Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Hobbits in New Zealand

Hello from Te Awamutu, home of Crowded House. Who's that you ask? Some 80s band, but it excited J. 

Te Awamutu is not on the trail, but we've had the good fortune of connecting with a stateside friend's cousin's husband's father. Got the connection? So they were awesome enough to be used as a mail drop and host us overnight (and cook us breakfast, lunch, dinner, let us do laundry, shower, use their Internet ...). Still can't get over their incredible hospitality, especially during the holidays and family time. And still can't get over that we had a double trail angel week!

Our trail angels (Mike, Olivia, Terry, Pearson and Sam)

Our trail angels (Mike, Olivia, Jan & Pearson)!

We haven't traveled far since we left Hamilton and this is not really a trail update. We actually went on a non-hiking excursion!

Our gracious Hamilton hosts (remember the family with Paula, Michael and Nathan from the last post?) drove us to Matamata where you can tour the set of "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit." It is fondly called Hobbiton. It was fantastic!! Here are some fun facts, pictures and even a video.

*In 1998, location scouts chose the 1250-acre Alexander family sheep farm just outside of Matamata for "The Shire," home of the Hobbits
*They built 39 hobbit holes with untreated materials and promised the Alexander family they would dismantle it when filming finished the "Lord of the Rings Trilogy." However, bad weather delayed everything and the farmers started thinking they could make a little money letting people tour the set
*The first tours had 5-6 people. Now they get up to 3,000 people a day!
*They did rebuild the set with sustainable materials for "The Hobbit" and have kept it for the tours
*To keep things authentic to hobbit life, the producers did things like brought in fake trees, painted fake moss on the fences, blew a horn every morning to scare away the loud birds (like the native NZ bird tui that sounds like R2D2) and removed all the frogs from the ponds
*None of the sheep from the Alexander family farm were in the movies because they didn't look authentic enough. They were removed temporarily and replaced by other sheep
*You could be a hobbit if your height is 5'3", (mom). There were about 7 locals from Matamata that got a role. Plenty of other locals got jobs building the sets, etc.
*For the party scenes, they brewed a special 1% percent so that the actors wouldn't get too drunk

And here are some pix from our off-trail adventure! 

Bilbo Baggins house

Samwise house

The Green Dragon Pub, which was featured burning in "The Hobbit" 

Stay tuned, we have some more non-hiking adventures coming!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Days 25-32: 200K From Auckland to Hamilton

Hello from Hamilton! We have traveled 200 kilometers, or 120 miles, from Auckland. We are 793K into the trek, more than 25% done!

Last Monday, we left the Brown Kiwi Hostel and made our way south. In keeping with the "theme" theme I have going on the blog, here are the main themes from this past week!

1) Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (and Boats too actually)
We continue to do a lot of road walking. 125Ks, or 75 miles. I don't love it, but here's the thing. I've come to terms with it. And we can always count on something interesting, like people we meet, mailboxes and beautiful houses. This time around, we added a few bonuses. The first part of the trek meandered through the streets and neighborhoods of Auckland. Auckland is a city of (dormant) volcanoes and we walked over and by a few of them. 

View of the city from Mt. Eden 

One Tree Hill is another dormant volcano

We have also have gone through a few very cool regional and city parks, Auckland's botanical gardens, and an avocado tree farm (where you are allowed to take 5 avocados each, but they were all too high!!).

Can't reach the avocados! Thanks for teasing us!

Thieves operate here?

We camped at the coolest regional park (Ambury), which was a working farm. They also let TA hikers camp for free, making it even more awesome.

Friendly buggers

As we made our way toward the airport (literally walking right by it), we were entertained by the planes flying overhead and dreaming about all the places we could go.

Air Tahiti ... Ooh la la

Eventually, we saw a view of Auckland one last time and looked out to our next section.

Where we came from

There have been a lot more views as we go up higher and higher!

Where we would be going

More of where we have walked

One last thing I should say about road walking. We have been stopped several times for directions from people who are lost. Do we look like locals? Do locals usually roam the streets with large backpacks for fun? The funny thing is, we've actually helped out at least 2 of the times.

2) Christmas
It hasn't really felt like the holidays here. First and foremost, the weather has definitely switched to summer (yeah for days without rain! But boy is it hot!). People don't decorate their houses like in the US. We've only seen a few trees in windows and we've heard Christmas music while in towns. But overall, it just didn't feel like Christmas. 

Still, we celebrated doing what we do best. We hiked. Fun fact, we have now spent every holiday hiking (Thanksgiving, New Years, both birthdays ...). On Christmas Eve, we tried singing Christmas carols while hiking, but found we only knew one line from each song. We did have a great Eve dinner at the Clevedon Pub (thanks for the recommendation Clara) and camped at a pretty awesome spot at Hunua Falls for our wake up on Christmas morning, then proceeded to find $1.50 outside the tent (Santa?). But Christmas was just another day of hiking. We did treat ourselves to a lamb dehydrated meal from the outdoor store here in NZ (costing twice the amount these meals cost in the states) and dined on that Christmas night.

Not a bad place to wake up on Christmas morning

Lamb, potatoes and veggies is what's for Christmas dinner!

3) Stopbanks
We've learned a lot of new words in NZ. For example, they use the term "metalled road" for gravel roads. The first time we read "metalled road" in our trail notes, we were literally looking for a metal road and thought we were lost. But I digress. In this past section of trail, we learned "stopbank." We kind of figured it meant a trail uphill from a river. But what it really means is "trail uphill from a river with really tall grass." We have trekked 25K, or 15M on stopbanks in this section. Fun times.

