Category Archives: New Zealand

A Doubtful Sound

6th May 2015

It’s been a while since our last post and I’ve heard it has a few of you worried. Don’t worry, Robbie and I are OK!  We’ve been driving up the eastern coast of Australia and haven’t had much Wi-Fi access but we’re having a great time (and survived the cyclone that decided to join us)!

Robbie mentioned in a previous post that we visited Doubtful Sound, which is in the Fiordlands National Park and is also a World Heritage listed location with UNESCO, and I have been wanting to write about our trip and just haven’t had the time (or the Wi-Fi access).  And whaddya know?!  The Wi-Fi at our campsite actually works!!  In case you’re wondering, this never happens…I digress.

Robbie and I had one more full day in New Zealand and we wanted to make sure it was a good one.  We had debated whether or not to tour Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound.  They both sounded awesome, but we decided on Doubtful because it was actually closer (less driving) and it wasn’t as popular (less people).  And we were so glad we made that decision!

We got up SUPER early the morning of our tour, I’m talking 5 a.m., and headed to Manapouri, where we were going to be picked up.  Manapouri is about a 2 hour drive away from Queenstown and the sun didn’t come up until right before we got there, so it was a pretty boring drive.IMG_0316Once we got to Manapouri, we got on a boat that took us across Lake Manapouri, then boarded a bus to drive us across the Southern Alps over the Wilmont Pass and finally made it to the boat we would take into the Sound.  It was a long morning but well worth it.IMG_0354 IMG_0367 IMG_0371 IMG_0409One thing to note before I move on…it had been raining and cloudy pretty much the entire time we were in Queenstown.  We wanted to do so much while we were there but the weather prohibited us…and then on the day of our Doubtful Sound tour the skies cleared, it was sunny and wasn’t raining!  I think we picked the best day to go.IMG_0413 IMG_0443Out on the Sound we got to see all kinds of wildlife…penguins, dolphins, seals, etc.  The best was the pod of dolphins.  They wanted to “play” with us and were swimming right up next to the boat.  They even did a little show of jumping in the air!IMG_0545 IMG_0553 IMG_0572Fun little fact about Doubtful Sound.  The film crew of Jurassic Park wanted to film the famous waterfall scene in Doubtful Sound because it has so many waterfalls but the weather prohibited them (it can be quite rainy and cold), so they moved the shoot to Kauai (which we’ve also seen).IMG_0586 IMG_0588There also a lot of different rock formations and interesting geologic features.  The boat would get up right next to them so we could all take pictures.  Some of them even looked like they were in the shape of animals.IMG_0693 IMG_0701 IMG_0706After our long day on the Sound we still had another 2 hour drive back to Queenstown, however, there were some great views that we didn’t get to see on our drive to Manapouri.  We pulled over a few times to take some photos.IMG_0764 IMG_0793 IMG_0813Overall it was one of our favorite days in New Zealand.  It was a great way to end our time there.  We looked forward to moving on to the next place but since New Zealand was our first stop on our extended vacation it will always hold a special place in our hearts.

— Aubrey

The best way to see the South Island

30th April 2015

During our visit to the South Island, we had a chance to visit two of the major cities, Christchurch and Queenstown, all by public transportation.  I found them to be quite different, and if I were to visit the South Island again, I would do it differently.  Hopefully this quick rundown helps you if you’re trying to establish a travel itinerary.

If you’ve seen any pictures, you already know, the South Island is incredibly beautiful.  I wanted to make sure I could experience the beauty even while we’re traveling from place to place, so I booked a scenic train from Picton to Christchurch stopping in Kaikoura along the way, and a bus from Christchurch to Queenstown.  The sights from the train on the way to Kaikoura are beautiful (see Oldies but Goodies) but, unfortunately, an earthquake caused a train delay that resulted in a scenic train ride in the dark.  Let’s just say the automated commentary on the surrounding mountain peaks was less than amusing.  This is a risk that I took when booking a specific mode of transportation that isn’t flexible… a car or campervan would’ve been a better choice.

