Skimming Deep

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.

Tag: scenery

Backtrack Travels

It’s been a loooonnngggg time since I last blogged.  It may be the longest I’ve gone in between posts since I started this blog 154 posts ago!

I’ve done a bit of cooking and traveling since December 17th, so here’s the first bit.  A friend visited right after Christmas, and we did some fun activities: a sculpture garden tour in Sonoma Valley and a wonderful hike in Big Basin Redwoods State Park.  So I wanted to share some of the sights we saw as well as the logistics, so you, too, can enjoy what we did!

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

I’d heard that Big Basin was THE place to go see the redwood trees instead of Muir Woods which is often overrun with tourists on a weekend.  So because I’m not a fan of big crowds, I took people’s word for it, and we did the two hour drive from Berkeley on New Year’s Eve to the Big Basin park headquarters.  It was a beautiful (and windy, especially at the end!) drive.  One thing to note if you’re going to do this hike is that you have to pay $10 for the entrance fee to the park.

We did the popular waterfall loop trail, which is about 11 miles, pretty strenuous in parts, but do-able for a pair of pretty fit people.  In all, I think we took about 5 hours, with a short break to eat our almond-butter and jelly sandwiches.  Along the way, we saw the beautiful, breathtaking redwoods:

big basin trees

It’s amazing to think how old these trees are.  To think who’s come before us and seen these trees and who will come after to see them.  And they just keep doing their thing – growing, reaching for the sky.  As we walked through the forest, we noted that there weren’t many birds or other critters filling the area with little noises.  It was very quiet, and we rarely came across other hikers.   We’re not big talkers, so we were just caught up in our thoughts and nature’s majesty all around us.

We also came across some waterfalls, which weren’t flowing in large amounts but enough to appreciate:

big basin falls

The only thing I was hoping for was more views outside of the forest.  There was a point (I think it was the midpoint) where there was a clearing and we could see other hills around us.  But that part was short-lived.  The forest was beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but I like to have top-of-mountain views as payoff for lots of climbing steep switchbacks.

Regardless of that small disappointment, it was a wonderful, rewarding hike.  I would definitely do it again.

Do-It-Yourself Sculpture Garden Tour

We spent another day driving up to wine country, not to drink wine but to see outdoor sculpture gardens!  I was doing some research on fun, free things to do in wine country; and I found that there were some outdoor gardens at wineries as well as stand-alone gardens that seemed like fun.  I chose three destinations for this self-guided tour:

Cornerstone Gardens: 23570 Arnold Dr., Sonoma, CA

A really great outdoor garden/ museum.  We easily spent almost two hours or so walking the grounds and exploring the little stores.  All the sculptures made use of the environment in some kind of interesting way.  These were two favorites – a big head of garlic (well, that’s what it looked like to me – that’s not what the artist titled it) in the middle of a small pond.  And a desert scene with clouds made of wire mesh and crystals resembling raindrops.

Cornerstone

Matanzas Creek Winery: 6097 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa, CA

There wasn’t a sculpture garden at this winery, but there was a beautiful lavender garden.  We just saw lots of dark bushes of all sizes, but I could imagine what it would look like in the spring, a landscape of purple.  This constituted a short stop, but it was enjoyable, and the views from the winery and the lavender garden were worth it.

lavender

Paradise Ridge Winery: 4545 Thomas Lake Harris Dr., Santa Rosa, CA

This was the last stop on our tour, and what a nice way to end it.  There were two sculpture gardens that were at this location: one is named Marijke’s Grove and seems to be the more permanent of the two “exhibits.”  The other was a temporary exhibit titled The Spirit of the Man.  Both had some pieces that really struck me.  And we spent another hour-plus at this place.  Taking fun photos, engaging with the art, musing about the meaning and the sculptor’s intent… you know, all the things you do when you walk through an art exhibit.

LOVE

One of the nice things about our whole tour was that there weren’t too many other people around, in fact, zero at some places.  So we got to enjoy all this wonderful art and scenery by ourselves.  I highly recommend this tour if you’re not a wine drinker or if you just want to be outdoors and see some interesting art.

A side note is that we stopped in Santa Rosa for lunch at Flavor Bistro and had a throughly enjoyable meal.  That part of Santa Rosa looked like it had a cute main street that we could have walked down if we had more time.

Happy 2014!

Punakaiki: Pancake Rocks!

I'd been hearing about these so-called Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki that were highly touted as an amazing sight. I didn't really know what to expect, but I was looking forward to it. So when I saw them, WOW!

I came to Punakaiki on recommendation from the gardener at Seresin (thanks, S!) and originally planned on staying three nights, but after seeing how small Franz Josef was and thinking that Punakaiki was smaller, I decided to cut back to two nights so I could have more time in Nelson which was my next destination.

