GLAMping… It stands for GLAMour camPING and we had our first taste of it at Punga Cove.
What is glamping? Glamping is the exact opposite of hiking/camping as I know it. It is finishing your walk for the day and having a cappachino, taking a shower and changing into clean clothes for a dinner that you don’t cook on a camp stove and then sleeping every night in a bed with clean sheets after a few glasses of wine or beer with dinner. Glamping is carrying a day pack and not having to set up a tent or worry about a rainy night. Glamping is a hair dryer and makeup, cologne and collard shirts after only 5 hours of walking from your previous resort. At first, glamping made me want to throw up.
Glamping and the Queen Charlotte Track: The QCT is the only “great walk” calibre hike in New Zealand that you can glamp on, as it is supported by a network of resorts, water taxis and guided tour companies. About half the yearly the walkers of QCT forgo campsite accommodations and stay in the resorts conveniently placed a short days walk from each other. The 70km walk is split up into 4 or 5 days, with a resort at each overnight location. The craziest part to me had to be the luggage system, which as foreshore at Punga Cove Resort I played a daily part of. Walkers would leave their packs (60lbs suitcases) outside the room of the resort they we’re staying at and staff would then load it onto a water taxi which would deliver the packs to our dock. I would then load the bags onto the trailer and deliver them to their assigned chalet and the next morning at 9am pick the bags up and get them on the next days water taxi to the following resort. You could walk 70km and very possibly never move your pack except through the door of your chalet each afternoon. It was a truly bizarre concept to me and violated everything I thought hiking was supposed to be.
Why I was wrong in my scorn: At the end of the day, I love nature and I think every human being should spend some time in the woods to appreciate what is around them. It’s not about who can carry the most expensive gear the furthest each day; it’s about walking up a hill and seeing a view that makes your jaw drop and realize how little you really are in comparison to Mother Nature. Glamping on the QCT makes this possible to such a greater group of people, something I didn’t realize until a week or two had gone by. Whether they were physically unable to carry gear for 70km, travelling with children or uncomfortable with sleeping in a tent and not showering for the better part of a week, the resort network on the QCT opened nature to a much larger demographic. I firmly believe that anytime someone experiences true nature and disconnects from the rat race for even a day, their horizons open and because of that I’m grateful for the water taxis and foreshore folks on the QCT.
The call it Windy Welly for a reason – since it’s the third windiest city in the world and the big city Art and Culture capital of New Zealand. We drove down to Wellington after leaving the bakery with two goals in mind; drink some good coffee while people watching and find our friend Emilie from the green submarine. Attempting to knock out two birds with one stone and not having the most reliable communication between three people living as cell phone-less gypsies, we planned to meet up at either the National Museum or a coffee shop downtown later that night. After missing each other by ten minutes at the museum Lindsay and I spotted her walking down the culturally eccentric Cuba Street, it just took three cups of coffee in as many hours sitting on the front window stools! (Rough life, I know.)
After meeting up with each other we decided to spend the rest of the evening enjoying all that the Cuba Street culture had to offer. After joking around for the afternoon about going to one of the many gay bars on the street, the girls talked me into it and lets just say it became an “eye opening” experience. I’ve never gone to a gay bar, first because of being close minded prior to going to Alaska and then as a result of my position in the Army it became one of those culturally/professionally off-limits areas. Since neither of those two limiting factors existed anymore I figured what the hell, why not! Regardless of being the poorest dressed male in there (hey, in my own defense, we’re living out of a backpack and a station wagon!) there were plenty of boys dressed as girls, girls dressed as boys and everything in between. Even a very tall Marie Antoinette with a very defined Adam’s Apple.
After my cultural experience completed itself, we took off for a salsa bar on the other end of the strip and a pitcher of beer later, the two girls took off to dance and left me to watch their coats and bags and such. Well, seizing the opportunity of a lifetime, a solidly drunk Russian woman saddled up right next to me striking up a conversation that sadly I had not drank enough to follow. Expecting Lindsay to come save me at any moment I kept the conversation going as my lady friend attempted to seal the deal. At that point I had to break it to her that the beautiful red beard in front of her had already been spoken for by the blonde out on the dance floor… who watched the train wreck all along and couldn’t stop laughing at me.
