Saunders’ Down Under

November - December 2018
Australia and New Zealand 2018
  • Day46

    Homeward Bound!

    December 29, 2018 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    So here we sit at Auckland airport having a last glass of wine in New Zealand before boarding our flight home! We leave Dec.29 at 8:05 pm Auckland time, then travel back in time to arrive in Vancouver the same day at 12 noon!

    Our last morning in Whitianga was pretty amazing. We went to the farmers market to say bye to Belinda, who was selling her beautiful cards there - she’s an artist and makes lovely cards depicting her artwork. While we were chatting with her, Brian showed up and offered to take us for a flight on his private plane!! Yes please! We said our goodbyes to Belinda and followed Brian out to the airstrip where he keeps his little 2 seater plane. Dave went for his flight first, while I had a cup of tea with Brian’s friends, Ken and Jan, and also met other friends, Ace (a former Air NZ pilot and small plane owner), and his wife Jeannie, who is a flight attendant for Air NZ. We watched Dave and Brian take off, then return about 20 minutes later - the look on Dave’s face after was priceless, and made the decision for me to get in this tiny plane a lot easier! Brian flew us over all the beaches we have been to this past week - Cooks, Cathedral Cove, Hahei and Hot Water beaches! It was amazing to see them from the air, and see how fast it was to get there when you didn’t have to drive the winding, hilly roads! We flew over all the little towns, the apartment where we stayed and Brian and Belinda’s house, before touching backdown on the grass airstrip! This generous “gift” on Brian’s part was truly the cherry on top of this amazing vacation!

    We set off for Auckland at around 11:30, and after a few stops along the way, arrived at Auckland airport at 4pm, dropped off the rental car, and settled in for our 4 hour wait before boarding our flight home.

    We touched down in Vancouver just before noon, and are now waiting at the Harbour Air terminal to the last leg of our journey and the float plane back to Nanaimo.

    What an amazing trip this has been! We’ve been through 8 different airports and stayed in 14 different cities or towns, as well as driving through and seeing lots more. We’ve flown a total of 29,450 kms (including float planes, and Brian’s plane). Dave drove 3,916 kms through Australia and New Zealand - on the wrong side of the road to boot (and only turned the windshield wipers on instead of the turn signal about 3 times!). We walked 429.1 kms, took the train to Brisbane for another 180 kms, and Dave mountain biked 17 kms. All this for a grand total of 33,992.1 kms! 😳. We met some lovely people. We found penguins - and koalas, and Kangaroos, and kiwis, and lots of other interesting wildlife. This truly was the trip of a lifetime, but as the song says - it’s very nice to go travelling, but it’s so much nicer coming home! 😊
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  • Day45

    Fitianga Finale!

    December 28, 2018 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    So I missed all the excitement in the middle of the night last night, where there was a medical emergency in our building complex, with ERTs, and a helicopter landing on the rugby pitch behind us - Dave said it sounded like an earthquake when the chopper was coming in! I slept through it all! 😳

    Our last day in Whitianga (with an F) today! We decided to have a quiet relaxing day, so after coffee and brekky, went for a walk around town on this gorgeous sunny morning. There was a big event going on down at the ferry landing, which we found out was a kids fishing derby, sponsored by lots of local businesses for kids under 12 years of age. We hung around for a while, and it was so sweet to see the kids run in with their small perch, or other tiny catchings, to have them weighed and recorded for the contest! Walked along the beach for a few more photos, the into the downtown shopping area, where we saw this funny sign (one of many) and even though we’re not in Aus anymore, didgeridoos for sale 😳😂!

    Got back to our place around 11, and down to the pool for a few hours to catch what will be the last rays of sunshine for a while. After catching up on some reading and tanning, we showered up and got ready to go visit Brian (from the Christmas Day post) and his wife Belinda, at their lovely beachfront home, which is only about a 5 minute walk from where we are staying. They run an Airbnb from their home, so we also met their tenants and shared some wine and cheese with all of them and had a really nice visit.

    Went for our last dinner in New Zealand at Saby’s kitchen, had a lovely meal, then headed back to pack and get a good nights sleep - tomorrow will be a looooong day, heading back to Auckland for our 14 hour flight back home! Last post tomorrow - stay tuned! 😊
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  • Day44

    All those Beaches!

    December 27, 2018 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    Another beautiful sunny day here on the coast! We had decided to drive out to Cooks Beach, which is actually only 4km from Whitianga if you take the foot ferry and walk in, but a lot further by car! We wanted to go to a few other places, so took the car and drove first to the ferry landing on the other side of a Whitianga - a short 5 minute cruise! Watched the ferry come and go, as well as a few tour boats picking up passengers - the tide was really running today and some of the boats were having a little trouble staying on course!

