OK we've been home a week already but I want to update anyway just to round things off! Last update was from Christchurch I think. None of the accomodations since then had internet access.
From Christchurch we took a very uncomfortable cheap bus to Kaikoura ( luckily it was only a 2 hour journey) and arrived to beautiful sunny calm weather, perfect for whale watching. Kaikoura is the best place to see whales and they guarantee 98% chance of seeing at least one or your money back. We arrived at 9.30am and had a place on a boat prebooked (advisable as it's very busy all year round) for 1.45. Had a stroll around the small seafront town. It's beautiful sweeping bay and mountains were very refreshing and uplifting after the dullness of Christchurch. After lunch by the sea we boared the "Whalewatch" catamaran to go chasing the whales. I was very excited as this was one of the main parts of the trip I had been looking forward to. They told us conditions were ideal and they were very hopeful of spotting maybe 3 or 4. Kaikoura is where male sperm whales live for 40 years until they are
old enough to breed. The females and calves live thousands of miles away in the warmer waters of the Pacific. I saw my 1st one after only 4 mins out!! That was only the start! Over the next hour and a half we saw 8 altogether! It was amazing! And there were Dusky dolphins! Hundreds of them playing around the boat. I couldn't have asked for more.
The following day we took the train to Picton to catch the ferry to Wellington. This was another lovely train journey, along the coast of the Pacific Ocean. the crossing to Wellington was calm with more beautiful scenery. One of the crew told us that the ferry we were on used to be the "Isle of Inisfree" that sailed from Dublin to Holyhead!! I may even have been on it before, can't recall.
Arrived in "wet and windy" Wellington, and it was wet and windy! We only had one night there but it was a lot nicer than Christchurch, picturesque with houses built on the hills around the bay!
After a bit of hassle the following day trying to get a hire car we eventually set off a lot later than planned to
head for Rotorua. The weather forecast for the infamous "Desert Road" was not good and we crossed it in the dark in blizzard conditions but the road surface was ok luckily. We didn't quite make Rotorua and stayed the night in Turangi, a base for skiiers and fishermen on the Nth island.
The short drive to Rotorua the following day was lovely. We stopped for a while at Lake Taupo, the largest lake on the Nth Island. You can smell Rotorua before you see it! All that sulpher in the air. Arrived to find there was no room at the inn as the "Young Farmers Competition" was being held there this year! A big deal In NZ! A bit like a combo of the Rose of Tralee and the Ploughing Championships here! With the help of "i Site" NZ's tourist office, we eventually found a very nice motel with one unit left. Nearly all of the hotels and motels in Rotorua have a private spa in room but unfortunately ours didn't though other units there did! There was a steaming swimming pool and public spas though! We based ourselves there for the next 4 nights as it's central for getting
to other places. Rotorua and surroundings just steam all the time. There are geysers and hot pools and boiling mud everywhere. A very unsound and volcanic area. We visited a thermal park and the famous Whakarewarewa Maoire village. http://www.whakarewarewa.com/ Took a 2 hour drive to Waitomo to see the glowworm caves. You take a walking tour through the caves and then board a small rowboat along the underground river in complete darkness to see the glowworms that cover the roof and walls. A beautiful and unique experience. There's so much to see and do around Rotorua we didn't have enough time for it all in 4 days. There's the famous Zorbing of course. We went to watch but didn't take part! Cian did The Swoop. Like a bungie only after you drop you swing way out and back. I just watched and lsitened to the shrieks (of both male and females!!!) We had a very entertaining night of Maori culture at a hangi feast in the Mitai Village where the warriors came up the river through the dark forest in a canoe lit by torch flame! After greeting and making peace with our "chief"(a nervous scots man) they entertained us
wonderfully. It was really well done and the young Maoire are very proud of their culture!
On the morning we were to leave for Auckland there had been very bad storms there the previous night and our hostess at the motel was worried that we'd make it as some roads were closed and power was off in a lot of the city. We had to chance it though as we had a flight to catch the following day. All had settled down there by the time we arrived. Auckland is a very large and spread out city. We didn't get to see much other than the harbour and the centre as we only had one night there. We did go up the Skyline tower, a new feature for viewing and doing a jump off, and well worth going up for the views and to see the jumpers (safely harnessed) falling past the viewing windows! Brave people!
It was then on to a long flight for San Francisco where we travelled back 19hrs in time. Very confusing! I really enjoyed San Fran. All the hills and cable cars and trolleys just like in the movies! We arrived on a lovely hot
sunny day, which is very unusual. Normally it's shrouded in fog for most of the time, but we were lucky! On the following day we took a tour to see the sights. Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatras are rarely visible because of the fog. The bus took us over the bridge to the far side though where there is no fog and we managed to see a part of it! We toured Pacific Heights to see the beautiful old ( and very expensive) houses where the wealthy live and where the fog doesn't penetrate much. The ordinary folk live mostly in the fog!! We had dinner on the last night in a lovely fish restaurant on fishermans wharf. A really nice end to the trip!
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