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New Year's in Niue? No way!

New Year's in Niue? No way!

Old Feb 22, 19, 3:53 pm
  #1  
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New Year's in Niue? No way!

Ever since finishing my goal of visiting every country, I've slowly been working on visiting Traveler's Century Club locations. The South Pacific was still fairly weak for me, with 15 'countries' that I hadn't yet visited. I noticed that award availability had opened up to Niue, about halfway between the Cook Islands and Fiji. It is located on the eastern side of the dateline, so 1-day behind New Zealand. The plan was to depart Houston on Dec 30th, arrive Auckland Jan 1st (2019) then fly to Niue, arriving Dec 31st. Niue flights only go 2X week so you could either spend an hour, 4 or 7 days there. I booked a one-way ticket Niue back to Auckland but delayed a bit too long and the price had jumped $100 by the time I purchased the ticket.

I've visited New Zealand a few times before so looked to see if there were other TCC destinations to visit. I've been trying to get a trip to Norfolk Island or Lord Howe Island for ages, but logistics (and price) from Auckland weren't ideal. However the Chatham Islands are near New Zealand and count as a separate territory. There is only one airline flying to the Chatham Islands, Air Chathams. They have flights on alternating days from Auckland, Christchurch or Wellington. However the Auckland flights weren't showing available (turns out a tour company had chartered the plane), which meant flying from Wellington. I booked two cheap internal flights on Air New Zealand.

Getting back to the US was more difficult, no award availability in early January and prices weren't that cheap. Ended up biting the bullet and booked a paid AKL-SFO-LAX United codeshare. Then a Southwest award ticket LAX-AUS.

flights:
Code:
DEC30 AUS-IAH UA Y award
DEC30 IAH-AKL NZ Y award
JAN01 AKL-IUE NZ Y award
JAN04 IUE-AKL NZ Y paid
JAN05 AKL-WLG NZ Y paid
JAN07 WLG-CHT 3C Y paid
JAN09 CHT-WLG 3C Y paid
JAN09 WLG-AKL NZ Y paid
JAN09 AKL-SFO NZ Y paid
JAN09 SFO-LAX UA Y paid
JAN09 LAX-AUS WN Y award

Dec 30, 2018
Flight: Austin, TX (AUS) to Houston, TX (IAH); United Economy
Flight: Houston, TX (IAH) to Sydney, Australia (SYD); United 787 Economy

My flight didn't leave until 4PM so had most of the day available. I had to run miss hauteboy across town, almost to the airport. I had debated just going to the airport then and pay extra for parking. But I had an Uber credit I wanted to use so ended up driving home then catching the ride back out to the airport.

I arrived at the airport about 2PM. I was just too late to see about getting on an earlier flight to Houston, so just went to the lounge. About 3:30 I was about to head to the gate when I saw that my flight had a delay, now showing a departure time of 5:30! Almost a 90-minute delay. My connection time in Houston though was 2+ hours so I hoped I'd have enough time to make it.. I even thought of renting a car and driving to Houston. There was another flight to Houston which would now depart about the same time and I got put on the list in case the first flight delay increased.

Turns out the Houston plane was already at the gate, the delay was mechanical. Which meant the expected delay likely would be much longer, and indeed the posted time was moved to 6PM, now making my Houston connection illegal. I got put on the other Houston flight, but that hadn't arrived yet and it arrived late, they were just starting to deplane when we should have been boarding!

Biting nails now, it was too late to try for the drive to Houston. Going through San Francisco or Los Angeles would get me into Auckland too late to catch the Niue flight! I just hoped I could run once I got to Houston.. invariably the Austin flights come in the ... end of C-gates and the Air NZ flight was out of the D-terminal.. quite a long distance.

By the time we finally took off, the connection time was showing 15 minutes, but arriving in Houston we did a tour of the airport and by the time we got to the gate I only had about 15 minutes to make the flight. I took off running down the terminal, arriving at the D-gates to find the Air NZ plane still at the gate but the doors were closed! Agents were there but they said it was too late.

