See and taste.

December 5, 2012 § 4 Comments

Coming across on the ferry.

Coming across on the ferry.

Since I’ve been an awful blogger I’ve decided the best way to make up for my 3 week silence (or longer – has it been longer?) is to post lots and lots of pictures. To prove to you I haven’t been sitting around and pretending I have no internet connection. What’s the old saying…? A picture is worth a thousand words? Welp, this should put us right back on track then!

Driving on Arthurs Pass.

Castle Hill in Arthurs Pass National Park.

Headed towards Mt. Cook, New Zealands tallest peak.

Headed towards Mt. Cook, New Zealands tallest peak.

Arrival in Queenstwon

Arrival in Queenstwon

The native trees our group planted at Camhannon in Paradise, near Queenstown

WWOOFing. The native trees our group planted at Camhannon in Paradise, near Queenstown

Hard at work.

Hard at work.

Routeburn hike. Left to right: Cassandra, me, Marlena, Sarah, Stephen and Karen.

Routeburn hike. Left to right: Cassandra, me, Marlena, Sarah, Stephen and Karen.



Otira Valley; a hike in Arthurs Pass National Park

Otira Valley; a hike in Arthurs Pass National Park

Ellie in her natural habitat.

Ellie in her natural habitat.

Headed out on the quad for a planting day.

Headed out on the quad for a planting day.

A mature native Beech forest in Camhannan.

A mature native Beech forest in Camhannan.

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

glacier reflection

Headed towards Fjordland National Park. It's spring here in New Zealand.

Headed towards Fjordland National Park. It’s spring here in New Zealand!

Misty Milford.

Misty Milford.

Moeraki boulders.

Moeraki boulders.

Skipping stones.

What a wonderful world.


The Forgotten Highway

November 4, 2012 § 2 Comments

Do you remember how as a child play driving consisted of yanking the top of the wheel down to your knees, then pulling the wheel back up and down the other side, and then doing that repeatedly pretending that you were just cruisin’ down the road all casual like?

Yeah, me too.

And after I grew up a little bit, sat on the driver’s side under the scrutiny of a very solemn DMV employee, and got a few miles of experience under my belt, I thought those wheel-to-knee days were over. But no – no, no, no, my friend. You see, that was just a practice round for these New Zealand roads.

Every road – Every. Single. Road. – in this country turns out feeling like a road from one of my childhood games. Except in this situation there is no casual chatting with the passenger whilst never looking at the road, no one-handed reach into the back seat to deal with misbehaving children (thank GOODness), and definitely no driving with one foot on the wheel (you pretended that too, right?). It’s hands at 10 and 2 and keep your eyes peeled, Jeff Gordon.

About two weeks ago I drove down what is now called the “Forgotten Highway” (come to think of it, I don’t know what it was called before). It branches out like a vein from the center of the North Island and trickles out  to the to the west coast New Plymouth area (where my next wwoofing place would be). If your reaction to the name is anything like mine, your curiosity is a little bit sparked; you’re imagining just why it is now the Forgotten highway; why was it forgotten, why was it not worth remembering, and why does that name make you want to drive on it all the more?

Well I can vouch right now that it was not the scenery that aided the forgetting of the highway. One word: unforgettable. (Ha!)

Perhaps it is that 5km stretch of gravel the road turns into right in the middle that deemed it worth forgetting? Or could it be the quaint one street towns with genuine up-and-running General stores, City Halls and one-room schoolhouses that were found unworthy to be on the main route?

Truth be told, I don’t know have a clue why the Forgotten Hwy is now a forgotten highway, but I have a pretty darn good guess: it’s all due to the road itself.

Corner after corner after corner…  and then one more corner after that. Most of the corners it is suggested you take them at 44kph or 35kph, but there are a few 15kphs in there too. People, 15kph is about 7mph. 7mph. They are asking you to take a corner at 7mph. At that point you’re no longer making a corner, you’re making a freaking donut.

Now of course those corners can be good fun – in their place and in moderation. 350kms of them and you’re starting to get a little angry; peeved that every single corner has a yellow speed sign with arrows pointing around the bend and back to where you came from. I’ll admit, there were a couple of times I yelled pretty loud at the road makers, at New Zealand’s fault line landscape, and at the munching sheep watching me downshift into first gear on vertical hill. And then there were a few of these moments…

…where all of my red-faced frustration drained and left me parked on a jutting hill overlooking a valley of green shades and a sky with more moods than we have names for.

Those moments force me to place the Forgotten Highway on my “Must Do in New Zealand” suggestion list. Because, all frustration and silly rants aside, you really must drive it.  Sure. You may have to follow a farmer herding his flock of sheep in short shorts and rainboots for 10 minutes…

…or drive up what seems like every hill on the west side of the North Island. And you might have to slow down to 35kph on the dirt road, or take a nap somewhere in the middle of your trip, but I guarantee that if you give this road a little time and patience it will leave you with the strangest realization that you will never forget the Forgotten Highway.

With Gill

November 1, 2012 § 1 Comment

One and a half weeks later… Ellie finds the internet again.

