KEWL: Franz Joseph Glacier

Whenever we’re asked what our favourite part of New Zealand is, Laurel and I usually ponder for a moment and both say “Franz Joseph glacier!” It’s definitely (and literally) the coolest thing we’ve done here.

And… also one of the more expensive things we did. You can brave the glacier yourself, if you have the proper gear and more importantly, the experience. But since I don’t know too many people who have carved their way into a glacier, I’m going to go with the fact that you, like us, would have to pay for a guided “tour.”

There are a couple of options for guides, but we went with Franz Joseph Glacier Guides. For $123 NZ, you and a group of people you’ve just met head up into a glacier for half a day. The best part? The glacier moves every day, so most of the time, the person guiding you has never been in that particular part as well. As we walked through, our guide actually hacked out part of the ice to make room for us.

As you’re on a strict 4.5 hour deadline (and navigating your way up and down a dangerous block of ice on top of dangerous rocks), the guides frown a bit at too many pictures and would prefer you to keep moving. So.. watch out for overzealous Swedish dudes who are picture happy. Luckily the price includes a warm jacket and crampons that you can use to hit the Swede in the head with.

It also includes “free” admission into the hot pools down the road, which minus the bees is pretty much the best thing to do after taking a long walk up a block of ice.

This is a must do – but as a warning, they are only open during certain parts of the year, usually just Summer (so Winter for the Northern Hemisphere).  – Jennifer

PS – Laurel wants everyone to know that going through the glacier, she felt like Mr. Freeze in his ice palace and she was totally like “All right everyone: Chill”.

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KEWL: Punakaiki Pancake Rocks

When driving around a country without a set itinerary, you often stumble upon things worth seeing. We happened upon the Punakaiki (say that three times fast) Pancake Rocks while heading down the west coast of the South Island, and even with the various tour buses crowding the place, it was a satisfactory pit stop.

The car park is a short 20-minute walk to various viewpoints looking out over the aptly named and bizarre-looking pancake rocks and the foamy ocean beyond. If your timing is good (per the tides), you’ll get a show, as water rushing beneath the rock formations builds pressure and creates small geysers.

It’s worth a stop to see rocks that are truly unique, even if you miss the geysers like we did. Plus, they serve pancakes at the gift shop.*  -Laurel

*I cannot vouch for the quality of the Punakaiki pancakes. Only the rocks.

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NOM: West Coast Brewery

Soon after we had arrived down on the South Island goals became clear: We were to taste as much beer as possible. Even if it meant going off our desired route to do so. West Coast Brewery is located in Westport, a small town about 100 kms north of Greymouth, 1o kms off our desired route, and as far as we could tell, the highlight of the town.

Laurel snuck in this picture when Dave's back was turned.

For $10, you can taste up to five beers at this small, homely brewery set near the middle of town. And who gives them to you? None other than the brewer himself, Dave. A slightly awkward, muscular dude, Dave sat down and talked to us about beer making. After much prompting, we eventually got the full story of West Coast Brewery (and himself) out of him – he had been brewing beer for some years, starting in England and moving on to Australia, eventually appling for the job at West Coast. When he started there as a brewer, according to him at least, the beers weren’t any good. He pretty much revitalised the entire company.

I don’t know how it was before, but I can attest to the fact that he did a damn good job. The beers at West Coast are all delicious. The company is known for the Green Fern, an organic lager that was light, with a perfect combination of hops and malt. West Coast Black is a good, standard dark beer with a nice chocolatey beginning and a surprisingly refreshing ending. The only one we were a little turned off by was the West Coast Wheat, a German style Hefeweisen with a weird banana flavour. Definitely not for us, but I can see why others might enjoy it.

West Coast Brewery is worth going off the path for. And although Dave is a bit awkward, he’s still nice and willing to talk about his yummy pints.

Oh, and if you enjoy beer, take a minute to check out our friend Dan’s awesome beer site: Raise1Glass.com. He knows way, way more about beer than I do. – Jennifer

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FML: Sandflies

Warning: This will make you itch.

When you’re traveling around New Zealand, there are no real dangers, at least animal wise. The highest member of the food chain (minus humans) are opossums. But there is a whole different type of creature you have to deal with: Sandflies. Sandflies are reminiscent of sand fleas in Florida, but pack a helluva lot worse bite. They’re also a bit of a cultural phenomenon – according to Maori legend, these sandflies were able to revive the dead hero Ha-tupatu. And Captain Cook wrote about them in his journals.

