Josiah's New Zealand Travelogue
December 2009 - January 2010
|Day 1 (20th - 22nd): Plane, plane, plane, Auckland|
Ah, gotta love long plane rides...or not. So why New Zealand? Well, my dad has always wanted to go (a combination of the scenery, hiking, and plant life, I think) and, with our schedules continuing to diverge, this could very well be the last "great family vacation" my parents, brother, and I get to take together. So New Zealand it is.
Random New Zealand Comment: The Asian Influence
|Day 2 (23th): Heading North|
|Remarkably, and very conveniently, my dad actually managed to sleep through pretty much the entire night (he usually has a lot of trouble with jet lag), so we didn't have to worry about him wanting to leave at 3 AM since he couldn't get back to sleep. Though, come 8 AM, we were still in the car and headed off to our first "hub" hotel, several hours to the north. I spent most of the drive watching the scenery and listening to music on my MP3 player. New Zealand still reminds me a lot of the Eastern US. Very lush and green, with lots of rolling hills and tiny little towns. There's a whole bunch of farms as well. Lots of different types of fruit are grown here and there's plenty of cows and sheep too. I have to admit that, compared to Japan and Europe (where I went once a year or two before starting Pebble Version), New Zealand isn't nearly as "different" from the US. Nothing wrong with that, and it certainly makes getting around a lot easier, but it's a little less exciting that way.
We stopped along the way and took a quick walk to a nice waterfall, followed by a much longer walk through the nearby forest. Definitely some plants here that you don't see in the US. Some nice flowers too (though most of them do grow in the US). Here's a pic of myself and my parents on a walkway in the middle of the forest.
After that it was back to the car for a while longer until we arrived at our destination, a small beach town called Taipa. Our hotel is right on the beach, though it was pretty cloudy and windy today so I didn't feel like getting in the water. We walked along the beach for a while though and spotted some of the local wildlife such as seagulls (pretty much the same everywhere in the world) and assorted sea creatures (such as this starfish) hanging out in some tidal pools.
Next up, dinner in a small fishing town nearby (they had good fish and chips) and grocery shopping. So far, all the grocery stores I've seen here in New Zealand have been pretty small, though that could just be due to the locations I've been to so far (downtown in a city and in small rural towns. As for the food, aside from some different brand names and a bit more of a focus on organic and natural stuff, most of the food isn't all that different than what you'd find in grocery stores in the US. Though the more popular fruits and vegetables are a bit different (beets and, unsurprisingly, kiwi fruits are quite popular here, for example). And, oddly enough, instead of mild, medium, and sharp, cheddar cheese comes in mild and "tasty" varieties.
Random New Zealand Comment: The Accent
|Day 3 (24th): Exploring the North|
|Today was spent exploring various parts of the Northern section of New Zealand's North island. To start, we decided to go check out some hot springs. It was a kinda long drive and, along the way, we passed through a lot more tiny little towns and sprawling farmland. The springs themselves were interesting. They were actually less like an American hot spring or a Japanese onsen and more like those bubbling mineral pools you see at places like Yellowstone National Park. They weren't bad, but I prefer normal hot springs.
When we'd finished up at the springs, we went to check out some nice idyllic little beach towns. We started in a town called Piahia and then took a ferry across the bay to the very pretty town of Russel. Both towns had a bunch of shops and restaurants and lots of pretty flowers. The ferry itself also provided some nice views of the coast. Out last stop was the town of Kerikeri. It wasn't on the coast, but was the largest town we've seen since Auckland and had a main street with a wide variety of shops and restaurants.
So yeah, it was a nice day, though nothing overly exciting. It was nice to see towns like Russel and Kerikeri though, I'd been starting to think that all the towns north of Auckland were tiny places with little besides small grocery stores and fish & chips restaurants. I'm glad that's not the case.
Random New Zealand Comment: Health
|Day 4 (25th): Hitting the Beaches|
|Being Christmas, we figured that most things would be closed so my dad decided to use this day to check out some of the nearby beaches. Along the way, we found ourselves driving through some drier areas, with some more interesting looking trees. The first two beaches we stopped at were very big, very pretty, and very empty. The first one had a ton of shells lying around, some of which were fairly nice. The second beach included a little hidden beach nearby and, while we were there, we hiked up a tall grassy hill, which offered some great views of the beach and the surrounding countryside.
