Our New Zealand Top Ten!!!

We spent nine months traveling all over the beautiful island of New Zealand and want to share our top ten must see locations.

 

#1. KAREKARE WATERFALL & BEACH

This beautiful beach and waterfall are located on Auckland’s west coast and just a short 50 min drive from downtown Auckland. This was our last day in Auckland and we almost didn’t go on this adventure but we are so happy we did.

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It place that literally took our breaths away. It was like stepping into a completely different world. One min we were walking in what felt like a tropical forest the next we were sitting in front of this amazing waterfall. Then a short walk in the opposite direction we were walking through fields of flowers and native grasses surrounded by huge rolling green hills till we reached a black sparkling beach as long as the eye could see. ⠀⠀

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Isn’t it a bit crazy to think these two photos were taken in the same location!?

This place really was out of this world!! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Highlights 
•track difficulty-easy/short
•kid friendly-yes
•price-FREE!!
•toilets-yes
•swimming-yes but must stay between the flags
•Food-No
What to bring: Sunblock, Water, Snacks/a picnic

#2. COOKS BEACH

This place really is a bit of a hidden gem. Not as popular as its neighbor Cathedral Cove but if you are anything like us and prefer places off the beaten track this place is for you. If you time it right you will basically have the beach all to yourself!! It’s crystal clear aqua waters are insane!! We did so many things while at Cooks Beach including; kayaking, a boat ride, saw stingrays, went swimming, built sand castles, and went on an awesome hike to a beautiful look out of the area – Shakespeare Cliff Lookout. ⠀⠀⠀

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Not to far away are several popular and fun attractions including Cathedral Cove, Hot Water Beach, local vineyards, and Whitanga. We enjoyed all of these places as well while in the area but we will forever have a soft spot for Cooks Beach.

The most amazing part of this experience for us was that we made our first friend while staying here. He-John- was awesome and we spent many nights hanging out, drinking wine, and learning all about the area and the history of New Zealand, and about him and his awesome life.

We know for sure when we return to New Zealand Cooks Beach will be one of our first stops.

Top things to do while here: 
•take a hike up to Shakespeare Cliff Lookout and then hike down to Loney Bay
•kid friendly-yes
•price-FREE!!
•toilets-yes
•swimming-Yes, however if going to one of the neighboring sites be sure to look this up as Hot Water Beach can be very dangerous to swim in and you must stay between the flags
•Food-There are a few restaurants in the area
What to bring: Sunblock, Water, Snacks/a picnic

#3. HOBBITON

This was one of the only things we knew for sure we would be doing while in New Zealand because Lorena-the mom of our travel fam is a huge Tolkien fan and has slowly started converting the rest of the family. Sean read the hobbit before we started this journey and is well on his way to becoming a true lotr nerd. The girls were kind of like sure sounds cool but not jumping for joy. However they loved this place just as much as the adults if not more (ok that is not possible this was Lorena’s dream come true).

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This place was really so much fun for the entire family! The amount of detail, the stories about the films, the child sized hobbit holes, and a beer (apple cider for the kids) at the green dragon.

This was one of the very rare occasions we spent money to do something while here in New Zealand and it was worth every penny!! It was also what we decided as a family would be our Christmas gifts to each other (of course we still got the girls a couple of small things). ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Highlights
•book in advance they sell out
•price in NZD
$84.00 Adult (17 years +) $42.00 Youth (9-16 years) $0.00
Child (0-8 years)
•toilets-yes
•gift shop-yes
•Food-Yes
What to bring: Sunblock, a camera, comfortable shoes, my precious

#4. MOUNT MAUNGANUI AKA THE MOUNT⠀⠀

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This extinct volcanic soars a whopping 232 meters (762 feet) from the sea and was hands down the hardest hike we did while here in New Zealand. However the amazing panoramic views from the top were so worth it!! You can see the entire length of the Bay of Plenty and the colors of the sea and vegetation along the way are so vibrant and pleasing.⠀

Mount Maunganui’s Main Beach has been crowned the ‘Best Beach in New Zealand’ by TripAdvisor and you can probably see why with its white sand beach and amazing blue waters. We saw so many people swimming, surfing, kite surfing, and just hanging out.

Unfortunately this adventure was sort of a spur of the moment trip that we did after our Hobbiton Movie Set tour and we didn’t come prepared for a beach day (minus sunblock, water, and a change of shoes- we always traveled with these while here in NZ) ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

However this did give us a chance to take in the town and eat at one of the local restaurants located nearby. The town is lined with cool shops, cafes, and restaurants and we could have easily spent hours exploring it on its own but given the exciting and exhausting day we had had, we called it a day after eating our meal and we all slept like boulders that night.

Highlights 
•track difficulty-Hard (lots of stairs and usually walking without any shade or any place to take a short rest)
•kid friendly-yes
•price-FREE!!
•toilets-yes
•swimming-yes but must stay between the flags
•Food-Lots of restaurants nearby on the main street
What to bring: Sunblock, Water, Snacks/a picnic

#5. CASTLE HILL

These grand limestone rock formations are truly out of this world!! They are truly monumental and magnificent!! We all enjoyed walking around exploring them, climbing (or attempting to climb) them, and photograph them. They really look like they belong on a galaxy far away.

