Monthly Archives: April 2011

Christchurch, back to Auckland

We would be driving from Queenstown to Christchurch to spend the night before our flight back to Auckland in the morning. The drive through Otago was absolutely beautiful, we took many stops to take in the views of the surrounding snowing mountains behind the golden hills.

We even got a fantastic view of Mount Cook, NZ”s highest peak from across a lake! It was truly magnificent and I wish the photos could capture how truly extraordinary the views were.

We also stopped at Lake Tekapo for a picnic lunch. We were able to see the old Church of the Good Shepherd, a gorgeous little church built right on the lake.

The view over the alter was magnificent. There is also a statue there honoring the collie and all working dogs.

He was so cute! We picnicked on almond and peanut butter and jelly, with a cookie time Afghan for dessert!

It was so chocolately and the perfect compliment to the peaceful views.

Before we knew it, we were already in Christchurch at our cute little hostel. It is a little village of houses with cute courtyards between them!

There isn’t much to do for tourists in Christchurch, but we just walked around to get an idea of the devastation. It was incredible to see the strength of the quakes were able to do to houses. Whole houses crumbled.

Whole houses slanting.

Part of the city was totally deserted and blocked off, but at the same time, life still goes on. It’s amazing how resilient people can become and not let devastation take over their lives.

We got ourselves organized for our trip back to Auckland and had dinner, repacking bags, cleaning out old yeller, and getting directions to the airport. First we had appetizers in the courtyard of leftover cheese, sundried tomatoes, and artichokes from our picnic yesterday.

Then, we heated up the rest of our pizza from Arrowtown. Still as delicious as before! We also warmed up our last cookie time for dessert, triple chocolate. Chunks of dark, milk, and white chocolate. It was my favorite flavor 🙂

After dinner, we played a few more hands of rummy and I lost less depressingly. We were surprised to see that our beds only came with a fitted sheet, pillow, and pillow case, so we had to rent a duvet for $2 at the front desk. I only had nz$3.90 in change, but the friendly woman at the front desk let it slide! Phew! I think it’s crap that they don’t provide any, it gets quite cold at night! But this hostel allows sleeping bags, which YHAs do not (the YHA in Christchurch was no longer in operation). But the hostel was really big, clean, and modern so we were happy with it.  (Just a few sparse marks proving is survived an earthquake)

In the evening, they had reserved the TV room for people who wanted to watch the Royal Wedding, so of course we joined! It was silly how there was commentary, and the New Zealand reporters were hilarious as they made fun of all the crazy hats, gossiped about the guest list, debated Kate’s commonality, and discussed traditions.

They kept talking about how the future of monarchy rested on their shoulders. Pressure! I thought her dress was beautiful (the only thing I really wanted to see) and she was perfectly poised, confident, classy, and lovely all around. I think she’ll make a great Princess (someday!). It was fun to watch it with four Brits in the room, they had some silly comments.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay up too late because we had to be up early to return our car and get to the airport. My alarm went off at 5:55am, for good lucky, and we were out the door by 6:30. We were at the rental car place at 6:50, lol. Drop off time wasn’t until 7:30! Luckily, we didn’t have to wait too long and we said goodbye to old yeller and we off in the airport van by 7:31.

At the airport, there was some error when I tried to check in at the kiosk, so we went to the help desk. We were pleased to be offered seats on the earlier flight, free of charge! That would get us home almost an hour earlier! Security was a breeze, once again (we don’t even have to take off our shoes or jackets!) and we were at the gate with 45 minutes to spare.

We were sad that our incredible trip is over, but we are itching to be back at home for stable internet, routine, private bedroom and bathrooms, and, for me at least, vegetables!

We had another fabulous plane ride with Air New Zealand.  We got coffee or tea, cookies, chips, AND candy.

(I think the blue one is supposed to read: “Fancy a gin-chur-nut, bro?”)

Then after a seamless baggage claim and bus ride, we were back in our apartment.

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Queenstown

Of course in the morning, when was time to leave the Glacier Country and travel to Queenstown, we woke up to clear skies and perfect weather!

We decided to take advantage of it and enjoy every minute of the scenic, 4-hour drive down Highway 6. That means, stopping at every beautiful sight we see!

One very unusual aspect of Highway 6 is that ALL of the little creeks are named. Rocky Creek, Muddy Creek, Random Creek, 7-Mile Creek (why? They use kilometers.), McDonald’s Creek, and, our favorite: Stinky Creek.

One iconic image of Aotearoa (New Zealand) is the silver fern. It grows like mad here, especially on the side of Highway 6 in Glacier Country!

In fact, my pounamu (jade) necklace design represents the unfurling fern.

Since it truly was clear as crystal, we went back to Lake Matheson to get good views of Mt Tasman and Mt Cook. We didn’t do the lake walk again (since it takes a while), but the view just form the car park is fabulous!

As were the views from the drive. New Zealand has many other glaciers and peaks than those I’ve mentioned, and I was able to get lots of good views of some of them!

We stopped at Knight’s Point, which is a very gorgeous view from just off the highway.

Apparently, really lucky people see whales and seals from here, sometimes. I’m ok with the brilliant blue water and rocks.

Next we found ourselves in the Haast Region, where the Haast river empties out into the sea. We pulled over to walk down to the beach. It was so amazing. We were the only people on the beach for as far as the eye could see.

The sand was so soft as we walked through it for a bit. We made a little mark in the sand before we left so we knew which way to get back.

Plus, Hannah found this sweet as shell!

That little visit to the beach is probably one of my fondest memories of our trip. We just pulled over and found our own little oasis. Haast beach is our beach!

