Friday, April 10, 2020

Jesus and Nemo visit New Zealand

Hello friends, this seems like an appropriate time to write a post about last year's spring break; when we are all staycationing due to being quarantined. This is a hard time for the whole world; please remember we are all in this together and we all need help and kindness right now.

So, last year at this time, my friends Florrie, Chris, and Nemo visited New Zealand with me. We all had a wonderful time. We are definitely Hobbit and Lord of the Rings fans but we didn't want this trip trip to be all about a fictional time and place, we wanted to enjoy the real New Zealand too. There was so much to see and do that almost from the beginning of our research we decided that we should just go to North Island. This blog will be all about the non-fiction part of our trip. Since we are safe at home there is a good chance we will get to the Lord of the Rings stuff this week also.

The first thing I want to tell you all is that we worked with  First Light Travel to organize our trip. They were very helpful and we all highly recommend them. We also got additional advice from a family friend who recently returned to the states after living in New Zealand for many years. She recommended what turned out to be one of our favorite places.

We landed in Auckland Saturday morning and by afternoon were exploring the area around our hotel. We were close to the port where we got to see some interesting boats that looked like they could have been in a museum. Nemo and I blessed the fleet.

We also went to the Maritime Museum, which is a free museum. We tend to seek out maritime museums on many of our trips involving coastal cities.

We had a glimpse into the cabin of a passenger ship bringing immigrants into New Zealand. We saw some traditional boats used by the Maori as well.

We also saw the World Cup, some tools, and figureheads. There was of course, lots more to the museum but we can't show you everything. Even if you don't go to New Zealand, we recommend checking out maritime museums when you get the chance.

We had a nice lunch; Chris was excited to try a doner from New Zealand. It was good but nothing will ever beat the doners we used to get in Winnweiler Germany, they were even better than the ones we all tried in Turkey! We also had some Moroccan tea which reminded us of our trip to Marrakesh. This kind man shared muffins with us more than once even though we didn't buy anything from his kitchen store.

A few other Auckland sights.

The big building is the Sky Tower. The Easter egg is one of many we found stashed around the city, remember this was spring break and close to Easter. The Federal Street building is here because there is a Federal Street in Florrie's home town, her parents actually live there.

Our first full day in New Zealand started out with some wandering around Auckland and then a Bush and Beach tour. As with so much of the world, there are many beautiful places in New Zealand. The world is a truly spectacular place!

Do you notice the silver ferns? They are the symbol of New Zealand. To the Maori the fern stands for strength, resistance and enduring power. Florrie, Chris, and Nemo don't know the father and son on the branch, they just thought it was a great picture. 

Nemo and me hanging out enjoying the view at Rose's Garden. She 
left her home to the people of New Zealand to enjoy. Entering a few 
wilderness areas in New Zealand Chris and Florrie had to clean their 
shoes, there is a disease killing the Kauri trees and New Zealand is 
trying to eradicate it and save the trees.  Nemo and I are special, we 
are carried everywhere so our feet/fins are fine.

Here are pictures of the water related parts of our tour. There are many beautiful areas in New Zealand. After our enjoyable and educational tour we increased our knowledge of New Zealand by stopping at the Arataki Visitor Center.

We made some new friends there. The giant bird was a Moa, they are extinct now. The eagle was a Haast's eagle and used to prey on the Moa. The carvings are Maori carvings and can be found all over New Zealand. 

The next day we got up early, took a shuttle to the train station and got on the Northern Explorer Scenic Train down to Wellington. This would be a nine hour train ride but it was supposed to have an observation car with big windows and a running commentary as it went through the beautiful New Zealand countryside. We did get the beautiful New Zealand landscape but that was all, the observation car was closed because tourists couldn't resist hanging out and endangering their lives and the commentary didn't work. It would have been a disappointing trip but we met these lovely ladies who did their best to tell us about their equally lovely country.  

We did see some very pretty places from our seats on the train.

We got off for a bit in a town called Hamilton; that is also the name of the town that Florrie's grandparents lived in when she was growing up.

After a long day of traveling we arrived at our hotel in Wellington. Here is a night view and a day view from our room.

Our first day in Wellington we walked to a local restaurant and had breakfast with Dawn from First Light Travel; it was great to meet her in person as we had spent a lot of time talking to her via email prior to our trip. She introduced us to a delicious New Zealand breakfast that we ended up having a couple of times. It was something with rosti potatoes, eggs, a good sauce and some other ingredients; none of us are all-knowing when it comes to foods so we can't remember the name. Dawn was delighted to meet me; and Chris, Florrie, and Nemo as well. 

