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We made it to New Zealand and survived our first day driving on the opposite side of the road.

Since we arrived at 7am, we hit the highlights of Auckland. Our first stop was the Sky Tower to get a birds eye view of the city (and some caffeine).

The views were absolutely amazing!

Then we wandered around the city before getting to check in to our hotel. In the evening we got a chance to visit the Auckland War Memorial Museum which gave us a glimpse into New Zealand’s history and some gorgeous gardens.

Dinner at Kai Pasifika was a treat - tons of amazing seafood. We found two great new island twists on classic recipes: margarita with mango and dark & stormy with passion fruit; both of which we will be sure to bring back home.

We are looking forward to our first adventure tomorrow: tubing through the glow worm caves in Waitomo!


More success driving on the correct side of the road as we made our way from Auckland to Ohankune with a stop at Waitomo along the way. We even managed a unmarked detour without the aid of Google Maps. The New Zealand country side is defined by lush forest and rolling green hills dotted with innumerable sheep.

Tubing the Waitomo Caves (pictures to be added post trip) was a great way to explore the famous subterranean space. We got to see the glow worms that dot the cave ceiling like stars (despite the name, they are not worms but larvae) via the lazy-river-like stream. We survived the cold and cave weta (google it if you dare) to continue on to Ohankune where our 3 day canoe trip is set to begin.

Our accommodations at the Top 10 Holiday Park were one of the many of Manny’s hilarious finds. Behold the gypsy cabin below:

Only took a day for a LOTR reference, below was our first glimpse of Mt. Doom aka Mt. Ngauruhoe


Day 1 of our canoe trip down the Whangunei River began at 7 am sharp packing our belongings for 2 nights of camping. Thankfully, it is a guided tour with food, shelter and general outdoor skills provided. Being one of the first trips of the summer, we were lucky enough to have 3 guides: Phil (owner) who was training new guides Cole and Karen, for only the two of us and one another couple, John and Della. We became fast friends with John and Della, native of the UK but calling NZ home, who shared our dry sense of humor and little idea of what we were about to get into.

With neither of us touching a canoe in 10+ years, our first action after launch was to run straight into the riverbank/tree roots. We made an ever-graceful recovery and did improve from there, conquering a few rapids along the way. All day we paddled between the towering shear gorge walls that provided incredible views and overwhelming serenity.

With a relatively short day, we stopped often to canyon and chase waterfalls (shout out to TLC). Phil guided Garrett to larger and larger cliff jumps (slo-mo video coming soon).

We survived camping with the aid of wine, beer, a cheese board and ice cream.

Whanganui River

Day 2 canoe trip highlights were more and more awesome waterfalls, bushwhacking to find an old village (unsuccessful), a brief encounter with a small whirlpool (navigated successfully) and a hike to the Bridge to Nowhere, a marker of the failed settlement of the wild valley about the river. Unfortunately, we ran into a stiff headwind which left us a bit more sore than Day 1, but a tremendous three course meal at camp revived us: avocado toast, steak with sweet potato curry and chocolate banana bread.

A mind numbing plunge:

Bridge to Nowhere:

View from camp:

Whanganui River

Our final day of the canoe trip we were greeted with chilly temperatures and a persistent headwind for our longest day in distance. In the end, we paddled ~90 km.

Above and below is a natural amphitheater that once hosted the Auckland Symphony who played a performance for the Maori (native New Zealanders of Polynesian descent) as a thank you for their hospitality on the river.

We were blessed to experience that hospitality first hand as our guide was a friend of the hosts of one of the river‘s marae (Maori land and meeting house) and arranged for us to be formally welcomed into their land. The guardians of that land elected to perform a ritual called pōwhiri to unite us, the visitors, with the local tribe, called the iwi. Our guide Cole, of Maori descent himself, exchanged formal greetings and thanks in the native language before allowing each of us to do the same. We performed the traditional physical greeting, hongi, by shaking hands and touching noses symbolizing a sharing of breath. After greeting each other, we shared tea and snacks. Having participated in the ritual, the people of that marae considered us extended family and their ancestors would protect us for the remainder of our journey. Certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, we will be posting more pictures and descriptions after the trip.