It was a pouring rainy day when I left Franz Josef for Punakaiki, but by the time we arrived, the rain had at least stopped. It was grey, but as the day went on (I arrived in the mid afternoon), the sun made an appearance for a bit.

The bus makes a stop in Punakaiki for all the bus-riders to see the famous Pancake Rocks, so I just joined the rest of them while waiting for my pick up to my hostel.

I love how many of the treks and natural sights kind of creep up on you here in New Zealand and then have a WOW-pop factor. There's an easy trail to get to the rocks, and as you turn a corner, you see the Tasman Sea and the first set of pancake rocks. It kind of takes your breath away because you haven't seen anything like it (at least in my case):

I'm a huge fan of the ocean and big waves anyways, so add on to that these amazing natural formations. I kind of whizzed through the trail on this first time around because I didn't want to be late for my pick up. But every bend and turn of this trail revealed more amazing-ness. I heard that it was cooler to see at high tide, which had passed a few hours before. But it was still amazing to see the waves pounding away at these formations, just cutting, cutting away at the rock. Water and wind are such amazing elements– so soft, rough, elusive, nature's agents, really.

I got picked up by one of the hostel owners, checked in, and got settled in this rainforest retreat: Te Nikau Retreat. It's a hostel tucked away in the rainforest (not a tropical rainforest like in South America, but the rainforest in New Zealand is really a lush forest of lots of native trees and plants. It rains a lot in the West Coast, and there is this a forest, so I guess put those together and you get New Zealand rainforests.). There are separate cottages, and I stayed in Rata Retreat, a dorm with a kitchen, common area, and a cool set up of mattresses on the top level.

After getting settled, I headed out for a walk right away. I walked for about an hour and then realized I wasn't on the trek that I had hoped to be on, so I headed back to the trailhead. There were some nice views, but it was a bit boring. Then I went to a beach trail which was beautiful, near the hostel.

My hostel-mates were an Austrian woman (very energetic and totally sweet. We chatted about traveling and about both having quit our jobs to come travel.) and a group of Chinese tourists led by a guy who had just moved to Auckland and spoke English quite well. The three of us (the Austrian woman and the English-speaking Chinese guy) chatted quite a bit, and the other Chinese tourists were kind of in the background, but very nice. They offered us to eat with them! So cute. It's always nice to come across nice travelers along the way. Swapped travel tips and contact information for future visiting!

My second day in Punakaiki, I did a long hike (all together probably about 8 or 9 miles or more? I wish I had a pedometer to measure how many miles I'm walking!) with some nice views.

Then I went back to the pancake rocks and got to see the amazing-ness of high tide when the big waves come in through the rock formations which act as blowholes that spray water through the small holes. I totally got sprayed with sea water. It was incredibly windy and a bit chilly, otherwise, I would've spent hours just watching the spray and waves.

The sun, which had been hiding most of the morning, came out in the afternoon, and I just sat outside, watching the waves of the sea, soaking in the rays. As I think I've said before, I am so solar-powered it's not even funny. I perk up when I get some sun, and my outlook becomes even more positive than before. Happily I'm headed to Nelson which is supposedly one of the cities with the best weather in New Zealand. Hopefully it'll be nice!

I'm getting a bit tired of my hostel meals– hot porridge (muesli and water) for breakfast, cheese-hummus sandwich with an apple for lunch (and an occasional boiled egg), and some kind of curry with rice for dinner. I made a tomato-lentil-leek curry for my Punakaiki dinners. Still tasty (more choices of spices plus cooking oil at this hostel!!) but I'm getting tired of the same thing everyday. I'll hopefully treat myself to a nice dinner or lunch in Nelson. And I'm thinking of buying some bacon to cook for dinners! Miss my bacon!

That evening, there were some new backpackers in the hostel, and we were all a bunch of women– me and a bunch of European women. A few of us went down to see the sunset and I had my small bottle of seresin dessert wine, and the Austrian woman had a bottle of red, and we drank wine and watched the beatufiul sunset over the Tasman Sea. At one point, it hailed and rained, but then the sun came out again from behind the clouds!

With our cottage being so small, it was easy to just make friends with the other backpackers, and we sat around and talked about life, culture, relationships… all sorts of things. It was a nice time to socialize and meet some new people. We even exchanged emails and Facebook usernames! It's amazing how much you open up and learn from travelers when you know you are just crossing paths for a day or two. I've met such kind and open hearted people.

The next (and final) day in Punakaiki, I hung out with my fellow travelers until they left, and then enjoyed a nice cup of coffee (called a long white– I think it's kind of a latte… didn't really understand the explanation). Yumm. I did a final turn of the Pancake Rocks (they're different all the time– depending on the tides, the wind, the sun, the weather…). And said goodbye to the beautiful coastal town of Punakaiki.

