Thursday, August 2, 2012

My kiwi vacation: July 16-22, 2012

Monday, July 16, 2012
Day 1 of vacation!

My itinerary for the week - check out the map:
-Monday, July 16: Waipukurau to Auckland
a.       11:20 AM bus
b.      Auckland for the night
      -Tuesday, July 17: Auckland to Bay of Islands
a.       Auckland city tour with Sky Tower
b.      5:15 PM bus to Bay of Islands
c.       Bay of Islands for the night
3    -Wednesday, July 18: Cape Reinga Day Safari
a.      Stay at Bay of Islands
4    -Thursday, July 19: Bay of Islands to Auckland
a.       Hole in the Rock Discovery Cruise
b.      5 PM bus to Auckland
c.       Auckland for the night
5    -Friday, July 20: Auckland to Palmerston North 
a.       9:15 AM bus  
b.      Stay with Norm from LIC
6    -Saturday, July 21: Palmerston North
a.       Stay with Norm from LIC
7    -Sunday, July 22: Palmerston North to Waipukurau

It felt nice to sleep in a little this morning, since I was able to finish my blog last night and pack as well. Becs drove me to Waipukurau to catch the 11:20 AM bus to Auckland. I booked all of my bus tickets, tours, and accommodations through, which had some pretty good sales and reasonable rates for buses and hostels.

The first leg of my journey was a 1-hour trip to Napier city center. I had an hour layover there where I was able to grab some coffee from Starbucks, take some pictures by the Pacific Ocean, and look around the visitor center. 
View of the Pacific Ocean outside of the Napier Information Center
The next bus I rode was to Rotorua and my bus driver played the movie Despicable Me! He was awesome and I love that movie. It was nice entertainment too, especially since the weather outside was rainy and cloudy so there was not much to see. We drove through Lake Taupo and there was very little visibility, which made me thankful I had such nice weather the weekend I was there with Sam and Rachael. 
On the way to Taupo
After arriving in Rotorua I had my second and last bus switch but only had to wait 15 minutes for my bus. I arrived in Auckland around 9 PM and walked down Queen Street to the hostel I was staying at for tonight.
View of Auckland from my hostel
Although I was on the road for about 9 hours today it really was not bad, between the bus stops and switches and the movie, it really didn't feel that long. Hopefully the rest of the bus rides this week will feel the same!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012
 Day 2 of vacation + SKYTOWER!

After checking out of the hostel I stayed at last night and storing my luggage there for the day, I grabbed some breakfast from my trusty Starbucks and walked back down Queen Street to the bus stop for my tour of Auckland. The tour guide arrived with the bus around 9 AM and there were only 5 of us total – a nice small group. The bus driver had lived in Illinois for 4 years back in the late 70’s where he met his wife. He was familiar with the midwest and knew about Wisconsin, so he asked me if I was a cheesehead. Classic!

He took us all around Auckland in the bus, sharing a plethora of interesting information about the city and surroundings. We drove past the war museum, and then over the Auckland Harbor Bridge to a beach across from Mount Rangitoto, where we were able to get out and stop for coffee. I took the opportunity to walk along the beach, take pictures, and collect a few shells. The next big stop was the top of Mount Victoria (the highest volcano on Auckland's north shore) for a 360° view of the city of Auckland. It was beautiful! I was so thankful the weather cleared from the rain yesterday and it turned out to be a warm, clear, and sunny day.

