My Travel Map

My Travel Map

20 September 2019

Around-the-World Honeymoon: Week 1

Friday, 20 Sep 2019: Auckland, New Zealand

So here we are: after over 20 hours of travel time from SoCal, we are in Auckland, New Zealand.  I've been wanting to return here for 13 years, and now the time has finally come.  I have to say, I'm not at all disappointed with day 1; everything was incredible. We started the day bright and early at Eight Thirty Coffee Shop, with some delicious coffee and scones and toastie (swiss and cheddar cheese with pickles!) then did a big walking tour around the charming and peaceful city.  Auckland is somewhat like if San Francisco and small-town Hawaii were blended into one metropolis; it has a thriving hipster, business, and local culture alongside a totally laid-back atmosphere. After several hours of exploring on foot, we climbed the hill through the park at the Auckland Domain to hit the epic Auckland Museum for a double whammy of Maori culture and history and NZ war history. We spent more time there than expected, as we especially enjoyed the exhibits on volcanoes, Polynesian cultures and artifacts, Maori culture and the live Maori Cultural Performance that included traditional greetings, song, dance, and skills games. After the museum, we wandered back to the harbor to catch some beautiful afternoon sunshine by the water with some drinks and great conversation with a couple of Kiwis that adopted us for the afternoon. We had an early night in after I enjoyed some of the best fish and chips I've ever eaten (I remember that from my last time here too!) at a local pub along the charming and lively Ponsonby Road.

The Maori carvings at the museum, including masks, spears and other weapons, village gateways (waharoa),  canoes, and even a full, traditional village meeting house, were incredibly beautiful.

I was also very, very pleasantly surprised to find out that the Rugby World Cup starts today in Japan.  This will be an epic time here enjoying the Cup with some of the greatest rugby fans in the world.  Canada plays NZ on Wednesday...I wish I had brought my Team Canada hockey jersey...  :P  This is going to be such an amazing trip.  I'll do my best to update this post day-by-day.

Saturday, 21 Sep 2019: Auckland to Coromandel, New Zealand

After a delicious breakfast in Auckland at one2one cafe and a quick stop to pick up our rental car, we hit the road.  We didn't go too far, making our first stop with the car at the Otara Market in South Auckland.  The Otara Market runs on Saturday mornings and is supposedly the largest Polynesian market in the world.  It was fantastic! The market is a mix of farmers market, flea market, and food stalls. The Otara neighborhood is predominantly Maori, and there are signs of strong Maori identity all around the market, such as these United Tribes (background) and Maori national (foreground) flags.

There is also plenty of evidence of strong ties to the greater Polynesian world, with many stalls selling merchandise with symbols and signs of Aotearoa (New Zealand) and the other Polynesian islands (shirts for Cook Islands, Niue, Tonga, and Samoa all shown here). For Aotearoa, there were also shirts and merchandise for the different Maori iwi (tribes) from regions around both the North and South Islands.

After the market, we drove through the pleasant countryside towards the Coromandel Peninsula. The Coromandel is a beautiful hilly and mountainous peninsula that sticks up into the Pacific to the East of Auckland.  We were stunned by its beauty and were treated to some lovely weather while we were there too.

It is Spring in New Zealand, meaning there are plenty of lambs scampering about.

The Coromandel still boasts many stands of native bush and groves of the now rare kauri tree, which tower over the surrounding bush.

Kauri trees.

We shacked up in this charming little spot for the next couple days: Hahei Beach. There are several islands off shore, making the horizon a bit more interesting to look at.  You can see from this picture too that the beach is flanked by high hills and bluffs on both sides, also adding to the charm.

Making things even more magical, we saw a pod of dolphins from shore.

Not a bad first day of our New Zealand road trip!

Sunday, 22 Sep 2019: The Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand

 We started the morning off bright and early with a hike along the coast North of Hahei Beach to Cathedral Cove.  We had another beautiful day.

Cathedral Cove is a pair of pristine, lush,white-walled coves that are connected by a natural tunnel in the rock:

We really lucked out with the tide... when the tide is too high, you can't walk through the tunnel.

