8 Days in New Zealand | Part 3 | Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The third and final post on our recent trip to New Zealand takes us inland to Lake Taupo, the nation’s largest body of fresh water and, not so coincidentally, one of the North Island’s major summer tourist destinations. Lucky for us our visit was in May, well in to the southern hemisphere Fall and Taupo’s tourist off season.

Our primary objective for visiting the interior region – aside from the DeBretts hot springs, where we stayed and soaked for two days – was to hike, I mean tramp, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

The 19.4 kilometre track is billed as the best day hike in the country and, having caught it on a beautiful blue sky day (the trail was closed for over a week prior to our arrival due to crummy weather) I can see why.

Gale force winds greeted us on the first leg of the 19.4km Tongariro Alpine Crossing. We escaped the gusts once we reached the steep valleys seen here in the distance, but the first couple kilometres were a gusty affair.

Most trampers, ourselves included, start the Tongariro Alpine Crossing at the Mangetepopo Carpark at 1100 metres of elevation. From there, climbers have about 600 metres of vertical to the summit and a more gradual (if not a little tedious) descent down to the Ketetahi Carpark at 800 metres. Here we get started at kilometre zero. 19.4 to go.

A view towards snow-capped Mount Ruapehu in Tongariro National Park from the Mangatepopo parking lot, where we started (and ended) the hike/tramp. Ruapehu is advertised as NZ’s largest ski area and the high alpine terrain, evident even from afar on its treeless slopes, looks to hold some fun looking lines.

Through the South Crater, about 1650 metres.

Climbing past 1350 metres, about a third of the way up the track, above the Soda Springs. The paths on the lower approaches (from the Mangatepopo and Ketetahi car parks) are some of the nicest trails I’ve ever seen. Makes those parts of the track feel more like a well manicured gravel stair master than a true bush walk, but without the paths the delicate alpine landscape would surely get savaged by the thousands of boots tramping up and down each year.

A break in the clouds en-route to the Red Crater at 1886 metres.

One of the several dozen other hikers takes a load off on the path up the north rim of the Central Crater. Other trampers can be seen cutting across the damp crater in the centre of the this shot.

Clouds rolled in and out, covering the sun and dropping the temperature by several degrees on the rim of the Central Crater. Down jackets and the rain shell were must-haves. The hikers in jeans and sweaters were suffering in silence.

Frost crusts the rocks above the Emerald Lakes, about 1730 metres in elevation.

Topping out at the Tongariro Summit!

Pulling the sock-gloves off for the mandatory summit shot!

Frosted tips on the trek back down off the summit.

A group of Brits, who’s jacket colours make them look like they tumbled out of a Skittles bag, take turns snapping selfies above the Emerald Lakes, about 1730 metres up.

The vents pushing superheated steam (and sulfur stink) out of the rim of one of the Emerald Lakes contributes to the alpine cloud cover.

The trail down the north rim of the Central Crater, towards the Emerald Lakes.

Anastasia poses on an outcrop above the Emerald Lakes just over 1700 metres.

The Emerald Lakes, ever steaming in the Tongariro alpine.

The well trodden trail down from the Central Crater rim to the Emerald Lakes sees thousands of boots pass over it each year. The trail snakes down a cinder feature on the steep shoulder of the crater’s rim. The volcanic feature would typically form a knife-edge but here its been trampled into a wide boulevard.

The loose scree and gravel on the trail down to the Emerald Lakes made for a slippery walk but this rock seemed to hold the weight of numerous passersby… for now.

I’ll take yours if you take mine.

Its us! Summit selfie. Check.

On the trail down from the Ketatahi hut, located on the north flank of Mt. Tongariro at about 1456 metres, hikers pass by the Ketetahi Hot Springs, seen here as a lightly steaming white smudge just off centre. The once super popular springs are on private land and access has been restricted, which is a bummer.

The flanks of Te Maari peak were venting actively on the day we did the Crossing. This is looking back up the path (which you can see zagging through the centre of this shot) from below the Ketetahi Hut. On a cloudy day the vented steam would look just like low hanging mist so I was glad we got a bluebird day to take in the full glory of the smoking crack.

The east slope of Mount Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings) from the start of the Mangetepopo Carpark at the start of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Fun fact, in 1974, skier Jean Claude Killy shot a Moët & Chandon champagne ad on the volcano’s previously unskied slopes. He fell going over 100kph and, quite reasonably IMHO, refused to ski it again.

