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Archive for the ‘New Zealand’ Category

One year ago today, we boarded a plane and set off to make our dream of traveling around the world a reality. We are happy to report that we are still alive and well. Today we are wondering, how did this year go by so quickly?! But in all reality, when we revisit the past year in detail, we realize just how much we have experienced.

Our ‘Year in Review’ includes two photos from every country we have visited in the past year. One selected by Mike and one selected by Amy.  This was an insanely difficult task, since we have over 12,000 photos now! Some photos are memories of a favorite place we visited, while others symbolize our mindset at that point in time, and a few are just pictures that we really love. We hope you enjoy and thanks for reading our ramblings for the past year; there is still more to come!

Spain

Mike's Photo - Spain

Mike’s Pick – La Sagrada Familia – Barcelona, Spain

This place is unlike any other church in the world. Our visit to el Templo de la Sagrada Familia took place on the first full day of our journey and really started things off with a bang! I can’t wait to return to Barcelona to see it again when construction is completed after 2026.

Amy's Pick - The Alhambra - Granada, Spain

Amy’s Pick – La Alhambra – Granada, Spain

When we stepped off the train in Granada, we were shocked with an unexpected bitter cold. Despite the below freezing temperatures we had an incredible day exploring La Alhambra, one of the most stunning palaces I have ever visited.

Portugal

Mike's Pick - Porto, Portugal

Mike’s Pick – Port Wine Boats on the Douro River – Oporto, Portugal

We try not to talk about work too much on our trip, but when you work in hospitality and tourism, a RTW trip is filled with very relevant learning opportunities. I have an all new appreciation for port wine after visiting several cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia.

Amy's Pick - Lagos, Portugal

Amy’s Pick – Lagos, Portugal

Lagos was the first of many improvised stops of our trip. To be honest we had never heard of it before, but it was along our bus route from Spain to Lisboa, so we stopped through for a few days. I will always remember Lagos with special sentiment because in my mind it symbolizes spontaneity.

Morocco

Mike's Pick - Our Riad - Marrakech, Morocco

Mike’s Pick – Our Riad – Marrakech, Morocco

Sipping mint tea in the refuge of our riad was one of the most relaxing experiences of our trip. I loved starting and ending our days sitting right here!

Amy's Pick - Colorful Tiles - Marrakech, Morocco

Amy’s Pick – Bahia Palace – Marrakech, Morocco

The colorful and intricate tiles in Morocco are unbelievably eye-catching. I would love to use tiles like these to decorate our house someday.

Denmark

Mike's Pick - Mike & Nils - Osted, Denmark

Mike’s Pick – Mike & Nils – Osted, Denmark

Nils (Amy’s host dad from her study abroad experience in 2006) was about as excited for our trip as we were. He and I took many trips “around the world” using these fun shot glasses printed with a world maps.

Amy's Pick - Candles - Osted, Denmark

Amy’s Pick – Candles – Osted, Denmark

These candles represent Danish hygge to me; it is a difficult word to translate into English, but generally embodies spending quality time with family & friends while being cozy, content and relaxed. There was plenty of hygge to go around during our visit with my host family.

Czech Republic

Mike's Pick - Hockey Game - České Budějovice, Czech Republic

Mike’s Pick – Hockey Game – České Budějovice, Czech Republic

During our time in České Budějovice, I had a high fever and terrible case of the flu. I spent three whole days  in bed and even considered going to the hospital, but still but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see a Czech hockey play-off game.

Amy's Pick - View from Castle - Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

Amy’s Pick – View from Castle – Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

Český Krumlov is one of those magical places that makes you feel like you’re living in a fairytale. I love this photo because it captures the European-style architecture and lazy river that winds through the town.

Austria

Mike's Pick - Naschmark - Vienna, Austria

Mike’s Pick – Naschmarkt – Vienna, Austria

A major theme of our blog over the past year has been food. In Vienna, the Naschmarkt is one of the best places to take a stroll, grab a bite, have a beer, and see some really great artisan food and crafts.  We were in Vienna for less than 48 hours, but made two trips to the Naschmarkt during our time there.

Amy's Pick - Coin exchange at hostel - Vienna, Austria

Amy’s Pick – Coin exchange at hostel – Vienna, Austria

We only spent two days in Austria, using Vienna as a stopover for a train connection, however we found this clever coin exchange at our hostel. This photo reminds me of a game we play – whenever we leave a country, we try to use up all of the bills and coins that we have on hand, whether it be buying a piece of candy at a shop or giving it to a fellow traveler.

Hungary

Mike's Pick - Széchenyi Fürdő - Budapest, Hungary

Mike’s Pick – Széchenyi Fürdő – Budapest, Hungary

Whenever I arrive in a new city and hear about hot springs, thermal baths, or the like I get really excited. Who doesn’t like a nice soak? After a few months of backpacking under our belts, a day relaxing in these amazing public baths was just what the doctor ordered.

