My Favorite Bars for Craft Beer – New Zealand Edition

new zealand craft beer
The tap list at the awesome Craft Beer Depot in Nelson, New Zealand.

If you like traveling and craft beer, I have a destination for you: New Zealand. The Kiwis grow all sorts of great stuff in their country — a sense of adventure, friendliness -- and heaping amounts of craft beer-compliant hops.

During our first trip to New Zealand back in 2010 or so, we discovered epic hikes, incredible scenery, ridiculous activities and very friendly people. Back in December, we returned with a little person about to turn two years old. That meant revisiting the Tongariro Alpine Crossing and looking into the crater of an active volcano was out. This would be more of a family vacation.

craft beer new zealand
One of the hoppier, harder-hitting IPAs I found in New Zealand.

The Kiwi craft beer scene was in its infancy last time, and it’s progressed to at least the tween stage at this point. New Zealand brewers are taking more advantage of their hops. They haven’t yet gotten quite as aggressive as the hop monsters on the US West Coast. And they don’t age everything in barrels fashioned from the nuclear reactors of sunken Russian submarines. That sort of fun will come in time, though.

Here are the stand-out breweries/pubs we visited as we drove from Auckland to Wellington (via Rotorua and a sheep farm in the wop-wops). These concentrate mostly on the venues themselves – I have brief tasting notes in my Untappd profile, though.

Rotorua — BREW Craft Beer Pub

In Rotorua, Croucher Brewing is kind of the big dog. They have a pub, but it’s a bit of a haul from where we were staying -- we wanted to walk. Fortunately, BREW serves most of what Croucher Brewing seems to offer. My personal favorite was the Croucher Grapefruit Warrior; if you love Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin, this is a beer you’ll dig.

craft beer new zealand
Dive into this box to sample the flavors of Lakeman Brewing Company. I found this at grocery stores throughout Wellington.

Of course, I had to try a few others. If you want something a little sweeter, you’ll enjoy the Double Trouble Imperial IPA from Tuatara Brewery (just so you know, a tuatara is a penis-less reptile).

They serve food at Brew Craft Beer Pub, too, and they even have paper and crayons for kids to color. Their burgers are super-satisfying, and they have a green-lipped mussel dish that is worth the flight to New Zealand. Avoid the pizza at all costs, though: I showed up starving after a long mountain bike ride, and that pizza did not hit the spot at all.

Wellington — Crafters & Co

If I could, I would clone Crafters & Co and bring it back home with me. It has a very nice vibe to it, with an enthusiastic, knowledgeable staff that is eager to talk about beers, espresso or anything else gastronomic with you. They seem to love working there.

For good reason. They have an ever-rotating selection of taps and bottles. According to my Untappd notes, I was enthusiastic about the Lakeman Brewing Co Hairy Hop IPA, and it puts the locally grown hops to good use. OK, one more nice offering at BREW: The Imperial Nibs from Kereru Brewing Company satisfied my craving for a darker beer. The bartender was sad that I missed out on the barrel-aged version recently on tap, but happy that he got to try it.

craft beer new zealand
Not only does Crafters & Co have a great beer selection, but they have one of my favorite charcuterie boards ever.

And here are two really huge bonuses: Crafters & Co has assembled a charcuterie board for the ages. I cannot entirely, positively identify everything that was on it, but I just don’t care. It was all delicious, and we devoured every last crumb. Also, the owners spotted Anneka and brought out a barrel full of toys to keep her occupied.

Nelson — Craft Beer Depot

You have to work a bit to find Craft Beer Depot. It’s behind a bunch of stores and down a little alley. You can sit outside at some old cable spools or on an old couch. People will bring their dogs, and it’s all good fun.

craft beer new zealand
The Craft Beer Depot in Nelson, NZ, isn’t easy to find.

I only saw one employee at Craft Beer Depot, who was a fellow American. She had some solid opinions about beer, and she’s more than happy to talk to people who really like their beer, too.

I made a few visits here – once to sit down and enjoy beer in good company, and another time to get some bottles to go. Here are the ones that stood out: the Funk Estate Bad Mama Jama imperial IPA and Perris Sky Juice IPA from Moa Brewing Company (odd, since I’m not a huge fan of the Moa beers that make it to the US).

New Zealand has definitely hopped wholeheartedly into craft beer. I can still taste a bit of UK-tinged restraint in many of its recipes, with just a few pushing the envelope into wilder flavors. The pubs and beer bars, though, seem to be pushing the brewers in that direction. And they’ve created a very nice vibe for enjoying beer and food. Great stuff!

 

This Human-Powered Monorail is the Coolest Contraption Ever


As a longtime cyclist, I can tell you that there is nothing dorkier than a recumbent bicycle. But stuff a recumbent bike into a metal-and-plastic pod, hang it from a bunch of steel beams and all of a sudden you’ve got yourself a human-powered suspended monorail.

Or a Schweeb, as it’s known down in Rotorua, at the stupidly fabulous patch of land known as Agroventures.

schweeb
Two Schweebs duke it out on the course.

This was my second visit to Agroventures: The first was back in 2010, and I’d been kicking myself since then over my failure to just pay another $35 US or whatever to pedal the Schweeb (instead, I picked a trip down a hill inside a Zorb sphere, which was also pretty awesome). This time, I came to Agroventures specifically for the Schweeb.

And holy balls, it was one minute of heart-pounding, banked-turn goodness that left my quads twitching. If I lived anywhere near Rotorua, I’d be like "My dearest Agroventures friends, can we set up a payroll deduction system so I can feed my Schweeb addiction, please?"

If there was one here in my hometown, I would organize a Schweeb racing league (unfortunately, nobody was around to race me, which would’ve added to the fun).

Schweeb
It’s unthinkable to go to New Zealand and not try the Schweeb … trust me, I neglected it during my first visit and regreted it for years.

The Agroventures people slap a GoPro outside the Schweeb for each person and will sell you footage of your circuits on a convenient thumb drive. It would be even better if they’d let you use your own POV camera in addition to theirs because multiple camera angles and good editing make for better videos than static shorts – and yes, I would pay a few extra bucks for it because I’m goofy like that. Other than that, the Schweeb is perfection based on the dweebiness of the lowly recumbent bike. Who would’ve ever thought it possible?!

Mountain Biking in Nelson, New Zealand

The very same day I mountain biked in the Whakarewarewa Forest, I started to wonder where else in New Zealand I could ride. Our itinerary would take us to a sheep farm, Wellington and then on to Nelson. So I googled Mountain Biking Nelson, New Zealand -- and found out that none other than the International Mountain Bike Association give the Nelson trails one of its very few Gold ratings.

Oh, boy. This could escalate quickly.

