new zealand

Milford Sound: Unlike anywhere I’d ever been

So, I thought I’d chronicle my New Zealand travels in order of the places I visited, the things I did and the people — and animals! — I met, but it looks like I’m just going to write about whatever I am in the mood to write about.

Today, it is Milford Sound.

We visited Milford Sound about half-way or so through our trip. And, I’m not exaggerating when I say it is unlike anywhere I have ever been before. It is a fjord on the South Island of the country but it has so much more than what you would think of as a “typical fjord” with inlets of water and surrounding mountains.

Yes, it has all of that, but much more.

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The sound connects to the Tasman Sea. There are glaciers. There are snow-covered mountains. There are “tropical tree”-covered mountains of green. There are seals sunbathing on rocks along the water. There are tons of waterfalls. There are Keas — parrots that look like they lived when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

It was interesting to see all the different landscapes, and all that they had to offer.

We drove (OK, OK, my husband drove) us to Milford Sound. And, it may have taken us +4 hours one way but it was sure worth it.

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We rode one of the nature cruises, which I’d highly recommend if you visit Milford Sound. The nature cruise is more than 2 hours while most of the “regular” cruises are about an hour. There is a guide on board who talks about the different nature formations and the sound, which made everything so much more interesting to look at!

It was heavily raining on our drive to the sound but the forecast showed that it would be sunny in the afternoon. And, I mean, it was pouring so much on the morning drive that sometimes it was even hard to see out the window with the wipers on full blast! So, we got really lucky later that day. Not only was it sunny and blue skies during our cruise, but because of all the rain in the morning, there were so many waterfalls “out.”

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Milford Sound only has four official waterfalls but on days when there is a lot of rainfall, there can be more than you can count!

The cruise was super windy but Bryce and I stayed on the top outside deck of the boat the entire time to make sure we didn’t miss anything. Towards the end of the cruise, I had to use the restroom so I went down to the main deck  but as soon as I reached the bacthroom door, I heard our guide start to talk over the loudspeaker about some rocks we were passing by. I turned around and ran back up the stairs to the top deck. I wasn’t going to miss seeing these rocks!

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Milford Sound is wonderful.

I’m not even going to tell you to go to Milford Sound if you’re visiting New Zealand because I trust that it’s already top of your list!

New Zealand summer spritzer.
new zealand, travel

All about New Zealand food, sort of.

Being back from our New Zealand trip for a week, there have been two recurring questions from friends, family, colleagues and strangers — just kidding, I haven’t gone around pushing my NZ travel stories on strangers, yet! — which have been:

  1. What was your favorite thing about the country? (Or, a similar question like “What did you like most about the trip?”)
  2. What is the food like?

Both good questions and what I’d ask a friend coming back from another country.

And, I’m going to start with food, because it’s obviously the most important thing about a vacation!

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So, what “New Zealand food” did I eat? Well, not to disappoint you but “New Zealand food” is pretty much just like Western food you’d find in like, uh, the U.S.

I actually just did a Google search on “New Zealand food” and the top results don’t apply to me because I am a pescatarian. (Yeah, I guess I miss out on a lot of new food opportunities from not eating meat … oh, well!) The internet says roasted lamb, Maori hangi (this contains meat), crayfish and fish & chips are foods visitors must have while visiting the Kiwis.

New Zealand Fish Market

Bryce and I did share a good plate of fish and chips from the Fish Market in Auckland on our first full day in New Zealand. So, I guess I didn’t totally miss the mark on “eating right in New Zealand.” We did come across crayfish in the beach towns we stopped through but crayfish is kind of like lobster and I’m not a huge lobster fan so we skipped it.

One thing none of those “top eats in New Zealand” will include is the truth about what you will actually eat while road tripping through New Zealand. 

Any guesses out there?

Kiwi fruit?

No.

Fast food?

Maybe for some people, but not us.

It’s Indian food!

Indian food in New Zealand.

Our entire trip was 18.5 days so we did a lot of driving to explore as much of the North Island and South Island as possible. Often we found ourselves driving through very small to medium-sized towns looking for lunch or dinner. We never expected or wanted anything fancy but all the cafes closed between 3 to 4:30 pm, which was unusual for us since the cafes back home in Seattle are usually open until 6 pm.

But, we could always find and count on an Indian restaurant to be open and serving food until  9 pm — or, sometimes their signs just said “closes late.”

We ate Indian food four times in the 2.5 weeks we were there and it was tasty and accompanied but good service every time! Another cuisine we had often was Thai. If there wasn’t an Indian restaurant available in the town we were in, there was sure to be a Thai restaurant!

