A Sunny Day in Taranaki

After over a week of cloudy and rainy weather in New Plymouth, we woke up to beautiful bright blue skies and golden sunshine on our last morning there. We had breakfast and packed our bags. Paid our bill and said goodbye. Got into the car and headed out of town. The trip to our next destination, the city of Hamilton, was supposed to be a 3.5 hour drive without stops.

But we DID take a small 2-hour detour right off the bat: left the main road and drove the 15km winding road up to the car park at the Egmont National Park, the entrance for people interested in hiking up Mount Taranaki. Great views on such a clear day. We could see some of the paths going up the mountain, around the mountain, and off to various lookout points. From up there we could see the ocean on three directions. We could see the sprawling valley stretching out to the east. Way off in the distance, we could even see the Tongariro mountains — where we had hiked together with the Funks about 2 months ago.

I took a short ‘tramp’ through some very dense bush, following a muddy pathway, out to one of the lookout points. With all the rain we’ve had in the past week, the hiking paths were very muddy, not at all ideal on this day. But I managed to get some more photos of the valley below before heading back to the car park.

Sue and I were just taking a walk out to another lookout when a helicopter came right over our heads and landed down below us somewhere on the road we’d come up on. I really wanted to know what was going on. So we got into the car and headed back down the hill. As I was winding our way down I could hear the chopper blades nearby. Finally I stopped the car and ran across the road into a clearing — and there it was. No emergency, no rescue deal; just some workers getting shuttled in to where the park trucks were parked. Sue was laughing at me, suggesting that maybe like my nephew Matt, I should become a ‘storm-chaser’. More like an ‘ambulance-chaser’.

So much for today’s “excitement”. We continued our drive up to Hamilton. By now it was high time for lunch so we stopped in Waitara at a little cafe. We followed the coast for half the day, then turned inland, winding our way through some very beautiful country. Lots of agriculture, cattle and sheep, as we followed the Awakino River.

One more stop, this one for some ENORMOUS ‘single-scoop’ hokey-pokey flavoured ice cream cones near Waikato. We had emailed our hosts in Hamilton to expect us at around four. We arrived at our very lovely studio AirBnB in a brand new suburban residential development at around 4:30. Our host, a heart-and-stroke doctor, met us on the driveway and showed us the suite. Very nice. He pointed out the Canadian and New Zealand flags flying from the flag pole. And then, on the window beside our entrance, a poster greeting us with another Canadian flag, and under that, a big photo of the Steinbach windmill. Wow, this host goes all out to make us feel welcome!

Instead of going out for dinner, Sue was so excited about the great well-stocked kitchen, we had supper in our place. We read our books (a small ‘library’ of books in the bedroom here, so I picked one of those) and watched our laundry drying on the drying racks as the sun set.

How we spent St Patrick’s Day in Hamilton, NZ

After breakfast this morning, Sue and I searched online for a place to stay for tomorrow night. We had planned to go drive around the Coromandel Peninsula on the west side of the North Island — quite a few people have recommended it to us. But we couldn’t find any suitable accommodation and the more I looked at what there was to do on the peninsula, the less enthusiastic I was about going there. A lot of driving on narrow winding roads along the coast, and for what? We’re not interested in surfing or hanging out at the beach. 

Change of plans. We have a week left in New Zealand — why don’t we head up to Whangarei, the northernmost city in New Zealand. That can be our ‘base’ from which to head up to Cape Reinga, the northernmost point. And on the map it looks like there’s lots to do there. So we booked a place on AirBnB. All set for the weekend.

Today is St Patrick’s Day. I looked through both suitcases for something green to wear — NOTHING! Well, that’s not cool. Oh well, my pink shirt will have to suffice. Although I really wanted to go golfing today, we decided we’d drive our car down to the Hamilton Gardens, and spend a good chunk of the day there. Dr David, our host, highly recommended it. We were more or less ready to go but when I stepped out onto the patio I saw that Dr David had parked two bikes complete with helmets, vests, locks, and tire pump, for us to use. Okay, we’ll CYCLE there. We got our cycling shorts on, adjusted the seat heights and the helmet straps, checked google maps on my phone for a bike path, and off we were.

I gotta say one thing about New Zealand — it is a CIVILIZED little country. The people are very friendly, the countryside is super clean, the roads narrow but well maintained, everything is nearly twice as expensive as it is in Canada (except golf), the people prefer organic everything over chemically-improved food, and fitness is ‘in’. And cyclists are respected on the road. And they have marvellous walking, and hiking, and cycling paths. WAY ahead of North America. 

