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The time has come, the Walrus allegedly said, to talk of many things. Going home and (re)starting professional lives are topics I’m not sure I’m ready to discuss. But we leave New Zealand tomorrow, so the time has indeed come. I recently approached the Walrus to see if he could help me come to terms with the end of our year-long journey. Here is a transcript of the conversation. Please excuse his language.

“You’ve traveled many miles.”

It’s true, Walrus. But wouldn’t kilometers be a more appropriate unit?

“And I suppose ‘zed’ is now the last letter of the alphabet? You filthy ex-pat.”

Sheesh. Forget I even brought it up.

“Grrrr. Fine. But you owe me a salmon steak. You’ve traveled many…miles…and now you must leave.”

I thought you would tell me something I don’t know. Like how to cope with all of this coming to an end.

“What are you taking with you?”

Um, basically everything I brought over minus my jeans. I spilled paint on them while woofing in Waiheke so—

“No! No, no, no!”

I know. They were my favorite jeans. It sucks.

“You materialistic bastard! What are you taking home that doesn’t fit in your bag?” 

Is this a riddle? Because I’ve got to say, I would’ve asked Owl to help with this last blog post if I wanted to answer riddles.

monkeying around on the Routeburn Track

monkeying around on the Routeburn Track

“Name one thing you’re taking home that won’t be in your bag!”

Jeez. Alright. Well, I guess I have like twenty more facebook friends than I did at the start of the year.

“Whoop-d-effing-do! I average fifty new friends a day. I have more twitter followers than Anthony Weiner—“

You know what, forget about it. I’m trying to answer your questions but you’re just being a jerk.

“You’re right. I had sea horse for lunch and it’s not sitting well. Sorry to take it out on you. So you’ve made some friends this past year?”

Yes.

Our flatmate Pete snapped some pro-level photos at Ohau last weekend. You can check them all out at peteoswald.co.nz

Our flatmate Pete snapped some pro-level photos at Ohau last weekend. You can check them all out at peteoswald.co.nz

“What are some of your favorite experiences with them?”

Well last weekend we went skiing in Ohau.

“Oh-a-who?”

No, you’re thinking of Oahu, the main island in Hawaii. More on that later. I’m talking about Oh-how, a small mountain two hours north of Queenstown. We caravanned up with our flatmates and six other friends. Rented out the Glenn Mary Lodge—a quaint and cozy compound built by a couple of ski aficionados in the 60s—and made lots of memories.

class photo in front of Glen Mary Lodge

class photo in front of Glenn Mary Lodge

“What kind of memories?”

We drank a lot of home-brewed beer. So the memories are a bit hazy. But charades on the first night was pretty funny. Guys versus girls. I can’t even describe how we solved “Jumanji.” It was inappropriate, even for your standards. And the meals were quite an undertaking. The girls made dinner each night. Spaghetti bolognese and chicken stir fry—

“Mmmmm.”

Yeah. Well the stir fry was delicious. They mixed sweet chili sauce with the soy sauce and it was dynamite. But if I’m being honest, the spag bowl could’ve been better. The pasta was severely over cooked and—

“I hope you didn’t tell them that!”

Of course I didn’t.

“Phew!”

But Tim did.

“Uh oh.”

Yeah. So that put the boys on cooking duty Sunday morning.

driving down from the mountain on Saturday

driving down from the mountain on Saturday

“How’d that go?”

We had two things going for us. One, everyone was hungover. Ohau just happened to be hosting “Scottish Weekend” on Saturday night so we snuck into that. They had a decent cover band that played a lot of U2 songs. I’m not sure why. But it was a lot of fun until they brought up a bag piper and put a microphone in front of him.

bonfire on shore of Lake Ohau

bonfire on shore of Lake Ohau

“Why would anyone think that’s a good idea?”

No clue. So we fled to our lodge with our eardrums in shambles and went to sleep with aspirations of impressing the ladies with a world-class breakfast.

“What’s the second thing?”

Huh?

“You said you had two things working in your favor for breakfast.”

Oh. Yeah. No, that was a lie. The breakfast was terrible. We basically threw a bunch of eggs, hashbrowns and butter together and fried up some leftover deli ham. Thankfully everyone’s hangover masked how disturbing the meal was.

“You’re pathetic.”

I know.

“How was the skiing?”

flat photo at top of Ohau: Brodie, me, Meg, Sophie, Pete, Sarah

flat photo at top of Ohau: Brodie, me, Meg, Sophie, Pete, Sarah

Unforgettable. The mountain’s only chairlift is a creaky two-seater. But it never got boring. We did some amazing hikes and skied fresh lines. We packed a picnic lunch and washed it down with a cold beer, Kennedy style.

“I’ve got to ask. Why does everything come back to food and drink with you?”

Hmmm. It does, doesn’t it? I never noticed. I guess this year’s been a big change for Meg and me in terms of dining.

Spag bowl night. Thanks for dinner girls!

Spag bowl night. Thanks for dinner girls!

“What kind of change?”

Well in New York we ordered out most nights. Maybe we’d whip up some rice-a-roni if we got home early enough, but the majority of our meals came in stapled styrofoam cartons. And then there was lunch. I probably ate Chipotle three days a week.

“I know. I saw the pictures before you left. That was some nice paunch.”

Hey! I’ve lost fifteen pounds this year.

“You’re like Al Roker circa 2003!”

Be nice.

“Sorry. How’d you do it?”

We became good home cooks. Well, Meg did at least. She’s mastered so many different recipes. Potato-leek soup, red lentil burgers, slow-cooked beef braised in red wine, homemade hummus, pumpkin risotto—

“Enough. I’m dribbling all over my tusks.”

Meg and Kate whipping up a delicious and waist-friendly meal

Meg and Kate whipping up a delicious and waist-friendly meal

Sorry. But yeah, she’s become an amazing cook. And I’ve elevated my culinary game from non-existent to barely competent. I actually went to the grocery store last week and checked out with a basket of carrots, potatoes and cabbage. The closest I ever got to those ingredients in New York was watching a St. Patrick’s Day episode of Law and Order.

“Sounds like you two have made some healthy lifestyle changes.”

Yeah, I guess so. Life in New Zealand is more active. It helps when you have mountains in your backyard, but I think kiwis are more motivated to get up, get out and have adventures. Ed Hilary is on the $5 bill. Nothing against Washington and Lincoln, but I think that captures the different cultures nicely.

“Do you think you’ll bring this active lifestyle back with you?”

I hope so.  We’ve gotten a lot better about exercising, spending time outside, and just saying yes to new experiences. I guess it depends on what we do next. When we lived in New York, work would always come home with us. Maybe not physically, but it was a focal point of our lives and conversations.

getting ready for a morning hike in Glenorchy

getting ready for a morning hike in Glenorchy

The people we’ve met in New Zealand are not trying to make fortunes. They have day jobs that allow them to make a living and enjoy life with their friends and families. I think we already knew that the jobs we left behind weren’t the answer for us. One thing we’ve come to realize is that life is too short and the world is too big to waste time doing something that doesn’t make you happy.

“What next? Move to Maine and join a commune?”

Yes. A Walrus hunting commune.

“Grrrrr…”

Our next move is a three-day layover in Oahu. The plan is to catch some rays in Honolulu so we don’t look like pasty lepers when we try to re-assimilate back home. We haven’t lined up jobs or anything so obviously we’re apprehensive about our impending unemployment. But we both have clear ideas of what we’d like to do, so the plan is to pursue those avenues and see what happens.

“What will you miss the most?”

The people. We’ve befriended some incredible people. I’ll miss the little things like swapping stories over a home-cooked meal, playing ping pong with Pete and Brodie in our frigid garage, and all the impromptu activities we did together: ice skating in the botanic garden, kayaking on the Hawea wave, launching ourselves into a foam pit off giant trampolines.

“So many activities! What else will you miss?”

The laid-back lifestyle. The views. The mountains, the waterfalls and the lakes. The ability to step outside our house and take a picnic hike up Queenstown Hill. There’s so much raw natural beauty here; and although we always reminded ourselves not to take any of it for granted, I know we’ll miss waking up to this every day.

Lake Wakatipu and the Southern Alps

Lake Wakatipu and the Southern Alps

“What type of emotions do you feel right now?”

Excited to see everyone at home. Sad to be leaving this amazing place and our new friends. Really sad actually. Any advice?

“A wise man once said to cherish the memories and make a badass photo album.

Then that’s what we’ll do.

“That wise man was me.”

Cheeky Walrus.

a

 

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Five weeks from today we’ll reunite with our families at Logan airport. As we enter the twilight of our trip, it’s hard not to reflect on everything we’ve experienced: the people, the sights, the food, the weather, the lifestyle. The first six months were a case study in nomadic living, while we’ve spent the last five immersing ourselves in a unique and close-knit community. Between these two distinct experiences we’ve unearthed almost every corner of New Zealand and observed several differences between our present home and our past one.

Here are ten that range from subtle to obvious and everything in between:

1. Temperament

Preface: this is a sweeping generalization. Three words I’d use to describe New Zealanders are outgoing, easygoing and friendly. Those aren’t exactly the first descriptors that come to mind when I think about New Yorkers. Here’s an anecdote from my first day living in Manhattan:

A hot and sticky June afternoon. We hopped on a packed subway car and jostled for standing room. I grabbed the rail in front of a seated middle-aged lady. She surveyed the car, then bowed her head down and leaned over my flip-flops. And then she sneezed…all over my foot. I gaped at Meg and couldn’t help but blurt out, “Gross!!!” The lady looked at me and rolled her eyes, as if to say “welcome to the big apple kid.”

Conversely, on our first day in New Zealand–technically it was somewhere over international airspace between San Francisco and Auckland–we met Karen. She was our neighbor for the 14-hour flight. We mentioned that encounter back in September. Karen is so genuinely friendly and helpful; she put us in touch with her daughter, who needed a pet-sitter for November in Wellington, and more recently hosted us for a delicious dinner at her Nelson home when my dad and sister visited in May.

Karen, we want to thank you for your friendship this year. Hopefully our paths will cross again...on this side of the equator or the other!

Thank you for your friendship this year, Karen. Hopefully our paths will cross again…on this side of the equator or the other!

2. Pizza

Nothing beats a New York slice. Whether it’s noon or 4am, New York pizza always hits the spot. New Zealand pizza is different. It has a fraction of the cheese and sauce, is almost exclusively thin crust, and rarely sold by the slice.  But I love it. Kiwi pizzas have a deep appreciation for toppings, which is why I think they make a perfect meal (whereas NY pizza is a perfect snack). Fresh meat, local veggies and creative sauce combinations blend together exquisitely.

If you’re ever in the area and looking for a good feed, try one of these institutions that serve up delicious pizza with a handful of other kiwi specialties:

Costa’s Pizza, Raglan

Shawtys, Twizel

Fork and Tap, Arrowtown

3. Insulation

From our experience it seems that many homes in New Zealand are built without insulation. We’ve struggled to understand why–someone told us it has to do with building permits not requiring it, another person attributed it to costs (which is ironic given our heating bills)–but this has been our biggest grievance with winter here. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing our breath during all waking hours. This is how we dress for bed:

sleeping bag, winter hat, long underwear, sweatshirt/pants, smart wool socks

sleeping bag, winter hat, long underwear, sweatshirt/pants, smart wool socks

4. Immune Systems

New York is a crowded city that becomes a germaphobe’s nightmare during winter rush hour. The subway is a cesspool of runny noses and swine flu. There’s something inherently healthier and restorative about day-to-day life in New Zealand. It could be that the air is cleaner. Or the lifestyle is more active. Maybe it’s the fact that people use less chemicals on a daily basis–e.g. they clean their homes with sugar soap rather than a potent cocktail of Mr. Clean and Ajax. Whatever it is, the kiwi lifestyle is conducive to building a more resilient immune system.

the active lifestyle is definitely an immune booster

bright orange pants also boost your immune system

5. Suspension bridges

In the U.S., suspension bridges are large and provide access to cities. In New Zealand they occur everywhere to bring people into nature. You’ll encounter a suspension bridge on many walks or drives and it will feel like a scene out of Indiana Jones. They’re a lot of fun to cross, but some are quite narrow with weight limits that test your mental math skills.

at Mount Cook, New Zealand's tallest peak

at Mount Cook, New Zealand’s tallest peak

6. Driving

Yes, they drive on the left here. But after four road trips and five months of owning a car, we’ve observed some subtler differences. Rotaries, or “roundabouts” as they’re called, are frequently used in place of traffic lights. They’re pretty efficient–so long as people know how they work.

State highways are usually two-lane roads with no medians and the occasional passing lane, which makes for some aggressive driving. Fortunately we’re from Boston by way of New York, so we have plenty of experience with such maneuvers.

The cars here are generally older than the ones at home. There is no societal pressure to drive a flashy new car, so people are content with twenty-year-old Subarus. This makes a lot of sense to us. As long as she’s a runner, why spend the big bucks when you could save the money for something more meaningful? Like, for example, a once in a lifetime trip.

there's no social pressures to get a fancy car, but we got one anyways

no social pressures to have a fancy car, but we got one anyways

7.  Coffee

We’ve covered this before. But to summarize the difference: kiwi coffee is almost exclusively espresso-based. You can’t just order a plain coffee. If you do, the barista will stare at you until you realize you aren’t in Kansas anymore. Typical coffee orders here are flat-whites, cappuccinos, and the indulgent mochaccino. While we’ve enjoyed these caloric delicacies, we’d be lying if we said we aren’t excited to walk into a cafe and say: “large coffee, please.”

recently engaged friends Bart and Kate enjoying their espresso beverages

recently engaged friends Bart and Kate enjoying their frothy espresso beverages

8. Pets

In the U.S. people have cats and dogs. Lots of New Zealanders have cats and dogs too. But some residents have less traditional pets. In Glenorchy we met April, an eccentric character who let us pose with her roommate:

April's pony, Lacey

April’s pony, Lacey

Another difference is that people own pets for practical reasons, not just cuddling. For example, the rooster meat and bacon we ate back in Gisborne.

9. Seasons

The New Zealand climate is mild and comparable to San Francisco. There are four distinct seasons–amplified or muted depending on what part of the country you’re in. The North Island is generally warmer; the west coasts of both islands get more rain. We packed the right stuff and overall it was pretty easy to acclimate. The thing that takes the most getting used to is the Southern Hemisphere seasons. Meg had her first summer birthday and I celebrated mine with a fresh coat of snow. No matter how much you mentally prepare yourself for the change, it is still surreal when you get to do this in the middle of June:

opening day at The Remarkables coincided perfectly with Kate and Bart's visit

opening day at The Remarkables coincided perfectly with Kate and Bart’s visit

10. Beer (aka piss)

It’s been eleven months since we’ve had bud light or any other watery excuse for beer. New Zealanders take a lot of pride in their barley sodas. Pubs have high quality domestic beer on tap–ranging from large corporate players to popular micro-brews–and we’ve tried them all. Among our favorites are Macs, Steinlager, Emersons and Three Boys.

enjoying some frosty Three Boys IPA at Ohau Lodge

enjoying Three Boys IPA at Ohau Lodge

Beyond the pub scene, home-brewing is a celebrated hobby. Dave, our first host on Waiheke island, had a five valve tap on his back porch. So while our experience has led us to rank New Zealand beer above American beer–where strong offerings like Sam Adams and Magic Hat are offset by keystone light et. al.–there are pros and cons to consider, mainly economical. The average pint in Queenstown is $7, but it’s a lot tastier than the $3 coors light back home. I suppose it boils down to where you fall on the quantity vs. quality debate.

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Since moving to Queenstown we have “flatted” with three Kiwis and two Brits. We have learned a lot about their cultures–New Zealanders love Pat Benatar; British people have tea upwards of five times a day. And I’m sure they’ve learned a great deal about ours–Americans make snarky comments at the television during reality cooking shows.

But the most interesting thing multi-cultural cohabitation has taught us is that we speak three different kinds of English. Here’s a list of unique New Zealand words and phrases. Just like a middle-school vocabulary list, we’ve included definitions and used each word in a sentence–specifically, a sentence pertaining to our trip.

bach: a cottage

Last weekend, Meg went to a lakeside bach with two of our flatmates. (Our other flatmate and I had to work 😦 )

bbq at the bach

bbq at the bach

boot: car trunk

The boot of our subaru is filled with tennis racquets and beach towels.

capsicum: sweet peppers (red or green)

Meg and Sarah recently planted capsicums in the communal garden.

car park: parking lot

On our Milford road trip, Cate did calisthenics in the car park.

entree: appetizer

The prawn entree at Fishbone comes with two jumbo shrimp.

flash: sensational or fancy

Our subaru is very flash.

Our subaru is very flash.

fringe: bangs

Most girls would agree, Zoe Deschanel has enviable fringe.  (that sentence doesn’t have anything to do with our trip, it’s just a true statement about fringe)

gutted: emotionally distraught

To say I was gutted when the Patriots lost would be an understatement.

jandals: flip flops or sandals

November through March is jandal season in New Zealand.

lemonade: sprite or 7up

During the brief period I quit drinking soda, I ordered a lemonade at a restaurant and it caused a relapse.

piss: beer

Flat photo: everyone's drinking piss.

Our flat went to Atlas and we all drank piss.

piss-up: a social gathering involving alcohol

our

We had a piss-up on Lake Wakatipu and drank out of a watermelon.

rattle your dags: hurry up, get a move on

Rattle your dags, “My Kitchen Rules” is almost on. (MKR is an addictive Australian cooking show; we think they put MSG in it)

scull: to chug a drink (beer)

Meg sculled both of these...just kidding!

Meg sculled both of these jugs…just kidding!

serviette: napkin

Cleaning up after guests at the restaurant has made Meg appreciate her mom’s enthusiasm for serviettes.

taking a piss: having too much to drink

Last weekend our flatmate Tom was taking a piss at his favorite pub, 1876, and woke up with this:

Glory lasts forever. So do tattoos.

Glory lasts forever. So do tattoos.

tomato sauce: ketchup

Fergburger makes their own tomato sauce.

Fergburger makes their own tomato sauce.

whinge: to complain

During road trips I frequently whinge about the cleanliness of hostel bathrooms.

zed: Z, the last letter of the alphabet

If you pronounce Z like “zee” rather than “zed,” people will laugh at you.

*********************************************

Don’t worry, there won’t be a vocab test on Monday. But if you ever plan a trip to New Zealand, save yourself some confusion and brush up on this list.

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Tomorrow, March 20th, marks the official halfway point of our time in New Zealand. While the six months have flown by way too quickly, my memories from home also feel eons away. Quite frankly, I miss the good old U-S-of-A and mostly, I miss all of you.

But my homesickness was abated last week when three of my crazy, foolish girlfriends from Hamilton invaded an unsuspecting New Zealand. The authorities were completely unprepared for their arrival. Lisa was actually able to slip through their fingers on an early flight, but August and Cate were not quite as lucky. With only hours notice from Interpol, the New Zealand border police tried to detain the other girls on hopped up charges of narcotraficante and bioterrorism.  Crafty as ever, August and Cate were able to get through.

"Oh my god, we're in...RUN!"

“Oh my god, we’re in…RUN!”

After a whirlwind tour of the North Island (AucklandRaglanWellington) the girls made their way down to Queenstown where Eliott and I hosted them for the rest of their time in NZ. Eliott and I have been working pretty hard at becoming true Queenstown locals since settling here in Feb so it was nice to play host for the week. We showed off our townie status- touring the girls through local hotspots- but also hopped into the car for yet another roadtrip. Here’s a little summary of the highlights from our week with the girls!

Going Hard-core Parkour on Queenstown

After filling up on lamb steaks and sauv blanc we took to the streets of Queenstown. We most certainly did justice to the “loud” and “brash” stereotype associated with Americans. It was just like how I remember (foggily) the good old days in upstate New York.

Supersize me!!

Super-size me

Wine Tasting in Gibbston Valley

The Central Otago region is filled with boutique vineyards and we made sure to get heaps of tastings on our way. This region is particularly famous for their Pinot Noirs. For a taste of your own back home, drop by Whole Foods and pick up the Mohua label.

Taking a bocci break at our favorite, Brennan Vineyard

Taking a bocci break at our favorite, Brennan Vineyard

We capped off the day of tastings with a visit to Lake Hayes, where we had a picnic lunch and rejuvenated our spirits by launching ourselves off the homemade rope swing. We got some big air. I’d say we really nailed it.

Milford Sound Roadtrip

A visit from friends would not be complete without a little roadtrip now would it? So we hopped into the car for a one-day trip down to the famous Milford Sound. We made sure to take our time on the drive down, stopping for:

Exercise

Calisthenics are KEY to staying alert on a 5 hour drive. Cate, as always, led the class

Calisthenics are KEY to staying alert on a 5 hour drive. Cate, as always, led the class

Bathrooms

I cannot stress the importance enough: hydration, hydration, hydration

I cannot stress the importance enough: hydration, hydration, hydration

And of course a bit of scenery

precious

precious

We opted for the Jucy Cruize (because we’re hip) and were not disappointed by the breathtaking views. Milford Sound is a fiord carved out by glaciers during the ice age. What remains are 1000-meter cliffs that soar high above the clouds and plunge into deep blue waters. It’s home to a variety of marine life including fur seals, penguins, dolphins, and the occasional whale. Rudyard Kipling proclaimed Milford Sound as the “eighth wonder of the world,” and I would be hard pressed to disagree with him.

The team preparing for takeoff

The team preparing for takeoff

You truly feel the sheer power of nature while cruising through the fiords as they rise steeply on either side of the slowly shrinking boat

You feel the sheer power of nature while cruising through the fiords as they rise steeply on either side of the slowly shrinking boat

A collection of cuddly NZ Fur Seals

A collection of cuddly NZ Fur Seals

Paragliding

You can’t come to Queenstown and NOT partake in any adventure sports so Cate and Lisa took one for the team and went Paragliding. These are the nuts that Eliott and I watch from our balcony all day long. They quite literally walk off the side of a mountain with nothing but a crazy New Zealander and a parachute strapped to their backs. August and I (due to a severe fear of heights) volunteered to stay back and document the adventure.

Those small colorful specs in the sky are Cate and Lisa (we think)

Those small colorful specs in the sky are Cate and Lisa (we think)

YOLO!

YOLO!

Local Tramps

DSC03667

This was August’s reaction to the announcement of our 2-hour tramping plans

For our last full day in Queenstown we took the girls on a tramp, or hike, just outside of Queenstown. It’s a two hour loop known as the Crighton Track, listed as a “moderate” incline, but we’d actually rate it “moderate-to-difficult.” Highlights included views over lake Wakatipu, an old-fashioned camping hut, and sore legs.

It was a nice remote hike, so remote that we had to resort to selfies to prove we'd made it to the top

It was a nice remote hike, so remote that we had to resort to selfies to prove we’d made it to the top

Local Dining

As any tramper worth their weight in dirt knows, it’s vital to refuel after a hearty workout. So we treated ourselves to a delicious, nutritious feast at the best restaurant in town- Fishbone. Eliott and the girls got a full tour of New Zealand seafood, sampling Green-lipped Mussels from Marlborough sound, Nelson clams, pacific Bluenose, native Blue Cod, and of course the famous Bluff oysters.

Finally getting to taste and share some of the amazing food that I serve on a nightly basis

Finally getting to taste and share some of the amazing food that I serve on a nightly basis

But as Robert Frost once wrote, “Nothing gold can stay,” and that was the case this week. The girls boarded their plane to Christchurch, Eliott went back to work, and I walked around wearing the worlds biggest sunglasses in an attempt to hide my tears. It was an absolutely amazing week and it went by way too quickly. It was really special to share a bit of our life, here in QT, with friends from home.

Seeing old friends has reminded us of where we were just 12 months ago and made us think about how much this trip will change us. It’s quite hard to tell whether or not we’ve changed at all. I can say for sure that our habits and routines are different. We don’t go to Murphy’s Pub until 4am on the weekends anymore and we frequent the supermarket more often than restaurants these days. But will these changes stick with us when we get home? Will we undergo deeper changes in our personalities and outlooks? I don’t think we’ll be able to tell while we’re over here. It’s something that you’ll have to be the judges of when we finally do get back home, in just six months time!

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Before we use this forum to focus entirely on the present and future, we want to make sure we don’t overlook the cool sights and experiences we had on our journey to Queenstown. Without further ado, here’s a glimpse into the rearview mirror from our South Island road trip.

Cook Strait route

Interislander route from Wellington to Picton

We met my mom in Wellington and boarded the Intersislander for the three-hour Cook Strait crossing. At its narrowest point, the Cook Strait is 22km. I know. How can the ferry ride last longer than a Tarantino movie? For one, the Strait is regarded as one of the world’s most dangerous and unpredictable bodies of water. Its ferocious swells have claimed many a ship, including a 1961 passenger ferry. Fortunately we crossed on a perfect day. The other reason the trip is so long is because the ship crawls through the winding Queen Charlotte Sound. Unless you’re in a rush, this is a good thing. The views are unbeatable and every turn seems to reveal a distinct and perfect landscape.

Kiwis spend billions every year to keep their water this blue

Kiwis spend billions every year to keep their water this blue

Picton

Known as the gateway to the South Island, Picton has a small year-round population that balloons in the peak months of January and February. We used airbnb  to find a place to stay. (Airbnb is a vacation rental service that helps you find houses or rooms to rent. Sometimes you’ll have the place to yourself, other times you’ll stay with the owners.) Our first airbnb experience was an amazing one. We stayed with Beth, an expat from Chicago who is doing a similar  year-long trip. She was a gracious host and even organized a dinner party on our last night. We ate fresh grouper that Beth had caught and met a couple of her friends, including one who looks exactly like the actor Damien Lewis (aka Brodie from Homeland).

the resemblance is uncanny, right?

the resemblance is uncanny, right?

Picton also has a range of hiking trails, so we made our first foray into “tramping” with a mild three-hour hike up the Snout Track.

thanks to frauleins Gretchen and Sigrid for snapping this picture

we met a couple nice German girls at the top who snapped this photo for us. thanks Gretel and Sigrid!

Greymouth

We picked up our rental car in Picton and headed south-west towards Greymouth. On the way out of town we made a slight detour in Marlborough wine country.

Fromm Vineyard - we promise it wasn't 11:00am

tasting at Fromm Vineyard – we promise it wasn’t 11:00am (we can’t promise it wasn’t 10:45)

When we pulled into Greymouth and checked into our hostel two things became obvious. One: Global Village Backpackers is the nicest hostel we’ve encountered in New Zealand.

clean, cozy and affordable. what more do you need?

clean, cozy and affordable. what more do you need?

Two: Greymouth is the arm pit of the South Island. Industrial, dark and dreary. It does have a long coast line filled with scenic trails and views, but we were excited to depart for a livelier destination. En route to Fox Glacier we stopped at the Hokitika Gorge (thanks to Kathy Bliss!), which is a bit off the beaten path but well worth the detour. Glacial runoff mixes with earthy minerals to give the water a milky turquoise color. And the suspense bridge is straight out of Indiana Jones.

s

Fox Glacier

In case you missed it.

Queenstown

According to all people, road signs and navigational systems we consulted, the drive from Fox to Queenstown should take four-hours. It took us closer to seven. Granted, we got distracted by some worthy pit stops:

there we go with those waterfalls again

there we go with those waterfalls again

Our four day stint in Queenstown was a mix of business and pleasure. My mom treated us to a stay at the Heritage Hotel–a nice change of pace after hostel living–and Meg and I pounded the pavement to hand out resumes in hope of lining up jobs after our road trip. Of course, we gave ourselves plenty of time to relax:

this ones for the mixologist on Keene Street

this one’s for the mixologist on Keene Street

And explore some of Queenstown’s scenic tramping:

a

At the top of the Seven Mile track

Dunedin

I will forever link Dunedin with disappointment. And not in any way because of the destination. Dunedin is a hip, vibrant–if somewhat meteorologically bleak–college town. It just so happens this is where we watched the Patriots lose the AFC championship game. Fortunately Meg knew the perfect way to cope with the defeat.

a tour of Speights Brewery concluded with 30 minutes of unlimited access to their six taps

a tour of Speights Brewery concluded with thirty minutes of unlimited access to their taps

Despite Dunedin’s reputation for grim weather, we lucked out with two days of sunshine. This allowed us to visit the nearby Otago Peninsula where we met a Department of Conservation agent named Jasmine, caught a glimpse of a yellow-eyed penguin, and ran down this epic hill:

the walk back up was not as enjoyable

the walk back up was not as enjoyable

Christchurch

A massive earthquake in February 2011 destroyed the center of Christchurch. People told us that it was formerly the heart and soul of the South Island; perhaps New Zealand’s most beautiful city. But two years have passed since the quake and the city still lies in ruins. Comparing it to a post-war European city would not be hyperbolic.

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Many businesses have closed with no intention of re-opening. Just trying to find a hostel we noticed that several of the ones in our travel books were gone. Residents have departed in search of brighter futures and tourism has dried up. The rebuilding effort is underway, but it is slow and deliberate. The residents who have remained are hurting but (in typical kiwi fashion) are far from defeated. We thought this uplifting poster captured the city’s fighting spirit:

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Many of the merchants are determined not to let the disaster force them out of Christchurch. They have opened temporary stores in old shipping containers. The ad hoc marketplace is called “Re-start Village” and it’s an inspiration.

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Sydney, Australia

Nothing fuels culture shock like leaving a country with a 20:1 sheep-to-person ratio and arriving in Sydney on Australia day. January 26, the Australian July 4, was a perfect day. We took advantage of the weather and treated ourselves to our own walking tour of downtown Sydney. Highlights range from the obvious (Opera House, Government House, Botanic Gardens) to the obscure (free smoothie samples in Hyde Park, antique automobile show aptly named “Car-nival”).

It looked a lot bigger and whiter during the opening ceremony for 2000 olympics

It looked a lot bigger and whiter on TV during 2000 olympics (we suspect China was involved)

Unfortunately the weather for the rest of the week was wet and grey. Sydney is famous for its beaches (Bondi, Manly) and we were determined not to let the forecast dictate our trip.

we don't believe in the phrase "not a beach day"

we don’t believe in the phrase “today’s not a beach day”

We also heard great things about the Blue Mountains and decided to make the two-hour drive to hike them rain or shine. We lucked out with a couple hours of sunlight and had a lovely afternoon tramping through the foothills and making a picnic on the porch of a chocolate shop.

in front of the "Three Sisters" rocks at the Blue Mtns

in front of the “Three Sisters” rock formation

It’s tough to judge a place when it’s raining for ninety percent of your visit. (I remember looking at colleges and ruling them out because it down-poured on the tour. Shallow, yes. But what 17-year-old is capable of seeing the big picture?) So our perception of Sydney was skewered by the weather and we didn’t catch it on its best week. Having said that, Meg and I were ready to get back to New Zealand and we probably would have felt this way after a week of sunshine. The traffic, lines, $9 beers and abrasive bus drivers reminded us why we wanted to leave the last big city we lived in. Like New York, I suspect Sydney is fine when you’re visiting for a week, but living there is a whole different ballgame.

While it was sad to say goodbye to my mom after such a great month, we found a silver lining in returning to a place that we are excited to call home for the next six months.

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The “Southern Hemisphere’s premier four season lake and alpine resort.” As Eliott noted in his last post, we settled into Queenstown last week and we plan on being here for the long haul- well at least until our visas expire.

To help you get your bearings and understand where we’ve chosen to settle, here are some basic stats. Queenstown is nestled on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. It is bordered on its other three sides by the Southern Alps, so basically it’s picturesque from every angle, including ours.

We'll let you know if waking up to this view ever gets old

We’ll let you know if waking up to this view ever gets old

For you cartographers, we’ve also mapped it out here. Queenstown was originally settled by Europeans in 1860, but it was traversed by Maoris in search for pounamu (or sacred greenstone) for many years before that. The local population is roughly 29,200 so while it’s only twice the size of my quiet hometown, Duxbury, MA, it’s still considered a major city on the South Island. This odd statistic is a testament to its vibrant tourism industry.

Some people refer to Queenstown as the “adventure capital of the world” because of the many activities you can enjoy here which include: skiing, snowboarding, heli-sking, jet boating, whitewater rafting, bungy jumping, mountain biking, skateboarding, tramping, paragliding, sky diving and fly fishing. Whew, deep breath. For after hours entertainment Queenstown offers a bevy of bars that provide the answer to our longstanding question, “where are all the young people at?”

World's most dangerous cartwheel- only in Queenstown

World’s most dangerous cartwheel first attempted in Queenstown

So I guess I’d now pose the question to you all- why wouldn’t we want to live here? Queenstown has always piqued our interest, but the truth is we finally pulled the trigger on QT because I was able to get a job. One of our goals for January was to find some work and settle down for a few months. We enjoy our roadtrips and sightseeing, but staying in hostels can get old and quite expensive.  On our latest road trip, with Eliott’s mom, we stopped in Queenstown for a few days and pounded the pavement hunting for jobs. We passed out a lot of resumes and got passed over even more. So at the end, when I thought I couldn’t handle any more rejection I decided to hand out one last resume at a seafood restaurant called Fishbone.

I got a call back that night and after a stressful trial run the following day I received the offer. And today, I’m happy to announce that  Eliott was offered a job at a clothing store called Wild South. We are now both happily and gratefully employed locals. While traveling New Zealand we’ve found the job search to be somewhat challenging, but it mostly boils down to timing and persistence.

 

Oh wait, did you guys ask for a closer shot of the view from our balcony? Here you go

Oh wait, did you guys ask for a closer shot of the view from our balcony? Here you go

A few quick tips for any backpackers that are looking to get some work on the road:

  • Don’t look like a backpacker because everyone knows they’re unreliable…
  • Change your resume to fit your situation. Our engineer flatmate is working as a dishwasher and he didn’t get that job listing his GPA.
  • Be bold. Always ask to speak with the manager and be quick to explain why you’re a good fit.

It’s a squirrel-eat-kiwi world and there are only so many jobs and so many months in the tourist season. You have to pounce on any opportunity, but luckily in a busy place like Queenstown there are a lot of chances to hone your craft.

Once landing the job we started to look for housing the next morning. Similar to the job hunt, the apartment search is all about timing and persistence. We were very selective about the location, setup, and price of the apartments that we pursued so while trademe.co.nz was filled with options we had to look hard for the right fit. Luckily we found Pete and Sophie offering their room in a large house on Queenstown hill. It was the perfect fit- private bath, private deck, huge living area, a ping pong table, walking distance to town, and most importantly AWESOME roommates! Pete and Sophie are moving to Whistler to catch the North American ski season so we slipped into their room at the perfect time and may, if we’re lucky, be able to swap back with them during the NZ ski season. If you couldn’t tell, they’re big skiers, something we’ll be getting back into this winter too.

Boozey brunch with the new flatmates! Reminds us a lot of our weekends in NYC

Boozey brunch with the new flatmates!

So we are now officially moved into our new flat in Queenstown. We kicked off the first weekend with a goodbye bbq for Pete and Sophie, which reminded us a lot of the shenanigans we used to get into at home.  We’re really looking forward to staying in one place for a while. I think it’s an important part of the travel experience. We spent the first four months of our trip wandering across the country, but you only see so much as a tourist. Now we’re ready to experience the kiwi lifestyle first-hand. And as always, we’ll be sharing almost all of the gritty details with you back home!

Climb every mountain, ford every stream....

Climb every mountain, ford every stream

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On our last day in Wellington I was almost literally swept off my feet during a morning run with Eliott’s mom, Lisa. While jogging along the waterfront we were stopped in our tracks by gale force winds. But it’s not a physical sweep I want to talk about here. It’s a metaphoric one – the way that New Zealand swept me off my feet with its culture and beauty.

May the road rise up to meet you, May the wind be always at your back

Lisa has just flown in to join us on our NZ adventures for the next month. We are taking her to uncharted territory- the South Island and then Sydney. Before making our pilgrimage across the Cook Strait we took her on a whirlwind tour of the capital city. Seeing Wellington through Lisa’s eyes has rejuvenated our travelling spirits. After living here for almost two months we feel like we’ve become jaded Wellingtonians. We’ve fully adopted the relaxed vibe that permeates NZ and perusing vintage shops along Cuba Street just feels like a normal afternoon for us. So hearing Lisa marvel at all the unique features of New Zealand reminded us of our early days here and how invigorating the whole experience has been.

Rediscovering the calming and restorative effects that a tramp through the great outdoors has on the body and mind

Rediscovering the calming and restorative effects that a tramp through the great outdoors has on the body and mind

Believe it or not, it’s still easy to settle into your daily routines and forget the bigger picture on a trip like this. Lately we’ve been filling our thoughts with the little things- what are we going to eat for dinner? where are we going to settle in February? how is the budget doing? etc. etc. Now granted, these are pretty nice concerns to have in the scheme of things, but they do distract you from the bigger picture: we’re backpacking through a foreign country with nothing but each other and our savings. Lisa has brought back memories from the months leading up to this trip. We were filled with so much excitement and enthusiasm, but also an overwhelming notion that we had no idea what lay ahead of us. We vowed that we would never take a day for granted and when given the option we would always chose the risky, the new, and the bold.

Embarking across the Cook Strait with only a vague idea of what will lay ahead of us. The sky is the limit

Embarking across the Cook Strait with only a vague idea of what lies ahead. The sky is the limit

Lisa’s visit makes us realize that as a traveler you have to continually remind yourself of this bigger picture and not get bogged down by the day-to-day things. This reminder can be anything, a visit from an old friend, a brief conversation, or even a small token you keep by your side. Regardless of the form, it’s vital to find one that works for you and stick with it. It’s important to keep the ideas and aspirations that originally inspired you fresh in your mind so that you don’t pass up opportunities for discovery. While travelling you must make the most of every day because each one is a gift to be treasured, not time to be wiled away.

Nothing makes you value your days like the awe-inspiring Queen Charlotte Sound

Nothing makes you value the day like the awe-inspiring Queen Charlotte Sound

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