One year later: Return to Tutukaka

Wow - it's been a long time since my last post. I must admit, I've been in a bit of a blog rut  or really a Wellington winter rut. Harsh winds (45+ mph), cold weather and lots and lots of rain — it was enough to make me want to break up with New Zealand. But every now and then, there were those clear crisp sunny winter days that reminded me why we fell in love. Catching a glimpse of the pink winter skies on fire the gave me a reason to brave the cold while I walked home from the bus stop. 

What was really bringing me down was not knowing when my next adventure would be. Last year there was so much to explore and lots of time to do it, but moving to a new city and starting new jobs meant less vacation days. As soon as spring emerged I knew I was in need of a getaway, so Joe and I decided to return to Tutukaka for Labour Weekend (same as last year - even the pictures) and planned a weekend of diving and relaxation.

This year we rented a wonderful little apartment through Airbnb. It was in a quiet neighbourhood up on a hill overlooking the coast, complete with hammock and the sound of native birds singing in the field below — a perfect place to unwind and rekindle the flame with New Zealand. 

Driving up to Tutukaka, the views were just as breathtaking as I remembered. However, Joe and I realized just how spoiled we've become — we've grown so accustomed to New Zealand's beauty that we didn't experience that same sense of awe as the first time. Is this the first sign of transitioning from tourist to Kiwi?

The following morning we woke up bright and early for a day of scuba with Dive! Tutukaka. Of all the places I've been diving, this place is by far the most professional and fun group of people to dive with. They take care of literally everything from loading up your equipment to packing your lunch. You practically just show up, put the regulator in your mouth and jump in. 

The day was a bit cold and rainy, but in my opinion if it's going to rain on vacation, I'd rather spend the day underwater than stuck indoors.

Me and my dive buddy (and life buddy) Joe. This dive marked his one-year Padi certification anniversary!

While sixty-degree F water is not my favorite place to be, the thick wet suit kept me surprisingly comfortable. My hands got cold toward the end but it was worth it for all of the under water wildlife, not to mention Poor Knights is on Jacques Couteau's list of top dive sites in the world!

Here are some of the highlights from our dives...

We got to see lots of nudi branchs (big colourful sea slugs).

Poor Knights is known for nudi branchs. The dive masters usually know where to find them, but when I find a nudi on my own I feel such a sense of pride. Sometimes diving feels like a scavenger hunt - who can find the coolest stuff?!

OK, you can hardly see them, but I'm very excitedly pointing at nudi branchs on the wall. They're my favorite!

Joe with a HUGE nude branch!

On our second dive, we swam through Blue Maumau Arch. Inside there were literally thousands of Blue Maumau (fish) just hanging out. The school of fish was so thick it created a wall of shimmering blue darkness blocking out the light bursting into the cave from overhead. 

They didn't seem to mind us passing through. I swam straight into the school and they slowly readjusted their formation to make room for me. I could have danced around with them for hours, channeling my inner 'Ariel'. Any time I'm diving in a cave, it makes me want to brush my hair with a 'dinglehopper' and twirl up towards the light.

Underwater smooches with Ariel and Prince Eric —  I mean, Joe. 

Another fun creature to spot on our underwater scavenger hunt was the scorpion fish. These guys do a fantastic job of camouflaging themselves with the algae and seaweed while they wait for their prey. They've got big eyes and big pouty fish lips, and overall they seemed to be pretty tolerant of us swimming around taking our photos with them. One scorpion fish didn't even bother to move while I tried 'blubbering' his lips with my finger. 

We spotted quite a few scorpion fish blending in with the coral.

Joe and his friend the scorpion fish.

At the end of our second dive, our group slowly approached 80 bar and headed up to the surface one by one. With about 100 bars left, the dive master and I stayed below for a bit longer, and I sure was glad we did! We found four eels! It seemed like every time we saw one and thought 'what a good way to end the dive, let's ascend,' we would see another one. Although they look super scary and ferocious, they've really just got their mouths open because they're mouth breathers. 

All in all, it was a great day of diving. There's something I love about the feeling of complete exhaustion and relaxation after a dive. You want nothing more than do eat a good meal, take a nap and relax, which is exactly what we did. 

The following day we drove out to Whale Bay and soaked up the sun under the sound of Tui singing to one another. From the shore we watched a sting ray glide under the surface of the shallow waves. Once again, I was reminded of why I fell in love with New Zealand. This trip was just what I needed to motivate me and get me excited for more adventures ahead. 

