New Zealand · 15 Days · 33 Moments · March 2017

Mary Johnson

Our adventure in New Zealand


24 March 2017

Our last night we had dinner out then headed up for the star gazing. Such a clear perfect night for it. My phone wouldn't take night pics but the So. Hemisphere stars were bright and pretty. We saw the southern cross and Jupiter plus a few of its moons. We got back near midnight and went straight to bed-flying home in the morning! We headed to the airport and turned in the car. Regan was on a separate flight to Auckland from us and ours was delayed. I was having huge mom anxiety... we paid to check our bags with her so we didn't need to get them from baggage claim-they would NOT check them through to SF! She took off to catch her flight then we found our flight was delayed more-we would not catch the flight with her in Auckland to SF. I asked the attendant to tell her. I don't care that she's 25-I hated the situation!! Anxious tears from me. We missed our flight, couldn't be with her, lost our business class seats and were getting home 6 hours later. Not a great end, tho great trip.
We walked around Queenstown our second day here and there were people everywhere. Lots of young people in their 20s. We saw really popular restaurants, street performers, water toys that looks like a shark and walked across Regans wharf. We had breakfast on the pier and a drink later on a floating bar.
After lunch we took a 1 hour jet boat ride on the lake and up the rivers coming into and flowing out of the lake. The guide pulled lots of 360s. It was really fun.

23 March 2017

The ride to the top was not ideal-I'm afraid of heights so--that has been a problem for some of the trip but I sucked it up and did it. They have luge rides at the top of the gondola on the cement too. There's a huge restaurant at the top and a view that takes your breath away. They say some people actually walk the mountain up. Takes them 6-8 hours-many get lost along the way... good thing there are no real predators here. Some people mountain bike down.... did I mention it is steep?!!! Crazy people!! The stargazing didn't work out but we got two free rides up the gondola out of it... being afraid of heights there was mixed enthusiasm here...
The drive to Queenstown after the Glow worm caves was initially non descriptive - with mom, Regan and I reading along the way -- then along came Lake Wakatipu! Wow! The road hugged the lake the whole way- we decide we could have spent a week here! Lazy, gorgeous, clam, scenic and alive without big city Hustle and bustle. Seems like an alpine lake but it isn't! It's better!! Our apartment was so spectacular we almost didn't leave it! The lake view was amazing. The hills made the view over the town and lake like a staged thing. So perfect!! We decided that getting dinner and eating on our patio at the apt was best. We walked the town then up to the gondola which was REALLY steep!! Did I mention REALLY STEEP?!! The night was clear so we wanted to do a star gazing tour later that night. At 10:00 we headed back over but NOPE the clouds had come in so we pushed our star gazing for the next- our last - night. See next post for pics of that ride.
After the Milford Sound excursion we headed back to walk around Te Anau. It was a cute town but very resort-y. We had made reservations for a fun dinner at Kepler's which was fine food, baked Alaska and good wine. The next morning we took a 45 min boat ride over Lake Te Anau to see the Glow Worm Caves. They are small worms who's hind end glows in the dark, when you look up its like looking at stars but they are inches away from your head. No pictures allowed but fun. We listened to a program about them them headed into the caves. Not too deep really, but had roaring water pouring through. The walk was more lateral into the cave then onto boats to float a few meters under the glow worms. After we finished there we went to the bird sanctuary and saw the rare Takahe bird. There were 5 there though approx 300 in New Zealand now. They were considered extinct until 1948 when some were found. They are surprisingly large.

22 March 2017

After we arrived at the visitor center in Milford Sound we grabbed a coffee and tickets then headed on board. The water falls, the shear cliffs and the clear water were amazing. The shore master told Regan she could be in the pilot house with him and we joined her a little later. Though Regan drove the boat a few km under the partial watchful eye of the shore master we all arrived safely! The couple 100 people who didn't know she was driving were happy watching the view. He was a great guide and made sure we knew what we were looking at. So beautiful!
Wednesday morning we got up early to beat the buses up to Milford sound. It's about 120 km north of Te Anau and a curvy road. But wow what a view. The low lying fog, the high mountains, the sun rising and reflecting off those mountains was an amazing drive. There was a 1.2 km tunnel we drove through that was dark and wet and 1 lane-- thankfully they had traffic meters. We read it can be a delay of 20 min to get through in the height of the tourist season, but we only waited about 2 min.

