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New Zealand by the Numbers: Cost of 17 Days in New Zealand

August 31, 2016
travel costs in new zealand

Throughout our trip, I kept detailed notes on all of the money we spent. I’m sharing financial figures on how we made a multi-country and month trip work without spending our life savings. In each location, we set a specific budget for food, accommodation, transportation, and activities. Here’s how our spending went in New Zealand.

As a side note: I’m not including our flight into each country within the country budget breakdown. Flights were definitely a factor in our overall budget, but prices are relative based on where you’re flying from. This post outlines how we spent money on the ground once we were in New Zealand. If you’re interested, we spent $540USD on two one-way flights from Nadi, Fiji to Auckland, New Zealand.

Accommodation: $671.14 ($39.48 a night)

We were in shared hostel accommodations for 13 out of our 17 nights in New Zealand. Our hostel rooms ranged anywhere from a 4-bed to an 8-bed dormitory room. Three nights we were in a private hostel room and one night we stayed at a family’s airbnb. New Zealand and Australia were the most expensive places we stayed for accommodations, so we knew we’d have to go the hostel route to stay within our budget. My original budget for our accommodations was $40.00 a night and we came in right at $39.48 – pretty close!

IMG_0056 Our “luxurious” accommodations in Wanaka

New Zealand was the first time I’d slept in a hostel since I studied abroad in Spain during college. It was a little strange at first to be back in a shared sleeping, showering, and eating situation, but we quickly adjusted. Positively reviewed hostels were a necessity for booking and I’m happy to say all of our accommodations were safe, clean, and in good locations.

After staying in hostels throughout several countries on our trip, we found that bunkmates in New Zealand tended to be the quietest and most respectful. There’s a lot of hiking and outdoor adventure happening in New Zealand and it seemed like this caused people to keep an earlier bedtime. Early bedtime = less partying and general rowdiness. I was also careful not to book the as advertised “party” hostels.

Even with a bigger budget, I would consider staying at the hostels in New Zealand again. They were great places to meet people and normally centrally located to popular sites. I might just opt for the private room more often. 😉

Transport: $367.38 ($21.61 a day)

Throughout our 2+ weeks in New Zealand, we travelled from city to city almost exclusively on buses. Intercity and Naked Bus were our providers of choice. Before our trip, I researched pricing on renting a car, renting a campervan, flying, and taking the bus. Taking the bus was easily the cheapest option.

IMG_9852 A common sight – waiting for the bus

Tourism buses are huge in New Zealand. Most of the companies offered either pre-arranged trip routes, blocks of tickets based on travel time, or individual tickets. It took more planning in advance, but the individual tickets were the best way for us to see both the North and South Island. I spent a ridiculous amount of time before our trip planning out the bus timetables and locations. The times and routes did limit us a little in terms of what cities we could visit, but for what we were paying, it was only a small inconvenience. Also, these buses were a definite step up from the normal Greyhound route you’ll see in the US. Most buses had WIFI, all were comfortable, and the drivers often gave tips and details about New Zealand and the cities we were visiting.

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To get from the North to the South Island we took the Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferry. It was a nice little trip that connected us within walking distance of the ports to our hostels.

Food: $432.06 ($25.41 a day)

Our original food budget in New Zealand was $60.00 a day for the two of us. I based this budget on the average price of eating 3 meals out a day at $10 a meal. We were able to cut this significantly by shopping at grocery stores and cooking in hostels for most of our time. New Zealand isn’t really a place where I was dying to taste the local food. There were a few things like oysters and scallops in Kaikoura and Fergburger in Queenstown that I was really looking forward to, but otherwise, I was fine with cooking at hostels. I didn’t know it at the time either, but it was the last time that I had cooked for awhile. We ate out exclusively while in Asia, so now I’m thankful we had a little cooking time in NZ.

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Fresh scallops along the peninsula in Kaikoura

New Zealand wasn’t really a place where I was dying to taste the local food. There were a few things like oysters and scallops in Kaikoura and Fergburger in Queenstown that I was really looking forward to, but otherwise, I was fine with cooking at hostels. I didn’t know it at the time either, but it was the last time that I had cooked while on the trip. We ate out exclusively while in Asia, so now I’m thankful we had a little cooking time in NZ.

Drinks: $79.28 ($4.66 a day)

We really didn’t drink much in New Zealand – or really on the trip overall. Cutting alcohol was one of the easiest ways to stay under our budget. Picking up a bottle of wine at the grocery store was key for budget and sanity.

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Why go out when you can make friends and drink wine in the hostel?

Activities + Extras: $363

We had to be very picky about our activities in New Zealand. We knew this would be the quickest way to kill our budget. There are a million amazing things to do in New Zealand and while some are expensive, most are free. We spent a lot of time hiking, visiting museums, and just general exploring. Our tour choices included a day tour of the Glowworm Caves in Waitomo ($73), transport for the Tongariro Crossing ($30), the wine tour I mentioned above ($100), a walking tour of Queenstown ($15) and a day tour plus transport for the Milford Sound ($145).