And so it was, that we cycled twenty kilometres along the river, on beautiful paved and shaded cycling paths, from our house in the northern suburbs of Hamilton down past the central business district, to the world-famous Hamilton Gardens.

We had lunch in the gardens and then spent another hour visiting the various garden displays within the park.

And then we cycled twenty kilometres back to our apartment. Just enough time for a little happy hour before we got into the car and drove a few minutes north of our place to a nearby golf course. Why not? It’s Friday afternoon, the sun is shining, and we haven’t swung our clubs for a couple of days. 

Well, the golf course wasn’t quite as good as we’ve become accustomed to. It turned out to be a nine-hole course with ‘double’ tees and pins, and the fairways ran parallel to the river, and with each other. And so it wasn’t completely surprising, although quite unsettling, when, on the third tee box, we had to stand and wait and watch the two guys ahead of us drop their clubs and run back to the clubhouse to fetch a golf cart so they could help a poor old man who’d been teeing off on the 4th hole when he was struck by the tee shot from one of the aforementioned guys on the third tee. YIKES! Not a pretty site, and one of my worst nightmares. So that sort of took some of the fun out of the round for us. That, and the fact that we both had had better games lately. So, after nine holes, we packed up our clubs and went in search of supper.

Although we’d considered finding an Irish pub and making that our evening meal and entertainment, it WAS Friday night, and well, that really is pizza night. So we picked up a pizza and ended up back at our apartment, having a great supper, watching the sun go down, listening to the cicadas and crickets. Not very ‘Irish’ but a nice conclusion to a ‘busy’ day for us here in Hamilton. 

Oh, and the B&B we’d booked this morning? Cancelled — hosts are going away for the weekend. So we’re back to square one — not sure exactly where we’ll end up tomorrow night. But we’ll ‘worry’ about that in the morning.

We’re in Whangarei for the next 2 nights

That’s about 4 hours north of Hamilton, where we were last night. We’re on our last week in New Zealand.

After we’d eaten our scrambled eggs for breakfast, we packed all our stuff again and loaded it into the car. Then we said goodbye to our hosts, David and Cherie, and off we were.

The trip up to Whangarei followed New Zealand’s main highway, Hwy #1, through Auckland and on up to the Northlands of the North Island. We were booked into an AirBnB in Onerahi, a small suburb of Whangarei, on the west coast of the island.

We planned to stop for fuel and lunch in Auckland, not quite halfway through our trip. Well, that turned out to be a mistake. The exit lanes from the #1 Highway were queued up for miles. I think there was a HUGE Maori festival and celebration happening right where we had turned off the freeway. So now we were crawling, 3 cars at a time, through intersections with far-too-short turning lane lights. So we wasted at least an hour getting off the main highway, and then another half hour waiting for a cheeseburger at a McDonald’s! And then I couldn’t find a gas station, so we ended up getting back on that busy freeway, and heading north through Auckland and finally pulling over for fuel once we were well past the city.

We got to our B&B at around 3:30. Our hosts, “Kayvn” (that’s “Kevin” with a heavy Kiwi accent) and Marion were happy to see us. Marion had baked fresh blueberry muffins and a date loaf for us. And the fridge in the apartment was stocked with all kinds of goodies.

We poured ourselves a ‘happy hour’ drink and sat at the patio table outside. Our hosts soon joined us and we visited for about an hour. Lots of laughs and good stories. Marion suggested a walk we might take around the peninsula, so that’s what Sue and I did. We got back to our apartment about an hour later. And instead of heading into the town centre, we decided we’d have ‘supper’ right here at our patio table. Sue warmed up the leftover pizza for me and she had some fresh bread with cheese and grapes and a glass of wine. We watched the sunset as we finished our meal.

By 9 o’clock Sue had packed it in — she’d had another sleepless night last night. I looked at a couple of tourist brochures, scouting out possible hikes for tomorrow. Then I wrote my journal and watched a little TV before going to sleep.

Whangarei, Day 2

Soon after breakfast we FaceTimed with Alex and Max. It will be great to see them in a couple of weeks from today. Then we spent an hour looking at the next few stops and trying to book motels along the way.

