Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Leaving Golden Bay

     Well we have been exploring in and around Golden Bay for four days now and as much as I would like to stay...um, forever...it's time to move on. Truth be told I'm none too pleased about it but we have to make it to Christchurch by Feb 2nd to fly to our next destination, Bangkok, Thailand. So that only leaves 5 days and, besides Christchurch being a good distance away, there are some more things on the South Island to see.

     Meanwhile, let me talk about some of the things we've seen here! Our base at the Holiday Park in Pohara Beach, easily the nicest we've stayed at, for the bargain price of $41 NZD per night. The sights! The seals, the yellow eyed penguin, the oystercatchers and black swans!

The hikes! Farewell Spit & Cape Farewell & Fossil point in Puponga, Wharakiki beach in Takaka, The Grove Scenic Reserve in Clifton, Te_WaikoropupÅ« Springs   big chunks of the Abel Tasman/Golden Bay walking tracks
The beaches... the skinny dipping...

            Here's a video of the dunes on Farewell spit
            Here's on (on my youtube channel) of Porter's Cove
     Here's a typical day here: wake up, coffee & shower, pickup lunch & dinner stuff & drinks, drive to a nearby trailhead, make sammiches & load up the backpack, hike to a secluded beach, do some swimming & sun bathing, hike back out, drive back to the holiday park, BBQ some dinner, have a couple beers,  read & play guitar, then hit the hay. All in all? As the Americans say, Awesome!

     If I should die in the Kiwi heat, please bury me out on Excellent Street!

Oh and do please follow along and comment so we know you're out there?
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Many more pictures and such to be seen there!

Monday, January 26, 2015

LuAnn talks food in NZ

     I have been meaning to write a bit about the food here in New Zealand. I love food. I don’t know if that means that I’m a “foodie”, but I just know that I like good food. I mentioned in my previous post that food here is extremely expensive. This may have impacted our enjoyment of the food here. I would love to be a bit more adventurous, but since the cost is an issue, we’ve been sort of eating with that in mind. Not to beat a dead horse, but this morning at the place we got coffees, I saw on their drink menu- Margarita….$19. Seriously? We just were in Mexico where a margarita was a sheer fraction of that. 

     Speaking of coffee, New Zealand is very much a cafe culture. There are cafes everywhere…even when you truly believe there is nothing around for miles. A sign with a blue coffee cup and thats all you need to know there is GOOD coffee ahead. And even a flat white is more like a latte, frothed milk, never just coffee with cold milk added. NEVER. And an iced coffee is not like what you get a Dunkin Donuts…its got a scoop of vanilla ice cream in it and a dollop of fresh cream. Theres just no alternative. Of course, these cost $6, but again….no alternative. 

     The food is really high quality. The descriptions of everything on a menu is a full paragraph. I actually had a waiter at a restaurant where I ordered a salad tell me that it would come with an egg on top “bathed at 64 degrees for exactly an hour.” There is just not anywhere that does not care about their food to that degree. Trust me, we’ve looked since it was actually getting a bit annoying. Andy wanted a burger, with ketchup on a bun. What he got was not that, because I don’t think they know how to do that. By contrast he said the steak sandwich, with bacon and cheddar on garlic bread was the best sandwich he ever are for $22. Proof:
     So, yes, we’ve had some pretty good food here and there. My favorite was probably a grilled lamb salad. I know that will not make me popular with some, but lets face it….theres ALOT of sheep here, so it seemed only natural. The mussels are pretty good also, but they are the green shell, and seem a bit chewier and saltier than the PEI ones we get at home. We also had a really good spaghetti and seafood at an Italian restaurant in Blenheim, owned by an Italian, but I think it also it was exactly what we were in the mood for on the coldest evening we had. We’ve also had some good fish n’ chips, a staple here. No malted vinegar though, like in the UK. We inadvertently over-ordered once though. Two orders of fish and chips came with 5 pieces of fish and several pounds of fries:
     I especially like the way pubs and restaurants manage their serving. Instead of being seated, waiting to get a menu, wait to have the waitress show up, order and bring drinks, etc., you proceed right to the bar. Theres a stack of menus there. You then give your order to the barkeep, you pay him, he gives you a number and you go sit down. Then someone brings you your food. If you want another drink, you go back up and get it. I just think it cuts down on a lot of needless waiting, and seems efficient. They apparently pay their servers an actual living wage, so tipping is not as necessary as the US, 10% is considered generous. 

