Sanchel Road Trip

END OF THE ROAD (TRIP)

After Christchurch, we made our way up the South Island, rode the ferry back to Wellington and drove back up through the North Island. With a few coffee breaks, seal watching stops and beach time we made our way back for one last afternoon at Piha Beach and one more night in Auckland. 

Sandy,  back at at Piha .
Sandy glowing, from a healthy mix of sunshine, red wine and steak. 

Sandy glowing, from a healthy mix of sunshine, red wine and steak. 

Covering two islands in three weeks with only one speeding ticket, we celebrated a successful road trip with dinner and drinks at Chapel in Ponsonby. It was such an adventurous but also relaxing journey and it was so, so nice to kick off my time in NZ with one of my best homegirls. The next morning we returned our beloved campervan and I hugged Sandy goodbye as she hopped in a cab to catch her flight back to Boston.

This whole round-the-world trip of mine was purposefully unplanned but I did have 3 things planned when I left Boston in September:

1) a flight from Boston to London

2) a flight from London to Auckland (both from frequent flyer mile points!)

3) a road-trip with Sandy in New Zealand

Now that the last was complete... I'll admit that there was a moment of panic as I laid on the top bunk in a terrible hostel in Auckland, realizing that I needed to start a life here now, from scratch.

Before I could get too melodramatic, I perked up remembering the words of a wise woman "...every few years one needs to shake ones life through a sieve, like a miner in the Yukon. The gold nuggets remain. The rest falls through like the soft earth that it is."

With that in mind... I called my Mum, bought a cappuccino and got to work on a starting a new little life in the Southern Hemisphere. 

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND

Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island and unfortunately, has become known in recent years for it's devastating earth quakes. In 2011, the city was rocked by a quake of a 6.3 magnitude and killed 185 people from over 20 different countries. Christchurch's infrastructure had been weakened previously and aftershocks made it even more difficult to rebuild. Four years later, rubble remains but the city has made huge efforts with urban regeneration plans. Innovative businesses and buildings have popped up as the city rebuilds and colorful street art is around every corner, showing the resiliency and creativity of the community. 

After St John the Baptist Church was demolished after the earthquake, Japanese artist  Shigeru Ban  designed the transitional  Cardboard Cathedral . 

After St John the Baptist Church was demolished after the earthquake, Japanese artist Shigeru Ban designed the transitional Cardboard Cathedral

185 white chairs in honor of all the 185 people who were lost in the earthquake. A single flower on each. 

185 white chairs in honor of all the 185 people who were lost in the earthquake. A single flower on each. 

The earthquake actually ended up  revitalizing the city's arts scene . The Christchurch Art Gallery installed works on outside walls and billboards, creating temporary exhibitions and installations all over the city. I found this gem on a street fence. 

The earthquake actually ended up revitalizing the city's arts scene. The Christchurch Art Gallery installed works on outside walls and billboards, creating temporary exhibitions and installations all over the city. I found this gem on a street fence. 

We met up with one of the charming tour directors from Sandy's work for a coffee and he showed us his (award winning!) garden and gave us local tips for visiting Christchurch. 

We met up with one of the charming tour directors from Sandy's work for a coffee and he showed us his (award winning!) garden and gave us local tips for visiting Christchurch. 

An authentic New Zealand award winning bloom. 

An authentic New Zealand award winning bloom. 

Walking around Christchurch was a bit eery with the crumbled concrete from it's leveled buildings and you could feel the vibe of a quiet city still tip-toeing in transition, post-devastation.

But mostly, it was inspiring to see their commitment to keeping their art and culture alive. If there's one city in New Zealand worth dropping a few dollars in, it's Christchurch. I'd recommend supporting their local economy by hitting up Re:Start, a food truck/shopping area built from shipping containers. Go for a kebab from Dimitri's Souvlaki followed by real fruit ice cream from Berry Healthy. And take some novelty candy from Johnson's Grocery for the road. Good food for a good cause. 

HOOKER VALLEY HIKE

On our way to Christchurch, we drove into the Aoraki National Park and camped next to Mount Cook for the night. 

HookerValley
Glacier water, which looks like watered down white acrylic house paint.

Glacier water, which looks like watered down white acrylic house paint.

NewZealand
hookervalley
MountCook

The next morning, we woke up and hiked the Hooker Valley Track which led us over Hooker River and a few swing bridges to a glacier lake. The weather was gray and windy which only added to the ominous mountain landscape. 

MILFORD SOUND

Milford Sound is as famous to New Zealand as Lord of the Rings.

While I haven't actually seen any of those films (I'm more of a Flight of the Conchords type), Sandy and I did make a point of visiting Milford Sound.

