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.

 

Pass Mountain Trail at Usery Park

pass mountain trail
The view north about two miles from the Pass Mountain Trailhead.

Pass Mountain and many other county trails get overlooked often. And unless you live in the Phoenix area, the only time you’ve probably heard the phrase “Maricopa County” is in relation to its relentlessly self-promoting sheriff, Joe Arpaio. I’m not going to dive into that can of worms except to say that he doesn’t exactly do much to foster warm, fuzzy feelings for the county government.

That’s a shame for the Maricopa County Parks crew. This system of more than 10 parks isn’t perfect – but it is outstanding. I am constantly thankful for the county parks department, and all it has done to provide a lot of quality outdoor recreation for residents and visitors alike. I feel like it’s a bargain to hand over my $6 whenever I go into a county park (See a complete list of fees). Huge props to the county parks staff, especially for McDowell Mountain Regional Park. That one’s my favorite by a long shot.

Today, I’m focusing on Usery Mountain Regional Park in Mesa (we’ll get to McDowell in a future post) and the Pass Mountain Trail. This is getting you close to the famous Superstition Mountains, and within very nice sight of the Four Peaks Wilderness Area.

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Belize – The Right Destination for You?

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Exiting the plane old school-style in Belize.

The cool thing about Central America is that just because you’ve seen one of its countries, you haven’t seen them all. It might be natural to assume that Belize would be like Costa Rica, but with more Mayan ruins. It would also be completely wrong.

So is Belize worth visiting? That depends on you, traveling friends, and what you want out of your journey. No matter what, Phillip SW Goldson Airport will be Belize’s first chance to make an impression. This is a Mos Eisley Cantina of an airport – hot, stuffy and far more chaotic than an airport of its Lilliputian proportions should be. Plus points – no jetways! You get to kick it Old School by descending a moving staircase (unfortunately, it’s not attached to a truck like Michael Bluth’s ride in Arrested Development). You’ll also see large commercial aircraft lined up with three-person Cessnas from local airlines. That ups the Indiana Jones factor.

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S.P. Crater – Cool Arizona Destination (With Video)

It’s easy to forget or to never even realize it – but much of northern Arizona’s landscape was shaped by fire. Or by lava, if you prefer a more precise word.

Volcanoes disgorged magma onto the surface, forming everything from towering giants like the San Francisco Peaks to the loaf-like dome of Mount Elden to the mysterious hoodoos of Red Mountain. But trees have covered the landscape, often concealing the area’s volcanic origins.

S.P. Crater
SP Crater cuts quite a figure on the prairie.

 

S.P. Crater – Way Off the Radar

S.P. Crater, however, will resist any attempts to whitewash its furious history. This beautifully shaped cinder cone had the foresight to belch a four-mile long lava flow onto the flat prairie lands. Today, nearly 71,000 years after its birth, S.P. Crater stands out among a multitude of lesser cinder cones in the area, beckoning visitors to peer into the crater that once spewed ash and blobs of lava.

Few hear its call, though – that’s likely because of the nearby Sunset Crater National Monument. The park might be slightly more picturesque, with its pine forest and an equally haunting lava flow.

But for me, S.P. Crater has an effect that its just-slightly Disney-fied neighbor doesn’t: a sense of solitude that practically takes me back in time. I can picture the lava glowing red as it churns across the landscape like so much hell-flavored soft-serve ice cream. I can smell the sulfur in the air as another family of bombs rockets out of the crater, borne aloft by super-hot gases.  I can imagine fumaroles venting steam into the air.

Also, I can climb directly to the top, and even descend into the crater. This is forbidden at Sunset Crater, for concern of erosion. Park officials closed the slopes in the 1970s, propelled by fears that, one day, Sunset Crater would be nothing. I don’t know if there is any hard science to back that notion – if there is, I’d like to see it.

 

S.P. Crater
Walking the lava flow.

Not as Touristy as Sunset Crater

On a Memorial Day weekend exploration, I encountered not a single hiker. A few pickup trucks passed within a few miles, but our only company was the cattle (S.P. Crater is on land belonging to the Babbitt family, and I applaud them for granting access to those who want to visit the craters). When the wind died down, we could hear them lowing even from nearly 900 feet above them.

Engine noise from the highway is nonexistent, and you can catch glimpses of the brilliant colors from the Painted Desert; it looks just a few miles away, but is closer to 100 miles distant. You can watch small cloudbursts roll in, drop rain and disappear. Be careful, though, because some will contain lightning. Use your head.

