Posts Tagged ‘New Zealand’

23rd January
written by Hazel

Days spent: 49

Cost of postcard to US: NZ $1.90

Exchange Rate: NZ$1 = US$0.75

Average coffe price: NZ$3.75

Average price of petrol per litre: NZ$2.00  (that’s US$5.729/gallon!)

Vinnie’s average km/litre: about 11.  Not so bad.

Kms we could go on a full tank: about 300.  But sometimes the gas stations were REALLY far apart.

Fish and chips eaten:  Hazel 2.5, Justin 3.5 (unless we have another tonight!)

Pages of our NZ atlas not explored: 14 out of 91.  15%

Hours spent surfing with Steve: 6

Hours spent in caves: about 3

Hours spent in museums: about 5

Trigs climbed: 3

Most nights spent in same place: 4 (Christchurch, but on 2 separate visits)

Road most traveled: Lake Tekapo to Twizel.  5 times.

Most expensive internet: NZ$2 for 10 minutes.  Insane.

Longest camera exposure: 60 seconds

Biggest bird: Shy Albatross (we think)  8 foot wingspan!

Biggest fist: The shark caught on our cruise.  5 feet long!

Longest hike: 19.6 km

Hours until we leave: 13

23rd January
written by Hazel


  • Our cruise with Captain Fiord and Fiordland Expeditions.  This was an overnight cruise and we truly cannot say enough about how much we loved it, how pampered we were, and how much fun we had with the fishing, kayaking, and amazing food.
  • Paua Nite!  Chris and Leah-Anne are some of the most gracious people we’ve met anywhere!  And good cooks!  And they have awesome kids.  It was so incredible to meet people who live here and chat with them and hear about their lives and we absolutely hope some day they will come and visit us!!!
  • Mt. Cook.  Incredibly beautiful.  Awesome DOC campground.
  • Franz Josef glacier.  It’s so cool.
  • Blackwater rafting and surfing.  Both absolutely great experiences and things I had never tried before.
  • Christmas in Christchurch.  We liked that town!
  • The Twisted Hop Brewpub.  Best beer in NZ.  Awesome sweet potato (kumara in NZ) fries.  Awesome atmosphere.
  • Hiking and wildlife and all things outdoors.  There are birds and trails and swimming holes and seals and strange scenery and waterfalls and cool tree ferns EVERYWHERE here.  It is not hard to find an awesome outdoorsy adventure every single day.
  • The Tongariro Crossing.  Totally unique.


  • Being rained out a couple of times.  Most notably at Arthur’s Pass where the trail had turned into a flooded river.
  • One or two of the DOC camps were a little stinky.  Filthy smelling restrooms and right next to the highway.  That being said, we stayed in tons of them and it was only two that were a little unfortunate.
  • Mosquitos and sandflys.  If you do a little research it’s not hard to predict where you’ll find them.  But they are totally evil and Vinnie (our van) had no screens on his windows.
  • Queenstown madness.  This was actually in a couple of places.  Crowded town designed mostly to get tourists to spend their money.  Not hard to avoid, but a bit of an eyesore, and sad because the countryside around needs no money spent to have an amazing experience.  We mostly avoided these touristy places.
  • NZ coffee.  The same everywhere, but always a milky, mediocre experience.  (Except in Raglan and one place in Christchurch where we had very good coffee)

All in all, hardly any lows, and only minor.  We’ve loved New Zealand and would definitely come back for another vacation, short or long.  It’s an incredible country to visit.  Easy to get around, friendly people, incredible scenery.

