New Zealand 2017

January to March 2017 — Christmas to New Year’s in Hawaii with Max and his parents, then 3 months in New Zealand, and a quick stop in the Cook Islands before heading back home.

Aloha, Waikiki!

Alarm woke us up at 2:30am. Picked up Mart and Virlon and Tim, Alex, and Max and were on the road to the Wpg airport by 3:30. After a week of record snowfall and cold temperatures, we were lucky that the roads were clear and driving was good this morning. The humungous Colorado blizzard that was forecast for today wouldn’t arrive until noon. Parked the van and sent an email to Walter so he’d know where we were parked when he’d pick it up later in the day. Checked in, and loaded my (double-packed) golf clubs on the oversize conveyer. Then lined up for customs. Said goodbye to Mart and Virlon, who were on their way to see Thaddeus in New Jersey.

We had a 2-hour connection time in Vancouver before arriving in Honolulu at 2pm. (Turns out many afternoon and evening flights out of Winnipeg were cancelled due to the blizzard – we were lucky!) Took a taxi to our hotel and checked in. Sue and Alex had a bit of a rigmarole checking in – turns out we did NOT get the ‘suite’ we thought we’d booked – and we finally settled for 2 adjoining rooms with twin double beds in each. Oh well, Sue will fight it out with Expedia later.

Our first night in Waikiki; supper at the Aston Hotel.

After unpacking and connecting to (surprisingly good) Wi-Fi, we went out into the neighbourhood. We took the free hotel shuttle bus all the way to the Aston Waikiki Hotel, right next to our ‘old stomping grounds’, the former Hawaiian Regent Hotel where we used to hang out 35 years ago – and had our first supper together at the Tiki Bar & Grill. Max was amazing – after staying up for more than 18 hours he was still smiling and carrying on and entertaining us! Back at the hotel he was asleep by the time his head hit the pillow. The rest of us were not far behind.

Exhausted after an incredible and incredibly LONG day.

Boxing Day in Waikiki

Boxing Day in Waikiki. Max and Tim both slept in – nearly 12 hours of sleep. We had a late breakfast at the IHOP adjoining our hotel. In the afternoon we had our first (of many) happy hour in the hotel room. For supper we went to the International Market Place, just down the road from our hotel. It’s had a major overhaul since the our last visit; all the old local craft booths are gone, replaced by modern (expensive) shops and restaurants. We ate at a very busy Ramon Noodle restaurant. Here’s a little gallery of photos of Max at various restaurants in Hawaii.

Hike up Diamond Head

This morning we walked down to ‘Eggs ‘n Things’ for breakfast. We joined a large group of hungry (mostly Japanese) tourists sitting at outdoor tables, waiting to be seated in the restaurant. After an over an hour wait we directed to our upstairs table where we enjoyed another great breakfast. After breakfast we took the shuttle back to the Aston Hotel, then started hiking up the road to the entrance to the Diamond Head Trail. Max was even less enthusiastic about walking than Tim was; Tim and I took turns carrying him on our shoulders. Once we got on the trail we continued going up until we entered the actual ‘punch bowl’ of the volcano. Tim paid the $1 entry fee for each of us.

We continued along the trail. We were not alone. About 45,260 tourists had the same idea at exactly the same time. The hike up the trail was the easy part – it was the jostling and navigating through the maze of other hikers that was the hard part. And Max wasn’t having any fun at all. We were three quarters of the way up when Alex decided they’d had enough. Sue and I carried on. Then came the steep part – including the long climb up the stairs carved into the rock, through tunnels and along the ridge, until we finally got to the top of the lookout that is at the top of Diamond Head. A quick photo. More jostling and squeezing our way through and around other iphone-camera-toting tourists. And that was it! We were heading back down. All the way Sue and I kept a lookout for our kids. We hurried all the way back down to the entry gate without encountering them. Sue thought they might have taken a taxi back to the hotel. No, I don’t think so. And then, not more than 20 minutes later, there they were, coming down the trail. They too had gone to the top of Diamond Head, even seen us at the top, they were not far behind us. Okay, enough hiking. Tim hailed an Uber taxi for the group. A few minutes later we were back in our hotel room, tired, hot, but happy.

Hike up Diamond Head.
Hike down Diamond Head

After a relaxing afternoon (and another great happy hour in the hotel room), we headed out for supper. Tim had made a reservation for us at the Hula Grill, a fancy restaurant at the Outrigger Waikiki. We ended up waiting for an hour before a table opened up for us! I’d been fighting a terrible head cold ever since we arrived in Hawaii, but even that couldn’t spoil the evening as we sat outside on the balcony overlooking the hotel pool and the beach. Great food and great views and great times with the family.

