The City of Angels

The last place on our journey across the globe is the City of Angels, Los Angeles. The home of Hollywood, LA oozes celebrity charm as you cruise down the palm tree lined streets looking at the multi-million dollar homes of Beverly Hills and Bel Air.

DSC05931

Of course, we had to fit in with the razzle-dazzle of Hollywood so we splurged and rented a convertible for our time there. Having written his certification exam in New Zealand, Mark took over the planning of LA to give Alayna a break. He’d been here before and wanted to show her the best parts of the city; what better way than in a sports car?DSC05795

We arrive in LA late at night from Hawaii and make our way to the rental car shuttle to get to Hertz. After standing in the long line for about half an hour we finally make it up to the counter to collect our well deserved prize! “You’re at the wrong rental agency” the dull and tired employee tells us. “You’re with Sixt, walk about a mile that way and you’ll get there.” Our shoulders sink. Alayna shoots Mark a death stare as she gets out her rain poncho to walk the mile in a thunderstorm at midnight.

Spirits are brightened after we get to the right spot and we finally get the keys to our shiny black mustang convertible. After driving rickety scooters and tiny smart cars that can barely make it up a mellow incline, we are ready for a car that works. We sink into the luxurious, heated, leather seats and zoom off to our hotel.

Unfortunately the next day was still a rainstorm, and our idea of cruising top down had to be put on hold. We decided to head to Madame Tussaud’s Hollywood Wax Museum. We arrive early, and are startled that the room is so busy! After a few seconds we realize that they are actually wax figures and not real people! We start to recognize the celebrities and the similarity is so uncanny that you expect them to move and say you’re on a prank show. We didn’t see any real celebrities, but here we got up and personal with a few of the world’s most famous.

 

Luckily, we had another activity indoors that was planned, going to a late night TV show. We got tickets to the Conan O’Brien show and went to The Warner Brothers studios for the taping. The whole ordeal took a fair amount of time, getting tickets, being shuttled, waiting etc. and the half hour show was over before we knew it! Our show aired the same night and we watched the back of our heads on screen from our hotel room in Hollywood.

 

The next day was rain free, and despite only being 15 degrees out we had the top down to cruise around while our heated seats were set to maximum. We went stalking around the fancy homes in the hills, and gawked at the luxury of them. One mansion even had it’s own helicopter sitting on the roof!

With the sun shining we hit the beach. First heading to Santa Monica Pier, the very end of the famous Route 66. Venice beach was next on the list and we watched the muscle men work out at muscle beach, and the skateboarders do their best tricks. It was too cold for the Baywatch swimsuits to be out on the beach, but we checked out the lifeguard stations anyways.

 

We drove the coast to Malibu before heading back to our hotel for our very last night on our adventure. As I write this, we’re sitting in our last airport, awaiting our last flight. It’s a bittersweet feeling and we’ll be posting more reflection posts as we get home and decompress. Thanks for coming along on this journey with us. We hope you enjoyed it!DSC05905

Aloha, Gibraltar of the Pacific!

Hawaii is everything you’ve heard and a little bit more. It’s a tropical paradise. It’s laid-back and filled to the brim with surfers. It’s beaches are beautiful and water turquoise. It’s a place you have to visit.

We flew in to Honolulu, Oahu early morning local time. We had left Auckland, New Zealand on March 1st, 2019 at 23:00. We arrived in Honolulu on March 1st, 2019 at 8:00; no jet lag, just living the same day twice. It’s the closest thing to time travel that we’ll ever experience. After a very long passport entry, we were admitted into the U.S. Heading straight to our accommodation, we took the interstate westwards. As you likely expect, accommodation in Hawaii is expensive and peak tourism season, most options can dry up. We had found an AirBnB with reasonable reviews and an attractive price. Thinking we’d hit the goldmine, and being under the presumption that Hawaii is synonymous with paradise, we booked the room. Now, modern Hawaiian history really revolves around Pearl Harbor. It was a major turning point for the world, the U.S.’s role in it, and the underdeveloped islands of Hawaii. In a very brief synopsis, one that will paint us as adventurers not ignorant tourists, I will shed some light on the inner workings of modern Hawaii and then continue with our story.

Hawaii was seized by the Americans during an expansionist phase in the 1800’s. Locals continued to go about their lives and development on the islands was limited at most. During Japan’s imperial and massive militarization period, the Americans began shifting military forces from continental U.S. to Hawaii. Federal investment spiked and began reshaping the islands, especially Oahu. As Japan conquered the Pacific theater these two major forces collided with the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. A whole bunch of very important things happened that changed world and then WW2 was over.

