• Top free things to do around New Zealand

    It’s true: New Zealand can be an expensive place to visit. But there are definitely some free natural attractions to add to your itinerary. Here’s 9 free things to do/sights to see around New Zealand that I can vouch for.

    Tane Mahuta, lord of the Waipoua Forest in Northland, NZ - NZ Muse

    Northland

    See Tāne Mahuta, our largest living kauri tree

    It’s just a short walk through the Waipoua Forest to Tāne Mahuta, aka, Lord of the Forest. Stick to the walking tracks; the environment is delicate.

    It’s free to visit; that said, the Footprints Waipoua tour is quite amazing, with Māori guides sharing songs, stories and insights.
    Mt Eden summit crater - Climb a volcano!

    Auckland

    Climb a volcanic cone

    You can absolutely take your pick, but Mt Eden is a popular one close to the CBD, complete with panoramic views and a neat crater at the summit.

    Cathedral Cove - a must-visit in the Coromandel

    Coromandel

    Cathedral Cove

    Magical is the only word to describe this beach. It’s a bit of a hike to get to Cathedral Cove, but more than worth it.

    And a little further down the Coromandel coastline lies Hot Water Beach. At low tide you can dig your own hot water spa pool in the sand. But get there early and stake out your patch. Maybe bring a gang.

    Taupo

    Huka Falls

    The Huka Falls are our most-visited natural attraction. The roar and spectacle of the thundering waterfalls are just spectacular.

    Wellington

    Te Papa

    Our national museum is an absolute must-see, and entry is free. DO IT.

    Fiordland

    Milford Rd/Milford Sound

    The Milford Rd leading into Milford Sound is just bursting with amazing sights around every corner. Waterfalls, the Homer Tunnel, the Mirror Lakes, the Chasm … the journey itself really is half the pleasure.

    That said, you really need to take a cruise to see the best of Milford Sound (or a scenic flight, perhaps?), otherwise you’re just chilling at the end of a really long dead end, picturesque as it is. More on that part of our South Island road trip.

    Pancake rocks at Punakaiki - NZ Muse

    West Coast

    Punakaiki

    At high tide, the ocean sprays up through blowholes at the ‘Pancake Rocks’. There’s a lovely cafe across the road, too. Then drive north along the Great Coast Road; the stretch between Westport and Greymouth has been voted one of the top 10 coastal drives in the world by Lonely Planet. More on that part of our South Island road trip.

    Catlins

    Nugget Point

    Around Nugget Point you can spot yellow eyed penguins if you time it right. Plus, the coastline is magnificent. More on that part of our South Island trip.

     

    Dunedin

    Baldwin St

    Said to be the world’s steepest street, the sheer angle of Baldwin St is a bit mind-boggling.

  • Ridiculously beautiful New Zealand spots I want to hike

    I love west Auckland’s bush and coast, but staring at epic landscape imagery all day at work has convinced me I really am missing out on other parts of the country.

    Active is not a word you’d use to describe me – but there’s so much natural beauty here, and the best way to experience it is just to get out amongst it. And the best thing is our national parks are free to visit. Here are a few New Zealand hikes I’m pretty sure will be worth the walking.

    Tongariro Crossing

    Aka the greatest one-day walk in New Zealand. Just look at the colour of those lakes. Middle-earth in real life. Just a few years ago I would’ve been all ‘Go walking for a full day? Are you nuts?!’ but here I am.

    Mt Aspiring

    Glaciers! Valleys! Tussock! Boulders! This region really has it all.

    Mt Cook

    I just reeeeeally want to see Lake Pukaki with my own two eyes.  Oh yeah, and the tallest mountain in NZ.

  • Five things you may not know about New Zealand

    5 things to know about NZ before you travel

    Thinking about visiting me soon? (If not, you should be…)

    It’s okay to not know these things. The only unforgivable sin is confusing anything Kiwi with anything Australian. You have been warned.

    You may burn to a crisp within minutes

    Our ozone layer leaves something to be desired. I’ve not been anywhere else in the world where the sun is so intense.  Slather yourself up before stepping outdoors. The worst for burn time is usually between about 10 and 3 during the day, so if you burn easily, try to stay indoors or well covered up during those hours.

