New Zealand’s Weird and Giant Roadside Attractions

New Zealand's Weird and Giant Roadside Attractions

When you think wacky roadside attractions, chances are you think of the United States. Due to its vastness and size, the USA is a country made for road trips, and therefore, roadside attractions like the Giant Ball of Twine. You wouldn’t be wrong for thinking it was the place to see this kind of stuff, because well, that was my belief as well until I saw the giant carrot.

Sure, I had noticed some other weird things on my drive to Okahune, but it was the carrot and adjacent playground that really did it for me. You see, it’s not just bizarre, it is also unexpected: the giant carrot is the first man-made thing you see after miles and miles of pure, untouched landscape, so it sort of stands out.

After seeing this strange and hilarious statue, I started taking note of the other strange things I saw on the road here in New Zealand. So, here’s a list of funky and “giant” roadside attractions I’ve seen on the North Island, all thanks to Okahune’s giant carrot.

Note: I have only personally seen the first 6 of these attractions. The rest were compiled using internet research and gathering photos from other travelers.

1. Giant Carrot – Okahune

Okahune claims its giant carrot is the world’s largest model
Carrot Adventure Park features mascots of the vegetable variety

The giant carrot of Okahune has been greeting visitors to Okahune on the North Island since 1984. Originally used as a prop in a commercial, the town purchased the fiberglass prop as a way to honor farmers in the area who grow most of the country’s carrot crop.

But if you’re going to stop and look at the carrot, you’re going to want to park and check out what’s behind it: the Carrot Adventure Park. In addition to the slides and swings, this playground features a number of fun crop-inspired characters with ridiculous names to match, such as “Muncho Manchester” the carrot.

2. Giant Gumboot – Taihape

Taihape doesn’t make gumboots but considers itself to be the “Gumboot Capital of the World”
I mimicked some kids in the area and climbed on the boot. There are no signs around discouraging people from doing this

Although it’s corrugated iron is painted in bright colors, the Gumboot of Taihape is a bit easier to miss than Okahune’s carrot. Not only is it smaller, but it is also not in as obvious a location, especially when driving North. Still, it has just as strange a story behind it: The town erected the statue after it became known as the “Gumboot Capital of the World.” The thing is, the town doesn’t make or really have anything to do with gumboots, it got the moniker thanks to a fictional gumboot-wearing character named Fred Dagg who came from Taihape.

3. Giant Bull – Bulls

When I was in Bulls, this giant statue was decorated for Christmas
The town’s ador-a-bull and punny sign

To be fair, there is way more bull to see in Bulls than just the giant one, even though the town doesn’t get its name from the animal. Instead, Bulls was named after James Bull, an English settler who owned and operated the town’s first general store. Still, in recent years the town has taken to celebrating the animal that shares its name by erecting giant bull statues all around town, including a big wooden one that stands in its center.

While the bull on wheels itself is impressive, what really got me was the sign of bull puns next to it. The sign points you towards some of the town’s sights, including the Bulls Library, which is described as”read-a-bull,” The Mothered Goose Cafe, which is apparently “select-a-bull,” and the information center which is, unsurprisingly, “inform-a-bull.”

4. Giant De Molen Windmill – Foxton

Foxton, New Zealand is home to a Dutch windmill
The windmill offers visitors a chance to buy Dutch treats and souvenirs because nothing says I visited New Zealand like clogs?
The windmill is fully functional and built to specifications directly from the Netherlands

This is just so out of place and random that my first thought when I went inside the windmill was “only in New Zealand!” The fully-operational windmill opened in 2003 and is a full-scale replica of the traditional windmills found in the Netherlands. (It even grounds flour you can buy!) The ground floor is a shop that sells goods imported from the Netherlands, but you can also see the working parts of the windmill for a small donation.

5. Cuba Street Bucket Fountain

Some people say Elijah Wood peed in this fountain

While I saw the other 4 on a single road trip out of Wellington, this strange and splashy statue resides in the city I currently call home. It’s a pretty average looking bucket fountain, and honestly, I don’t understand why this silly statue is on so many people’s “must see” lists. Not only is it strange, the fountain is also broken and splashes unsuspecting visitors. Local lore has it the fountain does this because no one remembered what order the buckets were supposed to go in after being taken apart for maintenance.

6. Big Dog and Sheep – Tirau

Tirau’s giant sheep dog building houses its I-Site center. Photo Courtesy: Saskia Boerboom
Tirau’s Big Dog and Sheep Buildings. (Photo courtesy: Phillip Capper/Wikimedia) 
While I have actually seen these unique buildings from the car, I didn’t think to get out and take a photo at the time.

 

You can’t miss these massive, corrugated iron buildings as you drive by, and if you have time you might as well pull over, take a picture and go inside them! The sheep building houses a wool and craft shop while the sheep-herding dog’s insides are home to the town’s information center.

