From Bluff I traveled up to Te Anau and battled the crowds. I did some short sections of the the Kepler (Brod Bay to Dock Bay) and Routeburn (Key Summit Alpine) Tracks and checked out Milford Sound. The area is one of the most popular areas in the country and for good reason – the snowcapped mountains, reflective tarns, and diverse flora make for some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. One day I’d like to go back and do an entire Great Walk on one of the tracks.
The Macauley Valley is an area north of Tekapo that is only accessible by 4wd, horse, bike, or foot. You follow a winding river for about 18 kilometers to reach a well maintained Department of Conservation hut. It’s well worth the trip to get there as the isolation has been unmatched by anywhere else I’ve been in New Zealand and the views of the Southern Alps are incredible. There is some good walking to be done up the hills or further down the river and there are a few swimming holes as well.
I spent my birthday doing an amazing 2 day trek with Sapa O’Chau in northern Vietnam. The area is known for its rice terraces and local minority people, including the Hmong and Red Dao groups. Their traditional clothing and cooking are a departure from what I had seen in the rest of Vietnam and I was really glad I took the overnight bus up from Hanoi to experience it.
With Sapa O’Chau I chose the Red Dao homestay trek, which took us north of Sapa Town about 14 km to the town of Ta Phin. The views reminded me a little bit of the Bolivian Yungas and the local Dao people were joyful hosts. We were incredibly lucky with the weather, which tends to be cold, cloudy and rainy this time of year. To top it all off, we ate amazing food that far surpassed my expectations. I’ll always look back on this birthday fondly, and it will be hard to top it next year!
I spent 15 days in Romania and spent an average of $24 per day, not including the money lost on my car rental fiasco. I visited six places: Timisoara, the Apuseni mountains, Deva, Sibiu and Cisnadioara, Brasov and Bucharest. Overall I was very impressed by the enormously friendly people and pleasant atmosphere in most of the places I went to, although Bucharest was not a very enjoyable city. I also loved eating papanasi!
In addition to the beautiful churches in Cisnădioara, there’s also plenty of lush green mountains to explore. I spent an afternoon following some of the marked paths and discovered lots of interesting mushrooms and flowers. Here’s a short photo essay to share them!