Thursday, May 29, 2014

New Zealand...So Close To Home, Yet So Far Away

The flight from Samoa to New Zealand took approximately 3 hours.  During that flight we experienced just how high Air New Zealand sets the bar for in flight service.  The airline's superb service, gentle humor and warm sophistication that we experienced on the flight sparked our interest as to what more this country had to offer.  Our first taste of what Kiwis hold dear presented itself to us in this safety video.  The video was a preface to our fairytale journey in this seemingly mysterious land down under.
Compared to other countries we visited along this journey New Zealand was home to us for the longest period of time.  I think Amy and I both agree that it was a special place for us.  It provided us with some spectacular scenery that reminded us of home (California, Oregon and Colorado), exposed us to some unique experiences that were added to our list of "firsts" and allowed us to meet some wonderful people whom we will not soon forget.

Before we start detailing our travels and sharing the photos, we thought it would be fun to share with you all a collection of terms, traits and tendencies we experienced during this two month period down under.  After all, these curious differences are why we chose to travel and why we enjoy writing this blog.  We hope you enjoy them and find them helpful should you find yourselves visiting, scratching your head and asking the locals,..."can you repeat that please?"

We fondly call this bit..

                          The Curious Kiwi

  1. The 26th letter in the alphabet is pronounced 'Zed' not 'Zee'.  
  2. "You all right?" Is a common greeting that always through us off.  We got confused whether they meant "how are you?" or "is something wrong?"   
  3. Heaps = a lot/ a bunch of... (ex:  I picked heaps of kiwi fruit today)
  4. 'Sweet as' Is a colloquial term for cool or awesome and is not used as a comparison.
  5. Jandals = flip flops/thongs/sandals
  6. Going barefoot is common and accepted both in the city and country in supermarkets, bars and restaurants.
  7. Marmite is the Kiwi's yeasty spread response to the Australian's vegemite.  I have to say it was better.
  8. The word "college" is another term Kiwis use for High School.
  9. When purchasing items change is always rounded up or down to the nearest dollar amount.
  10. When you see a Wh in a word it is properly pronounced using the Maori language as a "f" (ex: Whangarei= Fangarei)
  11. NZ only has a population of a little over 4 million...yes....4,000,000.  3/4 of that population live in and around Auckland on the north island leaving the south island with a lot of open land for sheep grazing.
  12. Possums (cuter and darker than the American kind) are often found as road kill and are also hunted for their soft fur.  
  13. Kiwis supposedly consume the most ice cream per capita.  However, I think that statistic is skewed by the swarms of tourists gobbling up the Kiwi's own, tasty hokey pokey ice cream (vanilla with honeycomb toffee clumps).
  14. Feijoa fruit is common.  This fruit evidently is only found in some countries in South America, Georgia, Azerbaijan and NZ.  It is green and resembles a fig when cut open.  The taste is difficult to describe.
  15. Manuka honey is a thick, grainy honey that is rated on a purity scale from approx. 5 to 400 and can cost a pretty penny.  We only afforded ourselves a rating of '10' which was around $US 15.00.  
  16. A Kiwi is a term for the fruit, the bird (pictured with Amy above) and the citizens of this amazing country.
Amy with her kiwi goggles on while preparing breakfast one morning with Mt. Cook in the background.
We arrived in Auckland, New Zealand on February 21st to pleasant, summer weather and a temperature in the high 60s.  We were happy to be out of the relentless heat and sticky humidity of Polynesia.  Soon we would regret the temperature difference, but wearing a layer of clothes was a welcomed change for us.  We boarded a connecting flight to Christchurch and landed about and hour later in this city that is still struggling to rebuild itself after the devastating earthquake.  Curiously, we were visiting on the third anniversary of this tragic event.  We stayed near the downtown area in a small B&B called the Designer Cottage.  It was owned by a Malaysian/Kiwi couple that told us what all to see and do in the city and provided us with a clean comfortable stay for three days.  Since the town is still in ruin from the earthquake our tour of the downtown area was quick.  We spent the rest of our time doing some last minute searching for a RV (camper van as they call it) for our month long tour of the south island. We lucked out and found a beautiful, 21 foot VW camper van that just became available as a result of a cancelation a day before our intended road trip departure.  The only caveat to the rental was that it needed to be returned to Auckland in the north island.  Amy and I were only planning on a tour via camper van of the south, but jumped at the opportunity to include part of the north island for such a nicely reduced rate.  
Descending into Auckland, New Zealand.
Storage container buildings went up everywhere after the earthquake and they have stuck around since adding to the trendy, alternative appeal of downtown Christchurch.  Amy made some friends..., but where were the humans?
The city's iconic church still in rubble.
Some where under the rainbow in Christchurch.  Actually, we were in front of our B&B.
Our B&B hosts at the Designer Cottage.
The camper van rental company picked us up and drove us across town to the rental office where we signed the paperwork and got our first glimpse of our Kiwimobile.  Excitement at the prospect of touring in the camper van for a whole month was met with mixed emotions.  The journey indeed would be a month and that was great and all, but...have you seen the size of the camper van?  Moving through these narrow kiwi roads and dodging sheep was going to be a difficult task.  Although the camper van was cave-like inside and offered many nice man cave amenities, the neanderthal that designed this cave on wheels forgot my damn TV.  Amy jumped on the anti TV bandwagon and took it upon herself to find a copy of the Hobbit from some book exchange at one of our earlier accommodations.  Bearing the brunt of my disconnection angst she suggested that we read the book she found together each night in lieu of "rotting our brains" watching TV.  Needless to say, I begrudgingly complied for about 3 nights.  We got half way through the book before we were both just too tired after driving and touring around each day to read.  After setting up camp each night, cooking, cleaning up, setting up our bed, looking at our view and enjoying a glass of wine or two we went right to bed.  Most of the nights we were camping for free (or "freedom camping") which meant we were not plugged in to power and out in the middle of no where, New Zealand. Although we were visiting during their summer the temps dipped down at night, so an early bedtime with the lingering heat of the cook top after cooking our meal was nice. 

