FiNZ 52 – Mt Doom

Our last major NZ bucket list item was to hike the Tongariro Crossing – New Zealand’s most popular day hike. Tongariro National Park is an amazing plot of land full of active volcanoes, craters, and piercing blue lakes. We knew we had to make it here before we left. Plus, Mt. Ngauruhoe was the inspiration of Mt Doom in Lord of the Rings. I couldn’t go home without being able to answer “yes” to everyone that asked us “did you see Mt Doom!?”

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Tongariro National Park

Unfortunately, the trip from Christchurch is not easy. Tongariro National Park is in the middle of the north island. Luckily we had some leftover airpoints we weren’t sure what to do with other than use for some free flights (shoutout to Air New Zealand!). We convinced a couple of my colleagues to go a bit crazy with us and fly up to Wellington Friday night, drive the 4 hours to National Park, hike all day Saturday, drive back to Wellington Saturday night, and fly back to Christchurch at 7am on Sunday morning.

The predicted weather did not like our plan. A weather “trough” decided to flow over the north island Friday through Saturday. This meant Sunday was supposed to be beautiful, but alas…Sunday we would be flying home.

00Our shuttle was cancelled ahead of time but we figured we would still make it work. We drove up to National Park in the dark and some rain, and fell asleep at 1am. We awoke, opened the window shade to find this…

01aand more specifically this…

01bSure it wasn’t sunny, but it still made Keith say “holy crap!” when he opened the curtains. We both jaunted outside to take some photos next to the giant kiwi sculpture…because that’s what you do when you see a giant timber kiwi right?

0203Despite no rain, the New Zealand weather god–also known as “Metservice”–kept telling us it was going to rain 19 mm every 3 hours (that. is. a. lot.). Since the shuttle cancelled on us, and the Tongariro Crossing is one-way, we figured we’d either do an out and back, or Keith would walk with us half way and then run back to drive the car around… We arrived at the DOC info center at the start of the track and the on-site ranger suggested going west towards Tama Lakes. He said the top of the Tongariro Crossing would be windy and cold, maybe rainy, the Tama Lakes walk you still saw the same blue lakes, the volcanos, and it was still park of the Tongariro Northern Circuit (another Great Walk!). So eventually we were sold and gave up on doing the official “Tongariro Crossing”

04And we were off…

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0606aAfter a couple hours we made it to our first blue lake, and continued up the adjacent ridge to make it to the upper Tama Lake and to stop for lunch.

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09On the walk back to the visitor center the clouds parted a bit more for our money shot of the volcano.

10We were all really loving the lava flow areas…

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Keith and the Flow

P1090015 P1090023Overall our journey was a success–our friends had a good time, the Flanders stepped foot on another Great Walk (that’s SIX out of nine for Jen!!), and everyone saw Mt Doom. We drove the 4 hours back to Wellie in the daylight and enjoyed a night meeting up with old friends and eating a hard-earned burger. Then it was up at the crack of dawn the next morning for this enjoyable flight back to the south island —

20This weekend is our LAST weekend! I can’t wait to write about that post next week!

FiNZ 51 – Mt Fyffe

This was our last “unplanned” weekend of our New Zealand stint. The last thing I came up with to do was climb Mt. Fyffe up near Kaikoura. This is a hike I’ve been wanting to do the past year, but always pushed off as it was a fairly simple day trip. Therefore Sunday was the day — Keith wanted to get in one last trail run up a mountain before his final big race and I wanted to hike one last New Zealand mountain.

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Keith disappearing into the bushes

We had a pleasant drive up to Kaikoura and down the dirt road to Mt Fyffe carpark. I knew the trail was a graded 4 wheel drive track…that didn’t make it easy. Keith bolted off (although admitted that he walked a lot too) and I huffed and puffed my way to the hut. 2 hours in I saw Keith running down. He hadn’t made the summit as the trail got a little dicey and fairly windy while running. We realized the views were going to be similar if we kept going, so collectively decided to cut this hike in half (3 hours versus 6) and enjoy lunch in Kaikoura and an evening back in Christchurch.

