Ridgway & Santa Fe Travel

Ridgway, CO & Santa Fe, NM

Trip to Ridgway, CO

The drive to Ridgway was about five hours from Colorado Springs and we left at 9 AM right after a quick walk with the dogs to soak up the last view of the Garden Of The Gods. On the road, we grabbed some Starbucks and were quite surprised! For the first time in months (since quarantine started), we was able to go to Starbucks without a line of 40 people wrapped around the corner of the building. We were in and out within 10 minutes! Maybe Coloradans are just not as into Starbucks as Texans willing to wait an hour for a cup of coffee?

The drive to Ridgway was beautiful and filled awesome views, deer, and bison. I almost hit a deer as three crossed the road right in front of my Jeep. Thankfully, I was able to stop in time!

The view from Ridgway, Colorado

Ridgway is nestled in between a whole bunch of mountains and we were very excited to call Ridgway home for the week. We ended up checking into our VRBO right on time at 3 PM. We were staying in the bottom half of a house that looked over the mountains in a tiny little neighborhood. The population of Ridgeway is just over a thousand and the town was very quite and quaint.

Since she can’t go on long, long walks, we left Dakota (our 13 year old pup) at the house with a bone and drove to the Ridgway reservoir area to walk some trails. Dixie was having fun playing in the streams and got super muddy but it was definitely worth the beautiful walk along the river side.

Ridgway Reservoir in Colorado

We walked for about an hour and then dropped Dixie back off at the house so we could grab groceries for the week. With masks on, we went to this tiny little market on the main road in town and it had everything we needed to make a southwestern veggie bake and pasta. We also grabbed some things for breakfast and for lunch. After that we headed back to the house and I made my southwestern bake with sweet potato, bell and poblano peppers, ground beef, diced tomatoes, cilantro, and cheese. It turned out really great! We ate dinner, watched the sunset over the mountains, and enjoyed dessert port out of some coffee mugs (wine glasses were MIA).

We ended up talking “up” to the couple that owned the house from their balcony and they were very nice! A few hours later, we got a knock on the door and our host came down and gave us freshly baked cookies. That was so nice! We had a great sleep and we’re ready to work in the morning.

Ridgway, Day 2:

I brought my monitor from home and set it up on the kitchen table to look out over the mountains while I worked. The dogs hung out in the house and Ryan worked in the bedroom with another beautiful view of the mountains. The Wi-Fi worked so we didn’t have any issues with attending meetings or anything like that (thank goodness)! Day one of working from the house went really well and we took the dogs a nice long walk after work.

There were a bunch of kids playing in the park area with Nerf guns right next to our fence. Ridgway is a very family friendly area. Our hosts told us that we would hear “howling” around 8 PM. Apparently, the town passed an ordinance prohibiting dogs from howling and so, in protest, every night at 8 PM the kids and parents howl from their balconies for about a minute! It was really funny, kind of strange, and we liked it!

Ridgway, Day 3 –

We woke up the next morning to a text from our hosts saying that there was construction on the transformer to the house and we may not have power or internet for two hours! When the whole point of our trip was to “work from someone else’s home” and we had to be on video conference calls, not having Internet for two hours was a huge deal! We were stressing like crazy. Thankfully, we were able to acquire the neighbors Wi-Fi password and we had enough charge on our batteries to last us. The two hour outage turned into 4 1/2! Talk about a bit of a stressful morning. Fortunately, our work was not impacted and we got everything done using the resources we had.

Our backyard in Ridgway, CO

After a bit of a stressful day we decided that we would take a walk into town with the dogs. It was only about a mile and there’s a beautiful park in the town. We opted to try Gnar Tacos for dinner and ordered at the window. We took the tacos over to the park and ate while our dogs chewed on grass (apparently they are cows, not dogs). The tacos were absolutely delicious! We tried the bulgogi, Phuket (like Thailand!), and Ahi tuna tacos. They were all really interesting with bursts of flavor. It was a great way to end our last night in Ridgeway. We walked back and enjoyed the views mountains and then relaxed and watch some Netflix the rest of the evening.

Ridgway, Day 4 –

Our last day in Ridgeway consisted of a dog walk in the morning, working from our VRBO until about 4 PM, and then the drive to Santa Fe. The drive was about five hours at the most beautiful views we have ever seen. We drove through Ouray, this town nestled in these mountains that was absolutely astonishing. It was probably the most beautiful town we’ve ever seen in our entire lives. We almost stayed in Ouray too but they didn’t have any dog friendly Airbnbs. We will definitely be returning there as the town was incredible.

