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!

 

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Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay

While the whales were up and breaching at 4:45 AM, I woke up at 7 AM to get ready for Bay day! The view through the fjord was breathtaking with snow-capped mountains with waterfalls of melted snow running down to their bases. Seals heads were bobbing up frequently and you could hear the bird’s songs echoing off of the mountain tops. What a place!

Waterfalls coming from the snow topped mountains in Glacier Bay, Alaska

We were hard pressed to find a table to eat breakfast and, with the announcement of whales on the starboard side, I abandoned my food and Ryan to run upstairs to the balcony to look out on the water. I saw a few whale tails and we passed some smaller glaciers before coming upon the Margerie Glacier. I can’t begin to describe the beauty and the size of the mammoth chunk of ice before us. We had the best view on the top of the front of the boat, but the crew closed our area since the slight rain was making it too slick to be safe. Thankfully, Ryan’s sister’s balcony room had a fabulous view as well, so we soaked it all in from there.

Margerie Glacier, Glacier Bay Alaska

The boat was stopped at the glacier for about an hour, so Ryan and I hit the gym. I have never had such a fantastic view from a treadmill as a glacier! The window in front of my treadmill looked over the glacier and it was the most scenic run of my life!

Margerie Glacier, Glacier Bay Alaska

The boat then veered up another channel to Lamplugh Glacier. Again, absolutely gorgeous and huge!

We went to lunch in the back buffet for the “Taste of Alaska” buffet. I really hope that was a poor representation of Alaskan food as it was full of oil / grease and the fish was way over cooked. It was really hard to find a table but I thankfully secured one by the window in the Horizon buffet and I ended up getting a salad there to eat instead. We saw even more whales while we were eating lunch! Such a scenic ride.

Lamplugh Glacier, Glacier Bay Alaska

Post-lunch, Ryan went to the room for a nap and I went to the bar for a margarita and to type up my day’s adventures for this here blog! I ended up talking to a very nice landscape architect / planner from LA for a while and enjoyed the view until I was called up to the top deck for more whale watching.

Eventually, 5:30 rolled around and we met Ryan’s family in the Botticelli dining room for dinner! It was Italian night, even though the menu did not include lasagna, and I had some yummy veal and spaghetti and meatballs. I was surprised at how decent the veal was! I skipped desert in the dining room so I could run to the 7 PM magic show and grabbed some soft serve ice-cream on route instead. Upon arrival however, I realized that I was not the only one interested in the show and the lounge where the show was taking place was completely packed!

We headed to the Princess Theater instead for the tail end of the lumberjack talk. The guy who was talking had such an increasable story of wooing a Nordstrom makeup artist and convincing her to live with him and raise their kids in a cabin in no-where Alaska. They mainly lived off the land, catching fish, digging for clams, and hunting for one big animal a year whose meat would last them until the next year’s hunt! The speaker was a world renowned lumberjack and, at 54, got back into lumberjacking as his son won the world champion title for lumberjacking! He had such an amazing story and, after he finished his talk, 8 cruisers competed in an axe throwing competition and the winner got to partake in the axe throwing contest during the lumberjack competition in Ketchikan! Again, so cool!

Glaciers in Glacier Bay, Alaska

After the show, we decided to go back to the room and watch movies instead so we could get an early night for our very early arrival in Ketchikan the next day.

Managing a Career & Travel

Managing a Career & Travel

Sometimes I feel like I am torn between two lifestyles;

  1. The wandering traveler who takes off around the globe, meeting strangers who become friends, seeing things that fundamentally change views on life, experiencing food that surprises and delights, hoping to make it big in the flooded market of travel blogs and Instagram accounts…
  2. The career woman who achieves personal and financial success, fulfillment, and stability by working hard, becoming an expert in endeavors, and putting roots into one location.

Both have their obvious benefits, but both have their own downfalls; one of instability, and the other of having material things but not experiencing life.

When it comes to life, I have always thought of it as balance – everything in moderation. At the end of my life, the thing that I will carry with me is the memories I have made through my experiences. While I want as many experiences as possible, I also want a comfortable lifestyle while I am not traveling. Honestly, I am trying to have it all.

