The tongariro crossingThe Tongariro Crossing is one of the most popular and celebrated walks in New Zealand and has been given the title of the country’s best one day hike. The views of the volcanic landscape are breathtaking and draw thousands of people to the 19.4km track. But is it for everyone? As a fairly unfit person, that’s what I wanted to find out.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no stranger to exercise. I play a lot of sport and can sometimes be found at the gym (almost an equal number of times as I can be found at the takeaway next door) so I’d normally say that my fitness is that of an above average human, but the idea of walking up hills is a big no from me. I don’t know why, but I can happily run after a ball or on a treadmill for hours (ok, minutes), but put me on a hill and I really struggle.

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The Crossing was something I really wanted to do in New Zealand so I set out to find some blog posts about other people’s experiences to see if I could do it and could not find a negative word about the trek. I even found a lot of stuff about people doing it with their kids and grandparents All confident in my ability to walk that walk, I headed off, and this is what I found.

My Experience

The first struggle of the day was waking up at 5am. The shuttles from Taupo to the crossing usually leave around 5.30am. Yay. After a short bus nap, we were ready to walk! The first hour or so went pretty quickly. The barren landscape was strangely beautiful and the beginning of the track was pretty flat and easy. “I’m gonna ace this,” I was thinking to myself, standing in the shadow of Mt Doom (real name Mt Ngauruhoe). LOL. The first clue to what was coming was a sign asking you assess your physical fitness and to turn back if you don’t think you’re up to it. As a woman, tired from the flat walk, slumped over the sign, I thought that I was of course fit enough. I’m a 21 year old athlete.

Again, LOL.

The following hour was possibly the hardest hour of my life. Consistent, steep uphill paths and steps stretched ahead. 2 minute breaks, broken up by 30 seconds of walking became the norm. It was pretty much hell (hence the name, the Devil’s Staircase). The only positive though was the guilt free eating that occurred every few minutes. The view from the top was worth it though. Or at least, time has numbed the pain so it seems worth it. A huge volcanic crater waits for you, the perfect place to stop for a longer break for even more food.

Tongariro
The next step is to decide whether or not you want to climb Mt Doom. It takes around 2 extra hours, is incredibly steep and is made entirely from crumbling gravel. So for me it was a no. But my boyfriend went up while I sat at the bottom, you guessed it, eating. He raced up and down, which made me feel pretty bad about myself, but I appreciated not being made to wait for too long. During my snack break, I heard a tour guide tell her group that there were no more stairs, so we were pretty excited to plod on.

The guide did not lie. But she was not entirely truthful either as on the other side on the ridge I was sat on was another steep hill. No steps, no. Just a big steep hill. The path to the summit. After another hour of hell (maybe, I lost all sense of time), we arrived at the top. The summit of the Crossing. The iconic view. Over the other side of the summit were the Emerald Lakes. The reason most people visit Tongariro in the first place. They didn’t disappoint. It’s weird how quickly your mood can change from ‘this place is hell on Earth’ to ‘this is the most beautiful pace in the world, I love it here’.


We were maybe 4 hours in at this point. 4 hours spent wishing for a bit of down to go with all of the up. Well my wishes were granted. The road to the lakes was basically a vertical gravel slide. It was more like skiing than walking. People were hitting the deck wherever you looked, which would’ve been pretty funny if you weren’t incredibly aware of how easy it would be for that to be you.

Recommendation: Go down sideways. Most valuable advice I’ve ever been given.

Honestly, once you’re at the lakes, the hard part is finally over. The rest is about endurance. We took about 6.5 hours to finish the Crossing is you take off the Mt Doom time. The last 3 hours involve a winding path through fields and forest. Not particularly challenging, if you hadn’t already been walking for hours. It all blurred into one after a while. The last hour added exactly nothing to my experience. We spent the whole time thinking we were there, only to find another stretch of path leading deeper into the trees. So close but so far.


