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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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Eliott and I always skied during winters back home, but our trips were limited to a few days a year. This winter we’ve been able to do our first real season. Our mountain, or ski field as they say in NZ, is called The Remarkables. The actual mountain is only 15 minutes outside of Queenstown, but the base is a treacherous, 30-minute drive further. And that is where this post will begin….

Driving up the remarkables access road- a white knuckle thrill ride in itself

Driving to the base- a white knuckle thrill ride in itself

We approach The Remarkables access road at about 9am on Tuesday morning. The gravel road is coated in snow, making it difficult to differentiate between land and air at the edge of the road. We are armed with a pair of tire chains and only a vague idea of how to use them. Our Subaru joins a caravan of its siblings and we begin winding slowly up the mountain. Eliott’s driving skills are tested as he navigates hairpin turns and avoids the unmarked edges of the cliff road. After rolling, sliding, and climbing for 30 minutes we finally pull into a spot at the top.

The Remarkables in all its glory

Clouds recede, unveiling The Remarkables in all its glory

Frigid Fresh mountain air assaults our faces on the chairlift up to Shadow Basin. You can see the entire mountain from the lift. It’s blanketed in white and pockmarked by jagged brown rocks of various sizes. There’s not a tree in sight, which is a first for North American skiers. The trails lay open in front of us and the absence of trees allows you to carve your own path across the mountain.

Old Man Bart starting his hike up to the "Toilet Bowl" basin

Old Man Bart starting his hike up to the “Toilet Bowl” basin

After a few warm-up runs we’re ready to start hiking. There are only three chairlifts on the mountain, but there are a lot more peaks to be skied. We coast over to the patroled boundary and pop out of our skis. Onto the shoulder they go and into the boot tracks we start climbing. Ten minutes later we’ve reached a new peak and three untouched chutes lay below us. The views are breathtaking- their only competition is the hike itself.

One of our favorite hikes, The Chutes

The upside to every hike is its downside

Down we plunge into the powder. There’s not another skier in sight. It takes a few turns before you realize that the only sounds you hear are your skis crunching through snow and your own breathing. We stop halfway down the chute and look out across a small alpine lake and the frosty range of mountains laying in front of us. The sight and sound of silence is invigorating. There’s nothing like it- pure, untouched beauty.

A panoramic view from the top

A panoramic view from the top

The sun starts to set and the lifts come to a stop as we ski down for the last run of the day. But the fun’s not over yet. Après ski hour begins at 5, and it’s very rude to show up late. Brew, bros, and a fire are the fare for the night.

Mulled wine and a fire on the deck, a perfect finish to the day

Mulled wine and a fire on the deck with the Belfast crew

We know, we know, it’s a hard life that we lead. But someone’s got to do it because these mountains can’t ski themselves.

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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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How is that possible with such fresh, nutritious, reasonably priced food?

My cooking skills were a serious joke

My cooking skills were a joke

The problem, my friends, lay in Trader Joes’ freezers, where a selection of delicious, pre-made meals was always on display. It was so much more convenient to grab a few frozen burritos than to collect the ingredients necessary to concoct this dish on our own. Also when we got home late on a weeknight night it was a hell of a lot easier to cook (a.k.a microwave) these than make something from scratch. It was takeout quality food at supermarket prices. What can beat that in NYC?

In NYC ovens are used to hold sweaters. Are people really expected to cook in these crawl spaces?

In Manhattan ovens are used to hold sweaters. People do not actually cook in these crawl spaces

Living in NZ has torn Eliott and I away from our precious TJs and eating out at restaurants is quite expensive so we’ve taken to the kitchen with a new vigor. Our experiments have been mostly edible; of course there was the watery pumpkin soup and the not-so-pulled pork. But it looks like our cooking skills are on the up-and-up thanks to all the practice we’re getting this year and the obstacles we’ve encountered while cooking on the road.

They say 10,000 hours of practice makes you an expert, but we've lost track of time so we'll have to go on taste

They say 10,000 hours of practice makes you an expert, but we’ve lost track of time so we’ll have to go on taste

Learning to cook while traveling presents a number of challenges to any chef- especially a novice one. Every kitchen is truly unique. They’ve got their own selection of pans and every stove cooks at it’s own temperamental pace. However, learning to cook in an ever-changing environment reveals flaws in your technique that you might not have noticed in your own kitchen. It makes you hyper-sensitive to all the various factors involved in the cooking process. While you may over-cook the steaks one night, you end up a much more careful and conscientious chef in the end.

Lisa and I hard at work on some curry while traveling through Picton on our road trip

Lisa and I hard at work on some curry while traveling through Picton on our road trip

Another challenge is the lack of a pantry. Believe it or not we don’t have room for a bag of flour and spices in our backpacks so we have to make use of the pantry provided. When we were traveling to a new place every few nights we also had to buy ingredients that we’d be able to use before leaving. This particular challenge has forced us to hone our culinary creativity. Take for example our roast chicken and all the extra ingredients from Thanksgiving. How do you stretch out the leftovers and keep it interesting? Make chicken dumpling soup with the bones and some pot pie cupcakes or a curry with the meat and veggies!

So we didn't exactly starve on Thanksgiving...

We didn’t exactly starve on Thanksgiving…

The last impetus that has pushed our culinary education forward is the company we’ve shared. As we’ve marveled before, New Zealanders have an almost universal “do-it-yourself” attitude and a laid-back disposition. In the kitchen, this means that they cook often and they tackle seemingly difficult dishes with ease. For example on Waiheke, Zion, the 11 year-old, offered to cook breakfast one morning. We came down to the smell of caramelized apples served in elegantly wrapped crepes. I was astonished and remarked, “Crepes are so difficult! You’re a amazing cook.” To which he replied, “They’re just watery pancakes…” He had a good point, and so when we finally had access to some flour in Wellington we conjured up our own chocolately crepes for dessert one night. You don’t need a fancy crepe machine as I’d previously thought, just a pan and some watery batter.

The chocolate crepes may have been a success, but nothing beats a TimTam for dessert over here

The chocolate crepes may have been a success, but nothing beats a TimTam slam for dessert over here

Needless to say, my preconceptions about the difficulty of cooking have been smashed. I’ve come to realize that cooking is not a mystery to be solved. It’s a skill to be practiced. And if all else fails, salt can make almost anything edible. So when we get home you will still find me browsing the aisles of Trader Joes, but I’ll only be stopping at the freezers for ice cream.

And speaking of WHEN we get home, we’ve finally booked our return trip to Boston! Since there was a sale on flights to Honolulu the itinerary had to include a three-day layover in Hawaii- just another of the many sacrifices we’ve made to keep our trip sheap…

Herrro America!!!

Herrro America!!!

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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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Despite quitting my advertising job back in New York City, I have not been able to escape some of my duties as an account manager, namely timelines and budgets. One might think that a mandate of the backpacker lifestyle is to, “live by the seat of your pants,” which is one of the beauties of backpacking. However, for all its benefits, it also comes with drawbacks. We met a backpacker like this on the BrogTrip. He was our first hitchhiker (see what I mean) and he entertained us with stories of his travel throughout Asia and New Zealand. However, we saw the drawback of his lifestyle when we checked into our hostel and he was turned down at the door because the place was full. So there is certainly something to be said for drawing up a bit of a timeline.

While we put our feet up for the night, our hitchiking friend was out room hunting

While we put our feet up for the night, our hitchhiking friend was out room hunting

Eliott and I are naturally inclined to plan ahead. I mean, we were the kids bringing college brochures to our parents during sophomore year of high school. So while we want to embrace the “vagabond lifestyle” we are still doing some planning as we plod along on our trip. It’s helped us save money (we’re living “sheaply” remember) and also ensure that we maximize our experience in each new destination.

NERD ALERT!

NERD ALERT!

However, there is a major catch-22 with mapping out a timeline for your trip. If you plan too far in advance you risk closing yourself off to opportunities that present themselves on the road. Each stop along your trip will offer new and different options that you had not considered before. We’ve found that half of the battle to find exciting and unique experiences is just showing up.

The Bridal Veil Falls, a beautiful pit stop we found on our drive from Raglan to Rotorua

The Bridal Veil Falls, a beautiful pit stop we found on our drive from Raglan to Rotorua

So here are a few tips that we would offer from our experiences- planning and budgeting are useful but when practiced in moderation.

  • Try to plan at least 2 weeks ahead of your travels, but no more than a month. We say a minimum of 2 weeks because this allows you to live in the moment wherever you find yourself, but also gives you enough time to plan your next steps. When we got off the plane from San Fran we only had 2 weeks mapped out and it was the perfect amount of time to enjoy our local surroundings as well as set up our next stops.
  • Devote a lot of your research efforts to finding accommodation. The place where you lay your head each night will often be the most expensive cost, and it has a lot of influence over your experience. If you feel comfortable and secure in your accommodation you’re much more likely to enjoy that destination. If you’re in a place that lacks social opportunities or the weather is keeping you locked inside, a well-planned hostel or hotel can be your salvation. Bonus tip: find places that offer cooking facilities and wifi to ensure your trip is budget friendly!

You’d be surprised how much a poor night’s sleep dampens your travels

  • Research activities near your destination, but warm up to locals once you arrive and pick their brains for hidden gems. You’d be surprised at how much is NOT online. The stuff that you find online will be tourist traps. They’re the most expensive and busiest options, but unfortunately they’re not always the best. Sometimes you can’t escape the traps, like the Fox Glacier hike, but oftentimes the best hikes will come from notes scrawled on a napkin while talking to your hostel mates. For the times when you can’t avoid tourist traps use local review websites before booking. Rankers has been a great resource for our trips (and best of all we had dinner with the creators while wwoofing in Gisborne)!
Sometimes you just have to suck it up and pay the big bucks for an experience like the Black Water Rafting in Waitomo. YOLO!

Sometimes you just have to suck it up and pay the big bucks for an experience like the Black Water Rafting in Waitomo. YOLO!

  • Budget yourself at the beginning of your trip. This is a really dreadful exercise when you’re planning how to spend your money as opposed to your clients’ money. But if you’re planning on travelling for a while it is vital! Eliott and I didn’t draft a budget until we got to New Zealand because we took a few days to assess how much everything costs here and what we’re spending on (i.e. you may need to have a water section in your SE Asia budget, but not in NZ). Don’t be concerned with getting exact amounts. Generalize a day or week depending on the type of expense. For example: you’re going to eat 3 meals every day, you’d like to go out 1-2 times a week, you expect you’ll travel locally 3 times a week and extensively once a month, etc. etc. By generalizing your experience you give yourself flexibility so if your transportation costs are light one week you might see your accommodation costs go up. This is a really helpful exercise because it also helps you figure out what you’re willing to skimp on and what you’re not. That way, spur of the moment decisions will come easier. Eliott and I knew we wanted to splurge on unique experiences so picking up a surf lesson in Gisborne was an easy decision despite the unexpected expense.

In the end, I’d much rather do backpacker account management than what I was doing back in New York. It’s scary and stressful at times, but as people always say- “If it isn’t tough it’s not worth doing.” Besides, that other kind of account management was equally scary and stressful. I must admit though, the one drawback to backpacker account management versus advertising, is that I don’t get free toothpaste on the reg, but my teeth haven’t fallen out yet!

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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.

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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:

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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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