October 24, 2011

All Blacks Victory

What a great night! Last night was the Rugby World Cup Final, New Zealand Vs France. It was such a close game finishing 8-7 as New Zealand clutched onto the lead for the win. It was madness after the game as people poured out of fanzones and bars to flood the streets and fireworks lit up the sky. There are no words to describe the feeling of the city last night, so I'll just give you some pictures so that you can see for yourselves.

Ready for the game

The crowd watching the game

Celebrating the win!

Fireworks after the win

Everyone flooding Queens Street in Auckland

October 22, 2011

East Coast and Inland

Gisborne and Napier were really delicious. We went there for two things, sun and wine (or other alcoholic things) and we were able to have both for almost the entire time we were there. In Gisborne we enjoyed free tastings at The Cidery which makes all of the Scrumpy, Harvest and Bulmers ciders for New Zealand. Then we were caught in a torrential downpour. Once that passed we were pretty much enjoying the sun for the rest of the week. We visited the Gisborne Wine Center and had two tasting platters with 6 different local Gisborne wines in each tray. The east coast is known for its Chardonnays and Syrahs and both were as lovely as we had hoped they would be. On our way into Napier we passed two wineries - Esk Valley and Crab Farm. It seemed rude not to stop in for a free tasting, so we went in. We also decided it was a good day to try something other than the local wine. We headed just outside of town in Napier to the Filter Room where they brew their own beers and ciders and had a tasting tray there.

In case you're worried all we did on the east coast is drink, we also did some nice walks. Both places have walks that take you to the top of hills/cliffs for lookouts over their industrial ports and into the Pacific Ocean. We also watched both of the quarter final matches of the Rugby World Cup in Napier. Luke had been growing a mustache in honor of Kurtley Beale, but when Australia lost he decided to shave it off.

After Napier we headed inland to Taupo where we did some souvenir shopping one day and did some sightseeing on the other. The standout sight for me was Huka Falls, a waterfall that pushes so much water through such a tight space that when it drops it is nearly as loud and powerful as Niagara Falls. Our next stop was the Craters of the Moon. It is a thermal area with literal craters in the ground. The steam pours out of them and when you get close enough you can hear the bubbling of the steam pushing through the ground. These were different than others that we have seen because there wasn't any water in any of them. The only liquid was a little bit of boiling mud in the larger craters. Our last stop of the day was called the Honey Hive. We tasted enough honey to make me feel sick then tried some Mead which is alcohol made from fermented honey. They even had a working beehive inside that you could look into, kind of like a giant ant farm.

After Taupo we headed south to Tongariro National Park. The campground alone stands at about 1100 meters (3600 ft), so needless to say it was a little bit of a cold night. We were rewarded with a beautiful sunny day at the park though. We did a 4 hour walk which gave us incredible views of the three enourmous volcanoes that live there. The second largest of the three, Mount Ngaruhoe is a perfectly cone shaped volcano and was used as Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings. After the long walk we were pretty exhausted and headed out of the national park for a warmer nights sleep near New Plymouth.

We woke up yesterday and headed to another national park, Egmont. There is only one volcano here, but it is enough. For people that thought they only needed to see Tongariro, they have missed out because Egmont (also known as Taranaki) is a stunning mountain. We drove into the park and got out of the car just in time for the gale force winds to arrive. We had about enough of the wind once we'd take a few photos and I fell over, so we got back in the car and headed north.

We spent the night in Otorohanga, a small town outside of the Waitomo Cave area. Today we are pretty much just heading north again so that we will only be a short drive outside of Auckland for Sunday morning. Our plan is to get in line at the fanzone as early as possible so that we can party all night with the Kiwis when the All Blacks beat France tomorrow!

October 12, 2011

Hot Sun and Hot Pools

Ok, I'm back again today to try and write a blog that doesn't get deleted! We have had a busy week touring Tauranga and Rotorua. After we left hot water beach and Coromandel, we headed east to Tauranga. It was a beautiful day so we headed to the town next to Tauranga, Mount Manganui. It is right on the beach and has a hike up the mount with the same name where you can see some great sights. We decided because it was so hot and sunny we would do the walk/uphill climb in our flip flops. Although we still made it to the top, we did it much slower than all of the people running up past us! On our way up we were stopped by an interesting old man in a climbing helmet who wanted to tell us the future. After we were informed of the next coming we carried on up the hill. Once we finally made it to the top the views were well worth the sweat we (I) had to wipe out of my eyes. You could see beaches in all directions and the ocean was sparkling blue from the sun.

