After eight days of relaxation in the Northland, Sue and the kids drove through the rain to Auckland to meet Dave and start our 25-day driving tour of New Zealand from top to bottom.
Our plans to meet Dave worked perfectly. Travel-weary Dave arrived safely from his flights Frankfurt to Shanghai to Auckland, and then he met Sue and the kids at the Auckland Aquarium. All in the same day, Dave flew on the world's largest jumbo jet and the Auckland Shark Bus.
Unfortunately, Dave is feeling a little under the weather, so we are back down to three of us for sightseeing.
This morning, the kids and I visited Mount Eden, the site of a long-dormant volcano and fantastic viewpoint of Auckland and the harbour. Our morning got off to a slightly rocky start when Sue made an expert(?) 30-point turn out of our minuscule 12-car garage, that really should hold only 6 cars. Luckily after 10 minutes of rocking backward and forward, completely wedged between a pillar and wall, Sue managed to maneuver the car out, despite the persistent reverse panic alarm.
Once out of the garage our woes weren't over. Right turns are tricky in this country, but especially when your hotel exit is 20 feet from a busy intersection. Unfortunately, our GPS isn't working in NZ, so we are relying on Google Map directions that we download while in our hotel room. Forced to turn left out of the garage, we were spit into the center of the Auckland business district in the opposite direction of our destination during rush hour traffic. Dumb luck was on our side. Somehow we made it to Mt. Eden.
From the top of Mt. Eden we saw its crater, downtown Auckland, Sky Tower, Waitemata Harbour, and Rangitoto Island, a more recently dormant volcano.
We giggled that the Chinese characters for volcano crater are literally "big fire mountain mouth."
Back at the hotel, Dave was feeling a little better, so we ventured out for lunch and a visit to the Voyager Maritime Museum.
One part of the museum concentrated on immigration:
Sue was enthusiastic about the Maritime Museum and the history of sea voyages. Everyone else was...
Dave put on his best face but didn't last much longer.
In the end, everyone did what they loved best: Henry editing his bird photos
Pearl playing in the sandbox in the kids area
All in all though, it was a great day. Sharing a well-deserved ice cream
After fighting a 24-hour bug and travel fatigue, Dave is feeling much better. We left Auckland this morning and drove east toward the Coromandel Peninsula. It was a complete surprise to Henry when we turned the car into the Miranda Shorebird Centre.
First we had to hike about a mile through cattle pastures of wild fennel to the western shoreline of the Firth of Thames.
We borrowed a spotting scope from the visitors' centre for this special occasion.
Why is this place so special? The Miranda Shorebird Centre is home of the Bar-tailed Godwit. For those of you who, like Henry's parents, aren't aware of the significance of this species, please allow us to enlighten. The Bar-tailed Godwit has the longest non-stop migration in the world: 11,500 miles from New Zealand to Alaska. Most commercial airliners cannot fly that long.
These hardy little fellows were all over the shoreline of the Firth of Thames. For a more studied and enthusiastic description with great photos, visit Henry's blog: http://worldbirding.travellerspoint.com/
This is not the planet Jupiter. It's Henry's combination iPhone/scope photo of the godwits.
After the birding adventure, we drove the windy road to Coromandel Town. The often-narrow road follows the coastline and provided spectacular views the whole way.
Henry is starting a list of "favorite places to practice the trumpet" while at the same time, subtracting 3 minutes from his motel room practicing.
At one point the road narrowed to one lane. Sue wondered out loud, "What am I supposed to do here? I guess I'll go ahead." The moment Sue had committed the car to the driving lane, a huge 18 wheeler logging truck barreled down on us. Luckily Sue had a moment of lucidity and swerved left into the gravel edge moments before impact. Lest you all worry, this all happened so quickly it didn't even allow for an adrenaline rush, just a good nervous laugh after the fact.
Our final event of the day was a one-hour excursion on the Driving Creek Railway, a narrow gauge open-air train built by an eccentric potter. The train wound through a serious of switchbacks to climb 500 feet to a beautiful lookout over the strait and islands.
Our motel overlooks a beautiful harbour, and for dinner, we ate fish and chips. Pearl drank chocolate milk through a straw in the new hole in her mouth but left much of her dinner uneaten. In the future, we'll order minnow and chip for Pearl. Our entire family is wondering if the tooth fairy pays in New Zealand or American currency.
Today we traveled within the Coromandel Peninsula from the west coast to the east coast by the famous 309 Road. Signs of summer are everywhere here including roadside vendors selling corn, peaches, and avocados. Driving through small towns we've seen plenty of "back to school" sale signs.
We made several impromptu stops along this dirt road. One was this beautiful waterfall that we had all to ourselves.
The big event of the day was Cathedral Cove on the east coast of New Zealand. As this is a popular summer beach destination, we traveled by shuttle bus to the trailhead, then hiked 45 minutes to a beautiful cove. The shoreline was filled with caves, tunnels, and solitary rock islands--all windswept sandstone that made an incredible contrast with the aqua water. It was a perfect day. Hopefully, these photos will help to warm our Chicago friends.
After arriving at our hotel in Tairua, Sue and Dave fixed a home-cooked meal.
Today we left the Coromandel Peninsula and started our travels southward through the rest of the North Island. First, a pitstop at Kiwi 360, a theme park, giant gift shop, and orchards full of kiwis. Obviously, we needed to get a photo with the giant kiwi
The Bay of Plenty is the principal kiwi growing region of New Zealand, and throughout our drive today, we saw many kiwi groves surrounded by tall trees planted as windbreaks.
Our destination today was Rotorua, well-known for its thermal wonders and stinky sulphur smell. They tell us that we'll get used to it. We expected a Wisconsin Dells-like experience with overpriced touristy activities and tacky signage. We were pleasantly surprised that, although it is probably over-priced, it feels fairly quaint despite it being a huge tourist attraction.
In the afternoon, we spent several hours soaking our travel-weary bones in the Polynesian Spa. (Sorry to those of you stuck in the polar vortex.) We lounged in four different thermal pools of varying degrees of heat. Stinky, yes. Totally relaxing, definitely--even for the ever-active, ever-chatty Pearl. Mrs. Druckmiller ought to consider teaching Pearl's class while having all the kids soak in a natural thermal pool.
Henry's favorite meal is Margarita Pizza. He's been sampling (inhaling) them everywhere we travel, and tonight was no different. It is impossible to travel with a 13-year-old boy who is ALWAYS hungry.
Pig out (not his beer!!!)
After dinner, we strolled through the park in the center of Rotorua. It was strange to see Yellowstone National Park-like thermal pool, mud pots, and hot springs, all surrounded by backpacker hotels, pubs, and public buildings.