New Zealand Vacation

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Sue and Bob vacation in New Zealand! Great photos, and a few videos too.

We had such a good time traveling around New Zealand that we took many pictures. When all were counted up we had 2,586 pictures! Wow. We trimmed that down to 2,005 pictures for us to keep. Good for us but way too many for most people to look through in one sitting. Therefore here is my [Bob's] pick for the the best 58 pictures from our trip.

2006-02-09. Auckland We arrived by Boeing 747 into the Auckland airport as do most people. New Zealand Air is very very nice! The plane landed at 5am, we got through Immigration and Customs by 7am and hopped a bus to the very nice Langham Hotel in downtown Auckland. We couldn't check in yet, but the nice hotel folks gave us a key to their health club and pool. The pool had nice lounger chairs, so we slept there for a couple hours, then since the pool also a locker room and showers, we were able to shower, change, and get ready for a day in Auckland. We dropped our bags at the concierge and spent the day wandering around the city.

We wandered the pier and wharf area a lot, grabbed lunch, got insane and did the "Vertigo" Sky Tower climb, then went back to the hotel to check in. Then we went back out to wander some more....

2006-02-10. Coach Tour to Waitomo & Rotorua We caught a 7am coach tour (with Newman Coach Lines - very nice) from Auckland to Rotorua. Here in New Zealand, a "coach" is a very comfy tour bus, a "bus" is a hard-seat city transport bus. Our bus driver was very talkative, giving us lots of information about all the local things to do and see, and local attractions. We stopped at the Waitomo Caves to see the glow worms, then on to the Apple Cafe for lunch. Tacky place but good food. Then we headed east to Rotorua, unfortunately into a thunderstorm, but still fun to sight-see during the trip.

2006-02-10. The lake house that we stayed in at Rotorua. It turned out to have awsome views out every window of the house and most of the windows were floor to ceiling. But I rather expected sand down to the water instead of grass right to the water's edge. Still, very nice - Fran nick-named it "Chez Tres Deluxe".

2006-02-11. Hell's Gate in Rotorua. This is an appropriately named geothermal area. First off, let's mention the smell. It's sulfur. Strong. Chokingly strong. But that aside, it's a really cool place. It looks like Mordor should look - not only the steaming bubbling pools (did we mention they smell?) but also the dead vegetation around the pools. The landscape is alien.

2006-02-11. The mud pots at Wai-O-Tapu were really interesting. Especially going here right after Hell's Gate - quite a contrast! The best place was just before we got to the Wai-O-Tapu park, a roadside free spot. We got great photos and video here of the bubbling pond, including "Mr Splutchy" :-)

2006-02-11. The City Park in Rotorua is actually a hot spring area. The ground in various spots erupts with geothermal activity here and there. It is obvious that some have been there for a while and that others have just recently sprung up. If something springs up someplace else the park will be forced to move roads and such around where the springs are. More good videos of boiling ponds.

2006-02-11. Traveling around the Rotorua area. Here are some of the sights that we saw there.

2006-02-12. The Kiwi Experience at Rotorua was awsome! They have an egg incubation program there to try to preserve and rejuvinate the indigenous kiwi bird population. The bird has been devestated by imported predators and now their only hope of survival depends upon people working to save them. This was truly a wonderful exhibit and I really enjoyed see the Kiwi birds there.

At the same place (right next door) is Rainbow Springs, an interesting walk through various flora and fauna. Worth a vist.

2006-02-12. We visited buried village at Rotorua. It was a bit of local history. Rather sedate and subdued compared to everything else that we had seen. Mostly an excavation and recreation of an old village covered by an eruption. If you are really into local history this was interesting otherwise I would suggest some other way to spend the day.

2006-02-13. We travel to from Rotorua to Opiki and along the way stopped at many fun places like the Volcanic Centre, Honey Hive, Huka Falls, Lake Taupo, and a roadside DC-3 cafe which has been converted into a Cookie Time cafe! This was quite fun for Sue and myself. Traveling the roads of New Zealand is just like the old two lane highway Route 66 where local flavor enticed travelers to stop and sample the wares. This one was perfect for us.

2006-02-14. We then travel to Sue's sister's place and stay for a couple of days. In New Zealand travel signs this is called a "farmstay".

2006-02-15. Time on the farm where Sue milks her first cow! Also windmills in the area, downtown Palmerston North, and views of Fran's house.