 

Tirau is also home to a giant ram, and a bunch of other corrugated iron sculptures including a cow, a shepherd, and a praying mantis.

 

7. Giant L&P Bottle – Paeroa
One of the two giant L&P bottles you can find in Paeora. (Photo Courtesy: Emma Jeffreys)
The potentially more “famous” L&P Bottle. (Photo Courtesy: Paul Moss Photographer Artist NZ/Wikimedia)
A soft drink that is “World Famous in New Zealand,” L&P is a Kiwi staple in the summertime.

 

Known for its wacky advertising, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the town where L&P get’s its name has not one, but two giant bottles paying tribute to it! The original and potentially more “famous” L&P bottle features the brand’s original design and is located in Ohinemuri Park. But if you’d like some L&P to go with your L&P visit, there is also one outside an L&P Cafe.

 

L&P stands for “Lemon and Paeroa,” which comes from the drinks original recipe: carbonated water from the town of Paeroa mixed with lemon. (It tastes a bit lemony and peppery.)

 

8. Catlin’s Teapot Land – Owaka
This garden of teapots sits alongside the main road in Wanaka. (Photo Courtesy: Bethany Gordan)

 

The teapot’s featured in the garden come in all shapes, sizes, and colors (Photo courtesy: Bethany Gordan)
Having never been to the South Island myself, this attraction came as a complete surprise to me when a fellow traveler shared it in a group, so I figured it was worth featuring.

 

Teapot Land has a weird origin story. The man who owns it, Graham Renwick, tells Stuff.co.nz, that one day he found a teapot in his garden and popped it on his fence. He then added a few more from his own collection, and the rest is history. He now he has over 1300 teapots in his garden from all over New Zealand and the world.

 

9. Bradrona Cardrona
You might not want to wear your favorite bra the day you choose to visit Bradona. (Photo courtesy: Julia Menn of curioustravelertravelogues.com)
Amongst the beautiful scenery of central Otago, there stands a fence adorned with thousands of bras.

 

Yes, bras.

 

The fence allegedly began in 1999, when four bras were found hanging from a fence on Cardrona Valley Road. Locals weren’t too keen on it, but the collection of bras steadily grew as more and more travelers added their own undergarments.

Wonderful Wai-O-Tapu

Waiotapu in Rotorua

Wai-O-Tapu is an attraction about 20 minutes outside Rotorua that bills itself as a “thermal wonderland.” The park features a number of attractions and sights caused by the volcanic activity in the area. But while it is full of some beautiful colors and unique landscapes, it is not necessarily a must-do in the region.

A day at Wai-O-Tapu begins early, as you have to get there by mid-morning if you want to see one of the park’s main attractions: the Lady Knox Geyser.

A crowd gathers to watch the Lady Knox Geyser erupt at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

Although the Lady Knox Geyser is not located in the Wai-O-Tapu park, the only way you can actually see it erupt is by buying the $32.50 NZD ticket into the park. So if you want to get your full money’s worth, make sure you get to the park early enough to see the geyser erupt, which only happens at 10:15 am sharp every day.

 

And why does it only happen at that time? Why is this geyser so predictable?

Well, because the park guides force it to erupt by putting soap in it.

A bit disappointing, isn’t it? While it is cool that you are guaranteed to see the geyser upon admittance into the park, this seems like a bit of a cheap trick.

Don’t get me wrong, the guides tell a neat tale sort of vindicating what they are doing. The story goes this: the geyser was discovered by prison inmates in the early 1900’s who were in the area clearing trees. When these prisoners found the hot water, they put soap into it to wash their clothes, making it erupt.

A view of the Lady Knox Geyser erupting, and a closer look at its artificial base

In addition to the eruption not being a natural phenomenon like say, Old Faithful in the States, the base of this geyser is also man-made. Rocks were placed at its base several years ago with the specific purpose of making the eruptions more intense. (The water can climb up to 20 meters or 65 feet high depending on the day and amount of soap.) Those rocks have since become coated with silica left behind from all the man-made eruptions.

That being said, it is fun to see, especially if you’re like me and have never seen a geyser erupt before. Just know you’re going to see more of a show than a naturally occurring phenomenon.

There is some good news, however, and that’s the attractions inside the park. These are not only completely natureal, but are far more vibrant, colorful and strange than the geyser.

A view of the Artist’s Pallet and Champagne Pool attractions at Wai-O-Tapu

It is these colorful pools and springs inside the park that give Wai-O-Tapu its name, which means “sacred waters” in Maori. From the radioactive green-colored Devil’s Bath to the refreshingly colored blue and oranges in the Champagne Pool, your eyes are in for a a treat that spans the colors of the rainbow. Like the official website says really you can “leave the filter at home.”

