After my aunt and uncle picked up Janet and I from the airport, our first stop in New Zealand was a public park called One Tree Hill. I knew that sheep heavily outnumber people in New Zealand, but I wasn’t expecting to see a public park swarmed by sheep. Janet and I tried to pet one, but the sheep weren’t in to that.
After the hill, we spent much of the day going to significant locations relating to my Mom’s childhood. We also tried our first meat pie, which may be New Zealand’s equivalent of Los Angeles’ taco. LA has a lot of cheap taco options, and some people will search around for the best taco in the city. Meat pies are also relatively cheap, filling, and enjoyable to compare.
As we continued our family history tour, we went by the headstones of some of my relatives. We followed this up with a walk by the Chelsea Sugar Refinery, which my parents apparently named my sister after it (in case you’re wondering, my sister’s name is “Chelsea,” not “Sugar” or “Refinery”).
After a tour through the family business (a funeral business (and a good one)) we went to the Sky Tower in New Zealand. If you’ve been to the Space Needle in Seattle, you’ll have a good idea about what the Sky Tower looks and feels like. New Zealand is as beautiful from a distance as it is close up, so I took advantage of some great picture taking spots.
My relatives live right next to a beautiful beach that looks out to the Rangitoto Island, so of course we started our day with a nice stroll along side other Kiwis and doggies.
After our walk, we went to the “Kelly Tarlton Sea Life Aquarium.” Apparently I went there the last time I visited New Zealand, but I was less than 2 years old, so I don’t remember it very well. It’s a beautiful aquarium featuring a nice conveyor belt area under a tunnel of fish and sharks, and the most penguins I’ve ever seen in one place.
We then went to the Auckland War Memorial Museum. I’m a bit of a sucker for good museums, and this one was great. It had a great exhibit on Maori culture and artifacts, as well as exhibits on WWI and WWII. The WWI exhibit included extensive explanations on the Gallipoli Campaign, a hugely important mission during WWI that helped create the New Zealand national identity. It just recently celebrated its 100th anniversary as well.
Included in the museum was a wall with the names of Kiwis who were killed in the wars. We went and found one of my relatives who was killed when his plane crashed in Britain during WWII. William Robert Dil died as a Sergeant in the Royal Air Force in 1941.
We concluded our second day with a delicious dinner in my Mum’s old house. Her house originally doubled as her home and a funeral business, but the property was sold a while ago and it’s now a nice restaurant. We had a family gathering there as Uncle Lindsay told me where he slept (in what is now the kitchen) and other interesting bits about the house. The food was also delicious.
We started our day by driving out to Rotorua. This wasn’t just any drive, however, it was a drive on the left side of the road. Fortunately, New Zealand’s roads and highways in our area are very well marked so it wasn’t too difficult of an adjustment to make.
When we arrived at Rotorua, we went to the Agrodome. The Agrodome is a farm that is predominantly filled with sheep, but you get to experience other animals as well. They have a sheep shearing show that we didn’t attend, but we went on their farm tour. Here, we had a chance to feed some sheep, alpacas, and an ostrich (which I didn’t know could be safe to hand-feed). It quickly became one of our favorite things.
As you will probably be able to see from the videos, the animals don’t really love the tourists much. They will climb all over each other for the food, but once you run out of food, the sheep will move on to the next pellet-giving human with no chance for a hug. We still liked them a lot, even if they only wanted our pellets. 🙂
By the time we got done with the Agrodome, much of the town was already closed. Most things in the city closed at 5pm, including a lot of the restaurants (and all of the stores that say they’re open “late” will close at 5:30 or 6). Fortunately, there’s a small strip called “Eat Street” that’s an open area full of restaurants that stay open later. We got a bite to eat, then enjoyed a walk at a park near Eat Street that looks over the lake. It’s a beautiful area.
We got up bright and early for what became one of our favorite single activities on the whole trip: the Rotorua Canopy Tours.
Most of New Zealand’s plants and animals are not native to the country. The grass, trees, sheep, and many other things that New Zealand is famous for were introduced, mostly by European settlers. However, there are a couple of areas of the country that were never disturbed, and the Canopy Tours took us on a Zipline-based tour of a section of it.
We took a zipline from platform to platform as our guides taught us about New Zealand wildlife, and the conservation efforts going on in the region. The Ziplines were gorgeous, plentiful, and looked sturdy enough to make us all comfortable very quickly.
We even had the chance to feed a little bird out of our hand. The guides had slowly trained a wild bird to become comfortable enough around people to fly up and snatch mealworms out of our hands. The bird didn’t stay for a visit, but it was fun just having the little bird land and quickly snatch up the worm from my palm.
We had a bit of extra time when we got back from the tour, so we stopped by the big “Hamster Ball” experience in Rotorua. It’s called OGO, and consists of putting you in a giant inflatable ball with a bit of warm water, and pushing you down the hill. With the water, it acts like a perpetual slip-n-slide. I didn’t know ahead of time that it was going to be a wet experience, so I just ended up going down in my jeans and t-shirt. Fortunately, our hotel had a washer and dryer in its unit, so I really love Quest Rotorua.
