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September 21st 2016
Published: September 27th 2016
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New Zealand:

I flew from Tokyo to Auckland via Sydney. I had less than a two-hour layover in Sydney and immediately wished I had booked a few days there. Sydney is one of my favorite cities in the world and probably my top choice to live/work outside the US. It looked like a perfect day, but it was not to be. I had been there before. To me, Sydney is like having London marry Chicago and placed in Southern California.

Auckland – Even though I’m coming into New Zealand at the tail end of winter, it was still in the mid-50s and sunny. This was a nice break from the humidity of Asia. It was easy to get used to the sweater weather. Auckland is constantly ranked as one of the top cities to live in in the world. It’s very clean and efficient.

As I went through immigration the lady asked what I was doing in New Zealand. I told her I planned to tour around, perhaps doing some outdoor activities. She asked if I had hiking shoes and I said yes. Then she proceeded to tell me I didn’t declare that on my form and that my shoes would need to be checked. Oh, and if they found any seeds or anything foreign on my shoes then there would be a $400 fine – welcome to New Zealand!

The guy looked at my shoes and had me pass through without incident. Now it was time to find my accommodations. My only complaint against New Zealand is that it is a Starwood free country. I booked a place on Airbnb (free credit) that looked relatively close to downtown, but ended up being in the suburbs. Luckily the bus stop was right in front of the home. The home had good reviews and the host was very hospitable. The host gave me a list of things to see in Auckland and New Zealand. I immediately realized that 12 days would not be enough. Therefore, I had to scrap my plans of renting a car and driving from Auckland down to the South Island and then back. Instead, I decided to book a one-way to Queenstown and then to drive up from there.

I took a day tour of Auckland and got the hop-on-hop-off bus to see the sights. The route took you all around Auckland. I stopped at Mt. Eden, which gave a great view of the city. I also got off at the Sky Tower for a birds-eye view of the city. Apart from those things I didn’t really see much. I walked around a lot and checked out the harbor area, along with eating some much needed Italian food. When I got back to the house my host had a friend over and they were watching the All Blacks play Argentina. They explained the rules of rugby to me and tried to compare it to America Football. The New Zealand rugby team is the top team in the world.

Next it was off to Queenstown. I was able to get an Uber to the airport and I was off. The flight to Queenstown is amazing. The mountains were still snowcapped and it was some of the best scenic views I had seen. We had to circle through the mountain tops to land.

Queenstown – This is a great town that functions as the gateway to all things extreme sports in New Zealand. Bungee jumping, hang gliding, skydiving, extreme skiing, ect... can all be done there. I booked a hostel with my own room because I felt I needed to meet people and hostels seem like the best place to do that. They also have the best advice for things to do and are able to connect you with the right tour groups. I decided to book an all day trip to Milford Sound or the next day, which seems to be the top attraction in that area. After that I took the gondola to the top of the mountain for a few of Queenstown. I think some of my favorite views on all my travels are in this area.

After that I headed to get a drink before going to dinner with people from the hostel. There was a free dinner each night so I thought I would use that to meet people. Apart from being twice the age as some of the guests, everyone seemed to be there to find work so they could travel through New Zealand for the better part of the year. These jobs aren’t glamorous – most are minimum wage jobs like working on a farm. Most are European or South Americans that want to learn English. I was surprised at the number of travelers that had just finished high school and were taking a gap year before heading to university.

The next day it was off to Wilford Sound. This is a beautiful drive and the trip on the water is amazing. Even though it was foggy and rainy, there was a certain beauty to it all. There are a lot of waterfalls that fall from high points on the cliffs that jet straight out of the water. The bus driver was a colorful guy who was constantly telling jokes to keep himself entertained – always with the occasional swipe at the Australians. The odd thing was that on the way home he put on a movie called Kenny, which was about a porta potty employee and followed him around events that required him to install and uninstall portable bathrooms. Given that over half the bus was women, I wondered how this bathroom humor would play out. It’s a comedy documentary and to be honest it is quite funny – hilarious at points. Still, I could never see this happening in the US.

Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers – I rented a car in Queenstown. I heard that a lot of car agencies will basically highly subsidize your rental if you drop the car off in a different location. I inquired about this and got a Rav4 for 5 days for about $100 USD – fully insured. This was perfect for me to drive through the South Island. It was also an opportunity to drive on the left side of the road, which I had always wanted to do. I did this once in Australia for a bit, but it was all on country roads.