The radioactive green Devil’s Bath
Wai-O-Tapu’s famous Champagne Pool

All of the sights here are thanks to the park’s location inside a collapsed volcanic crater that was formed 230,000 years ago. The area is still active, and of course, like most of the attractions in Rotorua, smells like sulfur. While the smell is stronger than some areas of the park than others, the rotten egg smell is fairly prevalent for the whole 75 minutes it takes to see the park, so if this is something that is likely to bother you, I’d advise a nose plug, or at least waiting to eat your lunch until afterward.

Something else you should prepare for when visiting is the crowds. Wai-O-Tapu may be a natural series of sights, but it feels much like an amusement park. There are lines of people excited to catch a glimpse of the waterfalls or lakes just like there are lines and crowds waiting to get on Space Mountain. IT is an experience that I think is purely New Zealand; where else in the world would natural sights be akin to going to Disney Land?

Even the trees here are colored and feel radioactive thanks to a type of algae known as trentepohlia

Overall, I did enjoy my visit to Wai-O-Tapu and would recommend it to anyone who has the $33 NZD in their budget. However, if you have more time than money, I would advise you to skip it. You can see sights similar to the ones in the park throughout the region for free, they are just more spread out and require a bit of planning, driving, and hiking.

In addition to the geothermal attractions, you also get to spend a bit of time walking through native New Zealand bush

Rotorua Hot Springs on a Budget

New Zealand is known for its unique and beautiful landscape. From Milford Sound in the South Island to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in the North, this country is made for people who love the outdoors. And while some are free, a lot of them end up costing you a bit of money. For instance, even though the Tongariro is free to hike, you have to pay a shuttle to drop you off and pick you up because of parking rules in the area. For Milford Sound, you really need to hire a boat or kayak to access the area’s gorgeous views.

The hot pools and hot springs in Rotorua are no different. The most amazing sights in this area all charge an entry fee. I understand in this case some of it is to protect and preserve the natural resources, but it can get pricey for anyone on a budget. But there is a free option.

Kuirau Park is located on the edge of Rotorua’s downtown and is home to several natural examples of geothermal activity in the area. Sure, the sights aren’t nearly as colorful as those in the paying attractions, but you can certainly get the feel of what makes this place unique. (Including the sulphuric smell!)

Kuirau Park is mostly home to different pools of bubbling, hot mud. While this is actually quite neat to see, the main attraction here is the area’s massive boiling lake.

One of the many mud pools at Kuirau Park

Kuirau Lake is fairly large, and there are pathways built all the way around it for you to see it safely. Full of dead trees and smoke rising from the lake, the whole area feels like a villain’s secret lair. Making the whole atmosphere even more spooky? A story behind its name and founding that sounds like the plot of a horror movie. According to Maori Legend, Lake Kuirau used to be a cooler lake and was called Taokahu. In fact, they say it was cool enough that people could bath in the water, and that’s exactly what a woman named

Kuirau Lake
One of the viewing platforms at Kuirau Lake
Walk through the smoke at Kuirau Lake using this platform over the water, but be warned: it is quite smelly

According to Maori Legend, Lake Kuirau used to be a cooler lake and was called Taokahu. In fact, they say it was cool enough that people could bath in the water, and that’s exactly what a woman named Kuiarau was doing when a legendary creature name Taniwha dragged her to his lair below the lake. Legend has it this action angered the gods, who made the lake boil to kill Taniwha. The lake has been boiling since and was renamed after the woman who died.

Makes you want to visit, doesn’t it?

As I said previously, Kuirau’s attractions aren’t all that colorful and are fairly limited in scope. (It’s mostly mud, outside the lake.) Kuirau Park is also missing a place for you to actually get in the water, although there is a place to dip your feet in. Personally, I was okay not getting into any hot pools, as they are breeding grounds for amoebas that lead to meningitis. But if that’s your thing, there are a lot of free pools outside of downtown for you to take a dip in.

The lush, tropical greens in other parts of the park are in stark contrast to the dead plants dotting Kuirau Lake

Kuirau Park is uniquely beautiful, and I highly recommend it to anyone who appreciates a spooky location and doesn’t have a lot of money. It’s an especially useful find for backpackers in the area who don’t own a car to make it out to the paying attractions, which are all a bit of a drive outside of the city.

However, if you are willing to spend money, check back next week when I take you through some of the colorful attractions at Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland.

This shot of Kuirau Lake makes me think of Scar’s Pridelands from Disney’s “The Lion King”

Magic in Real-Life: New Zealand’s Glowworm Caves

Note: All Photos in this post courtesy of Spellbound Glowworm and Cave Tours unless otherwise specified.

If Epcot ever gets a New Zealand pavilion, I already know what the ride should be: a quick sail through dark waters illuminated only by glow worms.

Let me explain. New Zealand is home to a lot of magnificent sites. From its many mountains to its hot springs, to its Lord of the Rings filming locations, there are a plethora of natural things to see and do here. And while I haven’t seen them all, I have seen quite a few, yet none of them have been as magical or as memorable as my time spent in Waitomo.