We stopped in Haast for lunch but the only thing that look edible was fish n chips, and sadly, it made Hannah and I feel a bit nauseous. It was way salty and greasy and ick, I won’t be having that again for a while. I just tried to let is pass as we drove.

Randomly Hannah was like “Forest Walk. 5 minutes. Let’s go.” and pulled right over into the parking lot. Ok then I thought to myself. As we took the little trek through the woods, I heard rushing water and figured there must be a rushing river near by. But then, I glimpsed something amazing through the trees…a huge waterfall!

It was so grand and beautiful. Who could possibly have a stomach ache when you are making pit stops like this along your road trip?! I was so glad Hannah noticed the sign and we stopped. Yet another unforgettable portion of our trip.

We made sure to give Old Yeller a few extra kisses. Without her, these kinds of explorations would not be possible!

We stopped again to explore the Blue Pools, a portion of the drive a lady in a gift shop told us we could not miss.

It was a fantastic sight! The water is blue because it is arctic water draining from the glaciers.

No big deal. Also, apparently everything turns blue when you visit the Blue Pools. Here is a blue picture Hannah with a lucky (stripe all the way around it) heart rock she found. It was one magical place!

The 30 minute walk helped us digest even more, but to truly settle our stomachs, we figured we should definitely stop at this ice cream place we passed.

We had the most delicious chocolate cone for just nz$2.50! Cheapest I’ve had here! It was extra delicious because it wasn’t too chocolatey. Just the perfect hint of cocoa flavor with chocolate swirled in. It did the job. We felt much better

Something that I think is a bit strange about New Zealand is that they have deer farms. They farm deer for their meat, venison, but it’s so strange to see a field of grazing deer right next to cows and sheep! Odd.

We drove onwards and I couldn’t stop laughing at my photography skills. Driving along Lake Hawea was so beautiful I couldn’t stand it, but it was so tricky to get good pictures from a moving vehicle!

I want to live here. A vast lake at the bottoms of vast mountains: that’s my kind of place.

As the drive took us into the Central Otago region, we were taken aback by yet even more beauty!

It really felt like autumn in Otago with all the changing leaves and harvest colors.

Before we knew it, we were in Queenstown city limits! After settling in and having dinner, we set out to experience Queenstown’s infamous nightlife. Our first stop was, yes, a pub, fairly close to our hostel.

It was called Pub on Wharf and had Mac’s on tap. I got Sassy Red. There was also a band playing a mix of rock and celtic music.

So yes, I was in heaven! The atmosphere was really cool, too.

Like a modern, sophisticated tavern in the country with a swanky fireplace and hip animal heads on the walls.

The next place wasn’t what we expected. In the Lonely Planet, Minibar is described as beer, beer, and more beer. But, it should have been expensive, expensive, and more expensive. I thought it might be like Free House with a diverse range of NZ craft beers, but it was stiff and elitist.

I skulled a Monteiths and hauled ass out of there. Though I was pretty proud of myself because I thought I tasted blackberry, and the description says there are blackberry flavors. I’m developing quite a sophisticated palate, I think!

Our final stop, Monty’s was ok, but not as fun as Pub on Wharf. They had Monteiths on tap, so I was happy. Monteiths in made in Greymouth, a city of the West Coast we drove through, and people say it is so good because of the pure West Coast water. Yummmsters they are right!  I got the First Harvest brew, just in time for autumn, and it was a good light, spicy beer with fruity flavors, too. Though of course, I couldn’t finish it because three beers is WAY too much for little me.

We slept in this morning, but first thing I did when I woke up is take a walk down to the water. Our hostel is right on the lakefront, so I just had to cross the street for the beautiful early morning views!

It’s a perfect fall day today, a crisp, light wind and clear skies.

Perfect, because in Queenstown, there is a gondola that takes you up to the top of a hill to see breath-taking views of the city!

It was really fun and really perfect.  Perfect weather, perfect views. Queenstown actually reminds me a lot of Burlington! It’s on a lake, doesn’t have many big buildings, and it’s very outdoorsy. It’s just a bit more congested and all-around bigger. Needless to say, I love it here!

At the top of the gondola, there is a luge course! It’s hard to describe, but you basically just sit on this scooter thing with a steering wheel and brake. I was scared so I didn’t go too fast, lol! We took two rides down the luge, first the easy scenic course, then the “advanced” course that was a bit steeper and had more turns.

They were both really fun and thrilling, with beautiful views and exciting moments through tunnels! I was really glad we did it, it made me feel like a kid again! We were particularly silly the entire morning, making funny faces at the cameras and cracking ourselves up with dumb jokes.

But for real, there were fantastic views.

After our trip back down the gondola, we headed over to Ferg Burger for lunch.

If not world-famous, Ferg Burger is definitely New Zealand famous for the best burgers in the country.

I was considering getting a real burger for the experience, but I couldn’t pass up one of the vegetarian options: tempura tofu with chili yoghurt sauce.

It was to DIE for!!!

Of course we got an order of fries, too.

There are leftovers, they were impossible to finish after that monster. Hannah got the original with cheese and she only came up for air to gush about how good it was. I was the same, lol. We got a great seat at the country right before the MASSSIVE lunch rush. You’d think it was a free Lady Gaga concert inside or something!

I guess people go Ga Ga for good burgers. I know I do!

After lunch, we spent some time exploring the lake front right across the street from our hostel.

We looked at the HUGE pine trees, skipped a bunch of rocks, and soaked up the beautiful views, crisp breeze, and autumn sunshine. I love it here in Wellington.

Then, we took a walk into town to the Underwater Observatory. The Lonely Planet said it was free, but we had to pay nz$5 to get in. It was so worth it though!

