EBC Trek – Tengboche to Dingboche

Wow, today was the most incredible day! For many reasons!

Firstly, before breakfast I had a little wander around the village. The early morning had brought on clear skies and revealed what we had missed out on yesterday when we arrived. It turns out we had been surrounded by more mountains the whole time! Knowing this yesterday would have made the hike up to Tengboche so much easier! I wandered around, enjoying the peace and quiet of the early morning and making friends with some of the village animals. After awhile I headed back inside to join everyone for breakfast.

Our accommodation in Tengboche – check out the mountains!
Forever making new animal friends
 

Secondly, at breakfast I actually had a real coffee! They had an big, fancy coffee machine (god knows how it got here!) and were pouring out delicious coffee all day. I lashed out and ordered a mocha and was stoked that it actually tasted like at home! It cost about $5 but the caffeine hit was more than worth it!

We began the hike to Dingboche and I’m not sure whether it was the caffeine or the stunning view but I felt particularly good today. The first hour of the hike was lovely, through lush green forests along a flowing river. The water in the river almost glowed an aquamarine colour. It was quite warm still and the temptation to jump in for a swim was still there.

Leaving Tengboche

As we hiked through small villages, past porters of all ages carrying loads of all weights, it was again lovely to just hike in silence and enjoy the view. There was a short uphill stint before reaching the village where we were having a break. Again, we were sat here for ages waiting for the final members of the group to arrive. As we were a diverse group, we all had different walking styles. Some people had raced ahead and had been at the meeting spot for an hour whereas the slower members of the group were still good hour or two behind us. Krishna gave us the go-ahead to keep walking but like yesterday, the long break had evaporated our motivation to hike on.

It was a short uphill stint again but at the top we were rewarded with the most incredible view! Lhotse and Nuptse, Mt Everest’s next door neighbours  stood before us while Everest herself, hid behind the cloud. Surrounding us was the most spectacular mountain range. I was in Himalayan heaven! Energised by the stunning view, the six of us who had formed a little hiking group were enthusiastic about the rest of the hike. We walked through a valley at about 4100m, heading towards the Everest mountain range. I felt like I was in Frodo in Lord of the Rings, going on an adventure! We were tiny specks of scenery compared to the vast land mass around us. The mountains that had looked so far away just a couple of days ago, were now dwarfing us in the valley. The landscape had started to change and the dense, green forest transformed into sparse, desolate rocky plains. Only the toughest of plants can survive in the thin air and it was clear that there wasn’t many that could.

B admiring Lhotse
On the way!
Cheering about the stunning view!
One of the many porters carrying massive loads.
Hello Dingboche!
 

We walked through the valley for about an hour, enjoying the lovely mountainous hike until the inevitable uphill began. It was nowhere near as bad as yesterday, maybe because of the clear skies giving us motivation to keep walking or the remnants of the caffiene were still working. It took about an hour or so to hike up the path and around the bend into Dingboche. This little village was situated in a small valley, surrounded by some of the most famous mountains in the world. We were here for two days to acclimatise and with the view as good as this, I wasn’t complaining! Tomorrow is a rest day with just another acclimisation hike about 400m higher.

J. X

EBC Trek – Namche to Tengboche

After a pleasant “rest day” yesterday it was time to get back into hiking higher towards Base Camp. This morning brought another magical view from my windows. The mornings were so crisp and clear that all the mountain peaks surrounding Namche were in full view. Whilst my sleep routine was so out of whack, I was thankful that I was waking up early to witness this amazig sight. Usually by mid-morning the clouds settle in and cover up most of the mountains. 

Today’s destination was Tengboche, a small village of the top of a huge mountain at 3875m. In the village there is a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery which is the major money maker for the small village. In 1989 this monastery was destroyed by a fire so thanks to financial aid for volunteers all around the world, the monastery was rebuilt and a ‘Master Plan’ was made. this included building a water supply system for clean drinking water, an Eco-tourism centre to promote more sustainstable tourism, improving school and education systems for the local people, establishment of sacred land for high altitude medicinal herb plantation, a hydropower station for assured electricity in the village and better facilities for the porters. Without the help of this financial aid, the Tengboche Monastary might not be here today.

