Skimming Deep

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.

Category: New Zealand

Reflections on 3 Months of Travel

I’ve been back in the U.S. for a little over a week now (it feels so much longer already!  My travels seem like a dream!), and I thought it would be good for myself to do a post on my overall reflections from my travel.  At the halfway point, I wrote a reflection post; and just for the sake of closure, and for my own processing, I’d like to use the same format to look at the 2nd half of my trip (quickly) and also my overall trip.

SECOND HALF OF MY TRIP: (Nelson, New Zealand to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)


  • My first few days in Bali.  I was overwhelmed by the heat and humidity and the touristy facade to EVERYTHING; and it being Thanksgiving, I was a little homesick, too.  Once I hit Amed for the scuba course, though, everything turned around.
  • The heat, humidity, pollution, dust in the big cities in both Bali and Malaysia.  I missed the fresh, cool air of New Zealand.
  • Getting tons of mosquito bites and even some allergic reactions to tiger balm (that’s my diagnosis, at least) on my left leg in Malaysia.  I was so itchy for days it wasn’t even funny.  The Malaysian mosquitoes were quite vicious (and that was confirmed by another traveler I met).
  • Saying goodbye to New Zealand.  I was so sad to leave that beautiful country.



  • The biggest highlight (not only for the 2nd half of my trip but overall, I’d have to say) was getting my Open Water Diving scuba license.  It was such an amazing experience from start to finish, not only because it was so fear-inducing and fear-conquering but because I was able to see beautiful aquatic life 15-20 meters underwater.
  • The markets in Malaysia.  Sights, sounds, smells, tastes (the ones I ate at)… all amazing.
  • Cooking meals for my host family in Kerikeri in New Zealand.  We ate so well together, and they were so appreciative.  It was great fun.
  • The food in Melaka, Malaysia.  So mouthwateringly good.  And like nothing I had ever eaten before.  I wish I could have some now.
  • Riding a scooter around Pulau Pangkor.  It was so liberating and fun.  I wasn’t even going that fast, but it was so nice to be going faster than walking speed and not be in a car.


  • Traveling in Southeast Asia as a single, young-looking (because I look a lot younger than I actually am) woman raises lots of people’s curiosity and admiration.  I was surprised by this because in New Zealand, it was quite common to find other single female travelers. In Asia, though, that was something that was not common, and I always had to figure out what kind of answer to give and was even wondering why they were asking.
  • I am not a great tropical-region traveler.  I always knew that I’m not good with heat and humidity, but being in Bali and Malaysia during their rainy season where I think the humidity was even higher than other times of year was quite a challenge.  I kept hoping it would cool off in the evenings but it didn’t.  And my spirits were definitely a little lower as a baseline because of the humid weather.  If I could travel in a tropical area and always have a pool or ocean to jump into to cool off, I think I’d be much better off.
  • Bringing some laundry detergent with me was a good idea.  I was washing some of my clothes almost every other day in Southeast Asia because 1) I didn’t have a lot of clothes and 2) I was sweating profusely each day and didn’t want to be a smelly person.



Overall it was an amazing trip, and I didn’t experience ANY mishaps, accidents, dangerous moments.  I was pretty good about staying alert and not doing anything too risky (except for diving, but that was with an instructor, and it didn’t seem dangerous to me), so I was OK.  So the only lowlights I can really think of that stand out were

  • mosquito bites
  • the over-tourism of Bali
  • some of the traveler’s guilt I felt in Bali and Malaysia, especially the poorer areas


  • As stated before, I think the scuba diving course, staying in Amed at the Geri Geria Shanti Bungalows, and meeting the amazing people there was a highlight.  I will never forget those first days diving in the amazing reefs and the shipwreck.  It was truly amazing and life changing.
  • All my WWOOFing placements were great, and I am still in touch with most of the people and hope to go back someday.  I learned a ton, got to really get my hands dirty (literally), and got more in touch with nature than I ever have.
  • Seeing lots of sunrises and sunsets in all three countries was wonderful.  I was basically awaking with the sun and sleeping when it got dark, rarely using an alarm clock at all, even when I had things I had to do.  I was outdoors most of the time, and I really enjoyed that– the hiking, the walking, the exploring, getting to know new flora and fauna.
  • FOOD!  Both in New Zealand and Malaysia.  In New Zealand because so often it was organic, fresh from a garden or a farm and often homemade.  In Malaysia because it was just soooo good.  I wasn’t crazy about the food in Bali.


