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June 21st 2017
Published: June 21st 2017
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September 8, 2010Our arrival at Auckland Airport was smooth; we had slept most of the flight and woke ready to tackle wild New Zealand! I was apprehensive as we approached the baggage scanners. No, I was not smuggling contraband, only 10 jars of calamondin jelly that Bob had insisted I bring along to share with the locals. When the agent said: "Ma'am, I notice you are carrying some glass jars. They don’t contain honey, do they?" I answered, “No, only marmalade to share with our hosts” and he was satisfied! We soon learned that NZ is truly an agricultural country and that Kiwis (yes, that’s what they like to be called) go to great lengths to protect that supporter of their economy. If you enter with mud on your shoes, they will clean them. Next, it was on to the rental car company. Oh boy, we had never attempted left-hand driving, but my Bob said it felt natural to him (he’s a lefty and so am I as well as our son, Evan). Only the directional switch and windshield wipers posed a problem—they are opposite and every time Bob attempted a turn, the wipers came on! Of course, I tried to get in on the wrong side for the first week and we won’t dwell on the right-hand turns. Almost colliding with a semi head-on was a real shock!With our new wheels, colorful NZ currency and a few snacks in hand, we were off to our first destination, Te Kuiti. It was difficult to pronounce most of the proper names as so many are named after the indigenous people, the Maori. We had lost a whole day crossing the international dateline last night and September 23 would arrive too soon. The ride was picturesque with every curve yielding a more lovely shade of green. Finally we ended on top of a very steep hill at Simply the Best B&B (the hostess, Margaret Churtain, is an avid Tina Turner fan). She and Graeme greeted us warmly; we had booked on the web and we were not disappointed. The views are to die for and Bob could not stop taking pics of them as well as the wonderful plants and resident sheep. Our hosts recommended a visit to the Kiwi House at Otorohanga and it was worth a visit. The Kiwi bird is NZ’s national symbol and is ever-present; it must be viewed in complete darkness. It is flightless and the female carries an egg that encompasses her whole stomach (we saw an x-ray) so she virtually starves to give birth! After investigating the two resident Kiwis, we walked around the exterior grounds. The outdoor birdcage is the largest we’d seen and the number and species of birds is extraordinary. Back at the B&B, we ate a sandwich, looked at our pics and fell into bed.September 9, 2010After breakfast, we set out to find the Mangapohue Natural Bridge and Marokopa Falls. It seemed like we drove forever, but we were glad we made the trip. The natural bridge was formed by the collapse of a cave roof. Both destinations proved worth our time—the waterfall was magnificent! Bob also toured a small cave; I declined due to fatigue and the fact that we were booked to see two Waitomo caves later in the day. It was raining by the time we climbed into the van for the Spellbound trip; our guide was funny and informative. The first, a glowworm cave, involved walking and boating in a dark atmosphere. The glowworms are larvae that make bioluminescence, thereby “glowing” in the absence of light. Margaret had recommended this tour because it is a small group and the time spent in the caves is longer than other tours. The second cave is called Te Ana o te Atua (Maori for Cave of the Spirit). The glowworm tours became popular after the 1886 volcanic eruption in Rotorua left a hole (literally) in the tourist destination possibilities. Except for the cold rain, this was a great second day in NZ! September 10, 2010Today we bid farewell to Simply the Best leaving behind two jars of jelly and drove to Matamata hoping to see the Hobbit sets from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Once there, we were disappointed to discover that the price of the tour is outrageous--$64 to see some round doors in the hillside—and any and all pictures taken there could NOT be used in any way on the internet as there is construction ongoing for the new movie to be filmed there! To top it all off, the disinterested, aloof clerk would not say two words to us, so we left and landed in Rotorua about noon. Rotorua is the location of thermal pools, bubbling mud and hot water, steam coming up out of the ground everywhere. We had read that it was “stinky” but the odor did not bother us at all. In fact, our motel, the Bella Vista, is located a short walk from Kuirau Park, the site of a plethora of boiling mud, steam and water. We loved our accommodation and afterward sought out this chain. It offers a clean room, laundry, fridge & microwave and internet. Sue is the hostess of the Rotorua location and she is a gem! Definitely a jelly stop. After settling in, we toured the Park, then went to see Rotorua Museum, participating in a most interesting tour led by Steve Carden. This building, dating back over 100 years ago, started as a hospital with hot springs treatments. The grounds boast extensive bowling greens, pretty gardens, and statues. We purchased