My Favorite Places In The World

A lot of times I get asked what my favorite place in the world is. And the answer I give is pretty ambiguous, because it’s hard to choose just one! There are several places I can think of that were especially memorable and favorable, all for different reasons. If I had to narrow it down to a top 10, these would be the ones (in no particular order):

1. New Zealand
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Might be a bit biased since I lived there for nearly a year, but New Zealand is one of those places that always seems to be on everyone’s top lists! And for a good reason too, there is so much packed into this little country–towering volcanoes, lush rain forests, beautiful beaches, charming rolling hills, fjordlands, gorgeous mountain ranges. It’s a stunningly beautiful country everywhere you look. As an outdoorsy, nature-loving kind of guy this is the perfect country for me and I love that fact that there’s so many things to do here to get your adrenaline rush fix. Besides that, Kiwis are some of the nicest and friendliest people I’ve met! The Maori culture here is strong and very interesting to learn about.

Highlights: Doing the Tongariro Crossing; heli-hiking on the Franz Josef glacier; black-water rafting Waitomo glowworm caves

2. Australia
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Even as a kid, I always wanted to go to Australia so having the opportunity to live there for a year was a dream come true! Australia has become my second home and I’m considering moving back here again one day. I’ve fallen in love with the laid-back, easy going lifestyle that defines Aussie culture. The work/life balance here is something I admire. I’m also a lover of the sun, so a sunny warm climate is also pretty ideal for me. Two of my favorite places in the world are here, one being Sydney. I’m not normally a big fan of cities, but Sydney is one I’d live in. The other being the Margaret River region of Western Australia, where I lived and worked for 6 months. Some of the best beaches I’ve seen to date are there and it’s also one of the country’s premiere wine regions. It’s a beautiful place to live. I really hope to make it back to Australia again one day!

Highlights: Living in Dunsborough, WA; road tripping up the East Coast and across the Outback; exploring Kakadu National Park by 4WD

3. France
Birds Eye View of Paris
I’ve spent quite a bit of time in France now, more than any other European country, and I’ve grown quite fond of it! Most of the time I’ve spent there has been in Paris (one of my favorite cities in the world), but in this most recent trip I also got to see a bit more of the countryside in the Alsace Region as well as the city of Lyon. The thing I love about France is despite it’s relatively small size (well compared to the US at least) is how diverse it is. It’s got beautiful farmlands and rolling hills, wine regions, rugged coastlines, high mountains, a warm Mediterranean climate in the south. Plus I have an affinity for French language and culture, making this one of my favorite places!

Highlights: Walking the streets of Paris at night; wandering around the Christmas markets in L’Alsace

4. United States
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Even though this one is obviously biased as it’s my home country, nothing beats the diversity of the United States. From the polar regions in Alaska, to tropical jungles in Hawaii, to the stunning deserts in Utah and Arizona, there is such a huge range of places to see in the US. As a nation made up of immigrants, there is also such a huge pool of diversity in the people as well and you can find pretty much any kind of food from around the world that you can think of if you look in the right places. Despite living there most of my life, there’s still so much I have to see!

Highlights: Washington State in general, my home state (and the best state!); road tripping around Utah and Arizona; summer days with family on the New Jersey shore

5. Ireland
Stormy Skies Over Connemara
I’m currently backpacking through Ireland at the moment so I might still be caught up with the initial awe and excitement of being here, but I’ve loved every bit of it so far! Ireland is an absolutely beautiful country, especially out west and to the north along the rugged, weathered coast. While the weather might not be so nice all the time (where else is it sunny, then rain sideways, and hails all within a 10 minute time span?), it’s breathtaking when the sun is out. Irish people also have to be the among the most charming and friendly people I’ve met so far. I love Irish accents and find some of the expressions and things they say very amusing! Everyone is so chatty and welcoming that it’s super easy to make friends with the locals here!

Highlights: Driving around Slea’s Head; Killarney National Park; hanging out with locals in pubs

6. Portugal
Lonely Beach | Lagos, Portugal
Portugal is another place I’ve visited recently and absolutely fell in love with. I had no expectations coming here and ended up finding a place with picturesque cities, warm and welcoming people, amazing food and wine (port wine is out of this world), a nice warm climate most of the year, and beautiful landscapes. I was very surprised to find that many people here speak very good English, making it a lot easier to talk to people! It’s also a great destination to go to if you’re on a budget, as everything is cheap here compared to the rest of Europe. I’m still getting over the buzz of being in Portugal and really want to go back again sometime!

