This week marks our one year anniversary in New Zealand. When considering this, a year sounds like nothing. A blur of weeks, of seasons, another champagne toast and clink – it’s over. If we’re lucky – meaning the other driver stays awake – we’ll get 40 more of these on average. Fewer years than sips in this water bottle. Better drink it up.

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For a man without a memory I vividly recall our first day in the country. I left Jess at the airport with our boxes and drove terrified across town at rush hour in a rented car to pick up a rented van. Paper maps crinkled in my hand. I wandered blocks looking for a payphone to call our waiting landlord. Should I dial the +64? Or maybe just the city code? We eventually found Robert The Overcaffeinated Landlord who handed us the keys, noting we were minutes from losing our city-centre condo to the next person on the waitlist.

In the weeks that followed our shellshock grew. Vacation vibes morphed into responsibilities as we adjusted to life in a foreign country. We rented a house and bought a campervan, scooter and bikes. We opened savings accounts. We got phones, insurance and drivers licenses. A new life in motion.

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With our boat in the water we were free to sail. The first thing we noticed was the scenery. Wellington is achingly gorgeous. A city of 400 thousand surrounded by trail-carved hills and a turquoise ocean. Bike 30 minutes in any direction and find a magazine covershot. Next thing you notice is the people. An army of kind, tidy kiwis speckled with brits, scots, germans, chinese and the odd American or two. Coffee shops galore. Craft beer bars, museums, music clubs. Whatever your tribe, it’s here. Just remember to stay left on the footpath while you search for it.

The next change for us was the weather. The everyman’s obsession here. Windy Wellington is the windiest city in the world. House-shaking gales are a matter of course. When we’re not getting pounded with the prevailing northerly we’re getting double pounded by the Antarctic southerly. Storms move lightning quick. Temperature never changes. People never shut up about it.

Another notable difference as I reflect on our year abroad is the language. I guess you could call it English. For a country that loves truncating words – breakfast is brekkie, cheers brother is chur bro – they equally love extending them. Chips are chippies, beets are beetroots, etc.

They boggle letters too. For example, the letter R is dropped from deserving words and given haphazardly to others. “I’ve got an idear bror, let’s stahgaze this summa.” And then there’s piss. You can drink piss (beer) and then get pissed (drunk). You may then take the piss out of someone (tease them), just remember to take a piss (pee) before you piss off (leave).

And everyone here is a cheeky bugger.

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Staying in touch with our American brethren has been hard. Instagram is a glimpse into the world back home but it’s a poor substitute for dancing around a campfire with friends. Jess is good about Skype. I could be better. We’ve been surprised by which people have remained close and which have quietly faded. It’s hard to see friendships fizzle but there’s comfort in knowing that strong connections endure. Some friendships can lay dormant for years and then erupt again in a flash. We miss these people. All it takes is a song to bring me tears.

We’re still boggled by the metric system. Many a kumara fry has been burnt at the hands of our celsius oven dial.

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Work has been great for me. Now don’t get me wrong: marketing data analytics software can be a snooze – but everything else about my job is gold. I’ve got a hands-off boss who gives me freedom and responsibility. In a country where I understand smart and engaged employees can be rare, SAS New Zealand is teeming with them. There’s a beer fridge by the dart board and endless mountain bike tracks out back. Shot brother!

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Jess enjoys her work as well. Her work-from-home job with Allscripts has increased to 32 hours a week. Add that to the 20 hours she puts in at the coffee shop and she stays busy. We came to New Zealand for my job, meaning Jess had to leave her fruitful full-time sales job. She could have turned inward but she’s blossomed, and for that I adore her. Prolific in any time zone. My girl!

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We’ve seen a lot in a year. Buying Walter White the campervan was money well spent, helping us tick off many of New Zealand’s must-dos, notably every main city and wine region plus Tongariro, Abel Tasman, Coromandel, Rotorua, Nelson Lakes, Mount Cook, Queenstown, Milford Sound and the Catlins. We’ve driven up and down both coasts and zigzagged up the middle. We’ve biked, tramped and paddled around many of the national parks – searing into our brains some of the best scenery on earth. But if 2014 was the year of New Zealand, 2015 will propel us outward. The siren song of Australia, the pacific islands and beyond is too loud to ignore. We look forward to more international travel.

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So there it is – one third of our time gone. January 2017 and we’re out of here. We drank up this past year, 52 wide-eyed weeks which have made us ever conscious of our looming deadline here. This year has been transformational, but in no stronger way than framing time as the precious gem it is. Speaking of, I’d better go outside and enjoy this summa day. I hear a storm’s coming.

