A Travellerspoint blog

Tongariro National Park

sunny 22 °C

Last week was dominated by the anticipation of the upcoming long weekend, and last minute planning for our trip to the Tongariro National Park to celebrate it. There were some notable happenings before we sighted the mountains looming before us though, and we're fully prepared to discuss those with you right now. Are you ready?

Monday, school ended early for Jack as the Primary school teachers were taking the afternoon to attend a union meeting. After preparing a loving lunch of peanut butter and honey sandwiches for Jack, Tim drove the pair of them out to the skateboard park where Jack practiced busting his moves on his Ripstik. Afterwards they celebrated a head injury-free session by going to Jack's regular Gym Club. There were no head injuries at the Gym Club either.

On Wednesday Jenn got caught up in the next phase of teacher job action here in New Zealand as the Year 9 students were "rostered home". This tactic involves the refusal to teach Year 9 students on that day, but agreement to teach all other Years. Apparently there could be further rostering home of other students in the future. Although Jenn is playing Switzerland on this issue, she wasn't neccessarily heartbroken to lose a day with some of her affected students. Meanwhile, Tim drove over to Mount Maunganui to buy some more paint, and ended up walking on the beach - go figure! The exciting sight on that particular day was a beached medium-sized pleasure boat. Apparently the pilot of the boat wasn't really into following marine rules or consulting charts, and he ended up driving his boat waaaayyy too close to shore. As Tim arrived on the scene a construction digger was driving into the surf. Much sand was dug out from the port side with little movement of the boat. Deciding that was much less interesting than gazing out at the ocean in zen-like contentment, Tim turned around and walked the other way. The follow up is that the boat was destroyed in the process of trying to free it - broken into three sections apparently.

Thursday was exciting, as Tim visited Liquorland for the first time, and Bronte arrived home from school sporting her latest kudo - her "Honours Pin". She earned this by being involved in various clubs, competitions, and other things that we've mentioned in other posts. The Honours Pin recognises a critical mass of these various accomplishments. Here's a photo of Bronte with the hardware:

Tauranga Bronte with Honours Pin

Tauranga Bronte with Honours Pin

Friday arrived with the thrill of the long-weekend (Monday was to be Labour Day). While the rest of the family slaved away at school, Tim slaved away in the kitchen preparing a treasure trove of baked goods sufficient to feed two families. Around 3:40, the whole family set off in the Capella bound for Tongaririo National Park, which you can see overhead here. Over three hours later our Canadian friends the Allores waved us into the bach we were sharing in the tiny town of Raurimu, just outside of the National Park.

Saturday morning we set off for the park, stopping at the Whakapapa Visitor Centre for a quick look-around. A few minutes later we stepped onto the trail for Taranaki Falls. Right away we were gobsmacked by the beauty of the vista before us. The trail wound through scrub and rock with stunning views of Mt. Ngauruhoe and Mt. Tongariro ahead, and Mt. Ruapehu behind. The National Park is a World Heritage Site and comprises over 78,000 hectares, the centrepiece being the three mountains just mentioned. These three are all volcanoes, two of which are "dormant". The third, Mt. Ruapehu, is still active and last erupted in 1996. Here's what we saw:

Tongariro_..i_start.jpg

The trail meandered through forest along the Wairere Stream and past a small waterfall called Cascade Falls, and eventually brought Taranaki Falls into view. A single drop of 20 metres over the edge of a lava flow from an eruption 15,000 years ago made for an incredible sight! We walked down to the base of the falls and then in behind, marvelling at the curtin of water falling in front of us. Then it was up to the top of the ridge and the crest of the falls. We relaxed with some water and energy food, and of course many photos. Here's some of them:

Tongariro Jenn at Taranaki Falls

Tongariro Jenn at Taranaki Falls

3Tongariro_..i_Falls.jpgTongariro Atop Taranaki Falls

Tongariro Atop Taranaki Falls

The trail eventually took us back to the Whakapapa Village, where we relaxed outside of the Visitor Centre and ate our lunch. We would definitely need the energy for the afternoon. Before we tell you about the next phase, here's a video of the Taranaki Hike:

Following lunch, we set off for the next multi-hour hike - Silica Rapids. This trail started further up the road from the Whakapapa Visitor Centre. It too was amazing! The trek started by crossing the Whakapapanui Stream and meandering through the forest. The stream bubbled along beside the trail for a good part of the hike. The trail came to a boggy area with a boardwalk, with Mt. Ruapehu to our left. We were pretty happy with what we were seeing, and then we turned around and there was a spectacular view of Mt. Ngauruhoe. We had to grab a photo:

Tongariro Cronsberry Family Silica Rapids

Tongariro Cronsberry Family Silica Rapids

Some of you might think that Mt. Ngauruhoe looks a tad familiar. In cinematic circles it is known as "Mount Doom" from the Lord of the Rings films. The movies were all shot in New Zealand at various locations around the country, and Tongariro became the Land of Mordor, with Ngauruhoe as Sauroman's crib (with appropriate digital manipulation of course). Happy with that magesty at our backs, we carried on to Silica Rapids. The Rapids are shallow terraces covered in yellow and white deposits of alumino-silicate resulting from the aeration of the stream water as it gathers speed down from the higher ground. We rested for a while in the warm sun, and after this rejuvenation we set off back from whence we came. Once again our favourite view met us as we emerged from the forest and we crossed the boardwalk walking towards the snow-capped Ngauruhoe. Here's more photos, plus a video:

large_Tongariro_..ail_Bog.jpgTongariro_all_walking.jpg

The walk was great for all of us, but admittedly we were all happy to see the Capella when we emerged. We headed back to the bach and relaxed with a cool beverage in the sun on the back deck while the lasagne cooked. What an incredible day.