Highlights: Drinking port wine in Porto; exploring castles in Sintra; kayaking along the Algarve Coast in Lagos

7. Vietnam
Hmong Family
Vietnam is one of those countries visitors either love or hate, and fortunately I fall in the love category. From the chaotic streets of Ho Chi Minh which are buzzing day and night with the noise of endless waves of motorbikes, to walking with the ethnic Hmong people in the quite rice terraces in the north around Sapa, this is a country rich with history, cultural diversity, and one of the most distinguished cuisines in the world. The food alone is a major reason to love Vietnam. The variety in different dishes they have is astounding. There is quite a defined backpacker/tourist trail that runs the length of the country, but there are so many relatively undiscovered places to explore if you go off the beaten path.

Highlights: Boat trip on the river in Trang An, through stunning karst formations; Hoi An; canyoning in Dalat; trekking and doing a home stay with Hmong people in Sapa

8. Peru
The Locals of Machu Picchu
Peru is a special country to me, because it was the first place where I began traveling solo! I spent a week there in the area around Cusco and hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, which is still one of my most memorable trips to date. While I would have liked to have stayed longer to see more of the country, what I did see and experience there was inspiring and made me want to travel independently as much as I could from that point on. I remember feeling so nervous and awkward when I arrived at the airport and I had to bargain with some dodgy cab drivers to get to my hostel. I stayed in a hostel by myself for the first time and forced myself to talk to strangers to make new friends. I Wandered around and got lost in the streets of Cusco and tried new foods in the local market. On the day of the trek our group had breakfast with a Peruvian family on their farm. It was exhilarating Walking through the Andes and being surrounded by stunning scenery everywhere, being in awe as I walked through the ruins of Machu Picchu. I would love to go back here again and see more of South America in general!

Highlights: Cuy (guinea pig) breakfast on a farm in the countryside; trekking on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu; climbing Huayna Picchu

9. Hong Kong
Hong Kong Lights
I love Hong Kong. It’s the kind of city that’s always buzzing with life and there’s always something interesting happening around the corner. It’s blessed with a beautiful harbor and surrounded by jungle-covered mountains. The contrast between nature and cosmopolitan city life here is amazing. One minute you can be on a bustling street surrounded by enormous sky scrapers, the next you can find yourself on a quite path going up into the mountains. And the food here is to die for! I loved exploring all the exotic fruits in the street markets (rambutans and mangosteens are my Asian favs). Chinese food in general is addicting, and the experience of being the only westerner in a family-owned noodle restaurant is memorable. I’ll never be able to look at Chinese food anywhere else in the world the same way again, the real stuff is so good!

Highlights: Eating amazing Chinese food; seeing Victoria Harbour at night; exploring the markets; cable car ride up to the Giant Buddha statue

10. Nepal
Swayambhunath | Kathmandu
As a lover of hiking and mountains, Nepal was always on my list of places to visit. Now I can say I finally have and it’s just as brilliant as I thought it would be! Despite going in the aftermath of the April 2015 earthquake, the country is very much open for tourism. The country is one of the best places in the world for trekking, the opportunities are endless. I did the Everest trek and although I did have a bout of food poisoning and altitude sickness (not a great combo), it was a very memorable experience. Aside from the stunning beauty of the Himalayas, Nepal is also very rich in culture and diversity. There are over 40 different ethnic groups and tribes living here and the beauty of the Himalaya is stunning.

Highlights: Trekking up the EBC trail and seeing Mount Everest up close.

10 Things To Add To Your New Zealand Bucket List

I can’t believe it’s already been a year since I left New Zealand! I miss it so much, I’d go back and do it all over again if I could. Aside from being incredibly beautiful, there’s just so much to see and do here. That’s what I love about it most–it may be small, but it’s so diverse and packed with many opportunities to get out of your comfort zone and do something thrilling and different. Here’s a list of amazing things you should add to your New Zealand bucket list:

1. Climb Mount Doom in Tongariro National Park
Mount Doom
Crowned as New Zealand’s best day hike, the Tongariro Crossing is a 19 km trail that passes through the central North Island’s volcanic landscape. Filming of the Mordor scenes in Lord of the Rings took place here, and right in the center is Mt. Ngauruhoe, which took stage as the treacherous Mt. Doom. While you won’t find orcs or hobbits here, the journey up to the 2291 meter summit is well worth the journey, offering incredible views over the whole park and beyond. The hike is best done Dec-April when the weather is more favorable.