Well now that wasn't a good start to my trip. It meant that Niue was now a no-go and now I just wanted to get to Auckland. Looking at flight schedules, there was a United flight to Sydney departing in an hour.. got on to United customer service and they started working my ticket. I was all hot and sweaty from the run (I need to get in shape...) and popped in the United Club for a bit before going to the gate.

Finally they got my ticket sorted, I'd said I only wanted to get to Auckland at this point.. the next Niue flight was on Saturday when I was coming back anyway. The gate agent asked if I had an Australian ETA (no) but I said I was just connecting. But then I got on my phone and paid for an ETA anyway.. better to be have one just in case!

The flight to Sydney was on a 787 and not very full. I had gotten a Economy Plus seat with my silver status and the seats next to me were empty. The flight was about 17 hrs. I paid for wifi on the flight so I could sort out how to salvage my itinerary.. I now had four days in Auckland before catching my flight to Wellington on my original itinerary. Luckily I had booked separate flights so I could just drop the IUE-AKL part. I slept most of the flight, waking up just in time to see our flight path cross over Niue (sadface).


United Y IAH-SYD


Crossing near Niue (Alofi)


United Y IAH-SYD
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Old Feb 22, 19, 11:24 pm
  #2  
 
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I'm stressing out just reading this, but very intrigued to hear more!!! I can't wait to hear how it all turns out.
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Old Feb 23, 19, 1:25 am
  #3  
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January 1, 2019
Flight: Sydney, Australia (SYD) to Auckland, New Zealand (AKL); Air New Zealand; 777 econ
Hotel: ibis Budget Auckland Central; $89

During the flight I had contacted my cousin who lives in New Zealand. Originally I wasn't going to have time to visit them as they were taking a campervan around the North Island. She wrote back and said they were in the Coromandel, which wasn't too far from Auckland! I had also been in touch with another 193'er who lived in Auckland and he said he might have a place to stay.

We arrived into Sydney quite a bit early. I had over 3 hrs layover before the flight to Auckland and decided to try to make it to the Opera House for a quick photo.. it had been over 15 years since I was last in Sydney. No lines at the kiosks but it wouldn't read my passport.

I headed to the train station, just missing one as I was buying a ticket. No worries, the next one left in a few minutes. Got on the train only to sit there waiting another 10 minutes, they said there were delays due to a storm the previous evening. Not good! We finally set off though and I figured I still had enough time. But then we kept stopping, eventually stopping for 30 minutes just before Central Station. By then I was definitely worried about getting back to the airport and decided to cut my losses once we finally got to the station. It still took another 10 minutes to go the last few hundred meters into the station. I walked outside, trying to find a place to catch an Uber back to the airport, but with construction around the train station it took a few minutes.

Got back to the airport and through security with still an hour to spare. I popped into the Air NZ lounge for a few minutes before going to the gate. They called out my name and needed to verify that I had a return ticket from New Zealand, since this ticket had been part of a one-way award.

The flight was on a 777 and arrived into Auckland about 3pm. Arrival through the kiosks was easy (no more passport stamp though). Tudor hadn't been able to arrange a place though, so I sat around at the airport awhile trying to book a hotel. The ibis Central seemed a good choice, not too far from his place and the Skytower. I caught the Skybus into town then walked the last few blocks to the hotel.













Air New Zealand Y SYD-AKL

I was able to book a car for tomorrow, but finding a place to stay was trickier.. it was summer break and everything in the Coromandel was booked out solid or super expensive. I ended up booking a B&B in Tairua on the eastern coast and found a cheap hotel in Thames, that would take care of the next 3 days at least.

Tudor came by at 7PM and we had dinner at his place. He had finished visiting every country as well and had some amazing souvenirs he had brought back, including a coco-de-mer nut from Seychelles. We sat chatting about travel for nearly 4 hrs!

