They love to tell you stay inside the lines, but something’s better on the other side

New Zealand – Fjordland / With another impending vanlife adventure just around the corner, I have finally allowed myself to let go of my last New Zealand post – its funny how we get so emotionally attached to our journeys, and how revisiting images, thoughts and memories is like delving into a deeper state of self-awareness, all over again. I embarked on our New Zealand trip with a cloudy mind, and a healing heart, and I was determined to turn my inner journey into an integral part of my physical journey. I observed in ways I never have before, and had many conversations with myself both pleasant and unpleasant, and im grateful for coming out on the other side, a more defined version of myself.

The great outdoors is something I can never truly escape. A much as I have it in me to close myself up to the world, I always escape my introverted predisposition by finding ways to throw myself back out there. With the support of a partner who has itchier feet than me, my restlessness has turned into a lifestyle – one which can get tiring at times, admittedly – but the awesome almost always outweighs the many fears i carry with me; and that is no easy feat in itself.

Our last few days in NZ were spent cruising around the Fjordland – in retrospect, I would have liked to have spent more time mellowing out at some spots instead of driving on, but we were on a bit of a goose chase to soak up as much of the country we had imagined to be smaller in size, initially. We drove to Milford Sound, ahhhh Milford Sound, what a scenic drive that was. We were met with lots of sunshine, thankfully, as we proceeded to book a boat tour as we were advised, which was much colder than anticipated. Milford Sound is specked with seemingly endless waterfalls, a cohesive mountain-meets-water paradisical environment that displays different colored waters and snow covered peaks. I would have loved to have taken a helicopter ride but as you will find out when you yourself decide to embard on a New Zealand journey of your own, you must pick and choose what to spend money on, and I didnt just have $400 falling out of my pocket just like that.

Driving back out we made a quick detour to spot Mt. Cook, which was hiding in the shadows, and explored more mirror lakes and dry grass fields, which were all sorts of abundant, before cruising over towards Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown, where we spent the eve of my birthday chowing down on the infamous Fergburger. Insider tip about Fergburger: call in and order your food instead of standing in line for it. It takes about 15mins for you to be able to pick it up. BEST TIP EVER, TBH.

Here to answer some of the most common questions I got about traveling New Zealand:

  1. We absolutely would have been lost without the app Campermate (click to download here) – it works for both New Zealand and Australia, and you are able to download an offline map that can help you find must visit spots, and necessary points such as camping sites, ATMs, public bathrooms, gas stations and anything else you could be looking for online. We judged many spots by the reviews, they were usually on point!
  2. Sandflies are an absolute pest in NZ, as there are many spots that are pretty remotes, so be sure to cover up your legs especially, and always have some kind of bug spray on you to be sure.
  3. You can save a lot of money by making your own food, as eating out can be quite heavy on your wallet, and NZ is abundant in farm fresh items that you can pick up at supermarkets everywhere. We got the freshest Kale for a steal and really just lived off sandwiches and roast chickens, and beware if you might even be slightly lactose intolerant because dairy is one of the biggest industries in New Zealand, meaning their milk is as fresh as it gets!
  4. Since NZ landscapes can change erratically from mountainous to flat lands, it is always a good idea to have warm clothing with you – it can get quite breezy in some places, especially at night when the temperature drops are most noticeable. If you are sleeping in a tent or a van, make sure you have a duvet to stay warm under – we quickly realized that sleeping bags were not enough for nights when we would hit 4 degrees celcius, even in March.
  5. If you are driving through NZ in a van, make sure you have enough music saved that you can access offline, as there are many spots that just leave you with zero connectivity, rendering my unsaved spotify playlists completely useless. Which can be a good thing too, though.
  6. Make sure you pack sunscreen even for the winter, because the sun in that part of the world is especially strong. Even with my nearly 20 years of living in South East Asia, I could feel the sun burn down on my skin in an intensity that I couldn’t have predicted. When you go on hikes especially, dont be fooled by the cold wind chills, the sun is still working its magic on you. Protect yourself.
  7. This one’s a funny one: if you are to buy liquor, make sure you have an ID to show. A week before my 33rd birthday, a stern lady refused to sell me a beer – they tend to check even if you look like you may be in your mid twenties. Obviously, this made my day, but also – I just wanted my beer.
  8. If you are into photography – watch out for the most intense milky way shots ever. I would scramble to prep my tripod to get my camera ready last minute, because I would almost always be on my way to bed before realizing how lit the sky was. Milky way photos attached to this post – you will thank me later! A wide angle lens and a 30 second shutter should do the trick!

