New Zealand: North Island, South Island
February 17 - March 13, 2016
Bob and Shirley

We rented a car and drove around the 2 islands, staying at motels for 1 to 3 nights each which we had booked ourselves ahead of time. As I cannot help but repeat myself over and over, New Zealand is just unbelievably beautiful. We have visited several countries on all of the continents except Antarctica, and New Zealand stands out as the most beautiful either of us has seen so far.

Furthermore, unlike in the United States, New Zealanders have not ruined that beauty by putting up huge billboards along their roads. Imagine driving for hours and hours, hundreds upon hundreds of miles, through spectacular scenery and never having your view blocked by a billboard!

Below first is a list of some highlights/memorable events, followed by a day by day diary with favorite photos of the day. Since much of our time was spent driving and oohing and aahing over the scenery, many photos are taken from the car as we were moving.

Day 1: Feb 17 to Feb 19 (Wednesday to Friday), Santa Rosa to Auckland:

At noon on Wednesday our friend Bill drives us to the Santa Rosa Airport Express bus stop, with a little bit of drizzle just beginning after almost 10 days of dry weather. As usual, the bus ride goes well to the San Francisco airport. Since we arrived before the opening of New Zealand Airline (NZA) ticket counters at 4:15 PM, we got a bite to eat (French Fries and Sushi). At 4:15, NZA agents began to show up and tried to get their systems working. At 4:35 they switched back to "Version 4" of their computer ticket system and we checked in, then through customs down to the gate for the 7 PM boarding and 7:45 take off. All went well, although a bit of turbulence leaving California.

For about the next 13 hours we ate, watched movies, slept, ate some more and then landed in Auckland. Movies were free and Bob watched a James Bond "action movie" - Spectre - and a "chick flick" - The Intern. The action movie pretty much sucked and the chick flick was really good.

Arrived in Auckland on Feb 19, Friday, around 5:30 AM, picked up car and drove to Manukau Heights Motor Lodge, where we parked car but could not check in.

So we walked around neighborhoods nearby. Beautiful weather, landscape so lush and green, very humid, but not hot and not raining. Then we checked into our very nice motel room with kitchen and took naps. Next we drove to a huge shopping mall - Botany Town Center - and wandered around buying food and cheap cookware for the trip.

In the evening Shirley noticed that our AVIS contract in the small print forbade us from taking our rental car on the ferry from N to S island, although when making the reservation we explicitly said we would be doing that - and paid for a car ferry ride two ways. However, we were sure we could correct it the next day and all would be well.

And there were no car accidents as Bob drove on the left side of the road! We did discover there might be a problem with taking the car from the North to South Island.

Day 2: Feb 20 (Saturday), Auckland:

Our second day in Auckland went wonderfully well. First, we drove down to AVIS and the woman there completely worked out the problem with the car, so we would leave the car at Wellington and pick up another car on the other side of the ferry in Picton. Then leave that car in Picton upon our return and get a car when we arrived in Wellington. Best of all, we saved over $300 by not having to carry a car across on the ferry.

After the stop at AVIS, we drove to the Auckland Botanic Gardens, a beautiful 150 acres of all sorts of gardens featuring plants from around the world and from New Zealand. The day was so pretty - reminded us both of the weather in Key West: warm with light breezes, blue skies, white clouds, humid, but pleasantly so. The second day of perfect weather.

After a few miles and a couple of hours of glorious touring, along with a short picnic on a bench, we returned to our motel for some rest. Next stop: dinner.

We went to a highly rated Indian cafe, arriving around 6 pm because the reviews said it would be absolutely packed after 7. A very odd experience: there were no other customers the entire time we were there (we left well after 7 PM). The food was very, very good, but very, very expensive - most we have ever paid for a meal. A meal cost a single amount for as much as you could eat.

The meal began with a grill being lit at the table to keep food warm, then many types of Shish kebabs being placed on the grill. Additional items were brought to the table. After these hors d'oeuvres, which were enough to be an entire meal, we then went to the serve-yourself-counter which had pots of all sorts of stews and curries. We each stuck with a chicken Thai curry. As with all the other dishes, it was extremely good. But it was odd to be eating alone in such a restaurant for the entire meal on a Saturday night.

Day 3: Feb 21 (Sunday), Auckland to Waitomo:

Drove south through the prettiest countryside to Waitomo, where the Blue Worm Caves are located. Took a 45 minute boat tour through the dark caves with the beautiful spots of blue lighting up the ceilings and walls. We arrived at 9:50 AM, just in time for the 10 AM tour, after having left Auckland area at 6:50 AM.

Then we walked through a jungle like forest along a well kept dirt path, eventually climbing up 175 steps (but who was counting) to the top of a ridge with a view of surrounding valleys.

Then back to the motel for a short nap, and off to what is considered one of the 10 best hikes in New Zealand: the Ruakuri Bushwalk. A river cascades down steep slopes in a deep forest into and back out of limestone caves. A long, winding path leads along and over the river, with tunnels through caves.

Then we drove a long, twisting road that gave yet more wonderful views, before almost returning to the motel. "Almost", because we had to pull over to see the ostriches, emus, and alpacas in a farm near our motel. Here are a couple of short videos of them. The large male ostrich immediately comes over when it sees someone, for instance, Shirley.

