New Zealand Week 1: Auckland, Bay of Islands, Coromandel Peninsula

Kia Ora Friends! We have been having a great time here in New Zealand for the last week. It hasn’t all been super fun though as we are still adjusting to driving on the left and dealing with being generally allergic to the countryside (I have sneezed twice while writing this sentence). But we have still managed to get the most of out each place we have visited so far. Our first week has been pretty jam packed with activities. We spent a few days exploring Auckland and Waiheke island, drove to Bay of Islands and did a boat tour, and then completed a quick driving tour of the Coromandel peninsula.


Auckland

Waiheke Island

Our first day in Auckland we took a ferry ride out to Waiheke island. It’s known for beautiful beaches and its many vineyards. They have a hop-on/hop-off bus for the main section of the island, so we used that to explore once we got off of the ferry.

Our first stop was a hiking trail that went down to some little waterfalls called the Cascades. It was a bit more grueling than I had planned for (i.e. my jeans weren’t cutting it) but it was nice being out in nature for a little while. After the hike, we went to a winery that boasted great views of the island and we weren’t disappointed.

We also headed to Onetangi beach for some fish & chips and a nice beach walk. It was a beautiful day and I regret not bringing my swimsuit, but we still enjoyed a stroll. After our beach combing, we headed to Tantalus winery and tasted/purchased some delicious Sauvignon blanc and Rosé wines.

Waiheke is a really nice place to relax and unwind — if we lived in Auckland, we would be out there all of the time!

City of Auckland and Mt Eden

Our next full day in Auckland was spent exploring the city. We had seen the waterfront area when we went to the ferry harbor the day before, so we decided to head into the neighborhood of Mt. Eden and head up the large hill there to take in the views.

Auckland is built on a volcanic field, with something like 50 or so volcanoes within the metropolitan area. You can see caldera hills dotted around if you get a good view of the city. Mt Eden is one of the largest ones you can explore and get great views of downtown and the surrounding area. The track up there was pretty easy, only steep in one section. Once at the top, the views were incredible and the caldera itself was also pretty impressive.

After taking in the views, we went for lunch in the neighborhood nearby before heading back to the central business district where we were staying. Due to a strike by the bus drivers, we received free bus rides the rest of day which was pretty nice. On the way back, we stopped at a great ice cream place called Giapo. They have the most #instagramable ice cream I have ever seen. Luckily for me, almost half of their amazing flavors were non-dairy!

For dinner and drinks, we explored the Ponsonby area of the city. It was definitely a much younger crowd and was a bustling place to be on Friday night. We had dinner at the best Asian food place I have ever been called Mekong Baby. Then we got another free bus ride back to our airbnb. Auckland was a pretty fun city and maybe we could have used one more day to explore, but I think we covered a good amount of the highlights for the 48 hours we were there.

Piha Beach

Our way back from Bay of Islands, we wanted to break up the four hour drive, so we stopped into the Waiketere ranges and went to Piha beach. I know this isn’t really part of the auckland part of the trip, but it was only 30 minutes from there, so it could be a nice day trip if you had time in Auckland to venture more out of the city. Piha was a quiet beach town and had the beach mostly to ourselves since we were lucky to be visiting at the beginning of the season. It was a beautiful place to walk around and get some cool photos (and not be in the car). Oh and if you’re lucky like we were, you can see the filming of the reality tv show in NZ about lifeguards on Piha Beach!


Bay of Islands

Bay of Islands was our next stop after Auckland and it was a moderately long 3.5 hour drive from the city. The airbnb was really nice, as the view was great and the host provided everything we needed for breakfast for our two mornings there. Our first evening was spent wandering the beach, eating Indian food, and watching our favorite cheesy Netflix Christmas movies.

The second day we were booked in for a boat tour with snorkeling and SUP. There are 144 islands in the Bay of Islands and we only toured through a small number of them. It was a bit of a dreary day but the boat tour was nice with great guides. We stopped at an island for a quick hike to a viewpoint and some tea/coffee. Then we were taken to a more secluded beach for snorkeling and SUP. Snorkeling in the cold water wasn’t amazing and there wasn’t a whole lot to see in the bay we were in and the SUP was fine until you caught the wind and were almost blown out of the bay. We did get to eat some super fresh sea urchin roe (uni) right of an urchin and it wasn’t that bad actually.


