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  • Day37

    Waiheke Island, Last Day in New Zealand

    March 10, 2019 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 66 °F

    On our last day in Auckland, we decided to get out of the city and visit one of the nearby islands in the gulf. Waiheke Island is just a 40-minute ferry ride away, and features vineyards, olive groves, beaches and hiking trails with 360-degree views.

    With clearing skies and perfect temperatures, it was a great way to wrap up an amazing journey in this beautiful country.

    The Kiwis have a lot of pride in their country and they really enjoy sharing it with visitors. They also are dedicated to restoring and maintaining its indigenous plants and birds, and their environmental stewardship is in evidence everywhere.

    New Zealand’s natural features are so spectacular, the country is so clean and the roads were in fantastic condition for driving and biking. We feel lucky to have had a chance to experience so many of the natural wonders of this country and meet its people. As Courtney would say, “so good!” and “sweet as!”

    As we head to Hawaii for a few days on the way home, we’re signing off of this travelogue. Thanks for sharing with us!
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  • Day37

    Auckland, City of Cranes, er Sails

    March 10, 2019 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 66 °F

    We knew that the city of Auckland, with coastlines on both the Pacific and the Tasman Sea is called the City of Sails, but it also became immediately apparent this is a city in a frenzy of construction. We were told there are 90 active cranes in the city, more than in any city in the U.S. as of last count (Seattle is the highest, at 65). For one thing, they are getting ready to host the Americas Cup in 2021.

    It’s a little hard to fully capture the flavor of a city with a barely-started sure subway tunnel bisecting the main boulevard, and some boarded-up shops as a result. However, we got to see beyond that on our guided city walk through an Airbnb-organized experience.

    Our guide walked us through some of the small shop- and restaurant-filled pedestrian lanes, and pointed out architectural and historical highlights. We saw where the Maori had come to fish and gather shellfish, long before that part of the harbor was filled in for building. We hiked up a steep grassy hill that is just one of the 53 ancient volcanoes of the Auckland volcanic field.

    After morning tea hosted by our guide and two fellow tour members from the UK, we spent the rainy afternoon in the Maritime museum. The museum features exhibits on early Maori wakas (dugout canoes), all the way through time to the winning New Zealand yacht in the 1995 Americas Cup.
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  • Day35

    Sea Kayak Trip Canceled by Storm

    March 8, 2019 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 73 °F

    No photos from today. We had hoped to kayak for three hours into some coves and caves along the shoreline. There are some nice rock formations and Cathedral Cove is one of the filming locations for the Chronicles of Narnia. But stormy weather canceled the trip, so we drove on to Auckland.Read more

  • Day34

    Karangahake Gorge, and on to Coromandel

    March 7, 2019 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 72 °F

    Today was mostly a driving day, so we broke it up with a hike through a beautiful gorge that was once the site of a huge silver and gold mining operation. Luckily the evidence of that is now mostly overgrown. The hike took us alongside the river, through a 1 km former train tunnel, and into mine tunnels with ‘windows’ carved out the sides.

    Further along, we stopped at Hot Water Beach, where you can dig your own hole with rented spades to sit in your own personal hot tub. However, on this day the underground warm springs must have been dried up from lack of rain. No hot tub for us! Still, it was nice to sit by the Pacific Ocean in the warm sand.

    We arrived at Hahei, a very small beach town for the night.
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  • Day33

    Thermal Wonders and Charming Hobbitton

    March 6, 2019 in New Zealand ⋅ 🌙 63 °F

    Driving north from Taupo, the Thermal Explorer Highway took us to Wai-O-Tapu, with colorful thermal pools and a single geyser. The Lady Knox geyser bubbles beneath the surface until it is induced to erupt once a day when they pour soap in the vent to break the surface tension. It draws a huge crowd, and we came away thinking we preferred some of the serendipity and open spaces of Yellowstone. Still, the colored pools in the rest of the park, and crusts that formed around them were pretty.

    By far the highlight of the day, and big on the list for the trip overall, was our tour of the Hobbiton movie set. At the Olson’s recommendation, we opted for the evening banquet tour—thank you, Mike & Teresa! Our tour guide provided colorful stories of the making of the films and quizzed us on trivia about scenes set in the Shire. We had plenty of time to wander among the Hobbit dwellings, each with its own characteristics identifying the occupant’s trade — cheese maker, fisherman, woodworker, etc. The daytime tours had ended, so our relatively small banquet group had the place to ourselves. The feast in the Green Dragon Inn was bountiful, and the attention to Shire period detail would make a Hobbit proud.