We drove around and stopped at a couple more beaches after that but the first two were by far the nicest and had the best sand. I got part way in the water a couple times but it was a little cold and, since all the water was really calm (my favorite thing to do in the ocean in play around in the waves) I didn't have a whole lot of motivation to get totally wet.
The rest of the day was spent hanging around the hotel and relaxing, which was a nice change of pace from all the driving and walking we've been doing. We also grilled up some of the local lamb and beef for supper. It was pretty good, but I definitely missed my spice collection (currently sitting back in the US).
|Day 5 (26th): Hiking in the Mangroves|
|Today we took a hike to the Haruru Falls. Since it was a 10 kilometer hike (five each way) my dad wanted to get a fairly early start. Despite a minor snag with the GPS routing us on some small, slow, curvy country road, we got to the trail head ok and headed out. The trail started out in a forest next to a river. Here's a shot of me in the forest. It eventually led out onto a boardwalk through a mangrove forest. The tide was out at the time so we could see the local "wildlife". Can you spot the mud crab? There was also snapping shrimp there. We didn't see any, but you could actually hear them snapping. Never thought shrimp could make so much noise... After the mangroves, there was more regular forest followed by the Haruru Falls themselves. We stopped there for a lunch break before heading back. Along the way, I snapped some pictures of some of the shags hanging out and nesting in the nearby trees. There were even some babies (though rather large ones). The babies warbled (both noisy and silently) quite a lot. It was a little weird.
After the hike, we returned to the hotel and I gave the beach another try. I actually got in the ocean for a while. It was cold at first, but I got used to it after a bit. Still no waves though. Now that I think about it, I haven't been to a beach with waves in a really really long time. Several years at least. Maybe not since before college. I'll have to keep that in mind for future vacation planning...
Random New Zealand Comment: Animals
|Day 6 (27th): Driving South|
|Today marked the end of our time in the north. We left early and got to Kerikeri just in time for the weekly farmers' market. It was pretty nice as far as farmers' markets go. Lots of fruits, veggies, and assorted other foods. Some great snacks too.
After that, it was time for a whole lot of driving. We passed a big lake and lots of green farm covered countryside. We also made a stop to see New Zealand's oldest (and probably largest) tree. Not sure how well you can tell just from the photo, but the tree was huge and completely dwarfed everything around it. Pretty cool.
After spending most of the day in the car, we eventually made it to Hamilton, a nice little city with a river running through it. Reminds me a little of Austin, actually... Since it was Sunday, a lot of things were closed but we walked around downtown a bit and checked out the restaurants (there are a lot of restaurants) before eating at a Mediterranean place. I also got a picture of a weird sign and one of my brother and I next to an odd sci-fi statue.
Random New Zealand Comment: Money
|Day 7 (28th): Kiwi, Caves, & More|
|This was the day I was really looking forward to. Our main destination was the Waitomo Caves to take a black water tubing tour, but more on that later. On the way to the caves, we stopped at the Kiwi House, a bird park that has, among other things, kiwi birds. The kiwi themselves were pretty cool. They're a bit over a foot tall and very different from other birds I've seen. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to photograph the kiwi but I did get pictures of a kiwi skeleton and my brother next to a big kiwi statue. The Kiwi House also had lots of other birds, like these clam eater birds, and a few other creatures, such as this weird salamander thing.
The cave tour itself was really awesome. My dad didn't go, but my mom, brother, and I did. We took the Black Labyrinth tour. Unfortunately, since we spent most of it in the water, I wasn't able to bring my camera. But here's the basics. Our group (twelve people plus two guides) started off getting wet suits and caving helmets (complete with head lamps) then drove to a nearby river to get our tubes and spend a few minutes practicing how to jump backwards into the water (landing on your tube in the process) and paddle around. Then it was off to the cave itself. To sum it up, we basically followed a river through part of the Waitomo cave system. Sometimes we walked through the water, sometimes we floated on it. We also had to clamber over some rocks and make a few jumps down to the lower levels (landing in the water on our tubes). Our guides were great and pretty funny, and climbing and floating around through the caves was awesome (and cold). But that's not all, there were also the glow worms. Actually a type of maggot, glow worms emit a bioluminescence in order to attract and trap insects that wander into the cave. With our head lamps turned off, the ceiling of the cave was almost like looking up at a starry sky. The entire experience was really cool and I highly recommend it (for all of you guys who just happen to come to the North Island of New Zealand).
