Sunday, May 28, 2017

Auckland and first rugby game

We flew to Auckland in the afternoon and immediately picked up our rental car. Driving to our hotel (the Ibis) was quite the adventure! It seemed nearly every road around our hotel was closed, and we attempted to get there from the airport sans GPS. In a city of over a million, that certainly is no easy feat. Luckily, our long drive around saved us from having to pay to park for so many hours.

Once we settled into our adorable hotel room (it even had a mini-kitchen), we set out to find food. Luckily, there was a veggie cafe right next door called Revive. It was super cute inside and featured a variety of soup and salad combinations that you could choose from. Everything was so fresh and delicious!

Yum!
We then headed to Eden Park to watch a rugby game. We decided to take the subway to the field, and it seemed everyone else on the train was also going to the game. People were decked out in face paint, there was no shortage of intoxicated riders, and since we weren't wearing jerseys or colors to represent one of the teams, fellow passengers seemed quite interested in who we were rooting for.

The Blues vs. the Chiefs were the two teams playing, and I immediately decided to root for the Blues...mostly because it's my favorite color (and since they happened to be giving out free flags at the entrance).

We found our seats, which were excellent and only about 10 rows up from the field, and purchased some "chips" (that's fries for Americans).



I couldn't quite figure out what was happening during the game, but I did note that it is incredibly rough. I spent more time trying to figure out how every player didn't have a concussion than I did watching the actual game. Despite not knowing the rules (and fearing for serious head injuries), it was still quite exciting though!

Throughout the game, it rained on and off. Luckily, the flag I received made an excellent umbrella. We decided to leave shortly before the game was over. Thank goodness we did since as soon as we stepped under the subway platform's awning, it immediately started pouring!

Our train ride back featured many drunk fans, who were quite entertaining to listen to.


No idea what I was cheering for, but, hey, I can now say I've been to a rugby game in New Zealand!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Wellington

Despite being downtown, our Wellington hotel was really quiet! I highly recommend the Setup on Dixon, which is where we stayed. In the morning, I found out Wellington has a vegan bakery, so of course we had to make our way there!

Sweet Release was located in a mini-open air market sort of place. And it was across the street from another food market with various vendors and a semi-covered main seating area.

I was completely overwhelmed when I walked in! They had every kind of sweet you can imagine, along with vegan hot chocolate and a whole array of drinks. They also had pot pies and sausages. I definitely think the British influence can be felt in the food in New Zealand. I asked the clerk to recommend a pot pie, and she said I should get the chili cheese pie with aoili sauce.

I did as she recommended, and it did not disappoint! I don't know what kind of cheese they used, but it was so creamy and delicious. I also decided to get a peanut butter brownie, which was amazing!



And by itself because, hey, a peanut butter brownie flippin' deserves it.
We then walked along the harbor and people-watched for a while. I really dig Wellington so far (despite not taking a lot of pictures of it). Not only is everyone incredibly nice (a theme in New Zealand; even the airport security people are as friendly as can be!), but the city is quite green and clean. And with a population of 405,000, it seems to be the perfect mix of big city, but not too overwhelming.



Then we headed to the Te Papa Museum, which was simply incredible! It was huge, and the exhibits were so fascinating. It covered the history of New Zealand starting from when the earth formed the land of New Zealand to the present day. I was particularly interested in learning more about Maori culture, although it was so sad to learn how much the British took advantage of them (for instance, New Zealand's founding document was intentionally mistranslated in a Maori language to make them think they had retained sovereignty). It's sadly, not surprising though.

There was also an incredible installation about Gallipoli. It featured giant human statues that were so life-like. I couldn't get over how the artists captured every last detail, down to blackheads on some of the soldiers' noses. Wow! And at the end of the powerful exhibit, visitors were encouraged to comment their thoughts on paper poppies and leave them at the feet of the solider.

A poor attempt to capture one of the statutes:


After the museum, we made our way to the airport. Next up: Auckland!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Bungee jumping!

We decided to head up the mountain in the gondola to watch bungee jumpers this morning. The weather was rainy so we were afraid they might not jump. Luckily, they still did. Bungee jumping originated in Queenstown, and apparently, when anyone travels here, they must bungee jump. Well, everyone except Kate Brindle because she is a big ol' wimp.

The gondola ride was pretty, and it's just about the level of "extreme activity" (AKA what Queenstown in famous for) in which I like to participate.






When we got to the top, we waited for the bungee jumpers to assemble. We met a couple from Australia (he was a first time jumper; she was simply watching), a British guy who appeared to have no fear and had been before, and a family from Australia (the two adult children were jumping, while the parents looked on in terror). There was also another couple who were going to do the swing. This is basically like a bungee jump, only you "swing" off the platform instead (or, as it looked like, a complete free fall, only you're sitting upright).

