Tongariro Alpine Crossing, New Zealand

We completed our first official day hike here in New Zealand on the 8th of December, and it was sunny and warm! We’re not used to warm December dates yet, but they’re fabulous.

Tongariro Crossing is one of the most famous tracks in New Zealand, and I had seen pictures of some of the scenery on Instagram before we even knew what it was and thought, “I want to go there.” It’s a 19.4 km day hike to the summit of a volcano, past the Emerald lakes and down through somewhat of a rainforest.

I was a bit concerned about the difficulty level, as we had heard some mixed reviews on how difficult the hike is. There is a sign on the trail that warns people who are not fit enough to turn back. It does include some fairly steep climbs, as well as some descents with loose footing. The tour companies suggest it will take 6 to 8 hours. Some people I spoke to said it took them upwards of that, and that they were sore for a week, or that they lost toenails. People seemed to be shocked that we were planning to do it on a weekend in between work, so their reactions to our announcement of the plan was a bit concerning. We got set up with all the right gear by some generous friends who had also done it; we made sure we were well fed and sunscreened, and our friends told us we’d be fine!

We had driven up to the mountain the night before and slept in the car in a campsite. We got up at 6:00am and had pancakes for breakfast, thanks to my husband!

There are a few shuttling options, but we went with Tongariro Expeditions’ one way option. We parked the car at the end of the hike, and then took the 8:30am shuttle to the beginning of the hike. I went with this option due to another blogger suggesting it, and I was glad we did the one way shuttle and didn’t have to wait for another shuttle at the end. What they didn’t tell us though, was that after getting off the trail we still had a ways to walk to our vehicle; the 19.4 km trail ended up being over 23 kms according to my FitBit.

We hit the trail at 8:48am. It took the first kilometre or so to adjust the backpacks and distribute the weight properly, so we were off to a bit of a slow start, but once we figured that part out, we were well on our way.

The hike begins with a nice, gradual incline into the mountain, and passes Mount Doom, from Lord of the Rings.

From there, the first steep climb begins. On the pamphlets and maps they give you, it says it will take an hour to do this climb. We completed it in 35 minutes. The views from the top are amazing!

There is a 15 minute plateau on which we were able to spread out from the rest of the groups on the trail and catch our breath a bit before the next climb, the “Devil’s Staircase.”

It was supposed to take 30 minutes, but we climbed it in about 18.

For a person who doesn’t normally exercise, this would take at least the recommended time, or longer, if one was stopping for rests part way up. We are quite fit, and it was still a very good work out getting up the mountain! It’s not a walk to be taken lightly.

Once at the top, we were able to see the Emerald Lakes in the distance, which were my favourite part of the track. Most people eat lunch at the top, but we decided to continue to the lakes before stopping for lunch, as it was only about 11:00am. Walking along the edge of the crater was really cool!

The climb down to the lakes required an adjustment in walking, as it was about a 45 degree slope with very loose gravel and volcanic sand. We slid with every step. I fell 3 times, but it wasn’t a far fall seeing as how the angle was so extreme that my hands were so close to the ground anyways. Eventually we got used to the sliding and began adjusting for it as we learned how to transfer our weight properly.

We had an enjoyable lunch on the rocks overlooking the lakes, and took the most photos around there. It was really windy! Some days, if the weather is unfavourable, people have to do the crater walk (pictured above) on their hands and knees.

The above photo was our lunch spot!

The lakes were amazing, as you can see.

Once we passed the lakes, we used one of the many toilet stops. No TP was supplied, but thankfully, I had my own! We had to wait in line. I couldn’t believe how many people were on this track!

Then we began the long descent down. The views were great at the top, but the trail down was long. This was the most difficult part for me, as my feet kept hitting the fronts of my shoes, leading to very sore toes. It was also a tedious climb down with similar scenery for a couple of hours, until we got into the rainforest area at the end.

We finished with a walk next to a beautiful, rushing stream, exited the trail at 2:44pm, and then, of course, added on the longer walk to the car.

We were surprised we’d finished so early based on the expected time, but I believe we saved a lot of time during the two inclines; we took lots of time to enjoy lunch and stop for photos, and didn’t rush ourselves, but we still finished in 5 hours and 56 minutes.

We had originally planned to stay another night in the car, but as we finished early, we went to Taupo to some natural hot springs to refresh our sore muscles and relax, and then decided to drive back for a hot shower, and a nice, comfortable sleep in a real bed. Wow, did we ever sleep well that night!