Amy's Pick - View from Castle - Budapest, Hungary

Amy’s Pick – View from the Castle – Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is one of my favorite European cities. I love how the river splits it into the Buda side and the Pest side. This day we walked almost 14 miles, exploring both sides of the city and growing our appreciation for how massive, yet accessible, it is.

Croatia

Mike's Pick - Old Town - Dubrovnik, Croatia

Mike’s Pick – Old Town – Dubrovnik, Croatia

After the Bed Bug fiasco was behind us, we really enjoyed the gorgeous walled city of Dubrovnik. I felt like I had been transported back in time.

Amy's Pick - Hvar Island, Croatia

Amy’s Pick – View from the Castle – Hvar Island, Croatia

This is my favorite self-photo of our entire trip. Somehow it captured Mike at the split second he was sneezing!

Bosnia

Mike's Pick - Stari Most - Mostar, Bosnia

Mike’s Pick – Stari Most – Mostar, Bosnia

When most people think of Bosnia, they think of the war. Few realize what an beautiful place it really is. The iconic bridge of Mostar was destroyed by bombs, but it has since been rebuilt and serves as a symbol of a country trying to heal.

Amy's Pick - War Tunnel Tour - Sarajevo, Bosnia

Amy’s Pick – War Tunnel Tour – Sarajevo, Bosnia

The Bosnian War is the first war I remember as a child, so visiting Sarajevo was very emotional. We took a tour with this man who lived through the war, and it was one of the most inspirational and educational things I did in the past year of traveling.

Turkey

Mike's Pick - Cave Church - Cappadocia, Turkey

Mike’s Pick – Cave Church – Cappadocia, Turkey

Our first day of exploring in Cappadocia included the Göreme Open Air Museum and its ancient churches and dwellings. Built by early Christians fleeing persecution, it is arguably the “birthplace” of the entire religion. Visiting was a very spiritual experience for me.

Amy's Pick - Blue Mosque - Istanbul, Turkey

Amy’s Pick – Blue Mosque – Istanbul, Turkey

The mosques of Istanbul are a sight to behold. Spending a few weeks in Istanbul taught me so much about Islam. Visiting Istanbul helped me to understand that it is possible for traditionalists, modernists, and everyone in between to coexist without surrendering their cultural identity.

China

Mike's Pick - Food Stand - Shanghai, China

Mike’s Pick – Food Stand – Shanghai, China

For me, one of the coolest parts of traveling is snacking my way through a city. We ate these rice dumplings almost every morning in Shanghai. Some cities in the US have food carts/trucks, but nothing quite compares to the street food scene in Asia. Forget what the State Department tells you; my advice, when you travel abroad EAT STREET FOOD!!!

Amy's Pick - Rice Terraces - Dazhai, China

Amy’s Pick – Rice Terraces – Dazhai, China

In the midst of China’s traffic jams, overpopulation, pollution, and noise, the rice terraces of Dazhai were the perfect escape for a few days of peace. I love this picture because we spent nearly an hour getting this shot with both of us in the air.

Hong Kong

Mike's Pick - View from Victoria Peak - Hong Kong

Mike’s Pick – View from Victoria Peak – Hong Kong

It may seem like a concrete jungle, but Hong Kong actually has some really great hikes, beaches, and islands. I really enjoyed our hike around Victoria Peak which ended with this panoramic view of the city.

Amy's Pick - Cheung Chau Island, Hong Kong

Amy’s Pick – Cheung Chau Island – Hong Kong

The stark contrast between landscapes in Hong Kong surprised me: a mega city that also has remote wilderness islands. We spent the day at the beach and hiking the perimeter of Cheung Chau island.

South Korea

Mike's Pick - Haeundae Sand Festival - Busan, South Korea

Mike’s Pick – Haeundae Sand Festival – Busan, South Korea

There aren’t a lot of beaches in Colorado; so it’s not big surprise that I had never seen sand art like this before. These artists are ridiculously good.

Amy's Pick - Sushi Dinner - Busan, South Korea

Amy’s Pick – Sushi Dinner – Busan, South Korea

We had a hard time fitting this sushi dinner into one photograph! It included everything from raw sea squirt to mud eel. Even though we shared no common language with the couple sitting next to us, they walked us through each dish and how to eat it properly.

Japan

Mike's Pick - Restaurant - Tokyo, Japan

Mike’s Pick – Restaurant – Tokyo, Japan

When we sat down and ordered, we had no idea what we were about to eat. We just got what everyone else was having. I like this picture because it reminds me of how the cooks complimented us on our chopstick skills and Japanese table manners.

Amy's Pick - Fushimi Inari Shrine - Kyoto, Japan

Amy’s Pick – Fushimi Inari Shrine – Kyoto, Japan

I love this photo because of the sheer color!