When we finally got to Nelson, I spent a day poking around the bike shops to see who had the good stuff. There were plenty of fine bikes to be had, with one pop-up rental operation sending people out on Santa Cruz Bronsons. Fine bikes, but the KTM Lycan at Crank House Nelson caught my eye (I can demo all the Bronsons I want here in the US, but I didn’t think KTM made anything that didn’t have a throttle on it).

So the Crank House KTM it was -- I pedaled out toward Codgers Mountain Bike Park, which is apparently the closest place to ride. Other places would require driving and a bike rack, which wouldn’t exactly work for my situation.

My wife was nice enough to hang with the little person while I rode, and I wanted to be considerate and not disappear for a huge chunk of the day. I really wanted to cap my ride at not much more than three hours – time for riding and faffing off with my GoPro.

Mountain Biking in Nelson new Zealand
Me with my friendly KTM Lycan during a cruise at Codgers MTB Park in Nelson, NZ.

Get Ready to Work Hard

My first five miles included about 1,000 feet of climbing. Most of it was grinding up a jeep road. The trail signage wasn’t exactly helpful, and I didn’t do myself any favors by not knowing the full capabilities of the awesome Trailforks app just yet. It could’ve helped me navigate quite a bit better than just blundering around on my own.

Singletrack trails branch off of the main jeep road. They’re full of switchbacks, and pretty steep in places. There’s also a good amount erosion. Those of you who identify as more downhill-inclined will particularly love the Codgers trail network.

As more of a cross-country guy who loves some good flow, I simply didn’t love the Codgers trails. The scenery wasn’t much, either. Next to riding in Rotorua, Nelson seemed kind of blah. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t covered in massive groves of redwood trees. And the trail contours were a bit predictable -- a bunch of switchbacks all headed pretty much the same way.

Mountain Biking in Nelson new Zealand
Some of the Codgers MTB Park are pretty overgrown.

There Might be Better Riding than Codgers MTB Park

Still, I can’t shake the feeling that I simply missed something. I’d bet a local could’ve pointed me to the best bits. After my ride, a guy at Crank House Nelson clued me in that the trails that have more my style of flow would be at Richmond Hills MTB Park or SIlvan Forest MTB Park. Those areas seem a bit -- compact, shall we say, if you want to get in 20-plus miles.

Mountain Biking in Nelson new Zealand
A nice view of the town of Nelson.

Of course, that would’ve required some driving and a rack for the car. I could’ve also rented a bike in Richmond (New Zealand), but I really liked the Crank House crew, so I wasn’t into that option. Certain shops just have a good vibe, you know?

About That Bike

So about this KTM Lycan bike -- look, I don’t obsess over linkages and spring rates. That sort of stuff makes my eyeballs shrivel (and possibly other balls, as well). Let me ride the thing, and I’ll tell ya if it works, OK?

And the KTM Lycan works. I love my simple, single-pivot Santa Cruz Superlight. I know there are better suspension systems out there. But I also know that the improvements are by and large incremental, and the added weight and maintenance simply doesn’t justify the difference.
The KTM Lycan forces me to re-think my position. Late in my ride, my legs were hammered -- but I wanted to check out another bit of trail. All of a sudden. The trail shot straight up, and it didn’t look like I was going to get much traction. I’d also lost all my momentum. I had no choice but to shift into the lowest gear and stand up – not a best practice for climbing on a full-suspension bike.

Mountain Biking in Nelson new Zealand
A closer look at the KTM Lycan.

Well, wouldn’t you know, that rear wheel crunched right into the ground and gave me everything I needed to get up that steep, crappy climb with energy to spare. Awesome. I am certain that I could not have pulled this off on my Santa Cruz.

The Lycan also had 650B wheels and a 2X10 drivetrain. Both were absolutely spot on for maneuvering and shifting. The Rock Shox (Recon Silver, I believe) came in well behind the forks I’m used to -- a Recon Gold, Fox Vanilla Float and X-Fusion Slide 29RL. But that’s a Rock Shox issue, nothing to do with KTM.

Wrapping It Up

I was super-excited to ride in Nelson, and I’m glad I did it. Next time, I’ll likely head to Richmond instead of Codgers, though. Your mileage may vary – if you have more time than I did and really like some rutted switchback action, give it a go!

This is the Worst Place in the World to Go Mountain Biking

The Whakarewarewa Forest in Rotorua is absolutely the worst place in the world to go mountain biking. If you ride here, you will go back home. You’ll prep your bike for a ride and get yourself to what used to be your favorite local trails. You’ll straddle your bike at the trailhead, look down the trail and think "Well, this is a bit pointless."

That’s because your local trail doesn’t beckon you with the fragrance of spruce. It isn’t protected from the sun with a canopy of redwood trees and ferns. Its ground doesn’t grip your tires just right.

What I’m saying is that, next to the Whakarewarewa Forest, your local trail probably sucks. I’m sure you love it. I used to love my favorite local trails, too. But within 6 minutes of cruising through the Whakarewarewa Forest, I felt like it ruined my local trails for me. I thought of my usual rides -- mile after mile under a punishing, unrelenting, angry sun through acre upon acre of dried-up Tattooine-like dirt that is practically unfamiliar with concepts like moisture or wetness.

worst place in the world to go mountain biking
I could ride here every damn day.

I’ve ridden in some cool spots like Whistler, BC. But the trails there didn’t make me think I’d hate returning to my local trails.

Seriously, This is What It’s Like to Ride the Whakarewarewa Forest

I started my ride out by renting a bike at Mountain Bike Rotorua, which is perched right at the edge of the trail area. My Giant Something-or-Other full-suspension bike, some packets of Gu and a map cost me $60 NZ for 2 hours, but I planned to go longer (they promised to make up the difference later). I brought my own pedals and a helmet. Just one thing: I was so eager to get out on the trails that I forgot to get a pump from the staff. This would come back to haunt me. No fault of theirs at all, and everyone was perfectly nice and accommodating.

Anyway, the trails meander uphill, but not consistently. They roll and dip upward. You might gain 100 feet of elevation but climb for 160 feet. Jeep roads radiate up the hill and intersect with the trails. Much of the singletrack is directional, with a general net loss of altitude. I guess locals go up the Jeep roads, then grab the trails on the way down.

So all these trail intersections make it really easy to get lost. And it’s easy to lose your place on the map. I made life harder by taking photos of the map before handing it over to my wife so she could hike – the important one came out blurry.

The trails themselves feature lots of changes of direction rather than relatively straight, fast runs. You’ll do a lot of steering, and you need to pay attention. There are steep chutes and the occasional drop-off. And you’re going to work hard: I climbed 1,800 feet in about 20 miles.

Worst Place in the World to Go Mountain Biking
My ride for the day

How was the Rental Bike?

A mixed bag. It was my first experience with a 650B/27.5 wheel. It thought it handled almost indistinguishable from a 26er, which is nice considering the sharp turns and switchbacks. It was also my first time on a 2X11 drivetrain, which I found really agreeable. This one wasn’t very well tuned, though, and the chain often wandered in the first two cogs. It probably worked fine in the bike stand, but things change when a drivetrain is under load.