In conclusion, Tongariro Alpine Crossing is amazing, and although I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, I would highly recommend it to anyone who is fit, up for a good physical challenge, or is a regular hiker. It definitely requires a certain level of fitness to be enjoyable and safe, and the proper gear, clothing and food/water is essential. Planning ahead for transportation, and leaving lots of time to do the track is important, as I believe 6 to 8 hours is a reasonable expectation for time. We were also fortunate to have amazing weather, and that is key as well. We finished off the night with a celebratory wine from the winery I work at.

Happy exploring blog family, and cheers!

Three Amazing Must-Do Travel Bike Tours

We love traveling, seeing the sights, and being active, so it’s no wonder we’ve chosen to do bike tours on several of our trips. I also appreciate efficiency, and getting some wheels can greatly increase the amount of ground that can be covered in a short amount of time! We’ve biked in many places of the world, but these three experiences are all somewhat or fully guided, have given us the best bang for our buck, have offered very scenic exercise opportunities, and have provided amazing memories that we will cherish for life.

The Paris Night Bike Tour – 4 hours

http://www.fattiretours.com offers it for $69.95 and I recommend booking well in advance or it will be sold out! It’s got a 5 star rating on their site and I’m not surprised, as it is absolutely fantastic.

This tour was recommended to me by a friend before I had been to Paris for the first time, as it’s a great way to get some bearings on the layout of some popular tourist spots, and some general information. I recommend doing the tour close to the beginning of your trip for that reason. We did it, loved it, and have recommended it ever since. My sister and her friends booked it on my recommendation and highly enjoyed it as well.

We arrived on time, just after supper, at the address given to us upon booking, where we met our tour guide. We were set up with bikes and safety vests that were adjusted to fit us properly, and then we were taught how to use the bike. Paris is a very busy city, and we were going to be driving on the roads, with the traffic, so our tour guide taught us how to drive as safely as possible and how to keep up with the group.

Disclaimer: If you have never ridden a bike before, I wouldn’t recommend a bike tour in any large city as the place to learn. You don’t need to be an avid biker, but you do need to have some pre-established comfort on a bike.

Once we were ready to go, we set off into the evening! We biked at a relatively quick pace, and stopped every so often to view a monument, take some pictures, and learn a bit about what we were seeing. We stopped at places like Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, the Latin Quarter, and we even stopped for an ice cream at Berthillon, a place they claim is most famous in Paris.

Then we made our way to the river, where we locked up our bikes, and jumped on a boat for a Seine River Cruise. The river cruise is one of my absolute favourite things to do in Paris, as you can see so many of the city’s famous places from the water, sail under its intricately ornate bridges, and admire all the locals that gather to relax and socialize along the riverbank. The timing of the boat ride was perfect for us to see the sunset, and the Eiffel Tower sparkle in the dusk from the water.

Oh, and did I mention the bike tour guide gives you free wine on the boat ride? Yes. Free wine. As much as you want. 🍷✔️

Once we got off the boat, we resumed our biking, perhaps a little wobblier than before the free wine, and made one more stop to see the Eiffel Tower again before heading back to the Fat Tire shop.

What a fantastic use of 4 hours in Paris!


Brooklyn Bridge Bike Tour
in New York – 2 hours

http://www.centralparksightseeing.com offers this tour for about $45, depending on what time and day you’re going.

Nobody had recommended this to me, but I wanted to do a bike tour in NYC, for the same reasons as on other trips: we cover ground so quickly, we get to meet other people, and we get some information about what we’re seeing, all while being active!

We were almost late for this one as we got lost on the Subway (so leave earlier than you think you need to), but we got there just before our group left. They quickly fitted us with bikes and we were on our way with our tour guide.

We biked at a reasonable pace, but we also stopped quite frequently on this tour to learn for a couple of minutes about what we were seeing. We rode through several old neighbourhoods that were the beginnings of Manhattan, down by the harbour, through the south end of Broadway, and China Town, while learning about some of NYC’s history. We pedalled across the Brooklyn bridge, breaking for some photos on the top!

Then we explored Brooklyn Heights and learned about the bridge and the area, before heading to the water’s edge near Jane’s Carousel to get a fantastic view of Manhattan, the bridge, and of course, some photos.

We made our way back across the Manhattan Bridge before ending the tour back at the shop.

This was an affordable and very informative tour with a friendly, personable and knowledgeable tour guide (ours happened to also be a college professor who was passionate about his city’s history), that left us feeling like we learned and saw so much that we just couldn’t have on our own.

They offer many different bike tours other than this one, so if you’re interested in other areas of the city, or want to do more than one tour, you could learn and see a lot!


