Sunday, January 31, 2010

When in Taupo

Taupo is centrally located in New Zealand's North Island and the gateway to Tongariro National Park, the backdrop for the Lord of the Rings movies.  We had planned to hike the Tongariro Crossing, one of the most popular day hikes in New Zealand that takes you across LOTR's Mount Doom and the Emerald Lakes.  As I said, we had planned to.  We woke up at some ridiculous hour in the morning (5am) so that we could get the early pick-up and get to the trail early to beat the crowds but the bus we were supposed to be on decided to leave us and two other behind.  So, no Frodo for us :-(

We had some free time on our hands so we decided to jump out of a plane at 15,000 feet.  We were in freefall for over 60 seconds.  It doesn't sound like much  but when you're plummeting to the ground at 120 miles an hour it feels like a lifetime!  Words can't really describe what an amazing experience it was so we'll just put up a few pics.  We have videos of the jumps that hopefully we'll be able to post soon (too slow in this internet cafe).

Smelly Man goes to Sulphur City (and we get to share a room with him)

With our adrenaline still pumping from playing on the swings in Waitomo, we made our way south to Rotorua a.k.a Sulphur City.  Rotorua is a hotbed (I had to) of thermal activity with lots of bubbly mud pools, hot springs, and geysers and as a result the place stinks of egg most of the time.  Amazingly this doesn't seem to have deterred tourists and backpackers from visiting as Rotorua is one of the most touristy and commercialized areas in New Zealand.

We chose to stay at Treks Rotorua, one of the 2 YHA (Youth Hostel Association) hostels in town.  When we arrived we were happy to find a very nice, newly constructed building with a spotlessly clean kitchen (a rarity at our price point).  We were also pleased to find that we were 'upgraded' from a 6 bed dorm to a 4 bed.  What a treat!  Looking forward to spending some time at this lovely facility we made our way to our room.  As we opened the door a wave of pungent stink wafted from the room and violated our nostrils.  This aroma was a thousand times worse than any of the eggy smells produced by Rotorua.  It was our roommate for the night, Smelly Man.  So much for the upgrade.  This guy was so ripe that we had to sleep with scarfs around our faces.  Luckily he checked out the next morning so we had the cleaners empty a can of air freshner in the room and strip his whole bed down to the bare mattress and replace everything.

Rotorua didn't totally stink though.  In fact, we had a lot of fun there.  In the morning we headed out to the Kaituna River and did some whitewater rafting with Kaituna Cascades Rafting Company.  We did the Grade 5 rapids (the biggest, scariest ones) which included several drops and the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world at 7 meters (21 feet).  Awesome!

In the evening we decided to take a relaxing dip in one of the numerous thermal pools in the area.  We went to the Polynesian Spa which is located right on the lake and has some great views from the spa.  Aparrently the minerals in the water have healing powers and can help all sorts of ailments.  That may be but all we know for sure is that it definitely helps to remove dead skin as most of it was floating around in the water, urgh.  If you can stop thinking about the fact that you're sitting in other people's filth it's actually quite relaxing and enjoyable...and our skin feels great!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Don't leave home without it...or do.

Best thing we've brought with us:  Quick-dry microfiber towels.  These things are amazing.  Nice and soft and they dry in minutes.

Worst thing we've brought: Bar shampoo.  When we bought it we thought it might be weird to wash our hair with what is basically a bar of soap...and it is.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Off the beaten path in Waitomo

Above:  What we didn't do in Waitomo

Waitomo is best known for the Waitomo Caves, a sprawling underground cave system where one can do all manner of fun things such as spilunking (sp?), black water rafting (the underground equivalent of white water rafting), or checking out the millions of glow worms that live down there - all for a price of course.
Being the independent, free-thinking adventurers that we are, Court and I decided to go off the beaten path and see what other (cheaper) treasures bucolic Waitomo has to offer.

Not much it turns out.  We were dropped off in the tiny Waitomo Village which consists of a tourist info center (where you book your caving adventures), a seriously overpriced cafe, and a bar.  It was too early to start drinking so we headed over to the little park across the road from the tourist info center and had a few goes on the swings.  Great fun and, most importantly, FREE.  Highly recommended.  There's also a slide if you're so inclined.