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Last edited by hauteboy; Feb 23, 19 at 9:49 pm
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Old Feb 23, 19, 4:55 am
  #4  
 
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What a hectic start to your trip - hope that the rest turned out to be okay.
Great to see another TR from you, looking forward to the rest.
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Old Feb 23, 19, 9:53 am
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Again you have me on the edge of my seat. Three hours to get to the CBD see the Opera House and get back!! You have some stones. I would never have done that, then all the little delays, it would have made me think I should not do this...Can't wait to hear more.
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Old Feb 23, 19, 9:40 pm
  #6  
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Jan 2, 2019
Hotel: Paku Palms; Tairua, New Zealand; NZD330 ($220)




I had arranged for the car pickup at 10 AM this morning. Which gave me a few hours to kill. I had breakfast next door at a cafe then walked up to the Skytower a few blocks away. The road was all torn up with building the City Rail link. I had been to Auckland before almost 20 years ago, arriving on the QE2, but the only place I remember visiting was Mt. Eden.



Ibis Auckland Central


Eggs Benedict

The Sky Tower is over 1000' tall (just slightly taller than the Eiffel Tower) and the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere. There are a couple of observation decks, or for those more daring they have the Skyjump bungee or the Skywalk where you are clipped to the outer rim of a catwalk. There wasn't any line to go up the tower, though they mentioned they expected much larger crowds later today with a cruise ship.

Spent a few minutes walking around the lower observation deck. They have a few locations with a glass floor where you can look straight down 600'. The weather was still overcast today but I could see Mt. Eden and the Auckland Harbour Bridge There is a separate elevator to the smaller observation deck at 720'.




SkyTower



It was time to go back to the hotel and grab my bags. The car rental shuttle came by and picked me up at 10 AM. Arrived at the car rental place to a huge line out the door! It took over 30 minutes before I was able to finally get going. The weather was clearing too and was supposed to be a clear day out at the Coromandel. Remembering the mantra 'left! left!' Tairua was about a 2 hr drive from Auckland. I planned to stop in the town of Pokeno to get ice cream.

There was some traffic due to construction and near the turnoff to Pokeno there was a long line of cars heading out to the Coromandel. The Original Pokeno Ice Cream shop was already busy. They have quite a few flavors and you can get up to 14 scoops on a cone! I settled for a more reasonable 3-scoop Hokey Pokey, which started melting immediately in the heat! I also grabbed a steak pie for lunch (eat dessert first).



Pokeno Ice Cream

From Pokeno I headed off on route 2. Traffic was on and off heavy in areas. I'd finally heard back from my cousin and found they were going to be in Thames tonight and near Tairua the next night, so opposite of where I was staying! Then found out they were heading up from Waihi beach and they were going to be in Waikino station, not too far from where I was. So I headed off south down from Kopu junction, arriving at the train station after about 30 minutes. The road ran along the edge of the mountainous peninsula before turning up the pretty Karangahake gorge.

Arrived at the station about 1:30 and met my cousin, who I hadn't seen in many years. She had moved to New Zealand for work and married a Kiwi. He was off doing a run and so she was waiting at the cafe with their kid who I'd never met. Sat for awhile catching up then we went for a walk down the railway to the old gold mining factory area.

Her husband finally returned from his run and we drove back down the gorge to the Owharoa Falls. There was a swimming hole under the falls and I went for a short swim in the (cold!) water.


Owharoa Falls

It was about now 4:30PM and I had to make it to the B&B by 6PM. From Owharoa Falls, it was about the same driving time going to Tairua going in either direction. My cousin was heading off to Thames campsite for the night. There are a lot of free camping sites in New Zealand, you can just pull off almost anywhere. I headed in the other direction towards Waihi before turning north on Hwy 25. The weather was amazing, clear blue skies. Hwy 25 was crazy twisty going through the mountains before rejoining the road cutting across from Thames.

Driving the Coromandel

Arrived in Tairua just before 6PM and drove up to the B&B. It was on a high hill on the east side of town and the driveway was super steep, I'd originally gone up the wrong way. The owner came out and had to guide me backing down the hill and up the right way. The setting was just gorgeous, with the multi-layered house on the side of the hill overlooking Pauanui on the peninsula across the channel. Despite the channel only being a few hundred meters across, it takes 30 minutes to drive to the other side around the bay.