Sunday was our day for part of the world famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Listed as the best day-hike in New Zealand, and one of the greatest walks on the enitre planet, we were quite anxious to see what we could of it. We made our way to the Mangetopopo Road end, and the start of the hike, which you can see overhead here. Jenn was anxious to start:

Tongariro Crossing Jenn at the Start

Tongariro Crossing Jenn at the Start

After a short time crossing scrubland, we came upon the Mangetepopo Hut. On this and other significant hikes there are Department of Conservation Huts that hikers can bunk in for the night if they can't quite make it out before dark. We did meet one older guy on the trail that shunned the hut and instead pitched his tent at the summit of Ngauruhoe so that he could watch the sun rise. He had to have been over 60, and we were suitably impressed that he happily climbed up to the 2291 metre summit alone. We really hope that when we hit that age we're doing similar things! But we weren't planning to summit anything that day. Instead we carried along the trail following the small Mangetepopo Stream which was draining the snowmelt from the top of Mt. Tongariro. It was pretty cool gazing at the blackened lava flow down the side of the volcano and walking amongst the lava bombs hardened for thousands of years. Here's some of the views:

Tongariro Crossing panorama

Tongariro Crossing panorama


Tongariro Bronte Jack on Lava Bomb

Tongariro Bronte Jack on Lava Bomb

Tongariro Crossing Jenn & Gwen

Tongariro Crossing Jenn & Gwen

Tongariro Crossing Bronte & Claire on Boardwalk

Tongariro Crossing Bronte & Claire on Boardwalk

We took our time, and a couple of hours after starting out we arrived at Soda Springs. Soda Springs is a small cascade of water that falls over a lava flow, and smells faintly of sulphur. It is the first milestone on the larger Tongariro Alpine Crossing track, after which the track climbs up to the South Crater, then on to the Red Crater and down the other side of Mt. Tongariro. For us, Soda Springs was a great spot to have a drink, snack, and a rest before setting out on the return trip. Here's more photos of the return trip:

Tongariro Tim & Jenn at Soda Springs

Tongariro Tim & Jenn at Soda Springs

Tongariro Soda Springs stream

Tongariro Soda Springs stream

Tongariro_.._Waving.jpg

After returning to the start of the trail, we had lunch before setting off for the afternoon portion of our day's adventure. Here's some final photos and a video:

Tongariro_..at_sign.jpgTongariro Ngauruhoe in Rear View Mirror

Tongariro Ngauruhoe in Rear View Mirror

We headed back over to Ruapehu and drove all the way up Bruce Road to the base of the Whakapapa Ski Field, where we boarded the chairlift bound for the top. It was great to walk in the snow again and watch the hoardes plow through the quickly melting slush. Although our time at the top was fairly brief, all of us agreed that it was time well spent. On the ride back down we even saw a snow-melt waterfall off to the side of one of the ski runs! Here's a couple of photos:

Tongariro_..Skilift.jpgTongariro Bronte at Ruapehu

Tongariro Bronte at Ruapehu

Back to the bach we went for another drink on the deck in the sun. Monday morning we took things slow, and walked on the defiant side - vacating the bach a full half hour after we were supposed to be gone. As we approached the highway out of Raurimu, the Allores took their kiwicar towards Taupo, and we guided the Capella towards Taumarunui. On the way back to Tauranga, we stopped briefly at the Waituhi Saddle Lookout for one last view of the National Park. Here's the view from there:

Tongariro View From Waituhi Saddle Lookout

Tongariro View From Waituhi Saddle Lookout

Back in Tauranga we marvelled at how perfect the weekend was, and we're anxious to keep the momentum going! While we generate more memories, you can look at even more photos of our Tongariro weekend in the photo gallery, which you can see here.

Posted by tcrons 02:03 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

Fine Art, River Crossings, and Large Sea Mammals

rain 18 °C

Leaving the easy-going Australian lifestyle behind, we dove back into our lives here in New Zealand. Fortunately, we had our Canadian friends the Allores with us for the first half of the week, and that gave us ample time to talk excitedly about our experiences to date, and to provide some advice to them for the next phase of their New Zealand travels. Meanwhile, Bronte left home and we were sad. Here are all the relevant details:

On Sunday, we all piled into the Capella and the Allore's Kiwicar, and headed out to Aongatete to hike the short-loop track. It was damp, but great. The trail ended at a pasture, through which we all needed to tiptoe around the deposits the cows had left behind. Here's a photo:

Aongatete dodging patties

Aongatete dodging patties

Monday morning, Bronte awoke eager to start her next big thing - a week-long camp! One of the many fantastic things about Bronte's school, Tauranga Intermediate, is that the school owns an outdoor education camp called Ngamuwahine, which is located here. Each class at the school spends one week at the camp where they get to try things like orienteering, rock climbing, low-ropes course, kayaking, and funnest of all - the flying fox. Tim volunteered to transport Bronte and a couple of her classmates to the camp, and once there and settled, the whole lot of them started out on a four hour hike through the Kaimai-Mamakau Forest. The hike was fairly muddy as, shockingly, it had rained earlier. No matter, 61 kids and 16 adults picked their way through the trail to the edge of a stream, which then needed to be crossed. Once it was crossed, everyone was rewarded with time to eat their lunch, gaze at the beauty of the area, and feed the eels which inhabit the stream. Bronte's blood was spilled at the beginning of the stream crossing as a slippery rock taught her a lesson. Despite that, spirits were high on the other side. Here's the photos:

Ngamuwahine Bronte on the trail

Ngamuwahine Bronte on the trail

Ngamuwahine Bronte crossing

Ngamuwahine Bronte crossing

Ngamuwahine eel petting

Ngamuwahine eel petting

Satisfied that Bronte was in the competant care of her teachers, Tim turned around and headed back in order to be back in town in time to collect Jack and Jenn from their respective first days back at school. More on Bronte's camp experience later in this post.

On Tuesday, Tim attended his painting class as usual, but finally hit a milestone as he completed his first ever canvas. Although he'll never be Jean-Francois Millet, he's satisfied enough with his effort to continue spending Tuesday mornings throwing around the acrylic. Here's the final product. If you want to see a photo of the spot in the painting, refer to our earlier post here.

Finished.jpg

To celebrate, Tim baked a cheesecake AND pizza dough AND cleaned the bathroom (not in that order). The next day, the Allores had finally had enough and needed to get away from us, so they packed up and headed off for Waitomo (we'll see them again in a week down in Tongariro though). Tim mourned the rest of the day away.

Nothing really happened on Thursday.

On Friday, we were missing Bronte so much Tim went to Ngamuwahine to pick her up. He was met by an excited Bronte who had been having an amazing week. She participated in all that was thrown at her, but her favourite activity of all was the flying fox, also known as a zip line. Bronte needed to scale a pole the height or a regular hydro pole, and get harnassed to the line. Then after a big push she sailed through the sky for at least 100 metres! She loved it and wanted to do it again, but alas there was only one trip per person. On Friday, Tim assisted with the last activity of the camp week - "Clash of the Camp". This activity was an obstacle course of sorts, with teams needing to run, float down the river on an inner tube, tag a kayaker, more running, egg-on-spoon running, and finally winding up with a search for a particular type of leaf in the bush before running back to the camp. Bronte's leg of the race was the egg-on-spoon, as you can see here:

Ngamuwahine Bronte with egg

Ngamuwahine Bronte with egg

Bronte reported that it was a great experience, and she's eager to attend a summer camp back home in Canada. Here's a video she shot on location:

Saturday dawned bright and sunny - perfect weather to celebrate Bronte's birthday! After feasting on pancakes that Jenn made for the birthday girl, and a morning of skyping with Masses and Cronsberrys alike, Tim and Jack prepared Bronte's cake - a pavolova, which has become her favourite. Bronte then set to work ripping open the mail she had received from home and loving the birthday cards. That night we hit the Lone Star for dinner, where Bronte tucked into a plate of ribs. We wrapped up the day with a video at home. Here's the visuals:

Tauranga_B..thday_2.jpgTauranga_B..irthday.jpgTauranga_B..ne_Star.jpg

Sunday morning we decided that because it wasn't Bronte's birthday any longer, we could go for a walk, so we set off to walk the base of Mt. Maunganui again. Another sign that summer is approaching is the level of activity at the Mount - it is becoming difficult to find a parking spot, and we saw the surf lifesaving club out practising. The walk was great as always, this time with an added bonus. After nearly completing our circumnavigation of the Mount, we spied two sea lions splayed out on the rocks. Although we've been told previously that there are many seals and dolphins in the area, it was nice to finally see such a wealth of blubber before us. One of the other onlookers belted out a surprisingly passable seal bark, but the mammals did little other than to casually move their flippers - perhaps he barked something offensive. Here's some photos:

Maunganui_.._a_rock.jpgMaunganui Sea Lion

Maunganui Sea Lion

As we guided the Capella towards home, it began to rain - breaking a drought that had lasted a full day and a half. After lunch, Bronte and Tim baked some brownies while Jenn got ready the upcoming school week. Following supper, and a brownie, we piled into the Capella again and set off for Bronte's first official underwater hockey game. She took to the water like a graceful sea lion (although with a lot less bulk). Her team played two 20 minute games, and although they lost both, she emerged happy but tired.

That pretty much took care of the week!

Posted by tcrons 21:27 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Land of the Didgeridoo

Read about the exploits of the Cronsberrys as they leave New Zealand for a brief vacation in Australia

sunny 32 °C
View Australia on tcrons's travel map.

Did you miss us?

The past couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of activity - all of it absoloutely fantastique! We left New Zealand seeking warmer climes and boy did we find what we were looking for. Our Australia trip was a really nice break from the day to day of our lives in New Zealand, and with the two week school break it gave Jenn, Jack, and Bronte a chance to relax and not worry about school for a bit. For Tim, it was the culmination of weeks of planning that was worth every single second. This will be a long post, so grab a beverage and some munchies, and take the phone off the hook. Here we go...

