Archive for ‘Destinations’

April 8, 2012

The Gilis

by Anna

If Lonely Planet describes Takaka, New Zealand as “laid back to near horizontal,” then I think Gili Air must be upside-down! It is definitely the most laid-back, chilled-out place we have been on our trip and was the perfect remote island destination for the final week of our travels.

“Gili” literally means “small island,” and the archipelago of three tiny islands off the northwest coast of Lombok, Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air, have come to be known collectively as “the Gilis.” They are so tiny that all three have sandy paths bordering their perimeters and can be walked around in about an hour.

One of the most charming (and appealing) aspects of these little islands to us was the non-existence of cars and motor scooters, replaced instead by horse-drawn carts called cidomos, and bicycles…no horns honking, no diesel fumes and no revving engines…just the sounds of coconuts dropping, waves lapping and locals playing the guitar. And if the peace and quiet and coral strewn beaches weren’t already enough, the islands have the added bonus of being surrounded by magnificent coral reefs brimming with fish of all shapes, colors and sizes, as well as hundreds of sea turtles! We could literally walk out of our room in the morning, throw on a snorkel, swim out about 100 feet and almost be certain to be swimming with a giant sea turtle a few minutes later…amazing!

We chose to spend our time on Gili Air, the mid-sized of the three islands  with a reputation for being mellow and relaxing while also having good eating and lodging options. We loved our bungalow at Italian-owned Biba Beach and also loved their super authentic thin crust pizzas! All of the locals who worked there were so sweet, and their friendly smiling faces made the beautiful surroundings that much better. We spent our time reading, lounging, snorkeling, drinking fresh coconuts, eating local curries and chicken sates, taking walks around the island and through the local villages in the middle of the island and watching the sunset. We also spent a lot of time reminiscing about the past nearly 11 months of travels…all of the incredible sites, wonderful and unique people and memorable experiences that we have been lucky enough to share. It was a perfect place for self-reflection.

The boat ride over to Gili Air, balancing on a giant basket of bananas!
Cidomo The “main street” on Gili Air
Johnny getting into the island groove at Biba Beach
Johnny and Juan More delicious banana pancakes!
Breakfast at Biba
View of neighboring islands from Gili Air
Walking the sandy path around the island The beaches were covered in coral
We shared the beaches with cows and a handful of other tourists
Tourism, coconuts and fishing are the Gilis main sources of income Local climbing for coconuts
Beautiful day on Gili Air
The interior of the island was just as pretty as the sandy perimeter
Johnny’s favorite young papaya curry…delicious and about $1.50! Magic Mushrooms, anyone?
The island is well-equipped for sunset-viewing

We also went on a snorkel trip one day to see the coral gardens and other good snorkel spots closer to Gili T and Gili Meno and had lunch on Gili Meno, the smallest of the three islands. Its white sand beaches and even more deserted feel made us wish we could have stayed there a couple nights as well. The snorkeling was the best I’ve ever seen…I couldn’t believe the varieties of coral, quantities of fish and crystal clear waters. We also ended up befriending a German couple on a four-month long travel adventure. They had been in South Africa, India, Thailand and Bali, and were headed for Australia and then California! We had such a good time swapping travel stories and decided to meet up again on our last night for some pizza and Bintangs at Biba.

For our final morning, Johnny and I took advantage of Biba’s prime view of Lombok’s Mount Rinjani, Indonesia’s second highest volcano, and woke at 5:30am to watch the sunrise.

