Updates still evolving but I managed to avoid the lengthy delays in building the Budapest/Vienna Travelogue by keeping track of what we did as we went.
Day 1 & 2 (Thursday, October 9th to Saturday, October 11th) - Ottawa/Toronto to Los Angeles to Auckland
Flights via Air Canada (to LA) and Air New Zealand (between LA & Auckland) -
- surprisingly crowded Ottawa airport and full flight to Toronto, but looked to be a lot of students getting away for the long weekend plus business travelers trying to get home early as well
- Toronto - Los Angeles leg not that crowded though
- Los Angeles - Auckland leg even less crowded, uneventful but long (with 2 of the 5 movies being the same as the Toronto-Los Angeles leg, which helped sleeping)
- Auckland - flight arrived on time, quick run through immigration & shuttle to the hotel got us there in just over an hour from our landing
Day 3 (Saturday, October 11th) - Auckland
- Hilton Auckland - a nice 'boutique' Hilton on the harbour (cruise ships actually dock at the hotel) & Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, stayed there while his boat participated in the 'Americas Cup' (but I'm sure he had a better room)
- New Zealand Maritime Museum - started with a 90 minute guided sailing loop of the Auckland harbour on 'The Ted Ashby', following up with a tour of the museum showing the maritime history within New Zealand (obviously with it being an island country, boats make up a large part of it's history), with a special exhibit on historic lighthouses (including one from Castlepoint that we found later in the week)
Day 4 (Sunday, October 12th) - More Auckland
- Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World - an interesting display of local marine life, the Scott-Amundsen-Shackelton antarctic adventures and current antarctic information (a little disappointing though as much was 'staged' and the penguins were from Seaworld)
- Devonport - ~20 minute trip by ferry from Auckland, with a nice/historic Naval Museum, Mount Victoria (highest point in the area & great panoramic view of Auckland, the harbour & Rangitoto Island) & some eclectic little shops (also there was a craft show where we first came across Christmas displays - since there is no Halloween or Thanksgiving & Xmas is in the summer the Xmas displays come out early)
- Victoria Park Market - we got there late so not much left
- Mexican Cafe - excellent food & great service, with a nice 2nd floor patio overlooking the SkyTower & city skyline (we'd tried to go on Saturday but were too early for the dinner sitting
- used the Auckland Pass which provided unlimited use of buses and downtown ferries
Day 5 (Monday, October 13th) - Auckland to Rotorua
Auckland to Rotorua is ~4.5 hours of mostly highway driving (to get used to the right hand drive, but they did have 'islands' and 'arrows' to separate lanes at most intersections) -
- Waitomo Glowworm Caves ~45 minute tour of the caves unfortunately though it was raining so part of the caves were flooded & the boat trip where most of the glow worms (think fireflies on a dark cave ceiling) are couldn't operate.
- Novotel Royal Lakeside Rotorua, a nice/new hotel and our room had an excellent view of the lake.
Day 6 (Tuesday, October 14th) - More Rotorua
- Rotorua Museum of Art and History - Rotorua is a very interesting town with lost of steam coming out of cracks in the earth, so on our walk to the museum we went by the lawn bowling & croquette clubs where just beside the fields are bubbling/steamy mud pools. Museum had a lot of historic stuff but wasn't that interesting, but there was a very good session on how the Maori contributed large numbers (on a % basis) to World War II (as a demonstration of their loyalty to New Zealand), they suffered high casualties (>65% killed/wounded) - the impact of this is still being felt by the Maori people as these men would have been the next generation of elders for their communities & that 'gap' is in their traditions is still being felt
- Te Wairoa - The Buried Village. Interesting displays of excavated village that was destroyed by the Mt Tarawera eruption in 1886. But drive way amazing as we a couple of beautiful lakes on the way (Blue Lake was <1km across but had hard ~1' waves because of the wind)
- Ohinemutu Village area just off the main drag of Rotorua with the striking St Faiths Church on the side of the lake, a traditional Maori community centre and a nice little Maori Arts & Crafts shop.