Coromandel Peninsula

We headed to the Coromandel peninsula with a layover in Thames after Bay of Islands. Thames is cute little town and was good starting point for exploring the Coromandel area. We went and saw the cafe where they filmed one of our favorite Netflix movies, Falling Inn Love. But we were only there for about 12 hours, as we needed to head out early the next morning for the Cook Beach area.

Our first part of the tour was getting to area where Hot Water Beach is located. Google maps routed us onto a sometimes sketchy gravel road through the mountains (thanks Matt for getting us there in one piece). We booked a one hour boat tour since we wanted to see all of the sights in a small amount of time and we did just that. It was a pretty windy day and I almost killed my DLSR camera by taking on the Zodiac boat we went out in (saltwater and electronics are not the best idea).

After the boat ride, we headed to Cook’s Beach for a picnic lunch and then headed to Hot Water Beach. We had luck on side with timing because it was exactly low tide when we got there. The reason that’s important is because the main attraction at this beach is that there are hot springs underneath it that are only accessible during low tide. You bring a spade down there and dig a shallow hole that fills up with REALLY hot water to make yourself a jacuzzi. We didn’t have enough time to dig holes ourselves, but we were able to get into one a nice family had made and was hilariously effective at being a jacuzzi. The water was way too hot to stay in for long periods, but if you add some cold sea water into it, it would have been perfect. Unfortunately we had to leave to make our travel clinic appointment in Hamilton, but if we come back, we will definitely spend more time in that area.


Week one exploring the north island was really nice. Week two is just as packed with activities as we explore the rest of the north island before spending our last week in the South Island. Thanks to those who checked in on us after the White Island eruption to make sure we weren’t there — people here are still reeling from the events. Speaking of natural disasters, there have been a ton of flooding and landslides on the South Island and we actually had to cancel/reroute our South Island trip because one of our destinations is cut off due to blocked roads. Let’s see if we can still get to the glaciers by that point in our trip…stay tuned!

-Jessi

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Big Island of Hawaii: Week 4

Our last week on the big island was full of activities — mostly ticking off the last few locations from our lists of must-see places. Some highlights include the turtles at Kiholo bay, our green sand beach adventure, and a delightful thanksgiving with our hosts (including night pool volleyball!).


Kiholo Bay

Our hike to Kiholo Bay was spurred by one of the guests on the property talking about how it was his favorite place on the big island. It is located on the Kohala coast and you have to hike out to the main cove from the parking lot. However, to get to the parking lot, it is a dirt road that isn’t recommended for 2WD cars, so we opted to hike to it from the main highway. Luckily a local family picked us up part of the way down — we got to ride in the bed of their truck — and they took us to the trailhead. The hike wasn’t the worst, lots of sand and small pebbles, but it was worth it once we got to the cove. The water is a brilliant turquoise but not clear at all. We saw quite a few turtles on the way out there and in the cove. We had lunch there but it started to storm, so we headed back to the car a bit earlier than expected. We both wish a ride had presented itself on the back as it was uphill the whole way!

Matt in his natural habitat

Hawi and the Pololu valley

After we hiked Kiholo Bay, we drove up the northwest peninsula of the island. It was one of the few areas we hadn’t explored yet and its climate was quite a bit different than the other areas, as it was mostly grassy plains with few trees. We stopped at a beach park for Matt to snorkel at on the way to Hawi and the Pololu valley overlook.

The town of Hawi was small and we didn’t stop there (though it seemed cute), but went through it to the Pololu valley overlook. It was a beautiful view into the valley and we got to see some of the rare Hawaiian hawks gliding around. After we enjoyed the view, we drove the two hours back to the Airbnb.


