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.

Day 18 – Franz Josef

I woke up this morning around 8:00 to the sounds of helicopters.  Heli-hike tours to the glacier are very popular.  Our heli-hike isn’t until 1:30.  This morning we ate a light breakfast and then drove down to the car park where we could hike to a viewing point to see the Franz Josef glacier.

Around 1:00 we started walking to Franz Josef Glacier Guides for our 1:30 heli-hike.  When we arrived we had to complete some paperwork before getting a wrist band and meeting our guide.  Our guide took us to a room where he gave a safety briefing and then to a dressing area where we were fitted for our waterproof pants, jackets and hiking boots.  We were each given a red fanny pack that contained our crampons, for walking on the ice, gloves, and a watch cap to keep our head warm.  After dressing we were each weighed.  Shari, Albert, and I were some of the last of our group to be weighted and as I prepared to step on the scale, our guide received word that our hike was cancelled.  Clouds were moving in over the glacier landing site and no more helicopters would be flying today.  Disappointed, we went back and took off all the protective clothing. Considering our travel schedule tomorrow, we felt we could do a hike early in the morning.  We rescheduled our hike for 9:30 tomorrow morning.

Since we didn’t eat much breakfast, we walked over to The Landing for lunch.  It was a gorgeous day in the valley, so we sat outside to eat lunch.  The restaurants had their heater on and I initially sat near one.  After a few minutes I was so warm I had to move.  We asked our waiter to turn the heater off and he did.  We ate lunch and watched the helicopters land bringing people down from the glacier.

The company we booked our heli-hike through also has several hot pools that we get to use as part of our tour.  After lunch we went back to the hotel and changed into our swim suits and walked back down to the hot pools.  We stayed about 45 minutes.  Initially, the hot pools felt great, but after a while the heat got to me.  We went back to the hotel and took showers and relaxed for a while.

Once again we had a dinner of wine and snacks in the room tonight.  

Day 17 – Travel Day to Franz Josef

Today we travelled from Christchurch to the Franz Josef Glacier driving through Arthur’s Pass again.  We ate breakfast at the World Famous Sheffield Pies.  Next, we stopped and hiked Castle Hill.

We continued the drive through Arthur’s Pass to the west coast of New Zealand.  We stopped for another hike at Hokitika Gorge.  Beautiful hike and a great stop to break up the trip.

We arrived in Franz Josef and checked into our hotel.  We are staying at The Terrance.  After getting settle we walked over to Snake Bite Brewery for dinner.

Day 15 & 16 Christchurch

On Thursday, had a leisurely morning in the room this morning and we ate breakfast in the room.  We had yogurt and fruit.

Thursday was laundry day.  Our hotel doesn’t have a Guest Laundry, but a sister property, The Ibis, does.  To prepare we walked over to The Ibis to assess the laundry facilities.  While we were out we roamed down towards the Bridge of Remembrance and found a row of restaurants and stores.

On Thursday we ate lunch at Chiwahwah Mexican Cantina.  The restaurant had a lot of Day of the Death themed artwork and even the menus.

On Friday, Albert wanted eggs for breakfast, so we walked over to Table at Monks for breakfast.  Albert ordered a Spanish Omelet, Shari had the Lemon Ricotta & Blueberry Waffle, and I had the Salmon Eggs Benedict.  Everything was delicious.

After breakfast we walk down to the Margaret Mahy Playground which is on the Avon River.  We took a long walk along the Avon stopping at Victoria Square and the James Cook Statue.  We continued along the river to the Robert Falcon Scott Statue.  We took a break and sat along the Avon near the Bridge of Remembrance.  After a short break we continued on towards the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial and then we strolled through the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.

Needing a little pick-me-up after all this walking, we stopped in at Ben & Jerry’s for an ice cream and then sat outside and ate it.  After getting a little sugar in us we explored the Riverside Market before walking back to our hotel and propped our feet up for a while.

For dinner tonight we walked down to Original Sin near the Bridge of Remembrance.

