Planes, Trains and Automobiles
06 February 2009 | Whangarei, New Zealand
My folks flew into New Zealand on January 6th (it was great to see them- it had been well over a year!) and we left the next day for a two-week tour of the North and South Islands. Two weeks isn't a lot of time but we made the best of it and tried to get the most bang for our buck.
Our first stop was the odoriferous city of Rotorua, located in a very active geothermal region. The sulfur emanating from the multitude of steam vents throughout the area gives the city its signature aroma. While there we toured the Wai-o-tapu "Thermal Wonderland" where we walked among volcanic craters, hissing mud pools, and steam vents before stopping to watch the Lady Knox Geyser do her thing. The next day we enjoyed a birds-eye view of the city as we rode a gondola up Mt Ngongotaha (that's easy for you to say). While up there some of us got an adrenalin rush riding the luge. (The luge here is basically a 3-wheel cart you steer down a winding cement track.) Maddie and I absolutely loved it and wanted to do it again. Well, really we wanted to do it again and again and again and, you know, basically move there. "Grampy" (a.k.a. "Johnny Boy", a.k.a. my dad) also got a thrill out of it. Unfortunately Sophie had a bit more difficulty controlling hers and took a spill. John Powers- appropriately full of concern for his youngest offspring- decided LUGE BAD and wanted no more to do with it.
From Rotorua we drove down to Wellington where we took a gander at the COLOSSAL SQUID! on display in the Te Papa Museum before taking the ferry across Cook Strait to the South Island. By far the highlight of the South Island was the train ride we took over the Southern Alps from Christchurch (where we visited the very impressive cathedral) to Greymouth. The scenery was truly breathtaking.
Once back on the North Island we headed north to Waitomo where we checked out the luminous, magical Glowworm caves. These caves were truly amazing. After walking through an impressive series of large caves (where you can actually watch stalactites and stalagmites form one drop at a time!) we boarded a small boat and toured the rest of the cave via the underground river. In the dark the glow worms (they're actually Arachnocampa luminosa larvae) light up the ceiling making it look just like a starry night sky.
We made it back to Whangarei with plenty of time for the 'rents to rest up before the long flight back to the states. Although we only experienced a small portion of this wonderful country we continue to be impressed with the friendliness of the Kiwis and the beauty of New Zealand.
By the way... One of the great things about land travel in New Zealand are the motels. In the states a motel is usually just a disinterested desk clerk offering a room with a bed, whereas in New Zealand the motel rooms often have a separate sleeping room and they almost always have a kitchen. Sometimes it's just a kitchenette with a hot plate but more often than not (in our experience) it's a full kitchen. And they all have refrigerators so when the very friendly host upon check-in offers you a small bottle of milk for your morning tea there is a place to put it. This makes family traveling much more affordable and comfortable because you don't have to dine out every meal. The motels are usually owned and managed by a married couple who live on the premises so you really feel like a welcome guest and not just some transient. (Perhaps their friendly attitude is just a ploy so you'll do your dishes and keep the room tidy, but guess what? It works!)