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New Zealand

Sunday, March 13

- Landed in Auckland at 6 AM after our long journey. Air New Zealand was good. Breezed through bio-security with our 20 protein bars.

- Went to Thrifty and picked up our rental car with the name we've never heard of. Brand new and pristine condition.

- Got in and got used to sitting on the right-hand side of the car. 'Keep left' was what I kept telling myself.

- Went to Countdown and picked up some groceries. Drove to a place called Thames and had breakfast at Sola. Chris had a panini, and a flat-white. I had a panini and a berry-banana smoothie. The panini came with a good tomato relish, that had all-spice in it.

- Drove to the Karangahake Gorge and walked around there, through some train tunnels, saw a rail cart, walked over a few bridges.

- Drove to Mt. Tauranga and checked into our AirBNB place. Met Wayne and Mandy, and their 2 dogs, who were all very nice.

- Hiked up to the top of Mount Maunganui and took in the view. Walked down and strolled along the beach for a bit. Saw Pilot Bay. Started to get windy.

- Went for dinner at Barrio Brothers, which turned out to have great Mexican food. I had a chicken enchilada and mole sauce, and Chris had a vegetarian quesadilla. We shared a picher of sangria. We learned there were 4 chefs, one from Mexico, one from Zimbabwe, one from Chile, and one from New Zealand.

- Heaed out to Waimarino to start our gloworm kayak trip. Took a bus to McLaren Falls park, and had some wine and cheese.

- Got in our kayaks and began our journey as the sun was setting. We paddled down Lake McLaren, to a narrow opening, where we all banded together to form a raft, and slowly headed towards the glowworms.

- We learned that the glow-worms (actually maggots) live for 2 days and glow to attract other bugs, to eat.

- Paddled back out, looking at all the stars, and some constellations, including Orion's belt, and the southern cross.

- Went back to our place, and hung out in the hot-tub (spa) for a while.

Monday, March 14

- Got up, had breakfast, and went to check out Kaiate Falls, which were pretty nice. Went for a short hike around them. Didn't swim though.

- Went to Kiwi 360. Saw the giant kiwi. Met Jana at the sledging/rafting company. Started our sledging adventure.

- After a crash course on sledging, we learned the 3 key rules: 1. Never let go of the sledge. 2. Turn your head when going over a rapid. 3. Don't stand up.

- We all got a face full of water on the first rapid. The second rapid went a little better, and we started to get the hang of it.

- We all managed to hang on to our sledges, and survived, with just a few bumps and bruises. I banged my knee on a rock going over one of the rapids.

- I tried to river surf, and ended up doing a somersault.

- Got back to the rafting headquarters and looked at our pictures. We all had a good laugh at the pictures of my ass-over-tea-kettle topple in the water.

- Bought some groceries at New World. Went and found our lake house in Rotorua. Nice place!

- Sat outside and ate cheese and drank our ciders. Made our dinner, chicken and salmon. Enjoyed the view of the lake.

- Went in the hot tub for a bit. Turned on the super violent jets. 'It feels like I'm in a boiling pot of soup'.

- Watched some 'Moaning of Life' while eating popcorn.

Tuesday, March 15

- Had scrambled egg sandwiches and yogurt for breakfast. Drove to the Whakarewarewa Redwood Forest. Hiked up to an overlook where we could see the Pohutu Geyser, and waited for it to erupt.

- Went for lunch in Rotorua, at Atticus Finch. I had an open faced chicken sandwich, Chris had prawn salad, and Jana had a portobello mushroom sandwich.

- Bought some more groceries, and went to OGO. It was starting to rain, but we decided to give it a shot, and it seemed like a good time to do it, as there were relatively few people. Just as we were about to exit the car, a tour bus showed up.

- The tour bus turned out to not be a big deal, as only a few people were doing it. We chose to do the Sidewinder H20. Chris and I went together while Jana went first, by herself. She came back with glowing reviews. We loved it as well. Sat in the hot tub afterwards. Watched some more people come down. Jana debated about buying her GoPro video or not.

- Went back to the house and watched Best In Show. Made our delicious dinner, pasta primavera and ate outside on the patio.

Wednesday, March 16

- Got up and had breakfast. Peanut butter and toast. And local New Zealand yogurt.

