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NZ Day 14 & 15: Glentunnel & Castle Hill

Day 14 Glentunnel

The Australian middle schoolers are obsessed with the camp cat. I wish I could be obsessed with them.

The weather was a lot better than yesterday so we were hopeful as we started making our ascent to mount cook. But soon it was pouring again. We couldn’t see any mountains because of all the clouds. So we turned around and started our way back towards Glentunnel near Christchurch. As soon as we got off the road to mt. Cook it was sunny. We found a good filming spot and pulled to the side of the road to do some 5 sec shorts. I will share them with you soon. I made a sign that said “Mordor” with an arrow on it. We put it on a stop sign for filming. When we left I wanted to keep it there. But becca is more environmentally conscious than I so we took it down.

Then as we were passing lake tekapo it was amazingly gorgeous. So we stopped to take a time lapse and eat lunch. So did everyone else minus the time lapse. It was so beautiful with the blue glacial lake and the mountains in the background and these purple and pink flowers sticking up near the edge of the lake. Becca was smart and went further down away from the edge of the road to set up her camera. Less Asians or NZ men with dogs unawaringly roaming in front.

We finally arrived in Glentunnel for our last day of campervanning. We stayed at a free campsite with a sign that had a meter indicating low toxic algae risk. We figured it was okay since it was low.

Then we made dinner, enjoying the sun. Later that evening when it was dark out we watched “Let it snow” on Netflix that we downloaded when we had WiFi last, to help us remember that Christmas is during winter in the States and not during summer. If you haven’t already watched this Netflix gem of a movie then I am seriously reconsidering our friendship. I learned the true meaning of Christmas which is that celebrities have feelings too.

You might be wondering… “but Lena what are you eating while in said camper van?” The answer is hummus sandwiches and freeze dried backpacking meals. Plus chips! We’re averaging 1.25 bags a day. We are also sick of hummus and veggie sandwiches even though they are quite good.

At the beginning of the camper van phase of this trip we got a 6 pack of Bunderberg Australian brewed sodas. They are now all gone. Becca and I ranked our favorites.

My top two are Pina colada and Burgundee (sort of like red cream soda). Becca’s was Burgundee and Passionfruit. Both of our least favorite was Lemon Lime Bitters. We don’t know why that’s a flavor that is popular here. The middle flavors were ginger and sasparilla. Good but not unique.

Day 15 Castle Hill

Drove to castle hill today. It’s a bunch of large rocks sticking out of a mountain. It was really cool looking. It sort of felt like Stonehenge. We decided this would be a good place to film one of our LOTR re-enactments. If I could summarize the South Island in one word it would be “wind”. There was so much of it I thought I was going to blow away a few times. We had to anchor beccas camera down in order to film my excellent Gandalf impression in between wind bursts. I decided wind is my least favorite nature. I was worried beccas camera would film me tipping over backwards while acting. It probably would have made for a better take and I was willing to let it happen, for the fans… but I’m glad I stayed upright.

Then we went to the car to hide from the wind and ate lunch. Hummus veggie sandwiches. The last of our bread and produce. It was better viewing the rocks from the safety of the car. But becca did try to take a time lapse. We don’t think it turned out well because the wind was very strong despite us putting a gallon of water weight on her tripod plus it started to rain in the middle of it. It was still gorgeous and well worth the drive.

Then we headed into Christchurch to drop off the van, Earl-Eowyn-Shadowfax we named her. I’m glad we weren’t directly boarding a flight after drop off. Many other people were. The rental place even has showers in their facilities for people if they need. We just needed an Uber to our hotel for the next 5 days.

We got picked up by our Uber driver who of course was driving a Prius. He was from Fiji and wasn’t wearing any shoes. He did have a nice twisty rat tail going for him. That plus the no shoes made me recognize him as a Jedi. I felt safe riding with him. We asked him what fun things we should do in Christchurch. He said “drink beer”. I thought this was a silly answer, as drinking beer is the best thing to do in ANY city.

We then arrived at our hotel. Double Tree. We used points to book our stay here and we were treated royally which probably looked weird to onlookers since we had just come from camping for 10 days and probably didn’t look like the type to be Hilton Gold members. We got two bottles of water and a cookie. The water is $4.50 for other guests (and probably cost the hotel $0.50) so we felt pretty special.

Once we settled in we went in search of food. One of the helper ladies downstairs told us a street to walk to where there are lots of asian restaurants. We went to that street and found Nando’s. Beccas favorite UK dining experience. At first becca thought it was Indian and dismissed it as we had Indian backpacking meals the night before. But then I saw the chicken and knew it was beccas favorite. So we ate there. Becca said she likes it in the UK better because they have mashed potatoes but in NZ they just have fries. Becca got a veggie burger with peri peri sauce and chutney. I got a regular peri peri chicken burger with a side of spicy rice. Becca likes this place a lot because they have extra sauce so add to your food. We experimented with each level of spicyness. By the end we weren’t sure what was hot anymore. It was a good way to clear the sinuses.

Then we went back to the hotel room and crashed onto our comfy soft non-camper van beds.


NZ Day 12 & 13: Ferry to South Island

Day 12 Ferry & driving

We woke up early to go to the ferry. While in line becca started to get a migraine and then couldn’t see out of her left eye. We felt like this was a good omen to start the day. Normally we might be alarmed by this especially since this is the longest driving day we had. But becca has been experiencing these monthly and she knew she’d be able to see by the time we got off the ship.

