A Chronicle of Amy and Sean's World Travels

Scenes from Northland (and New Zealand, The End)

Oh, North Island.  We wanted to give you a chance, we really did, even though we heard you pale in comparison to the South Island.  And you turned out to be perfectly lovely, if a tad less dazzling than the South Island, with interesting features and scenery of your own.  But it’s hard to love you when you insisted on rainy weather for almost our entire stay.  And not just some rain here and there.  Days of nothing but downpours.

After getting a glimpse of the sunshine in Rotorua, we didn’t want to lose it.  We consulted with one of New Zealand’s very handy i-Sites (invaluable information centers in every town) on the day before we left Rotorua and they showed rain all over the North Island for days.  The next morning, things were looking up and the i-Site told us it looked like it was supposed to be a nice weekend in Northland.  So we headed to Northland, which is the region north of Auckland jutting out into the ocean.  One coast is the wild Tasman Sea and the other is the Pacific Ocean.  Our reason for going far north was to try to fit in a decent scuba dive after our disappointing conditions in the Perhentian Islands.  The Poor Knights Islands off the Tututaka Coast in the Pacific have reportedly some of the best sub-tropical diving in the world, at least if you believe the likes of Jacques Costeau.

As we headed north, the darks clouds rolled in, and the rain started pouring down.  So much for sunshine.  We held out hopes for diving anyway, but when we finally reached Whangeri and checked in with the dive company, we learned they anticipated not being able to go out to the islands until Tuesday – the day we were leaving New Zealand. Quite disappointing, but at least I wouldn’t have to freeze my butt off on the dive boat.

Since we were all the way up north, we tried to make the best of it.  We drove up to the Bay of Islands and then over to the Kauri Coast using mostly the scenic routes, trying to fit in as much beautiful scenery as we could.  Mother Nature had other plans and threw some fierce winds at us for our final days.  As I mentioned here, the winds were so strong it was a constant struggle for Sean to keep our campervan on the road.  It’s hard to convey wind in a photograph, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if the wind lifted me up and blew me away when I was taking the picture above.  Turns out winds reached up to 80 miles per hour; there was a tornado the day we left just outside of Auckland.  Mother Nature, please give New Zealand a break.

By the time we left New Zealand, we were glad to ditch the sailboat/campervan.  But we absolutely loved our month in New Zealand and were quite glad we tacked it onto the end of trip after all (even if our bank account isn’t).  You’re a beaut, New Zealand, you really are – even when covered with fog or rain.

Taken somewhere between Rotorua and Northland. The last sunny skies we would see for days.

Commence grayness. View of Tutukaka from above, where we would have left for a scuba trip to the Poor Knights Islands.

Somewhere along Northland's east coast

Even grayness can't completely obscure Northland's rolling bright green pastures

Tane Mahuta, otherwise known as the Really Really Really Big Tree in the Waipoua Forest. Tane Mahuta is the biggest kauri tree in New Zealand and is estimated to be up to 2,500 years old. Its girth is 45.2 feet; its height is 168 feet. Now that's a big tree.

One upside of ridiculous rains is a beautiful rainbow. To show you how much it rained, New Zealand provided us with a trifecta: one on the Otago Peninsula, one in Marlborough wine country, and one on our last day in Northland, above.


Scenes from Rotorua

I admit, I wasn’t overly excited to go to Rotorua. We went mainly because it seemed to be the most popular attraction on the North Island and it is conveniently located towards the middle in a good spot to break up the drive north.  Let’s face it, Rotorua stinks. It’s the hotbed of geothermal activity in New Zealand, giving off a sulphur smell as soon as you roll into town.

I ended up really enjoying our days in Rotorua. Finally, we had sunny, blue skies. And all of the geothermal activity created a different type of landscape we hadn’t seen before. Upon the recommendation of Rod and Lizzy, who had been there earlier in the month, we checked out Wai-o-Tapu Geothermal Park.  The geothermal activity there results in concentrations of minerals in the ground, making it the most colorful place around Rotorua. While you can see geothermal activity for free all around Rotorua – even driving down the street in town reveals steaming earth – the Wai-o-Tapu park was a beautiful sight.  Upon the recommendation of Akila and Patrick over at the Road Forks, we stayed at the Cozy Cottage Holiday Park. Since they didn’t have our internet plan, we might have passed this park by had Akila and Patrick not highlighted its cool (or really, its hot) features on their blog.  I love when wise people travel to our destinations shortly before we do.

