Today is a day on the move. We have a four hour drive to the Auckland Airport, a 1.5 hour plane flight to the South Island, and a 1 hour drive to our lodging for the night. Along the way, we wander the Dunedin Railway Station farmers market, explore Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, and spot blue penguins at the Royal Albatross Centre.
We schedule two days in Taupo with the intent to use the best day of weather to take the 8-hour hike along the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Day 1 was out, the remnants of the storm that passed through two days ago still swirled about the snow capped peaks. Peaks that have stood in for Tolkein's Mount Doom in the Peter Jackson Lord of the Ring films.
It is now Day 2. While the sky is blue and we can see the peaks clearly across Lake Taupo, storms are anticipated in the afternoon. Access to the pass is closed.
It is cold. So, very cold.
Some days feel as though we are traveling through some massive, manicured natural theme park. The rocks outcrops look like the ruins of some ancient culture. The plants maintain a fiercely bright green, despite the oncoming fall.
Despite not sleeping the night before, last night's sleep was terminated early due to the traveler's dreaded jet lag. I woke up at 3am. I got out of bed at 5:30am. I noticed a family of hedgehogs retreat to a bush at 5:45am. I watched the sunrise at 6:00am. By 7:30am, everyone else was awake. The day could begin.
I tried so hard. We leaned on each others shoulders, we cuddled into little balls, we stretched across each other. We tried every position imaginable. What we didn't do, was sleep on the 14 hour plane trip from San Francisco to Aukland, New Zealand. We arrived at 5:30 AM, groggy but determined to milk all that we could from every moment we spend in New Zealand.
Oh yeah, didn't I mention? We are in New Zealand!
White Sands National Monument has been high on my list of places to visit for quite a while. It was also high on another list: a tentative list of new World Heritage Sites. You know, like the Pyramids of Giza, Galápagos Islands, and other major cultural or natural sites in the world.
We don't have high expectations when we compromise on a campground. We are headed to White Sands National Monument, but there are no drive-in camp sites in the monument itself. So, we need a campground not too far outside of the monument to spend the night and are willing to sacrifice scenery for proximity. So, we expect the regular cramped campgrounds. We are not prepared for the remarkable views from Aguirre Spring Campground.
Our friends in Tuscon, Arizona are adamant: you should go camping in Coronado National Forest. To our surprise, the entry point for their particular camping area is the same we took nearly a year ago to the day when we visited Kentucky Camp.