The List – Vivid

Must Do

1. Go up onto the Cahill Walkway. And walk along it. Take time to photograph in both directions (I was a bit pressed for time, so didn’t). Access from Circular Quay is via an elevator at the Opera House end of everything, beyond the train station, at ground level.
2. Overseas Passenger Terminal. The view from here is wonderful, especially if the upper level balcony is available and there is no cruise ship in town. Their lookout tower is even better – allowing you to look around to the bridge as well as over to the Opera House.
3. Mrs Macquaries Chair. For Vivid, this is a slightly unusual suggestion, as the Opera House is only floodlit from the opposite side, rather than seeing the decorative light painting. But getting that iconic view with the harbour bridge lit up is still a winner.
4. The Manly Ferry. Whether you do this by day or by night doesn’t matter. Just do it. Unless you are off to the Zoo, in which case, take the boat. The views over the city from the water just can’t be beaten.

 

Kit

Take your best photography kit. Whatever you can lay your hands on. A sturdy tripod and a hands-free shutter release are two real key pieces of kit. And take your widest angle auto-focus lens, you’ll want it at some point. I took a range of lenses and used most of them.

For shots close in to the Opera House, or overlooking Circular Quay, my 10-22mm f3.5 generated some incredible shots. For anything slightly further away, I often found my 18-135mm f3.5 did a great job. I varied exposure length and ISO to get different effects as well. For walking around the smaller exhibits in areas where hand-held was better, my 24mm f2.8 pancake lens was worth its weight in gold. Easy to handle, wide-enough yet tight-enough field of view, great crisp images handheld at 1/10s at not excruciating ISO.

 

Eat

We had an AirBnB apartment with a kitchen, so we cooked for ourselves one meal a day (and had daily cereal with fruit for breakfast). Our only two dining out experiences were necessity driven.
Old Town Hong Kong in Barangaroo was the first place near Darling Harbour we could find that had something I could maybe eat without too many problems, and also a queue less than 20 minutes. The food was good but not great, I wouldn’t rave about it, and I wouldn’t advise it for sensitive / reactive coeliacs – I know I probably did damage, but I had no reaction.
Café Villa at North Fort was the only food option available without walking at least 35 minutes back to Manly. Not long after we ordered, a bus went past – the bus goes two hourly, and part of me wishes we had been on it. Being Italian in focus, the menu is extremely limited for a coeliac who doesn’t like mushroom risotto. I had a salad, which was nice but unsatisfying on a cold day.

Getting There

We flew Air New Zealand. As always, the service was comfortable enough. However, the seats on Trans-Tasman A320’s feel even more restrictive in space than domestic flights. Also, disembarking has become a long slow process in the back end of the plane since the seat-only option was introduced. Sydney Koru was nice, albeit unsurprisingly busy on the Monday of a NZ long weekend. The food was good, and the GF apple and cinnamon muffins were divine (I was prepared for them to be rocks of sadness, so was more than pleasantly surprised. I think I had 3).

Getting Around

Sydney is incredibly easy to get around as a tourist. Well, mostly. The bus routes can be complex, but google maps / Transport NSW both make navigating the buses 100x easier than it used to be. We caught a few trains, a handful of buses and a ferry. Not a bad haul in 3 days. We did a massive amount of walking though, when staying in the CBD it really is the best way to get around, until you are too tired to do it anymore. We did get lost-ish once, when apple maps directed us through Wynyard Station without telling us that’s what it was doing, but that’s about the worst of it, and not even that bad. Having a tall, easily identifiable, building to call home-base helped though.

Christchurch Redux

Another overnight trip for work, only this time in the office, rather than on an away day. Quite a different experience, but also quite nice.

EAT

I ate out a LOT on this trip. Breakfast on my first day was at Supreme Supreme on Welles Street, before heading in to the office. The corned beef hash was solid, with a perfect poached egg.

Lunch at Burger Fuel Hereford St was unremarkable in a good way. My Chook Royale on GF bun was well constructed and came quickly. Eaten in the sunshine in Cathedral Square was a nice escape from the shadowed coldness that caused the dine in restaurant to need all its IMG_9799bheaters on full bore.

