The Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

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This title is only semi-descriptive of the jaw-dropping amazement this naturally thermal landscape in Rotorua brings to the eyes and imaginations of both young and old alike. Pools of vivid colors I have never before seen naturally appearing through these lands, sprinkle this trek with abundance. This fascinating destination quite impressive if you find yourself anywhere on the North Island of New Zealand.

The trek itself is just under 2 km and very easy, however due to the changing terrain you may want to still opt to wear your tennis shoes. The popular attraction, Lady Geyser, is just before the trek starts and she erupts every morning at a prescheduled specific time, so I highly recommend getting there early and not missing out on that experience. It is a man induced eruption which was a bit of a disappointment, but in all fairness, there would be no other way to guarantee the, what starts as bubbling over then quickly changes to a rocketing eruption shooting several meters into the air, show for the anticipating audience.

Filled with names like ‘Artists Palette’, ‘Devil’s Ink Pots’, ‘Champagne Pool’, and ‘Devils Bath’, there is literally another stunning sight to see around every corner. There is a small spur off the main path to take that leads to Lake Ngakoro; a vibrant seafoam green lake to rest your eyes on after taking a few stairs to get there. I was completely enthralled with its aesthetic. Along this trek take a moment to notice that even the foliage has bright greens, coppers, and rust colors dripping from every branch. Once done with the trek there is an option to walk or drive over to the mud pools, another unique thermal experience to view with spouting pools sometimes in unison as if they were choreographed.

This path through Waiotapu is truly a wonderland, but is also touristy and usually quite populated. The experience, however, of seeing the myriad of native sceneries holds its value, as there is none other like it.

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Things To Do in Mount Maunganui

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Although the South Island, with all of its grand beauty, is any outdoor enthusiasts dream, it is whipping with southerly winds blowing in from Antarctica that bring a startling chill, and I was ready for some warmer weather. My North Island discovery began with the explorations of Mount Maunganui.

This little beach town has become quite a popular surf spot and its soft sand beaches with warmer summer waters bring in tourists from all over the world. As I strolled through the main stretch of shops I heard European accents from the student workers behind the counters of several privately-owned shops and cafes. This place does draw a younger, energetic crowd that fills the atmosphere with a youthful upbeat vibe.

A must do while on The Mount is to hike up to the top. The hike itself is beautifully line with shrubbery and green foliage which also helpfully provides a bit of shade from the intense sun this mountain can get. The panoramic views of the multiple shorelines, various inlets, and the city of Tauranga are a more than worth it reward. Many people do this hike for either daily exercise or simply for the views as a visitor, so I highly recommend going early. While at the top venture out a bit and explore the various paths along the peak that will take you to different viewpoints.

The Mount has multiple hikes going around the base and to the peak; there are days filled with exploring at various fitness levels so a leisurely scenic walk with an ice cream from one of the various ice cream shops is a fun way to end the day and watch a sunset. Coming down from the hike puts you right on the main beach and the beginning of side streets filled with shops. The main beach is beautiful and full of activity from volleyball to kayaking to surfing and of course, lots of people watching.

The multitude of restaurants and cafes make where to eat a perplexing decision. The mount has food choices for every desire, from vegan cuisine, to Mediterranean to Thai this place leaves a hungry person bursting with decisions. The Mount is a great getaway for beachgoers looking for a small but lively surf town to explore and enjoy.

The Battlefield between Forces of Nature, Where Glaciers have Seceded, FIORDLAND

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These mighty mountains, with scale so large any man or animal would be left aghast and know its place, have been forced to bow into the sprawling valleys, who have demanded their space to be, left buy glaciers compelled to secede. Where the sun, God to many, has had difficulty conquering the indomitable ice and snow with skin so thick no force has been completely able to penetrate, and its thick build up is left to plummet in an avalanche destroying everything in its path. Where water, in any form, is plentiful, and its liquid form is showering over every mass with a drop it can find. Where these masses submit to the tumultuous emotions of the sea, is Fiordland.

Daring to travel Fiordland in the middle of winter, though the days were chosen wisely, the sun was shining and there wasn’t a snow flurry in sight for at least the next couple nights, the carpool departed from Queenstown in the wee hours of the morning before the sun had awaken. With layer upon layer, we were ready to venture out into what I was told was a majestic wilderness. Rounding Lake Wakatipu were kayakers determined to paddle despite the cold. With this lake so still, kayaks glided with ease through these scenic, cold waters. Rounding every icy turn Highway 6 had, down through Devil’s Staircase provides endless sights of this lake, though with breath sometimes held through some of the slick turns.

From there to Lake Manapouri lies endless native bush to explore, and some ranchlands. Lake Manapouri is also a great place for an overnight stay. With sandy shores against this massive lake and islands sprinkled throughout, it has endless trekking options. It really is an outdoor enthusiast dream that most have yet to discover. The next town is Te Anau which is a bit more populated and has its own lake filled with its own sights and allure. From here be sure to fill up on petrol, food, warmth, and anything else you might need because what lies ahead is pure wilderness.

Boulders that appear larger than the largest buildings have resigned to the flat lands of Eglinton Valley, left by an enormous glacier that once called this its home. This glacier that is now just a distant memory, was once hugged by the sloping mountains that surround; you can see its former size by looking around to see the width of this now extended valley. Down the road, a bit lie lakes so pristine and still, the neighboring Earl Mountains see their reflections with crisp clarity and vivid colors. These mirrored lakes are so clean and untouched when leaning over to see your reflection, not only do you see an exact mirror image but you will be able to make out the color of your features and the clothing you are wearing.