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KIWI CHRISTMAS

If it weren’t for the howling wind outside I couldn’t be certain we were back in Wellington. Our Christmas road trip around New Zealand’s south island was so long (the longest vacation of our lives, in fact) that life on the road had become life as usual. Wake up in the campervan. Slide open the curtains. Coffee, oatmeal, peanut butter. Pee on a bush. Drive somewhere epic. Repeat.

It was our first Christmas in the southern hemisphere … and our first away from family. Back in the US, holidays meant a week off work to sit around the house with loved ones and overeat. Comfort in good company. But without any familiar faces this year, we turned to the open road in the land of the long white cloud.

Lumix, beware. I shot this trip with an iPhone 6. Here’s 12 photos for our 12 days of Christmas.

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Day 1: Wellington to St. Arnaud
Our campervan came with us on the ferry. While Walter enjoyed his privacy in the basement, we enjoyed ours on the deck. From Picton we drove two hours south in the star-splattered darkness to St. Arnaud, base camp for adventure one.

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Day 2: Nelson Lakes National Park
In the morning we filled our backpacks and set off on a three-day tramp around Nelson Lakes National Park. New Zealand offers a surprising few number of loop walks. Most tracks are A to B which require two vehicles, a shuttle service or retracing ones steps. Nelson Lakes offers several outstanding loops that can be completed in a weekend or a week. We chose Robert Ridge to Angelus Hut to Coldwater Hut and back along the lake. About 18 miles. From the carpark it was seven hours up Mount Robert and along a knife edge ridge to Angelus Hut. This photo is indicative of the park’s landscape. Alpine tarns. Mars. Massive summer snow mountains.

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Day 3: Nelson Lakes National Park
What goes up must come down. Day three we lost all the elevation we gained the previous day. Pictured above is Jess beginning her steep decent along Cascade Track. Moments after this picture humpty dumpty took a great fall over a switchback wall, cutting her elbow and severely bruising her back. Thankfully her pack broke the 5-foot fall onto jagged rocks. That nothing broke but her spirit was a Christmas miracle.

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Day 4: Nelson Lakes to Greymouth
Hurray! All in one piece and with the tramp behind us, we began our highly anticipated drive down the west coast. The South Island’s west coast is famous for two things: isolation and rainfall. Boasting a staggering 21 feet of annual rainfall, it’s no surprise that only .8% of the population lives here. The drive was immaculate. Bare-chested and footed I jumped out of the van at every turn to shoot the immense beauty. Lush hills and empty beaches, the drive reminded me of Maui’s road to Hana. That night we grabbed a shower and a good night’s sleep at Global Village in Greymouth, an A+ backpackers lodge.

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Day 5: Greymouth to Jackson Bay
Further south we hit the obligatory stops at Pancake Rocks, Fox Glacier. In Hokitika we peeled off the main road and into the must-see Hokitika Gorge. The turquoise river behind us is #nofilter thanks to the magic of glacial rock flour. Later, back on the highway, we skipped the turnoff for Haast Pass and continued south along a forgotten road to the very bottom of the west coast. The sandflies in Jackson Bay must be experienced to be believed. We were swarmed within seconds. As for dinner that night, we rolled the dice with carbon monoxide and cooked inside the van. Even if we had died it would have been a better fate than those bugs.

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Day 6: Haast Pass to Wanaka
Skipping morning coffee for good reason we awoke on day 6 and crested Haast Pass into Wanaka. Inland, the rain became extreme sunshine. So extreme in fact we both gave up our trail runs after 30 minutes for lack of water and stupid dry heat. We set up shop by the lake instead and read books in the shade.

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Day 7: Mount Aspiring National Park
One major highlight of this trip was the Rob Roy Glacier Track in Mount Aspiring National Park. Thanks for the tip Sue. After negotiating a 50K dirt road with deep grooves and a number of river crossings, we arrived at the trailhead and began the three hour return hike to Rob Roy Glacier – AKA ecstasy of the eyeballs. Enormous blue-ice hanging glaciers melting into heaven-to-earth waterfalls. Rocky gray summits contrasted by summer flowers in the valley. Just wow.

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Day 8: Queenstown to Te Anau
We spent the night in Queenstown with our new Wellington friends, Emily, Bethany, Claudia, Julia and their crew. They invited us to join them for dinner and the night at their place in Kelvin Heights. We gladly accepted, eager to absorb the good company and grab another night in the South Island’s most cosmopolitain city.

