Hike to Tunnel Falls

Apart from a 3-hour meander along the Salmon Creek Trail in Mt. Hood National Forest, the 13.5 mile hike to Tunnel Falls three weeks ago was our first real trekking foray in the Portland area. It was a gorgeous, warm, and sunny weekend that could not be wasted.

We drove our Ford Focus rental car north along Highway 84 to the Eagle Creek Trailhead, where we circled the lot twice before finally parking in a dubious spot. With the requisite Northwest Forest Pass hung securely on the rearview mirror, we hauled out our largely unnecessary packs and commenced the hike.

Trail Detail

The trail was surprisingly popular; popular, at least, in comparison to the trails in New Zealand. While I’m sure that a much higher proportion of the New Zealand population hikes regularly, the NZ population is so much smaller to begin with that even the most favored trails are still less crowded. The Columbia River Gorge is a gorgeous area with seemingly endless hiking opportunities, and I’m eager to explore more of it in the months to come.


Tunnel Falls was not exactly a beginner hike; though there was little elevation gain, the sometimes rocky narrow and rocky trail — not to mention the distance — meant that we did find it challenging. That didn’t deter people with tiny teacup dogs from trying to hike it, though.

The popularity dropped slightly after we came to our first bridge outage. Having never encountered so much as a stray branch in New Zealand, seeing the downed bridge was a sad reminder of America’s lack of investment in public parks. Also very American was the dude attempting to cross it.

"Hey, watch this"

Moss, frothing rivers, and verdant vegetation were plentiful. The plethora of bridges kept it interesting, as did the numerous waterfalls along the way. When impatient, I would point to the nearest cascade and claim that it must be Tunnel Falls, but as every hiker knows, you’re just about to reach your destination when all hope is lost.


And here it’s appropriate to wax lyrical about the benefits of living on the West Coast, where 13.5-mile hikes are possible in April and there’s no snow, salt, or ice to destroy the exterior of your car and shoes. In fact, back in January when most of the East Coast was incapacitated by a blizzard, we were outside in Sellwood Park playing tennis.

In Bloom

But back to the hike at hand. Several pack-bearing dogs later (the permutations on bikes, dogs, and baby carriers are endless in Portland), we reached our destination: Tunnel Falls.

Full height

To be honest, I expected to be disappointed after being exposed to the New Zealand terrain. But Tunnel Falls is exciting enough to maintain a sense of the primordial; the sheer volume and velocity of the water is enough to remind you of your mortality.

Drip zoom

After 7.5 miles of walking, the mist billowing out from either side of the falls was downright refreshing. And passing through the tunnel behind the falls (you can see where the name comes from) wasn’t a let-down, either.

The Tunnel of Tunnel Falls

Luckily, in reading about the Tunnel Falls hike, I had discovered that Eagle Creek Falls lay only 1/4 mile further down the trail. These falls were more conventionally beautiful, but still nothing to scoff at. They were also quieter and a good place to eat lunch.

Eagle Creek Falls

Any time you want to feel insignificant, just spend some time around waterfalls.


After our food break (always necessary when hiking, as your blood sugar may drop dramatically, causing moodiness and disagreements about whose pack is heavier), we turned back around and marveled at Tunnel Falls some more.

Misty pool

As always, the return trip seemed quicker, and we realized, much to our surprise, that no one had passed us during the hike. I mean, when we stopped to eat or paused to take a photo of the busted bridge, sure. But not when we were actively walking. We couldn’t believe it; Kiwis of all ages passed us regularly in New Zealand. Slightly-below-average fitness in New Zealand = above average fitness in America. In total, it took us six hours to complete the Tunnel Halls hike.

At the end of the hike, with the sun setting in the Columbia River Gorge and not thrilled by the idea of driving back to Portland only to fall asleep and go to work the next day, we drove down to the remarkably pretty town of Cascade Locks, where we lingered until dusk.

Columbia River Gorge

But return we did, sated for the time being, and full of hiking schemes for the future.

All photos by Greg. 

A Trio of Hikes in Whangarei

We spent a week Whangarei, New Zealand’s northernmost major city, which admittedly might have been a little generous considering its most famous landmark is the Clock Museum. Nonetheless, Whangarei (like everywhere in New Zealand) is surrounded by forests and nature reserves, so we spent a significant chunk of our time there hiking.

Our first venture was a 2-hour hike through Tangihua Forest, which is accessible only after driving past hills filled with grazing sheep, a long gravel road, and an easy-to-miss brown sign. Because we got a late start, we opted for a more modest trail, the Whakapono Track, though we encountered a father and son who had nearly completed the longest path.