    We drove back to Cooks Beach and had a walk around, drove through the town centre, then headed to our next destination - Hot Water Beach. We had only seen this place in the rain, so it was nice to see the sun shining on the beach and the lovely water. Unfortunately because the tide was high, there was no opportunity to dig a hole and build our very own hot water spa! No big deal, we set ourselves up for some suntanning and had a picnic lunch on the sand!

    After a couple of hours, we decided to go back to Hahei beach so we could see it in the sunshine - absolutely stunning! We walked a ways on the beach, then decided to have a refreshment at the Pour House, where we sat in the beautiful garden and enjoyed the sunshine and a couple of beverages! Got back to our place around 4 and I headed for the pool while Dave had a snooze.

    We went back to Frankie’s Sports Bar for dinner - great food and super nice staff, then went for a walk around the waterfront and town before heading in for the night. Another lovely day in New Zealand!
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  • Day43

    Boxing Day at the Beach!

    December 26, 2018 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    We woke up to a few clouds this morning, but the forecast was for sun, so we took off for the beach! Our Boxing Day destination was Cathedral Cove, a 40 minute hike in from Hahei beach. We arrived at Hahei parking lot just before 10am and bought our tickets for the shuttle bus to take us way up the hill and the start of the trail to the cove. The hike is along an awesome paved track, with lots of up and down hill areas, and a ton of stairs (146 to be exact) at the end to get down to the beach. We arrived just before 11 am, and already there were lots of other people who had either taken the same trail as us, or ridden over on the water taxi. By the time we got there, it was hot and sunny, and perfect weather to spend a few hours basking in the sun (with lots of sunscreen, of course). The cove is beautiful, with a huge rock formation making an arch between two beaches, and gorgeous turquoise waters on either side. We had brought a picnic lunch and lots of water so relaxed there for a couple of hours.

    We contemplated taking the water taxi back, but there were about 60 people on the beach lined up for a boat that accommodates 16, so rather than wait, we started the hike back up to meet our shuttle bus at the top of the hill. We passed soooo many people heading down the trail, so I’m sure by this afternoon, Cathedral Cove beach would be similar to Woodgrove mall with Boxing Day shoppers! 😂😂. We got off the bus in Hahei, and decided to go back to the Pour House for refreshments. We talked to some of the servers there, who had worked with a Chelsea when she was there, so took a group bar staff photo to send to her!

    We walked back to the parking lot to pick up the car and back to Whitianga to hang out at our pool for an hour or so before washing off the days sand, and heading to Grace O’Malleys Irish pub for a nice dinner. The forecast is good for the next 2 days, so I think I see more beaches in our future! 😊
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  • Day42

    Christmas Down Under!

    December 25, 2018 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    We were happy to wake up on a Christmas morning to sunny skies - especially after last nights torrential downpour! We opened our presents over coffee and Baileys and were thrilled with this lovely Christmas ornament from Tammy and Dave (and the Starbucks cards of course!!). After calling family back home with Christmas greetings, we went for a walk in the sunshine along the Mercury Bay waterfront. We went by a house that we recognized as the Airbnb our friends Anne and Glen had stayed in, and the owner happened to be in his yard, so I introduced myself and sent him Christmas greetings from Canada! He was thrilled, and even invited us back for a visit while we’re here - such friendly people these Kiwis!

    We came back and had a great Christmas breakfast, then decided to go for a drive out to Coromandel Town, about 45km from here. Made our way along more twisty, windy roads, stopping at lookouts along the way for photos and some great scenery. Had a look around Coromandel - some neat old buildings - then headed back to a Whitianga for some pool time!

    We had picked up all the fixings for a nice steak dinner, so got everything prepped and went for a stroll around town - getting back just before the rain started again! 😳. Had a delicious dinner then watched more Christmas movies before turning in for the night! Supposed to be hot and sunny tomorrow so fingers crossed! Merry Christmas everyone!
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  • Day41

    Christmas Eve - the Coromandel Peninsula

    December 24, 2018 in New Zealand ⋅ 🌧 19 °C

    Well, it’s Christmas Eve here today on the east coast of New Zealand and the Coromandel Peninsula is the name of the area we are spending it - in the pouring rain! Yes, it’s going to be a Wet Christmas! In spite of that, we decided to go exploring today, and headed out to Hahei Beach, about 40 minutes by road from where we are staying. The beach itself is beautiful, and I’m sure on a sunny day, even more so! Oh well, not going to let a few raindrops stop us - we walked along the beach for a while and it really is lovely. We then looked around a few gift shops in the small town of Hahei, and ended up for lunch at a brew pub called the Pour House for lunch and a few samplings. This is the place where Jeff’s good friend, Chelsea worked for almost a year as a bartender, and we met Neil, the owner and brewmaster ( who incidentally is from Widnes, near Liverpool and emigrated to NZ in 2004). Had some amazing NZ Green Lipped mussels for lunch.

