Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

You may have wondered why we hadn't yet mentioned where we're going after New Zealand.

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SURPRISE!!!

After two months of keeping my lips sealed, the secret is out.  And while I was convinced my mom was on to us, somehow we totally pulled it off.  It's a Christmas miracle.

Friday, December 24, 2010

We've come full circle.

Packing to come home is slightly different than packing to leave. 



I'd say that over the past year, I've really got my shit together.

Goodbye!

It's our bedroom, our livingroom, our kitchen and our dining room. It's a movie theater, a nightclub, a library and a surf shop. It has an ocean view, a lake view, a mountain view and a city view. It's been our home for the past two months. And today, we say goodbye.


Thanks buddy. You've been freaking awesome. We'll miss you.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Piha Pics

Black sand beaches.  Stunning sunsets.  Surfing.  Reading.  Maxing and relaxing.

There are a few great ways to spend the last few days of an incredible year-long journey.  We made sure to check off all of them.



For photos of our mellow days in Piha, click HERE.

Sundowner


Our persistence paid off. I'll be damned if this isn't the most beautiful evening sky we've enjoyed on this entire trip.





Add some chill tunes and a bottle of wine on the roof, and you've got a pretty perfect way to wrap up our time in New Zealand.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Piha


Just an hour outside of Auckland lies the mystical black sand surf haven of Piha. Down a steep winding road into a lush secluded valley, this little hippy town is the perfect place to spend our last few leisurely days of van life.

After an afternoon of strolling down the warm beach and an evening of movie-watching in our van, we narrowly missed what appeared to be an insanely incredible sunset. Are those clouds on fire??


By the time we dashed across the campsite and over the sand dunes, it was already down to this.


Still, not to shabby. But I think we'll go ahead and stick around another night to see if we can do better tomorrow :)

Coromandel Pics


The Coromandel region promises picturesque landscapes, blue skies and stunning beaches.  Accessed within a few hours from Auckland, it's a popular getaway for folks looking for a little fun in the sun. 

As you can imagine, the locals were even more shocked than we were by the unrelenting storm which dampened our time there.  Who would ever have imagined that the last week of our year around the world would be shrouded in gloomy downpours?! 

I'd say we made the best of it.  And were eventually rewarded for our efforts.


For photos of our visit to the Coromandel, click HERE.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A friend's facebook status today announced that he spent the day at Angkor Wat. And I was totally jealous. Wait a minute. I'm in New Zealand. I am on a one-year trip around the world that isn't (quite) over yet. I don't have any reason to be jealous. Or do I?

We've begun to realize recently the things we value most about traveling. The types of people and places that we love. The environments and adventures that make us want to travel forever. And it turns out, they aren't necessarily the things you find in New Zealand. It's great here, don't get me wrong. The natural beauty is absolutely astounding and we've had an amazing time. But the real magic stirs up in places much less like home. Strange foods and unfamiliar cultures and history oozing out of every street corner. Places where the best experiences come from exploring town with a few bucks in your pocket, rather than paying a few hundred bucks for the latest adventure activity that's been created with you in mind. Of course, those activities are fun too. Maybe I'm just seeking more of an emotional impact than a physical one.

Anyhow. Cambodia has always been high on my list. I can't wait to get there, and to the rest of Southeast Asia. I am super excited to make it to Syria and Jordan and Lebanon. To travel to Isreal. To visit Morrocco. Columbia. And the Amazon. Northern India and Nepal and Sri Lanka. See, that's the funny thing about traveling. You never manage to check anything off your list. Rather, every trip you make results in new additions. Iceland! The Azores! SO many places I want to go. We haven't even made it home yet, and I've already got that itch under my feet and faraway look in my eyes.

'Till 2012. A year of work in between trips should be good, right?? Start the countdown!

The rain has stopped!


I am on top of the world.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Lost Springs


Today we did what any self-respecting folks would do after five days of horrific rain. We completely spoiled ourselves with a jam-packed day of indulgence at the Lost Springs spa. Set amidst a lush jungle-like setting, the adults-only facility includes a maze of hot mineral pools, waterfalls, and even a steamy, moodily-lit grotto.