This adventure began on Sunday, September 26 when we boarded one of the fine aircraft piloted by Air New Zealand, and flew "across the ditch" to Cairns, Australia - which, by the way, you can see overhead here. After checking into the Rydges Tradewinds, we set off to investigate the town. Most of the action in Cairns happens along the Esplanade. This is where many restaurants, tour operators, and various other tourist traps can be found. The street runs along the waterfront and comes complete with a wading pool that got heavily populated when the heat of the afternoon arrived. Here's a photo of Bronte by said pool:

australia Bronte in Cairns

australia Bronte in Cairns

After lunching at Barnacle Bill's (honestly, the food and ambiance was much better than the name might suggest), we slipped next door to investigate tour options. Armed with info, we continued our stroll. Following a swim in the hotel pool and dinner at "Grilled", we returned to the tour booking place and we managed to snag one of the last spots on the Kuranda Railroad for the next day. This is a slow-moving train that travels from Cairns up a short mountain through the Barron Gorge to the town of Kuranda. Kuranda is a total tourist town, but it was quaint and entertaining for the afternoon. The highlight of Kuranda for us was visiting the Koala Gardens. Bronte and Jack took the opportunity presented to them to feed wallabies by hand. Oh, and there was the whole bit about Bronte and Jack holding a Koala Bear too. In case you wanted confirmation, Koala Bears are indeed every bit as soft and cuddly as you might imagine. It might have been that this particular bear was just off the Thorazine drip, but we prefer to believe that the semi-toxic Eucalyptus leaves that exclusively form the Koala diet was affecting its consciousness. Here's the photo evidence:

Australia Jack with koala

Australia Jack with koala

australia Bronte with Koala

australia Bronte with Koala

We also saw a cute wallaby with it's little joey in the pouch!

australia_..th_joey.jpg

Happy and warm, we performed some ritual souvenir shopping before heading to the Skyrail. This is a gondola that carries passengers from Kuranda back down the mountain over the top of the rainforest - it was a great way to survey the landscape from another perspective. The bus collected us at the bottom and we returned to the hotel. After a refreshing swim we headed back to the Esplanade and strolled along the pier, watching the tour boats return from their day at the reef. On the way back to the hotel we observed an interesting roost in one of the trees on one of the other streets. Fruit bats. Hundreds of them, all hanging from the branches with their wings wrapped around them. As the sun set they took to the wing and the sky was filled with the colony. We were sure we'd see Vincent Price walking down the street grinning menacingly (if he weren't already deceased). Here's a photo (of the bats, not of Vincent Price):

australia Cairns bats in the tree

australia Cairns bats in the tree

Tuesday morning arrived early and we picked up our rental car from Avis. After safely making it out of Cairns proper, we headed to the Daintree Rainforest, the oldest rainforest in the world. We started our Daintree experience with a river tour where the guide described the various species of birds and spiders that inhabit the mangroves. He was either quite knowledgable or spoke with sufficient confidence that we didn't question his facts - it was fascinating. After a relatively short time we spied our quarry - a female crocodile. Here's what she looked like:

australia Daintree crocodile

australia Daintree crocodile

After Jack fed the croc small bits of raw meat from his mouth as we dangled him over the side of the boat, we climbed back into the Toyota and crossed the river on the cable ferry. On the other side beckoned the Daintree Discovery Centre. Within this spot we learned much about the forest and its inhabitants. The boardwalk through the rainforest conjured images of velociraptors stalking through the deep green, but we only saw an abundance of birds and lush vegetation. We then drove down the road and walked the Jindalba trail. The attraction here was the Cassowary. A Cassowary is an endangered bird, is about the size of a small ostrich, looks like it just stepped out of the Jurrasic period, and is only found in two places on the planet - one of those places being the very rainforest we were walking through. We did hear the distinctive call of the bird/dinosaur, but failed to spot any. We saw one later at the zoo in Sydney, which we'll talk about later. Here's a photo of the Cassowary behind bars:

Australia Sydney Zoo Cassowary

Australia Sydney Zoo Cassowary

We returned to Cairns happy once again for a great day. The next day was Wednesday - Great Barrier Reef Day! We made our way down to the wharf and boarded the Tusa 5 boat. The boat set out for the first of our reef stops, which you can see overhead here, and about an hour and a half later we arrived. Everyone thought the trip out was great, except Tim after the first hour. Tim's normal lust for adrenaline was tempered greatly by a rare case of sea queasiness. Fortunately he caught it in time and the Gravol-ish concoction worked its magic before a bag needed to be employed. Once in the water, everyone had an amazing time. Snorkeling in tropical waters is always a wonderous experience, but something about being on the Great Barrier Reef made this session the best ever. We all marvelled at the colour of the coral, and at the various fish swimming all around us. Jenn commented later with a smile that she needed to keep reminding herself that we weren't looking through aquarium glass and that no one put those fish there for the tourists - the vibrancy of the setting was completely natural and strikingly beautiful. These photos and video really don't come anywhere close to illustrating the magic that we all felt:

australia Great Barrier Reef 1

australia Great Barrier Reef 1

australia Great Barrier Reef 2

australia Great Barrier Reef 2

australia Great Barrier Reef 3

australia Great Barrier Reef 3

australia Great Barrier Reef Jack snorkel

australia Great Barrier Reef Jack snorkel

After the first reef stop we had lunch and then motored on to the second stop - Thetford Reef, which you can see overhead here. We all thought that this second stop was even more gorgeous than the first, but unfortunately we had considerably less time to explore. Climbing back aboard the boat we were ecstatic, and enjoyed the waning sun as we approached the Cairns harbour. What an amazing day!

