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.


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.

New Zealand-Maungawhau/Mt. Eden

New Zealand-Maungawhau/Mt. Eden

Maungawhau / Mt. Eden

DSC00734-smallYES!!!! This is what I’m talking about Auckland! This was the first time we had explored Auckland and truly felt that we were in another country. We stopped at what would become one of our favorite coffee shops (Goodness Gracious Cafe) on our way to the top of the mountain and grabbed some much needed caffeine and snacks to give us superpowers to walk up the mountain. We did the fairly easy walk/hike or better yet tramp (this is what they call walks/hikes in New Zealand) up to the top and we were not disappointed.

At 643 feet tall, Maungawhau or Mount Eden is the highest volcano in Auckland and just one of the 48 volcanic cones. Once you reach the top you can enjoy panoramic views of the city as well as see the large 160 foot deep stunning bowl-like crater. The Ngati Whatua tribe is the guardian of the mountain and you can join a guided walk – Tāmaki Hikoi – of the mountain and its surrounds, led by a tribe member.  You can visit the Auckland Council website here for more information.

We unfortunately did not get to do this because I actually didn’t know anything about it until we had already went. Lots of times we kind of decide to do things spur of the moment so we don’t get a lot of pre-planning done beforehand. One of the main reasons for this is because it has rained (a lot) here in Auckland so if it stops raining we are out! Where we go no one really knows till we just kind of show up. However learn from my mistakes and do the guided tour. It sounds AWESOME! I was already blown away just reading about the place but to actually get a guided tour from someone who knows the history would have been pretty amazing.

It took us about an 1 hr to do the 1.6 k walk to the top from the coffee shop and if we had been better prepared we could have easily spent a day there. Its just one of those places that you just want to hang out at. It was a bit eerie yet it is also beautiful and relaxing. To think that this was once an active volcano and is now covered in this insanely majestic green flowing grass is a strange feeling. Also the size really makes you feel quite small. I think this is good, it is good for us to know how small we really are. It shows us that we aren’t the center of this universe and earth is a big beautiful place. So lets get out there and explore the hell out of it. In a good way. Look, learn, and respect.

This is what we always strive to do on all of our adventures. To learn new things about this world and ourselves, to see and experience places and cultures with open hearts and minds, and to above all respect the places and people that we are so lucky to visit and meet along our journey. We also want to inspire others to get out there, explore, and have fun! You don’t have to take a trip to the other side of the world, beautiful things can be found in your backyard. Go somewhere in your hometown that you have never been. I bet you will be surprised by what you find.



Auckland, New Zealand

Auckland, New Zealand

Our First Month Living in New Zealand


Our First month living in New Zealand was spent in Auckland exploring the city and surrounding areas. We loved the city life and think this was the best place to spend our first month living abroad. We were really quite surprised by how developed the city was. I guess in some ways we all kind of expected to get off the plane and see the rolling hills and mountains of New Zealand but instead we were greeted by a hip city life. Full of tall buildings, billboards, shopping, streets, and businesses. Okay, I have to be completely honest here. At first we were a little disappointed I mean seriously…where are the hobbits!? We came here with hopes of seeing and experiencing something totally different. However, now that we have been here for a while and thought about all the things we have done in the past month I really do think Auckland was a great first stop for our family on this journey.

The main reason for is because it made the adjustment easier in that it was so similar to the cities in the United States and what my family was used to. We didn’t just go from living in a city to living in the bush. It really gave us a chance to adjust to living in a different country, being so far away from our family and friends, and time to just figure out this new life of ours. We utilized public transportation and walked a lot during our time in Auckland. I swear I lost at least 5 lbs in our time there just from walking because you better believe I was eating all the foods! Check out our top picks for places to eat here.

The public transportation is really great and if we had planned to just stay or live in Auckland I think that is probably the best way to get around the city. Not only do you get exercise by walking places you also get to truly experience the place you are in and discover things you probably wouldn’t have if you were driving. We were so impressed with the public transportation in Auckland that we wrote a separate blog post all about the transportation options here.

Here are a few of the most exciting things we did while in Auckland;

We are in the process of writing about all the adventures above and hope to those completed for you all soon so you can read in depth details about all the above adventures. We also made a top 20 list of things to do in Auckland here.

Living here is definitely different then living in Norman, Oklahoma but it is also the same in a lot of ways. We are still a normal family and we still do normal everyday things like go grocery shopping, get haircuts, cook meals at home to save money, go to the movies, do laundry, and play board games. We are seeing new things everyday and learning about the world and ourselves in the process. Over the next 8 months we will continue to explore the island of New Zealand. Traveling from one place to another one month at at time in order to truly experience the area. How will it change our family? What will we learn about traveling, our locations, and ourselves? Stay tuned to find out.





Toi o Tāmaki – NZ’s most extensive collection of national and international art.