I’ve been on the other side of this equation. There were a few creaks and groans throughout the whole package, too. The Fox fork worked well. Overall, the Giant just didn’t have that meticulously maintained feel of my personal bikes – but hey, what can you expect? It’s a rental, and it wasn’t built part-by-part by a guy like me. And it doesn’t get broken down to bare frame and rebuilt regularly like my bikes.

Tell Me About That Missing Pump

Welp. I got a flat. I had a patch kit, but I made the mistake of leaving port without a pump. I nearly brought my own on this trip (I also forgot to bring an SD card for my GoPro, so I took the ill-advised route of one-handed cellphone camera videos).

Anyway, I walked a good way looking for someone with a pump. I went through six riders before finding a few that had pumps. The upside is I got to banter with some nice people. My patch kit and borrowed pump saved the day; the Mountain Bike Rotorua staff seemed inordinately surprised that I used my own stuff to patch the bike up.

worst place in the world to go mountain biking
One of the many trails that make up the worst place in the world to go mountain biking

I wasn’t really thrilled to be out there without a pump, so I tried taking some roads as a shortcut back, and I got really damn lost on all those roads. And my blurry map photo was no help. I actually got to a place where I was clueless about my whereabouts, and I was genuinely nervous. I thought back to my training from Cody Lundin, and cultivated my "party on" spirit – which involved riding back to the last location where I knew where I was – even with legs about to cramp and no Gu left. Sure enough, that got me back where I needed to go. My 2-hour ride had ballooned to nearly 4 -- but the Mountain Bike Rotorua folks didn’t charge me for the extra time because of the flat.

So is Whakarewarewa Forest the Worst Place in the World to Go Mountain Biking?

Yes. I have a six-hour race the weekend after I get back from New Zealand. All I can think about is how I’m gonna keep from falling asleep of sheer boredom turning laps on this dry, dusty, barren expanse of trails. I mean, I had strep throat a week before my trip. I haven’t been training per se during my two-week trip. But hey – I’m not expected to win. And six hours isn’t that long for the physical effort. But man, mentally it will be hell after riding in the Whakarewarewa Forest. I’ve actually thought about not showing up, but I just can’t bring myself to not do something I signed up to do.

I suppose I’ll get over it and start taking my pleasure in my local rides again. But my wife and I have both the phrase “the next time we’re here” already, and you can bet I’ll have some serious mountain bike plans when that time comes. And may it be sooner than later.

Glacier Hiking – Why You Should do It

glacier hiking
Heading into a crevace.

I’ve written about glacier hiking a few times in the past. I started with some tips about Franz Josef, and added a look at Falljökull in Iceland.

But looking back at the posts, I could’ve done better. I want to take another shot at it. So let me swing back to the glacier hiking on Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand.

Look, I really want you to go to Franz Josef Glacier. I think you’ll take something incredible from the experience. If you’re fit enough, sign up for an all-day session on the ice (You can’t just go glacier hiking on Franz Josef unguided – I was skeptical of the need for guides at first. But you need them, for real).

glacier hiking
Epic size. It took us 3 hours to get just past the black rocks. Click the photo for a bigger look – and try to find some people for scale.

Part of what amazes me about this is that Franz Josef is one of the few places on the planet where you can go from hiking through a tropical rainforest to glacier hiking in, oh, about 30 minutes. That’s right.

This isn’t a very technical glacier experience. You won’t need training or ropes or anything crazy. At some point, you’ll strap crampons to your feet. A short way into the day, you’ll need ice axes. And you’ll always need to mind your guides to the letter and keep your wits about you.

glacier hiking
High up on Franz Josef glacier.

OK, I have that out of the way. But here’s the really big deal about glacier hiking: It’s a chance to see the Earth -- alive, changing, noisy, real. And to feel something about it.

I am convinced that every person needs this sort of connection to the world. Think about how many of us live among concrete. It’s all so static, so dead. It’s easy to see how a person can forget that we’re on a giant ball of interlinked organisms and matter. It’s easy to see how a person can just shrug and say "screw the environment."

Here’s my promise: If you stand on a glacier, you will change. You’ll hear the water rush under you. You’ll feel the vibration as ice grinds against rock. And you’ll desperately wish that most of the world’s glaciers weren’t disappearing. And just maybe, you’ll think about ways you can help reverse the process.

glacier hiking
Starting from the bottom of Franz Josef Glacier.

If you’re like me, you’ll spend some time feeling like a hypocrite. I drive too much. I fly too much. I wish I rode my bike to work more.

But hey, maybe you’ll do something smaller and less grand -- and it will start to add up.

When I look at my day glacier hiking on Franz Josef, that’s the real takeaway. It’s far important than the beauty – though I promise the views will captivate you.

Now, go. Take a trip to New Zealand. Book your tour. Come back, and tell me what your day at Franz Josef Glacier did for you.

glacier hiking
Looking out from a high point on Franz Josef Glacier.
Enhanced by Zemanta

What Would You Do With $3,000?

travel to new zealand
With trails like this, why wouldn’t you want to ride in Rotorua, NZ? (Credit: www.flowmountainbike.com)

A few weeks ago, I paged through the latest Mountain Flyer magazine and saw a review of the Foundry Broadaxe mountain bike.The base-level Broadaxe will set you back $2,950. That’s a hefty chunk of change. The Mountain Flyer writer describes the Broadaxe as "more capable than I would have imagined."

Look, if I drop $3,000 on a bike, I expect its biggest limitation to be me. I’d be appalled by a $3K bike that isn’t excellent. And it made me think of how a bike can be the smallest part of the mountain bike experience.

I started to think about what I’d do if someone handed me $3,000 with the condition that I spend it on something bike-related. Here’s my answer … and I’d love to hear yours in the comments.

travel to new zealand
Check out the trails near Auckland.

The last thing I’d spend my money on is another bike. I have two great bikes. And great as they are, they’re not the endgame. They’re the means to the endgame of great experiences. So I’d seek a great experience -- I’d travel to New Zealand and ride the trails near Auckland and Rotorua, which has great scenery and riding. I’d love to include Queenstown, but that would eat away at my budget and time.

travel to New Zealand
You can now grab a flight to New Zealand on Hawaiian Airlines. (Photo by Dylan Ashe)

First step: Find a flight from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. This overgrown regional airport has one intercontinental flight per day. But Hawaiian Airlines recently started service from Honolulu to Auckland -- and Hawaiian flies direct from Sky Harbor to Honolulu. I can skip the Los Angeles International Airport chaos and still travel to New Zealand. And I’d get to spend about a day hanging out in Honolulu before my connecting flight to Auckland on the outbound flight. Some people might like to split the trip into two flights, but I love long flights. A bonus – I’d finally get to fly Hawaiian Airlines, which has a reputation as one of the best U.S. carriers. But I’d be deprived of a flight on the Air New Zealand 777, which is one nice airplane. The Hawaiian Airlines bottom line is too attractive to pass, though: $1,212 for a round trip leaving Dec. 4 and returning Dec. 17.

travel to new zealand
You can rent a Yeti 575 in New Zealand – not a bad ride!

