Archive for November, 2008

30th November
written by Hope

The Ferry

the interislander

Wellington is not only a cool city with a vibrant art scene, but the place where you catch the ferry (The Interislander: ) to get shuttled from the North Island to the South (you get dropped off in Picton). For the privilege, you pay about NZ$220 (currently about US$130)—about NZ$55 per person and NZ$116 for the car, so it’s not cheap! For some reason I totally dorked out on this and was incredibly excited about the idea of driving our van onto a ginormous boat.

driving our van onto the boat
Driving our van onto the Interislander.

They loaded us onto the lower deck of the boat along with other cars, camper vans, and even semis! And they really pack you in there…we were shocked by how accurately they could determine how many cars and trucks could fit on the lower deck since they don’t really know what you’re driving until you show up.

The boat is very large and luxurious (actually, for no particular reason, it reminded me a lot of the huge spaceship in Wall-E, even though there weren’t hovercrafts or anything). There is a large sitting room, where televisions were playing the Ellen Degeneres show (incidentally, I wonder how it is for Kiwis…all the major movies that they see are in another accent), and they even have a theater where they show movies (though we were advised by Patty not to watch this because it makes you seasick). We were actually quite surprised by how calm the ride was, especially since it was storming outside. But then again, neither of us really get seasick so we’re not reliable sources of information on this front. On the way to the South Island, you meander through a number of bays around several little islands and peninsulas. It takes you 3 hours to get across and all in all it was a very nice way to spend the afternoon, especially since the weather was bad out.

The Storm

When we arrived in Picton, we drove our van off the boat into…an incredible storm. I mean, it was really coming down. Our plan was to drive from Picton to Nelson that night, where Bob lives. Bob is a friend that we met on the plane from LAX to Fiji (and he was on our flight from Nadi to Auckland too). He is an ex-pat of sorts; he lives part of the year in Colorado, part of the year in Maine, and part of the year in New Zealand. Not too bad a program, if you ask me! He invited us to visit him when we passed through Nelson, and we readily agreed.

There was just one problem: it is about 2 hours from Picton to Nelson, and though the boat effectively sheltered us from the weather, once we got off the boat, we realized it was bad—really bad. This is the worst weather Jeremy or I have ever driven in. Not sure if you will be able to see in these photos, but there were entire fields that were flooded over. Out the window there? Yeah, that’s normally all GRASS, not water.

big storm!

We were really relieved once we made it to Bob’s house. It took a little longer than expected and we considered pulling over a few times, but we made it. The best part? Apparently this is a normal-sized storm for Kiwis. I guess that’s why they are such hearty folk.

28th November
written by Hope

A note from H&J: We’re experimenting with how we approach/organize these blog posts. If you have an opinion one way or another as to what works, please let us know! Otherwise, thank you for your patience while we get the hang of this blogging thing while we’re on the road. :)

Otaki Beach

After our scenic drive down the 45, Jeremy and I were jonesing for some beachside camping for the night. We were headed for Martinborough, which is a small wine-producing region about 1.5 hours east of Wellington, but we pulled over for the night since Martinborough was still 3 hours away. Our map showed that Otaki Beach, which is about 60 km north of Wellington, had a holiday park where we could stay so we pulled off the main road to settle for the night. I believe you can officially mark this as the point at which we became holiday park snobs. After our gorgeous beach-side camp spot in New Plymouth, the holiday park in Otaki, while perfectly adequate, was not close enough to the beach for us (two blocks away from the shore rather than directly wave-side). So, we decided to find a nice spot along the shore and “freedom camp.” This is what Kiwis call it when you just pull over to the side of the road and settle in for the night, and we haven’t done a lot of it since our van doesn’t have a toilet or shower. But hey, life’s too short for two-blocks-from-the-beach camping.

freedom camping!

In general, it seems that the further south we go, the nicer the holiday parks get in terms of location, amenities, etc. At this point, the holiday park in Raglan seems almost like a dump compared to some of the other locations we’ve stayed in!

For our first time freedom camping, we did a pretty darn good job picking a spot. We sat on the beach, cooked our dinner, and watched the incredible sunset over Kapiti Island. We’ve subsequently seen this exact same scene replicated in art prints and paintings! Hey, when it’s good, it’s good.

sunset at otaki
Sunset over Kapiti Island from Otaki Beach.


The next day we headed straight for Martinborough. This area is mostly known for its Pinot Noir, but like Marlborough (on the northeastern side of the south island), it also produces a pretty darn good Sauvignon Blanc.

vines in martinborough
Vines in Martinborough.