Waipi’o valley overlook

Waipi’o valley overlook is another one of those activities listed in all of the guidebooks for the big island. You can view the overlook from the top but a lot of people drive down the 4WD only super steep access road down to the beach below. That road has the highest grade of any road in the US at 40% in one section. Needless to say, I didn’t want to hike it and our 2WD car would never handle something like that, so we opted to just view it from the top. I wouldn’t say the viewpoint was worth the drive out, but if you can go to the bottom and see the whole valley, then it is probably worth it.

Waipi’o valley overlook

Papakōlea Beach (Green Sand Beach)

One thing we heard from everyone was how we needed to get out to the green sand beach. It was definitely on Matt’s list of top things he wanted to do on the big island, so we made sure to schedule it in just before thanksgiving. It is quite a long drive out from Hilo and there is a 5.2 mile round trip hike out to it, so it was a long day for us. One option we saw a lot of people doing was paying a local with a 4WD car to take them to the beach area, but at 20 bucks each way, we opted to do the hike. On the way out there, I did slightly regret not taking the locals up on their offer to drive since the hike is in the sun the whole way and its a constant up and down the whole way there. We made it in good time and were able to enjoy the beach for a little while for lunch. The waves were pretty large, so I just took a quick dip to cool off, but Matt had a good time with some swimming and body surfing.

I wouldn’t say the sand was as green as I had hoped — it was a unique olive color (basically its volcanic glass tinted with a mineral called olivine). The hike back was a bit more grueling and hot because it was mid afternoon by the time we left the beach. We stopped in a town along the route back for some açaí bowls to cool us off. All in all, the whole trip was worth seeing one of only four green sand beaches in the world.

Papakōlea Beach

Thanksgiving and Kolekole beach park

We spent thanksgiving with our hosts and it was quite a day. First thing in the morning they hosted a big event for their friends called ‘Pie Breakfast’. Everyone brings a pie (homemade optional) and we all chat/drink mimosas/pet dogs and I enjoyed it a lot. We met a lot of people in the neighborhood we were staying at and even a couple from Portland.

After pie breakfast, we walked to Kolekole beach park from the Airbnb. It is another technically closed to the public beach park, but we wanted to see the waterfalls near the ocean. It is a beautiful park that is similar to the other beach park we went to during week one, with a stream running through to the ocean.

Kolekole stream

After the walk, we joined our hosts for a much smaller thanksgiving dinner event with just family and close friends. The food was delicious and the company was nice. Post dinner pool volleyball was also a highlight of the day.


Makalawena Beach

Our last hoorah on the big island was heading to Makalawena beach, which is revered as “the best beach you cant drive to” by many guidebooks. We headed down the pretty sketchy 2WD road and hiked over to the beach across a bit of a grueling lava field. We also met up with our friend Marcus who was visiting the island. The beach is incredibly beautiful and wasn’t too crowded due to the hike involved to get out there. I also finally got to see a Francolin — a small chicken like bird that we also saw in Namibia. It was nice day of swimming, lounging, and chatting.


Our last day was spent cleaning up, running errand, doing laundry, and packing. We set off for Oahu for 36 hours before our flight New Zealand, but there isn’t that much to report from that time. We ran more travel related errand (i.e. vaccinations), laid on the beach, went swimming, and drank Mai Tai’s. The next update will be from New Zealand! We have 22 days of road-tripping both the north and south islands and we are very excited!

Big Island of Hawaii: Week 3

You guys, week three was maybe the best week so far! We snorkeled until we were too tired to snorkel anymore. For my birthday, we stayed over on the Kona side of the island for two nights (its just too far from our main Airbnb to do all of the activities and drive home in the same day). Matt got to tick a couple of snorkeling spots off of his Hawaii bucket list and we swam with manta rays at night. A new underwater camera was purchased as well, so these images are much better than our previous attempts (though that camera broke after 3 days, but lets not talk about that).

