Mt. Rainier

Mt. Rainier

I opened up my computer one day in July and read the best email I had ever received. It was from my sister, Julia, who requested a long-weekend sister trip to one of three national parks! I couldn’t be happier to respond “YESSSS!!!” We decided to take a long weekend in October to hike around Mt. Rainier which is outside of Seattle, Washington.

Thursday  –

We flew in from different cities but landed within minutes of each other and had quite the exciting, hug-filled reunion in the Seattle airport. We gabbed as we walked to the Uber pick-up area and got lucky that we did not have to split our Uber-Pool Prius with another 3 people – that would have been so cramped!

It only took 20 minutes or so get to the Marriott Seattle Waterfront hotel that had the most beautiful view! The check-in guy asked us if we were twins which made my day since I am 5 years older! I am not sure how my sister feels about the mix-up but I think she lets it slide for my sake.

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We got up to the room to clean up before heading out for dinner. We opted for sushi since the seafood in Seattle is so darn fresh and delicious! We opted to try Umi Sake House since it was only a few mintue walk from the hotel. We cheersed to our reunion with some cocktails and split seaweed salad, edamame, and two of the best rolls I’ve ever had in my life! (Unfortunately, I Snapped and didn’t actually save my food-porn worthy photo evidence.. ugh!)

Totally stuffed, we walked back to our room and chatted until late in the night. You’ve got to love an old fashion sister sleepover (except when you get touched by cold feet)!

Friday –

My sister mentioned she had to work a tiny bit when we first planned the trip but the “tiny” turned into 1/2 the day, so I made some solo plans. I had been wanting to try out an out Orange Theory class and there happened to be one about 10 minutes from our hotel! I booked a 10 AM class and my sister and I grabbed a yummy continental breakfast before I started the walk to Orange Theory. The directions had me go up this awesome bridge with a beautiful view of the water way. I then turned into the city for a short tour before arriving at the studio. Unfortunately for my body, it was “National Burpee Day” and the class totally kicked my butt! Maybe wasn’t the best idea with a big hike coming up the next day… (Oh, foreshadowing!)

The day was glorious – 60 degrees and sunny – and I loved walking through the city. Once I got back to the hotel, I freshened up while my sister finished her conference call. Our stomachs were rumbling so we took off to check out Pike Place Market and find a spot for lunch.

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Pike Place Market was only a 10 minute walk from our hotel and we had a great time sampling the different products for sale, like questionable moisturizer, and smelling all of the flowers. It took me back to the last time I was in Seattle for our Alaskan cruise.

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We came across a little cheese and wine shop and sampled some cheeses. We ended up buying two cheeses and a nice bottle of red to take back to the hotel for snacking later. We also found an Italian place and split a scrumptious pasta dish. (Mmm, carbs!)

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Another meeting popped up on my sister’s schedule so we decided to grab some coffee and head down to the wharf. Talk about an amazing view to take a call from, especially since happy hour with wine and oysters at Elliot’s Oyster House was to follow.

Feeling good after our wine, we went back to the Marriott to get ready for our exciting comedic evening. We were going to dinner at Local 360 before seeing Iliza Shlesinger live! I watched her Netflix special, “Elder Millennial”, a few months before our trip and could not believe she was premiering in Seattle the night we were there! I was beyond excited.

Dinner was probably an 7 out of 10. We split a weird goat cheese and beet salad, but a delicious squash soup with so, so, so much bread. My hand-made, pesto pasta dish was very good and my sister had a veggie medley over thick-cut toast.

We were so stuffed that we were glad for the walk to the Moore Theater. We had every intention of finding a bar to hang at before the 10:30 show, however, while passing by we noticed that the theater was really dark. It looked like there was a big metal gate and that the doors were closed. We walked up and, to my completed sock, we saw the below:

The sign for our canceled show - bummer!

I was SO sad that we could not see Iliza. Instead of going to a bar, we decided to go back to the hotel and get an early night’s sleep since we had an early morning to Mt. Rainier the next day.