Coming from Seattle where we have a lot of fantastic Asian cuisine, including lots of great Indian and Thai restaurants, I definitely didn’t think we would be eating this type of food in New Zealand.

Funny how we traveled 7,000 miles to eat food that made me feel like I was at home!

Whitebait sammie in New Zealand.

In addition to the Indian and Thai food, we consumed a lot of good New Zealand cheese and wine. (Our hotels and Airbnb hosts were so nice in gifting us a bottle of local sparkling wine or champagne since we were on our honeymoon). We were also able to enjoy some very tasty no-frill “whitebait sammies” and Maori fry-bread sandwiches!

Don’t get me wrong, we also ate tasty salads, quiches, meat pies for Bryce, and other cuisines such as Japanese and Turkish when we were in the big cities.

I am also very impressed with New Zealand’s ice cream — so much that I am devoting another post just for that!

What interesting or surprising foods have you had while traveling?

new zealand, post travel, seattle

Back to an unexpected reality

Three days ago, I was in Auckland, bidding farewell to New Zealand’s summer.

Two days ago, I was swimming at Ala Moana beach in Hawaii.

One day ago, I was back home in Seattle, where Snowmaggedon/Snowpocalypse 2019 had hit hard for the third time in a week.

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It’s unusual for Seattle to get so much snow for a series of days like this. All my friends are having cabin fever from not being able to leave their houses for several days to a week.

I’m kind of enjoying it?

Yesterday the snow fall was pretty. It felt like a winter wonderland. Bryce and I went for a walk in the late afternoon and saw that some of our neighbors still had their Christmas lights up.

“Their procrastination paid off!” I exclaimed. “It looks so magical!”

But, today the rain came and the snow is melting. There is a lot of dirty slush occupying the sidewalks and streets. My car is surrounded by a bunch of compacted, hard snow. I’m ready for my bus to be in full service again so I can actually go into the office and see my coworkers.

Coming back from a three-week vacation — that was our honeymoon! — I didn’t expect to come back to a reality that would be icy roads and people abandoning their cars on neighborhood roads.

For now, I’m keeping warm by remembering our New Zealand trip and all the amazing places we were fortunate enough to visit on both the north and south islands. And, all the wildlife we saw and people we met.

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You can bet that this blog will come out of its hibernation — who has time to blog when they are traveling?? — with many stories and photos from my kiwi adventure. (Think dolphins, the cutest sheep in the world, Maori culture and a city windier than Chicago, just to name a few things!)

Stay warm, my Seattle friends. And, happy travels to the rest of you out there!

new zealand, pre travel

Off to New Zealand!

I’m a planner.

But, usually my planning tends to stress me out because I get worked up about every little detail.

My husband has taught me that not all things need to be stressed about nor planned to the minute. (Well, it’s something I’m working on).

A week before our honeymoon to New Zealand, we still hadn’t planned out the second half of our travels. So on Tuesday night, we hunkered down and searched for the remaining places to stay, and the route we should visit cities. I also dusted off the Lonely Planet book we had bought several months ago and did more research on exactly what else we wanted to do and see.

We start and end the trip in Auckland but are also driving down to the South Island and back — all in about  2.5 weeks. The South Island portion of the trip was what we needed to iron out.

As we talked through things looking at our map of the country, I paused for a moment and asked “Are we trying to see like all of Oregon and California in a week??”

It was sort of meant as a rhetorical question but Bryce responded that we were trying to fit a lot in during a short period of time. (Now I laugh to think that originally I wanted to go to Australia in the same trip as well! Ha!)

Are we crazy that we won’t be spending more than 2 nights in the same city or town? Are we doing too much? Will there be too much driving?

Maybe.

But, it is our honeymoon. So, we’ll do what we want!

 

[PS – By the time you’re reading this, we’ll be in the air on our way to Auckland. Or, we will already be in New Zealand.]

travel

TSA and the burritos

My parents encouraged Bryce and I to arrive at the airport three hours before our flight to Hawaii (en route to New Zealand).

“With the government shutdown, you just never know!” my mom said. “Sea-Tac seems to be operating normally from what I’ve heard but who knows, maybe the TSA workers will decide on your day of travel to just not show up!”

We arrived about 2.5 hours early — and thankfully there was no line at PreCheck. I guess the sweet spot to fly is 5 pm. Everyone else wants to get a move on in the morning or late at night.

My backpack got searched at security and at first I was a little annoyed that none of the TSA workers bothered to notify me that they were searching it. Isn’t the norm that they ask whose bag it is and then they go through it in front of you?

When I asked why they weren’t searching it in front of me so I could see, one worker replied that “there’s not enough room back here.”

OK, isn’t that why normally you bring the bag closer to where the traveler is awkwardly waiting or standing?

Another worker — different guy from the one who responded to my question — did bring my bag in front of me after the initial rummaging out of my sight and asked if I had food in the bag.

“I’m going to have to look at it,” he said nicely.

When I lifted the brown Chipotle bag out of my backpack to show that there were two burritos inside, he asked for us to peel back the foil.

I obliged.

“Those look like some good burritos!” he said as he told us we were free to go.

I laughed and put the food back in my backpack.

“Well, at least that was quick,” I told Bryce.

He agreed and reminded me that these workers weren’t getting paid at the moment, too.

“Oh, no! I should have been nicer at the beginning when I was giving them a hard time about looking through my bag without me being able to see what was going on!”

I felt a little bad.

Oh, well, at least they didn’t ask to take a bite out of our burritos.

travel

The thing about layovers

On our way to and from Calí, Colombia, one of our layovers was in Panama City. They call themselves the gateway to the Americas, as the airport is a major hub.

I always get a tinge of sadness whenever I have a mere layover in a new city, especially when it it’s in country I’ve never been to.

You don’t have time to leave the airport because you only have a few hours. You get to know that city’s airport’s bathrooms and gate waiting areas. You learn where to find the cheapest meal in said airport. You learn if the airport has good or spotty WiFi.

What cities have I wanted to visit after having a quick airport layover?

When going to New York City during spring break with two of my girlfriends our junior year of college, we had a layover at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. It wasn’t until five years later that I got to visit the windy city. It was to run the Chicago Marathon, so naturally the whole thing was a blur. I really should properly visit Chicago again so I can actually enjoy the city — and remember what I saw!

When I was in elementary school, my mom and younger brother and I had an overnight layover in Seoul, Korea on our way to Japan. We pretty much always fly directly from Seattle to Japan when visiting relatives so this was a new experience. We spent just one night in a nearby hotel and all I remember was that my brother was probably 4 or 5 and fell asleep on the bus ride to the hotel and forgot his backpack on the bus. My mom didn’t realize until the bus had left and she frantically somehow tracked it down. I love Korean food. I think I would like Korea and would love to make more memories of it other than my brother almost losing a backpack.

I have also been to the Amsterdam airport a handful of times to and from various destinations in Europe. I’d like to actually visit Amsterdam and explore it one day. (I mean, their airport is great so I bet the outside is even better!)

It was the same thing with Panama City. Panama would be a neat place to visit, right?

Are layover cities layovers for that reason? They could be fun or interesting to visit but you are always going to visit somewhere else that is just a little bit more fun or interesting?

I’ll keep you posted.

colombia, travel

Like a scene from Narcos

We arrived in Panama City, our first layover (out of three) on our way home to Seattle from Colombia.

It was a Sunday morning and I was hungry.

Why was it taking us “so long” to get off of the plane?

Bryce and I were seated in the middle of the plane and finally the passengers in front of us started moving. We stepped off the plane and started walking through the ramp-way, you know, the one in between the plane and the gate at the airport.

But there was a backup.

Why are we having to wait to get into the airport? 

I’m a pretty patient person but sometimes seeing people struggle with their rolling suitcase, which holds up the line, really irritates me. (I have nothing against rolling suitcases, I own one, too!)

This wasn’t the case this time though.

Up ahead, I could see two men checking passengers’ ID and ticket.

Why are we doing this now? We’ve already arrived at our destination!

Bryce and I got out our passports out and waited for the line to move. Finally it was our turn and one of the men checked Bryce’s passport and in really stern Spanish asked where he was going. Bryce responded and the man motioned that he could proceed.

I next showed the man my passport but he didn’t even glance at it. He waved his hand and was more interested in the person behind me.

That was weird, right?

No, it was intentional. We quickly realized that the men were only checking passports of the male passengers. These undercover cops were clearly looking for someone specific. (They were dressed in regular street clothes so we just assumed they were undercover cops).

As we walked away — to look for breakfast -— we turned back around towards the gate we just left and noticed that a handful of passengers were pulled to the side. We guessed for more questioning.

This is like a scene straight out of Narcos!

Well, maybe. I’ve never actually seen the show but whenever I told people I was going to Calí, Colombia before the trip, they would respond with “Ohhhh, like from Narcos — the Calí Cartel!”

So, it was like an alleged scene straight out of Narcos.