Thanks to Dive! Tutukaka sharing their dive photos with us.

Behind the Scenes: House Hunters International

Well the reviews are in... maybe we didn't make total fools of ourselves on House Hunters International!

If you're from the United States or Canada, you've probably heard of HGTV's House Hunters International, and if you're from the UK or New Zealand, they've got lots of similar shows (I think it airs on the Living Channel in NZ eventually - just waiting on an air date). 

The premise - a couple looks at 3 houses in a foreign location and picks one to live in. Sounds simple, but it was so interesting to see the work that goes into making a 23-minute episode. While I can't give away all of the secrets of reality TV, I thought it'd be fun to share a behind-the-scenes look at our 'Nesting in Napier' episode. When five days of filming gets cut down to 23 minutes, there's all kinds of good stuff you don't get to see...

... Like the fact that I also have a job and didn't just 'follow' my doctor boyfriend to New Zealand. ;) What you didn't see: My friend and co-worker Charlotte and I filming a scene at my office. 

I used to religiously watch the House Hunters International in the states. It always inspired me to live abroad and showed me that living abroad was doable and maybe even affordable. When Joe and I decided to move to New Zealand, after much encouragement from friends, I applied to be on the show. The producers liked our story, we did a Skype interview and soon it was official - we were going to be on House Hunters International!

The real appeal of House 1 - ALPACAS in the neighborhood!! What you didn't get to see: I made Joe pull over so we could say hello!

(We've moved to Wellington since filming the show almost a year ago, so it's exciting to look back on our time in Napier!)

Te Mata Peak - This became one of our favorite hiking spots. When it's not so cloudy, the Pacific Ocean is a beautiful turquoise color. What you didn't get to see: A guy walked up to us while we were filming this 'decision' scene and said, "Are you guys filming House Hunters International? Is it gonna be house 1, 2 or 3?" haha!

On the first day of filming, we were so nervous pulling up to the first house.

I didn't know what to expect and didn't want to say anything stupid. I was apprehensive about how we might be portrayed in the episode... Because let's be real - sometimes the couples on House Hunters are super annoying. 

But really, those curtains were ugly. ;)

As the sound man taped a mic under my shirt I thought, "Great, now he's going to hear my heart pounding and know how nervous I am."

Why yes, I am wearing a wire. 

The crew was super laid back and put us at ease right away.

Director John hunting for good sound bites. 

Soon it was as if we'd known them for years. It was as if the camera wasn't even there!

Seriously though, House 2 was kind of amazing.

I remember at the end of the first day Joe turned to me on the car ride home and said, 'That was easy! I could definitely do this for a living.' Psssh! We're basically like the Kardashians. Right? ;)

Getting the GoPro ready before our drive around the neighborhood 'Kardashian style' - just swap Kim's Bentley for our Subaru. What you didn't get to see - me shrieking and Joe slamming on the breaks as a rabbit dashed in front of the car while the GoPro was filming. If only this were a comedy show.

Over the course of five days, we viewed three houses, did 'couples' and 'single' interviews about what we thought of each house, explored Napier, toured a Waka (Maori ship), tasted lots of delicious wine at Black Barn Vineyards and had plenty of fun off camera and at lunch with the crew. 

John our Director asking us what we thought of house two.

Drinking on the job at Black Barn Vineyards, one of our favorite wineries in Hawke's Bay.

Drinking on the job at Black Barn Vineyards, one of our favorite wineries in Hawke's Bay.

Taking a stroll around Napier. What you didn't get to see: the belly dancing class that set up shop in the background while we were filming. Time for a new location?

I didn't really know anything about Maori culture before moving to New Zealand, so I loved getting to experience it on the show and share it with US.

House Hunters International was a great opportunity to explore Napier, but more importantly it was a great way to share memories of our experience in Napier with family and friends back home who wouldn't get to visit. 

By the end of five days of filming, I had such an appreciation for all the work that goes into making television.

I loved our little beach house in Napier and will always treasure the time we spent there. 

When I finally got home after we wrapped the final scene, I actually felt a twinge of sadness that it was over and that we'd have to say goodbye to the friends we'd made. The crew was off to Christchurch the next day to film another episode. 

My very favorite spot in our Napier house with the best views!

I'm so glad we decided to do the show. It's been so much fun hearing all of the hilarious comments from friends and family back home. Thank you to our wonderful crew who made this such a fun experience and to HGTV for capturing our story. 

