Long-awaited! New Zealand! Living the dream! HA
Our arrival was a bit eventful. Our Airbnb host was supposed to pick us up, but I guess we were through immigration and customs much faster than we thought -probably because we were in the FRONT of the plane – BUSINESS CLASS BABY!! With LIE-FLAT BEDS!! So awesome. And needed for the 16 hour travel time or whatever crazy amount it was. HA.
Anyway, we waited an hour or so and finally found our host in the parking lot across the street. Meantime, DUNKIN DONUTS. HA. And a nice conversation with some friendly Aussie guys waiting for their flight out.
We crashed in our Airbnb (which was NOT QUITE as pictured, but still nice, and I suggested the false pics be removed). The next day we did some shopping. We had some warmer clothes shipped (to my friend Jeannine’s husband’s friend Murray) but we would need more. It was already CHILLY and would get much colder on the South Island.
We shared a wonderful evening with Murray and his friends, where I tried to repay his kindness with copious amounts of alcohol. HA. Murray made an awesome meal and accommodated Laney’s desire for beef as well as my desire for something different -in this case duck. So good. And an amazing spread of apps as well!!! The man can cook!!!
The next day, unfortunately, I must have picked up a bug, so it was a rough morning. Still feeling pretty rough in the belly, our Airbnb host was kind enough to let us stay until the afternoon when we finally ventured out to get our campervan, as planned. From there, we headed north of Auckland. I tried to make it to Russell but ran out of steam, so we ‘free camped’ at the nearest spot once the exhaustion hit me.
The next day, we made it to Russell, which was suggested by our friends in Auckland (from the Borneo tour). It was beautiful. I had planned to go fishing, but, unfortunately, I was still feeling a little too weak, so we just chilled at the campground, which was quite nice. I was sad to not fish, but so it goes.
Photo of us picking up the campervan – this will be our home for the next 20-some days. It’s KINDA SMALL INSIDE!! HA. I intentionally got the smallest van that is ‘free camp certified’ (meaning it has a toilet). I was a little concerned about driving a big vehicle on what I had heard were challenging roads, plus, left side driving.
Above, view of the water from our campground in Russell. Or maybe a nearby lookout point, I don’t remember. HA
The next day we headed back south to Auckland, picked up the late-arriving package from Murray and spent a great evening with Helen, Steve, Phoebe and Dillan at their home. We parked in the driveway and slept in the van, but they provided a WONDERFUL dinner and a shower in the morning. HA. Of course, I provided lots of wine. HA. We had a great time, all relaxed on ‘home turf’ – it was homey for Laney and me too, because, well, English. HA.
It is worth mentioning here, although I think we actually learned about it while in Borneo. Phoebe plays Water Hockey. Basically a weighted ball on the floor of a swimming pool with relatively short sticks requiring the players to dive underwater to hit the ball. Players wear snorkel and mask (not sure about fins?) to keep an eye on the ball from the surface of the water. Very interesting!! Seems challenging right?
The next day, Laney wanted to see the movie “Love, Simon” – and hey, we are in an English speaking country, so why not?!
After that, we headed south (still on the North Island) to Rotarua. And checked into a Top 10 campground, and became ‘members’, providing us some valuable discounts.
The receptionist pointed us to the restaurant section of this adorable town. The first night we ate at an Irish pub (there truly is one everywhere). The next night I had a flight then we went for Mexican which was amazing!!!
Eat Street – lit up by changing colors at night.
In Rotorua, we visited a ‘touristic farm’ and saw 19 different breeds of sheep! And witnessed sheep sheering. Pretty cool. Also a show of the skills of the working dogs. Very cool. And I GOT TO MILK A COW!! On stage, no less. Ha. Bucket list – check! Laney particularly liked the working dogs. One would put his paw on her when she made to walk away – he didn’t want her to leave!! So cute!
Baby sheep so cute!
Different types of sheep – very cool.
The cow I milked – a Jersey cow! Perfect for the New Jersey-an.
This is the dog that didn’t want Laney to go!
How cute is this guy?
Then, we were rolled down a hill in a big plastic ball. HA. YUP. Fun.
After that, I had a nice long soak in the hot spring pools at our campsite. I had no idea they would have them! Bonus!
The next day we left Rotorua but not before exploring the Waiotapu thermal pools and the Lady Knox Geyser.
Laney was not so excited about this particular excursion. HA.
Can’t believe the color of this water!!
Here, she’s cheered up because we are about to leave. HA
Then we headed down to Waitomo where we intended to explore the glow worm caves. I didn’t want to do the standard tour and – due to an illness of the guides – the Black Abyss tour with abseiling and zip lines were not available. Ah well. No caves for us.
