Uncornered Market » adventure http://uncorneredmarket.com travel wide, live deep Wed, 01 Apr 2015 10:25:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Haiti Trekking: A Beginner’s Guidehttp://uncorneredmarket.com/haiti-trekking/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/haiti-trekking/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 12:04:26 +0000 http://uncorneredmarket.com/?p=20353 By Audrey Scott

The sounds of konpa, Haiti’s version of merengue meets jazz, floated from the kitchen to our spot on the front porch. We sat around a large wooden dining table, fleece jackets zipped up, our hands cupped around mugs of Haitian hot chocolate flavored with star anise, cinnamon, and Haitian bergamot lime rind. It was impossible […]

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By Audrey Scott

View from Pic Cabayo in Parc Nacional la Visite - Haiti
Pic Cabayo, towards a slice of Haiti’s Caribbean Sea.

The sounds of konpa, Haiti’s version of merengue meets jazz, floated from the kitchen to our spot on the front porch. We sat around a large wooden dining table, fleece jackets zipped up, our hands cupped around mugs of Haitian hot chocolate flavored with star anise, cinnamon, and Haitian bergamot lime rind. It was impossible not to be caught up in the unexpected moment. The crackling musical improvisations hearkened to a bygone era and punctuated the cool, dark stillness around us.

The men in the kitchen called it “ball” music – as in ballrooms where men and women dance close, and the woman who don’t want to dance close use special elbow moves to keep the men at bay. The music looped and time slowed, just as our sensations had throughout our four-day hike in the mountains just above the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.

When I had imagined traveling in Haiti, this was not what I had envisioned. But when we reflect on our journey in the country, it’s this moment — the quiet punctuated by crackling tunes, the crispness of the air and the stillness of a Haitian night in the mountains – that really sticks with me.

Perhaps you ask, just as we did before our trip: is trekking in Haiti even a thing?

Yes, it is. And it probably ought to be for more travelers. But it takes a little effort to organize.

Here’s why it’s worth it, plus all you need to know to plan a trek in Haiti.

Why trek in Haiti? (Hint: It’s not just about the mountain scenery)

Mountain trekking in Haiti? In retrospect, this should not have come as a surprise considering the country takes its name from the indigenous Taino Ayiti, meaning “land of mountains.” Haiti is covered with layers of mountains, within which exist networks of walking paths intended to get locals from home to markets, schools and nearby villages.

Haiti, Trekking in the Mountains
Homes on top of the hills, family farms and trails mark the Haitian countryside.

Trekking in Haiti is not just about the landscape, but an unexpected natural beauty grounded by culture and complemented by people who live amidst it. Whether you’re en route in a truck or on foot in the hills, you have a chance to meet and engage with people — kids on their way home from school, market-goers, farmers working the fields, women washing herbal tea in the streams.

Haitian Schoolgirl in the Mountains - Haiti
A Haitian schoolgirl on her way home through the hills.

In contrast to that of its cities, Haiti’s mountain pace slows considerably. Open space and details emerge, like the color and texture of the hills, forest aromas, treetop winds, and the briskness of air. After spending time in the bustle of population centers like Port-au-Prince and Cap Haïtien, we welcomed the change and began to better process and reflect on all that we had experienced.

The challenge with trekking in Haiti is that information regarding routes and logistics can be difficult to find. In fact, when we searched on Google before our trip, we almost gave up on the idea as the photos and articles were neither inspiring nor useful. Additionally, limited road and accommodation infrastructure can make it relatively expensive. If you have more time and flexibility, you’ll find that you have more options.

So that’s why we are writing this. To share with you what we did, how we did it, and the various considerations and practical details. In other words: all that we had wanted to know about trekking in Haiti before our trip.

Our Haiti Trekking Itinerary and Route

Day 1: Jacmel to Mare Rouge by 4×4
Day 2: Climb to Pic la Selle, drive to Seguin in Parc National la Visite
Day 3: Climb Pic Cabayo and visit nearby waterfalls
Day 4: Walk from Seguin to outside of Port-au-Prince

Note: It’s also possible to take this route in the opposite direction, from outside Port-au-Prince to Seguin to Mare Rouge and then to Jacmel (or back to Port-au-Prince). We took the approach above as we’d come from Jacmel and wished to end up in Port-au-Prince without having to backtrack.

Truck in the Hills of Haiti
Colorful trucks and buses in Haiti provide artistic inspiration and comic relief.

Jacmel to Mare Rouge

For most of our first day, we were in a jeep, climbing from the seaside at Jacmel into the mountains. We made stops in small villages and on random hillsides to enjoy the scenery and details — the drawings on a family gravesite, the stone walls built up on farms to prevent landslides, or the way the sun came through the occasional dark raincloud that passed. Roads were rough and we felt as though we were covering ground seen by few visitors.

Scenes from a Haitian burial ground. Tombs in rural Haiti include symbolic references to Vodou spirits known as Loa/Lwa and a even a few hints of the modern influence of Christianity on the local ritual. Taken en route to the mountain village of Mare Rouge from coastal Jacmel. via Instagram http://ift.tt/1zkF8mR
Tombs in rural Haiti include symbolic references to both Vodou and Christianity.

We also noticed jagged rocks poking out of the ground across the hillsides we scaled. Thinking they were some sort of special geological rock formations, we asked what they were. They are called “dentelles”, jagged teeth in the local Crèole, and are the unfortunate manifestation of logging, deforestation and erosion. Indeed, those rock formations are a unique are part of the earth, but they really ought to be deep below the soil. Instead, they reveal themselves as scars born of human activity.

Rock Formations and Erosion - Haiti
A Haitian hillside full of jagged teeth.

