Sunday, December 15, 2013

The NZ Recap

Wow, it has been four months since we last posted. Andy and I started working full-time at an e-commerce company back in September and have been extremely busy since. But we've been meaning to finish up this blog and are back to give our promised recap and an update!

So welcome to our 100th and final post!

Let's start with the recap... 


How long we were there: 3.5 weeks 

What we did: We started out in Auckland and worked our way up to the Northland region where we saw the lighthouse at Cape Reinga on the northern tip and visited a number of small towns along the way, including Paihia by the Bay of Islands. We then worked our way back down through Auckland and headed east to the Coromandel Peninsula to see Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach. Our next stop was a memorable visit to Hobbiton in Matata, followed by a quick stop in Rotorua to pet baby lions! From there, we headed to East Cape and worked our way south along the east coast to Wellington. Then we headed north through the center of the island to the Taupo region to see Huka Falls and the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (Mt. Doom) before making our way back up to Auckland. 

Our favorite experience: We had a lot of great experiences, but we both agreed that if we had to choose just one... Hobbiton would top the list :)

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is what initially drew us to this beautiful country in the first place and nowhere is Middle Earth more pronounced then Hobbiton, complete with hobbit holes, party tree, and Bag End! (Read all about it here, and our other LOTR adventures here.)

What we missed: With only 3.5 weeks to see everything we could on the North Island, we were bound to miss a few things. There were three places marked out on our map that didn't make the cut:
1.) Mt. Taranaki
We had planned to go hiking there but it was located on the western tip of the island, about a 4.5 hour drive from Wellington out of our way. We didn't have the time and, by that point in our trip, we were too tired to attempt the intense 8+ hour hike anyway.
2.) Waitomo Caves
The glowworms at the Waitomo Caves have been raved about by past travelers. But further research revealed that the guided tours were actually pretty pricey and we just couldn't quite bring ourselves to spend that much money on the experience.
3.) Hamilton
I don't know much about this city other then the fact that it was mentioned a few times in the Lord of the Rings appendices. So I don't feel too bad about this one... 


How long we were there: 10 months 

What we did: Beginning in Christchurch, we spent about a week exploring the area, with a visit to Akaroa, before heading north along the east coast to Kaikoura. Then it was on to Nelson where we planned to settle and find jobs. We spent five months there, working part time at the Maitai Valley Motor Camp where we were staying. During that time we took a mini trip out to Abel Tasman National Park for a few days. In February, we embarked on a 3.5 week roadtrip to explore the South Island. We headed south along the west coast, stopping to see the Punakaiki Rocks and the glaciers. Then we traveled inland to the town of Wanaka before making our way south towards Fiordland National Park on the southwestern part of the island. We were able to cruise Milford Sound and hike the Routeburn Track before making our way back the way we came to the adventure capital of the world, Queenstown. While we were there, we explored the surrounding areas, visiting Glenorchy, Paradise, and Arrowtown before making our way east. Our next stop was Dunedin, the 2nd largest city on the South Island. Then it was north to see the Moeraki Boulders before a straight shot back to Nelson. We spent three more months working in and exploring Nelson before heading northeast to Picton and riding a ferry back to Wellington on the North Island to catch our flight. 

Our favorite experience: Andy's favorite experience(s) was gold panning! Starting at Twelve Mile Creek in Queenstown, he panned his way at a number of creeks all the way back to Nelson. (Check out his gold panning adventures here.)

My favorite experience was the hike we did on Andy's birthday. We started out on one of the Great Walks of New Zealand, the Routeburn Track, and ended up on top of a mountain! Looking down at the incredible scenery surrounding us is a moment I will never forget. (Read about the experience here.)

What we missed: Again, lack of time/energy meant that we couldn't see everything on our itinerary. On the South Island, these three places were unfortunately missed:
1.) Mt. Cook
New Zealand's tallest mountain located in the center of the South Island was visible from a distance from many points along our route. But towards the end of our trip, we just couldn't muster the energy to make a detour out there.
2.) Lake Tekapo
This place is beautiful (seriously, Google it). Pretty close to Mt. Cook, we had to skip it for the same reason.
3.) Twizel
Like the first two on the list, Twizel is near the center of the island, and possibly the place I regret missing the most. It was near this town that my favorite scene from Return of the King was filmed (Theoden's speech at Pelennor Fields)...

... Next time!


So what have we been up to since?