It was a very different experience tasting here vs. the Northern California wineries. First of all, the wineries are tiny here! You can walk from vineyard to vineyard (though we were the only people doing so), and some of the wineries are as big as the Napa Valley parking lots! Overall, we didn’t love the Pinots here…they tasted young to us, almost grassy. And while we don’t usually like the super-bold Napa or Sonoma valley varietals either, we wished there was a little more richness to the wine in Martinborough.

We tasted at Schubert Winery and the popular Ata Rangi, but the one standout was Alana Estate, where we stopped for lunch as well. They had a 2006 Pinot and a 2008 Pinot they were tasting, and both were incredible. I was skeptical about the 2008 since I am usually suspicious of wines produced in the same year you are tasting them, but for a hot summer day, Alana’s 2008 Pinot was perfect. The food here was great too.

lunch at alana
Moroccan chicken leg and Beef Bourguone Pie at Alana Estate.

BTW, we stayed at Martinborough Village Camping (, which was fantastic. Though it was not beachside, the grounds were in a beautiful rural setting, and the place was super clean and well kept.


The next day, we headed for New Zealand’s capital city of Wellington. Wellington is a super compact little city (they advertise that you can walk from one end of the CBD—Central Business District—to the other in 20 minutes), and it is known for having a thriving arts culture. As you can see, they really do pack those buildings in there:

downtown wellington

Our first day in the big city, we checked out Te Papa museum (, which is a museum about the history, art, and culture of New Zealand. The exhibits and signage are all in English as well as Maori, which I thought was really cool. The art floor is really well curated, and I loved seeing historical colonial vs. Maori art and how each influence the other. The interesting thing was that colonial art from New Zealand was executed in pretty much the same way as it was in Europe (just with a different landscape), whereas Maori art immediately began taking on some European flavor. There was some really interesting modern art in the museum as well.

We also really enjoyed the floor with native Maori art. The photo below was taken in a reproduction of a Maori hut:


The city of Wellington is really cool. We walked up and down Cuba Street, which is a long street full of vintage shops, design stores, and boutiques full of refashioned clothes—very similar to the Haight. I LOVED this street, though it was a bit torturous, as there were tons of cute clothes and design-y type curios but I couldn’t buy anything. In particular, I loved Iko Iko (cute design store), Hunters & Collectors (amazing vintage shop), Madame Fancy Pants (all handmade goods), and Frutti (really amazing refashioned clothes).

cuba street
A vignette from Hunters & Collectors, a vintage shop on Cuba Street in Wellington.

The coolest part about this cool city was its proximity to an amazing coastline. Jeremy and I drove along the shore out of the city, along several different bays. When we got to the end of the road, there was a large park with hiking trails and an incredible rocky shore. Jeremy and I kept saying that if Wellington was in California, a gorgeous place this close to the city would be overrun with people (on a Sunday, no less!). But the beach was practically empty. Jeremy went for a run down one of the trails and I hung out, checking out the tidepools.

beautiful coastline

We adore Wellington and of all the places we’ve been to in New Zealand so far, this is the one place we could see ourselves living. Hmm…maybe when we retire? :)

view from wellington harbor
View from Wellington Harbor from the city.

23rd November
written by Jeremy

3 (+/- 1) Sisters

We headed south from Kawhia, initially inland to join back up with the major highway, but then south and along the coast. More verdant hills dotted with happy sheep. I definitely have an affinity for this landscape; must be those Irish genes.

The clearing winds from previous days’ storms had the sea whipped up and huge waves crashed against the shores and cliffs. Too messy for surfing, but very impressive to watch. We learned later that this part of the coastline is eroding at a rate of around 3 meters a year—obviously a source of concern for many. The area in the picture below is known as “The Three Sisters” because of 3 large pieces of cliff orphaned from the rest by the  waves. It turns out that one of the sisters was lost in a big storm a few years ago and now there are only 2. Stay away from the cliffs!

marvelous coast

New Plymouth

We arrived in New Plymouth and setup camp at Belt Road Holiday Park ( It was a spectacular camp site with views of the harbor, what could be an excellent point break with the right tide and swell, Mount Taranaki, and a bit of downtown. Between us and the water was a walking path that skirts the shore all the way through town.

new plymouth

Apparently, there are several good surf breaks right in town, but alas, the westerly winds were too much and the surf was blown out. Each evening, there were kiters and a few windsurfers playing in the waves. I was surprised how few there were given the steady 15-20 knot side/onshore wind and fun-looking swell.

