New Zealand

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.

It’s starting to feel like home here

Woke up to sunshine. Sue read her bookclub book. I watched a couple of the Narcos episodes that I’d slept through last night. We skyped with my parents. Sue found us a place for next Tuesday to Thursday on Airbnb.

After lunch Sue and I went for a walk — along a paved walking path that followed a river going east from the big ‘mall’ next to our apartment. We stopped at the grocery store on the way back — and then for a cappuccino, before settling down for a few more ‘Narcos’ episodes at home. Sue made delicious prawns and pasta for supper. More TV, concluding with the CBC National on our AppleTV. Man, watching the CBC (or listening to the Winnipeg CBC radio) on our AppleTV makes it feel like we’re at home here!

Love People; Use Things

It’s Friday. Actually, it’s Thursday back in our ‘real’ world, but here in Auckland it’s already Friday. Had (another) lazy day. We went for a walk in the morning — stopped by a used car dealership and asked about renting a car for 2.5 months. The Asian man was eager to rent a little Nissan box-shaped car to us. We considered, and we’ll keep it in mind. Tomorrow we’re going to the Rent-a-Dent shop that I’d called earlier in the week — we’ll compare deals then.

On the way home Sue bought some mangos at an Asian fruit stand. We had lunch. Then we watched the last 3 episodes of Season 2 of Narcos. We got interrupted once when the cleaning staff knocked on our door. After they’d changed our linens and left, we concluded our Netflix binge.

We went back to the grocery store and picked up a couple of frozen pizzas. Back at the apartment we had to look through the owner’s manual to figure out how to use the oven — but we managed. Pizza wasn’t very good. We watched the CBC National and then a Netflix documentary called ‘The Minimalists’. It was pretty good. The final thought was the title of this post — and how much better THAT is than the reverse. Things don’t make us happy. (Watch this post for a ‘For Sale’ list of many of our household belongings!)

By ten o’clock Sue was in bed. I sat and wrote my journal. (I’d spent lots of my ‘in-between’ time during the day to collect, edit, and insert photos for the past 10 days. But NO photo today!)

We get a ‘vehicle’

Saturday. Bacon and eggs. You can count on it.

After breakfast and skyping with Alex and Max (they’re leaving Hawaii later today, heading back home via a night in Vancouver) it was time to take the bus down to Manukau and pick up our rental car. But when we got there, the guy I’d arranged things with on the phone a few days ago ‘was off’. And his young helper couldn’t really help us. No, we don’t have a car for you. We won’t have a car until next Wednesday. What? We’re two and a half hour from here next Wednesday. The guy calls Russell, the guy whom I’d arranged things with. Nope. Nothing. Okay, can you call the Rent-a-Dent at the airport and find us a car there? He does. Hangs up the phone, happy. YES! They have a car. Okay… but it is a thousand dollars more than the one we’d arranged for here. Not good. Finally I call Russell myself. I’m not happy. It’s the weekend and we don’t have a car. He sounds sorry. Asks to speak to the young guy at the desk. Now we got something. We’ll take a used van for the next 3 or 4 days, and then Russell will swap vehicles with us next Wednesday or Thursday, once the Toyota we were supposed to get is back in. He’ll drive the car out to where we are and swap vehicles. Okay. Not quite what we ordered, but we can make this work.

We drove the van back to the shopping centre across the street from our apartment. Went to McDonald’s for lunch. Bought a cooler and ice pack and more groceries and headed back home.

We watched some news — another shooting in the US (Fort Lauderdale Airport, some more craziness from President-elect Donald Trump, etc. — and had sushi take-out for supper. We started watching another Netflix series (The Crown). We got a call from Brian and Val — they’d just landed at the Auckland Airport and learned that their hotel/apartment had a fire and won’t be available. We offered to host them, but they’d already made alternate arrangements. So we’ll probably see them for brunch tomorrow and discuss upcoming itineraries.

We watched Netflix until eleven, then went to bed.

Meet the Funks

It’s Sunday here, Saturday back home. Two NFL playoff games today, two more tomorrow. We had a pretty good morning coffee and toast. We sent Brian and Val a text, suggesting a brunch meeting. They text back that they need to be out of their hotel by 10:30. That means we have hurry up our morning routine. It takes half an hour to drive my old rental van downtown. We find the hotel, but not the Funks. But it IS the right place. I’m in the lobby when I see Brian pushing some big suitcases down the hall. He adds them to the big collection that is already in the lobby. Whoa! I’m not sure all the luggage will fit in the van without removing seats. But with Scott’s help, we manage to cram it all into the one vehicle. Now to find a brunch place. I start driving around the block. I park the van and we walk around a bit. This isn’t really working. Why don’t we all just go back to OUR neighbourhood. We have nice restaurants and cafes. And maybe we can even go to our apartment and catch at least SOME of the football games?

After a far too good breakfast in a far too expensive restaurant we go across the road to the Countdown grocery store and get some SERIOUS grocery shopping done. We need snacks and drinks for an afternoon of football watching, supper at our apartment, and sandwiches for tomorrow’s scheduled sailing excursion. We get home just in time to see the end of the first game (by now the outcome has LONG been decided). Sue and Val sit on the balcony while the boys are inside on the couch. Soon Scott has a nap. Brian is looking for a car to rent or buy and a hotel to stay at later in the week. All is going well until Val gets a text from their hotel — they will need to check in by 5pm at the latest. That means no supper at our apartment, and we’ll need to be on the road by 4:15.

We find the Funks’ replacement hotel/apartment near the waterfront. Unload our cargo. Say adieu until tomorrow. Sue and I drive back to the apartment. Now the second football game is over too, and it wasn’t a close game either! Oh well. The important game is tomorrow afternoon: Giants at Green Bay. I’ll miss that too — I’ll be sailing on a tri-hulled boat in the Auckland sea.

We have supper. Watch an episode of “The Crown”. Getting tired and it’s not yet nine o’clock. Sue suggests we go for a walk around our ‘neighbourhood’. We do that — a 45-minute stroll just before sunset. It’s cool, windy (what else is new?). Back in our apartment, we watch a Fifth Estate episode (isn’t that AppleTV thing working out well for us!) and another documentary after that. It’s eleven when we call it a night. Looking forward to seeing what tomorrow brings.

