New Zealand is the Big Five O
Fifty countries! I almost can’t believe it, but I’m halfway to my goal of 100 by the time I’m (ughs) forty. New Zealand is the 50th country I’ve visited and the start of of a four country trip though Oceania (the South Pacific). It’s a trip that I couldn’t be anymore excited for! It has so many awesome things: from mountains vistas and beaches, kangaroos and kiwis, to cargo cults and volcanos. It also has a fuck-ton of connecting flights and relatively complicated itinerary that stressed me out more than the usual trip, but it will be worth it if it all goes as planned.
So far it hasn’t. United plane delays (eat a bag of d*cks, United ((love you, mean it)) caused me to miss my connecting flight in San Fransisco, leading me to spend a night in a shabby complimentary airport hotel that smelled of broken dreams and Cheetos. This gave me one less day in Auckland, which was a bummer, but there weren’t any other reasonable options. So, a day late, and more than a little grumpy, I arrived bright and early, sprinting off the plane after a twelve and half hour flight. Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand but if you don’t venture off too far into the suburbs it’s a walkable city. It’s also hilly as hell, so prepare yourself. I arrived in spring time here, and the first couple days were rainy, windy and chilly, putting a literal damper on my place to take a ferry across the bay to Waiheke island, rent an electric-assisted bike and
getting fall down drunk classily touring the many vineyards on the island. Instead, I strolled the city, trying to stay undercover and in the shops as much as I could. Purchasing something results in a “here you go, love” as they hand you your change or whatever you just bought, which is adorable. It almost makes up for the bad weather.
The next day I picked up my rental car, and with no small amount of anxiety (driving on the left side of the road is not totally new to me – I did it a little on a trip to the Seychelles, but a sleepy island drive is nothing compared to city highways and busy streets), drove out to Rotorua, stopping at Hobbiton, the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogy filming site, along the way. Once out the city, the countryside really turns beautiful. It’s covered with the very definition of rolling, verdant hills; the cow farms closer to the city giving way to massive hedges and horse farms the further out you get.
Hobbit town was a well organized delight. It takes about two hours from start to finish, and it’s easy to see why the site was chosen for filming. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and a total blast for anyone who is a fan of the films or books. The only downside, for me, was a crippling allergy attack the hit me on site. New Zealand pollen/sheep dander/tree sperm (whatever it was) sent my immune system in to high alert. Still, I still managed to enjoy my hobbit flavored ice-cream before heading out to the geopark at Rotorua.
Rotorua is geothermal hot spot, Te Puia being of the major sites to visit. I toured the park, said hi to a nocturnal Kiwi that ignored me, and skipped the Maori cultural exhibitions only because my eyes were swelling shut and my nose was running like a faucet. The drive home was even more stressful, squinting through pollen-induced tears, driving on the (for me) wrong side of the road along some of the most accident prone roads in the entire country – there are signs everywhere to remind you of this. I made it back to my airbnb, bought 60 bucks worth of allergy medications, and collapsed into a drug induced coma for the night.
Not feeling well still the next day, I opted to stay around the city, and it being a much nicer day I was able to get out more and see a few more sites I hadn’t been able to initially. Mount Eden was a highlight, an old volcano with it’s cone still intact, offering views of the city and harbor. It’s tall grass and gorgeous views reminded me a lot of Mt. Tam outside of San Fransisco. Speaking of views, a quick trip to the top of the Sky Tower is a must, especially if you can time if of a sunset on a nice day (which I wasn’t able to). It’s relatively cheap, and there is a cafe (of course) at the top to get a drink or an overpriced bite to eat.
I wrapped up my time with a little shopping and museum hopping, the caught a flight to Queenstown for the second part the NZ trip.
How I go here: United flight from Boston. I used points for a change so the flight cost me 35 bucks (plus 40k miles). Getting from the airport into town is easy and cheap using the Sky Bus, 18 bucks one way (get a discount for buying a round trip). It drops you off in the center of town and a free shuttle takes you a few other close by places.
Where I stayed: Airbnb off of Beach street
What I did:
Sky Tower – Fantastic view of Auckland, try and time it for sunset if it’s not cloudy
Shopping on Queen street and Vulcan Lane:
One Tree Hill – A hill without an actual tree, but a large monument. Skip it and head to Mt. Eden instead for a nice walk and great views of Auckland and the surrounding countryside from the rim of a dormant volcano.
Auckland War Memorial Museum – Nice museum, great introduction to New Zealand and Maori culture. Skip the third floor unless you are really interested New Zealand’s participation in various wars and conflicts – and have lots of free time.
Hobbitton- The now-permanent location for some of the filming of the Lord of the Ring and the Hobbit trilogy. It’s a total nerd-gasm and I absolutely loved it.
Rotorua – Te Puia, a geothermal and Maori attraction in Rotorua, on the Bay of Plenty. There are plenty of things here to warrant a full day stop over, but with limited time I just hit he park and stop at Tirua on the way back. Tirua’s notable for the corrugated steal building shaped into animals and other amusing shapes and could be right at home in the American southwest: