Picture Me Rollin’

We rolled into Rotorua and I had one thing on my mind…riding an outdoor gravity orb which is an adventure activity that involves climbing in a big inflated hamster ball and rolling down the hillside. The ball is 11 feet in diameter and has over 1,000 plastic anchors and 600 strings. Each ball is handmade in Tauranga, New Zealand and takes over 100 hours to construct.  The sport was invented in New Zealand in 1994 and has since become a must-do when visiting the kiwi island.IMG_0413 (1024x768)This activity was instantly added to my bucket list when I saw a story on the news almost a decade ago. When we decided to travel to New Zealand, I knew I had to try it. Annie and I stopped into to OGO Rotorua and were greeted by Chris Roberts who designed and built the courses we were about to run.  The owner of OGO Rotorua is one of the inventors of the double skinned inflatable sphere or outdoor gravity orb (OGO) so we knew we came to the right place.IMG_0420 (1024x768)After some initial info, we decided to do their H2OGO track first with 40 liters of water inside gravity orb. This track is 250 meters long and is the longest straight run in New Zealand. It can be run with one, two, or three people in the same orb and is a great introduction to the sport.DSC_8221 (1024x680)We were taken to the top of the hill and did a superman jump to get into the orb. Within seconds we were rolling.

DSC_8179 (1024x680) DSC_8180 (1024x680) DSC_8184 (1024x680)It was a crazy experience being inside the spinning orb flying down the hill with Annie squawking the whole way down (her words not mine). Because the orb was filled with water, we basically floated around inside and were not tossed around at all. From the outside, the orbs look like they are moving slowly but while we were in there, it felt incredibly fast! We made it safely to the bottom and couldn’t believe the whirlwind we just encountered.DSC_8188 (1024x680) DSC_8199 (1024x680) DSC_8201 (1024x680)After climbing out of the orb, Chris highly recommended a run down the SIDEWINDER track. This track is 350 meters long and is the longest gravity orb track in the world. The orb snakes down the hillside and banks up onto the curves making the rider slide around inside and really adds a different element to the experience. Annie and I climbed in again and were off on our two minute ride to the bottom.DSC_8232 (1024x680) DSC_8234 (1024x680) DSC_8237 (1024x680)At each embankment, our direction changed and we were sloshed around inside. Because we had two people inside, we were able to carry a lot more speed than a single rider. This allowed us to go higher on the banks and made for an awesome ride. Annie was screaming with excitement and I couldn’t stop laughing. The SIDEWINDER was awesome and we were totally pumped when we got to the bottom.DSC_8238 (1024x680) DSC_8249 (1024x680)OGO Rotorua also has the FISHPIPE, a device that they invented to simulate the experience of gravity orbing without the need for a hill. Up to three people can be inside with 60 liters of water. The staff controls the speed and can send the riders along at 35-45 r.p.m. for 90 seconds.DSC_8224 (1024x680)Gravity orbing with OGO was an incredible experience and was certainly one that Annie and I will never forget. Thanks again to Chris Roberts and his staff at OGO Rotorua! Chris told us that OGO has two sites within the USA, Amesbury Sports Park in Massachusetts and Roundtop Ski Resort in Pennsylvania, so the kiwis aren’t the only ones that can have all the fun. They are a top-notch outfit and gravity orbing with OGO is a must-do if you are in Rotorua or any of their US locations.

Disclosure: We received complimentary gravity orb rides with OGO in exchange for sharing our experience. These thoughts and opinions are completely our own. Photos and video are courtesy of OGO.

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A Campervan Journey: There And Back Again

Our last stop on New Zealand’s South Island was Marlborough wine region. Blessed with a sunny day, we visited five beautifully manicured wineries. The specialty of the region is Sauvignon Blanc and although Chris and I are manly red wine drinkers, we found the whites to be delicious!???????? ????????We’ve seen some beautiful sites in New Zealand but one of my favorites was seeing the cheese platter we ordered at Georges Michel being brought to our table. ????????The deliciousness didn’t stop there. After a couple more wineries, we stopped to have lunch at Wither Hills. The presentation of our salmon and calamari dishes was almost as good as the food. We ended our day at Cloudy Bay with a flight of wines paired with roasted hazelnuts, coppa and blue cheese. ???????? ???????? ???????? ????????A huge thank you to the Armstrong’s for the Marlborough wine tasting honeyfund. We couldn’t think of a better place to indulge – it was amazing and so appreciated!

