Days 12 – 15 – Journeying from the North to the Center, then to the West

This post is more days than I initially planned for a few reasons. 1 – I was driving  – A LOT – from day 12 – day 15 I drove around 750 miles – on winding, curvy New Zealand roads – including a nasty accident laden rush hour in Auckland – I was in the city well before rush hour – but a nasty wreck caused me about 3 hours of sitting in traffic. 2 – due to some crazy winter weather some of my stops were shorter than planned, or didn’t happen at all – and 3 – with this post I will officially be caught up to today’s travels, which is pretty important because I fly home in a little under 3 1/2 days (but I don’t arrive in Atlanta for almost 5 days – the 19th will last something in excess of 40 hours for me – the thought makes my head hurt!)

Tuesday, July 11

On day 12 – I left Kohukohu, and the hospitality of the nuns – who I truly had an enjoyable time getting to know – they were fantastic hosts – and the location was serene and beautiful.

It had been too wet and rainy to really do laundry and expect it to dry for the next leg of my journey, so I decided to stop at a laundromat in Whangarei, and while I was there see if I could find a quilt shop for my Aunt who had sent me a request for some kiwi quilting supplies. I lucked out and found a laundromat where I could drop off my clothes, and a quilt shop as well.

In the quilt shop I found this cute table runner kit, that will fit in my suitcase, and hopefully will work for what Aunt Linda wants – they did have some really neat Kiwiana fabric – and it was a cool stop – and not one I would have typically made- but I am glad I did!

After the Quilt Shop, and while I was waiting on my laundry, I explored Whangarei a bit, and grabbed a little lunch. I found a Hundertwasser inspired sculpture – which is apparently the beginning of a museum they are working on in the Northland.

With that, I bid adieu to the lovely Northland, picked up my clothes from the Laundromat, and headed south – hoping to hit Auckland by 2:30. I actually hit Auckland by 3:00 – but the traffic was already abysmal – so I jammed out to Pandora on the parking lot that was the road I was travelling on.

Once (finally) clear of Auckland, I headed to my destination – a lovely little holiday park in Te Aroha. I checked in, and was shown to my lovely little cabin – and thankfully arrived in time to take advantage of the nice spa pool in the park – just what I needed after the LONG drive I had. It was a crystal clear night – and I loved just looking at the stars while I relaxed, and was even joined with some fellow American travelers, and we exchanged travel tips and destination ideas. All in all it was a lovely evening – and I could have stayed at the park much longer than the one night – I mean, how cute was my cabin?

Wednesday, July 12

The next day I got up and headed to planned stop 1 – Wairere Falls – I got about 5 minutes down the 2-hour long track when it started sleeting on me – and no matter how great my jacket and rain coat are – I am just not a fan of scrambling over icy rocks on a trail to see a waterfall, so I decided it wasn’t meant to be – and the group that was ahead of me did the same – when I was getting back in my car at the lot a couple came back out of the track and said that we made a good choice – the visibility at the falls was so bad you really couldn’t see anyway, and the rocks at the upper path were already frosty – yuck!

What I should have seen at the falls would have been the North Island’s tallest waterfall – which would have been cool, but I definitely think I made the right call.

My next stop, after several hours of driving was just to stop at a quick overlook – to see the Blue and Green lakes – two lakes beside one another that look different colors due to mineral deposits on their beds (the pictures don’t do the colors justice, by the way).

A few minutes from the 2 lakes, I arrived at my next destination, the Museum and Archeological Excavation site of Te Wairoa – a city that was buried by a devastating volcanic eruption of Mt. Tarawera in 1886.

The museum starts by taking you through the horrible events of that night, and then you are able to visit the excavation sites where they are still uncovering parts of the village. The amount of dirt and ash that buried the village is massive. The stroll through the land was beautiful, and it was easy to see why people had chosen to make their home here – in the shadow of Tarawera. They uncovered many interesting things – including a cellar full of some of the rarest and most expensive spirits of the day – as they were preparing for an event in town. Feel free to look through the pictures, but know that there are a few things that may need a trigger warning – the devastation, relics and stories are a startling reminder of the power of mother nature.

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My next stop was a quick one, just to check out some cool thermal activity on my way to Lake Taupo. At Waiotapu I saw natural hot springs, that people just pull off of the side of the road to take a dip in – I passed on the dipping myself – 1) because the water was kinda gross looking, and sulpher-y – and I didn’t want to smell like that for the rest of my drive (and the warning signs do little to help with the gross factor, btw), and 2 – there was a bus full of school children from some sort of school holiday camp in the stream – which certainly didn’t scream relaxation to me.

But, what was cool, was my next stop, the bubbling mud pools – they were fascinating!

When it starting spitting rain I decided to continue on – and head to my next stop, Huka Falls. Huka Falls was amazing – but it really didn’t fit my definition of “falls”, however it was a CRAZY fast moving river – one which generates a fair amount of hydroelectric power. In the summer they run a jet up the water – talk about a rush!

Then I journeyed on to Lake Taupo and checked into my Air BnB for the next 2 nights, explored Taupo and had dinner.