Vietnam

Mike's Pick - Bowl of Phở - Hanoi, Vietnam

Mike’s Pick – Bowl of Phở – Hanoi, Vietnam

Phở. #enoughsaid

Amy's Pick - Madonna Rock Dive Site - Nha Trang, Vietnam

Amy’s Pick – Madonna Rock Dive Site – Nha Trang, Vietnam

SCUBA diving is one of the coolest things I have ever learned to do. This was our very first day of diving – we didn’t have the hang of buoyancy yet, so the fact that our dive master captured this photo was something of a miracle.

Cambodia

Mike's Pick - Banteay Srei Temple - Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Mike’s Pick – Banteay Srei Temple – Angkor Wat, Cambodia

What can I say about Angkor Wat? This place is just sooooo cool. Cambodia may not have delicious food like Vietnam or dreamy beaches like Thailand, but Angkor Wat is more than a good enough reason to visit.

Amy's Pick - Ta Prohm Temple - Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Amy’s Pick – Ta Prohm Temple – Angkor Wat, Cambodia

I love this picture because it allows you to actually see the thousands of years of history that has taken place at Angkor Wat. The sheer size of this tree’s roots growing into the temple walls helps you to appreciate its place in the past and present.

Thailand

Mike's Pick - Elephant Reserve - Chiang Mai, Thailand

Mike’s Pick – Elephant Reserve – Chiang Mai, Thailand

We spent a lot of quality time with animals in Thailand: riding on elephants – cuddling with tigers – fending off monkeys.

Amy's Pick - Pad Thai - Bangkok, Thailand

Amy’s Pick – Pad Thai – Bangkok, Thailand

Pad Thai with tofu is my absolute favorite Thai dish and I miss eating it every day for breakfast! Surprisingly, considering all of the times we ate it, I can’t believe this is the only photo we took.

Laos

Mike's Pick - Mekong River - Vientiane, Laos

Mike’s Pick – Mekong River – Vientiane, Laos

This amazing sunset over the Mekong in Vientiane was one of my favorite from the entire year. You wouldn’t know it from this picture, but it seemed like the entire city came out to the river that evening to watch the sun slowly disappear.

Amy's Pick - Flight from Luang Prabang to Vientiane - Laos

Amy’s Pick – Flight from Luang Prabang to Vientiane – Laos

After the most horrifying bus ride ever from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang, we decided to fly back to Vientiane instead of enduring another death-trap bus. This was the most beautiful flight of my entire life – the mud brown Mekong twisting through deep green jungle.

Singapore

Mike's Pick - View of Downtown - Singapore

Mike’s Pick – View of Downtown – Singapore

It may be a small country, but I was really impressed by Singapore’s modern architecture.

Amy's Pick - The Helix Bridge - Singapore

Amy’s Pick – The Helix Bridge – Singapore

The truth is that Mike stole the photo I wanted to choose for Singapore, so I picked this one instead. This photo is of the ground of a DNA helix-shaped bridge in Singapore. My nerdy science-loving side really loved this bridge:-) The A and the T represent the nucleotides adenine and thymine.

Malaysia

Mike's Pick - Salang - Tioman Island, Malaysia

Mike’s Pick – Salang – Tioman Island, Malaysia

SCUBA diving and beach-time pretty much sum up our month in Malaysia. 15 tanks each in less than 30 days. In retrospect, I think we should have stayed longer.

Amy's Pick - Long Beach - Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

Amy’s Pick – Long Beach – Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

This is a place where two days turned into four, and four into six, and six days into two weeks. I loved living on the beach, relaxing, diving and having a blank mind.

Australia

Mike's Pick - Gnaraloo Station - Gnaraloo, Australia

Mike’s Pick – Gnaraloo Station – Gnaraloo, Australia

If you’ve been reading our blog since the beginning, then you may recognize our friends here.  It was our first time in Australia, but they really made us feel at home.  Juan wasn’t very pleased with the fishing that week, but the Coral Trout I caught is enough to keep me enthusiastic about giving it another go.

Amy's Pick - Fishing - Gnaraloo, Australia

Amy’s Pick – Fishing – Gnaraloo Reef, Australia

A memory of the first fish I ever caught in the open water!

New Zealand

Mike's Pick - Kaikoura, New Zealand

Mike’s Pick – Kaikoura, New Zealand

We almost left Kaikoiura the day before this picture was taken. I am glad that we decided to stay another night, because we would have missed out on a great hike and some unforgettable views.

Amy's Pick - Lake Wakatipu - Queenstown, New Zealand

Amy’s Pick – Lake Wakatipu – Queenstown, New Zealand

This is only one of the hundreds of beautiful scenic photos from our month in New Zealand. This road into Queenstown from the south is one of the most spectacular drives I have ever taken.

Chile

Mike's Pick - Laguna Tebenquiche - San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Mike’s Pick – Laguna Tebenquiche – San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

The water in this lake was so salty that it felt thick when I walked through it. The natural wonders of San Pedro de Atacama left me in awe day after day.

