Kayaking and Camping: Bay of Islands New Zealand

We didn’t know if we could actually go ahead with kayaking and camping overnight on Urupukapuka Island in the Bay of Islands until a day and a half before – and after we had flown into Auckland, New Zealand. We packed our tent and sleeping bags anyway, and let customs run the tent under their microscope for biohazards before they let us out of the terminal. But as soon as we got confirmation that yes, the forecast looks decent, and that yes, the winds look under control, we shot to the supermarket to load up on groceries and the camping store to pick up a bottle of fuel.

So it was with much anticipation that we loaded up our kayaks – a single and double – on Long Beach at Russel, and pushed off towards Motuarohia Island, the first island on our Bay of Islands 2-day kayak/camping expedition. There was a slight breeze playing about, but the currents were light and we crossed the channel easily. This was a popular first stop for many guided kayak and sailing trips, for the cove had many good snorkeling spots and there was a trail people could hike up to for a good vantage view of the surrounding islands.

Motuarohia Island, Bay of Islands New Zealand
View atop Motuarohia Island, Bay of Islands New Zealand

We aimed for Moturua Island next, intending to pull up along a beach for a spot of swimming. But we made good time, and felt strong, and so decided to push on instead to Waewaetorea Island. Beautiful stretch of white sandy beach filled with sea shells. While Chris lay in the sun to try to soak up the heat, Jeff and I eagerly plunged into the waters for some snorkeling. Loved how clear the waters were, and how the sun rays filtered through the water like spot light on sections of sea grass and schools of fishes.

Paddling off Waewaetorea Island, Bay of Islands New Zealand
Paddling off Waewaetorea Island

When the clouds started to roll in, we jumped back into our kayaks again and pushed off towards Urupukapuka Island, the only island in the Bay of Islands with campsites. As it was the shoulder season though, the campsite was mostly empty, save a couple tents on far ends of the huge bay and a group of rowdy septuagenarians from a rowing club in the Sunshine Coast. They had arrived at the site a couple days before us, and were planning to stay a total of five nights, using the island as a base to explore. So cool. We want to be them when we grow up. 🙂

But anyway, we had the pick of the sites, so we pitched our tent right at the edge of the beach, by the water tap and an outdoor shower. 😀

Setting up camp on Urupukapuka Island
Setting up camp on Urupukapuka Island

Urupukapuka Island is one of the larger islands in the Bay of Islands, with many walking trails we could wander up on. So we did just that, after refueling ourselves with some hot vitamin C drink and soup. It was lovely to stroll through the sheep paddock in the golden evening light.

And even lovelier, when we’d filled up our tummies with more hot food and the stars popped out of the inky blue sky. We kicked back, relaxed, and luxuriously stretched out our sore muscles as we gazed up on the milky way, listening to the waves gently lapping onto the beach. Try as we might though, we couldn’t keep our eyes open for long, and so packed it in just before 10pm.

Milky Way off Urupukapuka Island

Milky Way off Urupukapuka Island

Milky Way off Urupukapuka Island
We couldn’t ask for much more – a beautiful day out paddling around the Bay of Islands, cooling off in the crystal clear waters snorkeling, and relaxing under the stars by the beach

In the morning, we all woke up early to try to catch the sunrise. I hiked up the hill again in search of the beautiful golden light; Jeff went for a long swim in the still chilly waters in the cove, while Chris parked herself at the edge of the cliff to watch the sun’s first rays hit the water.

Seeing how invigorated Jeff was from his swim, I wanted in on the action too, and so grabbed my mask and snorkel and dove in. The water felt brisk on my skin, but my head was clear as I swam, marveling at the fishes darting in between the waving sea grass. Imagine my shock then, when all of a sudden, I swim on top of the largest sting ray I’d ever laid eyes on. It was calmly resting on the sea grass – crushing it in fact. I didn’t dare get too close to it, but from where I hovered 10 feet above it, it looked bigger than my wingspan. It was the short tail sting ray that we’d tried to no avail to spot in Jervis Bay a couple weeks ago! I yelled across the cove to Jeff who was now dressed and by the tents. He looked like he was hesitating to go back into the water again though, so I just continued on my swim. But he changed his mind and swam out to meet me. Alas, we couldn’t find the ray again. We did spot a couple other smaller species though, chasing fishes. Perfect way to start the morning.

We’d perhaps luxuriated too long in our island campsite though. By the time we packed up and pushed off, it was already 1045am. The winds had picked up from the day before too, causing larger waves to form against the eastern back of Urupukapuka Island. We’d planned to circumnavigate our way clockwise around it, but turned back soon after we saw how much rougher it was.

Probably a good thing. We needed all the time we could get to make our way back to Long Beach on Russel for the kayaks pick-up. Especially all the more so when I mis-read the map and had us fight the currents to Parekura Bay instead of Moturua Island. Ugh. Lesson learnt. Bring a compass next time. 😦 Still, that little misadventure did not damp our high spirits for what turned out to be an incredible start to our North Island adventure.