Before we left Christchurch we did some shopping and then anxiously pulled out of town to make it a hour down the road to our first planned night in the camper van.  Unfortunately, we noticed that the fridge was not holding a charge from the battery and our food was starting to get warm.  We turned the boat around and headed back to the rental office.  They put us up in a "holiday park" (camper van park with electrical plug ins) with instructions to take the camper van to a repair shop in the morning for a fix.  The stay overnight turned out for the best.  Upon checking in we discovered that since the location of the park was so close to the drop off locations of many other camper van rental companies, people left a lot of remaining food and camping gear with the front desk.  The park prepared a large box of all of these items marked 'for free' for the taking.  Lucky for us the box was over flowing.  We were able to get some veggies, fruit, pasta, canned food, cooking oil, toilet paper and some other small items.  
Wasn't too sure of this endeavor in this photo.  The size of the camper van and the fact that the battery wasn't working properly didn't show cause for much fanfare.  Back at the rental office they plugged it in and were trying to trouble shoot the problem.  I know we had a month in the camper van, but we had so much to see and so much land to cover in that time.  I couldn't get out of my head what I remembered others saying about their trip to NZ and wanting more time to see more of the south island.
Inside of the camper van.  Benches in the back form into a bed.  There was the stove top on the right with cabinets down below.  On the left there was the sink, a small fridge and a wardrobe closet with a microwave above it (that only worked when we were plugged in) and the shower/toilet combo closet to the left.
In an effort to save money we tried to stay at these camper van parks as little as possible.  This photo was taken the night we first got the camper van while we waiting for the repair appointment the next day.  The rental company paid for it, so we celebrated with some local Tui beers and a Mexican dinner.  Happy that NZ had real Mexican food in the super markets and none of that salsa we found in South America with curry in it.
The fix was a quick one and then we were on our way to our first destination, the town of Akaroa (as it turned out one of Amy's favorite towns).  The first 3 or 4 days of our journey were a bit cooler with some storms that produced some showers.  We pulled into Akaroa right around lunch time under a cloudy and dark sky.  Akaroa is a small harbor town that was settled by the French and still holds that Frenchy, old town charm.  We parked the van in a parking lot with other camper vans right along the bay.  We asked the local information center if we could park there and they granted us permission.  NZ sees so many camper vans (specifically on the south island) that the rules are pretty well established on where you can and cannot park.  It is recommended that you ask permission before parking overnight if there are not any permitting signs posted.  Typically, if you are 'self contained' (meaning...having a toilet on board) you can pretty much camp where ever you like.  As you will see in some photos to come, Amy and I had some spectacular (free) camping spots for the night.  We spent our first night in the camper van easing in to this gypsy lifestyle.  In the day and 1/2 that we were in Akaroa we walked the pier in town, got a coffee to warm up in a quaint cafe overlooking the turquoise blue, calm waters of the bay, hiked to the lighthouse and climbed the big hill to take in some panoramic views.