Sailing in Auckland

I got up at 7am and watched nearly three quarters of the Miami-Pittsburg Wildcard playoff game on TV. at 9:15 we left, headed into Auckland to pick up Brian, Val, and Scott Funk at their hotel near the waterfront in Auckland. Then we drove to the Yacht Club, about 5 minutes east, where we parked the van and prepared to embark on our day-sail adventure. We could see the Trinity, the tri-hulled catamaran, moored out in the bay, not far from the dock. A small dingy was headed our way. Kevin Palmer introduced himself as we piled into the small boat. It took two trips to get the five of us aboard Trinity. There we were introduced to the captain’s wife Terri, and Cody, one of their 3 children who would be sailing with us today.

The trip out of the harbour was fine. Although it was cool and partly cloudy, the 35kph winds were behind us, as we headed out. I got to hold the wheel for part of the journey. After about one and a half hours we anchored the boat in a small bay on the lee side of Motuihe Island. We got out our sandwiches and had lunch on the boat. Scott and Val got into their swimsuits and braved the cold waters. Val even swam to shore while the rest of us took the dingy to the island to do some exploring.

We took a long slow walk along the beach, looking for bits of ‘sea glass’, colourful pieces of broken bottles and other glass objects that had washed up onto the beach. Sue came home with a (heavy) jacket pocket full of white, green, and red ‘gems’.

A little after 3 o’clock we were back on the boat, ready to head back. Now we were pointing directly into the wind. Rather than tack for 3 hours, Kevin decided to zip up the windows around the cockpit and we all sat comfortably while the diesel engine putted us back with Scott at the wheel. At times the bow of the ship dipped into an oncoming wave and water washed across the deck from bow to stern! But we stayed dry.

We said thanks and farewell and wished Kevin and Terri a happy twenty-ninth anniversary. Then we drove back to the Funks’ hotel and said goodbye to them. They are staying for a couple more nights, but we expect we’ll be meeting them real soon somewhere down the road.

Back in our neighbourhood we stopped at the fish and chips place to pick up supper before going to the apartment. My football games were over — and although you’d think that everything is upside-down when you’re ‘down under’, unfortunately the final score did NOT favour my underdog New York Giants this time around. Now it’s up to the Cowboys to stop Green Bay.

After supper we watched news and Sue did laundry. It’s our last night here. I made the most of it and fell asleep by 9 o’clock, sitting on the couch. Tomorrow we are heading down to Tauranga where the weather is supposed to be beautiful!

The long, slow journey to Tauranga

After 10 nights at Botany Downs, it’s time to move on. The plan is to slowly meander down the east coast of New Zealand, and when we reach the bottom we turn around and come back up. And if we find something that suits us just right along the way down, we’ll plant ourselves there for an extended time, maybe even a month, and ‘just hang out’. We’ll make sure to see the area NORTH of Auckland at the end of our stay.

So, today it was time to pack up our stuff and move out of our apartment. We checked out at around 10 o’clock and since the drive to Tauranga was only supposed to take 2.5 hours, and checkin there might be only at 3pm, we decided to go for one more walk around the Botany area. We got back to the van after an hour and started off on our road trip. We thought we might stop at a park along the way, go for a little walk, eat the lunch that Sue had packed from the leftovers in the fridge, and end up at our B&B in Tauranga at just the right time.

The drive was good. Busy 4-lane for the first part, a bit of drizzling rain for some of the way. Then we turned off on the #2 highway, and wound our way over the small mountains before hitting the coast. About 1.5 hours into the drive we came to a roadside park near Mangatarata where we stopped for lunch. There was a golf course across the road from us, out in the middle of nowhere. It looked okay. We decided to see if we could squeeze in a quick round.

The lady at the office of the Hauraki Golf Club welcomed us. No problem! I was wearing a collarless t-shirt. No problem! Nine holes or eighteen? Pay for nine, if you want more, add ten bucks when you come around the turn. Help yourself to a ‘trundle’ (pull-cart) from our selection — no charge.

And off we were! There were golfers on most of the holes ahead of us, but they’d started in the morning and were finishing up the ‘back nine’. We golfed alone. No pressure. Not a great golf course, but for twenty bucks? and the rain held off. and we only lost a couple of balls and found replacements! and we played not-so-good but had a good time. and we got in some great exercise on the rolling hills.

After about 50 strokes, including some serious damage in a big bunker on Hole #9, we packed our clubs back into the van and continued across the mountains. We were just over the hills, passing through the small town of Katikati, about 30 minutes from our destination, when the traffic came to a standstill. Hmmm… Maybe one of those single-lane bridges ahead? Or a holiday check-stop? We crawled forward. Stopped again. After 20 minutes of this we started turning off the engine in between moving one car-length ahead. After about 45 minutes a couple of local folks came along and told us there was a big accident ahead, two people trapped in their vehicle, could take an hour, could take many hours. If we wanted to be sure to get to our destination, best to turn around, go back through the mountain pass and the long way around — a 2.5 hour detour! Now what? Do we want to do that? Or take our chances. By now we realized that the intermittent traffic in the oncoming lane was in fact cars that were tired of waiting up ahead and were turning back.

Near the scene of a major car accident on the road to Tauranga.

Slowly we crawled ahead — one car-length, 5 minutes stopped, another car-length, another wait. But we WERE moving. And after at least an hour and a half of waiting, we finally crawled past a terrible accident scene. Pieces of car on both sides of the road. Emergency and police vehicles cleaning up the site. But we were through. Our B&B hosts had emailed us while we were waiting, wondering about our arrival time, and we’d let them know our situation. It was about 5:30, after passing 10kms of stalled bumper-to-bumper cars waiting to get through the roadblock on the OTHER side of the accident, we arrived in the Tauranga suburb of Bethlehem, and pulled into the driveway of our B&B home.

Tony and Marigold welcomed us into their beautiful home. We had a little happy hour on the outdoor patio and showered and changed. Then we walked about a mile back into the town centre for dinner. We ate at a lovely restaurant (The Orchard) and walked back to our place in the twilight, about 9:30. Exhausted (more sun and wind showing on our faces from golfing today), we soon went to bed.

Another day, another golf game

Sue and I enjoyed a most delicious breakfast — in our B&B. Freshly baked bread, muffins, orange juice, yoghurt, fruit, and good coffee, all included in our room rental! Our hosts, Tony and Marigold, sure know how to make us feel welcome! We had a leisurely morning, did NOT go for that walk around the neighbourhood (maybe tomorrow). Sue finished reading her bookclub book, “Schroder”. I did a bit of computer work. Then we set out to see ‘The Strand’, the waterfront area in Tauranga, about a 10-minute drive from our B&B. I also called Russell, my car rental guy in Auckland, and arranged to meet him here tomorrow before noon so we can exchange our 8-seater Toyota van for the Toyota Yaris car I’d originally booked with him.