As they showed me around the property I was more and more impressed. The place was amazingly decorated, and my room had a balcony overlooking the bay below. Didn't hurt that the weather was just about perfect. They had a Balinese style hottub and a garden. I sat around in the room just relaxing. I was more and more glad I'd picked this place! The owners recommended a few places in town for dinner. I decided to walk to the Tairua Beach club, I had noticed it on the way in. There was a trail leading down the hill so I didn't need to walk on the road.




Paku Palms, envious view

When I got to the Beach Club it was about 7PM and many of the tables already had 'reserved', but luckily was able to get a room in the corner. I ended up having a lamb burger which was very good! Then walked along the shore before going back up the hill to the B&B.




After an amazing day filled with the SkyTower, ice cream, meeting my cousin and an amazing view, I was feeling less sad about missing Niue.. especially since the weather there was supposed to be rainy/cloudy my entire visit.
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Last edited by hauteboy; Feb 23, 19 at 9:48 pm
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Old Feb 23, 19, 9:41 pm
  #7  
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Originally Posted by rkaradi View Post
Again you have me on the edge of my seat. Three hours to get to the CBD see the Opera House and get back!! You have some stones. I would never have done that, then all the little delays, it would have made me think I should not do this...Can't wait to hear more.
hah yes probably a bit ambitious for 3hr! But literally was going to take the train to Circular Quay, snap a few photos then head right back! I'd been to the Opera House twice before anyway so no big miss...
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Old Feb 26, 19, 12:17 pm
  #8  
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Jan 3, 2019
Hotel: Hotel Imperial; Thames, New Zealand;



The owners of the B&B were great hosts. They had bought the house a few years previously to retire, but they still had a house in Auckland and the husband still worked there and commuted on the weekends. They mentioned last night there was a trail leading up to the top of the volcano peak.

I was up early so decided to hike up the trail. The first part of the trail was steep overgrown stairs before coming out on the road above. There was a park there with a trail between the houses. Already huffing and puffing I wasn't sure I'd make it up the rest of the way! But I kept going. There was a sign saying there was going to be a 'King of the Mountain' 5k race up to the top later that morning! I started passing a few people on the way down from the peak. From there the trail was in good condition until the final scramble up some rocks to the peak. It was another gorgeous clear day today.





I was the only one at the peak at the moment but just as I was getting my drone out a couple of boys came rushing up to the top and were crowding around. I still managed to get a few shots out from above the peak and the surrounding area. Going back down the mountain was much easier. It was still too early for breakfast so had a shower and went to soak in the hot tub for a few minutes.

The B&B had a breakfast order card that I had filled out the evening before. It all sounded so good, homemade hash browns, local sausage, salmon, etc that I'd checked almost everything on the list! And it was all very amazing, though the sausage flavor was a bit odd to me, whatever spices they had used. There was a Chilean couple staying at the B&B and they were also planning to head to the Hot Water beach. The hosts had also recommended doing a coastal boat tour and I was able to book one for 1 pm".


I hated to leave the B&B but I needed to get on the road soon. I drove down the hill and turned north to Hot Water Beach. By the time I got there, the town was already quite busy with no parking available. I drove back to the campervan parking lot which was still mostly empty, and there was a trail here leading to the beach that didn't involve wading through the creek. The beach itself was packed. There is a narrow strip of beach where you can dig your own hottub.. the hot water seeps out through the sand at low tide. There were already a few holes dug in the sand with people sitting in them. I tried a few abandoned ones but they weren't in the right spot and the water was cold. I finally gave up trying to find a hot one and just sat in one of the cooler pools. Despite being a beach, there's no swimming due to currents. I spent about 40 minutes here before it was time to head to Ferry Landing for the boat trip.