Federal spending increased (for strategic military reasons) and Hawaii became a huge tourist destination. As money poured in, many native Polynesians struggled with the changes. A simple, rural life that was tied to their culture was vanishing. Fast forward to modern day Hawaii and you can see this illustrated by downtown Honolulu versus tent city. Waikiki beach is packed with tourists willing to spend considerable amounts of money on first world amenities while within an hour’s drive there is tent city, a self explanatory name.DSC05784

Enter Mark and Alayna – happily driving towards the ‘steal of a deal’ they had found. Slowly the traffic on the interstate dwindled to dilapidated jalopies. Then the interstate dwindled to a two lane road. Then the permanent tent structures began popping up. Next the custom license plates “MRZ OG” and old suburbans with tacky rims started showing DSC05722themselves. After a chicken was spotted roaming a dirt patch on a brown lawn beside a rusted out carcass of a car, the question was thought out loud: “Are we in the right place?”. Indeed we were. Arriving at what Google Maps was telling us was our destination, we proceeded to unlatch the security gate. The yard was scattered with broken car parts and a half torn apart dirt bike. Two rusted pickup trucks sat next to each other, neither had a bumper. There seemed to be an usual amount of car seats lining the stilted house’s side. ‘What does one do with that many car seats?’ It begged many questions but none strong enough to pull our attention from the “Beware of Dog” sign. You can only imagine what type of mutt would inhabit a place like this. Suddenly, from the crawlspace beneath the house, charged a chihuahua and puppy pit bull. Following them came our host, a blonde hair surfer with no shirt on; he had a big smile and welcomed us.

The deal now made a lot of sense. Travel is made of experiences so we weren’t about to opt for a comfortable, safe, enjoyable hotel room. To ease our minds we decided to watch one of Hawaii’s most famous exports: Dog the Bounty Hunter. For those unfamiliar with his great work: he is a blonde haired, mullet baring, Hawaiian bounty hunter that tracks down those who fail to appear in court.DSC05728 He has a T.V. crew that follows his team as they search the island in their SWAT team gear. This particular episode began with an intro while they sped down the interstate towards the west end of the island. They were looking for an addict who  was residing in tent city. They continued to explain how this was the worst place in all of Hawaii and how drugs and crime are rampant. Next on the screen was the location of where they were driving to: Waianae. We looked at each other in disbelief. Morbid curiosity kept us hooked as Dog went on to describe the place. The camera then pointed out of the front of the vehicle and we recognized the Taco Bell that is located down our street. We half expected our house to be on the show. We didn’t finish the episode…That night we closed our windows and jammed earplugs deep into our ears to muffle out the persistent sound of car burn outs and cawing roosters.

The following day couldn’t be more different. We had been given an excursion as a Christmas gift and we had chosen a helicopter tour of Oahu. We arrived at the airport full of excitement and anticipation. After some safety training we were standing out on the tarmac waiting to board the ‘bird’. We lucked out and got the best seats on the aircraft, the two front ones. Our pilot was a handsome man with salt and pepper hair and a trim beard. There was an ex-military feel to his confidence. His voice was very calm and collected as he spoke over the headsets. He introduced himself as Christopher.

With a sly smirk he told us to hold on for the best part. The engine began revving and the rotor blasted air downwards onto the tarmac. He lifted us a meter off the ground, tilted us forward, put on Top Gun’s Highway to the Dangerzone, and began racing us across the airport. It was totally exhilarating and awesome. To those who have dreamt of flying after watching Top Gun: it was better than you can imagine. The feeling of freedom and hovering in a helicopter is totally empowering.

Up we soared, over Honolulu and Waikiki. Christopher’s voice chimed in every now and then to explain the sights. He cracked Dad jokes and pointed out the Humpback whales breaching below us. We snaked around the perimeter of the island while listening to classic songs. While flying over the best surfing beaches he played The Beach Boy’s DSC05773Surfin’ USA. ‘..tell the teacher we’re surfin’, surfin’ USA..’ From the spectacular coastline we headed inland to the dense, green jungle. Around volcanic mountains, close enough to almost touch, and then hovering over a 500m waterfall. Christopher did some fancy footwork, with banking, tilting and swooping. His calm demeanor and playful smile suggested that he was only touching on some of the tricks he could do. After an hour long ride we headed back to the helipad but not before we flew over the U.S.S. Missouri and Pearl Harbor. Approaching the harbour at low altitude, it was hard not to think of the Japanese pilot’s vantage point as they surprise attacked the base. The rusted wrecks of the sunken vessels still remain intact and are fully visible from the air.