After we got out of the cave, we met my dad who wanted to take us to some spots he'd visited while we were floating around in the dark. First was a short walk through very jungle like terrain to the Manapohue Natural Bridge. The "bridge" is a stone arch of sorts that you can walk under. The bridge (and the surrounding forest) are both great and very pretty. Next, another quick hike. This time to the Marokopa Falls. Easily the best waterfall we've seen so far this trip. He's a shot of my whole family at the falls.
Our hotel is in a small town nearby that proclaims itself to be the "shearing capital of the world". Ok... It's a pretty place, though there isn't much here. Surprisingly, our "hotel room" turned out to be an entire house. And a pretty fancy (albeit old) one at that. There's a lot of nice flowers nearby so here's one flower picture I'm particularly pleased with to finish things up for the day.
|Day 8 (29th): Rotorua|
|The weather took a turn for the worse, prompting a sudden change of plans. Instead of heading to a national park to go hiking (which wouldn't have been much fun in the rain), we pushed it to next week and headed to the town of Rotorua instead. Along the way, we stopped at The Lost Valley, an area with a lot of thermal activity (geysers, mud pots, and the like), kind of like what you'd see at Yellowstone National Park back in the US. There was even a cave with a thermal pool at the bottom. The valley itself was a short ferry ride across a river and had a nice circular walking path that hit all the main points. It rained most of the time we were there, but I had my umbrella so it wasn't too bad.
Once we'd seen the whole valley, we continued on to Rotorua, a large town / small city on a lake. Like The Lost Valley, there's a lot of thermal activity in the area so it's got its share of geysers and hot springs. It's a nice town, though you can smell sulfur in the air in many areas. I'm not sure if that's something I'd get used to or really sick of... Anyway, we stopped at a shopping center to grab lunch and look around a bit and then dropped by our hotel to unpack and figure out how we wanted to spend the rest of the day, since the rain had screwed up our original plans.
My brother really wanted to do the Zorb. You may have seen it on TV. Basically you get inside a giant inflatable ball and roll down a hill. They had the normal version and a wet version, where instead of being strapped in you're just in the ball with enough water to ensure that you're constantly slipping and sliding around. That's what my brother and I did. It was a lot of fun, though very expensive considering how short the ride was.
After the Zorb, we went around the town a bit, saw some sheep, and checked out the restaurants. We ended up eating at a place called New Zealand Supreme, a Chinese restaurant of sorts specializing in local meats including venison and duck. It was all really good. Duck is a lot better than I expected and it was the best venison I've ever had (not that I've had a lot though).
To finish up the day, we took a walk by the lake, which was home to tons of seagulls, black swans, and other birds. There were too many clouds to see much of a sunset, but it was still a pretty area. We'll be staying in Rotorua for another day, so I'll talk more about it next time.
|Day 9 (30th): Hanging Out in Rotorua|
|My family and I spent the day hanging out in Rotorua. My dad and I left early to visit the Rainbow Springs Nature Park. It's a zoo of sorts focusing on birds. They also hatch and raise young kiwi there. It's a nice place. Here's a few animal pictures. First up, trout (they've got a lot of them), a native New Zealand Kea bird, a neat bird with a sort of white ruff, a wallaby (there's actually some wild ones around that were brought from Australia), and some sheep (since it is New Zealand and all).
After we'd finished in the park, we met up with my mom and brother and went to a nearby hot springs spa. This was a more normal hot springs (unlike the one we went to up north). It had a lot of pools of different temperatures and made for a pleasant way to pass the morning. After that we walked around downtown Rotorua for a while, looked in stores, got lunch, and did some grocery shopping. And, well, that was about it. We spent most of the rest of the day hanging out at the hotel (doing laundry, relaxing, etc). My mom and I also headed back to Rainbow Springs for a little while (my tickets were good for the entire day) to see if we could get a better look at the kiwi later in the day. Tried to get a picture for you, but it was pretty dark so none of them came out very well.
Random New Zealand Comment: Food
|Day 10 (31st): Wellington|
|We got an early start today and headed South towards Wellington, New Zealand's capital city. It was about a six hour drive and, aside from a brief stop at New Zealand's largest lake, we didn't really take any breaks on the way and got there in the early afternoon.
Wellington is NZ's second largest city (after Auckland) but it's pretty condensed, which can make it feel larger at times. It's a rather pretty city situated by the ocean. While the downtown area is flat, the city itself is surrounded by hills so if you leave the central area you can expect a lot of climbing.
