What an amazing trip! Lindsey and I are still battling through the time change, but we are happy to be back home. We can't recommend this trip enough, if you have the time and the molla to make it happen, please please, go visit New Zealand.
A little bit about our itinerary. We actually hit Australia and New Zealand. A double Whammy! We were originally planning to just go to New Zealand and do both the North and South islands, but instead we chose to do just NZ North Island and Sydney, Australia. You can check out where we traveled exactly on this nifty google "My Maps" creation:
We flew into SYD for one reason and one reason only, business class! We really wanted to fly business class for such a lengthy trip and we had never flown business class before. Since we fly standby, were can see the loads of the flights and predict whether we will get an upgrade or not. Since American just recently started flying to NZ, their flights to and from were pretty full, so we considered SYD as a great way to get in the general facility of where we wanted to be, whilst traveling in style! As you can see from the pic below, business class is super fancy and has one of those private cabin recliners. It was perfect for our 14-hour flight. And the champagne was a nice touch!
Once the flight was through, we landed in SYD and hit the ground running. The flight put us into the city in the AM, so we booked it to the hotel and basically put our bags down and left. We caught a ferry into the inner harbor first. In December, it is summer down under, so the weather was pretty warm. We had a couple of overcast skies whilst there, but temperatures basically hovered around 70s-80s the whole way through. We were very lucky. While in the harbor we saw all the must sees, like the opera house, the rocks, and the gorgeous botanical gardens. The gardens are really a sight to see. The climate down in that region of the earth is so tropical and lush, so the flora and fauna is so unique and is something you don't see in the US. I felt like my parents walking around snapping pictures of trees and flowers. I guess you really do become your parents after a while :)
We were also super fortunate to have Lindsey's parents join us in SYD. While their trip took them to Cairns where they scubaed at the Great Barrier Reef, ours would be in NZ, so we jam packed our SYD stay with such cool activities. Having them along added to the flavor of the trip. As you know from my last travel post, traveling with the Guerreros is an absolute treat. They really know how to have fun and mix discovery and relaxation.
After touring downtown SYD, we ventured outside the city limits and went to an animal sanctuary and got to pet Koalas, Kangaroos, and Wombats. And the answer is yes! Koalas are super duper fluffy and basically big cuddle machines. After the sanctuary, we went to the Blue mountains and saw a bit of the outback that Australia rants and raves about. It was beautiful, but a bit buggy so we kept our hiking time minimal.
A big plus about the trip was I got to see one of my buddies from when I swam club in Maryland. Tyler is his name and he has been living out in Australia for the last four years. We went out for dinner on our last night there to a place Lindsey and I still rave about called "Bangkok Bites". If you are ever in SYD, I recommend this place. It is in lovely Bondi Beach and they cook up some amazing Thai food. I ordered the "Lucky Duck" from the menu and got a roasted duck in milky curry sauce cooked inside a pineapple, my mouth is watering just writing this sentence. It was very wonderful seeing Tyler. It was a blast from the past and added to the adventure in a major way. Here is us at dinner!
After SYD we parted ways with our folks and headed to Auckland. I had been nervous for this part of the trip because I would have to actually pony up and drive on the wrong side of the road! As soon as we landed we got our rental car, which was an automatic, thank goodness. It was a lovely little car and I quickly got the hang of driving on the opposite side of the road. Surprisingly, I went driving yesterday back in Austin and I was using my turn signals switch to turn on my wipers. Since everything is on the other side in NZ, I guess I just got used it doing it.
We did not stay in Auckland once we were mobile, we hit the road to Rotorua. This is a lovely city and for anyone looking to travel to NZ, please please please, visit Rotorua. This city has the highest concentration of Maori influence and unique geothermal pools that effect the landscape so drastically. We stayed outside the city at an Airbnb cottage that was so cool. Check it out.
My favorite thing about this place was it was really close to a beautiful trail called Hamurana Springs. Lindsey and I ran this trail in the morning and it was the most beautiful trail. Aside from there being no one there since it was early in the morning, the spring is also surrounded by California redwood trees. So as you run you have this beautiful blue and green spring next to while also being surrounded by these large behemoth trees. So cool.
Remember when I mentioned the geothermal activity in Rotorua, wells it's everywhere. Cruising through downtown you can see heat rising from all over these subterranean vents that give the town a sulfuric smell and keep water temperatures high all year round. They have amazing spas here that are all natural. But their piece de resistance, is a place called Te Puia. Te Puia is a Maori site that has upwards of 30 fissures that pump hot water out from the earth. They also have a very popular geyser, the name is escaping me now, but it is similar to Old Faithful at Yellowstone National park, where the geyser shoots our water almost 30 meters high twice an hour. It's pretty neat. We visited this site for a while and also caught a Maori ceremony too! That was awesome.
Since we were in Rotorua for 4 nights we saw as much as we could in the city but also took a few day-trips with the car out to places surrounding the city. We went to Waitomo Caves and saw the glow worms. That was cool, but not my favorite. The cave where they live is pretty spectacular but our tour guide kept comparing the light they have to that of a firefly. Firefly light is very very bright, and when we ventured into the caves the lights that these worm make was so dim, it was hard to see. It was nothing like a firefly. The pic below is a rendering taken from their website. Sadly you aren't even allowed to take pictures in the caves, so as to not disturb the worm's natural habitat. Not as eventful as I would've wanted.
But that same day we did see the epic Hobbiton Village from Peter Jackson's Lord of the Ring / Hobbit movie series. That was awesome. It was also great because we had fantastic weather for it. Up until that visit, we had had some pretty crummy weather. But just as we entered the park, the clouds moved away and opened up for a sunny day. The village is so awesome and well preserved. This is a must see if you are in NZ. It reminded me of Disney World. Everything was package and preserved so nicely, it was hard not to feel like a Hobbit from the shire as you roamed past a hobbit hole or climbed the Hill to Bags End where Frodo and Bilbo lived. So cool!
After Rotorua we drove up to Auckland for a couple of nights. We did not drive direct, we actually visited Cathedral Cove and drove through the Coromandel forest to get to the city. That was tiring because of all the windy road.
Once in Auckland, we knew we were nearing the end of our trip and we had one main attraction left on the books. It was to do a wine tour on Waiheke Island. Waiheke is a small island outside of Auckland. You have to take a 30 minute ferry ride to get there and once you are there, you marvel at this little slice of heaven. The island is small, but boost beautiful views of Auckland and a larger than expected population. Nearly 5000 people live on the island when tourist season is low, so as you can imagine, when the season is in full swing you can have upwards of 15,000 people on the island. The geography of the island is like if Hawaii and mainland NZ had a baby, tropical paradise with blue green water all around.
The wines there were wonderful and it was a beautiful and relaxing way to round out the trip. Pretty much everywhere you stand there is an epic picture ready and waiting for you... So of course, we snapped off a few :)
Happy to be returning home and to our Husky we boarded the plane the following day for LA and then back to Austin. We are happy to be home now and ready to get back into the swing of things. Oh wait, it's Christmas now! I guess I can postpone my assimilation a little while longer :)
New Zealand ... So long, far well, and thanks for all the fish :)