Waitomo is a small town on the North Island that has a population of about 50 people. However, its population grows by the thousands on any given day, as travelers from all over come here to see glowworm caves. Now, to be fair, glowworm is a nice name for the fly maggots that glow with bioluminescence in the area, but still, they are a really beautiful sight to behold.

A close-up of the magical glowworms in Waitomo

The many caves in the area are also where Waitomo gets its name. In Maori, the language of the native New Zealanders here, Waitomo is a combination of two words: “wai” or water, and “tomo” or hole. According to the town’s official tourism site, the combining of these words literally translates to “stream which flows into the hole in the ground.” It is these streams that provide the unique environment needed for the glowworms to grow and thrive.

Oh, and because this is New Zealand there was also a hike involved. Here’s a look at some of the limestone rocks that line the Waitomo countryside, and are responsible for the caves in the area (Photo by Amiekay)

There are a number of companies that run glowworm tours in Waitomo, including one that allows you to go rafting through the caves. However, because I went sort of unplanned, we had to call around and really just go with whichever tour would take us. This ended up being Spellbound, a private tour company who has access to caves outside of the town center. For Spellbound’s tour, we took a bit of a lengthy car ride through town, parks, and eventually a private farm. During this time, our comedic tour guide asked us silly questions like “if you were a cake, what kind of cake would you be?” to pass the time. He also told us a bit of history about the area, including the opening of sinkholes that would often result in the deaths of cows.

The tour we were on included a boat ride through a wet cave and a walking tour through a dry cave. Both are interesting and informative, but the first cave is far more spectacular. During this tour, not only are you treated to your first look at the glowworms but also you are given plenty of time for your eyes to adjust before getting into the boat. This means you see more glowworms more clearly.

A picture of the raft we took through the cave.

I have to be honest, the whole thing really felt like a ride at Disney World. It seemed totally unreal and completely out of a storybook, and I found that I had to repeatedly remind myself it was in fact, not only real life but also a natural phenomenon. Sure, the lights were being made by maggots but they are beautiful. (Our comedic tour guide also told us that the glowworms sometimes fall from the ceiling, but luckily this did not happen on my trip.)

A look at the worms in the light

After the boat ride, our tour stopped off for coffee and biscuits before heading to the dry cave. The dry cave is a little more traditional and features the tour guide explaining the difference between stalagmites and stalactites. However, there were some only in New Zealand moments. Including a close up look at the skeleton of a Moa bird, an ostrich-like animal that was killed off when the Maori arrived on the island hundreds of years ago. (We also were shown cave wetas and a huntsman spider, but I was a little less thrilled about those things.)

The skeleton of a young Moa that experts believe fell into the cave and died
Another skeleton we were shown, which our guide told us is the “most photographed dead cow” in New Zealand. I think he was joking… (Photo by Amiekay)

Overall, I have to say the glowworm caves are a must-see for anyone visiting New Zealand. While there are glowworms elsewhere in the world, the ones here are larger and more plentiful than anywhere else. And the tours aren’t expensive, either. Our entire tour cost $75 NZD and was 2 hours long, but some of the other tours cost as little as $35 NZD. Much cheaper than Disney World.

A look at what the glowworms looked like to the naked eye (Photo by Amiekay)

Best Kiwi Sunrise and Sunset

If you follow me on Instagram, then you know I have this thing with the sun. I love the way its rays play against everything from the clouds, to the scenery to my phone’s camera lenses. I also just really like sunny days, and from time to time will take pictures of the sun with my camera, just so I can see what it really looks like in the sky without harming my eyes.

That being said, the sun in New Zealand is unlike the sun anywhere else in the world. Yes, its the same sun you have where you are, but there’s a bit of a hole in the ozone here, so it looks a lot different in the sky. While this unnatural phenomenon is bad for your skin (I burn quicker here than I ever did in South Florida,) it is great for experiencing stunning sunrises and sunsets.

While I have seen a few sunrises and sunsets during my time in New Zealand, there are two, in particular, that stand out to me.

Best Sunrise: Wainui Beach, Gisborne

Before the sun came over the horizon in Gisborne

While it’s technically incorrect to say this is the “first sunrise the world sees,” that doesn’t stop Gisborne from pushing this as a reason to go there. (It’s not even the first place in New Zealand to see it.) However, you can say pretty accurately Gisborne is the first “major” population center to see the sunrise, so that makes it cool.

But what Gisborne lacks in facts, it makes up for in beauty. The sunrise here is quite stunning, even in the cold. The sun clears the horizon with epic orange rays that dance against the clouds, beaches, and mountains in a way only the New Zealand sun can do. And because it is so far East, and not so densely populated there is nothing to impede your view.

