Sunday, May 20, 2018


We woke up early and headed from Tongariro down south to Wellington.  It is the capital and is the second largest city in New Zealand with 250,000ish people.  I had actually been told by multiple people to skip Wellington, but since this is where WETA studios (the special effects team from the Lord of the Rings movies) was, so obviously it was on the agenda.

We were staying at the Intercontinental right in the middle of town, which was a great location.  There was a big statue of Gandalf in the lobby, because, obviously.  So we ran in and I had to basically head straight to the lobby to meet my tour.  We headed first to WETA studios and got to take a tour.  There were tons of props from movies they have worked on.  They mostly started with Peter Jacksons early films and the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, but now work on just about every big budget film you hear about.  We got to see their big 3D printer, and a guy who used to be the swords maker for the queen making a sword.  It totally tickled the geeky parts of me!

The next part of the tour took us to the top of Mount Victoria to see some of the filming locations.  

So you know the scene where the hobbits are running away from the farmer and they come to the edge of a hill and fall down it and on to a road and start picking mushrooms?  Then Frodo tells them to get off the road?  Well....THIS IS THE ROAD!

I know, right?  Can you hardly contain your excitement or what?  Anyway, this actually is the road and there are several other scenes that were filmed right around here too.  I was in hobbit heaven and I really loved every minute of it.

We really ended up liking Wellington and wishing we had another day to spend there.  There is a great museum there called the Te Papa that I wish we had had time to see it.  They also have these cool houses that are all built up on the sides of the hills because that is what there is around there.  But there are no roads that go up there, so everyone has their car ports on the side of the road and they park in them.  And then they and their neighbors share these little cable cars that they take up to their houses.  It is nuts!  Think about trying to move and putting a couch in a tiny cable car to get it up to your house.

But alas, like many things I wanted to do, our itinerary didn't allow for more time here, so we had to move on to Queenstown the next day!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Tongariro Crossing

For our third night in New Zealand, we were staying in the Chateau Tongariro, which we have been affectionately calling The Overlook.  When you turn on the long road up to it, and with the snowy mountains in the background the similarity is eerie.  The hotel is older, and kind of has that old world charm to it. 

We checked in and asked about the hike we were supposed to be going on the next day.  (Note: In New Zealand they don't call it hiking, they call it tramping.  But I am going to call it hiking so as to avoid saying I went 'tramping' all day - this is a family blog people!)  I had been watching it for a couple of weeks, and almost every single day it had been cancelled due to weather and high winds at the top of the crater.  But for us it was set to be All Go!  So we had a nice dinner there, and then turned in early to get some sleep before such a long hike.  Ok, you got me, we have been going to sleep early every night.  Partially because of all the activities making us tired, partly because we are old. 

The next morning we got up and went to get breakfast and met some other Americans who had just done the hike the day before.  They said it was one of the worst things they've ever done and that it was bone chilling cold and rainy most of the hike and they were miserable.  Sooooo, that was not really what I was hoping to hear, but on we went anyway!  And we got SO LUCKY.  The weather was 100% amazing all day.  We had read that we needed thermal under clothes, plus several layers and a rain jacket.  So we were constantly peeling off outer layers because we were so warm!

The Tongariro Crossing is a full day hike.  It is 19.2 kilometers (which I think is about 14 miles), and the first half is a LOT of climbing up to the top of the red crater.  We had to take lots of breaks to catch our breath because it was hard and the altitude made it hard to catch your breath sometimes.  We walked right past Mount Ngauruhoe, which was used as Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies.  Then once we got to the very top, we overheard a person who was guiding a group of people talk about how they filmed the battles that took place in Morder in this valley we were looking down at.  I just sort of nonchalantly joined their group for a while to glean as much LOTR trivia as I could!