If you’re in northern Arizona, I’d recommend visiting both of these iconic volcanoes. Each will give you a distinct experience that will be hard to forget.

How to Get to S.P. Crater

Just head north from Flagstaff on Highway 89. Go past the turnoff to Sunset Crater. SP Crater will soon be in view.

Look for a dirt road headed west. If you see Easy Joe’s Saloon, turn around and head back. The dirt road will branch off more than a few times. I’ve found my way to S.P. Crater more than a few different ways. Don’t worry about getting lost. It’s easy to get back to 89 one way or another.

Make Time for the Lava Flow

The lava flow north of the crater is worth checking out up close. It’s about 5 miles long and extremely rough – you’re not going to be able to see all of it. But who knows what’s waiting to be found in it? Lava flows are always a good place to find a lava tube.

 

 

Making Peace with Vegetarians – A Visit to Cape Trib’s Fruit Farm

After my recent post “Can You Survive These 5 Foods?“, a reader called me out.

“What’s the matter with you? This is all meaty stuff. Ya got something against vegetarians? Huh? Huh?” demanded Chantel, who writes the Click Elsewhere for the Daily Special blog.

Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit. She’s Canadian, and thus too nice to really rake me over the coals. But she made a great point: What do you do if you’re a vegetarian, but you want to try something exotic?

I can think of one incredible place where you can savor the strange whilst harming nary a cute, fuzzy creature …

Exotic Tastes in Rural Queensland

I first heard about the Cape Trib Exotic Fruit Farm in Darwin, Australia’s uninhibited party place and launching pad for serious Outback adventures. Though the tiny farm is thousands of miles away in Cape Tribulation, a tiny Queensland outpost, travelers were abuzz about it.

Any trip that involves a ferry crossing is awesome.
Any trip that involves a ferry crossing is awesome.

More impressively, they promised me that the black sapote was in season and on the menu at the farm. That meant that a two-year chase to eat the fabled “chocolate pudding fruit” was about to come to … um, fruition. And surely, there’d be other tasty items, too.

On the Road to Cape Tribulation

If you plan to visit, you’ll likely land in Cairns. And yes, you’ll need to rent a car. You have an hourlong drive along a winding coastal road just to get to Port Douglas, which just gets you in range. And though it’s barely 50 miles from Port Douglas to Cape Trib, it’ll take close to two hours because of the twisting road – and you’ll need wait for a ferry to cross a river. Cape Trib is pretty much the end of the road. And much of it is beautiful rain forest.

The Garden of … Just About Everything

A friendly farm employee from Brazil sat about 10 guests around a table. She’d introduce each fruit and tell us a bit about its cultivation, history, uses and characteristics before slicing it up for us to sample. There were also pitchers of ice water to keep the palettes cleansed.

black sapote chocolate pudding fruit
Our fruit expert displays the black sapote. Cut it up, already!

In addition to the black sapote, I also met the breadfruit, which lived up to its name with a very starchy, dry consistency – you can even use it much like a potato. Then came the dragonfruit, jakfruit, sapodilla star fruit, mangosteen, soursop and so many others that the variety was overwhelming. The selection varies by season.

Picking a favorite is difficult, but I’d give the nod to the soursop. Trust me, under its spiny skin is a fruit that tastes far more pleasant than it’s face-puckering name. The black sapote (which contains a monstrous load of Vitamin C) got beat in my taste test by its relative, the white sapote. Both versions have a consistency similar to a slightly dried-out avocado, and odd mixture of creamy and chalky. I also liked the black sapote fruit leather, which added a bit of coconut flavor.

black sapote chocolate pudding fruit
I’m ready for my sample of the black sapote, or chocolate pudding fruit.

After the tasting, we got a tour of the farmlands itself. It’s amazing a place so compact can grow so many diverse fruits and vegetables.

Worth the Trip?

It doesn’t matter if your an omnivore, a vegetarian, a veg-aquarium or a carpetfuzzatarian, this is a drive worth making. The scenery is unforgettable  (stop in Mossman, the little sugarcane and railroad town).

And the fruit itself is spectacular. You’ll forget a lot of it if you don’t take notes and photos – because there’s just so much of it, not because it’s a dull experience. You will leave for the day topped off with every vitamin and mineral under the sun, so you can call it a day of really healthy travel eating.

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.

Rappelling into the Dark – The Glow Worm Caves of Waitomo

Suiting up for a trip into the glowworm caves has made me look like a complete doofus. I’m wearing bright-white rubber boots, a pair of curry-brown pants, a wetsuit and a bulbous helmet with a light on top. And my hair is flapping out the sides of the helmet to perfect rodeo clown-effect.