23rd January
written by Hazel
  • In New Zealand deer live on farms.  This is where all the delicious venison comes from.  But it’s still really strange to see an enormous fence with a very large herd of deer in a pasture.
  • Burgers here come with “salad.”  That “salad” consists of the usual burger toppings – lettuce, tomato, etc.  So if they ask if you want salad with your burger they are actually asking whether you want veggie toppings in your burger.  Live and learn…
  • There is at least one “USA” themed restaurant.  The food there is nothing like the food in the USA.
  • Kiwis pretty much only eat turkey at Christmas.  We asked for some in a deli and were told they just don’t eat it that way.
  • We learned what a trig is!  And if your hike has trig in the name then you should expect a long climb!
  • That the West Coast of the South Island really is the “Wet Coast.”
  • Lots of facts about livestock and NZ wildlife.
  • The ABC’s of surfing (which don’t start with A or C)
  • About Moas.  Awesomest extinct flightless birdlike creature ever!
  • What a Giraffe Weevil is.  One landed on Justin and then we later found a specimen in a museum, allowing us to identify the beastie.
  • In New Zealand they love lager.  In fact, this is almost the only type of beer you can find anywhere.  Even if they name says it’s something else.
  • Kiwis (the people, not the birds) are really friendly.  It’s awesome.
  • The glowing part of glow-worms is actually their poo!  Gross but true.  They use it to attract other tiny bugs who are then caught in their sticky little ropes and eaten.
21st January
written by Hazel

We’ve had a water-filled couple of days!  We decided to go on a “blackwater” rafting trip, which involves climbing through giant caves and floating on a tube in the dark with a bunch of glowworms on the ceiling.  It was a really good adventure, although pretty cold, despite the wetsuits.  We climbed down into the cave and then waded through a long section of tunnel by light of headlamps attached to the helmets they provided.  We got to jump off a couple of waterfalls (one was only about 2 feet high and the other was maybe 5 feet high) and then turned the lights off so we could have a gentle float and see the glowworms.  That was really awesome – they looked like little stars and it was easy to forget that we were inside a cave.  We paddled the rest of the way out of the cave and then got to go back and have hot soup and showers.  It was a little touristy, but a totally unique experience.  I had never been in such an extensive cave system before.

Ready to Surf!

The next day we headed to Raglan, which is known for its surfing.  I had never surfed before, although Justin had gone in Hawaii, so we signed up for a lesson with Steve (a local instructor).  We met up with him at his house and got fitted for our gear and then headed out to the ocean.  It was pretty rough out there.  The waves were good, but there was a strong rip current and it was pretty intimidating at first!  The Tasman was a lot warmer than the water in the caves.  Steve was a good teacher though, and we both  managed to stand up on the surfboard by the end of the lesson!  In fact, we liked it so much that we decided to stay for another day and take a second lesson.  We had better luck with the ocean the second day and another great lesson.  It was really fun to try something new!

Cape Reinga - the NORTH of New Zealand

Once we were done in Raglan we headed up to the far north of the North Island.  We stayed in a couple of beautiful DOC campsites and saw some amazing beaches on the way up.  We even got to have another swim in the ocean.  There were a lot of mosquitos, which made for a sleepless night, but the views from the cape were well worth it.

We return our van tomorrow and leave the next day for Argentina, so we’re doing a lot of preparation for the next step.

We’ve had a water-filled couple of days!  We decided to go on a “blackwater” rafting trip, which involves climbing through giant caves and floating on a tube in the dark with a bunch of glowworms on the ceiling.  It was a really good adventure, although pretty cold, despite the wetsuits.  We climbed down into the cave and then waded through a long section of tunnel by light of headlamps attached to the helmets they provided.  We got to jump off a couple of waterfalls (one was only about 2 feet high and the other was maybe 5 feet high) and then turned the lights off so we could have a gentle float and see the glowworms.  That was really awesome – they looked like little stars and it was easy to forget that we were inside a cave.  We paddled the rest of the way out of the cave and then got to go back and have hot soup and showers.  It was a little touristy, but a totally unique experience.  I had never been in such an extensive cave system before.
16th January
written by Justin

Tree Pose!

Tree Pose!

This photo was taken on one of the first “Trig” hikes we ever took. Trigs are little pyramids that New Zealanders put atop their hills so they can tell how far stuff is. I know, weird. But I guess it could work. Hazel is imitating the tree in the background in this photo.

Exploring a Massive Cave

Hazel discovered a gigantic cave at the top of one of our hill climbs. It was filled with stalactites! WoHoo! How far down can you go?!?

Franz Josef Glacier

This is a sweet pic of the river that flows out from under a glacier. Makes sense, eh?

Hooker Valley Track Bridge @ Mt. Cook

This is from one of the most beautiful alpine tracks we’ve walked on. A rickety bridge starts it off.

The Hut on Hooker Valley Track

A WC Hut in the middle of the track.

Glacial Stream @ Hooker Valley Track

A bright blue stream from glacial runoff in the middle of the track.

Glacial Lake @ Hooker Valley Track

Us + Glacial Lake

The lake at the bottom of the Hooker Glacier, a little less dramatic than Franz Josef. But it had its own serenity.

Ready for Stargazing @ Mt. John

Here’s what we were outfitted in before we went up to a summit to view stars. Not pictured are our socks-and-sandals.

Hazel Topping Key Summit

This was a really remarkable hike starting at the Divide on the way to Milford Sound. We got to the top of the mountain, and here is the proof!

Hazel's On A Boat

Obligatory “On a Boat” picture

Serenity on Doubtful Sound

This shows just how alone one can feel out in the boondocks of Fiordland. This picture looks out on the Tasman Sea.

Albatross on the Tasman Sea near the Thompson Sound

When we were about to start fishing, we were greeted by the friendly neighborhood ALBATROSS! So huge! The picture doesn’t do it justice but it must’ve had an 8 foot wingspan.

Hazel kissing her First Fish Ever

Finally. Hazel, after only 5 minutes of fishing in Proper Conditions catches her first fish, a Sea Perch. She was made to kiss it by our friendly captain Fiord — who said we wouldn’t get off the boat until Hazel caught her first fish. Luckily it was a good day!

The Shark Andre Caught

The Shark #2

This was huge. And amazing. And scary. Basically Andre was a hero.

Hazel and her First Fish Ever

Since we hadn’t had enough of her first fish, we got it out of the “to be dinner” bucket and photographed it again :)

Sunset on Doubtful Sound

Hazel's Eye reflecting Doubtful Sound

Sunset on Doubtful Sound #2

Sunset on Doubtful Sound #3

Moon + Sunset on Doubtful Sound

These photos reflect the beauty of the Sounds at sunset. Also how grateful we were to finally crawl into bed after seeing dolphins, pulling up lobster pots, fishing, kayaking, and eating. Did I mention eating?

Morning on Doubtful Sound

Morning on Doubtful Sound #2

The infamous Morning After. This one wasn’t so bad!
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Hazel Perched on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Hazel Conquering the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Hazel Walking Into The Light

These photos represent our initial experience of Tongariro — a steep hike up rocky volcanic ground, only to cross a huge, barren crater.

Tongariro's Red Crater

Then we found out what a real crater looks like.

Us Atop the Red Crater

The Red crater was also the highest altitude we attained on the Crossing, a whopping 1886 meters high!

Tongariro's Emerald Lakes

Tongariro's Emerald Lakes #2

This is the icing on the cake, after peaking Red Crater you get to lope down loose soil to see the beautiful Emerald Lakes.

Blustery Wind and Hazel the Photographer

We had gale-force winds up at the top, and were worried about falling into a crater almost the whole time!

Hazel + Lake Rotoaira + Lake Taupo

Here’s the view at the end of the Crossing — serene and pastoral. Mission Accomplished.

Hope you liked my Best Of – this is a great selection from the photos I’ve taken so far!

16th January
written by Hazel
Finally I’ve found some time and a fast internet connection, so I can get some photos up.  This post has some photo highlights from the Catlans, Milford Sound and the area, and our overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound. 

Catlans Penguin Beach with Hide

More Yellow-Eyed Penguins!


Beautiful Catlans Beaches

No Camping!

Milford Sound in the drizzle

Views from Key Summit hike at Milford

More from Key Summit

Even more Key Summit

Doubtful Sound on the way to the boat

Our swanky cabin


Where I caught my first fish

View from the boat where we spent the night

Views in the morning from the cruise

9th January
written by Hazel

It has been a while since I’ve managed an update.  We’ve had a busy and amazing time recently and have been very, very lucky.

Since the last post we took the southern scenic route around the bottom of the South Island.  This took us through the Catlans region and then up into Fiordland.  All in all we’ve had pretty good weather (except at Milford Sound), so we’ve been able to do some really good hikes and see lots of incredible scenery!

Beach in the Catlans at Sunset

We saw more penguins, did a beautiful river walk and met some incredibly nice people who shared their campfire one night.  There are loads of waterfalls in the Catlans, so I had a chance to practice taking some waterfall photos.

We had a huge adventure getting to Milford Sound as we realized part-way that we would not have enough gas in our tiny tank to make it back if we went all the way to the Sound.  There is no gas anywhere along the route, so running out would be pretty annoying, as would turning back and not seeing it.  We found ourselves at a hut where a few of the hikes start and managed to talk our way onto a bus that was passing through.  It ended up being really good because the road was incredibly scenic (despite the rain) and we both got to enjoy it instead of having to think about the very windy road.  It also ended up giving us only about 1.5 hours at the sound, but we didn’t mind that because we were saving our boat trip for Doubtful Sound and it was really poor visability.  We paid the bus driver and he told us “this never happened” and we went on our way.

The road to Milford is just incredible, with waterfalls everywhere and the steepest cliffs – highly recommend a whole day just to explore that road.

The next day we did a hike up to Key Summit (still before getting gas) and got some incredible views of the valleys and mountains.  I’m not going to have time to get pictures up, but I really will try in the next few days!

Our boat trip to Doubtful Sound was absolutely AWESOME!  We went with Fiordland Expeditions and it totally exceeded anything I had imagined.

Doubtful Sound

We had all the lobster and blue cod we could eat.  Which it turns out is quite a lot!  We also got to catch both of these things and they were cooked fresh right there on the boat.  I caught not only my first fish, but three more as well!  We actually went all the way out to the Tasman Sea for fishing and it was totally unreal (unreel?) how easy it was to hook a fish.  Except for the guy who caught a 5 foot shark!  Absolutely incredible!

We also went kayaking, did a little stargazing and Justin jumped off the ship’s helicopter pad.  I jumped off something a little lower, but it was awesome that we had such perfect weather that we could swim.  Everyone kept saying that they hardly ever have that much sun there.

But that wasn’t even the end of the seafood.  The kind people who shared their campfire invited us to their beautiful home to try Paua (abalone!).  So straight off the boat we drove back across the country and had another amazing seafood feast and wonderful evening of conversation (and showers and laundry!) at their house.  Much to my surprise I really liked the Paua and ate both strips of it and ground up patties. It’s a pretty off-putting black and blue color on the outside, but it tastes delicious!  We also had fish and chips style blue cod.  It’s amazing how generous people are as we would never have been able to try Paua like that.  Chris knows how and where to dive for them and snatched them that same day off the rocks!  You aren’t allowed to tank dive to get them, so it takes quite a bit of know-how.  We’re hoping that one day we’ll be able to return the favor, but we were having trouble thinking of truly American food besides hot dogs and twinkies.

My internet time is almost run out, even though I could go on and on about the last week.  We’re on our way back to the North Island now and going into intensive Spanish practice mode to get ready for South America at the end of the month.

2nd January
written by Hazel
Yesterday we went to the Moeraki Boulders.  They were pretty cool and surprisingly round.  Lots of tourists, but we still had a nice walk on the beach.

Justin on a Moeraki Boulder

 Then we went out to the lighthouse at Moeraki where they have a hide set up (complete with binoculars!) and watched the penguins coming back from their day of fishing.  They were Yellow-Eyed Penguins which are quite rare and endangered, and we were lucky enough to spot 4 of them in about 45 minutes!  So cool to watch them hop the rocks and waddle up to their nests on land.

Yellow-Eyed Penguin

 In Dunedin today.  Heading down to the Catlans tomorrow.

31st December
written by Hazel

I’m extremely excited about this post!

One of my Christmas gifts from Justin was a late night observatory trip to the world’s southernmost research observatory!  You can read about the tour here, or about the observatory here or here.  With all of our recent rain we were a bit worried that we wouldn’t be able to see much on the tour.  The tour company even gave us a $15 discount because there were a few clouds in the sky.  It turned out to be an awesome experience though.

We set out on the tour at 11:45 pm and didn’t get back until almost 2 am.  We were given huge red parkas to keep warm and then they took us up to the observatory on a big bus and then used really bright laser pointers to show us some of the constellations and explain some of the things we could see.  Jupiter was incredibly bright.  I thought it was interesting that the only constellation I could pick out from home, Orion, is upside down here in the southern hemisphere!

After the introduction we split up and could look through telescopes that they lined up to interesting things or try our hand at night photography.  Of course I went right to the photography!  It turned out that I was the only one in the group who lasted more than a couple of minutes taking photos so I got an explaining person to myself helping me out and telling me what I could see!  I even got to mount my camera on the tracking boom that moves at the same speed as the earth rotates so that the stars don’t appear smeared in the photos.  Before I used the boom I was getting streaky stars with a one minute exposure – the earth moves fast!

Upside-down Orion!

This was one of the pictures using the tracking boom. You can see the bright red supergiant Betelgeuse (his shoulder, but at the bottom left in this photo) and the blue supergiant Rigel (top right) and the pinkish Orion Nebula (in his sword).  Click on the photo to zoom in to see better!

Southern Cross

There’s a lot you can see in this photo!  The Southern Cross is in the middle at the bottom – pretty distinctive!  I had so much fun taking these photos and absolutely loved the whole experience!

Mt. John Observatory

We went back up the next day and did a circuit hike around the observatory so we could get a look at it in the daytime.  The views were spectacular, but notice that the clouds were already rolling back in.

We’re just outside Queenstown for new year’s eve tonight.  Hope everyone at home has a safe and happy New Year!!!

29th December
written by Hazel

Christmas Eve at the Octagon

We’ve had a pretty busy time of it, and as always my internet time is running out, but I’ll hit the highlights.  We had a wonderful Christmas in Christchurch with a delicious dinner out on Christmas Eve at a restaurant with live music and then went to the late night Christmas service at the Cathedral.

Christmas Eve at Christchurch Cathedral

Christmas Day we went for a punt ride (they don’t let you punt your own because the current is very fast) and got to see the city from the Avon, which runs right through the middle.  Really nice!  Then we had BBQ lamb.  In New Zealand many people do BBQ for Christmas dinner because it’s so nice outside.

The next day we set off for the Banks Peninsula and had an incredibly gorgeous drive.  The weather was perfect and the views were amazing.

Birds are everywhere!

Banks Peninsula Views

Unfortunately, the next day the weather took a turn for the worse and it started absolutely pouring.  The views were still good when we could see them, but the clouds were so low that there wasn’t much to see.  We tried to make the most of any breaks in the rain, but didn’t feel like we saw the best of Lake Tekapo.

Very BLUE Lake Tekapo in the rain

Horse in wildflowers


The next day it was still pouring, but we decided to head up to Mt. Cook with the hope that the weather forecast was accurate and the rain would break.  It wasn’t promising.


We did a hike, and got sopping wet, attempted another and had to turn back because of flooding.  All of the trails were underwater and so was most of the campground.  We hunkered down with books, and I didn’t even realize that the weather was changing.  Luckily, Justin was on the watch and we quickly did a repeat of the first walk we had tried.  You can see the difference above and below!

Same view 4 hours later!

Mt. Cook is FABULOUS.  The campground was really good, the mountain is so, so beautiful and we had a really good hike this morning (if somewhat crowded – one of the busiest places we’ve been in New Zealand).

Mt. Cook

This afternoon we headed back to Lake Tekapo and are enjoying the continuing sun.  At midnight tonight we’re going on an observatory tour where we will get to use university telescopes and find out about the Southern Hemisphere sky – so we’re extra happy that the skies are clear!

So beautiful now the sun is out!