Hapuna Beach

I really wanted to visit one of the few white sand beaches here on the big island so we decided to try our luck at Mauna Kea beach resort, which is considered the best on the island. Unfortunately, there were no passes left for parking at either location so we went down the road to Hapuna Beach instead but it turned out for the best. Hapuna beach also has beautiful white sand as well as couple of decent snorkeling spots along the left and right edges of the beach. We spent a few hours hanging out in the crystal blue waters as well as some snorkeling along the right side rocks. There is also a killer view of Maui too!

The snorkeling wasn’t the best we have encountered here since the water gets clouded up by the sandy bottom when the waves come in. There was a nice reef shelf quite a ways out toward the point where the visibility was better.

Kahalu’u Beach Park

Our first stop in the Kona area (after the food cart for my birthday malasadas!) was Kahalu’u beach park. It is known for its good snorkeling and numerous Honu sightings. We opted for early morning high tide snorkeling so that we wouldn’t get too close to the coral and I think that tactic has been paying off. Getting in and out of the water here isn’t easy since there is no actual beach, just lava rocks.

Matt was able to get some great shots of the turtles in the super shallow rocky area. Overall the snorkeling was great and the large coral structures look really cool with the fish hanging out near them. It is a pretty crowded location to snorkel but was still enjoyable.

Captain Cook Monument

If there is one spot Matt really wanted to snorkel at while we were on the big island, it was Captain Cook Monument. It is a large obelisk that is technically on United Kingdom land on the edge of the beautiful Kealakekua Bay. You basically have three option to get to the bay: hike, kayak, or boat. We opted for a guide-led kayak trip out there so that we could beach the kayak and snorkel freely. The hike is pretty tough with a 1400 ft elevation gain on the way back up and boats get there later in the day (and are full of people). If you kayak there on your own, you cant beach the kayak, so you have to snorkel around with the kayak attached to you — not ideal but we saw quite a few people doing it.

The paddle over wasn’t too hard and we stopped a few times for Jay (our guide) to talk about the history of the bay. There were two very cute cats at the moment, waiting to greet us. Basically, the short story is that the site is where Captain Cook was killed by the native Hawaiians. The bay is also a sacred place for the native Hawaiian people because it was used as a burial ground for the royals.

Kealakekua Bay is also special because it is where spinner dolphins come to sleep in large numbers during the day. We saw many of them swimming and leaping out of the air during the trip out and back from the monument.

Once we got there, we had almost two hours just to snorkel and swim around. I forgot to mention that this tour was super early in the morning (7am) so that we could be out there before the big tour boats came in. It was pretty magical to have the place to ourselves for over an hour. We loved snorkeling in that spot — the drop off of the coral was new for us but created a really beautiful seascape to explore.

Two Step Beach

Another spot everyone was telling us to snorkel was Two Step Beach. It is further south on the Kona side than Captain Cook, but definitely worth the trip. The name of the place became apparent when we went to get into the water — there were two nice steps in the lava rock to get in and out. Like Kahalu’u, there isn’t a beach to make it easy. Unfortunately our main camera died after one photo that day, so we don’t have any underwater photos, but we thought it was maybe better than Captain Cook. There was amazing coral structures underwater and SO MANY FISH. We finally saw more puffer fish, trumpet fish, and two smaller eels. It was my favorite snorkeling spot to date. You could also hear the dolphins clicking in the bay in the distance.

Manta Ray Night Snorkel

You guys, I was really excited to do the manta ray night snorkeling while we are here on the big island. The basic set up for most companies is a board that floats with a whole mess of lights on the bottom to attract plankton. The plankton in turn attract the manta rays. You hold onto the light board and make yourself as flat against the surface as possible. Then you get a great show of the huge (up to 14 feet across) manta rays flipping around and gliding below you as they eat their dinner.

Everyone raves about it, but honestly, I didn’t love it. The boat ride out there was great, the crew was great, and the snorkeling was fine. I was totally freaked out by how close they got to you. I mean, this manta ray we hung out with was about 7 ft across and it would get within two inches of my face. Watching it deeper below was fine, but it coming up at me with that mouth open was too much for me (and I was in a shark cage in Africa). The other things that prevented me from loving it: I kept having to get small fish out of my swimsuit, tiny crabs kept pinching me, and something tried to call my ear home. It turns out those lights attract more than just manta rays…

Matt LOVED it, as evidenced by the video below (if you watch with sound on, you will hear what I am talking about).

