We love to travel and this year we are going big. Throughout 2015 we will be traveling around the world from Fiji to Lisbon and everywhere else we can in between. Use this page to track our itinerary, take walks with us on our hyperlapse video tours and read about our experiences and learnings.
When we drove through NZ and AU we found it incredibly odd how slow people were driving. I’ve never been on a highway where almost everyone is driving UNDER the speed limit by 10K/hour on wide open roads. Where we’re from, the speed limit is realistically +/- 5Mph the posted number.
There is A TON of space between each city in NZ and AU and to make good time we made a habit of passing the unusual number of “slow pokes.”
About a month or so later I get a ~$30 charge from each car rental company. A week after that a letter from AUS highway patrol sent tickets to my parents house. Each ticket was between $100 and $200. I did some research on tickets in those countries and supposedly there is a huge crackdown on speeding; some roads monitored by drones.
No wonder everyone was overly cautious with their speed. You never know who is watching and when a simple pass of another car could cost you $100 bucks a month later. I’m not hating on them, we were going fast. We paid the ticket. Our bad.
For everyone else out there, fair warning: obey the posted speed limits in Australia and New Zealand to a T!
It looks like the high and low tides in both Australia, New Zealand and Fiji all made a huge difference in the coastal water lines. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it in The States. At low tide the water retreats far out into the distance and in New Zealand we would often see the site below with Boats dry docked where the water was only hours ago.
In the Sunshine coast and Fijian beaches you could walk 100 meters out into the ocean at high tide and never get water above the chin. I’m not sure why the water lines stayed so shallow in the parts of the world but it was an interesting scene to witness.
We took a driving tour through North New Zealand where we had fun visiting waterfalls, villages, hot springs and seeing the magnificent countryside we’ve always heard about. We met some great people and tried some new foods and drinks along the way. Here are some of the smaller notes we made while there.
Tipping and the real cost of eating out
There is no tipping which can really throw you off with understanding what is expensive or not in the country. For example, you may find that you can get two burgers (2X$10) and beers (2X$5) for a total of $30 NZD. That sounds pretty pricey at first, but it includes taxes AND tip.
In the U.S. before tax and tip you’d be looking at roughly $21.84 ($30-%20-%9.) Then, you have to consider the exchange rate on top of that which is currently $1.3USD=$1NZD. So the true U.S. equivalent would be a $15-$16 meal for two with alcohol before taxes and tip. Not bad at all.
Paying at the counter
This threw us off at first, and even though you are reading this it will throw you off too. When you’re done with your meal you must get up and go to the host, tell them where you sat, and pay your bill there. It’s easy to get comfortable relaxing after your meal and forgetting there is one more bit of effort expected of you before you can leave. A friend told me they see this in most countries, out of the 10+ countries we have visited so far only Australia and NZ worked this way.
Ordering all at once
When you are in NZ the idea of ordering drinks, then apps, then the meal (with time breaks in between,) is lost on many waiters. They expect you to consolidate your whole meal upfront and give your final order all at once. We had a few awkward moments where they were waiting for us to keep ordering and us waiting for them to leave.
Signature or Pin
I know much of the world has moved onto the chip and pin for credit cards but New Zealand had the hardest time understanding what do with my pinless card. It really confused them. Most countries have just run the card and handed me a pen to sign the receipt. I know it wasn’t a language issue, since we speak the same language. I visited many countries so far and the pinless card (even though it had a chip) confused NZ/AUS the most.
Lost In Translation
Between all the above customs our first few days in NZ felt a bit awkward at the restaurants. There were a couple times we clearly ordered one (with the one finger gesture) coffee for Jackie and we would still get two. Weird. Is it our accent???
Grilled cheese sandwiches are lovingly called “Toasties.”
Kiwi’s offer a lot of lamb, avocado,calamari, steak , and fish & chips in their menus.
We noticed that fast food joints like McDonalds or KFC were a bit more up-scale and modern looking, compared to our fast food teenage run shacks. I personally think the chicken at KFC was better – Jackie didn’t care for it. (I would agree that the biscuits and the mashed potatoes were sub-par). There was far more variety at the McDonalds stops with a larger McCafe selection and tasty salads and lamb wraps.
We also thought the burgers in New Zealand were pretty bad. To each his own. I’m sure they say the same about us. BUT for other Americans out there, I’d try something else on the menu. The bread is crumbly and the meat is – bits of chewiness. We tried burgers at local fast food joints as well as restaurants and they all had the same textures and flavours.I think it is the local preference. We did quite like the sides though. The Sweet Potato fries and Pumpkin Balls were great. Also, the ribs were a bit off for me.
