B4N NZ*

* Bye for now, New Zealand

All good things come to end (including our New Zealand trip). Living and traveling for a few months in New Zealand was a very worthy experience, but obviously the time has come to move on (plus it was the beginning of winter anyway).

We spent most of our last two weeks in New Zealand back in Auckland and the beaches around it, slowing down the pace while trying to sell our car and run other errands. We’d also had an honorable guest, who flew all the way from San Francisco to visit us in New Zealand (respect!).

As you witnessed in our posts and photos, we’ve had an amazing time in New Zealand – nature, wildlife, food, people – all was fantastic (maybe except for the sinks). Bye for now, we’ll be back!

Back in Auckland, we were winding down from our active trip mode, welcoming M, our esteemed guest and enjoying a fantastic AirBnB apartment (pictured).

Back in Auckland, we were winding down from our active trip mode, welcoming M, our esteemed guest and enjoying a fantastic AirBnB apartment (pictured).

While saddened by the imminent end of our trip, we were pretty happy with the top notch kitchen at our AirBnb digs (and the extra cook! Thanks M for all the salads.)

While saddened by the imminent end of our trip, we were pretty happy with the top notch kitchen at our AirBnb digs (and the extra cook! Thanks M for all the salads.)

Quite possibly the most important feature of the apartment was its proximity to Kokako, perhaps the best coffee shop we found in New Zealand. Here a picture of perfection during one of our daily (or twice-daily) visits.

Quite possibly the most important feature of the apartment was its proximity to Kokako, perhaps the best coffee shop we found in New Zealand. Here a picture of perfection during one of our daily (or twice-daily) visits.

Auckland has some pretty nice views, and some very cool cafes. Nice to combine both a view and a cafe.

Auckland has some pretty nice views, and some very cool cafes. Nice to combine both a view and a cafe.

America's Cup Team New Zealand home. Can you spot the three boats of past races?

America’s Cup Team New Zealand home. Can you spot the three boats of past races?

Between selling the car and running other final errands, we tried to escape the rainy city whenever we could. On this day, it rained all day except for our 30-minute picnic, on the beach near Leigh, about an hour north of Auckland. And we got this huge rainbow - woohoo!

Between selling the car and running other final errands, we tried to escape the rainy city whenever we could. On this day, it rained all day except for our 30-minute picnic, on the beach near Leigh, about an hour north of Auckland. And we got this huge rainbow – woohoo!

No New Zealand trip can be complete without some wildlife in the wild.

No New Zealand trip can be complete without some wildlife in the wild.

Another great day trip to Piha Beach in West Auckland. Just an hour drive from the city, yet it feels as rugged as beaches on the South Island.

Another great day trip to Piha Beach in West Auckland. Just an hour drive from the city, yet it feels as rugged as the beaches of the South Island.

The weather was again fickle, with crazy downpour followed by awesome sun and vice versa, resulting in photogenic rainbows and wet photographers.

The weather was again fickle, with crazy downpour followed by awesome sun and vice versa, resulting in photogenic rainbows and wet photographers.

The beach had some cool rock formations, and lots of surfers.

The beach had some cool rock formations, and lots of surfers.

And lots of green mussels!

And lots of green mussels!

A, modeling with the green mussels.

A, modeling with the green mussels.

Bye for now - it's been amazing - we'll be back!

Bye for now – it’s been amazing – we’ll be back!

 

Art Deco and Steam (the East Coast of the North Island)

As we crossed Cook Strait on the Interislander Ferry to go back from the South Island to the North Island, the realization that our New Zealand journey is drawing to a close dawned upon us… However we still had a few precious weeks (and one precious guest!) left and we were determined to make the most out of them.

We drove back north to Auckland via the east coast (as opposed to the west coast we took at the beginning of our trip, travelling south). Despite being on a rushed schedule, we still discovered and enjoyed beautiful beaches, crazy volcanic villages, and – this being New Zealand – wine.

Once we got off the Interislander ferry on the North Island we started trying selling our car. Long, unfun story, that also involved washing & vacuuming the car multiple times. We were delighted to discover the New Car Smell is just a coin away!

