FiNZ 37 – Holidays Part 3 (“The North”)

It’s like a light switched on in Christchurch over Christmas Break–the wind has died down (…sort of) and it rarely dips under 20C. I think summer has finally come around (fingers crossed!). This all made showing up to work this past Monday not TOO bad. But admittedly, the past two weeks were the longest two weeks of my life, which made this whole holiday pretty awesome. I kept thinking of activities like the Kepler Track and remembering, “wait, we did that a mere week ago? It feels like it’s been over a month!”

Fellow Americans please take note, it’s currently 9 January and most of the country has not returned to work yet. It has been very difficult coming to work with my regular coffee and pastry shops still closed. Most Kiwis take of at least 2 if not 3 weeks for the holidays. All of our client’s offices shut down for at least 2 weeks. So far the country hasn’t gone into depression or economic slowdown for taking 2 weeks off, maybe there’s something the US can learn from this… 😉

Now onto week 2/weekend 3 of the Flanders holiday! — After hopping off the boat in Doubtful Sound, busing along the access road, then boating across Lake Manapouri, and then busing back to Te Anau we started our journey back “home” to Christchurch. Along the way we picked up a stranded coworker in Queenstown which made for some nice extra company on the return journey. The next two days were a great mini staycation–we pretty much chilled out and did nothing except a barbecue with our neighbors and all the stranded UK doctors in Christchurch (one of those rare NZ professions that didn’t have their office shut down for 2 weeks – good thing!).

Tuesday 30 December

We were up at 6am taxi-ing to the airport with our borrowed tent (our one checked bag) and fly to the North! Keith’s boss and his wife were amazing hosts — picked us up from the airport and offered us a place to stay for a couple of days before we headed out for further camping exploration. Since we had the whole day ahead of us we ferried to Waiheke Island and explored a few wineries by foot. We were initially worried about renting a car/moped/or figuring out the bus schedule, but for us walker-fanatics, walking around to Cable Bay Vineyard, Jurassic Ridge Winery, Mudbrick Vineyard and even to the beach at Oneroa Bay wasn’t a big deal. We loved Jurassic Ridge! It was a smaller place with no people (which we LOVE when it comes to wineries) and the tastings were great (try the Montepulciano!)

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Selfie in front of Auckland, Auckland by Ferry, Oneroa Bay Beach

Wednesday 31 December – New Years Eve!

Our host recommended we walk up Mt Victoria. Mt Victoria is a volcano outside the doorstep of where we were staying in Devonport. Albeit a short walk, it was a steep straight up! Unfortunately, New Years Eve was a bit cloudy but we took in the city views and checked out the old gun hidden up there (New Zealand used to worry a lot about the Russians)

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Auckland Skyline, Big Gun

Since we had plenty of time before New Years, we drove across the country to the west coast 🙂 Around Auckland the country is so narrow you can easily get to the west coast beaches within the hour. We drove to Muriwai beach to see the black sand beach, beautiful cliffs, and the gannet colony! Hundreds of beautiful white and orange birds make this beach home (inches away from the public). They raise their young and then fly off to Australia for a season.

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Muriwai Beach

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Muriwai Beach

Upon return we cleaned up to get ready for new years eve in the first city that celebrates! I think we may have been the most excited about this fact in all of Auckland. But first…a mandatory trip to Dunkins (only found on the North Island), then dinner, then drinks and a walk about the skytower and casino.

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Tower, Dunkins, Manhattans

Around 10pm we leisurely headed down towards the water, found a vacant bar–Wildfire–with a great view around 10:30pm, and eventually it was packed right around 11:50pm. COMPLETE 180 from any other crazy New Years experiences I’ve had in the States (i.e. New York City) and plus it was warm out! New Zealand really doesn’t get enough press for being the first big city to celebrate New Years, but we had a great time and it was definitely fun to experience.

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First to 2015!

Thursday 1 January – Happy 2015!

We woke up relatively early to pack it up and begin our journey Northland. We planned out a loop where we’d drive to the “rugged” west coast first and then loop over to the more popular Bay of Islands. After understanding that the North Island had plenty of unpopulated places, we realized we couldn’t just set up a tent and find a nice restaurant for dinner. So the next ONLY town we passed through we made sure to pick up some PB&J and snacks for the next couple days. Then it was on to Tokatoka volcano for a short yet super steep (I didn’t make it, Keith took the photo below) walk to the top where you got a view of the always-brown river below.