The rest of the drive was mainly uphill, past mountains with waterfalls gushing down their sides as the snow melt ran down. It was, again, absolutely fabulous to watch. The views continued as the mountains turned into desert land with mesas as we drove from Colorado into New Mexico. It was starting to get dark and rainy. All of a sudden, huge rainbows appeared! It made me so happy to see the giant rainbows with such vibrant bursts of color. It was a really cool thing to behold as we went into the darkness of the night and drove into Santa Fe.

Double rainbow on the way to Santa Fe

Our Airbnb in Santa Fe was pretty cute. It was off of the main area, but it was still centrally located to all the things I wanted to do. We got in around 10 PM, quickly unpacked the bags and dogs, and called it a night. We almost died of heat, as the Airbnb didn’t have air-conditioning or a fan, but I guess Texas has trained us well!

Santa Fe, NM

We only had one day to enjoy Santa Fe. Thankfully, we had been to Santa Fe many times before to ski. This time, we were headed back to the Ski Santa Fe area, but to hike! We drove up, up, and up for 30 minutes or so to the ski area to the trail head for Nambe Lake. Dixie was all ready with her backpack and we headed up the trail. It was so, so steep! The higher we got, the more snow we saw. Towards the very top, there was so much snow that my leg fell through some parts all the way up to my leg! It was pretty fun to hike through that though. Dixie had no idea what was going on but could not have been happier.

Dixie on the hike to Nambe Lake in Santa Fe, NM

The hike was 7 miles and basically all uphill for a total of a 2K elevation gain! We were huffing and puffing but the view from the lake was 100% worth it. We had some snacks while enjoying the view of the lake and rested for about 20 minutes before going back down.

Nambe Lake in Santa Fe, NM

The downhill part of the hike was SO MUCH easier! Once we got back to the car, we drove back to the AirBNB to change and go out for lunch. We got some take out Mexican food and enjoyed our lunch on a park bench in the middle of the Santa Fe square.

After that, we took off to Canyon Road to visit the galleries. There are over one hundred galleries around Canyon Road and, lucky for us, they had just reopened days before we got to Santa Fe. We bought our first real piece of art on Canyon Road on our first ski trip there years ago. We had some serious nostalgia and were basically the only ones walking around with the galleries to ourselves.  We didn’t buy anything this time.

After Canyon Road, we were exhausted. We grabbed some gyros from a Mediterranean place and popped a bottle of wine to enjoy the rest of our night at the AirBnb.

The next morning, we were up early to drive back to Dallas. Not being able to travel during Covid-19 has been very stressful so having our little get-away week made a huge difference for our mental health and created some wonderful memories.

Dakota and Dixie napping on our road trip back to Dallas

Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs

Social Distancing Road Trip

The Journey to Colorado Springs –

We had been working from home for two months due to COVID-19 and had to cancel five trips including one to Spain and Portugal. With that, the stress of work, and everything else going on, we decided we need a change of scenery.  If we had to work from home, why not work from somebody else’s home?

Deciding where to go took a little bit. We had to find an area drivable to Texas within a week that was dog friendly and had a lot of outdoor activities since many typical tourist destinations were closed (including many national and state parks). After quite a bit of research, we ended up picking Colorado as our destination as parks had just opened up and it wasn’t too far. Memorial Day weened just happened to be very next weekend so we decided to use the long weekend, meaning we only had five days to plan!

Dogs on the road trip to Colorado Springs

We quickly picked some Airbnb’s and got ready for our trip. It was very easy to pack because I was only going to wear activewear for the full week. With that, my hiking boots, and our dog’s stuff, we hopped into my Jeep on Thursday night after work and took off to Amarillo. We broke up the 11 hour drive to Colorado Springs with a 5-6 hour overnight in Amarillo and then a Friday morning to Colorado Springs. The drive to Amarillo is pretty boring we got some Chick-fil-A for dinner and arrived in one piece around 11 PM. We stayed at the Hilton Home2 Suites hotel on the way back from New Mexico one New Years Eve after driving through a blizzard. We knew the Home2 Suites was brand new, clean, cheap, and dog friendly, so we felt comfortable staying there one night. It was so weird seeing so many people at the hotel after not seeing very many at all for quite a while. We wore masks, dumped our stuff in the room, and passed out.