I only see  this  when looking at this photo. 

I only see this when looking at this photo. 

Our trip over was long and a little groggy. Queenstown nightlife may not be anything worth raving about but that's not to say we didn't participate. Between naps, we pulled over for shots of the beautiful landscapes. 

Then, we hopped on a boat and cruised the famous (and windy) fiord. 

Five months into my time in NZ (I'm a bit behind on blog posts) I still haven't seen Lord of the Rings, but with the high winds, waterfalls, seals, rainbows and asian men taking selfies... Milford Sound was cinematic enough. 

SANDY'S BIRTHDAY SKYDIVE

On her birthday, Sandy did what any responsible adult does when they turn 30. She jumped out of a plane. 

Photos I stole from  Skydive Lake Wanaka. 

Photos I stole from Skydive Lake Wanaka. 

Sandy had been talking about skydiving for her birthday since we first began planning her NZ visit last summer, so I was beaming like a proud paparazzo when I saw the red speck of her floating down above the Wanaka mountains. She made friends with all the fellow jumpers and employees and managed to look cuter in a red jumpsuit than anyone should.

Some might dread turning 30, but Sandy decided skydiving on the other side of the world would be a better way to celebrate. What a legend. 

QUEENSTOWN

Queenstown's scenery is as epic as it's extreme sports and we had an adventurous few days there to celebrate Sandy's birthday. 

The drive into Queenstown is straight up majestic. 

Queestown's center is filled with cute cafes, restaurants and a bar scene that (despite it's reputation) doesn't quite rival Allston, MA (as in, skip it unless you're 22 and into cover bands and jagerbombs). We took a break from our camp meals and splurged on some steaks at Flame and coffees at Vudu Cafe and Joe's Garage

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During out time there, we visited Milford Sound and Sandy jumped out of a plane (more on the later) but on our last day there we rode the gondola up to the top of Queenstown and drove luges down. I didn't think this would be all that thrilling as we're adults who have been driving actual automobiles for over 10 years. I was wrong, I squealed the entire time and wish I did it 7 more times. 

In conclusion...Queenstown: come for the beauty, stay for the luges. 

ROAD TO QUEENSTOWN

The road to Queenstown included giant mountains, sunny Lake Hawea, a lunch picnic and many "we need to pull over!" unplanned photo ops because LOOK AT THIS TINY BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY. 

The road to Queenstown included giant mountains, sunny Lake Hawea, a lunch picnic and many "we need to pull over!" unplanned photo ops because LOOK AT THIS TINY BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY. 

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We were told that road tripping all of New Zealand in only 3 weeks was overly ambitious and that we'd have to spend too much time just driving to fit it all in. The pace ended up being completely relaxed and enjoyable mostly because the driving itself was the best part. Within a period of 3 hours in New Zealand you'll see snowcapped mountains, rugged coasts, gorgeous lakes and sheep covered countrysides. It might sound ridiculous, but it makes you actually appreciate EARTH on this whole other level.

With all our time on the road we curated a solid road-trip soundtrack and here are some of our favorites:

Odesza - Say My Name (feat. Zyra)

D'Angelo- Sugah Daddy

SBTRKT, Ezra Koenig - New Dorp, New York

Flight Facilities, Giselle - Crave You

Bahamas - Don't You Want Me

Ariana Grande, Childish Gambino - Break Your Heart Right Back

Fleetwood Mac - Secondhand News

George Ezra - Budapest

Chet Faker - Gold

Jamie T - Zombie

...these are good for a long drive where you can roll down your window and note how lucky you are that you're not one of these guys.

FRANZ JOSEF GLACIER

A long hike to the Franz Josef Glacier took us through several microclimates. By the end we weren't really dressed appropriately for the weather but we were amazed to see something we had only read about in 9th grade Earth Science. 

Tiny glacier rock particles mixed in the water creates the blue Gatorade water. 

Tiny glacier rock particles mixed in the water creates the blue Gatorade water. 

Note tiny Sandy among the massive waterfalls. 

Note tiny Sandy among the massive waterfalls. 

The rocky valley leading up the glacier had a Jackson Pollock-y look to it. 

The rocky valley leading up the glacier had a Jackson Pollock-y look to it. 

You can see the blue ice in the photo above but not very well because unfortunately, the glacier has been rapidly retreating since 2008. Friends recommended we hike on the ice and explore the glacier caves but with the severe melting from global warming the only way you can do that now is to spend $200 for a 20 minute helicopter trip to the very top. Talk about an inconvenient truth. 