    The walk back through the lantern-lit Hobbiton was charming, and the clear, star-lit sky added to the evening’s splendor.
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  • Day32

    Nature's Colors on Display in Taupo

    March 5, 2019 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 66 °F

    From Hawke’s Bay we drove 2+ hours to the Lake Taupo area to see Huka Falls and a thermal area that is only accessible via a short ferry ride.

    Turquoise-colored Huka Falls only drops 9 meters, so it appears more like a river cascade than a falls, except that it is thunderous! The amount of water flowing is enough to fill 5 Olympic swimming pools every minute. As you’ll see, tourists get a thrill in jet boats that go right up to the falls.

    Then we moved on to a quieter, almost contemplative setting at Orakei Korako thermal area. Very few tourists come up to this hidden valley, preferring some of the more mainstream sites around Rotorua. We saw a small geyser, and many beautiful colors made by algae growth in the thermally-heated water, and by minerals and chemicals picked up from the surrounding rocks.

    We ended the day on the shores of Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake—the caldera of an ancient volcano.
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  • Day31

    Bike riding in Hawke's Bay wine region

    March 4, 2019 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 70 °F

    Hawke's Bay is the oldest wine region in New Zealand and its second largest, after the Marlborough region. We rode the free bikes available at our lodgings (‘latte bikes’—so upright you won’t upset your latte on your ride). They weren’t our usual preference, but being able to look around at the scenery was nice.

    We rode a levee (without our Chevy) to the Pacific Ocean for about 10 miles, to Elephant Hill winery. Some of their vineyards are located within a stone’s throw of the Pacific Ocean (something we don’t see in California). We tried several of their wines, then ate our packed lunch sitting by the ocean.

    Later, we rode back to two other wineries nearby our lodgings. The bike trail passed apple orchards, vineyards and “frisky cows.”
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  • Day30

    Art Deco in Napier

    March 3, 2019 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 70 °F

    Leaving Tongariro National Park, we drove about 3 hours to the east coast (on the Pacific Ocean), through rolling sheep and cattle farmland, and across small mountain passes.

    Our destination was Napier, in Hawke's Bay -- a port town notable for its art deco architecture. An earthquake in 1931 leveled the town, and so rebuilding was done in the predominant art deco style of the time.

    We joined a guided tour of the town, which was really helpful in identifying some of the primary characteristics of art deco -- ziggurats, sunbursts, speed lines, and so on. What was unique about some of the art deco buildings in Napier is that they incorporated some Maori motifs in their decorative flourishes.
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  • Day29

    Hike to Taranaki Falls

    March 2, 2019 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 57 °F

    After the big hike yesterday, we stretched our legs on an easy 3.5 mile hike to Taranaki Falls. Along the way, we could see views of the volcanoes we hiked around yesterday on the Tongariro Crossing. Heather and other wildflowers were in abundance!Read more

  • Day28

    Tongariro Alpine Crossing

    March 1, 2019 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 52 °F

    This is a hike we'd hoped to do from the earliest stages of planning this trip. Weather can be very changeable in the mountains, as we've discovered, but thankfully Mother Nature was on our side this time. The Crossing is usually done as a one-way, 12-mile hike, using a shuttle bus to get back at the end.

    We caught the first shuttle of the day, and got on the trail at sunrise, with views of Mt Ngauruhoe (Mt Doom). There is a climb of 2,700 feet over the first 5 miles, followed by a descent of 3,500 feet. Because of the wind and cold, we wore multiple jackets, gloves, thermals, and knit caps for most of time we were hiking -- even uphill!

    There are literally thousands of people doing the hike on any given (good-weather) day. It was strange at first, hiking with the hordes, but the scenery was so dramatic that the crowds didn't detract from it. It was kind of like a shared adventure, and the enthusiasm was catching. The trail traverses Mt. Ruapehu, over lava flows as recent as 2007, and steam vents were still visible. Once arriving at the peak, we got a stunning view of the blue-green crater lakes and the other nearby volcanoes, including "Mt. Doom."

    We were glad we took the first shuttle, since it would have been stressful to worry about making the last return shuttle of the day. As it was, we had time to take in the views, take breather stops, and enjoy breakfast by a spring-fed waterfall, and lunch near the summit. A tiring, but rewarding day!
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