Thursday was a travel day, and we made our way to the airport to board Qantas flight 1949 to Alice Springs, which you can see overhead here. Alice Springs is located moderately close to the geographic centre of Australia, and the scenery changed dramatically when we stepped off the plane. Gone was the lushness and humidity of Cairns, replaced by the dryness, dustiness, and redness of "The Alice". After checking into the Desert Palms hotel, we walked for about 20 minutes into the town of Alice Springs itself and poked around a bit like the tourists we were. One of the notable features of Alice Springs is the mighty Todd River which "flows" through the town. Here's a photo of the Todd:

australia Todd River flowing

australia Todd River flowing

The town holds an annual regatta called "Henley on Todd", which requires participants to carry their sculls down the river in a foot race. A few years ago the race needed to be cancelled for an obvious reason - there was water in the river! The next day we headed back into town once again and started our day at the Mbantua Aboriginal Art Gallery. Aboriginal paintings are all the rage in the parts of Australia we visited. The paintings tell stories, and many of them are quite intricate. We went on a gallery tour where we heard about the gallery's artists from the Utopia region of Australia. Bronte was quite taken with the style, and bought a small piece that she's very excited to hang in her room back home. She passed on the $88,000 one though. Following the gallery, we walked over to the Alice Springs Reptile Centre where we learned about the various animals in Australia that can kill you. There are quite a few! In fact, 18 of the 20 most venomous snakes in the world are found in the country. Jack got rather close to a non-lethal variety as you can see in this photo:

australia-..h-snake.jpg

After an afternoon swim in the surprisingly cold pool, we dined down the road on quite tasty Thai food at Hanuman. The following morning (Saturday), we packed up and checked out of the hotel. The flight that day was taking us further into the Red Centre - to Ayers Rock. After a short 45 minutes in the air, it was great to see Uluru looming out of the window. Following dinner at the Gecko Cafe, we walked over to one of the lookouts to gaze at the rock from afar. As the next morning was going to be a mega-early one for us, we said goodnight earlier than the surroundings should have demanded.

The next morning our wake up call came at 3:30 AM (yes, you read that correctly). We boarded a bus shortly after 4 AM that would take us to Kings Canyon. Along the way as the sun rose we sighted wild camels and horses a short distance from the road. We learned an interesting fact about camels in Australia. Firstly, we had no idea there were wild camels, let alone in abundance. We stopped at Kings Creek Station for breakfast, where they capture wild camels and export some 2000 per year to Morocco. That's right, Morocco. Apparently in Morocco they have eaten most of their camels, and the gene pool of those that remain is too shallow, thus requiring outside inputs to boost their stock. We did not eat camel for breakfast.

At around 8:30 we began the hike around Kings Canyon, which you can see overhead here. Tim and Jack headed up high to do the "Rim Walk", while Jenn and Bronte took care of the "River Bed Walk". It was blisteringly hot as the day wore on (which is why we were picked up at 4 AM), but the scenery was spectacular. Here are some photos and a video:

australia-Kings-Canyon-Jenn-Bronte

australia-Kings-Canyon-Jenn-Bronte

australia-..ronte-2.jpgaustralia Kings Canyon Tim and Jack

australia Kings Canyon Tim and Jack

australia Kings Canyon Jack

australia Kings Canyon Jack

By 11:30 the temperature was above 30, but the hikes were finished and we climbed back into the airconditioned bus. On the way back to Ayers Rock we saw more camels and horses, and eventually stopped at a cattle ranch called Curtin Springs. Stepping off the bus at this spot was quite uncomfortable, as by then the thermometer had surpassed 37. After a brief time looking at the cattle ranch and giving the wandering emu respectable distance, we headed the last bit of the way down the road to the Desert Gardens hotel where we were staying. Jenn, Bronte, and Jack hit the pool while Tim went to pick up the rental car from the helpful staff at Hertz. Cramming himself into the Toyota Yaris, Tim picked up the rest of the family and then drove into the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park, eventually arriving at the Ayers Rock sunset viewing area. As Jack would say, "it was the bomb". We had a nice time chatting with some friendlies from Washington State in the USA as we snagged the following magical photos:

australia Ayers Rock sunset

australia Ayers Rock sunset

australia_..im_Jenn.jpg

Very, very tired, we drove back to the hotel and collapsed. The next morning we rose early-ish and Yarised our way into the National Park once again - this time heading over to Kata Tjuta, colloquially known as "The Olgas". The peak of Mt. Olga is actually higher than Ayers Rock, which could be seen in the distance. As we peeled ourselves out onto the parking lot, Tim noted that the very spot they were standing on was the furthest away from home we had ever been, and the furthest away we would be during this year away from home (16,487.54 km from our house in St. Marys). You can see this spot and measure it for yourself here. Excited that any step we took from that point would be a step closer to home, we set out to do the "Valley of the Winds" hike. Although it was hot, there was a wind to cool us (surprise!). The hike wound us through the domes of Kata Tjuta, and we loved taking in the red rocks and the highly unusual greenery and flowers. It had rained heavily in the area a couple of weeks previous, and as a result there was growth where normally there is dust. On the top of one of the domes there was growing a meadow, complete with grass and flowers that we could see from down below! Here's some photos and a video of the experience:

