During our time in New Zealand, we naturally needed maps. At my insistence, we primarily used map data from OpenStreetMap, the crowd-sourced, libre-licensed map of the world, as displayed by the libre-licensed OsmAnd application (specifically, the OsmAnd~ 0.8.2 F-Droid package) on my phone. Overall, it was quite good, with Jessica even agreeing with me in saying that using OsmAnd for navigation on our trip was a success.
OsmAnd in action
I’ll start with some of the limitations and bugs. The interface took a bit of getting used to, but once we had accustomed ourselves, I think it was pretty handy. At the suggestion of a fellow SplatSpace member, I hope to contribute an article or two to the hackerspace’s blog on using OsmAnd and its interface. The automatic daytime/nighttime chooser seemed to get broken by our timezone change. It was trivial to manually set it to daytime mode, though. The predicted driving times were way off. There was a rendering glitch that made land look like water at times, so that Jessica thought we must be driving on a really long bridge for part of the journey. Pop-up boxes on the map had frustratingly small close buttons that we had particular difficulty hitting. The application crashed occasionally, but was able to resume the last route when restarted, making them at least non-catastrophic. On a small number of occasions, we seemed to be somewhat circuitously routed. Since street number information is largely absent from OSM in many parts of the world such as the US and NZ, we could often only get directions to the street and had to locate the specific building the old fashioned way.
Setting the route
I hope that most, if not all, of the shortcomings we encountered will be fixed. Now for the aspects we enjoyed. The offline maps capability was excellent. I just downloaded Australia and New Zealand in one convenient package before departing and it didn’t matter that my carrier-locked CDMA phone didn’t get any service there. (A side note: I was hoping that my Republic Wireless wifi calling might work. I wonder if the cost of overcoming regulatory barriers is preventing them from easily operating globally. As Wikipedia notes, “E911 regulations and legal penalties have severely hampered the more widespread adoption of VoIP”, and those are just the U.S. regulations. But back to OsmAnd…) The favorites feature was useful. It let us keep track of all our destinations. Bicycle and pedestrian modes were great. Although my wife was horrified by my riding with the phone in hand, I thought it was awesome to cruise some of the easier forest trails with my very own heads up display, showing the trail, our position on it, how far until the end, how far we’d come, and our current speed. OsmAnd with plugins is also able to record your movements when you want it to and upload them to OpenStreetMap for easily adding some of the roads and trails that weren’t already on the map.
We could have added on a GPS to our car rentals for $8 NZD per day. Since OsmAnd served us well enough, we decided to put that amount towards fixing the issues we faced and supporting further development by way of a donation. I hope to give to OpenStreetMap with corporate matching once the US OpenStreetMap Foundation chapter achieves 501 (c) (3) status.
Day 5- November 22st
We went cave tubing through the glow warm caves in Waitomo and it was quite the
adventure. There were a series of underground waterfalls that they had us jump off
of backwards with our tubes snug around our bums. The glow worms are actually
glow maggots and are really beautiful, similar to looking up at the night sky with
a slightly greener tint. It was very cold though which was quite a distraction from
what would otherwise have been an awesome tour (it was still great- just very very
The drive to Napier afterwards was one of our longest commutes of the trip and
had the only section of drive that was not breathtakingly scenic. It lasted about 45
minutes and was almost a nice break from otherwise straining and gushing over the
landscape every couple minutes- what a problem to have.
We don’t have any photos from Day 5 since we were in the cave or the car the entire time. I do have a fair number of pictures taken over the dashboard, but I don’t think they’re worthy of the blogosphere.
Day 6- November 23rd
Napier! We didn’t get to spend as much time here as we would have wanted so we really didn’t spend anytime in the actual city. Instead we rented a tandem bike in a suburb and spent a few hours exploring. There was some harsh words and even some tears as we adjusted to the tandem bike but it only took as about 15 minutes to be happy and comfortable on it. We visited a lavendar farm, chocolate factory and museum (which was a little lackluster but we picked up some interesting facts about chocolate), a local artist gallery, a thai restaurant (lunch), and a winery. We had rented the 1/2 day option from Bike D’Vine but could easily have been happy with a full day. There were several more winerys and some monasteries further down the trails.
As of right now we are missing the SD card with the pictures from biking (ahhh!) but here are a couple shots we took of Napier (the art deco city) from the car.
Day 4- November 21st
We spent the morning mountain biking in a logging forest just outside Rotorua. Mountain biking is intense. I’ve also kind of assumed I knew what it was all about since I had ridden my bike around Bond Lake but I would say that is about as close as all the Kiwi’s assumption that I was from California. The paths were incredibly narrow and there was a lot of up and down, there were lots of little narrow bridges with no railing which if you fell off you would die, there was no end of roots, rocks, and treetrunks in the path, and if another biker were to approach from the opposite direction there was absolutely nothing you could do to prevent a collision. Now I have to back up a little: all the paths were labeled by difficultly, most of them were one-way trails so you wouldn’t face a head on collision, the guy we rented bikes from taught me how to go over the bridges (look straight forward, if you look to the side you go there and die), and it was a lot of fun. We only took the easy level 2 trails and I only fell once (luckily to the left since to the right would have been about a 100ft drop) but Chris did one higher level trail without me.
There was a glade of redwoods we biked through and when we drove in it felt like the lights turned out. Considering we’d already been in pretty dense woods it was quite the dramatic transformation.