But hey, I did it! I made it to the end, quicker that average, and didn’t break any bones or die in the process. I think I’m gonna put that in the success column.

Can You Do the Crossing?

Well, can you walk 19.4km and be on your feet for 8hrs? Only you can really answer that. What I can tell you is, the amount of tourists that do the crossing, and the solely positive reviews I’ve seen, gave me the impression that it would be pretty easy. It isn’t.

THIS WALK IS HARD

I’m not trying to put you off, in fact, I think it’s a great challenge and well worth doing. I think it’s possible for anyone to complete but you have to be realistic. As I said, I’m no stranger to sport and exercise, but I really struggled. Don’t expect to have a nice time doing the trek if you don’t have an active background. If you’re of a lower fitness level, maybe do a little training beforehand. It’ll definitely make a difference and make the whole experience a lot more enjoyable. You can break as much as you like, so anyone can get there with a little will power!

Which Route?

The crossing joins Mangatepopo in the Ruapehu region to Ketetahi Hot Springs and can be walked in either direction. The most popular is from Mangatepopo to Keteahi. Mangatepopo sits at a higher altitude so this route involves less steep climbing. It also lets you climb Mt Doom closer to the start of the trek while you’re still feeling fresh.

One bonus of the Keteahi route is that you get the boring bush walk out of the way first, emerging from the greenery into the volcanic landscape. I think overall though, it’s better to go with the crowds. It’s so busy, the walk is basically like a trail of ants, and the paths are narrow in places. You don’t want to be walking against the flow.

Because it is a crossing and not a loop, you’ll have to arrange shuttles. Book Me sometimes has good deals if you book far enough in advance, but you can usually book through your hostel.

Mt Doom


Whether or not you should climb Mt Doom is a big question, mainly for younger climbers. Our shuttle driver asked who’d be going to the summit and most of the adults looked blankly while Mt Doom is a hot topic in hostel dorms. From the photos I’ve seen, the surrounding view is pretty similar to that of the crossing. The only bonus is the crater. A guide was telling me that it’s horrible to get up and even worse to get down. The only reason people seem to go up is because of the Lord of the Rings connection. For me, that’s not a good enough reason, but for many it is. It’s recommended that only extremely fit people attempt it so keep that in mind.

There is another optional mountain, Mt Tongariro, which is supposed to be a much easier walk and a nicer view. I would’ve loved to go up this but you realistically only get to do one, and Lord of the Rings won with the rest of the group.

What to Take

  • Water: There’s no fresh water up there so you need to take at least 1.5 litres per person.
  • Food: I did a lot of eating up there but remember, you have to carry everything. I took a small pizza and 3 sandwiches as well as a large bar of chocolate and didn’t eat it all. Pete, on the other hand, had read that you need an extra 2000 calories doing the trek so brought at least 9 sandwiches as well as other snacks. He did not need 9 sandwiches.
  • Layers: I’m pretty sure I was both the hottest and coldest I’ve ever been on this walk. Dress accordingly.
  • Sun Cream: You’re outside in New Zealand, therefore you need sun cream.
  • Walking Boots: Don’t be that idiot in Converse sliding down the hill on their arse.
  • Phone: 1. In case of emergency 2. We didn’t take a big camera because of the weight so our phones were incredibly useful. Also good for music in the last few, dull hours.

Have you done the Tongariro Crossing? Tell me about your experience below!

Katie x

 

6 Day Trips from Auckalnd

Containing about a third of New Zealand’s population and a large proportion of the big businesses, it’s easy to see why lots of backpackers and ex-pats decide to make Auckland home. The city is hardly bustling in comparison with London, Sydney and New York but the surrounding suburbs are charming and packed full of independent bars and restaurants to relax in after work. In the CBD, it can be easy to forget you’re in one of the most naturally beautiful countries in the world but you don’t have to travel far to get a taste of the real Kiwi lifestyle. Here are some of my favourite day trips from Auckland for when you just want to leave the city behind.