Bonus: all the roadkill you will see on NZ roads are possum – they are considered a pest so don’t feel so bad, they are everywhere. We had to google this after being worried we were seeing dead Kiwi birds everywhere!

If you have any additional questions, feel free to email me 🙂

Thank you, land of the Kiwis!

XO

Dane

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entering the infamous Milford Sound

 

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beautiful Mt. Cook, Aoraki

 

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Hello Lake Wakatipu

 

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seconds before I was devoured by sandflies

 

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our neighbors for the night

 

 

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our last night in the van

 

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Do I have to lose my mind, cause it’s been wandering

New Zealand – Otago / Endless. Endless images, endless thoughts. Endless memories and endless roads. Editing my photos from this trip is like taking a deeper journey back into what I have already lived. I’m relearning how breathtaking these sights are – something we already knew when we were there, standing in front of it. However, there is something very reflective and meaningful about revisiting these things. In retrospect, this trip was even more abundant and beautiful than I had the capacity to understand when I was there. What a gift travel photography is. How it transports us back and forth, and transforms us as a result. Infinitely grateful.

Leaving Franz Josef Glacier, we finally encountered better weather. Our little tropical hearts rejoiced, as we drove into Otago and made a stop at the Blue Pools. The view was absolutely breathtaking. You cross two hang bridges to get closer to the Pools, where you can jump into the ice cold glacier water like I coaxed my boyfriend to do. The water was glassy and the brightest blue you could imagine – a wave of contentment just sort of surges through you as you breathe in the freshest air and marvel at how incredibly grogeous the scenery is. We left the Blue Pools and drove into Wanaka, with a view of the lake greeting us at golden hour, which is where we decided to camp for the night, in order to gear up the climb up Roy’s Peak.

We decided to catch the sunrise at the top of the Peak, and so we set our alarms and ventured up the mountain at 4am in the dark yet moonlit morning. It took us almost two hours to get to the top, which was my fault as my short legs were rebelling against the morning climb and had to gently be convinced that the sunrise would be worth the torture. And it most certainly was – we made it just as the sky turned bright red for just a few minutes before it faded into a pink and purple blanket of clouds, which was awe-inspiring and pretty in so many ways. This view of Lake Wanaka, as everything around you awakens, had me wide-eyed and regretting nothing about waking up at 3:30am – the snow covered peaks across the lake hinted at how tiny we were, a mere speck in a world so beautiful on its own. This was most definitely one of our favorite highlights of the trip, 1578m above sea level.

We descended and took a quick side trip to the Lavender Farm nearby, where we made some alpaca friends and played Petanque like French humans who had forgotten their berets. Of course I lost, as I am not nearly as French as my companion, and we then trudged on and drove onwards towards Lake Tekapo. Eventually, we camped out by the Lake, took a well-deserved hot shower and were rewarded for our morning hiking efforts, with a ridiculously specked starry sky. Of course, like the rookie I admit I am, I do not have the ideal lens for photographing the Milky Way, and for this I am sorry, and promise to make it up to you, but – you can still see hints of it in my clumsily taken photos. Astrophotography makes the most sense when you have almost no light pollution, and yes – New Zealand with its far and wild wilderness, is the exact place to go when you want to encounter the Milky Way; even with your own bare eyes.

There are absolutely no words to describe what seeing a glimpse of the rest of the universe is like, but if you have a good camera and a wide angle lens, and you happen to have little light pollution around you, I dare you to go venture out with a tripod and witness one of the most breathtaking photographic experiences you may come across. I promise, there is no better way of reminding yourself of how grande and grandeuse the universe truly is.

XO

Grateful,

Dane

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Blue Pools, Wanaka

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View from the top of Roy’s Peak, 1578m above sea level

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Waking up to Mother Nature

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Camping at Lake Tekapo

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Well good morning my little friend

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Cooking brekkie for my little houseguest

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Church of the Good Shephard, Lake Tekapo

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Finally on the other side now and I could see for miles

New Zealand – West Coast / The gift that keeps on giving. Driving around the South Island was even more rewarding than on the North Island. We were blessed with much less rain, and it was just in the nick of time, or else my sun-starved skin was threatening to go on strike and show its true colors. So we flew out of Auckland and into Christchurch, and I took a little break from photographing everything and instead focused on drinking and eating everything in my path. Christchurch provided a bit of a tech-detox for both of us, which is always a welcomed treat, and is very much a luxury, for a digital nomad like me.