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Day 9: Milford Sound
Milford Sound is perhaps the most iconic travel destination in New Zealand. Tucked away in the southwest corner of the country, in Fiordland National Park, the drive there alone could provide a year of Instagrams. The high rainfall creates thousands of waterfalls that explode over of neck-crainingly high walls into the Tasman Sea. Like the sandflies, that shit must be experienced. All kayaking trips were cancelled due to high wind, so we purchased a well-worth-it sightseeing cruise from Southern Discoveries and enjoyed the scenery from a boat. Back in Te Anau we rocked a New Year’s Eve concert that night at Redcliff Cafe. A bit of reggae metal with the locals, why not.

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Day 10: The Catlins
From Te Anau we drove to the southernmost point of the South Island – Curio Bay in the Catlins. This was my favourite overnight of the trip. There we snapped pics of the world’s most endangered penguin, the yellow-eyed, then drove out onto this cliff where we camped and watched the sun set over the Southern Ocean. Next stop: Antarctica

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Day 11: The Catlins to Timaru
The beginning of the end. On the morning of day 11 we started our return north. From the Catlins we motored east around the southern shore, up through Dunedin and into Timaru for a much-needed night in bed (only our second of the trip). Along the way we stopped at the Moeraki Boulders – 60 million year-old wonders of science, rounded over the years by erosion and tourists jumping on them.

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Day 12: Christchurch to Wellington
On our way to Picton we stopped in earthquake-ravaged Christchurch. Five years after unimaginable devastation, the city is still rebounding. Instead of buildings, cranes dot the skyline as builders from around the globe work put the city back together again. It’s a sad story but a rare opportunity to start from scratch. Build the city people want. Make it smart and beautiful. I’m curious what becomes of it.

And just as Christchurch rebuilds itself, so too do we. Now back in Wellington, we’re still adjusting to indoor plumbing and life as usual. Though thankfully it’s still pretty unusual. Hope you guys had a wizard-filled holiday as well.

Back into it. The third and final installment of our south island roadie with my sister Kelly and her hubby Adam. To recap we’ve camped Kaikoura and Lake Pukaki, backpacked Mount Cook and recharged in Wanaka.

Now for the crescendo: Queenstown. First time for all of us. And while we’re at it, our first time bungy jumping. In true fatalistic fashion we opted for the highest jump in New Zealand: the AJ Hackett Nevis at 400 feet (which I booked while Kelly and Adam were asleep). DOUBLE GULP.

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A tram takes you out to a pod where the jump happens. In the pod were three backwards hat-wearing twenty somethings blasting hip hop and doing their best to not look stoned.

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The nevis is the third highest bungee jumping platform in the world at a height of 134 metres. My heart stopped when they called my name. It’s hard to describe the feeling as my brain hibernated in defense of anxiety … but I remember shuffling to the platform and gazing down. Then it was three, two, one – blank.

The second I jumped it was utter relief, which is crazy because those thirty seconds of dangling above a rocky death are when you’re most at risk. But what an experience! TAKE IT SLEAZY!!!

And what about Uncle Jessie?

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A well deserved cold one back in Queenstown.

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Our first two nights we stayed at the Treehouse Spa Escape, a decent wood-heated rental near the Shotover River.

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The quintessential vantage point from the top of the Skyline Gondola.

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The Skyline Luge is real life Mario Kart without the red turtle shells.

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That afternoon we hired mountain bikes (kiwis say hired instead of rented as if the bikes are landing jobs) at Gibbston Valley Winery and set off along the Kawarau river. Sitting along this spanking new 11K Gibbston River Trail are a handful of pinot noir vineyards. Heaven on earth for us active winos.

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We hit four wineries and one pub in total. My favourite spot was Peregrine Winery on account of the friendly pourer, delicious rose and snazzy Y2K bunker decor. We grabbed a bottle of chardonnay for dinner which didn’t make it to dinner.

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Then down the road to Waitiri Creek.

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The last spot on our self guided wine tour was Brennan Wines. A good spot made gooder with bocce! I seem to remember our middle aged white pourer dude wearing Fubu but all was forgiven when the clock struck five and he allowed us to stick around and keep chucking balls.

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After our ride we took a load off on the Kawarau bridge, ground zero for the world’s first commercial bungy jumping operation back in 1988. Since then, AJ Hackett’s bungy empire has stretched to all corners of the globe.

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Back at the house we capped off our last day with Kelly and Adam with a game of slop bucket and NY strips on the deck. Saying goodbye to them brought a cloud of sadness over Jess and me. Our first visitors and such good ones – gone. But what a week! Stories we’ll share for a lifetime. Wink wink you guys.