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This place is a rock climbers dream and seriously made us want to learn how to rock climb so that maybe in the future when we return to NZ we can climb these bad boys however we are so far away from being able to do that but we can dream though right.

We had the pleasure of visiting this site twice! Once in Feb & again just recently in May. Swipe right to see what a difference the seasons can have on a place. We truly enjoyed seeing it both ways but if we could only see it once we would chose to go during the warmer months. Mainly because we are all wussies and don’t like the cold. Also the ice/snow gets really slick so it makes exploring a lot more difficult but then again it does make for some great sledding. So it is really up to you and what your family prefers. Either way this is a must!

Highlights
•kid friendly-Yes
•price-FREE!!
•toilets-yes
•Food-No
What to bring: Sunblock, a camera, comfortable shoes, a picnic, water, and if you are a rock climber your gear. Also be aware of your surroundings as there maybe rock climbers above you that you do not want to be directly underneath

#6. PANCAKE ROCKS

Our all time favorite place to be in New Zealand is the West side of the South Island you really can’t go wrong if you make it there. You have so many options on what to do and see and this is one that you should definitely put on that list. It’s an easy short walk to get to this point and you can see so many different things in this one location. Blowholes, pancake like limestone formations, mountains, surge pools, and the sea.

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These amazing pancake like rock formations were formed over 30million years ago from pieces of dead marine creatures and plants! Yes it was all a bit creepy but we all really loved learning about how they were formed and all about how the blow holes spray-they form from a mixture of compressed water and air escaping through the caverns below and being forced upwards. Or according to Gaby-they are things you stand on to get wet and go up high. Lol. It all became a bit of a science and history lesson. Which we love! Any opportunity to learn something new and we are all in!! #nerds ⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

We spent an entire afternoon here and had so much fun just hanging out, checking out the cool pancake rocks, watching the blowholes, talking about the best pancakes we had ever had, and just taking in these stunning views. ⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀  ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Highlights 
•kid friendly-Yes
•price-FREE!!
•toilets-yes
•Food-there are some cafes but make sure to check times
•Accessibility-With the exception of an optional short section with steps, the walk is suitable for wheelchairs (with assistance)

#7. HOKITIKA GORGE

This place is one of those places you see photos of all over Instagram-the internet-etc and think there is no way it actually looks like that in real life. We are here to tell you it really does!! The shade of the water can change from more of a blue to a green to a gray depending on the weather. When we went it was slightly overcast and had not rained for a while. So we got this.

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A local Kiwi told us that if you come when the sky is blue it looks even more amazing because it reflects the blue sky above. We have also heard and seen photos of what it looks like a day after it rains-gray and not as majestic. So our advise is to keep your eye on the weather and try and go on a day it hasn’t rained, if you get a blue sky even better!!

The water is really unlike anything we had ever seen before with its aqua color and mirror like surface. Reflecting the rocks, trees, and swing bridge above the water. We heard somewhere that some people believe that these waters have healing powers. However it comes with a price – the water is freezing!! If you are brave enough to take a dip in these icy waters give it a go. Sean did!! Swipe right to see. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Highlights
•kid friendly-Yes                                                                                                                          •price-FREE!!
•toilets-yes
•Food-Yes small cafe truck                                                                                                    •Accessibility-The walk is suitable for wheelchairs (with assistance)
Tips: cover up or bring bug spray the sandflies here are no joke!, a swimsuit if you dare

#8. AORAKI/MOUNT COOK NATIONAL PARK

We spent four days in this area and made the most of it by doing two of the hiking tracks located here – the Hooker Valley Track & The Tasman Glacier & blue pools track (as well as checking out Lake Tekapo & Lake Pukaki along the way). The Hooker Valley track was partially closed due to flood damage so we weren’t able to walk the entire track but we still had such a great time on this walk. It was here that we had our first close up view of New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki/Mount Cook. We also learned all about the glaciers here and how they have shaped this area and changed over the past 100years. #worldschooling
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For us the Tasman Glacier walk was our favorite and this view is only one of the reasons. It was on this walk that we saw the beautiful kea for the first time!! We had been longing to see these amazing mountain parrots since we arrived in New Zealand and not only did we see them on this walk, they got up close and personnel with us. Letting us photograph them and admire them in this amazing place. It was truly one of the most magical moments we have had here. If you like birds check out our post a few rows down all about these guys they really are awesome. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Side note: This was also the backdrop to many aerial shots in the LOTR trilogies as well as Lake Town in The Hobbit!!!

