Some Kiwi things

Here are some quintessential/unique things from our trip to New Zealand and some remarks I have about them.

meat pie

(Meat) Pies: I thought I’d love these. I don’t. They’re too greasy, and the “beef” mince is too and unappetizing. Also, they gave me weird burps, like I had eaten Spaghettios. (You may be saying, “Gross!” but at least I keep things honest.) Like I said before, it probably makes good drunk food.


Fish & Chips: Delicious, but probably not good to eat all the time. A+, especially for the fries.

Marmite & Weetbix

Weetbix: I’d say “delicious,” but they’re basically just bland, tasteless, dry crackers. Maybe like rice cakes? They’re completely inoffensive.

Foreground: Marmite. Background: chunky PB
Foreground: Marmite. Background: chunky PB

Marmite: Eh…not my favorite, though one of our AirBnb hosts told me that I was putting waaaaay too much on. It tastes like an intense reduction of soy sauce, which is, I guess, what it is. Maybe my ambivalence-bordering-on-disgust feelings are how non-Americans feel when faced with peanut butter.



Toilet flush buttons: Okay, so I know Europe (and sometimes America) has these too, but it was every toilet in NZ. Great job, Kiwis, on conserving water…except WHICH BUTTON IS LESS WATER? Does the bigger button represent more water in the flush, OR is it bigger because you should press it more often, for less water. (Reserve the small button for big dumps, I guess?) I asked one of our AirBnb hosts, and she didn’t know which button to use and suggested I push both, so I guess that’s not actually water-efficient anyway.

IMG_5628Towel warming bars: These were in almost all of the bathrooms we stayed in, and I thought they were a pretty nice addition if you like toasty towels. That being said, I didn’t really turn it on because 1) it was summer and seemed unnecessary and 2) you’re supposed to leave them on for extended periods of time and I was afraid of burning down the house. Nice, but definitely not necessary. I would install a magic Japanese toilet in my bathroom before one of these.

Cadbury, Pineapple lumps, Tim-Tams
Cadbury, Pineapple lumps, Tim-Tams

So I think a lot of this isn’t even from New Zealand, but they featured heavily in our trip.

Cadbury Coconut Rough chocolate: A+ for taste & texture. The hus-friend actually bought this for himself, but I was the one who ate most of it. Shhhh….

Pineapple lumps: I was totally prepared to love these because I find the ungraceful name so bizarrely charming. I mean, doesn’t it seem like I would enjoy a candy called “pineapple lumps?” I expected them to be dried pineapple coated in chocolate, but it’s actually weird pineapple-flavored taffy/plastic sponge material. Awful. Ick. F—– for taste and texture.

Tim-tams: Yes, I know these are Australian, but they were in every store we visited. They’re my favorite. If I could live in a house made of Tim-Tams, I would…be without a house because I would have eaten them all and then died of diabetes.

Okay, good story, Mica. The end.

On the last day in Auckland

Writing this from the Auckland International airport, where we have a long wait before our l-o-n-g flight back to San Francisco. The flight takes off at 7:45pm on Saturday, and we get back at 11am on Saturday. Flying is time-travel!

The best part of B&B? The second B, which stands for BREAKFAST, or as some Kiwis say, “brekkie.” Arthotel Great Ponsonby Breakfast

What is breakfast?
What is breakfast?

I don’t have much to add word-wise about today, so here are some snapshots of our wanderings around downtown Auckland and our last day in New Zealand.

Sky Tower
Sky Tower
Holiday windows are less exciting in the humidity.
Holiday windows are less exciting in the humidity.
Sky Tower
Sky Tower
A hipster  summer brown (a cold flat white)
A hipster summer brown (a cold flat white)
Lord Auckland, the namesake of the city apparently.
Lord Auckland, the namesake of the city apparently.
Industrial walkway overlooking a park in Wynyard
Industrial walkway overlooking a park in Wynyard
Ponsonby villa
Ponsonby villa
LOTR statue at the airport
LOTR statue at the airport

Bye-bye, New Zealand! It has been a fun, short trip. I feel like we haven’t even scratched the surface, especially since we only saw one island. We’ll be back eventually!

LOTR plane
LOTR plane

Auckland is cool!

Well, it’s our last night in New Zealand! We fly out tomorrow after a day exploring Auckland, but for now, we’re relaxing and listening to some solid rain hammer the roof of our Bed-&-Breakfast room.

tree-lined street in Ponsonby, Auckland

We’re staying at the Great Ponsonby Art Hotel, which is a bed and breakfast in the hip and trendy Ponsonby neighborhood of Auckland. It’s on a hill, and it has beautiful tree-lined streets with charming Victoria villas everywhere. In fact, our bed-and-breakfast is an adorable converted villa, built in 1898! Our room is one of the old converted workshop spaces in the back courtyard. The owners were kind enough to leave an extensive write-up of the space, the surrounding neighborhood, and their ecologically-friendly conversion of an old house into a comfortable B&B. I’m a big fan.

