Posts Tagged With: Driving

Our Last Day in New Zealand

The scenic coast!Well, our time in New Zealand has just about wound down to a close. Last night, Brooke and I jetted about an hour north of Auckland to have dinner in Warkworth. We dined with another set of new friends whom we had met when we first arrived in the country. Our last dinner in New Zealand was at an upscale pub where we finally had a chance to sample the fish ‘n chips we had been salivating over from town to town. Deliciousness followed. Driving back, we were greeted with the gorgeous site of the Auckland nighttime skyline welcoming us across the bay and into our final New Zealand hotel stay. I know I’ve said this a dozen times in a dozen posts, but it is a beautiful country.

We leave New Zealand about a thousand times more knowledgable about the culture, people, geography and history than we were when our plane landed in here thirteen days ago. And we’re still learning new things. For one, it turns out that when a sheep gives birth, the result is always twins. Never just one baby lamb, but two. We’ve also determined that given the Kiwi bird’s propensity to sleep up to 20 hours a day, Brooke might actually be part Kiwi. (Note from Brooke: “At least I wish I was. At least then people wouldn’t judge. Oh, they judge.”) Last night, we also learned about the Feijoa: A fruit that boldly claims to be like none other. Since the feijoa are out of season we won’t get to sample. But I’m continually surprised by the sheer number of fruits that I’ve never heard of. Last week, Brooke discovered and fell in love with the Tamarillo. A tart citrus fruit with the essence of a tomato. Unique, no?

Post Cards writing and Long Black Drinking BrookeWe managed to see a little bit more of Auckland on our last day including stumbling across an adorable shop called The Garden Party in the Ponsonby section of town. We limited our purchase to an Andy Warhol styled Sheep Coaster set (trust me, they’re awesome. Come to our new place for drinks and we’ll break them out) but the store had some endlessly great gear. We ordered one last Long Black coffee at one last café, sent a few postcards, and I even found a respectable enough looking barber to give me a much needed haircut. Our last day to-do list included wanting to try a Meat Pie for lunch which, despite it’s off putting name, is a much beloved local favorite. No stranger sounding than a Sloppy Joe, I suppose. We weren’t able to make that happen, but we’ve added it to our next time list. Our to do list for when we return to New Zealand is getting longer by the hour! We have a whole Southern Island to explore!

I think one thing I’ll remember most about New Zealand is the roads. We’ve been told that an old Kiwi joke is that road builders here get paid not by the mile of road they lay down, but the number of curves they install. Every day outside of the cities is a bit of adventure driving. Yesterday, we came across the commonly seen sign for “falling rock ahead.” Less than a mile down the road, we nearly plowed into a giant friggin’ boulder the size of a small Honda Civic. The mammoth rock was firmly situated about a third of the way into the road. Yikes. Also, in driving over 1,200 KM we saw a singular Kiwi Bird Crossing sign. Ah, I should have taken a picture of that one. Moving forward, my stress dreams may consist of riding around curvy mountain hills that you can’t see around, only to discover a double-long logging truck barreling down the other side of the two-lane road with 300 foot drop-offs.

Off to the AirportIn our next post, Brooke and I will share our favorite moments from New Zealand. But for now, Vela has been returned to the Spaceport, we’re at the Auckland International Aiport well in advance of our flight and will board our China Southern flight back to Guangzhou and then to Tokyo, Japan. Brooke and I are looking forward to our path to Tokyo and our stay at Camp Zama tomorrow. Next stop: The land of the rising sun! Onward to new discoveries and new adventures.

Categories: Driving, Eating, Japan, New Zealand, Reflections, Transportation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

It’s always a good time

Greetings from the YHA Hostel in Taupo, New Zealand. Brooke and I just wrapped up a home made dinner and some time in the community lounge watching, of all things, Adam Sandler’s “Grown Ups” with some fellow travelers. Taupo brings us the smallest room stay to date (you might have to step outside to change your mind), but it is clean, cozy, comfortable and friendly so it will work out nicely. We are learning that we prefer hostels and services like AirBnB to hotels since they have kitchens, community areas and a more unique atmosphere. Besides, when you’ve seen one Hampton Inn room, you’ve probably seen them all.

Maps getting us from place to placeToday was mainly a travel day which meant a day of Vela trekking through some towns and some more windy roads in a bit of unrelenting rain past plenty of contented sheep. Driving in the rain makes us sleepy, but State Route 1 took us through plenty of small interesting towns. For example, we drove through a town called Bulls which has a sign welcoming us to (this is true): “Bulls – A town like no udder.” They also had garbage cans that said “Be Responsi-bull.” Hah! You know I love a good pun. The time in the car is always scenic since the terrain changes every 150 miles. Today, we drove through the “desert road” section of the North Island, which was mostly just brown. Not so much with sand. Our spaceship also took us past Mt. Tongariro which had erupted last week but is quiet now. Hoping to avoid a bunch of that. As Brooke keeps saying, while it would make for a good travel story, we don’t need a story that good!

