Archive for the ‘New Zealand’ Category

New Zealand Wrap Up

Our last night in Auckland, we had dinner with Ben and Jo and took a walk around the harbour during sunset.  I love New Zealand and truly consider it my ‘home away from home’.

The landscape and weather

The New Zealand landscape is extremely diverse and dramatic, especially for such a small country…it’s no wonder that Peter Jackson decided to film ‘Lord of the Rings’ here, with its staggering mountains and volcanos, rolling hills, pristine lakes, lush rainforests, and golden sand beaches.

It was the beginning of summer when we were here, so the weather was warm, but still chilly at night. Unfortunately, we also got a lot of rain, which was unusual for this time of year.

The people

The Kiwis are absolutely wonderful – polite, friendly, and extremely helpful. In Wellington, Kelly and I were standing on the street outside of our hostel and a local man stopped and asked us what we were looking for and if he could help us. So nice.

We were also fortunate enough to have my old flatmates take us into their homes. Becky, Gavin, Ben, and Jo…thank you so much for your hospitality! You really made our time in New Zealand special (and cheaper!)

The food

Kelly and I were looking forward to some more variety after South America so it was no surprise that we went a little overboard here. Plus, I was dying to taste some of my old favorite Kiwi foods. This sounds weird, but the dairy products in New Zealand are outstanding. The chocolate, the cheese, the yogurt, the ice cream. My favorite is the orange chocolate chip ice cream and the hazelnut yogurt…Kelly HATES yogurt and still thought it was delicious.

We also went through god knows how many boxes of my favorite ‘biscuit’ in the world…the Tim Tam. Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, caramel, double dipped…I’m seriously going to go through withdrawals from these once I get back to the States.

The most amazing cookie you will ever put in your mouth

Other than sweets, we ate our share of New Zealand green-lipped mussels, crayfish, lamb, meat pies, and tasty Thai and Indian food.

 The booze

New Zealand has great beer and wine (particularly whites). Our favorites were Monteith’s Original and Summer Ales, and of course, Speights. We also drank way too many bottles of the Lindauer sparkling sauvignon blanc.


Costs have really skyrocketed since I was here eight years ago, primarily due to the popularity of ‘Lord of the Rings’ and also because of the crappy American dollar. Accommodation ran us about about $20 – $30 per night, per person.  Food and booze were comparable to the States, if not more expensive. You couldn’t get breakfast for less than $8. Our transportation costs weren’t too bad since we rented a car and split the costs between 5 people. With gas, I think it averaged out to $15 a day/per person or something like that. Adventure activities (bungy jumping, glacier hikes, skydiving) are super expensive…Kelly’s bungy jump cost around $150 and a sky dive will cost you twice that.

Other random thoughts

-‘Sweet As’ is a popular expression here. For example, ‘Do you like my t-shirt?’ ‘Yeah, it’s sweet as’. The first time I heard this, I thought some ten year old was telling me I had a sweet ass.

-Prostitution is legal here. At least Kelly and I had a job if we ran out of money. (Kidding, Dad).

-There are no one-cent coins in New Zealand. Their lowest coin denomination is ten cents…change is rounded up. Why don’t we do this in the States? It makes soooo much ‘cents’. Ok, sorry…I love a good cheesy pun.

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Day 6 – Franz Josef +Lots of Rain + Cancelled Glacier Hike = Many Drinks Consumed

We awoke to POURING rain the next morning that would continue throughout the day. Due to the bad weather, our hike on the Franz Josef glacier was cancelled. There’s not much to do in this town other than hike the glacier, so we spent the day lazing around, uploading photos, making big sandwiches, and drinking a ton of champagne and beer. It was disappointing not to get to see the glacier, but it actually gave us a day to take a break, slow down, and relax. 

