Monthly Archives: November 2019

NZ Day 10 & 11: Napier + Wellington

Day 10 Napier

The camper van parking lot we stayed in was great. It had a nice accessible bathroom and was parked right on the beach so we had a great view of the ocean. As well as other camper vans. There was a nice paved path along the beach. And it was free! It was my favorite place we parked thus far.

We ate NZ cereal and leftover pancakes for breakfast. The cereal is called wheat bix. Apparently it is NZ favorite cereal. According to the box we bought. They are sort of like squished mini wheats. And get soggy just as fast. But they were pretty good.

We went to church in Napier today. It was a very small ward. Maybe 40 people. Needless today we were noticed when we came in. They didn’t have an organist or pianist for the hymns. So we sang a cappella. It was very cool. It allows us to add more harmonies when singing. Which we liberally took advantage of. The bishop or at least the person conducting the meeting looked Mormon Utah bred. And when he spoke he did indeed sound like an American. Turns out he’s Canadian. Either way my people!

Sunday school was interesting. There were maybe 10 of us in class. It was taught by a really intense older woman. She would call people out for not studying the lesson beforehand. It was comforting to know that there are hell fire and damnation people in other parts of the world besides Utah and the South. I think if I lived here I’d be friends with her.

Then we went to the Sunken gardens in Napier for lunch where we ate hummus wraps we made. The sunken gardens are apparently a big tourist attraction but it was pretty small and the only reason it was sunken is because they dug a hole in the beach and planted stuff there. It was cute though. Becca took a Lenalapse, which is a time lapse but moving and featuring yours truly. It was a hot day. Probably the hottest of our whole trip. 31 degrees Celsius. We calculated it to be about 84.7 degree Fahrenheit. Thanks AP chemistry.

Afterwards we got back in our camper van and drove 4 hours to Wellington. We stayed in a parking lot of a motel. It was nice because there was an accessible bathroom and shower. It’s kinda cool that camper vans are such a cultural norm here that even motels cater to their business.

Day 11 Wellington

Woke up and took a shower for the first time in too long to share. The accessible shower bathroom combo was interesting. Basically the sink and the shower just drained into this mysterious hole in the ground. Like I could see the sink water just empty into the hole. Luckily the toilet water did not do this.

Once we got cleaned up we went to the Weta Caves. This sounds like another cool glow worm cave. In fact it is not. It is Peter Jackson’s production company. It was in a kind of funny area. We basically went to the suburbs of Wellington and the studio was in the middle of a residential neighborhood. We saw the props workshop. We saw how they make swords and armor and hair. Like in LOTR. But they’ve worked on other films too. Turns out peter Jackson is from NZ. It was really cool to see how everything is done. Props and special effects. It seems like the Pixar of NZ. Everyone wants to work there.

Then we went to the Te Papa Muséum downtown. It is NZ national museum and is free! They had a display about the Gallipoli siege in WW1 where NZ helped fight the Turks in what sounds like a really bloody and disorganized ambush. The weta studios that we visited earlier also made some huge lifelike displays of the soldiers that were featured in the exhibit. It was crazy how they were able to capture the sweat on the soldiers faces. Another thing I learned is that they called Australians and NZ soldiers Anzacs.

We also went to a NZ nature exhibit. We got to see how NZ formed from Pangea. Many of it is still under water. Becca was amazed that geckos floated over from Australia. Also the first humans (the Maori) didn’t come over until about 800 years ago. That’s not very long.

We also saw a NZ artist exhibit. There was a really cool modern art display as you went in with a bunch of strings from the ceiling to the floor that were very taut and had colored plastic shards found through the strings. There were thousands of them and took up the whole room. Becca loved it and wants to build one in her future home. You also go above it on a bridge to get to the other area of the exhibit. We saw a sign as we were crossing that said if you dropped anything in the display that you wouldn’t be able to retrieve it until Jan 2020. Not sure how long the display had already been up. But it seems like that could be a long time.

Then we went to go find dinner. Becca was having trouble paying with her contactless credit card on her Fitbit for our parking lot ticket to get out. So we awkwardly had to jump out and pay at another station before the parking lot barricade arm would let us out. Technology failure!