We spent the rest of our time in Welly away from the bars and enjoying the free museums and numerous cafes along the waterfront. The highlight of which would have to be the Te Papa Museum, which besides being the official national museum and probably the best guest experience museum we had ever been to, in any country, it was also 100% free. We planned on spending 3 hours there and ended up taking our time and using the better part of our day. Our last day in Wellington finished up by walking the updated waterfront that still paid homage to the industrial history of the city, leaving the 50 and 100 year old cranes next to the water.
Sadly, after just three days our time in Welly came to an end at it was time to jump on the ferry to head to the South Island to face our next adventure!
What do you get when you put an American, a Canadian and a Frenchman in a canoe (Besides the start of a really bad joke)? An incredible trip floating down a beautiful river with memories that will last a lifetime, and a green submarine.
After our bodies hit their binge-drinking breaking point at the brewery, it was time to get away from things for a bit. Where better to go than out in the woods for 5 days on one of New Zealand’s 10 “Great Walks”. The “Great Walks” are the Department of Conservation’s (DOC) way to highlight some of the epic backcountry that New Zealand has to offer while also corralling tourists into manageable, safe and supervised areas to reduce personal injury and the impact on the environment. 9 of the Great Walks are done by foot with one unique trip, a 5 day, 150km float down the Whanganui River which is located in the central part of the North Island. We knew this was going to be one of our more expensive tourist to-do’s while in New Zealand but rather than renting a canoe at $200/person we bought a $1550 Subaru Legacy which we named Mushu after Mulan’s Dragon (another story for another day) and rented a canoe from a local outfit near the brewery for just $125/person.
Before embarking on our adventure we were able to goat-rope one of our fellow brewery wwoofers into making the trip; Emilie from France who brought all of her trekking gear with her to New Zealand. It is quite uncommon for “backpackers” to bring actual backpacking equipment with them here in New Zealand and Emilie had her camp stove, sleeping back and a tent and wanted to go on a river adventure! We drove to Tauramanui which is where we put in to start the river and left the car outside the Police station – hoping if anywhere in town was secure for our priceless ’96 station wagon it would be the police station!
The start of the trip seemed to be relatively eventful, encountering more rapids than we bargained for and after only an hour on the river, thunder could be heard over the mountain and we quickly tucked into some trees next to a sheep paddock to spend the night in the rain under our tarp. Day two we covered the most distance thanks to some fast flowing water, as the top half of the river is the steepest and most eventful too! In all of the chaos of going into rapids and trying to avoid trees the river took my Red Sox, which I’ve had for years and taken everywhere with me, off my hat with a tree branch and down to the deep, murky depths for eternity… or to wash up on a bank and have a goat eat next week. What is an epic river odyssey without trials and tribulations though, right?!
Days 3-5 encountered much more tourist traffic, as it is more common and much easier to put in 60km downstream and turn the trip into a 3 day with less rapids, more epic scenery and of course lower cost. We tried to camp one stop ahead or one stop behind the major groups which let us do our own trip at our own pace and relax at night rather than worrying about sharing a cooking space with 25 other people. As the river slowed down the clay and limestone cliffs became tighter and tighter, eventually towering over us 150ft above. It truly felt like we were going back in time, floating in a canoe in what would’ve been prehistoric times when the dinosaurs ruled the land as we felt like tiny specs on Mother Nature’s canvas. The Jurassic, jungle feeling really sunk in at the end of Day 3 when the clouds opened up and poured down on us in a monsoon-like fashion. Thankfully. we were the only ones in the campground and could set up our sleeping area in the little cooking shelter (see photos).