2. Island Hop Around the Bay of Islands
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The Bay of Islands in Northland is exactly what it’s named after—a big beautiful bay filled with islands. Situated in subtropical northern New Zealand, the region has a warm and relaxed atmosphere, making for an ideal getaway destination for Aucklanders escaping the bustling city life. With 144 islands and hundreds of beaches, it’s also a great place for island hopping! There are several sailing tours out to the islands from the towns of Paihia and Russel. I would recommend The Rock, which offers both day and overnight trips. Their tours include tons of activities including fishing, snorkeling, kayaking, night swimming in phosphorescent plankton, and hiking on the islands.

3. Heli Hike on the Franz Josef Glacier
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Ever wanted to see a glacier up close? In New Zealand you can take a helicopter and land on one! There are two major glaciers along the west coast of the South Island, the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers which descend from high in the mountains all the way down to the lush rainforests at sea-level. While the Fox Glacier can be accessed by foot with a guide, the Franz Josef is only reachable by aircraft. But it’s so much better to fly as you can see more and get to places you normally couldn’t. Flights take off from the nearby town of Franz Josef. While short, it’s an incredibly scenic journey and an exciting experience if you’ve never been on a helicopter before. After landing on the ice, you’re left behind with your guide to explore for a few hours. If you’re lucky, you might even have a chance to go inside a blue ice tunnel!

4. Kayak Abel Tasman National Park
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Many people who come to Abel Tasman only hike through it via the Abel Tasman Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks. But as a national park next to the ocean, the best way to see it is by sea. The coastline here is stunning and is a great place to see some beautiful beaches and wildlife like seals and penguins. There are tons of kayak tours you can do, but I liked Kaiteriteri Kayaks as they offered a trip for people who want to see the park both by land and sea. You spend a day hiking a stretch of the coastal trail, spend the night, and then kayak back with a guide the next day.

5. Drive Through the Southern Alps
Road to Aoraki
Anyone who has ever lived in or travelled through New Zealand will tell you no visit is complete without visiting the South Island’s beautiful mountain ranges. It’s worth renting a car or campervan and taking a drive through this incredibly scenic part of the country. My personal favorite drives were in Aoraki-Mount Cook National Park and the road along Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown to Glenorchy and Paradise.

6. Walk the Milford Track
Milford Sound
For hikers and backpackers, the Milford Sound Track is a hiking mecca. It’s up at the top of the list with other world-famous hikes, like the Inca Trail and Camino de Santiago. This four day walk takes you through some of New Zealand’s most stunning scenery along rivers, past waterfalls, through lush rainforests, over mountain passes, and finally ending at Milford Sound. To maintain and preserve the pristine environment, the Department of Conservation only permits a limited number of people to the hike the track per day. Book well advance as permits go out quickly, especially in the summer!

7. Go White Water Rafting

New Zealand is packed with rivers and there are tons of places you can go white-water rafting. But the unique thing about the Kaituna River near Rotorua is that you actually raft down several waterfalls, the biggest drop being 21 feet. This is the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world, and taking the plunge here is an experience you’ll never forget!

8. Discover Cathedral Cove
Cathedral Cove
Now somewhat of an icon after appearing in films and music videos, Cathedral Cove is a stunning beach accessed via a natural tunnel passing under a rocky coastal headland. About a 45 minute walk from the town of Hahei in the Coromandel Region, the beach is best accessed at low tide and in the morning or late afternoon when the day time crowds are not present.

9. Sandboard the Te Paki Sand Dunes
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These mountains of sand are located only 20 minutes away from Cape Reinga, the northernmost point country. The landscape is surreal—it looks more like the Sahara desert than anything you would expect to see in New Zealand. Here you can rent a boogie board (or if you have one bring your own!) and take a thrilling ride down the steep sand dunes. If you happen to go on a rainy day, you’re in luck as you actually go down much faster on the wet sand. And the best way to go is head first!

10. Tube Through the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves

The little town of Waitomo doesn’t look like much from the surface, but below the rolling hills and farmlands lies a massive underground network of caves lit up by millions of glowworms. The best way to see them is to grab an inner tube and get wet, floating through the subterranean rivers that flow through the caves. There is a bit of thrill on the adventure as in some places you have to pass through narrow passages and jump off a waterfall, making it an incredible adventure activity to add to your list!

E Noho Rā Aotearoa (Farewell New Zealand)

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Tomorrow is the day I leave New Zealand, marking the end of my working holiday here. I find it hard to believe it’s already been nearly 10 months since I first left home. In some ways it feels like it was yesterday, in others it seems like it was a lifetime ago. It’s funny how time works like that. As C.S. Lewis once said, “Day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different.