Heading out to snorkel with the turtles We saw turtles through the glass bottom boat too
There were also some awesome surf breaks around the islands
Sea turtle nursery on Gili Meno Cidomo on Gili Meno
One of Gili Meno’s lovely white sand beaches
Our last night under a full moon With new friends, Franziska and Dominik
Sunrise over Indonesia’s 2nd highest volcano, Mount Rinjani
April 6, 2012

Paradise Found

by Johnny

Anna and I had envisioned spending the final couple of weeks of our trip lounging on tropical beaches, and we had read that the area around Kuta, Lombok (not to be confused with the party ghetto of Kuta, Bali) boasted some of the best undiscovered beaches in Indonesia. For those who don’t know (I certainly didn’t before researching this trip), Lombok is the island directly to the east of Bali, and, with the exception of Gili Trawangan, is largely ignored on most Indonesia travel itineraries. Thanks to a brand new airport only 15 minutes away, Anna and I were able to forego the 6-hour ferry ride and 2-hour taxi ride previously required to get to Kuta for a $30, 30-minute flight (albeit a pretty bumpy one). We checked into our guesthouse, rented a scooter for the next four days, filled it up with a 40oz of fuel from the kid next door, and set off to explore the coast of southern Lombok. I doubt our pictures or my writing can do the area justice.

The first beach we visited was Tanjung Aan, about 5km east of Kuta, where we posted up at a little beachfront restaurant called Sama Sama and took full advantage of their lounge chairs and fresh coconuts. We had the entire place to ourselves until a couple more tourists showed up in the afternoon. A giant bay with endless white sand and turquoise water, Tanjung Aan was one of the most beautiful beaches we’d ever seen.

On our second day, we drove to the west of Kuta down a dirt road that made South Africa’s roads look brand new to a beach called Mawun, which must be Indonesian for “Johnny’s paradise.” Seriously, it’s like my daydream visions of a secluded, tropical paradise, where rolling green headlands slope into white sand and azure water, materialized right here in the south of Lombok. I could probably search for the rest of my life for a beach as beautiful as Mawun and not find it. And the best part is, with the exception of a couple fishermen, their kids and a couple locals who kept an eye on our scooter, we had the entire beach to ourselves. After a few hours of basking in Mawun’s awesomeness, we navigated our way to an amazing lunch at Astari, where our salads were just as good as the view down the entire coast.

The last (but definitely not least) beach we rode to was Selong Blanak, located even farther to the west than Mawun. However, due to the terrible road conditions, we took a detour inland, passing several tiny villages along the way. Half of the villagers we passed greeted us with blank stares, while the other half (mostly kids) would yell, “Hello Mister!” and try to high-five us as we rode past. Either way, we got the feeling that a couple white people riding through these villages was a rare occurrence. We drove for about an hour, not knowing if we were going the right way, until we finally arrived at Selong Blanak. Hoh-hum…another picture perfect beach we had all to ourselves except for a few local kids having a blast in the water. This time, however, dark clouds came rolling in right after lunch. We tried our best to race home, but as soon as we started up the scooter it just started pouring on us. I’m talking Indonesian rainy-season tropical downpour. Getting drenched to the bone while riding past naked kids playing in puddles was definitely one of those “where are we and what are we doing right now?” moments.

When we weren’t busy exploring the most beautiful beaches in the world, we enjoyed hanging out in the tiny town of Kuta. It’s basically a one-road town right on the beach consisting of a handful of restaurants, shops and guesthouses catering mainly to visiting surfers, a mosque (it was crazy hearing the call of prayer for the first time since Turkey) and a rowdy Sunday market.

With a brand new international airport making the south of Lombok accessible to the masses, who knows how much longer the area will stay “off the beaten path.” One thing’s for sure, we felt lucky to find our own little undiscovered paradise there at the moment in time when we visited. With literally thousands of islands in Indonesia, though, we can’t help but think how many more treasures remain out there waiting to be discovered.

April 5, 2012

Bali Road Trip

by Johnny

During one of our days in Ubud, Madde’s nephew took Anna and I on a driving tour of Bali. Unfortunately, we were both feeling pretty miserable that day and spent most of our time in the backseat blowing our noses, but it was still really cool to get to see some other parts of the island, particularly the tiny villages we passed through in the middle of nowhere.