Biking the Vineyard Trails of Burgundy
in France – full day

We booked rental bikes ahead of time through http://www.burgundy-by-bike.com for the very reasonable price of €20/day.

My heart smiles when I remember this day. It was easily not only one of the best biking experiences, but the best travel experiences – I’ll even say best life experiences – I’ve ever had.

We had watched some YouTube videos and read a few articles in our preparation to visit Burgundy (Bourgogne in French) and we’d seen a few recommendations to do the bike trails through the vineyards. As we love wine, we were going for wine, and we enjoy biking, we knew this was an absolute must for us.

There are a few companies that do guided tours, but we chose to rent our bikes in the town of Beaune, follow the maps they gave us of the bike trails and winery stops, and go independently of a guide. We didn’t know how long we’d want to be out, but we didn’t want to be limited by a group for this one, and I’m glad we weren’t, because we took the whole day!

We were fitted to our bikes, and given great directions and a map to get us through Beaune, and onto the bike path. Our map also explained exactly how many kilometres apart each of the towns were, so we could decide if we wanted to go the full distance or not.

We had the most beautiful, magical day. This was my Disneyland! Biking through the vineyards of Burgundy is just breathtaking! For one, the views are stunning, and the history is ancient; these vineyards and wineries have survived wars, and the stories of the families are generations long. Secondly, Burgundy is not flat! Our breath was taken away many times on this hilly ride! We were there in June, and it happened to be a very hot, sunny day. There is little shade on the ride, so make sure you bring lots of water. There are a few towns that you can purchase food and water in along the ride as well.

We started off at the famous entry to the vineyards.

We rode through several towns in the morning, stopping at a small Chateau in Pommard for a wine tasting in their below ground cave.

It was stunning, but the details of this are for another article!

We then rode through the villages of Volnay, Monthelle, and into Mersault, where we bought some beer and water and had a picnic lunch in the town square. It was scenic and quaint, with the church tower chiming away noon, and the small shop keepers closing up to enjoy the lunch hour by the trickling fountain. The town was alive with locals on their daily routes, and other bikers like us, stopping to enjoy the moment and some rest in the shade.

Once we were finished our storybook perfect lunch, we headed on towards Puligny-Montrachet, where we did another wine tasting. We then biked to Chassagne-Montrachet and finally Santenay, before deciding to turn around. We enjoyed little stops along the way to look closer at the vineyards and take photos, as well as to observe the village homes and businesses.

We also made sure to stop and smell the roses!

Biking in Burgundy felt so picturesque, so peaceful and so surreal that I had to keep reminding myself that I was really there, and it was really happening! I soaked up every minute of the experience and it couldn’t have been more perfect.

We put on 40kms on the bikes that day, so we were pretty tired by the evening, and it was so worth it!

So there you have it; these are my top three biking memories. If you are ever in any of those places, I highly encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities, and all they can offer you!

Happy travels!

Summer Yoga Experiment – Week Four

After four weeks of Yoga, I agree that there is a physical, mental, and spiritual component to the practice.  In my first Yoga blog, I focused a lot on the physical, and somewhat on the mental; I’ve concluded that Yoga has great physical benefits for me, and some mental benefits.  As I have continued practicing Yoga, writing about it and participating in discussions that have come from my blog posts, I can’t deny that the spiritual aspect of Yoga is a large part of it, or at least, its roots.  The spiritual aspect is largely what I’ll be addressing in this final post.  I was able to get some spiritual benefits from my practice; however, I don’t believe the spiritual benefits were something that I could only get in Yoga.  I believe they resulted from personal intentions of what I chose to focus on for a dedicated amount of time in a quiet space, something I could do (and have done) in other environments as well.

“Yoga is not synonymous with Hinduism…True Yoga neither competes with nor precludes any other religion.  You may use your Yoga – your disciplined practices of sacred union – to get closer to Krishna, Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, or Yahweh…The Yogic path is about disentangling the built-in glitches of the human condition, which I’m going to over-simply define here as the heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment” (Gilbert, Elizabeth – Eat Pray Love – p.122).

You may not believe the Bible, but I do, and there are some verses that I love in there that support contentment and discipline. Here’s one:

Romans 12:2a “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Some might use this verse to suggest a Christian shouldn’t go to Yoga.  I’m proposing the opposite; if Yoga helps someone break away from discontentedness and other “built-in glitches of the human condition” because we are so distracted with our lives, then it could be helping us focus on things that actually matter, and it could be used to renew our minds.