 I'm sure there's tons more stuff to do but we didn't have a chance to find out as we were only there for about an hour and a half before the bus came back to get us with all the cavers on board who no doubt had a marvelous time.

Next stop, Rotorua.

Pahia Triathalon - Kayak, Bike, and Tan

Pahia is beautiful so we decided to extend our stay and have some much needed beach time.  We've only been traveling a week and already we're taking a rest?!  Give us a break, we're new at this!
So we stayed the extra day but we checked out of Pipi Patch and into a place called Bay Adventurer just up the road.  Bay Adventurer was cheaper AND offered FREE kayaks and bicycles (Pipi Patch just offered drunken teeny boppers and a swimming pool the size of a large puddle).  Another bonus was that we scored a double bed.  There were still 5 other beds in the room but it was a small win.

Double bed!

We spent morning zipping around the bay in a couple of sea kayaks and then grabbed a couple of bikes for a nice ride along the beach to the grocery store to pick up some essentials.  We also managed to squeeze a bit of tanning on the beach in.  All in all not a bad start to the week.

Grocery store run on the free bikes 

 Back to Auckland tomorrow before heading south into Hobbit territory.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Far North

We visited the northern most tip of New Zealand yesterday, Cape Reinga and it was incredible. Beautiful countryside, great beaches and all around amazing scenery. Left Pahia on the Dune Rider at 7am and headed north with our leader for the day, Kozzie (he's a Kiwi that sounds like an Aussie hence the nickname). We were treated to a drive along 90 Mile Beach, a 64 mile stretch of beach on the western coast. Why would someone name a 64 mile beach "90 Mile Beach"? Because the boob that named it measured wrong and thought it was 90 miles long. Brilliant! ""64 Mile Beach"doesn't really have the same ring to it does it?

The drive on the beach took us to the main event for the day, sand boarding. I'm imagining a few gasps of terror among the Hunter clan as you picture us being subjected to some form of torture similar to water boarding, only much drier. Well you guys can relax as sand boarding (also known as dune surfing) is what people do for fun up on 90 Mile Beach, and boy is it fun! There are some humungous sand dunes at the end of the beach and people basically body surf (some use sleds but it looked pretty lame) down the slopes and across a little stream at the bottom. Great stuff although the walk back to the top was actually torture.

Riding some gnarly dunes on 90 Mile Beach

Bay of Islands

Up early for our bus ride up north to the bay of islands. Lee almost missed the bus waiting in line for an egg McMuffin (you know he loves his breakfast!) We took Stray bus company up there and our bus driver Sue was new to the job...and boy you could tell. Was a little annoying to hear her chatting the entire time but the views were amazing. And people are right about NZ, there are TONS of sheep!!

McKinney Tree

We stopped off first to see the Mckinney Tree which is one of the largest trees in the country. The myth is if you hug and kiss the tree you will bring good weather. Courtney had to give it a try because the weather has been quite rainy since we started our trip in LA. I think it worked because the weather has been great since that afternoon! We made our way to Goat Island where we took a free glass bottom boat tour (no snorkling...that was not free...someone lied). Courtney learned that all snappers are born female and then half the population turn male around three years of age!!! We were both extremely impressed with our tour guide Ian. Ask for him if you are ever thinking about doing the tour, he has been there for 13 years.

Our last stop of the day was to the Bay of Islands where we spent our first night in the Pipi Patch Hostel which is more like Cancun Mexico during spring break. Again, a lot of 90 pop music, boys with their shirts off in the bar, and 1/2 naked dorm mates (i wont go into more detail). We made our way to the grocery store in town which was about a 1/2 hour walk along the water. Decided to buy some groceries so we can pack our lunches and make our own dinner. We decided to go simple for our first dinner (cup of noodles) but when we got into the kitchen people were making three course meals with breaded chicken and fresh veggies. I think there is some hope for us when we learn the ropes a bit more.

