Hanging out with the Kiwis

Trip Start Feb 06, 2011
Trip End Jun 01, 2011

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

    Getting to NZ from Australia sounded like it would be just a little flight, but it turned out to be our longest day of traveling. We were supposed to land in Christchurch and in the morning fly to Queenstown, but due to fog we were rerouted to Wellington. Arriving at 2am when customs & immigration employees go home at 1:30 left us stranded on the plane. Finally at  3:30 they had called in some customs employees to work and we were able to get off the plane. Our new flight itinerary was to go to Auckland and then Queenstown. Mid-morning we boarded a flight to Auckland. After we got to Auckland we had to circle around the airport for an hour waiting for the fog there to clear with a startling episode where the engine stalled. Eventually our pilot flew us back to Wellington, our original airport. Spending the morning on 'field trip' was still more enjoyable than the afternoon on the phone and waiting for customer service. Finally things started going our way. We were flown to Christchurch and the airline, Jetstar, set us up with accommodations at The George Hotel. From spending the night last night freezing and hungry on the airport floor we did a complete 360, staying in one of the most luxurious hotels I'd ever seen with $90 worth of meal vouchers. Almost made the whole ordeal worth it!

May 25
    Wednesday we made it to Queenstown and checked into Black Sheep Backpackers Hostel. Queenstown is very fun ski town that somehow manages to be laid back and an all night party at the same time. There are tons of shops, restaurants, bars and ski stores. 
    There is a gondola that takes people to the top of a 1200 meter mountain overlooking the town. We decided hike up the mountain instead. At the top there was a beautiful lookout, restaurant and a luge. We both went on a couple luge rides, which were a blast! Unfortunately it didn't seem safe enough to ever have one built in America.
    In the afternoon we went on a boat tour around Wakutipa Lake. I was shocked to hear that the lake, like the mountain looking over Queenstown, is also 1200 meters. He told us the old Maori tale of how the lake was created from a sleeping monster.

May 26
    Thursday we took a charter bus 5 hours to Milford Sound. We stopped for a nature walk at The Chasm along the Cleddau River, where the high pressure of the  watercourse carves smooth rocks through the narrow channels.  We also passed through the Home Tunnel, a 1200 meter, single lane tunnel that took decades to complete. At 12:30 we boarded the Real Journey's ship called the Monarch. There were dozens of tour groups on the large, two level ship. The boat cruised down the fjord to the Tasman Sea. The steep cliffs and countless waterfalls were breathtaking. The tour was almost two hours and brought us back to the same harbor. On the bus trip back the bus driver played the movie "The Worlds Fastest Indian" which is an old movie starring Anthony Hopkins as a Kiwi breaking the land speed record. Surprisingly, we all really enjoyed it. Although our time on the south island was short it was very sweet. Queenstown is an amazing ski-bum town we would love to revisit and Milford Sound was definitely a must see on our world tour.

May 27
    Friday we flew to Auckland and rented a Jucy Campervan. The bright green 2006 Lucinda minivan complete with a dining room table that drops down to a bed, a sink, mini-fridge, and propane stove top, had 120,000 miles on it and drove like a semi- and it was our home for the next week. We drove around Auckland and saw Sky Tower, the tallest building. We didn't go up int he tower because we were able to have the same magnificent view from a little hike up Mt Eden (196m). There is a crater in the middle from where a small volcano had sunk in. That evening we drove back up Mt. Eden and grilled out of our van for a romantic star lit dinner overlooking the city. We really did have the best seat in town! After dinner we drove south a couple hours, half way to Rotorua, and camped.

May 28
    Saturday we finished our drive to Rotorua. Rotorua is a small city with a large amount of tourism. The area is one of the worlds greatest areas of geothermal activity. The city is a tourist trap of shops, museums, restaurants and bakeries. Since we were exhausted of being 'tourists' we rented bikes and spent half the day mountain biking at a National Forrest outside of town. We had a blast! Luckily (and surprisingly) we didn't break anything. The only thing our campervan lacks is a shower, which left me desperate after all the mountain biking. Ben drove around a campground while I used their shower house. In less than 5 minutes I was showered, back in the van and we bolted out of their like a couple of bank robbers. I don't know if shower stealing is a felony in New Zealand, but we felt guilty. We went to a microbrewery called the Pig & Whistle and enjoyed hog lager and snout stout

May 29
 Sunday was the European Champions League Championship. In Africa we followed a lot of the season, so it would be a shame to miss the championship even if it was on at 6am due to the time change. We cheered Barcelona onto victory over Manchester United with a large crowd of sleepy but faithful fans in an Irish Pub. We then enjoyed a home cooked (or minivan cooked) breakfast at the beach before going to the driving range. We shot some golf balls and Ben dominated the batting cage. We reluctantly took the gondola up the the luge. In Queenstown we were able to hike up to the luge course, but Rotorua makes people pay for the gondola. The course wasn't as intense as the one in Queenstown, but was still scary! After the luge we wend for a hike in the Redwood Forrest. We had a picnic lunch at the forest before going to the Rotorua Museum. The museum covered the history of the area and how people from all over the world would come there for their healing natural spas and mud baths. Then we went for our own soak in the natural baths at the Blue Baths which gave a feeling of what it would have been like to be there a century ago. 

May 30
 Monday we made nutella-banana crepes for breakfast and were the first ones at the Tau-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. The walk between 25 craters, pools & mud pools took us twice as long as the estimated 1.5 hours.  We watched the Lady Knox Geyser erupt which they sprinkle with surfactant to trigger every morning. They let the spectators be surprisingly close to such a large geyser. In the afternoon we drove back towards Auckland stopping at a few National Forests and the city of Hamilton to hike.

May 31
 Tuesday we spent exploring the western coast outside Auckland. Unfortunately it was a cold, drizzly day. We stopped at Bethel's Beach just in time for to get rained on. The pelting, sideways rain added to the ominous feel of the black beach. We ended up running back to our van and changing out of our drenched clothes. We stopped at various little towns for a cup of coffee, souvenir shopping, and bakery sampling. We stumbled across a little gem called Hallertaue Restaurant. It was a fun restaurant with a retro feel that served unique fruit wine from Pukeko Groves Winery. The flavors included: kiwi, boysenberry & feijoa. Ben tried their Hallertaue microbrew sampler. All of it was delicious and a great way to spend a rainy day! We stopped at a driving range on our way to Devenport.  There we climbed Mt Victoria during a break in the rain for a beautiful view overlooking Auckland across the bay. That night we were cold and tired so we went to the theater and watched The Hangover 2- not worth the $9. 

June 1
 Wednesday we boarded a ferry to Waiheke Island with a couple bikes we rented for the day. Within 40 minutes we had arrived on the island and started our scenic tour. We biked all morning then went for a walk on the beach and had a picnic overlooking the bay. In the afternoon we stopped at a few wineries, what the island is known for. We went to Gold Water Winery and Cable Bay. We enjoyed a glass of wine and the sunshine while we read the paper in their vineyard overlooking Auckland.  We caught the 4:00 ferry back to Devenport then fought traffic driving into Auckland. We got a pizza and ate it while watching a DVD in our van on Mission Beach.

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