The sun in all its glory

Best Sunset: Piha Beach, Piha

The sun beginning its decline in Piha, as my friends take a walk along the beach

Before I came to New Zealand, the best sunset I had ever seen was in Key West, Florida, USA. There is something about the size of the sun setting this close to the equator that is decidedly out-of-this-world. The boats sailing in the area add a stunning backdrop just about every evening.

A ship sails during sunset in Key West, Florida

So you can imagine how beautiful the sunset at Piha must be for me to say it may now, in-fact, be my favorite. But, somehow, it did that, despite the chill in the ai
The reason I loved the sunset at Piha is the brightness of the sun. It is not especially large like the sun in Key West, but it’s so bright it makes you look like a standing shadow on the beach.

The other thing about the sunset at Piha is the way the rays play against the rocky coastline, which admittingly, is not something you get to see everywhere.

The sun falling beneath the horizon in Piha

5 Reasons You Should Skip Rere Rockslide and 5 Reasons its a Must-Do

I recently took the plunge and rode down one of New Zealand’s most unique attractions: the Rere Rockslide. Here are some reasons why I think you should go, and a few why it may be something to take off your list.

5 Reasons to Pass it Up:

1. The water is cold.

 

Like, really cold. Have you ever put your finger in an ice cube tray a few minutes before it turns solid? That’s about how cold the water is at Rere. And no, it doesn’t depend on the season since its fresh water in a little stream.

 

2. Sandflies will bite you

 

I don’t know why these things are called Sandflies since they actually live in the dirt of the forests here in New Zealand. Nonetheless, these things are everywhere around the rock slide. They look like gnats, and because your feet will be numb from the cold water, you don’t realize they’re biting you until you see your feet bleeding.

 

The top of the slide offers a pretty view as well

 

3. The walk from the bottom is slippery and dangerous

 

The rockslide is a natural phenomenon, which makes it really cool. But also, because this is 100% Pure New Zealand, that means there are no man-made steps or safety precautions. This means you are walking up wet rock to get back to the top.

 

4. It’s out of the way. Like, really out of the way.

 

It’s about 100 km, or 45 minutes outside of Gisborne. Aside from a small waterfall and the rockslide itself, there’s really nothing else in Rere to see or do.
Rere’s other attraction: Rere Waterfalls

 

5. BYOB – Bring Your Own Board

 

A lot of places advertise that you can rent boogie/body boards at the site, but that wasn’t the case when I was there, so I would be prepared with your own. However, if you do bring one, make sure its a cheap one, as the rockslide is known for busting them up pretty badly.

 

5 Reasons it’s Not to Be Missed:

 

1. It is fun!

 

Once you start going down the slide, you forget how numb your feet are. The slide is exactly as exciting as the viral videos make it out to be.

 

2. There’s nowhere else like it in the world

 

Honestly, if you’re in New Zealand, this is one of those things I would count as a “must do,” since this is unique to the country. (Unlike, say bungee jumping or skydiving.)

 

3. It’s free

 

Aside from the cost of the boogie board and the petrol to get you there, the Rere rockslide is completely free.

 

It doesn’t look too daunting from here, but when you’re there in person, its actually a bit unnerving

 

4. Your friends will judge you if you skip it

 

The moment I told people I was moving to New Zealand, I was sent this video of the Rere Rockslide by a number of people with the phrase “you have to do this.” (I am not the only person who moved here and experienced this pressure.) So really, if you’re going to come all this way, you might as well take the plunge

 

5. You’ll make new friends.

 

If you come prepared with your own board, there’s guaranteed to be someone else who wasn’t prepared and will want to borrow yours. Or vice versa. Either way, it’s a great conversation starter.

 

Me posing with our $10NZD boogie board post-slide

A Tale of Two Art Deco Capitals

A view of Napier’s Marine Parade, complete with a classic car. Marine Parade runs along Napier’s waterfront, which is made up of a pebble beach

Napier, New Zealand calls itself the “Art Deco Capital” of the world. It’s a title that the South Florida-girl in me takes immediate issue with; I mean, doesn’t that title rightfully belong to Miami Beach? After all, Miami Beach is bigger, brighter and well, just more recognizable than Napier. However, after I visited this small, beach-front city, I can now say it has a decent, if not somewhat convincing argument. First, a little history: Unlike Miami Beach, Napier was actually mostly built-up prior to the Art Deco style’s hey-day in the 1920’s and 1930’s. The only reason it has this style of architecture is that the city was razed following the deadly 1931 Hawkes Bay earthquake and had to be rebuilt. This means Napier’s construction of art deco was built for an already existing community and, therefore, has a bit of a different feel to it than its United States counterpart, which admittingly, was mainly driven by consumerism and developers hoping to make a buck from wealthy tourists.

