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

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. 

Don't go chasing waterfalls: Muggy Milford Sound Adventures

Since I've been living in New Zealand, Milford Sound has been one of those places that everyone tells me I have to see. Quite a few people have told me it's their favorite place in New Zealand. For nearly a year, I've been trying to get to this magical place hidden in the south west of New Zealand's South Island Fjord land.

South Island Detours

One my favorite things about road trips, and New Zealand road trips in particular, is the opportunity for spontaneity, the ability to go at your own pace and all of the incredible things you encounter when you deviate from 'the plan' and go with the flow. I learned this on my first trip across the West Coast of the South Island with my parents, discovering hidden gems along the way. And it was even more true this second time around with Joe, Jeff and Ashley.