Next, hotels!

This is late spring/early summer in New Zealand – peak season! My standby, Anns Volcanic, was booked for weeks around my proposed date. But the YHA Rotorua website shows all sorts of options. A room with double beds and a private bathroom ("ensuite" in the local parlance) is $44 NZ. I should be able to match that rate at a similar hostel in Auckland, which also has great trails. That’s $550 NZ. And with the exchange rate? That turns into $465 US. Tack on $100 for a basic hotel in Hawaii during the layover, and that’s $565 US.

That leaves bike rental -- or bike hire, as it’s called in New Zealand. Hardtails are around $60 NZ a day, with dualies as high as $150 NZ. There’s a place that rents Yeti 575s from $75 a day. Factor in a price break for multi-day rental, the occasional day off the trails and I came up with a conservative budget of $541 US in bike rentals. That’s based on eight days of rental out of 11 full days on the ground. The days off are for other fun stuff like hiking, loafing and local flavors of adventure sports like the Zorb and Schweeb at The Agrodome, one of my favorite places ever.

Total? $2,318 US – with cash left over for meals, transportation and visits to places like the Agrodome.

To me, this beats the pants off a new bike, even something as cool as a Foundry Broadaxe (and make no mistake, it’s pretty sweet). Every bike wears out or gets less cool as new products roll out. But awesome days of adventure? They live forever.

This post contains affiliate links.

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Serenity Now! – Four Places to Find Quiet

[wpgmappity id=”1″]

Photobucket
Morning outside the Gaia Riverlodge.

Sometimes, the din has to stop. You need to get away from TVs, traffic and the white noise of people-people-everywhere. But where? A slice of quiet seems harder than ever to find, but I have some ideas.

The Cayo District, Belize
Far from the legless beggars, heat and general unpleasantness of Belize City, you’ll find the Cayo District. People go there for Mayan ruins, limestone caverns – and quiet. There are probably dozens of cool places to stay. Our stay at Five Sisters Lodge – now known as Gaia Riverlodge – was my wife’s work, not mine. Finding the Gaia Riverlodge involves dirt roads – and it’s at least 30 minutes by car away from the small city of San Ignacio.

And what a find – you won’t hear so much as a hair dryer. Gaia Riverlodge gets its power from a hydroelectric dam nearby. The power flickers according to the flow, and there’s nowhere near enough for power-sucking stuff like televisions. Mornings are misty and serene – perfect for a hike or a mountain bike ride. Nights are great for a stroll -- just know that those little sparkles you see reflected in your flashlight are the eyes of thousands of spiders.

Photobucket
Find serenity in Monteverde – along with herds of curious coatis.

Monteverde, Costa Rica
Getting to Monteverde by road involves pummeling – the road seems like it was paved by having a B-52 carpet-bomb the jungle with a line of bowling balls. Monteverde is your reward. the first thing I noticed was light rain floating down despite the sunshine – locals call the fluffy, vapor-like rain pelo de gato, or cat’s hair.

Yoga retreats are big in Monteverde thanks to the solitude. But you can still find good food everywhere, from Italian staples to the best damn veggie burger I’ve ever had -- served from an unnamed outdoor kitchen by the roadside. Take a hike and see coatis and purple hummingbirds the size of sparrows. And let’s not forget the zip line thrills of the Original Canopy Tour.

Our "room" at Woodlyn Park. We even had the cockpit!
Greenery, blue skies, quiet, cool

Waitomo, New Zealand

The search for cool caving expeditions put Waitomo on our radar. And when I found out about Woodlyn Park, I was sold. No normal hotel, this one: The rooms include suites made from a Bristol freighter plane, railroad cars, a yacht and even Hobbit holes. We booked a room in the airplane, which has a mini-kitchen.

Our caving adventure was amazing, and so was the pastoral quiet. Between the comfy room and the silence, we slept deep. When we wanted a bit of pre-sleep fun, Curly’s Bar (which burned down in November 2012 – thought the website is still up) isn’t far away. Or we could drive up the road to the Thirsty Weta on some quiet streets. Convenience, yes – but you’ll feel far away from it all.

wandering justin myvatn iceland
On the shore of Myvatn at Vogar campground.

Myvatn, Iceland
Solitude is hardly in short supply when you visit Iceland. But certain places are more peaceful than others – just try getting any sleep when a bunch of college kids are singing Joan Osborne songs at the Skaftafell campgrounds! The campsites in Reykjahlid are a different story.

Not only is the area quiet, but the shoreside campground are nice and grassy. Put up your tent, crawl into the sleeping bag, relax -- and you’d swear you’re on a mattress. After a busy day of hiking the Krafla Fissure, Dimmuborgir, Hverir Crater and other crazy places nearby, you’ll be ready for a rest. And if you really want to apply the knockout to a restful night, visit the Myvatn Nature Baths. It’s like the famous Blue Lagoon, minus the price and crowds.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Australia and New Zealand – Not the Same Continent

Resident of Australia – not New Zealand

To my friends in Australia and New Zealand,

If you felt a disturbance in The Force earlier, blame my co-worker. She said a few things about you that weren’t true. I was there, though, to step up for you both. To set the record straight. To make your antipodean world clearer and more real … one person at a time.

You see, I overheard two co-workers talking about skydiving. One of them was talking about going to San Diego to skydive.

Being the tireless travel advocate I am, I said “If you really want to get into some adventure, go to New Zealand. It’s the place where adventure sports are born.”

Continue reading

Hike Destinations: Landmannalaugar Versus Tongariro

hike destinations
Unearthly and unbelievable – a few miles away from Landmannalaugar in Iceland.

Bacon or chocolate? A pint of craft beer or a wedge of aged gouda? The family dog or cat?

Picking my favorite hike destination is just as hard. I can narrow it down to two:

The stretch of the Laugavegur trail (which the Best Muffin Blog calls the “oh wow” hike) that goes from Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker in the remote highlands of Iceland. I once described the hike as a rip in the space-time continuum, especially in the perpetual gray of summer. The Technicolor mountains, volcanic fumaroles, lava plus and ash-dusted snow just adds to it.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing. If I overhear any so-called “traveler” blather about how everything worth seeing in New Zealand is in the South Island, I stop listening. Tongariro is why. From a barren, blasted volcanic hellscape to verdant rain forests, you’ll see some incredible stuff. Oh, and my ratings are for those who take the side trip up Mount Ngauruhoe. It’s just an incredible hike destination.