Every country has a local favorite that gets replicated in every store, from 7-11 to, McDonalds, to a full blown restaurant. (In Japan for instance they had sushi at 7-11.) In New Zealand it was meat pies. We had a few, at the best and not so best places. I didn’t find a huge difference between the best and worst. It is basically a gravy rich chicken pot pie you ate with your hands. Meh.
The kiwis seem to prefer sparkling water so check the label. Yes every country has options for either but New Zealand leaned to sparkle.
Alcohol and Beers
We have ginger beer in the states but they are non-alcoholic. Ginger Beer in NZ and AU were mixed with vodka, others Rum etc. They were our favorite drinks. We couldn’t get enough.
The liquor store carried tons of premixed beverages. Almost every standard mixed drink came pre-mixed and canned. (eg. Johnnie Walker and Code, Rum and Coke)
If you like ciders than NZ and AU are great spots for you. They have a plethora of cider selections eg peach, pear, apple – you name it.
If you like India Pale Ale you are out of luck. Jackie loves the stuff and most Kiwi and Aussies had no idea what we were talking about when we asked for the stuff.
A few times we asked for directions. The person would tell us “it is a minute up the road.” It turned out to be 5 steps away. A minute was what we would call “a sec.”
In the U.S. our salutations usually go, “How you doin?” or “How’s it going?” In New Zealand it is merged into “How you going?” The U.S. response to “Thanks” is either “All good” or “No problem”, “you’re welcome” or even “no worries.” In New Zealand we often got “that’s alright” or “that’s ok.”
It may say “yield to pedestrians” but no car yields for pedestrians. We would almost get run over on designated crosswalks and plenty of distance for the car to slow down and stop. We would get edged off the cross walk. Rude drivers overall I’d say across the country.
The rules for stores and restaurants vary greatly on public holidays. Some areas are shut down, some are not. We were around for easter and many spots (if open) had rules that a customer couldn’t drink without ordering food. The amount of food required varied greatly as well. Some places demanded multiple meals, others just allowed an appetizer.
Supposedly, from what we heard, drinking rules are strict – they post measurements of how to rate the intoxication level of customers (eg. by talkativeness, slurring, and posture) on the bars.
Don’t get me started on this. It was hard as hell to get internet in New Zealand and Australia. If we got it it was limited, if it wasn’t capped it was slow as molasses. Upload and download speeds were faaaaar below 1Mb/s. Hotels would often give us a 50 MB vouchers that we could use for free while there. Gee thanks.
When you turn on the telly you might be surprised with some of the sports you see. I don’t think snooker or rugby would surprise anyone, but there is one game called Netball where people run around with a version of a basketball (without dribbling) and shoot a into a hoop without a backboard from a few feet away.
Other micro notes
We noticed the Kiwis were pretty chill about rules. A few cents here or there were no problem. If something was misunderstood about an agreement or rule the business didn’t put up a fuss.
Get a camper or suv if you can swing it. The higher view over fences as you drive would have been worth it for us.
We heard that all emergency care is completely covered by the government whether you are a resident or foreigner. So, that’s nice 🙂
I know this is a small thing, but I started to notice that all the lights were set as down being on and up being off. Subtle, but noticeably different.
Almost a year ago I saw a post on Facebook of some guys having a blast louging down a mountain. No one knew where it came from on the thread, but I remember thinking, “Man – I gotta try that.” Most of the time the things I’ve see of Facebook stay things I’ve only seen on Facebook. Well no longer. In New Zealand we stumbled upon Skyline Park in Rotorua. When I saw they had luging I insisted to Jackie that we HAD to go.
When we got there they told us we could only buy packs of at least 5 luge rides with a zip line. We thought that was overdoing it, but without any smaller options we paid the $70pp and went inside.
Good thing we did too! After our first ride down we ran back to the top to do it again, and again, and again… I am usually not the type to go to an amusement park on a vacation while touring a country, but the Kiwis do it in such a unique and outdoorsy way that it is well worth it. The park had awesome Mountain Bike trails and the Zorb, which we didn’t get to try because of time. What a great way to enjoy the New Zealand outdoors and views!
Here is a video of one of the last trips down. By then I got more confident and really let it rip. I even got some air on a couple of the dips – you can hear me hooting when it happens 🙂
Some other non-luge clips:
Here is Jackie before we took our zip line down. I would have had video but since you end up laying back for the ride the whole shot was of the sky
The more speedy way to come down after the zipline. We fell backwards with a quick bungee. It happened so fast I forgot to film it.