Once we were back on the North Island we started trying to sell our car. Long, unfun story, that also involved washing & vacuuming the car multiple times. We were delighted to discover the New Car Smell is just a coin away!

Heading northeast, we stayed at the lovely coastal town of Napier for one night. Another last-minute booking, Parkside Lodge, was a wonderful hipster-ish surprise - vintage furniture, home baked cookies, and fresh herbs in the kitchen. Near the lodge we went for a jog in a small park that was a miniature copy of London's Serpentine Park (only this one topped it with a miniature train model all around the lake).

Heading northeast, we stayed at the lovely coastal town of Napier for one night. A last-minute booking, Parkside Lodge, was a wonderful hipster-ish surprise – vintage furniture, home baked cookies, and fresh herbs in the kitchen. We went for a jog in a small park near the lodge that was a miniature copy of London’s Serpentine Park (only this one topped it with a miniature train model all around the lake).

The next day we toured Art Deco Napier. The town was completely ruined in a 1931 earthquake, and the whole city was re-built in the Art Deco style. A small but yummy farmers market also contributed to our favorable impression of Napier.

The next day we toured Art Deco Napier. The town was completely ruined in a 1931 earthquake, and the whole city was re-built in the Art Deco style. A small but yummy farmers market also contributed to our favorable impression of Napier.

Napier is part of the Hawkes Bay region, the second largest wine producing area in New Zealand. We sample a couple of wineries including Mission Bay, the oldest winery in New Zealand, dating back to 1851.

Napier is part of the Hawkes Bay region, the second largest wine producing area in New Zealand. We sampled wine at a couple of wineries including Mission Bay, the oldest winery in New Zealand, dating back to 1851 (pictured here).

Next on our itinerary was lovely lake Taupo, part of an active geothermal region. We visited the impressive Huka river and enjoyed great weather and the famous "Huka Blue".

Next on our itinerary was lovely lake Taupo, part of an active geothermal region. We visited the impressive Huka river and enjoyed great weather and the famous “Huka Blue”.

We also helped some tourists take photos.

We also helped some tourists take photos.

And took some photos ourselves.

And took some photos ourselves.

We visited the "Craters of the Moon" park, where rotten-eggs-smelling steam comes out of the ground. The craters happen when something blocks the steam for too long, building pressure, until it blows it away.

We visited the “Craters of the Moon” park, where rotten-eggs-smelling (aka sulfur) steam comes out of the ground. The craters are created when something blocks the steam for too long, building pressure, until it blows it away.

Sometimes getting a bit out of control...

Sometimes getting a bit out of control…

Next up was Rotorua - a small town smack in the middle of this very active geothermal region. A lovely byproduct of that is the strong rotten eggs smell that accompanies you wherever you go in Rotorua and the vicinity. Appetizing! We visited Whakarewarewa - a Maori village in the outskirts of Rotorua. This village has many cool things going for it: First, it has one of the longest geographical name in the world (full name is "Te Whakarewarewatanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao"), and second, it's a real functioning village right next to active thermal steam holes, mud pools and hot springs. Here you can see a house with steam coming out from multiple holes in its back yard.

Next up was Rotorua – a small town smack in the middle of this very active geothermal region. A lovely byproduct of that is the strong rotten eggs smell that accompanies you wherever you go in Rotorua and the vicinity. Appetizing!
We visited Whakarewarewa – a Maori village in the outskirts of Rotorua. This village has many cool things going for it: First, it has one of the longest geographical names in the world (full name is “Te Whakarewarewatanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao”), and second, it’s a real live village right next to active thermal steam holes, mud pools and hot springs. Here you can see a house with steam coming out from multiple holes in its back yard.

Some houses in the village right next to an active thermal pool. Every once in a while the pool or the steam holes might shift their location, forcing the residents to evacuate their house.

Some houses in the village right next to a boiling thermal pool. Every once in a while the steam holes might shift their locations, turning up too close to someone’s house and forcing the residents to evacuate.