Highlights
•kid friendly-Yes
•price-FREE!!
•toilets-yes
•Food-No
Tips: check the weather for closures, dress for the weather it gets cold here-we recommend layers because you heat up as you climb the stairs but then get cold at the top, wear sturdy shoes-it’s a fairly easy walk but there are lots of stairs

#9. QUEENSTOWN

Queenstown is considered the adrenaline capital of the world to many. If you are looking for something to get your blood pumping this is the place to do it!! Bungee jumping, paragliding, the luge, helicopter rides and so much more. Mireya was offered a job at one of the top adventure companies in Queenstown and had the great opportunity to live and work here on her own for a few months. ⠀

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We had the pleasure of coming to visit her and doing so of these things for free as her guest. We rode the gondola and the Luge on two separate occasions and all had so much fun. It really is like a real life Mario cart race. Set in the most majestic place. We also explored the town and enjoyed a wonderful meal and shopping.
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Here are a few quotes she gave us while she lived there that should give you a glimpse of what is in store for you here “I’m blown away everyday that I walk to work or just look outside! I live here!!” “This is the happiest I have ever been!!” ”I don’t want to leave.” ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Highlights
•price-expensive (unless you get lucky and have family or friends who can hook it up)                                      •kid friendly-Yes
•toilets-yes
•Food-Yes                                                                                                                                                                               Tips: If possible do not drive here or park by the lake and walk or grab an Uber or taxi. Parking is limited here and is usually for very short time limits. Stay a little outside of Queenstown to save money, look for coupons on bookme for most activities

#10. MILFORD SOUND

Our list would be incomplete without this place!! Located deep within Fiordland National Park, it was one of the most beautiful places we have seen as of yet. With its impressive green peaks, dark ocean waters, waterfall after waterfall, and the adorable fur seals!! This really was a highlight of our time here in New Zealand. ⠀⠀

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This was one of the rare times that we paid for an adventure but it really is a must see and we were able to snag some discounted tickets on bookme so that helped seal the deal. We decided on a cruise because it was the most affordable and drove ourselves to the cruise departure site. However if you have the time and money you can take a coach cruise or helicopter ride here. The drive is spectacular and we stopped several times to admire the view and soak it all in. There are several walking tracks and the beauty of this place can be admired from these tracks for free!! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Highlights 
•price-we managed to snag a cruise for about $50NZD for adults and $15NZD for a child                                  •toilets-yes
•Food-Yes
•kid friendly-Yes                                                                                                                                                               Tips: looks for discounts, book earlier in the day to save, bring a raincoat, give yourself plenty of time to get there and make stops along the way

our plan finalOur New Zealand Adventure took us to so many amazing places as you can see here from our map and we didn’t get to see everything so we definitely plan to return but for now this concludes our list and our time here in New Zealand. As I type this we sit in the airport awaiting our flight to our next big adventure-Australia here we come!!

 

Boat Ride on Mercury Bay

Boat Ride on Mercury Bay

I’m on a Boat

Riding a boat in New Zealand is something we all knew we wanted to do before we had even arrived in the country. We had seen tons of photos and videos of whales and dolphin’s showing off in the sea and people in awe of the beauty. So when we booked our airbnb in Cooks Beach right next to the water we knew this was the place to make this dream come true. We started really looking at all the different options while we were still in Auckland and found all sorts of amazing opportunities out there to purchase and make your boat dreams come true. Just about anything you can think of from glass bottoms boats, boats that promise that 90% of the time you will see a dolphin 100% of the time, and boats that take you on fast adrenaline rides of your life. They all sounded so amazing!!! There was however one problem…they cost a fortune when paying for a family of four. We went back and forth about weather or not to go ahead and book something and make compromises elsewhere in our lives to adjust for the cost.

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Can we eat ramen for dinner several times during the month in order to pay for this? Not eat out for an entire month? Not drink wine for the month-hahaha. UGH!!! My families health versus my families enjoyment which do we pick? Eating eggs and potatoes for breakfast everyday for a week versus eating a variety of fresh fruits, yogurts, and pancakes is ok right? Ramen for dinner instead of chicken, veggies, and rice isn’t that unhealthy is it? I’m willing to not eat out in order to save money to do other things but surviving on a diet or ramen, eggs, and potatoes is something I just can not do. So we decided to wait, to think about it, and to try and fine some ways to make some extra cash. I opened an etsy shop and put some of my travel photos up for sale. Sean would keep working on his book and if things panned out we would be rich in no time. However in the meantime we planned on not eating out much in order to save some money to try and make this boat thing happen (this did not actually happen we ate out a lot more then we would like to admit while in Auckland).

Ok, we made it to Cooks Beach now its time to get real. How are we going to make this happen? I started looking for coupons and deals online from websites like groupon, bookme, and other random sites. In an attempt to save my family money and take them on an adventure of a lifetime I probably gave my computer a virus and may have end up costing us money. Whoops, oh well worry about that latter is what I say. When we got to Cooks Beach we were so very lucky in that our airbnb host had bikes, kayaks, and a boat and said we were welcome to use the bikes and the kayaks free of charge anytime and he even said he could take us out on his boat sometime if we wanted!!! WHAT!!! How awesome is that!!! We were so excited. So when the day came to go out on the water we were all super pumped. It didn’t have a fancy glass bottom but it had something better-John (our airbnb host and now our friend). He told us all about the Islands we rode past and how they had filmed movies in some of the locations we saw, like The Chronicles or Narnia. He even told us about the time a shark trailed him in the waters and stole his days worth of fishing. He has had such an interesting life and we really enjoy spending time with him and hearing not only about the interesting things about New Zealand but also learning more about him and hearing all the crazy things he has done or been through. We hope someday we can be as cool as him and have some pretty amazing stories to tell. In some ways I feel like we are doing that now.