Continue reading

Sky Harbor – 5 Reasons to Step up for Air New Zealand

An Air New Zealand 777 in Shanghai, where the air looks like Phoenix during a summer haboob. (Follash, via Wikimedia Commons)

Air New Zealand wants more flights to the U.S. Denver and Houston appear to have inside track, according to Aviation Week.

Keep in mind, United Airlines pulled the plug on flights from Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport. And Denver has done a nice job of snagging intercontinental travel.

What we have here is an opportunity. Air New Zealand – the flag carrier of a country that loves leisure travel – is telling airlines “come and get us … we’re ready, even before we get our new 787s.” And let’s remember: Phoenix Sky Harbor doesn’t need to fill an Air New Zealand 777 with Phoenicians to succeed – it needs to draw enough people from the region … an entirely feasible goal.

This is another opportunity for an airport like Phoenix Sky Harbor International to step up. Air New Zealand is confident that flights from cities from other than Los Angeles and San Francisco are viable. Sky Harbor should step into the void – especially since Denver told Aviation Week “We haven’t talked to Air New Zealand.”

You see, Sky Harbor has a few benefits that Denver and Houston don’t. Let’s take a look, shall we?

1. Better Weather

Phoenix Sky Harbor has better flying weather than either. The only time Phoenix has much potential for weather-related delays is in the very narrow scope of the summer monsoon season. So you have a better chance of on-time flights. These benevolent weather conditions are also good for flights that would connect flyers from the region to flights bound for New Zealand.

And let’s remember: Winter here is summer in New Zealand. So Americans will take the chance to escape winter weather and bask in the super-mild New Zealand summer. An airport like Denver means de-icing, which means increased costs and flight delays. Ever seen an aircraft de-ice in Phoenix?

Queenstown would be just two flights away if Air New Zealand and Phoenix could team up.

2. Convenience

Sky Harbor’s footprint is relatively small, and it will only shrink when the new Sky Train opens in early 2013. So no matter what airline brings New Zealand-bound travelers, they will be able to get to their Air New Zealand flight easily.

3. Lower Operating Costs

If you’ve been to Los Angeles International Airport, you’ve probably noticed the fancy-fication of the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Somebody has to pay for that – often, that means airlines as part of a charge to use the facility. Brett Snyder, aka Cranky Flier, writes that “costs per enplanement at the airport will rise from $12 today to ‘only’ $17 somewhere around 2016.” Sky Harbor’s own website boasts that its enplanement costs rank in the bottom 20 percent of the nation’s airports: “Airline costs will increase an average of 5 percent per year over 10 years resulting in the cost per enplaned passenger increasing from almost $5 now to between $7 and $8 by 2016.” These figures are per passenger.

Air New Zealand Pacific Economy 777-300ER cabin
The nice-looking interior of an Air New Zealand Triple 7.
For the record, Denver is more than $12 per enplaned passenger.

4. Shorter Lines

Again, travelers used to LAX will smile and nod here: Customs at LAX is a miserable snaking line of humanity. It’s an unwelcome “welcome home”. And imagine being a visiting Kiwi who encounters this after a flight from laid-back New Zealand; you’ll be ready to get back on the Air New Zealand flight that brought you. The far-more-homey Sky Harbor can do better. It already does.

5. Teaming up for Visiting Tourists

A flight from Sky Harbor to New Zealand is a chance to bring Kiwis to Phoenix, too. And they are avid travelers. It’s a great opportunity to create some itineraries and deals to get Kiwis to see the best of the Southwest.

And it would be a great experience for the Arizona Office of Tourism. As a country, New Zealand does a magnificent job of making travel easy for visitors. Its network of “iSites” are a great resource for visitors – for first-hand local advice and booking in equal amounts. An exchange of ideas could benefit Arizona with an influx of concepts that could make our state more welcoming for foreign visitors.

This adds up to opportunity. If Phoenix has the foresight and fortitude, it could be on the shortlist for flights from Air New Zealand. And it can start acting like the big city that it is.

Special thanks to my man Chris in Denver for the heads-up on this news. He was lookin’ out for me while I was in Scandinavia.

New Zealand – Up and Coming Craft Beer Destination

Outdoor adventure and craft brew go hand-in-hand ... but wait until after for the brew, right?

During my 2009 visit, New Zealand had everything needed to be a great travel destination for craft beer fans: a do-it-yourself attitude, a friendly vibe and the perfect climate to grow untold tons of tasty hops. But I was too early – the craft beer craze hadn’t kindled for Kiwis.

Today, though, I can’t log in to Twitter without hearing about a new craft brewery popping up in Rotorua or Queenstown. Some are just ramping up and earning attention, like Renaissance Brewing Company: I tried its Stonecutter Scotch Ale and 2009 MPA Double IPA at my local brew store, and both were spectacular. Pay attention to what I say, curious beer connoisseur: Book a ticket for New Zealand. Here’s why:

Home-Grown Hops

If you make a product with ingredients directly from the source, you get good results. It stands to reason, then, that the hops I mentioned will produce delicious brews. Just south of Nelson, you’ll see expanses of hops that will send IPA lovers into a state of bliss. That MPA I mentioned earlier? Its Rakau hops infused the brew with a distinct note of apple I’ve tasted in no other hop.

And I can only wonder what the folks at Monkey Wizard (I don’t have to tell you that’s an awesome name, right?) craft brewery are up to. I passed the brewery twice, on my way to and from Abel Tasman National Park – each time I got forlorn that it wasn’t open, and I couldn’t stop the bus even if it was. So do me a favor: Go there and tell me how awesome it is.

Outdoor Adventures of All Kinds

Leave it to Kiwis to turn a cargo plane into hotel rooms.

Craft beer is the pepperoni on the gooey pizza of outdoor activities. Mountain biking, hiking, ice climbing, bungee jumping -- they’re best re-lived over pints. Everywhere you travel in New Zealand, somewhere is advertising some sort of activity straight out of a Red Bull commercial. I barely scratched the surface with Zorbing, street luge and glacier hiking.

My mountain biker nature is still bitter that I failed to try the Schweeb. I still don’t know why I did that. Maybe it was a "bizarre activity overload." Here’s another chance for you to learn from my mistakes: Try everything you can, and find one of these great new craft breweries to relive the rush.

Crazy, Cool and Comfortable

For two nights in Waitomo, I slept in a cargo plane turned into two hotel suites. Other rooms were made from old boxcars and a yacht. While none of my other NZ accommodations were quite as creative, all were reasonably priced and very homey. For instance, every hotel we stayed at had a kitchenette. That means a great place to store any craft beer you score at the local market. And kitchenettes are nice for long trips because it’s easy to get tired of dining out. It’s also fun to try the awesome ingredients from the many farmers markets (Produce and meat in New Zealand are first-rate).

This post is sponsored by Jason’s Travel Media. With extensive online booking for both accommodation and activities, Jason’s is not only a fantastic travel information resource but also a one-stop shop for any travelers, domestic or international.