We decided to eat pizza again for dinner. We chose Hell Pizza, not because of the reviews which was an accurate 4.1, but for the namesake. Obviously. The names for their pizza were based off of the 7 deadly sins. As well as Mordor references. The vegetarian pizza was Pride. We ate that one. It was good but not the best I’ve eaten. The cheese could have been better.

Once we felt gluttonous enough we went back to our camper van parking lot and watched an episode of the Mandalorian while eating a donut with caramel and white chocolate (also from Hell Pizza).


NZ Day 9: Lake Taupo

Extra details about Rotorua Maori center:

They split the large group into 5 small groups and then chose one man from each to be the “chief” of our group. Our chief was a skinny white guy from Belgium who looked liked he worked in IT. I wouldn’t trust him to lead our tribe into battle. But I’m guessing he’d be a good negotiator and could convince the other tribe to spare our lives in return for indentured servitude. Each group then went to different stations to learn about Maori culture like tattoos, dancing, games, cooking, and the haka. While the food was being prepped we were given a show of songs and dancing. And then we ate! We sat at the table with the chief and his wife. A couple from Spain and another couple from the Netherlands. It was pretty entertaining to hear them all chatting with each other in English. I was a little disappointed that the chief and his wife from Belgium were from the German speaking part so I couldn’t practice my French.  The Spanish couple didn’t even try to talk to becca in Spanish when she told them she spoke Arizona Mexican Spanish. They were all having a great time. Maybe because of the wine. The Netherlands and Spanish couple were doing the opposite tour that we are. They started on the South Island and worked their way up. They have us good pointers of things to think about before we go. Like how it’s more rural and they close their shops at 5pm. They said they tried to eat dinner a few times at like 7pm and nothing was open. So they suggested bringing extra food with us in case we can’t find anything. Also it’s about 10 degrees Celsius colder there. Also these couples were like on their 10th week of vacation. We thought three weeks was a long time. It made sense for the Netherlands couple. They looked retired. But the other couples are just used to European vacation time which is a lot.


Day 9 – Lake Taupo

From my previous emails you might be thinking, “wow, does Lena even like Becca? Why is she traveling with her?”

The answer is, “yes I like becca and she’s a wonderful traveling companion. I just like to exaggerate certain situations at her expense.” Now you might be thinking, “wow, does becca even like Lena now?” The answer is unclear….

When we went to pay for our camping site there was a sign saying “don’t put money in here because it gets stolen over night. Instead go into town and pay or mail us $8”. So we went into town. We were thinking we would just mail the fee since we wanted to get on our way but there wasn’t an accessible bathroom at the camp ground and there were way too many people at the site for me to scar that we thought it’d be better to go into town anyways.

My allergies were acting up today so becca also went to a drug store to buy me eyedrops. Turns out I like NZ but I’m allergic to it. Kinda like becca and cats.

We drove an hour to lake taupo. There was a big mountain biking event happening so there were a billion bikes near the highway and into town. Also bike sales. We thought about buying one but everything is expensive here. Becca was hungry so we went to an Indian place for lunch. Curry and naan for only $10! Becca got vegetable korma and I got chicken tikka masala. My masala tasted different than in the states. Still good though. The best part about the restaurant was the Indian man with a New Zealand accent. The curry wasn’t bad either. Becca also convinced the Indian man to give us the password to their WiFi so we could post pictures on Instagram to make sure everyone was still jealous of us. Then becca disappeared for 12 hours and came back with ice cream. Only for her. Not for me. She knows me so well.*

*I must add here that I didn’t actually want ice cream and becca did share some bites with me so it wasn’t anything malicious. Also she wanted me to add that she came back with a cone not a cup so that I could eat the cone. If the ice cream were just for her only it would be in a cup.

After we ate beccas ice cream we went walking around the downtown. Taupo is next to a lake and has a similar vibe to Santa Cruz or park city. Outdoorsy and posh. We ended up in an outdoor clothing store. Kathmandu. We were trying to find a new knife fork spoon combination since becca broke hers. She’s getting very muscley lifting me in and out of our camper van everyday. But this store didn’t have any. But they did have fun clothes and they were having a summer Black Friday sale. So we bought stuff. It was great they were trying to get rid of all their winter jackets. I bought a sweater and some packing cubes as I’ve since learned of their importance while being on this trip. Becca got a nice linen button up shirt.

