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A travelogue chronicling the adventures of Shane & Julie - a husband and wife seeking to travel out of the country every year of their marriage

Filtering by Category: New Zealand

the coromandel & auckland // new zealand

Julie Murphy

Guide to the Coromandel & Auckland // New Zealand - The Murphy Atlas

After a long day of thermal pools, hobbits, and weary roads, we arrived in the small town of Thames at the western base of the Coromandel Peninsula. We first settled into our charming Airbnb that was once a garden shed turned guest house (way cooler than it sounds) and met our equally charming hosts. They highly recommended Nakontong Thai Restaurant but unfortunately the owners were out of town. Thankfully, all of Thames' restaurants and stores are on one primary street so it was easy to find the delicious Kebab Express for massive portions of turkish delicatessen. Our meal finished just in time to enjoy one of the gorgeous sunsets that the Coromandel is known for. Definitely make sure you plan accordingly.

Unfortunately, our plans for exploring the rest of the peninsula were thwarted thanks to an indignant MacBook that died overnight. While the small-town nature of Thames added to its charm, it also meant that we needed to travel to Auckland earlier than expected to get the computer fixed at an Apple dealer before heading to SE Asia. However, there is plenty to explore here when we return as the Coromandel is renowned for its rugged mountains that come crashing into idyllic beaches. A few of the spots we hope to hit next time (yes, there will be a next time) are the magnificent Cathedral Cove, Hot Water Beach to dig our own hot spring, and catch some surf at Whangamata Beach.  

Once we had our MacBook brought back to life by the miraculous hands of a Kiwi Apple technician, we went for a celebratory lunch at The White Rabbit in downtown Auckland. This super hip bistro came by recommendation from friends Caitlin Kellagher & Natalie Franke Hayes (who we had met up with in Queenstown) and we're so glad they shared this gem! The meals were edgy and creative with fine dining flavors but served in a casual, warehouse-chic setting. We loved every single bite! 

Our Auckland Airbnb was a just outside of the city center in a quiet little neighborhood. The home was perched on one of the many hills that surround downtown and gave incredible perspective of the sprawling suburbs. For an even better view, our hosts recommended the nearby Mt Eden - an extinct volcano with a stunning overlook of the city that can be driven to the peak. Make sure to grab some tasty woodfired pizza to-go from Al Volo at the base of the hill to take advantage of this ideal picnic spot.  

Our host had also confirmed that we were lucky enough to still be within the ideal season for a visit to Muriwai Beach's gannet colony just 40 minutes west of the city. From August to March, these beautiful sea birds mate and nest on the angular outcroppings of Muriwai's cliffed shores. We were mesmerized as we sat on the edge of the rocks for hours watching swarms of gannets dart to and from the water to feed their little ones. The birds were pretty generous with their spot choice as the sun sets directly behind their acrobatics and makes for some pretty epic picture taking. 

We also made this itty bitty video of the amazing bird colony. Such a sweet sunset experience!!

Note: we were lucky enough (sarcasm) to experience our first NZ police check-point on the way back to the city from Muriwai. The country has taken very serious steps to curb the amount of drunk driving accidents and strictly uphold their 0.05 BAC limit. Thankfully we are overly cautious about this sort of thing as they were giving compulsory breathalyzer tests to everyone that drove by. Apparently, this is a pretty common deal.

We were definitely sad to be leaving the beautiful land of the Kiwis as we caught our early morning flight out of Auckland but were ready to take on the chaos of SE Asia. Peace out, NZ! It's been grand. Next up, Bali!

taupo & HOBBITON! // new zealand

Julie Murphy

Guide to Hobbiton! New Zealand // The Murphy Atlas

We were reluctant to leave the delicious food of Wellington but fueled up for a long haul to our next destination in Taupo. The route we had chosen was slightly out of the way as we looped around the western side of Tongariro National Park in hopes of seeing the fiery peak of Mt. Doom! Note: the peak is neither fiery nor is it called Mt. Doom. However, the iconic Mount Ngauruhoe is an active volcano with blood red sediment and can be explored Frodo & Samwise style on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing trek.