Chinese takeaway close to the motel and enjoyed a comfortable bed.September 11, 2010We started our day browsing through the Saturday market at Kuirau Park. There were so many choices for breakfast! We chose a sausage roll, chicken & pork kebabs and a strawberry crepe. Yummy! We also purchased some lime marmalade, honey, bread and apples for later. Then we drove a short distance to the Redwood Forest, planted over 100 years ago when NZ decided it needed more lumber. The country imported trees from all over the world, but California redwoods proved to be the best for their purposes. The trees are certainly not as old as those in CA, but they are impressive and they grow faster here than in the States. There was a running marathon going on for all ages; participants arrived in buses from many locations. It was a cold day (about 40 degrees), but we soon learned that Kiwis don’t let any kind of weather stop them from running! Next we drove to Te Puia, the site of a large geyser, also artifacts, weaving and carving schools, all belonging to the Maori. After that, a tour of the countryside, then back to city centre to purchase a 2011 calendar (I always purchase one so I can be reminded of our trips), laundry and dinner back at the motel. The weather turned ugly and the forecast was not good.September 12, 2010We were glad to leave the inclement weather of Rotorua and began our trek south to Wellington. We picked up groceries at Countdown (You can count on us to keep prices down!) and gas. Thank someone we don’t pay the equivalent of $8/gallon back in the States! We stopped at Huka Falls, a gorgeous spot on the Waikato River, NZ’s longest. The water is aquamarine and we loved the walk through the woods before experiencing the bridge across the water. It began to rain as we ended our tailgate lunch. Then we drove and drove and drove up to the high desert around Lake Taupo. We finally stopped at a town called Bulls, named after James Bull who founded it in 1858. The populace in this gem of a little town has a sense of humor. Bulls signs are everywhere. We popped into a small museum where a kind senior volunteer greeted us and sold us some bullshit paper on the way out. Trust me, it really is a quality paper—would make nice stationery! Next we drove to Levin, attempted to book a motel, but nothing looked like it would serve our needs. By now, we had decided to stay at internet-equipped places so we could upload our pics each night. We were taking hundreds each day, of course. So, on to another small town called Otaki where we located a room at the Otaki Motel, a sweet little place, jelly for sure. Not one restaurant was open, so on to New World, the local grocer, to purchase supper. Goodnight! <br style="color:𛈇 font-family: verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12.8px;" />September 13, 2010Our schedule required us to leave Wellington on the ferry to the South Island on September 15, so we decided to drive directly there. We arrived at a Bella Vista around 10 AM and booked a room. Of course, it was more expensive than the one in Rotorua and we had to pay $10/day extra for internet. NZ is certainly not as web-friendly as Peru. When we were there last year, it was free or almost free to use the web. After settling in, we lost no time and decided to walk the parade to Te Papa, the much-touted new museum. For the first mile it was good weather with Bob picking up beach glass and a shell or two. Then came the intermittent rain; we were amazed at the joggers we had to dodge, rain or no rain! We even watched a marathon swimmer in the harbor until we had to seek shelter. Te Papa is a modern building with more building than museum, much like the Natural History Museum we had experienced in San Diego nine days earlier. Maybe we don’t appreciate the architecture, but a museum is a place for exhibits first and foremost. And when the cavernous space displaces the things I came to see, well, I am disappointed. Apparently, we are in the minority as Te Papa is all the rage in NZ. Go and make your own assessment. We opted for a bus ride back to the motel and went grocery shopping. That was fast becoming a source of entertainment as well as a source of nourishment. Just investigating the choices, prices, and people became fun. September 14, 2010Besides Te Papa, we had planned to see the Botanic Gardens which are located high above the city and are reachable by cable car. The Gardens were very confusing to us and we soon felt like we were going up and down hills like goats. And it was apparently too early in the spring for many flowers! The sculptures piqued our interest and the children’s playground is outstanding. Finally, at the Museum of Land and Sea, we were exhilarated once again! Now, this is a museum! The exhibits take you through the entire history of NZ (which is shorter than ours). We learned about the Wahine, the ferry that capsized in the harbor in 1968 and hoped our trip tomorrow would be safer. Too soon we left to see the government buildings a short distance away (Wellington is the capitol) as well as the new and old St. Paul’s Cathedrals. The new one was undergoing renovation, but the old one is lovely with a wooden interior. We marveled at our flag hanging next to the NZ flag and remembered that the museum exhibit had