Monday, June 29, 2015

Currently: June

Currently spending time with/where: We are down to the wire with our time in Danville. We close on the house today in less than 3 hours!!!

Current plan: Wouldn't you like to know??? Better yet, wouldn't we like to know?

Current mood: Bittersweet about saying goodbye to our house and our friends in Danville one more time.

Currently thankful for: Having choices about where to go next (nope, not revealing our top choice just yet).

Currently worried about: Our oldest nephew (on my side) who had a seizure in November, then was good and clear for 7 months, only to have 5 seizures in one day!!!! They think the antiepileptic drugs were not strong enough up against his growth spurt … hoping that is the case and he has seizure-free skies ahead. Poor guy! 

Current confession: Someday we hope to unpack everything from the storage unit and have a place to call home for more than a few months. Living in Danville in the home we designed with a chunk of our stuff unpacked for 2 months really spoiled me.


Currently amazed by: J's Tetris abilities with storage. We fit pretty much everything we own into a 10x10 storage unit. Now, if there is an earthquake, we are in deep trouble. 

Currently regretting: Even though the above statement is true about J's ability to use every nook and cranny, we are currently regretting not organizing our storage unit better in case of a flood. We just got news that there was a small flood in our mini storage space in Colorado. Add this to the fact that our Chevy Malibu was totaled while in "storage" due to the floods in Colorado in 2013 and our house in Danville flooded due to burst pipes ruining lots of our stuff in storage in 2015, I would say we are prone to floods and damage to stored items. 

Currently excited about: We are both excited about temperatures that aren't in the high 90s with less humidity. Additionally, I am excited about an upcoming reunion weekend with my Arizona housemates (in West Virginia) and J is excited about the Fare-The-Well Chicago 50th Anniversary Grateful Dead Concert, which he will be watching from the comfort of his friend Matt's house in NJ. 

Currently not excited about: Dealing with the City of Danville on the loose ends. 

Currently proud of: 3 things--purging so much stuff, sticking to a regular Yoga routine these past 2 months in Danville with my buddy Tammy, and finally learning to mountain bike.
 One of the many loads taken to Salvation Army/ReStore
A white cat (McKinley's doppelganger) joined Saturday's outdoor yoga session 
Currently reading: I tried to get my hands on "Girl on the Train," the new craze everyone suggested. But it was unavailable at the library. So I settled for "Fifty Shades Darker" by EL James. I read the first one in the series in 2012. 

Current guilty pleasure: Hopefully one last Raspberry Mocha Truffle (Toffee Tumbler for J) at our favorite Danville coffee shop (Main Street Emporium) tomorrow. 

Current want: A mountain bike.

Currently watching on Netflix: Orange is the New Black: Season 3. The first season of Orange was so great, the second season was a dud and the third season (so far) is not much better. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Mountain Biking - CHECK

J & I engage in plenty of outdoor sports--hiking, paddling, biking, rock climbing, XC skiing, etc. Our participation in them depends on the area where we live and how much time we have. Mountain biking has never really been in our rotation of activities. J has done it a few times, but is definitely a beginner. As for myself, the only time I rode on a mountain bike was for 3 minutes during our Backpacker Magazine/Goodyear photo shoot in 2013.

Still, learning to MTB has always been on my bucket list, despite it having the reputation of hard work and easy injury (apparently the slower you go, the more likely you will be to crash).

If Danville is good for anything, it is good for outdoor recreation. Suffice to say, we are having a very active (hot) summer. Despite not having a stellar mountain surroundings, there's pretty much everything at your fingertips in Danville: biking, paddling, rock climbing, hiking … Included in this is Angler's Ridge Mountain Bike Trail. Back when J was assistant director of outdoor recreation for Danville, this trail was in its infancy. Now it is rated #1 in Virginia and #41 in the whole country (world?)!

Bobby (aka Bolt) and Tammy of the Great American Family are avid mountain bikers (of course they are, they wouldn't be the Great American Family if they didn't participate in every sport out there). Bobby was the one who taught me how to rock climb like a champ, so it was a no-brainer to have him teach me mountain biking.
On Sunday, I went mountain biking for the first time. Anglers offers 35 miles of single-track loop trails from beginner to expert skill levels. The four of us rode Riverside Drive (beginner) and Hot Tamale (a step up from beginner). The trails rise, fall, swagger, twist, turn, snake, all through the forest.