Check out the fashion!
Check out the fashion!

Also, my nads are fighting a two-front war against a pair of encroaching canvas straps connected to my rappelling harness. Yes, I am ready for the cover of GQ magazine.

Bizarre as it sounds, this is one of the days of my New Zealand adventure that I’ve look forward to the most: the tour of one of the glow worm caves near Waitomo, up in the sparsely populated, ridiculously green and unbelievably quiet Waikato region. Sarah and I signed up with the Rap, Raft ‘n’ Rock crew. Don’t let the word “rap” fool you … nobody is going to bust out some rhymes while in the underground. It’s actually short for “rappel,” which nobody else really uses in New Zealand. Kiwis call rappelling “abseiling.” But no matter which word you use, it still means that males are going to spend several hours feeling like they’re wearing Satan’s jockstrap.

Getting Ready for the Glow Worm Caves

We started the day at the Triple R headquarters (my own nickname for the outfit) on Waitomo Caves Road, just a few minutes from town Te Kuiti and Otorohanga. There, we met a trio of sisters who’d share the adventure with us, along with our Welsh tour guide, Nic. At this point, we had all the gear we’d need for the trip – swimsuits, towels and spare socks. Triple R took care of the rest.

Then, we all piled into a van and started on our way, winding into the countryside. We were headed for glow worm caves owned by a local farmer, who essentially rents it to the company.

We eventually parked next to a small series of huts that stored equipment and housed changing rooms and bathrooms. There were rows of gumboots, the local term for the aforementioned boots that looked like refugees from the stormtrooper scenes in Star Wars. We also got out wetsuits, wide-legged pants to protect the wetsuits from the sharp rocks, helmets with headlamps and abseiling harnesses.

Nic gave us a great introduction to using a mini-rack. I’m not going into details about that here: It’s better, if you go, to give your guide your full attention. We trudged in out gumboots into what seemed like a small valley, but was really the fractured roof of a huge cave.

Sure, I’ll Go First

“Who wants to go first?” Nic asked, after we’d practiced our abseiling rope control on dry land. Not wanting to be like the sheep wandering around us, I volunteered.

glow worm caves
Sarah can’t wait to descend the rope!

The funny thing about abseiling: You know in your logical mind that everything will work. But if you rarely do it, there’s a visceral reaction to letting yourself ease off of a safe, stable platform into empty space. Just get over it – it’s way too fun once you let yourself go.

And let myself go I did, descending into the gloom toward an underground river, a shaft of sunlight peeking through the foliage to light my way somewhat. I touched down, unclipped from the mini-rack and hopped into the water.

Of course, it was chilly as it filled my boots … but I wandered straight in to get used to it, getting clear of the landing spot. One by one, the other five joined me. Nic had us grab an inner tube from a selection stashed along the river.

Fear of the Dark

Then we carried them along with our lights off, using the natural light as we slogged upstream. We headed up several hundred feet, and we started seeing tiny pinpoints of fluorescent green light on the cave ceilings. We continued splashing along, and soon the sunlight faded, leaving us only with the pinpricks of light above.

These, my friends, are glowworms. Each point of light was a small larvae.

glow worm caves
The glow worm caves are aglow with light-bummed maggots.

“They’re maggots, with glowing bums,” Nic said, delicately. That’s right: They don’t poop.

It dangles a strand of web down from the ceiling, hoping to trick insects into thinking they are starlight. The insects, then, fly toward the light as bugs are wont to do. There, they get caught in the web, eaten and digested. The glow worm is the ultimate clean-burning machine – rather than pooping out the waste, they burn it in their butts, turning waste into a lure.

The glow worm webs ... revealed!
The glow worm webs … revealed!

We eventually turned on our lights and got a close look at the slithery little creature, which are much cooler with the lights off. After spending some time milling about, Nic told us to plop our tubes down and hop in … right away, the currents rushed us back toward the entrance. I got a nice spin going for a 360-degree view of the glowworms, plus the Cylon Centurion-like glow of the red lights on top of our helmet lights. We had the main lights turned off for this portion.

Underground Tubing in the Glow Worm Caves

We passed the glow worm cave entrance, continuing downstream. There, the channel narrowed, turning the river into a great theme park ride! I was buzzing along like The Black Pearl before my wide tube got stuck in a channel … and then everyone plowed into the back of me! I had to wedge myself out to get everyone moving again.