    UV aside, our climate is really mild

    Crazy mild. Parts of New Zealand are subtropical and most don’t see snow. Here in Auckland, expect a variance of maybe 15 degrees between the height of summer and the depths of winter; 10 is cold, 25 hot (here’s more on temperatures throughout the regions). A lot of visitors land in Auckland during summer and find it chilly – it never gets too hot, really (you may not actually feel the intensity of the sun’s rays until you realise at the end of the day that you’ve picked up a ruddy burn). And our winter isn’t too bad as long as you’re inside an insulated building (a harder ask than you might think). We’re spoiled – if it wasn’t for the rain, we’d have the perfect weather. Everywhere else we’ve been would be too cold for me in winter and too hot for us both (especially T) in summer.

    Our water is insanely pure

    Clean, delicious and free. Enjoy. (In fact, I think we do pretty well on the beverage front. Our milk is unbeatable. And while I don’t do caffeine or booze, I hear our coffee, wine and even some of our beers are excellent – this ain’t Germany, but our well-travelled friends from Vermont reckon they never had a bad beer in New Zealand.)

    The roads take some getting used to

    Outside of the most built-up areas they tend to be narrow and windy, and the speed limits are fairly low – think Pacific Coast Highway style. Take it easy and always err on the side of caution. (And yes, we drive on the left hand side.)

    Like our roads, the sea is rugged

    We have good surf beaches, but watch out for rip tides. The human body is no match for the pull of the ocean. Luckily for you, our surf life guards are pretty world-class.




  • Guest post: My first time in New Zealand

    Agata Mleczko, founder and editor of the  travel blog Null&Full

    Today I’ve got a guest post for ya from Agata Mleczko, founder and editor of the  travel blog Null&Full, focused on off-the-beaten-track destinations. She currently lives in Poland, but has lived in Italy for more than 6 years (swoon) and has traveled to more than 20 countries all over the world. Agata recently visited New Zealand for the first time and became fascinated with the country. She enjoys reading travel books, jogging, trekking and cooking. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

    Last year I visited New Zealand for the first time in my life. In some aspects this was sort of my dream travel. I have always wanted to go there and the LOTR and Hobbit movies made me want it even more! So, when I found a cheap flight from London I made up my mind within a second. I went to New Zealand for the whole month and here are 5 things that were particularly striking.

    Bungy jumping in NZ

    The birthplace of bungy jumping

    Kindness

    While the UK is probably one of the worst for airport security control in the world I found New Zealand quite the opposite. The moment I landed, after a journey of almost 30 hours (with a long layover in China) I was surprised at how nice the airport staff were. My backpack was a bit messy because the wrapping was damaged and I was asked to replace a luggage badge. It was all nicely done, with a smile, no stress, pure pleasure which is really important when you’re very tired.

    Air New Zealand

    Just before the dusk

    During my flight back home I was waiting for security check at Luton airport in London in a huge line for about an hour at 6am (needless to say I was totally wrecked) and the staff was just shouting at us: undress, leave all liquids aside, get your laptop out of the case, take off your shoes....that was a nightmare. I hated it. Just before leaving New Zealand I heard information at the airport that the last passenger should come to gate as the plane should leave soon and even this was said in a sort of nice and kind way. Love New Zealand for that!

    Chill out

    I travel a lot and visit remote and popular places. I might even say I’ve seen a few things in this world but the general chill out I saw in New Zealand was awesome. I’m talking about an easy to understand – for a European – sort of easygoing attitude towards tourists and life in general. It has nothing to do with South Asia’s exotic way of life and inner peace which I believe is impossible to understand for westerners. Kiwis made an impression of a very positive and optimistic people. They seemed to me to be people who do not exaggerate problems and just enjoy their lives.

    Queenstown Rafting

    Just chill out!

    One example of the totally chilled out culture was striking: it happened in a bar. There was a table I wanted to sit at and I saw somebody’s shoes under it. The waitress said she had no idea whose these shoes were but I could sit if I wanted. I did. And after an hour an old lady approached and asked if she could have her shoes back. She smiled and explained she had been sitting here before but in order to avoid the sun she changed tables and left her shoes because she forgot them! In Europe it would have never ever happened! (Ed: Reminds me of when I got all sorts of weird looks for walking around in Bondi in bare feet.)