J is a natural rockstar at mountain biking … of course. 

I loved it. J and I have been trying to squeeze in more rides in this week with Bobby and Tammy. I am definitely nervous, especially on the bridges and downhills, but I know the more practice, the more confident I will be and the better I will get (right Kiki??). I hope wherever we end up, we can do more MTB, but for now it feels like a good start to checking that one off my bucket list.

Monday, June 22, 2015

New Zealand Accommodations

We stayed in 25+ different hostels/holiday parks along Te Araroa and most of them were great, but they do vary. We thought a review post might be helpful for anyone planning to hike the trail, or just visiting New Zealand. 

A general observation is that hostels are more crowded on the South Island than on the North Island. We typically didn't make reservations for hostels on the North Island and had no problems getting into the place of our choice. But, the South Island had so many more tourists, making it more difficult to just walk into town and find a place to stay. There's almost always a holiday park for camping in towns and that's a good backup plan. 

Another thing to mention is that NZ i-SITEs are invaluable. It is basically an information center that has a slew of good tourist beta, but can also call around to hostels for availability and book you in. And there is no fee for this service!

Last general comment about NZ hostels is that they typically fall under 2 categories: BBH and YHA. We stayed at both types and had no preference, although I think we hit more BBHs than YHAs. You do get a discount ($2-3 off your stay) if you buy the respective memberships. I did the math and it didn't really work out for us, unless we purposely utilized one type over the other in every town. But that required too much planning on our part when in reality, we had to be very flexible. 

Here goes our reviews, based on our experiences/opinions. We've listed accommodations from north to south, including a few holiday parks, and even a few places that aren't on the trail. We listed a "positive" and "negative" for each to give the brief review version if you don't want to read the details. As trampers, our most important needs when getting to a hostel were shower, laundry, Internet and access to resupply. Other types of travelers may be looking for different attributes. 

NORTH ISLAND
Positive: Free Internet, big kitchen
Negative: Slow and limited Internet 
We stayed in this hostel twice--once before we started the hike and then we hitched back to Kaitaia after the 90-mile beach to resupply for the next section. This place was just okay. In 2014, the owner was arrested for molestation charges and his young employees essentially took over the place. It was clean, but other guests were quite loud the second time around and no one enforced the quiet hours. We opted for the private ensuite room (private bath) both times and it was a nice, big room. The Internet was included with your stay, but limited and very slow. The hostel is less than 1K away from a Pak 'N Save and the bus tour company that took us to Cape Reinga (Sand Safaris) picked us up right at the hostel.

Positive: Unlimited, free Internet, awesome owners
Negative: A bit of a walk into town for resupply
We loved this hostel! Owners David & Victoria took over in 2014 and are very good at tending to everyone's needs. We stayed in a 6-bunk room and the rooms/beds were quite spacious. The outside kitchen area is covered and they do a good job of observing quiet hours. The shower/bath area was clean enough. They included laundry powder and a towel for the shower in the room cost, which was a nice bonus. And, they offered unlimited Internet!!! The hostel is less than 1K from the New World grocery and other town stores/eateries, which was a little pain for resupply and getting back on the trail, but the owners will also happily give you a lift downtown or to/fro the trail.



Positive: Unlimited, free Internet with your stay, great views
Negative: $22 per person to camp!
Staying here was almost a necessity because we had to catch a water taxi across Victoria Bay at high tide, which was at about 9am in our situation. You could stay 5K back in Paihia, which has hostel options and a town. This was the first time we realized the sticker shock of camping in NZ. This holiday park was scenic on the water and had unlimited Internet, a good kitchen area, and a really nice bathroom, but as with all of the holiday parks, busy with camper vans. There is no town around; Opua has nothing and Pahia is 5K back, so you have to plan accordingly (we ate a late lunch in Paihia and resupplied there). The Bay of Islands is one of my favorite spots in NZ, so even if you are just campervanning (yes, that is my made up word) around the country, you should come this way. 



