Saturday, November 28, 2015

Franz Josef Glacier

After taking some time to explore the boulders at Castle Hill, we hopped back in the car to continue our trek toward the Franz Josef Glacier, where we spent our first night in New Zealand. For those who are interested, this post covers the stretch of road shown on the map below.

Castle Hill to Franz Josef Glacier:

A rare sheep-less field:
We stopped to take a few pictures at Arthur's Pass National Park. While I was researching for our trip, I came across quite a few people who had rented camper vans and spent weeks just driving around the South Island exploring. At the time I thought it was a little weird to just drive with no activities planned or destinations in mind, but now I see the appeal (of wandering aimlessly, not the camper van! I just can't get on board with that whole thing). There's so much to see and explore; I felt like we barely scratched the surface!
Classic sign pic.
I'm glad we dug the GoPro out of the suitcase at this point because you can really capture so much more with the wide angle setting!
New Zealand is full of scenic lookout points and I'm pretty sure we pulled off at approximately 90% of them, but the one below was probably my favorite. If it wouldn't have been 55 degrees we would have stayed up there a bit longer to admire the view!

At some point shortly after Arthur's Pass Peter was getting really tired. Like I mentioned in my previous post, we took an overnight flight from Melbourne and then Peter immediately started driving when we arrived in the morning, so it was a long day for him. We decided to pull over for awhile and he took a half hour nap while I poked around and took some pictures. This was the first time either of us had ever had to pull over to rest while driving long distances, but better safe than sorry. The roads in New Zealand are often narrow and winding, so it's not as if you can hit cruise and sit back. One piece of advice I have for anyone planning their own New Zealand road trip is to factor in lots of extra driving time. You'll want to take it easy on the roads and the speed limit is pretty low anyway, so it takes much longer to get from one place to another than you'd expect. Factoring in extra time allows for scenic stops and quick hikes as well as a short nap if necessary. Alternately, you could travel with someone who also knows how to drive on the left side of the road and switch off ;). Sorry, Peter!

Franz Josef Glacier

We checked into our hotel around 3pm and headed straight for the glacier to make sure we got our hike in before dark. 
The path leading up to the glacier was really pretty, but much longer than I expected. It was one of those situations where you see the destination and think "oh, it's just over there!" and then walk for what seems like eternity and realize you're not any closer. It probably didn't help that we were running on little to no sleep.
I quit about three quarters of the way to the official viewing point, but Peter continued on until the path ended and got this close-up. Apparently depending on temperature and rain, among other factors, the glacier shrinks and expands from season to season and year to year. Right now it has receded a bit, but in the past has extended all the way down to the path.
We considered taking a scenic helicopter flight that landed on the glacier, but decided against it for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it was already late in the day and we likely would have needed a reservation. But mainly, we thought for a second and decided we didn't really want to part with hundreds of dollars to walk around in the snow. We've suffered through enough Minnesota winters to find any joy in snow at this point!

Finally whipped out the selfie stick!
After finishing the glacier hike, we headed back to to get ready for dinner. We stayed in a cute little hotel with the awesome view. 
It should be noted that everything, including a relatively cheap hotel room, is extremely clean in New Zealand. When we go on relaxing beach vacations, we like to spend more on the accommodation than when we are on activity-packed trips. On this vacation, we changed locations nearly every day and really only used the hotels to sleep, so I tried to find somewhat inexpensive places to stay. Sometimes this plan totally backfires and you end up in a semi-dodgy place that looks nothing like the marketing pictures, but thankfully the opposite happened on this trip!

We spent the rest of the evening eating dinner and sipping a few drinks at a nearby restaurant before heading to bed early. 

More New Zealand adventures:

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Arriving in New Zealand

***This is the first in a series of posts about our recent trip to the South Island of New Zealand. We spent 8 days driving around the lower half of the island, and we're already dreaming of going back! I know a few readers are planning similar trips in the near future, so I'll go ahead and include maps that highlight exactly what ground was covered in each post. 

Christchurch to Castle Hill:

Our flight to Christchurch left at a little after midnight, which is potentially the worst departure time ever, but we bought our tickets on a Jetstar sale. Beggars can't be choosers, I guess! Jetstar is basically a half step up (on a good day) from Tiger, which is very likely the lowest-budget airline in the world. Luckily, aside from the fact that we weren't given complimentary water (seriously?!), we had no delays and arrived on time a little before 6am. The flight was a short three-ish hours, but we lost two hours due to the time difference. 

We knew our first day was going to be a bit of a struggle, mainly for Peter as he did all the driving and neither of us did much sleeping on the plane. We wanted to get on the road right away so that we had plenty of time to reach our final destination of the day, the Franz Josef Glacier, before dark. Christchurch is a cute little city, but it suffered a devastating earthquake a few years back and from what I've heard it ever fully recovered, so we didn't spend much time there.