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Post Run Photoshoot

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Sort of made it….

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Enjoying the View

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Kaikoura Peninsula

Since we had already made it to Kaikoura, we knew we had to drive a bit further to say goodbye to the baby seals one last time. The carpark was packed. These little guys are really no longer a “hidden gem” in the south island, yet they were still as cute as ever climbing up the river and playing in the waterfall.

On the drive back we figured we should try a new detour – “tourist drive.” It took us to a couple more secluded east coast beaches and provided some amazing sunset shots for the drive back…

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Tourist Drive Beach

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Canterbury Sunset

As I’m writing this, last weekend we went up to the north island to hike the Tongariro Crossing! It was a bit of a whirlwind, more on that in a couple of days!

FiNZ 50 – Golden Bay

Easter is the “Kiwi Thanksgiving” — the one 4 day weekend of the year that everyone travels somewhere. As expats, utilizing this mandatory 4 day break for a longer drive was a MUST. We hadn’t been to the far north (Golden Bay) or south (Invercargill) of the south island yet. We decided between the two we’d rather see Golden Bay – sunnier and warmer.

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It’s a longer drive than it looks with the windy roads through Lewis Pass and then the windiest road I’ve been on thus far from Motueka to Takaka (where we stayed in Golden Bay). We left around 10am Friday with the rest of Christchurch and hit some “major” south island traffic for the next couple hours. I’m fairly sure most of Canterbury decided to go north with us for Easter weekend. Luckily after passing the first resort town, Hamner Springs, we were up to 100 km/hr again. We eventually arrived to our “Tiny Abode“, cooked dinner, and found the beautiful beach at the end of the neighborhood road.

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A literal golden bay

Saturday we were off to explore the east side of Golden Bay. Keith’s colleague told him to check out two natural limestone wonders. The Labyrinth is a local plot of land with a giant natural maze of rocks. The Grove was an even better area of huge palms growing on top of limestone boulders. It reminded me a lot of my field trips to purgatory chasm in elementary school!

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The Labyrinth (top) & The Grove (bottom)

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more at The Grove

02aAfter a nice coffee break we were off to the Rawhiti Caves. Our trusty NZ Frenzy book, per usual, did not fail. After a steep 45 minute climb, we reached the most interesting cave I’ve seen. Stalactites everywhere! It always amazes us how people come across these wonders in the middle of nowhere. Rawhiti caves were a tourist attraction starting almost 100 years ago when a local farmer would bring groups of visitors up the hill and then make tea for them at the mouth of the cave.

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Rawhiti Cave

Later that afternoon we drove all the way to Wainui Bay–the north side of the Abel Tasman Coast Track (aka the side of the track that no one ever gets too). For being the most popular Great Walk, the boat taxis do end at a certain point. This leaves the north several kilometers of the track void of the hundreds of tourists. Keith went for a run to the first hut, while I walked up to the look out point and took some photos along the way.

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Wainui Bay

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Abel Tasman Coastal Track trekking & Wainui Bay running

On Easter my coworker and his girlfriend met us for brunch and a hike up to the northern hook of Golden Bay, called Farewell Spit.

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Farewell Spit (bay side)

The walk up the bay/east side was pretty uneventful, but as soon as we crossed over to the other side of the “hook,” gigantic sand dunes appeared with a beautiful, empty, sandy beach. It was an environment I’ve never really seen before – incredible!

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Sand dune surfing

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Farewell Spit (west side)

That night we headed to the neighborhood beach again to watch the full moon rise – gorgeous.

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Full Moon Rising

Since it was really on our bucket list to hike the Heaphy track (if only for a few hours), we woke up at 5am the next morning and got out the door by 6 to get to the track end by 7am. Again Keith used it as a 3 hour training run while I hiked for 3 hours.

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Heaphy Track token shot

Per usual we were alone on the track. I made some friends with the birds who were having a field day flocking around me, very Cinderella -esque. apparently, the fantails (birds) will flock around people and animals because that’s where the flies (food) go.