Day 14 – Arthur’s Pass to Christchurch

Today we traveled from Punakaiki to Christchurch across Arthur’s Pass.  It was a long day in the car, but with beautiful scenery.

We arrived in Christchurch late in the afternoon and found our hotel, The Novotel at Cathedral Square.  From our room you can see the earthquake damaged Anglican Cathedral.  After getting settled in our room we took a walk around our hotel.  We found a restaurant for dinner, Francesca’s Italian Kitchen, and since we were early they seated us right away.  We continued walking around the area after dinner.  Albert had to have a gelato after dinner.  We stopped in at Rollickin Gelato so he could get dessert.

Day 13 – Travel Day

Today we drove from Abel Tasman National Park to Punakaiki on the west coast of New Zealand.  The drive took us through wine country again and many small towns on the South Island.  We packed sanwiches and ate a picnic lunch along the way.  We stopped at the Pancake Rock Blowholes.  Unfortunately, we arrived after high tide which is when the blowholes are most active.  For dinner we ate at the Punakaiki Tavern.

We are staying at the Punakaiki Resort and had a beautiful sunset from our room balcony.

Day 12 – Abel Tasman National Park

Today we hike part of the Abel Tasman Coast Track from Torrent Bay to Anchorage with a stop at Cleopatras Pool. Today’s real adventure was taking a water taxi to Torrent Bay and back.

Today was our first encounter with the New Zealand Black Fly a.k.a sandflies.  They are similar to the mosquito in the States.  I really though nothing of the bites when I was bitten.  Just a nuisance.  But later that night, I woke up with fierce itching all below my knees.  I put Hydrocortisone on and took a Benadryl.  I was really surprised by how much the bites itched.  The itching lasted for almost a full week, too.

Tonight for dinner our hotel was offering “The Seven Deadly Gins” cocktails and tapa on the patio.  I tried a couple of the gin drinks and they were all excellent.  

Day 11 – Wharariki Beach

Today we did two hikes. The first was to Wharariki Beach. It is a beautiful beach on the Cook Strait, but you have to hike for about 20 minutes through sheep pastures and some woods to get there. Once there it is a large beach with rock formations just off shore.

The second hike was to Wainui Falls. It took a bit longer to get to, but well worth the hike.

Tonight for dinner we went to Mohua Eatery and Bar which was right next door to our hotel.  We sat outside and enjoyed the evening.  Shari and I split the Charcuterie and each had a beer.  We just didn’t want anything heavy for dinner.  Albert had the bar-b-que pork sandwich.  It was all good.  

Charcuterie board at Mohua

Day 10 – Travel Day

Today we took the car ferry from Wellington to Picton on the South Island of New Zealand.  Then we drove across the top of the South Island to the western coast and Pohara Beach.

We stopped for lunch at T.O.A.D Hall in Motueka New Zealand near Abel Tasman National Park.  It was a really nice place to eat lunch.  It was covered, but open-air dining.  They had a brewery associated with the restaurant.  Being unfamiliar with the beer choices we chose a sampler to start.

Shari sampling the Townshend Brewery beers

After lunch we continued our drive to Pohara.  In Pohara we are staying at the Ratanui Lodge.  It is a very nice hotel with only 10 rooms.  Steve, one of the owners, took great care of us.  He setup a full size roll-a-way bed in our room for Albert to sleep on.

After getting settled in our room we walked across the beach to Golden Bay and went for a walk on the beach.

Day 9 – Wellington

We started today at WETA Cave, the design studio that worked on the Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and Avitar to name a few.  We had a little trouble finding it.  It is tucked on the edge of a residential neighborhood in Wellington.  The tour took about 3 hours.  It was very interesting, but not what I expected.  It focused on the creation of models, and miniature sets a lot more than I expected.  I was hoping more about how they filmed the models and made them look real in the movies.  All in all it was a good tour and well worth the time.  Albert loved it.

When we finished the WETA Cave tour it was almost lunch time.  We are interested in seafood since we are here along the coast.  After doing a bit of research on TripAdvisor, we decided to go to The Crab Shack which was on the waterfront.  We had a delicious lunch and afterwards took a walk along the waterfront.