Amy's Pick - Pan de Azucar National Park - Chile

Amy’s Pick – Pan de Azucar National Park – Chile

After a week of camping at Pan de Azucar, one of the most tranquilo and beautiful places that I saw in Chile, we hitchhiked back into town to catch our bus. Our ride was from a local fisherman, and I had the luck of riding in the back of his truck along with his day’s catch. During that ride I remember thinking to myself “now this is traveling!”

Argentina

Mike's Pick - Christmas Parrillada - Escobar, Argentina

Mike’s Pick – Christmas Asado – Escobar, Argentina

I’m really going to miss this. But I always have Tio Francis in Denver, so I guess I’ll survive 🙂

Amy's Pick - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Amy’s Pick – Iguazu Falls – Puerto Iguazu, Argentina

During our second day visiting Iguazu Falls, we were graced with perfectly blue skies and a rainbow across the falls!

Uruguay

Mike's Pick - Practice for Carnival - Montevideo, Uruguay

Mike’s Pick – Practice for Carnaval – Montevideo, Uruguay

Hopefully this was just a small taste of things to come during Carnaval in Cartagena.

Amy's Pick - The Hand Sculpture - Punta del Este, Uruguay

Amy’s Pick – The Hand Sculpture – Punta del Este, Uruguay

This sculpture is just plain fun. It makes you feel like there is a giant living underneath the sand, waiting to grab you off your towel while you’re sunbathing.

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The circle is now complete. We have made our way fully around the world: from the USA to Europe to Asia to Australia & New Zealand to South America. We are now on the last segment of our round-the-world trip. The time difference between home and our current location is now only a few hours. We are fully settled into our life as nomads. So now what?

When we set off on this expedition on January 16th, 2012, our initial plan was to travel for one year. We are happy to report that we are running behind schedule and will be able to extend our travels for a few more months, which is a good thing as it will give us at least four months in the Americas. It does feel a bit like the beginning of the end, but we are trying with every fiber in our bodies to resist that sensation.

Last week we boarded a flight from Auckland, New Zealand to Santiago, Chile. It was a first-hand experience in time travel. We left at 4:00pm, spent 11 hours in the air, yet landed in Chile on the same day but around 11:00am. Meaning that we arrived before we even took off from New Zealand! That was pretty awesome. For us November 12th, 2012 will go down as the longest day in history.

This continent jump, unlike the previous two, is a step back into a familiar place. We have both been to South America before, and the first country on our itinerary this time around is Chile, where Mike studied abroad in 2005. We have been in Chile for just over a week now, and despite the changes that naturally occur over seven years, Mike still feels quite at home. We would love comments from any readers who have been exchange students, as it helped shape our outlook on travel and what it means to be part of an international community. In February, we visited Amy’s host family in Denmark (which you can read about here, if you haven’t already).

While we still have stories to share from New Zealand, which we will post down the road, we are happy to be back to a region that offers us a little more excitement. The natural wonders of New Zealand are truly beautiful beyond words, but being an English speaking tourist there seems to be just too easy. We have enjoyed sharing our voyage thus far, and although home no longer seems so far away, we still have plenty of places to see and adventures to come. So don’t stop reading just yet, The Chamborres Expedition marches onwards!

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The difficult part about road tripping across New Zealand is that no matter how you plan your route, you have to cross the Cook Straight one way or another in order to get from one island to the other.  One option is to rent a car and return it on the same island, then catch a short flight, only to rent another car. We went with the other option, the Interislander Ferry.

The Interislander Ferry runs between Picton on the south island and Wellington on the north island. Before boarding the ship with our trusty Subaru and embarking on the passage, we spent a few days in Picton for Mike’s 27th birthday. We splurged on our accommodation and rented a self-contained cabin at the holiday park, which provided us with our very own kitchen and bathroom. After months of eating out in Asia, we have really been enjoying cooking our own meals lately, and for the birthday dinner we prepared some grilled New Zealand lamb chops and baby carrots in butter sauce. Yummy!

Picton’s claim to fame (besides the ferry port) is the labyrinth of waterways, peninsulas and islands that make up the Marlborough Sound. On a map of New Zealand, the region appears to take up a very small portion of the south island; when in fact, it has so many bays and fingers of land that it makes up 15,000km of shore, totaling more than 10% of the country’s total coast line. We spent one day driving the Queen Charlotte Drive and exploring the area. While we did get a few good views, the best way to experience the Marlborough Sound is on the water.

The cost of getting a car across the 22km stretch of ocean separating New Zealand’s two islands can be a bit steep, but it has its advantages too. Not only will many rental car companies offer great “relocation” specials for moving their vehicle between the two islands, but the cruise between Picton & Wellington is a memorable experience in and of itself. The ferry takes you through miles of narrow channels as it makes its way out of the Marlborough Sound; then, you cross the open water of the Cook Straight which allows you the rare opportunity to behold both islands at the same time, and finally you enter the grand Nicholson Bay and the harbor of Wellington. Total cruising time is about 3.5 hours, which means that there is also enough time to sip on a glass or two of champagne during the voyage and still be able to safely and legally drive your car off the ship.