The villagers use the steam for cooking - this is an old steam oven used for cooking, including corn which they sell in the village's restaurant. We tried it, it kinda tasted like any other corn.

Residents use the hot water for bathing, and the steam for cooking – this is an old steam oven built around a steam hole. We tasted their traditional (well, very non-traditional for us!) geothermal-cooked-corn which they sell in the village’s restaurant. It was nice, just like any other corn.

Another attraction in the village is a couple of geysers that erupt every hour or so.

Another attraction in the village is a couple of geysers that erupt every hour or so.

We watched a Maori cultural show which included some dancing and singing - we were afraid it was going to be an uber-commercial, fake tourist trap - but it ended up being really charming and low-key.

We watched a Maori cultural show which included some dancing and singing – we were afraid it was going to be an uber-commercial, fake tourist trap – but it ended up being really charming and low-key. (Plus we have some killer shots with the guy on the right! The big tongue and wide open eyes are the two sought-after features in a good warrior.)

Continuing north, our next stop was Taurengua (great coffee) and Mount Manganui. Good coffee, great bakery, awesome beach, inactive volcano - what else can you ask for?

Continuing north, our next stop was Taurengua (great coffee) and Mount Manganui. Good coffee, great bakery, awesome beach, inactive volcano – what else can you ask for? Oh yeah, they are known for teaching surfing at school there. Sweet as!

Lots of pebbles!

Lots of pebbles!

We may or may not have taken one as a souvenir (Disclaimer: photo is for demonstration purposes only).

We may or may not have taken one as a souvenir.

Moo, Meh and Apples (Farming in New Zealand)

Alongside tourism, farming is another major economic force in New Zealand. Lots of land,
water, sun and what seems like a good dose of old-style, honest and not-
as-industrialized approach to farming, made us appreciate it all the more.

Did you know? There are 31 million sheep in New Zealand. There are 4.4 million people in New Zealand. This means that there are 7 sheep per person. If you think that’s a lot, it is nothing compared to 30 years ago, when there were 22 sheep per person! (source – this amusing article by the New Zealand Department of Statistics). So yes, all the sheep jokes you may have heard about New Zealand are probably true, and we did see a lot of sheep, sometimes in unexpected places.

Grazing sheep and cows have the most beautiful grasslands (often overlooking the most amazing views), and the grass must grow like crazy with all the rain here. In many of the places we stayed we saw coops, where free chickens lay eggs. Unlike the USA’s “free range chicken” cynical definition, these chickens are really free and proud, and are surprisingly smart and funny animals to interact with. (N’s comment – their eggs are delicious, too :))

Some farmers sell their produce from the back of their trucks, and they are happy
to talk about the pesticides they use (mostly, they don’t) and the fertilizers
they add. Many times, a “fruit shop” is just a stall or a cabinet along the road,
with bagged produce and a price list. It’s the “honesty system” – take what you want, put the money into the box, and drive on. Other farmers participate in one of the numerous farmers markets taking place at least once a week.

Even the supermarkets here get something right – we regularly buy lettuces so fresh that their stem is still wet. Prices can be ridiculously expensive though, so we try to buy everything we can at the farmers market. Summer, fresh produce, reasonable prices, yum!

Sheep grazing while enjoying the awesome views of Otago Peninsula.

Sheep grazing while enjoying the awesome views of Otago Peninsula.

NZ Sheep obey traffic signs!

How did the sheep cross the road?

One of Cromwell's famous roadside fruit and vegetable shops. This one, despite looking very fancy, had no seller around and operated on the "honesty" system.

One of Cromwell’s famous roadside fruit and vegetable shops. This one, despite looking very fancy, had no sellers around and operated on the honesty system.

Another one of Cromwell's shops. Prices are really low for produce that's in season - in this case, stone fruit (peaches, plums, nectarines etc).

Another one of Cromwell’s shops. Prices are really low for produce that’s in season – in this case, stone fruit (peaches, plums, nectarines etc).

Just few minutes drive from the wonderful Curio bay in the Catlines (###link to our post###),  is this local farm and next to it, the local shop.

Just a few minutes drive from the wonderful Curio Bay in the Catlins – a local farm (back) and a local shop (front).