Traveling really does open up your eyes to such a big world. You get to met so many interesting people and hear such different stories. You know that saying “traveling leaves you speechless then turns you into a storysteller” by Ibn Battuta I think it really is true. Our boating adventure didn’t involve any sharks thank goodness but it did involve fish and what we thought was going to be our first boat ride in NZ also turned into our first snorkling experience, but it probably isn’t what you are picturing in your head. First of all we did not have swim suits on so we weren’t actually submerged/swimming in the water and we didn’t see a huge variety of colorful fish. It involved us hanging off the side of Johns boat with a face mask on getting close and personal with some delicious snapper. It was probably one of the silliest and funniest things I’ve ever done.

We rode around Mercury Bay and saw lots of different sacred islands, Cathedral Cove, and beyond. We even saw some stingrays along the way. This would not be the first time we saw stingrays while enjoying the waters of Mercury Bay. We had been to Cathedral Cove several times and had even swam in the waters there but it was so interesting seeing it from a different perspective. We saw people hanging out on the beach, taking photos in the cave, and even people out kayaking. This is also were we saw them, jumping up out of the water big huge dolphins! Just kidding, we didn’t see dolphins.  Instead we saw a huge school of extremely large snapper!!!

We had turned the boat off and were just hanging out enjoying the view so when we saw them, so of course we all immediately leaned over and looked in the water, and sure enough there they were loads of enormous snapper. John was prepared, he had snorkel gear ready to go. He didn’t hesitate and quickly asked Mireya to hand over the gear, to be honest I wasn’t sure what was about to happen. Was he about to jump off the boat fully clothed into the water and grab some of these fish for dinner? I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if it weren’t a reserve however he just put on the mask and held onto the boat and dipped his head in the water as we stood in amazement watching him. He came back up and was like yep! There are some huge snapper in there. Check it out! Before any of us could say anything Gaby was like ME! I’m next!!! So we proceeded to put the mask on her tiny face and dangle our six year old off the side of Johns boat. However a couple inches from the water she started to freak out a bit and had us pull her back up. She took the mask off and handed it to me.

So I said “looks like I’m next”, I bend over the side of the boat, took hold of the handle, and dunked my face in. To be honest at first I was a little freaked out. They were right there!! In my face and they were big! I mean really big at least a good 3 feet long *I may be exaggerating a tiny bit. However when they saw my face and realized I was not food they backed up a bit and just swam there letting me admire them. They weren’t colorful tiny little fish like you see in films like Finding Nemo but still in their own way they were beautiful. I watched them for a while in awe then a little voice inside my head reminded me of the story John had just told us about the shark and I started getting a bit freaked out again and decided my time was up. We proceeded to take turns and Gaby even decided to not only give it another try but wanted to keep doing it over and over again.

We then proceeded to head back to Cooks beach with water soaked hair, salty lips, smiles on our faces, and a new story to tell.

 

Cooks Beach, New Zealand

Cooks Beach, New Zealand

The Month we Lived by the Sea

Our second month living in New Zealand was spent by the sea. This my friends was paradise! I never knew just how much I loved the ocean until we spend a month living a stones throw away. We had spent the last month living in the largest city in New Zealand with a population of approx. 1,695,900 to the small town of Cooks Beach located in the Coromandel Peninsula with a population of less than 1,000 (we think this is just on Holidays really its probably closer to around 100 people regularly). It really was a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the city and such a great place for us to regroup, reenergize, and rework our travel plan. Our time in Auckland was spend exploring the city, adjusting to this new travel life of ours, and trying to continue working on architectural projects while traveling. However we soon found this to be a lot more difficult then we expected and we lost a really big client which put a big kink in our plans. Cooks Beach was exactly what we needed, it gave us the mental break we needed to truly think about our new life and future plans as well as time to truly enjoy our location and each other.

 

We also used this time to fine tune our homeschooling techniques with Gabriela. We were able to come up with some cleaver ways to encourage her to want to do her lessons and to make teaching while traveling work for us. As well as using this time to focus on some non-architectural projects we had been wanting to work on for a while but hadn’t had the time. I’m so proud to say that Sean finalized his sketches here in Cooks Beach for his first children’s book Mireya & Gaby: Journey to Azmatsa, which he has now finalized and published. You can get yours here. We are so very proud of him and want everyone to go check out his book. He not only wrote the story, he illustrated, and published it himself. Words can not express how proud we all are of him. We think his story is not only clever and creative but also kind and inspiring. It’s based on characters we gave our children long ago. Mireya has always been my little monkey and when Gaby was a baby she reminded us of a little owl with her big eyes. The illustrations are beautifully drawn and have a different flare then most children’s books. It really is a great read and a good way to encourage creative thinking and imagination.

We spent the majority of our time in Cooks Beach outside; walking on the beach, having adventures on the water, hiking up beautiful mountains and native bush. We also did a fair bit of wine drinking here on the patio all while learning all about the history and people of New Zealand with our amazing airbnb host- John, who turned out to be the first real friend we made here. We feel very lucky that we happened to pick his airbnb and that we had such a long time there with him being not only our host but also our neighbor. It really allowed us all time to get to know one another and build that bond. He also took us on quite a few adventures while in Cooks Beach including Gabriela’s first kayaking trip, a boat ride, and our first snorkeling experience in New Zealand. We had so much fun hanging out with John  and we look forward to continuing our friendship with him for many years to come.