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***

Reduced to a duo, that afternoon Jess and I swapped the Forester for a beater and hit the road to Glenorchy for a wee look around. Again, the scenery seemed outrageous but I couldn’t tell for sure. Seems I was suffering from mountainmindblownitis – a common condition that strikes NZ travelers.

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That night we checked into a new spot up in Arthur’s Point and prepped for the Queenstown Marathon. The second marathon for both of us (third if you count Jess’ ironman). The forecast was not pretty and we went to bed expecting cold, wind and rain.

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And that’s exactly what we got! The course started in Arrowtown, a 45 minute bus ride from Queenstown. We were deposited on a golf course where we stood nervously in the rain for 90 minutes waiting for the airhorn to blow.

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This mid-race iPhone pic captures the run’s essence: narrow, sloppy and epic. Despite the storm the course was a joy, winding its way along rivers and lakes, over bridges and undulating hills, through parks and farmland, and finishing in downtown Queenstown to nearly zero fanfare. The cold rain sent the spectators running. Upon crossing the finish line I too kept running, bypassing the abandoned vendor booths and music stage, and (painfully) up the stairs to seek shelter in the expo hall.

Even with the slow, muddy course I was happy with my 3:44:59 finishing time. One second ahead of my goal time and twenty minutes ahead of my NYC marathon time. Jess, who faced the brunt of the storm after I had finished, was happy with her numbers as well. Our last mission: complete

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That night we did what any sane* marathoner would do – we ate our idiot faces off! At a little cafe in Arrowtown I housed with impunity: a bread bowl of seafood chowder, salad, steak, fries, a hot fudge sundae and three IPAs. Four hours later I ate most of a large pizza. Had my shoes been made of caramel I would have eaten them.

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Eight days after arriving in Picton, we were back on a plane to Wellington. New Zealand’s south island is ungodamnbelievable and we can’t wait to return. In fact, just days after this trip we booked a ferry back down for Christmas. In three days it’s back on a boat with Walter White for 13 days down the wild west coast.

Merry Christmas everybody. Heaps of love from NZ.

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You’re entering a half told story. Or more accurately one quarter told, as the action picks up on day two of our south island road trip. With me in the car is Jess, my sister Kelly and bro-in-law Adam. Nobody stunk yet.

From the port city of Picton we’ve skirted our way down the arid east coast, passing under Kaikoura’s moody skies. Our ears popped as we turned west and climbed into the southern alps.

True fact: New Zealand rivers are made of blue gatorade.

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Our campsite on night two was fabulous – full stop. And I don’t understand why. Fabulous because it was unestablished, flat, free, isolated, easy to spot, wood rich and overlooking a gorgeous lake with New Zealand’s tallest mountain on the horizon. But I’m confused why it was available. Surely, for an island bursting with natural beauty there would be swarms of travellers like us jockeying for the same life-list campsites? Particularly on clear nights. Guess we lucked out.

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That night it was beer, pizza and stargazing. In the morning it was rock ball (a rock hit into the water was a home run) before back in the car and around the lake to Mount Cook village. This was our shortest travel day of the week with only 45 minutes from the freakonomics campsite to the trailhead.

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Nevermind the bungy jump or the marathon … this was the activity I was most worried about. A tough night on the mountain. I wanted us to share at least one backcountry experience on this trip – and for our group I picked the Meuller Hut in Mount Cook National Park for its rave reviews and tackleable 5K distance.

With our hiking boots laced and hut tickets in hand, we rocked up to the visitor centre to see this sign:

MUELLER HUT
WINTER CONDITIONS
ICE AX AND CRAMPONS NEEDED
MOUNTAINEERING EXPERIENCE ESSENTIAL

Great. If you have to ask what crampons are, you probably don’t have them. I approached the ranger. “So my crew and I have tickets to the Mueller Hut tonight but we’re a wee light on gear … what’s the likelihood of us making it up there?”

I expected him to spit out his coffee and taze me. Instead he asked a few questions (which apparently I answered correctly), jotted down our info and sent us across the street to a gear rental outfitter. His sentiment was: it’s gonna be hard, but if you’re fit, up for an adventure and take the right precautions, you can do it. One reason I love kiwis. Tough as!

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With the marathon only a few days away, Jess decided to save her legs and grab a motel. This left Kelly, Adam and me for a bit of brother sister time on the mountain. We pointed to the glacier we expected to kill us and set foot up the trail.