After work, my boss and I headed to The Institution on New Regent for a drink. I had something scrummy with peach juice and bubbles, that I would definitely return for. The flirtatious barman certainly helped too!

I headed to Lone Star Manchester St for dinner. The little tables down the window that were really only big enough for one were all full by the time I left. I was sad to see that my old fave (Dixie Chicken) is now served with mash, but that’s ok because apparently its also not GF, so I had to pick something else. I treated myself to dessert too. I really shouldn’t have eaten the slaw, I know it reacts badly with me, but I couldn’t help myself.

Lux at COCA does GLUTEN FREE SCONES. Yes, you read that right. AMAZING. Herbed ones. Interesting texture, and I only actually ate one of the two I bought because they were really filling. The hot chocolate is not something I would go back for though. I needed two sugars to make it palatable, and I usually never sugar my hot chocolate!

For lunch, after a quick walk to Hagley Park and back (sigh, I love the autumn colours that are still around), I stopped in at Trenches at the RSA. They have a couple of GF slices in the cabinet, and I grabbed a stuffed baked potato too (usually fairly naturally GF). They offered to warm the potato, but it was still pretty cold.

STAY

This trip, I stayed at the Rendezvous on Glouchester. My room was way up on the 13th floor (more than halfway up the tallest building in the city, and higher than any other currently occupied building in the city), which meant I could see pretty much all the way to New Brighton. The bed was king sized, and very warm. Having just come from a long weekend in Sydney, IMG_9830bwhere it was never fully quiet in our 34th floor room, it was strange just how quiet it was in this CBD room. The shower was lovely, the bathroom was huge. I slept with just the sheers closed, and it was still plenty dark.

WALK

I did two walks while I was in town. The first, on Wednesday evening, was around the CBD. From the hotel to the Bridge of Rememberance, I planned to go to the Earthquake Memorial, but the direct path was blocked, so instead I meandered aimlessly for a while. Thursday lunchtime, I walked down to Christs College and did a short loop of part of Hagley Park. I realised while out that I really do need to get into running so I can start seeing more of the park on future trips down!

Lux Festival

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Mum, this light is BEAUTIFUL

For a while, it looked like Lux was going to be a rain-out for me this year, with the only times I could go having horrendous weather. Then, miraculously, Thursday afternoon the weather cleared. Mark was out for the evening, so Mr4 and I grabbed some dinner and headed back into the city to explore.

What I saw of this years show was made 100% better by the excitement of a 4yo out past bedtime. I didn’t love the displays in the Frank Kitts Park area, and we didn’t get up Cuba St and surrounding laneways.

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Glow in the dark Gelato!

The wet weather meant the glow in the dark chalk on the Frank Kitts Promenade had been washed clean – previous years I have visited, this area has been a mess of each days writing running over top of the others. It also meant that the displays in the grass areas were surrounded by quagmires of mud. Good thing I had casual Friday the next day, as my work pants were covered in mud by the time we got through!

The highlight for me this year was watching the excitement on Mr4’s face as he enjoyed “glow in the dark” gelato. I would have loved to watch the whole display in Civic Square, but we arrived there as it was ending and it was too cold (and too close to bedtime) to hang around for 20 minutes waiting for it to start over. What we saw was neat though.

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To infinity

I had grand plans of using Lux as an opportunity to practice for Vivid in a couple of weeks time, but instead I went with just the camera I had with me – my 60D with a 24mm Prime lens on it – and no tripod. Even using ISO way up at 1600, I still often needed longer exposures than I could hand-hold without movement, but with a 4yo in tow, the flexibility offered by this combination worked in its favour.

The changing displays year-on-year do make Lux worth going back to each year. There is always something new to see, and the chance to explore the city, in a crowd, in the dark, is quite neat. Next year I need to make a concerted effort to get off the waterfront and up the laneways, as I reckon that’s where the best displays are hidden (judging by photos I’ve seen from this years event)

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Projection

Milford Track – Teaser

 

This week, bookings opened for the Milford Track. The DoC website struggled with the load of people wanting tickets, and it took Mark and I three hours of trying to get through and get ourselves some tickets. By 9pm that night (12 hours after bookings opened), there were no tickets remaining for the day we wanted to start walking, or for more than a month after.