Once we reached our resting place for the night, Mare Rouge, we bundled up and took a walk out to a nearby hillside to lay in the grass and watch the sun set. Peace and serenity driven by the winds in treetops and interrupted only by the occasional voice from a distant farm.

Sunset at Mare Rouge, Haiti
We close our day with a sunset at Mare Rouge.

Practical Details:

Getting there: The roads go from “not great” leaving Jacmel to almost non-existent on this route. You need a really sturdy 4×4 jeep or ATV (all-terrain vehicle) and an experienced driver, as we had. Alternatively, you could do this on the back of a motorbike (i.e., hire a motorbike driver), but make certain your rear-end is steel-reinforced as the road contours make for a bouncy, lively ride.
Accommodation: We stayed at the Helvetas/MARNDR NGO guesthouse, the Mare Rouge forestry center that was built to accommodate park rangers and staff. They occasionally have extra room for travelers. You or your tour company will need to contact them in advance to determine if there is space available. Cost: $40/person including room and 3 meals. Note that you’ll also need to pay this fee for your guide and/or driver.

Pic la Selle

Pic la Selle is Haiti’s highest peak at 2,680m (8,793ft), and is located in Forêts des Pins (literally “pine forest”). From Helvetas, the hike to the peak takes a couple of hours at a leisurely pace from a drop off point in the forest. As you make your way up in elevation, you’ll register subtle changes in landscape and vegetation. The surprising smell of fresh pine might motivate you to question whether you are actually in the Caribbean.

Dan on his way to Pic la Selle - Haiti
Dan, on the way up to Pic la Selle. The vegetation changes with altitude.

As with any trek, it’s worth moving slowly, taking time to hop off the trail for views that will cut right across Haiti to the coast. Look away from the coast and you’ll take in even more mountains in the direction of the Dominican Republic. Set off early in the day to avoid haze.

Haiti's Mountains - View from Pic La Selle
A view from Pic la Selle to Parc National la Visite.
Pic la Selle Forest Ranger and Guide - Haiti
Dieusel, a park ranger and our guide, takes out the guest book at the top of Pic la Selle.

Practical Details:

Pic la Selle logistics: The head of the forestry district drove us to a drop off spot (a sort of makeshift trail head) to begin our climb to Pic la Selle. We also had a park ranger with us as a guide. He simultaneously kept an eye on the forest and phoned in information regarding locals chopping at the trunks of trees to harvest sap-heavy wood chips used to start cooking fires. Cost: $45/group for the transport and guide.

Mare Rouge to Seguin transport: This is another route with a rough road so you’ll need a sturdy 4×4, ATV or strong motorbike. If you’re not pressed for time, you can also walk this route. We spoke with one of the park rangers who walks the route in three or four hours. For ordinary folks looking to take in the scenery, plan on approximately six to seven hours.

Pic Cabayo and Parc National la Visite

The day we walked from Auberge La Visite to Pic Cabayo in the national park proved our favorite day of trekking. The clear skies certainly had something to do with it. Regardless, we were blown away by the expansive, breath-taking views at the top of Pic Cabayo. Mountainous layers that roll for as far as the eye can see. This is a Haiti we certainly never knew.

Hiking to Pic Cabayo - Parc National la Visite, Haiti
En route to the Pic Cabayo overlook.
At the top of Pic Cabayo, Looking Out Over Haiti
Dan attempts to capture all of Haiti’s mountain layers on camera, at once.
Haitian Farmhouse in the Hills
Passing farmhouses and small villages on our trek in and around Seguin.

Practical Details:

Accommodation: In Seguin, we stayed at Auberge La Visite, a small bed and breakfast with a large porch, rocking chairs and a very relaxed vibe. The food is all made from local ingredients, including an incredible salad sourced from locally grown vegetables, edible flowers and watercress from the base of one of the waterfalls we visited. There are only a couple of rooms available so try to email or call ahead. Cost: $80/person for a room, including 3 meals. It’s also possible to sleep in an air mattress-outfitted tent in the garden, but you’ll have to check on the price of this yourself. Disclosure: We received a 50% press discount during our stay.

Breakfast at Auberge la Visite - Seguin, Haiti
Breakfast at Auberge La Visite, plentiful and relaxing.

Trekking logistics: Although you can probably find your own way around the national park, we asked one of the staff at Auberge La Visite to be our guide to Pic Cabayo and the nearby waterfalls. Along the way, we harvested watercress and went chanterelle forest mushroom hunting. It’s an absolutely terrific day out, provided the weather cooperates. Cost: Around $25 for the group

Seguin to Port-au-Prince Area

“Are you sure we can’t get lost?” we asked, knowing our propensity to lose our way just about everywhere. Our final day in Haiti’s mountains involved walking, guide free, on our own towards Port-au-Prince.

“Don’t worry, there’s only one road to Port-au-Prince. Even you can’t get lost. You’ll know you’re close to the pickup point because there will be one last BIG hill,” our guide, Cyril, advised us before leaving Seguin the day before.

Famous last words.

We did find the one path leading from Seguin to Port-au-Prince and followed the steady stream of people walking in both directions. Many women, on their way to and from the market, balanced baskets full of vegetables or fruit on their heads. The road was rubbled, inconsistent and steep, making their posture and ability all the more impressive.

Women Balance Goods on Head - Haiti
An amazing balancing act, women carry goods to and from market on mountain paths.

Together with Barbara, a German journalist trekking with us, we challenged ourselves to greet everyone we saw with a “bon jou!” and polite nod. Often, people would smile and laugh, amused to see three white people wandering randomly along this road in the middle of nowhere Haiti.

The day’s most memorable reaction was courtesy of a little girl of about five years old who decided to have a dance-off with Dan. She would shake her hips and jump around in front of her house, and Dan would copy her — dancing his way up and down hill as we continued our walk. This lasted for about three to four hills until we were out of sight, but we could still hear her giggles echoing across the hilltops long after we could no longer see her. Oh, if only you could include experiences like this on an itinerary.