 

A view of Miami Beach’s more tropical art deco style. (Photo courtesy Alex Bellink of A New Day A New Place)
Unlike Napier, a lot of Miami Beach’s art deco buildings are owned by wealthy corporations. (Photo courtesy Alex Bellink of A New Day A New Place)

I think it is this community-driven development that makes Napier feel almost like its stranded in time. Not only does the architecture take you back to what many refer to as a “simpler” time, so does the city itself. Napier’s downtown is lined with both attractions for tourists, as well as the necessities local need for their daily lives. Unlike the streets of Miami Beach, which are lined predominantly with hotels clubs, restaurants, and car parks, Napier has a mix of cute boutiques, locally-owned cafes, grocery stores and pedestrian-only roads. Its a walkable, locally-driven economy, fueled by a rather tiny population (There are less than 70,000 people living in Napier.)

Napier’s art deco Sound Shell Stage

 

A couple strolls Napier’s Viewing Platform

It’s a set-up that’s by all accounts impossible to replicate in a major, global city like Miami. For starters, Miami Beach has 23,000 more people living in it and attracts even more by way of tourists. Furthermore, this U.S. city is just too expensive for any mom-and-pop shop to really thrive there the way they can in Napier.

A look down Napier’s walkable street during sunset. The flower pot sculpture in the center of the photo changes with the seasons. I visited the city in spring.

This money-driven culture that fuels Miami Beach is something Napier and really New Zealand (apart from maybe Auckland) just can’t compete with – most of the time. There are no massive clubs or luxurious spas for you to enjoy in Napier, but there are world-class restaurants. In fact, its Napier and not Auckland that currently houses the country’s “restaurant of the year,” Pacifica. I have not had the pleasure of tasting Pacifica’s dishes, but after a quick look at their prices and reviews, I can only assume they are fantastic: their prices rival those of restaurants in Miami Beach, the playground of the rich and the famous. But the thing is because it’s not Miami Beach, the restaurants in Napier aren’t paying exorbitant rent to be there, and that means: good food doesn’t have to be expensive. Case in point: tasty restaurants like Honger Monger and Mister D’s regularly make “must try” lists for the country and are more than satisfying. And both aren’t going to bust your budget. Talk about old-fashioned entertainment!

A look inside Mister D’s
Mister D’s is known for its donuts, which you can get at any time of the day. You can fancy them up with a syringe of glaze, some of which come in alcoholic flavors

Speaking of old-fashioned entertainment, Napier also makes it easy to be home by curfew: except for the Rose Irish Pub which stays open to a late 12:30 am, the city mostly shuts down at 10 pm. There are no modern-day clubs or bar fights to tear you away from your return to the art deco era.

Napier has less art deco buildings than Miami Beach, and it’s certainly less of an overall tourist attraction. But what it lacks in population, nightlife, and frankly beaches, Napier makes up for with atmosphere. This place, like much of New Zealand, feels like a step back in time. So while this Florida-girl isn’t ready to say Napier is “The” Art Deco Capital of the World, it can certainly be one of them. (Or even, The Art Deco Capital of the Pacific.)

Napier, like Miami Beach, has palm trees. So that means I love it

Hello 2018: What’s Next For Me

2017 will always be the year I took the leap. 2018 will be the year I take back my life.

What does that mean? While I don’t have too many specifics, I will do my best to try and explain.

One specific I can give you is I will be leaving New Zealand as soon as possible. Whether that is when my visa is up in May or sooner is yet to be seen, but I do not plan to stay and settle here. There’s a lot of reasons behind this but they are not limited to cost of living, weather, and lifestyle. Kiwis are much more outdoorsy than I am, and while I do enjoy hiking, I would much rather spend my day lounging on a warm beach that I didn’t have to walk an hour through bush to get to.

This isn’t to say New Zealand is a bad place; this is a beautiful country with a lot of unique experiences to offer. I even had an opportunity to stay long term, but after a lot of thought, I have come to the conclusion its not for me. While I wouldn’t mind staying to the end of my visa as planned, the cost of living here is really catching up with me and making it hard to pay my bills. I am also missing the creativity and purpose of my former career, and staying would mean not only would I be giving up travel, but I would also be giving up my chances to do something creative full-time.

This leads to the next question: where am I headed next? The short answer is: I don’t know. The long answer? I want to find a “home base,” and a creative job in a place I can see my self-living long-term. I have focused a lot of my search for jobs in Florida, as that is where home is for me. However, I am also applying for positions in Australia, Singapore, and other places in the states and around the world. The outcomes of these applications will determine where I head next.

How does this have anything to do with me “taking back my life?” Well, I want a career again. I want to make and create meaningful content, whether that be at a tech company, a news organization or something else. I miss having a job that I am proud to go to every day. (Or at least a remote one that would let me travel.)

2017 will always be the year I decided to live abroad for the first time. Its been full of highs and lows and lots of life experiences I would’ve otherwise missed out on had I not done it. I have grown spiritually and emotionally, and I am so thankful for this year. Fortunately or unfortunately, my first stop on this adventure wasn’t meant to be the final stop. It’s scary and frightening to be back to “not knowing” where I will be in a few months again, but it’s also a little exciting.

