Today was our last morning in Australia, before flying to New Zealand. We made our way to the airport early so that we would not run into any complications for our 11am flight. We arrived in Auckland at 7pm that night; there is a three hour time difference between NZ & AU, so our flight was only about 5 hours long. We picked up our rental car (they drive on the other side of the road, and consequently, the steering wheel is on the right side of the car instead of the left – thank goodness Kyle is driving), headed out for dinner, and ventured out toward our first hotel. The stars were absolutely beautiful on our drive to our first hotel about two hours south of Auckland. We pulled over to take a look at them.
Today is our first full day in NZ, and we have decided that we both need a relaxing day to give our bodies a chance to fully recover from Australia and the liveaboard. So this morning we went to some geothermal hot springs to spend the morning relaxing in the warm water. There were several different mineral baths, with some being good for bones/joints, and the others being good for your skin. Despite the light sulfur smell, these outdoor baths had an amazing view of the lake and rolling green hills. We met a man who was a local and comes to these baths regularly for his joints, and he pointed us in a new direction for some must-see hikes in the area. He was the third person so far to as us if we were on our Honeymoon, which makes us both smile every time. It's hard to believe we are coming up on 6 years already....feels like just yesterday!
After that, we drove to a naturally heated pond just outside the city, which our new friend told us about. He said it was a local favorite date spot for couples to go swimming there. It was beautiful & secluded, and surprising the water was naturally heated to about 80 degrees and had steam rising off of the water.
Along our drive through the country to our hotel, we saw a trail sign to a waterfall, so we decided to park and go find it. It was only about a 20 minute walk each way & well worth the view! It was a great activity to do with the remaining sunlight in the day.
We had planned today to be our super-long hiking day to the top of a mountain (Mt. Doom for anyone who has seen Lord of the Rings), but upon arriving to our hotel and talking to some of the locals who hike this area regularly, we found out that this particular trail was closed due to a very recent volcanic eruption! This eruption actually destroyed one of the huts along this trail & the crater is still smoking, which we were able to see from the road.
Since this specific hike was no longer do-able, we found 2 other hikes in this same area to choose from and did those instead. The first one was hiking around a high plateau on "Mt. Doom" and it offered some breathtaking views. We got caught in a hail storm on our hike back, though; thank goodness we both have hoods on our rain jackets!
Our second hike was hands down the most beautiful hike we have ever been on! Kyle described it as Shangra-la. This trail was in the New Zealand "bush," as the locals call it, which in American standards is nothing short of a Rain Forest. It had a mixture of redwoods, ferns, and moss-covered trees & vines. Pictures don't even come close to doing this place justice.
This morning we drove to Hobbiton – where they filmed the Lord of the Rings. We had a perfect day for it, too, because the weather was beautiful and the sun was shining. The green rolling hills where they filmed the movie are covered in sheep for as far as the eye can see. We took a guided tour throughout the outdoor set, and were able to get up close and personal with the hobbit holes – we even got to go inside one of them. The set is huge – they really did build an entire little village! Our guide told us that they completely blew their budget allowance, creating 44 different holes, among other things. We also got to see the set of the new movies that have not yet been released; the next Lord of the Rings movie will be released this December, so we’ll have to go see it now. The other two movies in the series will be released Dec. ’13 and Dec. ’14. We had a great time and are so glad we decided to stop and see it.
After Hobbiton, we drove to the Coromandel peninsula. They have a “hot water beach” there, where people take spades/shovels and dig out little hot-tubs in the sand. Kyle and I had to check this phenomenon out. Much to our surprise, the water there is REALLY hot! We were both expecting it to be luke warm at best, but this wasn’t the case at all. The water was so hot in some areas that it could actually burn you! There is a localized geothermal hot water spring on this beach that rises through the sand, and that part of the beach is only accessible during low-tide. We quickly realized that the perfect hot-tub could only be made by mixing the cool ocean water with the hot spring water to get the perfect temperature.