Haitian Houses on the Hillside - Seguin, Haiti
Haitian houses and farms on a hillside.

After several hours of up and down, passing homes and villages perched on the top of hills, breaking sweats across steep terraced farmlands, we were certain we must be close. A big hill appeared, so big that the local municipality had built cement steps to help people navigate it, especially in the rain.

“The big hill. Finally, we’re here,” we thought.

Proud of our efforts, we turned the corner expecting to see the jeep waiting for us. Instead, there was another big hill, perhaps even more imposing than the first.

We remembered the Haitian proverb:

“Dèyè mon gen mon.” Behind the mountain, there are mountains.

That’s trekking in Haiti for you.

Mountainous Haiti, en route to Port-au-Prince
Green hills at the end of the rainy season in Haiti.

Practical Details:

You will need to arrange a pickup on the side of the road near one of the villages on the approach to Port-au-Prince, as we did. Alternatively, find a motorbike driver that can take you to the nearest town to hop on a bus or tap-tap to take you into Port-au-Prince.


Trekking in Haiti: Other Considerations

Other treks in Haiti

To expand your trekking options in the hills above Port-au-Prince, ask your guide or tour company about trails around Furcy or Kenscoff. You can also do the route that we did from Port-au-Prince to Seguin to Mare Rouge by foot. If you have your own camping gear, the options become even greater for the routes you can take.

Additionally, the Bradt Guide to Haiti by Paul Clammer has advice on different trekking routes and options around the country. It’s also just a great guide for general travel in Haiti.

Best time to trek in Haiti

While trekking in Haiti is technically possible year-round, the best times are December to March when there is no rain. We trekked in late November and lucked out on weather, but a colleague took a similar route the week before and had to cut back some of his plans because of downpours. We have also been advised that July to August can also be good.

Haiti’s deforestation problems

When we mention trekking in Haiti, we’re often asked about the environmental situation. Many people have seen this dramatic aerial photo showing the border between Haiti and Dominican Republic.

Sadly, deforestation is a real and significant problem. Its history began with French colonists who cleared land for plantations. The problem has worsened in the last century due to a growing population needing to feed itself and that uses charcoal to cook. The accommodation providers we used on this trip all work in some capacity to reforest and educate local communities on the benefits of planting trees and using alternative cooking fuels. So the money you spend with them and on official local guides supports programs attempting to address these environmental problems.

What to bring with you

To avoid repetition, we suggest you check out our Ultimate Trekking Packing List for suggestions of what to bring with you. As food and shelter is provided everywhere in the route we cover above, you don’t need to pack much outside of good hiking shoes, some cold weather gear (e.g., fleece, waterproof/windproof jacket, hat), refillable water bottle, sunscreen, and snacks.

Note: During the time of year we hiked it gets chilly in the mountains, especially at night. So it’s worth carrying a few layers to ensure you are comfortable.

Trekking in Haiti independently or with a guide?

Trekking in Haiti, because of road infrastructure, infrequency of public transport in outlying areas, and limited accommodation options, is not something you just pick up and do on a whim. Unless, that is, you carry your own camping gear, have unlimited time on your hands and fluently speak the local language, Créole.

We met some Haitian people and long-term expats living in Haiti who opted to trek without a guide. However, if you are just visiting Haiti for a short time, we recommend you consider very seriously having a Créole-speaking guide so you can ask questions, engage in meaningful conversations with local people, have context regarding what you are seeing and experiencing, and avoid getting lost.

We coordinated our trek with Jean Cyril Pressoir of Tour Haiti, a local tour operator that also works with G Adventures. Cyril is quite passionate about Haiti in general, and especially about trekking in the country. We also used local guides at Mare Rouge and Seguin.

Tour Haiti also provided us with the 4×4 transport we needed to get from Jacmel to Mare Rouge to Seguin. This isn’t inexpensive, so it helps to pull in other travelers to help share the cost.

For more photos from our trekking in Haiti, check out our photo essay.

Any other questions about trekking in Haiti, just ask below in the comments!

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Disclosure: The trekking experiences above were organized and paid by us. However, our flights to Haiti (and other Haiti travel experiences) were provided to us by G Adventures in cooperation with its Wanderers in Residence program.

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New Zealand North Island: Don’t Sell It Shorthttp://uncorneredmarket.com/new-zealand-north-island/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/new-zealand-north-island/#comments Thu, 28 Mar 2013 10:30:28 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=12862 By Audrey Scott

This is a story about living in someone else’s shadow. It’s also the beginning of our answer to the question: New Zealand, North Island or South Island? Imagine a geeky younger boy who grows up in the shadow of his brother, the all-star. The big brother gets all the attention, all the fame. But it’s […]

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By Audrey Scott

"Get amongst it!" - Audrey grabs a bit of junglelicious New Zealand rainforest
The New Zealand advice mantra of choice: “Get amongst it!”

This is a story about living in someone else’s shadow. It’s also the beginning of our answer to the question: New Zealand, North Island or South Island?

Imagine a geeky younger boy who grows up in the shadow of his brother, the all-star. The big brother gets all the attention, all the fame. But it’s the younger brother with whom you develop a special relationship, who was allowed to surprise you because you spent some time with him.

This is our relationship with New Zealand’s North Island. It lives in the travel shadow of its South Island brother. Sure, the South Island is spectacular (yes, we’ll get to that), but it’s on the North Island that our New Zealand love affair began.

While most may steer you directly to the South Island when asked about New Zealand travel, we take a different approach. Visit both. Really. You can thank us later.

