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Month: January 2017

New Zealand Recap

New Zealand Recap

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We are head over heels in love with New Zealand. Everyone who has ever been to New Zealand says the exact same thing, but now we get it. We had not planned on going to NZ initially because it is an expensive place to travel, but we decided it was worth it and that maybe we will cut our trip short instead. NZ was totally different than everywhere else we traveled. We mastered driving on the left side of the road, we hiked (or tramped I believe the Kiwis like to call it), we slept in a van for 17 nights, we cooked almost every meal, and we tried to wander down gravel roads as much as possible. My camera struggled to capture the full beauty of the place in front of me. New Zealand reminded us of home a lot (except with a lot more sheep and less people) and it made us excited to return to home to Colorado.

This post contains entirely too many pictures, but with a place so beautiful (and a photographer of a husband) I could not help it…enjoy!DSC_0152

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Places Visited

We road tripped around the South Island so we would not try and cram too much and feel rushed everywhere. We will just have to come back and hit the North Island on a future trip! We drove a total of 2,464 miles in 18 days.

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We started in Christchurch before heading south around the island (clockwise) before heading back to Christchurch. Highlights of the places we visited were: The Catlins, Milford Sound, Queenstown, Wanaka and Blenheim.

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Things We Liked

English, freedom, camper vans, nature, cooking our own food, grocery stores, hiking, small towns, cheap wine, van life, not carrying our suitcases around, and feeling comfortable.

We also liked the differences in English…my favorite is when they call the cooler the chilly bin. I think I might bring that one back with me 🙂IMG_9148

Things We Disliked

Bugs (SO many bites), expensive, rainy days (and fog covering the mountains), gas stations that were few and far between, spotty internet service/paid wi-fi, lack of available showers (this was due to the fact we were living in a van), and terrible gas mileage.

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Not pictured: thousands of bugs biting us — we could only stay long enough for this picture

Van Life

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We called our trusty camper van, Monty, home for our time in New Zealand. Our trip revolved around the van: it was our transportation, our kitchen, storage, and our bed. By the end of the trip we were ready to give her back (sleeping in a van every night gets old and also makes you feel homeless), but we also became very attached! The van had places to sit and a table for hanging out in the day and you could remove the table and set up a bed. The bed was surprisingly comfortable for it being just a couple of cushions you push together. We would drive around all day and then every night we would have to locate a campsite to park our car in. New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) makes it pretty easy to do with DOC sites all over NZ, although they all cost a small sum of money to stay there ($11-$19 USD for the two of us). They all had toilets of varying cleanliness and that is about it. Every few nights we would pay almost double (around $30 or more USD) to stay in a holiday park to take advantage of a nice shower. Our only complaints were having to setup/tear down the bed everyday, the lack of showers, and having to pay so much money for a parking spot to park our van overnight.

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Our little kitchen on wheels

Painted camper vans are all over New Zealand. Ours was no exception! We loved the art on our van and we even got to meet the artist while getting gas about an hour from Christchurch. We rented from Escape Camper vans, but Wicked Camper vans was also very popular…all of their vans were slightly inappropriate (I would have HATED to have one of them) but they entertained us so much!
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Favorite Campsite

Moke Lake outside of Queenstown wins the prize for our favorite campsite. The 5 km drive to the campsite off of the main road was entirely gravel and filled with sheep and cows. We enjoyed this site so much we stayed for 2 nights! Bonus — the ranger who lives at the site was awesome and we loved chatting with him.

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Highlights

 1. Roy’s Peak 

There were very few things on our must do list in NZ, but Scott was set on hiking up to Roy’s Peak. The hike was 3 hours straight uphill in the heat through fields of sheep to get to one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. The 5 hours spent hiking was well worth it (although if you asked me on the way up I probably would have not agreed)!

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2. Wine Tasting in Marlborough

If we are nearby a wine region we are going to go check it out. We have been to Napa, Sonoma, and Temecula in California and also went to some wineries in Croatia. It was only natural that in New Zealand we would go check out the wine scene in Marlborough, which is known for the sauvignon blancs. We had rented bicycles in Temecula on a trip a few years back and we had heard that Renwick/Blenheim were great places to go on bicycle wine adventures…it did not take much else to get us to sign up! We chose to go with Wine Tours by Bike and we could not have had a better experience. They picked us up at our holiday park and we picked up our bikes. We were within 30 minutes biking to over 15 cellar doors (they call the tasting rooms at wineries cellar doors in NZ), they were all close together, there were no hills and we were able to avoid roads with a lot of traffic.