Then we walked to another outdoor store which looked like an older couple owned. They were cute and were able to find the utensil combo we were looking for. So all in all it was a success.

Then we headed back to our van and set out for Napier which was about 2 hours away. Along the way we saw beautiful yellow flowers speckled along the hillside. Becca wanted to take a time lapse of them so we pulled over for about half and hour to do that. I’ll post a picture. While she was timelapsing, I worked on my New Years resolutions. When becca finished it started to rain really hard. It was good timing.

Then we drove around Napier which is right on the coast so it’s a beach town and we looked for free overnight camping. NZ has the infrastructure set up where certain areas have free camper van parking. Like. Designated parking spots along the beach specifically for camper vans. The first area we went to didn’t have any spots. But one of the vans started backing out so we thought they might be leaving. Instead they proceeded to make the most roundabout 9 point turn to back into the parking spot. They almost hit 2 cars nearby and they did actually hit 1 camper van in the process. I could have parked the van faster and safer being paralyzed than the way this guy was doing it. Once the camper van owner that got hit got out of van to have a camper van rumble, we left. We ended up going to another area with a lot of spots and nice bathrooms. We ended up making pad Thai backpacking meals where you just add boiling water. Then we took a little walk along the beach and got ready for bed.

NZ Day 6-8: Caves + Hobbiton + Maori village

Day 6 Caves

Becca took a shower at the holiday park. They give you 5 mins of hot water. She could have used more. We drove 1.5 to the Waitomo glow worm caves. We were supposed to be there at 11am but arrived at 1. They still let us go through which was nice. There’s actually a set of three caves in the area and we went to Ruakuri cave because it was the accessible one. You start out going down this spiral ramp and then into the caves. We got to see the normal things like stalagmites and tites. Those were very cool. And then as you went further in you got to see the area of the cave with glow worms. When all the lights are out they look like little stars. Apparently this is to attract bugs that accidentally find themselves in cave and try to escape. Instead they get trapped in the glow worm’s fishing lines and then get eaten up. Pretty cool. On the way back out of the cave we fell behind our group and lost them. The cave lights are on a timing system and as we were trying to catch up the lights went out and it was pitch black. Becca didn’t like it because that’s when monsters and earthquakes happen. I figured we could just stay still and wait for another tour group to go through but we discovered our phones have lights on them and used those to light our pathway back instead. At some point our guide realized we were behind and came back for us. But we may have scared some glow worms in the process. When we got back to the spiral ramp there was a family from Denmark in our group. One of them offered to push me up the spiral. Becca enthusiastically said yes. Along the endless circles we found out that they are basically on the same holiday trip that we are. We were hitting all the same tourist spots on the same days and then going to the South Island. So now they are our travel friends.

After the caves we went to a nearby free camper van parking lot of a restaurant. They said they’re NZ premier bbq experience. When we went inside it felt more like a lodge at girls camp. But we were happy they let us use their bathrooms and spend the night for free in their parking lot. Though we did opt for the simple buffet for dinner. No such thing as free lunch.

Day 7 Hobbiton

In the morning becca really had to go to the bathroom but the restaurant didn’t open until 9am. So becca went on an adventure and found a nice spot behind a dumpster. We technically aren’t supposed to do that but dire times! We then drove 1.5 hr to Hobbiton or rather matamata which is where the hobbiton movie set was built and filmed.

It was technically thanksgiving day for us in NZ so we opted for the lunch buffet meal. The dining area was set up like a big celebration tent and it was nice to remember when dwarves and elves sat together for a meal before disease ran wild on middle earth. There was bread, pesto pasta, vegetable curry, chicken, fish, steak, and potatoes. So pretty much your standard meal for thanksgiving. Plus dessert! They even had apple crumble. Becca found a couple in our tour group who were from San Jose. We wished them a happy thanksgiving. It was nice to have camaraderie.