The sun was shining and it was 27 degrees on the waterfront. Lots of interesting little shops and cafes. A big boardwalk with kids’ playgrounds and park benches where people can sit and eat their lunch while watching the boats moored out in the bay. Across the bay we could see another isthmus, Mount Maunganui, with a couple of bridges connecting us. We walked up and down, sat on a bench for a while, stopped at a Tourist Info place and picked up brochures. We were going to have lunch at one of the cafes, but decided to go buy some sandwich meat and head back to our place — where Sue made great big sandwiches with Marigold’s fresh bread.

Our host, Tony, showed us the local newspaper — the front page story was about the big car accident we’d passed yesterday on our way here. One of the drivers had all of her limbs broken. Both drivers had survived. Now there were renewed calls for improving the road to prevent future accidents.

At 2:30 Tony came down to take us to ‘his’ golf course. We followed his car for the 20-minute drive out to the Bay of Plenty. Tony has a membership at the Omokoroa Course. He introduced us to the pro there and said we were his ‘guests’. That meant we got a 30% discount on the rate. Tony walked the first 6 or 7 holes with us. It was 3 in the afternoon, and they’d had a very big busy tournament at the course this morning. But now it was relatively empty and we golfed at our own leisurely pace. Sue and I both started off most impressively, but after 3 or 4 holes our cover was blown and Tony could see we were not quite ready for the pro tour. But we had a great time, and the course was beautiful. Several holes along the water, lots of interesting birds, and the vegetation and the homes surrounding the course were spectacular. Not so our play.

It was close to 7pm when we finished the eighteenth hole. I’d found another bunker (what else is new?) and my scorecard had two 8’s and 9’s for every par. The warm sun and the cool wind left me hot and thirsty. We packed our clubs into the van and headed back to Bethlehem (the town we’re staying at). I stopped to fill the van with gas so it’ll be ready for the swap tomorrow. We pulled into the fish and chips shop at the town centre and took the  big hot portions back to our B&B. We ate outside on the patio. 

After dinner Tony came down to visit with us. Then Brian phoned — he and Val and Scott are at a B&B on Maunganui, about 20 minutes from our place. We arranged to meet them tomorrow afternoon and perhaps go on a hike up Mount Maunganui. 

Showers, a bit of reading, journaling, and then off to bed again. Work, work, work…

Mount Maunganui

After another excellent breakfast at our B&B in Bethlehem, Sue and I went for a walk around the neighbourhood. We marched all the way down from our mountain-top home, followed the biking and hiking paths that criss-cross the land below, and climbed back up the hill and home again. A short walk, but we were ‘saving’ ourselves for the tougher walk we were planning for this afternoon. We were waiting to hear from our car rental guy who was supposed to come before 1pm to swap our van for the Toyota Yaris we’d rented. It was 12:55 and we were just finishing our lunch when ‘Johnny’ showed up at the door. We moved all our stuff (golf clubs, suitcases, etc) from the van into the car. 

We’d just swapped vehicles when Brian sent a text; they were on their way to Mount Maunganui. We asked them to wait for us — the trip there would take us 20 minutes. We circled around the strip, looking for a parking spot. Man, the beach here is BUSY! Once we were parked we found Brian, Val, and Scott and started up the mountain trail. 

Mount Maunganui is 230 meters above sea level. The climb up is relatively easy. But not for everyone. Sue, Val, and Scott went on ahead of us. Brian and I walked at our own pace, stopping for frequent breaks. The temperature and conditions were great — although perhaps a bit warm. We were a little more than halfway up when we met Scott and the girls coming down. We persevered. And the view from the top was worth it. And then we turned around and tramped back down. We met the others at a small cafe for a cool refreshing drink. (Well, as usual, Scott had a FULL MEAL with his drink.) 

While Brian and I finished our drinks the other set out to find a grocery store. They would buy grocery wine and bring it along to the restaurant where we’d made 6pm reservations. Brian was busy booking an AirBnB in Rotorua for tomorrow night. When he’d finished that we found my car and drove it down the strip to the other end, where our restaurant was (OBR — which stand for ‘On Beach Road’).

We had a lovely supper and did a bit of planning for the next few days. Then we said goodbye and Sue and I drove back to our place. Back at our B&B our hosts invited us to join them (upstairs) for a glass of wine. We visited with Tony and Marigold until 10:30. Then downstairs for a bit of TV and journalling — until it was time to go to bed.

Rotorua Day 1

We said goodbye to Tony and Marigold this morning. We’ll probably never stay in a nicer place using AirBnB. We talked to Alex and Max for a while on FaceTime — schools are closed due to a blizzard today. I fiddled with the lighter socket in the rental car for a while — my phone charger isn’t working. It could be a fuse, or it might be that the plug isn’t fitting into the charging socket. I looked online to see where the fuse was, but I’ll wait to stop at a service station before I fiddle with the fuses. 

Bags were packed into the car and we were just backing off the driveway when the drizzle started. Oh no. Should we wait out the rain, or should we just go? We decided to just go. Good call — the rain stopped as quickly as it started and the sun came out. And the one hour drive south to Rotorua was great. Rolling hills, grazing sheep and deer and cattle, good road. But by the time we got to the big (stinky) lake at Rotorua my phone was almost dead. 

We found the B&B we’d booked but didn’t check in — too early. Instead we drove into town and had a look around. We finally parked near the lake and went for a long walk around Sulphur Bay, a geothermal wildlife refuge. We ended up back in the town centre. Stopped at a McDonalds for lunch. Then back to the car and back to our B&B, which was in a ‘suburb’ or Rotorua. 

I stopped at a Toyota dealership on the way. Explained my lighter plug problem. No problem. Have a seat in our waiting room, help yourself to tea or coffee, read a magazine. They took the car into the shop. Not the fuse. Must be the little adapter that doesn’t fit into the lighter socket. Now the mechanic and the service manager take a new Toyota GPS unit, gently cut open the package, in order to see if my plug is too fat — not a standard size. And then we head out into the car lot and find a new Toyota Yaris and see if the plug fits into THAT socket. Pretty tight. Then the mechanic draws a map for me, suggests I go into town and buy another plug from a discount store in town. Yikes! How much is this going to cost? They spent a good 45 minutes on my car and we’re still nowhere. I suggest they spray a little WD-40 on the plug and jam it into the socket. I don’t care if it never comes out — as long as it will work for the next few months. The service manager sits down in my car and does just that. We plug in my phone. DING! Charging. It works. Whew! He’s pleased. I’m about to head back into the shop to take care of my bill — he looks at me and says, “Enjoy your holiday!” No charge.