    Proportions

    I drove across the South Island and in 3,500 km I saw all landscapes imaginable. If not literally than it made at least an impression of watching all climates on earth here. At the same time the island is not excessively huge. I wouldn’t call it intimate either but all that I wanted to see was within a reachable distance. Sure, the roads are very different from what we are used to in Europe but you can still travel efficiently there and watch these wonders of nature. A variety of landscapes, starting with glaciers, through paradise-like meadows and ending with black beaches. You don’t have time to get bored with anything because just around the corner there is something totally different that awaits you.  (Ed: You can read about my own South Island adventures here.)

    Tasman Sea

    Tasman Sea

    Eating out

    That was one of the least pleasant surprises: eating out is expensive in New Zealand. Comparing it to Italy it is ridiculously expensive and the quality of food is relatively modest. I was driving a campervan so I could cook my own meals and I mostly did but sometimes you just want to try something local and just leave the pots for one evening. I ate in few restaurants and only one of them was really good – this was Ratanui Lodge in Pohara (Nelson area, the Golden Bay). The rest of the restaurants were somehow disappointing. And all of them were expensive. (Ed: I can recommend a few restaurants around NZ if anyone’s interested, especially in Auckland, but by and large cooking for yourself is the way to go especially if you’re on a budget. Seafood is worth splurging on, though, and dairy is also an affordable luxury.)

    Local Saturday market

    Local Saturday market – the best way to get cheap and high quality food!

    I think that the strongest point of eating out in New Zealand are cafes. Whether you want to have your breakfast or a snack it is just perfect. So I enjoyed the small cafes in Franz Josef and in Christchurch. I think people really like meeting in these places and I was always had  a very good impression of a cosy and friendly place.

    Money

    New Zealand is expensive. Especially, if you go there from Europe (I imagine that the Australians are privileged here!). (Ed: At least if you’re coming from Europe, you’re almost doubling your money when you convert the currency. Going from the NZD to the euro like we did is a hell of a lot harder.) I had a look at the budget of my kiwi trip and it shows that almost 3/4 of all money spent was to pay for the flight and the camper rental. A third of the total amount was evenly allocated among the following categories: food, restaurants & cafes, insurance, petrol, attractions and camping grounds.

    Franz Josef Top 10 Holiday Park

    Franz Josef Top 10 Holiday Park

    This was an expensive trip and somehow it became an epic journey before it started. But what I am totally happy about is that value for money in this case was really good. I spent a lot and received a lot: even more than anticipated so this was money well spent and I am very happy about it. (Ed: You can check out my two-week South Island campervan road trip budget here.)

  • A song of ice and fire: Why New Zealanders will feel right at home in Iceland

    Iceland landscape - pingvellir park

    If Italy is New Zealand upside down – geometrically and geographically (plonked down on the opposite side of the globe) – then Iceland is our sister country in the north.

    The people

    Of all the places we’ve been, Iceland is the country where the people have been the closest to kindred spirits. Relaxed, down to earth, friendly. Better groomed, though. (I say this based on observations from a) the hitchhiker we picked up about five minutes after arriving b) the car rental staff c) our Couchsurfing hosts and d) Ben, the random guy who struck up a conversation with us in a bar after asking one of our group to swap shoes with him as part of a scavenger hunt challenge.)

    The first thing that hit me after browsing through a bunch of Reykjavik Couchsurfers’ profiles was that if they were anything to go by, T would fit right in. It’s hard to describe precisely why, but in terms of musical taste, film taste, sense of humour, hobbies and general vibe, it was pretty clear that they were his kind of people. (Add in the weather, and it’s definitely the kind of place he could live.)

    The only person to accept our hosting request was a middle-aged biker who lived a little way out of town with a new and fairly sparse profile, who I contacted as sort of a Plan B. That was a little disappointing initially. But once we got there and met him (along with his wife and kid), all that vanished. They were so welcoming, so youthful, and they were freaking hilarious. The wife gave me a guardian angel necklace with a pearl and lava stone that she made herself, and (as we figured out after the first night), the kid gave up his bedroom for us and dossed on a mattress in their computer/games room instead. Humbling.

