Sunday, October 25, 2009

Goodbye New Zealand!

Also known as Day Eight - May 31, 2009

I woke up not believing that our trip was already coming to a close! We got ready for the day (wearing very tourist-y matching shirts) and packed up our things, checked out of the hostel and loaded our luggage in the car. It was time to explore Auckland by day. We walked a couple of blocks to the base of the space needle-type tower that we had seen lit up the night before. Ashley explained how a co-worker of hers had paid to jump off the tower once - if you look at the left side of the tower you might notice a couple of wires stretching from the ground up to the balcony of the tower - somehow you can get harnessed up and slide down these wires to the ground. Too scary for us. We just took pictures and walked on.

Remember Ashley's fear of eels? Well, we finally found one next to a playground that she wasn't afraid of. Way to conquer your fears!!

We wandered our way down to the Victoria Park Market - a semi-outdoor shopping place that is great for tourists. Being the goofballs we are, we bought matching tote bags whose logo just happened to match our shirts...

We strolled by the yacht docks and dreamed of sailing the world in one of these awesome vessels. Oh the things I'd do if I were rich!! (See the matching shirts now??)

After picking up the car Ashley and I drove around the city a bit trying to find a park, and crossed a really cool bridge in the process. I snapped a picture of the flags on top of the centermost part of the bridge, only to notice later that there were people standing up there! I had no idea! The view of the city on the way back across the bridge was excellent too.

From off in the distance we could see a hill that we assumed would offer a good view of the city, so we drove off to find it. It was a short walk up to the top, and it was beautiful! The hillside was covered in flowers - planted there as a memorial to members of New Zealand's military that had fallen during their service to the country.

The plants in New Zealand never ceased to amaze me - this tree looked as if it's roots were growing down from its branches.

It was relaxing to sit on the benches and gaze at the city. As was typical in New Zealand there was livestock (cows this time) sharing the space; I loved how all the pasture gates were designed to let visitors pass through easily - it seemed very unselfish that anyone would allow people to spend time on their land whenever they wanted.

While on the hill we talked to a very nice couple who pointed out a better hill another few kilometers away (named One Tree Hill) that was taller, and home to a national monument. We chatted for quite a while about their son's business, what we did for a living, etc, and exchanged contact info before getting directions to One Tree Hill. The park area surrounding this much bigger hill was beautiful - trees everywhere!

The monument was to honor the first Maori in New Zealand. The hill had been named for a single tree that had been planted at the top of the hill (and survived) even though it was not originally from New Zealand. Unfortunately, the tree is no longer there... someone was upset that it wasn't a native tree and tried to cut it down. The stopped the guy in the process, but he had already done too much damage, so the tree got infected and ended up dying. There's a plaque next to the stump.

We were running out of time. So, we had a countdown. Or, I mean, we went to a countdown. This was one of the major grocery store chains we saw during our entire trip, and one of our favorite places at which to find our meals. This time we went with one intention: JUNK FOOD! We had to bring some New Zealand treats home with us.

The entrances to grocery stores were interesting... these poles allowed you to walk in, you could even push a cart through them, but it was impolssible to walk the other direction. No stealing here! We loaded up on giant chocolate bars, unique flavors of Mentos and suckers, and of course - Tim Tams!

Sadly, we left the city and headed to the airport. Our exit said what I felt - that we were coming to the rainbow's end.

But, we did find a pot of gold... right at the turn off the exit there was one of our church buildings under construction! We had only seen a church building in Hamilton, and NO WHERE else during our entire trip! I'm sure they were around, we just hadn't noticed.

We topped off the gas tank, and returned our car and camping gear before being shuttled off to the airport. The sign at the rental office explains what Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand) stands for.

Ashley and I got through check in and made our way to the concourse and found some things to occupy our time as we watched the stormy weather roll in. By the way, kiwi filled chocolate is really good!