We drive the short distance to our B&B. Check in. Angela welcomes us into her bungalow. It’s not like the home we just came from, but it’s fine. We’ve arranged to meet the Funks back in town at a restaurant for 6pm. At quarter to Angela and her husband Chris invite us to join them on the patio for gin and tonics. Nice! After a short visit we excuse ourselves and head into town. We find the Funks at a bar on Eat Streat, an arcade full of bars and cafes and restaurants. We decide to go for Thai food. 

After dinner we discuss plans for tomorrow and the weekend. The Funks will go visit ‘Hobbiton’ tomorrow. The Nikkels will do a few more walks. We’ll probably meet for dinner again tomorrow. After some discussion it’s decided that we will NOT do the 19km Tongariro Alpine hike as we had planned. Maybe at a later date. Instead we’ll head to Napier, on the east coast, for the weekend. 

Back at our B&B, Chris and Angela are watching TV. We go to our room and fall asleep watching The National on my computer. 

Rotorua Day 2

By the time we were out of bed this morning, our hosts, Chris and Angela, had already left for their deep-sea fishing trip. Sue cut up bananas and kiwis, made toast, and Nescafe (yuck! that’s not a good way to start the day!) and we had breakfast. And then it was time to get our show on the road. Our little map/brochure in the room had 5 suggested hikes. We’d already done one of them yesterday (around Sulphur Bay). Today we were going to do 3 more.

Our first hike was right out of our house! and down the street, and across the big road, and BOOM! we were in the (California) Redwood Forest! Really! These redwoods came from California, were planted here as an ‘experiment’ in early 1900. Today this is truly a Redwood Forest. And there are hiking, cycling, and even equestrian trails throughout. Sue and I walked for about an hour and a half, for a 6.5km walk.

We got back to our B&B and hopped into the car. It was close to noon and time for lunch. Sue took some cake and pop from the house and we headed into town, looking for the grocery store. We were going to buy some sandwiches to take on our hike, but they had none! Oh well, we bought chips and hoped we’d find something  on the way.

We drove down to Blue Lake, about 7 kms south of our place. Parked the car in a grassy field next to the boat launch. Started walking along the lake shore. Hmmm… no canteen or cafe here. Oh well, at least we have those salt ‘n vinegar chips! and a can of 7up. Only after we’d nearly finished the bag of chips and were starting our hike along the trail did we notice a big fancy hotel, and an airstream trailer/canteen selling hotdogs and hamburgers, right across the street from the trail. Too late. Now we’re hiking.

The hike along the often narrow, always up and down, trail was supposed to be 5.5kms. Again, the scenery along the way was incredible — almost ‘mystical’. No wonder they filmed the Lord of the Rings series here. And we could hear, and occasionally see, the motorboats pulling water-skiers, or the sea-doos roaring around on the lake, kids laughing, people enjoying the lake. And we were not alone on the hiking trail, although it was not at all crowded or too busy — just enough to make you feel safe, like you’re not alone out here. We both were wearing sandals, and by the time we got back to the car our feet were feeling it. 

We drove back a bit and then took a turn east to another nearby lake, Lake Okareka. Our pamphlet said there was a boardwalk at the beginning of the walk, where we’d be walking through a sanctuary for black swans. It also said that the walk here would be about 1 hour to complete the 2.5km walk to the end of the trail, plus the same distance back. 

We decided to change footwear — exchanged our sandals for runners. And off we went, along the boardwalk. About 2kms into the walk we were walking a dirt trail between the lake and the mountain. Sheep were grazing and maaa-ing on the hillside. Of course that reminded us of Sue’s aunt, who used to ask Sue and her brother Dave when the were naughty young children, “Well jie nich Jeisus siene schoene schoapjes senne?”

We were at the far end of the lake when two ‘kiwi’ girls passed us. They asked us where we were from. One of them, who once been to Hamilton Canada and loved to travel, asked if we’d tried __?__ yet. No. We don’t even know what that is. And then, after first suggesting to Sue that she should enter these items into her phone, and Sue saying she doesn’t really know how to operate her phone, the young lady took Sue’s phone and entered a list of ‘must-try’ New Zealand foods into Sue’s phone for her! “And this should cost you less than forty bucks,” she said when she was done. Cool!

We walked back to the car. Drove back to our B&B. Chris and Angela weren’t back from their fishing trip yet. We had a cool drink and showered and cleaned up. Then our hosts returned. We’d just arranged to meet the Funks at a restaurant in town at 6pm when our hosts returned. They thought they might smoke one of the fish they caught, cut up another for ‘ceviche’, and they invited us to join them for a beer on the patio. I’m not one  to say no to that!

It was just after 6. The Funks would be waiting for us at our restaurant, Terrace Kitchen. Once again we apologized to our hosts for having to leave in the middle of happy hour, and then we hied it out of there. We met the Funks at the restaurant.  They were waiting for us. 

We got a table in the dining room. Ordered our food. Not all of it was as good as we’d hoped. We exchanged stories of our afternoon ‘goings on’ and ate our meals. At a little after 8pm we said goodbye — we’ll likely see them again in Napier tomorrow. 

We hurried home to our B&B, but needed to check on what’s up with BB King — why is he wearing  a paisley smock and how will he get into the at the end when he’s beat everyone up. 

Okay, that previous paragraph is not true. In fact, it makes NO SENSE. But I was so tired while I was writing my journal, I must have ‘fallen asleep’ but I kept writing! I don’t know where that comes from! I just read it to Sue, and she has no idea what I’m talking about! I’m just so exhausted from such a busy day…

Back at our B&B we sat outside on the patio and visited with Chris and Angela for another 2 hours. They were tired; so were we. But we enjoyed the company and the conversation until it was after 10pm and time to go to bed.

Napier – Day 1

We had breakfast and packed up and said goodbye to Chris and Angela in Rotorua. It was grey and drizzling and Chris said the weatherman was warning of high winds through the pass down to Napier, so ‘be mindful’ driving today. 

The road down to Napier, on the east coast, goes through Taupo, a city next to New Zealand’s biggest inland lake, Lake Taupo, in the central part of the north island. Chris suggested three points of interest along the way; all three were in Taupo. In fact, we were considering Taupo as a possible place to park ourselves for a month or so, so this would be an opportunity to scout out the place.

After an hour’s drive south we arrived in the Lake Taupo area. Our first stop was at a honey store — featuring ‘Manuka honey’. Hey, that’s on that list of ‘must try’ items a NZ girl gave to Sue on one of our walks yesterday! Manuka honey is a monofloral honey that comes from the nectar of the manuka tree. Here was a place to have a taste. Sue was taking a closer look at the $117.50 price sticker on a small jar of honey, and made a comment about it to the lady tourist standing next to her, something about our good Canadian honey. Turns out the lady was also from Canada — whereabouts? Manitoba. Where in Manitoba? Near Brandon. Small world. And the honey? Meh, maybe next time we come to New Zealand!

