Anchoring in the Middle of the Ocean!

Apologies for this long-overdue post!  Since returning to California in early July, I’ve been busy working as a Sailing Instructor; it’s peak sailing season, so my work schedule is full!

But let’s back up to early June…  

I had flown down to New Zealand to help friends Tom and Di sail their boat to Fiji once again.  This would be my 6th voyage aboard the sailing vessel Avalon. 

As usual, before beginning the 1,200-mile trip across the South Pacific Ocean, we ran into a bit of a waiting game. 

The boat was ready. We were ready.  But the weather just wasn’t cooperating.  

Mother Nature had unleashed heavy wind, fierce rain, and stormy seas, so we chose to settle into an Airbnb for a week.  We ventured out daily to check on the boat and do last-minute boat jobs – final fresh food provisioning, topping of water and fuel, etc.  One day we took a “day off” and drove across the North Island to Baylys Beach to experience the wild west coast!

As the weather settled down, on June 13 we sipped a final flat white coffee at Land & Sea Café, cast off the dock lines, and set our course north for Fiji – avoiding a large commercial ship or two as we headed out from Marsden Cove Marina, down the channel, and out to sea.

Squalls (intense, localized storms) are a part of ocean sailing. We usually encounter them later in the voyage, as we approach the warmer climate of Fiji.  But on this voyage, the squalls came almost immediately.

For two nights, we hunkered down in the cockpit running away from squalls that were lined up like a freight train of dark clouds.  Dressed in full foul-weather gear and PFDs, and clipped to the boat via our tethers, Tom and I alternated driving at the helm and sleeping on the floor of the cockpit through the night.  Periodically, we’d go below to check the radar, which helped us measure the intensity of each approaching squall.  (Di was under the weather for the first few days, so she rested in the cabin while Tom and I split these night watches.)

Fortunately, we were able to avoid or outrun most of the squalls, and the ones that hit us were not as violent as they can be.  We were very lucky for sure.  

We then enjoyed a few days of great sailing, with 15-20 knot winds on or just behind the beam, and a few nights of a bright, full moon and mesmerizing Milky Way.  

The miles drifted by, and soon, we’d sailed over 800 miles north of New Zealand.  We had about 400 miles to go, and then we decided to drop the anchor.

Wait, what?    

Yes.  We dropped the anchor in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, nearly 400 miles from any kind of land or civilization.

There is a place on the cruising route known as Minerva Reef, which is actually comprised of two circular reefs, North Minerva Reef and South Minerva Reef.  You can read about these atolls here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minerva_Reefs

It’s an amazing place, known by only a small number of people, and visited by even a smaller number of people.  There is no land.  In fact, the atolls are completely submerged at high tide.  The only way to get there is by boat.  Small boat.  The donut-shaped reefs are each about 3 miles in diameter.  The North Minerva Reef has a navigable entrance about 400 feet wide. The water goes from 2,000 feet deep outside to 30 feet deep inside.

It’s an incredible geological formation – and one of the most amazing and unique places I’ve ever been even though it’s sort of “invisible”. 

We’ve known about this place for years, and was a bucket list item for Tom and Di, and for me as soon as they had told me about it on one of our first passages.

On the particular day we arrived, we could see the white water of the waves crashing on the reef.  We sailed around clockwise to find the narrow entrance, and slowly made our approach.  Once inside the protection of the reef, the water became glass – the ocean swells and wind waves were flattened by the reef.  We could still feel the light ocean breeze (since there was no land to shield us).

We gently glided through the clear blue water.  As the water became shallower and shallower, we prepared the anchor and looked for a sandy bottom where we could drop, so as to avoid the bommies (coral heads).  Getting our anchor stuck out here could be disastrous.

Patience paid off.  We circled the lagoon, found a good spot, and lowered the anchor.  Once we set the anchor and tidied the boat, we took a refreshing and cleansing swim. We looked forward to a night or two of sound sleep, good meals, relaxation… and flat surfaces.  (When we’re sailing in the ocean, we live at a 15-20 degree heeling angle, with a lot of bouncing around.) 

As remote a location as Minerva Reef is, there were 2-3 other cruising boats in the lagoon with us. We enjoyed listening to their chatter on the VHF radio.  They were coordinating snorkeling adventures, lobster hunting, and “walks on the beach” (meaning at low tide they’d take the dinghy over to the reef’s edge and walk along the reef and tide pools).  This seemed silly to us – probably an ecological no-no (if not literally illegal), but also just stupid.  What if someone cuts their foot on the coral?  What if the dinghy punctures?  We are 400 miles away from anywhere!

We took our swim (with a safety line drifting back from the boat with knots as handholds), but other than that, we stayed on the boat and left our dinghy on board.

We did cook some serious cheeseburgers though, loaded with guacamole and the thickest cheese slices I’ve ever seen on a burger.  We had a good laugh about it as we devoured the delicacy.

The wind picked up on our second day at Minerva Reef.  Remember, the reef offered great protection from the ocean swells, but not from the wind (since there is no prominent land mass).  We opted not to swim that day and instead focused ourselves on boat jobs. After all, we still had 400 miles to sail across the open ocean; we couldn’t relax just yet!

We spent a good part of the day refueling the main fuel tanks, emptying the Gerry cans that we carry in the forward and aft lockers.  I did some laundry and re-organized my gear, as I’m known to do several times a week.

After a second full night of sleep, we departed for Fiji.  We carefully navigated through the entrance (well, now the exit), and turned north to Fiji.

During one of my night watches, I spotted a set of unknown lights which I believed to be a fishing vessel (perhaps similar to the Japanese fishing vessels that we’d encountered, and detoured around, on one of our previous passages).  I woke Tom and we assessed the situation, choosing to proceed with a watchful eye.  Fortunately, it worked out and we sailed by at a distance.  

Another night I enjoyed watching a cruise ship sail across our stern (several miles away, don’t worry).  It was lit up like a Christmas tree.  Sitting alone in the cockpit, quietly sailing along in the dark, I wondered what sort of festivities were going on aboard the cruise ship.

Our destination and port-of-entry this year was Savusavu on Vanua Levu.  In previous years, we have checked into either Port Denerau or Vuda, both on Viti Levu.   I was happy to see a different port, let alone a different island of Fiji.

We approached the island of Vanua Levu just after sunset, however.  It was too dark to make the approach into the unknown port of Savusavu, surrounded by reefs, shallows, and traffic.  We “held off” through the night, intending to make our approach in the morning.  As we waited, other familiar cruising boats joined our holding pattern.  We engaged in a bit of chatter on the VHF radio as we welcomed each other.

By mid-morning of Monday, June 24, we made our approach into the Coprashed Marina in Savusavu, executing a difficult med-mooring procedure (lowering the anchor as we back stern-to into the slip) without a problem!   We checked in with the usual cast of governmental characters – Customs, Immigration, Biosecurity, etc. and then finally tidied up the boat, cracked a few beers, and relaxed!

As usual, I checked into a hotel off the boat so I could get proper rest, shower, laundry, etc.  The Hot Springs Hotel was my hotel of choice, and it was very nice, offering great views of the bay and marina, good WIFI, and a nice balcony.  One day, I took a walk down to the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort – a super high end resort – and they were nice enough to let me in to enjoy a Mai Tai.

After a few days assisting with post-passage boat jobs (cleaning, refueling, etc.) I then went further with my self-spoiling and spent 3 nights at the Koro Sun Resort and Spa, a short cab-ride around the island.  

Savusavu is a nice little town.  The highlight for me was the Grace Road Kitchen and Snowy House Café.  Run by a Korean family, these two adjacent eateries were clean and friendly, offering tasty Korean dishes, coffee, and desserts. 

On July 3, I took a small puddle-jumper of an airplane from Savusavu, Vanua Levu to Nadi, Viti Levu. I stayed a few nights at the Ramada Inn, enjoying a few beach-side beers and sunsets at Travellers, which brought back fond memories of previous passages with SV Avalon.  (I was also happy to discover that Grace Road Kitchen has a restaurant in Nadi, too!).

On Saturday, July 6, I boarded my flight home to San Francisco, grateful and honored to have been part of another sailing adventure aboard SV Avalon. 

Thanks to Tom and Di for including me … and for letting me reorganize my bags, for taking funny flying fish pictures, for introducing me to new music, for trying the DB Cafe menu, for helping me find WIFI, for keeping the cleanest bilge (and boat) ever, for *always* putting safety first, and for trusting me to help sail your boat!

Enjoying the sunrise watch.

Enjoying the sunrise watch.

At the helm!

At the helm!

Anchoring at North Minerva Reef. Nice to have the clear blue water so we can see how we are laying the anchor rode.

Anchoring at North Minerva Reef. Nice to have the clear blue water so we can see how we are laying the anchor rode.

North Minerva Reef. The red arrow shows where we anchored.

North Minerva Reef. The red arrow shows where we anchored.

An awesome cheeseburger, with the biggest slice of cheese ever! Plus guacamole! All this while anchored in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, at North Minerva Reef.

An awesome cheeseburger, with the biggest slice of cheese ever! Plus guacamole! All this while anchored in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, at North Minerva Reef.

At anchor at North Minerva Reef. You can just barely see the reef in the background (low tide).

At anchor at North Minerva Reef. You can just barely see the reef in the background (low tide).

The sunsets at sea never get old.

The sunsets at sea never get old.

We were lucky to be sailing under a full moon!

We were lucky to be sailing under a full moon!

We dodged most of the squalls, including 2 nights of squalls lined up like a freight train!

We dodged most of the squalls, including 2 nights of squalls lined up like a freight train!

Big seas during part of the trip.

Big seas during part of the trip.

Flying fish would frequently “land” on board! Back overboard they go!

Flying fish would frequently “land” on board! Back overboard they go!

Living at 15-20 degrees…

Living at 15-20 degrees…


Routine? Maybe Not.

Whatever routine I’ve been gradually establishing for the last month in San Carlos didn’t make it into my sail bag as I boarded the plane to New Zealand. I was about to embark on an ocean sailing adventure where nothing is routine and nothing is taken for granted.

After meeting skipper Tom in Auckland, we took the bus north to Marsden Cove Marina, where I rejoined as crew on the 50-foot ocean-cruising sailboat Avalon.  Even though I’ve helped Tom and Di with five previous passages, I still felt privileged to be back on board.