Side note, when we left Auckland, our friends gave us a pile of feijoa’s (pronounced fuh-JOW-ah – it took me forever to remember how to say it – Laney laughed and rolled her eyes every time for weeks). This is a local fruit they grow in their garden. Somewhat similar to a kiwi inside, but looks like a small oblong apple on the outside. Cut it in half and eat it with a spoon. SO freaking good. Really sweet and a bit of a bubblegum flavor, in my opinion.
Next stop Lake Taupo. This is also an Amazing town. Beautiful views of the lake. Cool shops and restaurants. And the McDonalds is an airplane! We intended to go but didn’t. Just as well for our health. Ha.
We did, however, have a nice long hike thanks to Laney. Laney is not usually one for long hikes. So, I had planned a relatively short hike of about 2.5 km round trip to see the Huka falls. However, as we started the hike, Laney noticed a “more interesting“ route to get there. This “interesting“ route ended up being a 6 km round trip rather than the (less than) 2.5km I had planned. Not to mention, it was quite challenging and hardly populated by anyone at all. It was, in fact, a mountain biking route. Needless to say, it took us quite a while longer than we had planned. Laney was pretty miserable in spots. Particularly when I stopped at a small PVC pipe draining water and told her THAT was the falls. She was delirious from walking and took me seriously – for a minute. Then we had a good laugh….OK, I did. HA.
Huka Falls itself was pretty amazing. The water coming over the fall could fill five Olympic swimming pools every minute. That is a massive amount of water. And the water was blue and clear practically perfect!
The walk back was on the original route, which was quite flat, easy and fast. Ha! Thank goodness, because it was getting dark. Yikes.
We had some challenges finding our van at the end of the path because we hadn’t gone that way, to begin with – and my directions weren’t very specific. But, we found her (we named the van Bessie) and also saw the local teenage hangout at the Hot Springs. Young people were all arriving and settling in for a nice evening of soaking and drinking. HA. Pretty cool spot.
We slept well that night (HA) and the next day we headed down to Wellington
I should say that my itinerary in NZ was one of the toughest. So many great places and simply not enough time to do them all. Plus I hadn’t planned anything before we left – and we had some weather challenges. I didn’t realize fall is a rainy season in NZ. Oh well, live and learn!
On the drive to Wellington, we had a ‘cafe day’, which is when we stop at any cafe along the way that suits us. At one point, we stopped at this one. It was full of pens. HA. Laney and I are both a bit obsessed with school/office supplies so this was perfect for us.
Anyway, our campground in Wellington was a bit outside of town as you might imagine for a city. The first evening I made the mistake of driving in for dinner. Ha. It was a weekend night – Friday I think- and kinda crazy driving and parking the big van in the busy bar/restaurant area. Ha. We managed, though, and had a great dinner at an adorable place called The Hummingbird.
Another afternoon/ evening we took an Uber into the town center, to the Te Papa museum and then took a walk to Cuba Street. Where we eventually stopped at a great little Mexican place for dinner. We were a bit disappointed that the giant squid was not on display at Te Papa. That was my main reason for going. Oh well.
The next day we drove onto the ferry and enjoyed a long scenic drive to the South Island. We arrived in the dark and headed right to the Top 10 in Blenheim which is in the Marlborough region. You know what they are famous for? White wine!!! Yay!!
We had dinner in a nearby pub specializing in – yup – beer. HA
The next day Laney and I rented a tandem bike for exploring some wineries. The campground staff tried to tell us our plans were pretty ambitious and that things were not as close as they appeared on the wine map…but did we listen?? Noooooo. Ha. We chose the 16km route – which isn’t too much unless you are stopping a lot for wine and lunch! We had a great day despite some struggles with the tandem-ING. Ha. And only had one fall, toward the end of the day, when I tried to let Laney ‘drive’ from the front. It was a very slow, gentle, fall. Ha.
That day we visited the Allan Scott and Cloudy Bay. We also stopped at Saint Claire where we had lunch. So beautiful and amazing – all of it.
Is this the most wonderful, beautiful map you have ever seen or what? Oh the possibilities!!
Lunch – starter of amazing sourdough bread and amazing olive oil!!
Such a beautiful setting for lunch
Upon returning to our campground we discovered and thoroughly enjoyed the human-sized hamster wheel!! Yet another thing that would never BE in the US – this thing was more dangerous than you might think. Once it got going there was LOTS of momentum. So much fun.
We loved exploring the wineries so much – I made the command decision to do it again the next day! Gluttons we are! This time, we rented the ELECTRIC BIKES!!! Wow, what a great idea – I need one of these at home! All the fresh air, simplicity and freedom of a bike without all the effort!!
Dessert – with a custard and pickled rhubarb. MY FAVORITE!
Typical of us. I got fish, Laney got beef, SO SO GOOD.
We often saw sheep grazing between the grape vines. Probably good weed control? Guess they don’t eat the grapevines?
