Category Archives: How To

That’s A Mole! – Cadbury Cooking Festival Recipe

Ah….chocolate. Nothing is better than chocolate! Especially when you learn how to have chocolate for dinner, which is what this mole recipe includes!

Andrew and I had the opportunity this year to attend the Cadbury Cooking Class as a part of the Cadbury Festival. What a great night! Two local chefs, four gluten free recipes, and chocolate in all of it. Chocolate is the language of love, you know…*wink wink*

Most of the ingredients...including cocoa powder!
Most of the ingredients…including cocoa powder!

Of course, it’s one thing to watch the professionals…it’s quite another to replicate their recipes in your own kitchen. The recipes were actually surprisingly simple and manageable. Without further ado….vegetarian mole (pronounced Mole-ay)

Spicy Vegetarian Mole with Crisp Winter Salsa

Grated Beetroot....may be a good idea to use a food processor unless you like having a red kitchen!
Grated Beetroot….may be a good idea to use a food processor unless you like having a red kitchen!



  1. 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
  2. 1 medium onion, diced
  3. 2 medium carrots, grated
  4. 1 large beetroot, peeled and grated
  5. 1 tsp cocoa powder
  6. 1 /2 tsp ground cinnamon
  7. 1 tsp smoked paprika
  8. chili powder to taste (optional)
  9. 2 tins chopped tomatoes
  10. 1 large bunch of rhubarb stalks, stewed
  11. 1 tin kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  12. 1 tin black beans, rinsed and drained
  13. 1 tin lentils, rinsed and drained
  14. salt, sugar, apple cider vinegar to season as required
Assortment of Spices
Assortment of Spices

Winter Salsa

  1. 1/4 large kohirabi, peeled and julienned
  2. 1/2 of a fennel bulb, cored and julienned
  3. 1 handful of picked watercress
  4. Juice of half a lemon
  5. flaky sea salt


Onions, oil, and spices
Onions, oil, and spices
  1. Heat the oil in a deep skillet or pot. Sauté the onion for a couple of minutes until translucent
  2. Add the cocoa, cinnamon and paprika, along with the chili poser if using and sauté until fragrant
  3. Add the tomatoes, rhubarb, beans, and lentils. Bring to a simmer, stirring continuously as this will stick if left alone.
  4. Add the beetroot and carrots, stirring to integrate
  5. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 1-8+ hours. Check seasoning as beans and tomatoes can take a bit to enliven.
  6. Adjust with salt, sugar, and apple cider vinegar

To make salsa:

  1. Combine the vegetables in a non-reactive bowl and toss with lemon juice and salt to taste
Adding in the beetroot and carrots
Adding in the beetroot and carrots

How to serve it:

Serve the mole over corn or nacho chips, in a tortilla or taco, or over baked potatoes with some cheese curds and sour cream.

Given that a majority of this recipe uses in-season vegetables and tinned food,  this could be a perfect camping recipe! Simmer for as long or as short as you want. If you happen to have a large cast-iron pot that you can leave over the campfire (don’t leave your campfire unattended!), you can toss all the ingredients in and just let it do its thing.

This recipe also lends itself well to a slow-cooker on those busy days. It is also easy to double or triple this recipe and freeze the leftovers for another day as it freezes quite well!

If you do want, you can also add some cheap cuts of beef or chicken…it simmers for long enough that you will end up with a very tender meat by the end of it!


Things You Need to Know Before Visiting New Zealand

New Zealand is beautiful. It has a wonderful reputation for its stunning scenery, friendliness, and adventurous activities. Being part of the Commonwealth, it is easy to forget sometimes that you are indeed in a different country. So what things are different that might culture shock a traveller?

No Tipping

While this might seem odd, especially for tourists from Canada and the United States, New Zealand does not have a tipping culture. The minimum wage is high enough that even the lowest paid professions make a living wage.

Now, if you want to tell the taxi driver not to give you change or drop the change from your beer into the jar on the bar, nobody is going to object. But don’t worry about tipping the wait-staff, bell-boy, hotel cleaners, or other services.

Hotels and Camping

A vast majority of people choose to camp in New Zealand rather than stay in hotels. There are campgrounds everywhere, with most cities playing host to at least two or three. Most small cities will have a campground and one or two hotels, making travelling easy.

Camping in NZ
Camping in NZ

Pay Per Person

One major difference is that you will pay for accommodation on a ‘per person’ basis. Want to camp in a holiday park with just 2 people? $20 per person. Want to squeeze your entire extended family onto 1 site? $20 per person.

The Department of Conservation also has a few hundred campsites scattered across New Zealand, offering very basic facilities (i.e. pit toilets and maybe drinkable water). These will run around $5 per person.

You can also try your hand at freedom camping, but for this you will need a certified self-contained unit. Some of the larger campervan rental companies will provide a self-contained unit. This lets you camp for free in designated areas!

It Gets Busy!

It is important to be conscientious of timing when travelling. Even in the largest cities, every single hotel and campsite will be booked out during a large event like a rugby game. Particularly if you are attending a large event, you will need to book accommodation weeks or sometimes months in advance.