Next stop, Huka Falls. Apparently this 11-metre high waterfall is the most visited and photographed natural attraction in New Zealand. Well, if everybody’s taking photos, we must too.

We were watching the clock — the next stop was at the Aratiatia Dam. Chris had told us that they open the dam at 10am, 12 noon, 2pm, and 4pm daily. It was a quarter to 12 when we parked our car in the roadside parking lot. We had just enough time to hike up (8 minutes) to the ‘top lookout’ (yikes, all this hiking and climbing must be cancelling out SOME of those calories from that big bag of chips!) We arrived at our lookout and found we were the only ones up there! Well, not for long. Soon we were joined by about 10 other camera-toting foreigners who soon finagled their way in front of us! And after a horn sounded 3 blasts, the dam gates of the Waikato River were opened. And sure enough, it only took a few minutes for the quiet river in the gorge to churn into a fast flowing waterfall! Apparently this was where they filmed the ‘barrel’ scene in one of the Hobbit movies (not that WE would have had a clue what that means!)

We hiked back to the car. Next stop — lunch. McDonald’s is right downtown, lakefront, in Taupo. We took note of the many hotels, motels, and apartment buildings along the shoreline drive as we drove through the city. And after refuelling the car, we were back on the road. 

The winding up-and-down drive to Napier took us 2 hours. And yes, there were buffeting winds at a few points, but really the drive was quite enjoyable. (At least for me. I may have a tough time trying to explain why the floorboards are pushed out on the passenger side when we return the car to the rental shop.)

We found our B&B. Parked the car. Were welcomed by our hosts, Graeme and Robin. Very friendly. Cyclists. Nice house, ‘neat as a pin’ Sue says. After serving us drinks (2 drinks each, actually) all four of us head out into town. They give us a tour of the surroundings. Lots of restaurants all around us. We’re right near the beach. Not far from golf courses and wineries. Bike trails everywhere, and they have bikes for us to use. 

Sue and I eat at a Thai restaurant. When we come back to our house, Robin has the TV on — shows me that ‘my’ NFL football games will be available on ‘free’ TV tomorrow morning at 10:30! So I won’t have to go sit at the hotel sports bar we’d visited earlier to make arrangements.

We visited until about 10pm. Then we went upstairs to our bedroom and I watched the highlights (low-lights?) of the two NFL playoff games I’d missed today. At 11:30 we turned out the lights.

Napier – Day 2

We slept in a bit this morning. When we got downstairs we were alone — Graeme and Robin were both gone for the day. Sue made breakfast. I sent Brian a text — offered that he could join me at 10:30 to watch the Packers – Cowboys game on our TV.

Sue in downtown Napier

At around 11 the Funks showed up. Sue and Val went to the grocery store a block away to buy sandwiches for lunch. The boys sat in the house and watched football. The game started poorly for Dallas but they fought back and tied the game, only to lose it on a last second field goal. The girls left to go for a long walk into the city centre after lunch. Graeme came to join us for lunch before going back to work at his son’s custom boat building shop. Robin was babysitting 2 of her grandchildren.

After the game we sat around a bit. I suggested we go for a short walk before the girls returned from theirs. We walked around the waterfront, looked at some of the restaurants. When we got back to the house Robin was back, and the girls were still not back. When they returned we sat at the table for a while.

The Funks were discussing options for themselves — they have 2 weeks left and still want to see the south island and the area north of Auckland. I was a little uptight about our own plans: if we didn’t find an apartment around here today, we’d better have a plan — and find something down the road for the next part of our trip. 

When the Funks left to go back to their B&B, Sue and I got ready to go into town to see what we could find. At the last minute we asked Robin, our host, whether we might stay in the ‘attached’ studio apartment behind their house. The current renter has lived there for the past 6 years, but is moving out this Thursday. Robin gave us a quick tour of the apartment — quite messy, but the guy is in the middle of ‘cleaning up’ and moving out — and it looked like it would suit us perfectly. When we asked about a weekly rate Robin’s price was VERY attractive. But the room we’re in now has been booked by other guests for Tuesday to Thursday, and so we need to make alternate arrangements for the until Friday. Should we go into town? Sue suggested we sit down and check online. And we found something and booked it. And then we texted Funks, asked them to pick us up at 7 and we’d all go for supper at a downtown pub.

We had happy hour with our hosts until the Funks showed up just before 7. We all piled into the CRV and rode into town. The Funks had also had a ‘family meeting’ and reported that they were no longer intending to go to the south island. They will go down to Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand located at the southern tip of the north island,  and then turn around and follow the west coast up to the northern tip of the north island. They’d decided that with only 2 weeks left, going to the south island would be just too much driving and not enough ‘seeing’.

We found the Irish Rose Pub in the city centre. Luckily for us it was ‘Quiz Night’. So we entered the ‘Funkenstein’ team into the competition and played along while we had our pizzas and Guinnesses. Fun times. We didn’t win, but we didn’t come in last either. 

The Funks chauffeured us home at around 9:40. We sat in our room and read the news and watched some youtube videos. At around 11:30 we went to bed.

Taradale – Day 1

Since our B&B is getting new guests tonight, we have to move out for a few days. We’ve booked another AirBnB in Taradale, about 15 minutes south of where we are in Napier.

We slept in a bit and had to hurry to get out of the apartment by 10:30. Robin popped in just as we were having breakfast so we had a chance to say goodbye. We’re pretty sure we’ll be back here on Friday, in our own apartment.

Beautiful flower displays in Napier's town centre.We drove to the Napier city centre and stopped at the Information booth. Picked up some brochures and maps so we know where the golf courses and the movie theatres are. We took a walk into town and found the movie theatre. We decided to hang around — have lunch in town, pick up a few groceries, and then see the 12:45 showing of “La La Land”. The downtown movie theatre is showing all their  movies for the discount price of $10, so that’s a good deal for us. They have 4 screens and quite a good list of current movies which we haven’t seen and would interest us.

We hadn’t seen a movie for quite a long time, and it was fun. Big comfy seats, so the 150 minute film didn’t even seem all that long. Sue really liked it; I thought it was okay. A good way to stay out of the hot midday sun. 