Positive: The owners
Negative: Little to no resupply option
We had heard how awesome this holiday park was because the owners loved TA walkers, offering discounts and cooking food, etc. This is true, but we did notice a little bit of inconsistency in their generosity. For example, we were told cost was $10 per person by other hikers, but they charged us $12 pp and our hiker friend who arrived earlier in the day a little more. We even heard that the started charging hikers $5 later in the season. We also heard on the trail that they made delicious burgers for hikers, but they told us they couldn't sell us hamburgers when we arrived because the local store was open for another 30 minutes and they had burgers. We went to the store and they had no burgers. The store's food was very crappy and expensive. But I do think our experience was because the trail is still new and they are trying to figure it all out. I have no doubt they will have it figured out for next season. Regardless, the owners are pretty awesome, really active on the TA Facebook group and cheering hikers on. They gave us ice cream to make up for the burgers. 


Positive: The owners
Negative: No laundry or hot shower
I should preface by saying we didn't stay in the B&B, we camped. The owners are really active in the TA community and offer camping in their garden area. You walk right by their road on the trail and there are not any other options in town or around for stealth camping, so it is a great stop. They even put in a toilet (long drop) and drinking water spigot, where you can take a cold shower. We only met Hilton and he invited us inside to hang out and chat. He is very knowledgeable about the trail and hospitable. They only ask for a koha (donation) for staying. 

Positive: Small and homey, the owners
Negative: Off the trail a little bit
This hostel is less than 1K from the trail and town (including Waipu Pizza Barn, which is a must!). It is small with 3 separate sleeping rooms (2 private, 1 with bunks), shared bath, a kitchen, laundry (with washing powder and the option to dry clothes in a dryer - You don't see dryers in NZ very often at all) and living room, so just like a little home. Quite cozy. The Internet was free, but very slow and you had to stand right by the door to get the signal. We ended up spending 2 nights at this hostel to wait out bad weather. We were the only ones there and got to know the owners (Steve and Eileen) pretty well, even joining them at their Anglican Church! 

Positive: Right on the trail in the middle of town
Negative: Limited Internet 
We didn't plan on staying here, but this section of the trail goes through a lot of towns and presents stealth camping challenges. This hostel is right on the Main Street in Orewa and we split a private room with another hiker, so it was reasonably priced with (slow and limited) Internet included. The room was nice with bonuses, like towels, a TV, coffee and tea. There was a little courtyard with all the bunk rooms surrounding. The kitchen and bathrooms were clean enough and even though there were a lot of young people, it stayed quiet at night.

Positive: Sweet views
Negative: Cost ($21/person!)  
We really had no choice but to stay here as Devonport is a suburb of Auckland, so quite populated with homes and no areas for freedom camping. We thought we could camp at a regional park 15K before the holiday park (as our map indicated), but were told no camping when we arrived. So we pushed on to the holiday park and arrived at 8:30pm. We tried to negotiate the price of $21 person (with nothing but a shower included) since we would be there less than 10 hours, but no dice! It was very crowded with camper vans and pretty unpleasant. This place is actually under the threat of being closed, and if it does, I have no idea where TA hikers will be able to camp through this section! 

Brown Kiwi Hostel - Auckland 
Positive: Hannes, the manager
Negative: Potential to get loud in the courtyard
We stayed at this hostel when we first arrived in NZ before the hike, then again when we hiked through Auckland. Brown Kiwi is in the Ponsonsby neighborhood with a post office and New World within 1K. Despite being 3K from the center of Auckland (sky tower, bus station, etc) and the trail, we still found it to be a good location for our needs. The city hostels are cheaper, but has more of a young, party crowd. Brown Kiwi was still considerably crowded, but smaller and more intimate. There are not a lot of spaces to find quiet, but people generally respected quiet hours. The other thing I liked was that there was the option to use a dryer ($). If you want quiet, request the private room upstairs in the house (there are 2 private rooms out back and that is where the courtyard/hangout is). The thing that makes this hostel awesome is Hannes, one of the managers. He is hilarious and extremely helpful. 





Ambury Regional Park - South Auckland
Positive: Views
Negative: No resupply
You walk through Auckland for a long time. We thought we'd power through 40K in a day … boy were we wrong. It took us 2 solid days to get through all of Auckland. Since you are in the city/suburbs, your camping options are limited. We heard Ambury had cheap camping, but when we pulled in, the 2 park rangers told us TA hikers camp for free!! It was such a pleasant surprise. You hit a lot of grocery places as you're walking through Auckland, but there aren't any right near Ambury. The rangers were nice enough to take us to the grocery store when they did a "town" run. It was such a cute park too because it operates as a working farm and has great views of the inner harbor.



