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New Zealand: ilex café at Christchurch Botanic Gardens Is for the Birdwatchers


The ilex café in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, New Zealand is a glorious combination of amazing food choices, good coffee and, if you sit outside, a personal bird experience. The orecchiette, peas and Parmesan salad was a good starter for our meal. We added the pretzel bread breakfast roll with egg and cherry hoisin. Our flat whites were decent.

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New Zealand: Tiritiri Matangi Lets Your Spirits Soar

New Zealand Christmas Tree

Tiritiri Matangi is everything a vacation tour should be. An enthusiastic, knowledgeable tour guide takes a small group into the wilderness and provides information in a fun, interesting way while making sure to point out the birds that happen to fly nearby. Tiritiri Matangi goes a step further because it provides the ability to listen to the birds as well as see them.

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New Zealand: Aucky Walky Tours Delivers Auckland Fun, Food, and Friendships

Auckland's Former Red Light District as outlined in art

An Aucky Walky Tour should be the first thing that everyone books when they come to Auckland. Because these tours are on foot, you get to see things that you miss in a bus or car. There are just certain locations that you can’t learn about until you experience them with someone who knows.

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New Zealand Visit Bohemein Fresh Chocolates for Amazing (Chocolate) Fish

chocolate fish from Bohemein Fresh Chocolates

Checkers Penguin posted a picture of himself with a chocolate fish on Instagram, and I thought, “Eh, chocolate and marshmallow? I don’t know.” Then I saw these chocolate fish on different YouTube videos about New Zealand snacks, and I was still unimpressed. Marshmallow just isn’t my thing. They’re all right; they’re good for s’mores. I just, generally, won’t choose to eat them as a part of another dessert. Then, we went to Bohemein Fresh Chocolates.

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New Zealand: Sea Life Kelly Tarlton’s

Sea Life Kelly Tarlton's Shark Shuttle

After visiting Devonport, on the ferry back to Auckland, we had to choose between a whale and dolphin watching cruise and Sea Life Kelly Tarlton’s. The wind was aggressive and cold enough to encourage us to opt for Sea Life. Plus, Tarlton’s has the world’s largest display colony of Antarctic and sub-Antarctic penguins. It was time to see penguins, even if they are in captivity. They also have one of the coolest vehicles in the world. I just wished it would have played a selection of shark music. (You know, the “Jaws” soundtrack, Mack the Knife, Baby Shark, Fins… Am I missing any shark songs? (affiliate links) Let me know in the comments.)

The first part of the exhibit explores the history of Scott Base in Antarctica and allows you to dunk your hand in cold sea water. Why did I do this? It was as cold as I expected. There are other activities that you can try as well. We were in a hurry to get to the penguins, especially knowing that we needed to catch the last shuttle back to Auckland.

The polar plunge: Dip your hands in icy Antarctic water.
No, I did not last 30 seconds. (Don’t @ me with your jokes.)

After watching a few penguins swim through their water area, we proceeded up the ramp and were greeted by the glorious sight of King penguins just standing around. What else does royalty do? One was sleeping on an incline with only one foot to keep traction, the other was tucked into its body. There were other penguins that seemed to be sleeping as well. Some looked up to the sky and stretched their necks.

King penguins at Sea Life Kelly Tarlton's
King penguins at Sea Life Kelly Tarlton’s

Then a trio of Gentoos decided to enter the picture. Their wings were spread out as they waddled into the frame. One decided to go diving. The others stopped to look at all the humans looking at them. Penguins in the background decided to shout out for some reason. One of the Gentoos took an active interest in Patch Penguin; we think the Gentoo was wondering how Patch got to the other side of the glass.

Several of the Gentoos were incubating eggs. One was carrying a rock in its beak. It ran a few circles before I lost track of it and couldn’t see what it did with the rock. The penguin nodded their heads and then shook them. This was a highlight of the trip so far. We will probably never be able to see these particular penguins in the wild (unless we get a lot more people interested in our Patreon page, buying my books, or reading this blog [shameless plug]).