I'm pretty sure this distinctive rock, which might look like a cathedral tower from some angles, gives the cove its religious name.  Krista and I took a very, very chilly but tinglingly refreshing swim in the sea here too.  It was quite cold but the warm air and crystal clear water made it too tempting to resist a dip. We were the only people there that went swimming, but it was the rest that were missing out.

New Zealand's native forests feel primordial; several different types of ferns, including fern trees, are dominant species.  Thanks to all of the rain that the islands get, most places are very lush and green too, with plenty of colorful moss and lichen covering the rocks and trees.

One native plant species is the symbol of the nation, the silver fern. Its silvery underside is a natural reflector.

Our final stop for the day was at Hot Water Beach, where a receding tide reveals geothermal hot springs the feed right out of the sand at the tide line. The water was very, very hot in places and had to be combined with the cold sea water to make a pool usable. As you can see, it is quite a busy spot, with everyone showing up ready to go with their shovels and spades - and even a digging dog.

Monday, 23 Sep 2019: Rotorua, New Zealand

Next up on the itinerary was a stop in Rotorua, at the Northern Center of the North Island.  Rotorua is famous for its geothermal sites and its strong Maori culture.

Rotorua sits on the southern shores of enormous Lake Rotorua, which is actually a flooded caldera of a supervolcano. Because of the volcanic activity in the region, the whole town smells slightly of sulfur, a constant reminder of the tremendous power that lies so close underfoot. Kuirau Park, right in the middle of the city, boasts a nice array of geothermal features, like these sulfur vents and steaming hot pools below. 

This beautiful Anglican church is part of a larger Maori complex, including the beautiful meeting hall seen below.

That night, we went out for the Mitai Maori cultural experience and hangi feast. The Mitai iwi host visitors from all over the world on their land, where they offer guests a chance to learn about Maori traditions and culture and share a meal cooked in the traditional hangi style: in a hot pit in the ground.

I never appreciated before that the Maori culture was so musical.  Prior to European contact, Maori did not have a written language, and knowledge and information were passed down by word of mouth, often in the form of songs. We were treated to several songs and the Mitai haka, or war dance. We also learned about the ta moko, facial tattoos. Each tattoo represents a different bird, with the one under the mouth being the owl (ruru), representing wisdom. Designs representing kiwi, parrots, and other birds also are featured on some ta moko. Ta moko must be earned, and are accumulated over time, eventually telling much about the one who wears them.  Designs are specific to families and iwi. 

The Mitai lands include this spectacular fresh water spring, which turns out all the drinking water the iwi needs, plus enough more to feed a sizable creek.

The hangi included chicken, lamb, potatoes, and kumara (a Polynesian sweet potato). By cooking the food wrapped up in the ground, everything comes out beautifully moist and flavor-infused, having been marinated again and again in its own steaming juices.

Tuesday, 24 Sep 2019: Rotorua to Hicks Bay, New Zealand

We woke up to a very rainy day, but despite that, decided to go on with our plan for exploring more of the volcanic and geothermal activity around Rotorua.  Our first stop was Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Wonderland. Because of the rain and wind, we didn't get the most time to explore and enjoy the sites, but there were many features similar to what is found around Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming/Montana.  Above is a bright orange bacterial mat lining the edge of a deeper pool.  Below is a huge boiling mud pool.

A high concentration of arsenic in this pool makes it glow in that eerie green shade. It looks as though someone has dumped a load of toxic or nuclear waste there in the middle of the park!  Supposedly, the pool glows even more in sunlight.

The Lady Knox Geyser is one of the star attractions; it is "induced" to erupt every morning by park staff using a type of eco-friendly soap.  If left to its own, it would go off every ~48 hours or so.  For perspective, the geyser cone comes up to around shoulder-height on an average human.

Next, our rainy drive took us up to the East Cape of the North Island, a place not visited often by tourists or Kiwis alike. The East Cape is beautiful though, with a rugged coastline where hills and mountains meet the ocean and several fine beaches.  The driving is like that along the Great Ocean Road in Australia or the Pacific Coastal Highway in California.

The East Cape is also known for its strong Maori population and culture, and there are a range of cultural experiences that visitors can choose from. Also, if you want to do any hiking inland, one should always ask permission at the local Maori community center; this is Maori land. Guided hikes and horse treks are available in many places though, too.

