#CatTravels: Crossing the Cook Strait to Picton

By April 23, 2016 #CatTravels

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We had settled on visiting both North and South islands on our first trip to New Zealand — not entirely advisable since we were there for just nine days — and now we just needed to figure out how.

How were we going to get there and how were we going to get back.

We could always fly. Airfare between Wellington and Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island, is about $150 one way. (At least during the time we were there.)

You can also skydive — yes, skydive — from Wellington, fly across the strait, then jump out of a plane into South Island. (Don’t believe me? Click here.)

But we wanted something more scenic and less expensive. So we opted for the ferry from Wellington to Picton, a small town located near the head of the Queen Charlotte Sound, making it a major transportation hub.

There are two operators — Interislander and Bluebridge — that run ferries between Wellington and Picton daily. We opted for the first one, mostly because of reviews I had read online.

The cost was reasonable — $65 USD per person one way without a car. (It costs more, starting at around $200, to bring a vehicle.) And though it takes longer — three and a half hours versus one if you fly — the experience of traveling across 58 miles from North to South Island is really unforgettable.

We booked our tickets online — it’s cheaper — drove our Hertz rental car to the ferry terminal at Aotea Quay and left it there. (Hertz doesn’t allow its vehicles across the ferry, so you drop one off in Wellington and pick up another in Picton.) Then we waited in the terminal, where there’s a café and several computers with Internet access. (So Internet café!)

Inside the ferry terminal in Wellington.

Inside the ferry terminal in Wellington.

On the sun deck of the Kaitaki.

On the sun deck of the Kaitaki.

Inside one of the cafés on board.

Inside one of the cafés on board.

Look! Hawaiian pizza!

Look! Hawaiian pizza!

At 9 a.m. we boarded the Kaitaki, the operator’s largest ferry with a capacity of 1,650 passengers and 600 cars. The ferry has 10 decks, four of which are accessible during the ride. Decks 7 and 8 have eateries and cafés and a gift shop. Deck 2 features a play area for kids and a theater. (During our trip, “Revenant” and “The Good Dinosaur” were playing.)

But we spent most of our time on the top sun deck (Deck 10), where we could watch North Island fade away and South Island slowly come into focus.

The Cook Strait lies between the main islands of New Zealand, connecting the Tasman Sea to the Pacific Ocean. It’s 14 miles wide at its narrowest point and considered one of the most dangerous and unpredictable waters in the world.

It’s named after the explorer Capt. James Cook, who sailed through it in 1770. In Māori its name is Raukawa or Raukawa Moana, which may mean, “bitter leaves.”

The first person to swim the strait in modern times was Barrie Devenport in 1962. He completed it in 11 hours, 13 minutes. By 2010, there have been 74 single crossings made by 65 people and three double crossings made by two people.

I’d rather ride a ferry, personally.

Sailing on the coastline of South Island.

Sailing on the coastline of South Island.

More of the South Island coastline.

More of the South Island coastline.

Within a couple of hours, we were sailing along the rugged coastline of the South Island. The west coast of this island runs 19 miles long along Cloudy Bay and past the islands and entrances into the Marlborough Sounds. As we approached the island, we could see a group of tiny islands offshore called The Brothers. They look identical in size and shape, and this small chain is a sanctuary for the rare Brothers Islands tuatara, a reptile endemic to New Zealand. The largest of the two islands is the site of the Brothers Island Lighthouse, built in 1877.

It was cool to see the island this way, to breathe in the sea air and drift past rolling hills, isolated beaches and aquaculture farms. (Salmon or mussels, maybe?)

The view from the ferry is the best part of this journey.

The view from the ferry is the best part of this journey.

Such a pristine island. We were excited to explore it!

Such a pristine island. We were excited to explore it!

While we were standing on the sun deck, marveling at the beauty around us, a group of dolphins — bottlenose, common and dusky dolphins frequent the strait — pulled up alongside the ferry.

I mean, seriously? Does it get any better?

Arriving in Picton!

Arriving in Picton!

By 12:30 p.m., we were pulling into Picton and starting our new adventure on a new island.

And our rental car was at the dock, waiting.