North Island: Delivery vs. Expectations

For us, the North Island is special. It’s where we became enamored with New Zealand’s natural beauty. It’s where we began to meet locals and appreciate the Kiwi sense of humor and approach to life. It’s where we began pushing ourselves to do so many things we didn’t know we could do. It’s where we began to learn about Maori culture and its bond to both nature and humanity. And, it’s where we developed our addiction to the New Zealand coffee style of choice, the flat white.

In one week on the North Island, because of the diversity of landscape and depth of experience, it felt as though we’d visited 10 planets. We were above ground, below ground, island hopping, surfing waves, kayaking out to a crazy scientist living on an estuary, hiking a volcano, rafting down seven meter waterfalls on class five rapids, exchanging the Maori embrace, walking through stunning native forests, and enjoying fish-and-chip (pronounced fush-and-chup) sunsets along a seemingly endless New Zealand coast. The experience meter: on full blast.

And then there were the experiences in the white spaces, those in-between destinations and activities. Perhaps a quick conversation with Kiwis in cafés and pubs where quick, easy conversations yield local perspectives on farming, travel, and what makes the perfect coffee. Or there’s a chat with a passionate rafting guide who unknowingly teaches you about an approach to living, working with people, and honing skills — all carved with a wicked Kiwi sense of humor.

So this is what a week in New Zealand’s North Island might look and feel like. Perhaps you’ll get a glimpse as to why this place became so special to us.

Northland: Beaches, Waterfalls and the Bay of Islands

New Zealand Beach Stop at Uretiti Beach
Who cares if the wind blows? The beach is just as beautiful.

New Zealand features a staggering wind of coastline, as in equal to that of the United States, Alaska excluded. Take a moment and allow that to sink in. Mind you, not all of this coastline is appropriate for swimming or snorkeling (notice the fleece in the photo below?), but it does lend itself to hours of gazing, mind-opening and listening to crashing waves. Not a bad way to reflect, to begin or end one’s week.

Waterfalls. In full disclosure, we often find them oversold. However, New Zealand gives good waterfall. Witness Whangarei Falls, a place that if you just sit amongst it, it might trick you into thinking that you’ve landed in the Garden of Eden.

A Garden-of-Eden moment in Northland, Whangarei Falls #newzealand #dna2nz #gadv
In the lush, Whangarei Falls

There’s something to be said for perspective; sometimes you need to get atop it to appreciate all that’s around you. And that’s what it took for us to grok the Bay of Islands. Walk to the top of Waewaetorea Island for a 360-degree view of the entire bay: the lush grass, the tropical lucidity of the surrounding water and a patchwork of islands approximate serenity.

Waewaetorea Island - Bay of Islands, New Zealand
The Bay of Islands, our first “I’m going to faint!” moment in New Zealand.

Raglan: Pancake Rocks, Sustainable Farming and Surfing

Raglan has more going on to it than just surfing (though that’s great too). In the course of two days we cruised around the Raglan area and discovered an estuary shoreline of sedimentary pancake rocks, kayaked to a sustainable farm run by a sort of mad scientist-cum-farmer named Charlie, learned to surf (kind of), discovered some of New Zealand’s best coffee served from a simple shack (Raglan Roast) and drank microbrews with locals as we watched the Superbowl in a pub built for betting on horses.

Who knew?

All this local flavor made Raglan one of our New Zealand favorites.

Cruising the pancake rocks / limestone stacks of Ragland Harbor #newzealand
Pancake rocks in Raglan Harbor.

Kayaking on Whaingaroa Estuary near Raglan, New Zealand
Kayaking the estuary, learning about the ecosystem along the way.
Dan Walks a Donkey - Sustainable Farm near Raglan, New Zealand
Dan crosses another item off his bucket list: walking a donkey.
A view over the surf hut at Ngarunui Beach. Fine conditions to catch our first waves. #newzealand
Surf hut at Ngarunui Beach. Time to hit the waves!
Dan & Audrey Surfing in Raglan - North Island, New Zealand
Surfing. Another first for us in New Zealand.

Rotorua: Caving, Rafting and Geo-Thermal Mud Baths

Glow worms. Sounds cute and cuddly. And when you are deep underground with no light, glow worms light up the cave; you almost feel like you’re outside looking up at the stars on a clear night. But nature is funny. These glowing “worms” are actually cannibalistic maggots who don’t have an anus and create light as they digest their previous dinner — all in an effort to attract their next victim. Dark. Light. Pretty. Yum.

While glow worms are cool, the real fun of going into the Waitomo Caves (we were on the Haggas Honking Holes Tour) includes an adrenaline package of abseiling, cave diving and rock climbing. Who knew that you could exert so much energy underground? Now we do.

Abseiling Down Into Cave at Haggas Honking Holes - Waitomo, New Zealand
Cold water shock. Audrey abseils an underground waterfall. Photo courtesy: Waitomo Adventures.

But if a morning of caving is not enough to tip your adrenaline-meter, consider a twilight whitewater rafting trip down the Kaituna River. As we approached the river, it was cold and rainy, we were tired, and we harbored second thoughts on whether rafting in these conditions was such a good idea.

It was. In fact, it was an amazing idea.

Not only did the Kaituna River rafting trip include a 7-meter (23 feet) fall and class 5 rapids that are just pure squealing fun to navigate, but the entire rainforest and river setting is mind-bogglingly beautiful. It’s not a coincidence that this area was once a sacred spot for Maori. These days, a few chiefs are buried behind waterfalls and in caves along the river. As a bonus, the temperature of the river water turned out to be much warmer than the air.

White Water Rafting Down 7 meter Waterfall - Kaituna, New Zealand
White water rafting down a 7-meter fall on the Kaituna River. Photo courtesy: Kaitiaki Adventures.