The campers in NZ are a diverse bunch.  You have the rich Europeans (mainly Germans) in their fancy camper vans, young hippy, surf bum Europeans piled into small, colorfully painted camper vans and a small handful of other foreigners touring around in both modest camper vans and cars to include the adventure/nature seeking youth to the older retirees taking their trip of a lifetime.  Most of the foreigners we encountered were Germans and various other English speaking nationals.  
One of our stops along the way to Akaroa.
Akaroa town
Miss blue eyes with a turquoise blue bay backdrop.
There she is.  We had a nice view from our bed in the back of the camper van. 
Since we packed for summer we didn't bring any warm clothing.  This sweater was a great find at the local discount warehouse for only $9.  It was a Chinese made, curiously sized 'small' sweater that zipped on the left side.  It reeked like petroleum too, but it was warm.
The town sat in an old volcanic crater which you could make out only from high above.  
Minus the color of the water this town reminded me of my home town Martinez, California. 
This was the view on our drive out of town over Akaroa.  We drove in an out of the clouds and saw our first sight of the sheep that out number the humans on the island.
We left the area of Akaroa (as mentioned, resembled Northern California) to head to the Mt. Cook area (strangely resembling South Park, Colorado).  The drive took awhile and the scenery turned from rolling hills and beautiful harbors to a flatter brown countryside with less sheep and superbly contrasting mountains and extremely brilliant turquoise lakes.  We stopped for the night at Lake Pukaki which was on one side of Mt. Cook.  Moving back and forth to get the camper van leveled and finding the perfect camping spot took some time.  Once we were settled we sat down for some drinks before preparing dinner and enjoying the awesome views.
Oh us what's behind this beautiful, free campsite.  Well, it is Mt. Cook!
It was pretty chilly out as we scouted around to find the best place to park the camper van.  I am wearing the NZ beanie we bought in Akaroa.  One of the few very handy items we bought ourselves for the trip.  After all there is snow on those mountains back there.
Camper van level (pretty much) and time for another Tui beer (bottle of wine of Amy) and some cheese we purchased on our drive.
Mt. Cook at sunset 
Mt. Cook and the lake the next morning before setting off to the mountain and to see our first NZ glacier.
The landscape was staggering and inspired Amy enough to lace up the running shoes and head out.  I went 5 kms up the road and waited.  With the turquoise lake to the right of us and the grazing fields to the left and the majestic mountains all around, Amy set off on her run.  Since there were not too many cars on the road we often felt as if we were lost and as if we were the only people taking in such beauty.  It is the kind of serenity and desolation that makes you feel comfortable stripping down and streaking down the road screaming at the top of your lungs while hearing your voice echoing off the towering mountains and the exspansive lake.  Well, maybe that's just my fantasy.  Luckily for the shy sheep nearby their grazing time was not halted by the wandering thoughts of this crazy American waiting for his wife to finish her run.  I did, however, take some selfies (clothed) and basked in the bare beauty before me.
Mt. Cook getting closer, but no glaciers yet. 
Amy running towards Mt. Cook. 
Aside from the mountain the clouds started to take some bizarre shapes. 
Waiting for Amy to finish her run.
The glacier and Mt. Cook were next to each other and we had enough time to hike the base back up to a lake, brave the high winds on some suspended bridges and take in some glaciers melting away right before our eyes.
The river filled with glacier water.
Amy sitting on one of the many wood planked trails we found in NZ.
Ice berg straight ahead!  One of our firsts...seeing ice bergs on a lake.
Amy plucked this one out of the lake as her trophy.
From halfway down the trail looking back at the mountain range.
It is not white, but that gravel looking stuff all around the lake is a receding glacier.

First panorama shot with the new iPhone 5.  