For dinner that night, we went to the Tamaki Maori Village. This was another one of my favorite things from the trip. The experience included performances and explanations of Maori rituals, culture, and history. Not only did I win an agility-based stick game, but I (sort-of) learned some of the Haka.
The night ended with a Hangi, which is a traditional way of cooking a meal by putting the meal over hot stones and burying it underground. The food was plentiful, and the pavlova was incredible! We even ended up sitting next to a few people from Jerusalem who frequently attend the concerts put on by BYU’s Jerusalem Center. I had spent 4 months living at the center earlier this year, so we had a good time talking about our shared connection.
This day was all about the beauty around Rotorua. We started our day going to the eruption of the Lady Knox Geyser. This geyser erupts every day at 10:15am. At first, I thought it was an interesting coincidence that the geyser erupted on a nearly perfect 24-hour cycle, and wondered if there was a good explanation for it. It turns out that Lady Knox erupts every 24 hours because a guy comes and pours a bit of soap into it which sets off the eruption. A little different than I expected, but the eruption was great, and I learned some stuff about geysers.
After the eruption, we walked through the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Springs park. This was an intensely colorful area, full of different springs and small lakes rich with bright-colored minerals and chemicals. There are quite a few areas like this around Rotorua, giving it a “delicious” sulfur smell all throughout the city.
After our walk through Wai-O-Tapu, we walked through Rotorua’s California Redwood forest. It’s technically called the Whakarewarewa Forest, but you probably didn’t actually pronounce that in your head when you read it. You probably just had “waka-waka-what-on-earth?”go through your head instead.
Like most trees we saw in New Zealand, the redwoods are not native to the land, but they’ve grown into quite the beautiful forest since being introduced. The forest in Rotorua has the added benefit of having lots of Silver Fern trees growing in the area, adding some variety to a forest dominated by colossal stacks of bark.
When we got back to Rotorua, we decided to try out the gondola and luge tracks. Although they’re called luge tracks, they aren’t luges like you would see in the Olympics. They’re more like little go carts that you ride down a long road. Janet and I had a lot of fun zipping down the mountain.
All too short, our time at Rotorua came to an end, but we set out for one of our most adventurous activities on the trip.
We drove to the Waitomo area, which exists basically exclusively because of a few caves in the region. These caves are filled with glowworms, which make the caves a beautiful sight.
After checking in at our B&B, we went to a short walk-through tour of one of the caves. This one was packed with tourists, but we had a great time following our tour guide into the cave, learning about how it was formed, and seeing the ceiling lit with glowworms.
After a short break, we went to another spot to take a more intense tour of the glowworm caves. After a short tutorial, we went rappelling into the glowworm caves, ready in our wet-suits for 3 hours in the caves. After entering the caves and taking a zipline deeper into the darkness, we jumped into the frigid waters and floated on inner-tubes through a bit of the cave. We did lots more walking, swimming, and climbing as we got close to the glowworms, and enjoyed a decent adventure.
We were pretty tired by the time we got out, but having a chance to rappel into a glowworm cave in the middle of New Zealand was a pretty awesome experience.
We left Waitomo and made it in time to go to church in Cambridge. After that, we visited Hobbiton.
Whenever I told people that I was going to New Zealand, they would either ask if I was going to take a Lord of the Rings tour, or go see Hobbiton. Well yes, I did see Hobbiton. And it was beautiful.
The guide told us lots of interesting things about the set, which usually meant something like “the filmmakers spent X tons of money and Y hours of time on this, but it was only in the film for 4.8 seconds.” Those movies sure had a lot of work and detail put into them, which meant that even up-close, everything looked very cool and fairly real.
After our stop in Hobbiton, we got back to my Uncle Lindsay and Auntie Tina just in time for a delicious dinner! We had lots of traditional Kiwi food, including Cheerios (which are sausages in New Zealand, instead of cereal), pavlova, and trifle. We also had lamb, and a bunch of other delicious items.
We didn’t stay with my relatives very long this time, because today we took a morning flight to Queenstown. After checking in to our hotel, we got a bite to eat at the famous Fergburger. This is a place that always has lines and has a huge reputation. Janet and I also enjoyed it.
After some quick shopping and a fun walk around the area, we went on a boat around the Queenstown lake. The whole area is beautiful, and would be worth seeing even if it wasn’t chock-full of activities.
We didn’t stick in Queenstown today, but took a full-day trip to see Milford Sound. The bus ride was a bit long, but it was beautiful the whole way, filled with waterfalls, cliffs, and vegetation.
When we got to Milford Sound, we took a 2 hour cruise through the sound. The boat took us up close to waterfalls, wild penguins, and seals. The area is incredibly picturesque. It was a full day of natural beauty.
This was our day to do some of the Queenstown adventure experiences. We started with a ride on the Shotover Jet. This is where a modified boat took us screaming through a tight canyon area, doing sharp turns, skids, and spins over shallow water. It was super fun, but really cold! Janet and I were a bit nervous since we spent some of the prior evening reading about the accidents on shotover jets over the last decade or so, but we came out alive and unscathed!