Looking again, 2 days after bookings opened, there are only a handful of single-tramper spaces available between mid-November and early March. It seems incredible that in 2 days more than 4 months worth of 120-beds-a-night hut space has been nearly completely booked out.

The Milford track is a 53.5km, one-way tramp that is New Zealand’s original “Great Walk”. Access at both ends is by boat, starting on Lake Te Anau, finishing on Milford Sound, under the watchful gaze of Mitre Peak. It involves 4 days, 3 nights of walking, although the first day is around 5km, so hardly a day at all. Accommodation is in huts that offer flush toilets, electric lighting (for a limited number of hours in the evening), and gas cookers. Freedom walkers must take all their own food and cooking utensils.

Alongside the DoC huts, there is a system of guided walking huts. These huts offer 3 meals a day, real beds (with sheets and blankets), hot showers, cash bars and drying rooms. Doing the Milford as a guided walk costs over $1200 per person. We opted not to take the guided walk option. I am somewhat sad about this, as there are no accommodation options in Milford for us the night we come off the track, so back to Te Anau for the night will be our only option, while the guided walk includes a night in their lodge at Milford.

While many trampers feel this track is over-rated, and over-touristy, this is a walk we have wanted to do for years. It is logistically and financially prohibitive to get to though. Booking in May (which is late for great walks bookings to open) for a walk in December that is 1200km away requires a lot of pre-planning, which then also all relies on actually getting passes on the day bookings open. We’ve been talking in detail about this trip since early January, confirming dates and travel preferences, and first floated it as an idea 3 years ago.

Now we wait! And hope that the Kaikoura road is open again by Christmas, so we don’t have three consecutive driving days immediately before starting the track.

Autumn in Christchurch

Next week I start a new job. This week, I was treated to a 2-day “away” session with my new team. Because the team is split between Wellington and Christchurch, this years event was in Christchurch. It was a lovely treat to get a night away, and a social opportunity to meet loads of my new colleagues.

We visit Christchurch semi-regularly. Marks family is based there. But we dont go exploring very much as the trips are short. Notably, we barely make it to the CBD.

This time, I was staying in the CBD. So Thursday morning I went for a walk. While there were still some sad scenes, there was a lot of beauty to behold – even without considering the stunning new buildings starting to sprout everywhere. The autumn colours were especially entrancing, and I loved the way the light played through town without hills around to stop it.

STAY

Through work, I stayed at the Breakfree on Cashel. The room was comfortably sized for a short stay, although the bathroom was a squeeze. The shower pressure and temperature were bliss. The aircon took a while to get going, so I overheated overnight having left it on. The blinds were efficient at keeping the light out, and the bed was comfortable (although it had a board at the foot, so at my height, I was glad to not be sharing). This was formerly the SO Hotel, which we had planned to stay at in 2011 for a wedding, but the Grand Chancellor wound up leaning on it after the February Quake.

EAT

I was treated to dinner at The Happening on Glouchester. The food was good, although the GF options were very limited. The salmon was a tad oily, but this was made up for with the fresh steamed veges. The staff were absolutely lovely. Would dine again.

Vivid Sydney – Teaser

For a good couple of years now, I have wanted to go to Sydney to see some of the Vivid Festival.

This year, I get my chance! We are taking a kid-free long weekend to go over, staying in a cute 1-bed AirBnB apartment right by Hyde Park that is costing FAR more than we usually budget for accommodation. But now that I have a new job (with a payrise), it feels like a nice reward.

My main motivation for going over is to see the light installations, and I suspect Mark is going to be sick of me dragging him around the place and then standing there watching while I take photos!

I am way beyond excited. I can’t wait! It feels like forever since we last went to Sydney – way back in 2009!

ANZAC Weekend Camping

After deciding ages ago that we wouldn’t go away between Easter and ANZAC day, but instead make two consecutive 4-day weekends, I managed to persuade Mark that we should go camping at Mistletoe Bay for ANZAC weekend, despite this being well in to Autumn, and potentially very cold.