We headed back out of town and drove a little further than we had anticipated to find a place to stay for the night. There were not too many free places around since we were in a national park.  About 3 1/2 hours later we made it out of the rugged landscape and back to the ocean.  We spotted a nice spot by the sea from afar while driving on the main highway.  We made our way past a residential area and through a windy country road in search of the area we saw from the highway.  For awhile we thought we were lost, but around the bend a bit we found another coastal area with a perfect place to park the camper van and call it home for the night.  We cooked up some local fish, boiled some rice, opened a bottle of wine and had a very nice picnic with an amazing view.
A view of the lake Amy ran next to while heading out of the national park area to our next campsite for the night.  We have never before seen a lake of this color.
Our pay off after the long drive out of the national park.
Our picnic was set up just in time for the setting sun.
For the next four days or so we traveled along the eastside of NZ towards Dunedin making various stops along the Otago coast before making our way to the very southernmost point of NZ, Invercargill and Bluff.  In Invercargill, I had the chance to reconnect with a friend I met in Paraguay while we both were foreign exchange students about 23 years ago.
Here we are at the Moeraki boulders.  Put there by aliens, ancient Maori voyagers or something to do with science?  Who knows, but there were fun to play with. 
Looked like a scene from some alien, sci-fi movie.
Just outside of Dunedin we stopped here to have lunch.
We looked for penguins, but only found these sea lions.
...some sheep
Made it out of the rain and to the beautiful city of Dunedin, NZ.  This is the historic train station.
We decided to stay in a camper van park for the night.  Right behind the park there was a nice walk that lead to an area that had glow worms.  We went back at dark without a flashlight to enjoy the glow show.
The view from the train station down one of the main streets in Dunedin.
Before leaving Dunedin we visited the local farmer's market.  This brave young boy was putting on a magic show.  We watched a couple of tricks and Amy left him a big tip. 
We were running low on bread, so bought a freshly baked loaf at the market.
On the platform at the Dunedin train station.
....more sheep
Made a long trek down this mountain of sand to see if we could catch a sight of some penguins.
We searched...
...and searched (ooh nice sand ripples)
...and didn't find any.  
Our next campsite along the coast heading southward with a golden sunset.  Where the hell is everyone?
Exchange students to Paraguay reunite 23 years later in Invercargill, NZ.  
Thank you Erena and family for spending time with us. 
After leaving Erena's home we headed further south to Bluff.  
From the southernmost part of NZ (Bluff) we headed up on the westside through the Fjordlands to the well known tourist spot of Milford Sound.  Although the eastside of the south island had some of the better beaches the west side had amazing tropical weather and an extremely diverse terrain.  We walked on beautiful sandy beaches, climbed over glaciers and hiked through rainforests all in a couple days time along the west coast.    
Just getting into the Milford Sound area and stopped to take in the views at Lake Manapouri.  It was too cold this day and rainy for a hike, so we spent some time grocery shopping and dumped the lavatory (this was my job...good that I got the TB vaccine before I left) and filled the water in the camper van.  
...hey more sheep.  These were shaved recently.
...and deer!  They actually farm deer in NZ.
Had to capture this landscape, so we pulled over and ran across the street in the cold to snap a few shots.
Another beautiful stop along the way to our campsite.
Our riverfront campsite for the night.  I had to maneuver the camper a bit between some trees, but the view from the back was just over that river in the background.  
After a long day of driving in the rain and cold we decided to set up camp right outside of Milford Sound for the night.  Just before dinner and right after the rain stopped we ventured off on one of the trails that branched out from our site.  Enjoying the fresh and crisp air Amy thought that the views reminded her of Oregon, "but on steroids". Take a look at some of our photos of the area and you be the judge of that.
The next day we got an early start on the short journey up the road to Milford Sound.  Along the way we saw some more amazing landscapes and a curiously smart Kea bird.  While we were stopped at a red light on a one lane road we saw this colorful and big Kea bird waddle up to each driver side window of each car and raise its beak as if to ask for food.  After a few nods from the bird he (or she) waddled over to the next tourist vehicle and proceeded quicker and quicker as if he (or she) had an internal mind clock telling him (or her) when the red light was to change to green.  Amy and I watched the bird along with the rest of the line up while people snapped photos and heeded the warning from the signs posted around reading "do not feed the Kea".  We spent the afternoon walking around the sound and watching the dolphins play.  As we were leaving we decided to make another stop where we saw a bunch of other campers parked along the side of the road.  We packed a lunch and some water and set out on what ended up being a pretty tough 3 hour hike to a lake.  The hike was worth it because we met Joanne and Travis along the way.  Jo and Travis are a couple from Florida that were also traveling the world.  They were yachters and spending upwards of 3 years journeying around the globe.  Luckily our paths during the circumnavigation crossed and allowed us the pleasure of their company during 3/4s of the hike.  We reconnected with the pair and enjoyed some good times in Queenstown just a couple of days after the hike. 
We stopped to see this waterfall.
Amy enjoying the crisp air by a river.
The colorful Kea bird begging for food along the side of the road.
Another lonely NZ road heading towards Milford Sound.
Me and the sound.

Panoramic shot of the sound.

Along the walking trail at the sound.
On the hike looking back down at the wooded path we took. 
At the top we had lunch and posed for a photo.  
One last photo before heading back down.  Amy thinks the lake was called Lake Marion.  This hike turned out to be the toughest hike of them all while in NZ.
Queenstown was our next big stop and turned out to be my favorite town.  The town is one of the more populated towns we came across and is known for attracting the young thrill seekers.  Although quite young the town does have a nice mix of both youngsters buzzing about after their bungee jumping, paragliding, extreme mountain bike high and the older, more down to earth tourists enjoying the variety of nice bars, high end restaurants and the beautiful scenery.  We stayed in Queenstown for about 2 nights to take in all that there was to see.  On one of the days during our stay we hiked up the mountain in town which was located behind our campsite. The mountain was swarming with mountain bikers so dodging in and out of their paths made for an interesting hike.  At the top of the mountain we had lunch and watched the bungee jumpers and paragliders toss themselves off the cliff leading down to Queenstown below.  The anxiety received from our thrill seeking observations was enough for us, so we settled on the more subtle and less life threatening thrill of roller luging before hiking back down the mountain to our campsite.