***

Follow my adventures in New Zealand on Instagram (@catherinetoth), Twitter (@thedailydish), Facebook (/thecatdish) and Snapchat (@catherinetoth). #cattravels

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#CatTravels: A day in Wellington

By April 22, 2016 #CatTravels, Food

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It may seem odd that we had only planned to spend one full day in Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand.

But let me explain.

I had a hard enough time deciding which island to visit on this trip. Most people recommended South Island for us, where we could hike and fish and relax. But North Island had a lot going for it, too, namely wineries, surf and trout fishing in Lake Taupō.

It was a dilemma.

I had originally planned the trip to take us from Auckland (which we mostly skipped) down to Raglan, across to Taupō, down to Wellington just to catch the ferry to Picton, skipping Christchurch, down to Queenstown, maybe to Milford Sound and Stewart Island, then fly back to Auckland from Queenstown and back to Honolulu. All in nine days.

That proved to be nearly impossible — unless we decided to sleep in our rental car along the way.

So I booked two nights in Wellington — we arrived the first night too late to do much but eat and sleep — and figured we could spend an entire day in this walkable cultural capital.

Wellington is a lot of things: It’s the capital city and government seat of New Zealand, it’s the second-most populous urban area with about 400,000 people (Auckland is the first), and it’s the southernmost city on North Island, right at the harbor that leads into the Cook Strait.

There’s also a lot to do in this small city, from visiting the $300 million (NZD) Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa to sampling some of the city’s craft beers.

We stayed at an Airbnb in Hataitai, a small suburb with about 4,600 resident on the other side of Mount Victoria from the city. We found out that there are walking trails from Hataitai to the city — part of the Mount Victoria Loop — that would mean we could ditch the car (finally!) and just walk everywhere!

The view of Hataitai from our rental.

The view of Hataitai from our rental.

Along the walking trail from Hataitai to the city.

Along the walking trail from Hataitai to the city.

The entire loop is a three-mile walk, taking about two hours.

The entire loop is a three-mile walk, taking about two hours.

At one of the lookout spots on the trail. This one is atop Mount Alfred.

At one of the lookout spots on the trail. This one is atop Mount Alfred.

The Mount Victoria Loop is roughly three miles long and takes about two hours to complete. It’s not difficult, despite some hilly areas. And it’s heavily used by walkers (with or without dogs) and mountain bikers. It was cool to see people commute to the city this way. (I’d do that, too, if I lived here!)

It took us about an hour to walk from Hataitai to the city, following signposts and taking a brief side trip to an area used for the filming of “The Lords of the Rings” trilogy.

We popped out at the top of Majoribanks Street and made our way — downhill, thankfully — to Oriental Bay, where the museum is located.

Outside the Te Papa museum in Wellington.

Outside the Te Papa museum in Wellington.

Inside the museum. I love seeing the bird collection, personally.

Inside the museum. I love seeing the bird collection, personally.

Te Papa, which loosely translate to, “our place,” opens at 10 a.m. daily. And it’s free, which is astounding considering the treasures inside. The History Collection features dresses and textiles, the oldest of which date back to the 16th century. The Pacific Collection boasts more than 13,000 historic and contemporary items from all over the Pacific. And there are about 70,000 specimen of New Zealand birds, the world’s largest specimen of the rare colossal squid, and various cultural exhibits on music, photographer, pop culture and Māori taonga (cultural treasures).

What’s not here anymore are two priceless historic Hawaiian ali‘i garments — a feathered cloak and helmet that Kalani‘ōpu‘u gave to Capt. James Cook in 1779. These were returned to the Bishop Museum in Honolulu earlier this month. (Read more about that here.)

One of the most amazing exhibits at the museum is “Gallipoli: The Scale of War,” a collaboration between Te Papa and the world-class artistry of the Weta Workshop. It tells the story through the eyes and words of eight ordinary New Zealanders during this pivotal battle during World War I. These giant sculptures — 2.4 times human size — took 24,000 hours to create.

A quick chicken meat pie from the museum café and we were off!

A quick chicken meat pie from the museum café and we were off!

Our next stop was the Wellington Botanic Garden, a leisurely — albeit uphill — 1.2-mile walk across the city. (You can also catch the Wellington Cable Car, which runs between Lambton Quay and the top of the garden.)

First established in 1868, this 62-acre garden covers the hillside between Thorndon and Kelburn near central Wellington. It features a protected native forest, conifers and various plant collections including an Australian garden, the Begonia House with lush tropical and temperate plants, a section on just camellias and a quaint herb garden.