Stay tuned, as I'll soon be posting the episode online for all of you who missed it!

Photos courtesy of our amazing Director, John Hagen!

Set your DRV for House Hunters International!

I'm so excited to announce that Joe and I are going to be featured on House Hunters International on HGTV! I've been a fan of the show for a long time, and when I decided to move to New Zealand, so many people told me, "You should apply to be on House Hunters International!" I never thought it would actually happen.

Photo my friend Rob sent. So surreal!

Elizabeth on Elizabeth Road in Napier.

The episode 'Nesting in Napier' airs Sunday June 28th at 11:30pm/10:30c and again Monday June 29th at 2:30pm/1:30c in the states. 

Is there a slight risk I'll be 'that annoying girl that hates the curtains'? Maybe. Is there a possibility that I'll totally embarrass myself? Yup. But we had a blast filming the show, and I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to document my first home in New Zealand and share that with my friends and family back in the states. 

We won't get to see the show for another three weeks when the DVD arrives in mail, so let me know how it goes. Will we choose house 1, 2, 3? Guess we'll have to wait and see!

'The decision'

Stay tuned for some behind-the-scenes pictures up on the blog after the show airs!

Photos courtesy of our amazing Director, John Hagen!

We have little blue penguin visitors!

Super exciting news... we've got penguins at our house!

The other night while sitting on the couch watching TV, Joe and I heard the most unusual noise outside. We paused the program and stopped to listen. What on earth is that? 

We opened the door and to our surprise, there was a little blue penguin hiding under the garden box! Joe crouched down to get a closer look and the brave little penguin emerged. My bird-nerdiness went off the charts!

We decided to call him Jimmy.

Little Blue Penguins are known to live along New Zealand's coastline, but having lived on the coast for a while, I was starting to doubt their existence. 

They're the world's smallest penguin, standing at about 25cm and weighing about 1 kilo of blue cuteness. Adult birds come ashore between May and June to prepare nests and waddle up to 1.5 km from the sea, and climb 300 m to find the perfect nest site. 'Nest Hunters International' - Let's hope our place makes the cut, because I would just die if we get baby penguins waddling around the property! 

The next evening at about the same time we heard the squawking again, but this time twice the noise.  We opened the door to find two penguins on the steps! 

Looks like Jimmy the penguin has taken a lover. Meet Roxanne.

Once again I exploded with penguin excitement - not only because they were so cute, but because only in New Zealand (and maybe Australia) do you get penguins on your door step!

Earlier this year, we paid money to see penguins on the South Island, and here they were outside my house!

They didn't seem to be bothered by our presence and just continued to go about their business. Since that night, my ears have been perked for penguin noises, but we haven't seem them again. Hopefully they've found a suitable spot to nest and we'll be seeing more of Jimmy and Roxanne in the future! I'll keep you posted!

 

You can learn more about the Little Blue Penguin at through the New Zealand Department of Conservation

You can't take Louisiana out of the girl

Uptown funk at Carrie and John's wedding

I can still vividly remember walking to class across LSU's campus in late August cursing the heat as sweat built up between my shirt and my backpack. I couldn't wait to move some place cool and dry. I thought I'd avoid Louisiana summers for the rest of my life if I could. 

I recently returned home to Louisiana in June for my dear friend Carrie's wedding and to spend time with my family and grandparents. During my visit I came to the realization that I actually missed Louisiana summer. Sometimes it takes moving away to figure out all of the little things you love that you've spent most of your life taking for granted. 

This was a particularly special trip home because I had Joe joining me in New Orleans for the second time. Seeing my home through a "foreigner's" eyes only further emphasized the magic that is uniquely Louisiana and had my heart swelling with love for the place I will always call home. 

Watching the clouds roll in

Sure, it rains here in New Zealand, but nothing compares to sitting on the front porch swing, watching afternoon storm clouds roll in and feeling a sudden change in temperature as heavy rain drops come pouring down. You're almost always guaranteed a lightening show accompanied with loud claps of thunder over Lake Ponchatrain, and if you're lucky, you may even spot a water spout (a small tornado over water).

The rain passes as soon as it arrives. Steam rises up off the asphalt and the smell of rain, freshly cut grass and hot asphalt fill the air. I realize I've never found that scent anywhere else I've lived. From afternoon and into the night I hear the rain frogs hidden in the puddles singing 'raaaaiiiiinnnn' and I know I am home. 

