Dolphins, Penguins, Sea Lions and Pandas* at The Catlins + Surprise Video!

The Catlins is a region in the south-east part of New Zealand’s South Island. It feels like the most deserted area of the country: No cellular reception, lots of unsealed roads, and less tourists (but no worries, the coffee scene is blossoming nevertheless). We stayed for four nights at the same accommodation A stayed at 13 years ago (!), which was just as great as he remembered. Overall visiting The Catlins was one of the highlights of our trip so far.

Wildlife is so accessible here: Want to swim with dolphins? Go swimming at Porpoise Bay, where a pod of 20 or so dolphins lives and will come to check you out. Want to see penguins? It’s a 10 minute walk from the dolphins. Sea Lions? A little drive up north. And so on, all with free and uninterrupted access.

In short, if you visit New Zealand, spending a few days at the Catlins is a must – it feels like the “real” New Zealand, unspoiled, non-commercialized, with tons of wildlife and very few tourists.

A lookout above Oyster / Tautuku bay, typical Catlins beach : long, beautiful, mostly empty. We saw two surfers there once - busy day!

A lookout above Oyster / Tautuku bay, typical Catlins beach : long, beautiful, mostly empty. We saw two surfers there once – busy day!

We stayed at the amazing "Hilltop Accommodation" - imagine a comfortable home (including a dishwasher!) on top of a hill overlooking this view, with only 1-2 people at most staying there with us.

We stayed at the amazing “Hilltop Accommodation” – imagine a comfortable home (including a dishwasher!) on top of a hill overlooking this view, with only 1-2 people at most staying there with us.

Nugget Point is an impressive lighthouse.

Nugget Point is an impressive lighthouse.

These are the "nuggets".

These are the “nuggets”.

Sea Lions playing at Surat Bay.

Nearby is Surat Bay, where we walked on the long beach, careful not to step on sleeping Sea Lions. Some of them were awake and gave us awesome photo ops.

The darker is a male, who came out of the ocean and woke up his sleeping lady friend who was sleeping in the sun.

The darker is a male, who came out of the ocean and woke up his sleeping lady friend who was sleeping in the sun.

Eventually she got tired of him and went back to the water.

Eventually she got tired of him and went back to the water.

Walking to the entrance of Cathedral Caves. We discovered two (related) things: 1) These are only accessible during low tide 2) N's hiking boots are extremely water-resistant!

Walking to the entrance of Cathedral Caves. We discovered two (related) things:
1) The caves are only accessible during low tide
2) N’s hiking boots are extremely water-resistant

We entered from one cave, came out of the other cave.

We entered from one cave, came out of another.

NZ Sheep obey traffic signs!

NZ Sheep obey traffic signs!

During the one-hour drive from Curio Bay (where the penguins are) to Hilltop, we saw at most one car each time. But we had to slow down for other road users: 4 deer, 4 possums, 3 rabbits, 2 porcupines, and 1 owl (most of them during nighttime).

Penguins! At Curio Bay - today, a nesting place for dozens of Yellow Eyed Penguins. Millions of years ago, a forest that was covered in a volcanic eruption. You can see tree stumps all around.

Penguins! At Curio Bay – today, a nesting place for dozens of Yellow Eyed Penguins. Millions of years ago, a forest that was covered in a volcanic eruption. You can see tree stumps all around.

Amazingly and inexplicably, these penguins are not as afraid of humans as the penguins we saw elsewhere in NZ. They basically came to us.

Amazingly and inexplicably, these penguins are not as afraid of humans as the penguins we saw elsewhere in NZ. They basically came to us.

Young chubby chick ("Schmendrik") still growing its feathers at 6-7 weeks old.

Young chubby chick (“Schmendrik”) still growing its feathers at 6-7 weeks old.

His (skinny) parents greeting each other after a long day.

His (skinny) parents greeting each other after a long day.

And preening...

And preening…

The family united!

The family united!

Surprise video – here’s a video N took on her iPhone of the penguins at Curio Bay:

Can’t get enough of our penguin photos and videos? We now have a whole page dedicated to the animals we see on the trip.

* no pandas

Dunedin (The Invisible)

Dunedin is a major city by NZ standards, or a cute university town by US standards. It’s located at the tip of the famous Otago Peninsula, and of course, no surprises here – lots of wild animals come ashore to the peninsula’s rugged beaches, including penguins, seals and birds of all kinds. The peninsula also features a rare colony of Royal Albatrosses, impressive 3-meters-wingspan birds that fly and glide better and longer than most others.

