Michel and Graham (known to some as Dr. Chaos) left March 9, and with Dr. Chaos on board it seemed like they needed a crank handle to get the engine started. Black smoke billowing from a truck plugged into the airplane engine finally got the second engine started and they took off. Connections were very tight, but they made the final flight from L.A. to Auckland. Once again, with Dr. Chaos on board, Graham's flat-bed would not recline. Another crank handle was needed so he could sleep!
Traveling across the date line meant Graham and Michel would never see March 10, 2011!!
Day 1 - March 11:
After picking up the large rental van and driving to downtown Auckland, Graham shoe-horned the van into an extremely confined parking garage. The rest of the day was spent getting a local cell phone, walking around downtown and getting the lay of the land.
Day 2 - March 12:
This day started with a bang! With more cars in the garage, getting the van out of the garage was considerably more challenging than getting it out. Unfortunately, it was not accomplished successfully. A concrete pillar jumped into the side of the van and left it's mark on the rear passenger door. Nevertheless, Graham and Michel made it to the airport to pick up Chad and Dino. Their flight had been less eventful, but very enjoyable - more details are available upon request.
Dino and Chad's first stop after 32 hours travelling was to Apex Rentals to return the LARGE van that had been "destroyed" (somewhat of an exaggeration) by Dr. Chaos. A smaller car was to be the mode of transport for the rest of the New Zealand tour.
The first day for all four Ottawa tourists involved visiting the Otara Market and the districts of Ponsonby, Parnell and Newmarket. Spotting a coffee shop, the four headed for a jolt of much needed caffeine. Dino thought he had escaped the snow but the barista dropped a canister of whipped cream which exploded and sprayed Dino with other white stuff!
Day 2 ended with a walk up Mount Hobson for a 360 degree sunset view of the city of Auckland. In spite of Michel's efforts to teach Graham delayed action photography, the following is a shot of the four ending their day on Mount Hobson (Guess who is missing!).
Day 3 - March 13:
This day featured a boat tour across to Waiheke Island. Graham (and Michel too!) got the tremendous senior's discount of one NZ dollar (75 cents Canadian) off the fair. An Explorer Bus Tour of the island was followed by lunch in Waiheke Village where we all learned that "Chemists Park in the Rear".
After lunch, a bus was taken to the Wild on Waiheke Winery where the wines, beers and other house specialties were sampled.
After the ferry ride back to Auckland, the day ended with "the best fish and chips in Auckland" at the Queen's Ferry Hotel (aka Pub).
Day 4 - March 14:
Until now, the group had been "fortunate to benefit" from Graham's driving experience on the "wrong-side" of the road. Michel took over once the group had cleared city limits. Our rental car has the cleanest windshield in all of New Zealand because the windshield control and the signal light are opposite downunder. It was hoped that cars following would realize that when the windshield wipers were going back and forth this meant the car was making a turn. In spite of this oddity, we all made it to Rotorua.
The drive from Auckland to Rotorua was very scenic and included sites of thousands of cows, a couple of sheep and a few alpacas and deer. We knew we were getting closer and closer to Rotorua by the increased sulphur smell.
Even after experiencing Michel's driving, some felt that the highlight of Day 4 was the Tamaki Maori Village - Journey of the Ages - performance and dinner. We were all assembled to be greeted by the Maori warriors.
After the official Maori welcome, we were given the chance to witness the distinct elements of Maori culture and the traditional Maori Hangi dinner where the food is cooked underground with white hot volcanic rocks. At our table were visitors from New York, Tasmania, Germany, Toronto and London.
The highlight of the tour bus ride back to the hotel was that each nationality was asked to sing a national song. The fantastic four from Ottawa had difficulty deciding on a well-known Canadian song. Being late in the day, the only song that came to mind was "Oh Canada". Unfortunately, nobody else on the bus was able to sing along. We did not win the singing contest. In case we have to do a repeat performance, any suggestions as to a Canadian song that other nationalities would know is much appreciated!
Day 5 - March 15:
The morning drive to Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland - good or baaaad - featured sheep, sheep and more sheep grazing on the hill-side. The visit started with the eruption of the Lady Knox Geyser at precisely 10:15 a.m. You might wonder how a natural event can occur precisely on-time. You guessed it, man intervened and added a bag of soap to create the pressure needed for the on-time eruption.
When the Lady Knox Geyser had finished her thing, we took the 3 km walk through the Thermal Wonderland. Gigantic volcanic craters, sulphur mounds, water falls, alum cliffs, steam vents, hot mud pools, and many other special features were part of the walk. The final feature was the "Devil's Bath". The colour, a result of excess water mixing with sulphur and ferrous salts. In fact, the colour changes from green to yellow depending on the amount of reflected light and cloud colour.
After a drive back to the hotel, grocery shopping for lunch (Dino's favourite), the afternoon was spent checking out the local souvenir shops. The evening dinner was at an "Amazing Thai Restaurant". That's what they called it, but it was very good.
Tomorrow will require a 6 hour drive to Wellington - the southern end of the north island.
Kia Ora (Maori for welcome, hello, goodbye, etc.)