    Their (brand new) apartment was amazing, too. As is common in Iceland, it was insanely cosy, with hot water used to warm the floors. The taps were super high tech – we couldn’t work out how to use the shower – though you do have to contend with the, er, lovely sulphur smell. Thanks to hotel-grade sheets, I slept like a baby in a cloud. And because they didn’t live in Reykjavik proper, it was easy for us to see the northern lights – we just detoured into a big park away from civilisation on the way home one night and spotted a faint green rainbow-shaped aurora.

    The landscape

    This is volcanic land, so in hindsight, I shouldn’t have expected to be totally wowed. People rave about how unearthly Iceland’s landscape is, but as it turns out, it’s not so different from home. It resembles the Desert Rd (my favourite New Zealand landscape), with its rocky terrain and muted hues.

    iceland landscape pingvellir park

    iceland landscape pingvellir parkOxararfoss waterfall - Pingvellir national park Iceland
    pingvellir national park iceland

    Driving the Golden Circle was well worth the time and money. After picking up a British couple and one North Carolinan in town – fellow Couchsurfers who were carless and keen to split costs – we made the pilgrimage in our rusty Toyota rental.

    We wandered around picturesque Pingvellir, watched Strokkur erupt at Geysir (in fact, at one point it went off four times in a row, surprising everyone there), and shivered our way in and out of Gullfoss, along with a stop to pet the horses across the road.

    Gulfoss waterfall - Iceland golden circle
    Gulfoss waterfall - Iceland golden circle with rainbow
    Ponies - Iceland horses in the Golden circle

    Deciding to skip the Blue Lagoon was not a decision I made lightly – but it’s one I’m more than happy with. We’re not big on hot pools (and have a few of those back home too), so spending 66 euros for entry into a place where we might spend an hour seemed like a heinous waste of cash. What we did do was drive by, which afforded us a free view of the milky blue waters running like a river between the geothermal plant and the lagoon. It looked exactly like all the photos of the pools. Quite frankly, that’s all I wanted! (I should have snapped a photo to prove I was there, but couldn’t really be bothered stopping the car and getting out in the cold.)

    In the end, we didn’t end up visiting any of the local hot pools, either. The thought of disrobing, given how many layers I had on, plus going through the ritual of scrubbing in an open shower area, was way less appealing than continuing to roam around in the toasty car.

    The weather

    I thought Auckland was fickle; Iceland is even more mercurial, if that’s possible. The skies can change in an instant, swinging from moody, storm-approaching-in-two-seconds grey to a promising blue punctuated with rays of sun. You can look up and see one thing, and five minutes later, look up again to see something entirely different – slate wiped clean.

    Our host told us a bunch of cautionary tales about hapless tourists caught out by sudden storms. Ripping storms that can break windows and peel paint off your car. He also rolled his eyes a bit as he talked about local Icelanders who rush to get a front row view when a volcano erupts and wind up dying in the process; after all, these aren’t particularly uncommon events, so what’s the point of acting like a dumb tourist?

    We were incredibly lucky with the weather, with just a few instances of drizzle throughout our stay. The coldest day was probably our first evening there, after which it warmed up. The real killer is the wind, which has a real bite to it and will cut you to the bone.

    The prices

    Living on a remote island doesn’t come cheap. Everything from beer to bread is eye-wateringly expensive. A loaf is over 300 kronor, and a piece of cake could be anywhere from 700 to 1000 kronor. Yep, that’s right – you’ll also have to deal with the kronor, the local currency. Handily, you can use cards almost everywhere – also like New Zealand, this isn’t a cash-heavy society.

    The nice thing about the kronor was that it was easy to compare prices, as a kronor is basically equal to one NZ cent. In Italy, for example, I’d marvel at the fact that you can get a pasta lunch for 10 euros – there’s no way you could get that for $10 at home. If you were to convert that 10 euros to NZD, however, at 60c to the dollar, it doesn’t wind up being all that affordable. (Overall, European prices on an absolute basis seemed reasonable, but take into account the exchange rate, and things change when you’re talking proportionally.)