Unfortunately, the mists of Mordor (again not actually real) completely covered our view from the base but everyone we talked to about the 19.4 km trek over the crossing said it to be one of the most epic hikes in NZ...bold words there. 

After 6 gorgeous driving hours and more than a few kilometers of gas concerns (fuel up well before Tongariro National Park), we arrived in the quaint, lakeside town of Taupo. Our incredibly hospitable Airbnb hosts insisted that the best food in town came from the hole-in-the-wall spot, @Siam. The pad see ew and penang curry were spot on with awesome prices but there is a whole collection of restaurants and pubs in the town center where this is shop is located if Thai isn't your thing. 

Our hosts also let us in on a locals spot to help ease the tense muscles from the long drive. A little over 30 minutes up the road is a bumpy turnoff that leads to the utterly relaxing Kerosene Creek swimming hole (detailed directions here). Fed by hot springs, this pool is a natural hot tub perfect after a long day of exploring. Two things to keep in mind if you do make the trip: hide or protect any valuables as there have been reports of break-ins in the parking lot and don't dunk your head underwater as hot springs can be a natural haven for less than savory bacteria. However, those definitely shouldn't deter a visit! 

We got an early start the next morning as the plans were to make a few stops on the way to our next Airbnb all the way up in the Coromandel Penninusla. On our way out of town, we pulled off the road to see the roaring Huka Falls - these couldn't be more easily accessible and the water is wildly blue!

From there, we continued up the same road towards Kerosene Creek to the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland. The price was a little steeper than we expected at $32 NZD/pp but it did offer some crazy colored hot springs...that overwhelmingly reeked of egg farts. Don't get us wrong, the springs were SUPER cool & definitely a unique sight, but the smell was not for the faint of stench. Overall, worth it!

Our next destination is still one of our very favorite memories of the trip. Yes, we're talking about HOBBITON! We understand that this makes us total nerds to those LOTR haters out there but we don't even slightly care. The set was developed on a gorgeous, working 1250 acre farm that genuinely feels like you are entering the Shire! A large groundskeeping staff takes care of the real flower & vegetable gardens (that are full of butterflies - it's magical!) and the hundreds of sheep and cattle that wander the perimeter of the set. 

The guides are incredibly knowledgable and give an in-depth background to what you're seeing but also provide the freedom to explore around Hobbiton. Peter Jackson was a stickler about the details when the set was created, even to the point of specifically hiring crews of people to walk around the paths all day long (all summer!) to ensure the wearing in the grass looked natural. This focus on the details has been incredibly maintained as you wander around the 44 hobbit holes, each decorated with with gardens, tools, or laundry. 

Of course, none are more elaborate than Bilbo's house, Bag End, at the crest of the hills overlooking the pond. Complete with a "no admittance except on party business" sign (perhaps our new home motto), this hobbit hole is one of the largest in the bunch and overlooks the rest of Hobbiton under the shade of an amazingly believable fake tree.  

To appropriately cap the visit, the tour ended at the Green Dragon - a real onsite pub where we were served real (FREE) Hobbit beer in ceramic steins!

There are no details missed in this amazing watering hole from the hand-carved dragon over the bar to the working fireplaces. And let's not forget about the beer itself - one of the local breweries creates these delicious stouts, ales, and ciders exclusively for the Green Dragon and, regretfully, only makes it available at Hobbiton.

Only ONE more NZ post and then we're on to Bali! (We will catch up eventually, we promise!) What are some of your other favorite spots in New Zealand? We didn't even get to see the East Coast of the South Island, aka excuse to go back, ammiright?!

wellington // new zealand

Julie Murphy

Wellington, NZ City Guide // The Murphy Atlas

It was bittersweet to leave the South Island of NZ as we watched the mountainous sounds drift from the back of our ferry. We had picked the morning trip with Bluebridge Ferries to Wellington for the slightly cheaper fares than their sole competitor, Interislander. While Bluebridge is more cargo oriented, it still offers an incredible viewing deck, two cafes, a mini movie theater, and free wi-fi. And to all those looking for a bargain, if you wait until the last 10 minutes of the cruise, the cafes will typically offer all their sandwiches and pastries for just a dollar! Ohh the things that the Murphys get excited about. 