Eventually the wind took its tool as 3/4 boats capsized by the end of the day. First was our guide Cole, canoeing solo who suffered only a bruised ego but managed to keep our lunch dry. Second, John and Della took on the biggest rapid of the river, aptly nicknamed 50/50 for its success rate, but did not manage to survive. A picture of the rescue below but hopefully Johns go-pro first person footage will be available post-trip.

Lastly, we managed 89.89 km before succumbing to the final rapid within sight of the trip end. Our lifeguard skills kicked in: Manny performed a perfect deep water entry, somehow managing to keep her hair dry and Garrett flipped the now upside down canoe. We claimed it was a training exercise for the new guides...

This 3 day canoe expedition is brought to you by Matt. Thank you for your ongoing support of our illl prepared but always entertaining adventures.

We are now headed to Tongariro for the alpine crossing tomorrow. Now that our arms are beyond repair, let’s see how quickly we can destroy our legs with the volcano ascent.

After our canoe trip ended, we drove out to Mt. Tongariro National Park to get set for our alpine crossing attempt on the 20th. We stayed at a campsite where we rented the small hut, just large enough for a bed inside, shown below with Mt. Doom looming.

To begin our hike we caught a shuttle at 6 am. In our typical traveling style, neither of us had thought to buy food supplies for the hike and in our remote area there was nothing open that early. Feeling reminiscent of day 2 of the Camino, we set off on our 19.4 km journey without any food.

The alpine crossing itself is a trail that runs up and across the saddle point between Mt. Tongariro, New Zealand’s largest volcano, and Mt. Ngauruhoe, shown above. The crossing comes very near to the summit of Mt. Tongariro, which lacks a peak due to past eruptions. On a clear day, the trail allows for magnificent views of the two volcanoes as well as the very nearby Mt. Ruapheu. However, it is common for clouds to hang out all day about the peaks as is shown above.

While the clouds never cleared for us, it was an awesome experience. We withstood winds that could nearly knock you over. We witnessed alien landscapes such as the Mars-like Red Crater and the Emerald Lakes (above) tinged yellow or green due to high sulfur content.

Once back below the clouds, Central North Island stretched out before us included the giant Lake Taupo, itself a result of the largest eruption known and our next destination. On the way there, we found time to step back in time at the ornate Chateau Tongariro for afternoon high tea and scones.


Our latest destination is Lake Taupo. Just an hour north of Tongariro, the lake was formed in the crater left after the largest volcanic eruption in known history. From the north side of the lake, Tongariro and Mt Nu can be seen in the distance.

Our acompdations for the next few days are quite a few steps up from the hut and gypsy cabin. We look forward to spending our time doing some much needed R&R.

Above is the view from our lodge’s balcony.

We kicked off our relaxation with a soak in the local thermal pools.

Then we were treated to a private 3-course dinner at the lodge.


We had a laid-back day exploring the lake including breakfast on the lodges porch, picnic lunch on the beach, and dinner on a sailboat.

After breakfast we drove around to some of the bays and found a great spot to enjoy the picnic lunch our hosts had provided. Above is the view from our blanket. While the views were amazing, the water is very cold and we only managed to wade in up to our ankles.

We went sailing out to the Maori carvings on the lake. They were completed about 30 years ago by a local Maori artist (carving photos will be posted after the trip).

Finally, we had a drink at a bar with amazing lake views to watch the sunset.

Huka Falls

Well it wouldn’t be a vacation abroad without someone getting sick. Unfortunately Garrett caught a bug that coincided with his birthday.

We were able to still see some sights and adjust our zip lining to tomorrow so he could rest and recover. We are happy to report he is feeling much better!

