Tag Archives: Scenic

Tongariro Trek Triumph!

We were still enjoying the beautiful Lake Taupo area and decided to do one of the Great New Zealand Walks while we were here. These are treks that give you the chance to be among some of the country’s most impressive scenery and usually take several days to complete – while we didn’t have time to do a full one of these walks this trip, we decided to walk most of one of the trails in a one day hike – the Tongariro Crossing.


People had described this hike as, the closest you can get to hiking on Mars, and I didn’t know what to make of that statement until I was there. The landscape is unlike anything I had ever seen before with all of the lava flow – it was just awesome!


The main peak (seen in the 2 pictures above) we hiked past is called Mt Ngauruhoe and it was used as Mt Doom in Lord of the Rings. Interesting story – the Maori Chiefs did not allow Peter Jackson to film the peak/interior of the volcano for the movies because they believe it to be sacred so they had to CG the top part. This part of the trail was nice and warm with the sun beaming down on us and lots of volcanic rocks around us – it was a great start to our full day trek!

Tongariro Start Collage

The landscapes really did seem to be out of this world – some places were so barren. Ryan couldn’t help but take a picture so it looks like he’s in the middle of nowhere.


Along the trail, there was another Lord of the Rings filming spot (last one, I promise!) – the valley below was where they filmed Mordor. Can you tell by my expression I thought this was pretty cool?!


At the top were some great views into one of the volcano craters – you’ll notice we’ve put our jackets on at this point – as you got closer to the top, it got chillier and much, much windier.


After all the hard work of climbing to get up to the top, we started to head downhill and as soon as we did that, we had a great view of some turquoise colored pools. We ended up having lunch right next to them – a well deserved break after our few hours of hiking.

Tongariro Collage 2

We had decided to do this trek through a guided tour because you start and end in two different spots and we weren’t sure how to handle those logistics and we wanted to make sure we stayed safe as this was an active volcanic area (there was an eruption a couple of years ago – in fact, our guide, Tom,  is the one you hear calming everyone down in the video of the eruption) so we thought it would be good to have an expert close by. Being the science enthusiasts that we were, we loved walking through the volcanic area. 

Active Volcano Collage

Here is one of the craters left when the rocks went flying out during the eruption – that would have certainly been an exciting day to be hiking the trail!


The last bit of the trail is certainly the easiest and the scenery changes again to be more green and there is a great view of Lake Taupo in the distance. It’s a somewhat relaxing way to end a long but wonderful day hiking.

Tongariro Crossing Lake Taupo

We had an absolute blast on our trek along the Tongariro Crossing and highly recommend it if you’re in that area in New Zealand – the scenery is unlike anything you will have likely seen and you feel accomplished after you finish! We finished our tour with some celebratory locally brewed beers!

Beers after Tongariro


Visit to Hobbiton

I said in my Rotorua post that I thought my day trip to Hobbiton deserved its own post, so here it is! One of the only things that Ryan and I disagree on is how cool Lord of the Rings is…the fact that I went there all by myself for a wonderful day tour should tell you which side of the argument I’m on with this – I love Lord of the Rings and couldn’t go to New Zealand without visiting here!

Hobbiton Intro Pic for Blog

We got there and I couldn’t believe how well done the set was – it really brought it all to life! The main area has hobbit holes scattered around the hilly countryside with Bilbo’s house up at the top. I have to admit that when I was reading these books back when I was in middle school,  this is pretty close to how I imagined it would be.


The tour guide walked us around the grounds and the level of detail that they put into these was particularly impressive. The fences had fabricated lichen on them (you couldn’t have new fences there, now, could you?!) and they told us that students were hired to run up and back from the house to the outdoor clothes drying rack until it looked like it was well worn (wanted to make sure people believed this had been around for a long, long time when they were watching the movie!)…even the chimneys were smoking as if someone were in there – they certainly were making continued efforts to capture the imaginations of the fans.

Hobbiton Collage

They used forced perspective for the LOTR trilogy movies so they had hobbit holes of various different sizes so the actors could stand/walk next to them and look taller or about the right height depending on their character.

Hobbiton Hole Collage

Bilbo’s house was up at the top of the hill…

Bilbo Hobbit Hole Collage

And my favorite one of the tour, Samwise Gamgee’s house…

Samwise Gamgee Collage

At the end of the tour, we all got a drink at the Green Dragon – I enjoyed a cider by the fire and soaked in the atmosphere. The interior of the place was great and I was glad I got to see this place in person.

