The Grinch in Rotorua New Zealand 01/22/2020

The Grinch you say? Stink, Stank, Stunk! That is the description of  much of the air in Rotorua is as the sulfur from the geothermal features lingers in the community. Like the Grinch, although Rotorua has a big heart and lots of big trees!!

Today started out mundane, some exercises and then some housekeeping duties of laundry and grocery shopping. We ran to the mall to mail Asia’s birthday card and a thank you gift to Patti T at AMC for being so helpful!!

Finally, time to play!! For a nice change of pace, we did a long hike through Redwood Recreation Area, which is a forest of California Redwoods planted around the early 1900’s. It was an interesting juxtaposition to see a Redwood tree growing next to a palm tree??? A little Dr. Seuss, hmmmmm? At the top of the trail we stood at an overlook watching a geyser spit out some hot water. Old Faithful it was not, but still pretty amazing. We saw some hot pots of mud and some pools of hot mineral water around the geyser. The walk up and down gave us all the steps and heart points for the day, so it was time for a change of pace. We saw geysers, big trees, mud pots and palm trees all while walking through a forest of Redwood trees.

We next did something that, while not planned, worked out perfectly. We decided we wanted to see the Tamaki Maori Village, which is an entire experience. It was recommended by one of our Airbnb hosts and Trip Adviser rates it as one of the best experiences for tourists. Alas, they were all booked until tomorrow. Deciding to go in and book directly with the operator instead of online was very fortuitous!! As the scheduler behind the desk said, “tomorrow at 5pm is our only time” a driver came in and said, “We can take them, hurry up and the bus will wait for them.” Thank you very much Ngata!!! We got to experience and learn about the culture of the Moari people, the first to arrive here in New Zealand over a thousand years ago, watched Dave be the first eliminated in a game of sticks, saw him perform a tribal dance, and then ate a very nice meal with our tribe. We started out as strangers and ended up as family, just like in the Grinch. Our tribe had folks from Australia, India, the Netherlands, the UK and several from the US. It was fun to talk with them and get, and give, tips about traveling.

Welcome to Middle Earth, 01/21/2020

Today started out relaxed and easy prior to our journey to our next stop. An easy going walk along the water where we had a great conversation with someone from South Africa and had some fun greeting the local canines who were out playing with their masters.

Packing up, we headed off after saying goodbye to our local hosts, who were kind and informative. The location was excellent and the kindness they extended was greatly appreciated.

We started the journey to Rotorua and then did a bit of a detour heading to Middle Earth. Hobbiton is the location of the filming of the Shire in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. We had a two-hour guided walking tour where we had the opportunity to walk the same path that Frodo, Bilbo, and Sam (Kathy’s favorite) walked. We saw the bench that Gandalf and Frodo sat to discuss the “adventure”. Lastly, we “bellied” up to the bar in the Green Dragon Inn located in the Shire where Dave had Ginger Beer (non-alcoholic) and Kathy had a hard cider! Sitting around the table, Kathy gave Dave the Cliff Notes version of the Lord of the Rings as he has never seen the movies. After her abbreviated version he will probably avoid the movie.

Reluctantly leaving Middle Earth, we headed to Rotorua, our next stop in our round the world trip. Finally finding our way to our next lodging, we gratefully unloaded the car and discussed what to do for dinner. We should have stayed in Middle Earth!!! Dinner was a dilemma between making omelets, which might have been the safe choice, or hot sandwich/burger/dogs at a local shop. Deciding upon the burger joint might not have been the best option. Kathy took apart her chicken sandwich and ate just the chicken, leaving the BBQ sauce, ham, pineapple, onion rings, condiments, and buns in their package and opted for the safe option of just chicken. Dave, being the braver sort, tackled his burger that had ham and beets along with his other traditional burger items. Kathy did try “canned” milk. It was vanilla-flavored milk and was sweet without being too sweet. While it was not on her “must try” list, it is not something she would say “never again.”

Time to relax for the day, put up our feet and sit in the shade under the covered patio of our most recent accommodations. The patio is surrounded by lots of green vegetation, including grapevines, which are quite a hit with the various local birds. We even had a short visit from the local tabby cat.