After our hobbit feast we started our tour. Since it was a bit hilly they had me get in a golf cart with our special tour guide who told us all the secret facts about hobbiton. His name was mike and he has a great accent. His sense of humor was like the flight of the conchords. So we had fun. He told us that his brother played an orc in Return of the King. He was a guard and just stood there. He also said they took down the original movie set for the LOTR trilogy and actually burned it. The scenes in the movies where the shire is fake being burned and hobbits are screaming if Frodo doesn’t throw the ring into mt. Doom was actually hobbiton burning. Very cool. But then they re-built the set for filming the hobbit and just left everything. There are different scales of hobbit holes for forced perspective filming. There were some very small ones and normal height ones. At the very end everyone got to get a free drink at the green dragon. Becca and I reAlized that if ever there was a trip to start drinking it is this one. We’ve gotten offers for free wine and beer on all our adventures. Luckily we learned from Daniel that the best decisions are made whilst drinking. So we chugged down a pint of hobbit beer at the green dragon. Worth it.

Then we drove to our nearby camper holiday park which has thermal hot springs. We went inside for a bit then showered and went to bed.

Day 8 Rotarua

We didn’t have any pressing plans for today so we took our time leaving the holiday park. We spent most of the morning cleaning my wheelchair wheels because they were squeaking and giving me trouble. We found out that it’s because my chair is old and I need a new one. Even with all the grease it still was very rusty and squeaky.

Then we went into matamata to get more chips and hummus. As well as candy. Of course and set sail for Rotorua which is known for their tourist Maori villages. They only do things in the evening we found out so while we waited for dinner we went to a cat cafe so Lena could get a glimpse of her future as a cat lady. This cat cafe was run by Asians and had 17 cats total. They also gave us a free drink and WiFi for an hour of paying to play with cats. Becca was nice to oblige even though she’s allergic to cats.

Then we went to the Tamaki Maori village. This is where all the Polynesians entertain white people for 4 hours by feeding them and doing the haka. It was actually really cool. I wonder how they feel about commercializing their history, ancestry, and culture. But also it was very cool. The food felt like we were eating another thanksgiving meal. Potatoes, chicken, gravy. They even had stuffing. Becca got a giant samosa for a vegetarian meal. Both were very good. Then we found a cheap camping site by a lake where people were waterskiing in the morning.

NZ Day 4 & 5: kayaking around Aukland islands

Day 4 Kayaking

Woke up to my eyes being glued shut by eye boogers because of all the allergies. We think because of the combination that it’s spring time in NZ and it was really windy yesterday… plus the fact that we are foreigners caused such an extreme reaction. Not one I usually get. Luckily I took drugs and eyedrops to help.

We called an Uber to take us to the ferry terminal which is where we were meeting the kayak people. We had a lot of stuff with us and when the Uber driver pulled up and we asked if it would fit he laughed and said no. But was willing to try. All the ubers we’ve gotten on this trip have been priuses (pri-eye?). You forget that you can use the front seat of a taxi too. So we were able to fit everything.

We got dropped off at the terminal and met up with Daniel from aukland seakayaks. He said he was Irish and I was skeptical at first until I saw his red hair and heard him speak. We were a little disappointed that our tour guide wasn’t a NZer so that I could practice my accent, but Irish wasn’t too bad to listen to for 2 days either.

Fun fact: everyone here pronounces my name correctly.

We then took the kayak van from the terminal to st. Heliers bay where we were taking off. A lot of the Toyota’s here have instructions in Japanese. Including the kayak van. Daniel said second hand cars are cheaper and Japan is so close. Also they drive on the left side of the road too.

Once we got to the beach we started prepping our kayaks. Daniel gave becca and I each 3 dry bags to put our stuff in. The instructions on the email said to basically pack one pair of shorts for this trip which we valiantly obliged. So when we realized we had 3 dry bags each we felt luxurious. We didn’t use all the packing bags and Daniel was surprised. Maybe because we are girls. We didn’t opt to bring the curling iron on this kayaking trip. We ended up just using 3 bags between us and that was with really trying.

Daniel was great he taught us how to pack sea kayaks for when we do future “expeditions”— overnight kayak trips. We found out he spent a month this summer kayaking around Vancouver island. Being smelly and living out of a dry bag is the norm for him. I asked him how he ended up in NZ. He said that he graduated college at the height of the recession and there were no jobs for him and his buddies were all going on a surfing trip to Australia and trying to get him to come but he said no. A couple days before they were leaving they had a going away party and everyone got smashed. The next morning he opened his email inbox and saw that he had bought a flight to Australia. So he started to pack his bags. Long story short he came over to NZ for an engineering job and then hated it so became a kayaking instructor. I asked if he was a mechanical engineer because that’s usually the natural transition. And he said yes. Thanks to JP for teaching me the tiers of coolness by engineering type.