However, if you still want more New Zealand content, don’t worry! I have quite a few new adventures to write up and share with you, as well as a potential 4 more months here, so you can look forward to that in 2018.

Happy New Year.

Sunset at North Piha Beach

Castle Point, New Zealand

If you love lighthouses, New Zealand is the place to be. Honestly, I think I’ve walked and hiked to more lighthouses in the Wellington area in the past 7 months then I did my entire life in the states.

That being said, when it comes to my favorite lighthouse here, that would easily be the one at Castlepoint.
Castle Point’s main, but not only attraction
The small town of Castlepoint is about a 2 and a half hour drive outside Wellington in the Wairarapa Region. It’s pretty rural and home to just over 1,600 people. But what it lacks in residents it makes up for in pure beauty.
The obvious attraction at the Castlepoint scenic reserve is the lighthouse, but that’s not all there is to see. Because this is New Zealand, there is also a trail for you to climb, in addition to a number of sandy beaches.
Upon arrival, you’re going to want to climb to the lighthouse first thing, but I would advise you save that for last. That’s because the walk to the lighthouse is quite easy and quick, so you won’t need a lot of energy to get it done. However, you’ll need a bit more to finish and enjoy the Deliverance Cove track, so I suggest you do that first. (And trust me, I don’t suggest hikes unless they are worth it!)
The trek is only about 45 minutes long and is mostly flat. It starts at the parking lot and takes you around the area’s picturesque lagoon. The actual trek ends on the beach, but if you are daring, fit and confident, there is a hidden (and harder) trek that offers beautiful views from above.
The view from Castle Rock of Deliverance Cove
A look back at the path to the top
I am generally a rule-follower, and had I been to Castlepoint alone I probably would’ve ended up on the beach. (Also, because I dream to spend every day of my life on the sand.) However, on the day I explored Castlepoint, I went with my friend Rose, who is definitely more on the adventurous side. (Also she doesn’t like sand.) Rose saw a few people climbing up to the top of Castle Rock instead of down, so we followed.
To be clear: while there were a lot of other people headed up the rock with us, this climb is not an official track. There is no path that is cared for or maintained by anyone, and it is steep. At times, it feels like you are going up the rock at a 90-degree angle. And if that wasn’t tricky enough, there are no trees or shelter to shield you from the area’s wind, so you really have to find secure places to land your feet, and occasionally take a seat to make sure you are grounded.
But like any great hike here in New Zealand, the views from the top are spectacular. You can see so much from the top of Castle Rock: from the beach at Deliverance Cove, to the tiny town of Castlepoint, to the lighthouse, to the stunning blues and turquoise of the Pacific Ocean, it is breathtaking. So far, I think it has to be my favorite vantage point I have climbed to in New Zealand.
Deliverance Cove

But what goes up, must come down. The hike to Deliverance Cove is one way, meaning you have to return on the same path. This isn’t an issue on the official track, as it is big enough for pedestrians in both directions, however, that is not the case for the unofficial climb up and down the rock. This means you have to find creative ways around people going in the other direction, while also fighting gravity and wind. It wasn’t incredibly difficult, but it is a hazard to be aware of. Luckily for me, it was something that was encountered on the way down.

After returning to the parking lot, its a quick walk over the beach to the lighthouse trek. The walk itself starts actually starts along a rock in the water, which means the installed concrete path is sometimes wet from the tide. From there, its a bunch of simple wooden boardwalks over the water and apparently a reef, to the lighthouse.
This area is apparently known for marine mammals and birds, although I have to say we didn’t see anything other than seagulls on our visit. Still, the scenery and jagged, rocky coast are stunning. It reminded me a little of forts on the sea, like Castillo de San Marcos in St Augustine, Florida. It’s a feeling Captain James Cook also shared, having named the place “Castlepoint” because it reminded him of the battlements of a castle.
The castle-like rocks that hold the lighthouse
I could’ve spent the day there, but it was quite windy and neither of us had brought our bathing suits or fishing rods, so we headed home shortly after the trip to the lighthouse. On the way back we stopped at Tinui Bar and Cafe. Now, for any tourists visiting the area this is a must because this place sells the best, and least-expensive Manuka Honey of anywhere I’ve been in this country. For about $14 NZD ($9.50 USD,) you can get a jar of this stuff, that is not only tasty but is also known worldwide for its medicinal properties. This is why Manuka Honey usually runs upwards $30 to $50 NZD a jar, and why this is such an amazing find.
In all, if you ever find yourself in the Wellington Region on a summer’s day, make sure you make the drive to Castlepoint. It is the best day trip any beach or lighthouse lover can take. And hey, there’s a hike too.
The lighthouse, with Deliverance Cove and Castle Point in the background

Australia Adventure: The final post

Days 6 and 7 in Australia were a bit less exciting because they were both mostly travel days.

