Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Navigating New Zealand

Kia Ora from our last country on our international adventure, New Zealand! Our first stop was Christchurch, on the southern island. We arrived late but the next morning we went into the city to see the aftermath of devastating earthquake in 2010. The city is slowly rebuilding, but we were surprised at how empty things still are. We went to an information center and learned about the plan for recreating the city. The ideas seem pretty impressive, but as of right now there is not much around. There were tons of vacant lots and boarded up buildings. There was a temporary mall built out of what looked like shipping containers and one cute shopping street, and that was about it for downtown. We had fun shopping and learning about the exciting changes coming to the city. Hopefully their big plans come to fruition soon.

The temporary mall built out of shipping containers in the Christchurch. As we walked through the city we saw most of the building were empty or knocked down.

The Cardboard Cathedral, destroyed.

Found a tram and a street with some of the city's old charm.

The next day we picked up our campervan and hit the road. Meals, wheels, and bed all in one. It was fairly comfortable but since we are not such good campers, we had to get used to living in a car. By the end, we learned to love our temprary home. It allowed us to see a lot more than we otherwise would have been able to. 

The house of Nickel-Nguy.

Our first destination was Omaru, a small town on the east coast known for penguins, but we decided to stop on the way at EnkleDooVery Korna in Waimate, a "tame wallaby park" run by a lady who takes in orphaned wallabies. It was raining on and off all day, so we were the only people at the park and at first we were unsure if it was even open. It turned out to be perfect because we had the whole place to ourselves and got to cuddle and feed tons of wallabies. They were very cute and had great unique personalities. When we fed them, they would sometimes hold our hands in their little claw-hands while they ate. It was pretty adorable.

Kendra has them eating out of hand.

They were so friendly and hungry it took us over 2 hours to feed over 50 of these guys. 

Since the place was empty, we got to snuddle a tiny orphaned baby wallaby it its pouch. We named him Kiwi Bear. Almost as cute as the boy we have at home.

When we had our fill of wallaby love, we headed to see the blue penguins. They are out hunting all day, so we had to wait until it got dark to see them. Because it is summer in New Zealand, that was about 10:30 p.m. It was really cold and windy in Omaru, but we stood by the beach and waited for the penguins to come in. We got to see them come in from the sea and hop up on to their little rock homes. We weren't able to get any pictures of the penguins because it was so dark out and the flash is bad for them. They were very tiny and cute. 

The next day we hit the road again. As we drove through the county we saw so many lambs hanging out on the rolling green hills. Some grazed the grass in open areas but most lived on farms.

Sample lamb.

Our view driving through most of the South Island. Two lane highways with sparse cars.

We made a final stop on the east coast at the Moreaki Boulders on Koekohe Beach. The boulders are famous for their unusually round shape. They were smaller than we expected, but still pretty cool. The beach was very beautiful, with clear blue water. 

Kendra & a rock.

After the beach we were off to Queenstown, one of the most beautiful places we saw. We took a gondola up a mountain and played on the luge at the top. It was a great view and a pretty fun little activity. Queenstown is full of tourists and travelers, so there is a lot to see and do. We stayed in Queenstown for a day.

Queenstown, NZ from the top of the mountain. 

On the chairlift for the luge.

After a day, we were off to Milford Sound for two days. The weather in Milford Sound can change quickly and is often rainy and foggy, but we got lucky and had a really nice day there. We took the opportunity to take the cruise into the fjords. 

The Kea, the giant mountain parrots of Milford Sound that prey on tourists for their food. They are really beautiful little creatures.

Milford sound from the land.

Milford Sound from the boat.

New Zealand fur seals sunbathing.

Our trusty vessel.

From Milford Sound we spent a few days in Queenstown and Lake Wanaka, where we relaxed. We had some rainy weather, so we took the opportunity to catch a movie, sightsee around town, and hike short trails before driving to Mount Cook for more adventures. In Mount Cook we hiked to a glacial lake and up to a lookout point. It was really pretty, and we could see a bunch of avalanches in the mountains as we hiked in the valley.

On our way to Hooker Lake.

Us and a huge melting glacier, and the resulting lake.

Icebergs broken off from the glacier, bigger than they appear.

Avalanche action shot.

Jackrabbit booty.

The drive away from Mount Cook back to Christchurch was truly spectacular. We passed an amazing blue lake, so clear and still it was almost a perfect mirror of the sky.

Leaving Mount Cook National Park.

Us and the bluest, clearest lake.

After returning to Christchurch to drop off our van and get a good nights sleep, we got on a flight to Auckland for our north island adventure. We picked up a new camper van and hit the road. Our first stop was hot water beach, where you can dig a hole in the sand at low tide and it fills with hot water. The drive was a bit rough because it was raining and the road was winding, but the landscape was really interesting. It was basically a jungle. When we got to the beach, it was storming but we decided to try and dig a hot tub anyway. That lasted about five minutes before we gave up due to giant waves and crazy wind and rain, but at least we can say we tried! The next day we drove out of the rain and down to Rotorua, the "cultural hub" of New Zealand and center of geothermal activity. 

First stop in Rotorua: Hell's Gate for a mud bath!