Our first stop was a nearby coffee plantation, famous for its kopi luwak (aka cat-poo coffee). Similar to Vietnam’s weasel coffee, this coffee is named after the civet (luwak) that feasts only on the ripest coffee cherries. The still-intact beans found in the civet’s droppings are then used to produce a super strong (and expensive!) blend of coffee. While we didn’t get to taste any of this cat-poo brew, we did sample a selection of the plantation’s other coffees and teas as well as tour the garden where they grow all their ingredients.

After getting our caffeine fix at the coffee plantation, we made our way out of the rice paddies and into mountain country, finally arriving at Lake Bratan and its Pura UIun Danu Bratan (aka Temple on the Lake). Built on tiny islands and surrounded on all sides by the lake, this temple has to be one of the most picturesque in Bali. The half-Hindu, half-Bhuddist temple is dedicated to Dewi Danu, the Water Goddess, and ceremonies are held here to ensure an adequate supply of water for the rice harvest.

The undisputed highlight of our tour was the UNESCO-nominated ancient rice terraces at Jatiluwih…which literally translates to “truly marvelous.” Terraces of seemingly every shade of green slope as far as the eye can see, interrupted occasionally by a small temple, shelter or buffalo. Beyond being stunningly beautiful, Jatiluwih is also an example of engineering genius, and Anna and I were mesmerized watching the water move through hand-dug channels and bamboo pipes from one plot of land to the next all the way down the valley.

Next we snaked our way along the road next to the Jatiluwih rice terraces until we reached Pura Luhur Batukau, one of Bali’s holiest temples. After slipping on some sarongs, Anna and I explored the temple (which we had all to ourselves) and discovered similar Hindu-influenced architecture to that which we saw at the temples of Angkor in Cambodia. We also got caught in a little downpour, but sitting under some thatched temple roofs with the rain pouring down only added to Batukau’s spiritual mystique.

Finally, we headed towards the southwest coast to Pura Tanah Lot, one of Bali’s famous sea temples that form a chain along the island’s south coast. Tanah Lot, also Bali’s most visited temple, sits on a large offshore rock that’s been shaped by the ocean tide. While beautiful, Tanah Lot was jam-packed with souvenir stands, touts and other tourists. Anna and I couldn’t make it two steps without being asked to have our picture taken with a group of Asian tourists. Kinda weird. I mean, I know I look just like Brad Pitt, but enough is enough. Maybe we were just cranky from feeling a little under the weather, but we were happy to snap a couple quick pictures and hit the road.

Our driving tour was a great way to see some other areas of Bali…we only wish we had some extra time to see more of what this amazing island has to offer.

April 3, 2012

The Heart of Bali

by Anna

Whether you’re an artist, craftsman, yogi, food enthusiast, health addict, nature-lover, adventurer or just in need of some spiritual inspiration, there is something to fulfill your soul in Ubud. Long described as Bali’s cultural heart, this oasis in the rice paddies is bursting with culture and unfortunately a lot more traffic and congestion than back in the day. But Ubud still retains its aura of creativity and spirituality – the strong identity and creative heritage of the Balinese people rise above the growing tourism and traffic.

As we explored the streets of Ubud over our nine-day stay, we discovered eye candy was everywhere – in the smallest Hindu offering of flower petals and rice in bamboo leaves to the immense technicolor green rice paddies. Balinese Hinduism, which is deeply interwoven with art and ritual, could be felt everywhere and at all times of day. We had to be careful where we stepped on the sidewalks as small colorful offerings were all over, fresh each morning, and it was commonplace to see men and women in beautiful traditional dress carrying offerings to the temples or watch huge ceremonial processions stopping traffic along the streets. The moss-shrouded temples were elaborately carved and adorned with intricate statues, which were often decorated with flowers and sarongs. It seemed walking around town that every few buildings would be a temple or a household built around a temple, giving the streets a very unique appearance. And filling the streets were tons of art and craft shops (even when we wandered into small surrounding villages or out in the rice paddies, you could always be certain you’d find an artist’s shop), delicious cafes serving up organic food and juices, family-run warungs serving local Indonesian fare, galleries, yoga studios and boutiques. Just when we thought we were surrounded on all sides by buildings, we’d turn down a side street and find ourselves staring across the expanse of a rice paddy, or walk into a cafe and find a thick Indiana Jones-style jungle on the other side. Talking with some other guests at our homestay, we could only think of one word to describe Ubud – exotic.