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Picton – worth a stop

To get there, we took the Interislander’s Kaiarahi. Service on board the services both ways was fantastic, and there are actually some really great gluten free options on board, especially for breakfast.
We had considered walking on and then taking a water taxi to the campground, but the cost to drive was about the same, which made packing easier.
From Picton, its approximately 40km / 1 hour drive.

The great thing about camping in Autumn is how quiet it is! There was another family on the site, who had been there for a week, and two other groups came in for a night each. Otherwise we had the campers facilities to ourselves. The kitchen was warmed daily by the sun, and the deck outside was a lovely spot to relax in the morning.

The downside of camping in Autumn is that you have limited daylight hours.

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We had a choice – first morning sun, or last afternoon sun – for our tent site. We opted for last afternoon sun. Which meant the inside of our tent was still cold (and the outside still damp), until the sun arrived around 11:30am. However, we also kept the sunshine until after 4pm. Other than one foggy morning and one breezy evening, we had still, calm, clear weather for 4 straight days.

The facilities at the campground are a little basic for the price you pay. At $32/night for 2 guests, and $10 for the additional child, the amenities are less up-to-date than a Top10 for example. It costs ($2/4mins) for hot showers, for the laundry ($8/load, no dryer), and for kayak hire ($10/hr/boat). There is a free-to-use drying room, which we took advantage of for damp clotIMG_8207bhes after kayaking. They have a small shop, which is great for icecreams and fizz (although unsuprisingly expensive), and they supply their own free-range eggs at 50c each (divine!). You need to be completely self-sufficient, the only things you dont need are a cooker and chiller (although in summer I imagine the fridges would struggle).

We had a whole heap of really awesome experiences – like when Mr4 was beside himself with excitement over his first weka, or the Karearea (Falcon) we saw hanging around. Then there was the kayaking on the bay, the glow worms, the Pukeko and Tui up at Kenepuru Head when we went for a drive and the incredible stars at night. The aurora was busy while we were there, and the hills nixed most of our view, but I did catch a glimpse with the naked eye, and managed to grab one shot showing it.

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One of a pair of Karearea that live nearby

Our only negative was a pair of kiwi trampers doing the Queen Charlotte Track, who were a bit inconsiderate in the not-large kitchen / dining area. They took up one of the two tables through two families preparing dinner for their kids, so they could play a game of monopoly, not even thinking to shift to one end of the table. But honestly, if thats the worst that happened, its hardly worth complaining about!

We always forget something. On our summer trip, this wasn’t a big deal (a cheese slice and potato peeler, which we could grab at the supermarket). This time we forgot to bring a serving spoon or wooden spoon. Made cooking a little difficult.

Overall, we were stoked with our decision to camp in autumn, and are totally planning to do it again another year! We would also highly recommend Mistletoe Bay as a destination. The stars at night are incredible, the management are friendly, the campsite is lovely. If we had known about it before our wedding, we may have seriously considered it as a venue (at $5k for 2 days for 48 guests, provide your own food, its seriously good value!)

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Poorly edited, but Milky Way + Aurora over our tent

Easter at Home

Around Christmas last year, we looked through this years calendar and noted (like many others) that we could easily take just a handful of days leave to get a long holiday over Easter and ANZAC weekend.

But, we decided not to, since it was also school holidays, and this is our last year of not having to consider the impact of travelling outside school holiday times.

Instead, we decided Easter would be an at-home (or at the beach at a stretch) weekend. And boy was that a good idea. Everyone in our house is tired and scratchy at the moment, especially Mr4.

A weekend “at home” doesn’t mean boring though. Wellington has loads of really awesome short adventures available!

Friday was a super relaxed day. Mr4 stayed Thursday night with his grandparents, while we went for a wander through the CBD in the afternoon between rain showers, and enjoyed afternoon tea at Joe’s Garage (GF fries! Yay!).

Saturday we went to Zealandia for the first time in months, finally renewing our memberships. They had an “Easter Egg” hunt on, which kept Mr4 moving. We ran into a couple of people we knew, and got to see loads of kaka, which is always awesome.

Sunday was another chilled day. In the afternoon, we went to Karori Park, and got Mr4 riding his bike around the sportsfields, before a bit of a play in the playground. We got rained on a little, but only light showers thankfully.