We spent our nights in a local park, McClaren Falls Park that had hot showers and interesting campers. Our next day in Tauranga was equally as sunny. We explored the park and found the waterfall that the park is named for. Then we spent the afternoon trying to find my a scoop of ice cream in vain. Of course once we settled for prepackaged ice cream I saw a sign for the one and only place in Tauranga that you can get a scoop from...

On our last day in Tauranga the rain was back again and we had a lazy morning at the park before heading on our way to Rotorua. As we drove in we waited for the smell that everyone had told us would be there, but we didn't smell it. We stopped at Kuirau Park where you can freely see some of the thermal areas as if they were just small gardens that had been planted. Steam rises out of the ground, sometimes the water or mud bubbles to the surface, and then we smelled it. The smell of sulfur from that moment on was something I could not get out of my nostrils.

We were going to spend the night in a campsite just out of town, but when we arrived we found out that their gates shut at 9 O'clock, and we had come to Rotorua for the semi-final games of the world cup, so we were not going to be heading to bed at 9. Instead we headed back into town to spend a few nights in the luxury of a Top Ten Holiday Park. Anything with hot showers, running water that you can drink out of the faucet, and a kitchen with a tv is definitely luxury after the campsites we've been staying in! Our second day in Rotorua we did a walking tour and explored the waterfront and the souvenir shops. We spent the night watching the second day of the Semi finals in an Irish pub after discovering the night before that unless you are either 8 or 80, the fanzone is not the place to watch the games in Rotorua.

On our last day we decided to go to a Maori village and have a hangi. Traditionally a hangi is a meal that is cooked underground (sort of like a clam bake) for several hours so that when the meat comes out it is so soft and tender. It is a little different in Rotorua where boiling hot steam comes out of every crack and crevice. Instead the mean is cooked inside a box that sits over a thermal area and the steam cooks the meat sort of like a pressure cooker. The vegetables are wrapped in a muslin cloth and dropped straight into the thermal pools to cook. The meal was so good it just melted in our mouths. The only complaint is that it had to end!

We had a really good time in Rotorua, but it was nice to leave and smell the fresh air again! We are now on our way to explore Whakatane (pronounced fa-ka-tan-ay) for a little while and then heading to the east coast for Gisborne wine!

October 05, 2011

Hello again!

What a whirlwind the last two weeks have been! I don't even know where to begin! I will try not to bore you by giving you a day-by-day account of what we have been up to, but still try to fill you in on what we've been up to.

Our three days in Wellington were great! Like I said in my last post, we were SO excited to get back into a city. It was so refreshing to see people our age after spending months in small towns and farm country. Wellington is a bustling place that also just happens to be hosting a few Rugby World Cup games. For the most part people are just going about their normal lives, which luckily for us meant busy cafes and crowded bars. In between eating and drinking out all week, we did actually see some sights in Wellington. We spent a beautiful sunny morning at the Wellington Botanical Gardens which you access via a cable car from the center of the city. We spent all morning getting lost in all the gardens that will eventually have flowers pouring out of them in a month or so. We spent another day in the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa. It has everything you could imagine: Maori culture, historical artifacts from New Zealand and Kiwi line dancers (we happened to arrive on USA Day). The best part about Te Papa is that it is completely Free!! On our last day in Wellington we did a tour of the parliament building as well as the Beehive (a building shaped kind of like a beehive which houses MP offices). The evening was filled with USA chants and National Anthem singing as we headed to the USA vs Australia match to watch the USA get smonched (technical rugby term) by Australia 65-5.

Although I shouldn't really label it Taupo because we hardly spent any time there, but I will anyway. On our way out of Wellington we stopped at the Tui Brewery. We did a tasting which came with a free beer mug and Luke bought a tshirt. After touring around the property and taking some photos, we moved on our way to make it to Taupo to catch the All Blacks vs France in the Fanzone. We popped into a pub to watch the end of the Warriors semi-final game (we watch A LOT of rugby now) then headed on our way to Auckland. Not before stopping in a picnic area and taking a cat nap/sleeping for 5 hours.

If we thought we were excited about being in a city like Wellington, we didn't know what was awaiting us in Auckland. Anyone who thinks they have experienced the Rugby World Cup yet but hasn't been to Auckland is wrong. Auckland is the Rugby World Cup. The Fanzone is incredible, the amount of fans buzzing around the city is electric and the bars are spilling out on every corner. We were heading to Auckland because we had tickets to the Fiji Vs Samoa game at Eden Park. We met the nicest bus driver who gave us a free ride to the bus that would take us to the stadium. It was a great start to the night. The stadium was nearly full of Pacific Islanders and their flags. The players did a Haka at the same time against each other which was probably the best part of the game. Samoa was a much stronger team that Fiji and dominated much of the game, but it was still great. Even better was the atmosphere in the Fanzone later that night for Argentina vs Scotland.