As they weren’t exactly described to us, it took us a long time to figure out what they were. They’re as small as gnats but can bite as big as mosquitos. Most of the time their bites resemble about the size of chickenpox. Additionally, it’s only the females that bite, needing blood to produce eggs.

When we were making our way from Abel Tasman to Westport to taste some beer, we decided to stop over and spend the night at a free DOC campsite in an old railway station – Kawatiri Junction. We were tired from our long walk, and just wanted some quick grub and a good night’s sleep. Once we pulled up, we settled on a spot underneath a tree and hopped out to make some dinner on a nearby picnic table.

Within seconds of opening our can of soup, turning on the burner and sitting down, a swarm of bees and sandflies came straight for us, going after our faces, legs, arms – everywhere they could reach. We constantly jumped up and down, blew on them, and did everything we could to keep them from biting us. It was a lot like that part in Fantastic Mr. Fox when they’re all dancing in the supermarket. Only, replace the happiness with sheer agony and terror.

When our soup was approximately room temperature, we gave up, quickly gathered everything up and ran to our car. We sat in the back, huddled in the corners and slopping the food in our mouths. Inside the car, about 100 to 150 sandflies made it in and bees were buzzing around on top.

Here’s some advice about sandflies: they’re stupid. They go for the window so they can get outside, and all you have to do to kill them is smash them. Which is what we did, every single day in the car for about 15 minutes before going to sleep and before driving the next morning. This night, however, we were probably at it for about an hour.  Also, they hate wind. Blowing on them doesn’t work, unfortunately, but if it’s going to be a particularly windy day when you’re somewhere you want to walk (i.e. Abel Tasman, where one of the Bays is actually called “Sandfly Bay”) – take advantage of it, but still wear insect repellent.

Somehow, we made it out unscathed, but many more fights remained before us, and we didn’t always make it out so lucky.  – Jennifer

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KEWL: Abel Tasman Coastal Track

Abel Tasman National Park is a Kiwi holiday-maker’s dream. Bay after bay of beautiful, uncrowded beaches, reachable by boat, kayak, and nice short walks or longer treks. The full coastal track is a 3-5 day affair, with huts available that must be booked in advance. Unfortunately, we did not have 3-5 days for affairs, so we opted for a day trip. We booked a jet boat which took us from Marahau at the south end of the park up to Bark Bay. The weather was beautiful and the ride was brisk, and after wading ashore we were eager to start our walk and see more of the park.

The track is true to it’s name, hugging the coast all the way with some amazing views. It’s all-around low stress, with fairly minimal ups and downs. At times you’re right on the beach, at times looking down at ocean views, and other times crossing bridges over creeks and gullies.

The water is crystal clear blue and, if you’re lucky, the sky will be too. I could have easily spent a few days there, moseying along the track and stopping at choice beaches and sights. We trekked about 25kms and it made a nice long day walk that ended with a family of partridges crossing our path. Perfect.  -Laurel


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NOM: Founders Brewery

Nelson is a nice, quiet town with loads of confusing roundabouts, wearable art, and most importantly, breweries. When we stopped through, we only had time (and as this was the same day as our Marlborough winery tours, stamina) to go to Founders Brewery, which is nestled in Founders Heritage Park.

The LP guide said that admission into the park was free if you were only going to the brewery. However, when we stepped up to the plate, we ended up having a lengthy “discussion” with the women working the counter about how incorrect that was. It actually costs $7 to get into the park and an additional $5 to try three out of their five beers. As Laurel and I were only in Nelson because we wanted that beer, we decided to pay for entrance into the park (at a discounted rate because we were students – that is to say, we had student IDs without expiry dates…), and perhaps just have a pint a piece when we got to the brewery.

Founders Heritage Park

The park itself is…strange. Desperately clinging to the olden days, it is filled with loads of buildings containing mannequins and old paraphernalia. I don’t want to sound smarmy here, but we did find it extremely weird and slightly bemusing. Once we reached the Founders Brewery and Cafe (a short walk from the entrance), we hopped inside and considered our options. Instead of each having a $5 tasting, or each drinking a pint, we settled on sharing the $10 tasting, which included five of the beers on the roster: Blonde, Golden Ale, Red Head, Long Black and Generation Ale.

Founder’s Brewery is run by a father and his two sons, and was the first organic beer in New Zealand. We were big fans of the Generation Ale, which is spicy with a hint of hops, and the Long Black, which basically tasted like coffee.  We were really disappointed in the pale ales, the Blonde and Golden. Although I’m not particularly a fan of pale ales to begin with, these two choices really lacked in taste.  As for the Red Head, it is a good, creamy amber beer – if it’s something you prefer, you’ll love theirs.

