Monday, May 25, 2015

Huka Falls

Well, that was a break I hadn't intended to take. I put finding a place to live over writing a post for my mom to read. Where are my priorities?


It's time to get the heck out of Auckland. Because Auckland is kind of boring.

Off to Waikato! Only 1.5 hours from Auckland and it's a town.

Okay, so maybe not so exciting. But, it's centrally located to three things high on our list of "stuff we want to see": Lake Tuapo, Waitomo Caves, and Hobbiton.

After depositing our belongings in the new Airbnb, we set out for Lake Tuapo, the largest lake in New Zealand, and also a massive crater leftover from a massive volcano eruption 27,000 years ago.

Which is cool and all, but since we didn't have a boat, we were more concerned with seeing Huka Falls.

Which lived up to the hype, even if we skipped the jet boat adventure option, and my pictures don't do it justice. Did I mention it was cold and wet? It was cold and wet. We didn't need to add jet boat induced hypothermia.

Freezing, we hustled back to the car so we could hunt down priority #1. Which, we all know is food.
The Crafty Trout Brewery to the rescue. The Crafty Trout is a brewery with a strong Alpine Lodge influence. If you can't handle listening to variations on the Chicken Dance, I'd recommend going elsewhere, but you'd be missing out. The steak and ale pies were perfect to warm up with. The pint didn't hurt either.

Delicious, but if I don't get to eat grilled food in warm weather and sunshine at some point in 2015, I will seriously begin to question my life choices.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Anzac Day - Part 2

The service we were planning on attending for Anzac Day was taking place at the Auckland War Memorial Museum. What no one had mentioned to us was that the museum is free on Anzac Day. Crowded, but free.

Everyone rocks a poppy on Anzac Day, including us...

and the museum grounds.

We had plenty of time to wander the museum, which had more exhibits than either of us were expecting. There is an entire floor dedicated to Maori and Pacific Island history, and the museum has the largest collection of Maori and Pacific Island artifacts in the world. It's filled with intricately carved tikis, spears, boats and even a building called Hotunui, which the museum is in the process of restoring.

One of the panels up close and personal

Apparently, only men were allowed to carve, and the wood was considered sacred. Any scraps had to be burnt so they weren't used for a cooking fire. Or touched by women.

The second floor is  home to the natural history galleries. It was my least favorite floor.

Finally, the top floor is the history of New Zealand's involvement in World Wars I and II and New Zealand Wars. Because it was Anzac Day, very crowded, and it felt slightly inappropriate, I took very few pictures. There is an incredible exhibit called Scars on the Heart, which was created using personal experiences of the men and women of the armed forces and those who stayed behind.
Here's the one picture I did snap, because it made me laugh.

Having gotten our fill of the museum, we made our way outside to the cenotaph where the service was going to be held.

All of the chairs you see here would eventually be filled by veterans and the families of veterans. The service started with the honor guard filing in.

Photo credit: Katie

The guard had the privilege of standing facing the cenotaph for the whole service... which clocked in at over an hour. Their ability to stand still is far, far greater than mine. I once had a yoga teacher tell me to stop fidgeting.

The veterans, active military, and various military groups filed in changing our view slightly, but definitely for the better.

The service was very moving, with one flaw. Which wasn't actually part of the service. The worst dog in the world was behind us. It barked incessantly and liked to lunge at other dogs. The worst part though was the smell. It was a horrible combination of dirty dog and excessive flatulence, of course upwind from us.

After the service, we decided to take much needed naps before going out. We've known each other over 15 years and had never gone out before. 

The real highlight was when at our 3rd bar of the night, California Gurls came on and Katie and I lost our collective minds. There was dancing, singing, and wild gesturing to convey that we were in fact California girls which no one noticed much to our disappointment. Anzac night was sponsored in large part by tequila. Thanks tequila. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Anzac Day - Part 1

It was 4 in the morning when I discovered my hopes a red-eye flight would make for minimal jet lag were misguided.

I do not like being wide awake at 4 am, but if there is ever a good day to have it happen, it's Anzac Day. Not just any Anzac Day, the centennial Anzac Day. It's even better when you're sneaking down the hall for a glass of water and realize your travel companion is wide awake as well.

Anzac Day, for those not in the know (which is pretty much everyone not in Australia, New Zealand, or Turkey) is the day the Australia New Zealand Army Corps (or ANZAC) invaded Gallipoli during World War 1. Unfortunately, "while there may have been no military victory, there was victory of the spirit as New Zealand soldiers showed courage in the face of adversity and sacrifice." 

Anzac Day is kind of a big deal here. The day starts with a dawn service at 6 am, and there are more services throughout the day. Being up at 4 am, Katie and I were optimistic we'd be able to make the 6 am service at the Auckland War Memorial Museum. We did not.

Having missed the dawn services, we decided to try our luck at Mount Eden instead. We pulled up, and found the gates locked until 7. Undeterred, we thought we would traipse on up to the top (which didn't look too far), dressed in Anzac appropriate service attire.

Of course, there was no traipsing about it.

Mount Eden is the highest point in Auckland.

One does not simply traipse to the top of Mount Eden.

We huffed and puffed and swore our way to the top. Our reward? 360 degree views of the city. Oh, and rather large, well preserved crater.

See the island off in the distance? It's Rangitoto. You'll be hearing about it in detail eventually.

This is the crater.

Then to make us feel bad, 20 people came running up the hill, with barbells on their backs. As if that weren't enough, THEN they commenced with their workout.

This hill, to be exact.
We took that as our cue to leave.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Muriwai: Water's End

Apparently, in addition to not knowing how to eat a feijoa, I also do not know how to eat muesli.

