Roadtripping around the South Island of New Zealand with Mad Campers NZ

Meandering down windy roads with each turn giving us a glimpse of staggering peaks and breathtaking fjords was a routine that was easy to get used to as Caroline and I spent a week roadtripping around New Zealand in a Mad Campers NZ van.

One of the first things I learned upon arrival in New Zealand is how quickly the weather can change. While it’s a good idea to have some hikes in mind, it’s important to realize that sticking to a firm schedule likely won’t work out. We had a list of ideas and adjusted our schedule day-by-day based on the weather. Our Mad Campers NZ van gave us the flexibility to keep our plans loose and take full advantage of the good weather when it came. No pre-booked hotels, nothing holding us to a certain place at a certain time – we drove the van around and slept wherever it ended up being convenient. New Zealand is full of “holiday parks” where you can sleep in your van, so van life is quite easy.

Hike Outside of Queenstown

Our first overnight hike (which I promised not to disclose the location of) was a few hours outside of Queenstown. Five hours of slogging through mud and climbing over fallen trees led us to a peaceful river where we set up camp. The next morning we hiked up the river to the glacier for some absolutely stunning views. The hike ended up taking much longer than we anticipated and we didn’t get out until around 10pm. We were SO excited to be back at the van. We immediately cooked ourselves a nice dinner, drove to the nearest holiday park with availability, set up our bed in the van, and went to sleep. It was cold outside, but the van was nice and warm. My tired and sore body really appreciated the padding of the bed.

A Couple of Days of Relaxation

After our first hike, the weather turned bad and it rained for two days straight. We took advantage of the downtime to catch up on work, edit photos, and let our bodies recharge. Sometimes we ate at cafes and sometimes we cooked in the van. And let me tell you, sleeping in a van is soooo much nicer than sleeping in a tent when it’s raining!

Mitre Peak

When the weather got nice again, we drove down to Milford Sound. After taking a few photos at the sound, we got on a Milford Helicopters flight to the foothill of Mitre Peak. We camped there that night and woke up to a beautiful sunrise. We hiked the rest of the morning and got picked up that afternoon. Mitre Peak is a beautiful mountain that rises directly out of the ocean. It is peaceful and not heavily trafficked, so you’re likely to have the mountain all to yourself. Be careful if you hike – it’s easy to get lost near the bottom and it’s very exposed.

Gertrude Saddle

Gertrude Saddle has gotten extremely popular in the last few years – and for good reason. It’s a fun hike with gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. The hike is about 8.6 miles out and back and took me 5.5 hours with an overnight backpack and sprained ankle. The beginning of the hike is through some trees, but the remainder follows a river/river bed until a short scramble and then a boulder field before reaching the saddle. The trail is fairly well marked, though I did get briefly lost coming out of the trees on the way back. I’d recommend downloading the AllTrails map just in case. The beginning of the hike is basically walking over loose rocks, so if you have a bad ankle like I do, be careful! The scramble section has cables, so it’s fairly easy even if you aren’t comfortable on rocks. The boulder field is well marked with cairns and markers and if you follow them, it’s not bad. While Gertrude Saddle is very safe on a dry day, people have died when the weather has been bad. Numerous signs along the trail warn hikers of the danger. Do not attempt Gertrude if it has been raining! We were the only campers the night we stayed at Gertrude Saddle. It was peaceful, but very windy and cold! Be prepared if you plan to camp.

Why I Loved Traveling in the Mad Campers NZ Van

Our van was the perfect little home for our weeklong road trip. It was a great combination of convenience and comfort. We had the flexibility to travel as we pleased, but always had a comfortable warm bed, a mini kitchen, running water, and even a bathroom. I wouldn’t travel around New Zealand any other way!

A Relaxingly Active Week at Moa Alm Mountain Retreat in Austria

Balance.  When I think back on the week I spent at Moa Alm, balance is the first thing that comes to mind.  If you’re looking for a vacation with balance – in every sense of the word – Moa Alm Mountain Retreat in Austria is the place to go!  I just spent a week at Moa Alm and I left feeling balanced, relaxed, and rejuvinated.

Moa Alm has different themed weeks, so what you get depends on the week that you choose.  The general concept is the same for every week, but certain weeks cater to different types of travelers and focus on different activities.  For example, there are family weeks, adult weeks, and mountaineering weeks.  I went on an adult week.