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Ridiculously happy at Milford Sound, worth the splurge

Total Cost for 17 Days in New Zealand: $1,888.86 ($111.10 a day)

Final Thoughts: I’m ridiculously proud of our budget for New Zealand. New Zealand was the place I was most worried about our budget. The combo of 17 days plus a million cool things to do made it very tempting to spend money. But luckily, we planned well, decided what activities were priorities, and were able to really cut our budget by eating and drinking in the hostels instead of at bars and restaurants.

Destinations, Thailand, Travel

Photo of the Week: Elephant Nature Park

May 23, 2016

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From my personal Facebook account this week:

For the past week we’ve been volunteering at Elephant Nature Park in Northern Thailand. Our duties have included prepping elephant food, planting trees, cleaning up elephant poo, cutting grass and corn, and bathing the elephants.

Most all of the elephants at this park have been rescued from the logging and tourism industries. These elephants have been physically and mentally abused for most of their lives. Elephant Nature Park provides the sanctuary and rehabilitation services for these elephants to “retire” and live the rest of their time with dignity.

Last night we had the pleasure of hearing Lek, the founder of ENP, speak with incredible passion and drive to help spread awareness of elephant abuse.

As my plea, I just ask that before participating in elephant tourism (rides, circus, even simply paying to feed the elephant) research and vet the company that you’re about to hand your money over to. Ask yourself whether the activity benefits the animal’s welfare. After spending a week observing the elephants in a near-natural environment, I can tell you it’s incredible to see these magnificent creatures living amongst their families without pressure to ever perform.

Lek and her team have done an amazing job at ENP. I highly encourage everyone to check out their website (elephantnaturepark.org) to learn more.

Destinations, Food, Thailand, Travel

Our Experience with Thai Farm Cooking School

May 16, 2016

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One of the activities I was most excited to take part in while in Thailand was participating in a Thai cooking class. I wanted to learn more about Thai food and expand my obsession beyond Pad See Ew and Pad Thai.

We learned the importance of Trip Advisor and other third-party reviews pretty quickly in Thailand. There are a lot of “tour agencies” all around Thailand and they help you book activities, trips, and transportation. These companies are extremely convenient because they book everything from start to finish for you (including transportation), but there isn’t really a lot of information on the reviews and feedback of the tours that are offered.

We learned this the hard way after booking a snorkeling tour in southern Thailand only to find that almost all of the reviews were extremely negative. Since we don’t have cellular data (WIFI only) we weren’t able to vouch the company before booking the tour. This isn’t to say that every tour the companies sell are negative, it’s just that you really need to find independent verifiers. We only made this mistake once (and ended up switching tours) so while it takes more time, we’re always double-checking companies to ensure they have favorable reviews before booking.

So finding the cooking class was simple; we just chose the best and more frequently reviewed company in Chiang Mai. This brought us to the Thai Farm Cooking School. For about $37USD each we spent a full day with our instructor learning about Thai cuisine, food culture, and how to make popular Thai dishes.

Our day started at 8:30AM with a pick up from our hostel in Chiang Mai. There were nine students in our group under the care of our excellent instructor, Pern. Pern was awesome. She was funny, friendly, warm and helpful – everything you want in a teacher. Before heading to the cooking school, we stopped by a local market to learn more about how Thai people shop for food and learn about ingredients that aren’t as common in the US.

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Once we arrived at the cooking school you could see how serious of an operation this was. Several other classes were going on throughout the farm. I was really impressed by the organization and flow of the entire day.

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Before we started cooking we took a tour of the farm to see how the ingredients we were about to be cooking with actually grew. We saw mangoes, pineapples, cashew nuts, holy basil, eggplant, rice, coconuts and more.

When you sign up for the school you’re able to choose from a selection of dishes that you want to make for each meal. We were all able to pick a curry, soup, a stir-fry, and a noodle dish, and a dessert.

Thai food is based on a mix of five flavors: sour, salty, spicy, sweet and bitter. When balanced correctly these flavors create complex tastes and aromatic meals. The mix of these flavors and balance of the sweet vs. sour and sour vs. salty, bitter vs. spicy, etc., etc., can really change the entire flavor profile of the dish. Throughout the class we would experiment with our sauces to detect the difference in flavor if we added more fish sauce or squeeze more lime juice. Most dishes we made used the same group of ingredients, it was really the preparation and sauce that would completely change the taste of the meal.

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Since most of our class didn’t eat breakfast, we started our day making the soup. The soup didn’t take long at all to make and it was a great starter to satiating our empty bellies. We had the option of either making Tom Yam (a slightly sour soup) or coconut soup (a creamier version of Tom Yam). I went with the traditional Tom Yam but mixed it up a bit with a few teaspoons of coconut milk to give it a creamier base. Adam went all out and made a coconut vegetable soup.