- Went to the Skyline luge track. Rode up the gondola. Started with the 'Scenic' track. Good views at the top, and then into the trees. Graduated to the 'Intermediate' track, which was just ok. Finished off with the 'Advanced' track which was definitely the most fun.

- Popped into the Volcanic Hills wine tasting room at the top of the hill. Our host, Johnny, was amazing, and taught us a lot about their wines, and wines in New Zealand in general. He was also really funny. (Remember to check back and see if they end up calling their rose wine, the (b)rose). We also learned that New Zealand is divided into the land of milk and honey, along the lines of the mountain range. And that there was a winery in Cochrane. At one time. We also met Sean (or Brent?) who had been to the Stampede 5 times.

- Went to the Wingspan National Bird of Prey center. They help rehabilitate owls (Morepork and Barn), New Zealand Falcons, and Swamp Harriers. We viewed them in their enclosures, and then watched a demonstration of falconry. The two falcon stars were Ozzy and Hassan. We regretted not letting them land on our hands.

- Got groceries at Countdown (again). For dinner we made Thai curry with some added vegetables (red and yellow capsicums) and rice we found in the cupboard.

- Played a few games (Zombie Dice) and taught Jana how to play Card Golf.

- Had a soak in the hot tub.

Thursday, March 17

- Said goodbye to Jana (for now) and left our lakehouse behind. Drove to Wai-Topu Geo Thermal Area. Viewed the free, bubbling mud pools and then went into the actual park.

- Walked by the Artist's Palette (colorful pool) and then the Champagne Pool. Finished off with the Devil's Bath, a brilliant bright green pool.

- Drove to Huka Falls and walked around there. Very bright blue water.

- Checked into AirBNB Taupo. Sue was recovering from foot surgery. Went for a 3 course dinner at Rose on Roberts. I had chicken liver pate, more chicken, and berries with ice cream for dessert. Chris had prawns tagliettelle, salmon, and creme brulee. We were definitely full after this one!

- Had a swim in our hot tub. Needed to get to bed early, for our big hike in the morning (hopefully, if the weather co-operates).

Friday, March 18

- Well, the weather did not co-operate and we decided to push back our hike by a day. So instead, we went to Orakei Koraki, another geo-thermal park. We had been debating between this one and Wai-Topu, and now we would get to try both.

- With hot chocolate in hand, we took the short boat ride over to Orakei Koraki. The geo-thermal features were really interesting and colorful here. It was also a lot less busy, and felt less touristy, than Wai-Topu.

- Checked out the Huka Honey Hive. Sampled some honey.

- Went to Body Fuel for lunch, and shared a 'Mexican stack'. Walked around and checked out a Merino store. Chris tried on a dress that looked like it might work well for pajamas, but ultimately decided against it.

- Came back and had a swim in our thermal pool. Bill brought us some wine.

- Went for dinner at the Crafty Trout. Tried a hefeweizen, and had the 'beer garden' pizza. It was different.

Saturday, March 19

- Tongariro hike, take 2. Got up really early. Drove to the car park to catch our shuttle. A fair bit of confusion, as there were a lot more people than buses. Luckily, we were barely able to just fit on the bus, although Chris had to sit on the floor, and I stood.

- Started our hike, with a *lot* of other people. You had to take your opportunity to pass when you could. When we passed by an outhouse, the queue was huge.

- Climbed the 'devil's staircase' and took in the views. Saw Mount Ngauruhoe, aka 'Mount Doom'. Then we hiked along the edge of a crater and overlooked the 'Emerald Lakes'. After that, the walk was somewhat boring, for about 10km.

- Back in our car, picked up our luggage from Bill and Sue's and continued on to Napier.

- Dropped off our bags, and drove down the hill. Tried to get into the Indian restaurant but it was fully booked. Went for Turkish food at Kilim instead. Chris had the vegetarian meze platter. I had the chicken saganaki. Both were pretty tasty!

Sunday, March 20

- Got up, and Chris the trooper, despite being under the weather, was willing to walk 16km to the gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers and back.

- It was interesting to watch the gannets greet their spouse by knocking their beaks against each other. They also preened each other a lot.

