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Cultural and natural highlights around Seattle

Seattle, Muckleshoot reservation, Mt Rainier National Park

semi-overcast 22 °C
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The drive towards the Seattle / Takoma KOA where we had made reservations for the weekend was lengthy and we were happy to eventually arrive. We were not too impressed by the camping spot we got right next to a busy road, nor the facilities of the KOA. To quote Sam: ‘If this would have been the first KOA we got to, it would have been the last’. But the location of the KOA is good and the next morning the pool was also nice and clean, so we should not complain too much…
We had quite a plan what to do and headed off around noon for our first adventure: We wanted to see the Skopabsh Pow Wow of the Muckleshoot Tribe, which took place just half an hour away from the KOA. We got there just in time for the Grand Entry, placed our folding chairs in an excellent location in the shade directly next to the dancing area. It was very impressive – specifically for Max – to see the various groups of dancers enter the arena until eventually maybe 200 (?) dancers of all ages danced to the music.

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There was no entry fee or anything and we felt welcomed to be there. This being said, we were probably the only foreign tourists there and in general the number of non-Native American people was quite limited.

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The dancers were clearly proud of their cultural heritage and it seemed that for them like the most natural thing to preserve it. Seeing the pride of everyone who was in the arena was fascinating. And it made no difference if it was the little five-year-olds, the youngsters or the elderly ladies and chiefs.

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We enjoyed the event very much – the dancing, the drumming & singing, the dance contests, the food, everything was a lot of fun. It had been really worthwhile to attend the Pow Wow and we were very happy that we went.

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Still, eventually we left and headed into Seattle. We had wanted to go to a baseball game at some stage anyhow. And given that we still owed Max a celebration for not needing diapers at night anymore and that the Seattle Mariners were currently in town playing the Milwaukee Brewers, this was a great opportunity. So we headed to Safeco Field, got tickets far up on the View Level and soaked up the atmosphere.

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Max was given lots of baseball cards as he walked along with us. We then made sure he got his ‘first ballgame certificate’ before stopping at the playground close to the bleachers. After watching the first two innings of the game, it was time for hot dogs. A bit later, Max got to show his skills at throwing, running and batting at the kids’ corner. He also joined the Mariners’ Kids Club to get a backpack, ball and Badge with his name and picture on. And in addition to all that, it was StarWars night and consequently we even got to meet a couple of StarWars characters.

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We were simply amazed how many free activities there were to keep the kids (and their parents) entertained and happy. And we enjoyed the view and the fun of it all...

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Luckily enough we stayed until the end of the 8th inning to see a couple of runs and even some home runs. But by then it was pretty sure that the Mariners would win and with Max being beyond just tired it was time to head back to the KOA and to have a good night’s sleep.
The next morning was overcast and fairly cool – always a very strange thing to happen, as we’ve been spoiled by so much sunshine lately. But we stuck to our plan to go to Mt Rainier National Park and headed south east.
We still had an errand to run along the way: a stop at the Crocs store in the large outlet mall of Auburn. Sam had managed to rip apart his Crocs in Yellowstone and was in dire need to get new ones. Once he was the happy new owner of a pair of camouflage Crocs (yellow and orange were out of stock in his size) and lunch at a Philippine place at the local food court, we headed off.
Mount Rainier had been looming all along in the distance, raising up impressively over the rather flat area around it. As we got closer, we realized that it was actually not quite as flat as it had seemed and that from close up the mountain lost a bit of it majesty.
Once we got to the park, we stopped at the White River campground and got an excellent spot right next to the river between old trees featuring lichen that looked like long beards. There were warning signs advising us to retreat to higher ground in the event of and earthquake or loud noises coming from the volcano. After all, Mt Rainier is an active volcano and it's power should not be taken too lightly.

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Sam got the fire started and before too long we had a nice stew on the fire featuring beans, potatoes, broccoli, kale, onion, squash, tomato and corn - a nice combination of flavors that tasted really well. Together with our neighbors Kyle and Elon we roasted some marshmallows, got treated to some pop tarts and enjoyed watching the boys play with each other.
After a quiet and starry night, we got to enjoy the celebrations of a group of hikers who just completed the 94-mile wonderland trail around the mountain, hiked about 0.1 mile of the hike ourselves.