We stayed at an AirBnB home with amazing waterfront views and an extremely friendly Kiwi couple who invited us to enjoy fresh herbs and tomatoes from their beautiful garden. Having tried to grow tomatoes ourselves, we concede – theirs were sooooooo much better, and our daily salads were simply amazing. Their neighbors have taken the herb garden a step further (no pun intended – see photos below), growing vegetables and herbs in a big backyard greenhouse and selling fresh produce literally on their doorstep – you can’t go more local than that.

In short, Dunedin was a winning combination of a great little town (=great coffee), gorgeous water views and accessible wildlife. And did we mention the tomatoes?

Breakfast at our hosts' garden, with fruit and herbs from the garden

Breakfast at our hosts’ garden, with fruit and herbs from the garden

the neighbours' "storefront". Take what you want, leave a wee money in the box. Apparently these neighbors sported a peacock as a pet, and offered an attractive promotion - buy $3 worth of produce, get a free peacock feather! Guess what's in our trunk right now!

The neighbors’  “storefront”. Take what you want, leave a wee money in the box. These neighbors also sported a pet peacock, and offered an irresistible promotion – buy $3 worth of produce, get a free peacock feather! Guess what’s in our trunk right now!

AllPress coffee roasters, excellent. In the words of our hostess: "Saturday morning at the Farmers Market and then at AllPress... it is quite civilized, isn't it?"

AllPress coffee roasters, excellent. In the words of our hostess: “Saturday morning at the Farmers Market and then a Flat White at AllPress… Quite civilized, isn’t it?”

A view of a typical Otago Peninsula beach

A view of a typical Otago Peninsula beach

At the entrance to another beach, a sign with the six most commonly used languages in New Zealand. Number four: Hebrew.

At the entrance to another beach, a sign with the six most commonly used languages in New Zealand. Number four: Hebrew.

Same beach, different angle

Same beach, different angle

picnic with a view

Picnic with a view

A young albatross that just took off. They walk slowly and clumsily, but once in the air...

A young albatross that just took off. They walk slowly and clumsily, but once in the air…

...they use their huge wings and the strong winds ("roaring forties") to glide effortlessly. According to the staff working in the colony, once these young albatrosses leave their nest they circle the wild seas for a few years, never bothering to come to land, until they come back to mate

…they use their huge wings and the strong winds (“roaring forties”) to glide effortlessly. According to the staff working in the colony, once these young albatrosses leave their nest they circle the wild seas for a few years, never bothering to come to land, until they come back to mate

Gliding, they barely flap their wings. Thus, this is probably a rare photo!

Gliding, they barely flap their wings. Thus, this is probably a rare photo!

Riding a giant bike (Down the East Coast of the South Island)

Driving south along the East Coast of New Zealand’s South Island provides numerous attractions, especially if you are (like us) fans of wild life. This area is where whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, penguins, and many sea birds, come to have fun. The reason for that is something to do with rising ocean currents bringing all the food and nutrients right to the beach, along with rugged shores with plenty of nooks and crannies for the animals to live and hide in.

After a side trip to the west (Arthur’s Pass), we left Christchurch and drove south. We stayed at Oamaru for two nights, where you can visit a colony of Yellow Eyed Penguins and ride giant bicycles – among other things. We had a few more stops along the way to look at birds, seals, and rocks, before stopping for a few days in Dunedin, the second-largest city of the south island. All in all, it was a gorgeous, unspoiled, non-commercialized stretch of land that we thoroughly enjoyed.

A side trip to Arhur's Pass from Christchurch. Nice views and all, with one of the highlights being this mobile espresso stand in the middle of nowhere, with pretty decent coffee. Only in New Zealand...

A side trip to Arhur’s Pass from Christchurch. Nice views and all, with one of the highlights being this mobile espresso stand in the middle of nowhere, with pretty decent coffee. Only in New Zealand…

At Arthur's Pass, we did a short hike to incredibly tasty falls.

At Arthur’s Pass, we did a short hike to incredibly tasty falls.

Akaroa, near Chirstchurch. Four hours in a kayak... just us, the water, the mountains, and tons of animals!