Rain Blows

Day 7 – More Driving and More Rain

The sky was still dumping rain the next morning when we hit the road early to make the drive to Te Anau. The drive down New Zealand’s west coast is stunning, although the crappy weather didn’t allow for the greatest views. After making a stop in the town of Wanaka for some shopping and chillin’ by the lake, we arrived in Te Anau, showered up and went out to dinner. We had an early night to prepare for our Milford Sound cruise the next day.

 Day 8 – Milford Sound (Or What We Could See Of It)

One of my favorite things I did when I was previously in New Zealand was a boat trip around Milford Sound. Even in the rain, the scenery is incredible with loads of waterfalls cascading down the surrounding mountains. I wasn’t too concerned when it started to sprinkle as we started the drive to the national park. Unfortunately, by the time we actually got on the boat, the rain had picked up and we were surrounded in fog. We basically floated around in a white cloud for two hours. It was still pretty, but not nearly the experience I had hoped for everyone. Luckily, the clouds did part for a bit on our way home and we were able to stop in the park and snap some good photos.

Milford Sound. Stupid Fog.


Driving through the park

Days 9, 10, and 11 – Queenstown!

The next day, it continued to rain on and off while we made the short drive to the adventure activity destination of Queenstown. Our first night we had a yummy Indian dinner and hit up a couple of bars to let loose. Andy and Nicole woke up early the next morning to do a jet-boat trip in Skippers Canyon before we made the drive over to the Kawarau Bridge for Kelly to do her bungy jump. She was pretty freaked out, but after some liquid courage and watching a few of the other jumpers, she was totally pumped up about it. I had made the 43 meter jump myself eight years ago and I knew Kelly would love it.

 After getting weighed in and waiting her turn in line, she dove off with no problems. We’ll post the video on our flickr page soon (it’s already on her facebook), but needless to say, she thought it was a blast. Next on her list is skydiving!

Kelly on the platform

 We all took a ride on the Queenstown gondola and we celebrated Andy and Nicole’s last night in town with an amazing seafood dinner and drinks. I was sad to drop them off at the airport the next morning, but was happy to have Mary around for another couple of days.


View of Queenstown from the gondola

Andy and Nicole's Last Night

After a few persuasive speeches from Kelly, Mary decided to take the plunge and do a bungy jump. The three of us headed back to the bridge, got her signed and weighed in, watched her freak out on the platform (which was pretty hilarious), and cheered her on as she dove off.

Mary's bungy!!

The rest of the day was centered around the University of Texas vs. Alabama national championship game. We found a bar that put it on for us and we spent the afternoon rooting for the Longhorns, taking back pitchers and making new friends. Kelly managed to befriend an entire rugby team that was in town and tried to beat them at their own drinking games. Even though our boys didn’t win the championship, we couldn’t be upset…we’re having a blast in New Zealand!

Hook 'em

Day 12 – Reuniting with Becky in Wanaka

Mary decided to do a day kayaking trip and take a bus to meet Kelly and I in later that evening. Becky, her mom and sisters were vacationing in Wanaka at a friends house and invited us to stay. Becky took us on a lovely hike and that evening we made dinner and watched movies. It was really nice to spend more time with Becky and her family (and to play with Caitlen again!)

Hiking in Wanaka

Day 13 – Back to Christchurch…in the Fricken Rain

I was crossing my fingers for good weather, as we planned to hit up Mount Cook and Lake Tekapo on the drive back to Christchurch. No such luck…it poured the entire time. We did get a quick look at the lake, but that was about it. Damn the crazy weather! On the plus side, we did have a yummy Thai dinner once we got back into the city.

Lake Tekapo

Day 14 – Mary Goes Home

On Mary’s last day, Kelly and I drove her out to Sumner Beach for brunch and some strolling along the shore before taking her to the airport. Our last night in town, Becky made us roast lamb for dinner and we kicked back with some vino to enjoy our final night staying in their home. Kelly and I were not looking forward to getting back into hostel life.

It was a crazy two weeks and we feel so lucky to have such wonderful friends that would spend their hard earned money (and vacation time) to come visit us on this adventure. We love you Mary, Andy, and Nicole!


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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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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


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



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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