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One of our favorite things to do while in Cooks Beach was walk along the beach. It was like having our own private beach most days as the majority of the homes there are  summer/vacation homes so roughly 70-90% of them were empty, which in some ways seems like such a waste but then again if they were occupied it would have been such a different experience. We had a tiny taste of what it might be like during Holidays over Labour Day weekend. We saw lots more people, more traffic, and lots more noise. Nothing intolerable at all but definitely a different vibe during the holiday. Would I recommend going during a Holiday? YES! It’s that beautiful and magical that it really doesn’t matter when you go. Even during a Holiday it wasn’t anymore packed then other more popular tourist places so you really can’t go wrong. I guess it just really boils down to what you prefer, super chill and empty or party time? I am glad we got to see it both ways. Personally I prefer it better when its not busy but I think the fact that it does get busy probably helps keep it interesting in some ways.

Adjusting to life in a small town. At the time of our stay in Oct-Sept 2018 the town center only had one dairy (this is what they call grocery stores in NZ), two restaurants, a liquor store, a realtor, and a store for tools and fishing etc. This was something we had to really adjust to in the beginning of our time in Cooks Beach. The dairy and the restaurants close early or have strange hours so we learned to stock up. We also learned that it was more economical to drive to the town of Whitianga to get grocery, wine, and go out to eat then it was to go to the town center. Not only did it save us a ton of money it also gave us much more variety when it came to food both to cook at home and eating out. We are working on a list of our top restaurants and activities and hope to have those done for you guys soon.

We advise stocking up on things in Whitianga instead of paying 3x more for things from the dairy. As well as driving to Cathedral Cove, Whitianga, or Hot Water Beach to grab a bite as the restaurants that are in Cooks Beach are very pricey and the service isn’t the best. One thing to keep in mind if doing this is the amount of room you have to store your food, we had a very small fridge which in reality was perfect for a weeks worth of groceries but it like many other things on our travels was much smaller then we were accustomed to in the states. Luckily we thought about this and guessed that it was roughly the size of two grocery baskets and limited ourselves to that which turned out to be about a weeks worth of groceries. This was great because we rarely had food go bad and it keep us in our budget.

Time sort of seemed to slow down in Cooks Beach, we learned to appreciate things a little more, to prepare a little better, to be flexible when it comes to our plans, and that it really doesn’t take much to be happy.

The following is a list of some of our favorite things we did while in Cooks Beach

  1. Learning about the history of New Zealand while having wine with our new friends John and Tony (who we called Tiny for about two weeks because we thought he said Tiny but it was just the difference in the way Kiwis pronounce o and i. hahaha)
  2. Hiking up to Shakespeare Cliff Scenic and Historic Reserve then hiking down into Lonely Bay
  3. Cathedral Cove which was just a short drive from our airbnb – we enjoyed this so much we did it several times
  4. Hot Water Beach – wish we had done this more
  5. Stay up late and admire and wish on shooting stars
  6. Kayak along the Purangi
  7. Enjoy a boat ride on Mercury Bay
  8. Take the Ferry over to Whitianga
  9. Having our first date in New Zealand
  10. Visited our first New Zealand vineyard

We will be writing post about all of these places very soon so be on the lookout for those.

Overall Cooks Beach has been our favorite location on the North Island and we really do want to return someday. This place really is special and it seriously might be one of our favorite places in the world but we still have a lot of the world to see so we will see. I have a feeling that no matter where we go it always will be. Maybe it was because it was the first place where we made a friend and got to really experience that Kiwi hospitality you always here about, maybe it was because of the billions of stars we saw that sparked red, white, and blue (colors of the not only the US flag but also the New Zealand flag if you didn’t know), or maybe it because this place really is magical.

The Day We Tried To Be Sheep

The Day We Tried To Be Sheep

Maungakiekie / One Tree Hill

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This adventure would give us our first very first encounter with New Zealand sheep and it inspired us so much we decided we wanted to try and be sheep ourselves by climbing up one of the steep green hills up to the memorial rather then take the paved path. More on that shortly. Lets talk about how we got here. One of our favorite ways to find things to do in a new city is by talking to the locals and this was one place we were told to visit by several kiwis while adventuring. Including a nice lady we meet on the bus who gave us several tips and suggestions on places to go as well as our  awesome Airbnb host. So we knew this was a place we needed to check out.

So what is it? It is a 597 ft tall volcanic peak in Auckland that also has two parks – One Tree Hill and Cornwall Park which together form a total of 540 acres of public green space. It has lots of beautiful mature trees, animals, flowers, amazing 360 views from the top of the summit, as well as a historic cottage, a cafe, and an ice cream shop. The first thing we saw as we started our hike up towards the summit were cows not many people just lots of cows. We thought for a second that we must have picked a good day as we had read about the crowds. However, a bit further down the path we started to see the groups of people as well as a big area of land covered in cherry blossom trees. It was beautiful. There were tons of people stopped here taking photos, having picnics, and even what appeared to be professional photography sessions. We admired the trees for a while and took a couple photos then proceeded on our way to the top.

