NZ – West Coast Style

10 06 2016

We left the sunshine in Queenstown to start our 4.5 hour trek on NZ’s West Coast towards Franz Josef Glacier.

We wound our way up through the surrounding mountains to take in the views up top.

photo 228

photo 227

Before we came across this unusual sight on the flat lands at Cardrona…an opportunity to support the New Zealand Breast Cancer Association.  It definitely added a pop of colour to the landscape.

photo 226

We took a break in Wanaka.  Unfortunately it was pretty grey and overcast, because otherwise it would have been a beautiful stop on this town perched on the coast of Lake Wanaka.  But it did give us a chance to indulge in a Flat White stop.  These baristas are artists!

photo 212

As we drove along the water we could see the clouds rolling in, starting to steal our pockets of sunshine.  It was definitely still beautiful but we knew that our road trip was in for some rain.

photo 225

We drove through misty farmland, and just when I was telling Nathan that I was disappointed that we hadn’t seen more sheep, and that it seemed like cows were the most prevalent herd (and not sheep like people had said), we came across my NZ wish.

A Sheep Herd Road Block!

photo 224

photo 221

photo 222

photo 220

photo 223

photo 219

I was half in and half out of the car, snapping photos like crazy.  I loved it and it was exactly what I had hoped for when we decided to go to New Zealand.

The excitement of this moment kept me on a high for the next few hours of our trip.

Finally we eased out of the dense green landscape and found ourselves driving along the coast.

photo 218

photo 217

And we came across Bruce Bay – a top rated NZ Beach.  It could have been the day, but we weren’t quite sure how it was top rated, especially when we were attacked by sand fleas and biting flies and found ourselves dousing each other with bug spray and kind of suffocating ourselves in the car.

photo 216

photo 215

But perhaps, it was the unique stones that could be found on this beach and lasting momentos that everyone left behind.

photo 229

The rocks looked like drift wood!

photo 214

7 – 8 hours after we began our road trip along the coast we finally rolled into our destination.  Franz Josef Glacier.

It was overcast with passing rain clouds and we crossed our fingers that we would be able to take our helicopter ride and ice trek tour up to the glacier the next day.

photo 213


Perhaps we Found a New Favourite

8 06 2016

Perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to let it go so long to finish my posts from our trip to New Zealand.

One – I left you hanging. For all you know, I didn’t make it past the bungy jumping!

Two – it’s now been 4 months since we’ve been back to Seattle and back to ‘real’ life. Four months to kind of forget about our trip, to stop telling the stories, four months to forget how beautiful everything was. Well, now that I’ve finally gotten back around to going through the rest of our trip photos…..

Queenstown was beautiful!!

photo 212

View from Bob’s Peak

I mean, the water, the mountains (called The Remarkables – which is a pretty appropriate name), the food… Ahh. Now I remember just how great our time was and it makes me wistful for those days and impatient for when we can go back and spend more than 2 days in Queenstown.

photo 225

Both Nathan and I felt like we had come ‘home’ when we stepped through our hotel room at the Sofitel (which had heated bathrooms floors and a heated towel rack!) and onto the balcony that overlooked this quaint, European-style town with water and mountain views. We felt like this was a place that was familiar to us and we knew that it was a place that we wanted to come back to.

photo 224

photo 213

Aside from bungy jumping during our two-day stay in Queenstown, we had no other plans.  Which was perfect, since it gave us time to walk around and eat and drink.  That’s essentially what we did.  And we loved it!

photo 222

Our first stop: drinking on a boat bar

photo 214

photo 218

We discovered our love of meat pies at FergBaker. Nathan discovered his love of Beef Cheeks

photo 216

We spent the morning and afternoon (between eating stops) strolling by the water.

photo 219

We watched this guy walk into the water at 8AM and hike his t-shirt up to his arm pits as he waded in up to his chest.  At the time, I thought this was the oddest thing….now that I’m looking back at these photos, I think he had a pretty good idea.

photo 221

photo 215

Two  nights and one full day is not enough time to enjoy this beautiful place but we really tried to take it in as much as we could, and it definitely left a lasting impression.