We had two days to spend in Christchurch, now dubbed “Quake City” after two earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 decimated the core of Christchurch’s early architecture, most of the draw for visitors.  The British wanted Christchurch to be the shining colonial city in the South Pacific, and it was for well over a century.  The city was full of beautiful churches and an enormous (free) botanical gardens in the center of the city.  But, these sites are relatively few and far between, and were quickly overshadowed by the continuous beeping of construction vehicles and the offensive sound of demolition.  The city is still under massive redevelopment, and it’s going to be that way for a while.  I enjoyed the spirit of the residents, uninterrupted by the conglomeration of endless construction zones.  However, I was ready to move on after half a day, and wasn’t able to do so until my scheduled bus arrived at 8:00 am two days later.  Again, a campervan would’ve solved that problem.IMG_9965IMG_0001 IMG_0039 IMG_0035

The stretch of road from Christchurch to Queenstown stretches across the belly of the South Island.  The views are incredibly beautiful, and only a sneak peak of the impressive lakes and fjords of the southern end of New Zealand.  I was so excited to grab our rental car the next day and start exploring.IMG_0102 IMG_0109

Queenstown has a rap for being an expensive city full of backpackers.  That’s partially true, but it’s also flush with (free) tramping trails with only a few other hikers.  That’s how we spent most of our time in Queenstown, exploring the natural beauty and history of the area.  We ventured into the main district to try the famous “Fergburger” hamburger, but after fighting a bus load of other visitors, I concluded that Oklahoma City’s Tucker’s Onion Burger is still the best burger in the world, and decided to hit the grocery store and move on from crowded Queenstown.IMG_0241 IMG_0224 IMG_0252

The other adventures included the Queenstown gardens, visiting the historic bridge where bungy jumping was invented, a quick trip to Lake Wanaka, and taking a day trip to Doubtful Sound and Fjordlands National Park.IMG_0262 IMG_0274 IMG_0279

If I had a South Island “do over”, I would take a bus from Picton down the west coast of the South Island, visiting Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers, on the way to Queenstown.  I think the best of the South Island is in between the big cities.  I would rent a campervan visit the cities when I felt the need for supplies and visits to inner city attractions.  I believe seeing New Zealand from a car or campervan is the best way to visit the more remote places for longer, and I believe that’s where you’ll see the best of New Zealand.  That’s what we’re doing here in Australia, I’ll keep you in the loop!IMG_0203

— Robbie

Oldies but Goodies

27th April 2015

When we left Wellington, we took a ferry to the south island (3 hrs), then hopped on a train to Kaikoura (2.5 hrs).  We decided to go to Kaikoura, a small coastal town north of Christchurch, because it was halfway between the ferry and Christchurch.  I mean, anymore than 5+ hours of travel in one day is pretty exhausting.

When we arrived at the train station in Picton, we ended up being the only people in our train car.  We were pretty psyched, until we found out we were picking up a bunch of people at the next stop…which ended up being a huge group of “oldies”(their term, not ours!).  I think they felt sorry for Robbie and I since we were the only other passengers in their train car.  But after they cracked a few inappropriate jokes we knew we were in good company.IMG_9802 IMG_9805 IMG_9831

The train had an observation car that was “open air” a/k/a really windy.  We took a few pictures from there and headed back to our seats.  Robbie actually got back to his seat before me and four of the “oldies” thought he had thrown me overboard.  I think they secretly wanted him all to themselves.

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On the train ride into town I kept hearing people talk about the amazing backdrop that Kaikoura has; jagged mountains surrounding the beach town.  However, when we pulled into the station, it was raining and foggy and I didn’t see any mountains.  But we got lucky because the next day turned out to be beautiful!IMG_9871 IMG_9874

We decided to do the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway hike, which basically crossed the peninsula cliff top.  The views were stunning!  It was probably my favorite hike that we’ve done so far.  IMG_9879 IMG_9884IMG_9885

Plus at the end there was a colony of seals, including seal pups.  I know we already saw a bunch while we were on the north island, but who doesn’t get excited about seeing those cute faces!

