NORTH ISLAND WRAP-UP!

Trip Start Dec 03, 2008
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Trip End Oct 14, 2009


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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Monday, February 16, 2009

Well after 3 weeks here in New Zealand and after many failed attempts to get on line to update the blog - we finally are able to.  I am writing this sitting outside next to our campsite and getting eaten alive by sand flies.  Believe it or not, they are the evil cousins of regular flies - these guys bite worst than mosquitoes and are too small to do anything about.  At the moment, they seem to be obsessed with trying to eat my face.  AHHH!!!  
 
Besides sand flies, New Zealand has been wonderful so far. We arrived in Auckland where we spent a week checking out the city and nearby attractions and we are also proud to announce we are happy owners of a 1994 Green Toyota Camry.  We call him Miles.  We wanted to name him after the "longest name of a place in the world" - Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu  but decided that just didn't roll off the tongue.  And, well, Miles is easy to remember.  
 
So far we have taken Miles all around the North Island.  From Auckland to all around the Coromandel Peninsula, south to the biggest lake in New Zealand (Lake Taupo), east to Hawk's Bay and then south to Wellington along the Wine Trail.
 
Because we have been here so long with no updates for you, here are some of the things we have seen and done so far on the North Island.  We are on the South Island now and will update that soon as well.
 
- Arrived in Auckland after a 14 hour flight - I slept 12 of the 14 hours and I'm not sure how.  We traveled in South America on nicer buses then this plane - we were worried about it flying over the Pacific Ocean.  Leaving from Buenos Aires the flight arched down towards Antarctica before bending back towards New Zealand.  Brian got up in the middle of the flight to use the bathroom and said it was so cold he could see his breath!

- We got 2 meals on the flight and Brian had requested Kosher food which both meals came in a HUGE secure box.  People were staring at us.  Travel tip: if you can, request a special meal (vegetarian, kosher, etc) the food is almost always fresher.

- Took a shuttle to our hostel and met a lady that told us to come stay with her in Rotorua and gave us a phone number within a matter of minutes.  Nice people around here.

- Took a harbor cruise of the multiple Auckland harbors. 

- Found the first Starbucks since our first night of the trip at the Lima, Peru airport.

- Went to Devonport and climbed to the top of some volcanoes - Mt. Victoria & North Head.  Found some cool old WWII fortress tunnels and explored them in the dark.  I think they were haunted.

- Went swimming at the shallowest beach I've ever been too - you could walk about 1/2 of a mile out and the water came up only to your knees.  I kept stepping on sand-dollars.  Literally, everywhere I stepped was right on top of them.  Are they alive? 

- Learned that the Auckland area was formed from 48 different volcanoes.  Climbed the tallest one twice, Mt. Eden (the volcano we were staying next to).  Mt. Eden has the best view of the city (better and cheaper than the Sky Tower).  Cows were grazing at the summit with us.

- Went on an unexpected Bar Crawl and found where the best beer in the world is made - Cock & Bull Brewery.  Monk's Habbit...7.9%...yikes.... Actually, the best beer still is Serra Nevada but this was a close second.

- I believe we averaged about 5 miles a day walking while in Auckland (all uphill).   

- Spent way too many hours in Auckland trying to buy a car.

- Got really stressed out about buying the car. 

- Got really nervous about driving the car.  They drive on the opposite side of the street - we didn't even want to do the test drive.

- Got really excited (and scared) when we hit the highway for the first time.

- Spent the day buying camping gear.

- Had a rough night sleeping because neither Brian or I could lay down straight in the tent (Brian legs hung out of the tent about 2 feet).  Slept diagonal.

- Returned the tent the next day and got a bigger one (after looking at 4 different stores).

- Stayed along the coast of the Coromandel Peninsula for the next 3 nights.  All places were on the beaches and were beautiful.  Some beaches were too dangerous to swim but we found some safe ones too.

- Took Miles and tried to reach to top of this mountain that supposedly had a great lookout but just got lost on old logging roads.  We did see a mountain cliff that was in Lord of the Rings though.

- It's funny how they log half a mountain at a time and then after awhile they replant trees in straight rows.  It definitely doesn't look natural.  But they are very "Green" here so I don't know why they cut down so many trees to begin with.

- Decided to drive on a really scary one lane gravel road through mountain valleys and ended up on the other side of the Peninsula.  This was the beginning of our "Gravel Travels".  There are lots of gravel roads!

- Found a great winery in the back country and had one of the best lunches ever - a roasted veggie salad.  She actually put whole cloves of garlic in it - but it was awesome.  They also had FREE wine tasting.  A lot of places charge you just to try.  They had more liquors than wines there - all made from fruit - wayyy too sweet for me.  Brian ate some weird fruit we've never seen before.  It was just like a strawberry and banana mixed together but looked like a kiwi.

- Still don't know what locals are talking about when they say "kiwi".  It's either a fruit, a little bird, or a nickname  they call themselves.

- Saw a band play at a bar next to our campsite in Tairua.  Accidentally choose a campsite that was the walkway to the toilets.

- Drove south to Lake Taupo (the largest lake in NZ) in the hottest weather ever.  Miles does not have AC.  We both sunburned our arms that were next to the window.

- Decided driving down here is pretty scary.  No matter what the speed limit is, it is almost impossible to reach the maximum.  If we did, we would fly off a cliff, a bridge, or hit oncoming traffic around the very sharp turns.  I don't think they have anything but very sharps turns here.

- Saw Huke Falls in Taupo - very cool.  Not so much waterfalls - its more of a massive amount of water being forced through a narrow gorge. 

- Drove to Hawk's Bay which is the beginning of the WINE TRAIL!!!!!!!!!!!!  YEAH!!!