Short video: Shirley and ostriches

Short video: Emus and ostriches

Day 4: Feb 22 (Monday), Waitomo to Wanganui:

Sweet serendipity strikes! By an incredible stroke of luck we saw some sheep on a hillside, so pulled into a driveway across the highway next to a mailbox to get some photos. Just then, Jill came out to collect her mail and said hi. We talked a bit and then in the nicest way Jill asked if we would like to come up for some coffee or tea and also take a look at a beautiful waterfall that was on the property. Of course we said yes and thank you. Thus began the most memorable and wonderful part of this trip so far.

Jill's husband Leo joined us and the 4 of us sat on their backporch which looked across gardens and ponds - the result of Jill and Leo's recent landscaping and earlier landscaping by the former owners.

Besides offering tea and coffee, Jill brought out the most scrumptious cake. The spices in it reminded me of my mother's plum pudding from long ago - just about my favorite dessert. We then walked through the nearest gardens and copse of trees. Stunning.

Leo and Jill's gardens - the Aramatai Gardens - are listed on New Zealand's Gardens to Visit website. If you have a self-sufficient RV, there is a place to park and stay overnight (in fact, they also provide toilet for guests to use).

Next a real adventure began. Leo got out his 4 wheel all terrain vehicle, telling Gus he would not be able to ride this time, because Shirley and I filled the back seat, where Gus would normally sit. Gus was excited to be going no matter what and, with tail wagging, ran ahead the entire way, often going off on side trips. I had no idea a small dog could run so fast and so far.

Our destination was the beautiful waterfalls Jill had mentioned. And they were beautiful. Coming back we saw a hedgehog. Leo stopped the vehicle so Bob could get a closeup. The hedgehog simply rolled into a ball.

The following 4 videos, all fairly short, are of the ride up to the falls, the falls, and the ride back.

Heading up to the falls

Heading up to the falls - 2

The falls

Sheep on the return from the falls

I always remembered from 33 years ago when I last visited New Zealand that I thought it was the most beautiful country I had ever seen. As we drove to our next destination, I could see why I had that memory. It is so beautiful.

We arrived in Wanganui and checked into our motel, pretty beat, and took a nap. Then went for a walk, first along the river, then into town.

We were surprised to see kids jumping off a fairly high bridge across the river. But they seemed to be having fun and not getting hurt:

Video 1 of bridge jumping - pretty cool to watch in hi def (1080) and slo mo (25%). The jump begins at 42 seconds.
Video 2 of bridge jumping - jumps take place at 30 seconds and 58 seconds.

Second serendipity strikes! As we stood at a street corner trying to decide if we really wanted to walk uphill to a park, a car stopped and the driver asked if we were lost. We said no and thanked him. He left. We decided to start walking up to the park.

A few minutes later the driver pulled up beside us again. His name was Jim and his friend Fenella and her 2 year old son Nicholas were also in the car. Jim said he would enjoy driving us around and showing us Wanganui, his home town. On the one hand, it had been a long day and we were a bit tired. On the other hand, who can turn down a new adventure and such a kind offer! So we hopped into the car.

It was a wonderful tour, including climbing up a 176 step Memorial tower (Bob and Jim) and nearby 40 step tower (Shirley, Fenella, and Nicholas - who got a free ride). Both towers had excellent views of the city and when Bob and Jim got up the second tower a young couple eating a snack took our photos.

Video of Wanganui from top of Memorial Tower After showing us more of the city, including a lake with so many ducks, Jim then drove us back to the motel, for which we of course thanked him profusely. The motel manager came out and it was quite entertaining to listen to Jim, Fanella, and the motel owner talk and joke.

We then went into the motel room and in planning out the trip to Wellington the next day, discovered a written note from AVIS saying we were to leave Wellington on the 24th, not the 25th as we had specified. We figured we would stop by AVIS first thing in the morning to straighten this mistake out.

Day 5: Feb 23 (Tuesday), Wanganui to Wellington:

Got up early and walked to AVIS. As we walked we passed a guy working on the street and struck up a conversation. A few minutes later as we were approaching AVIS, he drove up and asked if we had no car, then suggested places to visit. It was clear to us he would have been willing to drive us around. The friendliness of people in New Zealand is so wonderful. We then went into AVIS, where we discovered the note written on the form did not match the actual reservation, which was for the 25th as it should be.

We left the motel and drove to the nearby Bason Botanic Gardens - 60 acres (25 hectares). First we drove all around the gardens, then came back to the entrance to visit the indoor orchid gardens.

We also walked around other gardens nearby, but did not have the time to walk the miles of trails through so many types of gardens.

And, so important, Bob finally snuck up on one of the cicadas and, although the cicada quickly flew away, followed it and got a video. It is quite important on trips to video the wildlife [best if watched in high def - 1060- and full screen]: Chirping Cicada

Then on our way to Wellingon. Unlike the previous day's drive which wound up and down on tightly curving roads, this day's drive was basically flat and straight. Still beautiful.

After one brief stop in a town where we could see the bay, we drove into Wellington to our motel. First a brief rest, then a walk around downtown Wellington, which includes parkland that fronts the bay. The city just made us reflect on how lucky we were:

The number of people doing outside activities struck both of us. People practicing for competitive rowing, people jogging, people doing yoga, exercising, standing on a surf board and rowing.