Piha Beach

Piha Beach by Real World Runaway

Drive Time: 50mins

Located on the West Coast, Piha beach is a surfer’s paradise. Take advantage of the rough waters of the Tasman Sea or explore the various nooks and crannies along the shoreline. If you’re feeling up to it, climb Lion Rock for amazing views over the black sand.


Kitekite Falls

Kitekite Falls by Real World Runaway

Drive Time: 50mins

Located in the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, Kitekite Falls is a great place to relax for a day. The walking track is about an hour and half round trip to the base of the falls but it’s definitely worth the extra 20 minutes to get to the top. Go on a weekday and with a little luck, you’ll get the pools to yourself. They can get pretty cold but the views over the ranges are not to be missed.


Waiheke Island

Waiheke Island by Real World Runaway

Drive Time: 40 minute ferry

For wine lovers, a trip to Waiheke Island is a must. You can pay for a wine tour but most of the vineyards just let you rock up and do a tasting for around $10/20. For a bit of added fun, head to Wild on Waiheke where they offer archery and clay pigeon shooting as well as food and tastings. Maybe go for the dangerous activities pre-wine though. Just to be safe.


Manukau Heads

Manukau Heads Lighthouse by Real World Runaway
Drive Time: 1hr 30mins

Often described as one of Auckland’s “hidden gems”, the Manukau Lighthouse provides some amazing views of the Waitakere Ranges across the water. Despite this, it’s a long way to drive for the lighthouse alone. Make the trip worthwhile by visiting one of the amazing nearby beaches. Even in summer they’re pretty empty and you can have a whole stretch of sand all to yourself.


Goat Island

Goat Island by Real World Runaway

Drive Time: 1hr 30mins

The Goat Island Marine Reserve is a snorkeler’s dream, full of interesting sea creatures to discover. Don’t expect water full of tropical reefs, instead, go hunting for string rays and comb through the seaweed for beautiful fish. It’s more of a treasure hunt than a window display. If snorkelling isn’t for you, rent a kayak or take a glass bottom boat tour.

Added Bonus: The little town closed to the reserve is the only place I’ve found that does a proper bacon sandwich.


Karekare Falls

Day trips from Auckland: Karekare Falls
Drive Time: 50mins

Close to Kitekite Falls (in name and location), Karekare is usually a little less busy. The base of the waterfall is right off the road but most people tend to not stray far from their cars, meaning the track to the top is often quiet. Follow the stream to the end to find the oasis style pools that feed the waterfall. Just don’t forget a towel. It’s pretty chilly without one.


Where’s your favourite place in Auckland to escape the city? Let me know below!

Katie x

What to Eat in AucklandWhile traditional New Zealand food seems to barely extend beyond a Maori Hangi, that does not mean that Kiwis don’t know how to cook! Don’t be fooled by the fast-food filled shop fronts of Queen Street, Auckland is full of fantastic, independent eateries, peppered across it’s many suburbs and newly renovated areas. As much as it pains me to say, there’s no way you (or me, or anyone) could possibly eat everything there is to try here, so these are my recommendations of where to start when deciding what to eat in Auckland. Bare in mind that my taste is not at all fancy and I pretty much have the palate of a child, so if you’re looking for Michelin Star dining, this is not the place.


Best Chains

Sal’s Pizza

Sals Pizza

Moving to a new city can be stressful. Finding a new house, a new job and new friends can be hard, but nothing is as challenging as finding a new go-to pizza place. I moved to Auckland in mourning of my previous favourites, worried that life would never be quite the same. And then came Sal’s. They serve amazing individual slices, 30 inch pizzas and garlic knots which means they cater to every stage of hunger and are liberally scattered across the city so you’re never too far away from heaven. The perfect local pizzeria. Thank you Sal.