    We drove up the hill to a trail which is the start of a hike out to Cathederal Cove, where we plan to visit once the weather is better - it’s about a 40 minute hike in, but apparently well worth it! From there we drove out to Hot Water Beach, a few kms down the road. In a small area just down the beach were scores of people sitting in holes they had dug, enjoying the hot water which is underground at the edge of the waterline. The photo below explains this natural phenomenon, and it was very cool to see - and the water was very hot!

    We drove back to our place, and being inspired by Hot Water Beach, Dave decided to go for a swim in the pool - not quite as hot as the water at the beach, but pretty warm! We came back to relax for a while, then went out for a nice Christmas Eve dinner on the waterfront overlooking the harbour and fishing boats. We had picked up a couple of Christmas movies this afternoon, so just finished watching one, and are now listening to the rain pounding on the windows and waiting for Santa!! 😉. Merry Christmas everyone!
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  • Day40

    Whitianga - with an F!

    December 23, 2018 in New Zealand ⋅ ☁️ 21 °C

    We found out that when a place name in NZ starts with the letters Wh, you drop those letters and replace them with an F, so, here we are tonight in Fitianga (or Fiddy, as its known in these parts!! 😳). Long driving day today, we left rainy Paihia around 8am and the drive south to Auckland was awesome - we even saw some sun! Just south of Auckland, we hit road construction so that was slow going, then after about 3.5 hours, turned onto state highway 25 (a very winding, hilly road) to take us out to the Coromandel Peninsula and this lovely, but very rainy today, little town, arriving around 2pm.

    We had booked a nice 1 bedroom suite for the last 6 nights of our trip, and it’s really lovely. After checking in, we went for a walk around town to check out if anything was going to be open for a Christmas Dinner. There are only 2 places open, and as in England, Christmas dinner is at lunchtime, with the last sitting of a set menu being at 2pm. The first place was asking $149 per person, (no drinks included), and still had space available (wonder why!), and the second was only $80 per person, but was fully booked! So we decided we would do our own Christmas dinner and headed off the the Countdown grocery store (interestingly a Woolworths owned venture, and very big in both Australia and NZ), and stocked up on supplies for breakfast and dinner for the 25th. Came back to unpack groceries and our suitcases then went out for another walk before going for an awesome dinner at Frankies Sports Bar!

    Wifi at this place is spotty, no modem in the apartment, but an antenna attached to the stairs outside (😳) so Dave has been going on the outside deck to download and send me photos for today’s entry! The rain is supposed to stick around for the next couple of days, so I guess we’ll be doing lots of reading and relaxing, which is actually not a bad thing considering our schedule of the past six weeks! Not too many photos today, but hopefully more when the weather clears! 😊
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  • Day39

    90 Mile Beach - and a Surfin' Safari!

    December 22, 2018 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    Up early this morning to drive up to a town called Kaitaia to meet the bus to take us to Cape Reigna and 90 mile Beach at the top of the North Island! A couple of stops on the way, one to take a pic of this cute hotel in Ohaeawai, not far from where we’re staying. Also a photo of the “State Highway”, which is one lane each way, and in some parts, has the same one lane bridges we encountered on the South Island! We arrived in Kaitaia, which was originally populated with settlers from Poland (hence the Polish welcome sign), and took a shuttle bus from the information centre to meet our big bus to take us on the rest of our journey. Really cool store at the meeting place with lots of local Kauri wood tables and furnishings for sale, and in the middle of the room, a staircase carved into the trunk of one of these trees!

    We were soon on the big bus off to Cape Reigna at the northern tip if the island, a spiritual ground to the Māori people, and home of the Cape Reigna Lighthouse. The original lighthouse in this area was on an island offshore named Cape Maria van Diemen, after Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman’s wife, but it was too difficult for lighthouse keepers to access and maintain, so a new on was built on shore. Cool signpost to remind us just how far we are from home! It was a little misty when we arrived but we were still able to see the point where the Tasman Sea meets the South Pacific Ocean, and how the churning of the sand underneath makes both waters appear to have different colours. By the time we left, it was fogged in and pouring rain, so we were lucky to get there when we did!

    From there, we headed back down the highway and had lunch at a little restaurant (all included in the tour), then set off for the beach. We entered through a stream and to our right were huge sand dunes - perfect for dune surfing! The tour provided boards for everyone who wanted to trek up the hill to sand surf back down - so of course, Dave grabbed one and after instruction from our guide, was the first of our group on his way up! Very cool experience, which I had hoped to try, but after seeing how some people were wiping out at the bottom, decided to stay put and take photos! 😜. Dave surfed down twice, and loved it!