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As we did not feel like doing much hiking – despite having lots of great opportunities to do so - we took our car up to Sunrise to enjoy a much closer view of the mountain / volcano, it's glaciers and the sub alpine meadows.

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At that stage, we still were able to see the mountain. A bit later it was all covered in clouds until, eventually one had to know that there is a mountain hidden somewhere. So by the time we got to the reflection lakes which usually provide perfect picture opportunities of the mountain, we did not even bother to take pictures. But at least we found some nice waterfalls and a cute chipmunk.

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We camped outside the national park at the Big Creek campground, located in a nice forest right next to a small stream. And we even had a little neighbor visiting us on our picnic table.

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One last night with just the three of us – as for the next week Janis will be traveling with us.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 07:07 Archived in USA Tagged baseball volcano mountain indian river glacier dance drums seattle active powwow Comments (0)

Mountains and the sea

Banks Peninsula: Little River, Akaroa, Pidgeon Bay, Motukarara; Timaru, Pleasant Point

semi-overcast 23 °C
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After learning from Simone about the heavy rain down south, we were easily convinced to rather spend a couple of days on the Banks peninsula before heading south ourselves. When picking the route to our planned campground for the night, I chose a scenic route along the northern coast of the peninsula. When picking the route, I had not realized how mountainous the area would be and how steep the roads were. On the last climb up towards Pidgeon Bay, the road eventually turned to gravel and got even steeper than what we had driven on so far.
When deciding upon the route, I was not quite aware of how hilly Ends in gravel road – too steep vs. what our campervan can manage. And most likely I was still spoiled from the luxury we had in Australia with a 4WD that would take us almost anywhere. Contrary to that our cripple campervan was definitively not laid out for that and before too long started smelling funny. Given the age of the motor and knowing that on a gravel road we’re actually not insured, we turned around. Before heading down though we took some time to enjoy the scenery and the countless sheep in the hills surrounding us. The rain was falling quite heavily by then and even though we could still see down into the bay below us, we could only guess how nice the view might have been on a bright day.
Turning around meant going all the way back along the twists and turns we had come on and sixty kilometers later we found ourselves at the campground in Little River. As it started raining soon after we arrived, we were thankful that we have a camper and not just a tent. And one more thanks was uttered the next morning when the next episode of rain showered us.
At least the rain did not stay for the remainder of the day. Later that morning we were able to explore the nature reserve surrounding the campground. We explored the big swing, the giant mudslide (which is only in operation after heavy rains) and the boardwalks including the movie set for ‘The Stolen’, a 2016 film.

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From there we headed to Akaroa. By the time, we got to see the Akaroa harbor below us, the sun was shining brightly and we were treated to a breathtaking scenery. We probably had seen similarly nice views the day before, but the cloudy and dark day did its best to hide the wow effects. We soon spotted a cruise ship in the bay. Since the damages to the Lyttleton harbor in the most recent earthquake, Akaroa is new port of call for cruise ships. And there are lots of good reasons for people to visit Akaroa. For one it’s beautifully located in a bay surrounded by mountains and its French heritage makes for great what if scenarios. What if the French had arrived just a bit earlier before the treaty of Waitangi was signed on February 6th, 1840. Even though the French settlers arrived just a couple of months too late to buy the peninsula or even all of the South Island, they stayed and that’s how Akaroa got the charming French influence from.

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As pre-warned by our guidebook, the small town was simply overrun by the cruise passengers. As we neared the jetty, we realized that the ship lying out there was the Celebrity Solstice, which we had seen a couple of days earlier in Sydney Harbor – what a small world!
As the center of town was so crowded, we headed to the outskirts of town to the local skatepark. Located right next to the bay, it was quiet, nice and pretty there. While Max got his exercise needs fixed for the day, we prepared lunch and lazed in the sun.