Women carrying offerings to the temple
Buddha with a fresh flower Buddha at our homestay
A walk through the rice paddies
Dinner at Bali Buddha Dinner at Miro’s
Women lighting incense on the street
Colors of Ubud Local craftsmanship
One of many cool art shops in Ubud
The market
Action on the soccer field in central Ubud Monkey Forest Road
Strolling down a quiet side street
The Royal Palace

The Balinese people also lived up to their reputation as being wonderfully sweet and friendly. A look in someone’s direction was always returned with a huge smile and “hello!” Our hosts at Nirwa Homestay, Madde and Ayu, were exactly the same way, and we loved waking up to the sound of ducks bathing in the rice paddies around our bungalow and Ayu’s amazing banana pancakes! Madde would always come over for a chat on our veranda in the afternoons, and he and Ayu would always offer us sticky rice treats that they’d bring back from their temple and tell us stories of other travelers who had stayed with them over the years.

The walk to our homestay where we often encountered people bathing in the canal alongside the path
Looking down on Nirwa Homestay Our bungalow at Nirwa
Johnny and Madde chillin’ on our veranda
Ayu’s magical banana pancakes Johnny and Ayu
Madde “gardening”

Some highlights of our time in Ubud included walking through the rice paddies at dusk and watching the sunset over a delicious meal at Sari Organik and then making it back to our homestay by the light of our headlamps surrounded by fireflies; attending a Kecak dance performance where a group of 150 men chanted and sang a cappella while a battle from the Ramayana was re-enacted; visiting the Monkey Forest in the middle of Ubud and being surrounded by hundreds of playful wild monkeys; watching Johnny try the famous local Babi Guling (aka, suckling pig) and deciding whether it compared to the suckling pig we tried with Gustavo and Sarah in Portugal (don’t worry, Goose, I think you’re the clear winner!); indulging at Taksu Spa…can’t beat a two hour-long massage and facial for $30 (!); stretching ourselves out and focusing our chi at beginner yoga classes at Yoga Barn; seeing the morning market in full swing at 6:30am on the way to our 7am ‘early bird’ yoga class; experiencing Nyepi; and hiring a driver for a day to see more of the island (more to come on this in our next post…).

The path through the rice paddies to Sari Organik
The beautiful view on our walk to dinner
Sunset from Sari Organik Trying some homemade snakeskin fruit wine
An amazing sunset over the rice paddies to a soundtrack of chirping frogs
Kecak dance performance
The performance ended with a man dancing in bare feet on flaming coconut shells! OUCH!
The mother monkeys held their babies by their tails so that they couldn’t get into too much trouble
Mama and baby Monkey hangin’ on his elephant
Sneaky monkey
Just monkeying around Monkey see, monkey do
Monkey Forest temple
Babi Guling Johnny savoring his suckling pig
The view from our yoga class at Yoga Barn was pretty awesome
Chickens at the market
Flower petals for offerings Fresh local veggies
The market was the hot spot at 6:30am

Although Johnny and I both spent a few of our days in Ubud fighting off fevers and sore throats (undoubtedly a result of our sleepless travel adventure from NZ!), we still had a wonderful time and could immediately see why Bali holds a special place in many peoples’ hearts. We definitely hope to make it back to Ubud and to see more of beautiful Bali one day!

