Sunday, July 16, 2017


The big city!  Well, kind of.  Metropolitan Auckland has about 1.5 million people.  That makes it smaller than Pittsburgh. Heck, all of New Zealand is smaller than metropolitan Atlanta.

After hearing people elsewhere in New Zealand say, "...oh.  Auckland."  making it sound like some sort of miserable place, like people would say, "..oh Cleveland."  So, we didn't know what to expect.  Does Auckland have towering Alps?  No.  Raging rivers?  No.  What it does have is a neat harbor surrounded by interesting places to visit.

We spent two whole days in Auckland and a day on the road to Hobbiton and Rotorua.

The first day began with Dan jumping off a bridge.  Nothing wrong with that bridge, mind you.  It just needed jumping off.

Auckland Harbor Bridge.  Perfectly good bridge.  Just look at it!

Ready to go!

Heading out.

Bungee launch capsule 

Ready for launch


...surrounded by a perfectly good bridge.

On the rebound.

On the way back up.

Following that, we booked a bus tour.  As it turns out, we were the only ones that day and the bus was more of a minivan, so it was like getting a private tour.  During the tour, we discovered typical Auckland fall weather.  Nearly every hour had a 5 minute rain shower followed by 55 minutes of sunshine.  It is the poster child for "if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes."  In fact, it should be the city slogan!

Auckland Harbor as seen from the bridge

Botanical Gardens

Peppers!  Or Capsicum!

Ferns everywhere!

Mt. Eden crater - just after a 5 minute shower

Michael Joseph Savage Memorial - also after a 5 minute shower

Michael Joseph Savage Memorial Park

St. Mary's.  Where Sir Edmund Hillary left for Everest.

The second day, we rented a car and took off for Rotorua via Hobbiton.  Hobbiton the set location for part of the Lord of the Rings movies.  They struck the set after the LOTR movies, but then had to build it all back again for the Hobbit movies, a few years later.  At the suggestion of the farmer, on whose land the set sits, the second build was made permanent and the tours of the place have been going great guns ever since.  Not cheap, either.  About $50US a head!


Our Hobbit Hole

Bag-end with famous fake tree

Bilbo's house.

Hobbit hole

Who knew Hobbits read Dickens?

"Free" beer in the Green Dragon

The Green Dragon

We beat a hasty retreat and managed to get to Rotorua and visit Te Puia with enough time to take in the Maori cultural show and walking tour of the geothermal area.

Maori cultural show - invitation, if all goes well.

Song and dance

Haka dance - getting ready for a battle

Audience participation portion of the haka dance

Cooking pool.  Pit of boiling water

Pohutu geyser

Geyser erupts about once an hour.  Each eruption lasts for over 40 minutes.

Pohutu geyser is right by a stream.

Bubbling mud pits

"Stuffy" the Kiwi.
 Te Puia also has a Kiwi enclosure with a couple of birds.
 This is the only one that was easy to see!

We drove back in the dark and called it a day.

Our last day in Auckland, we had more to do than we had time!  Ultimately, we took a very good harbor tour, which visited Rangitoto, a 600 year old volcanic island.

Ferry terminal

Container port

Harbor tug

The port was busy.  APL is "American Presidents Lines".  They invented "double stacking" of containers on trains in the US.  This part of the business is currently called "Pacer Stacktrain"  (Next time you're stuck at a RR Xing, look for their blue boxes)

Happy Harbor cruisers

Restored lighthouse

Rangitoto volcanic island - formed "only" 600 years ago.

The Spirit of New Zealand sitting in the harbor.

Returning just in time for another shower

After that, we headed over to Devonport on the ferry for a quick look around and then lunch by a fireplace, overlooking the harbor.

The view from North Head

WWI era retractable gun

Devonport lunch stop

We ended the day with sunset cocktails at the top of the Skycity tower.

Our Airbnb (six floor building smack in the middle) 
View from Airbnb

Cocktail hour

Standing on the glass floor!

Walking home from Skytower.

Time to pack and head for home.  It's a long way home!

Surviving the LAX layover.