After the movie we drove down to our ‘new’ B&B. Hmmm… A yappy barking dog. The lady of the house also does facial massages and ‘spa’ treatments. Our bathroom had a jar of perfume with scented incense sticks on the window sill (which I immediately removed and put out into the hallway). But the room is clean, the bed is good, and so is the ensuite bathroom. I think we’ll manage for 3 nights.

After settling in and unpacking, we got back into the car and went looking for nearby golf courses. The nearest one looked quite good. It was after 4 o’clock and we were hoping for a twilight rate, but it so happened that today they were all booked up with a local tournament. How about tomorrow? Yes, anytime after 3pm is ‘twilight’ and you can golf 18 holes for $15. Wow! that’s great! 

So we drove to the next course. Actually 2 courses, a 9-hole municipal course and a very nice 18-hole one next to it. We opted for the 9-hole — $10 each, and it looked like we’d not have to wait for anyone ahead of us. In fact, the old-timers that were coming off the course were enjoying their beers on the parking lot!

The course wasn’t all that good, but we had a good time. Sue played quite well and ended up beating me by one shot.

We looked at the neighbouring course but it was all closed by the time we finished our round. Next time. We drove back towards our B&B but decided to first drive into the town centre and scout out a place for dinner tonight. We ended up at a restaurant called ‘Dukes’, not far from our place. Sat outside and shared a big combo plate. Pretty good. 

Then we drove back to our B&B. Sue read in the living room while I computed for a while. By 10pm we were in bed.

Taradale – Day 2

We slept in until about 8 o’clock and didn’t come out of our room for breakfast until around 9:30! After breakfast we went for a stroll around the neighbourhood. The stroll turned into a pretty serious walk — around the park behind our B&B, then up along the main street right up to the main intersection, and then back to our place — all-in-all about 5kms. Then, after doing a bit of computing, we drove back into Taradale town centre and walked through the downtown. Not a lot of choices as far as places to eat. And the stores that had some of their wares out on the sidewalk — well, it all looked a little ‘junky’. We had a sandwich (a muffin and cappuccino for Sue) at one of the cafes and then headed back home.

Sue read and did her exercises while I worked on a web project. I was looking through one of the brochures for ‘What to do’ in this area when I came upon a listing for a concert at one of the local wineries — James Taylor will be performing outdoors on the grounds of the Old Church Winery on Sunday, Feb 5! Well! Are there tickets? Yep, some general admission tickets are still available. We should go down there and check it out. It’s only about a kilometre from here.

So at around 3pm that’s what we did. The ladies in the lovely winery restaurant couldn’t really help us — but they DID show us the big green field where the concert would take place, and although they couldn’t sell us the tickets (we’d have to do that online), one of them took a photo of Sue and me hanging out with JT!

We left the winery and headed down to the Napier Golf Course. After 3pm the rate is $15 for 9 nine holes. We each bought an 18-hole round. And we had a lovely time. The course was in quite good shape (although it’s been very dry here for quite some time, the fairways were mostly lush and green). No waiting for us — and no pressure coming up behind us either. Really, we had NO excuse not to golf better than we did! But we had a lot of fun. By the last few holes I was really dragging myself around the course — what with the big long walk in the morning and the walks and golf yesterday — and my feet were aching.

We drove back into town and stopped at a ‘fish ‘n chip’ shop. We took the food home to our place and ate it outside in the backyard.

Our lady had left for the evening. Her dog was whining in the living room. Sue was texting with Val Funk — making arrangements for the Tongariro Hike — a 19.5km hike across some volcanic mountains that we’ve talked about doing. The Funks want to do it on Friday and invited us to join them. It means that we need to book a B&B in Taupo for Friday night (which Sue did) and delay our move into Graeme and Robin’s apartment until Saturday. In the meantime, I booked us tickets to the James Taylor concert on Feb 5. So that means we’re hanging around Napier until at least then — a total of 3 weeks. But really, everytime Sue looks at the weather anywhere around us — even Wellington, which is only about 4 hours south — it is cold and rainy, while we have sunshine and wind!

Taradale – Day 3

Not much happened here today. Sue booked our place in Taupo for tomorrow night and let  Graeme and Robyn know we wouldn’t be coming on Friday — we’ll do the hike, stay in Taupo, then checkin to our apartment in Napier on Saturday. We didn’t go for a long walk either (and not ONLY because my mother thinks it is making Sue look old and tired!) Instead I worked on the computer, Sue read. We went into Napier around 1pm and ate at McDonalds. Then we saw two beautiful Hollywood movie stars waste their time (and ours) in a poor script called “Passengers”. After the movie we picked up sandwich fixings and went back to our place. Sue made sandwiches for the hike tomorrow, and we had a “practice session” with sandwiches for supper — outside at the little table and chairs next to the driveway! Some serious packing and repacking for tomorrow’s hike — will it rain? hail? Are we taking too much along? Too little? We’ll find out soon. Then Sue tried to go to sleep while I worked on the computer until after 11:00. Finally, lights out.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

What a day! Sue and I both had restless nights, probably in part because we were worried about missing the alarm in the morning. But at 5:20 Sue’s alarm woke us. And by 6am we’d packed up and were in the car, heading out of Taradale, back to Taupo.

It was early Friday morning, but traffic was light. We were going to stop for a coffee early on but decided we could wait 2 hours and get our coffee in Taupo. So the winding, hilly drive to Taupo was going just fine. Then, at around 6:50, traffic came to a standstill. We were stuck. What was the problem? Well, after half an hour or more of sitting there waiting, a couple of truck drivers who had walked on ahead were returning with news: There’s been a crash up ahead. Traffic is now backed up because a big semi-trail ‘jack-knifed’ and they need to clean that up. It’ll be another 20 minutes for sure. Whoa! there goes all the good time I’d made so far! And then, once we started moving again, and we DID pass the dented up semi trailers, it was slow-going. Not only were there a couple of miles of trucks lined up in the oncoming lane, waiting for their turn to pass the accident scene, but we were now behind a number of big logging ‘double-trailer’ rigs chugging their slow way up and around the mountain curves. And so once again, I was driving like an Indy car racer, waiting for each chance to pass one more truck, watching the oncoming lane for traffic. The delay had set us back an hour, and although I made back a bit of time once I’d passed everyone and was speeding into Taupo, we had to text Brian and Val and let them know we’d be at least 15 minutes late for our 9 o’clock rendezvous at the car park. 

We made a very quick pit stop in Taupo, got a coffee and muffin and bathroom break, and then continued the final 45 minutes to the car park at the end of the hike route. The Funks were there, waiting. They put a couple of their humungous suitcases into our parked car, and the five of us drove in their rented jeep, another half an hour to the car park at the beginning of the hike. 

The start of the hike. Is that really where we are going?