April 1, 2012

Nyepi

by Johnny

Unbeknownst to us, we arrived in Ubud, Bali two days before Nyepi, the Balinese “Day of Silence” commemorating the end of the old year and the beginning of the next.  It turned out to be a really cool time to be in Bali.  While the actual day of Nyepi is marked by silence and meditation, the entire day before is full of craziness.  For weeks and months prior to Nyepi, every village throughout Bali creates these heinous papier-maché sculptures called ogoh-ogoh, and on Nyepi Eve they are paraded throughout the island.  As the ogoh-ogoh represent evil spirits, the uglier the better…and most of them were pretty darn ugly.  Anna and I took a walk through the rice paddies to a couple small villages where the people were putting the final touches on their ogoh-ogoh and beginning to march them into town.  At night, all the ogoh-ogoh were paraded down Ubud’s Hanoman Street, where locals would chant, bang drums, shoot off fireworks and finally burn the sculptures in an effort to chase these evil spirits from the island.  It was definitely like nothing we’ve ever seen before.

 

The actual day of Nyepi was the polar opposite of the madness the night before.  This “Day of Silence” is not taken lightly by the Balinese people.  The entire island basically shuts down, including the airport and all ATMs, and nobody is allowed out in the streets.  There are even some policemen patrolling the towns to usher back wandering tourists to their guesthouses.  The whole idea is to trick whatever evil spirits remaining after the previous night into thinking that the island is deserted so they will go elsewhere.  For the Balinese, Nyepi is a day of meditation and self-reflection, and many of the people don’t eat or speak for the entire day.  Luckily for us, our awesome homestay hosts Madde and Ayu were nice enough to cook us a traditional Balinese lunch and dinner, consisting of chicken satay and peanut sauce, tempe, tofu, mixed veggies, sticky rice and, last but not least, some fried bananas.  It was fun getting to know the other homestay guests and learning the significance of Nyepi from Madde and Ayu.  While some people might be bummed about being put on lockdown for a day, Anna and I really enjoyed the peacefulness of Nyepi (which started with a beautiful rainbow), and we both agreed that we could use more days of meditation and self-reflection back home.

March 19, 2012

Marlborough Farmers Market

by Johnny

Our week of hard work and fun (mostly just fun, though) at Windsong Orchard culminated at the Marlborough Farmers’ Market.  Jennie and Bob helped start the Marlborough Farmers’ Market and are still very active in running it, so we all got up at the crack of dawn to set up.  We’ve been to dozens of farmers’ markets on our trip, but we’ve never thought about all the hard work that goes into setting one up before this.  I don’t think we’ll ever look at a farmers’ market the same again.  At around 9:00am, the crowd started to trickle in.  Anna helped bag and sell plums (the last three varieties out of the 25 Jennie and Bob grow), blueberries and table grapes at the Windsong Orchard booth while I helped out Chef Chris Fortune at his breakfast booth, from which all proceeds get invested directly back into the farmers’ market.  Unfortunately, I nearly sliced off my thumb while chopping tomatoes (I guess there’s only room for one chef in this family), so it was back to the Windsong booth and selling fruit with Anna, which was just fine with me.  Like Anna mentioned in our last post, we had really reconnected back to our food source while working on the orchard, and it was truly enjoyable to be able to talk to and educate customers on what they were buying.  Personally, I loved the face to face interaction with the local community…something that’s often missing from my job back home.

The Marlborough Farmers’ market is more than just a place to quickly grab some fruits and veggies.  It’s a place to bring your kids, grab a freshly brewed cuppa, listen to some live music, catch up with your neighbors, and, yes, buy some delicious local food.  It definitely had Anna and I inspired to get more involved with our farmers’ markets back at home.  Here are some scenes from a great day:

We can’t thank Jennie and Bob enough for an amazing week and a perfect way to end our time in New Zealand, and we hope to bring some of the lessons learned at Windsond Orchard back home with us.