Strolling around the botanic garden — also free to visit.

Strolling down the winding path in the botanic garden — also free to visit.

Residents walk, bike and relax in this garden, located right in the city.

Residents walk, bike and relax in this garden, located right in the city.

The herb garden — a nice place to sit and read.

The herb garden — a nice place to sit and read.

Overlooking the Lady Norwood Rose Garden, established in 1950.

Overlooking the Lady Norwood Rose Garden, established in 1950.

My favorite part of the botanic garden was the Lady Norwood Rose Garden, a beautifully arranged garden with 110 beds of more than 3,000 roses set in a formal geometric design right outside the Picnic Café. (There’s even a trial garden on the western side, where new varieties are grown for three years before they’re included into the main garden.)

We lucked out, too, since the flowering season starts in November and ends in April.

There are dozens of different varieties here, from modern to classic.

There are dozens of different varieties here, from modern to classic.

The garden is located just outside the Picnic Café.

The garden is located just outside the Picnic Café.

Inside the Begonia House with lush tropical and temperate plants including a variety of vibrant large blooming tuberous begonias, orchids, Hippeastrum, lotus and tropical lilies.

Inside the Begonia House with lush tropical and temperate plants including a variety of vibrant large blooming tuberous begonias, orchids, Hippeastrum, lotus and tropical lilies.

We left the garden the same way we came — by walking.

This time, though, we were on a search for food.

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Cuba Street, one of the more bohemian areas of Wellington.

We decided to walk through the popular Cuba Street, the more bohemian areas of Wellington. It’s a pedestrian mall with cafés, op-shops, boutiques, art galleries and music shops. (“Mid Cuba,” near Vivian Street, was one the city’s red-light district, littered with prostitutes and strip bars. Alas, no more.)

No doubt, it’s a lively place, bustling with activity. But we were looking for something, well, quieter.

So we started heading back to Hataitai — at least in that direction — hoping to find something worth stopping for. We popped into several pubs and eateries, but nothing on the menu — or the ambiance — drew us in.

Then we hit Majoribanks Street and the start of our trek back to Hataitai. The pressure was on!

Luckily, we walked into the Tasting Room, a corner bar-restaurant that was slowly filling up with office workers grabbing pints of beer and sharing bowls of olives and feta.

Turns out, this place is known for its beef Wellington, a preparation of fillet steak coated with pâté and duxelles, which is then wrapped in puff pastry and baked. As silly as it sounds, I felt I had to have it here in Wellington. (I believe the dish has more to do with the Duke of Wellington than Wellington the city.)

The beef Wellington at the Tasting Room.

The beef Wellington at the Tasting Room.

And it was supreme, with bacon, mushroom duxelle and truffled lyonnaise potatoes — all for $36NZD. My husband called it, “A steak in a meat-pie situation.” Perfect description!

The full moon rising over Hataitai.

The full moon rising over Hataitai.

Our detour cost us some time — plus, we ate dessert — so we walked back along the trail to Hataitai by the light of the full moon.

It was a little freaky, I’m not going to lie, but there was something soothing about walking in the moonlight on this beautiful path.

I would probably bring a flashlight next time, though.

***

Follow my adventures in New Zealand on Instagram (@catherinetoth), Twitter (@thedailydish), Facebook (/thecatdish) and Snapchat (@catherinetoth). #cattravels

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#CatTravels #40Trails: No. 18: Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand

By April 21, 2016 #40trails, #CatTravels

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HIKE: Tongariro Alpine Crossing, North Island, New Zealand
WHEN: April 2016
LENGTH: 12.1 miles, one way
DIFFICULTY: Challenging
FEATURES: Barren volcanic landscape; craters; fairly high altitudes; native plants; geothermal steam vents; emerald water-filled explosion craters; can be windy and chilly, even in the fall; restrooms at a few spots along the trail; well-maintained; very crowded.

It all started with a simple question: “What do you want to do tomorrow?”

This began a Google search that ended with this suggestion from my husband: “How about the Tongariro Alpine Crossing?”

This was the conversation just before dinner the night before we decided to get up early and make the 12-mile trek across a barren volcanic landscape in the Tongariro National Park, the oldest in the country. The crossing considered one of the Top 10 best hikes in the world and takes between six and eight hours to complete.