Then we got on our kayaking outfits. Spray skirt, paddle jacket, personal flotation device. Before Setting out into the water we practiced what to do in the event we are capsized. I would need to pull the spray skirt off and wet exit from the kayak. Once I proved I could take the spray skirt off in open air on land, Daniel approved my launch into the sea. But first we had to figure out what to do with my wheelchair. It was too rigid and large to fit into any of the kayak bulk storage containers. So we strapped my frame onto the tandem kayak becca and I were using and then tied my two wheels onto Daniels kayak. He assured me they were on tight. I took his word for it. Because Irish. It was really fun to see my chair dangle inches from the sea and even get splashed a few times. One capsize and my chair would sink to the bottom of the ocean being a permanent NZ resident.

The first island we went to was Browns island. Many of the islands around aukland are starting to become conservation islands including Browns, which means they are pest free and get rid of non-native invasive species. Rats didn’t exist in NZ until Europeans brought them over. One of the many gifts that were given. The conservation people are also trying to bring back native birds for nesting. We had the option of going straight to the beach to set up for lunch or going the more scenic route around the long way. I opted for the long way because we got to get our monies worth. This is about when the waves started picking up which was very exciting especially when ferries would zoom by. I didn’t feel unsafe. But I did few nervous. We got splashed several times and considering beccas track record with tipping me over in kayaks, it’s understandable why I would have been a little worried. But luckily no incident occurred and we were able to glide nicely the rest of the way to Browns beach for lunch. Daniel prepped a nice hummus wrap meal for us. We also got to try this lemonade soft drink which was really good. Kind of like a lemon head candy in liquid form. After Daniel told us all about NZ birds at lunch, I decided to go to the bathroom. Becca found a nice bush next to a rat trap for me. I was glad I was wearing inconspicuous colors of red and pink to blend in with the environment so no one would see me from afar. I wasn’t too worried about surprising people as we were basically the only ones on the island. Or so we thought. The second I was done and becca came to grab me to drag me to the kayaks some conservation people in orange vest showed up to document the birds and look at their rat traps. We left the island before we could see the reaction to the surprise I left them by my rat trap.

Then we headed to Motuihe island. It looked close. It was not. I was struggle bussing because I was leaning back really far and my one ab was not enough to keep me upright to paddle. Turns out my wheelchair which was in back of me was tied differently and I had been using it as a back support for paddling. We adjusted and pushed it back closer to me mid-ocean and I felt a lot better. We also found ourselves in the middle of a sailing race. One of the race captains came over to us to tell us to move because we were in the middle of the course. We watched them all line up and then zig zag back and forth to the finish line. Sweden was doing very well. JP, your ancestors would be proud.

We had the option of circling around this island as well for an extra 1.5 hour workout but because I had struggled so much in the beginning with no back support I was tired so we went onto shore.

Becca wanted to take another time lapse on the beach so she set up and I sat on the sand next to Wayne. Daniel gave us amazing chips for a snack that we’ve since bought several times on our road trip. They sort of taste like healthier cool ranch Doritos. They advertise their flavor as feta and garlic. They are delicious with hummus. After our snack (we did not save any for Daniel) we took a nice nap on the beach in the sun while becca’s camera (kemruh, in NZ accent) did its thing. It was nice listening to the waves roll in and out and I conked out. Daniel mean while was setting up camp and tents. When we woke up the tide had come in really fast. When we started our nap we were a good 20 feet away from the ocean. Now we were about 2 feet away. Becca quickly packed up her camera before the waves could get to it. I Patiently washed the tide move closer and closer to me and thinking… well this is it; The day Lena gets washed away by the tide. Luckily Daniel came down and helped me into my chair before I could get wet. It was very close though.

