Where's Kyle? | iExplore blog

In the final post of our 9-part Where's Kyle? series, backpacker Kyle reflects on his amazing two-month adventure through New Zealand. Missed the series? You can read past posts here and here. A tremendous thanks to Kyle for sharing his travel experiences with iExplore!

The past two months have been filled with incredible experiences in New Zealand. I have done more than I ever dreamed of. Accomplishing six of the nine Great Walks, I walked in a mini tornado, a blizzard, and realized rain is just a part of hiking. 

I am so glad I chose to hitch hike across New Zealand. I have met amazing people that would have never entered my life if I chose the bus route or rented a car. Standing in the rain or heat for hours at a time can create heavy thoughts, frustrations, and techniques to cope with boredom.  

New ZealandThe landscape is beautiful everywhere. The food is delightful. The people are extremely genuine. I am pleased to have been welcomed into three different families, earning their trust and support. Growing close to strangers is easy for me, but it continues to blow my mind that it keeps happening. 

I appreciate everything out here. Endless star gazing, including O'rien's Belt and the Southern Cross. The rare animals I have come in contact with are Fiordland Crested Penguins, bottle nose dolphins, fur seals, rare albatross, and heaps of New Zealand birds. I will never forget my experiences with the kea parrots and weka birds. Too bad I won't get to see a kiwi bird.   

What's next? I found a job in Christchurch selling juice for a local company. The owner invited me into his home, assisted me with a van, and trusts me to take his product around selling to cafes and bars across the city. I've stayed at the family property 30 kilometers outside of Christchurch where I received delicious home cooked meals each day, had meaningful conversations, and enjoyed tremendous views of sunsets and the bright country stars. This family took me in as one of their own, even organizing a Thanksgiving dinner for me. I am incredibly thankful and indebted to them. 

New Zealand coastI spent Christmas in Coromandel with fellow travelers at a backpackers hostel. Moving forward, I will continue the south pacific trip to the indigenous islands of Tonga for the month of January. I'll arrive back in the states in February where the goal is still to hike the Appalachian Trail. When that ends in September, the wind will guide me to my next adventure.  

Top 5 New Zealand Memories:

- Earthquake destruction and devastation in Christchurch 

- Overnight cruise in Doubtful Sound

-  Crawling through caves on Kepler Mountain

- Walking on avalanche debris after crossing a raging river

- Skydiving over Lake Taupo after crossing an active volcano

My travel style: 

- Make dreams come true

- Plan trips with creativity

- Stay in touch

Guest post by Kyle Krasney. Photos courtesy of Ed and GothPhil.

A note from Kyle: Thanks for reading. I will continue to discover new things about this world and myself. Life can be a free spirited adventure if you let it. To continue following my experiences, please visit and please stay in touch via A big thanks to for taking a risk on me and exploring a new idea allowing me to tell my stories to the world. 

Where's Kyle? | iExplore blog
In Part Eight of our Where's Kyle? blog series, backpacker Kyle revisits New Zealand's North Island and Tongariro National Park, and skydives over Lake Taupo. Check back for Kyle's next and final post, wrapping up an amazing, two-month, once-in-a-lifetime trip hitch hiking and backpacking through New Zealand. If you missed some of his adventures, read parts six and seven. 

I am really going to miss the South Island as I make my way back to New Zealand's North Island. I have loads of good memories from hitchhiking around both islands for the past two and a half months.

Wellington is as windy as I remember from my first visit there. The sun is shining beautifully, and I stay one night at a backpacker hostel and buy a ticket to see 79 year old songwriter, Leonard Cohen, perform across the street. What a great performance!

Where's Kyle? Skydiving Over Lake Taupo in New Zealand | iExplore blogI ride my first train north bound, and my friend Jimmy and his family invite me into their home. Jimmy takes his father and I to Tongariro National Park, where he used to work. The initial plan is to climb Mount Ruapehu, but at 2,797 meters (9,177 ft) climbing without crampons (special traction footwear for mountaineering and ice climbing) it is not possible. We make it a good ways up, walking carefully on snow before the wind really picks up. There is no trail on this mountain so every step is calculated. 

