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.

Travel, Travel Bloggers

Travel Blogger Series: Ashley from The Wandering Weekenders

May 2, 2016

Today’s Travel Blogger guest is Ashley from The Wandering Weekenders. I’ve been reading Ashley’s blog for awhile so I was really excited that she’s participating in this series. Whether you’re taking a quick weekend trip (hence the name!) or planning a longer vacation, Ashley’s blog offers up a ton of great tips and advice. Ashley and her husband, Chris, live in Texas with their sweet pup Dart.

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How do you stay healthy when you travel?

On our trips we try to do as much hiking or walking as we can to try and stay active. It always amazes me how many more steps I get when we’re on vacation than a normal weekend at home. When we visited Universal Studios in January, we got over 20,000 steps both days we were there!

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Butter beer!

Any tips to learning more about a culture and meeting locals when you don’t speak the language?

Unfortunately we haven’t been too many places where they don’t speak English or Spanish, but that will all change when we go to Europe in September! I’ve always found that food tends to bring people together, and I have a feeling that’s where we’ll be meeting a lot of locals and getting to know the culture when we’re there!

What’s your favorite thing about traveling?

I think that the obvious answer to the question is all the wonderful new experiences we have in the places we visit, but I’m going to go for the not so obvious answer, all the food! It’s no secret that I’m a big planner when it comes to traveling, but the thing that I probably plan out the most when we travel is where we’re going to eat. There’s nothing we love more than getting to try out some amazing local food!

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What’s your travel pet peeve?

Slow pokes in the airport! After all the weekend trips my husband and I have taken, we’ve kind of become pros at making our way through the airport. The one thing that always makes the security line a little worse than usual is when you get a slow poke in front of you! It’s even worse when they try to put their shoes and all their accessories on right at the X-ray machine!

What’s the most surreal place you’ve ever visited?

I think that I’d have to say Kauai was the most surreal place that I’ve ever visited. The natural beauty of the island was just so awe inspiring, that I kept on turning to my husband and saying “I can’t believe we’re here!” Kauai is not only home to Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, but also the Na Pali Coast which is an absolutely beautiful and rugged section of coast that’s only accessible by boat, foot, or helicopter. There are no roads that go on that side of the island.

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Kauai

What are some of your “must pack” items? Why?

iPad- I don’t think that there’s anyway that I could survive without my iPad on a trip. I have my Nook and Kindle accounts on it, and there’s no way I could survive without a book on the plane!

My Camera- I’m a huge shutterbug on our trips, and I love looking back at our pictures from our trips to remember all the fun things we did!

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Portable iPhone Charger- I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been gone all day long on a trip and I had my phone almost die! Now there’s not a trip that we don’t go on where I don’t remember to bring my portable charger!

What do you use for luggage? Are you team backpack or suitcase?

We’re definitely team suitcase when it comes to traveling! My goal is to pack in a carry on for our trip to Europe, and that’s going to be a big stretch for me. I don’t know if we could pack for a long trip in backpack, so major props to Carly and her husband for being able to do it!

Any tips for jet lag?

We really haven’t had to deal with jet lag (yet!), but I’ve heard that trying to sleep when you’re going to a time zone that’s ahead of you will help to wake up fully refreshed. The opposite is true if you’re going to a time zone that’s behind you, you’re supposed to stay awake on the plane.

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Ashley’s dog Dart


If I visit your country, what’s one meal I can’t miss?

Technically Texas is kind of like its own country, so I would say you couldn’t leave without eating Tex Mex! There’s a lot of people that will probably tell you that you need to try BBQ (which is amazing as well), but I think that our Tex Mex is out of this world!

If you can answer, favorite place to visit?

For me, I think that it’s a toss up between Northern California and Hawaii. I think that both places have so much incredible natural beauty that I could spend years just exploring and taking a ton of pictures, but they also have a ton of stuff to do! You could probably live in San Francisco for years and not get a chance to do everything the city has to do, not to mention the amazing areas surrounding San Francisco like Big Sur, Napa, and Lake Tahoe. Hawaii has kind of the same thing, each island has their own personality that you could spend years getting to know and exploring.