Tall grass is a sure fire way to get J's allergies going

4) Forest VS Paved Paths
Of course there was forest in this section, but we were quite pleased with the trails through the forest, with the exception of one 6K section in the Mangatawhiri Forest. The path was muddy and we lost it a few times, which was not new. The new feature were the insane vines. It was like an obstacle course and I am very surprised neither of us tripped! What I think is extra hilarious is there was even a sign warning us of its treacherous nature.

Nice of them to warn us at kilometer 690 ... Like we didn't know this by now!

This is how the Te Araroa is so schizophrenic. Awesome, blazed trail one minute and crappy bushwhacking the next. When we were in the Hakarimata Reserve, there were stairs leading up to the first few lookouts, then a rooty, rocky and muddy trail, then another lookout and the beautiful stairs leading down the other side. There are tons of day hikers heading up to the lookouts on either side, but I'm going to guess few people enter the rooty, rocky and muddy section in between other than those silly TA hikers. 

Stairway to Heaven

Another example of a beautiful pathway

5) Water Issues
A fair amount of this week has been spent meandering along the Waikato and Waipa Rivers. You would think with all the water around, we wouldn't be thirsty. But, we have been. The days have been hot and the sun strong. And SEVERAL people have advised us to "please don't drink from the river." Hmmmm. Our options are pretty limited and we have drank from the river (Sawyer filtered it of course!), but we have also knocked on a few doors to fill our bottles. We have spent a good portion of our days dreaming about cold drinks.

So thirsty, so thirsty

We've passed 2 cafes that were supposed to be open (and where we were hoping to get a cold drink) and they were closed. One of them was at the Huntly Golf Course. The cafe wasn't open, but the men's locker room was totally unlocked. So we helped ourselves to a quick shower. J said it was his best shower ever, but he says that about every shower these days. 

 Thanks Huntly Golf Club for the unexpected shower even though your cafe was closed!

6) GPS VS Trail Notes/Maps
Since we've had an abundance of sun, we've been able to charge our solar charger everyday and in turn, charge our GPS watch. So we've been tracking our day's mileage (or kilometers in this case). What we've discovered, in true Te Araroa fashion, is that the actual miles are longer than what the maps/notes show/say! Maybe just 1-3K, but it adds up. Our progress for 1K of forest is completely different than our progress on roads, so it is really, really fun when we are actually walking more than we expected. Makes it hard to plan more than a day or 2 out. I heard somewhere that the trail is actually 3,150+ kilometers instead of the 3,000K we've been thinking, so this would make sense. Always a curveball with this trail!

7) Making Money
J has made money while on the trail. Well besides the money he finds on the ground, he placed first in his fantasy football pool!! How crazy is that, huh? 

8) Amazing Hospitality
I've mentioned the generous nature of the Kiwis. We continue to meet people on the streets and hitch the occasional ride. The other day a guy drove by us as he was coming home from work. He came all the way back to us after getting home to offer us a ride up further on the road since it was such a hot day! But, Sunday, we hit the best trail Angels yet.

We were walking into Hamilton. We didn't think we'd get to Hamilton until Monday, so we didn't book any hostel and it was late in the day. As we were walking on the city's riverwalk, we passed a young family (Paula, Michael and Nathan) and they asked about our walk, which then posed the question about where we were staying for the night. Almost immediately, they offered their lawn. Then they offered a shower. Then laundry (as well as detergent!). Then outlets to charge our electronics. Then free wifi. But the icing on the cake was they cooked us dinner and breakfast! Oh wait, there's more. Then they drove us to a tourist attraction we wanted to visit. Amazing. They made us feel so welcomed and didn't think they were doing anything special. Their generosity was so humbling and inspiring. We are so lucky to have met such a lovely family and we can only hope they know how appreciative we were of every detail. (Paula, please please send us an e-mail with your address!!)

True Trail Angels: Paula, Michael and Nathan

We got to do some sight seeing today, so stay tuned for a little non-hiking action on the blog soon!!!!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Day 25 (Zero Day) and Northland Stats

Today (Sunday), we took a planned zero day in Auckland. Besides our regular town chores (blog, laundry, resupply, phone calls), we also treated ourselves to American football and American pizza!

Since today is Sunday in NZ and Saturday in US and the American football schedule has Saturday night football, we lucked out. So we tracked down a place that was showing the games. And it just happened to be Sal's Authentic New York Pizza!! Thus we enjoyed our $30 (!!!!) pie with football to boot.

Sometime this past week, we completed the "Northland" section of the trail. Of course I have some Northland stats for you!

500K / 300 Miles
Rough Breakdown of Ks/Ms
178K/106.3M of road walking
139K/83.4M of beach walking
120K/72M of forest (jungle) walking
30K/18M of farm walking
14K/8.4M of river/estuary "walking"
13K/7.8M of boat rides
6K/3.6M of gravel path walking
21 days
1 (semi-forced) zero day
16 nights in a tent
5 nights in a bed
7 showers
6 falls for P (this means I was on my butt)
1 lost toenail (P)
7 holes dug for "business" for J
7 holes dug for "business" for P
3 servings of fish and chips
1 meat pie
5 hitches
Favorite Section: toss up between Mangawhai Cliffs and city park through KeriKeri
Least Favorite Section: the unmarked sections that make us scratch our heads ... Oh wait, that's been almost everyday. Okay, if we have to pick - Raetea Forest
Best Breakfast: Top of the Dome Cafe after the Dome Forest
Best Lunch: Vinny D's Fish & Chips in Pahia
Best Dinner: The Pizza Barn in Waipu

Just in case we can't check in before the holidays, Merry Christmas to all AND Happy Boxing Day!!