There were so many trout and salmon hanging out right in front of the big windows. They got super close and we could see them with pretty good detail. We also got to see an eel, or as the Maori call them: tuna, which was pretty freaking creepy, but awesome because they play a big role in Maori culture.

But the ducks stole the show.

Not only could we see their little flippers flapping around under the surface, but they actually dove down underwater, trying to catch fish! It was so cool to see them swim underneath and then float back up. Air bubbles get caught in their feathers so that they look like they are silver, but above ground they are jet black! They were such a cool sight to see!

After we observed everything in the green lakewater light, we headed over to Patagonia chocolates, which received raves from both TLP and the receptionist at the hostel!

We heard about the delicious chocolates, hot cocoa, and ice cream, plus free wifi and lake front views. Sounded good to us!

Everything was wicked expensive, but we will never come back, so we got two small hot chocolates (they came with a little lemon shortbread!) and we split a scoop of vanilla and cookies ice cream.

I have a problem. I LOVE CHOCOLATE. DId you know? I guess we only spent nz$7.50 each, so that’s not too bad for everything we got! However, the internet was slower than slow could ever be slow, which was a letdown.

We walked back to the hostel to get the car and drive a short ways to the big supermarket to get the necessities for the last few days of our trip: eggs, bread, peanut butter, and apples. We also went next door to a Mediterranean market to pick up some special things for a picnic we have planned for tomorrow!

When we got back to the hostel, I have decided to give up on internet for the rest of the trip. I quickly bought nz$2 worth of internet for 30 minutes to check in with the family and get up one last blog post. There are only a few days left, so I’ll just have to make sure I’m journaling and catch up when we get back!

We spent the evening playing more rummy and enjoying a nz$7.99 bottle of “white shiraz” that we got from the grocery store. It was very, very sweet! The perfect dessert after our dinner. We broke up some spaghetti and boiled it with a vegetable soup package. Spaghetti soup! It basically tasted like Ramen.

We splept in a little longer than usual in the morning, and then got ready to do some exploring. Instead of finding a local hike like we usually do, we just decided to walk along the waterfront towards the city, then walk a bit around Queenstown gardens.

It was a very cold morning, but the weather was perfectly clear! We saw a couple of cute puppies and watched some ducks along the waterfront. Then, we took some time exploring the gardens, which despite the cold mid-autumn weather, appeared very lush!

The foliage was so beautiful around a duck pond with a foundtain, plus the rose garden was alive and colorful!

We enjoyed the waterfront some more, then decided to walk around town a bit.

We explored a few gift shops and art galleries, but what was most exciting was the Cookie Time shop.

I have seen the Cookie Time cookies all over the place around NZ, and theis was a full-stocked shop of the stuff! I have only ever seen the original flavor (one big, individually wrapped chocolate chunk) but there were so many different kinds and shapes you can imagine! Triple chocolate, white chocolate, afghan, apricot, mini, broken cookies, etc! The shop even has a “cookie bar” with warm, freshly baked cookies for $3.00 that you can get with a glass of milk. They even have milk on tap!

It was such a fun shop. And with lots of good deals, too! There were also HUGE bags of mini cookies, two for $12 which is such a good deal, we wished we had more of the trip left to eat them all! We ended up going with a deal that gave us 5 individually wrapped large cookies for just nz$10, they are usually nz$2.50 each. We got two of the original chocolate chunk, one triple chocolate, one white chocolate, and one afghan. Better yet, she heated up the two originals in the microwave for us to enjoy then and there! Cookie time rocks.

Soon, we’d had enough walking around and we were ready to enjoy our exciting picnic lunch! We walked back to the hostel and made PB&Js and brought our mediterranean salad and cheese outside to a sunny patch on the waterfront. The weather was absolutely perfect and so was the food. The sheep’s milk gouda was to die for, especially paired with the sundried tomatoes! They were the sweetest one’s I’d ever had. We also got some seasoned green olives (they were a bit spicy!) and some artichoke hearts. We could barely eat it all! Good thing, we saved it for snacks for the road tomorrow. We were also able to watch the sweetest families playing by the lake. Skipping rocks, climbing trees, fighting with leaves, and playing on the playground, a perfect autumn afternoon. (Sorry no pics, I was charging my camera!)

After our picnic, we headed over to the quaint town of Arrowtown, just 20 minutes away from Queenstown. Arrowtown is a small little village favored by day-trippers from Queenstown. It’s schtick is gold-mining, it even has a preserved Chinese settlement from when immigrants came to search for gold.

It was really a touching site.

You can only imagine the hardships they faced, living alone in their small little huts, panning for gold day after day and bracing the long winter months.

They had nothing but hope.

The town centre is full of all sorts of cute shops. Hannah and I really enjoyed the ones with home decour, picking out all of our favorite stuff that we imagined in our own houses some day.

We also did some more oggling at beautiful jewelry and jade. Plus, we visited a very cute sweets shop for some novelty lollies.

There was a whole isle dedicated to “Kiwi favorites!”

I got some jelly beans since it is Easter time. Hannah got some sour feijoas that were really quite strange. Almost bitter. The place also makes its own fudge, and I got to try a sample of the creme brulee. It was soooo good it made me want to buy some! A little boy (a local) came in for a sample, but the fudge-maker told him he’d already had is fair share of samples for the day. Everyone in the shop was laughing.

As the shops started to close, we came upon Arrowtown’s microbrew.

We snuggled up by the fire for a half pint, I got the dark one, obviously.

After our beers, we headed over to Pesto, an Italian place we’d heard good things about. We were the only two in the place, and the waitress asked us if we were cold (yes!) and she sat us at the warmest table in the place, right under a space heater. It was so nice, you can imagine.