It was probably 11 o’clock by the time we got into the car and drove the 10 minutes into downtown Whangarei. We parked the car and started walking. Lots of cafes and shops, and lots of cars parked along the street, but it seemed very quiet this Sunday morning. We ended up in a small pocket park. We were looking for a place to go for lunch, and although there were lots of cafes in the area, we thought there must be something more interesting on the waterfront. So we checked with google and followed the directions for 900 metres to the harbour. And yes, there were LOTS of people sitting at outdoor cafe tables on a very attractive and very busy waterfront. It gave us a whole new impression of the city!

We chose a restaurant and got a table under a sun umbrella. We had a great lunch with drinks and watched people for an hour or two.

Then we went back to our car and headed north of the city for about 15 minutes, up to the Whangarei Falls Reserve. We parked in the parking lot and headed along a path that was part of a ‘loop’ around the falls. We took a few photos of the falls from one of the bridges that crossed the Hatea River. 

Then we followed a path alongside the river down to the AH Reed Memorial Park. The Park features a stunning canopy walkway, which enabled us to see some of the magnificent 500-year-old kauri trees up close. We had planned to take an alternate route back up to the falls, but the pathway was closed due to some new construction. So we walked back to the car park along the river walk.

We stopped at a Countdown grocery store and picked up sandwich fixings before heading back to our B&B. We’d not been home for long when our hosts, Marion and Kevin, invited us to join them for a ‘cuppa’ on the patio. Marion had done some more baking and ‘tea’ turned into something a little more substantial. We visited for a couple of hours; Kevin and Marion plan to retire from their cleaning business this July and were very interested in our travels, etc. 

Well, that sort of ‘spoiled’ our supper. So after we were back in our place Sue made some sandwiches and we had a ‘small’ supper. We turned on our little TV and watched a bit of New Zealand news and waited for sleep to come.

Bay of Islands

Shortly after breakfast, our host, Marion, came downstairs, knocked on our door, and bid us farewell. She and her husband “Kayvn” were all dressed up and going out with a big group of friends. Marion said we should just relax, take our time, no hurry to check out. So that’s what we did.

We sat with our computers and looked for places near Auckland for Thursday and Friday, our last two nights here in New Zealand. I guess we should really have been surprised, since we’d heard this from the hotel lady when we arrived at the beginning of January, but ALL the hotels and motels are booked! Adelle is here this weekend and everything’s been booked for weeks. So we had to settle for an AirBnB place about an hour south of Auckland. But at least we got SOMETHING. That left only Wednesday night ‘open’, and with a couple of phone calls we found something north of Auckland and booked that. Whew! So now our ‘itinerary’ is more-or-less established for our remaining time here (except for an overnight in Los Angeles on our return flight — so we’re not quite set yet).

We left Whangarei at around 11 o’clock. Our 80km ride up to Paihia in the Bay of Islands took us about an hour and a half. We drove through the waterfront town of Paihia and up another 3kms to our motel. It was too far out of town for us to walk back, but we were happy with what we’d booked. Yesterday’s B&B lady had sent along grapes and tomatoes and bread and homemade date loaf — Sue unpacked our stuff and made sandwiches and we had lunch at the motel. 

After lunch we drove back down to town. First, we went out to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, considered the ‘birthplace’ of New Zealand, where the Maori and the British signed a treaty in 1840. We decided NOT to go into the museum on the site — and instead drove to the Waitangi Golf Club just up the road. The course didn’t look very interesting, but the views from up there of the Bay of Islands was quite impressive. Sue clicked a few photos. 

Then we drove back down to the waterfront. We parked the car and walked along the busy harbour. We bought tickets for a short ferry ride across the bay to the small town of Russell. The sun was shining, the breezes were gentle, lots of sailboats were in full sail on the water. We got off the ferry and walked around the small village of Russell. Lots of cafes, ice cream shops, souvenir kiosks, etc. After about an hour of walking we sat down and had an ice cream and a cappuccino. Then back on the next ferry and back to the mainland. 

We walked around Paihia and looked at some of the restaurant menus, thinking we’d probably come back later tonight for dinner. But all that got short-circuited when we passed a sushi shop that was about to close and was offering assorted trays for half price. 

Back at our motel, Sue put together a bit of a happy hour tray and we took it out to one of the tables at the pool and sat and enjoyed the quiet for a while. 