March 18, 2012

WWOOFing at Windsong

by Anna

There couldn’t have been a better way to conclude our tour of New Zealand than with our week-long WWOOF stint at Windsong Orchard in Renwick. For those unfamiliar with WWOOFing, it stands for “Willing Workers on Organic Farms,” or “World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms,” and New Zealand with its bountiful agriculture is chock full of amazingly hearty and scenic spots to WWOOF. While having the opportunity to learn about organic farming practices and gain a more intimate local experience of the community, a WWOOFer volunteers his/her time in exchange for lodging, food and knowledge from their WWOOF hosts.

We have to thank Kate and Matt of TwoPackedBags for our discovery of Jennie and Bob and their orchard. Kate and Matt WWOOFed there last May, and upon reading their post, we knew we had to experience this place!

First off, Jennie and Bob are two of the coolest, headiest and kindest people we’ve ever met, and their passion for their fruit (which is, by the way, insanely delicious), their local community and working towards a sustainable future is immediately contagious. So are their fun-loving spirits and appreciation for the simple pleasures life has to offer. We loved listening to stories of their adventures.  They met in Mexico…Bob was down there sailing and Jennie had hitchhiked her way there from Canada…and since then, they’ve spent their time sailing the world (they spent 1 year and 1/2 sailing from California to New Zealand when their kids were younger), teaching ski lessons in Mammoth, CA and throughout New Zealand and beginning Windsong Orchard. Bob is a SoCal native and Jennie a tried-and-true Kiwi, so they now spend their time split between Renwick and Santa Barbara…not a bad combo!

Needless to say, Jennie and Bob made us feel at home right away, and quickly got us acquainted with our “blueberry cottage” attached to their work shed and surrounded by blueberry bushes on one side and plum trees on the other. The cottage was stocked with every type of spice and cooking ingredient, as well as home-grown veggies and herbs from their garden and fresh eggs from their chickens. Each day we’d throw on some gumboots and meet Jennie and Bob in the shed at 8:30am. We’d then go to work, which included tasks like planting new blueberry bushes, trimming table grapes to get them market-ready, picking and grading the quality of blueberries and plums, and a little weeding. At 12:30pm, we’d head across the lawn to Jennie and Bob’s place for a delicious spread of Jennie’s home-baked bread, scones, plum and blueberry muffins, and her home-made hummus, chutneys, etc. Then the rest of the afternoon we were free to explore the surrounding vineyards and breweries either on foot or on Jennie and Bob’s bikes. In the evenings we’d cook up a storm with all of our delicious, fresh ingredients and read our books while watching the sun disappear behind the plum trees. Could it get any better?

When not working at the orchard, we helped out with set-up, selling, and break-down of the Windsong booth at local farmers’ markets in Blenheim, Nelson and the awesome market in Marlborough that Jennie and Bob helped found (more details to come on this later…). It was such a fulfilling experience to see the process come full circle from soil to table, and have the opportunity to interact with the local community, which is truly passionate about supporting their local growers.

Johnny and I definitely left with a new admiration for the hard work and time that goes into organic farming and the local markets that benefit both local growers and the community. We were also inspired by Jennie and Bob’s way of life and loved feeling reconnected back to the land and earth. It was good to get our hands dirty!

Windsong: Jennie & Bob’s house on the left and our cottage on the far right
Beautiful blueberries
Outside the shed, next to the caravan Grape vines and the window to our bedroom
Loading up the van for the market
Our kitchen Fresh produce gave us plenty of cooking inspiration!
We even cooked up mushroom “puffballs!” Entering our cottage through the shed
Feeding scraps to the “chooks” Our cozy cottage
Johnny’s green (or should I say brown) thumb
Windsong’s fruit stand on the main road Certified organic
Trimming grapes by the quince tree with my helper Nalu the cat
Blueberries! Picking “Delights”
Johnny collecting his blueberry bounty
Bob grading blueberries So many antioxidants!
Jennie’s home-made frittata
Jennie and I workin’ the booth in Blenheim “Don’t be a bum, buy a plum!” – Johnny
Biking around Renwick
Jennie and Bob’s neighbors
So many lovely vines… Wine tasting at Mahi
Vineyards at Forrest
Beer tasting at Moa More brew tasting at Renaissance
Our local watering hole, Cork & Keg Grabbing an evening beverage with the locals
March 18, 2012