Day 6: Feb 24 (Wednesday), Wellington:

Walked into the city to the cable car station and took the cable car up to the topmost point, which gave a view over Wellington and was at the entrance to the Botanical Garden. We then walked down through various gardens within the Botanical Garden. Standouts were the Begonia House and the Rose Garden (best Shirley has ever seen).

At the bottom, just after leaving the gardens is a cemetery, which we visited. A guy walked up to us and began telling us a story about it. He was somewhat agitated as he told the story. Turns out this cemetery goes way back to the 1800's, but a few years ago a motorway was built that went through the original cemetery. Bodies were dug up, according to this guy, and then simply piled into a mass grave ("like the Nazi's did"). Headstones were uprooted and randomly dropped around the current cemetery. At one point a photo of the cemetery being disrupted was taken. No one was in front of the camera. But when the photo was developed, there among the tombstones a man dressed as he would have been long ago was standing and holding a shovel in his arms, clearly very, very angry. It was one of the men who had been buried there. The guy then walked off, wishing us a good day. Below are photos of the cemetery area. No one showed up in them. Wait, wait, in the far background, do you see a woman, dressed in old clothes, but she does not look angry, just blurry, almost ghost like? Who could that be?

Now that we were back in the city, we went down to the quay area and visited the Te Papa Museum, which included many exhibits about the history (geology and social) of New Zealand. Took a break to eat at a very good Malaysian Restaurant, then returned to the museum for a bit. Then walked back to the motel.

Day 7: Feb 25 (Thursday), Wellington to Picton:

Woke up before 6 and drove down to the Interislander ferry building, where we turned in the car, checked our luggage, and boarded the ferry from Wellington to Picton - it holds over 1,300 people, along with cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles. The ship was packed. The ride itself was smooth across calm seas and waterways, and beautiful. Arrived after about 4 hours in Picton, picked up our luggage, got the replacement car, and drove to the motel.

A very nice motel room with kitchenette and back porch looking to the hills. And quiet. Then walked into downtown - a very small town, maybe 4,000 people, bought groceries (discovered that they have Powerball, but that max prize is only $7 million, so not worth playing), checked out restaurants and found none attractive. Returned to the motel room, then got the car and drove to a lookout point, before returning to Picton and the bay area, walking along a beach.

Saw another huge ferry come in, saw a water landing plane come in and then take off, people swimming, kids jumping off a wharf. All very pleasant.

Day 8: Feb 26 (Friday), Picton to Punakaiki:

Drove first from Picton to Westport, which is on the western coast. Most of this drive was through valleys, which eventually led to low hills that we crossed to the coast. The valleys had lots and lots of sheep, as you can see below.

As we were heading westward, we saw signs for "New Zealand's longest swinging bridge", which was over a river gorge. So we walked it. Both before and after the bridge the scenery included rivers and mountains which were more beautiful than the photos below could capture.

Once at Westport, we turned north and went a few kilometers to a beach, where we searched for jade among the rocks. Not really sure what jade looked like, but picked up many greenish stones. Then headed south along the coast to our destination for the day, Punakaiki, where we had a motel (Punakaiki Beachfront Motels) room very close to a beach. Across the motorway behind the motel were steep, high cliffs that reflected the wonderful sound of the surf back to the motel. We asked the motel proprietor about the chances of finding jade on the beach, to which he replied, most of what we would find would be "leaverite", which he then described as "jade" you picked up, which was not in fact jade and so you should "leave her right" there. We had stopped at a few beaches and looked some more for jade already. Once at the motel, Shirley looked up jade on the internet and confirmed that we had found some.

Day 9: Feb 27 (Saturday), Punakaiki to Franz Josef Glacier:

The day started after leaving our motel with another beautiful seashore site, this one looking down on "pancake" rocks, blow holes, and chasms that the surf was crashing into and through. We then stopped to walk in light rain along a very windy beach looking for jade. We found lots of green stones that looked very pretty.

Continuing our drive south, we made it to the town of Hokitika, which is filled with jade shops and jade artisans. At one shop a very nice young man who was creating jade jewelry took a look at some of our beach finds. None of it was jade, all of it was serpentine. Ah well. Still pretty, though. At another shop there was a couch made from a single huge jade stone. Shirley and I are sitting on it in the photo above. We also stopped to get "take away" (New Zealander for "carry out") lunch from a highly rated Indian restaurant.

On through amazing countryside to Franz Josef Glacier, the town, then the glacier. We drove straight through the town and on to the trail head to walk to views of the glacier. The views are just stunning. As pretty as these pictures may be, they do not capture the incredible scenery. Many very long waterfalls, a roaring glacial river beside us, forests climbing up peaks in all directions, with snow on peaks, and of course the glacier. When we first arrived there was fog along the tops of the peaks, partially obscuring the glacier itself. However, by the time we came to our closest view of the glacier, the fog had completely lifted, there were clouds and blue sky overhead, and the view of the glacier and its surrounding peaks was perfect.

These next two videos show the surroundings as we hiked towards the glacier and, during that hike, as Shirley crossed a stream.