Saturday:

We woke up bright and early to check out of the hotel and head to Mt. Rainier! Even though it is a 2 hour drive from the city, you could actually see the mountain from the wharf in Seattle. The drive was absolutely beautiful as all of the trees were changing to the most vibrant colors for fall!

The drive to Mt. Rainier in Washington

We took a pit stop at a grocery store on the way to grab some food for our hike. I was looking for something quick, prepackaged, and easy to eat and found the perfect lunch – Pizza Lunchables! My 5 year-old self would have been so proud.

We finally started the accent to Mt. Rainier. The mountain kept getting bigger and bolder as we drew closer and we were in awe. We took a quick stop to take some photos at a lookout point and finally made it to the hike area. The weather was perfect and the trail was up, up, and more up. Oh, my butt was burning from those burpees!

Hiking Mt. Rainier in Washington

The views and the hike got us talking about everything – wanting to move from Texas so I could hike more, previous hikes with our parents (like when we accidentally hiked through a nudist beach *cringe*), quirky family songs that we used to sing when we hiked with family, dating and relationships, and how we were going to make these sister trips an annual tradition. I have to say, I am so incredibly lucky to have Julia as my sister and built-in best friend / travel buddy. We are quite the quirky pair:

The view from the top of the hike made all of the climb worth it. We decided to post up on an out cropping for some relaxation and Lunchables.

Eventually, we had to make the trek down the path back to the car. It was pretty steep with shale rock everywhere. It was a bitter-sweet decent as I could have stayed by the mountain for ages.

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Our spirits were lifted though as we were staying the night in a tiny cabin! It was only 800 or so square feet and the bed was in a lofted area up-stairs. We were so excited!

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We were going to celebrate our day with the wine and cheese we bought in Seattle, but someone left the cheese in the hotel fridge (I finally forgive you Jules) so we “nommed” on some chocolate and went to watch the sunset in the National Park. Unfortunately, the trees were too tall and we couldn’t get a great sunset view. We were starving so we decided to try out the local Sherpa-Himalayan Cuisine at the Wildberry restaurant. It was beyond our expectations and so good!

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With full bellies and very tired bodies, we went back to our little cabin in the woods to sleep.

Sunday:

Another early morning for our last day in Washington. We made some toast for breakfast, packed our bags, and drove the 2 hours to Seattle. We had a few hours before our flights, so we parked the car with our bags hidden and took off around the city. The first stop was a Vietnamese restaurant called Green Leaf with the best vermicelli and pork I’ve ever eaten in my entire life (and I’ve eaten A LOT of vermicelli). I would go back there in a heart beat!

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After lunch, we walked through the park under the Space Needle  to the Museum of Pop Culture. I had been there once before and had to share it with my sister. It has awesome exhibits all about various artists and movie genres. If you are in Seattle, I highly recommend a stop.

The weather was perfect and we spent the rest of our time on the lawn of the Museum watching kids play in giant bubbles being carried by the wind. It was the perfect end to our trip before our journey home.

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Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

As soon as we decided to go to New Zealand, I knew a good hike was in our future. New Zealand’s landscape is so diverse between its beaches, rolling, hills, and volcanic mountains and, thankfully, there are trails everywhere to get you to some amazing views!

About to embark on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand!

Initially, when we started looking at the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, I was worried about a few things:

  • It looks like a really intense hike for the pros – of which I am not
  • It was hard to judge the temperature of the hike, especially in May when the weather is turning cold and snow can cap the mountain peek
  • I wasn’t sure what to bring or pack
  • I am clumsy and didn’t want to fall to my death…

All of these things initially make me wary of the trail, however, I can tell you that I am alive and it was one of the most amazing hikes of my life! If you are physically active and are OK with long walks, you should not have a problem. The up-hill parts were very steep but, if you take it one step at a time and break when you need to, it is a great hike. Plus, you won’t want to power through the views!