Hot Water Beach

I had just enough time to stop in Cook's Beach for fish & chips. My cousin was planning on staying here tonight, they were coming around the peninsula the opposite way and we planned to meet up again after my boat trip. Ferry Landing was also packed and I had trouble finding a spot, having to circle around town a few times before finally finding a place to park. I ran into the Chilean couple from the B&B here. They said they had been at the beach and their pool was too hot to sit in!

Ferry Landing is located across a narrow straight from Whitianga, you can either take a foot-traffic ferry across or drive 40 minutes around the bay. Our tour boat finally came across the straight to pick up people on this side. The trip took about 2 hours, going around Mercury Bay almost back to hot water beach. All of the beaches looked very busy, the guide said that 20 years ago only 30,000 people came to Cathedral Cove every year, now it is 10X that number. We also saw a pod of dolphins swimming around, which the guide said was quite rare! Towards the end of the trip we entered a sea cave.









I had arranged to meet my cousin at 3:30 in Coroglen but I got there only to receive a message they'd gone to the Hot Water Brewing Co, which meant backtracking about 10kms. She had met an American friend who was staying nearby. This was a quicker visit though, only spent 30 minutes there as I needed to keep moving if I wanted to get to Thames before dark. I planned to take the 309 road across the mountains to Coromandel Town. There was a grove of remaining Kauri trees along the way. The Kauri trees were heavily logged in the 1800s and very few remain. The route was mostly paved but soon switched to gravel and it felt like Jurassic Park driving through the ancient forests.

I came across the Kauri Grove with a short trail leading off. There was a shoe disinfecting station at the start of the trail to avoid bringing in disease. There were a half dozen or so trees here which are just massive. This land had belonged to a mining company vs a sawmill so they had been spared.


Kauri grove


After the grove I continued down to Waiau Falls which were just off the road. From there it was just a short distance back to joining the main road and turning north for Coromandel Town. I was quite hungry by this point. I stopped at the Pepper Tree restaurant for dinner but it was very busy and they said it might be over an hour wait for food! I think I made the right call though in ordering the 1kg bucket of green-lipped mussels in wine sauce as they came out fairly quickly. Delicious! Followed by a rhubarb crumble for dessert.



It was still an hour drive south to Thames, and now I wished I'd booked a place in Coromandel instead.. it had been a busy long day and was pretty knackered! It was also getting dark and I'd hoped to make it there to avoid driving much at night. The road hugged the side of the mountains for most of the distance, no towns or anything for the first half of the trip. Finally started passing through some towns and there were some areas along the way where some campervans were parked.

I finally arrived in Thames about 9 PM. The Imperial Hotel turned out to be an old school pub hotel with shared bathrooms. Pretty dim inside and was run by an Indian guy. Not very often one stays in a hotel that has the Bhagavad Gita! Definitely a step down in ambiance (and cost) from the previous night!

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Old Feb 26, 19, 12:21 pm
  #9  
 
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If I'm not mistaken, you spent new year onboard the IAH-SYD flight. How did it went? A friend of mine did it once, flying from Buenos Aires to Madrid, and as soon as they entered Canary Island airspace, they were all congratulated, as it was already midnight in the local time, so it was the start of a new year. But going to Australia means crossing the date line, which makes things even dizzier, at least for me...
What a pity you didn't make it to Niue. Were you given back any money of the tickets?
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Old Feb 26, 19, 12:41 pm
  #10  
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Originally Posted by eielef View Post
If I'm not mistaken, you spent new year onboard the IAH-SYD flight. How did it went? A friend of mine did it once, flying from Buenos Aires to Madrid, and as soon as they entered Canary Island airspace, they were all congratulated, as it was already midnight in the local time, so it was the start of a new year. But going to Australia means crossing the date line, which makes things even dizzier, at least for me...
What a pity you didn't make it to Niue. Were you given back any money of the tickets?
The captain mentioned Happy New Year but on arrival into Sydney (not local time/dateline) there wasn't any celebration on the plane at all.

Air NZ refunded the taxes on IUE-AKL flight and the hotel didn't charge me a fee in Niue, but the Niue car rental did charge a no-show.