We immediately had a great feeling about Wellington when we pulled into the beautiful harbor. As we had been told to expect, there was a crazy wind that whipped across the bay and over this hilly city on the water. Definitely bring your walking shoes here as our sweet little Airbnb apartment on "The Terrace" of the city required several hundred stairs to get to the next parallel street. 

If we'd had any doubt of our affinity for Wellington, it was squashed as we saw the incredible selection of quality restaurants we had to pick from. Allegedly, the city has more restaurants per capita than NYC but, unfortunately, the meals will run you at about the same price. So we were quite relieved to find a common theme of "cheap and cheerful" asian noodle shops all over town to get more bang for your buck. Our first stop came by recommendation to Little Penang that served up a delicious rendition of the Malaysian dish, char kway teow - fried flat noodles with shrimp, pork crackle, sweet Chinese sausage, fried onion, and garlic...and it was just over $7. From there, a short walk down the lively Cuba Street brought us to, the aptly named, Fidel's for a divine dessert of mudslide coffee, tiramisu, and incredible apple pie (even by American standards). Definitely don't miss this place and make sure to ask the staff about any live music or concerts going on...they all seem to be on top of it. 

Needing to work off our residual food coma the next day, we headed up to the scenic Mt. Victoria lookout that offers an incredible vantage point of the city and out across the Cook Straight. You can easily drive to the top but there are a few little walking paths around the peak if you have a nice (and not too windy) day. While out of town, we fueled our inner geeks and continued 10 minutes further to the Weta Workshop where all the costumes and special effects were created for Lord of the Rings and a bunch of other powerhouse movies. Even for non-fans, it's very impressive to see the detail and work these teams put into their craft. Instead of paying for the full tour, we were happy with the free behind the scenes video that runs every 30 minutes...ohh and they have life-sized trolls.

Of course we couldn't miss talking a walk down Wellington's happening waterfront. At around noon on a weekday, the boardwalk was full of food trucks, pop-up shops, runners, and people diving in for a swim on their lunch break. Our time in Wellington lined up perfectly with the sweet Jamie & Randy Watson (of Jamie Delaine Photography & The School Sessions) who were also traveling through NZ, so we met up for a little lunch at Mac's Brewbar by the water. It's always so fun to meet up with other travelers  along the way -- especially other creative entrepreneurs. Thanks for your company, Jamie & Randy! 

Another great pitstop in the city was the Wellington Central Library (yes those still exist.) This detour was out of necessity, as we needed to print out copies of a rental car voucher, but we so loved seeing how spacious, clean and crowded this library was! (They also had an amazing section of magazines.) We quickly discovered that photography of the library is not allowed, but were able to snap one before getting gently reprimanded. 

In hopes of preparing our palettes for Southeast Asia, we chose the Vietnamese restaurant, Nam, for our last dinner in Wellington. Not as good as real Vietnamese food (as we now know) but still darn delicious. The most educational part of our meal was our first run in with Vietnamese iced coffee. We made the mistake of pouring the coffee over the ice, then trying to pour / mix in the condensed milk. It didn't work so well, but we learned a valuable lesson that helped us avoid future coffee embarrassment when in the real 'Nam.

Before leaving this sweet city the next morning, we ventured down the 3 million stairs for breakfast at the Hangar, which proudly brews Flight Coffee (aviation pun intended, I assume) aka coffee geek heaven! They serve every variation of jo you can imagine - fancy espresso, Chemex, cold drip, Aeropress, v60... you name it, AND their branding and ambiance is totally on par.   

So long Wellington! Next up, Part 2 of our Travel Affordability series! (Missed the beginning? Check out Travel Affordability Part 1 here!) Do you have any ideas for future blog posts?! We LOVE getting feedback, so don't hesitate to reach out!