30 May 2014

Shakedown Cruise Review: Cooking, Eating & Provisioning (Pt 1/2)

Background - When we decided to become full-time cruisers, rather than buy our "forever" boat and set off around the world, we took a different approach and moved aboard our "for now" boat in New Zealand for the 2013/14 season. We used it as an opportunity to do a shakedown cruise to discover what works and what doesn't for us in terms of the cruising lifestyle before we buy our next boat. This is the first in a series of posts on how it all went. 

I've decided to start off the shakedown review with how things went in terms of cooking, eating and provisioning because I love eating. I spend my waking hours thinking about my next meal and my sleeping hours dreaming about inventing a watermaker that turns seawater into hot chocolate. There is probably going to have to be a couple of posts on this whole topic given how much of a focus it is for me whether awake or asleep. So here goes, some of the key things we learned...
1. You can live without a fridge, but why would you.

Beer tastes better when it is cold.
We didn't have a fridge on our Raven 26 and I did think it would be a struggle to live without one. But it actually wasn't that bad. There are a lot of things that I put in our fridge on land that don't really need to be refrigerated and you can live without the things that should be kept in the fridge. However, there were probably two big drawbacks to not having a fridge - our carnivore tendencies were curtailed and saving leftovers involved playing a form of Russian roulette with your tummy. 

In terms of meat, we're not actually the biggest carnivores out there, but when you live on land you can buy meat whenever you want and keep it in your fridge/freezer to eat whenever you want. When you live on a boat without a fridge, your choices are a bit more limited. We did find a great salami that doesn't require refrigeration and we kept that on the boat to add to pasta and have with cheese and crackers. And when we had access to a grocery store, we would sometimes buy sausages to cook and eat that day. We ended up adopting more of a vegetarian diet while on board, which I guess isn't the worst thing in the world. Although, it wasn't all that helpful for my borderline anemia.

The other big issue was around leftovers. You can leave some dishes out overnight and heat them up on the stove thoroughly the next day - and I know lots of people do this. Personally, it kind of freaks me out a little bit. I'm always worried I'm going to get some sort of tummy bug. Scott, on the other hand, happily played Russian roulette with his stomach and he never got sick. I just think it would be so much better to have a safe place you can pop your leftovers in and then have them the next day. It would save so much worry on my part. And there is enough to worry about a boat already.

You can read more about how I was got myself psyched up to live without a fridge here. It's safe to say that our next boat will have one and it will be well stocked with dead animals, cream cheese and cold beer.

2. Cask/boxed wine seemed like a good idea. It really wasn't. 

Does wine taste better out of a box or a bottle?
When you're trying to do things on the cheap, then you look for bargains wherever you can - even when it comes to wine. Back on land, the type of wine we drank always came out of bottles. But when you're trying to cut back on your spending, then sooner or later you have to consider buying your wine in boxes.

Scott is like a little human calculator. He'll stand there in the store and start calculating cost comparisons. So when he tells you that you can get a three liter box of wine for NZ$25.99 and it works out to just NZ$0.87 for 100ml, it sounds like a great bargain. You may have no idea what 100ml of wine looks like in a glass, but NZ$0.87 sounds too good to pass up. Even chocolate bars cost more than NZ$0.87. So you chuck a box in your shopping trolley and look forward to having a few milliliters with dinner.

The box promises you, "A soft velvety smooth medium red wine from selected classical grape varieties." You pour some in your glass, sit back and prepare to enjoy that velvety smoothness. If velvet tastes like sickly sweet, boozy koolaid made out of turnips, then the box is telling the truth. Personally, I've never tried velvet, but I'm pretty sure it tastes better than the stuff that came out of that box.

So here is the problem. If you're frugal type of guy, than there is no way you can throw away NZ$25.99 of smooth velvety liquid. No, you have to drink every last drop. So Scott did. He did point out that after the second glass, it tastes much better. That's because it takes at least two glasses of velvety, turnip flavored koolaid before your tastebuds are sufficiently beaten into submission.

After that little experiment, we went back to buying your average bottles of cheap wine on sale for NZ$8.99 (or $1.20 for 100ml). I keep reading about the great cask/box wine people buy in the States, so maybe we just picked the wrong box to experiment with. We'll be back in the Pacific Northwest in a few months, so let us know if you have any recommendations for better cask/box wine we can try out.