The rest of the stay at Gill’s went well. We planted potatoes, picked up hay, played lots with the animals, hiked several trails around the area, visited the giant kiwi, built a teepee with Gill’s boyfriend’s boys, and wore ourselves clean and contentedly out.

My goal before I started WWOOFing was to get a picture with each of my hosts. But after Gill told me:

“…feeding the cows took three hours because all of the Asian girls wanted to take photos of themselves with the calves, their friends with the calves, and me with the calves, and I do not do pictures. What do they think, that I want my scarecrow pictures up on Facebook for the world to see?! No. No photos.” I just nodded sympathetically under her icy blue stare and decided I definitely wasn’t going to ask for a photo.

However, I managed to get a photo in of Gill in motion. And honestly this photo is more true to life than a posed one would be.

Gill never stopped working. Like ever. Every waking moment there was something to be done; a cow to worry about, a daughter to run to sports practice, a WWOOFer not doing something correctly. Always something.

Perhaps I give the wrong impression of Gill. She wasn’t all that bad… Then again, she was. The flooding of the kitchen helped me to realize just how scared Celia and I were of her.

It happened like this: One evening Celia and I were cooking dinner and Gill hurried through, threw some dirty clothes in the mudroom sink, turned on the water and dashed away. Celia and I hardly noticed. It wasn’t unusual for Gill to come whirlwinding in and back out, so we continued on with our vegetable chopping. Two minutes later I stepped back into a warm puddle of water which was rapidly taking the kitchen floor.

“Woah!” I exclaimed.

Celia looked at me and then down at the floor. “What is that from?” she asked.

“The sink, I think. “ I ran over and turned the tap off and stood there for a few more seconds. “Gill put something in a little bit ago,” I looked at the sink, “but she must have forgot about it…

We stood there looking at the floor contemplating what to do, then our voices dropped.

“Lets hurry get this cleaned up before she comes out and sees” I whispered. Celia’s eyes got wide and she nodded understanding the urgency.

The next few minutes we worked quickly to sop up the pool of water that had flooded much of the kitchen and the entire side hall. There was no sound, save for the squishing of the towels and sloshing of water. After we were finished, two buckets filled to the brim with dirty water, we glanced up at one another in confirmation and broke into a silent laughter that had us bent over and shaking. That lady had us in the palm of her hand.

Of course, there was that spare moment in there, once or twice, when Gill would sit down, sigh, brush her silver, bushy hair off her forehead, and stare off through her kitchen windows. In those moments Gill’s house was one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been.

Celia at the river.

Experimenting with the water proof feature on my camera.

One of those awkward sideways glance photos that occur when you’re hiking by yourself and trying to take a picture and another hiker rounds the bend.

Looking off the top of Mt. Maunganui in Tauranga.

Another beautiful walk in the Tauranga hills.

The teepee we built with Gill’s boyfriend’s son and his friend.

Rupert (left) and Todd discussing the details of the teepee.

The sign which went on the front of the teepee. According to Todd the teepee stood in a land called Bresimun (said buh-roo-juh-mun and spelled according to Todd’s own phonics rules). Todd came up with a Bresimun native bird, national song, and national dance.

The five of us (the boys, Celia, Gill and I) visited and climbed to the top of the giant kiwi slice.

What a week it was.

That’s Awh-right.

October 9, 2012 § 4 Comments

Yesterday Celia and I took off in my second new ride (see below for snazzy pic).  We have arranged to stay with a Helpx host in Tauranga for a week. (Amusing side note: Dexter the Campervan was the very first car I ever bought. About a week after I sold him back I bought my second car. Two cars in a week and a half, people. Can anybody beat that?) We have only been here at the home for a day and a half, but I feel the need to restate what I have said several times on this blog: New Zealanders are the kindest people, perhaps in the entire world. They give and give and give, and then they smile sympathetically, say “That’s ahw-right” when you say thank you, and then go ahead and give some more.

The newest sweet ride. 1992 Toyota Camry Station Wagon. Hawt. Gimme your best name suggestions and the winner will receive a NZ souvenir upon my return home.

Behind Tracey and Robert’s house is a small little jungle that I came upon whilst exploring one day. You’re in their lawn one step and the next you’re in a mini Amazon. It’s spectacular.

I fully expected to see one of my gator friends enjoying a dip, but only saw a few tell-tale ripples which sent me hopping from my sitting log.

Say it. Pocahontas moment. Planned this one, though.

Arrival at Gill’s house (the Helpx host).

Bell. It’s good to be around animals again.

After working an hour or so this morning, raking up grass for the calves and rebuilding a small drainage system on the side of the driveway, we stopped for morning tea. Just in time for the sunshine to stroke our hair and illuminate little curls of steam above our mugs.

Gill then guided us in preparing a batch of dough with which we made two rather bloated loaves of bread, and one deliciously fresh pizza with toppings picked straight from the garden.

After lunch we made fresh juice from what are called “Lemonades”. Like a Lemon, but rather more sweet like an Orange. Everyone grows them in their back yard here.

