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Fab Oceania Travel

    Fab Oceania Travel

    A Fond Farewell to New Zealand

    Chapter Six comes to an End

    Location: New Zealand

    Wow.

    That’s the best word I can come up with to describe the last seven weeks in New Zealand.  Wow.

    I hope to be back some day. This little country packs a powerful punch and we have enjoyed our seven weeks here thoroughly.  Thumbs up all around as a visitor to the beautiful island nation.

    People keep asking me what was the best?  What was my favorite?  It’s a difficult question.  If I had to come up with one thing it would probably be our three days on the Abel Tasman trail – although I fell in love with so many other places we visited and things we saw as well. Milford Sound was magnificent.  Tongariro Crossing was spectacular.  Cape Reinga was beautiful.  The sun, the rain, the ocean, the lakes, the rivers.  The volcanoes, the valleys, the farms, the mountains, the fjords.   The stars – they are amazing. The sunrises and sunsets.  And in the last days of our visit finally seeing a kiwi in the wild.  Oh my goodness.  How can you choose a favorite?

    And of course the people.  New Zealand is the only country we have been in so far where we were invited into people’s homes.  What a treat that was – new friends on the South Island who welcomed us overnight at their home on a 700 acre sheep farm and new friends on the North Island who made us a spectacular dinner in their beautiful home overlooking a caldera in Auckland.  Two special experiences not every visitor gets to have.  Fabulous.

    We have spent the last five days in the city of Auckland, a bit of a recovery phase after four weeks in the Kiwi Karavan.  Auckland is a beautiful city – sparkling white boats on the sparkling turquoise water beneath the sparkling blue sky.  An easy city to love and to imagine living here….maybe…??  We did a lot of
    walking in the city, enjoyed the adjacent towns of Devenport and St. Heliers and loved the local museum.  But our favorite thing by far was our day on Tiritiri Matangi Island Bird Sanctuary where we saw many endangered birds as well as the elusive kiwi.  What a treat.

    New Zealand has made a major commitment to conservation, restoration and preservation of wildlife, native species and Maori culture.  They also have great reverence  for their veterans – in particular the entire generation of men who died in WWI leaving a huge gap.   I appreciate all of this and have a great deal of respect for a country that puts culture, arts, nature, sacrifice and history on a pedestal.  My kind of place.

    Our time in New Zealand has been very busy.  In fact we have broken all of our rules about taking it slow and easy and trying to stay in one place for
    extended period of time.  We have been on the go for seven weeks seeing one end of this country to the other.  And now we are looking forward to some real down time.  Chapter Seven will be a complete 180 from our time in New Zealand.

    Chapter Seven begins tomorrow, with what will be a hellish travel day.  Actually it will be nearly 48 hours from the time I wake up tomorrow to the time I lay by head on the pillow on the other end.  Four flights, four countries as we make our way to the very remote, very small, very sunny and hopefully, very relaxing island of Praslin in the Seychelles Islands.

    We will spend 33 days in the same Airbnb.  Downtime.  Ahhhhh.

    But, our Airbnb does not have wifi, and we will likely not have the same access we have had to social media, internet and email.  But I will blog as often as I can, and post on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter when I have the opportunity.  Between gin and

    A bit of a rest.

    tonics that is.

    So with that, we say farewell.  A fond farewell to New Zealand – where I leave a piece of my heart.  Thanks for a wonderful time.

    Seychelles here we come!

     

    Fab Oceania Travel

    Tiki Tour Comes to an End

    Time to say farewell to the Kiwi Karavan

    Location: New Zealand

    The time has flown by and living in 90 sf never seemed to be a problem.  Even when it rained.  Even when the temperature dropped into the 30’s.

    There is no better way to explore New Zealand than in a camper van and we loved every minute.  I would do it again without hesitation – and go pursue those few roads we missed.  Hard to believe we did miss anything, but we did.

    Milford Sound

    We still have a week left before we fly to the Seychelles Islands, and during these final days of Chapter Six we will explore the city of Auckland.

    But the Kiwi

    Abel Tasman

    Karavan has been our friend to drive, to sleep, to cook, to eat, to read, to play scrabble – to live.  For a month.

    On the South Island we covered 2083 miles going as far south as Opia/Nightcaps were we learned about sheep farming and to the far north of the South Island where we hiked the Abel Tasman Trek and

    Napier

    kayaked in the Queen Charlotte Sound. I’ve included a map of where we traveled.