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Pacific Coast Highway

Where is the next place you’re traveling to?

We have a couple of weekend trips planned for the near future, but our first non-weekend trip of the year is to Portland, Oregon. I can’t wait to explore this amazing city that I’ve heard so many wonderful things about, and, of course, eat all of the amazing food!

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.

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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.

Travel, Travel Bloggers

Travel Blogger Series: Eileen from Pure Wander and Crooked Flight

April 25, 2016

Today’s travel blogger feature is Eileen from Pure Wander and Crooked Flight. Pure Wander is geared towards family travel adventures and Crooked Flight is a travel site for female and couple travelers. Both blogs offer some great resources for planning and trip and suggestions once you’ve arrived to your destination. Eileen is originally from Boston, Massachusetts, but is currently living the expat life with her husband in London. You can keep up with Eileen’s adventures via her Instagram and Twitter.

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Bio Photo small res

How do you stay healthy when you travel?

Hydrate. Always. I hydrate not only by drinking water but try to keep my skin fresh with things like Evian spray, which also helps me feel alert and awake. Sometimes food can be a challenge, but I do try to keep meals as balanced as possible to avoid feeling sluggish or bloated. It’s way more fun to see the world when you feel your best!

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At a waterfall in Iceland

Any tips to learning more about a culture and meeting locals when you don’t speak the language?

Respectful observation and humility are ways to get a glimpse into other cultures. If you see something you’d like to take a closer look at, don’t shove your camera in or get in the way. Have a look at the musicians, try your hand at crafts if invited, but realize it’s a privilege to be included at all. Not knowing the language is always a challenge, but I really do try to have a dozen words memorized before I go somewhere – even please and thank you in a local language goes a really long way!

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Stonehedge

What’s your favorite thing about traveling?

I like that it’s not hard to find spontaneity while on the road. Even if you have your whole itinerary mapped out, the unexpected will happen and keep you on your toes. I like breaking up my routine and seeing how other people live their lives. I’m also a sucker for a beautiful landscape, from mountains to the sea.

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The Amalfi Coast

What’s your travel pet peeve?

People who don’t go with the flow. Anything and everything can go wrong, so there’s no use making yourself and others miserable because of changes in plans.

What’s the most surreal place you’ve ever visited?

I always think I won’t be surprised anymore, but most destinations have floored me in their own special ways. The north island of New Zealand was pretty wild, covered in tropical fern forests and endless beaches. Recently, Morocco surprised me with its welcoming vibe and beauty, from the chaotic cities to the staggering Atlas Mountains.

What are some of your “must pack” items? Why?

I’ve been digging my Ollo clip lately – it’s a lens that goes over your iPhone for wide angle and macro shots. Much less bulky than my DLSR and fun to use. Otherwise, I might just pack a few pairs of jeans, a dress and some tops, but I ALWAYS pack extra underwear and socks!

What do you use for luggage? Are you team backpack or suitcase?

I’ve been meaning to make the switch to backpack but haven’t committed to one yet. For now, I have a small wheeled suitcase – just about small enough to fit as carryon.

Any tips for jetlag?

Jetlag really is the worst, but I again try to drink water and void too much booze on the plane. I also allow myself to have a day and just rest on either end if it’s a big trip. I rather take it slow at first then ruin the rest of the experience because I feel awful.

What are your favorite travel apps?

I still swear by Google Maps – if even just for the compass feature so I can get my bearings quickly. I also enjoy playing around with Duolingo before I go to a new place to learn a few keywords in the local language.

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If I visit your country, what’s one meal I can’t miss?

I’m from Boston originally, and you have to dig into the in-season fresh seafood. Lobster, shellfish, all of it. Amazing. Here in London I love all the food and can’t miss a Sunday roast with fluffy Yorkshire puddings, which are more of a pastry bread than a sweet!

