Writing this last NZ travelogue post means that the trip is really really over, so I’ve been putting it off even though I’ve now been back from the trip for as long as we were gone. Goodbyes are hard.
Our last full day in New Zealand we took it easy: we slept in and were so slow in getting up that we missed the dim sum reservation that Gloria made for us at Grand Park Chinese Seafood Restaurant and had to wait in line with all the other walk-ins. No matter – the live seafood tanks and people watching provided lots of entertainment while we waited.
Gloria did the ordering and we didn’t have anything to eat that we didn’t like. On the other hand, there were a few things I didn’t try, like the chicken feet that Gloria’s daughter Elizabeth went to town on – they are her favorite. I did try durian in a pastry, my first durian experience. Apparently baking it helps diminish the smell some, but believe me, it didn’t smell any where near as enticing as it tasted. We also had the Chinese version of mochi ice cream, which is essentially the same as the Japanese version, although the dough wrapper was a bit thinner and more elastic than the Japanese version. Tasty!
Fortified, we went to Sylvia Park, New Zealand’s largest mall/shopping centre, on the hunt for souvenirs and things unique to the country – at that point, we had visited a total of 3 gift shops (Waiotapu Thermal Park, Hobbiton, Waitangi National Reserve) but some of us (not me) managed to not get the things we needed. So Sylvia Park is just like US malls – not that different. I saw this athletic shoe store and immediately snickered at the name, forgetting that they were once as big in the US as Foot Locker is now.
I also saw this notebook, which I probably should have gotten because I think it’s funny, though I need another notebook like I need a hole in the head. I may be able to find it online; I haven’t looked yet.
After visiting a New Zealand souvenir shop, we stopped at Pak N Save, the grocery store attached to the mall. We bought a lot of chocolate, most of it Whittaker’s, and a selection of exotic Kit Kats.
After the mall, we went to a store (whose name I’ve forgotten) where I could buy yarn; it was kind of a combination of Michaels, Jo-Ann, Bed Bath and Beyond, and Party City. They had the usual craft store brands (Lion Brand, Red Heart, Patons, etc.) and a shelf of NZ yarn, mainly merino blends. I got a friend 3 skeins of a merino and possum blend (possum, not opossum).
We went home, Gloria made a quick and easy (so she said) fried rice dinner for us, we regrouped, and headed into downtown Auckland to watch the sunset, but really, we ended up eating dessert at Joy Ice Cream. I wasn’t feeling well, a combination of feeling exhausted from the whole trip and feeling tired from taking my evening medication a little too early, so I would have liked to have coffee, but their coffee machine was broken. Sad, I went outside to wait for everyone else to order their ice cream and discovered these two bifold street signs that reminded me of Edward Gorey and made me even more sad the coffee machine was broken.
If you too are intrigued by these mystical penguins, I suggest you check out the Joy Ice Cream site; their business concept and story are intriguing and the marketing is masterful and entertaining.
Stuffed even more, we waddled around the Viaduct area. I took a few pictures, most of which were not worthy of posting here. This one is neat though!
We found another New Zealand gift shop and spent at least 30 minutes perusing everything. I indulged in buying one of those U shaped pillows for sleeping on airplanes for the trip home, the boys got some souvenirs, and then we headed home for the night.
Our last morning in New Zealand was filled with packing, making sure we had everything, making sure the dirty clothes and clean clothes were separated, making sure our carry-on bags had everything needed. Right before we left, Henry (my youngest) and Ronald (our host Melanie’s youngest) exchanged Skype info. We said our final good byes, and squeezed into Gloria’s people mover (minivan) to head to the airport while Ronald and Elizabeth stayed with Elizabeth’s grandmother Susie (who was such a sweetheart – she was one of the highlights of the trip for me).
Gloria got us situated at the airport and we said our final good byes. While using my free 30 minutes of internet, I discovered that an old friend messaged me on Facebook: another old friend who I haven’t seen for 20+ years and her husband were also in the Auckland airport heading home to Leeds. I kept an eye out for her and lo and behold, we ran into each other! It was such a thrill to run into someone like that and also great to catch up with her and meet her husband. I’ve always admired her and taken courage from her, so it was a great full-circle thing for me. Our gates were close, but not together so we said good bye and promised to keep in touch on Facebook. The rest of the travel was pretty mundane, but I recorded the take off from Auckland airport (my favorite part of any plane ride) and some pictures of the sunset over the Pacific.