    We then took the Kiwi Karavan on the ferry from Picton to Wellington on the North Island and began our trek North.  On the North Island we covered

    Emerald Pools

    1820 miles from Wellington all the way to Cape Reinga – as far north as you can possibly go without jumping into the sea.

    North Island

    I’ve also included a map of our route on the North Island.

    It became a joke as we traveled – every time we looked at Google maps for a distance to a destination it was two hours.  Every time.  So we decided no matter where you are in New Zealand, it’s two hours to wherever you want to be.

    I recommend seeing New Zealand this way.  The country’s government has gone out of its way to make this a lifestyle option for locals and visitors with free campsites, free dump sites, free water, free garbage drop off, free bathrooms.  The South Island had a significantly larger number of camper vans on the road ( as well as many, many more tour busses) than the North Island.  This even though the roads

    Firth of Thames

    on the North Island, while still windy and narrow, were much bettter.

    We went days without paying for camping, only when it was time to shower or do laundry did we pull into a holiday park that cost.  When all was said and done we spent 14 nights at free camping and 14 at pay camping.

    We walked a total number of 200 miles with seven days where we walked more than ten miles. Our longest day was 17 miles.  We averaged just under 5 mi per day

    Whites Beach

    It was fabulous.

    I’ve included in this blog some of my best photos

    Cape Reinga

    from the past six weeks. The feature photo at the top is a lucky shot.  One of

    Tongariro

    my favorites of many sunrise photos. If you would like to see more of the best images from our world tour please follow our Instagram account. There is a link at the top of this page. Or search My Fab Fifties Life.

    It’s on to New Zealand’s largest city Auckland – to see what we can see!  I will certainly let you know what we find!

    The final week of Chapter Six begins now.

    Fab Oceania Travel

    North by Northwest

    Chapter Six

    Location: New Zealand

    For a full week we have been wandering north of Auckland enjoying yet another remarkable area of New Zealand.  This place. It is ceaselessly full of surprises.

    More times than I can count I have mentioned how much it reminds me of my home state of Washington.  But only when it isn’t reminding me of
    my other favorite state of Hawaii.  Or California.  Or Norway. Or Ireland.  All of this, while being completely and utterly, uniquely New Zealand.

    One of the best things about this country is how unpopulated it is.  Fewer people in the entire country than in Washington State.  Washington state has over 7 million and New Zealand just over 4 million. The largest city of Auckland is home to  1.4 million of those people.  New Zealand overall is a bit smaller than Italy. Throughout the country the number of teeny but thriving towns and little weather ecosystems is amazing.

    And green.  Everything is so green.

    The “Northland”, the area of the North Island that lies North of Auckland is a water lovers wonderland, although most of the water we saw came falling from the sky.  We even experienced a cyclone, but at the time we didn’t know that was what it was. But as the Kiwi’s say “no worries”.  We enjoyed the winding roads, we strolled on the beach and watched the full moon rise.  We swam in the ocean, got up to watch the sunrise and went exploring for Glowworms in a cave.  We went to the very northern tip of the country and gazed out to where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean.  We dined on exceptional seafood and as always, we walked and walked and walked.

    Northland.  Fabulous.

     

    Fab Oceania Travel

    Torrential to Triumph – Three Days on the North Island

    Rain, Wind, Sun and Hiking the Tongarui Crossing

    Location: New Zealand

    It was only a few days ago we sat in the 81 degree sunshine in the town of Napier, New Zealand.  The forecast warned of impending rain but it was hard to imagine on that day.  But kudos to the weather forecasters in New Zealand.  They nailed it.

    Not only did it rain – it poured.  For more than 48 hours straight.  We were in Rotorua, where we managed a nice afternoon walk on arrival but then nothing beyond that.  Once it started it was a deluge.  So, we hunkered down for two days.

    The morning star

    We then headed West from Rotorua to visit the famous Glowworm Caves in Waitomo, only to discover on arrival they were closed due to flooding.  We realized the storm had been bad, but hadn’t realized how bad until we began to drive.  Roads flooded and mudslides and trees down all over.  Poor livestock in flooded fields and swollen rivers.  Work crews around every corner trying to

    19.5km to go

    clear.