The next day, the overpriced ferry took us from the South Island back to the North Island to camp for the night. We continued on our way to Taupo which is smack dab in the middle of New Zealand’s North Island on the northeastern shore of Lake Taupo. We decided to kick things off with a bang by booking a jet boat ride down the Waikato River with Hukafalls Jet. We geared up in rain coats and life jackets before boarding our jet boat. After a quick safety briefing, we were shooting down the river holding on to the boat’s heated handlebars.IMG_0346 (1024x768) IMG_0380 (1024x768)The jet boats were equipped with two V6 engines which burn two liters of fuel every minute they propel the boat down the river. They are specifically designed to operate in extremely low water levels…as little as four inches of water to be exact.

Our driver, Jeremy, navigated us through narrow river passages at speeds up to 75-80 km/h while dodging the banks, cliffs, overhanging trees and driftwood in the river. The best parts were the multiple 360’s that sprayed everyone with water and had grown adults screaming with glee.IMG_0362 (1024x768)The jet boat stopped at Huka Falls where the Waikato River, the longest river in New Zealand, dumps 200,000 liters of water over the falls every second. We were taken to the base of the falls where we could get an up close view of the cascading water.IMG_0370 (1024x768) IMG_0371 (1024x768)Our trip with Hukafalls Jet was definitely an exciting start to our day! They were incredibly professional and we loved Jeremy’s enthusiasm for New Zealand, his job and Maori culture.

The next morning, we drove back to Huka Falls to get a different perspective of the waterfalls from the scenic overlooks. I’m glad we did because the sun was out and we were just in time to see a Hukafalls Jet boat visiting the falls.???????? ????????Taupo and the surrounding area is known for its geothermal activity. There are tons of day spas and hot baths around town but we had read about a short walk that would take you to natural hot springs right on the Waikato River for free. We followed the pathway until we reached a hot spring haven! Pretty waterfalls and pools with different temperatures of water warmed us right up as the light rain came down.IMG_0399 (1024x768) IMG_0386 (1024x768)From Taupo, we had to backtrack to Tongariro National Park because the first time we drove through, the area was in a complete whiteout from rain and high winds. The second time around, we hit picture perfect weather.

Tongariro National Park is New Zealand’s first and the world’s fourth national park. Its home to three impressive mountains (Tongariro, Nguauruhoe and Ruapehu) all of which are still active volcanoes. It’s one of New Zealand’s most spectacular parks and it gained worldwide attention from its cameo in Lord of the Rings as the land of Mordor.

The main reason we wanted to come to the park was to hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing which is reputedly the best one-day walk in New Zealand. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is approximately 20 kilometers long and usually takes between 7-9 hours to complete.

We were up before dawn to catch the mandatory bus to the trail head. The bus stopped along the way so we could catch views of Mt. Tongariro smoking in the distance.????????Once we reached the trail head, we were off! The first hour and a half was a gradual climb to the saddle between Mt. Tongariro and Mt. Ngauruhoe.???????? DSC08326 (1024x681)I had my heart set on hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing because part of the trail allows you to climb to the summit of Mt. Ngauruhoe (aka Mt. Doom from Lord of the Rings)! We broke off the main trail for a two hour side trip up the single-vent volcano. The side trip is labeled as “challenging” because there isn’t an actual trail to follow, switchbacks or guard rails. I wouldn’t even classify it as a hike, it was more of a vertical climb straight up the mountain on unstable volcanic lava rocks. In some sections it was so steep, we were literally crawling on our hands and knees.???????? ???????? ???????? ????????After an exhausting hour and a half, we finally reached the summit at 2,290 meters.???????? ???????? ???????? ????????In the distance we could see the valley below, views of Mt. Tongariro and the multiple peaks of Mt. Ruapehu. It was definitely the most dangerous and difficult hike we’ve done but certainly the most rewarding.???????? ????????Now the problem was trying to find a safe way down. The slopes were so steep and unstable that climbing down the same way we went up would have taken hours. We decided to walk over to a section of the mountain that was steeper but had much smaller rocks. When we took a step, our feet would sink a few inches into the rocks and sand. Very carefully, we simply walked down the mountain with all of our weight on our heels. Every step we took caused tiny rock slides in front of us. It took 30 minutes to make our way down. It.was.awesome. It was incredibly exhilarating but it also scared the crap out of us at the same time.???????? ????????By the time we reached the bottom, our calves and thighs were on fire! We were already sore from our climb up Mt. Ngauruhoe/Mt. Doom but still had at least five hours of hiking ahead of us. We continued on with jelly-legs through a long, flat valley steaming from the volcanic activity.????????We climbed up a ridge-line to Mt. Tongariro and kept looking back at Mt. Doom and the valley below. It was crazy to think that we had climbed all the way up just moments before. Look how steep it is!???????? ????????The trail led us to Mt. Tongariro’s Red Crater which is still alive with volcanic activity.???????? ????????The last section of trail took us to see the postcard-perfect Blue Lake and Emerald Lakes. They were stunning but stunk like rotten eggs from the sulfur.???????? ???????? ????????We slowly made our way back to the trail head. The walk back was bright and beautiful because the sun was now high in the sky. I swear, New Zealand never gets old.???????? ????????We completed the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in eight hours. It was absolutely incredible and by far the best (and hardest) one-day hike we’ve ever done! Feeling very accomplished, we had a good nights rest before our drive the next morning.