All of a sudden we heard them. YES!!! We had been waiting to see these little guys and we were not disappointed. They were EVERYWHERE!!! Big ones, small ones, old ones, new ones, red ones, blue ones, ok not red or blue but there really were so so many. It was awesome and the sounds they make are a combination of funny and cute. The first ones we saw were behind a fence so we just admired them from afar. Lots of fences here in New Zealand are electric fences so be careful! We didn’t have a Jurassic Park moment or anything like that we are just cautious when it comes to others people property. Most of them will have a sign somewhere that says electric fence but they aren’t always super visible so just be safe. As we continued on our way we noticed several different paths leading up to the summit on the hills not just the paved sidewalk leading up next to the street. Sean and Gaby being the most adventurous ones of us all decided they wanted to go up one of these dirt paths. Mireya and I decided to continue on the paved path and made it a race between us to see who could get to the top first.

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Mireya and I continued on the path and soon saw more sheep. Just walking around not inside of any kind of gate or anything. There were two adults and four babies. We wanted to try and pet them but they scampered off as soon as we got close. We admired them for a minuet then continued on our way and soon reached a big hill that had sheep all over it. We had to go and check it out closer. It was like an image out of a fairy tell. It really did feel magical somehow. All these sweet little fluffy sheep just hanging out on the steep cliffs of this open area. We could now see the summit and started to wonder if Gaby and Sean had already made it to the top but we did not see them. We also started to wonder if they had the right idea by climbing up the sides of the summit rather then take the paved path. I mean this seemed like a lot more fun. We talked to a couple who was walking around and asked if they knew if it was ok to climb up the hills to the top of the summit and they said “yes you go either way the question is do you think you can do it not can you do it”. I took this as a challenge, yeah we can do this! It’s not that steep, is it? I also really wanted to beat Sean and Gaby because I’m extremely competitive. So up we went.

A short while into the walk up the hill we realized just how steep it really was. It may not look it in the photos but it was extremely steep. How in the world do sheep do this?! This is insane!!! Mireya even question me on weather I thought this was actually a good idea. Of coarse this is a good idea! We are strong, this will help us win the race, what the hell have I gotten us into. The sheep had done it so I was sure we can do it too. So we proceeded up the hill and it was tough! It felt like we were walking sideways up a building in some spots. However , it was too late to back out now. I was gonna show that guy who said “the question is can you do it”! So up up up we go. We finally made it to the top and I seriously felt like Rocky!! We then found ourselves at a gate. At first I thought oh crap! We are about to have to go back down this hill and I even thought for a moment about just rolling down it. That would probably be so much faster and easier as well as probably somewhat less dangerous then trying to walk down we would just be covered in sheep poop. Luckily as I stood there pondering this idea and picturing Mireya and I rolling down this hill and taking out sheep along the way, I see Sean and Gaby coming down a turn on the path that we could see off to the side of where the gate was. Yes…they beat us. They had already been to the top and came back down to find us because we were taking too long.

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Sean and Gaby came over to the fence and just let themselves in then proceeded to tell us they won. I was happy to know that we would not have to walk back down this hill and was excited to see the top of the summit. We continued along the path less taken by going through a few fences and we could see that lots of people take these paths. I’m still not 100% certain it is allowed but we did see several people on these paths and they all said it was ok. You just have to be sure to close the gate behind you so that the animals do not get out. We saw some awesome things along the that we would have missed if we had just taken the sidewalk. Here are just a few of the things we saw;  a bench that overlooked the hill we just hiked up, someone had made a sign at the bottom of one of the other hills proposing to their love, as well as amazing views of the sea and city.

We made it to the top and we were happy and proud of ourselves that we did it. However the top of the summit was not the best part of this trip for us. It was the fun we had pretending to be sheep.

Keeping our Fall Tradition Alive Overseas

Keeping our Fall Tradition Alive Overseas

One of our favorite things to do in Oklahoma in October was go to pumpkin patches/farms. We enjoyed it so much we actually had Gabriela’s first birthday party at a pumpkin patch and it was so fun! It was really a big tradition for our family to do this every year and we wanted to try and keep some of our traditions alive while traveling. However, because it is Spring in New Zealand in October finding a pumpkin patch – let alone pumpkins was impossible. We did however find several farms and after a little research we found one that seemed to have everything we were looking for including; pony rides, nursery animals you could pet, a maze, and tractor rides. It cost $18 for adults, and $15 for children aged 5-14. You can also get a family pass for any five people for $70. This price includes everything inside the farm from horses/ponies rides, the tractor ride, and one container of feed per person. Another reason we chose this farm was that it was close to another location we wanted to visit so we decided to make a day trip out of it and go to both. For more information and specific times check out their website here.

A short 30 min ride later we arrived at the farm. The first thing you do is wash your hands before you go in so you don’t get the animals sick and then you head back to the petting area where you can hold and pet bunnies, mice, and guinea pigs. You then head back to the nursery animals and get to see calves, baby lamas, and more. They all seemed very happy and well taken care of do however watch out for the lamas they have spit. You then start working your way through the farm and have your choice of which way you want to go. We chose a tractor ride next. We found the driver to be super friendly, knowledgeable, and energetic. He told us lots of information about the farm as well as some of the animals and their names as we passed them by. We then proceeded to walk through the rest of the farm where we saw a peacock, lots of birds, goats, sheep, donkeys, lamas and more. There really are some interesting, funny, and sweet animals on this farm. There was one donkey in particular that was the sweetest little guy. He let us pet him and even leaned on my husband Sean for a hug.

