After Auckland, we headed out towards Rotorua, stopping in Matamata to go to Hobbiton. John is a big fan of Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, so they were keen to visit the original set where it was filmed. It was fairly pricey and VERY touristy, so we were not expecting much. I will say we were pleasantly surprised. We had a great tour guide (Brock) who did not rush us through and was willing to take photos of entire families at any time. He had interesting information about Peter Jackson’s decision-making, his perfectionism, and the amount of detail work that went into creating the set. It finished with a drink in the bar (included) which was a nice end to the tour. The village itself was so welcoming; it was like walking through a fairy tale! So, I would give it two thumbs up, even if you don’t love the movies or touristic places.
The One Fake Tree
We then traveled onward to Rotorua, where we were staying in a lakefront vacation rental. The house was fine (not the best nor the worst place we stayed), but it was quite close to the center of Rotorua and some of what we wanted to do.
John and Corinne Enjoying a Glass of Wine
We chose to go to Whakarewarewa, which is actually a shortened name from the whole village name. It was a Maori village (some Maori folks still live there), and the thermal activity there was quite impressive. You could see a large geyser, and the steam came out from everywhere. It sort of felt like the surface of the sun walking through parts of that village! They put on a little show to demonstrate the “Haka” or war dance, and was a nice way to spend a few hours.
The Whole Name. Try saying that three times fast!
We then went for a picnic lunch at a park before heading back to our rental.
We had a few visitors; the man next door and his toddler son came over for a while and shared a beer (the father–not the son). The son, Chris, spent most of his time trying to run into a neighbor’s yard and throwing rocks down toward the small beach, getting into things, and just generally being a toddler.
The Next Door Neighbor
His Son, Chris
Another day in Rotorua, we went to the Agrodome. We got our tickets half-off on bookme, and for the amount we paid, it was well worth our time. We learned about the different kinds of sheep, the kids fed some baby sheep out of a bottle on stage, and I milked a cow for the first time in my life. We also got to watch the man sheer a sheep quite quickly. I can’t believe how much wool they have on them!
Some of the Sheep Varieties. I would rather be a wool sheep than a meat sheep.
The prized Merino. This poor guy looked like he was having difficulty walking with all of that fine quality wool attached to his body!
The poor victim of a sheering…
Ari and Ryan taking turns feeding the babies.
“I milked a cow and I liked it…” (That must be sung.)
Flock of Seagulls Sheep
“Horny” Dorset Sheep
Corinne Trying to Steal a Sheep
After Agrodome, we went out for Thai lunch, and rested at the rental for a little while. That evening, we drove 30 km outside of Cambridge to do a glowworm kayaking tour. We arrived around 6 p.m. and suited up with water resistant pants and jackets. We then kayaked upriver for about an hour and a half or so, getting out on the river bank after that. We ate snacks, drank some hot concoction of Tang and cinnamon (not as bad as it sounds), and headed back into the kayaks for launch. Oh, and it was raining. Normally, that would be a bad thing, but it actually was great! It was a full moon, so if the night had been clear, we would not have seen the glowworms light up nearly as brilliantly as on a dark, rainy night. When it finally got dark, we floated through the glowworm grotto and saw thousands of beautiful fungus gnat larvae lighting up the overhangs. Ah, how romantic that sounds! I mean, aside from the fact several of our “closest kayaking friends” on the kayak tour initially talked during the serene moment or hit us in our kayaks as we floated down the river, but that just can’t overshadow the beauty of the fungus gnat. Really, nothing can.
Kayaking to See Glowworms–Such an enthusiastic bunch!
My Kayaking Buddy
A Wee Bit Wet Out
Rotorua sufficiently explored, we headed for Napier, the city our family loved. On the way, we stopped briefly at Lake Taupo to show John and Corinne Huka Falls.
We continued on to Napier and arrived at one of the nicest vacation rentals we have stayed at in New Zealand. It was quite new, SO incredibly clean, well-decorated, had a lift available for the three floors, and it was across the street from the beach. What more can you ask for? Being the home owners’ first American guests, Angela and her husband, Peter, invited us over for a drink on our last evening there. It was such a pleasure meeting them! Peter works as a judge in Napier and Angela had a prior career in nursing. Their place was so relaxing. Here is the link:
Napier Vacation Rental, one of the three bedrooms
One of the bathrooms
The Dining Room
The Master Bedroom
Kicking it on the Screened-In Porch
Kitchen and Dining Room
We spent our first full day in Napier going back up to Bluff Hill and over to Te Mata to show John and Corinne the beautiful views. We also stopped at one of the Garden areas of Napier and had a nice lunch on the way to Te Mata. Another day, Dan and I got up early to go for a long walk, and then we pretty much relaxed that day, only making it to downtown Napier to explore the shops. Art Deco weekend was taking place right after we left, so some people were starting to roll into town for that. That evening, Craig and Kim came over for pizza and wine/beer. We had so much fun–staying up WAY too late talking. Poor Kim didn’t make it to work the next day and I too wasn’t feeling all that fantastic.