I would recommend that people visiting try to go see them. They are super cool animals and the mantas in Kona are the only ones in the world that feed by flipping upside down.


We had such an exciting three days that we needed two whole days back in Hilo to recover! Other things we did included eating more poke, sharing tacos with geckos, almost hitting a very large feral pig with the car, and visiting a coffee farm.

I cant believe we are in our last week of our Hawaii adventure. I am a bit sad to leave our home base, but excited to see New Zealand!

-Jessi

Big Island of Hawaii: Week 2

During the second week of our stay on the big island, we went to new beach parks, explored more of Hilo, saw the tallest waterfall in Hawaii, and hiked in Volcano National Park.


Beach Parks!

Richardson Beach Park

Our new favorite east side beach park was discovered this week: Richardson Beach Park. It is similar to Carlsmith in that the ocean water is mixed with underground springs, but the water is much more clear and the snorkeling is incredible. There is a reef just 30-40 yards from shore that has some of the prettiest coral I have seen to date. There are tons of fish there too, including quite a few we hadn’t seen before. The park also had some of the best views of Mauna Kea! If you go, make sure it’s early so you can see the mountain and the crowds are smaller.

Mauna Kea from Richardson Beach Park

Beach 69

Another beach park we found during our second week is called Beach 69. Yes I had a chuckle when I read it too, but its at the pole marker 69 along the nearby road. It was a picturesque park with trees right up to the beach, so no umbrella necessary! The water here was beautiful for swimming, but a bit murkier than other places we have snorkeled.

We had a good snorkel session and saw a lot of the favorite fish types and the water was deeper than Richardson, so that was nice for me (i.e. not feeling like I am going to be hitting the rocks when a swell comes). There were a lot of people there, but it seemed like a lot of locals since it was a Sunday.


Downtown Hilo

Because Richardson is only a 25 min drive from our place, we went twice during the second week of exploring. After the second trip we went to get poke and explored the banyan walkways along the waterfront. Hilo has a lot of nice parks around downtown, but this one with the Japanese garden feel is my favorite to date. The poke from Saisan was incredible and we also got some nice popsicles while we walked around.


Akaka Falls

Another activity that is listed for ‘must-dos’ on the big island is visiting Akaka falls. Luckily for us, it is a 5 min drive from the Airbnb so we opted to go right when the park opened to beat the crowds — we had the place mostly to ourselves! The waterfall is a stream that emerges from the rainforest and plummets something like 440 ft to the bottom. There is a very short to get to it from the parking lot but it really feels like the most tropical place I have ever visited.

First glimpse of the falls
Akaka Falls

Volcano National Park

This national park has been on my bucket list for a long time, although that idea did include seeing lava. Alas there is no active lava flowing on the island right now — I am about a year too late (google Kilauea 2018 and you will see what I am talking about). We did a tour of the steam vents, a short but steep hike with a ranger to the caldera, and some sight seeing along one of their beautiful roads.

The ranger talk was super informative and I recommend it for those who don’t know much about how the islands were formed or about the native flora and fauna. I learned a lot about the struggles the park is going through dealing with introduced species. Hopefully we get a chance to go back do a couple of more hikes, but we will see!

Week two seemed to be packed with activities, but week 3 is busier! Can’t wait to tell you all about exploring the Kona side of the island for a few days!

-Jessi

Big Island of Hawaii: Week 1

We are starting our big round the world adventures with a one month stay on the big island of Hawaii. Our Airbnb for the month is just north of Hilo and has beautiful ocean views. The owners are great and have provided what we need for the month in terms of supplies and knowledge of the island. They are always giving us advice and ideas of how to really get to know the island and we have been thankful for their hospitality.