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The pigs in the pig pen are hilarious!!! They have bangs that made me seriously laugh out loud. At first I was worried when I saw them laying there in the mud with their tongues sticking out but then I saw his belly move up and down as he snored. It was like seeing the pigs on angry birds in real life. It was so fun watching all the animals come and go especially the roasters. We also enjoyed watching the different personalities of the animals on the farm as well as the children’s and parents excitement. I mean seriously look at this pig!!! I might have to make this pig into some kind of meme he is just the funniest.

We took a break at the sandpit/playground and had our lunch. You can bring your own lunch or eat at the cafe located next door to the farm. We are on a tight budget so we made sure to pack our lunch as well as lots of snacks and water. They have picnic tables in the farm for you to sit and enjoy your lunch near the play area, just know that the birds will probably want to share your food. There are signs on most of the animals pins that say feed me or do not feed me so be sure to pay attention. After playing it was time for a horse ride and probably Gabriela’s favorite part of the farm. She was big enough that she got to ride a horse and even got to pick out the one she wanted. She picked one by the name of Honey and she was beautiful! She reminded us of Spirit from the Disney movie so we renamed her to Spirit. We took one last walk around the farm to say goodbye to all the animals. We highly recommend Kiwi Valley Farms if you are in Auckland and looking for a fun day activity. We all loved it so much we added it to our top 20 things to do in Auckland. Which you can find here if you are looking for more ideas on what to do while in Auckland (and surrounding areas).

After a fun filled afternoon at the farm we set off on to our next adventure for the day-Karekare Waterfall & Black Sand Beach. We are working on that post soon so be sure to check back as it was probably one of the most stunning places we visited while in Auckland.

 

Let’s go to the Mall, Today!!!

Let’s go to the Mall, Today!!!

Channeling my inner Robin Sparkles (If you haven’t watched How I Met Your Mother you need to asap Sean and I are Marshall and Lily in a lot of ways) or my teenager years here. I have to be honest as an adult I am not a huge fan of the Mall. I would much rather shop at bargain clothing stores like TJMax, Target, or a good second hand shop. Oh how I love browsing thrift stores for vintage and unique clothing and one of kind items. Throw bargain price in and I’m in heaven. Stay focused Lorena, back to the mall. This being said we went at the mall several times while in Auckland. We probably visited the mall more times in that one month then we had in the past year. Why!? Below are the top 5 reasons we found ourselves at the mall at least once a week.

  • We have and are traveling with our 18 year old daughter who loves to shop
  • It gave us something to do on the rainy days (there were a lot of these)
  • We were curious what they would be like compared to the malls in the USA
  • They have grocery stores inside the mall so I can get the grocery shopping done while the teenager shops and its a win win situation
  • They also have several restaurants, a movie theater, and playground so it really was a good time for everyone

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So how did the malls here in New Zealand compare to the malls in our hometown of Oklahoma? They are similar in a lot of ways and have some our of favorites stores like MAC, H&M, Cotton, and more. However, they differ in that they also have grocery stores, liquor stores, bowling alleys, arcades, bookstores, toy stores, and lots of outdoor areas to enjoy. They really have something for everyone and every occasion. Some of the malls are probably the same size in square footage as the malls we had back home and other’s are a lot larger. I really enjoyed the way the malls where all kind of fragmented yet were all one building (most of the time) by the use of courtyards, outdoor seating for restaurants, and play areas for children. 

New Lynn Mall was the closest mall so we found ourselves here the most. It was roughly a 5 minute bus ride from our airbnb in Auckland and had a countdown-grocery store, a movie theater, and play area that Gabriela really enjoyed. It was sort of basic in that it was a big building with lots of shops inside and a small courtyard that housed the kid play area with restaurants surrounding the perimeter with outside seating so parents could grab a bite to eat and a drink while the kids played. I thought this was pretty clever and I will be keeping this in mind for work-design purposes in the future.

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SkyWorld  is the next mall we will discuss and is one of the malls that we just happened to stumble across while walking the streets in search of ice cream. We were blown away!! If the Jetsons had a mall this would for sure be it. It had a very futuristic look to it and it truly felt like you had been transported in time. If I was a teenager this would have been my spot. It had six different levels that housed shops, a movie theater, an arcade, two bowling alleys, and restaurants. It was truly and overload on the senses and the people watching was reason enough to spend several hours here. There was such a huge diversity from people to fashion it was really incredible. This was more of an entertainment center then it was a shopping mall but it did have a few stores so we are going to classify it as a mall. We highly recommend visiting because it is so different and  you just have to ride the escalators and rocket elevator. 

