Hiking Table Mountain in Golden, Colorado


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Its been raining for almost a month (yes, a whole f****** month) here in Denver, but we FINALLY got a reprieve last weekend! After checking the weather report and seeing that thunderstorms weren’t on the horizon until about 2 pm, I asked my high school bestie Andie to come out early on Sunday morning so that we could get a nice hike and lunch in before the rain came back. We decided the night before that we’d go to Table Mountain, which boasts easy-to-advanced hikes and stunning views. It’s only about 30 minutes from Denver and dog-friendly, which was a must, as my little buddy Willie was desperate for a nice, long walkie!

Our original plan was to hike for about two hours, maybe a little bit less, but straight up and down. We parked, unadvisedly, near the neighborhood access on an nondescript side-road. We learned later that there’s an actual parking lot with amenities like port-o-potties and the like, which is 100% where we will park next time! Its a long drive from Denver and not having a bathroom at the beginning of the trail was basically torture.

Anyway, at our jumpoff point there was only a small posting about trails and whatnot, without any real marking as to where we were or what paths went where. This was exceptionally confusing when it came to deciding which direction we were meant to go in to start our hike, which we thought would be about three miles. Ultimately we made the wrong choice and ended up on the North Table Loop, which is said to be 5.9 miles long, but in actuality ended up being about 8 miles. In spite of not being the trail we’d anticipated doing, the hike was scenic and beautiful, and was a great workout to boot! We really felt like we earned our lunch!

The beginning of our hike was pretty easy and almost entirely flat. Occasionally we’d run into another hiker or a small cluster of people, and at one point we were overtaken by horses, but other than that it was peaceful and quiet. Midway through the hike things became increasingly difficult, and there was a marginal but steady uphill stretch that lasted for about a mile, which fully wiped Andie and me out, but the little dog was having a grand old time! Eventually we found the entrance to the park, and pushed on reinvigorated to the last quarter of our hike. By this point we’d been hiking way longer than intended and could see a thunderstorm approaching over the opposite set of mountains, inconveniently as we were passing a field of giant, metal electric towers. Fortunately no one was hurt, but it definitely put a hustle in our steps!

When we finished we loaded back up in the car–very muddy dog included–and headed into town for some lunch. We got to Sherpa House at 2pm, only 30 minutes before they closed, but were SO excited to find out that they still had their lunch buffet on, for $9.99 all you can eat! I ordered a chai in addition to the food I picked out–some memorable favorites included the Chicken Tikka Masala, a tasty spinach dish, some Onion Bajhi (onions battered with chickpea flour and deep fried–I probably ate 6+ of them, they were out-of-this-world delicious!) and potatoes that were covered in what appeared to be a yogurt sauce. I’m gluten free, so Naan was out of the question, but the Onion Bajhi totally covered my craving for carbs!

Very full and already sore, we got back into the car and hustled back to Denver, where I proceeded to get a 90-minute massage for $12.50 (yes, you read that right!) at the Massage Therapy Institute of Colorado with my sister. All in all it was an amazing day, in spite of the threatening weather and the unexpected ruggedness of the hike, and the massage after the hike was exactly what I needed to recover!

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Bucket List Traveler Info:

Activity Type: Adventure–hiking!

Price: Free + Cost of lunch and gas. 

Value for Money: A++

Suitable for: Everyone! There are easier hikes you could do with kids. Probably not a great activity for mobility-disabled people.

Recommend: Absolutely! Hiking in Golden is great and I’d go back just to get lunch at Sherpa House!

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The Backpacker’s Mini-Guide for Rotorua, New Zealand


Overview:

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Located a few hours’ drive out of Auckland, Rotorua is a mecca for backpackers, adventure travelers, nature lovers and luxury travelers alike. Situated in the midst of one of the most tectonically active regions in the world, Rorotua boasts thermal parks, hot springs and mud pools, many of which can be enjoyed by tourists on any budget. In recent years Rotorua has become something of a pilgrimage destination for Lord of the Rings fans, eager to see for themselves the locations that director Peter Jackson earmarked as his top choice for the backdrop of his Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. Adventure junkies can explore nearby glowworm caves or go ZORBING, and in their down time rent bikes and explore the Redwood Forests, which are free and open to the public. Whether you’re interested in BEING A HOBBIT FOR A DAY IN THE SHIRE or getting a healthy dose of culture in the cradle of Maori territory, Rotorua has a little something for everyone. My guide offers advice on where to stay and what to do in the city, offering both budget activities and a few splurge activities for good measure.