australia-Kata-Tjuta-Jenn

australia-Kata-Tjuta-Jenn

large_australia_..anorama.jpgaustralia Kata Tjuta Cronsberry family

australia Kata Tjuta Cronsberry family

Just under three hours later at the conclusion of this magnificent walk, we headed over to Uluru to visit the Cultural Centre, where we learned a bit more about the Aboriginal people of the area. We lunched in the cafe there, and then headed back to the hotel for a swim. The day was not over yet though! We cleaned ourselves up and then boarded a bus which took us to the Sounds of Silence dinner. This is a cool gig the resort has going, where they bus you out a little further into the Outback and feed you under the stars. The food was incredible. We tasted Crocodile Caesar salad, and loved the succulent kangaroo meat. The desserts were to die for as well! We had a great time chatting with the others at our table (two Aussies from Cairns, and four Spaniards on their honeymoons). Following the meal, the sounds of a didgeridoo filled the air. We were speechless as the performance continued. We had no idea that a didgeridoo could make the sounds the musician was making emanate from the end of the thing. It was eerie and beautiful. To wrap up the night, an astronomer gave a brief talk about the southern night sky, and we gazed at the moons of Jupiter from a beefy-looking telescope they had set up. What a magical experience!

The next day was Tuesday, and it was time for us to say hello to the main attraction - Ayers Rock itself. We made our way to the start of the Mala Walk, which follows the base of Uluru for some distance. We joined a ranger-guided walk where we heard from a couple of members of the Anangu tribe (the aboriginal tribe which owns the park). After breaking away from the guided walk, we explored the trail and marvelled at the majesty of the rock itself. Although we knew that it was one of the largest "rocks" in the world - we weren't exactly sure what that meant before being there. Uluru is the 2nd largest actually, behind Mt. Augustus which is also in Australia), and deserves this designation because it is a single, unfractured monolith of sandstone. While the highest point of Uluru is only 348 metres above the ground, the base of the rock is some 2000 metres below the surface. It's massive. Before arriving, we didn't really understand the magic of Uluru, and like many of you reading this, we thought that it was an interesting destination. It really is much more than that though, and it's difficult to describe - it's a bit mystical being in the presence of this iconic rock, and we were a bit further along in understanding why the aboriginal people hold the site as sacred. In fact, some of the areas of the rock are especially sacred to the Anangu and cannot be photographed, and the stories connected to those areas cannot be told to just anyone. It was fascinating. Here's some photos and a video:

australia_..walking.jpgaustralia Ayers Rock

australia Ayers Rock

Thoroughly impressed with the monlith, we returned to the hotel and checked out as there was nothing left to see. The little sign at the reception desk listed all of the flight times for the Ayers Rock airport, and it showed our Virgin Blue flight leaving at 2 pm. Tim muttered that he must have made a mistake as he was sure it was supposed to leave at 1 pm. Well, it was indeed to leave at 1 pm and when we arrived at the airport at 12:15 and heard that the plane was about to board, the Cronsberry blood pressure rose to dangerous levels. We did make it though, and jetted our way to our next stop - Sydney. The flight was smooth.

Wednesday morning we strolled through Sydney to "The Rocks" area for breakfast. With our bellies full, we headed down to Circular Quay, which you can see overhead here, and caught a ferry to the Taronga Zoo. This was a great boat ride as it took us right past the Sydney Opera House. More on that little shack in a minute. The Taronga Zoo was great. We saw Red Pandas, seals, white faced Gibbon monkeys, and of course kangaroos. Here's Tim trying to make sense of the whole thing:

australia-..Zoo-Tim.jpgaustralia Sydney skyline

australia Sydney skyline

When we had our fill of animals, we headed back to Circular Quay on the ferry and ventured into the Sydney Opera House for a look-see. We took in the "Essential Tour" and were thoroughly impressed with the whole thing. We didn't realise that the building opened way back in 1973! It was originally budgeted to cost $7 million to build, but it went slightly over budget and ended up costing $102 million. They thought that it would take 3 years to build, but it was only completed after 14! The truly remarkable thing is that the project was completely paid off within 18 months of opening. WOW! In 2007 it was designated a World Heritage Site. The tour took us around the building, and into the two largest theatre spaces - the Concert Hall and the Opera Theatre. Here's a couple of photos:

australia Sydney inside the Opera House

australia Sydney inside the Opera House

australia Sydney Cronsberry Family at the Opera House

australia Sydney Cronsberry Family at the Opera House

We celebrated getting all cultured up by having dinner at Rosini, and grabbing dessert at Michaels. We retired to the hotel happy!
The following morning we strolled around the streets of Sydney and ended up at the State Library where we viewed a historical exhibit and marvelled at the gorgeous interior of the library. Bronte in particular was in heaven!

australia_..library.jpgaustralia_..brary_2.jpg

Back to hotel we went to collect our bags, and off to the airport for the final leg of our journey. The flight back to Auckland was uneventful, and after a night at the Holiday Inn, we piled into the Capella, which had been waiting patiently in the parking lot the entire time, and headed back to Tauranga, where our Canadian friends the Allores were waiting. We spent the next few days catching up with our friends - it was a great way to top off an amazing couple of weeks. Now it's back to the grind, and time to plan for the next trip!

As usual, there are more photos than shown here in this post, and you can see them by visiting the photo gallery here.