With our time in New Zealand coming to an end, we knew that we could really only afford to spend one day checking out Wellington, so once back on dry land, we headed straight to our holiday park to cook-up some grub and rest for a full day of sightseeing. We hit the road early the next morning and headed straight for Mt. Victoria. We took our time hiking through the forest covered park and eventually made our way to the scenic viewpoint at the top, which overlooks the city and bay.  If you look closely at the pictures below, you will notice that whole city is encircled by parks and green spaces. These public lands are known as the “Town Belt” and were intentionally put into Wellington’s city plan to promote a healthier population and prevent sprawling development. While at the viewpoint, we noticed the expansive botanic gardens on the hill across town and decided to make that our afternoon destination.

Before venturing up to the gardens, we decided to stop in the city center for lunch and to walk along the harbor. Along the way, we encountered one of the funniest and most peculiar activities we have come across while traveling. We noticed over a hundred teenaged girls in their school uniforms accumulating around the harbor. We heard one of them say to another, “The water is going to be so cold.” Next thing we knew, all of the girls were shrieking loudly and running to form a line on the water’s edge. “One. Two. Three!” and they went jumping off the edge; wave upon wave of them plunging into the water. It was hilarious. We later found out that they attend an all-girls school that requires uniforms through grade 12, but in year 13 a uniform no longer needs to be worn. So a tradition has formed of jumping into the harbor donning the uniform on the very last day that it has to be worn.

After some good laughs, we headed back to the car and made our way to the botanic gardens for more time in the Town Belt. A sign posted on the greenhouse sparked our interest so we asked one of the gardeners about it. Turns out there was supposed to be a huge fireworks display the previous weekend, but it got postponed due to bad weather and was rescheduled for that night instead. More great luck for us! Our holiday park was located in Lower Hutt, a suburb just across the harbor from Wellington, making it the perfect place to watch the show. There were bonfires everywhere on the beach; almost a more incredible sight than the main firework display. After talking with some Kiwis we learned that the reason for the fireworks was a dude named Guy Fawkes. Guy was arrested on November 5th, 1605 while guarding explosives intended to assassinate King James I. From then forward, the people of Great Britain have been celebrating Guy’s failed attempt on the King’s life with bonfires and fireworks. As a British Commonwealth, New Zealand continues to celebrate this day, and we’re glad they do because it was a lot of fun.

Our visits to the port cities of Picton and Wellington, as well as the ferry ride itself, made us glad to have made the decision to drive rather than fly between the islands. We definitely recommend taking the Interislander Ferry if you have the time, and be sure to enjoy some bubbly along the way.

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A funny thing happens when you leave everything behind and take off around the globe. Regardless of how much money you save before leaving, when you pack up all your belongings into boxes and put them in storage (or leave them at your parent’s house like we did. Thanks again guys!) you essentially become homeless, for lack of a better word, and when push comes to shove will sleep wherever you have to; park benches, beaches, bus terminals and random couches have served us well. We ended our last post by saying that we woke up refreshed and ready to go after the night in Franz Josef. Truth be told, the evening soak in the spa wasn’t the only reason we woke up feeling good. We had intended to spend the night sleeping in the back of our Subaru because it was too cold for the tent, but the mountains surrounding the glaciers made the temperatures too chilling for even that to be feasible. The holiday park office was closed for the night meaning no possibility of upgrading to a cabin, so we sorted out our options and went with plan c: sleeping in the TV lounge. The little boy watching cartoons was less than pleased about us interrupting his late-night private screening of Looney Toons and quickly exited with a scowl. A soft sofa in a heated room beats a cold stiff car any day, and in a matter of minutes we fell fast asleep. We slept so well that our alarm clock didn’t wake us; the holiday park manager did. He was there bright and early, “goo’day ladies and gentlemen. It’s time to get up now. Let’s go. Guests will be waking soon, and this isn’t a sleeping room as I’m sure you’re well aware.” He was actually quite jovial about the whole thing, but we couldn’t help but feel a bit like bums being brushed from the sidewalk. In our defense, we had paid for a campsite (making us guests too) and the TV room didn’t have any closing hours posted. Anyway, we got a good night’s sleep in a safe cozy place and after some breakfast and coffee were ready to hit the highway and get our road trip back underway.

The west coast of New Zealand’s south island is the most remote place in the entire country. The crowds that cluster around the famous glaciers dissipate as you move north along the coast. Tall mountains, thick forests and rocky coasts made development of this region quite difficult. The towns are all very small and are few and far between, but like most of the island, the landscape is astonishing. We spent the morning hiking near Okarito Lagoon.