3. I'm an adequate cook. Unfortunately, adequate isn't all that tasty.

A bowl of perfectly adequate snapper chowder.
I really need to up my game in the cooking department. Because Scott knows so much more about sailing and boats than me, we've adopted those stereotypical pink/blue roles. He is in charge of all of the "outdoor" type of activities like the actual skippering of the boat and I'm in charge of all of the "indoor" type of activities like cleaning and cooking. To be honest, I would much prefer to be in charge of the "pink" stuff, but I would like it so much more if I had a cook and a maid. But when you live on a 26' sailboat and you don't have the biggest cruising kitty in the world, that pretty much isn't going to happen.

So most nights, I donned my pink apron and made dinner. Perfectly adequate dinners. Perfectly boring dinners. The kind of meals that never surprise - because you make the same recipes over and over and over again. My specialty is pasta with red sauce. Unfortunately, there isn't anything really special about it. 

When you live on a boat, and particularly on those days when you've had a long sail or a good hike, you really want to enjoy a nice meal when the sun goes down. So the big lesson for me this summer is that adequate is going to have to transform itself into something much, much better before we buy our next boat. No idea how this is going to happen. Is there a patron saint for adequate cooks I can call upon?

If you're curious, you can read about a week of perfectly adequate meals I made on our boat here. I don't think Rachael Ray is going to be asking me to appear on her show anytime soon.

Well, that's enough for now. I'm off to fix myself a perfectly adequate snack. More on cooking, eating and provisioning next week.

28 May 2014

Cruising Vs. Working: A Day In The Life

Scott and I are working for a few months to top up the cruising kitty. It got me thinking about what my average day looks like cruising versus working. We need to get a new boat pronto.

A Day in the Life of a Worker Bee

You are not my friend.
Getting Up

The alarm screeches at you at 6:00 AM. Grope around in the dark to try to find it so that you can hit the snooze button. Give up, turn on the light and silence the little beast.

Get out of your spacious double bed. Yawn. Stretch. Take a shower with hot water. Wash and rinse your hair as much as you like. No coins required.

Make coffee and turn on the TV. Get depressed as you listen to the news stories about people starving, wars, corrupt government officials and the latest sporting scandal. Get distracted when the way too cheerful weather presenter tells you about all the rain headed your way. Wonder what kind of drugs he takes. It is really possible to be that chipper when talking about the weather? Apparently it is.

Sigh. Get dressed. In clean clothes. In tights, a skirt and a top which silently whispers, “I’m a professional. I know what I’m talking about. I have a PowerPoint presentation to prove it.”

Getting To Work

Get on a train. Full of people. All sneezing and coughing and spraying germs on you. Sneeze and sniffle back at them. We can all play this game.

Stare out the window at the office buildings and the shops. Watch the people on the train think about going to work in the office buildings so that they can get a paycheck and buy stuff in the shops. You can see it in their eyes, "We must drive the economy. Work, work, work! Earn, earn, earn! Spend, spend, spend!"

Hand the lady next to you a tissue – she really needs one. Get off the train. Walk to your office building. Stop in at the shop across the road. They sell chocolate. It's going to be a long day. You'll need some.

Whiling Away The Hours

Sit in a chair at a desk with a computer. All day long. Stare at the computer. Make fancy PowerPoint presentations to convince people that you’re a professional and you know what you’re talking about. Stare out the window. Such a lovely view of McDonald’s. Think to yourself, “At least I’m sitting in an office building, not serving hamburgers.” You feel better. Because inner peace comes from knowing there is always someone worse off than you.

Send a few emails. Talk to people on the phone. Have a cup of tea. Eat your chocolate. Turn off your computer.

Going Home

Wait at the train station. Wait some more. Get on a train. Wonder why people are so rude. Watch the young mother struggle to get her pram on the train. Watch the people right next to the door watch the young mother struggle to get her pram on the train. Obviously, they have been superglued to their seats and are unable to help her. Fortunately, you sat in the one seat without superglue. You help. Poor cute, little baby – doesn’t know he has a life of working in an office and making PowerPoint presentations ahead of him. Maybe that's why he is crying.

Chilling Out

Stare at the fridge. Will it to produce something delicious for dinner. Give up. Go get takeaway pizza. Sit on the couch. Turn on the TV. Watch a show about people starving, wars, corrupt government officials and the latest sporting scandal. Highly entertaining because it can't possibly be real. Plus everyone is wearing such nice clothes. And their hair looks shiny and pretty.