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09Albeit gloomy, the Heaphy Track was a beautiful walk through the dense rainforest-like woods. We were then off to Farewell Spit area again to see Wharariki beach before we left.

The “moderate walk” to the beach involved several peacock and sheep encounters through rolling hobbit-like hills.

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Animals along the Hilltop Walk

Once over the final sand dune we realized just how beautiful the beach was. This beach wasn’t simply a “stop and take a quick photo beach.” Cursing the fact that we had a long drive home awaiting us, Keith still jumped in the ocean and we both sat and enjoyed the beautiful scenery for a moment.

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Wharariki Beach Views

13We had a quick lunch at the locally famous Mussel Inn and then enjoyed a nice long drive home.

A mere 3 weekends left! Until next week…

 

FiNZ 48&49 – There and Back Again

The past 2 weekends we actually didn’t leave Christchurch – unheard of! Keith went surfing on a nice Saturday and I ran over to the beach to meet him, but otherwise we’ve been chilling out and planning our crazy intense April – our LAST month in New Zealand!

With our stay in its final weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about coming “home.” Keith still turns to me on our weekend trips or evening hikes and says “Do we really live here?” It’s been a really amazing experience; I may have to sum it up again in a final blog post. But in a nutshell living in New Zealand for the past year has probably been one of the best decisions of our collective lives.

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In honour of leaving, and for the sake of writing a blog post, I starting to think about things I’ll miss about living in the south island of New Zealand. Obviously, I compiled an exhaustive list. So here it goes, the following includes a large, yet incomplete, list of things I’ll miss about living here:

  1. Generally all-around nice people –
    1. Every time I grocery shop the teenage cashier asks me about my plans for the week/night/weekend and genuinely wants an answer. I will miss you cheerful minimum wage employees.
    2. We’ve had absolutely wonderful experiences with all the airbnb’s or “book a baches” we’ve stayed at the past year. Owners are friendly, helpful, and have offered loads of advice.
    3. All the folks we’ve met hiking around the country
    4. … There’s plenty more but that would fill an entire post
  2. Being reminded of Birthdays a day ahead of time. When you’re living a day in the future, your facebook updates are that more useful.
  3. “Capsicums”
  4. Picking up hitchhikers. Nope, I don’t think I’d ever do this in the US, but it has been quite fun here!
  5. $1 and $2 coins. A pocket full of change?! #RICH
  6. Heaps of craft beer
  7. On that verbage note…using words like “heaps”, “keen”, “boot”, “torch”, “sweet as” in everyday conversation.
  8. WINERIES EVERYWHERE
  9. Driving coast to coast in 3 hours
  10. Spending time in multiple eco-systems over the course of one day
  11. COFFEE – a great flat white. (Keith noted to me today that he will NOT miss his long black coffees. He enjoys Dunkins far too much)
  12. Fiords
  13. Mighty mountains
  14. Winter with snow only in the areas you want it to be (i.e. ski slopes)
  15. World class hiking
    1. The Great Walks
    2. The porthills and banks peninsula in our backyard
  16. The government’s parental leave policy
  17. Citizens having far less than 6 degrees of separation to the cast of the Bachelor…or any reality TV show for that matter
  18. Rugby
  19. The shoeless people in the grocery store
  20. Easily paying individually at restaurants (way easier than splitting the bill)
  21. Taxes and tip included on every price
  22. Mixing up my date order DD MM? MM DD?
  23. 8 hour drives that are TRULY enjoyable (except for that long ride through Ashburton…)
  24. No traffic…except in Christchurch city between 5 and 5:30pm
  25. Using my “e” and “s” letters–“storey”, “organise”… even wordpress wants to autocorrect these…
  26. Ground floor and first floors as different levels.
  27. Sheep
  28. The fresh meat, fish, and eggs that you can feel good about eating
  29. Beaches everywhere
  30. The multitude of stars, even in the “city”
  31. The “she’ll be right” attitude
  32. The bird life. Keith and I have officially become an old married couple.
  33. The ridiculous things that make national news. The perks of a small population country.
  34. Seeing America from the outside looking in.
  35. The commonwealth comedy. Jono & Ben+Guy Williams, the Gap Year folks, Graham Norton. I don’t know what it is about comedy here, maybe things are just allowed to be politically incorrect maybe its the accent, but it’s quite entertaining.