Manukau Holiday Park - South Auckland
Positive: Separate TV hangout from the kitchen
Negative: Cost ($20/person) and noise level
Once again, we were sort of forced to camp here since we were walking through a very populated (and apparently undesirable) neighborhood for many kilometers. It was $20 per person (with nothing but a shower included). The good thing about this holiday park is that it had a small TV room to hang out in, as well as the kitchen area. Once again, it was crowded with campervans and being it is so close to the airport, it was pretty loud. 

Positive: Food for sale onsite
Negative: Further from "town"
This hostel is not the most centrally located to the trail or "town." Also, it is 2K from the glowworm caves, but it is right across from the Blackwater rafting, which does have a little cafe. However, it is a really nice spot. We stayed in a 6-bunk room, which was roomy. The bathrooms were clean enough, although they did run out of hot water while we were there. There is a nice common space and large kitchen. The staff is really helpful and they sell a few individual food items, like slices of bread and single eggs, which is unique. Our only gripe was that we left our headlight behind and we asked them to send it forward to a place 5 days away, and they said they would (we paid the shipping). However, when we got to our next place, the headlight package hasn't arrived. We called, and apparently they just put it in the mail that day. We know how busy the hospitality business is, but when we originally called, they said they would send it out that day, and obviously they didn't.

Positive: The owners
Negative: The train tracks
The holiday park is right on the trail, but outside of town, so it might be wise to resupply before going to the holiday park. The owners are very hiker friendly and offer a bit of a discount for walkers. The holiday park is right on the Wanganui River, so a pretty setting, but it also near railroad tracks, therefore a bit loud. The bathrooms and kitchen were clean enough, but the community fridge had no way of marking whose food was whose.

Breamer House - Whanganui
Positive: Quiet
Negative: The owners (well, one of them)
This was the only hostel where we had an unpleasant experience, but it didn't start that way. I think the place is owned by 2 gentlemen and one was nice, while the other wasn't so nice. We heard they love TA walkers and give discounts and I think we got $2 off. We ended up opting for a private room. The hostel is attached to the B&B, so there are certain rules to keep the backpackers separate from the B&B guests. For example, you can only do laundry until 7pm. The one gentlemen (Robert - the nice one) who checked us in told us this, but when I went to get change for my laundry at 6:25pm, the other gentleman (the not-so-nice one) said I was too late for laundry and that the cycle takes 35 minutes and would turn off at 7, so I couldn't start laundry this late. I was disappointed, but brushed it off (and washed our clothes in the sink). We had also asked the nice gentleman at check-in if we could hang out on the patio using Internet (not free, btw) after check out because we got in late and wanted to have a later start the next morning. He said sure thing. But, the next morning, the other not-so-nice gentleman kept dropping condescending comments about us getting a late start. When the 10am checkout came along, we were sitting at the patio tables on our devices and he said, "when are you guys going to leave?" We said probably another hour or so after we finished up Internet duties. Apparently that was the wrong answer. He basically asked us to leave immediately. There was no negotiation on this, even with us explaining that the other gentleman gave us permission. Instead of arguing, we left. But with a bad taste in our mouths. Later, we heard other hikers had bad experiences there too. There are a few other hostels in town and we heard good reviews on Tamara.  

Mayhem Roost - Bulls
Positive: Interaction with Kiwis
Negative: Only room for 3 inside … tent camping for others
This is not a hostel, nor is it open to general travelers. A woman named Jo runs this home stay for TA hikers only, as the trail passes right by the house. Jo and her family (partner Mike and kids) just started doing this in 2015 and it was in my notes, but apparently we were the only hikers to take advantage of it (there was a logging detour during our hike, so we didn't pass right by the house). In any case, they offer a very reasonably priced private room/bath, laundry, dinner and breakfast stay. It helps to give her a call a day or 2 in advance so she can plan for dinner. We absolutely loved our time with Jo's family and still keep in touch with them. 






Positive: Paradise for free
Negative: Not always available
This is another non-hostel that is not available to the general public. Sally and John run the Outdoor Pursuits Centre, which the trail passes right by. The Centre is busy with school groups, etc., but Sally is generally around and keeps a sign outside inviting hikers in for a beer. If there is room to stay, she also offers private rooms, shower, laundry, kitchen facilities and dinner … for no cost! It was a paradise and is right before entering the Tarauas, so you could even zero there waiting out bad weather if need be. Sally and John are not accepting $$ for their services, but it is never a bad idea to leave them a koha. At the very least, tell them to use it for beer for the next hikers!   