Golfing in Waikiki

A change of pace: We picked up McDonalds for breakfast and had it in the hotel room. Max especially loved it. Then Tim and I took an Uber taxi to the Ala Wai Golf Course, just across the canal from our hotel. I’d called ahead – no reservations accepted, but the pro shop suggested we go ‘stand-by’ and we’d probably get on. Which we did. As soon as we arrived. Had a bit of a misty shower on the first tee, but it quickly subsided and we really didn’t even get wet. We were teamed up with a couple of local guys and had a very enjoyable round. The greens were not in very good shape, and the course is certainly not one of the better courses in the area – but we had a great time. After all, we were golfing! And back home people were just recuperating from a weekend of shoveling, and anticipating (what else?) another big winter storm.

When we got back to the hotel, Sue, Alex, and Max were just back from 3 hours at the beach. Good times! Happy hour. And for supper, Tim and Alex went out to a nice restaurant while Sue and I ‘babysat’ Max. We went back to the McDonalds right next to our hotel and brought back our ‘happy meals’ to eat in our room. We’d just put Max to bed when the kids returned from their ‘date’.

The Chief’s Luau

We took the ‘Pink Line’ hotel shuttle bus down to Denny’s for our breakfast this morning. The highlight should have been the ‘grand slam’ breakfast, but today it was the ‘Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer’ kid’s special pancake breakfast, complete with chocolate milk in a ‘Rudolph’ cup. And Rudolph ears and antlers for Max. And a Rudoph red plastic nose (that didn’t fit Max’s cute little nose, but clamped onto my schnoz no problem!)

At Denny’s for a ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ special breakfast.

After breakfast we went across the street to visit the Halekulani Hotel, one of the most impressive 5-star hotels on the strip. Sue, Alex, and I stayed there in 1992, when a ‘travel agent discount’ put it in our price range. Not anymore! Sue and Alex continued scouting out expensive hotels and shops in the area while the boys headed back to the hotel.

Just before 4 o’clock we all headed down to the pickup spot to get on a bus which would take us to the “Chief’s Luau”. The bus ride was about 45 minutes, and took us past Diamond Head all the way to Sea Life Park. We waited while about 10 other busloads unloaded, and then filed into the Luau area and found our table. Turned out our ‘cheap’ ($100US) tickets got us almost as close to the stage as the high-end (purple wrist bands instead of our goldenrod ones) $172 tickets. But we only got ONE free mai tai, while the deluxers got three. We were encouraged to walk around and look at some ‘local’ crafts and trinkets before we were called by table to file by the buffet. Same paper plates and plastic cutlery for all levels of tickets here. And the ceremonial roasted pig had now been turned into warming trays of something that looked like pulled-pork in gravy, or chicken pieces in gravy, or cooked fish in gravy.

After we’d had our dinner it was time for the show. The chief is a large Samoan man. He spent the next couple of hours encouraging us to give a loud yell and applaud anyone and everyone who’d had a birthday or anniversary in the last few years. And he called said people to the stage, and asked them their name and where they came from. And between the crowd’s cheers and chief’s interviews assorted costumed dancers came on the stage and demonstrated their skills. It seemed to go on a quite a bit too long, and it was all we could do to keep Max awake so he’d see the highlight of the whole evening, the ‘fire dancers’. But he persevered, and so did we. And the finale was nearly worth the wait. Ironically, just when the big chief finally started his fire by rubbing sticks together, the skies opened and showered us with a misty rain! But the dancers carried on despite the mini-shower. And as soon as it started it was over. And so was the show, and we were all herded back to our respective buses. Max was fast asleep on his parents’ lap, and couldn’t even be roused enough to change out of his dinosaur t-shirt into his dinosaur pajamas. Happy and exhausted. Another day in paradise.

Our last day in Waikiki

(The next Monday Tim DID take that helicopter ride, and according to him it was worth the wait!)

Tim was going on a helicopter ride. He was picked up at 9:50, but returned to the room at 1pm. The ride was postponed to January 2, due to President Obama flying out of the airport. It was a cloudy day, so he probably wouldn’t have had as good a view as he might have anyway.

Sue spent an hour and a half on the phone, trying to negotiate a partial refund with Expedia. We took the ‘Pink Line’ shuttle to Ala Moana Shopping Center. We ate in the food court – it was so crowded and busy with Japanese tourists that it felt like we might as well be in Tokyo.