After an afternoon of soaking in the various thermal pools under a misty rain, we donned fluffy robes and moved inside for two hours of foot-scrubbing, back-rubbing, facial pressure-pointing luxury. Once we were appropriately rested and relaxed, I enjoyed their fancy bathroom to pamper myself pretty, followed by a three course dinner date and bottle of wine at their award-winning restaurant.


Take THAT rainclouds!!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Rain Rain Go Away


It's raining. A lot. And has been for the past four days straight. Absolute, non-stop, torrential downpours. Everything we own smells like a wet dog. And there is no escaping it. The weather forecast shows rainclouds over this ENTIRE country for a week solid. It's never been more apparent than at this moment that New Zealand is an island in the middle of the ocean. And we are soaked.

When you're living in a van, you run out of rainy entertainment pretty quickly. So the holiday park's TV lounge has become our home away from home. we've moved our comforter and pillows in here. We've brought our dinner in here. We're hogging the remote BIG TIME. And we're not budging till this rain lets up.

If you don't hear from us in another week, send in reinforcements.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hot Water Beach

One of the most famous spots in the Coromandel region is Hahei's Hot Water Beach. With geothermal activity just below the shore's surface, it provides a unique opportunity to dig your own hot tub in the sand at low tide. All of the nearby cafes rent small shovels, and a five minute walk from the car park brings you to the center of the sizzling action.

What we found on our visit to Hot Water Beach was beyond disappointing. Horrible weather. Irritating crowds. And tepid bath water seaping from under the surface. Uber lame.




Later that evening, we met some girls who arrived on a tour bus and were devastated to have missed the 11am low tide. However, another low tide would come at 11pm... We decided to gather up our flashlights and a few bottles of wine and head back to the beach to see if we could beat the morning visit.


We were so glad that we gave it another shot. With hardly anybody out on the pitch-black beach, we were free to dig where we knew the hot spots lie. Before long, the seven of us were soaking in a scalding sandy tub, with the occassional wave splashing in to cool us down. With illuminescent algae casting a shimmery glow, cool rain falling upon us and steam rising all around us, calling it a magical experience would be an understatement.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Hahei

Today, I ate a sausage on camera.

While pulling into our pleasant beachfront campsite, we were approached by a gentleman employed by the Heller's Sausage ad agency. They were shooting a commercial down on the beach, and hoped Reece and I may want to participate. All we have to do is eat some free sausages and tell the friendly folks behind the camera what we think about them.


Well Mr. Heller, I find your sausage to be both plump and delicious. Thanks for asking.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Waihi

You may or may not be aware that Reece's shoes went missing a few weeks back. He is convinced they fell out of the van. I have a sneaking suspicion somebody jacked 'em. Either way, the trusty sneakers that have walked all over God's green earth (literally) are no longer with us. Which is actually really sad. From hiking Machu Picchu to strolling through the Serengeti to approaching the Great Pyramids... We sorta have an emotional attachment to the shoes who've seen it all. We're trying to look on the bright side - Maybe his shoes just weren't ready to stop traveling. So now, they will live a happy eternity on the road.

Anyhow, yesterday on the beach, his flip flops got snatched up too. His cheap, gross, buried halfway into the sand flip flops. What is with these people?!

So, Reece is officially shoeless. Weeks away from our return home, and he is walking the streets of New Zealand barefoot. Did I mention it's also raining? The fine line between "backpackers living in a van" and "bums" has officially been crossed.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Raglan

Today, Reece finally got to hit the waves in Raglan. Since learning to surf in South Africa, he deems himself a real professional, and you can imagine it's been killing him being out of the water for so long.


While he hung ten, I surfed the internet, listened to some tunes and enjoyed a black beer or five. Surf's up bro!


We didn't take many photos in Raglan.  But to see the few we did, click HERE.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Surfboard Massacre

One of the founders of our camper van company lives in the popular surfing town of Raglan. When he heard we were headed this way, he offered his friend's property for us to sleep on, free of charge. Nice fellow.

The land is just minutes from our preferred beach and home to some horses, a barn, and a really eerie feeling at night. Maybe there are just lots of horror movies that take place on farms. But I was convinced the barn was full of chainsaws.