Our hike began the same way as yesterday and feeling slightly more energetic from the influx of red blood cells I bounced up the steep track. The path flattened out after half hour and it was a beautiful stroll along the edge of the mountain. We were walking towards the same view as yesterday but as usual Everest was hidden by cloud and Lhotse was claiming all the glory! . I was starting to think that Mt Everest was just a very clever marketing ploy by Nepal Tourism – or its the world’s best mountain at hiding! It was still surreal to think that I was walking along the Everest Base Camp trail in Nepal. Just a week or two ago I was working in a office, now I was here! 


The path was built into the side of the mountain and with no guard rail to keep us in, one wrong step could mean a very long fall into the valley below us. Our group had formed its own little mini-groups, measured by walking pace. Three guys zooming ahead at the front, our group of six with us three Aussie girls, two Scots and one of the Germans. Behind us were the trailing Germans and the Americans taking it nice and easy. We mostly walked in silence enjoying the scenery, leaving conversation for break times where we spent most of the time discussing the scenery! One may say we were a little one-track minded! 

We walked along the path for an hour or so before we started to descend into the valley. It appeared we had to walk down to the river to cross it before making our way back up again to reach Tengboche. Undoing all our hard work from yesterday we dodged donkeys and yaks as we stepped our way down to the river. I could feel the pressure in my knees already from walking down steps. If they could last the whole trip, it would be a miracle! 

Stopping for a lunch break (at 10:30am) we sat in the sun at a little cafe by the flowing river and waited for the last of the group to arrive. This little break turned into a massive two hour one and by the time our guide Krishna told us to ‘Jam jam’ (Let’s go) we were all drowsy from the sun and not in the mood to hike up to Tengboche. Nonetheless we put our backpacks back on and walked across the suspension bridge that would start our hike uphill.


This hike uphill wasn’t fun to say the least. The constant steps, thinning air and moody weather made the hike uncomfortable and it was slightly frustrating that we were higher only just a bit higher than we were yesterday. If only we didnt have to go down to the river to cross it! As the heavy clouds set in for the afternoon, there wasn’t even the stunning mountainous views to look out to. Pink wildflowers dotted the path but apart from that we were still in quite a forestry, green area. The temperature dropped dramatically with the clouds and it was getting chilly, especially in our sweaty clothes. Thankfully there was the six of us hiking together so we all were in the same boat, happy to stop regularly and dream about a warm cup of tea and clean socks!

The porters carrying loads of up to 140kg were always a remember not to complain about your own backpack

Finally we reached Tengboche and as per usual, the last two hours were erased from my memory. It seems I was suffered from short term memory loss when it came it hiking. Once I reached the destination and become enthralled in it, the pain of hiking uphill disappeared. I wont lie, its quite a good problem to have!         

We walked into our lodge, thankful to be out of the cold and starving hungry. Thankfully the lodge knew we were coming and were quick to get food and drink out to us. After lunch we had a little rest before visiting the monastery to watch the monks perform one of their sermons. Our guide Dawa warned us it would be long and loud and to feel free to leave at any time but I was intrigued to see what goes on behind monastery walls, it seems like such a sacred and secretive place.

The monastery had a strong Chinese influence to its architecture. We walked through the huge ornate gate, elaborately designed with gold painted ornaments and walked up the stairs to the entrance. We had to wait for the monks to enter before we could go in and the whole thing felt a like cult like. As we walked in I was gobsmacked by the interior of the room. For a building that sort of looks like a large dormitory on the outside, it was so beautifully decorated on the inside. The Chinese influence (I guess its Chinese? Could be Buddhist?) flowed through the room, with more ornate carvings on the walls and roof.  Incense burned and candles were lit, creating a very zen-like atmosphere. There were four rows of long raised wooden boxes that the monks sat cross-legged on top of. Long, gold instruments sat at the two front corners of the room and several monks sat behind them, ready to play when told to. At the front of the room sat a statue of very large gold Buddha, the siza of the whole wall! I felt sorry for the poor sucker who had to lug this massive statue up the mountain, it was bigger than an elephant! His huge presence loomed over us and we sat on the hard wooden floor, pretending to not be there. I wish I could have taken a photo but were were forbidden to bring cameras inside.