The Silver Fern -Painted on the table at our Hostel

The Silver Fern -Painted on the table at our Hostel

Our New Zealand discoveries continue. This week, we’ve happened across Vogel bread and Vogel cereals which is the pride of the Kiwis. Native to New Zealand, it is beloved and delicious. We also learned that “Old Blighty” is an excellent slang term for England. Yup, when we come home, we’re going to be those people who refer to garbage as rubbish, calling someone as ringing someone and England as Old Blighty. Oh, and from now on, a Zip Line is a Flying Fox. That’s right. I’m also learning about rocker Johnny Devlin – New Zealand’s hip-swinging answer to Elvis Presley in he 1960’s.

Look! A Gum named after me!

Check it out! The kind people of New Zealand and Wrigley’s have named a chewing gum after me!

Wanted to end the post today with something a little bit different. Below are some YouTube videos (sorry e-mail subscribers–you’ll have to go to http://www.luggagetagtravels.com to view these) of sites we’ve seen in New Zealand that just quite weren’t the same in photos. Something to mark our second to last night in New Zealand!

-Phil

Categories: Driving Abroad, Eating, Exploring, Hotels, New Zealand, Random Thoughts | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Thoughts on traveling in New Zealand so far

We wanted to quickly say that Brooke and I have been flattered and delighted by the number of views and comments we’ve received on the blog so far. We are really glad that people seem to be enjoying (or at least reading) our travel journal. As a reminder, if you’re interested in keeping up to speed (and don’t mind some more junk in your inbox) you can sign up to get an update via e-mail every time we update the blog which is about once a day. To do so, just click on the “follow this blog” link on the right hand side of the screen.

Baby lamb photographed from the side of the road!Our trek through New Zealand continued today as we’ve made our way to the southern tip of the North Island. Our spaceship is now docked in the capital city of Wellington. A day driving in rain ended with a stay overlooking the city and a warm bowl of soup and delicious pizza on Cuba Street in the heart of the city. Another day driving through rain and small towns on roads that you fear might turn to gravel made us twice as glad to arrive. We look forward to explore New Zealand’s most hyped city.

We touched down in New Zealand a week ago and now we’re getting the hang of adapting to the long-term travel lifestyle. Turns out that all I really need to start the day has been a hot shower with good water pressure. Success at at every stop so far. And all Brooke needs is just a solid cup of coffee somewhere along the way. We’ve also found that living in New York City for the last six years has prepared us well for this trip. Dealing with nighttime noise, small beds, smaller hotel rooms, navigating public transportation and even discussing living in NYC (a city that everyone knows and has a thought on) has all worked to our advantage. And, of course, I’ve been blessed with the perfect travel partner who is helping to make this trip amazing each day.

Over the past week, it’s been a blast to soak up all the small differences that we’ve found so far while traveling. I’m getting pretty quick at converting kilometers to miles, centigrade to farenheit and US dollars to New Zealand dollars, but still get thrown for a loop when I have to figure out how much $7.99 NZD per Kg of zucchini really is. There are lots of small but unique contrasts in language, social behavior, and more that we thought were worth sharing.

Coffee for a long drive to Wellington!The first lesson we learned is that coffee is a whole new ballgame here. While there are vibrant, independent coffee houses every two blocks in New Zealand, ordering a cup of black coffee will only reward you with a confused look from the barista. Thanks to our new friend Jason, we’ve learned that a “long black” is what we’re after. It is basically a shot of espresso topped off with steaming hot water. Delicious and strong but not cheap. The minimum we’ve paid for a solid cup of joe has been about $3.50. And there are never refills. American coffee may be living up to the cliché of being on par with mud in comparison, but at least you can get it by the gallon for a couple of of bucks at the local gas station.

Another thing we’ve noticed is that although everyone speaks English, we keep stumbling across some different words. In all public buildings, restrooms are just called the toilet. Which makes us feel relatively crass when we ask “Where is your toilet?” when at a restaurant. Sort of on par to “Point me to the crapper!” but it gets the job done. You “hire” a car instead of “rent.” On a menu, appetizers are called entrees. And entrees are called mains. When spoken aloud, websites such as http://www.Rugby.co.nz is referred to as “dub dub dub Rugby dot co dot en-zed”which is just fun.

Paying for purchases is also a bit different. Everyone takes credit card, but entering a pin number is much more common when you charge a purchase. Signing is decidedly against the norm and they check our signature against the signature on the card every single time. Since no one ever checked in the US, I would sometimes sign faux names like “Johnny Tellyawhattodo.” That won’t fly here.