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From Akaroa, we took the scenic drive along Summit Road winding its way along the top of the former volcano that created the peninsula. We had alternating views into the Bay of Akaroa and the Eastern bays along the outside coast of the peninsula. After our failed attempt of yesterday, today we managed to reach the campground at Pidgeon Bay. We got a spot right next to the water, enjoyed the nice weather and the fact that our great spot cost only 10 NZD.

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The next day we had to get our old camper all the way back up the hill again. We noted that with two cruiseships lying in the harbour, probably Akaroa was even more crowded today than yesterday. Then we headed down towards Little River. Already two days earlier we had noticed signs advertising the ‘A&P show’ to take place that Saturday. While we had no clue what that meant, we were sure intrigued to find out.

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It turned out that ‘A&P’ stands for ‘agriculture and pasture’ – a classical local show for anything related to farming. At first a display of old steam engines caught our eye along with some big construction equipment that fascinated Max. But much more importantly, there were all kind of local competitions taking place: there was horseback riding, dog agility, sheep dogs rounding up sheep, timber sports, and even sheep shearing. In addition the fire brigade offered a demonstration on how to extinguish burning oil including how not to do it, there was a free food tasting and lots of street vendors.

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We did not get bored a single minute, as there was continually something going on. And best of all: the locals were simply having fun, betting against each other and showing off what they love doing. Sam even got asked if he was willing to participate in the sheep shearing, as a group of guys needed one more person on their team in order not to lose a bet. Sam kindly declined and watched with the same amusement as us.
Luckily the sun did not burn down as brightly as the day before and even better: it only started raining in the evening once we had arrived at our campsite at the Motukarara racetrack.
Also the next morning was simply wet and consequently we skipped going into Christchurch for the World Buskers Festival as originally planned. We rather rang up Simone and pre-warned her that we’d be heading down to meet them this afternoon.
Driving through the Canterbury Plains to Timaru was a rather boring experience. The heavy rain blocked out the view to the mountains completely and the endless fields lined by tree-high hedges were not able to compensate.

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In the afternoon, we arrived in Timaru and we were greeted already outside by Leo and his sister Lilou. Max and Leo disappeared upstairs as soon as we arrived and were not seen for the next two hours. In the meantime, the rest of us enjoyed afternoon tea, had pleasant conversations, played dice and enjoyed the view of the sea. Simone and I even took a walk outside despite the drizzling rain. We were sad to leave that evening, but who knows: maybe we’ll manage to meet in Germany when they’ll visit in 2018.

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It was only a short drive to Pleasant Point where we stayed for the night. Despite the rain, Max headed off with some boys to go biking. Sam and I agreed once more that we were happy to have our campervan and being able to sit inside, well protected and comfortable.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 18:54 Archived in New Zealand Tagged rain horses volcano sheep cruise dogs bay harbor timber steep shearing Comments (0)

Volcanoes, thermal springs and geothermal energy

Tongariro National Park, Taupo

sunny 26 °C
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Once again, we found ourselves back to typical NZ roads: it was very windy towards Tongariro National Park and seemed to take ages to finally reach the town of National Park. According to our guidebook, it was the fourth National Park worldwide, but a quick internet search revealed, that there must have been at least more before that (and hey, no one in Yellowstone talked about being the second oldest national park with one in Mongolia of all places being almost 90 years older). It definitively is one of the few mixed cultural and natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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We had intended to stay in the national park at the DoC campsite. As it was more than full, we backtracked to National Park and found a nice uncrowded spot next to a backpackers lodge. Contrary to the DoC campground, we’d be able to enjoy the luxury of flush toilets, warm showers, a fully equipped kitchen and cozy lounge area – a much better value for money.
Sitting in the lounge editing pictures, Sam felt the earth shake twice. And indeed, there were three tremors that evening out of which Sam had felt two. None of them had a big magnitude, but just enough to feel them.
Contrary to most other people staying in our campground, we did not plan to hike the Tongariro Crossing which is often dubbed the best day walk in NZ. So we did not have to get up to catch the 6am or 7am shuttle, but were able to sleep longer in the next morning.
We took it easy and realized that we took a good choice. After all, the foggy clouds only vanished between 9 and 10 am. And that’s when we headed off towards Whakapapa Village. We took the short Nature Walk along a creek and then headed into the info center of the National Park. The displays were very informative, specifically in regards to the volcanic activity in the area, but also in respect to the local Maori culture.