We came to a dry spot, and it was time for fun and games. I gamely trotted up to Nic as Sarah and the sisters got out of their tubes. He waited for them to gather round before saying:

“Now, Justin has volunteered to take responsibility for you, so just follow him.”

He knew I’d pick up what he was putting down. He pointed up a narrow upward chasm, which I

glow worm caves
Slithering Justin leads the way.

slithered through, using my hands, butt, head, feet and practically my ears. We spent the next hour or so wedging our way through increasingly narrow spaces, a few of which made me genuinely nervous but oddly ecstatic.

How to Get Out of a Tight Spot

Nic taught us the best way to get through a cave obstacle: Upper body first, almost like a diver. It worked like a charm, really.

After all that work in the chilly water, Nic stopped us for a snack of some hot fruit-flavored energy drink and a bit of chocolate. Odd as it sounds, it worked great. We were then on our way back to the entrance, and our final obstacle: the climb up.

See Sarah wiggle.
See Sarah wiggle.

So if you abseil in, you can bet there’s probably not an elevator, escalator, staircase, dumbwaiter or anything like that.

Now, I don’t really cotton to rock climbing. This time, I went second instead of first (third, if you count Nic). The wall leaned in at an angle, and had lots of good handholds and footholds. But it was a bit wet and slippery. We were roped in by our harnesses, so I knew it couldn’t be too bad. But still!

Eventually, I got my way to the top and unclipped from the rope.

Getting Out of the Wetsuit

After this glow worm cave adventure, nothing feels as good as getting your wetsuit and harness off. Yes, my boys

Looking up at the cave entrance.
Looking up at the cave entrance.

were free of the encroaching canvass. And Satan’s jockstrap or not, this was a seriously great time. In fact, I wouldn’t have minded a longer tour!

Nic ran us back to the headquarters, where they gave us a nice post-adventure cup of homemade soup. Since it’s wet down there, it helps to have a waterproof camera. The tour staff has one, and they’ll sell you a photo CD of your trip plus some stock photos for $25 NZ. It would be cool to take your own photos, but I didn’t want to risk my Pentax and a perfectly good lens.

Out on the Town

That night after some lengthy showers, we headed to The Thirsty Weta for dinner, and a walkabout through the nice rural town of Otorohanga. We had enough energy for a walk through the local Rotary Park, which was a pleasant way to cap the evening.

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A big ol’ wetta!

But enough about that: Let me conclude by saying that, if you don’t do a cave tour in Waitomo, you’re making a big mistake. I can’t tell you which company is best, but I enjoyed our time with the Rap, Raft ‘n’ Rock crew. I don’t recall the price, but I want to say about $135 NZ per person, and it was worth every cent. The only better cave tour I’ve done is the ATM cave tour in Belize – a long, crazy underground voyage complete with the calcified skeletons of people sacrificed by Mayan priest. Super-creepy! But in this case, there’s nothing wrong with being #2.

Ratings:
Fun – 4/5 (I’d give it a 5/5 if it were longer)
Fitness Factor – 3/5 (not that exerting, really)
Guides – 5/5 (great instructions, information and character)

Interested in a reservation? Check ’em out here.

glow worm caves
Our caving group, with a backdrop of glow worms.

New Zealand Travel Itinerary – My Ideas

New Zealand travel itinerary
Tongariro – a must for your New Zealand travel itinerary.

If you need some ideas for a New Zealand travel itinerary, I have you covered. Here are some suggestions for 14 full days in New Zealand that can help you put your own adventures together.

First off, visiting New Zealand involves a lengthy flight (unless you’re from Australia). That means spending at least two weeks is the only way to go. These ideas include some highlights from my trip and a few ideas of what I would’ve changed in my New Zealand travel itinerary with my newfound knowledge.

New Zealand travel itinerary
Our caving group, with a backdrop of glow worms.

Day One: Arrive from Los Angeles at 6 a.m. local time. Drop bags off at hotel in Parnell near the downtown area. Grab a few flat whites at Ben’s. Ogle crazy foods at local Asian markets. Take a ferry to Rangitoto Island and hike to the top of the volcano. Return to hotel … check in and shower. Then off to dinner and wandering the streets of Auckland. Hindsight is 20/20 … and mine says I should’ve rented a car after the flat whites and driven the easy two hours to Rotorua, thus affording some time in the fun capitol, or extra time in Wellington. I was planning to feel far more jet-lagged, but the symptons never came.