- Then we had to walk back before high tide trapped us in. After the hike, we stopped at The Old Church for lunch. It was a really nice setting and we ate outside in the garden. We shared tiger prawns, corn arancini, patatas bravas, and pulled pork. For dessert we had peanut brittle with salted caramel. Mmmmmm.

- Drove over to the Mission Estate winery. Another beautiful setting! Tried a gewurztraminer, a sauvinon blanc, a pinot gris, a malbec, a rose, and a pinot noir. Oh and a dessert wine. And it came with 2 free wine glasses. Pretty good deal for $5 !

- We ended up taking home a gewurztraminer, to have with our Indian food (pairs well with spicy food) but would later learn this was the one Indian restaurant in New Zealand that wasn't BYO.

- We hadn't been to a grocery store for 2 whole days, so we stopped at New World.

- Walked into Napier and went to Indigo for dinner, a highly rated Indian restaurant. We ordered a lentil dish and cheese dumplings. On the mild-medium-hot scale we chose 'hot'and then within hot, there was a sub-scale of 1 to 3, and we went with level 1. Chris talked me out of level 2, which was a good thing, because level 1 turned out to be hot enough!

Monday, March 21

- Drove down into Napier, and walked around a bit. Went to the 'Sunken Garden' full of butterflies and bees. Walked out to the end of the pier. Chris bought some earrings.

- Off to Napier airport. No security or id checks. Just head over to the boarding area, and walk out to the plane.

- Had a 10 minute connection in Wellington. Touched down in Nelson, and obtained our rental car in record time. Walked outside, where our luggage was waiting on the luggage cart. Everything was going smoothly, until we couldn't figure out how to start the car (needed to push the key in a lot harder).

- Stopped and got groceries at Fresh Choice. Managed to spend another $90 on a few meals and snacks. So much for saving money by not eating out all the time!

- Checked into AirBNB Ruby Bay. Right on the ocean, in a basic, studio cottage. Made some spaghetti for dinner. More Whittaker's chocolate for dessert.

- As darkness descended, we took in the night sky, including a nearly full moon with Jupiter beside it, and watched the International Space Station fly by, as well as a bright Iridium flare.

Tuesday, March 22

- Breakfast at home. Granola with yogurt. Drove to Kaiteriteri Beach to check in for our kayak trip. Met our guide for the day, Whitey.

- Started on the boat, past Split Apple Rock and got dropped off at Torrent Bay. From there we hopped into our kayaks and paddled from cove to cove, hitting up a few scenic inlets along the way.

- Took a break for lunch, and then continued paddling, around an island where we watched a small colony of seals, frolicing in the sea and on the rocks.

- Continued our kayaking journey back to Torrent Bay, and took a smaller, faster, boat back to Kaiteriteri Beach (viewing a few more seals along the way)

- Picked up a pair of hitchhiking sisters from France who were spending a month together in New Zealand. Dropped them off in Motueaka.

- Got changed and went to Mapua for dinner & drinks. Decided to try the Sprig & Fern. Tried the 6 sample of beer. Quickly realizing that the New Zealand craft beer scene really likes hoppy beers. Had a burger and fish & chips for dinner.

- Went to bed early as Chris was still battling a cold.

Wednesday, March 23

- Thought we might do a hike, but with Chris's cold and a high probability of rain in the forecast, we decided just to press on.

- First we went to the Jester House and watched the eels. And the cat that likes to hang out by the eels, looking for extra food from people feeding the eels.

- Ordered a 'flat white' coffee and a smoothie (that turned out to be more like $9 for a glass of juice). Walked around the grounds a little.

- Stopped by the Hoglund Glass gallery. Liked the glass penguins. But everything was pretty expensive!

- Carried on to Nelson. Had lunch at East Street Cafe. Chris had a filo roll, and I had 'Its A Wrap' (bean wrap).

- Went and tried Penguino for ice cream. We had strawberry mint and lavender with honey.

- With the rain coming down, we went for groceries at Countdown.

- Continued to our AirBNB in Renwick. Made dinner, which was to be lemon spaghetti tonight. It was still raining pretty heavily, so we just watched a movie.

Thursday, March 24

- Walked across the highway and all the way down the road to our bike rental.... which turned out to be in a completely different spot, back where we had started.

- Rented our bikes and headed out on the highway full of vineyards. Our first stop was Rock Ferry. A very nice winery with great food. We ate in the garden area. Chris had Asian-style tofu, while I had harissa marinated chicken.