Back in our room, we read a bit and watched some TV — hey, our Sky Channels include CNN! We haven’t had that since our first week in Auckland! So, an hour or so of that and we’d had our ‘fix’ for a while again!


The end is in sight

Today we drove up to the northernmost point of New Zealand, Cape Reinga. The end of the road here in New Zealand. I’m not sure what the point is — we didn’t go to the SOUTH end of the country so what’s the big deal about going to the north end?

We left Paihai at around 10 and although we had planned to stop along the way and eat our lunch, we ended up driving until around 1 o’clock, all the way to Cape Reinga. The road was good, winding and narrow, but not a lot of traffic. But there really isn’t very much up along this narrow strip of land. Lots of tourists opt to take a bus excursion which takes them to the Cape but also drives along the “90 Mile Beach” for part of the trip.

Along the way, Sue and I talked about our time here in New Zealand. What we liked, what we didn’t like. What we’d do differently next time. It’s not at all a surprise to us — we predicted that it would be like this — but by far our best time here in New Zealand has been the 5 weeks we stayed in Napier. After that, the South Island was sort of anticlimactic. And the area that we’re visiting now, north of Auckland, feels even less interesting than the South Island. Maybe it’s because we’ve been here for 3 months and the novelty of the beauty of the countryside has lost its impact. It’s still a gorgeous country. And for sure it’s that we’re nearing the end of our time here and our thoughts are about the NEXT stage of our life and the transition back into the routine that is our daily life at home. (The photos on SteinbachOnline of dead trees surrounded by piles of dirty snow and flooded streets at home should make us more appreciative of what we have here.) All that, and we still have ANOTHER little adventure coming up before we go home — but both of us are not at all excited about a week in the Cook Islands! I think we need an “attitude adjustment”.

We pulled into the car park at the Cape and walked through the gates along the path that went out to the famous lighthouse at the northern tip. The sun was peeking through the clouds, the temperature was comfortable, and the scenery was excellent. But because it was already one o’clock and because Sue makes great sandwiches, the lighthouse was the SECOND best thing about our stop at the Cape. 

After we’d eaten our lunch we followed the other tourists, many of whom came via one of the many big tour buses that were lined up in the parking lot, down to the lighthouse. 

After the obligatory photos to “prove we too had ‘been there'”, we got back into our car and proceeded to retrace our route right back on the only road (#1) on the peninsula. About 15kms south of the Cape we pulled off the main highway and took a 3km side trip along a gravel road down to the big sand dunes on the west coast. We parked the car and started out to the dunes. There was a camper parked near the washrooms which offered ‘sand-surfing’ boards for rent. Hmmm, not today. But we left our sandals under the camper (we would’ve ended up carrying them up and down anyway) and started walking up the dunes. The temperature and the partly cloudy skies made for a pleasant ‘climb’ up the hill. Sue aborted the trip a quarter of the way up and said she’d wait for me there. I plodded on. Once I reached the first level area I could see the expanse of ‘desert’ reaching all the way to the sea. The wind was now a factor, blowing sand into my eyes, the effects of which were aggravated by the fact I wear contact lenses. There was an even higher dune ahead. I headed for it.

When I reached the top of that dune the wind was blowing quite hard. But the view from up there, through my squinting eyes, was worth the climb. I took a few photos and then started back down. Just like the walk on the dunes in Namibia a year ago, going down was really no problem — just take big steps and let the deep sand ‘swallow’ each footstep.

We picked up our sandals, and tried to dust ourselves off before getting back into the car. I had sand in my eyes, ears, hair, even crunchy granules in my teeth! 

We drove south to the town of Kaitaia, where we’d booked a motel. Our ride was made a little more interesting by the fact that the fuel gauge in the car showed empty for the last half of the trip — and the lack of services along the route made running out of gas a less than pleasant prospect. But, as Sue announced during the ride, “nothing to worry about!” We made it. 

We stopped to replenish our libation supply at the first (and only?) grocery store in Kaitaia and fueled up the car. We checked into the hotel. Happy hour and a shower. And then out for supper.

We went down the street to the Beachcomber Restaurant. Scallops for me, duck liver pate for Sue. Yeah, that’s something we don’t eat a lot of at home. We’d better hurry up and appreciate what it is we’ve got here — it will end soon enough!

Paparoa, Northland — three more sleeps

We woke up at around 8, although I was up from 4 to 6 at night. I think I’d fallen asleep at around 9:30 and was finished sleeping by 4. So I sat in bed and looked at my computer screen until 6.

