This is my debut blog as author as opposed to head editor (fact/grammar/spell-checker). Dan encouraged me to do this; I hope that it does not disappoint our readership (c. 6 people who are all immediate relatives and will no doubt say it doesn't).
Firstly, I would like to clarify that it has always been our intention that New Zealand be the 'meat' in our metaphorical travelling sandwich- the bread being formed by South America and South East Asia at either side. I cannot express how much this country has lived up to and exceeded my expectations of being a place where we could relax, explore and be happy whilst being surrounded by beautiful, other-worldly scenery and simultaneously live lives a bit closer to the normality we knew before.
*I reserve the right to rescind elements of the above general description when discussing a specific incident in the discourse to follow. Note that this mainly relates to the noun " relax" as well as the descriptors "beautiful" and "happy".
From the beginning:
We landed in New Zealand, staying first in a beautiful suburb of Auckland called Ponsonby. We made our way to an unashamedly chic cafe where I could caffeinate and Dan and I could both order breakfast off a menu sent from heaven. To be honest, we then spent the most of the next 48 hours just reading cafe menus and walking around delis or supermarkets salivating.
When we got over the initial shock of having seemingly entered the culinary land of milk and honey we then picked up our beloved el cheapo rental from jucy... Only we got a free upgrade to a car we actually liked.
Over the first week we drove to the northernmost tip of New Zealand (Cape Reinga) and toured around the bay of Islands and the Coromandel peninsula. There are without doubt some of the most beautiful beaches and coastal roads in the world here.
We then made our way over to Waitomo Caves and did underground cave tubing where you can view the 'glow worms' above you in the pitch black of the caves. It was truly beautiful and understandably, a big tourist attraction on the North Island.
Our next stop was Lake Taupo, our chosen base from which to do the famous Tongariro Alpine crossing. On the first morning we attempted it, the trail was closed due to bad weather conditions. This was not helping my nerves about the cold but, thinking of the times in the past and yet to come where Dan would have to follow me up a mountain in 30+ Celsius, I remained positive. The second morning everything was go, so we set off up the mountain with me resembling the Jamaican bobsleigh team from the film Cool Runnings who, shocked by cold conditions, wear every item of clothing they have in their luggage, including their bag itself. There is a photo that was taken of me on the ascent, at a point where the steps help you be warm enough to shed your outer layer - at this point it was still laughs, jokes and bragging potential that there was snow on the trail and I was still doing it.
In Dan's mind the Tongariro crossing was a pleasant spring stroll with a sprinkling of picturesque snow. In reality, and according to Cara, it was an advanced course in staying warm and avoiding tumbling to your death via a series of sheer cliffs, hidden by blizzards. After the walk we joked and laughed about the trek*
*Cara wasn't laughing at any point- still isn't now... (*Dan takes over blog*)
There's too many places to note in New Zealand as the landscape is almost universally beautiful, and the people warm and welcoming. From a Milford Sound in the South where we cruised the Sound with dolphins jumping alongside us, to the lakes of Wanaka and Queenstown with their epic mountainous scenery, we enjoyed the drives almost as much as the walks! The New Zealand people are warm and friendly with shop workers informing us that we should buy from other stores as it's cheaper there, to friendly locals beaming lay proud of their surroundings. We stayed at a home stay with a lady and her son one night, and before they had even met us they emailed to say where they kept the key and we stayed in their beautiful home complete with mod-cons and fully furnished. Obviously we informed them that we were English as if Cara had noted her South African blood then they would have places restrictive chains on every piece of furniture and the cutlery...
We spent just over a month there and it was cathartic after South America and the ability to cook and go where and when we wanted was welcomed whole heartedly.
Lessons learned from New Zealand:
Do not get your haircut in a barbers in Auckland - I could have done a better job on Dan using a mixing bowl and a hedge trimmer.
Ps- there are exceptions to every rule. Here's a tripadvisor review of one of the worst hostels we've came across... Wilderness Lodge, Haast