The swingers went first, and just seeing them go off the platform made my heart skip a beat. It seemed so high, and they seemed so unprotected as they free-fell. Of course, my worry-ridden mind imagined 1,000 worst case scenarios of the cord snapping, or it getting wrapped around their necks, or a million other things.

Luckily, they were fine.

Then, it was the bungee-ers' (is that a word?) turn. I may have screamed a little when the first guy went. It just looked so terrifying! I had seen a lot of bungee videos online, but none of them do it justice until you actually see it.

Then the no fear guy went. He even did a flip! And, apparently, he loved it so much, he decided to go again right after.


No, thank you.

The two Australian first timers looked as if their bodies went completely limp. When we spoke to them after, they said it was 3 seconds of shear terror, followed by a lot of bouncy fun. They even tried to convince us to go, but we declined.

We checked out all of the scenery from on top of the mountain, which was absolutely gorgeous!



Before heading back down, of course, we had to stop at the gift shop.

Tourist Keith.
After the gondola ride back to town, we headed to the airport to board our flight to Wellington. The Queenstown Airport is really small, so we were the only ones in line checking in. We got there with plenty of time, so we stopped to have a sit-down lunch, where I had a veggie sandwich and FaceTimed my mom.

Our flight was smooth, and Air New Zealand might be my new favorite airline. All of the staff were just so nice! And they even bring around candy!

We took the Super Shuttle to our hotel, and chatted up our driver the entire way there. We talked a great deal about politics, and he noted how much he loves New Zealand and thinks it's the best country in the world. That seems to be a running theme here, whether the person is an immigrant or a local.

By the time we checked into our hotel (a cute, little place right down town), we were so tired that we simply set out for food (we ended up settling on falafel and gelato, which we've been eating everyday) and came back and went to bed. Thankfully, after yesterday, our place was really quiet!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Milford Sound

We woke up bright and early and set out for Milford Sound, where we planned to take a cruise (which is the only way one can view the sound). According to wikipedia, "Milford Sound is a fjord in the south west of New Zealand's South Island within Fiordland National Park, Piopiotahi Marine Reserve, and the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage site. It has been judged the world's top travel destination in an international survey and is acclaimed as New Zealand's most famous tourist destination. Rudyard Kipling had previously called it the eighth Wonder of the World."

On our way there, we saw some beautiful scenery and listened to New Zealand's version of NPR. I am happy to report I learned a new term on the radio: jiggery pokery. While I've since been informed that former Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia used this term in one of his opinions, I had never heard someone say it in speech form before. Plus, it just sounds so much better said with a Kiwi accent. Keith and I had some fun working into our conversations throughout the day.

A view along the way:


We stopped for gas on our journey to Milford Sound, and in addition to picking up more fizzy candy (man, those things are addictive!), we informed the gas station employee where we were headed. He asked if we had tickets to the ferry yet. We told him we didn't, and he said, "well, you better get some now because the last boat leaves at 1 pm." Luckily, he was able to phone the dock and we secured tickets to go.

Since we were apparently cutting it pretty close, as a last instruction, he firmly told us, "no stopping! Not even for toilet breaks."

So we picked up the pace while eating our fizzies and barely made it on time. Thank goodness those ferries had bathrooms!

Before getting to the sound, we had to go on a one-lane tunnel through the mountains, which were gorgeous.



While we waited our turn through the tunnel, I noticed this little guy, who came up to my car to beg for food. He definitely had the cute-feel-sorry-for-me-and-give-me-something-to-eat look down pat. So, I gave him a chip, which he seemed to enjoy.


Upon walking to the dock, I was immediately struck by how gorgeous the foliage was. I had never seen anything like it in that we were in the middle of winter, yet all of the plants looked tropical. There were even palm trees there.

Walk to the dock.
The ferry we took was really nice! It was huge, and when we stepped aboard, we were immediately flooded by smells of all of the food being served. I felt like I was on a cruise.

Harbor view. Our boat was the one on the left.
Milford Sound was absolutely gorgeous! While it was cold and damp, feeling the wind through my hair was so refreshing and peaceful. We even saw some seals sunning themselves on rocks (sadly, none of my pictures captured them). Some views from the cruise:



After the board ride, we ate our weight in fizzy candies headed back to Queenstown.

We ate at the world famous Fergburger, which is, apparently, the most instagrammed burger shop ever. Oh, and did I mention Ed Sheeran has eaten there? If it's good enough for Ed, then I guess it's good enough for me.

I couldn't get over how long the line was! They even had "fluffers" (their term, not mine) to talk to people waiting outside. When I spoke to one of them, she informed me that the line we saw was "nothing" and that usually (during peak season) it's hours long.

I ordered the 'Holier Than Though' vegan burger, which I awarded points to for size, taste, and name. I'm not quite sure it would be worth waiting hours for, but it was good. I was more excited about the chocolate gelato I got from the place next door (also owned by the Fergs).

Of course I had to contribute to Fergburger's instagram numbers though.