Burger Burger

Burger Burger in PonsonbyBurgers are one of the most popular foods in Auckland but none are raved about as much as Burger Burger‘s burgers (confusing). With locations in Newmarket and hipster hangout, Ponsonby Central as well as one down by the water in Takapuna, they have the most popular neighbourhoods covered.  The sandwiches are simple and they provide good quality for a relatively cheap price, especially as you usually need to pay at least 20% more just to enter into hipster territory. 

Dante’s

Dante's Pizza in Ponsonby

I don’t know if it’s obvious but I LOVE pizza. Finding a great New York style slice is one challenge but finding a good Neapolitan is something else entirely. Another Ponsonby favourite with roots in Takapuna, Dante’s serves up fantastic, authentic Italian pizza in a restaurant that steers well clear of the pretentiousness often found in these areas. With sticks of salami hanging from the wooden bar, and a reasonably priced menu, this place offers the experience of a good family Italian.

Mexico

Mexico in Takapuna

Auckland is full of Mexican chains but the imaginatively named Mexico is by far the best. They specialise in shareable street food with the tacos and fried chicken being my personal favourite. They also make amazing homemade soda and serve 10 different flavours of margarita! Sign up to their club and get free corn chips with salsa or guacamole every time you visit!

Best Ugly Bagels

Best Ugly Bagels in Newmarket

A New Zealand institution, Best Ugly Bagels is a rite of passage whilst in Auckland.  Grab one of their imaginative creations or take home a pack of freshly baked deliciousness to make you’re housemates jealous on a daily basis. You can find them in the CBD or head out to Newmarket for a bite in a perfect people watching spot.

 CBD

Orleans

Orleans in Britomart

Do no visit Auckland without eating the fried chicken and waffles at Orleans.  I’m sure are all great, but I’ve never felt the need to stray past the glorious waffles. Take a seat in their adorable courtyard in the Britomart area and peruse the menu of classic dishes from Louisiana, before ultimately deciding that you can’t just take my word for it. Go on a Wednesday and get them, plus a shake, for only $12! How could you not?!

Want the real deal? Check out my food recommendations for New Orleans here!

 Depot

I haven’t actually been to Depot myself because of my complete aversion to sea food (it’s an oyster bar) but I’ve heard fantastic things from those people who think slimy food is good food. Owned by Al Brown who also has Best Ugly Bagels and The Federal Deli in his repertoire, you can be sure to find a young and trendy atmosphere along with some pretty tasty meals.

Baduzzi

This modern Italian in the newly developed (where isn’t?!) Wynyard Quarter is named after meatballs but it can do other stuff pretty well too. Don’t be expecting pizzas but Baduzzi do a great range of pastas and mains as well as four kinds of meatballs for you to try. Note to self: Wood Fired Bistecca is not a fancy word for pizza. It means steak. Now you look stupid.

Ponsonby

The Blue Breeze Inn

The large Asian population of Auckland means there is no shortage of authentic Asian food in the city, and The Blue Breeze Inn provides some of the best. With an innovative selection of interesting small plates and mains, it’s perfect for sharing while sipping a few cocktails on the outdoor terrace. They also have a smaller, “chop chop” restaurant round the corner so those wanting a quick bite.

Mekong Baby

Just down the road from The Blue Breeze Inn is Mekong Baby. Serving a very similar kind of shareable, Asian fusion (tapas style food is very popular here), the food quality and atmosphere are very similar. The duck massaman curry pushes Mekong Baby into first place for me but be sure to give both a try and see for yourself.

El Sizzling Chorizo

El Sizzling Chorizo Ponsonby

Meat is the order of the day at Argentinian BBQ joint, El Sizzling Chorizo. And pretty great meat it is too. Order meats separately or opt for one of the platters (pictured above) which can come with a variety of sides including empanadas and fried potatoes. The kitchen is open so you can watch as the chefs pile up steaks, ribs and sausages on the grill. Not suitable for vegetarians although they do have a go at being accommodating by providing a grilled cheese option. Nice try.