That afternoon we worked our way over to the Waitomo Caves region. We kept catching snippits on the radio about the volcano eruption but couldn’t get enough of the story to know whether it was going to affect our route or not. The views were stunning of rolling hills with sheep and mountains in the difference when suddenly we saw a cone shaped mountain in the distance with smoke pouring out. Volcano found. This is about the best case scenario for seeing a volcano blow it’s top: not too close and no one was hurt so it’s ok to be really excited about it.
Day 3- November 20th
In the morning we visited a conservation center primarily for birds (New Zealand has no native mammals predators, possibly no native mammals? and as a result has a lot of flightless birds that desperately need conservation since stoats, rats, and dogs have been introduced.) We did the behind the scenes tour and got to see a baby kiwi which was pretty awesome. They also had a nocturnal house with 3 kiwis and an option to come back after dark to see more.
In the afternoon we visited Hell’s Gate geothermal park and caught up with a guided tour. This was a contrast to the other geothermals parks I’ve seen in Yellowstone because those are colorful and these were completely monochromatic. They talked about the “white”, “gray”, and “black” mud but they were really just all shades of gray. He told us all sorts of legends about the healing properties of the mud and which pools they used for cooking. We got to play with some of the mud which was also a contrast to Yellowstone where the general rule was “if you touch it you will die.” So after hearing all about the therapeutic healing powers of the mud we stepped over to the spa area for a mud bath followed by a soak in the sulfuric springs. Chris was mostly humoring me for this one but I’m very glad I talked him into it. The tub was mostly dirty water and all the mud was at the bottom so you had to scoop it up and coat yourself in it.
That evening we went to a Maori cultural show. They took us on a bush walk to see their war canoe and we saw another pool with geothermal activity. This one was my favorite since the pool was crystal clear but the mud at the bottom was bubbling up. I have no idea how the bottom could churn so much but not muddy the water but it was amazingly clear. So much so that it took a little while to determine where the water line was exactly. They did a presentation of their war dance, weapons, and facial mutilation (eventually it evolved into tattoos but they used to split the skin in elaborate designs over and over until it no longer healed but left intricate scars). I was quite smug to score front row seats for the presentation but it turns out the war dance is terrifying and loud and we may have been happier a couple of rows back. The dinner was cooked underground in the traditional haggai fashion but that’s about where the tradition in the food ended. We had lamb, beef, chicken, and stuffing. I would say this is the closest we got to Thanksgiving dinner this year.
Day 2- November 19th
We had gone to bed around 20:00 and consequently woken up quite early so we had time for a very leisurely breakfast at a cafeteria style restaurant chain called Ronnie’s. We spent a couple hours there and then still had a couple hours to kill walking around the town’s parks and neighborhoods. The standard house architecture if very different there and in-general I was not taken with it. However, all the houses we were in were great and I loved the floor plans.
Our Hobbiton tour left at 10:15 and was located on a local sheep farm. After the Lord of the Rings they tore down most of the set so the Hobbit was a rather lucky chance for the farmer to renegotiate for a permanent set. They chose this farm because when you stand where the Shire was built you cannot see any power lines or other signs of the modern world. I expected this to feel very much like a set- look good unless you got to close or walked behind something to see the plywood holding it up, but it was gorgeous and nothing about it felt fake or kitschy at all. It was only an outdoor set so there were no actual interiors, but if there were I would have moved-in in a heart beat. This was one of the highlights of my trip for sure.
One interesting thing to contrast with American attractions of a similar sort is that the tour guide was completely uninterested in the tour and us. He told us some interesting stuff but all the while communicated that he was way better than us and our laughable interest in Hobbiton.
We drove up to Rotorua and took our leisurely time about it. We were still pretty wiped but ended up getting Turkish food and going to bed early.
We’re back and New Zealand was incredible! Posts to come about our adventures!
Day 1- November 18th
We arrived around 7 AM local time and rented a car and headed into Auckland as soon as we arrived. Chris did quite well driving on the opposite side of the road, although it took us about 20 minutes to get out of the parking lot. Mostly because there was an American family next to us and we let them go first only to discover they were even more timid. We walked down what we could only assume was their red light district searching for breakfast and found a beautiful old building called the “Theatre Restaurant”. This is where the waitress messed everything up for her comrades across the country by telling us not to tip. It was also our first experience paying $8 (NZD) for orange juice. We assumed that oranges did not grow in New Zealand and the import costs were high. We ended up seeing lots of orange trees on the North Island, though.
We spent the rest of the morning at a Greenstage [link] event which included exhibitions of electric cars, a software libre energy monitoring box [link] for photovoltaic collectors, batteries, and so forth, as well as rep-rap presentations by Vik Oliver of Diamond Age Solutions [link].
Exploring the city we found several nice parks and Chris had a bit of a nap in one of them. Something that I had not given any thought to was that since it was spring everything would be blooming. As such it was a wonderful surprise and I’m fairly certain that the average New Zealander must spend as much time working on their garden as the average American spends watching TV. We saw very few houses without flower gardens and none without manicured lawns.
We then went on a sailing tour of the Bay and the weather held out just long enough for us to take our tour and return to the dock before the sky dropped out. Even then it only lasted long enough for us to have dinner and then the sun came back out for our drive to Matamata.
It’s worth noting that the drive to Matamata was very beautiful but we spent a good deal of the time wondering why there weren’t any sheep and wondering if we’d been totally misled in everything we had heard about New Zealand, since we saw so many dairy cows.
A Note on the Weather: It was glorious the entire time we were there. We saw the sun all day, every day except for 3 days when it rained for less then half the day. We spoke to others who were in the country for the exact same time period but had traveled about differently and some of them had the opposite to say. We got really lucky on this account.