our view in New Plymouth

Mount Taranaki/Egmont

mt. tanaki/egmont

New Plymouth sits on the north shore of a piece of land formed by the volcanic Mount Taranaki (see map). There is skiing in the winter and hiking (or “tramping” as it is known here) and mountaineering in the summer. We spent one morning hiking to the snow-line; to go any further, you need crampons and ice axes or risk glissading off the 100 meter cliffs that circle part of the mountain. Martina had told to us how the estimated hiking times advertised in the guidebooks and information centers in New Zealand are not padded for fat Americans (like they are in the States). She was right: it took us exactly the 3.5 hours that the info kiosk said it would.

moody fog

Highway 45 (The Surf Highway)

The next 2 hours of highway south of New Plymouth is known as “The Surf Highway“. Apparently, the area is trying to bring in tourist dollars by advertising the waves. By the time we made it here, the wind from the previous days had died down and so had the swell. But it gave is an excuse to explore a half-dozen beautiful deserted beaches.

Here is the spot on Opunake beach where we stopped for lunch:

our lunch spot

And this beach, where we saw several elderly vacationers working with nets to catch river fish:

beaches along highway 45

We were struck by the change in landscape as we moved South. Whereas in the North, it was all hills (some rolling, some more severe); in the South, it became very flat between the mountains and the coast.

drive down the 45

21st November
written by Hope

Our first destination after Auckland was Raglan, which is in Waikato, and where Robert and Chuck told us about a world class left point surf break (Jeremy brought his surfboard on the trip and will sell it when we leave Australia). Raglan is about 3 hours drive from Auckland; it is directly west of the town of Hamilton on the Tasman Sea. The drive down is really beautiful, with acres and acres of farmland, and, unexpectedly, lots of cows. We were expecting sheep coming out of every corner, but we got cows on the way down to Raglan. And let me tell you, THESE cows are happy cows. Those California cows ain’t got nuthin’ on NZ cows.

happy cows!

We pulled into our first “holiday park,” which is very similar to KOAs in the US. There are RV sites with power and water (which is where we stay…our van has a plug-in that powers the microwave and outlets), “self-contained” units (cabins with kitchen, bathroom, etc.), tent sites, and many other amenities, like showers, bathrooms, wi-fi internet (for a fee), etc. The fee for staying in the holiday park depends upon which type of site you use. The power sites seems to go for between NZ$26 and $32. The big difference between holiday parks in New Zealand and KOAs in the US is that in NZ they seem to be located in really prime locations…imagine you roll into a city/town/village. Then imagine where they might put the million dollar condos in that city/town/village. That’s where the holiday parks will be. And, they all seem to have trampolines for some reason. The Raglan Kopua Holiday Park (; 07 825 8284) is no different. The campground is located right next to a beautiful black sand beach (and yes, it has a trampoline). We pulled into camp right at low tide and took a walk along the bay towards the ocean.

black sand beach in raglan

After our walk, we headed across the bridge from the camp towards town for dinner. The sun was just setting and as we turned back towards the camp after crossing the bridge, we caught this:

bridge to town

“Town” in Raglan is pretty small, basically a collection of shops along 3 blocks or so. Robert told us that Tongue and Groove was the one cool place in town, and that it was. Great food affordably priced (We both had the steak sandwich…remember those happy cows? Well, they make happy beef), cute people, and lots of vintage furniture. Jeremy and I were musing how all these little surf towns seem to have the same flavor…a laid back attitude oriented around the ocean. Raglan was no different.

Unfortunately the weather the following day was not conducive to surfing at all—heavy rain and wind. The forecast looked like the surf wouldn’t be good for several more days, so we packed up and headed out of town; we’ll come back through on our way back to Auckland.

Jeremy was still a little nervous about driving on the opposite side of the road in heavy rain, so we hung for a couple of hours most of the day in a cafe across the street from Tongue and Groove, called Blacksand, waiting to see if the weather would let up. Again, great food (we shared a beef burger…mmm) at good prices. After a few hours of reading magazines, we figured that if we couldn’t do anything active that day because of the weather, we might as well get a little further south, so we decided to drive the backroads over to Kawhia, the next bay south of Raglan, in Waitomo. On the way, we stopped at Bridal Veil Falls, which was the perfect rainy-day weather hike: short, protected by a tree canopy, and steep (on the way back up), so we got a little bit of a workout. Honestly, It wasn’t the most spectacular sight we’ve ever seen but it was a good distraction while the weather was dreary.

bridal veil falls

We finally got into Kawhia a while later (unexpectedly, the backroads from Raglan to Kawhia included a long stretch of dirt roads, which made driving our huge van very slow). Happily, the trip was worth it because our view from the Kawhia Beachside S-cape (; 07 871 0727) was spectacular. We set up camp and ate our dinner while watching the tide roll back (sensing a theme here?).

view in kawhia

19th November
written by Hope

We made it!