The next day we welcomed the arrival of Travis and Jo.  They pulled into town just in time to put on the parkas and get cozy in the local ice bar.  We stayed in the bar for a chilly hour before heading out to an Irish pub for an excellent meal, a couple of pints and some great conversation.  The following day we said our goodbyes to Travis and Jo and then spent the morning doing some shopping and sight seeing before pushing northward.  I rented a bike to ride around the lake while Amy ran.  We didn't get all around of course, but enjoyed the sights and the time in the fresh air.  Earlier in town Amy found a Lulu Lemon store, so our last stop before we left was to get her 2 new (discounted) shirts that she happily added to her NZ running ensemble.  
Somewhere in a quiet NZ town where we stopped for the night.
This campsite was complete with farm animals which Amy enjoyed as it reminded her of home.
Fresh snow on top of the mountains as we set off on the road towards Queenstown.
Stopped at this picture perfect lake right outside of Queenstown.
Perfect location for a selfie.
Just arrived in Queenstown, walked through downtown, had lunch and captured the moment with another selfie.
Grabbed a box lunch from the local Thai restaurant while listening to a local band sing Kiwi and American tunes in the park.
Amy in a carved chair halfway up the mountain in Queenstown.
Great trail up the mountain in Queenstown.
This is as thrilling as we get.  Luging down part of the mountain.
After lunch we enjoyed the view before heading back down.
In the ice bar with Travis and Jo.  The table, benches, bar and even the foos ball table were all made of ice.
Cheers to New Zealand.
Bar shelves stocked with ice glasses and Amy ordering up another round.
Amy under the ice chandelier that changed colors.
Warming up in downtown lakeside after our ice bar experience.
A little past Queenstown we stopped for lunch in an old gold mining town called Arrowtown.  Arrowtown is a very cute and heavily visited town situated approx. 20 km from Queenstown.  This town which was imaginably once filled with the grit and grime of a struggling territorial town was now filled with swanky B&Bs and wealthy locals. The Arrowtowners are now making a fruitful living off of the bus loads of tourists wanting to dine in their trendy cafes and bistros and to purchase a piece of Kiwiana for their onward journey.  