With all of that said, let me walk you through the Tongariro hike and the best way to approach it so you can experience a view like this in real life #nofiltersneeded:

The lakes at the top of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand

First off: Weather – When looking at the potential weather for our hike, it ranged from 50 degrees fahrenheit at the base to a potential low of 30! Theoretically, the mountain gets colder as you hike up but, for us, it got warmer as the sun came out and we got hot from hiking such a steep climb. I took off more and more clothes as we gained altitude, but was happy I had all of they layering options. If you are not going in April / May, research temps beforehand and keep in mind it will vary throughout your hike. What I wore is below:

  • Hat & sunnies: A must have! It is so sunny and you will burn your face). I also brought a beanie but did not end up wearing it.
  • Gloves for the cool morning
  • Upper layers: Sweat wicking tee shirt, Lululemon fitted jacket, puffer jacket with hood, and, on top of all that, a rain jacket
  • Pants: under leggings and then a looser, warm top legging. I probably could have just warn the warm leggings and would have been fine. See fancy leggings below:All of my pant layers on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike in New Zealand
  • Hiking boots with sweat wicking hiking socks – a total must! At the peek of the hike, the mountain top is all gravel and is very slick. It can also get into your shoes. High socks that prevent blisters and hiking boots with ankle support will give you the best grip and lessen the chance of rolling and ankle. I loooove my Lowa boots and wore them the majority of my New Zealand trip:My saviors during the 12 mile Tongariro Alpine Crossing hike, New Zealand

I also brought a packable backpack on the hike to carry all of my excess layers and other must-haves:

  • Packable backpacks fold into themselves so you can easily bring them in your luggage without taking up too much room. I cannot tell you how much they come in handy when going on hikes or to the beach. I bring my on every trip I take.
  • Food: We bought bread and PB/J to make sandwiches for our lunches in New Zealand. We made a few for lunch on our hike and also packed some nuts from our hotel for snacks. I always bring Quest Bars with me on trips too for a healthy protein snack too and we ate those about 1.5 hours into the hike. The thing we didn’t bring, which we regretted, were bananas. Ryan got really bad cramps half-way up to the summit and bananas would have helped with that.Snack time on the Tongariro Hike in New Zealand
  • Liquids: Bring at least 2-3 bottles of water. Your hike can be up to 6 hours and you will need it. If you are questioning if you have enough, go ahead and grab more. You will thank me!
  • Misc.: AKA, Chapstick because, obviously. Extra hair tie, lots of sun screen, hand sanitizer, toilet paper (because the porta potties WILL run out), bandaids, and moisturizer.

Now that we have gone through prepping for the hike, there is something else we should cover – lodging and transport!

Lodging; You can stay in the National Park town which is where most of the transports for the hike start from. There are a bunch of little hotels and a few restaurants, but the town itself is pretty sparse. If you want a much better option (in my opinion), stay at the Tongiraro Suites @ The Rocks. It is about 15 minutes south of the town and the best little hotel I have ever stayed at! We watched the moon rise over the mountain top from our bed (view from our room is featured below). With views like that, freshly baked, warm croissants delivered to our door every morning for breakfast, a luxurious wooden spa, fuzzy blankets to use outside to watch shooting stars, and more, the Suites made our sleep the night before resfult and hike recovery so easy! They even had warming racks to dry our sweaty boots after the hike. The owners literally thought of everything and I would give this place a 15 out of 10 if I could. Read more about our stay here.

The view from our room at the Tongariro Suites @ The Rocks in Tongariro, New Zealand

Lastly is transportation into the National Park to the base of the hike. There are a bunch of services on TripAdvisor that will take you to the start of the hike, but we used National Park Shuttles. Since it is not a circular trek, you have to get a shuttle to drop you off at the start of the hike and then pick you up at the end. They have different pick up times from the end, pending your hiking speed, and will ensure that you are counted as “off the mountain” at the end of the day. The ride from the town to the base is about 25 minutes and it takes about an hour from the end fo the hike to get back to town.

