Aoraki/Mount Cook

Aoraki, or Mount Cook, is the highest mountain of New Zealand, 3,724 meters above sea level. It is located in the middle of South Island, about 5hrs drive from Christchurch. The region is known for its’ clear blue lakes Tekapo and Pukaki, clear starry nights, helicopter glacier rides and…I suppose the general breathtaking views.

Pristine blue waters at Lake Tekapo.
Pristine blue waters at Lake Tekapo.

I left Christchurch early in the morning with no sleep, and found myself sitting in a tour bus with old couples and your quota of Asians. The bus was not full, allowing me to nap on both seats. Luxury! We had an elderly English gentleman as our tour guide, giving more or less important information about the areas we passed, New Zealand in general, and we even got 2 songs! I thought the whole trip was more hilarious than anything else, and I was pretty much dead tired and just dozed off every time the guide was quiet. We stopped a few times, to have a cup of tea, take pictures, all that. Soon enough we arrived in our mid-destination (the bus continued to Queenstown), and my need for a nap started to get unbearable.

Gloriuous snowy mountains.
Gloriuous snowy mountains.

Fun fact I learned on the bus: New Zealand sent 10th of its’ population to the 1st world war. Only a fraction of that returned home. A bit more uplifting fact: There are no predators in NZ. No snakes, bears, foxes, wolves, nada. This is truly a safe place!

Aoraki, as the locals call it, the tallest mountain in New Zealand.
Aoraki, as the locals call it, the tallest mountain in New Zealand.

After I woke up from my nap in the most quiet room I have been so far (2 bunks, ensuite bathroom, even a balcony!), I went to take a walk to the Hermitage hotel and around the tiny village. No food options seemed affordable enough (though the dinner buffet, $69, looked like guaranteed food coma), so I opted for cooking my pre-purchased quinoa with tomato sauce. What luxury! The day was a bit rainy, and even at night it was cloudy. Breathtaking stargazing awaits still, luckily I’ve got 2 weeks and another glacier waiting down the road. After I woke up in the morning at the same time with my new Argentinian friend (whose name I never found out), I went for a wee bit of a walk towards the mountains, but didn’t venture on the whole 4hr trek. Next up: Queenstown, the activity capital!

Advertisements

Satur-trail and Dragon Boats

I am definitely not an athlete, nor a trail runner, but I do prefer to spend my weekends with some activities rather than lying half dead in a dark room, cursing the world and trying to remember what happened the previous night. Having the chance to take a nice hike and then trying out dragon boat racing, of course I said yes. Well, I have to admit that half way through the 10km hike, and halfway up the over 1000 stair, I definitely questioned myself.

Up and down these mountains, no biggie
Up and down these mountains, no biggie

Our trail started from Wan Chai gap, sweet and easy 1km uphill, followed by a nice 4km run to the end of the first leg. That’s when the fun part started – first  up was the Violet Hill mountain, followed by the “Twins”, pictured. The mountain part of the hike included some stunning views of Repulse Bay and Deep Water Bay (with some clear blue water), but I was mostly concentrating on putting my feet in front of another and not to trip.

Hong Kong nature, Wong Nai Chung reservoir
Hong Kong nature, Wong Nai Chung reservoir

It made a big difference to be on the trail with a couple of hard core athletes, one of which just did a sweet 86km run in mt. Fuji last week. By myself, I would have had much harder time to keep on going and not stop in the steps – although when you start going, there is no escape.

 

Warm up before the Dragon Boat
Dragon Boaters warming up

After the trail, we made it to Stanley just in time for some coconut water and Dragon Boat training! Some balance for the leg workout, this 2 hr session was great exercise for the arms and upper body (though the legs weren’t lazy, either). The boats fit 20 paddlers (our team had only 10; more work for each person!), plus one person who is steering, and another that pounds a drum to give tact. Key words in this sport are “rotate”, meaning you have to twist your upper body when thrusting the paddle to the water, and “reach”, meaning that you mush reach the paddle far in front of you. I bet I’ll be hearing the coach screaming these two words when I go to sleep.

Ready to roll
Ready to roll

 

On June 12th there is a big Dragon Boat race, where different companies, societies etc. that have formed teams race against each other and have a huge party afterwards. Too bad I’m not going to be able to attend, although maybe this kind of adventuring on a weekly basis would be a bit too much for me. I really liked being in the water, I can’t remember when is the last time I’ve had salt water on my lips and skin! Unfortunately there was no sun anywhere to be seen the whole day (except in the far distance in the mountain), but somehow I still managed to burn my cheeks.

Happy and not knowing what lies ahead
Happy and not knowing what lies ahead

 

These little Saturday morning and afternoon activities made me appreciate the trail/ultra runners even more; the more athletes I meet, the better I understand them and their motives. However, I still prefer intervals to 50km, and pilates to running. To balance out the “hard work” of the day, I rewarded myself with yoga and sauna.

If you are interested in hiking/trekking in Hong Kong, hkwalkers.net is the go-to source. It still amazes me, how much nature and outdoor sports possibilities this place has to offer!

Hakone

Hakone is a mountain region just few hours train ride from Tokyo. Mainly the area lives off domestic tourism. The Odakyu company, which owns at least a department store, trains and travel agency, offers special few days passes to Hakone region, with unlimited transportation.

From bustling Tokyo to the past
From bustling Tokyo to the past

The pass includes a suggested “sightseeing” course with an old-fashioned tram that goes up the mountainside, cable car over a crater and mountains, boat on a lake and discounts on different kinds of attractions, shops and restaurant all around the area. The information of everything was (of course) in Japanese, so due to my insufficient kanji-reading skills, we might have missed something great. It was pretty cool, anyways.

Cable car, or "keeburu kaa"
Cable car, or “keeburu kaa”

We stayed in Hakone for 2 nights just before Christmas, in a traditional minshuku (very little English spoken, of course). Interesting experience to sleep in a room with a semi-functioning heater, and waking up before 8 to have a Japanese, homemade breakfast. What comes to sightseeing, we took the tram and the cable car, but skipped the boat ride, Le Petit Prince Museum and Venetian Glass Museum (among others). We didn’t quite see Fuji-san due to cloudy weather, but the trip was still definitely worth it!

I did see Fuji-san!
I did see Fuji-san!

I could easily imagine people getting away from their big city life to relax in the small towns, but after two nights I was ready to go. In Hakone, there seemed to be only kamaboko (fish paste cakes) and omiyage shops after another. There was hardly any restaurants, all of the few offered only noodles or tempura. Since all of the shops close around 5, the rest of the evening is best spent in onsen, that are aplenty in the region. Unlike in Beppu, the Hakone onsen did not steam or smell.

True.
True.

If you ever go to Hakone, which you definitely should if you have a chance, I suggest taking the Special Limited Romance Car. The name is worth the extra price, though I don’t know what was so romantic about it. Other option would be to take the Odakyu metro train, which is quite uncomfortable for such a long trip.

Le Petit Prince, a bit lost maybe?
Le Petit Prince, a bit lost maybe?

Hoods

Where Am I?

The main entrance to APU

APU Campus is located in the mountains, approx. 12 km from the Beppu city. The surroundings of the campus are hilly and there’s a highway gas station with a cafe and a restaurant nearby.

View of APU campus

There is not really any possibilities for walking, besides by the highway. Because of the serpentine roads and altitude changes, smaller distances seem quite long.

View to Beppu Bay

The bus from APU to Beppu city is approx. 330y one way, and the ride takes around 30 minutes.

More pictures coming up when I have better quality ones!