We woke up early in our cabin at the Kipara Rainforest Retreat and set off from Airlie Beach on a long, 13-hour drive to our hotel in Gold Coast. Of course, there were stops along the way but for the most part, my entire day was spent in the car, either driving, napping, eating, or keeping others awake.
The Australian Countryside
The Pacific Coast Way (and randomly at one point, Australia Country Way,) is full of long stretches of road where you see nothing but cows, flat lands, and trees. It’s beautiful and looks similar to how I’ve always imagined the Texas countryside. (I am told it is similar, however, Australia’s sand and land are much redder.) But I think what struck me on this particular drive was just how dry the entire state of Queensland appeared. Every bridge that was supposed to take us over a body of water instead took us over land. This was true whether it was supposed to be a creek or a vast, rolling river. Additionally, there were areas where you could tell there had been wildfires; the fire lines clearly marked by trunks charred a dark black. A quick google helped verified what my eyes led me to believe: the area is struggling with drought, and has been for years.
And while it’s called the “Pacific Coast Way,” you should know the Bruce Highway spends very little time near the coast. Instead, you drive through a lot of small towns that remind me of wild west movie sets. We stopped in a few, and in one case ended up at a gas station with the scariest toilet in the world. (Seriously, it had no door!)
The creepy toilet
It may be empty, but it sure is beautiful
Something else this road has, which I found unusual, is trivia signs. Literally, there are signs that ask you questions, and later there are signs that give you answers on this road. They are designed to keep drivers awake and alert. And while I think it’s a great idea, it wasn’t executed particularly well: I think in total there were 2 questions on the whole 13-hour drive.
After our long road-trip, the girls and I arrived at our final hotel: another 5-star Sheraton Mirage Resort. This one was in Gold Coast, Australia, but between the major highway and massive amusement parks, I sort of felt like I was in Orlando, Florida.
Now, I would like to say I explored the resort even a little that night, but honestly, I went straight to sleep. It had been awhile since I had been in a car that long, and I was exhausted.
The next day was a short one since we had to catch a flight and had to work in Wellington the next day, but it was enough time to enjoy the resort, explore the area, and check out Brisbane.
To start off, we had a massive (and, as we later found out, expensive) breakfast buffet. It was some of the best food I had on the trip, and considering it was hotel food, that’s pretty impressive. (Or is it sad?) The buffet offered eggs any style you wanted, pancakes, ice cream, fresh honey, cheese and even a salad bar. It was so delicious that even just thinking about it my mouth is watering!
The one thing about staying in a 5-star resort when you’re on a 1-star budget: a lot of those kick-ass amenities are out of your price-range. Case in point: the above breakfast and the shops attached to the Sheraton in the “Mirage Marina” shopping centre. The mall itself is beautiful but is full of only designer brands (and a single newsagent,) so while it was fun to explore a little, it became apparent really quickly that I wasn’t buying anything. (And keep in mind, I did buy a nearly $100NZD dress in Cairns.)
My view for breakfast
Sheraton Grand Mirage, Gold Coast
To be fair, there were a couple of better-priced stores just outside the shopping centre, but by this point, I was over shopping and took the opportunity to really just enjoy the sun, and warm weather. I did this by wandering around the marina and dreaming of boat trips before returning to the resort to lounge by the pool. At some point in the day, I also stepped my feet into the Pacific Ocean for the first time, and while I realize this is something I could’ve done in the States or even New Zealand, it’s pretty funny that it took traveling to Australia for me to do this. (And because I know you’re thinking it, technically the other beaches on the trip were along the Coral Sea, and not the Pacific Ocean.)
Pelican and seagulls chilling in the marina
Now, because the ladies I was with were bosses, we also managed to find time to stop in Brisbane before catching our flight. My glimpse of “Brizzy” was short, but incredibly sweet. Between driving through its city lights at night, and wandering its outdoor pedestrian-only Queen Street Mall, I fell in love. Brisbane seemingly offers everything I want: a city lifestyle, near the coast, and in a tropical climate. Honestly, I could stay in Australia forever. (Not to be dramatic or anything…)
I could end this post telling you that we spent too long shopping in Brisbane which led me to almost lose my kindle and almost miss my flight back to New Zealand, but honestly, since neither of those things happened, what is the point? Instead, I want to end this post expressing how grateful I am to have had 6 full days in a country I’ve always wanted to visit. And while waking up a day ahead of most of my friends and family has now become common-place, its experiences like this one that reminds me how lucky I am and how far I’ve traveled both literally and figuratively. As a child, I was too afraid to ask the fast food clerks for refills, and now I traveling the world alone, and constantly meeting and talking to new people. And I think that’s pretty cool.
Until next time, Australia.
Beach access from the Sheraton