We are now heading up the west coast of the south island back toward Napier. I have many pictures I did not share because of wifi access and time pressure. Today, I want to show a map of each area of our journey and a few pictures I haven’t shared before.
We started out spending two days in the largest city in New Zealand, Auckland high up on the northern tip of the north island.
Here we are in the Skytower.
My new friend, Grant.
With Alex and Grant on the ferry from Auckland to Devonport.
On Day 3 we traveled to the Waitamo Caves where we were not allowed to take any pictures. Then on to Alex and Grant’s friends house — Russell and Linda. We spent the night there just out of Hamilton/Cambridge area in the midst of farmland and then set off the next morning for my most anticipated destination, Hobbiton.
In the real garden at Hobbiton.
The bridge to the Green Dragon pub.
Our guide, Shawn handing out cider at the Green Dragon Pub.
We left the Hobbiton area and headed for the thermal playground of Rotorua.
Here we spent two days in the area seeing the sights and sounds while I got sick from the virus that had shut down Sherry for the past two days.
In our “shared” condo in Rotorua.
Riding the gondola in Rotorua and then riding back down on the Luge.
After two days, we headed out of Rotorua toward “home” to the Sitchbury household in Napier. Along the way, we stopped at several thermal “playgrounds” with hot bubbling mud pits, volcanic steam vents, and colorful chemical pools.
We arrived for our first weekend in Napier and settled in for two nights at home. Here we traveled up to Te Mata, the high peak overlooking Hawke’s Bay and Napier.
Sunday evening, we headed out for Palmerston North to meet with the Stitchbury’s oldest son, Sam. We spent the night there and got up on Monday morning and headed on into Wellington.
Here we visited the WETA workshop and rode the cable car up the side of the mountain overlooking Wellington and its harbor. On Tuesday, we boarded the ferry to cross the strait to the south island.
And there I will stop for today and continue our review of the south island later. For now, my feet feel as tired as Bilbo’s feet.
“We spent two days in Auckland when we could have been here?”
Sherry nailed our reaction once we arrived Friday evening in Napier. We’ve spent the last two days at “home” with Alex and Grant’s family here in a city known for its art Deco appearance. In 1931, an earthquake hit Napier and the city rose several feet above sea level. Much of it was rebuilt in the current architectural style leaving behind a delightful town perched on the emerald green waters of Hawke’s Bay. The moment we saw the ocean, we knew we should have been here long ago. Don’t get me wrong. Auckland was exciting and bracing and something to be seen. But, in all of our travels, Sherry and I have always found the smaller towns more inviting than the busy, bustling cities. My one exception would be New York City and London. We loved both cities but they are creatures unto themselves.
Napier resides on the eastern coast of the North Island tucked into Hawke’s Bay. Just south of Napier is Hastings and surrounding this area are mountains and wine country. We passed through orchards and vineyards and more rolling hills dotted with sheep. As we drew closer to the east coast winding our way up and down through these wonderful mountains, the hills grew greener and more lush. The tall, waving fronds of the silver fern — the symbol of New Zealand — were soon replaced with tall pine trees. We instantly felt at home with my thoughts drawn back to the pines of our Louisiana. The only difference would be the lack of a thick film of yellow pollen we would hopefully miss out on this year. March is the autumn for New Zealand.
We met the family at a Kiwi barbecue on Saturday. The meal was sumptuous, delicious and capped off with several huge desserts ranging from trifle to banana cream and upside down chocolate pudding cake and cupcakes. Everyone here is so friendly and so open and accepting. As I mentioned in my last post, this is the culture we have lost in America. Grant assured me New Zealand was about 15 years behind America in adopting our ways. Let us hope and pray New Zealand does not catch up with us. Here, civility, manners, kindness, friendliness, hospitality are all a way of life. In our own country, we are in danger of forgetting these virtues.
Before I go on about our trip in Napier to the mountaintop of Te Mata or to the beach in downtown Napier I want to finish out our first week in New Zealand with a few photographs from the past seven days.
DAY 2 — Auckland Sky Tower and Devonport
After finally sleeping through a New Zealand night, we woke up at 645 AM New Zealand Time on Monday morning (Sunday in the States as they say). It was 1145 AM Shreveport time. But, I slept for eight straight hours without waking up and I felt like it was truly early morning and not nearly noon! I was almost acclimated to being down under! I have to stop for a moment to digress. We are down under. I don’t recognize the stars. The water swirls the wrong way in the toilet. And, it gets warmer the further north you go, not south! Also, sitting in the front seat of the minivan whilst Grant or Alex bustle about this metropolis known as Auckland can be a bit disorienting. They drive on the other side of the street here and every time we turn, I panic because I think we are heading into traffic going the wrong way! Also, you have to train yourself to look to the right for oncoming traffic before crossing the street.
