01/25/2012 - 02/01/2012 70 °F
Sorry we haven't posted for a while but being on the road without constant access to internet makes it harder to write than you'd think--especially after your laptop gets stolen out of your checked luggage leaving Fiji...not a big deal but definitely a bummer to lose. I think I was ready for a new one anyway - once we return to SF, Hello Macbook Air 11"! Regardless, we are having a wonderful time and have successfully navigated the air and road from Fiji to Auckland, down through the North Island and on to the South. We may not have made it at all had Annie not had the genius idea to pay $8 a day for GPS. We spent about 3 hours trying to get supplies in Auckland and getting no where before she said we needed to go back to the rental car office to have it installed. Needless to say, avoiding the wasted hours and anxiety of not knowing the precise route and travel times have been well worth that price. We're currently staying at a wonderful hostel called the Green Monkey in Nelson and I've never been so happy to find a comfortable bed as I was yesterday evening.
We just finished a 2 day kayaking adventure down the coast of the Abel Tasman park, truly one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. The gateway is Marahau, where we stayed Sunday night. They have a number of fantastic backpacker accommodations. Old Macdonalds Farm, where we stayed, seemed to have a much more communal feel than other places we've stayed. Some of the guests are actually full time residents and maybe because of that the facilities/common spaces seem more functional and taken care of than at other spots. We had a great time cooking a dozen huge green mussels we'd purchased on the road in Havelock, the self-proclaimed green mussel capital of the world, and drifted off to sleep early. In the morning, we woke up early and searched around for a company that would rent us kayaks for 2 days, set up hut accommodations in the park, and tow us about 15km up the coast. We went with Abel Tasman Kayaks, and got a pretty sweet morning crash course on how to kayak, avoid sea monsters (aka giant waves and killer whales), and haul our camping gear safely in the hatches. Picture beautiful emerald water, mountainous coastline, and endless sandy beach coves to park your kayak, and that's what our 2 days had in store for us. It was probably only about 6 hours of total paddling to return to Marahau, but it certainly tired us out! It may have had something to do with the wind that whipped up a nice semi-white water kayaking experience for us the first afternoon. Excitement abounds! We visited a number of gorgeous secluded beaches and seal/seabird colonies, harvested mussels from a freshwater stream, and cooked chili over a propane stove before bunking with 22 other people in a DOC hut in Anchorage, one of the beaches along the way.
Auckland was a really great city, and we spent some time wandering around the streets of Parnell, one of the suburbs. Sort of like a mix between Portland and San Francisco (ie too good to be true?).
Rotorua (on the north island) had some great hot spring attractions, but we weren't jazzed by all the tourist attractions. After all the hype of hearing about it being a major hub we found it overpriced and well, super touristy. Traditional Hangi dinners cost ~$100 per person and all the other tours/adventure activities were all in that range and none of them seemed worth it (for example, rolling down a hill in a hamster ball for 45 seconds was 50 bucks!) We camped at Cosy Cabins campground, on top of ground that was actually warm from the hot springs. In the morning, we went to the Polynesian Spa before our departure and relaxed in some beautiful mineral pools overlooking the lake. There's no better camping experience than sleeping on warm ground and waking up to soak in healing, radium mineral baths. That was well worth it and reminded me of the Blue Lagoon in Iceland. On the road south of Rotorua, we came across Lava Glass (a glassware galley/workshop) and spent a half hour checking out their work and watching mesmerized while one of their glass-blowers created vases.
Napier was amazing - sort of a smaller version of the California wine country. The National Aquarium of New Zealand, which is housed there was well-tended and had some interesting animals, even a few fish from my aquarium growing up, like the Neon Tetra and the fearsome Red-Tailed Shark! They also have a basement Kiwi exhibit where we watched two forage and play for 15 minutes. What bizarre creatures. After that, we spent the afternoon riding rented bikes past beautiful orchards to visit vinyards/breweries and sampling tasty beverages, and stayed in a great hostel, Andy's Backpackers, with a view of the ocean.
Getting photos up here is difficult from public computers but check the twitter stream http://twitter.com/robustican