Go To Sleep

Set the alarm for 6:00 AM. Drift off to sleep and dream about sailing.

A Day in the Life of a Cruiser

When you live on a sailboat, you get views like this.
Getting Up

The splash of the water against your boat gently wakes you up at 6:00 AM. Have a good stretch, look out the porthole and smile. While you’re stretching, bump your head against the side of the cramped little v-berth. Stop smiling for a minute. Okay, back to smiling. You’re on a boat and the skipper has made coffee.

Grab the clothes you had on yesterday (and possibly the day before and maybe the day before that) and put them on. They don’t smell any worse than you, so you’re good to go.

No shower. No hot water. Oh well. You’re on a boat. It could be worse. You could be starving, living in a war-torn nation run by corrupt government officials and watching the news on TV about the latest sporting scandal.

Going to Work

You don’t.

Whiling Away the Hours

You have a leisurely breakfast. You go for a hike. You have a picnic lunch. You stare at the incredible views all around you. You sail to a new anchorage. You enjoy a sundowner in the cockpit and watch the dolphins play and the sun set. You eat a dinner of fresh snapper. And you sigh with content.

Going Home

You’re home already. On your boat. Home is where the heart is. Your heart is on your boat.

Chilling Out

See above – whiling away the hours.

Go To Sleep

Drift off to sleep and dream about sailing. No alarm required.

Disclaimer: Mrs O - if you're reading this, my days in the office look nothing like what's described above. I wake up with a spring in my step, eager to get to work and have never eaten a chocolate bar at my desk.

26 May 2014

Going For A Walk: Cathedral Cove {Or Beware Of The Falling Rock}

On our little road trip, we headed over to the Coromandel Peninsula and did the Cathedral Cove walk. It is a popular one with tourists - around 150,000 visitors visit each year. Cathedral Cove is located in the Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve and some folks visit to enjoy the great snorkeling spots in the bays along the walk. Other folks visit to see the spot that was featured in one of the Narnia movies. The rest of us come to enjoy the beach, walk through the famous Cathedral Cove arch and check out the rock formations. It is a relatively easy walk which only takes a couple of hours return from Hahei Beach. After our big walk in Tongariro the day before, it was a welcome relief.

We started out our walk from Hahei beach. We stayed in a cabin at Hahei Holiday Park, which is right on the beach so it was a hop, skip and a jump through the dunes and down to the water. Hahei has a really nice, white sandy beach that is sheltered by Mahurangi Island. The permanent population is around 300, but at peak holiday times, multiply that by a gazillion and it can get really crowded. When we were there this time, there weren't a lot of people around and it was oh, so peaceful.

I love seeing all the tractors on the beach. A lot of folks have a tractor at their holiday house which they use to haul their boats in and out of the water. These guys use their tractor to tow kayaks for the tourists down to the beach.

At the end of Hahei beach, you'll see a sign leading up stairs to the pathway to Cathedral Cove.

Along the way, there are some great views including this one out to Stingray Bay.

I love these ladies' hats - not only are they looking stylish on their walk, but they're also good protection from the harsh New Zealand sun. This bench is a good spot to catch your breath and have a look at the offshore islands.

There is a side loop through a puriri grove that you can take. I love the giant boulders interspersed between the trees. If it is hot out, the grove is a good place to get out of the sun and cool down.

Part of the walk goes through a pine forest with an understorey of native shrubs. There are also some friendly cows in the pasture nearby that you can say hi to.
After wandering through the pine forest, you head down the stairs to the Cathedral Cover beach. And this is what everyone comes on this walk for - the famous arch separating the two beaches at Cathedral Cove.
Just before you start to head through the arch, have a look at this sign. Yes, serious injury or death is a possibility as rocks break off and fall down from time to time. But, heck what are the chances this would actually happen to you. It's worth it - come on through.

See, it was totally worth it! You can see Te Hoho through the arch. I think it used to be part of cave once upon time. But time, erosion and rocks falling off have caused it to stand all on its lonesome now.

You need to time your visit with the tides. We got there just in time and were able to walk through the arch to the other side without getting wet.

And one final shot of our walk to Cathedral Cove. Just lovely!

Walk took place on Wednesday, 9 April 2014

23 May 2014

Our New Zealand Shakedown Cruise In Review

The surf at Great Mercury Island. One of the fantastic places we were lucky enough to be able to see on our boat.

