NZ Day 6-8: Caves + Hobbiton + Maori village

Day 6 Caves

Becca took a shower at the holiday park. They give you 5 mins of hot water. She could have used more. We drove 1.5 to the Waitomo glow worm caves. We were supposed to be there at 11am but arrived at 1. They still let us go through which was nice. There’s actually a set of three caves in the area and we went to Ruakuri cave because it was the accessible one. You start out going down this spiral ramp and then into the caves. We got to see the normal things like stalagmites and tites. Those were very cool. And then as you went further in you got to see the area of the cave with glow worms. When all the lights are out they look like little stars. Apparently this is to attract bugs that accidentally find themselves in cave and try to escape. Instead they get trapped in the glow worm’s fishing lines and then get eaten up. Pretty cool. On the way back out of the cave we fell behind our group and lost them. The cave lights are on a timing system and as we were trying to catch up the lights went out and it was pitch black. Becca didn’t like it because that’s when monsters and earthquakes happen. I figured we could just stay still and wait for another tour group to go through but we discovered our phones have lights on them and used those to light our pathway back instead. At some point our guide realized we were behind and came back for us. But we may have scared some glow worms in the process. When we got back to the spiral ramp there was a family from Denmark in our group. One of them offered to push me up the spiral. Becca enthusiastically said yes. Along the endless circles we found out that they are basically on the same holiday trip that we are. We were hitting all the same tourist spots on the same days and then going to the South Island. So now they are our travel friends.

After the caves we went to a nearby free camper van parking lot of a restaurant. They said they’re NZ premier bbq experience. When we went inside it felt more like a lodge at girls camp. But we were happy they let us use their bathrooms and spend the night for free in their parking lot. Though we did opt for the simple buffet for dinner. No such thing as free lunch.

Day 7 Hobbiton

In the morning becca really had to go to the bathroom but the restaurant didn’t open until 9am. So becca went on an adventure and found a nice spot behind a dumpster. We technically aren’t supposed to do that but dire times! We then drove 1.5 hr to Hobbiton or rather matamata which is where the hobbiton movie set was built and filmed.

It was technically thanksgiving day for us in NZ so we opted for the lunch buffet meal. The dining area was set up like a big celebration tent and it was nice to remember when dwarves and elves sat together for a meal before disease ran wild on middle earth. There was bread, pesto pasta, vegetable curry, chicken, fish, steak, and potatoes. So pretty much your standard meal for thanksgiving. Plus dessert! They even had apple crumble. Becca found a couple in our tour group who were from San Jose. We wished them a happy thanksgiving. It was nice to have camaraderie.

After our hobbit feast we started our tour. Since it was a bit hilly they had me get in a golf cart with our special tour guide who told us all the secret facts about hobbiton. His name was mike and he has a great accent. His sense of humor was like the flight of the conchords. So we had fun. He told us that his brother played an orc in Return of the King. He was a guard and just stood there. He also said they took down the original movie set for the LOTR trilogy and actually burned it. The scenes in the movies where the shire is fake being burned and hobbits are screaming if Frodo doesn’t throw the ring into mt. Doom was actually hobbiton burning. Very cool. But then they re-built the set for filming the hobbit and just left everything. There are different scales of hobbit holes for forced perspective filming. There were some very small ones and normal height ones. At the very end everyone got to get a free drink at the green dragon. Becca and I reAlized that if ever there was a trip to start drinking it is this one. We’ve gotten offers for free wine and beer on all our adventures. Luckily we learned from Daniel that the best decisions are made whilst drinking. So we chugged down a pint of hobbit beer at the green dragon. Worth it.

Then we drove to our nearby camper holiday park which has thermal hot springs. We went inside for a bit then showered and went to bed.

Day 8 Rotarua

We didn’t have any pressing plans for today so we took our time leaving the holiday park. We spent most of the morning cleaning my wheelchair wheels because they were squeaking and giving me trouble. We found out that it’s because my chair is old and I need a new one. Even with all the grease it still was very rusty and squeaky.

Then we went into matamata to get more chips and hummus. As well as candy. Of course and set sail for Rotorua which is known for their tourist Maori villages. They only do things in the evening we found out so while we waited for dinner we went to a cat cafe so Lena could get a glimpse of her future as a cat lady. This cat cafe was run by Asians and had 17 cats total. They also gave us a free drink and WiFi for an hour of paying to play with cats. Becca was nice to oblige even though she’s allergic to cats.