Leaving Christchurch, we decided to head straight to the West Coast, after meticulously mapping out all the things we absolutely would have to see before finally descending upon Queenstown. We spend a night camping in Okarito, where we were able to enjoy a fantastic sunset. As the sun was setting, and the whole sky ended up in a blanket of neon pink and orange, a collective sigh of pure bliss was most certainly shared between us. That said, nothing could have prepared us for our first naked-eyed Milky Way experience, which was thoroughly enjoyed without looking through a lens – that is my excuse for not being able to document it, in all my fumbling amateur-astrophotographer glory. I am, however, happy to announce that this was slowly corrected throughout the rest of the trip, and am feverishly looking into selling all my belongings to spend the rest of my time financing the adequate astro-equipment necessary, as to never again miss another chance of documenting the absolute wonders of the sky.

All ramblings aside, we eventually made it to Franz-Josef Glacier on an especially foggy day. The ice-blue glacier water wherever we looked was stunning, but what really got me was a sign that displayed how global warming has affected the glacier in the last years, showing how ten, twenty years ago, the mountain made of ice was much larger in size and occupied a much wider area in the valley. It was, nonetheless, beautiful to see, but also humbling.

Driving back towards the coast just in time to catch pink clouds hovering over the mountains, we survived on pasta dinners and were drunk on wine and fresh air. I still have much left for two posts about New Zealand but I am already feeling nostalgic towards it, and it almost makes me feel like we combed through it so quickly we didn’t really have a chance to let all the sights sink in. What a gentle, yet efficient reminder to take things in slowly and truly enjoy the ride.

XO

cuddles,

Dane

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The native Kea – a beautiful, unpredictable and borderline crazy bird. A bit like an ex-girlfriend.

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New Zealand is basically one giant volcano with a waterfall

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My portable Italian kitchen

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the misty walk into Franz-Josef Glacier

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alway on a mission to find balance, wherever I go

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coastal viewpoints wherever you go

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I don’t believe in safety nets strung below that make it alright to let go

New Zealand – Taranaki / It seems like there is an endless barrage of images that my camera can’t stop churning out to remind me of our adventures in New Zealand. North Island was rainy but it sure was beautiful – and the mist and hints of gray make it easier for me to get away with naming my blog posts after more forlorn-sounding song lyrics, as if I needed more excuses to do so.

I have to admit, in our week on the North Island, even after driving around Mt. Taranaki’s entire volcanic circumference, we still failed to see this beautiful cone-shaped beauty, as it was hiding behind clouds, even on the sunniest day we got to enjoy. Alas, we gave up and made our way back to Waikato to finally submit ourselves to our (seemingly) endless walking across the Tongariro Crossing. I never quite forgot about beautifully mysterious Mt. Taranaki though, and so, on the day we flew from Auckland to Christchurch, I peeked out of my window in half-bored anticipation, expecting a stunning view of the typical New Zealand beauty, and was met – in my delight – with a bird’s eye view of a stunning, and breathtakingly perfect view of the top of Mt. Taranaki.

When Taranaki conceals himself with rainclouds, he is said to be crying for his lost love, and during spectacular sunsets, he is said to be displaying himself to her. More HERE about this volcano’s tragic love story, according to Māori mythology. 

It was still raining like crazy when we reached Egmont National Park, but, determined as we are, Frank packed me into a $2 supermarket raincoat in Big Bird yellow and we found one trail that didn’t have to cross flooded waters, and decided that was THE one. It was the Kapuni Loop Track, following the Kapuni River down to Dawson Falls. We hiked through this amazingly lush wonderlandish forest, complete with mossy tracks and beautifully draped giant ferns perfectly framing the walking path.

I felt a bit like a lost pixie, and probably looked it too.

As luck would have it, as soon as we were on our way our of Taranaki, the sun started to show herself. We saw our first sunset, and were practically being chased by the sun as we made our way back to the East. It was like leaving the Shire, and the horizon looked sketchy and dark and not very inviting at all. But what awaited us at the end of those clouds was totally worth the wait. If you haven’t yet, feast your eyes upon the Emerald Lakes in my last post. TOTALLY. WORTH. THE RAIN.

I guess the unfriendly weather up north was meant to show us an extreme contrast of New Zealand’s weather conditions. If I could give you one tip about traveling Middle Earth, it is this:

  1. always bring a rain coat
  2. also, always bring mosquito spray because SAND FLIES. (TRUST ME ON THIS)

PS: As you can see below: who says van life can’t be healthy?