Sue had made an instant coffee but I got into the car and headed out to “Macca’s” to pick up a “cuppa” and some “bikkies”.  The Kiwis have a silly abbreviated expression for just about everything. The call 4x4s “utes”. Eggs benedict is “bennies”. A sandwich is a “sammy”. “Tea” is actually dinner. And a “cuppa” is a cup of tea. The corner store is called a “dairy”. And many of their expressions are not SHORTER than saying the full word — they’re just dumb! For example, Christmas presents are called “chrissy pressies”.

Anyway, I went to McDonalds to pick up a couple of coffees and some biscuits (egg McMuffins).

We packed our bags and said “cheerio” to Kaitaia, and headed south on the Number 1 highway. The drive down to our next motel was just over 200kms, but we had decided to take the longer and more winding coastal down the west coast and soon turned off the main highway to State Highway 12. This route was supposed to take us 4 hours, but that didn’t include a couple of missed turns and wrong turns along the way.

Our lunch stop was in Opononi. The little village is at the mouth of the Hokianga River. There were a couple of cafes to choose from. The view from there was really quite stunning.

We continued on our way. The drive was VERY winding, up and down and mostly DEEP in the forest. The vegetation, especially with all the king ferns that New Zealand is famous for, looked ‘tropical’. At one point we came around a series of sharp bends in the road and there were several big white buses and lots of cars parked along both sides of the road. What’s this? We gotta stop and check it out.

And so we pulled over to the side of the highway, parked the car, and ran across the road to where all the school kids who had come out of the big white buses were lining up. It was the entrance to the Waipoua Forest, home of the world’s largest and oldest Kauri trees. We got into line. First we had to scrub our shoes on a floor brush, then we had to spray some kind of disinfectant on the soles of our shoes and walk through a mat that was soaked in disinfectant. Wow, those Kiwis sure are keen to protect their forests! We walked a short way into the forest on a big wooden boardwalk. And there it was — a HUGE tree towering over the tops of all surrounding trees. My photos don’t do it justice — so of course I took too many. I guess I was hoping one of them might help show the overwhelming size of that tree. 

This is the largest known kauri tree in the world and estimated to be 2,000 years old. Standing at over 51 metres high, it has a girth of nearly 14 metres. 

We continued on our way, stopping in Dargaville for an ice cream cone before arriving in Paparoa. We parked in front of our motel and checked in. Hmmm… The hotel is an updated and renovated OLD hotel that’s been here for many years. Our room is small. But the kitchen here must be very good — the bar and the restaurant are large, lots of tables, and lots of customers!

On the way to our walk we met this young girl leading her pony along the sidewalk!
After a quick refreshment we asked the woman at the desk about ‘a walk’. Oh yes, there is a ‘bee-utiful’ walk just down the road. We followed her directions and soon found the entrance to the Kauri Bush Walk. The hour-and-a-half walk led us through a farmer’s cow pasture and then took us past a pre-colonial historic Maori Pa that is estimated to be more than 250 years old.

We got back to our motel, showered, and went to the restaurant for “tea” (dinner). The restaurant wasn’t full when we sat down at our table, but it was packed by the time we finished our steak and lamb dinners. Whatever our room lacked, the restaurant made up for it!

When I went to pay I was informed that if we didn’t need the chef to come in and cook breakfast for us tomorrow morning, could we please bolt and lock the door to the building on our departure. Apparently the owner is in hospital in Auckland and they are a bit short-staffed! Small town, small-time motel. Real estate write-ups would call it “charming”.

Pukekohe, Day 1

We woke up in our hotel room #3 at the Paparoa Motel at around 7. The only other guest was a gentleman in room #2, and he left bright and early. So we were alone in the motel. Sue switched the kettle on and made 2 cups of instant coffee. Eew! I guess we’ll get packed up and see if we can find a proper cafe down the road.

We left the motel, locking the front door behind us, at ten. We drove about 10kms down the road and stopped at a small espresso and breakfasts cafe. Nice. Good coffees. Eggs on toast for me and a big chocolate-plum danish for Sue. We’d had an email from the girl who’s villa we’re renting for our week in the Cook Islands advising us to bring insect repellent and meat. What? What does that mean?! The insect repellent request doesn’t exactly thrill us — but hey, we’re from Manitoba — whatever pesty insects they have here can’t be anywhere as bad as the mosquitos of Manitoba. But what’s up with the request for meat? Sue emailed her back and the reply was that since everything is flown into the island, meat is very expensive and if we want to use our big fancy barbecue next week, we may want to bring our own meat. We walked to a nearby little grocery store to see about buying a can of “Off!” before hitting the road again.