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Tokatoka Volcano Views

Then it was on to the Kai Iwi lakes area. The Kai Iwi lakes are super popular, we weren’t there for them, we were there for a secret farm-walk down to an amazing abandoned beach! We parked the car near all the tourists, grabbed our snacks, and walked a mile to get here sans other tourists…

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Abandoned Paradise

I could understand why families don’t hang out here, the waves are rough on the west coast and there’s no lifeguards. Plus there’s that little fact that you trek through farmland and barter with bulls to get here (we stayed as far away from the animals as possible). However, the scenery was beautiful. I’ve never been the ONLY person on a beach as gorgeous as this!

We drove over to the DOC Trounson Park to set up our tent and then realized we HAD to go back to the beach for sunset. Further north up the beach there was an access road where a little population actually exists. Although, other than a couple other fisherman, Keith and I were still the only souls on the sand watching the sunset.

Aside, on the way down we saw a wild peacock. I didn’t believe it was wild until we did a bit of research and found that throughout Northland the “peafowl” population has gone feral–pretty neat!

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Peafowl on the way to Maunganui Bluff, Maunganui Bluff Beach

Of course we broke out our PB&J sandwiches and then continued to watch this for the next several minutes (can you tell I had a hard time picking ONE sunset photo)…

Fun fact – In this little bluff community there were pet goats everywhere and they all had their own little “goat house.”

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Maunganui Bluff Sunset, Goat with a View

At night we broke out our headlamps and tried to find a kiwi at the little nature walk near our camp. In Trounson the DOC has done such a good job killing of kiwi predators that the kiwi population has boomed. Unfortunately, we never saw one, but we heard quite a few (Keith DID spot a kiwi later in our travels in Russell). Their calls are rather creepy when you’re wandering around in the woods in the dark! We DID hear some rustling, got very excited, and shone our light on…a possum. Fun.

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Kiwi Lookouts

Friday 2 January

On Friday we packed up early and headed out to see “the big trees.” This was the main tourist thing I thought we’d see on the west coast–the giant kauri trees. The beautiful beaches were a bonus. First, we walked a short walk to see Te Matua Ngahere, or the “father of the forest.” The picture below really doesn’t do the size justice since I am so far in the foreground. Some statistics…the tree is thought to be about 1500 years old, the tree trunks girth (circumference) is 16.4 m (or 54 feet!).

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giant trees!

Second we walked the very short walk of the road to Tane Mahuta, “Lord of the Forest.” This tree is the largest known kauri tree standing today. Its girth was much smaller than our first tree (a mere 13.8m); however it was definitely tall!

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more giant trees!

After our quick tree detour we were off to the touristy east coast!–Bay of Islands via Paihia! I was prepared for Paihia to be trashy and busy and annoying. But I actually kind of liked it. I made a fun comparison photo below… (We decided to AirBnB our night here and stayed at Two Trees BnB — a small ground floor studio inside a lovely family’s house. I’d highly recommend for a nice quiet cheap place to stay in Paihia!)

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NZ “busy” vs US “busy” (US “busy” source – seacoastonline.com)

After sleeping on the beach for a while, we decided we needed to go up. This parasail boat kept driving by us all day so we needed to check it out (great marketing there). We managed to get on the last boat of the day. In actuality, I’m sure they just wanted to add a quick last couple ($$!) at the end of the day, but either way, we got our own private charter with Flying Kiwi Parasail. This parasail was 1200 ft high!–The highest in the country!

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Getting hooked up

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Raising the Sail

The great part about being the last flight of the day was the beautiful sunlight photos we got pre-sunset!

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Bay of Islands Views

Saturday 3 January

Originally our plan was to get up early and keep driving down the coast on Day 3 of Northland. We enjoyed Bay of Islands so much thus far we had to explore more. We jumped on an early ferry to Russell–“the hell hole of the pacific.” Russell had a fun “wild west” downtown. Russell was the first permanent European settlement in New Zealand. The historical town keeps their heritage intact very well. Of course we didn’t stay in town, we walked about a mile across town to Long Beach–again another beautiful empty beach. Apparently the tourists are scared away from this beach due to the walk, eventually the locals came out and joined us. Around lunch we decided to walk over to Tapeka Point to get some better views of the bay. We decided on the “easy way” by just following the coast line. Lucky for us the tide was still sort of low, and this just involved a bunch of rock scrambling and dodging incoming waves.

