A Travellerspoint blog

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Stinky mud pots

overcast 68 °F

Two things that have turned out to be very handy during this trip so far.

Duct tape:
why brought? Dave had a pre-travel nightmare about a puncture wound while on the road
good for: fixing broken electronics cords and just about everything else

why brought? blisters
good for: padding the nose-piece on Dave's new cheapo sunglasses

Some quirky NZ observations:
Light switches flip up to turn off
Hot and cold in sinks and showers are completely reversed--right side is hot, left side is cold
Speaking of sinks, hot and cold water mixing valves haven't caught on here. Sinks have two faucets: one for scalding hot and one for ice water.

Dave's comment of the day after being (over)instructed to turn the car left: while raising his left hand, "Is this still my left?"

Our first stop on our way to Lake Taupo was the Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland. Sounds like a theme-park, but it isn't. Think Yellowstone, but less distance to travel between thermal attractions and fewer safety precautions. Never before have we stood so closely to spewing mud pots, spouting geysers, and steaming pools of acidic water.

The mud pots had a sense of humor, imitating disgusting bodily functions. Pearl's comment: "It makes me have a tummy ache."

Our budding photographer

Dave keeps sniffing the sulfur-rich air and saying, "Mmmmmmm, Gary." Meaning Gary, Indiana.

Lady Knox Geyser shoots 69 feet into the air every morning at 10:15am. Why so reliable? The park ranger pours a packet of "dish detergent" into the blow hole, and 3 minutes later, voila! Pearl did not believe Daddy's story of the geyser being operated by one union worker down in the control room in charge of opening the steam valve once per day.

Our final stop before arriving at Lake Taupo, our destination for tonight--Huka Falls, an impressive high-volume waterfall.

The rest of the day was overcast with light sprinkles. Nothing like ending this sort of day with a good bubble bath and a pot of bubbles. Here's Pearl in our RV bathtub.

Posted by skwclar 22:20 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Over a cup of coffee

overcast 60 °F

This morning while Sue was packing up the luggage, Dave watched Pearl complete her common-core math homework using number bonds and ten plus facts. Dave's comment: "What the devil???"

We woke up to clear skies and brisk temps--no, we won't complain about temps in the 50's. Across Lake Taupo, we could see the volcanic mountains of Tongariro National Park, including Mount Ruapehu. Striated with snow, it is the highest point on the North Island. After a quick family photo, we were off to our next destination.

We should give our kids credit, there have been plenty of sibling squabbles along the way, but every day we pack up our belongings and jump in the car for a 2-4 hour drive to our next hotel. We have not yet heard any complaining or "Are we there yet?"

One thing we have gotten used to is having Henry blurt out, "Stop! There's a great bird!" or "Let's pull over at that scenic site!" Our boy sure loves nature. Here he is taking a photo of a great view of Tongariro National Park while at the same time Pearl is playing some fantasy game with her stuffed doggie Daisy out the window.

After leaving Lake Taupo we stopped at Waipunga Falls, yet another beautiful waterfall worthy of Lord of the Rings. At the entrance to the viewpoint, a car was blocking our way. Dave gave a friendly tap of the horn; although, not being entirely familiar with the vehicle, it ended up sounding like an angry NYC cab driver. Turns out the offending car held two lovely old British gals who are making roughly the same trip across NZ and Australia as we are. We enjoyed our conversation and hearing them use the term "higgledy-piggledy."

Our destination for the evening was Napier, a town that was completely leveled by a devastating earthquake in 1931. Rebuilt in the Art Deco style, the town made us feel like we were on a set at Disneyworld's Hollywood Studios.

We enjoyed a walking tour past some of the more notable buildings and then sipped coffee in the town center. Ordering coffee in New Zealand is an adventure for Americans who are used to Starbuck's lingo. Here a "flat white" gets you a beautiful cup of java with cream and foam floating on top.

After completing a little homeschooling and trumpet practice in the hotel room, we set out on foot for dinner. Our restaurant was fancier than what we are usually eating on this trip, but worth the expense since we are in the wine country of Hawke's Bay and wanted to sample the best the region could offer.

As usual, we know that the best way to get Pearl to eat a complete meal is to put her in competition with someone else. Pearl and Sue shared a prawn and pasta dish, and Henry and Pearl devoured a fudge cake and ice cream. As expected, Pearl ate very well.

Posted by skwclar 22:52 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Kiwi behind bars

semi-overcast 68 °F

On our way out of Napier, we drove through the Hawke's Bay wine country for a view of Cape Kidnapper's, where there is a gannet (seabird) colony. Luckily Henry had already spotted gannets while in the north country, so we skipped the five-hour hike and instead enjoyed the views of the cliffs from Clifton Beach. Next to the beach was a cute little RV campground. We dubbed it "Warner's Landing Down Under."

Our next destination was Te Mata Peak for awe-inspiring views of Hawke's Bay and a picnic lunch in the car (because it was so windy it threatened to blow our Subway sandwiches over the cliff.) On the barely two lane road to the top of the mountain, we successfully battled tour buses of well-fed passengers from the cruise ship Voyager of the Seas that had docked at the Napier port.