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It was a great short trip in Kaikoura.  We got to see some amazing views, some cute wildlife and eat some awesome seafood (roadside seafood BBQ…um, yes please!).

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— Aubrey

ANZAC day

26th April 2015

If there’s one thing New Zealanders takes seriously, and rightfully so, it’s recognition of the service and sacrifices of its service men and women.  Since we arrived in New Zealand three weeks ago, we’ve heard from just about everyone how a large remembrance holiday is approaching, ANZAC day.  Just as many of us in the United States associate a yellow ribbon with our own brave troops, the New Zealanders associate a red poppy.  I’ve seen the poppy attached to young and old, suits and t-shirts, lapels, purses, and farmer’s coveralls everywhere I’ve visited in New Zealand.  In Wellington, Aubrey and I visited Te Papa, the national museum.  Fortunately, there was a fantastic exhibition on the meaning behind ANZAC day and why it’s so important to New Zealanders.IMG_9752

One hundred years ago, on April 25th, 1915, the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula, what is now Turkey.  Over the next eight months, over 130,000 soldiers are killed in action, 87,000 Ottomans, and 44,000 Allied Soldiers, 2,779 of the Allied deaths were New Zealanders.  Although there’s some debate on the total number of New Zealanders who fought on the Peninsula, the museum indicated that 93% of the country’s men who landed on the Peninsula on April 25th became casualties over the following 8 months.

The Te Papa Museum’s “Gallipoli: The Scale of our War” educates through sharing the experiences of several New Zealanders who were part of the campaign.  Extremely life-like models of the New Zealanders were manufactured in order to show the true condition of the men and women who served at Gallipoli.  An Officer who leads a charge up an embankment after being shot, a field surgeon, three men defending the line with a machine gun, a nurse serving at Gallipoli who learns her brother was killed in action, among others.IMG_9749

The title of the exhibit is fitting.  The scale of New Zealand’s sacrifice in World War I is astounding.  However, Ormond Burton, a New Zealand veteran who served at Gallipoli summed up the feeling of many of his countrymen, ‘somewhere between the landing at Anzac and the end of the battle of the Somme, New Zealand very definitely became a nation’.

If this exhibit interests you, but you’re unable to visit Wellington, the museum has an interactive page that gives more insight and visuals relating to the sacrifices made by New Zealand’s men and women at Gallipoli.

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The model of the machine gun above was capable of spraying 400 bullets per minute, but the New Zealanders would typically discharge 50 round bursts to avoid over-heating the barrel.  The German made machine gun below is an actual machine captured from the Turks at Gallipoli, you’ll notice a direct hit sustained by the gun.

IMG_9748IMG_9743Aubrey and I were traveling by coach bus from Christchurch to Queenstown on ANZAC day.  The center of every village and town along the way was filled with New Zealanders participating in remembrance ceremonies.  It was truly inspiring, and I’m glad to have experienced the pride and sincerity of the people of New Zealand.

— Robbie

Frank the Tank

22nd April 2015

Long drives, windy roads and many small towns.  That was how our day went when we left Napier and headed down to the southern area of the North Island.  We were able to stop a few places along the way (breweries, cafes, roadside truck stops, etc.) which helped break up the drive a bit.  IMG_9401 IMG_9407It was really hard to be in the car all day because it was one of the most beautiful days we’ve had in New Zealand to date.  But we finally made it to our destination, Wairarapa Valley!  We decided to stay in the countryside with a very lovely couple, Dougal and Denise.  They own quite a bit of acreage in the area and transformed a few old train cars into bunk houses, a kitchen and bathroom.  It was legit!