This island is open to the public but it was still too early in the season for ferries to go there. So we were basically the only ones there. Later we went on a hike and found a ranger and other conso (conservation) crew. They gave us a map of the island and suggested a trail that we could go on to try to find three-eyed lizards. We did not see any but we did get to read lots of signs about wildlife we weren’t seeing.

Besides the ranger, it was just us and Daniel on the island. Becca was a little worried about sleeping on an island all alone with a man we didn’t know. But then was reassured that he wouldn’t do anything sketch because then we’d leave a bad review and it’d be bad for business. I was reassured because he was Irish and a hippie kayaker.

After our hike it was dinner time. Daniel cooked up some falafel on his baby camping stove and also opened up containers of Couscous salad and bread with tomato relish. We also drank more lemon head soda. Daniel has been vegetarian for 2 years. Every once and awhile when he gets a hangover though he craves a burger from “burgerfuel” a chain in NZ. We decided we would go there after our kayak trip. After we ate dinner, it was starting to get dark and so we hiked over to another view point on the island and watched the sunset. You could see aukland city from the island which was cool. Becca set up another timeline and Daniel asked her lots of questions about time lapses. Half way through the sunset he said he had a surprise for us and told us to close our eyes. Then he popped out three brownies for us. They were delicious. I always say yes to surprise brownies from hippies. Then we headed back to camp. Daniel showed us remnants of old wwii bunkers for soldiers who used to occupy the islands around aukland. They were there not so much for attacking but as defense in case any bad guys came. They didn’t. But that wouldn’t be a bad place to be stationed for awhile.

On our way back to camp Daniel did his best impression of a kiwi bird call. Since they are nocturnal and you can often see them around dawn or dusk. We did not see any but enjoyed listening to Daniel screech. They sort of sound like Jurassic Park dinosaur screams. You should look it up. Then we got ready for bed. There was an accessible toilet for me which I was impressed about. And then we went to bed. Becca and I conked our pretty fast.

Day 5 Kayaking

The next morning we ate “muesli” which is granola with yogurt and fresh fruit. Then we packed all our gear up and went back out onto the water. We went to Motutapu island (but did not go on it) which is made of limestone. Go one year geology major! It is right next to another island, Mt. rangi, which is made from a volcano. It was cool to see two different islands so close together be formed in different ways. Mt. Rangitoto was much more black and jagged. Looked like craters of the moon in Idaho. Usually on the overnight kayaking trips you hike mt. Rangi on the 2nd day. We did not select this option though Daniel did think about how we would do it. It would take 4+ hours and then we’d have to kayak back to the main north island. Plus we had to pick up our camper van by 4pm so we were limited on time. So we ate lunch on the volcano island instead. Hummus pita wraps again. There were a lot of school groups going through. Apparently it is one of the big things you do in high school in NZ. Once we finished lunch we paddled back to st. Heliers beach where we originally took off. It was a straight shot from mt. Rangi to st. Heliers but it felt very far. Everything appears closer that they are in real life when you are sea kayaking. Finally we made it to shore. The tide was low so we didn’t quite make it to the beach. Daniel and becca had to carry my kayak closer to the sand since it was very muddy and my wheelchair would not have fared well.

Then we unpacked everything and Daniel got the van back. We were planning to Uber to the airport with all our stuff to pick up the camper van but Daniel offered to drive us the whole way. We saved about $50 because of this. We were already planning to tip him for being an awesome tour guide and after this offer we upped our tip. He was very nice.

Once he dropped us off we got our camper van! One thing we didn’t realize being on the water was how sunburned we got. We put a lot on but places we forgot got fried. My lips especially. Daniel said it’s because NZ is closer to the sun so the rays are harsher. Liz, our Airbnb host, said it’s because there is no Ozone layer over NZ. Either way we got burned. Becca too. Her lips, ears, and legs especially. The first thing we did when we got our camper van was go to a store and get aloe Vera. As well as driving snacks.

Then we stopped at burger fuel for dinner and drove 1.5 hrs to our overnight camping “holiday” park along the coast. I was doing a bad job of copiloting meaning becca was getting sleepy and since I couldn’t drive it was my job to keep her awake through interesting conversation.  Instead I asked becca to tell me about the books she was reading and that did the trick. It was like a love version of a sparknotes audiobook. We arrived safely to the holiday park.