First, let me do my best to describe the concept at Moa Alm – a relaxingly active retreat.  “Relaxingly active” may seem a bit paradoxical, but let me tell you that the combination of yoga, hiking, free time, and planned activities is just that.  Every morning starts with yoga and breakfast.  There is usually one planned activity, like a hike, for the day.  You are free to participate in as many or as few of the planned activities as you want.  Dinner is served every evening.  While you will have your own room and plenty of alone time, there is also a social aspect to the retreat.  Activities are done as a group and meals are eaten together.



The Balance between Relaxation and Activity

Moa Alm accurately describes itself as “relaxingly active”.  I could not agree more with this term.  Every day starts with yoga taught by Barbara.  Barbara is an excellent teacher and does a great job of catering the practice to the ability of her students.  I had an ankle injury, and she made sure to give me different poses to try whenever a posture bothered my ankle.  We also went on a hike every day.  The hikes varied in duration and intensity, based on weather and what we felt like doing.  Afternoons and early evenings were generally left open, and we were free to sit on the property and enjoy the scenery, read, hike on our own, go downtown, or anything else we pleased.  While there were plenty of activities to keep us busy, there was also sufficient downtime to relax.

The Balance between Alone Time and Group Time

I came to Moa Alm alone.  I wanted to spend some time alone to recharge, but I didn’t want to be completely isolated.  Moa Alm offered the perfect balance between alone time and socializing with the staff and other guests.  I spent several hours every day alone.  I went on several hikes by myself and had the time I needed to recharge.  However, I also spent time with the other guests and the staff, so I didn’t feel lonely and isolated.  We all ate meals together and hiked together.  We talked about our jobs, travels, and life experiences.  Everyone was extremely friendly and had interesting life stories to share.  We all had a lot in common and got along really well.  I exchanged contact information with and keep in touch with some of the people I met at Moa Alm!

The Balance between Guiding and Letting Us Go on Our Own

While I find overly-guided tours to be too much, I don’t like to be completely alone to figure out my plans.  Moa Alm offered group activities, which we were free to participate in or not.  Additionally, the staff were happy to help us plan things on our own.  Hikes were generally planned at dinner the night before with the managers Hubert and Barbara.  It wasn’t overly standardized and planned.  We could all say what we were looking for (like challening, flat, waterfalls, etc.), and Hubert and Barbara chose hikes that met our requests.  They shared interesting information about the animal and plant life as we hiked.  I had been traveling and hiking before I arrived at Moa Alm and I desperately needed a pedicure.  I told Barbara, and she helped pick a spa and made an appointment for me.  I also wanted to summit a mountain in the Alps.  I had no idea which mountain, so I told Barbara and Hubert I was looking for something not too technical that I could do in a day.  They gave me several suggestions, and I picked the mountain that sounded the most appealing.  They then gave me a map, went over my route options, warned me about the weather, and told me everything I needed to know.  I hiked on my own, but was well prepared with minimal to no effort doing any independent research thanks to Barbara and Hubert.

The Balance between Healthy and Indulgent Food

The cooks are amazing.  Absolutely amazing.  First, let me go off on a little tangent about how well they accommodated my diet.  I am a strict vegan.  I was so busy before I arrived at Moa Alm that I forgot to tell anyone of my dietary restrictions until about an hour before the first dinner.  And I still ended up with a delicious, three course vegan meal.  Wow – talk about being accommodating!

The ingredients used at Moa Alm are as natural, local, and organic as possible.  But there are desserts too!  Like cake.  A lot of cake.  I loved knowing that I was eating high-quality food but it was also nice to indulge a little and eat some cake – it is a vacation, after all!

People Who Really Care


Undoubtedly my favorite thing about Moa Alm is how passionate the staff are.  It really does make all the difference.  Everyone at Moa Alm cares about the retreat and all of the guests.  They love what they are doing and it shows.  They are more than willing to go above and beyond to make sure guests have a good time.  They all have interesting backgrounds and life experiences and are easy to relate to.  Even though I went to Moa Alm alone, by the end of the week, I felt like I was with a group of friends 🙂

I Can’t Wait to Go Back!

I had such a good time at Moa Alm.  It is by far the best retreat I have ever been on.  I can’t wait to go back…and I definitely will!  I’m thinking that next time I may try a mountaineering week.  If you’re looking for a relaxingly active week in the mountains, go to Moa Alm.  You won’t regret it!