Then we went to the Tamaki Maori village. This is where all the Polynesians entertain white people for 4 hours by feeding them and doing the haka. It was actually really cool. I wonder how they feel about commercializing their history, ancestry, and culture. But also it was very cool. The food felt like we were eating another thanksgiving meal. Potatoes, chicken, gravy. They even had stuffing. Becca got a giant samosa for a vegetarian meal. Both were very good. Then we found a cheap camping site by a lake where people were waterskiing in the morning.

NZ Day 4 & 5: kayaking around Aukland islands

Day 4 Kayaking

Woke up to my eyes being glued shut by eye boogers because of all the allergies. We think because of the combination that it’s spring time in NZ and it was really windy yesterday… plus the fact that we are foreigners caused such an extreme reaction. Not one I usually get. Luckily I took drugs and eyedrops to help.

We called an Uber to take us to the ferry terminal which is where we were meeting the kayak people. We had a lot of stuff with us and when the Uber driver pulled up and we asked if it would fit he laughed and said no. But was willing to try. All the ubers we’ve gotten on this trip have been priuses (pri-eye?). You forget that you can use the front seat of a taxi too. So we were able to fit everything.

We got dropped off at the terminal and met up with Daniel from aukland seakayaks. He said he was Irish and I was skeptical at first until I saw his red hair and heard him speak. We were a little disappointed that our tour guide wasn’t a NZer so that I could practice my accent, but Irish wasn’t too bad to listen to for 2 days either.

Fun fact: everyone here pronounces my name correctly.

We then took the kayak van from the terminal to st. Heliers bay where we were taking off. A lot of the Toyota’s here have instructions in Japanese. Including the kayak van. Daniel said second hand cars are cheaper and Japan is so close. Also they drive on the left side of the road too.

Once we got to the beach we started prepping our kayaks. Daniel gave becca and I each 3 dry bags to put our stuff in. The instructions on the email said to basically pack one pair of shorts for this trip which we valiantly obliged. So when we realized we had 3 dry bags each we felt luxurious. We didn’t use all the packing bags and Daniel was surprised. Maybe because we are girls. We didn’t opt to bring the curling iron on this kayaking trip. We ended up just using 3 bags between us and that was with really trying.

Daniel was great he taught us how to pack sea kayaks for when we do future “expeditions”— overnight kayak trips. We found out he spent a month this summer kayaking around Vancouver island. Being smelly and living out of a dry bag is the norm for him. I asked him how he ended up in NZ. He said that he graduated college at the height of the recession and there were no jobs for him and his buddies were all going on a surfing trip to Australia and trying to get him to come but he said no. A couple days before they were leaving they had a going away party and everyone got smashed. The next morning he opened his email inbox and saw that he had bought a flight to Australia. So he started to pack his bags. Long story short he came over to NZ for an engineering job and then hated it so became a kayaking instructor. I asked if he was a mechanical engineer because that’s usually the natural transition. And he said yes. Thanks to JP for teaching me the tiers of coolness by engineering type.

Then we got on our kayaking outfits. Spray skirt, paddle jacket, personal flotation device. Before Setting out into the water we practiced what to do in the event we are capsized. I would need to pull the spray skirt off and wet exit from the kayak. Once I proved I could take the spray skirt off in open air on land, Daniel approved my launch into the sea. But first we had to figure out what to do with my wheelchair. It was too rigid and large to fit into any of the kayak bulk storage containers. So we strapped my frame onto the tandem kayak becca and I were using and then tied my two wheels onto Daniels kayak. He assured me they were on tight. I took his word for it. Because Irish. It was really fun to see my chair dangle inches from the sea and even get splashed a few times. One capsize and my chair would sink to the bottom of the ocean being a permanent NZ resident.

The first island we went to was Browns island. Many of the islands around aukland are starting to become conservation islands including Browns, which means they are pest free and get rid of non-native invasive species. Rats didn’t exist in NZ until Europeans brought them over. One of the many gifts that were given. The conservation people are also trying to bring back native birds for nesting. We had the option of going straight to the beach to set up for lunch or going the more scenic route around the long way. I opted for the long way because we got to get our monies worth. This is about when the waves started picking up which was very exciting especially when ferries would zoom by. I didn’t feel unsafe. But I did few nervous. We got splashed several times and considering beccas track record with tipping me over in kayaks, it’s understandable why I would have been a little worried. But luckily no incident occurred and we were able to glide nicely the rest of the way to Browns beach for lunch. Daniel prepped a nice hummus wrap meal for us. We also got to try this lemonade soft drink which was really good. Kind of like a lemon head candy in liquid form. After Daniel told us all about NZ birds at lunch, I decided to go to the bathroom. Becca found a nice bush next to a rat trap for me. I was glad I was wearing inconspicuous colors of red and pink to blend in with the environment so no one would see me from afar. I wasn’t too worried about surprising people as we were basically the only ones on the island. Or so we thought. The second I was done and becca came to grab me to drag me to the kayaks some conservation people in orange vest showed up to document the birds and look at their rat traps. We left the island before we could see the reaction to the surprise I left them by my rat trap.