The hot feature I was most excited about trying at Cozy Cottage was their hangi steam cooker.  The native New Zealanders, known as the Maori, traditionally cooked their food by burying it underground.  The geothermal steam (yes, the same stuff that stinks!) slowly cooks the food, making it tender and flavorful.  You can try hangi cooked food at a Maori cultural performance.  We weren’t planning to partake in one on this trip, so I was eager to try my own hand at cooking Maori style.  The one at Cozy Cottage is modernized insomuch as it is above ground, but it still utilizes the cooking method of natural steam.  As Sean put it anytime we discussed things we wanted to do on the North Island, you want to go to some town to cook some potatoes. He made it sound so un-fun, but he was glad we went to Rotorua when he reaped the benefits.

Cooking in a hangi oven is very simple.  Cozy Cottage provided the necessary pot.  In the pot I threw chopped carrots, beets, parsnips (only because I never had tried one) and red, orange and yellow kumaras (New Zealand grown sweet potatoes) on top of the drumsticks of a once happy organic free-ranging chicken.  I added a couple of garlic cloves from one of our farmer market bounties, sea salt, crushed peppercorns and some dabs of New Zealand butter, placed the pot in the steaming cooker, and left it there for about three and a half hours.  Just enough time to explore the other hot features – namely three different hot mineral pools – as well as take a walk to the beach by Rotorua Lake.  There, if you dig a little hole, warm underground water rushes in to fill the place where the sand once occupied.  We also made a quick stop to Rotorua’s Thursday night market, where we would have dined on all of the delicious food on offer had we not had our hangi meal cooking away.  At the market we scored some delicious passion fruit desserts for later.

When we returned to the hangi oven, we found our dinner ready to eat.  The chicken and veggies were so tender they melted in our mouths.  Everything, especially the chicken, had the faint taste of sulphur, which, strangely enough, was a good thing.  I know you don’t believe me, so why don’t you cook some up yourself and try it?  Geothermal steam is a necessary ingredient, however, so if you don’t want to travel where the earth is so hot it boils, you’ll just have to take my word for it!

Lady Knox Geyser, blowing off some steam with the help of natural soap flakes

The geothermal activity even leaves its mark on the local forest

The beautiful and steamy Champagne Pool

Spots of color give rise to this one's name, the Artist's Palette

The natural color of the Devil's Bath is so shockingly green, my camera was having trouble focusing on it. As green as this is, it is even more vivid in person. Crazy that this exists in nature.

Also crazy to think that the earth is so hot in spots that it boils!

The hangi cooker at Cozy Cottage Holiday Park

Our yummy hangi cooked meal

Rotorua Lake and proof that the North Island is capable of sunny skies


Scenes from Napier and Hawke’s Bay

After one night in rainy, rainy Wellington, we hightailed it over to the east coast.  Hawke’s Bay, and especially Napier, seemed like a really cool area.  But it was really hard to tell.  It rained the entire, and I mean entire, two days we were there.  The rain makes for great waterfalls, but ruined any opportunities for us to check out Napier’s Art Deco architecture.  In 1931, Napier was leveled by an earthquake.  The city used the opportunity to build itself back up in the in vogue style at the time.  Good thing our real reason to go to Napier was to meet up with our German friends Rod and Lizzy, who were at the tail end of their three month campervan journey around New Zealand.  Also even better thing we left when we did; Hawke’s Bay experienced severe flooding shortly after we left.  Mother Nature just keeps kicking New Zealand while it’s down.

Nothing else to do but try some wine!

Taken while hiding under an awning

Ditto!

Wine and cheese parties in the campervan are much more fun with friends


Scenes from the Marlborough Sounds

Between our time in Nelson and Marlborough, we were starting to feel like lushes. These regions are heaven for beer and wine afficianados.  Marlborough produces world-renowned sauvignon blanc wine, which, with its aromatic scent, crisp, clean taste and fruity notes is my favorite type of wine.  While we were there, it was rainy and foggy – of course – but the fall scenery is gorgeous.  I didn’t realize that leaves on the grape vines turned fall colors, so the golden hues were a pleasant surprise.