    We got back on the bus, and proceeded to drive on the beach, right beside the ocean, for 70 kilometres (at the beach speed limit of 100 kmh!). The driver stopped so we could walk a little bit of the beach to see the waves and take photos. It’s recommended vehicles on the beach have 4 wheel drive (which our bus did, but didn’t use), however, we saw a few private vehicles that were lucky to make it back to one of the 3 exit points along the stretch of beach! We also saw quite a few backpackers hiking the beach in the pouring rain, a wild horse, and lots of people fishing! It was an amazing experience, and would probably have been more so on a sunny day, but great nonetheless!

    We exited the beach, drove back to our original meeting place where the shuttle met us and took us back to the car so we could make the 1.5 hour drive back to Paihia. After another great day, went out for a bite to eat, and are packing up to head to our next destination of Whitianga tomorrow morning.
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  • Day38

    Kerikeri - the town so nice....

    December 21, 2018 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 20 °C

    .... they named it twice! This was our destination today - a pretty little town about 20km up the road from Paihia, and actually the biggest town in the far north area of the North Island. On our way there we stopped at a couple of places, the first being the Waitangi Mountain Bike Park, where Dave checked out their trails and the bike rental shop. No plans to ride here though - just wanted to have a look! From there, we drove a few kms to Haruru Falls, a lovely waterfall in a small park with chickens and roosters roaming free! Not sure where they belonged, but there were baby chicks 🐤 there too in the bushes!

    We left there and drove up to Kerikeri, first driving through the town, then making our way out to the historical Stone Store, a heritage building built in 1832 as a missionary warehouse, and then took on other roles as a trading post, library, barracks and boys school. It now serves as a museum and gift store in a beautiful area reminiscent of an English country garden. Just above the store is St. James Anglican Church, an historic church from the 1819, with the current building being finished in 1878, again on lovely grounds with lots of flowers.

    We went back to the downtown area for a walk around and some lunch (one of those delicious pies), picked up a few groceries, then headed out to a Rainbow Falls, about 8km down the road. This is another beautiful waterfall, with trails all around and viewing areas, so we hiked down to the bottom of the falls for some nice photos, as well as getting some from the viewing area up top.

    We headed back to a Paihia for an hour or so by the pool then made a nice dinner at our apartment, which we ate on the deck overlooking the beautiful ocean view of Paihia, and Russell, across the bay. Short walk into town after dinner, then back to get ready for tomorrow’s big adventure - stay tuned!! 😊
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  • Day37

    Beautiful Bay of Islands boat cruise

    December 20, 2018 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    Quite a while before we left on our trip, we researched some tours we were interested in taking. This particular one was on the Sea Shuttle through the Bay of Islands, and at the time was rated the number 2 tour in this area on Trip Advisor, so we booked it. It’s now rated #1, and for good reason!! We met our Captain, Adam, and his lovely first mate, Gwen at around 9:45 to leave for 10am with 16 other passengers. We got on our way, cruising past Russell, then out through the islands till we got to Roberton Island, which was one of Captain Cook’s landing sites, but was not originally discovered by him. We disembarked and took a short hike up the hill to a lookout with amazing views of the surrounding islands and bays. When we got back down to the beach, Adam and Gwen had tea, coffee and cookies waiting for us, which was a nice touch. There was a lagoon at one end of the beach, and walking out to it, we saw two black birds with long red beaks - the birds are called Oyster Catchers - Mama was in her nest, looking after her eggs, while Dad kept watch close by on the beach, taking care of her. We got back on the boat and started out to our second island, when we were treated to a school of dolphins swimming not far ahead of us - tried to get some photos, but didn’t really capture the beauty of what we saw.

    We arrived at our second island, a remote sheltered beach where there were more trails to hike, as well as snorkelling and paddle board equipment available to anyone who wanted to use it. We had brought some lunch, so ate that on the beach, then I soaked up some sun while Dave went on a short hike up the hill. He then grabbed some snorkel equipment and went for a swim around - saw a stingray and some pretty coloured fish. We both tried the paddle boards - I just stayed on my knees as I’m still concerned about my balance after my hip surgery, but Dave went for a nice little paddle in the harbour. Lay in the sun for a while longer until it was time to get back on the boat to head back.

    There was one couple on the boat who received a surprise Christmas present from their kids of a helicopter tour over the Bay of Islands, so our boat dropped them at a helicopter landing raft not far from our last island and off they went in style! Very cool! We then headed back through the islands, returning to Paihia around 3pm after a fantastic day!

    Headed down to the pool for about an hour after we got back, then out for a nice dinner to finish off another great day!
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