Welcome Back, Kia Ora, & Goodbye!

The view on the plane coming in to Auckland. We haven't been here yet. NZ is so diverse because its latitudes stretch from the equivalent of just over the Canadian border all the way down to Baja Mexico

New Zealand was so, so kind to us upon our return from the U.S. summer. We’d left these nearly-antarctic latitudes buried in cold and darkness. I steeled myself for more of the same, but it was sunny when the wheels touched down in Auckland!  In a way, it felt like we were coming home. The familiarity of the place filled me with the same sentiments that I used to feel at the end of a long U.S. road trip in the minutes before pulling into the driveway. Sunshine and warmth graced our initial ten days, the first of which we spent in Diamond Harbour.

Our friend Emily’s brother, Will, did us the huge favor of van-sitting. The plan was just to spend a day recovering from jet lag, and take off the next morning. However, we had so much fun that night with him and his partner Ross that we ended up staying two more days! We had an absolutely hilarious night of fun and

The harbor from Will and Ross' front yard

card playing. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard. After a group tidying session just in time for the realtors to photograph the house (Will got a new job!), we spent the rest of our time relaxing in paradise! Hikes around the harbor cliffs, an expedition to the local pub, delicious dinners, running through the early-morning countryside – heaven!

It’s always fun for us to be around other couples – a bit of comic relief and just plain relief that your idiosyncrasies are actually pretty common. Getting to ease back into van life was also a god-send. Will & Ross’s place is a one bedroom affair, so we slept out in our van but spent most our time under their roof. From Christchurch, we headed up the coast to the infamous Kaikoura (Maori for “crayfish [lobster] food”) and stayed in a free campground! My readjustment to driving on the left side of the road went smoothly, thankfully. I didn’t tell Will I was nervous to drive his car, while jet-lagged, in a traffic pattern opposite what I’d been doing for five weeks!

The view from 'downtown' Kaikoura - not bad!

The free campground (really just two picnic tables and some grass, but that’s all we need!) lured us into an extra night in the area. Not having to worry about where to park for the night, or find a place to cook that won’t offend anyone is worth its weight in gold! Not to mention Kaikoura (kai-koo-rah) is STUNNING. It looked like Alaska with it’s snow capped peaks crashing right down into the sea. We made fantastic dinners, slept in, made leisurely breakfasts, explored the quaint town, and went to a sheep shearing show! I just about died of cuteness when the farmer told us to kill time before the show by cuddling the lambs that were born yesterday, and viewing the one that’d been born an hour before.

Day old lamb!

We watched a sheep lose its coat, learned about different wool that different sheep produce, which is used for carpets and which for clothing, etc. Wool on its own isn’t very profitable. It’s less than $18 from each sheep! Merino wool is coveted because the fibers per square inch are exponentially more than any other wool. We also got to feed “Ram Man” and see the sheep dog do tricks. And visit the lambies again! Awwwwwww!!!

Aside from the stunning scenery, the most memorable things about the area were the tide pools devoid of any active species and a lobster meal being touted as ONLY $115!! Now, technically “crayfish” is not exactly the same as lobster, but they are closely related creatures. I’m not paying $115 to taste the difference though!

Salt factory!

On our way north, we passed a factory with giant white hills piled up beneath an over-head conveyer. I couldn’t resist taking the turn-off. The men in the parking lot fixing a leaky water line were employees and told me all about their salt making! They pump sea-water in, send it through a series of mostly gravity controlled ponds to slowly increase the salinity, pump off the excess water at precisely the point where half the sodium chloride is deposited (to keep the salt pure), dry it over winter, and harvest it in buckets!

Picton was our final south island stop. The “sounds” that the area is famous for are inlets from the sea that twist and turn for miles and miles. After a morning run on the seaside trails, a work afternoon, and a visit to the public showers, we treated ourselves to a long, gorgeous

In the queue to get on the ferry

drive and some wine and cheese overlooking the stunning water and untouched wilderness. In the morning, I said goodbye to the south island, drove onto the Bluebird ferry, watched some middle eastern men delight in every aspect of being a ferry passenger, and kept vigil on the windswept deck enjoying the jewel-like waters and tall green hills all by my lonesome!

Click for photos of Maori carvings, a funky pumpkin, goofy ram’s horn photos, and cultural oddities.