Week Five – Melbourne and the Great Barrier Reef

For those of you who have not been reading the full posts (we completely understand) you may have missed our photos page from previous weeks which has heaps more photos than are on each of these posts. Head to our Week 5 InFocus page for a look at even more photos related to the post below!

It’s been a wild month since our last post. We’ve gone from finishing up our short tour of Vietnam and SE Asia to spending just over two weeks trekking the Himalaya in Nepal, then several days witnessing the extreme opulence of Dubai, and are now 5 days into a month of exploring South Africa in Stockholm at the tail end of a three week Scandinavian road trip. This post is only possible thanks to the majority of the pictures being sorted and organized while still in Vietnam. The internet was yet again incredibly slow and unreliable throughout all of Nepal and is turning out to be the same through most of South Africa so bear with us on future posts as well. We hate to sound like we’re complaining about internet all the time but it really is amazing how far behind so many of these countries are with something we in the US take for granted.

In this weekly post we continue our time in Melbourne before heading up to Cairns to jump on a boat for 3 nights on the Great Barrier Reef, searching for Nemo, Dory and all their friends.

Day 29 – While Googling places serving cold brewed coffee the previous two days, Jessica found a café in south west Melbourne that served shots of cold brew concentrate in a young coconut so naturally we had to try it. We also decided that bikes sounded like a fun way to get there while also exploring Melbourne’s many outer neighborhoods later in the day. If you’re OK lugging around an overly heavy city bike all day, Melbourne has a great bike share system. For only $3 you are able to ride between their network of stations for up to 30 minutes at a time with unlimited bike swaps. If you weren’t going to make it to the next station within 30 minutes they charged a small fee based on the amount of time over the initial 30 free minutes. The bikes typically have helmets with them but in our case, did not. No problem though, within roughly 50m of any station is a store that stocks helmets for purchase at only $5/helmet. After getting our bikes and purchasing our helmets we set off for our coconut cold brew and breakfast. Trying to navigate the best cycling path was a bit tricky at first, Google Maps was again a letdown and kept sending us along busy roads. Drivers in Melbourne are worse than Seattle – you feel like you’re target practice for the drivers rather than just an annoyance. We finally found a path mostly off the public roadway and along a beautiful lake that just so happens to be the backdrop for the Australian Gran Prix which, unbeknownst to us, was happening the following week while we would be out on the reef. If only Sydney’s weather had cooperated we would have been in Melbourne for the race… probably for the best we weren’t – it’s a high roller type of event and wouldn’t really fit into our budget with 9 months of travel still to come. Supposedly it’s one of the top 3 weekends for Melbourne in terms of tourism, driving the prices of hotels and rentals through the roof. We made it to our breakfast cafe for brunch and enjoyed a hearty breakfast washed down with delicious “coco-coldbrew”. Fueled up and ready to brave the vicious Melbourne traffic again, we headed out on a new set of wheels and navigated our way to the botanical gardens. This is perhaps the most beautiful botanical garden we have ever seen – huge diversity in plants and very well maintained and laid out. We only wished we had more time to linger and enjoy exploring all the different paths. We did however spend some time walking through the “Shrine of Remembrance” which pays homage to the sacrifices made in by Australia during the “Great War”, or WWI. After our all too short walk-through of the gardens we grabbed new bikes and headed north through beautiful old Victorian neighborhoods that really made you feel you had traveled back in time. We ended up on a trail running along a small creek that cut through the neighborhoods on its way into the Yara River which runs through Melbourne’s downtown area. Malcolm had run the trail a couple days earlier and found a cute place called the “Farm Café” that he knew Jess would love. Unfortunately, it was closed by the time we rode by but at least we still got to see the livestock and farm along both sides of the trail, right in the heart of the city. We dropped of our bikes on the edge of downtown and decided to walk back instead of deal with afternoon rush hour traffic. We grabbed some beers on the way back and enjoyed a relaxing drink watching the sun set from our 36th floor balcony and chatting with our host who is also a nurse. Sarah and Jess had a great time chatting. That night Jess headed out for her first haircut in as long as anyone can remember that was not from her best friend, Julia. Despite the odds, it turned out great!

Day 30 – In the morning Malcolm went on a long run while Jess slept in and went for a swim in the apartment pool. Heading out to explore the downtown area, we took the free city trolley to our first stop, the Queen Victoria Market, the largest market in the Southern Hemisphere. Here we ate Turkish pancakes for breakfast and had a delicious coffee from Padre Coffee. We found some small gifts for those at home and continued wandering around, finding our way to a large shopping mall downtown. Malcolm found a new favorite store due to their awesome selection of linen and linen blend clothing and we also restocked some much-needed lotions and cleansers from Aesop, an Australian based company we came across while visiting Jim in Portland. We quickly headed out before spending too much and continued exploring, walking through Greek town and the Melbourne Museum on our way to a beer garden we had come across a couple days earlier. We enjoyed a beer in a charming setting of random furniture nestled among a small garden in the back of a hotel patio. After some more walking around we stopped for dinner at Fathers Office, a neat bar and restaurant themed after 60’s California, of all places, and enjoyed happy hour food and drinks – $0.50 champagne for the ladies! We waited at the restaurant for the sun to go down before walking down graffiti alley, which, as you guessed, is full of constantly changing graffiti artwork of all persuasions. It was our last night in Melbourne so we stopped by a bar nestled under a bridge that we had walked over several times, right in the middle of the Yara river running through Melbourne – it was always full of people and a great setting so we had to see it for ourselves.

Day 31 – We had an early morning flight so we obviously needed coffee before getting too far. With our bags on our backs we headed out to Buddy Buddha for cold brew and an ice cream latte to enjoy on our journey back to the airport. Check in and flight went smoothly and before we knew it we were in the northern Australia city of Cairns, gateway to the Great Barrier Reef! We scheduled our 3 night liveaboard on the reef for the next morning and Jess still needed a diving medical. Right after landing and dropping our bags at our Airbnb for the night we had to head straight to the doctor to get her doctors note – after nearly 3 hours of waiting we walked out, ready to go diving! After that was finished we headed out to dinner at an Irish pub in honor of Saint Patrick’s Day, which to be honest, we were completely oblivious to before walking around in search of food.

