All posts by Katie

Seoul

Originally, Kay didn’t want to visit Seoul because he had already been for work and wasn’t overly crazy about the city, but it was impossible to find direct flights from NZ and OZ to Japan for cherry blossom season end of March, so I convinced Kay that it would be easier to fly to Seoul for a couple days and then take a quick flight to Japan from there.

My plan worked. Kay agreed to do it and finding flights to Tokyo from Seoul during cherry blossom season was a snap!
Flying from Sydney to Seoul was a long flight and we arrived pretty late at night. We booked an interesting airbnb with an automatic entry code. I’m pretty sure our host didn’t speak much English at all, which wasn’t really a problem except that the flat was missing hot water. But we were only staying for two nights with an early flight out to Tokyo, so we decided to just wait until Tokyo to shower.

With only one full day in the city to sightsee, I asked a friend what she recommended and she pointed us to the main palace Gyeongbokgung first.
After spending weeks in South America and then New Zealand and Australia, Seoul was a totally new culture to experience on our trip, unlike anything else. I was enamored by the bright colors and patterns in the changing of the guards. It was completely different than watching a Swedish or British change of guard!
We hadn’t arrived in Japan yet either, so this was our first experience seeing locals dress up in traditional outfits when visiting the palace.We were surprised to see what a popular activity it was to rent or buy Hanbok and wear them to the temples. I didn’t know until later that you receive free entry when you do this.It’s becoming a very popular activity for the younger generation and it’s slightly amusing to see these very traditional garments with selfie sticks and cell phones, but it looks like they are having a good time!After traveling from late summer/early autumn, here we were getting the first glimpse of spring. We were very much looking forward to seeing cherry blossoms in Japan, and I hoped they would be everything I dreamed of. Also, note how we completely bypassed any wintertime on our travels. This was not a mistake. 😉 Gyeongbokgung was built in the 1300s, but much of it was destroyed during the early 1900s by Imperial Japan, so they have been rebuilding for quite some time. It is still considered the most impressive palace in the country!Somehow, seeing people in Hanbok made the whole experience more special. It was like seeing a glimpse of how the palace might have looked with people during the Joseon dynasty.After Gyeongbokgung, we headed to Bukchon Hanok Village, which had a cool vibe and what looked like lots of expensive real estate. 🙂 Around here we grabbed a bubble tea, and I was so surprised when the timer they gives you that vibrates had a mini screen on it and was displaying ads! It seemed ingenious and something we don’t have in Europe or the US yet. Any opportunity to advertise to us…Later we went to Bongeunsa Temple, which Kay had already seen before, but he hadn’t experienced the temple while it was being prepared for a huge lantern festival! The colors of the lanterns were so bright and cheery that it warmed the cold day. I wished I could see them lit up as well!It was pretty jarring seeing the urban high rise development in stark contrast with traditional Buddhist architecture. Kay loved it. Old and new together, intertwined.In a way, it was like seeing the past come to life. I’m pretty sure it would be hard to forget where you come from in a setting like this, kind of like Rome with its ancient architecture and ruins scattered throughout the city.Sorry, I really couldn’t get enough of the lanterns.We explored the temple for some time before looking for a good Korean BBQ for dinner. We also spent a fair amount of time looking for the aquarium at the Lotte Mall, which was overwhelming in size. We eventually found the aquarium, but decided it was too expensive to splurge for.

The next day we had an early flight to Tokyo to start our Japanese adventure. With the first taste of Asia done, we were ready for more!

Sydney

With a round the world ticket, it would have seemed unkind if we went all the way to New Zealand and didn’t stop by Sydney for a long weekend to visit family and friends on the way to Japan. Also, with no available direct flights from New Zealand, it didn’t really hurt our flight path either!

Funnily enough, as we had landed in NZ and been told that it was the “worst summer in 20 years”, we were hoping for warmer weather in Sydney, but as it poured cats and dogs during our landing, my cousin texted me, “Welcome to summertime in England.” Womp womp.The weather wasn’t all bad on the tail end of their summer in March, but it wasn’t excessively warm either. Still, we loved being back in the city and visiting with everyone. It really made us sad that we can’t move here! It’s one of my favorite cities in the world!We ended up going to Luna Park for the first time for a friend’s birthday party and then we took the ferry to Manly for the first time as well and got to enjoy the amazing views of the bridge and opera house from the water.Sydney always seems like a bit of a magical place, with the friendliest, down to earth vibe that really resonates with Kay and me.Thankfully the weather turned around a bit as well and we managed to squeeze in a day at Bondi beach, where Kay tried out a surfing lesson.After too little time with our friends and family, it was time to head on for a pit stop in Seoul before Japan!

Hobbiton!

I’m not going to lie… after 9 months of traveling, Hobbiton is still one of the most exciting [to me] things we did. I was pretty damn jazzed to finally see where HOBBITS live. *squeals*

Around the time we got tickets for the Weta Workshop in Wellington, I secured tickets for Hobbiton too. We planned to go there on our way from Rotorua back to Auckland as our trip to NZ was ending.I was THIS excited when we finally went. No… THIS EXCITED. All the excitement!! Look at me trying to hold my arms down at my sides like a normal person.Not only were we in one of the most amazing places on Earth, after five weeks in New Zealand with rain, the grass was starting to perk up again. It was here that both Kay and I felt we finally saw the rolling green New Zealand landscapes that we’d pictured in our minds before we came. And of course it just happened to be in the Shire.Kay on the other hand, didn’t quite get my excitement… I was literally bouncing up and down and hopping excitedly while pointing to things, like LITTLE SWINGS and LITTLE CLOTHES on little clotheslines.The attention to detail here is incredible. When you hear about the work that they put in to making this place, like hiring people to walk paths up and down the hills to make it look like they’ve been worn time and time again by little hobbit feet heading home or going to the baker, it makes you appreciate even more all the effort that went into these movies. (Even if I sort of loathed the Hobbit trilogy, for which the set was recreated permanently.)Even Kay had to admit that it looked really beautiful here.Soon we were upon Bilbo’s house!SO darn magical!After the tour was over, we were led to the Green Dragon for a free beer or ginger beer. There it is across the water, past the mill.I took a ginger beer since beer is a no-go for this celiac.At the pub, I took this Snapchat video which marked Kay’s enthusiasm for the whole visit. This actually spawned a whole series that developed into my #reasonsmyhusbandisgrumpy hashtag that we used for the rest of the trip. All thanks to this video.