Can you share your favorite hidden treasure (place, food, event) that you found while traveling? I understand if you can’t!

Around Easter time in Seville, Spain, the whole city shuts down for an even called Feria. Everyone goes all out with flamenco dresses, horse drawn carriages, dancing and decorated casetas, or tents that line the streets.

What’s your favorite thing about travel blogging?

I just love the freedom. When I get to work in different places all over the world and share those amazing destinations with a global audience, there’s no bigger thrill on earth for me.

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If you can answer, favorite place to visit?

My heart belongs to southern Spain, especially the city of Seville. I was a student there years ago and returned as an au pair for a while too. The Andalusian spirit, or ‘duende’ is beautifully woven into their music, food and welcome to visitors.

Where is the next place you’re traveling to?

I’m currently in the Marrakech, Morocco airport on my way home to London. Next stop this month is either Poland, Sri Lanka – or both!

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

Travel, Travel Bloggers

Travel Blogger Series: Jen from The Trusted Traveler

April 18, 2016

This week’s featured travel blogger guest is Jen from The Trusted Traveler. Jen and her husband Mick run a blog that provides valuable travel resources. The Trusted Traveler is a great spot for suggested itineraries, travel tips, reviews, list of things to do in many destinations, as well as just general travel advice.

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Any tips to learning more about a culture and meeting locals when you don’t speak the language?

Try to learn at least a few basic phrases in the local language. I’ve found that the locals are much more inclined to try and talk to you in English if you make an effort in their language.

What’s your favorite thing about traveling?

Travel is freedom to me. Being able to explore and discover new sights, sounds, tastes and people is what gets me out of bed each day and motivates me in life. On any given day on the road you could be discovering a hidden gem, meeting an interesting person or tasting sometime unlike anything you’ve tried before.

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Jen and her husband Mick on Miyajima Island in Japan

What’s your travel pet peeve?

Large tour groups who have no respect for other travellers or locals. I’ve come across many in my travels and on occasion have found them to be disrespectful.

What’s the most surreal place you’ve ever visited?

A few years ago we took a day trip from Edinburgh up through the Scottish Highlands. The scenery on the drive was so surreal and unlike anything I’d seen before. I kind of felt like I was travelling on another planet.

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Scottish Highlands

What are some of your “must pack” items? Why?

A good pair of headphones is essential for long travel days. I also never leave home without my camera. I love taking photos that capture my experiences to share on my website, social media and to keep as mementos to myself for later on.

What do you use for luggage? Are you team backpack or suitcase?

Team backpack mostly. On long trips, especially when travelling from place to place, a backpack is most convenient. However if I am just travelling for a weekend away, I love my little carry-on sized suitcase to save the hassle of checked baggage.

Any tips for jetlag?

Try to get your body back into a regular sleeping pattern right away. No day time naps or early nights, just try to stay up until a normal bed time for your new destination. It might seem hard at the time but it is the quickest way to get over jetlag in my opinion.

What are your favorite travel apps?

No necessarily just travel related, I love the Countdown+ app. You add the date of an upcoming event, like your next trip, into the app and it gives you the number of days, hours and minutes until your trip begins. It helps keep me motivated for saving money and keeps me excited for all the fun things I have coming up.

If I visit your country, what’s one meal I can’t miss?

Australia has some of the best seafood in the world. I always recommend to visitors that they should try some of it while they are here. Everything from basic fish and chips to BBQ prawns and lavish hot and cold seafood platters.

Can you share your favorite hidden treasure (place, food, event) that you found while traveling? I understand if you can’t!

I can’t think of anything specific but I can tell you that the best way to find hidden gems is to go off the beaten path even in the most popular places around the world. Lose the map and get lost in the lanes, eat at places away from the main squares and immerse yourself in the local culture by visiting obscure events and celebrations.

If you can answer, favorite place to visit?

New Zealand! We’ve just returned from our third visit to the country and each time it gets harder and harder to leave. The scenery is out of this world amazing, the people are so ridiculously friendly and the food is top notch. I can definitely see myself living there, maybe in Wanaka, someday when my travels settle down a bit more.