Dogs of Tengboche
A monk waiting to begin his afternoon ritual

We sat waiting to see how the sermon unfolded but didn’t have to wait long as the monks opened their scripts and began to chant. There was a lead monk who ran the chants and the others followed. His voice was raspy and at times he seemed to just be making noise, but the others followed suit so I can only imagine it was part of the mantra. They added the musical instruments to their chants and the large horns scared the crap out of us sitting close to them, as the monks blew them without warning. I stifled a laugh, our dirty, tired, smelly group couldn’t be more out of place in this sacred building.

The chanting went on and on. They stopped at times and then began up with a different chant or a new blow of the horn. It was mesmerising to watch in a way that you could almost fall into a trance,  but after an hour the hard wooden floor was making my backside numb and some of us in the group were giving each other side eyes to see who would get up and leave first. 

Thankfully the Germans left first, making way for the rest of us to slowly file out and head back to the lodge. It was almost dark by this time and dinner wasn’t far away. They had lit the fire in the dining room of the lodge so it was toasty warm for our return. After dinner we had another UNO competition go down. I have to say, not having access to technology has been pretty great. I feel like we’re closer as a group because we haven’t spent all our times in front of our mobiles. It was another early bedtime as we were knackered from today’s efforts and knew tomorrow was going to be another big one.

J. X

EBC Trek – Chomua to Namche Bazar

After a solid sleep in the fresh mountain air, I was ready to face what the day would bring. The sky was clear in the early morning and the snow-capped mountains that were hidden by cloud last night decided to show their faces. We wouldn’t be getting out first glimpse of Mt Everest until the next day but the view was already jaw-droppingly beautiful. 

We had breakfast – porridge and honey for me- before jetting off on the trail. Today we were only hiking about 6km but would jump about 600m in elevation. Hopefully the porridge power would pull through! The first hour or two was quite leisurely. We followed the river, surrounded by pine trees and beautiful mountainous terrain. It was surprisingly warm and layers of clothing were being pulled off left right and centre. Just as I was thinking I could get used to this lovely hiking business, we approached the Hillary Bridge – aka the ‘suspension bridge of death’.


Tied up about 200m above the river between two very high cliff faces was a bit of metal rope that was our way across to the rest of the path. To make matters worse, the old bridge was still intact about 50m lower, making the Hillary Bridge appear even higher. Why we couldnt walk across that bridge I didn’t dare to ask, I just hoped for the best. We hiked up the stairs to the start of the bridge and faced the what was about to come. Before we could walk across, we had to wait for a herd of donkeys to come across. It made me feel a little better because if it could support 18 donkeys, then surely it could support me!

Once the donkeys were safely across we lined up to cross. I wanted to be up the front so I had a quick exit. Once we were walking out on the bridge, it didn’t feel as scary as it looked. The bridge was quite stable despite the loose wires everywhere. The view from the middle of the bridge was incredible. We were in the middle of a huge gorge and in the distance the snowy mountain ranges could be seen. I wanted to stop and just watch for awhile but I was creating a backlog of traffic as another herd of donkeys were waiting to cross.



Now that we’d crossed the Hillary Bridge, the first tough part of the trek was ahead of us. Two or so hours of uphill hiking. Our guide Krishna took us a different way which seemed steeper – he said because its less busy but I think he was just testing us out! It wasn’t the worst hike in the world. We stopped regularly to enjoy the view (and catch our breath!) and passing the odd Sherpa carrying a 100kg load was a reality check that we didn’t actually have it bad at all. I could definitely start to feel the affects of the rising altitude, you had to really focus on breathing in the thin air. Though this was only a taste tester of what was to come in the coming week.


We reached Namche Bazar after a final climb into the large village. Namche is a groovy little place built into the mountains. Colourful houses and lodges are stacked on top of each other in the terraces of the mountain and the pebbblestone streets are lined with bakeries and shops selling all sorts of hiking paraphernalia. Situated at 3400m we had a brilliant view of the mountains and our guides assured us its even better when the clouds clear in the morning! We had the afternoon free to ourselves so a few of us wandered around the town however as the whole place was going through a power blackout there wasn’t much going on. We headed back to the lodge for dinner and a few games of UNO before heading to bed.

Haven’t mastered looking like a hardcore trekker yet
Hello Namche Bazar!