Our goal is to sail 1,200 miles north to Fiji to escape the winter season in New Zealand.  If all goes well, our port of entry into Fiji this year will be Savusavu, on the smaller island of Vanau Levu.  On previous passages, we’ve sailed into Nadi, on the larger island of Viti Levu.

For the last few days, I’ve stayed aboard Avalon at the marina, getting reacquainted with systems and assisting with various boat jobs like changing sails, securing gear, filling fuel cans and water tanks, etc.

In between boat jobs, I’ve refueled at the Land & Sea Cafe and relaxed in the Marsden Cove Marina clubroom.

Unfortunately, a nasty low-pressure system is rolling by the North Island this week, bringing with it heavy rain, high wind, and rough seas.  So, we are sitting tight.  We booked an Airbnb for a few nights to stock up on sleep. When the weather clears and the sea settles, we hope to depart; but it’s hard to say exactly when that might be.

For now, we wait patiently…

Reunited with SV Avalon.

Reunited with SV Avalon.

Changing the headsail.

Changing the headsail.

The Marsden Cove Marina clubroom at sunset.

The Marsden Cove Marina clubroom at sunset.

Classic eggs-on-toast breakfast at Land & Sea Cafe.

Classic eggs-on-toast breakfast at Land & Sea Cafe.

Staying at an Airbnb at the top of this hill.

Staying at an Airbnb at the top of this hill.

Walking into the town of Ruakaka from the Airbnb.

Walking into the town of Ruakaka from the Airbnb.

From the "City of Good Living" to the "City of Sails"

For the past month, I’ve been enjoying the quiet suburban life in San Carlos, “The City of Good Living,” while continuing to teach sailing out of Berkeley.  

My new apartment in San Carlos is fantastic.  I’m tucked away on the top floor; I have only one neighbor; and I’m walking distance to the shops and restaurants downtown, as well as the library and train station. I have laundry on site as well as a dedicated parking spot.  

Best of all, I don’t have a check-out time.  The trade-off, however, is no housekeeping service.  So, I’ve had to buy a broom, a bucket of cleaning supplies, and even a vacuum cleaner.

Although my kitchen is very small, I’ve been doing a bit of cooking, aided by the much-talked-about “Insta-pot” pressure cooker which I also recently purchased.  Who knew I could put some lentils, Brussel sprouts, and butternut squash in a pot and have dinner a few minutes later? That said, I still can’t tear myself away from the fresh Italian food and local camaraderie at Trattoria da Vittorio, which is only a few blocks away.

The commute to the OCSC Sailing Club in Berkeley is 45 minutes with no traffic, but that is a very rare occurrence here in the Bay Area.  Usually the drive takes 60 to 90 minutes of frustrating stop-and-go around accidents, construction, and potholes.  I’ve been experimenting with combinations of train, ferry, and bicycle.  Given that I can sleep on the boat, I can spread my commute over 2-3 days of work to lessen the burden.  I’m looking forward to making this work during the summer months.

By mid-May, I was just beginning to fall into a bit of routine when an opportunity to crew on the sailing vessel “Avalon” materialized.  She was sailing north from New Zealand to Fiji in early June, and there was room for me!

Without hesitation, I booked a flight to New Zealand and not more than a few days later, I was having breakfast at the VicPark Café with Avalon’s skipper in Auckland, “The City of Sails.”

View of Auckland, “The City of Sails,” as I head north on the bus to Whangarei and Marsden Cove Marina.

View of Auckland, “The City of Sails,” as I head north on the bus to Whangarei and Marsden Cove Marina.

“The City of Good Living” (San Carlos, CA) and “The City of Sails” (Auckland, NZ).

“The City of Good Living” (San Carlos, CA) and “The City of Sails” (Auckland, NZ).

From 1069 to 30

It’s the end of an era, in some respects.

For four years I’ve “lived” out of #1069, visiting the cold, dark space periodically to exchange gear, currencies, and documents before the next adventure. Sometimes I’d just sit there in complete silence and make notes about past or future plans, which is code for “wonder what the heck I am doing.”

But today I moved out the final items and shut down the unit. Funny how a simple cement room can generate memories.

Rest assured, this isn’t really the end of an era, and it’s certainly not the end of “Dannyboy Travels.” It’s just the end of the storage unit. My travels and adventures will continue. I simply now have a “home base” that is an actual apartment… #30 not #1069.

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Captain's Quarters

After 1,318 days of living on the road, I have signed a lease for an apartment!  No more mornings spent packing up my backpack before checkout time.  No more afternoons spent wondering where I would sleep later that evening.  I have a home, for now.

For the last 4 years, without the daily responsibility of a job or the fiscal obligation of rent, I’ve been free to embark on some amazing adventures – sailing across the South Pacific Ocean, volunteering in Chile and Thailand, and exploring various coffee shops, public libraries, and friends’ living rooms in search of free WiFi.  

I’ve also been free to invest the time required to launch a new career as a Sailing Instructor, Yacht Deliverer, and Charter Skipper.   

As you recall, in 2015 I set out to “chart a new course.” Since then, things have worked out quite well, perhaps even better than I expected.   

Looking ahead in 2019, with no extended travel in the foreseeable future and with steady work at OCSC Sailing School, I will be in the San Francisco Bay Area for an indefinite amount of time.   

With the scales of international travel versus domestic living tipping back in favor of domestic living, it makes more sense to have a home base for the near term. (Previously, with a much higher percentage of my time spent abroad, living rent-free made the most economic sense.)

So, I found and leased a little apartment in San Carlos, the City of Good Living, for 2019. It’s walking distance to downtown and just a mile from my house (which remains rented). 

After living out of a backpack, a laptop bag, and a gear bag for four years (~5 cubic feet), I had mixed feelings as the contents of my 10x20 storage unit (~1,200 cubic feet) burst into the closets and corners of the 1-bedroom apartment.  It was great to spread out … but, my oh my, where did I get all this STUFF?

Marie Kondo, please save me!  Spring cleaning is ahead, and will certainly continue into the summer, as I try to purge a lot of what I have easily lived without (and not even really thought about) for 1,318 days.

That said, I’m already enjoying the quiet space that I can call home, the same home, every night. My familiar couch.  A home-cooked meal.  No check-out time.

Apart from purging, I did make one other promise to myself:  Dannyboy still travels…   (I just may not be gone for months at a time, at least not in 2019.)

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Very strange. I bought a vacuum cleaner.

Very strange. I bought a vacuum cleaner.

On Cruise Control

After the excitement of receiving my U.S. Coast Guard Master’s License in early February, I haven’t had a lot of new news to report lately.

I’ve been working at OCSC Sailing as much as possible, enjoying the diverse challenges of winter sailing: from constant rain to sudden squalls, from 180-degree wind shifts to no wind whatsoever. It’s kept my students and me on our toes, for sure.

Off the water, I’ve been trying to manage my accommodation expenses by rotating evenings on sailboats, hotels, and friends’ houses. I’m staying on my budget, but with no extended travel on the horizon, the benefits of being a vagabond are dwindling.

Recall, one of the major benefits of my living situation is that when I travel abroad for an extended period of time, I am not burdened by rent payments back home in the San Francisco Bay Area. I just pay for local hotels or apartments while traveling - and usually my travel destinations have very inexpensive housing. The trade off is that I have to find hotels in the expensive Bay Area when I am home. So the more time I spend in the Bay Area, the less favorable my living situation becomes. More on this in a later post.

The month of March did bring two newsworthy events.

First, after a lot of studying as well as on-the-water practice, I took the U.S. Sailing Cruising Instructor evaluation… and passed! The intensive course involved a 3-day, 2-night passage around the San Francisco Bay, with 3 other candidates and 1 instructor. We sailed day and night, we anchored and moored, we cooked and cleaned, and we executed close-quarter and crew-overboard maneuvers. It was a challenging course, but well worth it. Earning the certification now enables me to broaden my teaching curriculum – I can now teach on the bigger 36+ foot cruising boats. The syllabus includes boat systems, anchoring, mooring, etc.

The timing is perfect, because as March comes to an end, we approach the beginning of the sailing season on the San Francisco Bay. I look forward to a full spring, summer, and fall of teaching classes! I may sneak away for a few short adventures abroad - so stay tuned. Otherwise, I’ll be on “cruise control” working at OCSC Sailing with my expanded scope.

And the second newsworthy event? I turned 50. Enough said. :-)

Cruising around the San Francisco Bay for 3 days, 2 nights, as I was being evaluated (and eventually certified) as U.S. Sailing Cruising Instructor!

Cruising around the San Francisco Bay for 3 days, 2 nights, as I was being evaluated (and eventually certified) as U.S. Sailing Cruising Instructor!

Mission Accomplished!

It’s official! I’ve earned my Merchant Mariner Credential, and have been licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard as a Master (Captain) for vessels up to 50-tons.  

Here is my sailing story:

In 2013, confined in an office cubicle, I daydreamed of sailing on the San Francisco Bay.  As luck would have it, a friend and co-worker of mine bought a boat, and he invited me to sail with him in weekly “beer-can” races.  I was thrilled.  

At the end of the season, I enrolled in sailing classes at OCSC Sailing in Berkeley, California.  Always a good student, I took learning seriously. I sailed on the weekends and studied on the weeknights.  I even built a small-scale model of sailboat out of wood, string, and wire.  I set it up on my dining room table, which was certainly not being used for dining, and practiced tasks like reefing sails and recovering crew overboard.

Within a few months, I had passed the written exams and the on-the-water evaluations, and was certified by U.S. Sailing as Basic Cruising Skipper.  I was approved to take J24 keelboats out into the Bay!  I sailed as much as possible, with friends brave enough to join me on the wet, wild ride around the Bay. 

In 2014, I earned my U.S. Sailing Bareboat Skipper certification, enabling me to charter the large, comfortable “cruising” boats.  These boats are typically 36- to 40-feet in length, complete with galley, salon, head, and cabins. It was much easier to enlist friends for day or night excursions to Angel Island, Alcatraz Island, Golden Gate Bridge, and Pier 1.5 / Ferry Building since these boats offer more protection from the elements than the sporty J24 keelboats.

