Greetings from beautiful New Zealand! Right now I'm on the north island in the stinky sulfur-y town of Rotorua. This is our second stop and we've already passed through the country's most populous city, Auckland.
FIRST ORDER OF BUSINESS: I apologize in advance for any typos. I have decided to focus on content in these posts, potentially at the cost of correct typing. : )
Our travel was uneventful (but long) and I had a surreal feeling as our plane lifted off the ground at LAX. Are we really doing this?? YEP. Goodbye USA, see you in May!
Auckland is a lovely mid-sized city (but the largest by far in New Zealand) and it's home to about 1.5 million. The city sits on hundreds of small extinct volcanoes right at a beautiful bay. The views of the water are what LA wishes it could have. So gorgeous! In your dreams, LA.
A few things struck me right away:
1. It's summer here! The sun sets around 8:30PM. This threw us off the first night as we had no idea it was so late based on looking at the light.
2. It's humid and hot -- my curls are not having this. Good thing I like the hair-out-of-the-way look. It's more practical anyway.
3. It's hilly. Our hotel in downtown Auckland was at the top of a hill. We did a lot of walking, and every single time we had a hill at the end. Whew. The silver lining here is that some of the hills have breathtaking views, like from the top of Mount Eden, for example!
Getting used to the time zone change wasn't very hard. New Zealand is just three hours behind LA, but a whole day ahead on the calendar. So the first day, it was only 3 hours off from what we're used to. I have to keep working hard to remember the date, though.
As a traveler, I like to stay away from the large crowds and I like to take my time. Luckily, so does John. In Auckland, we visited the beach, the aquarium, the Maritime Museum, and Waiheke Island, and we really try to stay and see as much as we want, knowing that we'll leave as soon as we're worn out. We focus on real meals (snacking too much throws us off for dinner), and we've been walking a lot. Will our travel strategy evolve over the next 3 months? Guess we'll find out!
After 4 days of getting used to the city, it was time to head out. We took a tour that left Auckland and headed to Hobbiton, the site of the filming of the Lord of the Rings movies. It was a fairy tale land come to life! The sites were charming because of all the attention to detail. Yes, there were lots of people there, and it's definitely a tourist stop, but that didn't bother me because it was outside and spread out.
We also had the chance that day to visit the Waitomo Glow Worm caves. I didn't take any photos inside (as it wasn't allowed), but I encourage you to google it and look at some of the professional photos. The caves have been open to visitors for over 100 years and it was easy to understand why. The stalactites and stalagmites were cool, but the real heart of it was the completely silent and completely dark boat ride through the caves that attract the glow worms. I had goosebumps! It was such a magical feat of nature. Thousands of glow worms live on the ceiling of these caves and looking up was like looking at the night sky if it was completely filled with stars. Just tiny glowing dots everywhere. It was beautiful.
So now we're in Rotorua, which sits inside a caldera (think Yellowstone). There are geysers and mud pots and hot springs, not the kind of thing you see everyday. They stink! The lake gives off a not-so-lovely sulfur smell, but you stop noticing after a bit. We also saw a sheep-shearing demonstration (hokey, but awesome), and a nature park featuring the NZ-famous Kiwi bird!
A quick dip in the hotel's swimming pool was nice and warm because they heat it with water from the natural hot springs right nearby. Pretty neat.
There's been so much already and I could keep writing, but I don't want to get out of hand in week one, so I'll stop here for now.
Next up: Wellington and Christchurch!