Great Art Ponsonby Hotel
(This photo doesn’t do it justice at all. It’s such a neat space.)

There are also a few friendly kitties around the B&B. I kept calling this cat, trying to get it to look at me, and it promptly ignored me and rolled around on the sidewalk. I always forget that not all animals are photogenic or will stare at the camera for a long time like our little dum-dum Frenchie.


After checking in, we went for a short stroll to the closest purveyor of meat pies on Ponsonby street (The Food Room). This was my first meat pie on the trip, and, well, one is probably enough. I think they’re better if you’re drunk, which I never am. I also finally got to try the ubiquitous ketchup (“tomato sauce”) in a tomato-shaped bottle.

meat pie

After returning our rental car (Bye-bye, Camry. You were perfectly adequate, but we don’t miss you.), we walked to get a flat white and tea at Albert Park Café. We enjoyed our beverages while sitting in the shade of the large live oaks and magnolias in Albert Park. Auckland is surprisingly humid, so we had to sit and cool down while drinking hot drinks.

I occasionally feel twinges of jealousy looking at people’s beautiful “spontaneous” travel photos, namely, photos that in-love husbands snap of their contemplative wives looking off in the distance over a harbor. My husband basically never takes photos, unless it’s of a landscape, so if I want a photo of myself, I have to shove my camera in his hand and say, “TAKE THIS PHOTO OF ME.”

For today’s photo, I said, “Maybe I should pose contemplatively by this tree in the park.” But, of course, if I try to look contemplative, the end result is much more like, “What is tree?” For example: What is tree?

The Hus-friend said he could do a better job at What is tree?, so I’ll leave both here for you to judge.

What is tree?

We were surprised to “stumble upon” Auckland’s downtown shopping district on Queen Street, leading to the Harbor. This is the biggest city we’ve stayed in, and it was our first time seeing a large commercial district with many American brands, so it was a bit of a shock. Like the line of tourists waiting outside the Gucci store? IMG_5719We spent most of the afternoon walking along the edge of the Auckland harbor, which has a much stronger “big city” vibe than anywhere we’ve stayed. It’s reminiscent of most city’s harbor districts: gentrifying but formerly gritty areas with new architecture and swanky playgrounds.

Auckland has the nickname “the city of sails” because there are so many sailboats. It’s fun to point and say, “That’s my boat.” Check out this trimaran for racing!IMG_5727By the way, what IS boat? (This photo was 100% posed.)

What is boat?
My dad has rubbed off on me, so I prefer classy wooden sailing boats (or maybe a vintage wooden motorboat). Meanwhile, the Hus-friend likes anything with a motor that looks fast. Case in point, the two boats in the above photo.

The walk around the harbor took a pretty long time, especially since we went all the way around to get back to Ponsonby. If you take the shorter route, it’s only about a 25-minute walk from our B&B to downtown Auckland!

Like I mentioned before, it was pretty humid today. As we were walking, there were very ominous clouds and a few intermittent raindrops. Fortunately, we stayed dry throughout our whole walk.

Auckland Harbor selfie

For dinner, we explored Ponsonby central, this cool space with restaurants and shops. We had ramen at Chop-chop, and it was by far the best meal we’ve had on this trip. (Not to mention, we both maybe developed a crush on one of the servers. He looked deeply into both of our eyes while asking how our food was and giving us the bill. He also had a very deep voice, which the Hus-friend was a fan of.) chop chop interior

Friday night in Ponsonby is a hopping place, for sure!  We arrived a little before 7pm and had no problem getting a seat, but by the time we were done, the restaurant was full, and there was a waiting list.

chop chop exterior

Right as we finished dinner, the skies opened up, so we stayed inside and people-watched for half an hour. Ponsonby Central and Ponsonby itself remind us a lot of San Francisco. There are tons of young people walking around, though many of them were more stylishly dressed tonight than you’d ever see in SF (lipstick! heels! tucked-in shirts!).


Ponsonby Central
Ponsonby Central

I feel a little gross for being so at ease here among the indulgent foodie spaces, younger crowd, bougie boutiques, and obvious affluence in a trendy area. I kept thinking, “Wow, I like Auckland the best so far!” but is that only because it reminds me of SF? It’s crappy to travel and only like the things that are familiar, right? (That being said, I did really like all our walks and nature-viewing on this trip. That’s really a special part of New Zealand.)