Day 2: Bus from Auckland to Rotorua. Arrive around 2:30 p.m., check into hotel. Visit Kairua Park, walk around Lake Rotorua. Watch for the sulfury lagoon where the lake turns color. Eerie! Indian dinner at Ambiance. General hanging around the town.

New Zealand travel itinerary
Heading up Franz Josef Glacier.

Day 3: Breakfast, drive out to Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland. It’s an amazing but low-key addition to anyone’s New Zealand travel itinerary. After lunch, off to Agroventures. Zorbing is the highlight. Try the Schweeb, too. We followed this with driving around the countryside at dinner at Fat Dog. An extra day here would’ve been nice. Too much fun stuff to do here! I posted about our time there, with more photos.

Day 4: Drive to Tongariro National Park. Stop whenever we feel like it, especially at the Honey Hive. Continue on to Tongariro through Taupo. If you’re a hiker, get provisions in Taupo. Quick two-hour hike on Taranaki Falls Track. Dinner at Skotel. Arrange bus service for tomorrow’s hike.

Day 5: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., hike Tongariro Alpine Crossing with a side trip up Mt Ngauruhoe. An epic journey requiring a post of its own … or two (coming soon). Drive to Waitomo, stopping in National Park at Eiven’s for a quick dinner. Then on through Te Kuiti into Waitomo. Fall DEAD ASLEEP!

New Zealand travel itinerary
Me overlooking Queenstown, The Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu.

Day 6:  Start with breakfast at Bosco Cafe. Then onto Rap, Raft & Rock for our Waitomo Glowworm Caves tour. Post about that coming soon. Shower, followed by dinner at The Thirsty Weta. A late snack at Curly’s Bar & Grill. Fall dead asleep … again! Read all about it in my glowworm cave post.

Day 7: On the road by 8 a.m. for the drive to Wellington. You can do it in six hours without speeding, but more stops equal more time! We made an extended stop at Paraparamu Beach. Hang out on Cuba Street, have a great Indonesian dinner at Rasa.

Day 8: A quick visit to Te Papa Museum, followed by grabbing a few Wellington Phoenix shirts (Wellington’s soccer team in the A League). Then, we catch a flight to Nelson. It’s only about 20 minutes. Arrive, check into hotel, wander the streets and have a late lunch at Falafel Gourmet.

Day 9: Bus to Abel Tasman National Park (this will get its own entry soon). Walk for a few hours. Late lunch at The Park Cafe. Brews at The Sprig and Fern. Dinner at Little India. This may sound like blasphemy, but in retrospect I’d skip Abel Tasman and head straight to Franz Josef today to make up for an extra day in Rotorua.

Day 10: Bus to Franz Josef Glacier. Stop at the Sandfly Cafe … ate a possum pie! By the way, New Zealand likes weird food. You might want to make room in your New Zealand travel itinerary for the Hokitika Wild Foods Festival. Various other stops – a very nice drive. Best 8-hour bus ride ever. Arrive, check out the town. Hang out a bit.

Day 11: Franz Josef Glacier tour. Unbelievable! That was pretty much the whole day, except for showers and cooking dinner at the backpackers’ lodge. It’s not physically that strenuous, but the experience of being on a glacier is amazing. This should be part of any outdoor-related New Zealand travel itinerary.

Day 12: Bus to Queenstown. Stop in Wanaka – beautiful town on the lake! Continue to Queenstown through the heart of NZ’s grape and fruit basket. Lots of vineyards and vintners. Scenery turns more dry and stark. Clearly more commerce and mining, despite the isolation. Arrive in Q-town … we ate some fresh green-lipped muscles at the Aggys Shack chased by gelato from Patagonia – try the banana split flavor. It’s not what you’d expect! Then, off to the cinema to see Slumdog Millionaire where it’s still in a theater!

Day 13: Parasailing and street luge, followed by a nice run around town. We followed the lake’s edge for a few miles. Then to Aggys Shack, Fish & Chips for smoked eel and some sort of raw fish concoction. Took a cruise on the TSS Earnslaw. Fun, and beautiful views. Great to see a bird’s-eye of the crew working the boilers. Finally, a a nightcap at Dux De Lux following a nice pad thai at one of the local Thai restaurants.

Day 14: Breakfast at Halo. Go to Queenstown Airport. Say good-by to Q-Town. Catch a flight in Auckland. And this brings my New Zealand travel itinerary to and end.