With that said, I have a career that I love that funds my travel habits, my foodie experiences, and my liking for nice things. While I would love to take off as a forever wandering traveler, I like the stability of place I can call home where my close friends and family are, and a career that I can afford the lifestyle I want and save for the future. It is an office job and I get about 2 weeks of vacation. Yep, that is right, 2 weeks of vacation. With that 2 weeks this year, I will be skiing in Santa Fe, cruising through Alaska, road tripping from Texas to San Fransisco, traveling to Thailand, floating rivers in New Braunfels, and maybe more! How do I do it and all on a budget? I will share my secrets and tips with you below:

Vacation Days:

  • Negotiate! Whenever you are searching for a new job, always ask for the number of vacation, personal, sick, and holiday days given each year. Many places start with two weeks vacation and a few personal days, and will give you a third week after a few years. If you are in a place to do so, always ask for more vacation days in your job negotiations. Every day is valuable when determining your travel potential and you don’t want to have vacation day regrets.
  • If you are young and don’t get sick often, use any personal / sick days you can for travel. If this means saving them to until the end of the year to make sure you don’t need to use them, do so, but make sure you utilize them before they expire! While it is nice to get money for the days you don’t use, those are days of potential enjoyment you will never get back.
  • Use every 3-day weekend to your advantage! I have used Memorial Day to travel abroad for the past 3 years so I save a day. Labor Day is also a great time to do so before the holiday season gets busy. Leave on a Friday night and include both weekends in your travels and a 9 day vacation is only 4 days off!
  • Don’t let peer pressure get to you. A lot of people I know or have worked with never use their vacation days and have given me grief about using my days. Vacation days are good for you! They rejuvenate you and give you a new perspective on things, benefiting you holistically in and outside of work. Never let those vacation nay-sayers get to you as they are the ones missing out.

Budget:

  • Priorities: My car is a 2008 and has manual windows and locks. I call her the “Party Yaris”, as my little spunky car has personality and was only $14K brand new (though I had to ask them to throw the floor mats in for free). I could definitely afford a new, more lavish car, but that’s $500 a month out of my travel savings budget. I literally compare the cost of all big purchases to how much travel I could afford with the same funds. It is all about priorities and budgets. Figure out what you really want, and make that your main spending priority. Those cute shoes are nice, but if they are the same cost as a whale watching excursion in Alaska, are they worth it?
  • Budget tracking tools: I use Mint religiously to track how my finances are doing. Mint links to my bank accounts and I categorize all of my purchases so I can see how my spending is each month. I can also set up savings goals for trips and can watch my progress for saving to those goals. If I go over on any budget, this mean, red line pops up and reminds me that I need to be good. I highly recommend tools like Mint, but make sure you use a tool that is verified and safe before you give your credentials to your accounts.

Mint budget software

  • Do your travel research: While I do like being a “lazy” trip planner by finding companies that book everything for me so all I have to do is show up with my luggage and passport, the cost benefit of that is not always worth it. For example, when booking our trip to Thailand, I reached out to several agencies who put glorious, $4K per person, air-fare not included, itineraries for us. We were a little shocked that the price didn’t go down since we were sharing a hotel room and Thailand is notoriously cheap, so I did some digging. After looking for about 2 hours, I found better hotels, international flights, and activities all for under $3K per person! That is a $2K convenience fee which would basically pay for another trip. No thanks!
  • Be patient when booking flights: I always get nervous that, if I don’t book that very instant, my seats and flight is going to disappear. This is not the case and I have lost hundreds of dollars for being too hasty. Use services like Airfare Watch Dog to track you flights. It will alert you when the price drops and will give you estimates on how much the cost will go down or up if you wait.
  • Shop smart: I love buying new stuff for my trips. Going skiing? New ski jacket! Going hiking? I need hiking boots! Having shopping-control is such a challenge! While you will need things for your trips, there is nothing wrong with shopping outlets, finding better prices on Amazon, or waiting for the weekend’s sales. Trust me, I tried on and sent back 7 pairs of rain boots with Amazon Prime’s free shipping before I went to Seattle, but my final pick was only $25 and I walked over 19 comfortable and dry miles in them by the end of the trip! Being a bargain hunter is not only good for your budget, but super fun when you get a great deal!

Sea kayaking in Orca Cove, Ketchikan Alaska

Any questions or need suggestions? I am happy to help you achieve your travel dreams! Comment below or send me a message fellow traveler!

 

 

El Salvador Beach Trip

El Salvador Beach Trip

Another 6:15 AM morning for our trip to El Salvador from Guatemala City! It was a spectacularly clear morning and the view from Cass’s parents house was amazing. We had a quick black bean, egg, ham, and tortilla breakfast and hopped in the car for our 3+ hour drive. Cass’s dad, who is originally from El Salvador, was kind enough to drive us to their beach house. The drive was full of twists and turns and we passed lots of coffee, sugar cane, and pineapple fields along the way. We passed through El Salvador’s customs and then stopped at watermelon booth set up on the side of the highway for a snack and had to make sure the “water in the watermelon was safe to drink so we wouldn’t get Montazuma’s” – *places palm on forehead, shakes head, and sighs*. It was pretty funny!