View of Auckland at night

On our walk home, we decided that of the cities we’ve seen, Auckland, with a population of 1.3+ million, is the only one we could see ourselves potentially living in. Although, to be honest, I was prepared to think New Zealand was and want to move immediately, and that hasn’t happened. It’s much smaller than I imagined: while we were driving, the closest “cities” on the road signs were what I’d consider to be tiny towns. And people are friendly, but not overwhelmingly so (not more than Americans, I’d say). I have loved the proximity to nature, the abundant coast line, and the clean air, but NZ is very far away from things. And this trip has made me realize how much I enjoy and value cosmopolitan cities.


And now that I’ve gone and gushed about how cool Ponsonby is, we’re trying to get to sleep over the sounds of raging Friday night house party (or karaoke bar?) nearby. I may love cities, but I am truly an old, crotchety lady at heart.

Happy “Stanks”-giving!

Happy Thanksgiving from the future! The Hus-friend is calling this “Stanks-giving” because today has been all about seeing naturally smelly geothermal attractions.

Ho, ho!
Ho, ho!

After leaving Taupo, we stopped at Orakei Korako Cave & Thermal Park The whole area is known for hot springs, so we wanted to see some up close, and this hour-long walk was highly reviewed online. (Also, we didn’t bring bathing suits on this trip. And also, also, I preferred to see something more natural than touristy, built-up hot springs filled with people.) Lake Ohakuri boat rideTo get across Lake Ohakuri, you take a short (uh, <1 minute) boat ride and are dropped off on a small jetty. The walk is self-guided on very nicely maintained wooden walkways that take you around several small geysers and hot springs, just bubbling out of the ground. It’s so cool to see the steam rising off of water that’s coming right out of the ground!

Silica terraces

It totally looks like the moon. The white area is apparently a silica terrace (not volcanic rock), which I didn’t know. And then surrounding this lunar landscape, there are these tall, prehistoric-looking ferns. And then across the lake are some of New Zealand’s rolling hills. The whole experience is a lot to take in!


The walk also takes you by a lot of other natural attractions: New Zealand’s only geothermal cave, bubbling mud pots, and lots of unique plant life. Despite the occasional pungent whiff of sulfur, the trees and flowering plants (Manuka, like the honey!) make the rest of the walk smell pleasantly sweet and natural!

And like the rest of the trip, we had the walk mostly to ourselves, which made it seem even more magical.




The Hus-friend’s favorite part was the mud pots. It’s weirdly satisfying to watch these bubbles in the stinky clay. My favorite part was listening to the different burbling water noises. (I’ve actually been taking short videos of the different water sounds we’ve heard on this trip because they’re so fun to listen to.)

Here are some cows on a hill.
Here are some cows on a hill.

After Orakei Korako, the drive to Rotorua was pretty short. We arrived just in time for lunch and a walk around the downtown area. We’d heard that Rotorua, nicknamed “Roto-Vegas,” is aggressively touristy and also very stinky. With that description, I wasn’t expecting very much, but I’ve been really pleasantly surprised. The city certainly relies on tourism, but it has much more of a charming small-town feel that I envisioned. For one, it’s built on Lake Rotorua, which is beautiful to look at, though apparently not particularly healthy or safe to swim in.

Lake walkway, Rotorua

We’re staying in an Airbnb, and our host Cathryn was eager to suggest places to check out. I think she’s surprised by how little we knew about NZ when planning this trip and finds our “Oh, we’ll just find something fun to do!” attitude a bit alarming.

After we arrived, we headed back out on her suggestion to Rotorua’s Redwood forest preserve. IMG_5679

Actually, we were really anticipating being underwhelmed by the redwoods here since the ones in California are so huge and famous. While the ones here aren’t as big, they’re in a different ecological environment.

Spring in Redwoods preserve, Rotorua

There are some thermal areas (smells!) and a lot of interesting plants, including NZ’s national symbol, the silver tree fern. The underside of the silver tree fern leaves are surprisingly silver — I kept thinking that someone had spray-painted some of the leaves that were lying on the ground.Silver fern tree leaves

The walk in the Redwoods took about an hour and was the perfect activity for a sunny day. Fresh air and shade!

Here are my legs…and some redwood trunks for scale.

There were a lot of locals walking and running on the trails after work. The path we took was labeled as suitable for prams and the elderly, but we thought it would be pretty tough to manage with strollers as there were gnarled roots sticking out and it was completely unpaved. However, we saw at least two tandem strollers fly by and got passed by, uh, basically every one on the path. Kiwis are fit people!