Day 32 – It was another early morning as we had to walk to the dive charter’s office to drop off our larger bags and then walk to catch our boat (Reef Explorer) out to the reef where we would then transfer to another boat (Reef Encounter) that stays out on the reef and would be our home for the next three nights. On the walk to the wharf we heard loud screeching all around us and looked up to realize the trees were full of fruit bats! It was a crazy sight, big fuzzy brown heads, with large bodies and wide wingspans! Definitely a new site for us from the PNW! We boarded our first boat and headed out to the reef, this time with Jess’ scopolamine patch applied – and thankfully it worked great! Once we arrived on the Reef Encounter we got the low down on how everything works while on the boat and what the typical day would look like. Then 30 minutes later we wrestled into our stinger suits (for the jellyfish) and jumped into the reef for our first snorkel of the day! The water was perfectly calm and visibility was great – supposedly it was some of the best conditions they’d had in several months. It was awesome to be getting straight to it! We were warmly greeted by more fish than we’d ever seen. Fish of all colors, shapes, and sizes were swimming all around us as we explored the beautiful coral formations. Within minutes of being in the water we saw several large turtles and white-tipped reef sharks – definitely an exciting experience as the first shark we saw approached us head on and came within two feet of Malcolm. After about 45 minutes of snorkeling we headed back to the boat for some out of water class time – an introduction to scuba diving! Including the two of us there were 5 people in our group learning to scuba dive and get our open water certification. It was incredible to us that you can go out into the open ocean without any prior experience and begin a scuba course and within a minimum of two days be certified! We went over the general information on how the scuba gear works and before we knew it we were on the back of the boat, suited up in all our gear, ready to jump in. Everything was going great until we had to go under. This is where Jess found out she must have a phobia of being submerged in water because right after dropping below the surface she felt a sensation of not being able to breathe and panicked. Determined to continue on, Jess kept trying. The third try she was fighting back tears and told Malcolm to just go on without her. She ended up trying 2 more times that day and just couldn’t do it. It’s definitely not for everyone – you are reliant on multiple pieces of equipment to keep you fed with oxygen while submerged with the added danger that once you get below 10m you have to make sure to slowly rise to surface to avoid decompression issues. In other words, if you lose it mentally or if your equipment fails while at deeper depths, it can be pretty bad. So, that being said, Jess decided she is likely to never do scuba diving and will stick to lovely snorkeling where it’s much safer and easier to get real air! Malcolm was a little bummed to not have his diving buddy but felt much better that she was snorkeling and not risking pushing her phobia. After our first snorkel and dive they moved the boat to a new location while feeding us a delicious hamburger lunch. We soon realized we would be moving quite a bit! Malcolm went on one more dive later that day and joined Jess on one of her two additional snorkels. After the third and final snorkel of the day we got served yet another delicious meal for dinner. After dinner was another scuba class on the boat. It seemed we were always going to be busy doing something. But that is absolutely not a complaint when your daily schedule goes something like this:

Food time is underlined, water time is bold

5:50h – Wake-up call from boat coordinator (Erica America)

6:00h – Light breakfast, cereal and fresh fruit with coffee and tea

6:30h – Morning dive/snorkel

7:30h – Breakfast (sausage, bacon, eggs, hash browns, toast, fresh fruit, cereal)

8:30h – Dive/snorkel

9:30h – On boat scuba classes (or free time)

10:30h – Dive/snorkel

12:00h – Lunch (grilled meats, fries, salads, fresh fruit)

13:15h – Dive/snorkel

14:30h – On boat scuba classes (or free time)

15:30h – Dive/snorkel

18:00h – Dinner

19:00h – Night dive

20:00h – Dessert

Needless to say, this is the life! We had 6 opportunities to go out in the water, between diving and snorkeling and we were fed some sort of amazing and plentiful food 5 times throughout the day. On top of this, the staff were amazing – always on top of it and there to serve you without being over bearing. It was a really great experience. We also made some great friends within the first two days on the boat!

Day 33 – Day two on the reef, our first full day! We were up and at it early, awake and moving by 6am and in the water at 630 sharp. During the night a storm had rolled through and threatened to push the boat onto the reef so at about 2am we were awoken by the sound of the engines starting up so we could move to a better location. No complaints though, it was great to be moving new a new part of the reef! The weather had mostly cleared up by the time we were awake and it looked to be another beautiful day! Malcolm got his 3rd dive in and Jess another snorkel. We enjoyed the full day of our routine and welcoming new guests, while seeing off others. Each day the Reef Explorer, the boat we first took out of Cairns, brings new guests to the Reef Encounter and takes back departing guests. The Reef Explorer also hauls out day trippers from Cairns who are out on a 2-dive/snorkel day trip. It was great to get to know the new people each day and a little sad to see others leave.

Day 34 – Another full day on the reef as well as the day Malcolm would become open water certified, so long as he completed all the skills tests. This day was a little more cloudy and rainy than the previous two – we were out there during the stormy season after all.

Day 35 – We woke up and did our same daily routine until we had to leave around 2:30 back to shore. Our friends Brayden and Tess were headed up to Port Douglas for the evening and invited us along. So we went and picked up their car rental and headed on our way. Brayden works for a brewery so we stopped at Hemmingway’s brewery for him to drop some samples off at and grabbed some dinner. Then we returned to our hotel which was the nicest we had stayed at so far on our trip, even had jacuzzi tub on the porch.

 

Take a look at the pictures above for a quick visual summary of the notes above and head to our Week 5 InFocus page for a look at even more photos! Enjoy

Week Four – Final Days in NZ before AU

Update: **For those of you who have not been reading the full posts (we completely understand) you may have missed our photos page which has heaps more photos than are on this post. Head to our Week 4 InFocus page for a look at even more photos related to the post below!**

Hey, we’re kind of on a roll with this posting thing! It really does help when you finally find some decent internet, so thank you Cambodia and Vietnam for your awesome budget hotels with the best WiFi we’ve had in ages. A quick update of where we actually are in our travels: we just arrived to a rainy Hoi An on Vietnam’s central coastline, just south of Da Nang and we’ll be here for the next 4 nights. No promises on more blog posts, but it COULD happen… just don’t hold your breath and sign up for our email notifications for new blog posts if you haven’t already (or if Malcolm hasn’t already signed you up without you knowing!)

Also, check out our new map page so you can see which cities we’ve visited and where we have current plans to head next!

In this week’s adventures we continue our travels north, leaving the South Island one last time for a long drive from the bottom of the North Island to Auckland for the last time on this trip. At the end of the drive we’ll catch yet another flight out of Auckland, saying good bye to New Zealand, as we continue searching for warm and sunny Southern Hemisphere weather in Australia, the next new-to-us country,  in our list.

Day 22 – Another day of travel, this time leaving the South Island for the last time on this trip. We walked back into town where the bus dropped us the day before and caught the same bus line, this time finishing the route to Picton, the ferry portal to the South Island. It was here that we caught a huge transport ferry which would take us to Wellington on the southern tip of the North Island. Departure was an hour delayed due to serious wind, which at first didn’t bother us, but once on the boat Jess realized she had left her motion sickness medication in her large bag. This normally wouldn’t have been a problem but we were caught off guard that all large bags (larger than carry-on) had to be checked in before boarding. As soon as the boat left the serenity of the bay and entered into the open ocean it was a wild ride, up and down, side to side and she couldn’t do anything but sit and try to look out the window at horizon doing her best to keep everything down. It was awful for her. Fortunately enough she was able to fall asleep relatively quickly and ended up getting a good nap in as the passing between Picton and Wellington was further delayed due to the high winds. Malcolm this whole time worked on the blog because sadly we had better internet on the ferry than we had at any point on our whole trip, 22 days in! Once we arrived in Wellington we grabbed our first international Uber and made our way to our next Airbnb. We checked in and immediately got to chatting with our host. He was a great guy – a salsa instructor and engineer who has lived a pretty amazing and interesting life! After getting recommendations from him we headed to Vietnamese for dinner and then stopped by The Library for drinks, a local bar with a great ambiance and books lining the walls. The town was popping at 10p which was a shock to us after weeks of being in small towns that shutter right at 6p. And this was a Wednesday night with no signs of slowing down anytime soon! While we wanted to stay out and pretend we were young we succumbed to our old age, exhausted from all our travels, and headed back to get some rest.