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Tom Yam with Shrimp

INGREDIENTS

1-5 crushed hot chillies
1/2 cup of sliced mushrooms
1 stalk of lemongrass ( slice into 3cm long pieces )
1/4 cup of sliced onion
1/4 cup of sliced galangal
1/4 cup of sliced tomatoes
3 kaffir lime leaves
2 tsp. of lime juice
2 tbsp. of fish sauce or soya sauce
1/2 tsp. of sugar
1/2 tbsp. of shrimp chili paste
2 cups of water
5 shrimps ( take the heads off and keep )
1 tbsp. of chopped spring onion
1 stem of coriander plant
1/4 tsp. of salt
2 leaves of Thai parsley

PREPARATION

Put water in a pot, heat until boiling. Add lemongrass, galangal, shrimp chili paste, shrimp heads and onion. Cook until fragrant. Add tomatoes, shrimp meat and mushrooms. When done, flavor with fish sauce, salt and sugar. Stir thoroughly and finally add lime juice, spring onion, Thai parsley, coriander and lime leaves. If not spicy enough add hot chillies. Serve with rice.

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Our second dish for the day was a curry. I chose red curry with chicken. Before the cooking began, we first had to make our own curry paste.

The before:

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And the after:

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The red curry was one of my favorite dishes of the day. I love how the spicy flavors of the curry work with the creamy and cool coconut milk. It’s refreshing and brings in the heat in tandem. The curry is the dish I’m most looking forward to recreating at home.

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Red Curry with Chicken

INGREDIENTS FOR CURRY PASTE

2-3 red dried chillies ( soak in cold water about 15 minutes before using )
1 tbsp. of chopped shallots
1 tsp. of chopped galangal
1/2 tsp. of chopped kaffir lime rind
1 tsp. of chopped garlic
1 tbsp. of chopped lemongrass
1 tbsp. of chopped krachai ( or ‘Thai ginseng’ )
1/4 tsp. of roasted cumin seeds
1/4 tsp. of roasted coriander seeds
1/4 tsp. of salt ( or 1/2 tsp. of salt if you would like to keep the paste longer )

OTHER INGREDIENTS

1 cup of sliced eggplants ( or other vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli or potato )
1/4 cup of smaller pea-like eggplants ( MAKHEAU PHUANG )
1/3 cup of sliced onion
70 grams of sliced chicken
1 tsp. of sugar
1 tbsp. of fish sauce or soya sauce
3 kaffir lime leaves
2 stems of sweet basil ( HORAPAA )
1 cup of coconut milk
1 cup of water

PREPARATION OF RED CURRY PASTE

Put the ingredients for the curry paste in the mortar. Pound with the pestle until everything is mixed and ground thoroughly. You can also use a blender.

PREPARATION OF RED CURRY

Pour the coconut milk in the pot and turn on to medium heat. Stir until oil appears. Add red curry paste and chicken and stir until almost done. Add your vegetables, water, sugar, fish sauce, salt and turn the heat up. Stir a little. When everything is cooked, put the sweet basil and lime leaves. Serve with rice.

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Posing with my red curry

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To accompany our curries, we also each made a stir-fry dish. I made the fried chicken with basil leaves and Adam made the sweet and sour chicken. I love the smell and taste of holy basil so I was really excited for this dish.

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Chicken with Holy Basil

INGREDIENTS

100 grams of sliced chicken
2 tbsp. of oil ( soya bean oil or palm oil )
5 cloves of crushed garlic
1/3 cup of sliced long beans
2-3 hot chillies
1 cup of holy basil leaves
1 tbsp. of fish sauce
1 tbsp. of oyster sauce
1/2 tsp. of sugar
1/4 cup of sliced onions
3 tbsp. of water

PREPARATION

Pour the oil in the wok on a low heat. When oil is hot, add garlic, onion and chillies. Stir until fragrant. Add chicken and turn the heat up. Stir until well done. Next add long beans, fish sauce, sugar and oyster sauce. Add a little water. Stir together well. When everything done, add basil leaves and stir once again. Serve with rice.

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For our noodle dish, I opted for spring rolls over making Pad Thai. I’ve been eating a decent amount of Pad Thai (and watching a decent amount be made in front of me), so I wanted to try something new.

Also, at this point in the day, our class was starting to feel like zombies. The double curry and stir fry meals made everyone full and loopy. We were starting to all go a little stir crazy. We felt like little kindergarteners that really needed a nap. The spring roll was a little less intense than the Pad Thai, so I was happy to have a brain break.