The cold had certainly arrived, and there was sleet and snow (at higher elevations) for most of the night, which meant that most everything was shut down the next day (including roads leading to the East, where the weather is just not pretty – I am so thankful that my next stop is West!).

Thursday – July 13

The weather also meant that my boat trip the Maori Rock Carvings on the Lake was cancelled, so I ended up with really nothing to do for the day. The only places really open in town were, oh darn, the Mineral Spas – so I looked online and scored a cheapo day pass for one of the spas and went for a nice soak. Not a bad plan B, if I do say so myself. The other thing this unexpected weather allowed me to do was get caught up on my blog, and finish my reapplication to continue as a part of the Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts group – so I went ahead and knocked that out as well (which I needed to do, as it is, in fact, due this week!).

Friday – July 14th 

This morning my first stop was the wharf to see if the boat trip I was supposed to go on yesterday was a go for today, before I headed out of town. My expectations were low, because the weather wasn’t great – better than the previous day mind you, but still questionable. I also knew that unless others were booked they would not take out the boat just for me – not that I could blame them there.

It wasn’t looking great, but then a group of 5 called, and wanted to go out. That pushed us over the minimum and the captain said, let’s roll. Now – the weather cleared quite nicely on the boat, but there were some pretty crazy waves. Fortunately, I did not get sea sick, but the poor family of 5 was not as lucky – and I felt pretty bad for them.

The rock carvings were neat, though and I was glad I got to see them. Mind you these carvings are not ancient (but they are older than I am!) LOL!.

We also got to feed ducks off of the back of the boat – which was cool – even if they didn’t always just bite the cookie – I had one give me a nice beak-ing on my finger!

You can learn more about the history of the rock carvings here: http://www.greatlaketaupo.com/things-to-do/must-do/maorirockcarvings/history/

This video shows the boat movement during some of the worst motion – and I aimed high to spare you all from the vomiting people – but, I take no responsibility for your sea sickness if you choose to watch it. 😉

As soon as I was back on terra firma I set out for my next destination, New Plymouth. The drive was pretty easy, but unfortunately I was reminded of why you take out car rental insurance when a rock was kicked up at my windshield and gave me a nice crack. I am sure it will be fun dealing with the rental car company and the insurance process across the Pacific, since I return the rental car the day before I leave the country. Oh well – life goes on.

I stopped at the 3 sisters trail – unfortunately, the tide was too high to safely make it out to the rocks.

I made it to the West Coast in time to catch the sunset – so it was a great way to end the day.

My Air BnB for the night was quite cozy, and I watched a movie with my hosts before heading to bed.

Saturday July 15th

I slept in a little this morning, because I had a relatively short drive planned, and two little walks I wanted to do, but I was in no rush for the day.

My first walk for the day was the Potaema Walk to the swamp, which promised great views of Mt. Taranaki. I got to the trail head, and wasn’t even a few minutes down the trail when I reached a massive downed tree – the diameter of the tree was almost as tall as me (no short jokes needed, btw), and totally covered the path, with no safe way to go around, so I turned around, and when I got back to my car called the Department of Conservation to report the blocked trail. (and yes, that is snow. . . )

Moving on, I headed to my next stop in Egmont, the Dawson Falls Center, where there is a great track that not only gives stunning views of the Taranaki region, but also takes you through a Goblin Forest. However, that was also not to be, as I got to the road leading the last 6 KM to the trail head only to see the dreaded “Chains Required” sign. Since my rental car does not have chains (and honestly – this Southern Girl has no business driving on those roads chains or no chains) – I had to put this in the loss column. . .

But hey – check out this cool camper I saw on my way:

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At this point I was going to be several hours earlier than I had told my host for the night, so I sent her a message asking what the earliest I could check in would be – and she said she would be ready for me at 4:00 – so I headed on – taking a nice long coffee stop along the way – and then going ahead and knocking one of my plans for tomorrow off my list, this crazy underground elevator – built in 1919 as a commuter option for folks from Durie Hill to reach the City Center.

The elevator itself is accessed via a long underground tunnel.

Stepping on the elevator is a step back in time:

 

And it is a bumpy, shaky ride that shows the age of the elevator.

At the top, you can climb the spiral staircase and get some pretty amazing views:

After this, I was able to check into the Rose Cottage – what a great place to spend the next 2 nights, and I just love my host, Kay.

I will probably share more about Rose Cottage in tomorrow’s post.

And that my friends is all – I am caught up, and there are probably only a few (at most 3, probably 2?) more blog updates live for you from New Zealand – then I am back in the US!

I guess I need to start planning my next adventure! 🙂

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Auckland Adventures

So this week I am finishing my term 1 school visits in the Auckland area, so that means time for some travel adventures outside of Wellington, and this is my first venture back to Auckland since my brief stop here upon arriving in New Zealand to transfer planes. The Auckland Airport is not my favorite, after some bad experiences there, so I am hopeful that the city of Auckland redeems their airport for me. I won’t delve into my issues – but some better signage and some customer service might be helpful. . . I have been in a lot of airports in lots of countries, and for a major city, the Auckland Airport has just been disappointing.