     Btw, heres a photo of their sunscreen. As I said, the sun is beyond intense, so having your sunscreen from the NZ Cancer Society is somewhat reassuring…right? 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

1 week to go

     If my daughter could see what Im wearing as I write this, she would be mortified. Believe me, living out of a van for over 2 weeks now has influenced my fashion decisions. To say nothing of the fact that I am living at holiday parks, and I just don't give a damn. Clothing is chosen to shield ones self from the relentless New Zealand sun. It really is not hot, in the sense we in the states are used to at the height of summer...but the sun is powerful beyond belief. The second it sets, on the south island, this is almost 10:00 at night, the sweatshirt goes on. The temperature drops about 20 degrees instantly. A common sight here is someone in short shorts and flip-flops and a parka. So I figure no one cares that I have on a sundress and a sweatshirt...neither of which match in any way. 

     Mascara? Make-up? Something I wouldn't have left the house without a few months ago, I can't be bothered....who cares when you are wearing sunglasses from sunup to sundown? Some Berts Bees on my lips to protect them is as good as it gets. 

     New Zealand is really beyond beautiful. Every bend in the road is breathtaking. Therefore, as we drive, I am constantly shouting..."Whoa, Honey!!!" Thinking Andy is also gawking instead of maneuvering around the next hairpin turn. Yes, the mountain driving is....exciting. Note I am not even mentioning the fact that we are driving "on the wrong side of the road". The vistas look like this: 

See what I mean? 

     We are now on the north end of Abel Tasman. We have another week left in New Zealand. We are debating which way to go next...east coast or west? There are not many roads on the South Island. The Southern Alps runs down the middle like a spine, so you have to go around. Plus you need to go around all the National Parks, of which there are alot. We need to be in Christchurch by the weekend, halfway down the island. We fly out of there to Bangkok on Monday. 

     The decision to come to New Zealand is one we are both thankful for. It was a strain on the budget, as we knew it would be. The food is outrageously expensive....lets see- 2 poached eggs for breakfast? $18NZ (maybe $16 American). Even our usual breakfast of two muffins and two coffees (Flat Whites as the Kiwis call them) is usually $32 NZ. Dinner in a restaurant is hard to come by anywhere for under $100. We are proud that we have been able to cook our own dinners now six times. Now I say proud because our entire "kitchen" consists of 2 pans, 2 plastic plates, 2 plastic cups, 2 forks and spoons. Thats it. But, the thing is, we feel it was worth it to see the things we've seen. 

And thats what this trip is about. 

2 weeks in

Here we are in Kaiteriteri, South Island of New Zealand and the gateway to Abel Tasman National Park, named for Abel Tasman, an interesting dude.

     Apparently you can live in the national parks here if you are rich enough, tons of gorgeous houses seem to dot the  slopes on the roads leading in. Once inside the park though, its all hiking, or as the Kiwis call it-tramping. However, as usual, I'm ahead of myself. 

     After arriving in Picton on the ferry from Wellington we drove straight to Blenheim & stayed at a holiday park. This was th coldest night we have yet experienced. This area is known as a wine tasting area, and although we were tempted, we had done this already so we moved on towards Abel Tasman. Next morning we drove through Nelson, and considered stopping, but pressed on through the mountains to Kaiteriteri which has a lovely beach, and is considered the gateway to Abel Tasman. 

     We pulled into the holiday park here and promptly stayed two nights. Again, we were the least prepared campers at a professional campers paradise. The second day here we took a day hike on the Abel Tasman Coastal Trail. Although in miles, it wasn't much, but with the changes in altitude involved, it was quite challenging. It led us to some outstanding nearly deserted beaches and plenty of photo ops. We had Porters Beach basically to ourselves, and Andy built a sandcastle on a sandbar at low tide. 

     Got up this morning, got ready, got some supplies for lunch and drove up to split apple beach which was fab, if kinda narrow at high tide. Carried on to Marahau where the road kinda ends. THere in the parking lot a fat rooster scared us both with the most dinosaur noise Ive ever heard RRRRREEEOOOOAAAARRR! Jesus! We almost shat.