I got the car and headed to Wanaka on my way to the glaciers. I had to keep stopping to take pictures as the views were epic. Apart from constantly turning on my windshield wipers when I wanted to turn and looking over my right shoulder when backing up, I felt like I was getting the hang of it. There were a few turns that I missed here and there and had to remember to stay on the left side after I turned round. But for the most part the trip was incident free.

I got to the Fox Glacier just before sunset and had to hustle to get to the glacier before it got dark. There weren’t many people there at this hour, so I basically had the whole glacier to myself. There were still helicopter riders going to the top, but the clouds were rolling in quickly and the visibility was decreasing rapidly. The glacier is impressive. It’s about three fourths the side of the mountains, and is just a huge block of dirty ice. It’s amazing how it just plowed the ground, only to have it visible once it started melting. You could only get a few hundred meters from it. Some people were killed a few years ago by going up to the bottom of it, only to be killed by a huge falling piece of ice.

After the Fox Glacier it was off to Franz Josef to find my hotel and to meet two girls I had met in Queenstown that were going to be in Franz Josef at the same time as me - Jacqueline and Natalie. They both work as producers at CNN. Given that I’m a news junkie and was bombarding them with the ‘behind the scenes’ view of all things news.

The next day we all went to the Franz Josef Glacier. It was a bigger glacier and a further walk. Also, it was morning and very clear so it was a better experience than the night before. On the walk I stopped and filled a cup I had with water coming straight off the hillside. The water tasted so clean and fresh. They should set up a bottling plant there.

After lunch I headed up to Greymouth on the west coast. This was basically just a stop point for the night. The next day I drove north up the coast highway and then cut across to Blenheim. The drive reminded me of The Great Ocean Road drive in Victoria, Australia.

I did another Airbnb in Blenheim and stayed in this beautiful house just outside of town. I booked a wine tour, as Blenheim is one of the top wine regions of New Zealand called Malborough – most notably for the white wines. I was hoping to meet people on the tour, but ended up just being me. The guide said the next day was fully booked. He took me to 5 wineries and I think I had about 5 tastings at each. By the time I got back I needed a serious nap.

Wellington - The next morning I drove to Picton to drop off my rental car and to take the ferry to Wellington. The ferry was late by about an hour. In Wellington I found my hotel and then headed out to see what I could, as I was only there for a night. It was a really nice town, but I needed to make up some serious time. I decided to get a haircut and stopped at this hipster barbershop. The guys were really cool and funny and talked the whole time. The guy who cut my hair had a bloody knife tattoo on his neck, so I knew he probably knew how to handle a cutting blade. This was probably the most colorful haircut I’ve ever had, as he kept referring to me as ‘bro’ and every other work started with an F or a C.

The next day I headed to Napier in Hawk’s Bay. This was another wine area, but I got there so late I was only able to do one winery. This ended up being another stopover. That next morning I facetimed with my brother and he set his iphone up so I could watch the Steeler game with him. After the game it was off to Rotorua and Hobbiton.

Rotorua is a highly active geothermal area where the water in the craters is boiling and there is a lot of steam coming from geysers. It reminded me of a little Yellowstone. I spent an hour or two there and then headed to Hobbiton. This is where The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies were filmed. It was a picture perfect day walking through the movie set.

I stayed in a town called Hamilton before heading to Auckland the next morning. I met the CNN girls again for dinner before heading to an Irish bar and calling it a night. I think the best thing about New Zealand is just driving through the country and seeing the spectacular landscape. I wish I had another week here.

Next Stop – Chile!!!

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27th September 2016

Two comments
Hi Ted: I'm enjoying your travels. One question - the Steelers game you watched. Was it the one where they were absolutely trounced by the Eagles? LOL. Your comments about drinking the water from the glacier reminded of when I was hiking in Torres del Paine in Pategonia. I was with a small group and when I drank some of the water running off the glacier, the guide said I couldn't be an American because Americans never did that. Glad I disabused him. Looking forward to your next installment. David
27th September 2016

Hi David - no, it was the second game of the season. The Eagles game was actually on the TV at the Sheraton in Spanish. The water was actually coming off the mountain, not the glacier. Maybe I should have clarified that. Hope all is well.

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