By 2015, I realized just how much I enjoyed sailing.  Not only did I enjoy sailing, I wanted to make a career out of it!  I envisioned skippering charters, delivering yachts, and teaching students.  

To do this (and get paid for it), I needed to get a U.S. Coast Guard-issued Merchant Mariner Credential, with a Master rating… more commonly known as a Captain’s License.  

The license requires passing as series of exams covering a massive amount of material ranging from rules of the road to deck safety to navigation to general deck stuff.  But that’s almost considered the “easy” part.  

The harder part is accumulating (and recording) the sea service required, which is 360 days on the water.  A “day” is defined as 4 hours underway.  The challenging part is that an 8-hour or even 24-hour day (like in an ocean-crossing) is still only 1 day of service.  

Ugh.  Even if I sailed one day every weekend, for an entire year, it would take over 7 years to accumulate the required 360 days.  I had to get sailing!  

To accelerate my accumulation of sailing days, I needed to broaden my capabilities, and expand beyond just San Francisco Bay.  

I headed back to OCSC Sailing and enrolled in their Coastal Navigation and Coastal Passage-Making (CPM) courses. Coastal Navigation involved a lot of classroom time (and homework), as we worked on paper charts and solved navigational questions.  The CPM course, on the other hand, required a week-long training sail along the California Coast and in/out of the San Francisco Bay.  I left these courses with my next U.S. Sailing certification, Coastal Skipper, and as it turned out, with a great friend and mentor, Tom Prior. 

To further accelerate my accumulation of sailing days, I simply needed more time and flexibility. 

So, in 2015, I made two significant changes to my lifestyle in order to focus on sailing.  I quit my job in financial planning and I rented out my 3-bedroom house in San Carlos.  Relieved from these daily obligations, I was free to spend as much time as needed – and go wherever I needed to go – to get the experience required to qualify for my Captain’s License.

At the same time, I had to be careful not to let my care-free lifestyle get out of control. Without a daily routine, I could easily slip into full-time slacker mode.

I built a budget, set goals, worked hard, and stayed focused. 

Over the next three years, I sailed whenever I could.  I chartered boats in Croatia twice, sailed across the South Pacific Ocean five times, and even began working at OCSC Sailing as a Sailing Instructor.  When there wasn’t much sailing to do, I headed to foreign countries like Chile and Thailand to volunteer in exchange for housing as a way to preserve my budget for the next sailing opportunity.

My sailing days accumulated faster and faster.  I switched over from manually recording days in my paper logbook to actually using an Excel spreadsheet.  I modelled out the weeks, months, and years, and set a goal to reach 360 by the end of calendar year 2018.

In mid-2018, as the achievement of my goal was in sight, I flew to Portland, Oregon, for a 10-day class at Columbia Pacific Maritime, which helped me prepare me for the 7 exams.  I took the exams and passed them all, including the sailing endorsement (of course) and towing endorsement.  

I finally reached 360 days goal near the end of 2018, broken down something like this:

25 days training on the water.

100 days sailing around San Francisco Bay.

150 days working as a Sailing Instructor.

50 days cruising Croatia, New Zealand, and Fiji.

60 days crossing oceans. 

So, just in time to meet my personal deadline, in December 2018 I submitted my application, exam results, and sea service to the U.S. Coast Guard.  Initially delayed by the shutdown, the USCG finally approved my application and issued me a Merchant Mariner Credential with the Master 50-ton Inland + OUPV Coastal rating in February 2019.

What does this mean? The short answer is I can now work as skipper-for-hire.  Passengers can pay me directly.  (Right now, they pay my employer OCSC Sailing who then pays me.)   So, I could buy a boat and take paying passengers out on tours of the San Francisco Bay, California coast, or U.S. Virgin Islands for example.  Or someone could hire to me help them learn to sail on their boat.  

At the beginning, the goal of getting my Captain’s License seemed far away and almost unattainable.  Certainly, quitting my corporate finance job to become a professional sailor was a bit unsettling and scary.  But, my experience and success proves the old saying, “a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.”  You just have to start.

Thanks to everyone at OCSC Sailing for the training and support over the years, to Columbia Pacific Maritime for the help preparing for the U.S. Coast Guard exams, to Kerry Sheehan (SV Windswept Lady) for the invitation to crew on his boat back in 2013, and to Tom Prior (SV Avalon) for the encouragement, opportunity, and trust to sail across oceans.  And thanks to friends and family for sticking with me and not thinking I’m too crazy!

It’s been an amazing few years of untraditional living, unwavering focus, and unmatched personal growth.  The memories are countless, and the adventure continues…

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It all began in 2013 with this model of a J24 keelboat made out of wood, string, and wire so that I could practice maneuvers and commands.

It all began in 2013 with this model of a J24 keelboat made out of wood, string, and wire so that I could practice maneuvers and commands.

Holiday Road Trip

For the Holidays, I embarked on a 3-week road trip north to see family and friends in the Pacific Northwest.

The sailing season in San Francisco is always a bit slower in winter than in summer, so I had plenty of time on my hands. Therefore, I chose to take the slow and scenic route: I drove along the coast both directions, covering about 1,700-miles in total.

On the trip north, I drove at a normal pace, enjoying the curvy roads and ocean views but not making a lot of stops for sightseeing and hiking.

I stopped in Crescent City the first night, avoiding Eureka where I’d been assaulted and robbed on a similar trip in 2016. The second night I arrived in Florence where I stayed with my Uncle and Aunt, and enjoyed fresh crab for dinner.

I then made my way to McMinnville to spend a few days, including Christmas, with my parents and little brother’s family. We busied ourselves with a big dinner, lots of presents, and the usual family games and puzzles.

From McMinnville, I headed into Portland for the weekend and New Year’s Eve. I caught up with friends and enjoyed city living, especially the craft beers and boutique coffee shops, both great solutions for rainy days.

On New Year’s Day, I headed over to the beach and stayed at my family’s beach house. I enjoyed a few beach walks in between rain storms, but mostly I enjoyed the absolute downtime the beach offers. My parents joined me for the last night. We tried (unsuccessfully) to conquer a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle in one night! But we made a good effort.

By January 5, it was time for me to head back to San Francisco, but I was going to average only 100 miles per day and take a week to get there! I wanted to do plenty of hiking, but I also wanted to visit as many of the Oregon coast lighthouses as possible. I figured that one day I would be sailing down the coast of Oregon, and maybe I should pay homage to these lighthouses that have provided navigational aid to vessels for over 150 years!

As it turned out, the weather didn’t cooperate much for hiking. Or, better said, I didn’t have the right gear. I had my waterproof jacket and boots, and my ‘water resistant’ pants, and even my trekking poles. But I’d forgotten my hardcore waterproof pants. I still ventured out on some of the less-rainy days, but it was just too wet most days for any kind of extended multi-hour hike.

I did manage to visit nearly all of the lighthouses on the Oregon Coast! A couple were closed or inaccessible to the public, and one was north, not south, of my starting point, but here are the ones I did visit: Cape Meares, Yaquina Bay, Heceta Head, Umpqua River, Coquille River, and Cape Blanco. I also stopped by the lighthouse at Point Arena in California.

The “lighthouse tour” was a great way to add purpose to my road trip, rather than just sort of randomly poke along (although that is fun too). Admittedly, I did do my fair share of random roadside stops for pictures, hikes, and whale-watching. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any whales. The fog, rain, and wind didn’t help viewing. It’s certainly possibly that some of the frothy spray from whitecaps was actually a whale spout.

Apart from the lighthouses and coastal views, the other highlight was driving through the Redwood forests featured in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and Humboldt Redwoods State Park. In particular, I took the scenic detour along Avenue of the Giants — a fantastic 31-mile drive with plenty of stops for short hikes.

Only on the last day of the road trip, coming down through Stinson beach, did the sun finally come out. It was a glorious approach into San Francisco, emerging from the Robin Williams Tunnel and seeing the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, the city skyline, and of course the bay itself, where I’ll spend so much time this year teaching sailing.

After three weeks, 1,700 miles, and a lot of different beds, I thought “Wow, it’s great to be home!” But then I realized I wasn’t really going home: I needed to find a hotel for the night…

Beach walk at manzanita beach, oregon.

Beach walk at manzanita beach, oregon.

beach walk at gold beach, oregon.

beach walk at gold beach, oregon.

cape meares lighthouse, oregon.

cape meares lighthouse, oregon.

yaquina bay lighthouse, oregon.

yaquina bay lighthouse, oregon.

heceta lighthouse, oregon.

heceta lighthouse, oregon.

heceta lighthouse, oregon.

heceta lighthouse, oregon.

umpqua river lighthouse, oregon.

umpqua river lighthouse, oregon.

inside the first order fresnel lens at umpqua river lighthouse.

inside the first order fresnel lens at umpqua river lighthouse.

coquille river lighthouse, oregon.

coquille river lighthouse, oregon.

cape blanco lighthouse, oregon.

cape blanco lighthouse, oregon.

point arena lighthouse, california.

point arena lighthouse, california.

at the top of cape blanco lighthouse.

at the top of cape blanco lighthouse.

driving through the redwood forests! look at the size of that tree vs. my car! (this photo was taken along a small road that is an offshoot from “avenue of the giants,” which itself is a 31-mile scenic route paralleling highway 101.)

driving through the redwood forests! look at the size of that tree vs. my car! (this photo was taken along a small road that is an offshoot from “avenue of the giants,” which itself is a 31-mile scenic route paralleling highway 101.)

Not the best picture of me, but here I am on a short walk through the Redwood Forest. It was great to visit during the offseason because there was no one on the trail! Quiet and peaceful!

Not the best picture of me, but here I am on a short walk through the Redwood Forest. It was great to visit during the offseason because there was no one on the trail! Quiet and peaceful!

House-Sitter for Hire

Well, ok not for hire… I’ll do it for free!

You see, my house in San Carlos is rented through September 2019, and possibly beyond that. So I continue to be homeless, even when I’m “home” in the Bay Area.

Upon returning from New Zealand, I was grateful that my friends (who happened to be in New Zealand traveling for a month) offered to let me house-sit for them at their house in Orinda.