Bring the heat

The South agrees with him.

The South agrees with him.

After nearly five years without air conditioning in San Diego and New Zealand, I always feel the need to bundle up indoors when I'm in Louisiana, where the air conditioning is always blasting. When I walk outside I brace myself for the wave of hot steam that greets me at the door and fogs up my sunglasses. 

I used to despise being outside in the summer, but on this trip I just couldn't get enough of it. (Maybe it's the fact that I'm in the midst of my first Wellington winter). Every day we find time to sit on the porch talking and waving to people walking along the lakefront, or napping on the swing in the afternoon when it's cool. Even when we're doing nothing, it feels like something.

Chasing alligators on our family kayak trip to Fontainebleau State Park

Chasing alligators on our family kayak trip to Fontainebleau State Park

Food tour

Dining at Mother's. Joe wanted to try them all - Crawfish Etouffee, Chicken & Sausage gumbo, seafood gumbo, red beans and rice and collard greens.

Dining at Mother's. Joe wanted to try them all - Crawfish Etouffee, Chicken & Sausage gumbo, seafood gumbo, red beans and rice and collard greens.

Each day we head out for what has become more of a food tour than a vacation. Our schedules revolve around restaurants and social gatherings. So many things for Joe to try and so little time!

Fried chicken biscuit from Lüke. 

Fried chicken biscuit from Lüke. 

We managed to squeeze in a visit to Port O Call, Mother's, Lüke and Drago's. You won't find an organic leafy green salad on the menu here, but to hell with it! No where else in the world does Chargrilled Oysters like Drago's. I love watching the cooks literally shovel (with large shovels) butter and seasoned breadcrumbs over the oysters on the open flame.

It's also fun to discover the great new restaurants that have popped up while I've been away, like Liz's Where Y'at Diner in Old Mandeville (kitschy 'NOLA' diner and burger joint) and The Shiver Shack on The Mandeville Lake Front (Ah-MAZING Tenessee BBQ).

Finger lickin' good ribs from the Shiver Shack.

Finger lickin' good ribs from the Shiver Shack.

Louisiana people have so much pride in their state. Everyone's got a favorite place or must-do for us to try before we leave... 

"Y'all gotta try Mother's. They got the world's best baked ham."
"Oh, have you had a Monsoon yet? You've gotta get one if you go to Port O Call. It'll knock you on your ass!"
"Did y'all bring marshmallows to feed the gators? Gators love marshmallows!"

Sharing is caring

Almost every time I go home to visit my parents, one of their friends shows up on the front porch over the course of the week with some kind of free food to share - freshly caught shrimp, red fish on the half shell, veggies from the garden — sharing is caring! 

Freshly caught BBQ shrimp from friends and green beans from my dad's garden

Freshly caught BBQ shrimp from friends and green beans from my dad's garden

And my parents are always sending someone home with tomatoes from the garden, packs of home-grown spices or homemade pickled okra. It's one of those social aspects of life that you really only get when you've been living somewhere for a while in a place where everybody knows everybody. 

Down on the bayou

Family boat ride through the swamp

Family boat ride through the swamp

During this trip, I really wanted to show Joe more of my roots, which meant spending time with my grandparents! Each time I am with them I hear new stories  and some I've heard before ;-)  about their pasts, learn bits of history about our family and discover new things about myself.

The church in Luling where my grandparents were married 66 years ago. 

The church in Luling where my grandparents were married 66 years ago. 

While in Luling, where my dad was raised and his parents still live, we tooled around town seeing bits of my dad's childhood, as well as some authentic Louisiana scenery. My uncle took us for a little swamp tour on his boat where we spotted an alligator!

I spy with my little eye...

I spy with my little eye...

Afterwards we visited my grandparents' house, which is basically like a museum.

My grandfather saves/collects everything - every award, bumper sticker, keychain and cap he's ever been given, and his woodshed is truly a sight to behold. 

My Grandpa Allen's workshop

My Grandpa Allen's workshop

Everything has a place.

Everything has a place.

So many of my favorite childhood memories take place with my grandparents — listening to ghost stories on the porch swing with my cousins at their camp in Mississippi or playing with our new toys in the drive way on Christmas morning. I'm so glad I was able to share those memories with Joe. 

Bushwacked

Before we headed back to New Zealand, there was just one more 'southern' experience I wanted Joe to have — it's time to get bushwacked at the FloraBama!