Nevertheless, I arrived in Auckland, caught the Sky Bus to Britomart (the train station by the waterfront area), and as I had several hours until I could check into my AWESOME AirBnB, I stored my luggage at the ferry terminal and headed to take a bus tour with Auckland Explorer. The weather was dreary and rainy, so it was a good day to just take the bus tour and attempt to get a feel for the sprawling metropolis that is Auckland (Auckland is the “big city” in New Zealand, with a population of just under 1.5 million. About 33% of New Zealanders live in this city. Actually, Auckland, because it is spread out and very “suburban” reminds me a lot of metropolitan Atlanta (with much better public transit, BTW) While the tour was a hop-on-hop-off tour, I knew I only really had time to ride both loops straight through, so that was what I did. The pictures are not the best – taken from the bus through rainy windows, but I was able to see some cool buildings and landmarks and get an overview of some cool aspects of Auckland’s history.

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After the bus tour, it was still pouring, so I decided that instead of trekking to the house via bus and walking in the rain I would just take an Uber from the ferry terminal  to the house – best $5.00 Uber decision ever – I would have been drenched, because the sky opened up and poured buckets as we were pulling away from the Ferry.

I checked in and met Coco, my lovely Air BnB host. Her house is in an excellent location, and my room is just perfect (and unlike much of Auckland – Coco has free, unlimited Wifi, which is why I am able to update my blog so easily here!). I got settled in, and sent some emails to verify my visits with schools this week, then decided to venture out for dinner. The Asian influence in New Zealand is rich, so I find myself always trying the different types of Asian food and varieties here, so I set out to a restaurant I found online that had “Shabu-Shabu” which is the Japanese equivalent of a Hot Pot. I had never had it before and it was yummy!! (In short, you have a grill at your table, and a pot of hot broth, and you put your meats, veggies, dumplings and more into the pot and cook it at the table. I enjoyed the food and the wait staff was a ton of fun – I think they liked my accent! LOL!

Thursday I had a  school visit, so I was out early that morning, then wandered back to the city after, and decided to check out the Sky Tower. Admission is 30.00, or you can have lunch and go up as a part of your dining experience, so I opted for the late lunch route and enjoyed dining in the revolving restaurant (just like the SunDial my ATL friends), and enjoyed the views while the restaurant rotated. I spent just a little over 30.00, so I felt it was a good deal to get a meal and get to go to the observation deck as well (I was lucky to get a reservation, I think because it was an overcast kinda day). (Check out the bungy-jumpers – from the tower).

After my late lunch/dinner, I did take a quick little detour into the Sky City casino – played just enough to earn back the money I spent (plus some – I think it is the Dave Stenner influence- I tend to break even or better in casinos) and went back to the house by way of the grocery store where I picked up some food for breakfast and lunches.

Friday was another fun school visit, and I even got to help students with programming, which was SO MUCH FUN!

After my school visit, I came home a bit (It was just a few blocks from where I am staying) then I decided to just wander to Britomart and decide what to do from there. As I wandered to the city I thought – hey! Why not take a ferry somewhere and grab dinner, then head back – I googled the many ferry options and decided that I would catch the Ferry to Half Moon Bay, because on Friday nights it had 2 later ferries, so I would have time to eat with out rushing. The ferry ride was great, and it was cool to see Auckland all lit up from the water. My dining options were limited in Half Moon Bay, but I went to a Thai restaurant and had a dish of Sizzling Garlic Lamb before catching the Ferry back to he CBD and the bus home.

Saturday was my day for adventure, but I did sleep in a bit and got a lazy start to the day. I decided to check out some remnants of volcanic activity in the Auckland area so I ventured to Takapuna Beach on Auckland’s North Shore, where I started with the Takapuna Heritage Walk. This walk did not disappoint, however it was not an easy stroll (as I was doing it at High Tide) and involved balancing on a sea wall as waves crashed against you, and climbing over, around and navigating through Lava rocks. It was gorgeous though, and totally worth it. I packed a picnic “LunchDinner” and enjoyed it on lava rocks about 1/2 way through the beach walk.

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I walked and enjoyed sunset on the beach before heading home. I received word that my snorkeling tour for Sunday was cancelled due to rough seas to the north, so I checked out BookMe (A NZ site sort of like Groupon) and booked a sailing tour of Auckland Harbor.

Sunday I strolled around Auckland checking out some parks and other fun locations before I headed to the Viaduct Harbor for my Sailing experience. Sailing is definitely a thing in Auckland, which is know as the “City of Sails”. Sailing in Auckland Harbor was a great experience, and I am so glad I did it, even if it was completely unnerving when they laid the boat down almost completely on it’s side, but it was a thrilling kind of fun. (In customary NZ fashion, you can also see Bungy Jumpers (not me!) getting ready to “dip” in the harbor from the bridge).

More school visits for me Monday and Tuesday (plus a fun dinner with Nikkie and Crew), then home to Wellington on Wednesday. Term Break (2 weeks off) starts on Good Friday for schools, and I head to Australia on Saturday!