     Dried off naked on the beach, then got dressed and headed back. Had pizza and beer at the local pub called The Beach Whale and played a few games of pool. I sucked horribly compared to my normal standard but apparently I haven’t played in years.

Tomorrow we go to the north end of abel tasman and hike some more. Good times!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The South end of The North Island

     Some thoughts from The South end of the North Island of New Zealand. First of all, for heaven's sake, it's pretty hard to drive here. Besides being on the "other" side of the road, everything is so beautiful as to constitute a major distraction. Sheesh!
     Wahei beach was not as hard of a beach break as Hahei was. When we were there the breeze was really strong and the water was pretty cold. There wasn't much going on at the holiday park for grownups. It was kids' paradise. They were everywhere and making a huge racket. They weren't quite as annoying as the blood sucking sand fleas but it was a near thing. The fleas weren't a factor sleeping in the van, but cooking at the BBQ we lost at least a pint of blood each. We both have 50 bites on each ankle, at least, yow!

     One big upside was that Andy got to busk at the Happy Hippy iced cream shop at the Flat White Cafe and made a few bucks, plus free coffee and iced cream so that really made it a net win. Willy, the proprietress, was a delight. Check her out on Facebook at Bohemia Recycled Treasures. She does great henna art and made me a nice sign for my guitar case. This sign too!
     Rotorua is in the center of the island, and known for its hot springs. We had a relaxing few hours at the Polynesian Spa, and even rented a private bath for a bit, with our own private view out over the lake. Eat street was really cool. Hiking in Whakarewarewa, The redwood forest, was breathtaking. I'm SO glad they let that be planted in 1910. You'd never get away with that now with the biosecurity laws here. No bringing in non-native species.
     The private room at the polynesian spa and hot springs was welcome after a long hike. The public pools and spas were delightful as well. The trip through Taupo was broken up by the Waiotapu volcanic wonderland and Huka Falls. We didn't stay in Taupo since there wasn't much to do that wasn't "extreme sport" related.
     We drove through the fog and cold of Tongariro Pass (aka Mt Doom) and down into the amazingly sunny and beautiful Wanganui river region. See the first picture above. In fact, MANY more pictures at our instagrams HERE and HERE.

     A day in Wanganui was a delightful day indeed. The black sandy beach was rough and tumble but there were many nice restaurants in town and we were there during a steam/vintage fest so there were old cars and steam engines and costumes and bands and it was quite fun to see how the kiwis did a festival. Even included a stand with "American" hot dogs.
     The 3 hour drive to The Hutt (Jabba wah ni footoo!) was sorta rough but Potoe is nice enough. We had some lovely Thai food there. Now we're in Wellington, the southernmost city on the North Island, and going to ride he cable car up to the botanical gardens. More to come!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Into the Whirlwind

     We are loving New Zealand so much we are finding it difficult to keep up with the blog! Its an amazingly beautiful country. Even the pictures we take don't seem to do it justice. We've been here a little over a week, and have traveled almost to the bottom North Island. Tomorrow we move on to Wellington, and there we will schedule a ferry crossing down to the South Island. But I am moving on too quickly, I can't write about everything we did in the last week in one post, so lets start out by saying that we enjoyed a luxurious few days in Auckland, including a wine tour on Waiheke Island and a hike on Mt Eden before we picked up our camper van, which will be our home for the next 3 weeks. Here's a view of Auckland from the summit of Mt Eden:

Wine? Yes, have some!

We decided to drive out to the Coromandel Peninsula, where we had heard the best beaches are on the North Island, and picked Hahei at random. Here's the cathedral of Cathedral cove:

Hahei is amazing.

     We found a "holiday park" near the beach and settled. Theres nothing really to compare these places to in the States, but they are all over NZ. They are like a super nice campground, with pools, hot tubs, full kitchens, showers, lounges, all the comforts of home. And you just park there, based on what you have-campers, motorhomes, or just plain tents. It's per person, about $20 to $30 a night.

     So  we went hiking from Hahei to Cathedral Cove with stops at Gemstone Bay and Stingray Bay where Andy had a chat with a comorant (or something similar). He didn't say much. These beaches were just gorgeous, as the pictures show. It was quite a hike, similar to the Kalalau Trail we did on Kauai.