On our way out of town we got to enjoy the reflection views at Lake Hayes, which was the perfect goodbye (for now, but not forever).

photo 226

photo 217


25 02 2016

When I was in Grade 6 (11 years old), my gym teacher made me cry. We were doing a section on self defense and she pulled me aside after class and pretty much got mad at me because I didn’t yell while we were simulating being attacked. I tried to tell her that yelling didn’t feel natural to me, and that I figured that if I was really scared and being attacked that I would yell out. I tried to tell her that at least, but 11 year old me, just got a warm face, eyes welled up and I cried. This memory has stayed with me 20+ years later and I still tell this story adamant that were I ever really scared, the screams would pour out of me.

We went bungy jumping in Queenstown. For the first time ever.  We figured our first time should be where this crazy bungy jumping thing started – at the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge in New Zealand – a 43m bridge platform nestled into the rock face above the turquoise waters of the Kawarau Gorge.



When we told people, I took the surprised reactions in stride and without doing any real research or polling the crowd on their experience, I told everyone that I wasn’t going to think about it and I was just going to jump off. Today, people said that the hardest part was to jump off. To physically and mentally and willingly throw yourself off a bridge, with the hope that the cords were going to do what they were supposed to do. I already knew that I wasn’t going to give myself the opportunity to think about it, to be scared, I was just going to throw myself over, so I figured I had that ‘scared’ part handled. No problem.



AJH-KB-20160203-025-001-0002-Cam02 (1)

Well, it turns out that I had no problem jumping off the bridge (at least I thought I jumped, the photos reveal that I seemed to have rolled off the platform…).  The second that my body felt the free fall, the lack of support, the air falling around me (or whatever that feeling was), I realized that jumping was not the hard part for me. I realized that I was freakin’ scared. And I thought to myself, ‘what the hell have I done???’


And then, as scared as I’ve ever been, I shut my eyes tight and fell silently towards the water.


So it turns out that when I am really scared, I am silent.

And then I realized that I was paying to be as scared as I’ve ever been. So I opened my eyes and watched as the turquoise water got closer and closer. I remembered to stretch my arms out in front of me and tuck my chin to my chest and I surged into the water, all the way to my knees.


The cord recoiled and shot me back out of the water and I remember spinning a lot, I remember the water weighing down my hair and it escaping out of its bun, I remember trying to keep my feet flexed so my shoes didn’t fall off, I remember water shaking off of me and I remember seeing the pole that I was supposed to grab, and not even understanding how I could grab the pole while I was spinning.


It took me three tries to grab the pole and I landed very ungracefully into the raft. The guys asked me how the bungy was, where I was from, I think I heard something about the Seahawks. And all I could answer was, ‘what?…..what?….what was that?’ I was dazed, I was confused and my ears were plugged.

It took me the rest of the day (10+ hours) to feel normal again and I realized that I have never done something like that before. I have never given my body a shot of adrenaline so intense and so quick. I like warm fuzzies. I like hot tea and a good book. I like crying at sad movies and watching it again right after I finish it. I like resting my head on a cat and hearing them purr. I do not intentionally shock my system. I jump at scary movies (actually I don’t watch scary movies, I physically jump when something sudden happens and surprises me).

So I don’t know how I convinced myself that I wasn’t going to be scared to go bungy jumping off of a 43m bridge, but as I watch the video and look at the photos, I am in awe and cannot believe that we actually did it!   We did it! We’re THOSE people!


On a side note, Nathan was excited and tackled that bridge jump like it was nothing. He knew without a doubt that he wanted to do a water touch and he knew he was going to Peter Pan his way off that bridge.


Well, he leapt off that bridge like he was Super Man!



Afterwards the guys told him that he jumped the farthest they’d seen all day. And apparently, the further you jump, the shorter you fall, and so, eyes open the entire way, he stretched out his arms…his fingertips and reached for that turquoise water. All he could grasp was air as he just didn’t make the water.


AJH-KB-20160203-026-001-0006-Roving (1)




Guess that means that there is another jump in his future!