A Tribute to Big Red

by Anna

Well, when we first laid eyes on Big Red, aka “Big Bad Red,” aka “BR,” we weren’t too sure about him…he was dirty, his floors were coming off and he had wires dangling from under his hood (we later discovered this was BR’s antennae). Our relationship was off to a rocky start. But as BR trustily led us down windy tracks, past vineyards, sheep, mountains, lakes, more sheep, glaciers and oceans, our love for BR began to grow. We’d cheer him on as he sputtered his way up steep hills, and we’d breathe a sigh of relief when he’d make it through off-road style dirt roads. By the end of 4 weeks our emotional attachment to BR was strong, bordering on true love. Johnny and I had to bid ado to BR in Nelson…it was sad, but we had a good ride.

Check out some glamor shots of Big Red below and an overview of the adventure he led us on through the South Island!

March 17, 2012

Golden Bay and Nelson

by Johnny

After an amazing day at Fox Glacier we packed up Big Red and headed all the way to the northwest of the South Island, over Takaka Hill to the seldom visited Golden Bay, a place Lonely Planet describes as “laid back to near horizontal.”  Golden Bay’s tiny main town of Takaka is basically a one-lane street full of colorful cafes and craft shops and must be where 95% of New Zealand’s hippies call home.  I haven’t seen this many dreadlocks since my last Phish show.  We based ourselves about ten minutes down the road in Pohara at a little motel right on the beach.  After doing some serious driving over the previous couple of days, it was a perfect spot to chill out for a little bit.  We spent three nights there and easily could have spent a couple more.

Our beachfront motel in Pohara View from our deck…letting Big Red take a breather
Sunset over Farewell Spit
Driving around Pohara
Another night, another great sunset The empty beach at Pohara
“Downtown” Takaka Takaka’s cafes and shops
Takaka had cool murals everywhere

During one of our days in Golden Bay, we visited the wild, almost deserted Wharariki Beach, which required a 30-minute hike through some farmland to get to.  It’s definitely the most remote beach I’ve ever been to.  We navigated some deceptively steep sand dunes and found a perfect spot for a picnic.  Afterwards, we swung by Kaihoka Lakes, where the owner of our motel told us they filmed most of The Hobbit.

Hiking to Wharariki Beach
Wharariki Beach Just us and some birds
Archway islands off Wharariki Beach
Lunch time
Kaihoka Lakes
Hobbit land

Our main reason for visiting Golden Bay was to spend some time in Abel Tasman National Park, one of New Zealand’s top attractions and another one of the country’s nine Great Walks.  We planned on taking a taxi boat into the middle of the park and maybe doing some sea kayaking, but unfortunately due to a road closure from some recent flooding, we made a detour to the far north end of the park.  This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because we got to explore a less visited, more remote area of Abel Tasman, and also because some really strong winds came in later that day that would have made kayaking impossible.  Anna and I did the four-hour hike from Wainui to Mutton Cove, and we must have only seen three or four other people the entire time.  The scenery was incredible and reminded us a lot of Kauai.  Hard to believe that we were just hiking to a glacier a couple days ago.

Abel Tasman National Park
The hiking path was a little treacherous after some recent flooding
Mutton Cove More Mutton Cove
We felt like castaways Perfect spot for a peanut butter and Manuka honey sandwich
Easy to find some solitude in New Zealand

Our next stop after Golden Bay was Nelson.  Nelson is often used as a jumping off point for the southern parts of Abel Tasman, but having just visited the northern part, Anna and I pretty much spent our time walking around the decent-sized downtown, saying farewell to Big Red, trying some of the areas many microbrews, going to the local market (where yours truly worked this morning), catching up on some laundry and our blog, and getting ready for our next WWOOF stint at Windsong Orchard.  Our favorite spot in Nelson had to be The Free House, an old wooden church that’s been converted into a neighborhood pub and houses some of the region’s more interesting brews.  To top it off, you can get some amazing Indian take-out across the street and eat it in the beer garden.  Yum.