No, I’m Not Lucky

I can’t count the number of times people have told me that I’m “lucky” to have the lifestyle I have.  I’m not.  It’s easy to write it off as “luck”, but the truths are that: (1) my life is not as glamorous as it seems (at least not always); and (2) I work really, really hard.

I’ve had this discussion with a few of my friends who are also often labeled as “lucky” – and have heard some express frustration and anger over the label.  While I personally write it off as a misunderstanding, I think it’s worth explaining a few reasons why those of us who are labeled as “lucky” by many don’t have the same view of ourselves:

  1. You could probably do it too.  No, seriously.  It’s just a matter of defining your priorities and deciding what’s important to you.  Most of us don’t go shopping for new clothes often.  We don’t spend weekends at bars ordering overpriced drinks.  We work and we travel.  Caveat: Yes, of course I realize that not everyone could do it.  But the majority of people who have told me that I’m lucky could, and this post is directed at them.
  2. We don’t talk about how lucky you are when we see pictures of you getting drunk on a Friday night.  We have decided that we enjoy other things more than weekends partying.  It’s okay that you haven’t.  But your $10 cocktails add up – and we would rather spend that money going on an adventure.  We know that we could just as well blow money at bars and clubs, but we don’t want to, and we don’t call you lucky for making that choice.
  3. We actually work really hard.  I know… it’s hard to believe that from looking at our social media.  But, need I remind you that social media can be deceiving?  The fact that I have literally thousands of pictures saved from past travels and post one a day does not mean that I’m never working.  In fact, I work all. the. time.  Not only do I work more than 40 hours a week at a law firm, but I have developed several additional sources of income that keep me busy even when I’m not at my full time job.  For example, right now I’m writing this blog post.  There are about one thousand other things I would rather be doing.  However, I know that this is what I need to do to continue to live the lifestyle I want to live.  So instead of watching other people do it and calling them lucky, I do it myself 🙂
  4. There is such a thing as posting pictures late.  I know most of us post pictures in gorgeous locations every day.  That doesn’t mean we are always there though.  Most of us take literally hundreds of pictures a day when we are traveling.  Instead of annoying everyone with hundreds of posts in one day, we post one or two and save the rest for later.  That means we have thousands of leftover pictures to choose from.  In fact, more often than not, I’m probably not at whatever location I post a picture from on a given day.  I think the same is true for a decent amount of other “lucky” people.

A Few Beaches for Different Travel Types

It’s cold outside.  Winter is a great time to get away to a tropical destination.  If you need a warm getaway, but can’t decide where to go…I’ve got you covered:

  1. For the Scuba Diver: Belize.  So, it’s pretty cool to scuba dive the Blue Hole.  I’m pretty sure that’s on most diver’s bucketlists.  The Blue Hole is an awesome dive, but don’t forget about the other dive sites in the area.  After I dove the Blue Hole, I went to a dive site where I was surrounded by about 10 sharks.  Remember that the Blue Hole is deep.  Really deep.  So be careful with your underwater camera.  I learned that lesson the hard way…
  2. For the Nature Lover: Maui.  If you love nature, go to Maui and drive the Road to Hana.  It’s so incredibly diverse.  From bamboo forests to red sand beaches, the Road to Hana has it all.
  3. For Pristine Beaches: St. Lucia.  St. Lucia is still relatively unaffected by tourism compared to other Caribbean destinations.  The roads are unpaved and there are potholes everywhere.  It is still very lush and there aren’t hotels upon hotels like other islands.  I know St. Lucia has a reputation for being a romantic destination, but I went alone and had the time of my life.  Also, make sure to hike the Pitons.  Gros Piton is the taller and easier Piton.  The views are incredible.
  4. For the Partier: Aruba.  Aruba is filled with bars and casinos.  People in Aruba like to party and it’s definitely one of the more lively islands I’ve been to.
  5. For Diverse Experiences: Virgin Islands.  The Virgin Islands – both U.S. and British – have a lot to offer.  The hustle-and-bustle of St. Thomas is a stark contrast with calm St. John.  The Baths at Virgin Gorda are absolutely stunning rock formations.  And you can easily take day trips from one island to the other – they are all relatively close.
  6. For the Family: Bahamas.  The Atlantis in the Bahamas could not be a better destination for families.  Children can be entertained for days on end with the water parks, and parents can have fun in the casino and at the new adult-only pool.  Plus there are plenty of excursions and day activities.