Some random thoughts from the trip

The international dateline screws you up!

On the way out:

What happened to Wednesday?  We left on Tuesday. Flew for a bit.  Watched some movies.  Ate some meals and now it's Thursday morning?  Who stole Wednesday?

On the way back:

Get up in the morning, go to airport.  Fly and watch and eat. Change planes.  Fly a bit more.  Get home that evening.  But, it feels like you pulled an "all nighter".

Australian coins are a hot mess:

The two dollar coin is half the size of the one dollar coin.   The 20 cent piece is huge.  The 50 cent piece is gigantic! A small amount of change in you pocket is like carrying around an anvil.

NZ coins are the world's best:

All prices rounded off to nearest 10 cents.  10 cent piece is copper and the smallest.  There is a silver 20 cent and 50 cent piece, each larger than the other.  The 50 cent piece is about the same size as a US quarter.  The dollar and two dollar pieces are thicker than the cent pieces and appropriately scaled.  Five coins.  Easy to carry and discern.  No needless pennies or nickels.

The Euro coins are generally good, as are Canadian coins, although, along with the US, they penny should be dropped.  Probably the nickel, too.  The US needs to drop paper dollar bills and use dollar coins.  US bills are way too thick compared to paper currency in NZ and Australia.  Everyone's bills are better than US money.

What defines a travel day?  File under "Stupid things we discuss everyday."  (well Dan and me...)

If you are on a plane all day.  That's a travel day.  But what if you are only for half a day?  Does it depend on what you did for the rest of the day?  What if you are on a train?  If you are seeing sights along the way, is that sightseeing or travel?  My definition:  If it involves a train or a boat, then NOT a travel day, otherwise, it depends.  ...and on and on and on...

Baseball in the morning is good.

Evening baseball in the US occurs in the morning in Australia and NZ, so Dan and I got our Phillies fix out of the way early and were less distracted the rest of the day.  I think I like it that way.

Ingenious boxes

Marine shipping containers rule goods transportation on land and seas these days.  They can build them for such a low price that they become surplus after only a few years in service.  They wind up in all kinds of secondary service.  You see them lots of places used for sheds and material storage, and there have been some attempts to convert them to low-cost third world housing, but we say some really ingenious ways we saw them used:
Sideway protection for construction zone - Auckland
Temporary storefronts in Christchurch

Anzac Cookies

Originally baked during shortages in WWI, these cookies are a NZ stable.  All the ones I tried were a bit different, but all pretty tasty.

Hokey Pokey ice cream

A NZ staple.  Vanilla with honeycomb toffee chunks.  It's nice.  We don't need to go back for more...

Star Trek doors

Sliding, edgeless glass panel doors are everywhere in NZ and Australia.   Felt like being on a Star Trek set.  All they needed was the "schweezzz" sound effect.


I'm always looking at and listening for birds.  I'm not a hard core birder, but I do pay attention when I travel.  Australia was like an exploded pet shop.  Parrots of all sizes and colors everywhere.  Terrible squawking, though.  NZ was completely different.  Not colorful, but super interesting sounds.  One sounded like R2D2 from Star Wars.  The grey warbler sounded like a mockingbird on steroids.

Useful sayings

"Good on ya, mate!"  means roughly "way to go!"
"What's on"  means roughly "what's happening"
"Lovely" means roughly "that's good" or "all set"
"Kia ora"  Maori for "Hi!" or "Good day!"

Beverages, of the adult kind

Speights and Monteith beer may be owned by the big brewing companies, but all their varieties stand head and shoulders above Budweiser, Miller and Coors.  They need to bring them here!  NZ white wines are a really nice.  The Marlborough region Sauvignon Blancs will be hunted in the local beverage stores.

Things we need to go back for!

Four weeks is a long time, but we missed a lot.  On the list:


Alice Springs and Ayers Rock
Brisbane/Gold Coast

New Zealand

Stewart Island
Doubtful Sound
East coast of South Island NZ - Christchurch to Picton
Westport and Nelson
White Island
90 mile beach
Tongariro National Park