told us how popular this church was with our servicemen during WWII. Next we drove to Kilburnie, a suburb, to hunt for thrift stores; we encountered a new one—Opportunity for Animals! Then back to the motel for dinner, packing and the crossing tomorrow. Sorry, no jelly.September 15, 2010We were up early today to board the Kaitaki, our Interislander ferry to the South Island. The ferry crosses the dangerous Cook Strait and lands at Picton. After a lengthy wait in the car line, we entered the hold of the ship, parked the car and settled in for the three-hour trip. It was a smooth, uneventful crossing and, upon landing, we headed right out of town. Our schedule was to see as much of the South Island as possible, ending in Christchurch by the 23rd to catch a flight to Auckland early on that day. We drove as far as Havelock where Bob had spied a famous mussel restaurant on the web. Unfortunately, it was closed, so we settled for the Settlers Restaurant inside the Havelock Hotel. Oh my! What a find! The mussels in wine/garlic followed by grouper for Bob and roast pork for me were a gourmet meal. At last, some good food! We drove to Nelson next, through mountains and valleys, past numerous vineyards and ended at a Bella Vista. This proprietor charged us $15 extra for internet and we received only 500 megabytes! No jelly for him.<br style="color:𛈇 font-family: verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12.8px;" />September 16, 2010Today we left Nelson and headed for the Swing Bridge at Buller Gorge, the longest of its kind in NZ at 161 feet. The charge is $5 to walk across; I tried not to look at the raging, frigid water below us. We would have taken a jet boat ride had the weather been warmer; in lieu of that, Bob just had to take the cometline back! I was content to take photos. Gold was mined here until an earthquake in 1929. Next we drove to the seal colony . The walk from the carpark to the colony was cold, rainy and right on the edge of miserable. But, thank goodness for our rain jackets. It was difficult to pick out the seals as they are camouflaged in the rocks on which they recline. We forged on in spite of the weather, driving along the rugged west coast, marveling at the farms hugging the ocean, on to the Paparoa National Park. Here we saw the Pancake Rocks and Blowholes at a place called Punakaiki. And this turned out to be one NOT to miss! Later, rain, rain, rain and more rain as we drove past Greymouth and stopped at Hokitika, a small town on the beach. We thought we’d give Bella Vista another try and were happy with our choice. Free internet; definitely a jelly stop.September 17, 2010We were sleepyheads today and we needed that extra rest after our rigorous day yesterday! Bad weather continued to plague us and, later we learned that NZ was hit by a storm the size of Australia yesterday! It was the largest storm on the planet at this time and here we were running around trying to sightsee! Hokitika boasted 124 hotels at the height of the gold rush here in the 1864. A tour of the quaint town, a stop at the small museum, a few souvenirs purchased, a delicious chicken/apricot pie eaten and the purchase we had been dying to make—Rain-X!—and we were ready to hit the road, storm or no storm. We drove to Lake Kaniere to see Dorothy Falls and the Lake. It was mostly clear and the brief drive was beautiful. On the way, we noticed a memorial alongside the road. Our inquisitive natures took over and we had to read the whole sad story of the Koiterangi Incident. In 1941 a farmer named Graham became aggressive towards his neighbors with a rifle. When the constable attempted to disarm him, Graham fired and, by the time the whole two-week incident ended, he had killed seven men. It seemed a sobering end to a bleak day. Back at the Bella Vista we enjoyed chicken and potatoes, checked road conditions, wondered HOW we were going to cross the mountains (Pass closed, chains essential, Pass closed, etc.). This was a challenge! September 18, 2010Adieu, sweet little Hokitika! The two glaciers, Franz Josef and Fox, were our destinations today. Alas, the weather was no better, nothing but cold rain. When we arrived at the first glacier, the walk from the parking lot seemed interminable! By the time we could even glimpse the mammoth, I was soaked to the skin and knew I couldn’t go any further. It must be several miles to even get close, nothing like the Exit Glacier we had experienced in Alaska. By the time we returned to the car, I had to wriggle out of my wet jeans or suffer hypothermia! The Fox Glacier experience was no better. On and on we travelled; in the parking lot of an overlook, we met a California couple who had crossed the mountains. They just happened to have an unused set of tire chains in their trunk and Bob struck a deal. I was so grateful to see my husband’s demeanor change that I offered a jar of jelly! Chains in hand, we left with renewed confidence for the crossing. Knight’s Point was a breathtaking viewpoint; the next land is the Antarctic! We stopped for the night at Haast Aspiring Court, big room. It seemed like forever before we could warm it and we literally hung wet clothes all over the place. September 19, 2010 <br style="color:𛈇 font-family: verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12.8px;" />We