Akaroa, near Christchurch. Four hours in a kayak… just us, the water, the mountains, and tons of animals!

Including a small pod of dolphins that swam under the kayak for a minute, but unfortunately were too quick for us to photograph.

Including a small pod of dolphins that swam under the kayak for a minute, but unfortunately were too quick for us to photograph.

Oamaru looks like just another quaint little NZ town: One main street with a British name ("Thames" in this case), a surprisingly high number per capita of excellent coffee shops, a church, some flowers...

Oamaru looks like just another quaint little NZ town: One main street with a British name (“Thames” in this case), a surprisingly high number per capita of excellent coffee shops, a church, some flowers…

And a flourishing Steam Punk scene!

And a flourishing Steam Punk scene!

Manifested thru a bunch of remodeled junk all around town and a big "museum" with more junk.

Manifested thru a bunch of remodeled junk all around town and a big “museum” with more junk. Can you spot N in the picture?

In addition, Oamaru boasts a vibrant Victorian scene... with people walking around in Victorian-era clothes, artisans working in reconstructed workshops, and a Penny Farthing bike shop... Here you can see A masterfully riding a gigantic Penny Farthing. (aka the bike with the most ridiculous name ever)

In addition, Oamaru boasts a vibrant Victorian scene… with people walking around in Victorian-era clothes, artisans working in reconstructed Victorian workshops, and a Penny Farthing bike shop… Here you can see A masterfully riding a gigantic Penny Farthing. (aka the bike with the most ridiculous name ever)

Oh, there's also a tiny art scene with this awesome gallery housed in a former Whiskey distillery. Straight from Brooklyn...

Oh, there’s also a tiny art scene with this awesome gallery housed in a former Whiskey distillery. Straight from Brooklyn…

... but with a slightly different view

… but with a slightly different view

There are also a couple of penguin colonies in Oamaru. Really a town with something for everyone - standing 2 meters from a family of Yellow Eyed Penguins is quite a thing.

There are also a couple of penguin colonies in Oamaru. Really a town with something for everyone – standing 2 meters from a family of Yellow Eyed Penguins is quite a thing.

Driving south on the East Coast, we stopped at Moeraki Boulders - a beach where perfectly round rocks keep popping up (or down) the cliffs and fall to the beach (here seen in low tide)

Driving south on the East Coast, we stopped at Moeraki Boulders – a beach where perfectly round rocks keep popping up (or down) the cliffs and falling to the beach (here seen in low tide)

N resisted the temptation of taking ALL the sparkly shells home as souvenirs.

N resisted the temptation of taking ALL the sparkly shells home as souvenirs.

And we found a lovely picnic spot nearby...

And we found a lovely picnic spot nearby… the cheese is from Oamaru’s excellent cheese factory, Whitestone.

Continuing south, we made a stop at Shag Point... Shag is this cute little bird.

Continuing south, we made a stop at Shag Point… Shag is this cute little bird.

Shag Point was also one of the best Fur Seals view points on our trip so far, with tons of them just lounging and playing on nearby rocks.

Shag Point was also one of the best Fur Seals view points on our trip so far, with tons of them just lounging and playing on nearby rocks. Shagadelic, baby, yeah!

ChCh

Visiting Christchurch, New Zealand’s second largest city, is an extraordinary experience. Christchurch was hurt by a devastating earthquake exactly two years ago, and nowadays it is a combination of a disaster zone, a recovering city, and parts that seemingly continue just as they were before.

It took us a while to realize the scale of destruction. As one local said – one day we were all normal, the next day we all had to dig toilets in our backyards. (They are all normal again in that sense by now!)

There are hardly any tall buildings left in the city center, which is mostly closed to the public, forming an eerie “no man’s land”. Hundreds of buildings are still waiting to be demolished before rebuilding can take place, while nobody knows if and when another earthquake will hit, and small aftershocks happen frequently.

On the positive end, a fascinating container culture arose – storage containers are very strong, portable and quick to design and put to use in new places. The re:start mall is a buzzing outdoors shopping mall – all built from stacked containers. We saw popup coffee shops, clothing boutiques, wine stores, restrooms – all inside re-purposed containers. Containers are also filled with cement and used to protect from falling debris and stones.