We tried to let our puppy, Dixie, sleep in the king bed with us since she’s usually in her crate at night. That did not go very well as every time we would move over the bed she would get on and off the bed. She also tried to protect us from some Chihuahuas that we’re making noise in the hallway and woke us up nice and early. We brought bagels  for quick breakfast and took off to Colorado Springs.

The drive was absolutely beautiful and there weren’t very many people on the road so we were able to get to Colorado Springs pretty quickly. The problem though was that we couldn’t check into our B&B until 4 PM and we got there around 2 PM. Little did we know that our Airbnb was right next to the Garden Of The Gods!

4F07E6C0-753D-4A4B-81F1-BD2479CEE81A-2

The Garden Of The Gods is a beautiful park in Colorado Springs that has these massive red mountains of rock coming up out of the ground. We parked our car and were glad to stretch our legs after such a long drive. We got the puppies all suited up and took off on a hike around the Garden. It was stunning day and the dogs are loving every minute of it. We found a shady spot under a massive rock overhang and watched some rock climbers scurry up this huge portion of rock and hang out at the top of the rock.

IMG_7871-2

It was really cool to see and a great way to spend some time before checking into our AirBnb.

We packed up the dogs and drove to Airbnb which was just a few minutes away from the Garden Of The Gods. I was actually just across the street from the parking lot and so we had some perfect spots for a dog walks in the morning. Airbnb was really nice and was two stories. Dixie was running up and down the stairway from the basement to the main floor over and over and over again and it was so funny. We were pretty tired so we grabbed some pizza, paired it with some celebratory wine, and watched Selling Sunset on Netflix before calling it a night.

Colorado Springs – Day 2

Day two in Colorado Springs was hiking day and we were bringing Dixie for her first hike ever! We got her backpack all ready so she could carry her poop bags and her water bowl and drove to the park. We drove into Cheyenne Canyon and it was already getting crowded around 9 AM! Thankfully, we found a parking spot higher up on the mountain side about 1/2 a mile away from the trail head. We tried not to get hit by cars as we walked on the side of the road to the trailhead and then embarked on a beautiful hike.

The views were stunning and the trail was nice and wide. There were so many other dogs and people out walking. Dixie was in absolute heaven! We had a little trouble finding the Seven Bridges Trail because it wasn’t very well marked, but after some back-and-forth and a few conversations with fellow hikers, we finally found it. We followed a river up the mountain and passed many waterfalls along the way. We ended up going over seven different bridges, hence the trail name, to get to the top spot where the biggest waterfall was. It was wonderful and Dixie played in the stream as we went. She pounced on some rapids and hopped over rocks like a little mountain goat. It was adorable. Thankfully, she didn’t pull me down the mountain either!

IMG_7912-2

The hike took about three hours total and we were starving by the time we go back to our car. We drove back to AirBnb for some leftover pizza. Ryan took a nap and I decided to explore the ranch and park area across from our AirBnb.

The Rock Ledge Ranch historic site had some beautiful grass in front of an old house and I laid down in for a good while on a comfy patch to just enjoy the weather. Dixie was having a blast rolling around in the grass. It was really cute!

After about 30 minutes, we walked around and found horses, geese, sheep, pigs, and other farm animals. It was really cute introducing Dixie to all the animals and ended up being a really nice little walk. When I came back, we rested for a little while and then decided to get some to-go Greek food for dinner! It was absolutely delicious and was a nice cap to a long day. (Even though they forgot my pita bread).

Colorado Springs – Day 3

Today was white water rafting day! It was pretty cold in the morning compared to the other days that we had been in Colorado Springs as the clouds were out in the sun was hiding. It was about an hour drive to get to the rafting place and we waited in our cars for social distancing reasons until the leader came by and grabbed our info for wetsuits. We got suited up and we’re ready to roll. Being only their second day after reopening with the new Covid-19 protocols, it took an extra hour to get ready and onto the bus.

It took about half an hour to get to the rafting launch site. We were put into a group of 4 plus our guide, Ethan. Ethan had a great personality and was a fantastic lead for our level three and four rapids! The views were absolute beautiful and we started off with some pretty intense rapids. We floated for about 2 1/2 hours with a good number of rapids spread out in between themselves. It definitely made for a very minimal amount of downtime and a lot of fun time! Ryan almost fell out of the boat was going down the first set of rapids but, thankfully, he caught himself. You had to have really good core strength to stay in as you’re getting bounced around. It even started to rain and thunder and lightning in the canyon and was absolutely terrifying but really cool to watch the giant droplets of water river in front of us going through the rapids.