We were lucky our second evening we had a 8 person dorm to ourselves because the hostel emptied out after the weekend. We got some much needed sleep.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Free Sausage Fridays

We had a lovely look at Fiji through the airplane and airport windows. Looks like a beautiful place…maybe next trip.
Beautiful Fiji Airport

The rain seemed to follow us from LA to New Zealand. Unlike LA, the sun is out more than the rain clouds but by the locals standards we have had two unfortunate weather days. Ha, 76 degrees and partly cloudy. Perfect for a January day.

We have spent a lot of time exploring and walking around the city of
Auckland. We couldnt really relax in our room because there was always someone sleeping in the six person dorm at ACB Base matter what time of the day! During our first day, we visited the habor and walked around aimlessly trying to find food under $10 NZD. After a long search, some more rain, and Courtney's cranky outbursts we made our first major mistake walking into a bar and having to order chicken wings and hummus because its all we could afford. Not only was that not what our systems needed after a day and 1/2 of travel but they gave us enough hummus for about two pita chips! Those of you that have seen the hummus eating ability of the two of us knows we were more than disappointed and needless to say still hungry (no mom...dont send money yet...things got better!)

Later in the evening we went to the hostel bar with two Brits we were sharing our room with, Louisa and Amy. Lousia is just rounding out her 7 month tour with three weeks to go. SHe had a lot of encouraging words and advice for us, which we struggled to hear over the throwback 90's pop music videos they were playing around the dark, basement bar. The bar was raising money for the red cross to assist the people of Haiti, raising over $3,000 NZD.

We booked our bus transportation for two trips we plan to do during our stay. The first is a guided tour to the Bay of Islands which minimum of 3 day tour north of Auckland where will visit beaches and do some free snorkeling. The second bus trip is like the grey hound system in the states and we will be traveling through the north island into the south. We weren't sure if we could handle the guided tour the whole time, so we decided to do the tour with a little more freedom.

Its been less than two days and we've discovered out budgeting is a little off...oops. That .65 cent dorm in Bangkok is starting to look a little more appealing.

After an early start, day two of Auckland exploration continued because we had another misstep by not confirming the bus we were hoping to catch out of town. We made the most of it and decided to check out the museum. Walking down the street to catch the Green Link bus in town, we found FREE SAUSAGES they were giving out at a bank as a promotion (see Lee enjoying said sausage on the right). Almost everyone in line were backpackers...pretty hard sell for the bank employees to get people to open an account.

After our free lunch, we finally made it to the museum. Auckland has very nice and cheap public transportation. The museum was amazing, has a little bit of everything. As you probably saw from the pictures, we stole admission stickers from the trash can outside to avoid paying the $10 admission donation. We would recommend this step to any backpackers on a tight budget. Oh, and please place the stickers back when you are finished so others can enjoy. For those of you not on a tight budget, the museum is well with the donation and we count on you to keep the museum what it is today.

Where you pick up your admission sticker

We decided to have a walk back to our hostel down Parnell Street which is full of little shops and fancy restaurants. Lee said it reminded him of main street in manayunk (for all you philly people) but also commented that it put manayunk to shame.

Basement noodles, yum!

On the way home, we found our best find of the whole city. This basement noodle bar on Durham Street off of Queen in downtown Auckland. We were the only tourists (non-Asians) in there, so you know its good. We had the Spicy Chicken and BBQ Pork...we recommend both dishes. They also blast American Rap you will feel right at home.

Friday, January 22, 2010

LA Flood-2010

Thanks to Cessa and Jeremy for putting us up in LA! We had a great time during our last couple of days in the US. Thanks so much for showing us around and of course for our last hot showers!

LA had the worst rain storm since 2005...we were there. Even though the roads were flooded and the LA residents were scared to go outside because they thought they were going to melt...the exploration pushed forward.

We went for dinner in Manhattan Beach because Court's brother was in town visiting friends, Tommy and Kate, for the weekend. Thanks for dinner Colin! It was nice to see him before heading off.

Good news Durham Family, LA now FARKLES!! Please see post for details on the game we are attempting to share with the world:

Hanging with the hipsters at Cha Cha

We spent the evening farkling in the "Cha Cha", a hipster bar in Silver Lake which used to be a gay Hispanic bar, which has hundreds of sombreros on the ceiling and nudy magazine pictures wallpapering the bathrooms. Please see photo booth pictures.


