Final thoughts about New Zealand

  • Driving on the left side of the road from the right side of the car was not as difficult as I imagined. I was very nervous about driving in New Zealand, but the rental car agent gave me a great piece of advice, “Just follow the car in front of you.” In three weeks, I only recall two times that I reverted to driving on the right side of the road. Both time I was alone on a rural road. My wife quickly corrected me.
  • New Zealand is an incredibly beautiful country with a enjoyable climate. I’m happy we had the opportunity to drive through it for three weeks. I think driving was the best way to see it. I could have spent another week or two there exploring the areas we bypassed the first time.
  • The Kiwi’s are more practical about the drinking age. The drinking age in New Zealand is 18. Albert is over 18, but he doesn’t look it. I don’t think any restaurant server ever carded him. We had a couple of severs tell us that if he is drinking with his parents, his age doesn’t matter. So a child of any age can drink in a restaurant with his/her parents. I think this is great. Parents should teach their children to drink, not let their peers do it in high school and college.
  • The Orion constellation is upside-down in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • When you order French fries or chips in a restaurant they are served with a garlic aioli (garlic mayonnaise). It is a delicious alternative to ketchup.
  • New Zealand has a dollar coin and a two dollar coin. Paper money starts with the five dollar note. This is similar to the Euro. I think the US Mint should follow suit and eliminate the one dollar note and issue a two dollar coin.

Day 27 – Headed Home

We had a leisurely morning and went to breakfast at the hotel restaurant.  I felt an air of tension and short tempers at breakfast.  People were grumpy.  After breakfast we went back to the room, finished packing, and checked out of the hotel.

We walked across the street to the International Terminal where, all but one entrance was closed.  Before being allowed into the terminal, we had to show a guard our boarding pass and passport.  Only travelers with a flight within 3 hours were being admitted.

Once inside we printed our luggage tags and waited to drop our check luggage.  I was briefly distracted and got too close to another passenger who barked at me about keeping the 6 foot distancing.  I didn’t breach the social distancing again.  After dropping our bags we headed for security and then on to our gate.  Along the way, most of the airport shops were closed.  Also the normally crowded and bustling airport was mostly empty.

Our flight to LAX was full.  It took off on-time for the 11-hour flight to Los Angeles.

Once we landed at LAX we had to walk what seemed like a mile through underground passageways to get to Customs and Border Protection.  Since we have Global Entry, we cleared Customs in about 10 minutes.  We waited for our luggage and then walked a short distance were we dropped it again for the flight to Atlanta.

We waited at our gate for almost 3-hours for our flight to Atlanta.  No restaurants were open, but all the other shops appeared to be open. During our wait we were entertained by a crusty old woman headed to Hawaii.  She must have been over 75 years old.  She asked me to use my phone and I obliged and dialed the number for her.  Apparently, She lived in Hawaii and was headed home.  The person she called was trying to let her know what the situation was at home.  She argued with him about each of his suggestions about how she should get home.  God Bless her, I hope she made it home.

Once our plane started boarding it boarded quickly.  There we only 27 people on the flight.  We pushed back and took off early for Atlanta.  I believe the Captain said we would arrive in 3 and a half hours.

The plane parked at the T-gates in Atlanta and American had a separate luggage claim area.  We walked briefly through the terminal on our way to the MARTA station.  We didn’t see many people, but many of the shops were open.  There was almost no one on the MARTA platform.  Once we entered a car, we were the only people in that car.  As the train made it way north, stopping at various stations, more people entered the car, but never more than a dozen in the whole car.  We were all practicing social distancing.

Once we arrived at the North Spring station, I pulled up my phone and opened the Uber app.  I was pleasantly surprised to quickly find a driver who was close by the station.  We waited about 10 minutes before the driver arrived.  We loaded up in the car and he drove us home.  GA-400 had almost no traffic.

Day 26 – Driving to Christchurch

We left the hotel this morning before sunrise.  It is a 4-hour drive to Christchurch.  Once there, we will drop off the rental car and then take a plane from Christchurch to Auckland.

On the drive to Christchurch was stopped at the Fairlie Bakehouse for breakfast.  It was a delicious breakfast and coffee and a good place to stop to break up the trip.

We stopped at a gas station about a mile before the rental car return to top off the tank.  Dropping off the car was easy.  We unloaded our luggage from the car into the airport shuttle.  We had to wait about 20 minutes before the shuttle left.  It was only a 5 minute drive to the airport terminal.

We arrived at the airport a little after 1:00.  We had a 3 hour wait before out flight left for Auckland.  We passed the time by playing Uno and people watching.

The flight to Auckland was less than an hour-and-a-half.  We are staying at the Novotel Auckland Airport.  Once we claimed our bags in the domestic terminal, we rode the green shuttle bus to the International terminal and the hotel was right there.  Checking in was a bit chaotic.  Each of us had to fill our a form about the Wuhan Coronavirus before they would check us in.  Before going up we made reservations in the restaurant for dinner at 8:00.  We rode the elevator up to our room and freshened up before dinner.