One of our many rides back to the top on the Gondola for more fun rides.
On our way through Rotorua we stopped in the living Maori Village in Whakarewarewa Rotorua. There you walk through a town that uses the underlying hot springs to provide energy for cooking, cleaning and heat. It was neat to watch (and feel) our first hot springs up close as they billowed warm steam through the cool air.
They used a series of channels to fill tubs or pools from the main springs.
And the kids asked US to take pictures of them playing when we passed by! Very photo friendly family I guess. 🙂
There are no hired actors here, everyone is a descendant of the original Maori townsmen. You can watch the local family perform traditional Maori Dances.
We even got to take a picture with one of the afterwards.
We then toured the above ground cemetery located right in the town. Interesting looking cemetery with smoke circling the tombs.
Romantic Natural Hot Spring Spa
Our next stop was the Wairakei Terraces & Visitor Centre NETCOR in Taupo. This natural hot sprng stop was a completely different experience than the first. A much more quiet and romantic location these hot springs are partially man maded but are filled with run off from the natural hot springs above. The claclium deposist left from all of the mineral water covers the once man made surface and now is completly integrated with all the natural colors. We spam in the spa for well over an hour. (Supposedly the minral bath helps joints an aches too.)
We had pretty low expectation for the glow worm caves. For some reason, to us, it sounded gimmicky. We planned to turn it up a notch and do the more active version of the tour which including climbing, floating and spelunking. Unfortunately, we ended up booking the wrong dates and had to switch to a last-minute walking-only tour. The workers were all super nice and luckily we were able to get our $250 back <phew!>
We entered the caves, and, in the beginning, it was much like a tour of Luray Caverns (or any other cave for that matter); stalagmites, stalactites, calcium deposits and interestingly shaped chambers. I was starting to think it was a lot of show and would end up seeing few of these precious glow worms. They really took their time getting to the main attraction. After some walking in what seemed to be circles, we made it to a little boat and floated through the caverns. Once it got dark enough BOOM the ceiling came alive with a starry night-like glow. As it truned out it really was beautiful and worth the time and money to see.
No pictures were allowed in the caves so I don’t have much to show you. I think it is because if you were to take a picture they would probably diminish the spectacle that looks best with the naked eye.
I only got a shot on the way out of the cave so here they are
As we were driving through New Zealand to Napier we passed by a fence strewn with old shoes and boots. The beautiful country back drop and its old fence had something oddly magical to it. We pulled over and took a few shots and hurried back into the car.
After doing a bit of research later on, it turns out there are many fences filled with shoes, and even bras in New Zealand. The fence of bras turned into a tourist attraction at one point and was deemed a driving hazard by the government (probably because people like me would block the road to take a picture) and required it be taken down. Maybe the shoes are a way to stick it back to the man, or just drum up more tourists. Either way I’m glad we caught a picture – but I woudn’t go out of my way to see it 😉
From what we heard, the country side of New Zealand is spectacular. We thought the best way to see NZ was by driving. We rented a car in Auckland and made our way down to Wellington – stopping in each of the must see towns along the way.
Getting use to driving on the other side of the road wasn’t too bad. What we had trouble catching on to was the fact that the turn signal was on the opposite side of the steering wheel than we were use to. On every turn we would accidentally turn on the windshield wipers, have a chuckle and carry on. It took a few hours to get use to that.
In the end it cost us about an extra $90 per day to have the car. It really broke into our budget but flying to all the towns would probably have been worst. Tip: Picking up and dropping the car off at the airport adds an additional %15 cost to the overall bill. If you can, plan well and drop it off in town, but be sure to mind the hours of operation.
I’m so glad we decided to rent a car and drive through New Zealand. The countryside is truly inspiring. (It is like a constant view of Windows Desktop XP for you nerds out there.) The peaks and valleys of green grass framed with blue skies are something not to be missed You can see why it was a great place to film the countryside for the movie Lord of the Rings.
To make it even more picture perfect we passed thousands of packs of cows and sheep along the way.
If the roadways of New Zealand are considered majestic then imagine how beautiful the countryside is when you go off the road into specifically designated national forests. We haven’t visited the famous hills of The Sound of Music – yet, but I would have to assume they are similar to these. Since pictures (and video) are worth a thousand words let’s make it easy and have you check out the hyperlapse video below that I took of our hike through the Tararua Forest Park.
As I mentioned the video, the countryside is more of a rolling plains type visual, were as all the forest we visited had more of a tropical foliage landscape.