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Hello from New Zealand!

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I have spent the past week in New Zealand and I am excited to tell you all about it! Plus, I have some new podcast episodes for you – I can’t believe that I am already over two weeks into my 101-day trip.

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My problem is that I fall in love with places easily and then I don’t want to leave. I am confident that if Charles and a few friends relocated, that I could live a long and happy life in New Zealand. I love it here.

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Auckland is modern, clean, and just the right size for a city. Take a ferry 35 minutes across the bay and you are at Waiheke: an island known for beaches and vineyards. It’s paradise.

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When I told people that New Zealand was on my itinerary, they usually responded by saying, that is FAR. And it is. It took 11 ½ hours to get to Auckland from Santiago (where I had a connecting flight). You cross the date line, so it takes even longer that you would expect. I left Santiago on Friday at 12:25am and I arrived in Auckland at 4:30am on Saturday morning. If I was flying back to Chicago from here, I would cross the date line again and get my day back, but since I am continuing west and going around the world to Chicago, I feel like I have lost the day forever! But it’s worth it.

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I loved Peru, but it was mentally exhausting. I was remembering to take malaria pills, and to not drink the water, and to order foods with a lower risk of food poisoning. My brain was desperately trying to dig up words in Spanish that I had learned in high school and college. Some things about Peru are just confusing and make no sense. For example, if you have a connecting flight in Lima – international or domestic – you need to go through airport security again. And if you don’t have your boarding pass for the flight that got you to Lima, they won’t let you through. I felt like I kept encountering strange rules that made no sense. New Zealand, in comparison, is easy. Drink the water, eat the food, speak English, but keep taking those malaria pills until it’s been 7 days since I left the rainforest.

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My family laughed when I explained that it is both fall and tomorrow in New Zealand. You know those perfect fall days when it is warm and sunny but not humid? That’s what its been like. You can feel the excitement from locals who are taking advantage of every last warm day.

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Upon my arrival I checked into a $70 Airbnb that is between Albert Park and Queen’s Wharf. My first orders of business were showering – it took 25+ hours of travel total to make it from Cuzco to Auckland, and to do laundry because things were muddy and sweaty after the rainforest. Then it was time for brunch. I found a little French café in Britomart and they have the best eggs benedict that I have ever had. I got it two days in a row and I know it is one of those food memories that I will hang on to forever.

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I spent the rest of my day on two tours. First a free walking tour which helped me to get my bearings and then a craft beer tour. Darcy, a professor, was the guide for Auckland Free Walking Tours and he did a great job weaving pieces of New Zealand’s history together. He took us through Albert Park and explained how a soil disease is threatening native trees and how possums have become a major nuisance. We walked to a monument to New Zealand’s suffragettes. New Zealand was the first nation to give women the right to vote! Apparently, the suffragettes approached the Prime Minister and got his support when they promised to vote for him if they were given the right to vote. It was a compelling argument.

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The craft beer tour was ok, but not great. I wanted to learn more about the local craft beer scene, instead, it was a bit more focused on drinking than teaching.

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The next day I went to Waiheke. It was Easter, which is not the best day to try to taste wine. New Zealand has a strange rule that you can only drink alcohol along with a full meal on Easter. The wharf was just a short walk from my Airbnb and the ferry took 35 minutes to arrive at the island. I had booked a ticket for the hop on hop off bus which I took to the largest town on the island.

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Waiheke has several towns, one grocery store, and no traffic lights. I walked down to the wide beach in a cove between two green mountainous tracks of land. It was warm – not quite hot – and sunny.

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Then I walked around and made my way to Stonyridge Vineyards where I drank Syrah and feasted on local cheese and lamb.

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Next, I got on the bus and went to Onetangi Beach which is at the far end of the island. There are restaurants and a couple of small hotels, next time I come to New Zealand I would like to stay here for a few days. It’s so quiet and peaceful.

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When you saw that I was in New Zealand, you might have wondered if I went to Hobbiton. Of course I did! I’m not the biggest Lord of the Rings fan, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see The Shire in person.

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Hobbiton is a couple of hours away from Auckland, so I did a daylong tour that took me to Hobbiton and Rotorua.

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Our first stop was Te Puia in Rotorua, which is a cultural center where visitors can learn about the Maori people, who were the first people to settle in New Zealand. Rotorua is home to a large population of Maori, and that is because the area has a lot of geothermal activity. There are geysers, bubbling mud, hot pools, and areas where steam rises out of the ground. The Maori people were able to fish in the freshwater rivers and then cook the fish in hot pools. A highlight of my visit to Te Puia was a demonstration of Maori songs and dances, and I share some excepts in this week’s podcast episode.

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On my final day in Auckland I wanted to bike the bright pink bike path. An old highway onramp was painted pink and turned into a bike lane that then connects with other less colorful bike paths that take you in a loop around the city. The bike ride was mostly downhill and easy, I thought it would be more of a workout, but it was a fun way to see the city.

That night I experienced one of the most fun flights of my life as I took a flight from Auckland to Queenstown. In a kind a genius move, New Zealand Air has happy hour flights. If you fly between certain hours on weekday afternoons, they serve free wine and cheese!

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I spent my first day in Queenstown on a biking and winery tour that I booked through AirBnB experiences. It was a perfect day, I got to be outside enjoying the warm fall weather while drinking wine!

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The next day I went to Milford Sound, which is New Zealand’s most famous tourist attraction. It’s a fiord that is located within the Fiordland National Park. It is also a World Heritage Site. The area was formed by a glacier and is mountainous and has steep cliffs. There are two permanent waterfalls, but when it rains, and it almost always does there, more waterfalls appear on the rock faces.

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Milford Sound is one of the wettest places in the world. It was bright and sunny on our drive, but as soon as we reached the mountains the water shifted and it was dark and rainy. Yet, it is better to visit Milford Sound in the rain so that you can see more waterfalls. The area is home to dolphins, whales, and seals.

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Getting to Milford Sound is a long journey from Queenstown, but it is something that most visitors to Queenstown do. The drive is 5 hours each way, and once you arrive at Milford Sound you board a boat for a 1 ½ hour cruise. The sightseeing boat is fully covered and heated with decks that you can go out on to view the waterfalls. It was very cold and wet when I visited so I quickly ran outside to take photos. It was beautiful and I am glad that I went, but it was a looong day. I am glad that I brought my laptop so that I could get work done on the way. Milford Sound is one of those things that you need to do, because if you don’t, you will regret it.

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On my final day in Queenstown I took the gondola to the top of the mountain overlooking the city. It gave me a view of the city and the fall foliage, which is reaching its peak right now. Once you get up to the top of the mountain, there are lots of things to do. I opted to ride the luge, which is a little motor-less cart and then you get to ride it down a twisty turny path, it’s most fun that I thought it would be.

A couple got on the chairlift for the luge with me and it turns out that they are from Brisbane, which is the next stop on the trip. I had been told that from Brisbane I should go to Byron Bay or the Gold Coast, but I couldn’t decide which. When I asked the Australians, without hesitation they said Byron Bay, so I just booked my AirBnb – a private home with a pool for $85 a night!

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I had time to wait in the long line at Ferg Burger where I had lunch, and I got to walk around and enjoy the weather before heading to the airport to go to Australia.

I will be spending the next 10 days in Brisbane, Byron Bay, Sydney, and Melbourne! You can follow along in real-time on Instagram!

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