We visited the Villa Maria winery and then Hunters. On our way to the next winery, Laney took a spill on her bike. Yikes. A pile of gravel was her undoing. She fell like a champ though. I saw her roll a few times like a stunt double from McGyver. HA (funny not funny). Sadly, she bruised her wrist pretty good and got a gash on her hand. We managed to make it back to Hunters for some first aide. They were so nice. A woman there drove Laney home when they closed up about an hour later. And took her to the chocolate shop on the way there too!! And bought her chocolate! Meanwhile, I biked home, and my ‘electric’ bike became a ‘manual’ bike not even half way there…. and with the electric, apparently, its MUCH harder to pedal manually. UGGG! Ha. Guess I worked off some of that wine and food!
The next day we headed out of Blenheim. We stopped at the Spy Valley winery but, sadly, it was closed for the holiday – Anzac Day. This is similar to Memorial Day in the US. Ah well – guess I will have to come back!!
We were on our way to Fox and Fraz Josef Glaciers! We stopped for an evening picnic at the beautiful Nelson Lake on the way. So beautiful.
Our goal was a helicopter tour of the glaciers but sadly the weather did not cooperate.
Off to Wanaka!! We had a few interesting stops and views along the way:
Above – the road had worn away, probably avalanche style. So, there was only one lane. This happened one more time in NZ. I guess that’s the risk of building roads on a cliff side.
At one point, I stopped for a short walk to Thunder Falls (I think that’s what it was called). A short 5-minute walk from the main road and what an impressive and beautiful waterfall!
The glacier water? SO BLUE.
We also stopped at a cool pub along the way, for lunch. I had the whitebait – like an omelet with tiny fish in it. Fresh water sardines, is how they were described to me. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it either. And it had to be done at least once (I had it twice). HA
I was totally in love with the tables in this place. Gorgeous slabs of wood with intricate trunk slices holding them up,
UMM that’s a LOT of antlers!! HA
One of many one-way bridges in NZ. More common on the South Island. This was a particularly impressive-looking one. Also quite long. A traffic light on each end indicates to stop, then the light determines which side should get the green based on if anyone is on the other side. A lot of trust here, since you can’t see the other end. Oh, and I drove many of these in the darkness. – kinda creepy.
This is probably a good time to mention that driving on the south island was the most interesting and fun and challenging I have ever done. SO many hard twists and turns – some required that vehicles go 15km/h. That’s like 7mph. That, my friends, is a VERY SHARP CURVE. Now imagine doing it in the dark. If you miss one of those signs indicating to slow down, and you’re driving a camper van, well, let’s say it’s a little hairy at times. BUT we survived. HA
My advice is, do all your driving during daylight hours. #lessonslearned.
OK so I snapped this gorgeous sunset out my window while driving. NOT smart, but it is SO GORGEOUS!!
Also on the topic of driving – I experienced some of the most amazing scenery while driving through NZ. Many times, it was difficult or impossible to capture it in a photo, this one comes close, but the beautiful ‘road ahead’ was constant!
Wanaka Lake! so pretty!!
What a completely adorable town! Our first goal coming into town was actually to see a movie. We planned to see it at a special theater in town, but when we stopped they had no tickets available for that day. We headed to our campground to regroup. We ended up finding another movie theater that would have seats for that movie that day so we booked them over the phone. I was so glad for this “unfortunate“ event because we found the most amazing movie theater!! The one we planning to go to, I think, was quirky and interesting and awesome and a kid-like way. The one we ended up at, called Ruby’s, was very cool in a more adult way. There were red velour bench seats surrounding the room. A bit of a speakeasy vibe. A bar, yay! The theater itself had only 12 seats and they were all big leather recliners. Plus, Service! Yes, you could order and they would bring food and drinks to your seat. Being as the weather was kind of chilly, I enjoyed two different special hot drinks. One was apple pie I can’t recall the other. What an experience!
In the same area, I had stopped to book us for a rock-climbing adventure. Unfortunately, once again, the weather did not cooperate and it rained the entire next day as well as the day after. Spoiling my plans both for rock climbing and for fishing. Bummer, but we love the town anyway. We had some great meals at a diner in town. I had something called the Buddha which is a vegetarian version of eggs Benedict. Someone in Ocean City needs to start making that! So good.
I took a few photos by the lake of the Wanaka Lonely tree and the foliage in the area. Of course, the photos don’t do it justice, and some sunshine would have been nice too. HA.
Above, view from our campsite in Wanaka.
We hated to leave the beautiful quaint town of Wanaka but we had things we were looking forward to. So off we went!!
As we approached Queenstown, we observed some wineries – so STOP we did! Tasting and lunch. Laney said the beef she had at this winery – Gibbston – was ‘life changing’. HA.