We went down for dinner a little early and had a drink at the bar.  Before we could enter the restaurant we had to complete another form concerning the Wuhan Coronavirus.  We only stood at the bar a few minutes with our drinks before our table was ready.  Near our table were other Americans discussing their travails getting home.  We struck up a conversation with a guy headed to Orlando, whose flight from LAX to Orlando had been cancelled.  When we spoke he had no idea how he was getting to Orlando.

Day 25 – Hiking at Mt Cook

It is very windy this morning, but the rain has stopped.  We started the morning by going to the Sir Edmund Hillary Cafe & Bar for breakfast and we picked up a few sandwiches and brownies for lunch on our hike.

This morning we did the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier hike first.  The hike to the Tasman Glacier was uphill all the way.  At a few locations they had installed steps.  The hike took less than 30 minutes to reach the top.  At the top we were along Tasman Lake and we could see the glacier about half-a-mile away.  Unlike other glaciers I’ve seen, the Tasman Glacier looked like it was covered with soil.  It was dark colored, not the white of snowy look of other glaciers I’ve seen.  We stayed at the viewing point for around 20 minutes.  It had spectacular views of the Tasman Valley.  On our way back down we could see the Blue Pools, which are now green, and we stopped to read a poster that explained why they were not blue anymore.

Our next hike was  the Hooker Valley Track.  The car park was full today and we had to park way in the back.  After stopping at the restrooms, we started hiking.  The Hooker Valley track is a 3 hour hike.  You cross 3 suspension bridges.  The last bridge is very close to Hooker lake.  It took us about an hour-and-a-half to reach the lake.  All along the way we a great views of Mount Cook.  There was a picnic spot beside the lake and we shared a table with two girls from Quebec.  Our conversation was pleasant, but naturally gravitated toward the Wuhan Coronavirus and getting home.

After lunch we walked down closer to the lake to get a look at the icebergs in the lake.

Icebergs in Hooker Lake

One of the girls from Quebec took our photo with Mount Cook in the background.

Once we finished exploring Hooker Lake, we started hiking back to the car.  It was a beautiful day with clear blue skies.  We had great views the whole hike which made it go by faster.  Once back at the car we loaded up and drove back to the hotel.

Once back in our room we all took showers and dressed to go out to dinner.  Tonight, our last night at Mount Cook, we decided to have dinner in the hotel’s fancy white table cloth restaurant, The Panorama Room.  Our dinner reservation was at 6:30, so we went down early and a had a before dinner drink in the Snowline Lounge.  We were the only patrons in the lounge.

At 6:30 we walked over to The Panorama Room for dinner.  Before we could be seated, the hostess had us fill out a form concerning our quarantine status.  Since we arrived in New Zealand before the 14 day Quarantine requirement was issued, we are fine.  I did find it interesting that we had to complete the form, but it didn’t require us to show our passport stamp showing the date we arrived.

We were seated at a table by the window.  The table next to us was occupied by a couple from Charlotte, North Carolina and their 18 month old son.  We struck up a conversation almost immediately.  They were renting a cabin near Lake Tekapo for a few days before continuing to Christchurch.  As before, the conversation gravitated towards the Wuhan Coronavirus and getting home.

We had a very nice dinner.  I had the venison and Shari had the lamb.  I don’t remember, but I think Albert had a burger.  It was all delicious.  Only about 5 tables in the restaurant were in use.  I can’t help feeling bad for the hotel employees.  They must feel like they are waiting for a storm to hit. Anxious if they will loose everything.

After dinner we went back to the room and packed up for the trip to Christchurch tomorrow.  In my mind this is the beginning  of our trip home.  It will take three days to get there.

Day 24 – First Rainy Day

Mount Cook National Park New Zealand

Today we experienced our first rainy day the whole trip. It rained when we were at Tongariro National Park, but it was an overnight rain and finished by 10:00 in the morning. It rained all day today, so we didn’t do any of our hikes.

We ate brunch in one of the hotel restaurants this morning, Sir Edmund Hillary Cafe & Bar.  After spending some time planning and chilling in our room, we decided to go for a ride and check out the trail heads we would hike tomorrow.  It is still raining, but it is nice to get out of the room.

We drove to the Hooker Valley Track car Park first.  It was mostly empty except for a few camper vans.  Next we drove over to the Blue Lakes and Tasman Glacier car park. It was a longer drive across a few one-lane bridges and through the valley.  Even though it was raining, it was a scenic drive.  The car park was empty.

On the drive back to the hotel, I suggested we drive to Twizel the nearest town that has a gas stations.  It is a 65 kilometer drive and will take us almost an hour each way, but what else do we have to do on a rainy day.  It will give me the opportunity to fill up the car with gas, before we drive to Christchurch.  We also went to a nearby Four Square Supermarket and picked up some wine and snacks for our dinner tonight.

Once back at the hotel, we had snacks in the room for dinner.  We played Uno and read a chapter in the first Harry Potter book.  We have been reading it on our trip.  

Day 23 – Travel to Mount Cook

We are headed North today.  However, it sound like further travel restrictions are coming.  We may still have trouble getting home.

We ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant before checking out and loading up the car.  The three hour drive to Mount Cook was beautiful.  We arrived at The Hermitage Hotel around 3:30 and had some time to relax before going to dinner.  The view from our hotel room is spectacular.

We ate an early dinner at The Old Mountaineers Café Bar & Restaurant in Mount Cook Village.  Since it is Friday we all had the Salmon.  Shari and I had the Salmon salad and Albert had the Salmon pizza.  It was all delicious and we had a spectacular view of the mountains.

After dinner I went by the front desk and asked if we could extend our stay another day.  They were happy to accommodate us.  We went back to the room for the evening and planned our hikes for tomorrow.  We also got in a few games of Uno before bed time.

Day 22 – Queenstown

During breakfast this morning, Shari did some laundry.  Then we discussed our plans for getting home and changed our flight on American Airlines from Sunday March 29th to Tuesday March 23rd from Auckland.  Originally, we planned to drive back to Auckland stopping along the way at a few places we missed. Now we will continue our trip to Mount Cook and then drive and drop off the rental car in Christchurch as originally planned.  Now instead of flying from Christchurch to Melbourne Australia, we will fly to Auckland. Planning the trip took most of the morning.

 Albert requested we do the Skyline gondola ride to see the view above the city.  When we go there I realized they had a luge ride, too.  Unfortunately, I did not have the hardware I needed to connect my GoPro to a helmet.  Albert had some difficulty understanding how to brake on the luge, so we went down in tandem.  It was fun.

 After riding the gondola back down we walked over to Fat Badger Pizza for dinner.  After dinner we walk around wandering into shops looking for souvenirs.

Day 21 – Milford Sound

Today we are took a flight to Milford Sound and then a Boat ride on Milford Sound with Real Journeys. The flight took about 45 minutes and then we landed at Milford Sound.  We had about an hour before our boat ride through the sound, so we took our time and walked around the sound a little.  Out boat ride was at 1:30, so we arrived at the dock around 1:00.  Our pilot is our guide and escort all day, so he got us where we needed to be and waited for us to get back.

The cruise of the sound was wonderful.  The sound is so deep that the boat can get right up to the cliff wall.  A westerly wind was coming in from the Tasman Sea, so the sound was a little rough.  It also clouded up and rained a slight bit while we were cruising the sound. The cruise lasted about an hour and a half.

The video below is a bit long, but it has some beautiful scenery.

Since we had a light lunch we went out to dinner tonight.  We walked across the street from our hotel to Atlas Beer House. It was a small place, but the beer was good.  Unfortunately, there was a table nearby and the conversation was very salty with a lot of F-bombs being dropped.  It made for an unpleasant dinner.

Day 20 – Exploring Queenstown

I woke up around 5:30 and went down to the hotel restaurant around 6:00.  Yesterday, we heard that the Australian Government has started requiring all international travelers to self-quarantine for 14 days after arriving in country.  I sat in the restaurant drinking coffee and review what options we have for continuing our trip.
Around 8:00 I went up to the room and joined Shari and Albert and we all went down for breakfast in the hotel dining room.  During breakfast I shared with Shari what options we have for continuing our travels.

Since it doesn’t appear that I’m going to make it to Australia this trip, I went ahead and tried Vegemite at breakfast this morning.  The restaurant has small packages of it on the buffet.  I toasted and buttered a piece of bread and then spread the Vegemite on the buttered toast.  It wasn’t very exciting.  It doesn’t have much flavor and is mostly just salty.  It was edible, but it’s not something I thought was so great I will buy some at home.

It was almost noon before we left the hotel and walked around Queenstown.  We walked along the waterfront until we reached the Queenstown Gardens.  We walked through the gardens to the tip of the peninsula and then walk along the shore back to town.  It is a beautiful sunny and slightly cool day.  We continued to walk around Queenstown stopping in the odd shop to look for souvenirs. 

For lunch we went to a Queenstown institution, Fergburger.  It was packed when we arrived.  We waited in line about 15 minutes to order and then another 20 minutes to get our food.  The restaurant has very limited seating, so we took our burger down to the water front park and ate there. Albert and I each had a Ferg Deluxe burger and Shari had the Little Lamby burger.  We shared an order of fries.  The burger is large.  Perhaps 1/3 larger the the Burger King Whopper.  I’m probably just bias, but it was not as good as some of the burgers we have at home.

Day 19 – Franz Josef to Queenstown

Tried again this morning, unsuccessfully, to do the heli-hike on Franz Josef glacier.  Cloud cover on the glacier prevented the helicopters from flying. To sooth our disappointment, we went to Full of Beans for breakfast.

We started the drive to Queenstown.  We made two stops along the way.  We stopped at the Blue Pools and hike down to the pools.  It was a nice hike and pleasant break from the road.

Our second stop was in Wanaka New Zealand to see the famous Wanaka Tree.  The tree is just off shore in a local park.  With all I’ve heard about this tree, I thought there would be more people there.  Again, it was a nice break from the road.

We arrived in Queenstown around 5:00.  We found our way to the Crowne Plaza and checked in.  After getting settled in our room, we walked across the street to the Public Kitchen for dinner.