The only downside was I was absolutely freezing! There was no sun and the river water was from melted snow so it was literally just above freezing. Being in the front of the boat, I got completely drenched, so it was hard to enjoy the rapids when I was shivering it 100 miles an hour!

Overall it was a very worthwhile start to the day. When we got out of the rapids and back to base, they told us that they didn’t get any photos at all so this is the only one I have. Got to love memories!

We were starving after the rapids and the only thing between us and our our drive back to the Airbnb it was a Dairy Queen. We spent $30 at said Dairy Queen on chicken nuggets and blizzards. It wasn’t as good as I thought it would be but I guess you can’t have expectations for fast food! However, a cookie dough Blast was just what the doctor ordered.

We drove back to the Airbnb and changed and got ready for the rest of the day. We had quite a few plans but I got a phone call from VRBO canceling our reservation for the very next day in Ridgeway! We had a total freak out moment because we had two dogs were thousands of miles from home and may not have had a place to go within 12 hours.  They didn’t even have a back up plan for us and told us that it was a glitch in their system which is why we hadn’t been notified prior. I did call quite a few times prior to the trip just to triple check that all of our reservations were in order, but somehow, this slipped by. What a disaster! Fortunately I had already been texting our posts about a later check out I called them and explain the situation and they said there was a few other guess it’s the same thing that happened to you. They told us to come on down! What a relief!

Spending so much time and effort on the AirBnb situation resulted in a stressful afternoon. All of a sudden it was time for dinner. We wanted to go to a brewery somewhere and hang out on a patio but, unfortunately, everything was still shut down.

On the bright side, we had to make a quick stop to Walgreens to get something for Ryan and I ended up getting 5 free Walgreens hand sanitizer bottles from the checkout guys! It was really nice of them to give those to us. We ended up finding this really cute little restaurant with healthier food, after the Dairy Queen disaster, and picked-up to go salads to eat in a beautiful park. There’s actually quite a nice evening and I really enjoyed spending time with my hubs a the park bench eating dinner. It was a wonderful way to top off our relaxing time in Colorado Springs

Kayaking through Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend National Park, Texas

More and more, gift giving in my family has turned from things to experiences. Personally, I love this trend, and for my birthday this year, Ryan surprised me with a trip to Big Bend National Park!

Big Bend is a national park along the Texas / Mexico border that spans over 800K acres. While my birthday is in July, we took off on our road trip to Big Bend in September so that the heat wouldn’t be in full force. We left after work on a Thursday evening and., after 7.5 hours of driving, podcasts, and yelling at our two dogs to behave in the back of my Jeep, we arrived at our AirBnB in Alpine, Texas at 1 AM.

Our dogs on our long road trip to Big Bend National Park

Our AirBnb was a traditional adobe looking building and was pet friendly, so it was almost perfect for our dogs. I say “almost’ because the fenced in back yard was missing about 6 feet of fence so we couldn’t let the pups romp around off-leash, but the inside was super cute.

Our AirBnB in Alpine, Texas

We chose to stay in Alpine to reduce the drive from Dallas to the Park and stay in a in a more populated area, but that meant some early mornings to get to Big Bend. Big Bend was about 80 miles, or an hour and ten minutes, from our AirBnb, so we only got about 5 hours of sleep after arriving in Alpine before waking up to head to our kayaking experience. We woke up around 6, walked the dogs, cooked some breakfast, and took off on the hour long drive to Terlingua to meet up with our guide.

We met at the one gas station in Terlingua and gas cost $3.15! To set expectations, gas was $2.11 when we left Dallas, was $2.83 in Alpine, and over $3 in Terlingua! We are so glad we listened to the warnings about filling up before we left to the park. The drive to the park was spectacular and went relatively quickly at 80+ MPH.

We grabbed some extra water and snacks from the gas station upon arrival and then met our guide, Erin, and the dad / daughter duo that were the other guests on our hike. We loaded into Erin’s van with all of the kayaks in the back. The drive from Terlingua into the park was about 20 minutes, and then it was an additional 40 minutes or so to get to the river entrance. Erin was full of fun facts about the park and it’s history, living in the small town of Terlingua, and her background from Tennessee. Her accent made the stories that much better.