    The transport

    Again, like New Zealand, this is car country. As he dropped us off at the airport, our car rental guy told us that car rentals are set to overtake fisheries in Iceland, economically speaking. Tourism is big business, and the best way to see Iceland is by car (or Jeep).

    Bus transfers to and from the airport for both of us alone would have been about 80 euros; renting a car for our entire time cost 117 euros. The Welcome Card offers unlimited bus travel as well as discounts at museums and attractions, but I imagine waiting for buses in the cold can’t be fun.




    Recommendations for Iceland

    Accommodation
    Obviously, it’s hard to beat Couchsurfing on this front 🙂 The couple who carpooled with us got a steal at the Welcome Apartments, though (and I can vouch from going inside that they are pretty swish). The Kex hostel seems to be popular with visitors, and Airbnb is always worth scoping out, too.

    Car rentals
    Affordable Car Rental has the lowest rates (but didn’t have availability for our dates – sadface). Sadcars is the other big name in cheap Iceland car rentals – that’s who we hired from – and they offer a discount if you prepay online. If you’re looking for more grunt, try Cheap Jeeps.

    Alternatively, you could look on Couchsurfing. The Reykjavik page always seems to be full of people looking to carpool. With petrol being so expensive, sharing the burden of costs is the way to go. There was one guy charging 10 euros plus gas or 15 for a day trip (with a full car, I bet he made back the entire cost of car and gas, basically going for free!) whom I almost signed us up with, before we decided to rent our own vehicle. Or you might get lucky and find someone like us, who just asked for a share of gas and called it even. There’s always someone looking for a ride, so even if you decide you want to be in control and rent your own vehicle like we did, odds are you can find someone to split costs with.

    Food
    The cheapest thing we ate in Iceland was hot dogs from the famous hot dog stand in town. (Verdict: pretty good; not mindblowing. The sausage itself was a letdown.) In a country where a burger can cost nearly $20, it’s hard to eat frugally.

    That said, it’d be a shame to skimp on food in Iceland. I highly recommend Seabaron (the whale was sublime, and I hear fantastic things about the lobster soup). The Hamburger Factory wasn’t bad – we liked the chips better than the actual burgers, especially dusted with the freakishly addictive seasoning from the spice shaker on the table. If you’re into fish and chips, Icelandic Fish and Chips is worth a stop too.

    Ever thought about visiting Iceland? Or if you’ve been, what did you think?

  • Italy, aka ‘New Zealand upside down’

    “New Zealand! It’s Italy, upside down!” exclaimed the swarthy proprietor at B&B Mercurio in Bologna. Palpably delighted to have their first ever guests from New Zealand, he and his partner were all smiles as they asked us about the rest of our itinerary and assured us, with a meaningful look at T, that we were in safe hands (if size is any indication, then sure).

    Indeed, New Zealand is the opposite of Italy in so many ways, and not just as a physical mirror image. We can’t hold a candle to them in food, fashion, or history. Everything we encountered was a revelation.

    cannonballs city walls bologna

    Some cannonballs with your old city walls?

    Canals in Venice don't smell

    The canals in Venice didn’t smell at all, even at the sticky height of summer.

    rome colosseum at night

    What can I say about Rome that hasn’t already been said countless times before? Simply stupendous.

    skulls via fontanelle cemetery naples

    Skulls. Real ones, en masse. At the public Fontanelle catacomb cemetery. Possibly the best free sight in Naples.

    statue naples national archaeological museum

    Oh, and the statues at the archaeological museum. So many are replicas of Greek originals, but still enthralling.

    concrete blocks amalfi coast

    Creepy concrete blocks along the Amalfi coast.

    Amalfi town on Amalfi coast - pastel buildings

    Also recommend: wharf jumping alongside squealing Italian kids at Minori, and taking a breezy ferry ride one way and a bus ride the other – the experiences are total polar opposites, and seeing the drivers handle the insanely tight clifftop turns is mind-blowing. (The traffic was a non-issue, despite all our hostel receptionist’s insistence that it would be dire.)

    Bracciano castle

    The castle – beautifully preserved, and just like the kind you learn to draw as a child – in medieval Bracciano.

    viterbo city walls

    Inside the walled town centre of Viterbo.