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Lake Matheson on New Zealand’s South Island

Where is the next place you’re traveling to?

My husband Mick and I are just days away from embarking on an indefinite road trip around Australia. We’ll be travelling slowly so create perfect work life travel balance. We’ve lived in Sydney most of our lives and have seen more of the world then our own country. So we thought it was a about time we explored Australia and all the amazing things it has to offer.

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Thanks for participating in this series, Jen! I think I could see myself living in Wanaka, too. It’s absolutely wonderful!

Life

What’s New With Me? Updates from Abroad

April 7, 2016
What's New With You

Today I’m linking up with Gretchen and Kristen to share What’s New With Me?

This post is totally all over the place. I need to start writing some more New Zealand recaps, but right now all I want to do is ramble about random things.

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Pad see eu!

Adam and I landed in Thailand about two days ago and it’s been a crazy cultural change. The biggest immediate pro is that things are cheap. Like super cheap. We just had some pad thai and pad see ue for 50 baht each – coming out to $1.42 USD. It’s awesome.

I really miss my big iced coffees. In New Zealand and Australia it was flat whites and long blacks the whole time. Plus instant coffee. Instant coffee is everywhere over here. I’m on a mission to find some sort of big ole iced coffee. I might even go to Starbucks when we’re in Bangkok and I don’t care if that’s cheating.

While we were in New Zealand and Australia, we never really stopped moving. We were in a new city almost every other day. I’m excited to finally be on the beach in Thailand where all I really have to do is sit by the water, play in the waves, and find food. Besides that, I can finally catch up on my blog (plus all y’alls!) and finally call my parents.

I’m totally into Little Mix’s Secret Love Song. Is it popular in the US? Catch me up on what’s cool, guys!

I’ve recently discovered that the Bravo App works outside of the US – I’m totally caught up on Real Housewives and Vanderpump Rules. I feel kind of like an asshole watching trashy TV while traveling, but everyone needs a break sometimes. I really haven’t watched any television during the day, but when I have good WIFI, it’s really nice to crawl in bed and watch a show on my phone before falling asleep. Bring on, Southern Charm and RHONY!

Speaking of watching shows, I’m really going to have to figure out a way to watch Game of Thrones. I think we can mask our proxy for another IP that matches in the US. Wish me luck.

The scariest thing about Thailand so far is walking places. There aren’t really sidewalks where we are so most of the time I’m dodging traffic. In New Zealand and Australia they respected the crosswalk more than anywhere else I’ve ever been. I miss that. I felt safe.

Another strange observation – We met about a million German females in New Zealand. Where we’re staying in Phuket – Karon Beach, there are a ton of eastern Europeans. It’s interesting to see where people travel.

My breakfast of choice the last few days has been a fruit smoothie. Mango yesterday, papaya today. It’s so nice. I love tropical fruit so this is my heaven.

One of the pros of staying in hostels is getting tips and tricks on the cheapest and best places to go. Adam just found out from a bunk mate that we can spend about half as much as we were planning to get a bus and ferry to Koh Samui in a couple days. Big plus to saving money! I likey.

When we were in New Zealand and Australia we felt like we didn’t have any good “stories” to tell family and friends. Yes, we saw incredible things and traveled to new cities, but we didn’t have any juicy or wild stories. I feel like that’s totally going to change since we’ve entered Southeast Asia. This is a whole new world and I’m just trying to catch up on how different things can be.

The electricity just went out at our hostel. Of course right when I had to go to the bathroom. So I went to the bathroom in the dark and then had to wash my hands with bottled water. I guess if the power (and more importantly, the WIFI) don’t come back on soon I’ll have to read a regular paper book. Pshh.. C’est la vie, amirite?

What’s new with you?