Lastly, the people we’ve met so far are an incredibly friendly, well traveled bunch who are endlessly hospitable. It’s interesting to hear how they see America. It gives us some perspective on our own country. For example, we forget that, say, since Texas is almost nothing like Maine, 50 different states really does translate to 50 different mini-countries.

Overall, we are glad we started with New Zealand, because even though there are some small and interesting differences, we can generally clear up any confusion by asking a few questions. We are intimidated by our anticipation of how this will work in the next several countries we’ll be in (Japan, China, Vietnam, Singapore) where English will be much harder to come by. I guess we’ll find out soon enough!

-Phil

Categories: Cell Phones, China, Discounts, Diversions, Health, Museums, New Zealand, Wardrobe | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Napier – On The East Coast of New Zealand

Welcome to NapierSalutations from another locale in New Zealand- Napier. Today, we made thee short hop out of Rotorua and smack dab on to the west coast of the North Island. We packed up our Spaceship, stopped at the local post office to mail some postcards home to friends & family and began our trek fairly early. Our roads today were marked as the Thermal Explorer Highway which logically would qualify us as documented Thermal Explorers. Hmmm…I better get that on my LinkedIn profile ASAP.

Amazing Views continueAs with other drives we’ve conquered, today was a bit of Adventure Driving. Two lane divided highways through sharp curves and up and down mountains makes for some serious head’s-up motoring. But the stunning views through dramatic changes in topography over the course of just a couple hundred kilometers make up for it. Scenic? Not even close. The sites of mountains, sloping hills and more are the very definition of majestic. We now have had a chance to drive through both the east coast and west coast of the North Island of New Zealand. Both are relatively different with the east coast delivering more mountain ranges. However, no matter where you drive, you’re sure to see lots of grazing sheep happily gallivanting and lots of roundabout traffic circles. Yup. Sheep and roundabouts. Just make it the New Zealand motto.

The Criterion HostelBefore long, we were cruising into Napier and stumbling across the western edge of New Zealand. Nothing but ocean in front of us. Napier sits right on the coast and is chic, sunny and warm. The town has a very different vibe than Rotorua and is laced with endless charming cafes downtown. As with each town before it, Napier is already different from each town we have already visited. We quickly found a hostel (with the help of Lonely Planet) that was centrally located and was just what we were looking for. The Criterion Hostel offers a solid deal, free breakfast and oozes a bit of charm in an art deco style building.

Some Prime Art DecoA bit about Napier: The town is best known for a horrific 1931 earthquake that was New Zealand’s worst natural disaster and the corresponding rebuilding that established the town as the Art Deco capital of the world. There are markers and tributes to the earthquake everywhere and the art deco style is universal. What’s truly fascinating is that the earthquake ADDED almost 40 sq km of NEW land to the city that had previously been swamp land. When the city rebuilt, a very deliberate decision was made to create almost everything in the style of the day: Art Deco. In fact, it’s hard to spend an afternoon in Napier without being constantly reminded of the towns two claims to fame. They are touted heavily everywhere. Even more recent construction keeps with the Art Deco theme and while I don’t know I.M. Pei from I.B.M. the buildings really do standout and have a great look to them. The hilly residential section near downtown reminded me a lot of San Francisco. We’re glad to be here, even if its just for a day. It’s been fun to kick around the town for a while.

View from the bluffsAfter arriving, we discovered that the bluff overlooking the shore was the perfect place to munch on a sack lunch while enjoying the view and watch a large container ship ease into the Napier Port. Later, we stumbled across the Art Deco Trust Centre (where we did our best to sit through an only slighlty mind-numbing 24 minute video) and embarked on a self-guided walking tour of the Art Deco buildings throughout town. Good times overall, but Brooke and I struggled a bit with the self-guided tour. In part because the guide was less than stellar with the information and in part because architectural beauty isn’t completely our cup of tea. We became more adept at self guiding when we started wandering into buildings and asking questions. In one top hotel, several old built-in-wall vaults now double as high end liquor storage. It was a quality crash course in the overall building style. Brooke and I can now speak knowledgeably to zigzags, sunbursts, ziggurats, facades and more.

We ended our day with drinks and dinner at the Brazen Head down the street from our hostel after abandoning plans to visit an upscale winery. While watching music videos in the bar, it looked for a minute that Ron Weasley had embarked on a pop career. Turns out, wait, he’s just acting in a somewhat hilarious music video. Well played, Ron Weasley! We even were able to enjoy a new local beer called Rooster Lager. Tomorrow: Windy Welly (that’s Wellington) and checking into our first AirBnB stay!

-Phil

 PS- Note that you can always make photos from the blog bigger/see them in more detail by clicking on the photos. We know that sometimes they appear kind of small and clicking on the photos will give ya the full experience!

Categories: City Visits, Communication, Diversions, Driving Abroad, Exploring, New Zealand, Self Guided Tours, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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