Last edited by hauteboy; Feb 26, 19 at 12:46 pm
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Old Mar 9, 19, 10:49 am
  #11  
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Jan 4, 2019
Hotel: YHA Rotorua; Rotorua, New Zealand



Had a bit of a slow start this morning. I'd already seen the sights I wanted to see in the Coromandel yet still had almost two full days before my flight to Wellington tomorrow evening. Plus the clouds had moved in and it was overcast this morning. I had breakfast at a nearby cafe then walked around town a bit. There was a walkway along the shore and a boardwalk through the mangrove swamps. There was a bird hide dedicated to Fernando Pereira, who was killed when French special forces sank the Greenpeace ship 'Rainbow Warrior' in 1985, which was protesting French nuclear testing in the Pacific. The park had been built with reparations funds.




Kiwi Christmas Tree


The weather in Rotorua was supposedly better so decided to head there for this afternoon. A friend had recommended going whitewater sledging there and I was able to book a tour for 2 pm. The weather started clearing as I headed south from Thames after 10 AM. I passed through the town of Matamata which has labeled itself 'Hobbiton' as the set used in the LOTR movies is nearby and has become a huge tourist attraction. The visitors center resembled a Hobbit house and there were loads of tourist buses here. The tours to the site run like every 15 minutes yet were already sold out for the next 3 days!



Arrived in Rotorua about 12:45PM and went to Kuirau Park in the center of town. There are several geothermal features here, colorful hot springs, boiling mud pots and steaming vents. I had been in Rotorua nearly 14 years ago but the weather during our visit wasn't that great. Today the weather was near-perfect blue skies and not too hot. I had just enough time to grab some meat pies at a nearby bakery before it was time to head to the visitor center for my tour pickup. I found a meter with about 2 minutes remaining but it wouldn't allow me to go beyond 3 hr time limit, despite it saying unlimited time. I hoped they wouldn't check the meters on a Friday afternoon!






The bus pickup for rafting was on time and we spent a few more minutes driving around town picking up others. Then drove a fair distance out of town to their office where we got suited up in thick wetsuit, boots, helmet, and lifejacket. Most of the group was just doing whitewater rafting. We hopped back in the van and continued onto the launch site. Then had to walk down the hill carrying the sledges, which were essentially large boogie boards. I was seriously starting to overheat in the wetsuit by this point and was having second thoughts about '... am I doing here?'. Especially after having to climb over a fence and climb down onto the rocks. I definitely was the oldest person in the group! Though once in the water I finally started to cool down.

The guides demonstrated some safety procedures and how to twist around in the water, and the main rule 'don't let go'. We went down the first rapids and had to kick hard to get to the calmer side of the river, but even kicking as hard as I could the guides still had to haul me along. Whew. They asked how I was doing and said I could manage. We went down a few more rapids but one I was a bit too far left to the edge of the channel and bashed my knee hard on a rock! Another one the current caught me and did a corkscrew in the water! Definitely a lot tougher than whitewater rafting.. in sledging you are the raft! Finally, we came to the final rapid and hung out there for awhile trying to surf the waterfall. I was pretty worn out and was worried about there being a large hike out, but luckily there was a parking lot on the same level as the exit point! Definitely was fun but definitely tough when you're out of shape!



I decided to pay extra for the photos and then caught the shuttle back to town. I was over 30 minutes past the time on the meter but luckily no ticket. I drove over to the Government Gardens and walked over to the museum, but it was closed due to the building not meeting current earthquake structural standards! The museum is a gorgeous Edwardian building that used to house the thermal baths. It was nearly 5 pm and still hadn't booked a hotel for the evening. I sat for awhile relaxing on the lawns while booking the YHA Rotorua. It had been several years since I had last stayed at a hostel!