Escape Winter’s Clutches in New Zealand

New Zealand’s scenery is unforgettable, from glaciers to volcanos.

Snow is great when it first starts falling. But give it a month, and you’ll be ready to get away from it. So where should you go?

New Zealand, no contest. Here’s why.

1. It’s summer down there. But to most of us in the United States, a Kiwi summer is like a mild spring. You will only see snow on the tallest mountain peaks. Otherwise, it’s swimming/hiking/outdoor weather!

2. It’s cheap. One US dollar gets you about $1.26 in NZ dollars. And prices down there are just reasonable all around.

3. The scenery is off-the-hook spectacular. Tongariro National Park. The Southern Alps. Franz Josef Glacier. Queenstown. You won’t believe your eyeballs at any of these places – and I’m leaving out dozens of scenic spots.

Our “room” at Woodlyn Park. We even had the cockpit!

4. It’s relentlessly laid back. Want to relax? Even if you spend your whole vacation stomping around with a backpack, you will feel the easygoing Kiwi nature.

Getting There

You’ve got your choice of Qantas or Air New Zealand. Pick whichever has the best deal and schedule at the time. They’re both a treat if you’re used to flying domestic airlines. Don’t like long flights? Well, harden up, as the Kiwis would say!

 

The Skinny on Hotels

Hotel rooms in New Zealand often have kitchenettes. There are very few huge chain hotels. There’s also a lot of novelty (look no further than Woodlyn Park and its Hobbit rooms and the Bristol airplane converted into two suites).

Highlights

glowworm, waitomo
Wiggling through the Glowworm Caves

The Glowworm Caves in Waitomo are worth spending half your day underground. Rap, Raf ‘n’ Rock can set you up with a great tour. I also loved hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing – if you’re up for it, you can summit the volcano that portrayed Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings. Even two years after my visit, I’m still blown away by the full-day hike on Franz Josef Glacier, where Franz Josef Glacier Guides will walk you from tropical rainforest to the snout of a glacier before strapping on some crampons and hitting the ice.

Food

If you like fresh fish, lots of fruit and a heavy Asian influence, you will have no trouble eating in New Zealand. There are plenty of exotic and flat-out weird tastes, like possum pie and whitebait. Craft beer is also getting big among the Kiwis: Check out Croucher Brewing in Rotorua – they were not yet open during my visit, and I’m curious about them. Oh, and coffee! You’ll find a classy cafe with a skilled barista in even the tiniest towns. I guess I should mention the wine – I’m not a big wine guy, but people who like wine love what the Kiwis have to offer.

 

franz josef, travel, wandering justin, new zealand
An epic day on Franz Josef Glacier.

City Scene

Kiwis would have you believe Auckland is a dystopian megalopolis straight out of Blade Runner – or nearly as bad as Las Vegas. In reality, it’s got a very pleasant, Seattle-like vibe. Wellington is cosmopolitan and fun, with music, arts, food and museums aplenty. Nelson and Queenstown on the South Island are much smaller, but with active nightlife and plenty to do, both indoors and out.

Getting Around

Rent a car on the North Island. I’d recommend buses for the South Island … the roads are a bit tricky. The occasional bout of rain and driving on the opposite side of the road won’t help you any.

 

possum pie, wandering justin, new zealand, sandfly cafe
Have a bite of possum pie, mate!

Odds & Ends

Bring some rain gear – New Zealand weather can change instantly. Sturdy boots are a must for the hikers. And bring a good camera. You’re not doing this scenery any justice if you’re using a cell phone camera, and I absolutely do not care how many megapixels it has.

Another thing: lighten up. Kiwis are talkers, and they’re very welcoming. In the U.S., I realize that their amped-up friendliness could seem weird. Maybe even creepy. Down there, it’s just the way people are. We could stand to learn from it, really.

How Visiting Family is Ruining America

Visiting your grandma is making you dumb and ruining the United States. I just realized this while reading Smile While You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer.

The author, Chuck Thompson, briefly mentions that most Americans travel to visit family members across the country. That, and the meager piece of vacation time doled out to Americans by those cutting their paychecks, are the roots of the problem.

Americans get the shaft when it come to vacation time.

I get 120 hours per year, and this is considered a king’s ransom of vacation time in the United States. Meanwhile, I get snickered at by part-time baristas from Holland for that measly chunk of paid time off (and for my health benefits, which to them is the equivalent of being cared for by faith healers, witch doctors and veterinarians).

So there’s problem one. We have a limited chunk of time.

Continue reading

New Zealand for the Photographer

tongariro mount doom
A few hearty shrubs are the first appearance of non-human life near Blue Lake.

New Zealand for the Photographer
Travelers who love taking photos will come home from New Zealand with some of their best-ever images. Here are three places you shouldn’t miss if you want to take photos worthy of framing and hanging – and maybe even selling. Also included – a few basic gear tips.
Read More

From nz2

Glow Worm Poop Mystery – SOLVED!

This is pretty funny … someone came to my blog today to find out whether glow worm poop glows. [Since I wrote this, few days have passed when a keyword search of “glow worm poop” hasn’t brought somewhere here. What a thing to be known for!]

The Truth About Glow Worm Poop

The answer is no – that’s because they don’t poop. The glow that they make is their form of excretion. But rather than just launching solid or liquid waste, the glow worm converts the leftover matter into light that’s used to attract its prey. The glow worm dangles silky threads from their spots in their home caves. Insects see this and thinks they’re seeing stars, and fly toward the light. They get caught in the threads. Then the worm eats them, absorb the nutrients, turns the excess matter into light and begins the cycle again.

Really, that’s pretty fabulous. It takes stuff in, but leaves nothing but heat and light behind. That’s an incredible bit of evolution. And certainly, it has to be the envy of every mechanical engineer. That means no glow worm poop … at least not in the usual way we think of droppings.

glow worm poop
The glow worm webs … revealed!

If you’re interested in seeing glow worms, there are a number of places in the world to do so. Of course, I’m pretty partial to Waitomo, New Zealand. Here are a few related posts:

Rappelling into the Dark

7 Hotels in New Zealand

Rap, Raft & Rock

Beyond the Glow Worm Caves

There’s not a lot else going on in Waitomo, but it is one of the more relaxing places I’ve ever been. Go there to get away from it all … and to enjoy some quality caving. If you look at the hotels story above, you’ll also find out about Woodlyn Park, where you can stay in everything from a converted cargo plan to a hand-built Hobbit Hole. So that’s another good reason to pick Waitomo as the place to find your glow worm adventure.

 

My Best Zorbing Tips for Beginners

Sarah shakes off her Zorbing legs.
Sarah shakes off her Zorbing legs.

I’m kind of surprised by something: People are finding WanderingJustin.com while searching for Zorbing tips for beginners. I’m not surprised because people are looking here for Zorbing info, but about tips for beginners.