There was a bit of a drizzle on the windshield as we continued south towards Auckland. Soon we saw the Sky Tower, the landmark tower near the harbour. We took the main highway right through the middle of the city. Traffic was constant, even though it was the middle of the day. Oh yeah, ADELLE IS IN TOWN! This is the weekend we’d heard about all those weeks ago when we first arrived — no hotel or motel rooms available because ADELLE IS HERE!

We drove through Auckland and continued for about half an hour south of the city. We turned off the main road and followed our GPS a few miles into the country. Lots of greenhouses in this area. Vegetable farms. We found our B&B and parked our car at about 2 o’clock. Our host had left us instructions as to where the key was — she wouldn’t be home until after 4pm but we were supposed to make ourselves welcome.

The long driveway had what appeared to be a recently emptied greenhouse beside the length of it. The residence was at the end of the driveway. Our room was an extension at one end of the family home. Quite nice. By now the sun was shining. After we’d hauled all our gear out of the car and into our place I found a water hose and washed all our golf clubs. I managed to pack both sets into our ‘travel’ bag much better than I’d done for the trip here. Lots of room! Tomorrow Sue will do a load of laundry and pack our 2 suitcases and we’ll be all set for our flight out on Saturday.

We found some books to read on the bookshelf in our room and were sitting outside in the sunshine reading when our hosts came home. We visited a bit and then Sue and I left for the small town of Pukehohe, about 10 minutes from our place. We made a short stop at a Countdown grocery store to buy some snacks and cheese and sausage which we’ll pack in our checked luggage — that will be our ‘happy hour’ snacks next week.

We’d already decided that supper tonight would be at the Lonestar restaurant — it’s a ‘Texas-style’ chain of restaurants here in New Zealand and we’d been at one earlier on our trip. We had one final meal of ‘lamb shanks’. It was 8pm when we finished eating and drove back to our home in the country — and it was dark outside. Wow! Three months ago when we first arrived it stayed bright until 9:30. It’s Fall in New Zealand.

Back in our room we watched TV and I wrote my journal. Tomorrow will be a relaxing day on the farm — laundry, reading, packing, and pizza for our last (Friday) night in New Zealand.

Pukekohe, Day 2: Our last night in NZ

We’re going out with a whimper. No big trek today. No long drive through forests and mountains today. No, we didn’t really do anything (AGAIN!) today.

Sue did a load of laundry and hung it on the drying rack for the day. Just before lunch we went for a walk for an hour. After lunch we FaceTimed with Max and Alex for a bit. I was going to read in the afternoon, but I had a nice nap on the couch instead. Sue found one final B&B for us — we have an overnight in L.A. on our way home a week from today.

Our host lady brought us a couple of slices of the white chocolate cake she’d just made for our ‘happy hour’. It was delicious, but it also meant that we were not really very hungry when suppertime rolled around. So we waited an extra hour before phoning the pizza place in town to order take-out. We drove into town to pick it up and by the time we were back in our apartment my appetite had returned as well.

In all her cleaning and re-packing, Sue found another crossword puzzle from the Christmas edition of the Winnipeg Free Press. I filled it in and watched a movie on TV. Sue went to sleep at around 11. I, on the other hand, was well-rested from my afternoon nap, and stayed up to watch TV until late.

Tomorrow is Saturday. Our plan is to have a lazy morning here and check-out right after our lunch. Then we’ll drive back up to Auckland and return our car rental. We’ll go to the airport to catch our 5:45pm flight to Rarotonga. We’re supposed to arrive there at around 11pm tomorrow night, but really it will be 11pm TONIGHT (we travel back across the date line). And after our first night in Rarotonga we get to RE-LIVE Saturday all over again!

Leaving New Zealand

After one last great night’s sleep in New Zealand we spent today morning packing and cleaning up. Typically, Sue worried quite a bit about not being able to fit everything into our two suitcases. But when all was said and done, everything got packed and my backpack was mostly empty.

Our hosts are Seventh Day Adventists and had gone to church this morning. We had asked if it was okay for us to stay until noon. And so, after an early lunch, we loaded up the car and headed for Auckland.