Then we headed to Motuihe island. It looked close. It was not. I was struggle bussing because I was leaning back really far and my one ab was not enough to keep me upright to paddle. Turns out my wheelchair which was in back of me was tied differently and I had been using it as a back support for paddling. We adjusted and pushed it back closer to me mid-ocean and I felt a lot better. We also found ourselves in the middle of a sailing race. One of the race captains came over to us to tell us to move because we were in the middle of the course. We watched them all line up and then zig zag back and forth to the finish line. Sweden was doing very well. JP, your ancestors would be proud.

We had the option of circling around this island as well for an extra 1.5 hour workout but because I had struggled so much in the beginning with no back support I was tired so we went onto shore.

Becca wanted to take another time lapse on the beach so she set up and I sat on the sand next to Wayne. Daniel gave us amazing chips for a snack that we’ve since bought several times on our road trip. They sort of taste like healthier cool ranch Doritos. They advertise their flavor as feta and garlic. They are delicious with hummus. After our snack (we did not save any for Daniel) we took a nice nap on the beach in the sun while becca’s camera (kemruh, in NZ accent) did its thing. It was nice listening to the waves roll in and out and I conked out. Daniel mean while was setting up camp and tents. When we woke up the tide had come in really fast. When we started our nap we were a good 20 feet away from the ocean. Now we were about 2 feet away. Becca quickly packed up her camera before the waves could get to it. I Patiently washed the tide move closer and closer to me and thinking… well this is it; The day Lena gets washed away by the tide. Luckily Daniel came down and helped me into my chair before I could get wet. It was very close though.

This island is open to the public but it was still too early in the season for ferries to go there. So we were basically the only ones there. Later we went on a hike and found a ranger and other conso (conservation) crew. They gave us a map of the island and suggested a trail that we could go on to try to find three-eyed lizards. We did not see any but we did get to read lots of signs about wildlife we weren’t seeing.

Besides the ranger, it was just us and Daniel on the island. Becca was a little worried about sleeping on an island all alone with a man we didn’t know. But then was reassured that he wouldn’t do anything sketch because then we’d leave a bad review and it’d be bad for business. I was reassured because he was Irish and a hippie kayaker.

After our hike it was dinner time. Daniel cooked up some falafel on his baby camping stove and also opened up containers of Couscous salad and bread with tomato relish. We also drank more lemon head soda. Daniel has been vegetarian for 2 years. Every once and awhile when he gets a hangover though he craves a burger from “burgerfuel” a chain in NZ. We decided we would go there after our kayak trip. After we ate dinner, it was starting to get dark and so we hiked over to another view point on the island and watched the sunset. You could see aukland city from the island which was cool. Becca set up another timeline and Daniel asked her lots of questions about time lapses. Half way through the sunset he said he had a surprise for us and told us to close our eyes. Then he popped out three brownies for us. They were delicious. I always say yes to surprise brownies from hippies. Then we headed back to camp. Daniel showed us remnants of old wwii bunkers for soldiers who used to occupy the islands around aukland. They were there not so much for attacking but as defense in case any bad guys came. They didn’t. But that wouldn’t be a bad place to be stationed for awhile.

On our way back to camp Daniel did his best impression of a kiwi bird call. Since they are nocturnal and you can often see them around dawn or dusk. We did not see any but enjoyed listening to Daniel screech. They sort of sound like Jurassic Park dinosaur screams. You should look it up. Then we got ready for bed. There was an accessible toilet for me which I was impressed about. And then we went to bed. Becca and I conked our pretty fast.

