Sunday, November 13, 2016

New Zealand - Nov 2016


I played at the 10am Marist remembrance Mass with Carl and several St Linus choir members Saturday morning before leaving for the airport around noon. We got to the airport with time to spare and tried the new United Club near B6. It's bigger and offers a lot of power outlets for charging up all your devices. Our gate was C23 so we had to allow time to get to the C concourse before boarding. The flight to San Francisco actually felt short compared to some of our recent travel. 

After collecting our luggage we took the shuttle to the Waterfront Marriott and checked in to a nice bay view room. We had dinner in the lobby lounge, accompanied by wine and Caipirinhas. On a sour note, the Magikarp in San Francisco bay have apparently been overfished. I was looking forward to catching enough to evolve a Gyarados, but I only saw two the whole time I was there. đŸ˜‰


We had breakfast in the M Club, then returned to our room to relax until our 4 pm late checkout. Then we moved back to the M Club lounge and hung out there till about 7:30 when we took the shuttle to the airport. We had about an hour to spend in the United club before making our way to the gate for boarding. The flight left on time and was long but uneventful. I was able to sleep enough to be comfortable with our drive on arrival.


We arrived in Auckland Tuesday morning about a half hour earlier than scheduled. We had some concerns about New Zealand customs, having heard they may require doctor's notes for prescription medicines, and have strict control on food imports. But we found it to be no worse than entering Australia. We got through to the arrivals hall and picked up our rental car. Once again we relied on Google's offline maps and Janet's navigation skill to get around without a GPS. We had intended to stop at an airport ATM for some local currency but were about halfway to our first destination when we realized we forgot that part. We stopped to ask at a small cafe in Kopu and were advised that a we would be likely to find a bank ATM with a short detour to the nearby town of Thames. We did indeed find a bank there and after picking up some cash we also went to a nearby McDonalds for some lunch.
Welcome to New Zealand

We continued on to our destination in the small resort town of Hahei. The road across the Coromandel peninsula was curvy and winding through forest covered hills. It was reminiscent of the road to Hana. The logging industry is big in this area and we encountered many logging trucks making their way along the narrow roads with a full load of logs. We found our way to our hotel and checked in. The proprietors were pleasant people and our garden cottage was nice. It was close to Hahei beach, and a very short drive to the Cathedral Cove car park.

Tatahi Lodge Cottage
We relaxed a bit before setting out to see Cathedral Cove. We drove to the car park and found a space close to the walking track entry point. Then we began the walk to Cathedral Cove. Here is where Google directions failed us. The Google Maps Directions claim it is a winding 26 minute walk, but fail to note that the trail winds up and down some difficult hills, and actually takes about 45 minutes. We made it nonetheless and it was entirely worth it. The beach and water and stone features at Cathedral Cove are beautiful. After staying at the beach for a while we started back on the same track. We had perfect weather the whole day. It was sunny and mild. The temperature during our walk to and from the cove was just cool enough to keep us from overheating. Note to self, if we ever go back we'll skip the walk and book a Cathedral Cove scenic cruise.
Cathedral Cove
Cathedral Cove
Cathedral Cove
We were hungry after our hiking and chose to have dinner at a nearby accommodation and restaurant called The Church. Janet had their fish of the day special and I had a steak. The food was mostly good, though my steak (a scotch fillet) was tough and gristly. The pacing of the meal was very slow. Perhaps that's just the New Zealand beach resort way. Janet had a New Zealand Gewurtztraminer that was very good.
"The Church" Restaurant


Wednesday we checked out of our hotel and had breakfast at the Hahei Beach Cafe. I had coffee and some delicious pancakes served with bananas and Janet had scrambled eggs. After breakfast we drove to Hahei Beach and walked out to dip our toes in the Pacific Ocean. Hahei beach is a beautiful beach with soft sand that has a pink cast to it. While there we saw a kayak tour setting out for Cathedral Cove. We left Hahei beach and drove to Hot Water Beach. We arrived too late after low tide to try the traditional spa digging, but we enjoyed a walk on the beach and picked up a few shells to bring home (which we unfortunately forgot in the rental car).
Hahei Beach
Hot Water Beach
We left the Coromandel peninsula along the same winding route we followed in and headed to the Hobbiton movie set tour. We stopped in Matamata at the visitor center that looks like a hobbit house. We got to Hobbiton in time to take the 3:15 tour. We spent two hours guided around the preserved movie set followed by snacks and beer at the Green Dragon.
Green Dragon Inn
We drove from Hobbiton to Tauranga where our next accommodations were. We also had booked a Glowworm Kayak Tour for Wednesday night and needed to be at the hotel for our pick up at 6:30 pm. We arrived just in time for our pickup with just barely enough time to get checked in at the hotel.
Tauranga Trinity Wharf Hotel
Our glowworm tour guide Tom drove us to the site on McLaren lake and set up a table of wine and snacks for us to enjoy while he prepared for the tour. We were the only participants on this evening's tour although we were told there are sometimes more than 20. We were happy to have a personal tour and our guide Tom was a genuinely friendly and laid back guy whose language mannerisms reminded me of Crush the sea turtle. But he was completely knowledgeable about kayaking and glowworms. He guided us on a trip across lake McLaren and allowed us to row at a comfortable pace. As the sky darkened he led us into a narrow canyon where both sides sparkled with tiny blue white glowworm lights that looked like an array of led christmas lights. Tom explained the life cycle of the Arachnocampa Luminosa, and why they were there. It was an incredible experience to be out on a lake in a kayak surrounded by nothing but nature. There wasn't a human sound to be heard. As we left the canyon and rowed back to the lake our dark adjusted eyes could pick out hundreds more glowworm lights in the trees along the shore. We finished up the tour enjoying the moonlit starry sky as Tom packed up the kayaks. Then we were returned to our hotel, getting back around 10 pm.