Our kayak route around the Bay of Islands
Our kayak route around the Bay of Islands

Hiking in Mount Kosciuszko National Park: Day Two

It’s fun to go off trail. It’s fun to wander off the beaten track to go where few people venture, to pretend for a moment that we’re early explorers discovering the great unknown. Remind me of this fact the next time I complain about ‘getting lost’. 🙂

It says something when we eventually link back to the main route and we spy a tent here and there in the far distance and we go, oh it’s so crowded! In reality though, in our entire day walking this second day, we spied maybe a total of a dozen tents?

My poor feet also thank me when we walk off trail on the soft – albeit uneven – mossy grass than the pebbly paths (time to give in and get new shoes?!).

 

Anyway, we lucked out with the weather today. The sun was out, strong, but a steady breeze kept us cool and mostly kept the horse flies away. We took our time on the trail, stopping often for photo opportunities, and just to soak in the views.

Albina Lake
Albina Lake

In the late afternoon, we found a quiet grassy patch along Wilkinson Creek where we set up camp and took the opportunity to rinse off in the cool waters.

Another successful and fantastic day of hiking done and dusted.

Enjoying a hot dinner atop our rock at Wilkinson Creek
Enjoying a hot dinner atop our rock at Wilkinson Creek

 

Dusk falls on Wilkinson Creek
Dusk falls on Wilkinson Creek

Hiking in Mount Kosciuszko National Park: Day One

We took advantage of the Australia Day long weekend and joined a group of friends to tackle Mount Kosciuszko again. Our intrepid hike leader, Ed, mapped out a more ambitious – but super fun – trail than the easy one from the Thredbo chairlift we’d initially tackled last November. Our main route was the Main Range Track, plus a “short” side exploration of Blue Lake on Day One.

Eager to be off - Main Range Track trail head
Eager to be off – Main Range Track trail head

 

Crossing the Snowy River
Crossing the Snowy River

 

Circumnavigating Blue Lake
Circumnavigating Blue Lake

 

Trying to find the trail
Trying to find the trail

 

Haha well “short” in quotation, because our mini exploration resulted in us wandering off trail, and circumnavigating the lake until just before sunset. Instead of pushing on to the original campsite that Ed had marked out, we decided to just set up camp on a flat patch of grass above Blue Lake.

Sunset atop Blue Lake
Sunset atop Blue Lake

 

Our campsite above Blue Lake
Our campsite above Blue Lake

 

Sunset above Blue Lake
Sunset above Blue Lake

 

Sunset above Blue Lake

Sunset above Blue Lake

 

Sunset above Blue Lake
Sunset above Blue Lake

It was a tough slog to get to where we were; certainly it felt harder than Day One on the Overland Track, in part because we had a longer climb, in part because we went off trail, and in part because we brought more stuff this time (thanks Jeff for carrying the tripod!). But the views of the sunset and the milky way after more than made up for the walk. We felt so incredibly grateful to be outdoors, in the peaceful wilderness and breathing in the fresh alpine air, cut off from the depressing noise and news.

Cooking dinner
Enjoying a hot meal after a long day’s walk
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Long Weekend in Port Stephens

All in all, it was a fun weekend up in Port Stephens, despite awful traffic getting there and back, a flat tire, and my burgeoning cold and headache. But we ticked off a couple sunrises, sunsets, some night photography action, and lots of whale watching – both from the beach and on a boat.

Sunset at Birubi Beach
Sunset at Birubi Beach

I had a concept for a picture of us sitting with BB8 (yes we couldn’t help ourselves but bring it out to play) with the milky way in the background. Figured it would make for a good Christmas card. But it turned out too difficult to execute without use of Photoshop. Haha so it’ll remain a project for another time, when I’ve finally bit that bullet to use the tool.

 

Star gazing
Star gazing
We also managed to explore Morna Point for a bit of a hike. I had to go back for a long nap after though to get over my headache. But Jeff spent a relaxing afternoon alternately splashing about in the waves and reading on the sand.
We also managed to explore Morna Point for a bit of a hike. I had to go back for a long nap after though to get over my headache. But Jeff spent a relaxing afternoon alternately splashing about in the waves and reading on the sand.

 

Sunset at Fingal Beach
Sunset at Fingal Beach, where we spotted a very active pod of whales just off the coast that spent long minutes breaching and breaching and breaching. So cool!
Sunrise at Zenith Beach
Sunrise at Zenith Beach
Zenith Beach
Not much color – well zero – at sunrise, but we saw a lone whale just milling about close to shore.

We signed up for a whale watching cruise too! We actually had outstanding tickets we could use for a cruise in Newcastle since we spotted ZERO whales when we went out with that cruise in August, but because we’d changed our car’s flat tire to the rather bald spare, we decided not to take the detour and just booked another cruise locally in Port Stephens. Turned out great, as we saw at least 3 different pods of whales splashing about. 😀

Whale breaching at Port Stephens
Whale breaching at Port Stephens
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Weekend camping at Myall Lakes National Park

This past weekend, we loaded our car up to the brim full with our origami kayaks and camping gear, and drove 3 hours up the New South Wales coast towards Myall Lakes. It was the perfect weekend for a getaway.

