Tuesday, April 9, 2013

New Zealand Part 2 - The South Island

It's 6 AM and after waking up after 8 for the past two weeks, it's hard seeing the light of day at this hour! But, we must get up because we're off to the South Island and must catch our ferry.
The Inter Islander leaves from Wellington, sails through the Cook Strait and takes around 3 hours to reach Picton. It's a beautiful trip, particularly as you approach the South Island; reminds me of our BC ferries.

Time to drive. Our destination? Nelson, and the location of one of the most awesome-nest places on earth. The drive is stunning, as usual, and a stop in the small town of Havelock is a must if you like mussels. We stop to enjoy a feast and allow the kids to stretch their legs.

Motueka is where we stayed. It's a small town about 1/2 hour drive from Nelson. A much better spot than Nelson for vacationers, and at the door step of Abel Tasman National Park. After a full day of travel, the pool and play grounds were a welcomed sight. We'd had enough of the kids by this point and they'd certainly had enough of us!

The following morning, I prepped for "The Ride". After packing the bike, and a few things to eat, I headed back to Nelson. The Dun Mountain trail was my mission. It's a 40 km loop that starts in Nelson, making it very accessible. You can access the trail via a few different spots, but I started the ride at Brook Street and parked the car near the Dun Mountain trail sign. It's hard to miss; going south on Brook, it's on your left. Once there, just park the car on the street.

Be prepared, this trail is far from anything and at times, very exposed. I was lucky, on that day the weather was perfect, but like many trails like this, the weather can change quickly.

The trail follows an old mine railway, making the climb fairly level. Don't be fooled by what seems easy, you do gain almost a 1000 vertical meters so it's not for beginners and a good challenge for intermediate riders. The ride up goes through varied terrain, from open farmland to lush dense forest. Wonderful views of the city and the ocean in the distance, at one point I was starting to feel like a Japanese tourist, taking way too many pictures of the same things.

First stop, Third House, a good place for a quick snack and the perfect rain shelter if you need it. This is where you decide: keep going or turn back the way you came. If you choose to keep going, this point is where the loop gets serious and where the true back country starts. From here you're on your own and must commit (I'm not 100% sure but I don't think there's cell coverage anymore).

Getting closer to the top, the true spirit of the trail shows itself. You feel so small surrounded by the never ending mountains, you can see for kilometers. Every time I'm far away from civilization and surrounded by peaks like this, I'm always humbled.

Made it! On the top I stand! And now for the super ultra weird: I'm 12000 kilometers from Vancouver in the southern hemisphere and it's here where I bump into this guy that works in Prince George, BC, Canada. WTF!?!?! Lee is originally from Nelson, now living in BC, and was down on holidays visiting family. Still, what a truly small world!

What goes up must come down. After chatting a bit, we hit the downhill together. Man, it must have taken a lot of work to build this; the trail winds down a perfect gradient - never too steep and never too slow. You can build up some serious speed, so be careful. Next time you see trail builders, thank them, as they are the mountain bike angels sent from above.

As it turned out, I was guided back to the car by the perfect guide. Lee showed me a few more hidden trails that, without him, I never would have ridden - complete with a trail that went through a sheep farm (so Kiwi)! What a perfect day. Thanks Lee - see you at the TOM.

We headed to Abel Tasman National Park the next day with the kids. It's a fairly easy walk on a very well maintained path, perfect for the young ones. White sandy beaches, beautiful landscapes; everything you can dream of. After spending the previous day in the mountain, I am now only 30 minutes away sitting on a log watching my kids swim in the warm ocean. I could see myself living here, that's for sure!

After a few days in the Nelson area we're off again, driving south towards Hanmer Springs and the last part of our trip. This was one of my kids' favorite spots: the hot pools and water slides. They just couldn't get enough of it (I did, but  they needed to have fun as well!). In Hanmer Springs, we took our time, relaxed, did a bit of shopping and enjoyed dinner outside with some good Kiwi wine.