Short video: Approach to Franz Josef Glacier along glacial river

Short video: Shirley crossing stream

Day 10: Feb 28 (Sunday), Franz Josef Glacier to Queenstown:

As we packed the car in the morning, we saw a beautiful sunrise over the mountain behind our motel, with beams of light coming over the sky and outlining a few trees on the ridge. During much of the morning drive there was off and on drizzle and cloudiness, but by afternoon we were again under blue skies with white clouds. The scenery as shown below was spectacularly beautiful in constantly changing terrain all the way to Queenstown.

Shirley has Polish heritage and grew up dancing, so, of course when there was a party of Pole dancers, we had to stop and take pictures and videos, as you can see above and below. Bob, who is not Polish, agreed to watch. (Shirley note: he had to be pried away from the dancing.) In fact, there is a local dance studio in Queenstown hosting a several week pole camp with ladies from all over the world in attendance. This event was a party they were holding for the camp on the beach esplanade.

Most of the day was spent driving with stops for viewing and taking photos and videos. Along much of the route there really was no place at all to turn off, but the scenery was so incredible, Shirley simply took snap shots through the window as we drove, or else Bob would simply stop in the middle of the highway or on a bridge, and look in the mirrors to ensure no traffic was approaching - some bridges were one lane only, so looking both forward and backward was necessary.

Short (1:11) Video: Pole Dancing

Day 11: Feb 29 (Monday), Queenstown to Te Anau:

This was a pretty relaxing day. Left Queenstown a little before 10 AM, drove to Te Anau, about a 100 miles, through, as usual, spectacular scenery. We did get a laugh at one point, because we remembered that on our Alaska trip we had been going through incredibly spectacular scenery and suddenly a highway sign appeared that said "Scenic Highway Begins". Sure enough, after miles and miles of awesome scenery here in New Zealand, a sign appeared that said "Entering Scenic Roadway".

We got to Te Anau around 1 PM, but the motel office was locked stating that check-in began at 2 PM. If you had an emergency there was a number to call. First motel that would not let us check in early. Life is very tough, yet we survived. We drove into town and found public toilets, only to discover, again for the first time, they were charging $1 NZ per person to enter. It is amazing we survived the hardships of the day! As with the last couple of toilets, there were signs saying the restrooms were monitored with video cameras. Bob could not see where they were, so was unable to perform for the watchers.

We then went to a highly recommended Indian restaurant that was carry out orders only and located inside a Mobil gas station. We got the carry out, visited a jewelry store and a bookstore, then headed back to the car, then the motel - Explorer Motel and Apartments - it being after 2 PM. The room with kitchenette is very nice, with a great view.

The receptionist recommended we see an hour long movie playing downtown which is an aerial tour of Fiordland National Park. So we ate the very good Indian carryout and walked downtown to the theater (the motel is well located). The scenery of the movie was quite good, however, there was nothing but music and scenery, no narrative or documentation, and our reaction was that it was ok, but not great. Actually, Bob thought it was like looking at the photos of the trip - they are pretty, but in no way capture the true beauty.

Went back to the motel, napped, went out for a short drive along the lakeshore (got to see helicopter take off for sightseers), stopped for groceries and gas, and headed back to the motel for a very relaxed evening.

Day 12: Mar 1 (Tuesday), Te Anau with visit to Milford Sound:

Milford Sound is about 73 miles and 2 hour drive from Te Anau. We had reservations for a 12:45 cruise, but also had read that traffic could get very heavy later in the morning, so we got up early and were on the road around 7 AM. We got there a little after 9 AM and were able to get our reservations changed to a 10:45 AM cruise.

The drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound is supposed to be the prettiest drive in New Zealand. We could see why: mountains, valleys, cliffs, glaciers, rivers, waterfalls - magnificent.

The drive goes through a tunnel created long ago during the Depression of the 1930's with the original rock hewn walls still in place. It is a little over 1 kilometer long and has a 1 lane, pot holed road. There are traffic lights at either end to coordinate the traffic.

As was usually the case on this trip, the weather was perfect and the waters were calm. The cruise went beautifully, although it is quite cold this far south. During the cruise, Bob had to add a sweater to the 5 other layers of clothes he already wore.

The cruise took us not only by, but actually under, a couple of waterfalls. People were warned what was coming, but some people, 2 in particular, just had to stand outside on the front of the ship to get that perfect, wet view.

Short video: Milford Sound waterfall

Short video: Another Milford Sound and another waterfall

We also went by rocks with seals, but did not see in the water the great white and other types of sharks, along with porpoises and seals that also visit the fiord (in spite of the name, Milford Sound is in fact a fiord carved by glaciers not a sound formed by rivers)

On the way out we were going with the wind. We returned going into the wind. The cruise captain warned everyone they could easily have hats blown off, so hold them down well. Shortly thereafter Bob's woolen cap was ripped off his head by the wind. Fortunately, it landed on deck, not over the side.

Upon our return we walked back through a bus parking lot which had been nearly empty when we arrived, but now was almost filled with about 25 or 30 tour buses. Glad we got there early

The drive back to Te Anau seemed even more beautiful than when we came. The different direction gave such different views.

Back in Te Anau we walked from the motel to downtown, checked out a bookstore, walked back home and vegged out for the rest of the day. Yes!