A Mix of Culture and Natural Wonders

24 02 2016

I don’t think that we had enough time to really get a sense of what Rotorua was all about.

But we did have enough time to smell it!  As we drove into Rotorua we could see the billowing clouds of sulphurous gas and got a whiff of the ‘eggy’ scent that envelopes the city.  Essentially, Rotorua is a mecca of hot springs, explosive geysers, and bubbling mud pools that makes you all too aware of the volcanic activity that defines this region, which sits within the Pacific Rim of Fire and has one of the world’s most active geothermal fields.

It’s also a stronghold for Maori culture and as we wandered through downtown we enjoyed the mix between the cultural figures and art, beautiful gardens and the random geothermal pool.







If we ever find ourselves back in Rotorua, I would definitely take some time to soak in the geothermal hot springs – but this time around, we focused the 2 hours before our flight to take in the colourful and fragrant experience at Wai-O-Tapu (Sacred Waters) Thermal Wonderland.

We had 2 hours to explore (although realistically we could have stayed longer – who would have thought the Rotorua airport was so small and we didn’t even have to go through security??)

There are 3 walking paths that take you around all of the different geothermal pools.  And plenty of signs telling you how hot the water is and DO NOT stray from the walking paths.





The Devil’s Bath

And with sights of yellow sulphuric holes in the ground and craters filled with lime green water packed with sulphur and ferrous salts, we had to stop and wonder….why is this bird around, why is he standing amid the Champagne Pool and how is he drinking this water??? Because we did see what looked like him take a little sip!


The most impressive sight was The Champagne Pool, formed 700 years ago by a hydrothermal eruption and chock full of gold, silver, mercury, sulphur, arsenic, thallium, antimony and other minerals.




Our last stop was a visit to see Lady Knox Geyser.  Although it erupts by itself, they do give it a little extra encouragement so they can schedule a 10:15am eruption daily.

And although they tell people to arrive by 9:30am (for the best viewing), and people were running past us to make the ‘show’, guess who strolled in at 10:15am and got a front row seat!




15 02 2016

So what you’re going to want to do is….put the tube on your butt and jump backwards into the water.


But don’t jump too high, otherwise you’ll hit the ceiling.

I’m sorry, what??

And don’t jump too far because you’ll hit the back of the cave.

But not too close to the edge either, because there’s a ledge below us.

What have I signed up for!!!????

Perhaps I may have underestimated the statement that I read on a blog a couple of days before we headed to New Zealand.  New Zealanders are Masters of Understatement!  Kiwi’s are so used to extreme activities that they don’t think to warn outsiders about it.

Or perhaps I have gotten softened by the safety parameters that we come to expect with activities in the US.

Despite the description:

The original Waitomo subterranean adventures that will have you climbing, black water tubing and leaping through Ruakuri Cave. 

Over three hours you’ll take leaps of faith over cascading waterfalls and float serenely down an underground river as you enjoy the glow worm show on the vaulted limestone galleries up above. 

Maybe I focused more on the ‘floating serenely down a river’ part than the ‘leaps of faith over cascading waterfalls’.  And so, with the blindness of my ‘selective reading’, I looked at Nathan in fear and shock when our guides took us to a platform above the river and told us to jump backwards into the water.  Because this backwards jump, in the light of day, was to prepare us for jumping backwards off of waterfalls in pitch black caves into icy cold black river water.

Yes, I was the one that brought this activity to Nathan’s attention.  And yes, I told myself, can we really go to New Zealand, and NOT experience this?  But yes, I also do not like to jump in water (clear pools!) or to go into water that I cannot touch the ground, or really have my head under water at all.  And so, I looked at Nathan in fear, turned around and jumped into the water…backwards.


And as per usual, Nathan took this in stride…


And so we headed out, happy and outfitted in wetsuits, jackets, booties, boots and helmets with headlamps into the forest and towards Ruakuri Cave, a natural cave discovered 400 – 500 years ago.