It is also generally best to avoid school holidays, as this is when most locals will be travelling, adding to the strain on the system. The busiest season is between mid-December and the end of January when most of the schools are out for the summer.

Room Service?

Room with a view
Room with a view

If you stay at one of the big chains, you can expect the same service that you would find in most places. However, the Hilton, Best Western, Ramada, etc. brands are generally not found outside of the major cities such as Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch.

For most travellers, this will mean staying at a smaller, locally run accommodation at some point in their travels. From a budget cabin at a holiday park to a large chalet, it is important to realize that there may be some differences to what you are accustomed to.

  • Kleenex/tissues are usually not provided
  • There usually isn’t a restaurant on-site, so bring your own food or be prepared to drive or walk to the nearest restaurant
  • Rooms are generally not serviced…so if you want fresh towels every day or your rubbish taken out, you will frequently need to ask. You will usually get odd looks if you ask for your bed to be made every day as this is just generally not done.

Linen NOT Included

Wow! What a deal! Only $59 per night for my room!!

Need Sheets?
Need Sheets?

Hold on and think for a moment. If it sounds to good to be true, it usually is. Make sure you read carefully when you are booking your rooms.

Many hotels offer super-cheap rooms (particularly at holiday parks and hostels), but there is no linen included. No sheets, no blankets, no towels. You can frequently rent the linens, but the prices are usually set high enough to discourage many from doing this (i.e. $10-$15 per person extra).


One of the highlights of visiting a new country is trying new foods and different tastes.


Eating Out

Sticker shock much? Remember how I mentioned no tipping above? Well, New Zealand also includes GST in all of their prices, including into the prices of meals.

Delicious Pizza
Delicious Pizza

So, you might look at your meal and think “$15 for a burger? $25 for a curry?” Keep in mind that, while you might only pay $10 or $15 at home for the same meal, you aren’t adding a 20% gratuity and 7% taxes onto your meal.


Just don’t do it. A standard 750mL beer will run you around $9 at a restaurant. Best to swing by the grocery store and pick up a case for $30!

They are also extremely strict about drink driving here (not drunk driving).


Grocery Store with a Sense of Humour
Grocery Store with a Sense of Humour

I’ll just cook my own food! This is a great way to save on costs, particularly for easy meals like breakfast and lunches.

However, if it is winter, expect prices for fresh produce to be high. Ridiculously high. Like $5 for a single capsicum (aka bell pepper). The cheapest is Pak n’ Save, followed by Countdown, New World, and Four Square.

A Good Grocery Store Lunch
A Good Grocery Store Lunch

Things will also have different names and stores will be organised differently from the ones at home. Expect your first shopping trip to take around double the time you expect.


To the left, to the left

Keep left! For a majority of visitors, this one takes some getting used to. Always keep left. On freeways where you have multiple lanes, keep left unless passing.

City Roads
City Roads

No turning

No turns on red lights!

This can get particularly confusing when the main light turns green, but the arrow stays red. Make sure you are watching the right light for the direction that you want to go.

All Around we go

New Zealand tends to favour roundabouts (aka traffic circles) to traffic lights about half the time.  If you are unfamiliar with traffic circles, it is best to take some time to read up on them. Never be afraid to ask for clarification when you pick up your rental vehicle.

Driving in New Zealand
Driving in New Zealand

It Takes HOW LONG?

New Zealand is a smaller country. It shouldn’t take me that long to drive from here to there…it’s only 50km! Slow down and rethink that idea.

NZ Traffic Jam
NZ Traffic Jam

New Zealand roads are narrow, twisty, and different from what you are accustomed to. The average speed on highways is 100kph and in cities 50kph, however it isn’t uncommon for every corner on a road to be marked at 60-75 kph. Especially if you are driving anything larger than a tiny car, they mean it! Although it doesn’t happen as often, Andrew and I have encountered signs on corners on the main highway (SH1) that advised slowing to 15 kph for the corner.

Double your time estimates when planning your trip!


Our Immigration Journey (so far!)

So, as many of our friends and family have heard by now, Andrew and I finally got issued our invitation to apply for our visa! We are exceptionally excited for this next step in the process.  It’s certainly been a long road so far and it isn’t over yet!

Now, before I get too far, I should also make the disclaimer that the visa information found here is just about our journey and for actual immigration advice, you should talk to a professional immigration advisor or see the Immigration New Zealand Website.

How it all started

It all started for us many years ago.  Andrew and I like to discuss our future together to make sure that we are both still happy with the path our life is taking and make whatever changes we needed to make in order to get where we wanted. What things were a priority to us? Family? Friends? Game Nights? Good jobs? Kids? New cars? Extended Vacations?  House? Retirement goals?


We never intended to leave Calgary and were indeed quite happy there. Growing up in that city meant we knew it well and knew what to expect. We had a good network of friends. Our families are there.

However, after nearly 6 months of job searching and a steadily increasing negative bank account, we were getting somewhat desperate for a job. Any job. We were applying to every posting we could find whether it was for engineering or fast food! I eventually got a job that took us to Medicine Hat.