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In the middle of our cellar door visits we had lunch at Wairau River Wines. The lemongrass pork burger (with coconut satay sauce) perfectly paired with a reserve Viognier made us melt it was so good. Along the way we picked up a bottle of wine or two to enjoy our last few nights in NZ and stored them in our handy wine bottle holders attached on the back of our bicycles. We even found out that one of the wineries is in Mondo Vino, the liquor store up the street from our house and we cannot wait to seek out a bottle when we get home. We love wine tasting. We love biking. We love eating. Our bicycle wine tour in Renwick was a perfect day for all of those things!img_6708

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3. Movie Night in Wanaka

Every place we have been we have talked about going to the movies, but never seemed to make it there. We found out there was a a theater in Wanaka called Cinema Paradiso to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (the new JK Rowling movie). The movie theater was so unique and was a local hangout. The theatre sold food and beer, they had couches in the theatre, there was intermission halfway through (and they waited for everyone to come back before resuming), and there was freshly baked cookies for sale during the intermission. More movie theaters should take a page out of their playbook…or at least get on board with the freshly baked chocolate chip cookies!

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4. Milford Sound

Milford Sound is spectacular. We drove up one day and the mountains were covered in fog, it was rainy, and we could hardly see anything around us (except for a bunch of awesome waterfalls running down all the mountains covered in fog). It was spectacular even with the bad weather. We had planned to stay in Milford Sound overnight and do a cruise the next day. We arrived around 6 pm only to realize that we had underestimated the size of the town where Milford Sound is and there was nowhere to stay. The one holiday park was booked solid and we had to drive back 2.5 hours to the closest large town, Te Anou, to spend the night. We checked the weather report and the next day was supposed to be beautiful so we booked a cruise and decided to head back to Milford Sound for day two. We are SO glad we did.

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Day 1
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Day 2

The cruise of Milford Sound lasted around 2-2.5 hours. We saw waterfalls, cliffs, snow-peaked mountains, penguins, sea lions, and rainbows. We had heard that Milford Sound Cruises are overrated and we have to fully disagree with that. It might have had something to do with the perfect weather, but it was stunning. The pictures fail to do this place justice.

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5. The Catlins

We loved our time in the southern most portion of the South Island, known as The Catlins. Gas stations were few and far between, there was an abundance of sea animals (penguins! sea lions!), the scenery was stunning, and there just wasn’t that many people around. Nugget Point and Cathedral Caves were my personal favorites, but everything we saw in the two nights we spent here were some of our favorites!

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Lowlights

1. Franz Josef

Most people come to Franz Josef to check out the famed Franz Josef Glacier and we were no exception. As a birthday present we were going to go climb the glacier which involves a short helicopter transfer to the ice and then a few hours hiking and exploring one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world (before it is gone). We arrived in town the day the tour only to see rain in the forecast. We woke up the morning of the tour and it was pouring. The tour was off and we were pretty bummed, but they could get us on a tour the following day and the forecast looked perfect so we decided to stick around another day in hopes of climbing the glacier! The second morning we woke up to sunshine and we were sure it was going to work out! We arrived at the place as it started to sprinkle and the tour was off once again. I suppose it wasn’t meant to be.

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We did get a peak at Fox Glacier

Although we were bummed about the glacier tour, we were far more crushed to learn some heartbreaking news about someone we met just over a month before. While in Japan we were able to see one of Scott’t long time friends, Eric, who is a Marine F/A-18 Fighter pilot stationed in Japan. He introduced us to one of the other pilots he was stationed with, Jake, and we hung out with him a few times in Tokyo. When in Franz Josef we found out that Jake was killed in a plane crash during a training routine off the coast of Japan. We were devastated. All we could think about was hearing him talk about how much he missed his wife, son, and how he couldn’t wait to meet his baby girl who is due in January…we were heartbroken thinking about how much they must hurt. We cannot begin to imagine what all of his family, friends, those serving with him, and all those who love him are going through. It was an honor to be able to thank him for his service and an honor to get to know him.

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Tokyo by night with Jake (left) and Eric (middle)

“On occasion, though not often, we are presented with a tangible way to thank a hero for his service. Jake Frederick made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation, for you and for me, on December 7, 2016. He was a Marine F/A-18 Fighter pilot, and was finishing up another long deployment, when a mishap during a routine training flight took his life.

Left behind are his beautiful wife Kiley, three year old son Colt, and their baby daughter, who is due to be born in January. Kiley has served them all selflessly since their military journey began, sacrificing many things for their family.

They are raising money for his family. If you feel generous this holiday season or would like to thank a hero for his service you can find the GoFundMe to support his family here.

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The Stats

Total Number of Nights: 18

Languages: English (!)

Currency: $1 USD = $1.42 New Zealand Dollar

Animals Spotted: Penguins, sheep, cows, fur seals, sea lions, hedgehogs, deer, lots of birds, kea (parrots), and so many more!

