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Archive for January, 2010

After four days of holiday gluttony with the Brinches, Mary, Nicole, and Andy (a few of my awesome friends from home) flew into Christchurch to join Kelly and me on a whirlwind tour of the south island. With only twelve or so days to see the sights, we all piled into a rental car and and started to make our way north. Figuring out how to drive on the other side of the road AND the car is always interesting…

Day 1 – Kaikora
Kaikora is a small backpacker town on the east coast and is known mainly for its whale-watching tours. Kelly and I are ruined on whale-watching after Argentina, so we all decided to have a fancy seafood meal instead. We splurged on curried mussels, scallops, steak, and New Zealand crayfish. The rest of the evening was spent drinking and dancing at a reggae club across the street from the hostel. Before heading out the next morning, we hung out on the extremely windy (yet lovely) beach and checked out the nearby seal colony.

On the beach

Day 2 – More Wine Tasting (We Missed You, Leticia)
Driving through the Marlborough wine country on our way to Nelson, we would be stupid not to stop at the local wineries along the way for some tastings. Alan Scott and Cloudy Bay Wineries were not only recommended to us, but were located right next to each other. Score! We sampled some nice bubbly, a few reds, and sauvignon blancs for which New Zealand wineries are well known for.

Me, Nicole, and Mary at the Alan Scott Vineyard

We arrived in Nelson during the late afternoon, had a quick nap and then headed into town to meet my friend Julia for drinks. Julia is another Kiwi I met when I previously lived here…I hadn’t seen her in eight years and it was so great to catch up.

Days 3 and 4 – Abel Tasman National Park
The girls did some shopping around Nelson the following morning and after stocking up on booze and food at the grocery store, we made the short drive to Abel Tasman National Park, popular for its golden beaches. Our hostel was an awesome place called ‘The Barn’ where we had a couple of private cabins and lots of outdoor common areas with fire pits…it sort of felt like we were camping.

Chillin at the campground

For New Year’s Eve, Andy whipped up a batch of his glorious marinara sauce and we basically got sloshed on champagne and laughed all night at god-knows-what before the obligatory countdown to midnight. It was so amazing to have three of my best friends there with us to celebrate. Since we’re all getting old, we were in bed before 1 a.m….we had to get up at seven to catch our water taxi into the park to do part of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track.

Andy and Nicole ready to celebrate NYE in Abel Tasman

New Year's Eve is hilarious

I hiked in Abel Tasman years before and it was still as beautiful as I remembered it. After our informative and scenic boat ride, our water taxi dropped us off at Tonga Bay where we would start our hike along the coastline and through rainforest down to Torrent Bay. Parts of the trail were tough, but the views and beaches were spectacular. The hike took about 5 hours (including our stop for lunch) and we arrived at the beach to relax in the sun until our water taxi home arrived. What a fantastic way to spend the first day of a new year!

In the park

 

Day 5 – Long Ass Day of Driving to Franz Josef Glacier
The next day was spent mainly in the car driving down the west coast with a stop at the Punakaki ‘Pancake’ Rocks and the ‘greenstone’ capital of Hokitika to do some shopping.

We arrived in Franz Josef just in time to check into our hostel, catch a view of the mountains, and grab some dinner and wine at a local restaurant.

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Ok, so I know this Christmas post is almost a month late, but what can I say?Living the life of a backpacker is extremely hectic with so many sights to see and people to meet…

One of the things I was looking most forward to while visiting New Zealand was the chance to reconnect with my old flatmates who I lived with here back in 2001.  When Becky and her husband Gavin offered to host us for the holidays while we were in Christchurch, Kelly and I happily accepted.  Our first night after getting settled and meeting Caitlen, their adorable daughter, Gavin cooked us up a fantastic meal while we reminisced about old times.  We felt at home already!