  • I really, really enjoyed traveling on my own, and I don’t think there were any moments that I felt like I couldn’t do something because I was by myself.  However, I think it would have been enjoyable to have a companion at various points to celebrate the high points together (or even to have some company when I was homesick over Thanksgiving.).  On the one hand, I’ve really gotten to enjoy and value solo travel, but I don’t think I’ve been put off from traveling with someone(s) for ever.  It’s nice to have someone to reflect with at the end of the day, to talk through decisions with, and to enjoy the good times with.  I think that’s why I really enjoyed the places where I met great people with whom I could talk and connect with.
  • Keeping an open mind- being ready to meet new people, try new foods, go down new paths- is important to me for travel.  I could have planned everything before I left, down to the hour, but I didn’t have the time nor the energy to do that kind of preparation.  So I ended up figuring out my general itinerary a few weeks in advance and then went day by day.
  • Tripadvisor is a great resource for accommodations.  The reviews that I read were accurate for the most part.
  • Having a Schwab account with ATM card was a HUGE asset.  No ATM fees anywhere, and I could withdraw any amount of money from any ATM machine.
  • I went the cheap route for as much as I could but splurged here and there– last dinner in a town, the scuba course, last hotel for all my travels.  Those splurges were nice treats to myself, especially when I had gone budget for everything else, including walking that extra mile with all my baggage instead of getting a taxi.


I know travel is always going to be a part of my life, as it always has been.  I’d love to go back to New Zealand and explore more of the North Island and the southern part of the South Island.  I’d also like to try WWOOFing again at some point if I can, maybe somewhere else in the world– Italy, France, Japan…

So to wrap things up, here’s my itinerary:

  1. Landed in Auckland from Los Angeles.  1 night.
  2. First WWOOF home outside of New Plymouth.  10 nights.
  3. Wellington with a family friend.  2 nights.
  4. Seresin Estate in Renwick.  15 nights.
  5. WWOOF home outside of Christchurch.  9 nights.
  6. Wanaka.  3 nights.
  7. Franz Josef.  3 nights.
  8. Punakaiki.  2 nights.
  9. Nelson.  4 nights.
  10. Wellington.  1 night.
  11. Intercity overnight bus.  1 night.
  12. WWOOF home outside of Kerikeri.  8 nights.
  13. Auckland airport.  1 night.
  14. Ubud, Bali.  4 nights.
  15. Amed, Bali.  5 nights.
  16. Sanur, Bali.  2 nights.
  17. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  2 nights.
  18. Pulau Pangkor, Malaysia.  2 nights.
  19. Melaka, Malaysia.  2 nights.
  20. KL, Malaysia.  3 nights.

TOTAL: 86 days

  • 3 countries
  • 16 towns/ villages/ cities
  • airplanes, trains, boats, scooter, taxi, buses, cars, bicycles
  • almost 2000 photos and short videos
  • three pairs of pants, two pairs of shorts, some t-shirts and tanktops, my Keen shoes, a pair of Tevas, and other clothing

I’m happy to share more detailed tips and information for anyone that’s looking to travel to these places.  Ask while I still remember!  Leave me a comment!

Goodbye, New Zealand…

I have left the country. Moving on to warmer climes.

Two months in New Zealand, and I have put down some roots that make me sad to leave. I really have to come back here again someday (or even somedayS).

There's so much I'm going to miss about New Zealand:

  • the rolling green hills
  • the turbulent winds
  • the craggy, snowcapped mountains
  • the many moods of the sea
  • the lambs and sheep dotting the hillside
  • the beautiful Kiwi people with their open hands and warm hearts
  • the rich soil for planting bountiful gardens
  • the slower lifestyle
  • morning and afternoon tea time
  • the flora that I have come to know bit by bit
  • the trilling, unique song of the Tui bird and the bellbird
  • the Kiwi accent and uses of the words “heaps,” “wee,” “flash,” and “love” (to address people)

I wonder if I had spent more time, like a year, here if I would grow tired of this place. Is part of the beauty of this place the novelty? The first-time, honeymoon factor? And like anything or anyone else, would it start to lose its sparkle if I were to get more settled and rooted?

I have heard of some expat Kiwi critiques that they feel New Zealanders are provincial, small-minded country bumpkins, not aware of the world outside the small islands. And I wonder if I would start to feel isolated and in a bubble, disconnected from the rest of the world. It's been easy in my time here to forget to read or listen to the news or to think about what's going on in the Middle East, for example.