Wanaka: Lake and Mountain Town

I spent two days and three nights in Wanaka, and it was totally worth it, and the perfect amount of time. The weather was gorgeous, and I got in some good hikes and walks, and I also got to relax quite a bit.

Wanaka is a small town, about 8,000 people, right on the edge of Lake Wanaka, the foothills of a part of the Southern Alps called Mt. Aspiring National Parki. So there are stunning views of the lakes and snowcapped mountains everywhere you look. Well, the mountains are snowcapped now because it's still spring, but the snow will be melted by summer, I supposed.

There's a cute town center with cafes and little shops and a supermarket and library (no wi-fi, sadly). People come here to avoid or get away from Queenstown, which is the big city for adventuring and sports (skiing, bungee jumping, long treks and tramps, partying). I wanted to avoid Queenstown and read that Wanaka was quieter and beautiful, and I was not disappointed. I don't think I'm missing out on Queenstown, but who knows.

I arrived at Wanaka Bakpaka on a rainy late afternoon and just basically hung out at the hostel until the weather let up, and then went into town to explore, shop for groceries, and get dinner. I ate at The Spice Room, recommended by my taxi driver, a cute little Indian restaurant. There was an early bird dinner special, so that was nice– this whole spread for just $20NZD (about $16USD). After dinner, I just came back to the hostel, read, admired the views, and went to bed.

The next day, I took a hike up Mt. Iron, the local big hill. It's an hour and a half round trip (or “return,” as they call it), a steep climb to the top, and a steep climb down the other side. There were morning clouds but plenty of sun and blue sky, too. It was a bit of a huffer-puffer going up, but totally worth it at the top. I've noticed that NZ hills and treks generally don't have a lot of switch backs or gradual ups and downs, they just go a pretty direct route and it's pretty steep. And this was considered an easy trek.

After taking a long break at the top to soak in the view, I came back down and sat by the lake and had my cheese-humus sandwich, nothing fancy. It's been wonderful to just take my time, breathe in and out, enjoy the scenery, and not be on a mission to the next landmark or activity. I didn't want to push myself too hard, so that was all I did– walked around the town, breathed in and out, and relaxed.

I treated myself to a nice latte and piece of shortbread. Cost $7NZD, so not exactly cheap, but a nice treat. I miss my regular coffee.

After my day's activities, I came back to the hostel to relax some more (noticing a theme here?) and then proceeded to make dinner with ingredients I had bought that day. I endeavored to make rice and black beans, but ran into some snafus:

  • I didn't realize that I had picked up mixed beans, not black beans, so that was strange. Not that it tastes any worse, but I just wasn't expecting a bean medley!
  • The hostel kitchen didn't have any shared cooking oil or salt and pepper, and I realized how much I rely on those to do things like saute my garlic and onions for good flavor or to add flavor to my meal in general.
  • I'm still learning how to make rice in a pot, and my rice ended up being a little undercooked. I miss my Zojirushi rice cooker. Sigh.

So I tried to improvise a bit by adding my little bit of leftover curry from my dinner the night before, some peanut butter (which was unsalted! Darn!), and some rosemary from the herb garden. But it ended up being a bit flavorless. I did have some spices (curry and cumin), but without the salt, it fell a little flat. My first bad meal of my whole trip (except for my first night in Auckland where I had bowl ramen– but at least that was tasty!!). I guess it had to happen at some point. All about saving some money.

I ended the night with more reading (I just bought The Princess Bride and am reading it for something like the fifth time. What a great book! And I've been thinking about “farm boy” as a term since I've been on farms with nice looking boys. Haha.)

My second, and last, full day, I went back up Mt. Iron in the reverse direction which was nice because you don't realize what's behind you unless you're always looking backward, so this way, I got to see what was behind me on my hike up the day before. Not a cloud in the sky on this gorgeous day, so I got a few comparison shots from the day before when I couldn't see the snowcapped peaks as well because of the clouds. A lot of locals use Mt. Iron as their daily exercise– running up and and down the hill. It would be a nice workout and way to see the changing seasons of Wanaka from high up.

I came back down and it was still only mid morning, so I headed out on a shoreline walk for a few hours. This walk was pretty straight and flat, and it followed Lake Wanaka on the shore opposite from the hostel. It was such a nice walk, seeing the crystal clear water of the lake, seeing the mountains, and being reminded totally of Lord of the Rings scenery. It could not have been a better day– probably mid to upper 60s, slight breeze to keep me cool, and sun sun sun. I had my lunch (another cheese-humus sandwich) at my turnaround point, and then came back to the town center by 2pm-ish.