The weather was good for the majority of the trip, so we couldn’t really complain on day 13 when it rained and rained and paused and rained some more. After talking about some alternatives over another breakfast at McDonald’s in Roturoa, everyone finally settled on white water rafting since they would get wet during that activity anyway. We hopped in the cars and drove from Rotorua to Taupo, where everyone checked into their next motel, but there was a mix up on our sub-groups departure date and no room reserved (or available) for us. We decided to return to Auckland a day earlier than we needed to and plan some fun things to do there on our last full day in the country.
Back to rafting: Melanie, Gloria, Elizabeth, Ky, and I all passed on it. Everyone had their reasons; I’ve been white water rafting outside Jackson Hole, WY and while it was fun, it wasn’t something that I was eager to do again when faced with the choice of going to a coffee shop. Yes, I feel old saying that; get off my lawn.
So, we went to The Coffee Club, which is a chain and a good one (I always feel like I should seek out locally owned coffee places). The one in Taupo has a great view of Lake Taupo and Flip, a kinetic sculpture by Phil Price, which was really interesting to watch in the wind & rain. I think we intended to just get a quick bite and then walk around Taupo and the lake, but we ended up lounging for (probably) 2 or more hours. By the time we emerged, there was only enough time for a short walk along the lakefront before hopping back in the car to (I think) Turangi, where we had dropped everyone else off at the rafting place. (And then we headed back to Aukland with Gloria and Elizabeth while everyone else went to dinner and their motel.)
The full flickr album is here.
After our most busy day on the trip on New Years Day, January 2 found us limping along. Or at least I was limping along. We were all tired and cranky, and Mr. Q and I started the day of pretty tensely because of some petty disagreement the previous day whose origins I can’t even remember. We left the motel around 8:30 and headed to McDonalds for a quick breakfast. This particular McDonalds had the usual counter with the addition of a separate counter for the McCafé, which featured fresh-baked items, special sandwiches (like Starbucks sandwiches but better), and espresso-based drinks. Like every other place in NZ serving coffee, they had a coffee grinder and an actual espresso machine (not a fake, instant coffee espresso machine). I ordered a latté or a flat white (I can’t remember which) and a blueberry muffin and this is what I got:
I wish McDonalds in the US had McCafés like these. They also had several touchscreen stations available where you could place your order instead of talking to a person at the counter. The novelty of ordering this way slowed us down and breakfast ended up taking much longer than I think Melanie anticipated. I think she was trying to get us to Waiotapu Thermal Park in time to see one of the geysers erupt, which we did manage to do – it was Lady Knox Geyser and I only took one pre-eruption picture. The viewing amphitheater was mobbed with people, standing (and kneeling) room only and it was so difficult to get a clear picture of the eruption that I didn’t even bother. I also have to say that once you’ve seen Old Faithful erupt, you’ve seen them all, though the story behind the discovery of this geyser is interesting.
Then we walked/hiked a long loop through the park. I took a lot of pictures and some videos, most of them people-free. A lot of my vacation pictures are people-free; I want to remember what it was like to be at these places, to see these things first-hand, and for me that involves pictures that try to make it look like I was the only person there. The park was mobbed, not quite at Disney during peak season levels, maybe Disney in off-season levels. Crowds like that tend to clump together naturally so there were lulls and I got some great pictures and video. Here’s my favorite video, of the Champagne Pool. My apologies for not turning my phone on its side; I’m an amateur videographer and didn’t realize this would limit the videos best viewing experience to phones/pads. The video really looks best in HD on youtube.
Here’s a selection of some of my favorites from Waiotapu Thermal Park; you can see the whole album (and all the videos) on flickr.
I have to say these panoramas looks fantastic on Facebook and not so fantastic here. Facebook has a thing where you can rotate and pan panoramas so the perspective looks right.