We loaded up the luggage and left one hotel and drove downtown toward Auckland on the “motorway” to our final hotel our last day in this city. Our room overlooked the harbor but we set out toward downtwon for Victoria Market. Little did I realize that what was to be a simple walk to the bank to exchange US dollars for NZ dollars and then on to the marketplace would be such a challenge. Why? It was uphill. Both ways!
Seriously, we walked about a mile up a steep incline through downtown Auckland surrounded by tall buildings and bustling citizens. We paused at the foot of the Sky Tower and were relieved to see that the next mile to the marketplace was downhill. But, when we arrived at what was once a busy, bustling marketplace filled with small shops, we discovered that the economic downturn (global it seems) had forced most of the shops to close. It was still a nice experience shopping but now we had to walk back uphill to the Sky Tower.
By the time we reached the base of the Sky Tower, both Sherry and I were exhausted. In spite of getting plenty of sleep, it seemed our bodies were lagging behind our relatively rested minds. Alex refused to take the elevator to the top of the tower (at least she admitted a fear of heights) but Sherry, Grant, and I bravely soldiered on. I pause for a moment to comment on what I can only assume is a prelude to insanity. We passed a gift shop on the way down an escalator to the ticket counter. Hanging from the ceiling of the gift shop was a mannequin dressed in blue overalls, arms outstretched, hanging from a cord. Grant pointed it out to me and told me there was a free fall from the tower on a vertical sort of zip line if I was interested. I have never jumped out of a perfectly good airplane or off of a perfectly good building! I did not plan on changing that record!
So, here is a picture of the Sky Tower from street level. Next is the platform at the base. A person is clipped into this vertical wire assembly and quickly pulled up to the top of the tower. Then, the person is released and plummets to the ground. All very controlled, of course. The third picture shows the harness on its way back up without a person clipped in. I watched one young man land on the platform and the way in which he was walking, hunched over and stiff legged led me to believe he should have been wearing Depends. It would seem he had, shall we say, “soiled himself” as Alex commented. Not a reliable cure for constipation, I would conclude!
Here are some pictures from the top of the Sky Tower of Auckland and the harbor area. The many hills you see not covered by buildings including the largest across the harbor are relatively young volcanoes that shaped Auckland. Also, there were glass panels in the floor allowing one to look downward at the ground and to contemplate the overwhelming mastery that gravity has over our lives. Sherry was brave enough to monkey around on the panels. I refused to even look down them! Grant was as reluctant as I was but did stand on one of the panels. Sherry promptly grabbed him and he latched onto a nearby handrail as if he were about to plunge through the glass lending credibility to my strong belief that Sherry would have done the same thing to me if I had agreed to stand on a panel. I can assure you someone would have been performing CPR on me! We almost had to do so to Grant. But, the view was breathtaking as the photos reveal and well worth my trepidation. Sherry did comment once during our time at the top of the tower that I seemed a “little pale”. You think!
Let me pause for a moment and acquaint you with some Kiwi phrases. You go to the “loo”, not the bathroom. You throw trash in the “rubbish” can. Vanilla ice cream with caramel and toffee is called “hokey pokey” ice cream. While still thinking of the Sky Tower, a funeral parlor here is known as a funeral “cottage”. An expresso with a little less milk than a latte is known as a “flat white”. I had two of these today and I am now convinced Starbucks should add this to their menu. New Zealand loves coffee shops. There must be a thousand little niche coffee shops all over the city each with their own unique brand of coffee. The young man on the Sky Tower Free Fall must have soiled his “nickers”. Don’t call your belted travel pack a “fanny” pack. Fanny refers to something to do with anatomy that I cannot speak of in mixed company. You don’t tip in New Zealand. Rather, you say “Thank you very much for your service.” and that is sufficient. Also, the check isn’t brought to your table. You must go to the “registration desk” and pay for the check. Grant had what we would call a chicken fried steak only with pork known as a “pork schnitzel” with “chips” meaning french fries. Carbonated water is “moving” water and non carbonated is “still” water. There is no such thing as ice tea in New Zealand we discovered and is sorely missed by this Southern couple. Enough for now. I’m sure I will share more of these words in the future.
We set off downhill after the Sky Tower, thank you Jesus and I mean that reverently, back toward the harbor. We bought a ticket for the ferry to take us across the harbor to the far peninsula to an exclusive area known as Devonport. Built during the Victorian era, the village has retained its architecture and is now filled with small, exclusive shops and restaurants and, yes, dozens of coffee shops. To finish off today’s post, here are some photos from Devonport including one area of a small beach overlooking Auckland downtown and, of course, the Sky Tower.
