KEWL: Te Papa Museum

We had wet and windy weather during our first visit to Wellington, so an obvious activity during such conditions was the large and free Museum of New Zealand Te Papa. Sitting on the harbor, the museum entertained us all day with it’s over-stuffed floors of natural history and interactive exhibits.

Unsurprisingly, Jennifer and I love interactive things, so it goes without saying that we came close to pressing, opening, sliding, and whatevering everything we could in that place. They’ve worked hard to make their exhibits a feast for the senses, and although it can be a bit overwhelming at times, they’ve done just that.

Permanent exhibits cover topics spanning prehistoric and tectonic to painting and pottery. There are some excellent Maori history and art exhibits, and one covers the migration of the original Maori settlers. We learned things!

Highlights for us included an art exhibit boasting New Zealand art from Te Papa’s collection, with representation of some of the country’s great painters mixed in with newer talents. The Maori art and history exhibits are worth visiting on their own, and if you have little ones (or little at heart, like us) that are interested in natural history, there is lots of information about how New Zealand came to be and the forces at play.

Luckily, there’s an earthquake simulator, and it’s as disappointing as you think it’ll be. But you do it anyway, because how could you not go in a earthquake simulator when there is one? Because it sucks, that’s why.

Lastly, don’t miss the interactive film Golden Days. I’m not going to say anything else about it, because you just need to experience it. Okay, I’ll say this: it’s one of the weirdest experiences I’ve ever had at a museum. And I can’t wait to take people to see it and see how weird they think it is. Because it’s really weird.  -Laurel


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NOM: Felix

After that first week of peanut butter sandwiches and cans of beans, when we got to Wellington, we wanted meat. Only there for a few days before making our way to the South Island, we chose to grab a bite at Felix, hailed by Lonely Planet as the place to get a great burger.

We were seated quickly and Laurel chose her meal just as fast. We had been talking about burgers for days, and her decision was easy. I, however, simply couldn’t decide, but went for the special on the wall at the last minute – the Moroccan salad, a plate of Moroccan spiced steak, pumpkin and feta topped with yoghurt sauce over a bed of veggies.

When Laurel’s burger came out, both of our mouths dropped. It was absolutely gigantic and made the Kiwi way – topped with egg and bacon. Next to the burger, my Moroccan skirt steak salad actually looked…healthy. Luckily, it didn’t taste healthy. The mild spicy, salty flavour of the steak hit the tip of my tongue with a welcomed bang, and its tenderness showed through even next to the soft pumpkin. The feta cheese and yoghurt sauce offered the perfect bit of tanginess with the sweetness of the pumpkin. Overall, the salad was exactly what I wanted. And as for that burger, I only got one bite, but I can guarantee that it was exactly what Laurel wanted.

Since moving to Wellington, we’ve been back for a quick, moist carrot cake on Laurel’s birthday and their perfect flat whites amidst a long day of working a double shift. The people watching isn’t too bad either, and their wall of windows offers the perfect view of the beginning of infamous Cuba Street. Definitely worth a stop through before a day at Te Papa or the City Gallery. – Jennifer

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KEWL: Martinborough Wineries

New Zealand has a few notable wine regions under its belt, and while Marlborough is the most talked about, the Wairarapa is worth paying a visit. Martinborough sits at the heart of the region-a charming small town with a few cafes, shops, and a cinema at its center and not much else. It’s flat, and ideal for walking or biking from winery to winery, with mountains in the distance and grape vines a-plenty making up the peaceful scenery. We were only able to visit a few winemakers on this trip and drive afterwards, but seeing as I’m doing a glass apprenticeship in Martinborough, expect more posts about the town that I currently call my second home.  -Laurel Continue reading

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KEWL: Cape Palliser

Cape Palliser is known for its beautiful rocky beaches, a lighthouse perched out on the tip, and the many seals who hang out there. I can’t talk about two of these three things with much authority, as we ended up just freedom camping there due to weather.

The coast is grey and rocky, and the beaches are of the black pebbly type, strewn with driftwood. It’s a stark beauty, and the road, carved into the side of the hills behind, offers views of all of it. It’s also a creepy road to drive in the rain, especially when you get closer to the lighthouse as it narrows quite a bit. Due to adverse conditions, we parked further up the road and had some pasta and a sleep by the beach while it rained and rained. Luckily, we had the sound of the waves and seals barking to sing us to sleep.

the money shot

We’re planning a trip back to Cape Palliser, so expect an update. In the meantime, stare longingly at the gratuitously pretty sunset photo.  -Laurel

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KEWL: Waikanae and Paraparaumu Beach


After a quick stop through Whanganui (truthfully, I felt like we should have stayed there the rest of our lives after that terrifying car journey) and then on to Palmerston North (which we were less than impressed by to say the least), we stayed overnight at a DOC campsite near Otaki.

