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One happy guy on a hike on the Coromandel Peninsula.
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Part of the Matapouri walk was walking through a narrow pass to emerge - upon the Pacific!
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Near Cape Reinga, on Te Werahi Beach, the Tasman Sea is COLD.
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Gail's best shot of the trip? It's over Lake Matheson, looking toward Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman.
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Ace guide Darrell
Ace guide Darrell (note flower in hiking stick) expounds on New Zealand plant life (no, that's not Kiwi marijuana).
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Gail Rheinheimer in New Zealand
The Greatest Day Hiker Of Them All in a tight cold spot on Franz Joseph Glacier.
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Hilli Maas-Barrett hams it up with helper Vanessa.
Just outside the Kai Kart on Stewart island, owner Hilli Maas-Barrett hams it up with helper Vanessa. (Kai is the Maori word for food; the fish and chips were great.)
Hikes, February 17-March 6, 2010. Up, down and around all three islands of New Zealand, in mostly short hikes. About 40 miles total.
Part I: Feb. 17-22. Over our nearly three glorious weeks in New Zealand (a gift to me (AND The Greatest Day Hiker Of Them All) from Leisure publisher Richard Wells as a 25-years' service pin!), we walked every day – through cities, along beaches and exploring small towns, probably covering 75 miles or more over the 18 days. The brief descriptions to follow are only of the more defined hikes – through the bush, up volcanoes, onto a glacier and to some of the most amazing vistas in the whole wide world.
February 17. Matapouri bay, ocean and town loop hike. About 2 miles.
It's a wonderful day and a stunning start to exploring a country when you begin with a "found" hike – one that we did not see in a guidebook, but which unfolded before us as we stopped to visit a recommended small bay beach, walked its length to find a trail that led to the sea. And then there was a sign indicating a trail up onto the cliffs to look down upon the pounding Pacific far below. The Matapouri loop trail then makes its way along sloping farmland and then angles back toward town and delivers you through a little neighborhood to the bay where you began. And where, on a summer day in New Zealand, it's time for a swim!
February 18. To northern tip of North Island at Cape Reinga, and down the mountain to the northern end of Te Werahi Beach. About 4 miles total.
Our long drive north to the tip of the North Island was rewarded with a stop for hundreds of sheep to cross the narrow roadway, and then with a deep fog as we reached the actual northern end of New Zealand. But as we walked through the soup toward the lighthouse (as the signs announced, but we could not see), the fog began to lift, and by the time we reached the lighthouse and viewpoint over where the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea meet, the world had opened up to provide stunning views. Halfway back up to the parking area, we hung a right onto the trail down the mountainside to Te Werahi Beach. Parts of the trail were nearly cliffside, with the Pacific-meeting Tasman Sea far below. We not only had the trail to ourselves but also, upon arrival, our own private beach. The Greatest Day Hiker was suited up and ready. In shorts, I had to make the decision on what or what not to get wet, and eventually decided – given the cool air if not the cold cold sea – to go with just skin, so as to have everything dry to put back on.
February 19. Onetangi Beach area loop hike on Waiheke Island. About 2.5 miles.
After ferrying over from the mainland and finding our way to our very nifty accommodations, we set out onto the beach and a loop that would take us up a set of 150 (?) steps, along a road with views of the sea and several of the small island's more than 20 wineries and half-dozen olive groves. The loop then heads back down another steep slope back to the sea. This short hike was apparently among the most taxing of all we undertook, as soon after we had dinner at Charley Farley's and then walked a block before stopping in for a bowl of chips – as the Kiwis sort of euphemistically call French fries – of which we just had an ample serving at Charley Farley's.
February 20. Pa loop hike in Whakanewha Park on Waiheke Island. About 1 mile. This quick up-and down loop offers a pass through forest and a campground and, at the top, good views over the water to Auckland.
February 21. To Cathedral Cove and a lakeside loop walk, later in the day, in Rotorua. About 5 miles total.
The Cathedral Cove walk, on the Coromandel Peninsula, makes is way through forested areas, with a few side spurs down the beach, before the main trail delivers you to the beach and the rock formation that gives the walk its name. We were lucky to arrive at just about the right tide, where the water was coming toward the walkway through the formation, but not blocking it yet.
The Rotorua walk was highlighted by the section along Sulphur Bay, which gets its name from the whitish, sulphurish water of the bay and from the boiling puddles, steaming pools and other hot, wet evidences of the hot rocks not far beneath the surface of the land. The sulphur smell is sometimes nearly (but not quite) pleasant in its subtleness, and far more often keenly unpleasant in its intensity. Along the way are a few larger holes of hot water, used in the past for bathing looking as uninviting as, say, a giant puddle full of rocks, sticks and very stinky, very hot and muddy water. The walk then leads back toward town, through the town's botanical gardens, which include more hot pools and beautifully manicured green spaces for bowling and croquet.
February 22. Climb of Mt. Ruapehu beyond the reach of the ski lifts. About 3 miles.
Mount Ruapehu, a 9,000-foot-high pile of volcanic rubble, is characterized as one of the world's most active volcanoes, having erupted as recently as 1996. Nonetheless, it serves, in its lower reaches, as the largest ski area in New Zealand. In the warmer months, the two lower lifts are operational and take you, at least on this day, up into the clouds. Beyond the lift, there is a blazed trail of sorts, making its way over rocks of many sizes, down to small pebbles that you sink into as you work on the steep climb. The Day Hiker took advantage of what? – her better reaction to altitude? Her better overall hiking ability? To leave me well behind and occasionally out of sight in the clouds. We got off the lift at 2:35 and were told the last one down for the day was a 4 o'clock. The Day Hiker, with no watch as always and little interest in time when she is, you know, showing off how fast she can go, took us up, up and up – to the point that we could pretend we were so close to the summit that we just had to keep on going.
Which we did, until 3:30. That's 55 minutes spent going up, with 30 to get back down, once we acknowledged that we really weren't going to get to look down into the crater that was of course still far far above us. The solution was to run down the mountain. My souvenir from the day is two shoes full of tiny pebbles, amounting to perhaps half a tumbler full of stuff. We made it back to the lift in 20 minutes flat, with The Day Hiker taking the lead toward the end and me – determined not to be outrun by an old woman – tripping over a rock and eliminating my chance in the race I was suddenly undertaking and Gail was of course totally unaware of.