After having lunch at the park café, we headed off to Hell’s Gate for the mud bath and sulfur spa. My husband has all the pictures of this adventure – I didn’t dare bring my phone that close to a source of obvious destruction. The mud bath wasn’t quite what I thought it would be, more like a hot tub with access to a small clay tub instead of a bubbling pool of mud. The package we bought gave us 20 minutes in the mud bath, then a quick shower to lull us into thinking we washed all that clay off, a plunge into the cold pool, which has a waterfall, and then unlimited time in the sulphur spa, a large stinky hot tub. I tried not to think of all the people who were in these spas before me or the last time they were cleaned. It was neat to play with mud and the sulfur smell didn’t bother me as much as it bothered others with us, which is a good thing: our swimming togs still smell like sulfur and in trying to get them clean, we’ve collectively contaminated 2 other loads of laundry with the smell.
After Hell’s Gate, our squeaky clean but smelly party headed back to Rotorua. It was late afternoon by this point but the weather was better than it had been the previous day, so everyone that wanted to went back to the Luge. I opted to go to the grocery store for snacks with Melanie and Gloria, then back to the motel for a shower and relaxation until everyone was done luging. The grocery store was interesting; I somehow thought it would be set up differently from an American grocery store, but nope – same general layout that I’ve seen at home. Interestingly, there was an America shelf in the international section.
Notably, all the soda in NZ is made with real sugar. All the soda in the US is made with high fructose corn syrup. The America shelf inaccurately stocks sugar Coke, not HFCS Coke. Although I suppose one could argue it’s the America shelf, not the North America shelf or even the United States of America shelf and therefore it’s accurate. Don’t mind me, I’m just bitter about paying a premium for soda made with sugar, not HFCS. (Yes, there’s a taste & mouth feel difference to me.)
Other memorable things we saw this day: The Mystery Machine.
Other memorable things I ate:
I also tried a Cadbury Picnic bar on the way to Tairua on our second day in NZ. My review: the caramel & peanuts eclipse the crisp of the wafer cookie (like the cookie in a Kit Kat). The overall construction of the bar was not the greatest; chocolate covering the peanuts and caramel cracked and broke off outside the biteline when I bit into it, and was messy. The caramel was hard enough to stick to my teeth, which I suppose made it last longer. Just the one candy bar was enough. Perhaps there are conditions in which a Picnic bar must be eaten properly, like maybe it needs to be warmed slightly or broken apart in the package instead of bitten into or something along those lines?
New Year’s Day, probably our busiest day of the whole trip, we got up at 4am to drive from Auckland to Hobbiton, which is really the only reason I saw the sun rise. Seventeen of us including Melanie (our ever patient host) and her sister Gloria tetrised into 3 cars with luggage enough to last through Wednesday. And off we went.
We arrived at Hobbiton just in time for our tour, which takes about 1.5 hours, not including the short bus ride. I loved the tour, except they really hustle you through it; they have 2500ish people going through daily, so in a way it’s understandable that you can’t just dawdle around. Here some of my pics, starting with the sheep I hadn’t seen much of during our travels in the north – Hobbiton is smack dab in the middle of a large sheep farm.
I have a lot (and I do mean a lot) more pictures of flowers and Hobbit home doors of the Shire on flickr. Melanie and Gloria didn’t go on the tour with us; we miscounted the number of tickets needed, so they graciously had coffee and waited for us at the visitor’s center, which has a café and gift shop. Lucky for me, they got to see the sheep being herded and had the forethought to capture the video.
After the tour, we made good use of the visitors center, including the gift shop (They sell yarn! Yarn made with wool grown on the farm! Hobbit yarn!), we hit the road again and went to Rotorua, known for spas and volcanic activity, where we planned to spend Sunday and Monday nights. The spa that Melanie wanted to take us to was closed because it was New Year’s day, so we ended up at the Whakarewarewa Forest, a Redwood forest. NZ redwoods are similar to California Redwoods, but the NZ species is a fast-growing softwood while the California species is a slow-growing hardwood. Whakarewarewa Forest has lots of activities, including a free hike that several people opted to go on (which I should have done – I would have enjoyed it more) and a tree walk that you have to pay for. The tree walk is a suspension bridge path linking California Redwoods trees with platforms around their trunks. Each of the platforms has educational placards and there is an art installation of lights throughout the walk by David Trubridge. Although we didn’t go at night, the lights were still really neat.