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Spring Rolls

INGREDIENTS

1 tbsp. of grated carrot
1/2 cup of finely sliced cabbage
1/4 cup of finely sliced onion
1/2 cup of bean sprouts
1/2 cup of glass noodles ( dried glass noodles have to soak in cold water about 15 minutes until soft )
1/4 cup of sliced tofu
1/4 tsp. of salt
1/4 tsp. of pepper
6 spring roll sheets
1 tsp. of soybean oil
1 stem of coriander
1 tsp. of sugar
2 tsp. of soya sauce

INGREDIENTS FOR DIPPING SAUCE

1 red chilli
1 1/2 tsp. of vinegar
2 tbsp. of sugar
1/4 tsp. of salt
1 clove of crushed garlic
1 tsp. of flour
1/3 cup of water

PREPARATION OF SPRINGROLLS

Heat up the oil in the wok. Add tofu, cabbage, onions, carrots, bean sprouts, sugar soya sauce and salt. Stir fry until vegetables are soft and dry. Turn the heat to low. Add glass noodles, coriander and pepper. Stir fry again until mixed well. Set aside to cool.

Take a spring roll sheet and put some filling on it. Fold the sheet over the filling. Roll a bit, then fold the sides in and roll up tightly. Before closing, glue with some mixed egg. Deep-fry the spring rolls until golden brown.

PREPARATION OF DIPPING SAUCE

Crush garlic and chili. Put in a pot together with water, salt, sugar and vinegar. Heat on a low fire to boiling. Mix flour with some water and add to the mixture to make thicker.

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Masterchef Adam!

For dessert we made one of my favorite things in the whole wide world, mango sticky rice. It’s incredible, two months ago I didn’t even know mango sticky rice existed and now, I don’t want to live in a world without it. It really needs to become more popular in the US. It’s so good and delicious and it just makes you happy. Luckily, now I know how to make it if I’m ever hit with a craving.

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Mango Sticky Rice

INGREDIENTS

1 cup of steamed sticky rice
1/2 cup of coconut milk
1 ripe mango ( peel, remove the seed and slice into pieces )
1-2 tbsp. of sugar
1/4 tsp. of salt
1 tbsp. of roasted mung beans

PREPARATION

Put coconut milk, sugar and salt in a pot. Heat until boiling. Turn the heat off. Add steamed sticky rice. Mix together well. Let it cool. Serve with mango and top sticky rice with mung beans.

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Bon appetit!

We really had the best day at the cooking school. It’s up there in the top of my favorite activities while traveling list. It was definitely great to make these classic Thai dishes, but my favorite part was just hanging out with a great group of people and goofing off and learning together.

All recipes via Thai Farm Cooking School

Destinations, Food, Thailand, Travel

Photo of the Week: Enjoying Street Food in Chiang Mai

May 13, 2016

This week has been relaxing. We’ve been in Chiang Mai for a little over two weeks and have crossed most of the tourist “to-do” items off of our checklist. We’re starting our adventure at Elephant Nature Park in a few days and we’re still a little unsure of how physically intense the volunteering will be. So instead of running ourselves ragged around Chiang Mai and showing up to ENP exhausted, we’ve been just hanging out and centering our day around finding food and coffee. It’s been most pleasurable.

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One of my absolute favorite things about Chiang Mai (and Thailand) is enjoying street food. There is something so wonderful about ordering a delicious bowl of freshly made noodles and then posting up at a little table street side to people watch. On top of that, you can also walk over to the nearest 7-11 (there’s always one within a few feet) and grab a beer for about $1USD to accompany your noodles. Heck, sometimes the beer is more expensive than your dinner.

Thailand is a place that assaults all of your senses and my favorite time for that to happen is while slurping down a bowl of noodles.

Destinations, Thailand, Travel

Photo of the Week: Relive Resort in Chiang Mai

May 6, 2016
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We’ve been in Chiang Mai, a city in Northern Thailand, for the last week and for four of those days we stayed at the most wonderful resort about an hour outside of the city. I found Relive Resort through airbnb and it looked like the perfect place to just get away and be in the country for a few days.

We’ve been in big cities like Bangkok and Singapore for the last couple weeks, so it was a really nice break to finally see some green grass and mountain landscapes.

At Relive we slept in a bamboo hut and ate each and every one of our meals from the resort restaurant. The food was wonderful, the staff was beyond great, and even better – they had two hilarious little puppies at the resort. It was a stress-free few days.

We took one small zip lining adventure while in the mountains, but most of our time was spent relaxing, eating, and for me – reading the Harry Potter series over again. I’m through book three and have no intention of slowing down.

We still have another 11 days in Chiang Mai before our next big adventure at Elephant Nature Park begins and I’m seriously tempted to escape again to Relive Resort. It was that awesome.

Destinations, New Zealand, Travel

Exploring Wellington, New Zealand

May 3, 2016

We had the best time when we hiked the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The weather was perfect, the hike was challenging yet doable, and we were able to get away from a busy city and stay in a lodge for a couple nights.