Number of Miles Traveled:  3,792 miles (including our flight from Australia)

Number of Miles Driven: 2,464 miles

Number of Miles Walked:  105 miles (average of 5.5 miles per day)

Steps Taken:  224,790 steps (average of about 11,830 per day)

Transportation Used: Camper van, bus, boat

Type of Accommodations: Camper van (1), hotel (1)

Number of Beds: 2

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Sydney Recap

Sydney Recap

Lauren, Scott and I all headed to Sydney, Australia for almost a week. It was the first country I have ever visited that also speaks English as the primary language (besides the USA and Canada). It was an awesome change of pace to be able to communicate with those around us, understand menus, and to not stand out like a sore thumb.

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Sydney reminded us of San Diego (minus the driving on the wrong side of the road, cool accents, and being across the world). Scott kept referring to Australia as “Bizarre-o America” since it felt like we were in the US the whole time. To be honest, if I were to have flown halfway across the world on my two week vacation to go to Australia I might have been disappointed. When I travel internationally I love that smack you in the face difference of cultures, food and people. With that being said, after spending three months in Asia this familiarity was just what I needed and what I craved. It was almost reverse culture shock for us and it was overwhelming at times. It made us miss home more than any other place and I can see why people love to travel to Australia.

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Places Visited

Sydney (and surrounding areas)

We only made it to Sydney this time around, but after our 3 weeks in New Zealand we fly back through Melbourne to see a bit more of Australia!

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Things We Liked 

Being able to communicate (ENGLISH!), beaches, ocean walks, people watching, cool/trendy parts of town, easy transportation, availability of everything we know, feeling comfortable, and not standing out. 

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Things We Disliked

Expensive and limited options for budget accommodations…we disliked very little though!

Highlights

1. Ben Harper at the Sydney Opera House Forecourt

One night while drinking a few beers in Bali Scott mentioned that Ben Harper was playing in Sydney our first night in town and that tickets were still available. When we looked a bit further we noticed that the concert took place at the Sydney Opera Forecourt, which is the courtyard in front of the Opera House with views of the Harbour Bridge as well. This was the last straw and we booked tickets immediately.

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Ben Harper puts on a great show and we had been missing some live music in our lives. Also, the venue was incredible and one of the coolest venues I have ever been to (my beloved Colorado venues of Red Rocks and Mishiwaka have my heart, but I am also a bit biased). It was overall one of the most memorable nights of our trip!

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2. Sydney Fish Market

We have realized that we love fish markets. If a city we visit has a fish market you can bet your money we will visit it. The Sydney Fish Market was much different than the Asian ones, but it was so fun. We wandered around the stalls selling fresh seafood and settled on our lunch of oysters, salmon sashimi and sushi rolls on the water.

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The Tokyo Fish Market was not for tourists. It was a working market that let tourists get a peak at the end of their workday. It was fast moving and we were just trying to stay out of the way. The Seoul Fish Market was mostly for locals. It is open 24 hours and you could go in, pick out your seafood, and have them grill/cut up whatever you purchased and serve it to you in a nearby restaurant. It was awesome, but the whole time we were never really sure what was happening since we don’t speak Korean. It was overwhelming. The Sydney Fish Market is for both tourists and locals. It was really nice to be able to read signs and order exactly what we wanted. We even learned what some things we have been eating in Asia or have seen in our travels actually are – like I said, those signs in English are really magical to us!

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3. The Coast

The beaches, beach walks, and all the areas on the coast around Sydney are amazing. We checked out Bondi Beach, manly Beach and did a couple of the ocean walks. They say a picture says a thousand words…so here are a few.

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Thanksgiving

We certainly missed home this Thanksgiving. We usually spend the holiday in Connecticut with the Berkes and it is probably Scott’s favorite day of the year. We weren’t planning to seek out Thanksgiving food or turkey…it seemed as if we might end up at a hotel somewhere eating bad food feeling worse about being away from home for the holidays than when we started. So instead we took the ferry to Manly Beach to do the Ocean walk and explore before getting dinner in the area. The views were incredible and the weather could not have been more perfect.

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We found a brewery in the area, 4 Pines Brewing Company, so we decided it would be as good as a place as any for Thanksgiving dinner. When we got there we found of they had a Thanksgiving special of one pumpkin beer and a turkey leg (with sweet potato mash and green beans) so naturally we all ordered one of the specials. The food was delicious and they gave us another round of pumpkin beers on the house since we are American. My enthusiasm level for pumpkin beer every fall is incredibly high and I generally try to taste test as many kinds as a can. Unfortunately this year I have not been able to have any (apparently it is an American thing), but they brewed up a batch special for the holiday. We watched the sunset from the patio and our evening was really great!

It was nothing like being home (there is nothing we could have done to replace how much we love spending Thanksgiving surrounded by family), but we made the best of it! We were sad and missing home on Thanksgiving for sure. It was awesome to have Lauren there with us to celebrate too!