Later, I spend the night in the town named National Park, but wake early to get to the Tongariro Crossing Trailhead. Arriving by 10 am, my 35 pound pack is strapped up and I'm ready to explore this North Island Great Walk. Rather than doing the four day circuit, I choose the eight hour walk. It begins gentle and I wander through desert-like terrain. It's very flat for about forty five minutes and I lazily walk on a boardwalk along a creek. "I'll be impressed if you get up that big hill with that big pack," some woman says passing by. 

Well the hill is no joke. There are man-made wooden stairs, which prove to be a pain in the butt. I go up and up, feeling like I'll never reach the top. It takes about an hour, but I reach the break for Mt. Ngauruhoe at 2,291 meters (7,516 ft). This mountain is better known to tourists as Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings.

It is evident that a lot of the movie was shot here as I look at all of the black rocks uniquely shaped in every direction. The volcanic ash that I walk on is why everything is so dark colored. Rather than taking the steep two hour detour to climb it, I push on into the very flat and wide open dirt area that looks like an Indiana Jones movie set. It reminds me of Wild West films. The rougher the uphill gets, the more amazing the view on the other side. When I come to the Red Crater, my hiking partners and I stop to stare for several minutes. Then comes the very steep and slippery hill to the very top. Volcanic ash makes it very difficult. At the top, we get to see the Emerald Pools and steaming sulfur rocks from all of the pictures I've seen before. It is way more impressive to see up close and in person.

The rest of the day is primarily downhill with some irritating climbs. Aiming for the only backpacker hut along the Tongariro Crossing, the trail snakes and winds for what feels like forever before we actually reach the hut. Along the trail, I learn about the volcano eruption that took place in August of 2012, just 1.5 kilometers from the hut. It was the first big eruption since 1896. Seeing the smoke rise is very special. After I reach the hut, the trail continues down for another 5 kilometers. I am relieved to reach the finish and catch a ride back to civilization, away from tourists. 

I travel to Lake Taupo, which is the bigger North Island version of the South Island's Lake Te Anau. I love it! The sun pushes through the clouds, and suddenly I act without thinking - the next thing I know I'm in a limo, about to skydive from 12,000 feet!

With two previous jumps under my belt, it's not quite fear, but just standard nerves that I feel. Arriving at the plane, the people around me are wearing worried looks. I zip up my blue jumpsuit, strap up my harness and head to the pink plane. My tandem instructor, Chris, makes this jump easier for me than my jump in 2008; he'll take care of the altimeter and pulling the ripcord during the jump. I'll just enjoy the ride.

Where's Kyle? Skydiving Over Lake Taupo in New Zealand | iExplore blogI strap on a tight cap and goggles, like pilots used to wear in the old days. Chris informs me of our altitude as we gain elevation. I just gaze out the window at gorgeous Lake Taupo and the inland trees.  I sit on the edge of the plane with my legs dangling out. It feels very weird being barefoot, but I'm ready. The wind is pretty strong, but the sun shines as we suddenly roll out of the plane and into the open sky over the clouds.

I wait the five seconds of us spinning uncontrollably to release my hands from the harness, putting them out to the side like I'm flying. The unfortunate thing about the 12,000 foot jump is the free fall is only 45 seconds, but I do a great job of remembering the essentials: breathe normally, keep my eyes open wide, and pay attention to the surroundings.

Chris shows me the altimeter dropping rapidly and gives me a three count with his fingers, allowing me to prepare mentally for the painful jerk when the parachute opens. Then it's over; but, wow, what a great jump! It was an incredible view of New Zealand. As we dangle in the air making our way towards the ground,  I can see the three mountains I walked on over the past two days. Chris and I just have fun spinning in circles towards the massive lake. "I can tell you've jumped before, you're a natural," he tells me. It's a nice compliment. We have a near-perfect landing, give each other a high five, and I get a limo ride to a free campground. Bing, bang, and out!  My time on the North Island is looking pretty good so far. 

