Who is that cardboard man at New Zealand’s two biggest glaciers? Ask mom.

My new hat made by Nolly Martini. (Martin Melendy)

At New Zealand’s Franz Josef Glacier, a park ranger provides an update on daily conditions and safety tips.

The life-size image is a cardboard cut-out, but the ranger is real. His mother told me so.

I met Nolly Martini when I visited her Willows Crafts shop in Harihari, a tiny hamlet about 40 miles north of Franz Josef on New Zealand’s South Island.

I was attracted to the hand-knitted hats and scarves, and she told me that she makes many of them from wool and Samoyed dog hair. She also sells crafts made by other local residents.

As I paid for a colorful hat made by Martini, she told me that her son posed for the cardboard cut-out when he worked for the New Zealand Department of Conservation. The proud mother pulled out photographs of Mark Martini standing next to his cardboard double. (The DOC confirmed it.)

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A visitor walks through a lush rainforest on the Te Ara a Waiau trail. (Sheryl Jean)

Sure enough, Mark Martini’s image greets me when I arrive at Franz Josef Glacier later that day. (See photo at top.) The DOC told me that his image also graces the nearby Fox Glacier.

Tourism is one of New Zealand’s main economic engines. The Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are among the country’s biggest tourist attractions, with about 1 million visitors a year.

Continue reading Who is that cardboard man at New Zealand’s two biggest glaciers? Ask mom.

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Killer views from New Zealand’s Bealey Spur Track are worth the climb

Today’s rain did not keep me from hiking the fantastic Bealey Spur Track near Arthur’s Pass on the New Zealand’s South Island.

It was pouring rain five hours ago, when I blogged about finding a silver lining in rain while traveling, and it’s raining again. But in between, I made the most of a few mostly rain-free, sunny hours.

The nearly 4-mile (four to six hours round trip) trail, which is mostly uphill, traverses mossy beech forests, tussocks and lots of mud today. (See photo below.) You can climb a nearly 5,100-foot hill for another 1.5 hours, but I didn’t have time for that given my afternoon start.

Once you climb out of the forest, the ridge line and top of the ridge provide jaw-dropping, panoramic views of Mount Bealey, Avalanche Peak, Mount Rolleston, Mount Aicken and other peaks, which range from over 6,000 feet to  nearly 7,500 feet, as well as the Waimakariri Valley. (See photo at top.)

Mud on the Bealey Spur Track on Nov. 3, 2016.
As a bonus I got to peek at the baches (a cabin in New Zealand) lining the private road where the hike starts. Some were rustic shacks, while others had been renovated into modern ski chalets.

Opportunity allowed me to jump ahead on my New Zealand blog posts to the South Island, but I’m not done with the North Island yet. Stay tuned!

New Zealand’s Tongariro Alpine Crossing rewards the hearty hiker

Fog surrounded us like gray cotton candy.

Active volcanoes lurked in the murkiness like hulking giants, but my hiking partner and I  couldn’t see them — at least not at first.

At any moment, the ground could shake and fiery lava would paint the sky in orange streaks. The shroud of fog seemed to lessen the risk on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, which is called New Zealand’s best day hike.

On our first trip to New Zealand, we vowed to spend as little time as possible in cities and focus on what the country is best known for: the great outdoors. Tongariro topped the list.

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The writer enshrouded in fog at one point in the hike. (Sheryl Jean)

The crossing has it all: volcanoes, lava fields, alpine lakes, fumaroles, waterfalls and breath-taking views. It’s in Tongariro National Park, New Zealand’s oldest park.

The track traverses the length of Mount Tongariro and skirts the saddle of Mount Ngauruhoe (see photo at top) — two of New Zealand’s three active volcanoes. Ngauruhoe posed as Mount Doom in the Lord of the Rings film. (You can hike up Ngauruhoe, but now it’s still covered in ice and snow and requires technical skills and crampons.)

One of the Emerald Lakes on the the crossing. (Sheryl Jean)

The 12 miles takes about six to nine hours, depending on weather conditions, your fitness level and how often you stop. (We finished the trek in seven hours, including a lunch stop, several rest breaks and lots of photographing.)

We arranged a shuttle to take us to the start of the hike and pick us up at the end. Twelve others from the United States, Ireland and the Netherlands joined us.

We were prepared for any kind of weather, since the crossing is known for unpredictable and fast-changing weather — even in the middle of summer.

Continue reading New Zealand’s Tongariro Alpine Crossing rewards the hearty hiker