Street dancers giving Max a bit of encouragement.


Sue and Alex went for a long walk along the canal while the boys played with Max. For supper we went to the California Pizza Kitchen on Kalakaua. A highlight for me was taking Max to watch the live band playing in the shopping center courtyard – and watching Max watch the drummer. He seems to have an excellent sense of rhythm, and may well be a drummer himself one day. When we got back to the hotel we said our farewells to Tim, Alex, and Max. We’ll be getting up early tomorrow morning, before they wake up, heading to the airport and the next leg of our winter adventure. We’ll surely miss them. They will spend another week here in Waikiki before heading back home to the cold white north.

New Year, New Country, New Zealand

We took a 6am Uber taxi to the Honolulu Airport. The streets were empty, and so was the airport. Check-in was quick and uneventful. We had tons of extra time waiting for our 9:30 flight to Auckland. At 2pm we passed through the International Date Line. Champagne was served on the plane. We arrived in Auckland at 5pm, January 1, 2017, Auckland time. We’d missed New Year’s Eve completely!

Once through airport security, we got some New Zealand currency from the ATM and bought 2 New Zealand (Spark) phone cards for our phones. We finagled bus tickets ($3 NZ per person) and loaded our luggage and golf clubs aboard for the 40-minute ride up to Botany Downs Centre. We dragged our luggage the last 10 minutes to our apartment where we’d booked our first 10 nights. We found the key as pre-arranged and checked ourselves into a pretty nice 2-bedroom, 2-bath apartment with good wi-fi, satellite TV, and comfortable beds. We unpacked and headed back across the road to the Botany Town Center, a shopping complex. Everything was closed – it was New Year’s Day. We finally found one open restaurant and shared a burger and coke. Back to the apartment, and early to bed.

Getting Settled in Botany Downs

After a great rest, we started our morning by heading out to the nearest grocery store. We had a coffee and pastry at a small café before filling up a shopping cart with groceries and supplies. Once that was stowed away in our cupboard and fridge, we checked in with the condo management office and introduced ourselves. Sue did two big loads of laundry. Late in the afternoon we headed back out and found the highly recommended fish and chips joint. We took them back to the apartment and found the portions were as delicious as they were huge. I’d hooked up my Apple TV to the entertainment system and we started watching Season 2 of Narcos on Netflix. One episode was all we could handle before we both succumbed to the sandman.

A walk in the neighbourhood

Went for a long walk this morning, out all the way to the Pukaranga Golf Course. It was drizzling. We enquired about tee times and membership options. Then we sat in the lobby and waited for the rain to let up a bit. We stopped at a fruit market on the way back, and then detoured through the Botany Town Center. I managed to get a (free) AC plug end for my computer power cord from an electronics store. We browsed through a few of the shops and picked up a few more supplies at the big New World grocery store settling back into our apartment. Eggs and coffee for breakfast. Reading. Shopping online. I think we’ve figured out a car rental for our time here – I’ve arranged to pick up a ‘Rent-a-Dent’ car on Saturday. Sue did some research and requested a booking at a cottage in Tauranga City, about 2 hours south of here, for a couple of nights when we leave here next Tuesday. She made spaghetti and meat sauce for dinner. Then we settled into our spots for another evening of Netflix.

Auckland Sky Tower

A cool, windy, drizzly day here in Botany Downs. We sleep very well, going to bed before ten and waking up at 6:30 or 7:00. The only thing on today’s agenda is a bus ride into the central business district of Auckland. It’s a nearly 1 hour ($7) bus trip. We got dropped off near the Sky Tower — and the bus driver gave us walking directions. It was lunch time — so our first stop was at a little sushi bar under the shadow of the tower. Then we bought our $23 tickets and lined up to get into the elevator. We got out on the 51st floor, took a walk around, took some photos, tried to spot Brian and Val’s hotel, which is right on the harbour. We took another elevator up to the 60th ‘Sky Walk’ level, viewed the surrounding city one more time, and then took the elevator back down.

We were wearing our rain jackets so the light drizzle didn’t really bother us as we walked down to the end of the wharf. We found the apartments where Brian and Val are booked when they arrive this weekend. Then we trudged all the way back (uphill) to where we were to catch our bus back home. After about 15 minutes waiting our bus showed up. The buses seem empty. We rode through New Market and several other suburbs before ending up back at our mall. Back at our apartment we watched a few more episodes of Narcos, although I snoozed through most of them. Sue woke me up when supper was ready. After supper we tried sitting in front the TV again, and although Sue managed to stay awake, I could not. To bed by 10pm.