I spent the rest of the day just relaxing, sunning myself and my sockless feet, and iMessaging with friends back in the states. What an amazing thing, iMessaging: my way of staying connected to the world back home. I heard about Frankenstorm shutting down New York and Boston.

I had the bland leftovers for dinner. And that was a full day. I don't think I said but 20 words all day, mostly “g'morning” on my morning hike to other walkers… and maybe that was about it! I get very introverted and antisocial at these hostels. More on that in another post.

I left the next morning for Franz Josef, a glacier town. Definitely recommend Wanaka if you like small, scenic towns with hiking trails around, nice restaurants and cafes. It helps to have a car to be able to make the hikes that are farther away (and probably really nice).

 

Wine Country: Seresin Estate

I have landed on another really interesting and beautiful site for my new WWOOFing experience: Seresin Estate. The owner and founder of the estate (vineyard, olive orchard, farmland) is Michael Seresin, a Kiwi cinematographer. He doesn't really live at the vineyard anymore, but leaves it to be run by some amazing people.

A view of some vineyards and the mountains in the distance. Note: these aren't Seresin vineyards- you can tell by the brown grass that these growers use herbicides. Will be posting pics of Seresin's organic, biodynamically grown grapes in my next post. Edited with Instagram.

I'm staying in a house down the road from the estate where we work with two other WWOOFers and a contracted worker who works with the wines. It's been interesting being with other WWOOFers, my first time since starting this whole thing. They're both young women, one from Holland, one from Montana (in the early 20s!); and they've both been in New Zealand since April or May. Wow. And they're both planning on staying for a full year at least.

View from the back door of the house where we WWOOFers stay. Overlooking some of the vineyards of Seresin Estate.

This set up is definitely very different from my other WWOOFing experience:

  • We cook our own food, which is all provided (even with ability to make requests) by the host. So a lot of the food is from grocery stores, although they do try to give us organic food. The meats are from their farm and livestock (which includes work horses, chickens, ducks, goats, cows, and ducks). Veggies are from their garden but there's not so much available right now– swiss chard (or silver beet, as they call it), kale, spinach, salad greens (rocket, aka arugula), and parsley… It's nice to be cooking again, and I'm making some request for sesame oil so I can cook some Korean food! 🙂 I made chickpeas and rice yesterday, and today made swiss chard, feta pasta. The three of us share cooking and eating which is nice. They can cook, too. I'll try to take a photo of some of my food at some point, but it's pretty much what I would make at home– nothing too out of the ordinary!
  • The land is quite big and used for commercial purposes– grapes and olives for selling wine and oil. Their garden is for their own purposes, I guess, but it's huge. All together, it seems there are probably about 20 or so people who work on the land– in the vineyard and winery, in the garden, on the fields… It's very different from my previous home garden!
  • They aren't off the grid, like my other place. No alternative energy sources, as far as I can tell. But what's interesting is that they use both organic and “biodynamic” principles for all their living things. Biodynamics is a new concept that I just recently learned about– the gist is that you believe that the earth, humanity, and a greater spirit world are all interconnected, and when you do anything from planting to composting to harvesting, you use things like the alignment of the moon, stars, and planets to inform when and how you do things. It's really quite interesting. They have a woman on the farm who specializes in calculating all those things. I'm hoping to learn some more about that in the coming weeks.

I've only been here a day and a half and have just done some weeding and sundry garden work. But this afternoon was really interesting– it was a big day in their biodynamics processes. I'll try to explain a bit here– it's called biodynamic preparation 500:

  1. There is a process involving a cow horn, cow manure, and some soil mixture and leaving that in the ground for a period of time. That happened before today.
  2. Then we stirred that manure into big barrels with water and other minerals. This was a big communal event where about 25 of us took turns stirring these huge barrels. It required a certain stirring technique and also required us to give good energy, spirit, and vibes to the liquid mixture.
  3. We then took the liquid (mostly water along with the manure bits) into smaller buckets and all walked around the entire property with a brush and basically sprayed the land with the liquid, kind of like the way a priest sprays holy water on people during special holy days in the Catholic Church. This happened in a methodical way because there are lots of rows of planted vines, trees, and gardens, and we had to get every patch of land.

The whole process took about 2.5 hours with a lot of walking up and down rows and spraying plants. It was really amazing, a collective process with all 25 people well organized and giving a piece of ourselves to these organic beings in the earth. And the preparation is supposed to be a kind of fertilizer to the plants. We were really lucky to be there– this is something they do twice a year, and it's timed specifically based on astronomy among other things. I didn't get a full explanation.

So far, interesting, and it's only been a day and a half here!

The weather has been absolutely gorgeous. And the scenery is stunning. Here are some views of the land (and remember, photos often don't do justice to the landscape which is beautiful from every angle!).

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