Eventually, we hopped on a dirt path, through a gate, past huge trees, and parked in front of an adorable little beach house in the forest. The house had a big center room and then three rooms off to the sides with 5 beds in each room! It could fit over 20 people! There were super comfortable hammocks everywhere, a pool for sunning, and this great cabana next to the kitchen building overlooking the ocean. Talk about paradise!

We immediately changed into our bikinis and hit the beach. The water was like bath water and the sand felt so good between our toes. We literally had the whole beach to ourselves for two days! We laid out in the sand with the water lapping at our toes for a while before getting called in for lunch.

On the beach in El Salvador

Cass’s mom and maids had prepped food for us to bring and we had a yummy lunch of grilled chicken and veggies at this giant wooden table that sat about 20 people in the cabana. It is made of one giant, continuous piece of wood and was probably one of the most amazing piece of furniture I have ever seen.

WD_6C53

 

After lunch, we played some bocce ball (which I totally botched), and then some badminton. We got the fly stuck up in a big tree above us an all took turns throwing our rackets up at it to get it out. Janine tried to throw hers but, instead of throwing up, she threw the racket straight into a tree – we were laughing so hard we were crying! We eventually transitioned to sand volleyball and got super sandy so we relaxed in the water until sun-down when all of the mosquitos arrived in droves. Seriously, it was like a monsoon of mosquitos was upon us and we raced back to the house for cover and bug spray until they passed.

During that time, we put on some dance 101 YouTube videos and learned some new, sweet moves, including our attempts at twerking. I am pretty sure the groundskeeper and maid saw us, but El Salvador is a “judgment free” zone, right?

Finally, the mozzies left and we went back to the cabana for chicken tortilla lasagna – probably my favorite dish in all of Guatemala. It was SO good! We listened to the waves in the dark and watched lightning bugs dance on the beach until we were too tired to keep our eyes open and then went to bed.

El Salvador – Day 2

Although we were not traveling to another location, we still woke up at the crack of dawn to explore the beach at low tide on our second day on the beach in El Salvador. There were black volcanic rocks that led to a big boulder about 200 yards from the beach and, when the tide went out, we were able to walk across the lava path to the boulder. There were crabs, weird shelled creatures, and minnows strewn all along our path entrapped in pockets of water and ripe for exploring. We brought our water shoes and goggles to do some reef snorkeling as well and saw glimpses of colorful fish, kale looking sea slugs, and neat looking shells. unfortunately, a lot of the reef had disappeared over the years due to human intervention and shell-pocketing, but we at least got a feel for what once was.

Volcanic rocks on the beaches of El Salvador

There was no current while we were out in the morning, so we relaxed and floated for a while and then decided to pose like mermaids on a nearby rock while singing songs from the movie. I mean, who wouldn’t want to do that?

Channeling my inner mermaid in El Salvador

After we got our fill of pictures and sang out lungs out, we grabbed the kayaks for a sea adventure. Unfortunately for Kim and I, our kayak went rouge and we couldn’t stay stable for the life of us! We must have had 15 attempts before I left Kim to use the kayak on her own and swam back to shore. I sat under a tree and listened to the waves roll in for what must have been half an hour before I was rejoined by the group to play badminton and have ceviche for lunch.  Who knew cold shrimp, lime juice, garlic, and cilantro could be so delicious! We also made my new favorite drink – micheladas, and laid out by the pool until the swarms of mozzies returned and we had to go inside. It eventually started to pour rain and we had to make a break for it to the cabana for dinner. We had that delicious chicken tortilla lasagna again and watched the lightning break over the ocean until it was time for bed.

The Core 4 travel buddies at the beach in El Salvador

El Salvador Beach Tips:

  • Bring lots of bug spray! They mozzies are everywhere
  • Wear water shoes as the beaches are rocky
  • Bring board games for when you are indoors waiting for the mozzies to dissipate / rain to pass
  • Don’t forget your sun screen and a hat

Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala

5:15 AM wake up to start our trek to Antigua, Guatemala for volcano hiking! Who needs sleep on vacation anyways…right? We had a quick bite to eat and took off to a Burger King about 30 minutes away to meet up with a few more of Cass’s friends who were going to make the climb with us. We went down some very bumpy roads in Cass’s old Jeep and made a few wrong turns while trying to navigate, but eventually made it to the coffee farm below the Acatenango volcano for our ride half-way up the volcano. The farm was beautiful, full of greenhouses and lush coffee forests. Cass’s friends hopped in the front of the truck that was driving us up the mountain and the “core four” of us hopped in the bed of the truck for one of the wildest rides I have ever had up the side of the volcano.