While some folks in the Bay Area frown at “East Bay,” but I don’t mind the location at all. In some ways, I prefer it, since that’s where my sailing club and part-time employer, OSCS Sailing, is located. I have more and more friends moving to East Bay because of its affordability. Well, at least more affordable than many City or Silicon Valley neighborhoods.

While house-sitting, I mostly took care of long-overdue administrative tasks, like transferring photos and videos from camera to computer, and then backing up my computer to both online and external hard drive storage.

I had a stack of mail to go through, having been gone for 7 weeks, but as usual about 95% of it was junk mail. What a waste of paper and human resources.

I also did a few things for my friends who own the house. I climbed on top of the roof and cleaned out the rain gutters, which were full of leaves and dirt. Dirt, you ask? Yes, I think so. But it also could have been ash from the recent California wildfires.

I also played Santa, wrapping a few last-minute Amazon orders from the parents so that, upon return at the end of December, the kids would see the real Santa hadn’t forgotten to visit their house.

Lastly, I took care of the mail and garbage, too, like any good house-sitter.

The family (as well as my parents) read this journal, so I’ll leave out the details of the wild parties I hosted at the East Bay estate… :-)

In any event, it was great to have a house to call home for a few weeks. Thanks to A, M, B, and J!

I don’t have housing lined up yet for any of 2019. I’ll be in the Bay Area for Jan-Feb and Apr-Sep, so if anyone needs a house-sitter during those times, please let me know! (Unfortunately, with my Sailing Instructor schedule, I can’t offer to do daytime dog-walking.) Thanks!

Although I didn’t teach any sailing classes, I did take the J24 sailboat out a few times for some winter sailing.

Although I didn’t teach any sailing classes, I did take the J24 sailboat out a few times for some winter sailing.

Sailing gear came in handy while cleaning gutters. Gloves to protect my hands from sharp metal edges. Safety line to prevent the trowel from falling off the roof. Unfortunately, no safety line for me…

Sailing gear came in handy while cleaning gutters. Gloves to protect my hands from sharp metal edges. Safety line to prevent the trowel from falling off the roof. Unfortunately, no safety line for me…

A lot of dirt, and ash (?), in the gutters.

A lot of dirt, and ash (?), in the gutters.

Auckland Once Again

After spending a week exploring the Central Plateau and taking some great hikes around volcanoes, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls, I headed back to Auckland on November 30.

I wouldn’t fly home to the U.S. until December 6, so I had some time to just relax in this vibrant city. I’ve stayed in the “City of Sails” several times before as part of my adventures on SV Avalon, so the pressure of sightseeing and souvenir shopping was nonexistent. I simply booked a nice hotel room for a couple of nights (the Stamford Hotel), and then an apartment (Star Victoria Serviced Apartments) for another few nights.

I spent the days sipping coffee, sorting through photos and videos, and doing lots of laundry. The apartment had a washer/dryer. I also visited many of my favorite establishments: restaurants like Farina, Monsoon Poon, Kebab Time, and the Asian food mecca Food Alley; bars like Lime, Fiddlers, and Swashbucklers; and cafes like VicPark Café and Good Times Coffee.

Coincidentally, friends from San Francisco arrived in Auckland during this time, so I crashed their family vacation and joined them for a morning walk around the Wynyard Quarter. I also met up with a local friend Tim, who I’d met on a previous visit. He’d given me suggestions for the Central Plateau, so it was great to be able to thank him in person.

December 6 came pretty quick. I packed my bags securely for the long flight home, and took a final InterCity Bus ride to the airport. I arrived plenty early and took advantage of the lounge access I know get with my Priority Pass (thanks to my upgrade from Chase Preferred to Chase Reserve credit card). Totally worth it! I was even able to get Skipper Tom in as a guest.

The flight home was smooth, although it’s always weird flying home to San Francisco from Auckland. Due to the international dateline, the flight typically lands before it takes off!

I’d been gone for 7 weeks. It was nice to be back in the Bay Area.

Upon arrival, I took a Lyft ride to my house to retrieve my car, and then drove to my storage unit for a quick gear change. I then drove across the bay to Orinda, in East Bay, where I would house sit for the rest of December. The house actually belongs to the friends that I’d rendezvoused with in Auckland! While they rent a camper van and drive around South Island, New Zealand, I’ll be recovering from my trip to New Zealand in their house. It’s a great (and low-budget) way to close out the year.

Happy to be back in the vibrant and familiar City of Sails, Auckland!

Happy to be back in the vibrant and familiar City of Sails, Auckland!

Sky City tower lit up for the Holidays.

Sky City tower lit up for the Holidays.

Star Victoria Serviced Apartments - very comfortable with lots of amenities, in particular a washer/dryer for this weary traveler.

Star Victoria Serviced Apartments - very comfortable with lots of amenities, in particular a washer/dryer for this weary traveler.

My second apartment was equally nice… a coveted corner unit with lots of windows and balcony!

My second apartment was equally nice… a coveted corner unit with lots of windows and balcony!

Hobbit for a Day

My last stop before Auckland was Rotorua, where I would spend two nights. My main objective was to use Rotorua as a base for getting to Hobbiton (Lord of the Rings fame). But during my visit, I realized Rotorua has several cool attractions of its own.

My accommodation Aura was centrally located with super friendly, very helpful staff. Unfortunately, the room itself was a bit disappointing because of the lack of air conditioning and the lack of plugs. I only found three plugs: one in the kitchen that didn’t work, one in the closet that wasn’t convenient, and one near the bed about 4 feet off the floor (which was also not very convenient for my laptop plug, which kept falling out of the socket). There wasn’t even a plug in the bathroom.

The first day, I had a late lunch at BREW on “Eat Street” – a short pedestrian block that has lots of trendy eateries. I had a great fried chicken sandwich (with bacon, cheese, coleslaw, and jalapenos) and a local Croucher beer.

After that filling lunch, I had to get some exercise. I walked about an hour through the Government Gardens, along Sulfur Point, and up to the Whakarewarewa Forest. The forest was very nice with an interesting history dating back to 1901 when it was established as an experiment to study the suitability of both native and exotic species for commercial planting (and I presume harvesting). I had a nice walk along the towering Redwoods and ferns. I even found a Frisbee golf course!

I found myself (as planned) at the local iSite on Long Mile Road, which is also the location of the popular Redwoods Treewalk which consists of over 25 suspension bridges and platforms that wind through the forest, about 10 meters off the ground. I got there at dusk and walked once around; then they turned on the hanging lanterns and I walked around again in the dark. Very cool, albeit quite crowded with tourists. The iSite location is open until 10pm, and they were nice enough to order me a taxi back to my hotel. It’s not safe to walk in Rotorua at night, I hear.

The next day was the “main event”: I had scheduled a tour of Hobbiton, the famous movie set for Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. The bus left at 8:00am and we made the hour drive to Matamata and up to the family farm where the movie set is located.

Hobbiton is very neat and well maintained. The actual tour, however, felt rushed; and it was definitely crowded. Our group was herded along like cattle, just so the next group could follow. The “move-along” nature of the tour made it difficult for everyone to get the pictures (group and/or selfie) they wanted. Our tour guide said that on peak days, they host over 3,500 tourists through the site.

At the end of the tour, we all got a free beer at the Dragon Inn which was built in Hobbiton after the movie was released. (The actual movie scenes of the Dragon Inn were filmed at a studio.) Now the Dragon Inn (as well as other parts of Hobbiton) are used for exclusive private events.

The tour company (“Hobbiton Movie Set Tours”) is very well organized, and I recommend the company. The bus ride was entertaining thanks to our driver’s jokes and stories, and the Lord of the Rings video clips. Again, my only disappointment was just feeling rushed through the actual site.

That night, I had a great dinner at Mexican Cantina Zapata. I met the family next to me – the wife (and her mother who was visiting) are from Puerto Montt, Chile! Small world… since I’ve spent a lot of time on Isla Tenglo, just off the coast of Puerto Montt. After dinner, I strolled through the Thursday Night Market (only once a week so plan accordingly!). The market offers arts and crafts, music, and local food from kiosks and food trucks.

The following day, it was pouring rain. I cancelled my intended hike, and just took a short walk through Kuirau Park, famous for its vigorous geothermal activity. The cloudy, rainy day made the conditions extra scenic and eerie. I made a short iPhone movie that can be found on InstaGram.

Toward the end of my walk, it started raining hard! I hunkered down below a large tree and waited out the storm. After 30 minutes, the rain lightened up a bit, and I made a run for town. After scoping out places for lunch, I couldn’t decide, so I just picked Lime Café next door to Aura. It was bad: no WIFI, no red wine, and no mention of the pizza specials that weren’t on the menu (but on the specials board which I couldn’t see from my seat).

I checked out of my hotel and headed to the bus stop, which happened to be located in front of the iSite tourist office. I caught up on email using the free WIFI and bought a couple of souvenirs. Then I boarded my bus for the 3 hour trip to Auckland…

Whakarewarewa forest.

Whakarewarewa forest.

redwoods treewalk.

redwoods treewalk.

lanterns on the redwoods treewalk.

lanterns on the redwoods treewalk.

taking another lap along the suspension bridges at the redwoods treewalk… this time at dusk.

taking another lap along the suspension bridges at the redwoods treewalk… this time at dusk.

hobbiton!

hobbiton!

The famous hobbit hole of bilbo baggins. the large tree at the top of the picture is fake! peter jackson requested this perfectly shaped tree be “built” for the movie. it looks so real! All 200,000 leaves were wired on one by one…

The famous hobbit hole of bilbo baggins. the large tree at the top of the picture is fake! peter jackson requested this perfectly shaped tree be “built” for the movie. it looks so real! All 200,000 leaves were wired on one by one…

bridge and mill as viewed from the lawn in front of the dragon inn.

bridge and mill as viewed from the lawn in front of the dragon inn.

hobbit home.

hobbit home.

A misty day at kuirau Park, noted for its geothermal activity.

A misty day at kuirau Park, noted for its geothermal activity.

boardwalk in kuirau park.

boardwalk in kuirau park.

Taupo and Two Hikes

Having spent a week or so in the Central Plateau, and having completed several outstanding hikes, I decided it was time to start heading back north. (And return my rental car!)

The drive from Whakapapa Village to Taupo is very nice. Great scenery, curvy roads, and very little traffic.

