Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand

After the rousing welcome from the All Blacks fans, we hit a rough patch. It's always disorienting to be in a new foreign country, even in one where English is spoken. As requested, we declare our hiking equipment to customs. However, no one told us New Zealand is very picky about bringing in foreign soil microbes. So we wait about 15 minutes as customs officials clean our hiking boots to their standards. Morale of the story - make sure all your sports equipment is free of any soil before entering New Zealand.

Once through customs, we load a luggage cart and head outside into the pouring rain. Fortunately, the Auckland airport has good overhangs in their loading zones. Still, with the wind blowing, it is a chilly and wet morning.

First we need to contact Wendekreisen (our van rental company) for pick up. After fumbling around with my new Verizon plan for New Zealand (note to self - buy a NZ phone chip next time), I finally get through using their Free # (works like a 1-800 number in the USA). A phone answering machine says the office won't open for another half hour.  In the meantime, Peter checks for a taxi cab to take us to the Wendekreisen office, which is only a mile or two away. Taxi cab fare for this short trip is $50 NZ.

Needless to say, we decide to wait 30 minutes. When we are able to get through to a human, we learn we need to wait another hour before a driver can pick us up.  Finally an hour later, we are thrilled for the Wendekreisen driver to come and pick us up.

It takes at least another hour to check out our van rental.  This check out process is a bit sketchy as our van is a brand new model made in China and a first for Wendekreisen. At least the rain has slowed by then and the sun peeps out between the clouds.  We throw our gear in and Peter drives us off onto the streets while I chant "Left lane... stay in the left lane" like a mantra.

After surviving a glitch or two as my phone navigation adjusts to the NZ Spark system, we arrive at Urban Soul to meet Jill (Peter's sister) and her husband Mark. Urban Soul is the first of many stops at New Zealand's cafes (like a high end Starbucks with more food options).  The day then takes a turn for the better as we enjoy a nice lunch. We then spot a  Countdown Market in the same shopping center, where we stock up the vans with food and needed supplies (New Zealand has two main supermarket chains, Countdown is one and the other is New World.)
Jill and Mark's van ... aka
"The Mother Ship"

Present from Jill

Our van... aka
"The Chinese Junk"

We all manage to stay on the left side of the road long enough to make the hour drive to our first camp site at Miranda Hot Springs Holiday Park  ("Holiday Park" is Kiwispeak for RV Park.)
Office at Miranda Hot Springs Holiday Park

The next morning is cool but gorgeous

Hot spring pool at Miranda

Tropical landscaping

Two local Kiwi

After breakfast we hop back into our respective vans and head for the Coromandel Peninsula on the recommendation of a friend.  A word of warning, the roads are narrow, steep with sharp turns, and one lane bridges. We are impressed by the green countryside populated with fat healthy livestock, especially after coming from drought stricken California. We joke that New Zealand doesn't have any skinny cows. Even the Kiwis agree with us - Spring is a fat time for livestock.
Happy dairy cows on the Coromandel Peninsula

Hahei Holiday Resort

Camped at the Terrace Beach sites

When we first arrive, Jill and I only book for one night, but after taking one look at the view from our campsites, we hurry back to the office and quickly sign up for a second night.
View from our campsites

That afternoon, we set out on the hike to Cathedral Cove from our campsites. The trail is beautiful and the views offered at different twists and turns are stunning.
Beach below trail

Jill & Peter goofing

New Zealand ferns are everywhere

Some ferns are gigantic

Hiking Cathedral Cove trail

Mark, me and Jill

Looking back towards our campsites along the beach

A motor boat heads south

Our first view of Cathedral Cove

At one point, we reach a large grassy area with a nearby parking lot. We are surprised to see a variety of vans all rented by foreign tourists like ourselves. We had thought we would have the place to ourselves since it's off season.  Looks like lots of other travelers had the same idea.
Tourists' vans lined up at parking lot

More fat happy cattle along trail

Side branch of the trail brings us to Gemstone Bay

View of beach from steep trail above

Wow - we can see why it's called Cathedral Cove

Offshore rock through tunnel

Peter takes a dip in the cold water

while Mark, Jill and I chill on the beach

Time to climb back up the trail

It's an early night for all of us after our first NZ hike. The next day is also gorgeous and we share breakfast alfresco on a picnic table.  Soon a cheeky song thrush is hopping around us demanding to be fed. NZ does not have ground squirrels, chipmunks, or camp robbing jays haunting campgrounds. Instead, this ecological niche is filled in by introduced birds like this thrush and lots of camp ducks. More about camp marauding ducks later.

We choose the short drive to Hot Water Beach from a list of Kelly's recommendations from Iconic RV Rental (Jill & Mark's van rental company).  Under the sands on this particular beach is a thermal zone and at low tide visitors can dig themselves a hot water spa.
Cheeky Song Thrush

Entrance to Hot Water Beach

The hot spot is a short trek down the beach

We purchase a shovel from the camp store and arrive a short time later, only to find we are a little late to the party as the nadir of the low tide has past.  I meet a group of Brazilians who are thoroughly enjoying their pool. I tell them that I used to live in Portugal and still speak a little Portuguese.They are skeptical until I recite 1 to 10 in Portuguese. They look amazed and then we all enjoy a good laugh together.  They tell us to stick around as they will be leaving soon and we can have their pool.
Hot pool miners

Brazilians' reaction to my counting off 1 - 10

Ahhh - those guys left us a nice pool

A Kiwi family enjoy their hot pool

Mark demos his new microfiber towel


It's been a fun time together on the Coromandel Peninsula and a great start to our NZ adventure.
Cheers to NZ!! May the rest of the trip be as much fun