The skiable alpine of Mt. Ruapehu sit under a cap of late afternoon cloud. Tongariro National Park and the Mangetepopo Carpark are just up the road to the left.

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Three Seasons and the Move | Shooting in the dark with theX100s

Just a quick post today. Had the opportunity to shoot some concert photos of Toronto funk-folk rockers Three Seasons and the Move Thursday night at Clinton’s. The band – whom I met at a wedding I photographed last summer for a mutual friend (and occasional band member) – asked to use a photo I took at that wedding on their newly minted CD and I wanted to hear them play something other than wedding covers. And I’m very glad I went! The band has a deep set list of original songs and sounds, to my untrained ear, like a combination of Mumford and Sons meets Arcade Fire with a twist of Parliament Funkadelic.

From here, I’ll let the pictures do the talking but before I sign off, I’ll just mention that these shots were taken on the Fujifilm x100s, my new favorite travel/second body (and now low light!) camera. It was also the first time I’d taken that puppy to ISO 5000 and beyond – previously uncharted waters for me. Really impressed with the results. Full size images are up on my Flickr page for the pixel-perving types. Enjoy and thanks again to the band!

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Live Music, a set on Flickr.

3 Seasons and the Move

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8 days in new zealand | part 2 | Hobbiton

The second leg of our whirlwind tour of the north island took us from the Bay of Islands, southwest back down through Auckland to the surf town of Raglan (pictures in the previous post) with a stop in Waitomo for some caving in the famous ‘glow worm poop caves,’ as we came to call them. *Its actually the mucus tendrils the larval worms use to attract insects in the dark that glows, but we’re not getting hung up on the distinction between secretions and poop. Just go with it.

After donning damp wetsuits, booties and funky-smelling helmets (aka smellmets), Anastasia (the cute one in the pictures) and I joined a group of other out-of-towners on rubber-seat-equipped mini-bus for the short ferry ride down to the caves entrance. From there, it was headlamps on, inner tubes at the ready as we squeezed down into the limestone for a float down glow worm creek. I usually turn my nose up at guided tours, and this one is expensive (about $100 each,) but this one is totally worth it for a look at the worms. And the Kiwi guides are real champs when it comes to keeping their damp, chilly charges happy and informed as to the local lore surrounding the caves and their iridescent inhabitants.

After warming up with soup and chocolate fish we got back into the rental and booked it for Matamata, the home of Hobbiton! From here, the pictures will do the talking.

On the drive to Matamata from Raglan, one passes through landscapes reminiscent of a Dutch pastoral painting, except the colours are more vibrant and there isn’t a farmer in a funny hat anywhere in sight. Pasture, as far as the eye can see…

A real Hobbit hole! After a short bus ride from the tourist trap visitors centre and Hobbit-themed cafe off the highway (which would be considered a very well paved two-lane rural road in any other country), we unloaded in a narrow valley chiseled into the farmy landscape.

Sign posts ‘Greeked up’ (movie jargon for made to look old) mark the intersecting cart paths linking Hobbiton to its fictional neighbours.

Stepping off the bus and herding down a narrow track called Gandalf’s Path, where the larger-than-life wizard rides a donkey cart down the Hobbit-sized entrance to Hobbiton in the first Lord of the Rings movie, is like stepping through a worm hole and landing directly in the Shire.

Apparently the lichen ‘growing’ all over the fence posts in Hobbiton was made using a mixture of glue and yogurt. The magic of Hollywood!

Stairs up the side of Bag End. The big tree in the background is real… whereas the Oak coming out of the top of Bilbo’s hobbit hole isn’t. It was built using concrete and thousands of man hours of slave-like labour by students brought in to wire on plastic leaves.

The actual mailbox out front of Bag End, where Bilbo and Frodo live! Cool!

Bilbo’s mailbox really works! Although the door on it is secured with a magnet… which I’m pretty sure they didn’t have in Middle Earth.

The Hobbit holes – actually built into hillsides and planted with real gardens – were constructed in several sizes meant to skew perspective in favour of making the actors who would be standing in front of them appear smaller and more, hobbit-like than they actually were.

Hobbiton is really this green… thanks to all the rain. The fruit trees were all ripe with real (as opposed to fake movie prop) fruit too!