SOUTH ISLAND
Atlantis Hostel - Picton
Positive: Free breakfast (toast, butter, jam, etc) and free evening dessert
Negative: Large (50+ beds)
If there is something we learned quickly upon coming to the South Island it is that the hostels book up. We never had a problem on the North Island rolling into a town and finding a bed without a reservation. But, this was not the case on the South Island. Our first experience with overcrowded hostels was in Picton. No matter there are several choices, the first 5 we checked on early Monday afternoon were booked. Atlantis was not. Admittedly, it does not look inviting from the outside. But what it lacks in curb appeal, it makes up for in amenities. The owner is actually from the US and she works super hard and is extremely nice. Beds are cheap, a pricing result of the large dorm rooms. We didn't do laundry there, or shower, actually (we just came from the boat ride over from Wellington). But, the Internet was included in your cost and was good. A bonus perk - free dessert in the evening and free breakfast in the morning!! It was quite a good deal. We were worried about it being loud because of the size and the fact that we were by far the oldest ones there, but the owner enforced quiet hours and we both slept really well. 

Positive: Unlimited, free Internet 
Negative: Dorm rooms separate from bathroom facilities
We had our first maildrop sent here, so we knew we'd stay and made reservations (see Picton experience!). The trail goes right by the hostel in the middle of town. We had a great experience at this hostel. The bathrooms are clean, laundry was easy (they do have a dryer available), and the Internet was unlimited and included in our stay. The kitchen was large and nice as well. The dorm rooms are in separate buildings from the kitchen and bathroom. When we were there, it was raining, so this was a little annoying to run back and forth. Eat at the Mussel Pot in town … delicious! 

Travers-Sabine Lodge - St. Arnaud
Positive: Luxury accommodations 
Negative: Only a small hostel that books up often and they charge for holding maildrops if you don't stay with them
We sent another maildrop here and tried to make reservations (which is difficult since there is only a sliver of cell service through the Richmond Range). The hostel was booked up, but they had availability for their log chalets. A bit pricy, but we loved the space (own kitchen, bathroom, living room and towels). We split the room with another hiker to defray the cost a bit (although, they charge per person in NZ, so it doesn't make much of a difference). There are 2 washers (and dryers!) in another building. Internet was good here, but we had to purchase it. 
Mountain House - Arthur's Pass
Positive: Lots of hangout space
Negative: Internet not free
We sent our 4th maildrop here and again, they charge to hold it if you don't stay with them. We did not make reservations because of a lack of cell service, but thankfully, they had room (we got into town at 10am though). We scored space in the newer building and heard the older building was cold and has mice (the whole area is known for a mouse problem). The manager is a little rough around the edges, but very, very informative as a tramper. He also gave us fuel canisters that people left there (this was dire because they were out at the store) and laundry powder for free. 

Mt. Hutt Hostel - Methven
Positive: Homey and quiet
Negative: A few blocks from town center
Methven is not on the trail, but a good option for resupply between Arthur's Pass and Lake Tekapo. The owner was really nice and let us check in early. We opted for a private room because it was only a few $$ more. There are quite a few hostels in Methven, but this was the cheapest. They do charge for towels, but she must have liked us because she waived that fee. They also charge for Internet, but it was unlimited and fast. We didn't do laundry here. Bathrooms were clean. 

Positive: Views, whole house
Negative: Cost, far from town
We had a connection in Lake Tekapo, so got a decent deal on renting a home. It was our splurge and I wish we took a zero here. Washer (no dryer), kitchen, bathroom, good Internet, and great views. The hostel choices in Lake Tekapo are not that great and fill up really quickly. The houses are off the trail and at least 1K from town and I doubt any other hikers would choose this option, but I figured I'd still put it out there. 


Positive: Coffee, tea, hot chocolate and towels provided
Negative: Cost
We didn't plan to stay overnight in Twizel, just do a quick resupply. But it was pouring when we walked into town and we got sucked in. The hostel was full, so we got sucked in even more when the only thing available was a private studio unit. It is always nice to have our own bathroom, kitchen and towels, but the price is a killer. We split it with Kevin, but again, NZ charges per person. The lodge also charges for Internet. We didn't do laundry here. 