But I guess rather than thinking like that, I can just leave it as what it is– a sabbatical for myself to go to the other side of the world to expose myself to new experiences and learn new ways of living. THAT mission was accomplished beyond my expectations. I take back so much new information in my brain, that it's going to take awhile to process it all. I brought a 100-page journal with me and have already filled half of it with just reflections on my time in New Zealand, Aoteaora.

So to you readers out there, if you're feeling antsy; if you've always had a travel bug bite that hasn't been scratched adequately; if you just want a change of scenery… save up some money, set a goal to go somewhere, and make it happen.

I did a search for “travel quotes” and came upon these two that struck me as a piece of what I'm carrying away from my New Zealand travels:

Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends. — Maya Angelou

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. — Mark Twain


Kerikeri: WWOOFing Finale

My days in New Zealand are coming to an end. It's felt like a year! My last week is being spent in Kerikeri, in the Northland region of New Zealand. This area is famous for its beaches, avocadoes, kiwifruit, and oranges. It's the warmer part of the country, and I'd say it's the equivalent to Florida in some ways– where seniors come to retire, orange groves everywhere… And then there's a touch of Hawaii, too, with macadamia nuts, surfing, and diving in some areas.

I'm staying with a wonderful couple who are hard workers who have been on the land here for over 20 years. They've really built up the place to be their dream oasis. She with her sprawling and beautiful gardens, he with a workshop full of tools and equipment for woodworking, tinkering, engineering, and doing all kinds of things with his hands.

Top: pond that they made with some of her many plants. Bottom left: her veggie garden. Bottom right: more of her plants.

The WWOOFing here entails some weeding and working in their orchards. The orange grove is seeing its last fruit (winter is their season), and my co-WWOOFer and I are thinning feijoa trees. Thinning means snipping off the excess buds and flowers so that the remaining fruit can grow bigger. Feijoas are fruits that are native to parts of South America and are now grown quite extensively in New Zealand. They're also known as pineapple guava or guavasteen. here's a photo:

Unfortunately, I will not be able to try one because they don't get ripe until March. I've heard they're amazing. But I'm starting to see buds in my sleep because it's quite tedious– looking through the trees for excess buds and blossoms to snip off:

The work here isn't too hard, and the house is lovely, the couple is lovely, and I've been able to cook and bake for them which has been great fun. They really appreciate good food, and I've been able to be creative. There's another WWOOFer staying here, a Chinese young woman, and we've done some cooking together, too, although she doesn't know how to cook so much.

Here's a sampling of what I've made:

Korean BBQ with beef from their cow, sesame-dressing salad, and broccoli with sesame oil.

Carrot-ginger-raisin-range quick bread with oranges from their grove.

Pizzas with homemade wheat-white crust. Various toppings-- veggies and meats. And even a Hawaiian pizza at the bottom!

Made with my co-WWOOFer: beef and pork dumplings and scallion pancakes. Everything, including the wrappers, from scratch. Beef and scallions from their farm.

I'm seriously gaining some weight here– my pants fit a little tighter. The feijoa-thinning isn't as much exercise as weeding and other work that I've done on other farms. But it's great fun being in a nice kitchen, cooking and baking. I haven't really done it for so long– basically since I started packing almost three months ago! I realize how much I love to cook and bake, especially for others. I think this IS one of my passions that I need to do for my future career/ job/ worklife.

Besides eating and enjoying a beautiful room and house, I went on an easy hike, again with the other WWOOFer to Rainbow Falls and then following the Kerikeri river to the town of Kerikeri. It was a beautiful day and we saw some really nice sights along the way.

And we also went to Puketi Forest where there is a stand of Kauri trees, famous trees for their largeness and their oldness. Beautiful tall, straight trees. They were used for their timber until they became endangered, and now they're protected. Huge!

The man of the family used to do a lot of woodworking, and he used Kauri tree scraps to make things like cutting boards– they're a beautiful wood with interesting lines and designs in them.

Bowl made by the man of the house. It's from the resin knot of a Kauri tree. Beautiful.

Just a few more days here before heading out to Bali! I'm getting excited. I've booked my first accommodation in Ubud for a few days. And then hoping to get in a diving course!! It's getting into rainy season there, but I hope it's nice and warm so I can swim, snorkel, and enjoy the beaches.


Hostels in New Zealand

I'm doing this not as an official review, but more as a way to remember the different hostels I've stayed at in New Zealand. No more hostels until I get to Asia, and I'm going to hopefully stay in guesthouses. I'm also going to give a go at couchsurfing.