Another side effect caused by the earthquake is the lack of tourist accommodation options – many of the hotels and hostels were located in city center and no longer exist. Therefore tourists are relegated to the suburbs, which have started to flourish with ancillary businesses in the past two years. We stayed at a wonderful AirBnB home in Hornby, a 20-minute drive from the center (but only 10 minutes drive from some awesome coffee shops in Addington! And the lovely weekend farmer and artisan markets in Riccarton).

The nature around Christchurch was not as badly damaged, and a quick 30-minute drive took us to magnificent viewpoints of the Banks Peninsula (you can see our excitement in the photos below).

After five interesting, fun, sad and memorable days in ChCh, we were again southbound… going to kayak with dolphins and watch some penguins. Stay tuned!

Big chunks of the city are still in ruins, and the "red zone" fence surrounds the city center, with the army guarding the gates.

Big chunks of the Christchurch are still in ruins, and the “red zone” fence surrounds the city center, with the army guarding the gates.

This spire is being renovated (we hope), and will soon be put on top of the building again

This spire is being renovated (we hope), and will soon be put on top of the building again

Christchurch's beloved Cathedral, now in a shambles

Christchurch’s beloved Cathedral, now in a shambles

looking beyond the "red zone" fence

Looking beyond the “red zone” fence

Businesses that reopen have a problem: This Ibis hotel is open - but the view from the rooms is not that welcoming yet

Businesses that reopen have a problem: This Ibis hotel is open – but the view from the rooms is not that welcoming yet

Part of the scenic Summit Road is closed

Part of the scenic Summit Road is closed

But the views are still nice

But the views are still nice

we mean, very nice! woohoo!

We mean, very nice! woohoo!

The "re:start" container mall, bringing back some life (in a very solid form factor!) to the city center. The shops are so lovely (and the coffee so good). The whole thing can be transported as-is to Brooklyn, no quake necessary

The “re:start” container mall, bringing back some life (in a very solid form factor) to the city center. The shops are so lovely (and the coffee so good). The whole thing can be transported as-is to Brooklyn, no quake necessary.

We loved the farmers market and its unusual visitors

We loved the farmers market and its unusual visitors

Everyone loves a good cup of coffee!

Everyone loves a good cup of coffee!

Good luck rebuilding, ChCh!

Good luck rebuilding, ChCh!

Meow Dolphins – or – Blenheim and Kaikoura

We traveled south through Blenheim in the Marlborough region, the region that produces most of New Zealand’s wine. The city’s night scene, however, was not very lively – with “open late” meaning 9pm.

N is probably the only backpacker in NZ with glittery pink LOVE slippers (thanks mom!).  Here you can see one of our luxurious accommodation events - an en-suite kitchen!

N is probably the only backpacker in NZ with glittery pink LOVE slippers (thanks mom!).
Here you can see one of our luxurious accommodation events – an en-suite kitchen!

Wine tasting in one of the (many) wineries near Blenheim. This photo was probably taken after the first tasting...

Wine tasting in one of the (many) wineries near Blenheim. This photo was probably taken after the first tasting…

... and this one was taken after the last one. Nothing like the obligatory nap at the mobile napping station

… and this one was taken after the last one. Nothing like the obligatory nap at the mobile napping station

Next, Kaikoura – perched on a peninsula with high cliffs and lots of marine life, including fur seals (lots of them) and dolphins (not as many).

The road to Kaikaura...

The road to Kaikaura…

.. is beautiful. Especially when you have the luxury of time and can take the scenic route instead of sprinting through the highway.

.. is beautiful. Especially when you have the luxury of time and can take the scenic route instead of sprinting through the highway.

A very windy trail on the peninsula in Kaikaura

A very windy trail on the peninsula in Kaikaura

cute seals! the of-the-beaten-path version.

cute seals! The off-the-beaten-path version.

more cute seals!

more cute seals!

here's another one! Contact A for 254 more.

here’s another one! Contact A for 254 more.

This is how you photograph a seal sleeping in a natural position.

This is how you photograph a seal sleeping in a natural position.

young seagull forcing its parent to feed it

young seagull forcing its parent to feed it

N the explorer

N the explorer

In Kaikoura, we took the “Dolphin Encounter” boat tour to see and swim with the rare Dusky Dolphins. The guides told us that in order to attract the dolphins to come and swim with us, we should make them “take an interest” in us. They recommended trying to make noises that may attract these curious dolphins. Our noise of choice (through the snorkel!) was “Meow”, and swimming in circles like the dolphins around us. It worked! We had dozens of dolphins circling N the wannabe cat-dolphin, who was swimming in circles and yelling “Meow! Meow! Meow! Meow! Meow!”