After lunch we drove back to the hotel and parked the car.  We went up to the room and relaxed for a while.  I took a short nap.

One of the top attractions in Wellington is the cable car.  we decided to ride the cable car to the top and then walk back down through the Wellington Botanic Garden.  The cable car seemed very short to me.  Once at the top we exited the station and started our walk through the botanic garden to the city.  It is a clearly marked path and took a through some spectacular sections of the garden.

Toward the end of our walk we entered the Bolton Street Cemetery.  It was established in 1840 and server the early settlement’s non-Catholic residents.  In the late 1960’s 3,700 burials, many unmarked, where exhumed and moved to construct the motorway.  I must admit that walking through and old cemetery made me introspective and added a nice touch to the end of our walk.

After our walk, Albert was ready for a gelato.  We walked back to the touristy shopping area of Wellington, but couldn’t find a gelateria or any ice cream shops.  Albert had his heart set on ice cream.  We came across a Mrs Higgins Cookies store and fortunately they offered 3 varieties of ice cream.  Shari and I got fresh baked cookies and Albert got a serving of chocolate ice cream.  We sat on the bench outside the store people watching while we ate our ice cream.  School must have just let out because we say many young people in their school uniforms.  We also observer that body sizes in New Zealand are comparable to America and not like Europe where the majority of people are thin.

Tomorrow is a travel day, so we decided to eat snacks in our room tonight for dinner.  There is a Countdown grocery store near our hotel, so we went there and bought a bottle of wine and some cheeses for dinner.

Day 8 – Travel Day

Today we drove from the Chateau Tongariro at Tongariro National Park to Wellington.  Immediately after leaving the hotel, we stopped at Tawhai Falls which was used as Gollum’s Pool in the Lord of the Rings movie.  It was an easy 30 minute return walk.

Next we stopped at the trail head for the Ohakune Old Coach Road.  This is like a rail-to-trails hike.  It is my understanding that as locomotive technology improved the railroad lines were straightened.  This hike is made up of the parts of the railroad that were removed.  It was an easy trail and took us about 45 minutes to return to the car.

We arrived in Wellington at rush hour, which was a little challenging.  We missed our hotel on the first pass and had to go around again to get to it.

We are staying at the Novotel Hotel on The Terrace in Wellington.  Tonight for dinner we walked over to Dillengers.  Our server was American.  She has been living in New Zealand for several years.  If memory serves me, I believe she was from Colorado originally.  After high school she moved to Nelson New Zealand to live with an Aunt.  Now she’s living in Wellington and working on her New Zealand citizenship.

Day 7 – Tongariro National Park

At breakfast this morning, Albert got a glass of this juice.

 I had never heard of it before, so I Googled it.  According to the website “Feijoa is a pulpy and juicy fruit. It is of a chicken egg’s size and is of ellipsoid shape. The fruits mature during autumn. It has a sweet aroma and sour-sweet taste.” It is also known as pineapple guava.  Just one of the many things you learn from travel.

It was rainy this morning when we woke up, so we were concerned that it would limit our activities today.  Fortunately, the weather cleared and we were able to get in a hike.  While it was still lightly raining we went to the Tongariro National Park Visitor Centre.  We spent about an hour there enjoying the displays they had about the area volcanos.  We investigate our options for a hike and decided to do the Taranaki Falls trail.  It is a mostly level loop train that should take us a little over two hours to complete.

After the hike to Taranaki Falls we came back to the hotel for a swim in the pool and a few minutes in the dry sauna. The hotel’s pool is in the basement.  It has a very low ceiling which Shari said makes you feel like your on a ship.

After getting cleaned up after the pool we went to dinner in the hotels Pihanga Cafe and T-Bar  It is the casual dining restaurant within the hotel.  The main dining room, Ruapehu Room, looks nice, but we were not interested in white tablecloth dining tonight.

After dinner we sat in the Ruapehu Lounge area of the hotel and played Uno.