I made a couple of short stops on my way to Taupo:

I first stopped at Lake Rotopounamu, where I took a 2-hour walk around the lake. This is a very nice walk through some dense, green forest that comes alive with chirping birds (and in my case dripping rain). There are several short paths from the main trail down to the lakeside shore where you can sit quietly and watch for birds. It was very foggy during my walk; I enjoyed watching the fog roll silently across the lake, too.

My second stop was the famous Huka Falls, where again I took a quick walk. I parked below the Falls and made a 15-minute walk up to the lower part of the Falls. Then I walked back to the car and drove up to the official Visitor Center. I parked, and took a 1 minute hike to the top of the Falls.

The Falls are known not for height but sheer water volume and power. You don’t need a lot of time here, but it’s worth a quick visit for their unique nature. They have a jet boat ride that looks pretty fun, but I’m sure it’s pricey.

After my morning adventures, I drove back to the town of Taupo. I checked into my accommodation, the Suncourt Apartments. My room was very spacious and modern, with a balcony overlooking Lake Taupo.

I returned my rental car to the Budget office (which conveniently was just short walk from the town center). I walked back to the town center, and enjoyed a pulled pork and a beer at Pub ‘N Grub. After lunch, I meandered along the lakeside as I headed back to my apartment.

I had dinner in the adjacent restaurant (Lake Bistro). I opted for the fish and chips, noticing that that’s what several locals were eating. I ate too fast though, as I was trying to get back to my balcony for sunset!

The next morning, I headed to Replete Café for eggs on toast, a coffee, and some WIFI. After noticing the nearby Marmot store was having a huge sale, I resisted the urge to buy a cool Marmot Ares puffy jacket. Instead, I just headed to the bus station where I caught the Intercity bus to Rotorua…

Hiking through the lush forest around Lake Rotopounamu.

Hiking through the lush forest around Lake Rotopounamu.

Stopping along the beach at Lake Rotopounamu to watch the fog roll in.

Stopping along the beach at Lake Rotopounamu to watch the fog roll in.

Huka Falls, lower section.

Huka Falls, lower section.

Huka Falls, upper section.

Huka Falls, upper section.

Huka Falls in action. Some crazy Kiwi kayakers have gone down the falls…on purpose!

Huka Falls in action. Some crazy Kiwi kayakers have gone down the falls…on purpose!

Sunset over Lake Taupo.

Sunset over Lake Taupo.


Taranaki Falls and Tama Lakes

After completing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, I left the small town of Turangi, and moved to the even smaller Whakapapa Village. Although the Village is basically located in the Tongariro National Park, you really need a car to get there. I couldn’t find a shuttle or bus service from Turangi or Taupo. So, I ended up renting a car from Taupo, and driving back down to the Village. It was totally worth it though.

I stayed two nights at the Chateau Tongariro, a classic 1920s hotel that offered a nice lounge, restaurant, and cinema, in addition to spacious, lavish rooms. There is an iSite tourist office next door, which can help you arrange transport for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, or other hikes nearby.

Having completed the Crossing a couple of days earlier, I chose to conquer the Taranaki Falls and Tama Lakes hike combination. The Taranaki Falls is a 2-hour loop, but at the halfway point you can take a 4-hour detour (roundtrip) to the lower and upper Tama Lakes, making a 6-7 hour hike in total, which is what I did.

Starting from the Chateau, I walked to the trailhead of the Taranaki Falls loop. I started on the “lower falls” trail inadvertently, but I ended up liking this route better than starting on the “upper falls” trail. On the “lower falls” trail, I hiked through some dense forest and approached the falls from the bottom – I thought this was pretty cool as I could hear the falls first, and then they emerged before me. (Coming from the “upper falls” trail, I don’t think it would have been as dramatic.)

I took a few pictures and then made the short ascent to the top of the falls. Here, I turned left and began the detour to Tama Lakes. For just under two hours (I think), I followed the trail up and down, over lava flows that are tens of thousands of years old. It’s pretty cool. There is a good view of Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt. Doom) as well. I arrived at Lower Tama Lake first, and then made the 30-minute ascent to the Upper Tama Lake. Even if you don’t go all the way to the upper lake (it gets a little steep and rocky), you should go part way – because it gives you an even better view of the lower lake. But the viewpoint at the Upper Tama Lake is pretty spectacular.

Coming back down, I followed the trail all the way back to the Taranaki Falls Trail, and then took the “upper falls” trail back to the Chateau.

It was about 15 km again, but there was not as much elevation gain as the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Once again, though, pay attention to the weather! I started the hike at 8:00am and finished by 2:00pm because the forecast said the afternoon might bring thundershowers. Sure enough, by 2:30pm, it was pouring rain. As I was hiking back down the trail, around 12:00pm or 1:00pm, there were a number of people who were going UP the trail. Clearly, they hadn’t checked (or paid attention to) the weather forecast. I hope they all made it back down!

Obviously the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is the hike to do in the Central Plateau area. But the Taranaki Falls (with or without the Tama Lakes extension) is a good alternative hike if you aren’t able to do the Alpine Crossing due to weather, gear, time, fitness, etc.

The view of Taranaki Falls from the lower part of the trail.

The view of Taranaki Falls from the lower part of the trail.

Mt. Doom! (Mt. Ngauruhoe)

Mt. Doom! (Mt. Ngauruhoe)

Lower Tama Lake (as viewed from about 10 minutes into the hike to Upper Tama Lake).

Lower Tama Lake (as viewed from about 10 minutes into the hike to Upper Tama Lake).

Lower Tama Lake as viewed from Upper Tama Lake viewpoint.

Lower Tama Lake as viewed from Upper Tama Lake viewpoint.

Upper Tama Lake, as viewed from the Upper Tama Lake viewpoint. Great spot for lunch! But it’s windy!

Upper Tama Lake, as viewed from the Upper Tama Lake viewpoint. Great spot for lunch! But it’s windy!

Hiking back down to my hotel, Chateau Tongariro. (This is actually taken from the short Ridge Trail that is about a 30 minute walk up to a viewpoint. Trailhead is behind the iSite tourist office in Whakapapa Village.)

Hiking back down to my hotel, Chateau Tongariro. (This is actually taken from the short Ridge Trail that is about a 30 minute walk up to a viewpoint. Trailhead is behind the iSite tourist office in Whakapapa Village.)

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The Tongariro National Park is decorated with a rare dual World Heritage Site status, noted for its Maori cultural and spiritual significance as well as its volcanic and geological features. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing, within the Park, is one of New Zealand’s most famous trails

At 19 kilometers in length, with over 700 meters in elevation gain, through rugged terrain and variable weather, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing trail is not to be taken lightly. In fact, a gentleman died (unknown cause) on the trail the day after I hiked it. Another man died (from exposure / hypothermia) on the trail one month earlier.

So, do your research, come prepared, and know your limits! Many websites and YouTube videos exist online, offering perspectives on how to prepare, what to bring, and what to expect. Here are a few links to get you started:

https://www.backpackerguide.nz/guide-to-the-tongariro-alpine-crossing/

https://wanderlusters.com/preparing-hike-tongariro-alpine-crossing/

https://www.hikingproject.com/trail/7011198/tongariro-alpine-crossing

New Zealand has great tourist information offices called iSites, located in major tourist towns. The iSite locations near Tongariro National Park (e.g., Turangi and Whakapapa Village) are very helpful in providing information about the Alpine Crossing and other hikes.

Again, I strongly encourage you to do your homework, and prepare accordingly.

That said, here are a few notes about my specific experience.

Where to Stay.

The largest city within an hour’s drive of the trailhead is Taupo, which offers a variety of lodging and eating options. I chose to stay a bit closer to the trailhead, in the town of Turangi. I booked the Tongariro Bridge Motel for three nights (see “weather” for more detail about why I did this). The motel had a cozy pub/restaurant as well as laundry facilities. It was a short 10-minute walk to the town center, which had a few more restaurants and a grocery store.

If you have a car, you might consider staying in Whakapapa Village which is even closer to the trailhead. The hotel in the village, Chateau Tongariro, is a classic hotel built in the 1920s, with a nice restaurant, lounge, and even a small cinema! (I actually ended up staying here for a few days after my hike!)

Weather.

For most of us, good weather is crucial for hiking safety. As you are planning your trip, pay careful attention to the weather. This is super important, and not to be taken lightly. You don’t want to be stuck out in the rugged, exposed terrain in big wind, rain, snow, or thunderstorms.

Weather uncertainty is the reason I booked three nights at the Tongariro Bridge Motel. I allowed myself an arrival night of Wednesday, a possible hike day either Thursday or Friday, and then a recovery night of Friday, checking out Saturday morning. As it turned out, I stayed put Thursday, and did the hike Friday – so I needed that extra day.

Here are the best sites for weather:

https://www.metservice.com/mountain/tongariro-national-park.

http://www.myweather2.com/City-Town/New-Zealand/Tongariro-National-Park/14-Day-Forecast.aspx.

I also used some of my sailing apps, like PredictWind.com and Windy.com, as a double- and triple-check.

Also, remember these volcanoes are active – so check for any warnings about volcanic activity.

The local iSite locations (e.g., Turangi and Whakapapa Village) are great resources for current and upcoming weather conditions as well.

Hike Logistics.

The trail is not a loop; it is one-way. Most hikers and tour operators begin at the Mangatepopo car park, and end at the Ketetahi car park. So, if you want to the do the entire one-way crossing, you’ll have to arrange your transport accordingly. Self-parking at either car park is limited to 4 hours, so you can only do that if you’re going to do a partial hike up and back (which certainly some people do).

Fortunately, finding such transport (via shuttle service) is pretty easy because the Alpine Crossing hike is the MAIN local attraction. At the Tongariro Bridge Motel, the front desk arranged for Alpine Shuttle to pick me up at the Motel and take me to the trailhead at Mangatepopo car park. I took the 6:00am pickup, but there was also a 7:30am pickup available. Included in the price ($55 NZD) was a return shuttle ride, leaving the finish line at Ketetahi car park at 3:00pm, 4:00pm, or 5:00pm, depending on when I finished the hike.

Alpine Shuttle was perfectly fine. At both car parks, I noticed several other shuttle services as well. So again, the transport shouldn’t be a problem; just ask at your hotel or iSite for assistance.