Florabama

The FloraBama is 3-story bar situated on the coast of Orange Beach and also sits on the Alabama/Florida state line. (And my dear friend Kate just so happens to have a condo next door to the bar, so it was essential that we work a beach weekend into the vacation.) Florabama serves up the most delightful drink, a bushwacker, which is like a mud slide daiquiri made with coconut cream, Kahlua, Bacardi Black Rum, dark creme de cacao and milk.

It's a great place to dance to live music, enjoy bushwackers all night with your toes in the sand, watch Bachelorette Parties and 'cougars' alike get wild and of course take your photo in one of those face-in-a-hole booths. 

Enjoying a slice of pizza in the ocean.

Enjoying a slice of pizza in the ocean.

A weekend at Orange Beach is the perfect way to relax and recharge with friends before returning to New Zealand on our 24+ hour journey.

Fish bait and Christian t-shirts - a gas station sign you'll only find in the South. 

Fish bait and Christian t-shirts - a gas station sign you'll only find in the South. 

My trip home has left me with a renewed appreciation for my roots and all things uniquely Louisiana. I still can't put my finger on why this trip felt so much more special than the one's before. Maybe it's just because I had everyone I love in one place.

One last sunset in the states before our journey home. 

One last sunset in the states before our journey home. 

Back 'home' in New Zealand

Back 'home' in New Zealand

Easy Roast Chicken & New Zealand Yams

It's that time of year again — New Zealand yams are in season! Last year I discovered these strange red and orange wrinkly veggies at my local grocery store. Not knowing what they were, I bought three and took them home to experiment. 

Turns out, they are delicious and I should have bought way more than three. Once I learned how to cook them, they quickly became a Sunday evening winter staple in my house. 

Here's a fantastic set and forget recipe using New Zealand yams (can be substituted with baby pearl potatoes) that only requires a bit of chopping and one roasting dish for easy clean up. But I usually make 2 dishes so I can enjoy leftovers. 

Roast Chicken and New Zealand Yams

Ingredients

6 chicken thighs
1 yellow onion
1 red onion
1.25 lbs of New Zealand Yams
(or bag of baby potatoes)
brussel sprouts
4 garlic cloves
Olive oil
1 Lemon
1-2 tbsp of herbs de provence
fresh thyme
salt & pepper to taste

There are really no exact measurements. I usually add as little or as many veggies and spices as I like. Get creative!

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF

2. Rinse your yams or potatoes and place them in a roasting dish. If they're fairly large, chop them in half so they cook through faster.

3. Peel and chop both yellow and red onions and add them to the roasting dish.

4. Rinse the brussel sprouts discarding any outside leaves that are damaged, chop the sprouts in half and add to the roasting dish. 

5. Add 4 garlic cloves to the mix, keeping the skin on.

6. Drizzle the veggies with a generous amount of olive oil (3-4 tablespoons). Squeeze the lemon over the veggies and throw the lemon halves in the roasting dish. Mix the veggies until they are well coated in oil and juice. 

7. Season both sides of the chicken thighs with salt, pepper and herbs de provence. Bury the chicken amongst the vegetables with sprigs of fresh thyme.

8. Roast for 30 minutes, checking in to make sure the chicken is not over cooking. Baste the juices that have collected at the bottom. If the chicken has cooked, remove and place on a warm plate while the vegetables continue to roast. Roast for an additional 20-30 minutes until the yams are completely soft. 

The finished dish is delicious combination of sweet caramelized onions and yams bathed in savory spices and chicken juices — the perfect comfort food for New Zealand winter with only one dish to clean on a lazy Sunday evening. 

Every day is summer on Waiheke Island

Each year in New Zealand, Easter marks the end of summer and beginning of Autumn (no spring chicks hatching around here!). Many restaurants and tourism sites take advantage of the holiday weekend before they close up shop for the 'slow season'. So before I embark on the infamous windy and wet Wellington winter that everyone keeps warning me about, it's time to go up north where summer lives in New Zealand — Waiheke Island.

Sunrise flight to Auckland with Air New Zealand

New Zealand holidays always have a way of sneaking up on me. The seasons throw me off, public holidays are different than in the US and suddenly I realize we have a 4-day weekend. Having Good Friday and 'Easter Monday' off is an excellent idea! 

So when I found out I'd be flying up to Auckland for work, I thought why not take advantage of Waiheke Island, a warm and luxurious little island just a 30-minute ferry ride from Auckland's CBD. 