Day 23 – As we were now on the North Island we needed a new set of wheels. Instead of taking a bus or Uber to the rental office, Malcolm decided he should get back to running and would run to pick it up. Jess decided to join but little did she know it was 9 miles away, 3 of which were on a nasty stretch of pavement running alongside a fast moving highway (Seattle has it really good with all of the different trails going in all directions!). Luckily, with all the recent hiking her legs were strong and carried her the whole way there. Once we got the car we drove back to downtown Wellington and got some yummy coffee at Mojo, a local roaster who happened to serve cold brewed coffee – a big bonus for Malcolm. They even had cold brew on nitro at one of their locations though we were reminded yet again you can’t trust Google Maps for correct directions! Once caffeinated we headed back to the Airbnb to pack and shower before heading to Weta Cave for a studio tour. This is where the props, prosthetics, miniatures, etc are created for tons of epic movies including the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. The tour was an info packed hour and is so incredibly interesting for learning what movie magic is really going on behind the scenes. Who knew so much work went into a movie’s props and costume work. For example, one girl’s job is to sew individual strands of hair onto a prosthetic to crest a full head of hair, a task that would take her several weeks for one head…so tiring. After the tour we drove to Victoria Lookout which provides awesome 360-degree views of Wellington and the surrounding hills and bays. From here we went and picked up some delicious tacos from a real Mexican food stand on our way to the botanical gardens, exploring and walking​ around for a few hours to avoid rush hour traffic and stretch our legs before the long drive north to the Napier region.

Day 24 – Airbnbs in New Zealand are pretty great we were finding out. Not only are the people incredibly nice and accommodating, such as allowing same day bookings hours before arriving, but when you find them in the countryside you’re likely to wake up being greeted by sheep! It was quite a magical place and we were sad to leave given that we got there at midnight. But we had a strict schedule to keep so after a nice continental breakfast we headed out for a day of wine tasting in Hawke’s Bay. After an afternoon of exploring this beautiful and diverse wine region and enjoying another great winery lunch we headed out to our next location Lake Taupo. This drive was over 100 km and little did we know there are no gas stations between Napier and Lake Taupo… something that would have been good to know since we left with less than a quarter tank, thinking we would get gas along the way. Whoops. Typically there are signs to warn you if there are no service stations for a distance such as this, but New Zealand didn’t seem to think that was necessary…. Once we came to this realization, Malcolm began to put the car in neutral on the downhill sections and putted slowly along with our hazards on during the flats and many uphill sections, while we prayed the fumes would push us through to the nearest petrol station on the edge of Taupo, just 2km from our next Airbnb. Along the way we got flagged down by a young man who stopped us to see what the deal was and then continued to follow behind us the whole way in case we ran into any trouble….how nice is that?!? Kiwi hospitality at its finest! When we finally arrived at our next Airbnb, another mother in law apartment, we were yet again greeted with amazing Kiwi hospitality and honey they harvested themselves. It was a family of four, the parents are elementary school teachers and their two kids aged 11 and 13 were so cute and friendly, the eldest of which was arriving later that night from spending 2 weeks with his grandparents on a special trip in Australia. They immediately invited us into their house to share all they could about the amazing things to do around Taupo and more specifically a rainy Taupo as the North Island had been expecting a huge tropical storm to hit at any moment. Sure enough, at about midnight said storm rolled through and dumped rain. We were up late working on the blog (it’s true, we do try to work on it!) and at about 2am our little place succumbed to the torrential onslaught and began taking on water from the ground up. At this point it was too late to do or say anything more than wait out the rain which eased up around 7am. By this time the floor and walls were soaking. All they did was apologize, feeling horrible thinking it ruined our stay (it absolutely did not) and they went as far as heading to the ATM in an attempt to refund us, which we would could not accept. We just felt terrible for them and the new construction project they weren’t planning on.

Day 25 – After leaving our Airbnb hosts early that morning so they could begin assessing the rain damage we headed Wairaki Terraces, a less than obvious hot spring just outside of town. It was lovely with a small town, local feel. There are 5 different bathing pools of varying temperatures, all fed by a thermal pool slightly uphill from the resting pools. We spent about 2 hours here before succumbing to the draw of caffeine so we headed into town and found our fix at Storehouse, back downtown. After getting some planning done, such as finding our Airbnb for the next night, we left and headed to Aratiatia Dam where they filmed the scene of the hobbits rushing down a river in barrels in the Hobbit trilogy. We couldn’t leave without stopping by the famous Huka Falls so we backtracked a little, yet again, and navigated a sea of tourists to snap a few pictures. Without much delay, we continued our journey on to our next town, Rotorua, which you could smell before you could see. Rotorua is home to many hot springs with the stench of sulfur permeating the whole area. Another diverse town we decided to try some new food and had a delicious Lebanese dinner before heading to Hot’nCold Hot springs for dusk dip. It was well past sundown when we arrived with clouds blocking the little bit of moonlight coming through making it difficult to find the springs. After a quick search, just off the main road, we found a non-descript trail leading to a set of stairs down into the dark junction of two small streams providing the cold portion of the Hot’nCold springs. People slowly came and went with one of group of locals bringing candles to place on the limestone shelves around the pools. It was a great experience getting away from the tourist crowds while enjoying a relaxing night in a local hot spring.

Day 26 – The tropical storm from the previous days was not yet over. As soon as we headed to the car to grab breakfast in town it started dumping rain. Due to the rain we decided to skip the in town geyser park and told ourselves we’d just head to Yellowstone when we get back to the states. We also had a good drive ahead of us without there being extreme tropical rains to deal with. After a hearty breakfast, we began our final drive towards Auckland. Malcolm who loves blueberries insisted we pull over at a blueberry farm a little outside of town for a milkshake, some fresh berries for the next morning’s breakfast, and of course some blueberry/date energy bites. Once we got to Auckland we headed straight to the indoor climbing gym, Extreme Rock Climbing, for some extreme rock climbing, which was a Christmas gift from Rusty – thanks Rusty! It was perfect for our raining day where we learned how to belay as everything was top rope climbing only – it was a great time. After dinner, we went back to our Airbnb and realized that it’s not always sunny and beautiful in Sydney, our next city. Silly us for assuming Australia can get bad weather, and Sydney at that?! We really didn’t believe it, Sydney was in for a week or more of rain! After spending most the last week dealing with rain we weren’t too stoked on visiting a rainy Sydney. After a lot of searching and planning we decided on a new plan where we would fly into Melbourne first and continue to re-asses the weather from there for where we’d go next. It was too late so change our current ticket to Sydney so we had to buy a new ticket to Melbourne. A new ticket at 2am and searching for the cheapest flight resulted in a 6am departure – barely enough time for an hour nap!