Medicine Hat

We had been happy in Medicine Hat and had actually gotten bank pre-approval for a mortgage. We were shopping around for a home and making plans to start a family. It took Andrew a lot of work to convince me that I couldn’t go to the SPCA for a puppy until we’d actually signed a mortgage agreement. We thought that it was ideal since at only 3 hours from Calgary we could still visit for important events and family could visit us as well.

Of course, those plans fell apart when we were suddenly faced with a choice between unemployment or a move to Regina. We looked around for jobs in Medicine Hat but had no luck. Andrew had searched for 7 months prior to joining Halliburton so knew there were few job prospects for him as well. Off to Regina we went!


We knew that we weren’t happy where we were. While we had found a wonderful sense of community with the gym we grew to love, Regina simply wasn’t a good fit for us. We had many great friends and have amazing memories from the city. We worried about the crime rate. Both Andrew and I absolutely hated the cold, which was 6 months of the year.

Even as close as Regina was, very few people were interested in making the drive out to visit in the 2 years that we lived there, mainly because there was very little there! It definitely felt like a very one sided relationship when we packed up the car every other week though. It was fun when my parents came out, but after 1 week we had seen everything there was to see.

We were absolutely miserable in our jobs. While the pay was excellent, the lifestyle was not. When you need to force yourself not to call the boss and tell him where he can locate his truck and work computer because you are so sick of the job that you are willing to walk 900km back home, it isn’t worth it. When your manager tells you that they don’t care that you’ve worked 13 hours, you still need to drive 9 hours in a snowstorm to be on site for 6:30am the next day (even after 2 guys died 3 months earlier by falling asleep at the wheel), the job isn’t worth it. When you go visit your uncle for dinner after work and he asks how your day is and you can’t stop sobbing on his shoulder for the next hour…the job isn’t worth it. Some people manage, and even excel in those environments, but it wasn’t the right fit for Andrew or myself. It was actually a relief when they closed the office, for all that it made our future so uncertain.

Andrew and I started looking at other cities in Canada and applying for other jobs about 9 months prior to leaving Regina. Winnipeg, Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton, Kelowna, and Vancouver, along with several other smaller cities were all on our list. We also looked at jobs in different fields in Regina. Some companies were polite enough to give us rejection letters, but most offered nothing but silence despite our best efforts to network.

We started to expand our search further abroad, looking at immigration to the UK, USA, New Zealand, Belize, and other countries as possibilities that might let us find engineering jobs.

Andrew and I considered making Regina our home since the friends we had and the sense of community outweighed most the negatives. We thought about picking up odd jobs in hospitality, tutoring, or in retail just so we could leave the jobs we were in while still making enough for a house and a family.  We talked to the bank and, although it took us 45 minutes to convince them that we indeed did not have any debt, we walked out with our mortgage pre-approved and started to look at houses.

Then the layoffs happened…(notice a trend here?!).

 Our Immigration Process

Who would move to a country they’ve never even visited? Well, we did consider it to begin with, but we decided that it would be much smarter to visit the country first. We had been to the USA and the UK previously, so next on the list was New Zealand.

We had talked about and planned on taking our 2 weeks of vacation to visit New Zealand in 2016 to see if it might work for us. At that point we were considering it as more of a fallback, vacation home, or a potential retirement location. Of course, when we got laid off in 2015, our plans changed. After a few weeks of additional research, we discovered the Working Holiday Visa.

Working Holiday Visa

The Working Holiday visa is intended for 18-35 year olds to take a ‘gap-year’ and see New Zealand while being able to supplement their income through work abroad. Not many people can afford to simply travel for a year without some kind of income! For Canadian citizens, the visa offers a 12 or 23 month temporary work visa with a few restrictions.

Andrew and I made the move to New Zealand and started getting a feel for the area. We applied for several engineering jobs and got several polite rejection letters. No worries, let’s see the country!

Over the next 12 months we fell in love with the country and eventually sought immigration advice. I had done research prior to coming here (because I over-research and over-plan absolutely everything), but immigration is ridiculously confusing.

Contingency Plans

We knew our visa would run out in 9 months (end of August 2017) so we started making contingency plans. We looked at the Australia working holiday visa. We considered the UK working holiday visa. We planned to take a cruise from Australia to Canada since it seemed a more interesting way to end our trip than a simple flight (and about the same price!). We had a friend offer to sponsor us for a visa in Samoa. We looked into immigration requirements for several Pacific Islands.

Did I mention I over-plan everything? I even made a flow chart to keep track of our options.

We also started applying for jobs in Canada again. The economy was recovering, so maybe it was a good time to head back. We figured if we could get a decent job then we would consider leaving New Zealand early. Using my parents’ address, we submitted dozens of applications and follow ups to most of the jobs we could find across Canada over the past 6 months or so. The result? NOTHING. No luck on that front yet!

Skilled Migrant Residency Visa

We had looked at the skilled migrant visa before but visas are extremely complicated. There is a reason many immigration advisors will charge several thousand dollars just to help you with the first step!