View of the Sky Tower from my hotel in Auckland.

While I was in Auckland I had the pleasure of meeting up with my friend and former colleague from Hawke's Bay, Charlotte. Charlotte introduced me to the most wonderful ice cream shop in the world Giapo!

Giapo is really more of an ice cream experience. The line is long and the prices are more than what you pay for your average ice cream cone, but it's totally worth it; they serve brownie bites while you wait and the ice cream cones really are a work of art. 

The ice cream flavour you choose determines what kind of embellishments you'll receive in your cone or cup. I opted for classic dark chocolate gelato which was then sprinkled with dried strawberries, chocolate, gold flakes and a gold dusted chocolate moon.

Charlotte ended up with a magical chocolate unicorn horn to top off her gold wafer encrusted hazelnut ice cream. Ah-mazing. Giapo is an absolute Auckland must-do. 

The following day, Joe met me in Auckland and we hopped a ferry to Waiheke Island. The ferry rides range from $15-30 and don't require booking in advance, making it easy to catch a ride to Waiheke on a whim and come back in the evening if you like. 

Waiheke island has a little something for everyone. It's probably best known for its wineries, warm weather and beautiful beaches. There's so much to see, do and eat. 

Beach town

The coast is lined with sandy beaches and the water is speckled with yachts. The vibe had me feeling like I was somewhere in the South of France but without the price tag. 

Something for the foodies

The main village of Oneroa is chock full of fantastic little restaurants. Our first stop was Oyster Inn. This sunny restaurant and boutique hotel overlooks the beach and harbour. The swaying palm trees and signature yellow and white striped awning have you immediately feeling like you're on vacation. 

Joe and I enjoyed champagne, oysters and lobster risotto, which was to die for, while taking in the ocean views and enjoying tunes from a live jazz band. Can we please eat here for every meal? 

Another restaurant that's not to miss is Fenice — fantastic and authentic Italian food. We ate there two nights in a row!

Holiday Homes

My one piece of advice for visiting Waiheke Island is to plan ahead and get in quick when it's a holiday weekend. Many Aucklanders commute into the city from Waiheke, while another 3,000 or so people have holiday homes here. Since it was an impromptu trip, pickin's were slim in terms of accommodations. As we explored the island, I marveled at all of the incredible houses along the coast that seemed to be right out of a magazine. It would be great to rent one of these places with a group of friends.

This beach house sat right on Oneroa Beach, and I just love the fancy little door to the back garden. I guess we'll have to stay here next time. ;)

Ultimately we ended up finding a decent little apartment. Although it was nothing out of Architectural Digest, it was still across the street from the beach. We spent most of our Saturday basking in the sun and watching the boats bob in the harbour. 

Adventures for everyone

The following day, we rented a super cheap 'fun rental' and tooled around the island. I was really hoping to rent scooters, but with rain threatening, we opted for this sweet blue truck.

Archery, shooting and wine at Wild on Waiheke

The weekend couldn't be all shopping and dining; I had to plan some 'boy' activities for Joe. We stopped for lunch at Wild on Waiheke and did an hour of archery and clay shooting amongst the grape vines. 

Of course, Joe got the highest score in everything and I left with very sore arms, but we still had a fun time. 

I look like a natural, right?

Olive groves

Not only does Waiheke have wineries but also plenty of olive groves. Due to the Easter holiday, New Zealand places strict rules on alcohol, which can only be purchased and consumed with food during the Easter weekend (lame.) So instead of wine tastings, we opted for an olive oil tasting. As an avid olive lover, I had no problem with this! Although I highly advise against eating random unripened olives you find along the road. They're so bitter!

As we left the olive oil tasting at Rangihoua Estate, we noticed hoards of people parking their cars along the road and migrating to a fence around a dirt track. In typical Joe fashion, Joe walked up to a group of men sitting outside of their van smoking cigarettes and drinking beers and asked what they were waiting for. The demolition derby of course.

Boom - Easter Sunday just got a little more interesting. 

When in Rome! 

It's not what I would have expected for a luxurious little island filled with holiday homes, wineries, boutiques and 5-star restaurants, but this event hidden in the hills seemed to attract people from all walks of life. We had to stick around and watch. 