Healing mud.

We had one really nice day in Rotorua and decided to take full advantage with a picnic. We stayed at a campground with a pool and a geothermal pool, so we had a beautiful relaxing day. In the evening we went to a Maori cultural experience which included a show, a simulated ancient village, and a dinner cooked in an earth oven. 

Summer picnic in December.

Traditional Maori welcome.

Maori woman in the traditional kiwi cloak.

Maori warrior at the welcome.

In the Maori village.

For our last day in Rotorua we walked around the town and enjoyed the parks. 

Rotorua boiling mud.

New Zealand trees.

Our next big adventure was the Waitomo caves to see the glow worms. We opted for the black water rafting trip, which involved floating down a river that goes through a cave in an inner-tube. The glow worms were amazing- it was like looking up at a million blue-green stars. In some places they were clustered together and it almost looked like cathedral windows. 

Excited for blackwater rafting through glow worm caves! A 3 hour trip in underground caves was so amazing and fun. They did not allow us to take pictures. They took pictures but in the aftermath, we forgot to get a copy.

After blackwater rafting we stopped at a bird park to get a quick look at a kiwi bird! Everyone in New Zealand calls themselves kiwis, and kiwis are the clear front-runner for national symbols, but they are almost impossible to see in the wild because they are nocturnal. We finally got to see one, and it was really cute! It was a fat little body with long legs, a tiny head, and a long beak. 

Kiwi time. The real ones are nocturnal so you are not allowed to take pictures due to past issues with the flash. They were very loving with their caregivers.

Our last days in a camper van was spent in Hamilton, which had an amazing garden. We had a really nice time wandering through.

Hamilton Gardens.

Hamilton Gardens Maori garden.

We drove back up to Aukland and returned our van, and spent a few days in the city before getting ready to come home to the States. Auckland is very pretty, and we had great summer weather. We walked around the harbour, checked out the gardens, and enjoyed city life. 

Sunny day at the Auckland Harbor.

Auckland sunbathing.

Now we are getting ready to fly to California for the holiday, ending our 3.5 months abroad. It has been such a transformative and wonderful experience for both of us. We've learned a lot, and we've grown a lot individually and as a couple. While we are sad to see this international adventure come to a close, we are much more excited to see our friends and family, and continue our adventures back home. 

Happy holidays!!!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Amazing Australia

G'day from Sydney, Australia! We have had a wonderful time exploring this beautiful country, and we feel like we've only seen a small piece of it. 

We started our Australian adventure in Perth, Western Australia. Perth is a three hour flight from Bali so we thought we would give it a try. We are so glad we did. We stayed in an Air BnB in a town called Sorrento, north of Perth, on the beach. It was quiet and cute.

We rented a car in Perth, which was good because everything was far apart. Because our phone got stolen in Vietnam, we didn't have that as a navigation system. We decided to forgo the GPS and use a map. It was a good mental challenge, and we managed to not get lost forever in the desert! 

We did, of course, we got lost on our first day. The woman who owned the place we were staying said there was a cemetery close by that had a lot of wild kangaroos. It was supposed to be 10 minutes away, but we ended up driving about an hour and a half south. We ended up at a nice beach and had a lovely day hanging out at the beach and shopping. Kendra got a camera with wifi for her birthday! Note the improved blog pictures.  A few days later we finally made it to the kangaroos!

Kanga & Roo.

Mary chillin' with her friend, Bear Australia.

Mama with some baby feet hanging out! They all seemed to be in head-first.


On our second day, we took a two hour drive north through the bushland to Nambung National Park to see the pinnacles desert. The drive was beautiful through the Australian outback. 

Australian bushland.

No kangaroos were harmed during our drive to Nambung!

Sand dunes on the way to Nambung.

Just when we were starting to get concerned that we passed it somewhere along the almost-deserted highway, we finally reached the Pinnacles. The Pinnacles are basically rocks coming out of the ground, and nobody knows exactly how they formed. Some of them were quite tall, and with hundereds of them coming out of nowhere, they were really beautiful. 

Pinnacles desert- some taller ones.

Pinnacles desert- some smaller ones.

Pinnacles selfie. You can see the Indian Ocean in the background if you look close!

We managed to see some wildlife at the park! Some emu and a carpet python. We happened to be following the path of an Australian couple who were giving some of their tourist friends a tour, and they kept pointing these out to us. Very lucky!

Daddy and baby emus. Male emus are the primary caregivers . . . very progressive.

Carpet Python. We were assured they are not poisonous.

After touring the desert we stopped by the beaches, which were right across the street. They were amazing! White sand, crystal clear water, and completely deserted. We had expected the beaches in Bali to be the most spectacular, but Western Australia definitely won the beach contest so far. 

The beach at Nambung.

When we bought our ticket to Nambung, we were surprised to find it got us in free to another national park we had passed along the way. Yanchep National Park is about an hour outside of Perth, and it has Koalas! The koalas have their own little colony going in the park, although they are not native to the area. Koalas went naturally extinct in Western Australia thousands of years ago, although they know they once lived there becasue they have found skeletons in caves near the park. We were just happy to see them. They were very cute and sleepy.