When we decided to start cruising full-time, we took a slightly different approach than some other folks. Rather than buy our “forever” boat and set off cruising around the world on her, we decided to start our cruising adventures in New Zealand on our “for now” boat with a view to selling her at the end of the season and then buying a bigger, better boat to continue our adventures on. We did this for a few reasons:
1 - We already had a boat in New Zealand that would work for coastal cruising – a lovely little Raven 26.

2 - Scott had to go back to Scotland in April for a few months to work, so it made sense not to buy the “forever” boat until he was finished up there.

3 - And more importantly, it gave us a chance to have an extended “shakedown” cruise. It wasn’t about testing out the boat, but more about testing out ourselves and the cruising lifestyle so that we could get a better idea of what works for us, what doesn’t and what our priorities are for our next boat.

Now that we’ve sold our “for now” boat and had a little time to reflect on our shakedown cruise, I thought it might be interesting to do a little series of posts on our key lessons learned after our time cruising in New Zealand. Although we were only out there for the season, we learned heaps about cruising, about boats and about ourselves which we’ll share with you. And we'll tell it like it is - the good, the bad and the ugly.

Here are the kinds of topics we’re thinking of covering – let us know what you think. Is there anything you want to hear about that’s missing from the list? If you’re out there cruising full-time, what are the big things you’ve learned – we can use all the advice we can get!

  • Relationships on Board - Before we set out, we did a post on Cruising Couples & Ways of Sailing. It is probably a good time to have a look back and see how that all played out!
  • Cooking, Eating & Provisioning – I love eating, so this was one of the things I thought the most about before we set off. So how did it work out? {Spoiler Alert: Our next boat is definitely going to have a fridge and an oven!}
  • Must Haves for Our Next Boat – We’ve got a wish list a mile long for our next boat. Top of the list for me – she will definitely be bigger than 26’!
  • Sailing Mishaps – I’m really new to this whole sailing thing and, wow, did I ever do some really stupid things. Like almost killing Scott. It is never a good idea to kill your skipper. 
  • Learning to Sail - I learned a lot of new skills cruising in New Zealand and ticked a few things off my list (like my first overnight passage), but I have heaps more to learn. Scott can rest easy, there are no immediate plans to mutiny because I really can't sail the boat on my own. Yet.
  • Sailing, Cruising & Traveling - We talked a lot about what we're in this little adventure for - is it the sailing, the cruising lifestyle and/or the opportunity to travel to interesting places, using your sailboat like an RV on water. Living on our boat in New Zealand gave us a good chance to put this to the test.
  • The Weather - I knew intellectually before we started cruising full-time that the weather is the boss of you. Mother Nature controls what you do and where you go. And boy, is that ever true. The weather wasn't very cooperative this summer and I've been thinking a lot about how people react when the weather interferes with your plans. That whole "choose your attitude" thing. I could probably get better at that.

So keep an eye out for some "Shakedown Review" posts. And if you’re new to our blog and you want a bit of background on how this insanity all started, check out this post here which will take you through the back story about how we became full-time cruisers in New Zealand and got awarded this certificate.

Links to Shakedown Review Posts

Cooking, Eating & Provisioning (Pt 1)
Cooking, Eating & Provisioning (Pt 2)
Wish List for Our Next Boat (Pt 1) - Things that Make Life Easier
Wish List for Our Next Boat (Pt 2) - Set-up Down Below
Wish List for Our Next Boat (Pt 3) - Systems
Wish List for Our Next Boat (Pt 4) - Other Bits & Bobs
Relationships on Board 

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21 May 2014

Cost Of Cruising In New Zealand

Of course you've decided to read this post because, let's face it, who doesn't want to know how much other people spend cruising! When we started thinking about cruising full-time, I did all sorts of research nosing around to see what the cost of cruising for other folks was in order to get an idea of how much it might cost us. It goes without saying that everyone's costs will be very different depending upon a whole slew of factors - size of your boat, where you cruise, how many people are in your crew, your lifestyle on land prior to moving onto your boat, the condition of your boat etc. So, while we're happily sharing our numbers for cruising in New Zealand, please keep in mind that you might spend oodles more than we did or a lot less. 

Before we get into the numbers, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1.  All prices are in New Zealand dollars. 