The next day, we headed north towards Rotorura. We indulged in one last adventure activity in New Zealand (more on this from Chris in a subsequent post) before we continued to Auckland, our final destination. We spent our last night sleeping in Old Girl at a campsite on the outskirts of town. Sorry, we forgot to previously mention that it’s backpacker tradition to nickname your campervan. The nickname is a nod to one of our formal travel buddies… K Roa!

We woke up early to pack and to tidy up Old Girl for her last day on the town. We drove to Mission Bay to have brunch with two friends we traveled with in Bolivia on our salt flats tour. Paul and Kate are from England but have lived in New Zealand for the past four years. It was so nice to catch up, eat at a proper restaurant and have pitchers of beer at a bar like normal people do! It was a perfect ending to our wonderful time in New Zealand, I just only wish we had more time to visit with them.????????The last thing on the agenda was to return Old Girl to her home by the airport. Old Girl was a champ! She took so many road beatings from unpaved roads, kept us warm when it got cold at night and most importantly, delivered us back to Auckland in one piece. It was sad saying goodbye to our home on wheels. She will be missed.????????Here is a quick summary of our trip through New Zealand:

  • Days spent: 34 (North Island: 12 days; South Island: 22 days)
  • Distance traveled: 3,403 miles
  • Average drive time/day: approximately two hours
  • Number of free campsites: 16 (47% of the time)
  • Number of holiday parks (sites with full amenities including kitchens, showers, laundry, etc.): 3
  • Time difference: +18 EST

The Best: New Zealand is paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Everywhere you look is a beautiful mountain, beach, glacier, valley, hot spring, lake, etc. to be explored. There are hiking trails galore and all of them have something to offer. Our advice to other travelers? Do as many Great Walks as you can. Milford Track and Tongariro Alpine Crossing were our favorite activities and they truly show off some of New Zealand’s best scenery.

The Worst: The worst? The sandflies! These blood-sucking bugs sure know how to ruin a good time. They love to feast on humans and their bites itch like crazy.  Legend has it that Maori Gods were worried they made New Zealand too beautiful that they created the sandfly to keep people from staying and admiring the scenery for too long. Well, it certainly works…they definitely keep you moving.

New Zealand was one of our favorite countries we’ve visited. It’s so beautiful and there is so much to see and do. I think we were both surprised at how much we fell in love with this country. We are sad to leave but are excited for the next chapter. We have one night in a hotel by the Auckland airport before we fly to Bangkok which will kick-off our five month stint in SE Asia!

Stay tuned for one more post about our adventures in NZ from Chris…

Disclosure: We received a complimentary jet board ride in exchange for sharing our experience with Hukafalls Jet. These opinions and thoughts are completely our own.

New Zealand, You Beauty!