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Long Beach and walk to Tapeka Point

Once we got to the beach near Tapeka point we noticed the hole in the rock from the shore! Tourists shell out a lot of cash to take a boat here (you can sort of see all the little boats out there surrounding that island). So I was pumped we got to spot the hole from shore 🙂

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Hole in the Rock from shore

The climb up to Tapeka Point was short but tiring after our coast-line adventure. We got some amazing views of the bay so it was worth it.

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Tapeka Point Views

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Flanders Hiking Photo of the Week

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The Bay

We left the Bay of Islands that afternoon and went south to some more adventures! We pitched our tent at Uretiti DOC campground (this was WAY busier and crazier than Trounson). I actually wouldn’t recommend staying here, it was just way too busy and didn’t really feel like camping. Its one good point is being next to a really nice beach.

Once we pitched our tent we backtracked to Waipu Caves – the best UNcommercialized glowworm cave in NZ. Tourists love glowworm caves in NZ. NZ has made a great business out of this and charges folks all over the country to go see the glowworms. Not Keith & Jen…we drove a one-lane dirt road to this cave in the middle of nowhere, donned our headlamps, and went for it. The cave was enormous! We got our sneakers pretty muddy, but we only walked some hundred meters or so until we came to a milky way of glowworms. You can kind of see some reflections on the ceiling above me in the photo below, but I failed at capturing them in the dark with my long exposure. So I attached an internet photo so you could sort of experience what we saw.

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Caving experience

httpwww.panoramio.comphoto639242

Amazing Gloworms! source – http://www.panoramio.com/photo/639242

Sunday 4 January

On Sunday we woke up early, packed up our tent, and tried not to wake the entire 300-person campground when we rolled out of there at 6:30am. Unfortunately, our journey in the north was ending. We headed back to Auckland and off to the airport and flew back “home” to Christchurch. Lucky for us, we returned to a beautiful summer day. With this current big freeze back in the US, makes me happy to finally be enjoying summer down under!

PHEW! I don’t think next week’s blog post will live up to my epic last 3, but I will keep you posted 😉

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New Zealand 24 – “Sweet As” Sisters

Last time I did a weekend Auckland tour, my colleagues formed the “A-Team,” this weekend my new set of colleagues dubbed ourselves the “Sweet As” Sisters. If we ever decide to move on from the world of Christchurch re-build, engineering, or architecture, we can always fall back on our band name and our ability to ride in unison on brightly colored mopeds.

The work week was filled with several new peer reviews and a whole lot of site visits for me. To top off a busy week, my Friday evening flight to Auckland was cancelled. Rapidly declining the airline’s offer to move me to a Saturday morning flight, I bought an Air New Zealand Friday flight and still managed to make an afternoon meeting on-time.

Finally, myself, coworker, and our architect friend were on a flight to Auckland to enjoy a “girl’s weekend”–back in a big city and with companions who wouldn’t give us a look of horror when we mentioned shopping. After 6 months of weekend trips, it’s been a recent realization that staying in apartments/rental houses/hotel rooms aren’t too far off from the price of staying in a hostel (note that this all depends of the number of people in your party); therefore, we ended up in a 2 bed, 2-bath apartment 29 stories high overlooking the Auckland harbour for a few bucks more than the local city hostel.

Room with a View

Saturday our one requirement was to have a fun time on Waiheke island. We ferry’d over from the mainland, immediately rented 3 bright yellow mopeds, and gathered up the courage to drive them all over the island.

Learning to Ride

 

Unobstructed View

Sunday morning the clocks sprung forward. Which means we will now occasionally leave work when the sun is still shining. According to our Auckland hotel, this has the possibility to cause some confusion–

“when clocks go forward…this simple means 2am becomes 3am Sunday morning…”

“If you have any questions”…

Sunday involved a great breakfast on Parnell Street. We then continued to shop and enjoy the sun all day. Shopping can never be complete until you walk into a famous New Zealand designer’s local store and start trying on ridiculous outfits. Yes, I tried this on, yes, it was amazing, yes, it is a completely unnecessary outfit–

If you have $700 to spare, you too can have the most expensive Barbie costume at your local Halloween party. Trelise Cooper – “Money Maker Dress”

After making a less ridiculous and more practical purchase, we sat at a harbour (note I will have some difficulty transferring from old English to new English upon my return to the States) restaurant until the airport shuttle arrived.

Overall, a perfect ladies weekend! The week is already off to a busy start; however, I must admit, having the sun around for more of the day is definitely a big plus.