When we checked into our hostel, we were shown to a room that only had one bed for the two of us. I politely informed the person who worked there (Gary, an American from Connecticut) that we had requested a room with two beds.

"Ah, that room is broken," was the reply I got.

Okay.

So, he showed me how the bunk beds in the room that was supposed to be ours had completely collapsed.

Luckily, the staff was very accommodating. Gary and another guy from Scotland immediately got to working on the situation. By the time they fixed everything, Keith and I both had not only our own beds, but our own rooms! I got to stay in this little cabin-y looking place, which was super cute. Oh, and because of the mix-up, they gave us both rooms for free!


Unfortunately, I didn't sleep well though as my neighbors kept opening their door throughout the night, and every time they did, I swore someone was trying to break into my room. I also kept hearing car doors slam as people were parked right outside of my room. I was informed that they paid $15 to sleep in their vehicles, but they were given access to the showers and kitchen.

The vehicles parked outside my room.
In the morning, when I regained my senses and reminded myself there is very little crime in New Zealand, I quickly realized how silly I was being and wished that I had slept better.

Oh well...as my old debate partner at NYU used to say, "you can sleep when you're dead."

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Glaciers, Big Foot, and burritos

I woke up feeling slightly better, although the heat in our place still was't exactly strong. Luckily, the blankets were warm and the layers I packed helped me quite a bit.

My view in the morning.

Looking out the kitchen window.
Last night's digs.
We decided to dedicate the next couple of days to glaciers, so our hours were spent getting to and from large blocks of ice.

A shot of Queenstown as we were leaving.



Our first destination was Franz Josef Glacier. We decided to take the scenic route and wound our way up and down icy dirt roads. I didn't feel too bad about not working out as those drives certainly got my heart racing.

Me and my newly acquired tourist hat along the road.
The front desk attendant at our hostel told us we had to stop at the Cardrona Hotel along our way. Apparently, it's a New Zealand icon. It boasts, "Established in 1863 the Cardrona Hotel is one of New Zealand’s oldest and most iconic hotels. Situated on the spectacular Crown Range road between Queenstown and Wanaka, the hotel is one of only two remaining buildings from the Cardrona Valley gold rush era. The historic hotel facade is representative of this now vanished town and is an important part of New Zealand’s history."

Some shots of the hotel and town:



Look! Prince Harry has even been there.
Much to my delight, the hotel served vegan hot chocolate. So, I cozied up near the fireplace and took in the old-time ambiance.





Hit. The. Spot.
After my sugar high, I took over the driving.

First time driving on the left. Watch out!
Some shots from along the road:


We also stopped at the Blue Pools, which definitely lived up to their names in blueness. Getting there:

I prefer to do all my hiking sitting down.
After about a mile walk through the woods, we made it to the pools! Note that this is the same "pool;" I just like posting three pictures that are essentially the same thing.


After the blue pools, we piled back into the car in search of Franz Josef. We couldn't resist stopping to check out this waterfall along the road though:


And, then, before we knew it, it was glacier time.


We couldn't get too close, but taking in its beauty from afar was still pretty fantastic!

One of New Zealand's many graphic warning signs.


After a long day, we retired to our hostel. For the night, we stayed at Franz Josef Montrose, and it was fantastic! It seemed brand new and felt more like a hotel. We made dinner in the kitchen and chatted up a woman from Japan who worked there while trying to study English. She was in charge of making the vegetable soup, which was complimentary from the hotel every night. While we were too tired to stay and wait for it to be finished, it sure smelled good!

Early the next morning, Keith woke up and took a helicopter ride over the glacier. I was too much of a chicken to go up in the air (especially after the debacle that was our flight into Queenstown), but his pictures looked absolutely gorgeous! Seriously amazing!

Instead, I settled for driving out to Fox Glacier, which was also really pretty, but, sadly, featured no graphic warning signs.



Oh, and I got to meet Big Foot (well, a plaster one anyway). That's just as exciting as a helicopter ride, right? RIGHT?!



We spent most of the rest of the day eating (we discovered these fizzy sweet-tart candies at the gas station, which were highly addictive), drinking bitters (my new fave!), and driving back to Queenstown.

More warning signs at a rest stop:



A stop along the coast on the way back. Even when I'm half-way around the world, I'm greeted by Ann Arbor.



Back in Queenstown, we ate Mexican food, which felt odd seeing as we were no where near Mexico. But, the place made its own, homemade vegan cheese, so I figured, "why not give it a try?" I'm glad we did because it was quite delicious!
Yumminess from Sombrero's Mexican Cantina.
With full bellies, we drove back to our hostel. On the way, we almost got into an accident and, consequently, learned that round-abouts have slightly different rules in New Zealand than they do in the U.S. Shout-out to the guy in the blue car for not hitting us! Thankfully, we and our rental car were fine, and my heart eventually resumed having a normal BPM rate again.