The nature reserves in this area are home to the endangered Kiwi bird from which New Zealanders get their nickname. Millennia ago, when the islands split from the ancient continent of ‘Gondwana’ land mammals and other predators had not yet evolved in the region making it a paradise for an endless array of bird species. Over time many of these birds, like the Kiwi, developed strange appearances and lost their ability to fly and became ground dwellers, but the arrival of humans and introduction of non-native species by European settlers has taken a devastating toll on many of these birds. On a lighter note, the Kiwis aren’t the only strange inhabitants of the area; isolation seems to have resulted in some very peculiar human residents as well. It is a bit tough to explain, but the citizens of the west coast definitely dance to the beat of their own drum. Something along the lines of the Beverly Hillbillies meets Jerry Springer show.

After our brief jaunt along the west coast, we made our way to the northwest coast of the south island to New Zealand’s smallest national park, Abel Tasman. Although small, it certainly stands up to its competition. It is home to one of the country’s Great Walks, called the Coast Track, which is a 51km long trail that runs along the edge of the national park with incredible ocean views. We spent a few days camping on the beach and going on day walks along the Coast Track. The orange/red sand beaches, thick forests of fern trees and warmer rain-less weather made us think this is the place to be in New Zealand.

We got peeled out of the paradise that is Abel Tasman because of one of Amy’s big brothers, Aaron. Although not the most logical route, last week we drove straight through back to Christchurch, where we began our New Zealand adventure. Aaron is on his second year working with the U.S. Antarctic Program as a cook at the South Pole station and was being deployed from Christchurch. Naturally, we wanted to stop through town to see him! It was a fun two nights catching up over a couple of beers. He even let us be stowaways in his hotel room, adding to our list of unique places to rest our heads for the night. Although we’ve meet up with quite a few friends during our RTW trip, this was the first time we had seen any family in the past 9 months and it really felt good.

While Aaron was at training sessions, we made a day trip out to the Banks Peninsula, another amazing land formation in this country. The peninsula used to be a volcanic island but attached itself to the mainland after millions of years of erosion (check out a map, it’s pretty interesting). The town of Akaroa is situated on Akaroa Harbor which is the epicenter of the peninsula. From there, fingers jut out creating several bays. We took as many back roads as possible that day, putting ourselves in a few precarious situations on extremely narrow gravel roads. Amy even got chased down by a mama sheep while trying to photograph its two black lambs. Overall, it was one of our favorite scenic drives in New Zealand so far.

After saying farewell to Aaron and wishing him luck in Antarctic captivity for the next four months, we drove north to Kaikoura. While checking into a holiday park for the night, the receptionist asked if we were in town for the horse race. “What horse race?” we said. She informed us that it was the one day of the year when the local horse track got used for the Kaikoura Cup. Having never been to a proper horse race, we jumped on the opportunity. The sun was out, and so was the entire town of Kaikoura. It was a blast. There wasn’t the pomp and circumstance that comes with races like the Kentucky Derby, but the excitement, big hats and celebratory drinking were all there.

Kaikoura is known for its seals, and we definitely got our fix while in town. The day after the horse race we set out to hike around the Kaikoura Peninsula, an 18km endeavor that took a bit longer than we’d anticipated, but was well worth the trip. We would say that as a rule of thumb, when visiting New Zealand, check out every peninsula you can. The views of the snow-capped mountains juxtaposed with the turquoise blue ocean were stunning, not to mention the incredibly adorable fur seals that lounge on the coastal rocks. The next day, on our trip out of town, we stopped at a trail head that was suggested to us by our Kiwi neighbor, Steve, at the holiday park. We took a short walk up to a waterfall and had one of the most marvelous wildlife encounters we’ve ever experienced. There were 14 fur seal pups playing and lounging in the pool of the waterfall. Apparently their moms lead them upstream and leave them for protection while they are out to hunt. The sight of tourists gawking over the seal pups was almost as entertaining to watch (click here to see a video we took of the seals).

We continued to make our way north along the ‘Classic NZ Wine Route’ until we reached Blenheim. The Marlborough region is world renowned for sauvignon blanc production, and Blenheim is the center of the action. We had our eye on a free campsite along the Wairau River, but first took our time wine tasting our way through the area. Neither of us are huge white wine drinkers, but if we had to choose one varietal, sauv blanc would be it. The crisp, grassiness of the NZ brands are beautiful. We, of course, had to stop at the famous Cloudy Bay for some tasting, and we were also happily surprised by a few other wine makers that we’d not heard of: Hans Herzog, Staete Landt & Yealands.

After we hit our 5 winery limit for the day we began to make our way to the campsite. Unfortunately, after about 30km of country roads, we came to a 4WD-only section that our Subaru just wouldn’t have made. While trying to decide on a new game plan, Mike noticed a sign that said ‘Pine Valley Hut.’ A hut? Way out here? We were curious so decided to hike the 40 minute trail in to see what it was all about. Maybe it was all the wine we’d tasted, maybe the sunny weather had gotten to our heads, but what we found was a gem of a place. We knew right away that we had to hike back out to grab our gear. It was such an awesome hut that we decided to stay for two nights. It had been quite a while since we’d gone two entire days without seeing another sole. It was a fun time making fires, swimming in the river, and hiking.