It was a sunny day, so Amy and I cooled off with a piece of our own Kiwiana; a scoop of New Zealand's finest ice cream.  We used the town's free wifi and our new 'magicjack' app on the iPhone to call both of our parents back at home for free.  After peeking in some stores, admiring the expensive bistro cafe menus and wondering what a quiet life must have been like in the early years in New Zealand we headed up the mountain to a location that was tropical and yet had a glacier.  (I know...tropical with a glacier!?)
Amy in downtown Arrowtown.
A fruit stand next to the old town's post office and telegraph.
It was a beautiful, sunny day.  The town sits right next to this stream. this the stream you mentioned where one of the Hobbit scenes was filmed?
If the "old west" is in the western part of the U.S.  Then what do you call this?... 'The Old South West'  
Looking back over Arrowtown and Queenstown.  The airport is back in the distance next to the lake.  We watched a couple of Air NZ flights fly through the valley and make their descent on the airport.
Before making it to the Franz Josef Glacier National Park we enjoyed more of the wide open road and the amazing scenery all around us.  As I mentioned earlier, Amy found a copy of the Hobbit book which we attempted multiple times to complete during our trip.  Although the success of completing the book was never found we did have the opportunity to discover firsthand what magical landscapes were surrounding Bilbo and his travel companions during their journey through middle earth.  We may have moved to different latitudes, but NZ and her awe inspiring countryside and diverse landscapes will be forever embedded in our minds in the event we decide to finish the Hobbit.
...on the road again
Right outside of Hobbiton.  Can you spot the Hobbit?
This turquoise color was not enhanced.
It was a bit cold, but we were tempted to take a dip.
The short hike leading to the falls.
The waterfall with a couple of rock monuments.
The beautiful west coast of NZ.
Me and the Tasman Sea.  Most of the beaches on the westside look like this.  Plenty of rocks and drift wood.
Just a couple kilometers ahead of this tropical area was the entrance to NZ's two main glacier parks (Franz Josef and Fox).
 An algae pond right at the entrance to the Fox glacier.
NZ's southern alps
Lake Matheson (mirror lake) in the town we stayed in the night before our glacier hike.
The lake again with an almost clear summit view.  We had to come early for this shot.
Amy on the footpath around mirror lake.
We were shocked to see cows instead of sheep.
Once we arrived in town we discovered that the Franz Josef glacier was closed down a couple of years ago as a result of major glacial slides.  Access in now only permissible to tourists by helicopter.  The Fox glacier was still open and reportedly is more impressive (and less expensive since it is still open to visitors on foot) than the Franz Josef used to be.  You can hike alongside this glacier without paying or hike directly on the ice with a guide for a fee.  Since we came such a distance and knowing that glacier walking may one day be prohibited Amy and I forked over the money to take a guided ice walking tour.  Although not as impressive as we had thought, the experience was an excellent addition to our "firsts" in terms of new experiences throughout this year abroad.  
Just starting out on the hike with the Fox glacier in the distance.
We heard cracking and in the distance and off to the side a bit of us we saw some small ice slides.
Of can pay more to go even higher, but we called it quits here.
After getting thoroughly cold on the glacier we continued our journey northward along the coast in search of heat to thaw out a bit.  Along the way we made some stops in a town called Hokitika to do some grocery shopping and in another town called Punakaiki to see its 'pancake' rock formations.  We packed a picnic and enjoyed lunch at the pancake rocks and after enjoyed another scoop of NZ's hokey pokey ice cream.  
Me in Hokitika
A cloudy sky on our way to Punakaiki.
Rock islands near the pancake rocks.
The pancake rocks
Lunch at the pancake rocks
We only had 4 days left until we had to return the camper van and we were still on the south island.  We knew we had to increase our kilometers per day and unfortunately cut out some of the sights we wanted to take in along the way in order to get us to Auckland in time.  The night prior we had purchased our ferry tickets and were now in a race to make it from the west coast to the northeast part of the south island in time for our morning cruise to the north island.  Once we reached the north part of the south island the landscape changed once again to vast farmlands and vineyards.  Yes, unfortunately we found ourselves in the heart of NZ wine country and didn't have time to spend tasting the harvest.  After spending the night with some other campers off on the side of the road just a few kilometers from the ferry port we boarded the ferry for a beautiful three hour ride to NZ's windy city, Wellington.
The mountains turned into small hills and eventually opened up to farmland and vineyards.
...and more sheep
The vineyards continued on for kilometers on either side of the road.
Just leaving the ferry port in Picton, NZ.
A few more rock island formations before entering the open seas between NZ's south and north islands.
This dolphin and later his whole family joined us along the journey.
Lighthouses just before entering the bay outside of Wellington.
We spent the morning in Wellington before continuing on up the coast and closer to the warmer weather.  The temperature in the southern hemisphere threw us off a bit, but after spending so much time down there it became clear to us that the further we were getting north the warmer it was becoming.  Aside from the cyclone that was ahead of us the weather up north was much nicer and much more our style. 
Parked the camper van and toured around the city for the day.  
Admiring some beautifully carved Maori canoes displayed near the harbor.
This bronze dog looked a lot like Malia.  Just a month more until I see my little pup again.
This parking lot allowed two camper vans per night.  We were the first to arrive at this free spot.  Had some beachside appetizers before returning to the camper for dinner.
Our view as the sun set.
Wild flowers on the way to our stop in Rotorua.
Lake Taupo
We spent one night on the coast before making the long trek to Taupo Lake and the town of Rotorua.  In the Taupo Lake area we spent the night along the river in town.  The next afternoon we continued up the road a bit to the warm hot springs in the town of Rotorua.  You know once you arrived in Rotorua from the smell of sulphur.  We sat in the hot springs in the Taupo Lake area and passed up the aroma of Rotorua's hot springs.    
Warming up in the hot springs running into the river in Lake Taupo.
Amy (to the left next to the guy in the white hat) enjoying the warm waters with an international crowd of tourists. 
Our camp site on the river in Taupo Lake.
The library...not this book found this gem of a camp site for us.  We stopped to use the wifi in the library and Amy asked the librarian where the best place to camp was in town.
How is this for a room with a view?
Clear river waters leading down to the waterfall.
This shot was taken on our hike to the waterfall.
Huka falls
Downtown Rotorua.  There was a street fair where Amy and I grabbed dinner for the night. 
Setting out on our hike on blue lake/green lake (I cannot remember which one this was) right outside of Rotorua.  
Other than the lone mountain biker we passed we were all alone for most of our 3 hour hike.
Another shot of the beautiful scenery along our hike.
Luckily we brought some water and granola bars.  What we initially thought was a short looping trail from the parking lot turned out to be a 3 hour hike.  We ended up finding another parking lot with a few mountain bikers and day hikers.  Making no sense of the posted map we asked this local woman where we were.  She couldn't believe that we had ventured so far off the main trail.  Being the nice Kiwi she was she drove us back to a trail head that would lead us back to our parking spot.  She said she had time to spare because her 2 dogs went for a hike a day earlier and they have not come back yet.  She said her dogs do this often and when they are ready to come back they simply wait for her at that parking lot.
The road from Rotorua to Auckland took us through many country towns, winding roads and open fields. Unfortunately, as we set off for a full day of driving to Auckland we overheard on the radio that a tropical cyclone was quickly moving towards NZ and was set to hit Auckland right about the same time the Marazzanis were scheduled to arrive.  As a result of wanting to save some money and still be close to the city, we spent the whole afternoon in Auckland searching for a good campsite.  After a lot of arguing and double backing across the city's iconic harbor bridge we stumbled upon a nice campsite right across the water from the downtown area.  We pulled in about 8 in the evening to howling winds and wet roads.  As luck had it the only spot they had available for the night was directly on the beach and queued up perfectly to the oncoming high tides and wicked winds of the cyclone.  We braved the rocking, some pounding rain and the increasing tides and still seemed to get some sleep that night.  The next day was a bit calmer and we were able to move into a spot in the back of the park and safely away from the lingering high winds and tides. 