As you approach the town of Rotorua, the smell gives it away. The entire area is full of geothermal activity and features that “smells so good” sulfur odor that permeates everything, everywhere. While we didn’t have an opportunity to pop into one of the local mud baths or thermal springs, we did get a chance to admire, and smell, one from afar.

Holy buckets! The beautiful, bubbling mud pools of Waiotapu. #eerie #newzealand
Mud pools of Waiotapu, New Zealand

Maori Culture

As one Maori man joked with us, “There’s a reason you find most of the Maori on the North Island. We don’t like the cold.

You can feel and see the influence of Maori culture and approach to life more — almost exclusively — on the North Island. Just outside of Rotorua we visited a Maori community and a wharenui, a Maori meeting house. The opening blessing gave us a fitting glimpse into the Maori reverence for nature and humanity.

Carved head, Maori meeting house -- Waitangi Treaty Grounds
Carved head, Maori meeting house.

For one American in our group, meeting a Maori leader years ago and coming to know the Maori philosophy of human equality and oneness helped pull him out of a bad place and make him who he is today. Years later, he came full circle and we chose him as our chief to represent our group during our formal welcoming at a local Maori meeting house.

Tongariro Crossing Trek

This was the trek that almost wasn’t. Although the Tongariro Crossing trek was the activity we most looked forward to in the North Island, weather conditions almost put it out of reach. The day before was truly lousy: cold, horrible winds, no visibility. Nick, our guide, tried to manage our expectations by preparing us for the worst. We were heartbroken at the thought of cancellation.

Then in the morning the skies began to break. Slivers of blue emerged. And when we started our trek up the mountain, the clouds continued to clear. Winds tapered off. The colors and textures of the mountains, minerals, vegetation and volcanic craters emerged as fog and clouds burned off. We couldn’t have planned better weather even if we had tried. The mountain gods were smiling upon us.

The Tongariro Crossing trek is described as “one of the best one-day hikes in the world.” No high expectations or anything. But even these were exceeded. We loved this trek; each section was a thrill with the changing terrain, colors and views of the whole region. Even the Devil’s Staircase was fun as it was the pathway to the craters and lakes we knew were waiting above.

Devil's Staircase and Tongariro National Park - New Zealand
The Devil’s Staircase. Can stairs ever be fun? With views like this, maybe.

When we did get to the top of Tongariro Crossing, our reward was great. Everyone talks about the Emerald Lakes (yes, they are spectacular), but we were blown away by the contours and richness of the Red Crater. Mother Nature had gone all out.

Red Crater - Tongariro Crossing, New Zealand
The Red Crater at Tongariro. An unexpected reward for making it to the top.

Emerald Lakes of Tongariro Crossing - New Zealand
Tongariro’s Emerald Lakes. As nature designed. No photoshop needed.

Note: Because of the volcanic eruption in November 2012, we were not able to do the full Tongariro Crossing as part of the path is blocked by lava. We had to turn around at the Emerald Lakes and returned on the same path. The ~20km (12.4 miles) trek takes around 6 to 6.5 hours in total. If you get a ride into the park with a bus, they will arrange a pick up time for you.

Wellington

Our time in Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, was too short. But what we saw and felt in that time we liked. The city had an energy and creative feel to it; the calendar was chock full of festivals, concerts and performances. The city was made for people to enjoy.

Snap on Cuba Street: A taste of the soul of Wellington, New Zealand.
Wellington street scene – musicians and bars on Cuba Street.

We’re lucky to have Kiwi friends who took us out when we were there, but if you keep your eyes open you’ll find cool bars tucked back into alleyways or in the courtyards of buildings. Our two favorites were Matterhorn (106 Cuba Street) and Fork & Brewer (14 Bond Street).

Best of New Zealand’s North Island Photo Essay

If you don’t have a high-speed connection or would like to read the captions, you can view our New Zealand North Island photo set.

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The experiences above were from the G Adventures’ New Zealand Encompassed Tour. If you plan to book this or another tour with G Adventures, please consider starting the process by clicking on the ad below. The price stays the same to you and we earn a small commission. Thank you!

Disclosure: Our New Zealand Encompassed Tour was provided by G Adventures in cooperation with its Wanderers in Residence program. Our flights were kindly sponsored by Air New Zealand. We thank all the good folks at Waitomo Adventures for the Haggas Honking Holes Tour and Kaitiaki Adventures for the Kaituna River rafting trip. As always, the opinions expressed here are entirely our own.

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Hiking Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand [360-Degree Panorama]http://uncorneredmarket.com/franz-josef-glacier-new-zealand-panorama/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/franz-josef-glacier-new-zealand-panorama/#comments Thu, 07 Mar 2013 07:44:08 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=12895 By Audrey Scott

One minute, you’re in the center of the town of Franz Josef, a cafe on one side of you, a pizzeria on the other. Then, within minutes, you are transported to another world. Your helicopter pops up into the air, through jagged mountain crags, just before dropping you into the heart of a glacier, an […]

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By Audrey Scott

One minute, you’re in the center of the town of Franz Josef, a cafe on one side of you, a pizzeria on the other. Then, within minutes, you are transported to another world. Your helicopter pops up into the air, through jagged mountain crags, just before dropping you into the heart of a glacier, an otherworldly ice field of turquoise blues and glowing whites.

This was Franz Josef Glacier.

During our visit, weather conditions were not the best. We were pelted by windswept drizzle. It didn’t much matter, though. Our earlier trip had been canceled thanks to changing weather, and we were thrilled just to be where we were. We made it. We were on the glacier, Franz Josef Glacier. And this in itself was a victory.

With crampons strapped to the soles of my shoes, I felt like superwoman on that ice. I climbed uphill and downhill, through tunnels and over ice fields — gripping myself into all that the ice had to offer.

Once I got my footing, I rarely looked down into the path left by the metal spikes of my shoes. My head spun, I continually looked up, looked around. There was simply far too much to take in while trying to come to terms with the fact that I was standing on a dazzling ice field in the middle of the mountains of New Zealand.