If you think in US dollars, I generally use an exchange rate of .80 - so for every Kiwi dollar, you only get 80 American pennies. To be fair, the Kiwi dollar has been pretty high lately so you might want to use the current exchange rate. But I tend to be more conservative when I do my conversions.  

2. December and April are shorter months.

I've used 15 December 2013 and 4 April 2014 as my cut-off dates for our numbers. Although we didn't officially move onto the boat full-time until the end of December, we were spending money on the boat from mid-December, as well as spending a lot of time out cruising on her. 4 April is when we handed our boat over to her new owner. 

3. Not everything is captured.

This is a really important point. Certain things aren't reported in our numbers, but we still have to spend money on them. When you're looking at people's cruising costs, you're not always comparing apples to apples. People slice and dice their data different ways and consider some things cruising costs that other people don't. 

So what have we excluded? Our airfares to the UK and the States, any costs related to the apartment we had in Auckland during December and how much we spent on booze that we drank on the boat. We didn't include the first two items because we wanted to keep our numbers purely about what we spent in New Zealand cruising. And the booze...well, we're just not telling. But we do like wine and gin, so rest assured some money was spent in that particular category.

4.  Our boat was a "for now" boat.

We bought a Raven 26 in December 2012 as a "for now" boat that we would use to do coastal cruising in New Zealand. Lovely as she was, Rainbow's End was never intended to be our "forever" boat. As a result, we didn't spend any money making her look pretty, changing her to suit us or doing any longer-term maintenance. As long as the engine worked and she was safe to sail, we were as happy as Larry. I imagine when we buy our next boat, we'll end up spending a lot more money on her.

Cruising Costs

So, now to the nitty-gritty. Overall, we spent $6,878 cruising in New Zealand this summer over a period of 16 weeks. That comes out to roughly $429 a week. We spent the biggest percentage of our budget on food, followed closely by entertainment. We spent the least amount of money on clothes and medical. I guess that will give you idea of what our priorities are! 

Here is breakdown of how we categorized our spend and other tidbits that might be of interest. There is a table at the end of the post which summarizes our spend against each category by month.

Groceries - Overall spend = $1,717. This includes everything you put in your body in terms of food and drink (but not booze). I had stocked up on a lot of canned goods and other provisions prior to December, so the overall cost of what we spent on food and drink is probably a bit higher. I'm always quite shocked about how much groceries cost in New Zealand. We really weren't eating a lot of meat this summer so I thought the food bill would be lower, but we did have to re-provision from time to time in general stores in more remote places where the costs are higher. 

Personal & Household - Overall spend = $146. This includes all those household goods (like paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning products, ziploc bags etc) and personal items that make you smell nice and look pretty (like shampoo, soap etc). I looked back to see what in the world we spent $82 on in January because I thought that was high. It included things like laundry powder ($4), plastic bins so that stuff doesn't fly around the boat ($16) and a mirror ($5). Stuff like that really adds up when you're not paying attention.

Communications - Overall spend = $135. This includes the costs of our pre-paid cell phones. We each have a New Zealand cell phone. Scott just tops his up from time to time and I'm on a monthly pre-paid plan which gives me a set amount of data, texts and national minutes. My mobile was the only way we could get internet while out cruising, but there were a lot of times we couldn't get reception. Which probably wasn't the worst thing in the world as every time I got online to check email or see how the blog was doing, it just gobbled up my data. 

Medical - Overall spend = $56. I include over-the-counter and prescription meds and doctor visits in here. The money we spent this summer included things like ibuprofen, a repeat prescription from my GP and the cost of filling my prescription. New Zealand has a fantastic medical system. Medical care is considered a basic human right and is accessible to everyone. It isn't completely free (there are costs for visits to your GP, certain prescriptions etc.) and yes, you might have to go on a waiting list for procedures or tests, but it sure beats the heck out of some other systems I can think of. Having said that, we're permanent residents, so I'm not sure what the medical costs would be for folks with different types of immigration statuses.

Entertainment - Overall spend = $1250. This is where we capture every penny, nickel and dime we spend on eating out, having drinks out, going to the movies, getting a coffee at a cafe etc. Okay, they don't have any pennies, nickels or dimes in New Zealand, but you get the idea. We seem to have spent a lot in this category. Hmm. The big surprise is the fact that we spent $214 in four days in April. How is that even possible? Basically, you go out to eat a lot because you're really, really, really tired of cooking on a boat. Anyway, I can safely say that the $1,250 we spent on entertainment this summer was well spent. We had a great time!