Uno in the lounge

Day 6 – Waitomo Caves

This morning we checked out of our hotel and drove two hours to Waitomo and the famous Glow work caves.  We had heard good reviews for the Spellbound Glow Worm Cave Tours, so we checked in with them when we arrived.  Unfortunately, they had a large group and would not be able to accommodate us on a tour that would fit our travel schedule.  Next door to the Spellbound office is the Waitomo General Store which served lunch.  So we ate lunch and discussed our options.

After doing a bit of research on the cave tours we chose Discover Waitomo Cave Tours.  Because of our time constraints the put us on the Ruakuri Cave tour.  We drove to the cave entrance.  It is a guided tour, so we had to wait about 30 minutes for the next tour to begin.  The tour starts by walking across the street to the cave entrance.  Our guide took us inside the cave and down a huge spiral walkway.  The whole cave tour was along improved paths throughout the cave.  At one point in the tour you reach a large pipe in the middle of the path.  If you look up through it, you can see the sky.  Our guide told us that this was how concrete was transported into the cave during construction.

The Māori consider this cave to be sacred ground, so at the end of the cave, following Māori tradition we sprinted our solves with water to wash off the sacred spirits and leave them in the cave.

After the tour we continued our travels.  We had a two hour drive the the Chateau Tongariro where we will spend the next few nights.

We arrived at the Chateau and checked in.  We chose to walk across the street to Tussock’s Bar and Restaurant.  They had a great beer selection on tap.  We shared a pizza for dinner and enjoyed another beer after dinner.  The restaurant has a ski lodge atmosphere including a fire place.  It was a relaxing spot to end the day.

Taps at Tassock’s

Day 5 – Rotorua

Staying at the Millennium Hotel Rotorua.

Today we were traditional tourists.  We ate breakfast in our hotel room and then drove over to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland.  One of the things I never got used to in Rotorua is the smell.  Everywhere you go it smells like sulfur/rotten eggs.  The area sits on a caldera and has thermal pools everywhere.  Waiotapu is one of the largest thermal parks and has a variety of geothermal sightseeing attraction.  Of course, you never escape the sulfur/rotten eggs smell here.

We stayed at Waiotapu about 2 hours.  Next we headed to Eat Street Rotorua to find some lunch.  We were interested in pizza and found a great craft brew-pub called “Brew.”  We each ordered a beer and an order of their house made Bhuja mix to snack on while we waited for our pizza to arrive.  After lunch we went to Lady Janes Ice Cream for dessert.

Tonight we had reservations for a traditional hangi feast at the Tamaki Maori Village.  Since it was within a block of our hotel we walked over to the Gathering Place.  After a short video about the tribes history, we were loaded on buses for the ride to the Tamaki Māori Village.  At the village they did a traditional welcoming ceremony.  Next we went to individual stations where they explained different aspects of Māori life and culture.  Next we were taking to a large lodge where they did more traditional Māori dances.  Finally we went to the dining room where dinner was served.  It was all delicious.  It was an entertaining night.  However, if your looking for a doctoral dissertation about the Māori culture, you should look somewhere else.  After dinner the bus took us back to our hotel.

Day 4 – Rotorua

Staying at the Millennium Hotel Rotorua.

Since today is the first Sunday on our trip we went to church this morning at St Mary’s.  The church was originally established in the 1800’s as a Maori mission by the Marists.

After church we went to breakfast at Picnic Cafe.  It is on the other side of Government Gardens from our hotel.  This is the tourist area of Rotorua.

This afternoon we hikes through the redwood trees at beautiful Whakarewarewa Forest. First we just did a walk through the woods. It was very different than what I’m used to because of all the redwood trees and the fern trees. Next we did the tree top walk which was great and gave a whole different view of the same forest we had just hiked through.

Today was our first laundry day.  We did two loads in the hotel’s guest laundry.  While we waited we went for a swim in the hotels pool and went in the hot tubs in the Spa area.  Very relaxing way to do laundry.

For dinner tonight we just had snacks and wine in our room.  Afterwards, we played Uno until it was time to go to bed.