Christmas Eve we were invited to dinner with Gavin’s family who live literally just across the road.  Not surprisingly, families in New Zealand celebrate the holidays just as we do in the States…with a crapload of food. Ham, turkey and dressing, New Zealand crayfish, salads galore, chocolate mousse and some amazing raspberry sorbet were only some of the goodies we consumed that night.  

I got to play Santa while everyone opened gifts and we also engaged in one of my favorite Christmas traditions here in New Zealand…the Christmas cracker.  A Christmas cracker is a cardboard tube where someone grabs one end and you pull the other…it pops really loudly when it comes apart and there is a paper crown and other goodies inside.  I just like the paper crown because it reminds me of the old school  Burger King crowns we’d wear around as kids. What ever happened to those anyway?

Pullin' the Christmas Cracker

 

Paper Crowns!

One of the many dinner courses

Christmas morning, Becky’s family came over and after some glasses of bubbly and a yummy breakfast, we opened more gifts. Kelly and I got a CD of New Zealand bands and a huge tube of New Zealand candy bars from Becky and Gavin, both which would come in super handy on our drive around the south island. 

Caitlen with a Christmas cookie...what a cutie!

 That afternoon, we drove out to Becky’s parents house for Christmas dinner. The seasons are reversed here, so it was a bit strange to be sitting outside on blankets in their garden with eighty degree weather, sipping champagne and eating hors d’oeuvres. I’ll take this over a white Christmas any day! We did a white elephant gift exchange, which is always fun and I ended up with a pair of nail clippers and Kelly scored a cute New Zealand ornament. I don’t think that anyone was too impressed with the sweet Chris Christoperson CD that I brought as my gift.

Summer Christmas

 

Kelly and Lucy showing off their gifts

Me with my nail clippers and Becky with her classy New Zealand license plate frame

We had another incredible meal of roast lamb and other delicious sides and salads before indulging ourselves with a New Zealand specialty – chocolate pavlova. Pavlova is a meringue topped with cream and berries and is very light and sugary and is absolutely wonderful! We had a few more drinks in the garden before calling it a night.

Christmas dinner spread

Even though Kelly and I were sad to be away from our own families over Christmas, Becky, Gavin, Caitlin and their families couldn’t have been better people to spend our holiday with. They made us feel completely at home and we were so thankful that they let us crash their family gatherings. Christmas with ‘The Brinch’s’ will be one that we will never forget!

Becky and Gavin Brinch, our amazing holiday hosts

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Welly!

Our train ride down the eastern coast of the North Island was so beautiful. The scenery is amazing here! Not to mention a great bar car fully equipped with the local beer, Monteith’s. Very yummy. We made it into Wellington, the country’s capital city, that afternoon and got settled into the hostel and quickly learned just how expensive internet in this country is. $2 per 20 minutes!  Pretty insane, hence the lack of posts the past few weeks.  We were only in Wellington for a couple of days so we tried to make the most of it.

We spent our first day exploring the national history museum, Te Papa, which had excellent exhibits of the New Zealand landscape, its flora and fauna and native Maori culture. Afterwards, we took a walk along the waterfront of Wellington Harbor and strolled down Courtney Place, a street filled with tons of shops and restaurants.

Wellington Harbor

I went for a run that afternoon on the waterfront after my nap and that evening we went next door to the hostel bar for the “free dinner”.  Nachos! Um…yeah right.  It was store-bought corn ships with a can of chili over them.  Pretty nasty.  But hell, it was “free”.  We closed out the night with a bottle of wine and a couple of games of pool; Kim put up a decent fight the second game, and then headed to bed.

The next day, I went for another run and then we walked over to the botanical gardens. We’ve never seen so many roses! I never knew there were so many different types. It was gorgeous. It also had an amazing view of the city. Afterwards, we had another delicious Indian feast and then went back to the hostel to rest. Life is tough these daysJ

Roses at the Botanical Garden

We also heard Wellington had really great seafood and we were both craving mussels again. We spent our last evening there having dinner and a few beers on the pier. I really loved Wellington and enjoyed myself.