- Next stop was Makana chocolate. Very expensive chocolate, so we just indulged in the free samples.

- On to St. Clair Winery. The German sommelier knew of Calgary, as she had worked in Fort McMurray. Popped into the shop next door, Pakana, and bought some black (fermented) garlic that apparently has an umami taste.

- On to Moa Brewery where we tried 6 samples of beer.

- On to Forrest winery. Sat in some bean bag chairs outside. Sampled delicious wines.

- Last stop was Framingham winery. Ended up buying a Pinot Noir. Got a little swindled maybe.

- Picked up some ingredients for dinner to make an alfredo pasta.

- Made pasta, ate dinner on the deck.

- Watched Departures, the New Zealand episode.

Friday, March 25

- Started our drive towards Kaikoura. Everything we wanted to do was closed (Good Friday). Bakery. Closed. Hydroponic strawberries. Closed.

- Went to the Blenheim Gardens. Pretty good. Nice little river running through it.

- Drove around the Yealand Estates winery. It was massive. And also closed. Saw some chickens. Listened to classical music. Rows of grapes in every direction, as far as you can see.

- Pushed on to Kaikoura. Stopped and watched some seals.

- Went to Hislop's Cafe. It was really loud (at first). Had a steak sandwich. Chris had a veggie burger.

- Checked into our AirBNB. But it was the wrong house.

- Went to the right house. Chris got the call that room had become available for the Kaikoura Dolphin Encounter.

- Drove to the Kaikoura Peninsula. Saw a few more seals. Walked along the peninsula walkway. More birds and seals.

- Ordered pizza at Black Rabbit. Chicken and chutney pizza, and pumpkin pizza.

- Prepared for our early departure the next morning.

Saturday, March 26

- Got up early and headed to the Dolphin Encounter. Outfitted with wet suits and snorkels. Watched the preparation video. I didn't watch because I wanted the experience to be a surprise.

- Took the bus to the boat. Still dark out when we boarded the boat and started our search for dolphins. Saw albatross on the way.

- Found the dolphins pretty quickly, even though it wasn't that light out yet. Too dark to swim, so we watched them swim along the sides of the boat, leaping out of the water.

- Finally got our chance to swim with the Dusky Dolphins. The boat stopped, the horn blew, and we will jumped into the water. Didn't see any dolphins on the first attempt, until the very end, right before the horn blew to call us back.

- On the second attempt, Chris saw 1, and I saw a few. On the third attempt, Chris didn't see any. On the fourth attempt, we hit jackpot and there were dolphins everywhere. Jumping out of the water, swimming underneath, it was dolphin-mania.

- Back on to that boat, changed out of our wetsuits, back into dry clothes. The captain asked us if we knew what the largest dolphin was. "The Orca Whale" he said. "And would you guys like to see one?" And Orca chasing we went.

- We saw a femle Orca and her calf, as well as a male orca. Chased them around for a while.

- Bought a really good muffin from the Encounter cafe. Chocolate-banana.

- Drove towards Christchurch. Stopped at the Pegasus Bay winery. Took some pictures of black-faced sheep on the way back. They were scared of us and ran away.

- Walked through the Christchurch Botanical Gardens. Had a picnic lunch by a pond. Walked through the rest of the gardens, Flowers, trees, vegetables. Saw the 'full-size' remote control sail-boats.

- Saw a little bit of Christchurch. Popped into the really modern looking art gallery building.

- Drove up to 'The Pod'. Hiked in. Basked in our glorious pod. Took some pictures of the fresh, clean Pod before we ruined it with all of our messy clothes, food, clutter, etc.

- Sat on the deck. Chris had a shower (with a view). Played 'No Thanks'. Replicated the pictures from the Pod welcome brochure.

- Tried to identify some birds.

- Made our 3 course Indian dinner. (Pre-made pouches). Ate chocolate. And more chocolate. Oh, the chocolate.

- Experimented with the lighting. Took a look through our transparent floor. Watched an insect get caught in a spider's web.

- Did some star gazing. Saw a few notable stars and planets, until the full moon came out and lit up the sky.