We arrived early afternoon, and wasted no time in setting up camp and assembling our kayaks, before hitting the calm waters of White Tree Bay for a few hours’ paddling. Initially, the sky was covered by a low layer of shelf clouds, leaving us a little worried about catching a beautiful sunset and astrophotography later on.

But miraculously, as we hit golden hour, the clouds dissipated, and the winds then died down completely, leaving us with a mirror-finish on the glassy lake.

Pelicans
Pelicans at sunset
Oru kayak
Our Oru Kayaks have given us hours of fun

As the sun dipped below the horizon, Jeff slipped solar lights into his translucent kayak, and slid back out onto the water for a bit of a twilight paddle.

sunset paddle

Mungo Brush sunset

Twilight paddle

Twilight paddle
Jeff looking at his sky map app, trying to figure out the satellite or stars above head

Twilight paddle

When the last of the blue hour light finally disappeared, we packed up our kayaks. We’d have to go back out again on a full moon night – that would be quite the magical paddle! But it was time to get some food on the camp stove anyway. On the menu: steak and bacon fajitas washed down with a delicious bottle of Shiraz and finished with some homemade brownies. Pretty cool what my trusty little rocket fuel could do.

Mungo Brush campground astro
The clearest milky way we’ve seen in Australia. The stars looked so near

In the quiet darkness, the stars overhead were as bright as we’d ever seen before, and appeared so close. I snapped a couple quick shots, intending to go capture more shots later at night when the milky way had shifted over the lake. Alas, when I crept out of my tent at midnight, the clouds had shifted back in, obscuring most of the galactic core.

Mungo Brush campground astrophotography
I’d tried to take another picture of the milky way at midnight, but alas the cloud cover had come back in

In the morning, we went over to the beach section of the park to watch the sun rise, accompanied by a howling dingo. Initially, I’d thought the dingo to be someone’s dog at camp, seeing it by a camper van when we pulled in. But as it crept closer and closer to us, I realized from its scrawny profile and scraggly fur that it was a dingo. I shooed it away with my tripod and carried on shooting. Happily, it bounded down the beach and out of sight.

Mungo Brush beach sunrise
Catching the sunrise by the beach, we were accompanied by a lone howling dingo

Mungo Brush Beach Sunrise

A short, but blissful weekend trip. Now, if only we saw the whales on the whale watching cruise we rushed to catch later that morning out by Nelson Bay. Oh well, something to look forward to!

 

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Camping in the Blue Mountains

Since we’d planned to meet our friends at the Three Sisters Lookout at Echo Point in the Blue Mountains bright and early Sunday, we decided to make a weekend camping trip out of it. The extra time allowed us to make the drive to check out the glow worm tunnel over in Lithgow. It’s a short trek, or at least we chose the short route, but we didn’t realize that the 30km drive to the start of the trail was over a dirt track, so by the time we arrived, it was close to sunset already. No matter, we were armed and ready with our headlamps.

Woot. Happy to have finally shot the glow worms. They’re quite a bit smaller than the species in New Zealand though.

Perrymans Lookdown Astrophotography-5252
It had been raining and overcast most of the day, but the stars finally came out to play at night. The lookout at the start of the Perrymans Lookdown trail
Perrymans Lookdown Camping-5268
Our campsite at Perrymans Lookdown. Brr, we’re no longer used to the cold. It went down to 1 deg C at night. In our previous life in Chicago, that would have been positively balmy!

 

Wentworth Falls
We met up with two of our friends bright and early at Echo Point, then decided to do the short trek down to Wentworth Falls.

Weekend up near Hunter Valley

star gazing

This weekend, we escaped from the city with a group of friends to a pad up near Hunter Valley. The location was quite remote, but the dark and clear night skies afforded us with gorgeous views of the milky way. We spent hours both nights just lying by the pool, oohing and aahing at the stars shooting across the sky.

Good times.

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Weekend in the Blue Mountains

Three Sisters Evans Lookout Stars Blue Mountains (1 of 1)

This past weekend, I did a girls’ trip with two old friends to the Blue Mountains for a spot of hiking and just plain old good times together. We hiked the gorgeous Grand Canyon route and the crowded Three Sisters lookout.

In the evening, they indulged me in some astro photography, and patiently posed for over an hour as I struggled to get the composition just so. 😀

Evans Lookout Stars Blue Mountains (1 of 1)

River Walk Blue Mountains (1 of 1)

On Sunday, we also made the drive out to Jenolan Caves where we did a 1.5 hour tour of the Orient system, and then a stroll along the river where we chanced by a wallaby and its joey calming munching on grass by the banks.

I loved every bit of the trip. Thank you for all the memories.