We headed back to Wellington for one last day down under before our flight back to BC. What better way to end things than with a dance party in the Young living room. What a great time we had. We didn't feel much like leaving and could easily have stayed a few more weeks. This trip was such a success and couldn't have been done without the kiwi hospitality of our good friends, the Young Family. Thanks for everything guys, big kisses and we'll see you soon. Kia Ora!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

New Zealand Part 1 - The North Island

All good things come to an end eventually. We’re back home after what turned out to be one of the best trips we ever had as a family. It all started on a sunny Saturday afternoon in March. With our gear and kids in toe, we headed to the airport for our 14 hour flight to Auckland.

Surprisingly, the flight didn't feel all that long; we arrived in Auckland early morning. New Zealand is very strict on imports, as in fruits, pests, etc… they check everything! Hiking boots, tires, luggage… so be prepared, clean everything very well, and don’t bring any fruits with you as the fines are bloody expensive. After finally passing through customs, on to our connecting flight to Wellington we went.

In Wellington we were greeted by a longtime friend. We haven’t seen each other for a long time, but it felt like it was just yesterday we were having beers together; when you have good friends, it’s for life. I’ll spare you all the details, but after all the hugs and seeing our godchildren, who are now four years older, I was a bit emotional.

After catching up and resting a bit in Wellington, we get things really going with a trip up to Lake Taupo. The drive there was beautiful, the coast line, volcanos… the landscape changed so much in such short distances, you didn't have a chance to get bored. Lake Taupo is the biggest lake in New Zealand. We were treated with warm water and sunny skies - perfect place for the kids and the perfect spot for me to go on my first kiwi ride, guilt free!

Waihaha track was my first ride; the trail starts at the highway and basically follows the Waihaha River. The trail is all single track, going through, at times, dense bush and dense podocarp forest. Once at the hut you can either go on or go back the way you came. The trail (or track as the kiwis call it) is a gentle grind up with some short steep technical up hills. Some sections were a bit overgrown, but as a whole the trail was 100% rideble.

The real fun is on the way back. All those steep technical ups are now sweet downs and at times, airs. What a great introduction to kiwi trails and what is to come. I predict (quite correctly it turns out) that if it’s all like this, I’m going to have a hard time going back home! Total time was around 3 hours, with 20 km out and back.

For the next few days I park the bike and put on the hiking boots (I know… I was forced to do it at gun point I swear!). It was well worth it because the whole family loved it. Our hike at Tongario national park was the highlight for me and a good test to see if the kids had what it takes for eventually more challenging and difficult hikes. I must say, they did very well; my oldest had no problem whatsoever and the young one (she’s only four) complained only a few times that she was tired - not bad. Hot springs, beaches, boat rides and volcanoes filled the rest of our time in and around Taupo - everything to keep the whole family occupied.

Ride number two, the Great Lake Trails and the W2K track, an approximate 25 km loop on an amazingly smooth trail. The trail is so smooth you can play billiards on it! Remember I’m from the North Shore and smooth is not something we have much of. Climbing trails like this feels almost like cheating. As you’re looking at the stunning views, you don’t realize how much vertical you've just gained. It’s the perfect trail to bring beginners/intermediate riders with you, while being extremely enjoyable for the advanced ones.

These trails are two-way, so be careful on the way down! It’s all too easy to go fast and being from North America, I’m not used to this whole 'stick to the left' thing. Needless to say, I had a few close calls, so to the front Jimmy went! Now following, I could relax; follow my mate's wheel and cruise back home with the mandatory manuals thrown in for fun.

A New Zealand trip can’t be complete without a Hobbit dose, and being a fan and fairly close to Hobbiton, we had to go. It’s definitely a tourist thing but not so much that it gets annoying (as some American tourist traps are). It has something for everyone - kids and adults alike, and is a good way to waste a day in middle earth – a must for all Lord Of The Rings fans.

Back to Wellington with time to enjoy this wonderful city. It's very easy to get around by foot as it’s fairly compact and has a few surprises, so keep your eyes open. For me the jewel is the botanical gardens. To get there, take the cable car from downtown, which drops you off in the middle of it. It's kind of strange, one minute you're in the heart of the city and the next, you're in the middle of what seems to be the Garden of Eden. Once in the park you can walk back down towards downtown through its lush vegetation. Such a wonderful place.

Well that's it for now, stay tuned for part 2: "The South Island"