Sunday, March 27

- Woke up in our Pod. The sun hadn't yet risen over the mountain. Had breakfast in bed. Gave Chris some mini-eggs for breakfast. Took some more pictures. Tried opening all the doors. Listened to all the birds.

- Packed up and left our Pod paradise. Drove to the airport. Hopped on our plane to Queenstown.

- Picked up our rental car. Met up with Jana. Drove to New World, and bought groceries.

- Went into Queenstown and picked up some burgers at Ferg's. Only took 1 hour. Good burgers.

- Headed to Te Anau. Checked into our AirBNB. Tried to tame some alpacas next door. They were scared of us. Like the sheep.

- Cooked our pizzas. Watched 'Win A Date With Tad Hamilton'.

Monday, March 28

- Woke up really early and drove to Milford Sound while it was still dark outside.

- Had a bit of trouble finding the start of the trail we wanted to do: 'The Gertrude Saddle'. First we drove past it, and went right through Homer's Tunnel.

Then we went back through the tunnel, to where we *thought* the trailhead was. After parking, we realized we were close, but not quite there yet, and piled back into the car.

- Started our hike. We were some of the first people to start the hike, but were overtaken by two guys (not a guy and a girl as we originally thought).

- Started off as a bright clear day. Passed some waterfalls, with some wonderful mountain scenery all around us. It looked very Lord Of The Ringish.

- The trail quickly became quite steep. Had to cross over a stream. Made it to 'Black Lake' where it started to cloud over a little bit. We were worried there wouldn't be much of a view for us at the top.

- Climbed over some large boulders, and up some smooth, steep sections with the help of a thick cable in place.

- Made it to to the top. We had some decent views at the beginning, although we could just barely see the Milford Sound in the distance. While we ate our lunch the clouds rolled in some more, on and off. One minute there was visibility, the next minute there was none.

- As we descended, it started to rain. Got pretty wet. Some idiot came bounding down the wet trail with an infant on his back and nearly wiped out. And then proceeded to keep running.

- Made it down, and started driving towards Milford Lodge. On the way back, we stopped at 'The Chasm' which was basically a canyon/gourge with a powerful river running through it. The walls of the canyon/gorge looked really interesting.

- Arriving at Milford Lodge we checked into our dorm room. Relaxed in the lounge for a bit, as our dorm room was a bit musty smelling (probably due to the leak in the roof, and a bit of mold growing around it).

- Went and made dinner in the communal kitchen (pumpkin ravioli with red pesto). Some kids came by looking for hidden Easter eggs.

- Back in the lounge, we played 'Jumbling Towers' (rip off of Jenga).

Tuesday, March 29

- The next day, Chris wasn't feeling well (again) and it was raining heavily so we skipped the boat tour of Milford Sound.

- It rained all the way back, but the rainfall at least made for an abundance of great waterfall action, and the scenery became even more spectacular.

- Made it to Queenstown, checked into our AirBNB, way up on the hill. Awesome view of the lake and mountains!

- Chris rested. Jana and I went into town. We checked out some stores. Returned Chris's MacPac vest. Went for a beer at Atlas. Finally found a New Zealand beer I liked, a Hefeweizen by Altitude.

- Brough back some Yum Yum Curry noodles and meat/veggie pies from Ferg Bakery. I had the Thai curry chicken pie (delicious). Chris had the veggie.

- Then we all watched 'The Bachelor NZ'. Oh that Naz...such a troublemaker!

Wednesday, March 30

- Went into Queenstown. Tried to find the perfect Merino/Possum toque. Came close, but decided to wait until closer to departure.

- Had a hot chocolate at Kathmandu. Jana and Chris had ginger hot chocolate, while mine was hot chile.

- Popped into Vesta, an artist collective. Chris bought some earrings.

- Went for walk in the Queenstown gardens. Came across a lawn bowling club. 'Why not?' we thought, and decided to give it a shot.

- Lawn bowling turned out to be a pretty fun activity. The owner showed us how to play. Best value in Queenstown at $10/person! Jana won 1 game, Chris won 2.

- Went for drinks at Smiths Craft Beer House. Ales, ales, and more ales. They love their ales here. Jana had the 6 beer taster. I had a pint of something, and then went back to my Altitude Hefweizen (bottle) that I had liked the day before.