Transport - Overall spend = $150. Although we have a boat, from time to time you need transport on land. We don't have a car in New Zealand, so when we need to get around we take buses or taxis.

Travel - Overall spend = $536. This includes costs related to traveling to and from other countries. We had to spend a chunk of change this summer on renewing our American passports and then getting New Zealand Immigration to transfer our residency stickers to our new passports. We also renewed our Irish passports earlier in the year, which also cost us a lot of money. Thankfully, we're all sorted on the passport front for ten years.

Clothes - Overall spend = $54.  It is just what is says on the tin - money we spent on clothes. I would like to point out that the whopping $54 we spent this summer was all for Scott. I bought nothing. Aren't you proud of me?

Other - Overall spend = $1,056. This is just a catch-all category for stuff I didn't know what else to do with. Things like showers and laundry at marinas, a marine medic course that Scott went on, renting a storage locker and post box etc. 

Boat - We've divided our boat expenses up into a number of sub-categories.  

(a) Mooring & Marinas - We spent $736 on moorings and marinas this year. Probably more than I thought we would. We ended up spending a bit of time in marinas hiding out from ex-cyclones, or as a base for exploring towns (like Whitianga and Whangarei) or because we had some commitments in Auckland. It was a great opportunity to do laundry, take a proper shower and get free wi-fi (when at Westhaven). It is relatively cheap to stay at marinas here, so we did. But when we start cruising in more expensive parts of the world, we'll probably need to do a lot more anchoring out.

(b) Diesel & Petrol - We spent $261 contributing to global warming this summer. Not sure if that is good or bad? It doesn't seem like a lot of money in the scheme of things...but what do you think?

(c) Maintenance & Repairs - As this wasn't our "forever" boat, we only did what we needed to do in this area. And thankfully, nothing broke this summer - yeah! The $274 we spent was on things like changing the oil, pipe tape, grease etc. 

(d) Equipment & Gadgets - Again, we deliberately didn't spend a lot of money in this category. We did get things like a solar shower, headlamps, a hacksaw, petrol can etc., which all added up to $254.

(e) Miscellaneous - Another catch-all category for boat-related stuff adding up to $253. Our big spend this year was $115 for our annual New Zealand Coast Guard membership. If you need help, a tow or you've stupidly run out of gas, they're there for you. We had already paid for our third party insurance earlier in the year, so those costs aren't included here. But if you're curious, it cost us around $300 for a 12 month policy. I've also chucked in the cost for LPG ($51) and charts ($53) into this category.

So there you have it - $6,878 will buy you enough freedom chips to go out cruising on a sailboat in New Zealand!

If you have any questions or thoughts on our cruising costs, please leave a comment or email us. Keen to know what you think

19 May 2014

Going For A Walk: Tongariro Alpine Crossing {Or Why Do My Legs Hurt?}

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is one of those must do activities for people who visit New Zealand. It is described as the best one day hike in New Zealand and takes in some amazing active volcanic landscapes, incredible emerald and blue colored lakes and finishes up with a trek through native forest. The crossing is 19.4 kms (12 miles) long and takes approximately 6-8 hours to complete. This is also where parts of the Lord of the Rings movies were filmed, so if you're into Hobbits and that sort of thing, you can see Mount Doom (Mount Ngauruhoe) up close and personal.

Generally, you start the crossing at the Mangatepopo car park and walk one way to the Ketetahi car park. As it is a one way track, you need to organize for transport from the Ketetahi car park. There are a number of shuttle services that provide transport or, if you happen to have two cars, you can leave one at each car park. We originally did the full crossing a few years ago and used a shuttle service from our hotel. This time, we just decided to leave our rental car at the Mangatepopo car park, hike up to the Red Crater and then head back the way we came to pick up our car. It ended up being about a 16 km walk for us, a little short of the full crossing, but my legs still hurt the next day, especially as we climbed to the highest point.

You need to be prepared to do the crossing. It is classifed as a "tramping track" which means that it is challenging, parts may be unformed, rough or steep and, for goodness sake, don't wear flip-flops/jandals. There isn't any water or food available along the way and you need to have a whole range of clothing as you never know what the weather will bring. You always see a few people that just don't quite realize what they've gotten themselves into. They probably should have looked at the Department of Conservation's website here and maybe done some research before they set out.