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Our accommodations outside of National Park

There were pros and cons to staying in a lodge in the middle of nowhere. Pros: quiet, peacefulness, calmness with nature, and opportunity to meet a lot of other people in the lodge without distractions.

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The hallway of the lodge

Cons: No access to food except what you brought. Now this wouldn’t be a big deal if you planned well, but if you were like us and only considered your food for the hike (not the other dinners and breakfasts where you needed food) then you’d be screwed. And screwed we were.

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A monster-sized table that was at one point going to be used for the Hobbit movies

The National Park is where we discovered the goodness of the Free Food box in hostels. The Free Food box is normally full of oils, rice, and other basic items. It’s the food backpackers leave behind because they either have no room in their bags to carry it to their next location or they’re just really sick of eating rice.

We ended up taking advantage of the free food box (rice and pasta FTW) plus the bread, bananas, peanut butter, apples, granola bars and tuna lunches that we brought. We weren’t eating much of a diverse diet for those few days; however, it was enough calories to get us through. We weren’t indulging, but we were fine.

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Totally carb-loading for the hike the next morning

Also as a side-note: if we really did need food, we could have asked someone at the hostel to drive us 15 minutes to the store or hitch hike there. Hitchhiking is actually super common and safe in New Zealand. We wouldn’t have starved at the lodge.

Anyway, all of this is a long way of saying that once we made it to Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, we were really happy to be in a city setting again where it was easy to find and walk to everything we desired.

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Wellington was a really cool little city. It had a lot of things to do, but was small enough that we were able to walk everywhere. Wellington is situated at the southernmost point of New Zealand’s North Island on the Cook Strait.

We stayed in Wellington for two nights, but only had one full day in the city. We ended up fitting a lot within that day: we walked through Wellington’s Botanical Gardens, explored downtown Wellington, and then spent the evening along the waterfront and in the National Te Papa Museum.

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At this point in our trip we’ve been to lots of botanical gardens, but Wellington’s still ranks right up there with some of the best. The rose garden, in particular, has been the best rose garden I’ve ever seen. I could have spent hours walking around and looking at the different varieties of roses. I started to take pictures and write down the names of my favorites, but quickly realized that the list would never be manageable. Instead I just stopped to enjoy all of the beauty of these sweet blooms.

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In addition to the rose gardens, there were great plants and flowers within the conservatories and in other gardens throughout the area.

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The peak of the botanical gardens overlooked the city. It was an awesome view. We were right by the location where the cable car runs up and down the city. Wellington is full of hills and steep streets, so the cable car would have been an easy way to get back to the waterfront. We chose to make the walk instead.

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The walk down was steep. Again, I’m used to living in a place that’s totally flat, so any sort of incline is new to me.

Once we were in downtown Wellington and closer to the waterfront, we were on a mission to find some food. Doing what we normally do, we just chose a place based on the line out of the door. This ended up being a great plan. We found a sushi a’la carte restaurant where you can pick and choose pieces from a ton of rolls. Prices ranged from $1-$3 a piece. Another plus, since it was in the middle of the afternoon, it was half price sushi. We were both well fed for about $10 USD. This has to become a thing in the US if it isn’t already. Please let me know if you know of places with grab and go sushi.

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Enjoying sushi in the park      

After enjoying sushi, we explored the Te Papa museum, New Zealand’s National Museum. The museum was fantastic. We learned a lot about sea and wildlife around New Zealand, New Zealand’s history in World War I, past and future earthquakes, and general New Zealand history. At this point in the day my phone had died (I took too many pictures of flowers), but I just want to reiterate how great the museum was. We were really impressed. Admission was also free – another bonus.

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Wellington was a great place for us to chill out and explore for a couple days. We were able to really slow down our traveling pace and catch our breath. One of the little things that made me laugh the most was spotting this magnet in our hostel:

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It was good to know that fellow Cats fans approve of Wellington too.

Destinations, New Zealand, Travel

Taking on The Tongariro Alpine Crossing

April 28, 2016

Get ready for picture overload. No apologies; I just could not stop taking pictures during the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. For two main reasons: 1 – it’s incredibly beautiful and I wanted to be able to capture as much of it as possible. And 2 – taking a picture gave me an excuse to take a break from the crazy difficult hike.

When I originally started planning our trek on the Crossing, I had assumed it would be a nice day hike. I totally underestimated it. It’s recommended that you be “moderately fit” to complete the Crossing. But those are New Zealand standards and I’m not quite sure they’re the same as what I would qualify as moderately fit.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is 19.4 kilometers and spans the length of Mount Tongariro. Mount Tongariro is an active volcano that has erupted as recently as 2012. The recommended path of the crossing begins and ends in two different locations, so having transportation drop off and pick up at both locations is required.