     We took the water taxi back to Hahei. This boat anchors, stretches his anchor until it hits the beach, drops the gangplank, unloads and then loads up passengers in the pounding surf, pulls it all up and away you go. Sounds simple but it looks like imminent death. Still, he made it look easy.

     When we got back, we met a ukelele player name Jeremy and his girlfriend Alice. Within the next hour, we had met the people from the campsite nearby. Next thing we know Andy's playing for like 50 people on the beach. A surreal experience playing "Sweet Home Alabama" by request, and having all the Kiwis singing along to it. To say nothing of the billions of stars! The Milky Way so clear!

     Next morning we packed up and scooted out. Got all the way to Rotorua (about 100 miles South) and discovered we left one of the backpacks at  our neighbors campsite. Oops. Equal fault, we both missed it. Panic. Phone calls made and YAY! they had it. We had to drive back the next day and pick it up (and its contents like my sneakers and LuAnn's cards). Ugh. Well, if you have to have a screwup (and you will on any RTW trip) it's best to have a minor one.

Next up: Rotorua and points South.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Auckland New Zealand

OK! New Zealand rocks so completely I can't even say.

We got a cab to Guadalajara airport, caught our flight to LAX, had a nice lunch at the airport where we were once again reminded what complete pits NY's airports are. C'mon guys, get it together. Got our fight to NZ, where I upgraded (against the wifeypoo's wishes) to a "Sky couch". That means you buy the 3rd seat and the foot rests extend to make a bed of sorts. It was suboptimal to be sure. Still not sure it was worth it. Judge for yourself:

     The lines and brouhaha involving customs and immigration were awful and it took about 2 hours to get out of there after a 13 hour flight from LAX (not to mention the trip from Guadalajara) so when we got to Sky City Grand I was overjoyed to see it was everything you could want in a 5 star hotel. And we were all the more grateful for this after 4 nights in a less than stellar hotel in Guadalajara, Best of all it was free for three days, thanks to Expedia and twitter, from whom I won the gift certificate we used.

     We hot tubbed, swam in the pool, walked to the water front and had lunch at Crew Club, which was delightful, to use the phrase of the day. Then we had a great dinner at the Italian place here, Gusto, and went up in the SkyTower which was super cool and scary and vertigo inducing.
You can even bungee jump from from the top of this thing. Yikes! LOL Here's a pick of LuAnn from the top!

     Today was business. We took a cab to the local wash & fold with our laundry, dropped it off, had breakfast, got haircuts, and hiked up Mount Eden. New haircuts:

Here's a little video from the top:

     Anyway now we have our laundry and are back at the hotel so it's time to look for some lunch.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Guadalajara...Oh, Mexico!

Guadalajara has many amazingly lovely and ancient churches:

She has pretty parks and is sister city to Kyoto Japan!

With pony & horseback riding even!

    We saw some really great percussionists on the street too, young guys banging buckets while a hula hoop dancer did her thing. Mesmerizingly great. Many more pictures HERE and HERE

     Also, we can't recommend Instituto Cultural Cabanas highly enough. Amazing art!

     On the down side, one thing it does NOT seem to have much of is restaurants. In the entire historic district, some 100 square blocks (that's 10 x 10) at least, google, trip advisor, and yelp came up with...seven. There's a lot of street food, or semi-street food, none of which I dare eat, especially before an 13 hour plane ride to New Zealand.

     We finally ended up walking like 20 blocks to a totally different neighborhood to find some decent food but wow, we thought there would be more or a cafe culture in the historic center.
     Long story short, the food situation here has sucked pretty bad. The best thing here was the buffet at Hotel Rui. Second best was Chai, which we've had to eat at 6 times in 3 days because there's literally nothing else. First world problems you say? Maybe, but...

     You know what there are a lot of here? Shoe stores. Also? Clothing stores, especially for ball gowns and christening gowns. While scouring the 100-odd square blocks of the historic district for food we saw hundreds of shoe and clothing stores, no exaggeration. Also lots of Chinese buffets, also of extremely dubious quality. How long HAS that Peking duck been sitting there? In general buffets seem to be big here, something I never liked.