Without a premeditated plan in place, we decided to head south to the Catlins for a few days to get off the beaten track. There is a scenic coastal route that takes you through farmlands, beaches, bays and forests. The roads are steep, narrow and mostly unpaved but they lead to views that are totally worth a look. ???????? ????????We stopped at two lighthouses along the way, walked around the southern most point of the South Island and caught glimpses of the yellow-eyed penguin (the rarest penguin in the world).???????? ???????? ???????? ???????? ????????Even the free campsites in the Catlins had great views. We backed in to our ocean front view complete with coastal cliffs and sunbathing sea lions.???????? ???????? ????????The next day we drove up to Nugget Point. Deep blue skies and aqua water against black rocky shores, bright green foliage and golden sand…the Catlins are just so colorful! We found the drive to be much prettier than our trip down New Zealand’s West Coast (and without the tourists, too!).???????? ???????? ????????As we made our way from the Catlins to Queenstown, we passed a few incredibly blue lakes. I’m telling ya, New Zealand knows how to show off some scenery even when you’re just passing by.???????? ????????Our time in Queenstown was pretty uneventful. We treated ourselves to a holiday park not far from the center of town so we could shower, catch up on laundry and figure out a game plan for our remaining time in New Zealand. We managed to find a few hours to walk downtown. The downtown area is set right on the lakefront surrounded by mountains…it’s lovely.????????The next morning, we drove out of Queenstown. As we started towards our next destination, we passed a bungee jumping operator off the side of the road. We made it another 10 kilometers before I pulled the campervan over to turnaround. It took all of five minutes to pay before I was out on the ledge of the bridge.­ Chris decided to sit this one out but played photographer and videographer for me.DSC08043 (1024x681) ????????When the young man fastening my harness asked if I’d like to get dipped in the river, I told him I preferred not to get wet (I had my first shower in several days just a few hours before). If he could swing it, I would be up for touching the water with my hands. I think my exact response was a “river manicure.” He must not know what a manicure is because I was definitely dunked into the river up to my waist. DSC08037 (1024x681)A big thank you to Mary, Erica and Stephanie Purucker for the bungee jumping honeyfund! Queenstown is known for adventure and adrenaline activities. As a self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie, I couldn’t bear the thought of visiting the adventure-capital of New Zealand without a quick adrenaline fix – so thank you so much for the experience! Fun fact: my last second decision landed us at thehome” of bungee jumping. The first bungee ever done was off the bridge I jumped off in 1988.

Back in the car (more soaked than anticipated), we continued on to Mt. Cook National Park. As we started to approach the mountain range, we came across Lake Pukaki. I honestly don’t know which was more blue…the sky or the lake.DSC08068 (1024x681) ????????That evening, we watched the sun set over the mountains. We camped under Mt. Sefton and listened to the roar and crash of avalanches coming down the mountain. This was one of Chris’ favorite campsites so far.???????? ????????The next day, we walked down one of the hiking trails to catch views of Mt. Cook and the surrounding areas. Mt Cook. is the tallest peak in Australasia and the views were great but we didn’t last long under the hot sun.???????? ???????? ????????Back on our way up north, we drove through beautiful outcroppings on our way through Arthur’s Pass and camped at a free site right on the lake.???????? ????????Our plan for the next morning was to go on a five hour hike, but after searching for the trail head for twenty minutes, we started to get frustrated and overheated from the hot sun so we gave up.????????After cooling down by the river for a couple of hours, we decided to keep driving. We grabbed some cold beers and decided to make a nice dinner (chicken stir-fry, yummo-o!) at our next campsite.????????The northwest coast is one of our final destinations on the South Island, specifically Abel Tasman. Everyone raves about the beaches at Abel Tasman and we were anxious to check it out for ourselves. Out of all of New Zealand’s Great Walks, the Abel Tasman Coastal Track is known to be one of the most beautiful and also the easiest. Our intention was to do part, if not all of the track which is 51k long, but once we stopped at the information booth we became overwhelmed with options. We decided to forego the walk completely and opted to spend the day lounging on the beach instead. We parked our camper at the beginning of the trail where all of the trekkers were getting ready to leave. As they prepared their backpacks with the food and camping gear for the next few days, we walked past them in flip flops with our beach chairs and picnic lunch in tow. We were happy with our decision.IMG_0321 (1024x768) IMG_0342 (1024x768)The water was warm, clear and beautiful and we managed to find a private area of beach to call our own for the day. The Abel Tasman coast, even the small portion we saw, was well worth the visit.IMG_0308 (1024x768) IMG_0318 (1024x768) IMG_0317 (1024x768)We can’t believe how quickly the time is passing. We have little over a week before we fly out of New Zealand so we’re slowly making our way back to Auckland for our flight. We still have Marlborough wine region and the North Island to explore before our itinerary is complete. We are trying to enjoy every last minute of this beautiful and breathtaking country!