DSC05778

From junkyard hoodrats to owning the skies, Hawaii has been breathtakingly beautiful and very interesting. As our journey comes to a close in the next week we are appreciating these last moments.DSC05712

Life as a Hobbit

Hobbiton is a movie set made for the filming of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit franchises. Constructed in the hills of a working 1250 acre sheep farm, the movie set has 44 “hobbit holes” and has a team of gardeners and maintenance crew for the set to keep it looking “lived in” by hobbits.

The hobbit holes themselves are merely the front portion of the house, although most of the holes have a 1-2m depth that you can walk into or that a cameraman could be in. The homes are constructed at different scales to allow for camerawork to make the hobbits look small, and the humans look big.

Peter Jackson, the director of the Lord of the Rings is very particular about details. Workers were employed to walk between clotheslines and wells to make worn tracks to make it look like they’ve been used for years. Fences were painted with vinegar and yogurt to create mold and moss to grow on them. Fake Plums were attached to trees and this huge tree above Bilbo Baggins’ house was artificially made, with each leaf being attached by hand. Then, once it was up, Peter Jackson decided it wasn’t quite the right shade of green, and each leave had to be repainted by hand.

It obviously was a very time consuming project and there was not great infrastructure to get all of the equipment needed to the area. The New Zealand army was employed to help create roads and help with building. They were also used in fight scenes as Orcs. New Zealand firefighters were used as Orcs during the scenes with fire.

During the party scene, crew members and their families were invited to dress up and have an actual party! Alcohol was served (1%) during the filming and it now it is served to guests as the pub on set!

Now, the movie set is jointly owned by Peter Jackson’s production company and the family who’s farm it is. It welcomes over 300,000 visitors each year.

Tide and Prejudice

As we’ve made our way north towards Auckland, there have been many interesting stops along the way. One of these stops was at Hot Water Beach, roughly an hour from Auckland. The beach gets its name from the heat that seeps upwards from volcanic activity below. In certain areas the sand is nearly boiling while just a few feet away it can be cold to the touch. It has become a major tourist attraction and rightfully so as it’s a very rare experience. The locals have been making their own sand hot tubs for decades now and this has caught on with the tourists. The basic premise is to show up with a bucket and shovel and start digging. What you’ll quickly find, however, is that certain tubs remain cold while others get far too hot. This is where the bucket comes in to play; pour cold ocean water into your newly formed home if it’s uncomfortably warm. There are a few other techniques that you can utilize as well; I’ll touch on those later. This post isn’t about the wonders of geothermal heat nor exotic New Zealand. No, this post is about human psychology. Let us begin.

DSC05655

A small sign notifies you that the turn off for Hot Water Beach is in 500m. Half awake you drive down a long gravel road to the entry way of the beach. You’ve rose at an early hour to ensure the tide is at its lowest, otherwise the beach will be covered by ocean water. The cold, crisp, morning air follows you as you walk down the shoreline in search of the “hot spot”. The phenomenon only occurs in specific places and patterns. This means a shortage of prime real estate. In the distance, you see two tightly packed groups of human lobsters. Steam is curling upwards from the 50m diameter circle that houses all the possible hot spots. It’s a perfect little ecosystem. Your money won’t help down here. All anyone’s got is their brain, bucket and shovel; many are missing one or more of those things.DSC05642

The air is warm and humid. Half clothed bodies fill almost all the existing hot tubs. The occupants resemble seals sunbathing, with a distinct defensive look on their faces. As more tourists arrive, the seals that have the best bathing spot begin feeling the pressure. Suddenly, you notice a spot that hasn’t been taken! Right beside a mega pool occupied by a semi-submerged German in a Speedo. The water level is low but you’re convinced it’s a fixer-upper and some TLC can make it work. Your comrade begins getting buckets of cold ocean water while you try to dig the tub deeper. It’s a humble hole, with an exhibitionist neighbour and poor road access but sweat can make the difference.

 

At first, it’s too hot to stand in. Alayna pours more and more water. Somehow this stupid thing won’t cool down. After 10 minutes of almost scalding your feet, dumping water in and seeing no change, you give up. There’s a reason this one is unoccupied, you think as sweat drips from your brow. Your next thought is to start from scratch; get a plot of land, preferably with a view, and build your foundation on the proverbial rock. High sand walls for privacy would be nice but not necessary. After a bit of surveying, you get to it. A friendly stranger suggests a plot of untouched sand where you’re at the edge of a discovered hot streak. You suspiciously accept his tip and begin furiously digging. The wool sweater you wore down to the beach has been long taken off and your dark shirt is absorbing morning sunlight. After 15 minutes of digging, your hands are tender from the wet sand and friction, back is bent, and shirt is soaked with sweat. This is when your wonderful girlfriend asks if you even want to sit in a hot tub anymore. Standing in your lukewarm puddle you think you’d rather die than give up on this stupid sand tub.