We left Auckland after two days and headed north to explore the beaches and the Northern most point in New Zealand. Our first night was spent at a campsite about an hour and a half north of Auckland where we watched some more rugby in the very locals local pub before heading back to our campsite for the night. We did a walk the next day along Mangawhai Heads just up the road from our campsite. It was like being in a tropical island! The weather helped as well, the first truly hot spring day we have felt in a while. After one more night in the same campsite we went to Waitangi the next day, the site where the treaty was signed making New Zealand a Commonwealth member. The site is pretty interesting and we got in for half price since we had working visas (making it even better obviously). We capped off our adventure in Northland with a bus tour to Cape Reinga. Our hilarious bus driver told jokes that only a dad could tell and showed us some of the most incredible white sand beaches. We explored Cape Reinga as well, but the real adventure came on the way back from Cape Reinga. We stopped about 15 minutes south of Cape Reinga at these enormous sand dunes. We got out, grabbed sleds, huffed and puffed our way up the dunes and went flying down to the bottom. After three tries we were pretty much exhausted from climbing and covered in sand, but it was well worth it! We carried on driving all the way down the beach called 90 mile beach, although its not quite that long before getting back on the road and completing the Ride.

So Auckland wasn't really on the itinerary at this point, but plans are only as good as your ability to change them right? Well we really wanted to see the England vs Scotland game, but the campsite we were going to closes its gates at 9 O'clock and the game didn't even start until 8:30, so camping there was not going to be an option. We decided to use their showers anyway, then hop in the car and road trip to Auckland. It turned out to be the BEST decision. We parked in the outskirts and as we were walking into the city we heard all of this commotion. We followed the noise and found about 50 rowdy Scottish fans chanting outside of the hotel that the Scottish team was staying at. We waited about half an our and there they were strolling out of the hotel in their warm up gear getting onto the bus. After that we were buzzing! We had a few drinks and ate a nice healthy McDonalds before heading into the very crowded fanzone to watch the game. It was a much better atmosphere than we would have gotten at any small town pub we may have gone to, and we had a great sleep in the front seat of the car at a service station!

Ok I'm sure you're starting to get really bored of reading now, but I promise I'm almost done!

We weren't really expecting much from Hamilton. The Lonely Planet didn't really have much to say about it, but we had our last world cup tickets there for Fiji vs Wales, so we had to at least spend the day there. We headed straight for the Botanic Gardens which I must say are probably some of the best gardens I have ever been to. There are so many small gardens and places to sit, and as usual the flowers have not all fully bloomed yet, but you could imagine how beautiful it will look in a few short weeks. We ended up wandering into a Maori festival which was free, so we went in to explore. We are so glad we did because just as we were arriving, a Maori Concert was starting. It was a local tribe putting on a show with singing, dancing and hakas. It was the best part of the day! We headed to the game in the evening and it was raining pretty hard. On the way though we did get free sausages from one of the sponsors, ANZ, so that made for a great start to the game! Wales trampled Fiji and it was pouring by the time we left, but we had a great nights sleep at a campground that we thought we would never find making it all the more exciting when we did finally get there!

Although we thought we would spend much more time in Coromandel, we decided mostly because of the bad weather we've been having, that we wouldn't spend as much time here. We did of course have to go to the famous Hot Water Beach where you dig yourself a hole in the sand and have a hot spa! Low tide was at 730, but they say that you can go two hours either side of low tide and dig yourself in. Well, they are lying. There is still SO much water where the hot pools are meant to be dug that you dig a little bit of a hole and then a wave comes and puts back all the sand. After we figured this out we decided just to wait and watch other people dig and dig and then get their holes covered by sand. Oh, also every part of the beach isn't a hot spot, only parts of it are, even though people are digging EVERYWHERE! It wasn't until about 7 oclock that we could dig in the hot area at which point we decided to help out another group and just sit in their hot pool instead. But finally at about 7:45 (after arriving at 5:30) we were sitting roasting our bums in a hot pool. Well worth all of the trouble we had!

Well that's about all we've been up to. Hope I haven't bored you all to death! I will try to write more frequently now so that there aren't massive posts to be made!