    Since we couldn’t do the Glowworm Caves, we had to be spontaneous.  We drove south to the town of New Plymouth, which was not originally on our radar.  I’m glad we did.  It is a beautiful little beach town and we enjoyed a portion of their 25km coastal walk.  It was a heavy wind that day and the windsurfers were really taking advantage.

    The weather improved markedly overnight and we awoke to sunny skies and calm seas. We headed North and east again with a stellar forecast making us hopeful to hike the Tongariro Crossing on Saturday.  We now do not take the forecasting lightly, they seem to nail it everyday.

    Overnight Friday night we stayed in a beautiful lakefront free campground on Lake Taupo.  It was a frigid night with crystal clear skies.  Our alarm clocks (which don’t get much use anymore) were set for 5am

    It was really cold at the start – we eventually peeled off layers.

    and we planned to hike the Tongariro Crossing.

    Five am came early; after a very chilly night we awoke to Venus low in the sky as the sun was just starting to show pink on the horizon.  A good omen for a good day.  We had booked a bus to take us from a parking area to the trail head, and then pick us up again at the end of the 20km hike.  We caught the bus and headed to the start of the hike.

    19.5km to go

    Due to the weather having been so bad for the past three days, we weren’t the only ones who had been waiting to do this hike – literally 1000 people joined us on the trail.  But honestly it wasn’t a problem.  It was pretty crowded at the start – but eventually people spread out and it wasn’t so bad.  And we had an amazing time.

    The 20km Tongariro Crossing is one of the most scenic yet stark and stunning things I have ever done.  The crossing goes through craters, past active volcanoes, and over a pass. It peaks at 6000 foot level and skirts gorgeous sacred emerald-green thermal pools.   It was hard. It was exhausting. It was amazing.

    Lava tube

    What a workout.  And an accomplishment.  Every time we tackle and succeed in one of these amazing treks I wonder out loud “why don’t I weigh 100 lbs?” Sheesh.

    But that said, I feel strong and fit and fabulous.  My Fab Fifties Life in New Zealand has been good to the old body.

    Feeling accomplished

    We still have another two weeks, a little more than one week still in the Kiwi Karavan.  So, now that we have completed our goals of hiking the Tongariro Crossing, we head to the farthest north reaching finger of the north island to see what we can see.

    The Tiki Tour continues – and it is fabulous.

     

     

    Fab Oceania Travel

    Kia Ora – Welcome!

    Chapter Six – The Maori

    Location: New Zealand

    We have been in New Zealand for a month already, but surprisingly have seen very little Maori cultural life. For some reason I was expecting to. But here in the thermally active Rotorua area we have finally found it.

    In fact there are several competing Maori Cultural Centers. At least five, which made it a bit confusing as to which to visit.

    Even though I’m always saying we try not to behave like tourists, I still find myself drawn to activities such as these. Because it’s the only way you really can learn about the cultural history – even if it is a bit touristy.

    And it was. But it was also a lot of fun and I’m glad we did it. I was expecting the Mitai Maori Village (the one we chose for no particular reason) to be like a Luau. And it was exactly like that – except for the fact it was pouring down rain!

    Some of the highlights included the fact they picked us up at the park we are staying at, the Cultural performance was wonderful- especially the musical selections, watching the tribe makes arrive by traditional canoe and the food was abundant and delicious. Worth the money.

    My favorite was the performance. The native performers were very talented singers and dancers. The show included explanations on history. We learned there are still 80 Maori tribes in New Zealand. The Maori arrived on the islands, which they call Aotearoa (land of the long white cloud) 2000 years ago. The Tearawa tribe (which we watched perform) moved to the thermal Rotorua area 500 years later.

    For hundreds of years the warring tribes battled each other over two things – women and territory.  The Maori were cannibals, killing and eating their enemies. Today their battles take place at the annual Maori Tribes Rugby tournament. 

    But we were assured we weren’t eating any other tribes – just chicken, lamb, sweet potatoes, seafood chowder and bread, Rowena, the traditional sweet bread.  The meat and potatoes were cooked in a pit over hot stones very similar to the imu the Hawaiians use for roast Kalua pork.

    There were definitely other similarities to the Hawaiian culture as well as to the Rapanui culture we enjoyed on Easter Island.  The dance and language has some aspects that are similar while the dress is more dependent for each culture on the local plant and animal life.  But there is no question there is a connection amongst the Polynesian people who history believes all originated somewhere in Africa

    I am glad we took the time to visit the Mitai Maori Center and I recommend it if you visit the area.  Very fun and interesting, even if it is for the tourists.