Kiwi mom with tandem stroller

After the redwoods, we walked around Government gardens and were metaphorically slapped in the face by the stink of the sulfur flats…right next to this well-manicured park.

(Government gardens in city center)
(Government gardens in city center)

The sulfur flats are SO smelly! The smell doesn’t permeate the whole city, fortunately, so I don’t know why Rotorua gets a reputation for being so stinky. It’s also really cool that the lake has geothermal activity…right in the middle of the city!

Stinky, stinky.
Stinky, stinky.

See this guy taking a selfie by the lake? We actually saw him yesterday at Taupo while we were watching bungee jumpers. He took about a million selfies yesterday too!

Shores of lake Rotorua

After dinner at the Pig & Whistle in downtown Rotorua, we spent an hour chatting with Cathryn, hearing all about her New Zealand and Rotorua pride and telling her about life in San Francisco. That’s one of the reasons I like staying in AirBnbs: getting the “inside scoop” on a place from someone who lives there!

And now I’m exhausted and going to fall asleep in a king-size bed. Here’s a picture of a black swan for…Thanksgiving/Stanksgiving.

Black SwanHappy Thanksgiving! I hope that, wherever you are, you’re enjoying your day and, more importantly, have at least one thing to be thankful for. Me, I’m thankful that I have the opportunity to take this and other awesome trips, as well as a travel partner and a family who supports us taking adventures over holidays.

Left is right (when driving in NZ)

Yesterday, we picked up our rental car in Wellington and started the four-hour drive to Taupo. Look at the Hus-friend on the right side of the car!

driving on the right side

I was all ready to play the role of “extremely helpful passenger,” directing the Hus-friend to the correct side of the road and looking for oncoming traffic in unexpected directions (like, uh, the other lane). I was not ready to drive, but when the Hus-friend became unexpectedly carsick, I had to take the wheel.

Once in the driver’s seat, it made me feel like I was 16 again–just learning to drive again. I had to carefully check for traffic in all possible places, and turns were a lot more complicated all of a sudden. Still, I didn’t kill us, and we arrived in Taupo unscathed.

Tongariro view from car
(The Hus-friend took this while I was driving.)

Taupo is a small town on the shores of Lake Taupo, a large volcanic lake in the center of the north island. It is surrounded by rolling green hills, and its water is clear and blue with small waves lapping on the shores. The area is filled with natural hot springs, so a few spots along the shore have hot water burbling out of the ground!Lake Taupo selfie

We’re staying in “The Bothy,” an AirBnb in-law unit attached to hosts Belinda and Hugh’s home just outside of town center. It has an amazing picture window to look at the lake by day and the stunning sunset in the evening.

sunset over TaupoBeing so close to the lake is convenient. I woke up and went for a walk along the lakeshore path and then had a tasty New Zealand breakfast of Marmite and Weetbix. The jury is still out on Marmite, but I don’t mind Weetbix’s dry texture and completely neutral flavor.

Marmite & Weetbix

The original plan was to do the Tongariro Alpine Crossing day hike today, which the Hus-friend was really excited about. For the last week, the forecast for today was totally miserable–lots of rain all day. We sadly decided to scrap the hike plans last night because getting soaked on an all-day hike sounded horrible.

Guess what? After we scrapped our plans (and ate the cost of the shuttle to the Trail Head), the weather today was PERFECT. Ugh, so annoying! We missed one of the best hikes in the southern hemisphere today, so thanks for nothing, NZ weather predictions!

Determined to make the best of the day, we walked to Huka Falls, which is apparently the most visited natural attraction in New Zealand. The start of the walk passes by a thermal spring with warm water flowing out of the rock right next to the very fast-moving river. (There were warnings everywhere not to swim.)

thermal spring

The hour-long, out-and-back walk is a rolling crushed-gravel trail along the Waikato river.  The path itself was shady and cool, lined with interesting trees and lush ferns. Waikato river trail

The trail climbs up the bank, so there are really awesome views of the river rushing down below. And because it’s still shoulder season for the area, it wasn’t crowded! (Plus we got out on the path early.)Waikato river

It was overwhelming to try to soak up everything on the hike: the fresh air, the smell of the trees and plants, the sounds of the river, the warbles of the tui birds…I took tons of photos, but I guess they only really capture the river.overlooking Waikato riverWe could hear the falls thundering as we approached, but I wasn’t prepared for how impressive they are up close. The river narrows, so the water gets churned up. The mix of white froth and aquamarine water is eye-achingly beautiful; this photo doesn’t really do it justice.