Kaikoura's Dolphin Encounter - swimming with dolphins!

Kaikoura’s Dolphin Encounter – swimming with dolphins!

We were lucky and got to see hundreds of dolphins on our tour.  They make for awesome laptop wallpapers.

We were lucky and got to see hundreds of dolphins on our tour. They make for awesome laptop wallpapers.

acrobatic Dusky Dolphin

and are very acrobatic

A 9-meter long Giant Squid was found dead in the water near Kaikaura that weekend. It was the talk of the town for a while.

A 9-meter long Giant Squid was found dead in the water near Kaikaura that weekend. It was the talk of the town for a while.

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!

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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.

 

Hong Kong

The road to New Zealand starts with a one week stop in Hong Kong, where we stayed with A’s relatives – lovely, generous hosts, whose apartment has amazing view of Hong Kong city. Thank you again for having us! We also had dinner with N’s school friends who invited us to an excellent Chinese restaurant and graciously went all vegetarian with us. Thanks guys!

Hong Kong is a colorful, crazy, beautiful city, with excellent non-expensive food and a blooming coffee scene. With mountains and buildings that go tall rather than wide, the views are amazing. Tall and dense buildings also mean that big chunks of the island are nature reserves, with hoards of eagles circling around the city all the time. In short: we loved it.

Hong Kong in one word: Colorful

Hong Kong in one word: Colorful

Meow?

Meow?

Hong Kong city view we woke up to every morning, courtesy of our wonderful hosts

Hong Kong city view we woke up to every morning, courtesy of our wonderful hosts

Hello, kitty

Hello, kitty

A main street view

A main street view

 

Naturally, the agriculture bank building

Naturally, the agriculture bank building

Up and down a shopping mall. Really good coffee in the basement of this mall – Fuel

Up and down a shopping mall. Really good coffee in the basement of this mall – Fuel

Yo, go shopping! What are you doing in the subway?

Yo, go shopping! What are you doing in the subway?

Subway. Perfect except the near-freezing temperature

Subway. Perfect except the near-freezing temperature

Bamboo scaffolding everywhere, without a nail or a screw in sight!

Bamboo scaffolding everywhere, without a nail or a screw in sight!

One of us was obsessed with bamboo scaffolding (a sample photo out of the 2,432 we have)

One of us was obsessed with bamboo scaffolding (a sample photo out of the 2,432 we have)

Night market

Night market

Fruit salad and a bunch of non identified gooey stuff. And a guest appearance!

Fruit salad and a bunch of non identified gooey stuff. And a guest appearance!

<3

<3

Love their marketing

The bizarre / awesome combination of Chinese and Portuguese in Macau

The bizarre / awesome combination of Chinese and Portuguese in Macau

Making us delicious veggie noodles in Macau.

Making us delicious veggie noodles in Macau.

At Shek-O beach

At Shek-O beach

A couple posing for photos on Stanley beach

A couple posing for photos on Stanley beach

Hong Kong at night

Hong Kong at night

Felix at the Peninsula hotel – cool iPad menus. Thanks to our hosts for the yummy dinner!

Felix at the Peninsula hotel – cool iPad menus. Thanks to our hosts for the yummy dinner!

Lan Kwai Fong party district

Lan Kwai Fong party district

Street food’ing – sweet potato and chestnuts

Street food’ing – sweet potato and chestnuts

 

Like we say in Hebrew, after every Saturday there's Saturday night

Like we say in Hebrew, after every Saturday there’s Saturday night

Loved the small-but-awesome 3rd wave coffee scene in Hong Kong. In the picture is latte porn - sorry, latte art - magazine at Rabbit Hole coffee

Loved the small-but-awesome 3rd wave coffee scene in Hong Kong. In the picture is latte porn – sorry, latte art – magazine at Rabbit Hole coffee

Rabbit Hole practicing what they preach

Rabbit Hole overlooked the mid-levels escalators. It was so close we could (and did) wave to the people going up

Rabbit Hole overlooked the mid-levels escalators. It was so close we could (and did) wave to the people going up

Goodbye dinner we cooked for our hosts, menu included A’s famous focaccia. Thank you again for hosting us! :)