Thus far, our New Zealand road trip has proven to be a real treat. While hitting the highway daily sometimes make us feel a bit like vagabonds, every day away from home makes us realize that we all share one world. After nearly a year since moving out of our apartment, we have become accustomed to calling whatever hostel bed, campsite, hotel room, apartment or couch our home. It is funny how many times we will be tired from a day of exploring and say, “let’s go back home.” We know that one day in the not so distant future we will be heading home for real, but for now we are thrilled to be continuing this once in a lifetime expedition.

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3,800 kilometers on the odometer, way too many tanks of gas and countless hours of car-time later, we have a lot to catch up on.

The south island of New Zealand is a magical dreamland. No wonder they chose it for the setting of the Lord of the Rings movies. We realized a few days into our road trip that the little gold symbols in our road atlas marked filming locations; a nerd’s fantasy. Since our last post, we’ve made our way to the southernmost tip of the south island and are awaiting a ferry to the north. Along the way, we’ve seen a lot of sheep, visited glaciers, had a day at the horse track, hung out with Amy’s brother Aaron and made our way all the way up to Abel Tasman national park.

First up after our visit to Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula was the Catlins. This area is super remote (i.e. there are more sheep than people, by about 3 times). The people that do live here talk funny and are genuinely surprised to meet people that want to visit New Zealand. We stopped off at the southernmost point of the south island to say we were there and it was worth the trip down miles of gravel roads to get there.

Next up? The Fiordlands. This area of New Zealand is famed as one of the most stunning scenic spots in the country. We believe these claims, however it was so rainy and overcast that we never got much of a chance to find out for ourselves. The town of Te Anau was our home base for exploring the greater area and well known Milford Sound. We were lucky to make it to the Sound at all because of a huge landslide (or landslip, as Kiwis call it) that destroyed the road a few days before we arrived. One afternoon, Highway 94 opened up and we made our way in and out within a window of a few hours. Homer Tunnel reminded us a lot of the Eisenhower Tunnel in Colorado, but much more rudimentary, with rocky dynamite-blown walls and sparse lighting. Possibly more beautiful than the Sound itself, were the countless number of waterfalls that cascaded down thousand foot rock faces as we descended from the tunnel.

We would have loved to wait out the fog and gloom for a clearer day in the Fiordlands, but we heard this is very, very rare so continued on our way. During our drive towards Queenstown, adventure-sports capital of the eastern hemisphere, we saw an awesome steam locomotive that Amy was particularly keen on. It’s the random sights like an antique train rolling by that really make road trips fun. The highway that runs along Lake Wakatipu is unbelievably eye-catching. The snow-capped mountains sit right along the crystal clear lake that makes an S-shape with Queenstown at the apex of the bend. We spent one of our days in Queenstown hiking a mountain that is also home to the town’s newly built gondola. At points we’d wish we’d taken the easy way up, but the hike was more rewarding once we saw the view from the top. By the time we made it back down, we were ready for a less strenuous  activity and our arrival couldn’t have been more well timed. We lucked out and stumbled upon a jazz festival in the center of town; our favorite act was a fun and unique rendition by a jazz bad and  special percussionist playing along to a silent Charlie Chaplin film.

On our way out of town we stopped at Lake Wanaka for a day hike, another drop dead gorgeous place (we were soon realizing that this is the way most of the south island is). The path curved around the perimeter of the lake with stunning views of the mountains. It also happened to be the sunniest and warmest day of our visit in New Zealand so far. When we reached the end of the lake, we stopped for a few moments for some photos before heading back to the car. As we started our return journey, Amy asked “you still have the keys right?” Mike reached into his coat pockets, patted his pants and said, “oh shit!” At some point during the hike the keys had fallen out of his fleece, and despite meticulous backtracking, we were unable to find them. Eventually we accepted defeat and the fact that we would have to call the rental company to report the lost key and figure out our options. As the lady from the rental company was explaining the costly re-keying process, she paused mid-sentence, “I’ve just received a message. Looks like someone found the keys on the trail and turned them into the Edge Water Hotel.” What a relief. The BIG MAN must have been looking out for us that day!

With keys in hand, we proceeded north and yet again the views were simply ridiculous. If we haven’t mentioned it already, Amy is a huge fan of informational signs; along the way we learned that Lake Wanaka is New Zealand’s deepest lake reaching depths of over 1000 feet. Despite being in a mountainous area, the bottom of lake actually sits below sea level. Kinda blows your mind, doesn’t it?

After a night of camping and cooking an amazing meal of lamb pasta over the open fire, we headed for two of the island’s most famous glaciers, the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. It was ancient glaciers that carved the lakes of Queenstown and Wanaka. The hikes though rocky expansive valleys leading up to Fox and Franz Josef really help you appreciate the creative/destructive power of glacial movement.