The next morning I woke up to the most spectacular view outside my window! It was only 5am but already the light was light and the colourful houses were enhanced by the white reflection of the snowy-peaked mountains that surrounded us. Our guide Dawa was right, this view was 120% times better! I sat in bed and watched daylight fully form in front of me. It was a really, really pleasant way to start to the day!

Goooooooood morning Namche Bazar!!


Today we had an acclimatisation day so after breakfast we headed for a short hike a little higher to get some more red blood cells flowing through us. Again, I didn’t find it too difficult, was just short of breath for most of it. However the views easily outweighed the shortage of breath situation. Once we hiked uphill for about half an hour, it cleared to a big valley were the views were 360 degrees of beautiful mountainous ranges. We had scored the most brilliant day with only a few clouds in the sky. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m from a really flat country or I’m just easily excited but I couldn’t stop gushing about how stunning the views were. How can Mother Earth get it so dang right!?


In awe of the view
 

We climbed another 400m in altitude and at the top reached the Everest View Mountain Lodge. With a name like that we had high hopes about what was to come. We’d been spotting peaks of mountains over the past days and asking our guides if they were Everest. “Not yet,not yet” they would say. But today we were promised with our first glimpse of Everest. 

As we arrived to the tea house it was recommended to walked to the back garden and through the gates towards the lookout. As I pushed opened the big blue wooden doors it was like finding Narnia. A small path lined the edge of the mountain and looking out from there were the big beautiful mountain peaks we’d been hiking towards. Beyond the path dropped into a steep valley and the river that we had been walking beside only the day before. As I walked the 30m to the lookout, I was greeted by the bluest sky and a mountain range which I just knew had to have Everest amongst them. After discussing with the group and getting confirmation from Dawa it was true! Everest was in front of us!

Welcome to Narnia
Our first view of Everest! (She’s on the left)
 

The crew stoked about catching a glimpse of the might Everest

The thing I didn’t realise about Mt. Everest, is that front this side (the Nepal side) Everest was blocked quite a bit by the mountains beside it. Lhotse and Nuptse, the two massive mountains that stood beside Everest were trying to steal its thunder. Lhotse in particular was succeeding because from where we stood, it appeared much bigger than Everest. . And proceeded to fool every single one of us in the process. What we later discovered (once we had taken a bazillion photos) that the tallest and most grand moutain we were seeing, wasn’t actually the moutain we’d come to see! So all the selfies, group pictures and excitement was over a mountain that wasn’t actually the tallest. The disappointment was real (though I secretly think Lhotse was a more spectacular mountain anyway!)

Possibly the cafe with the best view in the world?!
Coming back into Namche Bazar
 

After all the confusion, we settled for the fact that we had actually seen Everest on a brilliantly clear day so all in all it was a good morning. We hiked back down to Namche for lunch and had the afternoon free to do as we pleased. It was quite a hot day so I braved an ice cold shower as it had been a couple of days since I’d had one. Hot water was an expensive commodity around these parts so a hot shower cost about $6AUD! Most of us were planning on going as long as possible without showering to save money, but the temptation was definitely there! As there was still no power most of us opted for a snooze and another wander through the town. After dinner we were settling in for another round of UNO in the dark when the lights suddenly came back on! We cheered and some of us headed down to one of the bakeries in town for a quick WIFI check in on the real world before heading back up to play more UNO.

It was another early night. We had a big hike to Tengboche tomorrow and the combination of constant exercise and the lack of air was tiring us out quite quickly. Going to sleep at 7:30pm when Big Dog goes to bed suddenly didn’t seem so unrealistic for a bunch of grown adults!

J. X

Snorkelling and Volcanic Sunsets.

Our last day in Maui!

The last couple of days went by so fast. We’d been nearly all around the island, been through coastal, rainforest and volcanic landscapes and eaten our body weight in M&Ms (they have some many different kinds!)