I completed my final week in my Yoga experiment with another evening class of Hot Yoga, with my husband in attendance, and a fourth new teacher.  Guess what?  She was different than all the others.  She had her own style, and there were things I liked about her style (lots of movement through a variety of poses, gentle instruction), and things I didn’t (lack of specific tips on postures, and I don’t think Yoga is the place for repeated silly jokes).  I was pretty comfortable during this class, and finally felt that I knew what lots of the poses were, and how to get my body into them.  I had learned my range for several stretches, and knew when I needed a block for assistance.  I noticed I was way better at paying attention to my breath, and actually taking deep belly breaths without having to consciously remind myself as often.  I was prepared with a verse mantra again, and was able to relax my mind and body, and focus on it with intention during the last 10 minutes of the class.

Whether or not you believe in the Bible, you may believe that Jesus existed; regardless of who you think Jesus is or was, historically, he was a rule-breaker for the sake of loving people.  He spent time with everyone that religion said he shouldn’t, did things that religion told him were wrong, and didn’t care what the religious leaders thought of him.  He was representing the Father – love.  I’m not saying that this means everything is okay all of the time.  The point I’m trying to make is that just because there’s a religious rule saying something is evil, doesn’t necessarily mean it is.

I’m not Catholic, but my aunt is, and after reading my previous posts, she dropped off some information for me titled, “A Catholic Perspective on Yoga,” by Terry Donahue (2011).  Although I’m not Catholic, I enjoyed the article, and picked up on some key points Donahue makes.

“The problem with Yoga, and what must be rejected by a Catholic, are the spiritual beliefs… of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism that are incompatible with the Catholic faith…Practicing Yoga in order to reach self-fulfillment or spiritual enlightenment is to be rejected since it is contrary to the Catholic teaching that such fulfillment and enlightenment are found in Jesus Christ.”  He also explains that Catholics should not mistake all feelings of physical relaxation as mystical experiences, but that relaxation techniques can be appropriate in order to be at peace, less distracted, and able to communicate with God.  “Furthermore, there is nothing intrinsically evil about any particular body pose or stretch used for the purposes of flexibility, exercise, or physical therapy.”  He finishes the article with the stance that “Catholics should not participate in the spiritual practices of Yoga,” but that Catholics “could learn Yoga poses and stretches from a teacher who does not teach or promote Yoga’s erroneous spiritual and philosophical beliefs.”  For him, it’s the teachers that matter, and what they’re promoting spiritually, not the physical and mental practices of Yoga itself.

I believe in God, the Father, and I believe He created the world, and everything in it; yes, I’m saying that I believe God created meditation, stretching, focus, and many other parts of Yoga. (I wonder what backlash will come of that statement?)

People may have given it a name, but God gave us the ability to sit in stillness, focus our minds, calm ourselves through deep breathing, relax through stretching our muscles, and to set disciplines of gratitude.  I also believe He can meet us in the quiet darkness of a Yoga room, just as much as He can meet us in a church, or in nature, or…anywhere?  As my Yoga experiment culminates after four short weeks, I feel confident that the practice of Yoga can be used, like most practices and habits in this world, for good or evil, depending on the intentions and goals of the teacher and participant.   

My position on this is humble, and stands to be corrected if further information presents itself on this topic.  Right now, this is my opinion on Yoga, but I’m open to learning something new, and I don’t like to be closed minded or set in my ways.  I realize that I possess an extremely limited knowledge of Yoga, and that I’m addressing a controversial school of thought within my circle of church-goers, and to be completely honest, even within my own family.

I’m not trying to persuade you into doing anything that makes you uncomfortable; I believe that each person needs to follow his or her own conscience.  I’m presenting what I’ve learned, and what my mind has been opened to during my short experiment, and I’m fighting for more love, and less judgment, in Christian circles on whatever religious rules each person decides are the “right ones” to follow. Just because Yoga/alcohol/(insert taboo Christian topic here) makes one person spiritually uncomfortable, doesn’t mean it should be a write-off for everyone.

I’m also presenting this opinion with my own religious affiliation, and I respect that it may not be yours; however, I’ve learned that unity of people, despite their backgrounds and beliefs, is one of the great things about Yoga. There is so much hate, judgement and division in this world, and I know a lot of people that don’t feel unity in churches.  You and I could be side by side in the same Yoga class, and we could each experience our own physical, mental and spiritual benefits.  You could set your own intentions, and I could set mine, yet we could be unified with each other for 75 minutes, present in the moment we’re experiencing together, regardless of what individual unions that moment held for each of us.  It’s one more way to be a part of a community.