Day 13: Mar 2 (Wednesday), Te Anau to Dunedin:

Drove across the southern part of the South Island to the east coast, arriving at our motel in Dunedin in the early afternoon. As always, the drive was very pretty and, as often was the case, there were lots and lots of sheep. At one point we drove between two towns named Dole and Clinton. There was actually a sign on the highway calling it The Presidential Highway. Many of the properties along the highway had red hot pokers along the fences, which were in full bloom:

Shirley, our researcher, tour guide, GPS unit and so much more, had identified a highly rated Chinese restaurant near our motel, so we walked over and had a tasty lunch.

Our motel is right near the city center, so we then went for a nice walk around the center. The Anglican St. Paul's Cathedral is in the city center, so we stepped in and took a look:

Turns out Dunedin is a college town with a campus containing at least 3 univerisities., and it seemed like a college town as we walked along. Lots of young people (something we do not see in our retirement community of Oakmont!), university book stores, coffee shops galore. When we walked on campus, it looked just like a city campus in the US with pretty walkways, nearby dorm buildings, big stone buildings and modernistic buildings with lots of glass.

Below, Shirley stands on campus in front of a tree that caught our attention, with the Music Department in the background in the first photo, and another department building in the second photo. Following that a few minutes later, we suddenly were in the midst of a large crowd of students adjourning their statistics classes (we asked).

We then walked back to our motel and relaxed, watching TV and playing on the computer, including of course putting up these notes.

Day 14: Mar 3 (Thursday), Dunedin to Christchurch:

Had a nice drive from Dunedin to Christchurch. Although we had read about how beautiful this drive was, we found it pretty, but not spectacular like so many of our other New Zealand drives. There were, however, from time to time sweeping vistas of the sea, mountains and pastoral valleys. These photos taken from our speeding car capture some of this. Other parts of the drive reminded us of driving in California's central valley or Kansas.

We stopped at one point to walk down to a beach with moeraki boulders. These are large, round rocks which took about 5 million years to form.

Our motel in Christchurch was located within a couple of blocks of the Botanic Gardens, so after settling in, we walked over to take a look. The gardens are huge, so we decided to visit only the rose garden before walking back and getting some Indian food from a highly rated restaurant.

Short video: Christchurch Botanic Gardens: Rose Garden

The food from the Indian restaurant was very good. We had "take away" and ate it in our motel room.

Day 15: Mar 4 (Friday), Day in Christchurch:

In the morning we walked through Hagley Park, which starts a block from our motel and leads to the Botanic Gardens. It turns out that the 2016 New Zealand Touch Football Championships are being played in Hagley Park. Teams from all over New Zealand with hundreds of players were in Hagley Park. The girls in the motel room next door to our room are on the Canterbury Team and won 2 games today.

The games had not yet started when we walked by in the morning, but were going full blast in the afternoon, so we sat on a lawn and watched one of 4 being played. We were also approached by a City Council rep who asked if we would take a survey she would email us asking us our thoughts on how the event could be improved. We agreed. (If there is a comment section, Bob is going to suggest they make the playing field much smaller, cover it with wood flooring, add a hoop at either end, make the ball spherical rather than a football shaped, give points for putting the ball in the hoop...). The game was actually very fun to watch. Below are short videos of a boys' team and a girls' team.

Short video: Boys' Team
Short video: Girls' Team

Once into the city center, being smart, trams are what we took, not riding them backwards, though. One of our first stops was the Re-Start Container Mall. Christchurch was devastated by a 6.3 earthquake on Feb 22, 2011 which killed 185 people and destroyed much of the downtown. The city had been weakened just a few months earlier when a 7.1 earthquake struck nearby Canterbury on Sep 4, 2010. The rebuilding continues today. There are huge cranes all over the downtown in the midst of the reconstruction of the city.

Remains of ChristChurch Cathedral

Demolishing a building

Building cranes

The Re-Start Container Mall is a shopping center composed of shipping containers that were brought in after the remains of the former buildings were demolished and removed. The containers were turned into stores. The pictures above at the start of this day show some of those mall stores. Note that in the first photo you can see another structure in the background being re-built. The mall also contained some entertaining art as you can see below.

Since the ChristChurch Cathedral had been so damaged, another temporary cathedral was built. The write-ups talk about it as being built from cardboard and in fact it does have large cardboard tubes as part of the structure. However, the tubes cover the actual structural components.

A temporary memorial consisting of chairs representing each of the 185 killed in the earthquake has been erected. The chairs are of many types, including children's highchairs, car seats, and a chair for the disabled, as you can see below.

After visiting the above memorial we went to the original, damaged cathedral. A small succulent garden structure had been constructed next to the fence surrounding the cathedral.

Next to the succulent garden was a man named Ted (in third photo above) who was relating how he once had a bad knee problem with cartilage torn that prevented him from bending his leg at all. A religious friend told him that to heal his knee, he had to do 2 things. First, he had to pray to God, and second he had to tell Satan to remove himself from his life. Ted was embarrassed to do that in front of others, but he finally was alone at home and prayed to God. Nothing happened. He then told Satan to leave, and his knee was instantly and completely healed. Here is a long (4:29 minutes) video I asked him to let me take of him telling his story.

We then took the tram back to the Botanical Gardens and walked back to the motel.