2006-02-16. We drove to Wellington to take the ferry to the south island. In Wellington the car stopped and we were told to get out and go visit the museum at Te Papa for a while. I guess that was in the plan but since I had not known about that part of the plan it caught me by quite a surprise! But okay. I do as I am told. [I told him, he just didn't listen... Sue] If you are into museums you will like this one. We just missed the exhibit holding the "World's fastest Indian" motorcycle of movie fame. While we were in the museum the car apparently broke down, radiator fan stopped, for Sue's sister while she was running errands in Wellington and so she drove back to Opiki and swapped cars and came back just in time to pick us up.

2006-02-17. Taking the ferry to the south island. Fun three-hour ferry ride, well at least for three of us - Fran never gets sick, and Bob and Sue were fine. Gorgeous views of the sound up to Picton, then on to Blenheim for lunch, and on to Kekerengu for another cottage stay.

2006-02-18. We go flying! We drive down the coast to Kaikoura, a great place for whale-watching, and seeing dolphins and albatross and seals too. Bob and Sue book a flight on a plane at the local airport. Gotta get that logbook signature for the country! Our commercial pilots licenses are not valid here unless we get a full BFR checkout, so it's simpler to just do a quick flight with a local flight instructor. Airspace, regulations, etc are all slightly different so this is safer, and fun!

2006-02-18. In Kaikoura we see seals and other fun stuff in Kaikoura for the day.

2006-02-19. Whale watching in Kaikoura. This was a somewhat expensive trip and I [Bob] was a little put off by it at first. But the entire thing was so well done that I really enjoyed it and would do it again. The whale watching boat was really set up for doing this. It was fast and powerful and handled the waves well. We would stop for a little bit while everyone got topside and spotted. The whale would only stay on the surface for a few minutes and as soon as it dove down the crew would call for us to take seats and amazingly everyone took their seats as fast as possible, I could lodge no complaints, and the boat would zoom over to where another whale was spotted where we would pile up topside again. It was really an amazing experience to see those huge mammals. We saw what seemed to be an above average number of whales.

Whales come very close to the shore here in Kaikoura. One of the reasons why is that the ocean floor drops off very sharply. If you look at a seafloor topo map you will see that it is very deep quite close to shore. Whales need deep water to find their food. They dive deep and make repeated deep dives to feed. This deep water of around 1000 metres makes Kaikoura a great whale watching spot because you don't have to go very far offshore to see them.

The crew were really efficient and knowledgeable. After seeing four whales, we still had some time before needing to dock again so the crew took us to a large pod of dolphins which were playing near the shore. They were very cute and playful and seemed to be having a wonderful time. We certainly had a wonderful time watching them. People also saw wandering albatross.

2006-02-19. While leaving Kaikoura we see some seals basking in the sun on the rocks along the coast. Since we are from a land-locked state we think they are pretty cool animals.

2006-02-19. We arrived in Christchurch, split up to suss out the local motels to determine the best one, and picked the Sherborne. Then we went to a good italian place for dinner, and crashed out. Lots to do tomorrow!

2006-02-20. First on the list to do in Christchurch is the Antarctic Center, famous for being a stepping-stone to the Antarctic continent, and a great place for learning about it. Tons of cool info! Wear a coat - it's really cold inside.

2006-02-20. Bob takes off to wander Christchurch's downtown and finds it more English than England and more Japanese than expected. A very multinational place. The rest of us head to the Animal Park. We got to see some fun animals and feed giraffes! Then, we headed to the Christchurch Botanical Gardens. The Christchurch area is famous for gardens, and the free botanical garden in the center of the city is one of the best in the world.

2006-02-20. Bob and Sue wander Christchurch at night. Weird and interesting sights.

2006-02-21. Christchurch wandering just before we left. We went back to the botanical gardens to see the conservatories that had been closed. We went to the Cathedral and climbed the tower.

2006-02-21. Travel to Lake Tekapo. We stop just outside Geraldine on the way from Christchurch to visit a cheese factory. Also the "Tin Shed" for a large selection of wool items. Then on to another rental house - Rowan Cottage, a little rustic but ok.

2006-02-22. We go hiking at Lake Tekapo. Lake Tekapo is about in the middle of the south island, both north-south middle and east-west middle. It's up in the "highlands", at about 700 metres elevation. Everywhere else we've been has been at sea level. It's colder here -- good thing with all the cloudy cold weather we had up in Palmy North we'd both bought polypro long underwear there, and Sue bought a hat, scarf, and gloves (Bob had brought his). Now we are using them! We hike a couple of the local trails, and do some star-gazing that night.