But hiking it isn’t as easy as just showing up to the trailhead.

There’s a lot to consider, such as the weather — it can be windy and extremely cold — and terrain — you need sturdy hiking shoes. You’ll be walking at elevations above 5,000 feet and much of the trail is uphill. Neither of us had packed for serious hiking. I only had yoga pants and jeans — not the best hiking gear — and zero-include walking shoes. This would be a problem.

Then there’s the transportation.

The trek requires securing seats on a shuttle that takes you to the start of the trail (Mangatepopo). You can book these from Taupō, where we were staying about 65 miles north of the national park. Or you can park at the end — at the Ketetahi Car Park — and catch the shuttle to the start, about 20 minutes away. We booked the latter with Adventures HG at $30NZD per person.

The night before, we gathered whatever gear we could muster, picked up essentials (beef jerky, granola bars) from the nearby convenience store, and planned to meet the shuttle at the car park at 7 a.m. (That required us getting up at 4:30 a.m. to drive to the national park.)

At 7 a.m. at the Ketetahi Car Park.

7 a.m. at the Ketetahi Car Park.

After reading reviews online, we anticipated the trail would be crowded. It’s easily one of the most popular treks in New Zealand, with more than 10,000 people braving the crossing every year. So we planned to get to the car park early, around 6:45 a.m., to ensure parking.

But by the time we got there, the small parking lot was already full and we wound up finding a spot on the dirt road instead.

Most of the trekkers were younger than us, Europeans and Kiwis, most on holidays and some on extended month-long vacations. I rode on the shuttle with a young German college graduate who left Europe to travel around New Zealand for four months. “All my friends are doing it,” she said, beaming. Already, she had learned to surf and had hiked for the first time. This trek would be her second hike. Ever.

The start of the trail at Mangatepopo was a madhouse, with dozens of people jumping out of shuttles and hitting the trail. Some stood in line at the last restroom for a mile; others rushed down the boardwalk to snap photos or just beat the mob.

The start of the crossing at Mangatepopo.

The start of the crossing at Mangatepopo.

This trek is one of the best maintained trails we've ever hiked.

This trek is one of the best maintained trails we’ve ever hiked.

It was a gorgeous day for a hike.

It was a gorgeous day for a hike.

We hit the trail at around 8 a.m. I was wearing the following: a tank top, a long-sleeve tee, a high-altitude base layer, a wool pullover, a heavy-duty rain jacket and a scarf. That was just on top. On the bottom, I had my yoga pants under a pair of jeans — and two pairs of socks. I couldn’t feel the chill at all.

The second restroom at the Mangatepopo Hut.

The second restroom at the Mangatepopo Hut.

We trekked over layers of ancient and modern lava flows and other volcanic deposits, which made this part of the trail even more difficult.

We trekked over layers of ancient and modern lava flows and other volcanic deposits, which made this part of the trail even more difficult.

The section known as Devil's Staircase.

The section known as the Devil’s Staircase.

But it was a bit nippy. I needed all of those layers. At least during the first half an hour of walking. By the time we had reached the Mangatepopo Hut — where the restrooms were — we had shed most of our layers. The mid-morning sun — with no clouds in the sky — was already beating down on us. We even had to put on sunscreen.

The next part of the trek was the hardest: It’s called the Devil’s Staircase for a reason. It’s a steep climb, from 4,600 feet to 5,200 feet above sea level. And it’s brutal, especially with the elevation change. This is where hikers started to slow down or stop completely for water breaks.

And it was worth stopping, too, especially for the views. On this clear morning, we could see down the valley and out across the surrounding countryside. We could even see Mount Taranaki in the west.

Most impressive, at least to us, was the sight of Mount Ngauruhoe, more commonly known as Mount Doom in the Black Land of Mordor from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. This stratovolcano rises 7,516 feet above sea level and is made from layers of lava and tephra. It first erupted about 2,500 years ago, and it’s still active today.

There’s a three-hour, round-trip side hike to the summit. We stuck to the trail.

Mount Doom, otherwise known as Mount Ngauruhoe.

Mount Doom, otherwise known as Mount Ngauruhoe.