Day 16: Mar 5 (Saturday), Christchurch to Blenheim:

The drive today returned us from yesterday's just pretty to spectacular: mountains, rivers, seashore, dolphins, seals. Just wonderful. The photo above was taken while we were driving. Here are two more morning shots:

At one point in the morning, as we were driving along the coast, we pulled over to stand beside the seashore. Another car was parked and the driver came over with binoculars. He told us there was a group of porpoises offshore that were herding - and eating - a school of fish. We got our own binoculars and all stood watching. It was a blast to see. Porpoises would come flying entirely out of the water and flip over. Straight out of some nature film. Unfortunately, they were so far out that neither videos nor photo could capture it. The image below, taken from a video, shows the scenery. The water is darker where all the activity is taking place and there is a splash of a dolphin on the right side of the roiled water.

We had made several other stops like the one shown below (and in this short video: seashore).

Then we came upon a pullout where there were not only lots and lots of seals right in front of us on the rocks, but there was a pool of water which for all practical purposes was a play pool for young seals. Just as a side note, there are small white butterflies everywhere throughout the south island, although they always flew away just as I got the camera out.

Short video: Seal play pool

Short video: Seal play pool

In the evening, after we had checked into our motel in Blenheim, we decided to go for a walk. We ran across the beautiful, color and water spray changing fountain pictured below (photos are taken from this video):

Day 17: Mar 6 (Sunday), Blenheim to Woodville with Ferry Ride:

Got up kind of early and drove from Blenheim to Picton, which was quite pretty, as shown below in photos taken from our speeding car.

At Picton is the Ferry Terminal wherre we turned in our rental car and boarded the ferry for Wellington on the north island. Experience had taught us to be in line early and go straight for the seats at the front of the ferry facing forwards. Got'm!

About the 2 best seats in fact. But what turned out to be really cool was we sat next to a young guy, Peter, an engineer probably in his late 20's or early 30's. He told us he was part Vietnamese, Japanese, and other races. He spoke several languages (Cantonese, Vietnamese, English, etc). He told us he worked for an engineering firm ARC. Given his linguistics, he went around the world representing the company. But mostly he talked about his adventures. Here is a startling one:

He and another ARC employee had just come to Shanghai. They were walking around looking at places to eat. Found one. Only cost $50 they were told. So they went inside and were led to a private room. Very expensive dishes and drinks started getting served. They were assured it was covered by the $50, but after a half hour Peter was suspicious and asked for the bill. It was $600. They argued. Refused to pay.

More guys came into the room and locked the doors and told them to pay up. Peter still refused to pay. One of the guys drew a gun and pointed it at Peter's head. Peter kept arguing and refusing to pay, said it was their last day in Shanghai. They had only $200 left and it was at the hotel. The armed guys took them back to the hotel, held Peter as hostage while his buddy went upstairs to get the $200.

Rules Peter follows in foreign countries: Leave all credit cards and other valuables in the hotel room when you go out. Carry only the cash you will need (he keeps some extra in his shoe). Of course, Peter also like to go down back alleys and out of the way places for the experience. This type of approach resulted in other adventures.

With Peter telling stories, the trip from Picton to Wellington went very quickly.

Avis had initially told us when we rented the car that we would have to wait until 5 PM to pick up our car when we returned from the south island to Wellington. We were resigned to that, although it meant we would probably have to be driving some at night to make our destination of Woodville. As with other things Avis had told us, this turned out to be inaccurate. Fortunately.

We got the car before 3 and took off for a beautiful ride including probably the most winding section of road of our entire trip, up and down some foothills on the way to Woodville. The topmost point of the ride was the Rimutaka Crossing Memorial, which commemorates the World War I New Zealand soldiers, 60,000 of them, who trained on one side of the mountains then marched over to the other side, up and down the mountains we were driving, before embarking for the battlefields of World War I.

We arrived at the motel to find it was the one day of the year when a festival with a loud rock band was playing across the street. Fortunately, the band was playing old rock songs - lots of Beatles - that we enjoyed as we sat in our motel room, and quit by 8 pm.

One of the owners of the motel was a gardener, so she and Shirley had a wonderful time looking at plants and talking about "blood and bones" fertilizer vs sheep pellets. You just can't make up such conversations!

Day 18: Mar 7 (Monday), Woodville to Rotorura:

Drove across mountain passes on winding roads and visited some pretty nice tourist attractions.

Some of the drive in the valleys reminded us of Owens Valley east of the Sierras, with parched land surrounded by mountains. Other parts reminded us of the drive westward as one approaches the Oakland hills after the city of Livermore and sees windmills across the ridges.

Along the way we reached Stormy Point Lookout which gave us a wonderful view from high above of the valleys below, as shown in these two short videos and the photos below:
Video 1: Stormy Point;
Video 2: Stormy Point.