The half hour trip on the main freeway took double that — rush-hour bumper-to-bumper traffic heading into town. What’s the big deal? Adelle. What else. Must be an afternoon concert.

We “petrolled” up the car and returned it to the Rent-a-Dent dealership in Manakau. The same young kid, John, who had delivered the car to us in Bethlehem three months ago was manning the fort. He looked over the car and pronounced it okay. I asked him if he wouldn’t mind taking us to the airport. Well, no, too busy and short staffed. I checked to see if Uber was an option. No cars available. I asked John again. Well, they charge $25 for that service. Deal.

Fifteen minutes later we said thanks and goodbye to John at the airport. We checked our two suitcases in at the counter and then headed to the oversize bag check-in. Oh, oh. Problem. We are 3 kilos overweight. Remove something or pay $120 extra fee. No point arguing with this guy either. So we take that honkin’ big bag (with TWO sets of clubs and TWO golf bags and FOUR pairs of shoes) off the conveyor and open it up. So much for how nicely I’d wrapped the whole contraption in assorted colours and lengths of bungee cords. Out came the shoes, one pair at a time, onto the scale. All four pairs added up to three and a half kilograms. Close her back up and drag her to the guy at the baggage counter. Yup, that’s okay now. Shoot, I’m all tuckered out and sweaty and we still have a long day ahead of us.

Now we’re shopping for a big shopping bag to haul our shoes in. Too bad we didn’t think of this a bit earlier — I had a big shopping bag packed into the golf bag. Fancy “New Zealand” bags here in the airport shops are $19.00! Oh well, what choice do we have? It’s only money. But then, 5 minutes after we’ve gone through customs, I realize I’ve forgotten to collect that brand new “shoe” bag from the X-ray screening counter! We start running back to the customs gate. Of course I’d already forgotten what colour our new bag was. But as we approach the gate we spot a customs agent holding our bright green shoe bag and looking for the owners. Whew! Yeah, but there’s a slight problem. He opens the bag and starts looking through the shoes. Aha! There’s an aerosol can in one of the shoes. Confiscated. Shoot! That was Tim’s sunscreen, left behind after our golf game in Hawaii. Too late now.

After all the fuss and bother, the rest of our trip to Rarotonga went off without a hitch. Almost. It turns out that our plane, which was scheduled to fly from Auckland to the Cook Islands and then to L.A. had already flown an extra leg BEFORE our flight and with the extra cleaning, etc, it would be at least half an hour late loading us. So our arrival in Rarotonga will be closer to 11pm than 10. Not too big of a deal. But the REASON for the extra flight? ADELLE! Again! New Zealand Air added a flight for Adelle fans who were flying in from Christchurch.

At around 10:45pm we landed and then stood in the customs line-up for the better part of an hour. But once we reached the desk things went quickly. We were directed to have our luggage checked, so once again, I had to open up our new green ‘shoe bag’ and show the friendly bag-checkers that we had no New Zealand dirt or sheep shit on them. Okay. Re-pack. Taxi. Our man is waiting for us. We load our 3 very heavy bags into his van and join one other tourist for the ride out of the airport.

Our villa is about 3kms from the airport! The taxi turns down a little side road and drives through what appears to be the front lawns of several homes before he pulls up right in front of a large lit-up beautiful house. He turns around and looks at us: “This is your place.” What? Really? It didn’t look like this in the photos. The other passenger looks at us and says she wishes she was in a place like this. Where is her place? Oh, she’s staying quite a way out through town, at a backpacker’s hostel.

Taxi driver lugs our bags from his van onto the deck. “Goodnight.” We still don’t quite believe this is the right place. In the wet (it must have rained all evening) darkness of the midnight, this big 2-bedroom brand new home with its large windows and all the lights turned on looks like Shangri-La.

Of course, we ARE on a little island in the middle of the Pacific. And there is no internet here. And the TV has ONE grainy channel showing a cricket match. And we are SOAKED in sweat without doing anything — and it’s the middle of the night! But this is our place for the next week. Good thing I brought a book along. Don’t think we’ll be moving around much, never mind hiking up mountains or through forests.

We open our suitcases on the spare bedroom bed, put on our shorts and t-shirts, and have a welcome drink on the large patio. Then we call it a night. What a Saturday it was. And to think that tomorrow we get to do Saturday all over again!