So happy…before entering the caves…


By the look on my face in the photo below, you can probably tell how cautiously I was moving through these caves.  A naturally clumsy person, this may not have been the best choice for me, but I have to admit, I loved having the right footwear on – these boots were great at trudging through rock caves!




We climbed down rock ledges, sloshed through tunnels, crawled through rock mazes and played limbo while we floated on our tubes – out of necessity since the jagged cave ceiling was 4 inches above our faces as we lay flat on our backs with the back of our heads in the water.

For half of the tour I kept trying to show Nathan how dim my headlamp was.  I swear I could barely see.  Finally, one of our guides told me it was okay to turn my light back on…and then she said, oh it already is on.  Time for a battery change!  And I was back in action!  It was like a whole new cave adventure!


Long exposure with light painting (it was not this bright down there)

When we finally got to our backwards waterfall jump, we were pretty acclimatized to the dark, the cold and the water rushing under our feet.




We made the jump and were quickly linked into the Eel formation, where we were linked up feet under arms, all 12 of us in a row, and finally, we were floating serenely down the underground river as glowworms glittered the cave ceiling.  It actually felt like a Disney experience.  It was really quiet, kind of magical.  You just had to ignore the fact that you were floating in really cold water, the stars were actually larvae, and Disney would never let you do something like this.

And then we floated into a larger cavern with metal walkways built overhead, and we realized that we were now part of the attraction, since there were tour groups watching us as we materialized out of nowhere and continued on floating serenely down the river.




At the beginning of the tour, before we had hit the water, we had to pick an inner tube.  One that was big enough for your butt to fit into, but not too big that you would fall out.  It’s kind of a funny sight when you see everyone bending over, sticking a tube on their butt, and saying, ‘does it fit?’

Somewhere along the way, I got my tube mixed up with someone else’s and so for most of the ride, my tube was too big for my butt.  You wouldn’t think that would be a problem.  I didn’t think too much about it.

Until we had to float down the river on our own power.  My butt slid further down into the inner tube, my knees and arm pits preventing me from falling right through.  I was essentially folded in half, my abs burning as we moved with the current, my arms – like little T-Rex arms – trying to paddle and pick up some speed.  But I had too much drag!!  My butt was hanging so far down below the tube I think it was acting like a sea anchor.



We got to the last stretch of river and were told we better paddle if we wanted to get to the end.  Well I tried to paddle, and I just ended up floundering and spun into a wall.  I was not making much progress, handicapped by my built in anchor!  All of our headlamps were off, it was pitch black and we were using the glow of the glow worms to lead us out.

Nathan hooked his foot into my tube, and I thought, well, of course Nathan would come to my rescue and help push me out of the cave.  How thoughtful of him to help me this way.  So I did a little paddling, trying to help how I could.

And then Nathan told me to let go of him and start paddling.  What??!!  He thought that I was holding on to him and slowing him down!  Then he realized that he hadn’t even noticed that it was his foot hooked into my tube.

Well, by that time, the light was literally at the end of the tunnel.  And our Black Labyrinth experience was coming to an end.




And so…..We made it!!

We had prevailed the darkness, the icy water, the rock ledges, the waterfall jumps and the extreme adventures the Kiwi’s had to offer us.

It was a crazy experience and like nothing I would have ever expected.  But very worthy of our second big adventure in New Zealand!



The Hunt for Narnia

14 02 2016

I was on the hunt.

The hunt for ‘THE photo’.  The one that comes up when you start falling down the rabbit hole when searching for images of ‘New Zealand Beaches’.  The one that just so happens to also be the imagery of the entrance to Narnia in the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ movie.

And Nathan wanted to go kayaking.

And so, what better way to kill 2 birds with one stone than by taking a kayaking tour through the Te Whanganui-A-Hei Marine Reserve to Cathedral Cove – home of stone archways and white sand beaches accessible only by water or on foot.


Kayaks lined up and ready to go!

In my imagination, the sun would be shining, the waves would be gentle and Nathan and I would kayak in perfect harmony.