21 March 2017

When we finished with the Boulders we hoped to relax with a glass of wine before we headed out to the Little Blue Penguins. We had driven by the place earlier so knew just where to go. We arrived way past our check in time of 4:00 to checkout our new place we'd stay for the next couple days. Unfortunately the place was not quite ready for us. We felt like the bears in Goldie Locks-someone had been sleeping in our beds!! I called the owner of the home and they were so embarrassed that their cleaning crew had not done their job. They drove the 20 min to get to the place to clean it themselves! We took off to drive out to the peninsula where the blue penguins could be viewed- the smallest penguins in the world. They were so cute!!
Tuesday we left Dunedin and headed to Te Anau near Milford Sound. We decided to take the scenic route. What should have taken 4 hours to drive straight through took 9 hours with some stops along the way. we took the route to see a lighthouse and seals and possibly yellow eye penguins-which we never saw. The heights and views were amazing. We stopped at the Catlins soap company with a small horse- not pony, drove by a tea pot hoarder yard, then saw a petrified forest that was 170 million years old which has lived under the sea forever...long but fun day. Arriving in Te Anau we found an Italian restaurant where my mom finally tried green lipped mussels. They were pretty good! After dinner we arrived at our motel just a few blocks away where the owner showed us to our room which had a bed in the living room and a sliding door as the front door- each place always tried to force milk us to pour in our tea in the morning but this place just put it in our refridge.. so funny...

20 March 2017

After a nice dinner at '1908' restaurant we drove back around to the main land to see the steepest residential street in the world. We parked at the bottom and laughed! It was steep!! We were there with a Chinese family who were having a great time. It was quite an experience to climb that hill and when we got to the top the Chinese family were all there and we took their group pic and they took ours, then I saw my mom almost at the top so we and the Chinese family started to cheer and encourage my mom to get to the top! She did it!! We took pictures with them but they were all on their cameras!! Argh! They were great to share the experience with though they spoke little English and us zero Chinese! Funny how words don't matter...
After the chocolate factory tour we headed back to the house but our 'short cut' became the long route so Roger went on ahead and got the car and picked us up! Sad... then we headed on to the Larnach Castle out on the peninsula - which has a sad story - but was rescued by a modern family which added a little Alice in Wonderland element to it. It was fun to see but not a castle like in Europe at all- but the only 'great estate' in New Zealand. The Larnach family story is interesting....
Then next morning we walked down to grab coffee at the Perc Central before we headed to the rail station to go on our 4 hour round trip into the gorge outside Dunedin. We were able to see some great scenery on our way out then along the way get out and walk around. Then they moved the engine to the other side of the train and we headed back. Lots of steep gorge views- then we went to the Cadbury Chocolate Factory-Informative and they gave us a lot of candy- felt like Halloween!! As we walked home I saw funny signs I thought you like to read. So funny.

19 March 2017

We got to the Moeraki Boulders and found a cafe, a souvenir shop and a donation stand prior to accessing the beach. Walking down had a very slight ramp to a beautiful sandy flat beach- plus the sunny day made it the perfect day to visit! We could see the Moeraki Boulders just down a bit with not too many people looking and taking pictures. A few kids were playing with a rugby ball. The Boulders were exactly as expected--Very spherical. There was one that showed how they emerge from the eroded beach cliff. As you can see some were solidly round, some were very veiny and then the shattered one. We walked around the beach and picked up curly shells. After a bit we decided to get to our house before we headed to the peninsula to see the little blue penguins that evening.
After we landed we grabbed a rental car and headed 28 km north to the city center of Dunedin. We couldn't get in to the house we rented until after 4:00 so we went and grabbed lunch at an outdoor cafe then walked around the city and looked at churches and stores. Note the coffee shop name for all you "Friends" fans. Tried to get into the Cadbury chocolate factory tour but it was all booked this day. It is practically in the center of town. Cool! We'll see it tomorrow. Still too early to check into the house so we decided to drive out to see the Moeraki Boulders about 45 min north. Really nice day out so great time to head to the beach!
We left our cute place in Nelson and headed to the airport which took all of 5 min to drive to-no 101 traffic here! We parked the rental, checked in, grabbed some breakfast, then boarded the plane. There were two New Zealand teams on our flight-hard to tell which sport. The flights were quick. Nelson to Christchurch then on to Dunedin. The expected patchwork square pasture design was not present from the sky-more random and scattered divisions here. The cities build right up to the water here. Lots of ocean view residences. The water is a pretty sea foam green and blue.