After checking into our hotel, we split up. My mom and brother went to check out the stores while my dad and I took an old fashioned cable car up to the botanical gardens. The gardens were pretty and had some interesting flowers I hadn't seen before. Though they were situated right on the side of a hill and featured a twisty maze of paths that made them a little hard to navigate. We walked around for a bit then headed back towards and through the downtown area, looking for a health food store my dad wanted to visit. After that we slowly made our way along the harbor and back towards the hotel. There was quite a lot of walking involved, but it gave me a good overview of the city. It's nice. Very clean, with lots of shops and restaurants, though they're scatted about a bit instead of being organized into different "districts" like they are in many larger cities. On a more odd note, we saw a lot of people riding around on unicycles. Turns out, the unicycle world championships are going to be here sometime in January. I never knew they had championships for unicycles. I guess they do tricks and stuff, though I'm not really sure.
Anyway, my whole family met up later on and got supper at a Turkish restaurant. I haven't had Turkish food before, but it was pretty good. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped by the area where Wellington is doing their New Year's Eve party. They had some local singers and stuff to entertain people, though it seemed to be aimed at a younger audience. It was mildly entertaining, but not really my type of thing. Besides, I'll have to get up fairly early for tomorrow's hike so staying up late probably wouldn't be a good idea.
|Day 11 (1st): Seals!|
|January 1, the beginning of 2010 and also my 25th birthday. But, seeing as my family and I are in New Zealand, those things didn't make as much of an impact on the day as they otherwise might have. Anyway, we started off with a fairly long drive towards a hike where they did some filming for The Lord of the Rings movies. But before going on the hike itself, we continued down the road, hoping to find the fur seal colony that's supposed to live there. Though we ended up driving quite a lot, we did find the seals, which made it worthwhile. There were a surprisingly large number of them just lounging on the rocks along a mostly deserted stretch of beach. They didn't seem to be very scared of humans (or maybe they were just lazy) and lay there watching as we walked around and looked at them. They'd waddle away if we got too close, but that was about it. While I've seen seals before in zoos and all, it was really cool to be able to see so many of them in the wild. Since we were there, we also climbed up to an old lighthouse to get a great view of the coastline. Then, after a little more time spent looking around the nearby beaches, we made our way back to that hike.
The hike was to The Pinnacles. Though my memory is a bit fuzzy (been a while since I've watched the movies), it's supposed to be the place that Aragorn's group went through on their way to find the army of the dead. The Pinnacles were neat and the hike itself wasn't bad, though most of the scenery reminded me a lot of the American mid-west, which I see all the time back home.
We did some grocery shopping and spent a little while walking around in a mall on our way back to Wellington, but nothing too exciting. Shortly after making it back to the hotel, my mom, brother, and I went out for my birthday dinner. We went to a place called The Thai Chef, since I really like Thai food and it won a big award. It was a bit of a walk, but the food was worth it. I had duck with a yellow curry that had some vegetables and lychee fruit in it. Really, really good. And that was it for the day. We've still got one more day in Wellington, so I'll be talking more about it next time.
|Day 12 (2nd): Hanging Out in Wellington|
|Saturday in Wellington was very cloudy and very windy. From what I've heard, the wind is pretty common. I've got to admit that I have a tough time thinking of this type of weather as summer, even early summer. Between the temperatures, wind, and clouds, it's more like spring or fall. Actually, while we're on that topic, I have trouble calling December and January summer regardless of what the weather is like. Sure I've been to hot places during winter months (my family used to go to Florida a lot on vacation and I've spent a few years living in Phoenix, after all) but in those places winter is still winter, even if it was warm. Calling winter months summer is just strange...
But anyway, back to today. Since it was a Saturday, my family and I attended services in the morning.. We'd originally thought about going hiking in the afternoon but no one really wanted to do another long drive followed by more walking so we went to a museum instead (one nice thing about Wellington is that a lot of the museums are free). The Te Papa museum is pretty large and covers a very broad range of subjects, although they all relate to New Zealand. There was a section about marine life, complete with a very large fossil snail shell and the only colossal squid on display in the entire world. My picture of the squid isn't great because its size, the reflectivity of the display case, and the amount of people crowded around it, make it hard to photograph, but it was huge. Then there was the section on the Earth and tectonic activity, complete with this nifty ancient Chinese earthquake recorder. At the exhibit on New Zealand's wildlife I finally decided that I'm probably not going to get a good picture of a live kiwi on this trip so here's a picture of some stuffed ones that were on display instead. There were also big exhibits on the Maori (NZ's indigenous people) and the later British settlers and a collection of art by NZ artists. All in all, it was good museum.