left Haast at 8 AM, facing light rain for a couple of hours. Then the rain gave way to snow and we drove on in silence, both wondering whether we would need the chains. The road was a bit slick in spots; we passed a snowplow and a gravel truck headed the other way. No worries, as they say here in NZ, at least about the road. However, we began to the rue the absence of a petrol fill-up back in Franz Josef. Running on empty, as the Eagles song goes! Makarora soon materialized, however, and we made a much needed stop! An American expat greeted us and we had to hear her story. She was 60-ish, and had lived in NZ 30 years, arriving here with her helicopter pilot husband. His first job: fly hunters around the countryside to shoot deer—from the helicopter! It seems they were a nuisance then; now there are deer farms everywhere and the nuisances are possums, stoats (ermines), and rats. A controversial pesticide called 1080 is being used to eradicate the varmints. Unfortunately, it can kill other mammals—dogs, rabbits or any animal that ingests the victims. We saw hundreds of dead rabbits along the road. Perhaps they were road kill, perhaps 1080 got’em. Our spirits replenished, the tank full, and a few souvenirs heavier, we regained our sense of adventure and decided to see Mt. Cook! I was so proud of my Bob; he is eternally eager to take a chance and my life with him (32 years) has overflowed with great memories. The drive was mostly clear and there were no problems getting to the visitor center. The adjacent Hermitage Hotel has 164 rooms and the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre is nearby, too. The visitor center is filled with exhibits of climbing equipment, photos, native animals, video presentations, gorgeous stained glass, magnificent mountain views, and loads of fabulous mementoes to bring home. It was impossible to stop taking pictures, even though the weather prevented us from getting a really good one of Aoraki Mt. Cook. We were reminded of the old adage we had learned last year in Peru : The mountains make their own weather. On we drove, once again marveling at the aquamarine water of Lake Pukaki, final stop for the day--Geraldine. We enjoyed a scrumptious meal of roast pork at the Heritage Hotel and went to our motel to collapse into bed!September 20, 2010We loved our new destination; Geraldine is a small, yet welcoming town with quaint little shops, good food, an informative tiny museum and tons of flowers in bloom! Spring had finally sprung for us. Evidently the horrible storm had left thousands of spring lambs frozen in the extreme south of the South Island as well as destroying the stadium at Invercargill. But we were ready for a slow, leisurely day with very little, if any, time in the Mazda. "The Geraldine Motels" (they added more and more, hence the S) proved to be a comfortable stop. Our suite had two (!) bedrooms, upstairs and down, a wonderful kitchen and a reasonable price. And our hosts, Ross and Sharon, were the best so far. Jelly for sure! And a Fifth of Rum. We had wonderful chats with them in between resting and doing laundry. The Geraldine Museum boasted a great gentleman eager to educate us on the history of his home. He regaled us with one story of a couple, newly married, who attempted to cross a raging river. As she was swept away, her husband called, “Ellen, I’ll see you in heaven,” but the happy ending was that they were reunited a short time later. The World’s Largest Jersey was on the list, so we stopped at the knitting shop to see it as well as to purchase a couple pairs of fingerless gloves for our daughters. One antique/thrift store even contained a small museum in back full of weapons, uniforms, animals—Bob was thrilled. We had investigated a bicycle/motorcycle shop which contained a 1925 Harley Davidson and were told there was another at the Geraldine Vintage Car and Machinery Museum. So you know what was next! This is a complex of several buildings containing autos, cycles, trucks, tractors, farming implements, parts and parts of all of these, even an airplane! At the end of the tour, an elderly man asked us: “Did you court in one of those cars?” The NZ sense of humor is evident everywhere; when we bought the Rain-X, we asked why it had been so difficult to find as we searched for it constantly. The clerk answered: “Because it hardly ever rains here.” During the many country miles we had driven, we had noticed fences filled with accessories—one sported tennis shoes, one flip-flops, one teapots and even one with panties! To complete a perfect day, we drove only a few miles outside of Geraldine to find a place called Honey Corner. Bob is absolutely bonkers for honey and we had purchased several jars already. The patient proprietor, Noel, let Bob sample several varieties until he settled on Manuka thyme. I crossed my fingers later as I packed and unpacked for the impending trip home!September 21, 2010After a full breakfast of scrambled eggs and ham (I’d become a whiz with a microwave!), we left Geraldine and headed for Christchurch. We passed Salmon World at Rakaia; when I got home, I had to check it out on the web as we definitely did not have time to stop. Even the roof of the building is in the shape of a salmon! We found a motel close to the airport in Christchurch