Signposts pointing the way to other parts of the Shire (which don’t actually exist but its still cool they went to this level of detail so Hobbit fans can geek out over it).

Apparently during the filming of LOTR, it was someones job to hike around Hobbiton hanging out laundry to make it look more lived in. Seems like they’ve just kept the practice up for the benefit of us tourists!

The family who owned this farm back at the turn-of-the-century built this duck pond to attract fowl for shooting. Peter Jackson noticed it from the air during a location scout and thought it looked just like Tolkien’s description of Hobbiton… and here we are.

The mill and stone bridge in Hobbiton (which you can’t go in to and aren’t actually made of stone) as seen from the lawn out front of the pub, the Green Dragon (which you can go in to and has awesome snacks and beer). There is a resident tabby cat who lounges by the crackling wood fire kept burning full time in the pub’s hearth, adding to the old-time vibe, and the house ale – brewed on site and only available at the Dragon – is as well crafted as Hobbiton itself.

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8 days in New Zealand | Part 1 | Auckland, Bay of Islands and Raglan » blog | evan mitsui dot com - […] divided the trip up in to three parts… Part One you’re reading now. Parts two (Hobbiton) and three (the Tongariro Track) I’ll post over the next […]

8 days in New Zealand | Part 1 | Auckland, Bay of Islands and Raglan

When the Lonely Planet lists the best months to visit New Zealand, May doesn’t make the cut. But, when an opportunity to travel presents itself I’m not one to pass up a trip on account of a little rain.

Some back story. My wonderful girlfriend (pictures of whom are below) has spent the last six weeks working in New Caledonia — a French-controlled island nation about 12, 000 kilometres off the east edge of Australia — which happens to be a relatively short flight from another of the South Pacific’s  ‘new’ land masses (New Guinea, New Caledonia…), New Zealand!

NZ has been on our respective travel hit lists for a while so the opportunity to reunite there after over a month apart was hard to pass up. A couple weeks before her departure, I booked time off work, tickets and bought a Lonely Planet with an eye on the north island. We would only have nine days (including an unavoidable lost day in travel time) to play with and we figured the north isle would give us the best bang for our buck, and a shot at some decent weather as the southern hemisphere fall turns to winter.

I left Toronto on Friday (May 3) after work and, following a now routine-feeling commute to Vancouver, hopped an Air New Zealand A330 Airbus for a 14-hour epic across the international date line.

Several movies, magazine articles and a surprisingly comfortable sleep (great selection of NZ wines on board), I arrived in Auckland on Sunday morning. Anastasia (my wonderful girlfriend), having arrived the day before and already mastered nearly mastered driving on the wrong side of the road, picked me up in our rental and drove me back to the hotel for some much needed napping.

From here, I’ll let the photos do the talking. The pics from the trip are laid out below in roughly chronological order and I’ve divided the trip up in to three parts… Part One you’re reading now. Parts two (Hobbiton) and three (the Tongariro Track) I’ll post over the next week.

The view from our room at the Hotel Mercure in Auckland overlooking Customs Street East. A block from the harbour.

On our first night in Auckland we walked up to Hotel deBrett for a drink in one of the boutique hotel’s two equally hip bars. This shot is from the upstairs lounge. We fantasized about staying in the hotel (its highly recommended in the guide books) but even their off-season rates were a bit out of our price range on this trip. Definitely worth a visit if not a night or two though!

Walking back to our hotel (the Mercure, dead-ahead right in this photo) across the free-for-all cross walk at the intersection of Customs and Queen. The rain was Vancouver-esque at times and I can see why the guide books try to steer visitors away in the off season. If you’re not a wimp though, May is a nice uncrowded time to visit!

One of the many flat whites I consumed while in NZ. This one was expertly poured at Federal and Wolfe in Auckland, which is now one of my favourite cafes! I’d teleport back there in a heartbeat. For those not familiar with the coffee bevvy, a flat white is an Aussie/Kiwi take on a latte, but with a little less milk (i.e. better coffee to dairy ratio) and more velvety foam. *Dark Horse in Toronto makes a nice one too, IHMO.

Driving from Auckland to the Bay of Islands through another heavy squall

A favourite fishing ground-turned renowned marine reserve, Goat Island – about an hour-and-a-half drive north of Auckland near the town of Leigh – boasts some serious marine abundance. Its a major diving destination, but the gale-force winds kept us on the grassy hillocks on this trip.