On Monday, our outing was to Karori Pool. The hydroslide there is absolutely FANTASTIC for larger pre-schoolers. Mr4 did a couple of runs, then got cold, then went back and did another dozen in a row. We almost didn’t get him off it!33418191840_a606a5c2fb_o

All in all, a perfect Easter Weekend. An outing a day, a good amount of good food, and some seriously restful at-home time. Train tracks in the lounge, hide-and-seek in the dark! Sadly, my computer corrupted my memory card as I tried to download the images for the weekend, so the photos with this post are from other visits to those places! This is most gutting with Zealandia (awesome photos of Kaka, and a teeny-tiny tuatara), and Karori Park (Mr4 getting confident on his bike).

Much more challenging than expected

This was one of the hardest to plan tramps I have ever organised. Mostly because all the information was so fragmented. Planning tramps that are 100% on the DoC estate is simple – huts are marked, prices are standard, bookings (if required) are all done in one place. For the Queen Charlotte Track, the maps weren’t clear, the accommodation options were varied (and not all listed on the tracks website, we discovered), and bookings had to go out to various websites and email addresses. Nothing could be confirmed without confirming everything at once.

We decided on the date for this tramp because it meant finishing at Anakiwa 10 years to the day since I finished Outward Bound – handily mostly over a weekend too.

Our route plan included a couple of really hard days. Our second day had to be a bare minimum of 24km, and depending where we spent night one, could have been up to 35km. The third day was meant to be a shorter, easy day at only 8km.

The actual tramping was harder than expected, largely due to the weather, although the fact that the track was far more up-and-down than we really anticipated clearly didn’t help. Our longest day was 13 hours of movement, 35km of distance, and 1200m vertical up AND down. My bung knee played up again (which it didn’t on the Routeburn, so that’s frustrating, and I wonder if its related to not having my ankles strapped this time?), and my boots disintegrated. Days 3 and 4 were a haze of pain in my feet as my boots continued to fall apart. Despite having our bags transferred each day, the only non-boot footwear I had was jandals, which aren’t great for tramping.

Our accommodation was, on average, not flash. At Furneaux, the backpacker rooms are awkward, there is no access to a kitchen, and the bathrooms are an old cinder block. Sadly, the Endeavour Resort (5 minutes further along the track) wasn’t mentioned on the website information at the time, and it looks to be the MUCH better backpacker option at the head of the inlet. At Portage, our backpacker (Treetops) was fully booked, meaning we were in the main house, with no access to a kitchen except by going down poorly lit, slippery stairs in the dark and interrupting the people who were staying in the actual backpacker house. Thankfully Mistletoe Bay was awesome, even if the smoke alarm battery died at 2am, waking us all up.

The weather we hit was really changeable. It poured with rain on our first day, and our accommodation at Furneaux didn’t really offer anywhere for us to dry things. The super long second day was cool and overcast, and dry until about 7:45 pm, when the heavens suddenly opened. Our short 3rd day was so hot I ran out of water, and the 8km walk took us 6 hours. We stopped in every patch of shade we could find. Day 4 was perfect. Warm, sunny, cool breeze, and a mostly shady track.

The best part of this trip was the company. Marion and Ange are a great pair of ladies to tramp with. We all walk at a similar natural pace, and have both enough in common, and enough not, to keep conversation going comfortably for several days. Plus, they put up with my whinging on day 3 when it just got too hot and too hard on my sore feet, without being soft on me. Astoundingly, they are still keen to come on future adventures with me.

To get on and off the track, we used Cougar Line. They did a return-trip package that included bag transfers. They were lovely, easy to deal with, had no issues with our high number of transfer bags, and were happy to wait while we had a swim at Anakiwa wharf before heading back to Picton.

Would I go back and walk this track again? Probably not. In fact, definitely not as a track-in-its-entirety. However, what WOULD be awesome, and I would totally want to do one day, is walking in from Torea Saddle to Black Rock Campground and staying there for a night. It’s a stunning wee spot, seems to be very quiet, and is a not-difficult walk from the saddle. Plus, pure darkness and stunning stars (I would bet, given how incredible the stars were at Mistletoe Bay). It might be somewhere we look to take Mr3 when he is a bit older.

