New Zealand – Aukland and around 

On Day 4, we picked up our rental car, a Ford SUV, called the Everest (similar to a Ford Explorer).  Since parking comes at a premium and we were beginning to tire of the big city, we decided to head out of town.  We headed west to the black sand beaches and wineries of Pisa and Muriwai Beach.  My favorite sites of the day were seeing the surf slap against the black rock formations, and climbing up to the Takapu Refuge gannet colony.

It was chilly and very windy on the west side.  We climbed quite a few flights of stairs before reaching the top.  But just over the ridge were hundreds of gannets (related to the Gooney bird) testing their landing skills into the wind.  Gannets have about a 6 foot wing span and the wings are like a parasail.  So the wind holds them up even when they want to land.  Despite their pungent smell and the ferocious winds I could have watched for hours. Plus the views below of the surf against the black sand were amazing!  But we had a lot more to see today.


New Zealand North Island

We have arrived in Wellington, our last stop on the North Island.  It has been an amazing trip thus far with much more to come.  A few things we would plan differently?  Less time in Aukland and instead stop at Rotorua and the Coramandel Penninsula or add an extra night in Napier!  We made great use of our time in Aukland, but it is certainly a big-city atmosphere with a flavor of Hong Kong.  Due to the number of Chinese students at the university the asians outnumber New Zealanders 10 to 1.  That means the shops and restaurants cater to Asians, as well.

We planned for Jetlag, which was not an issue at all.  Our flight left LAX at 11 PM and arrive in Aukland about 8:30 AM….a day later!  But our body clock did not even notice the missing day.  

November in NZ is spring, so the weather is getting warmer and we did not have to deal with the summer tourist crowds and escalating hotel prices.  The high temp has been about 19° centigrade or 70° F.  But the wind chill on the coast and on the overlooks and mountain passes were quite chilly.  The New Zealanders were wearing shorts and mini skirts and I was bundled in sweaters and hats most of the time.  Luckily I dressed in layers and when we got those 70° afternoons, I could peel away layers and had already applied sunscreen.  

While food is expensive, the conversion from NZ$ to US$ makes it more tolerable.  Eating has been our biggest challenge!  There are a lot of lamb and fish dishes on the menus and George does not eat either.  Also a bakery in George’s mind conjures up visions of sweet pastries and danish and not savory muffins and quiche filled with spinach, cheese and mushrooms!  The eating challenges are complicated because our traveling companions are vegetarians!  Burger Fuel and McDonalds are plentiful, but the vegetarian options are limited.  So Irish Pubs, of which there were many, seemed to accommodate everyone’s needs.  Our particular favorite was Danny Doolan’s, which offered Monteith’s Original on tap and a cozy fireplace.  The specials were offered until 7 pm and offered many choices!  George also discovered a new chocolate bar available at the Mobil stations…dark chocolate snickers.  So he bought 14 and won’t starve!!!

We were expecting wineries in the Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay regions, but it seems they are all over New Zealand.  I think we have visited about 10 in 12 days and haven’t even begun the wine trail.  We’ve tasted some great wines, but prices were in the $60/per bottle range due to the high wages paid to the vineyard workers.

My favorite stop on the North Island was the Bay of Islands!  We took the Cream Stop boat tour and dropped off packages to many inhabited islands.  At the first sheltered cove we saw a pod of dolphins playing and eventually breaching out of the water.  Some of the passengers had paid to swim with the wild dolphins and the lowered them into a net on the side of the ship and then let them swim for about 30 minutes!  Water temp was about 64°, so I was happy to watch from the boat.

We have seen thermal areas, beautiful beaches, and hiked to high overlooks. Each day I am averaging about 15,000+ steps, even though we are driving between cities (on the left side of the road, from the right side of the car.  We’ve only had one really rainy day, which hampered our view.  Sometimes I have to pinch myself to remind me I am in New Zealand!!


New Zealand-Day 3

Aukland Hop on Hop Off Bus – this is an adventure we choose every time we visit a new City, so we were eager to learn more about Aukland.  The cost was $45 NZ and included two routes. We boarded the bus at 9:40 AM and finished about 3 PM.  

We immediately noticed a few differences from our usual touring experiences:  1) most of the NZ busses were not double decker; 2) there were no headsets for choosing alternate languages as the commentary was taped and ran through a central speaker system; and, 3) the commentary was very dry and matter of fact.

We chose to get off the bus near the highest point in the city, Mt. Eden.  It has a footpath to get to the top which takes about 20 min.  From the top you get a magnificent 360° view of the city and also a look below at the deep caldera.  We were standing on an extinct volcano!  In the distance you can see several more extinct volcanoes.  It was a fun part of our day!

The second stop we made was at Mission Bay.  Again the weather was perfect for a stroll on the beach and we did some more shell collecting.  I had wanted to kayak on Mission Bay, but the winds were too chilly for me.  The area is dotted by some spectacular, towering trees.  The drive is lined by “Christmas trees”, which bloom with red flowers around Christmas.  Also there is a beautiful fountain in the center of the park.

Since we still had plenty of time, we also hopped off at Parnell Village.  We ate at Burger Fuel, which offered a great hamburger.  Then we wandered through the village streets and happened on Chocolate Boutique Cafe.   Not only was it charming, but the menu of hot chocolates was very tempting.  We were just too full!