Every town that respects itself has an annual A&P show (Agricultural and  Pastoral). We couldn't time out travel schedule to match those, but luckily we finally  experienced one in Wanaka (###link to our post###), which was a huge event in the area.

Every self respecting town has an annual A&P show (Agricultural &
Pastoral). We couldn’t time our travel schedule to match those, but luckily we finally experienced the show in Wanaka, which was a huge event in the area.

It was part a zoo

It was part a zoo

Part a beauty contest for gigantic Angus cows

Part a beauty contest for gigantic Angus cows

part competitive animal farming

part competitive animal farming

and part town festival with music, food and shopping. Notice the singer showing off a gigantic vegetable on stage.

and part town festival with music, food and shopping. Notice the singer showing off a gigantic vegetable on stage – her entry to the gigantic vegetables competition.

In several regions of New Zealand a more lucrative agricultural industry is doing well - New Zealand wines are world famous (and rightly so, we're glad to confirm after thorough research).

In several regions of New Zealand a more lucrative agricultural industry is doing well – New Zealand wines are world famous (and rightly so, we’re glad to confirm after thorough research).

Many wineries and vineyards are open to visitors and offer a delightful experience of wine tasting, lunch, tour and nap (I wish).

Many wineries and vineyards are open to visitors and offer a delightful experience of wine tasting, lunch, tour and a nap (I wish). This is Mission Estate in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand’s oldest winery, established in 1851.

Fishing is also quite popular, and in Westland we suspect there may be too  much rain for almost any other type of agriculture. We got 150mm of rain in 24 hours - this is the annual rainfall in many other places in the world. This truck is selling an interesting combo of coffee and whitebait - a small fish (or a blend of several types of fish) usually fried and served as fritters.

Fishing is also quite popular, and in Westland we suspect there may be too much rain for almost any other type of agriculture. We got 150mm of rain in 24 hours – this is the annual rainfall in many other places in the world.
This truck is specializing in whitebait – a small fish (or a blend of several types of fish) usually fried and served as fritters, and of course coffee.

 

 

Solar Shower – or – Wellingon, Picton and Queen Charlotte Track

Wellington is the capital of food and coffee in New Zealand. Coincidentally, it is also the Capital of New Zealand. Known as “Windy Wellington” at other times, it was sunny, warm, and in full summer mode in the three days we were there. This can explain the hordes of people jogging, sunbathing, or jumping-into-the-ocean from a 3-stories-high ramp on the promenade (including A – photo sadly censored).

Our next stop was Picton – a 3-hour ferry ride, with some dolphins swimming along, to the South Island. A quaint little town with nice water views and people showering naked on the beach (well, at least one person. And it wasn’t me!).

We left Picton for two days of the Queen Charlotte track, with stunning views of multiple sounds, friendly curious birds, and too-friendly sand flies.

Researching Wellington's coffee scene. In one word - wow! Here at Customs Coffee.

Researching Wellington’s coffee scene. In one word – wow! Here at Customs Coffee.

On the beach in Wellington.

On the beach in Wellington.

Humans were not the only passengers on the ferry from the North Island to the South Island - here you can see a bunch of poor sheep being transported. Another reason to be vegetarian.

Humans were not the only passengers on the ferry from the North Island to the South Island – here you can see a bunch of poor sheep being transported. Another reason to be vegetarian.

N at lovely Picton. In the distance, a big ferry docking in the small port.

N at lovely Picton. In the distance, a big ferry docking in the small port.

The boat drops us at the start of the track.

The boat drops us at the start of the track.

Typical view on Queen Charlotte Track.

Typical view on Queen Charlotte Track.

The cool looking Ponga tree - a fern grows to resemble a palm.

On the track: The cool looking Ponga tree – a fern that grows to resemble a palm.

This cute chick and her friends accompanied us for most of the track.

This cute chick and her friends accompanied us for most of the track.

Nasty sand flies (the local, evil version of mosquitos) feasted on A's feet, who found out the hard way he was a) their favorite food b) quite sensitive to their bites c) had a left foot twice as big as his right foot!