Britomart was our very first mall/shopping area in Auckland and again we accidentally found it while exploring downtown on foot. Its crazy how much you see when you walk everywhere. We miss so much when we are in our cars zipping from one place to another. Britomart is a very high end shopping district with lots of name brand stores and a very sophisticated feel. The design and layout of the area, shops, and restaurants make spending the day here easy. Most of the people we saw were in business attire and looking sharp as hell! People shopping on their lunch breaks or taking coffee breaks to chat. To be honest we felt a little out of place in our jeans, sneakers, t-shirts, and superhero costumes (Gaby-who actually was probably the only one who felt completely comfortable) but we enjoyed ourselves none the less. The shops and patios/courtyards all have a clean and modern feel. The lights strung between the shops also give it a very fun and romantic type of flare. This was not only our first shopping experience in Auckland but also the first place we saw the use of green walls which we absolutely love. If we were living and working full-time office jobs you could probably find us here having coffee in our all black attire (the unofficial but sort of official architect wardrobe). It is a fun and attractive spot and definitely worth a look if you are downtown or in need of some designer duds. 

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Sylvia Park mall was one of the last malls we checked out and once again stumbled across in search for food. We like to eat and sometimes when we are out exploring we just google restaurants nearby and go based on what we feel like eating, the photos they have, and the reviews. This mall was also very modern in design and had lots of name brand stores. It had a huge kids area in the center and with trampoline jumps, zorb balls, and more. You have to pay in order to do any of these things and we aren’t really down with paying for these kinds of activities with our tight travel budget so Gaby was a little bummed but when she heard the word tacos she got over it pretty quick. This was our first (but would not be our last) time to have tacos in New Zealand. We went to a restaurant called Mexico and enjoyed some really great food in a pretty cool  atmosphere. So if you want to get some shopping done while having your kids work on their trampoline skills this is definitely the place for you.

 

Overall thoughts: 

  • The mall is actually not a bad place to hang
  • The malls here in NZ have so much more then just shopping to offer its customers
  • The architecture and design alone are reason to pay them a visit
  • If you have a teenager go ahead and take them it will actually not be as bad as you think (if you are anything like me and dread the mall)
  • The food is pretty good 
  • Exploring on foot really is a great way to explore a city
  • We find the coolest places on accident when we are looking for food

Manukau heads Lighthouse

Manukau heads Lighthouse

Our first big adventure in Strawberry (our new/used car)!! We had explored quite a bit of Auckland on foot but having a car meant we could now explore even further. For our first big road/day trip we chose to go to Manukau Heads Lighthouse (pronounced Ma-nu-cow)  located atop Awhitu Peninsula . It was only a few hours drive from where we were staying in Auckland and from our research it looked amazing. So we packed our bags for a day trip which included – lots of water, snacks, blankets, coats, our cameras, and umbrellas and began our adventure for the day.

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The drive was amazing…well it was amazing for those of us that were not driving. We saw sheep, cows, horses, incredible rolling green hills, and the sea. Sean on the other hand had to keep both eyes on the road (there are even road signs that say something along the lines of yes our scenery is beautiful but if you want to look pull over or keep your eyes on the road-stay safe) so he was unable to fully appreciate the scenic views on the way. Not to mention the stress of driving in a foreign country on the opposite side of the road and car then you are used to. Lots of the streets in New Zealand are very narrow and lots of times you are driving with mountain on one side and cliff on the other. We were still trying to get the hang of driving here so its safe to say that we got honked at A LOT and passed several times on our way to our final destination. We will be writing a post all about driving in New Zealand soon. We have some really good tips that include what to do when you get to one way bridges, what certain signs mean, and what to do at all the roundabouts.

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So a little background info to explain why we decided on this as our first trip. Sean proposed to me by a lighthouse in Hawaii and they will forever have a special place in our hearts. Not only because they remind us of that magical day when he got down on one knee and asked for my hand in marriage but also because they remind us of the day we chose each other. The day we made the decision to stick by one another, to be each others light when things are dark, and that we are adventurers. Not many people out there get swept away in the middle of the night on a surprise trip to Hawaii to be proposed to next to a lighthouse. For all of these reasons and more lighthouses will forever be special to us and this one is no different.

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It really was an amazing little lighthouse and the view was spectacular!!! I wish we had gotten there earlier so we could have spent the day. We hadn’t thought about there being a closing time and therefore kind of just decided midday that we would go search for it. We got there with about an hour to spend walking the track, taking in the views, and exploring and learning all about the lighthouse. There are only a few lighthouses in New Zealand that can be fully explored by visitors. You can climb the tower and see the prisms of the original 3rd order dioptric drum lens or take a walk around the Lightkeeper’s balcony and pretend to be a lightkeeper just as we did. For more interesting facts about the lighthouse (as well as learn about their hours of operation) please visit their website here. The Auckland Council even featured one of our photos on their Instagram page which was fun you can find it here.

Some tips for your trip

  • Make sure to check the hours the lighthouse is open; weather and holidays could affect hours
  • Make sure to pack a coat and umbrella – it can get pretty windy up there
  • If you plan wisely pack a lunch it would be a great place to sit, enjoy some lunch, and take in the views
  • Take some cash – it is free to enter and enjoy but donations are greatly appreciated and help keep the lighthouse maintained
  • Wear comfortable shoes and cloths as you will have to go up 120 stairs to get to the lighthouse and more if you want to go inside and get to the lightkeeper balcony

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