Alright, people … Zorbing is not exactly a skill. It’s not like skiing. There are no double black-diamond Zorbing hills (though that would be awesome). You don’t need a finely tuned sense of balance, powerful quads and awesome spatial awareness. Really, if you can fit in the hole, you can Zorb just as well your first time as any veteran can.

But you seem to want tips, so I’m gonna give ’em to ya:

1. Book a flight to New Zealand. This is where Zorbing was born, and thus is the ultimate place to Zorb. When you book, I recommend Air New Zealand since Qantas, unfortunately, seems to be experiencing a spiral into management wankery (the cabin staff and crews are still great, though). I’m hoping V Australia decides to start flying to New Zealand from the States, too.

2. Get a taxi from the airport to your hotel. Parnell is a nice neighborhood with good nightlife, decent hotels and a nice vibe. It’s also not far from bus and rail stations.

3. After spending a night in Auckland, take a bus to Rotorua. That’ll give you a chance to savor the countryside. Another option is to rent a Wicked Camper, if that’s more your bag. This also allows you to skip Step 4 and go directly to 5 .. along with flying your Freak Flag a bit!

4. When you get to Rotorua, rent a car.

5. Drive said car to The Agrodome. Sign yourself up for the Zydro, and make sure you have a friend -or mate, rather … when in Kiwiland, say as they Kiwis say, I guess- videotaping your roll down the hill.

6. Exit. Laugh. Repeat.

Congratulations. You are now an Olympic-caliber Zorbonaut.

Boil and Bubble at Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland, New Zealand

The Champagne Pool
The Champagne Pool

If an army of Parrotheads and Grateful Dead fans ever invades New Zealand, I know exactly what strategy to take to stop the assault: The New Zealand forces would need to establish its positition and fall back, leading the unsuspecting invaders to the Mud Pool at Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland south of Rotorua.

There, the marching Parrotheads and Dead Heads would come to a complete standstill. They would be rendered immobile by a combination of cannabis, the crazy colors and the pits of bubbling, boiling mud.

A long shot of Waiotapu
A long shot of Waiotapu

Look, I’m not exactly proud to admit this: I could’ve spent the entire day at the mud pit, watching as volcanic gas built up pressure, created huge bubbles, and then exploded, spewing the smell of sulfur and rancid baked beans through the air. It smelled like I was living with my dad again!

Here’s the thing – this part of the north island has a lot of active volcanic features. And here at Waiotapu, they really force their way to the surface. It’s a fascinating landscape of mud pits, boiling ponds, sulfur pits and other weird crap that I can’t even begin to describe.

So what’s so cool about watching mud boil and splash all over? Well, if you’re from a place as extensively paved as Phoenix, it’s wonderful to get a reminder that the earth is very much still alive. That there’s change. And that, for all our technology and influence on the world, humans are just a small part of the whole. And maybe not even the main part of it all.

I forget the name of this feature - I think "Incredible Hulk's Urinal" has a ring to it, though.
I forget the name of this feature - I think "Incredible Hulk's Urinal" has a ring to it, though.

Volcanism shaped both islands, and it’s exciting to think of the awesome power marshalling below your feet as you walk on seemingly solid ground. Look around you at Waiotapu and near Rotorua: You’ll see plumes of white steam venting from the earth randomly. The Kiwis are far-sighted enough to capture some for clean, inexpensive power. But they’re also smart enough to leave it accessible for people to see. It really did something for me to be able to look closely at this and see the living earth.

imgp1240
Exploding mud!

It made me feel like the world is really new. In fact, I thought of a quote from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan as Dr. Marcus leads Admiral Kirk into the Genesis Cave: “Let me show you something that will make you feel young, as when the world was new.”

Be sure to check the super-sweet videos below – boiling mud in live action, and wind whipping steam off the Silica Flats. Awesome!

7 Cool Ways to Recycle an Airplane

These days, recycling is cool. And so are airplanes – even the Honda Civic of the skies that is the 737.

That makes recycling airplanes an off-the-charts, Ricardo Montalban-level of cool. I’m not talking about turning Cessnas into aluminum cans. I’m talking about turning Boeing jumbo jets into backpacker hostels, or shady old military cargo planes into jungle restaurants.

Here are a few really cool places where you can eat, sleep and/or drink in a recycled airplane. The small but vibrant Costa Rican town of Manuel San Antonio seems to have the largest number, per capita, of such projects. (NOTE: If you know of any others, e-mail me and I’ll include them in a future post).

Not So High-Flying in Costa Rica

El Avion (Manuel San Antonio)
Photobucket
This Fairchild C-123 is linked to the Iran-Contra Affair – but these days, it’s as benign as a glassful of house-made sangria. You’ll find ticos and touristas side-by-side chomping bar food and downing cans of Imperial. And enjoying an unmatched ambience – perched on a cliff, with the occassional monkey cruising by (especially if there’s an unattended trash can nearby). El Avion has history, scenery and a low price. Some of these aircraft carry a hefty price to enter, but at El Avion, a few colones for a pint is all you need. Last Visited – 2003

Hotel Costa Verde (Manuel San Antonio)
Most of the Hotel Costa Verde is pretty typical upscale jungle fare. Unless you book passage in the 727 suite. This room is not only cool for being inside a Boeing’s fuselage, but also more opulent than even U2’s 727! Costa Rica is pretty progressive about protecting its timber resources, and this suite is absolutely jammed with teak: Hotel Costa Verde might pick up some eco-points if it had a good source of sustainable wood for the project. Your seat on this flight comes at a premium: $300 per night in the off-season.

Grounded in the Wop-Wops
Woodlyn Park (Waitomo Caves, NZ)

A perfect respite after a day of hiking, driving or caving – all in the nose of a plane!

Kiwi bloke Billy Black doesn’t do typical hotels – some masonry, a blocky design, the same ol’, same ol’. No – he scrounged an old Bristol freighter and turned it into a two-suite mini hotel. The cockpit room is where it’s at: Families can stow the kiddies in the 747-like cockpit hump for the night, and take the downstairs bunk for themselves. The room also includes a perfect shower and a kitchenette. The price was also very reasonable at $160 NZ per night – that was about $82 US! Be sure to check out the train room, boat hotel and hobbit rooms, too. Last visited – 2009

Outside the Woodlyn Park Bristol freighter

Sweden Goes Jumbo

Jumbo Hostel (Stockholm, Sweden)
When it comes to recycling an airplane, it doesn’t come on a much bigger scale than a 747-200. I first heard about this from my friends at SpotCoolStuff.com. Jumbo Hostel is parked at Arlanda International Airport – convenient! You can get anything from bunk bed-style rooms to a private room in the cockpit. The only other re-used 747 was turned into a restaurant in Korea. Since it went belly up, it doesn’t get a space on the list – Jumbo Hostel retains the biggest designation! (Update: Been there, stayed at it.)