I’ll never forget the turquoise light that seemed to emanate from that ice. It seemed a way, nature’s way, of delivering at once beauty and mystery and an adventure I’ll never forget.

Open up the panorama to full screen to see for yourself.

Panorama: Hiking Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand

panorama directions

Practical Details for Hiking Franz Josef Glacier

We took the Ice Explorer trip through Franz Josef Glacier Guides NZ. This trip includes a short helicopter ride (5 minutes) up to the glacier and around 3 hours of hiking on the ice (weather permitting). We chose this tour because it gave us the most time on the glacier. You can also choose scenic helicopter tours or a heli-hike that has more time in the air and less time on the ice.

Tours get canceled at the first sign of the weather turning bad for safety reasons (you really don’t want to be in a helicopter in bad weather!). The earlier in the morning that you have your tour slot, the more likely the weather will be good. Our suggestion is to book early morning slots online in advance to try and decrease the weather cancellation factor. Our glacier guide also suggested that winter (June-July) is the best time to see the glacier as the weather is usually clear and the turquoise of the ice takes on crazy bright colors.

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The experiences above were from the G Adventures’ New Zealand Encompassed Tour. If you plan to book this or another tour with G Adventures, please consider starting the process by clicking on the ad below. The price stays the same to you and we earn a small commission. Thank you!


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Disclosure: Our New Zealand Encompassed Tour is provided by G Adventures in cooperation with its Wanderers in Residence program. Our flights were kindly sponsored by Air New Zealand. As always, the opinions expressed here are entirely our own.

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A Tandem Bungy Jump on Valentine’s Day [VIDEO]http://uncorneredmarket.com/tandem-bungy-jump-valentines-day-video/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/tandem-bungy-jump-valentines-day-video/#comments Fri, 15 Feb 2013 19:32:59 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=12818 By Daniel Noll

I am starting to wonder about you guys. every time you celebrate your ‘love’ (V-day, anniversary) you jump off something very high. Please explain. — A good friend responds to our Valentine’s Day bungy jump, capturing a little problem we seem to have. So there we were in New Zealand, Valentine’s Day approaching. We find […]

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By Daniel Noll

Tandem Bungy Jump on Valentine's Day - Kawarau Bridge near Queenstown, New Zealand
Tandem Bungy Jump on Valentine’s Day – Kawarau Bridge near Queenstown

I am starting to wonder about you guys. every time you celebrate your ‘love’ (V-day, anniversary) you jump off something very high. Please explain.

A good friend responds to our Valentine’s Day bungy jump, capturing a little problem we seem to have.

So there we were in New Zealand, Valentine’s Day approaching. We find ourselves in Queenstown, the so-called adventure capital of the world where just about any adrenaline-pumping, blood-draining exercise can be found. So we think: What sort of shared experience, that we haven’t done before, can we do together to celebrate Valentine’s Day?

Bungy jumping together, now that’s a shared experience. A little pleasure, a little terror.

We each get our feet wrapped up in towels, cords and carabiners. Then we get strapped and hooked together. On the platform, we wrap our inside hands around each other’s waist, grabbing hold of each other’s harness.

The whole time, we’re excited, pretty much terrified.

They call out 3, 2, 1. Then it’s time.

Tandem Bungee Jump for Valentine's Day - Kawarau Bridge, New Zealand
And we’re off!!

Here’s the surprising thing about bungy: it’s not anything like we expected. It’s a rush. We expected that. It’s terrifying. We expected that. But the bounce (it’s not a snap, by the way) at the bottom is soft and elastic and actually a lot of fun, particularly when you pop up and down a few times and realize that you’ve in fact survived and can enjoy an upside-down view of turquoise water and stunning ravine below.

And that’s when we gave each other a hug. This experience makes you truly appreciate you partner and not take him or her for granted.

Valentine's Day Bungee Jump - Kawarau Bridge, New Zealand
Hugging for dear life.

If you’re in the neighborhood and even lightly grazing the idea of doing bungy, do it. It’s a sensation you’ll likely never forget. And if you’re a couple, do the tandem – there’s nothing like the fun of shared terror to bring you even closer.

Watch the video to see for yourself.

Video: A Valentine’s Day Tandem Bungy Jump

Special thanks to AJ Hackett Bungy New Zealand for providing us with this video.

Practical details for Tandem Bungy

At the moment, the only tandem bungy (or bungee, if you like) experience can be had with AJ Hackett Bungy New Zealand in Queenstown, New Zealand. They are the folks that set up the original one in 1988 on the same bridge where we jumped off. You jump from a height of 43 meters (141 feet) off the Kawarau Bridge.

It’s possible to book the same day, however it’s preferred if you book in advance (say, the day before or earlier). Basically, you show up in town, hop a bus, go out to the site, get weighed, go out on the bridge, get strapped in and tied up. Then you jump. Cost is $180 NZ per person and includes a free t-shirt to show off your courage post-jump. The whole experience, while terrifying, strikes us as completely safe. Photos and video are available through download, DVD or a cool USB in the shape of a carabiner for $80 for both photos and video (or $45 for one).

Photo credits to AJ Hackett Bungy New Zealand.

Disclosure: Big thanks to AJ Hackett Bungy New Zealand for talking us through all our adrenaline options in Queenstown and providing us with this tandem bungy experience so we could test it out for ourselves. Our New Zealand Encompassed Tour is provided by G Adventures in cooperation with its Wanderers in Residence program. As always, the opinions expressed here are entirely our own.

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The experiences above were from the G Adventures’ New Zealand Encompassed Tour. If you plan to book this or another tour with G Adventures, please consider starting the process by clicking on the ad below. The price stays the same to you and we earn a small commission. Thank you!