 

Meanwhile, three solid, older men showed up beside you. They have three full sized spades and are working in unison in creating what is no less than a hot tub mansion. After another 5 minutes of digging with your hopelessly small sand shovel, two of the your tub’s walls collapse inwards. DAMN YOU SAND! The older men next to you have completed their Jacuzzi-open-concept-mansion complete with sand seats. They begin attracting curious females now. They offer a mother-daughter duo two spots in their Jacuzzi and the duo breaks free from their male family member. You desperately try to keep your puddle from completely falling in on itself by manically digging. All the while, the Jacuzzi group is laughing and the German speedo man floats with a smug smile. You look at your partner in frustration and tell her that crime is the only option. We must steal a better tub. She begins scouting for a new tub but they are seldom. Sometimes the really hot tubs will send people running into the ocean for a cool down. This is the perfect moment for blatant theft. A half hour spent in this ecosystem has made you hardened criminals. You tried to follow the rules; pay your taxes, live outside the core and live with the long commute but the game is rigged. DSC05656

The tide is coming in at this point. Slowly all the tubs will be reclaimed by the ocean. You’ve thought of everything to salvage this hopeless hole, including tunneling into the Jacuzzi and draining some of their hot water. Your partner can’t find another hole and returns defeated. She could just leave you for a better hole looking for female company but she’s loyal for some reason. You both plop down into the lukewarm, collapsing, sand puddle of a hole and enjoy the moment. At least your bum is warm and you’re in good company. DSC05651

Oar the River and Through the Woods

It’s been a week of wetsuits.

If you’ve never worn a full body wet suit before, picture this: You first struggle with a rubbery material to get the suit the right way out. Next, your feet squeeze through the tiny foot openings and you use all of your upper body strength to fanangle the thing up your thighs. You somehow manage to get it over the hump of your rump and then comes the arms… You squat down and with a little jump, you hoof the arm and shoulder section into the air and with a speedy ninja move you shove your arms into the tight sleeves. Sucking in all of your air you make your stomach as small as possible as you zip you the final portion of the wetsuit. Now you are ready to raft.

 

 

We decided to try some of the many New Zealand adventure sports, starting with white water rafting. We chose the Tongariro river, which has 60 rapids to go through on a 13 km stretch. The Grade 3 rapids of this river are fairly tame. A grade one is like a little stream, and grade six is the highest, meaning essentially death because no one has ever managed to navigate it. With a few drops, collisions, and soakers in the 10 degree water, it was enough excitement to give us a bit of a thrill. When not going over the rapids it was very nice to float down the crystal clear waters, seeing trout swimming below us. The volcanic cliffs towered on each side of water, covered in beautiful, lush vegetation. We even saw the rare and endangered Whio, which are called Blue Ducks, and two ducklings!

 

 

Now many people have heard of white water rafting, but we also did black water rafting. With this you strap a light onto your helmet and climb deep within an underground cave. The underground spring creates a rushing river that you climb and wave yourself through to sit serenely in an inner tube in complete darkness in freezing cold water. Yes, that sounds terrible, but it’s actually magical. Why? Because the roof of this underground cave system is covered in glow worms. In complete darkness, they look like stars in the night sky, though much, much closer.

 

Glow worms are little larvae that use bio luminescence to attract their prey. As they produce waste, it reacts with oxygen to produce a glow. This attracts their prey (small insects) to fly towards them. The insects then get caught in a spiderweb like net that the larvae has produced. So if you can put it out of your mind that you are trapped in a very cold, underground cave with thousands (if not millions) of carnivorous, web making, maggots, then it’s quite enjoyable!  It’s actually much easier to do then you would imagine. You can’t really see the webs, or the insects, all that is there is the calm, blue, glow of sparkling stars. It’s completely quiet, with only the sound of flowing water to your ears. It’s a very surreal experience as you float there, you have to remember where you are and why your butt is a foot deep in freezing water. Surprisingly, the only fear filled part of it was having to jump off a waterfall backward into the dark pool with our inner tube.

 

*caveat: some of these photos were not taken by us and are used as promo photos for the tours that we did. We’re too cheap to pay for photos.