Category Archives: New Zealand 2012

New Zealand Continued


We got slack about posting the rest of our vacation stories/pictures but now we have a deadline because we leave for India in less then a week! We have to finish writing about this adventure before we embark on another one right?

In other news today is Chris’s birthday! Happy quarter-of-a-century to him!

Day 8, November 25th

We spent the day taking a redbus tour of Christchurch. This took us behind the army lines into the still live demolition sight which has following the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011. In total we were told that they would have to demolish 900 buildings, 300 of which have already been taken down. This was a fascinating and eye opening tour, but not exactly fun. I found it especially sobering because I remember the earthquakes but I really had no idea the extent of the devastation.  I think it says something about how long these disasters stay in news versus how long the disaster continues to affect the area in question.

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After the tour we drove up to Arthur’s Pass which was an incredibly beautiful drive where we picked up our only hitchhiker of the trip. He was an 18 year old German kid spending 8 weeks backpacking in New Zealand right after he graduated high school. The views going up to the pass were fantastic but when we arrived we had our first glimpse of bad weather and it was too foggy to see much once we reached our hotel.

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Day 9, November 26th

The bad weather continued the morning of the 26th as we left Arthur’s Pass and headed down the west coast towards Lake Moeraki. We stopped in one town to take a tour of a jade factory (New Zealand is the only country in the world with jade that isn’t mined, so New Zealand jade is only gathered when it is found on the ground). We bought our main trip souvenir in this town, a painted rock depicting a line of kiwi birds tramping under the moon, and also explored a couple other little shops, including one that sold all things possum fur, including nipple and willie warmers.

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We also took a side road to get a view of Fox Glacier. It was a pretty nice view, but definitely far off. It would have been nice to have time to hike to the top, but we’re glad we didn’t because of the other festivities we had planned for the day.

Right as we were pulling into our hotel the sun came out and it was suddenly an incredibly beautiful day. We really did not have a single day which we were there that was hampered by rain of overcast weather, since this morning while we drove was the worst it got and it cleared up as soon as we wanted to go outside.

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Staying at the Lake Moeraki lodge was the one big splurge of the trip (other then this place our hotels averaged about $70 a night including breakfast, this brought the average of our entire 14 night stay up to $100, but we’re still very pleased with how we did budget-wise. Lake Moeraki also included dinner and several complimentary guided tours.) but it’s also the one place we really wish we’d stay an extra night at.

When we arrived we were greeted with tea and macaroons and then made a beeline for the beach (it was about 1.5 miles through gorgeous lush rainforest) to try to spot some penguins. The beach was incredibly beautiful and we did end up spotting one penguin who got quite close while he was in the water and then entertained us from a far with his penguin waddle.

When we returned from the beach we took a short walk to the lake and then Chris jumped in with a guided bird watching tour while I went back to take a shower. At dinner we sat with a young couple from Ohio (still maybe 10 years older then us) and a retired couple from Boston. We spent the evening swapping travel stories, which Chris and I mostly listened to (I’ve been to 8 countries and Chris has been to 16 and we were definitely bringing the table average way down). The food was delicious, I think we both got venison, and it was a really nice evening.

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Day 10th, November 27th

The next morning we work up early to go on a guided kayaking tour of the lake followed by a really nice big breakfast. Then we tramped back to the beach again and saw another penguin before we hit the road towards Queenstown. The Lake Moeraki Lodge offered some guided penguin spotting tours which we really wished we would have had time to do, but we couldn’t swing it and still make it to Queenstown for the night. Next time.

The drive to Queenstown was one of our longer drives and Chris let me sleep for a good section of it. We did stop at Lake Wanaka for some ice cream and to see the town. Lake Wanaka was described to us as “Queenstown 20 years ago, before it became touristy”. It was a beautiful little town and there was definitely a rouring tourist trade in Queenstown, but I think Queenstown has quite a ways to go before it becomes as undesirable as these people described it. It’s really a beautiful little town with an incredible situation on the lake and in the mountains.

That evening we had some really nice Italian just about a block away from the house where we stayed.

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Day 11-Day 14, November 28th-December 1st

Queenstown was our relaxing leg of the journey (although none of the traveling really wore us out up to this point, I had feared while planning that we were covering too much mileage but I don’t think this was the case at all). We spent more time here then anywhere else and actually had a free day built into the schedule! This was so we could reschedule hand gliding in case of bad weather but we didn’t have to because the weather was glorious the entire time we were there. We spent a lot of time in Queenstown hanging out at the park or the marina, eating leisurely at cafes while reading, taking walks, and otherwise just enjoying the beautiful area. The more exciting highlights were: hang gliding, mountain biking, taking a scenic cruise of Doubtful Sound, and taking the bus to Arrowtown. Hang gliding was incredible beyond words, the mountain biking was through some of the most beautiful terrain you can imagine (but it kicked my butt, hard), Doubtful Sound was awe inspiring (we saw more penguins and lots and lots of seals), and Arrowtown was this perfectly picturesque gold mining town.

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December 2nd

We fly home and we land in San Fransisco before we leave Auckland!

New Zealand- Day 7


Day 7- November 24th

Since there aren’t really any pictures to post from the last 2 days I figured I owed the blog one day worth of dazzling vistas and scenes. We spent the night at a Wellington home we found through, took the early morning ferry to Picton, ate lamb at Subway, took the train to Christchurch, and spent the night in jail. Yes, this is the day to pay attention to.

We really wish we had spent more time exploring Wellington. We had 2 weeks to see the whole country and we wanted to relax at the end so we took one “free day” in Queenstown at the end. This was really to make sure if the weather was bad we would still get to go hanggliding. Since the weather turned out fine we wish we had spent that free day in Wellington but c’est la vie.

The ferry and train were fantastic ways to traveler. 3 hours on the ferry and we were able to score seats on the highest glassed in deck on a little peninsula which meant no one could stand between us and our views! 180 degrees of fantastic views! The train ride was 5 hours and was also stunningly beautiful. Since we didn’t have much time between the ferry and the train we ate lunch at the train station which meant Subway. McDonalds, Burger King, and Subway were all very prevalent in New Zealand and we’d been passing a lot of ads for lamb at these fast food giants. Subway’s lamb was quite good with their Moroccan sauce.

We passed a whole colony of fur seals on the train but didn’t manage to get good pictures of them. We also saw a dead whale that had washed up on the shore. Anyone know what kind it was? That was sad but interesting to see. We also did some eavesdropping on a group of little old ladies who were visiting from Australia and made a lot of inappropriate jokes about what they were going to do now that they had some time apart from their husbands (every single one of them had a walker and I’m sure none of them were under 75).

We stayed at my first hostel which was, until 1999, a prison. It was a very cool setup and Chris and I were staying in a cell complete with bars on the window and a thick steel door.

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New Zealand-Day 5 and 6


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.

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New Zealand Day 4


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.

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New Zealand- Day 3


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.

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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.

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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.

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New Zealand Day 2


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.


New Zealand Day 1


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.