After parking the car and putting on SOME of the gear we’d packed into our backpacks, we set off on the hike. The total track length is 19.4 km one way. There are shuttle buses available to take hikers back from the finish to the car park where they started, but we hadn’t booked a shuttle, and we wouldn’t need one. Brian had volunteered to walk with us for the first hour or two, then turn around and drive the jeep back to where we’d parked our car at the the end point. 

We picked a good day for the hike — the next few days looked pretty rough!

The crossing is a trek over steep volcanic terrain. This is not a casual stroll in the park. The suggested time for the walk is 5.5 to 8 hours. We would do it in just over 6. The forecast was for cloudy skies, a few showers, possible hail in the afternoon. We were warned to be prepared for any and all types of weather conditions. We were lucky to have the kind of day that we had — the weather for the day before and for the days following our hike looked HORRIBLE! It was cool and drizzling lightly as we set off. It didn’t take long for us to warm up and take off a layer. 

The first hour or so the track climbs a gentle gradient alongside a stream and around the edges of old lava flows, until it reaches Soda Springs at the top of the Mangatepopo Valley. Along the way we met one old character who was dressed a bit like Gandalf (from the Lord of the Rings tales). At Soda Springs Brian said goodbye. He took a break, met a few more interesting trekkers, and then turned back to the car park.

 

We continued our climb, gaining another 340m. Quite a good portion of the walk was on steps that had been built to make the climb safer and easier. But what a lot of steps we climbed! After a fairly steep section, we crossed over two lava flows from eruptions in 1870 and 1975 — and because of the rain, we had to navigate around the path which had become a series of shallow red muddy puddles. After about 2 hours of trekking we arrived at the South Crater.

It took nearly another hour to climb from the top of the South Crater to Red Crater (1886m), the highest point on the Tongariro Crossing. As we walked up the ridge we could smell sulphur — this crater is still active. The red colour is from the oxidation of iron in the lava rock. Up here there was quite a bit of snow on the ground, and the cold wind was howling. We were glad to have our rain jackets and hoods on for this part of the hike. (And this was a GOOD day!) The mix of snow, sand, mud, and wet rocks made parts of the trek quite slippery and tricky. In fact, there were chains and cables for climbers to pull themselves up for the steepest part of this section.

The weather was quite cold and the wind was biting cold. But the views were spectacular! And if the mist and clouds obscured the scenery, you only had to keep climbing for another minute or two, and when you looked up, the mist was gone and everything was visible again.

Now the steepest uphill climbs were behind us. But that didn’t mean that what was left was easy! No, descending on some of the steep, slippery downhills was just as hard as climbing had been.

It took us about 20 minutes to come down from Red Crater to the Emerald Lakes. The steep descent on loose scree terrain was especially tough for Sue, and I had to hold her arm and keep reassuring her that we would NOT slide all the way down into the beautiful (but steaming and stinking of sulphur) green lakes below us.

And then we were on the ‘home stretch’! Still 2.5 to 3.5 hours to go, but now the walk was mostly a gentle downhill, with a few climbs just to keep your blood pumping. There was a well-maintained path leading us through forest and twisting back and forth alongside the mountain. About halfway down this section there was the first ‘official’ washroom since the Soda Springs stop — and there were about a hundred trekkers lined up for it! We hurried on by. 

The final hour and a half seemed to take forever. We were tired. Sue’s one knee was making climbing down steps difficult. The terrain (and the weather) had changed considerably. Now we were walking through a lush green forest. We could hear the mountain streams rushing down somewhere beside us, and the afternoon sun shone through the leaves above us. And the trail kept twisting and turning. We could see the long narrow road that led from the highway to the car park LONG before we reached it. For the final 15 minutes of the walk it seemed that Sue and I had lost our way — Scott and Val were way ahead of us, and now there we say hardly any hikers. And we should be there already! Maybe around the next bend. Nope. Maybe just over the next little climb and then down the steps. No. 

We finally emerged at the car park. Brian was there, offering us a celebratory drink from the jugs of craft beer and cider he’d bought for the occasion. It was good to get our shoes off. Sue and a small blister on one of her toes, but mostly we were in good shape. 

What a great day for a hike! What a sense of accomplishment. What a treat to share and celebrate the experience with good friends.

We got into our car and drove back up to Taupo, about 45 minutes away. We’d booked a B&B there as had the Funks. After checking in and showering and changing Sue and I took a short walk up to the Funks B&B where we had a little ‘happy hour’. Then we called a shuttle van to take the five of us into town to a restaurant.

We enjoyed a final supper together with the Funks at Dixie’s Restaurant on the main waterfront in Taupo. We’ve had a very good time traveling with the Funks on and off for the last couple of weeks. They will now head north, all the way up to the 90 Mile Beach at the northern tip of New Zealand, before coming back down to Cambridge where they will drop Scott off at the Capernwray Bible School. Brian and Val are flying home at the end of January. We will still have another two months to enjoy New Zealand.

We said goodnight and goodbye when the taxi dropped us off at our respective B&Bs. Although our place was NOT one of our better bookings, we slept VERY well this night. We’d earned the rest!

Inauguration Day

We woke up after a very good night’s sleep. Since our B&B didn’t seem to include the second ‘B’, we quickly packed up and drove into town to look for breakfast. We found a string of busy cafes and restaurants, picked one, ordered eggs, toast, and coffee and enjoyed a leisurely morning.

After breakfast we went to a gas station and filled up the car. Then to the next door grocery store to stock up on some things we would need now that we’re “settling down” for a few weeks. And then back on the road, back to our new apartment in Napier.

When we arrived the Dickeys were not there. But we’d had an email from them earlier in the morning — telling us where the key was and to just ‘move in’ and make ourselves at home. And that’s what we did.

I parked the car and started to unload. The apartment had had a serious makeover since the last time we saw it. All spic and span. Nice furniture on the front patio, new bedding, new coffee press, everything we might need. So we did what we do best: we clean up and get organized. Sue and I were both VERY happy about what we’ve found here.

After everything was in its place Sue made a light snack for us and we sat down for a little happy hour. I was just finished selecting and sorting photos from yesterday’s trek in Tangariro when Graeme came by. He’d just come back from a 50km bike ride, the return trip against a significant wind. But he seemed happy to see us and sat down for a visit. Not long after his wife Robyn appeared — she’d just come back from an all-day golf tournament where she’d lost on the 4th ‘overtime’ hole. She too wanted to hear all about our hike. And both of them wanted to know if there was anything the apartment would need. Well, what about the TV? In their morning email they’d said that they would need to replace the TV, and after checking it out, I’d come to the same conclusion. In fact, I was hoping they’d replace it since it didn’t have an HDMI jack to hook up my AppleTV to. But no, Graeme actually got it going and it looks okay. No, we won’t be watching Netflix on it, but it does get quite a few channels, possibly even the NFL games. And we can watch CBC and Netflix on my computer. 