Franz, Fox and Fiordlands

Our trip down the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island landed us at Franz Josef Glacier for the day. When I think of glaciers, I picture huge chunks of blue ice falling into the sea. Franz Josef isn’t like that at all. It just looked like snow. The glacier looked a little dirty from rock falls and avalanches and was squished between the mountain ranges.S
When we walked through the valley to get a bit closer, our surroundings became a tad more impressive. As we passed through the old riverbed and colorful mountains, the glacier became a bit clearer and we could even see a tint of blue in the ice.S S SThat evening, we camped a few kilometers away from the glacier at a DOC campsite on Lake Mapourika. As the sun began to set, the light reflected off the lake water and the snow capped mountains stood in the distance. The colors in the sunset changed dramatically as the minutes and seconds passed. It was, without a doubt, one of the top sunsets we’ve seen in our life. No filters were used on the photos below (or any of our photos).S S S SThe next morning, we were scheduled for a heli-hike which entails a chopper ride to the top of Franz Josef glacier, several hours of hiking on the glacier and a chopper ride back down. Even though the day was sunny and perfectly clear, high winds kept us off the mountain and prevented us from enjoying our Christmas present from my parents. Feeling bummed but a little richer, we drove down the street to neighboring Fox Glacier. Again, my first impression left me a little disappointed. It just looked like a clump of dirty ice.SWe ignored a few barriers so we could get closer to the ice where the views improved. Tourists seem to prefer Franz Josef but we aren’t like most tourists and were much more taken with Fox Glacier.S
We spent the rest of the afternoon on several hikes around the glaciers and nearby forests before we made our way to our campsite for the night. This was no ordinary campsite, this was the coolest campsite we’ve ever been to. Not only was it free, but it was situated right on a smooth stone beach. Not far from the coastline were views of the mountains and Fox Glacier. Two views in one, not bad!S SWe sat on the beach and watched the enormous beach break hit the coast while the sun began to set. Every once in awhile, we’d turn around to look at the glaciers. Sometimes the best things in life are free.S S SOver the next two days, we made our way further south (past some of the most picturesque scenery we’ve seen including rugged mountains and bright blue lakes) towards the town of Te Anau and Fiordland National Park. When we first began to research our round-the-world trip and the countries we wanted to visit, we came across a description of Milford Track and knew we had to do it. Known as “the finest walk in the world,” Milford Track is a four day/three night trek from Lake Te Anau to the New Zealand highlight…Milford Sound. Milford Track is so popular and exclusive (only 40 independent trampers are allowed to depart each day) that it’s booked out nearly a year in advance. We booked our tickets last May but many tourists often end up shelling out up to $3,000 for a last minute guided ticket. The hike, or “tramp” as the Kiwis call it, is a 55 km (33.5 miles) hike through two glacial valleys and over Mackinnon Pass. The track can only be walked in one direction and there are planned stops (DOC huts) along the way where you spend the night. Image below is courtesy of the NZ DOC.milford-profile-map
Each hiker must carry their own clothes, camping equipment, cooking utensils and enough food for four days (mattresses, gas stoves and water are provided at the huts). When we set off on our trek, each of our packs weighed 16.5 kilos (36.3 lbs). We thought this was really heavy but everyone we met was carrying between 16-18 kilos.S
On the first day of the trek, we were picked up by a ferry at Te Anau Downs and after a scenic hour and a half boat ride across Lake Te Anau, we were dropped off a the beginning of the track. The hike was an easy and flat 5 km to Clinton Hut and the weather was cool and clear.S S SOnce we reached the hut, we selected one of two bunk rooms for the evening which we shared with 18 other people. This sleeping situation was actually a huge relief as I’d  heard that it’s very common for New Zealand hiking huts to have one extremely large bed that everyone shares by laying side by side. Ewww!

As Chris and I prepared our lame spaghetti dinner in the mess hut, we sat with a family of Kiwis who started to make steak filets and homemade tabbouleh. Lucky for us, they just so happened to make an extra steak which they offered to us. As we gobbled it all up, they broke out their fondue pot with melted chocolate, fruit, marshmallows and lady fingers to share as well. Delish!