This is a map of the crossing. If you are a middle-aged lady like me, checking out where the toilets are is a pretty important part of the planning process. Source: Department of Conservation

The crossing starts at 1120 meters and then climbs to 1886 meters at the Red Crater before descending to 760 meters at the Ketetahi carpark. I seemed to have forgotten how much of a climb it was the first time we did it. I'm not sure that if I had remembered what was involved if I would have done it again. Of course, now that I have climbed up to the Red Crater for the second time, I am glad I did it. But that's always the way it is - you curse and moan while you're doing crazy things, but happy that you met the challenge in the end. Source: Department of Conservation

As you leave the Mangatepopo carpark, this is one of the first signs you run across. It warns you that you are about to enter an area with volcanic risks and that you should turn back at the Red Crater if you aren't comfortable with this. This was new for us. Last time we did the crossing, we didn't have to worry about this sort of thing, but in 2012 Mount Tongariro erupted twice. Fortunately, no one was injured, but there was damage done to the Department of Conservation's Ketetahi Hut.

After you set off from the carpark, you walk through the Mangatepopo Valley where you can see lava fields. You walk along a stream which looks really toxic to me with its garish orange and green coloring from the minerals. They warn you not to drink from it, but really who would drink from a toxic looking stream? The track is well formed at this point, with the handy boardwalks along the way to protect the fragile environment from our harsh little human feet. I was feeling good and relaxed, foolishly thinking that this was much easier than I had remembered.

As you're walking along, you can see Mount Doom. The last time we did the crossing, we stopped so that Scott could climb up it. He wasn't able to go all the way up because he knew I was worrying down below about not having enough time for this side trip and that we would miss our shuttle bus at the other end. I am a bit of a worrywart that way. There was no way I was going to go up something called Mount Doom myself. And from the way he described climbing up the scree (for every 1 step forward, you slide backwards 3/4 of a step), it didn't sound like much fun. You also have to worry about some idiots above you pushing rocks down onto your head. I can think of better ways to spend my time.

First toilet break - the Soda Springs loos. I was freezing by this point and put on my fleece. Lava fields are pretty desolate looking. Add in a few outhouses and you have a real scenic view. While you're there, you can take a quick side trip up to the Soda Springs. We skipped it this time. Instead, I used our little break to have a snack because the climb was about to start. From Soda Springs to the South Crater, you climb 340 meters on a track with some stairs. A lot of stairs. I'm the old lady who stops every two minutes to catch my breath. Fortunately, there seemed to be a lot of other old and young folks who needed frequent breaks that day. It is good not to feel alone.

Right before you start your climb up to the South Carter, you see this sign urging you to consider turning back if the weather is poor, if you don't have the right equipment and clothes and if you aren't fit enough. We carried on.

This is what the climb to South Crater looks like. A lot of blue poles showing you the way, some stairs and a lot of lava to walk across.

And here is a view back down to Soda Springs to remind myself of why my legs hurt the next day. Along the way, Scott kept reassuring people that this was the worst part of the trek. We felt very superior and smug in the fact that we had done the crossing before and were in a position to cheer people on and tell them it really is worth it.
And another Mount Doom shot. This time from the South Crater. Although, I think they wish we would stop calling it Mount Doom and start calling it by its proper name - Mount Ngauruhoe.

Walking through the South Crater was such a relief. Relatively flat terrain - yeah! And it seems to be covered with these tribble-like plants. If you don't know what a tribble is, congratulations, you aren't a geek. 

It was starting to close in and the clouds were making everything look very spooky and alien in the South Crater. Apparently, South Crater isn't a crater, although it looked like one to me. Next stop the climb up the ridge to Red Crater. Enjoy the flatness while you can.
Oh good, we're climbing again. In this particular section, they have ropes along the way to help you up and keep you from tumbling down into the South Crater. Handy.
After the section with the ropes, this is what you end up walking across. You can just make out some people heading up the ridge in the background. It was really starting to close in quite a bit at this point and Scott was worried he wouldn't get any good shots of the Red Crater and the lakes. But not to worry, the clouds cleared. We have some for you. That is if you're actually still reading this post. There have a been a lot of pictures so far. It is kind of like when you go to someone's house and they just have to show you all of their travel photos and you can barely contain your boredom and you shout, "Quick, look out the window! The aliens have landed!" While they're distracted, you chuck their photo album under the sofa and pretend you don't know what happened to it. Anything to stop having to look at those photos of the Tongariro Crossing.