Positive: Reservation not really needed because it is huge!
Negative: Crowded, very, very crowded
We made a reservation at different hostel in Wanaka, but got to town 1 day early and the other place didn't have room. Base will probably never fill up, so we got 3 bunks no problem at 5pm on Wednesday. We didn't do laundry or buy Internet here; we merely slept and checked out in the morning. It wasn't really loud, even though it was so crowded. I've never seen more people in the kitchen at one time. The bathrooms were surprisingly clean. 

Positive: View overlooking the lake
Negative: Not centrally located to town/shopping
This was one of our favorite hostels in NZ. Kevin, J & I rented the Twin Bunk Room and it was quite a good deal because we paid the same price per person we normally do to have the space to ourselves. The bathrooms (multiple) were clean, the kitchen was large and there were plenty of spots to hang out, all with amazing lakefront views. The other thing I liked was that there was the option to use a dryer ($). The downsides were that you had to buy Internet in 1GB increments and the hostel was several blocks from the shopping, etc. The staff was extremely nice and helpful.



Positive: Too many to name
Negative: Nothing
This was our favorite hostel and we returned to it post-trail for 3 nights purposely because it was that awesome. Queenstown is a huge town (for NZ) and quite busy. There are probably 20-something hostels, but we made a reservation weeks out. When we realized we would be getting to town 1 day earlier, Brett (the owner) did everything he could to squeeze us in and thank goodness because nearly all the other hostels were booked. We talked a lot with Brett. He is quite traveled and knows what travelers need, so really sets Adventure Queenstown apart from other hostels. For example, each bunk has its own reading light and outlets (as well as USB charging ports). When we are at hostels, we spend a lot of time fighting for charging time; there are usually only 2 plugs per room. Another thing Brett does is themed nights, like trivia, home-cooked meals for a low cost and movie night with popcorn. The living room is huge, Internet is included in your stay and unlimited and fast (an anomaly in NZ). The staff is extremely friendly and take ownership of the place. They offer a reasonably priced laundry service (wash & dry!!!!) and all you do is hand over your dirty load. I could really go on and on about all the good things about this place. The good news is Brett is in the process of opening up a 2nd location in Queenstown. 




Positive: Beautiful lakefront views
Negative: Cold showers, cold rooms
We actually didn't sleep in Te Anau while hiking the trail and the trail doesn't go through the town, but it is a great resupply spot. However, we returned to Te Anau post-trail because it is the gateway to Milford Sound. We stayed 2 nights at this hostel and it wasn't the greatest. The staff was nice (gave us a towel to borrow for free), but the rooms and showers were cold (it was full-on fall when we were there). You get a limited amount of free internet with your stay, but you can only get it in the main building. 

City Centre Camping - Otautau
Positive: Cost ($10 pp)
Negative: Off the trail
Our friends Fern Toe & Thor suggested a resupply stop in Otautau even though it is 7K off the trail. The alternative is to carry 10 days of food from Te Anau to Riverton. They also suggested a hidden gem that wasn't in our trail notes - city centre camping. It cost $10 per person ($7 per person for them??), which included a shower and laundry (and laundry powder and even a dryer, which wasn't working when we were there). Such a great deal. There is a small kitchen area too. We ate the pub, which was stellar. There's a good 4Square grocery for the short resupply. We got hitches to/fro the trail fairly quickly, but heard others waited a bit.  
Colac Bay Holiday Park - Colac Bay
Positive: Cheap/hiker-friendly
Negative: Cold showers
You walk right by this holiday park making it a convenient overnight stop. Plus, they give hikers a great deal on camping and/or staying in one of their rooms. There is a tavern for eating and very little and expensive resupply onsite (we did neither). We got there late and they seemed to run out of hot water for the showers, so that was a downer. But otherwise, great stop! 

Tuatara Backpackers - Invercargill
Positive: Free Internet (albeit slow)
Negative: Messy kitchen
This is another hostel that you will probably never get shut out because it is so big. We came into town without a reservation and had no problem getting bunks. It is in the heart of Invercargill, so walking distance to all the supermarkets, DOC office, etc. We opted for a large dorm room (I think we had 10 bunks) for the lower cost and we somehow got lucky--no snorers/party people in our room. One complaint would be that there were 6 plugs for charging in our 10-person dorm room. The kitchen is really a disaster. I never saw it clean and it seemed that other hostel guests were really disrespectful of the space. The bathrooms were fine though. Internet is free, but slow and you can only get it in the cafe/check-in area. Plenty of seating there, but loud. There was better (free) Internet next door at the city library. They also have a dryer available for use ($). 