Day 27 – Running on hour of sleep we feel asleep quickly after boarding the plane and before we knew it were in Australia – country #2! We purchased a bus ticket from the airport to downtown Melbourne where we would then get local transit passes (Myki cards) to grab a train out to our next Airbnb which we booked on the bus into town. Malcolm went on a run, only his second since the marathon, while Jessica took a nap. It took Malcolm nearly 15 minutes to stop sweating from his 10mi run in the humid 85-degree midday sun. nce After showering we headed out to explore about the Northcote area. The neighborhood reminded us of Capital Hill back in Seattle. It was very eclectic and nearly everyone had tattoos and/or Macklemore/Ryan Lewis haircuts. We found a very cool outdoor beer garden that had tons of seating and 5 different food trucks to choose from so we grabbed some hamburgers and a beer for lunch. After exploring a bit more we headed to our first Australian grocery store to grab food and headed back with roast chicken and soup for dinner.

Day 28 – The next morning we woke up and moved to yet another new Airbnb, this time in the city where we were planning to spend most our time exploring from. Melbourne transit isn’t cheap as we found out so we would have been paying quite a bit to stay in Northcote and travel into the city area, not to mention the time. It just didn’t make sense, so we moved closer, and upgraded! We got an awesome penthouse on the 35th floor with amazing sunset views. It was a pretty stark difference from New Zealand where we had a month of small towns in the mountains, on the beach or next to a lake. After checking in we headed out to explore the cafes and shops in Southbank on our way to coffee. Our Airbnb host, Sara, was great and had a ton of helpful tips and places to check out that seemed right in line with what we were after. We ended up getting cold brew and a green bean latte to go from Cottle On Coventry for coffee and headed to GAS Eatery for lunch on the sidewalk. Sitting on the sidewalk with perfect weather, excellent coffee, and a delicious lunch we felt perfectly content to stay a while and get some trip planning taken care of. After several hours of flight, weather, and other random searches we landed on Cairns for our next destination. We knew we wanted to visit the Great Barrier Reef and with the weather in Sydney not looking great for another week we decided to head north. With our next 4 days after Melbourne planned, we ran a much-needed load of laundry as we’d finally be staying in one place long enough for it to dry. For dinner, we went out in search of food open past 10pm which is quite a bit harder than you’d imagine. We figured our best luck would be Chinatown, which we also had previous recommendations for, so we headed that way and had a great late night dinner of dumplings and sushi!

Take a look at the pictures above for a quick visual summary of the notes above and head to our Week 4 InFocus page for a look at even more photos! Enjoy

Week Three – Back to the South Island!

Update: **For those of you who have not been reading the full posts (we completely understand) you may have missed our photos page which has heaps more photos than are on this post. Head to our Week 3 InFocus page for a look at even more photos related to the post below!**

We realize it’s been a while but time is flying by! We are now on to our second continent and second city in Asia: Chiang Mai second country in Asia: Laos and hopefully on to Siem Reap, Cambodia later today. We have been working on updates but internet is still that unreliable, or reliably slow and unreliable, however you want to look at it, that we are just now getting to our third post. Oddly enough the most reliable and high speed internet we’ve had lately (which is why this post is getting out) is from the tiny Luang Prabang International Airport where we are waiting for our flight that was unbeknownst to us delayed 3 hours. Side note about travelling in Asia: flights are often delayed or cancelled and they will not contact you for either. You have to either continually check online (if their website works), call in before heading to the airport (if their lines aren’t busy and they’re actually in the office that day or hour), or simply show up at the airport to find out whether or not you’ll be on your scheduled flight. A definite difference from flying in the US or Europe but then again the Asian airlines seem to treat their customers a bit better after they’ve boarded (looking at you United Airlines) – we even got an unexpected free meal on our 1.5 hour flight from Singapore to Bangkok!

In this week’s adventures we left Auckland, yet again, to revisit the South Island and actually get outside of Queenstown. New Zealand can hardly be done in one month and you’d be very hard pressed to do either island well in a single month. With a limited amount of time planned for New Zealand in our overall ‘plan’ we tried to pick out a few areas that would be a good tasting of what the South Island has to offer for when we come back! In the last post we landed back in Queenstown and drove south to Te Anau, our home base for a couple of days exploring the Milford ‘Sound’ area. Here is the rest of the South Island and our trip back north to Auckland before leaving for Australia.

Day 15 – Day two of early mornings for long drives. We had to wake up at 5:30a to drive two hours to Milford Sound for our 8:30a Rosco’s Kayak Tour of the fjord*, the 8th wonder of the world. Milford Sound is actually a fjord as it was created by glacial movement though for whatever reason they haven’t changed the name, perhaps Milford Fjord doesn’t have the same ring? Anyway, we were split into two groups of 8 people in double kayaks – surprisingly we did pretty well together and went away from the tour still talking to each other! We had a great time kayaking through the beautiful fjord, looking on in awe at massive waterfalls tumbling into the water below, taking a break to watch fur seals lounge around, and admiring the ancient rainforest still clinging to steep cliffs hundreds of feet above us, learning that they would eventually leave the cliffs bare from tree avalanches. What are tree avalanches you might ask? It’s a phenomenon that occurs every 10 or so years as water logged moss gives way to the weight of the trees, releasing their fragile cliff perch anchor in a spectacular fashion. We learned Milford Sound is one of the wettest places on earth yet we got a nice overcast day which helped keep us cool while paddling around. The one (extremely) unpleasant thing were the sand flies… man they are aggressive bloodsuckers and sooo annoying when you’re trapped in a kayak trying to eat lunch! After kayaking around for several hours, we headed back to Te Anau, blessed with a beautiful and sunny drive on the awe-inspiring Milford Road. We checked into a new hostel on a lama/alpaca farm as we decided to stay in the Milford area another couple nights to continue exploring and our original hostel had filled up. It was our first hostel with our own room which was quite nice. We also met some fellow travelers who gave us some great recommendations on what to do over the next few days of our trip.