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Base Flying Berlin: An 11th Wedding Anniversary Jump (Video)http://uncorneredmarket.com/base-flying-berlin/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/base-flying-berlin/#comments Fri, 07 Oct 2011 18:18:54 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=9598 By Daniel Noll

What is marriage, if not a leap of faith? Fourteen years ago, on or around our second date, Audrey and I went skydiving together. It was, as you might imagine, both terrifying and fantastic. And as much as you also might also imagine that it wiped away my fear of heights, it did not. Perhaps […]

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By Daniel Noll

What is marriage, if not a leap of faith?

Fourteen years ago, on or around our second date, Audrey and I went skydiving together. It was, as you might imagine, both terrifying and fantastic. And as much as you also might also imagine that it wiped away my fear of heights, it did not. Perhaps it chiseled away at that wall, but it certainly didn’t tear it down. I still swoon thinking about that airplane canopy above 16,000 feet. I still get wobbly above 10 stories.

So here we are 14 years later in Berlin, celebrating our 11th wedding anniversary. What better way to recognize the occasion than to jump (base fly) from the top of a 37-story building?

Berlin Base FlyingPhoto courtesy of Yuhang Yuan, one of our awesome friends who came out to support us

Berlin Base Flying: The Experience

As often happens in life, it’s one thing to talk about doing something and quite another to actually do it. The same goes for launching oneself from a tall building in Berlin.

Base Flying at Alexander Platz, Berlin
Hanging above Berlin, waiting for the 400 foot drop

The following video tells that story. If after the video you stick around to read the rest of this piece, we’ll explain what base flying is. And we’ll offer a little marriage advice.

Video: Base Flying in Berlin: Celebrating 11 Years of Marriage

Special thanks to Sarah Everts for her camera work and support.

The Base Flying Process, Start to Finish

We arrived at the lobby of the Park Inn and were given one of those “this is totally safe, but there’s an outside chance you might end up like a pancake” waivers to sign. Here are my favorite segments:

Precondition is a good physical and intellectual constitution as the execution of this event can entail a considerable physical and mental exposure

Not to be outdone, it follows:

The organizer assumes no liability for soiling or damaging clothing worn during the fall.

Rough translation: If you poop your pants, it’s on you.

I had reservations on both accounts, but I signed anyhow.

As for the mechanics of the base flying process, it’s pretty quick. (And I’m pleased to report, painless):

1) Go to the roof of the building (take an elevator, then walk up the stairs from floor 37). The view from atop the Park Inn Berlin is spectacular, especially if the weather is as immaculate as it was on the day of our jump.

2) Get outfitted in a harness and hooked to an industrial strength wire contraption that is attached to the side and roof of the building.

3) You try out your harness rig in a superman pose above stable ground with one of the crew.

4) The crew walks you out to the edge of the jumping platform where you are raised on the hook and out over open ground. This is profoundly terrifying. You pretend like you are thrilled and look at the camera. Remember to smile.

Berlin Base Flying - Dan About to Go!
Forcing a smile through the terror

5) Then you drop, free-falling for about 5 seconds (but time almost stands still). Wild. As you reach the end, the wire suspension device executes a controlled deceleration so you experience absolutely no sudden jerking motion as you might with bungee jumping.

Berlin Base Flying - Alexanderplatz
View from below

6) Run around Alexanderplatz in your white jumpsuits, hug your friends who have been cheering you on and head over to Pfefferhaus for a round of hot sauce tasting (stay tuned for our next piece).

And Finally, A Little Marriage Advice

When people ask us for marriage advice, I often feel like a kid, not the sort of person you go to for marriage counsel.

Friends who had been married only a few years recently asked, “So what advice can you give after 11 years?

I replied: “You’re married, right? Then it’s too late

But quite seriously, here’s my 11-year-thoughts-on-marriage offer: Marriage is a lot of work, much in the way a garden might be. You reap the rewards that you sow.

Now go forth and jump off a building.

Berlin Base Flying - We Made It!
We Did It!

How to Go Base Flying in Berlin

Location: Park Inn at Alexanderplatz, Berlin. Jochen Schweizer is the company that operates the base flying. Look for their desk near the concierge.

Operating hours: Usually open only on weekends, weather permitting. Call ahead to be sure it’s open.

Costs: Although base flying may not be the cheapest activity going in Berlin, the price strikes us as pretty fair considering how unique this experience is and the safety and sophistication of the equipment. Try to go early in the morning for the best deals.

  • Basic Base-Flying: €79
  • 2nd person: €39
  • Early Bird (10-11 AM): €49
  • Happy Hour (18-19 AM): €59

We asked how many people chicken out once they are on the roof. The crew’s response: “It’s actually very few people – only about 2-3%. And it’s usually the guys with the big mouths talking it up the most.”

Thanks and Disclosure:
First off, a big thanks to the Jochen Schweizer crew on top of the Park Inn. Cedrik, Tilman and the rest of the folks were safety conscious, supportive and very funny (check out Tilman in the video) — exactly the type of people you want around you when you’re about to jump off a building.

Our base flying experience was provided to us by Jochen Schweizer, an experience company whose offers include high adrenaline and adventure activities around the world.

As always, these words, experiences and opinions are entirely our own.

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How Kazakhstan Nearly Killed Ushttp://uncorneredmarket.com/kazakhstan-nearly-killed-us/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/kazakhstan-nearly-killed-us/#comments Wed, 12 Dec 2007 03:56:53 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=6486 By Audrey Scott

Barely recovering from self-inflicted death march from Kazakh mountains. Copter airlift looked likely. Rappelling down waterfall = escape. — Our Twitter update from Almaty, Kazakhstan on 3 September 2007 My, how things can go wrong. Our trusty Lonely Planet guidebook told us to “skirt Pik Bolshoy Almatinsky (Big Almaty Peak) and follow the river gorge […]

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By Audrey Scott

Barely recovering from self-inflicted death march from Kazakh mountains. Copter airlift looked likely. Rappelling down waterfall = escape.