We decided to cover all of our bases. We have jobs and a good lifestyle here, so it made sense to do what we could to stay in New Zealand if we could.

At the end of December, Andrew and I submitted our Expression of Interest (EOI). This is basically a form that you submit to tell immigration that “Hey, I’d like to apply for your visa and I think I’m qualified!”. You get awarded a certain number of points for different things like a job offer, your age, your skills, etc.

The application then goes into the pool of applicants for up to 6 months. Every 2 weeks, they draw the top applicants from the pool that are above a certain point threshold.

Our EOI was selected December 21, 2016. Almost as soon as we had applied! We were very excited.

Then our application entered stage 2 – Verification. We got an email that stated that our application was selected and that immigration would verify some details. After their verification in 2-4 weeks, we may be issued an invitation to apply for the visa.


We did it! We got issued our ITA (Invitation to Apply) on January 11, 2017. So what now? Well, we now have up to 4 months to gather and submit all of the required paperwork to prove all of the things that we said we had. So if you are our family or friends and you get a really weird request…there is a reason.

The visa itself is called the “Skilled Migrant” for a reason. We both are currently working in what is considered to be skilled employment: Andrew as a sous-chef and myself as an assistant manager. We need to stay in our current jobs until after we get our visa, although they are sufficient for our current needs and both rewarding and fulfilling. Of course, we both still want engineering jobs, but so far that hasn’t worked out in any country yet!

Of course, this also requires proving that we have the experience for these jobs. Reference letters, employment contracts, tax forms, and such are one of the requirements. For every job we’ve had basically. They also all need to be genuine originals or certified copies (by a JP or notary). Convincing my manager that I actually required my original employee agreement took a bit of work.

We also need to prove that our relationship is genuine and stable. In addition to the marriage certificate we need to provide tenancy agreements, shared bills, photographs, letters from family and friends, a letter from ourselves, and other proof.

Getting fingerprints from outside of the country is also a special (and expensive!) treat. Around $250 each so that we can take fingerprints here, mail them there, get them scanned there, submitted to the RCMP, and then have our criminal record mailed back.

I can definitely see why immigration advisors said they charge around $10,000 to assist with this stage of the process. We are trying to do it on our own and doing lots of research and reading to keep from making any mistakes. I think immigration might know us better than we know ourselves by the end of this process!

We want to try to get all of the paperwork in as soon as we can so we can get to stage 3!!

The Waiting Game

Once we submit our paperwork, it will take 3-9 months (although sometimes longer) for Immigration NZ to make their decision. They will review all of our paperwork, request anything we may have missed that they want to see (hopefully we get it all!), and, hopefully, issue our visa.

Did I mention that our current visa expires at the end of August (7 months from now)? We will cross that bridge if/when we get to it.

If (hopefully when!) they issue our visa, Andrew and I will be New Zealand residents (I think). We will be welcome to come and go from the country, gain access to medical care, and basically able to do most things that native New Zealander’s can.

Remember how I mentioned our current visa has a few restrictions? Well, one of those restrictions is that we can only work on a casual basis. We currently aren’t able to apply for any permanent employment. Which, unfortunately, most engineering jobs are advertised as permanent roles. Most employers don’t want to have to deal with immigration and visas (rightly so!), which makes Andrew and I hopeful that a resident class visa will make it easier to get one of the plethora of engineering jobs available in the city.


As far as I understand (have I mentioned visa’s are complicated?), after 2 years of spending the majority of our time in New Zealand, we are welcome (invited?) to apply for citizenship. At this point, we would have all the rights of a New Zealand Citizen.

We would also be able to keep our Canadian Citizenship, becoming dual citizens. This would allow us to move back and forth between Canada and New Zealand (and possibly Australia).

Why New Zealand?

For us, New Zealand made sense for a number of reasons.