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After 1,800 stairs the trail turned to snow. The route was marked with orange poles which were barely visible at times. As long as we could spot the next pole we were good.

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After three hours of climbing we arrived at Mueller Hut. What a relief! No tears. No avalanches. Bust out the celebratory bacon and whisky!   19 (1)  22 (1)  21 (1)

In the hut we found two american girls, an irish couple, one austrian teenager and two kiwi hut wardens, who instructed us to meet at the radio at 7pm for a weather update and roll call from park headquarters. I stepped out for a few photos.

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You could walk gingerly on the snow but occasionally you would fall through. As a dude your balls cushion your fall. In this picture I had stopped to laugh at Adam and apparently the weight of my awesome insults was an ounce too heavy.

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We arrived at the hut on opening day for the season. As such, it and the outhouse were virtually buried in snow. One of the volunteer hut wardens duties was digging these out over the next several days.

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It was a cold night in the hut. No fireplace or insulation. Brrrrrr. During the weather update the night before a crackling voice warned of gale force winds and hard rain the next day. We awoke to a blowy snowstorm which eased as we cramponed our way down the mountain.

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Made it! What a cool experience. Strongly recommended for anyone planning their south island adventure. It was gruelling climb made riskier in avalanche conditions, but it’s the salt that sweetens the memory isn’t it?

Speaking of sugar, we had some celebrating to do. Smelling of rotten skunk corpses after four days without bathing, we piled back in the car and sped toward the shower promise land of Wanaka.

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Showers were necessary, yes. But the wine more so. So in Wanaka we b-lined for Rippon Vineyard for a tasting of the region’s famed pinot noir.

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 43  45  46  47  49 48The hotel that night was a treat. And though showers and beds lifted our spirits, the mood was tense. For it was Tuesday. And Tuesday was bungy jump day. In just hours we would each have a turn standing on the edge of sanity, glaring down 400 feet to the rocky river below. The jump weighed heavy on us, and as we crested the Crown Range Road and looked down upon our final destination of Queenstown, it was the only thing on our minds. GULP
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TO BE CONTINUED…

I just wanna dance this past week was so good! My sister Kelly and her husband Adam came to visit us from Cleveland. Seeing our first visitors step off that plane after nine months alone in New Zealand was like seeing Justin’s almond butter arrive in a care package – 100% nutty joy.

After a week of bombing it around Wellington, we grabbed the ferry to the south island for our first foray into the southern alps.

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The ferry ride from Wellington to Picton is 3.5 hours. With an apparent boatful of car drivers we had the “Trucker’s Corner” to ourselves.

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The day before we arrived the winds on the northern south island were so fierce, roofs were ripped off houses and a campervan was overturned. The mighty wind lingered for our journey, rocking our ship like a crib on the open ocean, only to subside when we reached the caribbean blue waters of the Tory Channel.

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In Picton, the washed masses exited the boat to collect whatever rental vehicle they were rich enough to afford. We grabbed our Subaru Forester and began our road trip down the barren east coast toward Kaikoura.

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A short ways in, we stopped in Blenheim to grab some of that primo Marlborough white. One hour later we arrived in Kaikoura. Kaikoura is a medium sized town by New Zealand standards – pop. 4,000. Nothing much to do but ogle at the mountains or hop on a boat and enjoy the abundance of whales, dolphins, seals and penguins.

We arrived at dusk. And though we missed the crayfish trucks north of town (Kaikoura translates in Maori to “meal of crayfish”) the fading light was enough to help us find this excellent freedom campsite off Kiwa Road. Ocean in front of us. Big mountains behind us. Thanks to the camping app “WikiCamps NZ” and the wonderful Bryers who purchased it for us.

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With swiss cheese holes in our itinerary, finding this remote beauty brought a wave of relief to night one. Like the sun that buttery chardonnay also went down easy.

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That night Jess and I slept in the tent while Kelly and Adam took the subie. Traveling light, they opted to leave their sleep pads at home – a decision they regretted immediately upon feeling the ribbed car seats on their backs. This shot was taken first thing Sunday morning where I found Adam sleeping in the passenger seat and Kelly looking like a tired Al Pacino.

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We awoke with big plans. We could kayak with the seals … or hire a private fishing charter … or maybe take a helicopter whale-watching tour. All those plans went to shit when this storm rolled in. The clouds – though they killed our plans – brought a dark electric beauty to the already stunning landscape. Who doesn’t love a good storm?

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So we hit the town instead, where I got a lesson in spittle drainage from Ty Pennington’s brother.