Kayaking through Big Bend National Park, Texas

We were in awe of the views along the park and couldn’t believe the river close to the road was the boarder between us and Mexico. We finally pulled up to the parking lot and had to unload all of the kayaks and fill up our dry-bags for the trek. We even got these really sexy looking boots to wear through the mud. My boots were about 2 sizes too big so I was slipping and sliding all over the place! This made carrying the kayaks quite difficult but we eventually got to the Santa Elena Canyon entrance. We waded into the water and took off our boots to get into the kayak. The mud felt so good on my feet and was only about 1.5 feed deep, but there were some sections where you feel into quicksand like mud and it went up to your hip! It was so crazy.

Kayaking through Big Bend National Park, Texas

Once we were all in, we started our semi-relaxing ride. I say semi because we were able to paddle about 80% of the time and were stuck in mud and had to pull about 20% of the rest of the time. The Rio Grande river is damned up in El Paso and, unless El Paso releases some of the water, the Rio Grande river is very shallow in the Santa Elena Canyon. It was still an amazing experience in between the massive cliffs, especially since there were only 5 of us. It was so relaxing. Ryan couldn’t have done a better job planning this.

Pulling our kayak through Big Bend National Park, Texas

We make it about 2 miles up the river before stopping for lunch. I made some PB&Js and we enjoyed some Sun Chips while taking in the view. I found a nice-looking log and pulled it into the shade as my lunch chair. It was a truly great spot.

Kayaking through Big Bend National Park, Texas

Eventually, finished lunch and relaxed in the river for a little bit. The water temperature was absolutely perfect. We really lucked out. While the other duo on our trip power-paddled back to the exit, Ryan and I took our time to really enjoy the view and take it all in.

The most difficult part of the whole day was getting the kayaks back to the van. We were covered in mud, our boots were super slick, and there were rocks all over the place to push you off balance. We had quite the time trying to carry the heavy boats back but, eventually, made it. We got quite a workout in for the day! After loading up the van, we hit the road for the hour long, educational drive back to the gas station. It even rained a little and Erin joked that Big Bend judges rainfall by “drops per square foot” since they get so little.

We were pretty exhausted and didn’t dawdle in Terlingua once we arrived. It was back in the Jeep and off to the Airbnb. Our pups couldn’t be happier to see (and smell) us when we got back. We showered off all of the mud, took the pups for a walk, and relaxed a bit before finding a spot for dinner.

There is a pretty popular place in Fort Worth that we have both been to called Reata, and apparently, the original location is in Alpine! We went around 6:30, were starving, and ended up ordering waaaay too much food. We started with some delicious corn bread and biscuits, had crab stuffed, bacon-wrapped peppers, split a goat cheese salad, and then got two massive entrees. Ryan’s chicken fried steak should looked like two entire chickens, and my steak with enchiladas had two bread-plate sized pieces of steak, corn, beans, and enchiladas.

We were soooo stuffed and had to take the majority of the food back home. Since it was my birthday celebration, they even boxed up some apple pie and ice-cream for us, which we enjoyed cuddled up on the couch at the Airbnb before hitting the sheets for bed.

Day 2 – Big Bend Hike & Marfa, Texas

Our 1 year old dog, Dixie, was not a happy camper at night. She was barking in her kennel all night and we had a rough time sleeping. I had to get up at 3 AM to take her potty, which actually turned out OK because I looked up into the night sky and saw millions of stars. It was beautiful!

Combined with the 6 AM wake up to head to Big Bend for our hike, we were so tired. Thankfully, we grabbed a bunch of caffeine at the gas station which perked us up for the 2 hour drive to our hiking spot within the park. The drive was beautiful and we got to watch the sun rise over the mountain range in all of these amazing pastel colors. It made the drive much less boring. We even passed a Target along the way!

Target by Marfa, Texas

We arrived at our hike and were excited to start on the 4.8 mile journey up to the top. Originally, we were going to hike the Emory Peak Trail, a 12 mile rigorous hike that reminded us of the Tongariro Pass that we hiked in New Zealand. However, we opted to hike the Lost Mine Trail instead so that we could check out Marfa in the second half of the day.  We were not disappointed by Lost Mine in the slightest. The views were amazing there was some cloud coverage so we didn’t get too much sun. The temperature was perfect for hiking and there was even a cool breeze to cool us down. We got so lucky.