01/20/2020 Whitianga, NZ Risk versus Reward

This morning it was all about the risks versus the rewards!!! After doing some exercises, we decided to risk a drive up a narrow, winding dirt road, where the edge of the precipice was on the passenger side of the car and the driver was comfortably seated next to firmer ground, just to take a hike. Really? Whose idea was that? Okay it was an agreed upon hike, but still someone needs to be the brains of the group!! The reward was we ended up in a charming town called Coromandel where we had lunch. Lunch was another risk versus a reward as we tried some new sandwiches which were so-so and then dessert – YUM!!! It was a raspberry zinger on steroids!! The risk of a new sandwich was the reward of a great dessert. (Jill — pictures of sandwiches just for you!!)

At that point we decided to limit our risk and hike in the local area instead of venturing out trying to navigate another dirt road. This reaped great rewards as we hiked up a beautiful hill which gave us sweeping views of the local area. We saw a Kauri tree that was 1200 hundred years old and was as majestic and proud as only a tree that has achieved that age can be.

Heading back, we decided after a several mile hike that we needed to wind down and relax. Dave had the perfect idea!! A beautiful mineral hot spring resort where we soaked in the hot mineral springs. We chatted with a woman from Toronto who is traveling alone and enjoying her time away from the cold and snow. She was a big NFL fan so had the latest scores of the games played earlier in the day!!

Time to wind down. We had a nice, relaxing dinner and then watched the movie “The Two Popes”, a great way to end the day.

01/19/2020 Whitianga, New Zealand—Hot day—Hot Water Beach

It is sunny and warm here and so the it made for an optimal day to head to the beach. Putting on our suits and grabbing our towels, we headed off to Hot Water Beach. Hot Water Beach is known for the ability to dig holes in the sand (within a narrow window around low tide) and be able to “build’ your own hot tub on the beach from the geothermal features underground. We wandered down to see if anyone had built their own “hot tub”, but on the initial pass we did not find any successful holes. We decided to head back to the car, grab our towels, and find a shady spot along the edges of the beach. Parking ourselves under a tree we laid out our towels and contemplated the waves crashing into the shore.

Getting up the nerve, we wandered out into the surf to play. Dave being much bolder dove right in. Kathy slowly inched herself into the cold waters of the Pacific. After a few more feet the Pacific Ocean knocked Kathy over, and she was suddenly acclimated to the water. Dave and Kathy played and laughed in the ocean. Kathy watched as Dave dove headfirst into the waves and body surfed along the wave into the shore. Kathy body surfed a couple of times but did not stray too far out in the deep end. Tired, we walked back to our towels where we let the warmth of the afternoon dry us out. Getting warm fairly quickly, we decided another romp in the water was just what was needed. A great deal more laughter ensued, especially when Kathy spotted her hair tie that she had lost earlier. Running along the edge of the surf, we were finally able to capture the escaping hair tie!!

Another stroll down the beach to check out the pools, we found a successful pool with a group of people sitting in the hot springs basking in the warm temperatures. They offered to let Kathy to test out the water where she leaned over to test out the temperature. While not cold, it was not exactly hot yet – wrong time of the tides, we guess. We were now thoroughly debrided from the sand, so we figured it was time to head to another place in our adventures.

Somewhat close to Cathedral Cove, we decided to head there for our next adventure of the day. Taking the commuter bus up to the cove parking lot (or “car park”), we did a 35-minute hike down to the cove. The cove was a beautiful arch that you could walk under and get from one beach to another. Amazing view!!! We did not linger long to enjoy the sand or surf as the last bus was a 6 pm and we had only a short time to get back up the incline and back to our car. Well worth the hike.

Dave cooked dinner, meat pies with a salad!! Much more successful than the lasagna!!! Thank you, Dave!!! We rested the balance of the evening as the sun, sand, and pounding surf made us feel like we had been through a washing machine. We had sand in places we didn’t even know we had! 😊

Drive day In Auckland, NZ to Whitianga , NZ 01/18/2020

Today we left the city of Auckland to head to Whitianga. A charming town set along the coast of the Pacific Ocean. We stopped at a beach along the way to make our lunch and take in some of the views. First stop though, the bathroom!! The bathroom from afar looked like a pay toilet with a series of lit buttons. As we got closer, we inspected the buttons and realized it was just letting you know it was available or unoccupied. Kathy stepped in and closed the door where she was promptly informed by a recorded voice that she had 10 minutes to finish her business. She got down to business when the music started to play, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love……….” Knowing that she was on a timer she set about finishing her “business”; but how to flush? Hunting desperately, she could not find a way to flush, she pushed every mark on the wall, looked around the base of the toilet, and finally gave up. She reasoned that Dave was waiting outside he can deal with the problem. After washing and drying her hands she pressed the button to leave the facility when, whoosh! the toilet flushed. Ahhhhh, the exit button serves double duties: it lets the occupant out and flushes the toilets. In essence getting rid of two things at once!!