Hike Time.

The hike is just over 19 kilometers; guidelines suggest allowing 6-8 hours to complete. With the 6:00am shuttle, I was on the trail at 7:00am. I’m a fast walker, but I also take a lot of pictures. I finished the hike at 2:00pm. In hindsight, I could have spent an extra hour along the hike, soaking in the views, since the first shuttle wasn’t until 3:00pm.

Throughout New Zealand, I found the posted hiking-time estimates were pretty accurate for me. I’m 6’ tall, fit, and a fast walker. In the United States, I’m generally 10-20% faster than posted hiking-times, but in New Zealand I was < 10% faster. So be careful if you tend to be a bit slower. Make sure you allow yourself plenty of time, and be aware that New Zealand hiking-times might be less conservative than in the US.

Hike Characteristics.

As for the hike itself, it’s pretty spectacular. And yes, it’s technical, steep, and difficult in a few places. (Remember, you’re climbing to an altitude of nearly 2000 meters, so oxygen is limited!)

Make sure you are up for the challenge. Do some practice walks at home, or take advantage of the other shorter tracks that are in and around the Tongariro region. I recommend Taranaki Falls Trail, the Tama Lakes Trail, the Tongariro River Trail, and the Rotopounamu Lake Trail. There are many others.

You can read elsewhere online for a thorough walkthrough of the hike. Or watch some YouTube videos like this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45NKj651UEE&t=627s

From my experience, I think the middle part is the best part. The first couple of hours are basically the ascent to the craters and lakes. The next couple of hours are stunning, as you hike through the craters and along the lakes. There is a “fun” section that is a pretty steep descent down a scree field (loose sand, gravel, and rocks). I sat here, ate a sandwich, and watched people successfully (and unsuccessfully) navigate the path down. Then I took my turn and had some fun! Be careful though! The final couple of hours are, frankly, a bit boring – the view of the valley below is beautiful, but it doesn’t really change for two hours as you follow a well-defined trail down the mountain.

Gear.

In addition to good weather, proper gear is another element to hiking safety. Come prepared! So what does that mean? What do you bring? Again, there are lots of websites that already suggest what to bring. Here is a list of what I brought:

Clothing:

Shoes: North Face low-top hiking shoes (not boots), but they are Gore-tex so waterproof.

Socks: Wool hiking socks from REI

Pants: Mountain Hardwear MT6-U Pant

Underwear: ExOfficio Give-n-Go Sport Boxer Brief

Shirt: Icebreaker wool long sleeve, plus Gill long sleeve zip top

Hats: Fleece cap and baseball cap

Fleece: REI midweight fleece

Outer Layer: Columbia EvaPOURation Jacket

Extra Gear:

Gill sailing gloves (for the chain section)

Oakley sunglasses

Merino wool buff

Sunscreen

Waterproof flashlight (unknown brand)

Greatland rescue laser

Heimdall rescue whistle

25-feet Dyneema line

Extra shirt and socks (dry)

Two apples

Peanut butter packed in Ziploc bag

Mixed nuts, dried fruit, chocolate in Ziploc bag

3 liters of bottled water

Sea to Summit Dry Bags of various sizes to pack above items

REI Flash 18 backpack

Leatherman Charge Multitool

Trail map

Assortment of a few carabiners and buckling straps

Nikon Coolpix AW130

GoPro Hero 3+

iPhone

I ended up not needing a lot of the extra clothes and gear, but that’s the point. Better to have and not need, then need and not have.

Conclusion and “Reconsiderations”

What a fantastic hike! I’m grateful that the weather cooperated; I did my research and planned accordingly. I do have a couple of “reconsiderations.” (I was going to say “regrets” but it’s really hard to have any regrets!) There are two things I might do differently next time. First, I’d like to plan extra time to take the 2-hour detour and make the ascent to Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt. Doom from Lord of the Rings). Second, I’d probably bring trekking poles to assist in the steep scree descent and to make better time on the flats. All in all though, I’m very pleased and satisfied with the Tongariro Alpine Crossing!

After the first hour or so, looking back down at the trailhead and valley.

After the first hour or so, looking back down at the trailhead and valley.

In front of Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt. Doom). Wish I had planned for the extra two-hours to make the ascent! (An optional portion of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.)

In front of Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt. Doom). Wish I had planned for the extra two-hours to make the ascent! (An optional portion of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.)

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Looking down toward the Emerald Lakes, about the navigate the loose scree field descent!

Looking down toward the Emerald Lakes, about the navigate the loose scree field descent!

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One of the Emerald Lakes. Look but don’t touch. They are sacred to the Maori.

One of the Emerald Lakes. Look but don’t touch. They are sacred to the Maori.

Another of the Emerald Lakes.

Another of the Emerald Lakes.

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This is looking back across the trail, after passing the Emerald Lakes.

This is looking back across the trail, after passing the Emerald Lakes.

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Walking along Blue Lake.

Walking along Blue Lake.

And the descent down to Ketetahi car park. It’s a long windy walk down with a great view.

And the descent down to Ketetahi car park. It’s a long windy walk down with a great view.

Tongariro River Trail

After sailing SV Avalon down the eastern coast of New Zealand, from Opua (in Bay of Islands) to Marsden Cove Marina, I bid farewell to the skipper and admiral, and headed south by bus to explore the Central Plateau of the North Island.

The Central Plateau is a heavily volcanic region, with some great hikes through amazing terrain. The most famous of the hikes is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

From Marsden Cove Marina, I took a bus down to Auckland, and then another bus toward Lake Taupo. I passed through the town of Taupo, continued along the east side of the large lake, and stopped at the town of Turangi at the southern end of the lake. Here, I stepped off the bus, and checked into the Tongariro Bridge Motel on the edge of town.

That afternoon, I made the short walk to the iSite tourist office in the town center to get information about local hikes, upcoming weather, and specifically, details about the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

Good weather is a crucial element of a safe and comfortable hike across the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. I had booked three consecutive nights at the Tongariro Bridge Motel, in hopes that one of the days would bring decent weather. (I actually had planned in my itinerary to wait for as long as 5 days for good weather, but I only booked 3 days initially at the motel.) Upon my arrival in Turangi, it was pouring down rain, so I figured I wouldn’t be going immediately.

I waited overnight to see if the weather would improve. The next morning, the forecast update at 6:00am didn’t bring great news. Clear in the morning, but thundershowers in the afternoon. Not good for the Alpine Crossing. I decided to wait.

But, based on the forecast, I had a few hours of nice weather in the morning. The iSite office had suggested the nearby Tongariro River Trail as a good half-day hike. This is a 15-km loop around a section of the river. The walk is mostly flat. I figured it would be a good warmup for the Alpine Crossing. I grabbed some water and snacks, and set out from my motel. (The trail was basically just across the street!)

The trail was well-maintained, well-marked, and easy-going. Highlights include crossing two narrow suspension bridges, and relaxing on a bench watching the fly fishermen. I was slightly disappointed that for a lot of the hike you aren’t actually on (or even in sight of) the river.  

I think this is because the river is famous for fly-fishing.  It’s probably not a good idea for hikers to be stomping by as fishermen are trying to catch elusive trout.  So the River Trail is set back from the river.  Occasionally, there are lightly trodden paths down to the river for the anglers.  

The hike is pleasant enough though, and it started across the street from my motel in Turing.  So it was very convenient.

I completed the walk in a few hours, getting back to my motel before the thundershowers hit. I hunkered down in the restaurant and pub, checking the weather for the next day. It was looking good.

Friday morning I set out on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing…

Setting out on the Tongariro River Trail.

Setting out on the Tongariro River Trail.

The trail follows the river bank, but a lot of the trail is tucked into the dense trees on either side of the bank.

The trail follows the river bank, but a lot of the trail is tucked into the dense trees on either side of the bank.

One of two suspension bridges to cross.

One of two suspension bridges to cross.

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This fly fisherman caught a fish soon after I took this photo.  He was excited, and hollered over asking me if I’d caught the catch on film.

This fly fisherman caught a fish soon after I took this photo. He was excited, and hollered over asking me if I’d caught the catch on film.

Pahia. Opua. Okiato. Russell.

If you find yourself in the Bay of Islands with spare time, I highly recommend this hiking trail. It’s a loop that incorporates a walk along the bay shoreline, two ferry rides, a boardwalk through mangroves, and a rolling stroll through the countryside. It took me about 6-hours, with plenty of stops for photos, but no stop for lunch.

I recommend doing the walk in a counter-clockwise (or anti-clockwise) direction. The signage is more obvious in that direction. I found that out the hard way.

You see, I was trying to rendezvous with some friends who were doing the Pahia to Opua portion of the walk. So I started the walk in a clockwise direction, Opua to Pahia, in hopes of intercepting them. I did meet them, so that part worked out ok. But I continued on the walk, in the clockwise direction, and found myself lost once and confused a couple of times. I had to keep looking behind me at the signs, and try to work backwards where I was going.

So, keep it easy on yourself, and go counter-clockwise. It doesn’t matter where you start.

If you have a map, you’ll quickly see that the ferry sections are Opua to Okiato, and then Russell to Pahia. From Okiato to Russell, you walk through a forest (with some steep sections) and then mangroves (with a boardwalk). From Pahia to Opua, you walk along the shoreline which is quite nice. Just make sure you check the tides; at high tide some parts may be impassable.

If you want to stop for lunch or a beer, I recommend Russell or Pahia as having the best options. Opua has one or two cafes as well. But I didn’t see any options in Okiato. That said, Okiato is the site of New Zealand’s first capital (only for a year in 1840), so take the short detour to that historic hilltop location.

Also, make sure you know the ferry schedules. When I went (early November), the Opua / Okiato ferry ran every 15 minutes or so. The Russell / Pahia ferry ran only every hour. So plan accordingly.

Overall, it’s a great day hike. The track is pretty well maintained. I ran into one section that was slightly overgrown, but not difficult. There are also some steep parts, but if you pace yourself and take your time, it should be manageable for most people.

Funny enough, I did slip on a flat gravel road section. I cut my hand and my knee. So it just goes to show, BE CAREFUL no matter where you are.

Have fun out there!

Part of the walk between Opua and Pahia is right along the coast.  Make sure you check the tides!  (High tides might make trail impassable.)