- Matariki Maori Entertainment Centre (next to the Novotel) - a Hangi ('traditional' Maori feast where the food is cooked in a pit) and cultural entertainment
Day 7 (Wednesday, October 15th) - Rotorua to Taupo to Wanganui to Palmerston North, via Tongariro National Park & 'middle earth'
This represented a big itinerary change to go through the Tongariro National Park, as we had planned to go to Napier/Hastings instead but at the Maori dinner one couple at our table had just come from there & indicated that it was 'nothing special' while another couple had just driven up from Wellington through the park & said it was amazing ... so we changed our plans. The area from Lake Taupo to White Island (where there still is an active volcano) is the Taupo Volcanic Zone and highway #5 from Rotorua to Taupo is the 'Thermal Explorer Highway' -
- Wai-O-Tapu geysers - the 'Thermal Wonderland' with 20 or so towering erupting geysers, boiling pools of mud and huge steamy volcanic craters. The Lady Knox is the highlight going off daily at ~10:15am (its ~15m high & would normally go off on a 12-36 hour cycle but its 'seeded' with 300g of laundry soap to trigger it daily). There is also the remaining Primrose Terrace & Champagne Pool (the more majestic Pink & White Terraces were destroyed in the Mt Tarawera eruption, with only a few paintings remaining).
- 'Craters of the Moon' which is on the edge of the Taupo volcanic caldera, with about 10 or so steaming craters. A little disappointing though with Wai-O-Tapu being about an hour away (but if coming from Wellington it would be the first thermal park on the way).
- Lake Taupo - with a nice large lake (actually the caldera of the volcano the erupted 26,500 years ago. The Lake Taupo web site has a web camera (just in front of the patio restaurants where we stopped for lunch) overlooking the lake with the snow-topped mountains of Tongariro National Park in the distance.
- Tongariro National Park with 3 snow covered mountain peaks (setting for 'Mordor' from Lord of Rings movie, Mt Nganruhoe is the middle of them being 'Mount Doom' in the movie) and the road climbing up just below the snowline.
- Tongariro National Park to Wanganui was a winding, hilly drive through 'middle earth' (setting for Lord of the Rings). We stopped in Raetihi to confirm directions (& get some ice cream) and at the information booth they referred to the road to Wanganui as being through farms - while it was all sheep & cattle farms, the farms were cut into the side of very steep hills.
- Wanganui to Palmerston North was an uneventful drive, where we stayed at the Fitzherbert Castle Motel, a nice little motel in the main drag of the city (& lucky to get it as most in the area were sold out for the night).
Day 8 & 9 (Thursday, October 16th & Friday, October 17th) - Palmerston North to Wellington
Trevor at the Fitzherbert Castle Motel provided us directions to Castlepoint, which we heard about through the lighthouse exhibit of the New Zealand Maritime Museum. So on our way to Wellington we looped over to Castlepoint for the lighthouse and an amazing ocean view.
Then it was on to Wellington. Wellington is a government town (capital of New Zealand) that also is the port for boats between New Zealand's North & South Islands. While we would also have liked to tour both islands, that would have required a minimum of 3 weeks and we didn't have that much time available. But in Wellington most activities/sites appeared to be around the Lambton Quay, Wellington's major tourist-commercial-shopping district. The sample itineraries from Wellington's web site were somewhat disorganized so we limited ourselves to -
- Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa - New Zealand's national museum and while spent half a day there could have easily stayed longer.
- Parliament Buildings are at the other end of the downtown core and were surprisingly small.
- Wellington Waterfront had a lot more pubs & restaurants than Auckland's waterfront but we couldn't find any 1-2 hour harbour boat tours (Auckland had several). But one of the pubs was the Chicago Sports Cafe where on Friday afternoon they had game 7 of the Red Sox-Yankees series live (which was a bit strange as it Thursday evening in New York), but at 5pm during the extra innings they switched to the New Zealand-India cricket game.
- Novotel Capital Wellington, a nice/new hotel part way up the hill but fortunately its elevator to the parking levels continues on down to Lambton Quay.
Day 10 (Saturday, October 18th) - Wellington to Auckland to Los Angeles to Toronto/Ottawa
Fly home and managed to rework the connections for an afternoon departure - Wellington to Auckland not bad, Auckland to Los Angeles fairly full (with the connection change in LA being a mess - huge lineups for immigration, luggage coming various turnstiles, lineups the entire length of the terminal to transfer luggage to connecting flights as all baggage was being hand inspected and further lineups at our gate) but from that point on it went smoothly & only ~30 hours from the hotel in Wellington to home in Ottawa.
New Zealand is a beautiful country and I wouldn't mind living there. A second trip to the South Island would be great as well, but it is a long way to travel, and I was surprised about how many people on the Auckland to Los Angeles flight continued on to Toronto plus a couple of others who continued to Ottawa.
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