Freeman and Grey

Freeman and Grey’s food isn’t exactly mind blowing but I’m including it as they offer $4 pizzas during there Happy Hours, which are 12-2pm and 5-7.30pm everyday. The topping choice are interesting and the quality is definitely good enough for $4 to feel like a fantastic deal. Join their “best friends club” to claim a free pizza and $7 glasses of wine from now until forever. What more do you need?

Where is your favourite place to eat in Auckland? Let me know below!

Katie x

Behind the Filter: Gardens by the Bay by Real World Runaway

I’m not made to be in photos. I’m awkward and shy and my mouth does this weird thing where it can only smile on one side. Because of this, it’s fair to say that, as my blogging life became more photography heavy, I had my fair share of bloopers, outtakes and mishaps. While Insta-life may seem fabulous (and trust me, travelling the world is still pretty great), I thought I’d give you an insight into the not-so-glamourous moments that go into creating the perfect Instagram picture in this Behind the Filter series.


The Picture

Behind the Filter: Gardens by the Bay by Real World Runaway

The Story

This picture was taken on our first day in Singapore at the Gardens by the Bay. The super trees are something I’ve wanted to see for a very long time and it was amazing to go up into the canopy and see the city from above. What a perfect moment right? Wrong. About 30 minutes before this picture was taken, I was sitting on a bench with my head between my legs, whilst the possibility of fainting kept toying with my body. Singapore is HOT and I was stupidly not prepared for that after spending the previous few months in British winter. Top tip: Drink lots of water kids. I downed a bottle of water and climbed the stairs up to the walk way, only to be confronted with another issue. I was suddenly scared of heights.

Behind the Filter: Gardens by the Bay by Real World Runaway

Just a few moments before my one of my favourite pictures of all time was taken, this beauty of a shot came to being of the exact moment I realised that I wasn’t that big on heights. I don’t know what it was. I do a lot of rock climbing, I love zip wires, I’ve been on top of some of the tallest buildings in the world, but this 22 metre high walk way just got to me. I don’t know whether it was the remnants of the fainty feeling or the fact the bridge felt like it was swinging just slightly but it just wasn’t working for me. I pushed through though and was so glad I did. The Gardens and the walk way are just incredible and it’s well worth going for a visit. Just try not to faint.

Do you have a funny story behind your Instagram and want to be featured in Behind the Filter? Feel free to get in touch!

Katie x

Believe it or not, even us travel bloggers like to play tourist sometimes. There’s a lot of judgement out there expecting us to be ‘travellers’ not ‘tourists’ but there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a good theme park or zoo. In between my days exploring the city/country of Singapore, I headed to Sentosa Island for some good, old-fashioned, touristy fun! The resort is packed with activities, beaches and shops so it’s practically impossible to be bored. Here is my ultimate guide to the island so you can have the best trip ever!

Warning: This definitely not the ‘real Singapore’ so travel snobs, turn back now.

Ultimate Guide to Sentosa Island by Real World Runaway


What To Do

  • Universal Studios: I’m a sucker for a good theme park so I could never resist a Universal Studios. With 7 movie themed lands to explore, you’re transported to another world (or several worlds) full of rides, shows and your favourite characters. It’s nowhere near as big as its Florida counterpart but still houses a surprising number of big, thrill rides that are well worth the visit. Don’t miss Human vs Cylon and the classic Jurassic Park Log Flume.