Looking back now, I remember the last farewells to my friends and family before stepping on the plane toward what would become one of the most incredible experiences in my life. I remember the nervousness, the anxiety, the thrill, and the excitement of jetting off to foreign land. A land where I knew no one and somehow had to figure out how to get along on my own. It wasn’t until after my first few weeks in this country that I realized how easy it actually all was. To be honest, the hardest part about this journey really was leaving my front door. After that, everything kind of fell into place.

I found work. I found places to live. I found ways to move around and discover this beautiful country. Most of all perhaps, I found good friends from all over the world. This experience has helped me become more confident, more sociable, more willing to step out of my comfort zone, more focused on the things in life that really matter. I saw amazing places and did things that for the longest time could only dream of doing. I climbed volcanoes, walked on glaciers, rafted in glowworm caves and over waterfalls, boogie-boarded down mountains of sand, walked on beautiful beaches. It’s been an incredible journey and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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Thank you New Zealand for the adventure. Thank you for your beautiful mountains, your sparkling lakes and rivers, your lush foresth. The fresh air, the calm seas, the magnificent beaches. And of course all the people from here and far that made all the difference. I’ll miss you Aotearoa.

How to Speak Like A Kiwi

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The Kiwi accent is unique. While many people from overseas might say it’s the same as the Australian accent, you’ll find that they’re actually quite different if you listen closely enough (and don’t ask a Kiwi if they’re Australian–they don’t like that :)). One of the most common and classic ways you can tell is by having them say “fish and chips”. An Aussie would tell you “feesh and cheeps” whereas a Kiwi would say “fush and chups”. This flattening of the vowel is very distinguished in New Zealand and is what makes it different from pretty much every other English-speaking country.

Generally their A’s (as in catch) sound more like eh, the E’s more like ee, and the I’s (as in fish) sound more like u. Also, the “ay” sound (as in bay) are more like ai (bai) and certain I sounds (as in “mice”) are more like oi (moice). Here are some more examples:

The short a as in “back” sounds like “behck”.
The a in words like “day” sound more like “die”.
The e in words like “went” sound more like “weent”.
The short i as in “kids” sounds like “kuds”.
The i in words like “ice” sounds like “oice”.

So the sentence “Today, Ben went to the backyard to see if the kids wanted some ice” actually sounds more like “To die, Been weent to the behck yahd to see uff the kuds wantud some oice.”

Another key feature of the Kiwi accent, like the Australians, the British, the South Africans, and people from Boston, is that they pronounce their R’s differently than in Canada and most of America. It’s much softer and sounds more like “ah” than the typical American pirate “arrrr”. So yard actually sounds more like “yahd”.

Also, similar to Canadian English, New Zealanders tend to end their sentences with a rising intonation–almost as if asking a question–so their speech sound cheerful and friendly. And like Canadians they say “eh” at the end of a question, only it sounds more like “aye”.

As an American I didn’t really find the Kiwi accent too difficult to understand, but sometimes found it amusing to listen to. Like that awkward moment when a Kiwi asks you to paint their deck (deeck). Or another time while hanging up some clothes on the laundry line at a hostel I used to work at, someone asked me to get some more pegs (clothes-pins in the US). What I heard was “cen you please go geet me some pigs?”!

Last but not least, you’ll need to know some of the vocabulary that is especially unique to New Zealand. Here are some common words and phrases I’ve heard:

Sweet As – Common expression meaning “great!” or “awesome!” You can also replace “sweet” with other adjectives like “cheap as” to mean “it’s very cheap!” or “cold as” to mean “it’s very cold!”
Bach – Pronounced “batch”. Means a vacation home or cabin
Boot – The trunk of a car
Brekkie – Breakfast
Capsicum – Bell pepper
Chiller – Refrigerator
Chilly bin – Cooler; ice chest
Choice – Nice
Cuppa – Refers to a cup of coffee or tea
The Dairy – Convenience store
Fizzy drink – Soda or pop
Good on ya! – Congrats or well done!
Heaps – A lot
Hoover – Vacuum cleaner
Hokey Pokey – A quintessential NZ treat that consists of bits of honeycomb toffee and vanilla ice cream.
Jandal – Abbreviation for “Japanese sandal”, or what Americans and British people call flip flops
Kai – Maori for “food”
Kia Ora – Common Maori expression for “hello”
Lemonade – Very different from American lemonade as it refers to drinks like 7UP and Sprite.
Mate – Friend
Rubbish – Trash; garbage
Stag Party – Bachelor party
Sunnies – Sunglasses
Tramping – Hiking
The Wop Wops – Out in the middle of nowhere
Ta – Maori for “Thank you”
Ute – Truck
Zed – The letter “Zee” in America is pronounced “Zed” in NZ (or as the Kiwis say, N Zed).
Yeah nah – I’m not sure exactly what this one means, but I think it’s basically a nice way of saying no.