We originally planned to do a cycling tour of Huka Falls, a local “waterfall” along the river fed by Lake Taupo. Fortunately we could switch to a driving tour and got to see the amazing falls (pictured above) as well as the dam release. The dam release occurs regularly each day and we will post an amazing time lapse of the downstream rapids post trip. The rapids are the same ones featured in The Hobbit movie when the dwarves are escaping the elves via barrels down a river.


After some rest and relaxation last night, we hit the ground running today with a canopy zip line tour of a New Zealand wildlife reserve and a Maori cultural experience.

The canopy tour included a zip line over 200 meters long stretching out from a platform rooted in a 1000 year old tree. Our guides provided information on the forest, indigenous birds, and conservation efforts as well as zip lining logistics and tricks. By the end we both did the last zip line upside down! Photos will be posted post-trip.

After the canopy tour, we grabbed lunch then headed out to Te Puia for a tour of the thermal park and cultural dinner experience.

The Waka region used to be home to hundreds of geysers. Now, due to changing landscapes and efforts to tap into the thermal energy, only 3 remain.

The largest of the three reaches 30 meters and erupts approximately every hour. Te Puia, the complex which showcases the thermal valley, is run by the local tribe and proceeds support scholarships to the on-site carving and weaving schools. These schools hope to revive the Maori art techniques that were prohibited by law for 50 years starting in the early 1900s.

After witnessing the geyser, the local tribe welcomed us (and 180 other guests) onto their marae in an incredible ceremony of song and dance. While not as personal as our experience on the river, the welcoming was an example of Maori culture at its height. Once inside the meeting house, Rotorua lived up to its nickname, Roto-Vegas, as the Maori put on an amazing show. Two far less impressive performances can be seen below as we attempted a poi dance (Manny) and a haka (Garrett).

Following the official welcoming, we were treated to a meal cooked in a hāngi pit. Tthe meats and veggies are shown below in a modern take on the traditional hot rock-dirt oven cooking technique. The buffet was sadly left unconquered as Garrett’s appetite had not yet recovered.

Whakaari / White Island

With Garrett (mostly) recovered, we woke up bright and early to take a 1.5 hr boat ride out to New Zealand’s only live marine volcano, White Island.

Inside the crater rim is a completely different environment with steam vents, boiling streams, and almost no life.

Sulfur steam vents dotted the volcanic rim, staining the landscape bright yellow.

The guides provided gas masks to use near the sulfur steam vents in order to help with the sulfur gas that can irritate your throat and eyes.

In addition to sulfur, hieghtened levels of magnesium and iron color the volcanic rim. Some water remains from a much larger lake that used to fill most of the crater. However the water is far too acidic to sustain life, with a ph of -0.5, about 60x more acidic than battery acid.

Bacteria is the only form of life present within the active volcanic region. The bacteria grows on the dry ground and develops a mustard yellow color (above).

We also ran across streams of hot water and puddles of boiling water. One stream even supported a form of algae near the crater rim. Outside the crater rim, some hearty New Zealand flora clung to life. This area is also home to a colony of Australasian Gannets who were most impressive out in open water where we saw them diving into the sea to catch fish. They enter the water straight down and can reach speeds of 60 mph before contacting water.

The island was once inhabited by humans, mostly recently in order to mine sulfur. All attempts failed to be sustainable. The final attempt went bankrupt in the 1930s and left behind corroding ruins.

One attempt was devastated by a landslide that killed all 10 men working on site, the anchor below was raised to commemorate them.


We arrived late yesterday evening to the sleepy surfing town of Raglan, home of one of the longest left hand breaks in the world. Garrett hasn’t yet fully recovered so we spent most the day admiring the amazing view from the cafe at our accommodation.

The view is matched in uniqueness by our lodging, a converted rail car.

The view only got better at sunset:


Yesterday, Garrett took a chance on some herbal remedies, as the hippie town of Raglan thoroughly endorsed, for the stomach bug and has finally overcome it! We took morning surf lessons where we both briefly stood up in some tough waves. We subsequently stuffed ourselves and fell asleep in the sun from the exertion. Yoga in the evening and a nice spot for dinner rounded out our day.