We learned the hard way during our South African wine tasting experience that maybe driving ourselves to the wineries is not the best idea, so we signed up for a wine tour. Basically a glorified DD (or at least the one we took), a driver takes you and others around to local wineries in a minivan. Like South Africa, the tastings are free. We visited six wineries: Cloudy Bay (good but expensive), Vavasour (pretty good), Spy Valley (also good, one of the last locally owned wineries in the area), Grove Mill (meh, too sweet), Highfield (good views) and Bouldevines (who knows by then?!?!)

I suppose I have to disclose that somewhere around the fifth winery, I made a complete ass out of myself. I was sitting next to Sean in the minivan’s first row of seats, which was next to a large open space by the door. I used to be an automatic seatbelt buckler, but months of none-existent seatbelts in Asia broke that habit. As the van rounded a bend rather sharply, I completely flew out of my seat and landed, hard, on my butt on the floor. I could hear the American and British girls who we’d been chatting with all afternoon stifle a laugh in the row behind us, and the Aussies in the way back let out a giggle. Sean tried to contain his laughter, but he didn’t do a very good job. After that, I felt like I should cool it on the tastings; I wasn’t anything more than a little tipsy but I didn’t want to feel any judgemental eyes labelling me as that girl on the wine tour.

The tour ends with a stop at the handmade Makana Chocolate Factory – a rather perfect way to end. We picked up some chocolate Easter eggs to go along with our newly acquired bottles of Sauvignon Blanc from Vavasour and Spy Valley for further tasting and evaluating.

The Marlborough Sounds are sea-drowned valleys in the northeastern most corner of the South Island. We only got a peek on the scenic Queen Charlotte Drive. We would have seen more on our ferry to the North Island, but - you guessed it - it was misty, rainy and foggy.

What could be more perfect than a rainbow over a vineyard?

Bottles lined up for tasting at Vavasour

When our wine tour refused to take us to the Moa beer brewery (even though their brocheres say they'll take you wherever you want and specifically mention breweries), we were quite disappointed. Like an Easter miracle, Moa was open when we drove by on Easter on our way out of town. After all of our wine drinking the day before, we weren't really in the mood for beer, but like the true beer drinking champs we are, we couldn't pass up samples from this renowned craft brewery. Every beer we tried was pleasing, and we took a four pack for the campervan. Is it sad or commendable that we often didn't have room for food in our refrigerator? Don't answer that.

One of the views from Highfield Winery

Sheep!

Sheep, running away. They were really skittish.


Homeward Bound

Today, 408 days after we first set off, heading east around the world, we return home to Pittsburgh.

The big, fat, black raincloud that we picked up back in Malaysia followed us to Hawaii, showering seven inches just on Sunday alone and flooding parts of Kaua’i.  The bad weather this past week thwarted much of our plans, giving me way too much time to think.  I feel like I’m running in place, treading water.  The feeling I have can best be described as bittersweet – more sweet than bitter, more bitter than sweet.  It’s the end of the biggest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but it is time.  I’m ready to move on from moving on.

My thoughts race forwards, to excitement at seeing my friends, my family, my cat; to what I’m going to do this weekend; to tasks I need to take care of to reintegrate into everyday life.

My thoughts are in the present, but they’re all in terms of lasts, to the last Iced Mocha at Small Town Coffee; to the last Aloha; to the last tropical fruits; to the all too brief moment of sunshine on my face and sand between my toes, to the last pretty flower.

My thoughts race backwards, to the butterflies I felt sitting in JFK, waiting to embark to Barcelona; to fleeting memories of the past year; to disbelief that it is all over.  Other than my memories of New Zealand, the rest of it – all of it – is already fading fast.  Things like being in Ireland with my friends seem like an isolated vacation I took a long time ago.

Overall, I’m full of anticipation, because I don’t feel like my journey is over.  Sure, the perpetual physical motion is over, but the spiritual and mental motion in some ways is just beginning.  Even after college, I’ve never felt like my life is so open, so full of possibility, as it is now.

Future, what do you hold for me?  Only time will tell.


Page 1 of 41234
Powered by Wordpress | Designed by Elegant Themes