Sleepy koala.

Bonus wild bird at the park.

We were so impressed with the beaches in Perth we spent the whole next day just driving down the coast and hitting different beaches on the way. They were so beautiful and clean, and fairly empty. We had a nice peaceful day and ended up in Fremantle, the hip and trendy area outside of Perth. We went to the Fremantle Market and walked around the town.

Cottesloe Beach.

In front of the Fremantle Market.

S'mores cookie from the Fremantle Market. AMAZING.

After our outdoor adventures, we spent a day with a friend of Kendra's parents' friend, Sam, who is a Perth local.  He was really friendly and took us all over the city. We started out in downtown Perth, checking out the outdoor shopping areas. We had to go there first because everything in Perth shuts down at 5! They have late shopping day on Thursday when things are open a bit later, but otherwise it is really an early bird city. It is also quite beautiful and very clean.

Down by the harbor, in front of Perth city.

After our tour of downtown, we went to Kings Park. Kings Park is like Perth's Central Park. It comes right up to the city and is huge. There are tons of paths and interesting plants and trees. There were also really nice views of the city.

View of downtown from Kings Park.

Bottle Tree in Kings Park.

Sam took us out to dinner and we happened to run into the Perth Pride Parade on the way! They do their parade at night on some years. It was fun to see some Perth night life. 

On our last day in Perth, we drove down to the southern suburb of Rockingham to go to Penguin Island, a nature reserve that supposedly is the home to many ferry penguins. We didn't see any penguins (during the day they are out hunting and fishing), but we did see a seal, pelicans, and some cute clamdigger birds. We relaxed on the beach and had a nice day. We were taking an overnight flight to Sydney, so we gave in to our inner tweens and saw the new Hunger Games movie. We recommend it! Kendra has been trying to do her hair like Katniss ever since.

Searching for penguins on Penguin Island.

Sleepy seal.



After our movie we drove to the airport and took the "midnight horror" flight to Sydney. Sydney is three hours ahead of Perth, so we took off at midnight and landed around 7 a.m. in the big city. Sydney is a completely different experience from Perth. It is a big city, and we stayed in a neighborhood called Glebe. We rented a room from a guy named Jonathan, who turned out to be really nice. He let us get in early so we could drop off our stuff and nap after the overnight flight, and then he showed us around the city at night. 

Getting around Sydney was pretty easy, and between the ferries, busses, and trains, we have seen quite a lot. On our first day, we walked down to Darling Harbor and took the ferry over to Circular Quay, where the famous Sydney Opera House is. 

Australian White Ibis. These are everywhere down by the harbor and they are not shy at all.  

In front of the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

Trying to be Katniss in front of the Opera House.

A little windblown on the ferry in Sydney Harbor!

After our quick city tour, we decided to spend a day out in nature. We took a two hour train out to the Blue Mountains. We had really nice little hike, and checked out a cute neighboring town called Leura. Leura is famous for its chocolate shop, so obviously we had to get some. 

In front of the Three Sisters.

Checking out the huge rock formations along the path around the ridge of the mountains. 

Katoomba Falls.

Can't pass up local chocolate.

Our third day in Sydney was Thanksgiving. We had no real plans, but Mary decided to look online to see if she could find a restaruant in town doing Thanksgiving dinner. She didn't find one, but she did see the Columbia Alumni Association of Sydney was doing a dinner. Mary got her masters degree from Columbia in 2006, so she asked them if we could join at the last minute. We had a really nice traditional Thanksgiving dinner, and met some interesting people. Some Aussies who went to Columbia for school, some Americans who married Aussies, and a few who came here for work. It ended up being a really fun night.

Columbia alums giving thanks in Sydney.

The next couple of days consisted mostly of beaches. We went to Bondi Beach, where the people of Sydney go to "see and be seen," according to our host. It was crowded but not as much as we expected it to be. The sand was beautiful, white powder, but the ocean was freezing and the surf was rough so we didn't get in much. We went to Manly Beach the next day and after noticing a similar scene, we went to the "kiddie ocean," a roped off area that was really calm, to get some swimming in! It was fun to be in the Pacific Ocean and know that our home was just on the other side. 

Check. ;)

Bondi Beach. 

In the evening, we joined our host and new friend Jonathan for his birthday party, and we caught the fireworks downtown. With the beginning of summer and with Christmas approaching, the festivities are in full swing. Along with the fireworks there were buildings lit up.

Friday night at Darling Harbor.

Sydney in lights.

We finished up our Australian adventure with a walk across the Harbor Bridge for a quick visit to Luna Park, a theme park in the city that has been there since the 1930s. It was very cute. In the evening we went to a free show on the steps of the Opera House. It was the 25th anniversary of an aboriginal dance company. Unfortunately, it was raining so the show was cut short. What we saw was great, and the announcer was the actress in a really great movie we had seen called Sapphires. 

View from the Harbor Bridge.

Luna Park . . . only a little creepy.

Deborah Mailman and the head of the dance team stalling while they de-rain the stage.

Aborigional Australian dance show.

So that's it for the land down under. We had a great time in Australia, and now we are off to our last new country on this trip: New Zealand!