Cheerio, New Zealand

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

On the road between Queenstown and Glenorchy (click to enlarge).

On the road between Queenstown and Glenorchy (click to enlarge).

On a run with Morgan this morning, I wistfully said goodbye to New Zealand and its intoxicating, idyllic landscape. We headed out from our friends’ home near Queenstown, where we stayed for over a week, and took a trail that showcased so much of what I’ll miss about New Zealand: (more…)

The Wild, Wild West Coast

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Trails like this (which is the Oparara Valley Track) crisscross the wet and wild West Coast.

Trails like this (which is part of the Oparara Valley Track) crisscross the wet and wild West Coast.

I knew very little about the West Coast region of the South Island before we spent a week here, except for its reputation as rainy, buggy and rural. The average rainfall is 2575 mm (8.4 feet), and a sign at Abel Tasman National Park said, “You think the sand flies are bad here? Wait ’til you get to the West Coast!”

“At least you’ll miss the crowds over there,” a tour-guide type mentioned in a look-on-the-bright-side tone.

We detoured to the West Coast to participate in a low-profile trail running event (which I’ll write about next time), and we’re so glad we did. We have been blown away by the West Coast’s landscape — and not just ’cause it’s windy. This swath of New Zealand is gorgeous, authentic, unspoiled … and, yes, wet. (more…)

Tips for Touring Abel Tasman National Park

Monday, January 11th, 2010

For those of you who’d like a glimpse of kayaking at Abel Tasman National Park but don’t want to wade through last week’s narrative, here’s a mini-movie with the highlights of our trip. Just keep in mind that I only put down my paddle and picked up my Flip camera in the calmest of conditions, so this video really waters down the adventure we encountered at camp and sea!YouTube Preview Image

Abel Tasman National Park seems so vast and alluring, with its craggy coves and dense vegetation, that it’s hard to believe it’s the country’s smallest national park (about 57,000 acres). For anyone planning a visit there, I offer these tips and recommendations: (more…)

Our 3-Day Kayak Adventure Around NZ’s Abel Tasman Park

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

A slice of beach and blue around Abel Tasman National Park.

A slice of beach and blue around Abel Tasman National Park.

New Zealanders use the term “adventure” loosely to market pretty much any activity under the sun. I was skeptical we’d experience a true  adventure here, especially if it were safe enough to involve the kids, but then my lifelong friend Carolyn, who moved to the South Island two years ago, booked a three-day kayak trip for our two families along the coast of Abel Tasman National Park. I had never kayaked before (unless you count an hour in a hotel lagoon in Hawaii), but how hard could it be? I had visions of paddling on glassy blue water and sipping wine with old friends while our kids played on a beach. Besides, we’re all old pros at camping. We were game.

Three days at sea and camping in the forest together seemed like a reunion too perfect to be true. We arranged to meet them on the Sunday after New Year’s. (more…)

Meals with Eels and Other Nelson Must-Do’s

Monday, December 28th, 2009

The garden setting of The Jester House Cafe near Nelson, where the food isn't the main attraction.

The garden setting of The Jester House Cafe near Nelson, where the great food isn't the main attraction.

A man I met in Auckland gave me this tip when he learned we’re visiting his home town, Nelson: “You really must go to The Jester, about 40 minutes away, because it’s the best cafe. Worth the drive. Terrific breakfast, heaping portions. And eels — the children will love them!”

He made it sound as though eels were on the children’s menu — a kind of kiddie sushi, perhaps — but a check of The Jester House website revealed live freshwater “tame eels” as a main attraction. It seemed as odd as a B&B advertising pet snakes along with delicious scones.

We put it on our must-do list and found ourselves driving up the Coastal Highway a few days after Christmas to find out if tame eels were an oxymoron or some kind of joke at this place called The Jester. (more…)

Christmas in a Manger at Nelson, New Zealand

Friday, December 25th, 2009

The view of Nelson from Harris Hill.

The view of Nelson from Harris Hill (click to enlarge).