So here goes:

Auckland: City Garden Lodge

  • One night, my first night in New Zealand = $30NZD ($24USD). I wasn't able to use my BBH discount because I booked online. It was complicated. The hostel owner gave me the tip to just call future hostels and not book online because then I wouldn't get charged a booking fee.
  • A hike up a steep hill, about 15-20 minutes from the town center. Pretty views. As it was my first hostel, I didn't have much to compare it to. The bathrooms were clean. The bed was fine, and I was in a dorm with all women. There were spices/ herbs, free tea and coffee… and free wi-fi just up to a certain Mb limit.

Wanaka: Wanaka Bakpaka

  • Three nights, my first stretch of a two week West Coast self-guided tour = $75NZD ($61USD)
  • Big dining and lounging area. Big kitchen with lots of sinks and cooktops. No cooking oil, shared salt and pepper, or spices and herbs, except for some fresh herbs from their garden. That was the downside. But otherwise, it was a great hostel. Great location– short walk to the town center, right on the lake with an amazing view. Clean and spacious bedroom with a bathroom and shower right in the room! No free wi-fi (except for a really small bit for free when you check in). This was probably my favorite hostel because I really liked Wanaka overall.

Franz Josef: Glow Worm Cottages

  • Three nights, in the midst of rain and clouds and in a tiny tiny town = $66NZD ($54USD)
  • Cozy little hostel in the middle of a tiny village. Big co-ed dorm room. Good shower facilities. Big kitchen with lots of sinks and cooktops. Shared salt and pepper but that was it in terms of food (no oil or spices and herbs). Small-ish dining and lounge area. TV with DVDs and VHS but not many people used it. Nice view. Pay for wi-fi and internet.

Punakaiki: Te Nikau Retreat

  • Two nights = $48NZD ($39USD)
  • Sets of cottages and guesthouses scattered throughout the rainforest. Rata Retreat was a dorm with a nice kitchen and living area and nice views. Cooking oil, spices and herbs, and salt and pepper provided! No cellular signal in this remote town, so you had to buy wi-fi or pay to use the computer. Nice walk to the beach. A bit of a hike from the Pancake Rocks, but they had free pick up and drop off to the bus stop. My bed was quite lumpy. The bathroom facilities were OK (a bit low on the shower pressure). They sell freshly baked bread and muffins ($5/$2) which were both delicious. And really nice owner.

Nelson: The Bug

  • Four nights = $88NZD ($72USD)
  • Crowded co-ed dorm room but clean and fresh linens. Clean bathrooms. Nice open kitchen with cooking oil, herbs, salt/pepper provided and free freshly baked bread in the mornings. 15 minute walk into the town center, located in a more residential part of town. Free bus station pick up and drop off by the hostel owners. Free wi-fi, which was a big plus. Top rated on the BBH website. Really friendly owner with her dogs.

Hostels are definitely cheap and easy in New Zealand. And the ones I stayed at were clean, homey, and comfortable. I met some really nice people along the way, people that I've become Facebook friends with and hope to stay in touch with!

You definitely have to be in a certain frame of mind to accept hostel-hopping. You have to be open to sharing rooms with others, sharing cooking and eating space with others, and be open to chatting with whoever wants to chat. At the same time, you have to be OK with just being alone, too. And I was open to all those experiences. I mean, what do you expect for $20-25 per night!? But these hostels were definitely nice and worth staying at.

And as I think I said before, use BBH to find cheap bookings. And call the hostels when you get to New Zealand to do the bookings. They're usually open after 8am until about 8pm, so you get a person, not a machine. And these are all privately owned by families, so they're all super friendly.

Nelson: What’s Not to Love?

I spent four nights in Nelson and had a nice relaxing time in this coastal, hillside, artsy little town. It was by far the biggest town where I stayed in the last two weeks, and I had all the amenities of any good town– good coffee, free wi-fi (in my hostel, at a cafe), beautiful views, nice walks, and friendly people. I didn't need a car and had a good time walking around the town.

I arrived my first night after a long and windy road from Punakaiki, through mountains and valleys, to The Bug, a top rated hostel on the BBH website. It's about a 15 minute walk outside of the town center, in a residential area, and it's a cute hostel– multiple buildings, but I was only in one with a few rooms, a kitchen, living area, and a computer room. The owner, Stephanie, was super friendly and chatty.

My first night, I just heated up my last leftovers from my Punakaiki meals, and chatted with a young woman from Arizona accompanying a group of young adults. As we chatted, we found a lot in common related to interests in education, yoga, organics, social justice. It was nice to meet a kindred spirit even for a few hours.