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With Kaikoura in the rearview, we continued down Highway 1 toward Christchurch. I put on an Adam Carolla podcast and everyone fell asleep. But I bought that shit back to life with a lunch stopover at Black Estate Winery in Waipara! After a sampling of four wines, we each grabbed a glass of something different (I chose the 2014 rose) and took our charcuterie board to the porch to enjoy the spring sunshine and the vineyard.

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All fun and games. But we had mountains to climb. Once this meat was safely in our bellies, we hit the road once again, this time curling west toward the rugged colossal peaks of the snowy southern alps. Little did we know what beauty and danger lied ahead..

TO BE CONTINUED

3 WEEKS IN CAPTIONS

1. CASTLEPOINT 

We celebrated Jess’ 33rd birthday with an overnighter at Castlepoint.
P1020657Castle rock in the distance. Once those cars cleared out, we had the place to ourselves.
P1020653Looking for dolphins/whales/James Cameron.
P1020662On my hike to the summit I caught a few surfers dodging sharks.
P1020681 (1)Summit view. Pissed I paid that boater $250 to spell a J for Jess’ birthday and she didn’t even join me 😦


P1020687The beach behind Castle rock would be a great place to hide a body.
P1020698Just your typically shitty New Zealand landscape.
P1020706 A little kiwi daring do.

P1020711For the birthday dinner we cooked up tortellini stew with handtorn bread, orange almond cupcakes and chardonnay. Determined to preserve the vibe I left the van lights on for one too many songs. We awoke to a dead car battery.
P1020713 This is Holly. Holly found Jess on the beach during my hike and never left her side all weekend. Even when we ducked into a cave to wait out a storm, she jumped up the rocks and shivered beside us. When it was time for bed, she barked to come inside the campervan. To my surprise Jess slid open the door and Holly burrowed into her sleeping bag. On our way out of town, we dropped her off at Castlepoint Station, her dog tag-listed home. Little did she know she was thisclose to becoming a Wellington dog.

2. Taranaki, Waitomo Caves & Raglan

Back on the road for a long labour day weekend.
P1020735We drove to Mount Taranaki on Friday in the dark. With hopes of summiting, I was gutpunched to wake up and find the peak covered in late season snow. Bugger! Without proper mountaineering gear we choose the safer hike up and around the volcano for a waterfall lunch instead.
P1020744Just follow your nose around the mountain…
P1020747Keep following…
P1020759 And following…

P1020760 The summit laughed at me. I will stand atop this mountain some day. Even if I have to steal a helicopter and crash land that shit.

P1020770Four hours later we arrived at Bells Falls. Just us and the bugs and this 100 foot waterfall. We ate a lunch of beef sticks, almonds, pretzels, peanut butter and brownies. While setting up a photo, my camera tumbled off this rock and fell four feet to the riverbed. Thank God, Allah, Buddha and the stars above that it survived the fall.
P1020786 Climbing our way back to the car. Another four hours of me reminding Jess how fun this was 🙂

P1020795Sinister clouds to our left. We never felt a drop.
P1020800I see you.
P1020804Turns out summit fever is contagious.

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Waitomo_Glowworm_Caves_tourPHOTO CREDIT

From Taranaki we continued north to Waitomo to explore the famous glowworm caves. We typically avoid guided tours as I find “adventure” to be a relative term, often misused by companies with lawyers and incentive to lure customers of any kind. But this tour, “the abyss” with the Legendary Blackwater Rafting Company, was Pixar worthy. It started with a 100-foot rappel into a cave, then a pitchblack zipline deeper into the cave before we reached this underground river which we floated on tubes while ogling at the zillions of glowworms. Five hours later we climbed two waterfalls to reach daylight. HOW COOL RIGHT!

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P1020815Further north we arrived at Raglan, a chill little surf town on NZ’s rolling northwest coast. Our idea of wine & cheese on the beach was worthy of a sandblast to the face.
P1020838That night we stumbled into an outdoor reggae DJ set, as you do. This far-flung, slow-paced, tie-dyed town of 2,500 reminded me of Girdwood, Alaska. Definitely check this one out.
P1020841yr couple
P1020869 Jess feeling the beat.

P1020879 In the morning we ate breakfast at Manu Bay where the movie Endless Summer was filmed in 1966.

3. Rangitikei River

Scott’s first bro weekend of whitewater kayaking.P1020885 Last weekend I ventured north once again – this time by myself – to Mangaweka, basecamp for two days of kayaking the Rangitikei river with my workmate Shane and a few friends. I had the place to myself Friday night.