Huka fallsThe beautiful hike made us hungry, so we went hunting for fish and chips, or “fush and chups” in the Kiwi accent. The Fish Box did not disappoint.

fush & chups
fush & chups

(I love a good holiday + food pun.)IMG_5616

Taupo is small, and many of the attractions are touristy and got mixed reviews online. We decided to spend the afternoon watching people bungee jump over the Waikato. It was fun entertainment because the Taupo Bungee company is super low-key. There are a lot of viewing platforms, and it’s free to watch. Plus, it wasn’t hard to sign up if you decided you wanted to jump.

You jump out over this.
You jump out over this.

The Hus-friend quickly decided to do the “Cliffhanger” bungee swing that drops you from the platform in a harness swing. I tried to muster up the courage to do a tandem swing with him, but after watching another couple drop precipitously, I chickened out. (I hate the feeling of my stomach ending up in my throat.) I don’t regret not doing it because I’m not entirely sure I wouldn’t have been completely miserable, but I do feel like I need to take more risks!


The Hus-friend did it though, without even being nervous!  (The woman who put the harness on him told him that he was too skinny and needed to eat more pies.) And he swears that you don’t get the “stomach-dropping” feeling! He said he was so laid-back about it that he doesn’t really even remember it since it just…happened. I can’t understand this, but okay, cool. He got a “Certificate of courage” at the end, haha.

Bungee certificate of courage

So even if we didn’t get to do the amazing hike, it wasn’t a wasted day. I loved the walk to Huka Falls, and the Hus-friend did something memorable and New Zealand-ish (even if he doesn’t remember it).

One thing I will say about our trip is that the food so far has been…um…unexciting. There’s a lot British-style food, and it’s very meat-heavy and not terribly healthy. There’s a fair amount of southeast Asian food, which surprised us. Taupo is tiny, and there are at least four Indian and four Thai places! Trying to find some place to eat here reminds me a bit of our grad school years in Champaign: everything is fine, but nothing has been standout amazing. It’s definitely not a country for food tourism, in my opinion.

Tomorrow, we’re headed off to Rotorua for the evening, or as Martin in Wellington told us, “Roto-Vegas.” It sounds like a tourist trap, but we’ve got some interesting things on our list to check out along the way.

Quick update.

NZ Driving guidelines

You know what’s scary? Driving on the left side of the road.

Just a quick post to say that we’re alive and staying in an adorable AirBnb overlooking Lake Taupo. The Internet is spotty, so I’ll write a more substantial account of our day later.

Windy Wellington!

Today, we discovered that Wellington is a very windy place–who know? I guess Wellingtonians knew this, but we had no idea. (“That’s Wellington,” said our AirBnb host Martin.)

Wellington manhole cover

While the Hus-friend went for an eight-miler, I walked around downtown Wellington and saw the Bucket fountain on Cuba Street.

Bucket fountain, Wellington

I also happened upon the Solace in the Wind statue. “Hmm, I guess there is a lot of wind,” I thought to myself, but really, we hadn’t felt anything yet!

Solice in the Wind Statue, Wellington

We did a bit of shopping (namely looking for New Zealand-made yarn) and grabbed “filos” (filo-wrapped savory fillings) for lunch. Oh, and the Hus-friend got his first flat white, which apparently originated in Australia but is made distinctly in New Zealand.


Despite an intimidating experience with a grumpy and taciturn driver, we managed to catch the #1 bus to Island Bay. It dropped us off in this quiet, suburb-looking area of Wellington:


We walked about a mile to Owhiro Bay and on from there to Taputeranga Marine Reserve and Red Rocks Reserve coastal trail.

Owhiro Bay sign

The water is stunningly blue here, like a shade that I associate with tropical beaches. It was most definitely not tropical here though! The water looked cold and rough, and the wind was gusting to what felt like 50mph. Sometimes, it was hard to move forward against the wind, and several of the gusts were strong enough to pelt us with tiny pebbles. (When we got back, we discovered our hair was full of tiny rocks. Rocks! Not sand. ROCKS!)

I swear I’m not a meatball; that’s the wind inflating my jacket.

Isn’t this view beautiful though? On one side, you have steep, steep cliffs, and on the other, this gorgeous cerulean water and rocky tide pools. Not to mention we had the place almost entirely to ourselves! Every once in awhile, we’d have to pull over for a 4WD vehicle to pass, and we saw maybe ten other people out on the trail with us. To be quite honest, it felt a little creepy to be out in such an isolated, natural place! (Not to mention I got scared worrying about an earthquake and subsequent tsunami. The hills were too high and steep to climb to safety in the case of an emergency.)