It took us about an hour to get through this uphill section before arriving at the flat path between South Crater and Red Crater. It was a nice reprieve, though it didn’t last very long. Before we knew it, we were climbing up the side of Red Crater to an exposed ridge, which encircled it. This part was challenging — though the worst was over — and tiring.

The flat section between South Crater and Red Crater.

The flat section between South Crater and Red Crater.

The trail leading up to the rim of Red Crater — and look, there's frost!

The trail leading up to the rim of Red Crater — and look, there’s frost!

We lucked out with these perfect views of Mount Ngauruhoe.

We lucked out with these perfect views of Mount Ngauruhoe.

A lot of hikers opted to stop here, eat lunch and take in the view.

A lot of hikers opted to stop here, eat lunch and take in the view.

The descent from Red Crater wasn’t as easy as it sounded. The loose scoria (a lightweight, dark-colored igneous rock) moves quickly and easily, making the downhill trek slippery and dangerous.

But the reward is this: three water-filled explosion craters called the Emerald Lakes.

Behold the Emerald Lakes.

Behold the Emerald Lakes.

The brilliant green color comes from minerals such as sulphur leaching from the adjoining thermal area.

The brilliant green color comes from minerals such as sulfur leaching from the adjoining thermal area.

Mount Ngauruhoe in the distance behind us.

Mount Ngauruhoe in the distance behind us.

These lakes get their color from the minerals such as sulfur leaching from the adjoining thermal area. Its Māori name is Ngarotopounamu, meaning “greenstone-hued lakes.”

The water is highly acidic and the lakes freeze over in the winter.

The steam vents in the area produced a sulfuric stench that shortened our stay here.

The Blue Lake, the final lake on the hike and the start of the downhill trek.

The Blue Lake, the final lake on the hike and the start of the downhill trek.

After the Emerald Lakes, we walked across another barren volcanic flat and around the rim of an old crater filled with water. This is Blue Lake, or Te Wai-whakaata-o-te-Rangihiroa, which translates to “Rangihiroa’s Mirror.” It’s kapu (tapu in Māori), or sacred, and no one is allowed to swim in or eat food around this lake.

The long descent.

The long descent.

The zigzag down to the Ketetehai Hut.

The zigzag down to the Ketetehai Hut.

Blue Lake marks the beginning of the end — though the end isn’t that close.

It would take another hour and a half down the switchbacks that lead out of the crater and into the rainforest where our cars were parked.

The views of lakes Rotoaira and Taupō to the north from the trail are absolutely stunning. We walked through golden tussock-covered slopes, zigzagging across the mountain, past the final rest stop at Ketetahi Hut and into a thick padocarp-hardwood forest full of native plants. Here, the temperature dropped a bit, thanks to the tree canopy and flowing streams. I actually put my rain jacket back on.

It’s a long descent from 6,188 feet at Red Crater to 2,490 feet at the car park. And by the last half an hour, I was ready for this part of the trail to end.

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The forest here reminded us a lot of the ones back home in Hawai‘i.

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The end!

We made it to the end of the trail, where only a handful of people were waiting for shuttles back to the city. It took us five and a half hours — about two hours faster than what we had planned for — and we were both ready for a glass of wine.

Or maybe several.

VERDICT: It’s easy to see what the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is considered one of the best treks in the world. The scenery is breathtaking, from steaming vents to peculiar moonscape basins to the majestic Mount Ngauruhoe. I’m just glad we had good weather: In poor conditions, this would be just an arduous uphill battle, absolutely no fun at all. You should be in reasonably good fitness to make the crossing and fairly well prepared, including wearing good hiking shoes. (Ask my feet about that.) Nice summer days can see more than 1,000 people on the trail at once, so plan accordingly. But definitely plan on it.

***

Follow my adventures in New Zealand on Instagram (@catherinetoth), Twitter (@thedailydish), Facebook (/thecatdish) and Snapchat (@catherinetoth). #cattravels

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#CatTravels: My fishing tale at Taupō

By April 21, 2016 #CatTravels, Food

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When I first started planning this trip to New Zealand, one of the only things my husband wanted to do was fish.

To say he’s an avid fisherman would be downplaying his enthusiasm. He fishes a lot, and he fishes hard. His last big trip was to Kiribati, where he and three of his friends fished all day, all night. It’s not exactly my kind of vacation.

