On October 26th we arrived in Auckland New Zealand. As I sit here on November 13th writing this entry, I cannot believe how much we have done and how quickly the time has flown by. We spent our first night in Auckland reuniting with babysitter/surrogate daughter Laura Burton. Laura is finishing college and completing her student teaching outside Auckland in suburban Howick. We spent our first evening with Laura having dinner on the waterfront aka “the viaduct”. Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand and is a very nice coastal metropolis. It is walkable, with good restaurants, beautiful sea views, a vibrant arts scene, and friendly people. Laura had to work during the week so after our first night together we found our way around the city on our own for a couple days. Our rental car was an impractical “Ute” (kiwi for SUV/truck). This particular monster was a four-door diesel pick-up truck with a truck bed cover. Not the best vehicle for city driving. It was especially conspicuous in the environmentally-conscious country as a boisterous rumbling gas-guzzler. Nonetheless, it stored or bags effectively and despite the great difficulty in maneuvering and parking the “white whale”, we managed to get by with it. Since that first evening, New Zealand has been a whirlwind of activity for us. We have been on-the-go, covered many many miles, and filled our schedule with activities. Whether the activities have been cultural, educational, outdoor, or just extreme – all of them have been fun.
Highlights of the north island included: our SkyWalk around the perimeter of the SkyTower (600 meters above the city); a two-man stage show “Potted Potter”; walking the city of Auckland; driving to and visiting Rotorua including the geo-thermal park where we saw geysers, bubbling pools and sulphur vents; visiting a Maori village for presentations on the indigenous culture and a traditional meal; extreme activities in Rotorua including luging and OGO – ing (rolling down a hill inside a giant inflated ball); two Mumford and Sons concerts (Auckland and Wellington both from the first row); a lengthy drive from Auckland to Wellington where we saw pretty landscapes and many, many sheep; a dolphin and whale-watching trip where we saw several Bryde’s whales and (literally) a thousand dolphins; and, a visit to the Weta Cave (the design, animation special effects studio of Peter Jackson used in films such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Chronicles of Narnia and the upcoming The Hobbit).
Highlights from the South island include: a train trip on the scenic Pacific Coastal train from Picton to Christchurch; picking up our Campervan (RV) in Christchurch and driving to Lake Tekapo for our first night sleeping in it; seeing the beautiful blue water at Lake Tekapo and the star filled sky above it at night; jet boating and hiking near Lake Wanaka and a visit to local attraction PuzzleWorld where we spent a couple hours working our way through the complicated maze; marveling at the landscapes and scenery as we drove from Wanaka on to Queenstown where we would stay three nights. (We literally had to pull on to the shoulder at one point because I could not keep my eyes on the road as Mt. Cook came into view.) In Queenstown, we did the extreme Canyon Swing – leaping from a canyon platform over 100 meters above the Shotover River. Plummetting in free-fall for 60 meters before swinging out over river and across the canyon. It was so fun, the kids did it twice. The next day we took a scenic flight over the mountains to Milford Sound. The weather was beautiful and the views both in flying there and upon arriving for a two hour boat cruise were jaw-dropping.
Included in all our adventures and touring was a visit to a local school. Lee and Laney were fortunate enough to be invited by Owairoa Primary School to visit for the day. Anne and I met the faculty and staff at their daily tea-time. We described our trip and thanked them for opening their doors to us for a day. Laney and Lee stayed at the school while we found a local internet café to check some email and make some reservations. We picked up the kids around 3:15. It turns out that the kids ended up giving a presentation to the school children about what we were doing and where we had been. They called up the blog on the projector and showed the assembly photos and videos of our experiences in Central America and the Amazon and answered questions about their favorite places and where we are going next. We are thankful to Laura for arranging the school visit – and among many exciting adventures in New Zealand – visiting the local school and meeting the kids was a real highlight for the kids.
New Zealand has been fantastic. We easily could have filled another 3 weeks with activities here or just spent another 3 weeks enjoying the natural beauty and hospitality of this wonderful country. Words can hardly describe the magnificence of the landscapes we have seen. We will post a slideshow of photos soon.