7 Things I Don’t Like About New Zealand

New Zealand is a great country. Everyone seems to rave about it. It’s beautiful, the people are friendly, it’s easy to get around, it’s a great destination for backpackers. Hardly do I ever hear anything negative about it. But of course, every country has its flaws in some shape or form. So here’s a list of my pet peeves and annoying things I’ve encountered during my travels in Aotearoa:

1. The Lack of Good Internet
Internet connectivity just isn’t as efficient as it is in most other countries I’ve been. Free, fast, and unlimited WiFi is almost unheard of. You can usually find free WiFi at places like coffee shops and cafes, but usually the connection is pretty slow. Some hostels also offer free Internet access, but usually there’s a data and time limit (on average around 100mb/day). On a more positive note, the mobile network is pretty good and I usually have no problem getting 3G on my iPhone in most cities and towns.

2. The Sandflies
If you think mosquitoes are annoying, just wait until you experience the nightmare of getting eaten alive by New Zealand’s sand flies. They’re much smaller, but they can really leave bites that will have you itching for weeks. They’re especially bad in Abel Tasman, the West Coast, and Milford Sound where they gather in hordes, but they can be found anywhere on beaches and in the bush near water sources. They’re slow fliers so I suppose you could avoid them by jumping around and walking in circles like a fool. It’s hard to simply sit and enjoy the amazing scenery without getting flocked by them.

3. The Bad Drivers
Don’t get me wrong, driving in New Zealand is awesome. With all its beautiful and unique landscapes, I’d say it’s one of the best countries to drive in. But when it comes to the drivers–that’s a different story. Contrary to the easygoing and laid back culture New Zealand is known for, everyone seems to be in a mad rush to get somewhere once they’re on the road. For one, pedestrian right-of-way is almost non-existent. Unless you’re crossing the road at an official crosswalk, nobody slows down or stops for pedestrians crossing the street. I’ve also seen a fare share of drivers crossing the center line to cut corners on curvy roads, drunk drivers, and slow drivers suddenly speeding up well above the speed limit while driving through passing zones. Not that these kinds of things don’t happen in the US, but I’ve noticed it more here than at home. For a country with a small population, New Zealand has some of the highest crash rates in the world. Kiwi drivers aren’t the only ones to blame however. Traffic collisions involving tourists are not uncommon, oftentimes distracted by the scenery or are just simply driving on the wrong side of the road.

4. The Expensive Food
For a country whose main industry is agriculture, you’d be surprised that things like vegetables and fruits are much more expensive here than you would think. $33/kg for limes? Really?

5. The Intense Sun
The UV levels in New Zealand are higher than anywhere else, thanks to a hole in the ozone layer above this part of the world. I’ve been to places that are much hotter (Florida, Arizona, Panama to name a few), but the sunshine there never felt like it does in New Zealand. On sunny days, you can literally feel the sun burning your skin on first contact and sometimes it can feel pretty uncomfortable. If you’re outside a lot, sunscreen is a must.

6. The Lack of Insulation in Homes
While New Zealand summers are often warm and pleasant, it does get pretty cold throughout most parts of the country during the winter–especially on the South Island. Which is why I don’t understand why many Kiwi homes and buildings aren’t insulated. Or have double-glazed windows. And with only a single fireplace or stove to rely on for heat, some houses can get quite cold and damp during the winter. One place I stayed at got so cold inside that I could see my own breath. The solution to stay warm? Just throw on another jacket.

7. These Sinks
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One side projects freezing cold water, the other boiling hot, and the sink itself is so small one can barely wash their hands in it. A major fail in engineering.

A Change in Plans

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Before I arrived in New Zealand, I had planned on staying here for as long as my Working Holiday Visa would allow–one full year. After that, I would return home. Now, after living, working, and travelling around here for the past 8 months, I’ve decided that it’s time to move on to new adventures.

It’s been an incredible journey for sure. I remember in the weeks prior to leaving home having doubts about this trip. I asked myself questions: will I like it there? Will I make friends? Will I still be able to support myself financially? Can I manage being away for so long? I’m happy to say that I’ll be leaving New Zealand satisfied, knowing that during my time here I saw incredible places, shared some amazing experiences and memories with friends from all over the world, and discovered that I can get around on my own in a foreign country rather well. Besides all that, I never really looked forward to spending a winter down here anyway! Too cold. So as of the beginning of July I’ll be chasing the summer (again) and heading off to warmer places.

