The challenges of travel

We arrived in Lake Taupo late Thursday night after what should have been a short day of travel. Because we didn’t have a set flight out, Melbourne airport staff told us we couldn’t fly into New Zealand. They said we would be turned away at NZ customs and deported, plus that airline would get a $10,000 fine for allowing us to fly! We had to purchase two tickets (refundable since we still aren’t certain of exact dates or even where we are going after NZ).

This was in addition to us having to repack our bags, making sure there was <23kg in each larger bag and <7kg in our carry-ons. Can you tell me why it makes a difference? Weight is weight. I don’t understand why it has to be distributed a certain way — other than the fact that the airlines wants to charge for extra bags. Couldn’t they look at the total and divide by number of persons flying?

Frank took care of the tickets while I repacked and weighed, repacked and weighed. We thought we were good when we realized the agent screwed up our ticket — Christchurch to Auckland instead of Christchurch out of the country! Of course, we missed our flight but a helpful agent put us on the next one without any additional charges, thank you very much. When we got to New Zealand, did anyone inquire whether we had a return flight out of New Zealand? Um, no.

All in all, we were only delayed about 4 hours — more of an irritation than anything else. Traveling has its challenges, but the rewards make it more than worthwhile. If this is the biggest hassle of this trip, knock on wood, we will consider ourselves lucky. Because really, how can anyone complain? We’re in New Zealand!!!

Kia Ora New Zealand!

Kia Ora or hello New Zealand! We arrived here late Thursday night. The bags are unpacked, the phones and internet are connected (as you can see), and we’ve located the grocery store, a church and a place for Frank to swim.

Our home for the month is the charming “Little Black Bach” (pronounced “batch”). Bachs are small holiday homes. This one is in Wharewaka, a small suburb overlooking Lake Taupo — a whole different world after the hustle and bustle of Melbourne!

Lake Taupo is in the middle of the North Island. It is New Zealand’s largest lake — 120 miles around, and was formed by debris descending and creating a hole after one of the earth’s most intense volcanic eruptions! We can see the lake from our place and can walk to the edge in about 3 minutes. The nearest city is Taupo, which is ten minutes away by car. It has a population of 23,000 people and pretty much everything we need.

The perfect birthday at Orakei Korako

Awoken by an emoji-filled “Happy Birthday” text from Andy and a yummy flat white from Frank; and ending with nice long chats  with Nick and Jenny, a wonderful dinner and a stunning Lake Taupo sunset, I could not have had a nicer birthday! The weather was picture perfect — 70 degrees, not a cloud in the sky. Frank and I spent the day at a magical place, the Orakei Korako Cave and Thermal Park.

It was a short 40-minute drive from Taupo. We took the ferry across Lake Ohakuri and did a 2-hour hike around the park. The rainbow of colors, the geysers and the steam from thousands of hot springs reminded me a little of Yellowstone but with caves and much different foliage (i.e. palm trees).

 

The Search for Mount Frank

Auckland Christmas Parade

Dedicated to Jane, my parade buddy…

Auckland, the City of Sails

As mentioned in the previous post, Frank and I spent last weekend in Auckland. We hadn’t planned to visit another big city so soon after Australia but the draw of a Christmas Parade was enough to change my mind — and then Frank’s!

We discovered that the city is much more than tall buildings and lots of people. What makes Auckland unique is its geography. The region lies on an isthmus between two harbors with almost 2,300 miles of coastline. It is the only city in the world built on a still-active volcanic field and the region is dotted with 48 volcanic cones, many of which provide panoramic views of the city and harbor. A lot of the nearby islands are part of Auckland City and one of them, Rangito Island, was formed by two eruptions just 600 to 700 years ago. (More about volcanos at the end of this post.)

Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city and is home to 1.4 million people (30% of the country’s population).  They all live within a half an hour of a beach, which may explain why 1 in 3 families own a boat and why the city is known as the “City of Sails.” Frank was impressed by all the activity along the waterfront. I was a fascinated by the volcanos and how hilly the city was — even more so than San Francisco. We were surprised to find out that Auckland is the largest Polynesian city in the world but weren’t surprised that it was recently rated the world’s fourth best city in which to live!

More about volcanos: You are probably wondering why anyone would live here among all these volcanoes. While the volcanos in the center of the North Island (i.e. near Taupo), are more explosive and are the result of the movement of tectonic plates, the volcanos in the Auckland area are far less dramatic. The Auckland Volcanic Field is monogenetic, which means each volcano usually only erupts once. The field itself is considered active but dormant. There is no way to predict where or when the next ‘bubble’ of magma will rise to the surface and create a new volcano but no one seems to be that worried about it.