We had big plans for a massive last day in Maui so we woke early ready for more adventures. Grabbing another delicious acai bowl from the Farmacy we then headed south past Kihei to Makena in hopes in finding Turtle Town. We’d come across Turtle Town on the internet which promised heaps of turtles all year round in this elusive bay. After finding the bay, we discovered that a) the Internet lied again and b) snorkelling in a choppy ocean is not a good time. Giving up on the turtle hunt, we sunbaked for awhile before heading back to Kihei for lunch. We were feeling way too lazy to do anything productive so after another ABC lunch (aka whatever random things we found at the convenience store) we sprawled out on the beach once more, trying to get at least a shade darker. It was crazy how un-sunburnt we were getting. I know sun-baking frowned upon but we spent days and days in the sun without getting any darker. If we had tried this at home we would be looking like tomatoes. I guess the hole in the ozone layer isn’t so big over Hawaii, we were pretty well protected.

Deciding to finally be active we went for a snorkel for the last time. Buying our own snorkel set was probably the smartest thing we did. It was so nice to get out anywhere and be able to go for a snorkel. It also helps that Hawaii has reefs right on the beach. Within metres you can see the coral and sea life. We snorkelled for awhile, checking out the fish and coral until we came across a beautiful green sea turtle. He/She was just gorgeous and I spent at least 40 minutes floating above him/her going about their day. Turtles seemed to have the cruisiest life. Just floating about, eating seaweed and making friends with lost clownfish. I watched the turtle until he swam off into the distance before I headed back to the shore.

DCIM101GOPRO
My new buddy! Could have watched him all day
DCIM101GOPRO
Hello Crush!
DCIM101GOPRO
L hanging out with our new mate
DCIM101GOPRO
Turtle love ❤

We hung out by the beach for the rest of the afternoon, only moving from the sand to the shade in the grass for a quick nanna nap. While we didn’t do as much as we had planned, it was nice to just chill out and relax. After running around Oahu and Maui ticking off bucket list items, it was great to just stop and have a break.Though as always it didn’t last long, we had one big thing to do before we left Maui. Around 4pm we grabbed a Coke ($1.50 for an XL, I need to leave Maui before my pants don’t fit), filled up the Jeep and headed towards the Haleakala National Park to catch the sunset.

Haleakala is Hawaiian for ‘house of the sun’. From Kihei it took us about two hours to reach the summit. While the distance wasn’t long, the road was super windy and we kept stopping in awe of the view. It was crazy; from the bottom of the volcano the weather turned bad with a heavy fog surrounding us. We drove through the white mist, laughing about how we chose the worst day to witness the sunset – we couldn’t even see 10 metres in front of us. However as we climbed higher, we drove out of the fog and back into sunshine and blue skies. Below us sat the heavy fog and created the most amazing view!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Above the clouds and on top of the world
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
K taking in the beautiful view

We reached the summit at approximately 10,000 feet and quickly changed into warmer clothes. The air was fresh and cool up here which was a stark contrast to the hot weather by the beach. We raced over to the edge to find a good viewing spot and waited patiently for its descent. According to my dear friend Wikipedia, the summit area of Haleakala ranks one of the best sites in the world for viewing the night sky due to having almost zero light pollution, above turbulent atmospheric conditions and little atmosphere. And I had to agree, the sky was flawless.

The sky turned from blue to pink to orange. The clouds looked out out of this world as they glowed in the last of the days sun. It was definitely one of the nicest sunsets I’d ever seen. However the beauty of the sunset also brought on a little sadness. It was like a metaphor for the trip, it had been so beautiful but it had to end. Tomorrow we fly back to Oahu for a final day before K and L head back to Australia and I continue onto Peru – which was slightly scary to think about!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
#nofilter
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
It was like being on another planet
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Bye sun
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
After the sun descended we turned around to this incredible view

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We left the summit as the sky turned to black and made our way back to the Banana Bungalow. First we made a dinner stop at Whole Foods, picking up some wine and cheese to toast the end of our trip. K and L had never been to a Whole Foods before so we spent a good 45 minutes in there wandering through the aisles lost in the decision making process. Finally immersing from the store with way more food than we intended we set up a perch for dinner in the common area at the Banana Bungalow and devoured our Whole Foods feast.

Tomorrow brings an early start as we have to be at the airport for our flight to Oahu at 9am.

J. x

 

 

Day 9 continued – Seals, New Zealand’s longest swing bridge and camping at a supermarket.