A walk on her property.

A little bout of play with the calves.

And a goodnight sleep tight to you.

Or… not.

October 5, 2012 § 5 Comments

Have you ever watched one of those movies where lots of bad things happen in a row and after a while you stop taking the movie seriously? One mishap occurs and you’re like, “Well yeah, that’s real life.” And then something else happens that screws up the good guy’s plans and you’re like, “Sucks, man. But it’s possible.” Three more bad turns and you’re like: “Really? Come on! This stuff doesn’t happen in real life!”

Well, it does. It so does. This trip is proof. My rearranged, pooped on plans are proof.

So you know the last post I made about Plan B? Yeah… Didn’t seem premature, did it? I mean, we were on the road, had an agenda, a car, some food, a teeny-tiny bit of money – everything mixed together looked like a big green light to me. We even explored much of Coromandel! It was beautiful. Indecisive weather, decisive jutting hills, aqua colored water, gravel roads ending at a cove on the very tip of the peninsula; stunning. Look for yourself:

Beautimus, no? It was.

But the dawning of our third day brought with it a speed bump. A pretty major speed bump, actually. 400kms into our trip we discovered the campervan that Celia and I bought was a dud. There were problems with the battery and the engine (it sucked oil like it was dehydrated race car instead of a 20 year old lump of snail, and it overheated like a boss).

So three days into our trip we turned Dex around and headed back up to Auckland before our 7 day money back guarantee was up. The “kind Indian man” I wrote about turned out to be a real son of a stinker (excuse my lack of language), and gave us a hard run for our money (but for real, we had to fight to get our money back). He wouldn’t accept the car until we had brought it home, washed it, and cleaned it till it gleamed. Obviously he took advantage of the fact that we were two young ladies (one French and the other a non-confrontationalist) who didn’t really know what they were doing.

Actually, there have been only a few times in my life where I have gotten so ridiculously mad that my face got hot, but this was one of them. Thankfully I managed to channel my anger into a sickeningly sweet guilt trip of a tone and ensure we weren’t completely ripped off.

So plan C. Can you believe it? Yeesh – kills me.

Plan B

September 29, 2012 § 2 Comments

Dah! It’s here! A long time in coming, believe me, I know.

Meet Dexter. Our new little Toyota campervan.

We, Celia and I (check the last post “Aucklanding” if you want to know who Celia is), just bought Dex this afternoon. A wad of cash into the hands of a very kind Indian man, a signature on a pink sheet of paper, and we were set; Dex was ours to have and to hold from this day forward.

With just a few touch ups here and there…

…a washing of his Jackson Pollock style sheets, a thorough cleaning of his 6 (!) skylight windows, an awesome tape collection in his glove box discovery…

… and he secured a spot in our hearts forever.

So here it is, plan B (or E, or T, or whatever letter this is now): drive Dexter clockwise around the North and South islands for the remaining 12 weeks I will be in New Zealand. Use WWOOF and helpx (volunteer programs that allow you to work on farms for accommodation and food) during the trip, and take advantage of the numerous campgrounds, National and Regional parks dotting the country.

As we’ve mapped out, it’ll be 4 weeks on the North Island, 8 weeks on the South.

This evening we bought ourselves what we thought were the necessary items for the beginning of a successful trip, and tomorrow we’ll finish packing the car up and, fingers crossed, head out. Coromandel is our first destination inclination.

Sometimes phrases like, “Go big or go home” really make me writhe in my mis-matched socks, but today that phrase makes me nod my head in solemn agreement. But for real – there’s no going home, so we are going BIG. Toyota Lite Ace big. A whole continent in one go big. That big.

Also: I won’t be able to sleep tonight; it feels like Christmas Eve.


September 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

Plan B includes the middle girl, Celia. Celia is from France. The other young lady’s name is Svenja. She is from Holland.

About a week ago I emailed Celia asking about a travel companion post she had made on a traveling forum (called – it’s pretty cool, you should check it out). She answered back and we got to talking and decided we should meet and see if traveling together would work. Svenja happened to be staying at the hostel where Celia was staying, so Celia invited her to tag along and the three of us spent a day plodding through Auckland, up to the top of Mt. Eden (yes, you have heard that name before – Auckland’s highest “mountain”) and then across town again and up the Sky Tower (Auckland’s highest building).

The day was simply magnificent. Blue skies. A slight breeze. And two lovely, practically stranger, travelers from completely different parts of the world with me for a day of exploration in a land none of us knew. It was pretty amusing when people started asking us questions,

“So where are you girls from?”

“Well, I’m from Holland.”

“And I’m from the US.”

“I am from France.”


The three of us: “Yeah.”

“How long are you guys here for.”

“Oh, I’m just here for ten weeks.”

“I’ll be here until the end of December.”

“I leave March next year.”


The three of us: “Yeah.”

Needless to say, it was a good day. A very, very good day. And good news! Celia and I are officially traveling together! The plan? Hold on a sec. I promise the next post will explain.