Upon arriving in Queenstown our first goal was the fear factory. They supposedly extremely scary haunted house experience which is different than most in that there are actual people, actors, scaring you in a pitch black environment similar to a maze. It was probably one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. Laney started off leading, in front of me, but she soon switched places and wanted to be behind me. I can tell you she never let go of me. And I think if she could she would have crawled inside my skin. It was very scary. Following a red dot around different corners in the pitch black. People jumping out flashing their ugly faces making noises and at times even touching you as you walk through the maze. Very scary, very cool, very fun!!
Our campground absolutely adorable. Little structures and what I would call industrial art were all around. Here are some photos.
Above is a photo of an adorable outdoor kitchen and BBQ – we made steaks here one night and they were AMAZING! One thing I love about this campground is the great grocery store and cafe right across the street with some great food and wine and morning coffee and bagels! Everything you need!
The staff there, as well, was extremely friendly and helpful. They helped us back our bungee jumping. As well as paragliding.
Gorgeous combination of fall colors and snow-topped mountains in the town of Queenstown.
View from the top – we took a gondola to the top to see the views and do the Ledge AJ Hackett bungee jump. We wanted to do the ledge, even though it’s NOT the biggest drop, because you are harnessed around your body/middle, versus your feet. And because of that, you can jump any way you like. We did something like the Superman – with a running start you jump off the ledge. My heart thumps just thinking about the fear that must be overcome to do this!!
View from the top.
Post-bungee grin! PRICELESS!!
We wanted to hang-glide but the conditions weren’t right. Paragliding was awesome and the view was amazing, we had a very clear day. I have video but it’s too high-res to post here.
Also while in Queenstown we each got a second piercing in our ears. Done by a very interesting character named David. Whose entire mouth was full of silver teeth. His ears had huge holes in the lobes (no earrings at the time we saw him) – and we found out later, from the staff at the campground, that David has piercings on his back and occasionally is hung by rings through these piercings. An interesting past time. Despite his (not-so-traditional) appearance, David was extremely sweet and spoke very highly of his sons as well as a new home that he is very proud of. What he did NOT like, however, was his absolute baby face. In his early 50s, I swear he could pass for 20!!
One last stop in New Zealand. Milford Sound. We made our way to Milford sound and spent the night so we could take the early morning boat. We arrived in time to do some ‘exploring’ – but little did I know there is NOTHING THERE. Literally. The only place to stay, pretty much, was the campground we were in, and they had a restaurant where we had dinner. Otherwise, nothing there!!
An interesting note about driving in New Zealand. Especially on the South Island, there are many many one-way bridges. Traffic on one end must yield to the traffic on the other end. At times you cannot see the traffic on the other end either because the bridge is too long or structure is in the way in which case you must rely on traffic lights to tell you when you can and cannot go. On the way to Milford, a somewhat unique example of this is a tunnel that only supports one-way traffic, at least during the day. During the day, large tour buses travel through the tunnel and there is not enough room for two of them. In the evenings and overnight, however, there is no tour bus traffic allowed and then the tunnel is two-way. Again, in this scenario, there was a traffic light to control which way should be going vs. waiting. It is a bit unnerving…
Above – large curious parrot-type bird.
Milford sound was beautiful but I think Laney and I more enjoyed the underwater observations center. Similar to an aquarium, only you were looking at the lake in its natural state – vs an aquarium with captured species for your amusement. While we were there, we saw a cormorant diving down looking for fish. I wasn’t able to capture any good pictures but it was very fun to watch!
Either on the way to Milford Sound or the way back, we stopped at this place called the Mirror Lakes (if memory serves).
A Few Side notes on NZ:
These were among my favorite foods of New Zealand: Store-bought soup, especially Thai, and Laney loved the pumpkin soup EVERYWHERE, and these golden kiwis, which I ate with the cool spoon/knife combo that came with them! (I still have it – HA).
In America, our traditional salt says “When it rains, it pours” which took me until adulthood to understand (HA). Here is salt in NZ:
Also not sure if I mentioned it already in this post, but the fantail birds, which we saw everywhere, were SO adorable! They have very wide-spread feathers for their tail, and change direction so quickly you almost think they are clumsy! Adorable to watch and rather cheeky, getting close enough to see but not close enough for a good photo.
A few fun places to TRX….
Above, that’s our camper in the background. The bright green and purple one. Funny, Jucy campers in NZ wave to each other when they see each other. I’m not thinking this is ‘official’, but many people do it with GREAT ENTHUSIASM, which of course we had to try to imitate at all times. HA.
I saw a few interesting mailboxes, but couldn’t get photos. This one is my Favorites, though.
At an airport – maybe KL? Very cool ‘larger than life’ Yoda made from Legos.
A good motto I think 🙂
After Milford, we were off to Christchurch to spend one quick night and then a flight to Tahiti! Sad to leave NZ, but excited for the next destination!!
The Adventure Continues!!!