For a day that we had made absolutely no plans for, it turned out to be one of our busiest and jam-packed days! After saying our goodbyes to Pancake Rocks with one final selfie, we jumped back in Mimi and planned on cutting across the top of the top island towards Nelson. What was becoming a regular trend for the four of us, we only made it an hour down the road before getting side-tracked by a sign on the road. This one said ‘Seal Colony – 12km’ and there was no hesitation from any of us. K slammed the brakes we made a beeline for the seals. Consulting our trusty road map, we learnt that the colony was located at Cape Foulwind, an appropriate name for a point of the west coast.

Cape Foulwind - the most appropriately named place in New Zealand.
Cape Foulwind – the most appropriately named place in New Zealand.
 We found the seal colony easily and after a short walk, we were greeted by a viewing platform that overlooked the colony. Cape Foulwind was certainly living up to its name and the vicious winds were knocking us about for a six. The viewing platform was quite high up from the colony but the shiny fur of the seals were unmistakable. Excited at our first proper seal sighting, we squealed like little girls and were mesmerised by their antics for a good half hour or so.
Spot the seal!
Spot the seal!
P1070057
Stopping in for a drinks break at a lone cafe just down the road, we found a pamphlet for New Zealand’s longest swing bridge. The Buller Gorge Swing Bridge, located just outside Murchison, was a couple of hours drive away so we voted to swing by there for lunch (pun totally intended). It was another windy drive and while the distance wasn’t that long, it took forever to get there! By the time we reached the swing bridge, we were itching to get out and stretch our legs.
The beautiful Buller Gorge and swing bridge, just outside Murchinson.
The beautiful Buller Gorge and swing bridge, just outside Murchinson.
The Buller Gorge Swing bridge is 110 metres of swaying rope that hangs precariously across the Buller River. You can walk across the bridge and explore the surroundings of the Buller Gorge area, enjoying a bush walk through the native New Zealand nature. Or, if you’re a little bit more adventurous, try 160m Cometline across the river. Not one to shy away from some fun, we booked tickets and paired up to do the tandem Cometline. It was exhilarating as we whizzed across the river at lightning speed. I’d probably rate it a 6 out of 10 for being an adrenaline raiser. Its no bungee jump but definitely something that the whole family can do.
Walking across the Buller Gorge Swing Bridge
Walking across the Buller Gorge Swing Bridge
Being the only people there, we mucked around on the bridge for a long time!
Being the only people there, we mucked around on the bridge for a long time!

While our heart rates settled back to normal, we made a quick lunch in the van while the rain started to spit down on us before continuing on towards Nelson. Not going to lie, we may have underestimated the driving time for today as it seemed like we would never get to Nelson!

I took over driving for awhile while K had a nap and I had to commend her on her driving skills. These windy roads took a lot of focus and concentration – the fact that she could sing along with us and drive on the right side of the road was a miracle!

The long day was starting to take a toll on our energy and mood levels and by the time we reached the outskirts of Nelson, we were ready of a wine or five. Discovering that we could free camp at the local New World supermarket, we battled through peak hour traffic and reversed Mimi into a first class park right outside the supermarket entrance. Our mood levels lifted as we giggled over camping spot for the night. It wasn’t quite as spectacular as the snow capped mountains and sapphire coloured lakes we’d camped beside previously, but A+ for convenience!

The need for an alcoholic beverage for pretty high by this stage so we braved the dodgy looking pub across the road and discovered $10 jugs of cider available. Suddenly, the Post Boy on the corner wasn’t looking so dodgy! After a jug (or three, but who’s counting?) we walked to the centre of town and found a Mac’s Brewery offering burgers and wine. Nelson was just speaking our language and we got a little carried away. Several bottles later and a lot of inappropriate conversation, we stumbled back to Mimi – still finding camping beside a supermarket hilarious.

Tomorrow morning may hurt. But we’re exploring Nelson!

J. x

 

Day 7 – Tekapo, not quite what we expected.

Sometimes when travelling, you build up a high expectation of a place and when you finally arrive your past illusion is shattered by reality and you leave feeling a little let down.

We were en route to Lake Tekapo where the promise of turquoise waters and forest scenery were waiting for us. Passing through the mountainous range of Twizel and Mt Cook, we wasted driving time by singing Taylor Swift and Shania Twain into the GoPro and unfortunately running over something we think was a cat. Oops.