Still a Mile High in Colorado

The Airplane Restaurant (Colorado Springs, Colo. USA)
It’s pretty fitting that you’ll find a place like this in Colorado Springs, home of the U.S. Air Force Academy. The restaurant is alternately called Solo’s, or just The Airplane Restaurant. The centerpiece of the dually monikered eatery is a KC-97 tanker, but the rest is regular ol’ dining room. The food doesn’t appear to be anything really unusual, but I’ll give any place props for having a buffalo burger.

Southwest in the South

Parachute Inn (Walnut Ridge, Ark. USA)
This is the least exciting entry. It’s a 737 still in its drab rusty orange and faded yellow livery. It’s tacked into an existing restaurant. Its specialty seems to be southern cooking and seafood. It doesn’t have a Web site.

48 Hours in Queenstown, New Zealand

The Remarkables live up to the name.
The Remarkables live up to the name.

If New Zealandgave birth to adrenaline sports, Queenstown is where those sports gestated. It’s flanked by the aptly named Remarkables mountain range, perched on a lake that rivals Lake Tahoe, and criss-crossed by canyons, rivers and gulleys. Here’s just a taste of what you can do in Queenstown in the summer in just two days – winter is a different animal, and very suitable for snow sports:

Activities
  • TSS Earnslaw – This steamship was built in 1912, making it younger than most of its current passengers. Okay, I’m exaggerating – but not much! Cruises can just take you for a lake excursion on Lake Wakatipu, or for a multi-course meal on the far side of the lake. Watch the steam engine crew at work, and hang out on the bridge with the captain, who will likely be rockin’ The Police while fogeys do a sing-along by the lounge piano. Sedate, but relaxing.
  • Street Luge – A cable car gives you a great view. But you’d better focus on the twisty track when bombing down in an unpowered go-cart. It can get plenty fast, but the track is more tame than I’d prefer. Still fun, though!
  • Bungee Jumping – A signature activity. You’ll have your pick of operators and sizes.
Sarah paraglides above Queenstown.

  • Paragliding – Not quite as extreme as skydiving, but you’ll get an incredible view of The Remarkables, the town and Lake Wakatipu. It takes about 10 minutes. Get there around 9 a.m. so you can book your flight before the winds change – they often stop gliding in the afternoon.
  • Hiking – The street luge course is the starting point for some awesome long hikes. Some will take you to nearby mining ghost towns!

Think Twice About …

  • The Underwater Observatory – Sure, $5 NZ is cheap. But you won’t see much from this very small space with one window.
Eating
  • Patagonia Chocolates – Awesome desserts. Try the banana split ice cream. Everything is rich and tasty.sdc10079-1
  • Fergburger – It’s a Queenstown legend. People who live 16 hours away talk about it. You’ll find some exotic meats there in addition to beef. However, Fergburger has one of the planet’s most annoying Flash Web sites, so I’ve shafted them out of a link here. Anything that automatically plays music and takes too long to load drives me crazy.
  • Dux De Lux– Best microbrewery in town, and it ranks high in the nation. Ginger Tom is a standout.
  • Aggys Shack, Fish & Chips – Locals say it only “looks dodgy,” and they’re right. This greasy place by the docks serves up fish ‘n’ chips, of course, and a raw fish concoction with coconut milk and the freshest green-lipped mussels ever. Super-cheap, too! No link – not for an annoying Web site, but for lack of one altogether!

Riding the Zorb Sphere – Rotorua, New Zealand

I don’t know exactly what goes on inside Kiwis’ heads, or why they invented the Zorb. Is it that they have just eight television channels? Or that range animals overwhelmingly outnumber humans? The proximity to Antarctica?

Sarah's sphere races downhill.
Sarah’s sphere races downhill.

There has to be some reason that Kiwis dream up contraptions and activities like bungee jumping, jet boats that spin in circles on the water and Zorbing.

Today, let’s talk about that last one … the Zorb sphere. Explaining this verbally is kind of tricky, so you’re lucky I have videos and photos to go along with the written word.

Imagine a giant beach ball with really thick walls. Let’s say it has a little tunnel leading to a human-sized inner chamber. You then dive into that chamber, and someone squirts a few gallons of water in there, seals the entrance and then rolls you and the ball down a hill lined with berms and turns.

Yep, that’s a Zorb sphere.

Sarah and I arrived in New Zealand with a full knowledge of Zorbing, and we were determined to

Zorb
Sarah shakes off her Zorbing legs.

try it. We had some time to kill in Rotorua between geyers and stuff, so we headed out to the Agrodome, which has a number of crazy activities, some of which apparently involve sheep.

We had an array of Zorb choices: The twisty course, the straight course, wet, dry? We selected the wet twisty option, eliciting many choruses of “Good on ya” from the employees. Apparently, this is the favored option. If I recall right, it was $45 NZ.

Sarah went first as I shot photos. She emerged feet first, like the Green Giant’s golf ball giving birth to a human, complete with a rush of fluid. And like a newborn, she had a bit of trouble standing for a few seconds – the Zorb-O-Port employees had to prop her up a bit.

Zorb
A perfect view of the entry chute and the inner chamber.

Then it was my turn. Clad only in a pair of shorts, I sat in the back of a truck with another couple. We drove to the top of the hill, where a conveyer belt-like device delivered the giant spheres. I was the first to go.

“Awright, mate,” one of the blokes told me. “Just back up, get a running start and dive into the hole!”

Click to watch … you can see me slosh about and nearly go over the berm!

I did as I was told, landing face-first in a puddle of water at the bottom of the inner Zorb chamber. The sphere was more opaque, so I couldn’t see out much. The bloke’s face appeared in the tunnel to the outside world.

“Awright, mate (most everything male Kiwis say starts with this phrase) … just push hard that way [points down hill], sit down and enjoy the ride,” he said.

So it began. The Zorb sphere quickly gained speed, and soon it crashed into a berm, bouncing me all sorts of ways around. Water was flying everywhere, and so was I. At this point, I was already laughing and gesticulating like an idiot to nobody in particular.

Moments later, it was all done. The blokes at the bottom corraled the sphere, aimed the hatch

I see the feet!
I see the feet!

downward, and out I slid with a hard THUMP! on the butt.

I was all excited and started telling my Zorb tale to the throngs waiting for their ride. Then I realized my wedding ring had slipped off – not to worry, though. We found it about five minutes later between the landing spot and the conveyor. Without further ado, on to my Zorbing tips!

1. Wear nothing but a swimsuit or shorts.
2. That means no jewelry, especially not rings!
3. Don’t be a wuss – choose the Zydro (wet and twisty).
4. Don’t hesitate when you enter, or you won’t make it all the way through.

To wrap it up, I simply want my own Zorb sphere and a decent hill. Or at least for Zorbing to become the next big thing here in the States.