Coffee farm below Acatenango volcano, Antigua, GuatemalaIt started out nice and easy, driving through the dark green, lush coffee forests at the volcano’s base, but quickly turned into a windy dusty trail as we hit the mid section. Hair flying everywhere, skin looking tan with the dust layers, butts getting bruised from bouncing on the truck bed’s uneven floor, we were having the time of our life hanging on for dear life! As we got higher and higher, we entered the jungle level of the volcano which was dense, moist, and covered in moss. It was truly beautiful but we were also driving up at a super steep angle at a very fast pace not to lose traction, so we were all trying to hold each other in the bed of the truck as bump after bump tried to fling us out! Talk about exhilarating! I definitely had a nice round of bruises after that ride.

We finally made it to the drop-off for our hike. At this point, the forest had grown thin and there were lots of ferns and birch trees without leaves. The scenery – I can’t describe it. It was just so… extraordinarily different from Texas! Unfortunately, the elevation got to Janine so she stayed back with one of our guides at the car, and we took off on our hike. The higher we got, the more the ground turned into volcanic sand, making it very hard to climb up the steep side of the volcano. We rested at a plateau covered in delicate yellow flowers about half way up the trail and realized we were above the clouds. It was incredible.

Above the clouds atop of Acatenango in Antigua, Guatemala

From that point on, the trees stopped and it was volcanic sand all the way up. I swear, for every two steps I took, I slid back one step in the sand. There were no hand rails and the fall would have been a deadly one, so we faced upwards and onwards. You could hear the rumblings of the active volcano next store, named Fuego (Fire), echoing off of the boulders near the peak of our climb. It was terrifyingly exhilarating and the view / feeling of reaching the top was something I had never experienced before.

We walked the circumference of the volcano’s mouth, trying to stay erect as the super strong wind attempted to blow us away, and we found some wind cover between some rocks for a lunch stop. We watched the clouds roll over Fuego while it erupted as we ate and soaked in the view. I couldn’t believe this was just day 1 of our trip!

Atop of the Acatenango volcano in Antigua, Guatemala

 

The view of En Fuego Volcano from Acatenango in Antigua, Guatemala

The hike down was just as scary as the way up, but thrilling as we basically slid down the pumice sandy section of the mountain. There was an adorable blonde dog hanging out at the half-way plateau. He decided to join our group and followed us all the way back to our truck. I gave him the second half of my ham sandwich as a reward and we piled in the seat portion of the truck this time on the way down. We learned our lesson for sure! The dog followed our truck all the way down the mountain, and even tried to help us when the truck got stuck in a muddy ditch at a hairpin turn on the volcano trail! We almost had to push the truck out!

Hiking to the top of Acatenango in Antigua, Guatemala

Once we got off the volcano trail and onto an actual road, Cass, her friend Isa, and I stood in the bed of the truck and held onto the bar over the cab, hair flying in the wind singing songs at the top of our lungs, soaking in the experience as much as possible while racing back to the coffee plantation. Upon arrival, we shook out all of the pumice stones from our shoes and walked through the greenhouses full of poinsettias. It was really pretty and a nice end to the crazy morning before saying goodbye to Cass’s friends, hopping in the car, and driving back to Antigua for the rest of the day’s adventures.

Pointsetta garden below Acatenango volcano, Antigua, Guatemala

Volcano hiking tips:

  • Bring a warm wind jacket – the top of the volcano is very cold and windy
  • Wear hiking boots and sweat wicking, high socks. You can wear sneakers, but your shoes will get filled with sand and you may not get a lot of traction
  • Wear warm leggings for easy movement on the way up
  • Bring snacks & water so you have plenty of fule for the hike. It gets hot under the sun on the lower sections so hydration is key.
  • Use plenty of sunscreen as the altitude and thin air makes the sun extra potent
  • Try and find a good hiking stick for added hiking leverage
  • Wear a backpack for your things (camera etc). You will need your arms for balance so a purse is not recommended
  • The mid-way hike takes about 3 hours. Unless you want to do the whole day hike, find a service that will take you up half-way with a guide. You can also spend the night at the top of the volcano if you want – just make sure to bring very warm equipement and sleeping gear
  • Have extra cash for guide tips
  • Don’t forget your camera and selfie stick