because we figured we would leave the rental car the night before our flight and catch a cab to the airport. The Aarburg Motel is just two blocks from Apex Car Rentals so that worked out well even though they offer no heat. Christchurch is New Zealand’s oldest urban area, having been established in 1858. It is the largest in the South Island, second only to Wellington with the population standing at about 400,000 for the region. It had also been hit by a 7.1 earthquake on September 4, two days after we had left home and were still in CA. Naturally we were apprehensive about what we would find; happily our short stay of two days was not hampered in the least. We could not say the same for the local residents; water and sewer will not be restored for as much as a year in some of the suburbs! Immediately we drove to the gondola, a destination we were told not to miss. We purchased combination gondola/tram tickets; we would recommend skipping the tram as it goes only a few blocks. However, the gondola ride takes you up 1500 feet and the views are well worth it! At the top, there is a time tunnel ride that transports you through NZ history, quite good. Next, we drove to City Centre, hopped on and off the tram, investigated the Cathedral, bought fudge at one of many shops in a converted historic school. We appreciated the Kate Sheppard Memorial; she was paramount in accomplishing Women’s Suffrage in NZ. It was the FIRST country in the world to grant women the right to vote and that was in 1893! Much of Christchurch architecture reminded us of Cambridge; it is certainly more British than anywhere else we had visited. When we returned to the car, we noticed we had transgressed and parked in bus parking! OOPS! Luckily, no ticket, we visited a grocery store one last time, went back to a very cold room and asked for an extra heater! and they took it away the next daySeptember 22, 2010Today we returned to City Centre to peruse the Canterbury Museum. It wasn’t long before we knew we’d made a great choice! Now, this is a museum. It has a complete re-creation of 19th century Christchurch commerce—replicas of storefronts hawking clothing, jewelry, clocks, tobacco, toys, shoes—you name it. All were very detailed with appropriate artifacts. There is great bird collection, a mummy display, an Egyptian and Asiatic collection. Our favorite was the Antarctic display; we had passed up a visit to the Antarctic Centre next to the airport to see this museum and were glad we did. This South Pole exhibit is very complete, even sporting the huge vehicles used on the expeditions. Of course, there is also a floor devoted to the Maori. For lunch, we made another great choice, Mum’s, a Korean restaurant. We shared a huge plate of sweet and sour chicken and Bob was thrilled when the waitress placed a bowl of kimchi in front of him! Seconds on that one. Naturally, we couldn’t stop just yet, a couple of hours of daylight left. So we set out for the coastline, passed Sumner and ended at Taylors Mistake. We read that this harbor was mistaken for Lyttelton and others and there were men on board each shipwreck named Taylor, hence the moniker. In the summer, this is the place to surf. Next we drove high, high up onto Summit Road, hugging the edge with sheep, bicyclists, and assorted crazy Kiwis (or maybe they were tourists?) driving recklessly and much too fast. Guardrails are not evident in NZ or at least we saw few, if any. By 5 PM, we returned the Mazda, absolutely on empty and with 2401 more miles than 15 days prior, walked back to Aarburg Motel, packed, had dinner, delivered the last jar of jelly and why I don't know and tried to sleep. September 23, 2010Our taxi arrived at 5:15 AM, took us the short distance to the airport where we boarded a flight to Auckland. Then it was on to LA, then Atlanta, then Sarasota. Because we crossed the International Dateline, that whole distance was covered before we arrived home at 11 PM on September 23. How did we assess our trip? We loved it, as we love all our trips. After all, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. However, if you go, understand that it will cost more than you expect. Even if a local tells you the price of wool is lousy, that sweater will still cost $165. And an egg could cost as much as 50 cents. Groceries, in general, are 50% higher than in America. We know about the gas price. If you like adventure sports (and you’re under 40), this place is paradise. If you’re our age (retired), only attempt NZ in the summer (even then it looks to be about 60 degrees Fahrenheit for the high). And, oh, never ever spill a whole liter of water into a leather laptop briefcase just before you board an international flight. My poor Bob made this mistake in the Auckland Airport. However, if you should transgress in this manner, here’s your solution. Pull the laptop out FAST, remove the battery, dry out the briefcase with your t-shirt, run to the ladies’ restroom and dry it out some more with towels. Run to the men’s restroom and place the laptop under the hand dryer. Put the laptop back in the briefcase and forget about it until you reach your destination. Plug it in at the next airport and Voila! It works! for all 7000+ hi res pics go here to skydrive

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