18 March 2017

We got to the location and were so happy at the locale.... it looked like a European village as we drove in with minor a shopping area containing one jewelry store, a beauty/spa place and restaurant. All buildings in brick near the bay but on a creek. It was so cute!! We decided right then we weren't going anywhere for the day. Just stay there and drink wine on our patio- then at 5:00--feel ok about drinking that wine....we walked around the small area and decided to make reservation to share plates for dinner at their restaurant. So fun!! We read and played with a little cat (Roger watched cricket which is a game I don't get) then we had a really good dinner. Headed to bed early- gotta catch a plane to Dunedin (duh-knee-din) in the morning!
We left Picton but had to grab coffee, of course first, at a water front place with wonderful scones and mochaccinos! Yum. Then we drove the very curvy road to Nelson seeing again how they forest trees and decimate the landscape before replanting. We stopped in Havelock for a festival and saw 'green mussels' for the first time. We arrived in Nelson and went to the city center and walked to the church that had a guy playing the pipe organ - so wonderful. We got to touch the chairs that Queen Elizabeth and Her hubby had sat in in 1954. Then walked around the cute town and had lunch in a cafe on the street- tried green muscles-super good. The town had a piano sitting outside a shop asking for anyone to play- we heard ear straining chop sticks, semi classical then some honky tonk- so fun. The weather was sunny and warm but not humid thankfully. We had hoped to get to Able Tasman national park but we missed the tours so headed to our place hoping it was going to be good...

17 March 2017

This morning we grabbed our coffee and headed to the ferry to cross from Wellington on the North Is. to Picton on the South Is. See the map pic. It took near 3.5 hours but was fun. We had upgraded to have food and drinks included and had our own area to hang out. The weather was amazing-couldn't pick a better day to cross, some wind gusts. It can be really bad. We arrived in Picton and had a room right on the Bay-beautiful. There were Oyster catchers and black swans right on/by our lawn by the water. We rested a bit then headed out to check out the Marlborough wine area and Blenheim. Quick trip around had us back before too long. We were hungry so walked around to the marina to grab a drink/dinner at the Jolly Roger. Sitting on the marina deck in the warm sun watching the ducks was nice-roger was able to watch the Cricket match inside - totally don't get that game! The walk home was nice and we were still able to sit outside a bit before it got too chilly. We'd definitely come back!

16 March 2017

We arrived in Wellington and thank goodness we were going against traffic as it was bad heading out of town-and that's coming from someone who lives in LA part time- it was bad! The super narrow streets made navigation difficult and one wrong turn forced Roger to cleverly get us out of a ridiculously tight parking area. We found our hotel in the back of many atop each other and set out down the hill on foot looking for dinner. The walk was fun. Seems every church in NZ is looking for $$ for seismic retrofitting. Mom read that you need a beard, tats and a skateboard to blend in here. Very young people and everyone out walking around, eating and drinking in - in and outdoor cafes. We were too late for reservations but were able to go to Logan Browns-stupid expensive but fun- a single ravioli cost $7 NZD. Stupid. But when in Rome...then we walked off our meal by heading up to the cable car. It's tunnels lit up and the evening view of the city, stars and moon were amazing. 10 min RT.
After grabbing our coffee before leaving Napier we headed south toward Wellington out of a layer of clouds into the sun. Then we stopped along the way to check out a possum factory where after they kill them they skin and sell their fur. Sounds awful but necessary. NZ has many flightless birds like the Kiwi but ferrets, dogs, feral cats and possums are killing them. Possums are the worst and their population is too high. Their fur is unique so blends beautifully with sheep wool to make beautiful knitwear. The owner mentioned a wild life preserve which had white Kiwis-very rare, so off we went. The pics look pink because they are nocturnal and the red lights turned them pink-only 5 in the world. She chased her mate around until he screamed at her-he'd had enough! Then we wine tasted in Martinborough, ran into a flock of sheep and herder, drove to see pinnacles that were a bust then arrived in Wellington. Tight city-narrow streets!