It was mid afternoon by the time we stopped at the southern end of Lake Pukaki for a break. We made a unanimous decision to skip Mt Cook and save more time for the north of NZ (hello wine country!) so instead of heading up towards Aoraki, we continued northwest onto Lake Tekapo.

A quick stop at Lake Pukaki
A quick stop at Lake Pukaki

I don’t know why I had such a built up of anticipation for Lake Tekapo. I guess the unnaturally blue waters you see in photos on Instagram have a lot to do with it, but as we drove into Tekapo I admittedly was slightly underwhelmed. It might just have been the wrong time of day and season, but the whole area was a little gloomier than I had expected. We stopped in for a walk down to the Lake to appreciate the clear, turquoise water. The photos don’t lie, it is a bright hue of blue and crystal clear. The grey stones that hugged the water were smooth and the sparse shrubs that popped up every now and then were spiky. I had envisioned rich forestry surrounding the lake but in actual fact the landscape was rather arid.

The clear waters of Lake Tekapo.
The clear waters of Lake Tekapo. (note -this is just slightly edited 😉 )

We took a drive to find a campsite for the night up near the neighbouring lake of Lake Alexandria when we saw a turn off for Mt John Observatory. Not one to miss something, K navigated Mimi up the steep and windy road until we reached the top. They weren’t kidding, there actually was a proper observatory up here – and a cafe, and we don’t say no to a cafe.

The Mt. John Observatory is New Zealand’s premier astronomical research observatory. This is due to Lake Tekapo having the most spectacular night skies in the world. The clarity and visibility of stars in this area are the reason why Mt John Observatory has made it known to astronomers universally wide.

The bare and arid surroundings of Mt John Observatory. You wouldn't believe how cold it was up here!
The bare and arid surroundings of Mt John Observatory. You wouldn’t believe how cold it was up here!

We had a wander around the site and absorbed in the stark landscape that surrounded us. The wind was bitterly cold and the view could be seen for miles. It was such a remarkable change to greenery we saw further south. Just another reason why New Zealand is so fascinating – there is just so many different things to see. Stopping in at Astro Cafe for a sugar kick, we ordered coffee and the biggest brownie I’ve seen. Astro Cafe has been called ‘the best place on the planet for a coffee’ and I would have to agree. Not only was the view of Lake Tekapo spectacular, the coffee and brownie were pretty dang delicious – jut what we needed to keep us going to find a free camping spot for the night.

Sitting on top of the world... sort of.
Sitting on top of the world… sort of.
Delicious treats from Astro Cafe, at Mt John Observatory.
Delicious treats from Astro Cafe, at Mt John Observatory.

Using the Jucy app we had planned to stay at a freedom camping spot at Lake Alexandria, which was close to Mt John. However as we pulled into the sparse, ghost town-like setting, there was a chill that set over the van. It felt a bit like the beginnings of a horror movie – the decrepit, empty caravans, rubbish rolling in the breeze and not a soul in sight. We made the unanimous decision to hightail it out of there and find somewhere else with a little more life about it.

Driving out of Tekapo, I was a little sad that it wasn’t how I imagined it. For future reference I think more time is needed there, just to explore and witness the gloriously blue lake at a different time of day. While I was happy to be driving out of Tekapo, I was sad that we hadn’t given it more of a chance… But I was in no mood to be a main character in the next Saw movie.

On the road again, just can't wait to be on the road again..
On the road again, just can’t wait to be on the road again..

We drove on, following a threatening dark storm cloud until we reached the small town of Fairlie. The night was definitely upon us and we were tired and eager to get out of Mimi for awhile. Flying past a sign for accommodation we did a U-turn and found ourselves at Musterers High Country Accommodation. It looked perfect – but more on that next post!

J. x

Day 5 – Free Camping At The Prettiest Spot In NZ and A Morning In Arrowtown

I don’t think I went into enough detail about our night at Lake Hayes. It was so much lovelier than the small paragraph I gave it in the previous post so I’ll try again – lets just rewind back to where we pulled up at Lake Hayes.

First of all you should know we came across this little camping spot on the Jucy app, which K downloaded before we left. This nifty app is perfect for campers around NZ, it shows you all the free and paid camping around New Zealand, where various dump and water stations are and has heaps of cool little tips and tricks – definitely recommend downloading this baby before setting off on a road trip!