We arrived in Auckland about 24 hours after we shoved the last of our items in our carry-on bags, locked the door to our house for the last time, and headed to the airport chauffeured by my brother (thanks Eddo!). Twenty-four hours of travel sounds a lot worse than it actually felt, since we stopped in LAX for a drink with Erika, Karl, and Dan (which, btw was a HUGE treat, thank you guys!!!), scored emergency exit row seats on the flight to Fiji, and then, somehow, with the gods of travel smiling down upon us in all their aviation glory, ended up with business class seats from Nadi to Auckland. Let me tell you a secret: business class does not suck. A very auspicious beginning to our trip indeed!

Nevertheless, we were tired when we arrived in Auckland, though it is quite easy to acclimate to New Zealand time. NZ is a mere 3 hours behind CA (on the following day), so it wasn’t like we arrived at 2AM or something ridiculous like that. We made our way from the airport to our hostel via taxi. Apparently taxi fares in New Zealand are not equivalent from taxi to taxi, and we unfortunately ended up with one that had a higher tariff than usual. Oh well, lesson learned.

We dropped our stuff off at Aspen House (; 09 379 6633), which is a perfectly clean and affordable hostel in Centre City. If you are staying in Auckland for a while, I am not sure I would recommend it since the rooms are pretty bare bones (a bed and a desk and some lighting), but for one night it was totally sufficient. We then headed out for a walk to the Parnell District, which is a cute street with lots of cafes, casual restaurants, and pubs. This is where I had my first English-to-English “lost in translation” moment with the counter girl at a cute cafe and wine bar.

Hope: “Can I have a coffee?”
Counter Girl: “Yes!”
Hope: “…”
Counter Girl: “…”
Hope: “Um, with milk?”

Apparently in New Zealand coffee is organized into the following categories:

Short Black= What we know as espresso
Long Black= Regular black coffee (or an Americano, as some would call it)
Flat White= Similar to a cappuccino but they also have cappuccinos here and we don’t know what the difference is

What I wanted was the Flat White, but I ended up with a Short Black. Oh well, again, lesson learned.

downtown auckland skyline

From the Parnell district, we walked along the water to the Ferry Building and then the Princes Wharf. Along the way we walked through a pretty ritzy neighborhood with big houses that had beautiful ocean views. Many of these houses were either for sale or foreclosed, so it does indeed seem that the global financial crisis is, well, global. Now, at this point I was feeling quite tired and possibly hallucinating, but this area of Auckland is so similar to the Embarcadero area in San Francisco that I told Jeremy, “If we turn this corner and there are seals, I am going to feel like we never left San Francisco!” Seriously, the Ferry Building looks very similar to the one in SF, and they even had a Blue & Gold Fleet that takes tourists on boat trips to the local islands surrounding Auckland.

self-portrait at princes wharf

Despite the similarities to SF’s Pier 39, Auckland’s Princes Wharf was actually quite pleasant…the sun was shining, the people were nice, and we stopped for a glass of wine and some nibbles at one of the many restaurants along the wharf. Despite my skepticism, the food was quite good, and we filled our bellies before heading back to the hostel after the sun went down. It was a long day and we were tired!

home sweet home

The next morning we picked up our van from Jucy Rentals (, 0800 399 736). We chose the “Cruiza” model, which we booked about 3 weeks before we arrived. A couple of tips: as you head into high season, van rental prices increase, so it is to your advantage to book early. We reserved the van at a price of NZ$73/day, but by the time we arrived in Auckland, the price had risen to over NZ$100. Jucy has one of the lowest rental prices, lots of info on their website, and really excellent customer service. Unfortunately, in our excitement in meeting our new home for the month, we weren’t as diligent at quality checking the van as we should have been. Our van did not include a DVD (as advertised), the safe did not work, it was a missing a gas cap, and for a while, we thought the power didn’t work either (turns out it was a blown fuse and a faulty plug). We called Jucy when we were on the road and they talked us through fixing all of these problems, so ultimately, for the price and the service, they can’t be beat. Also, we really love the way the van is set up (there are many other van rental companies and each one builds out their vans differently) and the bed is super comfortable. You can pick up and drop off in different cities (though we are returning our van in Auckland). Just be sure to check your van before you leave the lot!