The peak of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand

I hope this has been helpful and has persuaded you that this is a “must do!” while in the North Island of New Zealand. Let me know if you have any other questions about our experience on this amazing treck! Happy hiking!

 

Sydney, Day 3

Sydney, Day 3

Today we decided to do the Coogee to Bondi coastal / beach walk – a 2.7 mile walk along the beautiful coast of New South Wales, Australia. It was raining pretty hard when we woke up around 8 AM, so we lounged until the sun came out around 9:30 and took off to the bus station. We waited about 10 minutes for the 373 bus to drive us 25 minutes to Coogee beach. On the bus there were two barely 20-year-old looking guys trying to get this young girl in a Ponzi scheme type company that sold “lotto” tickets. It sounded super shady but listening to their “sales” pitches helped pass the time waiting to arrive at our beach destination.

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It was still a bit chilly, so my Lululemon jacket really came in handy and the sun felt great when it finally hit us. The coastal walk is a paved walk that runs for miles along the water and is full of stellar views. There is quite a bit of walking up and down hills and cliff sides and, while it wasn’t thaaat tough, we didn’t realize how sore we still were from the Tongariro Crossing a few days prior until we started going up some of the hills!

With stopping to admire some of the views and chasing our hats around as they got blown off our heads, the hike took us about two hours. We even watched a whole bunch of kids surf the turbulent waves out on the water.

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Eventually, we got to Bondi Beach, one of the most visited tourist sites in all of Australia. There were quite a few people swimming in the sea water filled baths and surfers, but the beach itself wasn’t too packed.

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We were starting to get hungry so we walked down the shops and restaurants to find a spot to eat and ended up getting some delicious Chai tea lattes while watching the waves hit the water. Ryan really wanted to try McDonald’s (or “Macca’s” in Aussie lingo) so we stopped there and he got a Big Mac and fries. It actually tasted quite different from the US version, especially since the Ketchup (or tomato sauce in Aussie) is much sweeter.

I was in the mood for a meat pie since I had yet to have one in Aussie and they are one of my favorite Aussie delicacies! I found a little place called Funky Pies on the way back to the city and got a butter chicken pie that was sooooo flaky and delicious. (As I review this blog post entry, my stomach is literally rumbling for this pie 4 months later! It was THAT yummy). Good thing we had a 1.5 hour, 3 mile walk back to our hotel to walk it off.

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After quite the walk and a bunch of hills, we finally got back to the hotel. We showered and packed up to stay at my aunt’s house for the night. We walked down to the Central Train Station, filled up our Opal cards, and hopped on the train to her stop.

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It was super easy to find the right train and the train was very clean. My aunt was waiting for us at the station and it only took a few minutes to get to her house where my cousin and uncle was waiting. We watched some football, drank wine, and snacked on some delicious cheeses and bread with olive oil, balsamic, and dukkah – my new favorite combination!

Once my sister arrived, we enjoyed some amazing conversation, roasted chicken, fresh oysters, prawns, potatoes, and a slew of other delicious things. I have to say, both my aunt and my mom are excellent cooks! The amount of fresh produce and seafood avaialbe in Sydney only makes it even better.

It seemed like we talked for hours could have gone on for a few more. It was so great to catch up, get juicy / funny stories about my mom and aunt growing up together, and reminisce about the times my sister and I visited Australia or when my family came to the US. I have to say, my Australian family is absolutely amazing and I couldn’t have been happier to see them or finally introduce them to Ryan.

Eventually, we were stuffed and tired and hit the hay to rest up for another early morning.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The big hike on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing was upon us! We woke up at 6 AM to get layered up for the 30 degree projected weather. Since we were hiking in May on the bring of winter, the weather was supposed to range from 30 degrees at the top of the hike to 50 in other areas, so I wore 3 top layers and 2 pairs of leggings just in case I needed to take things on and off. I probably didn’t need both leggings but I am glad I had all the other layers!