We first got a “pizza crust” to start, which was basically a white pizza with garlic and parmesan, plus pesto to spread on top. For our main dish, we split a medium “sunworshipper” pie which had pumpkin, sundried tomatoes, pine nuts, jalepenos, and cream cheese.

Yes, cream cheese! There are little globs on it, like there sometimes are globs of ricotta on a sweeter pie. It’s really quite delicious!

After dinner, we headed back to the hostel for a cookie and the rest of the wine.

We warmed up the white chocolate, which was a chocolate cookie with chunks of white chocolate. Divine!

A few more rounds of rummy later (Hannah’ still winning by upwards of 400 points!) we hit the sack. We woke up in the morning to hit the road for our last day of our trip.

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Glacier Country

Our first night in Franz Josef, we really took advantage of the amenities – we went in the free sauna! It was so relaxing and warming in the chilly mountains (50*F—brrr!).

For dinner, we couldn’t resist the frozen boxes of mac n cheese on sale for nz$3 at the market. Comfort food never tasted so good!


We also got a cheap as bag of anzac biscuits. Anzac biscuits are a crunchy sort of oatmeal, cocunut, and molasses/honey cookie. They are delicious!


They also have some historical significance that I need to look up. Edited to add: My glacier guide told me the Anzac soldiers were sick of having their muesli as porridge so they baked it into chookies! I can’t wait to get my hands on a good recipe and make them once I’m back in the States! Any kiwi readers like to share a recipe?

In the morning, we woke up to visit Matheson Lake first things after sunrise. Supposedly, in the early morning there are stellar views of the mountains reflected in the still lake. We couldn’t wait to see!


The hike was a little over an hour and took us around the lake and to a few viewpoints. But the sky just didn’t want us to see anything today, I guess:


It was still a beautiful, peaceful way to start the day. We got to see some wildlife up close! Here is a pukeko:


Though I admit, the pukeko isn’t exactly a wild animal here. They are all over the place! They look so exotic, though!


After the walk, we visited the Matheson Cafe.


On a good day, there are spectacular views of the surrounding high peaks, including Mount Cook, the highest one in New Zealand.


To try and cheer ourselves up, we split a slice of carrot cake…


…and a banana apricot muffin.


It worked! My soy latte was fabulous, too 😉


After our refreshments, we took a long and windy gravel road through the rainforest to get to a beach we had heard was nice, Gillespies Beach.


Maybe on a sunny day it’s nice…


It’s safe to say that we didn’t stay long. The road was also lined with all these bizarre-looking sheep!


Most of the roads are lined with sheep farms, but these ones looked so overgrown and wild!

We spent the afternoon browsing tourist shops, trying to bide our time and wait to for the sky to clear. Lunch was a fabulous PB&J!


Well, I like to tell myself it is. I try and image the typical PB&J on white bread with super-sweet grape jelly and smooth, salty, and sugary peanut butter. It makes me enjoy my “harvest wholemeal” bread with strawberry rhubarb preserves, and chunky, no-sugar-added peanut butter. Still cheap as anything, but more wholesome.

Soon we decided the weather was too gloomy to do anything outdoorsy, we headed to the hostel for an afternoon of chilling out.


We did some laundry (this rouge tea towel ended up in our load) and blogged, but most importantly, we played games! The Franz Josef YHA was well-stocked with board games. We started by playing Scategories, but since there was no working timer, we improvised with the alarm on my phone.


I pretty much killed Hannah, but it evens out because she always creams me at rummy.

For dinner, I boiled some pasta and then added more pumpkin and garlic soup-in-a-pouch and a can of corn to make a sort of Pumpkin Corn Noodle chowder.


With some rosemary, oregano, salt, and pepper, it was honestly super delicious!

After dinner, we played a very rowdy game of pictionary. We basically just chose a word from a Pictionary card at random and saw how fast we could get the other to guess what it was. Some notables were baby sweetcorn (what even is that?), my progressively strange-looking horses, my “goldfish America”, spit, passport (for the life of my I could NOT guess it lol!), loch ness monster (I guessed with incredible speed), “it would be hard to kill a fly with a screwdriver!”, non-alcoholic beer, and cloakroom. We were laughing so hard (and getting a lot of stares) and having a romping good time. It was an Easter I’ll never forget!

The next day was what we had been waiting for…time to hike Fox Glacier!


We arrived to the office early, so we fueled up with a savory scone (cheese and tomato) and a muffin (chocolate and strawberry), which were both fresh hot out of the oven. They were both shockingly delicious!

Soon it was time to get all geared-up. We put on solid-soled boots and got fitted crampons (spikes for the bottoms of our boots), the boarded the bus to the terminal face (where the glacier starts).


It felt a bit stilly, but I had been so nervous about being disappointed by the glacier. I had hyped up this portion of the trip so much in my mind, plus yesterday’s weather had turned out to be a flop, that I was nervous it wouldn’t meet my expectations.


And I was right, it didn’t meet my expectations. The first glimpse of the glacier completely exceed them above and beyond an measure I could imagine!

The glacier was absolutely unforgettable. It was MASSIVE.


Made completely out of ice, it is immensely powerful. I was surprised at how dynamic it is. In the past ten years, the glacier and receded and growth forward again a dramatic length.


Our guide told us that on any given day, the features of the glacier will change, such as crevasses, waterways, and caves.


Just to begin our hike we had to climb through a huge crevasse.


We were lucky enough to see some large arches, but the ice cave stole the show.


All of these features of the glacier are created by water drainage. It was so incredible so see how strong it is: it can move rocks the size of 2-story houses!


At the same time, it was also very pure.


All of the water on the glacier is drinkable and tasted like pure, clear ice water!