The Ghunga II, motoring through a calm patch

Capt. Mike, a Canadian-turned-Kiwi, explains… something I don’t recall.

Look’in wild on the deck of the Ghunga II

Ours was the last boat load of guests Capt. Mike was taking on a day sail before he pointed the Ghunga for Fiji. Capt. Mike (a Canadian ex-pat) like many of the boat-owning tour operators in the Bay of Islands work the busy summer season non-stop in order to cover costs… and fund longer voyages out into the Southern Sea. Some of these trip welcome crew and I’m already fantasizing about a longer trip… with surf boards!

Just another sparsely populated island in the Bay of Islands

The dolphins in the bay aren’t shy… or just appreciate a free ride in the slipstream around our boat hull.

It was mating season for the resident dolphins in the Bay of Islands but this guy took a break to catch a ride on our wake.

The dolphins in the Bay of Islands are used to having boats around and as our captain, Mike, informed us, the pods of resident cetaceans can distinguish between them based on engine noise. These ones were cool with us and hung around for quite a while, jumping and swimming in our wake.

On the prow of the Ghunga II

Ghunga II anchored in Roberton Bay. We tramped up to the lookout (about a 15 minute walk through some friendly jungle up a well-maintained path) to catch this view. Worth it.

Looks like B.C.! The view off the backside of Roberton Island from the hilltop lookout.

Our ride, the 65-foot yacht Ghunga II, anchored off-shore as we paddled kayaks over to Roberton Island for little tramp-around while Capt. Mike made lunch.

Cruised past a few groups of penguins on our day sailing in the Bay of Islands. These little guys hung out with us for a while, sunning on the surface, in between deep dives for fish. First time I’ve seen penguins in the wild!

The view from our dinner table at one of Russell’s many outdoor bistros.

Russell is a short ferry ride from Paihia, the main tourist hub in the Bay of Islands. Off season offers the luxury of no crowds (I imagine this place is crawling during the southern summer) and your choice of seaside dining tables.

We spent a fair bit of time driving – a necessity when linking the North Island’s hot spots – and every time we did, it poured.

Sheep pasture… its everywhere.

You don’t want to piss these guys off.

Its a Llama!

NZ sheep, no doubt used to being shorn, are skittish creatures. We pulled over several times to attempt to pet them but the wiley buggers made for the hills.

We took the plunge (literally) and spent a morning exploring one of the myriad limestone cave networks in Waitomo with the Black Water Rafter company. Unfortunately we don’t have any pictures of the amazing glow worms illuminating the cave ceilings because the tour company doesn’t allow you to bring your own cameras… and we resisted the urge to purchase the fairly crummy photos they take while on the tour.

We spent two nights at the Solscape eco-retreat-hostel-commune overlooking Manu Bay in Raglan. It was rustic but comfortable. Best for a crew of mates on a surf mission who don’t care about the possum living in the wall.

The town of Raglan is the North Island’s go-to spot for travelling surfers. The waves in Manu Bay were small while we were in town but a steady north-west swell kept the horizon rippled for days. Hired a board from our hostel’s surf shack and took the 10-minute walk down a really well maintained path to the beach.

Looking south-west from the path towards world-famous surf spot Indicators, located just off the rocky point in the distance.

The next stop on our NZ whirlwind tour was Hobbiton, the fabled home of Bilbo, Frodo and the other hobbits… Will have that post up soon!

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8 days in new zealand | part 2 | Hobbiton » blog | evan mitsui dot com - […] island took us from the Bay of Islands, southwest back down through Auckland to the surf town of Raglan (pictures in the previous post) with a stop in Waitomo for some caving in the famous ‘glow […]

Vancouver Ismaili Wedding Photography | Shaheed+Sheeba

 

These are in roughly reverse order. That is, starting at the end of the day and working backwards to the morning. Thanks to Shaheed and Sheeba and the whole wedding party, friends and family for a great day. It was a pleasure to be a part of. Couldn’t have picked a nicer day too! Vancouver summer at its finest. Congratulations you two!

There is also a nifty Big Show HTML5 slideshow (that’ll look really sweet on an iPad) up here: Shaheed+Sheeba’s Big Show

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