Nasty sand flies (the local, evil version of mosquitoes) feasted on A’s feet, who found out the hard way he was a) their favorite food b) quite sensitive to their bites c) had a left foot twice as big as his right foot!

Yep, we slept in a (very small and cozy) tent.

Solar showers! These water bags simply sit in the sun all day long, accumulating warmth...

Solar showers! These water bags simply sit in the sun all day long, accumulating warmth…

... so when you use them come night, they're actually really warm! sometimes even *too* warm. Pretty awesome.

… so when you use them come night, they’re actually really warm! sometimes even *too* warm. Pretty awesome.

These fellows, with their friends, woke us up at 5am, 6am, 7am and 8am,

These fellows, with their friends, woke us up at 5am, 6am, 7am and 8am.

In our next post: Sleeping in more exotic places and an encounter with the rare Cat Dolphin… stay tuned!

PS – Did you notice you can sign up to receive email updates from the blog whenever we publish a new post? Simply submit your email address in the top right corner.

 

 

New Plymouth and Wanganui

Heading south from Auckland we stopped at the smallish town of Hamilton, where we had awe-inspiring coffee at Rocket Coffee. Afterwards we continued to Waitomo caves and did a black water rafting tour of one wet, dark cave with lots of glow worms on its ceiling. We then continued to New Plymouth, in the Mt. Taranaki region.

Mount Taranaki dominates a huge are around it, and is visible from everywhere when it's not covered in clouds.

Mount Taranaki dominates a huge area around it, and is visible from everywhere when it’s not covered in clouds.

New Plymouth has a long beach promenade and we found a few excellent restaurants and coffee places. We were the only guests at the very friendly “Be My Guest” B&B, where Helen baked us fresh pastries every afternoon, and N gorged on fresh eggs from Helen’s hens every morning. We got to visit the town’s Festival of Lights one evening, and walked on the black, volcanic, sand beaches. There are lots of beaches all around Mount Taranaki – you can see why in the map above. We also drove to the mountain and did a short hike, but since it was covered in clouds the views were mostly of the coastline below and not the mountain above.

After driving along the beaches (and taking a swim in one) we got to Wanganui, another small town which we loved. Again, did we say “excellent coffee”? it’s everywhere. We also kayaked on the Wanganui river on a hot day.

And then we were off to Wellington.

At The Warehouse - imagine Target products at Walmart prices and Starbucks ubiquity. So useful!

At The Warehouse – imagine Target products at Walmart prices and Starbucks ubiquity. So useful!

Rocket Coffee in Hamilton is the coolest place in Hamilton, and then some. Multiple roasters, heaps of single origin bags, and very-fair-trade philosophy (which is much better than fair-trade!). This place is awesome.

Bikes + coffee + vintage typewriter font = hipster heaven

Bikes + coffee + vintage typewriter font = hipster heaven

We had an hour-long conversation with the owner about all the great coffee shops he misses in New York.

We had an hour-long conversation with the owner about all the great coffee shops he misses in New York.

On the way to New Plymouth

On the way to New Plymouth

We reached New Plymouth and the Best. B&B. Ever aka "Be My Guest B&B", where we were immediately ushered to a 4 o'clock tea with home made cupcakes, crackers and cheese.

We reached New Plymouth and the Best. B&B. Ever aka “Be My Guest B&B”, where we were immediately ushered to a 4 o’clock tea in a lovely, serene garden with home made cupcakes, crackers and cheese.

Followed by a feast with some lovely New Zealand wines at a nearby restaurant overlooking the water.

Followed by a feast with great New Zealand wines at a nearby restaurant overlooking the water.

The next day started with breakfast including eggs from the owner's chickens, running in the backyard and giving a whole new meaning to the cliched term "free range".

The next day started with breakfast including eggs from the owner’s chickens, running in the backyard and giving a whole new meaning to the cliched term “free range”. Delish.

Weather was good so we rushed to see Taranaki mountain.

Weather was good so we rushed to see Taranaki mountain. Notice guest appearance.

