2/21/14 – 3/3/14: Cape Reinga / Kaitaia, New Zealand
Seashells crunched below our tour bus as it barreled down Ninety Mile Beach toward Cape Reinga, the northern tip of New Zealand. Katie and I were on a day-tour that consisted of sand dune sledding and lunch at Tapotupotu Bay, but it was the beach cruising that had lured us in. There something about speeding headlong down a sandy beach in a gigantic bus that felt…unique. Our juggernaut got us to Cape Reinga in record time.
2/17/14: Hobbiton - Matamata, New Zealand
After principal photography for The Lord of the Rings trilogy ended in 2000, the sets were quickly dismantled, leaving the New Zealand countryside as the filmmakers had found it. Understandable, since you don't want travelers stumbling upon broken down, two-sided castle facades while traipsing through the mountains. What Kiwis didn't realize at the time was that those movies would be incredibly successful, so much so that Peter Jackson's films have become a cornerstone of their tourist trade, as evidenced here by Air New Zealand's "most epic safety video ever made".
2/6/14 – 2/15/14: Wellington to Tongariro Northern Circuit, New Zealand
Hiking Kepler Track was a sweet conclusion to the South Island of New Zealand. I wish I could say the North Island gave us a warm welcome, but apparently we did something to piss it off.
For one, the ferry ride across Cook Strait made Katie and I exceptionally green about the gills. Katie sat curled up with a hood over her head for the entire 3 hour ride refusing to move or speak. I was so bad off I sat outside, cold wind buffeting against me for two hours straight, just to keep my breakfast safely in my stomach.
01/31/14 – 02/02/14: Kepler Track, Te Anau, New Zealand
Finding ourselves alone once more, without the distraction of parental guidance, Katie and I buckled down for a week’s worth of RTW trip planning. With year-long travel it’s impossible to map out everything ahead of time, you need to make room for research along the way. With this in mind, we rented an airbnb outside of Christchurch for a week-long sequestering, nothing but the internet and a fridge full of groceries to sustain us. It was a fruitful endeavor that ended with a rough outline for the rest of New Zealand and all of South East Asia. Thankfully, long walks and the large bay window in our studio apartment made us feel less isolated.
01/02/14 – 01/21/14: Queenstown to Nelson, South Island, New Zealand
As you know, our trip to New Zealand in 2011 beguiled us to no end. We told anyone who'd listen about the country's welcoming people, adventurous spirit, and extraordinary beauty. You can't turn your head without seeing another sublime vista or mountain begging to be climbed! It truly is a remarkable place. (No, New Zealand isn't paying us to be ambassadors of their country, though they should!)
Our incessant adulation of New Zealand must have made an impact, because Katie's parents, Joe and Mary Lou, decided to take an incredible risk: they decided to spend three solid weeks with us traveling around the South Island together. They willingly placed themselves in our hands, exposing themselves to "Lord of the Rings" mood music and mandatory ice cream stops. We accepted this challenge and were surprised to find tour guides lying dormant in our DNA. Then again, I suppose it's not hard to point out the good stuff when everything around you is spectacular.
12/24/13 – 12/28/13: Routeburn / Caples Track, Glenorchy, New Zealand
When Katie and I decided to go on a RTW trip we had no idea where we’d be traveling. The options were limitless. How would we narrow it down? An easy way to start narrowing it down would be to immediately rule out places we’d visited before. For instance, New Zealand, where we’d experienced 9 weeks of nirvana back in 2011. It was literally the perfect vacation. Based on that perfection, however, it was hard to resist the opportunity to return. It was, after all, only a short flight away from Australia…
12/10/13 – 12/17/13: Great Ocean Road to Melbourne, New South Wales, Australia
The Great Ocean Road is one of the most highlighted tourist trails in Australia. Unlike Kangaroo Island, everyone's heard of GOR! (Yes, that’s what it’s commonly known as. Not the most appealing of acronyms).
Seeing as Katie and I are road trip junkies, we definitely hopped on the GOR bandwagon. Was it everything we dreamed it would be? Not exactly.
12/05/13 - 12/10/13: Kangaroo Island, South Australia, Australia
Every time someone asked, “What’s next for you in Australia?” I’d reply, “Kangaroo Island,” and suddenly be met with a very confused expression. “What are you going there for?” was the typical response. We didn’t have a good answer other than our guidebook highly recommended it. Considering the shared reaction to Kangaroo Island, it’s a wonder anyone lived there, let alone heard of it (and, in truth, several hadn’t).
This got us thinking... Had we made a huge mistake?
12/5/13: Cairns, Queensland, Australia
On our final day in Koah, Katie and I decided that a trip to Cairns Tropical Zoo would be a fitting way to end our time in Queensland, Australia. Not only did it allow us to see even more of Australia's native animals, but we were able to interact with them too! Some were more friendly than others...I'm looking at you, crocodiles!
So, prepare to get your hands dirty, because you're going to get up close and personal with some of Australia's most interesting creatures. The marsupials have cleaned out their pouches and are waiting for you to hop-on-in!
11/30/13 - 12/4/13: Koah & Undara Volcanic National Park, Queensland, Australia
The night was black as pitch but for our headlights beaming into the dark. Curves came at us like waves in the ocean, and Vik was just ahead of us taking each turn with the confidence of a local. Two living creatures forced us to swerve: a snake, with its body coiled and head raised; and a toad, which we believed to be of the infamous Cane toads that ravage Australia’s countryside – in which case we shouldn’t have swerved. Either way, no animals were harmed in the making of our way to Koah, Queensland, Australia.