For a little perspective, here’s the elevation chart of the hike. The peak at the Red Crater is 6,188 ft. The tip of One World Trade Center is 1,792 ft. And the tip of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world is 2,717 ft. So we hiked a little over two Burj Khalifas.

tongariro alpine crossing elevation

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All smiles and nerves at the start

I knew I was in trouble when I was feeling a little worn out by the first big checkpoint. For about the first hour and half we were on a slight incline until we hit Soda Springs. While stopping and waiting in line to use the bathroom, I couldn’t help but get scared while looking at how high we were about to hike. I have never walked, hiked, climbed, whatever, anything that steep. I didn’t know if my legs would be able to handle it. Little did I know, what I was looking at was only the first big incline.

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Half of the walk from Soda Springs to the South Crater sucked. Specifically the part where we were walking uphill. It was so steep. It’s called the Devil’s Staircase for good reason. My lungs gave out way before than my legs. I learned pretty quickly that the key to making it up would be to stop every 5 minutes or so and catch my breath. Coming from the Lowcountry, I’m used to a life with no elevation. One time my ears popped while driving over the bridge. No lie. Elevation and I are not familiar.

Adam on the other hand was a champion. His plyometric workouts made him much more conditioned for the hike. Once I realized I would be holding him back with all my breaks, we ended up splitting up a little bit from each other. He would reach a good waiting point and just hang out until my weak ass made it.

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The second half of the walk from Soda Springs to the South Crater was great. It was the only flat part of the entire hike. I loved it. Like I said, we were ridiculously lucky and had fairly clear weather conditions that allowed us to take pictures of Mount Ngauruhoe. The hike was actually closed the day before due to poor weather and we met a couple that did the hike the day after us and they said the weather was terrible. Tongariro can be so hit and miss. We were extremely lucky.

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Every time the clouds cleared out hordes of people started snapping pics. The weather can change within minutes on the mountain so you need to get your shot when the moment is right; round 2 might not happen.

Because of the volatility of the weather, deciding what to wear during the hike can be tricky. We ended up both wearing two layers of pants and tops as well as bringing along both of our rain jackets. We also brought gloves and hats in our backpack in case the weather dropped. The weather stayed fairly warm throughout the day. There were only a couple times I had to wear my jacket and it was when my body cooled down after a break.

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The flat walk was so nice and appreciated, especially because Hell Part 2 was right around the corner. Although, the flat part of the hike screwed with your head. It made you think that things were nice again and that the hard part was over. For a moment I enjoyed myself. I was able to walk for more than 5 minutes without catching my breath. Well screw you said Tongariro because soon enough I wouldn’t be able to walk for 2 minutes without catching my breath.

The hike from the South Crater to the Red Crater was out of control hard. It was so steep and difficult. I don’t have many pictures of this part because I was totally focused on making it to the top. There were a few parts where we were walking around the volcano and it was so steep that we had to pull ourselves up with a metal chain. I really had moments where I didn’t think I could make it. 6,000 feet in the air is the highest I’ve ever gone without flying. We went above the clouds! Crazy.

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An accurate representation of how I felt. Adam wasn’t getting a smile out of me.

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Once we reached the peak I was so relieved and happy. I don’t hike a lot or participate in too many challenging activities so it was a moment where I was truly proud of myself. I did something that wasn’t easy and I didn’t give up. I might have griped here and there, but I felt so good once we were at the top. Tongariro may have just made a hiker out of me yet.

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The Red Crater

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The views at the top were gorgeous. In one direction we still had great views of Mt. Ngauruhoe and in the other we were treated to the Emerald Lakes. The Emerald Lakes look like they’re straight out of another world. We’re on this hike where there isn’t much color at all and suddenly these incredibly intensely colored lakes appear. The contrast between the lakes and the sand and rocks was shocking.

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I must sound like such an ignorant newb, because I also didn’t take into account how steep the climb down would be from the peak. From the Red Crater to the Emerald lakes there was an intense descent. Adding to the challenge, the path was essentially scoria – a loose sandlike lava. People were slipping and sliding everywhere. I just slowly took my time (a common theme) and walked down like a crab. It took forever, but I didn’t fall. Adam did end up slipping once because he picked up too much speed. It was dangerous!

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Once we finally made it to the Emerald Lakes we sat down and had lunch. It was a great break and the food was much needed at that point. The lakes were the perfect spot and view to rest and charge back up for the descent.

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One of the lakes snuck up on us. We started walking after lunch and I noticed a few people heading in the opposite direction of the crowd. I was feeling adventurous and followed the near empty path. At the end was the most beautiful blue lake without any sort of crowd. It was incredible. The color was insane. I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that something this color can exist in nature.

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We hiked Tongariro on a Saturday with good weather. This means we hiked along with a couple other thousand people. There were people everywhere all day. This didn’t necessarily bother me, I would have felt safe if I was injured, but it was so nice to find this quiet, gorgeous lake not surrounded by hordes of other hikers.