My first full day in Nelson, I just headed into town (after a slice of freshly baked bread which Stephanie bakes everyday for the hostellers!) to explore. It was a gorgeous day, and I just walked all over the place:

Spire of Christ Church Cathedral

  • I started with Christ Church Cathedral, a nice church at the edge of the town center, perched on a wee hill. It was early morning, so the town was still quiet. (I haven't been sleeping so well, and that morning, I was awoken by people who were waking up at 5 and 6am!!)

Along the path of the river walk in Nelson.

  • There was a nice walk along a wee river in town that led me around the outskirts of the town center.
  • Then I headed up a hill to the “center of New Zealand” which is a landmark that shows the center of this country. There were beautiful views up top, of the bay and the town. And from there, I took a long way down on a trail that overlooked Nelson. It was such a beautiful day– sun shining, cool breeze, wispy clouds in the distance.

View from a walk in the hills, overlooking Nelson.

I came down and at my lunch back at the top of the Cathedral steps– more of the same that I've been having– sandwich of hummus and cheese and an apple. And then I headed back to the hostel in the early afternoon to just relax. I was lucky to have done that because strangely there was rain that afternoon! I didn't see that coming.

On day two, I took a bus out to Abel Tasman National Park, where there is a coastal trek, one of the great walks of New Zealand. I took a water taxi (basically a speed boat) out to one of the points, Bark Bay, and walked down the trek to Anchorage to be picked up in the late afternoon. This is the cushy way to explore the park. Many people hike the whole track, stopping at these Department of Conservation huts along the way to sleep a night. So I ran into all sorts of backpackers who were doing the whole track or part of it, like me.

Views of Abel Tasman, looking out over the Tasman Bay.

It's a beautiful area– you're hiking in the hills that overlook the Tasman Bay. And the beaches are pristine with hardly any people. The part I walked was nice enough, but I heard that the northern part of the park is even more breathtaking. I took a ton more photos than here, but these are some highlights. It was a really easy walk (I think it's supposed to be one of the easiest of the great walks), and I wish I had had the gumption to do more days. But I think I said before that I wasn't feeling up for multi-day treks without a partner. It's not that it is dangerous but I just wanted some company along the way.

Some quick travel tips– I think there are a lot of ways to get to Abel Tasman, and I was a little overwhelmed by the options: stay in Nelson and take the bus out there just for the day? stay closer to the park in a hostel and get shuttled there? hitchhike from Nelson? take a water taxi once I was out there? If I had had more patience, I might have researched a better deal, but what I did was booked a package with Abel Tasman Aqua Taxis— a bus ride and water taxi, which cost me about $99NZD (~$80USD) for the whole thing (an hour and a half bus ride, plus a 30 minute water taxi, all as a round trip). So if you want to save money, I'd say do some research.

On the topic of hitchhiking, I guess that's a common way to travel. Not as common as it used to be, but still common among backpackers. I've met men and women who've done it. (Don't worry, mom, I haven't done it myself– I'm nervous to try it, especially after hearing of some cousins who got kidnapped in Nicaragua!)

So that was a full day of travel. I got back to the hostel, made dinner, chatted with some backpackers from China, and went to bed.

My third day was mostly a relaxing day, too. It was election day back in the U.S., and I was quite anxious about the results. So I tried to stay occupied, walking into town that day to do an arts walk– there's a self-guided walk that one can take throughout the town to see different galleries and studios of all different kinds of arts. It was really nice, except for one place where I got berated by the store owner for not voting (it's a long story, but my mom and I basically didn't want to get caught for voter fraud…). I also checked out the Nelson Farmer's Market. There's a wee one on Wednesdays, and I think there's a bigger one on weekends, so I got to see the wee one (have you noticed how much I love that word, “wee”?).

From Nelson Farmer's Market. Yummy German homemade sausage with sauerkraut and mustard!

I was getting updates about the election results from friends back home, which was nice. I went to see a movie, “Safety Not Guaranteed” which was a fun, mellow movie with a quirky ending. It definitely helped take my mind off the elections. As soon as I came out of the theater, I was texting again with my friends. For the rest of the day, I hung out at the hostel, nervously awaiting results. And then I got words that I wanted to hear, “Obama Won!!” I was so excited, but I had no one to hug or jump around with, so I was just furiously texting friends and celebrating through cyberspace. Also felt the love through Facebook updates.

Front page news of a newspaper in New Zealand. Good news for me and for many kiwis.

All in all, it was a really nice stay in Nelson. I wonder if I would have felt differently if the election results were different! But I got to chat with some nice people in the hostel, had some really nice weather and nice walks, and enjoyed the laidback feeling of the small town.

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