So after we parked up and did our usual leap out of the van and admire the scenery for 10 minutes or so before we set up for drinks and nibbles by the lake where a mob of very friendly ducks and geese wanted to join us. Us four growing up on a farm, let them join us in our wine and cheese time. A chook catcher from way back, K lured the big goose into a false sense of security by feeding it some biscuits before swooping in and picking the startled goose up! After a bit of a cuddle, she let him go and he stormed off back into the water, the rest of the flock following him. Best way to get rid of some pesky birdlife!

It was such a magical way to end our fabulous day. The snow mountains shimmered in the lakes reflection and the scarcely dressed trees swayed in the slight breeze, the last of the yellow and orange leaves threatening to fall. The silence and serenity of this camp spot was incredible, it was like our own little slice of campers heaven.

Our backyard for the night. Can't complain!
Our backyard for the night. Can’t complain!
The friendly geese at Lake Hayes - weren't so eager to hang around once they realised what K was capable of!
The friendly geese at Lake Hayes – they weren’t so eager to hang around once they realised what K was capable of!

We had a quiet night in, knackered from our big day of fun. After a failed attempt at a game of cards and a really good saucepan of noodles, we slept soundly until the sun started to peek through the mountains the next morning.  Wiping the condensation from Mimi’s windows, I could see the sky painted a golden colour which made the ripples in the water sparkle in the morning sun. It was going to be another glorious day.

Mimi and our campsite at Lake Hayes - utter serenity!
Mimi and our campsite at Lake Hayes – utter serenity!

We went on a quick hike around the lake and found some old kayaks and a swing hanging off a large, gnarled tree. The beauty of Lake Hayes was still hard to believe, how could a place be so lovely? As per usual, our growling stomachs got the best of us and we made a quick brekkie before packing up and heading into Arrowtown – a short 20 minute drive away.

K enjoying the serene atmosphere at Lake Hayes
K enjoying the serene atmosphere at Lake Hayes

We’d all been told to go to Arrowtown by our various friends who’d already been to New Zealand and driving into the charming little town it was easy to understand why. Popular for its historic charm and boutique shops, Arrowtown is like stepping back into the times of the gold rush. We parked up and wandered through the old western style streets in search of a coffee. Autumn is definitely a brilliant time to visit NZ, the sunny days are complimented by snowy mountains and the yellow leafy trees just make for a beautiful view, all day, every day.

The western style streets take you back to times of the gold mining days
The western style streets take you back to times of the gold mining days
The stream running parallel to Arrowtown
The stream running parallel to Arrowtown

We found coffee at a small little cafe hidden away called Espresso Love and plugged in all our technology which had been drained from our copious photo taking and music playing. Giving into self restraint, we shared a chocolate caramel slice which was probably the yummiest I’ve tasted. Way better than any slice I’ve tried to make!

We caffeinated up and took turns having a looksie through the shops while someone stayed and manned the technology – ah the first world problems we suffer today! The shops were full of beautiful and unique homewares – definitely a place to remember when I finally settle down and have my own house!

Having a final browse through the streets, we got back in Mimi and headed north-ish to Wanaka – which was about an hour away. A great way to start the morning, I’m definitely am on the Arrowtown bandwagon. It has lovely shops, great coffee and a history lesson all in one – perfect for a day trip from Queenstown!

A plethora of colour, Arrowtown was just delightful.
A plethora of colour, Arrowtown was just delightful.

Continuing our journey, we took the scenic route from Arrowtown to Wanka going via the Cardrona ski fields. Hoping for snow similar to what we saw down near Milford Sound, we were left disappointed as the chill had only set in enough to leave a harsh landscape and a bitter wind. It was still a gorgeous drive – albeit windy, with the mountains uprising around us the stark landscape a huge contrast to the greenery we saw down south.

Driving out of Arrowtown towards Cadrona and Wanaka
Driving out of Arrowtown towards Cardrona and Wanaka

Using the trusty old road map we navigated our way to Wanaka in good time. The glorious Lake Wanaka sat before us, living up to all the photos I had been seeing on Instagram. Hunger was getting the best of us so we parked in a public car park and went for a search for lunch.

But I’ll save that for the next post…

J. x