15 March 2017

The next day in Napier we left our Chalet and walked around the Art Deco town. The entire town had been devastated in the 1930s by a 7.9 earthquake. Most of the rubble was pushed onto the beach and lawn planted on it. The beach is a bit less now than it was. They rebuilt the town with the 1930 Art Deco architecture. Very Great Gatsby. Then went wine tasting around the Hawks Bay Area. They have some pretty great wines there, several were quite good. We stopped and looked at the Hawks bay beach which was very gravely and more the South Pacific Ocean-they have vineyards build on gravel too. We wondered if the gravel came from the rubble. We had a last visit at Lilly's winery then saw her cottage across the road she stays at with other vineyard workers-some from France. After that- very tired- we grabbed "take-away" dinner then headed back to eat and crash!!

14 March 2017

After having enough of the smelly parts of NZ we headed to Taupo and had lunch on the lake then headed east to Napier. Along the way we came across acres and acres of pine forest farms where you could see large forests next to barren land with dead tree fragments, then drive a bit more and see new pine trees planted. We saw this for miles and miles. The weather changed from our original humid days in NZ to colder. We arrived in Napier and found our 'Chalet' which sits on a hilly area in a mix of homes and businesses. An A frame with a tiny upstairs bath with about 6" between the sink and the roof edge. A bit snug. We had plans to meet Lilly for dinner -who is a friend my nieces and regan. She is interning at Te Mata winery in Havelock North- She met us for dinner with purple fingers and fun stories-she's so sweet and we had a great time hearing about her time working here. We made plans to visit her winery the next day. When we got home we were met by a Hedgehog! So cute.
Monday night after the Hobbiton tour we headed to Rotorua to our hotel where we checked into our hotel then walked around the town a bit. It did smell of sulphur due to the geyser going off a couple streets away. We could see the steam rising over the houses across the street. We got ourselves ready to get picked up to head to the Maori dinner/cultural experience. The bus driver was funny and told us what to expect when we got there-having seen a smaller version before we were prepared. It was really good. They arrived on a boat when we arrived at the village then took us through stations to explain parts of their culture-the face tattoos, use of sticks to keep hands agile, history of their people, and the war dance of the men. You will see roger participating in some! The food was cooked in the ground then served after a cultural show. Really fun.
Tuesday morning we grabbed our coffee and headed to the geo-thermal geysers and pools in Wai-O-Tapu. There the geyser 'Lady Knox' goes off every day at 10:15, but truth be told the geyser naturally goes off every 48-72 hours. The park provides a little help to get it to go off more regularly to allow tourists the opportunity to witness it. Seems wrong but there you go... A guy came and dropped a bag of a bio degradable soap mixture type stuff and it began to bubble then blow. It could blow about 30-60+ min. After that we went to the visitor center then began the walk through the thermal pools-again, the smell was quite something! Ew! We saw colors the various minerals spewing from the steam made around the area: Bright mustard yellows, deep rust, almost neon green and bright white. The walk around took about 2 hours up and down hills and over boardwalks just barely above the pools. It was stinky but beautiful. Then we drove over to view the Huka Falls-the blue was amazing.

13 March 2017

Today started rainy in Auckland then turned sunny at as we drove south toward Matamata to take a tour of Hobbiton-the movie set for the shire part in Lord of the rings then again 10 years later the shire for the Hobbit. The land is a sheep farm where the owners split 50/50 the tourism $$ with the movie folks. The tour was a couple hours and ended at the green dragon for a free beer or cider. It looks like a real place where a community of hobbits would live. Fire wood ready to burn, clothes hanging to dry and gardens ready for picking. There are 44 hobbit holes around taking up quite a large area. The only thing not real was the tree over Baggins house. The close up of the tree you can see a metal part hanging out where they removed a branch to fix it- fun time!

