Friday, June 15, 2012

Road Trip with the Donahues

In this long overdue blog post I will be covering the highlights of the visit and road trip with my parents, Peter and Marilyn, way back in February.

After a couple months of exploring the east coast of the North Island by boat it was time to do some exploring by land. My parents rented an SUV and we met up with them in what was soon to be our new home base north of Auckland in the Rodney District.

After a couple of days exploring the area and getting over jet leg we headed south for Rotorua, also know by Kiwi’s as Rotovegas. My dad took to calling it Rotorooter, and this comical interpretation of the Maori language soon became a common theme on our trip. I must admit that New Zealand place names do take a while to get used to. Rotorua is famous for its geothermal activity and the tourism industry has really gone all out to capitalize on it, hence the Rotovegas nickname. The city literally smells like rotten eggs because there’s so much sulfurous bubbling going on. We quickly realized that once you’ve seen a couple bubbling smelly mud pools you’ve seen them all. While it was quite fascinating at first, but we soon lost interest. There were many brochures advertising colorful pools and giant geysers to go see but they were all contained in fancy parks that wanted around $50+ per person to get in. We settled on a short soak at a geothermally fed bathhouse type spa and a night time show and feast at one of the several Maori Cultural parks. The soak in the hot mineral pools at the spa was nice with a variety of pools and temperatures all over-looking a cafĂ© latte colored section of Lake Rotorua. All the other tourists there seemed to be speaking a different language. After trying out a few different pools we settled on the one that was the right temperature for us and there were at least 4 different languages being spoken in that one pool. Later that evening we saw a great Maori show that began with all the Maori men arriving in a big waka (war canoe) on a crystal clear spring fed creek lined with ferns, fern trees and other native bush. After the show we were treated with a huge buffet of food including pork that was cooked using a geothermally heated ground oven. After dinner we got to visit the neighboring kiwi park and see some real live Kiwis and Tuataras, a couple of creatures unique to New Zealand but almost impossible to encounter in the wild anymore. Both have been greatly reduced in numbers since the arrival of rodents. Kiwis are large, flightless, nocturnal birds reminiscent of a character from a Dr. Suess book. The Tuataras are a threatened species of reptile that can live more than 60 years and are the only remaining species in the group called Sphenodontia which has been around since the age of the dinosaurs. After writing this all down I feel confident that we achieved the complete tourist repertoire during our short stay in Rotorua. Jared and I even went mountain biking in some pine forests while we were there. It was a real treat to mountain bike on trails made by mountain bikers for mountain bikers for a change.

On our way to the wine region of Napier, we had a chance to stop at some scenic spots along the way including Huka Falls, Craters of the Moon park, and Lake Taupo. This country really caters to tourism and as a result everywhere we stopped we saw well signed, well maintained parks and trails complete with souvenir shops, toilets, and tourists. This in no way detracts to the beauty abounding all over this country and I love learning about every spot we stop by reading the detailed signs and being able to go pee in a toilet instead of the bushes or a stinky outhouse.

Napier is famous for its wine and its art deco. Back in the 1930s a big earthquake leveled most of the city so they had to rebuild. Art Deco was big back then so the whole city became a relic of that bygone architectural era. It was cool to see but I guess I’m just not that in to art deco because I lost interest pretty fast. The wine tasting on the other hand was a ton of fun! There are enough wineries in the surrounding area to keep a wino busy for at least a month. We only took one day and only hit up 3 winery/vineyards but that was more than enough for us non-wine experts. I really loved picking a bottle or two to buy at each place and then getting to drink it later on during our trip.

Next we zipped down to Wellington and caught the tail end of the rugby sevens madness (drunk people in costumes wandering around the streets) as well as the Super Bowl (go Giants!). We went to all the great museums and gardens and had some very nice meals out. Wellington has a lot more to offer than eating, and museums but that’s all we could squeeze in while we were there. It seems like a really cool city and we definitely need to spend some more time there in the future. There's something about it that reminds us of San Francisco, our favorite US city.

On the way back north now, our day in Whanganui was spent on the famous Wanganui River on a jet boat tour and a short hike to the Bridge to Nowhere. We went back and forth for a while on whether or not to do this trip and boy are we glad we did. It was beautiful and a really great way to see a lot of the river in a short time. Our jet boat driver was really knowledgeable and we learned a ton of cool stuff about the history of the region, both human and natural. Even though we were on “scenic” tour, the jet boat was quite exhilarating and we even got a 360 at the end. Of course I was the only one who got wet! Did you know that the guy who invented the jet boat is a Kiwi?

Tired of always being on the move, we decided to book a house in Raglan for the next 4 nights but the weather was so nice while we were driving up there that we stopped in New Plymouth on the way up for a quick look at the surf, I mean beach. It was our first black sand beach of the trip and boy was it hot! New Plymouth is in the shadow of the picture perfect cone volcano of Mt. Taranaki which has been used in movies as Mt. Fuji since they look so alike. It was yet another very beautiful corner of the country yet distinctly different than anywhere else. I really look forward to going back to “the naki”, as New Zealanders call it. I would love to hike up the mountain and surf all the surf breaks!

Raglan was epic. We stayed in a sweet house called the “Lava Lounge” complete with ocean views, hot tub, and surfboards. We surfed every morning and explored or chilled every night. I only regret not being able to convince my dad to rent a board and surf with us, but he had a ton of fun body surfing of course. Another place I can’t wait to go back to!

Since we skipped it on the way down, we zipped over and up to the Cormandel Peninsula for a couple of nights and had an awesome sea-cave tour aboard a mid-sized RIB. The owner/operator was a local guy with a ton of great knowledge to share about the region. We thought we might get rained out, but instead we had beautiful weather. We even got a quick snorkel in at a reserve and saw some of the biggest snapper we’ve seen yet! We hope to do some cruising in the area on Architeuthis next summer (your winter).

For the last two nights it was back up to our boat and out to Kawau Island which is only a short distance off-shore. We tied up to a mooring right outside the bed and breakfast type lodge my parents had booked and had a rainy but relaxing last days there. The owners of the lodge cooked us some great meals, including the fish Jared speared, and we became fast friends. They even helped us find the place we are now living! We had a lovely sail back to the mainland and a final goodbye under sunny skies overlooking the bay. It was a full and wonderful adventure and it was so so great to spend time with my parents. I can’t thank them enough for spending all that money to come out here and to treat us to so many wonderful things along the way. Can’t wait till next time! There’s still so much left to see and do!