The Cafe also offers a wide variety of delicious looking food, and if we hadn’t been on a budget, we would have definitely partaken in our share of goodies.

So, is the brewery worth the extra $7 to enter the park? I would say yes, but I love drinking beer from the source. I honestly wish we had made our entrance fee stretch further, but we were on a tight schedule.  But you might be better off trying the beers on tap at Free House. – Jennifer

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NOM: Marlborough Wineries (and Breweries!)

Ahh, Marlborough, easily New Zealand’s most famous wine country and home to some of the world’s best Sauvignon Blanc.  Besides beautiful countryside, Marlborough rests in and around Blenheim, a town with a charm all its own.  Our first taste of fresh Marlborough wines was after driving back up from our day trip to Kaikoura. We stopped in Blenheim’s I-site, and I grabbed a $2 horrid coffee from the machine, much needed because the entire trip up my head bobbed back and forth as I attempted to sleep. After we gave the map a quick once over, we separated our Marlborough wine tour into two days. The first afternoon, we stopped by Bouldevines and Huia, and the next day we made our way over to St. Clair’s and Cloudy Bay. We finished our morning (that’s right, morning) with beers at Moa Brewery. Unlike Martinborough, a majority of the tastings in Marlborough are free.    -Jennifer

Bouldevines

Located in Vines Village, a row of quaint boutique shops selling local confectionaries, crafts and more, Bouldevines was a nice start to our tour of Marlborough. Although the drinking age is 18, we were ID’d; apparently we looked quite young in our bathing suits and unkempt appearance. Much like the Martinborough wineries, we were able to sample everything offered by the winery. This time, however, it was free. As for the wine, they were all smooth, and a majority had strong hints of fruit. I quite enjoyed the Riesling, which is normally too sweet for me, but I enjoyed the taste of apricots. Laurel was a fan of the Pinot Gris, which had hints of granny smith apple.  -Jennifer

Huia

We jumped back in the car and with twenty minutes left before closing, rushed to Huia, a small, sustainable winery off the main road. As with a lot of wines and beers around New Zealand (i.e. Tui and Moa), Huia is named after a bird indigenous to the country. Besides the delicious wines, the biggest upside of the winery is their adddooorrable yellow tasting room (see above). As we waltzed in near closing, the girl working the counter was a bit rushed with us. Instead of having us sample each one slowly, she let us pick and choose what we wanted. Although she obviously wanted to leave, the more we talked to her, the more she got excited about the wines she was offering. As for the wines, they were all as refreshing as her enthusiasm. Laurel really enjoyed their Pinot Noir, and we both loved their Hunky Dory, a Sauvignon Blanc with a wonderful balance of gooseberry and passionfruit.  -Jennifer

St. Clair’s

St. Clair’s opened at 9am, so we picked there first. Around 10am, we pulled into a cute but very elegant winery. We ordered a savory muffin upon entering, and the staff seemed overall perplexed by our presence. The muffin was good, and the patio out back is lovely, but the service was brisk. I did a wine tasting and Jennifer abstained, partly due to her being the designated driver, partly due to the staff’s impatience with us. I was rushed through a wine tasting which consisted of an older woman having me pick what I wanted to taste, quickly pouring a sip and hovering over to move me on to the next try. Luckily, she didn’t charge me (they usually charge a small tasting fee), but I still felt uneasy about the experience. The wine was good, especially the whites, but I honestly can’t tell you much since I chugged my sips and left.  -Laurel

Cloudy Bay

We then went on to Cloudy Bay and, to our relief, had the exact opposite experience. The lady working the counter was friendly, and offered water and information freely. We learned quite a bit about how their wines are made, the winery itself, and each variety. They have a large, beautiful area out back for relaxing, and the wine was especially good, too. We tried every variety on offer, and our favorites included the Sav, Te Koko, and their Rose, which was soooo goooood and available in extremely limited quantities. I could easily hang out here all day.  -Laurel

Moa Brewery

After our morning excursions in the land of all things grape, we moved on to the wonderful world of wheat. We had just recently learned about moas in Te Papa, so I was excited for dorky reasons. The brewery was started by Josh Scott, son of Allan Scott winemakers, so it’s no surprise the beer has a unique taste and a smooth finish. At the brewery, we chatted with the cool bartender, who ended up being from good ole North Carolina. My favourite is the hoppy and delicious Five Hop Winter Ale, which we actually didn’t try when we were there. They have an even better limited edition version that was aged for two months in chardonnay barrels! They also just released a Breakfast Beer, which combines the appeal of champagne breakfasts and, well, beer. I have nothing but love for this brewery.  -Jennifer

I’ll just add that Moa was tasty, my favorite being the Triple. Tastings are about $5 I believe, but he let us try 7 kinds including a cider and share it. They also have a super sweet black lab named Molly.  -Laurel

Overall, Marlborough was a nice halfway point in our journey around New Zealand. We didn’t drink much in the three weeks we were sleeping in a car, but the two wine boroughs definitely kicked off our love of New Zealand’s many wineries and breweries.