The next day, we woke up bright and early (rather, slightly overcast and early) to head  slightly out of the way down to Paraparaumu Beach, which is located just outside of Wellington. Harvey, one of my favourite people, specifically requested that we head over and check out the beach, and more importantly, the Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club.

As we headed south, we found our way to Waikanae first – a small beach town just north of Paraparaumu Beach. We wound our way through the town, following our natural instincts toward the beach rather than any signs. Finally, we found it. We hopped out of the car and gave our legs a stretch. It was still very early in the morning and there weren’t many people on the beach. We walked down a bit, gazing out at Kapiti Island and watching a tractor pull boat after boat into the ocean for the fisherman.

Paraparaumu Beach

Then we moved on to Paraparaumu Beach, which required going all the way back out to the main highway, down a few kilometres and then through Paraparaumu. Honestly, we probably could have just jumped over some driftwood and gotten there much quicker. The beach was just like Waikanae – relaxing soft sand and a gorgeous view, only slightly marred by the tractor marks.

Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club

On the way back out, we accomplished our main goal: we pulled up to the Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club and I stepped out to snap a few pictures. This golf club is where Tiger Wood’s caddy is from, and before TW became famous for something other than golf, he hosted a few golf tournaments here.

We are planning a return trip to Paraparaumu Beach soon, and more importantly, to Kapiti Island.  – Jennifer

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FML: Whanganui River Road

Lonely Planet has this to say about the Whanganui River Road: “it’s all about the journey, not how fast you get there.” Sounds pleasant enough, right? We needed to get from point A to point B, so why not take the scenic route? Because YOU MIGHT DIE THAT’S WHY.

Jennifer proposed we take said road, which winds alongside the waterway of the same name and offers spectacular views the entire way. I was driving that day and was game for an adventure, so off we went. Dusty, craggily mountains with wide patches of deep evergreens frame the murky green river, and the road runs right along the side of the mountains. It was beautiful and wild and lush. It was also scary.

We knew a section of the road was unsealed (unpaved), but we didn’t realize just how much. Or that a vast majority is one lane for two way traffic. Or that it was super duper windy. It’s all of these things, and it was 90 of the most stressful kilometers we drove. It took an eternity, since we couldn’t gather much speed on the poorly graveled very skinny roads for fear of encountering other cars and/or plummeting off the side. Portions were so poorly graveled that we got stuck at one point. It was a borderline let’s-try-pushing-even-though-we-aren’t-strong-enough moment. Luckily, we got Frankie loose and survived to drive more of that stupid stupid God that road is stupid.

Yeah, okay, so it’s pretty. But I honestly wasn’t able to absorb much for the 2 hours of anxiety. I’d suggest taking a boat or kayak or canoe or whatever just don’t voluntarily drive on that road I warned you screw you Lonely Planet bye.  -Laurel

we did meet these guys on our drive, and we are now BESTIES

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KEWL: Tongariro Alpine Crossing

When Laurel first read aloud about the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, I instantly became discouraged. Honestly, it just sounded too hard, and I really didn’t think I was up for it. However, trying to be a team player (and maybe, just maybe, prove to myself that I could actually do it), I decided to go along with the plan.

The night before our “big hike,” we stayed just outside of Taupo at a free campervan park – Reid’s Farm Recreational Reserve. The next morning, setting forth with our plan, we stopped at the Taranaki I-Site to arrange our hike.  Apparently, the car park at the two ends of the crossing are often vandalised, and the woman at the I-Site said if we wanted to be safe, we had to park our car at a dude’s shuttle business and then take the shuttle. The only problem was, the last shuttle that morning had already left. So, we had to come up with a new plan: go to the dude’s business, take everything out of our car and put it in his office, park our car at the entrance (and pray it didn’t get vandalised), hike the trail, meet the shuttle at the end, go back to our car, drive our car back to the dude’s place and then reload everything.  Yep, all this and we had to hike 19.4 km around a few volcanoes, craters and toxic lakes.

We went from the I-Site on to the shuttle business (which I suppose I should call by its proper name, Adventure HQ). We talked to the owner and started unloading our belongings in his office. Then, upon realising that we actually had far too many belongings for his office, we had to move all of our stuff in the back room. Then we set off to the car park, leaving all the possible crevices open to show creeping crooks we had nothing to offer.