As the rain came in, so did the delays in departing flights. At first our flight said it was delayed an hour... and then two... and three... We tried to keep in good spirits by playing card games. It became increasingly difficult however as people around us took over table space to feed their families, etc. I REALLY wasn't in the mood to be cleaning ketchup off of my new deck of cards, so we balanced everything on the armrests of the chairs we occupied. There was an adorable 6 year old girl waiting with her family for a flight to India; she was so SMART! Some of the questions she asked surprised us:
girl: "How can pilots fly when it's cloudy? They can't see out the windows!"
dad: "They have instruments to fly the plane."
girl: "How do drums and instruments fly a plane?"
dad: "Not musical instruments; they're tools that tell a pilot where they are - they can even steer the plane with them."
girl: "Then why do they need windows?"
She also talked and asked questions about governments and ruling bodies - she was trying to understand the difference (or similarity) between a king, prime minister, a president etc. It was fun to explain things to her.

When it was finally time to head to the gate we were a little worn out. We had been delayed nearly four hours. Ashley had recently experienced delay after delay while flying around on business trips, and was not happy by this point. She really needed to catch her flight from LA to Utah so she could be back to work the next day. So, to make her laugh I pulled out my camera and took a picture:

And another...

And yet another...

But then even I was getting tired of waiting.

We were tired!

At last we boarded the plane and got ourselves situated with our blanket and pillow, and a fresh "goodie bag" of socks and eyemasks like we had on our way down. We waved goodbye to New Zealand, stuffed our faces with the dinner they brought around, popped a Tylenol PM started watching a movie or two before happily passing out.
It was an excellent vacation!

Friday, October 9, 2009

New Zealand Day Seven - May 30, 2009

It was time to say goodbye to Rotorua! We had thoroughly enjoyed all three days we spent there; it was the place we had stayed in the longest. We cleaned up our things and headed to the kitchen for breakfast. We tried a very strange fruit neither one of us had heard of - it was called feijoa. We had bought them earlier in the week at a roadside fruit and veggie shed because we were curious. I didn't like it much. After some research I learned that it's related to guava, and be over-ripe if not eaten the day it falls off the tree (yes - falls. That's when it's ripe). Could explain why I didn't like it. Our fruit was old.

I opted for some kiwis on the way out of town.

We headed West and drove through scattered showers to Hamilton; home of the first LDS temple in the Pacific Islands. It was dedicated in 1958. We attended a session there, and then looked around the grounds and visitor's center. From the hill you can see a church school that is still in operation farther away on the property.

We had to take a picture of these crasy trees that to me looked like they grew upside down. At the same time the picture encompases typical New Zealand: in the bottom right-hand corner of the picture you can see a random herd of cows.

We had already stopped once to see the Tasman sea earlier on our trip, but this time we stopped to see a beach that was different: it was made of black sand! It was still pouring so we left our cameras in the car, but we changed into our flip-flops and made our way down to the water. We stood under the protection of a lifeguard tower while watching the die-hard surfers brave the water in their wetsuits. After venturing out from our cover and strolling on the beach a bit we scooped up some black sand in a water bottle to take home with us.

It was time to head back to Auckland. We appreciated the break in the rain, and took some great sunset pictures while driving on the highway (pardon the telephone lines!).

By the time Ashley and I checked in to the hostel it was dark, and we were starving! We had managed to get an awesome parking spot just in front of the hostel, so we decided to leave the car there and find our way around on foot. We were surprised to find that even in Auckland everything shut down super early. We expected a larger city to have later hours. Then, Ashley got hit by a bus. At least it said "sorry!"

We finally did manage to find a couple of small restaurants that were still open, and decided to eat at the one offering food from Turkey. Talk about good! We stuffed our faces with kebobs, french fries, and was really good food, there was just a lot of it!

This Base hostel was the busiest we had stayed in yet; we were in a small room with five bunkbeds, all of which were filled by the time we went to bed! We loved the lockers they had underneath the lower bunks to store your things though, and I had even packed a padlock which we used to secure all of our stuff.

Since it was our last night in New Zealand we decided to stick with tradition and play Phase 10. This time however, we made friends with a couple of German girls and convinced them to play with us. It was fun explaining the rules to them; they had never seen anything like it before. We're pretty sure they thought we were crazy by the end of the night.