     

     

     

    Fab Oceania Travel

    Discovering the Napier in the North

    Location: New Zealand

    We’ve spent a lot of time in the van the past few days – seven hours to Picton one day then four hours on the ferry and four hours driving the next.  This morning we just wanted not to be in the car.  So we got up and drove three hours.  Haha.

    But we ended up in the beautiful town of Napier on the Pacific Ocean side of the North Island.  Gorgeous little spot.

    Normally we aren’t really attracted to cities.  But this one is cool.  Apparently in 1931 Napier was leveled by a devastating earthquake.  When the townspeople rebuilt, the purposefully rebuilt the town in an Art Deco style.  Today the draw to the town is this unique architectural style.

    We skipped the historic architecture tour and instead opted for a self guided walk up to the beautiful residential area high above the city overlooking the ocean.  The town has a similar feeling to San Fransisco, but also to Seattle’s Alki Beach or Queen Ann Hill.

    We stumbled onto a lovely botanical gardens, a historic cemetery and a vintage girls high school – not to mention all the lovely houses.  We walked back along the beach and enjoyed watching the locals out soaking up what is likely one of the final summer days here.

    Weather looks good for tomorrow but then the forecast calls for rain for a week.  We are following the forecast closely as we have options of what order we see things on the North Island, and some are more weather dependent than others.

    So our North Island adventure is really just beginning.  And what a beautiful place.  I’m so glad we stopped to check out Napier.

    Fabulous.

    Fab Oceania Travel

    Northbound in New Zealand

    Chapter Six – Twenty One Days in the South

    Location: New Zealand

    We leave the amazing South Island of New Zealand today after twenty-one glorious days. We have been truly enchanted by what we have seen and done so far in this beautiful island nation. And the best news is we still have more than three more weeks to explore north.

    We have been prepared all along to have bad weather in this notoriously wet country. But so far we really have only had a handful of days with rain and none of those days did it rain that much. The forecast for the weeks ahead looks a bit wet, as we really begin to get into the New Zealand fall now. But even in the rain we love it here.

    We have met great people and enjoyed spectacular scenery. And as we spend more time we learn more interesting things –

    Road Construction – it’s pretty constant. The roads are narrow with lots of very old bridges. There are no “freeways” and the “motorways” are only near the larger cities. Otherwise it’s two lane and sometimes even two is not exactly quit it. On the South Island a major north south road was damaged so extensively in the 2011 earthquake (that also greatly damaged the city of Christchurch) that there is no estimate as to when it will reopen. In the meantime all traffic is diverted to the other north south road which is currently undergoing extensive expansion to try and handle the load. You just can’t be in a hurry.

    Costs – in an earlier blog I mentioned the high-costs of things in this country. But now that we have been here for awhile I am noticing some things. For instance we have never paid a fee yet to enter any of New Zealand’s abundant national parks. We have never paid for a toilet or to fill our water tank. We have stayed in several free campgrounds. Those costs alone in the USA would really add up. There is no sales tax and that is definitely a savings over the 9% plus in the county I live in. And while many items in the grocery store are more expensive particularly produce, I’m now seeing that other things are ridiculously cheap. Today I bought a bottle of ginger spice that at home would cost me $4-5. Here I paid $2. Today I bought a large jar of dill pickles. At home it would have been $3-4. Here I paid $2. Today I bought a bottle of olive oil that at home would have cost $10. Here I paid $7. And remember a NZ dollar equals 70 cents in US dollars.

    So when all is said and done. It’s really not that expensive after all.

    Green – I thought when I visited Ireland last summer that I would never be anywhere again that was so green. Sorry Ireland. New Zealand has you beat.  A veritable green world pours forth from forests and meadows, moss and ferns, miles and miles of vineyards and even the blue-green of the water.

    Forestry – and speaking of green, the hills are alive with evergreen and deciduous trees.  There is an obvious forestry industry including the clear cutting practice used in my own home state of Washington. But there is also what appears to be a very successful reforestation program and new growth and mid growth are obvious next to old”er” growth.

    The South Island, home to a pretty impressive list of Hollywood film locations, is rugged and mystical and crystal clear from sea to mountain top.  I’m told the North Island is different, but different is always good and I am looking forward to learning first hand what the differences are.

    So halfway through Chapter Six it’s Northbound in New Zealand! Fabulous!