Day 16 – Again we had to wake up at 5:30a to do the same 2-hour drive back to Milford Sound to catch another 8:30a tour, this time for a non-human powered boat journey through the fjord via Jucy Cruises. We felt that being the 8th wonder of the world we needed more than one day there. The cruise was great and definitely well worth the repeat trip. It was also a beautiful sunny day which made it that much better to wake up so early. However, we heard​ it’s possibly even more beautiful when raining as waterfalls appear seemingly out of nowhere as water rushes off the countless cliff faces – maybe next time! There was some repeat info on the tour from the day before but the boat took us further out through the fjord to the entrance where we looked out on the Tasman Sea. Apparently, Captain Cook sailed right on by the entrance to the fjord as he thought it was simply another bay along the endless shoreline of New Zealand’s two islands. It didn’t stay hidden forever though as another passing ship found the entrance and proceeded to decimate the fur seal population shortly after. That first ship to find the fjord took 10,000 seal furs back with them and proceeded to further decimate the seal population as demand for the pelts made it extremely lucrative – a pretty sad story to hear after seeing the seals up close the day before. After the cruise, we drove back toward Te Anau but stopped at Gertrude’s Saddle for a hike that a fellow traveler recommended. The hike was a beast but totally worth it. The first hour followed the valley floor to a huge and beautiful waterfall then began climbing straight up over large granite slabs and boulder outcrops to Black Lake. From there we scaled and hopped over even larger boulders at a steeper pitch to reach the top of the saddle where we enjoyed beautiful views of the Darren mountains with peekaboo views of the Milford Sound. It was the perfect place to eat lunch and enjoy the rewards of our trek. As we left the parking lot we picked up two hitch hikers, one from Canada and one from Australia, who were working in Milford Sound but headed into town for the start of their 4 days off. We felt we needed to repay the kindness of our hitchhiking rides from earlier in our travels and had enough room in our tiny Yaris though it was a much less spirited drive with the extra weight… They were great to talk to and well-travelled which made the 2 hour drive back feel closer than the day before.

Day 17 – We slept in a bit today – after 2 days at getting up at 5:30a we figured we deserved a slower morning. After making breakfast we checked out of our hostel and headed back north toward Queenstown to swap Yaris (again, last minute planning meant two rental bookings) on our way to Lake Wanaka. On the way back we stopped at Cardrona Hotel and grabbed a quick beer on recommendation of the hostel owner in Te Anau. Cardrona is a tiny, one main street, ski town along the highway that looks stuck in the 1800s. We were very happy that we stopped by, just wish we had enough time to stay the night. Upon arrival at Lake Wanaka we headed to straight to Rippon Vineyards which was recommended to us by a fellow hostel friend in Te Anau. The wine was delicious and the scenery simply stunning. The vineyard is situated on a corner plot of land overlooking Lake Wanaka with mountains surrounding the lake as the backdrop. After our tasting (which we learned are typically free in NZ!) it was time for dinner, so on recommendation we headed to Amigos Mexican restaurant as we were both still craving Mexican after our poor nachos experience in Te Anau. But as we were quickly finding out there are very limited options for good Mexican in NZ. Trial and error. It was equally as bad – the most expensive chips and gauc we’ve seen with the worst margaritas so we quickly finished our drinks and 15 chips (not joking) and headed to a local Mexican food truck, Burrito Craft. It was only found after an extensive search. We were rewarded with substantial and tasty burritos – Mexican food cravings satisfied! After enjoying our burritos while watching the sun set over the lake and mountains we continued on to Lake Hawea, a short 20 minute drive and checked into​ our hostel. It happens to be a hotel, hostel, campground, bar, and festival grounds all in one location. The fellow hostel guests, all seemingly 18-20 years old, partied late into the night, singing loudly as if there were a concert going on. There was no such concert that night. Note to self: read more reviews before booking hostels. Yes, we are getting old haha…

Day 18 – We quickly packed up and headed out toward the West Coast Road on our way back north. We had heard about a fairly unknown yet beautiful hike from several people that was just minutes away from the hostel and on our way out so we decided we had to do it. The hike, Isthmus Peak, was definitely worth it despite being quite warm, and unbeknownst to us, nearly 5 miles of constant uphill. We loved it. On the way up we saw more wild deer and stags than we’ve ever seen, free roaming cows and sheep, and lots of butterflies, grasshoppers, and singing birds. It just felt so magical. The view at the top was well worth it: panoramic views of both Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea with a mix of bare and snow-capped mountains surrounding both lakes. On our way back down we saw more deer and a little further down we spotted 3 huge stags – they are such majestic creatures with their giant antlers. After our hike we continued along the road for just 5 minutes before stopping for lunch at a nice looking beach we spotted from the hike. We iced our legs in the cold water and enjoyed a simple and delicious lunch of almond butter, manuka honey, and whole grain bread. After we were full and happy we continued to drive north towards Franz Josef glacier where we were staying the night. Along the way, we picked up another hitch hiker from Grenoble, France who had just finished one of the “Great Walks” (New Zealands must-do hikes) and was headed back north for his car and to find another job as he was in NZ on a year-long work visa. He was really nice to talk to, an avid back country skier, and lover of all things outdoors. Malcolm and him got along well, talking about skiing in France and Jess got to sleep on the long winding drive North.

Day 19 – We woke up, made a quick breakfast and then headed to Franz Josef Glacier which was less than a 10-minute drive from town. Glaciers are cool but after you’ve seen so many living in the PNW they tend not to be as awe inspiring as they might be to other tourists. After a couple of quick pictures we started out on another long drive toward Hammer Springs. We stopped along the way at Hokitika, a small town known for their jade where Jessica bought some jewelry. We then continued along Highway 7 via Lewis Pass to reach Hammer Springs. We checked into our motel, a small family campground with tent and RV spaces among the cabins, quickly ran a load of laundry, and then headed to the hot springs where we spent 2 hours relaxing and decompressing from the long drive. After a good soak and very hungry we searched out anything open past 9p and landed on a delicious Indian place. It also served as breakfast the next morning – a great start to any day!

Day 20 – We packed our laundry, which was scattered all over the cabin to dry, ate our leftover Indian for breakfast, and got in the car with what we thought was plenty of time to catch our flight out of Christchurch. The drive is normally an easy 1.5 hours however shortly after getting back on the highway toward Christchurch we found ourselves being redirected by police blocking the road. Apparently just a half hour earlier someone had crashed their car into a tree and due to the brutality of the impact the authorities had to close down the highway in both directions. This forced us to take an hour plus detour up north to catch another highway to then head back south. Not something we planned for… This new route was along curvy roads and we were driving behind huge trucks going extremely slow. We finally got to the airport, at 11:05a yet we still needed to fuel up the rental and drop it off. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 11:30a. Little did we know there is only one gas station in the whole area and it does not have an attendant which is how we typically paid for gas as our great American credit card companies don’t give us a pin (unless you want to pay an astronomical ‘cash advance fee’ for the transaction) which these stations require… By time we got gas, dropped the car, and made it to check-in we had 5 min till the plane was to depart and they would not let us board. Bummer as this meant our only other option to any time sort of time in Nelson was to catch the next flight out at 2pm, presumably at our expense. Thankfully we explained what happened and they waived all fees for our tickets – this would have been an extra $400 dollars​ for only a 45min flight! Sadly we only had one day in Nelson so it was cut short by 3 hours. Once we finally got there we checked into our hostel, the Bug Backpackers Hostel (Jess’ favorite one yet) and grabbed their free bikes to head into town. Usually people visiting Nelson spend their time doing outdoorsy activities but with our limited time we decided to check out their beer scene. Brewery hopping was fun but the town baffled us – we had heard great things from so many people but it seemed for the most part deserted and completely rundown. There were about two cute streets and that’s it. We are not sure if we just totally missed​ something or if that’s just how it is but it was weird. At least the beer was good – we found a tiny beer store/bar opened by a guy from Colorado who only buys and sells beer that he and his partner enjoy drinking. If they don’t like it they won’t sell it!