On another note, I’m still not sure exactly when I’ll be returning home to the States. This whole working and volunteering while travelling thing has worked pretty well for me. I’ve come to really enjoy this type of travel and have decided to continue on with it while I’m still able to do so. Come September, I’ll be going to Australia for another working holiday. How long will I be there? Who knows, but I’m excited to see what opportunities and new experiences might arise in the Land Down Under.

Hello Queenstown!

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I’m back in Queenstown again! It’s been six months since I was last here. It’s also been two months since I left Paihia and I’m more than ready to settle down again and take a rest from travelling. Seriously, living out of a backpack and being on the go all the time can be pretty tiring. Traveling from city to city, moving from one hostel to the next, constantly packing and unpacking, having to familiarize yourself to new places, getting around in unfamiliar territory, and having to constantly introduce yourself as you meet new people all the time gets exhausting after a while. I’m looking forward to having a break and getting back into a normal routine again.

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A lot has happened since I returned to the South Island. For nearly the whole month of April I worked a few hours a day for accommodation (through HelpX) at two different places around Abel Tasman National Park and Golden Bay. The work was mostly random chores: painting, chopping wood, cleaning, clearing bush for building projects, cleaning up storm damage, and eradicating invasive plant species from the forest. For the latter part of the month, I met up with my friend Ben (a French guy I worked with in the Bay of Islands) and we were able to work together and explore the area for a few weeks. Golden Bay was very nice and once the weather cleared up after a rather harsh Easter weekend storm, we managed to get out and see some really nice places. One of the highlights of our time there included a visit to Wharariki Beach–a big long sandy bay with lots of interesting rock formations, sea cliffs, caves, and even a little natural pool where baby seals play in. And despite being a rather popular beach for tourists, it’s big enough (and isolated enough) to where you can walk out away from the crowds and feel like you have the whole place to yourselves.

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Once our work was done there we hitched on down the West Coast to pick up Ben’s van, which had broken down a few weeks earlier in a town so small you would have missed it if you blinked. Fortunately there was a mechanic there and he was able to get the parts needed to get it going again. We then spent a couple days driving through Arthur’s Pass to Christchurch, where we ended up staying with a host family for a night. I forget exactly how Ben knew them (something like his father’s friend of a friend), but they were so nice and warmly welcomed us into their home. They even made a nice dinner for us! I couldn’t have been more thankful for their generous Kiwi hospitality.

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Afterwards, Ben and I parted ways as he went back to tour the North Island and I headed further south. Since being back on the South Island, I’ve managed to get around nearly the entire time by hitchhiking. Normally I would just take the bus, but I ran out of rides on my pass and wanted to try something a little more adventurous anyway. Hitching around New Zealand is still a popular way for travelers (and even locals) to see the country. Getting around in this manner requires a lot of patience and flexibility–I stood outside once in the rain for almost two hours. You may not get to where you’re going right away, but sometimes little detours can take you to some amazing places. It’s also good to have some degree of cautiousness as there are always weirdos around, no matter what country you’re in. But all the while I’ve been hitchhiking in New Zealand, I never had any incidents or uncomfortable moments. Instead I met lots of very nice and interesting people; both fellow travelers and locals, young and old.

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So that’s what I’ve been up to for the past month and half! It’s absolutely beautiful right now in Queenstown. I thought it was a beautiful place last time I was here in the spring, but the city really is at its best in autumn. The surrounding mountains are topped with fresh snow, the trees are showing off their vibrant fall colors, Lake Wakatipu looks so much clearer than from what I remember, the days are still somewhat warm, and at night the air is crisp and pure. I’ll be here for two months–until then I’ll be working and planning the next adventure.

Abel Tasman National Park

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Since leaving Franz Josef, I’ve been hopping around the northern part of the South Island for the past week or so. Some of the highlights included celebrating Thanksgiving in Kaikoura with a big turkey dinner (cranberries and pumpkin pie included!) with people from all over the world, many being their first Thanksgiving. I also finally went and saw Catching Fire at the cinema in Nelson, which I thought was well done and better than the book. The best part by far from this past week was visiting Abel Tasman National Park, which has been on my top things to see and do in New Zealand. Known for its stunning golden beaches, tropical-like climate, and captivating azure blue waters, it’s not the kind of place you would expect to find on the South Island. It felt more like something you would find in the far north of the North Island, around the Bay of Islands. It’s a special place and has been a popular getaway spot for both Kiwis and tourists alike. Despite being so well-known, it’s not difficult to escape from the crowds and find some solitude. I visited one of the larger beaches in the park one afternoon and had the whole place to myself!