P1020894Just a man and his guitar by the fire. Let’s call this song Wellington Summer.
P1020895A view of the river on my drive to the meetup. Looking left…

P1020899 And right.

P1020926Zipliners at Gravity Canyon.

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I didn’t bring my camera on the water, so sadly I’ve got zero photos from the kayak trip. But I will say this. It was my first time down a whitewater river in a kayak, and though the rapids were only class two, I found them formidable as hell in my rudderless creek boat. I swam a few times, got separated from my boat, screamed in frustration, ached in pain – but hey that’s learning I suppose. My second run on Sunday was much better. No swims and even a few smiles. It was a great adventure with new friends. Thanks Shane for planning such an awesome weekend.

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There it is. Three weekends in one post. It’s been busy here in Wellington as the days get longer and the sun warmer. And it’s about to heat up again as my sister Kelly and her husband Adam arrive tomorrow. Our first visitors! In six days we ferry south for our first proper road trip through the southern alps, capped off with the Queenstown marathon. Can’t wait to share it with you guys. Thanks for reading.

HAWKE’S BAY

To celebrate our one year anniversary Jess and I left Wellington’s icy spring wind and shot up to Hawke’s Bay for a weekend of wine, biking and arguing over the best Sarah McLachlan song. Hawke’s Bay is on the east side of the north island, and in addition to abundant sunshine and buttery chardonnay, the region is beloved for its art deco architecture, the aesthetic of choice for those who rebuilt the city following a disastrous 1931 earthquake.

On a tip from my workmate Rob, we chose the County Hotel, billed proudly as “Napier’s Finest.” And it was. Upon arrival we were ushered with stately diplomacy to what I only can assume was a haunted room because its appointment of flowers, chocolate, fruit, mineral water and a sincere “happy anniversary” from the bellman with butter teeth seemed more than we’d bargained for.

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All the closets cleared of corpses, downstairs we went to the Wine Street Restaurant for a candlelit five course meal included with our booking. It was a movable feast and one I’m now barely able to restrain myself from describing. I will say that Jess ordered the beef cheeks.

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The next morning it was off to the wineries. We pedalled north along the ocean into 60mph headwinds. By the time we reached Crab Farm Winery 45 minutes later, I saw Jess’ finger hovering over the suicide vest detonator. But after a bit of rose and good vibes from the bohemian decor and unpretentious wine pourer, our chill had been restored.

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Next a flurry of stops to Mission Estate, Church Road Winery and the Filter Room before a tipsy ride home at dusk. All up we biked around 25 miles and tasted some 100% goodness, but the region is vast and we agreed that another trip is needed to reach the wineries on the southern outskirts of our tattered bike map.

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After a full day of boozing Uncle Jesse was quick to hit the sack. But it was only 6pm and I still had a little romance left in me, so what’s a man to do but crack a bottle of wine from the minibar, draw himself a bath and put on an Adam Carolla podcast. Dare I say it was the best hour of the trip? JK UJ!

Well the joke was on me because next morning at checkout I saw a $48 charge from the minibar. For that unpriced bottle of merlot?! Funny how it tasted okay at the time but after I saw the bill suddenly I was all like “man, that red really did have some legs didn’t it. And the finish? Sublime. Reminiscent of the Chateau Lafite Rothschild Pauillac circa 1996.”

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Before leaving town we ducked into Mister D for one of his famous donuts. Warm, doughy, cinnamon goodness, complete with a syringe of custard. Perfect those with a hankering for sugar and injections. Practice for the insulin shot perhaps?

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We took the scenic route home. Even stopped for a kiss under the tree to commemorate our wedding one year prior. Still had a little romance left in me.

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BARING HEAD

Just one hour from Wellington is Baring Head, a bleak and rocky coastline known for great bouldering. Saturday we scooped a couple mates from town and made for Wainuiomata and then south on the coast road until it dead ended at the sea. Next stop: Antarctica

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The boulders can be reached one of two ways. The long and safe way is to park a kilometre inland, cross the bridge and walk 60 minutes over sheep shit to the rocks. The fun way is walking the coastline, which requires one to ford the Wainuiomata river.

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Jess and I considered this crossing once before. Upon reaching the river and seeing its depth and swiftness, Jess shook her head in a furious blur. We turned back and took the bridge. This time, I asked her to keep her cool until we saw the river and decided as a group how to proceed. Perhaps the water level was down?