Like I said, there was no sand along this path, but there were a lot of interesting shells, particularly these limpets.


And a few spiny, cracked open sea urchins.


I was surprised to find abalone (paua) shells littering the beach. Aren’t those, like, rare and expensive in the US? These were all over the beach! And we saw a few brave souls who looked like amateur abalone divers out in the water with their buoys, fins, and wetsuits. No, thank you! That’s definitely not a hobby I would take on, despite being an aggressive taker-on of hobbies. If I didn’t drown trying to wrangle a stubborn mollusk, I’d most certainly have my brains dashed out against a rock. I’m content just looking at their pretty shell interiors.


Meanwhile, the Hus-friend was trying to boulder on this huge rock. And I was on the ground being all like, “No, don’t! It’s windy!” and trying to figure out how I was going to get us back to civilization if he fell and cracked his head open.


The point of this windy walk was to find the famous red rocks (pariwhero), formed from some unusual volcanic eruptions. It’s really strange, but the rocks are actually only in one part of the walk, not all along the coast. All the other rocks are boring and gray, but then you turn a corner, and BAM, red rocks!

Red Rocks, we found them!
Near the pariwhero are these special, vertically striated rocks. Geology is interesting! Actually, that’s a lie. I find geology to be, like, one of the most boring things, but I do appreciate the unique and beautiful things that result from the earth’s various inner workings.


If we had kept walking along the coastal path, we would have gotten to a seal colony, although I’m not sure if there were any seals there at this time of year. We were getting pretty beaten up by the wind, and our legs were feeling tired by this point. We turned around and headed back, which means that the only seal that we saw was this stinky, desiccated husk of a dead one. THE HUS-FRIEND TOTALLY STEPPED ON IT. Gross.

desiccated seal carcass
At least the kelp is keeping it company?

Even if we got tiny pebbles in our shoes, ears, and hair, it was worth it to venture out on this walk today. I love easy hikes, and I especially love walking along the coast. Major bonus: it was not hot at all. This was certainly one of the prettier walks we’ve done in a city, even if we came back with hot, sore feet and tired legs.

Red rocks on the beach
That’s pretty much it for Wellington, which I must say, is a surprisingly small place for a national capital. It feels like you can walk everywhere! (I mean, we could have walked from city center to the start of the coastal trail, but it’s probably better that we didn’t.) Tomorrow, we’re off to the next destination….in a rental car…driving on the other side of the road. For now, I’m going to hit the sack and fall asleep to Wellington’s wind pummeling the side of the house!

Exploring Wellington, NZ

Hello, hello! We made it safely to Wellington, NZ, where we are fighting to stay away until 9pm and give ourselves some semblance of a normal schedule.


Air New Zealand served up a pretty good flight. (Fortunately, I didn’t have anyone sitting next to me, which helped.) We were able to get some sleep on the plane, though the child behind us singing “Let it go” at 5am was not our preferred wake-up call.

Our flight from SFO got in early Sunday morning, and having completely lost Saturday, we grabbed our luggage and headed through Customs & Immigration. After a minor situation involving the Hus-friend’s dirty hiking shoes (which needed to be rinsed and quarantined, haha), we were on our way…all the way to the Domestic flights terminal. From here, we took a short hour-long flight to Wellington. Phew!

Back deck & view from the AirBnb

We’re staying with a lovely couple Martin and Penny, who rent out their in-law suite as an AirBnb. They live in the Mount Victoria “suburb,” which, from what we can tell, just means “neighborhood.” The location is just a six-minute walk from city center, so after dropping our bags and taking a quick shower, we were off to explore downtown Wellington.


We walked along Oriental Bay for a bit before running into the Sunday Farmers Market, which was the perfect place to grab a light lunch. While the Hus-friend ate a ham-and-cheese “butty” (We think this means sandwich on a buttered bun.), I opted for the safe and reliable staple of steamed pork buns and dumplings…served in a saucy paper bag.


We took our first afternoon tea break to check prices on Wellington real estate (pricier than we thought!). However, the exchange rate is in our favor–a bank ticker informed us that the New Zealand Dollar (NZD) is 0.67 USD. Yippee! Buy it alllll!


On an Earl Grey rush, I suggested we go to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, which has free admission. We wanted around, learning about the natural and social history of New Zealand, though admittedly, I was kind of zoned out and didn’t give the exhibits my full attention. I was really into this exhibit on the history of birth control though, having not realized the important role played by Kiwi Dame Margaret Sparrow.


Also, check out this frightening giant mechanical baby created by the WETA workshop that was on display. That shit will give you nightmares! You’re welcome.