The biggest attraction in the park is most likely the Abel Tasman Coast Track, one of country’s famous Great Walks. The whole thing is 54 km long and despite being labelled a coastal track, I found that a majority of it was actually inland with a few views and beach access points here and there. It’s still a beautiful walk well worth doing though. I wanted to see the park from all different angles, so I booked a kayak tour that offered an unguided day hike on the first day and a guided sea kayak the second day. I took a water taxi from Kaiteriteri (one of the nearest towns to the park) to a large bay called the Anchorage. On the ride over I met a nice girl from Germany, Kathrin, who coincidentally was also part of my kayak tour. We were both doing the walk + kayak thing, but we were both hiking different sections of the park. We agreed to meet up again at Bark Bay (our destination for the night) and I got off the boat at the Anchorage. From there, I walked north roughly 13 km through the bush to Bark Bay, where I spent the night in the hut. Huts are pretty common in New Zealand and are like wilderness hostels. It was it was definitely more of a glamping (“glorious camping”) experience than what I’m used to camping in a tent. It didn’t take very long to get there and with plenty of daylight left, I dropped my pack off and hiked a few more kilometers up the trail to see some other beaches.

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Later in the evening, I had dinner on the beach with some of the other campers and we chit chatted until after sunset. After everyone else headed off to bed, I stayed on the beach for some stargazing. With so little air and light pollution in this part of the world, the sky is filled with stars–way more than any place I’ve seen anywhere else. And they’re so bright and vivid! Another natural wonder I witnessed that night on the beach was the bioluminescent bacteria glowing in the surf. They get brighter when disturbed, so every splash I made as I walked through the water glowed with a dancing array of little bluish green lights similar to the glow worms I saw at the Waitomo Caves. Speaking of glow worms, I saw several of them in the forest on the walk back to the hut. I never knew they could live outside of caves, so it was a nice surprise to find them! To top it all off, a few of us got up early the next morning and greeted the new day with a spectacular sunrise.

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Day two was kayak day, so Kathrin and I met up with our guide at a little cove just south of Bark Bay. Going by sea is really the best way to see the park. Whether it’s by water taxi, sailboat, or kayak, it’s what makes this park unique from all the others. There are endless little coves, lagoons, and lonely beaches to explore. Going by sea also gives you the opportunity to see some of the local marine life that can’t normally be seen on land. During our trip, we saw a few seals and a little blue fairy penguin (the smallest in the world). Our guide, Chris, mentioned that dolphins (and on rare occasions orcas) can be seen in the area. In total, we paddled 17 km from Bark Bay all the way back to Kaiteriteri. I still feel sore in some spots, but it was a great day for it! The weather was perfect and even though it was a long day, it felt good to be out in the sun and water. Towards the end it did get a little challenging as the wind picked up and the swells got bigger, but Chris showed us some good techniques and we plowed on through the surf all the way back to town.

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So that’s another item crossed off of the New Zealand bucket list!

Heli Hiking on the Franz Josef Glacier

When I first arrived in Franz Josef from Queenstown, I was originally only supposed to stay for two days. Those two days turned into five as I waited out a rain delay (the West Coast is by far the rainiest part of the country) for the next crazy adventure: heli hiking on a glacier. And I’m sure glad I waited because the day I finally went up was sunny and spectacular!

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Heli hiking is exactly what it sounds like: you get dropped off by helicopter to some remote backcountry destination and hike around. Since the Franz Josef Glacier has been inaccessible by foot for a little while now, flying in is the only option (unless you’re a mountain goat). Was it amazing? Absolutely. Expensive? It did put a dent in my budget, but it was totally worth it.

I went on the Ice Explorer tour with Franz Josef Glacier Guides which offered both a walk on the glacier and a helicopter ride (something I’ve always wanted to do). They do offer another option that’s simply called the Heli Hike, which gives you more time in the air for about NZD $100 more, but you spend more time on the ice with the Ice Explorer option. They supply most of the gear you’ll need: rain jacket, wool socks, waterproof boots, crampons, and if it’s cold enough they give you gloves and a hat. The only essentials they ask you to bring are sunglasses, sunscreen, and a few layers of warm clothing. Since it was so warm out, we really didn’t need the extra clothes. I felt just fine in a long sleeved shirt and shorts. After we collected our gear, our guide showed us how to put the crampons on and had a short briefing on helicopter safety before heading out to the helipad.

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Apparently the Franz Josef heliport is the busiest in the country. You can hear the rotors echoing through the otherwise sleepy little town all day. I had never flown in a helicopter before and was honestly more excited about that than walking on the glacier itself. It was sort of like riding an elevator—very smooth and not bumpy at all. The flight was short—only 5 minutes or so—but it was awesome. We flew straight up into the mountains up the valley where we could see the whole glacier from bottom to top. The Franz Josef Glacier(and the nearby Fox Glacier) are actually quite unique in that they are just two of three in the world (the other being in Argentina) that descend all the way down into a temperate rain forest. Once we landed safely on the ice, we put our crampons on and headed out into the icefall.

