and warming of said beach, no matter how romantic and lovely you are determined this will be. You will end up with numbed feet and opt for your sneakers halfway through the run, when you're already all sandy.


Some shots of our lovely hostel and beach:


Before leaving the next day, we made sure to visit the big tourist attraction of the town, the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes (limestone boulders jutting out over the ocean that have been eroded by the waves and the weather into formations resembling giant stacks of pancakes). This is also where Nikki was nearly abducted by a strange man from East Florida – probably due to her donning the first tube top of the trip:


Next episode: Sunny, sunny Nelson. Marin flies! And our trek through NZ’s most visited National Park, Abel Tasman. xoxo Marin & Nikki

Posted by Marbert18 01:57 Archived in New Zealand Tagged hiking new_zealand franz_josef_glacier punakaiki pancake_rocks Comments (1)


“Which way to the bungee jumpers?” – Overheard by us, coming from an adorable 4-yr. old toe-headed Australian (say it again to yourself with the accent, this time with a high pitched kid’s voice, it’s fun)

The Drive – It was blissfully short and sweet and gorgeous as we approached Queenstown. That water that is the color of the Caribbean Ocean is actually fresh water – Lake Wakatipu. See for yourself:


Our Lodging – First, let’s explain the circumstances leading up to this…how to describe…barely legal accommodation in Queenstown. For starters, QT is pretty much the most popular destination in NZ. It is also a place where you don’t do just a little bit of anything – everything happens to the extreme – i.e. extreme height, extreme speed, extreme consumption of alcohol (more on this to follow). Last but not least, we were there over the weekend.

As you may recall, we were quite fatigued from our aquacize through Milford Sound the day before. So, we didn’t think to book ahead for accommodation in QT. We threw caution to the wind, backpacker style!!!, and waited until Saturday morning to inquire. Turned out a few other people wanted to spend the weekend in QT as well…

Time spent on phone (aka minutes lost from Nikki’s life): 47 minutes. Number of calls placed to find a vacancy: 8. Booking secured: A “twin” room, called “The Bungee Room” with bunk beds (we rock, paper, scissored for top bunk…Marin won!), $55 a night NZ dollar, which is about $40 US…for those of you who subscribe to the “you get what you pay for” religion, you’re right -- bathroom down the hall, but centered in the heart of QT. Oh wait, our room is right next door to the 24-hour kitchen and the common room, and this place is jammed to the rafters with teenage Australians and one middle-aged man/serial killer of unknown descent, well… okay… this won’t be so bad…


Saturday night: We enjoyed a lovely dinner at an awesome Thai restaurant (amaaazing green curry) and headed back like true old people to retire before 11 PM. As we came in, we were a bit distraught to discover that “the kids” – the aforementioned thrill-seeking 18-yr. old Australians – were just on their way out for the night, bottles of brew in tow. Fast forward to 3 AM: “WHERE’S MY CHOCOLATE CAKE???!!!” spouted Drunk Lass, from the common kitchen just next door, after 10 too many ciders enjoyed that evening. Nikki’s retort, spoken like a chanting monk from the bottom bunk, in a tone angrier than the one she uses when I drive too fast and careen ever so slightly off the left side of the road: “GO. TO. BED. GO. TO. BED.” They did not go to bed until the wee hours of the morning – so imagine, if you will, this scenario repeating itself over. And over. And over.

And we’ve not even addressed the layer of crumbs, sticky jam, toilet paper, cigarette ashes and unidentified backpacker funk the place was covered in when we “woke up” on Sunday morning. Lucky for you, no pictures.

Our Activities – We had a rather funny stay in Queenstown because we decided this was the time to take a break from the adventuring and just have 2 days to sit still, not drive, and enjoy a bit of town living. The town is a lovely, upscale for New Zealand mountain town – kind of like a lower-key Banff or Boulder, CO. But funny because Queenstown is the adrenaline junkie capital of the world – every 5 feet you get an offer to go bungee jumping, sky diving, off-roading, jet-boating, canyon-swinging, paragliding or any number of crazy activities for which you need to sign your life away before undertaking. It’s amazing what bored but smart people will do with a few feet of rope and some rubber. During the day everyone is jumping out of planes – it’s not uncommon to look up and see a tourist mid-flight (see below) – and at night everyone is drunk, detailed above.

Instead of all this, we enjoyed a lovely jog by the lake and a walk through the QT Gardens with our fellow elderly:



A trip up Queenstown Hill on the Skyline Gondola, thus fulfilling the extreme-height requirement:


A luge ride – didn’t quite fulfill the extreme speed requirement, but fun nonetheless:


Sunday night started out innocently enough, imbibing a few pints of NZ’s finest beer, Monteiths, at a neighborhood pub…but quickly descended into sinful debauchery: fulfilling our consumption of alcohol requirement, stumbling our way to the tourist casino and big wins at the Blackjack table!!! Unfortunately no pictures of this but it was grand, and paid for our dinner that night! This is where we got our adrenaline, and now we’re on the lookout for casinos in every city we’ll visit. Sunday night was more restful than Saturday, though Nikki did wake up with her infamous “meat sweats” from the 2-lb. burger that seemed like a fabulous idea at midnight as celebration of our big casino win high.

Did you know it was possible to hike up a glacier and then enjoy the sunset on a pristine beach in the same day? Tune in next time to hear all the deets. And yes Moms, we found MUCH nicer places to sleep. xoxo Marin & Nikki

Posted by Marbert18 00:44 Archived in New Zealand Tagged queenstown new_zealand Comments (0)

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