- Debated over pizza for dinner (Winnies vs Fat Badger) but ended up going for Thai at Tham Nak Thai. Ordered the pad thai, the TNT chicken, and the green curry. All were delicious!

- Back to the house, and watched, you guessed it, Bachelor NZ. Naz was still up to her tricks!

Thursday, March 31

- Dropped Jana off at the airport.

- Went horseback riding with Ben Lomond Horse Treks. We had a private tour, as we were the only ones on the trek. Our horses were named Alicia and Morris. Morris seemed a little slow, but Alicia was raring to go. Near the end of the trek, Chris and Alicia broke off into a full gallop, and Alicia didn't seem to want to slow down.

- Afterwards we took a few pictures in front of Moke Lake.

- Took a drive out to Glenorchy. A pretty scenic drive, although it was starting to rain.

- Grabbed lunch from Taco Medic, down an alleyway in Queenstown, and took it to a park area, .I had some tasty crispy chicken tacos, and Chris had fish tacos.

- Drove out to the Chard Farm winery. It involved driving along a road with a deep gorge beside it. We had a tasting and ended up buying a riesling.

- Next we went to 'The Cheesery'. Sampled a bit of cheese.

- Stopped at the A.J Hackett bungy jumping bridge on the way back. Decided that the bungy jumping was too scary, and the other zip line option thing wasn't scary enough.

- Bought some groceries at Countdown and went back to the room to relax. Went back into town to continue my search for the perfect possum-merino toque. Finally chose one. Along with some socks.

- Ordered some Indian food from The Spice Room. While we waited for it, we grabbed some Altitude Hefe beer, my favorite beer of the trip, to bring to Jana in Auckland.

Friday, April 1 --------------- - Drove to the airport and flew to Auckland. Had quite a bit of turbulence.

- Jana picked us up and drove us to Mount Eden. Walked up to the top, and took in the views of downtown Auckland and beyond.

- Went for lunch at Jana's favorite dumpling place in Dominion. Had some tasty vegetarian dumplings. Jana dropped us off at our room.

- Checked into our Auckland AirBNB, met Cheryl and Pat, and took in the amazing view of the Auckland Harbour from their balcony. Had a few glasses of wine with our hosts and then met Jana to go for dinner.

- Walked around the harbour area a bit.

- We had dinner at Mexico. Started off with a jug of mango-chili margaritas. For dinner we had quesadillas, tacos, etc, along with some passionfruit/vanilla margaritas.

Saturday, April 2

- Had breakfast on the balcony, with the morning view of the harbour, and all the different types of boats and ferries coming in and out.

- Met Jana at the market and bought a bit of food for our day.

- Drove to Sheep World. There we learned all about shearing sheep, as well as the dogs that manage the herds. Watching the dogs herd the sheep was definitely a highlight. I volunteered to help sort the sheep into their proper pens. Harder than it looks!

- Went around and fed some of the animals (goats, sheep, miniature horses, donkeys). Tried to feed the alpacas but they weren't interested.

- Drove to Bethells Beach, a beautiful, blacksand beach. Found a log and had a picnic. Walked down the length of the beach and into a cave. Also checked out a smaller cave.

- Back in Auckland, Jana came over to our apartment and we drank the Hefe beer on our balcony.

- Went out for metre long pizza at Toto's, one of Jana and Rick's favorite pizza places. Yum!

- Had a beer at a local craft brewery. Tried the cider, as the ales didn't really appeal.

- Had another drink at some underground place. It was pretty good, until the disco lights came on.

- Walked by a lot of harbour-front places, looking for one more place to have a drink at. Eventually found one called Marvel, where Chris had a wine this time.

Sunday, April 3

- Had some delicious 'coyote pancakes' for breakfast on the balcony.

- Met up with Jana, who took us on a walking tour around Ponsomby. Bought a few things in the shops (hooks and spiders). Had some smoothies (and dry banana bread) at Central Market.

- Walked back down towards Britomart to try and find some bikes to rent. Unfortunately, we couldn't, so we walked around Queen St a bit.

- Came back, and found 1 bike to rent, but could not find any more. So we went for fish and chips instead, at OceaNZ.

- Had some tasty gelato (no hokey pokey though) and sat by the docks, watching people jump into the water.

- Went back, showered up, said our goodbyes to Cheryl & Pat, and Jana drove us to the Auckland airport.