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We could not resist to drive up all the way to the Mt. Ruapehu ski area. Along the way, we had excellent views of the conical and perfectly symmetrical Mt. Ngauruhoe (which is also known as Mt. Doom of the Lord of the Rings) and Mt. Tongariro.

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As we passed the northern slopes of Mt. Tongariro one of its many side vents smoked and fumed. We could not resist to play mind games on ‘what if it erupted just now’. I’m not quite sure if I would have really wished to see a live eruption. Anyhow, after some minutes of observing, we concluded that Mt. Tongariro was just going about its normal business and that there was not more coming and headed on.

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We stopped for lunch in Taurangi which features a small skate park in its center - just like most NZ small towns. From there we enjoyed a pleasant drive along the shores of Lake Taupo. At a viewpoint overlooking the lake, we were more impressed by the group of skydivers being dropped close to us. And indeed, Taupo claims to be the world capital of skydiving with over 30,000 jumps per year.
It was perfect weather and pleasantly warm. Consequently, the beach was very crowded. And also Reid’s Farm, our campground for the night, was similarly crowded. We were there early enough to still find a spot next to the Waikato river. Sam and Max could not resist to take a dip in the clear water and Sam even swam against the current which exactly matched his swimming speed. What a great sunny day. So there is nice weather in NZ after all!

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While our spot along the river was indeed very scenic, it did put a damper on our enthusiasm that every half an hour one of the drinking backpackers decided to relieve himself in the river. Seeing this and how many of the other campers behaved, we do understand why many freedom camping sites in NZ get closed. It’s sad to see that many people do not honor the luxury of being able to camp for free and fail to return the favor by following even the simplest rules.
We got up early enough to see the early morning fog raising above the river. As soon as the fog had vanished and the sun was coming through, we were on our way to Huka Falls – the impressive and probably most visited natural highlight of a trip to NZ. We were not surprised that there were busloads of tourists around. At least, the viewpoints were designed in such a way that it was possible to admire the falls without having anyone else blocking the view.

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Our next stop was a Waikirei Terraces, which is a nice little spa using the hot thermal water discharged by a close by spring. We took the walk around and were reminded so much of what we had seen in Yellowstone a couple of months earlier. But the Maori carvings helped to remind us that we were on a different continent after all.

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From there we headed further into the valley to the Waikirei boreholes viewing platform. In total, there are over 160 boreholes to source the geothermal power plant a bit further down by the Waikato river. It was impressive to see how many pipes led down the valley with all kinds of appliances helping to control pressure and flow of the hot water.

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Having seen the sheer extent of how geothermal energy is being used and knowing that there are seven more of these geothermal power plants in the surroundings, it is not surprising that as a result places like the Waikirei Thermal Valley are seeing the effects. We liked the walk anyhow and all over the place it was steaming and boiling. And with the laser thermometer we had been given at the entrance, we were able to check temperatures ourselves. That was fun for Sam and Max alike. And I had fun watching the two of them. Still, it seems that the valley has lost much of its appeal since reduced water levels changed the dynamics and none of the previously 15 geysers is active anymore.

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The other attraction of the place were the animals. We got to feed the chicken, fowls and peacocks until eventually Max was overwhelmed by how vigorously they requested more food. The sheep, goats, rabbits and lamas were much more laid back, but happy to be fed none the less.

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Otmar had recommended to us that we visit the Taupo bike park. And indeed, Max enjoyed again having a dirt track to ride on and try his skills at doing bunny hops. While he rode and I watched, Sam took a quick dip in the hot waters springs down where it meets the cooler waters of the Waikato River.
Once we left, all three of us were ready for some exciting days to come. We hoped that the next two days would justify the couple of hundred kilometers detour we were planning to drive.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 16:36 Archived in New Zealand Tagged volcano valley waterfall spring geyser thermal tremor Comments (0)

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