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My group consisted of myself, two couples, and six lovely British girls—a nice group of people to spend a day on the ice with. Our guide, Rohan (it may or may not have been spelled “Rowan”, but in spirit of LOTR I liked to think it was “Rohan”), did a great job leading us through the icy terrain. He explained that a glacier must have three qualities in order to be classified as a true glacier: the mass must be made up of ice, must be moving, and must remain year-round. Essentially, a glacier is like a massive frozen river. And we were heading right into the “rapids,” known as the icefall. Just like when moving water turns frothy when it hits larger rocks or drops down, the ice cracks and buckles as where the glacier bed steepens and narrows. This is where crevasses and ice caves are formed, and we spent a good portion of the hike navigating through and around them.

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At one point in the hike we got to go into one of the caves where the ice was incredibly blue. I was sure I had actually flown to the planet Hoth where a Wampa would jump out at any second, but fortunately that never happened. It was very surreal walking inside the glacier—I’ve never seen anything like it before.

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The tour lasted three hours, which I thought was plenty of time to be on the ice. We made our way back to the rendezvous point and we were off again on a short hop flight back into town. This time we had a view of the ocean as we descended past the rain forest covered hills. Truly a unique place–it’s not everyday that you find glaciers so close to the sea and at a latitude closer to the equator than the South Pole. Upon landing we returned our gear and headed off to soak in the hot pools in town, which was included with the tour. Not a bad way to end a day on the ice!

On the Road Again

A week or two ago I made the decision to leave Queenstown and continue my travels through New Zealand. I really liked living there and will certainly miss my friends, but I sort of felt like I was in a bubble. It’s the kind of place that sucks people in. Travelers from everywhere come and some just never leave. It’s beautiful. There’s lots to do. It’s a small town, but has most things you would find in a bigger city. It’s just plain awesome. It’s easy to see why so many foreigners move there and settle down. In fact there are more expatriates living there than Kiwis. For me–I’m not ready to settle just yet. There’s still so much to see and explore in this beautiful country! So after a month and a half, I left Queenstown and got a ride up the west coast to the tiny little town of Franz Josef (aka glacier country). I’ve already been here for a few days now and did an awesome heli hike on the Franz Josef Glacier this morning (which I’ll save for another post).

Blue Pools on the way to Haast PassView of the West Coast from Poor Knight's Point

Most people seem to come for the day, see the glaciers, maybe spend a night and move on, but in the 5 days I’ve been here I’ve learned there are a few things to do besides seeing the glaciers. There are quite a few trails in the area, cutting through the thickest and lushest rainforest I’ve ever seen. Seriously, it’s like Jurrasic Park or Pandora (from Avatar) here.

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One rainy day I went for a walk in the hills behind town to this place called the Tatare Tunnels, which was dug out of the mountainside back in the day to channel water into town (some gold was also recovered during the dig). There’s a stream flowing through the tunnel floor, so I had to forgo my socks and shoes and went in hobbit style. I’m not sure exactly how long the main tunnel was, but it took about 10 minutes or so to walk through. There were glowworms live in the cave, which was a nice surprise. I had seen thousands of them high on the cave walls while blackwater rafting in Waitomo, but this was the first time I got a chance to see them up close.

On another day a friend I had met at my hostel (who was a fellow Washingtonian of all places!) hitched a ride out to Fox Glacier township, about 23 km (13 miles) south of Franz Josef. We walked out of town to Lake Matheson, which is famous for having a perfect mirror reflection of Mount Cook on a still clear day. It was sunny and clear when we left town, but by the time we got to the lake the marine layer had moved in. Still a nice walk though. 🙂

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Afterwards we headed off to see the Fox Glacier itself (where the sun was still shining!) I didn’t realize it initially, but it was actually kind of far out of town. We got lucky when a mailman drove by and offered us a lift all the way to the trail head. The walk to the glacier was nice–not very long, but fairly scenic. Unlike the Franz Josef Glacier (which has receded so much that it’s only accessible by helicopter), the terminus of the Fox Glacier descends all the way to the valley floor. This means you can still get pretty close to the ice on your own, which is convenient if you are short on time and can’t take a guided walk onto the ice.

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So that’s what I’ve been up to for the past few days! I’ll be posting photos from my heli hike trip to the Franz Josef Glacier sometime later this week!