Nope. The river was moving fast as ever. But fuelled by Saturday groupthink, the four of us – Jess, me, my British workmate Cailtin and our new American friend Brittany – linked arms and crossed that MF river like the world champs we are. Yes, it was cold and painful but you can do it.


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We arrived at the boulders midafternoon. Normally a windswept peninsula, the weather was calm and mild. Sun rays pieced the clouds and lit our handholds at gloriously unexpected times. Nobody was around. I climbed while the girls walked the waterline. Headphones on, alone, traversing rocks while the shadows danced on the mountains. I was really really happy.

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Later, I caught up with the girls and we stumbled upon a grumpy sea lion. He growled at us, then chilled, then dare I say enjoyed his glamour shots before disappearing in the ocean. Probably got taken by a shark soon after.

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As sunset, we gathered heaps of driftwood, zeroed in on a comfy alcove and built a huge ass bonfire. Then out came the music and the wine. I know what you’re thinking … LAME.

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After all the stars were counted and bottles were emptied, we walked back toward the car, where the comforts of the camper van beckoned. We braved the river crossing once more – this time with fewer inhibitions – and found ourselves in an empty parking lot to make camp. Brittany and Caitlin pitched a tent. Jess and I curled up in Walter White. With the sounds of waves lapping, we drifted into a peaceful sleep.

Then at 4 a.m. I awoke to someone pounding on the window. “Scott! Scott! There’s somebody out here! Let us in!!!” I threw open the sliding door and the girls jumped in. As our haze lifted, we listened as the girls described in shaky voices what had just happened. Apparently a car had pulled into the parking lot and apparently stopped near the tent. Then apparently someone got out and slowly circled the tent, no doubt taking his time to consider which one to kill first before something miraculously scared him off.

I think it was a sheep.

Regardless, we all crammed into the van and spent the rest of the night jockeying for position. Pretty sure nobody slept a wink. I considered taking my chances with the madman outside just to get some relief. It was murderous. But also a story. Thank you girls for keeping this blog in business. Good times.

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TARARUAS

I stare at snowy peaks from my office window. Wellington isn’t the most mountains of cities, compared to New Zealand’s south island or the volcanoes up north — but when winter comes, even the 5,200’ peaks of Tararua Forest Park can look majestic with a dusting of snow. And that snow seduces me.

I reached my breaking point this week and cold-be-damned put a plan into action for Jess and I to ascend Mount Hector — the park’s third highest peak. To the snow dammit!

Just 90 minutes from the warmth of our Hawker Street flat, we arrived at Otaki Forks. Our breath like puffs off a stogie, we gathered our gear, double checked our almond butter stash and set foot up the mountain.

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Each passing minute brought the need to shed clothing. The trail was relentlessly, brutally, beautifully up. The arctic chill was no match for our #hotbods. Down to just our budgie smugglers, we climbed and climbed until eventually we reached Field Hut where we dropped our bags and continued up the track for a better view.

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We buggered on until the sun set. And what a sunset it was!!!!!!

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Dazzled, we walked back to Field Hut in the dusk and then dark. In the hut we found two groups: one kiwi family – two young boys and a young mom who handed me a box of fire starting materials and said “go hard.” And a second family who spoke little english but drank lots of stout. I’d say they were German but they easily could have been Nigerian. Or Icelandish. I’m pretty bad with nationalities. The kiwis brought their dog Izzy who joined us by the fire once her family fell asleep.

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More photos of this overnight sensation on Flickr.

DAYWALK

Our trip back to America was legend. Back in Raleigh, we enjoyed a few weeks of familiar faces, oppresive heat, reasonable prices and the wedding of our superfriends Jon Graban and Allison Oakley. Felt natural to return to the old stars and stripes.

I got back to New Zealand last week, and with Jess hanging around the states a wee longer, I found myself alone in Wellington – just me and my new Panasonic Lumix FZ-200 (Good call, Mark). Here’s a few shots from my first stroll back.

P1010037The view from our street. P1010059 (1)Oriental Parade looking out on Wellington Harbor. P1010073Fellow sea gazers. P1010080Wellington Harbor. P1010086Outside Te Papa Museum. P1010096The pick of the waterfront statue litter.
P1010106 (1)Boat crane towering deceptively high over our largest building in the background – the Majestic Centre (381 feet). P1010108 (1)The concrete truth.P1010137Random alley #19 P1010146 (1)A glimpse down Lambton Quay. P1010159Our Burger King is straight up decadent you guys. P1010182Random alley #33 P1010184Kiwi boys ball like Russian oil riggers. P1010191NZ teens gather outside Mt. Victoria’s seminal fish and chips joint.

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