Next came the actual hiking, which I had barely even (mentally) prepared for with all the running around. We had exactly 6 hours to go from one end to the other, or we were going to miss our shuttle. We started our hike toward Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt. Doom for you LOTR fans), and after an hour of huffing and puffing around and up the side of a stream, we made it to the bottom of a trillion stairs going from the base of Mt. Doom to part way up. Originally, we had every intention of climbing to the top of Mt. Doom but unfortunately (thank god), we didn’t have enough time. After multiple breaks climbing up those atrocious stairs, we made it to what seemed like the top of the world (although I suppose it looked pretty bleak).

Looking back the way we came

I’m going to let Laurel take it from here, so she can recount the second half of our journey… and show you the rest of them pretty pictures. – Jennifer

We took a wee rest, and on we went (THE SHUTTLE WAITS FOR NO ONE), thinking we had potentially reached the high point. We walked along the dusty south crater, a welcome flat point, before literally scrambling uphill to the red crater. Everything looks so volatile, with evidence all around you of the not long dormant volcanoes– black rock, huge craters, pocket lakes. It was surreal to me to be standing on what was literally hollowed out by an eruption.

We were high enough that for the middle 1/3 of the trip, it was cold. We started out sweating, and spent the whole trip in the sun, but the wind and altitude were chilling. Then we went downhill. Lucky us, right? Actually, it was the scariest part of the trip, since by downhill I mean we had to dig our feet into the gravely rock (scoria) and slide. It was either that, or slide the whole of it on your ass. I tried that out for a second, it wasn’t as cool as it sounds. However, once you finally reach the bottom, your payoff is the bizarrely milky and turquoise emerald lakes.

notice the trail on the left side going up

There were more ups and downs to come, but the most intense pieces were over. We walked along red-brown dusty trails around and over pieces of rocky mountains, before reaching a hut, marking the last two hours of the hike. After taking a rest, we tramped on the sides of bush-heavy hills before making the long descent down, taking in some beautiful lookouts along the way. We were beat, and ready to be finished, but seeing the vegetation change from hairy and hearty to lush, green forest was really beautiful. The temperature slowly rose as we slowly descended. We walked over several streams and wiped past crowds of ferns before hitting the car park, and with half an hour to spare. We shared a weak high five and relaxed before catching the shuttle back to our car and loading up our belongings.

It was tough going, and we were totally exhausted, but we saw landscapes like I’ve never seen before, and the sense of accomplishment was a real high. If you’re inclined to hiking/tramping, don’t dare pass it up.  -Laurel

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KEWL: Huka Falls

While driving along SH1 on the north island, an easy scenic stop is Huka Falls in Wairakei Park. The Falls are the largest on Waikato River which drains Lake Taupo, and although they are not overly impressive in their height, they are impressive in their size and force. The roar is booming, and the foamy blue churning water does inspire some awe. We were happy to stand and stare, mouths slightly hanging open, for some time before moving along.  -Laurel

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KEWL: Rotorua

Laurel has been to New Zealand before, and she gave one definite warning about Rotorua – it smells like poo. That’s because Rotorua, the “Las Vegas of New Zealand,” is a relaxing wonderland of geysers, hot springs and mud pools, a.k.a…sulphur.

Despite the smell, the town produces heaps of tourism every year, the main attraction being the geothermic activity in question. The town is built around it, so if you don’t have extra money to spend on things like the spas or taking a peek at geysers (like us), you can always do the LP suggestion of a “walking tour,” which basically just takes you around the lake up through the park full of mud pools and hot springs and back to the Government Gardens, which are especially nice on a beautiful day.  On the way, you can spy a Maori village and numerous reasons why you should be nervous about the earth’s crust erupting up through the ground.

If you do have extra money to spend, I would suggest taking a helicopter or boat around the lake or watch an authentic Maori performance. There is also the option of hiking, but as we had limited time and were planning on taking on the massive Tongariro Alpine Crossing the next day, we opted out.

There is more to do in Rotorua than touristy things and pinching your nose. Check out the town to see what it’s all about. Hell, you might even spot Natalie Portman. – Jennifer

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KEWL: Waitomo Caves


It’s unfortunate that one of the coolest places we went in NZ is a place where we couldn’t take pictures. It was wet, extremely dark, and not flash-friendly. But that’s also why it was so cool.

You have to fork over a bit of cash to go tubing with a couple of young guides, but we decided it was easily worth it. It’s a solid few hours of fun, all gear and instruction provided, and you even get some crappy tomato soup at the end. Being inside the caves is special in and of itself, but floating on tubes looking up at glow worms with the occasional jump off a small waterfall is fantastic, really. We saw nice rock formations as we ducked and waded through narrow passageways, and flicked off our headlamps to float through large caverns in peace.

It’s really unlike anything I’ve ever done, and even though you can’t snap shots of the glow worms (which look strikingly like a blue-tinged night sky), you can get more info here. -Laurel

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