Day 5 Kayaking

The next morning we ate “muesli” which is granola with yogurt and fresh fruit. Then we packed all our gear up and went back out onto the water. We went to Motutapu island (but did not go on it) which is made of limestone. Go one year geology major! It is right next to another island, Mt. rangi, which is made from a volcano. It was cool to see two different islands so close together be formed in different ways. Mt. Rangitoto was much more black and jagged. Looked like craters of the moon in Idaho. Usually on the overnight kayaking trips you hike mt. Rangi on the 2nd day. We did not select this option though Daniel did think about how we would do it. It would take 4+ hours and then we’d have to kayak back to the main north island. Plus we had to pick up our camper van by 4pm so we were limited on time. So we ate lunch on the volcano island instead. Hummus pita wraps again. There were a lot of school groups going through. Apparently it is one of the big things you do in high school in NZ. Once we finished lunch we paddled back to st. Heliers beach where we originally took off. It was a straight shot from mt. Rangi to st. Heliers but it felt very far. Everything appears closer that they are in real life when you are sea kayaking. Finally we made it to shore. The tide was low so we didn’t quite make it to the beach. Daniel and becca had to carry my kayak closer to the sand since it was very muddy and my wheelchair would not have fared well.

Then we unpacked everything and Daniel got the van back. We were planning to Uber to the airport with all our stuff to pick up the camper van but Daniel offered to drive us the whole way. We saved about $50 because of this. We were already planning to tip him for being an awesome tour guide and after this offer we upped our tip. He was very nice.

Once he dropped us off we got our camper van! One thing we didn’t realize being on the water was how sunburned we got. We put a lot on but places we forgot got fried. My lips especially. Daniel said it’s because NZ is closer to the sun so the rays are harsher. Liz, our Airbnb host, said it’s because there is no Ozone layer over NZ. Either way we got burned. Becca too. Her lips, ears, and legs especially. The first thing we did when we got our camper van was go to a store and get aloe Vera. As well as driving snacks.

Then we stopped at burger fuel for dinner and drove 1.5 hrs to our overnight camping “holiday” park along the coast. I was doing a bad job of copiloting meaning becca was getting sleepy and since I couldn’t drive it was my job to keep her awake through interesting conversation.  Instead I asked becca to tell me about the books she was reading and that did the trick. It was like a love version of a sparknotes audiobook. We arrived safely to the holiday park.

NZ Day 2 & 3: Aukland – Waiheke Island

Day 2

Went to the sky tower to see 360 degree views of the city. The water here is gorgeous. Very turquoise. After we went to fancy lunch in the tower. The tickets for the observation deck were included with the food. Becca wanted to do the 3 hour long 6 course meal with wine pairings. I didn’t want to eat that much. So we opted for the regular three course meal with snacks and bread, which was about the same price. Becca got broccoli dumplings and I got kumara (sweet potato) and sesame seeds. Fancy food is funny. They are small portions with all the flavors purreed together and then a baby dollop of said flavors. It’s like fancy baby food. None the less, the food was amazing and delicious. While eating out we have learned that it is not customary in NZ to tip. We found this out after tipping a few times. Need to keep up the appearance that all Americans are made of money.

After lunch we headed to the ferry terminal and took a 40 mins ride to Waiheke island (another suggestion from Nicole Kidman). The island is known for its wineries and beach town vibes. We did not pay for the inaccessible bus but instead walked to the nearest town which was about 20 mins away. The walk felt much like Hawaii. I’ve never actually been but I’m taking beccas word for it. Once in town we window shopped and looked at the views of the ocean. Becca wanted to go down to the boardwalk but the pathway was very steep so I didn’t want to go. So we didn’t. By this time is was time to eat again! We went to “Too Fat Buns” Which is a burger joint. We split a feta quinoa burger with hot chips. They call ketchup tomato sauce. The sauce tasted gingery. Unsure whether that was a special recipe or If NZ ketchup has ginger in it. And of course becca got her daily gelato fix from a little ice cream trailer on the side of the road. Some NZ fruit that I couldn’t pronounce and tasted like a bland kiwi.

After feeding time we headed back to the beach by the ferry terminal. It was about 45 mins until sunset so becca did a timelapse (where your camera takes one picture every 3-5 secs and then it looks cool when you put it all together. My favorite part was when a NZ bike shorts man went into the frame of the picture with his dog and did tricks. I sincerely hope that becca’s camera took a picture of the dog jumping midair through its owners arms. Not once. Not twice but 4 times. I’m sure becca will share with you the end result.

Lena is getting better at her NZ accent. There are still words that give her trouble, like wheelchair. It comes out more Canadian. The key is to squish your words and talk in the back of your throat. And turn ‘a’s to ‘e’s. I think by the end of three weeks I’ll have forgotten how to speak American. Get excited.

Day 3

Went to church downtown aukland. We were trying to find a parking lot and we saw an older couple walking down the street who looked like Mormons. We were religious profiling and it worked in our favor. Turns out they were visiting and knew as much about the parking lot as we did. They were visiting from Utah but the woman grew up in alameda. Turns out becca went to high school with one of their sons. Utah county, man.