Having learned some things, we decided to take a walk on Wellington’s Green Belt, which reaches its peak at the Mt. Vic lookout.

Wellington is apparently known for its coffee–flat whites everywhere!

It was the perfect weather for an afternoon hike. Wellington’s Green Belt is so beautiful, with shady trails, none of which were too strenuous, and stunning lookouts.


It even was filmed for Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. (The scene where Frodo yells “Get off the road!” when a Black Rider has come to the Shire looking for the One Ring.)IMG_5480

The view from the top was incredible: a 360º view of Wellington city and the harbor and bays. It was also surprisingly chilly and windy at the top, aided by the rolling clouds. That’s okay; SF has prepared us well for turning the corner and entering another microclimate.



Also, this cannon. It was not functional.

IMG_5475 (1)

After the hike back down Mount Victoria, I insisted we stop in a convenience store and buy a pack of TimTams, my favorite commercial cookie. They were the perfect accompaniment to my fourth tea of the day. (Running of fumes and tea leave here.)


Oh, and here is Martin and Penny’s British short-hair Vinny. He knows when I am trying to take his picture and looks away or makes a funny face…EVERY TIME.


Dinner was tasty Japanese at a place in downtown Wellington, which I managed to stay awake for (unlike last year where I dozed off leaning against a wall in Paris).

So far, Wellington reminds me a lot of Sausalito. Cute (and beautiful, some huge) houses tucked into the hills right on a blue-green harbor and small streets. It is quiet, and the air smells so fresh and clean. I’d write more, but we made it to 9pm, which means I’m going to let myself GtFtS in preparation for more adventures tomorrow! (Sorry for typos. I’m too lazy to read it through again right now.)

I’ve been studying Korean.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned on the blog that at the end of February, we’re going BACK TO JAPAN AND KOREA. We both entered the Tokyo Marathon, and beating the odds, the Hus-friend’s entry was accepted. Hooray! (This was also fantastic because about a month after we entered, I stopped running. More on that later. I don’t want to run it, but I’m really looking forward to spectating!) tokyo_marathonAnyway, yes, yes, we’re going back to Japan (Yay!) and Korea, which may come as a shock because you probably remember all my crappy, whining blog posts about how miserable I was that summer. And to be fair, I was very unhappy there and really struggled with both culture shock and feeling incredibly awkward around my biological family. Still, absence makes the heart grow fonder, as it did for France, and I’m ready to go back to the land of the morning calm frenetic neon signage.

…Except my Korean isn’t very good. I haven’t studied it since Tarita and I unceremoniously walked out of our SNU course (“Teacher! From today, I’m not coming back!”). In the intervening three years, my language skills have deteriorated a bit, but let’s be honest, they weren’t that great in the first place.

Realizing that I no longer felt Seoul-induced rage, I started looking at Korean language classes here. There are a few, but the times and locations are pretty inconvenient for me. Trying to study solo, I got the workbook that we used in my second-semester Korean class, but it’s sitting 30% finished in my desk drawer. Filling in the blanks with verb conjugations doesn’t bring me quite the joy it once did, particularly because there is no teacher to give me to validate my efforts and, by extension, my self-worth.

More importantly, I sat down and said, “Self, be honest. You didn’t get that great at Korean learning out of a textbook. You really just got good at taking Korean tests.” So I’m making a more concerted effort this time around to practice in a more practical and useful way.


I recently started using, which is a site where you can find conversation partners, sign up for Skype sessions with teachers, and ask questions of native speakers. The features I’ve tried so far are:

  • trial sessions with professional Korean teachers
  • getting answers from native speakers
  • writing short “notebook” entries in Korean and getting corrections

(There’s some kind of gamification element on iTalki where you are rewarded points for answering questions and correcting other user’s notebooks. I don’t really care about the points, but if I have some free time, I’ll answer people’s questions about English or make a few corrections. It’s kind of fun to feel like an expert on one’s mother tongue since I put, like, no conscious effort into learning it well.)

I also found a conversation partner with whom I’ve been chatting on KakaoTalk, a popular Korean messaging app. One of the more interesting conversations that Songyi and I have had is about KakaoTalk’s weird emojis.

Who knew emoticons were so cultural! Could you tell that pink character is a peach? I could not. For the longest time, I thought it was a butt…with a butt. The bottom-left emoji is apparently a reference to a depressed Korean office-worker sitting outside the building, smoking and feeling really dejected. To me, it just looks really…sinister, like the peach just murdered someone.