Turns out, it's full of surfboards. I was close.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Waitamo Caves

The Waitamo region is home to hundreds of caves, and almost as many companies anxious to get you into them. Black water rafting is the main drawcard - essentially cave tubing along with some leaps into underground pools and waterfalls. What makes this activity especially enticing here are the millions of gloworms who inhabit these caves. You may have seen these guys on Nation Geographic or BBC's Planet Earth. They are crazy. Thriving in dark wet places, these little larvae attach themselves to the roof of a cave and extend a fishing line of gooey saliva to capture any prey who's drawn to their illuminescent bums. The environment here is one of the best in the world for these fellas to thrive, so there are just billions of them.

We chose an operation called "Rap, Raft and Rock" to take us into these underground worm lairs, cause they throw in a little bit of everything you might wanna do in a giant hole in the ground. Rapelling 100 feet into the earth. Rafting through a series of caves. And rock climbing your way out at the end. I've recently learned that I seriously love all things rapel/abseil/rock climbing related, so it was a big hit.




Inside the caves, we were treated to drifting in gentle rapids, jumping into deep pools, squeezing through some insanely clastrophobic spaces, and my personal favorite - laying down with our headlamps off, our eyes slowly adjusting to the dark and revealing thousands of gloworms, lighting up the cave like a sky full of the most brilliant stars you've ever seen. It was a seriously magical moment that must be experienced to be fully understood. We even got to get up close and personal with the glowing critters and see them in their saliva-fishing action. Totally weird and awesome.






At the completion of our underground adventures, we switched off our lamps again and followed the twinkly lights of the gloworms out of the dark cavern. Super cool. After climbing the slippery cliff back to sea level, in giant rubber boots and with no instruction whatsoever, I felt like a serious superwoman.


A swim back at the campsite followed by a snooze in a hammock wrapped up our day pretty perfectly.

For complete photos of our Waitamo Caves adventure, click HERE.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rotorua Pics

You've already seen a few choice shots from our adventures in Rotorua.  To check out the complete album, click HERE.

OGO Spills

You have probably heard of Zorbing. Riding down a massive hill inside a giant bouncy hamster ball of sorts, preferably filled with water. An activity born and bread in Rotorua that we knew we absolutely had to experience, despite the inflated price for five minutes of fun. Our guideline when opening our wallets these days is whether we're paying for something we couldn't just as easily do at home. So this one was a no brainer.

Turns out, today's our lucky day. The fellow who invented zorbing, and was later apparently screwed over by his business parter, just started a new gig called OGO. The ball is exactly the same. The track is much longer. The price is much lower. And today is opening day. Sold.

We arrived only to find that TOMORROW is actually opening day. Today is free friends and family day. Unfortunately, we'd paid in advance. Fortunately, the guys were super cool and invited us to stick around for some fun, throwing in an extra ride on their latest and greatest gadget for our troubles. The 'fishpipe' is that very same water filled hamster ball, suspended on a spinning axis, creating what is essentially the longest, craziest water slide in the world. Serious good times.

My favorite was the traditional wet run down the 250 meter track - "H2OGO". We had the option of riding solo or together - clearly together would be the more enteraining choice. I wasn't sure if this whole zorbing thing would live up to the hype, but holy crapsicle it did. I honestly don't think I have ever laughed so hard in my entire life. Sheer splish-splashing, heart-pumping, limbs-flying hilarity. Highly recommended!





Saturday, December 11, 2010

Geothermal Thrills

The stench of sulfur hangs thick in the air in Rotorua. One of the most active thermal areas on earth, it is home to countless attractions that cash in on all of the bubbling hot springs, spouting geysers and gurgling mud pools. Anywhere between about $20 and $100 bucks a pop will gain you entry so some particularly steamy spots, often with Maori "cultural performances" thrown in for good measure.

Now you see, I sorta have a problem with this. I don't know if I am bothered more by the notion of paying to see something that happens naturally, or by the contrived displays of "culture" for tourists' benefit, but one way or another I just can't get into the idea. It feels as if my entry ticket may come with a free "sucker" stamp across my forehead.

Lucky for me, the park smack dab in the middle of town happens to be a pretty active little hot pot on it's own. Free of charge and without the men in stage make-up, we got to wander around and check out the earth at its rawest. Thick boiling mud emitting heavy sulfuric steam, volcano-crater lakes in an unreal collage of colors, mirror-like pools with vapors swirling upon their surface. Not the kind of park you wanna take your kids to play tag.







It was a little unsettling knowing that just feet from our feet lay a boiling cauldron just screaming to get to the surface. Weird!