Once you finish what they call the hardest part of going up hill to get to the top of the red crater, you are rewarded with these amazing views and the Emerald Lakes.  There are just these random pristine bodies of water that range from emerald green to a light blue.  They are absolutely stunning, and I just marveled at how these unbelievable lake just exist somewhere so remote.  So we took our time around there and took lots of pictures before starting the mostly downhill hike to finish up.  If you are thinking going downhill the rest of the way seems easy, yikes, it wasn't!  We basically were walking at a downward incline for almost 3 hours.  So your knees are pretty mad at you by the end.

The shuttle drops you off at the beginning and picks you up at the end, and we all of the sudden realized we had been lallygagging too much and had to pick up the pace to make it to meet the shuttle in time!  So the last couple of hours we were hauling it downhill.

Once we finished we were totally beat.  But it was such a feeling of accomplishment!  I have never hiked this far in my life and it was definitely one of the best things I've ever done. 

That night we took showers and ordered room service because we were TIRED.  The next morning, we had to get up kind of early because we were heading to our next location - Wellington! - for, you guessed it!, more Lord of the Rings tours.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Concerning Hobbits

After leaving Auckland, we headed toward Matamata, which is where the Shire/Hobbiton is.  As soon as we arrived I was sort of freaking out and Jason said to me 'I just want you to know you are in a safe place.  Feel free to let all your dorkiness out and I will fully support it'.  Or something like that, but basically he encouraged me to have absolutely no chill while we were there.  Which was good, cause I didn't.

To get there, we took a bus down through some beautiful mountains and sheep farms, watched a video about some of the history, and then there it was!!  It was perfectly preserved - they even have full time gardeners whose job it is to keep it just in the perfect condition like it was in the movie.  We walked around with our tour guide for about an hour and a half and learned all kinds of trivia and got to take lots of pictures and finally ended up at the Green Dragon where we got to enjoy a beer.

Then, to top off my Hobbit obsessed day, we drove a couple of hours out to Waitomo and stayed in a Hobbit Hole Motel!!!  It was literally in the middle of nowhere in the woods, but it was so gorgeous there and totally worth it.  When we woke up the next morning and went out to the car, there were three sheep just grazing right by the drive.  So cute!!  I am going to go ahead and say Jason did not think it was as amazing as I did.  He is not a fan of 'rustic', but he was a trooper and roughed it with me in the woods.

The next day we drove over to the Waitomo Glow Worm caves.  I am a sucker for a cave tour anyway, and this one was the best.  They take you down in to the caves for a tour, then you board a boat in the pitch black dark and take a ride in it until you reach the other side.  All over the ceiling are these little tiny glow worms!  They have bioluminescence to attract pray, but they basically made the cave look like a glowing night sky.

From there, we drove out to Taupo where we took this crazy jet boat tour out to Huka Falls.  This boat takes you up and down the river and does 360 turns and splashes water all over you for about 30 minutes!  Then we got right up to the falls and played around in the foamy water there in the boat.

After the jet boat tour, we made our way south around Lake Taupo to get to our hotel, the Chateau Tongariro, where we were going to stay for 2 nights.

We are doing a lot of driving.  It is anywhere from 1-3 hours between any of these things, so we are in the car a lot.  But again, I cannot stress how BEAUTIFUL it is here.  Every turn is some new magnificent landscape.  We keep having people say to us 'just wait until you get to the south island!'.  But I can't imagine it being any more wonderful.

Next up was the Tongariro Crossing, so stay tuned for that!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

We Made It!!

After a flight to Houston, a 7 hour layover and 17 hours on a plane, we finally made it Auckland!  The flight was actually great.  We flew Air New Zealand direct from Houston to Auckland, and the flight attendants were (**gasp**) FRIENDLY!  Can you imagine?  I had fully prepared in many ways so that I would be able to get the most sleep possible on the flight.  My carry on bag looked like a small pharmacy, but it worked!  We got lots of sleep and landed in Auckland about 8am, so we had the whole day ahead of us!  But we weren't tired until about 7:15, which is when we basically congratulated ourselves for staying up so late and hit it.