Auckland is a great city, but it is very similar to San Francisco, and as such we were pretty eager to leave since we didn’t come to New Zealand to get more of home. In a total “travel moment,” we decided to try to find a cord to connect our iPod into the car stereo on the way out of town and we ended up in the bustling Newmarket district of Auckland for 3 hours…while Jeremy was trying to learn how to drive on the other side of the road…and I was hangry. For our first stressful travel experience, it wasn’t so bad. But we were pretty happy when we finally got on highway 1 to drive south down the west coast.

13th November
written by Jeremy

Wow, we are almost there: the house is packed; our bags are packed; and we leave for the airport in a few hours.

It has been an crazy few months preparing for this day. Way too many things to do and way too many loose ends to tie up before leaving the country for year.

On the plus side, through the process of leaving jobs, packing up the house and saying goodbye to so many amazing friends, I am reminded of the great life we have been so lucky to have here. I too often get lost in the busy routine of daily life and fail to really enjoy myself. I suppose that is the first big hope for this trip: to break routines and habits which support, but also tend to limit our lives here, and allow us to come back home refreshed, able to more fully appreciate what is now so familiar, and possibly even to try something new.

I do expect that we will come back to San Francisco and resume similar paths here. But I am also hopeful that the trip will have opened enough space for us to at least be able to consider something radically different…I don’t know, maybe we buy a farm somewhere and grow beets and run a bed-and-breakfast in the farm house.

Traveling will certainly be hard at times. We will get home sick, we will get on each others nerves; 13 months of just me and her will really put the marriage to the test. But I am confident in us. And I look forward to the extended time together focused on the same things: moving slowly, seeing places, meeting people, eating and drinking, studying Chinese, caring for each other through the inevitable bouts of food poisoning, and adapting to life with only those possessions that we can carry on our backs.

And, of course, after 15 years of work without a vacation longer than 10 days and several weeks of intense planning, preparing and packing while managing a series of home repair/improvement projects…I am ready for a break and ready to just have fun for a while. I look forward to our first month on the road where the big decisions of the day will be: on which gorgeous beach should we park the camper van tonight? And: which tasty cut of lamb shall we BBQ for dinner?

11th November
written by Hope

Where did the last 5 years go?

This is a question we’ve probably all asked ourselves, and I’m no exception. It’s not like life is an endless blur of uneventful days (at least not for any of the people I know)…in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Sometimes it seems like we do so many things and achieve so many goals that there’s no time left to savor the uneventful but sublime: a beautiful clash of textures on the street, a warm night in the city, Sunday with the New York Times crossword puzzle.

In the past 5 years I: went to art school for my second Bachelor’s degree (in graphic design) and graduated with high honors, opened and closed a business with two of my best friends, wrote two books with them, got married, finished an insane thesis project, started working part time with a graphic design studio while I was still in school, and lived in Oaxaca for a month while participating in an experimental art studio…all while maintaining my relationship and friendships. I list these things not as a resume, but more as a way of illustrating: I am burned out, people.

I’ve been living life fast; I am happy that I’ve not missed any opportunities these past few years, but now I wonder if that’s really true. I’ve envied friends who live life at a slower pace…sometimes it seems like they can get deeper, follow a train of thought right down to the last stop, and see all the stations and forks in the road on the way there. And to be clear, I don’t mean to misrepresent—Jeremy and I live a great life in San Francisco, full of challenges, richness, laughter, and beauty. It’s just that I wonder, and quite frankly, I worry, what if we never slow down? What kind of person, or parent, or wife, or friend would I be? I know how to get things done; I need to learn how to NOT get things done.

There are plenty of reasons why we shouldn’t leave our lives for a year. What about my career? What about starting a family? What about our family or friends? I can’t say that these are not concerns of mine, in fact, they’ve been on my mind quite a bit these past few days. I guess the answer is that I wouldn’t, or couldn’t, do this trip unless I really believed it would help me be a better designer, (eventual) parent, friend, sister, daughter, person.

So there it is. That’s why I travel…to find the time to pull out my camera when I see that beautiful clash of textures on the street, to read that book that’s been on my shelf collecting dust for the past 5 years, and to follow that train of thought down to the last stop…to be the caboose rather than the engineer.

7th November
written by Hope & Jeremy

“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again—to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.” —Pico Iyer