Auckland War Memorial Museum
Beach along the north shore of Auckland across from Mt. Rangitoto
Mount Rangitoto
Auckland City skyline - view from Mount Victoria
After driving back over the bridge, our bus driver took us to the Auckland Fish Market, where every day the fisherman auction off their morning catch and sell them at the market. We ordered fish & chips for lunch (made with the day’s fish special, of course!) and then had a chance to look around the market. There were piles and piles of fresh, whole fish just sitting out waiting for people to buy them! The market also had fresh cuts of fish like smoked salmon and squid. We enjoyed our lunch along the water and by then it was time for the tour to be over.
Freshly caught fish at Auckland fish market
After the tour I was dropped off at the Auckland Skytower just a block from Queen Street and my hostel. My tour of the city included a ticket to the top so I was able to get on the lift and ride the clear-sided elevator up 186 meters (610 feet) to the main observation deck. The view was incredible! Plus it was clear and sunny so I could see for miles!
Auckland city and Mt. Rangitoto in the distance - view from Skytower
Auckland Harbor Bridge
My ticket also allowed me to go up to the highest viewpoint possible in the skytower, the Skydeck, so I went up to 220 meters (721.6 feet) and had another look around. Again, it was a breathtaking view of the harbor and city.
Mt. Eden (Maungawhau) in the distance - summit of 186 meters (558 feet) - is the highest of Auckand's city based volcanic landmarks
I took this picture of Auckland Town Hall through the telescope that was on the  Skydeck level
Auckland War Memorial Museum
View of Auckland and Viaduct Harbor from Skydeck
Skytower from ground level
After I got my fill of the fantastic views from the Skytower, I went down to ground level and had a look around the gift shops and other stores on Queen Street. I spent the rest of my afternoon shopping and then went back to the hostel to grab my bags before I walked to the bus stop for my 5:15 PM bus to the Bay of Islands. The bus ride was uneventful and by 9:15 PM I arrived safely at my hostel, "The Pipi Patch" in the small ocean-side town of Paihia.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Day 3 of vacation – Cape Reinga Day Safari

This morning came early at 6 AM while it was still dark out. I got ready quickly and walked the short distance to the front of the hostel I’m staying at to wait for the ‘Dune Rider’ bus to pick me up for my day drip to Cape Reinga. While I was waiting I met two girls from Germany – Anja and Tanja – both about my age. They met yesterday and are going home soon after working in New Zealand and Australia, respectively, for most of the last year. The bus picked us up shortly after 7 AM where we met the other passengers – about 12 of them – plus our friendly bus driver, Dan. We started our trek north out of the Bay of Islands and onto Hwy 1 that leads to the northernmost point of New Zealand, Cape Reinga.
Our Dune Rider bus for the day
Our first stop along the way was at the Gumdigger’s Park just north of Kaitaia. There we saw an ancient buried Kauri forest that was unearthed after a farmer tried to dig a drain through a field for his drops. The first tree was found when the farmer was digging a drain through a field for his crops and found a giant Kauri tree worth $500,000 – $1 million lying sideways about 12 feet underground! Kauri are among the world’s oldest trees (aging up to 2000 years) and grow up to 50 meters (164 feet) tall and 15 meters (50 feet) around. The native Maori people of New Zealand used this wood to build items such as boats and houses.
The first Kauri tree unearthed - left as it was found lying sideways buried underground
The Kauri tree produces gum that was used as fire starter and chewing gum by the Maoris. When I was on my tour in Auckland the tour guide took us to see 200 year old houses by Mt. Eden that were made of Kauri and many worth as much as $1 million! Kauri trees are protected in New Zealand because it takes so long for them to grow (many generations) and carvings made by the wood are very expensive. For more on Kauri conservation:

Next we completed the first half of our journey up Hwy 1 to the Cape Reinga Lighthouse, which was built in 1941. It replaced the Maria Van Diemen lighthouse (built in 1879) on the nearby island of Motuopao because the older lighthouse was difficult to access when the seas were rough. The Cape Reinga Lighthouse became automated in 1987 so no more light keepers were needed.
Anja (left) and Tanja (right) and I at Cape Reinga
When you look out into the ocean just behind the lighthouse you can see where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet in a whirl of crashing waves. The view was breathtaking and we were able to take the 10-minute trek down to the base of the light house from the end of the road. Out in the distance I could see Scott’s point, where the infamous 90-mile beach begins/ends from Cape Reinga.
The water on the right is the Pacific Ocean and the left is the Tasman Sea - they meet in the middle behind the lighthouse
Cape Reinga Lighthouse

Scott's Point
After we had our fill of the lighthouse (as if I ever could!) we drove back down Hwy 1 about 10 minutes and took a 3 km side trek out to the giant sand dunes located on the western side of 90-mile beach. There the bus showcased its off-roading capabilities and drove onto the wet sand! Once Dan found a good place to stop we were able to get out and try sand boarding if we wished. He took us to the top of a giant sand dune and demonstrated how to lay face first on the board with our elbows in while we slid down this giant sand dune, using our feet to steer and as breaks. I must admit it was pretty fun and the view from the top was just as great.
Dan demonstrating how to sand board