Oh good, you're still here. I give you Red Crater.

And as a bonus because you are such a dedicated and faithful reader, one more picture up close of Red Crater. You can smell the sulfur all around you up here - a sure sign that things are still active. And there are areas where you can feel the geo-thermal warmth coming up out of the ground, which is helpful because it was really windy and cold up top.

One of the main draw cards of the crossing are the lakes. This is a view of the Emerald Lakes. The picture really doesn't do justice to their color. As the name says, they are an amazing emerald shade caused by the minerals seeping into them.
 This is a view of the Blue Lake. It is sacred (or tapu), so don't swim or eat food around it. If you're continuing along the crossing, you skirt along Blue Lake and then head down into the forest for the descent to the Ketetahi carpark. This time, we turned back at Red Crater and made our way back to the start. The final part of the crossing is worthwhile, but the trek through the forest isn't nearly as amazing as the first half of the crossing in our opinion. Whichever way you do it, it is well worth doing.
Walk took place on Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Linked up with Bonnie, Kaelene, Sammy & Van for Travel Tuesday.

16 May 2014

Road Trip!

Even though we were in a car, we couldn't resist stopping at the Whangamata Wharf in Coromandel to check it out. Perhaps it was boat withdrawal.

After we sold Rainbow's End, we decided to go for a little road trip and revisit some of our favorite places in the North Island of New Zealand before Scott had to head back to Scotland for work. I learned three important things on this road trip:

1.  Cars are expensive

Over the course of 16 weeks we spent NZ$261 on diesel and petrol for our boat and dinghy. In the week we had the rental car we spent NZ$251 on petrol. If you do the math, that comes out to NZ$35 a day for the car vs. NZ$2.30 a day for the boat to fill it up with fossil fuel. Granted, we put a lot of kilometers on the car, but still it was shocking to see how much it cost us to contribute to global warming. And then of course we had to pay to rent the car. And because you can't sleep in a car, you have to pay for lodging. Well, I guess you could sleep in your car, but after sleeping in a 26' sailboat for several months, it really wasn't going to happen. Which brings us to key learning number 2...

2.  Beds are awesome

While our boat had an amazing amount of storage space for a 26' critter, it was way too small for 6' tall Scott and me to both sleep comfortably in the v-berth. That meant that Scott slept on the very narrow settee and I slept in the v-berth. You might be thinking I got the better end of the bargain, but half of the v-berth was taken up with laundry, food and other miscellaneous items. I guess I did have things a bit better as when the boat got all roly-poly, I wasn't in danger of falling off of the v-berth. Scott, on the other hand, had to work to stay in his settee on some nights. So you can imagine what a joy it was to be able to sleep in the same double bed at night. A bed with a proper mattress and sheets. Heaven.

3.  The weather can still be a real pain

After the drought we've been experiencing, we should be glad for all the rain. Except of course, when you're trying to do touristy things. They were forecasting torrential cats and dogs in the southern part of the North Island, so we had to change our plans and rather than go down to Mount Taranaki, we headed up north to Coromandel. Just like on a boat, the weather runs your life. But unlike on a boat, you can move a lot faster in a car to outrun it.

Our road trip was good fun and was a great way to say goodbye to New Zealand - for now that is!

We saw more dolphins from the side of the road off of the coast of Coromandel then we saw from our boat all summer.

One of the fun signs we saw on our way back from the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

We got to see places, like Colville, which we didn't get a chance to get to on our boat.
And we got to see things you don't normally see on a boat - like this wild pig head at the Coroglen Tavern. Seems like something The Bloggess would like.
When you live on a boat with limited internet access and no television, you kind of lose track with what is going on. When we were in Cambridge, I was impressed with how into the whole British thing they were. Red, white and blue bunting and Union Jack flags everywhere. Then when I saw all these pictures of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge everywhere, I put two and two together and realized they were getting ready for the royal visit.

We stayed in a place with a double bed, a shower and a fridge while we were at the Hahei Holiday Park. It was almost too much luxury to handle after living on our boat.
And of course, the perfect end to any road trip - sunset on a beach.

Yes, we even use nautical charts on land! Sourced from LINZ. Crown Copyright reserved.
Roadtrip 7-11, April 2014