Day 21 – We woke up, had a quick continental breakfast from the hostel, and caught our bus from Nelson to Blenheim. We quickly walked 2 miles in the rain with all our bags to our Airbnb where our bicycle wine tour was waiting for us. We quickly checked in, dropped our bags, and headed out for a day of wine tasting via bike – in the rain. We didn’t let a little rain stop us… after all we’re from Seattle. So off we went on our tandem bike… yes tandem. It was terrifying at first but after the 2nd stop we got it down. First stop was Te Whare Ra Winery before our lunch at Giesen Winery. After a delicious smorgasbord lunch we continued on our bikes, now riding through down pouring rain to Braden Winery, Framingham Winery, Forest Winery, and finally Wairau River Winery. We made the best of it and had a great time. Being free tastings all the pours were very light which made biking easier but didn’t help with the rain! At 530p we headed back and returned the bike. We weren’t too keen on a 2mi walk in the rain into town for dinner so they kindly dropped us off. We found a great dinner spot that had 2-for-1 pizzas and great roasted veggies as a side – yum! That night we chilled and watched Netflix while working on the blog, our first time since leaving on this trip. It felt great to just relax and get a nice shower in a clean bathroom after a few nights in hostels. A much needed refresh.

Take a look at the pictures above for a quick visual summary of the notes above and head to our Week 3 InFocus page for a look at even more photos! Enjoy

Week Two – North Island, Part 1

Update: **For those of you who have not been reading the full posts (we completely understand) you may have missed our photos page which has heaps more photos than are on this post. Head to our Week 2 InFocus page for a look at even more photos related to the post below!**

We’re finally getting to another post… in our little bit of free time that we’ve had to work on the blog in the past few weeks Malcolm has been struggling with photo management and Jess has been typing away on her little iPad to make sure we had words to go with the pictures.

In this week’s adventures we left Auckland in search for more sunshine. After some debate we decided to stick to our original plan and head to the Coromandel Peninsula which worked out great as we were rewarded with a day of mostly sunny driving and a beautiful beach to hang out at all afternoon till sundown. After an exciting ‘alternate route’ drive to the other side of the Peninsula we arrived at our second NZ hostel (much nicer than the first) a little past 9pm. From there we enjoyed another beach day before a good drive to the Central North Island where we would visit the Hobbiton movie set and Waitomo glow worm caves. From there we headed back to Auckland to drop off Joe so he could continue his crazy adventure in New Orleans for Mardis Gras while Jessica and Malcolm headed north to Paihia for a quick adventure in the Bay of Islands and Northland. The last day we headed back to Auckland yet again for our 3rd NZ flight, this time back to the South Island and Te Anau. Below are daily summaries with a few pictures. See the link below for the weekly photo dump.

Day 8 – We woke up and checked out of our Auckland hostel and headed east. determined to find sun. On our way to the Coromandel Peninsula we stopped by yet another waterfall, Hunua Falls, to check it out – massive amounts of water thrashing into a huge pond. Unfortunately it was too cold to swim in. From there we drove 2.5 hours to Te Mata where we stopped for some coffee, this is where Joe learned an iced coffee in NZ is not your Seattle iced coffee – instead it is a shot of espresso mixed with ice cream, vanilla syrup and then blended all together. Also ice is not a common thing here in NZ. They stare at you blankly and say they can only blend it with ice cream – pretty funny. And forget it if you want cold brew coffee, almost impossible to find. Anyway, we continued on in search of sunshine, now on the Coromandel Peninsula. The drive north took us on one of the the most beautiful rides of our combined lives. The drive between Te Mata and the town of Coromandel it is extremely picturesque with small windy roads hugging turquoise blue water on one side with lush green valleys and tropical flora on the other. Of course, being New Zealand, any clearing in trees revealed beautiful green fields scattered with sheep and cows. Once we reached Coromandel (the town) we grab some lunch to go (takeaway) and headed to the beach. We found the perfect gem of a spot, a little bay of beautiful blue water with islands of green pastures scattered in the distance and a floating dock for us to hang out on. We also made our first friend who was traveling from France doing small odd jobs as a a carpenter. After we watched the beautiful sunset we headed on our way to our destination for the night, Whitianga. We drove a crazy dirt road between the two towns and came across a boar farm which didn’t believe in fences (read: boars in the middle of the road) and then sleepily found our way into our 6 bunk room.

Day 9 – We woke up, packed our bags again, and then set off. We went to a nice coffee shop across the road from Buffalo Beach before driving to the Shakespeare Cliff Scenic and Historic Reserve to take in panoramic views of the surrounding bay and countryside. This place had an awesome lookout over all of Mercury Bay (near where we stayed) and also revealed a nice little beach called Lonely Bay. We liked it so much we spent nearly half our day there. We had to leave at 1:30p to head to our next city, Cambridge, in order to check in and shower for our biggest event of Joe’s trip: the Hobbiton Dinner Tour! This was pretty amazing as you can see from pictures. The place felt magical, just like you were in the movie and our dinner was pretty delicious, we ate far more than we should have but we had to get our money’s worth! Words would be hard to find to describe the experience better than pictures so check out the link below and we’ll save you from any more reading.

Day 10 – We hung out in the town of Cambridge just exploring the downtown and grabbing some breakfast before heading off to Waitomo glow worm caves. We did the Black Laybrinth raft tour of the glow worm caves. This tour involved us wearing full wet suits, a helmet and headlamp, and boots with individual little rafts (inner-tubes). We were taken down into the caves where we walk/crawled through small sections to an opening where the river was big enough for us to wade and float in. A little side note, there was an eel swimming in the water minutes before they told us to jump in… pretty comforting. During the adventure we jumped backwards off of two waterfalls and at times shut off of our headlights to learn about these interesting creatures, glow worms. Glow worm life cycle: hatch from larvae, kill siblings for food, and then poop to trap baited mosquitoes and flies which they then eat so they have the energy to go mate before giving birth to another larvae and dying. Let the cycle repeat. Wondering how their poop traps these other miserable insects? It’s the glowing part we came to see which also happens to be a sticky neurotoxin and it’s the light that confuses lost insects inside the cave that are simply trying to find their way out. Can’t say we feel bad for the mosquitoes or flies, in fact we could use more of these glow worms in the world! Very very interesting life cycle. After about 3 hours of cave exploring we enjoyed our free lunch of bagels and tomato soup and then drove to Hamilton where we went out for dinner and drinks.