In Auckland we stayed at the Hilton Auckland, which was right on the water and a great place to stay.  Everyone was super nice, and they even gave us access to their gym area so we could shower or freshen up since our room wouldn't be ready until much later.  Then we headed out in to the downtown area in search of breakfast and a good flat white!  The downtown area is great.  It reminded me a lot of San Francisco because there is an awesome waterfront with lots of shops and restaurants, only nicer really.  It was also very hilly, just like the entire country.  So you would be walking way up and down hills, just no trolley cars that I saw.  Then all over downtown had lots of great places to shop/eat/get coffee.  I am pretty sure it has to hold a record for number of coffee shops that aren't Starbucks in a downtown area.  Like there would be 3 on any given block!  They take their coffee seriously, which I can totally get behind.

Jason has a friend who lives in Auckland so we met up with them for a late lunch at an Irish pub on the Viaduct Harbour and it was the most beautiful sunny day so we sat on a patio and hung out for a while.  The next morning we just headed straight out to get a rental car ,and head to Matamata (where Hobbiton is, but that's a whole other post!).  In case you weren't aware, Kiwis drive on the LEFT hand side of the road.  It is truly challenging.  I think it takes both of our brains to figure out how to turn in to what lane and to let the other person know they are WAY to close to the edge of the road.  It is a serious exercise of the brain to be constantly thinking 'stay on the left, stay on the left, stay on the left'.  AND just sitting on the left and not driving feels really strange.  Like you constantly want to be reaching for the wheel or hitting the breaks.  But we are learning slowly but surely!

So far here is what I know about New Zealand - it is GORGEOUS!!!  If you have any thoughts in your head about how amazingly beautiful it is, but aren't sure it would live up to they hype.  Be assured.  IT DOES.  Every time we turn a corner there is some new grandeur to behold.  We have literally laughed out loud multiple times at just how ridiculous the landscape is.  Like it can't possibly be real.  Plus there are cows and sheep EVERYWHERE!  I feel like I read somewhere that something like 50% of the people in New Zealand were farmers.  Or maybe it just feels that way.  But it is just beautiful to drive along seeing these little white dots all over the hills.  This is one of the first places we stopped outside of Auckland and took a picture. 

So that was day 1 and 1/2 in the books.  Next up Hobbits and Glow Worms...stay tuned!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

I'm Baaaaack

Hello out there in cyberland!  I am pretty sure the only people who have blogs any more are like famous people who have cookbooks or are crafty, and I am neither of those people (yet), but I have decided to revive my blog, mainly because of the fact that I am about to turn 40, so Jason and I are going to New Zealand for two weeks!!  The reason I started my blog in the first place was really more for myself and to have a place to capture my thoughts because otherwise they fly right out of my brain and I never hear from them again.  I started it because of trips I was about to take, so what better reason to bring it back than another trip that I really don't want to forget, right?

Now not to brag, but even though I did start it really for myself, I did end up with almost 20 people following.  Wait, how many followers DO you have to have to be a celebrity blogger?  I should look in to some product placement advertisements.  Anyway, probably none of those people have been checking back to see if I have updated in a while.  And really those people are the people that I was following back, and after going back through all the blogs I followed, I realized I was not the only one to abandon blog world in the last few years.  I think I have only one faithful blogger friend left (hi Lacey!). 

It was pretty fun to go back and look at the old blogs I used to follow.  It was like everyone was posting their merry little lives away and then one day stopped.  No one had put like 'hey this is my last blog's been fun!'.  It was like 'you won't believe what little Johnny and I saw at the zoo today', and then they dropped off the face of the planet.  I mean that is exactly what I did.  Actually in one of my last blogs I talked about a surprise coming that I would announce SOON, and then I just quit.  The funny thing was that the surprise was that I was going to start ANOTHER blog totally dedicated to travel.  Excuse me while I laugh myself silly thinking I had the time for that.  But who knows, maybe one day I will start that blog up.  Wait, does Samantha Brown have a blog?  Maybe I do still have a chance at that celebrity thing! 