Snow Mountain

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A few days ago

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Today

I was hoping for Christmas spirit and the weather got cooler. Frank’s mountain got more snow but none here, thank goodness. Neither of us mind the cooler weather — nice for sleeping and with all the sunshine, it feels warmer. Great for sightseeing, just peel off the clothing layers as the day goes on…

Napier and Hawke’s Bay

Today, we headed southeast to visit Napier and the Hawke’s Bay area. The zig zagging road between Taupo and our destination was stunning — evergreen laced mountains, rivers and waterfalls, steep grassy hills dotted with sheep and finally, pretty Napier, sitting on its perch along the Pacific Ocean coast.

In 1931, a massive earthquake – 7.9 on the Richter scale – rocked the Napier area for more than three minutes. Nearly 260 people died and most of the buildings were demolished. On the positive side, the land rose nearly six feet, draining swampland and increasing the city’s buildable land. And rebuild they did! While the rest of the world suffered through the Great Depression, Napier was quickly rebuilt. New buildings reflected the architectural styles of the times and the city is now known as the world’s most pure art deco city.

After a self-guided walking tour of the city, we visited the Classic Sheepskins factory. They walked us through the tanning and manufacturing processes of creating their super-soft sheepskin rugs. (Ohhhh, how I wish I had unlimited space in my suitcase!!!)

If you’re a wine drinker, no doubt you’re familiar with Hawke’s Bay. Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s oldest wine region, famous for some chardonnays but mostly for its reds. Frank and I visited two vineyards. The first, Moana Park, is a highly-awarded boutique winery whose focus is on low allergen, natural winemaking. We asked for a tour and were directed outside to a picnic table, where the two of us sat with our host drinking wine in the warm sunshine. He was passionate and down-to-earth, explaining each selection, along with the vineyard’s wine-making philosophy, in a simple, understandable manner. It was so relaxing and truly enjoyable! Our next stop was New Zealand’s oldest winery, Mission Estate. Established by monks in 1851, it is the birthplace of wine in New Zealand. Nowhere near as warm and welcoming as Moana Park, it was worth visiting in that the building and grounds were gorgeous. We ended our little day trip with wine and a late lunch on the grassy terrace overlooking the vineyard.

Soaring at 15,000 feet

Dozens and dozens of colorful parachutes dot the skies of Taupo every day. “Would you ever want to do that?” Frank asked. “Never,” I laughed. We both agreed, however, that if you were to skydive, you couldn’t find a more beautiful place to jump than here.

This morning, we heard a small plane and looked at each other. “Are you sure?” Frank smiled, “I don’t want you going home with any regrets.” “OK, why not?” I answered. Before I could change my mind, we made a reservation and drove to the airport.

I suited up, met my fellow jumpers, watched the safety video and was introduced to Ryan, the young guy I would be “attached to.” Frank took a few pictures. All good.

Let me say, I am deathly afraid of heights. I hate tall escalators, open staircases, glass-bottomed skyscraper viewing areas and being close to any edge looking down. But I never get nervous flying — and I wasn’t nervous as I boarded or   as the plane took flight. It didn’t faze me as the “12,000-feet” couples jumped off. The plane climbed higher, my partner and I slid forward. We took our place at the edge of the open door. I was directed to look up and smile for the exit camera. SH*&%, WHAT WAS I THINKING?!

Too late. We flipped out of the plane into free fall! It was cold, my cheeks were flapping. Ryan tapped me on the shoulder. “What did that mean again?” Oh yeah, I can let go of the straps. I did and spread my arms. I was flying! The camera guy flew by – Thumbs up! Smile!

Just as I started to loosen up a little, we were propelled upward as the parachute engaged. The float down was magical — the lake, the mountains — so beautiful! I got a little queasy when Ryan switched directions but surprisingly, the height never affected me. We gently swayed back and forth and before I knew it, we landed.

Although skydiving wasn’t on my bucket list, I am so glad I did it. Next time I’m asked if I want to try something new, I hope I’m not too afraid to say “Why not?!”

Worms, wonderful worms

What does one do on a rainy day in New Zealand? Frank and I headed two hours to Waitoma to see something you can only see in New Zealand — a glowworm cave! A cave walk took us through some stunning limestone stalagmite and stalagtite formations while we learned about the insects’ life cycle. We then boarded a boat and travelled in an eerie silence through a dark cave, illuminated only by the light of these incredible creatures.

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I pulled the pictures above off the internet as they don’t allow photographs in the caves. Biology lesson time: The lifecycle of a glowworm is 9 months. Eggs hatch in 3 weeks into larvae (midge). The midge drop threads of sticky substance. They emit a light attracting other insects to the threads and then they suck up their prey. They may also feed on other glowworms if they need to. After 8 months, the threads serve to suspend the larvae when it forms into a pupae. The adult glowworm fly emerges after 2 weeks. Females live up to 3 days and males 4, long enough to mate, lay about 150 eggs and continue the life cycle.