Mt. Bruce Wildlife Centre was our final tourist stop of the day. At the center, they breed endangered bird species, such as kakas and kiwis. Kakas are brown, aggressive parrots. At the kaka-feeding, about 30 huge birds swooped in to eat corn cobs--sometimes flying so close their wing tips brushed against our faces. It was fascinating and grotesque at the same time.

They have two kiwis in captivity at Mt. Bruce. They are a breeding pair and both are Brown Kiwis, although this one has a recessive white gene. (Bad photo because kiwis are nocturnal, so the room was dark.)

After a long 7 hour day on the road with sightseeing, we are finally at our destination of Martinborough.

Currently on the barbie: rack of lamb, corn on the cob, and potatoes. Hawke's Bay Merlot Cabernet. Mmmmm.

Photo story:

Posted by skwclar 21:00 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Modern-day nomads

sunny 75 °F

Our driving tour through New Zealand puts us on the road for 1-3 hours nearly every day with a new lumpy mattress every night. For our American friends, imagine driving and sightseeing from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border for one month. This is our new lifestyle--the modern-day nomads.

There are signs of summer everywhere: Hay bales in the fields. Corn ready to be picked. Roadside fruit stands. Surfboards.

Some of you may wonder what happens in our car during drive-time: Dave and Sue trade off driving and navigating. Henry reads his book The Great Santini or works on schoolwork on his iPad, that is, when he is not looking for birds out the car window. Pearl usually reads on her kindle and listens to "Elmo and the Orchestra" on her iPod. She is burning through library loans of Junie B. Jones and Magic Tree House. All of us listen to some favorite music by Pink Martini. Or Pimsleur Unit 6 if it's time to study French.

It's usually a calm car unless a piece of luggage or a personal item has crossed the demilitarized zone between Pearl and Henry. Then there can be lots of noise with possible pinching or the throwing of stuffed animals.

Today we hiked to the Putangirua Pinnacles Reserve on the southern coast of the North Island. The three-hour walk took us through an unusual valley of scree that has been compacted and lifted out of the sea, rising to a height of 200 meters. Over the millennia, erosion has left colossal fingers of gravel spires that resemble a pipe organ from Mt. Olympus. The kids were phenomenal hikers, due to frequent administration of snacks like beef jerky and cheesie-weezies for Pearl. From the lookout above the pinnacles, we could see two fantastic views--one view of the pinnacles from above and one view of Cook Strait.


Photographing friendly sea lions along the cape

This adventure in New Zealand began on January 13 and allowed time for Sue and the kids to visit the northern-most point of the North Island, Cape Reinga with the meeting of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Today our family saw the very southern tip with the red and white lighthouse at Cape Palissers, sea lions, and views of Cook Strait toward the snow-capped mountains of the South Island. It seemed a fitting way to end our travels on the North Island. For the next two nights, we stay in Wellington, NZ's capital city. Then the adventures continue on to the South Island. Stay tuned!

256 stairs


Our Griffin family Chinese New Year celebration

Posted by skwclar 23:27 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

Downton down under

sunny 75 °F

Today we visited the wonderful Te Papa Museum in Wellington. This is the one of the kid-friendliest museums we've seen with its many hands-on activities. Henry loved the New Zealand animals area with its emphasis on, you guessed it, birds. Pearl was thrilled with the dinosaur section since she hasn't fully recovered from the Whittier first grade's paleontology unit. In addition to these two highlights, Te Papa also had an earthquake simulator, a volcano display, and an entire floor devoted to social history--both Maori and European settlers. The price was right too--we only spent money on ice cream bars for two happy kids.


While at lunch we took advantage of free wifi, so we became one of "those" families where each person is only engrossed in their own personal electronic device. It was a blessed moment of repose since we are pretty much 24/7 with each other. Not to be left out, and without us realizing it, Pearl was reading on her kindle. On the museum map, she wrote a full Magic Tree House book report on the Revolutionary War!

Wellington is a beautiful city--especially on this sunny day. Dave is eyeballing the New Zealand Symphony Concert Hall and thinking, "hmmmm, retirement…"


Being in a big city today, we were able to replace a few items. Sue was in need of her favorite shampoo and conditioner that she accidentally donated to the previous motel's housecleaning staff. Henry needed a replacement card reader for his iPad because "someone" had broken the previous one by yanking it out of his iPad by the cord. We are in our smallest hotel room yet. Sue has put a moratorium on exploding suitcases since we have very little personal space, and we leave early in the morning for our ferry to the South Island.

Wellington is a big cruise ship port with 1 or 2 vessels arriving daily. Celebrity, Princess, Royal Caribbean. Makes us dream of a long cruise in the future. Maybe Uncle John would join us?

In Auckland, we watched an episode of Downton Abbey, Back to the Future. It appears as though the New Zealand airing of this TV series is WAY ahead of the USA's airing. There are many characters that we've never seen before, but Sue really enjoyed that racy scene between Carson and _________. (Thought she was way out of his league.) Tonight is the next episode...

Where else could you find a huge lighthouse playground with a scary slide?

Posted by skwclar 23:31 Archived in New Zealand Comments (1)

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