Where to Stay:

Photo Credit: www.rotoruaaccommodation.co.nz
Photo Credit: http://www.rotoruaaccommodation.co.nz

Crash Palace is my go-to recommendation for backpacker’s lodging in Rotorua. Located just off the main drag, Crash Palace has the advantage of being spacious, comfy, welcoming and quiet. It’s a short five minutes’ walk from the nearest grocery store (where you can pick up ingredients to cook in one of their two fantastic kitchens) and a two minutes’ walk away from the town center, where you can catch the bus to activities located outside of town, including Zorbing and nature walks, or rent a bike so that you can go exploring without having to rent a car.

The atmosphere inside Crash Palace is great; the first floor is open and comfortably appointed, with a combined dining and movie-watching room, a smaller room with a pool table just off reception,  a kitchen, a toilet, a computer room and an outside patio with a hot tub. Guests are given a key code that they can use to get upstairs, where the rooms are located. The owner and manager of the hostel is friendly and happy to answer any questions you have about the hostel, about Rotorua and about the activities accessible from the area. Crash Palace is hooked up with loads of great deals and discounts, including a reduced rate for Hobbiton and $10 off OGO (Zorbing).

The hostel offers free wifi, which is a huge bonus for New Zealand and a major relief for backpackers who are tired of paying out the nose for internet access. I would definitely recommend having your own computer, though, as the computer in their computer room can run a little slowly if you need to back things up or upload images. The hostel also runs a nightly program for its guests, which can range from a free family dinner to pub crawls to movie nights. Pasta and rice are always available from the front desk for free, and alcohol can be purchased from the front desk bar as well.

What to Do:

Hobbiton:

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As a minor-league nerd, I have to say that my favorite paid activity in Rotorua was going to Hobbiton. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of Lord of the Rings, the Hobbiton tour is one of Rotorua’s must-dos. The tour I did picked me up right at my hostel on the way, giving us bits of information about the tour as we neared the farm on which the movie set is located. The set itself is beautiful, nestled in the rolling hills of New Zealand’s countryside, and the Hobbit holes look cozy enough to live in! Spend some time ambling around the Shire, snap a few shots of Bag End, listen to your guide’s super-informative facts about the set and the creation of the movies, then end your day with a complimentary cider, ale or ginger beer at the Green Dragon. If you’re interested in learning more about exploring Hobbiton, check out my in-depth post about it HERE.

Ogo:

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Although I loved everything that I did in Rotorua, Ogo stands out to me as something very quintessentially Rotoruan. Ogo,  better known internationally as Zorbing, was founded in our very own Rotorua, which remains one of the few places where you can actually have an authentic Zorbing experience. So what’s Zorbing, you might ask? Zorbing is essentially rolling down a hill in a giant, soft-plastic hamster ball. It’s crazy fun and a great activity to do at any age, and would be a great activity for families with hard-to-please children. If you’re interested in learning more about Ogo/Zorbing, check out my detailed blog post about it HERE.

Hot Springs:

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If you’re lucky enough to have a car or know someone who has a car, I would highly recommend driving out to Kerosene Creek or the Hot-and-Cold thermal pools, which are located about twenty minutes outside of Rotorua Town. The hot pools are free and open 24 hours a day, which makes them great spots to lounge around on a lazy Sunday afternoon or on a romantic date night.  They can be a little bit tricky to locate and aren’t maintained to touristy standards, as some other for-profit thermal pools are, but they are absolutely worth the effort! Visiting the thermal pools was one of the highlights of my trip and, when I was there, were enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. Pro tip: if you’re visiting at night be sure to bring flashlights and candles with you, as there is no artificial lighting on-site.

Redwood Forest:

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Another free activity located just a twenty minutes’ walk from the Rotorua City Center and Crash Palace. The Redwood Forest is an absolute treat, with walking paths for varying levels of endurance and fitness (ranging from 30 minutes to 8 hours, ouch!). The forest itself is beautiful and huge, with massive Redwood trees sprouting up around aquamarine colored creeks. The Redwood Forest is truly something out of a fairy tale and makes for a great natural escape.

Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland:

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Tour busses run to the Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland several times a day, and I’d recommend going in the morning in order to catch their daily Lady Knox geyser show. The Thermal Wonderland is chock full of amazing, other-worldly geological oddities, including the toxic looking Devil’s Hole, the brilliant orange geothermal pool and the super-hot mud pools. There are three walks available to Thermal Wonderland explorers, ranging from 30 to 75 minutes.