That was pretty much it for the day. We walked around Wellington a little more, but didn't do anything special.
Random New Zealand Comment: Internet Access
|Day 13 (3rd): The Final Destination|
|With only a few days left on our New Zealand trip, my family headed to Tongariro National Park to do some hiking. It was a several hour drive from Wellington and we arrived in the early afternoon.
The park is way up in the mountains in the middle of nowhere. And I do mean in the middle of nowhere. The town we're staying in is really small and a good twenty minute or more drive from the next tiny town. On the bright side, the internet rates here are considerably cheaper than anywhere else we've stayed. Anyway, my dad didn't want to do anything big today (partly because of the time and partly because it's pretty cloudy and windy up here today) so we took a ninety minute hike to, you guessed it, a waterfall. It was a pleasant hike and the scenery was nice, nothing spectacular though. After that, my brother wanted to check out the chair lift a bit further up the mountain. Why a chair lift? Well, this place is a sky area in the winter and in the summer the lift takes hikers partway up the mountain so they can shave some time off of their hike. My brother wants to hike to the top of the mountain tomorrow but my dad doesn't like the look of the weather or the chair lift and wants to do a different hike so we'll see what happens.
Random New Zealand Comment: Sports
|Day 14 (4th): Change of Plans|
|In the end, we didn't do any hiking today. Come morning, it was raining fairly hard and, even if it let up in the afternoon like it was supposed to, the trails would be way too muddy for hiking. Since there wasn't much to do in the area besides hike, we changed our plans one last time and decided to head to Auckland a day early, figuring that, even if the weather was bad there too, there'd be plenty of things to do in the city, at least after we got the several hour drive out of the way.
As it turned out, the weather in Auckland was pretty good. My brother, ever the sports fan, suggested that we go watch a pro cricket game that was taking place today so we went and saw the Auckland Aces play the Canterbury Wizards. The normal stadium is undergoing renovations or something so the game was held in a college field. In my opinion, the whole thing had much more of a high school game vibe than a pro sports one. Fairly small crowd, pretty casual, etc. I learned a little bit more about how cricket itself is played, but this isn't really the place to detail the rules. If you're curious, you can find them online easily enough. Suffice it to say that I was correct, cricket is something like baseball, though it seems to have less tension, scale, and strategy (no offense to cricket fans, that's just my assessment from the little bit I've seen of the game). Doesn't look like a bad game but I personally found it a lot less interesting to watch then a baseball game, and I don't think that watching baseball is all that captivating to begin with.
After we'd had our fill of cricket, we walked around in a shopping mall and by Auckland's harbor and that was about it.
|Day 15 (5th): All Around Auckland|
|As this was our last full day in Auckland, my parents wanted to fit in as much stuff as we could. We split up for the first part of the day, with my mom and brother checking out some shopping streets while my dad and I went to an aquarium / Antarctic museum. It was a nice place, if a little small, with a large penguin colony and numerous types of marine life on display, as well as some exhibits on Antarctic exploration. My dad and I walked around the nearby bay a bit after that and then met up with my mom and brother.
Next up we got a quick lunch and fed some birds (while also watching them feed each other) then spent the next few hours walking around various shopping streets and other areas of Auckland. Not terribly exciting (at least in my opinion) but we did end up finding some good game and anime stores. Nothing like what you can find in Japan, of course, but pretty cool for not being in Japan. Finally, we finished the day off with a trip up the Sky Tower, which offers some impressive views of Auckland, and got a good supper at a Northern Africa restaurant. The trip isn't quite done yet (we're still planning to make a stop or two tomorrow before flying home), but it's getting close. I'll be sure to include my final thoughts on New Zealand once everything is finished.
Random New Zealand Comment: Island
|Day 16 (6th): Heading Home|
|Though it was the day of our flight home, the plane didn't leave till late afternoon so my parents decided to take the opportunity to hit up one last sightseeing destination, the Auckland Botanic Gardens. The gardens were pretty large and had a wide variety of plants including lots of nice flowers. Not the best botanical gardens I've ever been to, but certainly worth a visit if you're in the area.
We walked around the gardens for a while then got lunch and walked around some more in a nearby mall before heading to the airport. Plenty of waiting, three flights, and a whole bunch of security checks later we made it back to Arizona...minus three suitcases that disappeared somewhere in LA. Fortunately, the airlines found and returned them the next morning, marking the end of our New Zealand trip.
New Zealand - Final Thoughts:
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