On the way from New Plymouth to Wanganui we stopped for a short dip in the sea, which also happened to have outstanding coffee. Is this country for real?

On the way from New Plymouth to Wanganui we stopped for a short dip in the sea, which also happened to have outstanding coffee. Is this country for real?

Guest appearance with black sand from the beach, thanks to Mt. Taranaki's volcanic activity

Guest appearance with black sand from the beach, thanks to Mt. Taranaki’s volcanic activity

We were lucky to actually see the mountain - it's usually surrounded with clouds

We were lucky to actually see the mountain – it’s usually surrounded by clouds

Evening on New Plymouth beach

A small local store in a small town that's been around for the past 30 years or so

A small local store in a small town that’s been around for the past 30 years or so. We bought some soaps and love them.

Having fun at Wanganui

Having fun at Wanganui

Kayaking the Wanganui river

Kayaking the Wanganui river

 

 

Auckland and Waiheke Island

Landing in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, we had some errands to run – mostly buying a reliable car for the rest of the trip. Since the best place to find cars is on the weekend’s car fairs, and we landed on a Wednesday, we had a few days to tour around.

There are plenty of good (and very hipster-y) coffee shops, all but one of them close promptly around 4pm. Some haven’t even opened yet after their Christmas vacation with signs saying they’ll be back in late January. This is The Life! A bright point for customers though: tips (anywhere) are neither common nor mandatory, so a 10% tip would earn you warm gratitude.

We had dinner with N’s friends from school at their lovely house and got to meet their sweet daughter and shy but cute cat. We got very jealous of their awesome garden (how do you get one in NYC?) and put it to good use making our second favorite hot drink – hot water with mint leaves. Thanks again for having us guys!

Also, a day trip to Waiheke Island was in order: The ferry service is efficient and easy, car rental on the island is cheap, and the views, wines and tastings are… expensive.

And after a week in Auckland, with a reasonably new car, local SIM cards and a local debit card, we were ready to go.

What welcomed us as we walked out of Auckland airport, and a good intro to how things would be from now on - excellent coffee everywhere.

What welcomed us as we walked out of Auckland airport, and a good intro to how things would be from now on – excellent coffee everywhere.

Arriving in Auckland, we stayed in two hostels - Bamber House and Pantlands. Both in the quiet, pretty Mt. Eden neighborhood, both really nice. That was N's first exposure to hostels and it was a good one! Check out the herbs at Bamber House.... later we discovered many hostels and houses in New Zealand have small gardens with vegetables and herbs. Fun!

Arriving in Auckland, we stayed in two hostels – Bamber House and Pantlands. Both in the quiet, pretty Mt. Eden neighborhood, both really nice. That was N’s first exposure to hostels and it was a good one! Check out the herbs at Bamber House…. later we discovered many hostels and houses in New Zealand have small gardens with vegetables and herbs. Fun!

From the hostels we moved to an AirBnB house in Parnell (yes, there's a neighborhood called Parnell...). Our first time doing AirBnB, and probably not the last - very convenient and in some ways better than a hostel, with a comparable price.

From the hostels we moved to an AirBnB house in Parnell (yes, there’s a neighborhood called Parnell…). Our first time doing AirBnB, and probably not the last – very convenient and in some ways better than a hostel, with a comparable price.

While waiting for the weekend car markets, we methodically researched Auckland's coffee scene.

While waiting for the weekend car markets, we methodically researched Auckland’s coffee scene.

The car

The car

Surprisingly for such a tiny island (30 sq km), there are quite a few grape varietals being grown on the island - both red and white. Syrah is one of N's favorites.

Vineyards on Waiheke Island. Surprisingly for such a tiny island (30 sq km), there are quite a few grape varietals being grown on the island – both red and white. Syrah is one of N’s favorites.

Magnificent views + guest appearance

Magnificent views + guest appearance

The island is dotted with beautiful secluded beaches. The tourist buses don't reach most of them so they're blissfully deserted.

The island is dotted with beautiful secluded beaches. The tour buses don’t reach most of them so they’re blissfully deserted.

A common view from a Waiheke road.

A common view from a Waiheke road.