The ice appears blue, it’s such a beautiful sight! This is because it is so dense that the only color able to penetrate through it.


I loved the feeling of being on the glacier.


I felt so delicate and vulnerable, yet on top of the world. It was not very difficult to hike, it wasn’t very steep and I soon got used to taking intentional, forceful steps into the ice. Plus, our guide was able to carve paths to make our trail smoother.


The cool thing was that we didn’t have a trail, we were just exploring! At one point, someone asked about a hole on one side of the glacier, and our guide said, “I don’t know, I haven’t seen that before. Let’s go check it out!”


As we got higher and higher on the glacier, I felt like I was being taken farther and farther away from civilization, and I love that feeling. I love the feeling that no one is around, and I am the first person to be there. I should be a fundamentalist.


Climbing the glacier was a lot more frightening that I had thought (one slip and I could be stuck in a bone-crushing shaft) but it was also much more peaceful than I thought.


Our guide was very knowledgeable and was able to tell us all about the history of the glacier. In the 60s, before environmental preservation was of anyone’s concern, people would just leave their trash on the glacier, and it occasionally turns up, preserved by the ice!


We found a can of beans. He also told us about the Maori history around the glacier. An important ancestor was climbing the glacier to collect sharp rocks for axes and such, and he was killed. Fox Glacier remains his final resting place. His lover was so distraught by his death that she cried a river of tears which froze, creating the neighboring glacier, Franz Josef. What is incredible is that a birds-eye view of the glacier shows that they are in fact in the shape of teardrops. HOW were they possibly able to know that?! My entire experience on the glacier was dizzying, and it was a day I will never forget.


It ended up being a cloudy day, but it didn’t matter much because I had the following layers on: thermasilk, smartwool, waffle thermal, sweatshirt, and rain jacket. Plus, views of the glacier weren’t obscured because, well, you are right on top of it! At the end of the day, it began to clear up and we got a few glimpses of that beautiful blue sky.

I’m sure you’ll believe me that after a full day hike on the glacier, we were exhausted. We dragged ourselves to the store to get some spaghetti for dinner (with leftover pasta sauce) and snag some sale post-Easter cadbury. Hannah has been dying for a chocolate bunny, so she grabbed the last one.


That left me with Charlie the Easter Chick. Who, upon undressing of foil, just looked like a bunny without ears.


The first bit was a struggle (do it bite it? cut it? break it?) but it was well worth it because it was delicious!


Plus, I had a creme egg. Hannah was weirded out by how it looks like a real egg inside (hence the yolk) but I think it’s an Easter novelty that no one should be without!


I was pleased that the only good chocolate easily obtainable in Franz Josef was Cadbury, my favorite! Needless to say, we were pretty slap-happy as we enjoying our ridiculous animal-product candies.

Things got even funnier when we met some fellow AUT study abroad students! Felix, Luis, and Carlos are from Mexico and have been doing the opposite loop of the South Island as we are doing. We were crossing paths at the halfway mark! They were telling us hilarious stories of their past travels, all in perfect English! They were a really fun bunch, it was so nice to meet them, and we are excited to hang out back in Auckland together!

On to Queenstown tomorrow!

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West Coast – Koru Jade

We had a very relaxing night in the hostel in Punakaiki. We made a dinner of pumpkin and garlic soup-in-a-bag, plus we added in leftover canned peas and half a can of lentils.


It was really delicious with some oregano from the communal spice shelf in the kitchen! We also had wine from these teeny-tiny glasses.


Our roommates were a really nice couple from Boston taking a 7-month trip around the world. Quite the adventure!

A nice evening, but our overnight was a little less peaceful. There was really hard rain pouring above us, plus hard gusts of wind that made trees scratch against the sides of the building. We woke up to even more rain.


Not a terrible thing since we didn’t have any outdoorsy plans, but it did not make for a very scenic drive down the West Coast! Though we did see this pretty cool, natural, roadside rain waterfall!


We were headed to Hokitika, the jade capital of New Zealand. Jade, or Greenstone, or Pounamu, can only be found in the South Island of New Zealand, and it is really prominent in their culture, especially Maori culture. After just a few weeks in New Zealand and seeing person after person with a beautiful green jade necklaces, I knew it would be the perfect keepsake from my time here. It has been a really important process for me to choose what type of pounamu necklace I want, which started during my first week here. There are a few traditional Maori designs, but the ones that appeal to me are the koru (a spiral representing growth, new beginnings, harmony and peace), the twist (a crossover shape representing friendship, joining of lives for eternity, and the union of two cultures), and the hei matau (a fishook shape representing determination, strength, and prosperity). There are also a lot of designs that take the form of a Maori demigod, but since I do not identify with any particular iwi (tribe), and I do not come from a Maori whanau (family) I do not feel like I could authentically wear a symbol of an ancestor. I have been contemplating for weeks which design I like the best and which one means the most to me. I love the idea of the twist since I am taking this journey around aotearoa (New Zealand) with one of my best friends and we will undoubtably be bound forever from this experience. Also, I have fallen in love with and become so committed to the Maori and Kiwi culture and I feel like it will be a part of me for the rest of my life. On the other hand, I like the idea of the fish hook because of the natural strength and determination that I have always had and always will value as one of my most important character traits. But on the OTHER hand (yes, I have three hands here) I adore the koru spiral since it depicts the unfurling fern, such a classic, iconic, both Maori and New Zealand symbol. Plus, most of the jewelry I wear tends to be circular and I love images of nature. And probably the most important aspect of my time here in New Zealand is that I will be forever changed by what I learn from my experiences here, and that it has started a new trajectory of growth in my life that will never end.