    Purple bicycle outside a shop in Viterbo, Italy

    Where we saw this delightful scene, starring a frou-frou purple bike.

    Our very first days in Italy were mundane, but not in a bad way. Lazy days, starting with panzerotti from the local bakery in Bologna. A botched attempt at doing laundry, successful only because one Italian matron was kind enough to flag down a young woman walking her dog outside the shop, who spoke English and could translate for us.

    People going out of their way to help us in Italy, in fact, were one of the best things about the country – like the two old gentlemen in Naples, who helped us get on the right bus to Via Fontanelle, and then to navigate our way to the cemetery itself, respectively. The elderly man and woman who helped us find our hostel amongst the back alleys in Salerno. And of course, those bubbly owners at B&B Mercurio. I cannot rave about them enough (damn you Booking.com for not inviting me to leave a review this time!). A five-star boutique B&B, with a luxurious and gleaming bathroom, lollies on a stack of clean towels – even a sparking white flatscreen smart TV, for goodness sake – at two-star prices.

    I’m just about ready to move on to the next adventure, but giving up fresh Italian mozzarella is going to be a bitch.

  • Things I wish American PF bloggers knew about New Zealand

    tawharanui lagoon 2When I blog about something, unless I add a disclaimer, it’s usually the norm. I’m aware most of you guys are American and so I try to present a generally accurate picture of things for your sake, ya know?

    I often find myself clarifying the same kinds of things over and over with incredulous American readers, such as:

    Yes, we really do pay rent weekly. This is the most common frequency. I’ve only ever paid fortnightly rent at one house – and I’ve lived in a LOT of places. People pay rent through automatic payments. Cheques are so last century. While leases with fixed terms are getting more common, there are still rentals to be found with periodic tenancies, which are open-ended. Moving out usually requires 2-3 weeks notice.

    Sometimes we get paid weekly, too. It’s more common in call centre/hospitality/trade type jobs. Temp jobs also tend to pay weekly. This is apparently something a lot of immigrants struggle with. If your income source is the government – e.g student allowance, student loan (living costs), or a benefit of any kind – you will also be paid weekly. And if you were wondering, yep, student loans and allowances are all administered by the government (though I suppose there’s nothing actually stopping you taking out personal loans elsewhere to boost your income while studying). Loans cover your tuition fees and remain interest-free as long as you stay in the country.

    Apartment living isn’t big here. Most people rent houses. And the people you live with are flatmates, not roommates (unless you actually share a room, maybe). You do find apartments in the CBD and the odd block further out in the suburbs, lots of which were part of the leaky building wave of construction. In an effort to lift standards and stem the housing shortage, the new rule for Auckland apartments is a minimum of 35 square metres. But breaking down the ‘shoebox’ perception that’s already established will take a while, and changing a whole culture even longer.

    Things (everything?) cost a lot. Food, for one – as a commenter pointed out ages ago, we don’t have subsidies or tax breaks on food – so no, I really can’t get our grocery bill much lower. Cars – that’s why we tend to drive really old cars, and you’ll still see a fair few late 80s Toyotas and Mazdas tooling around on the roads. In the cities, property affordability is WAY over the 2x income guideline, or whatever the benchmark is (it’s so irrelevant that I don’t even know offhand, and can’t be bothered looking it up) – think 4-6x. We don’t have the security of 30-year fixed rate mortgages. Also, the general quality of property is dire. Count yourself lucky if you have insulation. Last winter we found a mushroom growing through the carpet in the hallway by the laundry room.

    If you missed it last year, you might also like Living in NZ: the ultimate post.

     And if you have any more questions, ask away and I shall answer…

     

     

  • Online shopping: a New Zealand perspective

    Since I got my first and only credit card back in 2007 (I still have the same one, although obviously not the exact same physical card as I’ve been through a couple of expiry dates, but the same account nonetheless) I’ve made many big purchases online. Mostly things like hotel reservations, flights, concert tickets.

    When it comes to buying physical goods online, I stick to smaller items. Guitar strings and contact lenses are SO much cheaper online than in shops. I bought my voice recorder and phone recording adapter online. I’ve bought a handful of clothes online, which is okay when you stick to a label you know and where you’re familiar with their sizing. I even played it risky and bought a bass amp online once (a trusted brand, of course).