Posted by tcrons 01:35 Archived in Australia Comments (2)

Windswept Beach and Underwater Hockey

storm 15 °C

We spent the past week wrapping some things up and looking forward to new things just around the corner. With the end of school term #3 looming, there were mixed feelings in the house about moving on to term 4, but the fact that we're about to enter the last quarter of our stay here hasn't deterred us from enjoying the here and now. Let's begin:

On Monday past, the sun peeked out in a tantalisingly brief manner. As everyone else was at school, Tim endured the solitude and drove to the beach to drink in the rays. He captured these images during this little outing:

large_Maunganui_Beach.jpgMaunganui_Flowers.jpg

We know, more beach shots - but please cut us some slack as the pickings have been slim as of late! The preparations for our upcoming trip to OZ continued as well, with the purchase of togs and jandals (swim shorts and flip flops as they are known here). The next event worthy of mention was Wednesday's teacher strike. The "post-primary" teachers here staged a one-day walk-out in support of their contract desires. It put Jenn in a bit of an awkward spot, but after consulting with both teacher exchange organisations as well as the school principal, she went to work and helped with exam supervision along with the other teachers who are not part of the union here. Contrary to Ontario, teachers in New Zealand do not have to be part of the union (although it seems most are). After ensuring she did not cross any picket line and her comrades were well aware of her plans, she forged ahead with little incident, and without causing any students to faint.

Onwards to Thursday. There was a meeting at Bronte's school regarding her upcoming camp week at Ngamuwahine. We don't want to spoil the fun of reporting on this special event before it actually happens, but suffice to say that Bronte is in for an adventure when we return from Australia. More on that later! Thursday night while Tim attended to Ngamuwahine, Jenn escorted Jack down the street to his school to attend the end-of-term disco. As usual he had a tonne-o'-fun. Thursday was also supposed to be the day when the "largest storm on the planet" was to pound New Zealand. While those inhabiting the South Island certainly got some snow, there was no hiding in the basement here in Tauranga. That being said, we did get some pretty ferocious wind on Friday and throughout the weekend. Chalk another one up to the not-so-exact science of weather prediction.

Friday was the day for special lunches for Bronte and Jack. Bronte walked a short way from her school with her teacher and four other classmates to Burger King. Normally it's grosser with the King, but on Friday the teacher was celebrating and rewarding the students in class with the top 5 strongest arguments. This particular assignment involved choosing an issue and writing an argument to support the student's view. Bronte's topic of choice was School Assembly, which occurs every Friday, but which apparently many students wish would happen much less frequently. The Deputy Principal of the school chose the top 5, and Bronte scored some mystery meat for her effort! For Jack, the special lunch was a celebration of the efforts of the school choir. As you may recall from an earlier post, Jack's school choir sang their lungs out glorifying the efforts of Johnpaul, George, and Ringo. On Friday they staged a "shared lunch" where everyone brings in something and then there's a free-for-all. Jack brought Russian Fudge concocted by he and Tim the night before.

Saturday morning was a page-turner, as both Bronte and Jack played their final soccer matches in New Zealand. Both teams went down to defeat, but it was the usual fun. Following the wrap-up prize-giving ceremony that afternoon, the whole family headed downtown to Bay City Cinema. Earlier in the week Bronte had arranged with some of her school friends to meet at the cinema to take in "Tomorrow When the War Began". Bronte had recently finished reading the book by the same name and was excited to see the movie with her friends and without parents. Here are the girls about to participate in the war:

Bronte_and.._cinema.jpg

After Tim and Jenn ensured that the girls were safely beyond the velvet rope, they strolled with Jack into another movie - "Despicable Me". This was our first experience watching a 3D movie. It was pretty cool, but not something we think we'll do all the time! Here's a view inside the theatre:

Tauranga_J.._cinema.jpg

Following the entertainment, Bronte's friend Sarah stayed the night in order to taste Jenn's pancakes Sunday morning. Here's Sarah's reaction to the pancakes:

Tauranga_Sarah_smile.jpg

Later on Sunday Tim defrosted the freezer. It was pretty cool. He melted with the excitement. It went glacially slow though, but he felt freon top of the world when the task was finished.

In the afternoon that mysterious ball of gas in the distant sky shouted at us above the howling wind, so we left the house. After dropping Jenn and Bronte off to pick up some additional togs, Tim and Jack shot the Capella down the road and rock-hopped along the coast of Moturiki Island, connected to the beach at Mt. Maunganui, and which you can see overhead here. "Isthmus be our lucky day" exclaimed Tim as they crossed to the island in the sunshine. They caught these couple of photos:

Maunganui Jack windswept

Maunganui Jack windswept

Maunganui Jack in surf spray

Maunganui Jack in surf spray

And because we're all starved for video, here's a brief clip of their adventure:

You'd think that would be enough for one week, but we weren't finished there. Another of the interesting opportunities open to Bronte through her school is underwater hockey! On Sunday evening there was a "Give it a go" session at the Otumoetai Pool to see if newcomers to the sport might like it. Bronte very much wanted to try, so off we went. We were met with a surprise upon arriving at the pool when we discovered that the sport is organised by Tom Smith. Harken waaaaay back to the beginning of our time in New Zealand and you'll remember Tom and his wife Deb. After being alerted to our presence in New Zealand by our mutual friend Rob Leach back in Canada, Tom had us over for a BBQ during our first week here (in fact he called to welcome us a couple of hours after we arrived at the house on that first day). Anyway, it was great to see Tom and Deb again. Bronte had a fantastic time in the pool learning a bit about the sport of underwater hockey, and we've since signed her up for a four-week stint. Spending an hour and a half in the pool has positioned Bronte well for extreme success on the Great Barrier Reef, which we'll be snorkeling in almost exactly one-week's time. Here she is during and after the experience:

Bronte playing underwater hockey

Bronte playing underwater hockey

Tauranga Bronte Jack after pool hockey

Tauranga Bronte Jack after pool hockey

Back into the Capella we jumped, and back to the hacienda we flew in time to catch WipeOut. That spelled the end of another adventurous week in the lives of the intrepid Cronsberrys. For the few of you who actually read to the end of our blog posts, please note that there will likely be a brief break over the next couple of weeks in our blogosphere, as we are heading to Auckland on Saturday in preparation for our flight to Cairns, Australia Sunday morning. We'll be spending ten days in the country-continent viewing the Great Barrier Reef and all its inherent dangers, Alice Springs and its various charms, Ayer's Rock and it's rocking rockiness, and finally Sydney and its operatic wonders. Five flights later we'll be back and we'll do up a special double-post for you complete with underwater footage. And as an added bonus for us, our good friends the Allores will have returned from their rain-soaked tour of Australia and will be waiting at our house in Tauranga ready to BBQ-up all the kangaroo and crocodile meat we'll be illegally importing.

Posted by tcrons 17:31 Archived in New Zealand Comments (2)

Land of the Long Rain Cloud

rain 16 °C

Here we are again with another week behind us, this one dominated by sarcastic comments about the weather! As you have likely guessed, it rained this past week. And rained. And rained. In fact, the sun only came out twice - on Friday (which developed into a gorgeous day), and sporadically on Sunday in between showers. We made the best of it, but unfortunately there is comparably little to report. But report we will!

As described on our last post, we had picked up our billet at Bronte's school on Sunday afternoon. Fuotai was visiting from Christchurch (the earthquake zone), and taking part in the AIMS games. She was with us until Friday morning and seemed to have an OK time, despite the void of exciting things to do with her host family! We toured her around Mt. Maunganui briefly, and shuttled her to school each morning. It was great for us to have a kiwi stay with us, as we were constantly peppering her with questions about her life and the country in general. We even asked her where she thought we should visit when we tour around the South Island, and she said "Dunedin", which you can see overhead here. Unfortunately, we don't think our limited touring time will allow us to get as far south as Dunedin!

Our week with Fuotai also included a small UNO tournament in which Jenn was ultimately victorious. Jack particularly enjoyed learning some new dance moves from our guest - his moonwalk and "hand tucking" have improved greatly as a result. Fuotai got a chance to work on her moves as well when Tim escorted her and her friend Jordan (who was being billeted with our friends the Dixons) to the AIMS Disco held at Bronte's school on Wednesday night. At the end of the week, we were all richer for the experience of having Fuotai stay with us!

Other points of interest from the week past include the installation of insulation in the house! We were all pretty excited about this, and whether it be purely psychological or not, it does appear to feel warmer in the house as a result of the work done on Wednesday.

Friday, as mentioned above, turned out to be a beautiful day. Tim snatched the opportunity to get out of the house and he drove to Waihi Beach, about an hour away. You can see it overhead here. Walking on the beach breathing the warm air and feeling the sun on his pasty white winter skin restored his faith in the glory of New Zealand. It's truly amazing that one day like that can go so far to dullen all the sequential weeks of crappy weather. He managed to grab a few respectable photos including these:

Waihibeach looking southwest

Waihibeach looking southwest

Waihibeach looking northeast

Waihibeach looking northeast

Friday afternoon was spent making a chocolate cake in preparation for a dinner out the next night. Although there are no photos of the cake, the recipe is certainly unlikely to make it onto the Weight Watchers Diet list of acceptable foods. We got the idea for the cake from a cooking show out of Australia. You can see the recipe here. Can you tell we're grasping for content this week? Friday night it was Jenn's turn to head out, for it was staff party night at Tauranga Boys College. Of course there was a theme, and that theme was "the movies". Honouring the requirement to outfit oneself in the garb of a character from a movie, Jenn opted to take a page from Jack's Handbook of Fun, and she went as Indiana Jones. Edith Head would be truly impressed. Here's an image:

1Tauranga-J..Indiana.jpg

On Saturday after dry soccer outings, we puttered around inside the house watching the rain start again. In the late afternoon, Tim took Bronte to a birthday party being held for one of her friends from soccer. Jenn, Tim, and Jack then headed over to our friends the Dixons for dinner, with the cake and several Monteith's Radler in our arms. The dinner and conversation was great, and Jack ended up staying the night as he was having so much fun with Ryan and his various pets including a rather cuddly rabbit. After picking up Bronte and having to negotiate her friend's driveway in the dark and the driving rain up a 40 degree slope backwards, Tim returned home and collapsed onto the couch. He and Jenn watched the movie "Samsara", which was pretty good as far as subtitled Buddhist Monk movies go.

On Sunday, just in case we needed to be reminded of the concept of humidity, it rained for most of the day, so we stayed inside for most of it. In this photo of Bronte and Jack amusing themselves, you can see that elusive friend, the sun, starting to peek into the room:

Tauranga_B.._lounge.jpg

During the brief break when the sun showed itself for the second time in the week, we all got our for a brief walk, unfortunately getting caught as the rain returned before we did. We wrapped up Sunday watching Wipeout - Couples Edition. Very high-brow.

With a new week dawning, Tim needs to think about getting new rain coats and gum boots for the family as we're wearing out the ones we have. Stay dry friends!

Posted by tcrons 19:21 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

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