So yes, I have been debating what symbol to get for more than two months, and the time has finally come to choose. I wanted to get my jade form an authentic carver near the source, and I learned that Hukitika was the place to get it. After much deliberation and window-shopping around the town (to think–I almost bought my pendant from a corporate business that imports the jade from British Columbia!!!), I finally chose a piece from Traditional Jade, a small, family whanau-owned shop on the outskirts of town.


The design that I finally chose, the koru spiral because in the end, I knew in my gut that it was the most beautiful and most important shape to me. What I love most about it is how it glows bright green when the light shines through, with a few speckles of deep, dark green.


Hannah’s design incorporates both the twist with the koru.


When it came time to purchase our pieces, the woman in the shop shared with us the tradition in her whanau to always receive jade as a gift and to say a blessing before handing it over. Naturally, I bough Hannah’s neckalce for her, and she bought mine for me.


We sat in our little yellow subaru to exchange them. It was a VERY emotional moment for us.


Through tears, we choked out a blessing about how these pendants will help us to never forget what we learned here, always bond our friendship, and represent how we have become changed women from this experience.


After we had finished wiping our tears, we went to Cafe de Paris for lunch, a place recommended to us by the eccentric artist we had met in Nelson.


She makes a trip to Hokitika every year just to visit this restaurant! It was a really cute French-style cafe, and we got French onion soup (lighters than most versions I’ve had before and very flavorful! With these intriguing seeds, too!),


and a ficelle (skinny baguette with bacon, pesto, brie, and capsicum).


It tasted magnificent!

Then, it was back on the road, headed to Glacier Country, one of the places that I’ve been looking forward to most. Look at how calm this bay is.


And so reflective! We are hoping that the weather clears up for tomorrow and Monday so that we can have clear views on our glacier hikes!


The YHA hostel in Franz Josef Galcier Village is really nice. It feels like a ski lodge!


I’m excited to spend three nights in this beautiful place 🙂

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more Nelson & on the road to Punakaiki

We also peaked in an antique store that was full to the brim with old chotchkies.


There was a gallery right around the corner form our hostel, Mansfield Gallery, that showcased one series of paintings and sculptors from an artists in Auckland.


It was a really powerful series of guns, Jesus, targets, and Buddah with different colors and lots encased in what looked like rainbow sprinkles. Odd. Very modern.  We also visited another jewelers called the Jewel Beetle that had lots of pretty jewelry I wanted! Lots of things with sunflowers, roses, and spirals. So beautiful.


The last gallery we visited was definitely the best. It was a small space with several pieces from a handful of local New Zealand artists.  There was some great photographs and paintings.


I loved this series of houses, I want to live there!


The other artist I really enjoyed ended up being the woman in the gallery! She talked to us for a long time, she was so friendly and fun. She had even been to Vermont for Christmas this year! She told us how much she loved being able to ski right outside the door and how nice the people were, even though it was 14 below. She also told us about the one time she went to New York City, and she found a great restaurant to have her first Ruben sandwich. There was even a jazz band playing there! They stayed so long that the service dwindled, and she went right up to the waitress and told her that this was a dream come true for her, and they better do their job or else New Zealand will get a very bad review of their restaurant. Good for her. The paintings that she made were a series of scenes from the Wizard of Oz in such a fun, youthful way!


She was very humble, describing it as primary or naive, but I just thought it was joyful and lovely!


After our gallery tour, we went to a cafe/gallery for lunch. Luck us, the art there was children’s art!


We got delicious french toast on whole wheat bread with strawberry and rhubarb chutney.


It was heavenly. We also got a couscous dish with chickpeas, almonds, apricots, and a bunch of other great stuff that was dressed with curry, cumin, and cilantro.


Hello, awesome!

We couldn’t find free wifi anywhere in Nelson, which was a huge bother to us since its quite a well-established city. Also, there was no parking so we had to keep going back every three hours to refill (there was a three-hour limit in the lot by our hostel).

After lunch, we took the car to the botanical reserve to climb the hill that supposedly marks the center of New Zealand.


Really, it is the center of the Nelson district, which is the center district of all of New Zealand, but it was pretty cool all the same.


It made me feel like I had a long way to travel still! There were also great views of the ocean and the hills at the top.


Some of the trees are even turning colors for fall! My favorite time of year.

Then, we drove to a beach, Tahunanui, that Hannah wanted to check out.


It was really great!


The tide was sooooo low, it was really neat!


We spent a while just exploring.

On the way home, we pulled over to take a peak at the Lighthouse, Boulder Bank.

After resting and having a fancy dinner of pasta, chunky tomato sauce (with canned peas added in) at the hostel, we set out for the “Free House” bar, which came highly recommended by both the GOOT guide and TLP.


As usual, it didn’t disappoint! Free House is a church-turned-tavern and guess where the bar is?  Yep, right on the alter. All of their beers, wines, and ciders are New Zealand-made and their repertoire of brews is often changing.


Another cool thing is they have a list of nearby take-out places that they endorse! You can order a delivery pizza from down the road, or bring over take-out from the Indian place across the street. For an early Thursday night, the place was full of locals!

The bartender asked us if why we hadn’t ever been there before, he answered himself by saying, “cause this is your first night here?” He was really nice and let us try a bunch of different beers on tap. Three different beers form a great brewery, then I asked to try the darkest one (I’m a Guinness Girl!) and I fell in love. The Oyster Stout form a brewery in Christchurch was smooth with malty licorice and chocolate flavors. At 6.2% he assured me it would last me all night! I ordered a half pint.


Then Hannah tried a Blackcurrant Cider, which was also out of this world delicious! She got a half pint of that, too. Then the bartender told us that they made a great combination mixed together (of course he gave us a taste), and we both knew that 1) a second drink was in order, and 2) we were absolutely ordering that.