With the end of one adventure, begins another... Andy and I are happy to announce we are expecting our first child coming in May!

We are both excited and insanely busy as we prepare for this next chapter of our lives :)


As this blog comes to an end, we just want to say thank you to our readers. New Zealand was an incredible experience and we are glad you decided to follow along with us. We hope you enjoyed reading our blog as much as we enjoyed writing it. And we hope we've inspired you in your own future travels/adventures!

Kia ora and cheers!
~Andy & Jasmine

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Sydney in Three Days... Part 2

As mentioned in Part 1, this post is all about Featherdale Wildlife Park! We spent several hours there on our last day exploring Sydney.
What made this park unique from other zoos closer to the city centre was that it focused on native Australian wildlife. So you won't find elephants, rhinos, or giraffes here, but you do get to see a lot of kangaroos, wallabies, and koalas:
And the best part is, you get to interact with them!
Well, maybe not the wombats:
In addition to the marsupials you would expect in Australia, we saw crocodiles, dingos, bats, snakes, and a variety of native birds...
... including, the dreaded cassowary! (a.k.a. modern day raptor)
The deadliest bird in the world
We also saw some cute farm animals...
This is what goats look like when they're begging for food
... and as we were leaving, got the opportunity to hold a 6-month-old wallaby!
Great day!

And to end it, in true "Andy and Jasmine" fashion, we stopped for dinner that night at the Australian Heritage Hotel in Sydney to try their famous kangaroo pizza:

Not bad! Tasted like beef jerky...
And that concludes our time in Sydney and our year-long trip down under!

Stay tuned for one last blog post: our NZ recap...

Friday, August 9, 2013

Sydney in Three Days... Part 1

After four days running around Wellington, we caught an early flight out of New Zealand for our next venture: four days running around Sydney. We (wisely) used our first day to recuperate and rest, but that left three days to see everything we could for our short stint in Australia.

So how did we spend that time?

Mostly by running around like chickens with our heads cut off (did I mention we did not rent a vehicle this time?).

But in the process, we got to see a surprising amount (so much so that this is a 2-parter!) and, despite our exhaustion and poor feet, it was all worth it in the end. :)

So get ready... here is the cliff notes version:

Day 1

We started our day at the Royal Botanic Gardens where we enjoyed our packed lunch and took pictures with Mrs. Macquarie's Chair:

The story behind the chair is that the Governor had it carved out of rock for his wife's recreation. She used to sit at this spot to admire the view of the harbor, which is known as one of the best in Sydney. In fact, it was near this spot where we got our first glimpse (from the ground) of the famous Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge!

From the Gardens, we continued on along the waterfront, admiring the great views of the city skyline:

When we reached the Opera House and Harbor Bridge, you can bet we took a TON of pictures. Here are just a couple of our favorites:

After walking through Circular Quay and the Rocks area, it was on to Darling Harbor where we had a groupon deal for some great seafood! We stopped by the Queen Victoria Building (QVB) as well as the famous IMAX on the way...

 One of the coolest malls I've been to (left) and the largest IMAX in the world (right).

The harbor itself was beautiful, especially at this time of night:

We enjoyed some of the best seafood we've ever eaten at a restaurant called Blue Fish. A highlight for me was their seafood chowder (yum!):

Then, it was back to the hostel.

A park we passed on the way home

Day 2

This day was all about Bondi Beach. Considering we had to walk 1.5 hours to get there, it was the only thing on our itinerary for the day. But once we got there, we were able to relax and enjoy watching the 50+ surfers pulling all kinds of tricks in the water:

Day 3

We were ready to see some native wildlife! Featherdale Wildlife Park was quite a ways out of the city so we had to get there by public transport (about a half hour ride by rail and by bus). Since this was such a highlight of our trip (and since we took massive amounts of photos), we saved this entire section for Part 2 (stay tuned)!

We had so much fun there that we put everything else in our day behind schedule... which means it was pitch black by the time we took the ferry out to Manly Beach. As a result, we didn't get any good pictures of the beach, but we did enjoy an evening ferry ride and still had fun walking around Manly and eating ice cream.

So that was how we spent three days in Sydney. If you've seen us since we've gotten home and wondered why we seemed a bit off... this is why. Well, that and an 18-hour flight home...

We were lucky that, despite being there in the middle of winter, we had very good weather for the duration of our stay. Check back to see kangaroos, wallabies, and wombats in Part 2!!