The ferry was huge. It felt like a cruise ship. Maybe like a lower tier cruise ship like Carnival. (Jk, I don’t actually know the tiers of cruise ships but I’m sure JP could speak to the cruise ship brand tier levels). It even had a cinema on board. I was hoping they would show things for free. They did not. You still have to buy tickets. Movies were Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw and Abominable. Becca and I opted for the free chairs on deck instead and played ticket to ride and downloaded the next mandalorian episode. The trip was about 4 hours long going from the north island to the South Island. It was a little sad to leave the north island but we emotionally survived. Halfway though the trip the captain came on the intercom and advised us to not go outside on deck. The winds were very strong. 175 km/hr. I thought this might be a good opportunity to take up wheelchair windsurfing. Becca did not. We stayed inside. As we were about to dock in the harbor in Picton on the South Island (and while I was going to the bathroom) the captain came on the intercom and announced that the weather has gotten so bad in the harbor that Harbor Master has closed the port and that the ferry was going back out to sea until the weather got better. Luckily I have seen the first half of the Titanic movie so I felt adequately prepared. We circled the harbor for about an extra 2 hours.

Once we got off the ferry we had a long drive ahead. Basically 10 hours to our next destination. We listened to an audiobook. Starsight. The sequel to Skyward. It’s a YA fantasy novel about aliens and space. It’s sort of like Ender’s Game. It helps becca stay awake while driving. It helps me fall asleep. We both win. Becca is very good at summarizing what I miss while I’m asleep… and awake.

Because of the delay with the ferry and a bunch of construction on the motorway, we got set back several hours from our intended destination. We basically arrived at Christchurch which is half way to where we were trying to make it, around 9pm. It was still pretty light out. The days are long here and keep getting longer the further south we go.

Before we made it to Christchurch we stopped at a gas station so I could go to the bathroom. About an hour before this, becca and I kept smelling something weird. It smelled like rancid onions. We couldn’t tell if it was the farms or something else. Turns out it was something else. When I came out of the bathroom I saw a trash bag with a bunch of orange mush on it. I thought maybe becca was making a hummus sandwich and it was hummus. She is usually very passionate when she makes food so this wasn’t too alarming. But when I got closer becca said “I found the source of the smell”. A bag of pumpkin soup that we took from the gratis item area of the camper van rental agency had exploded. Before we got our van we went to this area where people could drop off supplies they were no longer using and pick up things before their journeys. Neat idea. Which turned on us. We’re not sure if there was something with elevation or temperature change but when becca found the soup bag it was squirting a fountain stream all over the van. She quickly escorted it to the dumpster. I could see the exact trail she took from the spray pattern on the ground. Becca was cleaning up the van when I came back from the gas station. I only had to help clean a few specks off her camera bag. I had missed most of the excitement. It also left a pungent smell in the van the rest of our drive. We’re hoping to remedy this soon. We’ll probably never eat pumpkin soup again.

It was about 9pm when we passed Christchurch and realized we were hungry.  The only options were KFC or Pizza Hut. Thanks America. But then we drove by a Thai place that was about to close. We decided to eat there instead. Much better meal option, less better driving meal option. Turns out curry is hard to eat while driving but we managed not to spill. Another Christmas miracle.

Basically becca drove until she couldn’t anymore. We found a free camper van lot and stayed there the night. It was less crowded than the other places we stayed on the north island. But you could see the stars much better.

Day 13 Twizel

The campground we slept at had an accessible portapotty. The only one for the entire camp. I didn’t want it to be accessible so we left and went into the nearest town to find a gas station. It was SUPER windy. I kept expecting a tornado to pop up and take us away. The best part is that we have no access to news really and so if there was a NZ tornado warning we’d probably just drive straight into it none the wiser while everyone else drive away from it. It was fun to see the trees swaying back and forth like they were dancing.

Wind soon turned into rain. We tried to go to mt. Cook but we couldn’t see anything with the clouds. We could see the gorgeous blue glacial lakes though. Lake tekapo and lake pukaki. And the helicopter take off pads for heliskiing. The lakes reminded me of the ones up in Banff. But much bigger.

We were supposed to drive all the way to wanaka where we reserved a campsite. The lady at the gas station said they’ve been having crazy weather with lots of flooding. This was said while the tornado was raging at her gas station. We weren’t sure whether it’s he worth the extra 4 hours of driving to get to a flooded campsite so we decided to stay in twizel instead. It was raining so hard we just hunkered down in the van and watched movies while trying to stay dry and warm. Around 8pm the rain lightened up and we decided to try to pull my wheels off my wheelchair. Oh! Fun fact, my wheels have been stuck on my chair for the past three days. We hadn’t noticed since we don’t need to take it apart while in the van. But we do need them to come off for when we Uber in Christchurch this weekend. Becca even with her strong muscles wasn’t able to make the wheels budge. We even tried putting grease on the axel buttons and nothing. We were worried they’d been rusted shut from the saltwater bath it had on our kayaking trip. So we decided… here, in Twizel, is where these wheels needed to come off. We went to the porch of the communal camper van kitchen and started to pull with all our might. Becca would hold the chair and I sat on an aluminum porch chair trying to pull a wheel off. I wasn’t having much luck. I kept falling over. Because I only have one ab. Poor Abe. A group of Australian school teachers and kids were coming in and out of the kitchen. Eventually the male teacher with a scruffy beard offered to help. He suggested he and he’s a put their feet together for leverage while he pull the wheel. He also said it was a great get to know you game. I trust him. Then low and behold the wheel popped off! Christmas miracle! We cleaned it and greased it up again and then was able to pull the other one off as well.

Becca could tell this group was not from NZ because of the difference in their accents. She’s becoming an accent connoisseur.

It might just be the rain but it’s definitely colder on the South Island. We are sleeping in our winter pajamas. We’re hoping tomorrow will be less rainy so we can go to mt. Cook and film LOTR re-enactments. You should also be hoping for less rain.

Cheers! Until next WiFi.

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.