Around 8am on Thursday May 19, Justin’s flight from LAX descended on Auckland. After greeting him in the international terminal, we went to pick up our rental car and figure out the directions to Auckland CBD. Upon arrival back in my flat, a package of Squiggles (a NZ cookie with hokey pokey covered chocolate—words cannot describe) was rapidly consumed. We grabbed a quick lunch then hit the road again, heading towards Tauranga. We were visiting with the same couple I stayed with back in March, but during this trip, we stayed with the wife’s parents on their kiwifruit farm. Our timing was impeccable as they were just finishing picking all the fruit (an endeavor that happens over only a few days it sounded like). We saw “gangs” picking and also were treated to a personal tour around a kiwifruit packaging plant. The fruit that makes it to the plant is divided into three grades, Grade 1 being the best. Those are sent overseas, Grade 2 sent to Australia, and Grade 3 kept in New Zealand for sale. Our stay in Tauranga also included a climb to the top of Mt. Maunganui (my second time).
On Saturday morning, we took off for Rotorua with limited plans other than Zorbing. Upon reaching there, we decided to check out the Agrodome, a facility that puts on sheep shows and farm tours, detailing the agricultural aspect of NZ. We saw a sheep show, where around twenty breeds of sheep were displayed and a sheering occurred on stage. Following that, we got a guided tractor tour of their on property farm, getting a chance to feed ostriches, alpacas, and sheep. A quick stop at the gift store for Kiwifruit wine and then we were on our way—across the street—to Zorb. I’m pretty sure it’s the only reason Justin visited NZ :) Rolling down a hill, sloshing around with water, in a blown up ball, was an adrenaline rush. We grabbed lunch in downtown Rotorua, walked around a park with many fenced off thermal hot spots steaming and bubbling up, then headed to Taupo.
In Taupo, Justin had found a couch surfing website and was able to hook us up with a very gracious host. Shortly after our arrival, she had cooked dinner and we enjoyed an evening of sharing travel stories and talking about cultural differences. We woke early on Sunday to walk around town some and then were picked up to begin our adventure package with Experience Taupo. Our first stop was for a helicopter ride over the city and lake. Lake Taupo is the largest lake in the Oceanic region and the population of the city doubles during the summer months because of its prime location for vacationers. Landing next to the Jet Boat departure location, we hopped onto that for a spin around the river and next to Huka Falls, the most frequented location for visitors to NZ. The boat driver shared some facts, but it was hard to remember between spins around and getting unexpectedly soaked. We were then shuttled to the sky dive spot. After several attempts on their part for us to spend more money on countless photos, videos, and a drop height upgrade, we were finally geared up, given some instructions, and got on to the plane. It had to be a tandum jump, so as we flew up, our guides hooked up to our backs and kept us talking. I was remarkably relaxed the whole time. Justin just seemed ecstatic. He went first, then I moved up to sit on the edge. The guide pushed us out and it was quite freeing just to be falling through the air. I didn’t have to worry about anything because he was in control of pulling the chute. It did catch me by surprise how difficult it was to breathe and the rapid popping of my ears. Made sense that that happened, but no one I had talked to had mentioned that before. It was an easy landing and we were fortunate to get the plane exit photo with our package. That evening was another nice dinner with our couch surf host. She cooked up a dinner of trout that a friend of her’s had caught recently and talked of her previous and future travels around Africa.
We left very early Monday morning and headed towards Nikau Caves, a little over an hour southwest of Auckland. We got a personal tour of the caves, seeing countless formations, glow worms, and a couple eels scared off by the guide. It was not nearly as long as my first caving experience, but much less physically demanding, though we got quite dirty crawling through the tight spaces. After we emerged from the cave, we had a long walk back to the building and our guide told us about his travels around the world as a sheep shearer and how his daughter held the world’s title as fastest female shearer in the world. Quite the claim to fame for a rural kiwi man as he continued to talk about his entire family’s involvement in the activity and how they all still lived close by, working together. We thanked him, said our goodbyes, changed into dry clothes, got directions back, and were in the city by midday Monday.
I had to spend the next few days on writing [read:starting] two papers, one due Wednesday and one Friday. Justin had some free time to explore the city, checking out the free memorial museum in Domain Park, walking along downtown Queen St, and even taking a ferry to Rangitoto Island.
During his second weekend, Justin, two friends, and I headed towards Cape Reinga. We left midday Friday, making a couple stops along the way and eventually settling next to Matapouri beach. After some food and the guys playing guitar and clarinet, we set up tent for the night. Saturday was a gorgeous morning as we walked along the beach under blue skies. Back in the car for some hours and we reached the cape shortly before the sun began to set [crash]. Cape Reinga is not the most northern part of the country (close to) but it is where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. We saw waves crashing against each other, creating a crisscross pattern in the water. It was a gorgeous sunset in a clear sky. We had to be at our hostel by a certain time, so we took off, heading south again for Ahipara. There we had beds to sleep in and a pleasant night’s rest. Sunday morning we continued south onto Auckland. We stopped to see the country’s biggest Kauri tree and were back in the city by evening.
Justin’s last few days were a cluster of short adventures. Monday, he bungee jumped off the Auckland Harbour Bridge while I had to attend my last few classes of the semester. Tuesday, we went to Mission Bay Beach, indulging in chicken burgers at Oporto and Swiss ice cream. Unfortunately, the weather was quite rainy and it was mostly a day in. That evening, we had a coupon for a dinner in the swankier part of town with complimentary drinks. We each had the sampler main dish, which was a shish kebab with lamb, Scottish fillet, and bacon wrapped chicken. Very tasty and a classy evening. Wednesday, we did a day trip out to the Coromandel Peninsula. We were hoping to do a gold mine tour in Thames, but the winter season only offered tours on Saturdays. So we continued on to a kauri tree grove halfway up the peninsula. From there, we went on to Hot Water Beach in the middle of low tide—prime time to dig a hole in the sand, strike hot water, and enjoy a natural hot tub. It appeared the hot water was in specific places though, and we missed out on finding the right spot. We did, however, disregard this mild failure for the chance to swim with dolphins a few hundred feet off the beach as they playfully swam around people, jumping out of the water and rolling around. Take that, expensive, swimming-with-dolphins tours. We then drove the six kilometers to Cathedral Cove, a gorgeous beach that was location for some scenes in the second Narnia movie.
Thursday, June 2, came very quick. Shortly after waking, Justin packed, and we drove to One Tree Hill park, to complete the last of his list. I went to the monument here at the beginning of my stay and it offers a perfect panoramic view of Auckland. The directions were a bit confusing and I was close to scrapping the plan so he could get to the airport on time, but after driving a little further, we finally found the entrance. We had enough time to drive to the top, take a dozen photos, and then head to the airport.
I do hope Justin posts his pictures soon. It was a fun time sharing this country with someone else who appreciates traveling as much as I do and has dreamed of visiting here for quite some time. And it was likely good practice for his travel planning skills before becoming a nonstop traveler, living on a cruise ship come September. , I’m sure he won’t hesitate to add any additions to this experience in the comments.