After our delicious breakfast we took our first Lord of the Rings tour; we'll talk about that later. The day after our tour we checked out the Te Papa Musuem. We can't tell you a lot about this museum as we only had a few hours between when it opened and when we had to pick up our rental car for the next leg of our trip. If you are in Wellington and looking to check out some museums it is a nice one.

After picking up our rental car we set off on the five hour drive to our next destination. We drove through more beautiful countryside. Florrie saw a sign that she really liked and she just had to put it in this blog.

We finally arrived in Napier in the early evening. This is the town the family friend told us about.
We are all grateful that she did, it was one of the highlights of our trip.

Some of you know that in Japan every city has it's own special manhole cover, in fact some cities have more than one design. This manhole cover made Florrie feel right at home; well at one of her homes away from home at least. Notice that it has an Art Deco design; that is because the city of Napier is famous for it's Art Deco buildings. Chris did a great job picking our hotel here, it was in the round part of that building.

You can see why Napier is known as the Art Deco capital of New Zealand. There was a huge earthquake there in 1931 which destroyed the commercial center of the town.  The town was rebuilt in the style that was current; Art Deco. We took a self guided tour of the town, it was very cool.

Here is a sampling of some of the many beautiful buildings in the town.

There were lots of old cars around too. This man was kind enough to let us get a picture with him. Nemo insisted that Chris and Florrie get a picture of the yarn bench, it reminded him of their daughter.  He really liked the town because it is on the coast. I, of course, like everyplace and everyone.

There are six sisters in Florrie's family. Chris and Florrie do dream of Italy.

After our tour we headed to Rotorua where we went on a tour of Te Puia, a geothermal valley with the very cool (actually hot) Pohutu Geyser. There is some interesting information below.

The scenery was amazing; it rained so after a while all we could see was steamed up glasses.

We went into the Maori Arts & Crafts Institute housed on the
grounds. This gentleman told us all about Maori face tattoos.

We also saw some traditional handicrafts.

The next day we had our Hobbiton Tour which we liked so much that we bought new tickets and went in again (you'll have to wait for the next post). In the evening we went to the Mitai Maori Village for a show and dinner. We recommend the show but not so much the dinner. It was not bad but it was basically meat and potatoes so there is no real need to pay extra for it.

We learned about some Maori traditions through singing and dancing. It was definitely interesting and worth seeing. I feel the world would be a better place if everyone took the time to learn about their brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.

We all took a walk in the dark through the forest and around the mud pools. A canoe full of brave warriors came down the river as we were out walking. It was a little campy but still fun!

Our last day in Rotorua we headed out to see the Waitomo Caves. It was another lovely drive.

We booked our tour through Spellbound which we highly recommend. At first we were a little nervous because we saw the big sleek competition down the street and compared it to our little place housed in a small local shop.


It turned out to be a fantastic tour! We were in a small group of less than ten people with a young enthusiastic guide.  At one point we split up, some of us walked and some stayed in the van. Florrie was kind enough to bring Nemo and me along with her on the short hike.

Here are a couple of cave entrances. The one with the stalactites is Spirit Cave.
In the center of the picture on the bottom right you can barely see a little blue bird.
Aren't all of the earth's creatures wonderful!

Our guide enjoyed hanging out with Nemo and me. Anyone who goes on a tour with her is in for a treat!

There were a few skeletons in the cave. Here is a moa on the top
and possibly a cow on the bottom. Remember moa are extinct now.

The next six pictures were taken by Spellbound, not anyone in the Anest family.

This is a better picture of the moa.
If you want to learn more about the glowworms you can read this article.
They are interesting creatures.
A close up of larvea.
Glowworm lights and thread, it was like looking a the night sky.

Spirit Cave entrance and Spirit Cave Lake.

Silk threads.

We did get a picture of the four of us in the cave. When we left the cave we walked by this little pond which was the home of an eel. The eel was kind enough to let anyone who wanted to pet it. Florrie did naturally, and so did this little girl.


After this amazing day we finished our  drive and ended up back in Auckland where we spent the night at an airport hotel and flew back to Japan the next day. The airport in Auckland is nice; some of
artwork there was made by Weta Studios.


We truly enjoyed our stay in New Zealand. It was nice to spend some of this spring break thinking about last spring break. The whole world is in upheaval right now and we will likely all lose someone we love. As they are saying in Italy "andra tutto bene". We all have a lot of healing ahead of us, hopefully we can do it together and help each other through the hard times that are still ahead.