I drove to the hostel but they hadn't received the booking yet. Turns out I had gotten the last bed as someone came in just after me and they said they were full! The YHA here is huge and occupied several buildings. I found my room and luckily there was still a bottom bunk free. The lockers even had a plug inside them to charge up devices, a nice feature. For dinner I walked to the nearby El Mexicano Zapata restaurant which claimed to be the best Mexican restaurant outside of Mexico (hah!). They were fairly busy but was able to get a table fairly quick. They used old Jose Cuervo tequila bottles for water bottles! Ordered the Pastel de Elote, a corn cake with layers of beef and chicken. Was good, but odd. I'm more used to something like cornbread but the top was basically creamed corn.


Back to the hostel and I headed up to the common room to watch TV for a bit. A few people hanging around. There was a mix of people staying at the hostel, mostly younger of course but there was a family there with a baby and some older people too. I was pretty knackered though after the long day and went down to my bunk to sleep.
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Old Mar 9, 19, 4:27 pm
  #12  
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Jan 5, 2019
Flight: Auckland, New Zealand (AKL) to Wellington, New Zealand (WLG); Air New Zealand economy
Hotel: Mercure Abel Tasman; Wellington, New Zealand



I had until 8 pm tonight before my flight to Wellington. I could have driven to Wellington in that time but the car rental would have been more expensive. I decided to go visit the Wai-o-Tapu thermal area again, having visited it also 14 years previously. The main area opens at 8:30. I quietly left the hostel and had breakfast at a cafe before driving south from Rotorua. On the way I passed the old Geyserland Hotel where we had stayed in 2004, apparently, now it is condemned due to shifting ground!

Wai-o-Tapu means 'Sacred Waters' (same etymology of taboo). It's about a 25-minute drive south of town. Stopped at the boiling mud pools before going to the visitor center, which was already quite busy. I got my ticket then realized I didn't have my hat with me so ran back to the car. The sun had come out again for a nice day. I managed to get ahead of most of the tour groups and spent the next hour or so wandering the full loop of trails. There are many colorful acid lakes and hot springs here.


Artists Palette



Champagne Pool

Devil's Bath



It was just after 10 AM and most of the crowd was clearing out to go visit the Lady Knox geyser, which the guides set off at 10:15 every day using soap. I didn't need to see that as I'd seen before. I decided to go for broke and go visit the Waitomo Glowworm caves, which were still another 2+ hr drive away. The main route was back through Rotorua but I cut across through the middle via Whakamaru.

Finally arrived at Waitomo just before 12:30 but literally missed the next tour at 12:45 and had to wait about 40 minutes for the next one. That would be a bit tight trying to make it back to the Auckland Airport in time. I had a mussel fritter for lunch that was pretty delicious. The caves are one of the most popular tourist sites in NZ and get very busy. I could have bought a ticket in advance but wasn't sure if I would have made it in time! The tour was OK and takes about an hour, going in the dry cave above then going down below to board the boats to the glowworm section. The glowworms aren't really worms, but a form of fly larvae that have bioluminescent lures. I had seen some in the South Island but still amazing going through the dark (have to keep super quiet) while the guides pull the boats along.

It was 2 PM now so hopefully that left me enough time to get back to Auckland airport. Unfortunately, I got stuck behind a long line of slow-moving trucks and tractors before Hamilton and it took nearly 20 minutes before I was able to pass them all and get back to normal speed. Finally got back on the NZ1 expressway again just north of Hamilton but that was short-lived, it is still under construction for a section near Taupiri.

I hit a bit more traffic when entering Auckland metro area, then got lost a bit looking for a petrol station near the airport.. the BP station labeled on my GPS ended up being for aviation fuel! But fueled up the car ok and dropped it back off at the car rental area. The car had been pretty dinged up when I picked it up but should have taken my own photos (the agency in Auckland city had) and the agent had to get the photos from them so that took awhile. But no worries (I had scraped up the passenger-side hubcaps but they didn't seem to notice....). They dropped me at the domestic terminal where I still had a bit of a wait before my flight. I checked in at a kiosk and headed to the lounge.