Travel

Staying in Hostel as a 30-Something

April 6, 2016
staying in a hostel as a 30-something

The last time I regularly slept in hostels was 10 years ago. And in the last month I’ve slept in nine. Things have changed since my last hostel go-around. I was 21 and my main mission was to party. Nowadays, I’m on the lookout for a clean, nice, and fairly quiet hostel in a good location.

Here are a a few observations and tips I’ve run across while staying in a hostel as a 30-something.

Good WIFI is worth its weight in gold

I never knew how valuable WIFI could be until I didn’t have any cellular data. It was difficult to find decent WIFI in the hostels in New Zealand. Most places either only provided WIFI in the communal areas or capped you at a certain usage. In Wanaka, I would go through my allotted free WIFI within 30 minutes. I learned to get used to not being able to post and check things, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t awesome when we came across hostels with awesome connections and unlimited WIFI.

The sooner you’re comfortable in the kitchen and communal spaces, the better

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TV room in Queenstown

I was pretty timid the first few hostels we stayed in; I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes so I rarely entered the kitchen or TV room if people were using it. But by about a week in, I realized if I don’t just assert myself and make space in the kitchen to make dinner or squeeze in on the TV room couch to watch a program then I’d be hiding in my bed all day. It is a little weird to all of a sudden be thrown into a brand new kitchen surrounded by strangers to cook, but it’s worth being a little uncomfortable to have a nice meal.

It’s a luxury for a hostel to provide milk with coffee

I judge each hostel by lots of things: cleanliness, proximity to the city, WIFI, and free food options. Most places had some sort of free instant coffee and sugar situation happening. It was really special when a hostel provided free milk for your coffee.

Little things make a huge difference

Speaking of milk for coffee, little things made a huge difference in hostels. Having an electric outlet per bed (instead of two outlets in a room for 10 people) was great. Curtains on a dorm bed – even better. A hostel in Picton made fresh biscuits for their guests every morning. It was beyond wonderful and so appreciated.

Bunk beds suck

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Where I’m sleeping tonight actually

I get it, it’s the easiest way to squeeze more beds in a room, but I can’t say I’m a fan of bunk beds. I normally end up on the top bunk and it sucks when I’ve crawled up to go to bed only to realize that I forgot my eye mask.

Snorers should have to purchase private rooms

Thankfully I only ran across two terrible snorers. Unfortunately, they came two nights in a row. I really think that if you make that much noise while sleeping that you should have to pay to stay in a private room.

It’s worth paying for a private room every few nights

We’ve stayed in dorms a lot because they’re generally cheaper, but sometimes it’s worth splurging and having a little privacy.

Communal bathrooms and showers are stressful

I still haven’t grown fully comfortable in communal showers. It stresses me out that someone might be waiting for me to get out. There have been a few places where we’ve had private showers and it’s been so, so, so nice. Even having a sink in your bedroom feels special when you don’t have to go across the hostel to brush your teeth.

Ear plugs and eye masks are crucial

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Waving hi to Adam from the neighbor bed

Snorers, general noise makers, and annoying lights make ear plugs and eye masks a necessity.

Booking a hostel within walking distance of a bus stop or public transportation makes things much easier

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The view from our hostel in Kaikoura – I approve.

Price was definitely a factor when I was booking accommodations, but so was location. It didn’t help that a place was cheaper if we had to take a taxi into town every day. Finding hostels relatively close to the bus stops and city attractions was a priority to having a good experience.

If you don’t book a “party” hostel, you’ll find people your age who just want to travel and sleep

For the most part, our hostels haven’t been too rowdy. I haven’t seen a sponsored bar crawl yet. Before booking anything I read reviews to make sure we weren’t shacking up at the hottest party spot in the city. Instead of finding wild 19-year olds, we’ve met a lot of people traveling like we are. It’s been nice because we have been able to make friends and have a lot of nice conversations.

Pack a towel

Just a tip to bring a towel with you – a lot of places we’ve stayed charged extra for towels. It’s worth packing a microfiber towel that rolls up small to avoid the extra expense.

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Have you stayed in a hostel lately? If not, would you consider it?

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.