     I suppose if we had a car, knew where we were going, etc, etc it would be better, but we don't. Taxi rides tend to run about $10 US so tack on $20 to every meal and you're going to dent the budget.

     To be fair, as I said, there is some nice stuff here but after 5 weeks in Mexico I'm ready to hit the road. I really liked the beach and and the people but this urban area is exhausting. The constant begging and touts selling junk are aggravating and heart wrenching. They let these people into restaurants without restraint. Having a urchin begging at your table at meals wears you down. I'm not unsympathetic, but we've read enough to know giving money just encourages the problem. It sure spoils your appetite though.

     The language barrier has become tiresome too. My Spanish has really improved here and I can read and comprehend WAY better than ever before, but the accents are baffling. I understand 20% of the people completely, 20% mostly, 20% about half, 20% barely and 20% not at all. Maddening! LuAnn says I underestimate my abilities but I know when I'm just nodding and smiling and saying "Si!" when I have no idea what's going on LOL
     Finally, the 12 days of Christmas are a real thing here. The Christmas carnival is in full swing a block away. Christmas music at top volume day and night. That should end tomorrow, Jan 6th, but the damage is done. LuAnn was ready to snap at the 10,000th rendition of Jingle Bells. New Zealand here we come! 5 star hotel for a few nights in Auckland to recover from the 13 hour flight? English speakers? Drinkable water and edible food? Sign me up! -Andy


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Adventures in Travel Land

Christmas mass at the main cathedral was amazing and hilarious.
Pitch dark, WAY more people than pews, but no ushers seating people or lights so it was a big game of blind man's bluff. Who's hand was that? Intense beautiful piano music and singing, then a solemn procession with candles, incense and the priest holding the baby Jesus (pictured, not actual size). Then the lights came on and they put him in what I can only describe as a disco crib while mariachi music played. Not at all dignified. At that point the mass began, in Spanish as people drifted in and out taking pictures and talking. Very strange. Like so many things I had to file it under "Oh, Mexico!" Being a lapsed catholic I was able to understand most of the mass. We left just before communion.

Here's LuAnn sitting at Tapas SMA :

     Here are some new terms I learned recently from our new friend Antonio there:
Chillangos - people from Mexico City who specialize in seperating you from your money through business or other means. So named because they would flock to the shore at the same time the fish of the same name arrived on its migration, so they say.

Monterrey Cocktail = Agua, because people from Monterrey (known as fresas, or strawberries) are supposedly very cheap.

You only learn these kinds of things by being in a place long enough LOL
Here's a lovely & amusing slang chart, many of which I heard around. Use with caution!

Here's a shot of some fireworks from New Year's Eve, which we spent at La Posadita.

     It's a sweet rooftop bar with a great view of the cathedral where they set off the amazing fireworks show. Lemme tellya, it's close. The food and staff there were wonderful so be sure and hit it if you're there

     Overall I found San Miguel enjoyable, but also very challenging. I really, really like the beach and as long as I can wear shorts, sandals and a T shirt and I can get a drink I don't really care much about anything else. Walking back uphill from the beach was good exercise. At 6000 feet walking a mile back uphill to the apartment it was death by heart failure waiting to happen.

     Also, high desert means DRY, so constantly chapped skin was an issue. Worse was the fluctuation in temperature. Daytime highs in the 70s were great. Night time lows in the 40s not so much. In the morning you need a sweatshirt, by noon you're getting a sunburn. In the house it was more or less freezing all the time. They tell me this is great in the summer, but it's not summer, so...yeah.

     Finally, in two weeks in Sayulita I was visited briefly by Montezuma twice, for about a day each, which immodium cleared right up. In SMA I was more or less deathly ill 5 out of 15 days with fever sweats & the trots,  plus 3 more days of allergies so bad I couldn't leave the house, I think in part because my sinuses were so dry.

    It's lovely and you should visit, but a week or so is probably plenty. Stay in town in the center (not up in the hills) and watch what you eat & drink. I discovered that the most effective cure seemed to be regular doses of pepto bismol, which was suggested by a local. Once I started doing that I didn't have any more issues there.

     Lots to write about Guadalajara, and the whole Mexico visit before we leave Wednesday for New Zealand, but it'll have to wait for LuAnn. Cheers! -Andy