Happy and a little disturbed to report that “Pioneer47” also works in New Zealand. Church is much better with Polynesians. They are better singers and dressers than white people. We are sad to miss the Aukland ward Christmas pool party on Saturday. After RS, someone told us there were rolls in the kitchen. When we went the entire kitchen was full of bags of rolls and bread. Turns out someone’s husband works at a bakery and brought leftovers. So we took a 6 pack of garlic ciabatta bread for lunch. #thechurchistrue

We went to one tree hill (no the TV show, yes the U2 song) for lunch. It was a very cloudy and windy day. Becca pushed me up the giant hill to the top where we did another timelapse. I was not having a good time because it was cold and windy and we got allergies which didn’t help with the wind so my eyes were itchy and I was sniffly. But becca helped distract me from my misery by playing “ticket to ride” on her phone. She has had lots of practice with ornery children by having two nephews.

Afterwards we dropped off our rental car at the airport and took an Uber back to our Airbnb. When we got out, becca had a bunch of our supplies in hand and didn’t realize she left her phone in the car until we got inside the Airbnb. I started thinking… this will make an excellent story to tell in my email. But as becca was trying to access Uber through my phone the driver came up to the house and gave it back to her. It was a Christmas miracle.

After our emotional trauma we took a rest and played Zelda before going to dinner at a vegan restaurant near by. The Butcher’s son. We had mozzarella sticks that was more like cashew goo inside breading. I got an aloo tikka burger. And becca got soba noodle pesto. Everything was delicious.

Now we are back “home” resting. The next two days we are kayaking in open water to an island and camping overnight. Unsure whether the kayaking guides provide WiFi on the trip. But if they don’t I will email you in a few days. If we don’t capsize.

NZ Day 1: Aukland

Jenn-style travel logs

Day 1

Got rental car from shuttle driver who says Asians are terrible drivers. His theory was that they don’t read signs like normal people do; left to right. They see in pictures. Which doesn’t equate to good driving. As he said this an asian stopped his van in the middle of a roundabout. He also said his sister lives in Oakland. But that she’s useless because she will plan and reserve his whole flight and stay but won’t tell him any times for pickup. Also she orders food for him and he doesn’t like that. She will never get married. She has a baby but no husband. So he is correct. She also is a pharmacist, does real estate, and owns a restaurant. He prefers the more laid back pace in NZ which is work 8 hours then go home and do whatever you want. I quite agree with him.

Becca has mastered driving on the left side of the road. She has only scraped our tire once and her incident rate of using the windshield wiper instead of the turn signal is trending downwards. There is hope for us all.

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We ate brunch at a very hipster joint. It was amazing food. Becca got avocado toast with puffed chickpeas which turns out is hummus. And hot chocolate where you pour the chocolate into the milk yourself. I got asparagus with aoli, fried egg, something called “rocket” (I think lettuce) and bacon. My drink was rose vanilla kombucha. Both were amazing. They also served us sparkling water as the normal water in our cups. I can get used to that. Also at the brunch place our table was very close to two middle aged women who somehow figured out we were travelers. Maybe because of beccas giant backpack. One of them looked like Nicole Kidman. Still no clear evidence that it wasn’t her. But they told us about a beach and an island we should visit while we are here. Which was perfect because our time in aukland was very flexible and we had no set plans.

We first went to muriwai beach. It has black sand and is hard to pronounce. I decked my wheelchair out with the freewheel and my new adventure tires which have tread like mountain bikes. Becca dragged me through the sand until the area where it was more compact. I could wheel pretty well around. It felt like I was hovering over the sand like a ninja. The water was pretty warm and very green. We ended up finding the bird colony that Nicole Kidman suggested. There were lots of birds and the rocks were all white. So. Many. Birds.

Then we headed to our Airbnb. But first we stopped at an ice cream place along the side of the road in farming country. They ask you what fruit flavor you want and then put real fruit into a mixing machine with vanilla ice cream. Note that this stand is right next to fields of strawberries. So it was very fresh.

When we got to our Airbnb we took a power nap. Which was great because when we woke up it was time for dinner.

We went to a pizza place and thought we were ordering margherita pizza but instead it had prochutto And a salad on top. Once we picked off everything the pizza was decent. Though we decided beccas pizza is better. The risotto though! Was. Amazing. It had mint and saffron and lemon zest with zucchini. The mix of flavors was incredible and not overpowering. Risotto was definitely better than the pizza.

Our Airbnb host got mad at us for parking in her spot. Hopefully she’ll still give us a 5 star review.

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