Part of the walk between Opua and Pahia is right along the coast. Make sure you check the tides! (High tides might make trail impassable.)

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Boardwalk through the mangroves.

Boardwalk through the mangroves.

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The little ferry between Pahia and Russell.

The little ferry between Pahia and Russell.

Exploring the Bay of Islands

We had arrived in Opua in the middle of the night, in the rain, and in an unfamiliar marina. But, knowing that we were safely docked alongside, I slept like a log. Maybe the celebratory arrival beer helped.

The next morning, the Customs, Immigration, and Bio-Security officials stopped by our boat to check us into New Zealand. Once approved for entry, we departed the Q dock and headed to our temporary slip on H dock in the Opua Marina.

After tying up and tidying up, we headed to the Marina Café for the classic “Big Breakfast” and a beer. We didn’t care it was 9:00 am. We were safely on land after over a week at sea.

Coincidentally, the Opua Cruising Club was hosting “Cruisers’ Week.” We immediately registered. The week involved a tour of the boatyard, presentations by vendors (marine engineers, plumbers, electricians, sail makers, etc.), and an evening dinner cruise aboard a power catamaran to tour local anchorages. More importantly, each day there was at least one event with free food like BBQ burgers, smoked fish, or gourmet pizza. And most importantly, the whole week kicked off with a ‘princess-themed’ party at the Club on our first night after sailing the high seas! So we were ready to party!

So that first night, Saturday night, we created wrap-around skirts from some excess material SV Avalon had on board, and headed to the party. As silly as we thought we looked, we ended up being on the tame side of costumes. Some of the cruisers went all out with dresses, makeup, and other props. It was fun meeting people and hearing their seafaring stories.

For the next week, we participated in the Opua Cruising Club events, and certainly ate our share of food. Nicky departed a couple of days after our arrival. I moved off the boat and booked a room at the Marina Cove Bed & Breakfast for four nights, just a 20-minute walk from the marina. It was great to have a big bed, and one that didn’t roll from side to side. My hosts Mike and Wendy were super welcoming and generous, bringing me fresh bread, fruit, muesli, and yogurt for breakfast… and a bottle of wine for the evening on my private balcony overlooking the Bay of Islands.

One day, I took a long walk from Opua, to Pahia, to Russell, to Okiato, and back to Opua. I’ll write about this in a separate journal entry.

At the end of the week, it was time to say goodbye to Opua and the Bay of Islands, and sail down the coast of New Zealand to our ultimate destination, Marsden Cove Marina.

We made the journey at a relatively leisurely pace. After a short day sail, we anchored at Motuarohia Island (still within the Bay of Islands region) for the first night. We took the dinghy ashore for a quick hike to a great viewpoint. I tried to imagine what it would have been like for Captain James Cook who discovered this island in 1769, when it was inhabited by an estimated 300 Maori people.

The next day, we sailed around Cape Brett and headed south toward Cape Bream, passing the Poor Knights Islands on our port side. Rounding Cape Bream, we waited for two big commercial ships to navigate the narrow channel before we entered.

Rounding another turn or two, we then peeled off to starboard and entered Urquhart’s Bay where we anchored for the night. This enabled us to make the final entry into Marsden Cove Marina in daylight, but more importantly, at the right tidal height and current.

That next morning, we weighed anchor and motored slowly up to Marsden Cove Marina. It was a great feeling to pull into the familiar slip at A dock (after a quick stop at the fuel dock to top off the tanks) where we had started and finished four other ocean crossings in the last two years.

As per tradition, we headed into the Land & Sea Café for a “Big Breakfast” and a flat white. No beer this time. Returning to the boat, we did a series of boat jobs – the most important of mine was to pack up my stuff. I’d be disembarking and taking a bus south for two weeks of exploring New Zealand on land.

In the evening, we made the short walk through the developing neighborhood and checked into the best AirBnB in Marsden, run by hosts Mike and Jennifer. We’ve stayed with them numerous times in the past, and they are always so gracious. Tonight, we enjoyed a dinner of fresh fish and salad, and pavlova for dessert!

After a good night’s sleep, and a lot of internet time to plan my upcoming two weeks, I had a final breakfast at Land & Sea, and then headed to the docks to say goodbye to Tom, Di, and Avalon.

Mike and Jennifer then drove me to the bus stop – which turned out to be a dirt parking lot next to a gas station. I bid farewell to my hosts, and waited for the bus south.

A new adventure was about to begin…

Sailing NC to NZ

As my second week in New Caledonia began, Skipper Tom made the call: The weather looks good for departure!

We checked out of the country, with Tom and Di handling all of the paperwork with Immigration and Customs. After a final sleep on stable land, we cast of the lines and headed south!

We sailed about 60 miles down the coast of New Caledonia, staying between land and the outer reefs, which protected us from the big swells that had been kicked up by several days of constant easterly wind. This was all part of the plan – to let the seas settle a bit as we sailed within the reef’s protection. (Note: The 60 miles is measured as a direct line on the chart. Our actual sailing route was longer due to wind direction and obstacles like reefs and islands!)

When we reached Ile Des Pins, we then headed out through the reef and into the South Pacific Ocean.

As we entered open water, the wind was still fresh and the swells were still big. We had about 24 hours of pretty intense sailing. We were prepared though. We had pre-made simple sandwiches that we could snack on, without any time-consuming (and perhaps seasick-inducing) preparation below deck. We set aside cup-of-soups, too, which is another classic bad-weather staple. We divided ourselves into watches, with two people sleeping and two people sailing. Then we switched every three hours.

The wind and seas began to settle down after that first day in open water. But then it settled down a bit too much -- down to single digits. Meanwhile, the sea state, which generally takes a bit longer to settle down, still rocked the boat with two- to three-meter swells.

These conditions didn’t allow us to sail at a productive speed, so we furled the headsail and turned on the engine. (We kept the mainsail hoisted because it acted as a stabilizer with the swells, helping to minimize rolling.)

Wait. What do I mean by productive speed? I’ll try to explain briefly.

The passage is a bit like a game of dodge ball. At this time of year, low-pressure systems spin out of the Tasman Sea every 5-10 days, passing directly over the cruising route between New Zealand and the islands. These systems bring high winds and rain, and kick up big seas. We don’t want to be in the way!

On these passages, we try to leave just as one low-pressure system is passing over the route. We try “shoot the gap” and make it to New Zealand before the next low-pressure system develops.

So, on average, let’s say we have 7 days to make the 1,000-mile sail south. That’s an average of 144 miles per day, or 6 miles per hour. (For sailing, we do this calculation in nautical miles and knots per hour – but the results are similar enough for illustrative purposes.)

If the conditions are such that we can’t sail at 6 miles per hour, we can drift for a bit or play around with light wind sails, but at some point we have to get moving. We’ll turn on the engine and motor at 6 miles per hour to make sure we are progressing against our overall goal, and staying ahead of the next low-pressure system that will inevitably develop.

Hopefully that gives some context for “productive speed.”

Now, one of the many challenges is we don’t carry enough fuel to simply motor the entire 1,000 miles. Even if we had the fuel, there’s no guarantee the sea state would allow us to motor at that speed. Big seas, in particular, slow us down.

Tom is constantly monitoring our fuel usage (among many other things), balancing making progress toward our destination with saving fuel for emergencies (and, if all goes well, arriving and docking in the marina!).

On this passage, as the wind settled down, we motor-sailed for over three days mid-passage. The calm conditions allowed us to cook some good meals underway, enjoy some sunsets and sunrises, and catch up on sleep.

By the end of the week, the wind picked up again, and we had a couple of days of glorious sailing! Wind was 15 knots just aft of the beam. Seas were down to 1 meter.

As we approached New Zealand, the forecast indicated a low-pressure system moving across our route. It was going to hit us right about the time we’d be approaching our destination Marsden Cove Marina. Not exactly safe conditions for closing the coast, let alone navigating a narrow channel entry.

Marsden was about 100 miles down the coast eastern coast of New Zealand, and it was our intended final destination. However, given the stormy forecast, an alternative was to make landfall sooner. Opua, in the Bay of Islands, at the northern end of the North Island, also handled check-ins. (Before setting foot on land, cruisers have to pass through Customs, Immigration, and Bio-Security checks at designated ports. Opua and Marsden both offered these services.)

After radioing the marina at Opua to confirm availability of a slip and check-in services, Skipper Tom made the decision: For safety’s sake, we’d alter course and head to Opua to wait out the storm.

Don’t get me wrong, though. Opua was no walk in the park either. It was still over 50 miles away, not including the tricky transit through the bay and into the marina. And that storm was still on its way.

We set our course for Bay of Islands, trying to outrace the storm. Just as we entered the Bay of Islands, the wind kicked up to 25 knots and the rain beat down. It was already dark and cloudy. The rain made visibility even worse.

We flipped on the bright deck lights and lit up the boat like a Christmas tree. With all-hands on deck, we go the mainsail down and set ourselves up for landing – dock lines, fenders, flashlights, binoculars, chart of the bay, etc. Then we turned off the decks lights, and let our eyes readjust to “night vision.” We slowed down to 3-4 knots of boat speed, and slowly progressed up the channel.

Our eyes strained in the dark and the rain to identify each red and green channel marker so that we could stay safely in the channel. The marina finally loomed in the distance, marked by specific flashing lights.

And then, just as the clock struck midnight, the Quarantine (Q) dock was in sight. That was where we would tie up, and await Customs, Immigration, and Bio-Security officials in the morning.

Skipper Tom took the wheel and guided us in. As we approached the dock, I stepped off and secured our spring line. Di, Nicky, and Tom worked the other lines and soon enough the boat was secure! We made it! We took off our soaking wet foul weather gear – put to good use tonight – and once in dry, warm clothes, we opened a few beers to celebrate.

Southern France, Like Really Southern

In late October, I headed to France… in the South Pacific. I was actually heading to a small island territory in the Southern Hemisphere called New Caledonia which, per Wikipedia, is a “special collectivity” of France. It helps mark the border of the Coral Sea and the South Pacific Ocean. The plan was to sail SV Avalon from New Caledonia to New Zealand.

