It felt like a bit of a dream leaving Delhi....we'd been in Asia for 11 months!! We had a mammouth trip to New Zealand that included a 12 hour stopover in Singapore, this combined with the excitement of games and movies on demand on the plane meant that we arrived completely knackered. We headed straight over to Remuera where we were staying with family on Fi's side.
Anne and John were extremely hospitable and staying with them in Auckland was a really lovely experience.....one year into our travelling experience, just the touch of home that we needed to reinvigorate us to continue! Anne cooked up some fantastic dinners..... perfect home cooking after spicy vegetarian India. We spent about a week in Auckland getting over our jetlag, eating rather well, running round getting a load of medical tests done on Bryn for his green card and also enjoying local delicacies such as fish'n'chips in swish Parnell.
We were also priviliged to get a space on one of John's legendary Auckland tours, getting a feel for the city off the Link bus route and seeing many locations linking in with family stories. The tour culminated in the high court where Fi got to experience her first (and hopefully only) trip to the dock.
On reccommendation, we headed off to Tiritiri Matangi island in the waters next to Auckland. Native bird species tend to struggle on the mainland due to exotic pest species introduced when the Europeans arrived. They've actually eradicated all these pests from Tiritiri and spent much time introducing native bush back to the island.
When we arrived we were assigned a volunteer guide, Anna, who took us on a 2 hour walk - showing us many species on the way.....Tui, Quail, Stiches and Saddlebacks. The highlight though was the little blue penguin and penguin chicklet which we found hiding underneath the walkway.
We also headed over to Waiheke Island, just an hour's boatride from Auckland downtown. The island is known for it's hippy, artistic, green community and it's fun having a potter round.
It's also got a large selection of boutique wineries....and we eagerly set off on a tasting circuit. Favourites included Jurassic Ridge where we had quite an indepth chat and a vine tour from the (English!) owner.
We also went to trendy Mudbrick where we got to enjoy a wedding present.....wine tasting complete with cheese platter on the terrace looking out across the vines down to the sea. Stupendous! Thank you very much Jessica!
Back in Auckland we headed off to the US embassy for a nail-biting 3 hour wait for our green card interview. It didn't help matters as we saw other people get turned away after failing to even get a tourist visa. However, our turn finally came round and we seemed to pass the suspicious repetitive questioning.
With Bryn's green card in the bag we were able to head off on our NZ road trip, we were very fortunate to be able to borrrow Anne and John's car and we excitedly set off for the Coromandel peninsula, mountainous and green, with beautiful yellow sand beaches, and with an extremely wiggly road hugging the coast all the way round. It really felt off the beaten track, and so close to Auckland!
We visited Hot Water beach where if you arrive at the right tide time you can dig yourself a hot water pool in the sands above the hot springs underneath. We arrived at the right time, along with most of Auckland, so we had to content ourselves with dipping our toes in other people's pools! We visited Cathedral Cove, with it's rock formations, and were the first to spot a school of leaping dolphins out in the deep water.
We headed through the Bay of Plenty and on to the East Cape, with more spectacular coastal scenery. We spent our wedding anniversary kayaking in the beautiful serene and green waters and building up the courage for a quick dip in the extraordinarily cold waters.
The most easterly lighthouse in the world...
We also visited Gisbourne eager to taste the aromatic white wines for which the area is famous...but we were stymied as everything was shut so we had to content ourselves with a tasting in town. We also visited the Eastwoodhill Arboretum - a nice walk, and great if you're into trees. We did manage to find some amazing wine tasting platters in town which went down nicely one afternoon in the sunshine...
Further down the coast, we enjoyed wandering around Napier and the art deco buildings. The whole town had been flattened by an earthquake in 1930 and as a result the rebuilding was designed to boost morale using the latest building fashions.
The area around Napier, Hawkes Bay, is one of the largest wine regions in New Zealand and we eagerly set about visiting the wineries. We also headed over to Craggy Range where Anne and John had got us a fantastic wedding present....a three course gourmet lunch complete with reccomended wines. Pate, terrine and Pinot Noir to start followed by the roast pork platter accompanied by Viognier....yum yum.
We also set about walking to the largest gannet colony in the world....8 km along the beach - only accessible at low tide. You can get really close to the colony, perched on a grassy plateau overlooking cliffs and we had a lot of fun photographing the gannets as they swooped low over our heads into their nests.
We couldn't come to NZ of course without doing a good old Kiwi Tramp and all the wine and food was taking it's toll. We fancied the Tongariro Crossing as it's billed as one of the top 10 one day walks in the world. We arrived into the little village of National Park, which actually seems to exist more for the winter ski season than summer walkers, and it was pretty quiet....and we weren't able to do the walk the following day due to the weather.
When we were finally able to get out and do the walk though we weren't disappointed. The weather was clear and the sun was beating down as we set off, across some lava flows and up a steep 500m climb up to the South crater, with fantastic views to Mt Taranaki in the distance. Another steep 300m ascent up to the red crater. Feeling pretty good we set off on a side trip up the Mt Tongariro summit, sliding across snowfields on the way. Back on the main trail as we came up to the rim of the red crater we were treated to some pretty spectacular views....down into the red crater, and over to the absolutely stunningly beautiful emerald lakes and then over to the blue lake. A really great one day walk!
Back in Auckland we bid our farewells to the Priestleys - thanks again Anne and John for everything After 3 fantastic weeks in NZ, we headed to the airport for the usual check-in debacle. This time, not only did it take us the usual extra hour than everyone else to get through check in, the Air NZ staff had got so flustered over our ticket that they forgot to tag our bags! Of course, we only realised this as we stood sadly awaiting our bags at the other end! However, luckily Bryn had found us a fantastic beach-side bungalow and as there didn't seem anyone else around on our patch of sand we swam happily for a couple of days in our undies whilst we awaited our luggage!
When our backpacks finally arrived we were able to really get into the swing of things....sipping the fruits of our Hawkes Bay wine trip on our deck watching the sun go down, spending hours out on the reef searching for fishies and long walks on the endless white sands that seem to completely surround our bit of the island.
We proudly dragged ourselves away from the beach to attend our local Sunday church service where despite tourists making up about half the numbers we were treated to some superb singing.
Feeling like all we did was sit round eating and drinking (which pretty much was the reality) we worked up the energy for the cross island trek.....right through the uninhabited mountainous jungle centre. The views across to both sides of the island were spectacular.
Feeling virtuous after our walk and having worked up an appetite we headed to one of the legendary Island Nights - an all you can eat buffet stacked full of local delights....ika mata (raw tuna fish with coconut cream and lime), taro and octopus. We were then treated to a local dance troupe who entertained us with fire dances, coconut husking and an awful lot of hip shaking! A great evening - and another wedding present - many thanks to Helen and Manu!
10 days on Rarotonga has absolutely raced by, it's felt like a holiday within a holiday, but it's time to move on again...this time to LA for our rendez-vous with our parents, Fi's first thanksgiving and Bryn's proud entry into the USA with his new green card!!