We were up early for our 16.5 km hike to Mintaro Hut. It was the second day and it was dumping rain. Fiordland National Park is one of the wettest places, not only in New Zealand, but in the world. The area receives 7-9 meters of rainfall each year. Using very rough math, that equates to about an inch of rainfall a day. I guess that’s what makes New Zealand so lush and green. The photo below is not a stream, it’s the flooded trail. IMG_0075 (1024x768) IMG_0148 (1024x768)We weren’t looking forward to hiking nearly seven hours in the rain but to our surprise, it completely paid off. The hut ranger told us if it rained we’d see great waterfalls, but we thought they were just trying to be optimistic about our situation (like when they tell you it’s good luck if a bird poops on you). We were definitely not expecting to see such spectacular waterfalls or so many waterfalls. As we walked down Clinton Valley, we were treated to 360 degree views of waterfalls in every direction. There were literally thousands of waterfalls coming down the mountainsides. Thousands. It was sheer natural beauty and one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. It was a very wet day, but well worth it. Photos come nowhere close to accurately reflecting what we witnessed but the below will have to suffice.IMG_0057 (1024x768) IMG_0067 (1024x768) IMG_0083 (1024x768) IMG_0120 (1024x768) IMG_0122 (1024x768)The next day was a 14 km hike starting with 90 minutes of switchbacks up Mackinnon Pass. Once we reached the top of the pass (1,154 meters), we had views of both glacial valleys, one on each side of the mountain. Although it was a bit overcast, the ranger at the top of the pass said it was the clearest day she’d seen in 6-7 weeks. The views were amazing and we took our time to admire the dramatic landscape before we started our hike down to Dumpling Hut for the night.S S S SThe fourth and final day was an easy hike on flat ground but was the furthest we had to hike. We covered 18 km in just about six and a half hours to Sandfly Point, the end of the Milford Track trail.SOnce we reached Sandfly Point, a prearranged boat picked us up to take us to our final destination…Milford Sound. The weather was sunny and clear, a real rarity for the area. We soaked up the sun and the views of the fiordlands as we made our way to the wharf.S S SA bus picked us up at the wharf and took us back to our campervan in Te Anau Downs, where we started the trek. It took the bus 90 minutes to drive what took us four days to walk. Once we reached our camper, we weighed our backpacks. We both started with 16.5 kilos but at the end we were both carrying a light 12.5 kilos (a loss of 8.8 lbs).

The bus ride back through the heart of Fiordland National Park was so gorgeous, we decided to get cleaned up and head back to Milford Sound the next day with our camper. The 120 km drive through the national park is absolutely incredible. The roadway passes valleys, waterfalls, snow-capped mountains, bright blue rivers and sheer rock cliffs.S S SIt all culminates at Milford Sound but the drive itself is well worth the trip alone. S S S SThere are tons of campsites with awesome views along the way. We spent two nights camping in Fiordland National Park but probably could have stayed longer.SThank you to the Newell’s, Sabal’s and Rossetto’s for the Milford Track honeyfund. The trek was one of our favorite things we’ve done on our trip so far and we loved every minute of it!

This past week has been amazing and New Zealand is definitely living up to all the hype. Milford Track and Milford Sound will be hard to top but we look forward to trying. Here’s to three more weeks in Kiwi-land!S

Campervans, Caves and Coasts, Oh My!

We had one last home-cooked meal and a game of tennis before we had to say goodbye to the Jays to catch our flight to New Zealand. We were booked on a red eye flight that left Melbourne at midnight and arrived into Auckland at 5:30AM. Even though it was so early in the morning, I was still excited to see that the Auckland airport was adorned with The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings memorabilia.IMG_0163 (1024x768) IMG_0164 (1024x768)With only a few hours of sleep, we found a place in the airport where we could catch a few more Z’s before picking up our campervan. The rental agency was two kilometers from the airport so we hopped in a taxi only to find out that the fixed fare to any area around the airport is $35. The thought of paying $35 to go a little more than a mile seemed to be incredibly ridiculous. Still a bit jet-legged but determined not to be ripped off, we jumped out of the cab before it took off and started to hoof it. Just when we were beginning to really feel the weight of our backpacks, a cabbie who was getting off for the day saw us walking on the side of the road and offered to drive us free of charge. Our first real interaction with a Kiwi and it was pure kindness!