NZ AKL-WLG

The flight down to Wellington was uneventful. The Uber pickup point at Wellington was a good bit of a walk out in the parking lot. Caught a ride to the Mercure Abel Tasman hotel and went to sleep. This was my first time visiting Wellington.
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Old Mar 9, 19, 4:53 pm
  #13  
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Jan 6, 2019
Hotel: Mercure Abel Tasman; Wellington, New Zealand

I had two full nights in Wellington which meant I had the whole day today to explore the city. I had booked a WETA workshop tour this morning, the company that did the props for Lord of the Rings and many other movies. It was a Sunday morning though during a holiday week so the streets this morning were dead, dead. I tried finding a cafe for breakfast but they either weren't open on Sundays or they were 'closed for holidays'! Finally ended up finding a McDonalds before reaching the visitor center bus pickup.

There were a few others going on the tour this morning. We got a bit of a rolling commentary on the way out to the area near the airport, this has become a mini Hollywood with most of the warehouses and buildings now housing sound stages, post-production offices, etc. Outside the workshop were some troll statues from LOTR/Hobbit movies. The tour was OK, just going through some of the rooms showing the movies they had made and some conceptual designs and props like helmets and swords. Amazing the detail and work that goes into them! Again most of the workers were still on holiday but there was one guy there working at a blacksmith forge.







After the tour, I caught the bus back to town, then started walking down towards Starbucks and the cable car. Someone had mentioned that visiting Zeelandia was a good option. Unfortunately, I arrived at the cable car and they said it wasn't working today! So started walking back to the visitor center where there are hourly buses (free) to Zeelandia. I stopped at the Wellington museum along the way, housed in an old warehouse. I was a bit late though to get back to the bus and had to run the last bit.





The Zeelandia preserve is an attempt to reestablish native NZ animals and plants. There is a huge fence surrounding a valley that used to hold a water reservoir. There are trails all throughout the preserve. I spent a few hrs here wandering about going up to the dam and suspension bridge. There is a section with tuataras, they look like lizards but are quite distantly related.






I caught the shuttle back to the top of the cable car, which now was running again. There is a great view out over the city from the park at the top. Once back down at the bottom I walked up to my hotel where I crashed for a bit.





For dinner, I walked up to Cuba street which is lined with cafes and restaurants. Ended up eating Mexican again! This time the Flying Burrito Brothers. This place felt more like a Mexican cantina than the one in Rotorua and the tacos were legit.
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Old Mar 13, 19, 8:23 am
  #14  
 
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Wai-o-tapu is the best choice for geothermal activity - and Cuba Street is the safest place to eat in Wellington for variety and authentic food . Choice Bro
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Old Mar 13, 19, 12:49 pm
  #15  
 
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Originally Posted by hauteboy View Post
The weather in Rotorua was supposedly better so decided to head there for this afternoon. A friend had recommended going whitewater sledging there and I was able to book a tour for 2 pm. The weather started clearing as I headed south from Thames after 10 AM. I passed through the town of Matamata which has labeled itself 'Hobbiton' as the set used in the LOTR movies is nearby and has become a huge tourist attraction. The visitors center resembled a Hobbit house and there were loads of tourist buses here. The tours to the site run like every 15 minutes yet were already sold out for the next 3 days!...
...The guides demonstrated some safety procedures and how to twist around in the water, and the main rule 'don't let go'. We went down the first rapids and had to kick hard to get to the calmer side of the river, but even kicking as hard as I could the guides still had to haul me along. Whew. They asked how I was doing and said I could manage. We went down a few more rapids but one I was a bit too far left to the edge of the channel and bashed my knee hard on a rock! Another one the current caught me and did a corkscrew in the water! Definitely a lot tougher than whitewater rafting.. in sledging you are the raft! Finally, we came to the final rapid and hung out there for awhile trying to surf the waterfall. I was pretty worn out and was worried about there being a large hike out, but luckily there was a parking lot on the same level as the exit point! Definitely was fun but definitely tough when you're out of shape!

Sorry about the recommendation, but looks like you still had a blast!
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