Sarah writes: We just wrapped up our most unusual and special Christmas ever, which we celebrated at a rental cottage in Nelson, New Zealand. Ending the year here and being on this journey together is the ultimate “gift that keeps on giving.” Since my 8-year-old son Kyle spent part of his homeschooling week writing about this place, and Morgan took terrific photos, I decided to hand this blog post over to them. I hope you enjoy Kyle’s very own blog post and movie!

Mom and me homeschooling on our deck.

Mom and me homeschooling on our deck.

Right now I’m at Harris Hill. It is in Nelson, N.Z., which is at the top part of the South Island. It is at a farm with animals like a hairy pig, goats, sheep, calves/cows/bulls, dogs, ponies, horses, llamas and chickens. It has a view of the blue bay, and since we’re near the ocean, it’s windy! The wind makes the grass look like waves. (more…)

Playing Around Rotorua

Friday, December 18th, 2009

We spent the past week in Rotorua, a North Island city famous for adventure sports and stinky geothermal sites. Perhaps no other city in New Zealand, or anywhere, has come up with more ways to thrill tourists (and make them part with money) with “adventure” broadly defined. You can luge, river raft, sky swing, sky jump, bungee jump, jet boat, kayak, off-road race and mountain bike. Plus, there’s the ZORB, a giant rubber ball that bounces down a hill with a person sliding and rattling around inside it. We went on the luge and let the kids try the ZORB (just once, because of its exZORBitant prices):

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The Rotorua Tourism Board will probably be upset to hear me say these activities generally seem overrated and overpriced. Our best times around Rotorua involved spending free time for free. (more…)

Happy Campers Touring North NZ by RV

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

YouTube Preview ImageTwenty years ago, on a college road trip to Oregon, Morgan and I stopped by a Winnebago dealership so I could tour some models. I told him then that nothing would make me happier than being on the road with him in a Minnie Winnie. Either that or a pop-top Vanagon.  He bought a small Toyota truck with a camper shell to appease me, but I still pined for a mobile kitchen.

Now I feel like someone should pinch me, because I can’t believe the four of us are driving, cooking, eating and sleeping in a magnificent four-berth camper that seems perfect in every way. (more…)

Auckland: Far Away But A Bit Too Close To Home

Friday, December 4th, 2009

Our first glimpse of Auckland after an all-night flight.

Our first tour of Auckland after an all-night flight.

We woke up in Auckland and watched Auckland wake itself up at around 5:30 a.m. Wednesday after an all-night flight from Santiago. Killing time until we could check into an apartment, we walked all around a virtually empty harbor and central business district.

Looking over the water, the sunrise in a gray sky revealed a historic sailing ship and massive cruise line that were docked near a beautifully preserved Edwardian-era ferry building. Looking back at the city, the cluster of high rises showcased a neon-lit space needle that stood out like a spiky Christmas tree topper.

I felt disoriented not just by the time change but also by a bit of déjà vu, as though I had spent time in this area or somewhere just like it before. Then I got it: Auckland didn’t feel like the hub of a foreign country as much as it felt like a hybrid of San Francisco and Seattle. (more…)

When It Rains…

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Morgan and I spent a lot of time last week doing travel research and making reservations while the stormy weather kept us mostly inside.

Morgan and I spent a lot of time last week doing travel research and making reservations while the stormy weather kept us mostly inside.

Before Morgan and I left in mid-August, we talked a lot about how there will be times when traveling gets tough, when we feel fatigued and worried about the myriad consequences of uprooting for a year, and when we second-guess our choices. We knew we’d feel homesick not just for home per se, but for friends and familiar routines, and we might feel pangs of regret. That’s why we added the “no regrets” phrase to our tagline — not because we’re blithely traipsing off in the world with nothing weighing us down but our backpacks, but rather because we knew from the start that doubt might haunt us, just as first-time home buyers flirt with buyers’ remorse when the repairs pile up and bills come due. “No regrets” is shorthand for “no turning back, so let’s make this work, and in the long run we’ll look back and be so glad we did it.” Or in Spanish, vale la pena. It’s what we say to each other and to ourselves to bolster confidence and commitment, because what we’re doing takes an occasional pep talk.

Last week was one of those weeks. (more…)