After the boat ride, I went parasailing! I had never been a kite before, but it was a pretty sweet gig! I’m not a parasailing expert, so I don’t know if this is standard, but our boat had a nice platform on it that allowed us to easily take-off and land without getting wet. A nice bonus for a cold day.
We took a short break from extreme experiences and went through a bird zoo, starring an actual kiwi bird. Kiwis are nocturnal, so they kept the cage dark, but they had enough red light on for us to basically see the Kiwis up close.
After that, we had a great experience on the “Unforgettable Skipper’s Canyon Tour.” Everyone else who booked the tour that day spoke German, so they put all of them in a van with a German speaking guide, and Janet and I got our own private tour of the gold-yielding canyon that put the area on the map in the first place.
Our tour guide told us the story of the New Zealand Gold Rush, and how the gold was successively mined throughout the years. The area is still fairly rich; college students used to come and spend the summer sucking up gold and would apparently find enough to pay for their tuition, but commercial mining is banned now.
Our guide also showed us a bunch of cool stuff about geology, but mostly we took beautiful pictures of the area. We even got to see the place where bungee jumping was first invented. It’s not open to commercial jumping anymore, but apparently “Adventure Tourism” majors at a nearby university are allowed to come use it for their “studies.”
We also got to see a filming location for the Lord of the Rings. When Arwen is taking Frodo on horseback to Rivindel and being chased by the ring-wraiths, she eventually comes to a river that ends up sweeping the dark horsemen away. We saw the location where the horsemen were swept away.
This was primarily a day of travel to Franz Josef. The scenery that I managed to stay awake for was beautiful, as is all of New Zealand.
This was supposed to be the day that we got in a helicopter and flew up to the Franz Josef glacier for a short hike. When we walked up to the station, a man at the door told us that they weren’t flying that day. It was pretty obvious why: it was raining pretty hard and the entire mountain was covered in thick fog.
They offered us a walk up the canyon that leads to the glacier as a substitute, so we decided to do that. It was a pretty hike for most of it, but the storm got really bad after a bit. Before we got to the lookout point to see the glacier, we ended up needing to turn around to make sure we could get across a few of the bridges before they flooded over. It was quite the storm!
After we dried off, we decided to go to a rock-carving place. The area is somewhat known for its green Jade stone, and a shop there has tools and instructions for carving your own jewelry. Janet and I chose a couple rocks and spent the next 3 hours laboring over our green babies. I carved mine into a lopsided star (they didn’t have protractors or anything, so I had to wing-it on my star shape. That’s my excuse). Janet carved a beautiful owl (with a little bit of help from the instructor, but not too much).
Although the weather had cleared up a bit, there wasn’t too much else available that we felt like doing in the city, so we watched some Lord of the Rings. Have you ever watched Lord of the Rings in the land where it was filmed? I have.
Another day of travel, this time back to Queenstown. The scenery was good again, though the weather stayed poor. Sadly, a helicopter tried flying that day to Fox glacier, a neighboring glacier of Franz Josef. I’m not sure that the officials have publicly identified the exact cause of the crash at the time I’m writing this (these investigations can take over a year), but it was likely due to the bad weather. All 7 people on board were killed, which became a bit more real to us since we were nearly in a position to have the same thing happen to us. I’m grateful that our company chose not to fly the day we were there, and my heart goes out to the families of those killed in the crash.
We went to church in Queenstown, and for the first time ever, I was kicked out of church! There were a lot more visitors that day than normal (the Queenstown marathon happened that same weekend), so the church was packed. After sacrament meeting, the bishop told everyone that since there were so many people there, and since the kids needed to use the big room to get ready for a program they were presenting the following week, that it would be ok if a lot of us didn’t stay for the classes. So, away we went, getting a ride back to our hotel from a nice family. We discovered en route that the family even knew my Uncles; small Mormon world.
After church, we decided to try out the luge in Queenstown. It’s basically the same as the one in Rotorua (done by the same company and everything), but we liked the one in Rotorua better. After a week in the Queenstown area, we finally saw someone bungee jump, completing our south island experience.
We also took a walk through the Queenstown garden, and fed the ducks some bread. The ducks in Queenstown have been well trained to get food from humans. As a result, they’re really fat, and really aggressive. The mother ducks will even jump on their ducklings to get to your bread first. Janet and I really enjoyed feeding them.
After all that, we got on a plane back to Auckland. My uncle Lindsay was nice enough to pick us up again, though auntie Tina was already in Japan, waiting for a grandchild to arrive. Everyone seemed concerned about the fact that this left uncle Lindsay to cook for us, but everyone has been missing out by not having him cook for them! Lindsay made some of the best steaks that Janet and I have had, and served up a bunch of steamed vegetables and other delicious sides. Uncle Lindsay can cook!
On our final day in New Zealand, we took another walk along the beach outside my uncle’s place before loading our car and heading out. We stopped by the black sand beaches (which are black because of a high level of iron in the sand), then went to the airport for our 12 hour flight back home.
New Zealand is amazing. I highly recommend it to anyone who is able to go. If you do go, make sure you buy plenty of Jaffas and Minties. I love the candy there, and those are my favorites. You might not love them like I do, but let’s be real, you will.
Keep seeking truth.
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