IMG_9671We were pretty isolated out there, no Wi-Fi, no calls, no texts.  It was actually nice to have a little break and be able to really soak up our time here.  We made a few friends along the way, including Nigela the chicken.  She followed us everywhere which reminded me a little bit of a dog I know (hmmm).IMG_9467 IMG_9694 IMG_9697 IMG_9701We got out to see some of the sights, including James Cameron’s farm across the street and some seals (including seal cubs!).  Although it was a bit windy, we still had a great time.  drinkIMG_9557 IMG_9594 We made it to Cape Palliser and had to climb about 249 steps to reach a lighthouse made out of cast iron (talk about a workout!).  We were pretty proud of ourselves afterward.IMG_9618 IMG_9639The views from the lighthouse were amazing.  We could even see the South Island from there!  IMG_9635Overall we had a wonderful time.  We got to see some incredible sights, meet some wonderful people and tried to drink all of the wine we bought while in wine country (I’m sure our hosts thought we had a bit of a problem).  I’d say it was “sweet as”.IMG_9428 IMG_9475 IMG_9529

— Aubrey

Art Deco, Cab Franc, Bag Pipes… and Hang Gliding

18th April 2015

The Hawke’s Bay region of New Zealand is known for a few things, good (ok, excellent) wine and art deco architecture.  A little history: even though the Maori people have occupied the region for centuries, the British set up shop in Napier and its surrounds in the mid 19th century.  A massive earthquake in 1931 spurred a massive development plan, focusing predominately on the curvy and fashionable style of art deco.  The architecture is impressive, but we focused mostly on the excellent wine.

In this part of the world, wine is a staple and much cheaper than the micro-brew beer and small batch whiskey I’ve become accustomed to in Colorado.  I’m happy to oblige, and I learned a lot about good New Zealand wine along the way…  For example, the region is relatively dry and doesn’t get too cold at night, so it tends to grow grapes that make world class chardonnay and sauvignon blanc (among lots of others).

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The region also experienced an extremely dry 2013 season, which enabled the vintners to craft a cabernet franc, which is rare for New Zealand.  I learned this from the lovely folks at Mission Winery, the first winery in New Zealand.  Mission Winery was also hosting a wedding at the time, and a full entourage of bag pipes were playing in the background, really adding to the effect of the “earthy tobacco tones” of the Cab Franc, and making me feel out of place with my hiking shoes and red rain jacket in such a fine establishment… but we still got a thumbs up from the groomsmen dressed in formal Scottish garb.

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Between wine tastings, we visited Te Mata Peak, sizing in at 399 meters above sea level.  Our Kiwi friends make it easy to be irresponsible, putting in a launch ramp for us…  Aubrey said I can’t hang glide after a day of touring wineries, so I just gave my best impersonation of Will Ferrell’s Chazz Reinhold, in Wedding Crashers…

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In all, Aubrey and I visited seven wineries.  All but two offered free wine tastings, and the two that charged a fee were both under 7.50 NZD per person and would apply the fee towards a wine purchase.  Not a bad way to spend a couple days and stay on budget, as long as you don’t feel obligated to buy a bottle at every winery… but an excellent place to stock up on wine  before moving on to the Southland.

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— Robbie

Don’t go chasing waterfalls

17th April 2015

In the words of T-Boz, Left Eye and Chilli, stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to.  But Robbie and I have noticed a pattern in New Zealand…there are so many waterfalls here!  Every stop we’ve made has a hike to a waterfall.  We’ve tried to capture them in our photos but sometimes the size or power of them cannot be shown through photographs.  We’ve done our best and I’ve included some pictures below of the waterfalls we’ve been able to visit.