Tangihua Forest, Whakapono Track

Tangihua is a good example of what New Zealand’s northern forests look like. They contain an eclectic mix of palms, ferns, conifers, shrubs, moss, and flowering plants. Because it rains frequently and the temperature rarely dips below freezing, the forests are lush, verdant, and brimming with all shades of green.

Tangihua Forest, outside of Whangarei

What’s more, because the vegetation is so dense, it’s almost impossible to detect noise from the surrounding farms. Apart from your own rustling footsteps, the only other sounds are the countless chortling calls from the birds living among the trees. In fact, there’s not much else in the way of wildlife in New Zealand’s forests; no snakes, no large mammals, and barely any poisonous insects. I’m still surprised and pleased each time I remember can walk through tall grass without fear.


Our next day trip was to Tutukaka for the Lighthouse Walk along the coast. It was absolutely stunning. It’s a relatively short walk, but don’t be deceived — the steep ascent to the lighthouse is certainly a workout!

After a quick walk across the Tutukaka headland, there’s a sharp descent to the beach that separates the mainland from Kukutauwhao Island, where the lighthouse is located.


We paused for a few minutes to take in the beach and miniature harbor, which was filled with the most gorgeous azure-blue water.


From there, we continued along the ascending slope to the “lighthouse,” which didn’t look exactly how I’d pictured. It’s basically just a lamp stuck on top of a white box, but, impressively, it’s powered entirely by solar panels.


The surrounding views, however, were spectacular.



We took our time on the way back, stopping to sit at one of the many wooden benches to drink in the views.


On the drive back to Whangarei, we stopped for takeaway fish ‘n’ chips in the cute little town of Ngunguru and had to defend our dinner from pesky seagulls. It was a day well spent!

Our final hike in Whangarei was also the longest, and certainly the most challenging. It’s the hike that finally convinced me that I needed a decent pair of hiking boots — my Asics just weren’t cutting it!

Pukenui Forest has two lengthy trails clocking in at 8.2 and 8.9 kilometers, respectively. We opted for the shorter and less steep trail, the Pukenui Forest Loop. If you decide to hike in Pukenui Forest, be mindful of the fact that the trailhead is accessed after passing through 3-4 fields that may or may not be filled with grazing cows and sheep!

fields on the way to Pukenui Forest trailhead

If we thought that our hike through Tangihua Forest was immersive, then our four-hour journey through Pukenui transported us to another dimension. It felt as though we had traveled back millennia to when dinosaurs roamed the earth. We were the only hikers in the entire forest, and the immense ferns, birds, and kauri trees, combined with the root-strewn path and babbling streams, made for a primordial experience.

Pukenui Forest, gully tree ferns

Pukenui Forest

stream in Pukenui Forest

Like all of the forest areas we’ve seen, Pukenui was brimming with ferns. Most noticeable were the tall and slender black-trunked gully tree ferns, which dominate the following photo. Anytime you looked up, your view of the sky was mediated by radiating branches.

Pukenui Forest, gully tree ferns

Apart from the ferns, the most common resident of the forest was the enormous, slightly iridescent wood pigeon, which flapped loudly as it flew from tree to tree.

Four hours, two granola bars, and 5 miles later, we emerged from the forest just as the sun started to set. The hills and fields were lit by crepuscular rays. It was the perfect, magical close to our strenuous hike through an unbelievable forest.

sunset outside Pukenui Forest

Photo credits: All taken by me with an iPhone 4s standard camera, with the exception of the photos from the Tutukaka Lighthouse Walk, which were taken by G. on a Nikon D5100. 

Three Days on Waiheke Island

Palm Beach | Waiheke Island
Palm Beach

I begin this post with a picture, because that’s really the best way to talk about Waiheke Island. Located just a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland, Waiheke has become famous for its relatively slower lifestyle compared to the city of 1.3 million. Filled with beautiful beaches, lush walkways, little harbors, and endless hills, Waiheke is certainly worth visiting if you find yourself in New Zealand.

Lonely Boat | Waiheke Island

We arrived last Sunday near sunset, when the tide was out. Because Waiheke is considered a desirable vacation destination, the island’s larger homes regularly sell for upwards of $1 million. We stayed in a smaller, cozier dwelling filled with seashells, books, and fresh flowers owned by German/Argentine couple — ah, the benefits of using Airbnb!* Although it rained a significant percentage of the time that we were on Waiheke, we used those hours as an excuse to relax, share a surprisingly delicious $6 bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and watch several episodes of House M.D. 

Sunset, water | Waiheke Island

The first day, we had just enough time to take a quick walk along the coast and snap some photos of the sunset. The sunlight in New Zealand is amplified by the frequent presence of beautiful, fluffy clouds. It’s no wonder that the Māori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa, or “land of the long white cloud.”