The following day, after Courtney felt pretty rough in the morning from all that farkling, the whole crew went to the Observatory that overlooks the whole city. Dash, Cessa's pup, came with. Apparently you can take dogs everywhere but Starbucks in LA. The skies were still cloudy but we got a few shots with the Hollywood sign in the background....Lee's goal of the LA trip!

To end the trip, we munched on some delicious Fat Burger (mmm, makes you want some right now), took a quick nap, and headed to the airport!

Blog Design

We've received tons of compliments about how snazzy our blog page looks.  If you know us, you're probably thinking "Lee and Courtney aren't that creative and couldn't possibly have created that themselves."  Well, you're right, we didn't.  The design was created by our amazingly talented friend (and Lee's former co-worker and neighbor) Katie.  Katie creates all kinds of pretty stuff, you can check out some of her work at her blog

Thanks Katie! See you in South Africa!


We've had one or two requests for a quick tutorial on how to post comments.  It's really simple.  Here's a quick step-by-step guide:

Step 1: Enjoy reading incredibly interesting blog post by Lee and Courtney.
Step 2: Scroll to the end of the post and you'll see something like this:

Step 3: Click on the "comments" link
Step 4: All of the previous comments that have been made about that particular post (if any have been made) will show up along with a box under the title "POST A COMMENT"
Step 5: Place your cursor in the box and click.  You can now type a post in the box.
Step 6: Once you're happy with you post click the "Post Comment" button.

Hope this helps those of you (cough*old folks*cough) that were having problems.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

La La Land

So we're finally underway.  First stop, LA.  Highlights so far:  Lee lost his neck pillow at the airport before even boarding our first flight (hopefully not a sign of things to come), Courtney sat next to world's largest woman on flight to LA, Lee motorboated a statue at the Getty Museum, and the Taco Zone taco truck on Alverado in Silver Lake - best tacos in LA!  LA is having the most rain it's had since 2005 which is a bit of a bummer but we're still having a ball!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

5 continents, 196 days and 4 pairs of underwear

That's right people, 4 pairs of underpants for 7 months.  That works out to about 49 days per pair.  When we were planning for this trip we read in many places that a lot of backpackers get by on just 2 pairs.  As you can imagine we were both disgusted by this prospect initially, however, the incredibly helpful bearded fellow in REI assured us that the magical wicking microfiber kind would keep us drier than a popcorn fart even in the most hot and humid of climates so we decided to splurge and get a few pairs each.  Here's a look at the rest of the stuff we're bringing:

Backpacks:  We both went for medium sized backpacks from Gregory.  Courtney has the Jade 50 and Lee is sporting the z55.  They are basically the same backpack but in male and female versions.  They're also both blue.  We got matching packs on purpose so we could pretend we're on The Amazing Race.  Keep an eye out for the matching "I'm with him/her" t-shirts once we reach Thailand.

Courtney's threads - 1 pair of each of the following; shorts, travel pants, capris, jeans, 1 Patagonia black dress, 1 summer dress, tank tops (4 - one dressy number for nights on the town!), t-shirts (3), long sleeve shirt (2), light North Face fleece, rain jacket, bathing suit (2), underwear (5), bras (3 - one sporty), socks (4), scarfs (2 - for covering up when necessary and/or jazzing up the same outfits that will be worn day after day), flip flops, sneakers.

Lee's stuff - convertible pants (2), cargo shorts, swimmies, t-shirts (5), jeans, undies (4), socks (4), North Face microfleece, cotton long-sleeve shirt, rain jacket, baseball cap, bandana, scarfs (2), flip flops, sneakers.


Hair ties and bobby pins (first item on the list, Lee doesn't leave home without them), Burt's Bees Rosemary bar shampoo (smells delightful), soap, ziplock bags, little travel shower gel and toothpaste, deodorant, toothbrush, wet wipes (for spills and "showers"), razor, nail clippers.