As the Tongariro Suites had our breakfast already set up in the room, we quickly carbo-loaded and were off on our drive to National Park town. We parked out front of a small lodge and were ready for our shuttle pickup. Since it is not a circular trek, you have to get a shuttle to drop you off at the start of the hike and then pick you up at the end. The 20 minute shuttle ride to the start of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing was beautiful as the sun rose over the mountains. We were so excited to get hiking!

About to embark on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand!

The start of the hike was relatively flat, along a wooden walkway through some bush. It was really stunning and the sun was giving us the heat we needed to stay warm. My layers were steadily coming off as we started to go up!

The trail is about 19.4 kilometers (12 miles), so we decided to have a snack and water break every 5K or so. There is no water on the trail at all, so we had to pack a gallon each and food for lunch / snacks. After our Quest Bars, water, and a loo break, we had to go up, up, and up! We were basically climbing the side of the mountain for a good 45 minutes with tons of stairs. My heart rate was definitely on the rise. We started in the valley in the picture below and that picture was taken about half-way up the first hill!

After the first hill, we got to a flat area with lots of shrubs. The sun finally hit the volcano side and the colors were beautiful!

Unfortunately for us, the flat bit ended and we started out final assent to the highest part of our hike. At one point, it was so steep that there was a chain rope to help us get up! Ryan’s legs started cramping pretty badly so we were slow going to the top, but it was OK because I got more time to take in the view. You can see the flat trail we walked on below (left picture) and then we hiked up the steep slope on the right all the way to the top!

Huffing and puffing, we made it to the top / mid-way point in the hike and the view was so worth it!

Not only that, but we finally made it to the famous volcanic lakes on the other side! The natural blue color in the lakes was insane!

To get to the lakes, we had to go down a very steep section of the mountain with lots of gravel. We basically had to do the electric slide down and it reminded me of the decent from the volcano I hiked in Guatemala! See the mini-people on the trail in the picture below for scale! You can’t even see those at the top!

We spent some time by the lakes before continuing on our hike and finding a good spot for lunch by the biggest lake, Crater Lake. I made some excellent PB&J sandwiches to fuel us through the day and we were pretty peckish by the time we got to eat.

After lunch, it was time for the 3 hour hike down. It started with 1.5 hour zig-zag path down that had an amazing view of lakes and a steamy part of the mountain. Ryan’s legs were still cramping like crazy so we were chugging water as much as possible to help him feel better. At this point, he had no choice but to keep going down! Eventually, we got low enough to enter the jungle and it was another 45 minutes of jungle hiking to the end of the track. 6.5 hours and 35K steps later, we did it!

We relaxed and waited about 45 minutes for our shuttle back to the mountain. We were pretty dead but felt very accomplished! The shuttle back went quickly and we hopped in the car to get back to our hotel.

A hot shower was the most amazing feeling on our aching bodies and we were starving! We decided to try out The Station restaurant in National Park Village. The place was an old train station converted into a eatery. Unfortunately, there was a management shift so the once delicious restaurant that our hotel recommended wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. They did not have their liquor license yet so we were bummed we couldn’t have celebratory wine. The best thing we had was the toasted bread and dukkah. My crispy chicken was really dry and the risotto had large clumps of cheese which was not super appetizing.

We were exhausted so, after dinner, we drove back to the hotel, opened a bottle of wine, and watched shooting stars on our balcony until it was time for bed.

Rotorua to Tongariro

Rotorua to Tongariro

5:45 AM and I was awake. After a great night at the Mari village, I thought I would at least sleep until 7 but, nope! I needed to catch up on blogging so I typed away while Ryan made coffee and toast for breakfast. We tried to watch the sunrise over lake Taupo but it was in the wrong direction – ooops!

Before we knew it, we were packed up and ready to head to the Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley for our volcanic activity experience! There are two other famous and big volcanic areas you can go in Rotorua, but all of the reviews I read said they were super packed and touristy. We passed both of the other places on our way to Waimangu and they looked more like amusement parks than nature reserves. We were the only car in the parking lot for our Valley walk! Waimangu is a national park with trails through the volcanic valley with no lines or tourist expectations!