It is always fun to see flocks of sheep, of whichh there are many, many of course. Today was the first day we actually drove by a flock of sheep being herded by two sheep dogs. From the moving car, we captured both a photo and a brief sheep herding video:

For quite a while one volcanic peak dominated the scenery:

Then we passed the largest fresh water lake in New Zealand, which originally was the caldera of a volcano. Here a video of Lake Taupo and a couple of photos:

Our next cool stop was at Huka Falls, which provides power to 1/2 of North Island and flows so fast that every minute enough water passes to fill 5 Olympic swimming pools. Here are two short videos of the falls and a few photos.
Video 1: Huka Falls
Vidoe 2: Huka Falls

Our next stop was the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland which had lots of gorgeous colored pools, vents, boiling mud, and other geothermal features. As interesting as it was however, it cost a lot and the free geothermal features in Rotorua we found equally interesting.
Video 1: Wai-O-Topu
Vidoe 2: Wai-O-Topu

We then made our way to our motel (The Bella Vista) in Rotorua. We started to walk toward the city center for dinner and immediately ran into a nearby resident with whom we stopped and talked. It was fascinating. He had a thermal vent - fumerole - in his backyard and used it to supply hot water, a sauna, cooking grill, and a host of other uses for 3 or 4 houses he owned. The photo to the left shows the outdoor cooking area where the heat is supplied by the thermal vent.

We then continued on our way through a city park that had numerous geothermal sites. We got to see boiling mud, ponds with steam rising and the water boiling, and, almost everywhere, the smell of sulfur. Yuck. The two photos below show us on a boardwalk near one of the geothermal ponds. The steam almost completely obscures Bob.

We then walked through the city center to an incredibly good Indian restaurant, The Indian Star. Bob had the Chana Masala (medium hot. Asked for mild, but that was not available and medium was great). Shirley ordered Chicken Tiki Masala. On top of that, we ordered Palau rice, which is "Basmati rice cooked in cashewnuts, sultanas and fresh herbs". Bob ordered this after asking Shirley what sultanas were and finding out they were raisins, which Bob loves. A very large bowl was provided. At the end when the waiter was clearing dishes, he picked up the bowl and said with wonderment it was the first time he had ever seen an entire bowl of the Palau eaten. Go Bob!

When we first walked into the restaurant, it was almost completely empty at 6:30 PM, as you can see in the first photo below. Twenty minutes later, every table, every seat was taken.

After dinner we walked in a city park near the lake. It had a truly unique Christmas tree like sculpture made up bicycle wheels. We then saw a couple at a picnic table occasionally tossing bits of food for seagulls. A lot of seagulls. Like, over 50, as can be seen in this short video of voracious seagulls feeding. Clearly, the couple were rebels, perhaps from the sixties, based on the sign below.

Day 19: Mar 8 (Tuesday), Rotorua with a visit to a Maori village:

Woke up relaxed, took a walk into town, in the afternoon visited a Maori village and had a feast before bussing back. Here are some videos from the Maori visit:

Bob performs Maori haka (Maori War Dance) with other guys.
Actual haka performed by Maoris
Maori love song about maiden who swims 3 miles naked to another tribe to get together with her lover
Maori Stick Dance
Maori Dance
Maori cooking in a pit
Maori welcome ritual

Here are some videos from morning walk to city gardens and parks in town.

Mud boiling
Thermal walkway
Bird with chicks
Thermal area in local park
Mudpool with gas and Shirley
Shirley with steam thermal lake

Here are photos from the town walk.

Day 20: Mar 9 (Wednesday), Rotorua:

Even more relaxed than yesterday. Strolled into town, visited a few sites (religious site day: Maori, Anglican, Catholic), ate at the same wonderful Indian restaurant, walked back with a relaxing stop soaking our feet in a public pool, then watched the movie Time Traveler's Wife, which we both enjoyed. Tomorrow the longest drive of the trip, then 2 nights in a motel, then drive back to Auckland and head back the next day.

Videos of the day:
Thermal pool with Bob (barely audible) lecturing sea gulls on posted dangers of standing near pool
Pukeko with chicks
Steaming pool
Steaming pool

Day 21: Mar 10 (Thursday), Rotorua to Paihia:

Fascinating day with unexpected entertainment. At one event, the tickets were quite expensive, so for the first time we got only one. Bob got the ticket and enjoyed the primary view, in fact even played a small, unrehearsed role, but Shirley did get to see some of the action. The performance began with flashing red and blue lights on a fast moving vehicle that came right up behind our own car, as if pre-arranged. In the next scene, which excluded Shirley since she did not get a ticket, a well dressed, if uniformed, guy spoke with Bob and asked to see identification, in particular his driver's license. Bob, playing his unrehearsed subservient role, referred to the guy as "Officer". The "Officer" took the license back to his own car, and after a bit came back to confirm that Bob did in fact receive, for a cost of about $80 (US), an "infringement ticket". Bob won the ticket for going 70 kph in a 50 kph zone. (For the small minority of non-scientific people in the world who have not yet converted to the metric system - that is 43.496 mph in a 31.0686 mph zone.) It is ok to post this on Oakmont Nextdoor, although it should be exagerrated and somehow misconstrued if done so.

The next entirely unexpected event Bob and Shirley found out about as they checked into their motel. The receptionist said "I see you asked for a quiet room. Well, the next 3 days are the celebration of the Paihia Harley Davidson Iron Run 2016. One to two thousand motorcyclists are here in town, some of them in this motel. The motorcycles are not quiet." This explained the many, many motorcycles and drivers Bob and Shirley had been seeing, included a party of them at the last motel who roared out of the motel early in the morning while Bob was still in bed.