2006-02-23. We then take a day trip to Mt Cook, first around Lake Pukaki, up its west side, into the Mt Cook park. The Maori name for Mt Cook is "Aoraki" and Maori is also an official language of New Zealand. We first drive out to a lake that is just off a glacier and might have icebergs. We've never seen one! Then we hike what's reputed to be the "most popular track in the park" and it is beautiful. It has two "swingbridges" - suspension bridges to cross. Fun!

2006-02-24. Travel to Queenstown. The house Fran found to rent is incredible. "Remarkable View" is its name and that's an understatement. Oh wow. Bob and I then wander down to town, check email, and have a fun long hike back up the hills.

2006-02-25. Coach tour to Milford Sound. Wow this is pretty - we'd all like to come back and spend a couple days here. We take Real Journeys coach there, book the flight back but it's cancelled so we coach back the same day. Get back into Queenstown around 8pm, grab a quick dinner at the food court, and head up to the house. Bob has energy and heads back into town to check email, and has an adventure on the hike back up. As he put it "a dark-haired floozy made eyes at me and was dogging me up the hill...." :-)

2006-02-26. We go visit Gold Fields, a Cheesery, and a Winery. The gold fields was a little tacky but could be worse. We had fun trying to pan for gold, not having a clue what we were doing :-) We did the tour through the ruins of where the miners used to be... Then we visited a cheesery, and a winery. Fun! Bob stayed home to read in a sunny spot, walk down the hill and wander Queenstown, and check email on the internet...

2006-02-27. Today it rained most of the day. We lazed around, drove into town for lunch and then wandered around downtown. Just a few pictures while in downtown Queenstown. Fran cooked us a wonderful dinner of "surf & turf" -- ostrich steak and prawns. Yumm!

2006-02-28. Leaving Queenstown. We fly 2 hours to Auckland airport, 5 hour layover, then 12 hour flight to LA, 6 hour layover, 2 hour flight to Denver, pick up luggage, and drive home. From the time we said good-bye to Fran in Queenstown, to the time we walked in the door at home - 36 hours. Blech!

But Fran had it much worse - they had 2 days to drive to Picton to catch the already-booked ferry to Wellington, and still keep driving home to Palmy North. Long drive!! They're home fine, and even caught an earlier ferry to get calmer weather and avoid the forecast "5-metre swells and 120 km/hour winds" - that would have been a rough crossing!

All in all a wonderful trip. Sue didn't want to leave and would go back tomorrow :-) or move there. Interesting tidbits: Light switches are upside-down; not only does traffic drive on the other side of the road but right-of-way rules are quite different; the country is very well set up for tourism in general and backpackers specifically, but I wouldn't want to bicycle on their roads with no shoulders; many toilets have 2 flush buttons (half and full flush) to save water; lamb is just as rare and expensive as in the US - most of it is exported. Anything imported is expensive, a few things in particular like paperback books -- what would be $7 in the US is $26 in NZ. With exchange rate that's around $20 US - still outrageous. Food is fairly expensive. Recycling is stressed - even food court restaurants serve their food on china not throw-away plates.

A lot of people have asked why we didn't go see some of the places where the "Lord of the Rings" movies were filmed. The film locations are scattered all over both islands, with beautiful scenery. The problem is that most of the film locations are just that - beautiful scenery - with no film set left. One of the few locations that still has remains of a film set is "Hobbiton", and there's not much left. I honestly want to thank the "Rings Scenic Tours" in Matamata for having true pictures on their brochure of what is left of the set - "as it was" in the movie, and "as it is" now. See this (large) scan of two brochures for honest and not misleading information and photos of what's there. Not much. So we skipped it. If they'd left the set there, especially Hobbiton, I would have loved to visit it.

Politically, NZ sounds like a great place to live. It has true representation by voter participation -- voters vote for a party / ideals, not a person. The percentage of people voting for each party determines the makeup of the parliament, and each person representing his or her party votes that way. No civil lawsuits. But it's not a nirvana. There's plenty of issues like the bilingual treaty between the British and the native Maori, where the translation isn't quite perfect and is way open to interpretation. An interesting history. Overall a slower pace, laid-back attitude, friendly and talkative people. NZ is currently encouraging immigration of skilled workers... :-)

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