I have honestly been a little hesitant to start a new post for the first time in five years.  There is a very real chance that this is the last post I ever write.  However, I am basically trying to motivate myself to keep writing and tracking those memories that are no longer actually in my brain.  Going through my blog it has been funny to read old posts and literally have no memory of writing it at all or even experiencing what I was talking about in the post.  Mom brain is real y'all. 

So here is my bloggal (like verbal only through a blog) commitment to you my reader (hi sister!).  I will do my utmost to try to keep it up and especially to try to track my New Zealand trip.  It is my #1 place in the entire world I have wanted to go and I am SO SO excited.  I am also the hugest Lord of the Rings nerd that I know, so I am taking classes in Elvish before I leave so I can be ready in the very real possible case that I encounter Legolas.

Ok, first blog post in 5 years done.  Whew, that was easier than I thought it was going to be.  Sometimes a giant leap starts with a small step...or something like that...right?  Ok, peeps, gonna go now.  Stay tuned!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Fifth Annual Top Ten Song List

Ok, admittedly I am a bit behind on publishing my favorite songs of 2012, but you have to admit I have kind of been making up for lost time lately, no?  This year was especially hard, not necessarily to pair down the list, but to decide what went where.  Number 1 was easy, but 2-10, could have just about all been number 2 on the list.  So without further ado, here is my top ten favorite songs for 2012!

10. Some Nights by fun. - This song would most likely be higher if I hadn't been totally obsessed with it so long ago.  I think all the radio play has me a little over it, but last summer this was basically our anthem.  It is such a unique sound and really this whole album was played over and over in the Trent house/cars/back yard a lot last year.

9.  Even If It Breaks Your Heart by Eli Young Band - This song is so great for that person who is really passionate about music.  I think every young person who wants to be an artist must have felt this way at some time.  They just yearn to play no matter what, even if it breaks their heart...

8.  Live and Die by Avett Brothers - My friend KC turned me on to this band a couple of years ago and I will forever be in debted, because they are one of my favorites now.  I loved their last album and couldn't wait to get the new one this year.  This is probably my favorite on the album.  We got to see them at ACL this year and they put on such a great, energetic show.

7.  Keep Your Eyes Open by Needtobreathe - Again, it was hard to pick which song off this album was my favorite - Drive All Night was definitely a close second - but this is the one that I kept going back to and got really excited every time I heard it on the radio.  This band has Christian roots, and I am not sure, but my take on this song is just that you have to get out in the world and experience it, but not let yourself be part of it.  Keep your eyes open in multiple senses of the words.

6.  Nobody's Fool by Miranda Lambert - I technically heard this song in 2011, but I really played it a lot this past year.  I love ML.  She is awesome.  She is spunky and tough, she is an East Texas girl after all!  But some of her songs are so tender and really let you look at a more vulnerable side too.  I just really like the play on words in this song too.

5.  Payphone by Maroon 5 - Not gonna lie.  I have never been a huge Maroon 5 fan.  I like that song Wake Up Call a lot, but other than that I could take them or leave them.  Except I do think Adam Levine is pretty cool, I mean he did And Iran on SNL, so he has to be cool.  (If you have not seen that, please go to the SNL digital short website and watch - be prepared to laugh).  Anyway, I love their new album, this song specifically.  I have listened to it about 238,187 times since it came out.

4.  Stubborn Love by The Lumineers - Last year at this time I had seen Hey Ho by Lumineers come up on Sirius station 28 about a million times.  I am kind of bad about turning a song without even listening to it if I don't know it.  So I had seen the song and band name, but never listened to the now ubiquitous song.  Then I saw they were playing ACL, so I figured I might as well listen.  Holy cow that is a good song!  I sing it to Jude all the time "I belong with you, you belong with me, my sweetheaaaaart".  But this song is even better.  Not quite as sweet, pretty heartbreaking, but still awesome.

3.  Springsteen by Eric Church - This is the only song I like by EC, but I freaking love it.  Even Jason likes, and he does not like country songs.  I have gotten him liking exactly 6 total (we keep count) and this is one of them.  So it is that good.