The trip finished with some less-than-epic rapids that we had been warned about from the start of the river – probably lessened due to the intense rain from the days before. After getting out of the river, taking a quick swim and putting on clean clothes I had the most difficult task of the whole 5 days; hitching back to the start point, two hours away. The town that marked the finish point of our trip was sleepy to say the least and it took two hours just to get a ride to the main highway. As evening approached and Lindsay and Emilie started to get worried if I would make it back or not, the blue Subaru roared around the corner into town to strap the canoe back on top, a job well done and an incredible journey complete!
Oh and the “Green Submarine” you might ask? Allow me to set the scene; morning of day two so we still had plenty of food and beer (of course) weighing us down plus the gear for three people and the bodyweight of all three. Needless to say, our Old Town Canoe was riding pretty low in the water and on top of that we didn’t have our center of gravity low enough nor enough weight in the back of the canoe so that the person in the back could effectively turn in choppy water. So since we were camping 100m shy of probably the biggest rapid on the river what did we do? Put in right from our campsite rather than portage past the big water, naturally! We hit the first drop and started to list sideways in the water, allowing many liters worth to pour into the canoe. After that we were done, tippy because of the top-heavy loading and low in the water due to weight we became a lost cause with every wave, rock and spray dumping more water into our boat. No one panicked, no one jumped out, rather we held onto our paddle and the canoe in our other hands and simply sat in our, now submarine-d, green canoe. The canoe was fully under water with the bottom gently bouncing off the rocks at the bottom of the river while we continued on with the flow of the water and three people in a submerged canoe happily floating along in the whitewater. It all went wrong when Lindsay’s morning snack, a banana, started floating out of the canoe. She abandoned the rest of the team and her ship and bailed out after her treasured banana… after which chaos ensued. My shoes started falling off as I tried to hold onto the canoe, Lindsay was gone chasing a banana, Emilie floated away holding onto Lindsay’s paddle and down the river we went. Fortunately 100m after the white water ended a little beach stuck out from the river bank and there we went to collect ourselves and our boat… and sing the New Zealand rendition of the classic Beatles song.
“We all sank in the green submarine, the green submarine, the green submarine…”
Between leaving the farm and our start date at Mike’s Brewery (more to come on that later), we took a few days to be tourists since we really needed some rest and recuperation after our very stressful 4hrs/day at the farm! We hitched, quite successfully really, to the resort/destination town of Raglan which is situated on the central west coast of the North Island. Raglan is famous not only for its beautiful black sand beaches that are filled with a fine sand loaded in iron and other minerals, but also as a prominent spot for surfing in New Zealand. Raglan is to surfing in NZ what Whistler, BC is to skiing in Canada. We hung out for a couple of days, staying in hostels and practicing how to make the (usually) temporary friend that comes with hosteling. One of the days we attempted to surf which was only moderately successful – we flipped the hostel a couple bucks for a half day rental, they gave us some ratchet straps to hold the boards to the free shuttle, and then gave us the keys… Yes, the “free shuttle” turned out to be a 1989 Subaru Wagon that the most competent driver of the group got to drive to the beach – just be back by 2pm!! Although at the end of the day there wasn’t quite enough snow for either of us to be successful… give me skis any day!
One interesting observation from our first experience in a surf town, especially a touristy surf town, is that ski bums and surf bums are pretty much the same people. They get up at 7am (hungover) to go get at least one run, maybe two if they are lucky, before having to go work and cater to the needs of the tourists with the money. Our hostel was staffed by a team of 5 surf bums, all on a rotating schedule so some could go surf in the morning and others could go surf in the afternoon… quite similar to the guys working in a season rental shop or those making snow up on the mountains. Just like being at the mountain, the locals did their thing and made it quite apparent that they were the locals while the tourists were supposed to stay on their half of the beach and not interfere with the people who A. Knew what they were doing and B. Had earned the right to have the good runs by living there. The locals were out in the deep water where the perfect big waves were….we made sure to be polite and stick to the baby waves that crash into the shoreline most of the day (that’s our excuse anyway)!
All in all, spending two days in surf town ended up being a great experience – another one of the touristy things you must do when you’re traveling. It was just quite interesting to see how similar the culture of Surf Town, NZ and Jackson Hole, WY really were.