View from dinner.

Tomorrow is our last day in the North Island, we catch a late flight down to Queenstown to continue our adventure there.


We spent another lazy morning on the beach before making the couple hour drive back to Auckland for our flight. The descent into Queenstown by plane was incredible as we dipped between the mountain range aptly named The Remarkables. The shot from the tarmac below is just one of side of the mountains that surround Queenstown.

Arriving so late was a blessing and a curse as our only food option was the famous Fergburger where the usually 1 hr long line had dwindled to 25 minutes at 10 pm. The burgers did not disappoint.

The lack of A/C in our room was overshadowed by the gorgeous view the top floor A-frame allowed.


Our day began bright and early, and the view in the morning lived up to the hype of last night.

We caught a shuttle to Manapouri where we would catch a ferry across a lake to then another shuttle to go over a mountain pass to finally our overnight cruise boat in Doubtful Sound, the larger and more remote (clearly) fjordland than the famous Milford Sound. As we left Queenstown, The Remarkables continued to live up to their name. We weaved through valleys between craggy peaks that seemed straight out of Middle Earth. Once on the ferry, we got great views of the Kepler Mountains.

Our shuttle then provided us wirh this view of the beginning of Doubtful Sound admist the primordial beach forest nearly unchanged since the Jurassic Period,

Before finally showing us to our accommodation for the night

We cruised the entire length of the fjord (waterway filled by the ocean but carved out by galacial movement) admiring the gorgeous green colors that reminded us of the Whanganui River. The steepness of the surrounding mountains was best appreciated when we kayaked. To sit a the base of a mountain that rose near a mile up so abruptly was awe-inspiring.

The wildlife of the area rose to the challenge of stealing our attention. The sea lions tussled with the each, rolled around in the water (apparently to help digestion) and hilariously waddled about in the sun.

The dolphins swam along with us from a distance, proving to be a bit shy but fun to try and spot them surfing the waves. However, the show stealers were the humpback whales which have appeared at the sound in record numbers this year according to our crew. We don’t have pictures (hopefully we will find a way to get some of the perfect shots from the other passengers who managed to be ready), but they wouldn’t do them justice anyway. For near an hour, we followed a playful pair as they surfaced for air and lounged near the surface before putting on quite the show that included two full breaches (think Pacific Life logo), plenty of tail slaps and a close encounter to the bow where their full length (~20 ft) was visible. It was once-in-a-liftetime stuff that even stunned the crew. After we left the pair, another group could be seen in the distance constantly bursting through the surface and splashing around. Another day where we couldn’t have asked for more.

Doubtful Sound

The water was serene and created a near perfect mirror this morning. The sun began to rise over the fjord walls as we explored one of the arms (like a river tributary) of Doubtful Sound. It is hard to capture, in word or photo, the tranquility of this place the Maori call Patea or place of silence.

Beside these mile high walls, we spent 10 minutes in silence, the boat all powered down and no conversation. The sound of a waterfall that fell along a fault line in the wall could be heard puttering along with the birdsong.

We made the trek back to Queenstown to have a relaxing evening. Tomorrow we will fly back to Auckland late night.


Our final full day in New Zealand, seems surreal. It’ll be hard to leave this epic scenery. Where can have breakfast here:

And lunch here:

These views are of Queenstown below were after a short gondola ride up the nearest mountain. In typical Queenstown style, one could para-glide, mountain bike or simply gondola ride back down the mountain. We got to witness Queenstowns main invention: the bungy jump, featuring the panic running man mid fall. As we fly tonight, neither of us were carrying spare shorts so no bungy jumps were made.

In the adventure spirit of the town, we did do the luge atop the mountain, a short concrete course. The action shot below includes a haka from Garrett and Manny, as vowed, forgoing any pause to take the opportunity to overtake Garrett and secure the win.


To Sydney, then LA then Houston, starting the journey home. Time to binge watch LOTR on the flights. Thanks to everyone that helped make this trip happen!