  1. The weather. The coldest temperature that we’ve seen in winter was -5C overnight. Even the day we went skiing at Treble Cone was barely 0C!. The ocean is relatively warm as well, making water sports much more pleasant. While it is possible to exercise and stay fit in the cold weather, it is much nicer and easier to go running year round here instead of being stopped by well meaning people telling me that running at -20C will freeze my lungs!
  2. The lifestyle. Imagine hiking paths within 20 minutes of the city. Surfing. Swimming. Kite surfing. Windsurfing. Sailing. Running. Cycle paths everywhere. Miles of beaches. Where electric bikes are a feasible alternative to cars. Mountains and skiing just 1 hour away. Andrew and I love being active and would like to raise active kids through experiential learning.
  3. The community. We have lived in places in Canada where the neighbours barely speak. Where the kids aren’t allowed outside on their own for fear of the parents being called neglectful. Where we are living now we have a number of friends who are always willing to do things. There are always kids out riding their bikes and running around, grandparents out for a Sunday bike down the harbour, couples out with their dogs. The community and the city are just alive and vibrant. It’s almost like stepping back 50 years to the way small towns used to be, except Dunedin is a big city with modern technology that just hasn’t quite gotten the memo not to be a small town anymore.
  4. Housing opportunity. It is possible for Andrew and I to buy a 5 acre section with ocean views, 20 minutes drive from downtown, 15 minutes from a sandy beach, and build a brand new house on it…for less than $250,000! We are somewhat excited about the possibility of being mortgage free in 2-10 years (depending on our jobs), and the opportunities that will bring for our family. We would love to raise our (possible future) kids as global citizens, taking them to actually see historical sites and learn by doing instead of just in a classroom if we can.
  5. Tied in with housing is the growing season. Fresh fruits and vegetables are available year round. Most people have chickens providing fresh eggs every day. Both Andrew and I have noticed that we have more energy, feel healthier, and eat better for cheaper since moving here.
  6. Creative kids. New Zealand has one of the top universities in the world and the kids here are quite smart. However…they aren’t walking around with their phones glued to their ears. It is just as likely to see a group of teenagers shouldering their backpacks for a nice day hike as it is to see them hanging out at the mall. In addition to Physical Education at school, there is also outdoor education where kids are encouraged to find sports to keep them active throughout their lives. Recess is encouraged and both the trades and creative pursuits still play a huge part in normal schooling.
  7. Healthcare that is at least as good as in Canada, if not better. The couple of times that I have had to go to a doctor in New Zealand for a regular check up, they have sat down, truly listened, and offered far better advice than I have ever gotten from a doctor in Canada.

The Hardest Parts

Family and friends. We are nothing without our support network and we still rely heavily on our family and friends back home for love and support.

It is, of course, very difficult for them and us to be so far apart, but thankfully technology makes it far easier. I can hardly imagine doing this 100 years ago when people simply boarded a boat and probably never saw their families again! There are a couple of good websites, like this one,  with advice for parents and adult expat children, thankfully.

We are planning to visit as often as we can and hope that our families will return the favour, especially once we (hopefully) have kids. There is a Parent and Grandparent Visitor visa for a reason after all!

Perhaps we will invite our parents to fly down to NZ and cruise back to Canada with us since it is probably easier to contain a toddler on a boat than it is in a plane seat. We have 4 weeks of vacation as a normal part of Kiwi employment agreements, which will make travel easier.

Plus, considering that we could conceivably pay off a mortgage in 2-10 years, we would be able to travel a lot more. We are hoping to pay for our nieces’ and nephews’ plane tickets for them to come see Auntie and Uncle for a summer once they are old enough (16 is old enough, right? Or maybe 18?).

We also invested in the Disney Vacation club this year, which gives us Disney vacations about every 3 years. We are hoping to head to Hawaii in December this year if everything works out and are already planning our next trip back to Calgary.

In Conclusion

One of my friends keeps reminding me that all decisions can be changed and life is in a constant state of flux. It is usually better to grasp an opportunity while it is there than to spend your entire life wondering “What if?”.

We spent enough time regretting our decisions when we were working at our last jobs in Canada that we are excited to have found a passion for life again. It feels like everything is finally starting to settle into place and we are hopeful about our future again.


New Zealand Itineraries – What should you do?

New Zealand is small island…I should be able to see it all in a week, right? Unfortunately not. Although relatively small compared to other countries like Canada, Russia, and the United States, there is a surprising number of things to do in New Zealand.

Once you take into account the ferry crossing and the narrow, winding roads, it can take upwards of 30-40 hours to drive from the north to the south, for all that the distance isn’t that great. Of course, you can always drive east to west in as little as 5 hours, with no town in New Zealand being situated further than a 2.5 hour drive from the nearest ocean.

Cape Palliser Lighthouse
Cape Palliser Lighthouse

With that being said, New Zealand remains a very popular tourist destination, with many people taking days or weeks of their hard earned vacation to visit.

So, what should you do on your vacation?

3-5 days

Stick to a single area. This is enough time to fully immerse yourself in one city. Many places in New Zealand have so much to do in a single city that you just can’t see it all!


In the zorb
In the zorb

Rotorua is frequently considered the Vegas of New Zealand. Geothermal activity and Maori cultural experiences abound, along with one of the best opportunities to see a kiwi bird in a sanctuary.

Andrew and I spent a fair bit of time in Rotorua, both as a couple and with a friend. There’s just so much to do that you could almost spend an entire week here!

In front of the Champagne Pools
In front of the Champagne Pools

Here’s some of our highlights and favourites, along with some that we missed last time but would love to do if time and finances allow!


Queenstown-the adventure capital of the world! If you are looking for adventure in New Zealand, then look no further than Queenstown.  The city that invented bungee jumping, they didn’t stop there when they were handing out adrenaline fuelled activities.

First run of the season!
First run of the season!

For those from Canada, think a large Banff with an over abundance of adventure activities. For those from the USA, think a really small Denver.

Highlights of things to do in Queenstown include:

  • Shopping
  • Skiing in the winter
  • Boating in the summer
  • Tramping/Hiking
  • Bungee jumping
  • Paragliding
  • Hang Gliding
  • Sky diving
  • Ice bar

Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands is stunning in its beauty and amazing in its weather. Temperate year-round, the sun shines most days with temperatures in the 15C-25C range year round. Visit the historic capital of New Zealand, see where history was made, or soak up the sun with some time on the water.