But scheduling a day — or better, morning — of fishing in New Zealand sounded like fun. So I googled, “fishing,” and one name kept popping up: Lake Taupō.

Lake Taupō is the largest freshwater lake (by surface area) in the country. It lies in the caldera of the still active Taupō Volcano and spans 238 square miles.

It’s also well-stocked with introduced brown and rainbow trout, populations of which have increased so much on their own, there’s no need to keep stocking it and tourists are encouraged to fish them out.

Our spot at Wharewaka

Our spot at Wharewaka Point

We stopped by Taupō Rod & Tackle for some advice. The shop’s owner, Matthew Pate, rented us some spinning rods, got us our temporary fishing license (which you need here) and pointed us in the direction of two places where we could cast from shore and, hopefully, catch some trout.

The first place he suggested was the rugged Wharewaka Point to the north of where we were staying. This area stretches from Rainbow Point to Five Mile Bay on the west side of State Highway 1. It’s a small community — not more than 500 people — and a popular place for swimming during the summer months.

You can fish all along the shoreline of Lake Taupō.

You can fish all along the shoreline of Lake Taupō.

Some shorelines access, though, requires short hikes, which we didn't mind.

Some shorelines access, though, requires short hikes, which we didn’t mind.

Lake Taupō is drained by the Waikato River — New Zealand’s longest — and its main tributaries — namely, Waitahanui, Tongariro and Tauranga Taupō rivers — are favorite stops for fly fishermen. This whole area is known as the Trout Fishing Capital of New Zealand.

We were here when the dry fly begins to slow down, though fish are in peak condition and some of the biggest fish are caught in April. (May is the best month, when migratory runs start in the Lake Taupō fishing tributaries.)

But that’s OK. We were here to at least try. As my husband says, “It’s called fishing, not catching.”

We walked out to the point, and my husband spotted an area that he thought would be prime for catching fish. There was a rocky shelf, with deeper water just within casting range.

You can’t bait fish in Lake Taupō, so we used metal spoons with single hooks (no treble hooks allowed) and cast right from the beach.

Within 15 minutes, I hooked up to a 45-centimeter, three-pound rainbow trout! It gave me a bit of a fight as I reeled it in. (My husband was way more excited than I was!) Man, that was super exciting! I get why people love fishing so much!

My legal-size rainbow trout!

My legal-size rainbow trout!

The thing about New Zealand: You can’t trade or sell the fish you catch, so you have to eat it. And that also means you can’t eat trout unless you catch it. So we were doubly excited about this catch! Now we could eat it!

We had heard that the freshwater trout here tastes a lot like salmon, only cleaner and better. I had never eaten trout — don’t even know how to prepare it — so I was super interested to see how it would be prepared.

Matt from the fishing shop said most Kiwis smoke their trout before eating it. We went to a nearby butcher who could have done it for us, but we didn’t have enough time. (He needed a day or so to smoke it.)

The Waterside Restaurant & Bar right in town can prepare your catch — you just have to leave the head and tail on so the kitchen knows it’s legal size — for $40NZD with two sides.

What a deal!

After about an hour and a half, we went back to the restaurant and ate my catch. The trout was steamed with lemon slices, onions and herbs, and delivered to our table whole. (The server normally removes the head and spine, but we didn’t mind picking through the bones.) And people were right: It does have the texture of salmon but tasted a lot cleaner and fresher.

My catch, all cooked up by The Waterside Restaurant & Bar

My catch, all cooked up by The Waterside Restaurant & Bar.

My poor husband. He spent the next few hours fishing at different spots long the lake, even jumping in a kayak and going to a point near the place we were staying at Acacia Bay.

Nothing. Not even a bite.

But hey, at least one of us caught something. But I can see why it’s tempting to cast your line one more time.

***

Follow my adventures in New Zealand on Instagram (@catherinetoth), Twitter (@thedailydish), Facebook (/thecatdish) and Snapchat (@catherinetoth). #cattravels

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#CatTravels: Last surf before heading to Taupō

By April 19, 2016 #CatTravels, Food

surf raglan

You can’t leave Raglan without surfing.

So on our last morning in this laid-back surf town, we hiked down to Ngarunui Beach and waited for the Raglan Surfing School to show up. This outfitter operates sets up a kiosk every day at around 9 a.m. — depending on the surf — and rents out boards and wetsuits.