After Hobbiton, we drove the rest of the way to Auckland and had a couple days before our flight to Sydney. A couple stressful days… as when we arrived, our car got stuck under the parking garage door at our AirBnB, then when we got checked in there was a fire alarm and the whole 23 story building had to empty, plus it was a university building, so people supervising thought we were students… After our rough start in Auckland, we had to find a place to arrange the shipment of 26 (!!) kilograms, that’s 57.3lbs, of camping gear to be sent home.

We pretty much figured we wouldn’t be camping in South East Asia coming up, so we sent home our tent, sleeping bags, cookware, and everything else we needed for our time in Patagonia and New Zealand.It was not cheap to mail that to Switzerland, but we figured with all our inter-Asia flights coming up on low carriers, we would actually save money sending the goods home rather than having to check a bag or two more in addition to what we still had. 1-2 bags X 10 low-carrier flight baggage charges would have been $$$.

After we sent all that weight home, we both still had around 24kg of checked luggage, thanks to filling out our dive kit and reducing what we had in our carryon. Do I regret bringing that camping gear? Nooo. That was our home for months.

Finally with Hobbiton and Auckland over, it was time to pack up and say goodbye to New Zealand. Next we would fly to Sydney for a long weekend with family and friends.

Rotorua Hot Springs

After Napier, it was time to go to NZ’s famous hot springs town Rotorua, known for its geothermal activity and Maori culture.
They weren’t joking about the geothermal activity… the sulphur smell hits as soon as you get out of the car! Pee-huuuu.
All over town there were pockets of activity where you could see springs bubbling and steaming.We headed over to Te Puia to see Pōhutu, the largest geyser in the southern hemisphere. We had to wait a bit because it erupts for awhile and then stops, but it is such an active geyser that she erupts 1-2x an hour.In between waiting for Pōhutu, we walked around the park and saw a real kiwi in an indoor nocturnal habitat and various geothermal pools that were bubbling. If you happened to fall into the pool below, it would instantly melt your skin off! :OThe water around Pōhutu was an incredible iridescent aqua, but most of the temperatures mean that you cannot jump into just any hot spring without a serious risk of burning yourself.It was fun to simply watch the bubbling muck sometimes, which provided a nonstop visual similar to simmering chocolate fondue.Eventually we headed back to Pōhutu and she was bursting in full steam. It was pretty impressive to see in person!Neither of us had really seen an active geyser before and they are pretty neat!With lots of geothermal boring in the 1980s, many of the geysers stopped being active during this time. There was another geyser here that used to be even bigger, but it hasn’t started erupting again since officials ordered the closure of all bores.Te Puia also has a Maori cultural center with some examples of traditional Maori architecture and housing as well as arts and crafts. It was a nice addition to the geothermal viewing since we sadly missed the Te Matatini National Kapa Haka Festival while we were there.

After visiting Te Puia, we also really wanted to try out some hot springs. Despite having the “worst summer in 20 years”, we ended up with one of our hottest days when we went and it was actually just too hot to enjoy the hot springs. The water coming from the springs is actually so hot when it comes out that they have to run it through a series of pipes to cool it down before it enters the pools.

Try your luck or plan going in autumn or winter! Sitting in a steamy pool in the cold sounds heavenly.

Napier Wine Tour

Woo. Long time no update here… if you follow my Instagram account, you know that we’ve been traveling pretty extensively lately. Let’s get back to where we were in March in New Zealand. After finishing our freezing trek to Angelus Hut and spending a couple days recovering, we took a ferry back over to the North Island and spent a further week in Wellington mostly relaxing and planning our Japan trip, which was quickly approaching.

With that out of the way, we started our journey back north with a stop in Napier to do some wine tasting. Kay had found the company Bike About Tours, who got us on the road and on the way to wineries in no time.I was pretty excited to be on a tandem bike, which Kay had never ridden before. First stop was Mission Estate Winery, where the wine was OK, but not our favorite on the tour.

We didn’t realize how uh… fast the wine would affect our driving abilities. Biking and wining is hard work!

Church Road was close to Mission, so not a long bike ride. We enjoyed their wines more than Mission, especially this 2014 Syrah.Last on our list was Moana Park, which we nearly didn’t make it to because we actually started our wine tour pretty late in the day and places were closing up shop.

Moana Park focuses on making natural, low-allergen and incidentally vegan wine. Kay and I hadn’t known exactly why wine isn’t vegan, but it has to do with some animal products being used in the process. And unlike those baked goods that are noticeably different without butter and eggs, vegan wine is JUST as tasty as non-vegan wine. The Moana Park wine is lovely, and whenever Kay and I land somewhere after all this traveling, I would love to order some wine from this small winery.If you happen to be in Napier and are looking into a wine tour, I do recommend starting a bit earlier in the day than we did. Beginning only around 2pm meant that with biking, we only had time for three wineries before they closed for the day.

We would just have to practice our wine touring later on this trip, but that wouldn’t be for another five months. After Napier, it was time to head up to Rotorua!