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The Stats

Total Number of Nights: 5

Languages: English (!)

Currency: $1 USD = $1.33 Australian Dollar (AUD)

Number of Miles Traveled:  4,275 (including our flight from Indonesia)

Number of Miles Walked:  51 miles (average of 10.2 miles per day)

Steps Taken:  109,649 steps (average of about 21,930 per day)

Transportation Used: boat, bus, taxi, metro

Type of Accommodations: Hostel (1), hotel (1)

Number of Beds: 2

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The Art of Making Mistakes

The Art of Making Mistakes

I am not sure if we just got to confident or started to relax a bit, but either way we made some mistakes on the Indonesian and Australian legs of this trip. We were with our friend, Lauren, for these legs of the trip and naturally we brought our A-Game to show off what experienced travelers we have become. Some mistakes were not so bad and others could have turned out really terrible.

In an effort not to just talk about the awesome parts about traveling, I give you the mistakes we made (in the course of two weeks).

Mistake 1: Paying for two hotels for one night.

We booked a place on Gili Air for our first 6 nights in Indonesia before Lauren arrived. We realized on the way to Indonesia that we could not catch a boat in time to get to the island that day. We really should have looked into that before we were on our way to the airport. We had to pay for a night of accommodations in Gili Air since we could not cancel and had to find another place to stay near the airport in Kuta Beach (which was a mistake in itself).

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Mistake 2: No cash on an island.

We forgot to get cash out before heading to Nusa Lembongan where there is 1 ATM on the entire island. The ATM was out of cash and Lauren had to spot us some cash. Not a big deal, but we know better than to show up on a tiny island with no money.

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Snorkel stands way out number ATMs

Mistake 3: We forgot to get Australian Visas!

On our last day in Indonesia we realized we had forgotten to get our electronic travel certificates (ETAs) around 1:30 pm. We had a flight out at 10 pm that same day to Sydney. The three of us applied for our ETAs and two of us got approved immediately. Scott was the unlucky one that had to have his application reviewed by a person. They say that happens a lot and to wait 12 hours before contacting them about the status of his visa (they usually approve it in that time span). Problem was that our flight was in 7 hours and they would not let him on the plane without the ETA. So naturally we panic.

We take a taxi to the nearest Australian visa office. It is essentially the DMV of visas for Indonesian people. They could not help us, but we sat there waiting to talk to someone because we were grasping at straws. Suddenly Scott gets an email saying his visa was approved. Crisis avoided! We left the visa office feeling incredibly lucky that we all got to go to Australia.

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Mistake 4: Not reading the fine print of baggage policies on budget airlines.

We arrive to the airport with just under 2 hours until our flight. That should have been plenty of time, but the line to check-in took so long to get through. We were flying Jetstar (the equivalent of the Spirit Airlines of Australia). The limit was 7 kg each for a carry on bag. Usually nobody cares, but we had the world’s greatest rule follower checking our bags. We were overweight and had to check them.img_1558

Jetstar is similar to Spirit Airlines (or Frontier) where you have to purchase your checked bag in advance to check-in at the counter or else they charge you around 5 times as much. We obviously did not know any of this. The clerk said he would be nice and we could carry on 2 bags and just check 1. He said it was $120 each. We clarified many times….this is 120,000 IDR, right? Yes, yes. IDR. Indonesian Dollars. Okay. Why don’t we just check all three if it is only going to cost us $27 to check all of the bags…that would be worth it!

We are taken to another guy to pay the fee. As he takes the credit card he mentions $320 Australian Dollars. WAIT A MINUTE. STOP. They were going to charge us $270 USD to check three bags. We ran back to the clerk and he seemed very angry we had misunderstood him. In our defense, his English wasn’t great and we would have never agreed to pay that much. In a last ditch effort to save our wallets we talked them into letting us go with the original plan he suggested to only check one bag and we paid our $90 (begrudgingly)…Jetstar won this time.

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Our bags really aren’t THAT big.

Mistake 5: Not arriving at the airport 3 hours early.

I mean, who would have known? This luggage debacle and check-in took so long that we got through customs with not a lot of time to spare. We looked at all the boards and NONE of them had our flight showing. It had not been updated for hours. We run through the airport and finally find our flight on the board…the status was the dreaded “Final Call” so we sprinted to our flight. We almost missed our flight and we were at the airport almost 2 hours early. I hate being late at airports. I just don’t do it.

That is the story how Scott and Shelby became those people that arrive at airports 3-4 hours early from now on (kidding…maybe).

So there you have it — the mistakes we made in Indonesia and Australia. It doesn’t matter how much you travel or how much you have your shit together…there is always the potential to screw something up 🙂

Happy New Year!