My second week in New Zealand started off with a visit to friends Hudson and Hannah, the sparks that made this whole trip happen. They live in the Christchurch beach neighborhood of Sumner, way up on the hill so the view is incredible. See above photo—this is right outside their guest bedroom window! I spent an amazing few nights there with them, and they’ll be my home base throughout the trip. Great meals, convo and cribbage at home, and they took me on a day trip/hike to Castle Hill (ate a famous meat pie from the Sheffield Pie Shop en route) and out to the Te Matatini Kapa Haka Festival in the CBD (Central Business District as Kiwis call their downtowns).


I then spent a week WWOOFing (volunteer farming) on the Banks Peninsula in Gebbies Valley. My host family lives in a log cabin they built themselves and had all sorts of fun-by-my-definition tasks for me: herding the sheep (herd of 10) and llamas (herd of 7) around the paddocks, helping shear the sheep, digging up potatoes, helping renovate a caravan, removing an old fence, picking up pine cones, etc. The meals were amazing, and the company the best. I really got to learn some Kiwi culture and recipes, and loved the creativity, creative drive, and community/outdoors focus of this family. I plan to return after some of my travels! Their home and Gebbie the llama are pictured above, and me with the family and German WWOOFer Victoria (and cat Oracle in the basket) are below.


Anthony and Karen knew my love for their llamas so they arranged for me to visit Llama Lookout in neighboring Governors Bay. They bought their first llamas from Robyn, and her and her herd of 40 were mind-blowing to meet. Combined with the view—it was unreal! Robyn let me call them all down to the house from the hills, so I got to witness 40 llamas run down a mountainside toward me.



I went on a solo hike before I left Gebbies Valley to Sign of the Packhorse Hut. Was such a beautiful experience with tons of sheep along my way.

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Back in Christchurch after WWOOFing, Anthony and Karen treated me to a tram ride tour around the city. It’s truly amazing how much was destroyed in the earthquake. Entire vacant plots of land exist right downtown, many buildings are still in ruin, and many are being built. The most moving sight was seeing the Cardboard Cathedral, a makeshift church constructed out of shipping containers, laminated wood and cardboard (pictured below). I also loved the style of the Re:Start mall, just loads of cute shops and eateries in shipping containers and food trucks.





Auckland > Whangarei Heads > Auckland > Waiheke Island > Christchurch

My first week in New Zealand has been so incredible, filled with beach ultimate, lots of new friends, and fun solo adventures. The very day I flew in I traveled up to Whangarei Heads to play in an ultimate frisbee tournament on Ocean Beach. It was absolutely beautiful there with tent camping, a surf shack as our home base, some short knoll hikes, and my team making it into the finals!


I returned back to Auckland and worked a few days while exploring the Ponsonby neighborhood where some new friends of mine live and let me stay in their AirBNB room. I then set off on my own to Waiheke Island, 35 minutes from downtown Auckland by ferry. Great views on the way and I was particularly drawn to the little Browns Island (Motukorea), which reminded me of a work of art—just a smattering of perfect, seemingly pruned trees on the coast, with a tree-less green slope leading up to a crater, and a cliffy edge on one side. Wikipedia says it’s one of the best preserved islands in the Auckland Volcanic Field, and describes it here:

Due to centuries of cultivation, little native bush remains except on the north-eastern cliffs, leaving the volcanic landforms easily visible. It exhibits the landforms from three styles of eruption. The island consists of one main scoria cone with a deep crater, a small remnant arc of the tuff ring forming the cliffs in the northeast, and the upper portions of lava flows.


On Waiheke, I stayed at Kina Backpackers on Onetangi Beach, but explored mainly around Oneroa, which was a little more happening than the sleepy stretch of Onetangi. Would recommend staying closer to Oneroa if you go! From the north end of Oneroa beach, I hiked the Headlands section of the Te Ara Hura track and it definitely makes the top 5 hikes of my lifetime. The terrain hugged the coastline on bluffs and winded down to remote beaches. I didn’t pass a single other soul hiking, save for a few beachgoers at Owhanake Bay.


Other highlights on Waiheke Island were the pies at the Waiheke Fruit & Vege market (ordered the minced beef and mozzarella), the stunning public library (free wifi), and the fishburger at The Local. Prepped with caramelized onion, beetroot, tomato, locally grown lettuce, mayo, and relish on a local Ringawera bun, The Local fishburger takes top honor among my meals so far. Enjoyed it with a draft Tiger beer after my Te Ara Hura hike, sitting outside on their ocean-view deck aaaaahhhhhhhh!


After 2 nights in Waiheke it was time to fly to Christchurch to visit my friends Hannah and Hudson—the big reason New Zealand fell on my travel radar. I had a couple hours in Auckland to kill so I dropped my bag at the ferry building and wandered over to the Volvo Ocean Race that just so happened to be staged on the waterfront while I was there (in town Feb 28–Mar 15). It was actually amazing to see the crews and shipbuilders working on the vessels and sails. I gawked around for a few hours at the spectacle: vendor booths and sponsored bars, a music stage, free sailings, and the crew quarters where the teams were working on little repair projects and such before the next leg to Brazil, the longest one of the voyage.


I’ll do my best to keep updating my blog, but for photo updates, follow me here:

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I’ve arrived to New Zealand! I’m on an extended “working” vacation for a couple months—actually spending day 1 in Auckland finishing up a book indexing project for the Center for Basque Studies before heading north to Whangarei Heads. Follow my New Zealand photo updates as I travel around the North and South Islands, and then hop up to Australia for a few weeks too.


Back in late May I traveled to Alaska on a familiarization trip with AdventureSmith Explorations. As content editor, I’ve worked for years with the company on developing content around this destination, so it was time for me to experience the Last Frontier myself!

My trip started with an 8-day small ship cruise on the Eastern Coves Juneau–Ketchikan itinerary aboard the 76-guest Wilderness Discoverer with 5 of my family members, and finished with 10 days on the Kenai Peninsula (Anchorage–Homer) with my boyfriend.

Read my Alaska trip review on the AdventureSmith blog for the full story.

Came across this gratitude tree in Calistoga last weekend. Such a beautiful concept: you take one of the provided tags of colored paper, write what you’re thankful for, and tie it with a string on one of the branches. I celebrated Annalise’s life in that moment and am happy to know a token of my thankfulness for her friendship is flapping in the wine country breeze right now. It was a grey, rainy day, but as I tied her name on the branches a beam of sun peaked through the clouds.

Here’s a quick look at our trip to Utah. We traveled to Zion National Park and then to Escalante where we explored slot canyons and backpacked into Coyote Gulch. The desert landscape was surreal, with towering canyon walls, hoodoos, cacti, and arches. I will be blogging about it for Tahoe Mountain Sports so will have a full trip report soon…

Chris turned 30 last weekend and we celebrated with a trip to Bishop. Wow is that place amazing — despite the incessant wind during our stay. Though my pictures don’t do them justice, the mountains were the biggest I’ve ever seen. And the sun felt so bright for the lack of trees. The best part: snuggling with Fern while camping out in the truck.

Fern ready to go

Chris and Fern at our campsite

Fern’s footprints find a heart stone in the volcanic rock

Fern in perfect “crag dog” style, watches as Chris belays Jesse

headed up to the abandoned mine in Rovana

Fern huddled between our sleeping bags