Day 11- Today included lots of driving. We drove to Auckland and sadly dropped Joe at the airport and then headed to our next destination Paihia, 4 hours north of Auckland on the east coast of the ‘Northland’ and home to the beautiful Bay of Islands. We checked into our hostel and then went and had dinner at Green Leaf where I had a Thai dish and Malcolm an Indian dish – both were petty delicious. We did our second load of laundry of the trip, hung our clothes to dry in the 85 degree night heat and headed to bed (if you can sleep in that temperature anyway… no AC in the hostel).

Day 12 – We woke up at 6:30a, made a quick breakfast, then headed to Kaitaia to meet up with our tour group for the day, Ultimate Sand Safaris. The tour was a full-day tour of the Aupouri Peninsula from the east side to the west side of the great ‘Northland’ region. It included driving on the famous 90-Mile Beach, a stop at Great Exhibition Bay, and a chance to go “sand surfing” at the largest sand dunes we’ve ever seen. It also included a tasty BBQ lunch at Tapotupotu beach and a stop at Cape Reinga where we witnessed the Tasman Sea clashing with the Pacific Ocean which made for a pretty neat sight – whitecaps seemingly out of nowhere as the two currents collided. We lucked out with a great tour guide who obviously loved her job and grew up in the area her whole life; she made our trip very enjoyable and gave us some great laughs. We’d highly recommend this tour if you ever get the chance. Later that night we grabbed take away fish burgers and ate dinner as we watched the sun set over the Haruru falls just outside of Paihia.

Day 13 – We woke up a little later this day, made breakfast and made some last minute plans to explore the Bay of Islands. We caught a 12:30p water taxi from Paihia to Urupukapuka Island, the largest island in the Bay of Islands. The island is 514 acres (208 hectors) full of hiking trails, small secluded beaches, sheep and one single store/cafe owned by the taxi company. The only way around the island was by kayak or walking. We decided to try and do as many as the tracks as possible before finding a beautiful beach to relax and have our lunch. The hike has amazing views, just look at the pictures! The water was super warm too and nice for swimming. If we had enough time we would have totally camped there over night but that wasn’t in the books so we took our 6:30p water taxi back to the “city” and made a nice dinner back at the hostel; ‘spaghetti’ with cabbage noodles and beef mince.

Day 14 – Back to Auckland. We drove 4.5hrs to the airport in Auckland – it took longer than we thought due to NZ repaving all of their roads this summer so we were a little nervous to make our flight. We go to check in and it says flight unavailable… oh great. We went up to customer service to see what the deal was and apparently we had booked the flight for March instead of February and we both missed catching it… whoops. Luckily there was another flight in an hour that we were able to get only for $50NZD more. Thankfully we landed in Queenstown only an hour behind schedule and picked up our 3rd rental car of the trip (another Yaris, Malcolm’s new favorite budget car) and drove for 2.5 hours to Te Anau. We checked into our hostel and went out to find some dinner. Malcolm and I were really craving nachos and were super excited when we saw it on the menu at The Ranch Bar and Grill. Well to our great disappointment nachos in NZ means flavored corn chips covered in beef chili, with more sour cream than we’ve ever seen and just a bit of cheese to top it off.  Yuck and extremely expensive for what it was. Lesson learned: New Zealand has no idea what any US style Mexican food is. Opportunity: come back and start a Mexican food truck and save the people of New Zealand!

Take a look at the pictures above for a quick visual summary of the notes above and head to our Week 2 InFocus page for a look at even more photos! Enjoy

Week One – Queenstown and Auckland

Update: **For those of you who have not been reading the full posts (we completely understand) you may have missed our photos page which has heaps more photos than are on this post. Head to the Week 1 InFocus page for a look at even more photos related to the post below!**

Hello! We’re a little over 3 weeks into our travels and finally finding a little time to get some things done – mostly because we’re on a 3 hour ferry ride from Picton to Wellington – but more importantly it has internet that is more reliable than the hostels!

We arrived in Queenstown NZ, our first stop, on February 15th. We had originally planned to stay on the North Island for a while until our buddy Joe could meet up with us but Malcolm found a marathon in Queenstown that looked too crazy to pass up. So we switched our plans around, adjusted our final destination and set off! The marathon was three days after we landed, on Saturday the 18th – we figured the three days before would be enough to get over jet lag and somewhat acclimate to the high 70 degree weather as we were leaving a relatively cold winter in Seattle with temps consistently hovering around freezing.

Day 1 – We flew in on beautiful weather and were able to see Aoraki, or Mt Cook from the plane windows. Landing in Queenstown is pretty neat – it’s a tiny airport nestled between steep mountain ridges in all directions. After getting our bags we headed into town to grab some food before check-in time at the Airbnb. Of course we had to try out New Zealand’s Mexican fare at Caribe Latin Kitchen for our first meal. It was delicious albeit translucent with oil. Olive oil is good fat, right? After our meal we checked in, showered, and met our host Vanessa and her roommates Morgan and Holly, and their pup Oakli who happens to enjoy chewing on small river rocks. All great people who love to snowboard – which when you boil it down just means they love to be outside just like us. They pointed us a great (and cheap!) takeout Thai place in town and recommended we walk with our food to a small boat that offers coffee, beer, and wine to grab a drink and eat there – it was a perfect start to experiencing NZ.

Day 2 – Our first full day we headed out to Arrowtown, a cute old gold mining town about a half hour out from Queenstown and spent the day walking around and exploring the old Chinese houses and other historical sites. We stopped by the grocery store on our way back into town to grab some snacks, some race fuel, and breakfast/dinner food. This is when we found out that sweet potatoes are called Kumara, and NZ loves their Kumara. We made a simple but tasty chicken and mixed vegetable dinner at the Airbnb as we watched the sun set over Lake Wakatipu.

Day 3 – It was check-in day and the final rest day for Malcolm’s marathon where he had to prove he had all the required cold weather and safety gear so we took this as an opportunity to explore the town itself. We loved their waterfront park filled with people soaking in the sun on green lawns, sandy beaches, a network of walking trails over and around small streams, a frisbee golf course, a rose garden, and a boules sports court. We ended the day relatively early to make a pre-race dinner of sweet potatoes, ground beef (or mince), and some veggies.

