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.

Postcard-perfect weekend in Tutukaka

Middle Earth, alpine valleys and geothermal landscapes are always hogging the attention when it comes to New Zealand 'must-do's', but how often do we get to see New Zealand's tropical side? Just a 2 1/2 hour drive north of Auckland lies Tutukaka, Middle Earth's exotic older sister with a few postcard-perfect views up her sleeve.

Return to the South Island and Exciting Plans for 2015

It's that time of year again... the sun is shining, the weather is warming up and I'm coming out of winter hibernation to travel once again! This time Joe and I will be accompanied by two new travel buddies, my cousin Ashley and her husband Jeff, and I am SO excited!