Maori Village:

Photo Credit: www.rankers.co.nz
Photo Credit: http://www.rankers.co.nz

While I did not personally attend any of the Maori evening shows, I heard that they were absolutely incredible and offer an up-close-and-personal introduction to Maori culture. The buffet dinner is apparently to die for and the shows are said to be fantastic as well. This would be very much worth a look if you’re interested in learning more about the culture of the Maori people.

The Government Gardens:

Photo Credit: www.accoladerotorua.co.nz
Photo Credit: http://www.accoladerotorua.co.nz

The Government Garden is a gorgeous, sprawling park just outside Rotorua City Center. It’s a nice place to take a walk, featuring some of its own thermal activity, which you can view free of charge. Best when explored in the daytime, as it can be a little dangerous come nighttime.

Ending Notes:

Even though I only had five days in Rotorua, this little city absolutely won my heart. With friendly citizens, natural wonders and Hobbity delights abound, I found myself getting incredibly comfortable with Rotorua and its surrounding areas. Crash Palace is the ideal place for backpackers to stay given its proximity to attractions, its cost and its closeness to the grocery store, which is key for travelers on a budget. Overall an amazing place to spend a couple days, though I certainly could have spent a lot longer there and am dying to go back!

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Day trip to Tam Coc, Vietnam


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Having gotten to Hanoi a day before Typhoon Rammasun was set to strike Vietnam, I found my options for traveling relatively limited, as all trips to Halong Bay and other adventures along the coast were all preemptively cancelled. Fortunately, my hostel was very accommodating and found me some alternative trips that I could do, and I got very lucky with an amazing day trip to Tam Coc, or the “dry Halong Bay.” Tam Coc is located approximately 100 km from Hanoi, boasting three limestone caves that sit over a long, winding Ngo Dong river that runs through the picturesque karst mountains.

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We were picked up from our hotel around 8 in the morning and driven for about an hour to our first destination, which was a temple mounted in honor of one of the former kings of Vietnam. Our guide, Lucky, told us a little bit about the history of the area, then let us roam around on our own. We spent about twenty minutes at the temple, then set out again toward Tam Coc. When we arrived we ate a generous buffet lunch full of fresh and tasty regional foods, then set out on our two hour boat trip up the river.
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In front of the small lagoon where the boats are held are people peddling souvenirs and goods, most of which are pretty tacky. Some of the items, like the local rice-paddy style hat, might have come in handy on the boats, which were entirely in the sun. Our boats were paddled by local women and men, usually two to a boat, with one person rowing with his or her feet and another paddling by hand. Most of them were either wearing one of the hats or holding an umbrella to shield them from the harsh sun, and I would suggest doing the same if you’re planning on doing one of these tours, as there were few opportunities to take a break from the sun along the two-hour journey.

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The few breaks we did get from the sun came in the form of the three limestone caves that broke up the river. These caves are still being rapidly built and changed by the water seeping through the rocks from the plants above. In some places there’s water literally pouring down from above, and its pretty cool to get to see a cave being changed basically as you’re traveling through it.

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The whole trip is picturesque, personal (2 people per boat was the norm), and a great way to get to explore the mountains, especially with Halong Bay temporarily out of the picture. If I were to do the trip again I definitely would have put on more sunscreen, brought an umbrella for the sun and stocked up on water well before getting on the boat. The only drawback to the tour was that people were constantly trying to sell you things, from pictures they’d snap of you while you were trapped on the boat, to flowers, drinks, snacks and hats, and I even heard of some of the rowers trying to get more money out of their tourists, which unfortunately puts a damper on the beauty of the whole trip. Overall, though, the trip was definitely worth the time and the price (about $40 with all transport and food included), and made for an awesome alternative to Halong Bay!
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Activity Type: Tour, Day Trip

Price: $40

Value for Money: Average/good. Transport and food and activities all included, but some elements felt like people were constantly trying to get more money out of you.

Suitable for: Anyone. Did not require any specific fitness levels.

Recommend: Maybe, especially if you can’t go to Halong Bay or if its in the season where the rice all turns yellow.

Tips: 

1) Bring. Sunscreen. And probably an umbrella and a hat. Its insanely sunny and you’re stuck in a boat on water for two hours, its important to protect yourself!

2) Bring enough water.

3) Try and go when rice fields are yellow, which I’ve been told is in September. Also, make sure you get a view from above the fields– I didn’t on my tour, but apparently most tours tell you to and the photos I’ve seen from that vantage point look amazing.

 

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