Day 3 – Cathedral Cove

Staying at Tatahi Lodge Beach Resort Hahei New Zealand

Woke up early this morning to hike to Cathedral Cove for sunrise.  It was about an hours walk from our hotel.  We pack our headlamps for just such an occasion.  Cathedral Cove was featured in the movie The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008) and that is why we chose to visit.

After checking out of our hotel, we drove to Matamata New Zealand and then to Hobbiton the movie set from The Hobbit movies.  We all enjoyed touring the Shire since we are all fans of the movies.

It was a very nice guided tour.  Except for a few, each Hobbit hole is only a facade.  Our guide talked about how they are different sizes to allow for Gandalf to appear seven-feet tall while making Bilbo, Frodo, Sam and all the other Hobbits to appear small in stature.  Each hole also has a theme.  There is a fisherman’s hole, a bee keeper’s hole, and other themed holes.

Our guide was very knowledgeable in trivia about the movies and their production.  Hobbiton was actually build for The Hobbit Movies, but not the Lord of the Rings movies.  The Lord of the Rings Hobbiton set was similar, but made of plastic and was torn down after filming was completed.

The guide spoke about all the gardeners and horticulturist employed by the site.  Each gardener is assigned four holes.  They maintain all the plants and keep the lawns trimmed.  While we were there, all the gardeners were having a pumpkin growing competition to see who could grow the biggest pumpkin.  He pointed out where several of the pumpkins had shades over them to protect them from the sun.  It should be obvious, but all the plants are real, nothing is artificial or plastic.

After touring Hobbiton, we drove to Rotorua New Zealand were we are staying at the Millennium Hotel.  We were all thinking mexican for dinner tonight.  I imagined having a Speedy-G with margaritas.  We consulted TripAdvisor and found the #1 Mexican restaurant in Rotorua, El Mexicano Zapata.  There are two locations near our hotel and I chose the one that was the shortest walk.  Unfortunately, this was the Take-Away location and did not offer margaritas.  I was too tire to walk to the other location, so we decided to eat here anyway.  The food was generous and very good.

Day 2 – Auckland

This morning we finished our exploration of Auckland with breakfast at the Federal Delicatessen. Afterwards, we strolled around the area where our hotel, The Crowne Plaza, is located.

After checking out of our hotel, we took a taxi to the Apex Rental Car location in the Auckland CBD. Before leaving the hotel, I apologized to my family and admitted that I was quite nervous about driving on the left side of the road on the right side of the car. I’ve never driven in a country that drives on the left hand side of the road. It turned out to not as difficult as I imagined.

After picking up the rental car we immediate drove to Hahei New Zealand where we are staying at the Tatahi Lodge Beach Resort.  A lovely hotel in this beach town in the Coromandel Peninsula of New Zealand.  After getting check in and eating lunch, we drove over to Hot Water Beach to experience it and walk on the beach.

Day 1 – Exploring Auckland

This morning we walked around Auckland. We had breakfast at Fond(ou) Cafe. This afternoon we took the ferry to Waiheke Island. A very nice boat ride to a very beautiful island. We took a hop-on-hop-off bus to Onetangi Beach where we walked on the beach and ate lunch.

I drank my first Bundaburg Ginger Beer. It was the best ginger beer I’ve ever had. I thought is was just distributed in Australia and surrounding regions, but the company’s website indicates it’s available in Alpharetta. I’ll have to look for it when I get home.

Tonight we went to the top of the Auckland Sky Tower at sunset and then went out to dinner at Da Vinci’s Restaurant just down the street from our hotel. The sunset was spectacular and so was the pizza at Da Vinci’s.

Shari and Albert from the Sky Tower

Arrived in Auckland New Zealand

We arrived in Auckland. At the airport we were screened for environmental hazards. I had a little bit of mud on my hiking boots and the officer took them and rinsed the mud off.

Taxi to our hotel. We are staying at the Crowne Plaza on Albert street in the Central Business District (CBD).

Went to the Cathedral of St Patrick and St Joseph for Ash Wednesday. The service was a combined service with the Anglican Cathedral of Holy Trinity. It was a very nice service and included a lot of native Maori songs.

Selfie with ashes