Raglan Beach Sunset

Highlights include:

 5-10 Days

While this isn’t enough time to explore the entire country, it does open up a bit of flexibility. It is possible to explore both islands in this time frame if you are open to flying between destinations. The Intercity bus line is also a useful and cost effective way to get around New Zealand.

Suggested itineraries include:

Auckland-Hot Water Beach – Rotorua

Monarch Butterfly in the Gardens
Monarch Butterfly in the Gardens

This itinerary starts off in Auckland. Most international flights land in Auckland, which make it the logical starting point. In Auckland, explore the maritime history, volcanoes, and check out the many museums and parks.

Hop on the bus and head off to the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula, taking a stop at Hot Water Beach. Dig your own pool and enjoy the crashing waves and a natural hot spring at the same time.

From here, take the bus down to Rotorua for some adventure. Hop in the Zorb, experience Maori culture, and see a Kiwi.

Rotorua – Hobbiton – Waitomo-Raglan

Me and Glowworms
Me and Glowworms

From your departure point, fly or bus to Rotorua. Explore the area for a couple of days, then get a transfer to Hobbiton. Enjoy the movie set with an afternoon tour or a sumptuous supper, then take the bus (or hitchhike) to Waitomo.

Spend a day or two exploring the glow worm caves. There’s something for everyone from wheelchair accessible tours to epic underground adventures.

From Waitomo head to the surfing capital of New Zealand for some beach time. Check out Raglan’s unique shops, horseback ride on the beach, and catch some waves in the warm Tasman sea.

Christchurch – Franz Josef Glacier – Queenstown

Experience the beauty of the South Island with a trip from Christchurch to Queenstown. See the rebuilding of Christchurch and the raw power of this earthquake-prone area. They don’t call New Zealand the Shaky Isles for nothing!

Venture across Arthur’s pass and see Mount Cook, New Zealand’s tallest mountain. Take a guided tour up the Franz Josef Glacier and then warm up in the hot pools afterwards.

From here, head down to Queenstown, New Zealand’s adventure capital. Ski, Paraglide, or try bungee jumping in the place that invented the sport. There’s plenty of shops, restaurants, and spa’s for those who want to simply relax and unwind.

10-15 Days

It is recommended to have between 10 days and 2 weeks at a minimum if you wish to explore both islands. You can choose to do either an in-depth look at one island, or skip around and see both islands. If you don’t have a day to spend on the ferry crossing from Wellington to Picton, it is advisable to fly instead.

Add on to the suggested itineraries above, or create your own. Some suggestions include the following options.

Rotorua -Hobbiton – Tongariro Alpine Crossing – Lake Taupo – Waitomo-Raglan

Emerald Lakes
Emerald Lakes

Take in everything that the Rotorua to Raglan itinerary mentions above, but enjoy New Zealand’s best single day hike on the way. The Tongariro Alpine crossing takes you through stunning volcanic and geothermally active terrain, much of which was used in filming Lord of the Rings and The Last Samurai. Take in the area by horseback or do the 20km hike, both are spectacular.

Head south to Lake Taupo, a lake formed in the crater of a once-active volcano. Enjoy some sailing, beach time, or skydiving at New Zealand’s largest lake.

Then head back up towards Waitomo and Raglan, rejoining the itinerary mentioned above.

Christchurch – Franz Josef Glacier – Queenstown-Dunedin-Oamaru

Atop the boulders
Atop the boulders

Start the trip the same, but continue on to see more of the South Island. Take the bus to Cromwell and ride the 150 km Otago Rail Trail to Middlemarch (you could drive as well). From there, take the train through Taieri Gorge to Dunedin.

Experience all that Dunedin has to offer, from great surfing beaches to the Cadbury Factory to the world’s only mainland albatross colony.

From here, head up to Oamaru with a stop at Moeraki boulders. In Oamaru take in the steampunk museum, the Victorian shops, the penguin colony, and the Rainbow Confectionary.

3 -4 Weeks

Time to settle in and truly explore! This is enough time to see the highlights of both islands. Simply combine several of the suggested itineraries above, or contact me for more in-depth advice.

Explore Milford Sound, take in a great walk, wander around Nelson or Napier, or head out to the farthest reaches by exploring Cape Reinga in the North or Gisborne to the East.

If you would like assistance setting up a custom itinerary that suits your time, interests, and budget, as well as cost saving advice and other benefits, then please feel free to check out my travel consultations!


Affording Travel

You are so lucky! I wish I could afford to travel.

While Andrew and I have been quite fortunate in our careers and our finances, affording travel is often a choice. It does involve some degree of sacrifice and self-discipline, but affording travel is something that nearly anyone with a desire to travel can do.

Yes, it was both easier and faster to save up enough to quit work and travel for 6 months while we were both working as engineers. We have also successfully managed to save up for months of travel while abroad by working as cooks, cleaners, and supermarket cashiers.