Since the place was so full, we started drinking in the little garden outside, with a ceiling of blue christmas lights above us!


When we saw a group leave, we headed back inside and talked and talked and talked like we usually do. We agreed that if we got the second drink, we wouldn’t go out again until Queenstown. We were even happier when the bartender gave it to us for the price of the cider (a few bucks cheaper than the beer).


We had such a good time, and were in bed by 10:00.

Best spring break ever.

Our wake up time was 7am to get ready to hit the road again. We were annoyed to discover that the three showers (apparently the only three in the place) were occupied, so we had to wait around. It was especially irksome because, to be honest, our showers are few and far between on this vacay. Since hostel showers can be a bit sketch and we aren’t doing anything fancy, we let ourselves go a few days lol. But these showers were really nice, so we wanted to get one in before we got further into the countryside! Eventually, it was our turn and we quickly got ready, ate breakfast, hit up Subway for a nz$4 picnic lunch, filled up the tank with petrol, and got back on Highway 6 heading south.

The drive down Highway 6 first took us through Buller’s Gorge, which was sort of creepy!  It was really cloudy and deserted, almost haunted.


But there were also some pretty spectacular views.


Another memorable picnic spot!


We passed through the town Westport to refresh ourselves at another recommended cafe from both GOOT and TLP.


It was really cute inside, though I would classify it as service WITHOUT a smile, lol. I think the (American-ha!) lady who owned the place was stressed since it was Good Friday and she let her staff have the day off. Some people just can’t handle life.


She’d better be happy because not only did I get a latte, but I got a lemon shortbread, too–AND paid nz$2 for 30 minutes of her wifi. And a Good Friday to you, too!


Pretty soon it was back on the road and more amazing views.


We stopped in Punakaiki to see the famous “pancake rocks” and “blowholes.”


They were such an amazing sight!


The blowholes are created when really rough surf surges around the holey rock formations.


The sea was relatively calm so all we got to see was a bit of mist shooting out.


There was so much flax growing everywhere! They reminded me of cornfields in America. They should make a flax maze!


We also got to see a native bird called a Weka. They make a deep throaty sound.


After we marveled at the rocks, we checked into our hostel. Each one is better than the next!


And for just nz$24! It’s like a treehouse!


We are going to spend the night relaxing here.


A few yards down from our hostel is that start of the Truman Track, a 15 minute hike through the jungle…


…to this.


It’s not even about the way these natural wonders look, its how they make you feel. So grateful to be part of something so magical.

(read what happened next!)

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Kaikora and Nelson

Pretty much as soon as we got to the South Island, we realized there was really only one way we wanted to travel:


Renting a car would give us the freedom we want to stick to our own schedule, go where our hearts desire, and explore off the beaten track. When we inquired about renting a car at a company in Picton and heard we could rent this yellow Subaru for less than nz$200 each, we knew it would be a good decision for us.


after another warm, cozy night in the Picton YHA (seriously the most comfy hostel beds ever in existence!)


And another breakfast in the charming kitchen and dining room,


We hit the road!


And we were hit by breath-taking views!


See the SNOW?!?!


See the OCEAN??!?!


Renting a car was definitely a good decision.

When we arrived in Kaikora, a small coastal town, we stopped at a fresh fish market, Cods and Crayfish.


Being a coastal town, Kaikora is famous for its seafood, but instead of paying a fortune at a restaurant, we decided to prepare our own!


We went for the “Kaikora Deep Sea Cod.”


Doesn’t get more local than that.


Next stop was our hostel (look at our car! We are working a name…) For just $25, check out this ocean-view room:


We spent the afternoon in Kaikora exploring to town and coastline.


We were soooo relaxed. And happy. And loving life.


We stopped at a cute little shop for a latte and free wi-fi (boo ya!) before going jewelry shopping.


The Paua shell can be found right on the beach here in Kaikora, and it makes the most beautiful jewelery, so I couldn’t leave town without some. I love circular designs, and I love dangling earrings, so these were perfect! I love how they showcase the beautiful colors and design of the shell. Plus, they are made with sterling silver and on sale for nz$20! I love a good bargain!


Hannah and I both have just one second piercing, so we get “friendship earrings” – a set of small earrings that we split between the two of us! These little Paua earrings were just nz$3.


I’m so excited! I never want to take them off!

Time to prep dinner! We decided to make Classic Kiwi Hostelmade Fish and Chips:


“Chips” were roasted kumara (sweet potato) lightly oiled and sprinkled with S&P. Baked for about 45 minutes, tossing occasionally.


“Fish” was local, fresh cod seasoned with a little oil, S&P, ground ginger, and lemon. Baked for 12 minutes.


It was awesome. So much better than the greasy take-away.


The cod was so tender and light, plus kumara has so much flavor. It was perfect in every way!

Though Kiakora is known for its whale-watching, tours are really expensive, so Hannah and I decided to pass. We couldn’t leave without seeing some marine life, so we head out on the Peninsula Walkway to see the seal colonies!


They were so cute and fat! But it was a little bit scary, because apparently they can bite and move faster than expected! We kept our distance of course.


But of course, it wasn’t all about the natural wildlife.


The walkway was along the cliffy coast of Kaikora’s Peninsula.


Everywhere we turned there were incredible views through the brisk, autumn, ocean breeze.

After our hike, we didn’t waste any time to get back on the road. We were headed for Nelson! The drive was very windy, very beautiful, and very remote.


Check out our picnic spot:


We stopped at Subway on the way out of Kaikora for lunch.


I admit, I’m a bit obsessed.