Back on the road we continued our journey on what can be considered the longest roller coaster of a road in existence. Dave pondered on why they have speed limits if you have no possibility of ever obtaining the posted speed limits. We finally arrive, after what seemed like forever, at a garage converted into a living space for guests. We unpacked our items and breathed a sigh of relief to not be moving.

A quick walk to the grocery store for something for dinner and salad makings and we were ready to relax for the night. Dinner consisted of a nice salad, (YAY something familiar) and lasagna, although not the type I am used to growing up. In this case, the lasagna was a bottom base of noodles, a layer of ground meat, and then a top layer of custard which was then baked. While not horrible, not something I would serve. Percy, you could show them a few tricks on how to cook Italian.

A late-night walk to find our church in the morning was a great way to end the evening. We meandered along Mercury Bay seeing the birds in the shallow pools and the sailboats moored in the deeper end of the cove. Last minute game of checkers, where Kathy is now undefeated, and off to bed. A relaxed way to spend a Saturday.

Dave “the driver” has some comments: Driving on the left side of the road and the right side of the vehicle is different, to say the least. It reminds me of being a 16 year old again and trying to learn to drive for the first time. After years of driving, many things become second nature while driving. Driving in the “bizarro world” of New Zealand is not second nature at all! I have to give my full time and attention to the task at hand, lest I turn on the wipers instead of the turn signal. It is Day 3 and I am still reaching to my right to put the car in gear (it’s on the left) and reaching to my left to grab the seat belt (it’s on the right.) As a young driver, there is a tendency to instinctively start driving to wherever you are looking. After years of experience, you can start automatically steering to keep the car between the ditches, even while glancing to your left or your right. I am not to that point yet in New Zealand! If I start to look at a view somewhere, the car starts heading in that direction. Add in the “Space Mountain” nature of New Zealand roads, with its disdain for anything straight or flat (and don’t get me started on the incessant “round-abouts”!), and I haven’t seen a view in this country yet. Kathy tells me it is beautiful. I hope to find out one day.

Countdown calendar 01/17/2020, Auckland, New Zealand

343 days until Christmas. 287 days until our flight back to the US. And 41 days left in New Zealand. Why are we counting? Because we have already fallen in love with the culture and the people of New Zealand! What a great time we have already had here!! Dave is becoming adept at traffic circles and rarely turns on the wipers instead of the turn signals, though in a crunch, muscle memory kicks in and the wipers get turned on instead of the turn signals.

Today was spent recuperating from yesterday by relaxing at some amazing beaches, Muriwai and Watipu. We got to see some nesting gannets, including a bunch of fuzzy babies being tended to by their mothers. We walked along the sea edge on rock outcroppings that looked over the crashing waves. We strolled along the beach and felt the cool water of the Tasman Sea wash over our feet. While we had brought our suits with us, we did not swim, deciding instead to take the scenic stroll to the top of the overlook.

The afternoon saw us take a trip to the Arataki Visitor’s Center where we learned about the local wildlife and the parks. Dave got to have an interesting conversation with a local ranger (who was originally from Scotland!), and they compared notes on being rangers in national parks. A nice nature walk in the Waitakere Ranges rounded out the afternoon.

Dinner last night was “take-out” where we shared a traditional Indian meal seated at a bus stop bench. Who knows what we will find today? One thing I have yet to discover is what food, besides Kiwi’s, is New Zealand famous for? We will attempt to discover that as we play for the next six weeks in the summer sun!!! To that end we put a tad bit more thought into our dinner tonight. We decided to go to Piha Beach and walk along the beach before having a burger recommended by our local hosts. Excellent choice. The burger was amazing, and the view complimented the meal. At this point I would say New Zealand culinary fame is related to excellent food complimented by the views.

(PS I tried dessert today, we ordered a “milkshake” they are not milkshakes. Don’t be fooled by the name. Here, “milk shakes” are milk that is flavored and shaken, maybe with a bit of ice cream—but not enough to masquerade as what we know as a milkshake.)