So, how do we afford travel and how can you?

Track your Finances

This could be considered basic life advice as well, but if you don’t know where your money is going, it is really hard to know where it shouldn’t be going and identify where you can save.

For at least 1 month, track your finances while not changing your spending. Programs such as Moneydance, Quicken, and make it exceptionally easy to import your spending and filter it into categories such as rent, coffee shops, and doctor.

This makes it possible to figure out where you can start saving.

Use public transport: Bike Path in Dunedin
Use public transport: Bike Path in Dunedin

First and foremost, you should rarely be in a situation where you are spending more than you are making.

Do I Really Need this?

This is one of the most useful questions to ask while trying to save money for any large purchase. It helps to cut down on impulse purchases and gives you more money to save.

For example, if you purchase a starbucks coffee 3 times a week, you are spending approximately $15 per week. If you decided to stop drinking the starbucks coffee, you would have an extra $780 per year to spend on travel.

The worst offender, of course, is eating out. On average, it costs around $5 to bring a packed lunch, whereas eating out will run around $15 per day. Assuming most people work 5 day weeks, this works out to around $2600 of savings each year.

These two simple things, packing a lunch and making coffee at home or at the office make it possible to afford to travel somewhere exotic every year.

If, on the other hand, you are the kind of person who doesn’t eat out, drink starbucks, or make other such purchases, identifying areas of savings can be more difficult.

Begin by looking at clothes, shoes, and material items. Do you really need everything in your house? It might have brought you pleasure to make the purchase, but is it still fulfilling that goal. Selling unnecessary items online through etsy, ebay, or online garage sales can clear your house of unnecessary clutter and help to fund your journey.

Any amount of savings can help towards your travel plans, even if it is only $5-$10 per month. It adds up!

Making More Money

Once you have tracked your finances and created a realistic budget that includes travel savings, it can be good to look at more creative ways to finance your trip. While most people baulk at the idea of having more than one job, a second job needn’t be a chore or take excessive amounts of time. The advantage is that all funds from the second job can be put towards travel!

Some ideas for flexible second jobs include:

  • Selling crafts at local markets (jewellery, knitting, painting, etc.)
  • Offering repair services for jewellery
  • Set up a shop outside a college or university and offer hemming/basic sewing services
  • Website and app design
  • Tutoring or childcare

Choosing Where to Go

If you have a specific destination in mind, then skip to the next section. You will likely already have an idea of what you would like to do and what your budget is.

If, on the other hand, you simply want to travel anywhere, then read on! Where you travel and when can make a huge difference in the price of your trip. Travelling to less tourist-driven areas or in off seasons can mean savings of thousands of dollars, making more frequent travel a possibility.

Some ideas of less expensive options include:

  • Peru
  • Thailand
  • Cambodia
  • Vietnam
  • Namibia
  • Botswana
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe
  • Egypt
  • Jordan

Compare your local currency with currencies abroad prior to travelling. If your dollar exchanges 20:1 as opposed to 1.2:1, then chances are you will have more buying power while spending less.

Explore Machu Picchu
Explore Machu Picchu

Choosing when to travel is almost as important. For example, shifting a vacation by 7 days at Disney can mean the difference between paying peak and off-peak prices, resulting in savings of up to $100/night for the same room. Avoid school holidays, Easter, Christmas, and other popular vacation times if at all possible.

Finding Travel Deals

Ah, the all elusive travel deal. Travel deals are more useful the more flexible you can be with your travel, but they can make it a lot easier to afford travel. While other people might pay $4000 for a cruise, by booking at the right time through the right websites, you might only pay $400. Same goes for flights.

So where do you find travel deals?

These are the two best websites that I have found for outright travel deals. It can also be useful to search for things like Groupon, Grabone, and other local discount sites at your destination to try to nab discounted hotel nights and activity vouchers.

What about the all elusive airmiles and travel points for free flights? While these do work, they are more useful programs for people who travel a lot.

That being said though, pick one airline and stick with it. Pick up the credit card for that airline (just remember to pay it off every month!) and rack up the points. Some credit cards also offer bonus incentives that allow you to earn a free flight for signing up and spending a certain amount in the first few months.

If you happen to live in the United States of America, look for these more as you are not penalised for signing up for credit cards and cancelling them in your credit score. There are a lot more deals too.

Saving Money While Abroad

Saving money while you are travelling is also a good way to afford travel. Even while travelling in more expensive locations such as Germany, Britain, Canada, and Japan, there are some simple things that you can do to cut down on your expenses and still enjoy your trip.

Eat local. If at all possible stop by the local supermarket and pick up an assortment of snacks, lunch meats, milk, and cereal. Preparing even 2 our of 3 meals in your room will cut down substantially on your food spending while abroad.

Eat early. Many restaurants have smaller and cheaper lunch menus with similar portions to their dinner menu. It is also more likely to find 2 for 1 deals and such around lunch time than at dinner time. If you can, research ahead of time, but otherwise, just ask to see the menu.