I suppose if I wanted to be surrounded by mountains of snow I could just return to Boston where they got a solid 18 feet this winter so I'm happy in this hemisphere for the moment, melting glacial ice and all. But man, it's concerning seeing the effects of global warming that up close. 

So in case there was any doubt, global warming is real -- and it's impeding on my tourist adventures.

SOUTH ISLAND COUNTRYSIDE

Driving through the countryside in the South Island, you're tempted to just pull over and find work at a farm, live off the land and spend the rest of your days eating boysenberries in the solitude of acres upon acres of rolling green mountains. We didn't do that, because we're not much for manual labor and require things like high-speed internet and late-night take out... but landscapes like these definitely make you start to see the appeal of quiet country living. 

KAYAKING ABEL TASMAN

On our second day in Abel Tasman, we rented kayaks and explored on the water.

First off, we paddled to a cafe for some coffee (it was early, we have our priorities) THEN we got serious and powered our way over waves to Fisherman Island. After pulling our kayak to shore, we had the beach all to ourselves.

One of the amazing things about New Zealand is that there's just not a lot of people here. The cities are much quieter, driving on the country roads you rarely see other cars and even during peak season in a major tourist spot you feel like you have it all to yourself. 

Between the blue waters and the humming cicadas, Fisherman Island looked like a default desktop background photo and sounded like a soundscapes CD. That last sentence is just one example that shows how much I needed to step away from working on a computer all day back at home. 

On our way back from the island, we spotted a seal lounging in the rocks.

We flipped out.

It was about 8 feet away from us and seemed to understand the effect it had on us simple humans so it hung around for 10 minutes or so... floating around, checking us out and allowing me to take a few shots with my waterproof camera. Seeing this one seal, out on it's own in it's natural habitat, right next to us... was really incredible. Sandy and I were over-the-moon excited. 

After the high of our seal encounter, kayaking back to shore was a bit of an adventure. No one told us that our kayak-return meeting spot would look drastically different in low tide late in the afternoon. As in, it was now a mile long beach where before it was just ocean and a parking lot. 

We were paddling along for awhile, both of us very lost and little seasick. We did a lot of extra paddling and kayak dragging. Eventually, when we found the correct beach, we enlisted the help of locals for directions and to call the kayak place so they could pick us up. I was concerned they'd be worried as they were down 1 kayak and 2 Americans. But of course, no one had even noticed we were lost at sea. 

I often find that whenever I'm feeling quite satisfied with myself (reeling from my new seal friend), the universe has a way of smacking me back down to size (lost and nauseous in a kayak). I suppose it's a good way to keep balanced. 

ABEL TASMAN NATIONAL PARK

Abel Tasman National Park is famous for it's unreal beaches and turquoise blue coastal views. Sandy and I spent a day hiking the coastal track and tanning on the golden sand. 

After the full day hike, we stayed at Old MacDonald's Farm campsite. True to it's name, it was filled with animals (many unphotogenic llamas) and we had a good sleep with some lovely views of the landscape right outside our van window. 

NELSON, NZ + CAMP FOOD

In Nelson, Sandy and I stayed at Tahuna Beach Holiday Park. Between dodging small children on bikes and enjoying boysenberry ice cream, we relaxed on the beach, read (I flew through Jonathan Franzen's Freedom) and slept like champs, falling asleep as soon as the sun set. 

Living out of a van is a surprisingly wonderful experience. I spoke of the wonder of it to Sandy beforehand and she became a true convert, loving the ease of being able to pack up and go wherever, whenever you want. We especially enjoyed our little cooking set-up and our camp meals of omelettes and Sandy's original recipe, "lettuce-less salad". When we were feeling wild we'd add in some canned soup but mostly stuck to our 2 favorites. Recipe details below.  

INGREDIENTS:

tomato, red onion, cucumber, orange/yellow pepper (or as they call it in NZ, "capsicum")

avocado, lemon

eggs

olive oil, salt + pepper

Wattie's fiery chilli tomato sauce (ketchup)

 

OMELETTE:

-cut up 1/4 of an onion and fry with olive oil until almost burnt 

-mix 2 eggs and add to frying pan

-add in diced tomato, salt + pepper

-fold over half to make an omelette. flip again. if it falls apart in the process, present it as a "deconstructed omelette"

-plate with avocado and Wattie's fiery chilli tomato sauce. the latter is crucial. 

 

SANDY'S LETTUCE-LESS SALAD:

-chop up red onion, tomato, yellow/orange peppers and add to bowl

-squeeze 1/4 of a lemon and 1 teaspoon of olive oil over one serving

-add salt and pepper. 

 

Bam. Delicious health from the back of a van.