Our purpose in Auckland was to return the camper van and to spend time with an old friend of our's that was passing through with the band she is touring with.  A couple days prior to arriving in Auckland we read on Facebook that Torri was on tour with Miguel and Bruno Mars as Miguel's personal trainer.  We told Torri that we'd be in town and that we would love to spend some time with her if her busy schedule permitted.  She surprised us and invited us to see the show with her.  Although our reunion with Torri (ex United Santa Barbara co worker) was short we were happy to see that she was doing well for herself and having the time of her life.  Thank you Torri! The concert was amazing and was the perfect event to conclude the camper van segment of our travels in NZ.
A view of the Auckland sky line with the coming storm.
The next morning after the cyclone.
Waiting for Torri and the start of the show.
Torri arriving just in time for the start of the show.  We watched a couple of sets with her during Miguel's performance before she had to return backstage. 
Bruno put on an excellent performance.
For the next chapter in our NZ adventure Amy and I split up for some much needed personal time.  I was craving a bit more of the city life and she was craving some "zen" time.  Amy decided to spend a week in an ashram back down in the south island while I spent a week touring around the beautiful city of Auckland.  After returning our camper van at the airport Amy hopped on a plane to Nelson, NZ (at the top of the south island near the Abel Tasman National Park) and I boarded a bus to Auckland's city center and checked into a hotel.  Believe it or not we both had a nice time apart and really benefited from our independent experiences.  After long days of driving in the camper van I was content with spending my week walking around Auckland.  When I was not walking I was enjoying the hotel amenities, catching up on world news and TV shows and working out.  Amy on the other hand was delving into yoga and self exploration in a week long session offered at the Anahata Yoga Retreat in Takaka, NZ.  Amy's experience made a profound impact on her.  She feels it has improved her outlook on life and has provided her with a more distinct drive in her life's direction.  She has continued her yogic practice and is looking into possibly taking it on as a new career path.  Stay tuned... 
Amy's home away from home at the ashram.
Morning mist at the ashram.
The main yoga studio at the ashram.
Amy's daily schedule for the week.
One of the mantras hanging around for inspiration.

Fire ceremony set up.
One of many photos Amy took to enhance her husband's cooking.

Meal time at the ashram.
Sunrise at the ashram.
Amy's friend Jo and one of the dogs at the ashram.
While Amy was finishing up her week in the ashram I flew back down to the south island to meet back up with her. I spent a couple of days touring around the town of Nelson and then rented a car to pick Amy up in Takaka.  Nelson is about a 2 hour drive from the ashram in Takaka and a little bit past the famous Abel Tasman National Park.  We made plans to spend a couple of days visiting the park, as well as, many of the other sights in the area (such as Golden Bay) before making our way back up to the north island to house sit for a lady we met in Samoa (story to come).  

The camper van and this new car rental solidified my comfort with driving on the left side of the road.  I no longer found myself looking silly opening up the passenger side door (right side) and then, after the realization that it was on the other side, having to walk around the car.  I no longer needed Amy reminding me to "stay left honey...stay left", and no longer continued to turn on the windshield wipers when meaning to signal my turns.  I think that I have had more problems adjusting back to driving on the right side of the road in the States than I had while down under.  

Amy got a ride from her yogi friend Jo down the mountain from the ashram and met me in a parking lot in Takaka. Takaka is a bohemian town that is popular with the young backpackers and the day trippers visiting the nearby national parks.  For the two days we spent here in the Golden Bay area we stayed at a quiet B&B.  Amy was talking non stop and was so excited about her experience that she dominated most of the conversations over the next couple of days.  As a result of her inexhaustible dialogue and uncontainable excitement she convinced me that that a week by myself in the Ashram might also do me some good.  After two days visiting the national parks, combing the beaches and tasting the local food we returned to the town of Nelson for a couple more days together before my week in the ashram started.