Travel gear and gadgets:

Microfiber Towels (2)
Eagle Creek Packing Cubes (6) (to keep our stuff organized in our bags. 
Silk Blend Sleep Sheets (2)
Deet Insect repellent
2 carabiner clips
Power Converter/adaptor
Medical Kit
USB storage devices
sharpie, pen
Moleskine Notepads (2)
deck of cards
dice (6) (do they play Farkle in Laos?  We'll soon find out)
ipod/ipod charger
Laundry detergent
canon powershot SD750
jobi gorillapod
swiss army knife
earplugs and sleep mask (Courtney has insisted she will not use either of these.  We'll see how long that lasts) 
rain fly (to keep our packs dry)
universal sink stopper
clothes line
toiletry hanging kit

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

How the hell are we able to do this?

This is the question we have heard the most since we told everybody we were quitting life as we know it and traveling around the world for the next 7+ months.  We are not wealthy (see chosen professions above). We’re able to afford this trip* by (1) getting rid of crap we don’t need (e.g. my car) (2) saving cash where we can (e.g. eating PB&J for lunch EVERY day for 7 months) (3) the amazing generosity of Tom and Davida (Court’s folks) who allowed us to basically squat in their basement and completely disrupt their lives for the last 4 months.  (Thanks guys!  We definitely couldn’t have done this without you) (4) we both hope to pick up some work along the way (if you’re reading this and you need an urban planner/social worker/soccer coach/waitress/life coach/fruit picker/sheep shearer/general laborer/sherpa then look no further!)

We spent hours reading travel blogs and forums to plan this trip.  Hopefully some people will find our feeble attempt at a travel blog useful too.  We also read several Lonely Planet and Rough Guide publications (thanks Kerri), which contain tons of useful stuff.

*Whether or not we can actually afford this trip remains to be seen.  We’ve done tons of research and created a detailed budget but it’s pretty tight and will involve a lot of discipline (cue laughter from Lee’s friends) so we’ll see how it goes.  We may end up penniless, halfway through the trip, in some far off place at which point you’ll be reading the “Send Money Now!” blog post.

The Itinerary

Where are we going?

Planning a round-the-world trip is HARD.  We’ve been planning this thing for months and here we are less than 2 weeks before we leave and we still haven’t figured out all the details!  It turns out the world is quite big and you can’t possibly see it all in 8 months.  So, we tried to create a bit of a plan that will allow us to visit quite a few countries but also left it fairly open-ended so we can linger in places we like a little longer and duck out of places we’re not keen on earlier.  The only thing that is set in stone is the flight to South Africa.  We’re heading down there for the FIFA World Cup, which starts in early June and ends a month later.  Did we mention Lee likes football?

Here’s our itinerary as it stands today (Jan 5, 2010):

Los Angeles      01/17 – 01/19                       
New Zealand     01/21 – 02/10                       
Australia            02/10 – 02/23
SE Asia             02/24 – 04/08                       
Europe               04/08 – 06/01           
South Africa      06/02 – 07/19           
England             07/20 - ??

About Us

So who are we?

We are Lee and Courtney, two first-time backpackers attempting to travel the world on a shoestring budget.  What we lack in experience, we also lack in finances.

Courtney: 25-year-old girl from Philly who loves eating thai food, vegging out on the couch, and eating thai food while vegging out on the couch.  When she’s not globetrotting Courtney spends her time as a social worker working with angry teens.

Lee: 30-year-old boy from London who has spent the last 12 years living in the US, most of which has been in the Philly area. Lee loves football (soccer to you US readers), beer, and watching football while drinking beer.  Prior to abandoning a perfectly good career, Lee was an urban planner.

So it started with a handshake (a wink actually, but that’s another story).  On our first date we joked about how great it would be to do something totally spontaneous and book flights somewhere warm for our second date.   After a couple “you won’ts”, a “this may be the worst idea ever”, and a “you’re not a serial killer are you?” (Court’s question), we shook on it.  3 days later we were in the Bahamas.  A couple of months later we found ourselves in Ecuador.  Few months after that, we were back in the Caribbean.  Clearly a theme was developing.

That brings us to this trip.  We were on our lunch breaks one day tucking into a delicious pad thai and we started to daydream.  How great would it be to pack it all in and travel round the world.  Courtney extended her hand…