Snip-its from our travels around the North Island
12.17.2008 - 12.31.2008
After 13 hours in an airplane and totally losing Dec. 16, Dave and I were happy to touch ground in Auckland, New Zealand. We are in this country of four and a half million people for six weeks. As the seasons are reversed, Christmas time is the beginning of summer vacations from work and school, and we've been warned this is the busy season. Dave and I have braced ourselves for the masses, picturing Nantasket Beach on the hottest summer day when Bostonians pack in like sardines for a plot of sand.
A little geography .... New Zealand has two main islands, appropriately called the North Island and the South Island. We traveled around the North Island first. Our photos tell the story.....
This is our Jucy Crib - our wheels for six weeks around New Zealand.
We've mastered driving on the opposite side of the road! Truth be told the wind shield wipers go on every time we want to turn left or right. Oops! (All controls are reversed.)
Our crib is also our kitchen.
And it is our cozy bedroom. DVD included!
As for the much needed toilet .... well, New Zealand's landscape is our bathroom. Sometimes they even supply toilets on the side of the road. Showers happen about every three to four days in very clean bathrooms in most city centers. Some cost a dollar, others are free.
AUCKLAND - our first stop in New Zealand is to the country's largest city.
I love the motto of the city University!
'Tis the season in Auckland....
To get the best city view, one must go to the top of Sky Tower, the tallest building in the city. We had lunch in a rotating restaurant at the top and as a bonus got to watch bungy jumpers dive off the top of the building.
From here, we walked to Mt. Eden, the city's tallest volcano. Auckland is surrounded by extinct or dormant volcanos. We think they look like mole hills compared to what we saw in South America. And Dave is off the hook. I claim responsibility for the lengthy walk this time : ) You can see Sky Tower in the background about 10 miles away.
There are several islands off of Auckland. We went to Waiheke Island, which is known for its crafts, wineries and walks. We fell in love with the Cable Bay Winery.
BAY OF ISLANDS - this area off the eastern north coast of New Zealand is a beautiful location to see dolphins and go for a sail. We took a trip on Gungha with Canadian Captain Mike Carere. What a life! He left the cold of fishing in Canada and Alaska to tour the warmer waters. He ended up in New Zealand and Fiji with his kids and now sails lucky guests like us around the islands.
We stopped at one of the Bay Islands. We got there by kayak and hiked to the top for another great view!
Dolphins gave us a show!
Then the paparazzi arrived! Only three tour boats are allowed around the dolphins at a time. Fortunately, we got there first for the best show.
MONGONUI - this quaint town on the northern coast of NZ is known for its fish and chips.
Check out the shells on a nearby beach on Doubtless Bay. The crowds are really packed in for the high season too ; - )
CAPE REINGA - this is most northern spot of New Zealand where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea. We were there on an extremely rainy day with lots of tacky tourists.
A very windy beach side at Rangauna Bay...
Sand surfing and sledding are the way best way to experience the immense sand dunes in the area.
This is ninety mile beach, which is actually about 60 miles. It is a highway and our bus was doing record speeds on the dirtway. I found it interesting that a beach was named in miles when kilometers are the main way to measure distance. The driver told me miles were used until the mid 60's.
WAIPOUA KAURI FOREST - the giant kauri trees are quite popular in New Zealand. Named for a Mauri god of the forest, the Te Tane Mahuta tree, is 5 meters in diameter and nearly 2000 years old, the oldest tree in NZ. It is giant!
You got to love this sign posted at the Department of Conservation Campground in the forest. Despite my personal attributes, the campsite remained closed for the night.
TONGIRIRO NATIONAL PARK - this is the first National Park in New Zealand. There are several ski resorts in this area, but the most popular site is an active volcano. Dave and I did a day hike on Christmas Day to see the Volcano, but were out of luck due to some stubborn clouds.
Not quite Niagara Falls, but the Taranaki Falls in the park were nice.
Check out these houses built on volcanic rock near the ski chair lifts ..... definitely not visually pleasing if you like flora and greenery.
WAITOMA CAVES - this area on the western coast of NZ has nearly 300 explored caves. We repelled into one cave, got hooked up to a zipline to move to a new area of the cave and went tubing in the cold waters deep in the cave to see glowworms, a unique creature that only lives three days. It is born, has sex, then dies. The tour guides broke the news to us in the caves that glowworms aren't really worms, rather larvae of a moth, and it isn't the worms that glow, but their poop. I guess a cave tour featuring larvae with glow poop wouldn't sell as well. (The company wouldn't allow us to bring our own camera, so here is what we got from their photog. You have to look really close at the last photo to see the glowworms. We aren't sure how they missed the lite bright ceiling of the cave!)
ROTORUA - known for its smell of rotten eggs due to high levels of sulfur in the ground, Rotorua is also a playground for adventure athletes. We threw ourselves into a Zorb, an 11 foot inflatable rubber ball filled with water and then rolled down a hill at record speeds. It was awesome (and a much needed shower!)
TAUPO - we stopped in Taupo, a neighboring town of Rotorua and major competitor for adventure sports as it claims to be home to the first bungy jump. On a good day you can also see the volcano in Tongariro National Park. Of course, the clouds didn't cooperate.
NAPIER - heading south, Napier is known for its Art Deco architecture and plethora of wineries. Dave and I also found our first bike path, giving us much joy and needed exercise! Again, please take note of the crowds as it is the busy season. Two weeks into our travels, we realize Kiwi's (people from New Zealand - and also a non-flying local bird) clearly have a different perspective of what a busy season should look like!
Love this sign on the path!
Dave and I did tastings at about six of the 30-something wineries in the area. Some were in small make shift sheds. Others had an elaborate spread in an estate-like building. Unfortunately the wines weren't as good as we were hoping.
I thought my grandma Rose who is a wine connoisseur and former wine store owner would enjoy this vintage which takes her maiden name!
WELLINGTON - New Zealand's capital is also the gateway to the South Island with several ferries that haul people to Picton (3 hour ride). Wellington is known as the arts capital, but the few theaters and galleries don't seem vibrant. We'll go to the famous Te Papa museum today.
We found a pretty spot to sleep our first night here along Princess Bay.
We rang in the New Year with our new German friends Clara and Werner.
Overall, the New Year's celebration in Wellington was weak. A band played in the city center, but they lacked enthusiasm and the count down was just pathetic. Confetti was about two minutes late and the fireworks display we were promised never happened. The bars, however, were packed, giving us hope that people do go out.
So far, Dave and I have enjoyed our adventures in New Zealand, but our high expectations have not been met. We both were expecting to be in awe of the landscape, culture and people at all hours, but that has not happened. The countryside on the North Island is beautiful, but nothing too unusual and as Dave says, it does not have the unique appeal seen in Lord of the Rings. Perhaps we are spoiled as we are well traveled. The people are kind, but not that forthcoming or friendly. The arts are lacking and the food is bland. We've been told the South Island is an entirely different place and our dreams will be met ... stay tuned ... and we'll let you know!
Please bare with us as email cafes are expensive and rare in NZ, so we won't be logging on much.