Seeing the Napier Sights With Corinne and John
View from Bluff Point
Ring Toss with Grandpa
Back to Te Mata so we could show them the view!
A photo with my Boy!
It was great to see Craig and Kim again while we were in Napier. They are good people and very fun. Hopefully, they’ll visit us in the States!
We were then off to Wellington for two nights. We stayed in a strange rental, called the Wellington Container House. It was made entirely out of shipping containers. Unique place but I definitely wouldn’t want to live there! The rooms were small and there was only 1.5 bathrooms which was difficult with all six of us. This house had a media room, Playstation 3 (Ryan was happy for the few hours he played with it!), and a waterfall against the back wall. The only full day we had in Wellington, it poured rain. Add to that a looming deadline that Ryan and I had for application materials for a school he may go to, and it ended up that he and I stayed home to work while Dan, Ari, Corinne and John went to Te Papa Museum. Ryan had some essays to write, I had a lot of paperwork to do, and luckily, we had already been to that museum. Once we got the application done, Ryan hopped on Playstation and played on the big projector screen, and I opted for a short soak in the outdoor hot tub. By the time everyone got home, we had to high-tail it to dinner (we went for Malaysian food at a really good restaurant in downtown Wellington), and then we went to a play at the Circa Theater. It was supposed to be a comedy, and it had its funny moments, but partly, the play was depressing. It was set in an old age community and the elderly residents were, overall, quite demoralized. It was still worth seeing, although some of it was probably inappropriate for an 11 year old!
Wellington Container House: This House has been Featured in a few international books.
We put Corinne to work while she was in NZ…
The next day we were off to the ferry to go to the South Island. It was an enjoyable trip, and surprisingly, the food is quite good on the ferry. I had a great salad with Kumara (sweet potato in the States), and Fried Houlimi cheese on it. So good! Plus, as we neared the south island, the views were brilliant!
The Ferry Entering Marlborough Sound
From the ferry, we drove to Anakiwa, which was only about 45 minutes away. We had to re-provision in Picton which wasn’t the greatest for shopping, but we managed to find some things to eat. One night, we went out to eat in Havelock and tried some tasty green lip mussels several different ways. We ended up back at the same vacation rental because we loved it so much the first time (“John’s Place”). The second time was just as good. John and Corinne slept in the master bedroom with the incredible bathroom, and I think they enjoyed it. We got a great big zucchini out of the garden to cook in a pasta dish for dinner and a few cherry tomatoes. We also collected a large handful of lemons off of the lemon tree and made homemade lemonade. Yum! The next day, we decided to hike a bit of the Queen Charlotte Track, which started about a kilometer (or less) from the house. We walked with John and Corinne down to a beach area. They opted to head back and relax at a picnic table while we hiked about 4 km more. It was such beautiful weather!
Anakiwa: Cloudier this time but so beautiful when we arrived. I just never tire of the views from this house and this bay in Marlborough Sound…
The house we stayed in is the white one half way up the hill to the left of the red-roof property.
The day after our hike, we relaxed much of the day, just doing a bit of cooking and enjoying the fantastic weather. That evening, our friends from Blue Summit (Kate and Steve) were coming over for a potluck dinner with their friends, Suzie and Bob. We had a great time with them! It was fun for John and Corinne to get to meet a few of our sailing friends from the ARC!
The next morning, we were off to the west coast of the south island, specifically to Punakaiki, where the pancake rocks are. Our vacation rental was there, and this was a happy medium between driving all the way down to the glacier area, and being closer to Anakiwa. First, we passed through Nelson and had some lunch. Nelson was another beautiful city and it would be a toss-up for me whether I’d choose Napier or Nelson to live in if I moved to New Zealand. It was gorgeous too!
This Young man stepped up to the “free” piano on the sidewalk. I expected chopsticks but he actually played beautifully and had obviously spent a lot of time in piano lessons back in the country he came from!