 

Day 4 – Race day. Malcolm caught a cab at 5:45 am to meet his shuttle to the marathon that started at 8:30am. Meanwhile Jessica slept in, went into town, got some coffee and then made her way to the finish line at Moke Lake by hitch hiking… yes that’s the only way she could get there with no bus service and taxis costing too much given it was 45 min away and we had no car. Apparently it’s the thing to do in New Zealand so she gave it a try. It was as success and she survived – after two rides nonetheless, first from Queenstown to start of the dirt road with a nice young man and his Jack Russel Terrier and then a couple from Argentina took her the rest of the way to Moke Lake. Jessica arrived right when the first marathoner crossed the finish line – she knew she had a while so sat and cheered everyone on and took in the beautiful surroundings. The marathon is called Shotover Moonlight Mountain Marathon and is 26.2 miles with an ascent of 8,530 feet and descent of 8,530 feet. The weather was in the high 70’s which is a big difference when you’re training in freezing temps – Malcolm’s last training run prior the marathon was on snow from Suncadia to Cle Elum. Malcolm finished it after a grueling 8 hours and 33 min, only 1hr 20min faster than his Rainier to Ruston 52mi race last June… A separate page will be posted for more info on the marathon for those interested. We hitched a ride with two other marathon runners, sisters, one of which was running this as her first marathon – what a choice first marathon! That night we celebrated with Queenstown’s famous Freburgers and some beers that we took to go (takeaway, not carryout like in the States) and sat on the edge of the lake to eat.

Day 5 – Recovery day. We decided to take it a little easy the next day and on the recommendation of our ride back to town from the race we took a boat tour of Lake Wakatipu with a 2 hour pit stop at Mt. Nicholas Farm, the third largest privately owned sheep farm in NZ! We got a small tour of their farm and learned a bit about the whole process starting with rounding up their 9,000 of their 30,000 sheep once a year for shearing before exporting their merino wool to China to be made into Icebreaker clothing. Unbelievably it takes only 10 days for seven men on horseback, along with 30 sheep dogs, to gather all 9,000 sheep that are free to roam over the 100,000 acres that comprises the farm – very impressive!

Day 6 – Flying back to Auckland to meet up with Joe and explore the central part of the North Island – and our first day with a RHD car! After landing in Auckland and getting our rental car, a white 2011 Toyota Yaris, we braved the left side of the road while driving on the right side of the car and headed west of Auckland to the small surf town of Piha. New Zealand obviously has a lot of beaches which are a main draw for tourists visiting the North Island. We quickly found out that New Zealand’s roads are pretty wild with more hairpin and tight turns, sudden ups and downs, and everything in-between – wilder than anything I have seen in the US and two steps up from the curvaceous roads of Central and North California. Think Chuckanut Road or Chumstick Hwy on steroids, and miles (or kilometers) and miles of it. Exciting for Malcolm driving around his (thankfully manual) Yaris – not so exciting and an exercise in faith for Jessica! Also, the speed limits on these roads are pretty fast for how technical they are. Needless to say it was an exciting introduction to driving in New Zealand! We safely arrived in Piha and grabbed a small bite for lunch at the only place to get food – fortunately it was pretty tasty – a bacon and egg cheese burger for Malcolm and a fish burger for Jessica. After lunch and a little time on the beach we headed to a nearby waterfall which was a short 20min hike, though the posted sign said 45 minutes. New Zealand’s posted hike (or walk) times are significantly longer than it would take any normal person to actually do. It was a beautiful waterfall and swimming hole – we spent a good hour or so swimming underneath the waterfall and hanging out up on top enjoying the view of what seemed like a scene from Jurassic Park. The flora in New Zealand is simply stunning. Ferns 10x the size of those in Washington mixed in with tropical palms and high reaching trees. We’re not wordsmiths so we won’t even try to describe the beauty – just take a look at the pictures and you’ll see what we mean. After enjoying the waterfall we headed to Auckland to check in at Jessica’s first hostel and drop our bags before heading back to the airport to pick up Joe. The hostel was pretty typical of what you might find in Europe with a lot of people from all over the world, shared bathrooms, mixed dorms, a communal kitchen, and postings all over the place for different activities and tours to do in the area. One new thing however was a list of vehicles for sale at the check in counter – a mix of camper vans, regular vans, and cars – all well aged and searching for a new backpacker to own for 1mo to a year and whatever adventures their new owner might have in store. Had we planned more time in NZ we would definitely have bought a vehicle to travel around and then sold it before leaving. It’s just as NZ as hitchhiking. After settling into the hostel we headed off in search of a good, decently priced dinner. Food in New Zealand, as we quickly found out, can be very expensive for only mediocre quality so research is key for a good, fairly priced meal. We ended heading toward what looked to be a great Vietnamese place (and we’re sure it was, would have gone back if we had more time) but ended up across the street at a Wok’N Noodle Bar and had a great little dinner. After dinner it was time  to go pick up Joe who had just spent the whole day traveling to NZ from the Philippines where he had spent the previous week for a friend’s wedding.

Day 7 – Joe’s first real day in New Zealand. We headed back to the west coast where there are a plethora of gorgeous beaches and waterfalls to explore. We ended up driving the same road toward Piha that we took the day before so it was quite fun after becoming a bit acclimated to the driving. Joe enjoyed it as well. Our first stop was a waterfall just a short walk from the car park. We didn’t spend as much time at the main waterfall as we did at another hidden stream/waterfall up the hillside that we saw some locals head toward as we arrived. Knowing that locals obviously know better than tourists we were inclined to see what it was all about. This smaller waterfall emptied into a fairly deep swimming hole that was great for jumping off the rocks, or if you dared, a higher tree limb overhanging the pool. We weren’t as daring as the locals, but neither did we lose ‘our precious’ in the pool as one of the locals did after jumping off the highest point of the tree. Honestly thought it was a LOTR joke when he asked for help finding his ring that slipped off. Anyway, after spending a little time at the pool and learning a Maori (the native people of New Zealand) yell we headed on to the beach. By the way, this Maori yell (see picture below, tongues out) is great for helping open your sinuses a malady Joe was suffering due to a long week of wedding parties in the Philippines. The beach was beautiful – wide open, a mix of soft small grain white and black sand. It also happens to be where a portion the opening scenes of Xena: Warrior Princess was filmed – if that was your thing 20 years ago… We walked around and took some pictures of locals fishing from the rocks in the high wind. It was a pretty cool scene to be out there nearly alone with two fishermen waiting for a bite at the edge of huge cliffs and big crashing waves. After getting our fill of the beach we began our drive back toward the city but not before catching another hike toward a waterfall, this time with a good descent and of course a good climb on the way back. It was another hike through Jurassic Park territory though without any dangerous dinosaurs or otherwise scary animals – we barely caught glimpse of a single local blue feathered bird. We then headed back into Auckland and straight to the city center for checking out the sights and grabbing a bite to eat. We ended up walking around the waterfront and city center before grabbing dinner at The Brewers CoOp for some quality beer and fish. Joe had a burger. Poor Joe. Malcolm also got offered his first job in New Zealand and his first job as a bartender. He may take them up on it if it is still available a year from now. Joking aside it was a great way to wrap up the day. However, no joke, it is illegal for New Zealand supermarkets to sell alcohol (beer/wine – spirits are sold at liquor stores) past 11pm… odd to be so restrictive for a country that allows drinking at 18yrs of age… We found this out as we were grabbing groceries for the next couple of days and had we been one minute earlier, another beer for the hostel. Oh well.

Take a look at the pictures above for a quick visual summary of the notes above and head to the Week 1 InFocus page for a look at even more photos! Enjoy