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

New Zealand - Getting there

After many years of thinking and planning our trip to New Zealand, it's finally become a reality. On our first leg of the journey, we fly out of San Jose CA to Honolulu, where we'll stay two nights before catching a night flight from Honolulu to Auckland.  There are two reasons we decided on stopovers in Hawaii to and from New Zealand. First, it breaks up a very long flight into two more manageable sections and secondly, it's considerably cheaper flying round trip to New Zealand from Honolulu than San Francisco or Los Angeles.
We're off! The salt flats below in south Bay

The last glimpse of California for over a month

In flight movie helps the time pass quickly

Soon we are over Molokai with Oahu in the distance

Coming in for a landing at Honolulu

Our condo is close to the Waikiki lagoon

Evening view from condo

My God-daughter Bonnie and her partner, Paul, are living on the Romany Star now docked at the Waikiki Yacht Club as they take a break to hide from hurricanes and earn money towards their dream of sailing around the world. As it's Halloween, we join them for a stroll down Kalakaua Avenue, Waikiki's main drag, to check out the scene. The streets are teeming with people, about half in costumes and the other half snapping pictures.

Halloween crowd in wacky Waikiki

Paul as Poseidon & Bonnie as Sea Creature meet Neptune

While tourists record the scene with their devices

The wide range of costumes is amazing...
From weird and scary

to TV & movie characters

and the just plain strange.

We are surprised to see many organized groups in matching costumes strolling the streets and poising for photos.
Paul and Bonz are flocked by Asian angels & friends

A group of anarchists poise for photos

Below are our favorites of the evening...
Best costumes goes to the couple dressed in "Gone with the Wind"

Most outrageous goes to the door mat & bunnies

The next morning gives us a beautiful day for exploring. We start off after breakfast to meet up at the marina. On our way, we walk by a very junky looking junk and seriously wonder how sea worthy this boat is. To keep a slip at the yacht harbor, owners have sail the boat out of the harbor and about a mile out to sea once or twice a year.  Other boat residents in the harbor gather each time it's the junk's turn to see if it'll make it out and back safely. So far, to everyone's amazement it has.
Morning over the lagoon

Junky junk

Bonz welcomes us aboard the Romany Star

We decide to see Pearl Harbor and in particular to visit the Memorial at the USS Arizona, which is built over the the sunken wreckage of the the USS Arizona and where the remains of 1,177 crewmen lay after being killed during the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack. This attack was responsible for launching the USA into World War II. As we have heard from many others, visiting this memorial is truly a deeply moving experience.

The Visitors' Center is well worth a stop afterwards to better understand the "Day that will go down in Infamy."
A model showing how the memorial was built over the wreckage

An exploded torpedo

Outside we point to New Zealand on the map of the Pacific

Bonnie drops us off near Waikiki Beach, where we buy tickets and jump on a Waikiki Trolley. Our first jump off location is close to Chinatown.  In walking towards Chinatown, I  ask a beat cop, for directions. He laughs and points us straight ahead and adds not to blink as it's pretty small. Considering Honolulu's large Chinese population, we were surprised to learn he was right. Chinatown in Honolulu is only a few blocks long and much smaller than the one in San Francisco. Still we have a good time looking around and enjoy a great lunch at the Lucky Belly.
Boarding a Waikiki Trolley

Chinatown Honolulu

Let's check out this food court

Like San Francisco's Chinatown, the food markets offer a wide array of the strange and exotic as well as the common and familiar.
These fish do look fresh

Do you have any recipes for Sea Cucumber?

Good price on bananas

Back on the trolley, we get a kick out of the mix of buildings that make up modern Honolulu.
We hear the food's good at the Itchy Butt

Honolulu skyscraper

Noodle houses are common

Our next jump off destination is the Iolani Palace, which was the royal residence of the kings and queens of the Kingdom of Hawaii.  The heavy Victorian decor and clothing is shocking for such a warm and humid climate. It had to be very uncomfortable to be a royal Hawaiian in those days. We surmise they believed they had to model themselves on the predominate European royalty of the era.  It's sad to us they didn't develop their own style of living and dress more based on their own Hawaiian culture.
Sitting room

Ceiling detail

The King's or Queen's desk

King Kalakaua

Queen Liliuokalani

Hawaiian throne room

We join up with Paul & Bonnie again at Yacht Club for pupus, drinks, and dinner before they take us to the airport for our Air New Zealand flight to Auckland.
View from Yacht Club bar

Romany Star is looking good

Paul BBQ's dinner

While we watch the canoes paddle back into shore

Dawn breaks over the Southern Hemisphere

Rainy day landing at Auckland

As our plane taxis up to our gate for our early morning landing, we notice a large group of media photographers grouped together at the gate next to us. As we disembark, I ask a woman looking out a window at the photographers what is going on. She replies the New Zealand national rugby team, the All Blacks,  is returning from London after winning the World Cup. I respond with the comment that rugby must be a big sport in New Zealand.  She just looks at me like I'm a complete idiot while Peter pulls at my elbow to usher me into the terminal. He tells me that rugby is THE national sport in New Zealand. Unlike in the US where we have many different sports competing for audiences, in New Zealand rugby is it.
Media photographers await the All Blacks to land

Moari carved wooden portal greets us to Auckland

As we walk into the public part of the airport we are overwhelmed by thousands (Auckland newspaper reported of at least 5000) of sports fans waiting to greet their championship team.  Peter spontaneously throws his hands up in a victory salute. The crowd responds with a great cheer thinking we are part of their team's staff.

Welcome to New Zealand

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Retired and enjoying life.