Hiking the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park, Texas

Even though Big Bend is technically a desert, the plant life is so diverse and beautiful. There are cacti of various types all over the place, flowers in different colors, grasses, and other weird looking plants that, when combined, made for a gorgeous looking landscape.

Hiking the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park, Texas

It took us about 1.5 hours to get to the ridge top. Again, you couldn’t beat the views. We spent some time at the top taking it all in. We even took a snack break and attempted rock climbing on a big boulder just to enjoy it further.

Hiking the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park, Texas

The dad and daughter from our kayaking journey the day before were also supposed to hike Emory Trail, but we ended up running into them on our hike down from the top! They said that they got to the Emory trailhead too late and the park rangers were cautioning people not to go since it was going to get too hot! I am glad we didn’t waste time driving over to that trail only to get rerouted to Lost Mine.

The hike was the perfect length and we were sore but feeling good once we got back to the Jeep. We ate our PB&Js on the 2.5 hour drive to Marfa. Marfa is a town of 1.8K or so in the middle of nowhere. Marfa has become well know among the art community for Chinati Foundation which is on 340 acres and is a permanent house of certain artists work. There is also a random Prada store (similar to the target) about 30 miles north of Marfa which is now an iconic image for Marfa. With all of the driving we did to and from Big Bend, we decided to skip the Prada installation and check out the gallaries in Mafa instead.

We started by going to the Chitani. When we got there, the two people at reception did not even look up to greet us. It was pretty strange and they told us that the only thing we could check out there was the outside cement block installation. We walked through what sounded like rattle snake infested grasses down to the art- which really just looked like a dumping ground for giant concrete blocks. We didn’t get it, but that’s OK. Every type of art is not always for everyone.

We then went to the Ballroom – another gallery. This one had this creepy exhibit of motion triggered things – like ladders with dog heads that had long wigs and the ladders moved closer to you when you walked towards them. It was very strange and, again, not my cup of tea. We went to Inde / Jacobs Gallery and had a great conversation with the owner. We actually liked the style of art at this Gallery. We kept walking, got some coffee, and checked out the Marfa Store. It was run buy this young guy from Minnesota who moved to Marfa with his boyfriend. We talked to him about transitioning to such a small town and he had some interesting perspectives.

 

We the checked out the town square and the shops / galleries within. There was one gallery with 3 massive Andy Warhol paintings! It was so crazy seeing such high caliber art in Marfa, Texas! We walked past a few places for sale and decided to check out the real-estate prices on Zillow. Holy cow it was expensive. The homes were comparable price-wise to Dallas, but some of the homes didn’t have city water or even AC! We were so shocked!

We took off back to the AirBnb to spend some time with the dogs. Ryan and I hung out in the hammock in the backyard for a bit before we decided to go find some food. We went into the town and settled on an Italian place called Guzzy’s. It was strangely decorated insides and reminded us of a night club. I got some ravioli with Alfredo and Ryan got some pizzas. The food was average but did the trick and we spent the remainder of the evening with the dogs before passing out around 9 PM.

Guzzy's in Alpine, Texas

Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley, New Zealand

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.

Continue on this adventure…

 

Deep in the glow worm caves during the Black Labyrinth Tour in Waitomo, New Zealand

Waitomo to Rotarua

Waking up was easy in our airplane in Woodlyn Park! I was somewhat alert because, in the middle of the night, an animal was trying to get into our plane! It was rustling about outside and was probably a sheep but, after that, I was a light sleeper. My body was awake at 7 AM and our Waitomo Black Labyrinth cave spelunking tour was not until 10 AM.

We made toast for breakfast in our plane’s kitchen and got all packed up for the day ahead. We waited until the office was open at 8AM to drop our key off and the front desk guy assured us that we would have no issue hopping on an earlier cave tour. With that in mind, we drove over to the Black Water Rafting Co. check-in and were able to move up to the 9:30 tour. We hung out in the lobby and had some very expensively average coffee while we waited. WiFi has been pretty sparse in NZ so far so I took full advantage of that time waiting!

We were finally called out by our two guides for the 9:30 tour. There were ten of us on the tour and we had to get all suited up with very wet and cold gear before we could go to. Just to give you insight into how it felt, pretend like it is 45 degrees out and you are putting on very thick, wet socks, pants, and a jacket that are also like 40 degrees..and then add rain boots on top of that. We were looking gooood!