We checked in, grabbed a map that outlined the various points of interest along the trail, and took off on our two-hour walk. The trail was hilly but not hard by any means, and we were full of anticipation that kept growing as we saw more and more steam coming out of the forest!

We came across the first big site within minutes. A massive lake with bubbling water and steam everywhere! Frying Pan Lake’s temperature averages 131 degrees fahrenheit! Wouldn’t want to go for a swim in there…

The sulfur smell was almost non-existent, but you could feel the heat from the steam. There was even steam coming out of small holes in the rock formations along the path.

We were totally in awe of the natural formations, spouts, and water colors from the volcanic activity and were loving every second of the unique area.

Apparently, none of this existed before 1886. That year, Mount Tarawera erupted and created huge craters in the ground that, over time, filled with water and became the volcanic lakes we see today. We ended up taking the “extended” trail that led up, up, and away to some awesome views of the lake.

We only ran into one other group the entire time we were on the trail. The secluded nature of our hike made it that much more special.

Eventually, we got to the end of the trail and had to wait 30 minutes for the shuttle to arrive. We snacked on Quest Bars and apples to refuel and watched the black swans dive to get food in the lake. They were so funny because they only dove with their heads, so their butts and legs flailed above the water while they were submerged. So funny to watch!

The bus finally came and we were back to the reception area and into the car in no time. We had about 40 minutes of driving to do before we hit our next stop, Huka Falls. After Marokopa Falls in the day prior and our experience at Krkra Falls in Croatia, we were anticipating a great sight since Huka Falls is so much more well-known. We were slightly disappointed. Huka Falls were really more like really blue rapids. The force of the rapids was pretty astonishing, but it was crowded and we like Marokopa much more.

Huka Falls, New Zealand

It took about 10 minutes to see Huka Falls, so we jumped back in the car and sought out a lake-side lunch spot on Lake Topau. We found a cute little place with a great patio and enjoyed some fish and chips and a lamb salad. Little did we know that we were actually visiting over Anzac Day so all of the patios were packed on the national holiday. Anzac day is Australia and New Zealand’s version of Veteran’s Day in the States. We saw a ton of people in their military / service uniforms.

Lunch by Lake Taupo in New Zealand

After we filled up on lunch, we had another hour and a bit drive to the Tongariro Suites @ The Rocks. The drive was beautiful and went by quickly. I even made friends with some sheep!

Sheep in New Zealand

We were in the middle of no where and almost missed the hotel since it’s street was so off the beaten path. Once we pulled up, we knew we made the right choice! The Suites used to be a cow paddock and a fantastically nice couple turned it into a luxury resort with about 5 suites. It is all solar power operated and totally luxurious down to the tiniest detail! Because the Tongaririo Alpine Crossing hike starts so early, The Suites already had the breakfast buffet set up in our room!

The beds had heating pads, the bathroom was super luxurious with heat lamps for extra warmth and the owner even made a Canadian hot tub from cedar wood for the guests to recover in. The list of amenities and thought put into this place goes on and on and we couldn’t get over our view of the moon rising over the mountain peaks….

The owner recommended a restaurant called The Cyprus Tree for a tasty dinner within a quick drive. You would think, in such a remote area, the food would be average, but you would also be thinking wrong! We split a delicious beet, balsamic, and goat cheese ball salad, lamb sliders (that were to-die for), and cranberry walnut stuffed chicken with risotto. YUM!

After we got over our shock at how good the food was and scarfed it all down, we walked across the road to get a bottle of wine and extra water for our hike the next day. We went back to the hotel, grabbed the warm, fuzzy blankets provided in our room, poured two glasses of wine, turned all of the lights out, and sat on our patio to watch shooting stars and look at the amazing array of constellations visible. It was incredible.