Local Restaurant with Plenty of Lunchtime deals
Local Restaurant with Plenty of Lunchtime deals

Choose your accommodation wisely. If there is a campground with rooms, they are likely cheaper than a local hotel. If there is a local hotel, it is likely cheaper than the big-name hotel, even for the same quality. Many hostels also offer private, semi-private, and family rooms that are significantly cheaper than hotel prices. This will give you more money to splurge on a few nights at a very nice hotel or to try out that skydiving lesson.

If you want more tips on how to save or specific tips suited to you, please feel free to send me an email at or to check out my travel consultations!


How to Learn a Foreign Language Before You Arrive

Ah, language. The way that all people over the age of two communicate things as simple as hunger and as complex as love. It is also one of the largest obstacles that many people face while travelling to a foreign country and one of the top-ranked reasons (after finances) that stops people from taking that dream trip.

How to overcome this? Learn the local language of course!

Local Thai Village Stay
Local Thai Village Stay

While it is also a good idea to brush up on your charades so that you can mime to the shop-keeper your need for deodorant, learning the local language can lead to less embarrassment in the long run. Yes, that did happen to me.

Of all the things to forget on a trip to Thailand, I forgot me deodorant. I was directed by the friendly staff at the front desk to a local pharmacy that carried such items, but after about 20 minutes of searching the shelves, I still hadn’t located the way to a less smelly me. I little bit of charade playing later, I was directed to a shelf containing small glass bottles of liquid deodorant…no wonder I couldn’t find what I was looking for!

Thankfully, In our age of technology, learning a foreign language has never been easier. Apps, programs, and other devices make it simple, although they do all take time. It is best to start at least three months prior to your trip for best results, although longer is better.

Language Essentials

Talking with an Elephant Trainer
Talking with an Elephant Trainer

But I leave in a week! I can’t possibly learn a foreign language in a week! No, you probably can’t. Focus on the basics! Here is a list of ten essential words to make sure that you know. They are listed in approximate order of importance, so start at the top and work your way down. Use Google Translate to look up the words in your desired language.

  1. No
  2. Yes
  3. Toilet
  4. Help
  5. Please
  6. Thank you
  7. Where?
  8. More
  9. When?
  10. How Much? (ok, technically two words here.)

If you have extra time, learn how to count to 10 as well. This is particularly useful in a country where bartering is standard practice, although you can also just pull out your phone, open the calculator app, and type a price onto it. Most shop owners will understand the numbers.

Official Courses

Check your local university or college for local language courses. Many universities offer evening and weekend classes. Some even offer free sessions where you can help someone learn English while they help you learn their local language.

Web Courses, Apps, and Programs

Explore Machu Picchu
Explore Machu Picchu

There are literally dozens of programs available to help you learn any number of new languages, including Klingon. No, I’m not joking. You can take a course in Klingon if you want. Not the most practical, but it could be fun!

Rosetta Stone

Rosetta Stone is a useful but extremely expensive way to learn a new language. Each course will run approximately $250. It does give you access to video chat with native speakers of the language, voice recognition, and a gradually progressive program that builds upon your knowledge each lesson.

The price tag is a little bit detrimental for casual learners, however. I have used demo versions of the app and it is quite effective. This would be the perfect solution for someone who wants to understand the culture, language foibles (is it a cart, a trolley, a stroller, or a pram? That’s just English!), and wants to become fully fluent in their desired language. Rosetta stone offers users a complete understanding of grammatical constructs, instead of simply trying to memorize all of the different verb endings for the words you would like to use.


Perhaps the most popular program, Duolingo is completely free to use. While you aren’t likely to become completely fluent in your desired language through using this program, it is sufficient to learn the basics to get you through a trip and enjoy a few conversations with the locals.

I used Duolingo to learn some Spanish prior to our Peru trip and after about a month my Spanish was sufficient for the most basic conversations. I did occasionally misunderstand what I was being asked and made the occasional mistake, but I could have simple conversations.

The early stages of learning here are appropriate for conversations with toddlers.

“This is water.”

“I have bread.”

The complexity does progress until you are speaking in full sentences and able to express more complex ideas.

Language Zen

This is the newbie on the market. Seeking to strike a balance between Rosetta Stone and Duolingo, LanguageZen claims to be faster than both. Having experimented with the program for the past few weeks, I certainly seem to be progressing faster (for all that I continue to hate verbs).

Currently offering only Spanish, they are soon expanding to other languages. They offer learning through music and progressive lessons, with hints and voice recognition available.

Practice Makes Perfect!

Experiencing Local Culture in Peru
Experiencing Local Culture in Peru

There are several ways that you can practice a language, keep it fresh in your mind, or simply get used of hearing sounds that are different from what you are accustomed to.

  1. Listen to music
  2. Switch your Netflix or DVD to a different language and turn on subtitles
  3. Use web-streaming to watch news or TV in the local language at your destination
  4. Listen to streaming radio
  5. Find a local and have a chat!

Make sure that you set aside some time each day to practice. 5 minutes a day will keep newly learned words fresh in your mind, although a minimum of 10-15 minutes each day is recommended.