If you've never been to a demo derby (this was my first), the premise is basically this: About 20+ of the shittiest old cars you could ever imagine (spray painted with all sorts of fantastic phrases) drive round and round a dirt track ramming into one another until the track is littered with bumpers and flat tires and there's only one car left standing. Why anyone would ever sign their spine up for real live bumper cars is beyond me, but boy is it fun to watch!

By the end of the event, my sun glasses were caked with red dirt, but I was so glad that we stuck around to watch. Whenever we travel, we always manage to stumble across the most random things. I really have to credit Joe for this, as he's the one with the guts to walk up to strangers or knock on doors and ask, "Hey, what's going on here?" And for this reason, he makes for an excellent travel buddy. 

In a way, we're much like this incredible dynamic duo whom we met on the way to the ferry in Auckland - Joe the friendly Golden Retriever whose up for anything and me the 'cat in the hat,' just down for whatevs. 

ANZAC Weekend Stay-cation

I know, I've been completely slacking with the blog, but with good reason! You're looking at the new Senior Digital Producer at a brand and experience agency here in Wellington. I'm loving my new gig, working in a fun and laid back environment and even doing my part for mother earth by catching the bus each morning. 

Not a bad view from my desk

I've got a bit of catching up to do, so I'll start with ANZAC weekend and work my way back...

Last weekend New Zealand celebrated ANZAC Day with parades, services and a 3-day weekend. This conveniently coincided with Joe's and my birthdays which are a day apart, so we planned a stay-cation to take part in ANZAC festivities and explore some new parts of Wellington. 

ANZAC (Australia New Zealand Army Corps) Day commemorates the soldiers who fought at Gallipoli against the Ottoman Empire during World War I, as well as all who have served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations. This year marked 100 years since the landing at Gallipoli, and there were beautiful services at dawn all around the country to mark the time that the soldiers landed.

I reluctantly pulled myself out of bed at 4:45am for the dawn service in Wellington, and was absolutely shocked and moved when Joe and I arrived to see thousands of people filling the streets for the service. An estimated 25,000 people attended the dawn service in Wellington!

Despite the hoards of people, there was a beautiful hush and stillness in the air as we sang hymns and listened to the bugle call. I couldn't help but compare the occasion to America's Veteran's Day and wonder if Americans would wake up before dawn to celebrate our veterans - we should! Although I don't have any New Zealand ancestors who fought at Gallipoli, in my heart I celebrated both of my grandfathers who fought in WWII and the Korean War. 

After the service, we watched the sunrise... and then went back to sleep! 

Sun rising across the street from my house.

Sun rising across the street from my house.

On Saturday (in order to make it feel like a proper holiday and a 'birthday extravaganza' as my dad calls it) I booked a room at Ohtela boutique hotel in Wellington I've been wanting to try. 

This well-kept 10 bedroom hotel has a mid-century modern vibe with a tasteful hint of 'Kiwiana' and all of the modern amenities to make you feel relaxed and on vacation. 

The difference is in the details - live plants in little tea cups, clever lighting, good magazines, comfortable and stylish furniture make you actually want to stay and enjoy the room. 

Only in New Zealand will you find an image of sheep in a field wallpapered above the bath tub. 

Room service? Don't mind if I do!

Ohtel is located on Oriental Parade, just a short walk into the Wellington CBD but far enough away to escape from the hustle and bustle. The Norfolk Island Pines reminded me of my first New Zealand home on Marine Parade in Napier. 

In the evening, Joe and I tried a restaurant that a friend recommended - Sweet Mother's Kitchen.

Little did I know that the menu would be full of New Orleans style food! How perfect, considering I'd been desperately suffering from Jazz Fest FOMO. I ordered some 'Prawn' Monica and felt right at home.

PrawnMonica

I'd give it an 8/10 in terms of authenticity. The beignets weren't exactly 'Cafe Du Monde,' but still good enough to curb my craving and get me looking forward to my upcoming trip in May. 

On Sunday we explored the Air New Zealand anniversary exhibit at Te Papa, which I highly recommend. It features all of the crew uniforms that have been worn over the years along with some really interesting aviation history. Did you know New Zealanders used to receive mail by pigeon!?

Te Papa also has some beautiful art exhibits on the 4th floor. For some reason, art museums always make me feel like a traveler. Maybe it brings back old feelings and memories of studying abroad and spending hours in museums around Europe, but I just love it!

So much fun exploring our city! Now that we've seen so much of this beautiful country, we're finding creative new ways to experience new places and activities. Sometimes the best adventures are in your own back yard!