My personal spend for this trip was about $500. That includes the ferry to and from Wellington, the round-trip water taxi, 3 nights accommodation and my food. If we had camped where we planned to on night one, we would have saved nearly $100 (between the extra accommodation costs, and the evening spent sitting in the bar eating snacks and drinking cider). Camping all the way along is an option, but almost none of the campsites offer water taxi drop off / pickup options, so you’d have to carry your whole kit a lot more.

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The List: Summer in Taupo

We took ourselves off camping for Christmas in Taupo. While we enjoyed many of the activities we participated in, we also decided that summer in Taupo is not for us – its just too busy!

Must Do:

1. Aratiatia Rapids. FREE! Absolutely the single best free attraction in town. Gates open multiple times a day and the rapids are really quite incredible. Don’t go swimming, please.

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On fine weather days, having the splashpad to ourselves was the norm

2. De Bretts Hot Pools. Best on a warm day as they are a lot quieter. Christmas day swimming was wonderful and quiet, but the night of the 3rd, when the weather had turned, the place was packed and rowdy. Unlike so many other places, private pools are free, and well worth it!

3. McDonalds Plane. Buy an ice-cream, or a meal, and enjoy dining in the vintage DC-3.

4. Craters of the Moon. Close to town, and one of the cheaper options for an explore of a thermal area. Wear light clothes, even if the weather is bad, because it gets HOT in the valley. An umbrella is likely a better option than a raincoat!

5. Huka Falls. You can’t visit Taupo without visiting Huka Falls. Free! Best time of day is actually in the evening, once the gates are closed and the bulk of the tourists gone.

6. Also remember that Taupo has a couple of really good playgrounds for kids. Especially the one in the domain. Could do with more seats for supervising adults, but keeps kids occupied for AGES!IMG_5994b

Getting There / Getting Around:

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Aratiatia Rapids

We took our family car – a wee VW Golf – with a roof box hired from Canoe & Kayak Wellington. (We had to buy a roof rack to put the box onto, and they helped with that too). It was a serious squeeze to fit everything we needed for a 10 day camping holiday, including all the Christmas presents.

One of our biggest problems with Taupo was that its just not pedestrian friendly. Where we stayed, there was no footpath available to walk on to get down to the lake front, and its a 70k-limited road. With both the big supermarkets right in the centre of town, we had no option but to go into town every day or so – given we were staying at a campground, we tried to limit how much fridge space we took up, so bought dinner makings daily. A car was an absolute neccesity.

Stay

We stayed at the De Bretts Resort Campground. Our site was a little on the small side, and incredibly dusty for a “grass” site, but the facilities were good, and the discount access to the pool was a bonus. That said, we should have bought a 3mo family pass, given we

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Cruising on the lake

stayed 10 days, it would have been cheaper. All sites are powered, which was great for charging phones and running a fan. The wi-fi wasn’t great, and the site has patchy 3/4G coverage. Only two of the advertised 3 BBQ’s were to be found over Christmas. Our only two problems with the campground were that it catches a LOT of noise from the road (thank goodness thats no longer the main road for all traffic to Napier!), and that its acutally a long way out of town. When even going to the pools was a “trip” away from the campground, Mr3 wound up not wanting to go out in the car either by the end of our stay.

Negatives

I try really hard to be positive when writing about our holidays, but this one had a couple of negatives.

For starters, the supermarkets are too small for the volume of people visiting town, and getting to them is a nightmare with traffic, along with the fact that the roads aren’t pedestrian friendly. Perhaps we were spoiled with Martinborough the previous camping holiday, where we could easily and comfortably ride around town.

Our experience at Wai-O-Tapu was also a massive disappointment. Traffic volumes are not well managed. We paid over $60 to see a geyser that is manipulated into exploding, and then spend nearly an hour in traffic to move the 1km back to the main carpark, only to be informed that the carpark was full. Their recommendation was to go visit the mud pools and come back to try again later. We left instead as it was sweltering. In hindsight, we should have left the car where it was and walked, but at the geyser, the recommendation was to take your car and the road was not pedestrian friendly.

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A hot vent at Craters of the Moon surprised Mr3