Well, had I really thought about what we were about to do…and realized that it was a little stormy out, we had to push through the breakers on the beach to be jostled on the open (not so gentle) water and that Nathan and I would have no clear rhythm because apparently I was following the beat of my own drum, to which the rhythm kept changing…perhaps I would opted for the 45 minute hike to the beach instead of the idyllic option of arriving by kayak.

But, we did in fact make it.  I was a little woozy from the waves, and we were both thankful not to have made use of the safety ‘what to do if you capsize‘ speech – which did have to be used by one group!

12605358_10153822872755900_3663448776442651666_o (1).jpg

By the time we hit the beach, the sun was shining and the water was sparkling.




And I was on the hunt to find that right angle for my photo!


And after walking back and forth underneath the stone archway and not being able to remember exactly what the photo looked like, and which rock was framed in the archway, and wondering if perhaps the tide was wrong for the angle….Nathan was about to call it.  Obviously…..the photo was photoshopped!!  And THE PHOTO as I had imagined, was not possible without a little work in post.

But then we found it.  A little more crowded than we would have liked (but, what are you going to do in the middle of the afternoon on a weekend in peak season…).


The Entrance to Narnia

And so we had a little fun with the silhouettes.



And while we were playing in the caves…..Brad was busy like a bee making cappuccinos and lattes on the beach!



Latte with a View

And so, the day comes to an end, and although I didn’t end of up with the picture-perfect photo I had hunted for, my photo did come with the story of a 4 1/2 hour journey in a kayak, battling salty waves, sea sickness and uncoordinated partners, paddling through sea caves, averting capsize and somehow always being the first off the beach!


Life’s a Beach

2 02 2016

Throughout the entire drive along the Coromandel Peninsula I felt torn. I didn’t know if I should be looking straight ahead out the windshield, to the side through my passenger side window, or if I should actually be hanging out the window and looking back at where we had just come. 360 degrees of absolute, stunning scenery.







It was this indecisiveness about where to look that probably contributed to that woozy feeling I battled as well.


You may have been one of the few who has seen my four page trip itinerary. Well, today’s trip was supposed to take the morning and the afternoon, but really, probably 4 – 5 hours. An hour and a half to Thames, another 160 km drive around the coast and low and behold, we’re rolling into our hotel in late afternoon for check in.

Well, as all of you who have been to New Zealand know, the drives are beautiful and they are so windy, that everything takes longer.




Plus, I did not account for a 5 minute conversation with Phil (from The Langham Hotel Auckland). And when he heard that we were heading to the Coromandel Peninsula, he said, ‘You have to go to New Chums Beach. It is paradise. It is like treasure island. But you’ve got to work for it – to the end of the beach, over the rocks, through the trail – and then you will be rewarded with paradise’.

I mean, who can pass up an endorsement like that??!!

And so, we left Auckland around 10AM, cruised through Thames, marveled at the coastal water views directly on our left and wondered what type of fish everyone was catching out on the rocks.





Phil pretty much said, ‘don’t even think about stopping at a beach on the West side – a waste of time’.  Hard not to stop for sights like these….



NZ Christmas Tree!

We were tempted by the 25 green lipped mussel limit posted on the beach, and figured that would have stopped my dad right there – he would be out there on the beach trying to figure out who he needed to recruit to increase his shell fish limit.


And after a quick lunch with NZ specialties L & P and ‘chocolate fish’ at Coromandel Town…



We found ourselves walking past a beautiful white sand beach to find an even more beautiful white sand beach.  Maybe Phil was right…

We walked towards the end of Whangapoua Beach, to scale over rocks, to use rope handrails to climb up tree root-studded embankments and descend down into paradise.


Whangapoua Beach


I have to say it….New Chums Beach may have wrecked me for all other beaches.


New Chums Beach

Sparkling, smooth white sand (with no rocky bits or drying seaweed). Clear blue and turquoise water. Cliffs filled with greenery surrounding a protected bay. Pointed, greenery covered islands in the distance.  And enough empty beach that it felt like you had it almost all to yourself.


And so, with the help of Phil, breathtaking NZ scenery, a need to stop and take photos, and twisting roads, we rolled up to our hotel just after 7PM. 9 Hours Later.