    My Pretty Pennies recently had a bad experience buying clothes online, which actually inspired this post. See, I recently made my biggest ever purchase of physical goods online. T bought aftermarket full fairings for his bike (which he’s been working on), which cost not far off $1000. They arrived safely, are the right colour, shape and fit, and allowed for an all-round sigh of relief (although for some reason they packaged and sent one lot of bolts separately. Bizarre).

    To date, my only real damp squib remains picking up a genuine leather jacket off TradeMe that was never, ever going to fit me.

    We suffer from high prices and lack of choice here (on a related note, see Vanessa’s guest post on the headache that is shopping in Canada) though NZ Post has a new service, YouShop, that lets NZ shoppers buy items from US online stores to be delivered to a US address, and then on to their NZ address (circumventing policies that exclude NZ delivery, or impose high shipping charges). So it’s no surprise that online shopping is serious biz.

    That said, I’m definitely cautious about buying things off the internet, a fear that rises in proportion with the amount at stake.
    Here’s what I take into consideration.

    Is it a commodity? If so, it’s probably cheaper online. Books, CDs, etc.

    Can I check it out in person first, somehow? I bought my glasses online, but only after I was able to try the exact same pair on in a retail shop. That  was uber important to me because I have a ridiculously wide head and flat nose/face, which means very few frames fit properly. After that, by all means buy the exact same item online at a major discount.

    What about shipping? Shipping costs can kill a bargain. Apparently everyone loves Asos thanks to its free freight around the world. I’m keeping that in mind for the future (when I’m off my shopping ban), but not knowing anything about their sizing, I’d be wary.

    What do you buy online?

  • In praise of New Zealand

    As part of Blog4NZ, today I’m talking about some of my favourite Kiwi destinations. I’ll admit my knowledge is limited so far, still having never set foot in the South Island, but there’s plenty to be seen in the north as well. Blog4NZ is set to be a social media first, a grassroots blogging effort to support New Zealand travel in the wake of the Canterbury earthquake. New Zealand is still open for business!

    There’s something to be said for living on an island nation. You’re never too far from the water.

    Be it the shimmering black sand and rugged beauty of the West Coast beaches…

    Or the pristine waters in the Coromandel…

    But we’re not just all about beaches and surf. Keen for a hike through the bush? We’ve got some of that, too.

    And powder for snowbunnies!

    I can’t think of any kind of landscape – mountain, sea, lake, forest – that we don’t have. Or outdoor activities (apparently our skydives and/or bungy jumps are some of the best value in the world). There’s hot water beaches, stinky geothermal springs if you’re into that kind of thing, and tons of places to watch, or swim with, marine life.

    But you know what? My absolute favourite landscape anywhere, hands down, is the Desert Rd. Desolate, unspoiled, breathtaking. No pictures can do it justice. It’s a harsh, dry, barren landscape: the clay-coloured cliffs, the sandy grounds, the wild grasses. And yet, there is something almost lush about the reds, the purples and the yellows of the earth and the flowers.I greedily soak up the juxtaposition, trying to imprint it permanently and vividly in my memory, but I am always amazed when I set eyes on it.

    The first time I  encountered this scenery was when visiting T at the army training camp in Waiouru; they do drills and practices and marches through the desert, which is why you can’t really stop and go wandering through the area. And it’s why this is one photo I’m bringing to you not from my camera, but courtesy of DeeKnow on Flickr.

  • Bless you New Zealand

    I’m so glad we have ACC and a national health system.

    I would not want to live in a country where you’re terrified to go one week without health insurance and you couldn’t afford it on your own without your employer subsidising it. I would not want to be rushed to hospital and get sent a $7,000 bill a week later.

    I read today in the New York Times about a woman was afraid to get pregnant as it would cost eight grand to have a baby.

    That being said once I get into the workforce I plan to get health insurance, assuming its affordable either thru work or through T’s work (lucky bastard gets free insurance and cheap insurance for family). I’m going to do this way because I want to afford the little extra things, like a coybely pocket doppler during my pregnancy and all the educational toys afterwards. It’s just one of those things it’s good to have, and one of those things you want to get while you’re still healthy and while it’s still cheap.