Arriving in the capital, Noumea, after nearly 24 hours of travel, I was happy that the “Skipper and Admiral” (otherwise known as Tom and Di, owners of the sailing vessel Avalon) were waiting at the airport for me. The airport is quite far out of town, so it would have been a long, slow bus ride or a very expensive taxi fare to the center. Tom and Di spared me that pain, and even treated me to a welcome lunch at Le Bout du Monde once we reached the marina in Port Moselle.

For the first two nights, I stayed at the Hotel Le Paris in downtown Noumea, which was only a 5-minute walk from Port Moselle. Getting to/from the boat was very convenient. There is also a great multi-tent market with fresh produce, breads, meats, and craft goods open 6 days a week right next to Port Moselle. I enjoyed a few croissants and crepes during my stay.

Soon, however, convenience took a backseat to fun and after the second night I changed hotels to the beachfront Beaurivage Hotel, located along the Baie Des Citrons. Port Moselle was a 30-minute walk from here, but it was a pleasant walk along the waterline. The Beaurivage Hotel also happened to be a block away from beachfront bar MV Lounge, which became my “Cheers” of New Caledonia for the next week.

In the mornings, I’d walk into Port Moselle for breakfast, coffee, and boat jobs. In the afternoon, I’d walk back to Baie Des Citrons. If fact, most days I’d even walk around to the next bay, Anse Vata, to watch the windsurfers for an hour or two. I wondered, should I give it a try? Not this time, I decided.

By late afternoon, I’d walk back to my hotel for a shower and then wander down to the MV Lounge for cocktail hour and sunset. Usually after sunset, I’d meet back up with Tom, Di, and our other crew member Nicky for dinner at one of the local restaurants.

That was it. That was the routine for about a week, as we prepared and provisioned the boat, and watched the weather forecasts waiting for a safe window for the 1,000 mile sail to New Zealand.

It’s hard to explain, but I’m really not in “sightseeing mode” before these passages. I’m focused on helping Tom and Di with whatever they need help with, and keeping myself healthy and fit for the passage.

Back to Bavaria

After spending five weeks exploring the Balkan countries (including two weeks sailing in Croatia), I flew to Munich on Monday, October 1, where I reunited with German friends to hike the Alps and revel in the festivities at Oktoberfest (locally known as “Wiesn”).   

This particular group of German friends has scheduled a “boys’ weekend” hiking trip every year for decades.  Only for the last 10 years or so have my friend Adam and I joined the group regularly.  It’s one of the highlights of my year.

This year, the Bavarian adventure began at the “usual meeting place” – the back corner of the Weinzelt (wine tent) within the Oktoberfest fairgrounds.  It took me about two hours to get there from the airport, including customs, baggage retrieval, two trains, and a short walk… plus some covert operations to store my bag outside the fairgrounds.

After passing through the fairground gates, where security seems to increase every year, I weaved my way through the crowd and found my way to the Weinzelt.  As expected, my Bavarian friend Uli and American friend Adam (who had arrived a day earlier) were waiting for me as I walked in around 8:30pm. Unexpectedly, another friend Isi also showed up. Our three friends from Northern Germany would arrive in Munich in a few days. 

We enjoyed a beer together, but since I was designated driver (and they had been there all day), we called it an early night.  On the way to the car, we played a few of the carnival games testing our arm with the softball throw and our aim with the pellet gun. I drove us home in Uli’s car, enjoying both the stretch of speed-limit-less autobahn between Munich and Berg, and our pitstop for doner kebabs at a local hole-in-the-wall. 

After a good night’s rest, on Tuesday Uli and I headed back to the fairgrounds at 1:30pm per the “Rules of Wiesn”, while Adam stayed home to work. 

Wait.  What are the “Rules of Wiesn”?

Well, over the years, we have developed a set of guidelines, or “Rules,” for enjoying, and surviving, Oktoberfest. 

Some are for fun, like “Don’t buy stuff,” “Don’t pour old beer into new beer,” and “Don’t act like an American.”

But some are serious, like “Save 60 Euro for the taxi ride home” and “Eat.” 

Somewhere in between fun and serious is the rule, “We start at 1:30pm.” 

Why 1:30pm?  The timing usually coincides with the ferry or bus schedule from Uli’s suburban home, and gets us to Wiesn by 3:00pm.  The morning table reservations in the tents are usually done by the time we arrive at 3:00pm; and the evening table reservations start at 5:00pm.  Arriving at 3:00pm enables us to visit our favorite tent Hacker-Pschorr (where a friend works) and eat before we get booted for the upcoming reservations.  

On this particular day, we followed the plan and enjoyed a hendl (1/2 chicken) and a beer at Hacker-Pschorr.   As the reservation time came, we left, and headed to the bar at the Weinzelt.  We met some interesting people, including a couple of tourists from Australia and UK wearing hilariously cheap lederhosen and dirndl – a clear violation of the Wiesn rules.

On Wednesday, we laid low and helped Uli with a few projects around the house.  We also reorganized our bags into smaller overnight backpacks that we would bring with us on our Thursday-to-Sunday hiking trip in the Alps.

As he does every year, Uli planned everything perfectly for this 4-day adventure: transportation, hotel, and hiking route.

On Thursday, Uli, Adam, and I took a bus and then train to Ostbahnhof station. There, as we transferred to another train, we rendezvoused with our friends Ulf, Olaf, and Bernd, who had flown in from Hamburg that morning.  Then all 6 of us boarded another train toward Salzburg, Austria.  Just before the final stop, we disembarked and changed trains, heading to Berchtesgaden.  And then, finally, in Berchtesgaden, we took a taxi to our hotel.  The transfers and rendezvous worked smoothly, again thanks to Uli’s skilled orchestration.

In Berchtesgaden, after checking in to Hotel Boehm, we headed out to dinner in the village.  We enjoyed tasty Schwienshaxe (a roasted pork dish) and then played cards as the heavy meal settled in our stomachs. Our game of choice is “Schwimmen.”

The next day, after a hearty breakfast at the hotel, we grabbed our packs and trekking poles, and walked into the village.  At the far end of the village was the lake Konigssee.  We took a boat across the lake to the trailhead at St. Bartholoma.  Today’s hike was a steep climb up to the Karlingerhaus hut where we spent the night.  It was about 10km distance and 1,200m climb. 

The Karlingerhaus hut was a pretty amazing place, tucked away in a glacial valley with a small lake out front and huge mountains all around.  After welcoming beers on the balcony, we endured very cold showers.  But a hot meal of lentil stew warmed us back up.  We played cards for a while before climbing into our bunks (four to a room) later that evening, well-fed and very tired.

The next day, we met for breakfast in the hut, then embarked on a different route back down to lake Konigssee, which turned out to be a bit longer (15km).  Halfway down, we stopped at another hut, Wasseralm, for a hot vegetable and lentil soup and alcohol-free weissbier. The second half of the hike included a very steep descent (labeled “expert” on the trail map) where we had to use cables (similar to Half Dome, Yosemite, USA) for safety.  But the view was incredible!

We made it down safely, with the last couple of kilometers consisting of a gentle stroll along the valley floor, along lake Obersee, and back to lake Konigssee.  We took the boat across Konigssee, and wandered back down to our hotel in Berchtesgaden (after stopping at a beer garden for another celebratory beer).  We were all very tired, but after showers, we made it back out to the village for another good meal.

On Sunday, we made the journey back to Munich.  Once again, this was coordinated and executed perfectly by Uli.  Another three trains and two buses this time, all with transfers timed to single-digit minutes.  (Including one transfer where maybe we cut it a little close!)

Back at Uli’s house, we cleaned up quickly, donning our best Wiesn attire (for Americans that meant checkered shirts and jeans; for Germans, that meant the full shebang of lederhosen, checkered shirt, vest or sweater, traditional Bavarian shoes and socks).  The taxi came at 2:00pm and we headed to Wiesen.  This was the final day of Wiesn 2018, so we expected quite a crowd.

Fortunately, Uli had made a reservation for us at the Wildstubel tent.  Starting at this smaller tent is somewhat of a tradition for us.  We sit at a U-shaped table that is great for socializing, and welcoming additional guests. In this instance our friends Daniela, Fred, Chris, and Verena also joined us. We had an afternoon of laughs and stories, complemented of course by German folk music in the background, big plates of Schweinebraten in front of us, and cheerful “Prosts” every few minutes.

We were all feeling a bit sore from the hiking, but, as the Rules say, “After the first mass, everything is better.”  As the evening came, we relocated to the Weinzelt for a final round.  Or maybe two rounds.  Then we piled into a taxi for the ride home.

On Monday morning, Ulf, Olaf, and Bernd headed back to northern Germany.  Adam and I stayed at Uli’s until Wednesday, again helping him around the house.  You can imagine we had to do a little cleaning after Uli’s gracious hosting of five guys! 

For our last supper Tuesday night, we enjoyed traditional cuisine of Schauferl and Kaiserschmarrn at the Oskar Maria Graf Stuberl.  On Wednesday morning, Adam and I bid thanks and farewell to Uli, and made the journey home to San Francisco. 

It was going to be a quick turnaround for me. 

Back in the Bay Area, I had six days before my next adventure began.  So, I had to hustle and bustle around town, doing errands and changing gear.  I didn’t get a chance to see many friends unfortunately.   

On October 18, I headed back to SFO with my backpack and sail bag…. Headed to the South Pacific!  Stay tuned!

Ready to go!

Ready to go!

The view from Karlingerhaus hut where we spent the night.

The view from Karlingerhaus hut where we spent the night.

Steep descent back into the valley, looking at Obersee and Konigssee lakes in the distance.

Steep descent back into the valley, looking at Obersee and Konigssee lakes in the distance.

Obersee and Konigssee lakes.

Obersee and Konigssee lakes.

Cleaned up and ready for Wiesn (Oktoberfest)!

Cleaned up and ready for Wiesn (Oktoberfest)!

A few friends joined us for dinner at Wildstubel.

A few friends joined us for dinner at Wildstubel.

Zoomed-out view of our two-day hike in the Bavarian Alps.

Zoomed-out view of our two-day hike in the Bavarian Alps.

Detail of the elevation gain and length of hike.

Detail of the elevation gain and length of hike.

One of the toughest parts. A long series of steep switchbacks. Pig’s tail, I think it’s called.

One of the toughest parts. A long series of steep switchbacks. Pig’s tail, I think it’s called.

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