The Auckland Art Galley was a fantastic time for me and my family while visiting Auckland. We are all art lovers so when our daughter (Mireya) said she wanted to go to the art gallery we were thrilled! The prices were reasonable, and the experience was well worth the price they charged us. All New Zealand residents are free of charge which is so great for the local people of New Zealand. If you are a resident and have not been stop reading this and GO! Then let us know how our experience compared to yours. Children under 14 are free of charge so we did not have to pay for Gabriela and Mireya was also free because of her work visa (which we brought along just in case-they did ask to see it). Sean and I paid $20NZD each to get it. So, for less than $27 USD the four of us enjoyed a full day at the museum. There is plenty to see and you can easily spend an entire day there. They have a café and outdoor seating if you get hungry and need a break.


It was founded in 1888, it remains New Zealand’s largest visual arts experience. It really does have something for everyone. Sculptures, paintings, historical pieces and local art, were just some of the things you can expect to find on your visit to the gallery. Our five-year-old daughter Gabriela loved the Māori Portraits and enjoyed reading all about the history of the people. She also got to see her first Pablo Picasso piece in real life which was a great treat as we had been studying his art in our school lessons. Our older daughters Mireya loved the classical paintings from around the world. Sean really enjoyed the Gordon Walters exhibit and it was interesting to read about Gordon and find out that he is one New Zealand’s most influential modern artists. I enjoyed the Collective Women exhibit and loved sharing this experience with our daughters.

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Let’s take look at the architecture.

The renovation of the building in 2011 resulted in an award for the building as World Building of the Year at the World Architecture Festival (2013). FJMT (Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp), Archimedia, and Auckland City Council worked together on the design for the new art gallery. This project is one of the largest projects of its kind in New Zealand and has won multiple awards for the design as well as been featured in several articles and magazines.


First impressions always leave a mark and this building did a great job of doing that. We were warmly greeted by a series of large kauri wood columns and taken under the almost tree like roof structure into the museum. The warmth of the material choices was continued inside and drew the visitor into the entry and front gallery space. The tree like roof which also extends inside the space is a great connection to the nearby Albert Park and made the space feel open, light, and airy. Upon entry the material choices and detail became cleaner and allowing the art inside the building to remain the main focus. The curtain wall design around the building allows natural light to enter the space in a beautiful way and also helps establish the connection from the surrounding area into the gallery. This simple yet elegant design was continued in the glass railings on the staircases.

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Sean and I are well educated in architecture and have worked and studied it for over the past 13years so we can be pretty picky and critical when it comes to design, but this art gallery was truly one of the best we have seen in the world. Around every corner there was a different exhibit and an interesting yet subtle architectural detail that would catch our eyes. We could be seen photographing door details, archways, and stairs which to most people might seem strange (as we did get some weird looks) but this building was truly a work of art in itself. We have visited several art museums in our time and have been to some where the architect seems to have lost sight of what the building was meant for (displaying art) and focused on solely making the building the piece of art. This is were we believe many architectural projects fail. They forget the purpose of the building and focus to much on creating their own masterpieces. If you fail, your user your design fails, it really is that simple.

This building does not do that in fact it does the opposite. It highlights all the art on display and does not take away from the fact that this is the purpose of the building. It also does a splendid job of not only connecting itself to the surrounding area, it is connected to the history of the area. This can be seen throughout the museum in several different places. The use of the local kauri wood is one great example of this. They even had pieces of the original building on display as part of the exhibit and it was beautiful.

They also commissioned three Māori artists to create artworks for permanent display in the gallery. The first piece is the one which can be seen upon entering the gallery and really did catch our eye. It is a piece by local artist Arnold Manaaki Wilson & Anthony Wilson. It is the carvings/design located on the top of each of the three columns on the forecourt. The other two pieces can be found throughout the gallery and they all connect the gallery to the history of its location and its people.


If in Auckland, do not miss the opportunity to see this great art gallery.

Top 20 Restaurants in Auckland, NZ

Top 20 Restaurants in Auckland, NZ

For all you Foodies out there

If you are visiting Auckland and want to know the best spots for a good meal look no further. We lived in Auckland for one month and compiled this list for all our fellow foodies who look at food first when deciding on a trip. These are in no particular order as we had a hard time deciding which was number one and so forth. So we decided not to stress about the order and just give you our top 20.

  1. The Shires Restaurant & Bar-Probably our most favorite restaurant in Auckland
  2. Ramen Station-By New Lynn Mall
  3. The Ancient Mariner – Kiwi As Fish and Chips
  4. Okra Espresso Lounge-Featured photo is from this place it was so so good!
  5. Monsoon Thai Restaurant-Devonport
  6. Des Traditions-Mt. Roskill
  7. New Windsor Bakehouse-Meat pies, pastries, and a great cup of coffee
  8. The Kapiti Store-Ice Cream in the CBD
  9. Sals Pizza
  10. Burger Fuel
  11. Nandos
  12. Ben & Jerry’s- Ice Cream in Mission Bay
  13. Goodness Gracious Cafe
  14. BMK – Bun Mee Kiwi
  15. Mexico Food & Liquor – Ellerslie
  16. Voila Cafe
  17. Mexican Cafe
  18. Hansan
  19. White’s & Co. for coffee
  20. Santos Coffee Limited
Here we are enjoying our first taste of NZ ice cream from The Kapiti Store in the CBD