Pro Tip: If you wait long enough the horde of people will pass, and you can have one on one time enjoying the penguins. Second Pro Tip: Sea Life Kelly Tarlton’s offers a Penguin Experience; it’ll set you back a pretty penny, but you’ll get so close to the penguins you can smell them.

Tarlton was an underwater enthusiast who wanted everyone to experience seeing life under the sea, the way that divers do. The underwater tunnels do just that for visitors as sharks, rays, and other fish glide overhead. They even have an automatic walkway that moves you slowly through the exhibit, so you can feel like you’re a part of the current. The rays are much larger than I expected them to be.

There are a lot of different kinds of fish to see and a lot of educational areas, including one about sea turtles and another about sea horses. The building itself goes under the road, so that the waves in the harbor are allowed to beat on the glass at the café. Sea Life Kelly Tarlton’s was definitely worth the stop. We probably could have watched the fish and the penguins a lot longer.

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New Zealand: Take the Auckland Explorer Bus to Get Acquainted

New Zealand Take the Auckland Explorer Bus to Get Acquainted

The Auckland Explorer Bus offers the opportunity to hop on and hop off at several of the city’s more notable attractions. The tickets include a ferry ticket to Devonport. The brochure says that each of the two routes offered takes an hour to complete. That may be true, but only if you don’t get off at any of the stops. Jenya and I spent the day, about 5 hours, using the buses. We hope to use the ferry ticket tomorrow.

The first place we hopped off at was Bastion Point. We walked around the summit and looked at the harbors, islands, and Auckland itself. It was a nice vantage point, but we didn’t linger too long here as the main attraction was the view.

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New Zealand: Going Full-on Kiwi for Our First Real Meal in New Zealand

Patch Penguin with Fish and Chips in New Zealand

For our first real meal in New Zealand, and by “real,” I mean the first meal where we weren’t so tired, we couldn’t think straight, we went with an all New Zealand theme at our hotel restaurant. We’re staying at the Kiwi International Hotel in Auckland, and its restaurant blows the reputation of hotel eateries out of the water. As long as you’re willing to sit and eat a leisurely meal, there have been few hotels that I’ve stayed at that have had food this good.

We started the meal off with fish and chips. New Zealand is a couple of islands, so it only makes sense that the seafood would be good. Not only is it fresh, but the people have grown up learning how to cook it right. The fish portion of our meal was two strips of moist, flaky, beautifully cooked fish. They were served on top of fried and with a salad that had a sweet and tangy dressing that was light. Ketchup and tartar sauce were included in little side dishes. I tried the tartar sauce and decided it wasn’t for me.

Patch with an L&P soda
Patch with an L&P soda

To drink, I had an L&P soda. This is, apparently, a lemon-flavored beverage bottled and world famous in New Zealand. It tasted like ginger ale to me, which is good. However, I thought it would taste like Squirt after watching one of those New Zealand tourist videos. The lemon was not overpowering at all. The can had a cool texture to it. The letters were smooth, but the dark spaces were bumpy.

Patch Penguin with pavlova!
Patch Penguin with pavlova!

To finish off the meal, we had a pavlova. I didn’t think I would like this dessert. Meringue topped with whip cream and kiwifruit? I was wrong. The meringue wasn’t as crunchy as I expected. In fact, the outside had a crispness to it, but the inside was delicate and soft. The tartness of the kiwifruits was a beautiful contrast to the sweetness of the meringue and the whipped cream. It was definitely a good meal. (The price for the food was $26 New Zealand, which I think is equivalent to about $18 American.)

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Leaving Khabarovsk for New Zealand

We got up for our flight from Khabarovsk early. From the window, it looked like the skies were clear. We showered and made sure everything was packed. Our first taxi couldn’t make it t the hotel, but a second taxi was quickly dispatched and arrived. The roads were slick and ice covered. There were the fewest number of cars on them that I had ever seen in Khabarovsk. It was 6:30 am on a Tuesday; surely there should be more traffic.

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