After a briefing, we headed out onto the bus to take us to the cave location. We all unloaded by a stream with a platform and the guide showed us how to jump backwards using our inner tube into the freezing water. We needed to practice outside so we could jump OVER WATERFALLS within the cave! So scary but awesome at the same time.

We took a trek down a path with our inner tubes and were at the cave head. There were rocks everywhere so figuring out footing was essential. There was no way I was going to twist an ankle before our big Tongariro hike! We got down into the cave and turned all of our headlights on. It was otherwise totally pitch black. The rock around us was so complex in shape and I was loving every minute of our walk through the water.

We got down to thigh level in the water and the rapid was so strong I almost took off at one point! We climbed up a rock platform and had to jump backwards with our butts in our tube out and down from a 7 foot waterfall. It was exhilarating!

Cave jumping for the Black Labyrinth Tour in Waitomo, New Zealand

After our waterfall jump, we lined up and grabbed the feet of the people behind us to form an “eel”. Little did I know, there were actually eels below us in the water…. But anyways, we turned all of our headlights off and looked up in the dark to see the absolute spectacle of the glowworms. They were everywhere and looked like blue constellations across the cave ceiling. All of the glow worms drop 20ish “fishing lines” that trap insects for the worms to eat. If you are ever in New Zealand, the Black Labyrinth tour is worth every penny and is a must do. You can kind-of see the glow worms in the photo below, but the quick flash camera does not do them justice at all!

Glow worms in the caves during the Black Labyrinth Tour in Waitomo, New Zealand

We were in the cave for about 2 hours and eventually floated our way out. It was cold and slightly drizzly outside but who cares when you are already soaked? We sloshed our way back to the HQ and had hot showers ready and waiting for us, the only trick was trying to get out of our gear when our hands were still totally frozen! Talk about hilariously awkward undressing!

The hot shower was probably one of the best showers I’ve ever had in my life – it felt so good to defrost! After we got dressed, there were toasted bagels and tomato soup waiting for us in the lobby. The soup was soooo yummy and warmed us up even more. What an amazing start to the day!

When we were ready, we hopped back into the car and took off on our two-hour drive to Rotorua for our Maori cultural experience. The drive through the country side was beautiful (as usual in NZ!) and we pulled up to a beautiful Wai Ora Resort right on the lake. We got a tour of the resort and were really happy with the room and the view of the lake. We also had some time to kill so we grabbed a bottle of wine and hopped in the hot tub for some relaxing.

The shuttle picked us up for the Takami Maori Experience at 5 PM and we were transported to the check-in area. We waited for about 15 minutes until our driver, Mark, arrived with a much bigger bus. Mark had a bunch of personality and said hello to us in 59 languages! He named each country and had 4-5 versions of “hello” / catch-phrases from each country in its native language with a perfect accent. He was pretty impressive and it took him all 15 minutes to get to the Takami Maori village to get through it all!

Once we arrived, we had to pick a tribe chief from our tour group who then led us to the entrance of the village to greet the Takami chief. The Takami villagers came out in a boat from the river and performed the Haka in front of us

Then, each of our selected chiefs had to accept the offering from the Takami chief so we could enter the village. Once that process was over, we were invited in and led to 5 different stations throughout the village where we learned about the traditions, houses, Haka dance, face tattoos, and how the Maori came to New Zealand. It was pretty interesting and worth going to.

After the learning stations, we were moved into the area where our food was being cooked in the ground. There was a huge hole in the ground where our food was placed, covered with burlap sacks and dirt, and left to cook for 3-4 hours! They pulled the food out and smelt so delicious!

While they were preparing our food, we were taken to watch and listen to traditional Maori singing and dancing. The songs were very catchy and the performers were excellent. The singing and dancing, traditions, dress, and even people looked very similar to Hawaiian people and culture. Apparently, the Polynesian people (including the Maior) all came from the same island that was separated / destroyed by tectonic plates. The people ended up on multiple islands across the pacific, like Hawaii and New Guinea, so they all come from the same ancestry! I had no idea!

Once the dancing was over, it was time for dinner! There was so much food consisting of 3 types of potatoes, carrots, chicken, lamb, muscles, and bread. It was pretty tasty too! We sat across from another couple from Texas and chatted with them about traveling with kids for the duration of dinner. It is always nice getting to know people from other walks of life while traveling.

Traditional dinner at the Maori Village in Rotorua, New Zealand

By this point, it was 9 PM and I was exhausted. As soon as we got back to the resort, I was in bed and asleep within minutes.