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KEWL: Kaikoura

Kaikoura was our first real stop on the South Island, and it was a beautiful introduction to the sights of the South Island. 180kms north of Christchurch, it’s a small peninsula that attracts ocean wildlife and is just plain picturesque.

We had one day in Kaikoura, so we opted to do the coastline walk and see the whole thing by foot. The walk starts at the iSite where you can leave your car, and follows along the black pebbly beaches over to a busy seal colony before climbing up along the coast into pasture with some spectacular views. You gradually make your way back down along the other side of the peninsula before cutting over and closing the loop.

moo.

It was a nice few hour hike, with moderate ups and downs, and very well maintained. It was a beautiful, peaceful day, and we ended it by hanging out on the beach. There’s also dolphins here, and although we didn’t see any that day, we have friends that recently swam with about 300 of them here. Check out that there peninsular.  -Laurel


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KEWL: Cook Strait Ferry

 

Cook Strait

The Cook Strait Ferry is an inevitable part of visiting New Zealand if you choose to go to both islands (and don’t have lots of extra cash for flying).  There are two choices: Bluebridge and Interislander.  Price wise, both are about the same, but it depends on when you’re travelling – Bluebridge prices stay the same throughout the year and Interislander prices go up and down depending on the time of the year.

Besides pure, beautiful, open ocean, the trip between the two islands encompasses the almost entirely impassable Cook Strait, a narrow stretch of ocean bombarded by cliffs on either side. The Cook Strait is extremely dangerous, but also very cool to pass through (especially now that the ferries have it down to a science).  The ferry ride lasts about 3-4 hours, with the trip through the Strait lasting around an hour, sometimes moving slower. On our ride down, the weather was absolutely fantastic, and we stood outside as we went through the Strait and near the top of the Marlborough Sounds. The piercingly blue water and open air makes you appreciate being in New Zealand.

As for the ferry choices, on the way down we chose the Interislander and on the way back, Bluebridge.  We found out right before leaving from a couple in Martinborough that the Interislander was the “fancy” ferry. Turns out the husband actually worked for Bluebridge, the other ferry option, so I’d say they were a bit biased. But biased or not, they were right. The interior of the Interislander and the quality of food were far superior to the Bluebridge ferry. However, the upside of Bluebridge was how comfortable the overall feel of the ferry was, especially the seats. Also, they showed free movies, whereas the Interislander only offered a movie at a cost. Overall, both ferries are good options – just got for the cheapest price! – Jennifer

 

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NOM: Ernesto

Wellington and I immediately bonded over our mutual love of something truly great: breakfast. They serve it in virtually every cafe here (and there are lots of cafes), and they serve it every day, all day long. Now That‘s what I’m talking about.

Ernesto, located on trendy Cuba Street, is no exception. We stopped for brunch, but once the sun sets, they serve dinner and drinks as well. The menu is Cuban slanted (as it is at many places in Wellington), with traditional breakfast options with nice twists and some pro baristas. Per our usual arrangement, we ordered some sweet, something savory, and split it down the middle.

Our savory item was a breakfast burrito filled with scrambled eggs, black bean chili and topped with salsa and sour cream. It was a nice size portion with nice flavors, but a little watery and needed a kick. The salsa was the highlight, and luckily there was plenty of it. Our sweet pick was the brioche french toast with apple and rhubarb compote, cream and granola sprinkled over top. The slice of brioche was nice and big and fluffy, and a bite with equal bits of brioche, fruit and cream was a nice sweet balance. It all needed to be a little warmer, and the apples weren’t quite tender enough, but it was still overall delicious.

The prices are directly in line with restaurants of it’s level in Wellington, and they seemed fair to us. The atmosphere is nice and homey, and the service was friendly enough, with some especially delicious coffee from that day’s barista. We’d recommend it as a nice place to pass away a late morning, and we’ll be back to try out the rest of their menu once the returns from our ponzi scheme start rolling in. Next on BRB NYC: how to pwn kiwis, and where 2 eat w ur $$$  -Laurel

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