After the Dickeys left Sue made supper: she’d bought a roasted chicken and some nice fresh bread. We each had a corn on the cob to go with that. Great.

After supper we watched the CBC National News on my computer. As good as everything seems to have been going for us, things in America don’t look to be doing the same. Today was Donald Trump’s inauguration. Yikes! I wonder how long that presidency will last. I predict it will be over by this time next year. I just hope he hasn’t wrecked the world, never mind the United States when all is said and done.

By 10:30 it was ‘lights out’. 

Windy Sunday in Napier

We slept in until almost 9am. Great bed. Great (brand new) bedding. It feels good to be “settled” for the next few weeks. 

The kiwis LOVE to camp! And they’ll convert just about any vehicle at all into a ‘camper van’.

Sue made eggs for breakfast. We spent most of the day relaxing and catching up with family and friends. We Facetimed and Skyped. And emailed and texted. And sat around and enjoyed the day. It was very windy outside. It rained (and thundered) a bit at night, and was still gray and drizzling when we got up. But soon after breakfast the sun came out. And it got warm, up to 27 degrees the weather app said. Sue and I went for a walk along the beach boardwalk, but it was MUCH too windy for that to be any fun. Our host, Graeme was planning on going on a major road cycle ride today, but not in this wind. And his wife Robyn was playing golf in a tournament, and when she dropped by at around 5pm she said they’d had all kinds of weather on the course — rain, cold, hot sun, and wind. 

We were planning on going out for a movie at 6 but when we got to the theatre the movie was sold out. So instead we went across the road to the big supermarket and bought about twice the number of items on our grocery list. We came home, Sue made supper. Sue read and I computed for a while. Then we turned on the TV until it was time for bed.

Schadenfreude

It’s Monday morning here. It’s Sunday afternoon at home. It’s the day when the AFC and NFC championships are decided. The teams that win today go to the Super Bowl. 

The New York Giants are not in the Super Bowl. The Minnesota Vikings are not in the Super Bowl. 

We had breakfast in front of our TV today. I ate my morning toast and bowl of fruit (kiwi, nectarines, bananas) and watched the Atlanta Falcons beat the Green Bay Packers. I’m not cheering for the Falcons, but I’m sure not cheering for the team that beat my New York Giants. So when the Falcons began the game by pouring it on, and never let up, and taught the Packers a thing or two about good hard football, and even those desperate Hail Marys by Aaron Rodgers weren’t working for the Pack — well, I couldn’t help it. I know it’s not that good for me to find joy in another’s misfortune. But it DID ease some of the pain left over from the Giants’ loss. Schadenfreude.

Not quite so lucky in the next game: by the time we had eaten our sandwiches for lunch, the Patriots had more or less sewn up another win. Not the outcome I was hoping for, but not unexpected. Let’s hope the Falcons play like they did today in two weeks, in the 51st Super Bowl.

Whew! well, that’s how we frittered away a cloudy, but warm and calm day in Napier. Sue did two loads of laundry. Read quite a bit. I worked on a computer project in between football plays. 

In the evening we went out for a short walk in the neighbourhood. Ordered some ‘take away’ from the Thai restaurant and walked around the harbour until it was ready to be picked up. We ate on our patio.

After supper Sue watched a bit of TV and I continued my computer work. By 10 Sue was asleep while I was watching YouTube videos of Bill Maher ranting about Trump.

Cycling and Golfing

After my yogurt and bran flakes and fruit breakfast, I worked on a website until it was mid-morning. Robyn (our host) came around and offered to show me where the ‘extra’ bikes are in the garage. She’s bought a couple of new helmets and we’re free to use them. She gave me a map of all the cycle paths around here — this must be a cyclist’s paradise. You can cycle off-road on wide cement paths for miles and miles and miles! It’s unbelievable! 

So Sue and I put on the new ‘hats’ (at home we call them cycling helmets) and adjusted the seats on the bikes and set out on a bike ride. We went along the waterfront, along the beaches, right up to the big harbour at the corner, then around the point and along “Marine Parade”, the main waterfront road that leads to and past the city centre. All along the route there are facilities provided by the city to make life along the bike paths interesting. Lots of parks for kids, for walking the dogs, for exercise, for camping, for sitting and watching the boats and the kids, for looking at the ‘art deco’ styles that this city is world-famous for. 

And the cycling paths go EVERYWHERE — and forever. We cycled for an hour until we’d passed the Maraenui Golf Club, where Robyn is a member. We stopped in at the clubhouse to enquire about tee times and twilight rates. Tomorrow after 3pm, 9 holes for twelve bucks. Okay, we’ll try that! We came back along the path, past the ‘Junior Bike Track’, which has been specifically designed for young children to learn basic road safety. It has working traffic lights, stop and give way signs and a roundabout, where children practise their cycling and road safety skills. Cool! And skateboard and mountain-bike parks — lots of them! And they’re building more. And they are getting a LOT of use! Young people, parents, grandparents — everyone is out and about and ‘ACTIVE’! (or ‘ECK-TIV’, as they pronounce it here in ‘kiwi’ talk.)

WORK, WORK, WORK!

Sue made lunch. After lunch it was time to do some ‘Saturday cleaning’. (It’s not Saturday, but Sue says with such a small apartment it gets dirty quicker — and we DO have the windows and doors open most of the day, no screens, close to the beach, and big wind for the past few days. I (finally) took our hiking boots and runners and washed them in the big laundry tub in the garage — they were still coated with a layer of brown mud from the lava we walked through on our big hike. Then I went back to my computer project.


At the end of the ninth hole at the Napier Golf Course.

Just before 3pm we headed out to the Napier Golf Course. A quick 9 holes before supper. The sun was warm, no wind today, and I was carrying my clubs. Nine holes is enough for this afternoon. We both played quite well until the ninth hole. I think we both shot 10 or more on the last par 5. Oh well, we’ll try to do better tomorrow.

We stopped at our local grocery store on the way home for a bottle of wine to go with leftover Thai food from yesterday. Back at the apartment we enjoyed a little happy hour on the patio before Sue warmed up the curry and rice dishes. 

After supper we texted back and forth with the Funks — they are up in the northern part of the North Island. Then we watched a bit of ‘local’ news on TV and surfed the channels for a while before we called it a night.