Pretty and Quaint Nelson
It was about 5-5.5 hours to drive to Punakaiki, but we finally made it in the evening. We ended up grabbing dinner at the Punakaiki Tavern down the road (where we also had to pick up the key for the rental). This cabin type house was pretty nice, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and a great view. Here is where we stayed: https://www.holidayhouses.co.nz/properties/26344.asp
West Coast: Punakaiki Rental House, The view behind the house…
The View from the Front Deck. Across the street is the ocean.
Our first day in Punakaiki we went to Pancake Rocks and explored the caverns they had there. You needed torches, but John, the kids, and Dan went into the depths of the caves to explore. I went some of the way but opted to hike down into the ravine that was near the start. Corinne went into the cave, but given it was VERY unsteady ground, she opted to wait for us to come out from the dark. Although we missed the blowholes that are formed at high-tide, Pancake Rocks were still amazing. We also went on another hike that day over a suspension bridge. It was a pleasant, outdoorsy day, except for the terrible sand flies that permeate the area. Apparently, the bugs are notoriously bad there, as we later found out from people in Christchurch. A week and a half later and I still have a few scars on my feet from those pesky sand flies!
That night, we got the green light! I had contacted Anderson Helicopters about a month before our arrival into Punakaiki, and had confirmed a helicopter ride, weather-permitting. The last time we were on the west coast, the weather was rubbish, and there was no way we were seeing a glacier. Anderson Helicopters flew from Hokitika Airport, which was an hour and a half from where we were staying. Flying on the copter allowed us to cut about 5 hours out of our driving, and I really didn’t want to bring everyone down to the glaciers for a repeat of bad weather. This worked out really well. We were going on a helicopter ride! Another first for me…and I was so excited! The other good thing was that the ride was going to be a long one. We opted for their longest ride, because it included a ride down the west coast, then over the glaciers of Mount Cook, Fox, Franz Josef, Tasman and one other one I can’t recall, and then back up over Hokitika Gorge and the inland farm areas. It amounted to 1.3 hours of flying time, with a 15 minute landing on a glacier. It was a bit pricey (we paid $2,690 NZ for the six of us), but I felt it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing I didn’t want to miss. Also, this seemed a great way to let John and Corinne see much of the rugged south island without having to hike for hours or drive for hours and hours to get to the edges of it. This was definitely one of the highlights of the NZ trip for me (and for Ryan too, who beamed the entire time). It was so cool flying in between two mountain peaks!
The Helicopter Ride from Hokitika
The West Coast
Almost a perfect photo but when you have to sneeze, you have to sneeze!
John and Corinne Looking Happy as Clams!
I love my babies!
I got to ride in the front after we did our glacier landing. I LOVE small aircraft!!!
I don’t have the color-enhancing setting on this picture of Hokitika Gorge. It really was this beautiful naturally.
This Sums up my Happiness Level:
The next day, we were off to Christchurch via Arthur’s Pass. We stopped a few places on the way, one of which we were able to see some keas–the world’s only alpine parrot. These are officially Ariana’s favorite bird now. They are quite cute, smart, and pretty!
We also did a hike to a waterfall. Although Corinne opted to sit this one out (it was a lot of uphill), John and the rest of us hiked up to see the waterfall.
The views here are so pretty…
In Christchurch, we stayed in an airbnb that was essentially part of a couple’s house. I thought it would be a bit more separate, but it turned out okay overall. Tom, the owner, was a nice man, and the space had three bedrooms and 1.5 bathrooms and a small kitchen/living room that was quite dated! it was fine though…
We went on the free walking tour, hit the Christchurch museum, and ended our time with John and Corinne playing cards and laughing until we were crying. Only Corinne will understand this, but it really had to do with the “love factor” of those pesky glowworms!
Botanical Gardens Fountain
Corinne Hanging on the Lawn of the Botanical Gardens
Christchurch Memorial to Earthquake Victims
These “shock absorbers” were on every single support piling in the underground parking garage in the Christchurch Art Museum. Interestingly, there were hardly any cars in that parking garage. A woman on the walking tour told me very few CC residents will park in underground parking garages because they have so many earthquakes…
Ariana took this beautiful photo of Fuschia Flowers in Tom’s Backyard (the owner of the airbnb property).
That next day, our time with John and Corinne ended, as they flew out of Christchurch back to the States. We had a great time with them here, and we were so glad they came over. It is a long trip, but after almost a year and a half of not seeing them, it was wonderful to be reunited!
Stay tuned… Our last post in New Zealand will be about Mueller’s Hut Hike. (Yeah, yeah, I am posting that tonight too because my computer is being shipped out to our friend’s house in San Francisco! Jen and Paul, we will see you in two months!