My travel style: 

- Stay in touch with everyone I meet

- Act before over-thinking

- If it sounds crazy, do it!

 Guest post by Kyle Krasney. Photos courtesy of gil_dumbea and Medusa Properties via creative commons

Fresh air, wide-open countryside and endless clear blue sky are just the beginning of the enchantment of a Colorado dude ranch vacation. Also called guest ranches, dude ranches are a combination of traditional ranch and modern resort rolled into one. Some are real working ranches, while others are more like resorts that incorporate traditional ranch activities alongside other indoor and outdoor activities. All guest ranches, however, provide great opportunities to get outdoors and experience nature at its best.

Colorado Dude Ranch

Dude ranches offer the convenience of quality lodging and great adventures all in the same place. Every ranch is a little different, which means folks who want to experience a dude ranch vacation can choose how much rustic charm they want versus modern luxury simply by honing in on the right ranch. It's possible to take in the Great Outdoors without giving up any of the comforts of home. You can play hard all day out on the range and relax in luxurious rooms at night. Many guest resorts also offer spa services and quality dining options.

Horseback riding is at the heart of the ranch experience, whether you visit a working ranch or a resort ranch. No matter if you are an experienced rider or a novice, a dude ranch will introduce you to the freedom of the open plain and the joy of riding. Many ranches will offer classes and trail rides for a range of skill levels, so you will be able to ride across the open range like the cowboys of the Wild West, no matter if you have ever ridden before. On a working ranch, you will have opportunities to take part in cattle drives and other real cowboy activities. Of course, kids can join in the riding fun. Appropriate mounts are provided for all ages and skill levels, and ranch hands will make sure that kids ride and have fun while learning how to be safe. If you have any concerns about your riding ability or your kids' abilities, contact the ranch ahead of time to discuss your options. The staff of your ranch will be happy to discuss the riding options available and match you up with both a horse and a set of activities that will suit your level of skill and your comfort.

A dude ranch is a perfect setting for a great family vacation. Many ranches will offer plenty of activities for the kids, including swimming, sports and games, in addition to riding and learning horsemanship skills. The youngest kids will enjoy pony rides, while slightly older kids can take part in guided trail rides. All kids can learn horsemanship skills appropriate for their age level. Learning to ride and care for a horse teaches confidence and independence that kids will take back home and apply to everything else they tackle. Teens may be able to take part in more independent adventures such as overnight camping expeditions and hiking trips.

While the kids have plenty to do, mom and dad can either take part in the family fun or take time out to relax on their own. Along with riding and outdoor activities for adults, some ranches also offer a wide selection of spa services, including massages and facials, manicures and pedicures, saunas and hot tubs. While the kids are out on guided trail rides or enjoying other ranch activities, parents can enjoy some pampering then go to dinner or sit beside an evening camp fire refreshed and ready to hear about their kids' adventures. Adults without kids can also enjoy the ranch life, taking part in as many outdoor activities as they want before retreating inside to a spa or simply to sit by a fire and relax.

Many ranches operate year-round, which means winter opens up a whole new set of activities to enjoy. Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice skating and sledding are favorites, and ranches may have indoor facilities for riding on days when it's too cold to hit the trail. Some ranches offer transportation to nearby ski resorts for downhill skiing and snowboarding. The winter holidays can be especially wonderful on a ranch, with holiday traditions celebrated with a western twist. Christmas on a dude ranch comes with all of the charm of beautiful decorations and special activities you enjoy at home but with all the amenities of a luxurious vacation away. You can help decorate a tree, sip hot cocoa, take in snowy winter landscapes and maybe even get a visit from Santa while still enjoying gourmet meals, time at the spa or just the crisp, clean air of winter on the open range.

If you have never experienced the wide-open country of the American West, a dude ranch vacation is your perfect opportunity to get a glimpse of the old-fashioned cowboy life while enjoying modern-day amenities. Enjoy rustic charm paired with luxurious comforts, all while leaving your day-to-day life across the plains.