Green lipped mussels. Yum!

The following day we took the 3 hour ferry down to the South Island to spend Christmas in Christchurch with Becky, one of Kim’s other flat mates from here, and her husband.  The views from the ferry were absolutely amazing.  Check out these photos!!!  Again, the bluest water ever!

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City of Sails

Wow.  South America was fantastic. Kim and I can’t wait to make it back there one day and see more.  We were sad to leave and I will definitely miss speaking Spanish all the time, but both of us were very excited to move on to New Zealand!  Familiar faces for Kim and new and amazing scenery and fun for me!

We knocked out our longest flight of the trip with ease and made it into Auckland bright and early.  One of Kim’s old flatmates, Ben, was there to pick us up and take us to his and his wife‘s Jo’s place for the next couple of nights.  It was so nice to be out of the hostels for a bit!  A nice comfy bed, cleanliness, privacy…awesome.

We rested up for a couple of hours and then Ben took us for a drive around town.  Our first stop was at the “biggest supermarket in the Southern Hemisphere”, Pak n’ Save, for Tim Tam’s, a local treat.  Kim has not shut up about these cookies since she returned from here in 2002, and I totally understand why!  They are phenomenal. T wo delicious cookies with cream in the middle then covered in chocolate.  Milk chocolate, dark, white, whatever you prefer. Wonderful.

Then we went to a beautiful lookout point near his house called the Te Atatu Pennisula, drove over the Harbour Bridge, and then headed into downtown. We went to Doug Robinson MeyerPark, drove down Paratai Drive, home to the most expensive real estate in the city because of the ocean views, and went to Mount Eden, which had a great view of Auckland.

Kim and Ben with city view in the background

Auckland

We then went to meet Jo for a drink after she got off work at a great little bar called Sales Street Bar and then checked out the biggest Les Mills gym in New Zealand.  For those of you that aren’t familiar with who/what that is, all of the programs Kim and I have been doing at Gold’s Gym in Austin for the past few years are choreographed and originated here. Afterwards, we took a drive down by the pier and then headed home for some Thai take away and TV.

Jo and me at the bar

Since Ben and Jo were both on holiday for Christmas, they took us around town again the next day.  We went to Soljans Winery for a quick drink and then to Muriwai Beach to check out the gannet nests and black sand.  After stopping for some ice cream, we headed over to Mission Beach for some beers and delicious green lipped mussels, one of the things New Zealand is known for.  Then they took us to the Michael Joseph Savage Memorial for an amazing view of the entire city. Auckland is definitely one of the most beautiful big cities I have ever seen.  It is known as the City of Sails because the it has the highest number of sailboats per capita than any other place in the world.  The water is the most incredible shades of blue.  It’s breathtaking.

The girls at the winery

Muriwai Beach

Gannets

 

Fooling around on the beach

Black Sand!

On the way to Mission Bay

After a nice day around town, we rested for a bit at the house and then went out for Indian food. Kim has bragged on the amount and quality of the Indian restaurants here due to the large number of immigrants in New Zealand.  I was finally getting my chance to see what she was talking about. Ben and Jo took us to their favorite place in town, Chapati. It was unbelievable.  The lamb korma literally melted in my mouth.  We finished the night off with a few bottles of wine and headed to bed.

We had a scenic 10 hour train ride to Wellington the next morning. Ben and Jo gave us a proper farewell and saw us off at the train station. The were so nice and hospitable.  Thanks so much guys!  We’ll see you again for a drink our last night in New Zealand!

Jo and Ben, our fabulous Auckland hosts!

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Having Fun

Sorry for the lack of posts…some of my kick ass friends are here in New Zealand visiting us from home and we’ve been having too much fun to sit in front of the computer (that and internet access is ‘expensive as’ here).  We promise to put some stuff out soon!

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