After a long and very wet drive, we stayed the night in a little Bed and Breakfast just above Hicks Bay and enjoyed a wonderful hot, home-cooked meal at the motel and lounge near there.

Wednesday, 25 Sep 2019: East Cape, New Zealand

We woke up to a beautiful sunrise at our idyllic B&B over Hicks Bay.

The contrast between this day and the day before was almost unbelievable.  What had been angry seas, depressing skies, and little visibility the day before had transformed into multifaceted, green slopes and golden beaches meeting calm and inviting turquoise blue waters under crisp sunlight and lightly clouded skies.  Basically, it was an absolutely beautiful day to drive around the East Cape.

After a quick bite and some delicious coffee at a little cafe and manuka honey shop near Te Araroa, our next stop was the small and lovely St. Mary's church in Tiki Tiki.

At a quick glance, this looks like a typical Christian church inside... however, the details themselves are all distinctly Maori.

The stained glass in the church uses a variety of Maori patterns, all in the traditional black, white, and red colors.

The carvings inside the church are beautiful and unlike anything I've ever seen in a Christian church before.  It's amazing that these exist considering Christianity's strong aversion to idolatry.

The Waiapu River: a prime example of the huge rivers that flow from the highlands inland on the East Cape out to the Pacific Ocean.

Hikurangi: the high points of the East Cape and protected, sacred - "tapu" ground for the local Maori

There are some old industrial ruins visible from the bridge.  I guess that would be an old lumber mill...

After the highway takes some time inland moving through the mountains, it pops back out again with some stunning views of the rugged coast.

As we had seen the day before, Maori culture is thriving and highly visible around the East Cape.

This place offered Maori language courses.

There are even some full-blown Maori restaurants along the way.

The peaceful beaches and town of Tokomaru Bay

Our entire journey was along Highway 35, which is the main route around the East Cape.

The beaches along the East Cape come with plenty of drift wood because of the all the densely wooded inland, steep slopes, and large rivers flowing right into the ocean.

Tolaga Bay and its very, very long wharf

Some of the epic scenery along the highway

We finished the day of driving in Gisborne.  The town is clearly working class and dominated by the forestry industry. There are some charming shops, cafes, pubs, and old architecture in the center, though.

You'll also see plenty of these signs around, which roughly translates to: "Let's make the Maori language strong."  These indicate that the owners of the establishment will usually employ staff that speak Maori.

Sunset at Gisborne's port; those logging vessels are probably headed straight to China after they are fully loaded.  The road outside our hotel had trucks full of logs from further inland heading to the port all day and night while we were there.

Thursday, 26 Sep 2019: Napier and Wellington, New Zealand

Needing to travel from Gisborne to Wellington, this was a long day of driving. We got to the small city of Napier around 10 o'clock in the morning, and took a bit of time to wander around the time, have brunch, and enjoy Napier's charming Art Deco architecture.

In theme with the architecture, there are plenty of retro clothing and bric-a-brac shops around town, selling the styles and collectibles from the roaring 20s.

This row of gems is known as the Six Sisters; we had brunch at the Six Sisters Cafe.  It was fantastic and delicious.

The road from Gisborne to Napier was slow and windy and mostly forested, but after Napier it opened up and was mostly straight with epic views of distant, snow-capped ranges over lush countryside.

Just before sunset, we arrived in New Zealand's other big city, the capital, Wellington.

There is plenty of Art Deco architecture around Wellington too.

Wellington has some delicious cuisine, especially Asian options. We had some fantastic Malaysian food and sushi while we were there.  The city also boasts some fantastic breakfast and brunch cafes too; they definitely take their coffee seriously there.

Cuba Street is one of Wellington's shopping, food, and nightlife centers.  There are several great restaurants, pubs, and cocktail lounges within a few blocks of this pedestrian only thoroughfare.

Some Maori presence is obvious here too, but not nearly as strong as in and around Auckland.

I got to enjoy a couple of the Rugby World Cup games in Wellington, with the North American teams kicking off their tournament.  The crowd was lively and boisterous for both games, but both Canada and the USA got crushed by their European opponents.  Oh well.