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After the Emerald Lakes, it was time for the descent. I had originally written off the descent as being easy – I mean, it didn’t look that steep on the map and how hard is going downhill? Well, it was hard. Hiking up was difficult on my lungs, but hiking down was more difficult on my knees and hips. My body isn’t used to walking at a decline for an extended period of time.

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The descent was a combination of zigging and zagging down the mountains and through a forest. Back and forth, back and forth we went for hours. Since there were so many other people hiking Tongariro is also meant being passed by a lot of people and passing a lot of others. There was a bunch of bobbing and weaving. The decline portion was more mentally challenging than anything; if felt like it would never end.

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The end of the hike popped out of nowhere in the forest. We thought we might be getting close when several hikers started to run by us, but the opening to the car park really came out of nowhere. Just like that we had completed the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

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It was amazing. It was hard. It was rewarding. Tongariro was a beast that I was proud to take on. We finished the crossing in just under 7 hours.

Destinations, New Zealand, Travel, Uncategorized

Searching for Glowworms in Waitomo Caves

April 19, 2016

When we were floating through the glowworm caves in Waitomo, I felt like I had been placed into another world. Suddenly I had “Pure Imagination” in my head and I was hanging out with Willy Wonka. The glowworms weren’t like anything I’d ever seen before.

Waitomo, on the northern island of New Zealand, has an abundance of glowworms, due to its hospitable cave conditions; but these little insects actually exist a lot of places. Glowworms need a damp environment, making forests, caves, and really any bank or stream an ideal location.

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Glowworms, also known as arachnocampa luminosa, aren’t actually worms at all, but instead fly larvae. And the nice light that comes from the glowworm? That’s the equivalent of our kidneys. So really, not that cute at all. Just a maggot with a glowing butt. The glowworm uses their light to attract food. The “worms” have silk threads that hang beneath them and they catch their prey in a sticky mucus attached to the thread.

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The silk threads with sticky mucus that the glowworms use to catch their food

We booked our tour with Spellbound and it was great. There are a lot of different tour options in Waitomo for the caves and glowworms, but Spellbound fit our timeline and budget best. There were some tours that offered cave diving, abseiling, and tubing options. They looked awesome, but we weren’t able to make the timeline work this time. If we end up back in Waitomo again, you can bet that I’ll be on one of the adventerous tours.

To get to Waitomo, we took a 7am bus through NakedBus from Auckland. We had a bus change in Hamilton, New Zealand and all in all it took about 3 hours to get from Auckland to Waitomo. There weren’t a lot of accommodation options in Waitomo, so after our tour we took another bus back to Hamilton to stay the night.

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Posing with our guide!

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I’m in New Zealand!

To get to the caves we drove in a minibus about 20 minutes through the winding hills of Waitomo. The ride was gorgeous. New Zealand is so green and lush. Spellbound took us to private caves, so we didn’t end up in a crowded cave with a lot of other tourists. We were in a small group of about 12 people and everything felt personalized.

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On the tour we walked through the first cave while learning more about the glowworms and their life cycle, had a nice break in the hills with coffee and biscuits/cookies, and then took a gentle boat ride through the second cave. While we were in the second cave we turned off all lights and just floated through the water. After about 10 minutes of floating in the water, our eyes started to adjust and we were really able to make out the curves and crevices of the cave that we couldn’t see when we first entered.

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Moa bones – the Moa is an extinct bird native to New Zealand. Moas resembled large chickens – some moas would grow to be 3 meters tall

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One of the many sinkholes we could peek out of in the caves. There were often animal bones near these openings where farm animals would fall into the hole and then die trapped in the cave.

I really did try to take pictures of the glowworms, but nothing matched seeing it in person. Without a long exposure and nice camera, it’s difficult to capture the glowworms. I even accidentally deleted a few pictures on my phone because I thought it was just a black screen – I couldn’t make out the glowworms!

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Glowworms were cooler in real life, I promise

It was really an incredible day. The glowworms were magical to see, but it was also fantastic to tour the caves and learn more about Waitomo’s history. Spellbound was a great company to book with and I’m so happy we opted for the smaller personalized tour.

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Hiking around Waitomo, New Zealand

Destinations, Fiji, Travel

Fiji by the Numbers: Cost of Five Nights in Fiji

April 1, 2016
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Throughout our trip, I’ll be sharing financial figures on how we’re making a multi-country and month trip work without spending our life savings. In each location I’ve set a specific budget for food, accommodation, transportation, and activities. The better I can stretch this budget, the longer our trip can go on. Here’s the first breakdown of our spending in Fiji.

Accommodation: 5 nights for $379.53 USD ($75.90 a night)

We booked the Travellers Special at Fiji Beachouse which included a private room and bathroom.

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Transport: $25 USD

To get from the airport to the Beachouse, we took the local bus for $10 Fiji dollars each. The Fiji dollar was almost perfectly half of the US dollar, so $10 US dollars total. We were planning on doing the same from the resort back to the airport, but got lucky and were leaving just as a taxi was dropping someone off. Since the driver had to get back to the airport anyway, we were able to get a lower rate of only $15 a person – just $5 more than the bus. This was a two and a half hour drive – a $15 USD ride for two is awesome.

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Food: $230 USD – $46 a day

Most resorts on Fiji require purchasing a compulsory food package. Our meal plan included daily breakfast and dinner for $39 Fiji Dollars a day – about $20 USD. Since lunch wasn’t included, we would buy sandwiches and burgers.

Drinks: $33.50 USD

We didn’t drink much in Fiji, but every once in a while we couldn’t pass up Happy Hour. Fiji Gold was our beer of choice.

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Activities: $10 USD

Our resort included free use of kayaks, volleyball, a swimming pool, a pool table, ping pong table, and yoga classes. The only extra activity we opted to do was the jungle trek to the local Fiji waterfall.

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Total cost of our Fiji Trip: $678.03 USD / $135.60 a day

Final Thoughts: Because of the compulsory food package and the fact that we opted for the private room, Fiji will likely be one of the more expensive places we visit based on our per diem.

Destinations, New Zealand, Travel

Catching up on our New Zealand Adventure

March 30, 2016

I cannot believe that we’ve already been in New Zealand for two weeks. It has legit flown by. These last 14 days have been a mix of frantic and relaxed. We’ve been to 11 cities and I’ve slept in 10 beds. Wi-fi has been pretty spotty most places, so my blog posts and social media posts have been few and far between.

I’m planning on writing more thorough posts for certain cities and activities, but for now I wanted to publish a simple overview of our timeline.

Our first stop was in Auckland. After landing at the airport via Fiji we pretty much just grabbed dinner and crashed. We had to wake up bright and early to grab a bus to the Waitomo Caves the next morning.

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Catching the bus pre-sunrise in Auckland

To get to Waitomo the next day we transferred buses in Hamilton and then headed to the caves. We booked a tour with Spelbound and it was great; we were able to explore the caves on foot and via a calm boat. It really did feel magical.

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Silk threads that hang from the glowworms to trap their food

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Hiking back up from the Glowworm Caves

That night we headed back to Hamilton and stayed with a nice family through airbnb.

After Hamilton we took off to National Park for our big adventure: The Tongariro Alpine Crossing. The Crossing was our big hike of the trip; it’s a 20-kilometer trek through an active volcano. It was tough. I’ll write a full post about it later, but quickly – it was one of the harder and best things I’ve ever done.

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“Mt. Doom” in the background – only about 2 hours into the hike so we’re still smiling

After our stay at National Park we continued heading south to Wellington, New Zealand’s Capital. Wellington was a great city to explore – there were beautiful botanical gardens, an awesome museum to explore, and lots of cute little restaurants and sea views.

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A rose that caught my eye in the Rose Garden

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We made it to the top of the city!

To get to the South Island we took at 4-hour ferry from Wellington to Picton. We stayed in Picton for just a night, but I could have hung around another day – it was a beautiful little seaside town and it was where we found one of our favorite hostels.

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Braving the chilly wind for pretty views

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Adam in Picton

We had a wine tour pick us up from Picton and we spent the day in the Blenheim wineries. We went to four different wineries (plus a chocolate factory!) and tasted famous New Zealand wines. The tour bus dropped us off at our accommodation in Blenheim and we ended up meeting a friend for drinks and dinner. We had a great time in Blenheim. It was so much fun to catch up with someone we met years ago on the other side of the world.

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Always classy at the wine tastings

Picton, Blenheim, and our next stop, Kaikoura were all fast paced since we were only spending one night in each city. By the time we arrived in Kaikoura, we were tired, but the incredible ocean views snapped us back up. Kaikoura was insanely gorgeous – one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I didn’t know it at the time, but most places in the South Island blew me away.

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View from the Kaikoura peninsula

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Seals in Kaikoura!

By the time we made it to Christchurch we were so excited to stay in one place for more than a night. We didn’t do much in Christchurch outside of explore another botanical garden and museum, but it was a really fun hostel and we got to hang out with a lot of cool people. It was the perfect time and place to catch our breaths.

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A dahlia garden in Christchurch

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Little did I know that my favorite New Zealand city had yet to happen. I absolutely fell in love with Wanaka. It is the most wonderful place. Imagine a huge bright blue lake surrounded by mountains and then the cutest little downtown. I loved it.

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Adam has taken about a million pictures of my back while walking

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Selfies in Wanaka  

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Stop showing off, Wanaka

We arrived in Queenstown just a few hours ago, but I think it’s going to be a great place to wrap up our time in New Zealand. This country has been so incredible; the landscape is breathtaking, the people are friendly, and the wine is good. I’m so glad that we took off on this little adventure.