Due to various safety risks, hiking on the glaciers is strictly regulated, so we enjoyed our view from a safe distance and made our way to the nearby holiday park. We were in luck; they had a fantastic hot tub, and there is nothing like warm soak on your feet and body after a chilling night of camping and a long day of hikes. The next morning we awoke feeling refreshed and again took to the road. We started writing this post with the intention of catching up on all our South Island adventures, but have come to realize that we have just seen too much here to put in one post. So, we’ll leave it at that for now and continue next time with our tales of the West Coast, Christchurch, Abel Tasman, Kaikoura and Marlborough.

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The weather looked pretty dismal as our flight touched down in Christchurch. We walked out of the airport into a freezing torrential downpour and realized pretty quickly that our first stop needed to be a shoe store. Sandals don’t quite cut it during early spring in New Zealand.

Our first stop wasn’t actually a shoe store because we had to pick up our rental car first. They say that driving a car is like riding a bike; once you learn how to do it, you’ll never forget. Whoever “they” are, they obviously have never gone nine months without sitting behind the wheel and then rented a car in a place where you drive on the left side of the road. After accidentally hitting the windshield wipers instead of the blinker about 100 times and continually repeating “stay to the left, stay to the left” every time we made a turn, we successfully navigated our way to Kmart without causing a single accident and were able to procure our much needed shoes. We know that it isn’t well known for having the best shoes around, but our plan to camp and road trip around New Zealand for the next month meant that we needed to purchase quite a few things. Kmart is the perfect place to gear-up when you need cheap stuff that doesn’t have to last too long. In less than an hour, we had everything we needed to hit the road in the morning.

When we woke up the next morning, the clouds had cleared and the sun was shining for our long drive south to Dunedin. You’d think we’d never seen mountains before with the way we were ogling over the Southern Alps and taking a million photos from the moving car. While we loved living in Colorado, we always said that if there was a place with mountains like the Rockies and a turquoise blue sea, it would be heaven on earth. New Zealand must be that place. You can nearly see skiers coming down the white-capped mountains while you’re standing on the beach with a view of the endless blue ocean. We started discussing our plans to move here only two days into our visit.

To break up the nearly 400km drive from Christchurch to Dunedin, we made several stops along the way. The first was for a “Driver Reviver.” We think this is the coolest thing ever; free coffee at a rest stop and with a clever name to top it off. The next stop was a picnic lunch along the Rakaia River with gorgeous views of the snow-capped mountains, and just before the longest bridge in New Zealand (yes, that’s right, our atlas told us so). Following lunch and a few hundred more kilometers, we broke off the highway at a town called Oamaru. It reminded us of Leadville, Colorado, but on the water. Just up the road is another quaint sea village called Moeraki, where the ancient Moeraki Boulders are located (basically, round orb-like stones on the beach where tourists take pictures).

By the time we made it to Dunedin the day was almost over, so we pulled into a holiday park where we set up camp. Holiday parks in New Zealand are similar to KOA Campgrounds in the US; mostly electrical RV sites with some space for tents (only crazy people like us stay in tents this time of year) and tons of facilities like kitchens, showers, hot tubs and computer rooms. Despite it being a more commercial camping experience than we’re accustomed to, we were stoked to be sleeping in a tent after a summer without any camping. At about 2am we realized what a terrible mistake we’d made. It was freezing cold and our 55˚F sleeping bags weren’t providing much comfort. Thankfully the rental company had upgraded us to a Subaru wagon, so we changed our plans a bit and have been sleeping in the back of the car instead of the tent.

We set out in the morning to explore the Otago Peninsula. It was a gorgeous drive along the main road that winds along the north coast all the way to the tip where there are stunning cliffs and an albatross center. On the way back we took dirt roads that led us to inlets and viewpoints where we saw no other cars. There are sheep farms everywhere, and being the time of year that it is, their coats are thick and almost ready to be sheered.

Our final day in Dunedin was spent exploring more of the country side. One of the greatest things about New Zealand is that you never have to drive far to get out of the city and into nature. The transition from buildings to open spaces happens quite quickly. Our first stop was a short hike down to some cool cliffs known as Tunnel Beach. We pulled into the trailhead parking lot only to find a sign posted which read “Closed for Lambing.” Many trails that we had encountered the day before had similar signs posted making it difficult to find a nice trail. Now don’t share this next part with anyone, but we did something naughty…we ignored the sign, climbed the fence, and hiked the trail anyway. Nothing like a little excitement to get the day started. For the record, we did not encounter any sheep or lambs along the way. What we did see was more majestic New Zealand landscape.

Having a car for the next few weeks is an exciting prospect. For months now, we have been relying on public transit to make our way around the world, but in New Zealand we will come and go as we please.  We don’t have a guidebook, but we did buy an awesome road atlas, so our days are sure to be filled with countless scenic lookouts and quirky informational plaques. Here’s to the open road!

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