Tuesday, January 5, 2016

New Zealand, North Island Part 1


Auckland Skyline
New Zealand was one of the places that was on my "must see" list for this trip.   My parents lived here for a few years and my brother was born here.  I had grown up hearing many stories about how wonderful this country was and I wanted to see it firsthand.
We flew from Sydney to Auckland, New Zealand on Air New Zealand.  This was a very nice airlines with the most advanced infotainment system I’ve seen on any flight we’d been on.  My favorite feature was being able to order drinks from the touch screen in front of me.  The kids liked playing video games with one another even though they were in different rows.  Once we cleared customs we heard some yelling and I wasn’t sure what exactly was going on but as we exited we saw a man giving a traditional Maori greeting to one of his family members arriving.   There is a big Maori influence in New Zealand and to me I saw a lot of similarities to the Hawaiian culture.  This makes sense since they both have Polynesian roots.   We picked up our rental van and headed to a nearby airport hotel.  The van was a Toyota Alphard.  Not something they have in the states and I’m not sure it is even common in New Zealand.  There was a Tokyo tag on the bumper and the radio controls were in Japanese.  It was an older vehicle so perhaps New Zealand ends up importing some used cars from Japan.

We headed north from Auckland to drive to the “Northland” region on the North Island of New Zealand.  The terrain had many rolling hills that were carpeted in lush green grass.   As expected there were sheep everywhere.   I must say that they had some very nice pastures to graze upon.   The roads in New Zealand are generally just 1 lane in each direction and have quite a few curves.  No 4 lane divided highways where you can set the cruise control to 75 and forget it.   In fact, I found that there were quite a few bridges that weren’t wide enough for both directions so each direction would need to take their turn.    We rented a house on the KariKari peninsula overlooking Doubtless Bay.  On the way up we passed through a town named KeriKeri.   It seems like it would be easy to get KariKari and KeriKeri confused in conversation and actually, I don’t know exactly how they pronounced either one since they sound very similar.  The house had a great view of the water.   It was very relaxing to hear the waves when going to bed at night.  One of the days we took a stroll on the beach in front of the house and found many nice seashells.   The water was too cold to get in but we saw a few people brave it out with wetsuits on.   We also found another nearby bay called Matai Bay.  This one was a bit more protected than Doubtless Bay and the water was very calm and the water crystal clear.   The kids enjoyed playing in the sand and near the water.    On the way back to the house we stopped by one of the many wineries and got a bottle of wine.   On one of our last days, we went to the town of Manganoui and got Fish and Chips.   This is a very popular dish in New Zealand and I can see why.   It was really good and inexpensive.  The fish was fresh and very tasty.

View of the countryside in the Northland


On the beach at Doubtless Bay


View of Doubtless Bay from the house
Matai Bay

Danielle and Joel at Matai Bay

After our days in the Northland were over, we headed back south to Auckland.  We stopped off at a mall so the kids could talk to Santa before Christmas, and then continued on to Rotorua.  It was a long day of about 7 hours in the car.    Rotorua has a lot of geothermal activity and there were hot springs right near the house we stayed at.  It was neat to see the steam rising in the air.   The smell of sulfur however wasn’t the best, but you got used to it after a while.   The owner of the house we were staying at was gracious enough to have a Christmas tree waiting for us in the living room.   Caroline had bought craft supplies and had directed the kids in making ornaments for the tree.  After a few ornaments their interest waned, but she had them finish the job.   At one point, I think she said, “You don’t get off that easy in Caroline’s sweat shop”.   All joking aside, it was great that we had a tree and got to decorate it.   Rachel flew into Auckland at 6AM the morning of Christmas Eve.  Caroline got up at 3AM to for the 3 hour drive to the airport and pick her up and drive back to Rotorua for another 3 hours.  We spent the rest of the day eating Christmas cookies that Caroline baked and catching up with Rachel.  It was great that she could meet us here.
Visiting with Santa at an Auckland mall

On Christmas morning, the kids were excited to open all the presents that Santa brought.  Danielle was a bit worried since there wasn’t a fireplace in the house, but we told her that Santa would figure out how to come in the back door.   For dinner, Caroline made a beef tenderloin roast with a gorgonzola cheese sauce.  It was so yummy!   Along with the many sheep here, the have a lot of beef cattle and meat is very good.

Christmas in Rotorua

The kids, including Rachel, really wanted to go to Hobbiton which is where they filmed the “Lord of the Rings” and the “Hobbit”.  It was only about an hour away from Rotorua so we went the day after Christmas.    They created the town on the land of a working sheep farm.  The farm continues to be operated today, but they have Hobbiton separated for tourist visits.     I haven’t seen the movies but it was interesting to see how they made some of the things oversized to help with the appearance that the hobbits are small.  One of the interesting facts I learned is that it took over a year to build the town but they ended up filming all the needed scenes for “Lord of the Rings” in just 12 days.  The entire area was beautiful and after the tour you got a free beer with the kids getting ginger beers since I guess hobbits like beer and they had their own brewery on site.
Hobbiton Movie Set

Lake at Hobbiton


All of us in a hobbit hole

Some of the holes in Hobbiton

The kids in front of a hobbit hole

We also got to hike to Waiere falls which the highest waterfall on the North Island.   The trail was through a very dense forest with many ferns and trees.  I really liked how parts of the trail were dark with the trees shielding the sun.  The waterfall was stunning and the pictures don't do it justice.  Closer to the waterfall the trail got muddy and steep but Eden was able to walk up almost all of it even though it took about an hour and a half.  This is in stark contrast to most times where she asks to get carried when we need to walk 50 feet.  I guess she likes hiking which is great.  She was tired though and got a ride on our shoulders on the way down.

Hike to Waiere Falls with Caleb, Rachel and Caroline hidden in the trees

Waiere Falls

Eden cooling off her feet after the hike

From Rotorua, we headed south to Wellington which is the capital of New Zealand and the southernmost town on the North Island.   It was interesting how on the drive down, the terrain went from the lush green grasses and trees to a very barren and desolate region.  In the distance were the volcanoes poking up with snow on the peaks even though it is summer here.   We got a good view of Mount Ruapehu which claims to have the closest ski area to an active volcanic crater.   Once in Wellington, we went downtown to get another sampling of fish and chips and then drove up to the Victoria lookout to get a great view of the city and surrounding bay.   I remember my Mom telling me and others that she never had a good hair day in Wellington since it is always windy.  It was windy on top of the lookout and it made me chuckle thinking of that as my hair blew in the wind.

I could see why my parents enjoyed this country, and it has definitely been one of my favorites.   We still have a few more weeks here and I am excited about seeing more.  Next stop, the South Island.

Mount Ruapehu

View of Wellington from Victoria lookout


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