Getting Settled

Our first few days were spent shopping for groceries as well as a few odds and ends for our stay here (for example: a big bottle of sunscreen). We went to the farmers market in downtown Hilo and got some fresh local produce — if you come here, stop there for produce because it is SO much cheaper than the stuff from the grocery store. We also took some time to unpack our stuff into drawers and get into the mode of cooking our meals again.

Exploring

One of the first days here, we walked over to the nearby Hakalau Beach Park. It is a park where a stream from uphill meets the ocean and has some nice views and surfing. There were also a few people fishing down there. The park isn’t officially open, so I cant recommend it in a formal capacity, but it was a nice little walk from our place. We spent the walk discussing all of the different options for the trip (I will have separate posts on that as we plan).

We also spent a good amount of time in Hilo, getting to know the area. Rainbow falls is on most lists of ‘must sees’ for the big island, so we went to go check it out. It is very pretty and its called Rainbow falls because in the early morning there are lots of rainbows in the mist. We didn’t go super early, but I still managed to see quite a few little rainbows while we were there. There is also a huge banyan canopy near the falls that is incredible to see, so I recommend the very short hike to the top of the falls if you visit.

Rainbow Falls
Carlsmith Beach Park

We also started our tour of the local beaches during the first few days. Our first was Carlsmith beach park, known for its turtles and easy swimming. It is like no other beach I have been to in Hawai’i, with its turquoise, crystal clear water and black lava rocks. We saw a couple of turtles while swimming and snorkeling, as well as many fish. The water is also unique in that there is cold fresh water percolating through the rocks, so you encounter a fair amount of cold water and the water tends to be blurry from the mixing of the salt and fresh water at different temperatures. We haven’t been able to get any nice underwater photos because of this, but here is a nice blurry turtle!

Hawaiian green turtle at Carlsmith Beach Park

There are a lot of beaches on our list, so we decided to day trip to one of the more famous black sand beaches on the big island, Punaluʻu Beach. Since we went early on a week day, there weren’t too many people there yet. The snorkeling was ok, but since the bottom was super rocky, it was hard to get in and out of the water without water shoes (we don’t currently have those since we are trying to pack light). Green sea turtles (Honu) like to come to the beach and there were a few sunning themselves when we went.

Punalu’u Beach
Honu

Pu’u O’o hike

I had said before we left for Hawai’i that I wanted to hike at least once a week while traveling. This is a bit ambitious for me since I am not in the best shape ever and that became quite apparent when I bit off more than I could chew with our first hike, Pu’u O’o trail. This trail is 8.7 miles round trip over lava fields and through pristine native forests called kīpuka. These forests are havens for the natural birds of the island so naturally I want to go on a hike to those! It was a nice hike, but I should have turned around at the third kīpuka because lava fields are actually quite tiring to hike over and I got super exhausted about half way through (the furthest point from the car). If you ever do this hike, I would recommend the out and back version, not the loop because the loop ends on the highway and you have to walk back along the very hot, sort of dangerous road for almost a mile. That all being said, it was a learning experience for me about Hawai’i hiking that I will use for the rest of our stay. We did get to see a lot of the ‘I‘iwi that I was looking for, but they are very hard to photograph!

Pu’u O’o trail (beginning)
‘I‘iwi

Stay tuned for the next week of adventures as well as some posts about how are planning is going! -Jessi

Hi Friends!

Hey there! For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Jessi and I recently quit my job to be able to travel the world with my partner Matt. We have been traveling together around the US for a couple of years using up every ounce of vacation time. In October 2019, we were both ready to say goodbye to the corporate world in search of something new. Neither of us know how long this bout of traveling will last (likely our bank accounts will have some say in the matter) and we are hoping to see a lot of the countries on our bucket list.

One of the inspirations for the name of the blog is my cautious nature. I have learned that I am not very good at being uncomfortable. This is something I am hoping to change during the course of this trip by allowing myself to experience new and exciting adventures I wouldn’t ordinarily undertake. Matt is similar but he is much more willing to go outside the box.

I am hoping to update this space weekly during our planning phase while we hang out in Hawaii. There are no guarantees though! Let’s see how this whole thing pans out.

Capitol Reef National Park, October 2019.