Ultimate Guide to Sentosa Island by Real World Runaway

  • iFly: Sentosa Island houses the world’s largest indoor wind tunnel for simulation sky diving. If you feel like jumping out of a plane isn’t for you (fair enough) then this is the best alternative. It even has a glass wall so you still get some amazing views while you fly!
  • S.E.A Aquarium: Home to over 800 species, the S.E.A Aquarium is an impressive, hands on experience. See dolphins and sharks and even take a scuba diving class in one of the open ocean style exhibits!
  • Palawan Beach: Just because this beach is man made does not make it any less impressive. Relax on the luxurious white sand or head over the iconic rope bridge the visit the Southernmost Point of Continental Asia (although it’s on an island so I’m not really sure how that works). It’s as close to a tropical paradise as you can get in a country that is entirely city.

Ultimate Guide to Sentosa Island by Real World Runaway

  • Mega Adventure Park: Are you a fan of adrenaline? Then Mega Adventure is for you. Including huge zip wires, high ropes courses and a free-fall simulator, you’ll fly through the trees, with great views of the beaches below.
  • Adventure Cove Water Park: One of the most pleasantly surprising activities on the island was the Adventure Cove Water Park. The relatively cheap ticket includes unlimited access to a range of exciting (and mildly terrifying) waterslides, a huge lazy river, complete with a wall of sting rays, and an obstacle course. The highlight though is a snorkelling experience through their imitation coral reef.

Ultimate Guide to Sentosa Island by Real World Runaway

  • Wings of Time: End your day by taking in the spectacular Wings of Time show. The outdoor arena is filled with music, lasers and fire as they tell the story of a bird called Shahbaz. I don’t know why this bird is special. I think visuals have taken priority over storyline here. But it’s still a pleasant way to spend an evening.
  • Sentosa Merlion: Singapore is pretty rich, right? And what guards that prosperity? A giant Merlion, obviously. Whether you go inside the statue or just marvel at it from the pavement, it’s well worth a look. You can read more about the legend of the Merlion here.
  • There’s so much more to do from street luging to a trick eye museum. Find all the activities here.

Getting There

There are a range of hotels on the island but you’ll find a much bigger range and better deals elsewhere. It’s incredibly easy to get to Sentosa Island from the city so there isn’t much point staying there unless Sentosa is the main reason for your trip.

Ultimate Guide to Sentosa Island by Real World Runaway

  • Sentosa Express: The free train departing from Vivo City shopping centre (a short walk from HarbourFront MRT) is the easiest way to get to Sentosa. It’s also pretty handy for navigating around the island if you don’t feel like walking with stops by the theme parks and beaches.
  • Walking: We’d been told that the train cost $5 (curse whoever that was) so we walked across the boardwalk to Sentosa 3 times before getting tired and giving in to the train. The walk is easy (especially if you’re going to Universal or the aquarium at the front of the island), gives you a great view of the city and gives you plenty of time to eat all the tasty treats you picked up at Vivo City.
  • Cable Car: An activity in itself, travel in style on the Singapore cable car. Obviously the pricier option, the cable car gives you stunning, panoramic views of the area as you float high above the water. Whilst not really a viable form of travel in the long term, it might be worth doing once if you’re on the less thrifty side. 

Top Tips

  • There’s an ice lolly shop by the Merlion. It’s amazing, but if the lady behind the counter warns you that the lemon lolly is incredibly sour, BELIEVE HER. I love lemon. I did not take her advice. I happily ate my lolly, enjoying the sourness in all its lemony glory, then my tongue started bleeding and a couldn’t eat for the rest of the day. I think it was the Merlion’s fault. Not cool.
  • OK now a real tip. We bought all our Sentosa tickets through a website called Klook. It offers huge savings on attractions around Asia and it was 100% legit. We were a little nervous at first but all of our tickets worked perfectly and we saved over £50.

Ultimate Guide to Sentosa Island by Real World Runaway

  • For Universal, get there early and go straight to the back of the park. There’ll be no queues for these rides as people just go on the first thing they see.
  • At Adventure Cove, go to the snorkelling reef as soon as you arrive as this gets incredibly busy as the day goes on. Also, lockers are expensive so try to bring minimal stuff.

Have you been to Sentosa? What would you recommend?

Katie x