Mountain bike | Waiheke Island

The next day, I very ambitiously insisted that we rent mountain bikes and try to see as much of the island as we could. Ambitious, because of those aforementioned hills. I must advise future travelers against renting regular mountain bikes — unless you’re a professional cyclist, you won’t be able to make it up Waiheke’s steep slopes.  For just $20 more per day, you can rent an electric-assisted bike that will enable you to cover much more terrain. I wish we had done this instead! Still, it was a fantastic, if grueling, workout.

Hekerua Bay | Waiheke Island
Hekerua Bay

We took several lengthy pauses, including one at Hekerua Bay, and another at Palm Beach to watch the tide going out and to explore the rocky coastline.

Tide going out | Waiheke Island

Although Waiheke technically isn’t a volcanic island, it’s still composed of volcanic rock, chunks of which are forcefully present along the beaches. In fact, Waiheke’s unique and varied composition is part of what makes it such an excellent place to produce wine — grapes grown just a short distance apart may taste significantly different. The semi-porous, red-tone rocks are striking to observe and easy to walk across thanks to their highly textured surface.

Volcanic rock | Waiheke Island

On our second full day on the island, we took it fairly easy — we were still exhausted from dragging those mountain bikes up the hills! Our Airbnb hosts drove us to yet another beautiful beach situated along Onetangi Bay. It was unbelievably picturesque and utterly surreal, just like the rest of our time on Waiheke.

To the beach | Waiheke Island

Onetangi Beach | Waiheke Island

Like the rest of New Zealand, on Waiheke island there’s always a rainstorm on the way. It’s also perpetually windy, meaning that most umbrellas really do get blown inside out within seconds — just as my favorite Kiwi YouTuber, Charlie Marie, warned in her “Winter Essentials” video. Bring waterproof shoes, a sturdy windbreaker that doubles as a lined raincoat, and LOTS of long-sleeved shirts for layering. The dramatic shifts in weather do make taking impressive photos fairly easy, though!

Waves crashing | Waiheke Island

Later that day, we got takeaway fish ‘n’ chips and walked down to Oneroa Beach, where we sat at a picnic table and watched dolphins swimming back and forth across the bay. I did take pictures of the dolphins, but unfortunately the zooming feature on my iPhone isn’t much good, so I’m afraid none of them are worth sharing! It was a big event, though; apparently the dolphins’ feeding frenzy in Oneroa Bay was shared on the Waiheke community news board the following day. I did manage to grab this elevated photo of the beach while exploring yet another of the island’s endless walkways.

Oneroa Beach | Waiheke Island

If you do make it out to Waiheke, I strongly suggest giving yourself a full day (or two, or three) to just wander all over the island and explore as many of its walkways as you can.

Hiking | Waiheke Island

We witnessed yet another stunning sunset, and took a leisurely walk back to our rented room in the fading light.

Sunset | Waiheke Island

Although Waiheke’s hills are studded with million-dollar homes, it doesn’t feel like a tourist destination. True, it is small, with a quaint Fruit ‘n’ Veg shop and just a handful of proper restaurants, and its population will double during the busy summer months. But the island’s pace is perceptibly slower, a feature the permanent residents cherish.  Like everywhere else in New Zealand that we’ve seen so far, Waiheke is extremely clean, bordering on pristine. Its beaches are natural and scattered with seashells of significant size, not drowned out by tons of white sand dumped in a desperate attempt to evade erosion. It has been discovered, but it was not exploited in that process of discovery. And that’s a rare thing for us to witness.

Boats in Harbor | Waiheke Island

Even the seagulls are pretty and snowy white!

Seagull | Waiheke Island

I don’t know if I’m naturally impatient and ambitious, or if being raised in the United States made me that way. Regardless, I hope that my imposition of day-to-day “goals” and stressors will slowly fade away as I continue to travel through New Zealand. The benefit of visiting Waiheke during the off season was that it wasn’t crawling with tourists and there wasn’t much of anything to do besides take in its natural beauty.

Clouds Reflected | Waiheke Island

I do think, though, that we might be returning in December/January to experience the richness of the island summer, and maybe to do a bit of work on Waiheke’s vineyards, which we weren’t able to see this time around. Even so, we appreciated the three days we spent there.

Photo credits: 1, 2, 6, 7, 10, 12, 15 and 16 by GvL; all others by me. 

*Disclosure: This Airbnb link is tied to my username. If you make a reservation using my link, you will get $25 off your first booking. I receive $25 toward my next reservation as well.