For the next 34 days, we will be driving New Zealand’s North Island and South Island  in our campervan. Our campervan is equipped with a stove, oven, cooking utensils, water tank, pantry, storage space, sofa that converts into a double bed, fridge and a foldout table with two chairs. Compared to other rental agencies, we found our camper for almost half the cost. We’ve heard of flash campers that come with the works (television, sink, etc.) so apparently we sacrificed several amenities for the cut in price. Since this is our first time to the campervan rodeo, we really can’t complain because we have nothing to compare it to. S S SWe filled up on gas and stopped for groceries and supplies before heading to Raglan, our first destination just a few hours away. Raglan is known for its surf beaches and was a convenient stopover for us as we make our way to the South Island. We camped in a grassy field next to the ocean and went for an evening walk while the sun set on the black sand beach.S SWe spent the next day walking along the beaches (the water is way too cold to swim) and hiking to scenic overlooks before we were back on our way.SWe camped in a town outside of Waitomo so we could make it to our caving adventure early the next morning. The town of Waitomo is known for its labyrinth of underground caves and glow worms. We booked a day tour with Kiwi Cave Raft which included a 100 ft abseil into the caves, caving, black water rafting, glow worm viewing and a rock climb out of the cave. We drove into the hilly countryside and suited up in a 5mm wetsuit, boots, climbing gear and helmets before starting our abseil. Don’t you just love the color(s) of Chris’ pants? Ha! Photos are courtesy of Kiwi Cave Raft.formations 047 (1024x768) 10-1-13 Raynor 9am 001 (1024x768) 10-1-13 Raynor 9am 003 (1024x768) 10-1-13 Raynor 9am 008 (1024x768)Once inside the cave, we walked to a section with no natural light and let our eyes adjust to the darkness. One by one, thousands of glow worms appeared on the cave walls and ceiling. They looked like shining stars in the night sky. So pretty!formations 010 (768x1024) formations 018 (1024x768) formations 017 (640x480)With an inflatable inner tube, we admired the glow worms as we drifted further into the cave down icy waterways. Black water rafting (as they call it) is much more relaxing than white water rafting. Imagine floating down a lazy river through underground caves in complete darkness!10-1-13 Raynor 9am 036 (1024x768) formations 013 (1024x768)To further explore the cave, we set out on foot to see the limestone rock formations. We waded through the water and climbed over rocks for nearly three hours before heading back towards our 100 ft climb out of the cave.10-1-13 Raynor 9am 023 (1024x768) 10-1-13 Raynor 9am 054 (1024x768) 10-1-13 Raynor 9am 071 (1024x768)Tired from our underground adventure, we left Waitomo and drove to our campsite for the night. Drives have been incredibly scenic and beautiful. On the North Island, the landscape is green and lush. Rolling hills are spotted with clumps of forest, sheep and thousands of colorful wildflowers. Campsites in New Zealand range from free to $25 per person per night. Since we’ve already invested in our camper, we shoot for the free sites managed by the NZ Department of Conservation which are scattered throughout the country. So far, these campsites have been in some really beautiful locations.S S SAlthough our itinerary is flexible, we have a four-day trek booked on the South Island for the third week in January. We are headed south to be sure we make it on time and will slow down our pace once our trek is complete. To cross between the North Island and South Island, you can fly or take a ferry. Since we have our camper, we thought it would make the most sense to cross by ferry from Wellington in the North Island to Picton in the South Island. The views are gorgeous, especially if you catch a sunny day, but the ferry is grossly overpriced.S S SFrom Picton, we camped for the night and continued on to the west coast of the South Island. According to Lonely Planet, the drive between Westport and Greymouth along the coast of New Zealand’s South Island is one of the “10 Best Road Trips” in the world. Unfortunately, the day we planned to make the drive was a torrential downpour so we postponed the drive and settled for a shower and a beer at a local bar. We ended up parking our camper in the driveway at a homestay (bless your heart, Don!) while we waited for the weather to clear.

The next day was overcast, but it wasn’t rainy (hooray!). We set out on our drive south down the windy and rugged coastline.SAlthough it was a very pretty drive, it doesn’t hold a flame to the Pacific Coast Highway in California or Great Ocean Road in Australia. Sorry, New Zealand, that’s just our opinion but we’ll chalk most of  it up to the gloomy weather. What the coast does have going for it are the many gorgeous hikes that start right off the roadway. We stopped at the Truman Track to get some beautiful views of the sea and sand.S DSC07083 (1024x681) DSC07085 (1024x681)One of the more popular attractions along the coast is the Punakaiki pancake rocks. Coastal limestone rocks have been eroded by the ocean to create formations resembling stacks of pancakes. S SThe photo above was taken the day after NC State beat #1 ranked Duke. Go Pack!

So far, our small taste of New Zealand has left us wanting more. We like what we’ve seen, but are pretty sure the best parts are yet to come!