About the Author

Brady Johnson works as the Sales and Marketing Director at C Lazy U. Brady handles all marketing and advertising efforts for the ranch along with booking group events and retreats. Since Brady is an avid outdoorsman he will often also take guests on guided mountain bike rides and ski trips on Ranch's private ski hill or the lead a ropes course session in the summer.

Where's Kyle? | iExplore blog

In part seven of our 10-part series, backpacker and travel blogger Kyle continues his two-month journey through New Zealand, hitching through the South Island and hiking the famous Routeburn Track. Follow along with his travels here, and read past posts.

Where's Kyle? Hiking New Zealand's Routeburn Track | iExplore blogI spend four days in Dunedin, on New Zealand's South Island, with Mike and his wonderful family, whom I met at Milford Sound. Our first night consists of Heinekens, appetizers, and a steak dinner. Wow!  I wander the city, exploring the fantastic local museums. Mike drives me out to the peninsula for albatross sightings, a view of Baldwin St., known as the steepest street in the world, and a visit to a pub to watch local blues musicians. I can't thank them all enough for inviting me in and taking care of me so well.

I hitch a ride to Balclutha, where I sit for nearly two hours until 23-year-old surfer Jake from California pulls over in his white campervan. I convince him to stop for a ten minute walk to Purakanui Falls, which is the face of the Catlins, before he drops me at a campsite where I spend the evening with a Swedish couple eating cheese and crackers.

The next day is a long day of hitching, catching any ride available. I visit Niagara Falls, the smallest waterfall in the world, hang with sea lions on the gorgeous southern coast, and stand at the southern-most point of the South Island. I catch a ride from a young German guy to Te Anau. I am so excited to be back in my favorite New Zealand town. The next few days are predicted for clear weather and the Routeburn Track is free of avalanche danger. I'm going!

The Routeburn Track begins just like the other Great Walks, with a viscous uphill. The sun is booming, but shade of the trees helps. An hour in at 4pm, I push on past the first hut, perfectly placed alongside a large bright blue lake with deep mountains in the distance. Walking through the bush, rocks are very loose so concentration is necessary. As I gain elevation, views open displaying clear cut mountains as far as my eyes can see. So amazing!  Then I come to Earland Falls and take a fifteen minute break to take my pack off and rest. I wish to stay here all day, but I must set up camp before darkness. The evening is filled with mind bending views and resting in the cold water at Lake MacKenzie.

Where's Kyle? Hiking New Zealand's Routeburn Track | iExplore blogDay two starts with a steep climb gaining more and more breathtaking views of Lake MacKenzie Hut. I watch a helicopter rise through the clouds to drop cargo at the hut. Cool!  The trail winds around the mountain saying goodbye to the lake, but hello to the mouth watering Hollyford Valley. The next two hours are some of the best hiking I've ever done. The valley holds a cloud that hovers between the mountains. I look out to see snow capped mountains under the baby blue sky. Spectacular. I feel undisputed happiness here that cannot be described, only experienced.

At the Harris Saddle Shelter, I meet four people in their late seventies (3 of them women) walking the track for their seventh time. The helicopter returns giving us a front row view of transporting goods to the shelter. The chopper rises and wind hits our faces, but not long after I see two claws coming right for my face. The kea parrots have arrived. He lands just over head, scaring me.

Kea parrots are very intelligent - they try different distraction techniques to steal my food and gear. They love backpacks and shoes. To avoid the endangered species, I continue on trail for ten minutes until my next treat arrives: Lake Harris. The sun beams on the mountain, melting the snow to drip into the crystal blue lake. The trail grinds along the ridge, offering new angles to gaze at. As the trail hits the peak, I only have downhill left. I walk three more hours watching Lake Harris turn into a roaring river and form a large waterfall at Routeburn Falls Hut, but then becomes a gentle stream at Routeburn Flats Campsite. I thoroughly enjoy watching nature unfold.

I am so glad I waited to the do the Routeburn Track...arguably my favorite hiking day I've ever had.

My Travel Style:

-Don't rush good hiking days

-Exchange emails

-Write thank you letters to people you meet along the way

Guest post and photos by Kyle Krasney.


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