12 March 2017

We got to Auckland as the rain was stopping and arrived at the Sky City Hotel which has a casino-no smoking and has no cocktail waitresses- and walked around the city center. There were two cruise ships in port and lots of people wandering around. One of the ships was on a world cruise. NZ has cashmere/possum sweaters that are so soft and really expensive. We went to the sky walk/observatory at the Sky Tower which is like a needle sticking the sky- tallest free standing structure in the Southern Hemisphere. We watched people jump approx 200 meter from the top! I felt sick up there it was so high!! We grabbed ice cream and wine then headed down. The hotel concierge recommended a The Depot restaurant which had plates to share, great food. Very good and fun to sit outside.
When we finished at the Treaty grounds we headed slightly south to Opua where the car ferry launch to Russel was. We drove on and took off right away for the 10 min ride. We stopped to grab a beer while waited for the apt owner. She showed us a gorgeous 3bd/2ba place right on the waterfront. We wandered around and found a place where you could buy beef and cold dog meat in the same isle. Then we watched the people wandering below as we ate fish and chips we grabbed from the restaurant below. In the morning we woke to a terrific storm where at one point an alarm outside went off and we didn't know if it meant tsunami or cyclone or something else- but, it stopped so we grabbed coffee at the hell hole and got the heck out! Headed toward Auckland as the storm followed us a bit.

11 March 2017

After we left the winery we headed to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds where the Maori Indians and the British settlers signed their treaty. We watched a cultural performance and walked the Grounds seeing the 35.7 meter ceremonial boat and a really good museum telling the story about what happened before during and after the signing. It was really interesting.
After an interesting breakfast at the hotel consisting of eggs, bacon, hash browns and creamed mushrooms.... we headed east toward Russell- which in 1935 Charles Darwin called the inhabitants the "refuse of society". Along the way we felt at home with the flooding we saw-water coming almost over the road. We decided to detour to Kerikeri-where the 'god fearing people' lived away from Russell. We came across a farmers market. Across the street was a woodcrafter shop - bought fun stuff made of native woods- and a confectionary factory-Yum!! On our way out of town we stopped at a winery where the owners turned out to be from San Diego! They had white Port and a Walnut Liqueur-so interesting!

10 March 2017

We stayed our first night in Omapere/Opononi right on the harbor at Copthorne Hotel and resort. It was rainy, humid and gorgeous-we loved it! It would pour down rain then suddenly stop. The tropical forest behind the hotel was a constant concert of birds and crickets. Our patio faced the water and we enjoyed wine while it rained. The water was warm-ish but we just enjoyed the view. Great place!
After we made it out of Auckland we headed north and west in the pounding rain toward the Waipoua Forest where the Kauri trees are. I think these are the trees which inspired the walking trees in the Lord of the Rings movies that the little hobbits rode on into battle. We parked and after washing and scrubbing our shoes we started walking about 10 min into the forest where we saw the four sisters. These are 4 large Kauri trees clustered together. They were pretty large around but not super tall like our redwoods. While there the sky's opened up and it poured! It was awesome!! Then we drove a little further north to see the largest of all the Kauri trees-Tane Mahtua. As you can see if you scroll the pics here that tree is huge!! Roger is standing in front of it in a rust jacket. Amazing.
Getting to the airport was not fun. Accident on 101 into San Francisco slows us down-but-we we're on vacation!! Got there, checked in, went to the United Club and enjoyed a glass of wine!! Got on the plane-business class rocks!! Lay down seats, wide screens in the seat backs for our movie watching enjoyment. Dinner was short ribs, stuffed chicken or mushroom risotto. They let us taste flights of wine, cheeses and port! Regan and mom tasted almost everything! The flight seemed so short and that was a great feeling! Landed and got through customs in a blink. Well, mom got held up reviewing her passport but other than that it was so fast! Grabbed a rental car and proceeded to get lost in Auckland!! Best trips are what you see when your lost!