You'd think it's something I would have learned at some point in my 27 years, but you would be wrong. Since it most closely resembles non clumpy granola, I assumed it's eaten like like granola. Aka, sprinkled on top of yogurt.

Apparently, it's treated more like cereal and eaten with milk and yogurt. Jeanette was shocked I was eating her (very good, homemade) muesli "dry".

My American was very clearly showing, but she'd never heard of granola, so at least there's that.

Eaten right or wrong, muesli is just the ticket before you set off for an adventure. Especially when said adventure will include amazing fish and chips. 

We'd planned on spending the day in the Coromandel, but it was looking like rain, and Gerry pointed out that it was a holiday weekend, so our destination was sure to be packed with Aucklanders fleeing the city.

He directed us toward Muriwai Beach instead, which is one of New Zealand's black sand beaches. It was our first day out and about, so of course we stopped for some pictures en route.

Photo stolen from Katie's Facebook. I'm "windswept". 

For all 40 minutes of the drive we sounded like broken records.

"Oh my God it's so pretty"

"It's so green"

"So pretty"



"Is it lunchtime yet?"

Fine, the last one was just me.

After a few wrong turns, and we ended up with a bird's eye view of the beach.

Which, in predictable New Zealand fashion, was gorgeous.

Speaking of gorgeous

As for me...I stuck my landing.

Which is always surprising.

Down on the beach, there's a path that will take you up and over this cave. You can walk through it at low tide, but having not consulted our tide tables, we got there as the tide was coming in.

We scurried up the trail instead, trying to stay ahead of the field trip hot on our tails.

Because having gorgeous beaches isn't enough, Muriwai is known for it's colonies of gannets.

This is not the local term for surfer, of which there were plenty, albeit off in the distance.

Alas, a gannet is... a bird. 

Most of them had fled by the time we arrived (thank God). From August to March, the rocks surrounding the beach are covered in them.

If it were a month earlier, I could have pissed off ornithologists by being the shrieking blonde Californicus nativus. 

Since we weren't really dressed to go tramping through the bush, we went back to the cave for a few final pictures.

Where I tried to take one without my sunglasses.

Not shown: the tears streaming down my face .5 seconds later. 

So sunglasses on it is. 

As we were leaving, buses of kids began arriving. We might not be able to time tides, but we avoided the hoards of children.   

But we didn't get our fish and chips. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

I'm in New Zealand!

I feel like this might be common sense (to everyone but me), but did you know that when you land at 5:45 in the morning, everything at the airport is closed? Yes, including coffee. Which is a shame as I desperately needed after a 13 hour red-eye from LAX. Even with the extra legroom I'd procured for myself for super cheap (thanks Air New Zealand), I still didn't get a ton of sleep on the plane.

Then there was the wait for Katie (who was on the flight behind mine). Apparently, sitting on the floor near baggage claim surrounded by luggage is cause for concern for security. I assured a different officer every 15 minutes that I was fine, just waiting for my friend, which didn't seem very believable until an hour into my wait when her flight finally showed up on the screens. 

We made it through customs, to be greeted by this handsome fellow.

The excitement of finally being in New Zealand quickly turned to frustration when our rental car was no where to be found.

The company was horrible. They didn't answer their phone, and their office address was a boarded up shack that could be used as the set of a horror movie. They emailed me later to say they thought we were arriving at 8:30 pm. Believable, except the scheduling on their website was done in military time.

Thankfully, an expensive taxi and a stop by Budget in Auckland yielded us an almost new hybrid for me to learn how to drive on the opposite side of the road. I figured it out fairly quickly, as the choice was figure it out or end up in a head on collision.

Katie only had to point out I was on the wrong side of the road a few times and it was always on empty residential roads. This was far, far less than either of us was expecting.

With our new wheels and new found driving on the left skills, we headed out in search of the Frolic Cafe for breakfast since one of us* didn't eat anything on the plane and was ready to kill someone.
That same person then proceeded to lose her shit over how orange the egg yolks were when the food did arrive.


The "Breakfast Buttie" was the perfect I'm-starving-feed-me-know breakfast. Grilled bacon (nothing like the far superior American bacon, a lesson I learn then forget) served in a warm buttered ciabatta bun with caramelized onions and tomato chutney. They may not do crispy, smokey bacon here, but chutney as a condiment almost makes up for it.

Fortified, we made our way towards our first accommodation.

Now, I might not be able to book a rental car online, or sleep on a plane even when I've procured myself extra leg room, but I booked my first ever AirbnB like a pro. We stayed here for the first 4 nights. And it was glorious.

Jeanette and Gerry's house sits on the end of the Te Atatu peninsula, offering panoramic views of the water and the city.

It was the perfect place to have a glass of Paso Robles Pinot and Napa Chardonnay that we'd picked up in town.

Or, ya know, the local wines.

New Zealand has a wine hoarding problem. At wine shops in California I can find maybe 4 bottles of NZ wines. But there are so many. Having to choose between hundreds of delicious, affordable local wines was a very welcome problem after the fiasco of the morning.

We cracked open  bottles in our color of choice (white for me, red for Katie) and sank into the deck chairs quite content to get lost in our books for awhile.

By awhile I mean about ten minutes. Both of us were restless after the long flight, so we commenced with exploring the property.

There's a trail that goes around the peninsula...


gorgeous landscaping...

...which includes guavas and feijoas. Feijoas are a local fruit that everyone seems to grow. I think they're a bit of an acquired taste, which is code for I didn't really like them. This could have something to do with the fact that I ate my first one wrong. Feijoa season seems to be going strong so I still have time to come around to them.