Next week 6 of us are of to the North Island again for a marathon relay race! More to come…

New Zealand 10 – The A-Team does Auckland

Cold has overcome Christchurch. July 4th cannot come soon enough just for the chance to experience a few weeks of summer back in the States! It’s luckily not “Massachusetts cold,” but just cold enough that I have to utilize my electric blanket (New Zealanders don’t believe in central heating).

I had the “fun” experience of being in a red-carded (=can’t be occupied due to damage) building during an earthquake this past week.  Everything ended up being fine, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared at all inspecting a deteriorated structure when a >4 magnitude earthquake hit. Last night we missed a 4.9 while flying back from Auckland. Earthquake magnitudes really don’t mean too much when it comes to what the individual feels. It all depends on how deep the origin is and how far away you are from it along with a few other factors. Apparently this 4.9 last night was just enough to make a few coworkers debate for a few seconds if they should jump underneath their desk, but ultimately they just rode it out where they were standing.

EARTHQUAKE LESSON – if you ever find yourself in the middle of an earthquake, PLEASE “duck cover & hold”–this means jump under a desk/table/chair and cover your head. Don’t go running out the door or to the stairwell. Unfortunately this is how several people died in Christchurch. They had the building exteriors/canopies fall on them upon exiting or the stairs fell down.

On a less morbid note – let’s discuss Auckland! What a great getaway weekend! I flew with 3 other coworkers that we quickly dubbed the “A Team” (A for Auckland) to the biggest city in New Zealand.

Geographic Representation

We arrived in Auckland right around dinner time Friday and headed to a very quaint bed & breakfast owned by a sweet German couple. The night was packed — we headed to Ponsonby Street for dinner and actually ended up with a burrito. We’re in a constant battle to find good Mexican food in New Zealand and it is not an easy task. We luckily found a NZ version of Chipotle that produced fabulous burritos! Afterwards we headed to Parnell for dessert – an upscale suburb of Auckland with several cafes and designer stores. We stumbled upon an AMAZING chocolate cafe.  The night was young which left us to follow the lights and end up on top of a hill at the grand-looking Auckland museum. I liked the quote along the top of the structure, so here it is for the record:

The whole earth is the sepulcher of famous men, they are commemorated not only by columns and inscriptions in their own country but in foreign lands also. By memorials graven not on stone, but on the hearts of men.

DC look-a-like

Afterwards we headed to the center city and found ourselves underneath the giant, tourist-trap sky tower. Originally we thought it would be a good idea to go grab a drink at the top, but it was going to cost us $25 just to ride the elevator up and the restaurant was closing. Not really worth it if you ask me!

The next morning we caught the first ferry to Devenport. Here we sipped on coffee in a local cafe and checked out the local shops.

City view from Devenport

After coffee we hopped on the ferry once again to Rangitoto island (I’m slowly getting used to all the native Maori names across the country). Rangitoto is actually a dormant volcano–one that was formed only 600 years ago. Auckland is a city literally SURROUNDED by volcanoes! They are dormant, but most scientists warn to watch for eruption in the future.

Chilling out in the lava rock

Smiling despite hanging high over the edge of the volcano cone

My attempt at a panoramic photo from the top of Rangitoto, just another moment where I wish I had my dream Panasonic Lumix LX5 camera 😉

After Rangitoto we ferry’d our way back to the big city, showered, & headed out to dinner at the Occidental Belgian Beer Cafe. We made friends with our Swedish waiter who told us his story of traveling to NZ for a working holiday, met his girlfriend, they moved to Sweden, and then she eventually made him move back to NZ with her. He recommended a Belgian blond beer called “La Chouffe” — it was fantastic.

Once dinner was done I found a Dunkin Donuts. Considering I can rarely even find Dunkins in Washington DC this really made my trip.

Our night ended, and the next day started with breakfast in Parnell, a visit to the Auckland museum (where we learned everything we wanted to know about Maori people, Kiwis in the World Wars, NZ dinosaurs, & volcanoes), for lunch we grabbed some fresh fish from the harbor fish market, & then begun our journey on Tamaki Drive. We timed this just right considering the sun was going down.

Looking over Auckland

We had another hour before arriving to the airport. So what do we do? Find another Mexican restaurant. I finally found a somewhat decent margarita in New Zealand!

Overall, a wonderful weekend spent in the big city!

This upcoming week is looking like another busy work week, training for the 10k race I signed up for on June 3rd (so soon!), enjoying a bowling outing, and brainstorming what the next weekend adventure will be.

As always, Cheers!