The Wairere Falls are located near Hobbiton, and visitors are required to hike about an hour before catching a glimpse.  We figured out pretty fast how out of shape we are (getting better though!).  There was an additional hike to the top of the falls but we had to leave early to make it to our Hobbiton tour.IMG_8814

While visiting the beach town of Raglan, we stopped at the Bridal Veil Falls.  These falls had multiple viewpoints and we definitely took advantage of each.  The exposed rock formation near the mouth of Bridal Veil Falls is columnar basalt, geologic evidence of a 2.5 million year old flow of lava, or liquid hot magma.IMG_9080 IMG_9100

Finally, we visited Huka Falls near Taupo.  They aren’t as tall as the others, but the power of these falls is insane!  The falls mark the spot where the Waikato River (NZ’s longest river) is forced into a chute of volcanic rock about 15 meters wide and 10 meters deep, at a force of about 200,000 liters of water per second.  Not a good sound to hear when you need to use the restroom.IMG_9149 IMG_9167Until next time, farewell!IMG_9118

— Aubrey

Nerd Alert!

13th April 2015

I remember the first time I saw Lord of the Rings.  My dad and I had decided to go to the movies together, just the two of us.  I don’t remember knowing anything about the movie but I fell in love with it immediately!  From then on, we had a bond that no one else understood, like talking to each other in elvish.  Ha!  Just kidding, but I did buy him a Frodo bookmark with the ” One Ring” attached to it.  OK I’m nerding out a little too much.

Anyway, my trip was made this week when we got to tour Hobbiton!  It looks exactly like it does in the movie.  The land is privately owned by a family who raises sheep and cattle and just happened to have the right tree and lake on their property when the location scout drove by… and bam!  They were officially the home of the Shire.  Apparently, when they filmed the first Lord of the Rings movie the Shire was made out of temporary materials.  It wasn’t until the film was released and the popularity of the movie spread that the family realized the potential of Hobbiton.  When the crew came back to film the Hobbit series, the family stipulated that they build the Hobbit holes with durable materials so that more people could enjoy the magical-ness of Hobbiton.IMG_8836 IMG_8838 IMG_8839So the hobbit houses are actually hobbit sized.  They were so cute!  Each hobbit house is painted and all of the flowers and vegetation are kept by the staff.  It is crazy the amount of detail they put into each of the houses.IMG_8840 IMG_8844 IMG_8859Finally, we made it to Bag End!  For those non-Lord of the Rings/Hobbit fans, Bag End is where Bilbo Baggins (and later Frodo Baggins) live.  And if you don’t know who those two characters are then you probably aren’t getting anything out of this post.  Anyway, Bag End was on the top of a hill with the best view beneath.  It was pretty impressive to see.  IMG_8909 IMG_8915IMG_8922By the way, the tree pictured above Bag End is not a real tree.  Pretty insane.  Peter Jackson had a very specific tree in mind for the movie, so this tree was fabricated from silicone and over 200,000 leaves were individually attached.  We asked our tour guide how much she thought the tree was worth and she said it’s estimated to have cost between a quarter and half a million dollars, which was the most expensive prop on set.  And, the tree was seen in the movie for a total of 5 seconds…wow!IMG_8924 IMG_8939 IMG_8947 IMG_8950 IMG_8952Once the tour was over we headed over to the Green Dragon to enjoy some brews and possibly dress as hobbits…  IMG_8954 IMG_8957 IMG_8961 IMG_8962 IMG_8971Until next time Hobbiton!  Thanks for fulfilling my nerdy dreams!  IMG_8975 IMG_8978

 

— Aubrey

Travel Like a Local

11th April 2015

I hope when someone visits my town she gets off the tourist mall and really experiences how the locals live, and why people really enjoy living in Colorado.  So, when I have a day and a half to visit a new city and judge it for myself, I have two goals: see the city the way the locals do, and do it without busting the budget.  Believe it or not, these two goals are aligned… let’s assume you enjoy the place you live.  What makes you enjoy it?  Not the tourist traps, or the overpriced and overcooked hamburgers in the hotel restaurant.  So, this strategy was intentionally executed in Auckland.