Bluff Lodge - Bluff
Positive: Cheap
Negative: You have to rent sheets for the beds
This is by far the strangest hostel we ever stayed in. Most TA hikers hit the trail end at Bluff and hitch 20 minutes back up to Invercargill. But, we opted not to stop hiking and immediately take the morning ferry to Stewart Island (you can make arrangements to get to Bluff from Invercargill via plane, but the ferry leaves from Bluff). In any case, we thought we'd stealth camp, but it was pouring rain and our options were limited. The owner was very nice with good intentions, but the dorm rooms are oddly decorated (think an explosion of Grandma's house) and the beds have old-fashioned spreads on them and no sheets. We were wondering why the cost to stay was so cheap; it didn't include bedding (extra $5). We didn't shower, do laundry or use the Internet. The whole building used to be a post office, so the rooms are repurposed with a little creativity. In the middle of the night, a drunk man came into our dorm room and passed out on top of one of the bed spreads. Not sure if he was a paying guest, but it just gives you an idea of the oddity we experienced. Go back to Invercargill if you can!

Positive: Free Internet
Negative: At least a mile from the center of town/grocery
Dunedin is not on the TA, but we stayed here as part of our post-trail travels. We didn't have reservations when we arrived in Dunedin (it was a last-minute decision to go there), but the i-SITE (NZ Information Centre) helped book us into a hostel. It is quite a walk from the downtown and i-SITE, but with all the walking we had done, it was nothing. The hostel is out of 2 houses built in the 1920s. The rooms were a bit chilly, but they are spacious and they provide heaters. Your cost includes free unlimited Internet, but it was in and out when we were there. Showers were fine, but there was only 2 bathrooms in the house we were in, so there was a line sometimes. 



Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Camping and Paddling in North Carolina

We hopped over the state line this weekend to go camping and paddling with some Danville peeps.
Now that we've been back in the good ol' South for almost 2 months, it really just feels like we never left.  Which is probably why when I didn't flinch when one of our group members said, "Oh shoot. We need to turn around. I forgot my gun."

The truth is, there wasn't any noticeable redneck spin on the camping trip, other than the fact that the beater truck parked in the middle of a field was a more popular hangout than the shaded campsite. Van, our admitted redneck friend, sighed and said, "I love it when there are more rednecks around than me."

In any case, we car camped at Jomeokee Park Camping & Amphitheater, which is possibly the best kept secret near the very popular Pilot Mountain State Park and Hanging Rock State Park. We couldn't secure camping in the state parks for our group of 11, so Jomeokee was a last-minute Plan B. Jomeokee is privately owned, has a huge parcel of land with shaded campsites, picnic tables, fire pits, bathrooms and the iconic 2,421-foot Pilot Mountain sits as its backdrop. Nailed it.






 The next morning, we headed out for a 6-mile paddle on the Dan River. J & I purposely left our kayaks in storage in Colorado. We've been toting those things around the country and Big Bird has complained that they weigh and slow him down. Thus, we decided the kayaks didn't need to make the cross-country trip this summer. With 2 paddling trips in the books already, it's too bad we can't control Z that decision.

We did have an inflatable 2-person kayak in storage here in Danville. We bought it in 2005, but haven't used it since 2007. We decided to take our chances instead of renting a canoe from the Dan River Company, who provided our shuttle. We should have put that in the bucket of bad ideas.

We both started in the kayak, then decided our combined weights were a little too much for the kayak that no longer holds air like it used it.
Then J tried on his own. Then I tried on my own. We were slowing down the group and working entirely too hard for a lazy Sunday. Then Van tried to use it as a boogie board. All of these options just needed to go in that bucket of bad ideas. The best option was towing the boat and hitching a ride in our friends' boats. 


Despite our kayak follies, the float in this section of the Dan River was pretty spectacular. It passes through the Hammer-Stern Wilderness Preserve and Hanging Rock SP with very cool rock outcrops (I think the rock was itacolumite - bendable rock - which I had never heard of). The 6-mile paddle took us about 3 hours, even with the deflating kayak and occasional napping on the job.