2.  Only If For the Night by Florence and the Machine - Florence is a poet is what I have discovered this year.  I really would like to know if she was like an English major at Oxford or something because her lyrics are so beautiful.  This song portrays such a vivid image of what I think is losing someone she loved at a young age and reacting to that like a young person would.  It is lovely.

1.  Somebody That I Used to Know by Gotye - Pretty sure this song is on every top 10 list of last year, but I would just like to claim that I discovered it first.  Ha.  Ok, maybe not but I have been obsessed with it from the first time I heard it and made my sister and Jason listen to it over and over before it was EVERYWHERE.  We saw Gotye at ACL as well this year and it was one of my favorite performances.  He is like a performance artist.  He is a very talented individual.  None of the other songs on his album sound anything like this one or like any other song on the album.  It is such an interesting mix and the live performance really brought it to life.  This song just has to resonate with everyone.  I mean who hasn't had that person that was everything for a while and after it was over you didn't want to feel like it had been nothing.  The line "You treat me like a stranger and it feels so rough" kills me.  Such perfect wording.  Who hasn't felt that?  Anyway, I love it and that's that.

I had to cut some songs that I really would have liked to include, but they will just have to be left for the honorable mention list.  No one ever adds to the comments to tell me what they would have put on their list, but I will hope that this year someone will. =)  What are your favorites of the year?

Here is my honorable mentions: Good Time by Carley Rae Jepsen and Owl City, Blown Away by Carrie Underwood, 22 by Taylor Swift, Set Fire to the Rain by Adele and We Owned the Night by Lady Antebellum.  Can you tell I was in to country music this year?  Here's to 2013!! 

Friday, March 15, 2013

And in a flash...

Jude is one year old!  How did that happen?  I know everyone always says that, but seriously.  I feel like we JUST did his newborn photos.  The last year has gone by faster than I could have imagined.  And I feel like it has been one of the best, albeit busiest, years of my life.  I felt so much more laid back this time around with all the things that come with having a newborn.  I just enjoyed it and tried to relish it!  And who could have possibly known I needed a baby boy?  I wanted a girl so bad I cried at my sonogram when I found out.  But God knew better!  I LOVE LOVE LOVE having a boy.  And I just love the dynamic of having one of each now.  Isabella loves him so much and they already will play together.  It is so sweet!

For Jude's birthday we decided to have a Beatle's themed party.  I mean his name is Jude after all.  But Jason got the inspiration from the cover of this Beatles album...

It is their number one hits and so we figured it went great with the 1 year theme!  We decided to just do immediate family for the party so it would just be a small intimate party.  I actually planned to really do it up, even still, but you know how sometimes things just sneak up on you?  Yeah, that happened.  But we at least had some Beatles themed food, some gifts and even balloons.

Isabella helped Jude open his gifts...

I think she enjoyed opening the gifts more than he did...

Jude's favorite thing was the balloons...

Grammy and Poppy got him a birthday hat, but we didn't have much luck keeping it on!

New trucks Aunt Amanda and Uncle Jared got him...

 Jude with Poppy...

Some of our Beatle's themed food...

Here is the lovely cake that Society Bakery made us.  They googled the album cover so they knew just what to make.  Love them!

I remember Isabella was very timid with her smash cake.  Just little tastes here and there.  Well, Jude not so much.  This was his first bite...

Then Isabella got involved pretty quickly...

 And then we had this mess...

Note to everyone.  Do not use a cake with solid RED icing for a smash cake!  Lesson learned.  We were cleaning red icing out out the carpet, off the floor and walls for a while.  I just yesterday saw some on the ceiling in our kitchen!  Haha, but it was fun.  I think the party was a success, even if it wasn't a huge party.  It was nice to be able to just sit and talk with our families.

Happy Birthday Jude!  We love you so much!


We woke up early and headed from Tongariro down south to Wellington.  It is the capital and is the second largest city in New Zealand with 2...