travel

FiNZ 47 – Mueller?…Mueller?…

Keith and I have been looking forward to this hike – the Mueller Hut track – for the past year. Although a mere 5k one-way and only a one-night trip, we knew it was one of the more challenging hikes so saved the best towards last. To summarize, this track is incredible primarily because your view the entire time is the beautiful Mt. Cook / Aoraki – highest mountain in New Zealand and mountain Sir Edmund Hillary trained on for Everest. I guess you could say the one disadvantage of this hike, is that your view is the same…the entire time…

So forgive me if this blog post looks a lot like this–

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24 hours of Mt Cook

Quite the same view though, eh?

Our tramping team of 6 all met up at Mt Cook Village, collected our hut tickets, and signed our intentions (so that the rangers would come find us if we didn’t return). Lucky for us the weather was PERFECT. In this part of the country you never really know what you’re going to get, the weather was definitely on our side for 2 straight days.

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Sealy Tarns Pit Stop

The first half of the hike is literally climbing thousands of stairs. Although challenging I’d rather the stairs than finding my own path!

Next came the real climbing. There was nothing crazy for any average fit person, but quite daunting to keep looking up and seeing where you’re supposed to be and realizing you have to actually get yourself there.

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Screeeeeeee! Part 1

Once we got to the top of the scree slope it was a fairly easy rock hop over to Mueller Hut.

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Made it!

The hut (1800 m / 5905 ft elevation) was your typical lovely DOC hut not missing out on an amazing view or cheeky Kea birds. It included a water source, long drop toilets (but bring your own TP!), and fully functional gas stoves!

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Mueller Hut Luxury

Once we arrived the guys dropped their packs to climb Mt Olivier beyond the hut. The ladies decided to stay behind and enjoy the views from the comfort of the hut bench. Keith brought the camera along and captured this view of the hut from above–

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Mt Olivier Views

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Guys on Mt Olivier

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Ladies enjoying their perch

I’ve heard through the blog-o-sphere that Mueller Hut is known as the “party hut,” since it’s relatively “easy” to get to (in NZ terms). And honestly I felt a bit old with all the college kiddos there! We’ve been on multiple hikes where other parties break out wine bottles and I am always jealous. So that wasn’t happening to me this time. I refused to carry the glass bottle (most people do!), but I poured a bottle into a plastic container and lugged that up with me. It was nice to all split a little glass once we were settled and making dinner.

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Wine made it!

Around 7:30pm was when the mountain started transforming a gorgeous pink color — quite the sight! Can you spot the “man” in the mountain?!

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Red Mountain

I need to come up with some more adjectives at this point, so that night the stars were breathtaking. I was originally disappointed with my mere 60 second exposure photographs, but apparently its nothing old “autocorrect” can’t fix.

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Starry Night

At about 7am we headed out bundled up to watch the sun rise over the mountains. Equally breathtaking.

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Sunrise

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Sunrise Photoshoot

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Most of the gang at sunrise

After a solid breakfast of oatmeal, walnuts, and instant flat whites, we packed up our belongings and began our journey 1100 meters back down the mountain.

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Lovely day for a trek down 1100 meters

I tried to capture the steepness of this scree slope. We weren’t quite expecting this, but we made it intact🙂

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Screeeeeeeeee! Part 2

Overall, if you find yourself in New Zealand, do this hike! Just do it! Ideally find a good weather weekend or check the weather a few days beforehand. Unfortunately, Mueller Hut does book quickly December through February and if the 10-day weather outlook is good it will definitely be booked right away (or just plan to bring a tent up with you). It can also be done as a tiring day walk, that just means no sunset/sunrise/star-gazing.