First, stay with a local.  It’s generally cheaper to arrange accommodations through Airbnb, Couchsurfing or VRBO than staying in a hotel.  We actually found that it’s cheaper than staying in a hostel, so that’s the move we made.  We stayed with Olivia and Andrew just off the Domain (a massive park with the Auckland Museum).  They’re both great people and gave helpful tips and directions for when we struggled to get our GPS to function.  IMG_8709 IMG_8715 IMG_8719 IMG_8732

Second, walk or take a train, ferry or bus.  It’s cheaper than a taxi (never take a taxi unless you have to) and you’ll get some good exercise.  We logged about 20 miles in two days, that’s a lot of Auckland!

Stop in to the local grocery store, grab a frequent shopper’s card, and stock up on food and/or alcohol.  Eating out is the expense that really sneaks up on you!  How often do you eat out when you’re at home?  Most likely not 3-4 times a day, it will kill your budget.  If we know we’ll visit the grocery more than once, we’ll grab a frequent shopper’s card, it’s an easy way to help the budget stretch even further.

Offer to cook a dinner and share it with your host.  It might be new and interesting to your host and they’ll likely do the same for you.  It doesn’t cost much more to cook a meal for three or four people instead of two, and it means you’ll get to share a meal with your host and it’ll most likely be reciprocated.

Visit free attractions.  We visited North Head Reserve, a historic military outpost with long range artillery built to protect Auckland from invasion.  North Head was in commission from the mid 19th century until 1996.  It provides panoramic views of the bay, outlying islands, and Auckland, all without an entrance fee or buses full of tourists.  This type of place is perfect for running into other locals and asking if there’s anything else they would recommend for a visitor.  We ran into quite a few, including the Grandfather of the reigning Ms. Bikini New Zealand (he’s so proud).  
IMG_8748IMG_8767 IMG_8774 IMG_8780I think we now have a great feel for the city, and did it without wearing out the credit card.  Plus, at some point, you’re going to want to go to a nice restaurant, or visit an attraction that is relatively expensive, and you’ll be able to squeeze it in and still stay on track financially.

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— Robbie

Our first day in New Zealand

10th April 2015

Well, after a 2.5 hour flight from Denver to L.A., a 5.5 hour layover in L.A. and a 13+ hour flight to Auckland, we finally made it!  It’s insane the number of hours we were traveling and we ended up losing a day along the way…left Tuesday evening and arrived Thursday morning!  Our first day our bodies had to adjust to the new time zone, which meant a nap ASAP and going to bed at around 8 p.m.  But I think we are now on track with the new time zone.

Our first full day in Auckland we did a city walking tour (recommended from our NZ travel book).  We walked all over downtown Auckland, which equated to about 20,000+ steps and almost 10 miles, according to my FitBit.

Our first stop was Myers Park.  Auckland actually has many parks spread throughout the city.  There was a very cute playground with a view of the city in the background.  Robbie really wanted to play on some of the equipment 🙂

IMG_8651IMG_8653 IMG_8655 IMG_8657IMG_8661We then made our way through the city.  Apparently Auckland residents are super excited for the new season of Game of Thrones.  I knew I would like it here!!IMG_8665Our next stop was Albert Park, another beautiful park located in the city.  This park is close to the University of Auckland, which had a beautiful clock tower in the center of it.

IMG_8673 IMG_8677We explored more city sights, including Vulcan Lane, which is lined with historic pubs. IMG_8692And finally we ended near the Britomart Train Station, where we caught a train back home because our legs were worn out!  We did see this little hot dog stand…we kept calm but we didn’t eat a hot dog 🙁IMG_8694Some lessons we learned on our first day of our sabbatical:

  1. When traveling via bus from the airport to the city, make sure to press the STOP button when you want to stop because the bus will not stop.  Then you have to hike up a steep hill with your heavy packs, plus walk the extra blocks to get to where you’re staying (you get the idea).
  2. Before crossing the street, look right first, not left.  Cars drive on the opposite side of the road here, which definitely took some getting used to.  This should be a fun time when we actually start driving tomorrow…
  3. We realize that there will be many more lessons to be learned.  Stay tuned.

— Aubrey