We picked up our car, made a quick stop at McDonald's for a much-needed coffee, and were on our way out of the city. Fun fact: I randomly started drinking coffee a few months ago after years of hating it, and now I'm hooked. I think I'm finally successfully adulting. 
New Zealand is home to the cleanest McDonald's in the world. I know that's faint praise, but this place was spotless. I thought the sign on the door was kind of funny; I've never thought of McDonald's as the type of place where I'd go barefoot. 
We decided against using any data on our phones to avoid owing our life savings in roaming charges, so we were left with no other option but to use a map. Honestly, I don't think I've ever actually relied on a map to get anywhere in my life. Even in my early driving days, I would MapQuest a destination and then print out directions. How did anyone get anywhere before the internet?? Needless to say, I struggled a bit and I'm embarrassed to admit that at one point, I instinctively put my fingers on the map and tried to zoom in. So ya, that didn't work. 
Peter chugging his first of many coffees in preparation for a full day of driving. 
I expected New Zealand to be scenic, but was blown away by the amazing views even just driving down the main roads. This picture was taken with my iPhone through the car window, so it's not the best quality in the world, but even so the colors are absolutely gorgeous. 
There were SO MANY sheep in New Zealand. They're everywhere. I think there's something like 50 million sheep and 4 million people in the country, so they could really stage a takeover if they were smart enough. Speaking of, I learned that sheep are insanely stupid. We almost hit a few that were grazing dangerously close to the road and apparently have no instinct to jump out of the way. They're cute, though, and I decided as we were driving by all these farms that my ultimate life goal is to become a shepherd. 

Castle Hill

Alright, enough of the iPhone pictures through the car window! One of Peter's goals on this trip was to scout out some Lord of the Rings filming sites. We looked into doing a tour, but most of them were what can only be described as hardcore super-fan tours that lasted for weeks and included weird reenactment-type activities. I've never seen the movies and Peter isn't quite a reenactment level fan, so we passed on the tour idea. We googled a few locations before we left and on the rare occasions we received WiFi during our trip and were fairly successful on the whole. Our first stop was a conservation area called Castle Hill that consisted of a bunch of large boulders. I'm not sure if this was an exact, official LOTR filming site, but close enough, right?
Solo pictures are so awkward. Have no fear, I remembered the selfie stick on this trip! At this point it was still packed away in the suitcase, but it will make plenty of appearances in future posts so stay tuned. Side note: flats were an awesome choice for climbing around rocks. Not.
Peter blazing a trail. 
The rocks/boulders/whatever they are were HUGE. For scale, Peter is the black blob standing in the open space below:
Like I said, I've never seen LOTR, so I was more focused on the beautiful mountains across the road:
We headed back to the car to continue our journey, which I'll detail in my next post!
Thursday, November 19, 2015

Night Noodle Markets

We're back from New Zealand! I am going to work on downloading all of our many photos onto the computer this weekend and will hopefully have some posts ready soon! If you just can't take the suspense, head over to my Instagram to see a preview of our trip!

One of my favorite things about living in Melbourne is the number of festivals and other activities happening at any given time. Specifically, I appreciate the focus on food festivals. This month the Night Noodle Market has taken up residence along the Yarra River in Birrarung Marr, the park that lies between Federation Square and the Melbourne Cricket Ground. We went to the same market last year a few times and really enjoyed it! Happily, this year seemed even bigger than last year, with more pop up bars, entertainment, and food stalls. 
Loved this bar but it was impossible to get a seat anywhere in the park, let alone on the "rooftop". 
First up was Pad Thai from a restaurant in the suburbs. I was a bit disappointed to find out that they don't deliver in the city, as it was the best Pad Thai I've had in Melbourne. Looks like we'll have to venture out to the 'burbs!
Next we had some chicken wings and then headed over to a barbecue stand for some skewers. 
Not only was the food amazing, but I love the decorations at this particular event. It felt very fresh and spring-like while still sticking to the Asian food theme. 
And a couple more bars:
Yesterday was quite windy and there was a threat of rain, but that didn't seem to deter many people-it was packed! The only downside: the flies. I don't know what it is about this year, as I don't remember seeing a single fly last year, but they are legitimately taking over the city. I walked down Southbank yesterday and swatted flies out of my face the whole time, and I counted seven flies just chilling on a guy's suit coat in front of me. So as you can imagine, the markets were prime fly territory. Despite that annoyance, I think we will definitely be back again before the markets close up later this month!
Sunday, November 8, 2015

Pumpkin Cheese Fondue

We are off to the airport to catch our flight to New Zealand shortly, but just wanted to post a few pictures of the amazing feast my friends Katie and Janet made for us last night! 

These girls are super creative in the kitchen and decided to do cheese fondue in a pumpkin. Actually, I think they may have used a squash because it turns out purchasing a pumpkin in Australia is no easy task. Either way, it was amazing. Like one of the best things I've ever tasted. 
Salad, fondue, and homemade focaccia bread. 

Sylvie made madelines for dessert and they were equally delicious. 
As usual, I brought the wine. Despite having friends who are capable of creating the epicness above, I'm still working on not burning boxed macaroni and cheese. Pro tip: make friends with people who are better at adulting than you are. 


Welcome! I started Laura and Peter Down Under in July 2014 when my husband and I moved from the States to Melbourne, Australia for his job. I blog about expat life, our travels, food, and whatever else comes to mind. Follow along on our adventures Down Under!



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