We then drove to our motel and checked in. I wish I had taken pictures; the rooms were more like what I would think of as ski chalets, and the building did look vaguely European. Each room was really more like an apartment, with two floors. On the first floor there was a kitchenette, a couch and TV, a small breakfast bar, a queen size bed, and a large bathroom with a spa built into the floor. The spa had a large metal cover on it and though that was closed, we could still smell the sulfur from it and feel the warmth from it in the surrounding bathroom tiles. On the second floor, there was a half bath, another queen size bed, and two twin size beds. Grand accommodations except for the sulfur smell, but the smell permeates the town and, to be honest, didn’t really bother me much. Others in our party were not so lucky.
Having dumped our luggage in the motel, we backtracked a bit to Skyline Rotorua, which has a gondola ride up Mount Ngongotaha to a visitors center that includes a short hiking trail, a restaurant (where we had dinner reservations) and a luge, which to me is an alpine slide. (I grew up in Vermont and have been to the alpine slides, now closed, at Pico in Killington many times). Unfortunately, they were have problems with one of the luges and weren’t selling tickets to it. Off we went to Ogo, which we passed on the way into town. Ogo is the original ball rolling or zorbing adventure, and several in our party wanted to try it. After a quick trip back to the motel for bathing suits, a bunch of people (not me) did try it. My husband took all the pictures of that adventure – it was chilly and rainy at that point and I don’t think I would’ve gotten any good shots. Then we went back to Skyline Rotorua, rode up the gondola, and had a delicious meal overlooking Rotorua & Lake Rotorua.
After dinner, we walked a bit around downtown Rotorua, poking around in the Rotorua Government Gardens, which includes a few hot springs and the Prince’s Arch and Gateway. We also walked a few blocks to Lake Rotorua, where we watched the sun set (I should have taken more pictures) and saw black swans. What a day!
On our 7th day, we loaded into 2 cars and headed for the far north, to Ninety Mile Beach and the dunes there. After some car sickness, lunch, and a stop at the famous Hundertwasser Toilets, we arrived.
Ninety Mile Beach is actually 55 miles (88 km) long. The sand is hard & stable enough that you can drive on it from an hour or two efore low tide to an hour or two after. And, according to our host, there’s no speed limit. She, Melanie, drove us north along the beach to the dunes, hitting 180something kmh (111 mph) where the kids tried sand sliding. Never in my life have I wished more for snow sleds, but they made do (due?) with boogie boards and tried cardboard (it doesn’t work well).
We wlaked around on the beach for a bit, relaoded the cars, caved to the kids and got McDonald’s instead of eating at a restaurant, and took dinner back to the beach to watch the sunset, which was lovely.
Then we loaded up and headed for Paihia, almost 2 hours away, where we stayed for the night. Having not seen any of Bay of Islands in the dark, this morning was a pleasant surprise. We got breakfast at Alfresco’s Restaurant and Bar; I had hot cakes with rhubarb compote and vanilla marscapone and bananas and I could have eaten another order of it – it was delicious. Also, one thing I haven’t mentioned is that all coffee here is espresso based, not brewed american style. I’ve been having long blacks, which are 2 shots of espresso. It was just nice to have it in an espresso cup in a cafe this morning; I felt like I was back in France.
Right after breakfast, we headed to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, first participating in the traditional welcome ceremony and cultural performance and then taking a really informative 1 hour tour about the history of NZ and the treaties between the Maori tribes and the UK. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time to get a good look at the museum, so we’ll have to come back this way again some day. The Bay of Islands is beautiful and I’d love to come back and spend 4-5 days there exploring.
Tomorrow we’ll start the new year off with a tour of Hobbiton and then (I think) a short drive to Rotoroa where we’ll be staying the night and taking in the hot springs (I think).
Happy New Year!
I’ve seen so many flowers today I think I have flower fatigue. (I know I have people fatigue – I’m snappy – and need some quiet time with my BFFs: me, myself, and I.) I tried to keep the pictures interesting and hope you enjoy them. I have my favorites but will leave you to pick your own.