New Zealand - Summer 2011

Amy and I flew out ahead of her ITS conference to explore beautiful New Zealand. Due to weather, our Qantas flight was delayed around 6 hours, causing us to miss a connection to Queenstown we had purchased independently on budget carrier JetStar. The official word from JetStar by phone was that our tickets were basically forfeited. When we finally landed in Auckland, we decide to try out luck at the JetStar counter. A mix of confusion, friendly representatives, and the fact Qantas' phone lines were totally jammed (the Chilean ash cloud was wreaking havoc during the same period), we managed to get onto tomorrow morning's flight at no charge. However, all they gave us was a little hand written note on our old boarding passes written by an exhausted ticket agent. We got a super cheap car and hotel, and grabbed delicious Thai food in Auckland. The next morning, when we went to check in - the system didn't show anything about us being on the flight and the agents were (understandably) skeptical. However, after some explaining, I think they just gave up and let us on the flight. Whew.

A day behind schedule, we landed in Queenstown on the south island. It is probably the prettiest airport I've even been to. We pickup up our rental car, stopped in Queenstown for a delicious brunch, and cranked it south to Te Anau. The landscape along the way was awesome. Before sundown, we hiked part of the famed Kepler Track. We also booked a overnight cruise for the following night. They don't usually run this time of year (low season), but a group had chartered it, and we snagged an spare private cabin half off. The next day, we set off for Milford Sound. The route was absolutely stunning! We stopped at the Mirror Lakes and hiked part of the Routeburn Track. Our boat departed late afternoon, reaching the ocean for sunset. The fiords were very impressive (unlike the buffet dinner). The next morning, we set out in kayaks to more intimately explore the sound and see the sun rise. Back ashore, we collected our car and began our reverse journey to Queenstown for our afternoon flight back to Auckland. Beyond gawking at the landscape for a second time, we stopped at a ramshackle antiques place. There wasn't much there except an eccentric owner with a lot of US conspiracy theories.

Back in Auckland airport, we connected with the rest of the CMU gang: Eliane, Erin and Ruth. Two others were stranded by the ash cloud and never made it to New Zealand. We picked up our now insanely oversized nine-person van and set out for Rotorua. Our evening treat was Ogo-ing, basically a large, clear ball you climb into (plus a little water) and roll down hills in. It doesn't look that fun from the outside, but inside all you can do is helplessly giggle. The next day, we visited the Waiotapu thermal area, with its bubbling mud, funky-colored lakes, and foul odors. We also stopped by Huka Falls and took a dip in Kerosene Creek (a stream made warm by geothermal activity). For dinner, we went to a Maori event. We bundled that with a nighttime visit to a small zoo to see Kiwis (which are nocturnal) - cutest things ever! Before departing Rotorua, we did a tour of the neat Edwardian spa complex in town. Our next stop was a farm house in the middle of nowhere on the East Cape. Amy had stumbled onto it online, and rented the whole thing for the five of us. In addition to the homemade/grown eggs, bacon, sausage, and milk, the landscape around the farm was spectacular: endless rolling emerald green hills and rocky outcroppings, peppered with fluffy white sheep. After showing interest, we were treated to the process of sheep shearing by the farm owners.

Reluctantly leaving the farm house, we set out for Waitomo. We stopped by Napier to take in the "world finest collection of small scale art deco buildings", which I found interesting, but bored half the car to death even before we got there. Most of the day was spent driving. We got into Waitomo late, and had to make dinner from miscellaneous left over items. We capped off the day with a night walk in a near by park, which hosted New Zealand's curious and beautiful glow worms. We were up early the next day to kick off a 7-hour splish splash up an cave river. So. Much. Fun. Did I mention there were glow worms everywhere illuminating the cave ceiling like stars?!

Amy's conference started the next day, so we floored it back to Auckland. I spent the next three days catching up on work and giving quick talks at the University of Auckland and NextSpace. Most of the travel gang departed following the conference. Amy and I stayed on for three more days, tackling the Coromandel Peninsula. We based at Hahei Beach and a retro trailer park in Thames, one night each. During our time on the peninsula, we visited the Driving Creek narrow gauge railway, Kauri trees, and Cathedral Cove. We also dug a steaming hole at Hot Water Beach (sort of a mini ad hoc spa) and peeked into some abandoned gold mines.

© Chris Harrison