It will take a lot to top this past weekend. But we have a few precious weeks left and we’ll be trying! Until then…

FiNZ 46 – #EscapeFromFroston Part 2

This post is a bit late. Excuses — 1) this past weekend we were busy with a pretty epic hike (that post to come) & 2) There were just WAY too many photos to go through–between my photos and our guests there were thousands to check out. If you want to check out my Flickr album from this past week, go here.

Anyways, it’s hard to get folks to come visit us on the other side of the world (time, money, blah, blah, blah); therefore, we try to go all out when they do. So we took a few days off of work and managed to drive the guys around most of the island within the 10 days they were here. We drove around so much, I thought a map might be useful for visuals and blog organization…😉

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Our Journey and Trusty Crew

Numbers indicate what location we were in on what days the guys were here. Days 1-5 were covered in the previous FiNZ 45 post. Days 6-10 were covered on our 4.5 “long” weekend…which felt more like several weeks…you’ll get the jist as you read on.

Day 6

Keith and I thought it best to do a giant loop of the south as to avoid driving on the same road twice (if possible). So we headed out west on a beautiful sunny Wednesday afternoon. But not without a pit stop for a run mid-drive. With 4 distance-runners hanging out together for the week, the entire week turned out in a cross-country camp gathering. As much as I enjoyed breaking for exercise, daily was a stretch😉 I figured this post wouldn’t be complete with some token selfies of the guys runs around the country–

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Starting Top Left Clockwise – Rapaki Track (Christchurch), Greymouth (west coast), Kepler Track (Te Anau/Fiordland), Queenstown Hill

Our first stop, which was probably poor planning since the car smelled like damp clothing for the rest of the week, was Cave Stream. Keith and I had done this previously and knew it would be fun to go back with first-timers. Luckily, it was a warm and sunny day, and the cave was a great way to cool off or “shower” after the earlier run.

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Scenes around the cave

Day 7

We spent the night in Greymouth, had a less than exciting dinner at the local dive, but enjoyed a quick west coast ocean walk. In the morning we diverted up to Punakaiki to show off the pancake rocks. The timing worked out perfectly as it was 30 minutes pre-high tide. This made SUCH a difference from our first experience. Sure, the rocks look cool, but the waves crashing up through them – incredible!

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Punakaiki Rocks & Blowholes

Then we were off to glacier land, but not without a lunch break at Hokitika and a side trip to Hokitka Gorge. We had some much better food in Hokitika (versus Greymouth), walked the beach with all its “stick-art”, found a great opportunity for a Titanic pose, and headed out to the beautiful gorge with its bright blue glacier water.

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Hokitika the town and Hokitika the gorge

We landed in Fox Glacier (yes, that’s the actual name of the town), got settled into our hostel and found dinner. At this point the West Coast was welcoming us with its typical pouring rain. Eventually the rain disappeared and we saw the forecast for the next morning was more pouring rain. So what do we do? Go for a glacier night walk of course…

We had the entire glacier to ourselves as we hiked up the path and enjoyed the silhouette of the mountains and sounds of waterfalls around us. It is truly amazing (and unfortunate) how much the glacier has receded from when I first visited it in 2012! (post here)

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Fox Glacier night excursion

 

Day 8

Keith and I were excited to drive through Haast Pass for the first time, but it was pouring rain…as expected. So the drive was okay, and at least the rain made the waterfalls truly spectacular. We made a few pit stops along the way running through pouring rain (the guys in bathing suits/shirtless) to get some token shots.

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Haast Pass views & Thunder Creek Falls (top right)

As usual in New Zealand, we got through the pass and the weather changed dramatically. The blue skies shown and the sun came out. We took several more pit stops on our way to Wanaka wear we stopped for a great lake-side lunch, and then on our way to Te Anau.