Having a conversation partner helps tremendously with everyday vocabulary. (I imagine it helps Songyi as well, though her English is better than mine.) Since I was studying out of a textbook previously, the majority of my vocabulary relates to collegiate life. I realized that I can’t even describe basic things about my daily life as a grown-ass adult, so I’ve been chatting with my conversation partner and aggressively working on my word acquisition. Every time she uses a word I don’t know, I ask her to define it (or look it up) and then make a flashcard of it.

…which brings me to Anki. I’d heard about this open-source flashcard software, but it wasn’t until Siena and Stella sung its praises that I got into it. Basically, you make flashcards (or download a pre-made deck, at your own risk) and then as you study, you rate the cards in terms of difficulty. Easier cards are spaced out to be shown less frequently, while cards that you rate as difficult are shown more frequently, until you learn them. It’s kind of an insane-looking interface with a million options to tweak, so the learning curve is steep. Once you get the hang of it though, it’s awesome. anki_ss

I set it up so that there is one card that is Korean-English and another that is English-Korean. This way, I can both recognize the Korean word and also make sure I can recall it from memory, which is the harder of the two skills for me. (I also have a geography deck of flashcards to aid in my identification of the US states because I never really learned them.)

I have a reminder on my phone to study every day, usually while I’m sitting with a cup of tea or when I have some down time at work. I can blow through the cards that are “due” that day in less than five minutes. And, like, I said, any new word I learn goes into the deck immediately for memorization.

Maybe someone reading this is interested in learning a new language or has set that as a resolution for 2016. If so, I hope some of these tips are useful! So far, I’m loving this system because it’s entirely on my own terms and it’s cheaper and less time-intensive than taking a class at the local Korean culture center. I can meet with a tutor from the comfort of my own home, and I can study when it’s convenient for me, not worrying about cramming before a weekly vocab quiz.

(A lot of people like Duolingo, but that doesn’t offer a Korean track sadly. And it makes me super grumpy for French. It’s not geared towards my learning style, I don’t think.)

So here’s to hoping that by the time we go to Korea next year, I won’t sound so much like an aggressive toddler anymore…

Feeling reflective and lucky

Weekend before last, we flew down to Pasadena for Siena and Andy’s wedding. It was a whirlwind trip; we were gone less than 24 hours, and our return flight to SF left at, like, 7:30am. I’m so glad we were able to go though. It was one of the best ceremonies I’ve ever seen–lightning fast but super meaningful and representative of the couple. (I cried, no surprise.) And having a mini Hackbright Season Five reunion didn’t hurt either!

Siendy & Andy's wedding

Check out Siena’s a-mazing dress. Her mom designed it, and a friend of the family sewed it. This photo doesn’t do it justice; it was absolutely stunning. Siena's wedding dress, back view

I didn’t get any photos of the bride and groom together, maybe because I was too busy killing it in the photobooth with my KashiGoodFriend Stella. (Not sure what happened in this last photo, actually.)

photobooth fail @ Siendy wedding

In sad news, Jordan, Maria, Madison, Harper, and their dog Toby finally packed up last week and moved back to Chicago. I’m really going to miss popping over for dinner and Orphan Black, which we didn’t even finish last year. I’m really excited to visit them in Chicago (Seasons! I miss those.), but their absence will be keenly felt here in SF.

Obviously, I’ve been neglecting the blog a little bit. Well, that’s not true. I haven’t been writing as much because I haven’t been sure what to say, and I don’t often think that my daily life worth writing about. However, the horrors of last week’s attacks made me realize just how lucky I am: lucky to have friends all over the world, my health, an extremely comfortable job that I enjoy, enough food to eat, the opportunity and means not only to live in San Francisco but also to travel internationally on a regular basis, a partner who lets me squash into the same chair and dribble macaroon crumbs all over him while taking Sporcle quizzes….


Even if I might consider the day-to-day events to insignificant, I should still realize how lucky I am to have this minutiae. And documenting them is a way of reminding myself that I’m lucky enough to have all these people and things in my life. As a Type-A personality and professional worrywart, I often get caught up in finishing everything first before I “allow” myself to enjoy…I’m not even sure what I’m waiting to enjoy: something official, momentous, and exciting? That’s dumb. I spent so much of grad school waiting for it to be over and not enjoying myself until I was “finished,” and I don’t want that trend to continue now that I’m employed and a “real” adult.

All this to say that as 2015 draws to a close and we enter MY FAVORITE TIME OF YEAR, I’m making a more concerted effort to be present (and spend less time scrolling aimlessly through social media) and enjoy myself, whether that’s reading a book on the couch, going for a walk, or spending time catching up with friends. Or trying to make this little dumdum love me…which is impossible because he doesn’t love anyone but himself.