We said our good byes and Amy flew back up north to a place called Helena Bay to start our housesitting/pet sitting assignment.  I dropped Amy off at the airport and then returned the car.  I then boarded a bus to take me back to Takaka.  Once in Takaka I spent a day in a hostel (or backpackers as the Kiwis call it) before getting a taxi to take me up the mountain to the ashram.  I arrived 2 days early to the ashram as I thought I could use the time to grow accustomed to my new environment.
After picking Amy up we spent the afternoon at a local festival and listened to some live music.
Our B&B was quiet and had some hot tubs for our use.  We cooked a salmon dinner and Amy gave me the scoop on how the ashram was.
Taken from the windy road leading down to the town of Takaka.
Hanging out on the beach in Kaiterteri.
Split Apple Rock in Golden Bay.
This was the first time believe it or not that we relaxed on the beach in swimming attire.
Out exploring near Split Apple Rock.
Downtown Nelson.
A tree lined street in Nelson.
The Fellworth House B&B in Nelson.  Our room was the one on the upper right side.
Our awesome view from the B&B over Nelson.
A nice walk on the beach.  During this walk we saw it all...people riding on horse back, fast cars with windsails and an occasional person walking naked.
Touring along the coast we found this small beachside town.
Global awareness in Takaka.
Quiet downtown Takaka.
The hostel I stayed at had bikes to use for free.  This was I shot I took while heading to the ocean.
On the beach in Takaka.
Arriving by taxi at my home for the next 9 days.
My home away from home at the ashram.
Since I had 2 days before my session at the ashram started I explored the surroundings a bit.
A view from atop a hill nearby over the town of Takaka.
...saw even more sheep.
A view from further up the hill.
At the ashram we observed silence from 8pm to 8am.  This was taken in peace and quiet of the morning hours while eating breakfast.
Impromptu laugh therapy at the ashram.
Me on the bottom left trying my best to follow along to the chanting in sanskrit.  I think we were in the middle of the Names of Durga chant that we repeated 108 times.  
Okay,...I know many of you have asked us how we came upon these house sitting/ pet sitting assignments so here is the scoop.  Most of the prior assignments were obtained through the website, but this one basically found us.  While we were visiting Samoa we met a Kiwi lady named Ali.  One night at our B&B Ali approached us while we were updating the blog.  She asked us what we were doing and we started to tell her our story.  We told her our itinerary and that we were going to be spending two months in NZ.  As luck had it she explained to us that she had a need for a dog/house sitter for approximately 2 weeks while she and her husband went on vacation.  She went on to say that she lives in a quiet area in the north part of the north island directly on a beautiful bay.  We exchanged contact information, explained to her that we were very interested and made plans to obtain further information closer to the time they were leaving town.  She emailed us again with the details and the dog/house sitting assignment was confirmed.
Amy arrived first here in Helena Bay while I was still at the ashram.  Some of the neighbors looked after Amy while I was gone.  They brought her beer and freshly caught fish.
The view at the dog/house sitting assignment in Helena Bay.  Amy would have stayed here forever.  The place provided a nice and calm environment for us to reflect on our trip so far and to daydream about owning such a phenomenal place. 
We were blown away at the beauty, the comfortable home on the beach and the wonderful dog Spikey.
Spikey getting his afternoon tea.  Yes...he is a proper kiwi dog.
The owners allowed us to use their sea kayaks.  I welcomed the change to my workout routine.
Amy befriended some locals at the neighbor's house.  Check out the view these alpacas get while grazing.
Amy took Spike for a walk everyday on the beach.
A view from water's edge of the main house (on the left) and the office/guest home (on the right).
While dog/house sitting the owner's father invited us up to his house for a visit and to go out on his sail boat.  His name was "Minky" and was in his 80s and full of all the energy and lust for life as someone in their 20s.  We felt really comfortable spending time with him and ended up spending the night at his place in Whangaroa.  Minky was a boat builder and had some wonderful stories to share with us.  He reminded us of our fathers and the time with him and the experience in his part of the world made us a bit homesick. I am not sure if Minky will see this blog, but we are pleased we had the opportunity to meet him and spend some time visiting.  The hospitality and the experience he provided us will not soon be forgotten.  Thank you Minky.
Our rental car and Minky's idyllic view.
Minky on his front porch.
When in Rome...Mike tries the local cuisine and Amy opts out.
Out for a walk with Spikey.
The boat Minky made himself.
Minky lived just to the left of this famous hill in Whangaroa, NZ.
Amy enjoying the sun and the boat ride with Minky.
Some of the scenery we took in during our boat ride.
After leaving Minky's house we returned to Helena Bay and said farewell to Spike (the dog we were sitting).  We returned to Auckland for the day before embarking on the next leg of our journey to Asia.  While in Auckland we made arrangements to hang out with Amy's friend from the ashram Jo.  We had a nice day with Jo getting the insider's tour of Auckland and even got some yoga in before our flight the next morning.  Above and beyond the fantastic scenery we encountered in New Zealand we would have to say that the people that we had the opportunity to meet during these two months were what made our experience in this island nation so memorable.
Amy and Jo looking out over Auckland.
Thank you New Zealand.
We could have flown Malaysian Air from Auckland to Bali, but I opted for us to take an alternate route with Jet star airlines (Auckland-Adelaide-Denpasar). we come!