By 530 PM Kiwi time (add 5 for hours plus one day) Sherry was exhausted and we headed back to have “tea” meaning supper at an Irish Pub, O’Hagan’s. This is where Grant had his pork schnitzel and Alex had steak and eggs — a huge slab of steak topped off with two poached eggs and chips (remember, these are french fries. Remember this so I won’t have to keep reminding you!) I had a hamburger with cheese and bacon. But, their bacon is more like our thick cut bacon with lots more meat than fat only not at all fried crispy. But, it was quite tasty as you can imagine. By this point I was pushing six miles of walking and had only eaten a scone with my flat white since breakfast so I indulged. We had nachos with rich New Zealand beef chili, cheddar cheese, salsa, sour cream, and guacamole on top of corn “crisps” (this would be what we recognize as chips) in a skillet. It was MOST yummy! Sherry had chicken quesadillas. Let me just say that I have eaten in Canada, Mexico, France, and England. The food was most bland in the United Kingdom followed closely by Canada. Mexico’s food for me has had the same effect on my body as the Sky Tower Freefall had on the aforementioned young man! France’s food was very buttery and very winey?!?, if that is a word. Sherry packed a can of Tony’s spice in case New Zealand food was similar to the UK. So far, we have had some of the most delicious food! Far too much of it, in fact.
Finally, here are the two girls sitting on the bench waiting for our ferry to take us back to Auckland and the end of a very exciting, but tiring day. Tomorrow, it is off to the cave of the glowworms! Good on you, Mate!
Day 1 New Zealand
The departure time on the monitor changed abruptly. I sighed. Sherry and I sat in the terminal of the Shreveport airport waiting to board our flight to Houston. We had a narrow window to transfer to our flight from Houston to Los Angeles and then from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand. Someone had just tipped over the first domino! Soon, all of our plans could be wrecked.
But, I remained calm. We had wisely planned a seven hour layover in Los Angeles before boarding the flight to down under. Our flight from Shreveport left an hour late at 1141 A. M. and we landed in Houston with ten minutes to journey across the airport to the Los Angeles flight gate. If you’ve never been to the Houston airport, I would say Frodo had a much easier journey getting the ring to Mount Doom than Sherry and I had getting from B14 to C45. We arrived one minute before the flight was scheduled to leave and, of course, they had “closed the door”. But, our agent in Shreveport had been kind enough to schedule us on the next LA flight just 30 minutes after this one. So, we hurried from C45 to C29 which was about three football fields in length!
Our flight to LA was uneventful, if not long — 4 hours. Now, we faced a new hurdle. When we made our flight reservations, we were assured our luggage could be checked into Shreveport and transferred all the way to New Zealand. But, alas, our small airport in Shreveport didn’t “have the app” that would allow them to send our luggage on to Auckland! So, we had to with an hour and a half to pick up our luggage in LA then make it across LAX airport to another terminal where we finally checked in for our flight to New Zealand. Frodo, give ME the ring!
We boarded our flight to New Zealand at 915 P.M. Pacific time, 1115 PM our time. By then, we had been in airports or on an airplane for 12 hours. And, we were facing a 13 hour flight to Auckland. Do the math. More than 24 hours of travel time. The only positive development would be our seats. We had purchased “economy premium” and we had the new “spaceseats”. You couldn’t lay down flat like the seats in business class. But, the price was far more reasonable and the spaceseats were extremely comfortable like being enclosed in a cocoon of comfort and seclusion. Sherry slept for 10 hours of the 13. I watched “The Hobbit — The Desolation of Smaug” in preparation for our arrival in Middle Earth.
The flight was, as they say down here, lovely. As we were descending into Auckland, the sun rose over the high clouds and filled the sky with a fiery display of beauty unlike any had long seen. I couldn’t take a picture because all “electronic devices must be stowed and placed in the off position”. Oh for a simply instamatic again.
We made it safely and quickly through immigration and customs and our friends, Alex and Grant were waiting with a hot pick banner with a Kiwi on it. And, we were off on our first day in New Zealand. It was early, around 830 AM by the time we climbed into their mini-van. We headed to downtown Auckland for a busy and windy cool day. My mistake was not changing out of my work shoes into my running shoes. We covered 5 miles in walking and by 3 P.M. New Zealand time (8 P.M. Shreveport time) my four hours of sleep had long left me weak and tired. But, here are some pictures from our first day. Just check out the captions for details.