The hill we climbed up before sand boarding down
View from the top of the sand boarding hill with the Pacific Ocean in the far distance
Now that everyone had eaten a healthy helping of sand, Dan continued to follow the wet sand until he practically drove us straight out into the Tasman Sea! And so began the start of our drive down 90 Mile Beach,which really is only 55 miles (88 km). It got its name from the farmers that used to drive their cattle down the beach and claimed they drove 10 miles every day for 9 days to move their cattle the length of the beach, which begins at Reef Point (west of Ahipara Bay) and ends at Scott’s Point (5 km south of Cape Maria Van Diemen). And yes, we actually drove on the wet, sandy beach of the Tasman Sea while the tide was down.
Driving down 90 Mile Beach - in the background is a other famous hole in the rock
90 Mile Beach
Dan let us stop a couple of times for a short walk to different lookout points. The second one we came across had tiny shells that made up the entire beach!

Once we completed our leg of the 90-mile beach, Dan drove our Dune Rider back onto Hwy 1 where we continued south along the coast. Next we stopped at the Ancient Kauri Kingdom in Awanui for a short break, just long enough to clean the sand out of the bus and grab some ice cream! Our final and last stop for the day was the famous Fish & Chips shop in Mangonui. We had their fresh fish of the day while enjoying a fantastic view of Mangonui harbor, perfect ending to a perfect day.
View of the harbor from the fish & chips shop

Thursday, July 19, 2012
This morning I met Anja at the front of the Pipi Patch at 8:30 and we walked the short distance down to the wharf for our 4-hour Hole in the Rock Discovery Cruise. Our boat took off around 9 AM and we were off to tour the Bay of Islands, see the Hole in the Rock, and maybe spot some dolphins along the way.
Our cruise boat for the morning
On our way out of the bay we saw a small seal! He was so cute having a good old time playing in the water alongside the boat.

After seeing the seal our captain cruised the boat along amongst the islands for a while before heading out into the Pacific Ocean to see the Hole in the Rock. You could tell when the bay ended and the ocean began because the water changed from a dreamy turquoise to a deep, dark navy blue and the waters got much more choppy. The captain drove the boat right next to the rock but was unable to drive through the hole because the waters were so rough. At least we got to enjoy the view!

By the time we left the Hole in the Rock it was past 11 AM and time for our next stop – lunch on Urupukapuka Island. There are 144 islands total in the Bay of Islands, 2 of which are privately owned and 2 of which are open to the public. 

Lunch stop
The cruise ended back at Paihia warf and we landed safely at 1 PM. We did not see any dolphins today (most likely because of the rough water) but the crew gave anyone who wanted one a voucher that will give the cardholder a free cruise if they ever return to Paihia. The voucher has no expiration date so maybe I will just have to come back eventually for a free cruise!  

I spent the rest of my afternoon shopping at Paihia’s small shops along the beach and sharing today’s pictures with Anja back at the hostel before my bus left town at 5 PM for Auckland. Again, I had an uneventful bus ride and made it to the hostel okay once I was in Auckland (I stayed at the same hostel as Tuesday night but had a different room and different roommates).

Friday, July 20, 2012
I was up at 7 this morning even though my bus did not leave Auckland until 9:15 AM, but I was not tired and I wanted to get up to have time for a coffee and some last minute shopping. After I grabbed some Starbucks, I stopped at a gift shop I had been to on Tuesday for another purchase, and then made my way to the bus stop. I did not have to change buses all day so that was nice and the bus driver did a fine job of letting us passengers know the day’s schedule (like approximate times for stops and meal breaks). Again, we drove through Taupo, except today it was bright and sunny so you could see the mountains across the lake. The route we took drove South right next to the entire east coast of the lake and then down Hwy 1 on “desert road”, passed the mountains I could see across Lake Taupo while we were in Taupo.
Mount Ruapehu

Mount Ngauruhoe - AKA Mout Doom in Lord of the Rings
Desert Road view of the Rangipo Desert
At 6:10 PM my bus finally arrived in Palmerston North, where Norm’s wife Jackie (Norm from LIC that I worked with tagging all of those cows) was waiting for me at the bus stop. She met me with a nice hug and I could tell right away it was going to be a great weekend. Next we drove a short distance to a very nice pub on the main street and started the night off with some drinks. About a half hour later, Norm, his daughter Katrina and her fiancé Rob and one of her friends met us at the pub where we were going to watch the night’s comedy club act. We had a nice dinner and drinks and I got to know Norm’s family more before the show started. The comedy show was quite funny and we all had a few laughs. Thankfully neither of the comedians found out I was American…there were plenty of those jokes already!