We started the day with a buffet breakfast in the hotel, then started out on a drive to Taupo to see Huka Falls. The falls are on the Waikato river at a point where it narrows and drops in elevation. It's much like a white water rapids with occasional small drops until it ultimately falls 35 feet at the end. There is a foot bridge over the middle of the falls gorge that offers a great view and selfie spot. There are several walking trails in the area as well and we spent a little time walking on one that followed the river upstream.
Huka Falls
After we left Huka Falls we went to the nearby Craters of the Moon geothermal walk where for a small fee you can walk a laid out track on a geothermal field among large craters, mud pools, and steaming fumaroles. It's a little unnerving to think of the volcanic activity going on around you and probably under your feet.
Craters of the Moon
We left Taupo and headed for Rotorua which has some of the best geothermal sites in the area. We arrived in time to tour the "Thermal Wonderland" at Wai-O-Tapu, and we were suitably impressed. We walked among steaming craters, large colorful pools of bubbling steaming water and bubbling mud pots. After leaving the Thermal Wonderland, we stopped to see what is claimed to be the largest mud pool in the southern hemisphere. We returned to our hotel in Tauranga and had dinner in the hotel restaurant.
"Artist's Palatte"
Mud Pool


After morning breakfast in the hotel restaurant we checked out of the hotel and packed up the car to drive back to Rotorua. We parked in the government gardens and walked around for a bit admiring some of the trees and flowers, statuary, and even a hot spring pool named Rachel. Next we visited the Rotorua museum which occupies a building once used as a bath house where people from all over the world would go to soak in the thermal water as a cure for chronic disorders. The museum has an entire wing devoted to Maori history in New Zealand, and also some art exhibits and a preserved section of the old bath house. After the museum we drove about 3 hours to Auckland, passing through Hamilton on the way. Most of the drive was pleasant but the traffic backed up on the motorway near Auckland. Janet identified a better route on the map and got us to the hotel straightaway. We had dinner in the hotel lobby bar where a guitarist was playing and singing.
Government Gardens
Bath House / Rotorua Museum


Saturday morning we enjoyed a buffet breakfast in the hotel restaurant and after a bit we went out for some sightseeing on foot. A short walk from the hotel we visited Auckland's St. Patrick Cathedral. It wasn't very 'cathedral like' by European cathedral standards, but it was a pretty church. We went inside and snapped a few pictures, then moved on since people appeared to be gathering in the narthex for some event, perhaps a wedding.
St. Patrick's Cathedral
Not far from St. Patrick's is the Auckland Sky Tower which we had plans to visit. We walked there and bought tickets to visit the observation deck. It is a swift elevator ride to the top with glass doors that allow you to see out on the way up. We took some pictures of the city panorama and a couple looking down while standing on the glass floor too. There was a cafe restaurant near the top level too but we didn't eat there. When we returned to the bottom we bought a few things in the souvenir shop.
Sky Tower
Glass Floor
The building adjacent to the Sky Tower contained a casino so we went inside and played 20 $NZ on a roulette game but didn't win anything. On our way out there was a street fair of some kind going on with music and food booths set up. One booth had a person making huge bubbles.
Bubble Man
We walked back towards the hotel and stopped in a few shops to do a little more souvenir shopping. We also took a walk along the harbor which was a little nicer looking area than the city streets we were on prior. When we got back to the hotel we repeated the lobby bar dining experience since the food there was pretty good.
Auckland Hilton


Sunday was our travel home day. I had breakfast in the hotel restaurant and then returned to the room to get repacked. At checkout time we collected the car and loaded up to go to the airport. The drive to the airport was only about 30 minutes but surprisingly did not take an expressway route, instead following a zig-zag path along secondary highways. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to return the car and get checked in, then spent some time in the Air New Zealand airport lounge before heading to the gate to board. After the plane left the gate and was taxiing to the runway, the pilot came on and said there was a mechanical problem and we had to return to have it investigated. It took a while for the problem to be corrected and we ended up taking off more than 2 hours late.

We had scheduled a 3 hour connection time in San Francisco but when we landed 2 hours late we knew it would be tight to get through customs and immigration as well as re-check our bags and clear TSA before getting to our next flight. A delay at any step would mean we'd probably miss our flight. Fortunately everything went smoothly and we made it to the gate just as boarding started. It wasn't until then that we had time to check our phones and learned about the New Zealand earthquake that had occurred about 7 hours after we left. We fired off a couple of messages to let people know we were fine then took off for Chicago. The New Zealand trip had been amazing but we were happy to get home.

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