XO

smooches,

Dane

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An iPhone photo of this beauty before I lost sight of her

 

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driving out of the Shire and back into Mordor

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beautiful mossy pathways

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It was still raining like crazy when we reached Egmont National Park, but, determined as we are, Frank packed me into a $2 supermarket raincoat in Big Bird yellow and we found one trail that didn’t have to cross flooded waters, and decided that was THE one. It was the Kapuni Loop Track, following the Kapuni River down to Dawson Falls. We hiked through this amazingly lush wonderlandish forest, complete with mossy tracks and beautifully draped giant ferns perfectly framing the walking path.

I felt a bit like a lost pixie, and probably looked it too.

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found a goblin in the goblin forest

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perfect vanlife power-breakfasts – even our peanut butter was laced with chia seeds

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Please don’t flow so fast you little mountain hum

New Zealand – Waikato / On the search since what seems like forever, for something new, always wandering, always wondering, sometimes I ask myself what my feet are searching for. Pushed towards the east and away from the sea, we spent some days driving and driving through rain and fog, hardly escaping the van and searching for things to see. We had reached Tongariro National Park at an abysmal time, as it was pouring still and the tropical bird that I insisted on being, I hadn’t thought of packing a rain coat. Of course. Determined, we drove on, and around a volcano, seemingly just forcing a lap in order to kill time, and hopefully return at a time when the sky didn’t seem to want to burst under all its heavy clouds.

Two days later, we climbed that damn mountain, and this is what we saw. Seven and a half hours of panting, cramps, frozen fingers and then some well-deserved awe – the Tongariro Alpine Crossing was a little bit like walking around on a giant film set. Instead of following the usual trek, we climbed up starting from the Ketetahi carpark, almost four hours of a solid uphill climb, reached the top of the Red Crater, passed the Emerald Lakes, and returned on the same track from there.

New Zealand just seems to be full of otherworldly scenes. We spent a couple of hours on a rainy afternoon visiting the Waiotapu Geothermal Wonderland in Rotorua, which was baffling and beautiful. Crater after crater of colorful chemical reactions, it smelled like sulphur and in the rain was even more eerie than usual.

Ever the fan of anything that borders on catastrophic, the uncontrollable volcanic smells alone had me riveted. New Zealand does a fantastic job in adding a little education to their natural reserves, and we were sure to soak up all the information in predictable wonder.

North Of Lake Rotorua, we discovered a small trail called Hamurana Springs Reserve, where we took a little grey day stroll squawking at black swans and making a wish by dropping whatever we could find in our pockets that resembled pennies.

Side note: I wish I knew what others wished for at that well. Wouldn’t it be so interesting to know what the world truly wished for? Winning the lottery, world peace, good health?

Spoiler alert – My wish didn’t come true. Guess I gotta get me a more suitable wish.

XO

Dane

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With eyes open I was having a dream

New Zealand – Auckland / Never in my life would I have pictured myself venturing out to New Zealand. As somebody, who is wildly conflicted about her own place in the world, any place that would require a pre-approved visa upon entry, I had become shy of even daydreams involving foreign lands. You see, the biggest misconceptions about me to this date are that I “probably” live off a trust fund and “probably” have a first world passport – neither of which, is true. That said, I think these hurdles thoroughly ground me, and I am able to appreciate every travel-blessing with my full attention and gratitude.

We arrived in NZ and were instantly met with weird weather – because we are lucky like that – and so my exclamations were marred with whimperings of “It’s freezing!” from the get-go. I am asian, it is what I do. No judgement. My lovely cousin and her family gave us a little tour around Auckland, where our arrival was vicariously celebrated with amazing beer-laden dinners followed shortly with a bill containing first world prices, reminding us that we were no longer in Kansas, if you know what I mean. This fact sank in most positively when I was met with a supermarket full of fresh produce, and just like that, I was in love. Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love supermarkets, and this is also why I have no photos of the many supermarkets I have explored – my hands were always too busy grabbing things and swiping cards like an overexcited third world child.

We visited Piha and some nearby waterfalls, and I got very excited about these, not realizing it would be the first of many, many waterfalls we would encounter on this trip, over which, I never ceased to stop showing my unbridled excitement, which I am sure my short term memory issues is to blame for. I took so many photos on this trip, so bear with me, as I am seriously struggling to figure out how to divide them into posts. As I am sure you are sick of my blabbing at this point, I will just leave you with these images of Piha and Kitekite – and dinner. Because I am asian, and we like to photograph our dinners.

PS: Once everything NZ related is up, I am thinking about punishing you guys with a Vlog (hahaha sorry) and so if you have any NZ or non-NZ related questions, be sure to leave it in a comment below.

XO

Dane

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