By the time the show was over it was 11 PM and although I had ridden a bus all day, I was tired. Norm and Jackie drove me home to their house about 20 minutes outside of town, where there was a nice warm bed and a kitty (Chocolate) waiting for me. Like I said before, I can tell this is going to be an awesome weekend!

Saturday, July 21, 2012
I was able to sleep in my warm and cozy bed this morning until about 8. Once I was up Norm, Jackie, and I had a quick breakfast and then we drove about an hour down the road to visit some friends of theirs, a couple who own their own free range organic chicken farm. We arrived at The Willows Organic Farm around 10:30 AM where I met Pauline Blaikie, her husband John, and about half of their 8000 chickens.
A group of hens eating while we collect eggs from their roost
Pauline took me around on the 4-wheeler for the second round of today’s egg collection. There are about a dozen different hen roosts on the farm, spread among the pastures, each with an automatic feeder and water trough nearby. On the inside of each roost, there is one side that is specifically for nesting and egg-laying. It is floor to ceiling boxes of roosts and when a chicken lays an egg, the egg rolls gently onto a slightly slanted carpeted shelf. Each roost shed has two doors that open up to the side of the egg-laying boxes where the freshly laid eggs lie on the carpeted shelves, just waiting to be collected. I was very impressed with the overall cleanliness of all of the roosts I saw. Of the dozens and dozens of eggs we collected, there were probably only a dozen that were covered entirely in dirt. Otherwise the eggs were spotless.
The shelves inside each roost the eggs lie on, waiting to be collected
Inside each roost - on the left are nesting boxes and behind them  are the carpeted shelves
Once we finished collecting the second round of eggs, we went into a small shed where the packaging of the eggs takes place before they are shipped and sold in Wellington supermarkets. Pauline told me there is a good market for their eggs and sometimes they don’t have enough eggs to meet the demands of their consumers. Sounds like a good problem!
Freshly collected eggs

A baby lamb on the farm
About noon we finished our visit and stopped at a lookout spot called Stormy Point on our drive back to Palmerston.
Stormy Point
In town we picked up Jackie’s mom and then headed to a local café/gift shop/pottery and garden store for lunch. I had an amazing warm salad with lamb, plus a coffee and some cake. Next, Jackie wanted to take me to a local small town – Shannon – to do some shopping. We spent the rest of the afternoon looking (and buying) some of the articles in the cute little shops owned by a local designer.

After returning to Norm and Jackie’s house, Jackie cooked a wonderful supper of chicken and then we watched a rugby game while drinking some wonderful wine. What a busy but wonderful day! And now off to my comfy bed for the night.

Sunday, July 22, 2012
I was able to sleep in again this morning until about 8. Then Norm, Jackie and I had bacon and the eggs that we got from yesterday for breakfast and Katrina joined us. After breakfast Jackie took me to meet her friends Jimmy and Julie Vallender who live nearby and own about 200 charolais beef cattle. They introduced me to their cows that are going to calve soon as well as the one calf that has been born so far. Lastly, Jim took Jackie and I to meet his three charolais bulls.

When Jackie and I returned to the house, Norm showed off his cooking skills by baking me a spicy apple cake to take back with me! I shared some pictures of home with them before packing up my things for the ride back to Waipukurau. Norm and Jackie drove me home and on the way we stopped in Woodville for some lunch at a café. We made it back to the farm by 4 PM and showed Jackie around Ashton. Then it was getting dark and time to say my goodbyes to Norm and Jackie as well as my thanks for providing me with the memorable weekend.  
By the end of today there were about 100 cows that have calved so far this season! I had an amazing week of adventure but am ready to get back to work tomorrow.

Bring on the calves!    

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