Green Dragon Inn Collage 2

If you’re ever on the North Island of New Zealand, this place is definitely worth checking out, particularly if you’re a fan of the movies! 

Green Dragon Collage 1

Scottish Highlands

One of my favorite memories from when I was younger in Scotland was going to Loch Ness with my family – in fact, my sister was absolutely convinced that she saw the Loch Ness monsters’ tail and I 100% believe her. Ryan had been to Scotland previously but had not gone into the Scottish Highlands so we decided to road trip up to that area of the country and explore it together. Because I had such fond memories of Loch Ness, we booked a hotel up there and programmed the GPS to get us there. In the morning before we left, we looked at the maps and picked a route through some of the areas that our Scottish friends/family had recommended to us. Ryan has some Scottish roots, so we asked Ryan’s mom to tell us which towns he had relatives from. Right before we left, we got an email from her telling us she knew about a relative who was a ship captain in Old Kilpatrick, so we made sure our route ran through there to check it out. As we were going past on the highway, we saw the sign for Old Kilpatrick and we also saw a church there so we got off the highway to look around. Ryan’s mom gave us a few names and so we split up and looked through the cemetery for gravestones with their names. Ryan came to get me while I was looking around and said he found the name. We were so excited! It was such a neat experience to be at the church in the town where some of Ryan’s relatives had been.

Ryan St Kilpatrick

We continued on the road and Ryan was really getting the hang of driving on the left side of the road so it was smooth sailing. The first stop was Loch Lomond which was really beautiful. We pulled over to take some photos – I told Ryan I wanted to take a picture of us on the “bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond” and being the wonderful husband that he is, he posed for a picture with me.

Loch Lohmond

On the drive up, we stopped in a few little places to check out the area.

Road Trip Stop

We continued our trek into Glen Coe which is one of my mom’s favorite spots in the world and now ours, too. If you’ve seen the newest James Bond movie, Skyfall,  part of it was filmed in Glen Coe so you may find the pictures a bit familiar.  The drive was just beautiful and  we loved every minute of it.

Drive Up Collage

After such a scenic drive, we neared our castle hotel which was on Loch Oich in a quiet area. If I were in the castle building time and looking for a spot to call home, this is definitely where I would choose because it was beautiful and peaceful. 

Glengarry Castle Hotel

Our hotel was still a little ways away from Loch Ness, but it was still light out so we hopped back in the car and headed that direction. The entrance to Urquhart castle had just closed, but we hiked up and got some pictures before continuing on for dinner.

Urquart Castle

It was Easter so we wanted to have a nice meal and I had made reservations at the Loch Ness Inn after reading some great reviews. I’m really glad we went there because the food was great – I was able to have Scottish lamb on Easter which seemed very fitting. We also drank some local beer and had sticky toffee pudding for dessert which I always love.

Easter Dinner

On the way home, we swung by Urquhart castle again because it was lit up. It really is a cool castle and the view of Loch Ness is nice. No monster sightings because apparently Nessie takes the week of Easter off; that’s our story and we’re sticking to it!

Urquhart Castle at Night

The next day, we set off for Eilean Donan castle. The drive there was breathtaking and we stopped to take a few pictures along the way. One of the cool sites was a ship going through the man-made canal between the lochs.

Drive to Eilean Donan Castle

Once we got there, the castle was spectacular out in the water with the little bridge to it. It really had the quintessential Scottish castle look to it and the Isle of Skye is right behind it so the views are just wonderful. We got to go into the castle and walk around which we really enjoyed…it was cold but the blue sky made it even more impressive.

Eilean Donan Castle

Erin & Ryan Eilean Donan Black Border

On the way out, a bag piper was playing so I was able to cross yet another Scottish experience off my list for this trip.

Erin & Bagpiper

The road back was just as beautiful and enjoyable as the drive up had been. In fact, we thought the road back looked more like some of the spots in the James Bond movie…really cool. Glen Coe on the way homeWe truly had a wonderful time in the Scottish Highlands and look forward to going back and spending more time there.

Sheep & Mountain

Great Wall of China

Monday was Great Wall of China day…Forbidden City & the Great Wall of China were the two places in Beijing that my dad and I had talked about being MOST excited about. I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of POURING rain and I started to get a little worried that it was going to rain during our time on the Great Wall. I fell back asleep and woke up to a cloudy, but non-rainy morning and was relieved that we wouldn’t be walking through rain drops our whole day. Travel luck had been granted to us for sure!  Our tour guide came to pick us up and we drove to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall – we had heard that this tended to be less crowded and was a beautiful section of the wall and it certainly was! We were one of the first 10 cars in the parking lot, so we had definitely made a good decision to come early. We got on the cable car and started our trip up to the Great Wall.

You might not be able to read this but it says that the Dalai Lama rode in this exact cable car!

This is the view from the cable car – it was very cloudy from the rain as you can tell in this photo…

Family Group shot on the Great Wall – SO COOL!

The views along the Great Wall were great (obviously – it’s named the Great Wall) – it was hard to believe we were there in person.

During the day, the clouds came in and out – in this picture the clouds were out in full force, but you can see the Great Wall from one of the windows on the Guard Post

Funny Great Wall pics – my mom and dad are standing straight up and down if you can believe it!

What they forget to mention is that you have not avoided the all of stairs by taking the cable car…this section of the wall is not a leisurely stroll. In fact, there is an extremely steep section of the Wall where you go up a lot of steps to get to the top. We were up for the challenge, though, and headed that direction – straight up!

This was a rough walk up this super steep part of the wall but it was fun to do it together!

Ryan had already headed up the wall – he was the only person at the top of those steps for some time until a group got there before my dad and I did…he was able to get a shot of my dad and I walking up the stairs…the fact that we’re so small in the picture should tell you just how high up it is – especially since this was taken when we were at the half way point. I am so proud of all of us because we made it to the very top!

My dad’s orange shirt makes us easy to spot

We all made it to the top!

At this look out, the trail continues but there is a sign that says, “NO Visitors Allowed” – our tour guide had told us that you could continue but it’s at your own risk. So…Ryan and I decided that we should continue walking for a little bit. My mom and dad stayed at the look out to bask in the glory of making it to the top and relax a bit while we trekked on. It was incredible to keep going because we were the ONLY people on the wall. It was amazing to be on such a marvel of the world together and have no one else around! We also walked on the original steps of the wall which was really cool!

Great Wall Standing Straight

This was the end of the section of the Wall that we walked…

The photographer scoping out the Great Wall…

And here’s his Great Shot! 

Hiking the Great Wall was my favorite part of my time in China…it’s just such an incredible experience and the size of it is amazing! I was so happy that we could make those memories as a family!

Afterwards, our guide took us to a local restaurant nearby and the food was great! We had pork and chestnuts (the chestnuts were grown freshly in the mountains that we had just been hiking around) and then rainbow trout which was caught fresh & grilled up and then we also had some local greens. It was certainly a local meal and it was well deserved after our long hike up all of the stairs on the Great Wall!

Our friend had told us about a place where they make special pots near the Great Wall, so our tour guide took us there. The tour was really interesting because they put so much time and effort into each of these and they are hand crafted. They put on several layers (seven layers, to be exact) with copper, paint, and gold…they walked us through the whole process – it was really interesting! We ended up taking a pot home ourselves that has a dragon and a phoenix on it which they told us represents a happy marriage.

Step 1: Copper Pot

The girls glue on the design with thick copper wiring

After painting them, they put them in the kiln

The ones on the crate are fresh out of the kiln and the ones on the left have already cooled into their final colors – so beautiful!

Afterwards, we ran into one of the markets in Beijing – it was huge! Seven stories of stalls and stalls of markets. We got a couple of souvenirs and then headed back to our hotel. We spent the rest of the night playing cards in the courtyard which was the perfect end to such a great day! We really enjoyed all of the time we had spent with my parents and were glad we could have some good old fashioned family competition by playing Hearts.

Sadly, the next morning we had to say good bye to my parents as they headed off to their next Chinese adventure in Jiuzhaigou (they said it was absolutely incredible!) All in all, it was so great to see my parents and even better getting to make fun and exciting memories in China! We headed back home to Korea (it still feels weird to call that home…sometimes I just can’t believe that we’re living in Asia but it is really a great experience!).

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