Will I attend Yoga every week now?  No, I probably won’t.  Has my perspective on it changed?  I’d say so.  I believe I’ve found one more tool that I can use in my life for various benefits.  I will go back, when I need a bit of help relaxing, stretching or focusing on a particular something.  I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve learned there’s even more that I still have to learn – and that’s a great thing.

Namaste.

Summer Yoga Experiment – Week Two

Two out of four; I’m half way to the completion of my summer yoga experiment. I’m embarking on this journey with an open mind, to discover how weekly yoga may impact my mental, physical and spiritual health.

Following Last Week’s Practice

I noticed a bit of stiffness in my neck throughout the same day, but none following that.  I also felt less back pain and joint stiffness at the end of the week.  Last week was what we call “Launch Week” at my gym, when brand new choreography is released in a branch of fitness classes we offer.  I am a fitness instructor, and on Launch Week, I typically teach upwards of twice as many classes as my usual amount, which leaves me very sore by the end of the week.  I can’t say I wasn’t stiff at all, but I can say that I noticed a marked improvement in how I felt, just by slotting that one Yoga class into the middle of the week.  I should not be surprised; I’ve been well educated on the benefits of proper stretching!

This Week’s Practice

If you recall, there were a few things I wasn’t fond of in the class I attended last week, namely the late instructor, and the overly full room of loud, bad-breathed breathers.  I purposefully chose a different class this week, so that I could experience another teacher’s practice, and a fresh environment.  I’m pleased to report that the teacher was early, stayed late to chat with me, and there were no loud, bad-breathed breathers.  The only breathing I heard today was when the instructor asked us all to exhale forcefully, and we did it as a group, which had a nice sense of comradery to it.

I came into the class slightly more comfortably after having just done Yoga last week.  I began my morning in a similar fashion, getting up early and heading to the gym with ample time to warm up and get acquainted with the room.  I also don’t have my own yoga mat (yet?), and there are only a couple of spares, so I wanted to make sure I got there early to get one.

I was tired today.  I had lots of sun this weekend, and a restless sleep last night.  I seriously considered turning the alarm off and just rolling back over, but then I remembered I made a commitment to myself, and the blogging community, to do four classes this summer, and I needed to get my lazy butt out of bed.

My experience today was entirely different than last week.  I’m discovering that this is something that intrigues me about Yoga.  I never know what to expect; no class is ever exactly the same.  There are so many poses a teacher can choose from, based on the experience level of the participants, requests, or simply what he or she is feeling inspired to practice that day.  In some classes, like the ones I teach, predictability and patterns are keys to success and the development of better cardio-vascular fitness, strength and stamina.  In Yoga, predictability doesn’t seem to matter as much. There’s lots of time to sink into each pose, adjust, and re-adjust.  I can see how familiarity with the poses would add value, but Yoga truly is a practice, and there’s always room to keep practicing and growing in the many facets of what it offers.

Some of the poses were familiar today, but some were new, and the order surprised me.  Not knowing what was coming forced me to be mentally engaged in the class, and to pay attention.  In Yoga, I have to listen and heed the instructions; I must be aware of what I’m experiencing in my body.

The Instructor Matters

I specifically appreciated three things about the way the instructor taught this morning (on top of her timely arrival and personable manner).

First, she made an effort to remind us to be aware of our mental state.  She started the class with a relaxation time, in which she brought our attention to all parts of our bodies and our breath; she challenged us to let go of worrisome thoughts or our to-do lists of the day, and be present in the class.  I needed this.  Throughout, she reminded us to focus in on our breathing.  At the end, she encouraged us to be grateful for something, and to set a goal for our state of mind for the rest of the day, whatever we each wanted it to be.  She wasn’t specifically spiritual, but I was able to make it spiritual for me, in the way I wanted to.

Second, she gave detailed instructions, in a calm voice.  She explained all poses with care, and reminded us to tighten up tiny details in our postures that would have altered their effectiveness if we’d forgotten them.  She taught us how to breathe deeply, to the top of our lungs, into our belly breath, and within our body’s natural rhythm; she cued which types of breathing to do in each pose.

Third, she came to me when she noticed I was struggling, and whispered the question, “Would you mind if I offered you some assistance?”  I gladly accepted, and she helped re-align my legs and hips into the proper placement, which in turn enabled me get the most out of that stretch.  I clearly needed this too, and she acted on it.

I felt more satisfied after this class than last week’s.  That could be partially caused by simple familiarity, but I imagine it mainly had to do with the room being less full, and the instructor’s style.  I will certainly try to make it to one of her classes again.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts last week on how Yoga has impacted you.  Any tips on choosing a Yoga mat?

Namaste!