A whole foot long veggie delight (cheddar, lettuce, tomato, pickles, jalepenos, olives, peppers, carrots, and cucumbers) on toast honey oat bread for less than nz$8!!!! The perfect road trippin’ lunch for two.


Pretty soon we had reached the city limits! Our first day in Nelson definitely put me in my place. All of my tedious planning, I mean, pre-organized fun blew up promptly in my pretty little face upon arrival.

Problem #1 – No parking for lil yellow. We will have to do some strategic stationing! For now, the car park (Kiwi-speak for parking lot) behind the hostel is free from 6pm-8am.

Problem #2 – Had to cancel our bone carving workshop since the artisan is out of town for Easter. Big bummer, we were so looking forward towards carving our own bone necklace!

Problem #3 – The brewery we had planned for dinner and a beer sampler was closed when we arrived.


Luckily, they still let us have a beer on the deck while they closed up!


They are NZ’s first organic brewery, and Hannah and I both adored our beers.


I got the “Fairy Lady” and Hannah got the “Red Hed.”


Mine was pleasantly fruity and Hannah’s was understatedly robust. We might even go back!  This led to some unexpected fun because the people at the brewery recommended a place near by for dinner, and it ended up blowing us away!

The place was particularly unique because they brew their own beers and ciders, and they have a partnership with the wholesome take-away place next door so you can munch on their food in the bar.


I got a falafel burger for nz$8 that was so full of flavor I couldn’t stop smiling and shoveling it into my face.


We had a great time chilling on their deck, watching the locals come get their Wednesday night dinner takeaways.


We also got a hot brownie with chocolate sauce, because we are on vacation,

and it only cost us nz$2 each to split it 😉

Problem #4 – The Japanese Lantern Park I had scoped out as a fun night activity was not where my map said it would be. When we did find it, I discovered that though the park is open 24 hours, the lanterns were not lit up! It looked very pretty, so we may go back tomorrow, too.

Problem #5 – We are so tired from our travels that it is 8pm and I am going to sleep!

However, our second day in Nelson went trouble-free! We let ourselves sleep in until 8:00 to catch up on some much-needed rest. Then, after breakfast in the hostel, we made our way our on a self-guided gallery tour! Nelson is known for all its great artists, photographers, sculptors, jewelry-makers, and ceramists.


The first stop on our tour was a bead gallery, full of the funkiest beads I had ever seen!


Next was Fibre Spectrum, which showcased textile designs, fabric prints, and dyed yarn.


I loved all the shawls, blankets, sweaters, and yarn.


We peaked into Jens Hansen, the gold and silver smith who made the ring for the Lord of the Rings movies. Magical!


Nextdoor was Flamedaisy Glassblowers.


Their pieces were so colorful and had such interesting shapes. The tumblers were so fun!


South Street gallery was probably my favorite because it was full of gorgeous pottery!


I’ve always loved ceramics. Probably because it is very function art!


And cause I love food. There were also these neat incense stands:

(to be continued…)

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Marlborough Wineries (Part II)

From Gibson Bridge, it was a short cycle down the road to Mahi (meaning “our work” in Maori).


The Mahi label is especially interesting.


It is a snail, which symbolizes taking your time and going slowly through the wine making process (not rushing the growth or fermenting process) to produce the best flavor.


After a particularly tough cycle uphill (with strong winds going in the other direction!)


we made it to the fully-organic winery, Seresin.


Our first impression of their vineyards was unparalleled.


What makes Seresin special is that their entire wine-making process is 100% organic.


They recycle everything and have a very “hands off” (hence their label) process to creating their wine. They tasted so full of natural flavor.


I want.


They were also sampling their olive oils (the lime was out of this world!) and Feijoa Jam!


I’m really glad that I “permitted” Hannah to steal us each a grape. They burst open with sweet, juicy goodness that absolutely was reminiscent of the wines we’d just tasted. So real.


Our second-to-last winery was Isabel, a 100% family-owned establishment.


We were greeted by their joyful great dane, Luna!


This was another one of my favorite wineries. We spent a while there, chatting with the granddaughter to the founder the winery. She was so young, and grew up there among the vines! She knew so much about the wine, and I could tell that she liked how young, curious, and enthusiastic we were, and wanted us to have a great tasting experience. We tried the ones our guide had recommended to us, then she insisted we try her favorite, also the quintessential Sauvignon Blanc, and a dessert Riesling, “because you have to.”


We left there feeling great, heading to our last winery, Highlands.


Before we tasted anything, we climbed the tower!


The views were spectacular.


Then, we got to taste!

We didn’t get as much individual attention as we had been spoiled with in the other places, since it was quite a big business, but all the same, it was some of the best wine we’d had.

When we made our way back to the tour location, the tour guide did not only give us a ride back into town, but he dropped us off at a cafe, since we were about 45 minutes early for our bus, that was only a 5 minute walk back to the station!


Plus, I’d read about the place in TLP! We just got a cup of tea (chai for me, lime jasmine for Hannah) since our bellies were so full of sips upon sips of wine.


It was my first time visiting wineries, and it was a day I will never forget. I’ve always had a pretty big interest in wine because it’s a very cool science, but also a very romantic art. And I learned so much more about it since I got a taste of so many different kinds! I learned about different growing and fermenting processes make how they make such a diverse range of flavors and tastes. A common theme among all the wineries was that the best wines are made as naturally as possible, which takes a lot of patience.

This is really the same for anything in life: preparing food, fostering relationships, and learning new things. For best results, handle with tender love and care, but allow yourself to let nature take control. Give things time.

We had a really light (and dirt cheap) meal of soup-in-a-pouch and macaroni.


One serving is less than a dollar. It does the job!

(Read about my time in Kaikora and Nelson!)

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