On the other hand, Paihia turns out to be a very pretty town on a bay with a beautiful beach, as can be seen in the videos and pics below. Note, in fact, as shown in the 3rd photo if one looks very closely, it was a nude bathing beach.

Short video of beach
Short video 2 of beach

We also found a very tasty Indian and Thai restaurant, from which we ordered Thai carry out. Now, I understand that some readers might begin to salivate and drool upon hearing once again how luscious some of our dinners were. Please get a napkin or handkerchief, so as not to embarrass yourselves. Because these dishes also were very tasty, though not the absolute best.

The downside was that afterwards a whale in turn ate Bob:

Day 22: Mar 11 (Friday), Paihia:

Videos from today:
Harbor in Russell
Bay of Islands view from Flag Staff Monument
Leaving Russell harbor
Approaching Paihia harbor
Approaching Paihia dock
Motocycles in Paihia
Shirley wading on Paihia beach

We got up late, walked downtown, and caught the 15 minute ferry ride to Russell Island, which was once long ago an island port for European and American ships with whom the Maori traded. The town was lawless and became known at one point as "Hell Hole of the Pacific". We browsed store fronts and the strand.

We hiked up and down a 3 to 4 mile round trip, sometimes in near jungle like forest, to Flag Staff Hill where a flag had once been raised in honor of the treaty between the British (the Crown) and Maori. Maori chopped the flag down several times (the British kept re-erecting it) upon understanding the British were not abiding by the treaty. However, the plaque at the top simply refered to a "misunderstanding" between the Maoris and the Europeans. According to Wikipedia: "The Crown, ... in many instances has accepted that it breached the Treaty and its principles. Settlements for Treaty breaches to date have consisted of hundreds of millions of dollars of reparations in cash and assets, as well as apologies."

Upon our return to port we found a huge Morton fig tree and also a tree swing which Shirley could not resist.

Video: Shirley on swing

Then we got back on the ferry to return to Paihia. At 1:30 PM the ferry was not nearly so crowded as in the morning. In Paihia we got fish and kumara (sweet potato) chips, followed by rum raisin ice cream. As we were eating the fish and chips a sea gull watched us closely. When another sea gull landed, the two began bickering. Bob wished he had taken a video, because the two got into quite a fight before the second one drove the first one off.

Motorcycles and their riders were everywhere.

We then walked along the long beautiful beach (which also got us a little bit away from the roar of motorcycles on the nearby road) until we reached a bridge that led us to the Treaty Grounds (past another hotel crammed with motorcyclists). While on the beach we met a very pleasant and humorous German couple, with whom we talked for a bit. They told us we spoke English very well for being raised in America. Shirley and the German woman both agreed that their husbands drove too near the left hand side of the road and often (very often) needed to be directed back more to the center. The Grounds closed in 20 minutes and cost $40/ticket, so we walked back to the motel.

Day 23: Mar 12 (Saturday), Paihia to Manukau (near Auckland) :

Videos from today:
Bay view - actually the Hokianga Harbour, also known as the Hokianga River, a long estuarine drowned valley leading out to the Tasman Sea
Surf on the Tasman Sea shoreline
Even more surf - and Shirley! And a view of the Hokianga River/Estuary/Harbor
Yet more Surf
Another Bay view - and Bob! And a picnic table

Our last full day in New Zealand. After getting up early enough so Shirley could walk on the beach and collect seashells, we headed back to Auckland. However, we chose a route that took us to the west coast and was that ever a good choice. Instead of the simply pretty scenery we had seen coming up to Paihia, we were soon back into the spectacular scenery that New Zealand can offer. In fact, we thought some of the views were the best we had seen on the trip. Perhaps our favorite of all was the lookout across the Tasman Sea with the surf crashing at the Arai-Te-Uru Recreation Reserve.

We also had a chance to see a tree perhaps 2000 years old that is central to Maori spirituality. The tree and its significance are pictured below.

It did make the drive the longest of the trip - started at 8:30 AM and arrived at the motel at 5:00 PM, so over 8 hours of driving, with brief breaks for seeing sights and a picnic lunch. Of course, we did drive slowly so we could take lots of photos from our car.

We highly recommend this drive for anyone visiting New Zealand.

Once we got near Auckland the traffic became fairly heavy, but we got through ok.

Day 24: Mar 13 (Sunday), (near Auckland) to Santa Rosa:

Our very last hours in New Zealand. Woke up, packed and threw away stuff, loaded the car, checked out of the motel, but left our car there for an hour while we walked down to a shopping center. Shirley was paying a price for walking barefoot on a New Zealand beach: sand fly bites on feet and ankles. So we tried to find something to stop the itching. In the end, settled on the old home remedy of baking soda.

Drove away from the motel, filled the tank with gas, and headed to the airport, where we parked the AVIS car and continued drying seashells. A guy drove up. He was from AVIS and wrapped up our rental, leaving us with free access to the car to keep unloading and shell drying.

Checked our bags into Air New Zealand, got through customs. Only 6 hours before our flight was to take off. Got only 1/2 hour of free WiFi for the computer and used that up.


Contact/Website Author:
Bob Phillips [phillips bob 27 at yahoo dot com - no spaces]
Santa Rosa, CA
February, 2016

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