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Road to Wanaka (top half) Road to Te Anau via Queenstown (bottom half)

Day 9

We had a great night in Te Anau, and booked our last-minute 9am cruise in Milford Sound. This all meant we were up before dawn to make breakfast and start driving the winding road to Milford. It POURED that morning, which just meant the quiet 7am drive to Milford was mysterious and filled with waterfalls. Once we arrived the clouds started to lift and reveal all the beauty that is Milford Sound…

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Milford Sound Road morning drive (top half) arrival at a foggy Milford Sound (bottom half)

We hopped on our giant Jucy cruise (with a mere 10 other people; definitely recommend the earlier cruises –  less tourists!!) and watched as the clouds broke up and the sun came out over the fiord.

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Cruise into Stirling Falls

I don’t think we could have gotten more perfect weather. The downpour created thousands of waterfalls throughout the fiord, and the sun revealed all its other beauty. It was a truly perfect day in Milford Sound.

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Milford Sound becomes sunny and even more epic..

The road back we got to experience with blue skies and sun! We had a lovely warm drive back through the Milford Sound road and up to Queenstown where we spent our last night of the journey soaking up resort-filled Queenstown with good food, dancing, and souvenir shopping.

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Drive back along Milford Sound Road with the sun out

 Day 10

The last day we spent driving back to Christchurch. Mt Cook was cooperating with us because Lake Pukaki was its beautiful blue and Mt Cook was looking as clear as ever. We couldn’t help but recreate The Lion King with the cliff we came across…

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“Simba!” & Lake Pukaki/Mt Cook posing

Good thing Mt Cook decided to have amazing weather this past weekend as well. More on that in a few days…

Overall we had an amazing time with Chris, Josh, and Pete. Thanks guys for visiting, we hope you had fun too!

FiNZ 45 – #EscapeFromFroston Part 1

The guys have arrived! We put out a call to our friends and families early on in our journey and these three accepted the challenge. Chris, Pete & Josh decided to make it even more challenging by enduring a long haul flight to layover in Aussie versus Auckland. But alas, they made it intact and with only 1 bag lost to Virgin Australia:-/

Despite the bag fiasco, they arrived! We spent Friday afternoon introducing them to the city of Christchurch and made our last-minute plans for the weekend. We knew we wanted to go north but weren’t sure where. I did a quick Airbnb search found this place in the tiny village of Anakiwa–the start of the Queen Charlotte Sound track.

We had a base plan, so we were off early Saturday morning along the scenic Route 1…

First stop Kaikoura and the seal colony…

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Kaikoura Beach Walk

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Seal Colony

Next stop Picton for lunch and to get groceries (Anakiwa does not have restaurants or beer…), and then through a very windy road to Anakiwa! Our Anakiwa stay involved going for a run on Queen Charlotte’s Track, enjoying the harbor, and cooking up some dinner and breakfast at our Airbnb.

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Anakiwa Harbor

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Pete’s Point

The next morning we decided to go back through Lewis Pass and stop through Nelson. This was a fabulous choice as there was a perfect beach in Nelson which I got to enjoy while a couple of the guys were out running…again.

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Tahunanui Beach, Nelson

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Tahunanui Beach Boys

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Landslide Waterfall Pitstop

Monday night we did something a little different — Ko Tane! A colleague had told me about a local Maori experience dinner that everyone agreed we should check out. Not only did we learn a lot about the earliest settlers of New Zealand, I learned how to dance with a poipoi and the guys learned how to do a haka. We ended the night with a table full of meat cooked with traditional Maori methods.

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Ko Tane – Maori Experience

It was still too early to go to sleep, so our initial thought was to go to a bar. Then we remembered the Dance O Mat. Without Keith or I telling anyone what was going on, we drove to the gap filler location, I created a quick playlist, asked for a $2 coin from our guests, and plugged in. For the next 30 minutes we owned that Dance O Mat with Taylor Swift, Kesha, & Lady Gaga singing along. We definitely had a few tourists come over to take photos of us. #famous

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Dance O Mat!

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Goodnight Christchurch

On to Part 2!…