As we drove to our hotel from the beach after sunset, we realized how few lights there were in this small city; because of this, the stars seemed SO bright! We were able to locate the Southern Cross, and Kyle was able to capture a great night picture of it to remember it by.
This morning, we woke up early to hike out to the Cathedral Cove during low-tide, which is around 7am. During this time, there is a cove on the coast that is accessible by foot. When we got there, we were the only people on the beach, and we got to enjoy Cathedral Cove all to ourselves. As we were leaving, though, we passed several other people; so we were glad we had gotten an early start.
After the Cove, we drove to a town called Thames (pronounced Tims), where we ate lunch and ventured down a long-windy-mountainy road to get to the beginning of a hiking trail to the “pinnacles.” This was our longest hike of our entire vacation. We started at noon, and didn’t finish until sunset. The hike itself was gorgeous, but extremely challenging. It was INSANELY vertical, and on the decent, we both kept saying that we didn’t know how we had made it up there in the first place. Unfortunately for us, though, the spectacular views that the pinnacle offers were not visible to us because we had hiked into a big cloud and all we could see was white at the top.
After literally hiking all day long, we did a munchies stop at the local grocery store called Pak ’n Save back in Thames, and went a little crazy buying chocolates, mixed nuts, wine, and other fun snacks. We figured we deserved it after all of the calories we had burned off!
Today was our last full day in New Zealand, and we spent it exploring Auckland. We got into our hotel late last night, still in our dirty hiking clothes, and boy did we ever feel like fish out of water when we pulled up to our Auckland hotel and there was not only valet parking to park our car, but also a bell hop to help with our luggage and press the elevator buttons for us! Our hotel here was a little more expensive than the rest of the ones on our trip, but we had just figured that they ALL were more expensive in Auckland because it is a huge city. Our room was immaculate, but we both felt a little out of our league, especially walking into the hotel in our hiking clothes. Ritzy, ritzy, ritzy…fish out of water for sure!
Auckland is a nice city to walk around and lounge in. It’s not as busy as Sydney, but it still has a pretty harbor, a big bridge, and a sky tower. We walked through the Victoria Park and markets, wandered around the harbor day-dreaming about owning a boat someday, and did a little souvenir shopping. Our flight the next morning was an early one at 6am, so we decided it was best to just pull an all-nighter and sleep on the plane tomorrow instead of trying to sleep tonight. We went to a late movie (Looper) that didn’t get out until almost midnight, and then we found a Denny’s (of all places! I’ve never seen one of these outside of America) for a midnight breakfast. At 2am, we checked out of our hotel and began driving to the airport, where we got lost. We pulled off on the side of the highway when a police car came up behind us with his lights on; we figured we were getting a ticket for stopping where we did, but instead he drove up to our window and asked if everything was okay. When we told him we were lost, he was super friendly and told us to follow him, and he gave us a police escort for a good 20 minutes or so all the way to the airport!!!!! What a nice guy, and a pleasant ending to our trip.
As I wrote in yesterday’s post, today started super bright and early. Our first flight from Auckland to Sydney was about 4 hours long and Kyle and I slept the entire time; we are like two walking zombies! Currently, we are sitting in the Sydney airport, where we have a layover for the next two hours before boarding our next flight to Incheon, Korea that is 10.5 hours long. We are hoping that because we stayed up all night, we will be able to sleep the majority of this flight, as well.
We are both sad to be leaving AU & NZ, but we’re also ready to get back to Korea to return to a normal schedule and see our friends. It’s always bittersweet ending a vacation. I know without a shadow of a doubt, though, that we will return to AU & NZ someday; there was just way too much to see in just a short amount of time. Next time we come, we will visit Melbourne & Perth in Australia, and then fly to the south island of New Zealand. We already have our ‘trip’ mapped out in our heads. =) Until then, though, we are really going to miss these places!