Christ Church Cathedral in Nelson The hills around Nelson
Sampling some New Zealand craft Brew at The Free House Indian food and brew…mmmmm!
The yurt and garden at The Free House Don’t worry Anna, I’m know what I’m doing
Some breakfast crepes at the Nelson market Nelson Market
March 13, 2012

West Coastin

by Johnny

After a beautiful drive from Wanaka and through the Haast Pass we arrived to New Zealand’s West Coast, a region with over eight percent of the country’s land mass but less than one percent of its population.  And we thought the rest of New Zealand was uncrowded.  Our first stop was the tiny township of Fox Glacier, located in the shadows of Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman (NZ’s second highest peak) and surrounded by endless acres of farmland…dare I say, one of the most gorgeous settings of anywhere we’ve been in New Zealand?  We chose to stay in Fox Glacier as opposed to the more visited Franz Glacier because here it’s possible to hike to the glacier’s terminal face if you don’t want to fork over the bucks for a guided tour on top of the glacier.  Perfect for us, since we plan on spending our remaining funds on massages, yoga classes and fruity drinks in Indonesia.

We only had one full day to explore the area, so we were thrilled when we woke up to a picture perfect sunny day without a cloud in the sky…much different weather than the last time we tried to see Mt. Cook from the other side of the Southern Alps.  We set off early for a walk around nearby Lake Matheson, highlighted by Mt. Cook’s mirror-like reflection in the lake’s still waters.  After a quick coffee break, we headed off to hike to the terminal face of Fox Glacier.  I’m gonna keep it real with you…glaciers just don’t really do it for me.  I appreciate their power and endurance and the way they’ve shaped the earth as we see it today, but to me they just look like muddy blocks of ice.  Give me a waterfall or raging river any day of the week.  Call me old-fashioned, but I like my beer cold, my music loud and my bodies of water flowing.  Next we drove along a gravel road to an old gold mining settlement at Gillespies Beach.  Now, I think it’s pretty cool when you’re on the corner of Jamboree and PCH and you can see the snow-capped San Bernardino mountains in front of you and Balboa Island behind you, so I was blown away by Gillespies Beach.  Here we were on a New Zealand beach with the sparkling blue water of the Tasman sea in front of us and a crystal clear shot of the imposing Mt. Cook behind us.  Pretty awesome.

Walking path around Lake Matheson
Mt. Cook’s perfect reflection in Lake Matheson
Another view of Mt. Cook from our walk around Lake Matheson
Hiking to Fox Glacier Thar she blows!
At the terminal face of Fox Glacier
Fox Glacier from a different point of view…not a bad spot to be a cow
Gillespies Beach Tasman sea on one side…
…and Mt. Cook on the other
Mt. Cook in the late afternoon
Enjoying our last hours of sunlight in Fox Glacier

After an action-packed day exploring the area around Fox Glacier, we headed to our next stop on the West Coast, Hokitika. I’ll be honest…this might be the most forgettable place of our entire trip. This town makes Modesto look like St. Tropez. The grey weather combined with the empty streets and the eerie driftwood sculptures on the beach made us feel like we were in the setting of a Stephen King novel or something. However, we made the most of our time here with a trip to the nearby Hokitika Gorge, a whitebait pizza (a local delicacy) at Fat Pipi’s and a nighttime visit to the glowworm dell.

Hokitika Gorge The color of the water was incredible
Making Anna nervous
Good ol’ Hokitika
At least the pizza was tasty The local whitebait pizza