Franz Josef Glacier – 7 Essential Tips

Franz Josef Glacier
From nz2

Franz Josef Glacier on New Zealand’s South Island is one of only three places in the world where you can walk from rain forest to a glacier in less than an hour. It’s also one of the world’s fastest-moving glaciers – and the day I spent glacier hiking on its icy bulk takes its place among my best travel memories.I booked a trip with Franz Josef Glacier Guides. The company offers a number of options: Half-day hikes, full-day hikes, ice climbing and even a heli-hike. We picked the full-day, which was $150 NZ per person. We arrived in the small South Island town of Franz Josef a bit after 4 p.m. on a Tuesday and checked into the Chateau Franz (Read about Chateau Franz). We got only the briefest glimpse of the Franz Josef Glacier that day.

Of course, we were up bright and early to check in at 8:15 a.m. the next day. The Franz Josef Glacier Guides building is just a few minutes on foot away from Chateau Franz. It’s a well-kept Continue reading

The world’s coolest hotel … and one of the coldest!

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coolest hotel
Superman’s bedroom? Nope, it\’s the ICEHOTEL!

About a year ago, I talked to a teenager who stayed in the world’s coolest hotel. He made an awesome visit to Sweden to stay at the ICEHOTEL, up in the very far north part of the country.

He was a very clever guy who works part time as an architectural draftsman, so he was really fascinated about the idea of a hotel carved each year from ice and snow.  A documentary about the ICEHOTEL on The Discovery Channel put it on his wish list.

Also, it was also his first time traveling out of the country. So I have to give him a lot of credit for being bold enough to spend the better part of 24 straight hours in the air. And even better … from the airport, it was something like 30 miles by dogsled to get to the ICEHOTEL!

About the Coolest Hotel in the World

It has some permanent, heated rooms. But the really awesome rooms are cold rooms, which workers build each year using blocks of ice from the nearby River Torne. The rooms stay at temperatures from 28 to 40 degrees F.

Each room, according to my source, had a “serene blue glow” from LEDs in the icy walls; the hotel’s silence added to the serenity. He slept on a bed made from ice covered in reindeer fur. The staff wakes guests up each day with a steaming cup of lingonberry juice, which is supposed to do wonders for keeping you warm.

Beyond the Ice

There are some expeditions you can arrange from the coolest hotel in the world. Jukkasjärvi is pretty cold, though, so you really have to bundle up. I heard about some pretty awesome back-country dogsled trips. The food sounds tasty, too … I really want to try reindeer brisket!

And the cold rooms don’t have their own bathrooms. You have to get bundled up, tromp outside and go into the heated area. Can you imagine having to get up in the middle of the night for that? (Shivers)

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The dirt on Hopkins, Belize

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Hopkins, Belize
A stretch of beach near the main part of Hopkins.

Hopkins, Belize, is the place to get away from Starbucks. Traffic. Commercialism. Even ATMs.

Hopkins, Belize, is a town of about 1,000 people. And I’m serious about the ATM thing. Be sure you get some cash before you show up to Hopkins.

Hopkins, Belize
A cabin at Jungle Jeanie’s

For reasonably priced accommodations, check out Jungle Jeanie’s by the Sea. Jungle Jeanie is the wife half of the husband-and-wife ownership team. They are friendly and helpful, and have a pair of big dogs that roam on patrol. Xena, the German shepherd, is especially active and entertaining, especially when Jeanie tries to get her to surf. They serve  meals there, and you can also hoof it into town to try some local places. There’s also a pricier place or two as you walk south along the road. Many of the resorts even have semi-private bits of beach that they meticulously comb of former flotsam.

Hopkins, Belize
Charlie might not surf, but Xena does!

There’s not much to do in Hopkins, Belize. It can be hot as hell, even in January. There’s no nightlife. The beach isn’t even all that nice. But if you want to get away from the noise, the pollution and the nonsense, this is the place to do it. Local residents are friendly, and you’ll hear them speaking the really cool-sounding Garifuna language. It’s super-quiet.

So how do you get here? Chances are, you’re flying into Belize City. The best way to get there is to grab a Maya Air or Tropic Air flight

Hopkins, Belize
The afternoon gets stormy

from Belize City to Dangriga (the view is spectacular). From Dangriga, you can grab a bus to Hopkins, Belize. It’ll take about 30 minutes, though you might have to share some space with a mattress or a load of melons – the bus usually carries cargo, too. There were also some dudes offering boat rides to Hopkins, but they seemed sketchy. Dangriga is also a great place to grab some fresh fruit and a bite to eat.

Hopkins, Belize
The road to Hopkins, Belize.
Flying to Belize City from Dangriga
Flying to Belize City from Dangriga