- Went swimming at the beach - had a great time until we saw a large silver fish 5 feet long swimming with us!  Left quickly after.  Our campsite was right on the water so we spent some time on the beach that night watching the moon.  I don't know why I thought the moon would look different down here - just as good as it is in Iowa. ;)

- Went into Napier (Hawk's Bay) and played mini golf which Becky won for once (!!!) and went out to eat.  Also, found out where the bead store was in town.  Yippee.

- Visited a couple wineries (Craggy Range & Black Barn) on our way south.

- Decided to take the "more scenic route" to visit the world's longest place name... Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu.  Decided to drive to the town of Pongaroa to camp for the night.  Thought it would be a little bigger town - maybe 50 people lived in the area.  The only two places open were the gas station and the market (with only canned food).  After meeting the shop owner and the gas station man we realized how creepy this town was.  Also, we would be camping on the town's rugby field in the middle of no where...alone with no other campers...we decided to leave.  Usually that would be nice but we just got a weird feeling about the place.  Not the safest idea.  It was hard to leave because we had no food and no gas and the nearest place was a good 2 hours away. 

- Finally got gas from the creepy guy (probably a really nice, normal person) and hit the road...food could wait. 

- Herded hundreds of sheep on the road along the way with our car!  Took awhile to get around them - Brian's loud clapping helped.

- 15 minutes later - herded sheep again!  No joke!

- Ate at a Fish & Chips place and got cheeseburgers.  Ate outside and got ketchup, mustard and beer from the car - hope they didn't care.  They put beet root on their burgers.   

- Went to the Tui Brewery the next day, we had just missed the tour but still tasted the beer. 

- Stopped by the Manawatu Gorge.  Crossed the biggest swinging bridge we've ever seen - but no Indiana Jones and the Temple of Dome.

- Drove to Masterton and found a park to eat lunch in.  It just so happened this park had the coolest swing I've ever seen (check out our pictures). 

- Drove to Martinborough which is the capital of the WINE TRAIL!!! 

- You can rent bikes to check out the wineries (we had a bad experience doing that in Argentina).  But got the idea of what it was like around here when at our campsite, we saw a drunk lady riding her bike with her husband, she almost crashed into a parked car then attempted to walk (or stumble) to her camper-van.  I wanted to go help her.  

- Slept in a cabin because it had been pouring all day.  I've never been so happy to sleep in a cabin with nothing but a bed.  Luxury.

- It was also luxury because this campsite did not have Coin Operated Pay Showers!  Usually we get 5 minutes for $2. 

- Visited a couple good wineries the next day.  The best being TK.  Got a delicious bottle of Pinto Gris!  (enjoying it right now)

- Slept at the same campgrounds - only outside.  Brian was visited by a possum with the head the size of a large dog.

- Played teather ball (Becky won!).  Sorry, I have to add that stuff in.

- Went to the Cape Pillisner lighthouse, which is the most southern tip of the North Island.  Saw more sea loins.

- That remains me, if you're wondering from our pictures, Brian hasn't cut his hair since we left Chicago.  He's hoping he can put it in a ponytail by the time we reach Australia

- Herded cows today with our car.  This was awesome but for some reason they reminded me of Angelina Jolie.  The cows hadn't been milked for quite some time and with their bony legs and all...well I just thought of her.

- Slept in another cabin that night - still raining.  Just not as good as the other cabin.  We had some bugs hanging out with us.

- Made dinner in the kitchen where there was tons of people watching a NZ show (really bad one) because it was raining outside.  I now understand why they enjoy United States TV and movies so much.  If only they had King of Queens here...

- Saw Marley & Me while it was raining - great movie, wonderful book.  Both Brian and I read it in South America.

- Left the gas cap on the trunk of the car when getting gas.  When I went back I found 3 different caps in the sewer grate.  Guess I'm not the only one.  Luckily, one of them fit Miles. 

- Arrived in Wellington (New Zealand's capitol), not the best hostel but I could deal with it.  Crazy old man ran it. 
- Visited the Te Papa museum in Wellington.  Really fun museum.  Very interactive and it was FREE.  They have the largest colossal squid ever caught.  It was actually kind of gross.

- Went to Happy Hour and ate squid (calamari).

- Watched a little NCAA basketball at the bar, finally something different from sailing, rugby, cricket and soccer.  But really we watch just a few minutes of TV every week.  (And I secretly really miss it).

- Finally got a sunny day so we went to a International skateboarding contest along the harbor.  Felt really out of place.

- Took a cable car ride to the top of a mountain over looking downtown Wellington and the harbor then hiked down (it counts if you walk through people's yards, right?).  Wanted to go to the Carter Observatory but it is closed for the summer.  I would love to see this so we'll see if it's open when we come back through town. 

- Valentine's Day - went out to dinner.  They have the best seafood here, but Brian got pork belly - whatever that is.  Then we went to a FREE concert in the park.  Tommy Love is his name and he is great - he is originally from NZ but I think works in Vegas.  It was a comedy act with music.  Very funny and entertaining.  We drank our wine from a water bottle because you couldn't have glass.  Romantic.  :)

- Went grocery shopping at midnight.

- Becky went to church the next day.  Actually pretty different from home but good to go to and the people were great.

- We went on a tour of the NZ Parliament and it was FREE.  Very educational.  Just makes me want to visit DC even more - anyone want to go with me?  It made it more interesting when a lady fainted on the tour and we realized how weird our tour guide was when all she could say was "um...ok then".

- We were excited to take the ferry across Cook's Strait through the Marlborough Sound to the South Island - it is called "one of the most beautiful ferry crossings in the world".

- Turned out to be a really cloudy and windy day...not good for a ferry ride.  Got a little seasick.  Even though, it was absolutely beautiful.   

- Brian saw that Jessica Simpson is getting fat in a gossip magazine and he cried.
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