I had briefly considered bringing my own board to New Zealand. But when we had plotted out the trip, it didn’t make sense to lug that kind of bulky equipment around if we were only going to surf for, at the most, a couple of days.

Renting boards seemed a whole lot easier.

Surf on Ngarunui Beach that morning.

Surf on Ngarunui Beach that morning.

We walked for about an hour on the beach, practically by ourselves.

We walked for about an hour on the beach, practically by ourselves.

The beach was just about empty — but the lineups were packed!

The beach was just about empty — but the lineups were packed!

There was a nice swell running that morning, with larger sets closing out across the bay. We walked for about an hour — hardly anyone else was on the beach — until the rental kiosk arrived.

The guy who ran it convinced me to take out a smaller, 8-foot board that he claimed was magical. “Everyone who surfs and takes it out loves it,” he said. I was wary at first, especially since I’d be paddling in a full wetsuit — not the most comfortable or flexible — but he was right: That was one magical board. We picked a quiet spot with some small left-hand peelers and had a ton of fun.

We would have stayed out longer, but we had plans to drive to Taupō, a charming town of about 24,000 people on the shores of Lake Taupō smack in the center of the North Island. It would be a roughly three-hour drive from Raglan.

On the way, though, we thought we’d warm up and relax our bodies in one of the geothermal pools Taupō is known for. The area is a center volcanic and geothermal activity and boasts several hot pools suitable and open to the public.

We opted for the Wairakei Terraces Hot Pools — mainly because it was adults-only — to lounge in its natural thermal springs. (Admission $25NZD per person)

The geothermal pools at  Wairakei Terraces Hot Pools.

The geothermal pools at Wairakei Terraces Hot Pools.

These thermal bathing pools range in temperature from 100 degrees Fahrenheit to a scalding 107.6 degrees. They are positioned just below some man-made silica terraces, taking full advantage of the geothermal water flow that’s drawn to the surface from about a mile underground. Supposedly, the waters here have healing properties. The heat and natural beauty, alone, made me feel a lot better and more relaxed.

After about an hour here, we hit the road again, to Acacia Bay, a sleepy community on a small inlet on the western shores Tapuaeharuru Bay.

We had booked another Airbnb, this time right on the bay. I was eager to just relax, especially after a three-hour drive, and enjoy lake living.

Where we were staying was dog- and cat-friendly. Our kind of place!

Where we were staying was dog- and cat-friendly. Our kind of place!

Sootie, the resident dog and host, who reminded us a lot of Indy. (We were missing our pups!)

Sootie, the resident dog and host, who reminded us a lot of Indy. (We were missing our pups!)

This unit was well stocked, even with kayaks and an SUP board.

This unit was well stocked, even with kayaks and an SUP board.

The view from our rental.

The view of the lake from our rental.

Lake Taupō is the largest freshwater lake in New Zealand, with a surface area of 238 square miles. (It’s also the second-largest lake in all of Oceania.) Its perimeter runs about 119 miles and it’s chockfull of introduced brown and rainbow trout.

Which was why we were here.

To fish.

But first, we needed to eat.

Our host recommended the nearby Bay Bar & Brassiere, commonly referred to as just “The Bay.”

It was just a down-home family restaurant with menu items such as barbecue baby-back pork ribs, mini lamb rissoles, pan-seared venison medallions and fresh fish. While my husband ordered the wild game hot pot — with venison, beef and rabbit — I went for one of the restaurant’s award-winning, wood-fired pizzas.

Pizza is a must at The Bay.

Pizza is a must at The Bay.

The best part was you can split the pie, so I got the Loaded Hog (twice-baked pork belly strips, smoky bacon, roasted garlic, caramelized onions and cream cheese) and the El Bandito (spiced chorizo, hot spiced beef, Mexican beans, red capsicum, jalapeños, sour cream and nacho chips).

It. Was. A. Lot.

And I couldn’t finish it. Not even half.

But that’s OK. We had a big day of trout fishing tomorrow, and I needed the extra carbs later.

***

Follow my adventures in New Zealand on Instagram (@catherinetoth), Twitter (@thedailydish), Facebook (/thecatdish) and Snapchat (@catherinetoth). #cattravels

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