From here on, at every turn, when looking into the mountains, is an opportunity to see the remains of an avalanche. Some set off purposely by man to save men who are traveling through, and others, the mountains just could not bear the weight of the relentless snow and ice. These beginnings start at Knobs Flat, yet another picturesque sight. Be sure to walk across to Monkey Creek with its water so clean it’s safe to filled up on water straight from the creek. I did. In the middle of all this, Lake Gunn has made its claim to a natural rain forest with red beech trees and a variety of birds. Another perfect stop for a walk along the way, and keep an eye open for the Kea bird, a colorful mountain parrot both in sight and personality.

And now every piece of land is succumbed to the fourteen fiords where the sea holds its monopoly. The most popular and easiest to get too being Milford Sound. The term easy is used loosely due to it also being unreachable when any given avalanche decided to claim the inhabitants below, or the ice covers the road so thick nothing will provide enough traction to pass through. The only way to really experience the greatness of Milford Sound is by sea. Via boat you can see the deep cuts the ocean has gouged into the land to make its way through. Waterfalls are endless and cascading over every cliff side when rain has made has been present or the sun is forcing the snow to become water. The most well-known waterfall being Crystal Falls is consistently flowing, and if aboard a boat, you can get so close you can feel the spray.

Though these forces of nature may have contended with each other for hundreds of years, the combination of all has materialized into a great harmony allowing all to exist, composing Fiordland.

Deeply Rooted in Wanaka New Zealand

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When I look back to the places I’ve cherished most around the world they all have a common thread that ties them together. They are places where I was able to sit and just be. Places where all I could hear were the sounds of nature, and the voices of man were rare if existent at all. I found these spots all around Wanaka. I could’ve lumped a Wanaka post in with my Queenstown trip but it wouldn’t have given Wanaka the notoriety it deserves and unique identity it has. This is a place where I just walked for hours along the lake.

 

About 10 minutes into my walk I saw a man taking several photos of a tree that was surrounded by muddy water. The tree didn’t have any leaves on it and it didn’t seem that pretty to me, so I was having a hard time reconciling why out of all the beautiful scenery that surrounded the both of us he was obsessively photographing this tree. It literally looked like a giant stick in the mud to me. I looked at this tree and immediately had thoughts that it would probably end up dying. It was rooted in an area that will be covered in the lake waters as soon as the lake rises and it’ll probably drown, get uprooted, and eventually wash ashore. For now, it just stood there all by itself.

 

I walked up to the guy taking the photos of the lonesome, bare tree and said “I wonder if it’ll survive much longer?” He responded, “Well, I guess there’s no telling, but the locals call it a weed, and this weed has survived over 30 years, sometimes half submerged in lake water. I bet its roots are deep into the soil below, and its branches are always ready to absorb the sunlight. This tree has gotten quite a bit of tourist attention recently.”

 

“This tree has gotten quite a bit of tourist attention lately.” This statement had me thinking about this tree for a large part of my continued walk. What made this tree so special was not its eye-catching beauty or massive impressive size, but simply because it was making it through difficult environmental conditions time and time again. And, through these conditions it has still been able to push through only God knows what under this lake to grow roots deep enough to keep its stability. This tree is sometimes up too its branches in water and it has still been able to grow enough to always touch the sunlight and not completely drown.

 

It was such a parallel to the season my life is today and probably seasons that at one point or another many of us get to. Where we are completely out of our natural element and comfortable environment, plucked and placed far away from those who usually console us or give us advice and feedback, and left to decide what we are going to dig our roots into so that our soul gains stability. And, in these moments, when we feel the cold waters rising to our necks, are we going to choose to raised our hands in anticipation of the moments of sun made just for us to soak in its beneficial nutrients, provide comfortable warmth, and eventually cause the waters to recede.

When Jesus spoke again to the people He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

“The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the shadow of death a light in dawned.” Matthew 4:16

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify the Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

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The Road to Queenstown is as Beautiful as Queenstown Itself

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Pulling my tiny rental car over to the shoulder became a much too frequent occurrence on the way to Queenstown, but I just couldn’t help myself. The scenery had an untouched beauty that is rarely scene in more developed areas. I was planning on the drive being about four hours due to icy conditions but it turned into about eight, and I don’t regret a single second. Dressed warmly for the snow thanks to my dad who sent me some money because he knew all I has was summer clothes, I was well prepared for some freezing weather sightseeing and snow- filled experiences, cold weather hiking boots, wool socks, and all.

Along the way, the landscape is continually changing. There are dry, rocky areas that have boulders the size of large houses strewn long the fields, lakes that seem to have no end to them, and quaint towns that sit along the shores. The architecturally impressive bridges allow passage over rivers with such clears water you can see the stones that lie at the very bottom. Though it was cold and icy, the sun was shining and I could feel its warmth as I took breaks to walk along the lakes and rivers. The small little cafes were worth the stops as well, for their fresh brewed coffee and homemade baked goods. There are wineries, vineyards, farms, and orchards all along the way and they are all fun places to stop and buy goods for the stay in Queenstown.

And alas Queenstown, a town that sits among snowcapped mountains and is filled with snowboarders and skiers all along the streets walking with all their equipment to the buses that come every twenty minutes to take them to the lifts. In the town center the narrow streets are lined with restaurants, cafes, bars, and shops for every need. As for me, I skipped the tourist trap shopping and went straight for the snow.

Skiing and snowboarding is a given must do while you’re up here but one of the free and usually missed and incredible experiences is the hiking that starts right in Queenstown. It is a cold climb however it is such an uphill climb I warmed up rather quickly. The mountainous views from hiking were stunning and the fact that most of the time there was no one else on the trail was astonishing to me. I passed the occasional guys carrying their skis up a trail to apparently back country ski but that was about it. I had found the beauty of Queenstown away from the crowds.

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And Wanaka is a treasure all its own, therefore owed its own blog post.