— Our Twitter update from Almaty, Kazakhstan on 3 September 2007

My, how things can go wrong.

Dan Hiking in Tian Shan Mountains - Almaty, Kazakhstan
Dan just over the mountain pass. Here’s where things take a wrong turn.

Our trusty Lonely Planet guidebook told us to “skirt Pik Bolshoy Almatinsky (Big Almaty Peak) and follow the river gorge down to the ski resort of Alma Arasan.” When we came over the pass, we did that. Or, rather, we thought we did. Instead, what we committed to was a steep descent through a different – and highly unrecommended – giant boulder-filled river gorge.

It dawned on us rather early that we had chosen poorly.

Almost three hours into this downhill scramble, we hit a waterfall about 100 feet high. There was no way to climb down. Our phone had no signal, so calling for help wasn’t an option. Disheartened and beginning to fear the waning light and our dim circumstances, we tried to climb around the waterfall and over the next pass 1000 feet above us. Pulling ourselves up the hill by roots, branches, and bushes, our hearts sank again and again as we stopped to take stock of our position and another way out. We faced cliff edges everywhere we turned.

Several more attempts later, we found a descent covered with fallen leaves and greens. It was impossible to tell whether a cliff lurked under each patch of loose rocks and vegetation. We were forced to inch down, testing the ground beneath us with each step. Although steep, dangerous and rocky, we managed to climb down to the riverbed again, bypassing the waterfall.

As our legs turned to lead and our movements to jelly, we knew we were in trouble. There we were on a simple hike in the Tian Shan mountains with an as-the-crow-flies view of where we needed to be, Almaty. However, with each advance seemed to come another waterfall or rockslide that would eliminate another way out. We were desperately lost, and as night began to fall, we pushed on, losing sight of both the ground beneath us and the risk we were taking with each step.

Mission Impossible in the Tian Shan Mountains?

Lost in Tian Shan Mountains, Final Waterfall - Almaty, Kazakhstan
Our final feat: rappelling down this waterfall. (Yes, it’s as big as it looks.)

Another waterfall 50 feet high blocked our path. Cursing and on the verge of tears, we spied a rope leading from the top of the waterfall. We had no choice, so we each hurled ourselves over the side of the rock, held on to the rope, and did our best Mission Impossible imitation, rappelling over the fall just above safe ground. The rope was not quite long enough, meaning a literal leap of faith was needed at the end. At this point, we had bottomed out physically and emotionally, but we felt the need to press on.

Our hearts soared when we began to notice trash strewn in the bushes near the stream we were following. Trash = people = we’re getting close to civilization.

More good news followed as we found a walking path just as the light dissolved into a grainy darkness. We raced quickly – staggering, praying that we’d find a road…or maybe some people. Instead, the path ended in a mudslide.

We had no choice but to backtrack and return to the riverbed.

We eventually found a questionably beaten path. It was 8:30 at night and we were enveloped in darkness.

Good Fortune and a Random Act of Kindness

Then, out of nowhere, we were spit out onto a dirt road across from a rest stop serving mutton shashlik (barbecue). We tried to flag down a car in hopes that it would agree to taxi us to town. Every vehicle was full as families returned to Almaty after a pleasant day in the mountains.

After a few dozen flagging attempts, a minivan packed with several families inside pulled into the parking lot. I, exhausted and covered in dirt from all of her falls, asked the driver in broken Russian whether he was headed towards Almaty. Before she could finish, the man responded to our obvious deteriorated condition, “Do you need help?

We imagined fitting into the back of their minivan (where luggage normally goes), but the man cleared his remaining friends and family to the back, led us to the large, plush seats up front and gave us a luxurious lift back to the safety and comfort of Almaty, its city lights, and its civilization.

To describe us as thankful for all of this good fortune is an understatement. After all, we were alive and we had a comfortable ride home. We were the very relieved recipients of a random act of kindness from a Kazakh family.

Safe and Reflective

Hindsight being 20/20, it would have been safer to have spent the night under the protection of a tree in the mountains and to resume our descent when we were equipped with better light and better judgment. We were very lucky. We had some scrapes and achy muscles, but things could have been much, much worse.

Hardships and poor decision-making aside, our foray into Kazakhstan’s Soviet past at the observatory and Kosmostantsia provided a grounding contrast to the polish and glitz of nearby Almaty. The mountain scenery, especially around Big Almaty Lake, is striking. Our only advice before you have your own Tian Shan Mountain adventure: buy a real hiking map.

How to Visit Big Almaty Lake and Kosmostancia

  • How to get there: Take a shared taxi or bus #28 to Kokshoky and follow the signs for Kosmostantsia. If hiking is not your thing, contact the Tian Shan Astronomical Observatory for transport from Almaty (see below).
  • Where to stay: The observatory offers basic accommodation and food in a funky Soviet-era junkyard mountain setting. We recommend it. Domicks (10 Euros/person) are the cheapest option with a shared outhouse and sink. There are nicer rooms for 15 euros/person that include en suite bathrooms and hot water. Engage the astronomer on site and gaze at the stars using high-powered telescopes (5 euros/person). Breakfast and dinner run 4 Euros/person.
  • Contact: Aivar (he speaks English): 87055222446, or email him at aivar086022 [at] gmail.com or aivar1960 [at] mail.ru.

Photo Slideshow: Kazakhstan: Tian Shan and Big Almaty Lake

If you don’t have a high-speed connection or you would like to read the captions, you can view our Tian Shan and Big Almaty Lake photo essay.

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